It’s officially hit summer in Brooklyn; the street outside my window is filled with the sounds of shrieking horseplay and Latin music by day, replaced with the gentle hiss of a cracked open fire hydrant by night. Last night the men who run the bodega on down on the corner were enjoying the first of many gently breezy evenings, playing dominoes and drinking beers as they laughed and joked in Spanish I’ve long since lost the ear for. I walked down Irving, and immediately began to reminisce about porches.
As I grew into drinking age, my love of porches expanded, and a decent place to sit under the night sky and crack a beer became a much sought-after luxury when choosing a place to live. The first one close to my heart was that of the house I grew up in, the two-story brick building that my parents still live in on University Boulevard in Dallas, Texas. It has a wooden deck out back, refinished by my dad, that overlooks a lush lawn and is crowned by a large tree that used to bear a tire swing and the unfinished foundation of a tree house. In one corner there’s a rusted-out trampoline, and nearby, a charcoal grill where many steaks and burgers were cooked while thoroughly inebriated diners lounged and drank Coronas at the green, metal table at the edge of the deck. My brother Alex turned 21 in that house, and we opened the usually sealed off French doors to allow the July wind to waft into the living room.
2609 San Pedro Street, Unit A, in Austin, better known as Fort Awesome, was where I began my true porch career. Our apartment was the bottom floor of an old, 1940s-era duplex, and the porch was a small stone affair that led to the front door and the neighbors’ stairwell off to one side, and dropped of into a dirt lawn, that quickly transformed into a carpet of bottle caps and broken glass as the year pressed on. Our house was situated on a busy thoroughfare between the frat houses of West Campus, and many a night when I was still too young to go to bars, we would sit back in chairs chained to the support pillars and drink cases of Lone Star as we watched the pledges and rushes shuffle by to their first college parties, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and then shake our heads with beery tongue-clucking as we watched them filter back, broken up and a little worse for wear. A tiny, battery operated CD player kept the porch filled with the likes of Johnny Cash, The Band, The Allman Brothers, and Neil Young. I once spent about thirty minutes berating an out of town Sooner who was visiting the girls upstairs, after she attacked Austin, UT, homosexuals, and blacks without provocation. That porch hosted innumerable parties, the most memorable of which was a zombie-themed 4th of July bash, during which I passed out roman candles to guests milling about in the yard and threw a 5,000 cracker roll of Black Cats into the crowd.
I remained in West Campus for another year, tragically porchless, but during my first senior year I moved in to a Wonderland, a four bedroom honest-to-god HOUSE that sat on a quiet street just off of Enfield Road. The year was altogether more quiet, although we did enjoy more than one night drinking scotch and smoking cigars while we sat at an in irregular table pilfered from Betch’s workplace. Sometimes I would drink morning tea out at that table, watching as the thin, hazy sunlight filtered through the many trees that lined our neighborhood. At Halloween, we were besieged by tick or treaters, many of whom had come from other neighborhoods, and seemed unduly excited that we were giving away chocolate candies.
My last porch, perhaps unsurprisingly, holds the most memories. It was a large but run-down house in a quiet North Loop neighborhood. We had a giant backyard, but the owners hadn’t tended to it, and it tended to be overrun with mosquitoes in the summertime. The front porch, large, raised, and made from sturdy wood planks, was the stuff dreams were made of. Ben and I sat and noodled on guitars while we listened to the World Series on the radio one Halloween as parents instructed their kids to avoid our hovel. Many were the nights that my good friend Paul and I drank glass after glass of good bourbon on that porch, reminiscing, looking to the future, or just enjoying the night air, punctuated by little else but the chirp of cicadas and the occasional tinkle of ice in a glass.
Now that I’m in a city, a dyed-in-the-wool, honest-to-god city, it seems that my porch days, at least for a while, are behind me. Stoop culture is prevalent here, and not one hour ago I cracked a tallboy on my front steps and sat perched there, enjoying the relative quiet and escape from the claustrophobia of my apartment. I went inside after a few minutes; it just wasn’t the same.