Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Am Not Crazy

I've always harbored a bit of a resentment towards those who think I'm "a crazy cat lady." This New York Times piece explains it nicely, thank you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Hiram House

I think every town has, or should have, a haunted house. With Halloween approaching, it seemed fitting to tell you about Silver Creek’s.

It was called the Hiram House and, sadly, it is no longer there. With typical Silver Creekian respect for the past it was torn down to build a picture-framing store. There was a movement to save it, but it was so dilapidated that it was deemed a fire hazard and, in spite of some civic spirit, there was nobody willing to fund a restoration. And, really, no point. It was just a shell. A shell with an interesting history, and some weird architecture, but beyond hope really.

Hiram House was one of the first five buildings in Silver Creek. Part of the original Spanish land grant to a man named Israel Hiram who did some dubious service and was rewarded with a plot of land in an as-yet-unnamed part of what would be California.

Hiram brought up a fat wife and some skinny cows from Mexico and started a dairy. And he built a house. It was just a square of four rooms at first. But as the dairy grew, and his fortunes along with it, he added rooms and kids at regular intervals. Eventually it was two stories with porches all around and mismatched windows. Some tall and skinny. Some arched. Two in one room. Three in another. Nothing matched and yet it all seemed to fit somehow. As if their disunity was what united the whole.

But, as with all good ghost stories, there was a tragedy. In this case an influenza epidemic that wiped out the fat wife and the numerous children. Only tough old Israel was left. He lost interest in the cows and stopped building the house and grew old and died. End of story.

But Hiram House sat there while Silver Creek grew up around it. The building falling apart. The land that the dairy was on turned into subdivisions and fast-food joints. And the old building of adobe and pine settled into lumps and ruins; an anomaly in suburbia.

As a child I lived about four blocks from Hiram House and walked past it on my way to Our Lady of Angels or the library. My friend Sean, however, lived on the same street, Hiram Road (imaginatively enough) and could see the old place from his bedroom window.
Being imaginative kids we, of course, invested the place with all sorts of specters. Not content with old Israel wandering about the place mourning the loss of his family, we came up with everything this side of Anne Boleyn wandering the place “with her head tucked underneath her arm.”

But we didn’t really believe the place was haunted. Not really. Sort of.

It was a hot August night when Sean, his elder brother Nick, and I were walking home after a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were in high school and not afraid of anything. Certainly not walking past the Hiram House at 2 am.

We’d sort of run out of conversation by then and were just enjoying the warm night and good friends. I was walking in-between the brothers, holding Sean’s hand. Nick was whistling "The Time Warp" quietly. Then we walked past the overgrown lot where the Hiram House stood. And we saw the man.

He was pale and scrawny. Seemed to be covered in dust. And was illuminated perfectly by the blue light of the moon as he stood staring at the empty house. And I stopped. And I looked. And then we all looked. And then he turned from the house and stared at us. He opened his mouth, but no sound emerged. Sean, always a chicken, made a sound like a wounded spaniel and high-tailed it for home. Nick and I took off after him without thought.

And once in the safety of the Logan house, we said nothing. And we never did. Not to each other. Not to anyone else. We all three saw him and all three knew the others had seen, but it was never spoken.

About six years later Hiram House was torn down. The only reference we ever made to that night was that Sean always referred to “The Haunted Picture-Framer” as the business that moved in.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Into Compulsion

I've been reading Jon Krakauer's fascinating book Into Thin Air. For those of you who don't know it, it details the 1996 tragedy on Mt. Everest in which nine people were killed. He's a great storyteller and it's a page-turning read.

It's also one of those books that makes you think about what you'd do in a particular situation.

In this case, I wouldn't be in that situation.

When I was a kid I decided that I was going to climb Everest. I think I saw it on The Wonderful World of Disney and, of course, planned on making the climb. After all, how hard could it be? You climb. End of story.

But somewhere in between Tinkerbell flying over the castle and my reaching the age I am now, I've changed my mind. I got smarter. Or lazier. Or something. But looking on it now, I wonder that anyone wants to do it. Forget "because it's there" it's insane!

You're sick all the time. You're exhausted. You alternately cough up blood or feel like you're otherwise going to die. People do die, every year. And you pay at least $75,000 for the privilege.

In many ways I'm in awe of people who achieve this. The discipline required to get your body into shape for an Everest climb is beyond my comprehension. And the drive necessary to achieve this one goal through pain, deprivation, fear, and threat of freezing to death is equally mysterious. Frostbite is nearly certain, apparently. Who really needs all 10 toes? And sure I'm willing to forsake family and friends for three months while I acclimatize my body to 29,000 feet. Sure, I want to live at the altitude that planes usually cruise at.

The whole thing seems both pointless and admirable -- crazy and and fascinating. I'm glad I read the book, but equally glad i'll never do it myself.