Friday turned out to be a long day working towards the final 48 Hour Film Project event — the Awards Ceremony. I printed up the programs, got the DVD mastered, printed the certificates, and hauled 96 chairs up two flights of stairs (with the aid of Pete, who was conscripted at the last minute). I dropped by Drew's office downtown and picked up some freebies to hand out — some things cluttering up the San Antonio Film Commission's offices.
I was at Urban-15, using their copy machine, until nine Friday night. George and Cat had left a couple hours earlier to pick up their son at the airport. I should point out, again, that I do not believe in ghosts. But I do possess a very active imagination, and am as susceptible as anyone, I suppose. Actually, ghosts are a fairly big thing in San Antonio. Growing up in Dallas, I heard my share of local urban legends involving ghosts. But rarely did I meet anyone who had claimed to have seen a ghost. In San Antonio I know quite a few folks who readily admit to having seen ghosts. Let me pause for a few seconds and count who comes to mind. (Fifteen seconds later.) I just came up with eight people. And with all the talk around Urban-15 about their ghosts — the present benign entities, and the raucous ones that George said had been exercised a few years back — it should not have surprised me when, just Wednesday, I was working in the basement on a project, and I realized that I needed a file off Catherine's computer. I wandered about the rambling property and I couldn't find anyone. It appeared I was left in the building alone. I called Cat's cell number. She answered, but it was a bad connection. I wanted to know which hard drive the file might be on. But she could only hear bits of what I was saying. Things like “it looks like I'm here all alone.” Anyway, I swear she replied: “Oh no! Did you see something?” The implication was not lost on me. However, Friday night as I was sitting at a table in the Yellow Room folding programs, I heard a few distant sounds that made me stop and listen more intently. They were most likely doors on another floor squeaking as the air-conditioning wafted so slightly to cause them to move a fraction of an inch. Or perhaps the copy machine in the other room with those little squeaking servo motors making themselves known so quietly under the noisier chug chug chug of the copier's illumination arm slamming back and forth. Hell, what I was hearing were slight, distant sounds which could have been caused by any of a number of things. But the one thing that took me quite aback was the clear and unmistakable sound of a shoe on the linoleum — just one step — on the threshold between the Yellow Room and the kitchen. The two rooms are separated by a four foot high counter, so I was easily able to look up and see that no one was there.
A trick of the mind, I have no doubt.
But I began to pounder what is it that makes us afraid of ghosts? Even just the ideas of ghosts. Outside of gothic novels and Hollywood, no one dies from a ghost encounter. Maybe the urban legends has someone dying of fright. But most “authentic” ghost stories are about someone having a very unsettling encounter, and little more. They're just spooky. End of story. I think it comes down to this notion of an encounter with the irrational. This is similar to the fascination people have with UFOs — or more specifically, the aliens purported to be aboard them. In the common lore, these otherworldly critters are intelligent and almost resemble us — but they aren't human. Their presence and their intentions are incomprehensible.
One of my favorite legends of the border is the Bulto. Bulto is Spanish for package, parcel, bundle. I heard about the Bulto in Redford, which is on the Mexican border in the region of the Texas Big Bend. The Bulto is an amorphous blob which one might encounter in a lonely stretch of the desert in the daytime or at night. People find it terrifying in it's ambiguity. What does it want!?!? It simply hangs there in the air — an irrational apparition.
In retrospect, I wonder why I didn't take a leisurely tour of the old church which houses Urban-15. I didn't have a flashlight, but I probably could have scared one up (so to speak). Also, there are plenty of votive candles around the place. I guess it comes down to a couple of reasons. First off, I would be searching, ostensibly, for something which I don't believe exists. And that seems pointless. Then there is the fact that that imagined footfall had given me the willies. If I had butched it up and took a candle-lit tour of the second floor of the old dormitory and the choir loft over in the sanctuary, I would have had to embrace the endeavor as a legitimate ghost-hunt. Basically I'm a writer, a story-teller. And when I'm not in the midst of a short story or a film script, I'm usually working on narratives in my head. I suspect that most writers and filmmakers also do this all the time. When I'm, say, walking through downtown at night, I find myself conceptualizing the autobiographical “me,” or else some fictional character moving through the city in my own footsteps: I consider camera set-ups; back-story; narrative presentation, such as first person, second person, or third person omniscient; and so on and so on. So, if I decided to poke around the darkened church at 2500 S. Presa with a flickering Lady of Guadalupe candle, I would be very deep into creating a ghost story narrative in my head (and I love ghost stories — MR James, Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, and all those guys continue to resurface on my reading list over the decades). My suspension of disbelief would cranked up to 11. Ultimately, I guess I just wasn't in the mood to scare the crap out of myself.
After setting the alarm at Urban-15, I headed home. My neighbor Phil is in England for a week visiting family. And because I'm such a soft touch, I'm having to walk his dog twice a day. Actually, I believe he thinks I'm walking his darling pooch four times a day. But, dammit, with Erik's pro-bona pet-sitting, you get very little. Mainly I make sure the pet doesn't relieve itself on the carpet, nor starve to death. And I feel confident coming clean here. Phil's not gonna be reading my blog — hell, he doesn't even have a computer.
But last night, I spent about 15 minutes looking everywhere for my key to Phil's house. It seemed I had lost it. I noticed that the Tolands (my next door neighbor's) were hanging out on their porch with the Witties (who live across the street). I headed over. I was pretty sure that Jerry had a key to Phil's place. I asked, and he said he'd go across the street to his house and get it. I was invited up onto the porch for ice cream. I had already missed the gin and tonics, but ice cream is always a treat. Eventually Jerry came back with a key. We spent some time gossiping about the folks in the neighborhood. And when we came to Phil, the two couples on the porch wanted to know how he was coming along in his renovations to the back rooms of his house. One thing led to another, and soon we were all heading to Phil's place. Actually, it was rather creepy. Fueled by gin and tonics, the two couples issued a running commentary (mostly praiseworthy) in the language of realtors. Much of what Phil was doing to fix up his place seemed to me like a massive yuppification project, at the expense of the historical elements of his 1940s era home. The neighbors praised his choice of large appliances, cabinets, and creation of new closet space.
So, beware. Don't go handing out your keys to just anyone. You might encounter some unscrupulous ass like myself who lets your tipsy neighbors in for a tour.
In my defense, these are people who love Phil. Besides, he's dragged me in to see his renovations even when I'm not conscripted onto dog patrol.
It's almost midnight tonight. And I need to head over to Phil's place. It's time to switch my laundry from the washer to the drier. Also, I believe there's a bag of fresh spinach in his fridge — so, I think I'll make some spinach & tuna salad for a midnight snack. Oh, yeah, I guess I really should also walk that dog while I'm over there.