I count those assembled, matching name tags with the ones listed on today’s tour sheet. “Nice number,” I say quietly as I check off the last couple who just hurried up and are slightly out of breath. I cough discretely and wait until I have everyone’s attention.
“Glad you all could make it. I think you’re going to enjoy yourselves big time. I’ve been taking people on this one for the past three years and I never get tired of watching the reactions as people look into some of the more exotic rooms. Heck, I learn something new on pretty much every tour because things are constantly changing.
“Let’s go over the ground rules. First, stay together. If you get lost or wander off so you can’t see the rest of us, it might get dicey. Last October, we lost a young couple and couldn’t find them for three days. By the time we did, he was howling like a banshee and she refused to wear anything but a ratty Patriots sweatshirt and fur undies, so be careful. Photos are fine, but remember that what lighting there is can be strange so you might not get the image you expect. Finally, The tour can’t cover everything and you might feel like you need a place to stop and rest. Unfortunately, the nature of this area is such that we must ask you not to touch, sit on, or lean against anything. This was covered in your waiver agreements that each of you signed. If you’re uncertain whether you can abide by the terms, please let me know before we get going and I will have someone wait with you until we return. Any questions?”
Nobody raises a hand or asks to back out, so I stash the clipboard and make sure my flashlight is working properly before leading the group through the funny shaped portal and up a spongy pink incline. After pausing at the top, I take a deep breath and head into the warm darkness. There are no actual lights, but the amazing amount of energy surrounding us often manifests itself as shimmering sheets of luminescence, most often blue, but depending on the overall emotional climate, these can shift to green, purple, crimson, or on very rare occasions, black.
“We’ll start with the rooms on the left and spend about ten minutes exploring each one. When we’re finished, I’d really be curious as to which one each of you think is most interesting and why. First up is what we call childhood memories. You will note that some of the displays look like professionally made dioramas, while others are more like abstract paintings. We suspect this is directly correlated with how clear the memory that created each one was as this room was developed.”
I stand off to one side as the group moves slowly, making quiet comments as they look over various exhibits. I’ve become pretty familiar with the contents of this room because it has barely changed. Over in the corner is the miniature replica of Frontier Town with an unhappy boy sitting in a car in the parking lot. The same figure appears in almost every other piece on display, one with a friend bending over a downed weather balloon, another where he’s awkwardly casting a bamboo fly rod on a sun-dappled river, one where he is carrying a small wooden boat down a hill, one playing chess with yet another boy, still another where he’s curled up in a corner listening to an ancient radio in the dark.
We leave this room and enter one where the same figure again appears in each painting or diorama. He’s a teenager now and everything in this room is much sharper. I’m never quite sure whether this is due to more maturity or because the memories are more emotionally charged. In one, he’s lying beside a twisted motorbike at the foot of a giant elm tree. Next to it is one where he’s driving a dark blue sedan and a girl is sitting very close to him. In another, he’s on some sort of train in a big city, right beside one where he’s on a long sandy beach at twilight, looking longingly at a pretty girl who is watching fireworks fill the sky over a dark sea. There are a couple more that stand out. One where he’s raking blueberries and the last one where he’s taking care of a large flock of chickens.
After we spend more time than usual in the room I’ve come to call the 20-something memory gallery, a room that’s notable for the sharp emotional contrasts (some dioramas like the one that has to be Woodstock, are brimming with energy, while others like one where he’s sitting alone in a dark bedroom with his face in his hands, obviously filled with despair), we hustle through the rest of the memory rooms that seem to be divided roughly by decade and feature things like the mixed emotions of fear and hope as we see him attend his first AA meeting and then one right beside it where he’s holding his first child, to one a couple rooms away where he has a shit-eating grin as he sits behind the wheel of a $40,000 Dodge Charger that’s tricked out like a race car.
“Now we move on to the rooms I like best because they’re always just a tad different,” I say as we go up another incline and turn left. “First up is what we call the curiosity storage area. I’ve brainstormed with other staff members who run similar tours and we think this is a repository for oddball questions that might someday be answered and become parts of a book or a short story. You will notice that every wall is chock full of filing cabinets and each drawer has a label, but there’s always a big pile of stuff on the table in the center. Remember, look to your heart’s content, but don’t touch.”
Once again, I move aside to give everyone a chance to study things. I love to watch their expressions as they read some of the labels. There are entire file drawers devoted to things like naked mole rats, oversexed narwhals, which flavor (aside from spruce) chewing gum holds its flavor the longest, what in heck was her name anyway?, is there a town by that name in Idaho?, the list is endless. On the table lie at least a hundred questions that haven’t been filed yet. Today we can see ones like If bigfoot really exists, does he/she have a favorite baseball team? And Imagine what the result would look like if a deer tick was suddenly turned mutant by a burst of cosmic rays. By the time we’re ready to move on, I can see more than a few glazed eyes among the crowd.
Next up is the room of unfinished stuff. It’s scary how many things this guy has in the works. There are short stories about those ubiquitous free AOL discs getting mad at how often they were trashed in the 1990s and what happens when they exact revenge, there are several books in some stage of completion. I’m partial to the one about a magician who fled his world halfway across the galaxy and came to Earth because there were no 12 step programs there and he was a hardcore addict. When he arrived, he found that he had to use his magic in extremely controlled doses or his addiction would flare up big time, but he fakes a college degree and ends up as a librarian, working in Boston where he rescues the rarest cat on the planet and discovers in the process that baddies from all over the universe are trying to take over Earth because they can use portals all over it as shortcuts to move themselves and their plunder from one part of the galaxy to another. There’s another one about a poor kid from the coast who loses his temper and punches out a rich guy and ends up in prison where he’s put in touch with someone who has connections to a rogue group in the Israeli army who work with him on a monster theft on the peninsula where he grew up. It involves a surplus Chinese submarine, blowing up the Piscataqua River Bridge and bamboozling the Coast Guard.
The room also has bundles of short stories in various stages of development as well as a hefty pile of, ‘I think these are cool, but they’ve been rejected’ stories. Depending on my mood, I always leave this room depressed or excited as hell. I notice similar expressions on the faces of my charges.
The next room is my favorite because it’s ever-changing and is guaranteed to freak out at least half the folks on the tour. It’s the one we refer to as the ultimate fantasy room. Unlike most of the others, this has all sorts of videos running simultaneously. Some are pretty tame like the guy pitching for the Red Sox, shooting a ten point buck or holding up a five pound brook trout, but then there are the x-rated ones. I love to watch the way tour members react when they see the one where he’s sitting in a light blue bathtub filled with freshly poured lime jello, accompanied by a very buxom young woman. There are several others that are even steamier than this one and, as I say, they change on every tour.
The last room on this floor is called ‘Not Enough Time In This Life’ I’m pretty sure it was set up after the others when the owner realized that there were simply too many things to experience or do in the time remaining before he left this world. If you look at the dioramas and that’s all there are in this room, each one has a distinctly otherworldly appearance. Things like suns with strange hues, extra moons, trees and mountains that aren’t of this world, creatures that must have snuck out of somebody’s imagination. There are a couple common themes running through all of them. In many of them he’s riding a horse, carrying a sword and a musical instrument, while accompanied by an attractive woman who has her own sword and a longbow.
I lead the group around a curved area overlooking the lower floor until we reach another ramp, this one going down. We find ourselves near the next to last room, one that has a polished brass sign over the doorway that says “Never Enough Time, But That’s Not Always A Bad Thing.” I stop and ask the group how many know what a TBR pile is. Several raise a hand. I turn and lead them inside. There are several gasps, mostly of delight and from those who knew what TBR stands for. This could be every man’s idea of the perfect reading room. There are ten foot high dark oak bookshelves lining three walls. Two ultra-soft recliners occupy corners near the unadorned wall and each has perfect lighting for a reader. The shelves are filled with titles that I swear change to tempt whoever is perusing them. I know from previous discussions with tour members that no two people see the same books on a shelf. I’m convinced even a total non-reader would delight in spending time in this room. I lead my entourage out with great reluctance.
The final room is reminiscent of those refrigerator magnet sets you give and get for Christmas and birthdays, the ones with themes like literary or garden words where someone starts arranging them in order on the fridge door and two weeks later the person in the family with OCD has turned the whole box into an epic run-on sentence. In this instance, words, questions, puns and jokes lie about haphazardly as if someone was trying to mix up unrelated stuff and have it make sense. There are whiteboards with partially finished sentences and questions on them, things like “My Wife accuses me of being in coherent almost every night, but I swear I can’t find it in my DeLorme Atlas.” Right beside that is “How come nobody is ever whelmed or tached?” Every time I bring a tour through this room, I make sure I check out the whiteboard I’ve come to call, ‘words that ain’t, but should be.’ There are faux words with absurd definitions up there like Fritilarity, the sound an amused butterfly makes, or swornhoggler, criminal activity by a dyslexic fraud artist.
It takes a few minutes for everyone’s eyes to adjust to the afternoon sunlight once we’re back outside. I’m not at all surprised by the rash of positive comments about the tour. It happens almost every time I guide a group through our writer’s brain tour.
Now, it’s your turn dear reader. What would a guided tour through your mind look like?