In the city of Austin Texas, on Hemlock Avenue sat a house that was, at one point in time, lovingly referred to as The Cat Coop. The house itself was built in 1980, but judging by the looks and smell of the place you would have sworn it had been there for ages. The name of The Cat Coop originated from the terrifying amount of cats on the property. Many of the inhabitants owned cats, please note I’m using plural, so more than one each. And the residents would welcome any stray in to the house. The house itself had a 1 bedroom private apartment on the ground floor, the first floor had a living room, kitchen and three bedrooms, the second floor had another common area along with 4 additional bedrooms, two private toilet rooms and a communal shower room. The third floor was composed of another private apartment.
My first experience involving the Cat Coop was when I was just 18. My friends, Macy and Amy had told me about one of the volunteers we liked, Lynn, having a surprise birthday party hosted by her girlfriend Jack. Jack and Lynn had just recently purchased the Cat Coop, and Jack was renovating parts of it to try to turn a profit. I digress. Lynn and Jack were part of the Drag Kings group in Austin. Jack’s idea for Lynn’s party was to have some of us (Macy, Amy, and a few others) dress in drag and perform a show for her. Lynn’s favorite song was Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, so they wanted me to do drag as well. I had never done drag before this (excluding Halloween), but I wanted to help make Lynn’s birthday special. So I would be Cyndi Lauper and the others would be my backup dancers. This was the first of many parties I experienced there. The house has a huge front porch on the first floor, so it was a perfect place to hang out, drink, smoke and talk all night. The party went off perfectly and was a complete success.
A few months later I was looking for a new place to live because of my crazy ass roommate, Nikole Prekas, an old high school friend whose middle name should be Certifiably Insane. Jack told me she had a room for rent, only $420 a month. But was worried because I was still 18. She told me that I just need to stay out of trouble if I did live there. So all was good. I didn’t know what to expect, but geez, it was a change. My room was on the first floor right off of the kitchen. I had a shelf on one of the four fridges, and being overly protective labeled my name on every side of food that was mine. We had community dinners sometimes. A make your own sushi night was probably the best. Alexandra, a Brazilian girl who lived on the second floor, and I got along very well, and she introduced me to Nutella. The residents of the house had a very good rapport with each other and they welcomed me in with open arms. The ground floor private apartment was occupied by a guy named Robert, who had to move out a few months after I lived there due to flooding. I never really got to know him. On the first floor was myself, the room across from me was filled by David, a good ole country boy, about ten years older then me, straight but we became good friends. Diagonally across the kitchen from me was Amanda. She was about 30, had wild dark black curly hair, a no nonsense woman who was the life of the party but also the Jewish mother of the house. I was already working for the Non-profit, but looking for another part time job. Amanda was an executive at Trudy’s, an Austin restaurant chain legendary for their Mexican Martinis. And got me an interview with them. I would go on the be Employee of the Month, because you know, I’m awesome.
Two of the rooms upstairs both had private patios and were lived in by two brothers. Both were white guys with dreadlocks, they smoked a lot of pot, played their didgeridoo ever so often and had about 7 cats apiece. The other room on the second floor was housed by Shannon, a cool and mostly quiet lesbian. And Alexandra. The private apartment on the third floor belonged to a short woman, whose name escapes me now. She was friendly but could be very uptight at times. She had moved in just days before I did.
Parties, gatherings and socials happened almost weekly. The house had a huge communal liquor cabinet that everyone would contribute to and enjoy from. I’m not a smoker, but the second hand high from the pot was definitely real. One party I threw after work one night brought together about 26 gay guys all in their early 20’s. We were all drinking heavily and it was only a matter of time before a multi-room orgy broke out. I remember a few of us in the shower, and then on the patio, and finally back in my bed. I woke up with 6 guys all crammed onto my queen sized bed. Moderation has never been my strong point.
The common shower room was a new thing for me. One morning I was showering getting ready for work and Shannon and Amanda walk in brushing their teeth at the sink. Once their teeth were clean they both walked in and turned on the other nozzles. I’ve always been pretty free with my body, but never with women. Anyway, it was interesting to see how much hairier these two woman were than me. I don’t believe either one of them ever shaved under their armpits. A little too natural for me. But, c’est la vie. We would all go on grocery shopping adventures together. I say adventure because when we go at 3am and spend more time playing hide and seek rather than actually grocery shopping there is no better way to describe it. I have three amazing siblings, and growing up with them well prepared me for living with this group of oddballs at The Cat Coop. We threw an awesome Halloween party my first year there. Costumes and decorations were abundant, good times with good people. One of the brothers was a DJ so the music was perfect. We baked Halloween cookies, apple bobbing and made a punch that was tastier than nitroglycerin but with much the same effect.
Unfortunately the good times were not meant to last forever. Jack got pissed that we had a party without her permission, but the residents of the house said that its tradition to have the Halloween party. We all cleaned up after the party, no damage was done, so it wasn’t a big deal. Nobody had gotten crazy or even caused a scene. Jack let it go, but started instituting mandatory bi-weekly house meeting. Those who lived in the Cat Coop longer were upset by this change in lifestyle and vibe. Within a month, Amanda, Shannon, and the two brothers all moved out. I was sad to see them go, as we all had gotten close, but understood why they were so upset being treated like children. They had all lived in this place for over 5 years each. I did get a perk from it, as I had first choice of which room I wanted. So I took one of the brothers upstairs with my own private patio, and bigger space.
The next few months were good, but with half of the cats moved out, we all started calling the place the tree house. Soon, Alexandra left also and David was working so much that the house was barren. The new tenants that Jack found to replace the others were nothing at all like their predecessors. No more dinner parties, no more chatting on the front porch through the early hours, no more debates about politics, sharing exciting stories or community feelings. The entire vibe of the place had been destroyed. Jack started raising the rent so that she could afford the renovations for the ground floor water damaged apartment. She knocked on my door one time saying she could hear my air conditioner running. I told her it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside, that’s why my AC was running. I know Jack was trying to make money from this place, and I’m sure there were other causes why she was so tightly wound, but it was becoming unbearable. I knew the time had come for me to look for a new place.
Sometimes I refer to my time at the Cat Coop as living on a hippie commune. Although it wasn’t an actual commune, it was a drastic change from the small town I grew up in and knew. The first half of my time there will always be remembered fondly. In a city like Austin, because of the University of Texas there are a number of Co-ops around. However, only real Austinites know of The Cat Coop.