If P. T. Barnum and Robert Ripley had a love child, the result would be me. Like drug addiction or obesity, I believe there is a gene that predisposes us to enjoy and be fascinated with the macabre and "oddities". Let me put it this way, the average person swoons over a picture of a sleeping kitten while I get flushed looking at the picture of the kitten born with two faces in The Daily News. Or, here is a better example: you know how everyone has to slow down and look at the accident on the side of the road? I'm the one who wants to peek under the blue blanket and see how the body landed when it hit the asphalt.
Let me digress for a moment..whenever I share my experience, strength and hope at an AA meeting, I always tell folks that I wish I could remember the exact moment when my addiction took over. What was it that snapped on the addict light and made me dive head first into the Hell that would become my life? With this obsession, I DO remember and I have my Aunt Sally to thank for "turning me out" to all things, erm, "freaky".
Aunt Sally was not really my aunt. Grandpa had a meat market in Nanuet, NY called Charlie's Market that he started in 1952. My father and my uncle Bob worked there as kids and while I was a toddler, I would play around the butcher blocks and knives, hide in the freezers and eat raw meat (looking back, it's a wonder that CPS didn't take me away!) and get to eat as many Creamcicles my heart desired. So, Sally was really a friend of the family; there were many of them, aunts and uncles while I was growing up. Remember, this was back in the days when customer service was king. So, Sally was married to my "uncle" Tony and this particular evening we were all gathered at my grandfather's house for dinner when it happened. Let me set the scene for you:
I was five years old with a head of nappy little curls and a wardrobe of Geranimals. (I wish they made those for adults). Me, Sally and Tony were playing a card game at the table and I remember that I was so small I had to kneel on the chair to reach the table top, and my hands were so uncoordinated, I couldn't hold the cards the way Sally and Tony could. I was getting frustrated and it's ironic because as adult I'm quite the poker fanatic and have learned how to hold my cards close..
So, in the middle of the game Tony asks me if I want to see a trick. Of course! He did the old making his thumb look like it's coming apart trick like Steve Martin did in the movie Parenthood. You know, the trick that made the little girl scream. I almost fainted. I was quite the squeamish child and well, still don't have a stomach of steel. Tony and Sally laughed at my horror, but that was not the capper. Sally leaned in close to me and said, "hey Carolyn, wanna go into the bedroom with me and watch me take off my leg!?". Unbeknownst to me at the time, Sally was diabetic and had lost her leg below the knee. If you think Tony's thumb trick left me unnerved, the fact that Sally could take of her leg left me paralyzed with shock. I didn't take her up on her offer, but to this day I can remember feeling scared, repulsed and even a little turned on about it. No, not sexually. Just....wow. If memory serves I did start crying which prompted my mother to ask what happened, to which her response was, "why you gotta do that to her....she's gonna have nightmares!!!". It was soon after that I started holding mock funerals for my dolls in the garden.
The older I got, the more I appreciated the weirder things in life: bearded ladies, three legged men, pinheads and well, my personal favorite: lobster boy. While others recoiled, I got closer and wanted to know more. I devoured books on "circus freaks" . Was addicted to both "Ripley's, Believe it or Not" and "That's Incredible". I worshiped Leonard Nimoy on "In Search Of". And lastly, sat through each and every episode of "Faces of Death". And I'm all the better for it. As a teenager, while others loved Matt Dillon, I loved Robert Wadlow the tallest man who ever lived. While the girls when crazy for five boys from England (Duran Duran), I was crazy about the Dionne Quintuplets!
Now that I live in New York, I make it a point to head to Coney Island at least once a year to see the "freak show". Well, from outside....if I'm not mistaken there is video of me on Youtube reacting to "Blockhead" hammering nails into his nose. I'm also a moderator on an Internet forum that is dedicated to the darker side of Hollywood called Find a Death. I love it. Whenever I dive into a new book about Elvis or any other celebrity who died young, I go straight to the back of the book to see if there are any new death scene details.
Listen, I've had therapists tell me that this fascination of mine is my minds way of dealing with my mother's death. I was young so, if I can take death, bring it close to me, look at it and say, "you're not that scary", I can handle it better. I don't know if that's true, but it sounds nice.
You know, P.T Barnum supposedly coined the phrase " there is a sucker born every minute" while Robert Ripley left it up to us to "believe it or not". I'm going to coin a new phrase..one I'm sure my "dads" would approve of: embrace your morbid curiosity. We all have it and it's healthy..and as natural as a two headed kitty!