Jenny and I were living on Chittenden Avenue on Thanksgiving of 1989, we had moved from the downstairs apartment to the middle apartment right above. It was quite literally a move up, with the overwhelming stream of roaches that crawled in and out of the sink, walls and furniture mostly being confined to the downstairs apartment to be in closer proximity to scrounge through the trash littered alleys and sidewalks around the house. The whole surrounding area was a garden of concrete, blacktop, empty fast food bags and broken bottles. The second floor apartment was larger, and unlike the downstairs unit it ran the length of the house. We were student poor, except I wasn’t a student, just a poor schlep of a middling corporate record store manager trying to figure out how to sell cassingles and New Kids on The Block on the largest University campus in the country. It was a baffling proposition and if it wasn’t for Larry’s, Used Kids and Craig Regala I most likely would have blown my head off if I had the chance. Jenny was in and out of school at this point, majoring in Spanish and preparing for trying out for The Ohio State Marching Band. A nice dinner out for us was the all you could eat salad bar at Wendy’s where we would inevitably stuff some burritos into her purse for later consumption.
The house was large, three stories split into six apartments, we had moved in mid-ninety eighty seven. First moving into the tiny cramped first floor apartment, we had an ex-OSU football player who lived above us and spoke so slowly looking back he may have suffered a head injury playing ball. His speech was a cross between Rocky Balboa and a brick. Above him was an intense lunatic engineering student who once fired a gun in the air off his balcony when some tow-truck driver tried to tow his car from our lot. He once challenged my Green Beret brother to a fight at two a.m.; it was like a drunken Bay of Pigs. The two overtly masculine men staring down one another, contemplating who would make the first move against the others well known aggressive reputation; thankfully it ended in a few pointed “fuck-you’s” and “fuck-you too’s.” We had a steady flow of guests and couch floaters in the downstairs apartment. By the time we moved upstairs we learned our lesson for the most part when it came to letting people sleep in our house.
This was a period of timeless young insanity that masked itself as the gasoline of youth; when bravery made an appropriate substitute for foolishness. The apartment had a small bedroom and the living room appeared to sit on crooked stilts and the grime in the floor was thick as cheap carpet. Moping the floor was about as appropriate as mopping a mud puddle but we loved having our own place. We decorated the walls with Jenny’s painted doileys, my father’s and grandfather’s art-work and lone photo I took of Randy Newman after waiting outside the Newport for three hours to meet him. Randy asked if he wanted me to get someone to take a picture of us together and I told him that was silly because it was foolish to pretend we knew one another. He smiled, later that night he dedicated “Louisiana 1927” for me.
One of the first people we let crash occasionally was a south campus street musician named Dan Stock; he was from Cleveland and was roughly fifteen years older than us. Dan had matted dark black hair, a scar thatrang from side of his face down to his adam’s apple and an immortal cigarette dangling from his mouth. He would sit on the corner of 11th and High and play shitty cover tunes of Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton. We got to know him over our vast love of the cheapest food and beer on campus which was a dugout pizza joint named Sandros. Sandro was a leftover from 1974, with a bushy mustache that enveloped his face and hid his cocaine eyes, he wore a beat up folded fedora that mimicked his hand-drawn signs that littered the place, pathetically proclaiming that his “1/2 lb. Slab of Pizza was a slice of Chicago.” One could eat a slice of “Chicago” and get a pitcher of oily beer for $5.
Dan eventually crashed on our couch, it was the first time I had ever seen somebody ever do cocaine; an episode that so horrified me that I forever had a fear of drugs. Dan was staying at our house for a few days and we walked in the living room and as he put down a small mirror a large chunk of his nose fell on the table. It was as big as a marble, a big bloody gob of meat that cut through the atmosphere like an overflowing toilet. Dan stared at us horrified as we did him; he had a small driblet of blood coming out of his right nostril. “Holy shit, Dan!” yelled Jenny. Dan, frozen in shame nodded his head back and forth. “Dan, what the hell are you doing in our house, shit man, are you o.k.?” I asked. Dan then picked the bloody marble up and stuffed it into his pocket, as if it was a wad of gum (instead of a piece of his nose) and he was just caught at school. He replied ‘wish you nice folks didn’t have to see that.” Later, Jenny and I vowed never to use cocaine, a promise that she would sadly never keep.
The small apartment building next to use had three units that housed seven young women in all of them. The women appeared to be students who had decided to forgo their sorority house for their last years of school. Because we were so poor, Jenny and I would at time drink a twelve pack and stare out the living room window out into the small sidewalk that separated our house from the apartment building. We would hide behind the curtains and make quiet comments towards the passersby’s. This was not at as boring as it seems, we were just steps off of High Street and South Campus bordered one of the most dangerous ghettos in Columbus so there were all sorts of people cutting through the alleys and sidewalks around our house. It was not uncommon to witness couples making out in the alley or between the house, drunken brawls and sheer idiocy. One time we witnessed one of the sorority girls leave her apartment, lock her door and fart. She reached in her purse, pulled out a small bottle of perfume and sprayed it on her ass. We burst out laughing as the woman looked hurriedly around her. A sight that has been burned into my mind like a prison tattoo.
The next year we moved upstairs. We decided we would travel to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving, Jenny’s parents had split up and her dad hated me anyways, it made sense to visit my mother. For many of our holidays we would travel with my Hungarian grandmother Isabel but I believe she was visiting Hungary during this period. Jenny and I loaded the large 1978 Ford LTD I owned with two months of laundry and set off for my mother’s house. We feasted and spent a day doing laundry. We were always short on food and my mother made sure she packed extra leftovers for us. We re-loaded the car and drove back to Columbus, full of turkey and clean clothes.
A young African-American man moved into the old apartment below us. When he moved in we went down and welcomed him and met his parents who were both white and appeared wealthy. He was a nice kid who hung out with us a few times and seemed determined to make his way through college, leaving our apartment before too much alcohol absorbed the night away. After a month or so his behavior got more erratic and he would disappear for days at a time. Soon some shady looking fellows complete with sunglasses-at-night attire and stoic jaw line would be looking for him, pounding on his door with so much force it would rouse us out of our dream world and cause us to peer over the balcony and ask “what’s going on down there?” They would holler up “you seen this guy lately?” “MMMM, nope.” And we would slink back into our apartment and lock the door. Other times we could hear screaming in his apartment, violent terrifying screams that even seemed out of place for our shitty neighborhood. Our locale was better than the cable television we couldn’t afford.
We arrived home from Thanksgiving and hauled in the laundry, depositing it in the stairwell that connected all of the apartments but was usually never used. It made a deluxe closet. The next day I would have to work all day since it was the day after Thanksgiving. A month of Christmas music awaited me. Roughly two weeks later a stench started coming up through the floor. We had not seen the neighbor since before the holiday. We went upstairs and asked Kurt, the intense engineer if he had seen him. He hadn’t but remarked at how acrid the smell was from the stairwell. I knocked on his door and we gave it a few more days. Finally we decided to call the police, it was obvious he had either been killed or had over-dosed and died.
The police arrived and immediately agreed with us that somebody had died in the apartment below us, the smell was heavy and rancid. They knocked on his door and when no reply came they contacted the landlord and called for backup. This was exciting stuff. They entered his apartment and came up shortly thereafter saying that there was not a body to be found. The apartment was empty. They asked to check the basement and we let them in, soon a police officer was knocking on the door that led to the stairwell. The officer said “I have found your body” with that he pushed aside a bundle of laundry to reveal the Thanksgiving leftovers from two weeks prior. He shook his head at us and said “Maybe you guys should change your clothes.”