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Thursday, February 14, 2013

FAREWELL, SOUTH BELOIT



Ye Olde Homestead
November 20, 2010 - February 6, 2013

On November, 20, 2010, in a desperate fugue of approaching homelessness, I signed a six-month lease on a small apartment in the little town of South Beloit, Illinois.  The landlord seemed like a nice guy, laid back, and he didn't make me fill out an application, run a credit check, or put me through the ringer.  He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a writer, because that sounds more distinguished and safe than "cartoonist" or heaven-forbid "artist."  He looked at me askance and asked if I'd be able to pay the rent.  I said yes.  He replied, "If you get me $400, you can move in right now."  I borrowed some money from my mom, and moved my stuff in.

The first several months were grim.  November through January in North Central Illinois can be grim no matter what, but I was also coming off of a divorce, and following that, a heartbreaking love-affair that had seen me uproot myself from Denver, my home-sweet-home-away-from-home, bankrupting myself in the process.  I was not in, shall we say, the best mental state.  I was, shall we say, bitter about women, love, and life in general.

South Beloit is a pretty downbeat town.  There's not a lot of cushiony feeling there.  I remember that winter actually thinking, "This is where I belong."  When my friend Dan came to visit me, he said "Not only are you living in the most depressing town I've ever seen, but you're living in the most depressing building in that town."

I figured I would do my six months time, save some money, and then figure out my next step.

Eventually, I kind of, sort of, liked my weird old grey cinderblock place.  It looked like maybe once in the past it was a neighborhood grocery, or a mechanic's shop or something.  It was just down the street from where Fair Oaks ended at the train tracks, and a small dirt path wound into the woods towards the river.  I used to sneak in there all the time to look for aluminum cans, or simply to gaze at the river flowing past, slowly onwards to the Mississippi.

I became obsessed with the big island just west of my apartment.  Looking at an old USGS map online, I saw that it had a name: Boney Island.  That was the first thing I really liked about South Beloit, that there was an island there named Boney Island.  I also liked the old railroad bridge where the Union Pacific spur line rolled over Lathrop Terrace.  One day, on a warmish morning in early spring, I stopped to watch the South Beloit High School baseball team play Clinton (Wisc.) at the ballfield across from the Post Office.  (They won.)  For a second on that warm day I started to think, "Maybe it's not so bad here.  Maybe I could stay..."  Something had clicked.

On April 11, 2011, I met a girl named Stephanie, up in Beloit, Wisconsin, and we started dating.  The six months came and went.  We spent that first summer walking in the woods and fields around town.  I taught her the names of the prairie plants, and she took pictures for me with her new camera.  We'd take her dog Sherman for strolls in the evening and it felt quite domestic.  It felt good.

Even though Stephanie had a nice old house in Beloit, where we spent much of our time, I kept my little apartment in South Beloit.  Although the heat in it stunk, the water only worked intermittently, and the ceiling leaked on occasion (in a minor way), it was good to have a place to go, to work, to store all my distro stuff, and I liked being in Illinois.  Also, frankly, I was gun shy.  I didn't want to risk our relationship ending suddenly, leaving me with no place to go.

On January 29, 2013, I went down to my apartment to get to work.  I'd been on a roll, getting lots of artwork done, and busting some real progress on my new book.  I walked into the bathroom and saw water on the floor.  Looking up, there was an enormous blister in the ceiling, dripping water.  I threw a bucket under it and checked elsewhere.  A hole had burst through the kitchen ceiling as well, and in the back room, where I kept all my distro stuff, a new crack was dripping, and increasingly so.  Amazingly, even though nearly everything I own is made of paper, nothing was damaged.  I started packing my boxes immediately.

By that night the rain had turned to snow, and it snowed every day from then on, for the next ten days, as I drove carload after carload of comics and artwork up to Stephanie's place.  One night, driving up Route 2 towards Wisconsin, I almost got teary eyed, thinking of leaving good ol' South Beloit.  And I wondered why.  Partly, I felt like a traitor, leaving my home state, even though I was only crossing the line about half a mile.  And partly, I knew I would miss South Beloit's lonely desolation, the empty sounds of trucks rushing past at night.  And partly, because I knew another phase of my life was ending, and a new one beginning.  And I'm a lonely old sentimental fool, and the passing of time is the saddest and eeriest thing in the world.

* * *

PS: I'm keeping my South Beloit PO Box, so please continue sending mail there!

6 comments:

  1. I love this, John...it reminds me of my time by the chocolate brown river in North Texas...it's weird how we can come to sort of miss these sad lonely places...I wish you the best in Beloit!

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  2. Sounds like nature was giving you a nice little push there...

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  3. Good luck with the new scenario. I've faced waters invading my stock of books and original art twice and it's a real hair raising experience, gets your attention like nothing else. Meanwhile, I hope to have enuff work this spring to send in a good order to you for my summer reading. Onward...

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  4. Beautiful writing John, love and best wishes Jason & Valerie X

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  5. Sounds like you are a drifter who needs to get his head out of the clouds and get a 'real' job before your girl leaves you for someone who does with a letter that starts:

    Dear John,

    I regret ....

    ReplyDelete