My dad and I spent time watching black-and-white classic movies as well as building, and meticulously painting, classic Universal monster models. We would read stories by H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft. When reading the latter, my dad would frequently consult a dictionary so that we both understood and benefitted from the textured obtuse vocabulary. That stretched my imagination with imagery comparing, for example, a hillside to the gigantic toe of a corpse.
Our shared enthusiasm for the fantastic and grotesque unwittingly got us into a war of pranks.
This began on an overcast day while he was driving the family to play tennis. The tennis courts were situated next to an old Spanish monastery. As he was pulling into the dark driveway among the moss-covered trees, my dad began, offhandedly, to recount a legend the locals told about a little goblin-like creature who had haunted the monastery for generations. It was said that this creature had been a monk who had fallen from grace, shrunken with malevolence and pulled unsuspecting people into a pit as they walked the grounds. I was only half-listening as my dad elaborated on his tale. Driving into the shadow of the estate, I stayed engrossed in the gloomy atmosphere of the crumbling building, and curtains of Spanish moss, which I seemed to see for the first time.
Unbeknownst to me, my dad put the car in park, slipped out of the driver’s seat, and crawled on his hands and knees around the car just outside of my door. When I stepped out of the car, he leaped at me with his hands by his face, crying out in what sounded like a Spanish curse. Of course, I screamed. My dad felt bad but he couldn’t help but laugh.
Thus, began our decent into madness. After work, a few days later, my father threw his briefcase into the air as I shrieked behind the front door as soon as he opened it.
That weekend, the family gathered in our Florida room to watch “Something Evil,” a made-for-TV horror movie starring child actor Johnny Whitaker, who played Jody on the series “Family Affair.” Johnny played a young boy who became possessed by a demon who lived in his Pennsylvania farm house. The movie was more frightening than the usual thrilling fanfare we were used to. During a commercial break, I left the Florida room and made my way towards the bathroom. As an unseen hand racked my hair, from the back of my skull to the front of my head, a shadow flashed before my eyes.
I stood there, on the edge of fainting as the world became blurry around me. Forcing myself to look down, the quarterback Joe Namath slowly came into view. It was a pack of football cards. My dad, sitting in a white recliner closest to the television, later regretted his inability to refrain from laughing. He said, not in a million years did he think he would have been able to throw my deck of cards from the angle where he was sitting.
That week, I placed my Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll in the same white recliner where dad had thrown what I had sincerely felt was a demon coming to claim my soul, across two rooms. Into my doll’s hand, I taped a small golden revolver-shaped cigarette lighter. Around the trigger, I tied a small string which I elaborately attached to a tape recorder, and another string which I could activate from under the nearby couch. Across the room, I placed a flashlight that shone off Mr. McCarthy’s plastic monocle.
My mom helped me turn off all the lights in the house from the fuse box. We both waited, giggling from under the couch waiting for my father to come home. My sister came home, took in the whole tableau, rolled her eyes and went to her room shaking her head. Finally, dad came through the door, asked what the hell the lights were doing off when he was arrested by a voice that sounded like the actor Sidney Greenstreet saying, “Welcome home Sidney.” There was then a flash of flame from the revolver shaped lighter, punctuated by howling laughter from under the couch.
“What is the matter with you?” My dad asked my mom as she realized for the first time, that we might have killed him. I am so grateful that my dad has a stout heart.
My dad conceded defeat and called for a truce. We went back to being allies and throwing the football in the front yard like normal folks. I never remained “normal” but credit my dad for enhancing my creative approach to life. Thankfully, he is still alive, a celebrated veteran from our war of pranks.
— Ira Scott Levin
Ira Scott Levin blogs at Stream of Light, reflections spotlighting those making the world a brighter place through their dedicated benevolence and creative caring. His blog appears frequently at Thrive Global.