Calendar of Forgotten Things
Gather 'round, and I'll tell you a ghost story. It's a small ghost story, but it's moody. I tell this to my friends and to my enemies because I love you all. Yes, even those who wish me ill. As the Beasties used to say, "I be chillin', You be illin'."

Megan's end of year hi skool photography assignment was to take 150 pictures of old and forgotten things. I was in full werewolf father mode this morning, so after it was pointed out that I suck and my comportment is ghastly, I drove Meg into the apocalyptic urban squalor to shoot pix. Bad dad, recalcitrant teen, insane eight year old and tooth-sore wife. I told Meg I could find her a million abandoned and lonesome things if we drove down Ogden. Loyal readers of this blog know I love old Ogden way too much for my own good. I have posted poems on here about it, and lofty mystical evocations. Why? I don't know. It's just an old, long, cheesy Chicago road. That happens to be Old Route 66 for much of its length. Where Dillinger drove down the street, and where Capone had his autos repaired in garages that are still there. Dead rail yards, rotting factories, the Sybaris sex motel, timid 1930s farm houses hidden behind the strip malls, winos, rusting bridges, hot dog stands, burned ruins of buildings, smoke stacks, junkies, a thousand storefront evangelical temples. What's not to love? From the tony burbs to the Steak 'n' Egger diner behind the Cicero rail yards. I love Ogden.

I often, you readers know, risk getting to work late because I can't resist going that way instead of the expressway.

You readers will also know that my long apprenticeship during the Teresita works makes me a constant participant in openings of portals and the hidden rituals that bring angels out of the trees. I stumble and I curse, yet heaven comes anyway. And the Yaqui buzz-bomb spirits of Huila (Maclovia Moroyoqui) swarm to my attackers and sting them. My medicine is strong! Even when it is not my medicine.

So off we went--I was listening to Ozric Tentacles, the crazed prog/fusion freak band. It was delightful to me, torture to the women, no doubt. Except Chayo--like her dad, the weirder the music, the better she likes it. We are both, after all, eight years old,. Massive black and purple clouds built walls all around us. And the first thing we found was a burned house. Nothing left but basement full of tumbled furniture and a lone haunted basketball hoop. Meg snapped a few, and it started to rain. I was already falling into the other dimension. It was the rain, I think. The hiss and the sheen on the blacktop. Made me start feeling ghosts. And we went deeper into the Calendar of Forgotten Things. Right on a corner, near a tiny swamp, there was an abandoned fireplace. You'd miss it if you weren't looking. In bushes. Still had wood in it.

Ghosts growing stronger.

In Lyons, the abandoned Snowflake diner.

In Berwyn, the holy cfar spike, for sale now but nobody wants to buy it. A three story tall steel spike with eight cars impaled on it. The anti-surreal burghers of Berwyn are planning to tear it down. It's in a rotting parking lot full of holes and trash and abandoned shopping carts. Americana fiends like me were there snapping away. The portal to the other world was now wide open, and feathers were blowing through from the aether.

Now, we used to live near there, by the corner of Jackson and Harlem. It was a neighborhood with a vibe that often toppled toward the scummy. Beyond this area, there was a soccer field between an old folks' home and a cemetery. It was a freakish spot. Haunted even seven years ago when Megan and Eric were small. You'd go to these soccer games and see eerie white faces of sad forgotten old folks peering out the windows, and they'd be looking into the scraggly woods across the lawn, at toppled graves. Honestly, one of the oddest places in Chicagoland. So I thought: what better place to take pictures of the sort we were seeking.

We made our way down there. It's a little tricky. You have to turn into the commuter-train terminal/caryard off Des Plains. But you don't go into the lot--you drive through the lot and come around the corner to the complex. Except the place had been abandoned.

The rain clouds hurried across the sky. The roof was broken and slipping, and some of the church part seemed destroyed. There was a section of fence collapsed, so we drove in.

It was like one of those movies where a prison or a madhouse has been left empty, and the spirits have overtaken it. You feel eyes watching you. And across the field, the old cemetery still molders among trees and bushes, only there's a high fence around it now. Eric and I used to go in there and find graves with deep holes in them. You could see down to the coffins.

We found the gate. Cindy would not go in. It sounds fake, but as soon as you stepped through the gate, the sad gray graveyard turned ice cold. Fallen branches littered the ground. At least a third of the old headstones had toppled or been kicked over. Great weedy trees had grown among old graves and covered them.

When we walked in, we heard a huge car wreck on the 290 expressway, just on the other side of the train car barn. People yelling and screaming. Then sirens. Huge dogs appeared outside the fence. "I'm so scared," Megan said. Which, of course, is when the cell phone in her pocket stared to buzz. She squealed and levitated.

I kep telling her that nobody there would be mad at her for remembering them.

We walked from headstone to headstone, reading the names and dates. "Dear Sister..." People born in 1893, 1860. The most recent burial we could find was in 1978.

One one grave, a baseball. On another, and ancient white china bowl with flowers on it. But the best thing--one a far grave, a videotape. Home-made, but the writing on it had faded with the weather. Megan would not let me take it. "Didn't you see the Ring?" she cried. "What's the matter with you?"

We left the cold gray boneyard under the clouds and the coming dusk. The tape is still there. Somebody needs to watch it.

I think I'll go back and get it. But shouldn't I go at midnight? Shouldn't I take a tape recorder to catch any voices calling my name?

When we left, we saw a policeman hiding behind the trees. No doubt, he was wondering what we were doing in there. And when we got to the 290, the entire Des Plains overpass section was blocked off by fire trucks, police cars, ambulances. I felt like I'd stepped across some dimensional gate for a moment and heard whispers.

I had carried the cemetery baseball with me, but then put it back on the grave where I found it. I'm not entirely ready to have a catch with the undead. Not yet. Maybe when I'm halfway through Hummingbird II.

Note to friends: from there to Target, where Chayo got a toy, Megan got "Juno," and I got the new b-52s cd. The doors to the other side creaked shut. I came here to write to you.


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