Talking about the old radio philosopher Galen Drake the other day got me thinking. Reminded me of those mystery programs they used to put on radio. As someone who was a kid at the time I can tell you they were genuinely scary.
Think of what you were like when you were a kid. What did you know? Not much. Sometimes just enough to get you in trouble. But as little as it may have been at times, it was enough to let you know there were some things out there you wouldn’t want to meet up with in a dark alley at night.
You know? Ghosts? Ghouls? Goblins? Other assorted monsters?
Bill Cosby used to talk about stuff like that on his tapes. I’ve had a lot of good laughs listening to him talk about walking home from the movies at night, especially after seeing a scary one. Or sitting at home alone listening to something on the radio that scares the pants off you.
You have to be pretty dumb to do something like that, but dumb is what kids are. Of course parents don’t help much. The other day, for example, I mentioned one night when I was 8 and Mom sauntered off to the movies, leaving the radio turned on to “keep Tommy company.”
Hey, Ma! That kind of company I did not need!
Kept me company all right. When the evening news went off I got to listen to “The Shadow,” followed by the classic Sherlock Holmes episode “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Bill Cosby thought he had the perfect answer for scary radio programs.
“Just turn it off,” he says on one of his tapes.
He forgot one thing.
How do you get across a darkened room while a hairy old hound with eyes like “burning red coals” is waiting there in the dark drooling at the thought of what you’ll taste like?
Yeah! In small, well-chewed pieces!
To kids, the dark is peopled with things they don’t want to meet. Why? Because like %$#@! dummies we adults “entertain” them with stories about ogres, giants, wolves that can blow down a house to get at its tasty soft core, old ladies waiting to stuff kids in an oven and roast them, and angry queens who turn into old witches lugging baskets filled with red, juicy, poisoned apples.
Just whisper one quiet “boo” as a kid passes a dark alley and you can watch a human being leap tall buildings in a single bound.re
What else would you expect?
Bill Cosby had one thing right, though. “The only time people are completely honest is when they’re dead scared,” he once said.
I ran into the perfect example of that back about the time I was a junior in high school. I had a friend back then who was a genuine genius. And I mean a real right-out-of-the-record-books, measure-his-IQ-and-shake-your-head genius.
His name was Jerry and he did not look like a genius.
What did he look like?
Sorry, Jerry. The truth is the truth.
Picture bushy hair. A flat face that needed its first shave by age 12 and rarely got one — then or ever. Long arms. A set of large yellow teeth. A sidelong grin that belonged on a stage villain. And a walk like a gorilla.
Also a 15-year-old kid that nobody liked.
No surprise, right?
Yeah, Jerry was not the most popular kid in the school.
He stayed over at my house one night and got me into big trouble with my mother. It was a night when Jerry and I finished our wanderings too late for him to catch a bus out into the country where he lived. So he slept on the living room couch under a black raincoat, the only thing I could find lying around for him to cover with. I didn’t wake Mom to tell her that Jerry was there in the living room because I didn’t want to disturb her. And being tired, I didn’t wake up early and tell her then either.
But did I wake up that morning? Oh yeah! Did I ever!
Around six in the morning, still dark outside, I suddenly sat bolt upright in my bed up in the attic. I didn’t know what had startled me out of a dead sleep, but I knew it was something BIG. I sat there for what seemed like a long time, but was actually just a few seconds. Then I heard a repeat of what had awakened me.
A loud piercing scream.
Seconds later, still in my skivvies, I cleared the attic door, made two right angle turns, hit the main hallway, and sailed into the living room. I didn’t know what had prompted that scream but instinct told me it had something to do with an ape’s body and an IQ of 168.
Sure enough, Mom met me in the hallway just outside the living room door.
Hand on chest, she frowned at me. “Next time you bed down an ape in the living room tell it not to groan and sit up behind my back when I lean into the closet to see why it’s open.”
Good thing I didn’t laugh. She’d have killed me.
Then there was the day that Jerry, the genius, unbeknownst to me, thought it would be a good idea to buy a rubber “Frankenstein” head mask and carry it in his pocket into the Capital Theater on the night they were showing the movie of the same name.
And to slip it on during one of the scariest parts, lean over, and ask the two girls sitting next to him, “Don’t I look nice on the screen?”
Never seen anything like it.
Two piercing screams. Then 20. Then 2,000. And yeah, including my buddy, Jerry the genius.
The theater cleared in about 20 seconds.
Outside, I looked at my genius buddy, who had ripped off the mask and tossed it straight up the air back inside. “What the hell did you scream for?” I asked him.
Never got a good answer, but I think Bill Cosby was right.
When you’re scared you just do, you don’t think.