Monday, February 11, 2013

And then I will take her to a "Mystery Spot." (513 Dates)

In the newly-renamed 513 Dates, which last appeared here, I will describe a date I'd like to take Sweetie on, and why.

2.  The House On The Rock.

Sweetie swears we have been to "The House On The Rock," and Sweetie doesn't lie, which means one of several things:

1. Sweetie is lying, or
2. Sweetie went to The House On The Rock in another life.  Probably when she was a pilgrim.  I bet Sweetie was a pilgrim in a past life.  But a famous one.  Everyone was famous in their past life.  Or at least it seems so.

(I once wrote a song called Everbody's Famous In Their Past Life, but that was a long time ago and I can't find where I wrote it down.  What I recall is that the chorus was the title, and also it had the line "Too few indians and too many chiefs."  It probably also relied heavily on the G chord, which I liked.)

Here is what I know about "The House On The Rock": It is located not far from us, about a couple of miles, and it apparently has a whale in it (but not a live one) and a calliope or maybe a Merry-Go-Round (but not a live one) and, of course, Sweetie has been there.

I drive by The House On The Rock, or at least signs that promise to take me to it if I follow them, probably once a month or so, on business, and I always think "We should go there."  So I added it to the list of things that I think we should go to and/or do, a list I call "Saturdays" because let's face it, at this point I'm not even pretending that I'm going to do chores anymore, and I mentioned to Sweetie that we ought to go there, which was when Sweetie mentioned that we had gone there.

I think that Sweetie is actually getting confused by one of two places we actually have gone, one of which was a date and one of which was not, although it would be hard to confuse either of these places with a House that may or may not contain a whale and a Merry Go Round.

The first place is the "Cave Of The Mounds," which is located, in geographic terms, not very far from the House On The Rock.  It may be that the House -- which was actually built by Frank Lloyd Wright and is apparently architecturally important beyond its whale-carrying capacity and which is enough of a tourist attraction to have featured into Neil Gaiman's book American Gods as (if I recall correctly) some sort of place of power where Odin might have killed someone?

The more I think about it, the more uncertain I am about The House On The Rock, including whether or not it sits on an actual rock and/or how it got that name.

We went to the Cave of the Mounds, which is a local cave, one day back when I was in law school or had just graduated from law school and so was in the phase of my life where I didn't have much money, and at that time I was also in the phase of my life where I was insisting that if my family, who I spoke to back then, wanted to hang out with me they should sometimes make the trip up to Madison, where I lived, from Milwaukee, where they lived.

I had, back then, the same two brothers and a sister that I have now, and my Mom was still alive, and all my nephews and nieces were much younger, and whenever we wanted to get together to do something (which I wanted only rarely at best) they would tell me to drive to Milwaukee.

"It's easier," they'd say, but for who? Not for me.

Once, my younger brother said that it was tougher for all of them to pile into their cars and drive up to us, but I pointed out that individually that was pretty much not true, and that while there were more people coming here than going there, if they came to visit, each person still had more or less the same burden.

So one weekend I put my foot down and they came here and Sweetie and the kids and I and the rest of my side of the family joined together for a trip to the Cave Of The Mounds, a local cave that had been uncovered and set up for touring not far from here, and that trip -- probably 13 or 14 years ago now -- is lost to my memory, too, except for a few things that stick out.

The first thing that sticks out was that the temperature dropped, literally, about 20 degrees while we waited for my family to arrive.  We were out in the parking lot of my apartment, and they were supposed to be there, but they weren't, and while we waited, some sort of cold front moved in and for the only time in my life I could feel the weather changing, as the temperature went from 75 to 55 in just twenty minutes or so.

When I tell people about that, people give me a sort of disbelieving look, as if to say "You're making that up," but why would I make that up?  It's not actually that astonishing, really.  It was weird but not superstrange, as the temperature drops all the time in summer, especially in Wisconsin, and it's not unusual to have a 55 degree day in Wisconsin in June because this state sucks and I wish I lived in Hawaii or at least southern California.

The other thing I remember about that day is that they had a little nook in the cave where they had put Smurfs, which was supposed to be charming -- the guide said something about how they'd broken into this room and "Look what they discovered!" but I didn't like it, because Smurfs don't live underground, and more importantly, I don't think natural wonders of the world need additional cutesy stuff crammed into them.  There's not a giant Nemo swimming over Niagara Falls every twenty minutes, or a huge inflatable singing cactus floating over the Grand Canyon.

Don't get me wrong: I love touristy things. The more touristy, the better.  One of the holes in my life, a spot where I am profoundly sad in my soul and always will be, exists because I have never, not ever, stopped at a "Mystery Spot" in a tourist town, the spot where gravity is fouled up and tourists are suckered.  I've seen them, on vacations and here in the Wisconsin Dells which I drive through as often as I can because if there is something more fun than a street filled with go-karts, upside-down-houses, taffy stores, and the like, I don't know what it is.

And I don't mind that tourist traps are built around natural wonders, like all those water parks that surround the Wisconsin Dells, because once you're done looking at rock formations or a waterfall, it's kind of fun to go to a Planet Hollywood and buy some junk or have a hamburger named after Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (If such a thing exists.  I imagine it would have egg on it.)

(The "Schwarz" would be the burger.)

But to jam the tourist junk into the natural wonder is like advertising on the moon: it seems like a great idea until you get tired of seeing The Real Housewives staring back at you every night for 30 days and begin to pray that the moon crashes into the Earth.

The other thing that I think Sweetie might be confusing with The House On The Rock is The Rock On The House, a briefly-existing awesome tourist trap, of sorts, that we went to once, also back when we were poor.

The Rock On The House was, for a change, exactly what it sounds like.  No whales or gravity inversions or Smurfs, here.  It was, quite simply, a house that had a rock fall on it.

But not just ANY rock, mind you: it was a huge rock.  The house had been built below a bluff way up in Northern Wisconsin, which I think is inside the arctic circle.  The bluff, as I recall, was the kind of bluff that normal people look at and say something like

"No way in heck am I building a house there because what if a rock falls on top of it?"

To which someone else says "What are the odds of a rock falling on it?"

To which people like me say "A whole lot higher than if you did not build it right under that bluff."

And of course a rock fell on the house, a giant rock, maybe 10 or 15 feet tall and about 5 feet wide, which maybe doesn't sound that big to you but trust me: sitting inside the wreckage of a suddenly-small-seeming house, that rock is plenty big.

I like to think -- or rather I try desperately not to think but end up thinking anyway -- about things like a giant rock falling on your house, or the guy who was sitting in his living room and suddenly a truck tire from a freeway a mile away crashed through his living room, or the woman who was watching TV one night and an airplane crashed into her house, all true stories that demonstrate why you're a fool to spend your Saturdays cleaning the garage.  Spend four hours out there sorting out that tub of used washers and deciding that you'd better not throw away those old extension cords because they "may be good for something" and then that night a plane carrying a rock gets hit by a truck tire and smashes into your house and then where are you?

Sweetie and I were poor back then, not just poor-er but poor, really, so little money that we usually took a calculator to the grocery store to make sure we didn't go over our budget, and we were hanging around the house one day, not much to do (because we were poor) and I read about The Rock On The House, which had made the local newspaper because the owner of the house had turned lemons into a poorly-run tourist trap and was charging people a buck to come walk through his now-ruined house.

"Let's go," I said, and Sweetie, possibly because she knows sometimes there's no arguing with me and possibly because she thought I'd said "The House On The Rock" agreed.

We hopped into our car, the little dented Hyundai Elantra that was maroon and which we'd later sell to Oldest Daughter, and drove about three hours, at least, north, up to the part of Wisconsin where there are bluffs and large rivers and coal barges, or at least some kind of barges, and long bridges made of rusty-looking metal and small houses and towns that seem to consist of a village hall, fourteen bars, and an antique store that is only open Thursday afternoons.  It was the kind of town that it's hard to remember exists, let along remember that it exists all over the place, not just in this part of Wisconsin at that time of February.

When we got there, the Rock On The House was... closed.

So to speak.

Nobody was there, and there was no sign that anyone would be there. This was pre-Internet, so we'd gone and driven up north using nothing more than a newspaper and a paper map, and we were sort of bummed out until I said

"Why don't we just go look inside anyway?"

"Can we?" asked Sweetie.

"I don't see why not?" I said.  So we walked up to the house and then around to the side.  It was not hard to see where the rock was or how to get in: that rock had smashed open nearly one-half the house, and it was weirdly thrilling to see this giant rock just sitting in the living room and kitchen of a house that had been crushed like a milk carton under a kid's foot.

There was a place to leave a dollar next to the sign that said the Rock on the House was closed, and the dollars were meant to let you buy a "souvenir," the souvenir being little rocks sitting there.

You could walk through this entire house, now empty of almost everything except cabinets and some crushed furniture, and imagine being in that house when the rock smashed down -- or, as the owner had, coming home to see what had happened, in which case you could imagine how lucky you were to have not been there when the rock smashed down.

We stayed about 10 minutes, walking around, touching the rock, not saying much.

Then we got into the car, stopped at a local convenience store and splurged on some snacks -- for the three-hour drive home.

That was around Valentine's Day, probably 15 or so years ago.  I don't remember much of anything we talked about that day, but I do remember going, and that's the point of doing things like that: to fix a bit of history in your mind, to remember not just days and days and days with the person you love, but to remember specific bits of days.  If I couldn't remember The Rock On The House, I wouldn't remember deciding to splurge on some snacks, or the pleasant six-hour round trip in a warm car with my wife, or the thrilling feeling of trespassing-but-not as we walked through a house smashed into ruin.

So I'd like to take Sweetie to other Rock-and-House-based entertainment, if only to make sure that she and I are both remembering the great times together.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Everybody's Famous in a Past Life would make a great Ben Folds song. Or Regina Spektor. Now you need to go find the lyrics and mail it to them.

If those cave people knew anything they'd have put Fraggle Rock characters not Smurfs in there. The Fraggles lives underground; the Smurfs had an aboveground mushroom village; and the Snorks lived underwater.

Briane P said...

I bow to your unparalleled knowledge of mythical sentient creatures.

Andrew Leon said...

I want to the Natural Bridge Caverns when I was kid. At least, I think that's the name of them. Second largest cave system in America (I think). There were no smurfs.

Rusty Webb said...

First, G is the best note, well, maybe not the best, but for sure the happiest. No sad songs are written in the key of G, if they are they are just doing it as a stunt... you know, like writing a story in the second person. No one likes it, but you everyone has to do it just to prove they can.

And second, frogs weren't in australia and mosquitos weren't in hawaii either, people brought them there and now both places are awesome. So adding Smurfs seems like a great idea to me too.

Callie Leuck said...

This is very sweet. I do recall that Neil Gaiman used The House On The Rock in that book, although I can't recall the specifics either.