When last I left off, I was about to enter a haunted room in the Queen Anne Hotel (see last week's Bouncer for part one of this column) after drinking at the Hotel Majestic. I went there with the San Francisco Ghost Society because the hotel is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Mary Lake. She ran a girls' school in the building, then got embroiled in a torrid affair with a senator and all hell broke loose. Apparently this is how ghosts are born: Some big event happens, a lot of psychic energy gets moved around, and the next thing you know, some joint is doomed for a haunting.
I sat on a large double bed in the hotel room while the ghost hunters were setting up. One woman placed Victorian gloves on a table in case Mary Lake wanted to, er, put them on or something. Everyone else was measuring the room's electromagnetic fields and taking temperature readings. Some Chopin played on a little tape machine.
But here we were, chasing historical ghosts, when who knows how many pre-ghosts were actually in the room? Like would something happen to me that would make me want to haunt SF Weekly once I pass? I hope my ghostly form will have the good sense to haunt a bar instead. But it seems that people who had extraordinary lives of some sort are the ones who end up being ghosts. Boring and/or normal people rarely do the haunting. So the next time you sit near a doozy on the bus who wants to talk about her bowel obstruction, remember, she will probably last for all eternity in that old coal chute down on Johnson's farm, while you are little more than worm food. Show a lil' respect.
The hotel room was freezing. We turned off all the lights. Annalisa, the psychic, held a video camera and sat in an armchair next to the window. The two sisters had cameras, too. A guy named Shannon was manning the temperature readouts and some other equipment. "Mary," he asked the ghost, "are you here?"
I sat there and tried to feel or see anything out of the ordinary ... you know, like Mary. Unfortunately I was having tummy problems caused by eating too many onions earlier in the evening, so it was hard for me to concentrate. Oy, did I have gas. Luckily I was buried under the covers and hoped I wouldn't offend too many people.
"My camera keeps losing focus at the foot of the bed," Annalisa said quizzically. Hmm ... something odd was going on right in front of me. Shannon walked over to the spot and immediately reported a freezing tingle on his hands. The hairs on his arms stood straight up. "Whoa," he said. "Check this out."
Others came over and felt the frozen patch. It seemed to move through the room. "It's like a cylinder," said Annalisa, moving her hands up and down the shaft of cold. We were pretty sure it was Mary. My feet were sticking out of the covers, and they suddenly felt cold and tingly. At least I think they did. (When the group had me go feel the shaft, I didn't feel anything.)
I did, however, feel a big pressure in my gut.
Shannon brought out the temperature gauge and held it over the "hot" cold spot. In a manner of seconds, the temperature rose from 65 to 67 degrees. Everyone freaked. "Can you bring it up to 68, Mary?" they asked, egging her on. Slowly but surely, the temperature landed on 68.
You'd think I'd be freaking during all of this, but I wasn't that surprised. I believe in ghosts, after all. Mostly I just lay there and snoozed to the strains of Chopin.
Then something terrifying happened.
One of the sisters put her camera down and looked up at the ceiling. She was puzzled. "I smell something funny," she said.
"Is it ... onions? Yeah, it's onions." She moved through the room as though she were trying to find the onion shaft of energy. Everyone tried to figure out what onions had to do with Mary Lake. Maybe someone was cooking onions in another room. Or maybe a reporter had bad gas. Oh, god, I prayed, don't figure out that it's me.
The music changed to a Bach organ work, the kind of thing you'd hear in Dracula's castle. The temperature dropped again, I made a concerted effort to hold in my onions, and we all got a bit peckish. Besides, you don't usually see or hear any ghosts until the footage is viewed later. If Mary were singing along with Chopin, we wouldn't know until later (go to www.sfghostsociety.org for results). We turned the lights back on and ate some chocolate.
I realized I just might become a ghost hunter. It's the only hunting activity I can think of where you don't really have to move much. In fact, you can stay in bed the whole time if you want. Plus I'm really not as chicken as I thought. At one point, everyone left the room and I was in there all by myself, not counting the ghost of Mary Lake. I wasn't scared.
"Are you there?" I asked. Nothing happened. All that lingered was the faint smell of onions. (If I am really a pre-ghost, then in 100 years, if you smell onions, you shall know of my presence.) Then I said hello to Mary. I thought of apologizing for the gas, but eh. It can't smell that great in the afterlife, anyway.
I got up and walked to the door, passing through what felt like a frozen shaft of energy.
"Goodbye," I said, closing the door behind me.