Last weekend, I was in Twentynine Palms - as previously stated - one of my favorite places on Earth. One day, I went on walkabout and along the way, I faced temptation.
Left of the trail, I spotted two abandoned structures which I'd undoubtedly passed numerous times but never felt the urge to explore. This time, the world was covered in that perfectly luscious dusk light AND I was wearing my camera - my favorite accessory. So, off the trail I went.
There is nothing I love more than shooting empty forgotten stuff in that gorgeous state of "arrested decay". Now with digital, there is the urge to shoot compulsively but I try to mess with my own head a little bit and pretend I'm running out of film; I shoot less but end up with a higher image satisfaction.
The first building was a cabin of dark wood. The windows were all boarded up, no evidence of life at all. I circled the building several times but nothing caught my eye except for the edge against the background. Near the rotted back door, there was a dirty window to peek through - nothing but bits of junk, an old washing machine, dirty dish towels. I took the opportunity to pee in the sand.
Next to the cabin stood a tragic, empty mobile home, complete with badly worn astro-turf on the 'porch.' Where the cabin exuded sadness, this place invoked cruelty.
Same treatment - I circled the trailer few times but nothing really grabbed my one good eyeball. The long line of tires on the roof - I'm sure there's a hackneyed reason for this - is bizarre and fun so I shot that. Suddenly, a gust of wind came through and the front door creaked opens a bit. 'Twas a distinct invitation. Or a dare, not sure which.
I stared at that beckoning front door for awhile, just pondering the possibility of the unknown, which made me both excited and terrified to be standing there. Not a soul was around and I'm always drawn to this concept: No one to stop me and no one to help me. Freak, I know.
Finally, I made a move and the sagging wooden steps felt like they'd give way any second. First glance at the 'living room' I felt I'd obviously stumbled into the opening scenes of a slasher film. Still, I figured it was relatively safe to continue since I was a) not scantily-clad and b) was not recently having sex. I creaked open the door, did my best tough-girl voice, “Hello? Hey? Anybody home?”, and entered this ugly, forgotten place.
Darkness, dust and a badly stained green carpet greeted me. Broken bits of life were scattered everywhere – torn drapes, an oil-stained t-shirt, a broken suitcase – clues that lives were spent here but hardly lived. I slowly crept from room to room, looking for clever shots, until I picked up that tell-tale stench of death. I realized it was coming from the end of a long, darkened hallway. Again, I stared at the blackness and felt the temptation to see the dead thing for myself.
After years of journalism, my brain is permanently geared to headlines, so when “IDIOT SEX-LESS PHOTOGRAPHER SLASHED BY ZOMBIE METH HEAD IN ABANDONED DESERT TRAILER” ran across my brain like a CNN news ticker, I considered reconsidering. Did I mention it was in 36 pt. type? In bold Impact font?
Right about here I came to my senses, mumbled an excuse about ‘bad lighting anyway’ and got the fuck outta there.
Hoofing my way back home, I asked myself: "Self, would I have gone as far as I did without the camera? Would I have gone in if I didn’t have the means to document it? Am I that stupid and careless?" Sadly, Self sheepishly answered, "Yes."
I then came upon a woman walking her dog. She called out, "Are you a prospector?" Odd. Anyway, we got to chatting and I asked her about the buildings and hello! I got the juicy download:
“Boy, the owner has had a hard time keeping those places rented. First, there was a satanic cult – they were doing animal sacrifices and everything. Had pentagrams and swastikas up everywhere. Then, a lady moved in and was hauled off to jail the next day for prostitution. And then a grandmother moved in with her three pit bulls. I think she was cooking meth in there.”
My instincts were right – the past was action-packed in these parts. I’m sure glad I didn’t know any of that before I entered that trailer or I would have followed the dead smell for sure.