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What Was I Afraid Of?

Mon 26 Jul 2010 3 comments

Lately, my oldest son has been showing a bit of a fear of… well, something.  I’m not sure if it’s the dark, or being alone upstairs, but he gets freaked out by noises if we’re not up there with him.

These seem like reasonable things for a small child to fear.  Most kids are, at one point or another, afraid of the dark.  Some kids fear the monster under the bed or in the closet.  These are your classic, garden variety childhood fears.  You probably had them; I probably had them.  These are not the fears that I remember, however.  I remember having somewhat, er, atypical fears.

The first truly frightening experience that I can remember happened when I was three years old, or possibly a bit younger.  I know this because I did not yet live in the house that we moved into a few months after my third birthday.  I had a nightmare that actually took place in my crib – there were huge bugs everywhere, and all kinds of them: roaches, praying mantises, locusts, giant centipedes… you name it, they were there.  Woke up screaming.  It was one of only two nightmares that I have a complete memory of following waking.  I guess that this, in some way, contributes to my ongoing squeamishness about earwigs.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:

Hi - I'll see you when you uncover your grill!

RAAAR! RAAAR! LIKE A DUNGEON DRAGON!

Nasty, right?  You know how they got their name?  Rumor has it that they crawl into your ear when you’re asleep and lay eggs in your brain.  That scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan still freaks me out, even though it looks totally fake.  When I was a kid, we had a picnic table and two benches in our backyard.  After a few years, they became lousy with these creatures.  Entomologists will tell you that they’re completely harmless (even that big pincer really does nothing), but I know better.  I sleep with earplugs – mostly because I’m a light sleeper, but I think that a small part of it is as a hedge against the sinister earwig menace.

My other very early fear – again, three or younger – was kind of self-limiting as it revolved around a series of commercials for a concert at Madison Square Garden.  In 1976 (or maybe early 1977), KISS was playing MSG – and I found the commercial to be terrifying.  I think that part of it might have been due to the fact that it was a very loud commercial.  Oh, and there was also the part where Gene Simmons had blood pouring out of his mouth.

Speaking of Simmonses, I initially thought that Richard Simmons and Slim Goodbody were the same person.  I wouldn’t say that I feared Slim Goodbody per se, but I was certainly creeped out by the concept of an inside-out Richard Simmons.  Here you have this guy who’s preaching the value of exercise and good eating habits, and you find out that his skin has been rendered transparent.  This does not seem like the hallmark of a healthy individual.  I kind of pictured Simmons-Goodbody as a form of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but scarier in that you couldn’t really be sure which personality was Hyde.  Was Richard hanging around all of those overweight people to harvest their skin a la Jame Gumb?  Did Slim gather those children to suck out their life essence, like Skeksis would?

The Inside Story

It puts the lotion on its skin - it does this whenever it's told.

A lot of commercials bothered me, too.  For example, I wouldn’t say that I was afraid of the Kool-Aid Man so much as I feared the aftermath of his visits.  My father would have killed me if he came home to find a giant pitcher-shaped hole in one of our walls, because you can be certain that I would have been the one who caught the blame.  The “Halls of Medicine” ads for Halls Cough Drops were kind of unsettling, too – they implied that the only relief for your cold symptoms would come from running a gantlet of giant disembodied heads afflicted with upper respiratory infections.

The most fearsome, though… the most horrible I’ve saved for last.  To this day, I do not think that I’ve feared anything more than I feared The Mummenschanz.  Who are the Mummenschanz?  They’re soulless heralds of Hades – that’s who they are.  Sure, they’ll have you believe that they’re just harmless mimes, but we all know that mimes are far from harmless.  Watch this nightmare fuel:

They had a long-running show in NYC in the late 1970s that was advertised all the time on the local channels (especially channels 5 and 11, whose ad rates must have been much cheaper than any of the Big Three).  My fears came to life one evening when, while I was getting ready to watch The Muppet Show, Kermit uttered the most horrifying words I’d ever heard:

It’s The Muppet Show, with our special guest stars, The Mummenschanz!

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  If The Muppet Show wasn’t outside their evil, silent grasp, then no place was safe!” I thought to myself.  All was lost.  Thankfully, the Mummenschanztravaganza seemed to end with the Carter administration.  I think that, much like the Iran Hostage Crisis, it waited out Carter to punish America for some perceived misdeed.  By the time I’d gotten to second grade or so, they were seemingly forgotten by everyone.

But not by me.

So sleep well tonight.  But do me a favor – would you leave a night light on?  I think that I heard someone not talking in my closet…

Categories: Childhood