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  • One Saturday afternoon when I was about 6 or 7, I was all by myself in the family den watching TV. I think the series was called “Chiller ” and it featured a scary movie every week. I’d never watched the show before, but we only had three channels and you sometimes needed to settle for something unfamiliar. A scene unfolded in which one man was clutching a long knife and chasing another man through a mansion. Finally he cornered his victim in a room and approached him slowly, saying he was going to skin the man alive. I leaped off of the couch and ran to the TV to change the channel. (This was way before there were remote controls.) Thankfully, I didn’t witness the skinning, but I worried about it for a number of days before the scary image found a resting spot in the attic of my mind.

    Thirty years later, when my twin sons, Alex and Zac were the same age, I inadvertently created the same distress for them. I frequently brought home movies for the three of us to watch, and I usually vetted them one way or another. One night I brought home “Batman” – the version with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. In my mind, “Batman” = comic strip. What could be bad? Obviously, I wasn’t thinking clearly when I let it play through a scene where the Joker lowers an enemy into a vat of chemicals. If I remember right, the movie was kind of campy, but not in a 7-year old kind of way.

    That night the boys yelled for me from their bunkbed, not long after I tucked them in. They were pretty sure Joker was somewhere in our house. The fear showed in their eyes. I realized what a mistake I’d made. These were the boys who came back from a sleepover terrified about mirrors in our house when they learned about “Mary Mary” who gets sucked into a mirror or something terrible like that. We had to cover our mirrors for several weeks.
    I got our baseball bat and made a big show of checking every room in our house. Then they asked me to check outside and I was equally demonstrative about that too, so they could hear me the whole time. After several nights of this repeated ritual they relaxed and the bedtime rituals returned to the normal rendition of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and a story.

    One night during those single-Dad years, I was watching TV by myself and, I kid you not, that black and white movie with the skinning alive scene was on the tube. This time I watched the scene and found out that the victim got away without even a scratch.
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