OpEd Columns

A Trip to the Haunted House, Tonight at Eleven (Indianapolis Star 10/18/06)

It’s been three decades or so.

I remember sheepishly walking up to the dilapidated, weeds-over-the-windows Locust Street School. Condemned as an elementary school years prior, it served well as the neighborhood Haunted House back in the early 1970s.

But I hated it.  The Haunted House, that is.  I‘ve never seen much entertainment value in random fear. Still, as a rite of peer pressure passage, I ran the gauntlet of ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and gore.…and swore I’d never go again.

And I didn’t.

Until thirty years later, when my own first grader asked, “Dad, can I go to the Haunted House? Everybody’s goin’.”

But Joel, you don’t really…..

So there I was, on opening night of Haunted House season, driving in a misty rain, with my wide-eyed seven-year old in the back seat. But as I pulled up to the front door, this clearly wasn’t another close-to-collapsing Locust Street School.

No. This was the local TV news station. Yes, the NBC affiliate in town was sponsoring “Your Hometown Haunted House”.

Well, OK. This doesn’t sound so bad.

We got our tickets and got to the front of the line. The studio doors mysteriously opened and a deep voice announced, “This TV 27 Haunted House starts NOW!

That’s a catchy open. Where have I heard that before?

The studio was dark. Suddenly an orange spotlight blared on an ultra short woman standing by what looked like the fresh meat section of the supermarket. “Bad Bologna. Could it kill you?”, she asked with a stern sense of urgency. “We’ll tell you how to spot spoiled lunchmeat that could ruin your recess, coming up next.”

Dad? You made me bologna today!

Joel relax….it’s a Haunted House.

We walked on.  A bolt of lightning. A bang of thunder.  Test tubes filled with dry ice sat in front of the pale-faced man in the white lab coat.  “Welcome to the Weather Lab!” laughed the menacing meteorologist. “Double Doppler shows only light rain in the area right now, but the possibility for severe weather lurks to our west. Could these storms produce damaging golf-sized hail, and even tornados capable of ripping the roof off your two-story? We’ll give you tips on where to store your toys in the event a twister tears your bedroom in half. “

Great, Joel won’t sleep tonight. His eyes welled up. I walked on.

Amber Alert. Amber Alert.  The sirens went off around us. Joel squeezed my hand with all the force his 48-pound body could muster. The shadowy face of a little girl was projected on the ceiling. “An Amber Alert has been issued for Catalina Guttierez, last seen walking to school near her home in BorderTown, Texas. Do you walk to school? You may be the next target of a sexual predator living just blocks from your home. We’ll tell you how to defend yourself against a potential kidnapper in a special report that could save your life.”

Dad….I’m scared. I want to go home.

It’s OK Joel. We’re almost done. Just hold my….

All of a sudden, a fake corpse dropped from above. A middle-aged white man in a white shirt and blue tie with a noose around his neck, swung back and forth.

Aaaaahhh!! Joel started crying. A voice bellowed from below. “I’m Chris Chocola, and I approved this public hanging. Joe Donnelly was late paying his taxes fifteen times. And now he wants to raise yours. Donnelly, Good for Tax Evaders. Bad for Hoosiers.”

A new low for Haunted Houses.

Just as we avoided the dead swinging Democrat, we turned the final corner and…. Bang! Joel was shaking uncontrollably.

The blade of a guillotine fell on the neck of a middle aged white man in a blue shirt and red tie. A voice echoed from above. “I’m Joe Donnelly and I approved this decapitation. Chris Chocola backs big money oil companies. But he turns his back on hard working Hoosiers. Chocola, Good for Greedy Oil Companies. Bad for Hoosiers.”

As we scooted past the headless Republican and zipped out the back door, a cheery voice chased us from the studio.

“Thanks for visiting Your Hometown Haunted House. We’ll see you tonight on the Eleven O’clock News. TV27… Making a Difference.”

Dad, I don’t like the news. It scares me.

Me too Joel….me too.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.

Copyright 2006 Ted Mandell

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