We want our mysteries solved and our questions answered, pronto. Therefore, when confronted with the unexplained, we become consternated. Mysteries drive us nuts--even small ones.Wendell Cunningham is a self-proclaimed mystery magnet. Wherever he goes, it seems that something out of the ordinary appears. Like the time he discovered bloody sacks containing sacrificial goats, or the Hefty Bags stuffed with dead Voodoo chickens. Or the time, while fishing for salmon in Alaska, he reeled in a Samurai
seppuku sword on the end of his hook. Things like that.
Curious items to be sure, but certainly identifiable objects. Headless goats in a bag. Sword in the ocean.
But, when he discovered the "Mystery Thing," an object that has baffled experts, Wendell found he had a different type of puzzle in his hand. The kind that begs the question: "What the fuck is that?"
THE STONE UN-SKIPPED
I believe it's good to face any mystery with an imported beer or two. Wendell agrees. On a hot afternoon in Portland, the brew goes down easy.
"I think I have a good eye for finding things," Wendell says between gargles of Beck's.
He passes the Mystery Thing into my hand, insisting, "I've always got my eyes on the road, on the street, on the sidewalk, and I always find peculiar things."
The object is dark, oblong, and fits easily in my palm. It looks ancient, stratified with what appear to be ring-shaped discs. It's smooth all the way around, and the top (bottom?) stratification is flat enough to stand it on the glass counter at Booty Vintage, Wendell's resale shop on E Burnside.
We hunch down and observe the object of our attention. I don't know what it is. I ask Wendell where he found it.
"At the mouth of the Clackamas River one day," he answers, "skipping rocks with my son Cooper and my wife Aimee. My son picked up this rock and threw it. Luckily it didn't make it to the water."
Aimee picked it up to finish the job, but Wendell intervened. "I said 'wait a minute, let me see that!' I looked at it and thought what is this?"
"It was like electricity, running through the blood. Something about the rock; I held it in my hand and knew it was something special."
In search of answers, Wendell says he brought the Mystery Thing to the scientists at OMSI.
"The head paleontologist said he'd never seen anything like it. He didn't believe it to be a fossil, or a tooth. [He] thought it might be a poured piece of metal, because of the shape."
The paleontologist referred Wendell to his OMSI colleague, a physicist.
"The physicist put it on the most powerful magnet they have at OMSI. It showed only minute traces of iron, proving it wasn't a poured metal. He's never seen a natural rock formation or a piece of metal like it. After a while, he just shook my hand and said, 'Good luck.'"
"It's shaped like a chicken heart," Wendell says. "That's the best thing I can come up with. It's kind of penile. Another thing that intrigues me, is along this edge here it's almost as though there are two separate pieces, as though they've been put together. How would you describe it? Alien?"
Maybe that's not far off the mark. While some think it could be an Indian fishing weight, or a hide-tanning tool, there are still others who subscribe to the "Pod Theory."
"You know like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Wendell says. "They had pods that would transfer the alien pod people into your body. This is about the right size for an alien pod for, say a mouse? Perhaps one day, it will twist open at the top and a little pod person mouse will come out."
Naturally, I ask Wendell if he's ever taken himself in to be tested. "My mother suggests that quite frequently," he laughs, "but no."
"For some reason I'm a 'mystery magnet,'" he says. "Why me? I don't know. Maybe it's a sign from above. Maybe I've got some extra electromagnetic X-Men thing going on here. Who knows?"
"Mercury readers may recall the story of the headless chickens on the railroad tracks ["Foul Play," January 18, 2001]," reminds Wendell, as though I could possibly doubt his mystery magnet qualifications and sanity.
"I found piles of plastic bags near the railroad tracks and inside each bag I found a decapitated chicken and seven pennies. This led to finding a couple of bound and decapitated pygmy goats on the tracks also! Next to them, I didn't find the seven pennies, but what I did find was a Seven of Diamonds playing card."
"Absolutely. As a matter of fact, after doing some personal research I found that the number seven has to do with 'transition' in the Haitian Voodoo culture. Possibly that was why it was on the railroad tracks. Maybe they didn't want somebody to leave town--another form of transition."
"Sure, I opened them up and looked at them," Wendell says, "but I did choose to leave them there, as obviously it was part of somebody's ritual. One can choose not to believe in somebody else's rituals--nonetheless, it's their ritual and part of their privacy. The way I feel about it is, 'looking at it is one thing, removing it is another.'"
I suggest his mother should have taught him not to look in strange bags.
"My mother did tell me not to look in bags," Wendell deadpans. "Mom always told me not to look in bags, and I rebelled. No matter what Mom says, you know you're going to do the opposite. Don't stay up past ten = I'm up till twelve. Don't look in the bag = I've got dead chickens."
WHAT NOW WITH THE THING?
Of course, once someone tells Wendell what the Mystery Thing truly is, the party's over.
"The best part of the mystery is not knowing," he says. "Once the mystery is solved, what's the fun in that? It's the thrill of the hunt, not the thrill of the kill. But, I'm going to hold onto it, and hope that somebody will come by and tell me what the heck it is."
For others who may stumble upon something strange, Wendell advises: "Don't ever be afraid to look. If you see something that's intriguing, you know, like when I found the chickens I was like, aw, I shouldn't look in there, but something inside me said, 'Look. See what it is.' You never know what you might find."
It may turn out to be a mystery.
Calling all members of the Mercury Case Cracker Club! Check out the "Mystery Thing" for yourself at Booty Vintage, 628 E Burnside.