Friday, October 29, 2010

Stop the world, I want to get off...

I have no less than three posts in draft and they're all made redundant by what just happened.

My father called me and informed me that the deal on the first house is going through. I had written it off and was carrying on life searching for different options. Now, all of a sudden, I'm moving.

I think the house is great, and will be good for me, but I seem to have lost control of the process along the way. I'm in a state of turmoil.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rapping, gently rapping. . .

Last night, following my nightly episode of Dark Shadows, I sat in the living room (yet another thing that would not have been possible a couple of weeks ago) and assembled Halloween treat bags with my new Nox Arcana CD playing in accompaniment.

I'm trying to acclimate Tiger Whitestockings to the house and the other cats so I can bring her in full-time. She sat on the floor, cowering beside my feet while I worked. All the cats were a little spooked by my choice of music.

I know little more about Nox Arcana than that it is a two-man group, that the founding member, Joseph Vargo, is also a painter and does all the art for their albums (the above image is a montage of his paintings for Carnival of Lost Souls), and that the group is an offshoot of another goth band, Midnight Syndicate.

A person might go nutty listening to their kind of music all the time, but for Halloween it is great stuff, a kind of new age old gothic style with sound effects and chorale backing. They do create a mood.

The first Nox Arcana album that I tried, last year around this time, was Carnival of Lost Souls, and it was a fortunate place to begin. Each of the albums has a theme, and the guys really knuckled down and got into this one. This sideshow is indeed a gruesome one, and the gypsy fortune teller doesn't have anything positive to say (unless it's that she's absolutely positive that your future looks bleak!). The circus animals are lumbering, nightmare monstrosities lashed on by demons in Harlequin costumes, and I don't even want to think about what's in the Freak Show.

Not all of their albums possess the depth of composition that's on display here. Blackthorn Asylum is a perfect example. This was their new release earlier this year, and I tried it around the time of Walpurgis Night. Unfortunately, despite a couple of effective cuts (their shock therapy cut goes right up and down my backbone), this feels like a rush job. Let's face it, after something like fifteen albums of this stuff (and more coming out all the time -- they've had two releases in the eight months or so since Asylum was issued), it's all going to start to sound the same.

Nonetheless, I tried again this week with their Poe-themed CD, Shadow of the Raven, and this was much better. After one listen, I can tell you that the music has more complexity and is less derivative than Blackthorn Asylum; once again, it may well be due to the theme. Poe is a great subject. You've got the man and his work to build upon, and this album features music based on specific stories and poems that also play as a kind of elegy to the troubled artist.

I was happily putting my treat bags together, petting Whitestockings to let her know that she was among new friends, and most of the other cats were lounging about. Once in a while one of them would come over to check her out.

Then I noticed that Pooky had woken from a sound sleep and was staring nervously at the CD player. Whitey had turned to look at it, too, and his ears were back. Whitestockings was peering around my leg, her whole body tight in anticipation. The next thing I knew, it wasn't music coming out of the CD player anymore, but cats yowling. Whitey actually started. I talked to them, saying "It's OK guys, don't worry, it's not real, it's not real!" -- but the yowling got louder and nastier and scarier and I had to drop what I was doing to keep Whitestockings from launching herself into flight. "It's OK, guys, don't worry, it's okay!"

I was about to get up and hit the fast forward on that puppy when it suddenly ended in silence. Not a moment too soon! "See guys, it's all over! Bad cats are gone! It's OK!"

A couple of them looked at me as if to say, "Don't ever do that again!"

What can I say? It's Halloween at the Duck House, and even in greatly reduced circumstances we are trying to get in the holiday spirit.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Safe as Houses?

This morning another torrential rain lashed the house, and my anxiety felt like a physical thing, burrowing in the bottom of my stomach, wrapping itself around my spine. You might ask, what am I so afraid of? I'd ask you back, What's not to be afraid of? Everything. I'm afraid of everything.

I normally have a hard time deciding what to have for dinner -- so making a decision about moving out of the house and buying a new home is beyond the pale for me, even when the facts all point to it being the right decision.

Mr. C_______ took me house-hunting yesterday; we viewed five homes over a period of two hours. I discovered that homes all start to look alike after a while.

On my own hook, I had already driven past the Victorian that's pictured above. Lots of character. Price absolutely right. I was prepared to make an offer right away. All it had  to do was to not be terrible inside, to be ready for me to move in.

But there was a reason for the low price. It needs a lot of work in there. They had replaced the roof on the gable, but had not finished the job: the attic rooms were open to the air. They had changed the home heating system to gas since the picture above was taken, and the sides and backs of the house were bordered with three unsightly tanks. There was only one bathroom in the place -- the so-called downstairs half bath was nothing more than a toilet in the unfinished basement. Even Mr. C_____, who was supposed to be selling the place, said that it smelled like a money pit to him. I regretfully struck it off the list.

House #2 was a smaller Victorian, very solid, needing only a paint job. But it had been remodeled sometime in the '60s, beyond the dining room everything was wood-paneled, and upstairs was worse. Not that I have anything against wood paneling in the right context, but it was not right for this 1880's house. The laundry set-up was in a corner of the basement that was too low for me to stand upright in. But there was a finished room on the third floor that would have made a good study. Still, it did not "feel" like the right house for me.

The house was obviously still being lived in. I felt uncomfortable moving through that person's life.

House #4 had a couple of nice features but overall was horrible and depressing as all get out. I don't even want to type about it. The owner has two nice cats, though.

House #5 was on a noisy street, but managed to be quite quiet indoors. It had lovely wood trim throughout, a wood fireplace, a good layout. But the owners had done everything in their power to make it hideous -- wallpaper that looked like it came from a nursing home, plastic wood covering the walls, things that it would not be easy for me to undo.

The only one that felt remotely right was House #3. And of course it's the most expensive one we looked at, but it could be moved into right away. Very cute from the outside. A two-car garage connected to the house by an archway, to keep you dry. A neat back yard, a small back deck. At just over 1700 square feet it feels a hair on the small side. There are two tiny connected living rooms that, if you put them together, would add up to about the size of the front room in my mother's house. It would be cozy. There's a small windowed-in front porch -- I'd prefer it to be screened for my kitties, but the glass isn't a deal-breaker. Three bedrooms upstairs and an upstairs sitting room that would most likely become my study. Five minutes from work; I could come home on my lunch break to give my kitties a treat and a pet. Though dark inside, it still managed to feel cheery. I just don't know if the house can contain me, and all the baggage I carry.

Years and years ago, I had a dream about climbing a glass stairway. Because I could see through the steps, it was vertiginous even at the lower levels. As it spiraled around and up, the steps grew farther and farther apart. Eventually the distance became so great that I had to reach out with my hands and pull myself up to the next step. Then I reached a gap that could not be breached. I tried for it anyway, and found myself stuck, with my hands barely clinging to the step above and my feet slipping on the one below. I could not move backward, I could not move forward. All I could do was hang there staring at the drop below me until my strength gave out.

That's exactly the position I do not want to be in now!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Movie Challenge: FAIL!

Oh, dear. I started in watching Fox's 1944 The Lodger last night, and although I found it very well done and intriguing, suddenly twenty minutes into it I got up and turned it off.

It's not the fault of the movie. I look forward to seeing the rest of it sometime. I guess that I'm just not in the mood to sit passively and watch telly when I should be up and about, doing things, getting caught up. If I'm to stay in this house for even a short period of time, I can not have boxes full of stuff sitting on the floor in the front room. I can not have things just all a-jingling. I can not have dust bunnies and rubble in the corners.

Plus, my scrapbook keeps calling to me. I never would have thought that this would be an activity for me, but there you are, I have scrapbooking supplies neatly arranged (for me) on the dining room table. I could not find a scrapbook that I liked in the stores, so when an unused ledger of my mother's turned up, I started manually blackening the pages with India ink and mounting my photos there, writing captions in white ink and adding scarp elements cut from documents, magazines, cards. It's going to be pretty arty when I get done.

I find it more comforting to be in a well-lit room working on something like that, than to be sitting in a darkened room watching old movies. When I go to bed at night, I feel as if I've accomplished something. The cats are starting to settle down and take advantage of the new arrangement. We all sit in the living room, and I put some music on (until Melanie arrives, Herb Alpert is getting a lot of play) and I work on emptying the boxes, loading the bookshelves, repacking linens into drawers, or I sit and work on the scrapbook.

The living/dining room, the kitchen and the front room are all pretty good now. But the study needs more cleaning, more furniture and more thought, and the front hall is merely storage space at the moment. I haven't even begun to clean up my mother's bedroom. I don't like going in there.

Oddly enough, the pickers took next to nothing out of her bathroom, so it's like an oasis in there at the edge of a wasteland.

Tonight maybe I'll try again, maybe not. Tomorrow I go looking at houses.

-- Freder

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gorilla My Dreams

It's been a less-than-thrilling Halloween season for one reason or another. I couldn't decorate the yard early on because of the Big Clean-Out, and now with six days to go, there doesn't seem much point. I haven't been able to pig out on Halloween DVDs because I've felt it more important to spend my evenings working on making the house as comfortable as I can. (I've made some progress on that front, and am spending more time in the living room with the quats, listening to music and working on a scrapbook of the photos I took before the house was taken apart. This would not have been possible before). I haven't been able to read anything because I fall asleep after a sentence or two. And now my DVD player has died -- with one of my discs stuck inside. Anyone know how to pry open the jaws of a dead DVD player?

I did manage to squeeze in Fox's 1942 Dr. Renault's Secret last night. At just over an hour, there isn't much to squeeze. It's a creditable little B-picture that does what it sets out to do, though hamstrung a bit by its deep resemblance to the much more accomplished and more chilling Island of Lost Souls. J. Carroll Naish plays the secret of the  film's title, which makes him both one of the picture's strongest elements and one of its disappointments.

He excelled at playing sympathetic monsters (his hunchback in House of Frankenstein is another great example), and he clearly studied monkey mannerisms for this role. Which makes the secret much too obvious if you're at all familiar with this type of story. It's so obvious that I was hoping there would be an additional wrinkle. If I had been writing this thing, it would have involved the Bad Doctor's daughter. She's the hook that gets the hero involved in the story -- they are engaged to be married.

But -- there's no evidence that she actually has a mother. So I was really hoping that she was going to be the secret of the film's title, another of George Zucco's experiments, and rather a more successful one. I imagine a closing scene involving her and the hero on their wedding night, and a revelation that sends Mister Hero screaming out into the dark. But then I'm sick like that.

It wasn't until a year later that Universal made a girl into the monster for Captive Wild Woman -- another B picture that turns out to be better than it has any right to be. I mean, with a title like that one expects a rank exploitation movie. Instead, what you get is a bit of funhouse frippery that just wants you to think it's an exploitation movie. Oh, we do get to see John Carradine chowing down on the draperies. In fact, Captive Wild Woman may be the picture that inspired Woody Allen to cast him in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

I just popped over to Wikipedia to make sure I was spelling Carradine's name correctly. He seems to have died exactly the same way my mother did.

That's neither here nor there. I have to get cracking! It will be a movie a night, every night, in order to get through all the "scary" stuff I have lined up by Halloween. Two more Abbott and Costellos, three more obscure chillers from Fox, and Something Wicked This Way Comes on Halloween night.

Where has the month gone? Never mind that, where has the year gone? Now, that's scary!

-- Freder.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Power of Music

It's a big, old-fashioned, extravagant word, but it's useful for describing big, old-fashioned, extravagant emotions: the other night I was disconsolate. I was doing the evening dishes and weeping like a fool, feeling trapped, lonely and sorry for myself.

Then I heard a familiar voice that I had not heard in years. It was playful and flirty, with an edge of roughness to it.

I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together
And try them out you see
I been looking around awhile
You've got something for me
Oh, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key

It was Melanie. I turned to look at the television and saw a baby in a stroller shooting through traffic at high speed: a telephone commercial.

My first thought was, Good on her! The old gal will get some money for that. I brushed my tears aside and turned back to the dishes, only this time my hips were swaying.

I asked your mother if you were at home
She said yes, but you weren't alone
Oh, sometimes I think that you're avoiding me
I'm okay alone but you've got something I need...

So many associations rose up from wherever we keep them when we're not using them. I remember buying my first Melanie album at a small department store in Wisconsin the summer that I rode with my grandmother and grandfather to Minnesota from Maine. We had traveled through Canada and stopped at Niagara Falls along the way.

Slowwwwly I turned -- step by step --

But I digress that's what associations do. Everything is connected.

I don't think I knew anything about Melanie when I bought the album (it was Gather Me -- a real good place to start); but I had seen them in the record club ads and I was curious. You'd never know that Melanie Safka was a New York City girl, born and bred; she wore what were known in those days as Peasant Dresses and cultivated the Whole Earth Mother image (the Whole Earth Catalog was another thing we had back then). I knew little about folk music and am not sure if I knew that was what I was getting into. The look was what intrigued me.

Gather Me is a great album by any standard and I was hooked. I spent most of that summer with my grandmother and grandfather (two more people I miss terribly). and spent a good chunk of it lying next to their stereo listening to one Melanie album after another.

I've been celebrating way too long
And I've been drinking I'm ashamed to tell
Still feel thirsty
God I want to drink the water from the well
Still feel thirsty
God I want to drink and Ring The Living Bell
Ring the bell, ah...

By that time Melanie Safka was well along in developing as a performer. In her early years her voice was a bit nasal and rough, and she fell into the same category as Dylan: more interesting as a songwriter than as a singer. She could belt out a wailing note, but she used that trick to excess, sometimes to the point of annoyance. But beginning with Good Book, her voice had mellowed some and her delivery was greatly improved in its range. She could still wail, but she could also coax and flirt, and when she sang sad songs it was with tenderness rather than overt weeping. With sophisticated arrangements by Roger Kellaway adding to the mix, Melanie had developed into something much more than just a hippie gal with a guitar.

I entered dancing
And looked for my partner
I thought the path could be a double road
You played my heart like a drum beating warning
Oh, I guess I'm gonna dance this one alone...

Several years later I remember shopping with that same grandmother at Porteous, Mitchell & Braun, in Portland, Maine. Once a great, old-fashioned department store (the closest thing Maine had to Dayton's in Minneapolis), Porteous was already suffering from a decline brought on by the opening of the Maine Mall, and you could see that decline in the store. But they still had a record department, and I remember the joy of finding a brand-new Melanie album there: Madrugada. Grandma bought it for me. With a great opening song and full-blooded covers of "Lover's Cross," "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Wild Horses," it was a strong effort, if not quite to the standard of Gather Me or Stoneground Words.

I'm so tired
That I can't sleep
And I already read the Bible
Inner deep
The preacher keeps me on my knees
To wander and to travel

Her songs are often melancholy and reflective, which made me her perfect target audience. During the summers at the farm there were many days of daydreaming alone in my end of the house, with the stereo playing full blast, usually The Beatles or the Moody Blues or Melanie. I still have all the vinyl records, but my stereo system is Deeply Troubled, and I haven't played any of them in many, many years.

By 1976 Melanie had been without a recording contract for a few years. She had fallen out of fashion with the record companies, more than with her fans. Ahmet Ertigun (sp?) at Atlantic Records gave her a chance and her "comeback" album, Photograph, was released. The New York Times gave it a rave review, but it was not widely distributed. I remember finding my copy in the record store: one of those moments when you suck in a load of breath in excitement. That's one experience the internet has largely killed. The art of browsing, and the moment of pleasure when you make a find or a discovery.

Photograph is probably Melanie's best and most sophisticated album, with a powerful, stirring opening song, a reflective remake of her own "Nickel Song," and a pleasing range of autobiographical songs. It deserved a much wider audience. Instead, it was her first real step into obscurity.

By this time I was in my senior year of high school and about to make the worst decision of my life.

Too much singing for my living tonight
Do a song for friends and company
Too much is the matter with the giving on spite
Here's one for the giving, and the other for free

Here's a link to Melanie's web site. She appears to be keeping herself busy.

For my part, last night as I was once again doing up the evening dishes (and having a better time of it, for all the Melanie music going around in my head, plus the knowledge that I had just ordered up a couple of CD's online and will soon be able to listen to some old Melanie favorites once again), I realized that Ms. Safka even had a number in her songbook for my current crisis. All I had to do was change one word.

Look what they done to your song, Ma
Look what they done to your song.
You know they tied it up in a plastic bag
And they turned it upside down, Ma
Look what they done to your song.

-- Freder.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A pleasant surprise

Last night watched Dragonwyck, expecting to be asleep before the end of act one. I'd seen the first half hour once before, long ago, expecting it to get scary or at least interesting at any moment -- but it never did. The only reason I have it now is because it came as part of a cheap box set with Chandu the Magician. The latter is by far the more entertaining movie, yet Dragonwyck was the one that kept me awake.

Calling this a horror film is a gross marketing misstatement: it is a plain unvarnished gothic, and a mild one at that. But although the budget seems minimal, it is beautifully photographed and composed, with pale white faces shot against deep shadow, and sometimes the reverse. The writing is almost too subtle for its own good: some of the story material is touchy for the time period, and viewers are often left guessing until some cunningly placed line causes the lightbulb to go on.

Vicent Price is hardly known for under-playing any role, but here he gives a masterfully controlled and precise performance, whereas it's Gene Tierney who sometimes over-works the material. Walter Huston is quite good, but the actor who really runs with what she is given is Spring Byington as the faithful household retainer who is always ready with a comment that carries about six different layers of meaning. She knows how to use her eyes and voice in just the right way to imply much more than what she is actually saying.

A young Harry Morgan -- Col. Potter from M*A*S*H -- is in the picture, too, miscredited as "Henry Morgan," having a ball as an uppity tenant farmer who's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Selfishness, murder, rising and falling in station, and disillusionment are the themes, played out in a cavernous manse that's run like a small  independent nation, much to the consternation of the little people. It did not hold my constant rapt attention, nor did it deserve to, but it is much more creditable than I remembered. Of course, the first time that I tried to watch it all those years ago, I was hoping for a monster with fang and claw. Now that I'm much older, I've realized that the worst monsters are often the ones who appear to have your best interests at heart.

-- Freder.

The Wolf in My Sister's Clothing

Sunday was my first opportunity to spend a whole day giving the house a good beating.

I vacuumed, swept, and scrubbed the floors in the living room and the kitchen, then vacuumed in the front room, front hall and office. Brought some things downstairs in a futile attempt to make the place more homey. I was actually feeling somewhat cheerful then, because at the time I still had ahead of me the definite prospect of moving on to a new place.

Given that I didn't believe I would live here much longer, I had made an offer to my sister and her husband. They are facing the reality of losing their home due to the mortgage he took out on the place when he built his "resort" (actually, it was a nudist colony which, predictably, failed in a big way. What kind of genius puts a nudist colony in an upper-central Maine farm field where half of the year it is freezing and the other half of the year the black flies hold sway?). Tony had built a little workshop near their house, and now he was at work expending it and turning it into something they could live in, but it will never be anything more than a shack.

I told them they could move in to my mother's house, rent free, for a time. In return, Tony could do a little work on the house, and everyone would benefit from that. Tony wanted to come over and look at the house. Claudia was going to stay away because she knows I hate her, but I needed her to come over and go through our mother's clothes to see if she wanted anything. The rest would go to Goodwill or Kenaset or the Salvation Army or someplace like that.

I was looking forward to seeing her reaction to the house, and the state that they had left the place in. I wanted her to see exactly what she'd made me do.

But I was disappointed. She walked through the door -- and didn't react at all.

Not an "Oh my Gosh!"

Not a "Wow!"

Not an "Oh, Mom."

Not even a widening of her eyes.

If anything, she looked satisfied.

Tony went into the upstairs rooms through the back (something that hasn't been possible in at least two decades), and I went into our mother's room to get Claudia started. Before she even looked at anything, she said "My husband won't let me wear anything Mickey Mouse."

It was a pointless comment as I'd already taken out all the Mickey tees and sweatshirts and nightshirts for myself.

I followed Tony and walked him through the place, pointing out some of the damage. When we were done he went to look at the place from the outside.

Claudia was pretending to look at my mothers coats.

She volunteered to help me move. I don't want her help. I don't even want her to know where I end up. I want to be done with her forever. There has to be one good thing to come out of this nightmare.

When they left she asked for a hug. There is no limit to her hypocrisy, and no shame attached to anything she does. Everything is somehow justified in her mind, even the most outrageous violations of faith, trust and personal property. I reluctantly allowed her to hug me, waiting all the while for the knife to slide between my shoulder blades. I didn't hug her back.

When I stepped back indoors I went straight to my mother's closets. I had made a point to taking anything of real value out before Claudia arrived, and of memorizing the way everything in there was laid out. All of the boxes of costume jewelry had been disturbed, both on the shelves and on the floor.

Claudia had not been going through the clothes at all. She'd been rifling the boxes, looking for valuable jewelry.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mellowed with age...

Pandy Bear is fine, BTW.

In the old days, he might have disappeared for weeks and lost half his body weight. He had a peculiar split personality in that, when he was in the house, he was so people oriented and had to be sitting on your feet at all times; but when he got outside it was all "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty -- I am free at last!"

Nowadays -- a night outside pretty much kills any interest in freedom he might have.

As I came down the next morning I could see through the window (and if you've been looking at the pictures of the Wonderland this house used to be, you'll know that's a monumental statement all by itself!) that Pandy was lounging on the front step.

Of course when I opened the door he immediately started to run off. But I've learned a thing or two in my old age and did not try to chase him.

Instead, I went out and sat on the ground and just called his name.

Eventually, with a lot  of coaxing, he took a step in my direction. Then another, and another. And then I had him.

He's become very vocal since the house was cleaned out. He never used to make a sound. Now he wanders through the empty rooms, yowling at the top of his lungs.

It's not their interesting, cozy home filled with hiding places any more. Even though I've made strides with the cleaning and arranging of what furniture I have, the place is still more like a mausoleum.

A New Life: FAIL!

There no longer seems to be much point in blogging about what happened in the days following the clean-out of my mother's home.

We found a beautiful two-story Victorian that I loved. No work needing to be done on it. A little large for me, but that's better than too small. My father swung in and started negotiating with the owner. He managed to get the price down and to carve out a deal that we all thought I could afford.

Then the lawyers got involved. All they had to do was draw up an agreement, but no -- they wanted to change this aspect and they wanted to change that aspect of it, and by the time they were done changing things, we had no deal.

So here I am in my mother's house, typing up exactly not the story I had hoped to be typing, and feeling like another rug has been yanked out from under me.

That house was the only thing I had to look forward to, the one bright light ahead of me.

My father and his wife leave tomorrow for Sedona, so they won't be able to help me with their advice, their knowledge of houses, or their negotiating skills -- none of which I possess.

I'm marooned.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Somnambulist

The "pop culture blather" aspect of this blog has not happened lately -- and not only because I have so much else to write about.

I can't seem to stay awake for anything!

For three nights in a row I've tried to watch Fox's 1932 Chandu the Magician, featuring Bela Lugosi. It's a good movie. The parts of it directed by William Cameron Menzies are great. The parts of it directed by the French guy -- not so much. All three nights, I've conked out on it.

It took me two nights to get through Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. It's a cute, fun movie. I'm still not sure how it came out.

My days have been so full in so many ways that I'm just too pooped to stay awake for anything. It doesn't help that since the house was taken apart, my kitties have been so emotionally needy that I get three (and sometimes four) piling onto me as soon as I sit down. There's nothing that brings on sleep faster than being blanketed by pussy cats.

About the only thing I've been able to stay awake for is my nightly episode of Dark Shadows -- and that only because it's short. Rather than continue on with the Leviathan storyline from later in the series run, which I find extremely dull, I decided to circle back and pick it up from the arrival of Barnabus Collins. This must have been arresting stuff when it first aired and you didn't already know that a hand was going to come out of that coffin... Jonathin Frid benefits from the fact that they prepared for Barnabus's arrival well before he actually appears for the first time.

The last movie I was able to get through in one sitting was The Witches. I always thought of this as a Jim Henson production -- had forgotten it was directed by Nick Roeg. Yet, if you've seen Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth, it's obvious that Roeg's fingerprints are all over this.

The Witches is just a great lot of fun from beginning to end.  It's scary and funny and fanciful... and Angelica Huston creates a marvelous villainess, whose obvious sexual pleasure in turning boys into mice adds an uncomfortable Freudian element to the thing.

Tonight -- I'm going to get through Chandu. Really and for true! Of course it's shopping night so I will be running late all the way...

And I promise that my viewing fare will get more dignified once October is behind us.

-- Freder

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Borrrrrn Freeeeeee!"

Quats freaking out in an empty house. Compare with earlier photo of the same space.

By Tuesday night I was emotionally and physically exhausted. As I got up and set about getting ready for the auctioneer and his crew to arrive for their third day of stripping the house, I felt as if this had been going on for months, years. It felt endless.

The cats no longer fought to get out when I locked them away.

My father was the first to arrive. His wife was already out looking at houses with the real estate agent. It was a quarter to ten before the trucks started showing up.

They had left bins of things in the front room of the house. I volunteered to help carry them out, but I had only made two trips before I completely fell apart and had to go hide in the barn.

My father found me there and hugged me.

By lunchtime, my father's wife was back. Mr. J_____ invited us three to lunch at a little restaurant in Albion. I am sure that he wanted to regale us with more of his stories, but the entire lunch was co-opted by my father and his wife, and her report of the houses she had seen.

My father picked up the tab.

Sometime in the middle afternoon Mr. J______ stopped sorting items and entered the house. I believe he was determined that this was going to be the last day of his involvement. He went down the basement and all through the house, searching for value. He opened every door, including ones that were off limits. More on that later.

Among the things he found that he seemed to want were the boxes of my old shop stock from the Duck Soup days, ten or eleven big boxes full of comic books dating from 1982 and earlier. I couldn't believe that he really wanted them, but this part actually pleased me: I had been wondering how in hell I was going to get rid of the things. They will be auctioned off as a lot, included as part of the estate.

At some point I found myself in the front hall, looking into the study. My desk and everything on it were there, my computer was on its stand as normal, the sofa was against the wall. Everything else was gone. When they had taken down the painting over the fireplace, all of the plaster had come down with it and was piled up on the floor and mantelpiece. On the outside wall, a horrible amount of water damage had been exposed. The same was true in the living room. Plaster and paint chips everywhere.

When I looked up the stairs, I was shocked to see that Pandy Bear and Whitey were both out. They were starting down the stairs. The front door was open behind me.

I leaped forward at them and they split. Whitey ran back into the bedroom. I shut the door behind him. Pandy had gone off towards the bathroom. I ran down and slammed the front door shut.

When I went back to look for Pandy Bear, I saw that the doors that are usually closed, leading all the way through the back of the house, to the back stairway and the entry hall downstairs, were all standing open. No sign of Pandy Bear.

I ran down through the house and got to the back door just as Pandy was stepping outside. As I reached for him he took a fright of my action and what was happening in the yard, and ran off at high speed for a big fatty-bounce of a cat. He ducked into the bushes and dove into the hole that goes under the barn. He was gone.

I screamed at the workers. "Is there anything we can do to help, Doug?" Bill G___. said. What a stupid question. I went around the house calling for Pandy, but there was no sign of him.

When the day started to wind down, Mr. J____ walked me through the upstairs of the house, which was largely untouched. He said the beds and other furniture up there were not worth much of anything, maybe $50 - $150 a piece. His brother in law would be around in two or three weeks to remove them for his auction, but Mr. J______ advised me to keep them unless I was certain that I would not need them. They would not bring much at auction, and would be more expensive to replace.

He left. His crew finished packing. By five o'clock I was signing the final contracts, twelve or thirteen pages. The trucks drove off. All the grass in the yard was mashed down. The place was quiet and empty.

Pooky wandered through the house crying her head off, trying to absorb what had happened. Patches was totally cool and copacetic.

There was no time to look for Pandy Bear. My father and his wife had made a six o'clock appointment to look at houses.

This time, I drove myself. We picked up the agent -- Sue's husband Harold -- and drove to a house I had never seen before, in a good neighborhood. It was a plain white house with a screened porch for my kitties, sitting on a crazy knoll across the street from the Catholic Church. The garage was in poor condition, but inside it was nice, if on the small side. Very small, actually. I was conscious of feeling cramped even though it was unfurnished. The bedrooms upstairs were a little bigger than the closets in my mother's house. Not all the furniture that I retained would fit. Still, I could envision myself and the cats there. It would be a little on the cozy side, but it could be done. But that horrible carpet would have to come up. and the green paint in the kitchen would have to go.

Then we went up to the cute brown-shingled house that I had been looking at for so long. This was different. It was beautiful inside, and just the right size. I quite liked it. But the porch had a bounce and a droop in it and the screens were loose, and the house needed a lot of work: new shingles. Structural work. This did not phase me as much as it did my father. The deal breaker for me was the bathroom situation. There was just one bathroom in the whole place, and it was a horrible cramped thing, too small for me to fit a cat tray inside. It would be impossible to sustain five cats.

So it appeared the small white house was my only option, and I began to feel a little depressed at the thought.

We dropped off Harold, a very nice man, at his office and went up to MacDonald's for dinner. There we talked over the options, and they decided to come over to the house the next day to help me work on it. They said that they would investigate the Victorian that was For Sale By Owner on their way out.

The niceness and the helpfulness of everything they were doing for me actually made me feel uncomfortable. I drove home in full dark with such mixed emotions, not all of them sad.

There was no sign of Pandy Bear.

Shock of the New

On Monday night I stood in what had once been my mother's bedroom and screamed.

Then I went around the house and put signs on things that I didn't want them to take.

The next day was more of the same, with a couple of differences. Taking a lesson from the day before, I tried to spend more of my time in the house, keeping an eye on the pickers. This sometimes involved having to be in more than one place at the same time. I began to be more assertive and proactive, trying to define some boundaries. After talking to Sue C_______, I decided to keep the dining room table and a set of chairs to go around it. I decided to keep the apothecary chest, as much so that I wouldn't have to open and go through all the drawers as for its usefulness as a piece of furniture.

Other than that, it was very much like the day before. Panic, work, running around, pictures and tears.

Sue helped me sort through some personal papers and clothes. She left around 3:30, and I thought, it's just me and them, now.

About half an hour later, my father appeared in the yard. I went up to him and said, "I didn't expect to see you today."

He said, "M_____ and I are going to take you to dinner."

It was a nice thought, but not what I needed or wanted. I needed the evening hours to start cleaning up the disaster area that was my house and to start making the place habitable again. I didn't want to leave my kitties alone when they would no doubt be freaking out. But this was not so much an invitation as another one of his non-negotiable demands.

Once again Whitey and Honey had gone into hiding under my bed and had to be coaxed out. Once again Honey went tearing down the stairs, but this time she did not even make it to the bottom. The front hall had been cleared out. She saw the empty space, spun around 180 degrees and shot past me into the dark hall that leads to the guest room. I called her and called her, but she would not show herself.

My father was saying that we had to go. I just had time to quickly get some fresh food out for the gang, and no time to change or clean up. My pants were covered with filth.

I said I'd follow them in my car. My father's wife said, in her heavily accented, sing-song voice, "No, we drive you."

I sat in the back seat of their SUV with my head against the glass, staring blindly through the window and not saying much of anything. They noted a new building that had gone in on the main road. Without knowing why I said it, I said, "There are a couple of nice houses for sale in W_________ with screened porches on them."

My father said, "That's what you said in your email last night." (I didn't remember typing it, or even sending him an email the night before, I had been in a zombie-like state,) Then he said, "Let's go look at them. You show me where they are and we'll take a look."

My heart sank. I thought, Oh, me and my damn mouth again. Now this is going to take even longer.

When we got to town I directed them onto C___ Street and then W______ Avenue. At the very end of C___ Street there is a house for sale with a finished apartment above the garage. Just around the corner there is a nice looking Victorian with a sign out front reading "FOR SALE BY OWNER." My father actually stopped the car, and his wife wrote down the number. I thought, What is going on here?

We drove up the avenue to a brown shingled house that I pass every day. They wrote down the name and number of the real estate broker.

At the restaurant, my father took out a real estate magazine that he had brought with him and began leafing through it. It was only then that I realized that my off-hand comment in the car had played right in to the subject that they wanted to speak to me about.

They are going to help me buy a house.

They leave for Nevada in late October, and want it done before then.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Corpse Pickers

It was a bit of black humor on Monday morning to go to my Halloween countdown calendar and discover that the picture for that day was a witch's broom, sweeping stars.

I rose early, did my morning chores as normal, and at about 8:30 started rounding up cats.

Honey and Pooky went into the bathroom, Patches, Pandy Bear and Whitey went into my bedroom. Patches was the only one who resisted, but the minute I closed the door on them they realized that something was not right. As I popped each succeeding cat into the room, it got harder and harder to keep them inside while I shut the door.

I went out and sat at the table sipping on my ginger ale, waiting for them to come.

Sue C_______ was the first. She is the paralegal who works with my lawyer, and was there for moral and practical support. Then Mr. J_____ himself arrived. The head honcho. He likes to hear himself talk and immediately took command of the conversation with stories from his life.and profession. It went on for what seemed like a long time before the trucks began to pull in.

We stood at the back door and Mr. J______ made a discreet speech about my mother and about the task that his staff faced and how they were going to go about it. He had to keep starting over again because more people kept arriving, including my father and my lawyer, Joanne A_____, who as always gave me a big hug. I'm certain that I looked like I needed it.

From the bathroom window upstairs I could hear Pooky wailing. I had expected to see Honey sitting in that window, as it's one of her favorite spots, but she never appeared.

Then the show began. On that first day, it was my mistake to position myself in the yard to watch the things being carried out of the house. When the first item came out of the door I burst into tears and had to hide.

It started as a trickle and turned into a flood. Things were coming out so fast that I couldn't keep track. Soon I realized that they weren't just taking things of value -- they were taking everything.

They took her telephone. I caught this and saved it. They took her Dustbuster. They took her bag full of prosthetic socks. They took electric fans. I had told all of them that I still lived in the house and hoped they would leave me with some furniture and other practical things; either they didn't listen to me, or they had been told to clear the place out to the bare walls.

They took our broom. Why? They took my hammer. Why? I began prowling the yard, which with its tables full of things and boxes on the ground was beginning to look like a flea market, trying to find things and rescue them.

Inside the house was chaos. They toy man, Andrew, was ripping things down so carelessly that other objects were falling to the floor, where they broke or were stepped upon. He would pull things out of the arrangements, and if he decided not to take it he would toss it aside carelessly. Dolls lost their hats, arms, legs. Sets were broken up. It seemed to me that they didn't even know what they were looking at.

The rugs were all tossed out and the dirt underneath them began to spread absolutely everywhere. If it was clean when they started, it was filthy when they left.

I felt so powerless and every so often broke down in tears again.

Mr. J_____ was personally sorting every item that came out of the house, first deciding if he was going to take the item, or pass it off to his brother-in-law's auction house, then sorting what he wanted into groups.

Sue kept on trying to impress on me that as executor, I had the power to keep anything I wanted, but the message was largely not sinking in. I was too distracted and distraught.

Around noon I went upstairs to switch out Honey and Patchy. I first I couldn't find Honey at all, and thought, how could she disappear? It turned out that she was cowering in the bathtub, trying to make herself as small as possible. She looked up wt me with a terrified expression. I was going to switch out Whitey as well, so that he could get access the cat tray, but as soon as I closed the door on him he began wailing. I put him back in my room.

Throughout the afternoon it was more of the same. One half of the crew ripped things out of the kitchen and then moved into the dining and living room; the other half started in the hall and worked their way into my mother's bedroom.

They took the things that she had made even though I had asked them not to. So again I had to be on my toes, going from bin to bin, trying to save pieces of her from going.

And so on, as Mr. Vonnegut says.

They stopped taking things out of the house at four-thirty, and concentrated on processing what was already out. I went up and let the cats out.

Honey came out of the room and went shooting down the stairs like a rocket into the front of the house. Pandy Bear and Patchy were completely mellow. But Whitey was hiding under my bed and afraid to come out.

As I carried their food plates to the kitchen, I met Honey coming back. She was running at top speed through the half-stripped living room, keeping low to the ground as though she was trying to hide and run at the same time. When she saw me she stopped dead in her tracks and looked up at me with her eyes as big as saucers, as if to say, "What have YOU DONE??!!"

What, indeed, had I done? Something horrible, that I could never change.

What do you do at the end of the world?

The pictures say it all, really.

Before this week, the worst thing I've ever had to do is hold Sandy (a Palomino) and Pony while the vet put them down.

I'm not saying that this week was worse than that; but it's in that league.

I don't even know where to start. Likely it will take multiple posts to tell the story.

On Sunday I did a few last-minute things to get ready for the next day. I washed rugs and put clean ones down (this was a waste of time, as it turns out). I mowed the lawn. And in the evening, last thing before bed, I took the last few things out of my mother's room that I couldn't bear to part with: the big sock monkey, an animation cell from the Mickey Mouse cartoon Nifty Nineties, a page of original Bonzo Dog art by Geo. Studdy, the original art for a daily Mickey Mouse comic strip, a book of Sock Monkey photos that I bought for her at Christmas of last year, the talking Mickey Mouse advent calendar, and some very neat unisex shirts that I can wear.

It sounds like a lot, but as you can see from the "Before" photo, there was so much in the room that nobody would be the wiser.

I stowed these last items in my walk-in closet, and set a chair in front of it to indicate that it was off limits.

Of  course I'd been crying all day, and it wasn't the dignified kind of weeping, either. When I woke up that morning, Honey and Pandy Bear were both with me. I said to them, "This is the last day of the Universe as we know it, guys."

Of course they didn't understand. They would have to learn it the hard way.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

That's the way to do it...

Monday morning around ten, and for at least two days afterward, the auction house will be at my home taking it all down. I know that during the day, my concern will not be about grief management, but on the logistics of six or more people all coming and going from the house through at least two entrances.

Their plan is to set up tables in the front yard (for this reason I have been unable to put out Halloween decorations). Two people will come into the house and start picking. Two people will act as runners, carrying the items out of the house to the two people manning the tables. These last will sort the items into lots, then pack and load everything onto the truck.

I've been trying to get the house ready for them, emptying drawers and more, but many of the desks and dressers and closets are actually inaccessible to me, which means that this will be an ongoing job. Also, I have no room to store anything that comes out of these places -- I will have to deal with it as space gradually opens up.

I have had to make plans of my own. Wanting not to worry all day about the cats getting out, I decided to lock them in my rooms upstairs, two in the bathroom and three in my bedroom, being mindful of matching the personalities to avoid cat warfare. I may have to switch them out a couple of times, as I'm not about to put a cat tray in my bedroom -- that's an idea I do NOT want to put into their heads! Likewise, Pooky will have to stay in the bathroom all day. I am not having her poop all over my sheets!

I plan on taking a lot of pictures. That's probably the best thing about digital cameras -- you don't have to worry about wasting film.

I know that it will be a long, busy day, and that I most likely will not have time to think much about what's happening. My father has said that he's going to be there for moral support; if he stays true to form, he will actually try to take over and run the operation. Then it will be my job to channel him in some other direction. That's all right. One more distraction for me.

My biggest fear is that my sister will find out what's happening and try to disrupt the process. I know that she wanted to lay claim to certain items, and until I found out that she was stealing from the house I would not have stood in the way of this. But things are different now. My position is that she made her choices and took them. She doesn't get to pick any more. She gave up that right. If she complains, I will happily tell her, "You're perfectly free to bid on things."

I had to swear my father to secrecy on the dates before I would tell him anything. I believe Monday will be safe. But her husband will be at home and he frequently drives down my road, and I fear that he or one of the kids will find out what's happening and convey the news to Claudia. This could make Tuesday or Wednesday a little sticky. If she turns up, I will ask her as politely as possible to leave. If she doesn't, I will call the state police.

At the end of the day, everyone will go away, and I will be left alone with the cats to clean up and deal with what remains. That's when I expect the tears to come.

An oldie but not a goodie

1942's Night Monster from Universal Studios commits the one deadly sin that no movie of its type can afford: it is dead boring! It's got a great cast and the usual state-of-the-art in creepy sets and design, but the problem can be summed up in one credit: "Produced and Directed by Ford Beebe."

Beebe was at best a journeyman B-movie director, professional but uninspired. Of the three Flash Gordon serials, Beebe directed the second, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, and it's the worst of the lot.

In Night Monster, he directs as if he's deliberately trying to make the most un-thrilling thriller of all time. Now, perhaps he had the Hayes office looking over his shoulder; in that case, I'm being (slightly) unfair. But, for goodness sake, until the final scene absolutely everything that's even remotely scary happens off-screen, sometimes with the characters pointing to it and hollering "Look!"

I wish that I could! It's true that you don't want to show the monster in detail right up front and spoil your whole game, but in this thing all you ever see is people looking at the ground and saying, "Look at the size of that footprint!"

Bela Lugosi gets top billing for playing a butler, and not even a very sinister one at that. Irene Hervey, way ahead of her time, plays a lady psychologist, but is really just so much window-dressing. Ralph Morgan has the juicy part, or the part that would have been juicy with a more flamboyant director, and he does his best -- but the man isn't allowed even a single close-up!

It took me two nights to get through this thing because I kept falling asleep on it! If only they could bottle it, it would be a great alternative to Sominex. The best and funniest line in the picture comes at the very end, but you'll most likely miss it.

In other pop-culturey activities, I have finally duped every serial in my collection from VHS onto DVD. Towards the end I was getting into some pretty weak stuff, including G-Men Vs. The Black Dragon, a wartime story with Rod Cameron in the lead, and, most laughably, somebody named Nino Pipitone as Haruchi, the leader of a Japanese spy ring. Have you ever heard someone with a heavy Italian accent try to put on a fake Japanese accent? It's quite chucklesome.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Many strange things can be seen."

My mother loved all holidays. Whenever the holiday "merch" hit the stores, she was at her happiest. If she saw something cute, it came home with her. The seeing and the action were one and the same. This is why her house is filled with, among many other things, vintage Santa Clauses, bunny rabbits, and, yes, pumphinheads.

As for me, I pretty much only like Halloween. This was the one time of year where I actually enjoyed the annual unveilings in the stores as much as she did, and we both had a lot of fun together on our weekly errands day.

So I was concerned how I would react when the season rolled around and the ghouls and goblins started coming out.

For one thing, I have a hard time accepting the fact that it's already October! It's true that, in the words of Bill Watterson, a year passes like nothing,  and that nothing in the first twenty years of your life prepares you for how quickly the next thirty go by. But the events of this year have been uniquely disorienting. Part of that was my fault.

And as I mentioned in the previous post, when Mr. Death comes knocking and takes someone close to you, the impact can be enough to turn the most hardened Halloween zealots into turncoats.

But the widely accepted perception that Halloween is a holiday about Death has never rung true to me. It wears the trappings of death in the same way that a person puts on a costume, but Halloween is really a holiday about Change.

Looking at it that way, getting out my Halloween stuff and wearing my Halloween ties and shirts and seeing the jack o' lanterns and ghosts and witches and black cats come out in the stores has been more oddly comforting than disturbing. Because Halloween was something we enjoyed together, and because Change has become the overriding theme of this awful year, thinking about Halloween and seeing it has made me feel more wistful than melancholic.

The first real test was the Jo-Ann fabrics store. They always get their holiday items out before anyone else, and one day while doing my weekly shopping at the supermarket, I could see through the display window that Halloween was Up.

I debated about even going in. For about two seconds.

It was noticeably less fun without someone else to compare notes with or point things out to, and a couple of times I found myself saying to my mother, "I wish you were here." But, more than that, I still enjoyed the jolly designs and decorations that they had come up with. I left the store without buying anything, feeling somewhere in the middle realm and wondering about that.

The next time I found a store setting up their Halloween I went in eagerly. I didn't think about whether of not Mom would have loved what she saw. I actually bought a simple yard ornament and put it up that same night. It's something we always did together.

-- Freder.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Now entering The October Country

Ray Bradbury is a preacher who lost his faith. A lifelong fan of all things Halloween, Bradbury threw all his pumpkins out into the street when his friend Frederico Fellini died on Halloween day.

Although it's not as fun as it used to be (more on that subject in a later post), I am determined not to suffer the same loss. Every year when October first rolls around, I drop whatever I'm watching and reading and switch to all-spooky fare. This year I am not making an exception. Time to revisit my old friends The Addams Family, Carl Kolchak, Mulder and Scully, and Mr. Serling's Night Gallery.

Time also to break out the new selection of Universal horror movies that arrived a few weeks ago. I bought it to replace my VHS copy of Man Made Monster with Lon Chaney Jr., and for under fifteen bucks I got four other pictures that I'd never seen before.

These are the kind of horror movies I like: atmospheric, moody, with monsters that are more intellectually gruesome than viscerally so. You might as well know that I have deep moral objections to the kind of horror movies they make today, and am appalled that the kind of torture porn that used to be confined to dingy theaters on sidestreets is now commonly available in our suburban cinematechs and our "friendly neighborhood" Wal-Marts. There's something wrong when the DVD aisles of department stores are weltering in gore -- and you know that Wal Mart isn't being particular about who they sell to.

The kind of zombies I like are the kind in Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie. For what George Romero did to the culture, I think he should be locked in jail.

The most recent horror movie that I'll watch is Ridley Scott's original Alien. And I prefer to go back much further than that.

This past weekend I visited 1941 twice, first with the aforementioned Man Made Monster. It has all the elements. Chaney plays a sympathetic but simple-minded circus performer who, after surviving a freak electrical accident, is taken in for experimentation by a kindly doctor and his not-so-kindly assistant, well played by Lionel Atwill (I'm hearing whispers that Atwill was kind of a pervert in real life, which lends a layer of squirminess to his work). Soon Chaney is lumbering around in a rubber electrical suit, glowing with electricity, fatal to the touch. Considering the ultra-low budget, even by Universal standards, this is wonderfully atmospheric and ends in tragedy with Chaney's life literally running out on a line.

And on Sunday I braved The Black Cat -- not a remake of the 1934 classic starring Karloff and Lugosi, but a kind of misbegotten "old house" murder mystery with comedic overtones. Bela is in this one, too -- but he has maybe two lines of dialogue and spends most of the picture lurking about, looking through windows. At first the plot was difficult for me, as it concerned a crippled old lady in a big old house full of antiques and cats; pretty much my mother's situation! But then the murders start and everyone begins to act suspiciously, and the secret passages begin to get used with wild abandon. Broderick Crawford is completely miscast as the male lead, but he does try hard. And then there's Hugh Herbert: a very amusing guy and great fun to watch, but what in heck is he doing in this movie?

There are some good moments and as usual the picture looks great; but a lot of the scary stuff is funny and a lot of the funny stuff isn't. By no means is this in the league of The Ghost Breakers (with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard) or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein -- both of which got the Horror Comedy recipe just exactly right.

For more monster-movie blather from me, just stay tuned. And you can read my essay on Halloween Favorites here at The October Country.

-- Freder.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Message from me to God: "Will you knock it off already, you SON OF A BITCH?"

Junior is missing for five days. He's never been gone this long before. He is my favorite of the outdoors cats, the sweetest, friendliest "feral" cat we had.

Now the only ones left are Tiger Grumpyface (who won't let me near her) and Tiger Whitestockings, who clearly misses Junior -- she looks at me from out of the bushes and cries and cries.

If that wasn't enough, a big section of my barn roof fell in this week, probably during the first stage of the typhoon that blew through here over the last few days.

And as if that wasn't enough, it rained so hard yesterday that the roof of my house couldn't take it -- I had significant water dripping through into the front room. Couldn't even get in there to put buckets or pans down to catch it, because of the big doll's house and the other stuff that occupies that area.

I am SICK of this shit!

I take it all as a very unsubtle series of signs that it's time to get out of that place and start a new life elsewhere. 

'Nuff said!
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