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Heroes and Monsters
Words and Image by Garrett Ray Riggs
Elvis Presley died when I was 10. I had been obsessed with The King since I was a toddler and now my hero was dead. Not just dead, but dead in an embarrassing, collapsed-on-the-toilet-ODed way. I needed a new hero.
I was in fifth grade and our teacher, Mr. Williams, looked like Abe Lincoln’s long lost grandson. He was tall and gangly. He wore glasses that glinted under the florescent lights of our classroom. He was the sort of guy my father scoffed at--an egghead and a bookworm--but I thought he was cool.
Mr. Williams showed Creature of the Black Lagoon in class. He had his own copy of the film that he showed around Halloween, claiming that since parts of the movie had been filmed in Palatka and Wakulla Springs, it counted as Florida history. I didn’t care about Florida history, but I was a monster fan.
Every Saturday, my brothers and I would watch Creature Feature, hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer. It was mostly 1950s and ’60s B movies, but every once in a while, they showed the classic Universal monster movies like The Wolf Man or Frankenstein.
As an eternally bullied kid, I identified with all of these monsters, including the misfit Creature. I was the “weird kid”, the one others tried to avoid, and if they couldn’t avoid me, the one they turned on. Girls treated me like I was contagious, as if my dorkiness would spread to them if I got too close. Boys called me names and looked for every opportunity to punch, kick, or hit me. I spent most of my time at recess playing on the edges of groups, watching and being shooed away if I ventured over some invisible line. Sure, it was only playground scuffles, but to me it might as well have been a mob of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks chasing me out of town.
Like The Creature or Frankenstein’s monster, the prepubescent me loved from afar and longed for acceptance. I wasn’t going to find either in my paste-eating peers.
But I saw glimpses of one possible future in Mr. Williams.
Mr. Williams lived down the street from us and when I rode my bike unsupervised and unhelmeted through the neighborhood, he would sometimes be outside in his plaid shorts and white t-shirt washing his car--a 1966 Huron Blue Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. If I rode by at the right time, he would be just finishing the car and his wife would bring him a cold glass of iced tea and they would invite me up on the porch for a cookie or two.
I would sit on the aluminum glider swing and eat the homemade cookies and listen to them. They talked about books or one of them would tell a story about growing up in the mountains of West Virginia which seemed a million miles away from the Florida swamps where we lived. They laughed at each other’s jokes, and sometimes, he would rest his hand lightly on hers as she tossed her head back and laughed.
They were nothing like my parents who were always too busy or worn out or boozed up to notice their kids. Despite being self-described hillbillies, the Williamses had class and weren’t ashamed of being intellectuals. Hell, they might’ve even listed to jazz music. Mr. Williams was nothing like my dad. He would never disappear for a week at a time or call his wife to come bail him out of jail.
“How could he?” I thought, “When she laughs like that--all full of silver and light?”
11/7/2018 10:39:45 am
Leaves me wanting to find out more about these characters. Looking forward to reading more!
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