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Friday, May 20, 2011

OK. Maybe No More TV for the Kids…

You know, if you’re going to continue to rise when the alarm clock says to, if you’re going to persist in showing up to work every day like you do, then the next thing you know –

It’s the weekend.

Never fails.

And boy, do you deserve it. Look at you over there, all hard-working and responsible. You never fail to amaze me.

So what’s coming, huh? Saturday? Sunday? What can we expect?

Lucky for you, I’ve got the answer. You may not know this about me – and why would you? – but I own an iPod that, set on shuffle and played during my Friday morning’s commute, tells the future.

Hey. It could happen.

Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen
Ditch by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
God Put a Smile Upon Your Face by Mark Ronson, featuring The Daptone Horns*
Love Train by Wolfmother
Honey White by Morphine
Get on the Good Foot by James Brown
I Feel for You by Chaka Khan

So! Looks like you’ll do some traveling, maybe experience a little rain (watch those ditches!), and once again, in the words of my father, it’s suggested that you continue to avoid the heroin.


And now -- and a little longer than usual -- a story.



News of my parents going out on a Saturday night was always met with great enthusiasm by us kids. Their going out meant wonderful things were going to happen. We would slouch. We would drink from the tap. We would make phone calls to people to ask them if their refrigerator was running. We would have Banquet pot pies for dinner.

Even better than a frozen dinner, though, was the full, uncensored access we would have to the scary shows on TV. Our mother strictly censored horror shows, a stance in direct and opposite correlation to our desire to watch them, but our father didn’t care what we watched.

Mother saw things differently.

“For cryin’ out loud, Paul, you can’t let them watch that. Don’t we have enough problems without the TV feeding them crap?”

I was ridiculously superstitious regarding anything that had ever been featured on the local midnight creature-feature. Horror Incorporated went from midnight to 2:30 a.m. on Saturdays, and I had been introduced to it at a slumber party at the last trailer court. In a few short slumber parties, I knew everything I needed to know about mummies, vampires, the walking undead, and the King Kong, if you will, of the horror-show monsters: The Devil.

I feared all monsters, of course, but I had a special fear for The Devil, who could, if he desired, leave Hell only to show up in my bedroom closet after my parents went to bed. I’d heard about that movie, The Exorcist, and even knew its theme song, thanks to my Dad, who pointed out “Tubular Bells” every time it came on the radio. A man in a trench coat standing under a street light was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I became obsessed with worry. What if one of us became possessed while our parents were out? I was acutely aware of my lack of preparation. The Wolfman, I knew, could be killed with a silver bullet; and for some reason I was sure that I could, somewhere in the court, get a hold of one. Garlic would keep Dracula away, and we had plenty of that in the fridge. But The Devil? How do you keep The Devil out of the house? What if Karen or, more likely, Kevin, became possessed? Where in the world would I get my hands on a priest in this neighborhood?

Word on the slumber-party circuit here in the new trailer park – not that I had been included yet – was that Saturday nights held a new show called “Night Gallery,” a Rod Serling cornucopia of twisted stories with dark and ironic endings.

Oh, how I wanted to see Night Gallery. What kind of stories did they tell? Stories about The Devil? Would it be scary? How scary could it be?

Tonight was the night: Our parents were going out. It would be a full Saturday night of burning candles in the living room and dipping our fingers in the wax, of eating ice cream straight from the bucket, of polluting our minds with televised tales from beyond the grave.

Night Gallery came on at 10:00.

By 9:55 we are on the couch, pointed toward the TV, huddled under piles of my mother’s current craftiness: afghans. The trailer, as usual, is a brisk 64º.

We crouch anxiously under the blankets.

“Mom’s going to be mad,” Karen says.

“Mom’s not going to know,” Kevin retorts.

“Shh!” I frown. “It’s starting!”

The screen is dark as Rod Serling steps into it.

“That’s Rod Sterling,” Karen informs us.

“SERling, not STERling,” Kevin says.

“It is too Sterling, isn’t it, Pearl.”

“Shh!” I hiss, “It’s starting!”

Mr. Serling is speaking: “…a showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way – not because of any special artistic quality but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”

There is a collective gasp from the couch.

“A frozen moment of a nightmare,” Kevin whispers.

Karen pulls the afghan up, clutches it under her nose. “Pearl, I don’t think we should…”

“Shhhh!”

“Well I just don’t think we should be watching this,” she mutters.

“Shhhhhhhh!” Kevin and I both hiss at her this time, and she pulls the blanket up until only her eyes and her hairline are visible in the darkened room.

On the TV screen, Rod Serling is standing in front of an oil painting alive with reds and oranges. He is speaking: “…our selection this evening, an import from that nether region, that inferno down below…”

The figure in the painting, rising amongst the flames and falling bodies, is horned and violently grinning evil. “Hey.” Kevin’s voice is hoarse and -- do I hear it shaking?

“Offered to you now, in living color and with a small scent of sulfur, our painting is called “Hell’s Bells”.

That's it! At the word “hell”, Karen and I begin to scream. “AHHHHHHHHHH!” We were guilty, guilty, guilty and Mom was sure to know.

Karen pulls the afghan up over her head. “Turn it off,” she wails, “turn it OFF!”

Caught in the hysteria, Kevin begins screaming, too, and our voices rise in dissonant panic.

“Turn it off!” I scream.

“You turn it off!” Kevin screams back.

And it is Kevin who finally makes the dash to the TV, jabbing frantically at the on/off button, and leaping back to the safety of the couch and the magical blankets.

With nothing but the still-burning candle for light, we sit very still, our minds reeling with fear and guilt. Karen was right – Mom is going to be mad.

The candle flickers as the autumn wind blows against the trailer, and there is a sudden sense of vulnerability.

My mind leaps, irrationally, to the garlic in the fridge.

Kevin breaks the silence, whispering. “Do you know who that was, in that painting?”

Karen pulls the blanket up over her head. “SHHHHHHHHHHH!” The hysteria that she and I had just barely contained is released anew, and the sound flies from our lips as if on springs.

“SHHHHHHHHHHH!”

It is quiet again. The trailer’s siding rattles in the wind.

Kevin turns to me, his eyes glowing in the candlelight. “You hear him out there, shaking the trailer? You know who that was on the TV, don’t you?”

“Stop it!”

“It’s like a tin can on wheels in here,” Kevin muses. “What if he pushes us over and gets in? Oh, man, we really should’ve thought about this.”

I put my hands over my ears.

Kevin laughs. “I’m just kiddin’, Wood Tick.” Grinning in the dark, he pulls my hands down. “You know it won’t really happen.”

I slide my arms back under the blankets. A sudden burst of wind whistles hollowly through a crack in a kitchen window.

“The Devil’s not outside…” Kevin whispers.

The plastic over the windows in the kitchen blows out and snaps back loudly.

Suddenly, Kevin jumps up from the couch, pulling the blankets with him. “He’s not outside because he’s in the kitchen! The Devil's in the kitchen! Run! Run for your lives!”

And with that, Kevin runs from the living room and down the hallway to the bathroom, laughing maniacally.

Blankets gone, Karen and I run after him, hearts pounding, the Devil at our heels.

Karen’s little fists beat against the door. “Let us in!” she screams. “Let us in!”

A noise from the kitchen sends the cold hand of certain death up my spine, grabbing the back of my neck. The Devil is here and he has come for me.

“Kevin!” I scream. “Open –“

“Let us in!”

“ – door before –“

“ – I tell Mom and Dad!”

The sound of Kevin’s laughter echoes in the bathroom.

Karen and I look at each other and burst into tears. Surely this is the end of us. We hug each other.

“If I don’t make it,” Karen sobs, “Tell Mom I love her.”

The bathroom door opens a crack. “Geez,” Kevin says.

We push our way in, punch Kevin in the arms and chest, and lock the door behind us.

“We can’t never ever watch that show again,” Karen cries, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. “Promise?”

In what is the single-most sincere moment in my life up to that point, I hold my hand up, like I’d seen on TV. “I swear!”

“Oh, geez,” Kevin says. “Fine. I swear, too. We’ll never ever watch that show again.” It is a solemn pact. We affirm it by leaving the bathroom, turning on every light in the trailer, and eating bowls of vanilla ice cream covered with Hershey’s syrup.

And we don’t never ever watch that show again – at least not until the following week, which is the next time our parents go out and leave us in charge of each other.


As Dad liked to say, you could tell someone from the family, but you couldn’t tell them much.

28 comments:

Gary Baker said...

Speaking of Leonard Cohen: I learned to play the guitar using his songs. Great plucking fun.
Oh, and don't worry about the Devil. He's over here working as a car park attendant in Darlington.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Oh, I forgot how much fun it was to scare ourselves to death as kids--the thrill of it! Nice work capturing the panic--self-induced, of course.

Leenie said...

What was it about Mr. Serling that made anything he said a threat of imminent awful? The beady eyes, that upper lip that never moved;the gosh-awful snowy reception of the monster television only made it worse. My problem was, I had to wait until my little brother and sister went to bed before I could watch. They spooked worse that a cat and were tattle-tales.

Daisy said...

OOooowwwwwww! I'm all goosebumps! You sure captured the feeling of it all Pearl

Glen said...

Pearl. You may have noticed that I'm not good at sycophantic comments. I make a comment yes - but I don't give it all the big "I love you" rubbish.

However.

How do you do it?

Consistently churn out such lengthy quality?

I consider myself fairly good. I think I produce some funny stuff pretty damned regularly.

But you just keep on coming up with this stuff - day in day out.

Truly impressive. Really.

Don't worry - tomorrow I'll just take the piss again.

Eva Gallant said...

Loved that story. Wasn't it fun to be scared silly!

alwaysinthebackrow said...

This story captures the fear and panic so well. My sisters and I had a similar experience watching the movie "The Birds" on TV when we were alone in a motel room. We still talk about how scared we were. Good thing Kevin wasn't there. We would have lost our minds with fear.

jabblog said...

I remember the night-time rituals of my childhood. I was quite scared enough without watching any horror films . . .

Oilfield Trash said...

Rain this weekend you say? I say that is good news.

Douglas said...

Ever since I saw the zipper on the back of the Creature From The Black Lagoon and the green mutants in Invaders From Mars, I stopped being scared by any of those movies or TV shows.

On the other hand, I had problems entering my son's bedroom after watching The Exorcist.

Belle said...

Terrific story! I watched Afred Hitchcock Presents. Very scary. Also, every Sat. night there was a program called, "Chiller," that showed horror movies.
I will say, I was scarred for life by, "Psycho". My mom took me when I was 13. I didn't know there were such people in the world!

Marion Williams-Bennett said...

Scary scary scary!

I remember being too young to watch Twilight Zone, and then watching it anyway. It was the creepy episode on the plane with the face that kept appearing out the window! Still not recovered from that horror!

Kara said...

Oh! I love that self-enduced terror we felt as kids! For me, it was saved for long weekends when the local TV station ran a 3 movie night of fear called Triple Terror. You've recreated that fun/fear perfectly!

hocam said...

Oh, great story. I really enjoyed it.

bettyl said...

Haha Such fond memories! I would sleep in my sister's bed after a show like that. Every week!

Irish Gumbo said...

You had me at "Honey White", because, as she knows, its sweet and good...

And the Devil likes a little more fat :)

Cheeseboy said...

I'm totally freaked out now. I think I remember that episode. Is it on youtube? I don't think my mom will be home tonight...

KSK said...

I was never allowed to watch those scary (and not at all cheesy) shows on Saturday nights... but I went to a friends house who had a babysitter for the night and let us watch it.... TERRIFYING!!!

Kipp said...

I never understood why girls loved being scared by Jason and Freddy Kruger(?)so much. But once I figured out they (the girls) would get all close and snuggly with me - I was suddenly a big fan of horror flicks. ;)

Tempo said...

Every kid in the world must have had that experience at some time...showing great bravery at the same time as being bright yellow and scared as hell on the inside. Personally I think your bus ride every morning is probably more dangerous Pearl.

Sioux said...

There are STILL epidodes that remain burned into my memory. (The one about the swimming pool, and the other "world" the kids discovered...the woman who had eye surgery, had to keep her eyes patched for a certain length of time and when she uncovered them, the whole city was experiencing a black out and she killed herself, thinking she was still blind...)

Ol' Rod had the perfect voice...

Pat said...

Thank you for reminding me of that childish hysteria - a combo of genuine terror and mad laughter experienced when a local lad, new to the RAF, decide to show off and pretend to dive bomb us. It was early in the war and we believed he was the enemy and our number was up. Many years later - before he died, he confessed. Great joke! Not!

Roses said...

Fantastic! I love your stories.

Have a great weekend my darling.

Bushman said...

Yes Garlic works on Vamps and a silver bullet on the wolf but there is only one thing that keeps the devil away and that is a Naked picture of the old lady from Throw Momma from the Train!! (or Danny Devito can't tell em apart)

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Eek! Perfectly told.

ThreeOldKeys said...

wow. you're good, girl.

those pot pies for the nights parents went out ... they had tuna ones.

Jocelyn said...

If you ever write a post about staying up late to watch The King Biscuit Flour Hour, I'm going to scream and knock on your brother Kevin's door frantically as I holler, "Oh. My. God. Pearl and I have lived the exact same life." Becuase this post hits close to home.

Also: "“A frozen moment of a nightmare,” Kevin whispers." ranks up there as one of the funniest lines ever in a post.

Susan in the Boonies said...

I think the Devil made you watch that show.

That was an AWESOME POST!!!!!!!!!!

Kevin's likely to burn in ....you know....for his behavior that night....with his friend....who was in the kitchen.....

Night Gallery used to scare the bejeezus out of me , too.

Hold me!!!