Real World--Hampden

by Jesse Fask
       Can we change this?” I asked my four friends, semi-circled around a 21-inch television.

        “No, we’re watching ‘The Real World,’ baby,” said Chris, remote control holder and biggest “The Real World” fan among us. Nick agreed. Dave was indifferent, but soon got more into the show. I looked at Jen, expecting her like it more than anyone because of her gender, but she rolled her eyes and replied, “Can we go bowling or something?”

        We watched as seven beautiful young adults rolled up to their huge mansion of a house in New Orleans. My male friends gawk at the women. Seven people in one house together for five months, watched faithfully by an audience of Generation-Xers and children of the baby boomers. This was what was called “The Real World.”

         Chris and Nick reminisced about old cast members. Jen looked at me again and asked, “Can we go shoot pool?”

        I wanted to stay in the house. Game Four of the NBA Finals was coming on in less than an hour and I wanted to watch it in the confort of my own home. I was really into this Lakers-Pacers series and didn’t feel I could adequately follow the game in a sports bar, so I was just hoping to get through “The Real World” and then on to the basketball game.

        “Why don’t they have a fat guy on this show?” I asked, deadpan. “You know, a guy who just sits on the couch, watches TV and farts a lot.”

        “Yeah,” Nick continues. “And when someone on the show talks, he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to watch something here.’ ”

        “I don’t think they’d let me on this show,” I continued, in a typical self-absorbed rant. “They’d be all--‘Jesse, he doesn’t talk to us, he’s bitter, angry, and anti-social.’ They’d kick me off. Chris, you’d be the only one who could make it on this show, dude. It’s the whole frat thing,” I said, referring to his college days at the University of Michigan.

        Jen again gave me the “let’s leave” look. I obliged, telling her I’d walk up to 36th Street with her for snowballs if she wanted.

        We left my house, walking east on 34th Street. It was a sweltering hot June day in the city. But it was cooler outside than in our no-A/C sweatpit.

        “I just hate that show,” Jen said. “It’s so contrived. Like that guy who’s saving himself for marriage. The producers, they knew that was coming. They’re like ‘Put him in a house full of nymphos and see what happens.’ It’s like they’re lab rats or something. And they always have the token person of color and one gay guy. And people like Nick and Chris eat it up.”

        “They should have ‘The Real World’ in this neighborhood,” I said. “ ‘The Real World--Hampden’. Now, I’d watch that.”

        Jen smiled and agreed. We walked up Chestnut Avenue towards the snowball shop. We passed a sign that I’d noticed before. A local pub was advertising 60-cent drafts and 50-cent hot dogs. I pointed it out to Jen, repeating out loud the prices listed on the sign. A local heard me and nodded at the great deal and entered the bar. Jen asked if I wanted to go have a drink before the game. She repeated the price and I agreed.

         The Chestnut Pub stood as a testament to old Hampden. An American flag waved over the door which was decorated with an “O’Malley for Mayor” sticker. We entered to find all the seats at the bar taken. But soon two gentleman, who introduced themselves as Meatball and Hercules, got up from their seats to make room for us.

        “Name’s Meatball, cuz, well, when I was a kid, I was fat,” he said, blowing up his cheeks Dizzie Gillespie-style, as he relinquished his seat. “Don’t ever let nobody tell you that there ain’t nice people in Hampden.” I told him that I lived down the street and so he told me where he lived and where his sister and various family members lived.

        “I love this f--kin’ bar,” he said matter-of-factly.

         After this statement, he got a lecture from the barmaid, an elderly tough-looking woman with an immense amount of urban experience on her wrinkled face.

        “Meatball!” she yelled. “Watch your mouth! There are new people in the bar.”

        “Sorry, Miss Esther,” said Meatball. “Miss Esther and I’ve known each other since I was this big.” She smiled at Meatball. He continued. “What I love about this bar is that the people are so nice. The atmosphere is good. I just like to come here, have a drink, relax.”

         I nodded. The noise in the bar fell to a quiet murmur, when all of a sudden, a loud woman’s voice with a deep Hampden drawl was heard above all others. It was a racist comment I can’t repeat here. Jen and I each gave a quiet and embarrassed laugh.

        “And we ain’t prejudiced or nothing neither,” said Meatball without breaking stride.

         Jen looked like she wanted to hide under her brown skin. Meatball changed the subject back to the reasons he liked this bar better than all others.

        “See, most bars I go in, I end up drunk and gettin’ in fights and gettin’ locked up. But that doesn’t happen here. Does it, Miss Esther?”

        She smiled and asked if we wanted another drink. We had one more before leaving. Meatball told me to come back on weekends when there was a deejay that would play any song I wanted. I told him I’d bring my friends. I haven’t been back as of yet, but who knows? Sixty-cent drafts.

         Regardless, Jen and I were both glad we had left the television room. We got back in time for the game. I told my roommates about the Chestnut Pub and Meatball and Miss Esther and the 60-cent drafts. The only oral response I got was “Did they look at you like you were crazy?” But the nonverbal looks seemed to ask why I would go into such a place. So I stopped talking and watched the game, frantically cheering for the Indiana Pacers.

        Two beers down, I continued drinking and enjoying the overtime playoff game, which would never be observed at the Chestnut Pub, where they stay loyal to the hometown Orioles even if the team is underachieving.

        Meanwhile, my roommates want to move out of Hampden and down to Charles Village or Bolton Hill. They say they want a bigger house, that they want a change.

        Maybe it would be a nice change. Maybe we could meet more people our age with similar interests and career ambitions. But in other ways, I’d feel like we were getting further and further away from the real world.


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This story was published on June 28, 2000.