Imaginary Monsters in Abita Springs.

On Friday, I took a day off of work and traveled to the small town of Abita Springs, LA.  My love of Kitsch and all things bizarre led me to the UCM Museum .  (Pronounced You-See-Em.)  The only thing I knew about this place was that it had been called “Louisiana ’s Most Eccentric Museum ,” and it contained an Airstream Trailer that had been fashioned into a makeshift UFO.

After about and hour and fifteen minutes my GPS led me to service station covered in homemade signs with garage sale items strewn about the yard.  I had arrived.  My car ran over an old doll’s head as I pulled to the side and parked. I made sure my camera was working and wandered up to the front door.

The gift shop was a hodge-podge of novelty items and local artwork. There were hints of oddness in the décor.  Someone had dressed a taxidermied alligator in a red negligee.  I brushed this off.  I reminded me of that TV series in the 80’s where the lizard people invaded Earth.  No one was there.  Music played, I assumed someone would be back to charge me my 3 dollar fee.  I sorted through a bucket of whoopee cushions and card tricks and waited.

He walked in through the back door of the shop and quickly said, “I will be right back to let you in.  I have to turn some things on for you.”  He quickly shuffled off with his mountains of grey curls following after him.  He never even looked to see who or what I was.

I sifted through t-shirts and some of his paintings while he cranked up the museum.  He returned a couple of minutes later and got a proper glance.  “Well hello…I’m John. You can go back whenever you want.  And just pay when you come out.  There is only one way out.  I trust you.”

Sheepishly, I looked at him.  He was smiling.  He looked like any other aging hippie.  But there was something about his tone that put me off.  I realized I was alone.  I shrugged my feelings off and said, “Thanks…I have been looking forward to seeing this.”

“Oh and feel free to snoop around back there.  Nothing’s private.”

I answered with a quick, “Will do,” and headed back. I did not make eye contact with him this time.  I knew that would be a mistake.  The gift shop spilled out onto the porch and in to the museum’s entrance.

The first cottage in the back was long and narrow.  New Orleans R and B played at a comfortable level.  It took me about 30 seconds to realize I was staring at someone’s massive paint by number collection.  I muddled through portraits of Lassie and various other puppies.  The occasional Timber Wolf littered the collection along with some still life pictures and brown horses drinking from streams.  Many of these paint by numbers were identical.  There were hundreds. I glanced towards the ceiling to see that it was covered in old motherboards from computers conferring a faux futuristic look.

This man was a collector of anything.  He did not care what.  There is a medical term for this but it escapes me.  Old film cartridges made into wind chimes were kept in the corner.  Like stayed with Like.  There was an unfathomable system in this madness.

In the middle of a sensory overload I stumbled up to the first diorama.  It was called Rudy’s Over the Rainbow Hotel and Lounge.  It depicted a juke joint on a Saturday.  Very black handcrafted figures danced, had sex, killed each other and drank malt liquor in their little juke joint.  Some penguins pranced around the front yard.  My uneasiness returned. I continued on and saw the wall of driver’s licenses.

They were stapled to the far wall of the shed.  They were from all over the country.  There had to be over a hundred.  The term TROPHY immediately came to mind.  I had visions of Rob Zombie films and immediately grabbed my cell phone.  I texted a few friends with my whereabouts.  I also cursed myself for my constant need to go on adventures solo.  I softly repeated that there was only one way out. Then I laughed at my lunacy.  This establishment had been written up in Southern Living Magazine.  Nothing bad could happen here.

I continued on to a diorama entitled The Tragedy of Dog Pound Road.  I pressed a button and a foamy tornado destroyed a trailer park.  Little plastic horses and cows swirled around a double wide.  The small fireworks stand in the corner managed to avoid injury.  I wondered if this was based on a real event or something that existed only in the mind of its creator.

The narrow shack also boasted antique pinball machines that were still in good play.  I tossed a quarter into one that showcased The Beatles and landed a pretty good score.  Pinball was always my favorite.  These machines guided me to John’s makeshift pinball maze.  It was created from Popsicle sticks and hot glue.  One press of a button and a dull pinball meandered through quite a journey before returning to its starting point.  I wondered if he had sculpted this miniature wooden roller coaster free hand or if he had drawn up actual plans.

I began to feel at ease when I exited the first shack and came across The House of Shards.

According to UCM’s website, The House of Shards is the most photographed item in the museum. The House of Shards is a one room cottage with broken pottery, glass and fragments of other frail broken knick-knacks attached to it.  In a way there is something almost religious about it.  All of the broken pieces form a makeshift stain glass. The work must have taken months.  Maybe John wasn’t a serial killer. Then I entered and saw my first nightmare.  He had his own Fiji mermaid.  I wondered if the human remains that comprised the front of the creature came from a real baby. The tail was a bass fish.  This melded being sat in an empty aquarium with an ocean backdrop in the rear.  Seeing a Fiji Mermaid at Ripley’s Believe it or Not was cool.  Seeing one in someone’s backyard in Abita Springs caused shakes. I reminded myself that I was a moron and that this was how people were murdered.

I continued through The House of Shards into Sister Claire’s Fortune Telling and Live Bait Shack. I knew I might be bait when I saw the duck-gator.  I could no longer hold my worry. I marveled at this mismatched creature.  Head of a Mallard, body of a small gator and four flippers attached to its feet.  The only thing it had going for it was that both ducks and gators lay eggs.  I guess the duck-gator was not reproductively confused.

The bait shack had a tin roof so it was quite noisy.  Trees and branches kept rubbing striking the tin adding an erieness to the two headed alligator-bass taxidermied beast I was viewing. I wondered if it could really be classified as art when I heard something behind me.  I swung around quickly as he said, “I just wanted to make sure you were finding everything ok.” He grinned at me.  He was blocking the only door.  I have an odd phobia about knowing where my exits are.  Airplanes, Movie Theatres, Skyscrapers…It is always important to know how to get out.  If things went wrong at the UCM museum…I had to leave by the front door or hop a ten foot high fence.

I stumbled out of the bait shack over a framed plaster cast of the foot of the Honey Island Swamp Monster and almost fell into the famed Airstream trailer with wings.  I stood on my tiptoes and peaked inside to see some disheveled characters having dinner while being abducted by aliens.  It was good to be out in the breeze.  Then I looked across the field and saw the infamous Bass-Gator.  He was 22 feet long as promised and was parked under a shed. He was supported by a flat bed trailer. He had been covered with the same material that gives suburban homes pop corn ceilings.  I quickly shook my head and put Bass-Gator in the Mardi Gras float category and moved on.  Maybe John saddled him up and rode him though Abita once a year.  I was dizzy.  I had seen too much.

I journeyed back to the porch and thought I had seen it all.  Then I met Darrel.  Darrel the Ali-dog was framed into a large shadow box.  He stood about 2 ½ feet high and was covered in alligator hyde.  Instead of a dog’s head, he carried a gator snout on top of his shoulders.  There was something obedient and friendly about him.  Darrel looked like a loyal yet dangerous companion.  I took a few pictures of Darrel and decided to pack it in.  It was time for an Abita Beer or three.

I followed the sound of Frankie Ford’s Sea Cruise back up to the gift shop.  The girl working the register couldn’t have been over 17.  She was coloring some butterflies with crayolas and doing well at staying between the lines.  She was harmless in everyway.

The outer door chimed and the UPS man entered.  She signed for a package while I browsed novelty items trying to think of a way to begin a conversation.  John came from around back to get his package with great gusto.

He opened the box while he said, “I have been waiting for this poster to come in.  I took the picture myself.  She was a pretty girl.  And a Nurse too…She wouldn’t let me kiss her though.”  John was lonely.  I can only imagine the nuisance animal he was to all of the women of Abita Springs.

The girl got almost offended and said, “John, you can’t say things like that.  It is not right.”

He laughed.

I turned and said, “He just did.”

He looked at me and said, “Yes I did.”  He gave a poster to the girl and returned to his studio.

I walked over to the register with my postcards to pay.  I asked, “What was the poster about?”
She produced a color flyer with a girl in a poorly fitting bikini.  It was advertising a local band’s CD.

I laughed…I asked, “How long have you been working here?”

“About a year.”

How did you get the job?” I couldn’t imagine John placing a help wanted ad in the local paper.

“John is a friend of the family.  Well, a friend of my Mother.  Not my Father so much.  My Mother helps him with his rental properties.  That’s how he supports himself.”  She told me all I needed to know about John in a couple of sentences.
I paid 5 dollars to the girl for my postcards and entry fee.  I bought 10. My favorite was a drawing of Darrel the Ali-Dog.  If I love you enough, I will send you one in the mail.