It’s Friday night and Zelda has come over to hang out with Nana and Grandpa for the weekend. She expects a movie night. This is the continuation of a long standing tradition in our family. Ever since our three were little guys, Friday nights have stood for family, pizza and a movie.
“Can we watch Paw Patrol?” This is not a movie. This is a painful torture video with little squeaky kid voices designed to bore into the brain of old men and slowly drive them insane.
“What about a real movie? Let’s watch “Big”.
She scrunches up her eyes. “Is it scary? Because I don’t like scary.”
Holy Moses! When I was about 9 or 10, my buddy Steve would come over to spend the night just so we could watch The Friday Night Shocker. The old black and white movies of Frankenstein and Dracula and The Mummy. The very mention of Boris Karloff or Bela Legosi made our skin crawl.
“I vant to dwrink yor blood.” We’d wrestle to the floor and pretend to sink our fangs into the other one’s neck. “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!” And we’d roll over and laugh ourselves silly.
You have to understand the mental goofiness of a 10 year old. This was before we got serious about things like baseball, rock and roll, motorcycles and Friday night dances at the Lake Talmadge Clubhouse.
The Shocker came on at 11pm. Mom and Dad would let us fold out the sleeper couch in the den. They were ancient, like in their early Forties, and were ready to go to bed. The den was right next to their bedroom.
“You boys keep in down in here. You hear me?” Dad was convincing. We both complied, “Yes sir.”
We’d turn out all the lights. Throw our pillows to the foot of the bed so we could lay on our bellies and punch each other. Some creepy looking host would come on.
“Hey kids. Are you ready to be scared half out of your wits?”
The laboratory sat up on a hillside. The dark clouds filled the night sky with the slash of lightning and the crash of thunder. Egor dragged his disfigured leg across the floor.
It was during that season of The Shocker that Steve and I developed an elaborate game of Mad Scientist. We turned my bedroom into a laboratory full of cardboard levers and plastic tubes and tinfoil-electrode-caps hooked up to the power source with kite string. We had a coat hanger lightning rod sticking out the window. Jars of “brains” and bolts sat around the room. And old doll head floating in formaldehyde that looked a lot like water.
We took turns performing massive surgery on each other. One of us had to lay perfectly dead on the bed, while the other provided sound effects. Dr. Frankenstein played both himself and Egor, since there were only two of us. Egor would throw the switch. The Doctor would shout, “He’s Alive. I’ve done it. He’s alive.” And then we’d switch roles and do it all over again.
After a while it really got weird. Steve had a plastic model of The Mummy and I had one of Frankenstein. They were glue up models like the old model cars, but monsters. Frankenstein stood on top of a grave with a tombstone behind him. The Mummy was walking out of a tomb.
Here’s the weird part. We got the idea that we should bury them. So, we took them apart, put their arms down to the side, and fixed them so they would fit into a casket. We were already good at surgery anyway.
We got a couple of shoe boxes that we cut and taped and reshaped to look like old timey caskets. They were completely covered in black electrical tape so they’d hold up while they were in the ground. We even took tissue and scrap pieces of cloth to make a liner for the casket. We thought they should look like they came from Transylvania.
When we got off the bus on Friday, the adventure began. Two mad scientist. Two monsters in caskets. We roamed the hillsides of Romania until we found the perfect spot. With a shovel we dug little graves and buried Frankenstein and The Mummy. Then we went home for hamburgers on the grill.
After supper we played James Bond for a while. Chased lightning bugs in the back yard. But we were waiting for 11:00. Tonight’s feature? The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Ahhhhh!!! When it was over the national anthem played. The Flag waved. The Blue Angels flew by. And the test pattern came on with a hum. The day was over.
The next morning we put on our lab coats and brought Frankenstein to life about 14 times by lunch. Then there was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served on wax paper. By early afternoon we were out roaming the hillsides of Romania looking for graves. Looking to bring the dead forth in spite of the curse of a thousand fleas.
This was a game we could take almost anywhere. My Mom sang in the church choir. Steve’s Mom played piano. And choir practice was on Wednesday nights. It was another chance for us to play together, so we went.
Old Berea was and still is surrounded by the biggest cemetery in Hampton. It was probably against all fundamental conservative Church-going values for us to do this, but we hid our caskets among the tombstones in the dark and scared the ever-loving creepy ca-dabbers out of ourselves. The Mummy came to life as we listened to Bringing in the Sheaves wafting out through the open windows of the church. This is stuff you can’t do with a video game.
Back at home, we plugged in the DVD. Zelda double checked with me.
“Are you sure it’s not scary? No blood and things blowing up?”
I’m not sure why the more modern scary movie turned to gore to do the scary stuff. The most blood we ever saw was a small trickle on Dracula’s chin. But, then, it was black and white. I know it would all seem hokey now compared to computer graphics and green screens, but we were plenty scared without all that stuff.
“No, honey. Big is not scary. You’ll like it.”
Josh Baskins is your typical 13 year old. A goofy best buddy. A trisquet, a biscuit. Skate board and bicycles. But he’s too small to ride the big ride at the fair. He feels like a complete loser. Then, he finds Zoltar. He bangs on the machine. The Eastern Wizard in a turban lights up. His eyes are orange. His mouth opens and a sound like wind of a man’s soul emerges.
Zelda pulls the blanket up over her head as she pushes up against my side. “I thought you said it wasn’t scary.”