The House of Pain: Brothers in good times and bad
It’s been almost two decades since I lived in an old house on River Drive in McMinnville affectionately dubbed by those of us who resided there as the “House of Pain.”
I was the rookie on the staff of the local newspaper at the time, and after six months in an overpriced apartment, the sports editor and I decided to get a place together to cut down on our expenses. A position opened up at the paper, and the newest hire, Greg D., threw in with us, and we found an old parsonage beside an empty church in a residential neighborhood just across the bridge from downtown.
Greg D. is a guy I’ve known since childhood. Our parents lived next door to one another and were close friends for years; Greg likes to joke that we first met as tykes in the sandbox. After our families moved, we grew apart but reconnected after discovering we both attended the same college.
Over the next several years, the House of Pain would become a legendary bachelor pad in that sleepy little town. Terry moved on to greener pastures after a year, but under his mischievous eye, the House of Pain seemed more like the fraternity in “Animal House” than just another place to live. Back then, before my problems with drugs and alcohol drove me down the road to ruin, partying was a whole lot of fun, and when we threw a party, the entire town came out.
Quite literally, actually. The city manager and his wife would turn up, content to sip beverages and take in the spectacle with amused eyes. A certain county commissioner who worked by day as an insurance agent and dabbled in chemistry would roar into the driveway somewhere around midnight, tires slinging gravel, and toss a homemade pipe bomb into the backyard, blasting bark from the tree branches. And as long as the paper’s intrepid crime reporter, who was on a first-name basis with every cop in town, was in attendance, we never had to worry about law enforcement shutting us down.
It’s hard to cherry pick individual stories about the House of Pain that are larger than life, because they all were. A parade of roommates came and went over the years, each bringing their own colorful personalities and surrounding chaos with them. There was Rock Star Dave, a guy with a quick temper who wasn’t a fan of cops for various reasons; when he came home one day to find the chief of police mowing our lawn, he was convinced the SWAT team was on its way to apprehend him, until we explained that the chief’s son had come around earlier in the spring soliciting grass-cutting jobs and then flaked out, leaving his dad to fulfill his son’s obligations.
There was Howard, a guy who may or may not have been a pathological liar. He boasted of jewel-buying trips to the Far East, showed up in a different car every week and worked as some sort of engineer at a nearby manufacturing plant. When he moved out and left one of his cars in the driveway for six months, I got curious and had the aforementioned chief of police run the vehicle identification number. It turns out the car had been reported stolen; the cops towed it, and I never knew what became of Howard.
There was Wendy, the Asian girl who lived with us for a while ... Eddie, the press foreman who drew a beautiful Lynyrd Skynyrd mural on an entire wall of the master bedroom in which he resided, doing so with an ink pen so that years later, even after it was painted over, you could trace your fingers over the lettering and the flames etched into the drywall ... Greg, the paper’s IT guy who stayed for a while when he was separated from his wife and stayed up all night, chain-smoking and chatting on the Internet ... Junior, the soft-spoken, gentle-hearted graphic designer who befriended my old dog Axl with Pringles ... and my old friend the D-Man, who spent not one but two stints at the House of Pain and had the unenviable task of cleaning out the refrigerator when the house finally emptied for the final time.
Through it all, there were a few of us who remain close, even today. Greg D., the D-Man and myself, and our spouses, went out to eat not long ago, and by the end of dinner, I’m sure the eyeballs of our wives ached from rolling so often every time we would tell another House of Pain story.
In fact, I never really understood the appeal of joining a fraternity in college until my days at the House of Pain. In school, paying dues to belong to a club whose sole purpose seemed to be to party was something I looked at with disdain. Today, I wouldn’t trade anything for those days in that old house, with those guys and that town. We were young, rowdy and invincible. More importantly, we were pals, and the bonds forged in that Bacchanalian place remain strong.
I was reminded of them this week when I got the call that Greg D.’s father had died. The first thing I did was reach out to Terry and the D-Man — my old “fraternity” brothers — to let them know of the bad news. It seemed like the right thing to do, to let them know that one of us was hurting, and that we should lift him up in thought and action.
I’ll be heading to Knoxville for the funeral tonight. My folks will be there, and the D-Man will be there. We’ll give Greg hugs and sympathy, and just like in those days long gone in that house that’s probably home to a family with no real concept of the ghosts that live there, we’ll hurt together.
That is, after all, what brothers do.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.