I lived in a commune (or “intentional community”) throughout college, and on entirely random occasions I blurt out stories about it in the hopes of remembering them a little longer and maybe sharing an interesting tale or two for the rest of the world. But mostly so I don’t forget.
If there’s anything I learned at The Abbey, it’s to expect the unexpected. This is the tale of threatened gun violence and the sugar cookies that softened the heart of grumpy neighbors.
In fairness, our neighbors put up with a lot of shit on our part, particularly near the end of our stay there. We let a couple live in a car in our parking lot and they often fought and got drunk. Or there was the time we had to be evacuated due to a death threat. But before all of that, there was the Abandoned Lot Incident (no one every gave it a name, so I’m taking the honor of doing so now).
This started very mildly with a proposal to revamp a nearby abandoned lot into a mini park. Nothing too crazy, just some gravel to resist the waist high weeds, a light or two, and maybe a bench or something. Everyone in the area cut through the lot get to a nearby grocery store, and not only was it ugly as sin, but the uneven ground and lack of light weren’t great for evening food runs.
We called a meeting with the neighbors to talk about the proposal, and were immediately crushed.
It started with calm disagreement:
Why make this look nice? Someone will just come along and graffiti it or leave trash everywhere.
Such blunt cynicism was a jolt coming from the sweet old ladies next door, but also a principal none of us hippie idealists could swallow since it sounds like a quick jaunt from “Why do anything nice, ever? Someone might ruin it.”
With our obvious incredulousness and growing irritation, the neighbors kicked it up a notch.
If it looks too nice, someone will camp there and have sex in a tent.
To realize how insane that is even on top of the weird sex example, please remember that we took in homeless people regularly. We had at least 20 people a year in and out of our rooms, and even with empty rooms available I still found people sleeping on our doorsteps and behind buildings. There were going to be people camping out around us regardless of what we did.
Desperate, Josh began to haggle for any of the pieces of his plan to be allowed through. Gravel to lessen weeds? Nope, too aesthetically pleasing. Bench? Someone might camp there! When even lights were shot down, Josh started to threaten that, hell, maybe we’d just do this without consent because the town would allow it and it’s our money and effort. The man living next to the lot was so vehemently against this that he then shouted
If I see anyone working over there, I’ll shoot ’em! If you put lights up, I’LL SHOOT YER LIGHTS OUT!”
The night ended there, because what could you possibly say after that? As Josh dragged himself home for the evening he muttered something about offering an olive branch the next day, maybe baking them cookies or something.
Not picking up the sarcasm, I took this absolutely literally and showed up at his house the next day with frosted sugar cookies ready to pass out door to door.
Against all odds, every neighbor we visited invited us in, apologized without any prompting from us for the night and, while still maintaining opposition to the idea, calmly said that it was a nice gesture and appreciated.
I’m telling ya kids, baked goods really can work wonders!