Ghosts at the Weatherford

February 19, 2015

Like clockwork, on day four of my road trip I hit my cranky existential crisis. It didn’t help that for this trip, day four overlapped with my birthday, which always makes me a little bit cranky. So double crankiness.

I had a wonderful visit with two parts of the family that I never get to see, and then hit the New Mexico roads. About an hour in, my crankiness descended.

I’ve never liked birthdays, but I hate telling people that, because they nod their head and say, “yep, getting older sucks.” That’s not it. I’m cool with getting older, if for no other reason than it releases some of the societal expectations that get forced on younger people.

It’s the ghosts of birthdays past. I’ve had some great ones, and whether I’m consciously remembering them or not, I think my brain tries to hold each new one to ridiculously high standards. I don’t really like that about my brain.

Last night I sat and listened to the Italian study group that was inhabiting the upstairs saloon at my historic (haunted, of course) hotel. The ghost of my last trip, to Rome and Venice, was floating about, but it wasn’t making me feel all nostalgic and wanderlusty. It just felt like I was trying to be manipulated into a good mood.

(By the way, 100% sounds really cool in italian. Cento perciento. Or something like that.)

The facilitator, who is from San Diego and has a very large family, was very cute, but this was a closed group and my Italian skills are below remedial. I moved over to the mostly empty ground-level bar for another cocktail (apparently all the kids were in the basement bar playing trivia), but I didn’t really engage with anyone and booked it upstairs pretty early, hoping to see a ghost. Because how can a too-young college kid at the bar compare with a pair of honeymooners who died in a murder/suicide in room 54? He can’t.

… Yeah, I think this bit of my brain that is fixated on ghosts may not be the most healthiest thing for my real-life relationships. Something to think about on the long desert roads scheduled for day five.

(Also, it’s just painful to listen to college kids hit on each other in halting Italian. “Can I dance? Oh, DO I dance. Yes.”)

Your video for the day: Senza Fine, the best part of the horrible 2002 film Ghost Ship, with a bizarrely creepy background image.

Borderlines

February 18, 2015

On my last road trip, just over 10 years ago now, I noticed a surprising thing when I crossed state lines. Things changed. I’d always assumed these borders were largely arbitrary, formed by politics and history and maybe a river here or there.

Nope. I found that each of the states had distinct landscapes and personalities, and these changes took place pretty much right on the borderline. Today, when I passed from New Mexico into Colorado, that feeling was reinforced. Suddenly, trees! The adobes shifted to log cabins. The weather and the rivers were the same, but now there were fly fishing outfitters. All of this within the span of about 10 miles.

This time, though, because I was thinking about it, I noticed the shift coming back into New Mexico down a different road. On this road, the changes were far more gradual; it took nearly an hour of driving for the landscape to feel like a new place. (Yet another sign that the brain tricks you, and only remembers what it wants to remember.)

And of course, since I seem to be traveling on a theme this time around, I started to think about the borderlines between life and death. Sure, sometimes they’re abrupt: life on one side, death on the other. But maybe sometimes they’re a bit more gradual…

I was lucky enough to see two aunts today, who live about seven hours apart from each other within New Mexico. The first, who’s right next to one of those gradual state borders, was who I was aiming to reach when the snowstorm pushed into a haunted hotel instead.

“I worried about you!” she said. “Did you sleep at all? Did you even know what it was, going into it?” I reassured her, and we got to talking about spirits. I think one of the reasons I seek them out is because I’ve never seen one. I’m not what you’d call sensitive, really in any sense of the word. So I look for them, and enjoy the terrifying tricks that my mind plays on me along the way.

She had an amazing story, about coming down a grade in the snow, losing traction on a pile of slush, and hearing her father’s voice telling her to let up on the brake. She swears she never would have thought to do that, and that he saved her life that day.

As I sit near Santa Fe and think about borders and spook-filled late nights, this feels appropriate, from Tom Russell’s Borderlands album. “Baby wakes up and calls to me, ‘What is that lonesome sound? It echoes off the mountain out near the lights of town.'”

On an unrelated note, I started to get nostalgic for the sketchy places I’ve slept in (the hotels and family homes on this trip have been freaking DIVINE, I feel spoiled) and discovered that my favorite, the Sleeping Buffalo, has been seriously swanked up. I reeeally want to go to the new spot, but I’m a little sad, too. Here’s what it used to look like, except I’m pretty sure it was never really that clean or that bright. I remember dim lighting, murals obscured by decades of mineral deposits, and the only after-hours entry was through a darkened, perennially under-construction motel with plastic window coverings flapping frantically in the wind. Once you actually got to the pool, your senses were overloaded. The water coming in through the exposed pipes (with holes punched into them for jets) blasted your eardrums so that you could just barely hear the menacing, grumbly, hungry noises of the water running back out, and the jets churned up the rust colored water so much you could not see your foot as you stepped naively into the water. It was a pretty good bet that the crazed serial killer lurking in the abandoned motel behind you was going to grab up one of the power tools left lying about and easily sneak up behind you.

I loved it. I miss it. RIP, old Sleeping Buffalo.

Ghosts, and Adventure

February 16, 2015

My spirit tour continues…

To sum up, here’s my timeline so far:

Friday the 13th:
– Hop on Spirit Air to Dallas, connecting (belatedly) to Missouri, to pick up the car.

Sunday, 15th:
Picher, OK: a ghost mining town and Superfund site, largely evacuated in 2010.
– Geocaching in cemeteries

Monday, 16th:
Texola, OK: a ghost(ish) Route 66 town
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM

And so much more still to come…

I like ghosts. Whether or not they exist (and I will withhold all judgement on that), the very idea of them makes me all tingly. They are things that exist through storytelling, and often only through storytelling. What is an icy hand on your back if you don’t tell about it, with great gusto and exaggeration, to your buddies in the bar the next night? Have you ever heard of a ghost that lived an uneventful life and died peacefully in their bed? No, their lives and deaths were undoubtedly filled with drama and plot twists.

I like adventures. I’m sure that’s not a surprise, what with the deep and abiding love of getting lost that I confessed to in my last post. I’ve bungee’d, zorbed, slept alone in the woods, cross-country tripped solo, visited 48 states and 6 countries, whitewater rafted, swapped a desk job in publishing to drive a freight train, went skinny-dipping in a leech-filled pond with people grabbing my ankles (okay, that was at a theme event thing, but still), and more.

I freaking LOVE Ghost Adventures. I watch it ironically, and scoff at the frat boys yelling “Come at me, bro!” to ghosts, while magnifying every possible sensation to the millionth degree. Later at night, I watch it totally un-ironically and have to turn on every single light in the place.

So while I didn’t plan this trip based on their site visits, I was stoked when I discovered how many of the places on my itinerary that they’ve also been to. They’ve visited the St. James and Amargosa, and even the Clown Motel, but they went to the other haunted hotel in Flagstaff, the Monte Vista, while I’m hitting the Weatherford.

Of course, it’s a tourism thing. They’re on the Travel Channel, for pete’s sake. Ghosts and travel go together perfectly; locals can tell as many tall tales as they want, and the history of a place will only grow. Right now, I’m sitting in the lobby to work, and listening to the front desk agent field calls. On about 3/4 of them, he mentions the paranormal. He’s pretty good, though; when I stopped in to get out of a blinding snow storm white-out, he didn’t say a word about ghosts. It was only when I saw the signs while coming down the hall (“Ghost Investigators:” followed by a list of rules, one of which is “No Ouija Boards”). Even then, he downplayed it, just in case it was a turn-off for me.

It was not. This trip, man. It’s doing this itself, I swear, my fingers aren’t even on it.

cemetery gravestone:

Not quite Unknown, but unnamed.

Digital Tools

February 15, 2015

Before I got a smartphone – and this was embarrassingly not long ago, like less than a full year back now – I railed constantly against google maps and online tools for travel. Yes, they mean you’ll never get lost again. But you’ll never get lost again. That’s heartbreaking.

I love getting lost. On my year-long road trip (chronicled here, because I’m really not at all an anti-internet person), I was lost about 89% of the time. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and absolutely the best way to travel. You never miss anything, because you weren’t aiming for anything to begin with, and you find little amazements that delight you. Like this, hidden behind a bush off Route 66:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16519111936/

Y’all, I was wrong. That little guy? Geocaching.com actually led me to him. And this?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16544082782/in/photostream/

Roadtrippers.com. Here’s the thing: I’ve figured out how to use the tools.

Today, they actually helped me get even more lost than normal. Because I was free of any fear. I knew that I could dig myself out of any hole that I wandered into accidentally. It may be that the degree of ‘lost’ness wasn’t quite as great, that because I wasn’t really in danger of never coming back, then maybe I wasn’t ever truly lost. Still. I got lost enough to bliss me out, anyway. I ditched my expectations, and found back roads and heartlands backyards that blew my mind.

sunset behind neon motel sign and curving road

Route 66 sunset, Missouri

I may just be a luddite no more.

I’ll leave you with one last image. Early this morning, I was following a geocache link out to a cemetery in Kansas. I could see some headstones off in the distance, so I started crossing an empty (I thought) field toward them. A few steps in, my boots clicked on something. I paused, and started pulling at the weeds, uncovering a gravestone. Then I uncovered ten more.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/15922552634/in/photostream/

You Are At Terminal E

February 15, 2015

“Hello. Hello? Hello! Hello! …. Hello?”

The empty baggage carousel of an international airport is a strange place to hang out and listen to “Welcome to Night Vale” podcasts. And yet, it’s somehow also the most perfect place in the world to do so.

A car pulled up about twenty minutes ago. It’s still sitting there, its lights on. The engine may be running; I can’t hear from inside the wall of glass.

A cleaner overheard a man speaking on the phone in Swahili. (The same man who could not get a clear connection a second ago, and simply repeated hello twenty times.) Both were delighted, and surprised, to find each other here. One was from Kenya, the other Tanzania, but the shared language united them for a moment.

“Hello? Hello? Helloooo. Hello. Baby. Hello.” He’s trying again.

The car has moved on, very slowly, down the passenger pick-up lane.

Maybe the reason the desert is such a place of weirdness is that it inspires late nights and insomnia. The million stars so bright they keep you awake; the warm nights that encourage sitting outside on a porch, not cuddling under a down blanket.

I love the languorousness of late night people. At 2:41 A.M., no one is in a rush. You’re walking down the hallway only to keep awake, not to actually get anywhere.

I’ve switched from “Night Vale” to Tom Waits. Blood Money. Best damn play I’ve seen, maybe ever.

Night people can sit and stare at a vending machine for twenty solid minutes. They might not ever get anything; they might not even intend to. But they can carefully consider their options, staring not-quite-vacantly until another night person wanders slowly over and they have to give up their position.

Because night people also do not overlap. There’s one sitting right behind me, barely four feet away. I could reach out my hand and touch his furry lined cap. But I never would. We’re in different worlds. And in fact, it seems a little weird that we’ve both been sharing this space for so long. An hour has gone by, with each of us studiously ignoring the other.

Well, he’s ignoring me. Obviously, I am pretending to ignore him while listening carefully to all his conversations.

There are reasons for moving slowly late at night. Your actions can become repetitive very easily, and if you are moving fast, quickly making vending choices, popping chocolates into your mouth, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll never stop. This crosses over to other things as well; writing, say. Smoking. Or driving.

Driving late at night, through the desert, your speed gradually increasing, without you even realizing it, until you’re passing the gulch where James Dean died at 100 miles per hour. It happens. It’s the desert.

I don’t really believe in ghosts. Not really. I believe in them less than I believe in God, though I do feel like both of those beliefs are on a kind of spectrum of “well it doesn’t hurt, and it could be a really good choice should the afterlife prove to be long.” I don’t believe in ghosts, yet this trip has turned into a ghost-hunting expedition. From my arrival on Spirit air and my refusal to get a hotel room during my 12-hour layover (maybe the non-overlapping of night people is actually a sign that they are in fact ghosts) to the three haunted hotels that just lined themselves up perfectly with my itinerary, the theme of this trip built itself.

Odd, I don’t think of ghosts when I think of the desert. Ghosts are a plot convention for urban areas, or at least rustic and aged small towns. I can’t picture them wandering among the saguaro cactus.

“Hello. HELLO. Hello?”

A whole slew of people who are not night people just entered. A plane must have gotten in, or it’s closer to dawn than I realized and the next shift is coming on. It’s easy to tell them apart; these folks are out late tonight from necessity, and they’re all on their way somewhere, in a bit of a hurry. They’ll make it to the cabs and their next hotel, or to their cars in the employee staff lot, and they won’t slow down to see the ghosts. They occupy each other’s spaces, overlap with each other, and avoid the eyes of the specters moving slowly on their fringes.

An Explanation for my Disappearance

November 23, 2014

I have disappeared on many of you. I promise, it’s not because you had a baby. (Even though you’re right, I don’t really care for babies.) Or because you moved. Or because you have a new girlfriend/boyfriend/wife.

I am broke.

I just entered the final year of a massive debt repayment plan. Most of y’all are aware, at least up to a degree, but…

I’m never sure if I talk too much about this, or too little. But I think I’m on the “too little” side, from a lot of of the conversations I have. Because I live with this every day, it bugs me when someone doesn’t understand why I can’t just rent a car and drive up to visit. Or come out to dinner, or a show, or any other million things that cost money. It’s unfair, I know: it’s my circumstance, not yours. Of course it’s not on the top of your mind. And even if it is, you might not understand exactly what I mean when I say “I’m broke.” Because I try to make it seem like I can go to a show on a whim, and I never mention the hours of budgeting and tweaking said budget that makes it happen.

There’s this whole mixed-up cocktail of feelings that make me want to never, ever speak about this. Today, as I looked at the $10 in my weekly budget and at my undies drawer that’s down to the granny panties and I realized (not for the first time) that I would be wearing every hideous pair and maybe hand-washing a few to get me through to payday, I wanted to talk about it again.

So. What keeps me from speaking up?

Privilege
franceshaI just watched Frances Ha (on the Netflix that I was sure I could again afford the $8 a month on two months ago, and that I will be canceling again this month), and this movie, this movie is my broke-ness. (See this article in Slate that talks about money in the movie.) In response to Frances calling herself poor, a friend says “You’re not poor, that’s offensive to real poor people.”

I am not poor. I know I’m privileged, and I see all the advantages that I have had and still have, and the fact that I have made many choices (both wise and unwise) that have brought me to my present state of broke-ness. My being broke is not a life-crushing, perpetual thing. When I talk about my broke-ness, I’m not asking for help; I have a great support network that I clearly communicate to when I need help. Neither am I asking for pity; my life is pretty good, actually.

Shame
I don’t even like to admit to myself how broke I am. That can mean I end up doing things like eating at a schmancy burger place with friends when I know I don’t have the funds for it that month. There’s a deep shame, that I’ve done something horribly wrong with my life, to the end that I cannot afford the same luxuries my friends and peers can. I want to hide my bad choices, make them invisible – except I’m pretty sure that’s the whole feeling that leads to a nation full of debtors. Ignore the problem, just charge it.

Shame’s connected to another feeling, one that’s harder to put a name to. The feeling that makes you fly to Paris on a credit card. To feel, for just a moment, like it’s something you can do. To show to others that it’s something you can do. Like buying a designer handbag, it can be a survival mechanism to present yourself as coming from a place of strength. Never admit a weakness. Always put on your best face. Fake it ’til you make it. I recognize my privilege here, as well, even while feeling a feminist desire to transmit the fact that I am strong, that I am capable of providing for myself, that I am at your level.

History
I’ve had bouts of depression that I didn’t understand in the past, and that led to me being a person who made excuses. I would make plans to go to a party – then the night would come, and I’d find I simply couldn’t face people. *cough cough* sorry, so sick. I’m also a terrible liar, so it was pretty obvious to my friends that I was just making something up.

I’ve come completely about face on this; now, when I can’t face an event, I’ll tell you flat out. I’ve come so completely around in the other direction that making an excuse of any kind, even when it’s a legit reason, makes me feel guilty. So I stay quiet.

Guilt
Part of this is because the money thing always feels like an excuse, and not legit. My budget always has a little bit of wiggle room; after food and housing and debt payments and utilities, I generally do have $100 or so to play around with. But then my dog (adopted when I still had my head in the credit card sand) gets sick. Or she doesn’t, but I desperately need to get a carshare to take her to the dog park so she won’t jump on my head at 5am. Or I made a stupid choice on a schmancy burger or a cocktail yesterday. Or I broke my glasses/computer/toe. Or I wore out the soles on my last pair of boots.

Some of these are things I could have avoided. Yes, I probably could have prioritized seeing you. But I didn’t. Something that I didn’t plan came up, and this – which I can and must plan – is withering as a result. I’m sorry.

__

That’s really what all this is about. I’m sorry. I miss all of you, and I’m sorry that I haven’t prioritized our friendship. I’m trying to come up with ways right now to make this better – you may be getting a skype date request from me very soon – because I’m sorry. There are reasons I disappeared, and if I didn’t make those clear to you from the very beginning, if you think I just don’t care to hang out with you any more, I am very, very sorry.

Because of this mixed up slurry of emotions and my deep desire to avoid the topic, I tend to avoid reaching out to you. I can’t offer to visit you, and it doesn’t seem fair to make you do all the work, plus I know you likely have reasons that make it hard to visit me, so I just avoid the awkward conversation all together, and the “we should totally hang out”s that invariably start to feel disingenuous.

Okay, I started this in kind of a light-hearted place, and it just got all serious. So… in case I can’t see you soon, please enjoy one of life’s free (if you have the privilege of internet access) pleasures: slow lori GIFs.

slowlori

Visionary

June 15, 2014

I shoulda been writing this morning, but I was dreaming of roadtripping instead…

#YesAllWhiteWomen

May 31, 2014

Two separate but oddly similar issues have been converging for me recently. The whole #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen internet storm has been amazing to watch, though I haven’t had much to add to the conversation. I’ve loved seeing my friends share their stories, and seeing people struggle (and often succeed) to explain exactly why #YesAllWomen is important.

I wondered, though, how many men (nice men, men who really are #NotAllMen) were convinced. I wondered… until I realized that the lesson was one that I needed to absorb as well.

Gentrification is a very tender, but resonant, subject for me. About a year ago, Oakland Local (who still does great posts on the subject) and the Bold Italic ran an opinion series the topic, and I went back and forth on whether to add my own voice to the mix. In fact, there’s a blog post titled “Nothing New to Add to the Conversation” in my drafts, never published.

I realized this week that it’s more than the fact that I had nothing new to add — it was that my place in this debate is to listen, not to convince you that #NotAllWhiteWomen are gentrifiers. I had so many “buts” — but I was born in Oakland, but I was displaced myself, but I’m poorer than most of my neighbors, but, but, but…

Doesn’t matter. I’m still a white lady living in a historically black neighborhood, one that struggles with poverty and crime. I’m the privileged one in this situation, and I need to swallow all my “but”s and just listen. Just like #NotAllMen need to. Recognize your privilege, witness the pain on the other side, and speak only when spoken to. Or, you know, if you have to speak, do so without hijacking the conversation (like quietly on your own little blog where only your sister and one stranger in Ohio will see it :) ).

sun setting behind skyscrapers, lake merritt in foreground

Home.

 

(PS: If you read only one of the posts in that above link, read this one. Although actually, you should read two, and add this one.)

Memories of Travel

March 25, 2014

I’ve become a bit afraid of this blog. Blogs have become places for a writer make her mark, places to gain a following. Places where your unselfconscious account of your adventures in coupon-clipping as a broke-ass rehab-graduate gains you a fan base that you never, in your wildest Pollyanna dreams, could have imagined.

Phlbt.

I forgot why I started this thing in the first place. First, to break the spell of the blank page: a short blog post is the equivalent of a running push to a VW van with a dead battery. A kick in the pants that leads you to god-knows-where. Second, travel. Just that. Third, the joy of writing like no one is reading (my version of the old “dance like no one’s watching” maxim – ’cause I sure as hell don’t dance).

So. I am broke (1.4 years to debt-free!), and cannot travel. Instead, I dream. And plan. And remember.

First, the dreaming. I want to drive to Alaska. More about that in a future post, I’m sure. Second, the planning. More realistic travels: once I’m debt-free, I have researched and discovered that it will cost me $2.2K to fly to Boston, rent a car, drive up the coast on the cheap and camp throughout the glorious Acadia National Park, eventually finding my way to Prince Edward Island, where my sisters will be waiting, having flown in the night before. (This is gonna happen, man.)

Finally, the remembering. For a young(ish) person, I have some hella good trips to remember. Tonight, I was remembering Kentucky. I think.

On my Road Trip (always in caps), when I was 24, I had a long list of sights to see. I’d been building that list for years, culled from the burgeoning internet and RoadsideAmerica.com, and recommendations from far-flung friends, and amazing magazines like Weird New Jersey. My supreme college roommate Katy gave me a parting gift of a perfectly organized pendaflex with AAA maps of every state, and I turned my list into highlighted towns and cramped notes along the margins.

This worked exceedingly well. I was guided to the most amazing surprises. Since the lag time between planning and traveling was 1-5 years, sometimes I had completely forgotten why I wrote “White Squirrel Mecca” next to a town’s name, or what the source for that little tidbit was. It made for an infinitely surprising and awesome road trip.

Of course, it also made for a few lost places. I didn’t take the most comprehensive notes in my journal, and sometimes, all I have left are a handful of photos (like that of Little Guy‘s grave) and a hideously faulty memory.

husky dog, crumbling statues in background

Like this place. From the photos that surrounded it in my borrowed Kodak Advantix camera, I discovered it during my speedy (or speedy for me, which still meant back roads all the way) trip from Minnesota to Atlanta in December of 2003, where an airline ticket awaited me to take me home for Christmas. I have a vague memory of dogwoods, and the Blue Ridge Parkway… I think it might have been Kentucky. I’m pretty sure. Alfred somebody-or-other’s statues – an outsider artist who created these strange, life-size, concrete persons. From the remnants of paint on the faces, they may have once been bright and colorful. When I found them, they were gray and missing limbs, the greenery just barely being kept back from engulfing them.

They were fantastic. I had followed a strange trail there, not knowing what to expect, and the creepy, abandoned, kudzu-encroaching feeling of the place had not disappointed. As I wandered among them, snapping photos, I heard a howl. From out of nowhere, a wolf appeared. (Well, probably more of a husky-mix, but still. And he was actually ridiculously friendly – we tossed my mascot, Stripes, back and forth for ages, and he postured like a puppy.)

I have not the foggiest idea of how to find this spot again. For all I know, the kudzu has won the battle and the statues have been absorbed by the forest. Or my memory is just truly terrible, and it was actually Florida and the artist was named Jeanine Smith. Who knows.

But it doesn’t really matter. Yes, reality is a good basis for travel memories. But it’s how those memories impacted me, the bit that I took away from the trip, that really matters. (To me, anyway – I’m remarkable self-centered and don’t care much for the travel dollars that a blog with a following of 4 people could have poured into that small Kentucky/Florida hamlet.) And there was a longing about that place, a sense that time had either already forgotten, or would very soon forget, the spot, a sense that would have been ruined by my being able to locate it on a map and return.

Or so I tell myself. Because I really, really want to try and find it again.

 

Falling Leaves

February 15, 2014

I grew up in bookstores.

When I was eight, my family moved back to the States after a couple years on a typhoon-ridden island1 Back in California, with its lovely beaches and high cost of living, my mom had to get a job to help us make ends meet. Enter Books West, the only new book store in the five-cities area. She worked there for 15 years, until the owners retired.

Books West was my house for 10 years. Instead of being a latch-key kid, my mom insisted I hop on the bus and come down to her work. I read every book in the YA section, half the books in the mystery and sci-fi sections, and a smattering of books from farther-flung shelves, all for free. We even got to take home some of the ones that didn’t sell, their covers torn off and returned to the publisher as “proof” that we destroyed them.

It was paradise. I had my favorite hidey-holes where paying customers wouldn’t disturb me. Self-Help was largely unvisited in our beach town2. I would read from 3pm-6pm (closing), then we’d swing past Round Table and grab dinner before heading home.

Over the years, they employed me from time to time (as did the amazing used bookstore across the way), but for the most part, my hours in that house were full of lazy page-turning and idleness. I loved it. There’s kind of a golden haze over that whole period in my life.

Toward the later years, when I was no longer an indulged child and had to actually buy the books I read, I came across a very expensive, very enticing novel3. It was in the mystery section, and, unlike some of the silly you-solve-it books that I loved that began that section4, it was in fact a novel. But it didn’t look like any novel I’d ever seen; text inside changed fonts, colors, directions. White space was used like crazy. It was huge: 9x6ish, with at least a thousand pages5. I wanted that book like mad. But $21 was well outside my budget. I re-shelved it, and vowed to remember it.

And I did. Mostly. Everything but the name. Okay, I forgot almost everything about it. But it haunted me. I described it to other bookstore employees, in that maddening-customer way (“you know, it’s big and black and… just weird”), tried to quiz my friends with similar reading tastes, even searched the blossoming internet for sign of it (but “big black and weird” leads you down an internet rabbit hole that will never lead to a simple novel).

Years later, I finally found a friend who remembered it, who loved it. She gave me the name; I diligently marked it down. But the pull had lessened over the years, and I didn’t seek it out.

More years later, I fell into a leadership role for an apocalyptic book group. While soliciting recommendations from group members, one hesitantly mentioned this book. “It’s not really apocalyptic,” he said. “But it kinda is.”

All this is to say: I finished “The House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski today. And I feel a little bit more mentally unstable for having done so. But dang, was it worth the wait.

_____________

1 Oddly enough, my most vivid memories from the island are book related as well. During Super Typhoon Kim, we had to abandon our house and run to the neighbors, during what we hoped was the eye of the storm (it was not6). I tucked a Judy Blume book securely under my shirt before the run, and was nearly unconsolable when I discovered the wind had whisked it away. I was only brought back from tears when the neighbors shared their stash of Garfield books. After the typhoon truly had passed, there was great adventure to be had and much work to be done. My job was laying out the wet books from our house, squeezing out the water, and thumbing through the pages as they dried to get them to not stick together. Our library, even after we moved back to California, smelled like wet books for years.

2 Self-Help was also where I first discovered sex7, which led me to a treasure hunt throughout the store, particularly to the western section8, and taught me to refine my ability to scan for naughty bits.

3
none

4 Ken Weber, Five-Minute Mysteries (Running Press, 1989)

5 709 pages.

6 During the run, my mom was physically lifted up by the wind, and blown into the neighbor’s banyan tree. She broke a couple ribs. I don’t remember this – but my sister assures me it happened. What I remember was my lost book. I was kind of a shitty kid.

7 Nancy Friday, My Secret Garden (Trident Press, 1973)

8 Wesley Ellis, Lone Star #35 (Jove, 1985); pp 52-56, 74-75, 112-114.


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