The farmhouse screen door slammed loudly behind me. Clutching the newspaper I’d collected from the mailbox a few moments before, I announced, “The News Herald is here. I’m gonna read the funnies before anyone else!”
My commandeering the paper was possible because it was only three in the afternoon. Other than my Mom, the rest of my family were out and about taking care of their business. Opening the oven door, Mom took out a pan of cookies and slid them on the kitchen table to cool. She said, “You had better hurry and read it fast. Your brother will be home soon.”
The sweet smell of cookies made my mouth water. I snatched one to enjoy while reading. The song on our ever-playing kitchen radio was, “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters. It had a jazzy sound. I loved the way one of the band members would periodically question in a deep voice, “Why’s everybody always picking on me?”
Sunshine coming through the living room’s oversized window, bathed the gray linoleum floor. I dropped down in that warm, bright patch and spread the paper out in front of me. The back page of the paper was covered with familiar cartoons. Reading them was like catching up with extended members of my family.
In Priscilla’s Pop, Priscilla Nutchell desperately wanted to own a horse. But her family was so poor her Pop took mashed potato sandwiches to work to make ends meet. I loved Alley Oop the caveman, a cartoon that had had a popular song on the radio the year before. Oop and his girlfriend Ooola lived in prehistoric Moo and rode on the back of Dinny, Oop’s pet dinosaur. King Guzzle and Queen Umpateedle ruled their world.
I heard the back-door slam as I was reading the last cartoon on the page. My brother dropped down onto the davenport. Snickering, he commented, “I’ll bet you think you’re reading the front page of the newspaper.”
Handing him the paper, I sniffed and said superiorly, “I only read what is interesting.”
During my high school years, the paper added a cartoon titled, “Winthrop”. Winthrop Wortle was a smart-aleck little kid who occasionally got away from disturbing things by entering his inner sanctum, an empty garbage can. Seeing him scrunched into a fetal position at the bottom of that can resonated with me. Sometimes I felt like I needed a safe, hide-a-way, too.
As the years passed, I started to read more than the comics in the newspaper. I knew very well the difference between the front-page news and the back-page comic strips. Thankfully, sometimes the back page worked like an antidote for the poison encountered in the pages that came before.
With an extraordinarily contentious presidential election coming up this fall, I am increasingly horrified by the condition of the United States. The possibility of neither candidate conceding their loss in November and the possibility of war-like fighting on our city streets worries me.
Reading political cartoons do not comfort me. Instead, they remind me of an unsettling radio program that debuted in 1941. Ironically, it was named, Inner Sanctum. Instead of a cozy, happy place away from the world, this inner sanctum was filled with horror stories and frightening sounds.
The radio show had several shticks that boosted its scare factor. They opened the program with the loud, slow squeak of a door hinge while an organist played melancholic notes. As the program’s disturbing story unfolded, Raymond the host, would darkly laugh, “Bhwahahaha”. The show ended as it began, with the squeak of a door slowly closing and the gloomy organ notes. Raymond’s parting words were slowly drawled, “Pleasant dreeeeaaams! Hmmmmm?!”
Imagining what could possibly happen after this next election is frightening. It makes me want to find a safe inner sanctum. If I had a 1960’s bomb bunker in my back yard, I’d take my bushel of Dell Comic books, circa 1955 through 1960, and hide in there for the next six months.