Monday, April 03, 2006

hey, that reminds me...

reading rich's tale below, reminds me of something that happened to me...

years ago, too many to want to admit to, i used to work with mentally and emotionally disabled kids (that's the current pc--the term then was mentally retarded). it was, looking back, a dream job and i can't begin to tell you how much i grew and learned from those kids and their take on things. great memories, great times. they were great!

this was a residential school for mostly educable kids and at some point someone had the bright idea to put me in charge of the small disorganized boy scout troop that had floundered along over the years. (i can tell you now that i never did any better; it only continued to flounder under my care and beyond.) wanting it to be fair, i opened this up to all the boys and, being a bit of a magnet at the time (i was young. to them todd=fun!), we ended up with about 15 young men and boys who, if nothing else, looked great in their uniforms.

mostly this was just an excuse for all of us to get out of the dorms once a week for some laid back male bonding.

my co-captain for this activity was my friend, rolf, who got a job 'cause i recommended him and because his father, my theater teacher, told me i'd better. rolf was a big guy, muscular, and always-smiling, and he had a great rapport with the kids. we were great friends on and off-campus and decided at halloween time that the best thing that we could do was take the boys hiking at a nearby lake and tell ghost stories around a fire, making smores and drinking hot chocolate. the next thought--and remember WE were very young ourselves here--was to get a great big pumpkin, hollow it out from the bottom, carve it with a really scary face, and leave it stashed behind the lean-to nearby. then, as i came to the part of the story where the vengeful farmer replaced his missing head with a jack-o-lantern, rolf, who would have slipped away just as the kids were at the edge's of their seats, would step out and scare the bejeezus out of 'em.

(i will note here that, in light of ALL the various definitions and forms of abuse that are flying around out there these days, this was not abuse. at the time there was a strong movement within the mental health community to "normalize" kids like these and expose them to all the same things that regular kids their age--mental and physical--would be exposed to. we cleared it with our supervisor, the ghost stories...although maybe we neglected to tell her EVERY, about the pumpkin head... anyway, these kids were ASKING for it! literally. they WANTED to be scared, BEGGED us to scare them, and, in our defense, we did leave the two boys we thought wouldn't be able to handle it back at the school.)

so we pack up the scouts, pack up the snacks, get the fire going, and start out with a couple spook stories of the tame/lame variety, rolf periodically snapping his head around to peer out into the dark as if he heard something. some of the more observant kids noticed, but when they asked him rolf would just reply with, "nothing."

then we got to the story of the night, the final story, the one everybody was waiting for...heh, heh, heh...
though i can easily picture all the guys faces intently listening in the flickering firelight, the ones i remember best were our two littlest ones, martin and jay, who were probably 10 or 11 at the times, but much more "with it" than the other guys. they were across from me and more worried about being scared than actually being scared. y'know what i mean?

so, i launched into the story and got serious right away, making references to local farms and landmarks to add the extra touch of realism. rolf had removed himself to the back of the group, mocking concern for one of the boys who he teased was getting scared. as i built the suspense i kept trying to catch rolf's eye to motion him around back to don the pumpkin head and put the icing on the cake. but everytime i tried to get him, he looked away, or looked back at me quizzically, "what?" i dragged the story out, trying to quickly invent an ending where i hadn't originally needed one. i droned on and on.

just when i was becoming exasperated with my own story and rolf's apparent stupidity...the pumpkin head stepped out from behind the lean-to--behind me!--and stopped my story mostly because my heart had leapt to my throat! he raised his arms and i saw most of the boys leap straight up into the air and begin running before they ever touched the ground. i swear. you've seen this in cartoons--all the best toons can do it. fred flinstone, wile e., homer. i saw this happen. 10 or 11 boys lift off and begin running back to the van. the only two who stayed were our littlest, martin and jay, rooted in their seats, their eyes wide, the fronts of their boy scout pants suddenly going dark.

i was up, of course, and moving away, but ran into rolf who was laughing and laughing as he grabbed me. the pumpkin head took off his pumpkin head and it was my brother, jeff, eager to play a part when rolf called him that afternoon and wanted to turn the trick. excellent.

we caught up with the rest of the boys back at the van and martin and jay, now in on the gag, were thrilled when pumpkin head returned to terrorize the van once we were all inside. (the best part; in the dark and the turmoil, none of the other guys noticed martin and jay had wet their pants. we sat them on some towels and snuck them back inside when we got back to the school.)

and if you're still thinking that on some level this was wrong...
...the following year they begged--BEGGED!!--to get a visit from the pumpkin head again...

sorry that was so long.
thanks for stickin' with me.



Brian said...

Orsen Wells would have been proud.

Jason Copland said...

Great story, Todd!