Monday, September 28, 2015

"Did You Find Him?" By Graham Rae

OK! Get ready Nekromantik/ Graham Rae / Xerox Ferox maniacs because you are about to read something that will blow your face completely off, knock your dick in the dirt and warp your mind temporarily! Thanks so much to Graham Rae, David Kerekes, John Szpunar and Jorg Buttgereit for allowing me to publish this little historic moment- E. 



On Wednesday, July 11th, 2012, I drove Jorg Buttgereit, the director of the (in)famous Nekromantik films, to the grave of Edward Theodore Gein in Plainfield Cemetery, Plainfield, Wisconsin. It was truly one of the most surreal and strange things I have ever done, and even now it seems almost difficult to believe it ever really happened.
      The whole trip thing started out as a kind of joke. Jorg had said that he was going to be in Indiana at a horror film festival called Days of the Dead. I jokingly wrote on his Facebook wall that he should forget Indiana and come to Chicago! And then he said yes, and we were off to the races.
      In the weeks before his trip from Indiana to Chicago by Greyhound bus, we exchanged countless Facebook messages. I sent him a link to a Super 8 motel (which I thought was perfect, given that it was the film stock he made Nekromantik on), a mere block from Lake Michigan, and less than half a mile from me, because he wanted to go swimming. Initially I had suggested the Hampton Inn & Suites in Skokie, but he thought it looked too fancy – and, in retrospect, it’s literally round the corner from the Holocaust Museum, so that might have been a bit weird for a German. Jorg managed to get a three-night discount upon booking, and was very pleased.
      I was setting him up to do some touristy things – a barbeque with my good friends Conor and Yeva on the first night he was here, then a day visiting the Sears Tower and going on an architectural boat trip round the center of Chicago. It was going pretty normally up until that point. It’s been 20 years since Jorg directed four of the most visceral, grim, meathook-reality slices of horror-cum-art films ever made: Nekromantik(for which I did the first ever American review for Deep Red magazine in 1988), DerTodesking, Nekromantik 2, and Schramm. I thought he might have loosened up a bit since his days of such gritty and violent and depraved filmmaking, and it would be a pleasant experience to meet a man whom I had only met once, briefly, in 1991 at the sadly-defunct Scala Cinema in London, at the premiere of the documentary about his films, Corpse Fucking Art. I thought I could play the cool Chicago host and maybe we could reminisce about his films, but not too much to bore him, then he was scooting off to G-Fest, a festival honoring the Japanese megaterror Godzilla. All well and good.
      Then he asked me if we could perhaps go and visit the grave of Ed Gein in the next state whilst he was in town.
      And I held my breath.
      I knew this whole thing could never go totally according to some normal plan.
      Now, Ed Gein was, of course, one of America’s most notorious murderous butcher necrophiles (though it’s not exactly a crowded field he has much notoriety competition in). He killed a disputed number of women in Plainfield, Wisconsin, in 1957, and robbed graves and wore a suit made from human skin to make him into a ‘woman.’ Immediately something in me hit true north and, despite my being weirded out, I was intrigued too. I offhandedly told Jorg that it was only a two-hour drive said we could do it no problem. Researching it, I found out it was a 450-mile round trip, four hours each way, and duly reported this to my morbid-curiosity tourist friend. He said that seemed a bit much, but I instantly told him no, we must do this.

Left to right: Yeva, Jorg, John and Graham (photo by Conor McCaffery).

     The whole trip assumed some sort of talismanic significance in my own fevered mind. The idea of taking the director of hyper-notorious films about necrophilia and graverobbing to the grave of a man who had done these things in real life was just too good and twisted and brilliant and surreal to pass up. So I basically railroaded him into it, despite his very weak protestations about the short amount of time he had in town. So that was it settled. We were going to be Wisconsin bound.
      Jorg arrived on the bus late on Monday, July 9th, and I picked him up. I had prepared for his arrival by watching his old movies again and had a few questions to ask him about them here and there. The first day and a half rolled round uneventfully – taking him round Wal-Mart and having him buying a Chuck Norris Blu-Ray – Missing in Action– was a classic funny moment. Then Wednesday rolled around, Gein Day, and I rolled up at Jorg’s motel  at around 8am. He was there waiting with John Szpunar, a writer from Detroit (writing a fine book about the horror zine years of the 80s called Xerox Ferox, being published in 2013 by Headpress) who had released a couple of his movies years ago, and who was a reader of mine from way back when too. He was in town for a few days visiting his brother, and was right up for this trip too, although with reservations.
      So we hopped in my car and sped off towards Wisconsin and weirdness.

John Szpunar and Jorg

      My car has no air conditioning – joy! – so we wanted to start out relatively early before the sun got up too much. After a brief wrong turn that took us on an unwanted tour round O’Hare Airport, we battered along the highway and stopped at two separate services on the way up, one with a Herbie replica model car, where we ate, and one at Janesville, Wisconsin. I had been at this same truck stop the previous December with a punk band and had been amazed and amused and appalled at their selection of racist redneck bumper stickers like ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT HUNTING LICENSE and such braindead rightwing drivel. Pure kitsch horrifying Americana, and I had to let the guys see this. I admit I had initially been a bit leery about meeting Jorg – if we had not gotten on, and if he had been as weird and blackly intense as his films, then the whole thing could have made for a very uncomfortable experience indeed.
      But I found, to my delight, a very intelligent, funny, sharp, generous, down-to-earth man with a great sense of humor whom I could make laugh (and vice versa), and we got along very well. He and John thought the white trash souvenirs were great, and we took some funny pictures of Jorg modeling a Rambo II (very contemporary!) tee-shirt with WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE emblazoned on it. He loves trash old American action movies, and we had a surreal and cool conversation on the pier at Lake Michigan the night before about cheesy action movie stars of the 1980s. Filling up with gas had been our convenient cover for stopping at the gas station; we didn’t want to stay too long there, as it was obvious our actions and photographs were mocking, so we got out before they tarred and feathered Jorg and I with our foreign accents (and hell, maybe even John with his Detroit burr for consorting with the funny furriner enemy) muttering darkly about not liking our type round here as they did so.
      So the miles sped by and the sun heated up and we opened the windows. Pointing out places to potentially swim on the way there or back (Jorg is obsessed with swimming, to the extent I jokingly called him a fucking fish), the director was in the passenger seat with a small towel at the small of his back to catch sweat, saying this was a trick he had learned in Japan. Poor John got subjected to a nonstop barrage of wind from the open windows and could barely hear a word being said in the front. I jokingly said this was like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for necrophiles, making a joke of it to a degree, but the truth is that John and I were somewhat ambiguous about this whole pilgrimage to necro-Mecca. I would never even have thought about doing something like this had it not been for Jorg wanting to do it, though I confess I was interested in true crime and serial killers and such prurient extremist crap when I was young; right around the time that I saw Jorg’s movies, oddly enough.

Jorg with a prop from his landmark film Nekromantik

      He said he had been inspired by the tragic and horrible Gein case to me the night before in a local bar, the Morseland. I said I had not picked up on that, and he said that nobody had. “He was innocent, like a child, and I like that,” he smilingly informed me. Jorg’s unflinching art is naïve and pure and innocent, in an odd way; I sensed some sort of vague self-identification with Gein here, though I may well have been wrong. I also randomly mentioned Killing for Company, the fine true crime book about Dennis Nilsen, the Scottish serial killer, and he suddenly remembered that that book had inspired some of the imagery in the film too. So on some level, when I saw Nekromantik and had my head turned round by his beautiful and horrible and disgusting art exploitation movies in my late teens/early twenties, I had obviously been picking up on that strange vibe, mixed with the absolute seriousness of the man’s intent, which I thought laudable. Depends on what your concept of laudable Is, I suppose, but I loved those works of artistic brilliance and still do.
      I guess my motives for just going with Jorg on this Wisconsin death trip were not entirely free of a vague retro interest of my own, but I truly knew that I had to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience happen because such a strange and fascinating chance would never come again. It felt oddly historic to me, taking a man whose dark movies had inspired and disturbingly enraptured me when I was young, back to the source of his own sick inspiration for a stunning landmark underground work of art. John had also been inspired by Jorg when he was younger, and by my own zine horror writing, so it was a kind of inspiration-fest all round. It made a kind of perfect weird sense, the closing of a strange circle of some sort, the unearthing of a long-buried inspirational grave and the first breathtaking sight of the gone-but-not-forgotten body of work and slimy adipoceric chaos that lay within the moldering open-creaking coffin.
      So the heat turned up and the miles rolled on and we finally – finally! – saw our first sign with Plainfield. John and I jokingly sang the sad and great song Wisconsin by The Crucifucks. The sign was, ironically, for Subway, and I only say ‘ironically’ because of Ed’s meateater tendencies. Then more signs: PLAINFIELD 5 MILES, PLAINFIELD 3 MILES, PLAINFIELD 1 MILE, PLAINFIELD POPULATION 862. Jorg was photographing them all. He premiered a play about Ed Gein entitled Kannibale und Liebe (a play on the title of the centuries-old play Kabale und Liebe by Friedrich Schiller) in Dortmund in Germany in October 2012, and he had told me this trip was ‘professional,’ for research, photos and such he could use in the play. But I had always known there lay something far deeper underneath it all, even before knowing about the Gein inspiration in Nekromantik, and when I was told of that it all made a lot more sense. This man had been ‘obsessed’ and ‘a fan’ (his own words) with this mythical and vile American larger-than-life-and-death character for over a quarter of a century now, and he was getting to finally visit his own sort-of private pathological Disneyland. I was proud to make that happen, odd as that may seem; guess you had to be there.

Jorg and Graham

      Our turn-off finally came and we got off the highway and into dry flyblown sweltering sweatsoaking American death-myth-land, brown and eternally marked by madness and pain and murder and religious fervor and unnatural death. Well, not really. The first sight of Plainfield we got was a bar-and-grill called (get this) ‘Hooligans,’ a gas station, a nondescript motel, a pet store-cum-kitty-patch-up-place, an adult sex toy store called ‘Spice’ and an adult video store. They must cater to the trucker clientele, and Jorg and John mused about how, if Gein could have gotten his hands on some of this stuff back in the old days, that things might have turned out very differently for him and the poor eternally-blackmarked Plainfield people.
      Marveling at our first sight of this now-suddenly-real American town, we turned right for 5th Avenue, where the cemetery is located, as directed by the never-wrong Mapquest, and trundled for a couple of miles down a farmland backroad. This was a truly strange and scary experience. The odd déjà vu thing about America is that you think you recognize the look of some places from movies you have seen before arriving there, and I swear this road, flanked by sprayer irrigation machines drenching dry grateful watergulper fields, was like something from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with silent small single peeling-paint houses spaced out with rusted 50s car corpses that were genuinely probably around at the time of the hideous deeds of the town’s most infamous son(ofabitch).
      After a couple of miles expecting a pickup truck with Leatherface on the back of it to drive up alongside us (and we knew that Gein’s inspiration on the Chainsaw Massacre films had us thinking like this, but the road was genuinely weird and creepy and retro-time-travel-like), we turned back and, cursing Crapquest, drove back to the sex-and-booze-and-gas entertainment complex we had first driven into. We got out of the car in killer 90-degree heat and I ventured that we should have a beer in Hooligans and ask them where the cemetery was, because it was only meant to be a couple of hundred yards from the highway turn-off. I was dying for a beer, and was interested to see what a bar in a bucolic place like this would be like. Jorg was very dubious about this, pointing to the gas station and saying memorably: “I think it is safer to ask there.” John and I laughed and we gravel-crunched across the small parking lot desert into the gas station store. We had all dressed conservatively anyway to not be disrespectful, or draw any more attention to ourselves than necessary. I didn’t think there was much danger to be had, but who knew?

       I bought some Coke and three local Slim Jim-like meatsticks, with Jorg and John getting their own stuff. John said quietly “Sally, I hear something…” which is line from a character in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (just before he gets butchered) and I laughed and called him sick. Jorg was in front of me and I knew somehow he would not ask for directions; sure enough, he bought his stuff, saying a few words to the white-haired woman in her sixties behind the counter. She looked at the crap I was buying, some sort of local horsemeat, and told me it would give me heartburn. Great saleswoman for local foods! I told her I liked Slim Jims and she told me I would like these then. Knowing she had heard Jorg’s German accent, and knowing there is a lot of German blood in Wisconsin, I smiled and asked her:
      “We’re looking for Plainfield Cemetery, can you tell us how to get there? It’s meant to be very near here, but the Mapquest directions we got were wrong.”
      Instantly a curious, guarded look came over her features, like a drawbridge on a castle being raised for intruder-alert protection. “Which one?” This was a dubious potholed road of unpleasant inquiry she’d clearly bumpily traveled down before.
     “I don’t know which one, I don’t know the name of it. His granny’s buried there,” I said to her, flicking a thumb over in Jorg’s direction. I thought, ridiculously, this was a brilliant stroke of cover-up; there was just the vaguest chance that it might be true, what with the German connection and all.
      “Well, you just go across the road over there, through the stop sign, follow the winding ‘S’ of the road round, and it’s just right there. It’s not far, you can’t miss it.” She pointed and narrowed her eyes. I still have no idea if she would even have told us anything if I hadn’t made up that rubbish about Jorg’s nonexistent granny. I thanked her and immediately changed the topic, asking her if there was anyplace nice we could get something to eat in town. She told us about someplace at the far end of town, but I barely even heard her; I had only thrown that in to lighten the weird instantly-charged atmosphere and change the subject altogether.
       John bought his stuff and, after sitting briefly at a table outside to drink and eat, we jumped into the roasting car (I would occasionally switch the hot air on and tell the black-tee-shirt-wearing Jorg to enjoy it, making him laugh) and rolled the windows down, nipping across the intersection just a few yards away. There are no signs for the cemetery; the locals obviously want to deter people from doing what we were doing by making it as hard as possible for them to find the place. After taking a couple of pictures at a local cheese or porn or firework (the three things Wisconsin is famous for) manufacturer’s vicious-badger sign right next to the ‘S’-bend, we did our quick snakeroadslither…and the well-tended cemetery was right there in front of us on the right. “Here we are boys,” I said in satisfaction and excitement, pleased and proud I had gotten us here basically without incident. My sense of making some sort of odd history only intensified.
     “Right, this must be the south treeline,” I said, turning right onto a dirt track that looked barely fit to have cars drive up it; it was basically just a dirt track with a rut dug out for each tire by previous visitors who had driven over it. The non-judgmental sun greasily smiled and beat on. I had looked on the internet for directions to the grave, thinking it might be a big cemetery, but upon seeing it realized that my expectations had been based on my knowledge of Camelon Cemetery, the burial ground from my old Scottish home town of Falkirk that has been around for centuries. This place was tiny – you could walk around the outside of it in a rectangle in probably fifteen minutes tops if you were so inclined. But there were still a fair few graves, so I had carefully sifted through some of the crap on the net – vids of death metal teens being morons and jumping around on Gein’s grave on Youtube, amongst other things – to find exact directions to the legendary plot.

Jorg's Stageplay about Ed Gein (photo c/o of Theater Dortmund).

      The directions I had found told us to go up three crossroads and then along to some trees, with the Gein stone(s) being across from one for somebody named Tibbett. I wasn’t exactly sure that what we saw were crossroads, but on the third one I turned left and drove along a bit. Jorg shouted from the back seat: “THERE IT IS!” and we pulled up and got out and stepped into the oven-baking heat to stand at the grave of one of the most notorious people in American history, in probably the most notorious cemetery in the country. Here we were, after, for some odd reason, far longer than the four hours it was meant to have taken us to get there – even with stopping to eat, it still took us a couple of hours longer than it should have. It truly was odd.
      The grave looked exactly as we expected it to. Gein is buried in a four-plot family part of the cemetery, in between his brother Henry (who died in mysterious circumstances and who may have been killed by his insane brother) and his mother Augusta. There is no headstone marking the spot. The thing was vandalized and finally stolen, I learned through my pre-trip research. Whatever genius stole it was selling rubbings from it on the net, so it soon got returned to Plainfield. The town didn’t even want to put it back up in case it got stolen again, and because it’s such a psycho-tourism magnet, so it’s now kept far from prying prurient public bloodshot eyes.
      We all looked with a sort of strange awe at the space where we knew the graverobber’s body to be resting. There was a single head from a purple flower in a small hole dug in the grave. After taking a few respectful, vaguely interested photos, John and I (both realizing in retrospect that neither of us took a photo of ourselves on Gein’s grave, totally uninterested in such a thing) just basically stepped back and left Jorg in his wish-fulfillment element. The man was as excited as a kid at Christmas, and rushed round taking photos with a huge smile. John and I cast a quizzical glance at each other.
      “You can just see the glee on his face,” noted John, slightly fazed, and he was right, though he was also excited over the historic nature of the pictures we were taking. We didn’t think so much that there was anything morbid in Jorg’s excitement over such a strange pilgrimage; it was more that he was getting to do something he had wanted to do for many years and was overwhelmed to be finally doing it. John told me that the director had wanted to make this exact same trip over ten years ago when they had met previously.
      “Well Jorg, are you happy?” I asked him.
      “Oh ja, ja,” he roared with a huge smile, slapping me on the back several times with his left hand to emphasize the point.
      John and I took photos of Jorg standing on the grave. “You are Der Todesking, Jorg!” I shouted at the happy man and he grinned and nodded. Jorg had wanted to bring flowers, but I have absolutely no respect for a schizophrenic necrophile murderer and didn’t want to decorate his grave. I pointed out a small white flower growing on Gein’s grave and told Jorg to pick it. He did so and I took a photo of him holding something potentially part-fertilized by Gein’s rotting essence. He then took the flower and put it in the black case for his glasses. “It is like a coffin,” he noted, drawing an appropriate analogy. I nodded.
      Jorg got a nice snap from grass-level of Augusta Gein’s grave; she brought out the artist in him. It loomed threatening in the background, much as his long-deceased mother had in Gein’s deeply disturbed mind for his whole life. After a load more pictures were taken, I decided that I wanted to see if we could find the grave of Bernice Worden, his final victim. This seemed to me personally much more important than Gein’s resting place. Worden was shot and killed in a Plainfield hardware store, then taken to Gein’s house of horrors and decapitated and gutted like a deer after being hung from the rafters in his shed.

Jorg by The Gein family plot

      There are a few vile and depressing photos of her grisly remains on the net, some of the most recognizable crime scene photos in American history. I personally don’t think that’s right. I can’t imagine what her family must have thought if they saw those shots, and she may well have descendants living in that area today who would surely be aware of the intrusive photos. Some things should be left private. Not that what I think matters much in the wider scheme of things, mind you, and the human race will always have a morbidly curious side to it. Besides, this really wasn’t my gig; I was only along as a facilitator and observer, to a degree.
      So we decided that we’d cover a row each and walk along it; covering three rows at a time wouldn’t take very long in such a small plot of land. So after just five minutes of walking I found Worden’s tombstone in the same row as Gein’s, a bitter salt-in-wound irony altogether. I called Jorg and John over and we all looked at it in a kind of yes-this-is-really-happening sunbaked wonderment. The marble marker only had the dead woman’s last name on it, no dates or other names, no doubt in an attempt to deter ghouls from vandalizing the thing as they had done with Gein’s stone. I found this heartbreaking, that the poor family would have to take such a measure to stop their loved one’s final resting place being messed with by ghoulish vermin.
      I took a few shots, as did John, and I got Jorg to pose beside the stone. We were just walking away to look at some more of the place when all of a sudden an old yellowish car rolled into the cemetery, taking the same route we had initially to come up right beside us. A man in his 50s was driving, with a few empty plastic water bottles in the front seat beside him. He had the passenger window rolled down and did not get out of the car as he spoke to us.
      “Are you looking for anybody special?” He asked us, giving us a small strained fake aw-shucks grin.
      “No, not really, I said.” I had never in my life felt so on-the-spot and weird, like a kid with his hand caught in a cookie jar. John and Jorg said nothing, and all three of us were incredibly awkward and uncomfortable as we stood there in the hopefully-conspiratorial sweatwringer Wisconsin heat.
      “It’s okay, I know why you’re here. Did you find him?” He asked us, all pretense and nonsense directly and thankfully swept aside. He didn’t even mention the infamous criminal’s name. He didn’t have to.
      “Yes,” I said. We all started mumbling and fumbling words and stumbling over them. “We’re not doing anything weird or shady,” I said, “we’re being respectful.” This was certainly true, although I suppose on one level the whole trip itself could have been regarded as slightly shady and disrespectful.
      “He’s a journalist from Germany,” John said sheepishly, gesturing at Jorg, who was in between John and me as we stood next to the window, stopping slightly to talk through it, “he’s writing a story.” This was one of the rubbish cover stories we had concocted about our ‘reason’ for being there, but really it was pointless anyway. The guy just nodded vaguely and told us that they had people from all over the world visit the place, and said “it is what it is” more than once. He was tiredly philosophical about the whole Gein pilgrimage thing because he had experienced it a million times before us and would a million times after we were gone; there was basically no point in getting agitated and angry about something the town had no control over. He told us about Gein’s gravestone being stolen and recovered, being kept away from the public, and telling us “We have it in our possession.” It sounded like it was something the town would rather never even see or think about again, for obvious reasons.

      The man was at no time uncivil and only spoke to us for less than five minutes. After the conversation had delicately danced around the unnamed lunatic’s smalltown-bloodstaining legacy, I pulled the old conversation-changer switcheroo again and asked if there was somewhere in the town we could get something to eat. He told us about a place called Ron’s Family Diner at the other end of the town, which was obviously the same place the woman at the gas station had mentioned, and then he was off after having ascertained we weren’t digging up graves or performing blood sacrifices. Putting our heads together, we realized that the woman at the gas station must have called him to go check on us after we left, as she knew where we were headed; he had just arrived too soon after we got there for it to be a mere coincidence. You can hardly blame her for her precautionary call; they must get all kinds of dangerous or disturbed freaks going there to get up to all kinds of deviant and inappropriate mischief for what was, after all, a public cemetery where people still visit their loved ones.
      “He sounded like he wanted to show us, to give us a tour, we should have let him,” Jorg said brightly. I just shook my head. Getting out of that man’s incriminating-feeling spotlight, which made the sweltering accusatory afternoon seem ten degrees hotter, had been a blessing.
      We walked down to the far end of the cemetery next to the road, stopping to take pictures and video of the caretaker’s shack with a PLAINFIELD CEMETERY RULES sign on it, and of a front gate we had not come through. We found another much-later-dated grave with the Worden name on it. I took a small acorn as a memento which I later threw away. It was around 2.45pm, and we decided to pay a brief visit to the actual town of Plainfield itself and get something to eat before heading back to Chicago.

      Now. Calling Plainfield a ‘town’ is a complete misnomer: it’s literally just one long main street flanked by houses and businesses. A complete no-horse caricature of a parochial Midwestern dustbowl; you could tell by the isolation and general low-wattage atmosphere how something as demented as the Gein case could happen there. Then again, Gein’s case undoubtedly has led to some of the edgy energy in the town, so it’s a case of which came first, the necrophile grave robber or the weirdness? A pointless and insoluble philosophical question.
      I stopped the car just at the town limits to let Jorg photograph a big electronic Plainfield sign informing us that it was 90.6 degrees, 2.50pm, that some kid’s 13thbirthday was coming up, and that ‘HOOLIGANS HOME OF BOOM-BOOM BURGER/FRI. FISH.’ As Jorg snapped away I noticed a funeral home literally just behind it and told Jorg. “Fuuuck,” he said in can’t-believe-this amazement, as you would upon seeing something beautiful or historic, which maybe he had. Jorg dismissed the place as probably not being involved in the Gein case. Starting off again, we passed one house with a sign on their front wall next to the door reading THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which was ironic given the still-resonating nature of the infamous crimes that had been committed there over half a century ago. Maybe it was a wry comment on the traffic slowly trundling by their front door. Who knows?
      There was no real traffic on the road. I had initially wondered if we would be able to find the place where Worden was murdered which is, still, strangely, a hardware store today, Clark’s True Value Hardware, as I had found out during my research. As it turned out I needn’t have worried; as we drove I noticed it on the right of us across the street. “Oh ya beauty, there’s the hardware store Jorg, we’ve found it,” I noted. I felt oddly pleased with having found this place and Worden’s grave first. I guess my brain was baking in the heat.
      We turned right and stopped the car and parked it across the road from the place, getting out and standing looking at Clark’s. There was a weight of macabre history that could be felt, and an image of a schizophrenic redneck in a hunting cap lining up his gun sights on a poor middle aged woman about to become one of the most media-violated-corpse crime victims in American history came to my mind. I took a couple of pictures, one of them of Jorg sitting looking across at the place. I would love to know what exactly was going on in his mind in that photo, because he looks deep in thought. Ridiculously, I then took a few pictures of the beautiful wrought iron floral-motif bench the filmmaker was sitting on, to try and make it look as if I was interested in it and not the murder scene across the street.
      We decided to grab a quick beer before going into the hardware store, so we headed across the street to a bar called, simply, ‘R.’ That’s the full name, just that one letter. Just before we were going to walk in, out of the chiropractor’s office next door instantly popped…the guy from the cemetery!
      “I just saw you and had to say hi! Where are you guys heading?”
      “We just thought we’d get a beer before we head off.”
      “Oh yeah, you can do that, I just had one myself. See you later,” he smiled, as we walked into the bar. It was like the Crazy Ralph character from the Friday the 13th films, the weird old unshaven man who always tells people that they’re doomed, doomed I tells ya…before he gets bumped off himself in one of the sequels. Our entrance was almost like the start of a joke: a Scotsman, an American and a German walk into a bar…
      We laughed about this and the weird omnipresent guy as we went and sat at the bar, noting he must have a busy schedule to be both a chiropractor and a cemetery caretaker. From stiffs to relieving stiffness! Impressive career range! Still, it was nice to have his blessing, as men over 35 years of age, to have a beer, and we bought three cans of Old Style and chinked them together sitting at the bar in celebration of a successful endeavor. They had a funny wee sign advising IF YOU’RE DRINKING TO FORGET…PLEASE PAY IN ADVANCE! Sage words indeed. I asked the barmaid what the bar’s single-letter name meant. She told me there was no story behind it. There may well have been, but she probably didn’t want to tell us it; there’s no way of telling. It was obvious why we were there, but at no time was Gein’s name brought up in conversation or his crimes talked about by us. I asked if the bar had been around long and she told me “forever,” so we surmised that there was a possibility at last that human-hunter himself had probably sunk a brew or two at some point in the place.
      I put on a few songs on the jukebox, the first being a KISS song (I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite) for Jorg. He’s a huge fan of the schlock rockers – had actually bought Ace Frehley’s autograph (and had his picture taken with the guitarist) in Indiana at the horror festerville. Apparently the band’s logo is changed in Germany because the last two letters in the name look too much like the insignia of the SS! It was another one of those numerous moments I prized for its sheer surreality – in a bar in rural Wisconsin with the director of Nekromantik, having taken him to Ed Gein’s grave, listening to KISS (on a skipping CD for that authentic 80s scratched-vinyl ambience!) and drinking a beer.

Jorg Buttgereit and Ace Frehley

      John went out the back to smoke so Jorg and I followed him. There were a couple out there smoking too, and within moments I was being hit with the usual tiresome “where are you from/how long have you been here/what is your shoe size?” first-time-meeting-me conversation I have had a million times before over the last seven years since emigrating to America. Then some low weird religious music – actually quite pleasant and unfamiliar – started up and drifted across from a wee church across the road, permeating the hot dry air with the funereal tone that the whole trip had had from the start. It was oddly perfect, if slightly eerie.
      Finishing our beers, we headed across the street, thankfully unmolested by Crazy Ralph, to the hardware store to take a look around inside, hoping they hadn’t seen us photographing the place earlier. For some reason I cooked up some half-assed scheme to pretend we were just normal customers…who if you thought about it…had made a detour from Scotland and Germany…to buy hardware in Plainfield…as you do. Place has a worldwide hardware rep! When we walked in I made some crack to the teenage girl behind the counter about trying to remember what I had come in for, because I had forgotten with the sun frying my brain. She smiled dimly.
      There is actually an element of truth in this, to be perfectly honest. My brain is made for dreich (dreary) Scottish rain and cold, not 90 degree Midwestern weather. I genuinely can’t quite think straight at that sort of temperature, and especially don’t like driving in it much. Plus I’d had a couple of beers on a mostly empty stomach, so my critical faculties were…not so critical. Jorg and John walked away from me in embarrassment and annoyance and I looked about a wee bit. The place sold the usual hardware stuff, obviously, but I was just looking around and wondering where exactly Worden had been shot, if the till was still in the same place as it had been back in Gein’s day, which door was her corpse been dragged out of, front or back; you know, the usual things you think about when looking for a spade (we had joked about buying one) or garden shears.
      Or indeed paint. I had an idea, and walked over to the store’s selection of spraypaints. Some idiots had recently been spraypainting Jesus propaganda all over the paths by the beach in Rogers Park where I live, annoying me no end, and I had been pondering buying some spraypaint of my own to erase the tiresome antediluvian pathological religious gibberish the neighborhood unfortunately is subjected to every day on going for a walk. Now seemed as good a time as any to buy the can I would need.
      Jorg and John walked up and I went off into a wee tirade about worthless vandalistic godbotherers and the attempted imposition of their nonsensical garbage on people uncaring and weary of their delusional beliefs, and how their vandalism ruined a perfectly good walk. The owner of the store was standing a few feet away listening to every word, probably a good godfearing Christian type, but I wasn’t bothered. I called him over and asked him about his selection, told him what it was for, and he directed me to a can of black gloss (which I still haven’t used – knowing my luck I’d get caught for vandalism for just spraying over the other offensive stuff). I asked him if it was anti-glare, he said yes, and I took it and bought it. Jorg bought a small 99c American plastic flag he said he was going to frame, along with even keeping his receipts from the trip; sure his wife Daniela will appreciate the eccentric souvenirs! Then we got the hell out of there and left the no-doubt-confused-we’d-actually-bought-something owner to his musings on our corrupt demented motives.
      Jorg laughed and said that the guy probably thought we were going to vandalize the cemetery with our purchase, and I laughed too – I hadn’t thought of this. As it was, though, we merely got in the car and drove along to the end of the street and the mythical Ron’s Family Diner. The place didn’t say ‘Ron’s’ on it, but it did have a ‘Family Diner’ sign on it, and there was nowhere else it could be. We got out and went inside. The place was an archetypal weary slightly rundown American diner, Old Glory taking pride of place just inside the front door, with pictures of some country and western star proudly lining the walls. It was the kind of place you see in horror movies when the out-of-towners go to eat and are warned off by the chilly locals.
      We sat at a table window and the place seemed to more or less instantly fill up after us; it was almost like the town had heard about the weirdo Gein fans and had all stopped in to see us. Which of course was complete nonsense, but fun to play with as a humorously paranoid concept. Looking at the menu, we saw an old monochrome photo declaring that the place had been founded in 1951 – there was a picture of the original frontage with an old 50s car in it – which meant that it was around when Gein was there, and he had surely eaten there at some point. The geeky teenage waitress, who was studying accountancy, served us, reeling off a huge selection of potato choices to Jorg. He chose one and we sat and drank a Coke, looking out the window at the hard-scrabble smalltown anti-esthetics, the lack of beauty or joy, the aptly-named plain field of the place. I couldn’t understand how anybody could live in such a place. I had thought Falkirk was bad, but it was Las Vegas compared to this dry dusty nothing-happening place.

      Our food arrived and we started to eat. Jorg ate some of his potatoes and paused, looking up with a pensive faraway look on his face. “I feel like I have the spirit of this place in me now. You know when you eat something and the spirit of it goes into you? These potatoes were probably grown here.” He paused for a moment, slightly self-conscious. “But now I am getting religious.”
      John and I threw each other a quizzical glance but said nothing. So this was a sort of spiritual journey for him in some weird way. On one level, I wondered why the hell anybody would want the spirit of a place like this in them, but in Jorg’s case I knew why. “I feel like we are accepted here now,” Jorg continued, “these people accept us.” John and I glanced at each other again. There may have been something lost in translation here and there, but personally I had never felt as out-of-place anywhere in my life, even with my usual Scottish-accent-fed USA alienation. I just couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the place, and John was much the same.
      We finished our food and prepared to get up. At that moment a guy wandered in to stand at the counter who literally looked like he had shit himself. We took this as about as good an omen to leave as we were going to get and left, getting into the car. In retrospect it was blatantly obvious why we were there to everybody except us, because we were initially expecting a larger town we could blend into more easily: we were going to look at a grave that no doubt every person in that town has seen too. Passing harsh judgment on us would have reflected back badly on them. At no point, however, were the wearily wary locals anything but courteous, it must be said.
      We nipped off down to the highway entrance, a straight quick run, and went for a quick poke around in the sex toy store before heading home. We laughed and marveled at things like the Futurotic Masturbator, a chick-with-dick ‘Soft, Supple, Life-Like Beat-off Buddy’ (yeah, ‘life-like’ if you liked transsexuals with no limbs or head, which seemed pretty appropriate given the reason why we were here) looking like something out of Schramm that the titular serial killer might have had sex with; the Clone-A-Pussy (‘Make an EXACT Rubber Copy of ANY Vagina!’); the bride-and-groom singing stuffed bears; and the Teenage Dream Ultra Soft Vagina, complete with a photo of a 30-year-old naked blonde ‘teen’ bent over to entice us with her human-evolution-continuing bared hairless wares.

      We soon tired of this stuff. It had been a long day, this place wasn’t hugely interesting, and we soon hightailed it out of there and back onto the couldn’t-come-soon-enough highway. On the way back Jorg talked to me about me potentially writing a book about Nekromantik (which has since morphed into being his career retrospective – we’ll see) and we mysteriously got home far quicker than we did going out there, even with John distracting me at a critical moment and making me miss a turn-on I should have taken at the damned airport again, making us lose half an hour and my bearings altogether. We met Conor and Yeva at the Morseland again, had a few beers and a pleasant discussion, Jorg walked back to the Super 8 (he had bemusedly mused that the front desk had seen us together so often that they must have thought we were a gay couple, as they had given him two door keys instead of one) a few short blocks away, and I wandered off to get a majestic two-and-a-half hours of sleep before the next day on the job I had started only two days before.
      After work the next day I drove Jorg out to his hotel by the airport. G-Fest, was being held nearby. The traffic was terrible going out there, and the boiling heat, coupled with my lack of sleep from the night before, meant I nearly fell asleep at the wheel for the first and only time in my life in slow-crawling overheated traffic. I dropped Jorg off, shook his hand, telling him truthfully that I’d had a great and fascinating never-to-be-forgotten time, and somehow managed to get myself home alive. He had a good time too. Later, pondering it all, I realized my motives for doing the whole Wisconsin trip weren’t really as deep as I had imagined them to be: I had been interested in true crime when I was younger, and wanted to do something for a director whose work had inspired me when I was young. Nothing more and nothing less. Jorg said something quite astute about the town: “That’s the funny thing. To them it’s normal that funny guys like us show up and look around.”
      Looking back, I must admit to feeling somewhat uncomfortable and voyeuristic during the whole event. It was genuinely sad and tragic to see how one lunatic’s vile murderous legacy has permanently scarred a guarded-round-strangers town, which can never escape its unwanted time in the world slaughterhouse slimelight because of people like, well, us, visiting from far and wide. Plainfield has just had to learn to deal with this strange and horrible aspect of its history, bury it in a shallow amnesiac grave, but every psycho-fascinated morbid tourist just digs up that madness and makes the townspeople have to relive it again and again in time-worn muted-pain form. John, a more sensitive soul than I, told me he had weird and horrible dreams for days afterwards because of the whole strange atmosphere and subtext of the trip.
      Me? I slept like the peaceful undisturbed dead.
      Pity Plainfield will never be able to say the same.

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