by Girl, 1975
Balch dormitory was my home, temporarily, in 1975. How lucky was I at 18 years old to live in an antique mansion with meandering hallways, sitting rooms with pianos and velvet couches to perch on. A student might even get a room of her own.
Balch was luxurious temporary housing for those two semesters when I had my own mailing address for the first time in my life. But then in May, we all had to move out. Hopefully we had somewhere to go.
For me, it was home to my parents’ house where an abundance of summer jobs awaited. Then back to Ithaca come August to earn free rent as an RA in a dorm or pay rent to a slumlord in Collegetown. Or shack up at the sorority and sleep on a top bunk in a dormer where hopefully my “sister” woke me up on time and waited till my feet touched the floor so I didn’t fall back asleep. No alarm clocks allowed in a dormer for twenty girls!
Recently I visited former schoolmates in their hundred year old home. They’d bought it years ago. I was there when they first got it, when we camped on the floor fully dressed, in sleeping bags, because there was no furniture or heat. Not luxurious.
But it’s a wonderful vintage house now with strong bones and a giant mirror in the living room that takes up an entire wall. A magnificent piece of glass, creating an impression that the living room’s twice its actual size.
Or is that really an illusion? Could it be the mirror’s reflection provides twin living rooms for the price of one? Is what we think and feel and see more true than what shows up on a Zillow data site?
In LA, the unhoused population explodes daily. Tents and shacks occupy all kinds of vacancies: sidewalks, bus stops, parks, underpasses, overpasses. We Angelinos walk by, drive by, barely notice. Once, when the temperature was 105, I called paramedics saying, “He’s gotta at least be dehydrated.” “We tried,” they said, “He doesn’t want any help.”
Some Angelinos camp in the wilderness with coyotes and bears, though the bears are no doubt better suited to living out in the elements, at least long term. LA’s blazing hot in the summer and come winter, the lyrics are true, “It never rains…it pours.”
I gotta assume, upon graduating from Cornell, most Cornellians have a home to go back to, or a well paying job that will support decent housing.
But what happens to a Cornell student who drops out or flunks out? Surely there are some Cornell students who don’t make it. And who keeps track? Where are the statistics on what becomes of such folks?
At a CA state university where I taught, one of my students was living in her car and explained her perfect hair, “Monkey baths.” Another student was late on a paper and in fact, dropping the class. He confessed to his new temporary housing assignment, “Jail.”
Does anyone remember “The Cop and the Anthem” or have we cancelled O. Henry, too?
And so in this new year, I truly treasure our 1908 home, my micro-version of the Balch I remember. Sure, we get bears in our pool on an hot summer day but who can blame them?
(The scariest part was when a Cub couldn’t get out over our gate. Us watching from indoors, Mama roaring, Cub crying. Eventually Cub did climb over the gate to join Mama and safely amble up the street toward his home in the wilderness.)
My husband and I are grateful to be housed and not living outdoors with bears.
But what about people in temporary housing or worse, living on the street, in a car or in jail? Where will they go in 2023? And are there any former Cornell students among them?