Will the rent party stage a comeback?

One of the modern strategies of living I was introduced to in college (’71 -’75, San Diego State, home of the Aztecs, or, as we enjoyed, the Spaztecs) was the rent party. I had never heard of it before, but then again, I’d been living with my parents in Fresno. Now, here we were, all these amped up young folk in our late teens and early 20s, learning about the realities of renting an apartment or house and paying all those bloody bills. I didn’t have a job but was on a budget that I’d worked out with my parents. My old man wanted things simple. He’d cut a check each semester. One check. It was supposed to last the four months and cover everything—classes, books, rent, bills, gas, burgers, etc. Like I said, he wanted it simple. If I ran out of dough with a month left in the semester, well, I could go get my ass a job.

That budget, on paper anyway, was fair. The problem, I’d found out once I left the dorms in my sophomore year and got an apartment with three hoodlum student pals, was that this budget usually failed to adequately consider an unanticipated expense that my mom and dad, somehow, had overlooked. That would be the monthly tab for the mind-altering substances that were quickly deemed essential to the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, happiness, and booty—namely, beer and weed (and gee, how this sturdy combo has held up through the years! I take this to be a true sign of quality, now recognized by most American socio-economic demographic groups).

To make up the monthly deficits that were occurring regularly due to the alarming consumption of $5 CASES of beer (Oly! Schlitz! Brew 102!) and four-finger lids of mind-mangling Mexican mota (the classic), we resourcefully tapped into the rent party concept. Originally revving up in Harlem in the 20s, the rent party was where an economically challenged household would throw a quality bash, and, in return for all the good times, folks would pass the hat. If the partiers were liquored up properly, the hat would get stuffed, and the landlord would indeed get paid.

Our updated college-boy spin on this format was built around a modern development—the keg of beer. Those huge, unwieldy 28-gallon suckers. We’d get the keg and the pals would come over, paying five bucks at the door, a tariff which entitled them to unlimited quaffing. The result—the best parties I’ve ever hosted, the kind where the living room coffee table the next morning would be a total horror of half-drunken cups loaded with sodden cigarette butts. Another result, usually, was the collection of some crucial cash.

In these economically snarky times (and there’s a word that really seems to be coming into its own this year), I would not be surprised one little bit if rent parties enjoyed some sort of comeback.