Monday, January 9, 2012

I don’t remember how I met Chick, exactly- I think the first time I ran into him was at the Akron bouldering co-op; a garage converted into a bouldering hotspot with the installation of some inclined wooden planks, plastic holds like neon-colored mumps drilled securely into the boards. I think I only offered him a shy hello that night; I didn’t know him, and I barely knew the climbing partner he’d driven down with. The co-op was always impossibly cold in January, so I was probably crouched by a space heater, trying to thaw my thoughts and fingers while people chalked up and threw down. Proper introductions were likely far from the dominant marquee in my mind.

A real first conversation had to wait for a warmer setting; packing up after a visit to the Cleveland Rock Gym some time after that trip to Akron, Chick and I shared some casual chatter over a picnic table at the far end of the top-rope walls. We discussed the pleasure and purpose of peanut butter sandwiches and thus forged a little acquaintanceship. The details of how we furthered our relationship- that is, when and where we next crossed paths, and what we talked about- I don’t recall.

At some point, I began climbing with Chick and a small group of people from the Cleveland Rock Gym when they set up ropes against a cement retaining wall in the flats, alongside a ribbon of unused railroad tracks. That summer I had moved, short-term, into a tidy but empty-feeling mansion on the east side of Cleveland, tenant of a persnickety and somewhat intolerant gay man. While at first the relationship was amicable, it soured as my routines clashed with his anxieties, and I found myself thinking out loud at the so-called railroad cracks one morning: I need to move. Becca, one of Chick’s roommates at the time, enthusiastically responded with an offer to move into the third open bedroom at their home in Tremont, and I casually entertained the idea for a little while before coming over one day to visit the space.

2190 Professor Avenue is a triangle-shaped building, wedged at the intersection of W.10th, Fairfield, and Professor Streets. Occupying the first floor is a Fifth-Third Bank and a contracting company; the second floor, at the time, was rented by a ceramicist and a caterer; the caterer has since moved out and the space is now an apartment. The door at the last flight of stairs unlocks to Chick’s home, a huge, blank area with several bedrooms hewn out of the open space, furniture and artifacts differentiating living room from kitchen. The northernmost part of the apartment- the point of the triangle- is peppered with chairs, tables, climbing gear, plants, rocks, sculptures, paintings, bags of dirt, simple tools- and off of several beams hang ropes meant for an occasional swing, in lieu of a workout. When I walked in, I was stunned by the light- along two of the house’s three walls, tall windows let in the sun and an unparalleled view of downtown Cleveland. Crowded by a pleasant clutter and hidden against a motif of unfinished construction, an oven of professional quality caught my eye- and then, so did the clutter itself, each piece scattered just-so, with a story and a reason for its presence.

The bedroom that was to be mine had once belonged to Chick’s younger son, Will, and was built as a multi-level hideaway; a ladder on the north wall let me off at a narrow boardwalk to a loft across the room, where I would, just a few weeks later, set up my frame and mattress. The entire house is built in such a way; surprising details and interesting quirks do not belie, however, sound construction and thoughtfulness. The work Chick has put into his building-he owns the property- springs from necessity, but is fueled by playfulness. Plain wooden counters are cutting boards, a deep, ceramic basin serves as the bathroom sink, windowsills double as planters, and narrow ledges, at eye level along the kitchen wall, are lined with slabs of unpolished marble, providing a grippy place for crowded key rings and pairs of gloves.

As I took note of the pert little piles about the house- books and papers and clothing and rocks and plants and office supplies and reading glasses, I felt at home. The arrangement of stuff here mirrored my own organizational motif: messy, perhaps, but not filthy: lived-in and homey. I knew at that point, without even having looked at the roof or checked out the basement, that I wanted to move in.

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