Captain Kirk made me turn the lights on.

Yeah that's me.

Yeah that’s me.

Editor’s note: This is an oldie but a goodie. With Mrs. Frank’s Place in Chicago for three days it seemed like a good time to repost this. The difference between now and when I wrote this – 2 kids. It amps up the hysteria, let me tell you.


Captain Kirk made me turn the lights on.

You know, the more I read the headline for this post the more it sounds so much different from how I meant it. Such is life.

A couple posts back I was gloating about getting to spend four days and nights alone as the whole family went to North Carolina for the long weekend. Read it here if you so desire: Free Range Chicken

In that post I made an ambiguous reference to being deathly afraid of the dark when I’m alone. Maybe it wasn’t so ambiguous. Well, a few comments here, a few e-mails there and it turns out people want to hear the rest of the story. If you’re not one of them, stop reading now.

What kid isn’t afraid of the dark at some point? I was and if you say you weren’t you’re either a liar or in therapy for being a liar.

I may have carried my fear a little longer than some. Maybe I should be in therapy. I thought I had shaken it. I found out in 2005, at the age of 37, my fear of the dark was lurking in the not so deep recesses of my mind.

Let’s take a look at where and who I was in 2005. An instructor at the NCO Academy in Knoxville, newly married for the first and everlasting time in December of 2003, and in year 18 of a 22yr military career. A career, by the way, that had spanned the cold war, the drug wars in which I spent time in Central America fighting, and 10 years on the flight-line working on what was then the AF’s premier fighter, the F-16 Falcon. In other words I was a hero of the people. At least that’s what the plaque I had made at Mike’s Trophies and Sporting Goods says. Half off if you order in bulk.

All that to say I’m not a person you would tag as the afraid of my own shadow type.

All that would change one fateful night in 2005. It’s always one fateful night isn’t it? I mean it’s never a fateful afternoon, or fateful beautiful spring Sunday brunch right? Nighttime – it’s when bad stuff happens.

Like I say I was married to the lovely Tracy – Mrs Frank’s Place. She, and her posse of not to be named women (Becky and Sarah), decide to go on a shopping trip to Atlanta from Friday to Sunday.

Yes! The weekend to myself. It’s 2005, so no kids, except for the friggen cat, Pumpkin and mostly a clean house(friggen cat) and golf on TV, and then playing golf in the mornings and then late night TV watching the replays of golf.  Yeah you bet honey – go to Atlanta. Have fun, spend money. Yes I am aware those two things, fun and spending money, are redundant.

So off they went. And all was well.

Then it got dark. No problem. I closed all the blinds and settled into my Barco-lounger to watch TV. No golf replay for some reason so I start surfing.

Around 10pm I find a Twilight Zone marathon on Sci Fi channel. That’s some campy stuff. I was laughing at the “special effects” wondering how anyone could be scared by that.

The third episode had a dude who looked really familiar but it was a quick glance so I wasn’t sure. Then a close up. Holy cow it’s William Shatner, Captain Kirk, in what must be his first TV role ever. The episode was titled Nightmare at 20,000 feet. Might have been a clue there. Missed it.

In this Twilight Zone episode he’s playing a nervous passenger on an airline returning from a sanitarium. He has a window seat and the window has curtains. That tells you how old this show is. I believe John Lithgow played the Shatner character in an updated Twilight Zone movie.

That fur coat has Sears & Roebuck written all over it.

That fur coat has Sears & Roebuck written all over it.

So Shatner thinks he’s seeing someone on the wing, while they are flying, trying to sabotage the plane. Every time he sees the person on the wing he shuts the curtain and tries to convince himself he’s not seeing what he thinks he’s seeing. He alerts the stewardess she looks and sees nothing. It’s after he alerts someone for the first time that it gets interesting.

The next time he looks out the person appears to be getting closer. My spidey sense is tingling but not enough to alert me to what is about to happen.

On a side note, this gremlin or person or whatever on the wing looked for all the world like they were wearing a kids winter coat from the Sears catalog, circa 1950. Again special effects budgets weren’t great back then. But that’s important because I took my eye off the ball. I was concentrating on getting a good look at the monster’s garb or “fur”. A move that would come back to haunt me, literally.

So about the time Shatner is losing his crap over all this he decides to go for one last look. And the moment of truth has arrived. He yanks open the curtain and sees this….

That would scare the balls off a brass monkey

That would scare the balls off a brass monkey

Well what the hell am I supposed to do with that? No idea but I was scared to the point of being speechless. I’ll tell you what, had that freaking cat hopped up on the chair at that moment he would have spent every one of his nine lives faster than an old lady working the slots in Atlantic City. My fear induced adrenaline rush would have ripped his head off before he could have got off even one “Meo…”

To his credit, Pumpkin never moved. Part of that is because he was ninety gazillion years old and part because he really was a smug little prick. I know he’s long since departed and all but let’s just have a little truth telling shall we. That cat looked down on me from the jump.

But now I’m stuck. It might as well be nine miles from the Barco to the bedroom. Not to mention this haunted house is covered with windows. Only the living room has blinds. How am I supposed to keep from looking out into the darkness on my way up the stairs?

I need a plan, I need the floor plan. I need to devise a path and a sequence in which I can turn off the lights behind me as I make my way up. However, in order to do that the lights need to be on, all of them. I need options.

So the house is lit up like a beacon and it’s about 12:30 in the am. Then the phone rings.

Who the world is calling me 12:30 in the morning with all this going on? Luckily the phone is right next to me. It’s Tracy, and it sounds like she may have a margarita or two on board.

Wow, my skin is crawling just looking at that picture while I’m typing and it’s 2:30 in the afternoon.

Anyway Tracy and I are talking and she asks what I’m doing. I tell her what I’m watching and there is a very long pause.

Then she says, “All the lights in my house are on aren’t they?” Hey what can I tell you, the woman knows me. I hear a little laughter in the background and I know full well I’ve just given “the girls” something to talk about for the next few minutes.

Can’t worry about a bunch of hens cackling over my trauma though, I still have to get upstairs.

The rest is fuzzy to me. Clearly I made it upstairs, I just can’t recall the sequence of lights.

Probably should have written it down.

All I know is windows and darkness are not a good combo. You just never know when a kid in a matted down Sears fur coat and a horrifically bad hair cut will be staring back at you.

Ultimately, as the saying goes, I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m just afraid of what’s in it.

Kindergarten: To purgatory and back again.

If you’re going through hell… keep going.  – Winston Churchill

Now that may be overstating it, but I’m not sure by exactly how much. It was my turn in the breech. My trial by fire. I was the heated iron, awaiting the forger’s hammer. Of course I’m speaking about my time as room mother in Frank’s kindergarten class one Wednesday in January.

Be advised my time in the Catholic Penal System School System in the early 70s through 1980 all volunteers in the classroom were room mothers. I understand there are some among us who will take exception to my phraseology in the use of room mother. All those now suffering from the vapors at my comedic slight of long suffering dads everywhere, the X is up and to the right, again that’s up and to the right. (Unless you use Apple products, then the red dot is up and to the left, that’s up and… well you get the idea).

Funny thing happened when the schedule came out for volunteers. I saw my name in the Wednesday block and I got a little worked up, apprehensive, frightened even. It had been quite a while since I felt like that.

I mean I had been a teacher, an instructor at an Air Force Noncommissioned Officers Academy for almost ten years. In the final four years I was teaching on a live TV program four hours a night, two nights a week. Even funnier, I had already done time in Frank’s class for the Christmas party in December. I ran the cookie decorating table and then the Christmas Bingo.

The ornament station. (Bingo gambling station not pictured)

The ornament station. (Bingo gambling station not pictured)

That was a good party. No sprinkles went unspilt, no icing went un-tainted by germ ridden stir sticks. We were decorating man. It was a party. We also amped up the Bingo a little, made it high stakes. Last person to get Bingo had to give up their candy cane to the first person who got it. Surprising how quick the kids picked up on the thrill of gambling. Only one little gambler got upset when it was time to pay up. One kid out of 20, that’s not bad. Hopefully he’ll remember that feeling before he plunks down his own kid’s college fund on 11 black in Vegas. I’m an educator people.

Anyway the point of all that is to say this, I had already been in the classroom. I had been a public speaker for a long time with a lot larger audiences, still I was having shortness of breath. This wouldn’t be the Christmas party. No results were expected of me then. We could eat cookies and gamble candy canes all day with no pressure. But this. This was going to require effort, some output, expectations would be had. No matter, anxiety or not, the day was upon me.

Started out great. I was already familiar with the school’s fancy new sign in system. A harrowing post on my first attempt with the new system coming to a blog near you. But having already muddled it up once I was prepared this time. Remembered to bring my reading glasses. So I cruised through while a first timer sat behind me, watching me work the sign in system like a savant. I could smell his fear when his turn came quicker than he expected. I moved on. I had people waiting on me. Not sure if he ever made it out. Ah well, such is life in the jungle.

Five minutes early to the classroom. Boom! Already this day is shaping up nicely. Hot as blazes in the classroom so off comes the pullover, and crap. Tore my fancy, still wet from the printer ID badge. Credibility lost. It can happen that fast folks.

Frank finally looked over at me. They were coming to the end of a lesson. He gave me a quick but deliberate hand wave. Nothing too frantic. It conveyed a message of, “I acknowledge your presence father, now settle down.” Very proper without being disruptive. Kid is all business at school. Which is bizarre because he’s a lunatic at home.

As the lesson ends Frank’s teacher starts calling names and instantly kids start moving to what appeared to be designated areas. No questions, no protestations, just movement. I mean it wasn’t military precision or anything but it was impressive. Then I got my marching orders. Mrs Givens would man the main work center and I would float around to the other three centers.

Ok this is it. This is what you’re here for. Time to do work. Annnnd stop. A voice from above says the kids need to report to the lobby for a hearing test. Lined up and ready to go in about two minutes, off we walk. In seconds the kids were lined up in the lobby waiting their turn. They were so quiet walking in the hall it occurred to me this might not be a elementary school at all, but an advanced training ground for assassins.

The test was going to be some time so Frank’s teacher sent him, and me, back to the room to get some books. Frank has never moved that fast or that straight to a destination in his entire life. He was practically marching. Books in hand he spins and marches back to the lobby for what turned out to be reading time with Frank’s daddy, AKA me. It went well except for a constant critique from the peanut gallery. “You read very fast.” Ha. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that. I resisted the urge of telling them to listen faster.

Back in the classroom things got hoping. For the most part the kids did what they were supposed to. Not sure what help I was to them other than the odd login in help with the computer center. Oh and I was a star there. All Apple products in the classroom. Since I have a giant Mac desktop I was right at home. I looked like a wizard to these kids. Except for that one young man who decided to debate me on the necessity of a tissue.

He needed one and he needed one bad. He refused however. Then he decided I need to do it. No way bro. Your snot is all yours.

He wasn’t having it. He had me over a barrel. Either I wipe his nose or he’s just getting early lunch. I’ve been wiping noses for five years but when it’s not your kid it’s no where near as much fun. But watching him willingly use his tongue was gonna make me puke. So I’m getting a tissue. But before I could get the blast zone completely covered the kid starts blowing snot rockets everywhere. “Do it better.” The kid says to me. Not kidding.

It was all downhill sledding from there. A few kids didn’t get all their centers finished but most of the herd did what they had to do. The freedom she allows the kids has really paid off. Most of them do their assignments, put the work in the appropriate bin and then move on to a secondary assignment until it’s time to move to the next center. Just impressive. And tiring.

I was worn out. More exhausted than I am after walking a mid-summer round of golf. I was asleep ten minutes after I got home and I only was there for two hours, plus my time in the cafeteria eating lunch with Frank and his pals.

But that’s another jungle story for another day.

Coming soon – Kindergarten Cafeteria: Welcome to the Thunder-dome!