Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Augusta Inn, a.k.a. The Bad Boy House




Today is a day where I feel as if my mind is moving in 1,000 directions at once, pulled like taffy, or a computer rendering of neurons and prions. But I’ll try to stay focused. Today’s task: write about the Augusta Inn, a.k.a. The Bad Boy House.

Last Friday I went on a walk around town and saw a family moving into the former Augusta Inn. It is no longer a rooming house. A family was moving in. I’m sad. The porch is no longer a welcome refuge for every rascal and roustabout in town. Of course, there are other rooming houses for them, but no other porch with a view to the river and the foot and other traffic moving down Augusta Ave.

I first became aware of the Bad Boy House in the fall of 2005 when I moved next door to the inaccurate, but quaintly-named Country Acres rooming house. Back then, the Augusta Inn was a party house. Every night I heard drunken, guttural yells coming from there and a sundry tattooed characters stumbling about pissing and throwing up. Smashing cans and clanking bottles were as a common a sound as the train whistle.

Back in 2005, the de facto king of the Bad Boy House was Michael, a burly ex-con with swastika tattoos on each bicep and another of the grim reaper, scepter in one hand, beckoning with the fleshless bones of another hand, first finger curled in a come on gesture, covering his entire back. He never wore a shirt and had the taut muscularity of a bulldog. Michael had a notorious temper and at least once a night tried to pick a fight with somebody. He had the biggest room, on the first floor, and a rotating array of women at his beck and call, along with the consequential dirty-nosed kids running around with sagging diapers.

At the time, I had really long hair and a beard, but no tattoos. And everybody knew I was a student. For some reason, Michael took a liking to me and called me over to the porch one evening to hang out, handing me a plastic cup and pointing the way to a keg. I felt out of place. Everyone else -- without exception -- was covered with tattoos. I had none. I had a hard time being comfortable because I’d already heard about Michael’s notorious temper.

I soon met other characters, many of whom I plan to loosely fictionalize for a Cannery Row style novel. There was Tom B., a huge black guy who drank vodka prodigiously and once stumbled over to pick a fight with me one night when my dad was dropping me off at the end of a weekend. “I’m a gonna kick your ass, college boy. Put up your dukes.” Instead, I handed him a sack of laundry, which he dutifully carried to the door for me. We’ve become friends and I always stop to talk with him a few minutes when I see him around town.

Crazy Lisa slathered in lipstick, eye-shadow, long, bleach-blonde hair tossed in disparate directions like sheaves of wheat, no doubt held in place by half a bottle of hairspray, wearing a tank top and mini-skirt. Rolls of fat hung over her imitation leather belt. They reminded me of that novelty toy that falls through your fingers when you try to squeeze it. She was nice, but it was easy to figure out how she got her name. It was difficult to have a conversation with her. In between moments of lucidity -- where I got glimpses of a real caring personality -- she spoke gibberish or drifted off into her own world, tilting her head sideways and staring up to the gray stucco ceiling of the porch. She had a squeaky/breathy voice that reminded me of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.

Every townie in DeKalb knows Crazy Lisa. Rumor has it she used to be skinny and “normal,” but was harmed by some unspoken trauma shortly after graduating from high school and hasn’t been the same since.

Steve T. looked like a large leprechaun. He was bald on top, red hair on the sides, and Irish. One night he fell off the back porch and gashed his head open. Michael turned on the garden hose and sprayed Steve with it, commanding him to stay put. Eventually, Steve got his senses together and stumbled through the spray. Despite, or maybe because of the dilution, the next day the gravel in the back lot was streaked with red.

I later saw Steve at a city park during Cornfest and noticed the deep scar above his eye from that night. He was homeless then, a couple years ago, and I haven’t seen him around since I’ve been back. I wonder what he’s up to these days. He told me that he slept in the lobby at the police station on cold nights. The cops would sometimes let him crash out in a holding cell.

The longest-lived resident at the Bad Boy House was also its most unobtrusive. Mackey suffered from horrible acne and some sort of rash that covered his arms with red welts and boils. I thought of Job when I saw his dermatological condition. He was very quiet, but always present at the parties, and liked by everybody. He once played lead guitar in a local death metal band, something I thought odd considering his gentle nature. He also collected horror action figures and covered the walls of his room in horror movie posters. In fact, he was still there as recently as three weeks ago. I helped him move out. He was the last one to leave and the only person in good enough graces with the landlord not to get an eviction notice. He told me he lived at the Bad Boy House for five years.

There’s more characters… I haven’t even described Andy and The Colonel, who I hung out with on the porch most recently. The Colonel used to be my house mate at Country Acres. He was eventually kicked out of that place after a second arrest for assaulting a fellow resident. After a bout of homelessness himself, he found a room next door. Then his father died and he came into a sizable inheritance. He’s currently in an apartment partying and pissing that away. We’re no longer friends, but that’s another story… No doubt The Colonel will play a prominent role in my novel.

The Bad Boy House was always a place I could go and be offered a beer. I enjoyed hanging out there because the porch had a good view to the Kishwaukee River and its weeping willow-lined banks near NIU’s music building. And there was always an atmosphere of revelry and danger. You never knew what would happen or who would show up. Anything could happen and often did. Like Mackey, I enjoyed witnessing, but staying in the background during moments of alcohol-fueled drama.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Greg,

That was a very interesting story. So interesting that I had to read it twice.

Mackey and your Uncle Carl could of been good friends. They had things in common.

Dad

Jonsson said...

i had a smile on my face the whole time i read it. i spent an accumulated couple years there or so. i remember Mackey. i worked as a printer 3rd shift so i didnt see too much of the craziness thank god or i probably wouldnt have stayed. anyway, i was also an art student at The School of The Art Institute at the time, so I liked interesting people, being one myself. but ultimately, the roaches and god aweful bathrooms were terrible, so i upgraded to a campervan.
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