A friend in my book club recently reminded me that my tastes in books and movies run a bit darker than most folks’. I laughed, thinking my tastes are different in other areas of my life too. Growing up, I don’t remember my family ever having ham or turkey at Christmas. We might have, but it seems like we always had enchiladas instead, and that suited me fine. I like my food spicy and my books spooky.
Having said that, I’m excited about the It reboot, featuring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be fantastic. The book is amazing, and by that I mean it’s one of the most terrifying novels I’ve ever read. It hooks you from the beginning as you follow poor little Georgie Denbrough, racing after his paper boat as it goes down the storm drain. I’m fairly certain we won’t be reading It in book club. I don’t want to be responsible for triggering someone’s coulrophobia.
To my knowledge, I don’t have any phobias. There are things that scare me, sure, but not to the extent I become incapacitated. I’m not afraid of heights, but I have a healthy respect for guardrails and I don’t take stupid risks. I love roller coasters and water slides. I’m not terrified by sharks, but I get that some of them are dangerous. Even so, I want to go cage-diving with great whites.
I’m not even scared of spiders, which really annoys my family because I usually let the spiders in our house live, so long as they’re not venomous. We have a lot of spiders on the Oregon coast, but few dangerous ones. Some of them, like zebra spiders with their striped abdomens, could even be considered cute. I know—most of you find them revolting. We’ll have to agree to disagree though, because I like the way my little friends devour mosquitos. As long as they do their job and don’t want to snuggle, I’ll grant them a stay of execution.
My greatest fear is something bad happening to people I love. I’m also frightened of demagogues. And angry mobs. Beyond that though, I like the adrenaline rush that comes from being frightened. I guess that’s why I write scary scenes in my books.
I like watching horror movies, but the jump scares always get me, even when I suspect they’re coming. Still, I’m cool with gore, especially if it’s campy. The one subgenre I’m not fond of is demonic possession—those movies tend to give me nightmares. I’ve never watched The Exorcist all the way through. (Well, I have, but I covered my eyes for some of it.) I don’t play with Ouija boards either. I believe demons and predatory spirits exist, so to me it’s common sense not to dabble in that stuff. Better safe than sorry, right?
But back to clowns…am I afraid of clowns? Not really. Do I find them disturbing? Yes. Partly because of Pennywise, but also because there’s something horrifying about someone hiding behind a mask, whether it’s an actual mask or face paint. I don’t like mimes for the same reason. When people cover their faces, their features are disguised, making it difficult to read facial expressions. Their identity is disguised as well. You don’t necessarily know who you’re talking to. (Which, of course, is the same problem with Ouija boards.)
When I was a kid, we attended a local festival every fall, watching a parade. Clowns would march near the spectators, handing out stickers and candy. There was nothing overtly scary about them except they were strangers, and there was something frightening about talking to a stranger, even if they were being nice. I never quite trusted them, particularly if they were the kind of clown who felt it was a personal challenge to get a quiet kid to talk. I didn’t like going to see Santa either. I liked the idea of Santa Claus, but even as a kindergartener I could see the man in the suit wasn’t the real Santa. He couldn’t fool me, and I wasn’t about to sit on an imposter’s lap.
Years later, when I worked as a counselor, I had colleague who loved clowns. She volunteered as one, and her office was filled with paintings of clowns. She probably had twenty of those paintings adorning her walls. One time, she invited me in to talk over a case. I sat there, trying to focus on our conversation, but all I could think about were those clowns. What did her clients think of her décor? Did they find it as disturbing as I did?
I figured the woman had never read It, but Pennywise wasn’t the only evil clown out there. Had she never heard of John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who sometimes dressed as a clown? To me, that seemed like reason enough to go with a different design theme, but I guess my mind went to a darker place than hers.
Clearly, our opinions on clowns were polar opposites. I wonder what she thought about spiders.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016