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= Dreaming About Philip Seymour Hoffman =
GRANDPA WETTER’S HOME
WESTBURY, NY / CIRCA 1988
I’m under the kitchen table because monsters are real. “There are no such things,” she’d say. But mom’s reassurances have lost validity. Just outside, a car door slams.
Dinner is finished and the chairs are barren. I’m exposed. Less than a minute to find a better hiding spot but I’m frozen. My five year old body shakes like an Autumn leaf & my skin is slimy with perspiration. The front door opens. I pee myself.
A pair of old legs wrapped in pantyhose pass by me in slow motion. Crooked blue veins pulsate beneath her paper-thin skin. But she’s not the monster.
Following close behind are two trunks planted in Velcro-strapped shoes. The pores in the bark of his legs are the size of dimes. His ankles have the athletic tone of an Olympic sprinter yet the choice in orthopedic shoe apparel contradicts this assumption.
The monster refers to me by first name and mispronunciation of the middle.
I pee myself again and plead with Jesus to save me. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles surely won’t. They’re in the living room enjoying desert and coffee.
As the lights dim in memories of old, I come back to the present and think fondly of my childhood monster - and third cousin - Georgie.
George Francis Hesse (AKA Georgie, Hesse, the Hester, and Man-Mo-Hacka) was born a Mongoloid according to the common vernacular of 1951. The misnomer alone evokes terror; his physical characteristics didn’t help much. To a child, Georgie’s appearance was bewildering
Only child of Lavinia (aunt Vinny for short) & the late George Sr., Georgie was an unexpected surprise. Aunt Vinny gave birth as a middle-aged woman, increasing her baby’s risk of Down Syndrome. In a nut shell, Down Syndrome is caused by the presence an extra chromosome. Along with it comes a list of developmental challenges, both physical and mental.
Anyway, back to Memory Lane. Well Linden Place to be exact, which is just a few neighborhoods away from my grandpa Wetter’s home in Westbury, NY. Back to the first time I met Georgie.
I ask dad.
The houses are different than those I’ve seen. Some have broken windows. There’s a toilet on that one’s front lawn. And that one has an older couple with chocolate skin (please forgive this 5 year old for misinterpreting racial diversity) sitting on an inside-couch that’s on their outside porch.
as dad points over me and out the passenger-side window (please forgive parents of the ‘80s for putting children in the front seat).
He parks the car in front of a haunted house.
364 Linden Place has the devil’s face. Two windows on the second floor are its eyes and the downstairs porch is going to swallow me whole. A spooky old tree towers over the single family home. Its branches are twisted and full of knots. Dad unbuckles my car seat and carries me over the uneven, concrete walkway. An old woman in a nightgown holds the screen door wide open. She smiles, causing thousands of tiny folds within the skin of her face.
I was under the impression that aunt Vinny was flying solo, but there’s a monster inside shouting for mumma. In the right-most window on the second floor is the silhouette of a second occupant who could pass for a Grizzly Bear based on its outline.
Aunt Vinny’s kiss is like sandpaper on my cheek. I’ve never seen someone this old before. Dad puts me down as we breach the front porch.
It’s dark in here. The only light filters through a stained glass window on the far left wall. Red & gold colors illuminate the strangest items one wouldn’t expect to see in a porch.
Below the stained glass window is a cartographer’s desk that Christopher Columbus would appreciate. On it: giant coloring books and sketch pads. What I mistook as a textured floor were thousands of miscellaneous action figures sprawled about. And not just any action figures, but an unidentifiable hoard of action figures with no correlating movies or cartoon series to validate their existence.
I tug on dad’s pant leg and make an ‘mmmm’ noise to signify that I want out of this f*cking place.
screams my surprise from inside & upstairs.
I’m scared beyond what a child’s vocabulary could articulate and refuse to go any further.
She leads dad into the main cabin… and that bastard leaves me alone in a haunted house. He knows there’s a monster screaming from the second floor and he calls this my ‘surprise’? No clarification on what the beast is or what the beast wants, just that it’s a surprise.
I’m ready to run, dad or no dad. I grab for the door handle that leads back to the concrete walkway. But it’s out of reach. My only option was to breach the main cabin, find dad and force retreat.
The door to the main house creaks open. The TV’s on but no one’s watching. Old reruns play on a black & white television. The smell of fried bacon leads me through the den and into the kitchen where dad sits at the table as aunt Vinny handles the frying pan. I tug on dad’s pant leg.
as I tug harder on his pant leg.
Enough all of this egg talk!
goes the sound of an anvil falling upstairs somewhere.
aunt Vinny calls out,
The monster has a name and its name is Georgie.
The monster now knows what to call his next meal.
As anvils continue to fall.
I have no idea what Man-Mo-Hacka is, but my curiosity is outweighed by concern for my own well-being.
I wobble out of the kitchen with limbs made of chewing gum. Back in the den is the staircase. The sound of an old rerun plays the background music of my demise. I grab the banister, turn slowly and look up.
Standing atop the staircase is a man like I’ve never seen before. Wrapped in a bath towel & wearing children’s slippers, this surprise was no child. Yet he was no adult. He’s a man-child with slanted eyes. Instincts kept me still.
as the bull charges down the stairs with arms opened wide.
And I’m off…
Through the kitchen, past my dad, around the den & back again. Georgie chases close behind. His speed is remarkable.
aunt Vinny pleads,
Why aren’t they concerned for me? I’m the one in danger, not George. I’m the one being chased by a monster so oval-shaped he could pass as Grimace if his skin were purple.
I continue to circle through the kitchen, past my dad, around the den & back again until I realize the chase is off. I slow up, turn around and Georgie is nowhere in sight. The screen door to the backyard slowly closes on its own.
The screen door leads to a backyard that’s barely noticeable underneath the world’s largest above ground pool. It’s truly massive.
as he takes me by the hand and dumps me out the back door.
It’s quiet out here - a little too quiet. Not many spots for a man-child to hide behind, so it’s a matter of when we’ll meet as I circle the swimming pool. I make my way around, realizing every step could be my last. And I miss mommy the whole way.
A round pool has no corners, only blind spots. I’ve covered the entire structure and my racing heart slows down. It’s still too quiet as I lean my back against the pool. The haunted house looks worse from the back. But it’s a beautiful day. I close my eyes.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Water drips onto my forehead. I open my eyes and I’m in the shade.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I look up, expecting a rain cloud.
When Aunt Vinny passed away, my grandparents took responsibility of Georgie’s well-being. They gave him a home and we all gave him love.
Hesse made it through middle age and three generations of scared children. It was a rite of passage for every Wetter to adjust to Georgie’s unique circumstances. The pattern was the same for us all - fear, adjustment, love.
Back under that kitchen table - just days after we first met - I’m staring at Georgie’s Velcro-strapped shoes as he descends into a full squat.
He reaches in, scoops me into his arms, and pulls me out. His tongue unintentionally pops out as he kisses my cheek.
As I wipe his slobber off my face.
He digs into his pocket and pulls out an action figure. It looks like a He-Man character, but I know He-Man and this is no He-Man.
he says as he hands it to me.
Oh how I miss you, Hester. No matter how many ways I Google search for an action figure called Man-Mo-Hacka, I’ve got nothing. You were my third cousin, childhood monster and best friend. Maybe we’ll see each other one day under that big kitchen table in the sky.
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