I’ve Seen a Ghost

October 30, 2015

I saw a ghost once.  At least I think I did.  I wasn’t a small child, it wasn’t dark, I wasn’t tip-toeing around some creepy place.  I was thirteen years old and was watching TV with a friend after school one sunny afternoon.  We saw this thing, looked at each other, then bolted out the front door and sprinted the block to his house without saying a word.

This wasn’t the first or last time I experienced what could be considered paranormal activity.  I used to experience a lot of things like this.  When I was a young child I had an imaginary friend named Bobby.  My parents say we had deep conversations and played together daily.  I realize this is normal for children, in fact my son had an imaginary friend, too.  Oddly, though, my son’s friend was also named Bobby…  Lights in my bedroom were switched (not flickered) on and off, the faucet in my bathroom turned on by itself, things in my room were moved or turned over.  The strangest thing ever was hearing someone sing “Amazing Grace” while I was trying to go to sleep one night.  But I only saw something that one time — it was a woman by the way, just like the unseen hymn songstress.

I wasn’t the only one who experienced strange things in my home.  When I was a baby my parents say that a step-ladder, leaning against the wall of my nursery because wallpaper was being hung, mysteriously fell over in the middle of the night.  A decade later my entire family was startled awake when our basement door, which was always kept closed, slammed so hard in the middle of the night that the entire house shook.

My younger sister heard sounds and saw shadows, we had several babysitters who refused to come back after their first job (one said she heard a noise coming from a closet), another close friend swore that someone called out his name while he was in our basement.  By the time I was in high school my house was kind of a living urban legend.  A lot of people claimed to have experienced something bizarre, but I only saw something that one time.

Weird things continued to happen around me until I was about eighteen, or so.  But they pretty much stopped after that.  It was about that age that I started questioning myself.  Was I really having these experiences, or was it my imagination?  It had to be real — some of it anyway — because others experienced it, too.  There were things like the faucet turning on and the lights going out, which were definitely real, but was there a logical explanation?  Did I really see a ghost, or was it some strange flash of light?  If something supernatural or paranormal was going on, was it because of me?  Did I both cause the things to happen, but also cause them to stop somehow?  Did the oddities stop happening, so I quit believing, or was it the other way around?

I worked in the residential remodeling industry for almost twenty years, and have been in hundreds of different homes over the years.  Every once in a while I would enter a house and immediately sense something was wrong.  I never saw or heard anything, I just knew something was different.  I felt like something bad had happened there at some point.  Because I had been through so many frightening things as a kid, I was never exactly scared in any of these instances, but they still rattled me slightly.  The hair on my neck stood up and I’d get a slight chill.  These rare feelings I got in clients’ homes have been the only eerie experiences I’ve had in the last quarter century.  Until something else happened recently.

My daughter is five years old.  She is smart, happy and outgoing.  She has never been afraid of monsters, ghosts or goblins.  Last week I was woken by her in the middle of the night.

“Daddy,” she very calmly said, “there was just a man sitting in my room when I woke up.  He walked out and I got up and I saw him go down the stairs and turn into the kitchen.”

“You’re dreaming, sweetheart.  Go back to bed,” I groggily replied.

“Okay.  But I wasn’t dreaming.  Can I just sleep in your room?”

Soon my daughter was silently nestled between me and my wife, but I was awake.  Lying still, I listened, but could only hear the deep breathing of the two next to me.  I listened harder.  I heard it…something.  Then again.  A creak in the floor that should really only happen if weight is placed on it.  I know about houses.  I know there are all kinds of strange noises that can be explained.  I also know when I hear something that I shouldn’t.

I grabbed the baseball bat from under my bed and crept downstairs.  What if there actually was some deranged sicko watching my daughter sleep?  When I got to the main level, I found nothing out of the ordinary.  The windows and doors were locked up.  Everything was in its place.  Still, I got that feeling that I had so many times as a kid.  The hair on my neck stood tall.

The next morning my daughter and I were having breakfast when she casually brought it up.

“Oh, remember last night when I saw that man?  I was not dreaming.”

I’m sure she was dreaming, but the believer in me has to wonder if there could be more to it.  Was there (is there) something special about me that my daughter also possesses?  Can my daughter see something the rest of us just need to be willing to allow our minds to look for?  How many things are possible, if we don’t let maturity and rationalization take over our thoughts?

It’s late as I’m writing this and my family is fast asleep.  There is that sound again — and another I’ve not heard before.  Now that chill I get.  I’m starting to believe the possibility that the strange occurrences stopped because I forced myself to be unwilling to see.  Now I’m afraid to look…


The Photographer

October 17, 2015

The snow was really coming down, making things even more stressful. Moving is horrible in any weather, but in the middle of January, during one of the worst winters on record, it was downright dreadful. No one should be driving in these conditions, but Patti was on a mission.

Luckily it was just about over. The moving company had finished the day before, and Patti had just gotten back — no, had just gotten home, she happily reminded herself — with the last load of “small stuff.” Not one to dilly-dally, she had spent much of the morning and all afternoon arranging the living room and bedroom furniture, making up beds, and organizing the kitchen (well mostly). She had also treated herself to several glasses of a very nice red wine. Sort of a celebration, even if only by herself.

Now she had returned with a backseat and trunk full of knick-knacks, artwork, and all of the other fun things that make a house a home. Most important to Patti, though probably least important in the grand scheme of things, was getting her photos hung. Well, this and getting the shop up and running.

A professional and passionate photographer for the last twenty-five years, she was extremely excited to be moving into the new house; a large, mid-century ranch, which had much more wall space than the Manhattan apartment they were leaving behind. She had boxes and boxes of old photos that hadn’t seen daylight in many years. Some had never been displayed. Truth be told, there was a lot left to do, but Patti reminded herself that Dan wouldn’t arrive until next weekend — and it wasn’t exactly good unloading weather — so she decided to leave the stuff in the car until tomorrow and take a well-deserved break. After pouring another glass of wine, Patti headed down to her “shop.”

Dan and Patti Decker planned on leaving Manhattan once they had kids. Thirteen years later, they were still in the city — and still didn’t have children. Life just got in the way, as it sometimes does. They weren’t even looking for a house when Dan got a call from an old fraternity buddy saying that the perfect place just went on the market out in the burbs. “Tell Patti there’s even a darkroom,” he had said. One quick tour was all it took for Patti to decide this had to be their home. It was truly perfect, and the price was too good to pass up. She couldn’t help but feel as though someone up above was looking out for them. Dan was less certain and not nearly as enthusiastic, but thought it might be a fresh start for the couple; something he felt they desperately needed. Plus, it was only about an hour from his office, so the commute would be manageable.

The shop, Patti’s term for the darkroom, was located down in the basement. It was a 10’x10′ room with a sink and faucet, flanked on each side by industrial metal storage cabinets. A taut clothesline ran the length of the opposite wall across from the cabinets. The concrete floor below the line was stained from years of wet negatives dripping onto it. An antique drop-leaf table was placed in the center of the room, with a cheap rolling office chair shoved under one side.

Patti stood in one corner and surveyed the room. She imagined how wonderful it would be when she was finished getting it ready. She hadn’t processed her own photos since college, and was thrilled by the thought of doing it again. In the digital age, it had become a dying art, but is something that she thought every serious photographer should know. As usual, Patti just couldn’t relax. She ran upstairs, then quickly scurried back down carrying a beat-up plastic tub containing rags, rubber gloves, various cleaning solutions, and other necessities, including the bottle of wine. She topped off her glass, grabbed a rag and a jug of Lysol, and got to work.

She started by opening the cabinet on the far left. The exterior of the cabinets had been repainted at least once since the house was built just over sixty years ago. They looked decent and had been cleaned before the house was put up for sale. The interiors, however, were rusty, sticky, and in need of a good scrubbing. She removed a couple of old developing trays, and then started vigorously wiping with the wet rag. Once three of the four cabinets were clean enough, another glass of wine was poured, and, eager to finish this chore, Patti opened the last cabinet. Working from the bottom to the top, she discovered a small wooden box in the back corner of the final shelf. What have we here?

She removed what looked like a large jewelry box. It was obviously very old and appeared to be made from cherry wood, which had darkened inconsistently over time. The lacquer was thin and had been worn off in a few spots. The lid, attached with two frail brass hinges, was held shut by a small clasp shaped like a butterfly. Patti very gently shook the box. There was definitely something inside. This could be a hidden treasure, she thought, amusing herself. She was genuinely intrigued, however.

After carefully lifting the clasp, Patti slowly opened the lid. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed aloud. Inside was a camera. It was a Foca; a French brand from the 60s. Patti had never seen one in person, but knew of them. They weren’t supposed to be great or necessarily valuable cameras, but she couldn’t believe her luck finding one in her new home. It was in beautiful condition. Picking it up, she realized that underneath it was a manila envelope that covered the entire bottom of the box. This keeps getting better! Patti had to turn the box upside down to get the thick package out, as it was wedged between the sides.

Very worn, the envelope must have been nearly as old as the camera. The crease of the flap indicated it had been well used, and the string holding it shut was tattered. Patti reached for her wine — she must have left it upstairs. She was strangely excited and nervous to see what was inside. Somehow she felt like the contents could be very personal, and not meant for her eyes. Curiosity got the best of her. She very gently unwound the string from the button, unfolded the flap, and saw the edges of many photographs. Incredible. Using extreme caution, Patti eased the photos out of the envelope. A stack of probably a hundred or more pictures was in front of her.

She was giddy as she delicately picked up the photo on top. It was grainy and faded. The color had washed away. Looking hard, Patti was struck with an eerie feeling she had seen this before. It was a woman holding a baby. Looking more closely, she could tell that the woman was her mother. “What the hell?” she muttered. She turned the image over. On the back was faint cursive writing:  Birth – March 19, 1974.

Her birthday. This was a photograph of her on the day she was born.

She looked at the next photo. A crawling baby staring into the camera. Flipping the photo over Patti saw the words:  Learning to crawl – November 2, 1974.

The next photo was her first birthday, besides the caption on the back documenting it, Patti knew because she was sitting in a high-chair with part of a cake in front of — and the rest all over her. Her mom and dad were behind her, not looking towards the camera.

She started going through the pictures more quickly. They were all of her. Some were special occasions like birthdays, learning to ride her bike, dance recitals, or school plays. Others were just oddities taken for no apparent reason. Shots of Patti as a child sitting in her room playing, watching TV, reading books. Each one had at least a date written on the back, all with the same handwriting. Most weren’t particularly good, some were crooked, some were blurry. “Who took these and why haven’t I seen them before,” she said under her breath. Patti realized that she had uncovered a surprise left by Dan. She felt bad for stumbling across it, but was also deeply touched. She reached in her pocket for her cell phone. She needed to call him anyway. The phone wasn’t there. Must be up with the wine…

She started to get up, but feeling a bit drunk from the wine and excitement, she sat back down, unable to pull away from the snapshots in front of her. Patti smiled at the memories as she kept going though the stack. The pictures were in chronological order and she was now into her high school years. The quality of the shots were improving.

She suddenly stopped. Patti’s faced turned pale. She was looking at a picture of herself in the shower, dated December 31, 1992. No one in her family would or could have taken this. It was very close up, showing only part of her face, a shoulder and a breast. What the fuck is going on here, she thought.

Patti kept looking, unable to stop. Pictures from college, a close up of her taking a photograph of something, her wedding, her honeymoon, her and Dan asleep…”What is this?” she shouted…pictures of her in the old apartment, a picture of her looking at the new house for the first time…

Every hair on Patti’s body stood at attention. She was cold and tingling. The next photo showed her putting things away in the new kitchen earlier that morning. No. No. Impossible. No one was here. Whoever took the shot had to have been standing right next to her. She looked around the room nervously. She was terribly frightened. There was only one photo remaining.

Starting to cry and shaking uncontrollably, she raised the final picture in front of her and slowly forced her eyes to meet the image. She immediately vomited uncontrollably. “What the fuck is this!” she gurgled, throwing the picture on the floor. Like all the others, it was of Patti. This time she was shown dangling from the shattered windshield of her car, which had struck a tree. Snow and ice collected around her face and hair. The caption on the back stated:  Death – January 19, 2015

She ran up the stairs, violently banging into the railing and walls as she went. She burst through the door to the living room and fell to her knees. The room was bare, except for a thick layer of dust on the hardwood floor. She crawled through the dust to the kitchen, which was also empty. “No, no, no…” she cried. Getting up she ran to the front door, but the knob wouldn’t turn. Looking through a window beside the door she saw that the snow was gone and the sun was shining. Green leaves hung from a large walnut tree in the yard. Next to the tree stood a peeling “For Sale” sign.

Patti slouched against the door and banged her head against one of the wooden panels. This is a trick. Someone is playing an awful trick. Feeling exhausted, she lowered herself to the floor and rested her face on the cool surface. It felt good. Okay, no, I’m just dreaming. Her breathing slowed down and she closed her eyes. I’ll just sleep a little longer, she told herself.

Patti opened her eyes and saw nothing but white. Something had awakened her. She tried to focus. Reaching out, she touched something hard — the white front door, which she was still facing. She heard a creak in the floor just behind her. She was frozen with fear…

Click. The familiar sound of a camera shutter echoed through the stark room.

When the Houston Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, giving them a four-run cushion over our Kansas City Royals, I truly believed we were done. I was so mad. We’ve been too good to lose this early. It’s not fair to these guys. It’s not fair to KC, I thought. Then the realization hit that the season was about to be over, and my anger was overtaken by complete sadness.

The baseball season is long, maybe too long. A month of preseason, followed by 162 regular season games can be absolutely brutal when the team you love is having a(nother) dismal year. Any fan of the Royals knows this all too well. With each new season comes renewed hope; hope that is typically crushed long before summer officially begins. But that wasn’t the case this year. Our Royals stormed out of the gates winning their first seven games, and they never looked back. We had seven All-Stars (counting Alex Gordon, who was left off the roster due to injury), we easily won our division by 12 games, and ended the season with the American League’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Many media know-it-alls predicted us to be average at best. They said last year was just a case of catching lightning in a bottle, that we shouldn’t have gone as far as we did then, and certainly didn’t have the talent to repeat as American League champs, win the Central Division, or even make the playoffs as a wild card team. We didn’t listen. We never had a doubt. We were so close last year, and we have unfinished business.

I say “we” because I’m talking about all of us. Not just the team, but this town. A relatively small city of passionate, down-to-earth Midwesterners who have spent every night over the past six months huddled around a TV or radio, giving our full attention not just to a team, but to the individual players who have become like family members. It’s not just about a love of baseball, but a love of the people who make up this team we call our own.

The players fit this town. They are no longer crusty, aging veterans looking for a few paychecks before hanging up their cleats. No, this is a bunch of mostly twenty-somethings who have cut their teeth together. They have shared more failures than successes. Yet somehow, against all probability, they have become winners in a town that is not accustomed to winning. It is obvious that these guys truly care about each other and the fans. It’s infectious and undeniable. They wear “Kansas City” on their chests, and carry Kansas City on their backs. Better yet, maybe we are carrying them. 

So when we found ourselves down by four going into the eighth inning yesterday, I admit I was angry. I was appalled by the Astros’ cocky celebrating, knowing of course that they were acting no differently than we did during our playoff run last season. I was mad at the announcers, I was upset with our players for seeming so passive and not being more aggressive. I was really acting quite selfish, but I suppose that’s probably normal for die-hard fans when the team they have invested time, money and sincere love in must finally meet their fate. I’m not used to the end coming sooner than expected.

The end…this is what I actually wanted to avoid. This was the source of my sadness.

In twenty years, I may not remember the plays and games that made this season so special. I doubt I will be able to recall our record, any statistics, or maybe even all of the players on the team. But I will remember the many nights spent simply hanging out with my wife and two children watching the Royals and talking about baseball — and about life. It isn’t easy to find something the entire family genuinely enjoys doing together, but watching our boys in blue has been that something all season long. From the first game, when my then four-year-old daughter sadly asked, “Where is Billy Butler?” to high-fiving, hugging, and hollering with joy yesterday, spending our evenings with the Royals has become the family routine. Losses were like a kick in the gut, while victories left us going to bed fulfilled and happy. We didn’t know what to do during off days or rain-outs. What will we do when it’s finally over? I don’t want it to end. Amazingly, it didn’t end yesterday. Just as in the wild card game last year, an incredible comeback in the eighth inning has given us the opportunity to continue rooting on our team, even if for only one more game. I feel very guilty for doubting such a relentless, tenacious group.

These Royals’ players, starting in the second half of last season, have not only been a source of joy for my family, but have transformed our city into a town that believes not just in our team, but in each other. Baseball — something that seems like it should be so meaningless in the grand scheme of things — has actually helped to inspire and unite us. The Royals have made Kansas City proud. This transcends baseball, and is an example of how beneficial and powerful a game can truly be. I’m not being overly romantic, but am just stating a fact. My wish, and belief, is that this pride will carry on after baseball, regardless of how the season ultimately ends. Until then, like the rest of my fellow Kansas Citians, I will be on the edge of my seat, making sure to enjoy each pitch. And I will never give up hope.

Beautiful Bodies gives their all to a sparse but appreciative crowd.

Despite beautiful fall weather, a solid line-up of local and national bands, a good venue in the heart of downtown, and a great cause, Fed Up Fest Kansas City’s inaugural event was a disappointment.

Presented by 96.5 The Buzz and Harvesters (along with several other sponsors), the festival was intended to raise money and awareness for Harvesters, the local food bank that distributes food and other household goods to thousands of people in 26 counties around the region. While it is too early to tally the proceeds, I can tell you that the turnout was not good. Based on the size of the crowd at the all day event, I would be surprised if ticket sales covered operating costs.

Some of these costs include money spent on marketing gurus who promised to provide festival-goers with “food trucks, cold beverages, and fresh conversation.” A total of four trucks made it out to serve food, and beer/liquor could be purchased. Unfortunately, you could not take alcohol purchased on the west side of the festival (an area with yard games and the “Homegrown” stage) into Crossroads KC (where the main stage was located). This would have been nice to know, since there was a beverage stand located right outside the Crossroads KC entrance. My friends and I were not happy to have to quickly down our $6 cans of beer so that we could get in to catch an act on the main stage. As for “fresh conversation,” well, I didn’t hear much discussion about helping the hungry. I also admit that I didn’t do any talking.

The festival did offer some very good music, highlighted by Kansas City bands Hembree and Beautiful Bodies (a local band making a name for themselves with national audiences), and Knox Hamilton, an up-and-coming indie act out of Little Rock. Unfortunately the late-ish start time (sadly, 10:45 is fairly late for those of us with baby-sitters), dropping temperature, and dwindling crowd caused my group to throw in the towel before the headliner, Wolf Alice.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of information about making donations to Harvesters. I couldn’t find anything on the Fed Up Fest website, social media or through festival advertising that mentioned bringing non-perishable food items. While there were not many people in attendance, asking for canned goods in addition to the price of admission could have really benefited those in need.

The idea of using music, food and drink to help support and raise awareness for a great organization like Harvesters is very noble. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite come together, and Fed Up Fest was left hungry for a larger audience. I hope organizers – and KC residents – will give it another go next year. With some minor changes, it has the potential to be both a fun and worthwhile event. Until then, you can find information about helping Harvesters year-round at harvesters.org.