Life in the apartment complex brought with it a whole new cast of characters. Much like the old mobile home park, the place was overflowing with kids. Unlike the folks at our old place, all of the parents there were full-time university students. With only a few exceptions, they were intelligent, involved, and, most importantly, present. Many of my neighbors were also international. During the four years we lived there, our family made friends with people from Asia, the Middle East, South America and Europe. Our little microcosm was wonderful, but it was hardly a perfect world.
One of the families across the hallway was from China. Both the mother and the father spoke English, but since they were busy with school and work, they left their little four-year-old son, Song Song, in the loving care of his grandmother. Song Song’s English repertoire consisted of exactly three phrases: “I’ll save you, Sweet Polly!” “Never fear! Underdog is here!” and “Simon bar Simon!” Yes, I know that the villain in that cartoon was Simon bar Sinister, but Song Song didn’t.
The people who lived directly above us were a colorful melting pot of crazy. The mom was a loud Brazilian who screamed out the windows at her children every day and smashed her furniture around the apartment on the weekend. The dad, an American fellow who rarely spoke, only appeared outside his door as he left and came home from work. Trudging down the stairs with an old-school black metal lunch bucket every day, he looked like Fred Flintstone meets Zombieland. They had one son and one daughter. The little boy, Max, entertained himself by peeing on other kids’ toys, while his tubby older sister coped by eating her feelings.
In the apartment beside them was an American family of four. From the outside they looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting: A mother, father sister and brother all with red hair and freckles. Life inside their apartment, however, was a dark and lonely place. Both mom and dad were busy college students who left their two children to fend for themselves all day long. The teenage sister, who was supposed to be taking care of her little brother Brian, turned on cartoons for him every day and retreated to her bedroom to cut herself. Brian usually showed up at my door at about 6:45 every morning for breakfast. On school days, I made sure he got dressed and out the door. On weekends and during the summers, he stayed until he absolutely had to go home.
The family that lived in another apartment across from us was Korean. The father was a post graduate student and the mother was a lovely friend of mine whose only fault was befouling the entire apartment building with her cooking every night. Thanks to her, the place smelled of rotted cabbage and overdone shrimp most of the time. Their son frequented my apartment in a daily search for something better to eat.
The apartment complex featured a wonderful back yard for the children to play. It had a large grassy area with picnic benches and clotheslines, plus slides and swings for Max to pee on. I thought about trying a Mr. Bubble Pool Party there, but among the thirty-six apartments in the complex were a total of about seventy children. Even I, in my Brady Bunch delusions, could see that that wasn’t going to work. In lieu of creating the fanciful world of Mr. Bubble, I chose to become the neighborhood Kool Aid mom.