It's the middle of the school year, a time when all busy university students have to decide where they will be living next year. That's what my son Sam tells me anyway. Can't you wait until you finish your exams? I ask him, and he sighs down the phone line. You just don't understand, Dad, he says. And of course I don't. Houses in university towns rent from May to May. The way he tells it, the decision must be made this week. To wait even a few days means that the fun people, the nice people, the clean people, will have found other room mates and Sam will have to spend next year bunking in with (if I understand him correctly) cholera victims and crack addicts and ex-cons with shivs.
Cholera? I say.
Or typhus. It's bad here, Dad. My friend Joe waited until February to look for a place last year.
And now he's in a house with ...
Mice? I ask, remembering my own university days. Roaches?
Frat boys. He shudders.
Wow, I say. Makes typhus look appealing.
So Sam and his friends have spent their study time scoping out the want ads. They have, he tells me, narrowed it down to two accommodation scenarios. Which do you prefer, Dad? The floating home or rolling home?
You'll have to explain, I say.
Scenario One, as he puts it, is a houseboat on the St Lawrence. For only a few hundred dollars each per month, he and his pals can live aboard. I assume he's kidding, but no. Fresh air, quiet atmosphere for studying, close to campus. And think of the river parties! he says.
But ... the St Lawrence freezes over, I say. (I feel like straight man.) You'll be stuck like what's his name in the Arctic.
Long pause. I can hear him shouting down the hall.
Check the ad again, I tell him. Are you sure it's a year lease? Are you sure it's not just for the summer? Sam! Sam!
He's back, breathless with excitement. Phil knows who you mean, he says. The boat was the Fram, and it was stuck in the ice for three years. Now we know that this is what we want to do. Dad, can you send a check for four hundred dollars for a downpayment? Can you do it today?
I have to smile at his enthusiasm. He really thinks this is all possible. What it is to be nineteen.
What's wrong with residence? I ask.
Dad, you don't understand!
Next post: Scenario Two.