While I was growing up, my
parents had two deadly kid traps in the house. One was the refrigerator, which
wasn’t that bad because I had no intention of crawling into it. It was never empty
enough to do that anyway. The other trap, however, was much more tempting…
As a child in the 1960’s I was
a big fan of shows like Star Trek and Lost In Space. The cartoons
I watched also had space or science fiction themes; things like Johnny Quest,
Space Ghost, and the awesome Herculoids. So when I saw that
gleaming white, front-loading washer of my mom’s, with that big round glass
porthole in front, I could only imagine one thing:
It seemed to be designed
specifically to trap kids such as myself inside. Why else would they engineer
the latch handle the way they did? It could close and latch itself, but you had
to yank on the handle to open it. And there was no way to open it from the
inside. Also – and this is the part that convinces me – the damn thing was
nearly soundproof. It was obviously designed to be a trap. Its primary purpose
was to wash clothes, but the insidious real purpose was to capture kids
and suffocate them to death.
One of my best friends at this
age was a black Poodle/Cocker Spaniel mixed dog named Pepper (the one who
chased the rabbit out of the house). He looked like a black Poodle with hair
that was just a little too long and too straight. My constant companion, he
endured whatever boyhood tortures I administered to him and still loved me
completely, with no reservations, still willing to go where I went and do what
I did. Needless to say, Pepper was my co-pilot when I decided to take the
washing machine spaceship on a trip to Planet 12.
I climbed in first, and he jumped
in right after me. Then the glass door swung shut of its own accord and locked.
I don’t recall if I panicked immediately or if I built up to it, but it was
clear to me that I was in deep trouble. You see, I was perfectly aware that a
kid I knew when I was even younger had been found dead in a refrigerator being
stored behind an apartment building. I guess it didn’t occur to me until right
then that it could happen in a washing machine as well.
I banged and screamed and
yelled for quite a while, but Mom didn’t hear me. Dad wasn’t around, because he
was at work. It was just me and Pepper there in that space capsule, marooned
and running out of air. I don’t really remember what I was thinking. I just
remember being very frightened in an I-might-really-die kind of way. I
also remember staring to feel sleepy, and that means (though I didn’t know it
then) that suffocation was starting to take place.
Then I remember my older
brother, Hank, walking into the room, and he looked down to see Pepper and I
staring back out at him. “What in the Hell are you doing in there?”
he said, amused. With a quick flip of his wrist he popped open the door, and I
can still remember how unbelievably sweet and cool the outside air was. Pepper
and I fought each other to get out first; Pepper won. I tumbled out onto the
floor at my brother’s feet, saved, given a second chance. I would have been
dead if it wasn’t for him. I would have been another one of those sad
child-suffocation stories, a warning and a caution to others.
The really sad thing
is, I don’t think I ever thanked him for it.
Come to think of it, there was
a third deadly kid trap at my house, and my brother saved my life by pulling me
out of that one, too: The swimming pool.
I wish I could have been
around to save him when he needed a hero.