Garret vs. Cellar SMACKDOWN!

by Deanna K. Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who find basements scary and those who find attics scary. I suppose there might be some folks (bless their hearts) who are disturbed by both, like those ethereal creatures with one blue eye and one brown. I refuse to countenance the idea of people who have no feelings of unease in either space. To be that well-adjusted, that free from inchoate fear, that grounded in the solid objects of reality—I draw back in horror at the thought. We will leave these hale and pragmatic types to their smoothies and their 401Ks and godspeed to them.

Of course, having sketched this rigid opposition, I must immediately set about tearing it apart. (I was trained in literary criticism in the 1990s, and am constitutionally incapable of leaving a perfectly good dichotomy in peace.) I personally am creeped out by both attics and basements, but in different contexts: attics in dreams and basements in reality. (Dreams include literature and reality includes movies.) The idea of attics is deliciously spooky: that’s where the ghosts live, and the animals that sound like ghosts when you’re alone in the house at night. But I would be hard pressed to feel truly frightened in a real attic: they’re mostly hot, and cramped, and full of prickly insulation and mouse poop, and you’re there to grab the box of back-up highball glasses or the fake Christmas tree and get out before you boil to death. Even filmed attics fail to be genuinely scary: they are usually picturesquely stuffed with picturesquely overflowing trunks full of the heroine’s ancestor’s stuff from Ye Olden Times. (The ancestor always seems to have been a theatrical impresario or budding lexicographer.) If there is a moment of fright, it’s occasioned by the heroine catching a glimpse of herself in a full-length beveled mirror in the corner and then laughing when she realizes it’s just her reflection. Later she will try on some of the theatrical costumes from the trunks and study herself in the same mirror, where she will notice a resemblance to her ancestor for the first time. Read more »

You Can’t Always Get What You Want: A Cautionary Tale

by Deanna K. Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

The other day my friend Matt told me a story about a camel that fell in love with him. Scott and I were on a Zoom call with him and his partner Tania—the two of us in Mississippi, Tania in Santa Barbara, and Matt in D.C. It had been a year since we’d all Zoomed (I remember this because both calls were on my birthday), and no one was sure how we’d let it go so long since we had so much fun whenever we talked. I had been friends with Matt and Tania in college when they were first dating, but we’d all fallen out of touch for decades. Although the phrase “first dating” is misleading: they were together for a year or so in college, broke up before graduating, went their separate ways (long relationships, a marriage, kids, doctorates, a divorce) and then got back in touch during the pandemic. And then started talking every day: Matt in dreary D.C. with his neutral greige therapist’s Zoom background, Tania in her sunny California kitchen with beautiful goblets of straw-colored wine and plates of imported cheese. And then they got back together again, over 30 years later. I hope there are lots more heartwarming Covid stories like this one out there, but this is the one I know about, and it’s a pretty fucking great one if I do say so myself.

So Matt and Tania were telling us that they were planning (ha ha! “planning”) to go on vacation together to Mexico in a few months, which prompted Matt to tell the story of the amorous camel, whom he had encountered on his last trip there. He was visiting a monkey sanctuary on the Mayan peninsula (as one does); there was a camel living there, too, who had previously been in a zoo or a circus, because the person running the sanctuary rescued all kinds of miscellaneous animals in his spare time. Matt and the camel immediately bonded the moment they met. I wish I had asked more questions at the time, because I now realize that I’m not 100% sure what “bonding with a camel” actually entails, but as Matt was telling the story it seemed to make perfect sense. They hung out together the whole time Matt was at the sanctuary, more than half an hour, basking in each other’s presence. I like to imagine that at one point Matt gently leaned against the camel’s flank, stroked his soft nose, and whispered something like “There there, big fella”—but of course I am making that up. As far as I can tell, Matt more or less ignored the monkeys, but we all have to make difficult choices from time to time. Read more »