I lived in my first — and only — apartment building the summer after my sophomore year of college. I had snagged a great summer job working for Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co. in Boston. My dear friend Kit, who was part of my Comstock Hall crowd, had a job as a research assistant for a Harvard professor, so we decided to get a place together. The address was 65 Martin Street, at the corner of Martin and Gray Streets, near the Radcliffe Quad. I don’t remember how we found it, but I suspect it was through the Harvard Housing Office. It must have been a summer sublet, because it was fully furnished, and equipped with pots, pans, dishes, etc. This was fortunate, because neither of us had any of that stuff.
It was the basement apartment, and we entered through the outside stairs you can see in the picture (right where the red pointer is – thanks Google Maps!), so we never went into the lobby of the apartment building. I didn’t really have the sense of being in a large building, and was surprised to see how big it actually was when I pulled it up on Google Maps to get the picture. I’m not sure if we ever took a broom and knocked three times on the ceiling to get our upstairs neighbors to quiet down, but we might have, so that’s the reference in the title song.
I have only fond memories of that apartment and that summer. I loved my job and I loved living with Kit — there are no horror stories. Because we were in the basement, the windows were quite high up, and all we could see outside was people’s feet going by on the sidewalk, but we got used to that pretty quickly. Kit’s boyfriend, who was in Providence for the summer, came to visit on many weekends, and that was great, because he was a good friend of mine too. There were lots of other friends either living in Cambridge or visiting from time to time, so life was never dull.
My first grown-up residence, after I graduated from college, was less than two miles away from the Martin Street apartment, on the other side of Harvard Yard, in a neighborhood called Inman Square. I definitely found this place through the Harvard Housing Office, which had a large bulletin board filled with “roommates wanted” notices. It was the second floor of a three-story house. There were two actual bedrooms, and the dining room and family room had also been turned into bedrooms. Cathy and Bonnie were already living there and looking for two more roommates. They had the two real bedrooms, which were at the back of the house. I was the third one, and I chose the family room, which was a spacious room at the front of the house, symmetrical with, and about the same size as, the living room. Arlene, who arrived last, got the dining room, which had swinging doors into both the living room and the kitchen, so not an ideal arrangement, but she made it work. We each paid $110.00 per month, and all utilities were included.
Since I was moving into an unfurnished room for the first time, I needed furniture. My mother took me to buy a foam mattress from a little old mattress-maker in Nutley, New Jersey. It was a beautifully crafted mattress, which I still have today in my house in Sacramento. The wooden frame for the mattress we bought in Cambridge either at Design Research or the Door Store. That frame died after a few decades when the rubber holding the wooden slats became brittle and cracked, but the mattress is still in perfect condition! My father wondered aloud why I wanted a double bed instead of a single, but my mother and I just ignored him. My parents drove me up to Cambridge from New Jersey with the mattress, a maple dresser that had been my grandfather’s, two small bookcases, and a 6′ x 9′ Rya rug from my bedroom at home. I have no idea how we transported it all, but somehow we did.
It turned out to be a wonderful living situation. Cathy was a nurse who worked at Cambridge City Hospital, right across the street from our house. Bonnie was a social worker at some social services agency. Arlene was a graduate student in sociology at Boston University. I had a job at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s think tank in Kendall Square near MIT. We all had very different schedules, so we mostly didn’t cook or eat together, but we got along pretty well – at least most of the time. There was some friction, like when Bonnie’s parents sent her a box of oranges from Florida and she wouldn’t let the rest of us have any. We had the last laugh though, because the oranges went moldy before she could eat them all.
On the other hand, when I decided to audition for a musical that was being put on at Harvard Law School, Bonnie was the one who wanted to go with me. We both got roles in the show, and had a great time singing and dancing, as well as dating the law students who were in the cast. Bonnie ended up marrying one of the law students, and is still married to him!
After the first year Cathy left to go to dental school, so we had to interview for a new roommate. When Lita came to see the place, she was not at all bothered by the fact that all four of us were sharing one bathroom, but she was shocked that all four of us would be sharing one telephone! Despite that glaring defect, when we invited her to move in, she accepted.
It was sad when we all decided at the end of the second year that it was time to move on. I was going to California to start law school. Arlene was moving to Knoxville to finish her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee. I don’t remember where Bonnie or Lita were headed, but it was somewhere else. We hated to leave that wonderful house, but it was time for the next chapter in all of our lives.