The Rise and Fall of the TSF House
December 27, 2010 4 Comments
There were 10 of us, give or take, a tight-knit gang of obsessed TSF regulars looking for a new adventure. After annoying the hell out of Disney World, visiting our improv heroes TJ and Dave, riding bikes across the country, and launching a comedy series, the next step was moving into a big frat house where we could throw massive parties and save on rent. Despite spending most hours a week with those guys, the fieldtrip chaperone in me feared that actually living with them might lead to some problems.
So I bailed. My loss, I was told.
(Before I go any further, I should clarify that I did not actually live in this house for the first 10 months. There are a lot of things that happened during that period that I have no knowledge of, and my views may not be as valuable as those of someone who actually lived there for the full year. That said, I still spent many nights in that house, and I was and remain a close friend of all the residents. I have a pretty good idea of what happened. Or, at the very least, I’m good at making it sound like I do.)
In August 2009, the TSF House was born. The original tenants were Ricky Klopfenstein, Skyler Kern, Katie LeBlanc, Jess E. (four of the five members of the TSF executive board), Cory Draper, Spencer Hamilton, Ryan Moulton and Filup Molina (the group’s presumptive ring leader). Tito Alverio crashed with the group in the first month, raising the total to nine. There were only six “bedrooms,” so new ones were fashioned from a dining room, a study nook and a sun porch.
Clearly, the “six bed, two bath” categorization in the lease was just a suggestion.
It was a big house, but it filled up quickly with nine college students’ worth of crap: Ricky’s elevating coffee table; Katie’s foosball table that no one ever played with; Spencer’s Imperial Stormtrooper cardboard cutout (which was used to frighten an already-shaken Gustavo Laguna after we watched Paranormal Activity); Skyler’s stolen street signs. Then there were the orphaned odds and ends that belonged to no one in particular: lamps, dishes, end tables, surge protectors, air fresheners, empty DVD cases, chairs, copies of Truth in Comedy, dead batteries, rolls of duct tape, flashlights, fleshlights.
Most of the junk could be found on, around, under, or inside a long, L-shaped seafoam couch, which could be found in the living room as you walked through the door. The couch had been with the TSF family longer than most of the house’s residents. Its original owner was Dan Aguel, a “heartthrob” and “musician” who graced TSF with his presence from 2007 to 2008. My roommate Maxx Mann inherited it next and stacked his laundry on it during the 2008-2009 year. Its final resting place was the TSF House, where for the next year it would absorb gallons of sweat, beer, drool, blood, vomit, and an assortment of other bodily fluids.
The name stuck, and the festivities began. The inaugural party included a liquor luge (a large block of ice with carved grooves through which shots of rum or tequila would flow… after everyone passed out, it melted overnight and flooded the kitchen) and a two-pronged, two-story beer bong for chugging contests that crowded the stairwell. Most of the girls spilled more beer than they consumed, and Filup (whose competition name was “The Faggot”) easily destroyed me (“The People’s Faggot) – though the beer was still cold as it came back up seconds later in the bushes outside.
Over the semester the house became a “home base” for the TSF social scene. It was constantly crowded: Although Tito had moved out, all but one of the remaining eight residents acquired boyfriends or girlfriends (two of them to each other), and one of the new girlfriends refused to come over without three of her other friends in toe. “The harem,” they were briefly called.
We played just about every drinking game – Power Hour, Ring of Fire, Edward 40-Hands – and ended each by finding ways to get people to take off clothes, or make out, or both. We pre-gamed before relocating to downtown clubs and post-gamed as we stumbled back in, puking and passing out. We awoke on Saturday mornings with drool rings in the seafoam couch cushions, shook off our hangovers, and trudged onward to the Swamp to bake in the Gainesville heat and sacrifice our voices for our Lord and Savior, Tim Tebow.
This house had everything! Wienermobile visits. Cameos by DERRICK Comedy. Skin-gers in Pajin-gers. (It’s that thing when skinny ginger guys wear silk lady pajamas.)
In line with TSF tradition, it wasn’t long before we wore out our welcome. The house devolved into a regular Sodom. The neighbors weren’t too happy about hearing Girl Talk at 4 a.m., and soon enough the Gainesville Police Department showed up with a noise warning. When a group of guys upset with the $5 cover at the Halloween party showed up (without costume) hoping to force their way in and pick fights, there was a nasty shouting match outside.
The spring semester brought about a new TSF House, with an anti-celebratory atmosphere that neutered the residents. You could blame the cold weather – the opossum that ripped open the heating vent leading to Ryan’s bedroom and siphoned off the warm air may have been back at large. There were other factors contributing to the general inactivity: still-active noise violations from the previous semester; the production hiatus on our comedy series after two principal actors and the DP graduated and left Gainesville; the departure of Cory and Ryan (and the frequent absence of Skyler, who was busy rushing an actual fraternity).
To be honest I can’t really tell you what went down in the TSF House during those months because I was rarely there. I know there were ugly breakups that necessitated house-wide interventions. I also know everyone got busy: Every week our improv group had some kind of big show, festival, national competition, or important vote, all of which required planning, strategizing and rehearsing. And I know no one had money to spend on booze.
At one point we hosted a drunk improv show, but we all blacked out and none of us can remember it.
Also, we executed an epic prank. But that’s a story for another day.
As for the TSF House, never has a residence’s inner, spiritual decline so literally reflected its outer, physical deterioration, thanks largely to its two newest residents: a pair of Cocker Spaniels named Toby and Molly. Ricky’s childhood pooches moved in starting January, bringing with them the fresh scent of wet dog, a brief flea infestation, and a penchant for ripping open garbage bags and spreading the contents around the house. Combine that with the occasional pee puddle, and it became increasingly difficult to find the doggies “adorable” (though it seemed like I was the only one who didn’t).
Last time God crashed the party he did so with floodwater. This time, as prophesized, he went with the beast. (But to give Ricky credit, he took great care of those dogs – bathing them every day, talking to them, “responding” for them, in voices he created for them. There’s only so much you can do to make a dog less dog-like.)
The turbulent spring semester ended with a decisive changing of the guard in our improv group; the outgoing leadership pushed through a last minute overhaul. Indeed, everything had changed, most notably within the old gang. Former friends were now no longer on speaking terms. “Let’s have an adventure!” became “I need to focus on my own future.” Katie and Skyler left for internships in New York and Orlando, and Filup moved to Miami to save money before the move to LA.
Funny enough, I was also concerned about my future (Hollywood was breathing down my neck too), but somehow it led me to a summer in Gainesville crashing in the TSF House. The rent was dirt-cheap, and I could save money by picking up a second job at the movie theater. TSF Island had acquired a additional new castaways in Devin Donahue and RJ Mills (and later, Jacki Schwarz), while the grizzled Others (Ricky, Spencer, and Jess) continued to weather the hostile conditions. Meanwhile, Jacob licked his crotch a lot and the Smoke Monster carefully plotted her escape. She almost made it, too.
And so, in the final hour, I finally convinced myself to move into the TSF House. All they had to do was stop partying, move out, bring in some smelly dogs and turn of the A/C. For better or worse, I got to witness a side of the house that few others saw, like a starry-eyed sailor who finally got a job on the HMS Titanic.
Despite what ended up being a fun summer full of intimate experiences (World Cup watching, weekly improv shows, trips to Harry Potter world and Ichetucknee Springs), life in the house was miserable. The swampy June heat caused the dog smell to fester and the fleas to swarm. A rat had been spotted in the kitchen. You’d walk in the door and find Ricky and Spencer sitting on the couch in their swim suits, three floor fans aimed at them, each playing Robot Unicorn Attack on their laptops, and wonder to yourself, How did they survive the day? It’s like watching March of the Penguins: Things actually live here? How? Does Ricky go get food to regurgitate while Spencer keeps the egg warm? And the seafoam couch, once crowded with jovial drinkers and lusty couples, was now sticky with millions of different breeding life forms. Merely sitting on it was like communing with the Tree of Souls – you deposited your sweat, blood and despair into the cushions in exchange for the warm memories of fallen ancestors. A spiritual transaction, but a depressing one.
And while I saved up pocket change by scooping popcorn and peeling Sour Patch Kids off the floor, my Facebook Newsfeed was clogged with status updates about everyone else’s glamorous internships and newspaper jobs all over the country. Imagine, people actually using their journalism degrees! Seeing the world! Making slightly more than minimum wage! I was trapped in Bedford Falls, sweeping up the old Bailey Savings & Loan, living in an old, drafty house with a broken… staircase… knob. The Rapture was over, and all the worthy souls had checked out. I was left behind.
Given the house’s Third World status, you can’t really blame those who shrugged off the mess and broke the line (though, believe me, we still did). If we were “left behind,” so was all the original residents’ shit. They had taken with them only essential belongings like major furniture, clothes, TVs, computers, etc. The house was still littered with flimsy chairs, silverware, pots and pans, cleaning products, dusty electronics, storyboards, and a variety of other items you might find in the garage of an ADD-afflicted hoarder. Conveniently, the fleshlight was nowhere to be found.
The seafoam couch was hosed down with Febreze and sold to a Muslim couple.
In those final days, a sense of hopelessness descended over the house. Everyone had left, except Ricky and Spencer, both of whom were unsure where they’d be living the following week. Ricky, with each hour redefining the notion of exhaustion, moved from room to room, bagging everything up and dragging it into the hallway. There was an overwhelming amount of junk, no one to claim it, and nowhere to put it. Kaylyn and Liz were a huge help in moving furniture from the house to their new place, and Drew Carroll was the hero of the hour for offering his truck and helping us lift the heavy stuff.
God bless the people who, for no apparent reason, arrive at the darkest hours to offer a helping hand. I don’t know where they come from or what motivates them, but I really don’t know what we’d do without them.
After working with Ricky in a number of high-stress and hopeless situations over the years, I had never seen him quite like this. The guy was human one moment – cracking jokes with us and making his typical goofy expressions – and animal the next – lashing out at someone for suggesting a different way of stuffing a couch through a doorway. Eventually he was reduced to a logical algorithm: If an action made the clean-up more efficient, then OK; If it slowed the process down in any way, then the action was evil.
On our final night in the TSF House, we went to bed around 3 a.m., expecting to wake up early to clean out the remainder of the house and be finished by the noon move-out deadline.
The electric company shut off power to the house at 8 a.m. My alarm clock didn’t go off, and I only awoke when my dead floor fan had allowed the morning heat to creep in. I checked my phone. 9:30. As I rolled out of bed (Ryan Moulton’s old bed), I heard a noise coming from the kitchen.
Rub, rub, rub…
The kitchen’s tile floor was covered with garbage bags, all stretched to oblong shapes from being stuffed with cookie sheets and pizza cutters. The refrigerator was wide open, and two naked bony legs blanketed with orange fuzz jutted out.
Rub, rub, rub…
Ricky climbed out, wearing only his swim trunks and a severe case of bed head. He clutched a worn sponge in his hand and nodded at me vacantly. He stumbled past me into the bathroom, where I heard him plunge something into water and wring it out a few times. He returned to the kitchen and climbed back into the refrigerator to continue scrubbing.
“They turned off the power,” he muttered. “No water.”
Nine months earlier, we were sucking tequila from a block of ice. Now, Ricky was cleaning the fridge with toilet water.
Three hours later – after Michael Leonard helped us drag out all those bags, Ricky and Spencer did a dozen Dumpster runs, and a guy named Adam from down the street rolled away Ryan’s old bed, a table, and Ricky’s speakers – we called it quits. Ricky realized what he should have known weeks: For a year TSF had been treating the house as its collective “maybe” pile, in which people stored things they personally didn’t need anymore, but incorrectly assumed other people would. It would take at least another year to clear it all out.
That afternoon I drove my packed car out of Gainesville, and I never saw the TSF House again. I heard that the landlord had to hire a bunch of movers to clean the place, meaning the original residents would only be getting half their security deposit back.
Ricky called it the “stupid” tax. He wasn’t referring to himself.
Indeed, properly maintaining a house required a level of maturity that a gang of reckless college improvisers didn’t possess. You don’t sign a lease with the Garbage Pail Kids. It was the house of all types of sin: violence, debauchery, alcoholism, false idolatry. I’m not sure defenestration was mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but I have a feeling God really hates it when you throw someone out a window.
The TSF House is one of those things about which we wonder: Was it worth it?
In the four years I was at UF, my friends and I blindly went after all sorts of crazy, sometimes illegal, ideas. We incurred enormous debts, made huge messes, and in some cases, did irreparable damage to our bodies, relationships and “careers.” But we lived, and we learned, and we loved. Call me a hedonist, but there’s only one time in your life when the stupidity fee isn’t going to break you.
The TSF House likely means something different to each person who lived in it. For me, it represents a brief period in my life when I was part of a lovely group of people that embarked upon a series of insane adventures, which, though as individuals we would have backed down from, as a group we fearlessly tackled head-on.
The TSF House was our last great adventure. We flew as high as we could, and we touched the sky. Then, we tumbled back down to earth.
I’ll miss those adventures.
And the LORD our God said unto us: “Behold, they are one people, and (this) they begin to do, and now nothing will be withholden from them. Go to, let us go down and confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech, and they may be dispersed into cities and nations, and one purpose will no longer abide with them till the day of judgment.” … And the LORD sent a mighty wind against the tower and overthrew it upon the earth.