Biff America: Hard housing with soft walls |

Biff America: Hard housing with soft walls


I held the phone to my ear, and the first thing I heard was, “OK, I have some great news for you, but you have to act really sad when you hear it.”

It was the late ’70s, and I was on Cape Cod. On the line was my oldest buddy Keith calling from Colorado.

Personal phone calls were forbidden at the Gatehouse restaurant. So when Keith called, he told the owner Jake Casey there was a death in my family.

That summer, I was living in a veritable shack on the cape. There was no kitchen or phone and barely enough room for a single bed, steamer trunk and tiny bathroom. The only phone access (for emergencies only) was at the Gatehouse restaurant, where I waited tables five nights a week.

Keith was calling to tell me that he found us a place to live in Colorado the following ski season with two guys he had met that summer. The place would be available in the fall, but they needed some cash to put down for the first month’s rent. Keith didn’t have enough for both of us. Actually, he didn’t even have enough for himself. If I could mail a money order the next day, we would have a cool place to live come November.

Normally, Keith and I would work in Colorado in the winters and at beach resorts in the summers. The excitement of relocating twice a year was always tempered by the stress of not knowing if you would find a suitable place to sleep. By remaining in the mountains for the summer, Keith was able to set us up for the following season.

He reminded me to act sad when I hung up.

I put down the phone, and with my best funeral face, I said, “My Uncle Eddie just died.” Jake offered his condolences, and I went back to serving lobsters.

I finished the season out on the cape and drove my 1965 Studebaker, which I had bought from a little old lady who only drove to church and the liquor store.

My accommodations during my previous three Colorado winters were marginal. This was before the internet, so your only choices for rentals were bulletin boards and the rare ad in the local newspaper. I had slept on couches, in vans and in cabins. Four guys sharing a bathroom was typical, and I even shared a bed with my buddy Bobby for a while. To have a “cool place” waiting for me the first day I arrived was a blessing.

After a 2,000 mile drive, I pulled into the yard of my new home to find Keith and my two other new roommates sitting on the front steps. Introductions were made, and the four of us were able to carry all my possessions into the house in one trip. Keith said, “I’ll show you your room.”

The first thing I noticed about my new bedroom was the walls were made of sheets. It wasn’t actually a room; it was a sunken storage pantry separated from the den by a waist-high railing. Keith had hung sheets to serve as walls. On the floor was a single mattress with a few milk crates to use as a bureau. Someone had attached an old Red Sox flag to the entrance to serve as a door.

“You can put your clothes in the milk crates and use your trunk as a table,” Keith said. “We can make it nice.”

I lunged, grabbed him by both shoulders and said, “This is awesome! Thank you!”

I made the place homey. I “borrowed” a tablecloth from the restaurant where I worked and covered my steamer trunk. On it I placed a reading lamp, transistor radio (that could pick up the one station in town) and an incense burner (it was the ‘70s after all). I really loved my soft-walled boudoir. I slept well, it was a short walk to the bathroom, and it was large enough to host overnight guests.

The more you have in life the more you want. I don’t think I’d be satisfied now living in a house with three other people, one bathroom and a bedroom fortified by sheets. But I do think it is helpful for me, helpful for us all, to think back to what contentment once looked like.

As my fictitious dead Uncle Eddie used to say, “If you’re going to bang your head against a wall, it’s better if the walls are made of fabric.”

Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at

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