Monday, October 24, 2005

Spook House

In the memory palaces of our minds, haunted mansions abound.

When I was younger I was much more likely to do things on the spur of the moment. These days, as was the case with the recent Clive Barker signing, I usually plan ahead for weeks, partly so I can begin to build up the physical and psychic energy needed to crowbar myself off the couch.

Last week, though, the Free Library’s downtown branch was hosting a panel discussion with Charles Burns, Chip Kidd and Chris Ware, all plugging new books. I had just bought Burns’s book the day before, too, so it seemed silly not to expend the little energy required to have it signed.

Finding out about all this at the last moment, I laid it all out before the wife. She suggested I take the train in, a mere 20 or so minutes, thus avoiding the problem of parking. Not only that, I could use her monthly transpass, so long as I was careful to conceal the telltale “F” (for Female) sticker.

Simple as pie, but I still decided to think about it, which is the phrase I use for “taking a nap.” When the wife roused me, I had 15 minutes to make up my mind.

What the hell.

I threw some books into a bag and ran over to the train station, getting there with minutes to spare. Having successfully flashed my transpass at the conductor, I settled in with Burns’s Black Hole, the long-awaited collection of the 12-part series that took him 10 years to complete.

For those of you not familiar with it, Black Hole is a dark book, both figuratively and literally, that uses bodily transformation as a metaphor for the physical and emotional traumas of adolescence. Symbols and designs appear and reappear like in a dream, as his cast of teenagers try to muddle through 1970’s Seattle while dealing with the appearance of unexpected alien orifices.

Think of it as Ghost World with real ghosts.

Strangely enough, this odd stew began to bring back many of the feelings I had during my own young adulthood, the desperation for everything: love, sex, transportation, money, and autonomy.

Funnily enough, I realized that part of my adult reluctance to push myself into things like tonight’s adventure was because of all the years I spent running myself ragged across the landscape of the city, doing everything, going to everything.

I was tired of it. I was much happier, at this age, letting the world come to me.

20 minutes later I found myself on the dark streets of downtown Philadelphia that I had so often wandered with the O.G. (Original Girlfriend). It was with her that I suffered so much of what Black Hole tries to put across, especially the feeling that this relationship was the most intense one any two people had ever experienced and that it would be a fit for life. In retrospect, it seems we cried our way through those years as much as we had kissed.

Breaking into a trot in order to get there on time, this familiar end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Library and the Science Museum forming two sides of a triangle somewhere in its middle with the top pointing the way to the Art Museum, I was reminded of nothing so much as a deserted soundstage. It was like wandering the ruins of another life with all the lights now turned off, having outlived their usefulness ages ago.

Only ghosts lived here now.

Ghosts like the recently deceased Edmund Bacon, father of actor Kevin Bacon (the picture of Ed that appeared on a 1964 Time magazine cover clearly demonstrates who the Bacons-to-be would resemble) and the Philadelphia city planner whose vision for the city included the Parkway I was hurriedly crossing.

Or the ghosts of the anatomical specimens on display at the Science Museum’s Body Worlds exhibit. Through a complicated process called “plastination,” actual bodies and parts of bodies were on display there, posed in many different ways, helping to demonstrate how our bodies work.

My ghost was here somewhere, too, preserved in memory and waiting desperately for life to begin.

I found a seat in the auditorium and tried to catch my breath from the run.

What had all the running been for? And how had it led back here again?

I settled comfortably in my seat, something I knew how to do.


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