Monday, April 14, 2008

COLUMN: Spooky

Well, it's official. Spring has sprung. In little to no time, birds will be chirping. Skies will be blue. Leaves will grow, flowers will bloom, hills will be alive with the sound of freakin' music. It's the happiest time of the year.

Which, of course, is why I've been surrounding myself these days with gloom, doom, and things that go bump in the night.

I don't know what the deal is, but every time I've turned on the TV this past week, I've been sucked into random shows about ghosts and ghouls and witches and aliens and any assorted hodge-podge of hocum-pocum. I don't understand why these shows are attacking our airwaves in such fury this month, and even more baffling, I don't know what my strange compulsion is to constantly watch them.

I'm no fan of being scared. While many of my nerdling friends made heroes out of Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers, I was having none of it. In early high school, I came up with the brilliant idea of asking a girl to one of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" flicks. Not a bad idea, right? Freddy kills somebody, the girl goes "eek" and seeks comfort in the strong, brave arms of her ruggedly handsome teenaged escort.

As I sat there in the theatre watching this thing, I should have been concerned about getting to second base. Instead, I was concerned about trying not to pee my pants every time Freddy jumped out. That was my last in-theatre trip to a horror flick.

And those movies are super corny compared to the monstrosities that play in theatres now. Just sneaking up on some hapless victim with a hatchet is SO 1985. Today's horror movies don't stop rolling until the hapless victim is fileted, dismembered, and if you're especially lucky, eaten. And frankly, theatre owners should put a stop to it, as you'd assume there MUST be a negative correlation between the number of full-screen disembowelments and concession sales of hot dogs.

The point is, I hate being scared. I hate movies where everything is nice and peaceful and calm and BWAAAAAAA LOOK OUT FOR THE HATCHET! I get no entertainment value out of elevated blood pressure. On the OTHER hand, if something can be eerie and creepy without being downright scary, sign me up.

I dunno why, but I've always wanted to believe in ghosts and aliens and paranormal whatzits, provided they keep their hatchets to themselves.

When I was a kid, I saw an allegedly true story about a group of lost hikers somewhere in the desert Southwest. Those hikers would have died, had it not been for the kindly ghost of an Indian tracker who led them all to safety. Neat story until I went to bed that night.

See, my aunt had recently given me a large stuffed dog. I mean, LARGE. The sucker stood taller than me and took up a third of my bedroom. And when my mom would tuck me in and shut off the lights, all you could see at first was this dog's huge plastic eyes. Except, after watching that show, it wasn't a dog.

Nope, it was the Indian tracker ghost. He was stuck inside my dog, he was staring at me through those soulless plastic eyes, and he was anything but kindly. I'm pretty sure he wanted to eat my brain. So every night, after my mom would tuck me in, I would silently creep out of bed, remove the covers from my pillows, and flop them over the dog's eyes so that whatever lurked inside couldn't spy on me. I did this for YEARS.

So a good ghost story can have an impact. That's why I'm addicted to stuff like Sci-Fi's "Ghost Hunters" and A&E's "Paranormal State." I want to find out if there's even an iota of truth to the paranormal, and these shows, while admittedly campy, at least try to use some semblance of science to seek answers. Sure, usually it's a team of people going, "Ooh! What was that banging noise?" followed by an hour trying to establish if it was something banging or SOME THING banging. Most episodes end with a question mark and no conclusive evidence, but at least once a season, they manage to capture some seriously spooky audio or video that makes even the biggest of skeptics raise an eyebrow or two.

I'd love to be a firm believer in the paranormal, but I'd certainly prefer my ghosts to be of the "Casper-the-friendly" variety. I'd like to hope that, should an afterlife exist, I'd prefer it involve more than floating around my apartment for all of eternity spooking any new tenants. If your only job is to make the occasional banging noise in the middle of the night, you'd think that would certainly equal a lot of post-mortem downtime.

Still, I'm fascinated by it all. When the Iowa Paranormal Advanced Research Team investigated an area haunting about a year ago, they let me tag along to write a story for the paper. IPART is the region's only investigators recognized by TAPS (the folks behind the "Ghost Hunters" show,) and they take the job seriously. After the article ran, I became a member of IPART. I don't have many weekends free to go spectre sleuthing, but I still love to take part in the evidence analysis and their efforts to prove the existence of the supernatural. Laugh if you want, but there are weirder hobbies out there.

So, hey, if you think you've got an undead buddy lurking in the shadows of your house, shoot me an e-mail and I can pass it on to IPART. Unless they're chasing you with hatchets, in which case I'll wish you well and take a raincheck.

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