When I think of Top Hat Willy, I think of the old basement of 112. I lived for two years down there, among the rusty, sludge-leaking appliances, pipes and ductwork, boxes, and the large, booming furnace. Those were interesting times.
When it rained, water dribbled through holes in the roof, conveniently leaking into the first floor shower. In that bathroom, rain water also cascaded out of one of the electrical outlets. This outlet was live and, strangely enough, worked fine when water wasn't shooting out of it. One of the walls was hollow. In the winter, 112 was very cold. Ice froze inside that hollow wall. When it thawed, all the brown runoff water went straight to the basement and soiled the suit jackets I had hanging from a heavy duty extension cord I had attached to the ceiling.
The cold was probably caused by large holes in the structure. These were apparent due to squirrels and birds mysteriously appearing indoors. The animals would become frightened and, ignorant of doors, windows, and whatever holes they entered through, they would panic and have to be scared into leaving. Actually though I say "birds," it is my belief that there was only ever one big evil black bird.
Every year during the spring thaw, the basement would flood with sewage due to faulty sewer pipes. Luckily the makeshift dam I made out of garbage bags and mason blocks protected my side of the basement from the stinking sludge. Russ' side was not protected, unfortunately for him (and his stuff).
I was able to cross the sludge on a makeshift bridge of mason blocks and two-by-fours.
The Drug Trial
I took part in a clinical drug trial for The Ohio State University, taking three different kinds of AIDS medication to test their abilities when taken together as a "cocktail." The result was that those of us in the experimental group had our bone marrow damaged. For a while we had dangerously low white blood cell counts. I was the first person to feel the effects - I had a deathbed fever, the likes of which I hope never to experience again.
Luckily I recovered. However, for days afterwards I firmly believed that Germans were trying to kill me. I couldn't figure out why they hated me. At the time I knew it was irrational, but still I was convinced they were after me. I told the Russian doctors of my fever, but I had recovered, so the experiment continued. Then others started getting sick and it was cancelled. Everyone was sent to the hospital. Blood tests revealed that my white blood cell count was rock bottom. There were some close calls, particularly with a strep throat infection one girl caught, but no one died.
At night, especially in the summer, yellow eyes would sometimes look in upon me from the basement's ground-level windows. These were the eyes of raccoons who roamed that part of Columbus in a band, scavenging food from city dumpsters. Neighborhood cats that I knew, such as Bill, Lester, and the fluffy black cat without a name, often tried to jump through the open window to lie on the cool basement concrete. Sometimes I was afraid a raccoon might try it. They sure liked looking in. At times I was very afraid, but I often was in 112.
Lester was a good friend. I miss him even now. Often I would eat my breakfast of one apple and a can of Spicy Hot V8 with him on 112's front porch. It was unclear if Lester belonged to the Swedish lady or the tall skinny man in the boarding house. I seem to recall arguing his ownership with others in 112. (We were always arguing.) Lester is still living in the neighborhood. I last saw him about seven months ago.
Once a ghost ran down the steps from the attic to the second floor landing. It was only heard; nobody saw it. Hence it may not have been there. All the outside doors were locked from the inside. There was no way it could have left 112. Every room was searched, even the nooks in the basement, but there was no sign of either an intruder or a ghost. I must be honest and say that I was not at 112 when this ocurred; I arrived shortly after the search. The sound on the stairs was heard by at least four people who were present.
Later there was speculation that a previous occupant hung themselves in an attic closet.
112 was a spooky place in general, especially at night. I was rarely alone in the building. On the occasions that I was, sometimes I would hear loud creakings and opening and closing doors from upstairs, from the second floor landing or the attic. Most of us were frightened to be in that place at night alone. Everyone had a story or two about being alone and hearing strange sounds in other parts of the structure. The scariest night I ever spent was the time I was catalogueing supposedly true ghost stories in the basement. That was a mistake. Don't ever catalogue nonfictional ghost testimonies in an old basement with dark corners.
Everyone loves food. We sure did in 112.
In the kitchen we divided the shelves among ourselves. There were some high shelves that no one could reach without standing upon the cheap formica counter. Those were filled with giant glass jars of peach preserves. No doubt they were worth a fortune. It's anyone's guess where they came from, or how old they were. We diligently saved them, but later they were stolen by persons unknown. Whoever it was has a lot to answer for, and will eventually get what they deserve (as all cretins do).
The kitchen was distintive in that the two of the five exits that had doors could not be opened all the way, due to the poorly placed counter. And the walls were plastered with advertisements for terrible bands, mostly rap groups. They were something to read while cooking. Naturally Bob put up those ads.
One shelf was called the General Shelf. It was filled with food that had been abandoned by whoever previously lived in 112. I'm sure you know the kind of worthless foodstuffs I mean: government surplus peanut butter, potted meat (Ingredients: meat), lemon pudding mix, and the cheapest microwave popcorn ever turned out by Central American factories. Once when I was low on money I lived for a two week period on the contents of the General Shelf. It was goddam unpleasant.
Once Matt and Bob made two large animals out of Rice Krispies Treats. One was a rabbit, the other was a frog. They were too big to eat. I placed them outside next to the mailbox with a note. "A Yule Treat for YOU, Mr. Mailman." The mailman did not take his gift, so eventually ants and squirrels (and most likely the posse of raccoons) consumed them. Everyone was disappointed in the mailman.
We often went on ice cream runs. When United Dairy Farmers was offering "the deal," we would go load up.
There is a funny story about that government surplus peanut butter: two years later I was living with my brother, a girl named Chris, and a crazy fun-loving guy named Pete. Naturally I had taken the peanut butter with me after leaving 112, and placed it in my new kitchen. One night Pete came home from Dick's Den, a local bar. Drunk and hungry, he cracked open that waxed cardboard can of peanut butter. Later he told my brother that he had to stir it up to recompose it, and that it didn't taste like peanut butter at all. I have no doubt that it was rotten. He vomited in his room and the mess lay undiscovered for several days under a pile of clothing. That was the kind of guy Pete was. He should have been dead ten times over with the crazy stuff he pulled while camping and biking.
The Marble Slab
There was a slab of marble in 112 that had been used as a tabletop in the past, but whose legs had gone missing. Though it was thin, it was very long and very wide and extremely heavy. It couldn't be moved by one person alone, at least not without extreme willpower. After leaving 112, I and others often saw it out front as we drove by.
After a while we no longer saw it. What probably happened is this: Someone set the slab up edgewise in the grass between some mason blocks. Over a period of days or weeks, its weight slowly pulled it into the ground, where even now it is still traveling toward the center of the earth.
Chicko Parts Systems
If you ever wondered what would happen if you filled out one of those business reply cards, here is the answer: You will get lots of mail.
Matt filled out some business reply cards with the name Chicko Pants, head programmer of the ficticious Chicko Parts Systems, and 112's address. That started the ball rolling. Everyone at 112 filled out at least a couple of cards. I must have filled out fifty myself. Another employee at Chicko Parts Systems was systems analyst J.R. Bob Dobbs. Yes, this Bob was patterned after the famous J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, not Bob Haver.
These two started getting more mail than the real occupants of 112. Soon the daily amount of mail grew to such a size that it was difficult to find the "real" mail in with the free samples, business envelopes, and assorted crap. (All of the Chicko Parts Systems correspondence is still buried in the 112 basement - I took care of that - if anyone wants to go looking for it.) We got cd-roms. We got disks. (These were the days of free trial memberships to online services such as America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy. Once J.R. Bob Dobbs got two large boxes, each filled with 80 Compuserve trial disks.) I stopped answering the phone during the day, because it was always a fax call, or someone wanting to talk to an employee of Chicko Parts Systems. (Occasionally some fun was had at the expense of these callers.)
Today of course such a company would skyrocket to paper wealth due to crazed Wallstreet speculators.
One time a rich French girl was visiting us for some reason and we decided to throw a party. So we bought kegs and invited many people. I called my dad and invited him. The girl was surprised that I would invite my dad to a party. Hey, he's older than me, he can take it. That's the night I started getting the cold shakes from the AIDS medication, so I hopped in the shower for about an hour, to try and raise my body temperature. I slept an uneasy feverish sleep in the attic (my room in the basement would have been thunderingly loud), before waking up the next morning to ride my piece of shit bicycle five miles to the clinic, in order to take more medicine and have blood drawn.
Most parties involved the band Insurrection, which was composed of almost the entire rest of 112. (Everyone except me and Russ.) As a courtesy, other bands were invited. Once a Misfits cover band showed up. They only knew two songs so they played them two or maybe three times each, badly. Insurrection played quite a few venues in Columbus. They were a good band. Today all the founding members are in the band Children of Reagan, with the addition of Brian's brother-in-law, Rob. Not many people know that Rob used to play the tuba.
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Top Hat Willy copyright © 1994, 1995 OverFlow Productions
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