Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Ghost Story: if there was ever a time to tell it...


If you had asked me 10 years ago if I believed in ghosts, I’d probably be giving you the same look you’re giving this blog right now.  I’d freely admit to slurping up stories of bloodsucking vampires from Salem’s Lot, American werewolves in London and anything Dr. Frankenstein could cook up.  I love mummies who aren’t wrapped too tight, and I dig that that crafty witch who lived in the Blair Woods & terrorized those young filmmakers, I’d ask her to make a stick-man for me.  But ghosts?  Nothing to ‘em. 

The older I get though, the more I wonder if that quote from ‘The Others’ could be the real deal:  “The world of the living sometimes gets mixed up with the world of the dead”.

Listen, I know I’m just following a trend.  Cable channels run rampant with all of those so-called paranormal shows like “Ghost Adventures”, “Paranormal State” & “My Ghost Story” and yes I’m a sucker for most of them.  They make me examine my own surroundings a bit more suspiciously--ghosts in my apartment building?  Why not?  It may not be Lizzie Borden’s house or a 1930s mental hospital, but in the 15 years I’ve lived here I’ve seen six or seven apartments come up for rent after tenants left who didn’t exactly move across town, if you get my drift. 

(Yes, I’ve seen some bodies wheeled out of here!)

And in that time, I’ve experienced a few occurrences here that gave me pause.  One late night while folding laundry in the basement, I distinctly felt the presence of someone standing behind me—yet when I turned around, no one was there.  And last winter while sleeping on my sofa one evening, I had my back to the room & felt someone’s fingers graze my neck, up & down a couple times.  I laid there paralyzed with fear.  I’m not making this up!  

But perhaps the strangest experience was something that occurred almost a decade ago; it still gives me the chills when I think about it.

 The Mystery of Mrs. Kenney & Her  Must See Television

When I moved in this building in the fall of ‘94, one of the first people that introduced themselves to me was my neighbor in #404, Mrs. Kenney.  She told me she had lived here since the place was built in 1972, and had been retired for several years.  I knew she didn’t go out much, as I always heard her tv when I passed her door in the morning on my way to work or at night when coming home; and sometimes I could hear it faintly if I went to bed early, muffled by the firewall that separated my bedroom from hers.

It was sometime in early 2001 when her apartment went silent, and I thought nothing of it until one day when I was getting my mail and another neighbor asked me if I had heard about Mrs. Kenney.  She had suffered a stroke or heart attack (or both) and was staying with her daughter and son-in-law until she got better.  Oh how awful, okay.  And for the next couple weeks, I heard nothing more.

Then one Sunday night after climbing into bed I heard her tv again.  It was louder than usual, and while I was glad she was well enough to come home, I wondered if the stroke had affected her hearing.  I was tempted to get out of bed, walk down the hall & remind her that some of us still had to get up for work in the morning, but I eventually fell asleep. 

The following day after work, I was on the bus when my other neighbor Sue (who also worked downtown) approached me and asked if I heard about Mrs. Kenney.  I said “yes yes, I know; she’s home, she had her tv cranked up pretty loud last night.” 

Sue gave me a funny look and said I must be mistaken.  She told me Mrs. Kenney had died over the weekend, in her daughter’s house.  I said that couldn’t be, I was tired and cranky from a poor night’s sleep because of that damn tv.  Sue said “I’ll bet you have a new neighbor, probably another old lady who’s hard of hearing.”   Aw no!

I wasn’t going to say anything further about it, but when we got home our maintenance man Mike was in the lobby, washing the front windows.  I asked him if he’d heard about Mrs. Kenney (yes) and was there a new tenant (not yet).  I said “Well, someone was in her place last night, watching tv.  LOUD.”  He said “Doug that can’t be.”  I told him it wasn’t my imagination, and he said “Come with me.” 

We came upstairs and he opened Mrs. Kenney’s door.  And aside from some stains on the carpet & a roll of paper towels on the kitchen counter, the entire apartment was empty.  I mean BARE.  I said “Wait, when did everything get moved out?”   Mike said “Doug, they moved everything out of here over a week ago, her daughter said she wasn’t coming back.”

Like I said earlier, that was almost a decade ago but I remember it like it was yesterday; I was never able to figure out where that tv was coming from.  And a month or so later, someone did move into that apartment, a creepy psychologist who painted the walls dark brown and lives here still; he stands in the back parking lot and chain smokes beside his car every night for a half hour before coming inside.  (As for a television, I don’t think he even owns one.)

I’ve been tempted sometimes to ask if he’s ever noticed anything peculiar over there, but I’m sure he deals with enough people hearing voices—or televisons!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The old man had it right all along—I’m taking the pledge today


Last night on the news I heard an alarming statistic:  “We have not seen unemployment rates this high, or this consistent, since the Great Depression.”  Of course that’s no surprise to anyone in this Information Age (let alone the frightening number of people out there desperate for work) but it still made me sit up and take notice. 

I had just gotten home from work, feeling grumpy because the city has half of Rt.65 torn up & my bus route now includes a LONG detour. 

Poor me, I had to sit in traffic an extra 20-30 minutes... I was reminded of how fortunate I am that I was on that bus in the first place.

I’ll be honest here, I’m not fond of discussing current events on the teepee.  It’s not that I don’t care about Greece’s failing economy, the flooding in Florida or Jennifer Aniston’s latest heartbreak, I just feel it’s a waste of time to rehash that stuff here unless I’m able to put a personal spin on it.   But lately I’ve been really caught up with the nightly news, in particular ‘ABC News with Diane Sawyer’.  They’re not just reporting national or global events, they’re using their platform to MAKE the news. 

It all started a few months ago when they jokingly reported that in our nations capital, the Smithsonian Museum’s souvenir shop (funded with taxpayer money) didn’t sell a single item that was made in America.   When the museum was asked why, they didn’t go into a defensive posture—they admitted it was true, apologized and made a pledge to sell ‘Made in America’ merchandise. 

Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer pushes ‘Made in America’;  what’s not to love about this woman?

And that was just for starters—since then, ABC News has gone after retail giants, college catalogs & construction companies, and showed them that for every item they import from China, there is a comparable (or better quality) product made right here in America, and usually for the same price or less.  They reported that if home construction companies used just 5% more materials manufactured in America, it would add a staggering QUARTER MILLION “liveable wage” jobs to our economy.  They’re even distributing detailed lists of American suppliers ready to help these construction companies with all their material needs, everything from nails to kitchen sinks!   And all made right here in the “good ol’ USA”. 

I wish my dad was alive to see this, as this was his mantra for as long as I can remember, long before it became “the thing to do”.  In the early-mid 80’s, when I worked in the lumber & Home Improvements department at our local Murphy’s Mart, my dad often came in for supplies to take advantage of my 15% Employee Discount. 

My dad in the early 1980s, on a plastering job

Besides working in coal shaft construction or playing music, he hung drywall, did plastering & other home construction or repair.  (With 6 kids and the mines on strike half the time, he and Mom still had a lot of mouths to feed.)

Anyway, I’ll never forget one particular exchange in the store that got the attention of my manager and a group of other customers.

DAD:  I’m going to need 10 sheets of that sheet rock, a pound of shank nails & a drywall hammer.  You better grab me a new trowel while you’re at it.

ME (after getting everything):  Okay Dad, anything else?

DAD (holding up the hammer):  Where’d you get this?

ME:  Um, right over there in aisle 3. 

DAD:  Boy I didn’t mean IN THE STORE—where’d this come from?  This sticker says “Made in Malaysia”. 

ME:  Those are all we have—they’re just as good & I bet they’re cheaper too.

DAD:  I don’t care if you’re GIVING them away.  Go find me one that says “Made in the USA”.

ME:   Dad, these aren’t regular hammers—c’mon just take this one… you’re embarrassing me.

DAD:  You SHOULD be!  You want me to take my business elsewhere??

Luckily my manager Jim Carney was nearby, overheard the exchange, called the hardware store in town & located a drywall hammer for my dad--he even drove up there and picked it up.  Afterwards when I apologized to my boss for my dad’s stubbornness, he said “Doug, I think your dad was right.”  I really appreciated Mr. Carney for that, and ultimately respected my old man more for it too.

So Dad, good for you—and for the record, I plan to start looking at the label first the next time I buy something.  I mean it.