October 25, 2007

Pre-Halloween Ghost Story

In my senior year of high school, my grandmother's oldest brother, Frank, died at the age of - well, we're not entirely sure, since no one could find his birth certificate. (And we knew that my great-grandparents' recall wasn't so good, since my grandmother found out in her seventh decade of life that she was actually a year older than she thought she was.) Frank had been married to Lou, but they never had any kids, although she had one or two from a previous marriage, and she pre-deceased him by a few years. As a kid, I was kind of scared of Uncle Frank, since he was quite tall and quite thin, almost skeletal in his later years. But he was always laughing when the family got together for Thanksgiving and played Pokeno. When he died, my grandma and mom went through his little rent-controlled apartment in a retirement community in Passaic, throwing out jars of tomato sauce and leafing through old documents. Frank had a fair amount of money when he died, and he left chunks of it to his grand-nieces and nephews. It wasn't a lot, but it helped me graduate from UVa debt-free.

As I was talking to my mom this evening, she casually said, "Oh, I have to tell you about your Uncle Frank!" I said, "Uhm, is he not dead or something?" "Funny you should ask - the people who are living in his old apartment have started seeing him!" The couple who moved in never really met Frank, although they did know who he was and knew what he looked like, as they had seen him around. This started a few weeks ago, according to my mom, when the couple bumped into my grandmother at bingo and mentioned that they thought they had seen a tall, thin man with thinning, dark hair at their front door. They thought it was nothing, maybe someone passing by outside, but it started happening more often. The gentleman saw Frank walking through the apartment, and a few days ago saw him in his pajamas in the bathroom. Just yesterday, a letter for Frank showed up in their mailbox - a $200 rebate from the Craftmatic adjustable bed company.

My mom's theory now is that Frank left something in the apartment and is trying to tell us to go look for it. My mom thinks he squirreled away a bunch of cash in the walls or under the floor. I think he hid documentation about illegitimate children somewhere. My mom's coming up to NJ in the next couple weeks to visit my grandmother, so they're gonna go visit Uncle Frank and see if they can figure out "why he's not at rest" as my mom put it. In the meantime, if you know any psychics or people who specialize in talking to ghosts or other paranormal phenomena, let me know so that I can pass it along to my mom.

I can only hope this story gets better and more hilarious. Although the fact that my great-uncle is haunting people is truly awesome on its own.

October 19, 2007


When I was in 5th grade, I was at the grocery store with my mom and saw a book on the paperback rack that caught my eye. For years, all I remembered about the book was that it was called Feast and that it was about a cult of autophagia. I remember bringing the book to school and reading passages to my friends Katy and Erica. For whatever reason, I didn't think to check WorldCat until today - and in under 5 minutes, I found out it was Feast by noted horror writer Graham Masterton. You can see why I was attracted to the book. Even at 10, before I was close to naming what I wanted to do with my life, I loved skeletons. I can get it used through Amazon for about $3.50. Should I? I have no idea why my mom would buy me this book at age 11.

October 16, 2007

Postcard from Italy

I was chatting with my former roommate this evening. He has a seriously tricked-out MSN client, with all sorts of weird little graphics. I was getting used to all of his double-o's being creepy googly eyes, but his signoff was the best. I don't know if there's a way to do a moving screen capture in the GIMP, so you'll have to imagine Ratz's hand waving at me. It made me snort my coffee.

October 15, 2007

I have PGS

Two weeks after returning from Italy, I find that I have a problem. It's something I've decided to christen PGS or Phantom Geography Syndrome. The symptoms include being confused about where you are, working under false assumptions about your location in the world, and the realization you'd rather be elsewhere. Oddly enough, it's not Rome that is muddling my frame of reference. Everyone around me speaks English, the streets and sidewalks are free of dog shit and graffiti, and loads of people are obese - which makes it clear that it's not Italy. I keep forgetting that I'm in upstate NY rather than central NC. I was looking into travel to a conference in January and immediately searched for the cheapest flights from RDU. I stepped out of the house in a tshirt and hoodie and couldn't figure out why it was 20 degrees too cold. I thought about getting take-out Indian and then realized the closest place is at least 15 miles away. It's weird how a place that you lived in for only 8 years can have that kind of pull on your thoughts.

October 1, 2007


The trip back went off without a hitch. The taxi driver came on time, and I checked in with Lufthansa on time as well. One of my bags was overweight (no surprise there), but they insisted that it was a 50E charge, even though I swear their website said it was a $25 charge. Rome to Frankfurt was fine, but 3 hours in the Frankfurt airport sucked. There's really nowhere to sit, and you can't go to your gate more than 90 minutes before the flight leaves. Frankfurt to Rome was fine - I didn't have to sit next to a fat person, there were no screaming babies, and no one was kicking my seat. I was surrounded by annoying Russians who, since they couldn't watch the movie, kept standing in the aisle, necessitating my kicking them and miming that I was watching the movie, since they spoke absolutely no English. (The flight attendant asked if they were Americans, for the customs forms, and they didn't even understand that simple question.) I stole a metal spork from Lufthansa (because metal sporks are awesome!) and made awkward conversation with my seat mate:

Him: This flight is terrible!
Me: It's not so bad really.
Him: I got up at 2am.
Me: Yeah, I did at 3am. Is Philly your last stop?
Him: Yeah, I just have to take a cab. You?
Me: I have a 3-hour drive to upstate NY, but my husband's picking me up.
[a few minutes later... The TV is showing a Mickey Mouse cartoon, in which Pluto starts jumping on Mickey and licking his face when he arrives home]
Him: Ha ha, I bet that's what your husband's going to be like when you see him!
Me: Uhmmm... yeah.

My main concern flying back, of course, was for my samples. I ended up bringing around 200 teeth and 100 pieces of femora. I had thoroughly researched all the EU and US regulations on exporting and importing human skeletal remains, which are different if they're from an archaeological collection or from recently-dead people. I got letters from my advisor and from the Archaeological Superintendency in Rome saying that they were old bones, they had no dirt, and they were for research paid for by the NSF. I printed out all the EU regulations in three languages, I had all this information in my purse, and the samples were all individually wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in labelled ziplock bags. No one bothered me at the xrays at Fiumicino. No one batted an eye in Frankfurt when they scanned my bag. And, even though I listed the samples on the back of my customs form (at no value) in the US, no one even turned the form over.

The moral of the story is... airport security will confiscate 2 ounces of saline solution, they will make you pour out your bottle of drinking water, and they will make you throw away pots of lip balm, but 7 pounds of dead people? A-ok!

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