My Week 257: The Phantom Menace

Kate: Where’s Dad?
Me: He’s out on the porch.
K: What’s he doing?
Me: Spackling.
K: He’s what?
Me: Spackling. He’s spackling the railing.
K: Why do I feel like you’re just inventing words now?
Me: It’s a real word!
K: Use it in a sentence.
Me: Your dad is spackling the railings with…spackle.
K: So now it’s a verb AND a noun? I don’t buy it. Hey, Dad!
Ken: What?
K: What are you doing?
Ken: I’m using spackle to spackle the railings.
K (*rolls eyes*): You people.
Me: By the way, it’s your fault the house is haunted.

And then I had to explain how it came to be that I was blaming my only child for the series of spooky events that had recently befallen us. Last Tuesday, I came home from work, went upstairs to change, and noticed that the linen cupboard at the back of the house was wide open. So I went downstairs and asked Ken if he had opened it. He hadn’t. And neither had I. In fact, we couldn’t remember the last time someone had taken something out of that particular cupboard. Then I messaged Kate, who also hadn’t opened it.


Still, there had to be a logical explanation, right? Maybe it swung open on its own, right? Except that the door is extremely tight in the frame and needs a very strong tug to move it. Then, on Wednesday, I went upstairs to said cupboard to prove to myself that the door could have quite possibly opened on its own.

The cupboard on the left.

While I was standing there and tugging, I happened to glance to my right and realized that the guest bedroom door was half-closed. Which it hadn’t been the night before when I was getting my work clothes out of the closet in that exact guest bedroom. I stopped tugging on the linen cupboard and pushed open the guest bedroom door. Guess what I saw? My eyes immediately went to the bookcase in the corner of the bedroom, whose door was now wide open, a door which had been closed tight via a magnetic latch the night before when I was getting my work clothes out of the closet. So I did what any normal person would do—I backed out of the room very quietly, backed down the hall, tiptoed down the stairs and found Ken:

Me (*whispering shakily*) The door to the bookcase in the back bedroom is now wide open.
Ken: What?!
Me: Come and see.

Ken (*staring at bookcase*) Are you sure it wasn’t like this before? Did you get a book out of there today?
Me: I took a book out a couple of days ago but I closed it. It was still shut last night. Ken, we need to search the house.

Ken didn’t argue. But after looking under all the beds, in all the closets, which was a little terrifying to say the least, thinking that some random stranger might suddenly jump out at us, we both had to admit that there was no one in the house. As Ken put it, “There’s no physical presence here.”

Which, of course, leads me to the only explanation I can think of. At the beginning of the week, Ken and Kate decided to break apart the old stone stoop in front of our house with sledgehammers to make a new set of stairs with a “better slope”. While they were merrily demolishing it, they must have released some kind of spirit, who flew into the house after years of captivity, and whose only desire was to snuggle up in flannel with a good book. When I mentioned it to both of them yesterday in what some might call an accusatory tone, Ken’s immediate reaction was, “It was Kate’s idea!” Kate, of course, had a better explanation, that the sledgehammering had shifted the house slightly and gravity had caused all the doors to move. We went upstairs to try out the theory—the linen cupboard, if not closed properly, WILL swing all the way open. The bookcase door WILL NOT.

I’ve told a couple of friends about this and the advice has ranged from ‘put salt in all the corners of the room’ to ‘install motion sensor cameras’. But there haven’t been any more incidents since Wednesday, so maybe it was just a fly-by-night phantom. Fingers crossed.

I’m keeping my eye on this one.

My Week 78: I’m Not an Intellectual, Another Haunted Bathroom

Tuesday: I am NOT an intellectual

On Tuesday morning, I discovered, to my horror, that I had made a mistake. It wasn’t an unfixable mistake, and I’d caught it before it caused a problem, but still, it was a mistake. I pride myself on being very meticulous and careful, and it made me feel suddenly like I didn’t know my own mind anymore. Two of my wonderful colleagues saw that I was upset, and comforted me. “It’s happened to all of us,” said one. “You should feel good that you found it before it was too late.” “Come for sushi with us,” said the other. “It will make you feel better.” Oh, the irony. So we went to a local sushi place, them so that they could keep discussing a meeting they’d been to that morning, and me so that I could drown my sorrows in teriyaki and seaweed. I should tell you right up front that I have a severe shellfish allergy, so when I ordered, I asked for the vegetarian rolls with my chicken instead of the California rolls. “You know it’s not real crab in the California rolls, right?” said one colleague. “Real crab is too expensive—it’s probably hake.” Well, I didn’t know what that was either, and I wasn’t willing to risk my epipen finding out, although both of the other women jokingly thought it might be a fun experiment. Then, while we waited for the food, they began debating. Both women have Ph.Ds, so right away, I was feeling a little intimidated by their knowledge and experience, having only two Bachelor’s degrees and an incomplete M.A., so I stayed quiet. Then the food came, and I discovered to my horror, for the second time that day, that I had made a mistake, because the vegetarian rolls contained not only cucumber, but also avocado. WTF, Sushi Star?! I know that some people “like” eating avocado, in the same way I imagine that some people “like” natural childbirth—which is to say, it’s a totally masochistic thing to do, and there’s no medal waiting for you when you’re finished, although you think you deserve one. (This, of course, is just my opinion. If you can have a baby without drugs, or eat avocado without gagging, then go for it. Just don’t be all braggy and sh*t.) Anyway, I decided to try one roll, just to see if I could stomach it. The answer was a clear NO. And just in case you think this is just me being bizarre, here’s a link to an article that I found called “20 Pieces of Proof That Avocadoes are the Worst and Should Be Stopped”


Let me remind you at this point that the conversation was still swirling around me—I believe the topic at this point was “how do we really define homogeny?” But I can’t be sure, because I was more focused on how to get the avocado out of the next sushi roll without the whole thing falling apart. I tried poking it out with my chopstick, but the damn stuff was so soft that my chopstick just went right through. And then I had the secondary issue of having avocado-slime-covered chopsticks, and I had to scrape the green paste off against the side of the bento box. I couldn’t just bang it out of the roll, so finally, I resorted to trying to push it out with my finger. Which only resulted in getting avocado all over my fingers, and my sushi rolls falling apart into a heap. So there I was, up to my elbows in pasty, slimy avocado. Obviously, this was the moment I decided that it would be a good time to engage in the conversation, which had turned to “Name one country that is truly homogeneous.” Distracted by my predicament, staring at my hands and wondering where the napkins were hiding, I blurted out “China.” The conversation stopped dead. My two colleagues turned to look at me, probably for the first time since the whole avocado debacle had begun. “What?” said one. “There are at least 14 different dialects spoken across 8 distinct regions of China!” (I’m making those numbers up—I was still too distracted by my predicament to really pay attention). The lecture on Chinese culture continued, and I was beginning to regret my sad, Dormouse-like contribution when the other woman countered, “No, she’s absolutely right. This adds a whole other layer to the issue–how do we differentiate between the political will to create the perception of homogeny, and true diversity?” and in my head, I was like “Hell Yeah! I win, stupid avocado!” Apparently, they were so embroiled in the debate that neither of them had noticed my dissected lunch, or the fact that I was trying to scrape green goo out from under my fingernails. At least that’s what I thought until later. One of the women invited me over for dinner, and when her husband told us enthusiastically that he had put avocado in the salad, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t worry—you can pick it out.” Avocado – 1, Intellectualism – 0.


Thursday: I encounter yet ANOTHER bathroom ghost

Bathrooms have always been a source of anxiety for me. Mostly because of the ghosts. If you’ve read My Week 69: Ghost Stories, you’ll know what I mean. First, there was the ghost in my own bathroom, then there was the ghost in the bathroom at The Keg. Sure, I have other anxieties about bathrooms, especially public ones, like flushing no matter what I’m doing so that no one will hear me, or worrying about someone going into the stall right after me and judging me harshly. In fact, I’ve been known to say to a co-worker who’s just come in, “You might want to avoid stall 5”. I never know if that’s more awkward than just letting the person go in and hope they have a cold or something—either way, bathrooms stress me out. And now, I have another reason to fear the bathrooms at work, since I had a close encounter of a ghostly kind.

On Thursday afternoon, not long after lunch, I walked down the hall to the bathroom. Things were pretty quiet, it being a snow day and everything, so not a lot of people were around. I took the time to stop and congratulate the receptionist, a lovely younger woman, on her recent engagement. We chatted for a bit, then I continued on my way. I opened the outer door to the facilities, and then pushed at the inner door, at which point I realized that the motion-sensitive lights were off. As they began to come on, I heard the most terrifying noise—it sounded like someone in the first stall was freaking out and slamming the toilet paper dispenser. I could see a shadow flickering, and thought for a second that it was the building’s custodian replacing the roll or something, but then I realized that there was NO ONE IN THE STALL. Without even thinking, I tore out of there like a bat out of hell and ran around behind the reception desk, shaking. “What happened?!” asked the receptionist.

“There’s something in the bathroom!” I said, hyperventilating.

“What are you talking about? What’s in the bathroom?! I thought I heard banging—what was it?!” she demanded.

“I don’t know, but there’s definitely something in there!”

I described to her what happened, and after a minute, she agreed to go back in with me and check it out. This was NOT a decision that either of us took lightly, and we tiptoed to the door, and very cautiously re-opened it. “Where was the noise coming from?” she asked.

“The first stall,” I answered. “Oh my god, not the first stall!” she exclaimed. “That stall is haunted! The receptionist who used to work here told me that!”

At which point, we both ran out of the bathroom back to the reception desk. “I can’t go back in there,” I said. “What am I going to do? I really need to go.”

“Use the one downstairs,” she said. “Here’s the code.”

So I went downstairs, but it was almost as bad, maybe because I was still shaken up. But the door creaked like someone crying, which freaked me out, and there was a dark room at the back with a couch in it that I had to check first to make sure no one was hiding in it.

The rest of the afternoon was stressful. My work partner had left to visit her parents, and I needed to use the bathroom one more time before I got on the train, but there was no one to come with me. I wandered past reception again, hoping that I could catch someone going in the ‘bathroom of death’ and wander in behind her. I was in luck—another co-worker was chatting with the receptionist.

“You wouldn’t happen to be on your way to the ladies’ room?” I asked.

“I was…why?” she asked suspiciously. “What’s going on?”

I was looking hedgy, and the receptionist was giggling. “Oh, nothing. I just had something weird happen earlier, and it freaked me out a little.”

I explained to her what happened, and she said, “Oh, I know what that was!”

We went into the bathroom, and without fear or hesitation, she opened the door to the first stall. “See the automated sanitary dispenser? It’s broken. When the overhead lights come on, it triggers the sensor in the lid, and it flaps up and down like crazy. Makes a terrible noise.” She demonstrated, and sure enough, that was what I heard. I sagged in relief, then we both looked at each other and started to laugh hysterically. We went back out to the reception area and told the receptionist what had happened.

“Oh, no,” she said. “That’s not what the other woman used to say. She said that the door to the stall would swing open and shut all by itself.”

My co-worker and I looked at each other nervously. “Must just be the wind,” I said, and we all agreed to agree.



My Week 69: Ghost Stories, A Sudden Loss

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).

keg mansion

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.