Sunday, November 19, 2017

To New Heights

It's not every day you see your ex-husband on the big screen. And it's not every day you make a scene in front of hundreds of cranky tourists at Chicago's Willis Tower. I did both in the same day. 
My view looking down through one of the Willis
Tower Ledges, two glass boxes mounted high up on 
the building. Note the little specks in the red circle; 
those are cars. Image copyright, Teece Aronin.
My ex-husband, Michael, father of my teenagers, Sydney and Jon, is a professional stand-up comic. As the result of a birth accident, Michael has cerebral palsy which affects his speech, gait and motor skills. Despite the obstacles, by age seven he was engineering bridges between his world and the world of the so-called mainstream, and he was doing it through humor. After thousands of bridges had joined him with millions of people, he was ready to perform stand-up for the first time when his junior high school held a talent show. 

When Michael grew up, he became a stand-up comic for real, appearing in clubs all over the East Coast, including the famous Caroline's in New York. Over time he was traveling farther and branching into motivational speaking.

Then there’s me. I grew up loving movies. Comedies, horror films, silent films, early sound, German expressionist horror films, B-flicks, it didn't matter; I was crazy about them. I've loved Cinerama, cinema verité, film noir, shorts, and documentaries. My fondest dream at age 10 was to be a film historian some day. In high school I participated in something called the Youth Film Forum, and in college I majored in theater thinking I might eventually transfer to the California Institute of the Arts to study film-making. 

I spent two summers in L.A. working for Forrest J (no period) Ackerman, editor of the magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Because of Ackerman, I met Darlynne O'Brien, widow of Willis O'Brien, who gave the world the original King Kong and the process of stop motion animation. Through Darlynne I met Ray Harryhausen and was a guest for the weekend in the home he shared with his wife, Diana. I even got to hold the Oscar Willis O'Brien won for Mighty Joe Young.

I say all that to say this: If God were to choose between Michael and me which of us should be in a movie, I think it should be me. 

So anyhow, Michael's starring in a movie. It all started years ago when he opened for comedian Christopher Titus and they became friends. Titus had an epiphany and wrote a script about a crooked L.A. cop who cheeses off the mayor. As payback, he is ordered to train a squad of police cadets with disabilities, but the cadets prove themselves more capable than anyone at the police department or City Hall expect. Michael was one of the first people Titus thought of when dreaming up the plot and cast. The title of the script: Special Unit

A few weeks ago, Michael and I were on the phone making plans for the kids and me to join him and his wife, Mia in Chicago where Special Unit was an entry in a film festival. 

“You know,” I said, “I’m the one with the life-long dream of being in a movie. I’m the one who studied film history. I’m the one who studied acting. I’m the one who rubbed elbows in Hollywood.”

“Well, baby,” said the bridge-builder, “there’s always porn, so chin up. And down. And up.”

Mi-chael . . . “

“And down.”

A few days later, Michael called and said that while we were in Chicago, we should take the kids to Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. At 110 stories, Willis Tower is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It has an area called the Skydeck with two things called the Ledges. The Ledges are glass boxes extending about four feet from one side of the building. For the price of a ticket, visitors can step onto a Ledge where they will have just three glass walls and a glass floor between them and a very messy landing in eternity. 

Michael emailed me a link to pictures of the Ledges with a note saying, “You and Mia can play rock, paper, scissors to decide which one of you gets to cut the glass out from under me. Choose wisely.”

I wrote back, “If we play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to cut the glass out from under you, there is no need for a wise decision, dumb-dumb.” Michael called me later to tell me that was mean.

The following Friday the kids and I packed the car and headed to Chicago. When we arrived, Michael, who had insisted on paying for the hotel, had us booked into adjoining rooms. That evening we all had dinner together, and Michael gave each of the kids and me an engraved thank you gift for coming. We talked about going to Willis Tower the next day. 

“You pay for the Uber going out, and I’ll pay for the Uber coming back,” Michael suggested.  He calculated that there would be plenty of time when we returned from the Tower to get ready for the film festival. My college friend, Marc would meet us at the theater with his family. The plan had a faint Rube Goldberg tinge to it, but Michael was confident it would all work out. 

The next morning Mia called us into their room looking concerned. Michael was lying on the bed and had thrown out his back while putting on his socks. I looked at the cloth culprits covering his feet. They were orange, teal, and white-striped and looked like they'd been made for a child with big feet, which is more or less how they’d ended up. They looked too innocent to have caused so much pain.

Michael was rejecting Mia's advice that he not go to Willis Tower. He insisted that with a cane and/or wheelchair, he'd be fine. When it became clear that even sitting up caused searing pain, he agreed to stay put and rest. Mia would go out and buy a cane and arrange for a wheelchair while I took the kids to Willis Tower. 

"Maybe we can all go to Willis tomorrow," I suggested, but Michael said their flight was at 5 a.m. 

"Well, maybe I should still take the kids tomorrow. What if we get tied up downtown and can't get back in time for the movie?"

"It's barely 11," said the sage. "You have plenty of time." 

The kids and I took an Uber to Willis Tower and walked past a line of people stringing out of the building, down the sidewalk, and around the corner. We walked into the lobby where a severe-looking young man in a dark blazer stopped us.

"If you're here for the Skydeck, the line is over there." 

It was the same line we'd passed coming in.

"And it's an approximate two hour wait from here," he continued, helpfully.

Who knew? Standing in line, I tried to calculate whether we should stay or immediately call another Uber and head back. But I was carrying this little cheapskate around in the overpriced matchbox-sized handbag I'd bought so I wouldn't have to lug a bulky purse around Chicago, and he almost threw up in there at the thought of spending that much money without seeing anything. 

The line had jumped forward every 10 minutes or so, and eventually we passed through a security check. Later we came to an open space where there was a green-screen with a mat in front of it. At the head of our line was another stern looking young man in a dark blazer, this one ushering people to the green-screen. About 10 feet in front of the green-screen was a woman with a camera. Her job: photograph your party so that before you exit, someone else could sell you a fake picture of yourselves standing on one of the Ledges. Why people would buy such a picture after taking real pictures of themselves on a Ledge was beyond me. My daughter, Sydney is shy and told me she didn't want to have her picture taken.

"No problem," I said. "We'll just tell them we don't want it."

When it was our turn to step in front of the green-screen, I told the usher that we didn't want our picture taken and would just mosey on through. He seemed very serious about his work and a little menacing when it came to carrying it out.  

Usher: "Ma'am, please move with your party onto the mat."

Me: "As I said, we don't want it, but thanks. We'll just pass through and that will speed things up a little."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But my daughter's uncomfortable with it, so we'll pass."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But we don't want it."

Usher: "But we do it for everybody."

Me: "But we don't want it!"

It occurred to me that this was hardly speeding things up, and I was surprised nobody had yelled at us yet. It seemed wiser to just get onto the mat and get it over with. 

"Okay, come on, kids," I said, stepping onto the mat with my back to the camera, "let's get our pictures taken."

The photographer yelled at the usher. "Oh they can just go!" 

It took Syd at least five minutes to coax her face out from behind her hands. She said she couldn't believe I'd done that. Jon appeared to be in awe. I explained to Syd that I'd done it for her because they were making her uncomfortable.

"Well, I'm more uncomfortable now!" she moaned. 

An hour later we stepped onto one of the Ledges. I wasn't sure until the last second that I'd be able to do it, but as a friend who'd done it once told me, you are so high up that the height almost becomes an abstract idea and therefore not as frightening. That's how I experienced it too. But it was a little unnerving that cars appeared to be a quarter the size of my pinkie fingernail. 

When we got back to street level there was no time to stop at the hotel and change clothes, so we Ubered straight to the movie theater. Syd had tossed on a sunny yellow tank top that morning and would have felt self-conscious at a film festival in November and in Chicago, so my friend brought a little shirt with him that fit her perfectly.

We all converged on the theater lobby within minutes of one another and sat together in two rows. It was a little weird seeing Michael's dimpled face on a movie screen, and I smiled thinking how far he had come since his first performance in junior high. Then I thought of all the actors and film-makers I know of who started in stand-up: Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Jim Carrey, Whoopi Goldberg; the list goes on.

And now, I have to admit that if God were to choose between Michael and me which of us should be in a movie, I think it should be Michael. 


















Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Two Tabbies and a Motherly Mutt

Poor Kitt. 

Kitt is a gray tabby, and she was our only pet until the kids and I adopted Hope, a high-strung, black and white mutt with low self-esteem and an intense desire to people-please. Since Kitt wasn't a people, Hope's concern didn't extend very far in her direction. So Kitt galumphed around the house, looking disgusted and put out. Still, over time, a certain partnership developed between them.

When Kitt and Hope were each about five years-old, another interloper moved in, an orange tabby kitten we named Silas. Hope, in her inscrutable wisdom, saw fit to mother Silas and would groom him, shepherd him, and watch over him as he suckled from a blanket amidst those stilts she calls legs. Hope was so busy with Silas that she pretty much forgot about Kitt.



Silas loved Hope and really did seem to think he'd been blessed with a new mother, which in a way, he had, although I'm not sure blessed is the right word. Hope could be overprotective and a tough disciplinarian. If I scolded Silas, Hope would spring to attention, cuff his ears, and herd him away. It was as if no one was going to discipline her child for long before she'd be back in charge, taking matters into her own paws. Still, Silas was thrilled so that was nice.

Hope let Silas climb on her, and chew on her, and pounce unexpectedly on her, while Kitt sat across the room, watching in that I-don't-care-but-you-know-I-really-do kind of way that only cats can. Sometimes even Hope, who is an energetic dog, looked worn out, as all mothers do at times.

Poor Hope.






























When Silas did try to befriend Kitt, he didn't know how to do it in a way acceptable to her. Sometimes he would join her on my bed and the two would doze peacefully together - four feet apart.


But most of the time, Silas would chase Kitt and jump on her until Kitt took off for higher ground as if Silas were a flood. 


Sometimes I'd catch Kitt looking out the window and wondered if she was planning to leave. 
















Then something happened that neither Hope nor Kitt, and certainly not Silas could have foreseen. Silas began to grow up. He got bigger and acted more like a cat than a kitten. He wasn't as dependent on Hope anymore, though they still enjoyed each other's company, and more often, he was content just to be by himself. 

Silas also began enjoying the doings of us humans. He wanted to be nearby for our baths and our naps and especially our dinnertimes. He liked working on his big guy swagger so he could seem like an even more grownup cat.

Eventually, Silas was so grown up that he was just as likely to be the one looking at Hope like she was the crazy kid instead of the other way around like it used to be. 









Then one day I caught Silas looking out the window as though he wanted to leave. 

Poor Silas.

But Silas was willing to watch and wait just as Kitt had done, and maybe he'd learned his patience from her. Over time, the three of them found their way and settled in like their own little family, even though Kitt still looks more put out than the other two. 

Frankly, I think Kitt is happier than she looks. One day, not long ago while Silas napped, I glanced over and saw this. 
                                                                                                   Lucky Hope and Kitt.



All photos by Teece Aronin. Copyright protected. Some photos available for sale at Redbubble.com/people/phylliswalter.







Saturday, November 4, 2017

A String of Saliva and a Nose Full of Nickels

Since the departure of Sweet John, a man I met online and dated for almost a year, I've been wondering: Am I willing, much less ready, to return to online dating, to pull on the wet swimsuit of ridiculous usernames and perfunctory communications with men who for all I know are 20-year-old women calling themselves Roger and plotting to swindle me? Or worse, 40-something men actually named Roger and plotting to kill me?

I have always had mixed feelings about online dating, part of it stemming from being born toward the end of the Baby Boom. It set me up to embrace much of what the Information Age has brought but be baffled by the rest. And I'm ambivalent about online dating. Through it, I have crossed paths with some very weird people and credit gut instinct, a modicum of smarts, and an army of angels for the fact that nothing seriously harmful has happened to me. Then again, online dating is the reason I have some of my closest male friends, because that's what becomes of love interests when you don't become a couple but the next best thing happens.   

I had a knee-jerk reaction after Sweet John, resulting in a message to some man on Match.com whose hobbies included trumpet-playing. What he'd written about himself was neither intriguing to me nor off-putting. Judging from his picture, he wasn't handsome but seemed likable.

Oh, why not?  I thought, and typed:

Hello, TootingMan:

I enjoyed reading your profile. If you'd like to communicate further, please let me know. 

Hoping to hear from you -

SickOfThis

The next day there was a message from TootingMan saying that sure, he’d be happy to become better acquainted. He included his name (real, I assume) and a phone number in case I’d like to chat, which at that point I would not. I messaged back, ignoring the chat part, and we shared a brief, dull exchange of about four messages ending, by some weirdo miracle, in a date for coffee that next Wednesday. 

Wednesday found me pondering what business I had using an online dating site. I really should take a break from it until I've adjusted to the new me. You see, life has just plopped me at a scary and confusing crossroads. About to turn sixty, I have changed so radically and so recently that my head spins from it. Not long ago, I let my gray hair grow in, a decision for which I have no regrets. But to borrow from Leonard Cohen, suddenly "I ache in the places where I used to play." I'm finding that weight gain lurks in the bushes ready to jump me if I eat so much as a candy bar, and will cling to my wobbling frame unless I work out for five hours a day over the course of the next three weeks while eating only kale. Overnight my feet became drier than the BBC News Hour

That, of course, is not true; nothing could be drier than the BBC News Hour. 

As the date loomed, I found myself willing to go, but lacking the happy little jump in my stomach I've often felt when meeting someone new. I checked my messages at noon, saw that he was canceling because a trumpet gig had come along and was surprised by how relieved I felt.  

Then I looked at his picture again. In it he was laughing, and a string of saliva stretched from the roof of his mouth to his tongue. The string was obvious, so why didn't I notice it before? And his nose was huge; it was splayed across his face, resembling the underside of a shovel. 

I thought of the W.C. Fields movie The Bank Dick where a little boy looks at Fields then asks his mother, "Mommy, doesn't that man have a funny nose?" The mother replies, "You mustn't make fun of the gentleman, Clifford. You'd like to have a nose like that full of nickels, wouldn't you?" 

Please understand, I don't put a lot of stock in "attractiveness," whatever that is. But what made me look at that picture, read a profile that wasn't interesting to me, share four messages that did nothing to spark my interest, and arrive at the conclusion that I should reach out? 

Maybe subconsciously I wanted someplace warm to keep my nickels.




Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stand Still, Bright Eyes

The docent met my daughter, my friend, and me at the back door where a sign instructed visitors to ring the bell. She showed us through the old home and told us of the family who had lived there when it was new. 
A Victorian couple pose on either side of
their deceased daughter. Notice the 
parents' images are slightly blurred.This 
happened due to long exposure times 
required by cameras of that era and was 
caused when a subject moved even slightly. 
Notice also that the image of the deceased 
is much clearer. Boo.
Now the house, a beautiful orange brick Victorian, serves as a museum and wedding venue. It was decorated for Halloween with orange lights winding up the banister in the main hall and mannequins clad in vintage-style masks and gauzy or satin-y period costumes.

The docent pointed out a photograph of what we took to be two parents and their daughter (see photo at right). The daughter, seated between her parents, appeared to be in her early twenties, and her posture and facial expression struck me as a little apathetic. Then the docent explained. The girl was dead, sitting up, eyes wide open.

There were similar photos planted around the room, and I failed to grasp why photographing dead family members like this made sense, which, it turns out, it does. 

So the first thing out of my mouth was, "Why would people do this?"

Shockingly, it was my daughter who piped up:

"It's called Victorian era postmortem photography," she explained. "Back then, photography was new, and people couldn't always afford to have pictures taken unless there was a good reason. And because the exposure time needed to take a photograph was so long, people looked blurry if someone tried to take their picture goofing around in the yard or something. Even if they moved just a little, they'd look blurry. That's why so many of the photos from that time period were portraits. And if someone died, a postmortem photo might be a family's only picture of them."

I stared at her. She's 19 for Heaven's sake. "How do you know all that?" 

She shrugged. "I read."  

I know that deceased family members are often photographed. We have such photos in my own family. But what I didn't understand was why Victorians propped them up with their eyes open. Then again, as Syd explained, Victorians held a unique position in time, when photography was there, but not really there. If they wanted a photo of their dead loved one in something resembling a living state, this was often the only way to go. 

Later, I did some Googling and found more photos, purportedly of dead Victoreans, and these upset me for days because these subjects were standing with the aid of a special device, the base of which was visible near their feet. Then I did some more research and learned that it's unlikely these subjects were dead. According to Wikipedia, thank God,  ". . . it is untrue that metal stands and other devices were used to pose the dead as though they were living. The use by photographers of a stand or arm rest (sometimes referred to as a Brady stand) which aided living persons to remain still long enough for the camera's lengthy exposure time, has given rise to this myth. While 19th-century people may have wished their loved ones to look their best in a memorial photograph, evidence of a metal stand should be understood as proof that the subject was a living person."

All of the photos below were said to be postmortem photos. That's why I was so glad I'd read that Wikipedia entry when I found this: 













and this:


























And especially, this. The only grief these kids' parents would have to deal with based on this picture, was having to pay for it.

If you happen to do your own research on the topic of Victorian era postmortem photography, be warned, it can be unsettling, and there's a lot of hoo-hah about living people being corpses and a lot of photos of perfectly healthy kids that someone will try to convince you are tragically dead. 

Even this photo (immediate right) which an eagle-eyed reader pointed out is not of the Victorian era, noting the woman's dress and visible knee, I'll leave here to prove some points. First, as with the claim that Victorians sometimes had their dead photographed "standing," you can't believe everything you read on the Internet, like me falling for someone's claim that this photo was of a Victorian family.

Second, whoever posted the photo wrote that the baby was dead and that his eyes had been painted onto the photograph. Let's say the photo were Victorian, doesn't it make more sense that the baby is alive but with no clue what that contraption is some stranger is pointing at him? And if you'd never seen a camera flash before, wouldn't your face would look like that too? And in those days, as with the photo above of the girl with the lolling head, sometimes people had to settle for less than the ideal photo. 

So anyway, the next time you find yourself on a paintball field, cursing that paintball that really, really stung, be grateful that some Victorian photographer wasn't aiming at you. 




Sunday, October 22, 2017

Night of the Hooded Figure

About five years ago when Prickly Pete and I were in love, he was spending a Friday evening with the kids and me. Prickly was big into astronomical events like eclipses, blood moons, and meteor showers, and it was the last of these that had been in the news all week for being brighter and more prolific than usual. Prickly suggested we take the kids out to watch them. 
Night of the Hooded Figure,
copyright Teece Aronin

Everybody was game, so we climbed into Prickly's car and headed for the countryside, which in mid-Michigan is never more than 80 feet away. The kids and I were gabbing happily about meteors, and occasionally Prickly tried to slip in edgewise an actual fact about them. 

After a half-hour or so, he pulled onto the shoulder of a secluded stretch of road. The area looked exactly like the kind of place George Romero might have filmed Night of the Living Dead had he been a Michigander. 

Once Prickly killed the headlights, you couldn't see your trembling hand in front of your face. No sense of whether there was a house nearby, a cemetery, a dead deer or a dead body. I seemed to remember from before Prickly plunged us into an abyss, that there were fields on each side of the road. It was freezing cold so I told Prickly he could watch for the meteors, and I would join him once he'd spotted one. The kids agreed with me, so Prickly sighed at our literally astronomical lack of enthusiasm, zipped up his jacket and left the car. Immediately, he was swallowed by darkness. 

The kids and I started laughing and trying to scare each other. When I turned around to grab one of them by the knee, I saw the faint but unmistakable outline of a hooded figure standing motionless and centered right smack in the middle of the car’s back window. I was sure he, she or it was peering in. I screamed the Fay Wray kind of scream I can only pull off when truly terrified. Otherwise my screams sound like something from a boozy, middle-aged saloon hostess.

"Wow, Mom, that sounded real," my son said, only to have his left eardrum pummeled when his sister, who had just looked over her shoulder to see what I was screaming about, started screaming. Her screaming started mine up again, and when my son looked back, he started screaming. I was an agnostic at the time, but quickly found God.

"It's gotta be Pete. Please make it be Pete! Please, oh please, oh please make it be Pete!"

"Maybe it's something that murdered Pete," my son ominously suggested with the kind of helpfulness that gets kids grounded until they're old enough to be kicked out. 

"That's not funny, Jon," I scolded. "I know it's Pete. It just startled me, that's all."

"Then why did you say it and not him?" Jon asked, setting off another round of screams. The figure was still out there, and it hadn't moved an inch. 

By now, Sydney was laughing, but her laugh had that touch of hysteria I remembered from when I foolishly took her to see Fright Night

Then the door opened and Prickly swept in.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he demanded. If you'd wondered where the name Prickly came from, there you go. 

"What the hell is the matter with you?" I countered. "You scared us to death!"

"How?" He had the gall to act perplexed.

"By standing out there staring in at us!" 

"Whatta you mean staring in at you?"

"Don't try to tell me that wasn't you leering through the back window!" 

Prickly put two and two together then grinned. "I wasn't even facing you. I had my back to you. Why would I watch for meteor showers happening in the car?"

Three hushed voices said, "Oh."

I'll bet you thought Prickly was going to deny that he was even near the back window and we'd be left wondering who or what had been staring in at us. Well, this is a true story, so - sorry. 





Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Creature was Me

When I was seven years old, I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon on a Friday night Creature Feature late show. The next day my family went to the beach.  
For my brother, that day at the beach was no day
at the beach. Image copyright Teece Aronin. 

I was the youngest child and only girl. I had two brothers, one 10 years my senior, and the other, seven. As a result of the gender ratio and age differences, I got my way - a lot.  

"Ow, my feet! My feet are burning!" I howled as soon as one toe touched the parking lot blacktop.

"Well, put on your sandals," my mother advised. She and my father were busy pulling the picnic basket, cooler, and lawn chairs from the trunk of our sky blue '62 Pontiac Tempest.

"I don't know where they went," I pouted. "I need to be carried."

"Honey," my mother nodded at the oldest of the  siblings, "carry your sister to the sand."

"Ah, but Mom . . . " my brother trailed off, knowing this was the maximum level of protest allowed under Mom's Law.

He shoved some beach towels into the arms of his giggling little brother and scooped me up. Immediately, in my mind I was Kay Lawrence, the bright and beautiful scientist played by the great Julie Adams in last night's movie. Then, my eyes closed, and I went limp. 

My head dropped back as far as my stumpy neck allowed, my short limbs dangling as much like a freshly fainted heroine as possible. This isn't easy when you're 4'2" and fat. Being carried under those circumstances, one's arms point up in a V, squeezing one's head, and the body folds at the waist like a clam snapped shut. It doesn't go all free-flowing and drape-y like Julie Adams' body did. 

My brother had watched Creature Features last night too, and he knew the deal.  

"Mom! She's pretending I'm the Creature from the Black Lagoon!" Then he jammed my upper and lower halves even tighter against each other as if I were an accordion he was mad at. 

My mother gave him the look. "Oh, for Heaven's sake. Just carry her to the sand and put her down. Nobody thinks you're a creature." 

"Nobody except every cool girl on the beach," my other brother whispered.

A few minutes later I was rump-dumped in the sand. I don't remember the creature dropping Julie Adams on her rump. But as far as my brother was concerned, I wasn't Julie Adams, I was the creature.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Hovering Ghost

There are enough seemingly sensible people in the world claiming to have seen a ghost, that I won't worry what will happen to my reputation should I publicly join their ranks. "Oh," you might say, "that's silly. There are no such things as ghosts!" But if I proclaim their existence, you likely won't think less of me, or at least not enough to darken whatever relationship we have.
Image copyright Teece Aronin

So, I once saw a ghost, roughly 50 years ago. There - I've said it. And the way it happened was this:

My brother was engaged to a girl named Mary, and the two sometimes came home from college to spend the weekend at the house where I still lived with my parents and my other brother. I was 10 years younger than one brother and seven years younger than the other, and it was the older of the brothers who had found himself in these happy - or tragic, depending on your view - prenuptial circumstances.

Mary and I shared a room during these visits. The house was built in the 1920's and had, shall we say, quirks, the layout of this room being one of many. As you can see from my poor excuse for a diagram, the beds were placed foot to foot against opposite walls. 

There was an alcove through which one passed upon entering the room. In the far corner, almost diagonal from the door, was a small closet. As one faced the closet, the left side made for a wall against which there was a desk and chair. The desk and chair stood back-to-back with an identical desk set on the opposite wall, and it was in this space that my brothers did homework before the older of them left for college.

It was early morning and I lay awake in bed feeling restless, but guessing it was too early to get up. Something caught my attention at the far end of the room where there was a window between the desks.

Standing there, if you could call it standing, was a ghost. He wasn't a stereotypical-looking ghost as I've represented him in the diagram; instead, he was a small, but full-size man. His feet, clad in work boots, were level with the window sill inches from where he hovered. He was dressed in overalls and a work shirt, looking for all the world as if he'd just swung down from the engine of a ghost train. Hanging there, suspended, he was perfectly still. 

He appeared to be quite old, wore round, wire-rim spectacles, and including his glasses and clothes, was a glowing, snowy white. His eyes, never wavering, were trained on me. Most interesting is that he was smiling at me, a gentle smile, lips closed. Like his gaze, the smile never faltered. I was too perplexed to smile back.

I don't know why, but I wasn't frightened. I suppose it was due to his harmless affect. I also don't know why I didn't wake Mary with an excited shout. Something in my gut said it was alright to speak, but only softly. So I quietly said, "Mary. Mary, wake up." Mary spoke but never opened her eyes.

"What, honey?" she murmured.

"There's a ghost in the window behind your bed."

"Oh, honey, you're dreaming. Now go back to sleep."

"Mary, honest, I'm not dreaming. I'm wide awake."

"Sweetie, you just think you're awake, but I'm sure you're dreaming."

As I tried to convince Mary to open her eyes and look, the ghost never moved, his smile never so much as twitched, and his eyes stayed right on mine. Still though, I wasn't frightened.  

"Mary, please."

"Honey, if I open my eyes, I'll never get back to sleep. Rest now. We'll talk about the ghost later."

So that was it. I watched him, and he watched me. I don't remember how it ended - if he vanished or if I dropped off to sleep. No matter really. 

I never saw him again.

To their credit, my family never mocked my claims of having seen the ghost, in fact it was quite the opposite. Mary said she wished she'd taken me more seriously, and everyone seemed interested in what I had to say. 

The only theory I remember anyone advancing as to the ghost's origins, was that my aunt's neighbor, a Mr. Hill, now deceased, fit my description of the ghost. Mr. Hill had built the garage in our back yard years earlier. It was suggested that he might have returned to spend time near the old structure. My aunt showed me his photo and while the man and the ghost closely resembled one another, I couldn't be sure they were one and the same. 

I feel a bit sad these days thinking how the ghost never reappeared. If he had, and he'd smiled, I would have smiled back.   




Sunday, October 1, 2017

Night of Misery

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it wasn't that bad. It was a warm and balmy night, but it was dark. It was going to be a "girls' night," just my daughter, Syd and me. My son, Jon was at a sleepover party, so we didn't expect to see him until the next day. 
Where it all went down. Image copyright, Teece Aronin

Syd and I had the evening all planned: pizza and a little somethin' somethin' chocolaty spread out on the coffee table and the movie, Misery on Netflix.

I read the Stephen King novel as a young woman, and saw the film version starring Kathy Bates and James Caan when it first came out. Syd at 19, considered both the book and the film ancient pre-Syd history. But she liked Stephen King by reputation and was a fan of Kathy Bates because of American Horror Story.


So far our girls' night was a success. We were immediately engrossed in Misery's plot and were already getting creepy vibes from the seemingly innocent Annie Wilkes who had rescued Paul Sheldon from a car crash and hauled him off to her secluded house.  

Now I have to fill you in on my secluded house. While not secluded exactly, it is in a quiet neighborhood where the streets are lined with old pines, leafy maples and elms. Most of the houses, mine included, are nestled among trees. My bedroom windows are partially obscured by one  gigantic old fir. There aren't a lot of street lights, the houses are set back on their lots, and save for the occasional porch light or a T.V. flickering through the window, they all but disappear after dark. As to passing cars, there must be some kind of car curfew I've yet to hear about, because cars are few and far between after nine p.m.

My front door was in sorry need of the curtain I had yet to get around to hanging. It has 15 panes of glass running in five rows of three with five more windows running vertically adjacent to the door. While pretty, it is a peeper's paradise. The door opens onto a small foyer which empties into the living room. The sofa where Syd and I sat, spellbound by the movie, is visible from the back through the front door. 


The moments just before the film's climax, and the climax itself, are nerve-racking. They include a shotgun blast to the back for one of the film's most likable characters, and an eye-gouging, typewriter-to-the-head brawl between Bates' and Caan's characters.

Just as the fight was getting real ugly, headlight rays invaded the foyer and washed across the living room walls. Syd and I sat bolt upright and gasped. Hope, our anxiety-ridden dog, started barking. 

Syd: Oh my God! Someone's in the driveway!
Me: Did you order more pizza?!?
Syd (pointing at the pizza sprawled all over the coffee table): Why would I do that?!?
Me: I don't know! I'm just trying to think!

We got up and ran from the sofa, away from the foyer, and skidded to a halt within three feet of the front door by way of the kitchen.

Syd (scrambling for the silverware drawer): I'm getting a knife!
Me (slapping her hands off the drawer): You're not getting a knife!

A shadowy figure could be seen on the porch reaching for the door handle. The door was locked, so whoever was outside started rattling the handle. 

Syd and I froze.

"Mom? Syd? It's me, Jon!"

Syd and I stared at each other, then our heads dropped back with relief and we slumped against the counter. Jon didn't have a driver's license yet, and he hadn't called or texted that someone was bringing him home. Eventually, I collected myself enough to let him in.

Me: What are you doing here?

Jon: Gee, thanks, Mom. Jake's parents said he'd invited too many kids and asked for volunteers to go home. I didn't mind going home, so I volunteered.

Lessons learned: 
  • If your front door needs a curtain, buy one. 
  • Never assume a kid's sleepover will actually go over.
  • Always know your kids might return when you least expect it - and that goes for you empty-nesters. 
  • And most important: Hide all the knives before watching Misery on Netflix.