frankenstein behind the scenes

Last Halloween, I’d asked a few Nervous Breakdown contributors to share their favorite terrifying movie scenes, and D. R. Haney was among them with his contribution from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I, on the other hand, had picked the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka, which I explain so you understand why I like collaborating with Duke. My brain grows three sizes bigger by association. He’s like a cinematic moral compass for which true north is James Dean. And this year for Halloween, Duke and I decided to discuss the classic tale that produced another old-school Hollywood icon.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving our little mountain post office when the postmistress herself came flying out of the building at me like Smaug after a Baggins.

“If you’re not going to check your mail for a box key, I’m not going to bother putting it in. I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying to be nice. But if you’re going to just run off with it, I am NOT going to do it anymore.”

Our postmistress has a frizzled crown of shoulder-length grayscale hair on her head, wears artsy hippy attire and generally looks as if she has been plucked from a medieval mob scene. That is to say that she resembles a librarian. In my experience, all librarians–beautiful or plain–can be easily imagined in Renaissance festival attire and sucking on a turkey leg. If she had produced a rotten turnip to throw at me in that moment, I would not have been the least bit surprised. Unlike a librarian, however, she bears the additional countenance of one who could be packing heat. Had she produced a 9mm Beretta, for example, I would have been equally stoic.

I blinked twice, looked down at my fistful of mail, gave it a shake, and sure enough, a little orange key fell to the pavement.

She shook her head hotly and smoldered her way back into her position of public maintainer of peace and of parcels.

And actually, had she flashed a gun at me, it would not have been the first time for me. As a matter of fact, I have seen down the muzzle of a gun no less than five times in my life. I have been:

  1. Detained outside of a car on the side of a dead-dog-strewn highway in Mexico;
  2. Threatened through a site not to take a step closer to a barbed wire fence patrolled by a tower guard at the East German border;
  3. Awakened to find a gun pointing carelessly at me through the backseat window of a car at a checkpoint entering a still-red Hungary;
  4. Ordered at point blank range to leave a protest in Hong Kong by a mainland Chinese soldier; and,
  5. Startled while doing some target practice to find a man had set up a .50 caliber canon on a tripod directly behind me and my instructor, and was preparing to blast a hole in the side of the mountain in front of us, from about six feet above our heads. Apparently we were in his way.

A few months ago, I walked into a gas station after having filled up my Jeep Cherokee to ask for change for a $5 bill. Simple request.

May I have five ones, please?

The man working the counter was old. I mean, really old. If I have to guess, I would put him somewhere around 97. It is possible he once knew someone who voted against Lincoln. His hair was pulled straight back over his shiny scalp and butch waxed into neat little comb stripes. I could see that he had been tall once, but his shoulders were in a losing battle with gravity. His nostrils and ears looked as if someone had ripped out something electronic that used to reside in there, and left the uncapped wires to the elements, a good 30 years ago.

He didn’t answer me at first, so I repeated my request a little louder. A little more chipper. Irene Zion is always talking about how the elderly and infirm like pets and happy people. I smiled broadly. Cocked my head to one side like a Spaniel.

He didn’t look at me directly at first. When a noise so low and guttural began bubbling and churning in my ears, I thought at first that a faulty air system was trying to kick on somewhere on the other side of the parabolic lighting. He held out a large, gnarled hand at me, edemic and spotted like a giraffe.

“Now, look here,” he said after removing the phlegm from his throat which had nearly initiated an emergency visit from the HVAC folks, “if I give you change, then I have to give every young whippersnapper who waltzes in here change. I’d be doling out change all the livelong day.”

A wheeze ripped through his rusty windpipe like a Sawzall and rearranged the mangled wiring hanging out of his nose.

“No, no,” I smiled even broader this time, imagining Irene and her passel of puppies, “I’m a customer. I just spent $45 on gas out at the tank.”

He began sputtering like a whistle-less kettle and shuffling his feet until a fellow customer saved all of us with his wallet.

“Here. This guy’s not gonna budge anytime before his next Metamucil break.”

We exchanged bills and I was on my way, pushing past the crowd of people crammed into the Boulder Conoco, apparently all waiting to magically multiply their single bills at the expense of the elderly.

I don’t think I look like a threat. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a street rat holding a proverbial can of graffiti. I often wear black, but usually accompanied by something in the color scale. I smile. I make small talk. I have no visible tattoos. I have been known to karaoke. I’ve even tried to look intimidating. Take, for example, the time I dressed up Emo in order to attempt to avoid jury duty. (FAIL.) I am decidedly un-metal.

So, I guess I’m in the throes of self-realization here. I’m gazing at my own navel and what I’m finding isn’t pretty. For one thing, it has the telltale scar of a past attempt at being a badass, or “badlass” as my daughter once erroneously-and-yet-appropriately put it after watching Aeon Flux. I took the stainless ring out at some point during pregnancy when it looked as if it could be used as a controlling device poking out from underneath my shirt. As if someone could clamp a leash onto it and lead me out to pasture.

But also, I’m realizing that despite my numerous attempts at a persona of personal strength, I still come off to the average Joe as a bit of a doormat. A non-event. The perfect person to whom to refuse a simple dollar bill exchange and over whom to attempt to shoot a tank. Also, I do annoying things like making sure that I have no prepositions at the end of my phrases.

But there’s something else, too. (No, look deeper. Past the lint.) And that is the fact that I don’t actually feel like a doormat. Like, when the old guy at the gas station told me he wouldn’t make change for me, I was already composing the letter in my head to his manager, along with a scathing review for the local paper, as well as this very post. That is to say, I’m not as nice as I apparently look. I am occasionally vindictive.

I don’t know what to do with this knowledge yet, but I feel I could quite possibly be a dangerous individual. I should not be trusted. If I were a man, I should be out right now perusing the sales lots for a very large truck. I should be practicing my Boris Karloff look in front of the mirror. I should practice my cussing. I should go out and take names. I should become a kung fu master. I should acquire a suicide bracelet. I should tattoo my neck.

I should become a postmistress.