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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cruzing to the Future and Haunted by the Past (and by a bathroom ghost)

Last October my brother-in-law Jack told me about a ghost that haunts the bathroom of his new condominium.
“I know it sounds crazy,” he said. “But you have to believe me. There’s no other explanation for what’s going on. I definitely have a ghost.”
 Jack chose to tell me about his haunted bathroom and he chose not to tell anyone else, like Monty, because Jack didn't want to be laughed at. So when Jack told me about his bathroom ghost I kept a straight face, even if I wasn't entirely convinced. But Jack could tell I didn't completely buy his story. Then, the other day, he called me on my cell.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I just dropped the kids off and I’m about to go grocery shopping.”
“So you’re in your car? Perfect. Get over here now. My bathroom ghost has come back.”
I was pretty curious, so I drove over to Jack’s condo. When I got there Jack opened his door and pulled me inside, leading me instantly to his bathroom.
“Look,” he said urgently. “All this white stuff?” He used his finger to scoop up a glop of something that looked like shaving cream from his mirror. “This stuff just multiples for no reason.  I don’t know what it is.”
I went to his mirror and scooped up some for myself. It was powdery and odorless, like thick, sticky talcum. “You’re sure you didn't leave it behind when you were cleaning or something? Could it be Clorox?”
He rolled his eyes. “It’s not Clorox. I don’t use Clorox. Just soap and water.”
“Oh.” I shook my head at him. “But then how are you going to kill germs? You know you need some sort of disinfectant, right?”
Jack let out a weak and watery laugh. “Watch this,” he said. He grabbed a paper towel, wiped up all the white stuff that was along his mirror and above his sink, and threw the paper towel in the trash once he was done.
Then he looked at his watch. “It’s 9:34. We’ll give it ten minutes.” He grabbed my arm again, led me out to his living room, and sat me down.
“What are we giving ten minutes, Jack?”
Jack shuddered like a chill had crawled down his spine. “In ten minutes we’re going back to my bathroom, to see if the white stuff is back.”
“But –“
Leaning forward, his right elbow digging into right knee, Jack cut me off.
“This morning, when I woke up, I saw a dark figure sitting at the foot of my bed.”
I cleared my throat and was trying to figure out how to respond, but Jack continued before I could say anything.
“I know that happens to people a lot – seeing some mysterious figure when they wake up – I think there’s even a term for it, although I googled it and couldn’t find anything.”
“Okay…” I said. “So it’s nothing.”
“Except, now my bathroom is possessed again.” He sat back and his arms rose and fell in defeat. “I called you over here because I need you to tell me I’m not insane. That I’m not just imagining all this.”
I would have reassured him, but somehow the words got stuck in my throat.  What if Jack is starting to lose it? Is that any less conceivable than a haunted bathroom?
“Hey,” I said soothingly. “You’re one of the sanest people I know.” This was true, but I also think there’s a fine line between sanity and insanity, and most of us hover dangerously close to the edge. And after such a crazy year, I don’t know even know what to believe anymore.  Six months ago if someone had told me I’d be ready to end my marriage to move back to Des Moines, teach at a community college, and actually like it, I’d have laughed in disbelief.
And I’d have laughed even harder if I’d heard that Monty would quit travelling to Africa and follow me here.
So you just never know. And as the old year closes and the new one begins, perhaps it’s worthwhile to reflect on all the inconceivable events from the past twelve months. A year ago, would we have believed that “some guy” could nearly bring down the NSA? Would it have seemed plausible that Republicans would press issues like the IRS “scandal” and Benghazi, or go so far as to shut down the government, just to weaken Obama?
 Okay, I guess that doesn't seem so far out there. But who would have known that Obama would've weakened himself, all on his own, with the disastrous healthcare roll-out? It would be funny if there wasn't so much at stake.
Of course, there were political stories that were low in cost and high in entertainment value, like Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger. Who could have guessed that he would have the balls to seek office, even after the truth about said balls was revealed?
But some stories just made me sad, like the gun control legislation that the senate rejected. How can we live in a world where the idea of simple measures, like background checks and mental health provisions, has become more impractical and unrealistic than the idea of living with frequent school shootings?
It’s a senseless life we lead. And nobody can do more than guess about what’s coming next.
“You’re not crazy, Jack. Crazy people don’t worry about being crazy. Google that and I KNOW you’ll find out I’m right.”
He smiled for the first time that morning, so I pressed on, because I wasn't sure how much of our ten minutes were left.
“Crazy is accepting something without question, and you’re not doing that.”
Jack waffled momentarily, between slumping and straightening himself. But his more determined side naturally won out, and after checking his watch, he sat up, smiled and changed the subject.
“So does Abby like her Ted Cruz coloring book?”
I pulled my knees up onto the couch and crossed my legs, while giving Jack a scornful smirk. “Monty traded her a princess coloring book for it, which she was happy to do. She hardly ever gets princess stuff, so she was willing to take the bribe.
As a joke, Jack got me the Ted Cruz coloring book for Christmas. He had to back order it, because it was the highest selling comic book on Amazon.  But I left it on the kitchen counter, and Abby, who loves to color, found it and claimed it as her own. But Monty was worried she’d become indoctrinated, which is not entirely unbelievable. Abby is a good reader for her age, and the coloring book is pure propaganda.
For example:
There's a page on our national motto, In God We Trust...

and a page with Ted Cruz holding a rifle, exercising his second amendment rights...

And there's a page with kids playing on the playground, to explain why abortion is bad...

And then there's the celebration of Ted Cruz's recent filibuster...

And the back of the coloring book, with his slogan, "Tell the truth, tell it often, tell the children."

But don't forget the page where Ted Cruz holds the government to account by, among other things, making DC listen, protecting life, and lowering taxes.

“You know," Jack said, "for someone who used to work at the ACLU, Monty doesn't have much of a grasp on the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
I laughed, and started to explain that Monty just didn't see the humor in the Ted Cruz coloring book, and he didn't want to have to praise Abby every time she showed him a new page she had colored in. But before I could start, we both heard footsteps.
Like someone was walking down Jack's hallway to his bathroom.
“You hear that?” Jack whispered. “I've heard it before, but I convinced myself I was imagining things.”
My chest constricted and it felt like a balloon had suddenly inflated where my heart should be. There was no way that sound was coming from anywhere other than Jack’s hallway, and there wasn't anyone in his hallway; I could see it from where I sat.
When the sound of footsteps had faded, Jack looked at his watch again. “Come on,” he said. “It’s been ten minutes.”
We made our way back to his bathroom, where the first thing I saw was more white powdery stuff along the surfaces that Jack had wiped clean ten minutes ago. There was also a new puddle on the bathroom floor, but no water was running. I looked at Jack's face, and I could tell instantly that he was not playing some elaborate practical joke.
“That’s so weird,” I said. “I mean, if you were a spirit, would you choose to haunt some guy’s bathroom? And why leave behind powder? It must be some sort of message, but of what?”
Jack started wiping up the new mess the ghost had made. “I have no clue. Why does anyone do anything? I don’t understand people’s motives, let alone the motives of ghosts.” 
"Do you think something bad went down in your bathroom?" I asked.
Jack finished wiping the counter. "Like an unfortunate cleaning experience?" He looked up at the mirror, and we made eye contact in the reflection. “Who knows? But you’re my witness now. And you know I’m not crazy.”
I swallowed roughly. “I know that either you’re not crazy, or that we both are.”

That, unfortunately, was little comfort to either of us.