For years, Joe Bones has remained still and silent.
The tall skeleton is one of the fixtures inside the Schaffer Library of Health Sciences at Albany Medical College. Mr. Bones is in great shape. His neck bone’s connected to his back bone, his back bone’s connected to his thigh bone, his thigh bone’s connected to his knee bone — all with metal screws and brackets that let Joe easily roll his bones for inquisitive students.
Through the magic of Halloween, Mr. Bones consented to an interview with The Daily Gazette. He chattered on about his career, his past, his appreciations and the skeleton’s iconic status as an October fright figure.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: Well, the students here are pretty serious. They lift my arms gently, and take real care when they’re examining all 27 bones in my left hand. There are 27 in the right hand, too. They don’t poke me in the ribs too hard, so it’s almost like getting a massage. And they always want photos with me. I’ll put my arm bones around their shoulders, shake hands, stuff like that — the pictures are always in good taste. I’m not crazy about the pay — because I work free — and they won’t let me smoke cigars. But it’s quiet inside the library. A man in my condition appreciates peace and quiet.
Q: How does a man in your condition . . . become a man in your condition?
A: Glad you asked. There was a time during the 1800s when anatomical skeletons were all deceased men and women, stripped down. Way down. Many of us are made of a real high-grade plastic composite now, so people who read this piece about my pieces can’t say we’re being disrespectful to human remains. I was never a real guy. If I had been, I’ll bet I would have been a stage actor, a dancer. Think I would have liked traveling from city to city during the Roaring Twenties. Might have hooked up with a Ziegfeld Girl, or a flapper.
Q: It gets pretty chilly in October. Do you ever get cold?
A: All the time. Try going to work naked and see how cold you get. Once in a while, somebody will toss a sweater, hoodie or jacket over my shoulder blades, but I look like an idiot. Same thing with a fedora or baseball cap — I look like a dope. At Christmas time, a Santa Claus hat covers my skull. Again, I suffer. Nobody’s ever thought about dressing me in a cape and a top hat, maybe a walking stick and white gloves. I think that would look kind of a cool, especially around Halloween. It would be a swell outfit for New Year’s Eve, too.
Q: Speaking about Halloween, it seems like vampires, ghosts, werewolves and zombies are big stars in movies, books and television when October 31 arrives. Why hasn’t the skeleton ever achieved superstar status for scares?
A: That’s always annoyed me. If I had blood pressure, it would be wicked high during October. The Frankenstein monster comes lurching down the hallway, big deal. And most of these new vampires look like the guys from Duran Duran, big hair and too much make-up. Werewolves? Big dogs with bad attitudes. Witches? Old ladies on broomsticks. Toss a pail of water on them and they’re as dead as fried chicken.
Now, if I answer the door tonight for hapless trick-or-treaters, they aren’t going to wait around for Zagnuts, Pay Days or Snickers bars. They’re going be screaming “Mommy!” running like rabbits and sleeping with the lights on until Thanksgiving.
In the movies, skeletons have had some great moments. Ever see “House on Haunted Hill,” the 1959 version with Vincent Price? Terrific ending — skeleton comes walking out of an acid pool and goes after a woman who thinks she has knocked off Price’s character. “Come with me, murderess,” says old Vinnie, talking for the skeleton and really hamming it up. Vince is controlling the bones like a puppeteer, and the thin man ends up pushing the villainous blonde into the acid. What a mess. You can see it on YouTube.
In another cult movie, a bunch of skeleton soldiers take on the ancient Greeks in “Jason and the Argonauts.” Nice sequence, but the visiting team seem a little frail. You really need muscle to properly swing a sword.
One more. In the “Terminator” movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger is just a big lug in a leather jacket and sunglasses. Not scary. Once he’s melted down into metal skeleton form, that’s when people get nervous. The red eyes are a nice touch.
Q: You live — I’m sorry, reside — in a library. Any favorite books?
A: I think that’s why someone gave me an eye — a black one for my left socket. I was intrigued by “The Lovely Bones” for obvious reasons, but it was a little too grim, too much like a soap opera. And kind of sad. Most of the books here are medical texts and reports, but I don’t have to worry about sleep apnea, acid reflux, allergies, none of that jazz. So I leave them alone. Once in a while, the students will leave comic books behind. I’m partial to “Deadman.”
Q: I’ll bet “Bones” is your favorite TV show, right?
A: Look around, sap. This is a library, right? We don’t have a television in here, and I can’t exactly carry my cartilage and calcium down the hallways searching for one. Even if I could, I wouldn’t waste my time with “Bones,” yet another crime-medical hybrid. I’d probably watch a cooking show. I’ll never eat garlic smashed potatoes, honey-butter carrots and meatloaf smothered with ketchup, but I can dream.
Q: If you could leave here for one day, what would you do?
A: Now you’re talking. I’d go to breakfast and order a big Spanish omelette with home fries and a cup of coffee. Then I’d go for a swim at the YMCA, although I doubt any swimsuit would stay up. I’d refuse to wear a Speedo, so I’d have to skinny dip. I’d go bowling. Might watch the races at Saratoga Race Course. Then find a nice bar with a good jukebox and have a few Coors Lights. I’d catch a show at Proctors, then take the bus back home.
Q: We’ve given you the classy name “Joe Bones” for this story. Any other ideas?
A: “Joe Bones.” Real creative. I guess it’s better than “Bones McCoy,” “Sammy Skeleton,” “Ol’ No Eyes,” “Whitey,” or “Smokey Bones.” I kind of like “Vincent Price.” And I don’t think he’d mind!
John Bones’ resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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