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Of Mice and Maintenance Men
Managing a sorority house is not for the fainthearted
By Lisa Levenson

Over the past few weeks, I've loaded and unloaded the dishwasher in my house a lot. One day, I filled and emptied the darn thing on four separate occasions. Now, for a mother with young, rambunctious children, so many dishes in so little time probably wouldn't be out of the ordinary. But I live with fifteen other women, all of whom are relatively intelligent and mature Penn students and most of whom are at least twenty years old. So why do the dishes -- and the removal of the trash and recycling, the sorting of the mail, the ordering of the bottled water, the summoning of the exterminator and the plumber, not to mention the disposal of the occasional mouse -- all seem to fall to me?
Simple. I'm my sorority's house manager.
Last fall, my house was looking for a sister to manage our property, in conjunction with our chapter accountant, an adult who keeps track of rent payments and makes sure the electricity stays on. The chapter wanted someone dependable, I wanted a single room -- and when my predecessor told me all I'd really have to do as house manager was remember to buy the toilet paper, I agreed to run for the job. I ran unopposed and was easily elected. My elation lasted about five seconds.
My problems started on move-in day, when I found the key box a jumble of mislabeled metal -- and outright missing pieces. From there, we moved on to fortnightly visits from angry Penn Police officers, summoned by our alarm company when someone left the house late and neglected to enter the code on the keypad before opening the door.
Shortly after that, the pipe that supplies our two front bathrooms cracked in multiple places, spewing brown sludge onto the basement wall and carpet. Contractors then removed portions of the wall running up to the third floor and decided not to replace them until winter break, so as not to disturb our routine during mid-terms or finals. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't gotten such a close look at our home's infrastructure -- which was more disturbing that any construction could have been.
Granted, these kinds of structural crises are likely to plague all buildings of a certain age at one time or another. Once I determined who to call when something broke, I was fine.
There's no one to call, however, when two of your housemates are standing in the kitchen, staring at the wailing smoke detector on the ceiling, as if hoping that by sheer force of will, THEY WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE IT STOP! (I suggested turning the stove off, or opening the back door to let air in, but they claimed that wouldn't allow them to cook their pasta.)
Then there was the time I walked in from tutoring to be met with a panic-stricken housemate running breathless up the basement stairs and stammering something about the washing machine flooding the laundry room. Fearlessly plunging my hand into the murky water in the sink where the machine empties, I discovered a sponge suctioned to the drain, stopping the flow of water. (Problem solved, except for the two inches on water on the floor, which I directed my housemate to take care of. Amazingly, she and a few others did.)
The most ridiculous incident occurred when we were temporarily out of powdered automatic dish detergent. Our supply company delivered powdered laundry soap by mistake; I was out of town, and one of my sisters signed for it, didn't bother reading the label, then ran the dishwasher through one cycle using it.
Another girl realized her mistake, and tried to remedy the situation by putting liquid dishwashing soap -- the kind you're supposed to use with rubber gloves in a sink full of water -- into the automatic dishwasher. (Sigh. If the result was a kitchen filled with suds, a la that famous episode of The Brady Bunch where the kids overload the washing machine, no one's yet had gumption enough to tell me.)
Given our gaffes, it's a wonder the house hasn't just collapsed. Seriously, though, as much as I complain about bagging trash, apologizing to and sending away the police, and playing psychologist to unhappy roommates -- activities my mom would enthusiastically characterize as "learning experiences" -- we haven't had any major catastrophes involving personal injury or property damage, and I'm thankful for that.
Still, after graduation? I'm renting.

LISA LEVENSON is a senior history major from Pittsburgh, Pa. and former editorial page editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. She also contributes to The Philadelphia Inquirer's commentary page.


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