Friday, November 02, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day Two

The Augusta Inn and Country Acres were rooming houses next door to each other, separated by a shared gravel driveway and a lot in the backyard. A small strip of trees and shrubbery distinguished the property boundary from an apartment building and another older home to the south. Augusta Inn was never an Inn, a misnomer the residents had fun with, putting on airs as if they'd somehow "arrived" when they moved into the old Italianate mansion well beyond its prime.

The houses were in the oldest neighborhood in Bonneville, with the oldest home dating back to the 1850s. Over time, as the homes gave way to decrepitude and rot, they were razed and replaced by more modern looking homes or apartment buildings. In addition to being the oldest neighborhood, this was also the closest neighborhood to the Illinois State Normal University, or ISNU (What's new at ISNU?). The few remaining single family homes in the neighborhood were well-protected by fences, gates and alarms, or rented out to college students, whose beer-fueled revelry could be heard at all hours of the day or night.

The Augusta Inn wasn't the worst rooming house in the neighborhood. That distinction belonged to the Ars Longa House, built near a bend in the Kushakee River in the early 1910s and intended to be a rooming house from its inception. Ars Longa was just two long hallways on two floors with closet-size rooms, each with a window and a small closet. On a lot the size of an average single family home, 40 rooms were let, at a rent of $215 per month. There was only one bathroom for each floor and a large kitchen at the end of the first floor. Only the diligence of the fire marshall, who checked unannounced every couple months to make sure no one had mini-fridges or hot plates in their rooms, and the fact the Ars Longa was made of brick, contributed to its longevity. It was a haven for crackhead townies, various other section 8 head cases, and foreign students. The smells of boiled fish, body odor, and weed vyed for attention to the wary soul who wandered up its rickety back stoop.

Country Acres was also intended to be a rooming house, and it had the best reputation of the three, mainly due to the diligence of the landlord, Sandy Halvorson, a wiry 50-something widower, who chose her tenants a little more carefully and charged about $50 more per month for the 15 rooms she let out. Unlike Ars Longa or the Augusta Inn, a cleaning service came by once a week to clean the kitchen area, hallways and bathroom. Halvorson herself attended to the outside, trimming the bushes and mowing the small front lawn with a non-motorized push mower. Country Acres stood on a lot less than acre in size. Again, the irony was not lost on the residents. Whenever Halvorson mowed, inevitably someone made an acres comment.

"How long does it take to mow all those acres?"

"Don't you wish you had a riding lawnmower?"

The front of Country Acres, the original house, is separated from the rooming house, which was extended in a short, wide, row nearly to the back of the property boundary. The 4-bedroom house was rented out separately and was occupied by four athletes at the university who tried to have as little to do as possible with the rooming house residents, townie or fellow students. Their parties were the loudest and most prone to violence, but the cops were never called on them, as one jealous roomer noted, "because if you play a sport the world is your oyster."

The moulding around the roof, the most identifying Italianate feature of the Augusta Inn, had last fallen away some time in the early 1970s. And as if to cover up any last vestige of exterior grandeur the building may have once possessed, current owner Bob Stoops, a former used car dealer, Korean War veteran, and all around curmudgeon and miser, got the bright idea to spray a gray fire retardant spackle on the entire exterior that bubbled and pitted like lava stones. Still, their were remnants of past glory. Unlike Ars Longa and Country Acres, each room had a distinct layout and personality, for they were the old bedrooms of the home, although a couple of the larger rooms were separated by sheetrock walls to round up the number of available rooms for rent to 10.

Stoops was also the most lax at collecting rent and rarely had anything to do with the property except in the case of an extreme emergency. As a result, he was constantly hassled by the ever-diligent fire marshall and cited for code violations he ignored. Many times had an orange condemned sticker been placed on the front door, prompting Stoops at last to corrective action.

And how did the old home get tagged with Inn. Stoops, on a chilly February day in 1981, bought the original sign for the Golden Morning Inn after it was razed out on Bonneville-Hickory Road, which listed "room rates" below in replaceable placard letters. Shortly after spackling the exterior, Stoops leaned the sign against the front porch and covered up the "Golden Morning" with a plywood board spray painted "Augusta."

When Stoops took on Chalmers as a resident, shortly after Chalmers got off parole and was allowed to leave a halfway house across town, he asked if Chalmers was a good handyman. Chalmers lied and said he was. So now he was the resident caretaker of the Augusta Inn and had the largest room, the former library and smoking room off the main dining room. That this was the retreat of men in the late 1800s escaped Chalmers knowledge, though this placement was fitting for his macho personality.

The front porch of the Augusta Inn faced Augusta Street, and was a favorite perch for townies to leer at passing coeds. Metal music, usually coming in all crackly from a Rockford radio station, blared at all hours. A large sugar maple dominated the front yard, and its shade kept any grass from growing. The constant traffic eliminated any further chances for growth. Sumac and juniper bushes survived and thrived under the liquid rigors of the drinking class: piss, vomit, and spilled beer.

Four steps on a wide berth led up to the porch. Folding chairs, lawn chairs, and the occasional rickety wooden kitchen chair provided seating for the revelers. Confrontations on the porch usually ended up in the bushes or the sideyard. On the day of the party, Chalmers had placed two big garbage cans at either end of the porch. Otherwise, a garbage can was usually present on the driveway side of the porch. Despite ubiquity of the cans and a few ashtrays on the front ledge, the ground was littered with empty cans, bottle caps, and cigarette butts.

The maple tree and the ponderous eave, which extended a good five feet or more beyond the side of the house, meant porch denizens were in perpetual shade. The only time of the year sunshine ever penetrated the porch was on mornings a few days before the summer solstice, but no one was usually around to appreciate it. To the residents and guests, shade meant concealment, an edge, for they had a window to the world before them that could not look back without squinting. Vice could be enjoyed without fear of discovery. Comments thrown out to the universe were anonymous.

While Chalmers was in the backyard taking turns with Benji and Tyler manning the keg, The Colonel bent the ear of James McEvoy, a.k.a. Mackey, Macker doodle, or, simply, Mack, thirty-something, a perpetual sneer on his face, who always wore long-sleeved black metal t-shirts, ripped blue jeans and work boots, and who lived in the Augusta Inn attic and, unbeknownst to anyone else, was in love with a ghost. Mackey also held the distinction of being the longest-lived resident of the Augusta Inn, having been there eight years, and was the most easygoing. He rarely talked beyond an uh-uh or two, but when he did he cut to the point and usually spoke with erudition. He was accepted by townies and students alike, moving between the two worlds with ease and grace because, like the ghost he worshipped, he was a ghost himself, a specter of flesh.

"Mack ol' Macker, you Mickey motherfucker, always hold your drink, do you? Never seen you hurl it. Never seen you do the ol' Technicolor yawn, have we?" The Colonel said.

"Hey! Anybody ever seen ol' Mack here barf?" The Colonel asked to no one in particular. He looked towards Francois Chambeaux, Frankie Sham, who had a glazed eye on a passing co-ed with a tank top. "How 'bout you, Frankie?"


"Ever seen Macker doodle hurl?" No response. "You know. Barf."

"No." Frankie said. "But I don't keep track of people's stomach issues. Most people are, you know, what's the word? Ah. I know. You know - discreet - about vomit, I mean. For all I know, Mackey could have barfed just a minute ago."

The Colonel turned around quick to Mackey. "Hey! Did you just barf?"

"Didn't you know I'm bulimic. Better watch out, you just stepped in it." Mackey said.

The Colonel looked down.

"Haw! Haw!" Frankie said. "Made you look! Made you look!"

The Colonel smiled and took a long draw from his can of beer. He chose not to partake of Chalmers's keg because he didn't like the young upstart, and had a brought a 30-pack of his own to share with the neighbors.

Ever the emcee, the host, vying for his own center of attention, hence the animosity with fellow egoist Chalmers, The Colonel announced the presence of every new arrival. Thus his loud proclamation when Hosmi Addabuda sidled up the porch steps and looked around: "Well, well, well. If it isn't the terrorist of Augusta, the belle of Baghdad."

"I'm Palestinian, you old goat," said Hosmi. "Baghdad's in Iraq."

"Well, Allah-fucking Ackbar back atcha. It's all the same to me. You're all sand niggers to me."

"Hey, now. Whose talking all this 'nigger' crap?" Frankie piped in. "It's sand African American now." He chuckled and re-lit his cigarette, then gestured, pointing its cherry at The Colonel. "Don't you know only people of color such as myself can use the N word, as a term of endearment, to rob of its former denigrating power."

"Oh, well excuse my racial utterances," said The Colonel, mocking. "Shit, Frankie, you're too high yellow to even use the word yourself."

"Watch your shit, Colonel. Sometimes you go too far."

And in a gesture to change the topic and defuse any growing alcohol-fueled tension, Hosmi said, "Hey, Colonel, you got an extra beer for me?"

"There's a keg out back."

"Yeah, I know, but I'm here and the keg's there. I just sat down. C'mon, man, be a mensch, will ya?"

"Sure, here ya go, whatever," the Colonel said as he handed over a beer. "But do me a favor, will ya?"

"What's that?" Hosmi raised his eyebrows.

"Don't speak any Yiddish to me. You, of all people, you Arafat looking Palestinian fuck, are not allowed."

Hosmi shook his head and laughed. He was used to the Colonel giving him shit about his ethnicity, just as Frankie was used to being called a shrimp-eating, Catholic backsliding Creole bastard and Mackey a bagpipe playing, skirt-wearing, Shaleleh-branding, fist-i-fucked Mickey. The creativity of The Colonel's invective relied strictly on geography and cultural stereotypes. He wasn't a racist, per se, for there was no hate in his words, nor belief in them for that matter. He just liked the way they rolled off the tongue. Except for Hosmi, a first-generation immigrant born in Palestine, the rest of them were so far removed from any ethnic heritage that they took no offense and little recognized the traits The Colonel introduced into his patois. These were terms of endearment as far as they were concerned. Those offended by the crude racism of The Colonel's remarks gave it too much thought. The sound, the way the words rolled off the tongue, was more important than the meaning. Everyone knew The Colonel was full of shit, a broken record of sorts, but entertaining nonetheless.

Total words: 2,054 Grand total: 4,075

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