Friday, December 31, 2010

Darker than the Dark

As we approach the new year, I wonder where this ghost will ring in 2011.

Dark of winter, no lights on yet. The librarian wanders in, coffee in hand, and places his backpack on the wide wooden bench. Still early, very early -- had to leave home at 5:30 because of the storm clean up. No one else in yet and he is happy. Enough time to drink that nice hot coffee. He walks up to the circulation desk, sipping carefully, turning on the computer. The blue light glows; early morning creeps in.

Thinking about winter, cold, life, the librarian turns his head to catch a ray of sunlight. It bounces off against the back wall, near the globe, and in the weak white beam he sees a shape darker than the shadows in the unlit room, darker than the back wall. The shape moves toward the spiral staircase, pauses, continues. An optical illusion, says the librarian to himself, but looks again. The shape remains, deciding where to go.

It flutters past the portrait of Mrs. Van Dam Schuyler Stuyvesant. It stops near an old leather elephant perched on a card catalogue. It slides up the trunk and sits on the back. Hovering, hovering, now fading, now brightening, now darker in the shadows. Quietly, the librarian takes a step toward the back wall. The shape freezes. The elephant waits. A long, soft whoosh floats through the room, circling the walls, leaving through the glazed window. A child cries. The sun is up. The old elephant waits.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tobacco - the end of the story

(continued from September 7, 2009; part 1 published August 30, 2009)

Ellen continues ...

“There’s a man following me … he must have followed me all the way from Gramercy Park. He’s there, by the subway, in the raincoat … oh, no, no, no, he’s gone now. He’s gone. He must be down in the subway.”

“Miss, take a cab home tonight. We’ve had some problems lately with a stalker around that Old Town Bar. We’ve tried to catch him six or seven times this week alone! Can you describe the guy that was following you?

The policeman called in Ellen’s description. “No, lady, our guy has red hair,” the cop said, but there’s always copycats. Maybe this guy has a record. Won’t know unless you come to the precinct and look at some pictures tomorrow.”

“I could, yes. But I’ve got to get home tonight, get some sleep.”

“Miss, take a cab. Here’s one now. Take it. Come down to the 23rd Street station tomorrow morning, before work. Ask for Sergeant Morris. I’ll tell him you’re coming. It won’t take long.”

Ellen agreed and dozed on the short ride home. The ghost was waiting under the street lamp, across from her building. Once he was sure she was safe inside, he made his way back up to the Old Town Bar for a smoke and a nightcap.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I was at the library of the New-York Historical Society yesterday, talking to Joseph Ditta, one of their erudite (and always pleasant) librarians. We were speculating on the forces behind serendipity: why, for example, when you're looking for one thing do you sometimes find another that has been eluding you for weeks, months, even years? Is it the fault of ghosts in the stacks? the books? the research gods? Does it happen only in libraries? And why do ghosts take their sweet time revealing this vital information?

Ghosts have no timetable, no agenda -- although one or two surely must have an axe to grind. In one of the opening scenes in the classic "Ghostbusters," an ancient librarian floats through the reading room of the 42nd Street Library, shushing anyone she sees. Clearly, this was a woman out to spoil everyone's joy!

But I digress. Now that the stained glass windows have been removed from the N-YHS Library (for cleaning and restoration), I wonder what will fill their space for the next year? I'll bet the ghosts of the figures in the windows hang out having coffee, maybe a beer. What happens if you flip on the lights and see the tip-tapping toe of a boot, a shank of hair, a bit of satin from a dress? Can you grab it? conserve it? sell it on Ebay?

I'd love to be the guard that opens up in the morning. Think of the cacophony: the people from the Dutch window are trying to communicate with the French Huguenots from the other window and the French are sighing about how boring it all is! Meanwhile, the Dutch are trying to strike a deal but the French can't sign it because they don't have enough stamps and ink and all the bureaucrats are away, trying to figure out how to pay for the conservation. Completely exhausted, they drop into chairs at a spacious tables and try to figure out who will make the tea and why isn't there enough cheese to go around? And how do we keep the English out -- the Dutch ask. To which the French reply, ah, trop tard, trop tard!

Life is tough in the Library.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Incandescent Ghosts

Our building was rewired almost ten years ago. The cloth-wrapped wires from the dawn of electricity were replaced with modern ones; the crew had to drill channels through the interior brick walls, pull the lines through, and hook them up to new switch plates and a breaker box. They sure didn't have this in 1911.

It took weeks to clean up the brick dust -- vacuum, wash, vacuum, check all the picture rails, dust, check again, vacuum some more. Finally, everything was clean and the new wiring was humming.

Until recently. One night, the lamps began to flicker --not just a bulb here and there, but a persistent, almost audible humming sort of flickering. Up and down, whoa, back to normal, dimming again. I checked the breaker box -- cool. Checked the switch plates -- also cool. Unscrewed a bulb or two -- perfectly fine.

I called my friend on the 9th floor, but her lights were absolutely fine. She said it was a ghost. Ha-ha! The only ghosts in this apartment are bottle caps that are petrifying behind the refrigerator and perhaps an old slipper or two. I always wondered why, with so many generations of tenants going through this apartment, there were no ghosts until now.

I finally caught this one, late at night, boning up on the 21st century ...

Photo by Ghostina