In Which The Gorilla Shows Itself When You Least Expect It

In Death, Everyone Can Be A Kid

by George Ducker

1989

My birthday falls quite close to Halloween, but when I was younger, I always kept both events separate and distinct from each other. Like watching Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team in the same room on different televisions, the coolness factor would certainly be enhanced, but it would be impossible to really enjoy either one.

So, when my parents decided that it was time to do the Halloween-themed party, I held my tongue. We cleared out part of the garage, pulled the car out into the street, and somehow my father managed to find a large coffin. This was in Fourth Grade.

“Beyond the Fields We Know” – Dead Meadow: mp3

My father is good at producing the most bizarre paraphernalia out of nowhere. An attic full of trombones, stuffed armadillos and Arthur Ashe-era tennis rackets attests to this.

Regardless, the coffin was a minor hit at the party. One by one my friends climbed inside and then we all stood around and beat on the closed lid until our hands hurt. When we got tired of that, we took turns racing the automatic garage door.

I don’t know where my father was while we did this. He was probably watching the World Series.

Later that night, while eating pizza in the dark and watching The Pit and the Pendulum, Cole Palmer leaned over and told me that my dad scared the shit out of him.

“At Death, A Proclamation” – Phosphorescent: mp3

1984

Death, we all must know by now, is never far from the suburbs. Living in Anderson, a town then distinguished by large, block-like miles of wheat and nothing, I managed to skirt any real first-hand snuffing out.

Our dog Muffin had died when I was 3, so that was something, but Muffin had been around much longer than me, and she hated my guts. I was ambivalent at best about her passing. I remember my mother and father crying openly as they buried Muffin in the back yard.

Fatz Geronimo

“A Paw in My Face” – The Field: mp3

To my knowledge, no children ever suffered at the hands of Showbiz Pizza Place. There’s been no lawsuits, no tales of personal malfeasance or fiscal wrongdoing.

From the get-go, parents, especially those in the Southern states, dug the idea. Video games and pizza and skee-ball. Tokens to help teach the value of currency. On stage, a band comprised of animatronic robots singing original songs in the style of the Beatles and the Beach Boys.

Aaron Fechter, also inventor of the Whac-A-Mole.

“Wolves” – Phosphorescent: mp3

“The Wizard” – Black Sabbath: mp3

I was lucky at age four to be smack dab in the middle of Showbiz’s golden age. I remember the music blasting at an an ear-splitting volume. I remember the robots on stage jerking around mightily without rhyme or reason. Even though they were bolted down, I kept expecting one of them (maybe the bird) to come flying at me like a deranged missile. I remember Kevin Wetsig told me that if you crawled under the stage, there were flashing strobe lights that would make you go blind.

According to the blogger’s almanac, Showbiz bought out Chuck E. Cheese in 1984, as the latter had declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Contrary to popular belief, the robots were not the main draw. It was the video games that were bringing the kids in by the droves.

A more thorough history can be found here.

Billy Bob Brockali

Showbiz was raking in the cash, but some high-level executive must have had an accident in the woods. In a too-quick effort to expand, and possibly worried that a hillbillly bear brandishing a banjo would prove anathema to the more metropolitan kids of Kansas and Southern California, Pizza Time Inc. replaced Billy Bob (the marquee musician) with the smaller (and probably cheaper to produce) Chuck E. Cheese.

This must have been bad news for Aaron Fechter, the disarmingly youthful designer of the Showbiz Rock-A-Fire Explosion who, it is rumored, based the creatures on The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Fechter’s Wolfpack 5

He was given the boot thereafter during a Pizza-Time “concept unification” sweep.

“I Don’t Need Advice” – Jonquil: mp3

Valid comparisons have been drawn between Susan Sarandon and “Mini Mozarella.”

Minnie Mozarella

“Janet Weiss”

2007

A friend recently sent me this horrific company promo film produced in 1983:

To put it plainly, I freaked out. Visions of arcane rituals involving hayseeds and robots dressed like hayseeds danced in my head. I hadn’t thought about Showbiz in years. Did you hear those lyrics about how “You’re gonna get a spanking?” Unbelievable. I couldn’t remember anyone getting a spanking.

Looney Bird

I called my mother for some clarification.

Me: Did I have a birthday party at Showbiz?

Mom: (Sighs, as if remembering a public execution) Lord, yes.

Me: Was it fun? I don’t remember anything about it.

Mom: You had a good time. You loved the video games. I was a nervous wreck. Your aunt and cousin and I thought it would be a good idea to drive you and five other kids up to that place in Greenville. Little Kevin Wetsig – you remember him – disappeared and I looked all over and I was just about to call the police. Turns out he was hiding under the table the whole time. Doing who knows what down there.

Me: Wait. Showbiz wasn’t in Anderson?

Mom: Lord, no. It was up in Greenville. We drove you all there!

Me: Did they give spankings?

Mom: Excuse me?

Me: You know, birthday spankings?

Mom: Spankings? Why are you asking me about spankings? I wouldn’t have let those people spank you. That would have been weird. (Long Pause) I don’t remember any spankings happening. (Another pause) I spanked you. When you were out of line. (Another Pause) I don’t think anyone was spanking anyone out there.

Me: Oh. (Underwhelmed) Okay.

After I got off the phone with her I started thinking (and I guess this is just the way my mind works) about that birthday party in our garage with the coffin, and how it made sense that Cole Palmer was scared of my father.

I know now that Duckers are cursed with a Teutonic sort of default-face that expresses either disdain, glass-eyed boredom, or nothing at all. We grow to become mostly nose and ears and eyebrows. At advanced ages, Ducker men (we also reach over six feet as a rule) are pretty much the equivalent of running into a pale and indifferent sasquatch in the checkout line.

Some Ducker uncles

I’d had the same reaction to my grandfather, who was so old and so German that even his smiles were like terrifying leers.

My father, myself, my grandfather.

1986

So my mother and my father and I moved to Greenville, a single leap by U-Haul truck, to a town/city speckled with multi-story buildings and a hotel with a forest inside. “Concept unification” had rendered the Greenville Showbiz of 1984 now a barren and dismal Chuck E. Cheese. Any sort of inherent danger had been erased. There was only a stupidly grinning mouse with buck teeth. No one I knew had birthday parties there. The parking lot was always barren.

A little known member of the Rock-a-fire explosion. The Statue of Liberty and I also happen to share a birthday.

That year I started First Grade, and on October 31st, a gorilla arrived at my school. He showed up late in the day, well after recess. I watched through the window as it appeared from behind the gym and lumbered across the tarmac.

Soon enough there were screams from kindergarteners down the hall. I remember one little boy crying asthmatically in the hallway.

When the gorilla came into our classroom, he took a seat in front of the chalkboard. We were instructed to approach him for Halloween candy, which he had in abundance. Reese’s Pieces, mini-Snickers, Sweet-Tarts, horrible horrible Tootsie-Rolls.

“Hand of Doom” – Black Sabbath: mp3

I didn’t have the slightest clue the gorilla was my father, not when I forced it to remove a gloved paw (“you’re not a real ape” I declared), not when I saw the wedding band glinting on the freckled exposed hand. Only later, after the he’d moved on through the Second and Third Grade rooms, the day nearly over, did my teacher lean over and whisper, “Your father’s in the teacher’s office. He’ll give you a ride home. I think he might have some candy.”

“Safer” – Animal Collective: mp3

George Ducker is a senior contributor to This Recording. He hopes you have a spanking-free Halloween, unless that’s your thing.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

The year 2006 and how much worse it was than ’07.

Dexter keeps on rolling.

Our loathing of Anthony Minghella’s latest.

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