My dear friend LadyBee sent me an e-mail recently, needing to get out of San Francisco for a bit, wanting to go on an adventure, wondering if I might like a visit. I quickly and enthusiastically responded in the affirmitive and plunged into planning a short trip for us, buoyed by my certainty that with as many interests as we share and as easy as it is for us to spend time together, we could rip it up no matter where we went. After some thought, I settled on a trip to the piney woods of East Texas for several reasons, but for one in particular - I had a suspicion that LadyBee would be an enormous help in evaluating the feasability of a photography project I've been cogitating on for a while now. It would necessitate a visit to Diboll, Texas, but LadyBee had graciously agreed to cede total control of the itinerary to me, so I got to decide and I was devilish enough to keep most of our destinations a secret.
We left Austin Tuesday and headed toward the sprawling labyrinth of suburban Houston. There's a museum on the north side of town that I've been wanting to visit and I felt sure LadyBee would appreciate its macabre and unique content: The Museum of Funeral History.
When I first read about the museum years ago, the thing that had caught my attention was the description of a curious relic that had thankfully gone unused. It was a coffin for three, commissioned by a couple distraught over the imminent death of their baby. They had decided that they would kill themselves after the baby died so they could all three be buried together. They evidently didn't go through with the plan, and now the polished wooden box sits quietly empty in a pool of light, setting a mood the Cohen brothers would definitely appreciate. When we arrived, I made a beeline for the triple coffin and it was every bit as eerie as I had imagined.
The museum had much more to offer, however, and LadyBee and I ambled about happily, threading our way between huge glossy hearses, glass cases filled with arcane objects of mourning, and racks of mysterious tools and fluids for preparing the dead. It was absolutely fascinating, in a train wreck kind of way. One item that both of us agreed chilled us to the core was a curious copper contraption that turned out to be a formaldehyde gas generator that could be used in the room of a decedant that had succumbed to a contagious disease. When the undertaker arrived, he would crank up the generator, place the delivery hose through the keyhole of the closed sickroom door and pump a large volume of formaldehyde gas into the chamber to shroud the deceased in a cloud so toxic not even the likes of typhoid or smallpox could survive. Yikes.
There were of course a wide variety of coffins, some very old, some very odd. My favorites were from the workshop of Ghana fantasy coffin maker Kane Quaye. These beautiful works of art are carved and brightly painted to resemble items that the dead held dear, e.g. a fish for a fisherman, a giant green onion for a farmer. In Ghana, the attitude toward death seems to be anything but sombre, with one belief being that the spirit of the dead leads a joyous procession through town toward the cemetary, stopping along the way to collect friends and relatives to help celebrate. I love that notion and encourage you, my friends, to put my charred remains into a sparkly pink urn and go on a mirthful rampage through south Austin, leaving a trail of glitter and smoking embers in your wake.
After we'd had sufficient time to absorb all the death related content we could, we paused for a quick glance at the flashing LED skull glasses and tiny decorative sarcophagi in the gift shop, and got back in the car to head toward my favorite part of Houston to visit with my wonderful friends Ken and Andy.
Shortly after LadyBee and I arrived, we excused ourselves for a walk through the vivacious neighborhood that bustles around Ken and Andy's extraordinarily beautiful and comfortable urban oasis. As you may have read in one of my previous entries, I have resolved recently to walk for an hour each day, and LadyBee has been nice enough to take it on to join me on my outings while she's here. Our route took us past the hauntingly serene Rothko Chapel where the two of us paused for a few moments to soak in the emptiness, bathed in the palest light, blanketed by the most delicious quiet. It's quite an experience if you've never had a chance to visit.
When we returned from our perambulation, it wasn't long before Kenny arrived home from work and the four of us spent the rest of evening (and a good bit of the early morning) talking a mile a minute, eagerly getting to know one another (except for me who had the luxury of knowing everyone already). This while continually lavishing attention on Ken and Andy's adorable new puppy, Honey. She stole both LadyBee and my hearts the moment we met her. By the wee hours of the morning, we found ourselves sitting by the side of Ken and Andy's gorgeous pool, enjoying the balmy breezes of late winter Houston and taking in the gray-orange glow of the nighttime sky. I sipped iced Kalhua from a delicate crystal brandy snifter as we laughed and pontificated and chatted of cabbages and kings. The last thing I remember was turning back the sheet of my bed while at the same time glancing out of the corner of my eye the bright red LCD readout of the clock - 4:32 - an undeniable sign that I was having so much fun that I disdained the reasonableness of the hour. Hallelujiah!