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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Jerk - Happened in Spring 1981

My brother and I each had a near miss with a pedophile when we lived at Simon Fraser University in 1981. The first one happened to my brother and the second one to me.

One afternoon my brother and I were returning home from school. Simon Fraser University is located on the top of Burnaby mountain in Vancouver and our school was located in Burnaby at the bottom of the hill. Every day, we would get on the 135 bus that stopped on the main street outside the school and it would take us up Burnaby mountain and drop us off at the entrance to the university – an imposing concrete block bus loop at the centre of the campus. Right near this bus loop there was a large concrete dais that rose above the Traffic and Security office that was located at the foot of the bus loop. What this dais was for, I’ll never know, but on this particular day it was occupied by a balding bespectacled man holding a V8 video camera. He was just sitting there and in order to get home we had to walk on a sidewalk that went past him. As we walked past he called out for us to stop and listen to a proposal that he had.

I remembered what dad had told us so many times about talking to strangers and motioned to my brother that we really should get going. He told me that I could go, and he would continue to talk to the man. So without thinking much of it I went home and let mom and dad know that he would be back soon. About an hour later my frantic brother comes through the door short of breath and panting. We all asked him why he is like this and he relays his story:

My brother: “Right after Chris left, the man told me that he was making a movie like “The Jerk”, and that he needed to get a shot of me with my pants around my ankles, just like the guy in the movie had. He said he would give me $5 if I did this.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, “The Jerk” was Steve Martin’s first major movie. In it, in one of the very last scenes, he walks around in a bathrobe with a pair of pants around his ankles.  This picture of Steve Martin is what appeared on all the promotional posters for the movie. We both knew this, so to my brother, the man’s request did not seem that absurd. My brother continued to relay what had happened:

“So this guy walks me over to the large wooded area to the south of the bus loop and tells me to get out of sight and take my pants down like in the movie. I freaked out and ran straight home.”

Within a half hour dad had called Campus security and reported what had happened. We later found out that the campus security arrested the man. This happened right around the time that Clifford Olsen was abducting and murdering children in that area, so the incident seemed like a real near miss. I often wonder what would have happened to my brother if he had not run like he did. Now, you’d think that I would avoid getting myself into a similar predicament, but we often cannot see where a situation is headed until it is too late.

One thing that I loved to do at S.F.U. on Sundays was to roam the Academic Quadrangle. The AQ was a central area of the university in the shape of a square with four massive corridors that joined up into a square and around which all the lecture theatres and classrooms were arranged. The AQ had banks of vending machines and photocopiers on each side of the quadrangle.  Often, people would drop change on the floor that would roll under the vending machines and photocopiers. I could often find a dollar or two in dimes nickels and quarters – enough to go to the cafeteria and have a burger and a slice of pie or something else that I liked.

One Sunday I was doing exactly this when a young man who looked a lot like Mark Hamill from Star Wars comes to the vending machines to buy a chocolate bar. He was wearing a white lab coat. I can’t quite remember whether he started talking to me or I started talking to him, but soon I was talking to him, in complete disobedience of the rule that my parents had established.  Eventually he invited me to go see his lab, which I thought was really cool. How could I pass that up? He took me to a lab in the chemistry wing where there were tons of flasks, Bunsen burners, glass retorts and burettes. I have no idea what he was researching but he took a real interest in showing me the mini-computers there and what the various messages on the green LED screens were and explaining what they meant.

I must have been there for several hours, and eventually he suggested that we go explore, like I was doing before, but since he had access to places I’d never been and couldn’t normally get into it seemed again like an invitation I’d be crazy to turn down.  Eventually we wound up in lecture theatre C9000, which was the largest of the Chemistry lecture halls, designed for first year courses with upwards of 300 students.  He took me up to the front panel where the lecturer normally stands. There was a very large number of controls and light switches – all with labels: house lights, panel light and a dimmer switch for the panel light. There were also hoist controls for the projector screen that came out of the ceiling for overheads. He told me that there were tons of interesting things in the ceiling that he wanted me to go and get for him. He suggested that if he lowered the screen down to floor level, that I could climb on and he would raise me up and I could climb into the ceiling. By now I was getting scared. I knew that this was definitely not something that either of us were supposed to be doing, but I felt powerless to leave. He had just the right amount of authority, that I felt that I had to comply.

I reluctantly agreed and he lowered the screen. I climbed on and he raised it up. I got REALLY scared as I was now about 30 feet in the air and all I wanted to do is get down. I kept begging him and he kept saying that no, he wouldn’t lower me down. “I’ll jump!” I said. “No, don’t do that! You are over 30 feet up. You will get badly hurt!”. But initially he did not agree to lower me down. I kept threatening to jump. Finally, he agreed to let me down, which he did. Once I was back on the ground, he motioned me over to the central console. Then when I was there he turned out all the lights in the theatre and ran up into the seats.   Now I was really freaked out, as it finally dawned on me what was about to happen. I fumbled with the switches and turned on a switch to the panel light, so I could at least see right in front of me.

TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF! Came his coaxing voice from the lecture hall. I turned the dimmer switch to reduce the amount of light but did not turn it off. TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF! came his voice again. I dimmed it a bit again. “YOU’RE NOT TURNING IT OFF. THERE’S GOING TO BE TROUBLE IF YOU DON’T TURN YOUR PANEL LIGHT OFF!!” Oh shit! I was out of options and I started glancing around the room frantically. Then, at the moment my eyes met up with the entrance door, which was left open, I saw the shadowy figure of a campus security guard just standing there listening. He must have just arrived there and was trying to figure out what was going on. Suddenly, I flicked on all the light switches looked over at the figure and shouted: “There is a man after me right over there!” and I pointed to the empty seats. The man popped up from behind one of the desks where he had been crouching. The security guard went over to him and demanded to see is ID. The last words I heard him say were “I don’t have any ID on me sir.” I ran towards the door on the opposite side of the lecture hall and out into the courtyard. Once I realized where I was, I ran straight home without looking back. When I got home, I was in a lot of trouble for talking to a stranger.

I’ll never know whether he had ill intentions or was just playing an innocent game. But whenever I would hear about a young person being abducted and killed, I would think about my own experience. I would get an especially strong chill down my spine years later when I read about serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy; especially Gacy, as he appeared so innocent to his victims right up to the point where he decided to kill them with hi infamous “rope trick”.  I often wonder what would have happened to me if that guard had not been there at that moment.

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