the way it is...

Monday, August 21, 2006

a story


In 1995 I, along with my boyfriend at the time, moved from Indianapolis to Chicago into an 8000 sq. ft raw warehouse space, top floor of two stories. And this is where the following stories begin.

I’ll start with Mufasa, a Rottweiler mix that my sister offered me for protection due to the location of my new humble abode, and she was moving into an apartment that did not allow dogs. Mu was about three at the time and very reluctant to stay with me. The first day I had to leave him he persistently followed me to the door, which was a huge rolling ton of wood and the counter weight was broken so I was only able to roll it open wide enough for me to go through before it proved my lack of strength. So as not to open an opportunity for Mufasa to get smashed while he tried to follow me out I put him in our bathroom, a 600 square ft. space with huge windows that swung outward, hinged on the sides. I left the door ajar just enough so he could nudge it open when I am gone. As I get into my car I do not feel good about what I have done. But at the time there were many things in my life that could have been feeding this uneasiness. I shook it off, I was late for work. In route to work I had a vision, a bad thought. I saw the opened bathroom window. I realized the height of the window was low. Low enough for Mufasa to watch me leave in my car. I had about a twenty five minute commute. The warehouse was on the south side of Chicago, 35th and California. Don’t bother to look it up, it no longer exist. That’s another story. So, I arrive to work in Lincoln Park, a frame shop I managed, and would later became my home. The first thing I did was check the message machine. There was one message. It was my boyfriend calling to tell me that Mufasa had fallen out of the bathroom window (about a 40 ft. drop). The guys at the tire rehab down stairs had seen it happen and had carried him to the dock. He was still alive. I do not remember the drive home, or the drive to the animal hospital, but I do remember the call I had to make to my sister. Miraculously Mufasa escaped with only one broken leg and my sister relocated to a “dog friendly” house and Mu made a complete recovery with no limp, and lived happily ever after back home in Indiana to the ripe old age of twelve. Shortly thereafter my boyfriend, at the time, moved out, and I had 8000 square feet to myself.

Though my rent was only $600 dollars I decided I should place an ad in the paper for a roommate. I was not keen on roommates, this now ex was the first, I had hoped it would be the last but 8000 sq. ft I could divide, and charge $600. I knew it would be difficult to find someone as the place was “out of the way”, and um....not zoned residential and not heated, except for the once-a-bigassfreightelevator turned closet with lofted bed equipped with space heater . Did I mention the 16 ft. high ceilings? Yeah, the place was a friggin’ castle. I immediately received two responses from the ad. The first possibility was a sculptor. He called and we arranged to meet outside, down by the loading dock. He pulls up in a Volvo and I see in the passenger side a lovely young woman. He gets out of the car first, we shake hands and introduce ourselves. I sense his apprehension towards the surroundings and find it humorous, being that I have lived there a while, and alone at that. His passenger then exits the car and he introduces us and we smile and I tell her I like her dress, a cute little sleeveless mini, complimented with heels. I look at him, and I get the feeling he knows what I am thinking........”this so isn't going to work out”. I should add that at this time in my life I was a bit “butch”. My hair was about a half inch short, I showered when necessary (paint your own picture), and could not care any less what I had thrown together to call an “outfit”. So, we walk onto the dock, open a door that leads into a cold empty dark space about 5000 square feet, follow the light coming through a door, open that door and walk up four flights of stairs, open another door into another dark empty cold space of about another 5000 square feet and walk towards the huge rolling door that I did not want Mufasa to get smashed with. I pull the door open and use the weight of my body as a stop and allow the two to pass before I slide away and let the door slam. “Here it is” I proclaim, I see the disbelief in their eyes. Disbelief that I am living there, disbelief that it can actually, possibly be the 8000 sq. ft. that the ad said it was, with the 16 ft. high ceilings, and enclosed room on the roof, along with a two commode bathroom complete with shower. I don’t remember much about their visit, I do, however, remember the girlfriend asking “Where would we put the washer and dryer?” I recall her being a cellist, he a train dispatcher by night, artist by day. And I do remember walking back down to their car and knowing that I would not see them again.

The second possibility, an artist/painter at a pretty reputable gallery, actually got as far as agreeing to pay $600 (not knowing what my rent actually was), paying the first months rent including a deposit, and purchasing lumber and drywall to build out his space. Then, decided to move to New York. I found this funny because that’s where the landlord lived. I only met him once, shortly after we rented the place. Anyway, possibility number 2 returned his lumber and drywall to Home Depot and told me to keep the deposit. I canceled the ad and proceeded to live in the castle alone, well, actually, not quite alone. You see, almost every night someone was trying to break into either the tire shop downstairs, or my place upstairs, which there was no way they could get to me. When my boyfriend, at the time, lived there, he made every door solid. Complete with anchors to hold a 2 x 4 wider than the door jam. Every night we had lock down. I continued that ritual when he left. I retreat to that warehouse, in a corner of my mind, when I need space. And I see him, and I see me. I see the nights illuminated by every bulb I replaced with an old wooden ladder so long I could barely carry the damn thing let alone stand it upright. I see the bed I made of scaffolding and placed in the middle of the 2000 sq. ft. studio so the mice would not care for the journey. I recall a whole bunch of other what-the-hell-was-I-doing-moments as well. Another eager time to come forward in my memory bank is the time I was driving home one evening. About a mile from the warehouse I could see a thick black cloud in the clear blue summer evening sky. Traffic began to bunch up. I noticed the traffic on the interstate overpass ahead was at a stand still. I began to remap my route home. But I could not get within a half a mile. The cloud began to spread and I soon began to smell the burning air. I parked my car and began walking home. Began the walk to the source of that black cloud and burning rubber, burning tires. It was a five alarm fire. Every news station and fire engine in the city was at my homestead, my now, heated castle. I was allowed one trip in. They had contained the fire thus far with a "water wall", between the space that divided my place and the fire. I was accompanied by two fireman while I retrieved my cameras, my negatives, my slides, and my parakeet. I packed a small suitcase, which later became a chair when I called Jacqueline in Baltimore from the gas station pay phone. I later found out that she was working on a painting titled Red Delicious Black Beauty at the time she received my call. I put very little effort in recollecting those hours, those moments. Those memories are too heavy to drag out. I have the news paper article in the Chicago Tribune if I need a reminder. It was speculated to be arson, arranged by the owner. I placed what little was not pillaged, smoked damaged or useful into storage, and I moved into the frame shop. Where the fitting table became a bed at night, and a large sink became a sit down into tub/shower. And what was intended to be temporary ended up being a year stay, and one of the best years of my life. I made great use of living in Lincoln Park. A great bar across the street, a great movie theater, great food. I lived in the city. I lived where I worked. I worked where I lived. The shop I designed (ok, I did not design it alone. My ex and I designed it together when we were together) and managed was written up in the Tribune (ok, small article in the home section) and I was having a ball.

One day, a year after super dog leaped from the window, months after the fire and many many months after the two possible roommates, I come back from lunch and my coworker tells me that some guy called and he is going to stop by later. I said “who is it”, and he said “ It’s some guy who has a friend in Ohio who knows a guy here in Chicago that lives in a warehouse that might have space available. The guy said that his friend in Ohio gave him the frame shops number to contact the guy with warehouse space. Well, this guy with the warehouse space happens to be my ex, who no longer works at the frame shop and no longer lives in the warehouse, and no longer lives in Chicago. So my coworker tells this to the caller and also tells him that Gwendolyn USE to live in the warehouse space but the warehouse no longer exist, yadda yadda yadda. So the caller said "Gwendolyn? Did you say Gwendolyn?” and my coworker said “Yes, Gwendolyn”. The caller then said “Tell Gwendolyn I’m stopping by later this evening." So that evening a gentleman comes into the shop and ask for me and my coworker comes to the back room and tells me that the guy that called earlier was there to see me. I walk out to the showroom and the guy looks at me as if I was suppose to recognize him. I did not. He said “Do you know who I am? and I replied, “Not really.” He said “ I’m Chris, I came to look at that warehouse space with my girlfriend a few months back”. And I said “What?" and he said “Yeah, me and my girlfriend came to look at..” and I cut him off and said “Yeah, I heard that part, and I remember that part, but how did you find me here?” He said “ I was not looking for you, I was talking with my friend in Ohio and he said he had a friend here in Chicago that might have studio space available in some warehouse and he gave me the number to this frame shop. I was trying to reach your boyfriend I guess. It seems he and I have a mutual friend in Ohio, and it seems the warehouse he was referring to, I had already seen and did not know it.” So, there stood the guy, with the cellist girlfriend concerned about the location of the washer and dryer who I thought I would never see again. Well, I never did see her again, but Chris, the sculptor is one of my dearest friends now. He is a great artist, an amazing photographer and film maker. Chris, if you are reading this, and I know you will because I am going to e-mail you and ask you to edit it for any inaccuracies, I want you to know that the dvd you sent me is absolutely the f*cking bomb. You rock. I want to go on and on about the Purple Steer diner, and how you use to talk my ear off when you got home from the graveyard shift and drank a six pack as I struggled to stay awake. How I use to get high and you could not because you were randomly drug tested, even though you told me all the ways you could “clean” quickly. Though Whiting still stinks Bill wants to move there because the houses are big and cheap. I’d remove that limestone flame from Indianapolis Avenue to my back yard. How would ya like that?

So there you have it, a few Chicago stories. Oh, and by the way, I did run into possible roommate number 2, actually, here in New York, while having brunch with JKH at St. Helen's about a year ago. He's no longer a painter, he's living in Williamsburg and makes music. Funny stuff.

about Wendaferd

I was born to a carpenter and an artist/activist/homemaker in Indiana, right smack-dab in the middle of the middle class and white America. I am number 7 of 8. On a really good day my mother called me Wendaferd. I have a sidekick, his name is Willie. On a really good day he calls me Darlin'. I have three caged birds and they still sing, and a dog named Birdi. I am an artist and the founder of SUGAR. My photographs explain what I am thinking. The image becomes a drawing of my conclusions. Within the captured moment lie my notions and opinions about the world I live. Cropping happens in the lens, eliminating unnecessary words, while enriching others that remain within the frame. I trust my instincts and intuitions as if they were logic. Gwendolyn Charlene Skaggs

days gone by

Elephant Ears

By Gwendolyn Skaggs