October 19, 2004

BY THE TIME I GET TO GARY, INDIANA

I would move to Gary. I have been speaking of it for at least a year now. You can get a mansion with a mortgage of roughly $450/mo. It has more industrial smokestacks than employed people. It is 30 miles out of Chicago, but it's a lot closer to Beirut, really. It's got the fantastic trifecta of the most downtrodden American boom city: High Murder Rate, High Unemployment and and a high enough per capita cancer rate that you imagine the tap water is actually liquid mercury.

So, naturally, I want to live there.

I took Miles and Morgan there today so I could we could shoot some pictures for our varying art projects. But after five rolls, I was dreaming of a Death of Gary coffee table book as winter project. we speculated on whether the city would pay us to move there, if grants were readily available, on the promise of bringing our fat Chicago revenue stream aka the cash-cow that is our fledgling band, to Gary. A Billion Dollars: putting Gary on the map once again. I think it's entirely within the realm of possibility.

The Sheraton across from the convention center, which is the permanant home of the Miss USA paegent, has been closed, for, my guess, 15 years. The sliding glass doors on upper floors have been pocked by bullet holes. It has been closed long enough that a sappling is growing on the roof. The only way we could find to enter was an open elavator shaft. Say no go.

Next was the half block solid of burned down houses. A sign anchored in front touted it as a "Model Gary Block" ("Oh the Irony!" says Miles) and noted that they are available for renovation. This, despite not having roofs. Behind one of the houses, the fire had melted a baby pool into the ground, and the pool was two inches high and still retaining water. Across the street, someone had personalized their as of yet un-arsoned garage with a mural depicting both the Playgirl™ and Playboy™ bunny logos, several feet high.

Every abandoned building we wanted into offered an open door, all of them reclaimed by nature since insurance-claim fires 30 years past, my favorite being the Post Office. We saw it from blocks away and wondered how we would break in. No need! In Gary, you can walk in the front door. It as if the Chamber of Commerce has realized that the carcass of Gary is it's only thing offer visitors or locals. (Unless you want dudes to tune up your car in the weedy DQ parking lot, or you want a 75-cent carwash...)

The wood-tiled floor of the Post Office had seen enough seasons that it had become potable ground - as there was a mini forest growing up. It was like a conservatory for glass and lichen. Three stories of it's middle were missing, the ceiling prolapsed - the top half of the building stolen and open to the sky. Miles made me stand in one of the very dark rooms to have my picture taken. I am not easily frightened, but I had to run out of the room as soon as the flash went off. It could have been dead body central.

We also hit the local school auditorium where the roof have caved on the third floor, ravaged by fire and had subsequently become a forest, with ivy and leaves climbing the melted ropes of iron girders which now dipped to the floor, like the veins of the building that had burst through it's stone skin, the roof arcing like a backyard pool slide into the verdant, wet jungle floor. It was like a dream. A forest, in a building, overlooking nothing but other burned out forest buildings and parking lots for as far as they eye could see.

Next: The office spaces and apartments above (the baffling) "Cha-Cha" building. Its tattered curtains blowing out the glassless windows and neon blue peeling paint were bekoning to us from the street corner.

Again, conviently, the back door to Cha-Cha was open, and through there, we could scale it's ass end, which had collapsed to street level, and could bound from it's roof to the second floor, and up into the building through a 10 by 20 foot hole in it's side. It was spooky and the carpet had gone to mushy rot, huge holes and windows on to the street still barely illuminated the long corridors into wood paneled office spaces that had been seeing snow on it's floors for at least 30 years. It was spooky enough that Miles and I ran through it, and I made Morgan hold my hand up to the third floor.

The third floor was a gold mine: Apartments. Baby shoes, creeky screen doors and xmas cards and an autographed O Jays album liner sleeve tacked to the wall. I left it for whomever is next.

Last, was a bombed out church, it's 500-seater theatre-auditorium and rectory. I do not know if a fire could have destroyed it all, but by the furniture still in evidence, it's been empty for about 40 or 50 years. There was several inches of ash covering everything, but the walls were intact and not blackened. Movielike, we followed kittens in - through the low narthex, which then opened into the church itself, hollowed-out, benchless and gutted save for a couple stain glass windows and the choir seats above the pulpit, four of five stories of expansive up up up. The auditorium was just a few rows of velvet seats crunched and turned upside down. Someone had tagged PRINCE by carving it into the former back drop in the theatre. On the stage, inexplicably, was strewn with several hundred pounds of clothes that had been decompossing slowly for the last several decades.

The romance of a town in startling disrepair is palpable. All the evacuated quiet, the collapsed roofs, once vibrant storefronts now somehow filled to the ceiling with sand. It's all testimony to the futility of all the human-made, to our monumenting, to our bullshit sense that our structures and our actions are permanent and indelable.
Gary is half parking lot, half 1947 grandeur gone drunk.
Gary looks like a war unfinished.
Gary looks like God is repossessing the entire city, a block at a time.

Posted by Jessica at October 19, 2004 07:24 PM | TrackBack