Bleeding Speedo, Haunted Wedding Ring, Abandoned Lullabye, and Other Remarkable Events
As I slide into the latter half of my fifties I find myself being more than a little retrospective. A part of this is Recovery work but mostly it's just getting older. Quite a few remarkable events, coincidences and weirdnesses have happened to me over the years and I thought it would be fun to write them down. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:
When I was 18, a couple of friends and I backpacked around Western Europe for three and a half months. During the latter third of the trip, we arrived at the Pink Palace hostel in Corfu, Greece. I had a moped accident there, the repair bill for which put me over-budget and looking for a way to work it off at the hostel. A couple of days after the accident my friends carried on to other Greek islands and I remained behind with a job, arguably the worst job in the hostel, waking up early to help clean up and hose out the dining room/disco. Almost everyone working there was an English-speaking tourist, working illegally under the table for room and board, a few bucks, and half-price liquor.
I had been working there about four days when I met a young woman from Minnesota at the disco one night. We hit it off enough to walk down to the beach and the front porch of the cabin she was staying in. There were a few of these cabins down there, small units with four bedrooms filled with bunk-beds, a bathroom, and a porch facing the ocean. We were sitting on the front steps of that porch, talking and making out a little, when we were interrupted by a towel-wrapped and frightened woman who emerged behind us to say that a mostly naked and bleeding man was walking through the building and scaring the girls in their beds. There was nobody else around to deal with the problem, so I got up and entered the cabin.
There was a short hallway down the middle of the building with bedrooms on either side and a bathroom at the end. A thin, smeary blood trail ran along the right-hand wall at about hip height. Worried and frightened young women peered out of the bedroom doorways and pointed to the one on the right next to the bathroom. The lights were off in there, and it took my eyes a a moment to see a fit guy in his 20s, dark hair, wearing nothing but the briefest of Speedos, There was a cut on one hand that slowly dripped on the floor; he had gotten it breaking in through the bathroom window.
He was drunk and had very little English (Egyptian, maybe?), but I managed to talk him out of the building and around its side, next to a couple of towel-drying racks. He said he had swam there from his country and had entered the building because the girls had left their bathing suits (which he thought was underwear) to dry on their window sills. Where he came from, this was a sure sign that these women were looking for sex. I convinced him otherwise and he left, wandering away down the beach.
Everyone was thankful but emotionally exhausted after all that, and they all went to bed, including the Minnesotan. Oh well. The next day I told George, the owner, what had happened. He had me make a statement to the police and upgraded my job to probably the best in the hostel - managing the rooftop bunks on the big building next to the beach. Mostly sweeping sand and making sure everyone sleeping on a cot there had paid. It was a sweet gig.
Whispers in West Lawn
In February, 2009, I made my first visit inside the West Lawn Pavilion of Riverview Hospital. West Lawn was built in 1913 as an insane asylum for the province and was closed permanently in 1983. It was used as a film location for a while, but that work shifted to the newer Crease Clinic when it closed in 1992. I'm guessing that water damage and asbestos made West Lawn no longer a viable option for film crews.
It had snowed a few inches the night before but it was a wet snow that was rapidly melting by the time I got there that morning. I had my camera, a tripod, and a flask of scotch for both celebration and courage. I hopped a low fence, pried open a side door in the basement that I had previously noticed was open a crack, and I was in. As you can imagine, my adrenaline was pretty high at that moment. I was trespassing, after all, but more importantly I was trespassing alone inside an abandoned asylum. It was pretty intense. I stood there just inside the door for a few minutes while my eyes adjusted to the gloom and I strained my ears to hear, gradually settling down to the point where I could proceed.
I found a staircase that took me up to the main floor and then the main staircase that went up to the top floor. That staircase was caged to prevent suicide by jumping down the stairwell from the top, suggesting that these were the stairs used by the patients; I later found a different, presumably staff-only staircase, lined with white Italian marble. I took the caged stairs up to the attic and then worked my way back down.
A couple of facts are relevant here to my subsequent experience in one of the large, empty day-rooms on the floor below the attic. The first is that the roof had many holes in it, through which the melting snow pack drained in drips and rivulets. The second is that the day-rooms on the fourth floor were very large and very empty, making them big reverb boxes. When I had explored and photographed the attic enough, walked down a floor, and entered the first of these big rooms, I was struck by the desolation and resonance there. That room had seen a lot of shit, a lot of extreme experiences, and I felt the echoes of that. After setting up my tripod, I began taking pictures, and as I did so and slowly moved around to different angles, avoiding the many drips coming through the ceiling and the puddles they formed on the floor, I began to hear low and distant voices.
It was difficult to make it out at first over the reverberating background noise of dripping water, but the more I listened the clearer it became. It sounded like two people quietly talking, perhaps on the stairs on a lower floor or maybe in a far away room on this floor. Whatever or whoever it was, it was slowly getting louder, getting closer.
I froze, of course, and my adrenaline jacked back up a few notches. Could I hear footsteps now, mixed in with the low muttering? It sounded like it. Two people, walking and talking, and headed my way. I thought about it and two possibilities occurred to me. Either these were officials of some kind or, a better option, a couple of urban explorers like myself. After all, the building was well-known locally and if I could get in then anyone could get in. The voices got louder, definitely on this floor now, but still unintelligible.
Keeping my eyes fixed on the nearest doorway in their direction, I steadied myself and prepared for an encounter, running some possible opening remarks though my head. I wanted to light a smoke but decided against it. In the next room now, any moment...
And nothing. Nobody was there. The sound dissolved and became again the background echoing soup of all those water drips landing on different surfaces, making different sounds, reverberating, piling up and interfering with each other, becoming complex. Just some very odd acoustics and my imagination. I lit a smoke, after all.
Some images of West Lawn's exterior
Still to Come:
- The wedding ring came back - In which a wedding ring belonging to a dead fisherman returns from the bottom of the Fraser River.
- In charge of a hostel in Rome - In which a man drinking himself to death finally goes to the hospital and gives me the keys.
- Abandoned lullabye at Fort de la Chartreuse - Just the creepiest experience ever while eating a hard-boiled egg on the roof of a building in a (mostly) abandoned military fort in Belgium.
- The disappearing shuttlecock - In which a shuttlecock vanishes and Lisa and I laugh a lot.
- Rowan and I share Friday the 13th birthdays - Not so much an event as a coincidence, coupled with the fact that Rowan was born in the caul (inside an unbroken amniotic sac). Superstitious much?
- Margaret Hayes Seeks Divorce, 1931, Iowa - She seeks that divorce from Justus Hayes, the father of their two children. Improbably, she has the same name as my stepmother.