The Laundry Room

As I was headed out to work this morning, I passed by the laundry room down in the basement. I took a quick peek through the window in the door of the laundry room, and saw that the lights were out. And I was struck by how eerie the place looked. I snapped a photo with my cell phone, and here’s the result.

The Laundry Room

I like how the light pools in the center, and how it’s dark in the corners of the room. And I like how the displays on the driers in the back are glowing in the dark. This room looks like the kind of place where an otherworldly apparition might manifest. There’d be a smell of ozone, and an actinic flare, and a popping, hissing, or clicking sound. And then it appears. (And you turn around and frantically open the door to flee, but it opens only to reveal pitch black nothingness…)

The black and white checkerboard floor reminds me of some of the scenes in the Red Queen’s castle in the recent Alice in Wonderland movie. When I was a kid, sometimes I’d see spinning checkerboard figures in the state between wakefulness and sleep (hypnagogic imagery). And in his classic paranormal book The Mothman Prophecies, author John Keel mentions at least twice that “goblins” associated with Mothman wear plaid (!). At one point, Mr. Keel writes

Bedroom phantoms in checkered shirts are old hat to investigators of psychic phenomena. I have come upon this again and again. So often that I have written long articles about it. In some cases these ghosts-in-plaid are accompanied by the odor of hydrogen sulfide and sudden chills or sudden blasts of heat, while other episodes are probably purely hypnopompic. That is, they are the residue of dreams which overlap briefly into the waking state … a phenomenon well-known in psychiatry and parapsychology.

(He mentions the word hypnopompic, but for me the checkerboard patterns were hypnagogic instead.)

Stephen King’s short story The Mangler (which I’ve discussed before) had a laundry theme. And also note that “The Laundry” is the name of a secret government agency in Charles Stross’ delicious Laundry series.

Addendum (08/22/10): Here’s a nice passage from Charles Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum, the most recent installment in the Laundry series (p. 197). It suggests the dread that the creepy laundry room evokes.

There are places where the walls of reality are thin; the service corridors of hotels, subway footpaths at night, hedge-mazes and cycle paths. You can get lost in such places … These routes blend into one another. Of all the myriad ways that link the human realm to the other places, these are the ones we know very little about — because those of us who stumble into them seldom return with their minds intact.

This spooky laundry room is one such place, where the “wall between the worlds is thin” (p. 227).

Addendum (09/07/10): Here’s video footage of another creepy laundry room. The sounds of the machines reminds me of the machine in the movie The Mangler Reborn.

Addendum (09/07/10): OK, this isn’t really about the laundry room, but I thought it was intriguing: A Demon in the Bathroom (freely available from PubMed Central). For more about Sulak, the Lurker in the Bathroom, see this.


For M.V. Photo taken in the Reptile Discovery Center at the National Zoo today, at 12:39 PM. I used my cell phone camera. With thanks to zoo volunteer Mr. M. Zell.



Walking on my way to the metro station this morning, I saw a curious sign on the ground (near the corner of Wilson Blvd. and N. Lynn St., at the site of the old Tom Sarris Orleans House):

Metro Siamese?

Any idea what it means?

Addendum (04/09/09): Conjecture: there is going to be a Thai restaurant at the new site. And the fire department is involved with laying water pipes. This may be a unique one-off sign to indicate to the pipe layers the direction of the Rosslyn Metro station, and the opposite direction of the new Thai restaurant.

There’s no Thai restaurant near me currently, and I’d be delighted if there were plans to open one in the Rossyln area.

Published in: on 4 April 2009 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Coraline (2009)

For B.O.

Yesterday, I got around to seeing the movie Coraline. I thought I had gotten tickets to a “regular” version of the show, but was pleasantly surprised to see a 3D version. (I now suspect that only a 3D version was released to the theaters.) Here are some thoughts (warning: SPOILERS below).

  1. Entering a dream world, or at least an alternative world, is a common theme in Mr. Gaiman’s work. The most obvious example (to me) is his Sandman series, which focuses on a god-like being, Morpheus, who rules the Dream World. Other examples are Stardust, American Gods, and Neverwhere.

    As some of you might know, I’m interested in the topic of dreams, especially lucid dreams. From his writing, I suspect that Mr. Gaiman knows what lucid dreams are, and that he may have even experienced them personally.

  2. Names are important to Mr. Gaiman, and he often chooses them carefully. Sometimes they symbolize something, and sometimes they’re puns. One memorable one for me (SPOILER ALERT) was in American Gods: there was a character there named “Low Key” who seemed to be just a regular guy, but turns out to be the god Loki. Or how about the character Ms. Lupescu in The Graveyard Book, who turns out to be a werewolf?

    In this case, I started wondering about the name Coraline. It looks like it means having to do with or being made of coral. But I’m not sure how that fits in with the movie. Maybe the transposition of the letters “a” and “o” from the more common name Caroline signifies something? Maybe it somehow symbolizes the character’s transposition between the real world and the Other World?

  3. There seemed to be only one way to get into Other Mother’s world: through the strangely organic-looking tunnel behind the secret door. Curiously, there seemed to be two ways to get out. The obvious way was to go back out the way you came in, through the tunnel. But Coraline seemed to be able to return to the “real” world simply by going to sleep and then waking up — at least for her first two visits to Other Mother’s world.

    As an aside, the organic-looking tunnel was reminiscent of a similar tunnel in Poltergeist (1982): in Carol Anne’s closet, an organic-looking tunnel appeared, that led into the maws of Hell! (A serpentine tongue came out and grabbed the little girl and dragged her in!)

  4. There’s an old admonishment about being careful what you wish for, because you might get it. It seems pertinent to this movie, because Coraline was offered the choice of having what appeared to her to be a better world than her “real” one. Of course, it was actually a bad deal, because she would have become Other Mother’s prisoner!

    Another movie I saw recently, Fanny (1961; saw it on DVD) had a similar situation, where a brash young man desirous of a life of adventure leaves behind his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, to become a sailor. Unfortunately he finds that traveling the world as a sailor isn’t as romantic as he had thought it would be, and returns home. Only to find that, in his absence, his girlfriend had gotten married an older man.

  5. There was one part in the movie that I didn’t quite understand. At one point, Coraline wanted to open the door to get to the Other world, but her mother had locked the door and hidden the key. All of the sudden, she seems to know where the key is hidden, and goes directly to it — she grabs a chair, stands on it, and lifts the key off a hook high above a door. How did she know where to find the key?
  6. I wonder whether Other Mother could’ve won over Coraline with a subtler strategy. If she had simply been patient and kind, and kept serving delicious food, maybe Coraline would have chosen to stay in the Other World, without any coercion. Cf. Aesop’s fable about The North Wind and the Sun.
Published in: on 24 March 2009 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Papaya Seeds and Cherry Tomatoes, Drying

Papaya Seeds and Cherry Tomatoes, Drying

Image acquired with my cell phone in Fort Myers, Florida, on 13 March 2009.

Published in: on 16 March 2009 at 7:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Electronic Voice Phenomenon

For K.C. and I.K.

The E.V.P. movie that I was talking about was White Noise.

It didn’t feature Richard Gere, but another big name: Michael Keaton.

I was getting it mixed up with another movie. Richard Gere was in another somewhat recent paranormal movie, The Mothman Prophecies.

The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena

Published in: on 28 February 2009 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Three Classic Sesame Street Songs

Rubber Duckie


High, Middle, Low

Published in: on 16 February 2009 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Sinister Rabbits

Earlier, I had a post about sinister carnivals. Here’s a post about sinister bunny rabbits.

  1. The rabbit in Donnie Darko. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I.K. recommended it. It’s now in my queue.
  2. Jimmy Carter’s killer rabbit. See also this. (And here’s a YouTube video of cute, warm, fuzzy Swamp Rabbit Babies.)
  3. The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python). LOL 😀

  4. Bunnicula. One of the reviews mentions another movie in which a menacing rabbit appears, but I haven’t seen that movie. (It isn’t in my queue.) Bunnicula was made into a cartoon back in 1982 (YouTube video clip); the sound effects remind me of Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
  5. The Zodiac Rabbit.
  6. The Clifton Bunny Man. In 2004 or 2005, I attended the 48 Hour Film Project‘s local DC competition/showcase, and one of the entries was a short film on this legend; that’s how I first heard of this legend. Apparently, the Bunny Man’s haunts have extended to the DC area. Yikes!

Hugo the Abominable Snowman: Just what I always wanted. My own little bunny rabbit. I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him… (113 KB MP3 file).

Also: 39KB WAV file; 112KB WAV file

Addendum (02/15/09): look into my eyes (superbomba on Flickr)

The Golden Compass vs. The Chronicles of Narnia

For K.C., regarding your forwarded email entitled “POLAR BEAR.”

The polar bears reminded me of a movie I saw on DVD (Netflix) the other day in which a polar bear played a major role: The Golden Compass.

It is interesting to compare The Golden Compass with The Chronicles of Narnia. The latter is of course by C.S. Lewis, and is full of Christian allegory. E.g., the hero Lion-King who doesn’t seem to be around to help yet you must believe in him, who sacrifices himself to save the day, and who is miraculously resurrected.

The Golden Compass, on the other hand, is a not so thinly-veiled dig against organized religion, perhaps specifically organized religion of the Christian type (hmm, Snopes has an entry on this). In the movie, the evil Magisterium wants to control everybody’s thoughts, to vanquish free will across all the universes. This Magisterium represents organized religion. Since the story is set in what looks like late-Victorian or Edwardian England, we might take the Magisterium to represent the Anglican Church, but it might instead represent the Catholic Church (the Wikipedia entry seems to indicate the latter).

I wonder, if the version of Christianity that became dominant had instead been a knowledge-based Gnosticism variant rather than the belief-based version that we know, could movies such as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Golden Compass have been written? Would there even have been any movies at all? Would religion-based issues such as evolution and abortion have figured so largely in politics? Perhaps other topics (particle physics? professional sports? music theory?) would have been contentious instead?

If I recall correctly, some religious communities were against Harry Potter because of the alleged promotion of witchcraft. I’m not aware of any religious issues associated with The Lord of the Rings, although I know that Tolkien (friend of C.S. Lewis; they were both Oxford dons) was a devout Catholic.

And it’s interesting that The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter are all set (at least partially; most of the action in The Chronicles of Narnia takes place in Narnia, after all) in what looks like late-Victorian or Edwardian England. And the Shire in The Lord of the Rings looks like medieval England.

Cartoon Commercials in Italian Train Stations

In my recent vacation in Italy, cute cartoon commercials were displayed in the monitors in the train stations (in Milan as well as in Verona). Here are some snapshots I took with my cell phone. Can anybody out there please translate the sentences in the last two snapshots?












Published in: on 23 January 2009 at 6:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Shanghai Express (1932)

This past Christmas vacation, I saw The Shanghai Express in Basel; I believe the date was 12/31/08. I found the movie very interesting.

Spoiler alert: I discuss the movie below.

The movie is set on the Shanghai Express, a train going from Beijing to Shanghai. Early in the movie, we’re introduced to three other passengers (among others) on the train:

  • Shanghai Lily, played by Marlene Dietrich, a notorious courtesan.
  • Captain Harvey, Lily’s estranged old flame, whom she still secretly loves. Five years ago, Lily tried to make him jealous with some ill-conceived scheme, but her ploy backfired and he no longer trusts her.
  • Reverend Mr. Carmichael, a theologian who takes an immediate dislike to Shanghai Lily and her travelling companion Hui Fei, because they’re women of ill-repute.

There are the beginnings of a rapprochement between Lily and Harvey.
But this is derailed (pun intended) when a rebel warlord “Chang” hijacks the train. He makes a “bargain” with Lily: she must agree to become his mistress, otherwise he will burn out the eyes of Captain Harvey with a hot iron. Lily agrees to the arrangement. It is a secret: nobody else knows why she agrees to it.

Chang is ultimately dispatched, stabbed in the back by Hui Fei. But Captain Harvey now regards Lily with renewed distrust, because although he knows she had agreed to become Chang’s mistress, he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t realize that his eyesight was at stake!

Mr. Carmichael pays Lily a visit, and insists that she tell him why she had agreed to become Chang’s mistress. Lily reveals her secret to Carmichael, on the condition that he tell no one else, especially not Harvey. Carmichael is moved by Lily’s self-sacrifice, and now wants to know why she doesn’t reveal her secret to Harvey. It seems like the obvious thing to do. If only Harvey knew Lily’s secret, then he would forgive her, and everybody would be happy!

But Lily has a very good reason for her secrecy. She tells Carmichael that she wanted Harvey to love her on faith; if he were to reconcile with her based only on knowledge instead, then his love wouldn’t really be worthwhile. Lily wants Harvey’s trust. Carmichael, formerly Lily’s adversary, now becomes her ally; and he makes a very interesting comparison to religious belief, saying the following memorable line:

Love without faith, like religion without faith, doesn’t amount to very much.

The analogy in religious belief is this. If God really exists, then why doesn’t he work some amazing miracle to demonstrate his existence to the world, thereby settling the matter? Why not move the stars in the sky so that they spell “HELLO WORLD! FROM, GOD LOL”? I think Carmichael would say it’s because God wants faith, not knowledge.

Note that the mainstream version of Christianity that we’re familiar with emphasizes belief rather than knowledge. But there was once a rival variant (Carmichael would call it a heresy) called Gnosticism, in which knowledge rather than faith was key (gnosis = knowledge). With Gnosticism, you can have salvation only if you know certain secrets. But only specially chosen people have access to this secret knowledge, which is passed down from initiate to initiate, like a secret society. I think that this has a strong New Age flavor!

If Carmichael had been a Gnostic mystic rather than a mainstream Christian theologian, he might instead have said:

Love without faith, like religion without knowledge, doesn’t amount to very much.

The knowledge vs. faith theme seems strongly related to the old question of reconciling science and religion. A very interesting book I read recently (highly recommended), written by a physicist at the University of Delaware (and who went to graduate school at Princeton), poses the question as materialism versus faith, rather than science versus faith.

As an aside, Shanghai Lily’s real name was Magdalen. This is very most likely a reference to Mary Magdaelene, who’s traditionally considered to be a woman of ill-repute (although according to the Wikipedia entry she’s never actually called a prostitute or adulteress in the New Testament), and who became one of the first Christians. A fallen woman who redeems herself. The parallel to Shanghai Lily seems convincing.