one of my favorite gary larson cartoons depicts a small, rotund boy hiding under the blankets in his bed. the room is full of monsters, but jimmy has got a monster snorkel that lets him breathe while safely under cover, and the monsters are none the wiser.
larson’s genius was in exposing the concept of the monster snorkel (or the equivalent): something simple to protect us from the bad things in the world. sadly, the world can be a scary place, and there aren’t any monster snorkels. about all we’ve got is our reptilian brain.
my trip to the garage the other night reminded me that the reptile inside is alive and well…
trash pickup occurs on tuesday mornings (early), which means trash usually goes out monday night. our three color–coded trash bins live in the garage, so last monday, following the routine, i took the trash down clad in my usual evening attire (flannel PJs, slippers, fleece pullover). it was dark, but the light above the garage stairway bleeds into the garage enough to support the business of garbage dumping, tool–rummaging, or whatever other urgent midnight task needs to be performed down there. it does not, however, cast light into all those nooks and crannies that are life–support systems for fear.
i discovered this fact while at the turning point of my journey. i was in the corner, the spot farthest from the stairwell, my back to the vast expanse that is our garage, and i was dropping bags into bins. you might say this is the most vulnerable position possible in my seemingly safe abode (dark, spooky garage, back turned, hands occupied, guard down, wearing PJs and slippers). if i were a monster, that’s when i’d attack me, my slavering fangs bared to rip through that flannel.
at least, i think that’s what my reptilian brain was thinking. at that moment, it hijacked higher cortical function and took over the show.
the hair on my neck stood up and it suddenly seemed like the most important thing in the world was to get up that stairwell into the warm, cozy, monster–free house. i squelched the urge to run like a little girl, clear evidence that the higher brain counts for something (i.e., saving face with your girlfriend by not running from boojums hiding in the shadows of our garage).
so that’s what i did. i calmly walked up the stairs (no! run run run!), clicked off the light, closed the door, and locked it. phew — disaster narrowly averted (note to self: take down the trash during the day).
the whole incident reminded me of when i was a kid, and of the deep–seated fear that would occasionally strike, the kind of fear that couldn’t be assuaged by any amount of parental cooing or logical analysis. after all, we’re talking about monsters here, people…
the thing that got my reptilian fires burning more than any other was, oddly enough, taking down the trash. we used to live in an apartment building on the top floor, and the dumpster was outside, three floors down, in the alley behind the building. there were two ways to get there: (1) walk down the stairs, out to the front of the building, up another flight of stairs, then across the carport, OR (2) walk down the back stairs to a small passage that emptied right in front of the dumpster. needless to say, route 1 was much longer and well–lit, whereas route 2 had a directness only matched by its potential to spawn blood–curdling terror in a 9–year old.
for some reason, i would always wait until it was dark to take out the trash. there were too many other things to be done during the day, after all. once the chore couldn’t be avoided any more, i’d pick up the bag, walk down the hall to the fork in the hall, and stand there. garbage bag clutched tightly, i’d try to decide whether i was gonna be a man and take the fast (dark! scary!) way, or act like a coward and take the long, slow way.
despite my general cowardice, i actually chose the dark, quick route more often than not. by going that way, i could simultaneously be done with taking out the trash quicker, and also prove (to myself, if no one else) that i wasn’t fazed by the gauntlet of terror (even though i clearly was). in the end, i survived, and am here to write of my trash–dumping adventures.
after 37 years, i still haven’t seen any real–life monsters (other than people). every once in awhile, though, the reptile inside takes over to remind me that just because i haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they’re not hiding in my garage. it may not be a monster snorkel, but it’s all i’ve got.