Okay, so I’ll admit up front that I’m a fraidy-cat. And I’m not talking about being afraid of mundane things, like flying and rappelling. This kind of stuff is not a problem. I’m talking about genuine, irrational, boogeyman-gonna-get- ya kind of fear. I have a healthy imagination, and it doesn’t take much to get it spinning out of control. Especially late at night.
A few months ago, Nick told me he heard some weird, tinny music coming from one of the trash bins in our complex. I told him it was probably a broken music box, but he disagreed. It couldn’t be that, he said, because the sound “just wasn’t right.” Later that day, when I was coming home from the gym, I heard the music, too. I went over to the trash bin, and right on top, sitting atop a discarded pizza carton, was a broken music box shaped like a piano. I was quite pleased with myself. Ha, I thought. I’ll show him. So I picked up the music box–carefully, so as to avoid touching any other garbage–and I brought it inside. Now, you’ll remember that I said the music box was broken. Its lid was missing, which is why it was playing its little song in the first place, so I depressed the knob in the middle and placed a few pieces of tape over it. The music stopped. When Nick got home, I pointed it out to him right away, so as to demonstrate my superiority. He shrugged, and said “Well, how about that.” This was not at all the reaction I wanted, so I went into another room to pout and forgot completely about the music box.
We went to bed.
We fell asleep.
DEE-DUR DEE-DUR DEE-DUR DUM! You may remember this from every third grader’s piano recital. It’s Beethoven’s “FÃ¼r Elise,” and at 3 in the morning it sounds like the devil is skinning a water buffalo in your living room. It was the most sinister thing I’d ever heard, and I went flying into the living room to turn it off. Keep in mind that I had just woken up out of a nightmare into this craziness (maybe the noise CAUSED the nightmare, I’ll never be sure), so I was in the kind of disoriented post-nightmare state where your fear sensors are all cranked up and everything around you looks inordinately suspicious. What used to be a regular old mirror becomes an EVIL mirror. That ordinary ventriloquist’s dummy in the chair becomes an EVIL ventriloquist’s dummy. You get the idea. In addition to that, horror movies have virtually ruined the music box for me (those cute chime-y melodies always seem to presage the appearance of a psycho-killer or a psycho-killer’s ghost). So I used up an entire roll of tape securing that stupid knob and set the box down again. But when I got in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the EVIL music box, just sitting out there like an EVIL cobra waiting to strike. EVIL Beethoven was still running through my head, taunting me. So I got up again and, still in my PJs, carried the music box out to the dumpster. I set it carefully back onto the pizza carton, at which point I heard voices from down the road and began to panic. In my paranoia, I felt sure these people were coming after me. I sprinted back inside and quickly locked and bolted the door, half-crazed from the adrenaline surge.
So yes. I’m kind of a fraidy-cat. But only in the middle of the night. And only if I perceive a clear and present danger to my health and well-being. Like, say, a broken music box or something.
Incidentally, Für Elise was also featured in that irritating McDonald’s commercial a number of years back. You know, the one with that bratty little girl (“I … will eat French fries … and not save any … for my dumb brother…”). This Pavlovian conditioning has worked so well that even now, every time I hear Beethoven, I think of short, slender stalks of atomized potatoes marinating in animal fat.