Heads down, thumbs up

By Jon Hillenbrand In Photography, Stories


Back in good ol’ grade school, we used to play this game. But I can only remember half of it. The teacher would choose two kids to be “it” and then she would say, “Heads down, thumbs up.” We would all hide our heads in our arms atop our desks with one of our thumbs sticking up. I assume Paul Dolce used his left hand since he was the only southpaw. So as we waited, the chosen ones would secretly walk around and stick our thumbs down into our fists. After that, the teacher would call, “heads up,” and something would happen. But I don’t remember what would happen after that. Let’s check Google.

OK, I found an explanation on a teachers forum. All of the teachers wrote variations of, “Oh, this is a great game. It really keeps the kids quiet at the end of a long day! I’ve been using it for years!” I knew there was some ulterior motive. So the kids who had their thumbs touched would try and guess who had touched them. If they got it right, someone new was chosen. If they got it wrong, the chosen ones got to stay “it” for another round.

This reminds me of a creepy game I played in my first weeks on the job down in Kankakee. For those who don’t know, Kankakee is listed in the Guinness books as the DARKEST location on Earth. Turn the lights out, and suddenly all space and time are absorbed and you are left flailing like Clarice Starling at the end of Silence of the Lambs.

So when I first started working down there, I hung out with my coworker (and later 3-week fling/boss daughter) Jessica. She and her friends would all smoke pot and then put on Darkside of the Moon at near ear-piercing volume. Then they would shut off all of the lights and we would play hide and seek. Again, we would have one person as the “chosen one”. The song would blast, the lights would go out and we would all scramble to get away.

So me being the expert on light figured that I had the perfect plan. Outside the bedroom window, there was a streetlamp that shone like Bikini Island at zero hour. It was so bright compared to everything else in the area that mosquitoes didn’t even have to go near it to get their fix. They would just sit at home and get a buzz. Anyway, I went to the bedroom window and planted myself right underneath it with the light shining in past the top of my head. I figured that once someone saw that window, their eyes would never be able to dilate enough to see me in the shadows underneath. So I crouched down low and waited.

The music blared. There was no other sound. Slowly, I caught the edge of the “it” girl being traced by the lamp post behind me. She crawled around on her hands and knees looking for anyone, as slow as a snake. She suddenly paused and looked toward me. I was as still as a rock and barely breathed. She looked hard at me but I didn’t move. I didn’t know this girl really at all so it was extra creepy. I could see her perfectly and I was invisible. She crawled toward the window and toward me slowly inching forward with the noise of the music covering my short breaths and her knees on the carpeting. Three feet away from me, I could have reached out and touched her gray face, but she still didn’t see me. She paused looking past me and out the open window. As I contemplated my next move, she crawled backwards and turned toward the bedroom door to leave. She never saw me. The game ended and they all went home to eat potato chips and beer.

I like to think that my heads down thumbs up training subconsciously helped me during this time in my life.

What do you think?