where wildly different is perfectly normal


We flew back to Illinois for my cousin’s wedding this weekend. Into Chicago late Friday night, drove down to Springfield early Saturday morning. It was a good wedding, very laid-back, and it was soo nice to see my extended family. I hadn’t seen anyone since my Gram’s funeral last summer, so it was good to get together for a happy reason (though I will admit Gram had a great Irish wake!).

Driving back up to Chicago we stopped in Normal, where Tom and I met. The world’s greatest cheap-eats Italian restaurant is there, with awesome bread, and we always stop.

Here’s where it gets fun.

While in college, I lived in a pit of an apartment. No, truly, it was a pit. I look back at it now and wonder just what the hell we were doing there. It was the first floor of an old converted farmhouse. The top floor was a one-bedroom apartment, ours was a two-bedroom apartment, and the rental agency actually had an apartment in the basement that was apparently not up to code and was never rented. No other residences were nearby; across the street was the local high school and there’d be rainy mornings when we’d go out the back door to find high schoolers huddled there like little wet sheep, smoking. Otherwise, it was surrounded by parking lots for small businesses…and the aforementioned restaurant. Mmmm…

There was one large bedroom that my friend and I shared; the other one was occupied by a rotation of roommates who came in and out as they needed housing. Sounds shady, but with things like summers home, student teaching/internships, etc., that’s just the way things fell. The closet in the larger bedroom was huge. It was part of an addition to the front of the house that also included the front entry that we never used; that little cramped space was where we stashed my computer. That little cramped space was not heated; nothing like trying to type final papers with blue fingers in December. But the closet was notorious with the band members for a comment a friend made:

“Wow, you could DO IT in here!!!”

While I will go to my grave never revealing whether I was the one to test that hypothesis, let it be noted that, yes, the closet was indeed big enough to “do it in here!”

The windows were more for decoration than actual protection from the elements. We tried one winter to hang that weather-proofing plastic, the kind that you stick on and shrink with a hair dryer. The wind blew it right off. I think that was the same winter we had the ice storm. Right at the beginning of the semester, central Illinois got hit with a nasty ice storm, with a terrible wind and a wind chill somewhere in the range of -40 degrees. Bad cold. So the weather is horrible, the wind is blowing the weather proofing off the windows, and with classes canceled and nowhere to go, we sat there freezing our buns off. We called the rental agency and know what their solution was? “You’re not paying utilities, turn the heat up!” (Yeah, these guys were real charmers) So we cranked the heat to 90, sat around the one floor vent in the living room, and played Tetris for 3 days. With the heat that high, I think we might have gotten the room temp to around 70 degrees. Maybe.

The first night we were there, my roommate and I had to run to the 24 hour grocery store and buy Raid. That same evening, we plugged something into the wall. The outlet didn’t appreciate being stuck with a plug and retaliated with a huge spark, flame, and smoke.

Really, what were we doing living here?

But I’ve saved the very best story for last. My last summer there, I was working the band camp at the high school where I was going to student teach the next spring. Band camp in central Illinois is long, hot, and extremely humid. You sweat from body parts you didn’t even know you had. And when it rains on you on the last day of band camp, you’re a little pleased that the rain is washing off the stench, but also pretty pissed that it’s raining on you and the kids are bitching and you just want them to shut the hell up. And you just want to go home and take a hot, sweet-smelling shower, and sit in front of the a/c (oh yeah, this place didn’t have a/c…we put in an old window unit my roommate’s family had) and try to relax. So my last day of that camp, it rained on us. Remember this now. I had a 45 minute drive back home and Tom met me at the Pit. I dragged my sorry butt to the shower while he investigated the enormous puddle of water in the middle of the kitchen floor. Remember the rain and listen in on the following conversation:

“Uh, Jen? Do you have shoes in there?”

“Nooo…should I?”

“You’re going to want shoes when you come out.”

“And that would be because…?”

“You’re not going to like it.”

“Uh-huh…what won’t I like?”

“The lake on the kitchen floor is teaming with maggots.”

“Bleepbleepbleepbleepbleepbleepbleep…gasp for air…bleepbleepbleepbleep!!!”

I am not making this up. The roof leaked because of all the rain. The rain poured through the top floor closet/utility room ceiling, through the floor (bringing the maggots along for the ride) into our kitchen light, and onto the kitchen floor. On a Friday night in August. Know how hard it is to call the Health Department on a Saturday morning in August and get a response?

Why, you may ask, did we put up with all this crap? Simple, really. The apartment had a dishwasher. No, I’m not kidding. It was also the closest apartment to the music building, so getting to the practice rooms and rehearsals was a piece of cake. There were no other apartment buildings nearby, so it was quiet. There were no other apartment buildings nearby, so we could crank out the 1812 Overture on 4 foot tall speakers and no one was around to complain. We had a driveway (no car though LOL) and a backyard (that we never used, but was nice to have). It was next door to the best cheap eats Italian food in central Illinois. It had its charm.

So on Sunday when we drove into town, Tom wanted to take bets on whether or not the Pit was still standing, a long-standing habit when we drive by the thing. His take was that it was still there, and I figured it was too, figuring the only thing holding it up at this point were the prayers of former residents that it be condemned. Imagine our shock as we round
ed the curve and found the Pit gone. Swept from the earth. Thank God. A new duplex is in progress in its place.

The Pit needed to go, but I’ll miss it. There were so many memories from that place. Good memories. Laughable memories. I can’t believe it’s gone, I figured that thing would be there forever. Long live the Pit and the memories made there!

Whaddya think?

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