On Wednesday, a group of us from work went to The Keg on Jarvis St. in Toronto to celebrate a colleague’s retirement. I love The Keg (a steakhouse chain for anyone who has never been there) for many reasons, but if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know it’s mostly because I believe that steak wrapped in bacon is nature’s perfect food, and The Keg always cooks it to perfection. Ken and I go to the local Keg on occasion, and of course, Ken always orders salmon. To me, this is like going to Red Lobster and ordering a hamburger. He had a terrible incident a few years ago, when restaurants had somehow all bizarrely decided that salmon should be cooked slightly rare. Because who doesn’t like to eat undercooked fish? What’s next? Medium rare chicken with a side of salmonella? Anyway, he got quite ill, so now he always asks for his salmon completely cooked, which seems weird that you actually have to specify that.
But I digress. Most Kegs are in fairly modern buildings with new fixtures and stone fireplaces—kind of ski chalet chic. But this particular restaurant on Jarvis St. is known as The Keg Mansion—it’s an enormous and beautiful castle-like structure built by members of the McMaster family and then owned by the Massey family (of Massey Hall fame). The best part about the whole business is that the Keg Mansion is also known as “The Haunted Mansion”, because apparently there have been numerous sightings of ghosts, spirits, and other presences over the years (there are articles all over Google if you’re interested in the specifics).
Call me crazy, but I LOVE ghostly type things, so I couldn’t wait to go there. As we were finishing our dinner, two of the women I was sitting with started talking about the second floor bathroom being haunted by a presence of some kind. We may or may not have been drinking a little, so we decided to make a visit to the ladies room to check it out. Up we went, giggling like schoolgirls and found the haunted bathroom. We were expecting something amazing, like the bathroom in Harry Potter where the ghost of that crazy-ass Myrtle chick comes out of the tap, but we were sadly disappointed. It wasn’t even a very NICE bathroom—kind of industrial beige and a bit grubby. We hung around for a bit, but nothing happened so we went back downstairs to our table. “Well,” I said, “that was nothing like the ghost in the bathroom of the house where I used to live.” Heads all turned. “What ghost?!” they wanted to know. So I told them the story I’m about to tell you now. And it’s all true…
I’ve always been a little sensitive to what I call “places that feel icky”, which is the very technical term for “bad mojo”, which is something scientists say. For example, in New Hamburg, we lived in one side of a 100 year-old “twin home”, which is like a semi-detached house. The old basement didn’t LOOK creepy but it felt that way, like someone was watching you, and I avoided going down there like the plague. After a couple of months, we moved into the OTHER side of the house. Same layout, same type and age of basement, only I had no problem going down there at all. No bad vibes whatsoever. A few years later, we bought a house in Washington (Ontario, not DC). It was a huge old Georgian-style place, built in 1863, and pretty run down, having been empty for almost two years after the 80 year-old owner had passed away. We started renovating right away, and started with the upstairs bathroom, which had been built into a back bedroom which became K’s room, and was clad in pressure-treated boards. It had a wall sink, a clawfoot tub, and a swag lamp for lighting. Totally creepy, dark, and dingy. After redoing the walls with board and batten, painting the whole thing white and updating the fixtures (including a new medicine cabinet), it was much more livable. For me AND for the obnoxious poltergeist who occupied it. Yes, I said “poltergeist”, and it was one with a very juvenile sense of humour. It wasn’t long before things started flying out of the new medicine cabinet. And I don’t mean “falling out”, I mean a kind of forceful lobbing. If I had a dollar for every time I got hit with a hairbrush, or my toothbrush flew into the toilet (or my birth control pills ended up in a bathtub full of water), I’d be a rich woman. There was a built-in cupboard in the corner with upper and lower doors—sometimes if you bent down to get something out of the lower cabinet, when you went to stand up the upper doors would be suddenly open and you’d crack your head on them. Every so often, I’d get really pissed off and yell, “Cut it out, stupid ghost!!” and for a week or two, there would be no incidents. Of course, Ken was totally skeptical, having his own POLTERGEIST-FREE bathroom on the main floor. “Maybe the gravity is just weird in there,” he’d say. “Or maybe the walls are on an angle or something.” But there were two other notable incidents that made me believe that it was more ghost than gravity:
1) One night, I woke up around 1 in the morning. Ken was still up somewhere, and as I was lying there, I could hear sounds coming from the baby monitor. K, who was about two at the time, was talking to someone. I yelled “Ken! What are you doing? It’s one o’clock in the morning—why are you in K’s room?” No answer. I called a couple of more times. I could still hear K talking and a man’s voice, so finally I got ticked off and went into her room. There was no one there. K just kind of looked at me, then closed her eyes and went back to sleep. I totally lost it, and went running around the house (it was a really big old house) looking for Ken. I finally found him in the family room downstairs. “There was someone in K’s room!” I said, and told him what happened. He grabbed a baseball bat, and we searched the house, but we didn’t find anyone. After we calmed down, Ken got all rational. “There are two possible explanations,” he said. “Either you were still asleep and dreamed it, or there’s another baby monitor in town and ours was picking up someone else’s frequency.” Neither of those worked though—first, I was wide awake, and second, K was the first baby in the community in about 12 years, so nobody else had a baby monitor for miles. I know a lot of people are creeped out by baby monitors—there’s a good reason for that as far as I’m concerned.
2) We had a guest bedroom next to K’s room that every once in a while smelled like cigarette smoke, even though we’d repainted it , and no one in our family smoked. One night, I had a really bad cough and, not wanting to disturb Ken, I decided to sleep in there. I woke up coughing around 3 in the morning, and as I was lying there, I heard the distinct sound of the baby gate at the top of the stairs being opened. It was a super-secure gate, and to open it, you had to push down hard on the handle, slide it back, then swing it open. And that was the exact sound I’d just heard—click, slide, swing. I lay there, paralysed with fear, thinking that someone had broken into the house, and waited to hear footsteps before I started screaming (the floorboards were very old and creaky, so if anyone was upstairs, I’d know it in a second). I waited—nothing else happened. The dog didn’t wake up either, so after a while, I just kind of fell back to sleep. But in the morning, I went out into the hall, and the baby gate was wide open.
Now, you might think this was all in my imagination but there are two reasons why I know it wasn’t. Reason one is that a few years later, we moved down the road to the town where we still live. One summer Saturday morning, we were having a garage sale, and a very elderly man drove up. He struck up a conversation with us, said that he’d lived in our area all his life and that he knew the woman who used to own our new old (1906) house quite well. I told him we used to live in Washington in the “big, red house on the corner.”
“I know the place,” he said. “My uncle Len lived there for most of his life, before the people you bought from. He was over eighty when he died. He got really ‘funny’ towards the last part of his life—a real practical joker. His favourite trick was to put on a devil’s mask, then sneak up to the church when the ladies’ choir was practicing. He’d peek in the windows and just about scare them to death, then run away laughing! Of course, it was the cancer that got him in the end—he was a chain smoker, you know.” Yeah, we know. You owe me about twenty toothbrushes, Uncle Len.
Reason two is even creepier. One night a few years ago, I was sleeping and in my dream, I could hear the song “Hey ho, the witch is dead” from The Wizard of OZ, like it was playing on a music box. Just as I woke up, I could still hear the music playing, then it started to wind down slower and slower until it stopped. I freaked out and did what any reasonable person would do—I woke up Ken. “Oh,” he said, “this is just like that baby monitor thing in Washington. You were asleep the whole time. There’s nothing in our room that could have been playing “Hey ho, the witch is dead”—you just dreamed it.” But then I was talking to my mom later that afternoon, and I told her what happened. “That’s strange,” she said. “But wait—didn’t I give you a Hallowe’en snowglobe with the characters from the Wizard of Oz in it a few years ago? I’m sure it played that song when you wound it up.” I ran upstairs and started ransacking the room. Sure enough, I found the snowglobe at the bottom of a drawer in a desk across the room. I wound it up, and guess what it played? Yep. How the hell it had suddenly become wound up and started playing in the middle of the night, I didn’t even want to contemplate. I threw the f*cker into a garbage can on the back porch. But if I didn’t imagine THAT, what does it tell you about the baby monitor? Who knows what secrets the universe holds? Two hundred years ago, if you’d shown someone a television or cell phone, they would have burned you at the stake for being a demon. Or Uncle Len.
A sudden loss
You might have noticed, if you visit this site regularly, that this week’s edition isn’t as funny as usual. Good call. I just didn’t have that much to laugh about this week. My Uncle Gary died very suddenly on Monday night, and we’ve been dealing with this unexpected loss to our family for the last few days. You didn’t know Uncle Gary, of course, but you should have. Everyone should know a man like Gary. He was warm, kind, generous, and told a great story. Sometimes you never knew where the story was going to end up, but it was always worth the wait. Much love, and Godspeed, Gary. We’ll miss you.