Sunday, October 19, 2008
by: Karl Sherlock
In this nonjudgmental look at the role of clutter in claims of the paranormal, we address the really messy business of sorting out a haunted psyche from a haunted house. It's a delicate problem, and not always just a simple matter of impugning someone's housekeeping skills.
In an episode of one of the many popular cable television shows about ghost hunting, I watched with fascination as an elderly man invites the team and camera crew into his home on the evening of an investigation. Off camera, the abrupt sound of aluminum screen door slamming signals an end to fresh air, for, throughout the home, furniture stands away from the walls by four feet to allow for bundles of clothing and boxes tucked away "out of sight" along the walls. In the small adjoining dining room, one captain’s chair is available for seating; the other three chairs are wedged in by stacks of newspaper four feet tall, and the dining table, itself, warehouses a collection of magazines and boxes. On the couch, an afghan molds itself around lumpy piles of unfolded laundry. The client leads the team down a dusty hallway, oddly free of any obstacles, and prompts them to enter the most paranormally active area of the home, his bedroom: seven feet across and as spacious as the cab of a truck. They cannot open the door more than a few feet, because one of the two twin beds teeming with pillows and knitted sweaters is impeding their access; one investigator, in fact, must climb over a pile of dirty laundry to reach a closet door in the corner, said to open on its own and emanate strange sounds. Wrinkled garments gathered at the foot of the closet are matted with cat hair and other filth. Faces begin to wince claustrophobically and one cameraman actually withdraws in a mild panic. The client summons them to his kitchen to examine what he believes to be photo evidence of spirit energy, but the cramped kitchen is as pathologically cluttered as the rest of the house, and they seem to be turned back by the preternaturally unlivable state of the room before they can even bring themselves to enter. Unwashed dishes and half-empty pots of food crest the sink, while factory-sealed boxes of new kitchen appliances crowd the dinette and chairs. Their host flummoxes them with an unexpected remark: he's tidied up for their arrival.