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Wayne's World

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A furry rabbit sits atop a pump organ in a dark living room. The rabbit looks almost real, except it stands completely upright and its head and torso wind around in a circular motion, something on the order of Linda Blair's head in The Exorcist.

"I had to have that," Wayne Anderson says of the recent acquisition. He says that of many things--a Popsicle-stick lamp shade, an amethyst ring, a human skull, several Nativity scenes, an occult statue of a ram with breasts and a pentagram around its neck...

Wayne likes what he likes, it's that simple, he says. He can go to Dominick's, walk down every aisle, and leave with only the tub of butter or the jar of pickled herring he picked up upon first entering the store.

Wayne is our neighbor in the south-side neighborhood of Pullman. I think of him as the all-knowing, all-seeing eyes of the block. He knows when people come home or leave. He can tell who's awake and who's asleep by whether their lights are on. He witnesses partiers throwing up, cars being broken into, People walking their dogs, and God knows what else taking place in the middle of the night. All this he sees from behind the beaded curtain in his living room, or while sitting silent on his front stoop, his telltale cigarette ember glowing in the darkness.

In warm weather Wayne takes his place on the porch in solitude, long before dawn. Sometimes his smoker's cough wracks the still night air and gives away his presence at 4 AM.

The first time I saw him sitting there all I could think was "Buddha." Shadows from a maple tree danced across his big belly. Cigarette smoke curled about his head.

Wayne is an artist who draws women's faces and erotic scenes on construction paper and pillowcases. He measures time in spent cigarettes.

Recently he drew a couple of women's faces on the canvas seat cover of my couch. "The ashtray was overflowing," he said when he finished. "Three packs." That means six hours.

Wayne's house is heavy with the smell of cigarette smoke, incense, and potpourri. It's low-lit and cozy, with the seductive atmosphere of a fortuneteller's den. (Wayne prefers to describe his home as "an old whorehouse.") Eyes watch from the walls of the kitchen, which are lined with Wayne's posterlike drawings of women. The drawings conjure images of a bygone era, of feathered headdresses, beads, fruit, and spit curls. Flappers, showgirls, and Ziegfield Follies types.

A black cat leaps from the stove to the kitchen table, dodging the flames of two candles and a plastic cup filled with felt-tip pens. The cat makes a wow sound instead of a meow. Even Wayne's pets are weird. The black cat is one of two Persians that used to plant themselves on top of the stove, next to a pot of water that boiled incessantly throughout the winter months (Wayne's humidifer). They looked like a couple of bookends.

Wayne called them Skinny and Fatty. One of them died. I still can't remember which died and which is alive. Neither was fatter or thinner than the other. No sooner had Wayne buried the dead one than a friend gave him a puppy, which he eventually named Bill. Bill liked to get into things. One day Wayne noticed him digging in the backyard. The trash bag with Skinny or Fatty in it was sprawled out on the grass. The cat had been wrapped in a blue towel.

"Bill was swinging the towel around back there," Wayne said, bobbing his head up and down, imitating the dog.

We laughed. It was just one of Wayne's sick stories. Most of Wayne's stories are sick, but they make me laugh. I've heard many of them in warm weather and with several other neighbors camped out on Wayne's front stoop. The scene always includes Wayne's calloused bare feet, a coffee can overflowIng with cigarette butts, and countless tropical plants in an assortment of odd containers--flowerpots, coffee cans, milk cartons, and cottage cheese containers.

A tall plastic cup of coffee with lots of milk and sugar balances on the porch railing. If the coffee's not there, then Wayne is probably inside, behind the beaded curtain. If he's not sleeping or eating or drawing, he plays a player piano stripped of automatic playing device. Usually around dinnertime, the ragtime music spills into the car-clogged street and seeps into the opened windows of the row houses.

Wayne's brother lives next door with their mother, so close that their front door frames touch. Some times both brothers sit on the stoop that serves both row houses. Neither man has said a word to the other in three years. Carrying on a conversation with Wayne at these times is awkward. It feels rude to ignore his brother, especially when the man shows interest in the conversation. Wayne's instructions are to "ignore him. That's what I do," but many of Wayne's friends find this too difficult and avoid the stoop when both brothers are present.

One time, though, I was there when Wayne told the story about the old redhead with the brain tumor. "She's walking around the neighborhood after exploratory surgery for cancer," Wayne says. "They had to close her up. She's not happy about the idea of dying, but all she can say is 'Damn, and I just had my hair done.'"

For that one, I think even Wayne's brother laughed.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lloyd DeGrane.

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