Friday, June 17, 2005

Imaginary Friends and Acquaintances

Unlike others, I never had an imaginary friend as a child. There were way too many kids both in my household and in the neighborhood to have to make up kids to play with. But when I was four or five, our family moved in a great big Tudor house. The house, dating back to the 1920's, was the color of shingles and dark brown wood and off-white concrete and seemed to me like a castle from the middle of the woods that had been dumped into a neighborhood with nothing else like it. It had a large basement (where we kids were usually relegated to go play), a spacious first floor with two porches, a giant garage and a second floor with two baths and three bedrooms. And then there was the third floor.

The house, build in the 20's, had all that mysterious energy that a child senses when something large and old is presented. In my youngest years there, though, the third floor held the most mystery to me. The Tudor was shaped somewhat like a pagoda or a big giant bell with each floor getting smaller and smaller in terms of floor space. The third floor windows were the tiny squinting eyes of a giant that looked down upon the alley where we played and the neighborhood of ranchers, row homes and manicured lawns. My brother once spent a summer scaring the neighborhood kids (and my littlest brother) by donning the most realistic Halloween mask and appearing at dramatic moments. Of course, I was in on the trick and would be the one who would point up at the witch staring down at the melee and violence of children's play disapprovingly. I once got in trouble with the Police (I was ratted out, of course) and spent the night hiding up there and peeking down at the damage I had done (I stole something out of someone's garage in stupid revenge for some stupidity done to me). Later, as a teenager, I would open those windows and a lean out late at night to smoke a Marlboro, thinking that throwing the butts down there would do away with the evidence (little did I know of the screens on gutters and rain spouts).

But back to the first night I slept in that house. It was fall and the night fell early. Near bedtime, I had yet been shown the third floor and asked my Dad about it. The lights weren't working yet up there so my Dad, carrying me with one arm around my gut and the other gripping a flashlight walked up the steps. At the top of the steps were the windows that I talked about and then the room revealed itself in the dimming light of dusk and my Dad's three battery flashlight. He led me to each of the three attic doors and showed me the then empty spaces which he claimed wrapped around the entire floor which I found fascinated and imagined crawling through them and finding discarded objects from previous tennants. There was also a cedar closet that I was warned right up there I wasn't to go into for fear that I woudl get locked in and be suffocated by the combined fumes of the mothballs and cedar - in retrospect, I remember a bit of a smirk had formed on his face as he said this. Empty, though, the closet looked like something a Forest King might have carved into his wooden castle. All that were missing were the chains and manacles.

Later that night, I woke up with a start. Sweaty and disoriented in a new house, I got up to look for my parents' room - my brother lay snoozing but I had learned never to disturb him in the sleep or suffer a slap up the back of my head. Somewhere in the dark I made a wrong turn and realized that I was at the foot of the stairs to the third floor, a closed door holding back the secrets. I was still as I felt something dreadful coming and saw the light (probably from the street lights) comging through the bottom of the door. In my imagination, maybe a bit fevered from all the stress, I saw a ghost boy coming through the door, pale and tortured. I sensed he had been wracked with some sort of disease , the type of things that grandparents would talk about in whispers when remembering siblings and schoolfriends ... I knew of the fevers - the yellow and the scarlet. One turned your skin into an odd color and the other made your hair fall out. I had had "the shots" - the paneled waiting room and the dread now remembered as similar to the cedar closet above and the terror now below.

The boy never spoke, he hovered there and I literally felt my knees knock and my crew cutted hair tingle and grow with the goosebumps that were being raised. His message was clear to me - the third floor is death. I don't remember much more than running back to my bed beyond any need for parental comfort but looking more for the only thing at the time that was familiar, my little bed and pillow and sheets. I was scared and crying and fell asleep, still in a sweat. My Mom mentioned that my sheets were still damp and asked if I had a nightmare. Something told me not to talk about the boy from the third floor - but just keep my boundaries and don't ever venture up there alone. As you can guess, I later overcame that fear and eventually claimed the third floor as my own when my older brother moved on to college. I even lost my cherry up there on the very same bed on which I was presumably conceived. But I'm still uneasy of heights and waking up in the middle of the night.


Esopus is a bi-yearly magazine that's mission is "to provide an accessible, non-commercial space in which creative people and the public can connect in meaningful ways." Issue 4 includes a history of ice cream truck music, presentations of found art - both in its native form and reconstructed, things that you pull out and look at, a review of a film as told by a cinematographer and three pages of stills and lots of beautiful stuff and words. It's sort of a pop-up book for adults (although there are no pop-ups, per se).

Included in issue 4 is CD entitled Imaginary Friends. Esopus asked their readers to send in stories of their childhood friends and then sent the stories out to a select group of songwriters who penned their interpretations. Most of the results are very good. You can hear short samples at the website. One of the more wellknown readers who sent in their stories was Alan Sparhawk of Low.

He wrote:
As a boy, from perhaps age 4 to 7, my dear imaginary friend was a small girl named Lisa. She lived in a small hole in the wall next to my bed. I always imagined her as a year or two older than me. She always seemed to have heavier, older-person things on her mind, so her demeanor was quite sober and even troubled, but never enough to keep her from finding time for me. She took care of me, gave me advice, and was great to have around when I couldn'’t sleep. I suppose she stayed with the house when we moved when I was 8. She probably has a family now.
Where as many of the songwriters and bands just took the words and constructed lyrics around them in the first person of the story's originator, Perry Wright, who is the front man for The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers decided to take a different approach and produces a classic mope-folk piece told from the vantage of the spurned imaginary friend.

If you can't listen to this with wiping away a tear, you must not be alive.

"Lisa" (3.7 Mb, 128 kbps) - The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers (w/John K. Samson and Heather McEntire)

Esopus is available at Amazon for the amazing price of only $10.00 - you can also get it at Barnes & Nobles and Borders. You can hear samples from the other cuts (including Avey Tare, Kimya Dawson, Grant Hart, Kate Pierson(!) and Jon Langford) by clicking on the CD icon on this page here. With the exception of one or two cuts, this is a great compilation - recommended for all the neo-folkies out there.

UPDATE: Oh my, great minds think alike - I just found out that Bars and Guitars wrote about this way back on May 27th and they even fronted the same cut. I feel so late to the party. No offense, I hope Peter. Are all the lumpia gone?

1 comment:

Dodge said...

Love "TPATOADS"...good song.