I rented an apartment in 1981 with two friends. It was on the second floor of an old Victorian wood frame house in east Dayton. I had just dropped out of college and worked at Godfather’s Pizza to support myself. Dave was a college friend who moved out for a number of awkward reasons after a few months. My remaining roommate Jack had worked with me at the restaurant. Now he attended a nursing school at nearby Miami Valley Hospital.
The neighborhood featured a run down cluster of tightly packed houses with dirt patch back yards often patrolled by underfed Dobermans and German Shepherds. Anything nice left in view of the folks around us eventually disappeared. Someone had spray painted graffiti on the stained brick wall of an old warehouse a few blocks down the street. The writer shared the following two thoughts: “Society is a carnivorous flower.” and “Help! I’m trapped in Dayton!”.
Our street had a lot of rentals occupied by nursing students, and the dump next door housed a few of Jack’s classmates on the second floor. One night Patty, Jack’s girlfriend, came over, and the three of us worked on a spaghetti dinner. Jack was exhausted and fell asleep with his head on his forearms at the kitchen table. Patty and I were friends, and we told stories and laughed as we drank wine, stirred the sauce and boiled pasta. We woke Jack up when everything was ready, and the three of us had a pleasant meal. A few days later Jack took me aside and wanted to know what had happened while he was asleep on the night of our dinner with Patty. He explained, after I asserted that I had not made a move on his girlfriend, that the nursing students next door had watched me and Patty through the kitchen windows “having a real good time” while he slumbered on. I had always been straight with Jack, and he believed me when I told him that I was not gunning for Patty. I took note, however, that a window facing west could be a source of gossip passed around the nursing program.
About six months later the tables turned. A warm spring forced our neighbors to open their windows, and I overheard a loud argument among the spies next door:
“Mary! Your boyfriend stole from us. He broke in and took garble garble garble.”
“Ronnie wouldn’t do that! He loves me!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Mary. He’s a druggy. Of course he broke in.”
“He didn’t break in. He has a key.”
“You gave him a key?!”
“Why not? He’s my boyfriend and he loves me!”
“Jesus Christ! You’re going to go over there and get our things back.”
“I can’t accuse him of stealing. And like I said, he wouldn’t do that.”
“Well if you won’t do it we will.”
“No, no. You don’t understand!”
“Oh, we understand. And if we can’t get our things back you owe us some money.”
(Incoherent wailing followed by slamming doors.)
A few weeks later a house on the other side had a loud party. I heard some glass breaking and went to a window on the east side of our apartment to investigate. I looked down at the gap between the buildings and saw two men standing with their backs turned to me. A broken bottle was shattered next to a scruffy man wearing a torn army jacket. The other guy still held onto his bottle and took an occasional pull. They were pissing up against the side of the party house. One man slurred to the other, “Were you in ‘Nam?” The other guy said, “Oh man, I can’t talk about that.”