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Working the room like a Vegas pro, Scary draws cheers and laughter as he barks out his "don't judge a book by its cover" spiel like a tough-love Sergeant Rock.
Singling out one giggling youngster, he roars, "I know what you're thinking: "He's a biker . . .'" Then, pointing to another child, "". . . No, he's awrestler . . .'" Singling out yet another kid, ""Wait, I know who he is -- he's the governor of Minnesota!'" While few in this young audience probably understand this left-field reference to Jesse Ventura (truth be told, the famed grappler-turned-guv looks nothing like Scary), the crowd goes nuts.
For the next half-hour, he expertly plays the audience like an organ. And though the audience sometimes drifts from the score -- for some inexplicable reason, his description of a juvenile detention center as "a fancy word for "jail for kids'" triggers a rash of girlish titters from one section of the audience -- most of the audience is in complete harmony with the program.
Listening intently, they cheer and laugh on cue as The Pied Piper of Prejudice Prevention trounces through the audience, urging them to be kind to animals, turn down drugs, nix tobacco, do unto others and generally follow other homilies of the Golden Rule ilk.
The presentation ends when everyone in the house takes the Scary oath, a promise to say nothing negative about anyone for a solid week. Or at least try not to.
Mission accomplished, the über-inked idol gets down to the serious business of signing autographs, posing for pictures and pressing color-impregnated flesh with his adoring public.
As the giddy young fans swarm around the Tattooed Titan of Tolerance, it's difficult to tell who's having more fun, the worshipers or the worshipee.
It's been two years since The Scary Guy laid down his needles to go gunning for intolerance. But all hoopla aside, can this tattooed evangelist really make an indelible impression on the nation's schoolchildren?The Scary Guy thinks so. As he's so fond of telling people, "I get to tattoo millions of kids' hearts now. And it's not with a tattoo machine."
Tattoo needle or not, some observers fail to get Scary's point. While there's certainly no harm in preaching simple platitudes about tolerance that wouldn't be out of place in a Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon, skeptics ask why the message needs to be delivered by someone who has gone out of his way to give people the wrong impression about himself.
"I get that sometimes, especially whenever I speak before black audiences," concedes Scary. "It's always, "Hey, wait a minute -- you chose to look like this. We didn't choose to be black.'
"My answer: "You're absolutely right -- but does anyone's decision to look however they want to justify hate and discrimination? No.'" Scary pauses. "Jumping to the wrong conclusion about someone and racism are two entirely different things. A lot of people don't understand that." And, of course, a lot of other people don't even think that far.
Were it not for what he perceives as prejudice, Scary (née Earl Kenneth Kaufmann) might still be wielding an ink-filled needle in a Tucson strip mall. Seething after a rival tattoo artist placed an ad in a newspaper asking, "Are you tired of dealing with scary guys with warpaint facial tattoos?" Scary himself hit the warpath to self-discovery.
"Who would say such a thing about someone they didn't even know, let alone print it in the paper?" he wondered. "Why would anyone do that? I'm a nice guy."
Still, Scary's immediate reaction was anything but nice.
"The first thought that came to mind was revenge," he confesses. "I thought, "Aha! I'll run a negative ad about him.'" Or, better yet, ""I'll jump in my hot rod Lincoln and drive over and run over his dog or something.'" Pausing for effect, he shakes his head dramatically. "No, I'm not a violent dude -- I mean, I suppose I could be if I needed to be, but that wasn't me."
Another dramatic pause. "I thought I wasn't like this guy who'd placed the ad. But then I did a little soul-searching -- and I realized I was exactly like him."
It was that moment, says Scary, that he realized his true mission in life.
"I had no idea what that meant or how I was going to do it," he confesses. "But I told my wife, "I'm packing my bags, strapping my boots on and doing whatever it takes to do that.'"
His modest goal? As stated in publicity for KidsVisionHeart, the IRS-approved nonprofit foundation that funds his works, it is "The Total Elimination of Hate, Violence and Prejudice Worldwide."
If Scary ultimately falls somewhat short of that lofty aim, well, you can't blame a guy for trying. In November, school officials in St. Joseph, Missouri, canceled one of his speaking dates when some parents complained that his appearance sent a "mixed message" to students. At least the St. Joe school even consideredbooking Scary. "We've met some of these principals and, frankly, they leave a lot to be desired," says Scary booster Ben Anderson Jr., a Bisbee consultant currently running for State Representative in District 8. "A lot of them just don't get it." But for sharp young audience members who are willing to look beyond the obvious, Scary's lecture also provides an inadvertent education of another sort. Namely, marketing, self-promotion and mid-life career reinvention.