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Illustration by Dustin Goebel

Personal Hell: A writer’s reflections on real-life, everyday horror

You know what’s scary? It? (The new movie It, not the mini series It with the judge from Night Court).

You know what’s scarier? Real life.

Movie frights typically fade after a few hours. Real life, visceral experiences can spook you all the way to your grave. With Halloween around the corner, allow me to share a horrible handful of central Ohio places that provide me hellacious memories that haunt me to this day:

The softball field on the grounds of the Dispatch Printing Company’s west side printing plant, where, in 1998, I tore my ACL for the the second time in my life tracking a fly ball in the outfield during a charity game in which my side was down 15-1 in the last inning.

The roadways where drivers collided with me on my bicycle. Collision one, summer 1996: Cleveland Avenue and Route 3, where a woman in a champagne Camry turned in front of me and clipped my front wheel, sending me somersaulting over my handlebars onto the asphalt. We hugged it out. I think she was more in shock than I was. “I thought I killed me somebody!” Collision two, summer 1997: West Broad Street and South Central Avenue, where a woman in a Ford Explorer turned in front of me, sending me off the grill onto the (thankfully) soft, freshly asphalted road. We did not hug it out. She cursed me for riding a bike, flipped me off, and sped away.

Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium (R.I.P.), where the lower level smoking section always felt like standing in the middle of leaf fire, because I’m pretty sure there was zero ventilation. Smokiest smokeout I ever witnessed down there: Black Crowes, 1999. (But, I’m sure that anyone who saw Jimi Hendrix, Rush or Ozzy at Vet’s, would find my experience laughable.)

The far south South High Street Kmart (R.I.P.), where, during its going-out-of-business sale, sale-loving I ran around the place like it was ablaze, grabbing all the doorbuster deals I could until sale-crazy I emerged with a Sony WalkMan and a bunch of dishes I didn’t need but had to have because SALE!

Subterranean Bernie’s Bagels & Distillery (R.I.P.), which I thought was going to cave in every time I was there, but especially the night/early morning of The Donnas show (2000), when I watched yahoos hang and yank on the ceiling pipes and crash into the Donnas until the Donnas couldn’t take any more and left the postage stamp-sized stage after 30 minutes or so.

The Newport Music Hall, where I spent part of a work assignment experiencing an Insane Clown Posse concert, which amounted to two dopes in XXXL adult baby clothes spraying Faygo 2 liters at an audience of dopes while tinny, canned, cartoon music provided a soundtrack. Hands-down, it was the dumbest show I saw in 12 years of concert reviewing, and it haunts me to this day.

The site of Outland (R.I.P.), the after-hours club in Harrison West, where during one seemingly unending night that began at 4 p.m. I had the most memorable 4 a.m. beer I didn’t need.

Every bourbon chicken lunch I ever ate at Columbus City Center (R.I.P.). Oof.

The Salvation Army (R.I.P.) near Hollywood Casino on Georgesville Road. I spend a lot of time at flea markets and in thrift stores. Every other garment I pawed on the racks in that Georgesville Road health hazard of a dump should have been sent to a crime lab. DNA samples abounded on everything, I’m sure.

And, the drunk patron heckling me and mistaking me for someone else as I approached the Germain/Polaris Amphitheater (R.I.P.) gates to find my seat at a Lynyrd Skynyrd show in 2001: “Hey, man, look! It’s Stephen King! Hey, gimme your autograph, Stephen King! I loved Cujo, man! Loved it! Ah ha ha ha!”

Bring on the sewer clowns. I’m keeping my head on a swivel for real life.

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