So, oddly enough – I’ve lost this original writing.
I had a habit of writing down short stories, poems, and other miscellaneous things like practicing Japanese kanji during my time at the cultural center. Some days were so slow, and I (usually) finished my work early so I had to kill time in creative ways that wouldn’t distract from when something I could do did arise.
I was flipping through old notebooks today and found an excerpt I scrapped before writing the real thing in another notebook. I’ll start with the latter portion of that story, since the top half gives away too much personal information.
I also tried searching through my old cell phone at the time for the photos I took that day. I couldn’t remember if they were still on that device’s internal memory, a separate micro SD card I have stashed away with old flash drives, or on the external hard drive to which I misplaced the custom USB cord for access.
I take a lot of photos, so this is not uncommon for me to misplace things. In any event when I do find them, I’ll add them on here to this story. Either way, I’m going to close my eyes and try to recount for you to the best of my abilities what happened that day.
I am also going to attempt to type with my eyes closed while reminiscing, but I shall soon tire of that and when I open them see the plethora of spelling errors that this outdated word processing doc always fails to miss. Just for me to then upload it to WordPress and have Grammarly make me look stupid with highlighting a word I missed proofreading in red just before I hit publish to make the post go live.
I was often the only “on-duty” staff member in the building during my shifts. I had weekends, where I opened and closed and watched the more senior members dart in and out of the elevator taking them up to their offices. They never stayed long. One assignment that had to be finished here, forgetting something for an off-site unofficial meeting there…or just literally coming in because they had nothing better to do and sitting in their office for hours. Leaving the maintenance staff to gossip about why they were up there so long and remarking how they wish they would leave so they could turn off the lights and seal that floor off.
I had a really raw deal when it came to lunch breaks at this job. Since no one else was there (save a security guard, maintenance staff, and the ‘museum’ docents) to cover me, I had to eat at the desk. It was particularly annoying when I would walk up a flight of stairs to wash my hands, lay out my food carefully on napkins on the freshly cleaned desk (courtesy of myself and sani-wipes) and get ready to chow down just for some idiot to walk in.
I mean, they were usually nice people – but c’mon.
Some people took the hint and with keen perspective and critical thinking skills put two and two together and realized that I probably couldn’t have a proper meal break and didn’t ask more questions than necessary. There were others, however, who saw this and purposefully tried to make the interaction as long as possible.
I’m talking like they would seemingly be fine, I’ve answered all and any questions or concerns, they would confirm this, and would walk away. I would sit back down, grab some sanitizer, uncover my food, take a bite and when I looked up they were in my face smiling – a sickening gleam in their eyes as they watched me scramble to chew and digest my food so that they could ask their stupid question.
It was usually something we had already discussed anyway. Or even worse, it was in a brochure right in front of me and at my direction, they would pretend to be surprised and take it and walk away. I would try to sanitize once more and then start eating again only to have someone walk through the door and the process repeats once more. Good ‘ol American capitalistic business models, amirite?
I didn’t like using the bathroom on the second floor for this reason. It was public. Not all the time, but sometimes some people (in any job, actually) who know you work there take the time to question you about things related to the job when you obviously don’t want to talk about it at that moment. You are on your own time, and they can infer this, but simply can’t help themselves. It’s like since you are in the building and on the clock, even if on personal time, you are there to eternally serve them. I’ve always hated this mentality.
These people were never very hygienic as well. Not all the time, but in their quest to ask me questions when I’m obviously trying to have a private moment, I would witness things like throwing paper towels into the garbage and missing, only to shrug their shoulders and touch the bare handle of the bathroom door to exit.
The majority of the staff didn’t use this restroom for various reasons. It had pretty much spread that I was a neat-freak anyway, so whenever I wasn’t alone in the building I would place a sign by the desk and leave the helpless to fend for themselves while I went for a walk elsewhere.
I always gave the cleanliness reason for why I refused to use the nearest bathroom whenever a superior enquired why I had been gone. But there is another reason.
One night when I was alone, I heard something up there. It scared me, and ever since that incident I felt uncomfortable going up there.
I was alone that night, with the exception of the female security guard and the maintenance guys in the basement. It was boring, I had maybe an hour or so left, and took to staring up at the skylight and trying to find the stars on a cloudy New York City night. I had completed the necessary paperwork to close for the night early (as usual) and with no people in sight (I think it was raining) I decided to use the dreaded second floor restroom to wash my hands.
The museum people had packed up early as well, and flew out of the building a few minutes beforehand. Again, it was just us, so no one was going to stop them. They were contracted by an outside company anyway, so no staff member had the authority either way.
I walked up the flight of stairs, entered the restroom, and after completing what I needed to do walked out. There is a foyer just before the museum doors, which were locked shut. Usually, the docents walked through and made sure there was no one lurking about or standing in front of one exhibit like there wasn’t a whole collection to check out.
Then one personnel would come down and tell me that it was all clear, and I would radio maintenance to come lock up. After lock up, the docents left and maintenance (depending on how slow the night was) would lock up and clear certain sections of the building open to the public.
With this in mind, everyone was already gone. There was no one else on the second floor. There was one person below me at security. Even further down, there was maintenance.
Walking past the foyer, I heard a woman’s voice clear as day enunciate two sharp, distinct words in Japanese. I paused, my heart skipping a beat. Just then, a male voice answered her back with one word. I don’t know what they said, or if it was a fragment of a residual conversation, but I nonchalantly walked back down the stairs like nothing had happened. I glanced into the foyer and through the glass windows to the museum and seeing nothing, tried to make my movements seem as natural as possible.
I sat back down at my desk and pretended to look at the computer for a few moments before decided to get up and talk to the security guard.
Before I continue, I need to tell you two things.
Number 1: I believe that objects hold residual energy. The museum rotated frequently, but it still had an off-feeling at times. It was especially strong when there were no people around, no warmth to fill the void and stagnant space.
Number 2: I was most likely being watched.
There were a number of hidden cameras around the building, to ease visitors into the sense that it was a traditional Japanese building that ruled on the honesty-based system the country (usually) employs. Don’t take anything that isn’t yours, don’t be too noisy or you’ll disturb other visitors – that sort of thing. There were also no garbage cans, so people had to hold their trash with them.
Unless they stuck their heads around my desk and realized I had one back there and for some reason thought I wanted to touch their garbage to place it in the can or pick up the can so they could place their garbage in it.
That was what would be called 面倒くさい [めんどうくさい] mendokusai, or bothersome. A task Japanese guests always understood along with other foreigners, but Americans had no clue or no afterthought to the cultural reason why there were no visible bins.
Each time I heard a story or tidbit of gossip related to another hidden camera location, I took note. There was one supervisor who even despite being on a trip states away, would always come back and know everything that went on. I’m talking about if someone closed out or counted a stack of cash incorrectly after an event night, and they didn’t catch their mistake, they would receive a phone call from said faraway supervisor about two minutes later informing them they needed to do that again.
I’m not exaggerating or making anything up for the sake of this story.
I had also heard a rumor that years ago before my time, bottles of expensive wine kept going missing in the kitchen. A hidden camera was installed one night between the microwave and stove and the next day they caught the culprit.
With this in mind, I never did anything that could be perceived as weird while eating or hanging out in there. One day, I took a phone call and closed the door as to not disturb others working on that floor. I was alone, facing away from the camera that I knew about. After finishing, this supervisor in question props open the door, and repeats an exact phrase I had used in the conversation back to me as a joke.
It was nothing bad I was saying, but still – it kept me on my toes. I had come in playing checkers and by the time I left that job I had learned the basics of chess. I never let my guard down again.
I had heard a rumor that this particular person in question used to be a high ranking official in a certain foreign country’s military. He is an unassuming older man, who proudly states he is a military man and when once asked if he was born here, replied “born and raised”. I used to think the person who told me that info (who only happened upon it by chance and didn’t tell anyone else) was exaggerating, but after overhearing so many things, so many coincidences of showing up after certain incidents happened, and other odd things I connected the dots and began to prescribe.
Given the area this job was located, looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the buildings in a four block radius were bugged for “safety”.
So factoring in this knowledge, when I heard the disembodied voices I pretended I heard nothing because I figured I was being watched. I didn’t need somebody calling asking if everything was okay, or the next day a different person inquiring or mocking me for overreacting when I was alone in the building. I mentioned this in another post before, but Japanese office workers are really fierce gossips.
I did not want to give anyone any excuse to mock me.
I went over to the security guard and casually struck up a conversation, asking her if she had ever heard anything strange after hours. She was a very open-minded lady and to my surprise, asked if I had heard something.
I told her what happened and she said “you wouldn’t believe the stories I have”. The female security guard began telling me stories of places she previously worked, especially the nicer areas like Fifth Avenue or around Wall Street. Stories about huge guys armed with guns refusing to work certain floors or certain shifts where activity always happened.
I played it off a bit in the conversation, but I immediately believed it. Those places are always cold. If you don’t know what I mean, I’ll try to explain it the best I can.
Many of these places are beautiful. They are in nice parts of town, with seas of suits and Starbucks shuffling along the streets of the concrete jungle. There is an air of stress, urgency, and people being in their own little bubbles. You might overhear a phone conversation of someone getting chewed out, or smell the smoke of a cigarette being nervously inhaled and consumed before the person returns back to a stressful situation.
There are usually the nicer quality of benches in this part of the city, flowers and assorted foliage that try to breathe life and colour into the otherwise dull, grey, stone surroundings. Hell, maybe there’s even a waterfall. Everything seems fine, people are working hard, and you are soaking up the electric of it all.
Then you step inside, isolated, and it comes over you.
Something just isn’t right. You can’t put your finger on it, but you just know. Your gut knows. Your spirit knows. Your intuition knows. But if you back out know, you’ll look funny so you have to keep going.
I used to go to many of these locations for networking events. Or job interviews. There was one before I quit the cultural center that was by a park. I greeted the doorman, went up the elevator and arrived to the penthouse suite. A few famous people worked here, one from a prominent long running TV show that sees a surge of ratings each American election season.
The location was beautiful. On the veranda you could see the entire city for miles. They had a personal chef in a huge kitchen that seemed like something out of those Food Network challenges (do people still watch those anymore?). The furniture was all expensive leather, state of the art film equipment with some devices that wouldn’t be industry standard until years to come. Hell, even the carpet looked expensive.
So, what was the problem, you are probably asking? That’s just it.
You can’t put your finger on it until it’s too late. The people were so nice, quiet, mild-mannered. The first interview was fine. The second time around, I felt at home despite a lingering feeling. Then the odd questions begin to pop up in the interview. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s when you know what the interviewer is trying to ask, they know that you can read between the lines, but you play dumb and they try to force it out of you and suddenly you realize why it all felt sinister. You slowly see the front, you feel the negative vibes rising to the surface.
Maybe I’m talking in riddles, but the Morgan Library & Museum feels the same way. Has anyone ever been there? When you walk along the chessboard of life and between the two masonic pillars to enter the study, there is a sudden shift in the air. It’s stagnant, stuffy, and heavy. You feel like you are being watched, even if the room employs others with their backs turned to you. It could be leftover energy from the books or wall tapestry, but my money is on the Mesopotamian relics that were there.
Or Washington Square Park. In the daytime it’s nice enough. Tourist are walking around, a street performer is banging the drums, some vendor is trying to sell something overpriced and getting frustrated that no one is buying. Or…the odd film production happening in front of the arch. And for some reason, people are crowded around in a circle taking photos like they’ll even search for and watch the finished production when its time.
My point being, it’s nice.
Come nighttime however, it’s creepy.
I used to cut through the park to get to the subway after particularly late classes in college. The area is well lit, the arch is dazzling amongst the stillness of night. There are people sitting closely together on the benches surrounding the arch, speaking in hushed tones. One or two people are sitting on the edge of the fountain, wetting their feet.
Then there is that weird area of the park no one is in. The space is well-maintained and despite having no overgrown trees, it looks…shadowy. The street lamps look dimmer, and it’s eerily quiet.
You never even see someone walking from the street into the park using that entrance when it’s like that. I never understood it, but it gave me such a bad feeling.
There were local rumors that the park was haunted anyway, hanging tree and all. One day after class while construction was ongoing I saw two large holes on the outskirts of the park, and some large white rectangular block barely showing. When I went home and searched for information, I found out that two vaults full of skeletons from the nineteenth century had been found. A few days later when I passed by again, the area was obscured from public view.
Maybe these urban legends have some merit after all.
There is another part to this story, another supernatural encounter in the building while I was alone that scared me witless. Since this post has gotten so long, I’ll upload the rest of the story tomorrow for Day 4 catch up.
Until then…do you believe New York City is haunted? What about residual energies, do you believe in cursed objects? Or was this all in my imagination? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us and come back tomorrow for part II of my Japanese ghost story.
☆ In Asian Spaces