I Ain’t No Haint!

bw houseHistoric buildings and houses have always fascinated me. Their walls have absorbed so many human emotions and interactions that each one could be its own library or book store if those stories could somehow be harvested. Paranormal groups spend time looking for folks who still occupy old structures, and sometimes they make some pretty interesting finds. Even when they score an apparition or a recording of a disembodied voice, though, they don’t know why someone cared enough to stick around in that particular place.

Since old buildings are so much fun, I recently launched a blog that details the history of the older, preserved buildings in our town. It’s been a great experience, so far. I’ve found natives and long-time residents who are more than willing to share their memories about particular buildings and events related to them. Then come deed searches and the hunt for old photographs showing the structure as it was in previous decades. Most people see research as a boring activity carried out by tweed-bound academics in dusty stacks of books or on rarely visited internet sites. Not even close.

Part of researching and documenting the history of a building is poking around taking pictures. That usually gives me time to listen to a building, too. Most are trying to tell their stories; they just need someone who can hear them. A couple of weeks ago, the blog featured a home built in 1875. I spent an hour or so studying the place and getting the photos I wanted. Only one family ever lived there, and if I had to describe its personality, I would say it’s quiet, content being what it is. Even so, it still stories to tell.

The three pictures of the fireplace were taken in the master bedroom, all from the same spot, all within a twenty or thirty second time frame. I wasn’t using a flash of any kind, and curtains were drawn over the windows, so I haven’t come up with a good explanation for that smear of light in the middle photo. Some folks have said it’s just some weird trick of the camera lens. Others have said it’s a ghost, maybe even a paranormal orb. It seems a lot of people spend years trying to capture an orb on film.

20150728_123432 20150728_123401 20150728_123342

As I spent time trying to figure out what kind of trick my lens had pulled, I got to thinking about all the possible paranormal explanations. What if it is a ghost? Why was he or she there? Was it trying to tell me? Was it trying to warn me about something? Was it wondering what the hell I was doing in its bedroom and attempting to shoo me away? Was it curious about what I was doing? Then, I thought about the fact that we all will die, and maybe I’ll be a ghost, or a haint, or an orb one day.

Some folks are sure that we simply snuff out when our hearts stop beating. Others believe we go to a holding place like a spiritual warehouse and distribution center, waiting to be shipped out to our final destination. Some insist we all go immediately to heaven. Others say some go straight to heaven and some straight to hell. Reincarnation is a popular belief, starting over as something or someone else when we die. So what would it be like to be a ghost, or a manifested spirit of some type, waiting to start over or move on?

ghostDo ethereal beings spend their days watching those of us who show up on their turf? Are our private moments really private? Are ghosts nothing more than spiritual voyeurs? That might be fun for a day or so, but a constant diet of live reality TV doesn’t give us much to aspire to. Maybe they stick around to get a final message to a loved one. If that’s the case, it must be frustrating floating around all the time, trying to communicate with someone who probably doesn’t even believe you exist. Maybe they’re lost, as some insist. I hope that’s not the case. I’ve been lost most of my life; I have no desire for my death to play out the same way.

Maybe one day we’ll know all the answers. My guess is that, at that point, we won’t care. But, while we’re here, how cool would it be to find a way for these ghosts, spirits, apparitions, or whatever to tell their stories? What truths could we learn about ourselves from their hindsight? How many regrets of our own could we avoid if we learned about theirs? Maybe they could even tell us how to mine the stories buried in the walls and floors and ceilings of the old buildings.

It’s nuts, I know, so go ahead and laugh. Just remember, people laughed at airplanes, spaceships, and cell phones, too.

If you enjoy history, the address for the historical blog is http://www.historicmckinney.wordpress.com. Stop in to visit.

The Karma of Perfect Dogs

We all know what karma is, and we all know what she can bCanadian_Golden_Retrievere. We all know, too, that karma will always track down those who owe her a debt and exact an appropriate settlement. Being the clumsy sort, I try to avoid handing out any of those karmic chits by not laughing at people who, like me, probably deserve it. Anyone who knows me knows that at some point, all on my own, I’m going to do something goofy that will amuse the hell out of everybody else in the room. I don’t need a no-nonsense-female-force-of-vengeance-on-a-mission riding my butt, too. I just couldn’t help myself the other day, though.

Sometimes, particularly when I’m near the end of rewriting or editing a piece, I need to work alone, closed off in a space where no one can intrude on my mental gymnastics. When I’m outlining or writing one of the first three or four drafts, though, I like having people around me. I don’t want to interact with them, but their energy and conversation provide a good resource when I need a facial expression, voice inflection, or body language for one of my characters.

So, one Saturday not too long ago, I took the current work-in-progress to one of my favorite spots to get some writing done. Since it was a perfect spring morning and the coffee shop was crowded, I decided to sit outside. I settled into an Adirondack chair, took a long sip of straight-up java, and got to work. The place is dog friendly, and at some point I noticed a Black Lab and a Golden Retriever tied to the legs of a nearby table. Both were well behaved, wagging their tails when someone approached but never getting up from their lying-down positions.

As is typical in close quarters, I couldn’t help overhearing their owners’ exchanges with other customers, and soon learned that the Black Lab, whose behavior was, apparently, questionable at best, belonged to the husband while the Golden Retriever, a perfect dog who had never misbehaved in her life, belonged to the wife. Both of the humans were retired, and their grandchildren had been hauled off, along with their daughter, by a barbarian son-in-law to live somewhere near the Canadian border. That meant these dogs (names withheld to protect the innocent) got more than their share of attention.

I garnered all of this information between the time the couple placed their order and their food was delivered, so it’s easy to imagine the frenetic pace of their conversation. Except, I have to correct myself here. I never heard the husband finish a sentence. He started quite a few, but his wife always managed to finish what she wasblack lab saying and then complete his thought, as well. Accordingly, pretty much everyone on the block knew how good her Retriever was, and how horribly his Lab – the one sitting quietly right beside the stream of people coming in and out of the café – taxed their goodwill and patience.

The appearance of the server bearing plates filled with breakfast sandwiches and hashbrowns put a song in my heart and made my ears quiver in anticipation of the blessed silence that would follow the filling of mouths with food. And then, in a drawn out, deep voice, just like a slo-mo scene in a horror movie, the server said, “Nice dogs. How do you get them to behave so well?” And she was off. The Lab was a bad dog. Always had been, and unless her husband invested in some testicular fortitude, he always would be. Again, this is the beautiful dog happily accepting all the petting and ear-tugging the folks walking by could dish out. Yep, that boy obviously belonged in a junk yard.

Then came the reasons why the Golden Retriever was, and always would be, such a good girl. I kind of thought it was because she had such a wonderful owner (wink, wink, wink), but it turns out the explanation was much more involved than that. It seems that this dog was genetically bred to always follow her owner’s commands exactly and without question. Some DNA process, it seems, available only to a certain few people, made this possible. Then, just to make sure the dog would never be distracted by a squirrel or stop to exchange a friendly butt-sniff with another canine, this lady took the mother-dog to her church, lit a candle, had God reach down from Heaven, insert His hands into the womb, gently touch the little puppy-zygote, and anoint it a Perfect Dog.

Yep, we’re talking Lassie and Rin Tin Tin all rolled into one and injected with steroids. Even with Cujo for backup, the Baskervilles’ hound would rightly quiver in her golden presence. I can’t be sure, since so much information was flying around, but I’m pretty sure this dog’s hair was allergen free and her poop smelled like bacon, too. The poor server was suitably impressed, but, unfortunately, none too bright. Instead of scuttling away and hiding behind the counter inside the shop, he asked another question. I hung my head and wept.

And then, salvation! A couple sauntered up to the fence separating the tables from the sidewalk. One of them held a leash. It took a second to find the tiny little bit of Canis lupus familiaris pulling at the other end, but then it squeaked. Or barked, I guess. Anyway, whatever that noise was, it was fearsome and full of malice, and it finally got the attention of Yin and Yang sitting under the table.

Funny thing about those two dogs. The bad, horrible, patience-trying Black Lab whined and looked up at his human, but stayed put. The angelic Golden Retriever, thkarmaat picture of perfection, a veritable canine Virgin Mary, bolted for the sidewalk. She almost made it, but her leash, still tied around the table leg, slowed her down just as the table launched into the air and started throwing food, silverware, plates, and coffee cups at her.  And then, even worse, the table started chasing her! To top it off, if her human had screeched any higher, only the dog would have been able to hear her (oh, how blessed that would have been). The poor girl spent a few seconds looking back and forth between her owner and the little demon of a wiener dog before taking off in the opposite direction. I don’t know how far she would have run if the table hadn’t gotten wedged in the gate, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have stopped until she was out of Texas.

I looked to make sure she was okay, which she was, whether she knew it or not. Then I looked over at her owner and, knowing that karma was watching, pen poised over her pad, I laughed. I don’t mean I chuckled a little, or hid my smirk behind my hand. I threw my head back and laughed until I sounded like the little wiener dog getting all jiggy on the sidewalk. The lady was covered with egg and cheese and mayonnaise and coffee, and she was yelling at the poor Golden Retriever as hard as she could go. I might have been offended by her tone, but since it was the first time the dog had ever been yelled at in her entire life, I figured she would probably survive.

The couple didn’t finish their meal, though the dogs enjoyed it an awful lot, at least until they were marched away to the rhythm of a good, solid scolding. As they all disappeared around the corner and I got back to my work, I realized that this one’s going to come back and bite me  one day. Who knows, though? Sometimes karma is generous, and Benji was filmed just a couple of blocks away from where I sat that morning. Maybe karma will be kind. I can see it now – Golden Retriever Gone Wild! Anybody know how to write a screenplay?