Elvira, as I came to call her, is a genuine human skull. Not a reproduction, a prop or a model, but the actual dirty-white skull of what was once a living, breathing, speaking, thinking human being. Real eyes once looked at the world from her empty sockets. The top of her skull had been sawed off and then reattached on each side with a hook and eye latch. Therefore you can take off the top of her head and look down into her empty brain pan, the now blank space where the thoughts, dreams and emotions of a woman's life had once resided.
Elvira was stolen, along with the medical supply box she came in, from a laboratory at Harvard University. The friend of mine who swiped her originally intended to make her, with a dripping candle on her head, the perfect decoration for his dorm room. Then one night, returning to his room from a party where he taken LSD, my friend had some kind of terrible psychedelic encounter with Elvira. He refused to tell the details, but he was genuinely spooked by that bad trip and thereafter Elvira stayed in her box at the bottom of my friend's closet. Eventually he decided to present her as a birthday gift to me.
So who was Elvira? Someone I know who dropped out of medical school told me that it is definitely the skull of a female. He even managed to estimate her age at the time of death - about 40 years old. He could deduce this from the seam running along the top of her head. Humans are born with the top of their skulls not completely closed, which is nature's way of helping to insure that the baby's head is pliable enough not to be damaged during its entry into the world. The "soft spot" on the the top of a baby's head eventually disappears, but the top of the skull never acquires the full tensile strength of the whole until a person is about twenty-five years old. The top of Elvira's head is completely hardened, while the seam itself is partially erased, appearing as a broken, jagged line. This means Elvira was well past twenty-five, but not yet old, when the seam would presumably be almost completely faded. Hence, she was middle-aged.
She also lived in a culture that seems to have never heard of dentistry. She is missing several of her teeth, and the remainder have cavities and brown spots. My friend suspects that she was probably Oriental. He bases this conclusion on the combination of the low-tech care of her teeth and the only bit of written information that came with Elvira: a purchase order from a medical supply company dated in 1977.
According to my friend, there is usually a chronic shortage in the world medical supplies market for things like human skulls because, obviously, most people prefer to be buried with their heads attached. However, the market was briefly flooded in the mid-seventies by the communist governments of Southeast Asia who, following the American defeat there and the ensuing blood baths (three million in Cambodia alone) had lots of human remains to exchange for valuable foreign currency. Considering the date of purchase, there's an excellent chance that Elvira was a part of that rich harvest.
So the skull of this poor, middle-aged Oriental woman who died in need of dentures had traveled the world only to end up resting atop my TV, hovering gap-toothed above the electronic images of screeching rock stars, advertisements for tampons and deodorants and droning news anchors. After a while it seemed to me a little sad, even pathetic, that her wandering skull had ended up as a conversation piece, just a testimony to my sick sense of humor and bad taste in home decor.
Finally I decided to get rid of her. Late one moonless night I took Elvira and a shovel down to the schoolyard of the World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School. There I dug a hole and threw her inside, her cardboard box from the medical supply company serving as her coffin. Then I refilled the hole. I said a few things in a whisper that felt spiritual to me and then left her there, where she rests to this day, and perhaps where she will remain until the end of the world.
There is a great article in the paper this morning about the embarrassing decision the University of Massachusetts made in 1986 of giving an award to a bloodthirsty leftist dictator. To read all the details CLICK HERE.
In the same edition is this interesting account of the Bob Weir and Ratdog show down in Springfield. To read it CLICK HERE.