Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On the Sinking Sea We Won't Drown

Kickstart This.

I have a friend who moved into an old house in New England.

Built from hand-carved rock (carefully masoned to exact specifications) and rough logs (hewn smooth and placed exactly together), the house reportedly dated back to the early 1800s.

But one day a docent from the local historical society came by with a folder. Inside the folder were copies of old newspaper articles. The rock wall may have dated from 1806, but the original house was built in 1746. It burned at least once. And was rebuilt in four consecutive decades.

My friend kept the folder lying around for months. He never looked at it. He wasn't interested. "It's a house," he said. "It's old and drafty. What more do you need to know?"

One day, while trying in vain to fix on old boiler in the celler of the house, my friend leaned against a wall and it started to give.

He slowly pushed against the wood, locating a well-disguised seam. And as he prodded and pushed on the seam, the wood began to move. He pressed and pressed, but couldn't get it to move very far.

So he went upstairs. And opened the folder. Read through the papers.

The house had been home to the leader of a ring of spies whose failed coup attempt was front-page news for months in the 1850s. When the scandal first broke, the heads of six disgraced families took their lives on a single August night beneath what now is a mighty oak tree at the edge of the property.

After that, the house was a brothel for ten years. Then it was home to a brilliant but crazy poetess who took her own life in a satanic ritual (and whose body was not discovered for the next four years while eight satanists camped out in her living room). A minor treaty was signed there, ending a war few remember (because it vanished from history books when the new owner of the house took over the school board and had the war eliminated from the curriculum).

It was a house with many stories. And many secrets.

So my friend got some tools.

The wall became his weekend project.

He even hired a structural engineer. Spent two grand on seismic mapping. Found there was a small crawl space. Behind the wall.

Then he bought a sledge hammer. With one wall-placed blow, he smashed the wood, destroying decades of memories.

He could reach one hand in, up to the elbow, then the real wall jutted out. And he reached behind, grazing something.

Hours of stretching, reaching, almost grabbing.

And then, weeks later, combining a discarded crutch and an unused fireplace poker, he was able to grab. And pull. And reveal what had long been hidden.

The first three albums by Graham Parker and the Rumour. In mint condition. On vinyl.

Six months had passed since the wall first started to give way. He'd spent thousands of dollars. And hundreds of hours.

To get Howlin' Wind, Heat Treatment, and Stick to Me.
"And," he told me, "it was completely worth it."

Holly Hughes, who writes the great The Song in My Head Today blog, wrote recently about a Kickstarter project to raise money for Don't Ask Me Questions, a documentary Michael Gramaglia (who made the great Ramones doc End of the Century) is making about Graham Parker. Kick in some money, get some swag, and help him finish the movie.


William V. Madison said...

Fabulous. In every, every sense.

Anonymous said...

True story: I Googled "unreliable narrator" and this blog entry was the first thing that came up!

Holly A Hughes said...

[Keep promoting the film project -- now that my hunger for the Kinks documentary Do It Again has been slaked, I'm onto this new mission. This GP movie must get made!]

Great story, thanks so much. What is it about the secrets an old house holds?