Yesterday, some friends took my wife and I to the Winchester Mystery House. If you have never heard of this place, Sarah Winchester, whose husband’s family was the Winchesters of rifle fame, moved to a farm near San Jose and began constant building, which went on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, until her death 38 years later. There are various suggestions as to why she did this, most involving a visit to a psychic who said she needed to build constantly in order to stay alive (it had something to do with the death of her husband and child, and perhaps the deaths of those who were killed by the family rifles).
If you have to build constantly, you’re going to have to come up with make-work to fill the time, and Winchester seemed to believe she could ward off the spirits or something if she gave the house bizarre features. There are doors that open onto brick walls, a chimney that ends just before reaching the ceiling (thus ensuring that any connecting fireplace, when used, would send smoke into the room with the incomplete chimney), dozens of staircases, hundreds of stairs, ten thousand window panes, and more than 150 rooms. The pathway from one room to another was often twisted … you might have to walk up a flight of stairs with half a dozen turns, meaning it took forever just to get one floor higher.
At one point during our tour, I asked my friend if he could point in the general direction of the place where our tour had begun. He waved his arm and told me it was over there … I asked if he was sure, and he said no. That, I told him, is how the world appears to me every day.
The confusions of the Winchester Mystery House are hard-wired into my system. I never know quite where I am. If I do know, it’s always a matter of memory, remembering when I had been at that place in the past. It is never because I know West from East, or where Place X is relative to Place Y. Oftentimes, when we are driving in the car, we’ll go past some place I know and I’ll exclaim, “Hey, I know that place, I didn’t realize it was here”.
So, if you want to know how the world appears to Steven Rubio, visit the Winchester Mystery House. When you are about halfway through your tour, try to reconstruct where you’ve been, and where you are relative to where you started. When you can’t perform this task, you’ll know the world as I see it.
Relevant postscript: for a variety of reasons, after the tour, we ended up eating Ethiopian food at some obscure restaurant we found via Google Maps. When it was time to drive home, we got in the car, and I cranked up Google Maps so it could tell us how to get to the freeway. I read the directions aloud, and then the GPS “lady” told us where to go. My wife began driving, and I began yelling, telling her she was going the wrong way. Our friends agreed with my wife, but I was sure of myself. Ten seconds of driving showed I was the one who didn’t know where we were going. My wife looked at me and said, “Even when you’ve got the GPS in your hand, you don’t know where you are.”
It’s my new motto. Steven Rubio: he doesn’t know where he is.