My machinations

by cheri block

Nineteen days after my 10th birthday, I hunkered down in our darkish den to watch the Twilight Zone. With me, were my eight-year-old brother Stevie and my four-year-old sister, Cindy. My mother had just given birth to Jimmie, eleven days earlier. She was somewhere in the house crying.

Had she not been postpartum, I’m sure she  would not have allowed the three of us to watch such a scary show.

I have Jimmie’s birth, then, to blame for my concerns about the reliability of machinery.

That night in 1960, I remember settling into a frumpy faux-leather sofa with scratchy pillows and a throw, covered with dog hair,  wedged down between the cushions. My younger siblings and I sat on that Gas Chamber-green sofa with our two German Shepherds, Dickens and Galaxy. At least we had protection.

That night, the episode, titled A Thing About Machines, scared the holy crap out of all three of us. When Mr. Finchley’s appliances turned against him and began to attack , I remember telling Stevie, “ Don’t ever put your hand into a garbage disposal again!”

Eventually, Finchley’s razor slides down the bannister and Finchley bolts. His car chases him into a pool where he drowns. He had, however, consumed alcohol.

Taking my bath that night, I remember wondering if the drain would suck me down with the water. And then there was the hair dryer. It all was too much for a little girl with a prodigious imagination.

My teenage years gave me little relief from those memories. I wondered if the chair lift at Tahoe Ski Bowl would suddenly rebel against its keepers and fling my brother and me down onto the tops of Douglas fir trees. Would my family motor boat, the SIX BLOX, circle around like a shark, while I was waiting to be picked up after falling on my water skis, and then run over me, shredding me like lettuce? Would my Willy’s 44 Army Jeep make a disobedient left turn and head up to frigid Quail Lake despite my braking?

I am happy to report to you, my readers, that now that I am a big girl, I rarely think about machines going rogue. Oh sure, every now and then in the BART tube under the Bay, I push away distant memories of that particular Twilight Zone Episode.

But, curiously, yesterday, I found myself transmogrified into the body of a Yellow Labrador Retriever.

It started when I turned on the vacuum.




About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life, My childhood and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to My machinations

  1. shoreacres says:

    You’ve brought back my twelfth year: the year when I went to the basement of our new house with trepidation every single time. Coming back up the stairs, I always felt as though someone was following me, ready to — what? I never knew. But I’d run up the stairs and slam the door shut.

    Now, as for the four-footed one, he looks rather like my kitty when the vacuum starts tuning up. Kitty never gets that close, though. She backs into a secure corner and watches from a safe distance.

    I never had a problem with BART, but I’m not sure I could endure an enclosed MRI. Those machines have been said to eat people.

    • Cheri says:

      I love these old stories which highlight an imagination gone wild ( or suspicious, as yours illustrates). I can picture your running up basement stairs and finishing your assent with a slam!

      An MRI machine is OK if you enter it under the influence of a tranquilizer….

  2. This is a brilliant story

  3. Paul Costopoulos says:

    Until my 15th year, I could not stand alone in a dark room. I decided it was silly and went into a windowless room and shut the door. I began shaking, sweating profusely and developped a huge headache. I wanted out but stayed inside until I calmed down. I came out a wreck…but I was cured.

    • Cheri says:

      My, what a disciplined therapist you would make. 😲

    • Richard says:

      Is this only way to deal with fear, Paul, tackle it head-on: train yourself like Pavlov’s Dog?

      I was under 10 and had an irrarional fear of the dark. I decided to run through the local woods without a torch (flashlight) after dark and survived, which was a complete and permanent cure.

      There is an added advantage to clearing a phobia. It enables you to assess real dangers and deal with them rationally.

      Exposure to the sounds of bombing, anti-aircraft guns and air-raid sirens as a baby in the Blitz has left me very sensitive to, though not afraid of, fireworks and the glissandos of police sirens.

      Having said all that, however, when young I had no fear of heights, happy to stand on cliff edges or climb to the very tip of tall poplar trees,which I knew to be fragile. Nowadays I am far more circumspect about altitude. Then again, I once mounted a moving bus as it sped round a junction and nearly fell off under heavy traffic – I never tried it again. So it seems experience can make you more cautious. This incident didn’t stop me opening a train doors and entering as they accelerated out of a station, It gives me the heebeejeebies when I think of the rashness my youth.

      I am ashamed to say this boldness was never properly tested in conflict and so I am in no position to judge the irrational fears of those with shell shock or PTSD.

      • Paul Costopoulos says:

        Young, we do rash things and damn the torpedoes. More mature we are aware of consequences and tend to play it safe. Not sure which is best. While a kid, although far Europe, I lived near a military base and an important industrial complex in northern Québec.. We were within flying distance from the German base in Thule and we had blackouts in force. One night, a German reconnaissance plane flew over us and DCA came out from such unexpected places that we never looked at a playground the same way afterward. One fine day, my father invited a Greek ship Captain and a 15 tear old Greek refugee girl that he was ferrying to New York. During dinner, a fire alarm siren blew. The poor girl went berserk running everywhere, diving under tables. My father explained that she tougth it was an air raid. That is when i understood, a little wee bit what war was and it came to my mind when i studied psychology: I saw Pavlov’s dog.

  4. says:

    Such a fun read Cheri! Love the photo angle. Love, Cindy

  5. Dr. Jim Block says:

    Cheri, I might have enjoyed this blog the most. I am sorry I started your fear of machines but I don’t know of a kid who thought they might get sucked down the drain while taking a bath. And, truth be told, I still think I might take the great “dirt nap” while on those damn ski lifts.
    Your brother Jimmie

    • Cheri says:

      Well, I wasn’t your average kid. That episode did make me worry about certain machines for awhile. To this day, I fear putting my own hand in the garbage disposal and I even wonder about our electric gate sometimes.

    • Richard says:

      This is the chorus from an old music-hall song:

      Your baby has gone down the plug-hole
      Your baby has gone down the plug
      The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
      It should have been washed in a jug
      Your baby is ever so happy
      He won’t need a bath any more
      Your baby has gone down the plughole
      Not lost but gone before.’

  6. wkkortas says:

    As we have considerable swaths of geography in common, Serling has always been a touchstone for me. When I was a freshman in college, one of our nightly rituals was watching The Twilight Zone. One particular Thursday night the episode in question took place at the bus station in Serling’s hometown of Binghamton, NY, and during the episode you could here the announcements of departures in the background–including the route I would be taking the very next day when I changed buses in Binghamton. A touch unsettling, yes.

    • Cheri says:

      Oh my. This comment cracks me up! Yes. Unsettling to the max, wk..I think I should get into my jammies, get a glass of wine, and watch a Rod Serling marathon. Of course, now I have Dinah, my attack Lab.

  7. Christopher says:

    That machines can be made to attack their owners and destroy them is now a reality, given that most machines now are run by computer software, that outsiders can hack into through remote control, and by such means, program the machine to do anything the hackers want it to do, no matter how nefarious or outright evil.

    Think only of the fact that over the last month it has been shown beyond all reasonable doubt that a coterie of Russians, sitting in darkened rooms in Moscow, hacked, via remote control, into voting machines in America, and programmed them to switch votes from the Democratic Presidential candidate to the Republican candidate in sufficient numbers for him to be declared the winner.

    A greater crime than what has just transpired, I cannot think of. Each time I think of it, my blood boils.

    The guardians of the Law in America are accordingly left with no choice other than to put their shoulders to the wheel, and leave no stone upturned to bring these Russian evil-doers to justice,

  8. Cheri says:

    Be careful. There was an episode on some science-fiction television show that concerned a cooking class,in which the protagonist’s blood boiled so hot and so long that he exploded, making a terrible mess of the kitchen. Luckily, the kitchen utensils all chipped in to help clean up the guts.

  9. Brig says:

    Great tale,
    I had forgotten about how creepy Rod Serling’s show was…
    I don’t worry overly much about machines going rogue, as much as the people operating them…

  10. Richard says:

    I’m delighted you have a “Dyson”, the harmless and helpful brainchild of a British inventor and Brexiteer.

    Eurocrats sought to regulate him out of the single market in favour of inferior and more energy-hungry German counterparts on the grounds his machine was too powerful.

    It was numerous partisan actions like this, over many years, so contrary to the stated objectives of the treaties, that blew my patience in the end.

    • Cheri says:

      Just back from Dallas; please excuse my delay in responding, Richard. The Dyson is the only machine that is able to suck up all of Dinah’s dog hair. I have to use it every day. Ron is not happy with her shedding…and hasn’t been for 8 years!

      • Richard says:

        Eurocrats seek to dictate the specification of the machine Mr Dyson sells to you: a form of protectionism against a successful product.

        Until Britain finally leaves the EU it is not free to reject the emanations from Brussels or strike its own trade deals without the say-so of all member states.

        Free trade and the fair competition it engenders is how we all benefit from international talent.

        Doubtless Mr Dyson will find a way to keep Ron happy.

        I look forward to reading your post about Dallas.

  11. It amazes me how alike we are ha ha

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