I am cursed with insatiable appetite for knowledge. Nothing drives me crazier, than coming across something that I do not understand. Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect has inherited this gene. We have to be careful what we discuss around the house because whenever she walks into the room in the middle of a conversation, she absolutely must know what we are talking about, or she will not go away and leave us alone.
Being the tag-a-long of the family, most of my time was spent on the periphery of the grownup world, or in the orbit of my older siblings. To make sense of what was happening around me I had to develop a strong capacity for reasoning, and if that failed, ask questions. Lots of questions. I’m sure there were times when watching I tried my Dad’s patience by asking questions right in the middle of a TV show. But to his everlasting credit, the Original Mr. 20 Prospect was always willing to take the time to explain things to me. And we watched a lot of TV together.
As a kid, nothing got me more excited than syndicated episodes of the TV show “In Search of…” with Leonard Nimoy. Whether they were investigating the Nazca Lines, or searching for the Loch Ness Monster, if I came across “In Search of…” I immediately stopped whatever I was doing, and sat glued to the TV, for surely by the end of each episode, Mr. Spock would finally reveal the secret behind the mystery.
Sadly, the episodes always seemed to run out of time before they could tell me the answers. As Pavlov well documented, there is no stronger conditioning tool than partial reinforcement. Being teased with the mystery, and denied an answer only made me want it more. So I became quite familiar with the shelf of books at the Richmond Memorial Library devoted to unsolved mysteries. Ghosts, Monsters, UFO’s, and the riddles of antiquity all held my attention at one point or another. I would check these books out, over and over, year after year, hoping that this time they would really be able to tell me the secrets I craved. But these mysteries always remained, like an itch that just couldn’t be scratched.
Sitting at my desk in school, looking out the window as Sr. Josepha droned on about the Mesopotamians, I would console myself that if I ever died young in a horrible accident, I would at least be able to find out the answers to all my questions. Jesus would be like my personal Google.
In the light of day, all these mysteries fascinated me, but once darkness fell things were different. 20 Prospect was over a 100 years old by that point, and was prone to emitting strange noises at the most inopportune times. Laying in bed, with the bathroom light on, and the door to my bedroom cracked for safety, I could swear I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I would burrow further into the corner of the bed, and watch the sliver of light shining through the half open door, expecting at any moment to see the furry hand of Bigfoot pushing it open.
Or if it was summer, I would look past the revolving fan blades in the open window, listening to the rustle of leaves in the maple tree, wondering if this would be the night that the UFO landed in the back yard, and little gray men with eyes the size of footballs abducted me.
It didn’t matter what the season was, or which mystery I was obsessed with at the moment, I could always find a way to work myself into such a state of agitation that sleep was impossible. This is another trait that has sadly been passed along to Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect.
The only way I could guarantee my safety against the dark forces of mystery was to get out of bed, and carry the library books downstairs, and place them in front of the TV. Somehow I knew that laying them face down in front of the soothing radioactive glow of the Cathode Ray Tubes would hold back the forces of evil, and protect me until morning. If not for Sylvania, I’d have been devoured by cryptids long ago.