I still remember the first time I ever visited the house. My friend Emmett - from the Jazz lounge where I played sometimes Friday nights - had lived there for years and invited me over for house dinner and to watch a mo ith him. When I arrived, he gave me a tour through the maze of rooms and muralled hallways, even the treehouse out back with a drawbridge and a fire pole from the third floor to the first. Just about every room in the house (and there were a lot!) had a story attached to it, which made the tour both really interesting and really long. When we finally heard the shouts for dinnertime, I served myself the lentil curry, roasted brussels sprouts, and quinoa, and wandered toward the tables. "Sit over here!" a guy wearing an xkcd shirt called to me. I squeezed in beside him as he explained, "we call this the inductive table. If it can fit n people, it can fit n+1." The conversation over the next half hour covered a Martian rover, raising chickens, and principal ideal domains...I kind of felt like I'd known these people my whole life. "I wish I lived here," I said offhandedly as I gathered my empty plate to wash. "You totally should!" said xkcd-guy (whose name, it turned out, was Oliver). And I got to thinking. Much later, in the darkness of a starless night as I walked home, the idea of moving in seemed completely natural. I turned back to the house to see the rainbow "you are welcome here" sign (on which someone had scrawled "straight people welcome on alternate Thursdays") and the flower bed containing a pinwheel masquerading as a pansy. I was sold.
The day I moved in, I was welcomed by a girl with lavender hair and a pocket protector who gave me the unofficial tour. She pointed at a whip on a hook by the door. "That's in case of burglars and the like. Alice found it at Goodwill along with a pair of handcuffs and a leather thong after this sex dungeon went out of business." Next, she pointed at an alcove with a public computer. "That's to look up directions or to check facts on Wikipedia if you get in an argument with someone and have to prove you're right." I was entranced by the fractal screensaver that kept drawing itself in exponentially multicolored smaller iterations until it was too small to detect, then zoom in and keep going. The girl followed my stare. "Oh yeah, Ethan programmed the screensaver," she said, "he could kee nius occupied for hours with math questions." As she led me up the stairs, the wood floors creaked beneath our feet. "It's an old house, but it's totally safe," she told me. She tilted her head to the side. "I think," she added. "And this is you!" She dramatically opened the door to my new room, which was super-duper tiny, but there was this prism hung in the window and the late afternoon sun made shards of light dance around the room. I looked at the rainbow lights hopping across the wood floor and I was home. I moved the desk to the center of the room, directly below the skylight in the ceiling, so I would feel like a princess in a spotlight while doing psets, and plunked myself down on the chair. "Seems like you're all good here," she said with a smile, and it was only as she turned to go that I noticed the tiny Rubik's cube earring in the loeb of her left ear. Definitely at home.
When Emmett and Savanah (also from the Jazz lounge) came to visit the next week, I took them on a tour of my own through the maze of staircases and rooms. "This place is really cool," Savanah gushed, investigating our hallway murals. "It has so much charact -" she stopped short and stared open-mouthed at a guy dissecting an octopus and wearing exactly nothing. I tugged at her elbow and led her through our common room and toward ntral staircase. "That's Jacob," I explained. But I guess that wasn't much of an explanation because she still looked like she was in shock. "He's course 7. He's doing his senior thesis on sea animals or something." Savanah looked at me like I was crazy. "But he wasn't wearing anything!" she exclaimed. "Oh right. We're clothing-optional here." She stared at me. "It's really great when you forget to bring your towel with you to the shower." Light from the skylight fell across her skeptical face. How was it that in just a week I'd come to feel like I'd lived here my whole life?
Sleep deprivation being the drug of choice in my life at the time, it wasn't unusual for me to wake up disoriented with the imprint of my laptop keyboard on my cheek and late afternoon sunlight streaming in through the skylight above my desk. Such was my half-awake and dazed state the day I walked outside and saw the pirate ship in the backyard, like a bea ically aligned with the shed. I kind of blinked for a minute, because I swear the yard was empty that morning and now there was this sailboat in it, complete with a skull-and-crossbones flag. "Ahoy matey!" Oliver called to me as he took a running start, leapt into the boat, and struck a pose. "Ahoy?" I called back, a little confused by where this was going with no water. The compass he held in his hand glinted in the sun. "What's a pirate's favorite mathematical field?" he asked me. I stared at him. "Arrrr!" called Ethan as he hurdled himself from I'm-not-even-sure-where into the boat and gave Oliver a high five.
By the end of the day, the boat, which Oliver had completely fixed up from an old crumbling dinghy, was ready for its big debut in open water. We got it loaded onto a makeshift cart-thingy and about a dozen of us walked it down to the river for moonlight sail. Ethan and Oliver eased it into the water and hopped on board, while the rest of us split into twos and threes and boarded other sailboats at the dock. Soon we were all ou n the river, gliding peacefully through the crisp night air and gazing at Orion in the southeastern skies. That is, until Alice and Jacob slid in close to Ethan and Oliver and splashed them with a bucket of river water. Within minutes, all five of our boats were in a water war, each of us attempting to get close enough to another to throw water at one another and then sail quickly away. We were all relatively evenly matched and relatively evenly soaked until the pirate ship started pirating. Ryan and I watched it coming towards us and prepared our bucket for attack. But just as it got within feet of our boat, and before we could even lift the bucket, Ethan leapt off his vessel and landed beside me. He grabbed hold of the sail of our boat with each hand and leaned back with all his weight. Within moments I was in the river, coughing and spluttering and looking around for our capsized dinghy. It only took me a few seconds to locate it and swim towards it, and as I grabbed hold of the side and began trying to right it with Ryan's help, I saw a dripping wet Ethan grinning and waving at us beneath his black flag as he sailed away. My teeth were chattering when we all walked home together about an hour later, and I was desperately looking forward to the toastie warmth of home and a promised fire in the fireplace. The rainbow sign on the door could not have come soon enough. By the time I was dry and changed into fresh clothes, the fire was crackling and half a dozen people gathered around it singing. I joined in "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", warmed by the music of this cozy little group gathered in the darkness lit only by the twisting flames. "Anyone want cookies?" Amy asked as she came in from the kitchen with a heavenly smelling tray, and my evening was complete.
Despite all the warm-fuzzies of the fireplace and singing and kumbaya and all that, Ethan was not off the hook. Oh no. I mean, it was all in good fun, and yeah it was a pretty badass move, but Ryan and I knew we had to plot a comeback. The idea came to me when Ryan sent out an email asking all the cooks to send him their menus, since he was in charge of the shopping (usually he tried to do his house jo arly as possible in the week, but he'd been hosed.) See, I knew that while Ethan loved broccoli and cauliflower for their repetitive geometry, he hated tropical fruit. So I just suggested we replace at least one requested item from each day's menu with a tropical fruit as a little surprise. I figured the cooks would be totally down to experiment with how to incorporate an unexpected ingredient...and I happen to love papaya. By the time the last menu came in that evening, we only had about a half hour before the grocery store closed for the night and in the rush to go, I tripped over the flower bed outside the front door. By the time we had scooped the soil back in, we had twenty minutes left. We literally ran to the store, breathlessly grabbed a cart, and practically sailed through the maze of aisles, trying to find each one of the dozens of items listed, not always very helpfully (like seriously, somebody had written "granola from a brand that's called nature something or maybe something nature and I think the package is red but it might be green"). Anyway, by 10:59 our mission was accomplished: all weekly food had been bought plus two bags of fruit. The next day, Priya looked at the twenty mangoes we had bought her instead of her requested bell peppers, read the note we had enclosed with it, and laughed. We all enjoyed the mango pilaf that night...except Ethan. But the best part was the look on his face when he tried the dragon fruit pudding (and the rush he was in to rinse his mouth after he spit it out). Priceless.
Ethan prepared his response that night. He crept out to the back yard in the darkness with a pineapple in tow. He had decorated it to look like a face with wild carrot-spirals for hair and a superman cape. He placed his arrk at the end of the bow with a sign that said, "I may not be delicious but I am the captain of the pirate ship and I contain the Fibonacci sequence. Mwahahaha."
I noticed Captain Pineapple the following morning as I went out for a run. Several of my housemates were already outside doing pushups and sweating profusely. "We're doing the Murph," Amanda gasped as she rested for a moment. "It's a CrossFit workout...next exercise is 300 squats; want to join?" she asked, with a c o attitude. I watched Carlos collapse into the grass and roll onto his back. "I'm good," I said and took off toward the Esplanade. The rush of blood felt good throughout my body after a long week of psets and the early morning world seemed exceptionally alive. I watched the T glide across the Longfellow bridge like a caterpillar on ice skates and thought about all the people inside going places, thinking thoughts, experiencing experiences...it just kind of suddenly felt like I was this simultaneously insignificant and all-consuming being, like everything I did and said was the entirety of my own life but it was all a speck of dust in the world at large. I gazed at the sparkling river in the morning sunlight that just days ago I had fallen into in the darkness of night, and I planned my next move. As soon as I got home, I went to the fridge and took out all the dragon fruit left over from the pudding. I cut it up and arranged the pieces on the seat of the boat, forming the word, "truce?"
After that, the pirate ship moved to the shed. In the years to follow, it would go on many more journeys, but this is the tale we still tell first to curious visitors. I had a professor that semester that always used to say, "this isn't fun-and-games topology; this is point-set topology!" And I guess I could say the same thing about that house. I mean sure, it was fun, and sure there were games, but it wasn't just fun-and-games coop life, and over time I would disc ers of depth in this group of people that I hadn't noticed on first meeting. My housemates were the compass that got me through each day that year. And sure, it was kind of annoying to find that the Coke someone had left open on the side counter was still there and still open 10 days later. And then to discover a lightened ring in the wood of the countertop 14 days after that, and the Coke still there and still open. And then to discover 9 days after that that was an intentional experiment, not to see if it would grow mold (which it did!) but to see if someone would take the initiative to throw it away (which obviously no one did, but honestly we were just trying to be respectful of someone else's drink/experiment!). And yeah, it's kind of fun to take a break at 3am from my automorphic forms project and hear someone tell the story of the superman Fibonacci fruit (and have someone else argue that it wasn't superman Fibonacci fruit, it was electric bluegaloo Fibonacci fruit). But it wasn't just about the games and it wasn't just about the pranks. It was about living a life worth living with people worth living it with. And peace and love and all that hippie stuff. So yeah, that's my story. The end.