Hay’s Daze: Punks hanging out with fossils

So last week you may remember that I was blabbing about how four of us long-haired 19 year guys rented a crappy little basement “bachelor” suite and tried to pretend we were going to university. This was way back, to misquote a song from the day: “when the earth was green and there were more kinds of unicorns than you’ve ever seen”.

It was an unmitigated disaster of course, with three out of the four of us leaving both the apartment and the university, and two of us doing something much more meaningful and important by forming a rock band instead.

By the time I finally returned to university it was a tad different. It was a different university, a different city, and a different decade. Oh, and it was a wildly different roommate situation in that I was married and the Better Half was – no offense, basement suite roomies – a much much better roommate.

As I mentioned, I was ruminating on all of this the other day after I heard a news story on the radio about university students living rent free in a really nice apartments in a really nice building. Rent free. Nice apartment. Sounds too good to be true, right? So what’s the catch – there’s always a catch.

The catch is the place is it’s an Old Folk’s Home. With the old folks still in it.

Interesting… I thought, as I listened to their story. Those poor seniors, I thought. Those lucky students, I thought. Then I thought: those lucky seniors, and those poor students. So, as usual, I was a bit discombobulated at first, and then I realized: what a great idea!

At Western University in Ontario, three music students have been living at the Oakcrossing Retirement Living center since October with nearly 100 folks that were teenagers when Columbus was floating around looking for stuff.

It’s a kind of a social experiment that thankfully doesn’t involve electric shocks or LSD like some other university “social experiments” – at least I don’t think it does, but you never know with those wacky senior citizens. The first of its kind in Canada, the university has placed 20-somethings Ivy, Kristal and Shirlene in the retirement center where they share living quarters and meals with the folks living there. It’s all free in exchange for the music students committed to spending at least 12 hours a week with the seniors. Not bad, really – that’s a couple of keg parties and a round or two of Crazy Eights and – bonus! – students get to eat something that doesn’t come out of a paper take-out box.

But it’s become much more than punks hanging out with fossils. “It’s like dorm life, only way better” enthuses one of the students. “Did someone let some punks in here?” says one of the seniors. Just kidding about that last part, in fact resident Jeanette Corcoran captures the vibe of all the elderly roommates: “I love to listen to them. It makes me feel younger, talking to them.”

The music students regularly play popular piano and flute fossil songs at the lodge and stage mini concerts where one of them practices her opera arias, much to the delight of the seniors, most of whom are hard of hearing. Just kidding again, in fact, most of them turn up their hearing aids when the “girls” perform for them.

So it’s definitely a win-win. I missed out on the concept when I was a young punk, but maybe I’ll be able to catch up to it when I’m at a Fossil Home. We could form a rock band!

Harley Hay is a Red Deer writer and filmmaker.

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