I haven’t posted in a while because my Dad died. He went to the hospital complaining of back pains and he passed away three days later. It was cancer and there were complications and I’m not going to elaborate further. The important thing for me was that I got to see him, look into his eyes and hear him say my name. I’m shell-shocked but am grateful for the fact that he looked peaceful when he passed and that he was surrounded by loved ones. I tell myself every day that today is the day I’ll get back to “normal,” knowing there’s no “normal” to get back to. If normal still exists, I can’t see it from here and if it should show up I’m not sure I’d welcome it. I’m kind of pissed off at normalcy right now. It feels like something fraudulent I’ve trained myself to tolerate. Suddenly my usual inspirations feel trivial and my go-to mental preoccupations reek of pettiness. I thought I was an expert at dissociation and denial but maybe this coat doesn’t fit me anymore or I’m too tired to put it on. There’s a non-stop avalanche in my head.
What’s more appropriate for these pages is that I tell you that my father is directly responsible for my love of horror- for the therapy of horror – for the catharsis of being terrified for a moment and then being comforted seconds later by purring privileged safety. One of my earliest memories takes place in Allison Park, Pa. Many of my cousins are visiting and there must be at least a dozen of us kids. It’s early summer night and I’m sure there would be fireflies. We’re sitting on a wooden patio my father built or on aluminum fold out chairs. You have to be careful where you place your chair; this backyard is known for underground wasp nests. My brothers and I are often dumb enough to throw rocks at these hives in order to agitate them. My Dad is telling a scary story that might involve the house that burnt down next door, the end result of smoking in bed. When my father comes to the climax of the tale we’re slowly starting to believe, my Uncle, draped in a white sheet, jumps out from behind a bush wailing, sending all of us screaming in every possible direction. This is pure thrilling joy for me, an explosion of excitement. Suddenly all of us cousins, no matter age, size or gender are a unified mob in our shared fear followed by elation. Like every kid ever, we all beg for one more story.
I was a fearful child due to the fact that a giant hand lived under my bed that wanted to drag me to who knows where. Plus, there was “Mary Wolf” to contend with. Mary Wolf looked like an African mask I spied on the cover of a children’s Encyclopedia (which I’ve yet to see again) and I think the she-devil was born from my mishearing the title of the comic strip “Mary Worth.” Oh, and someone thought it was a great idea to put a clown painting on my bedroom wall. When cars drove by the house, reflected headlights lit up his stupid face at vexing intervals. Listening to my Dad’s scary stories was like lifting up the trunk of my fears and letting a few fly away or at least lose some power. It’s no wonder I got addicted to the sensation. Each scary story made me a little braver. Eventually my father brought home a scary-story telling machine. We were the first on our block to obtain this life-changing device; some folks called it a VCR. This machine showed me things that my father would likely not approve of but thankfully he let us rent anything we wanted and paid zero attention to ratings. This might not seem like a good idea to some but to me it was the greatest gift in the world.
My father and I were not very much alike. He appreciated sports where I thought soccer was a game in which you monitored ant hills until a ball rolled towards you and people yelled “Wake up!” He was organized and meticulously clean while my home looks like a cross between the set of SANFORD AND SON and the trash compactor scene in STAR WARS. My Dad was a great, accomplished businessman with an incredible work ethic whereas it took me weeks to write this tiny blog post. You get the idea. We’re basically opposites but he let me know that was O.K. I learned countless lessons from my father but the most important lesson was embossed in our very relationship and that is that you don’t have to agree with somebody about everything to love them. Truth told, as conservative as my Dad sometimes seemed to me he had an artistic streak that was impossible to ignore. Nobody in my family will ever forget when he broke against the established decorum of the neighborhood and painted our front door the most amazingly garish, nearly fluorescent, leaning toward fuchsia, red. My brothers and I could see that door from literally miles away as we explored the golden California fields around our childhood address. It was so bright that we could never get lost and we always knew our way home. The only beacon that shined brighter was my Dad.
I’m not going to post a picture of my pop, I’m not sure he’d be into that. Instead, here is a picture of TED KNIGHT with a chimp because I know it would crack him up. I Love you, Dad. Maybe it’s time for me to repaint my front door.