Some people claim to see ghosts all the time. I marveled at the owner of beloved Irish pub Kell’s description of a ghost she saw as a teenager in Ireland, a glowing woman in white who flew around a house howling and rattling chains. Even my uncle who would probably say he doesn’t believe in that shit once woke up to the sensation of somebody sitting on his bed, and to his horror, a visible butt-print.
The closest I’ve seen to a ghost was probably purely the product of a rap-video quantity of bong hits. I had settled into bed after a mound of weed and several peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I noticed a severed head on the pillow next to me. That wasn’t here this morning, I thought, feeling what, through the warm, nearly-opaque fog in my head was like a distant possibility of fear. The possibility of fear palpably increased when I noticed the room was full of drifting, vaguely humanoid shadows. This is probably bad, I thought. I was about to attempt putting pants on (I’m still unsure what protection I believed this would provide) when one of the shadows, initially a slightly darker shade of dark than the bathroom door where it stood, began to acquire features. Red and white stripes, then a hat with a pompom, big round glasses…it was Waldo, from Where’s Waldo?, and he was waving at me and smiling. I waved back and smiled at him, smiled at the severed head, and fell asleep.
This was in a room where I lived for three years in a Chinatown SRO called the Alps Hotel. When I mentioned the incident to a longtime resident, he told me about a kid who lived with his parents on the 5th-floor light well (the narrow, courtyard-like space in the center of most SROs that provides inward-facing units natural light.) The kid adored the pigeons nesting on the windowsills, and in an attempt to acquire a chick as a pet, fell to his death. The guy who told me the story said he frequently saw the boy passing through the wall of unit 608, next door to my place. I thought this odd since the kid had lived on the 5th floor, but my friend insisted the only place he saw him was 608.
I’ve still never seen anyone but Waldo.
Before we moved in together, my girlfriend lived at the Dover, a century-old building downtown beautiful in the same way as grandpas who wear three-piece suits to Denny’s. We noticed an odd coincidence about a week after she moved in. Whenever we fucked, the upstairs neighbors started stomping and thrashing around like giant coked-up babies with appliances for flip-flops. Whether it was 10am on a Wednesday or 4 am on a Monday, inexplicable sounds from above ensued the moment a zipper descended. We called these neighbors the Clompers. To vent and amuse us, Mary Anne started a Tumblr “by” the Clompers, a series of posts such as “Ever put walnuts in your socks and walk around in the shape of a pentagram until your feet bleed?” Eventually, though, the timing of the clomping began to really trouble us. Were they passive-aggressively requesting we keep it down? It was when we were inaudible and it still happened that it became truly ominous. Were they watching us somehow? We less and less jokingly wondered if they weren’t really people.
This seemed comfortingly absurd until a stay at an AirBnB in Portland, where around 3 am, the upstairs neighbors commenced clomping as soon as we kissed. We both laughed until we remembered we were in a one-story building with a steeply arched roof. We didn’t sleep too well that night.
The Dover was certainly the most haunted-feeling place I’ve stayed, and it wasn’t just the Clompers. It was partly the lack of natural light—the apartment’s huge windows, which probably once provided a gorgeous view, now look out on a cinder block wall six feet away. We woke up anxious there every morning, feeling that something impossible needed to be done.
It would be inaccurate to say I believe in ghosts—I don’t believe in things without proof. I also of course don’t disbelieve things without proof. Some people believe time is less a linear progression of events than a sort of a coil, and that rather than the souls of the dead, ghosts are people in one loop of the coil glimpsing those in another loop. It’s like that scene in the Shining where people who have visited the hotel throughout its history are all visible to each other, or for a less murder-y, more breakfast-y analogy, when the walnuts on different layers of a cinnamon roll touch each other.
The apartment where Mary Anne and I now live, though as old as the Dover, doesn’t feel haunted at all. If time has a shape, like a coil, it would make sense that there are physical places in the world where it’s easier to see from one loop to another. Or it may just be that there has never been reason for people who died in this house to stay, OR that they’re all living here as happily as us, with no reason to bother the living. I’ll admit we hear people on the roof, but they are distinctly non-threatening—perhaps our ghostly voyeurs are just happy for us.