Friday, December 01, 2006

Another Yucky Tale for a Snowy Day-- Gross Things Part 4

We had snow last night here in Chicago. It's pretty tame by Chicago standards. That didn't keep 80% of our students from giving themselves a day off. I've had not one student in my classes today. I've finished my lesson plans and turned them in, and done all my worksheet copies for the next week, so there's no more excuses not to blog.

Gross tale #4 revolves around my former mother-in-law, Cathy Rosario, who was actually my second wife Cynthia's stepmother. Cathy spent most of her time taking care of her elderly parents, Chester and Marion, who were retired and lived in Jefferson Park, a beautiful neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest side.

The northwest side of Chicago is quiet, clean and full of handsome little bungalows. Chester and Marion, lived in one of them. They were lovely people-- while I was married to Cynthia, they treated my son as a grandchild, even though he was not actually a relative. We looked forward to our visits to their house.

During one of these visits, I noticed that a neighbor's lawn was getting overgrown. This was out of character; people in Jefferson Park take great pride in maintaining their little houses. Chatting with Chester, he told me that he'd heard that the neighbor had gone away. There were rumors that he'd run off with a younger woman (the neighbor was in his seventies.)

Visit after visit, I observed the next-door-neighbor's house falling further and further into disrepair. Finally, neighbors started mowing the lawn, to keep it from being an eyesore. They also began to get concerned, as nobody could contact the neighbor. Cathy, my mother-in-law, began to contact city agencies-- the police, the fire department, social services, trying to get them to go in and check the house. She was told again and again that if there was no evidence of a crime, they could not justify going into the house.

In the meantime, property taxes were not being paid. Eventually the city took possession of the house-- apparently still not entering it-- and sold it at auction as it does with property seized this way. The winner was a contractor.

One day, I went to my porch, got the Chicago Sun-Times that my neighbor, who worked for them back then, always kindly dropped at my doorstep. As I sat down with my paper and breakfast, I started reading the front page story. It told the story of a contractor who had bought a house in Jefferson Park at a tax auction, and had entered it to assess what repairs were going to be needed. Since it had sat unheated over several Chicago winters, the waterpipes had burst, soaking the place. There was certain to be both water damage and mold. But the contractor had another surprise: the skeletal remains of the previous owner were quietly sitting on a chair in front of a television. The windows were closed, so no one had had any olfactory clues about his demise.

The reporter in the story I was reading had interviewed a Cathy Rosario, the daughter of the next-door neighbor. I realized that it was my mother-in-law, and that the house was the one next door to Chester and Marion's. The reporter, in fact several reporters from newspapers and television stations, were incredulous that this guy could have been dead in his house for several years, and that people had quietly maintained the house. Cathy pointed out to them that people in the neighborhood minded their own business, took pride in the appearance of the neighborhood and besides, they had tried for a long time to get the city to check on him. She pointed to another house down the street-- the grass was beginning to get long-- that it stood out compared to the rest of the well-maintained block.

A week later, the police entered that very house because a horrible smell was emanating from the open windows; they'd apparently learned their lesson after the outrage over the other house. Incredibily, the owner of this house was dead too! He'd been morbidly obese, and died of a heart attack. His body was rotting in the late-spring heat. Chester and Marion had had not one, but two dead neighbors on their quiet little block.


Bubs said...

Oh shit, I remember this story! I am awed that you have some connection to it.

This story circulated widely as an example of how disconnected we've become as a society.

lulu said...

I remember this story too!

Johnny Yen said...

I remember a few years ago reading about a case, in Europe, I think, that they found the skeletal remains in front of a still-running television. The guy was on a pension, which was direct-deposited into an account. He was on autopay with his rent-- he was in an SRO-type facility, in which the electricity was included. Just sad to think that there was no one in his life who missed him for over a year.

Dale said...


I was telling a friend about your dead guy on the lawn story and he told me about a relative who had ordered Chinese food one lovely summer day and went outside to sit and wait for it in the shade. The delivery driver found him dead in his lawnchair. No tip for him. I just hope it wasn't your Dominoes guy having switched jobs (and countries).