Every night I tell myself, "I am the cosmos; I am the wind." Then I make sure I have my ID and I head out.
On one particular night last week, I ended up sitting at the bar of the Hotel Majestic on Sutter. It's a cozy Victorian getaway, the perfect place to cheat on your spouse. The bar itself is kind of smallish, but its walls are filled with cased butterflies of every color, their wings invisibly pinned behind glass. The flat-screen TV was playing a black-and-white noir film, and I was waiting for a ghost hunter named Tommy Netzband to show up. He is the founder of the San Francisco Ghost Society, and I met him via "synchrodestiny," as he put it, one Saturday afternoon at Amoeba.
I was having a bit of tummy trouble (read: gas) after a mustard and onion sandwich I had been craving earlier, so I had to forego the booze for the time being. I settled on coffee instead.
We were going ghost hunting up the street at the Queen Anne Hotel, and I wasn't sure what to expect. There would be a bunch of instruments with blinky lights, I was pretty sure, and a psychic would probably walk ahead of us with her arms outstretched in some sort of a trance, and there would probably be a guy in a parka with a big boom mike.
I tried to keep an open mind, but I was concerned about two things: A) how I would keep all the jokes that would invariably be running through my head to myself and not disturb the investigation; and B) the Scooby-Doo Corollary, which has always baffled me. It posits that the best place to be when entering a scary building or room is at the back of the line, like Scoob and Shaggy always did. But even as a small child I could see the folly in this. You might get grabbed from the back and disappear, and your friends in front would never know it (as frequently happened on Scooby-Doo). I was discussing this the other day, about how it just didn't make sense that anyone would want to be in the back of the line, and my very wise friend replied, "Dude, they were stoners."
"Ooooh," I replied.
"Duuuuh," my very wise friend said.
We ended up deciding that the best place to stand was smack-dab in the middle, so I made a point of trying to remind myself to always end up there when entering the Queen Anne.
Tommy walked in and greeted me warmly. He ordered a coffee and gave me the lay of the land for the evening. We were going to stay up until 5 a.m. (more coffee please), and there would be three teams of about four people in different areas of the hotel. We were looking for two ghosts. One was named Mary Lake. She reportedly haunts a room by tucking people in at night or disturbing their toiletries. The other was Mary Ellen Pleasant, who haunts the eucalyptus trees across the street from the hotel. I was hoping that she looked like a koala or something, but Tommy said she was a light-skinned voodoo babe.
We headed up the street one block to the Queen Anne, where everyone was gathered in a room that had been rented as a home base for the evening. The hotel had given the ghost hunters access to pretty much anywhere they wanted, but we were focusing on the Mary Lake Suite, the hallways, and the parlor downstairs.
Entering the hotel is like passing into a veritable Victorian time capsule, with lots of gimcrack and rugs and oval portraits and wallpaper. The place is just the right amount of shabby, too, which made it nice and spooky. I again reminded myself to stick to the middle of our group.
Everyone was very down-to-earth. There was a mother-and-daughter team who had been armchair ghost hunters, but who were now out on their first investigation; a pair of sisters who belonged to the society; four other society members; and the psychic, Annalisa. She had long hair and black clothing, but other than that she didn't look as kooky as I had hoped. It's always sort of scary to meet a psychic. After you shake their hand you wonder if their eyes are going to widen while they grab onto your arm for support and tell you the end is nigh. I shook Annalisa's hand and she didn't seem to flinch. In fact, she gave me a compliment.
"Cool Bee Gees pin!" she let out.
"Aw, thanks," I replied. "They are my favorite group. Really." I always have to add the "really" because people don't believe me.
"Oh, I know how you feel," she said, clearly understanding the plight of liking music that most people dub as lame-o. "My favorite band is Styx."
Whoa. Super lame-o. But the good news was I could tell this was a group I could crack jokes with. They were serious enough to try to talk to ghosties, but they didn't take themselves too seriously. Hurrah!
Equipmentwise, we had cameras on tripods, video recorders, EMF readers, and radio scramblers. Sharon, one of the sisters, had investigated Mary Lake before and caught footage of her singing along to Chopin. She was hoping for a repeat performance tonight.
"Okay," Annalisa said at the doorway. "Let's go." I pushed my way to the middle and we entered the haunted room.
To be continued ...