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  • The Bodyman
  • Joe Oestreich (bio)

1. The Thousand Dollar House

Dave Cook is staying in tonight. He’s come down with whatever flu virus has been going around. But that’s not why he’s staying in. “Sick” is just not that big a deal to Dave. Shit, he’s been sick every day for 42 years. He was born with Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that has damn near killed him several times over. So, no, Dave is not staying in because he’s sick. He’s staying in because, as he says,“I don’t look too sweet, and I smell like shit, and I ain’t taking a fucking shower.” Dave ain’t taking a fucking shower because he doesn’t have a shower. He doesn’t have running water or indoor plumbing. Yet. For now he washes himself with Gojo Brand hand cleaner dispensed from a gallon-sized plastic container, and he rinses with the rainwater and snowmelt he’s collected in buckets out back. To take an actual hot-running-water shower, Dave has to track down T-Bone. T-Bone’s got a shower. But T-Bone doesn’t have a phone. Finding him is usually more of a hassle than it’s worth, so Dave keeps a stash of clean underwear and socks in a plastic grocery bag. Beyond that, he wears the same thing every day, whether he’s welding a resonator under a buddy’s LeSabre or working the cash register at Cloud Nine Pipes and Stuff: heavy Carhartt overalls, an old gray sweatshirt, and a ribbed Rip-Curl skullcap. He looks a bit like a young, thin Jack Nicholson circa One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but this getup doesn’t necessarily fly at most of Columbus, Ohio’s hotter nightspots. So Dave Cook is staying in tonight.

At Dave’s house, one’s conception of “in” must be reassessed. “In” typically suggests a certain degree of structural integrity, enough to ensure that whatever is “out”—the wind, the cold, the neighbors—stays out. But on this February night, Dave’s house is penetrable by one and all. The walls of [End Page 117] what will soon be his living room consist of nothing but aluminum siding and plywood—no insulation, no drywall, no paint. To keep from freezing to death, Dave fires up a kerosene space heater that’s loud as a jet engine. When it gets so cold that even this heater is outgunned, he retreats to the back bedroom, an eight-by-eight-foot nook that he recently finished draping with pink Owens Corning fiberglass. The bedroom is cordoned off from the living room by a ratty blanket that hangs from the ceiling, and thanks to the new insulation and a smaller electric heater, it’s comparatively luxurious back there.

This house, which Dave has dubbed Cook Acres, is the first major item he has owned that doesn’t have wheels, and it’s his only because he was lucky enough to know a guy, who knew a guy, who knew that the previous owner had died and left the property to his deadbeat meth-addict of a son. The son then let the house rot—literally rot—in a four-foot swamp of standing water in the basement. Looking to get out from under the dilapidation and the property taxes, and clearly more focused on his addiction than on his deceased father’s old house, the meth-head decided to see what he could get for the place. That’s when Dave and a lawyer friend made the kid an offer: 1,000 dollars. A grand. For a house on a wooded half acre. Dave paid less for a home than you’d pay for a rusted-out used car at one of the buy-here, pay-here lots in his neighborhood. You could pay more, a lot more, for a new bicycle.

Dave Cook—landowner—then gave away his old pad, a shabby mobile home that had been up on blocks in an urban trailer park, to a girlfriend who was riding rough over a stretch of bad luck. He and his...


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pp. 117-132
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