Wednesday, March 12, 2008
A Moronic Haunting
Wilford Gruntwater died in 1998 of a toothpaste overdose.
He was a jolly man with a meager intellect. Or at least that’s how the men he worked with at the potato factory thought of him. He was an eternally optimistic man who always had a little down-homey, folkey saying to offer in any situation.
“Well, you never know what color the kittens is until you put all your raisins in a bowl!” he said once in 1986, slapping a co-worker on the back. “I shore is sorry to hear ‘bout yer wife, though. Damn pity, I tellya.” Wilford gave his head a final shake before stumping off to man his post at the peeling station.
“Funny thing is, I wasn’t even married at the time. Don’t even think I had a steady girl!” the co-worker recalled when I interviewed him. “Couldn’ta asked for a friendlier guy, though. Wilford was probably about the nicest guy I ever met at the [Lumpy Acres] SpudWorks. Not real speedy in the ol’ brain department, though.”
To people who knew him best, Wilford Gruntwater was, to quote his younger brother Phillip, “a guy you could rob easily.”
“I mean, all you had to do was tell him that they were giving away free pudding over at the ballpark or something, and he’d grin like you just told him he’d won a new spaceship, give you one helluva handshake, grab a bucket and just run off. Wouldn’t even close his front door!” Philip paused, a smile slowly crossing his face. “I told him that once. That he’d won a spaceship.”
“Gruntwater? I remember him. Big fella. Worked over at the, uh…the SpudWorks, right? Yeah, he was the one who kept bringing his wadded up hamburger wrapper back to the counter and asking for refills,” stated the cashier at the BurgerBum, a fast food joint a block from Wilford’s trailer. “Ate ketchup packets like they was popcorn shrimp, too,” he added. “I think he mighta been, y’know…retarded or something.”
Although he faced life with a pleasantly vacant smile and always had a hearty handshake for anyone within reach, Wilford Gruntwater had his share of trials and tribulations.
“Oh, the poor dear was always locking himself in those walk-in refrigerators in the dairy aisle,” said Rosie Brady, manager of the local supermarket. “To his credit, he never panicked, dontcha know. Just stood in there and waited for someone to let him out. Y’know, the funny thing is,” Rosie said, tapping her chin, “those doors don’t actually lock. They’re magnetic. Guess he never thought to just push.” She laughed. “And he always had a sort of folk saying for me when I let him out. Something like ‘you never want to change the oil on a horse whut’s never learned his alphabet!’ I never understood the half of ‘em, but he was such a nice man.”
This little portrait of a man who had once galumphed the surface of the Earth in his physical body I have given you because I believe I now live with the man’s ghost.
It started with little things. Going to brush my teeth before bed, I’d find the toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle into kind of a bowtie shape and the toilet seat up. This was strange, because I always keep the seat down to keep my cats out.
Those things were easy enough to ignore for awhile. I figured my father had come over while I was at work and had just felt like screwing with my toothpaste. But then the messages started showing up…
Little misspelled notes appeared on edges of pieces of paper around the house:
“Remembur too git som more tuthpast. teh minty kind is good in cofee”
“I allus sayd to make shur the (indecipherable) bacon water! Ha haHa!” (smiley face)
None of my friends would admit to leaving them, of course.
“That sounds like something you’d do yourself, if that post about coffee is the least bit accurate. Have you looked into counseling? There’s gotta be some sort of AA for caffeine people,” The Stupid Blogger offered.
“I think you’ve got a retarded ghost!” said The Girlfriend.
This analysis on her part turned out to be pretty accurate. What I’d read in stories and seen in movies led me to believe that signs of paranormal activity were almost like riddles. My ghost made no attempt to disguise his activities. He left crumbs on my sofa. Some nights I could hear him barging around in the garage, knocking over ladders and stepping into flower pots. Other nights I heard him sneezing in the unfinished attic, which is filled with that sneezy cellulose insulation.
“You should try to get a picture of it,” suggested Chris.
And that’s what I did. For the last few weeks, I’d come home to find that the refrigerator door wasn’t shut all the way, and the mustard had been removed and left on the counter.
Last night, therefore, I came home early and set up my tripod. At 1:30 A.M, I heard the sound of someone humming the Jeopardy theme out of tune, and the refrigerator door opened by itself. But…not by itself. I could just make out the outline of a man rummaging inside.
After I’d captured the above image on CMOS sensor with my digital camera, I ventured to speak to the entity.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
The entity appeared to bonk its head on the freezer door and dropped the mustard.
“Golly, mister! You scared the badgers outta me!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…you’re a ghost, right?”
“Aw, sharks! Of course I am,” the ghost said, shutting the fridge door, swinging it through his body as he did.
“Is there anything you want from me?” I said, beginning to perspire. This was so weird!
I decided any ghost that freely admitted to wandering half in and half out of the physical world in search of mustard was probably harmless. I talked to him for a while. Found out his name was Wilford Gruntwater, that he used to work at a place called Lumpy Acres SpudWorks, and that he hadn’t lived anywhere around here.
“Why my house, then?”
“Well, it’s like they say, FooDaddy, ‘a fat man’s got to keep his mustache trimmed in order to keep track of his ducks,’” the ghost said, trying to put the mustard bottle back into the refrigerator though the door. He watched it bounce back while his hand passed through. He repeated the process four times and probably would have gone on if I hadn’t taken the bottle away.
“I dunno if I’ll ever get the hang of that,” he said. “But I ain’t never gave up on nuthin’ before!” He slapped me on the back, which was a rather strange feeling. My body tensed to receive the blow, but his hand whiffed right through me without so much as a breeze.
“Hey, it’s been nice chattin and all, mister, but I gotta go let my dawgs out,” Wilford’s ghost said, and with a parting guffaw, galumphed right through the kitchen wall and out into the night.
I expect to see more of him, my visitor from an ethereal plane, and perhaps I can get him to keep my cats entertained while I’m at work. If I’m going to have to vacuum up his crumbs, I may as well make him useful.
Posted by Paul FooDaddy Brand at 6:30 AM