Summer time, and the living is easy. At least for my teenage daughters. They haven’t left the house for three days, and I suspect, haven’t bothered to change out of their pajamas in as long. At least, they’re in pajamas when I leave for work and still in pajamas when I get home. What do they do all day?
I asked. My mistake.
“Nothing,” they answered in unison.
I’d been around teenagers long enough that I should have expected that. “Surely you did more than nothing.”
“We watched an old movie, Poltergeist, on TV.”
Great, I thought. They’ll be up all night, unable to sleep.
“Poltergeist?” I had visions of them being up all night.
“It was funny,” said the younger one, who just a few years earlier couldn’t watch Mr. Rogers because she thought she recognized him from America’s Most Wanted. “He looks suspicious,” she insisted. “And he says he wants to be my neighbor.” If I’m not mistaken, Anthony Perkins says much the same thing in Psycho. They both sound so sincere.
The older one, in a voice that showed she was much too sophisticated to be taken in by an old horror movie, or Mr. Rogers, added, “The special effects were average at best. Very Scifi channel. Not major feature. And what’s so scary about furniture moving around anyway?”
From my perspective having a chair move across the floor without being touched would be almost as scary as having teenage daughters. What do you do about two girls who have outgrown what Coleridge (He of “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” fame; we all read it in high school; you may have been absent that day) called the “willing suspension of disbelief?” Apparently, being willing to believe in ghosts, if only for two hours, depends on the special effects, not an active imagination.
I remember (cue nostalgia music) when I saw Play Misty For Me, on the 2D, entirely flat, theater screen. It starred Clint Eastwood, back when he and I were young and better looking and had more hair. (And no, this is not male pattern baldness. I just like a clean look.) By today’s standards the movie is pretty tame. Two people get stabbed. One of those doesn’t even die. Today’s teenagers are raised on movies that get a PG rating if there’s not a body count in the dozens before the opening credits. When I left the theater after watching Play Misty For Me I jumped at every little noise. And yes, if Mr. Rogers had walked up at that moment and told me he wanted to be my neighbor, I would have screamed like a little girl.
Sure, the movie wouldn’t phase me today. And I much prefer the image of Eastwood in Torino, where he apparently prefers the clean look as well.
What really scares me? I dropped the oldest off for drivers ed today. And no, I’m not going to indulge in the usual jokes. This is much too frightening for that. Before she could get me to leave (apparently the only thing she actually fears is having one of her friends meet her father) I made the mistake of peaking into the classroom. All those fresh young faces. They looked so innocent, eager, excited — as though they were on their way to summer camp, completely unaware that someone in a hockey mask has just applied for the job of head counselor.
Yes, those eager faces are just weeks away from being on the road. Even that wouldn’t scare me if I thought they had any fear left in them after fifteen Friday the 13th sequels. Oh, the teachers will try. They’ll show a film of auto accidents, the drivers ed version of “Scared Straight.” If the special effects aren’t up to par my daughter will get bored and start texting the good looking kid two rows in front of her.
“Dad,” she will tell me, rolling her eyes, “the blood was so fake. It looked like chocolate syrup. Independent producers should stick to low budget art films.”
That’s what scares me. All those kids have seen way too much movie blood to be frightened by the real thing. I want them scared out of their wits when they get on the road. I want them driving like their great, great grandmother. I won’t mind if you yell at them or honk your horn at them. I won’t mind if my daughter complains, “Dad, did you hear what word he used?” Even though she’ll misunderstand when I start laughing, when it comes to teenagers behind the wheel, I much prefer comedy to horror.