As a boy I was frequently a target of abuse by the browridge set. It’s the old story. Who knows why? Something about me, some aspect of my mien, met with their grunting disapproval. Come to think of it, using phrases such as “aspect of my mien” probably didn’t endear me to bullies. I often found myself under physical threat of some kind or another. One learns to die on the inside while outwardly maintaining one’s composure. You can always fall apart when you get home.
One crisp fall afternoon on the blacktop I was discussing the futility of dodgeball with a friend when I suddenly found myself on the ground in a headlock, sat upon by some kind of pink fleshy mound. From the fat freckled arm around my throat and the distinctive aroma, I deduced that it was Hugh, a garden-variety schoolyard behemoth who resembled an artfully stacked pile of pork chops. Everyone called him Huge.
Apparently I’d offended him in some way: something about the mere fact of my existence; I don’t remember. There was straining and rubbing, and I figured he was grateful for the physical contact. I tried not to talk much; anything I said tended to inflame. That mien thing.
From atop me Huge whispered in my ear, “I am going to show you a world of hurt.”
Well, that changed everything! I’d always wanted to see the World of Hurt, but who could’ve foreseen Hugh as my playdate?
We met out front at noon that Saturday. In line for the entrance turnstiles, he handed me my ticket, which he had thoughtfully purchased while waiting for me to arrive. I thanked him by promising not to call him Huge anymore. Once inside, he told me that he was particularly interested in catching the new exhibit on Gratuitous Emotional Torture, a lavish multimedia installation made possible by a grant from the Microsoft Corporation. He said if we got separated I could probably find him there.
Our first stop was the Hall of Household Wounds, a favorite of younger people. Anatomically accurate dummies were displayed in simple domestic scenes, each suffering some kind of injury from the mundane to the esoteric. Finger severed while chopping a carrot; torso impaled on a shower-curtain rod; accidental trepanning with power drill; and on and on. From there we veered left into the dark, inviting Sounds of Agony exhibit, and were issued headphones by a smiling attendant. As we passed illuminated tableaux, the corresponding audio filled our ears in glorious stereo. Weeping Grandmother Abandoned in Nursing Home. Man Having a Stroke at IHOP. Keening Baby Elephant Left Behind by Herd. I think Huge enjoyed this exhibit a little too much, and it made me uncomfortable. The Man Struggling in Garrote might’ve gotten him a little aroused; I couldn’t quite tell in the darkened hall.
I left Huge to his inappropriate tumescence and wandered over to the more thoughtful Room of Regrets. Here, a small, docent-led group tour stopped in front of various seemingly ordinary scenes, such as homes, offices, and park benches. The people in them looked stricken with rue. The lighting in these scenes was autumnal and melancholy, and every “character” was alone. At each scene, the chipper docent explained what flavor of sorrow was being enacted. For the younger members of the tour I suppose it was a cautionary account, a carpe diem sort of thing. Older visitors might’ve experienced pangs of recognition. The tour moved slowly, presumably to allow plenty of time for quiet reflection. Not as exciting as the stabbed dummies, but effective.
Later I sat at a few interactive kiosks that were set up in the main corridor. One, Bad News Calling, involved picking up a telephone receiver and hitting one of several available combinations of numbers. Once the selection was made, a face appeared on the monitor screen with a phone receiver pressed to its ear, and a box instructed you to read the supplied text after it said hello. I chose to inform a middle-aged woman that her husband’s body had been found wedged in a crevasse. Her look of horror and anguish seemed appropriate to the situation. My next move was to call a young man and inform him that I, his “girlfriend,” was not only breaking up with him, but also sleeping with his best friend. His expression was impressively pained, I must say. I did that one twice.
By this time it was already nearly five; obviously one couldn’t see it all in one day. The Children’s Ouchies Pavilion, the Theatre of Psychosexual Torment-—these and other attractions would have to wait for another time. Now that I’d had a taste of the varieties of pain on offer, maybe a lifetime pass was called for. Expensive, but maybe for Christmas. A whole world of hurt had indeed been opened up to me. Feeling like a grownup for the very first time, I went in search of Huge.