Kids killing teachers.
Kids killing themselves.
The nation's youthscape is a fright, all right -- but there's one person who thinks he's got the magic bullet.
That would be The Scary Guy, "America's Only Live Comic Book Hero."
"The country's No. 1 social disease?" asks Scary, as his friends call him, thoughtfully stroking the spike running through the bridge of his nose.
And who should know better than a person whose body is almost entirely covered with tattoos? A fellow whose multipierced face is studded with nearly as many rivets as a small battleship? A guy whose teeth are capped with gold crowns that will, he promises, soon sport letters that spell out his name in red, white and blue jewels?
Mr. Rogers, he ain't.
Which is why it's surprising to learn that The Scary Guy (his legal name since 1998) has recently been lauded by some education authorities as the greatest thing to hit the school-assembly circuit since anti-drug crusader Mr. T hung up his gold chains.
Accompanied by his normal-looking wife Julie, Scary now spends nine months of the year living out of a suitcase, spreading the gospel primarily in Arizona, Michigan and Colorado. During one of the couple's first days home in weeks, Scary and the missus stand backstage in the auditorium of Tucson's Santa Rita High School waiting to bring the message to nearly 1,000 students from 11 Tucson schools participating in a daylong peace conference.
Laughing, Scary admits that it wasn't too long ago that the only way he'd ever have been allowed to set foot on a grade school or high school campus would have been as a "don't let this happen to you" exhibition.
"Would I have been standing here 10 years ago?" he asks in a booming voice reminiscent of John Goodman. "No way. But things have been loosening up, and some of the people in the schools are open-minded enough to realize I'm an awareness maker."
On the other side of the curtain, Scary awareness is reaching pandemonium pitch. Despite the peace-themed occasion, the atmosphere inside the theater is anything but tranquil. Totally stoked by now (earlier in the day, they'd met Ronald McDonald and McGruff the Crime Dog), the kids shriek, giggle and generally turn the venue into a facsimile of a Saturday afternoon monster-movie matinee as they wait for the day's big attraction. A few wide-eyed participants appear to be totally spooked by the spectacle -- why are the teachers throwing us to the wolves? Most of the kids, however, couldn't be happier about this reprieve from the classroom to watch some character who looks like a scowling fugitive from the World Wrestling Federation.
"He's not scary -- he's nice," explains 10-year-old Margarita, a fifth-grader who has already seen Scary's presentation several times this school year. "He just wants to change the world."
"Yeah," chimes in a friend, when the man with the permanent Halloween mask embedded in his pores finally takes the stage sporting a newly bleached platinum flattop. "Hey, look," she says nonchalantly. "He dyed his hair."
Tinted locks, flashy flesh and metal molars be damned. The Scary Guy is first and foremost about showing your true colors and appreciating those of others -- even if, as in his case, all of the hues involved have been cosmetically enhanced."His message is something nobody can resist," says Scary fan Dave Overstreet, principal of Erikson Elementary School in Tucson. "At our school, the kids just fell in love with him. They're in awe of the man. He's got a great heart."
And, assuming that he does, it's a good thing -- The Scary Guy's formal credentials for the job are frighteningly sketchy. Outside of raising a now-grown daughter from an earlier marriage, he readily confesses that his only previous interaction with children was a stint as a discount-market baby photographer and shooting the breeze with teen truants who hung out at his tattoo shop, until it was mysteriously fire-bombed in an unsolved arson case two years ago.
Still, who needs a degree when your résumé is written all over your face? Just ask any teacher, and you'll learn that grabbing the kids' attention is half the battle.
"Any time you can get a message through to the kids, that's good," says Penny Morris, director of pupil services for the Sierra Vista Public School system. And if it takes someone who looks like a member of the Jim Rose Circus Side Show to spread the word? Well, so be it. "Obviously, the way he looks gets their attention."
Karen Redwine, a health educator with Cochise County Health and Social Services, agrees. "He's an attention-getter, an iconoclast," she notes. "I can't say enough good stuff about him. I think someone said it best when they described him as the dragon and the dragon slayer wrapped up in one."