I interviewed the band Best Coast for Chicago’s Innerview Magazine.
I interviewed the band Best Coast for Chicago’s Innerview Magazine.
Putting on my shoes earlier that morning, the sense of dread came over me so powerful, I nearly listened to what my conscience told me: Don’t leave the house. I liked the emotion of something within trying to steer me in a certain direction, but I didn’t trust it enough to go along with it. I was on my way towards downtown Chicago get a free haircut at a very stylish, expensive salon. It would be inconvenient to wait a couple more weeks until I went home to Michigan where my mom, an unprofessional hair stylist would cut it like she had since I was a little girl. Hair styling students always needed hair to practice on, and I was a willing participant, never experiencing the feeling of my looks being molded by someone with flashy jeans more expensive than my rent.
On the train going downtown, again, the feeling worsened. I stood up and leaned against the pole, deciding what to do. I’ll get off at this next stop and get on the other train to go back home. I hated that I was giving up on getting something free, something I needed, but the feeling of doom loomed thick in my mind. When the train stopped, as I inched my way through the dense litter of commuters, a flood of new people got onto the train. Rush hour. It was only going to get worse. I got pushed to the back of the train.
Moments later, I sat down in the barber chair at the fancy hair salon. I couldn’t help but compare the atmosphere to that of the fashion model world in the film Zoolander. Music boomed out of mysteriously absent speakers. Everything was either white or black. A stylish model with intense makeup refilled the shampoo stock on the walls, her abrasively high heels clacking on the floor as she reached her boney arms up to the top of the shelf. My hair stylist wore a jet black apron that matched her black, skin tight pants and grey top, her thin belly exposing the only light colors she wore. She didn’t smile when she introduced herself, but expressed her appreciation for my letting her “experiment” on my hair. Of course she was joking. She knew exactly what she was doing, and even though she was still a student, since it was such an exclusive company she worked for, what she did to my hair that day would be the best hair cut I would get in my life.
My phone buzzed. I looked at my hair stylist. She looked back with a blank look, which expressed exactly what she meant for it to say.
“Sorry, I’ll put it on silent.” I put my phone back into my bag on the floor and let the trimming begin.
She stared intensely at the tendrils of my hair as she made her way around my head with her scissors. Once, twice, three times she brushed her comb over the same spot to make sure she got every last piece of mismatched blond string. I sat patiently in my chair, trying to not watch her intense brown eyes as she worked. I zoned out and thought about what I wanted to get done that day. She started cutting my hair at 10 a.m., so that meant I had until 11:30 a.m. to get home before I had to go to work. I absolutely had to be on my bike, riding to work at twelve p.m. I knew I had time until then, but being very punctual is important to me to the point where the only kind of nightmares I have are ones where I’m late to something.
“Okay, I need to have my instructor come here and take a look before I can continue,” she said to me when she was done. The haircut looked great. She waved over to a man who looked about forty, but wore the kinds of expensive jeans (with “naturally torn” holes and big ugly swirl designs on the butt cheeks) that he wore to make him look younger.
“Okay, what do we have going here?” He said to the hairstylist, ignoring me.
“I’ve trimmed her up, and now I’m going to start with a graduated bob,” she informed him. He nodded his head, and gripped the tips of his fingers to the top of my head and turned my head to the side. He took the comb from her hand and inspected the edges of my hair in a way that reminded me of being in fifth grade watching my mother in the mirror search for lice on my scalp with the same precision and attention.
“You’ve got a couple of spots here, and here. Have you done the side swipe test yet?” He looked intently at her, and when she didn’t respond, racking her brain trying to remember what the side swipe test was, he explained it to her. “You need to swipe the comb this way, and then then this way.” He swooped the comb from left to right, and then right to left. He handed the comb back to my hairstylist and she continued with the cutting. And then I realized something.
“So, if what you just did wasn’t the actual haircut, what was it?” I inquired. She had cut four inches off my hair, and spent at least an hour doing it. The detail she put into simply cutting off the length needed for the haircut seemed a little absurd.
“I’m simply getting your hair ready for the haircut,” she stated.
On the back of my neck sprouted one single dot of sweat. I searched for a clock, being careful not to move my head. Blank walls.
“Um, what time is it?” I asked the stylist, trying to steady my voice.
“It’s … (checking her watch) eleven,” she told me. She had spent exactly one hour doing something I could accomplish in fifteen seconds. Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip. Four inches off, just like that. How did it take her an hour do accomplish the same feat? Is this why so many people paid large amounts of money to get their hair cut here?
“I’m sorry, I have to get to w—“ I squeak out.
“Hold on, I need to get my supervisor before I can go to the next stage,” she interrupted rudely. She walked away and when Mr. Fancy Jeans supervisor caught her eye, he held up a “one moment, please” finger to the panicked stylist he was speaking to and walked over to me.
“Yes, the side swipes look very good,” he said to my hair stylist. My heart started beating at a slightly faster pace now.
“It-it doesn’t have to be perfect,” I managed to say. I needed to leave, now. These freaks are terrifying me. The supervisor stopped side swiping, slowly set his hands on my shoulders and look at me in the mirror.
“WE STRIVE ON PERFECTION HERE. IF YOU DON’T WANT PERFECTION, GO TO SUPERCUTS,” he sharply retorted. I stared at him, eyebrows raised. He lowered his shoulders, put on a fake smile, and continued hassling with my hair. “I’m sorry, was that rude?”
“Yes, it was,” I said, looking to the side, avoiding eye contact. He gave permission to continue the haircut after addressing whatever my hairstylist was having a problem with. I watched her now as she cut my hair, seeing bits of frustration in her facial expressions. I can’t tell if she was mad at me or the supervisor for having her go over the same bits of hair over and over.
“How long do you think this is going to take?” I said after some time in silence between us. I wanted her to cool down before I chose to tell to her I was getting worried. She sighed, but didn’t look at me in the mirror.
“As long as it takes,” she answered bitterly. I didn’t say anything. Then, after another block of time, “this salon is very prestigious, you know.”
After a pause, I said: “oh?”
“People spend a lot of money here because they know they’re getting the best hair cut they could ever want. It’s extremely hard to get into the styling school here, and when you graduate—if you graduate—you’ll never have to worry about finding another job the rest of your working career. The students here are top notch, and it’s strict. I’ve been here for two years already, and I have another four before I can graduate. Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll work at this very salon. I’ve already made friends here, and I just love the atmosphere.” Shallow co-workers, no warmth whatsoever in the color scheme, frigid bosses. Sounds nice, I thought. She’s trying to tell me how and why her boss needed to be ridiculous.
I wonder if she sensed my fright. Or could she see my neck sweat? I was as antsy as a little kid on their mother’s lap during a church sermon. What time is it now? I needed to get back home, get my bike, and leave immediately to get to work. I work by myself, so there is never a distinct fear of being late, but just knowing that she could pop in if she wanted to makes me nervous. It seemed like the sort of thing my boss would do on a day like today, knowing my luck. Relax. You’ll just be a little late. Deal with it. I’ve tried in the past to be late to things, but I go a little crazy in the process. I’ve accepted that this is the things that makes me seem crazy to other people.
Sitting in that barber’s chair, my blood raced through my veins. I heard my heartbeat in my ears. The stylist, acting calm since her supervisor hadn’t bothered her for a while, took her good ole’ time now. If I left in the middle of this haircut, would people notice? Would it be that obvious that half of my head is a different length from the other? I don’t have that much hair, so I couldn’t understand why it took so long to cut it. My anxious feelings built up within me until finally, I crashed.
I took a deep breath and I accepted my fate. I’m going to lose my job today, I thought. I will need to look for a new job tomorrow. I’ll have to ask someone to help me out with rent this month, and hopefully I’ll have a job in enough time to pay for next month’s rent. Just like someone who has gone through a traumatic event and has blocked it out of their memory, my own mind shut down and decided that there was nothing I could do. I was surrounded by people who thought my hair is being blessed right now. I looked at those around me. They are in an entirely different world—one where shallow things like this matter, and the place you get your hair cut has a lot to do with your social status. Yeah, this’ll probably be the best haircut I get, but I don’t care. It always comes out looking the same, and in a couple of weeks, it’ll look uneven again and I’ll have to get it cut again.
“Alright, we’re finished,” she stated coldly. She seemed about as done with this haircut as I was. Maybe I was being dramatic when I thought that my boss would somehow find out that I was late to work. At the most, I’d be a half hour late, arriving at 12:30 which is still terrible, but manageable. I’m not going to lose my job, I’m just being overly worrisome. I over dramatize things like this all the time and I’m sure this time won’t be any different. I gave her a brisk “thank you” and ran out the door, heading across the street to the train stop.
I took my phone out of my bag as I waited for my train. I took a deep breath and turned it on.
It was 1:30 pm, and I had 19 missed calls, most of whom were from my boss. My gut instantly turned 180 degrees and I tightened it mechanically as if someone had punched me.
The other missed calls were from my roommates. I had several texts, some from my boss (“Karen, you need to call me right now. I’m worried!”) and some from my roommates (“This phone is lost. If you are the one who found it, please return it to…”).
I got on the train and stared at the floor as we moved through the various Chicago neighborhoods towards my home. Maybe I could tell her that I was just getting a haircut. She’ll forgive me because I told her the truth, and she could see that i’ve already been through so much this morning. I thought about this idea. My boss, in the three weeks that I’ve worked for her, came off as a very unforgiving person. She loves firing people (and telling her other employees about who has been fired) even though she hates interviewing for new positions. In the handful of times that I’ve met her, she had already told me several stories about how people had done her wrong and how she was forced to handle it. I knew that if I told her the truth, that I was held captive by my hairdresser and wasn’t allowed to leave my chair for 3 ½ hours, she wouldn’t lose a breath to tell me I was done.
I hated that I had to potentially lie to my boss. Because once you lie to your boss, at a new job, you’re going to have to carry that lie with you until you don’t have that job anymore. And since I was lying in order to keep my job, I knew it had to be good. I had to channel all the acting lessons I obtained in high school drama class. I thought up the details of my lie for the rest of the train ride back home. I tried to think of little pockets of information that she could possibly think of to ask me about my disappearance.
At my stop, I walked off the train platform and made my way down the stairs onto the street. I took a little alleyway to a parking lot where I’d make the call. It’ll be more believable if I can call from somewhere with noise, so it looks like I called her as soon as I humanly could.
As the phone rang, I felt my anxiety start to pace faster within me. Part of it was nervousness, but anger (at the hairdresser), sadness (at the possibility of my losing my job if this doesn’t go the way I want it to), and tension (at the fact that I was late to something, therefore living out a reoccurring nightmare of mine) all built up in my chest in those last moments before she picked up the phone, and somewhere in that mess of bad emotions I found confidence. And I knew that if I could make this story so ridiculous–so far-fetched–that she might not call my bluff.
“KAREN?!” my bosses voice burst through the speaker on my phone. “Are you okay?!”
“Hi.” I said, in a short, quiet voice. Don’t give it all to her right now. Let her suspect the worse.
“Are you okay?! Are you hurt? Are you in danger?” she itched for more.
Pause, and then: “I’m okay?” I let it out in a squeaky questioned tone.
And then I let it all out of me.
I let that emotion, the tension, the sadness, the anger, and anxiety flow out of my mouth. I started sobbing, but in the way that someone having a panic attack would try to do it. Short, staccato gasps of air between whining and crying for a good ten seconds before I continued. I paced around the parking lot, and hoped that no one was watching me. Being in a big city, people usually just ignored situations like this anyway.
“What happened, Karen? Did you get hurt? TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED!” She stressed. She’s very concerned for me. For a moment, I thought that she was mothering me, like she would’ve held me in her big arms if we were face to face, which thankfully, we were not.
I closed my eyes for a moment, then continued. Here goes nothing.
“I…SAW SOMEONE GET STABBED!” I exclaimed.
I heared my boss gasp on the line. “What!?”
“I was riding my bike this morning before work,” I stuttered. “…there was an alley way…a guy was there, and another guy… I had to call 911…” I paused for a few sobs the way a radio station pauses for station identification. “I had to go in the emergency vehicle, and then the cops took me to get interviewed.” I remembered I had to tell her how I couldn’t get to my phone, too. “And then, they had me in this room and I couldn’t have any of my stuff in there, and so I couldn’t call or anything!” I cried.
I remembered the sort of stories the newspapers were running lately: all stories about how the crime in Chicago is getting worse. Fourteen people had been shot or stabbed the weekend of Fourth of July, so telling this story about witnessing a stabbing didn’t seem that far fledged in my mind. I felt like it could have possibly happened.
“Karen, I’m sooo glad you’re ok! I’ve been so worried about you! I got a phone call from one of our clients telling me that you didn’t show up to meet them, and when I called you and you didn’t answer, I suspected the worse! Oh man, I’m just glad you’re safe!” She seemed better now, and luckily for me, it seemed like she bought the story. The emotional crying, I think, was really what did it. I was actually quite surprised and proud of myself, but now was not the time to think about that.
“I’ve been crying all morning, and I’m just so emotionally drained,” I said.
“You really need to call your roommates. They are worried sick about you. I’ve been talking to them all morning. Neither of them saw you leave the house today, and they don’t know what to do. I just talked to one of your roommates, and I think she might be talking to your mom right now, actually.”
Oh no. This is getting a little out of hand. I knew my roommates must have known something because they had also tried getting a hold of me, but calling my mom was a different ballgame. Now the word is getting out there that I’m missing, and I don’t want my family to suffer because of something stupid I did.
“Take the rest of the day off, and I’ll call you later to see how you’re feeling,” she consoled me. I sobbed some more and said “Okay” and hung up the phone.
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. The difficult part is over. I dialed my roommate, Lilly’s, number. Busy signal. She must be talking to my mom on the phone still. I hung up and dialed my other roommate, Rachel. She picked up after the first ring.
“Karen! Are you okay?” She yelled.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m not in any danger. I’m in the parking lot next to the train stop but I’ll be home in a minute and then I’ll explain everything.”
As I biked the few blocks back to my house, I debated whether or not I should tell them the truth or the same story I told my boss. It seemed to work on her, but my roommates are my friends. They had clearly been through some emotional toil this morning over my bad judgment, so they will, no doubt, be mad at me. I decided to tell them the truth, because if I can’t, then that’s just another lie I had to keep locked inside of me for as long as I know them.
I parked my bike on the front gate as my roommates opened the front door for me.
“What happened?” Lilly exclaimed.
I quietly walked past them, into the apartment and sat on the couch, making sure not to expose my new haircut by taking my bike helmet off. I decided to go through the drama of the morning very slowly.
“I woke up with a bad feeling this morning,” I started to explain. I didn’t want to give away anything before its proper time, and I definitely didn’t want to flat out say “I was getting a haircut!” because they might have executed me right then and there if I had. I told them about the bad feeling I had on the train, and how the stylist’s supervisor got snotty with me when I tried to tell him that I needed to leave, and how they made me feel like I couldn’t leave because I was very privileged to have them cut my hair. I told them about how I had to sit in that chair for 3 ½ hours, dreading each moment as I became more and more tardy for work.
I saw it dawning on my roommates that this was a story about me getting a lousy haircut, and that I was never remotely in any sort of danger, and that their worrying was for absolutely nothing.
“Your boss called me this morning when she hadn’t heard from you. We ransacked your room, trying to find clues as to where you might have been,” Lilly explained to me. “We were on our way out the front door to go to the hospital to see if any unidentified victims had come in when you finally called us.” My stomach churned out of dread.
After some time, they calmed down enough and our nerves eventually went back to regular functioning. I called my mom and luckily she wasn’t that scared or upset (mostly because I had only been missing three hours). I don’t blame her.
Luckily, my roommates and I (plus various family members and friends who have heard the story) can laugh about the ordeal now. I went back to work the next day, and one of the first things we did as a household was make a list of our emergency contact numbers so that in case one of us actually does go missing, no one’s bedroom will get ransacked.
“…And over there is the Felt Mansion,” My dad said as we turned onto the main road in Saugatuck. “I took a ghost tour of the grounds while they were renovating the place. Pretty spooooky.”
“What! And you didn’t bring me? I exclaimed. He knew that I thought haunted houses were cool.
“Well, I wasn’t planning on going, I just happened to remember that it was here. Maybe we can check it out later,” he added.
I think dad felt pity for me. My sisters and some family friends were going on a canoe trip today, but I wasn’t able to go because I had a summer class that morning and it was an all-day trip. My dad suggested that he and I drive down to Saugatuck for the day and ride the dune buggies and hang out on the beach. I thought it was a nice gesture because I never hang out solely with my dad.
“What do you want to do first?” My dad asked, changing the subject.
“I need to eat something, and then I think we should go on a dune buggy ride. Maybe walk around downtown, too?” I suggested. Saugatuck was a beach town, and there were a handful of tourist shops (the best you could get was a vintage store with weird stuff a poor soul donated so long ago that it’s been an antique two times over) among a large amount of uncreative, boring “painted seashell” shops (the kind that always seems to have white seashells as part of their décor. They exclusively sell beach-themed soap or ugly towels).
We found a Marilyn Monroe-themed diner and talked about when Dad went to the Felt Mansion over sandwiches.
“The tour guide said that the jail and slave quarters next to the mansion was where most of the hauntings occurred, but there had been sightings of ghosts upstairs in the bedroom area, too,” dad described. “The jail that was on site is now torn down, but mysterious reasons for doing so,” he raised his hands, imitating a ghost trying to frighten someone.
“I once watched a presentation by some ghost hunters who spent a night at the Felt Mansion,” I chimed in. “And they showed a video of doors opening and closings and this big, open ballroom on the top floor had strange sounds coming from it all night.
“Another man at the presentation talked of a moment when he was standing in the doorway to the mansion, looking out onto the garden. He watched one of the other ghost hunters standing, presumably talking, to the gardener. Later on, when the guy asked him what the gardener had to say about the mansion, all he responded was ‘what gardener? I was by myself.’ HE WAS BY HIMSELF BUT A GHOST WAS JUST CHILLIN’ NEXT TO HIM, DAD!” I exclaimed.
I looked around at the diner, a Marilyn Monroe cut-out listening too intently to our conversation. We finished our sandwiches and drove to the dune buggy shop.
“Do you know about the melon heads, dad?” I said as we drove in the car.
My dad tilted his head. “A little bit,” he said, unsure of what he remembered.
“It’s an urban legend about the mansion. Apparently these ‘feral mutants’ with disfigured heads used to live in the mansion, or somewhere nearby, at an insane asylum, but when funding stopped coming in, they were released out into the world. Stories exist of people camping in the woods around the mansion who’ve gotten killed by the melon heads—said they’re so crazy and hungry that they’ll cut right through the tent and kill whatever they please.”
Since my dad first mentioned the Felt Mansion, I really wanted to visit. The tales left me shaking on more than one occurrence when driving around at night in these backwoods with my friends.
After the planned activities of the day were done, we made our way down the quiet road towards the mansion.
“I can’t imagine that they give the ghost tours too late in the day, so I hope we can still make it,” I said. It got to be around dinner time, and nothing in this area stayed open too late.
We passed a sign: “FELT MANSION—TWO MILES WEST.” We turned left and continued down the empty road. I got a nervous feeling in my stomach, the kind you get when you can’t stop watching a scary movie.
After the road turned into what seemed like a driveway, we came upon another sign: “FELT MANSION: CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.” Under that were pink balloons and a homemade sign that read: “HARMONY/BLECKER WEDDING.”
“Dad! It’s closed. I said, disappointed.
“Let me at least show you one thing,” he responded.
We turned the corner around some trees and came face to face with the mansion. It stood atop a hill, several of its ominous windows facing us. From our view, it looked to have three floors and a basement. I imagined the ballroom I saw from the ghost hunter videos through the tall top windows, and the bedrooms on the middle floor. It was a dull red brick building, with a large porch that spanned almost the entire length of the mansion. As we drove closer, we saw a patio & garden area that lead to the other side of the building. Dad parked on the side of the hill.
From our view, I saw a DJ unpacking his equipment for, what I assume was, the reception to the wedding. Outside people set up wine glasses at tables, and large color lights and a disco ball were placed over the cement patio next to a plastic square dance floor. It seemed out of place for me after hearing so much about the horrible things that happened in this place. How inappropriate to have a wedding where so much suffering occurred.
“Dad, I don’t think we should go over there, we’re interrupting the wedding,” I said hesitantly.
“The wedding hasn’t started yet, Karen.”
He climbed up the grass hill that the mansion stood on and walked over to the wedding area. Silently, we walked down the aisle, past the chairs the guests will sit, towards the pond where the happy couple, I assumed, would be married.
Still saying nothing, I followed my dad as he left the pond and walked towards the giant mansion. Ok, we’re probably just going to walk the perimeter of the house. That would be ok, right? Can any of these people tell that we’re not here for the wedding?
I looked up to see what my dad was wearing, but noticed that he had turned and was making his way towards the main door to the mansion. Oh no. We are not going in there.
He reached for the front door, turning the knob to test if it was open.
Inside was a fury of action. People walked every which way. Someone carried the wedding cake from one room to the next. A man in a tux fixed his bowtie as an older woman in an expensive looking outfit followed him, her hands flying in the air as she yelled at him. To my right was a room with a large, long dinner table in it, the table set, but clearly just for decoration. I could see the kitchen through that room with many people in catering uniforms who bustled about.
To my left was a large staircase that curved up onto the second floor. A flower girl in a yellow dress hopped down each step with her mother trying to brush her hair quickly behind her. Other rooms led to other places, each one with fancy people occupied with planning.
I caught snippets of conversations among everyone moving about, all presumably getting ready for the wedding. I looked at my dad as I saw him peer up the long staircase. I knew what he thought. Before I could advise against it, another man in a tuxedo answered his question.
The man in the tux walked towards the staircase, took a step up, and paused. He saw the flower girl and her mother come down the stairs.
“Oh, are we allowed to go up there?”
“Yeah, come on up. It’s really fancy and dated to the time period,” the mother responded.
We followed the man in the tux up the stairs, unnoticed. The second floor was only a long creepy hallway that led both ways with doors every twenty five feet. It was much quieter on this floor, like we were in a museum. Most of the commotion was on the first floor which echoed up to where we stood.
On each door in the hallway was a name.
“This one says ‘Elizabeth,’” I said to my dad.
“This one is “Agnes.”
“That’s … not creepy at all,” I said back sarcastically.
I opened the door and found a bedroom in pristine condition. It seemed as if it hadn’t been touched since the 1930’s, and someone had taken a lot of care in keeping it traditional. The wooden floor creaked as I walked towards the bed. The blankets were thinning from use, but weren’t tattered or smelly. I got a dark feeling being in the room, like the spirit of Elizabeth was watching me from the beyond.
“Hey Karen, come here,” my dad peeked his head in the room.
I followed directly behind him as we crept down the hall quietly. The further we went down the hall, the more eerie I felt. Old houses hold noise well and it felt strange knowing there were a lot of people in the house but not actually hearing them now. My dad deliberately crept along and stopped before an open door to a room at the end of the hall. He peeked his head into the room. I watched the back of his head as he leaned in, not knowing what he was seeing. Was this one of the most haunted rooms in the house? Was there some tidbit about this particular room that he wanted to tell me, but had to make sure the coast is clear of ghosts first?
Dad pulls his neck back and looks at me. I look back at him with a mixture of fear and curiosity on my face.
“This room,” he said in a normal speaking voice “is supposedly the room where the most ghost activity happens. This was the original owner’s bedroom back in the 1920’s, and some people claim to have seen a ghostly woman sitting in the rocking chair in the corner.” That piqued my interest. My dad walked passed me towards the way we came. I prepared myself to see something terrifying, or at least a little scary in that room. Would I be someone who saw the ghost? I tip-toed to the threshold of the room and slowly peaked in.
Inside were four bridesmaids in yellow dresses, already staring at me with angry looks on their faces. One has her hands on her hips, her lips pursed at what she just heard my dad say to me. They stood there in silence, all of them giving me the evil eye, but I could tell that they knew right away that our cover was blown and we were clearly trying to sneak into the house to find ghosts, not to attend the wedding.
“Uh, sorry,” I mutter. Before backing out of the room, I glanced behind the angry girls at a rocking chair in the corner near the window. Creepy, I thought.
Now that we had been discovered, we walked down the stairs at a faster pace, making sure to not be too noticeable, though. After exiting through the door we came in, we walked around the outside of the house. I saw the decrepit wooden building where they kept the servants, and on the other side of the mansion was a large dirt triangle where the jail used to stand, no doubt. After been given the shivers from the mansion itself, I was ready to leave.
For more information on the Felt Mansion: http://www.michigansotherside.com/index.php/paranormal/haunted-places-in-michigan/73-the-felt-mansion
My skin shifted on the sticky leather car seat as it curved left onto Main Street in the dinky town I would eventually call home for twenty years. It being only my eighth year into my run, though, I had yet to learn about the dangerous adventures I could encounter outside the reaches of my mom’s Pinto.
The car speakers bellowed the chorus from “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf through the dusty plastic speakers by my legs. Listening to the oldies station was still new to me, not having a history of thirty years with the song like my mom had. She kept the station on, though, and I sang along as if it was new. The song transitioned into the part when things get fuzzy and weird, the organ player going wild on his instrument while the guitar wailed in the background, clearly following no script. Later in life, I would skip over this stupid mayhem due to impatience and having had years of listening to it already, but now, in this car, it was fresh. The organ played on with persistence, and after the first thirty seconds, I asked my mother something I never question the validity of until I became a teenager a few years later.
“Why does the song have this long, boring part in it? All it is is them playing the organ over and over and it’s not interesting or fun to listen to at all.” I didn’t know much about the music business, but it seemed like someone would have noticed how long and boring the three and ½ minute jam session would be to listeners and would have given it the axe it before it was sent out into the world.
My mother looked over at me, no doubt trying to figure out how to answer. She opened her mouth to speak:
“In the sixties, when this song was first released, the organ had just been invented,” she informed me. “People were…really excited…about this invention, and how they were able to include it in their music, so they played the organ in songs like this to show off their talent for the instrument” she lied. I looked at my mom quizzically. She looked back at me. I turned and faced forward.
This actually made perfect sense to me. I had taken piano lessons just a few years prior, and could understand how someone would love an instrument so much that they really wanted to show off their talent. I knew nothing of acid trips and the kind of effects it had on ones judgment of terrible music. In my clean mind I imagined the band members with their large afros (this was all I knew about fashion from the past—everyone had afros, no matter the decade) sitting around in chairs during a creative session in some anonymous studio, discovering the kind of sounds they could create with the organ. “Yeah, man! Listen to that! Wow, you really have a talent for that instrument! We should have an organ solo at the end of that new song to show all those other bands out there how better we are at playing the organ than them!” And then, in my mind, all the band members gave each other high-fives.
This answer appeased me, for the time being.
Years into the future, driving home from a punk show late at night, “Magic Carpet Ride” made its timeless appearance in my life once again. “….close your eyes, girl, look inside, girl, let the sound take you away….” The organ solo starts up again. I reach out to change the channel, but then stop. That conversation with my mom comes back to my memory, and I realized I had been duped. My mom just didn’t want me to know that these dudes were all on drugs! I pounded my palm on the steering wheel. The organ has been around way longer than the 1960’s. My mother is such a liar!
This really was the moment I realized that parents really had to lie to their young children in order to keep them from being exposed to the dark world too early in life. After thinking about it for a moment, it actually seemed humorous that my mom would make up that specific lie for my prying question. When I asked my mom about what she remembers saying about the history of the organ, all she did was laugh and say “I said that to you, really?”
I’m trying to make my way through the living room without stepping on any old pizza boxes, bird poop, or various forms of music (mostly cassettes and CD’s–records are treated like bricks of gold in this house).I’m alone, and I had just gotten up from the couch when I start hearing the opening bass line that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than Kim Deal’s catchy opening to “Gigantic,” a song that, up until that moment, was never that exciting to me.
The bass solo makes the candy wrappers on the floor vibrate. As I wondered if the band playing in the basement was just warming up, or if they really were starting off their set with a Pixies song, I hear a faint “ah AH!” (ala Black Francis) squeak out from the basement.
I look out the front window and I know right away that everyone on the porch hears it too, and are just as excited as I am. Everyone rushes into the dumpy rental house and makes their way to the basement where the show is happening. I’m the first down the stairs, and I stand in a spot right in front of the action.
The band is P.S. Eliot, who I loved even before I heard them play because I’ve always resonated too closely with fictional characters like J. Alfred Prufrock. By the time Paul was introduced in the song, I already knew what band I was going to blast the loudest from my speakers that summer.
I had already been a big Kim Deal fan before that day, but I always disliked The Pixies because they seemed too big within the punk community. I refused to listen to something so “mainstream.” I know, it was very stupid of me.
Oddly enough, I loved The Breeders, but I defended this among my friends by telling them that I knew and embraced that they were an MTV band. I feel pity for one boyfriend in particular, when I first discovered the album Last Splash by The Breeders, because we would lay on my bed, kissing or just talking, and i’d have “No Aloha” on repeat because I just couldn’t understand the dynamics of the song. I wanted to figure out what made the song so catchy. This was more important to me than kissing. Luckily one of the dynamics of that relationship was our love of discussing the poetry of songs, so he let this go on a bit longer than any other boyfriend would.
Getting mixtapes from people I didn’t know very well was exciting to me, because it was a way of really getting to know the inside of that person before knowing the outside. A dude wearing a leather studded jacket could make a mix with a quarter of the tracklist being Joe Cocker songs could really tell me about the soul of a person. I liked that I got little glimpses that the lay person may not know. Having the Pixies on your mix meant you were cool. You knew what’s up. In fact, when my friend was going to have a guy over to her house (her future husband), she called me in a panic, not knowing what music she should play in the background when he steps into the apartment for the first time (I love that I have friends who call me with these sort of problems). The answer was simple: “Put on the Pixies.” I said. She called me the next day and told me that she couldn’t call me that night because he had stayed over! She said “the first thing he said as he opened the door was ‘Is this the Pixies?'” They got married two years later, and I can’t help but think that my suggestion was what really cemented things between them.
So when I got a mix from my friend John (who at the time I was just getting to know), the Pixies song really impressed me. It was “Gouge Away,” and I was hooked immediately. It was the “Oooooooooo’s” I was first impressed with. This is a sex song. I must admit, though, that not knowing the lyrics made me think the song was way more sexy than it actually was. “Sleeping on your bed, you break my arm, you spoon my eyes…” and “chained to the pillows…” This was totally a sex song! These were fetishes I didn’t really want to know about, but I knew they must be sexy to someone!Do people really gouge each others eyes as foreplay? I was embarrassed for myself after I read the lyrics for the first time.
So now i’m slowing gaining more and more Pixies songs into my “like” category. The Pixies are kind of like Sonic Youth in that sense–you can’t just listen to an album without being prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. Especially if you’re used to listening to regular verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus songs that don’t have two minutes of noise in between each section.
“Do you know any words in Spanish?” Jesús yelled into my ear so I could hear him over the loud music playing in the cramped basement. His lips touching my ear made it warm for a moment with his breath. Nearly grazing the top of our heads above us was a large pipe with a scribbled cartoon of a goofy looking person about to chomp down on an equally detailed penis.
I don’t think Jesús knew that yelling in someone’s ear still makes everything very loud in their head. I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled in his direction “Beinvenido a Miami!” Jesús laughed, catching the Will Smith reference, but I wonder if he was really just trying to lay the ground work to make out with me later. “I’m going to get you a birthday cake sometime this weekend!” he said. “Next chance we get to go to a store. We have to celebrate somehow!” I told Jesús yesterday that it was my birthday today, but he was the only one who knew out of our group.
Usually when a band finishes up their set, everyone would make their way up the stairs onto the steamy main floor. On an end table was what looked to be a homemade Ouija board. I imagined it had been created with all the elements homemade Ouija boards are only ever made out of: boring Sunday afternoons in the Wisconsin winter + a wooden cutting board and a carving tool. It weighed two pounds.
In the kitchen, a guy with the body of a 19 year old but with a leathery face 30 years older was cooking up a roast beef. He took a sharp knife and slivered a small cut in the loaf, eyeing its pinkness. He was oblivious to the obnoxious drunk with the dreadlocks who occasionally bumped into him while playing a drinking game with his buddies nearby, nor the 100+ people around him; instead focusing in on his craft rather than joining in on the antics of the inebriated guests. I could only guess that having a punk band from Puerto Rico play in his basement that night was his roommate’s idea.
I had broken away from Jesús, already having made my way up the narrow stairs after a local metal band finished playing. Everyone uniformly made their way upstairs, breathing in the fresh smells of beef roast a vegetarian would have preferred over the stench of body odor and sweat the basement had been producing for a couple of hours now.
I found a spot on the couch next to a couple of dudes I didn’t know, a pile of uniquely black coats on the other side. I had never been to Madison, Wisconsin before, but I could definitely see a trend, though, in tonight’s show-goers: many of them had missing teeth. I don’t know if Madison was America’s meth hometown or if it was just these punk kids in particular who had a proclivity for the drug. It was the first time I saw young people with missing teeth–pretty girls, too. They chatted amongst themselves in the living room, a haze of smoke from their cigarettes floating in the air, unaware of my observing them. They smiled and laughed with each other as if proud of their addictions.
The floor hummed and vibrated with the noise of guitars being tuned, symbols rolling and drum heads tightened in the basement. That’s the sound everyone knows that means the music is about to start. We all uniformly walk down the stairs again and make our way to the front of the basement where Tropiezo, the Puerto Rican band i’m on tour with, is about to play.
I’ve found that most music lovers in the mid-west appreciate when bands from other countries visit their towns, so when Tropiezo starts their first song, the basement explodes with dancing and singing. We don’t always know the songs, especially when they’re in a different language, but certain cues can help you figure out what’s coming up next.
I try to snap a few pictures of Jesús so I can tell my friends back home about him, but every one I take has him looking down or away. I’ve booked shows in Grand Rapids for a couple of years now, and I think the fact that my being a female still surprises dudes when someone puts them in contact with me. Of course this line of work also gives me awesome opportunities like this one, driving bands from other countries around the U.S. in a rental van since none of them have American licenses. I would have never met these guys; or La Piovra from Italy, or other bands from the Czech Republic, Germany, or Japan. This is precisely how i’d like to celebrate my birthday.
The band finishes up and it’s the end of the show. One of the other bands that played that night has offered to let us stay at their house, which is very kind. Everyone wants to hang around and talk to Tropiezo about life in Puerto Rico, so i’m left sitting around with nothing to do for a while. It happens every night, but it’s nice to see these conversations happen. These discussions aren’t happening in front of computer screens and politics aren’t involved either. We talk about jokes we’ve played on our friends and compare them to how those same jokes play out somewhere else in the world. We listen to stories of tragedy first hand instead of through the TV.
Finally we pack the equipment into the van and drive to our host’s house. On the way there, the guys suddenly start singing “Feliz Cumpleanos” to me from the back of the van, belting out the traditional birthday song in spanish. It’s very touching and one of my favorite memories to this day.
When we get to our host’s house, the party is already in full swing. It’s been a long day for us, and we’d rather sleep than party, but we stay awake long enough for politeness. When the girls with the missing teeth show up, we know it’s time to go to bed.
Our host shows us to the cold basement, where his band practices, but also where we will be sleeping. Two walls are lined with amplifiers and we push the drum kit to the side in order to make room for seven of us. The floor is cement except for the carpeted space where the drums used to be. We start unrolling our sleeping bags and soon we look like little burritos all in a row. Jesús has just come back from the bathroom and reminds us that he doesn’t have a sleeping bag or pillow. He looks over to me and smiles.
“You can share my pillow but you’re gonna have to find your own blanket.” I say. Suddenly in the room directly above us, we hear what sounds to be the introductions to an H.P. Lovecraft audiobook on full volume. If I didn’t already think it was going to be a long night, I knew it now.
Jesús finds a blanket and shares my pillow, but is courteous enough to not touch my body with his. I put my earplugs in but can still hear the reverberated sounds of The Call of Cthulu all around me. After some time I realize that no one is really sleeping, only shivering quietly. This would be a great time to cuddle up to Jesús to share body heat, but I feel like the only reason I’d want to pursue anything with him was because he was from a different country, therefore way cooler than anyone I was interested in before. He’s more than likely on the same page as me. We know this relationship would go nowhere, and even though my friends would tell me to “go for it anyway,” I’ve never been that kind of person to have little flings with practical strangers.
When the first signs of light shine through the tiny window, I deem it appropriate enough to “wake up.” I cover myself with my sleeping bag and make my way upstairs. A couple of the guys who thought sleeping on the couches were awake, watching an episode of “Cops” on TV.
Slowly everyone woke up and congregated in the living room. We talked about how little sleep each one of us got compared to the others. One of the guys who slept upstairs said “I didn’t get to bed until four a.m., when those girls with the messed up teeth finally left. I definitely walked in on some people having sex in the bathroom also.” They laughed at their lack of sleep, knowing they could make it up in the van on the way to the next destination.
One of our hosts woke up and walked into the room. I asked him about the audiobook on full volume and he said “Oh, I could hear those girls laughing and being loud so I turned it up so I could sleep.” This logic didn’t make sense to me, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
We slowly packed up our sleeping gear and drove to the next stop on our tour. Every town was like a repeat of the night before, but somehow different and refreshing to me. I got to meet people who were excited to play in their bands, passionate about the zines they wrote, or even just happy to know others who are into the same weird things they’re into and be embraced in the imperfect little world we’d created.
At the end of tour, I hugged each one of the guys I’d spent such a concentrated amount of time with. They told me that they’d come back to the states as soon as they could and I told them that maybe I’d visit in Puerto Rico, but this was more just to help with saying goodbye. I knew that I’d probably never see them again, but I still felt content with what I had. It’s better to accept the truth than never say goodbye and feel unfinished.
When I was young enough to not know the different between “family bonding” and “this is not what normal people do bonding,” my dad brought home a large, foul smelling jar. He unveiled it like a magician pulling a bunny out of a hat. “Ha ha!” He cried. My mother was not amused.
What I found on the table between my parents was nothing I could have imagined existing in my world. In the large jar my father had revealed a dead piglet floating around in formaldehyde. I had never seen one (dead or alive, only full grown) in real life before, but I knew they existed in fairy tales and Disney movies. This thing in front of me was no ordinary piglet, though. As I scanned my eyes down its little pink body, I soon thought it was more appropriate for my nightmares rather than the Disney Channel. “Why does it look like that, dad?” This piglet had six legs. In cartoons they only ever had four. Though it had a normal looking head and average looking legs, it split apart halfway through its torso, giving it two sets of back hooves, each with its own little curly tail. It was gross and I thought I could smell it through a little crack at the top of the jar. Around this crack was what looked like dried foam, as if someone had discovered the crack and tried smearing some glue on it to seal it.
All the scary nightmares I doubted the validity of suddenly seemed not too impossible. If something like this can exist, what else is real in the world? I looked at the jar a little more closely now. I tapped on the glass with my finger. The piglet bobbed around lazily in the dim, golden liquid; pieces of (what I can only guess to be) matter from the pig lazily floating around forever with its host.
My dad loved playing pranks, and I soon found out that he got this piglet from my uncle and aunt who owned pigs on a farm. My dad was planning a prank on one of his co-workers. Unfortunately, he never told my sisters and me if the prank had actually gone well when we got home from school the next day, but instead pretended like the pig had never existed. The jar was nowhere to be found.
He didn’t mention anything about it at dinner, either. I could only imagine that my mother had given him an earful and was encouraged not to talk about it in front of impressionable young children.
I was surprised when, after dinner, I went down into the bathroom next to my room in the basement that no one used except my sister and me. This bathroom was the most unchartered in the house–it didn’t have a shower and all the wallpaper and carpet were outdated and old. My sister and I were the only ones to ever use that bathroom. As I turned on the light, I noticed that sitting atop the back of the toilet, patiently awaiting my visit, was the Siamese pig in a jar.
I was completely disgusted that it had somehow made its way there, on the toilet, no less. Why, of all the places in the house did it have to be there? Why was it still in the house? If I were older, I surely would have done something about it. I would have mentioned it to my mother (her being the voice of reason in my household), but I knew if I did, I would get my father in trouble (him being the likely suspect of putting it there to begin with, possibly as a joke for his impressionable daughters). I didn’t say anything.
The next morning the pig still waited for me in the bathroom, greeting me like an ally. “Hello darkness, my old friend…” I sang. Days turned into weeks into months. Nothing was being done about the removal of the pig from the toilet. Surely my parents knew about it but had forgotten about it since they never went downstairs except to go into our rooms.
I started seeing the object not as a dead fetus bobbing around in old formaldehyde, but as mere wallpaper, no longer noticing it when I used the bathroom. When I cleaned the counters and scrubbed the toilet, I made sure to spray glass cleaner on the jar to make it shine a little brighter than the dull gold liquids inside made it out to be.
This went on for a year.
My family was leaving to visit our aunt and uncle one weekend when, as we were walking out the door someone said, “Oh yeah, I think maybe we should return that pig. Don’t you think they want it back?” Un-climactically, someone grabbed it and thus, the year of the pig had ended.
It wasn’t until I had become an adult that I realized how strange the whole thing really was. This summer I was at a baby shower for a friend I’ve had most of my life when I brought up the subject to her: “Do you remember when my family had that dead Siamese pig in a jar on the back of the toilet downstairs at my house growing up?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, I do. That was disgusting and I don’t know why you had it on the back of your toilet. When I used the bathroom I would arch my back so that no part of my body would ever touch it.” She said.
Of course now that I’m older, I wonder why my parents kept that thing in our house for so long, even if it was in a place no one ever went. I guess it just goes to show how human beings can get used to such weird situations.
Song of the Week:
Sleeping in beds with people can be an awkward time. Like the first time you sleep over at your boyfriend or girlfriends house, its a hurdle you have to get over: you’re hairs a mess, you smell more than usual, and you probably farted a bunch. But once you’ve done it, its like you’ve taken a new step in the friendship.
I can’t help but be self-conscious when i sleep in beds with people. Now, I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about living-on-the-west-side-and-its-3-am-and-there’s-3 feet-of-snow-on-the-ground-and-you-only-have-thin-converses-to-walk-home-in situations.
Like when you’re in 7th grade: you spend the night with your kinda new friend, who just happens to live on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. You wake up a million times in the night because you’re sleeping in a water bed that your friend inherited from her parents when they got a clue and realized that waterbeds suck and aren’t comfortable at all. You wake up suffocating because you’re lodged between the side of the bed, and the sack of water that’s supposed to consist of the bed. Outside, you hear the distant screaming of cows being slaughtered by your friends dad and older brother. There will be food for dinner tonight!
You wake up with bed hair. You call your mom after breakfast and she picks you up and you cry on the way home because you’re so relieved you aren’t surrounded by manure and cows and outhouses anymore.
Once you get older, sleeping in beds is a more serious matter. I think because you feel weird being a 25 year old telling ghost stories to your friend who is 4 months pregnant and is engaged to some dude from the 7th floor of her work. I’ve always encouraged acts of dismantling what we know to be a social “no” and just say yes yes yes.
A couple of summers ago, I rented out a room in this huge house on wealthy street with 4 GVSU women athletes. We had nothing in common. I told them I had a food allergy and that’s why I didn’t eat mac and cheese every day like they did. I mostly just worked on my zine and listened to the Magnetic Fields in my room. The day that I came over to look at the place, the girl who was moving out of the room was there, showing me all the different rooms and kitchen and what not. Sarah was moving to Chicago for the summer semester and didn’t want to pay for what she wasn’t using here in grand rapids,.
A couple of weeks later, I moved in. Things were going fine and relatively easy going in the house until about a month into my stay. I heard distant discussions about Sarah coming back for a weekend visit.
So the weekend came, and i was out till late Friday night. I crawled up to my room and into my bed, noticing that none of my roommates were home, probably out partying with Sarah.
I woke up at around 7 am like i always do because I have a bladder the size of a pea and have to go to the bathroom twice before i get up for real for real.
I walked down the long hallway to the bathroom that had a claw-foot tub, a shower, along with a huge closet that could fit my bed in it. Upon opening the door, i see our guest, Sarah, in a tank top, tucked up in the fetal position on the rug in the center of the bathroom. She’s kinda twitching and mumbling. I ask her if she’s ok, and she says “yes” in a quivering voice. This moment reminded me why I choose not to drink.
I obviously can’t pee, and the downstairs toilet is out of commission, so i just crawl back into bed.
About 3 minutes later, my door bursts open. Sarah walks in and slams it shut behind her, and immediately jumps in my bed and crawls under the blankets with me. This is awkward. Who is this girl. I can see her thong sticking out of her trampy jeans and the dried puke crusties in the corners of her mouth. Her face is 6 inches away from mine, sharing MY pillow with me.
I scootch over a little bit, y’ know, giving her some room, and stare at the ceiling. It’s strange, but given the current circumstances, I really don’t want to get up right now because the bed is warm and i like being in my room and all my stuffs in here and maybe if i knew how to work the remote on the TV i would go downstairs, but i don’t. I lay in bed for 20 minutes or so, trying to get to sleep, unsuccessfully in the end.
I get up and take a shower and decide to walk very slowly to work. Thankfully i had the morning shift, so i could’ve only been able to sleep for an hour and a half more if there wasn’t any interruption.
I’m groggy all day, but kind of intregued of what will happen with my roommates when i get home from work at 2.
I walk home. I get in the door and one of my roommates comes up to me: “Oh my gosh, karen. Sarah had to leave early, but she is SOOO SORRY ABOUT LAST NIGHT! She is so embarrassed!”
I brush it off like it’s nothing, but make a mental note to get some sort of lock for my door.