The corner of my eye began an involuntary twitch.
They were Hellhounds on my Trail
or worse ---
I knew the voices on the other
end of the line
only too well.
Perhaps it was my long-deceased
gramma's sepulchral Marlboro drone,
spitting its nether-worldly venom
through the fiber, vowing she'd even
the score once and for all for her
bargain-basement burial in Tupperware.
What if it was a whispering
demon come a-janglin' my ganglia
with surreptitious marching
orders for mayhem??
"It's for you daddy!"
my little kiddle said, beaming with
a gap-toothed grin and toddling toward
me with a pink plastic play phone.
I recoiled in horror.
She shoved the play phone at my proboscis, puzzled.
"Answer it, dad!!"
I sized up the hateful implement.
Oh, it had the shiny, candy look of
a toy, all right. But it
wasn't plugged into the wall
(we used to have to plug phones
into these little wall pluggy thingies,
There was little question that I
was in need of a complete neurological workup,
if only my HMO plan would cover it.
Now, I know as sure as eggs is eggs
that one day I'll pick up one of those
innocuous little phone toys,
put the receiver to my ear to play
along with my kids' phone fantasy,
and some blood curdlin' malevolent
gobhoblin will be on the other end
of the infernal thing;
it will call my name, and the next
thing you know I'll be skulkin'
around all skanky and spooky like
Nosferatu with gross pointy press-on claws
and an inexplicable Renfield craving
for bugs and creepy-crawlies and
funk that goes crunch in the night.
Gone, dear dads? Is that your shameful
conclusion after all the dadly deeds I
have shared so willingly
(and so far, sans hotlink ad banners),
Well I must stop you right there.
This paternal peccadillo is just your
basic garden variety phobia (I think),
and as you are faithful readers,
I trust you will tell no one else
of this confession to obsession.
But I must stand up for myself
and my own dadly psyche, tortured as
is yours, by these calamitous times,
and of course by the runaway terror of TV.
The phone thing happened for real on
"Dark Shadows," so you know ding-dang well
what I'm talkin' 'bout.
For the uninitiated, or those with
an honest-to-beeswax life who
do not imbibe in the zombie vibe
of the tube, "Dark Shadows" was the coolest,
crappiest Gothic soap ever to cross a cathode.
In the schmaltz-rococo-Goth world of Collinwood,
creepazoid David Collins and his
snotty sidekick Amy
(the werewolf's sister, 'natch),
find a hidden room behind (what else)
a hidden panel deep in the
mansion's strangled bowels.
The room's decor was strictly
Miss Havisham, to be sure.
Resplendent in decay and in cobwebs
and in mildewy Euro-lace, the
black-and-white scene was about the
freakiest thing to come pulsing through
our blondewood Philco since Vampira left
Ed Wood's ensemble to go solo.
In this particular Dark Shadows,
David and Amy sneak into the
secret Havishamery, shamelessly
aping Miles and Flora as poor dead
Henry James rolled to and fro,
this way and that way,
in his cold, cold grave.
On a Chippendale table toward
the center of the room, an old musty
crusty candlestick phone, its wall
cord severed, inexplicably begins to ring.
With a slathering of method histrionics,
little overacting Amy slowly, slowly
draws the receiver to her ear.
"H-h-h-allo?" she sputters in a practiced stutter.
And from beyond the Veil,
from beyond a tear in the fabric of Time itself,
from an audio booth far beyond
the cheapazoidal Dan Curtis sound stage,
came the voice of Quentin Collins,
a proper Victorian ghost
with a not-so-proper agenda of
havoc and of mayhem and of all things nasty-wasty.
Quentin told them to do things ---
Possessed, they did his evil bidding because
Henry James told Dan Curtis
to tell David Selby to do so.
Quentin called them daily with fresh
instructions to further his unholy agenda
as the show writers desperately tread
water looking for a new plot
point to purloin from classic literature.
I was glued to it every day ---
running home, breathless in the unendurable heat
of the summer, reeking of
chlorine and Milkduds from the
neighborhood pool where I'd just
won my fifth swim meet and endured
my sixth savage beating by rednecks
this particular pool season.
It was the best damn summer I ever had.
I wound up imbued with a Pavlovian-conditioned
dread that reared its ugly head
every time our princess phone did its rang thang.
To my eternal dismay,
it was never ever Quentin,
but usually instead, my ceaselessly chatty and
pesky aunt who would
yak yak yak and yak
until the good juicy gossipy bits
came up, at which point she'd
kick into Hungarian and leave
those of us diligently snooping
on the party line spent and hyperventilating with
But the Mesmer-like suggestion
was planted somewhere deep in the
fold of my medulla, oh dads.
And as I grew and matured (?) and
took the Secret Code of Dads
and drank the Secret Elixir o' Pappys
and learned the Super-Secret Handshake
which no righteous dad on the planet
would ever reveal, the Quentin
quadrant of my brain threw a
fright down my dendrites every time
a toddler took a fake phone call.
Didn't matter if the call came
from Bert or Ernie, Big Bird or Kermit,
Mickey or Minnie, or any
other goofy-ass-anthropomorphic animule;
the shudder would come a-rumblin' ---
my skin would set to crawlin' ---
and the telltale blood pressure
blotches would bloom on my neck like
dandelions in the the ol' Kentucky Blue.
In reality, the voice on the other end
was always some minimum-wage
Jim Henson soundalike whose hap-hap-happy
and politically savvy greeting for the
sprout set would start up then start slowing
down to a quaaluden 16-RPM croak as
the alkalines gave up the ghost.
It would stand to reason after decades
of subliminal suffering that
the spirit world chose to reach out and
spook my little brother instead.
It was not, however, some retired
Screen Actors' Guild spook ringing to
roust the beejeezus outta my little sib,
but an actual, factual communiqué
from our very own tired old,
dead old grammaw.
NOT the granny you all reverentially
helped send off in past "dads,"
my presumptuous patrons;
but our other ghostly Hungarian
granny from way over yonder on
the other side of our
diseased Family Tree,
whose acquaintance you will most
assuredly make on an All-Saint's eve
toll call from the Great Beyond,
in the very next pulse-pounding issue