August 23, 1999.
Hello, this is Idaho Orange, coming to you from a resplendent three-story tower on the North Side of Chicago, where I inhabit a cluttered apartment in the Largesse Housing Project for Artists.
Just why I call myself Idaho Orange, I will explain another time. Right now I am behooved–isn’t the devil behooved? Well, I am behooved to tell you about this place I live in, an old Brewery complex built right after the Chicago Fire of 1871. The Brewery went out of business a long time ago, but in the early 1970’s, a former alderman bought the buildings and converted them into a housing project for artists. I came to Chicago a little while after that, hit some hard times and through the grace of God and good friends found my way here. I had a number of other adventures before I got to Chicago, which I would like to tell you about sometime, but right now this peculiar place I live in is on my mind.
All the buildings in Largesse stand on a spiral-shaped road named Blaise Boulevard, which you enter from the south on Addison Avenue, go around and round till you see a pretty green park with a hill in the middle, which you then spiral around in the opposite direction until you exit on Irving Park Road in the north. Nothing quite like it I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
Chicago has all these neighborhoods, Rogers Park, Pilsen, Englewood, Bridgeport. This particular neighborhood is called Lakeview, but the precinct I live in has a long tortured history of being coveted by greedy aldermen and devious developers, which are often one and the same . . . Forever treated like a political football, the Largesse precinct has bounced back and forth between neighboring wards for over a hundred years because of the Ehrenman-Zwitter Brewery that was built here, an architectural wonder, and apparently a money powerhouse for whoever controlled it, until it went bust in the 1950s. In the late ’60s, the alderman whose family controlled it at that time was disgraced by extramarital activities, got booted out of office, allowing his long time rival to briefly get hold of it, until the alderman next door had the ward map redrawn yet again, and now Largesse is back in his ward. Is that enough for you to chew on for awhile? Oh, and by the way this place is haunted. Or something. Maybe “haunted” isn’t the right word. Possessed, maybe? That isn’t right either; possession implies “evil,” and I don’t think that’s true of this place, despite the machinations of its politicians. It’s something else altogether, maybe you can tell me.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I started to take out my garbage the other day when I happened to look at it, and was amazed at how interesting, how aesthetic it looked, striking me as perfect, the perfect combination of elements placed just right, just so—the banana peel next to a crushed tomato can, next to a pile of coffee grounds dotted with egg shells and haloed with a spiral of orange peels. You may not think garbage can look good or even artistic, but it did.
At some point I began obsessing over my garbage, and would catch myself standing near the garbage can and staring at it at various times during the day. The inner parts of the egg shells with their scooped out shadows became eyes, the orange peel a mouth, a rotten potato the nose, the skin of the face a wad of paper towels. The more I stared at it, the more I realized it had become “garbage man.” Well, actually, Garbage Face. No matter what kind of garbage I had, no matter how carelessly I flung the trash into the garbage can, it always turned into a face. And there was something in the garbage that spoke, or muttered, really. I tried not to listen.