Friday, July 15, 2016

Hello, Dummy...Goodbye, Dummy

The year was 1975. The place: Kingsbridge in the Bronx. It was summertime when our Frankenstein monster was born and hit the streets. Actually, it was just a dummy—an old pair of pants and a shirt stuffed with newspapers (the Daily News and New York Post, I suspect). It was all stitched together with multiple safety pins. The dummy’s cranium was a Styrofoam mannequin head. I don’t recall where that came from, but most likely from a neighbor’s or neighboring business’s garbage pail.

This Frankenstein dummy was brought to life, specifically, to appear in a five-minute Batman film that we were producing. Our movie camera employed eight-millimeter film sans any sound. The film’s stars were aged sixteen, fifteen, and twelve. I was the twelve year old who got to live his dream by playing the Joker in a feature film. Granted, it was a low-budget independent film—and indie—that brought in a mere three dollars at the box office. That is, during a screening in one of the star’s basements. The film, nevertheless, transcended time and place.

The Frankenstein dummy, really, was the true star of this flick. He—if I may—assumed multiple roles in the film. He played Batman’s stuntman and scaled a three-family brick home in search of the Joker. Ever versatile, he then took on the role of the Joker himself, getting tossed out of the window of said brick home. Perhaps more prestigious, he also played the Joker’s kidnapped victim—a man who lived up the street from the film’s stars named Dr. Y. This man wasn’t a medical doctor, but a Ph. D.—a bona fide egghead, scientist, and university professor—which made him both a celebrity in the neighborhood and someone with whom to have a little fun.

While none of the young, flesh-and-blood thespians went on to bigger and better things in the acting business, the Frankenstein dummy nonetheless endured. His creators laid him on the sidewalk in front of one of their front stoops, with one of my father’s empty thirty-two ounce Schaefer Beer bottles beside him. Passersby were startled, assuming the Frankenstein dummy was a poor, unfortunate human soul who had entirely too much to drink or, the even worse scenario, had drank himself to death. But nobody said a word until one obviously concerned fellow came along. “There’s a man down here. Is he okay?” he asked. We assured him that he was.

The Frankenstein dummy had one last role to perform before calling it quits and riding off into the sunset. He scaled the fence of a man I had previously nicknamed “Mr. Fence,” because of his strange obsession with his beloved backyard fence. The Fences—Mr. and Mrs.—shrieked wildly at the Frankenstein dummy, telling him in no uncertain terms to get down from there and be on his way, or suffer the consequences. Ah, the life and times of this newspaper-filled dummy were grueling and thus very short-lived. But he spent his enduring life in the awkwardly creative and genuinely interactive urban world that existed once upon a time in the Bronx and elsewhere. He was certainly a dummy to remember, who will live on in our hearts for as long as there are dummies in this world.

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