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I live in a van down by Duke University

by Ken Ilgunas

first posted 12/6/09 to OpenSalon.com

I was lying on the floor of my van where the middle pilot chairs used to be, trying to hide from view. This is it, I thought. They know. I’m going to get kicked out of Duke.

Moments before, I had been cooking a pot of spaghetti stew on top of a plastic, three-drawer storage container, which held all my food and my few meager possessions. I figured the campus security guard had parked next to me because he spotted the blue flame from my propane stove through the van’s tinted windows and shades.

I held my breath as he shut off the engine and opened his door. I was in my boxer shorts, splayed across my stain-speckled carpet like a scarecrow toppled by the wind.

As I listened to what sounded like a pair of Gestapo jackboots approach the driver-side door, I thought about how I’d almost gotten away with it. For two whole months, I had been secretly living in my van on campus.

For some, van-dwelling may conjure images of pop-culture losers forced into desperate measures during troubled times: losers like Uncle Rico from “Napoleon Dynamite,” or “Saturday Night

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