Follow the Selfish Chair
You know what I realized, when I was watching all these movies?
He was never really in any of them. I mean you never really see his face. He says things sometimes…look this way, stand in front of this thing, say something to the camera. So, you hear him and you see everything he sees but he’s never really there, in the picture.
He used to take us to the wax museum all the time and every time it was just about the same. When he got the camera, he’d bring it along to the museum, filming all the statues. Life-size and still, all of the movie stars would be posed in a freeze frame of their most famous films. Dorothy and the Tin Man near the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow, positioned like they were skipping down the Yellow Brick Road, away from the Emerald City. Arms linked, Toto too, at their feet. A big scenic painting behind them, lit with green lights, more spotlights aimed at their waxy, shiny faces. Somewhere over the Rainbow played on a loop. In the next room all the best comedy guys were standing there frozen in slapstick, Laurel and Hardy, WC Fields, and Chaplin. They were all propped up inside a replica of a set that generally looked close to the kinds of sets they used in their films: wooden, plain, rickety. All captured in mid folly: a pending eye poke, under a falling bucket of water, climbing up a precarious ladder. Around the corner was the House of Horrors. A sign hung just next to the red curtain you had to walk through, warning that anyone faint of heart shouldn’t enter. In each tableau, down the dark hallway, wax bodies were posed in various scenes of horror film torture and gore.
The best part of all of it was how serious it took itself; that the statues tried really hard to make you feel like you were in the film, peering into the scene, secretly, like you caught them in the act of acting. And you know someone tried really hard to make all the statues look real, painting their faces carefully, stitching together the costumes but always, if you looked closely, you’d see that a limb was just about ready to fall off or some of the paint on their chin was peeling. Maybe the pupil of an eye was pointed just slightly toward the ground while the other stared off into the distance. When we went to the wax museum, he’d get all of this on tape and he was a terrible cameraman.
He would see something like a butterfly and think that was the most amazing thing to video and he would follow it around for like twenty minutes. Up and down, trying to keep up with this butterfly. Nearly gave you vertigo, watching the thing. And at the museum, he’d always think it was really important to film the front of the building; the displays, the kiosk, making sure he documented the ticket prices, the posters in the windows, so you could see Clint Eastwood’s serious cowboy face, staring out onto the boulevard, or Mike Tyson all muscley, posed with his hands on his hips, all wrapped up in tape, a towel around his neck like he just got finished pummeling some poor guy. We would be in the shot too, but sort of just wandering in and out of the frame like the butterfly. But he didn’t really rest the camera on us too much. No, he’d spend all kinds of time making sure we’d be able to look at that video a hundred years later and know exactly where we were.
We were at the wax museum.
He loved it there and he loved the movies. Maybe that’s why we went there all the time. He really knew how to talk about movies. He’d always point out who was who, which movie stars were most important, telling us what their best films were and why. In the video, he makes sure that the lens catches all the stars on the sidewalk, each one, so you see the name, at least for a second while we all walked from the car. When we get up to the front of the building, there he goes, scanning the façade. Back then, the front of the museum looked really different. They had these big glass windows, with those posters I told you about. On the left side, when you are facing it, there was a little ticket window. The clerk would speak into a microphone, ask you what you wanted: Four tickets please, two adults, two children (infants are free). And they’d pass the paper tickets to you through a little opening under the glass and hand you a brochure with lists of all the statues.
In the video you can see my reflection in the window, jumping around. I was excited. I loved the wax museum too. And then for a few seconds, the camera passes the whole surface of the glass, tracing the images of others folks milling around in front of the museum, my sisters, passing cars and it lands there for a moment on his reflection and in that time, you believe that he was there too.