Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mellissa Ferrick Does Seven Black Cats

I found this one still floating around on the internet. May's well put it here, too. It's still timely and Melissa Ferrick is still great.

THE SEARCH IS NOT ON. All over America, record company executives aren't, repeat clearly, are not, looking for the Next Big Thing. Never mind what Courtney Love and George Michael have been saying, let me quote somebody I know (uh... knew): If Bobby Farrell, composer of 40's mega-hit "Harbor Lights" and a few other memorable pop grandpa tunes knows whereof he speaks, Big Record Companies are trying to squelch The Next Big Thing like King Herod tried to squelch Baby Jesus.

"Whatever you do," Farrell uttered mordantly to me one day, "do NOT accept a recording contract." They'll buy you cheap, he recounted, and treat you cheaper.

A promising singer he managed signed with Sony records against his advice. And now her carcass is on private view on a basement shelf, out of the way of their other promotions and hidden from competing Big Record Companies. She was working nights at a 7-11 in Albuquerque when Farrell told me the unpleasant denouement of this story. The advance they gave her didn't last long.

He said they're doing that with just about everybody. They'll hook you by the zipper, feed you a few shekels, and suddenly you are unsalable product, moldering on the shelf.

Once you comprehend that your career and artistic freedom have been mummified by Big Record Company arachnids, your heart skips a beat at how much lawyers cost to beg you off for being young and naive and greedy too. You'll be too old to rock'n'roll when they settle it. Madonna will have had her fifteenth butt-lift by then, and nobody will have ever, ever heard of you.

BY THEN BRITNEY SPEARS CLONES WILL BE RUNNING THE SHOW. Charming chunks of readymade female pubescent matter bubble perkily even now in a test tube in a secret Big Record Company lab in Singapore. They are chunks of the Next Big Perky Thing.

Female artists birthed of the common population are too prone to making non-perky songs. They aren't of proper genetic design. The world gene pool needs a new rendition of Sammy Davis Jr's' signature hit, "The Candy Man, " and artists like Melissa Ferrick ignore such necessities, so they fired up the ol' cloner.

It's really best that way. Little kids want happy musical sex candy to fantasize over, hairy old record company men want to give it to them, and if the economy doesn't consume twice its own weight in profits every hour we will all die and George W. Bush will get to vote for himself in every state.

Cloned "Britnoids" are designed to digest and retain important demographic behavioral data yet avoid monkey business like Sinead O'Connor Bic-lighting a photo of the pope on TV. These units will be guaranteed to obediently shake their lifelike teen-protuberances only to lyrics and music personally approved by a clone of Senator Jesse Helms. No more indecently opinionated young ladies for us, thank you.

Contractual arrangements dividing profits were made before they even switched on the cloner. This is the new future of music. Everybody who counts is happy.

You'll never meet these people who count. They bought their own islands with the money they made denting gifted young artists in their thoraxes and squirting in a paralyzing poison -- which churned their insides into a mush they then drew lustily back up their hollowed fangs, into their swelling, disgustingly furry bellies. Plus, they voted for George W. Bush, and they've eaten their mates.

SO WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T ACCEPT A RECORD CONTRACT. Unless you're really planning a career as an office manager. Then GRAB it and use the advance for a few courses in Business 101 at your nearest community college. Good deal.

OKAY FINE. In that case, artists who can't help but sense their own worth start their own record companies from the shoestrings up. The initial paperwork is relatively nothing, if there ever will be more to do.

I'm here to tell you that the hundreds of Insanely Independent Record Label productions I've heard, and the dozens of small-time, nay, miniscule-time projects I've helped on, represent less than a little lagoon in a vast sea of vital personal creativity. There are millions and millions of creative artists working out there who make up whatever they feel. You may conjecture, probably in deep spiritual ignorance, that most of this vast sea of independent creators is mediocre.

SO TOO IS THE SEA MOSTLY WATER. Great Creatures can break through the surface for air anywhere in it, and your yappering mouth can be shut by awe at a magnificent intrusion into your musical Candyland.

The vast surface of seeming mediocrity has broken frequently with Great Creatures sounding in the past few years (but really, Elvis Presley's story started no differently). Lots of nationwide hiphop began as cassettes sold from the trunks of the artists' beat up old cars; we won't bother mentioning Metallica, but we'll holler about Ani DiFranco, whose shoestring start mushroomed deservedly.

Ani DiFranco is what put my buddy Dee and me onto Melissa Ferrick. Dee brought some of her work over awhile ago; it shut my mouth for over a week. I'd heard one of Ani's songs 8 years ago, took the long way home to hear all of it on my car radio, and didn't find out her name until Dee showed me. My goggling over Ani DiFranco prompted Dee to flip a Melissa Ferrick song my way. Honestly, I haven't much cared about anything I've heard since Vartinna in 1993, and since an Ethiopian album I produced myself for an Ethiopian named Gib in 1994. But Dee is on to something.

Dee and I thought we might catch a glimpse of another Great Creature sounding at 7 Black Cats, on Congress St., Tucson, Saturday night. Melissa Ferrick is her own independent record company, tours around, and is supported by fans who love the daylights out of her music.

Do NOT believe the peppermint fairy tales about the overnight successes of those pampered little songbirds of the Trilateral Commission. How hard is it really to even afford your own house and your own car by driving from town to town, singing and selling your recordings? Hint: before Willie Nelson became the venerable old tax dodger that he is, he once walked out of the bar he was playing in for $30/night (they still pay that much sometimes IF you're lucky) and laid down in the middle of the road, giving the 2 a.m. traffic a good long opportunity to run over him. By then he'd already written a hit for Patsy Cline. This is just to show you what a fabulously rewarding field music really can be, all considered.

...OR... HOW ABOUT BUZZY LINHARDT? What do you mean, you don't know who that is? I met Buzz when he was 48, living on the charity of some friends, nursing 2 broken hips that had healed wrong and suffering from advanced glaucoma. By wild coincidence, he'd got the broken hips in a car accident in Trumansburg, New York, a little nowhere where I had just moved from... or nearby. He'd been traveling, doing gigs. No insurance. A friend recognized him begging prostrate from a NYC sidewalk, and towed him to a little room in an old hippie house in Berkeley, California, where I met him through a gay woman musician pal.

Buzzy said he never got a nickel for "Friends." It's a song about how you need friends to get along in life. He said Bette Midler's attorneys say she never heard of him. Buzzy tells everybody that. He also tells everybody they were lovers for awhile. As a grand finale, he'll show everybody the album wherein his band recorded (and credited him with) "Friends" and released it some years before Bette Midler did. Funny thing, too... you'll notice that Buzzy's song "Friends" and Bette's song "Friends" are exactly the same song. But hey, maybe Buzzy will die soon if he hasn't yet and Bette Midler's attorneys won't have to bother with pesky questions about it any more. Where was I? Surely I was on a more optimistic story than this. Oh yeh:

HOW WE CAME TO 7 BLACK CATS AND BOOSTED MELISSA FERRICK'S REVENUE BY $36: Dee asked me would I go with her that coming Saturday night to hear this performer. She'd downloaded a Melissa tune called "Drive" from the internet, which she especially wanted me to hear. It didn't work immediately. I hate downloading and I hate screwing around with computers a millisecond longer than I absolutely have to. So I went looking for the album and finally found a copy at Zip's.

I hardly ever buy CDs. I bought this one because I know something's up. Dee has been listening to a vein of music that could spawn a whole Next Big Thing. You never know. The "girl music" she's showed me the last few weeks is bristling and sparkling with tell-tale vitality.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2000, 5:39 P.M.: Dee stops in after work. I hand her the CD. Trouble getting the heat-shrink wrapper off. Solved with big nail clippers. Melissa Ferrick Album "Freedom" into CD player. Near-field speakers angled at 45 degrees toward couch. Samson Servo 240 amplifier, Yamaha ProMix 1 digital mixer. Medium volume, EQ flat. Start CD. No sound. Oops. Plug in external jacks. Okay. Start again. We settle in to listen.

RAW, UNCENSORED REACTIONS, song 1, "Freedom." (narrated more or less in sequential time): Uh-huh. Hate that acoustic guitar pickup sound. Don't plug the damned thing in when you're in the studio, use a microphone. Woops, you flubbed a lick. Anyway I'll just get used to it and listen. Lyrics about what, now? Wants freedom from a lover, can't think what's at the core of it, blames a fear of love's enthusiasms flowing and ebbing as it ever does; honestly it sounds to me like she's left the door open for PMS defense and that's why her lover would call her a liar. That's not very responsible, girl. Fine melody and delivery, though... I guess...

SONG 2, "Hold On": Whaaaaat the fuck? What is that sound?? Is it... intentional? Is it... a good thing? It sounds like some tracks were recorded through a boom box. Is it... is it... what is it? The melody sounds like that 60s hit "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," by Bobby somebody and his partner. I wouldn't call it stealing. But if she meant to echo that song in hers, that's really very poetically clever. Good chorus, too... who's singing the harmony? Check album. Marika Tjelios. It's a little Beatlesque to Balkan, or some stripe of traditional Greek. Very original. The harmonies turn hauntingly beautiful as the songs play on.

"WHATTAYA THINK," proposes Dee already, the pair of us having listened in silence for the length of 2 songs. Not a good sign. Well, she sounds... really tough, I say. No... intense. She's really intense. I babble something about the peculiar mixdowns (and beef up the EQ). We both agree there's a touch of Ani DiFranco affectations so far.

I do hear this inimitable intensity, but it's a bit smeared by unnecessary vocal inflections and somebody screwing around with technical recording things. I don't buy the flattened-brow, snake-wiggling angry-mother voicings lately popular with a few singers. They obviously didn't grow up under my ma and don't know how to portray truly terrifying use of it... when it's not terrifying, it's kinda silly, like on the Morissette girl's last album. I don't mention to Dee that I really do want to like this Melissa Ferrick... to the point that I feel a twinge of conscience about what I think I'm hearing. Naw. She's not just an imitation. Naw. Can't be. Is she? Next song.

SONG 3. NORTH CAROLINA: Swwwwwwwoooooop! The beat and munchy riffs have opened the door and we're in the back seat now as Melissa drives us into North Carolina. Having been there for the same reasons, I imagine us crossing a railroad track in a beat-up little old North Carolina town on the way to a gig we don't really feel like doing. The three of us are going to fester in a musty motel with the TV on. Desolation and a maddeningly vague queasiness compete like a couple of flies buzzing the dumpster where our hearts have lately been dumped. How Melissa can turn the mute button on and still hear her "money making peers" talking through the TV, I don't know, but don't slam the brakes on it for that. Her song rolls us along, bone-weary, lost, and maybe we're just too bumbling not to've hurt somebody we loved back home more than we let ourselves believe.

The part of my mind still listening analytically notes the line "intensity has never been a problem for me." Aha, I thought so... she knows. This wasn't Asheville, was it, dear? But suddenly this album is becoming worth the price.

FROM HERE, DEE AND MY MINDS ARE BLOWN. The album is all intensely raw and beautiful now. Insistently unique and beautiful. The old folk-rockin' chords strummed through the too-high pitched guitar, the simple low-tuned bass and matter-of-fact drumbeats float and swim and fly in insistently beautiful original inner sonic colors. The lyrics trigger nearly 3-D imagery that dovetails with the simple music and compounds the emotional errors she writes us all about -- to the point that we can't deny, we've all been where those songs are and are going to go there again.

I'm over 6', over 200 lbs, and some kid asked me last week if I'm in Hell's Angels. I'm not, but Sonny Barger would think severally about tangling with me until he discovered I don't care about motorcycles. Add an overgrown goatee and picture tears trying not to well up in this figure's eyes over "The Stranger."

HECK, NO. Go buy it and listen to it yourself. Write her record company if you can't find it. The song emerged from the album like a Greyback leaping from the sea. "She knows!" I thought to myself. "She KNOWS."

HAD TO go see this lady perform live. HAD to.

END PART ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Dark single-handedly created the 'zine in the mid 1980's by talking some guy in Wisconsin into putting out a newsletter made by a copy machine and staples "For People Who Have Feelings They Don't Know What To Do With." He coined the term 'zine. By either wild coincidence or recognition that millions and millions of people have feelings they don't know what to do with, this one, called "Sumari Bulletin," spawned millions of inimitable imitators around the globe.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mrs. Doty

The other summer I took a job that has left me thoughtful ever since. I'm always grateful for things that leave me thoughtful.

This job was to clean up a house lived in by a woman named Mrs. Doty. Mrs. Doty was about 80.

She met us at the door early that hot desert morning.  The neighborhood was pleasant, old-ish for Arizona and well kept.  Mrs. Doty was herself pleasant, a slim, relatively youthful greyed blonde, dressed unpretentiously in off-white summer slacks and matching blouse and a big brimmed straw hat.  She mistook me for the crew chief, so began giving a few instructions about things she wanted saved.  I said I'd be careful to watch for them.  She appeared to be working outside, doing a little gardening.

This sunny bungalow -- two bedrooms, living-and-dining room, kitchen, front and back porches, laundry room, workshop, bath -- yielded a cornucopia of homey things and memorabilia.  Each item told a tale of minute events in a busy and interested life, casually scattered on and on into the past.

There were porcelain figurines -- elves and animals and children and rosy cheeked grandmas and grandpas; clocks of different kinds, collections of dishes and silverware, ruffled candy dishes, ashtrays, embossed glass tumblers memento of vacation trips, even a set of fine apertif glasses; candleabras, little electric chandeliers, children's toys, old record albums by long forgotten artists, and more.

And pens and pencils! Lots and lots of ballpoint pens and pencils in little makeshift containers. All had been used -- scattered about were tablets and notebooks, lots of notes, grocery lists, recipes, old letters not yet sent, letters not yet answered.

There were things for which a solitary senior housekeeper may be forgiven: too much clothing, "must drop it all off at the thrift store one day;" too much yarn for knitting waiting to get started; old newspapers, old magazines with important stories yet to be cut and pasted; an outdated telephone directory or two, long awaiting the trash bin.

And books! Books, books, books! Had I not a job to do, I could have spent weeks perusing them.  Here was a tome by Attorney General So-and-So fifty years past, this or that President's memoirs, analyses by critical thinkers about forgotten critical situations going back decades, and yet more: classics by Mark Twain and Jane Austen and Pearl Buck and others, collections from famous newspaper columnists, mystery novels by Agatha Christie, romantic potboilers from before and after World War Two, even a few by our current famous potboilists -- I can't think of her name, but her novels are still for sale at supermarket checkout racks. Danielle Steele.

Here some old bibles, there various first editions of forgotten popular novels, probably worth money to a collector.  My favorite find was a Webster's Dictionary.  It had no copyright date, but the hemp paper, typeface and the style of grammar suggested antebellum... wow... before the War Between The States. Maybe Noah Webster himself had published that edition!

Mrs. Doty popped in and out of the place periodically, checking on our progress and hoping we club-footed cleaners hadn't damaged or shoveled out the items she hoped we wouldn't.  She was most concerned about saving her paintings -- simple landscapes of New England and imaginary scenes of the Arizona desert, where she'd moved to in the 1950s.

Second in concern was her poetry, scattered handwritten on yellow legal pads in old boxes and cubbyholes around the place.  Mrs. Doty was a lifelong poetess and artist and reader.  The yellow legal pads yielded leaf after leaf of her experience and her feelings about it all.

All these fallen leaves from her tree of life sat in a near-level heap of rubbish about three feet deep which filled the entire house from one end to the other.  Cockroaches had burrowed long intricate tunnels through the mass of rotting papers and clothes and magazines and books.  Decomposing matter under the surface of this blanketing heap had long turned to brown sludge, and below that, black sludge.  Dead newspapers and magazines and clothing were mixed with foodstuffs, full containers of juices, unopened soda cans, toilet paper, even coins.  Because of the high pile, there were closets which hadn't been open in at least a decade.

I yanked down curtains and threw open windows as wide as they would go. The cobwebs were little trampolines of dead spiders. The sealed doors and windows had created the most indescribable, horrid parfait of mini-atmospheres I have ever encountered.

On the top layer of fetid air was the stench of cat shit.  Just below that floating stench was the aroma of rotting paper, and below that lazed the aromas of the detritus of anaerobic microbes, insects, lizards, and from the woman herself.

The bathroom toilet had been buried under piles of flotsam also at least ten years. When I finally got to clearing away enough garbage to open the toilet lid, I saw she hadn't flushed it last she used it years ago.  Frail, now-ancient female poops had more or less retained their shapes.

She was still using her bathroom, emptying a plastic bucket onto the trash pile.  Water leaking from the buried toilet had glued the masses of cockroach-riddled detritus and fecal matter into a black goo, a silent germ-hell a few layers down at the bottom, leached throughout the house.

Every two or three minutes, some gagging crew member declared loudly through his protective mask that he could not imagine how she managed to live in that place and breathe in it too.

My first task was to clean out the refrigerator. It was still running, still cold and humming. Dressed in a protective suit and hood and a mask, with Vick's Vapo Rub spread across my mustache to help suppress the odor, I took a shovel and cleared out enough rubbish to get the door open all these years later.

The fridge and the freezer were still packed with foodstuffs.  It looked as though Mrs. Doty had planned a big party years ago and forgot about it.  All the food was perfectly preserved: ice creams, little cakes, popsicles, frozen meats, frozen vegetables, various cheeses, puddings, soups, juices, milks, sodas.  All of it was peppered lightly with dead cockroaches which had managed to slither through the rubber seal and die of tummy aches and hypothermia.

Nothing in this world compares to the odor of food that has rotted slowly over a decade or more. Nothing. The stench of food packed with preservatives, left in the cold to rot so peacefully that the artificial chemicals intermingle thoroughly with the organic nosegay of deterioration creates a stench no actors in a horror movie could convey. Tradition says Satan smells of excrement.  He must be a naive fellow to propose no worse odor than that.

For the first time in my life, I learned the basic meaning of the word "swoon." Despite my mask and Vicks' Vapo Rub, the refrigerator-crypt's odor made me swoon.  I nearly fell over backward. I stumbled out to the back yard and yanked off my mask to breathe.

I looked down. My protective booties had sunk into a couple inches of raw sewage oozing into the daylight from a long neglected septic tank. That and the all-pervasive aroma of decaying cat shit -- I can't say how many cats lived with her -- drove me further away from the house, but not from the rubbish; I tripped over a whole back yard of plastic trash bags full of god knew what in Tucson's 110 degree heat.

I took a few breaths standing at the edge of the backyard fence, went back into the kitchen and attacked the refrigerated tomb again with my wide-edged shovel, scraping and dumping all this perfect-looking stuff -- and mummified cockroaches -- as fast as I could into my garbage can. I swooned again and ran out the door to avoid falling backward into the three-feet-deep grave of layered goo that was the floor.

After several bouts of shoveling and swooning I emptied the thing. The rest of the crew were shoveling away at the three-feet-deep crap in the living room; they too had to evacuate the house when periodically I'd pull things from the cold crypt, say, a package of fresh-looking chicken now meeting new air for the first time in years and reacting with it. I'd fill my garbage can full of the poison rot and lug it outside to the roll-off.

A roll-off is a heavy steel garbage container about 25 feet long, seven feet wide and seven feet high. It holds about one-thousand, two hundred cubic feet of flotsam and jetsam. Seven men filled three roll-offs to the brim with trash on the first day, and we still weren't finished. It would take nearly a week.

The crew chief, a great big man named Roy, slapped me heartily on the back for finishing the refrigerator task. He wouldn't be so jocular when he tried shoveling out the bathroom.  He was an even bigger man to attempt that himself, but when it turned out he had to rush out the front door, tear off his mask and dry-heave every two or three minutes, the rest of us pitched into the job with him.

We were afraid to vomit.  We might not have stopped.

We'd go home with the stench of the day stuck in our sinuses. No amount of hosing down, bathing, showering, toothbrushing, gargling, got rid of it. I tossed and turned through the night, the pervasive sensations of that house still trapped in my sinuses, half-dreaming of shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, killing poisonous spiders roosting in the buried furniture, wondering what in the world that old woman was all about.



There's something about the cockroach. A million other species are less agreeable in appearance and disposition, but the cockroach, its skittering hordes emigrating across dirty dishes like pioneers guiding their mule teams to old California, changing its pristine nature into a noisy stink forever, presents a sight that sinks ineluctably into the spine, deeper than the dread of a poisonous spider or snake. It's subtler than dread.

Long ago someone did a study: if mankind finally scorches the planet with nuclear weapons, we won't survive, but cockroaches will, trouble-free. They were alive and skittering before men stood upright, goes the story, and man's upright thinkers think it will be skittering around just as exuberantly after we bumble angrily into extinction.

The cockroaches in Mrs. Doty's house were about two inches long.  Everywhere my shovel plowed into the heaps, they'd skitter out in all directions, some half-flying the way upset chickens do. They'd run to safety, then turn to stare warily at the gargantuan invader, wiggling their antennae in curiosity. They were wondering how I'd taste.

Every drawer I opened brought a flapping flurry of leaping, flying wild cockroaches. Over keepsakes, over gloves, handkerchiefs and earrings and bracelets and old photographs and pens and pencils and dust kitties they clambered, silently evoking screeching violins up and down my spine.

I should have been working more swiftly, but as the cockroaches bolted for the safety of the corners of the ceiling, I'd look for clues in the drawers they'd pioneered, colonizing Mrs. Doty's life all these years. How could she sleep in that bed, a lonely island dead-level with the sea of trash she'd made around it? How come the neighbors had never noticed anything strange about her all these years? I hadn't either.

She was popular with her local church group, friendly with her neighbors -- many of whom stopped by and asked what we were doing and whether or not Mrs. Doty was all right. Apparently, none of her friends knew this about her. But at some point, the stench emanating from that house compelled the next door neighbor, a renter, to complain to the city and this brought us.

I'd read about this kind of behavior some years ago -- I don't know the psychological-lingo for it, if there is any other, but the pleasant woman I'd met at the door of that reeking old bungalow must be what was called a miser. Much buried in the rotting paper had been collected from trash cans. As the heaps grew higher, she'd trample over them to get to get to her bed. Why would she grab all this trash and hold onto it like that?

Hmmm. Here's an old application for a prayer-benefit from the Reverend Ike. I remember that charlatan. Didn't he wind up in jail? That's too superstitious for a Lutheran, which is what the other pamphlets on the dresser suggest Mrs. Doty is.

And there's an old photo of a pretty blonde woman and a little boy... who? Daughter? Grandson?

Yellow legal pads with her poems and reminiscences are scattered throughout the house. Finally, however, I open a wooden box where some are stored specially. I read one of them.

"Dear God, please let my son live," it goes, "please let my son live. I will do anything you ask. Please let my son live."

The letter to God goes on to describe what her son is suffering from, who the blonde lady and grandson in the photograph are -- the blonde lady had divorced her son and taken Mrs. Doty's only grandson far away. Mrs. Doty's son was suffering from a terminal illness, now made worse by the emotional stress. He's in the hospital, near death, at the writing of this letter between Mrs. Doty and God.

Her handwriting is even and neat and sane-looking. For that, her written words of anguish are as painful as anguish is. She has been robbed of her life with nothing to hang onto but her poetry and her paintings.

Her letters to God mention her son by name, but perhaps for God's sake, she mostly refers to David as "my son." Doesn't God know who David is? David is her only son. Don't take her son away. Please cure him of this brain condition. Through the pages of legal-pad pleas, she describes his progress. Some days she writes to God thanking him profusely, he's improved a little.

Mrs. Doty also mentions her husband to God. She could understand how God would have taken him just a month ago, at his age and his stressful years as an aviator. But please Dear God, let my son live. Bring my grandson back to me. That explains her appeals to the fraudulent Reverend Ike.

In three months from the date of this letter, her son will have died. The year is 1985. Her husband had died that January. Missus Doty has been this way for the twenty years since, not ten. She's been a shell of good cheer and neighborliness to all, prowling the alleyways at night, trying somehow to fill her house from the trash containers with what was missing.

We clear away rubbish and pry a closet door open, revealing tasteful, pretty dresses hanging neatly the way they were 20 years ago.  I pull a divan up out of three feet of solid trash and count four or five fat, healthy Black Widow and Arizona Brown spiders roosting in the upholstery springs underneath it. They're meeting daylight for the first time in their lives. They don't budge even though I'm juggling their home around. We don't move because we don't have to. What're yew looking at, Bub?

I hear Roy hollering outside. "Don't you touch me! Don't you touch me!" I go out to see this man about 6'2", 300 pounds, fending Mrs. Doty off, more than a foot shorter and two hundred pounds lighter. He's actually frightened; she could be poisonous. It might be comical if it weren't Mrs. Doty, pleading with him to stop throwing her paintings away. I step in and do that. She thanks me and tells me I have kind eyes -- she has always been a specialist in reading people's eyes, she says. Yes, she can tell I'm kind.

We wrest a rocking chair up from the depths of living room trash. There remains a twenty-year-old streak of effluvia on the seat. Roy tells me that this was the chair where Mister Doty died of a massive heart attack, suddenly and at once. Missus Doty had neither time nor heart to clean it by the time her son, too, began to die and her grandson was spirited away. She had mummified her house with trash, burying the rocking chair as it was when her husband collapsed.

Emerson said that a house will retain the moods of the people who live in it. I'd pass this house now and then for a year or so, seeing no sign of Mrs. Doty. It stayed the way we left it, emptied, roughly cleaned, haunted by loneliness. There is such thing as ghost odors; in the smell of detritus drifted out wispy tendrils of her years of hidden desolation. It never went up for sale so long as I lived in the neighborhood.