Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were… Well, Mostly

Plop

Or flop? Most people are content with: “What’s new?” or “What’s different?” Oddly, I am interested in “What isn’t” or more correctly, what hasn’t been realized. Nothing bothers me more than being promised something, then not getting it. Maybe it goes back to some childhood memory of a disappointing Christmas, but don’t tell me I’m getting something and then back out of the deal. You know who you are and you promised.

As the drag actor Divine once screamed, “I wanted Cha-Cha heels!”

The following are my Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were: 5 big things on my wish list of wonderful that never came to pass. Personally, I feel cheated… and you should too.

1. THE CHICAGO SPIRE

Cancelled skyscrapers are nothing new in America or throughout the world. However, Chicago has a long and famous architectural history with projects that never got off the ground. Literally. Very few “A” list architect become famous without first building something notable in Chicago. This has been true ever since an impatient cow in need of milking kicked Mrs. O’Leary’s flame and fortune into the future. Cleared a lot of land for Frank Gehry.

The Chicago Spire was a dream project. In the end, that’s all it was, but for a brief moment it was a star. Conceived as one of the tallest buildings in America at 2,000 ft./150 floors, the structure had everything going for it. A famous architect: Santiago Calatrava. An incredible location just a few hundred feet from Chicago’s tourist-crazy Navy Pier and lakefront. Plus it was a design worthy of awe. Yes, perhaps, inspired. But best of all, it was in Chicago.

The project was approved by Chicago’s City Counsel in 2007 faster than any proposal in the city’s history. And do you know how many Aldermen have construction companies with their own projects in the works? Plenty. Being an Aldermen is a part time job, so they all have extra time to buy property, run hot dog stands, shake down unlicensed dog walkers. Important things. Still all this was put aside to push through the approval on this massive skyscraper. Back then, what Major Daley wanted, Mayor Daley got. It’s the City of the Big Shoulder Pads, remember?

When the bottom (and in the case, also the top) of the real estate market popped, it was over. Though the Spire’s developers were able to secure leases for the bottom floors of the structure with retail, multiplexes and multi-Starbucks, the condos above remained unsold. Except for the top penthouse (141st & 142nd floors) purchased by Ty Warner inventor (kind word) of the Beanie Baby, the building remained unsold. Warner’s 10,000 duplex was listed at $40 million but the final sales price was never disclosed. Given the building’s ultimate demise, I’m certain his deposit was returned: Seamore the Seal, Hong Kong Bear and Aldi, the Alchohol Alderman Antelope.

After the hotel concept was scrapped, all that was left were the unsold condos between the retail development on the bottom floors and Kingdom of Beanies above. Oh, and lawsuits in between. Lots and lots of lawsuits.

What remains today is a very large hole in the ground. When it rains there’s plenty of room for Seamore Seal and his friends to flounder in the glory of what wasn’t.

2. THE TITANIC HOTEL

There’s bad taste– and then there’s the Titanic Hotel, Las Vegas. This recreation of the fated luxury liner RMS TITANIC was to be a themed resort and hotel boasting some 1,200 rooms. Scale, as you know, is everything in Vegas– be it a cup sized for your quarters or your bosoms– this development was no different. Measuring approximately 400 feet in long it was to be constructed across from the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Though the entire project was nixed by City Counsel (imagine the sinking ship-themed simulator ride!) surprisingly the web site is still up at TitanicHotel.com. Check it out for some amazingly cheesy graphics and every ice reference to be found in your frozen thesaurus. I can’t imagine what the marketing people had in mind: “Gamble with your money, not your life?” This looks worse than a Dead Sea Carnival Cruise.

3. PEE-WEE LAND

This is a story that is perhaps more urban myth fiction than reality fact, but I’m telling it anyway.

At the height of Pee-Wee Herman’s fame and fortune, the boy in the ill-fitting suit had the world on it’s knees, a position Miss Yvonne was not always unfamiliar. In addition to the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse franchise and the phenomenal success of a young Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” this little P.W. was making huge bucks. At the zenith of his frenzy Herman had yearly merchandising sales in excess of $25 million, mostly from toys. Yet in the works were many things, including: a line of kids clothes at J.C. Penney, a breakfast cereal and yes, as mentioned in People Magazine in 1989, his own amusement park. “A warped version of Disneyland,” he predicted/lied(?) at the time.

Though people were throwing land at him like magic words (“bukkake”) the rumor mill whispered Pee-Wee was buying up property in Hollywood under assumed names– (Constance Amnesia, Placenta Flambe’, Chastity Stirrup, etc.) in and around where the Kodak Theatre now stands. I have not been able to locate the photo– I saw it only once and cannot verify its authenticity– but the property had been fenced off and a sign posted, “Coming Soon… Pee-Wee Land!”

Sadly, when Pee-Wee’s little slacks hit the floor, so did Pee-Wee Land. Captain Carl and Cowboy Curtis were replaced by two vice detectives in that now infamous L.A. porn theatre raid. (Yes, Pee-Wee came THIS close to relaunching a West Coast Village People!)

The rest, as they say, is his story. Not that anyone believed it. Did the media, the public and the world overreact? In hindsight, perhaps. He seems a fine man, a funny actor and he created a character that will live forever. Rather like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, except Pee-Wee’s white loafers tended to stick.

The same cannot be said for Pee-Wee Land. Was it just a dream on paper? Just a fib Pee-Wee told?  And could not the psychically disembodied Jambi have given Pee-Wee a heads up? Of course, no one ever wants bad news. Especially on a pink Princess telephone.

Now we can only imagine what wondrous rides would have been inspired by the original Playhouse and the fun we would have had.”Woulda, coulda, shoulda!” Right, Pee-Wee?

4. SUNSET BOULEVARD: THE MOVIE MUSICAL – But wait you say, “This is happening!” Um, perhaps/maybe. This “on again/off again” movie musicalization of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Hollywood opera has been stop-lighted so often, it’s enough to make you want to shoot anyone seeking a midnight swim.

Rumor reads that Glenn Close has snagged the role of the tragic Norma Desmond, but you know Meryl Streep can play anything, including that dead monkey part in cameo. Barbara Streisand’s name was floated about for a time, but then she wants to direct. And Cecil B. DeMille, sorry Lloyd Weber, would never hear of it.

There was an ancient story that Weber offered the part to Madonna, but she wasn’t about to play someone THAT old. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Or 10086 Sunset Boulevard, for that matter. That’s the downside of creating a Diva: you give and you give, yet still it’s hard to fill those big heels and bigger egos. This is not the first time Sir Andrew has created a monster; the movie version of Phantom made a big PLOP sound in both the river beneath the opera house and at a theatre near you.

My personal casting: Barbara Streisand as Norma Desmond (eccentric/crazy); Tatum Channing as Joe (stud puppet paradise); Patrick Stewart as Max (elegant and faded sexy).

5. HAND-CARVED COFFINS: THE FILM

Originally published in Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and later in “Music For Chameleons,” Truman Capote’s “Hand-Carved Coffins: A Non Fiction Account of an American Crime” is second only to “In Cold Blood” for the genius of the conceit, if not the writing. Returning to his “non fiction novel” format Capote places himself in this intriguing tale of a serial killer, but with a twist: before their cleverly devised deaths each victim receives an exquisitely made miniature hand carved coffin with their own tiny photo inside. Chills!

A detective investigating the case falls in love (of course) with a soon-to-be victim. He must solve the case before she too is killed in a mostly grizzly way. Capote himself meets with the killer, but he may have met his match. Can he prove the killer’s guilt or innocence? Could you be next? (Hint: Don’t accept any UPS deliveries!)

According to author Steven Bach’s “Final Cut,” the film rights to “Hand-Carved Coffins” were originally secured by United Artists for $250,000 just prior to their corporate sinking by the notorious Michael Cimino’s budget busting “Heaven’s Gate.” Hal Ashby had been slated to direct. Truman took the money and croaked in 1984, though not before United Artist hit the ground first. 20th Century/Fox would later pick the option where the would-be film has about floated for years– most recently to the estate of Dino De Laurentis.

“Hand-Carved Coffins” could very well be the greatest unresolved literary hoax of our time, but that’s just another odd feature to this true(?) crime puzzler. To this day it remains one of the most unusual films never made.

Have a suggestion for more “Wonders of the World That Never Were?” Let me know!

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016.

Cupcake O.D., Magnolia Bakery & Me: Immediate Intervention Needed

Cake

The New York Times real estate listing read, “An enchanting Swiss Chalet Penthouse Studio. Imagine waking up to the sweet aroma of Magnolia Bakery…”

Oh, great! A constant smell. Who wouldn’t want that?

The bakery meant little to me. After having spent three years trying to buy an apartment in Manhattan, I had all but given up. What I didn’t purchase in the beginning of my search was now completely out of reach. It was 2005 and I had been outbid, outdone and outwitted by the city’s juggernaut real estate market. Could I possibly make one more run at the co-op windmill?

Did I ever think it might be nice to have real bakery across the street? Was I ever that young, that naive, that smell challenged? Yet Biography Bookstore was just two stores over from the apartment in question, a huge plus– so how bad could it be?

But being true to any long-winded story, it was in the middle of August, a 4th floor walk-up with a dead air conditioner the size of an Easy-Bake Oven, which may have also been used for heat in the winter. This “penthouse” unit was truly up-in-the-rafters small. One doll house size wall comprised the kitchen with ancient cabinets half hanging on, half heading down, gravity bound. Splinters from the original oak floor pulled completely up as I walked across it; they stuck into the cuffs of my jeans like toothpicks on steroids. Built in 1860, badly remodeled in 1960. And did I mention it was a small fortune? Other than these silly details, it was perfect.

Ready for the clincher? The real estate listing finished with the words, “Estate to be sold “as is” within 48 hours. Best and final offer. A fast, clean deal.” Oh, sure.

If the realtor hadn’t liked me– I was on full schmooze– I wouldn’t have had a chance. Three offers were on the table, two were very close. The Seller asked the realtor who wanted the apartment the most? Good question!

Short story: I scored the property. Within days of the closing I was perched 4 floors up and 50 yards away from what I would learn to be one of the most famous culinary sweet-tooth haunts in all of New York City. But I still didn’t have a clue. My only view from the tiny top floor attic windows was the endless line of people standing outside Magnolia Bakery. Every day from mid afternoon to late into the evening, the faithful would arrive in pre-diabetic waves to pay their respects at $1.75 (back then) for a high caloric cupcake blessing.

Our Lady of Lourdes may have pray-answered stacks of obsolete crutches, but they were sorrily outnumbered by the thousands of empty Magnolia cupcake boxes which littered the street, overflowing the garbage cans of Bleecker Park, kitty corner to that sugar fix. My appetite was quick to be spade and/or neutered.

“Never Before Has So Much Meant So Little To So Few…”

Was I the last person on the planet to discover that Magnolia Bakery was a national obsession? When I told friends in other cities (name a city/any city) that I lived across from M.B. they knew my residence immediately; some knew my exact address–and that’s scary. Some could even identify the building: they knew the doorway, the cobblestones on the corner, the smell of burnt sugar. Yes, of course, they also loved Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade, Biography Bookstore, Ralph Lauren, Cynthia Rowley, blah, blah, blah.

This was odd. It wasn’t the infamous Dakota, the iconic 740 Park or the faux glitz of Trump Tower. It wasn’t even architecture which put this vintage slice of the West Village on the map. It was those frickin’ cupcakes.

Magnolia Bakery touted weekly sales of 20,000 cupcakes plus untold other treats. Realize then that on any given weekend thousands of people would descend upon this quaint intersection of Bleecker and 11th: tour buses saddling up on the 9th Avenue side of Bleecker Park, dispensing tourists like a pregnant guppy. In every weather imaginable the line would extend from the door of the bakery in numbers seldom fewer than 50, more often 100+. And though that line moved smoothly, it could remain intact for hours on end, like a favored ride at Disneyland. Or the King Tut tour of tooth decay.

“Famous for Fifteen Thousand Calories…”

Magnolia has morphed into the stuff of legend, famous for being famous. It has been parodied on Saturday Night Live (5 million downloads claims NBC) cementing its cult status like a clogged artery. A Magnolia cupcake with a single birthday candle makes a cameo appearance in the film “The Devil Wears Prada,” just part of the story line which coincidentally includes a $1,900 Marc Jacobs handbag, Magnolia’s neighbor to the north. Of course it was “Sex & The City” which helped turn the bakery into legend. By the time the “Sex & The City” movie franchise was released, those aging ingenues would be using buttercream as facial wraps. Or wheel chair lubricant.

“Never Forget Your First Time, Unless It Was Totally Forgettable…”

On my first visit to Magnolia Bakery, I made a massive cupcake faux pas by allowing two couples to cut ahead of me. Once inside they promptly self-helped themselves to 48 cupcakes (Um, Hello– The sign says: “Limit 1 Dozen Per Person”), emptying all the trays in one swift swoop. For quite some time no more cupcakes materialized from the back of the shop.

I must have looked disappointed. “Where are you from?” asks one of the husbands. “Just moved here from Chicago,” I forlornly respond. “Oh, that explains it,” he chuckles.  “A New Yorker would never have let us cut in.” He pauses. “So what are you going to do now… Now that we’ve taken all the cupcakes?”

“Well”, I say slowly, “if we were in Chicago, I’d stuff your lifeless bodies into the trunk of your car and leave it at the airport. But since you’re true New Yorkers, lets use LaGuardia.”

They promptly put two cupcakes back on the tray.

“It’s Like Living Across the Street From Graceland… Without the Grace.”

The crowds that amass in the West Village are a respectable lot. The daytime throngs are well behaved, clean and happy to be making the scene. Often people stand across the street, cell phones in hand, forwarding digital pics of Magnolia Bakery’s Cracker Barrel-light exterior. Like the photo above depicts (taken from my tiny balcony, M.B.’s blue canopy to the right), there are often traffic jams from the constant parade of town cars and Uber-Lyfts. It is rather a forced destination. The upside, you can always get a cab.

“This is the place I told you about,” shouts a girl into a pink bejeweled phone shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. “This is where I am.”

Clearly Carrie Bradshaw should have been a Stepford Wife instead of her husband, Matthew Broderick. Like a Stepford-Bradshaw army, thousands of these young women are drawn to Magnolia Bakery like moths to polyester.

Not unpleasant, the corner of Bleecker & 11th usually has a street carnival feel. On any given afternoon an architectural walking tour maneuvers thru the unloading of a bus of Italian tourists while a “Major Motion Picture” is being shot down the street. There are also movie location tours which make this a regular stop. (They were court ordered not to be serving any non M.D. cupcakes on the bus!) Add to this the thousands of cupcake starved patrons and you have all of the ingredients for a sticky city gridlock.

“The Only Thing Better Than Nightfall is Day Fall…”

When darkness descends on Fridays and Saturdays a different kind of sweet decay comes out to prey. It’s a younger, Generation “Y Should I Give Crap?” attitude, fresh from the bars, buzzed and hungry. Sure there are cupcake scuffles– no frosting spilled, but many an angry disagreement will arise among young men when they’ve been over-served, over-sugared and only allowed to buy that lame-ass dozen.

No, “Last Call” at Magnolia has an odd culinary desperation as the patrons roll out onto the sidewalk, laughing, cursing, tossing empty cupcake boxes to the curb. Yet it’s hard to appear bad ass when you’re sucking your fingers.

“This is a True Story. I’m Not Telling It Again.”

It’s 2:00 AM. A jet black town car pulls up to the now darkened Magnolia B. A young woman jumps out, clearly inebriated, and begins pounding on the bakery’s door. “I’ll give you $20.00 for a cupcake,” she yells.

Inside, a young maintenance man with a bucket waives her off. “Come on! $25.00 then…” The man turns away. She begins kicking at the door. “OK, $50.00!  I’ll give you $50.00 for one cupcake!” More unintelligible screaming. “OK, how ’bout I **** you for a cupcake (Insert carnal imagination here.)

The worker scampers to the back of the store and turns off all the lights. The hungry woman returns to her car, sobbing. To the driver she whines, “He won’t even sell me one cupcake…”

“Life Is Not About Frosting: It Only Covers Up What’s Underneath…”

The cupcake-crumb-eating pigeons in Bleecker Park are fat and rush about like public school children on a vending machine buzz. The poor park takes a regular beating from the crowds and their confection wrappers: the City barely keeps up. Still, nearby buildings routinely get ticketed for the trash that clutters the sidewalks, an unfair burden to the homeowners who try to keep this particular bedlam in order.

It’s as if your next door neighbor won the $100 Million Lotto… and you get to hose down his driveway. Not that M.B. doesn’t try to keep its corner tidy, it tries. But even they could not have predicted what fame would bring to this tiny intersection of 18th century streets and 21st century baked goods.

How many more years can this continue?  Limit 1 Dozen, please.

UPDATE: Biography Bookstore was priced out if its old home. It was replaced by Book Marc, Jacob’s foray into reading. Of course, it’s a hit. Lots of oversized books with big pictures and ephemera kitsch; clearly he knows his market. Jimmy Choo opened nearby and shortly closed thereafter with but a sneeze. Michael Kors opened… and Ralph Lauren closed. Coach closed two stores. Christofle Silver opened a dazzling little jewel box. Bleecker Street has evolved into the most expensive game of musical retail chairs ever played. Per square foot, the area has surpassed even the rental rates of Rodeo Drive. (see Wall Street Journal, then turn away.)

And Magnolia Bakery?  Their signature Bleecker store is as crazy/busy as ever. They now have countless locations across the city and throughout country.

“Can I **** you for a cupcake?”  I think you already have.

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016

 

Titanic’s Belfast Museum: Some Thoughts on 9/11

100 years from now, how will be remember 9/11? Since that horrific day America has remain conflicted over how it happened, what it meant, and most importantly, where do we go from here? For some, the answers will evolve over decades. For others, the answers will never be found.

The world has faced similar tragedies before– The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is regarding as the first global disaster, as the newly invented telegraph was first used to announce to the world the horrendous calamity. At the time the event was unthinkable, beyond the catcalls of “unsinkable.” Quite simply, people DID NOT believe that it actually happened. It was– to use the word of the time– unprecedented. The scale of the disaster was beyond emotional acceptance; the loss of life, staggering. Nearly every ethnic nationality was represented in the death toll and it all occurred within the largest moving object ever created by the mind of man: Titanic.

Of course, 9/11 was no accident. But the World Trade Center, the tallest towers in the world, twin monuments to the ingenuity of 20th century man, was gone. Now less than two decades later, the magnificent 9/11 museum is finally in place, and ground zero remains a construction site. The wound is still that fresh.

But might there be a lesson here? Perhaps it can be found via the architects and engineers who conceived TITANIC BELFAST.

After ten decades of media and multi-media exploitation– the books, the films, the 3D recreations, the touring exhibits, and oh yes, the auctions of recovered artifacts– what could possibly be left to say? When did disaster morph into entertainment?

Happily there is one crucial element waiting to be explored: Humanity– The thousands of people (and the city) that built Titanic. Why not return home, return to its birthplace, and go back to where it all began and will always remain? The heart.

Architecturally TITANIC BELFAST resembles both the four corners of the ship itself (in actual height) as well as the imagined scale of the infamous iceberg. It’s a visual twist that foretells the attention to detail and design to come, elements crucial to the success of this venture. The facade juts out at angles of some 25 degrees with over 3,000 anodized sheets molded origami-like into complex designs, 2/3rds of which are completely unique, inventing varying light patterns at every angle. In a sense it reflects where the ship meets the sea; the sea meets and sky.

Visitors move through 10 clever exhibits beginning with “Boomtown Belfast”– where they meet the men who built the great ship– the names of each designer, their photos, personal information, even comments from friends about what they were like as people, the inventors humanized. In a fashion, this is like speaking with the parents of a lost child and discovering who that child was. No one else could ever tell this story.

The next gallery is perhaps the most inventive. Called the “Arrol Gantry and Shipyard Ride” it is an electronic dark ride that recreates the art of 19th century shipbuilding through the use of CGI animation and various special effects. This is not a cheesy Disney-inspired carnival ride, but more of a simulator experience that tastefully takes visitors through the more dangerous aspects of the ship building trade.

What follows are detailed exhibits covering the launch of the Titanic, fitting out the ship with in a million details of practicality and luxury, the maiden voyage, the sinking, the aftermath, and finally a review of the myths and legends concerning the event. This last exhibit is an exploration of the wreck and an oceanic center.

What is missing, most thankfully, are the original artifacts that have found their way into traveling museum collections and auctions alike. One explanation is the staggering cost of acquiring these items in an ever-escalating market. The other, however, is that TITANIC BELFAST is not about a cup and saucer. It’s not about a life preserver. It’s not about the button off a First Class Officer’s jacket. If this is what you’re looking for, Google the next Titanic touring show near you.

No. TITANIC BELFAST is a tribute to those that built and sailed on this iconic ship. It is a chronicler of the event and it’s aftermath… from 1912 to now. More than a single lifetime, with the emphasis on life.

It is not about an Iceberg. It is noted, but not dwelt upon. It melted away, unlike the memory of some 1,500 souls who sailed on the most futuristic ship of its time, unlike the thousands who built this astounding vessel. They live now at TITANIC BELFAST.

And here is the lesson learned: the memory of 9/11 cannot be of terror. Even now, a scant 15 years out from that day, the wound is still too painful. We are still much, much too close to the event to focus our perspectives. We may think we have, but we haven’t. It too was unprecedented, staggering– the event impossible to wrap our most modern minds around.

A telegraph announced a great tragedy to the world– Unbelievable. 9/11 unfolded on live television and repeated in an endless loop on another new invention, the internet. Incomprehensible.

So consider that it has taken the town of Belfast, the mother and father of Titanic herself, 100 years to absorb the event in this most magnificent and dignified way.

100 years from now, what will we make of 9/11? After millions have toured the museum, examined the artifacts, and with millions more re-experiencing the event through mass mediums we cannot imagine, what will there be left to say?

I pray that we think of those that built World Trade. Pray for those that lost their lives that day… In the towers… In those fated planes… At the Pentagon… In a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I pray that we cherish the resiliency of the human spirit that endured such a past of heartbreak, such a present of uncertainty, such a future filled with challenges unknown.

Another great monument once split the sky, inspired the world, then disappeared. Yet from this chaos we can glean reflection, we can seek an elemental calm. From water and wind, through fire and ice, we always endure.

In the distance we will always hear the mariner’s cry, “Sail on. Sail on.”

More Info: http://www.TitanicBelfast.com

 

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016

Crop Circle Simultaneously Reveals DNA Strand & Winning Lotto Numbers

In a startling find that has confounded both the brilliant and the ignorant, an English Crop Circle has heads–and balls–turning.

While scientists debate the relevance of this recent conflagration, other less educated folk are flocking to their local 7-Elevens and Quickie Marts to play the numbers designated by the descending balls.

Said a local farmer, “It’s like turning your head and coughing money!”

For the first time in the history of crop circle research a double prediction has been made on a most perplexing level. Located in an obscure part of the English countryside called “Abbey Normal-on-the-Spanx,” the circle simultaneously details the DNA sequencing of Rupert Murdoch’s left testicle AND next week’s winning lotto numbers.

“It’s an incredible discovery!” says British physicist Sir Lord Buckingham of Fulton-Charlie Sheen. “I’ve seen DNA strands before. I’ve also pulled down a few numbers off the National Lottery. But never before have I seen a combining of the two. It’s either the foretelling of a coming apocalypse or a great opportunity to make a buck. Personally I’m betting on the latter but preparing for neither. After all, I’m a scientist, damn it!”

But American experts see it differently– mostly because they visit their eye doctor as often as they see a dentist, a fact that decays international relations and whatever affixed British teeth remain intact.

Professor G. Whizzer-Guilt of the University of Phoenix recently cited, “I can categorically state that the newly discovered English Crop Circles are as authentic as my degree from the University of Phoenix. In fact, not only is my online degree as legitimate, I can also download my diploma and print copies of it at home. I doubt the English can beat this level of integrity– even while wearing snow shoes and a tracking device in a corn field of hoax!”

To date, no one has come forward to deny that the DNA sequencing is anything other than Rupert Murdoch’s naughty (and tiny) bits. Concurrently, multiple wives have come forward to identify the withered sequence, often while wearing gloves or poking at it with a rolled pre-nup.

Murdoch’s first wife, Lady McMuffin McMurdoch of the M.C. Hamburglousters-On-Toast testified in an unrelated sperm/egg paternity suit that the strand was, quote, “the shriveled strand of her late husband.”

(Author’s Note: Rupert Murdoch IS NOT dead yet, but in the interest of internet accuracy, this article and his first wife are simply planning ahead. See Roger Ailes, Media Stud of Trump TV.)

Back across the murky pond the controversy continues. As 43 of the 50 American states have a lottery,  it is debatable in which state these numbered balls will drop. This confounds true believers and those living with aluminum siding or wheels under their living rooms.

Said a local yokel from a decidedly red state, “Do I believe in aliens?  Yup!  And that’s why we need a wall keeping the Canadians out!”

That attitude appears to be growing. A recent USA/CNN/DNA/NRA poll of lottery players echoes the sentiment. While only 2% of those surveyed believed in extra-terrestrials, 15% believed in the existence of extra testicles, while a shocking 85% believed these crop circles are, in fact, predicting winning lotto numbers. Most also believe Ann Coulter is actually an elderly man who went missing after hooking up with the Loch Ness Monster on the Scottish version of Tinder.

Even more disturbing is that all of this adds up to 102%, defying both the odds of logic and the abacus on my smartphone. Like the upcoming presidential election there is a 5% margin for air– most of it coming out of suicidal members of the RNC.

But the questions remain: Are beings from another planet messing with the very structure of human DNA? Or did Murdoch’s media empire phone-hack into the cosmos and piss off an intelligence greater than Robert Snowden during an NSA leak?

Are aliens accurately predicting winning lotto numbers to bring down the world economy?  Or will Park-All-Day-Twelve-Bucks succeed Kim Jong Un as the president of an unstable North Korea?  Call out the horses!

The answers to these and other questions can be found in my new book, “Answers to These and Other Questions” published by You’re So Vanity Press.

 

Winchester Mystery House: Sarah, The Ghost of a Souvenir

In life, Sarah Winchester couldn’t scare a ghost– or be scared by one.

Sarah Winchester was the original ghost hunter. Widowed and childless at the age of 42, she moved to San Jose, California on the advise of an East Coast psychic who claimed she’d be forever haunted by the deaths brought about by her Winchester Rifle inheritance.

In 1884, Sarah bought an 8 room farm house on 161 acres, drew up her renovation plans… and then spent the next 38 years arguing with building contractors. And that’s the scariest story I think I’ve ever heard. Stephen King at his best/worst couldn’t conjure up anything more terrifying.

By sheer force of will, Sarah who was barely 4’8″, almost always got her way, prodding those in her employ to build, 24/7, (yes, you read that correctly) non-stop until her death in 1922. Under that amount of rehabbing, how could this place NOT be haunted. It should also be noted that Sarah paid very well, so her employees hung around, some apparently long after their carpentry work was needed… and into the afterlife.

160 rooms exist today, though the mansion had once been larger (and taller, as seen in the photo above), but the tower and other parts of the house collapsed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Sarah also kept an “Ark” in the San Francisco Bay due to her fear of an impending “great flood,” but that’s another crazy Sarah story.

I confess this is one of my favorite haunts (sorry), having been there many times. The tiny photos you see below are part of an old souvenir album I stumbled upon many years ago. Most of these images are no longer used in the souvenirs sold at the Winchester Mansion, even though it’s the largest souvenir store I have ever seen for a single attraction– We’re talking Disney-scale merchandising. The new Japanese owners  really know how to take this ghost house to market.

I have always been fascinated by the transition between the death of Sarah Winchester and her metamorphosis as the late/great owner of the world’s most famous haunted house. Talk about a White Elephant. Stairways that lead nowhere. Second story doorways that open to a death fall. Windows in the floor. This is one tough residential sell even in an up market.

Of course for years the ghost angle was actually played down, even though there have been hundreds of sightings by many a non-believer over the years. Here is one of my favorite stories…

One day a local news crew was filming at the house, wandering the grounds, trying to get unusual angles on a story too often told, when they inevitably ended up in Sarah’s bedroom. As the camera scanned the room, it caught a workman outside of Sarah’s window, thus ruining the shot. When the newsman complained to the cameraman that the scene would have to be redone, they both realized that the workman had simply been floating outside the window. They were on the second floor; there was no window balcony or ledge on which to stand. This footage was broadcast only once on local television and never shown again. Apparently sometimes even the news can get too real.

And so the myth around grows. Sarah was only photographed once in her life– and  it was done by surprise, without her consent. In the picture she has an odd smirk on her face, as if the joke is on everyone but her. See: You.

Beyond building and living in the largest home in California, Sarah’s personal worth in 1880’s was an estimated $20 million dollars from her 50% ownership of the Winchester Rifle Company. Or to put it in today’s value, Oprah money.

Still, in the end, are we not all just ghosts-in-the-making?

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