Thursday, August 31, 2006

The long-promised Country Acres photo essay



For 10 months, from Oct. 19, 2005 to Aug. 12, 2006, I lived in a rooming house at 350 1/2 Augusta Ave., DeKalb, IL, misappropriately-named Country Acres. For the most part, I enjoyed living here amongst the townie drunks and crazies. I will mine, for fictive purposes, many of the stories I heard at Country Acres and the even more hard-scrabble and misappropriately named Augusta Inn next door.

Is it strange for a graduate student from a middle class background to actually love Country Acres? Not really. My hiking experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life. I don't judge people on past actions, but on how they treat me. I feel sorry for people who think they are superior to others or are disdainful of those who look or act differently. They are missing out. I know a lot of so-called Christians who would look down on the derelicts and drunks that I hung out with as equals this past summer.

Like Steve, the resident drunk and backporch philosopher. I idled away many a summer afternoon and evening with him. I learned to gauge his mood by how many empty Miller cans I saw laying about. Before he gets too drunk, Steve is a charming, intelligent man. After he crosses the line, he's just an obnoxious, obvious, repetitive, loud, and highly annoying provocateur. I think he'd like this description. "Apropo, Greg," I imagine him saying. I have many more Steve-isms I'll publish in a stand-alone blog entry.

And then there's Wade, the crazy down the hall. He was the main motivation for my departure from the place. Wade hung out in the basement, often for days at a time. His sweet/sour body grew stronger each day until I could smell him before I saw him. He sat there, head cocked to one side, a line of drool cascading to his shirt, or the couch. If I talked to him he'd get up and leave without saying a word.

Worse than the smell is the threat of violence Wade presented. More than once, coming home from Jewel at 4 a.m., I passed Wade's room, two doors down from mine, and heard him yelling, arguing, with some unseen foe. Once he asked, "Should I kill them all?" Creepy stuff. When I first met Wade he seemed quite normal. Something switched in his brain sometime late December and he locked himself in his room for two weeks. He didn't eat anything during this time. I knew he was in there because of the loud conversations he carried on with himself. I even called the Ben Gordon Center to check on him because I worried he might starve himself into a coma or something. He's never been quite the same since.

Country Acres has an international flavor. Wendy, who has since moved to Peoria to live with her boyfriend, is from Fujian Province, China, and was the subject of a Teaching English as a second language project I did last fall. Anna, who has also moved away, is from Poland. We still keep in touch. Joe, who is still there, is from Palestine. His mother gave me many middle-eastern pastries and even made a rice and meat wrap with grape leaves she picked off the fence in the parking lot. Joe also inspired my love of hummus, flat bread, and (though this is not Palestinian) fried ramen noodles. Okaka, my Ugandan friend studying at NIU on a Fullbright scholarship, moved in when I moved out.

I'll still visit Steve and the gang on Sundays if I'm in town. They're still my friends, even if they're no longer my neighbors.

COMING SOON: A photo essay of my new place!!! It's nicer, cleaner, quieter, but lacks the charm and rustic flavor of my former abode.


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