"Thar be skeletons ahead!" the disembodied Disney pirate voice warned. Or something to that effect. I don't recall precisely. I was five. It was my first time on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And I was absolutely frantic to return to a more skeleton-free existence.
Now in my family, fear was not an option. Just like my Pop felt any aches and pains or pneumonia or bubonic plague could be totally cured by "doing a few squat thrusts," fears were irrational things you needed to just suck up and get over.
Why, in his day, five-year-olds smoked cigars. And worked 20-hour jobs. And faced their fears like men. Small men. In short pants. With milk mustaches. But men.
They didn't make a lot of noise because they'd lost a few fingers at the bandsaw, or had a little skeleton problem.
So one day, Dad came home from the hospital where he worked, and brought a new friend. This friend had commuted in a paper bag. And jingling through the door after a long day of biomedical booyah, Dad handed the bag to me.
Oh, foolish, unsuspecting me... I peeked inside thinking there might have been a hospital booksale. That discount Nancy Drews might lurk within.
Instead, I was met with a skull's plastic grinning face. Roger's. A to-size human skull with poorly glued dentition and great empty staring eyesockets.
Roger was a medical school teaching tool that had been surplus to requirement.
Now he was our permanent houseguest.
Well, you can just imagine the reaction of a kid who's terrified of skeletons being handed the head of Yorick...
That whole "Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard" thing my family had been operating on all these years went right out the window.
But I was informed that Roger, as the Pop called him, must stay. And that's when he began living in our basement rec room on top of the television set.
I played there, of course. And so reruns of Underdog and Hong Kong Phooey and the Monkees were now seen with the relentless, wobbly, yellow grin of Roger beaming down on me. The drawback was the quality time I was forced to spend with Roger.
The benefit, I soon realized, was the improvement in aerial reception.
Over time, Roger gained a head scarf and an eyepatch, but regrettably lost his lower mandible in a freak dusting accident.
And while friends visiting the house for the first time would question Roger as one of the many oddities my packrat father had found and tucked away in the basement, to me, Roger quickly became little more than one of those Starving Artist paintings you buy for cheap to match the couch and then forget about.
"Skull? What skull? Oh, him. That's Roger. Let's play Monopoly."
Yesterday, my friend "The Knave" was commenting on some skulls printed on my pocketbook, and I had cause to recall Roger for the first time in years. Dad has long since moved and the basement cleared of its residual weirdnesses. Yet where did Roger go?
To the dumpster, to roll from truck to truck and eventually land up in a grand garbage pile, waiting to scare the socks off some curious rummager?
Or was he purchased at the house sale, by some lucky Goth kid? Or maybe a low budget Shakespeare company prepared to make Roger a star?
I'll have to ask.
I like to think he's out there somewhere. Scaring the Sunny-D out of some other kid. Who'll grow up to be reasonably well-adjusted in spite of it. Or because of it.
Plus, he really did wonders for channel 9.