Pink House. 130 North Street. Back In The Day.

Fellow residents from the 1991-94 years were Clint Curtis, Shyam Patel, Raj Krishnasami, Lydia Craft, Jess Deltac, Kyle York Spencer, Caroline Rivers Hall, Mel Lanham, Michelle Sinnott, Jay Murray, N'Gai Wright, Scott Bullock (who crashed on the couch for a year before finally moving in), Bryan Ellerson, Karen Hurka, Sally Stryker, Ryan Mathias, Charlie Speight, Chris Palmatier, Trent McDevitt, and Steve William.

Besides holdovers and returnees Jay, Scott, Mel (& Laverne!), Chris, and N'Gai, residents during 1995-97 included Allen Sellars (who, like Jay, lived at both the Pink House and 401 Pritchard), Ian Williams, Zak Bisacky, James Dasher, Linden Elstran, Jiffer Bourguignon, Grant Tennille (who first made the scene as a fixture in N'Gai's room circa summer '93), Zia Zareem, Ben Folds, Tom Holden, and Chris "Chip" Chapman.

- Erik Ose

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

Leaving Mona Lisa

Independent Weekly, 8/20/97

by IAN WILLIAMS ('95-'97)

So I'm moving away from Chapel Hill. This surprises me as much as it does my friends; I've been saying the same thing about moving out of North Carolina since about 1989, and never actually bothered to do anything about it. Now everything I own is in a truck bound for Los Angeles, and I have one more day to contemplate my existence in a town that has been my biggest scourge as well as my salvation, a place I've loathed as much as loved.

Whenever you move away from a place, you develop these bookending thoughts that take you back to the first day you came. I've been thinking a lot lately about the moment I first pulled into Chapel Hill with my dad - I was a 17-year old spaz, so addled from five loveless years at a military-style prep school that I looked upon the flower gardens in front of the Morehead Planetarium with the kind of glee that newborn sea turtles must feel when they make it to the ocean unscathed.

"It's just as I imagined it would be," I beamed to my dad, who was still married to my mom at the time. That changed pretty quickly, as did the restaurants we tried that first night (Magdalena's and that gelato place). In fact, nothing in my life was ever the same after Aug. 20, 1985; when he let me out in front of Hinton James dormitory, still wearing my prep-school black corduroys in the 95-degree heat, the worst parts of my childhood died off and flaked away.

The first party I ever went to was at this place called the Pink House, then inhabited by a rowdy bunch of senior history majors who threw get-togethers where like-minded female English majors would sit around, sip wine and dance to the Smiths. I went into the front room of the house and was instantly struck by a gorgeous, humongous mural of the Mona Lisa painted on the wall, an ancient remnant of some long-gone art student's passion.

The Pink House Mona Lisa, icon of Chapel Hill PHOTOS BY IAN WILLIAMS

When I asked the occupant about the painting, he stopped filling his bong long enough to look at it mystically, saying it had been there as long as he'd been in school. I gazed at Mona's curious smile uneasily, feeling as though I were lost in the intoxicating haze of an ancient Freemason ritual. There was an unspoken brotherhood in this town that I had yet to figure out.

The actual act of going to college seems like a distant idea to me now - probably because I didn't do much of it. I recall spending most of my afternoons outlining columns for the Daily Tar Heel, languishing in the Pit while chatting up cute in-staters from religion class, going out at night and talking with strangers thirsty for experience. I can't even remember graduating. It was just another Sunday, and I wasn't leaving anyway. There seemed to be more unfinished business, as if Chapel Hill had a joke for me it still wasn't telling.

The town began to take on the feel of a commune. I would find myself consoling people I barely knew in the bread aisle at Harris Teeter, giving drunk half-friends rides to Time Out at 4 in the morning. My CD collection was decimated by each party. One time, a woman I was dating in 1995 gave me a tape of early '80s music as a present, and it turned out to be the eighth generation of a tape I'd made for someone else in 1991.

People would ask me why I'd stayed so long after college, and I'd tell them I didn't need to leave; everyone else leaves instead. Living in Chapel Hill means inheriting a vastly different town every September, and it isn't just the storefronts that change. Generations of friends come and go, and worse - entire kinds of people change their ethos. I've seen the college kids go from being spontaneous pleasure-seekers to sallow automatons. When I was a freshman, there were kegs in the dorms; if anyone had heard you say that there would be a day when no alcohol of any kind would be allowed at UNC's parties, they would have laughed you out of the quad. Nowadays, freshman think it's exciting when their Teague dorm room has internet jacks.

College administrators, addled by litigation issues and their own sense of johnny-come-lately morality, have inflicted this New Era of Boredom behind the smokescreen of a "war on the anti-intellectual atmosphere," and it's a shame. I realize it's hard to whine about this stuff without sounding like a frothing, alcoholic, bitter hippie - but if these sophomores aren't given the chance to down a few tequila shots and howl at the moon, I'm going to really hate their poetry.

I was lucky; I got in just under the wire. I lived in two of Chapel Hill's pastel-colored party communes - one of them being the Purple House on McCauley Street. Before it was renovated a few years ago, the Purple House was a notorious shithole where anything was possible. Once, during the "bang, bang on the door baby" part of the B-52s' "Love Shack," my roommate Salem put his head through all the windows of the upstairs, in time with the beat. I think he spoke for us all that night.

Being in your mid-to-late 20s is a hard proposition for a Chapel Hill male. You had better cure cancer or develop an AIDS vaccine, because even sainthood won't stop the base conclusion that everyone will draw: You are here to have sex with the freshmen. I spent so long dodging claims that I was a lecherous Lothario that I gradually retreated into a dark depression. My passions were fine - I managed to put out a couple of books during this time - but I was still a total mess, and wanted desperately to move away.

That's when the other pastel-colored party house, the Pink House, had an opening. I moved right in. The Pink House was a place where everyone had a story; indeed, I think most people believe it existed only in an alcoholic dream. We had bacchanalia there that kept the Chapel Hill Police Department from running under-budget. In February, when there was an open-mic and break-dancing contest right on the counter where I made tuna sandwiches, I finally felt like I was an integral part of this town. The brotherhood, for what it's worth.

A few months into my Pink House journey, I got to move into the front room. And there she was, in all her radiant, gigantic glory - the Mona Lisa.

She was a bit worse for wear, with the occasional paint streaks here and there from those who had accidentally nicked her head when they painted the rest of the room. But she was still breathtaking. When you drove away from North Street, you could see her eyes follow you all the way to Airport Road. Such a fragile being, this layer of paint in a heavily populated house fraught with late-night fistfights and impromptu indoor hockey. So much could have happened to her, but didn't. She was the icon of Chapel Hill for me. I lived with her for two years, writing these Indy articles and other works while she stared.

Finally I turned 30, and knew I couldn't stay in Chapel Hill anymore. Besides, the Pink House was to be renovated for the new occupants (we were kicked out for being slobs) and my brother had found this great house in Hollywood. Packing all my things into a Ryder truck, I moved out and camped in Carrboro until I got my last paycheck. But before I left, I made the landlord and painters promise - as the last resident had done to me, and and so on back through the years - that the Mona Lisa should be left untouched. They looked at her in awe, and agreed.

Yesterday I realized that there was one thing left in the Pink House that I needed to rescue, so I went back into the skeletal remains of the building. I snatched the object and was walking away, when I decided to take one last look into the room I'd first walked into 12 years before. And she was gone, leaving just a wall with freshly coated paint, white globules still dripping to the floor. Even worse, someone had dropped a ladder into her, creating a gaping hole where her mesmerizing smile once was. My heart stopped beating for a second or two.

I'm not sure what poetic conclusion I can draw from all this; all I know is that I felt so incredibly sad. I did my best to foster the brotherhood of Chapel Hill, but this is a town that paints over anyone who tries too hard to stick around. Now I can go too.

Tuesday, August 19, 1997

So sad that we lost the house

Thanks for the nice long letter. I called you at the "Lost City" but they said you were away, goofing off somewhere.

It's so sad that we lost the house. When Jay was up here a few weeks ago we went to a concert in central park and there were about 10 ex-pink house denizens gathered together, all now living in New York. Anyway, it's definitely better for the place this way. It really does need to be renovated, or bulldozed. What does Sylvia expect the house to look like after five years? Did she think it would renovate itself while she was away?

Your store sounds really cool, Erik. Tell Lem I said hello. How's his little girl doing? Give my congrats to Jenny for surviving law school. I can't believe that you ran into Jess. What did her paintings look like? I'm dying to know.

- e-mail from Lydia


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