An Ode to The Tin Can

What exists beyond a red door marked 917 is measured not in square footage or room numbers. It cannot be appraised by the quality of the water, by the faulty doorknobs, by the popcorn walls, by the ever-beeping fire alarms.                            

Despite the full capacity, unwelcome fruit flies colonize the house when winter draws near. The basement—a heinous, dank cellar—has served as a scary laundry room, a compost site, and a storage area for friends who need to stash furniture while studying abroad. A floral sectional in the family room has seen many visitors; it belonged to one of the tenet’s grandparents and takes care of all who rest upon it, much like a grandparent would. An unrelated—but still floral—love seat dubbed “Flo” after Florence and the Machine is notorious for enveloping people in her comfortable, velvety cushions. It is the first place to look for lost keys, lost wallets, and lost hope.

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all photos by Timothy LaRose

The house has seen tears and triumphs along with dance parties and debate viewings. If Bon Iver or sister band Joseph isn’t playing from some corner of the house, it’s safe to suggest that someone should call some sort of authority, because something isn’t right.

A chameleon at the mercy of the changing weather, the house transforms into a brick oven in the blistering heat of the summer and an icebox in the cold Milwaukee winter. Air conditioning didn’t exist when the house was built. Its old, drafty windows have seen better days. The front stoop—arguably holy ground—is the best feature of the house where you can find most of them congregated during “Stoop Season,” either drinking coffee or cracking open PBRs. If Stoop Season isn’t upon them, a gathering around the kitchen island with Cermak chips and salsa or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos will do.

Lovingly dubbed “The Tin Can” because of the words spray-painted outside on the back brick wall, the century-old row house near Marquette University’s campus is home to eight or eleven tenets, depending on who you ask (i.e. the landlord). It’s an eccentric house that takes special people to call it home.

Maggie hails from Minneapolis and proclaims the spirituality of bees fervently, practicing what she preaches through a social movement called “Bee the Change.” Her love for certain things—bees, bicycles, sloths—earns her a smattering of bee-, bicycle-, and sloth-related gifts, a testament to her unwavering devotion to what she finds IMG_0629important as well as a testament to her impact on others. She shares a room with Lauren, who defends her hometown Indianapolis as loyally as she stands by John Mayer’s music and would much rather bake cookies for her roommates than do homework (something that has become a bit of a habit). An aspiring storyteller, she wants to help others tell their stories as much as she enjoys writing her own.

 

In the neighboring room, St. Louis native Molly is most likely not there since most of her days are spent studying at the EngineeringHall. She is no stranger to all-nighters—IMG_0662whether she’s planning a trip to Nicaragua as chapter president of Global Brigades or choreographing an Airband dance for her winning sorority or working towards saving Milwaukee’s water—but if she’s ever tired, she doesn’t make it known. Confidence pours through her every step and a can-do attitude serves as an electric current for the house. She shares a room with Nicole, the queen of hugs and snuggling, who has more love to give than she knows what to do with. A talented singer, Nicole performs with her beloved a capella group called the Gold ‘N Blues and always draws a supportive crowd, where just her family alone will take up an entire row. Her signature spiral curls are no coincidence—her last name means “curly” in Italian.

 

Paige, whose tidy room features her mother’s childhood furniture, is a dependable img_0581.jpgChipotle buddy and can devote as much energy in the library as she can at Soldier Field, cheering on the Chicago Bears. Her self-awareness makes balance between exercise physiology student and fun student look easy. For a while, during football season, she was the sole reason the television was used.

 

 

At the end of the hall, Allison’s room was most frequented for her great closet despite the IMG_0586.jpghardly-visible (but recently cleaned!) floor. Allison channels her journalistic talents into building community in her beloved Milwaukee in a number of ways—she started Youth Rise Magazine, an online publication written by young students at Urban Underground. A Racine native, she knows which who makes the best Kringle in her hometown and is the go-to source for fun events happening in Milwaukee on any given weekend.

Travel up to the third floor and you’ll find Abe, whose tireless devotion to his engineering studies is matched only by his devotion to Beyonce. Whether he’s delivering an epic speech peppered with powerful Spanish mantras, giving tours to prospective Marquette students, or making his unbelievably moist orange cake, Abe spares no ounce of passion. He shares a room with outdoorsy boyfriend Connor, who is the king of composting, stovetop popcorn, and—more recently—“Want You Back” by Haim. He lives up to his Portland, Oregon, hometown as the most avid biker and thriftiest of the bunch. He can make a mean curry dish and one time the mayor of Milwaukee called him “the man” after leading a meeting at work for Milwaukee Succeeds.

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Down the hall, Kate’s room has a small window alcove that serves as a great corner to watch a storm. A coffee enthusiast and avid runner, Kate not only completed the Boston Marathon but she also did so raising over $8,000 for trauma research. Her profoundly strong heart provided a constant supply of awe throughout the house and the fervor with which she sings “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks is undeniable. She knows the best songs to listen to, always.

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Rose, another St. Louis native, is most likely to either want to go out dancing or watch a documentary on Scientology. No one in the house can figure out how she balances her steadfast commitment to VETS Place and WYSE, her political science studies, Netflix watching, AND consistent early bedtime. Her sweet name and favorite color make complete sense; appropriately enough, a yellow rose signifies joy and friendship, two things synonymous with her.

In order to reach Rose’s room, you must pass through the Harry Potter room—a roomIMG_0591 that wouldn’t normally be a bedroom if you had a regular amount of people living in the house—which is where Gina lives. A mountain girl from Colorado, Gina is arguably the coolest of the cool. She can be found sailing and hiking through beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the summer as well as writing intelligently hilarious (and viral) content for satire publications and Twitter. It won’t be surprising to find her byline on the Onion or see her as a writer for SNL, using her wit to advocate for social justice issues, no less. She also knows how to emotionally level the entire house with a beautiful letter sent from her summer post in the mountains—a piece of mail more reminiscent of poetry than a pen pal post card.

They call each other “angels,” a term of endearment that slips off their tongues as naturally as their first names. The Tin Can is a symphony of heartbeats, each dweller with his or her distinct rhythm. They harmonize, they let each other play solos, they sound beautiful together. The beauty is amplified as they constantly allow others’ hearts—friends from home, family members, neighbors, fellow Marquette students—to beat along.

There’s a doorjamb in the dining room with more than 50 names and heights recorded only by Connor, the master measurer, with the words “Y’ALL GET MEASURED!” at the top. Usually, when homeowners measure the height of their children, it tracks the growth of each individual child. Looking at all of our beloved visitors over the last two years, I’d like to think that our height chart tracks the love that grew in that home.

As they—we—graduate, the Tin Can does not exist solely inside 917 N. 14th Street. It is within each of the hearts that called each other home.

 

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all photos by Timothy LaRose

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Pumpin’ Iron

There’s been a lot of heavy lifting going on around me lately. My mom moved houses and after an exhausting 72-hour marathon of pack and haul and pack and haul, I was about ready to put marinara sauce on my noodle arms.

She moved the weekend of the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March—it was funny to think of Obama moving from the White House as we were moving from our house (a very small brick bungalow, sans-Oval Office, but still). I was bummed that I couldn’t march with my fellow brothers and sisters in downtown Indianapolis, while people everywhere across the world lifted each other up. While I carried heavy boxes, strangers carried burdens as they marched through cities nationwide. While we were lifting our belongings into trucks, my friends in Milwaukee lifted the dignity of those whose arms are being tied behind their backs, whose hearts grow heavier as they’re crushed by the unwelcome mat.

There must be a lot of sore arms in this country. That’s a good thing.

After most of our belongings were moved into the new house, I was sitting at my kitchen table at home listening to the deliverymen grunting as they carried a washer and dryer into our new house. I felt bad that I was uselessly sitting there, so I busied myself with making brownies and texted my sister in a fit of unnecessary worry. She reassured me that heavy lifting was their job. They’re fine. She also probably called me stupid.

It got me thinking, as I’ve witnessed people marching, holding signs, calling senators, offering support, and engaging in meaningful conversation, isn’t heavy lifting all of our jobs? Shouldn’t we all be lifting each other up?

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My friends at the Women’s March in Milwaukee. (Also not my photo–one of my sweet friends took it but I regrettably have no idea who.)

After a weekend of carrying boxes the weight of small eight-year-olds, I felt profoundly strong. There’s something powerful and emotional about packing all of your belongings—donating half of them along the way because why do I still own my grubby Converse low tops from eighth grade—and planting new seeds in a new neighborhood. You might find yourself playing “Closer to Love” by Mat Kearney over and over again in the car as you transport your grandmother’s china set down Meridian. You might catch a glimpse of the skyline—even when you’re miles north of it—reassuring you that your zip code might change but your original home turf doesn’t.

With raw hands from packing and carrying cardboard, I picked up Small Victories by Anne Lamott and stumbled upon an excerpt that I underlined a long time ago:

“The welcome book would have taught us that power and signs of status can’t save us, that welcome—both offering and receiving—is our safety. Various chapters and verses of this book would remind us that we are wanted and even occasionally delighted in, despite the unfortunate truth that we are greedy-grabby, self-referential, indulgent, overly judgmental, and often hysterical.”

Anne goes on to say that this book of welcome isn’t written yet—that we have to write it ourselves. Luckily I was sitting in my bed because reading these timely, relevant words made me a little weak in the knees.

Whether we’re lifting our pens to write the book of welcome, lifting spirits, lifting dignity, or lifting washers and dryers, I pray that our arms grow strong but stay soft enough to embrace each other tenderly.

Better start doing some more pushups, huh? (After all, just because Mrs. Obama isn’t in the White House anymore doesn’t mean she isn’t our bicep queen.)

(Also here’s a song to lift to.)

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