Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lafayette Redux

(Since a lot of you are new here, and because I decided to devote my weekend to making my house a little less of a pit of inexhaustible dust and death, this is a story I wrote for the now defunct
Pink Eye Magazine. They still have a website, you should go look at it. Buy a collage book that will give you nightmares. In a good way. Hopefully I'll be back with some new stuff next week, unless I die buried under all the fucking useless crap I have piled in my hallway right now. Isn't that how hoarders die?)

In 1938, certain forward thinking individuals at Lafayette School began an educational radio station, designed to integrate technology into the classrooms. The Cleveland Board of Education took it over months later, and the radio station became the first non-commercial FM station in the country. For forty years it broadcast as WBOE, until the schools started their financial tailspin and shelved it in the 70s. They let go of old 90.3, and in 1984, it became WCPN. So, wandering these hallways is essentially wandering the birthplace of Cleveland Public Radio, the infancy of the station I listened to every morning on the way to school.

The school was built in 1919 and stayed in business into the mid-90s. The exact year the final humans migrated is a mystery. They simply disappeared into the ether of blonde new bricks and plastic playgrounds. If we approximate the last known student as vanishing in 1996, that means they have only been gone for 13 years, if that. Why does it look like it’s been vacant for decades? In 1993, the school failed to pass inspections, so the decay and rot were already well entrenched. But the final blow to this 89 year old institution was the Great Board Massacre of 1999, also known as the Chalk Rebellion.

A School abandoned by its colonial masters becomes a hotbed of civil unrest.

Fed up with the unfair taxation and resource control exercised by the conservative Furniture Faction, the chalkboards, who had long considered themselves part of the Ceiling and Wall Coalition, staged a dramatic failure of a coup. The first shot was fired by a corner chalkboard named Blacktop. In a display of bravery that would be talked about for years, Blacktop tossed (shrugged?) his rotting erasers at a group of surly desks congregating in a corner of the music room. The desks, a group of rusty fascists, tolerated no dissension from the structural masses, and retaliated with unusual force, hurling themselves against the chalkboards with the hatred of fanatics. The overwhelmed and under-armed chalkboards were soon overcome, and most of their number destroyed. The few remaining ones became desk sympathizers in a desperate attempt to protect their pride.

The battle was over; the balance of the empty classrooms had already been tipped. Word spread through the air ducts of the chalkboards’ destruction, and fed a fervor that had existed in the ceilings for years. In a long series of deadly strikes, the building waged war against its despotic contents. A few of the more famous battles included the Ceiling Tile Attacks, in which the Styrofoam heroes threw themselves down from the rafters like kamikaze, covering the escape paths with musty impenetrable litter. There was a well coordinated ambush of the aristocratic, haughty, judgmental Piano, leaving that bourgeois bastard shattered and silenced. And of course, no one talks about the Lafayette wars without mentioning the legendary Roof Bomb, the final offensive which drove the desks from the school forever, of which the ethics are still being debated.

The artifacts of this longstanding war can be found everywhere – skeletal remains of desks, a sad heap of piano wires. The beached carcass of the roof has fallen in and folded like an ancient parachute, its rib cage exposed to mites and mold. In stairways and corners, one can see the tattered remnants of fleeing textbooks, reminding us that there are always innocent bystanders.

The fabrics of Lafayette have reacted differently, according to their social standings. The working class carpet never stood a chance. Its plastic fibers have melted into a red slurry of mud and plants. Walking across it is like walking across an open wound. You want to cover it with antibiotics, mulch, and love. The virtuous stage curtains have withstood the test of time with almost perfect success. Except for the dust, they are still dreaming of the Music Man. The lonely couches and chairs sit still in their chosen rooms, each alone in its own thoughts, sympathetically listening to the rats tear out their stuffing for rat babies. They are the holey hermits of this building, believing escape lies in the acceptance of fate, and the ignorance of worldly things. Perhaps this is why the chairs and couches escaped banishment with the bookshelves. They’re not troublemakers.

The real tricksters of the post revolutionary world are the coat racks. They hide in the unused hallways, waiting patiently like angler fish, snagging their prey. Be careful to give them wide berth, they rip and tear at anything that passes, edible or not. The hallways they live in are conspicuously free of debris. Nasty little things, they have overrun the dark places, breeding like cockroaches.

And there is plenty to feed on. Birds dart in through broken windows and holes. Insect life is thriving, little ones and big ones. The floor of the main hall, with its cryptic Olympics emblem setting the tone, is becoming a regular empty lot ecosystem, full of competition amid the quickly collecting soil. Mushrooms thrive on the leftover carcasses of the chalkboards. It’s a beautiful place, like most battlefields are.

More photos from one of my favorite places can be seen here.


  1. I love your have an amazing eye!

  2. I fear my only talent is being born in a place with dramatic opportunities. But thanks!

  3. I know there's no way to say this without sounding so douchey and after school special ey but HOLY GOD you are so talented. There is magic here. I know it. I can't wait to watch your rise when the rest of the world figures out how nifty these stories/photos/journeys are.

    Or at least enjoy them on the compound while we drink homemade wine after the world ends.

  4. love love LOVE.
    you gave us the photographic proof and then your words managed to give us even more imagery to fuel the story.
    just... awesome.


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