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May 21, 1998

Apartment hunter-gatherers in danger

BRIGHTON — The Massachusetts Realty Association (MRA) yesterday petitioned city officials to regulate the migratory movement of the ‘Brighton apartment.gif (12760 bytes)Bedouins,’ Boston’s last remaining tribe of apartment hunter-gatherers.

Melissa Ackerman, president of the Boston MRA chapter, read from a prepared statement that called the Bedouins an “apartment-rental hazard” and suggested that the nomads be relocated to reservations in Mattapan. According to the statement, the reason for the group’s petition is that the nomads “indiscriminately use up vast amounts of Boston’s housing stock” each season.

Apartment hunter-gatherers are nothing new to area realtors. In 1632, the first realtors in the Boston area reported contact with “a greate number of People, in shabby Cloathes, desp’rately seeking Housing with Amenities greatly out of ye Price-Range.” These early realtors put the native apartment hunters first on reservations in what is now the Back Bay and then, by 1790, resorted to overpriced and ill-repaired triple deckers.

Since then, the nomadic way of life has all but disappeared in the Boston area. But the Brighton Bedouins maintain a stoical outlook.

“With the end of summer comes the drought,” said Bedouin chieftan Brian Simms, when interviewed recently from the tribe’s current campsite on the Washington Street steppe. “Each year follows a cycle — a cycle closely tied to the large number of student renters in Cambridge and Allston/Brighton. And you can forget about finding a parking spot for rent after September first.”

Traditionally, the hunter-gatherers hunt apartments in large groups, using a variety of techniques. One is to chase a herd of apartments over a cliff, a practice that the MRA condemns as “wasteful.” Another is to use warriors mounted on horseback, brandishing fire-hardened rental agreements.

“We have a very structured society,” Simms said. “Each tribe of nomads has its own shaman, chief and notary public. We do all our own paperwork. We’re not bothering anybody.”

“Our hunting is not wasteful,” Simms added. “Our people use all parts of the apartment. The floors we use for firewood. The plaster walls we grind into flour for our bread. The wiring we use as floss, and the sticky spots under the refrigerators are used as traps for small animals.”

Boston residents who have given up the nomadic way of life for slash-and-burn renting practices find themselves increasingly at odds with the apartment hunter-gatherers.

“We seek to tame the apartments, domesticate them, and use them as beasts of burden,” said one farmer. “One-bedroom apartments, when fitted with a yoke, can plow far more in a day than a man working alone. A duplex, properly fattened, can feed a family of six for a year.”

The MRA, however, is pushing for strict apartment-hunting controls. “We favor a structured society based on strict notions of property and ownership,” said Ackerman. “The apartment hunter-gatherers have yet to discard the idea of communal ownership of resources.”

Simms concurred. “The apartments belong to everyone,” he said. “Who speaks of dividing the sky, the water, the air? Why must the apartment follow a different law?”

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