BOO. Are you scared yet? Nah, I didn’t think so. But this is the time of year that our thoughts turn to the dark side of things, and I’ve been wondering about just what scares me, and “us,” by extension. And the answers I’ve come up with – both the “what” and the “why” surprised me.
About 30 years and another lifetime ago, I was a guide for a local haunt. (“Haunt” is Industry-speak for “haunted attraction”.) By most accounts, I was very good at my job. In fact, I was the only guide to ever scare the pee out of a patron in the waiting room, before she even got inside the haunt. As you might expect, over the years, I’ve told (and retold) those stories to my progeny. As time-and-a-half goes by, we find ourselves back in the city of my birth, and my daughter informs me that her heart’s desire is to follow in her dear old dad’s footsteps, and become a guide at the haunted house, still in business (and scaring the yell out of everyone) some 30 years later. What’s a doting father to do? I acquiesced, but determined that, at the tender age of 13, she’s too young to go it alone at a place like the Louisiana State Fair. So I suited up once more, and took a place beside her as a tour guide. It’s actually even more weird than the haunt itself, being back in the saddle after all these years. First of all, I’m not used to being treated as some éminence grise, the “voice of experience” and all that. Nor am I accustomed to being treated as if the rules at the haunt don’t really apply to me. But in a way, it’s kinda cool.
The haunt itself it typical horror fare – with a twist. Most haunts just let small groups of people wander through a maze that takes them past people and things in scary masks who startle and scare the patrons. Ours is a guided tour with a script, several mazes, trap doors, elaborate effects, and the like. Being the jaded old man that I am, I don’t find any of it particularly scary. My daughter, however, is pushing her personal envelope. For her, guiding is empowering, helping her to conquer her fears of the dark, the unknown, things that go bump in the night, blood, you name it. That’s good for her in more ways than one. You see, not too long ago, she began complaining about back pain. I took her to the doctor, and was shocked to discover a diagnosis of severe, idiopathic scoliosis. Standing up straight, you’d never notice it. When she bends over, however, that 60º curve in her upper back, and the corresponding 40º curve in her lower back is all to obvious. We recently caught a bus-and-truck company production of Young Frankenstein – the Musical. Let’s just say that, while she’s got a surprisingly robust sense of humor about her condition, she relates, albeit ruefully, to Igor, and only wishes her hump could go away as easily as his.
We’ll run a lot of people through the haunt over the next three weeks. They’ll get their money’s worth, and be plenty scared. Me? Not so much. It takes a lot to scare me nowadays. I caught a new show on FX that my girlfriend taped for us. American Horror Story. It’s the charming tale of a psych professor husband who gets caught with his hand in the nookie jar by his wife, who recently had a miscarriage. As penance for his peccadilloes, they uproot the family from their East Coast digs and head out to Californy, where they rent a beautiful old mansion with a past more screw up than the family’s. Turns out the old manse is haunted, and I don’t mean by some harmless wraiths. This place already makes that possessed Cape Cod in Amityville look as harmless as Beaver Cleaver’s house. Everybody there has a past – a bloody, violent one. The maid appears to be an old woman to the hot wife, and a hot, young, oversexed vixen to the husband, trying his best to be faithful. The next-door-neighbor (Jessica Lange at her most brittle) is a klepto/psycho/something. And many of the folks that show up for a chin wag are no longer among the living. Scary? Um…definitely creepy. Riveting. Engaging. But scary? I dunno. My bar has been set ridiculously high on the “scary” scale. And I don’t mean to post any spoilers here, but let’s just say that ol’ Jessica is one scary-good shot with a snubby wheelgun. In episode 3, she brings a whole ‘nuther dimension to the term “bullseye.”
I’ve given a lot of thought as to why this is. I used to love scary movies. The original Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis? A classic. The old Universal flicks with Karloff? Scared me out of my wits. But today – movies don’t really scare me, or even disturb my sleep. Now it may just be that I’ve gotten older. But there are things that do keep me awake at night. It’s just not anything in the way of a scary movie.
I think it all started on 9/11. The sight of those planes hitting the World Trade Center towers was beyond scary. The thought of what went through the minds of those passengers in the seconds before they were vaporized is so far beyond scary it defies definition. And the post 9/11 world is most definitely a more scary place. It may well be that 9/11, for me, anyway, has just taken all the thrill out of thrillers. What kind of special effects can come close to equalling the realization of what happened to those 3,000 people on 9/11?
But there are other things that give me that same feeling of unease that I used to pay $8 to get at the cinema. Walking around in Condition Yellow, and forcing myself to be constantly aware of my surroundings is a lot like projecting myself into the hero’s role in a horror flick. Without the creepy music, of course. Then again, I’m perfectly capable of turning the radio station in my head over to the horror soundtrack channel. Which is oddly comforting. I mean, if I’m hearing the creepy music, it means it’s MY movie, which means, as the central character, I will survive. That is, unless I’m hearing somebody ELSE’S music, in which case I’m toast.
Oddly enough, guns don’t scare me. At all. I have a very healthy respect for them. But I’m not afraid of them. The people who wield them? That’s another story. I’ve been to ranges and seen things that would make my hair start turning gray, if it hadn’t already. And my apprehension over trigger discipline, muzzle safety, and the four rules is not limited to civilians. I now make it a point to chat up any uniformed officer I encounter in a retail setting. I introduce myself, mention TTAG, and chat about guns in general, and his service piece in particular. It’s a way for me to ascertain a level of comfort/competency that the officer has with firearms. Obviously, it’s no substitute for a range test. But it’s not like I can go up to him and ask to see his last qualifying scores and make sure he’s keeping his skills up. But talking with the officer does give me at least a little better feeling about how he might react in an emergency, and give me a clue as to if I’m gonna be in as much danger from his friendly fire as I would be from the bad guys’ guns.
Of course, there are other things that scare me. My daughter’s pending surgery scares the ever-lovin’ crap out of me. I know she’s in good hands. But I feel powerless to do anything more than to be there for her. And that’s the scariest feeling of all.
So, before we get to All Hallowed’s Eve, what scares you? When something wicked this way comes, what is it you see that gives you the willies?