Illusions and Disillusions
In which Dr. Andy agrees with Emily Dickinson that "One need not be a chamber—to be haunted—"
It’s Halloween, and our house seems to be haunted.
In Davis, a seller is not required to reveal if the home in question has been subject to any paranormal activity, and our home, bought the year my father died in 2004, has been free of spooks, as far as I know.
But this week, as these stories sometimes go, workmen were doing some work in the house, some digging. We didn’t expect them to turn up anything unusual, but we did expect them to scare up a bunch of dust, so we asked them to cover our living room and dining room furniture with plastic sheets.
The translucent material is so light that every time we open the front door, which itself is at best a semi-permeable membrane protecting our home, the resulting breeze causes all the sheets to flutter like ghosts whose haunted home is being disturbed by unwelcome visitors.
With all the color in our living room muted by these seemingly-animated plastic covers, I was reminded of a favorite Wallace Stevens poem:
Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock
The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
This town of monochromatic houses is interrupted at the end of the poem by “an old sailor, / Drunk and asleep in his boots” who “Catches tigers / In red weather.” One hopes that the sailor’s colorful dream could exorcise (or dis-illusion) the town of its unimaginative listlessness, and its ghostly people who seem like nothing more than “white night-gowns.”
Meanwhile, back at our house, as the kitchen remodel has only just begun, so much has been moved into the garage. This chilly new home to our refrigerator and microwave, our makeshift kitchen, is also home to my boxes of books and old letters from friends, some of whom haunt my dreams with unfulfillable promises of reunions.
In the garage we have letters from my dad, who sometimes also sent postcards of Dali paintings and Buster Keaton portraits; letters from my best friend Tito, who filled me in on his time working as a pilot in Alaska; letters from my Boston University dorm-mate Kevin, arranging one of his many visits to our homes in Sacramento and Davis; letters from our DC neighbor Beverly Price, who encouraged me to get started early on my dissertation; and letters from John Davenport, who used to tell me stories of his work as a DC cab driver to afford himself time to work on his novel.
You can imagine how much I appreciate that all these beloved people flew to Chicago to attend our wedding 30 years ago this month, Tito in his own plane. All of them died before our 20th anniversary. Some of the deaths might have been expected, but some continue to shock us in their suddenness. Beverly was 40 years older than me. Tito, eight days.
Meanwhile, the temporary cellophane ghosts keep waving to us as we come and go in our haunted house, making us remember all the people they stand in for on this Halloween.
Every week I create a Pub Quiz for subscribers. Are you interested? This week’s Pub Quiz asks some questions about Halloween. Expect also questions on topics raised above, and on the following: French phrases, buyer’s remorse, the European Union, Jamie Lee Curtis, mortal murders, Major League Baseball, fundraising Jokers, biological color palates, people who seem to be named after elves, Christmas composers, Box Office Mojo, pumpkins and other seasonal vegetables, states that start with the letter I, literary expanded diet possibilities, countries I have never visited, Andrew Marvel, sicknesses and health, first ladies, scary movies, cellular organizations, Washington Capitols, Music Digest, California cities, current events, mottos and slogans, and Shakespeare.
Thanks to all the supporters on Patreon who make all this happen, especially the Outside Agitators, the Original Vincibles, Potent Potables, and Quizimodo, the members of which I got to visit with last week as Quizmaster. I’m always grateful to the team captains who pledge for their entire team, and thus sustain this enterprise. Please subscribe so you can share the fun of the Pub Quiz with your friends and neighbors!
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Books and Authors. What mononymic French author is best known in the English-speaking world for her 1944 novella Gigi?
Sports. What is the only California MLB team not to have won a World Series?
Shakespeare. The Shakespeare co-written play The Two Noble Kinsmen is based on a knight’s tale by what “Father of British Literature”?
P.P.S. Did you know that you can register your interest in attending this coming Thursday’s Poetry Night in Davis via Facebook?