Wuesthoff , a not so gentle southern proprietor of his own crazy decree, owned two homes off our fringy little corner of Decatur, Georgia. The first one was a grand, two-story Dutchman, proudly showcasing its classic charms to the remaining patchwork of postwar homes, a small church and an abandoned retail shop. My boyfriend then and my husband now, Jeff, lived in the second Wuesthoff house along with two beatnik-wannabe buddies, Ron and Bart. This house was rustic, at best, but lent itself perfectly to a threesome of starving college students in need of a cheap place to rent.
Behind the house was a two story garage. The lower level served as a storage facility for Wuesthoff’s eclectic inventory of vintage power tools, broken pieces of Formica, stuffed oversized birds and nine feet, high rolls of faded oriental carpets, all faintly visible through four, tiny, filmy garage door windows. As a 19 year old with a dramatic imagination, I believed skeletal remains made up the rest of his stash of weird junk. The top level served as a Fonzie-esque garage apartment to an unknown number of younger tenants. Jeff and his roommates shared a gravel parking lot with these unknowns, but never laid eyes on any of them except an occasional appearance and nod to the main renter.
Jeff and I started seeing each other about two months after he moved into that house. As our dates turned into week long sleep overs, I too became a regular beatnik-wannabe. We spent most nights on the porch listening to the Velvet Underground, smoking hand rolled cigarettes, and engaged in endless conversations about everything. We were living the newly found independent, college life. But like a typical bad guest, my time there was starting to stink among his roommates.
As if the universe smelled my extended stay, one morning, Jeff and I woke up to the sounds of an eviction. Turned out that the unknown number of tenants were actually young kids paying their share of the rent, not knowing that the money never reached Wuesthoff. The renter pocketed his loot from those poor kids and spent it on drugs. No one had proof of course, but that was the big story and that was good enough to bring in the county Marshall.
Wuesthoff stood with us, tall and firm, both hands in his denim pockets, twirling a toothpick at the side of his full chapped lips. His piercing pale blue eyes darted between the piles of clothes, mattresses, stained bed sheets and unlaced shoes, all laid out on “their” side of that gravel parking lot. But in that moment of his heavy despair, Jeff and I seized our opportunity to play grown up, to live in sin and finally have a place of our own. “Hey, uh, mind if we go in for a look?” These words immediately lifted Wuesthoff from his slump, his eyes softened to a relaxed shade of grey. He tilted his crusty, old baseball cap just enough for a hint of dirty, blonde curls covering up the scarcity underneath. With a gratifying scratch, “sure, come on up.” Wuesthoff released his toothpick and led Jeff up those steep concrete stairs, cradled between two white paint-chipped wobbly wooden rail beams.
The now-vacant apartment had a living room to the left with a single window overlooking the gravel parking lot. The kitchen was visually loud, decorated with peach colored cabinets and coffee stained, silver speckled, Formica white counter tops. What it lacked in appliances, it made up with an avocado green refrigerator. Off the kitchen was a single bedroom large enough to fit a double bed and nothing else. There was a single closet made for little people, my full sized hangers fit snugly, sideways. The bedroom doors were heavy, adorned with beautiful gem like, glass knobs, Gothic key holes and at times locked me in when turned the wrong way. The apartment ended with a small study through an arched hallway entry. This room eventually housed our adopted cat’s litter box, vinyls and college books. It’s where we set up Jeff’s first computer system, something that jumped started into a career within the internet and five years later, led us out of our precious time within that garage apartment.