Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thirty Bucks A Month

It was a hot day in August. It was 1969. I had just started looking for a place to live in Iowa City. I would be attending the University of Iowa. I had decided to transfer there a few months before.

The day before my friend Eddie had given me a ride to Iowa City in his car. We spent the night in his dorm room.

I was looking forward to getting my own place and Eddie was going to help me. He knew the town well. We picked up the Daily Iowan and looked at the classifieds. We circled a half dozen possible places.

We took off in his car to checkout the locations. The first 4 had already been rented. Registration was in 3 days and the unrented places were filling up fast.

We knocked on the door of the next place. Old house. Wooden door with lace in the window. Finally an elderly woman came to the door. She said that she usually did not rent to males. I must have looked harmless so she said that she might make an exception. She asked us to come in. To the right of the front door was a parlor that opened with sliding wooden doors. The doors opened to a room that looked like it had been frozen in time. It had been frozen circa 1920. She said that she locked the front door at 7pm and that I could not have a key. I would not be allowed any visitors. No smoking. No alcohol. No pets. I told her thanks and that we would get back to her. She warned me not to wait too long.

Ok. On to the last place. The owner had some connection to the film school at the U. Later he told me that he made documentaries for church anniversaries in order to get a little extra money. He was always surrounded by hot looking babes. There were rumors about him that he also made some skin flicks to improve his cash flow.

Anyway, he had a room. $30 deposit. $30 a month. No lease. He said follow me. We did. Thru the side door by the alley. Down into the basement. Past the old furnace. He unlocks the door to the room he wants to rent me. We walk in. 10 feet by 20 feet. One very small window that opens to the alley. More of a vent really. I tell him I will take it. Always wanted to live in a cave. He said one more thing. "This room violates the building code. The inspector is my friend and will let me know if they are going to do a surprise inspection. If that happens I will move your stuff out quickly and put them over by the furnace. OK?" I said no problem and gave him 30 bucks for the deposit and 30 bucks for the first month. He gave me the key.

Eddie and I unload my stuff from his car. I had a small black metal trunk, an old army duffle bag and a top opening leather bag. This kind of bag was once favored by traveling bible salesmen and river boat gamblers from Cincinnati. I unrolled my green Boy Scout sleeping bag on the small bed. Put my clothes in the chest of drawers. I carefully unpacked my 3 foot tall statue of Saint Francis and put him on top of the chest of drawers. We taped some posters of Hendrix and Joplin to the walls. Now it looked like home. There was no kitchen. Later I would buy a hotplate. The bathroom was on the other side of the furnace. Several months later in this room I would write my seminal poem "Cherry Pits on a Pink Paper Plate". I would also go on to record the audio collage known as "Burnt Toast" in this basement apartment.

Now it was late afternoon and it was still a hot August afternoon. We were hungry and thirsty. We drove downtown and parked. We went to some basement pizza place. Mostly sorority and fraternity types. We had some beer and left. We walked over to the Hamburg Inn and had some burgers and a few cold ones. Then my friend Eddie said that he had to meet his girlfriend. He asked me if I knew how to find my apartment. I said no problem. He drives off. I find another bar. I have another cold beer. I think I am going to like this town. It is around midnight and I have had a long day. Time to go home and get some rest.

I looked in my pocket for the scrap of paper with my address. I must have lost it. Damn! What's the name of that street? Jefferson? Burlington? Dubuque? Is it north or is it south? Shit! I don't know how to get ahold of Eddie. He lives in a dorm but they all look alike and they are several miles away. I am royally screwed.

What can I do? There is a Dividend gas station up the block. I need to pee. When I come out of the can some guy in a car yells at me to come over to his car. I go over and he says he is going to a big party and asks if I want to go. My momma always said not to take candy from a stranger but she never did say anything about beer. And he had a couple of cases of Hamms in the back seat. I had nowhere to go and the night was young. So I got in the car. We introduced ourselves. We shook hands. His palms were sweaty. He was driving off and I was beginning to have second thoughts.

Everytime the guy talks to me he leans over to say what he has to say. Just small talk. Where you from? What's your major? I notice that he is older than a regular college kid. Maybe a grad student. Also he is sweating a lot more than he should be. It was a hot day but the evening was nice. He looked real nervous. Then I asked him when would we get to the party. I noticed that we were now outside of town and heading towards some farm house. He slows the car down and stops. Leans over towards me and puts his sweaty palm on my left knee and says that the party is right here. I pushed him and told him that I was going to kick his ass. Just then I hear a siren and see flashing lights behond us. It was a Johnson County deputy sherriff. He asks for some I.D. He asks what we are doing out on this road so late at night. He tells us to move along. I get out of the wierdo's car and ask the deputy for a ride to town. He says ok but that he has to cuff me.

He puts me in the back seat of the Johnson County cruiser. I am stting on my cuffed hands. Not too damn comfortable but better than my previous ride. The deputy told me that the guy in the car had a bad reputation. He was an excon and the cops were watching him in case he slipped up. He had been some kind of sex offender. He said I was lucky that he was patrolling that road. No shit! I could have been hurt or I could have damaged that guy. The deputy let me off just inside the city limits. I hitched a ride with a hippy back to the Hamburg Inn. I had another burger and a beer. The place had a great jukebox. I listened to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue", Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" and Elvis's "In the Ghetto" abunch of times.

I began to reflect upon the day and realized that I needed some sleep. So I left the Hamburg Inn and walked to the Pentecrest which was a big green spce between the Old Capitol and various classroom buildings. Then I spotted a bunch of large bushes next to a building. I crawled under some bushes and curled up in a ball and fell right asleep.

Then I heard some car honking. It was 7 am. I got up and walked to the Dividend gas station. Took a leak and cleaned myself up a little. I asked the guy inside the gas station where i could get some breakfast. He pointed at a place up the street. I had the country pig special. 3 eggs over easy, bacon, ham, sausage, hashbrowns, toast and lots of coffee. Then I walk around for about an hour trying to find my new sleeping room. No luck. So I checked out the stores and bars. I found a bookstore and bought some poetry chapbooks. I think I bought "Some Cows; Poems of Civilization and Domestic Life" by James Koller and "Like I Say" by Philip Whalen. I ate lunch at the Hamburg Inn again. I went to the bars in the evening. I was hoping to run into Eddie. No luck. At about 2 a.m. I found my bushes again and fell asleep.

Again I woke up at 7 and repeated the previous days early morning ritual. I bought a sunday Des Moines Register. I found a parkbench and sat down to read. then I heard somebody yelling at me. " Hey dumb shit! Where have you been?" It was Eddie and some other guys that I knew. They claimed that they had looked for me for 2 days. They went to my place and all the downtown bars. We must have just missed each other. I told them my story. Now I am telling you. I am only doing that because John the Cleaner asked me to.