I was five years old, maybe even four; I remember that we still lived in the house on Washington Street.
It was early evening, and my father lay on the sofa, the television blaring. I looked toward the television to see a huge gorilla lurching through the grass huts of a village. My eyes widened. I backed toward the sofa and crawled up beside my father.
“I’m not sure I should let you watch this,” he said. “You might get scared.”
“I’m not scared,” I said. Why would I be scared? My father was right beside me. No big gorilla would touch me with him there.
We watched as the huge gorilla bit the head off a villager. He stepped on a woman, crushing her. This was one big and angry monkey.
“You know this is not real,” my father said.
“I know,” I said. But I didn’t know. I mean, I knew that we were watching a picture of a big ape. A picture of a big ape was no more real than the picture of a little dog. But in order for someone to snap a photograph of a little dog, there must first be a little dog. And the little dog had to be real – just like this big gorilla that my father called King Kong had to be real.
How else could anyone take King Kong’s picture?
I was awed by Kong and other giant creatures. In 1958, I was in first grade, when I saw a teaser preview on television for the movie The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. There on a tiny screen in black and white I saw a dragon, a two headed bird, and a cyclops. What must they look like on a big screen in a theater. Pleading with my parents, I convinced them to drive my sister and me to the Paramount Theater in Atlanta.
In 1958 none of us had seen the magic of Ray Harryhausen and what appeared on the screen left me trembling. The cyclops, five times the size of a man, capable of uprooting a tree and squashing a man beneath the trunk, smart enough to barbeque a man before eating him, was terrifying. One eye blinking beneath a massive horn, an unsteady gait on its goat-legs was the stuff of nightmares.
“You know that’s not real,” my father said on our way home from the movie.
“Yes, sir,” I told him. But it sure looked real and sounded real. And waking up in bed after having a nightmare of the cyclops that seemed to be real, I would crawl into the bed between my parents.
“What scared you?” my mother asked me one morning after finding me lying in the middle of the bed.
“I had a nightmare,” I told her.
“What did you dream about?”
I wouldn’t tell her. Not on my life. If I told her I’d dreamed of a cyclops, she might never let me see another movie with giant monsters. So, I was able to see Mothra and Rodan and Godzilla. And King Kong meets Godzilla and all manner of monster movies. You might wonder why a kid would want to see yet another movie knowing he’d have nightmares about it?
It’s a good question. When you know the picture isn’t real and that the monster can’t jump out of the screen to devour you, you can be scared in a pleasant sort of way. Nothing can make a person feel more alive than being “safely” scared, especially when he’s watching the movie with others.
Of course, the bad side to seeing those movies is that you have times of being alone. A kid could never tell when the roof of the bathroom might be ripped off by Kong or a cyclops, exposing you in your most vulnerable moments. Not that you’re scared of the movies. You’re scared of the creatures captured and photographed for those movies.
How silly to be scared, I tell myself, no longer fearful of the images of Kong or the Cyclops any longer. I’m an adult.
But what did I hear? What was that noise outside? A peel of thunder? Yes, it was only thunder. The coffee in my cup seemed to vibrate, as if reacting to a tremble in the earth.
I wish my wife were home so I wouldn’t hear these things.
As I type the computer keys, I am aware of more thunder. No, not thunder. These are the footprints of a giant. They approach. Is it King Kong? Don’t be ridiculous! The cyclops? Give me a break! What do you think I am? A little kid?
But don’t open those blinds. Something is outside your window, and whatever it is, it is attracted by movement – and sound. It is that T-rex. Escaped again from Jurassic Park! Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Don’t type another word.