Listen to Jim’s podcast: http://redclaydiary.com/mp3/groveofhedolls.mp3
or read on…
Grove of the Dolls
Within the dusty attic of my mind reside Gothic memories that occasionally arise and remind me that regardless of how many times The Stories tell themselves to you, they are never quite finished. For every story told, there is always The Next Day, and what happened The Next Day.
Here’s a true story that will never be completed. Fortunately, the human imagination, each human imagination touched by this story, will unwillingly carry forth the tale and conjure up possible Next Day scenarios. That’s part of the fun of storytelling.
Here’s the true and actual tale hidden in my Red Clay Diary many years ago.
ONCE UPON A TIME OR TWO…
Downtown Birmingham is the Tether.
You can enjoy being Downtown or you can enjoy returning to Downtown. Just take a trip 50 miles thataway or 50 miles the other way, then return to the City. This is about the time I went thataway…and was so glad to return safely—though altered!
The life-size mannequins inside the old tin shed are all tangled together in a silent and stifled orgy of lacquered intimacy.
There are mannequins fully dressed and carefully made up and there are mannequins old and weathered and strangely still youthful.
There are glowy-eyed mannequins staring into whatever comes before them but never changing the direction of the stare, prisoners frozen and sentenced to observe only that which presents itself to their direct gazes and steely peripheral visions.
There are male mannequins with sculpted hair and female mannequins with flared nostrils and delicate hands, there are mannequin heads and arms and legs and feet and torsos both dancing and as still as stones at rest in the countryside heat. And there are mannequins swinging from rafters and peeking from large pails, and next door there is another metal-roofed building with yet more mannequins and their neighbors.
The little town of Shady Grove, Alabama has no idea that these mannequins and body parts are living, never alive, in its midst. And no-one knows, either, that surrounding these mannequins are big reels of full-length movies and newsreels and ”shorts” and previews (trailers) and documentaries and cartoons, all in their original canisters, all in their original formats, 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, 8-millimeter, and photographic slides and transparencies, and, should you yearn to see one of these features, there are dozens and dozens of movie projectors and screens from every era—silent-movie hand-cranked projectors before the time of universal electricity, wide-screen movies before the time of TV-eating-up-the-world, military projectors designed to withstand V-2 or Scud Missile attacks, and projectors that were once handled by teenagers in high school science classes, and projectors that once had been operated in real movie theatres by real union-member projectionists.
The man who has coveted, stored, squirreled away and gathered all this mass of inert motion picture paraphernalia and this city of mannequins has also taken care to hoard hundreds of belts, projector bulbs, gears and sprocket-repairers, film editors and cutters and splicers and tapers, just in case the end of all other repair sources occurs during his lifetime.
And now, he is showing me his lifetime stash—which also includes a live nightmarish dog who barks perpetually day and night, never stopping, each bark accompanied by a three-foot leap into the air in a vain attempt to escape his fenced confines and energize all those mannequins—a truly possessed dog whose owners haven’t a clue.
Next to the sheds and shacks in the buggy country air are ten-foot-high stacks of very old grey and weathered mahogany boards that their owner has gathered from companies no longer needing them, and there is an old automobile splayed open to the world with wires running from under its hood into goodness knows what.
Inside his home, the man complains about the paper-thin ceilings that someone has spray-covered and which are now falling in from boredom and weariness, and his wife hides somewhere behind all his collectible mania, never presenting herself—a Gothic world that really exists if you go a few miles outside where you live now. A world not to be made fun of, since our world is just as offbeat and inaccessible to them as theirs is to us.
Maybe I’ll go back and visit this village of non-living comrades who in a way seem more alive than you and I and who certainly get along with each other better than you and I and who unlike you and I are totally accepting of their keepers—the insane leaping dog and the movie-mahogany-mannequin collector who is beginning to worry about what will happen to all his adoptees when he has become as lifeless-yet-attentive as they