I’m Dreaming of a White Privilege

Frequently here at Fanfreakingtastic I rant about song lyrics. I am about to do that again.

What with the Christmas music on the radio kicking in around, oh, LABOR DAY, I’ve already been treated to a good bit of caroling and mistletoe. Which I am fine with. One of my all time favorite songs is, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” (Judy Garland version) and I listen to the Christmas stations hoping to hear it. The stations don’t play it very often, at least not the Judy Garland version. You know what they do play a lot, though?

“Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” by Band Aid. Now, I’m not going to criticize the spirit behind the song. Or at least, I will not criticize the fact these people wanted to help out. But that is the ONLY thing I’m not going to criticize about it. I will give it this, though – it makes me laugh. Every, every time. And in that sense, Band Aid really has been a source of happiness and joy.

So, come take a stroll with me through this merry winterland of Classic 80’s Eurocentric Imperialistic Melodrama!

Paul Young
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
Alright.

Boy George
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at christmas time
Okay, Boy George. You know, I only have a 60″ wingspan, but I’ll do my best.

(Phil Collins on the drums) Anybody read the recent report that Phil Collins is suicidal on account of the fact he’s Phil Collins? No joke. Personally, I think Phil Collins needs to get over Phil Collins. I also think Boy George would remind me I just promised to throw my short arms around the world at Christmas time, and, as Phil Collins is in the world, I suppose I should be a bit nicer about his suicidal tendencies.

George Michael
But say a prayer – pray for the other ones “Other ones”?
At christmas time
I am happy to pray for people at Christmas time, but what exactly do you mean by “other ones”?

Simon Le Bon
it’s hard, but when you’re having fun  
There’s a world outside your window
Is that where the “other ones” are?

Sting and Simon Le Bon
And it’s a world of dreaded fear Uh-oh
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears Holy cats! The “other ones” are living in a post-apocalyptic nightmare!
And the christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom Wait! What? Christmas bells outside my window are clanging chimes of doom for the other ones? WHAT IS GOING ON OUT THERE?!! Are people being hauled off to the gallows, one “other one” for each chime of a Christmas bell? What kind of dystopian future world is this outside my window?

Bono
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you ACTUALLY, Bono, you preachy SOB, I was just thinking I better go outside my window to see if I can stop these Christmas chimes of doom before they strike down every last “other one”! Seriously… what kind of sick twist thinks we’d Thank God it’s them instead of us? That’s just annoying. Preachy, and annoying.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this christmas time Well, except for Mt. Kilimanjaro, but okay, sure.
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life Wait, stop. This world outside my window is Africa? Not some dystopian future where Christmas chimes of doom kill the “other ones,” but Africa? All of Africa? So, each of the one billion Africans greatest gift this year will be life? This is starting to feel awfully Colonial.

Where nothing ever grows Have you been to the Congo basin?
No rain or rivers flow Or Egypt?

Do they know it’s christmas time at all? Well, the Christians there, do… but you know Islam is the most populous faith in Africa, right? And there are, you know, lots and lots of religions there… and no doubt some of the “other ones” do not know it’s Christmas time at all, what with them not being familiar with, you know, Christ.

Here’s to you A real American hero! (Man, I miss those Budweiser commercials!)
Raise your glass for everyone  For everyone? Even Dane Cook? I don’t know if I’m down with that.
Here’s to them I thought we called them by their proper name, aka, “the other ones.”
Underneath that burning sun Wow. I find this phrase to be indicative of a really simplistic notion of “Africa” and a notion born of lots and lots of time spent under cloud cover in the UK.

Do they know it’s christmas time at all? Again, maybe, maybe not, depending.

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Aren’t we really just talking about Ethiopia, here?
Let them know it’s christmas time and Chances are, about 60% of Ethiopians already know and I’d recommend against saying Merry Christmas to the remaining 40%.
Feed the world  You know that Ethiopia is just one small part of Africa, right? And that Africa is just one continent out of seven? Because I kinda get this feeling you guys think there’s, like, North America & Europe and then the rest of the world, and that the rest of the world is a.) on fire b.) peopled by “other ones” who a.) need to know about Christmas even though b.) Christmas bells are, to them, chimes of doom.
Let them know it’s christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it’s christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it’s christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it’s christmas time and
Feed the world
Let them know it’s christmas time
You know, I think I’d be more comfortable with 16th Century Spain spreading the word about “Christmas Time” to the “Other Ones,” but on the other hand, it’s not like Band Aid hasn’t raised over 100 million dollars for famine relief. I’m sure the “other ones” appreciate it, I just hope they didn’t have to listen to the band to get the aid.

Band Aid

Check out Jody Watley! I thought she was wicked rad back in the day. Still do, actually. Girl could rock some hoop earrings.

Mr. Millman

Mr. Millman on Scout

February 2006. Mr. Millman's first ride on Scout

In February of 2006, I got a call from a man who wanted to book a trail ride. He was old. I could tell from his voice. I was nervous. Even in a best case scenario, taking brand new riders up into the mountains on horses in good weight (i.e. not half-dead deadheads) is an anxiety-producing endeavor. A brand new rider who is also elderly is not a best case scenario.

Mr. Millman and his wife showed up later that week, confirming my worst fears. He was elderly, he was frail, he looked like he’d break into a million pieces if he fell. I prayed Scout and Lady would be on their best behavior, and they answered my prayers. That day he told me he’d ridden some a few decades ago, and since then it had been his dream to own a horse.

Many people believe that horses are like unicorns. They’re not. They are a catastrophe waiting to happen. If you wait long enough around a horse, you will witness a catastrophe. But horses produce more than catastrophes, they also inspire love, and hope, and joy. Mr. Millman wanted himself some of that.

After he had a couple of rough rides on Scout, and stayed resolute in his desire for a horse, I introduced him to Colonel, a Quarter Horse gelding I’d had my eye on for some time. The very day Mr. Millman tried out Colonel Mrs. Millman gave me some news – Mr. Millman had been diagnosed with cancer. It was serious. The thing was, Mr. Millman didn’t have time for cancer. He had a horse to buy, a skill to learn, a life to live.

I should have known it wasn’t destined to work out with Colonel when we discovered the horse had a swastika brand on his hip. What are the odds that a horse with a swastika brand would be purchased by a Jewish man in South Carolina who was of age in WWII? We rebranded Colonel to obscure the swastika and got to work. Unfortunately, Mr. Millman made the horse nervous. I loved Colonel, found him to be a wonderful horse, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t produce a catastrophe. He was a horse, after all, and along with love, hope, and joy, catastrophes were his stock in trade.

Mr. Millman on Colonel. Catastrophe imminent.

Mr. Millman’s sister had come visiting, and Mr. Millman being Mr. Millman, he wanted to show off his new horse. I looked into Colonel’s eye that day and saw bad things. He was anxious, and shied as Mr. Millman dismounted. Mr. Millman stumbled backward, tripped over the mounting block, fell to the arena sand, hit the back of his head and lost his memory. He didn’t know who Colonel was, he didn’t know what had happened, he didn’t know his address. It’s never a good day at the barn when your rider leaves in an ambulance.

I found Colonel a new home, and cried when he left. Years later, I would see him at a horse show, looking fat, healthy and happy, and cried again.

I felt certain Mr. Millman would abandon his quest to become a rider.

He didn’t even take a break.

Shortly after the catastrophe, he called me up to Chesnee, to come see a Missouri Fox Trotter for sale. I looked into the Trotter’s eye and saw something I didn’t like. A hardness. Mr. Millman passed on the horse. A few days later, he summoned me back to Chesnee. The Fox Trotter farm had a new horse in, a horse named Sam. I made the drive to see the new prospect. He was coppery red and awfully young. I looked into Sam’s eye, and saw goodness reflected back at me. I rode him. He had a fire to him that matched his blazing coat. Sam was alert, responsive, ready to do whatever you asked. He was sensitive. But the look in his eye told me it would be okay. Sam arrived at the equestrian center and once again, we got back to work. There were many obstacles. Sam was young and green, Mr. Millman was old and green, but they were both hard triers. Slowly but surely, their partnership grew.

At the same time, I found a new horse for Mrs. Millman. Johnny was sold as a Quarter Horse cross, but I didn’t see the Quarter Horse as much as I saw the draft. Johnny was nothing like Sam. His eye did not reflect back pure goodness, but rather a most healthy sense of self. No one had ever told Johnny he had a giant hammerhead, or that his back was as long as a drive through Texas. But even if they had, Johnny wouldn’t have listened. He knew the truth – he was one glorious hunk of horseflesh. As such, he was entitled to his opinions. Some people he didn’t like, others he loved. Thankfully, he loved Mrs. Millman, and toted her around with a smile on his face.

Mr. Millman’s cancer advanced through his body, even as he perfected his riding skills and his partnership with Sam. I left the equestrian center, and left Millman duty to my friend Melissa, who would take Mr. Millman and Sam on two hour trail rides over hill and dale. Sometimes, when he felt poorly, Mr. Millman would list in the saddle. Sam would find a way to get back underneath him. With sweet, young Sam, no catastrophe lay in wait. Only love, hope, and joy.

Mr. Millman had lived his dream. He owned a horse and had learned to ride. But Mr. Millman wasn’t done dreaming yet. He wanted to own his own farm. He’d expressed this desire early on, and I, stupidly, had dismissed it as too far fetched. By 2008, Mr. Millman had moved to Charlotte and built his two geldings a magnificent barn to call their home. He had done it all. Through the years we stayed in touch. I kept up with Mr. Millman’s equine adventures, and was saddened by the news that Mrs. Millman had left. I sent holiday cards and emails, and made sure Mr. Millman knew I was always there if he needed me.

In 2006, Mr. Millman and I had obliquely discussed it. I don’t know if it was ever named, and doubt that it was. I think it was more a matter of knowing looks and a nod of the head. But there was an agreement between us, and it was an agreement I knew would stick. And so, I waited for the call.

I got it on October 27th.

Mr. Millman was dying, and he needed to find a home for Sam and Johnny. He had one condition – Sam and Johnny must stay together. I wrote up an email and sent it out, knowing it would find the right person. The email was forwarded, forwarded again, and forwarded several times more. It came to a woman named Karyn, who had just built a brand new barn, who had acres of perfect pasture, who had a daughter with a pony, and who was looking to find a horse for herself and her husband. She’d grown up with gaited horses, and would fully appreciate a Missouri Fox Trotter like Sam. I spoke with Mr. Millman about Karyn. Our conversations were the same as always – namely, me trying to wrangle the indomitable force of nature that was Mr. Millman, with much respect on both sides.

Before Karyn’s visit we talked again, about his hopes, his fears, his expectations about this potential new owner of his beloved horses. I counseled him as best I knew how. He told me, several times, how much he appreciated my help. “Of course,” was all I said. Some duties you do not choose; they choose you.

Karyn came out the next day. The day after that I didn’t hear from either of them. I became nervous. Maybe it hadn’t gone well. I emailed Mr. Millman, who always emailed me back instantaneously. I heard nothing. I called Karyn. She said it went beautifully. She and Mr. Millman had clicked, she said, and she loved the horses. He’d shown her around his house and his property, he had introduced her to the horses. She watched as Mr. Millman said good-bye to Sam. “We’ve come a long way together,” he told Sam. “I will never forget you. I hope you don’t forget me.”

Karyn told Mr. Millman she could pick the horses up on the 12th or the 20th, and Mr. Millman chose the 20th. He couldn’t ride any longer, he said, but he enjoyed coming down to give them a treat. It kept him going. Love, hope, and joy.

As it turns out, what had really kept Mr. Millman going was the knowledge that he needed to find his boys a home before he died. After he met Karyn, he returned to his house, and passed away. The date was November 5th.

Mr. Millman and Sam and Johnny

Mr. Millman with Sam and Johnny. Photo taken by Karyn during her visit.

Things that Go Bump in the Night. Literally.

Folks seemed to enjoy my Green River Killer Nightmare story, so I thought I’d regale you with the other creepy tales from my childhood. You could put this under the heading of ghost stories, but I don’t know how accurate that title would be.

The house I grew up in was a two story white colonial. My parents built it when I was three years old. I know some sort of structure was torn down in order to build it, but I don’t know what that structure was. I remember the demolition, though, and at the time, as a three year old, I thought it looked like a chicken coop. I also remember my mom telling me there were wasp nests within the structure, so I couldn’t explore it, even though I wanted to. I have no idea if these memories reflect reality. 

Springboard logging. Why was this a good idea? I don't get it.

Years later, I realized an old road ran through our horse pasture, and the hundreds of acres of forest behind our house still had some enormous trunks that bore evidence of springboard logging. The point of this is, while I had a notion our house was built on pristine, rural land, in fact that area had been logged, lived in, driven over, and otherwise occupied throughout the twentieth century, and maybe before.

My first supernatural experience that took place in that house was when I was somewhere between five and seven years old. I was taking a bath, and the rest of the family was downstairs watching tv. I happily played with my bath toys until, out of nowhere, came a knock on the bathroom door. And when I say knock, I really mean fist slammed into the door at maximum velocity. Initially scared and startled, I then quickly realized it had to’ve been one of my sisters. I called out for them to reveal themselves. They didn’t. Slowly I came to the conclusion that while my sisters might play a prank on me, they wouldn’t leave me hanging like this, they wouldn’t leave me to shrivel in the bath until the water turned cold. I didn’t know what was on the other side of that door. Ultimately, I decided it had to be my sisters, who, apparently, were meaner than I first thought. Scared, cold, and angry, I raced out of the bath, dried, got on my nightgown and ran downstairs to accuse my family of torturing me.  They all sat in the living room. They all insisted none of them had left the living room throughout my bath. My mom said she was wondering what took me so long. I cuddled up with my family and put the bump in the night behind me.

In the fourth grade it came back, with a vengeance. The first night, I was reading in bed, as per usual, and it came softly as first. By the time I realized it was there, I knew it’d been going on for some time. Once the sound registered, I couldn’t make sense of it. We did not have an attic in our house. The only thing up there was rafters and insulation. And yet what it sounded like was someone slamming their fist into the floor above me. As with the bathroom door, some of the punches were extremely loud and violent, powerful enough to rattle the little objects I had on my desk.

Too scared to move, I listened for about an hour before I got the courage up to race downstairs and tell my parents. They came up with me. The sound, of course, stopped. And so it went on for not only months, but years. Those sounds terrorized me. I’d lay in bed and just listen, unable to sleep for hours. My Granny, who had experience with such things, came and visited. Sleeping in the adjacent bedroom, she said she heard the sounds, too. In her estimation, they were squirrels. A.) I never saw a squirrel in all time I lived in that house and B.) those were some big, invisible squirrels. But, my malady now had a name – squirrels. That was the official position and it wasn’t changing.

Still from the Truth Be Told trailer. Creepy things come in through the front door, don'cha know.

In the sixth grade, the squirrels figured out how to open the front door of the house. The first time this occurred coincided with the first time I was allowed to be at home alone. My mom had gone to the grocery store, and I, feeling grown up and independent lounged in front of the tv. It was a sunny summer day, and I wore shorts and a t-shirt. It was my habit to lay on the floor in front of the tv, my chin propped in my hands. This is where I was and what I was doing when the room turned unnaturally cold. I kept checking my back, wondering where on earth this cold draft was coming from. Finally, I got up and followed the draft to its source – the front door of the house was swung wide.

We rarely used the front door. The garage or the side door was how we got in and out of the house. Certainly no one had used the front door on this day. I closed it, and rattled the handle to make sure it was properly shut. I returned to my tv. Fifteen minutes later, the cold draft returned. This time I knew exactly where to go. I went to the front door. It stood wide open.

This time I turned the bolt.

It didn’t stop those squirrels.

The third time I found the door open, I gave up, and sat on the front porch until my mom got home. This was not the last time the front door would find a way to open itself when I was home alone. For the record, our front door was quite nice. Big, wide, solid, well made. It never opened by itself on any occasion other than when I was home alone.

While these events scared me, I don’t remember becoming hysterical or crying – except, perhaps, for the very beginning of attic thumps in fourth grade. My feeling about the door opening was more along the lines of, “well, this is deeply unpleasant.” The last time I heard the attic thump I was a senior in high school, filling out my application to USC. I remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “back atcha, buddy.” (Read with sardonic tone.)

As an addendum – years later, my mom confessed to me that she didn’t like being in my room when I wasn’t there, and on one memorable occasion, she heard the full glory of the impossibly loud thump while in there alone.  This was my reaction: “?!?!?!?!?!?!” She said, “I didn’t want you to be scared of your own bedroom.” She had a point… I guess… I did learn to disregard those thumps, and I think that’s part of what made them go away.

A second addendum – for those of you familiar with, for lack of a better term, poltergeist theory, you may recognize that I was a perfect candidate. Poltergeist activity frequently surrounds one person, most often an adolesecent, most often a female, experiencing psychological trauma. In the fourth grade, I transferred schools, gained a ton of weight, and embarked upon the most difficult two and a half years of my life, thanks to the fine young citizens of Grass Lake Elementary. The theorists split on whether such individuals attract dark spirits, or whether they, themselves, are the generator of the phenomenon, either as a halluncinatory product of an overwrought  mind, or through actual activity, created in an unconscious external expression of internal turmoil. Stephen King’s Carrie  is an example of the latter, although she gains control of her powers.

What this Carrie experienced, I cannot say for certain.

(For a better version of the “ghost in the door” pic go here. Thanks again to Axel, Murphy, Dan, Maggie, Drue, and Evan for hanging in there at the end of a long, long day in order to get that still photo. I still appreciate it!)

A Story About a Nightmare

Carrie

"Oh, honey! I have a good idea for a name!"

I was born on Halloween in 1976 and my parents named me Carrie.

If I ever write a fan letter to Stephen King, that will be the first sentence. With such a beginning in life, some things are just destiny. (I’ve always wondered – Carrie opened in theaters on Nov. 3rd, meaning the promos had to have been out there before I was born. Is that where they got they idea? Even subconsciously? If so, I am all for it.)

I rather think my interest in all things supernatural is in my nature, but it was definitely in my nurture, too. Our house was a natural home for ghost stories, we all enjoyed them, and Granny, my dad’s mother, grew up in a haunted house. A naturally gifted Southern storyteller, she’d regale us with her tales. She even told her stories to the girls at my 11th birthday sleepover. My Grammy, my mom’s mother, let me read a book, Mysteries of the Unexplained, whenever I came over. One day, she let me take it home. It remains one of my most prized possessions. My Uncle Robert was also a big contributor in the development of my interest in the supernatural. He gave me countless paperbacks about psychics and UFOs, and would call me whenever there was a special on TV about Bigfoot. My mom read Poe to me when I was little, and my dad would tuck me in at night to tellings of his very own stories, stories that would have made King proud.

So, really, pretty much everyone in my life encouraged my interest in all things dark, spooky, and mysterious. But there was another person, a person outside of my family, who had as great an impact on me as any of my relations. I would not learn his name until 2001. Until then he was known to me only as the Green River Killer.

I like to joke with my friends about being psychic. I am not, though. Despite my better than decent record with gender id’ing babies still in the belly. I like making predictions, I like to try to listen to my gut and pluck out a fact about the future, but it’s just guesswork. In all my life, I’ve only had one experience that felt profoundly psychic. And really, that’s all I can say – is that it felt psychic. Although I guess I can also say that it had a big impact on me.

By the time I was in the third grade the Green River Killer was everywhere. I remember driving down the Auburn-Black Diamond Road, not at all far from our home, and having a white house pointed out. “He dumped a body behind that one,” it was said. On the local news, tales of new bodies discovered would dominate the news cycle. The Green River Task Force was a term everyone was familiar with. Much later, I would board my horse at a farm, and would learn he’d dumped a body in the ditch next to my horse’s pasture.

I was profoundly aware of him, frightened of him, and fascinated by him. Who was this monster? And what had made him that way? There was also, in a weird way, a sort of pride. The whole country was watching us, our tiny, insignificant little neck of the woods. South King County wasn’t good for much, but we sure could grow ourselves a serial killer. Early on, I had a sense that creepy things grew in the dark, wet woods of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never been to Maine, but clearly, Stephen King feels the same way about that state. But did Maine produce Ted Bundy, Keith Hunter Jesperson, Robert “William” Pickton, Clifford Olsen, Robert Lee Yates, Kenneth Bianchi, John Allen Muhammed and the Green River Killer? I didn’t think so.

No, I don't believe there is a body here, in Earthworks Park.

No, I don't believe there is a body here, in Earthworks Park. Besides, I already looked.

But on to the point of this post – my third grade nightmare about The Green River Killer. I am going to put it down here unedited, even though it features some silly, dream-like aspects. My dream began with me on my pony, Candy Cane, trail riding in Earthworks Park in Kent. Becky was there, on Rocky. At this time in my life, I had never been to Earthworks Park, but I’d seen it from the road. It is an urban park, and you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, ride a horse in it.

Becky and I split up, and I rode Candy deep into the interior of the park. A thin band of forest encircles the green space, and I heard rustling coming from the trees. I dismounted, and walked in on foot. Silently, I approached the sound of the rustling. There, before me, was a man unloading a woman’s body. She was dead white, nude, and turgid. She was laid out on black plastic, and I got the impression he’d carried her in wrapped up in it. He was now covering her with the plentiful fall leaves from the forest floor. Before my eyes, as though through time lapse photography, her body decomposed, down to her skeletal remains. Horrified, I stepped back. That’s when the man looked up at me. We locked eyes.

For the first and only time in my entire life, I woke up screaming. My parents fetched me from my room and I spent the rest of the night in their room. The next day, I felt it very important to draw what I had seen. In that moment, I believed wholeheartedly I had seen The Green River Killer. His face shape was distinctly oval, his hair straight and styled forward from the back. He wore a simple white t-shirt. There were two important details. His wore a cross around his neck and his utilitarian pants had so many pockets. I’d seen them before, but didn’t know what they were called. I described them to my mom. “Oh, those are painter’s pants,” she said.

Years later, my sister Becky and I took her daughter Courtney to Earthworks Park. I was a senior in high school, and it was my first time visiting the park. Eight years had passes since my nightmare, but it was as vivid as ever. I remember telling Becky about it as we strolled around, exploring. The park looked exactly as I had imagined it. To be fair, you can get an idea of it from the road. But the paths, the little bridges, the shape of the outline – it was all so perfectly familiar. It was an eerie experience, to put it mildly.

Gary

Gary.

Another seven years went by. The Green River Killer was arrested. Now he had a name. Gary Ridgway. I instantly recalled my dream and my third grade police sketch. I went to my computer and pulled up the story. It looked like him. He’d been arrested at the Kenworth plant, where he painted trucks for 32 years. Paint fragments transferred to his victims wound up being an important piece of evidence. Gary Ridgway presented himself as a devout Christian, would read the Bible at work, go door to door evangelizing, and attended church.

All that said, wearing a cross is a common thing, and painter pants were popular in the 80’s, as was the hairstyle the killer had in my dream. All I can say is, it felt like a psychic experience. And, since that dream, and my Green River Killer-adjacent childhood, serial killers have infected my imagination. Gary Ridgway, and his distasteful brethren, live inside my mind and come out whenever I get to typing.