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Do the Necronomicon
John Shepard ( - Tue Nov 23, 2010 13:27:57 GMT - 1133
''Finally getting around to posting my Halloween report. ''
October 2010

Aaaand now I'm in Seattle.

It's Halloween 2010. There were transportation concerns - since my car has developed a leaky head gasket and/or a cracked head, we lost the option to drive it here, but all that really did was rearrange the carpools somewhat.

But we're here. We view Seattle as a gorgeous place to visit but none of us would dare live here - it's like a piece of far-distant Portland infrastructure, all the things Portland currently doesn't have, if we want to drive three hours to get it, but if we lived here, we'd lose all the things Portland has. Like halfway sane roads. It's like how you take some of the stuff you don't need right now and put it in storage - and storage ends up containing more stuff than your apartment proper, but once in awhile you just go hang out there and go through stuff and say "oh that's where I left that" - well, Seattle is where Portland puts whatever it doesn't have room for. Seattle is bigger than Portland - but our storage units contain more stuff than our apartment, so the analogy tracks.

This year's Halloween is, as always put together by our friend who does the off-the-hook Halloweens. I think this year's big event is Evil Dead: The Musical. I think there's also a scavenger hunt at Pike Place. Oh, and the hotel where all ten of us are staying is haunted.

Well, don't know about haunted haunted, but - we've rented about four or five rooms on the fourth floor of this hotel, which used to be an apartment building (as I suspect all hotels in Seattle are) - wandering around the fourth floor, we discovered a crazy hallway that just leads off into the distance, becoming narrower and strangely heavier as you go. The air thickens back there. Sound is deadened. It's been carpeted in my lifetime, the walls are painted a 1980s shade of orange, you know, it's not derelict or part of the boiler room or something, but it's just... you feel like you're the first living thing back there in years, you feel isolated but not alone, and there's something weird about the ventilation system there, that it wicks the heat out of the hallway but without circulating any air, creating stuffy cold spots.

We found a tiny door - like six inches by five inches, not a door you'd go through unless you're Zowie Bunny - and behind it you can see into the building's "core", there's a hollow space in there where the plumbing and vents go, and that seems to be the source of the coldness.

It is just a very creepy space in that hallway.

And as far as we can tell, those are just normal hotel rooms like the rest of the floor, we just think they book those rooms last.

See, many of the people in our current Gang used to be in a paranormal investigation group. They'd go to houses, look for ghosts, like the TV shows except without so much shouting of "dude". It kind of collapsed because the leadership core of the group were some decidedly unprofessional people who a) could never decide how to reconcile their Christianity with the things they said they were investigating, and b) would pull pranks on new members, alienate the people whose homes and businesses the group were investigating, and other such bullshit. There were internal politics, and a couple of egregious incidents, and it eventually just fell apart. Good. Because now, having had a few years to reevaluate matters, the sane people are wanting to start a new group - and this time they've asked me to join. My skepticism makes me a useful asset to such a team, because, you know, if I think the cold spots are caused by a wonky ventilation system in a 103-year-old building, I'm going to say so. I'll still get the chills in that hallway, but I'll say what I think is causing it and sometimes I'll be right.

My take on ghost hunting is pretty simple: if there is something beyond our understanding which can be investigated like that, you must rule out stupid shit like badly aligned door hinges and malfunctioning air conditioning, and you must rule it out first, or else you will look like idiots when it turns out that's what it was. I like a good ghost story as much as the next person, but I also recognize they don't have to be true, and that you don't have to believe them, for them to send chills down your spine. And at the same time, if there's a possibility that our information processing capacity somehow outlives the circuitry it runs on, like a computer program that runs after you turn the power off, well, I think that would be rather interesting and I'd very much like to know more about it... and not from people whose expert knowledge basically amounts to wanting to believe it really badly.

I went out a-wandering this morning to find some food. Heard rumors of an IGA nearby, an IGA plagued us at the beach house back in August with its terrifying poor selection of yogurt (you know, if "light" yogurt has 35g of sugar, you're doing it wrong) - but it would be better than nothing - and I couldn't find it.

I did, however, find the Rally to Restore Sanity. I was sad that I couldn't go to the one in Portland this weekend, and wasn't expecting to find its twin here. It's just a couple blocks up the street. I like me a good liberal political rally - for a moment there's hope, one last spark before the lights go out completely. I mean, by now I'm sure you know my opinion of the Tea Party - the successful brainwashing of a huge chunk of working-class America into thinking that what they really, really want is for Rupert Murdoch not to pay taxes. I like the fact that I'm not the only one who's noticed this, like maybe these cretins won't usurp enough power to run this country onto the reef because they've given off too weird a vibe, that I'm not the only one scared of their scary faux-populist loudmouth ten-minute-hate. But that's what I thought before we invaded Iraq too, that there were enough people to say "this shit is wrong" that there are limits to our nation's craziness.

There's also a nagging thought that maybe we really don't need calm discourse at this time - that this is how the left keeps getting tricked by the right, that people like Sarah Palin can say something dumb in one sentence that will lock up an intelligent person all day trying to figure out how to explain why it's wrong. We don't need to debate the Tea Party, we need to shut down their money pump and get back to Republicans we can debate. You can't debate propaganda. That's kind of what propaganda is.

I wasn't able to stay for too much of the rally, for we have Things To Do Today.

Eventually an IGA turned up and now I feel better. I can go there and get Meteorite supplies if needed. Yogurt helps - any day I don't have yogurt, I have a Meteorite. It's off-brand yogurt but it seems to work, as long as they haven't replaced the Lactobacillus with high fructose corn slime.

We took a ghost tour of Seattle. Ghost tours of any town are hit and miss - down usually to the quality of the group giving the tour - and I'm finding that what I like in a ghost tour are:
- things you stand a chance of independently verifying
- respect for skepticism, not treat skepticism as a temporary condition, let us continue to be skeptics by the end of the tour without feeling like we have to "pass a test"
- minimum of embellishments and utter made-up shit
- leave open the question of what these things might be - don't nail down an explanation
- don't tell us your religion
- no blatant pseudoscience.

It's not as important to me to actually go inside haunted places, as I recognize that newly formed tours don't always have access - that frankly many establishments don't want to be diagnosed "haunted", it's bad for business - but if you do get to go inside, the tour shouldn't sell up some ghostly place in the building and then show you everything in the building but that. If you advertise tunnels, there goddamn better be tunnels, is all I'm saying.

I actually find it matters if the tour guide mentions treating the ghosts with respect - if they believe what they are dealing with are people, and can't treat them with respect, then they're probably going to treat the living disrespectfully along the way too. And this has been backed up by experience. By now I think we're all sick of "dudes" who taunt the ghosts and insult the audience. We will say professionalism counts. Joke if you want, but know where the jokes end and the serious resumes.

The paranormal group we plan to (re)start probably won't do tours. We're more interested in getting permission to investigate a place, and documenting and discussing what we find, than in becoming a tourist attraction.

Anyway. How'd this tour rate? Good on minimal embellishment, good on not nailing down what he thinks they are, good on professionalism, good for respect for ghosts, needs improvement on respect for skepticism, and the tour as it stands has no access to any building except one parking garage, which we were under the impression he was going to actually ghosthunt in and he didn't. He passes around headphones to let us hear EVP recordings - but he claims to have photos of ghosts but doesn't show them. (Thing with EVPs is, you can't tell from just the audio who was in the room or what equipment was in use. I'll hit on that subject in more detail in future Rastports.) Good on no blatant pseudoscience - no misused scientific-sounding crap that can be disproved by paying attention in seventh grade science, like some previous tours we've been on.

I do realize no ghost tour guide is going to say "I was a skeptic when I started and I still am" - that's tour death. The money phrase is "I started out a skeptic but now I'm not so sure" or variations on that - that what you are about to show them is probably going to affect them - and I'm learning to not be bothered by that. I mean, I'd love for one of these tours to be interrupted by an unmistakable free-floating full form vapor apparition that just floats right through the middle of the group. I'd love to see an EVP experiment that has cameras pointed at the room with the recorder, cameras pointed at the cameras, a Faraday cage to screen out radio interference, and unambiguous results - and I am so far unaware of anyone having really thrown something like that at the problem. I of course, sadly, have no events in my life I can't explain except by ghosts. So - I grow cynical that a ghost tour will ever leave me convinced.

Do I just have too high a standard for proof? Yeah. But it serves me well. I like, from a scientific perspective, setting a threshold - what would it take to prove it beyond reasonable doubt, and what would it take to disprove it and utterly exclude it from consideration in future. Of ghosts: one, no plausible scientific theory explains how they could exist but none has absolutely ruled out all possibilities, and two, it's clear ghosts are going to exist or not exist without my involvement. So my threshold on ghosts has not been tipped in either direction.

Following the ghost tour, we went to see Evil Dead: The Musical. Do I even need to tell you this was awesome? Here, let me tell you how awesome: the front row has to wear rain slicks because they get drenched by blood. Here let me tell some more how awesome: there are rollicking dance numbers with names like "Do The Necronomicon" and "The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed By Khandarian Demons". Not awesome enough for you yet? Their "Ash" initially looks like Fred Savage, but as the show goes on and he gets that deranged look and sinister grin, you'd swear Bruce Campbell is on the stage. "Good, bad - I'm the guy with the gun." Ash's sister becomes a Deadite (and if that's a spoiler you deserve it) and spends the rest of the show poking her head up through the trap door to taunt Ash in epic ways - we were really impressed with the actress, in the beginning she is deliberately acting badly to emulate the source material. There's even the occasional commentary on plot holes in the source material.

The musical covers Evil Dead 1 and 2, reducing Army of Darkness to the briefest mention. Which I guess either means they didn't like Army of Darkness, or they're saving it for a sequel. And this of course means if you go see it, and 2/3rds of the way through you're wondering why he's not in the Middle Ages yet, this is why.

When Evil Dead: The Musical let out, it was oh, 37 o'clock at night... and we were a great distance from the hotel (can't remember the geography too precisely but I'm sure there was a body of water in between - Seattle is nowhere as straightforward a piece of land as Portland). We'd taken twelve people in three cabs to get there. We were told, once the show lets out just call the cab company again and they'll get us three cabs to get back... and when that time came, they wouldn't answer their phone.

(It is not a continuity error that we have ten people in the hotel and twelve people going to the musical. I only mention it because these days, I really have no idea what people are going to pick out of my writing to try to start a fight about. "Twelve? You said ten. We are no longer friends!")

So. Lost in Seattle, stranded across the street from some number of bars, on a Saturday night, trying to get twelve people back to the hotel, at 2am. What could possibly go wrong?

It's Halloween weekend. The loonies and drunks were out in full force. The cab companies were tied up in other parts of the metropolis. We couldn't get anyone to send us three cabs. When a single cab would come through, a drunk stumbling out of one of the many bars would flag it down before we even got to it. It took over an hour to get everyone in cabs.

The reason we didn't just drive our cars over there? The parking garage nearest the hotel is not accessible 24 hours. We could not have parked once we got back. Seattle has parking issues. File under "understatement".

So anyway. Somewhere around 3am we drag our sorry asses back to the hotel, and we're starving. There's a late-night joint on the same block as the hotel, but I voice some concerns - we'd eaten there the previous night and I wasn't especially impressed, and moreover, it's not the kind of food I should be eating on a vacation anyway. But it is the only thing around. So we risk it.

I realize it's unreasonable for a dozen people to pile into an after hours place and say "bring me food". That's why there's this thing called money. You make us food, tolerate our presence, and in return, we pay you. It's a difficult concept but I think we can learn all about it together.

You may from that guess how the food situation turned out.

The place is kind of small, so they actually split us up and put half of us in the lounge. Apparently the lounge people got their food first and better. We in the main room had issues with ours - mine was OK, but as people's food came in, a person at a time instead of everybody receiving their food at once as is common in restaurants in these parts, it got worse and worse. Girlfriend ended up with something inedibly burnt - it's poutine, how the hell do you fuck up poutine? Someone else took a bite of a potato wedge and it was moldy. Girlfriend sent back her burnt offering and asked for something different, and the replacement was also burnt. Someone else at our table didn't get their food until after Girlfriend had sent hers back twice. It seemed like it was one waitress in particular who seemed to dislike us (and Girlfriend in particular!) for some reason. She wasn't our waitress the previous night.

I hereby name it: Night Kitchen. Yes, we complained about this.

We go crawling back to the hotel, some of us fed and some of us not - and I think Girlfriend ended up latching on to something from the hotel vending machine, and that was her only meal since lunch. This isn't cool. She doesn't have blood sugar issues like I do but nobody likes headaches.

I'd stay at the Moore Hotel again with all its hauntedness and quirks, but the Night Kitchen is a liability and so is the weird non-24-hour parking. Next time I would make other food and parking arrangements, to avoid such "unwanted adventures" again. Even if it's just packing a cooler with some emergency food, so if dinner fails, we can at least bring our blood sugars up.

(Note from the future: also, if you the reader ever stay at the Moore, WATCH YOUR CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS. They're known to charge first and ask questions later. They're not fraudulent, just disorganized.)

I gotta say, I love Seattle, I just can't ever see myself living there unless the bottom falls out of Portland. Gorgeous city. Run by incompetent buffoons who can't even take a shit unassisted without first having eighteen months worth of meetings and studies to decide whether to take a vote on the matter. Built mostly on Native American burial grounds, so huge disruptive construction projects have a tendency to get stalled at the 90% mark. Anything of interest isn't earthquake-proof. Mass transit is a parody of Portland's - or what Portland's is about to become. It moves a little too fast for my tastes. But man. I love being there. And when I get the car fixed, it'll be possible to be there, well, anytime we have a free weekend.

Final day, and not much going on except the trip home. But first, there is one last stop: the Museum of Mysteries.

I can't tell you everything that's going on in there. You ought to get up that way and see it for yourself.

Among the neater things with which we found ourselves way too fascinated: a voice synthesizer hooked up to some kind of EMF detector. Idea being, if a ghost wants to communicate, they can do so by influencing this device. It's kind of hypnotic, and 99.9% of what comes out of it is incomprehensible. I do happen to have a Color Computer and a speech cartridge, the overall sound of this device could be emulated pretty easily by picking phonemes at random - but for authenticity, it'd have to receive its randomness from the outside world somehow, because the "usual" way of producing "random" numbers in a computer is mathematical and predictable and unlikely to be influenced by ghosts or magnetism.

We asked the ghost box "where is Kyron Horman" and we heard, among the ramblings, in the first few seconds: "sa-o-v" (sounding exactly like "Sauvie", where the searchers keep looking) and "thirty five".

You can guess what I think: such a device is really more useful for extracting information from our subconscious, we hear patterns in the noise and the patterns come from within us.

Had a fascinating few minutes with the psychic cards - the square, circle, star etc - and found that while I could not usually guess the cards, I could tell when I was about to guess right. Hard to explain. It's like, if I couldn't "see" the card, I'd get it wrong, but sometimes I could see through the card - I would actually have a flash of the symbol on the card - and I would be right. There are a lot of things that could be going on here, and even if the truth is completely non-supernatural, isn't that still an interesting result?

It's the sort of place you could spend all day. Even if you believe none of it, there's still so much there. We got to play with a theremin for example. There are bookshelves stocked from all across the spectrum - everything from Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown to Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould; if you need the power supply in your Baloney Detection Kit recharged, they have you covered. So you could spend days in the books alone. Or learn to play Good Vibrations on the theremin.

(I keep wondering about that voice box. How are ghosts supposed to know its phoneme list and how to manipulate the analog signals to get the phoneme they want? The speech cartridge I have for the Color Computer has something like 155 available phonemes, and in analog space that translates to 155 voltage levels that a ghost has to hit really precisely and really quickly. Such a device is far more useful for the living - that by providing a layer of cognitive noise, it may help a person "hear" things that they don't realize they already know. You ask it about Kyron Horman, you'll hear things that sound like they're related to the case; if what it says is the killer's name, but the killer has, say, a Polish or Romanian name that on a speech synthesizer would sound like random noise (or a Vietnamese name with phonemes the device can't quite produce), you won't pick it out of the stream unless you'd already heard the name and are at least subconsciously listening for it.)

(An EVP device should instead emulate the human vocal apparatus, with analog EMF sensors corresponding roughly to tongue, lip, mouth, breath, and pitch parameters. A ghost may find this more natural than trying to pick phonemes out of a list.)

But now Halloween is over. Why can't we get the holidays rearranged? Why can't Christmas be the one that starts the holiday season and then Halloween is the big epic one you save up for? Halloween is the perfect holiday: it expands you. It requires creativity. It puts us in touch with elements of our world - of our world views - that we don't normally address. (No wonder some people think it's evil.) It's the only time of year when it's safe to ask the big questions - what clothes would I wear if I could wear absolutely anything I wanted, who will I be when I'm no longer me, what are my fears and how do I face them, where's the candy. But no. Halloween is merely treated as a brief prelude to a holiday season that lasts far too long, they start putting up the Christmas even before Halloween is over, and they leave up the Christmas until the second week of January. Halloween is every bit as invigorating as Christmas is soul-wrecking. And the worse the economy gets, the more Christmas is abused and stretched.

So now we're back to Portland. Back to the rest of the holidays. Nice to be home, not nice to be trapped in the annual Three Months of Christmas.

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