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Work of Art — We love being scared

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By Art Trujillo

Tomorrow night, many of us will get the chance to become frightened — and to enjoy it. Is it the rush of adrenalin that gives people a “high?”

Thursday night, Halloween, will of course feature spooky costumes as kids go trick-or-treating. If history holds out, they’ll congregate mostly in the newer, better-lighted areas of town. Streets like Vegas, Mountain View, Dalbey, Legion and Lee drives are likely gathering places.

Along with the door-knocking comes a host of scary Stephen King movies or those of the Friday the 13th vintage, the super-slasher flicks.

All that makes one wonder: Why do people enjoy being scared?

The final speech class before Halloween usually was devoted entirely to the notion of being frightened. My speech class, last decade, featured several prepared speeches delivered by students who seemed convinced of the dangers facing trick-or-treaters.

You’ve heard about the five nuns and three priests (or was it three nuns and five priests?) who were to be kidnapped with such acumen that they would never be located again. And stories abound regarding the psychos who hand out poisoned candy.

Yet we wonder whether there’s empirical evidence that such things really happen. Are there really people who taint Twix bars and Reese’s Pieces?

There actually is an account of a deranged father in Ontario who poisoned Halloween candy that his own 8-year-old son consumed. That ploy earned the father a trip to the gas chamber a few years later.

But back to the original question of liking to be frightened. To me, the world’s scariest movie was “The Exorcist.”

Everyone on the planet is aware of the pea-soup shower little Linda Blair squirts on the face of Father Karras, who is trying to exorcise the demon inside Regan, played by Blair.

The pea-soup incident literally made my spine tingle. True, we use the expression frequently to describe something scary, but never in my life had it been a real experience.

Yet it happened. I was sitting alone in a movie theater in Columbia, Mo., watching The Exorcist, and the chill ran up my spine. Before then, I believed there was no such sensation.

About a year later, the same movie came to the Serf in Las Vegas. I went with a friend, reassuring him that to me, already having seen the William Peter Blatty film, it would be as tame as “The Sound of Music.”

I anticipated the exact moment Regan’s soup shower would grace the face of the priest, and the same darned thing happened: The chill went up my spine again.

Since then, I’ve tried to instigate the adrenalin rush by re-playing that particular scene on my home VCR and slowing down the action. The good news is that the rush doesn’t come when watched on a TV screen at home.  Maybe there’s something to the warning: Don’t try this at home.  

Well, locally there were no reported abductions of members of the clergy after any of my speech classes. There were no cases of tainted treats.

About the main excitement I witnessed came one Halloween eve when I was doing research at Zimmerman Library on the UNM campus. I observed as a scantily clad woman on East Central approached a young man, with her own Halloween salutation. She yelled out: “Trick or trick.” I didn’t stick around for the transfer of money.

• • •

Cuba, a pin-dot community between Farmington and Bernalillo, seldom makes statewide news. When my wife and I worked there, it was a fine, quiet place with a good football team and a student body that hadn’t forgotten how to say “Yes, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am.”

As a place where we spent three years as teachers, way back in the ‘60s, we even agreed that, if conditions were right, we might consider making that our permanent home.

The students were great. We left only because of the principal of the thing.

It’s interesting to see a Cuba dateline in the state’s press, and even see footage on Albuquerque TV stations. This case involves Liberty Thompson, a student whose grades qualify her as valedictorian, allowing her to give one of the commencement speeches next May.

But there’s a hitch: She and her family belong to the Seventh Day Adventist church, which prohibits things that commencements entail on Saturdays. Just as Sundays are the “day of rest” and the period in which the Commandments say one must “keep holy,” Liberty says she will not be able to participate on that Saturday in late May.

The Cuba Independent School Board sets the calendar, which ought to be their right. The three commencements my family attended, in the ‘60s, all fell on Saturdays.

Liberty’s parents have threatened to take the matter to court, if they haven’t already. The student has pages of signatures from fellow students, urging the Cuba Schools Board of Education to reconsider, by advancing commencement one day, to allow the senior scholar the opportunity of delivering the commencement address the day before.

Is it a case of a big, mean government entity flexing its muscle by (so far) refusing to change the graduation date? Is it a matter of the unpleasant mixing of church and state?

The school board president says the Saturday commencement ceremony cannot be changed. Personnel from the Public Education Department insist the date is really a matter of local option.

As much an honor as delivering the valedictory address would be for Liberty, she’ll probably have to sit this one out, given her adherence to church teachings.

For the board to cut a deal and move the graduation date away from Saturday simply isn’t good policy in that it would tend to inconvenience hundreds of people.

Liberty will still earn her diploma and may well enroll at a fine college that her stellar grade-point average justifies.

The school isn’t discriminating against the child; rather, it is simply unwilling to made a change to accommodate only one person, albeit a fine student.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.