October 15, 2004

Around this time of year my friends and I used to try to scare the bejeebers out of each other with ghost stories. You may not realize it, but "bejeebers" is actually a scientific term for units of resistance to being so scared you urinate. Remember that time when you were twelve and on a camping trip and some old guy with a gravelly voice sat you down next to the campfire and told you about "Pig Man"? You may have suppressed the memory, so here’s a refresher: Pig Man is a horrible, freakish creature who lives in the woods anywhere you happen to be camping. He used to be a normal person who worked in a pork processing plant, and after a few years started drinking the blood from the pigs he slaughtered.. This was in the days before butchers started saving the blood, along with bone, gristle, and other indigestible matter and processing them into a food for more pigs–except in Britain, of course, where anything not fit for human consumption is used in making pork pies. This same process with cows and sheep helped produce mad cow disease, but there’s nothing scary about "the cow man" or "the sheep man". But I digress. After several months of drinking pigs’ blood Pig Man’s nose started turning upwards, his incisors grew, and, well, the story varies depending on whether the man telling it wears flannel or denim, but usually ends with the plant supervisor being served as a breakfast side dish. The old man who told you this story was taking advantage of the fact that twelve year-olds in the woods have an extremely low bejeebers count, unlike most adults who can only be frightened into urinating on themselves in the woods by stories like, "The Night We Forgot To Refill The Portable Generator And Missed The Basketball Game".

On nights when my friends and I weren’t in the woods and didn’t have the advantage of a gravelly-voiced old man we’d scare each other with dares. The most popular was "Go into the bathroom, turn out the lights, and spin around three times while saying ‘I hate the Bell Witch’ then look in the mirror.You’ll see the Bell Witch!" Supposedly kids who’d done this came out hideously scarred and disfigured. Blaming the Bell Witch is a regional variant; in New England it’s Bloody Mary, in the Balkans it’s Tamerlane, and in Central America it’s Ricard o Montalban. But I digress. I once took this dare. I didn’t take it because I was brave, but rather because a friend of mine offered me a dollar if I’d do it, and "Anything for a buck" has always been my motto. I went into the bathroom, shut the door behind me, turned off the lights, and spun around three times. When I looked in the mirror I could see…absolutely nothing because it was dark. I’m not even sure I was facing the mirror because I’d been spinning around. I did come out horribly disfigured, but since I went in with terrible acne nothing really changed. But I digress. The study of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena is parapsychology, and at one time I thought that would be a cool job to have. In fact I’m sorry I didn’t pursue that career, because advances in technology have really helped parapsychology, and no other technological advancement has helped more than cable television. Oh, sure, technology has allowed parapsychologists to photograph or videotape a part of a room and "enhance" or "recreate" the weird thing some guy saw while high, but cable television has given them an opportunity to stand a guy–not in flannel or denim but an Italian suit–in front of a house. There he’ll say, in a gravelly voice, "This is the site of the Borley family haunting. They have no physical evidence, the only eyewitnesses have been the senile grandfather and their son in college who has huge gambling debts. And yet we believe them when they say terrible things have happened here that have left this family so paralyzed with fear they can’t even use the royalties to invest in less spooky real estate. But just because we couldn’t come up with anything real here’s a shot of some shadowy figure holding a knife in the bedroom window." That this often passes as "educational television" should scare the bejeebers out of the parapsychologists involved, but mostly their philosophy is "Anything for a buck."

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