Saturday, October 09, 2004

Get out of bed already and play the organ at the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarters

LOCATION: The Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Freemasons, 1733 16th St (the whopping sphinxy marble building)
TIME: Weekdays, 9 to 4, unless you manage to chat up Bob, the building superindent EQUIPMENT: Yourself, angst OPTIONAL: Love of organ music

For some reason my serotonin levels crashed this morning. I could try blaming it on a few weeks of turbulent love (platonic and romantic and familial types all...enough to make a girl want to give up); but really it's just that my humours have always swung freakishly betwen sanguine and melancholy. After I'd been lying in bed for six hours*, Ben, in a remarkable effort of telephone faith healing, convinced me to get up and go outside and put some clothes on.** I was riding my bike down 16th St when I looked over and noticed a group of students on the steps of the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarter building, which is a classical marble behemoth of a building extending almost a whole city block, with a majestic set of stairs and two gigantic sphinxes on either side of the entrance. I almost kept riding - but if there's one thing I am, even in the depths of gloom, it's a nosy parker. So I walked in, and grabbed a bunch of brochures. An attendant rushed up to me and said, "Sorry, we're closed today, it's just a special tour. Please come again during the week!"**

I went back out, climbed up on top of one of the sphinxes and started writing in my journal. I noticed that the other man in there kept on peeking out at me. Eventually he came out and introduced himself. We chatted for a while and he said that he was the building supervisor and would be happy to give me a tour.

The building is an odd mix of Greek and Egyptian architecture. There are inspiring quotations, carvings of Egyptian hieroglyphs, and busts of Greek philosophers everywhere. It turns out that their reading room is open to the public: it's a beautiful room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, internet access for your laptop, and marble statues everywhere. (Bob said that 85% of the volumes on the shelves related to Freemasonry. There were a LOT of books.)

He also showed me their stacks, with exhibitions of old manuscripts (including a lot of first editions and letters of Robert Burns), the kitchen, with its antique dumbwaiters and old icebox, the dining room, with glass tables displaying coins from lodges all over the world, the community garden (you can sign up to plant tomatoes), the formal garden (tended by a incredibly hard-working red flannelly 80-year old man and his daughter Mary-Sue: "I just don't know how I'm going to replace John," Bob sighed), Bob's office (where I played with his adorable labrador bitch, whose effusive, eager-to-please personality reminded me of her master) and the meeting room upstairs (with a ceiling dome 180ft tall and purple velvet drapery). There was a sweeping marble staircase on the way up to the meeting room, and a single-seater chair was carved into the rails with the inscription: "Know Thyself." I sat down experimentally. "I think you have to know yourself to sit there," Bob joked, and I sprang back up. In the meeting room was a piano/organ with lovely acoustics and Bob told me that I could come back to play it whenever I wanted to. "Organs are like a sailing boat - you've got to use them constantly or you have huge maintenance costs!"

I don't know that much about the Masons, except what I've gleaned from that Simpsons episode, reading Foucault's Pendulum, and the fact that their "all-seeing eye" is on the American $1 bill. So I won't try to give you the scoop on their organization - except that, unlike the Scientologists, this tour did not send shivers down my spine, and I would have felt like an asshole mocking Bob like I did with the Scientologist guide - Bob was obviously a nice man, not out to rip anybody off, and genuinely excited about all the beautiful things he had that were open to the public.

An interesting quote, from the brochure: "To a Non-Mason: You Must Seek Masonic Membership":

"Ask and you shall receive! Knock and the door will be opened unto you! Seek and you shall find! As a Past Grand Master of Masons in California, these comments of mine may be helpful...
While the real roots of Masonry are olost in faraway mists, these items show that our recorded history goes back well over 600 years....The historical advance of science also treats of our operative ancient brethren who were architects and stonemasons of geometry. It is apparent from this portrayal that they had a very real and personal identification with the Deity and that this fervent devotion provided energy to build cathedrals. They embraced the teachings of Plato and applied Pythagorean relationships. Just as there is a beauty of harmony credited to mathematical relationships on which music is based, just so these master geometricians treated architecture. The architects and stonemasons became the personification of geometry, performing extraordinary feats with squares and compasses." According to Bob, most medieval stone-workers couldn't read or write, so certificates were impossible - but Masons were known to be excellent workers and were ranked by skill, so if you showed up at a cathedral site and told the master-worker the appropriate password, he could give you the right job immediately.

So, in conclusion: get out of bed, you lazy idiot, and tour the Scottish Rite Freemason World Headquarters, work in their reading room, stroll in their garden, and play the organ in their purple domed room. It's way more fun than feeling sorry for yourself.

_____________________________________
*With only a brief interlude to pick up the legless red velvet couch that my sweet elfish friend Chris left outside my door with a stern sign in Spanish: "¡No toque esto!!! Pertenece a Zoe!!!!", along with a CD of his strange banjo music where he covers Guns n' Roses. Thanks, Chris.
**Not in that same order, though.
**It's funny how sometimes you meet people who are like archetypes of cases described by medieval medicinal theory. Take this first Mason guy: out of the four humours (black bile=earth, phlegm=water, blood=air, and yellow bile=fire), his phlegm was so clearly out of balance. His nose was runny, his eyes waters, in fact every single mucous membrane seemed soggy, and his handshake was cold and damp. I imagine that a physician in Shakespeare's day would have prescribed some hot dry concoctions like pepper and chili to balance him out.

2 Comments:

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10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

3:59 AM  

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