The Perfect Palace

Rolling up toward the dead end of our little street I notice that the garbage has not yet been dragged to the curb. Just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the most retentive anus ends up doing the most chores. Simple laws of the universe. It’s Wednesday afternoon, and there will undoubtedly be pizza boxes and empty beer bottles to be gathered up. Lots of empty beer bottles, enough to fill both recycling bins to the point of spilling over. Our driveway is a more of a long, winding gravel road, so to avoid multiple trips to the curb it’s best to pile the recycling bins on top each other, inside the garbage can, and just drag the whole load down in one shot. To be sure, this journey can be fraught with hazards and hardship. You should expect to lose a bottle or two along the way, and you might have to rest and resituate two or three times to avoid a total calamity, but it’s still better than making more than one trip. Might as well grab the mail while down by the box. I’ve got the routine down to a science at this point, and despite my occasional protests for a more equitable division of household labor, I must admit I almost enjoy this particular chore. It’s become a ritual of sorts, marking the transition from the grind of work (the Monday morning through Wednesday afternoon stretch at the group home) to the sweet, unobstructed expanse of my four and a half day weekends.

The Carrboro police refer to our driveway as “Starlight Lane.” While we were painting the place (in exchange for a significant break on the rent) we had some problems with vandals. Apparently the house had been vacant for many months prior to our arrival, and during that time it had become an ideal place for the occasional squatter to spend a night or two, or else for teenagers to meet up after school for beer and cigarettes. In any event, someone didn’t much like the fact that we were locking the door at night and otherwise staking our claim, so we’d return each morning to find the front door kicked in, windows broken, a turd floating in the washing machine. When I described to the officer where the house was — “that big old house set back in the woods at the end of Carr Street” — she said, “Oh, you mean the place on Starlight Lane, that little gravel road.” The mailbox says 117 W. Carr St., but Starlight Lane better communicates the sense of the magic and mystery that sets in when the house appears through the trees as I head up the drive. Standing in front of this place I often get an uncanny sense that some event of major importance has happened here. Shit has gone down. Deep shit. Or else I might be sensing the ghost of shit yet to come. Whatever the case, there’s a palpable vibe that’s hard to shake.

The first time I laid eyes on the place I knew I was home. Every other window was smashed in, the grass was growing high and wild all around, and the dull yellow paint looked so worn and faded that the house blended right in with the surrounding woods. It looked like a giant mushroom that had just sprouted up one spring after a thunderstorm, completely out of step with and — more importantly for our purposes — out of sight/earshot of the other little houses on this little dead end street.

Stepping onto the front porch that first day I was startled to hear voices inside. The place was advertised as “For Rent” in the paper, so I was surprised when, having knocked and eased open the door, I saw a group of teenagers congregated at the end of the hallway. They were obviously surprised to see me as well, and in a heartbeat they hauled ass out the back door and into the woods. Beer bottles were scattered everywhere and clouds of cigarette smoke were still visible. The place was a shit-hole, to be sure, but looking around all I could see was potential. This is just the place John and I had dreamt about all winter — The Music House. A little paradise hidden in the woods, no immediate neighbors, no eye witnesses, yet right in the heart of town, a stones throw from Carrboro’s main drag. This could be that house where our new band could rehearse without being hassled by the man, where jam sessions could rage on all night. A place where we could let loose every angel and demon constrained within the chambers of our collective heart.

Now to get the other guys to see through the garbage and broken glass. To see what I see.

As I headed back out the front door to round up the guys, I noticed, painted on the glass of the outer storm door, a picture of a castle. Above it was painted: “The Perfect Palace.” Nice. Someone else had felt the magic too.

John’s initial impression of the place was one of, well… horror would be an apt word, I suppose. He got the message I left on his machine and drove over with his girlfriend to check the house out later that night. It was pitch dark, and looking up at the broken front window on the second story, they noticed the orange glow of a cigarette, which was soon flung down at the car. The two of them peeled out of there, terrified. John and I met there the following morning, and the light of day made the place appear less menacing, although the first thing we noticed stepping onto the porch was the severed arm of some animal, probably a possum, nailed to the awning like some sort of warning.

“Forget about that. Wait till you see the inside. It’s the House of Rock and Roll, dude!”

It wasn’t until I got him onto the roof that John really began to see the light. The view from up there was breathtaking. We truly felt like we were on top of the world. I didn’t have to say another word. John was on board.

One by one we led the others under the “monkey paw,” through the gates of the Perfect Palace, and up through the second story front window and onto that glorious rooftop. John and I delivered inspired speeches channeled straight from the nearby heavens, as each potential housemate helplessly succumbed to the glorious vibe. Now we could all see through the broken windows, the puke stained carpets, even the turds floating in the piss-filled washing machine. Home sweet home! Yes, we saw through it all and into a crystal ball radiating with the fiery glow of our shared destiny. The Music House, aka the House of Rock and Roll, was born. Soon she would be taking her first steps into the local music scene. Soon she would become part of the scene.

Four years can fly by like a shooting star. High school. College. That first serious relationship that leaves you with a hole in your chest and your heart in your hands. I was twenty-nine years old and at the end of something. Something important, something precious, was over, done with, gone forever. Simple laws of the universe. Yet I was also on the edge, the brink, the threshold of something new. Something deep. Some shit yet to come.

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