Friday, July 6, 2012

The Jerry Sandusky Horror Picture Show

By Adam Maher

For a quick second, I want you to think back to the scariest movie you ever saw as a child. I'm talking that one movie that actually screwed you up for life. What movie was it? Who was the cold-blooded killer? Who were the victims and what happened to them? Was the movie esconced in the supernatural, or was the plot based in a realistic setting? Don't be afraid to admit to yourself that there is one movie that presents a scene that will forever send shivers down your spine as you walk alone through the dark late at night, be you in a familiar or foreign place - whether you're thinking of this particular movie at that particular time or not - the fear was implanted by it.

Now, I want you to remember how old were you when your mind generated those first emotions of memorable shock, fear and torture based upon what you saw on the screen. Seven, eight, nine years old? Where were you when you experienced this emotion? Sleep-away camp? Your best friend's birthday party? A movie theater? Did you watch the whole film with sadistic joy, or were you one of those kids who ducked out of the room, petrified, who found themselves lying wide awake for entire nights, freaking out because you KNEW someone was going to emerge from thin air and slice your face off as soon as you closed your eyes and tried to fall asleep?

I'll always remember the one movie that screwed my head up for life: Candyman.

I was about 12 years old and was having a sleepover at an old friend's house in Montclair who I won't name. (Let's just say his father is an Indian exporter/importer turned multi-millionaire, he went to Brown, lives in Brooklyn (the last I spoke with him), introduced me to porn; his sister choreographs Mac Miller music videos and his mom is a very fortunate-looking woman. I'd label him a very handsome bro. He would have made a good "Charlie" on HBO's "Girls" had they not gone with Christopher Abbot.)

As my friend slept in the other room, I stayed up alone to watch the movie he couldn't stop talking about all night (it doesn't get much lamer than falling asleep ten minutes into the scary movie you convinced your friend to watch). I'm sure most of you know the story of Candyman, but for those who don't, here's what I endured:

An artistically-talented son of a slave falls in love and impregnates a white woman in I want to say the early 1800s. When the community finds out, they decide to punish him by mutilating his drawing hand so that he can never create art again, let alone pleasure the town's precious white women as he rounds third base. Befittingly, the slave's hand is immediately replaced with a hook by his torturers. The mob then smothers him in honey and unleashes a fury of bees that sting him dead as the mob begins to call out his new name in unison, "Candyman," five times before he perishes in a pile of sugary shame. Fast-forward to the relative present (ca. 1992). A quirky, pretty white college female is conducting a study on urban legends for her thesis. She learns all about this Candyman story and begins to dig deeper. She finds out that if you say his name five times, like the mob that killed him, while looking at yourself in the mirror, his spirit will come to you in the middle of the night and murder your face off. He'll either consume your body with bees that pour out of his mouth, or use his preferred hook to gut your worthless intestines into bacon bits.

There are obviously a bunch of other little interwoven story lines that complete the movie, but all I cared about as a freaked-out 12-year-old boy was the fact that, if I was dumb enough to say "Candyman" five times while looking at myself in the mirror, I was for certain a dead man. To make matters worse, when I was three years old I was stung 15 times on my chest when a wasp found its way under my t-shirt. All I wanted was to ride my big wheels that day! Instead, my temperature rose to over 102 degrees and if not for a brief stint in the hospital I might not be alive to write this post today.

As soon as the movie ended, I had to go to the bathroom. When I was washing my hands, I decided I had to face my fear. Hook, line and sinker. I was caught up and obsessed. I would say "Candyman" in the mirror five times in a row and make certain that this Candyman character was not real - for if he was, surely I would have to defeat him and save all of humankind.

"Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman."

I couldn't say his name the fifth time! I was so freaked out by the fact that I said it four times...I thought that was enough! Certainly I was doomed for a self-imposed bloodbath that night! Needless to say, I didn't sleep for days. Every time I would try and close my eyes, I'd picture Tony Todd coming into my room and ripping me to pieces. It happened for years. Some hero I was.

We all have had movie experiences like my experience with Candyman. Movies that present to us images of torture so brutal, that when we first heard stories of "water boarding" and "sleep deprivation" coming out of the Iraq War we thought to ourselves... that's torture? So you're saying I don't have to worry about getting disemboweled in a public setting, someone uppercutting my chin with an ice pick, getting burned at the stake, or having Tony Todd literally chainsaw my arm off?! Have you ever considered the fact that, as you are reading this post, a person with a self-righteous cause might actually be standing right behind you, just far away enough so that you can't feel their hot, disgusting breath on the back of your meaningless neck, quietly watching and waiting for you to turn around and see their Slip Knot-esque mask, covered in real blood, so they can smash your face in with a reverse nail-glittered sledge hammer because your great-great-great-grandfather killed their family 150 years ago? I have.

I'm no screenwriter, but you can't tell me you've never been absolutely and totally scared shitless at least once in your life from watching a movie. If you have not, you must be one of those extreme psychos that lives life on the edge. Skydiving without a parachute, anyone? Who's up for some real-life Hot Wheels?

You may be saying to yourself by now, if you've made it this far, what is your point, Adam? What does this have to do with sports? Candyman is a horrible movie and you're a complete wuss/sucker for buying into it all these years.

Here's my point: Take every feeling you ever had when you were scared. Truly and utterly afraid for your life. Whether it was real, a scene in a movie like me, a book or a campfire story. Add them all up, multiply that by 100 million and you won't even come close to how scared the 10-year-old Sandusky victims must have been when Jerry strolled into the shower stalls at the end of a long camp day in Bum-fuck (too literal?), Pennsylvania.

To think that this kind of thing is happening in youth sports all around the world on a regular basis is even scarier. Just last night, I came across an even more wretched Coach-player sex scandal than Sandusky. Ivan Pravilov, Danius Zubrus' youth hockey coach, has come to be know as "The Perfect Predator" via Jason Nark of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I urge everyone reading this post to click the link and read the story. It's very long, but worth your while. This type of unforgivable, Satanic behavior must be stopped. It's BS. I swear, when I have kids, if I see even a hint of this type of stuff going on, I'm breaking out the shovel and going to war.

The last thing I'd want to do is downplay other people's moments of pure phobia with this post. In my case, as is the case with most suburban American kids from my generation, I've never had to go through anything all that scary, so, movies and books are my biggest sources of experiencing fear. Seriously, both my parents are alive and well - no, they never beat each other - and I see and talk to both of them all the time. I've never been mauled by anything, thank God. Nobody is dropping bombs on my neighborhood. I've never truly felt what it's like to starve. I was never severely or repeatedly bullied. I never had to run from (or shoot at) the Nazis or the Taliban (the closest I got to experiencing Nazis was either "Call of Duty, Nazi Zombies," Elie Wiesel's "Night," Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," or Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards). I've never been in a horrendous car accident (although I did see one on Rt. 23 driving home from Wild Turkey earlier this week). I won't ever have to birth a child. I didn't lose my family in 9/11. I was not a child soldier. And I've never had to deal with gang life. I guess the most traumatizing thing that ever happened to me was when I tore my ACL for the first time in high school while I was playing lacrosse, which all but ended my dream to play big D1 lax in college. But I still don't think any of that truly compares to being sexually abused as a child.

Now that Sandusky is locked away, guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse against 10 victims, more stories are coming out, for lack of a better phrase. The Perfect Predator story is the second major saga I've heard of, after Syracuse's Bernie Fine. If we don't take control of this situation as a country, I'm afraid youth sports could eventually teeter into a Catholic Church-esque role in today's society, which will have devastating consequences to the sports industry as a whole. I still think that Penn State failed as an entity in not canceling their season after the Sandusky news broke. To think that they actually played a game the next week, when it was possible that victims could be on their sidelines, was sickening. I wish I could flip a switch and stop the madness. I guess I'll have to settle for discussing the inevitable double-feature, late-night horror stories to come forward over the next few years in writing and conversation from the back row. At least I'll only have Candyman to worry about when I lay my head to rest.

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