Friday, February 27, 2009

Keeping Durham Disreputable: Rich James on Mallard Ave.

Awhile ago I saw a great, great sticker that somebody had made up and posted around downtown, and it said, very simply: “Keep Durham Disreputable.”

photo by Jessie

Meet Rich. He is among the Cleveland-Holloway elite who can claim Durham as home turf--he moved here at the age of 4. He has good memories of the smell of toasted tobacco filling downtown. "I haven't smelled good tobacco since the early '90s", he says. After the tobacco industry dried up, Durham seemed to him like a ghost town.

Rich had a job at one point delivering pizzas, and says he wasn't too happy if his job brought him into Cleveland-Holloway, but he made the neighborhood home in the spring of 2008--renting a house on Mallard Ave. from a friend, and he says he has seen the area change so much just in the past 6 months.

Rich's home is not only a place to live, but a space for his band, Tooth, to practice. They don't like it in the winter, he says, because the downstairs still has no heat. You can look down and see dirt beneath the missing floorboards. Rich plays guitar in the well-loved Durham band that he describes as "metal for smarter people”. And the best part of being in a band is the travel: "There’s something about living on peanut-butter sandwiches and trail-mix, and sleeping on hard surfaces, and getting bugs all over you, that I really like."

Click to hear Rich on travel:

Rich says he'll live in Cleveland-Holloway as long as he can. "It is hands down the most beautiful room I’ve ever lived in. It’s spacious…it has hardwood floors…they took the ceiling and one of the walls out, so it’s a big trapezoidal shape now …there’s a huge hand-hewn oak header that goes across the room, and columns… It’s just a beautiful room. And I should keep it cleaner!

Rich says he loves the neighborhood, his neighbors, and being within walking distance of downtown. What he doesn't want to see is the longtime renters being priced out of the neighborhood. A good balance is struck right now, he says, with people coming in and fixing things up in a way that is beneficial to the neighborhood. "But I’m scared that it will turn into the worse case scenario as far as gentrification goes.

Rich is also a painter, trained at Savannah College of Art and Design. He says he's made it harder on himself to sell his work, calling his style "disturbing surrealism," but recently he’s had a new idea for more marketable work, a series of landscapes:
"There's something about North Carolina … and the trees in the winter at dusk, where you get this beautiful dark blue, semi-pink sky and the dead pine trees sticking up in silhouette. I really, really, really like that."

(Profile by Jessie and Jennifer)

1 comment:

Kenray said...

I always tell people: when kids come from Chapel Hill to Durham for the first time, they ought to make them dress up like Dorothy and sing "Negroes, Hispanics and Queers, OH MY!"

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