Thursday, January 22, 2015
The House That Jack (The Ripper) Built
I wish I had more pictures of our California house. Especially the inside. We only lived there a couple years, during the internet boom (the burst burst us right with it) and the house is gone now. My sister only found that picture up there on an old site. You can kind of see the swimming pool, the the small vinyard we used to cut through to get home from school. It was really the only house in the bay area big enough to fit 7 children.
But let me just start from the top. The top floor was, for the most part, one large ballroom. It had a built in pool table, and for some inexplicable reason, a foggy glass panel in the middle of the floor, looking down into the rooms below. For many weeks we were scared to stand on it for long.
The only other room was a bedroom, where my sister and I slept. There were not one, but two doors leading to in-the-wall attic type rooms that provided the most perfect club meeting places conceivable. We documented our presence on the walls in sharpie.
Once in one of the attic rooms we found a rat squished flat like a rug. We waited for Dad to come home, then he took it out to the trash in a dust bin.
Really it was the basement that was inexplicable. A thin staircase led from the main floor kitchen (where we kept lizards perpetually named Toby in tupperware containers with sticks and leaves and potato bugs until the Toby's died, poor things) to a kind of basement furnace room. In that room, years ago, some frat boy renters had painted pin-up girls on the wall. My mom added bloomers, and forever after one girl had a line of white paint dripping down her leg until the walls were knocked down.
My mom was giving a tour, once, of the house, and someone leaned against the wall to the left of the pin-up girl. It turned out the wall was more of a partition than an actual wall, and it collapsed backward into a room that was more like a gravel pit that we hadn't known was there until then.
Walking past the pin-up girl furnace room led to the room that was probably the main reason we generally didn't go in the basement if we could avoid it. In the center of the room was what seemed to be a surgeons table, white, and nearly as tall as we were then. To the right was a set of locked glass doors that, as far as we could tell, only opened into the inner wall. Sometimes the old pipes would bang behind the walls, and it sounded like knocking. Those doors stayed locked. Across from those doors, inlaid in the outside window, was a display of surgical tools--tweezers, syringes, scalpels--arranged in a nice rainbow formation.
It was not a good idea to read Poe in that house.
Looking at what I'm describing, even I can't believe it was actually real and not some setting in a Stephen King movie. But then I remember places like the Winchester Mansion (which, when we toured, my mom said was a little too close to home) and remember that weird, creepy, awesome places are every. The world is weird and creepy and awesome.
I vaguely remember having a hard time in those California years, but not really. I remember having no friends, and getting teased, but what I mostly remember is that house. I remember the sunroom and playing with my dog and setting up beanie baby clubs in the barn out in the vineyard and frankly manipulating all my siblings out of theirs. And I had fun. I don't know specifically how the places we live in our childhoods affect us, but maybe I can trace my love of things like Night Vale and Neil Gaiman and The Addams Family back to this house.
And if any of you ever meet Stephen King, tell him I have some ideas.
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