Journal entry: August 11, 2008 (age 39) – The Doll Downstairs
When you buy your first house, your parents are happy. They’re happy because it means they can force you to get all of your crap out of their house. So it was two years ago, when my wife, Amanda, and I moved into our home in Johnson City. I begrudgingly transferred several piles of memorabilia from my parents’ attic, where they had sat in cardboard boxes, undisturbed, for several decades, to my basement, where they will sit, undisturbed, for several more. I did upgrade to plastic tubs, so that future anthropologists will have an easier time identifying the ruins of this domicile as the home of a megadorkus americanus. The evidence will be overwhelming: J.R.R. Tolkien wall calendars, newsletters for fans of the television program Real People, and daisy wheel printouts of computer programs written in the aptly named BASIC computer language.
One artifact from my childhood did not remain in a box – my Charlie McCarthy doll. He – I mean it – is a working replica of Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist dummy. He now sits in our basement on a wicker hamper next to Amanda’s favorite stuffed animal, a shaggy, sheepdog puppet named Benjamin. As much as I adore him, Charlie is a little too creepy (and ironic) for display in our living room.
Last year, we hosted our second annual Halloween costume party. (As a side note, my friend Pat McCormack won Best Costume honors dressed as me in grade school, complete with spray-on red hair, thick plastic glasses, and a huge white collar stretched across the top of a brightly colored sweater vest. It was terrifying.) For the early part of the festivities, Dan and Cari Rose, our neighbors from across the street, brought their young daughter along. I’d say she’s about 9 years old, and her name is also Amanda. For clarity’s sake, I will refer to her as Lilmanda.
Our basement was decorated to serve as the center of the Halloween party. Soon after Lilmanda descended the stairs, she had what I believe child psychologists refer to as a “freakout.” She pointed at the dummy and shrieked, “It’s Billy!” Not knowing who Billy was, or why Billy might be small, waxen, and stored in a basement, I was concerned. Lilmanda breathlessly explained that Billy is the name of a murderous ventriloquist doll in a movie called Dead Silence. (Later, when I looked up the film online, I found it hard to believe that a young child would be frightened by a film “from the director of Saw.”)
That was last fall. Now it’s summer and the neighborhood is full of bored kids. I just answered my doorbell to find Lilmanda and two of her friends nervously looking up at me. In a hushed tone, Lilmanda asked, “Can I show them Billy?” Thinking fast, I said they could come back later if Lilmanda’s parents said it was OK. My Amanda will be home by then and can lead the tour. My instincts tell me I don’t want to be known as the guy in the neighborhood who takes kids down to his basement to look at scary dolls. Besides, Charlie/Billy is starting to creep me out, too. Gee, thanks, director of Saw!
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