House of Baloney

Early in my first attempt at college (at the UW in Seattle), I moved from my too-expensive studio apartment on Capitol Hill into a shared house in Wallingford. The new place was within easy walking distance of campus and right across the street from Dick’s Drive-in (which I think I patronized exactly once – I don’t hate fast food per se, but I’m finicky and I don’t think they did custom orders. I am not one for special sauce). One of my new housemates was part of a community of environmentalists, and I started hanging out with them, partly as a fellow traveler, partly as a socially reticent person presented with a ready-made in-group, but mostly because of the general partying. Note that although I am an environmentalist, this is not from a spiritual orientation, but from a hard science orientation: physics, biology, and systems theory.

The downside of my hanging out with these folks is that they were mostly not fully informed about, shall we say, the more factual aspects of various situations. After some egregious (and probably drunken and/or stoned) pontification by one of these unwitting yet self-righteous folks, I felt that I must Do Something, although not necessarily in the context of that particular group. I owned a collection of most of the Omni magazines at that time, which I had transported to Seattle when I moved for college. I recalled a letter to the editor inviting readers to check out something called the “L5 Society”, a kind of club of spaceflight fanatics, and after some digging, found it and wrote to the advertised address. Shortly thereafter I received contact information and found myself attending monthly meetings of one of their Seattle chapters (there were actually two at the time) at the board room of the Pacific Science Center. Non-characteristically, I then took action to form a third chapter, “Husky L5”. There are many stories to be told about those times, but the main one is that I moved again, to different shared housing closer to campus, and attracted a group of friends more like myself in many ways, many of whom were members of something called the “Telecommunication Users Group”, or TUG. These folks were participants in a nascent computer networking hobby, made possible by the availability of personal computers and modems, and I fit right in. After yet another move I and several others were living in a house (this time in Maple Leaf, near the “Safeway is Death” house) with four phone lines and no phone (well, there was a handset that could be plugged in if a voice caller shouted over a carrier signal and actually got noticed).

The several years of this era were characterized by regular weekend parties, differing in attendance mainly by whether actual announcements were distributed. One of our frequent visitors, let us call him “The Agent”, actually moved in a few houses up from us. Notorious! The Agent was kind of a shadowy figure, so we didn’t really notice, when it happened, that he had disappeared, but one day his wife stomped through the back door of the house screaming for us, clearly upset about something. It’s hard to think of her as not embodying a stereotype (of what, I don’t know – short, plump, fond of high heels, an immigrant with a strong accent; perhaps the defining instance of a later stereotype). Anyway, once she had our attention she made it clear that The Agent hadn’t been seen for several weeks, and that we must somehow be to blame. As it turns out, we weren’t. Rather, he had been, to our surprise and as we learned later, AWOL from the military, and was being held in the brig. Notorious! Eventually The Agent’s wife stomped away in her heels, furious, denigrating us with shrill cries of “Full of Drugs! Full of Baloney!”.

One of our other frequent weekend guests soon learned of the brig situation and sprung The Agent via an open window and a drive-by pick-up. While partying with him afterwards, perhaps that very night (prior to his continued evasion; he did ultimately reconcile), we related the tale of his wife’s visit. The Agent then revealed one of his many gifts, that of naming things, and we became known thereafter as the “House of Baloney”. We eventually moved to larger quarters much closer to the University, maintaining our momentum for another couple of years, but the second House of Baloney was the last, as relationships and careers finally carried each of us into independent trajectories. Nevertheless, we are, decades later, still known as The Baloneys.

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