The Living Spaces – Part 6 – From Main Street to East Washington

The houses on Main Street

These two houses on Main Street were occupied by a series of friends in the early 1970’s. I lived with my roommate in the one on the right, 1211,in the fall of 1971 in the first floor apartment along with a section of the second floor. The house to the east, 1209, was occupied by close friends. I had a number of memorable experiences in those houses. The first floor at 1211he site of one of my sweetest reconciliations with Al, my first love, with whom I seemed to be breaking up with on a bimonthly basis. It was also the place where we had one of our most hostile breakups which ended with me chasing him into the street as he fled for his car, with me shouting that no one would ever love him as much as I did at the top of my lungs. Eventually my friends restrained me and hauled me back into the house. My friendship with Michael developed there over long nights of eating rice and vegetables, smoking Kools and Marlboros, listening to music and talking for hours on front of the fireplace. I left there in December of 1971 for Chicago where my trip to Europe with friends kicked off in January. When I came in April of 1972, Michael was living in 1211 where he’d cared for the my dog while I was gone. Within a few weeks of my return, I moved in with him. That house was the little nest where we transitioned from friends to lovers. Also a hotbed of political activity, strategy meetings were held there in our efforts to stop the war in Vietnam. General subversion was our house theme. We listened to lots of music, smoked lots of pot and watched movies like Night of the Living Dead and Freaks.

Michael had a number of roommates and many wandering crashers who stayed with us until his lease ran out in the fall – then we decided to live collectively in a whole house with a number of people on East Washington in Urbana.

208 W. Washington

Ironically, this house is a scant block from where I’ve lived for the past 42 years. Unlike the dorms and apartments I’d inhabited since I was seven, this was a real house, an enclosed front porch with a swing in the entryway, a backyard and a semi-functional garage. I think what I loved best was the roomy bathroom where there was space to walk around between the toilet stool, the bathtub and the sink. The floor was tiled with white, rust and gray bits in geometric patterns. You entered through the front porch into the living room. Swerving right brought you into the dining room and then the kitchen. Walking straight through the living room led to the stairs which were a short flight of four steps which then turned right to reach the second floor. Michael and I had the first bedroom straight ahead and off to the left. The other two bedrooms started out with George in one, and Eric and his on and off girlfriend Kathleen in the other. George’s parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who’d relocated to Pekin, Illinois. When they visited at a time when Kathleen wasn’t there, they assumed I was a female slave to the male household. Not likely. We had three dogs, my Herbie, Michael’s Harpo and Eric’s Pandy, plus a shared cat named Zero who for all practical purposes was canine.

Michael and me in the dining room on Washington Street.

The first thing Michael did when we moved in was to build a gate as the entry from the driveway to the garage. Mostly it resembled the kind of arch you’d see in old television westerns with the brand for cattle as its symbol. In our case, he sewed a black flag with a red fist in the center to reflect our combination of his anarchism and my more tame politboro communist tendencies to the world. I can’t imagine what our neighbors thought of that. At the time, all of us were working parttime, attending the university parttime and attempting to smash the state. An exciting time to be alive.

Me in the living room on Washington with all the pets, plus Tubby, the only puppy to survive Herbie’s two pup litter.

I can’t say we used the best judgment, if any, in choosing our roommates. Michael was closer to both guys than I was. Kathleen who came and went with Eric, was a flower child without much going on in her head. We were a terrible match, she in her flowing skirts to which she sewed bells, peasant blouses and dreaminess, while I tended toward jeans, workshirts and tall black boots, wandering around lugging copies of books by Hegel and Marx. She liked going au naturel which meant she often smelled awful. Everyone in the house said I was mean for telling her that her really long red armpit hair created more surface area for bacteria and odor. Kathleen and Eric’s version of substantive social change was to leave all internal house doors open, including the ones to bedrooms and the bathroom, which didn’t work for me at all. Eric’s dog Pandy, who had the most bizarre curly tail, also had terrible digestive problems which led to frequent bouts of diarrhea which usually wound up on every single stair, often when Eric wasn’t home. Things often felt distinctively non-communal. Eventually George moved out and we rented his bedroom to a couple named Carol and Jack. She was beautiful and odd, filling the refrigerator with odd concoctions of yogurt and avocados which were used for mysterious purposes unrelated to eating. After a time, it became clear that Carol was a victim of verbal and physical abuse. We all confronted the couple, urging her to kick Jack out and get help. Sadly she was stuck in her negative place and moved out with him.

Michael and I were at the beginning of our romance which was a transitional time for us both. In retrospect, we realized that we’d have been more suited to living alone as a couple rather than trying to build a relationship in the context of a group. But until the lease was over we hung in there.

Michael and me with our backs to the camera on the step of Earthworks, the alternative community general store.

In the midst of managing roommates, work and classes, we spent a lot of time listening to music. Our favorite album from that time was Bare Trees by Fleetwood Mac. Back then, we listened to whole records, not just the top-played cuts. Life felt slower when we did that which was helpful, as we were still so young and trying to sort out who we were, together and apart. I was still damaged from my only other significant relationship which had turned me wary and mistrustful. I had some pretty sharp verbal skills which made living with me a challenge. Neither one of us had any idea of what we wanted to do with ourselves and felt living in a college town was like treading water. That period in time was filled with combustible, passionate feelings, both positive and negative.

One night, Michael and I argued and I went upstairs to take a nap. I was accompanied by Herbie, my companion since her puppy days. I lay on my side in our bed with her curled next to me. After a time, Michael came up to check on me. He reached out to touch me and Herbie lunged for him, ready to bite. She’d never done that before and I think we both realized that she was clearly a one person dog, loyal only to me. He never fully trusted her after that incident.

The majority of my friends from college had moved away after graduation. Because I’d fled school before I finished my senior year, I was still trying to finish up in what seemed an alien place. But my oldest friend in life, Fern was still in town, albeit with her own emotional issues which spilled into my world. She and Michael were the cornerstones of my life. I was journaling steadily in that house on Washington street. Here are two excerpts from that time.

12/72 – For Fern:

As her father’s glass cracks on the floor, his cheeks glow red, his ballooning stomach cradles her while she hungrily grabs his heart and hides it in her pen. Her mother rushes from her bed crying, let go of what you never had, my hair is gray and my feet hurt. The chorus of her personalities rock, sobbing happily as they jam tiny swords into her brain and twist, gently, lovingly. She falls on her quilt, eyes glazed, legs spread and whispers softly, “Oh, I am crazy.”

12/72 – For Michael

I don’t want you to worry. I only want you to do what’s best for you; that can only be best for us. I love you so deeply – please know that I’d never, ever hurt you or deceive you or do anything that could make you doubt the sincerity of my feelings for you. My problems are between me and me. I’ll always be with you no matter what. Love.

Washington street-1972 to 1973.

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