Monday, November 01, 2010

Kool Aid? Don't mind if I do.

I’m not very familiar with Feng Shui, nor do I believe the little I know, but Amynah and I have noticed that certain apartments seem to have effects on how we live and socialize entirely independent of their size, location, and layout.

We’d noticed it in Montreal: in one apartment in the Outremont neighbourhood, Amynah would socialize constantly, and we would frequently go out for evening walks. In another larger apartment one block further away, she never invited anyone over at all.

Of course, we don’t realize the effect our apartment is having on until we leave. Our first apartment in Los Angeles was wonderful: one block from the local park, awesome neighbours in the building, two large bedrooms, hardwood floors, lots of light, close to all sorts of amenities.

While still a lovely place, our new apartment has almost none of those advantages. As an added disincentive to socializing, it comes with free cable.

Yet for some reason, we’ve already had more people over for dinner here in a month than we managed in a year in our previous place, and we’ve resumed our evening walks that had been a part of our routine everywhere else we lived. My theory is that we're trying to maintain a connection with the outside world.

Overall the new place is… nice. It’s run by UCLA for the benefit of those students and post-docs with families, meaning everyone here has the same employer, is in the same life circumstances, and have children roughly the same age. It’s called the University Village but, as it is a controlled access facility surrounded by iron gates and cement walls, I call it the compound. In essence, here we're fish in a heated aquarium, trying not to forget the taste of the ocean.

Behind the metal bars, we all live in a series identical adjoining apartment buildings, distinguished only by the differences in their communal playgrounds. There, children frolic happily throughout the day while parents chat and use the shared barbecues. The numerous flower beds are watered every morning, and everyone smiles and nods at one another as we negotiate our strollers past each other on the well swept walkways.

Many of the residents are internationals, and most of these are Indian or Chinese, most of whom appear to have their grandparents tending the children. In the playground closest to us, there appears to be an informal deal in which the Indian families occupy the facilities for one hour, then the Chinese grannies will arrive and sit and gossip while their descendants play. I’ve not quite figured out where Sana fits into all of this, but all camps seem fairly friendly to us both.

It’s also extremely well organized – there are occasional parties for the kids, there are English lessons for international students, there’s a hard-to-get-into daycare. They look after the details too: for Hallowe’en the residents' committee even circulated signs to every apartment that you could hang by your door to indicate whether you were participating or not.

All of this is so perfectly idyllic that it pushes into creepy territory, leaving us no other conclusion other than that there must be something darker going on under the surface. Amynah is convinced it's a façade masking a pulsating mosrass of sexual tension as in Melrose Place, although the most likely candidates for such hijinks are the various visiting grandparents. For my part, I keep looking around for piles of stones with which the residents express their darker urges a la "The Lottery." As such, I have been very careful not to buy the residents' committee’s raffle tickets.

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