Off the Plan, but Learning to Enjoy It

I awoke when the first gleam of light penetrated the windows of my room early Monday morning and was immediately compelled to creep outside in my nightie and walk the short distance to the dock situated on the lake behind Paul and Wendy's home.  A magnificent wash of early morning grays was produced from the mirror of the lake and the dense fog which clung to the surface of the water.  The only sound I could hear was an erratic series of plops that sounded as condensed dew fell from the leaves of a tree at the water's edge. The monochromatic palette lent an otherworldly and serene feeling to the universe I was standing in - a moment of perfect and satisfying isolation.

I'd be setting out for points north later that morning, but happily Kenny's parents, Gloria and Dave, called to invite us to have some breakfast with them at a diner in town.  I was itching to get on the road and felt a tug of anxiety about being off my plan, which I have thankfully learned to silence after a series of ridiculous struggles with myself over the years.  Besides, I've really, really enjoyed the time I've spent with Gloria and Dave in the past and I wasn't about to let my neuroses interfere with an opportunity to interact with them.

I've long admired Kenny's puckish and delightful sense of humor and spending time with his family goes a long way toward helping me understand how it was formed.  As we breakfasted, we chatted on all sorts of engaging subjects and the conversation was never anything but lively.  When we'd finished our meal and were remarking on how clearly we'd exceeded any simple notion of satiety, Tom excused himself to make a visit to the bathroom.  Not even a minute after he'd disappeared, our waitress approached the table with a sheepish look on her face and a menu extended toward our surprised faces and said, "I've been told you'd be interested in looking at our lunch menu..."  I love moments like that of pure, joyous impishness.  How much fun it must be to have grown up in the Wiesehuegel clan.

After taking my leave, I headed off to Sheboygan, to visit a place that was at the very top of my list of what I was most excited about seeing - the Kohler Arts Center.  The Sheboygan Arts Council along with the Kohler family (of bathroom fixture fame) has been on a concerted mission since the 1980s to preserve outsider art environments and has systematically gone about funding thorough and faithful renovations of places like Prairie Moon and Wegner Grotto.  I'm very excited because they've recently announced that they are taking on the restoration of a place I particularly adore: Pasaquan.  They've also been busy acquiring pieces for their impressively large collection at the Sheboygan museum.  Now finally, finally, I would be able to visit the epicenter of Kohler's admirable efforts and view some of the pieces I'd read about over the years but never been able to see.

After I'd arrived and made a quick look around to get the layout of the museum, I was confused about where the permanent collection items were displayed and decided to check with the gal at the information desk.  "Could you tell me where I might find the exhibit of the Rhinestone Cowboy items?" I asked.  The girl looked at me like I'd just spoken to her in Swahili - she had no idea what I was talking about.  After a few rounds of perplexed conversation, I found out that there were no items of any sort on permanent exhibit.  There was a special arts and industry presentation currently on display, but none of the over 10,000 items of self-taught art that the Kohler possesses were anywhere to be seen.  They were tucked away in the archives and were occasionally trotted out for temporary viewing in small subsets, but there was no permanent space where they could be seen.  I literally had to fight back tears.  I haven't been that disappointed in a very, very long time.  I was angry and I was frustrated and I was resentful.  My feelings of joy that the Kohler had been saving these items from certain destruction turned instantly to disdain, feeling like what they'd really been up to all these years was snatching booty for their personal archives. The museum itself is enormous and it sits in a huge complex of buildings that belong to the Foundation, but they somehow couldn't set aside even a single room to display what they've been busy harvesting for the last three decades.  I've tried and tried to wrap my head around it another way, and I haven't found it in me.  Shame on them for putting what they've collected in a vault and being so damn stingy with it.  No Rhinestone Cowboy for me.  I stopped by the gift shop and asked if they had a book on the Rhinestone Cowboy collection so I could at least look at pictures, but no only a little one page pamphlet with a picture...aarghhh!

The only mitigating factor of my visit was when I stopped by the ladies room on my way out and found a wonderful installation of art tiles covering the walls. 

I'm glad I was alone because I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to be subjected to the vitriol that was running through my head.  And honestly, I was soon able to see that I had overreacted because I was bitterly disappointed over not getting what I wanted.  The intensity of that reaction is something I've noted and learned how to mitigate in my life and it wasn't long before I was tired of my ranting to myself and got that I was acting like a spoiled brat.  The day was not on plan, and I could choose to be angry about it or I could decide to focus on something else, it was up to me to decide.  Did I want to continue suffering, or was I done?  These are the moments when I can see a progress of sorts in my thinking.  I was done.  Why choose to stew in misery?  That's not very fun.

With some amount of relief, I continued north toward another site I was excited about visiting in Poland, Wisconsin - a UFO landing pad that a gentleman welder had fashioned to welcome extraterrestrial visitors.  And guess what happened, since this was the day of reminding Shiree that a plan is just a plan?  Closed.  Boarded up, gone and finished.  This time, I just exhibited a wry grin and laughed aloud at myself, skipping the ranting stage altogether.

I crossed the Wisconsin state line into the Upper Peninsula region of Michigan and soon saw a stand by the side of the road offering homemade pasties (pronounced: PAST-tees) which are a specialty of the region.  I chose the meat/potato/rutabaga version that the owner assured me was the most popular and set off for a roadside picnic.  My first bite told me that the refusal to accept a deviation in what I wanted was still with me.  It was as flavorful as chewing on a roll of damp toilet tissue.  I'm sure to someone who knew their pasties, it would be a delicious treat, but in my mouth, it sat like a cold solid lump.

How on earth to salvage this day?  This day comes on every trip I take and there's no way to prevent it.  When you set expectations and create attachments, the cosmos is at some point going to challenge you to deal with a world where you're not getting what you want, over and over.  Today was the day.  Escanaba, Michigan, however, had a cure in mind for my petty sulking.

Escanaba is an old industrial port at the top of Lake Michigan where more than 340,000,000 tons of iron ore were shipped across the Great Lakes in the century bounded by 1864-1964.  It sits in the saddle of a swath of great natural beauty that has become a mecca for summer vacationers.  Or rather was a mecca, because history has moved the center of industry to other places and the town of Escanaba seems to have become one of those places where it's clear the heyday is long past.

I had booked a room at the Historic House of Luddington many months ago, deciding that it looked intriguing but not knowing much of anything else about it.  When I made the reservation, the proprietor had informed me that there wouldn't be anyone at the front desk when I arrived, so I should look for a key in the antique mailbox next to the front door and let myself in.

The first thing that attracted my notice when I arrived was this mangled jockey figurine standing in the courtyard:

Little did I know that this was a clear and perfect symbol for what I was about to find.  Fresh coat of paint, yet something ominous and unsettling about the overall picture.

A bit of history: the Luddington Hotel was originally opened in 1864 and over the years was remodeled and extended, but always as a luxury hotel for wealthy vacationers (early on it earned the unintentionally ironic nickname of "the Great White Palace of the North").  In 1893 it was billed as "The largest and only hotel in the city having baths, steam heat and electric call bells - $2.00 per day."  Now, I'm guessing that two dollars a day in 1893 was a considerable amount of money and the clientele necessarily reflected that level of affluence.  Here's an image I found on the Internet of an old postcard that looks to be from the 1920s or 30s:

And here's what I found when I arrived shortly before dusk:

When I retrieved my key from the mailbox and unlocked the door to enter the lobby, I swear to you my first thought was, "I've just checked into a low rent version of the Overlook Hotel in the Shining!"  The opulence that must have been staggering to the ordinary traveller of yore had long ago disappeared and been replaced over the years with a hodgepodge of shabby mismatched antiques.  The darkened and distinctly abandoned lobby was dimly lit by a single light fixture dangling under a ceiling fan that hung at the foot of the stairs, which led up to the murkiness of another faintly lit landing.

As I wandered the hallways attempting to find the room to which I'd been assigned, the sense of dread that I'd felt upon entering steadily increased.  The hallways were panelled with a rich maple, but had long ago fallen into disrepair.  The gloom of the long corridors was only slightly dispelled by fluorescent bulbs stuffed into ancient fixtures at irregular intervals.  Many of the doors I passed sat slightly ajar and revealed darkened rooms with tumbled heaps of bed clothing and abandoned suitcases and broken furniture.  The floors undulated wildly, the walls bulged mysteriously in places.

A few times, I caught a glimpse of a human figure in the distance, rapidly disappearing from view around a turn in the labyrinthine hallways, but never passing near enough to speak with or see clearly.

I finally found my room and opened the door to find a strange mishmash of furniture and decor that suggested an effort to make things look rustic and cute.  It was an awkward room, well beyond its prime, outfitted with country-style window dressings for cosiness.  Across the hall was a room that was obviously intended as a service area, containing as it did an ironing board, an aging soda machine and a pile of derelict furniture.  When I flipped on the light switch, it lit a single naked bulb in the ceiling, revealing a small ice chest  that contained only tepid water.  Maybe they should have put a sign on the door that read Hospitality Suite so guests would be clear on the purpose. 

I returned to my room and Skyped Mark (more horror movie antics - no telephone signal available), knowing that he more than anybody would appreciate this odd experience I was having.  He did not help matters, however, by instructing me to remove any evil looking dolls or other portents of the grotesque I found lurking in the room.  I was spooked enough by his warnings that I felt compelled to remove the hanger holding a small frilly girls' pinafore that hung decoratively on a nail in the wall and walk it at arm's length over to the Hospitality Suite where it could get up to whatever evil it intended by itself.

I decided that I wanted the frozen variety of ice badly enough to go downstairs and fetch the ice chest from my car, so I put an overshirt on over my nightie and donned my shoes, knowing with certainty that I wouldn't meet anyone else while moving about.  As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw a young woman who had just entered the lobby door and had her attention fixed on the cell phone in her hand.  Rather than charge down the stairs and startle her, I elected to wait at the second floor landing.  About halfway up the flight of stairs, she glanced up and stopped just short of screaming aloud in terror.  It wasn't just me, then.

I went outside to the car and retrieved my cooler without incident and when I returned to the door of the hotel realized with utter and abject horror that I had neglected to bring the key to the hotel and room with me, fooled into the error by having my car keys in my hand.  Here I stood, outside a haunted hotel with absolutely no staff in evidence, no cell phone and in my nightie, on a cold drizzly night.  I panicked for about 5 seconds and then just started giggling.  "Now THIS is what I call an adventure!" I thought to myself.

I remembered that I'd seen someone entering a distant back door in the courtyard earlier in the day, and figured if I had a prayer of getting back in, I would have to find that door and see if I could manage to finagle my way in.  The door I sought materialized in front of me, and I could see that there was a t.v. on in an adjacent room, flickering in the darkness of the doorway where I stood.  I knocked loudly, but no answer.  I was out of other ideas so I knocked again, insistently.  I had no idea who or what would come to the door, but I felt like I had no other choice other than sleeping in the car.  After a few long moments, I saw with relief that a real live human was walking toward the door and it turned out to be the owner of the hotel, Ed Eisenberger.  He was affable and happy to help when I told him I'd locked myself out, letting me in the front door and handing me a second key.

I returned gratefully to my room and when I felt sufficiently exhausted to fall asleep despite the foreboding that seemed to hang in the air, I pushed a chair in front of my door in a ridiculous gesture aimed at keeping out uninvited visitors.  I turned the air conditioner on full blast so it would drown out any clanking chains or mournful moaning.  What on earth had come over me?  All day long my mind had been running roughshod over my usual happy demeanor and it had finally gotten the best of me.  Fortunately, the damn thing eventually gave up trying to torment me and I fell soundly and peacefully asleep.

No comments: