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The New Urban–Boarding Houses?

14 Nov

a 19th century DC boarding house, the Mary Surratt house.

My great-grandmother ran a boarding house. Widowed, she lived in western PA with a bevy of girls and a few little boys–not a lot of options. So she opened up her house in a mill town and took in boarders. These were inevitably unmarried men who didn’t want to cook or clean. They worked hard on their shifts, came back to shovel the food in, and slept; somewhere along the way they probably stopped in the bar. No visitors, no cursing, no public drunkenness. And she survived, her daughters met young men whose characters she quickly knew, she kept her mortgage healthy.

So when I saw this online headline last night I was interested: “Bring Back the Rooming House?”Author Neil Peirce is a metropolitan specialist, and he’s speaking to the “New Millennials,” young grads whose income can’t keep pace with city apartment costs, but who want to live in cities. He jokes that he’s not talking about “tiny rooms with cast iron beds, a shared bathroom down the hall, and meals ruled over by a stern older woman. Shared meals? Maybe not anymore.” No, he’s talking about high density city spots with smaller dwelling footprints.

California's Palo Alto Treehouse an example of talking about smaller units in lower cost buildings, often with green or other elements.

Places like Palo Alto, CA’s Tree House Development, meant for those with low incomes–housing in California is so expensive, lots of folks would love this sliding scale 35 unit spot. It only includes two one-bedroom slots; the rest are studios, with prices that range from $371 to $928, depending on income. The best part? The city council passed the project on the condition that the developer provide transit passes to each resident, so that traffic and parking issues would be lessened.

In the same article, architect/city planner Mark Hinshaw, author of True Urbanism, recommended new smaller units of 400-500 sq ft in buildings with grass roofs, situated

The former Jay Hotel (photo by "Clueless, Ohio"), a transient hotel whose residents' behavior prompted a shutdown some years back

over start-up “commercial incubator” first floors–infill building that might require zoning change.

But why not combine some of these ideas with the old-fashioned boarding house? First,

Wikipedia's take on a flophouse type of room

let’s distinguish the boarding house from the flophouse, like the late, unlamented Jay Hotel in Ohio City. Flophouses were often built for seasonal workers or the down and out; they have minimal amenities and are very small. Districts once full of flophouses, like NYC’s Bowery, offered off-the-street protection for those who today might be in shelters. Drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts–flophouses come to mind. The boarding house, on the other hand, creates images of a woman whose hair was

A cruise ship's balcony stateroom layout

scraped into a bun, allowed no nonsense and ran a tight ship in an environment that flourished through the Great Depression.

How about something that combines modern amenities–high-speed wifi, transit passes, the cool factors of greenness and sustainability–with old-fashioned amenities? That is,

St. Teresa's convent cell in Avila, Spain

meals made by someone else, clothes washed by someone else, room swept/vacuumed by someone else on a weekly basis. Small rooms and larger common spaces–reminiscent of older models, like dorms, ship staterooms, YMCA rooms or monastic refectories–no, no, not prisons.

Not a lot of elbow room at NYC's Hudson Hotel--but still has ambiance!

A small room needn’t be soulless, as boutique hotels have discovered. New York’s Hudson Hotel, where I stayed four years ago, used to be a YMCA. Its conversion kept very small rooms, but each has its own bath and desk. There’s a refectory set-up in the dining room, interesting nooks for chatting with friends, a library with billiards, a bar, a lovely terrace shared space. What if a young

The Hudson's desk, with the bathroom through the curtain

working person closed at 7, came home, had an included meal, flopped into a bed without worries about washing dishes, going food shopping, doing laundry?

I would have loved this kind of city living. No need for a car, even for food shopping. Places to relax and unwind. Attractive surroundings. Lower costs. Complete freedom to

The Hudson Hotel's lobby is full of inviting nooks for conversation.

concentrate on a project, on living. Interestingly enough, this kind of setup is being abandoned by new university dorms, where the tendency is away from shared rooms and shared floor bathrooms to individual bedrooms in a suite set up with a living room. But students want that taste of independence, a feel for what i

The Hudson Hotel has a very refectory-style dining area--perfect for encouraging talking to strangers

t’s like to live like a grown up.

I’d bet many adults would cheerfully chuck that independence for some hired TLC. Some writers are advocating a similar scheme for a kind of fun environment for retirees, and it does have some built-in sociability. Just the thing for the hip boomer who’s tired of cooking and cleaning, and is newly single!

I really like this thought for an urban affordability site. Although the residents would be its main users, perhaps the dining areas or bar could be open to outsiders, for extra income. It could even be a training arena for those in the hospitality arena, or host cooking school internships.

Hudson Hotel's terrace--how about a hammock at your New Boarding House?

And there are a lot of possibilities to maximize small spaces–high ceilings with sleeping lofts, or even Murphy beds and tables that fold up into the wall. The

A contemporary Murphy bed

New Simplicity. Why not?



10 Nov

The Nittany Lion

I was an undergrad at Penn State during Joe Paterno football glory years, and a grad at Indiana when Bobby Knight ruled. In both schools, I was an editor on the school daily newspaper, the Collegian at the former and the Ids at the latter–this meant I heard plenty, even though my area was the arts. When the Penn State scandal broke, I was called by friends who knew that was my alma mater, and by my older sister, who also attended. Unlike her, I was never a football fan. Students got free tickets then, and I occasionally accompanied friends, but always with a paperback book. Paterno? I liked the way he pushed his students to take academics seriously, and I liked the way the NCAA never found any problems with monetary lures to recruits–he didn’t need to hold out those temptations. I’ve heard my mother (a well-informed sports fan in her 90’s) say for years that Joe should go, but I know how colleges work, and I know how the Penn State Alumni Association works–football pays for plenty in Happy Valley, its rep keeps the alumni buying special Nittany Lions license plates, and Joe Paterno was its high priest. I’m no acolyte, however. Did I used to hear about football players and other athletes date raping girls at drunken frat parties (albeit in the years before “date rape” was a term)? Yep. Did I used to hear about girls who weren’t raped making accusations just to get some guy in trouble after rejection? Yep. And I believe both types of incidents occurred multiple times, as they have also played out in many other universities across the country. Did I believe Joe Paterno was personally responsible for getting to the bottom of these incidents? Nope.

And now to the present. If you’d asked me last week about Joe Paterno, I would have been indifferent towards his presence and his legacy. I got a

Overturned news van due to rioting student Paterno supporters

solid education at Penn State, and remember my professors with fondness. Maybe his winning football team enabled some of their hires; if so, I thank him. But the present actions demand something besides indifference. I’d like to give the idiot students who rioted on his behalf, overturning a news truck and attempting to interfere with firefighters’ attempts to clean the resultant oil spill a kick in the pants and suspension. Their sophomoric antics (irresistible word choice) makes Happy Valley look like an asylum for idiots. Doesn’t shock me–there;s always been a lot of drinking there, and it’s a powerful fuel. But when I read that tear-stained girls are sobbing that JoePa WAS the university–well, it makes me want to puke. That demonstrates such a skewed image of what a university should be and who makes it–but it’s a view many Boards of Trustees have themselves endorsed.

The incidents involving former assistant coach Sandusky are criminal, disgusting and well deserving of investigation. But the results of investigations so far have not all been published, and they are ongoing. Like others, I’m going to jump in with a knee-jerk reaction, based only on what I know. Who cares? Nobody, nor should they. I’m neither a member of the judiciary nor of law enforcement. But here, the result of numerous conversations, are my thoughts on the matter nonetheless:

1. The Republicans will put up a secret shrine to Joe and PSU in general. The press has honed in on this as if no University has hosted a serious crime of any type before, and distracted from election losses and fumbling presidential candidates.

Joe Paterno with team

2. Joe Paterno has a national name, recognized by many who never attended Penn State; that makes him a story with legs. Though I heard about the following stories, they never became the topic of everyone’s national conversation: former University of New Mexico ex-PRESIDENT being arrested for running an online prostitution ring, along with a Fairleigh Dickinson physics professor; University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business prof arrested for his own filmed pedophilic sex acts on a laptop he traveled with; another Wharton prof (remember, Penn State is the state flagship school, Penn–or U of P–is the Ivy League institution) murdered his wife; there’s the University of Alabama prof who went on a rampage, killing three and shooting three more; and, just to add more to a far-from-exhausted list, there are many rapes, reported and unreported, of students by campus professors.

3. Joe Paterno, unlike his superiors to whom he reported an incident he didn’t see, has not been an investigative target. Reports vary; in some, he told only the Head of Athletics what a grad student had told him; in others, he told both fired University officials. If the latter is true, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz was ultimately  in charge of the campus police, who number over 50 and have 150 auxiliary members (State College town police include 65 full-time officers,  14 full– and part-time civilian employees, plus crossing guards). Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley have been arrested for perjury, and did not report the case to the police; they apparently told the university’s president, Graham Spanier, who was sacked by the Board of Trustees yesterday, as was Paterno.  Should Paterno have been fired? I don’t think so. He followed an established chain–they failed the university, their consciences, and the child, and deserve to go down. USA Today reported, “Paterno informed athletics director Tim Curley but didn’t follow up when Curley, Spanier and others failed to go to police or child-protection authorities.” How would Paterno even know that they failed to go to the police or child protection agencies? University officials are far from transparent and forthcoming regarding their actions.

4. Could Joe have done more? Many say he deserved the firing because he was part of the cover-up. He reported it to his superiors, so I don’t see

Mike McQueary, witness to the incident when a grad student

how he was part of a cover-up. The direct criminal was already an ex-employee at the time of the incident. While in retrospect I’m sure he’s sorry he didn’t take out public ads in the newspaper at the time, viewing things in retrospect is not all that helpful. And if one does so, one figure emerges as problematic–and it isn’t Joe. It’s the grad student Mike McQueary who saw the incident, and didn’t interfere–yet the only mention of calling him out that I’ve seen is in a group of internet comments on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website. Why didn’t he at least shout or shove when he saw what was happening? McQueary was a former player and grad student then, but currently the recievers coach at Penn State. After his hiring–or before–why didn’t he go to the police or child protection agencies to find out what was what? He was, after all, more directly involved, and was 28 years old at the time–hardly a kid. If Joe has to go, why not McQueary?

5. This is not an excuse, just an observation–Paterno is in his mid-80’s. His generation didn’t grow up hearing all about sex abuse, beyond “don’t take candy from strangers.” They aren’t comfortable talking about homosexuality, pedophilia, and other issues beyond adult male-female bed bouncing. They often show greater loyalty to friends and family than circumstances might warrant. The possibility of an ex-associate behaving so shockingly must have been horrifying to Paterno. After reporting it, it is not surprising that he might shove it into a dusty corner of his mind and turn his attention elsewhere.

6. Why did the charity the criminal Sandusky helped found, The Second Mile, not go to the police and child protection services after an earlier incident was reported to them? Surely their complicity was far more noteworthy than Paterno’s, and far more dangerous. Predators groom their victims, and this non-profit was ideal for Sandusky’s purposes. It is sickening to read that Sandusky’s six children were all adopted, for it makes you wonder (not that birth children aren’t sexually abused, too), and that he fostered several others. Some wonder what his wife might have been aware of, but pedophilic abuse cases rarely investigate spouses, unless they took an active role.

Penn State grad burning his diploma

The whole is a sick mess. I understand why the Board of Trustees felt Joe had to go, and believe the university president really did deserve to go. But legally speaking (not that I’m a lawyer!), does the Board of Trustees have a case with Joe? And is he likely to fight back later? I’m no advocate of big-time university sports and the fact that schools become so financially dependent on them,  but I think it’s ridiculous to tar the entire  institution because of what happened–that former students are burning their diplomas is outright ridiculous, unless they feel that their university experience was football.

What do I hope will emerge from all this? That those in positions of entitlement (university administrators, winning athletic coaches, politicians, church fathers) will drop their arrogance and realize they are accountable for their actions? Ha! I can wish it, but the world has shown no inclination to work that way. I hope Penn State and other universities will do even more research on pedophiles and preventive measures–since pedophiles were almost always themselves abused as children, they produce “offspring,” creating exponential growth–and finding out why some victims are able to resist this mental path would have enormous benefits. I certainly hope all universities will consider what the downside of sweeping things under the rug may be, and act differently. And I wish the victims of Sandusky the very best, and hope they will be able to cope with the memories they have, and the barrage of news items this scandal has raised. They were hit hard–betrayal by a trusted adult, threats in a vulnerable position, abuse, moral abandonment. May they find relief and comfort.

Rounding the Post–Day 6 of the $25/wk challenge

2 Oct

After today, one more day left! It’s looking possible, though it won’t be a cakewalk, by any means.

Breakfast 33 cents

Out of fruit till the possible market foray tomorrow! So, back to the peanut butter crackers. Ten Zestas for breakfast, like yesterday, for 31 cents, plus iced tea at 2 cents, for a total of 33 cents.

Lunch 17 cents

Had Lipton’s Ring O’Noodle Chicken Soup, with a few hot pepper flakes shaken in. I wasn’t feeling too great, and didn’t want more. 17 cents, plus free water.

If the bun isn't Amoroso's, it's not a true Philly--and the chips should be Herr's

Dinner $2.91

Felt better and a little homesick, and needed a Philly cheesesteak! The closest commercial substitute in Cleveland is at Penn Station; mushrooms are NEVER the norm on a cheesesteak, whatever misinformation Ohio has been given.  The biggest difference is the bun–without Amoroso’s, it’s never quite the same. For my grocery-made substitute, I just use Italian sub rolls. They come 8 to a packet at $2.99, so one was 37 cents. I used the frozen SteakUmms, which were $4.69 for seven steaks; I used two, so $1.34 for the meat, which you throw into the pan at the same time as the sliced onions–the grease cooks the onions, which amounted to about 20 cents. You cook the meat, then neaten it into a portion and lay on the sliced mozzarella (it was on sale for 2 packets/$5; about 40 cents), then put a lid on the pan and it melts in less than a minute. Deftly scoop it onto the roll, and shake out some chips (see earlier posts) at about 60 cents. Water to drink. Total $2.91.

Day’s total? $3.41, weekly total now at $23.41. That leaves me very little for tomorrow! Uh oh…….stay tuned.

Division of Bon Vivant labor

18 Sep

This blog will have thoughtful examinations of different aspects of life, and how creativity and thrift can merge for extraordinary results. On the Thrifty BonVivant Facebook page (search it as a name), you’ll get Cleveland events and suggestions that epitomize splendor and economy. The Twitter feed, @thriftybonvivant, includes similar but not identical thoughts and events.

The adventure begins!

18 Sep
Condemned building being razed

When you or Cleveland are in flux...

Sometimes one’s surroundings are less than inspiring. And those surroundings might be outside your window, or inside your head. Whether the pundits want to define it this way or not, we’re in the New Depression (and no, I don’t think it’s the President’s fault). Bemoaning our situation doesn’t make it better–but action will. Unfortunately, most of us don’t want to believe things have changed and that we have to change to meet them. Check the interest on your credit card, and the new info that reveals how much that interest mounts up to in only a year–yikes! Circumstances and bad choices tumbled me from a comfortable lifestyle that enjoyed frequent indulgences to a situation that was starting to feel desperate, despite a good job. So I took some steps and now have less daily worry, which is a lovely situation. But that’s not Living (with the capital L). My parents both grew up through the Great Depression, but their lives still had some Great (not an accidental G) moments. And they’re still able to indulge themselves when they want to. Let’s not be victims of the economy–let’s take some responsibility. But the responsibility doesn’t just mean pulling our ostrich heads out of the sand (I understand they don’t really do that, but why spoil a perfectly good cliche?), it means taking responsibility for making Lives for ourselves and others. How can we be thrifty and still enjoy, both on an everyday basis and big-picture wise? Join me in keeping life an adventure, improving Cleveland, and thriving in every way–creatively, joyfully celebrate what life has to offer, even when our pockets are flat.  There’s no reason to feel depressed in the New Depression. Let’s live extraordinarily! I’ll be noting things that run the gamut of household savings, fun low-budget outings, mind cultivation, car-free living, etc., and hope you’ll join in.