I recently started live-blogging bad movies for Bitter Critic, and it’s been a mostly positive experience. Actually, it’s kind of a dream come true, because I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 and wishing I were on the show. This past year for Halloween I even went as the show, making Tom Servo and Crow out of smaller versions of the same parts and completing it with box theater seats held up by suspenders. It’s the most time I’ve spent on a Halloween costume ever, and it caught the attention of fellow Cinéma Atroce blogger, Sam Glover. He asked me to join him on an MST3K-like venture, and I jumped at the chance.
The first time I live-blogged, someone died. Actually, he had probably died much, much earlier, perhaps even days before, but I was figuring out the whole live-blogging thing when I glanced out the window and saw a hearse parked in front of my building with its hazard lights flashing. I then noticed a cop car (and later a second) also parked on the block, but the absence of forensics officers or crime scene tape suggested it wasn’t likely the result of a crime, which made me feel moderately better.
I was ill-equipped to live-blog that first time. I’m not very tech-savvy and I had some logistics to figure out before I could watch the movie and post comments at the same time. I wasn’t planning on posting anything that evening, but when something so strange as a dead body turned up at my doorstep, I wanted someone to share in my experience. So, I continued posting in a chat room we had set up to discuss how we would run the live blog. As my counterparts discussed computer code, heading colors, and inline comments, I did what I normally do as a coping mechanism: I made jokes.
When one of the people carrying the stretcher out appeared to be a young, perhaps high school-aged girl, I asked if it was “Take Your Daughter to Hearse Day.” Later, reviewing the comments I made, I cringed at how flippant I was. After all, one of my neighbors was being rolled out in a body bag, and here I was being clever and cute in describing the manner in which that happened.
There are only ten units in my building, but I don’t know the other people who live there very well, having adopted that Minnesotan tradition of keeping to yourself under the guise of being “nice” and “neighborly.” I wouldn’t recognize most of them on sight, in part because there’s been a lot of moving in and out over the past year. I know that the people in the apartment below mine have a baby because I’ve heard her (him?) crying from time to time, and there are some kids who, at least part of the time, live in the apartment across from mine. There’s a 20-something red-haired guy who asked me a question the other day about packages, perhaps mistaking me for the woman in the apartment kiddie-corner from me, who has boxes delivered to her on a near-daily basis. I know the new neighbor to my right is a guy because I asked him to help push my car once when it got stuck in the snow. A few days before the death one of my neighbors on the first floor came up to borrow a bottle opener. I don’t even have the number for the building manager because there’s been a lot of turnover in that position––four in the three years I’ve lived here.
When I first moved in three-and-a-half years ago, I got to know a few people fairly well: guy-Chris lived across the hall and was the building manager at the time, gal-Chris initially lived to my right and was a part-time freelance chiropractor/full-time cat lover. And then there was Rick1 the alcoholic who used to watch me from his window. He was watching that time I got stuck in the snow.
Someone burglarized my first apartment in the Twin Cities the month after I moved in. It’s hard to recover from a home invasion, and I never felt comfortable in that place. When I moved in with a friend the next year it was much better. We hung up artwork I’d made and decorated a Christmas tree together. I threw a karaoke birthday party for myself in that apartment, one of many gatherings we hosted.
I moved into this current building after the (amicable) dissolution of my housing situation, from an apartment I loved in a city I was just starting to enjoy to a one-bedroom where I couldn’t hang anything on the walls, sad over the loss of a good roommate, scared but hopeful about living alone for the first time. I was the youngest person on my floor by at least a decade. I called it the Sad Sack Home for Losers, projecting my feelings on those around me, mostly guy-Chris, gal-Chris, and Rick.
But in time it started to feel more comfortable. Guy-Chris would send me YouTube videos of Steely Dan and time and again displayed his ineptitude at building management, needing a few tries before he fixed minor maintenance issues. I could count on Rick to be standing at his side window, staring as I parked my car and came in the back door. Even though it was creepy, he seemed mostly harmless, and besides he didn’t know my name, slurring out “Hello, Karen,” whenever I ran into him.
I knew that I wouldn’t see gal-Chris for months at a time, but, without fail, whenever I was rushing out the door and didn’t have a minute to spare, she’d find me in the hallway and want to catch up, tell me about her cat. I never escaped a conversation with her before a half-hour had passed.
“I never see you,” she’d say. “You’re always busy with grad school and writing.” I’d nod and try to jiggle my keys as a hint I couldn’t talk, but I knew how lonely freelancing can be.
“Things have been really stressful,” she once told me, “I just went in for an adjustment. My cat’s been really anxious, so I took him in as well.” Even though I thought she was strange, and I didn’t have a ton of interest in hearing about her cat’s chiropractic care, I found some comfort in the fact that someone knew my name and missed me when I wasn’t around. Though certainly Rick would have noticed if I disappeared.
Then guy-Chris took a different job and left unexpectedly, and gal-Chris’s mom died and she fell on hard times, so she moved out too. Her leaving took a period of several days, and, I speculate, wasn’t exactly in keeping with the terms of the lease agreement because someone else moved in for a month or two before an eviction notice appeared on the door bearing gal-Chris’s name. The current guy moved in shortly thereafter.
Creepy Rick was also evicted. I woke up once in the middle of the night, after I thought he’d already gone, and saw Rick out my living room window skulking away, looking disheveled, plastic bags hanging in each hand. He paused, as if sensing me, and glanced up at my window before ducking into his car. The voyeur became the viewed.
Not knowing my current neighbors made it easier when I was watching from that same window while one of their bodies was carted away. I could watch without thinking about long conversations she and I might have had, without remembering times when he might have watched me from the window, without wistfully hearing “Do It Again” in my head. I had a hard enough time not thinking about the woman from apartment 4 giving a little bow of thanks when she returned my bottle opener, how her eyes crinkled behind her glasses, how she reminded me of an aunt in her over-sized cardigan and sensible clogs.
It was hard not thinking about how adorably clueless the redhead was either, how earnestly he asked about FedEx. And then there was the girl with all the packages. Although I hadn’t heard anyone tromping up the stairs, I remembered that I also hadn’t seen any change in the boxes she had outside her door for a few days, and how sad would that be if this were the only indication she had died.
Seeing the morticians maneuver the stretcher past my car and into the hearse, I felt relief at the fact that the body was adult-sized. I pretended to check my mail, confirming that the person lived––and apparently had died––in one of the two basement units. I remembered that I’d seen an older gentleman coming up from that direction a few times, and even though I didn’t wish death on anyone, given that my options were that guy or a bunch of people much younger, I secretly hoped it was him. I still don’t know his name, how he died, or even that it was the guy I pictured.
The concept of live-blogging is still weird to me, the idea that someone in a far corner of the world or as close as next door or directly beneath me could be watching my thoughts as they materialize is bizarre. I’ve kept a blog for three years but the readership is fairly small, consisting almost entirely of people I know in real life, and most of my posts go through several rounds of revision before I publish them. Posting without a filter can lead to those cringe-inducing comments that — to the weeping woman whose steady sobs I could hear over the sound of her vacuuming behind the door of the deceased’s basement apartment — would likely seem callous.
On the one hand, death is, well, deadly serious. We’re all going to die, possibly in a tragic way, but even if it’s peacefully in our sleep at old age, our passing will probably be tragic to someone. I believe in having a healthy respect for this emotional fallout after someone passes. And it took me a while to get over the fear that I could choke on something one Friday, and, because I live alone, no one would be there to administer the Heimlich and then it could be Monday morning before anyone even noticed. I still worry about this when my feet slide a little getting into or out of the tub, when something goes down the wrong pipe as I’m eating.
It just as easily could have been me on that stretcher.
That weeping woman in the basement’s pain was so immediate and raw; I have been her before. I have felt that anguish, and I certainly don’t want to make light of the end of someone’s life. But I’m reminded of mortician Thomas Lynch’s assertion in his essay “The Undertaking” that “[t]he dead don’t care.” He’s talking about funeral arrangements and how, really, nothing matters to the dead once they’re gone, not their method of dying or the effort we put into burying them. We should joke, and laugh, if that makes us feel better, if it helps us cope with the fact that one day, too, we will die. The dead guy won’t mind; he won’t even know.
This “dead don’t care” realization is the aspect of my mortality that I spend the most time trying to wrap my brain around: that all of my thoughts and ideas and memories, the things that make me who I am, will someday smack up against a wall of nothingness. I keep thinking, And then what? I won’t know what’s happened because I’ll be dead. All these memories will be meaningless because I won’t be around to remember them, and if I’m not there to remember them in the future, does that make them meaningless now? Every experience that has shaped me, every laugh/sob/hiccup will just cut to black. No fade out. No transition. Just Bam! gone. Maybe that’s why heaven is so attractive. The belief that these memories, as you remember them, can exist past the point at which your brain stops functioning, a sort of energy-impression, is reassuring.
After the burglary of my first place in the Twin Cities, I stopped taking pictures for a while. The thief (or thieves) got away with my digital camera but also my laptop and all of the pictures and writing I had at the time. I mourned this loss for a long time, until I remembered that someday I’ll be dead and then none of this will matter. No one will be around to miss those photos because no one will even know they existed. Even though this thought makes me kind of sad now, it brought me great comfort then.
And, weirdly, so does live-blogging. Maybe it’s an aggrandizement of my importance in the world, or maybe it’s just communally experiencing something (big or small) as it’s unfolding, but being able to share my thoughts immediately with other people, even without a filter, helps me feel less irrelevant. Irreverent though I may be in the process. Thankfully, I’m usually just live-blogging bad movies.
Sarah Elizabeth Turner received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Hamline University. Before that, she spent four years investigating complaints against the police in New York City, three months working at the Mall of America (don’t ask), and three years trying to re-adjust to the Midwest. Her writing has appeared on Sleet, She Bear Lit, Versus, and the Brevity blog. She once got invited to a NASA launch. Sarah writes mostly creative nonfiction and can be found blogging on Sarah in Small Doses or performing improv online and in person.
[Image via Shutterstock]
name changed to protect the creepy ↩