I Admit It. I am the Bizarro Boo Radley
The park behind my house is definitely haunted. I know because I’m the one who haunts it. I am the robed figure some have seen wandering in the pre-dawn fog and late-night gloom, sometimes carrying a wooden staff. It took me a while to realize it, but once I did I was more pleased with myself than if I had done it intentionally.
I started getting up early to write. I’m a night owl at heart but my early morning responsibilities coupled with my day job meant that writing past midnight just wasn’t going to be possible. I started setting my alarm for 4 a.m. and I didn’t need to anymore after a while. I was just up.
Sometime during the pandemic, I was out with the dog in the thick morning fog. It surprises some people to know that we have school delays here sometimes because the fog is so dense. That morning I saw a very dim glow in the park. When I went to investigate, I saw that it was the patio light from my neighbor’s house.
From my neighbor’s perspective, a robed figure holding a five-foot-tall staff was floating through the park in the fog. As the light snapped off realized how easily I could have been taken for a ghost by someone with a supernatural disposition. I think this is how all ghost stories get legs.
I should explain the staff. It’s rosewood with carved Viking heads at regular intervals. I imagine the winged, helmeted head on top belongs to Thor. It was a gift from my mother-in-law, something kooky she had in her house. It’s an affectation I can’t pull off in real life, but it amuses me to pretend I could.
The thing is, in addition to walking the dog what I do in the park is actually a little creepier. I hunt for lost toys.
“Hunt” is probably a strong word. Maybe better to say that I’m attentive to the trash. The garbage cans the town puts out in the park mainly are for show. I’ve found all sorts of things in the park. Discarded folding chairs, baseball gloves and other evidence of the drunken softballers eager to get in their cars before anyone asks whether they should be driving.
My dog is there for the snacks, which is why I try and keep her close. Once, I caught her eating what I’ve since dubbed “pedophile ribs” behind the girls softball centerfield fence. Someone had dropped their well-picked-over Siu ribs from a Chinese restaurant out of their window while they watched the game.
The bones fell in a neat pile and, when I saw them, they looked like evidence. I imagined a movie detective observing them and saying, “This is where our killer waited.”
The idea of a middle-aged guy sucking on ribs and licking his greasy fingers as he watched children play repulsed me as much as I’m sure the description repulses you. Still, “When you’re walking the dog, you have to beware the pedophile ribs,” is a message that sticks.
I don’t remember when I started picking up toys. It was longer ago than I’d like to admit. The first one I recall was an action figure, a wrestler with tattoos on his back. He was filthy and not just from having been left in a park. He had the dinge of age and neglect. No one was coming back to look for this toy. Probably nobody even noticed he was missing.
I want to say I felt compelled, but that’s not quite right. I just had a vision of putting him on my desk, of starting a collection of found toys. I rationalized that no kid would get as much of a kick out of it as I would.
I would have lied to my kids, telling them the toy’s owner would probably come back for it when I just didn’t want them dragging more garbage home. Many if not most parents likely would do the same.
There’s something off-putting about discarded items. It’s as if they might carry bad juju that changes you from a person who doesn’t salvage toys into one who does. Alternatively, maybe finding these cast-offs reminds us how much cheap junk we surround ourselves with, as if seeing other people’s garbage is a reflection of our own disposable sensibilities.
I’ve no compunction about salvage. As with all other things, I have a good reason for what I’m doing, it’s other people who are irrational, unpredictable, and/or just plain weird.
My collection grew to an impressive display. Army men and cowboys that I thought hadn’t been made since the 1970s showed up. There were more than a few obvious Happy Meal toys and even the occasional Matchbox car. There are several that I don’t recognize, likely because they’re from cartoons I’ve never heard of.
I try today not to “hunt” at all. It just feels so strange to hope some kid left a garbage toy behind for me to find. Still, when I see them I’m compelled now. It’s as if I’ve developed a need to pick them up.
Every time I do I think to myself that one kid lost it and another kid isn’t going to find it. I’ve insinuated myself into a place I don’t belong in the natural order of things. So much of what we do is for no “real” reason at all. No matter how hard I try there still are instances of me being blown around between whim and compulsion.
I’ve decided it is okay in this instance, but it’s an arbitrary position. I think the best I can do is continue to be comfortable with it, and maybe do a better job sharing my finds on Instagram.
Keep the Faith,
The Sherry Shriner saga continues. I’ll be on TV again talking about the Sherry Shriner case. This time it’s on a Discovery show called “Devil in the Web” which is radically different from “The Devil You Know.”
I will have way less screen time in this show. I think it’s an hour long. With any luck, though, it won’t tell enough of the story and people will buy the book to find out more.
Along those lines, please buy “Dragged Into the Light” here if you already haven’t. The audiobook also is available, but if you’re an audiobook listener, just respond to this email and I can send you a free copy.
Finally, if you have read or listened to it, please leave a review (or even an appropriate number of stars) on Amazon, that would be huge and gratefully accepted.
Here’s the series trailer. I’m not in it, but it has clips from the whole season.