Posted by David
on Aug 26, 2002 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Late yesterday morning, we drove from Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin. The drive was nice. We came to visit Rindy’s apartment. It is a nice apartment. Rob and I checked into a motel. It was a nice motel run by a nice guy named Uncle Creepy, Junior. Then we had lunch at Wendy’s and drove an hour west to see a tourist attraction. It was a nice lunch and a nice drive. The tourist attraction is called The House on the Rock. It seemed like a nice tourist attraction.
Here we go, into the nice tourist attraction called The House on the Rock. It is a museum, kind of, situated in the house of an eccentric millionaire who devoted his life to building it and expanding his collections. It is a . . . nice . . . museum.
The walkway is narrow; the ceilings are low. There are stairs that lead nowhere and musty carpeting throughout. Conversation pits. Multiple conversation pits. Nice conversation pits. A narrow room jutting dramatically out over the trees. Some musical instruments, playing by themselves. How festive. How nice.
An old-fashioned town, inside a building; interesting displays in the shop windows. Here are some dolls, peering stiffly out at pedestrians who are getting slightly unnerved. An ad for “sterile tapeworms,” marketed as a cure for unhealthy fat. More musical instruments, playing by themselves. Are they a bit out of tune?
Onward to the ocean, also inside a building. A killer whale larger than the Statue of Liberty battles a many-tentacled kraken with an eye the size of a manhole cover. Models of ships long sunk or scuttled line the walls in a roll call of nautical history. Scientific scans determine that Rob is “Hot” and Rindy is “Crazy.” Still more musical instruments, some playing by themselves and some strummed by a mechanical octopus that does not seem to be paying strict attention to this activity.
Ancient cars and buggies. Burma Shave ads. Pizza, sweet pizza.
Musical instruments! Playing by themselves! Disembodied orchestras line the walls and halls, uncanny tableaux that defy easy description and leave my mouth hanging open; discordant percussion pokes formerly quiescent sections of my brain as if with thumbtacks.
A narrow tunnel turns and opens into a cavern of whirling lights and brash music. It is the largest carousel in the world, here in rural Wisconsin. Hundreds of assorted creatures whiz by in nightmarish rotation. Some are huge versions of normally insignificant animals, a dog the size of a hippopotamus; some have never before been seen on this world and, it is my hope, will not be seen again. There are no horses on the ride itself, though hundreds of carousel horses line the walls, their mouths gaping in frozen screams. They are held captive-we are all held captive-by vintage female mannequins outfitted as winged angels, which twirl in celestial foreboding.
The next room is simply indescribable. I would not even venture to try.
After that, another carousel, a carousel of antique dolls, which circle and scrutinize with eyes larger than their puckered mouths, an eerily adorable Argus on which I cannot bring myself to turn my back. Then further down to the greatest spectacle on earth, a miniature circus that stretches for what seems like acres; dozens, hundreds of tents populated by disproportionate clowns, roustabouts, and marks. Above our heads, as we wind our way around, two mechanical symphonies battle with strident timbre, a melody that sees us through to a much larger doll carousel (possibly some unseen extension of the first) and a final pass by the world’s largest merry-go-round.
Then, at last, the gift shop, where, stunned into submission, I buy a postcard, a magnet, and a mood ring, which shifts through an astounding palette of colors before settling upon a pulsating dark blue.
Outside, back in the nice, normal world, we attempt to analyze and classify, but I am still thunderstruck by the assault on my senses and sensibilities. It is not that the place is terrifying or completely ghoulish; in fact, each individual item has its own charm or beauty or fascination, and if I could buy and occupy the house, I would do it in a heartbeat. It is the overpowering excess that haunts me, the compounding of indulgence, and the curious idea that I have just trekked two and a half miles through another person’s subconscious mind. What, I wonder, would my own psyche look like to passers-through? It is a question with a special relevance as I contemplate my life and the world and the tenuous connection between the two. I have recently had the occasion to delve into the complex multiverse of my own emotions and motivations, as well as to get a bird’s-eye view of what that particular system looks like from the outside. Final conclusions have not yet been drawn, but is my hope that visitors would find my particular House on the Rock populated with at least as many delights as oddities. It should be nice . . . but not too nice.