Phantom of the Opera by
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Waiting for the tram at the Universal Studios tour, we filed past a statue of Lon Chaney in the old silent classic, Phantom of the Opera. It was almost lifelike in its detail— sunken eyes, jagged teeth, black cape. We admired it and passed it by.

Our hearts all skipped a beat, so you can imagine the child’s terror, her scream piercing the waiting area.

A small crowd gradually arrived, waiting, chattering. A father and his small child stopped in front of the statue. The father was explaining who Lon Chaney was when, suddenly, the statue came alive, snarled, and swooped menacingly at the child. Everyone jumped back, startled; our hearts all skipped a beat, so you can imagine the child’s terror, her scream piercing the waiting area. The actor set down a tip jar, then turned to the girl, cajoled her, gave her a sweet, until, safe in her father’s arms, tears drying, she asked him how he could stand so still for so long. At that moment the tram arrived. We boarded and the actor reassumed his pose for the next round of victims.

Thirty years later, I have long forgotten what else we saw at Universal Studios. But after witnessing stone turn to flesh, I understand that anything, no matter how inert, might merely be awaiting its moment to awaken into life.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this story, John. And, as someone who can’t stand still for more than a few seconds, I still wonder how those statue people do it.

  2. What a beautifully written story, John. An allegory for love?

  3. Marian says:

    Powerful vignette, John, and isn’t it amazing how we remember such events and can’t remember what was supposed to be the “main” one?

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Marian. Thinking back, I actually do recall a couple of things from the tour: the Red Sea parting from “The Ten Commandments” and some kids driving a “car” while road scenes were projected behind them. No CGI or even green screens in those days!

  4. Suzy says:

    I’m surprised he did that (cajoling her, giving her a sweet), I thought those statue people weren’t allowed to break character. So did anyone put money in his tip jar, or were you all too freaked out?

  5. A great vignette, John! Being turned into a perpetual scaredy cat by my own consciousness, I often wonder why people like to be scared like that. Not the child, of course. Do people watch horror to experience some kind of feeling, and, if so, does that suggest that some part of humankind is asleep. I know that’s a hackneyed metaphor, but perhaps the truth. Fear, even when artificially stimulated is, after all, a feeling. Anyway, thanks for the thought food. And then the tram arrived…

  6. John Zussman says:

    Thanks, Charles. As usual, you have found a hidden dimension to my story. I remember a psych professor who recommended taking one’s date to a horror movie. The theory was that the the generally heightened emotion would transfer over afterward.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Like Charles, I am an not a fan of being deliberately frightened, but you describe the moment so well…the stone comes alive and is real flesh, scares the bejeezus out of the poor unsuspecting child (and probably more than a few adults too). Perhaps the heightened sense of emotion would have some desired effect later, but not for me, thanks!

    (I remember a kid from a neighboring temple youth group took me to see “Cool Hand Luke”, kept whispering to me, “Paul Newman dies”. It did not set any romantic mood for me!)

  8. John Zussman says:

    Thanks, Betsy. Heightened emotion is one thing, but leaking a spoiler is quite something else! I assume there was no second date!

  9. Thanx for the creepy story John!
    We took our son to London when he was young, and of course went to Madame Tussauds.
    I think I was more spooked than the kid!

  10. Khati Hendry says:

    I feel sorry for the kid–I was terrified by “the Blob” at age 7 and that lasted for years. He must have had to console kids regularly, sweets at the ready. But the lesson about not being complacent thinking things won’t change is a big one. Explains some of the anxiety about the world these days, knowing it can change.

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Khati. You might be right about the child — once you plant a horrific possibility in a young mind it can be hard to remove it. On the other hand, kids can be quite resilient. And yes, even when we find our “comfort zone” these days, it seems to be constantly morphing into something else.

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