The Haunted Mansion
In a lot of ways, my mom was like a big kid.
She had a kid's sense of humor.
A kid's sense of adventure.
And a kid's sense of wonder.
She had this incredible, almost childlike insight, that allowed her to
enjoy life's little moments to the fullest.
She grew up in the Bronx and worked in Manhattan,
but she never failed to bask in awe of the city's skyline.
We used to spend countless hours driving through the countryside of Long Island's North Fork.
But she was always amazed at the endless fields of corn stalks and sunflowers .
Time and time and time again she would remark on how peaceful, serene
and beautiful everything looked.
It was because she saw things through a child's perspective that she never took the little things for granted.
However, she also had a kid's sense of imagination and fear.
Which is a polite way of saying my mom was a chicken.
She hated being scared and hated scary things.
Scary movies, scary places, scary stories…she absolutely hated
all of it because these things didn't just frighten her.
They petrified her.
She would literally become frozen with fear.
But the weird thing was, if she knew something scared you,
she wasn't above using it to her advantage.
For example, back in 1979 I begged my mom to take me to see the current (at the time)
version of the movie Dracula, starring Frank Langella in the title role.
A movie that still very much holds up to this day.
It was playing at the local RKO Theater in Commack and she really didn't want to go.
But it was rated R and I was only 8 years old at the time.
So going alone wasn't an option, even though I'm sure they would have sold me a ticket,
no questions asked.
So after a lot of begging and pleading she agreed.
Even though I was young, I had been brought up on a steady diet of horror movies and monster comics, so there wasn't much that was going to scare me.
And this movie was no different.
Until the one scene where a now undead Mina Van Helsing comes back to life.
This was the first time that a movie had ever scared me.
Truth be told, this was probably the first time anything had really scared me.
And "scared" doesn't even come close to covering it.
I was nearly catatonic with fear.
The way she looked…the way she walked…her cold black eyes...the way she lurched towards her father with her hands outstretched…that inhuman raspy voice.."Papa….Paaaaapaaaa".
To this day I shudder every time I think about it.
The clip is on youtube, but I'll be damned if I'm going to post it.
Feel free to look it up on your own.
Anyway, like I said, I was terrified.
And not just in the theater, but when we got home and for weeks afterwards.
It was such an effective scene that I could not shake it from my young mind.
And my mom knew it.
And for the most part, she would be a doting and concerned mother. Reassuring me that it was just a movie. That there wasn't anything to really be afraid of.
But then there would be other times when she would wake me up in the middle of the night by shambling into my room, her face dusted with white powder, acting like Mina with her arms out in front of her saying "Michael….Miiiiichael".
Yup, that happened.
More than once.
Things like this were kind of par for the course at my house and even though my mom could dish it out, when it came to scares, boy howdy, she could not take it.
The date was Saturday, October 28th 1978.
I remember exactly because it was the same day the movie
"Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park" was airing on NBC and I was a die hard Kiss fan.
I had the records, I had the dolls, I had the keychains, the wallet, the fake satin jacket.
I even had the AMT Kiss Van model kit.
In fact, I always told people that when I grew up, I wanted to be Gene Simmons.
…looking back on it, I can honestly say, thank God that didn't happen.
The point is, I had this specific day earmarked for months.
No way was I going to miss this movie!
So when the day finally came and my mom told me that we, along with her girlfriend, were going to go to a local Haunted House attraction that night, I protested.
I crossed my arms, dug in my heels and flatly refused to budge. But for some reason, and I'm still not sure why, my mom persisted. She said it would be fun, that there would be plenty of kids to play with and that the Mummy ...yes, the actual Mummy...was going to be there. (She really said that and I'm not sure why I believed it)
She did however assure me that we would be home in time for me to watch my movie, which is probably how she eventually got me out of the house.
Now, unless you've been to one of these local low-rent "Haunted Houses", they are kind of hard to imagine.
They are these seasonal attractions that pop up in suburban areas around Halloween every year. Some are haunted houses, some are haunted hay rides, some are haunted corn fields and some are just some guys garage with free candy and years of therapy hidden inside.
These days, most of them are a pretty big elaborate affairs, but back in the 70's the standards (and production values) were a lot lower.
In fact, in order to get to the front door of this particular haunted house, you had to first walk through their front lawn "cemetery" which was nothing more than a few two dimensional cardboard headstones and various store mannequins randomly strewn about.
"Scary", no sir, it was not.
The whole thing took place in an empty house and was put on by a local,
equally low-rent theater group.
Today it would be billed as a "multimedia interactive Halloween shock event" but back then it was just teenagers in bad costumes jumping out of dark corners yelling "Boo!"
Room after room, there would be some kid dressed in something that was probably bought at Woolworths jumping out of a corner or out of a closet, yelling and screaming and chasing you into the next room.
Honestly after 3 minutes, even I was bored.
My mom on the other hand was scared,
Really really really scared.
And with each room, it just got worse.
I remember walking with her and her friend from what was supposed to a Phantom of the Opera type of setting, complete with masked piano player, into what was set up to look like Frankenstein's laboratory.
It was a small rectangular room with doors on either side.
You would walk in one door, make your way across the room and at a certain point, Frankenstein's Monster rises up from under a sheet on his table and chases you out the second door.
Except that's not what happened.
We walked in through the first door, made it halfway across the room and my mom froze.
Seriously, she froze. She just stopped completely in her tracks.
She was literally frozen stiff.
The kid playing Frankenstein's Monster gets up from the table. Gives us all a half-assed "Arrrrggghhh!" and starts lumbering over to us.
My mom, still frozen with fear yells, then screams, then starts to cry.
Her friend tries to coax her out of the room, but she would not budge. Not an inch.
It's as if she was glued to the spot.
Now I have to point out, that this was not a good Frankenstein costume.
Not even remotely.
It was just a big beefy guy in a brown shirt and a brown jacket wearing green makeup that made him look like an old Ben Cooper Halloween mask.
But it didn't matter.
By this time my mom had mentally checked out.
She was way too scared to start thinking about things rationally.
Frankenstein, realizing that my mom was completely rattled, decides he's really going to go for it and starts giving us his best "Arrrggghhh's and "Raaarrrrrr"s".
He's waving his arms in the air and stomping his feet on the ground and gnashing his teeth together all while moving closer and closer to my mom.
She on the other hand is leaning up against the wall with her eyes closed loudly sobbing.
With no where else to go and not sure what else to do, Frankenstein gets right up next to my mom and bumps his chest into her shoulder.
Over and over again.
"Raaaarrrrrrgggh" * Bump * "Arrrrrgggghhhhh" * Bump * "Blllaarrrrggleee" * Bump…until my mom was inconsolably wailing with tears running down her face.
After about a minute or so, an increasingly tired Frankenstein stops bumping her
and looks quizzically over at us.
Read that last sentence again.
Go on, I'll wait.
The guy playing Frankenstein actually broke character and looked at us as if to say "Um, now what?"
I swear you could see the sympathy on his face through his dark green greasepaint.
He eventually shrugged his shoulders, walked back over to his table, covered himself up with a sheet and waited – patiently – for us to leave.
And except for the sound of my mom's sniffles, the room was completely quiet.
The three of us left through the main entrance, walking passed throngs of waiting children. All of whom must have now been intrigued as to what was scary enough to send a grown women crying out the front door.
On the way home we stopped at a dinner for some coffee and I ended up missing the first half hour of "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park", which judging by this intro, wasn't really such a bad thing after all.
I love you mom.
I miss you more every single minute of every single day.
I can't believe you're really gone.