I’ve written quite a bit about the neighborhood and surrounding area I grew up in, but there’s one little spot, one little detail, one itty-bitty corner that I’ve managed to skip all these times. Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was deliberate, or maybe I somehow subconsciously blocked it from coming to light. But now, IT gets its day…
I like to think I’m a fairly well read person, but that’s a lofty statement when you consider I’ve never read a single Stephen King novel. Most of his books are mammoth bricks, though I’ve had plenty of exposure to his stories through their numerous film adaptations. So maybe I’m not as well read as I should or would like to be, but I simply prefer to consume King cinematically. On that basis, I find him to be among the best and most clever storytellers we’ve got out there. In interviews and articles, he seems like an interesting and funny guy, but as I said I have never picked up one of his books.
Well, I suppose I did pick up one of his books-once. Let me tell you about it...that’s right...IT
I was first introduced to the name Stephen King when promos for something called “STEPHEN KING’S IT” aired ad nauseam on television back in late 1990. The ABC network, TV Guide, the newspaper’s weekender—they were all IT crazy for a small stretch of time that November. I didn’t know what “IT” was, but I knew “IT” was supposed to be scary.
Thing of it was I couldn’t tell why it would be scary from the promos, because all I saw were a lot of friendly actors I knew from television—Jack Tripper, John Boy Walton, the judge from Night Court, and what seemed like a happy, fun looking clown played by Tim Curry, one of my favorite actors no less (even at 9 years old).
When I told my mom I wanted to watch this “miniseries”, the idea was naturally shut down before I could even finish the sentence. Eventually ABC offered a fleeting glimpse of a scarier “Pennywise” and only then did I understand why it wasn’t for kids. But the idea of a scary clown was fascinating and honestly quite foreign to me. I’d never found clowns scary.
Pennywise is probably more responsible for perpetuating a fear of clowns in people than anything else. I suppose John Wayne Gacy and those Krinkles cereal commercials from the 50’s helped too, but by and large it’s mostly thanks to Pennywise. In the past few decades there has developed this phenomenon where grown adults like to “freak out” when clowns are around.
It’s a fear I think people voluntarily take on because it makes them feel cool and hip, and are now teaching their children the same behavior—that they should be scared of clowns. Clowning is a theatrical art form that’s been around for hundreds of years. Sure it’s kind of odd, but it carries with it a rich history deeply rooted in cultural tradition. But I suppose those one or two killer clowns have thus damned their entire race.
I completely forgot about “IT” for a couple years, until about seventh grade. We had a kid named Nick in middle school that was really into reading Stephen King. In fact, I can’t recall a time at Von Steuben where he wasn’t carrying a Stephen King novel to every class.
At the height of his mania he even took on INSOMNIA, the biggest book I had ever seen up to at that point, and conquered it in mere days. His devotion grew to epidemic proportions and soon, scores of other kids were hauling King’s books from class to class (who knows if they were actually reading them or just using them as social-climbing props). The books were frequently passed around anytime a new profanity was found in their pages and we would all collectively giggle at seeing words like “shit” and “piss” and “fart” in print.
Based on what I saw and heard, I knew my parents probably wouldn’t let me read anything he wrote. It was then I also remembered how I knew the name Stephen King...wasn’t he the guy that wrote that TV movie about the scary clown? Soon enough, Nick’s copy of “IT” started floating around class, an edition that even carried a picture of Tim Curry’s likeness as Pennywise on the cover, looking most unfriendly. I became fascinated and fixated again on that thing, that...IT that was forbidden to me years prior. It was time to see what the fuss was about. I asked if I could see it.
“This is the most messed up part” said Nick, as he turned just a few pages in.
“Oh good” I thought, wanting to get right to it.
You can probably guess where he turned...section three of Chapter One. Set in 1957, when young Georgie Denbrough’s paper boat floats its way along the gutter and directly into a stormdrain where “Pennywise the Dancing Clown” waits. After a brief introduction, Pennywise gains the trust of Georgie, promising not only to return his boat, but an invitation to a land below the street full of cotton candy, pony rides and balloons, a place where “they float Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float too!”
And with ITs “thick and wormy” grip, Pennywise grabs Georgie and pulls him to the drain.
“Everything down here floats!”
Georgie was gone. The entire sequence was less than four pages.
I froze. I had never read anything like IT before. You know how when you read a story, the images conjured in your head are often inspired by what you know in real life? Characters look like people you know, and locations tend to resemble places familiar to you, especially when you’re a kid? This excerpt from IT had that very effect on me.
As I walked home from school that day, turning off Forrest Hill and moving south down Atlantic, barely a block from my front door was the image I had seen in my head as I read about Georgie’s fate during 5th hour that day.
That drain, the one near the alley between East Maywood and Melbourne Avenues...I saw it and instantly determined in my head that drain was the IT drain.
It didn’t match the description of the storm drain in the book exactly, and so what if we were hundreds if not thousands of miles away from where Derry, Maine was supposed to be. That didn’t matter—I could just picture Georgie (or any of the smaller, unknowing siblings of our neighborhood) foolishly being lured to this quiet corner where nobody was ever really seen and nobody ever paid much attention. It was the perfect place for an evil supernatural clown to sit and...wait. It chilled me. I couldn’t look at that drain the same way again, and from that point forward this unassuming drain, mere yards from where I once caught the school bus every morning was where that scene from IT happened (in my mind at least). This was where Georgie was promised balloons, cotton candy, and a place where everything floats, including him.
In addition to walking by it every single day for most of my life and thinking absolutely nothing of it, I had spent many after school hours just a few years prior with other neighborhood boys running our Micro Machines through the grooves of its lid. I would sit right there against it, my skinny knees carelessly pressed into the grate as its grooves provided a perfect, gridded roadway for those tiny wheels. I played there right around the same age when IT had dropped its reign of terror upon network television. Pennywise could have been down there all that time and we didn’t know it. Georgie could have been me!
My relationship with the drain at the opposite corner from my house (Prospect and Maywood) was much more amiable, and no evil clowns could possibly lurk there. This is where I went to shove my “bad papers”—all that homework graded against my better interest-so nobody could find it. D’s may get you degrees, but in elementary school it gets you no dessert or watching TV. Life is too short for that bullshit, so sometimes papers had to...disappear from my backpack.
When those times came, this is where they went. No garbage can was ever safe enough to hide them—things I tried to throw out at home, school, even on the school bus had found ways of turning back up when I didn’t want them to.
Never mind the fact it actually matched King’s description better, this drain was much more out in the open, along a busy street where nothing could snatch you. This drain was safe enough to throw the things down you never wanted found. And since it was most certainly connected to the other more dangerous drain just a block and a half away (though I never thought about that), wherever Georgie’s boat floats today, you’ll likely find lots of fourth grade dittos with my name floating alongside it.
I didn’t think much about IT again through the years, until college when I FINALLY saw the miniseries—a double VHS rental from the Blockbuster in Normal. Neither of its VHS tapes were marked “Part One” or “Part Two” so I had to guess which to begin with, figuring there would be some clear indication once it started if I was right or not. But there wasn’t. At first everything sort of made sense, but then all was suddenly resolved...and we still had a whole second tape left. Where was the ill-fated “Georgie” scene, the only scene I knew about going in?
Of course it turned out that second tape...was actually the first. How we didn’t catch onto that until it was too late escapes me now. I sheepishly put the actual first cassette into the player and made some droll joke to my girlfriend about how “it’ll be like watching the IT prequel!” (She dumped me a few weeks later). I was able to finally see Georgie’s big scene and mercifully, the drain cast in the role looked nothing like the one around the corner from my house.
I still pass that drain several times a week but I’ve never seen any clowns near, around or inside it (yet).
That pretty much sums up the “influence” IT has had in my life. Not much more to say. If Stephen King can effectively fill over 1,100 pages about a killer clown, I suppose I can squeeze out 1,800 words about a sewer drain.