There are two kinds of people in the world: People who are somewhat amused by being scared or startled, and people who get so pissed off at being scared that it makes them hate you. I married the latter—which is a little bit frustrating for me. She’s terrific, but she does NOT like to be scared. I have always gotten joy (demented or otherwise) by seeing someone get genuinely scared. It makes me laugh. It makes me laugh when it happens to other people, and it makes me laugh when it happens to me. It does not make my wife laugh. It makes her cry. And if it’s clear that you scared her on purpose, it makes her pissed. Very, very pissed. And that’s too bad, because I am a scarer by nature.
I think it’s that playfully annoying thing in me that, as a kid, used to kick people’s heel while they are walking in front of me. But all it takes is one or two or six people actually tripping and falling down to realize that any reward you might get from playfully kicking someone’s heel is not worth the risk of actually hurting someone who falls down. And then playfully kicks you in the groin. But there has always been this instinctual thing in me that has looked for an opportunity to make someone jump.
I worked at a camp for about six years, and at Camp, nothing is out of bounds when it comes to scaring someone else. If people are walking down a path in the woods and you hide behind a tree and jump out at them—Completely legit. Telling a campfire story about a chainsaw killer, and having a friend in the woods getting ready to fire up the weed eater—Perfectly appropriate. Waiting in a bathroom stall with a white hockey mask on and waiting a half hour to give a counselor a surprise that will encourage him to release his bowels earlier than he had planned—Reasonable and proper. I have a good friend who was deathly afraid of Abraham Lincoln (it’s a long story, but the short version is that he and a friend woke up in the middle of the night, clutching each other and screaming, both swearing that they saw Abraham Lincoln’s ghost). Knowing this, I decided to fashion a top hat and darken my beard and stand outside his cabin window whispering “Four score and seven years ago” over and over (Whisper it to yourself. It’s actually scary) until he looked out the window and saw the ghastly visage of our nation’s 16th president…. I am alive today because another counselor got involved and kept him from beating me to death with a cabin broom.
Still, nothing compares to my finest scare…. And maybe my finest moment. In college I lived with three of my best friends in a crappy house that used to be a crackhouse, and before that it was a brothel. But we loved it, because it was OUR former crackhouse/brothel. One of my roommates had, in his room, a miniature door that led to an unfinished attic space upstairs. He had been complaining about mice scratching on that attic wall. One dark night, I got up from our dirty sectional couch, I stepped over a minefield of beer bottle dip-spitters, and I went to bed early. But I didn’t go to bed. I tiptoed upstairs, I opened that miniature door, and I crouched down in that dark attic. And I waited….
They told me they were going to bed in “just a little bit,” but I waited in that dark, mouse infested attic about 25 minutes. My resolve began to falter when something that I imagined was a spider touched my arm, but I fought through the willies long enough to hear two of my roommates walk up the stairs and and continue their conversation in the doorway. I had been waiting in the dark with the mice and spiders long enough to come up with a simple plan: I would make mice noises, and then somehow scare the shit out of my roommate. I took out a key and made scratching noises on the wall, trying to scratch loud enough for them to hear, but not loud enough for them to suspect something bigger than a mouse. I tried three times. Finally, the conversation paused, and I heard a voice whisper one of the sweetest words these ears have ever heard…. “Mice.”
With every bit of self control I had, I fought back the laughter and watched through a tiny crack above the little door as my roommate crept over to the wall. I jumped a bit when he suddenly kicked it. Hard. After another moment of silence, I resumed my mice scratches. He kicked the wall again. This time I waited just a bit longer before scratching.
And then, something unexpected happened. Something dangerous. My roommate started tiptoeing toward the tiny door–the one I crept behind. It was a comical, exaggerated tiptoe that brought my thoughts back to friends rubbing their sore knees after falling when I had playfully kicked at their heel. I imagined him opening the door and sticking his head into that attic space, just to see me crouching there. I imagined him reacting in a way that impaled his terrified head on some exposed nail, and dying there, in a pool of blood, his lifeless body halfway into the attic of an old whorehouse–All because I was trying to be funny. So I did what I had to do–I did the only thing I COULD do: I leapt from my hiding place and burst through that miniature door, slamming the ground like the monkeys in The Omen and barking wildly like a dog.
It was as if someone had instantly removed all of the bones from his body. He fell to the ground like a blanket that came loose from a drying line, and as he fell, he made what can only be described as “the funniest noise I have ever heard.” It was a hybrid of sounds–like a cross between goat’s cry, the sound a balloon makes when you pinch the end and let the air out slowly, and a young girl’s tear-filled whining at the loss of her favorite doll. He was crumpled there on the floor–a whimpering, boneless pile of what was once a man, lying in a pool of his own tears and urine. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard….
My other roommate simply screamed and started running. I found him at the other end of the house, still hyperventilating. Through labored breaths, he told me, “I realized a few seconds after it happened that it was you, but I couldn’t get my body to stop running.” And someday, when I am old and ready to die, I will look back on that day as one of the funniest moments (and I treasure funny moments so very much) that I have ever had. And it makes me a little sad that I will never be able to pull that sort of stunt with my sweet wife. But if there is a lesson to be learned here, it is this: Seriously, never ever scare my wife on purpose. It will not go well for you. It will make her cry, and she will never talk to you again. And something like this next video might happen to you:
Anyone else have a story to share of a really good scare?