The College Kids Are Back in Boston, God Help Us

When I introduced myself to the couple who bought the house next door, I was ecstatic that such nice, quiet people would be moving in adjacent to us and our two kids. After a few awkward moments, I eventually extracted that, in reality, their plan was to rent out the place. To a nice family, I supposed? They exchanged glances. No. To students at the nearby college. My demeanor soured. Houses in our neighborhood are very close together. You can practically reach out the window and shake hands.

But the new landlords began an earnest pitch about how much they cared about our family-oriented neighborhood, and they assured me that they would only rent to female Chinese graduate students. Are you allowed to do that, I wondered to myself? Only rent to female Chinese graduate students? To discriminate by race, gender, and educational background all at the same time? I didn’t care, though. Female Chinese graduate students sounded good to me. In fact, they sounded like they would make no sound at all. I like quiet. I work from home. The previous neighbor was a wonderful old lady, and the house had been unoccupied for several years after she moved out. I figured this was about as close to the status quo as I was going to get.

I spent the first two semesters cautiously optimistic. As advertised, female Chinese graduate students make great neighbors! The young women were quiet, mature, and respectful. One offered to carry my groceries from the car up our many stairs. For my part, I tried to explain through both words and mime—their command of English varied from person to person—the various strategies for keeping the raccoons from strewing garbage all over the yard between our houses. There were only a few minor issues that revolved around street parking. We don’t have a driveway and I’m very inflexible about sharing my parking spaces, which aren’t really mine at all—it’s a public street—but I’ve shoveled those parking spaces for the past 11 years so they’re mine. Clearly worded notes wedged on windshields helped. All in all, it was the best we could hope for.

In May, the female Chinese graduate students dispersed across the globe and were replaced for the summer with female non-Chinese students of indeterminate graduate standing. Perhaps it’s not as easy as you’d think to find five female Chinese graduate students who want to live in the same place at the same time. Things got slightly shriekier with the occasional wailing tantrum, but the new subletters were still relatively easy to live with. When our garbage cans and recycling bins got swallowed up with theirs, I’d simply walk over and reconfiscate them. Strongly worded notes about parking continued to be deposited on windshields as needed.

Then we went out of town for a week right before Labor Day. When we returned, the last moving truck was just pulling away. There were no female Chinese graduate students to be found. In their place was a gaggle of young guys. Not Chinese. Not graduate students. Freshman. Six of them. (Apparently the living room was converted into an extra bedroom while we were away.) Four cars are now crammed in front of the house, with a very large BMW edging ever closer to my precious parking spaces. The garbage is piling up in the yard in looming towers.

It’s going to be an interesting year living next door to a frat house. I have to admit, things have been surprisingly quiet over there for the past few days. I can only hope that, unlike when I was in college, the lure of social media and online gaming will keep those young men quietly tethered to their various devices in the off-hours instead of embroiled in raucous benders and noisy late-night mating rituals.

And maybe—just maybe—they really love to shovel snow.