Now that I’m a lot older and I’ve managed to get myself through many a ridiculous situation, I find myself thinking back on the “good old days.” You know, they days when my parents would let me roam around like a wild animal for hours at a time, hanging with God knew who, doing who knows what. Until this moment, I never really thought about why the parental units were more than happy to let me and my siblings explore the world without their constant surveillance and direction. I’d like to think that they were exercising great parental knowledge by letting us spread our wings and learn what we needed to learn from the big beautiful world around us, but it was probably more likely that they were encouraging us out of the house so they could have a quickie. It may not sound like a romantic notion, but when you’re in a home with seven children you take your love where you can get it.
When I was really young I lived on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base with my family in Oceanside, California. My mom was a substitute teacher (or teacher’s aide?) and my dad was a Marine and life was condensed down to a few days at the beach here or there, a two story house with a field of weeds out back that seemed to go on forever and a small, fairly clean neighborhood. As far as I can remember, it was a pretty nice place—I mean, I for sure wouldn’t be able to pick out the house from a line-up now, but I remember it being okay. There was a greenbelt and a few friends around that I could visit once in a while.
Thinking back, lots of things happened to me that I (kind of) recall. I remember trying to stay awake all night for the first time and making it all the way to 11pm. I remember watching a friend break his arm after he fell out of a tree. I remember being amazed when the kid in the house next to ours would have huge jugs of water delivered to his house every week (obviously, his family was the rich one). I remember busting my face open when I hit the curb with my bike and went flying over the handlebars. I remember watching my dad decapitate a five thousand foot snake (that had slinked his way out of the aforementioned weed field) and (to its detriment) our oil stained driveway. In my mind it was like watching an anaconda stalking for human prey, but was probably more likely a poor garden snake just trying to find a place to curl up and be warm. Either way, the poor dude didn’t make it. Let’s just say that, used in a certain way, shovels can be pretty fucking sharp. Ah, memories.
This was also the time of my life when I was willing to try new things and spread my wings out past the family nest. If I wasn’t cutting through the neighborhood on a bike, I was definitely getting the miles in with my roller skates. Learning both had been pretty easy—although learning to stand up on rolling death traps while navigating potholes, hills and patches of gravel led to destroyed skates and scabbed knees more times than I could count. I never spent so much time outside as I did back then and, unless I’m set up on a gorgeous lanai looking out on the Pacific Ocean, I never will again.
But for all of the good memories and great times I had, I also remember that neighborhood as the place where I lived out my absolute worst nightmare. Haunted to the core, I never had the same warm and fuzzies about my home ever again. It might have been something that I brought on myself (by being so damned trusting) or it was something that would have happened to anyone that just happened to be in the wrong place at the absolute wrong time. Either way, it was a defining moment in my life that would take at least ten years (and some fairly cheesy rock videos) to get over. Are you intrigued yet?
Just to put a finer point on the whole scenario, I was probably around six or seven years old. My baby brother had just been born and my younger sister was a constant pain in my butt. We would almost always be together and I’m pretty sure that she was there when all of this horror unfolded. At least, I think she was. My memories concerning this are so scattered and highlighted by intense fear that I’m not even entirely certain. If you ever run into her, make sure you ask her side of the tale—I’m sure it’s a million percent different than what I’m about to share with you right now.
It was one of the prettiest days you could ever imagine. The kind of day that brings thousands of people to southern California for family vacations. A gorgeous blue sky, a slight breeze coming off of the ocean, and hours and hours of free time to do whatever I wanted. I was spending my day lazily circling around the neighborhood on my bike when I came upon some “friends.” We all started to congregate onto the driveway of someone (to this day I have no idea who lived there) and eventually were persuaded to leave the bikes outside and hang out in the garage. It was all fairly innocuous and normal. Hang out in a garage, out of the sun, and do nothing? Sign me up!
Somehow we ended up inside of the garage with the door closed behind us. It was stifling hot and fairly boring. There just a few of us sitting on the floor looking at a wall and I didn’t really think about why I was there or what I was going to do. I was just following the damned herd. (The story of my entire young life). I remember looking around and thinking that the room was pretty clean and it was the first time I remember seeing tools that were hung up on the wall. I sat there and chatted about important things like Barbie (you remember that I was only six or seven, right?), and other seven year old stuff. I didn’t move. I didn’t ask to leave. I didn’t ask what was going on. My underdeveloped brain just sat there. Like a fucking sitting duck, waiting for whatever was about to happen.
Terror. Terror happened. The one small door leading to the kitchen from the garage creaked open and this huge creature stepped into the room. I swear, it must have been about seventy feet tall. Its face was pure white, with strange markings around the eyes. It snarled and kicked and it was coming! Right. For. Me! I instinctively scrambled back, away from the terrifying creature and my heart was trying to beat itself right out of my chest. I noticed that a second creature was coming in from the house and that, although he was different, he still looked enough like the other monster for me to know that they were the same thing. Different but the same. Different but scary. Different but…Mama, get me out of here!
I was wild with panic and wanted nothing more than to get out of that haunted house. There was no way in hell that I was going into the kitchen (I probably would have gotten eaten by the monsters anyway) and I didn’t have any controls to open the big garage door. I couldn’t really hear anything except the rush of blood in my ears but I’m pretty sure I must have been screaming.
The monsters were now standing at the front of the room, smiling and looking like a couple of demented clowns. They were wearing black jackets over black shirts over black pants—with big clunky black shoes that made them hover over all of us delicious children cowered on the floor. Still locked in my own personal nightmare, I could only think (over and over) that I wanted my mom. And I did. Badly. So badly that I was ready to claw my way through the garage door to make it to her.
Before I could make my escape, however, the kitchen door opened up again and I saw a woman. She had a huge smile on her face and she was carrying a small cup. She looked as if she were just hanging out with a bunch of friends and checking to make sure that the children weren’t getting into too much trouble. I was thrilled to see her and my heart rate started to go down a little bit. The monsters, after their dramatic entrance, were just kind of standing there now and, although I was still terrified, I wasn’t so quite out of my mind with “run, run, run,” as I had been before. The woman handed one of the monsters the small cup and went back inside.
Unbelievably, I wasn’t paying too much attention to the monsters at this point. I was just ready to go home and I didn’t have anyone to help me get out. I didn’t see that the monsters were starting to plug in instruments and that they were, quite obviously, setting up to play some music. I had just tilted my head to look up at the biggest monster when he opened his mouth and started spitting out blood! That was it. Game over! I started screaming and I jumped up to start clawing at the garage door. I guess that someone finally realized that they were going to have a seven year old heart attack victim very soon and decided to take pity on me. I don’t know if I was the only one going out of my mind with fear, but I knew that I was going to die if I had to stay in that place for even one more second.
The door slowly (Oh God, it moved so slowly) opened up and I staggered out into the steaming hot day. I scrambled over a couple of discarded bikes to my own, grabbed it and pedaled my ass away from that place as fast as I could. I could hear some laughing but I didn’t know it was directed at me. What a bunch of assholes. Seriously. I raced home and…I don’t know. I don’t remember that part. I actually think that my brain short circuited that day and that it has never functioned properly since. It goes a long way to explaining why I am the way I am right now.
I don’t really remember the specific day when I found out who the monsters were. I lived in a house that loved Donnie and Marie and Barry Manilow—I hadn’t a clue as to what a KISS was. It turns out that it was a very popular band of the time and that their shtick was to dress like demons as they sang their rock songs. I found out that one of the members of the band was known for sticking out his long tongue and spitting out blood and realized that was what one of the monsters was doing in the garage that day. Turns out that the nice lady in the kitchen handed him a cup of cherry Kool-Aid and was definitely an accessory to my worst nightmare. I still hate her.
Like I said, I don’t remember much about the story after that. I don’t know if I stayed friends with whoever’s house that was and I don’t remember if I ever strayed from my mom for a long while after that. I do know that I eventually learned who KISS was and I was destined to never be a true fan. As I got older and (slightly) wiser over the years I finally got over my aversion to KISS and was actually able to enjoy a little of their music. Thanks to MTV and a little show called “Headbangers Ball,” I was actually able to like them a little more than average. I guess it didn’t hurt that they weren’t really dressing up in full make-up at that point and were adopting the boy as girl look that was so popular back in the day.
Now I look at KISS fondly and I think back to how young and potent they used to be. I can see how they were able to frighten and excite so many people with their look and their brand. I never got to really know them as they were back then and sometimes I feel a tinge of regret, but mostly I feel pretty happy that my parents didn’t have a clue about them. I still hate those unnamed monsters from the past and I still hate how people thought it would be funny to scare the shit out of little kids, but I’m over it. Mostly.
I guess the moral of my story is: Don’t let your seven year old kids wander the neighborhoods by themselves because they might get accosted by some troublemaker teenagers that want to try their best to make that seven year old kid pee their pants and have a heart attack. Or it could just be: Life is weird, people are weird, and when they’re bored there’s no end to the lengths to which they will go to entertain themselves. Or there just isn’t any moral at all. I got punk’d, my life excitement level hit an eleven, and I got a great story out of it. Not bad at all.