It was 1975 and my father owned a red Volkswagen Beetle. We would travel back and forth from Ann Arbor to Detroit nearly every weekend where it seemed that my parents were pawning me off on my grandmother Margaret.
The seats where all black, and if my memory serves me correctly were 100% plastic. So on top of me literally cooking on them on a hot summer day, the pattern on the plastic had little circles on it like the top of Legos and it would brand little circles on inside and underneath of my pale thighs.
I loved that car.
My father was and is an avid Tiger baseball fan and I grew up falling asleep on the way home from places they would take me listening to Ernie Harwell call the ball games.
The only thing better than riding in that beetle listening to Tiger baseball while looking at the night sky through the sunroof was when my favorite song “Bennie and The Jets” came on the radio, which it seemed to do every time we got in the car to go anywhere.
Although I felt like they were constantly dropping me off at my grandmother’s in Detroit for the weekend I didn’t mind at all because it was at my grandmother’s house in Detroit where being spoiled rotten was the order of the day.
In retrospect, I probably spent too much time with my grandmother.
I spent so much time in Detroit being babysat by my grandmother that I eventually I started calling her “mommy” and my mother by her first name “Linda”.
And that was a shift that exists to this day. I still call my mom “Linda” and my grandmother “mommy”.
”Mommy” lived in a house in Detroit, with my grandfather JD and my uncle Jimmy.
Now Jimmy, he was cooler than cool. He was about 14 years older than me and literally the only non-adult in my life.
I took to him like a monkey.
Anything he did, I wanted to do. Anything he had, I wanted to get into.
But there was a price to pay for spending that much time around a kid without mature parental supervision.
Jimmy used to scare the Jesus out of me every chance he got.
This cannot be understated.
From the moment my grandmother would leave the house to run her errands for the day till the second she came back in the door the entire time was a psychological mind game between me and this kid that was 100 times smarter than me, 100 time more experience in everything, and who seemed to have an uncanny ability to know everything I was going to do before I did it.
You have to understand, my ideas were new to me. I had just thought them up.
If it occurred to me to hide under the bed, to me that was genius.
My ideas were 100% original. The idea to hide under the bed was unheard-of.
To cry tears to hopefully appeal to his sense of decency to get out of being pinned into a corner was simply brilliant.
Too bad my ideas weren’t new to him.
He had thought up the same ideas only 10 years earlier. So although hiding under the bed was groundbreaking to me he was practically waiting under there for me by the time I got under there.
Then, he used to do this thing where he would roll his eye balls back into his head so only the whites of his eyes would show and chase me all over the house like that.
Once again, me trying to get away from him was nothing more than an exercise in futility.
I learned fairly quickly that when my grandmother was leaving it was best to plan on locking yourself in the bathroom for the next hour or so, constantly remind yourself not to fall for his tricks because like I said he was way smarter than me and I would fall for them.
I would eat a little something before I go in there so he couldn’t bride me with snacks.
If she was going to be gone for a long time I would just hide one of his comic books under the sink, wait until grandma got out of the drive way and then make a mad dash for the bathroom, close the door behind me, lock it of course and just look at the pictures on the floor until she came back home.
Then, as soon as I heard her voice, I would tell. Tell everything. Tell her how he scared me, chased me, and terrified me. I would even embellish some parts if she seemed disinterested during parts.
Nine times out of ten my uncle Jimmy would get in trouble for literally driving me out of my mind, but no sooner than they made him apologize I forgave him and I was ready to hang out with him again.
I used to think that trailers for scary movies were only shown in Detroit because when I was home in Ann Arbor, I never saw advertisements for horror films.
As soon as we crossed six mile in Detroit it seemed like horror film advertisements were all they would show on television.
And as far as I could discern there was no rhyme or reason for when they would show one. We could be watching anything even cartoons and during commercial break one would pop up.
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that the reason it seemed that the television in Detroit seemed to show nothing but horror films was because my bedtime at home in Ann Arbor was like 8 o’clock.
They let me stay up when I went to Detroit until I passed out from a pretzel, pop and potato chip coma.
Once again, that was the price that you paid for freedom.
Stay up later than your bedtime you get exposed to stuff that would twist your sense of security until it hurt.
Despite him being the master of terror I hung around my uncle Jimmy so much I wouldn’t even leave him alone when he went to the bathroom.
I would just sit there and play with my toys even while he went to the bathroom.
Let me tell you how much I loved my uncle Jimmy. I smelled his boo boo.
I didn’t care.
I wanted to hang around him all the time but obviously it wasn’t possible. He did have a job, friends, girlfriends and a life outside of scaring me half to death with that eyeball face that he would do.
Plus, his room was full of cool stuff that I could play with, uh I mean destroy.
It wasn’t so bad when he would leave because that would give me time I needed to take his comic books out and cut the pictures out of them to make action figures.
Sadly I probably broke or damaged every single colorful thing he had in that room that he hadn’t put out of my reach, all out of love.
There would be entire afternoons spent where I would exhaust what little problem solving skills I had at the time trying to figure out how to get from his bed, to his dresser and up on the top shelf above the dresser to get to this little stuff baby alligator that he had up there.
”Man that would be a great dinosaur for my Spider-man to beat up,” I would think.
In fact, I would get obsessed with it.
I was always a creative kid, but back then, it manifested itself as resourcefulness.
I am sure he was pissed as hell whenever he came home from whatever he was doing out there in the streets and saw what I had managed to tear up in his room.
The message from my grandparents was, if you want to keep it, make sure that Kruma doesn’t see it.
One night I got the courage to watch Dracula. They were broadcasting Nosferatu at midnight and I was determined to make this film the hill was going to die on.
I saw the commercial for it earlier that morning, since we were in Detroit it was probably during Sesame Street, and I figured, “its in black and white, the music is wack, this might just be something I can handle.
I had seen the Blob on television the weekend before and I was able to handle that one fairly well.
Unfortunately the Blob was just enough to give me the false sense of courage I would need to believe I could take Nosferatu.
Now I wish someone would have told me that the Blob was not an adequate opponent if I was serious about taking on Nosferatu. Looking back I definitely could’ve used a few more tune up fights.
But I had told myself that I would give that old approach of “facing your fears” a try.
My grandmother said it came on too late for her to stay up with me but she got my uncle Jimmy to agree to stay up with me so I could watch it.
They told me all night that I would freak out that I wouldn’t be able to handle it, but I ensured them that I would be able to. It was no big deal. It was only a movie. “Movies aren’t real Mommy.” I was giving them back the same lines that they used on me when I would get faint watching a horror movie but they didn’t seem to buy it coming from me anymore than I bought it coming from them.
Needless to say as the time approached for the film to start Jimmy fell asleep in the chair at the table right on cue.
And as his head hit the table the music hit its first note and I cracked. I screamed for him to turn it off and we went to bed.
He was laughing at me the whole time.
He even laughed cool.
When I grow up I want to be just like my uncle Jimmy, except for I want a conscience.
I always got the worst nights sleep at my grandmother’s house.
Coming soon part six