November 18, 2012
The Crying of Lot 303
In elementary school, we went on a trip to Niagara Falls — the (good) Canadian side, of course.
The only thing I remember about this “educational” excursion was the Niagara Falls Museum, one of those Victorian age “curiosity cabinet” style museums packed with dusty out of context junk, from: something that “may be an arrowhead” (according to the yellowing handwritten note inside the glass case) to Ramses’ purloined (and later returned) mummy to a whale skeleton to the walk-in bottom bit of a Redwood tree.
This compulsive Gothic freakishness came to underpin my personal mythology. Here were barnyard creatures who’d never star in their own Golden books. I rather envied the “calf was born with two heads” that “only lived for a few days.” A fair tradeoff.
When I returned to Niagara Falls in adulthood, I learned that the Museum had been demolished, replaced by a Hershey store. My then-boyfriend’s attempts to cheer me with oversized chocolate bars did nothing to stop me from crying into my Coke float. Where did all “my” stuff go? Was “my” two-headed calf staring up blankly into a cruel empty sky from the tip of a landfill?
Then I learned through a feature in Toronto Life that the contents of the Museum had been purchased for about $2 million by a local named Billy Jamieson. Photos revealed that Jamieson displayed the collection on every plush red-walled inch of his giant (to me) Toronto house.
I was half relieved, half enraged.
I “joked” that if only I’d had the gifts (charm, beauty) to insinuate myself into Jamieson’s life, I could maybe get him to leave me “my” stuff after he died.
(I swear I had nothing to do with it! He was the one with all the voodoo shit!!)
Yesterday Rick sent me an email, subject line “You know about this, right?”
I didn’t. I’d halted my Toronto Life subscription in a previous century and I avoid local news, in a sorry attempt to pretend I don’t live here.
The auction is today. I did what I still always do, even as 50 approaches: Announce “I’m going to this thing, mo-fos!” The auction house is right downtown on a major street and easily accessible by public transportation but… I know I still wouldn’t “go to this thing” if it was across the street from my house, because that still counts as “not my house.”
I like to blame the eerie sensation that’s plagued me since well before that school trip — as the shortest child in every class, the only child of two only children — that is, that the sky is too high and the streets way too wide — which I suppose is agoraphobia. Except I resent the fact that there is a name for it. That means it isn’t exclusively “mine.”
(Besides, I have deadlines, which are also part of my clever lifelong “don’t leave the house” arrangement, right? They prevent me from doing so, like guard dogs in reverse. I bought them and trained them myself.)
But the real reason is that just writing this is making me cry and there’s no way I’m doing that in front of other people, all of whom are taking home my stuff and don’t deserve to.
To have glass, tearless eyes, like that two-headed calf — the black and cataract-y ones I forced myself to stare into, recoiling at my own wretched face staring back, losing my tiptoe balance.
I remember there being so many of those creatures at the Museum: deformed dogs and bovine chimera — a Thalidomide nativity scene.
But again and again, these articles, and the auction catalogue, only mention that calf, alone, with its tiptoed anticipation of a life it had no way of knowing would soon be over. A freak never meant for this world.