Friday, December 28, 2018

COLUMN: Jill Johnson


Well, it's that time of year when columnists like me are supposed to regale you with spooky tales of haunted happenings. The thing is, I'm fresh out.

My house doesn't seem to be a supernatural hotspot. It's devoid of tragic backstories and doesn't appear to have been built over any ancient burial grounds. The only things that go bump in the night around here are cats.

But something a tiny bit terryifying DID happen last weekend. I was moonlighting at a DJ gig when one of the employees came up to chat.

"Hey, one of my best friends went to school with you," she said.

This is a somewhat ghastly thing to hear. If you guys think I'm nerdy NOW, you should've peeped me back in my school days. There's no way I could've left a good impression.

"Ooh, I bet she told you I was crazy nerdy," I replied.

"Actually she said you were really cool and nice. Do you remember Jill Johnson?"

Wow. Talk about a blast from the past. It's good to know that I was cool -- when I was ten, because that's the last I ever spent quality time with Jill Johnson. At some point, we ended up on different sides of the district map, so we only ever went to grade school together.

I actually knew that Jill ended up in the Quad Cities. She came up to me once at another DJ gig and introduced herself. I didn't recognize her, but she knew ME right away, which confirms my fear that I apparently look like a taller and fatter version of my ten-year-old self. Regardless, it was good to see her and harken back to old memories.

But Jill Johnson and I can never share my MOST vivid memory of her -- because it never happened.

Do any of you remember your first real nightmare? The very first time you had a dream SO scary you woke up in a cold sweat shaking? A dream so awful you spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, afraid to go back to sleep? A dream that you can't forget, not even 40 years later? There aren't many things in my life that I'm capable of keeping secret -- but I've never told ANYONE about this dream. Mostly because of how stupid it was.

I was in third grade when it happened. Here's the dream: One of my classmates was secretly an alien trying to take over the world. The ONLY person who knew about it, naturally, was ME. And like the plot of SO many bad monster movies of yore, absolutely no one would believe me. Meanwhile, all of my friends were being turned into alien zombies. Heavy bummer.

If this WAS a bad movie, it'd be up to me to step up and somehow stop the alien menace. Except that I couldn't. Instead, I spent the entire dream hopelessly afraid and unable to change fate as more of my friends became mindless slaves at the hands of the evil alien. An evil alien named Jill Johnson.

Creepy, right? But I left one part out. In the dream, I knew that Jill was an alien because I accidentally saw her in her TRUE ALIEN FORM -- which looked identical to Olivia Newton-John's Sandy at the end of "Grease." Slowly but surely, Jill the Alien turned our entire student body into Evil Zombie Sandys.

We all know "Grease," right? It's the movie musical that teaches us we can woo the boy/girl of our dreams if we simply change every aspect of our personality and find some hot pants. Sandy's a goody-goody who's in love with Danny, who's a baddy-baddy. At the end (spoiler alert,) Sandy shows up in a wicked perm and a leather jacket and she and Danny go together like rama-lama-lama-ka-dinga-ka-dinga-dong. Some say it's one of the most sexist movie plots of all time. Others argue it's a feminist manifesto. And at least one eight-year-old thought it was 100% alien.

I suppose Freud would tell me this dream was symbolic of a young man's search for understanding of the alien nature of blossoming sexuality. Either that or too many Cheetos before bed. But I was in THIRD grade, and I'm pretty sure at that age, girls were just boys who had cooties. I could probably debate the deep meanings of this dream forever. I've certainly pondered it numerous times over the past 40 years.

The only thing I know for certain is that it had nothing to do with Jill Johnson. I don't ever recall her auditioning for the role of Sandy the Hot-Pants-Wearing Nightmare Alien. She's an innocent party in all this, which is why I'm not using her real name. In reality, she was -- well, she was cool and nice, as I recall. I like bumping into her, and on those rare times we DO talk, I hope she can't tell that a small part of my brain is always worried that she's going to start singing "Summer Nights" and eat my face off.

If I want a good Halloween fright, I don't need a house full of ghosts or alien lights in the sky to get creeped out. I just need a bad musical and the name of an old classmate. For now, I'm putting this column and this nightmare to bed. Here's hoping I don't spend the next eight hours being chased by a hatchet-wielding Man of La Mancha. 

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