Helen Chappell - June 2008

The Hook
and Other Urban Legends of Teen Life

Helen Chappell

   Okay, I know this is true, ’cause, like, it happened to a friend of a friend of my cousin, right?
    There was this couple of teenagers, and they were parked down by the creek, where everyone hangs out, you know? And they were making out hot and heavy. And the girl says, “Do you hear something?”
    And the guy is like totally not hearing anything, if you know what I mean, heh, heh, and he says, “It’s just your imagination, now how do you undo these hooks?”
    So they go back to making out hot and heavy, and the girl stops and says, “You’ve got to have heard that!”
    And the guy says, “What?”
    And the girl says, “That scratching sound on top of the car.”
    And the guy says, “It’s just a tree branch. About those hooks?”
    But the girl isn’t having any of it. She straightens up and pushes him away. “I’m serious! I hear something scratching on the roof of the car!”
    So the guy actually, you know, like calms down, and listens. And he hears this sort of weird, scraping sound on the roof of the car.
    Scritch, scritch, scritch. SCRITCH!
    It sounds like someone with really long fingernails scratching on a blackboard.
   “Aw,” the guy says, pulling the girl toward him, “It’s not anything. Come ’ere, you’re killin’ me, really.”
    But the girl is not to be deterred. She sits bolt upright, eyes as wide as saucers. “Listen! Something’s trying to open the car door!”
    And they hear rattle, rattle, clank. CLANK.
    Now the guy can hear it, even over the sound of his screaming hormones. “Aw, it’s someone playing a joke on us,” he says, but his voice is a little uncertain.
   “Let’s get out of here! I’m serious!”
   “But, but – –.” So close and yet so far away from his goal, he’s reluctant to let go of the matter at hand.
    But just then, there’s a really loud CLANG! and the guy finally gets it. He starts that car so fast he gets a wrist cramp, and barrels out of there as fast as his muscle-mobile can go.
    On the way home the girl turns on the radio. An announcer says, “This is a special bulletin! The police have just announced that a maniac has escaped from the state metal hospital and is on the loose! The madman can be identified by the hook he wears instead of a hand! The maniac has killed before, and will kill again! If you see him, do not approach him! He’s insane and dangerous! Stay indoors and keep all your doors and windows locked!”
    Needless to say, the guy puts the pedal to the metal and they end up at the girl’s house in record time.
    As he gets out of the car and goes around to let her out, he almost passes out. Hanging from her door is an evil-looking metal hook!

I feel sorry for anyone who grew up in the second half of 20th Century America who never heard a story like this. Back in the day, they were passed around in teen culture as gospel truth. There were some slight variations depending on where you grew up, but the “Hook Story” was probably heard by more kids than American Bandstand.
It’s an urban legend, of course, one of those tales that circulate as having happened to “a friend of a friend.” To quote my favorite urban legend debunker site, www.snopes.com, “Urban legends are a specific class of legend, differentiated from ‘ordinary’ legends by their being provided and believed as accounts of actual incidents that befell or were witnessed by someone the teller almost knows (e.g., his sister’s hairdresser’s mechanic). These tales are told as true, local, and recent occurrences, and often contain names of places or entities located within the teller’s neighborhood or surrounding region.
Urban legends are narratives that put our fears and concerns into the form of stories or are tales that we use to confirm the rightness of our world view. As cautionary tales they warn us against engaging in risky behaviors by pointing out what has supposedly happened to others who did what we might be tempted to try. Other legends confirm our belief that it’s a big, bad world out there, one awash with crazed killers, lurking terrorists, unscrupulous companies out to make a buck at any cost, and a government that doesn’t give a damn.
Folks commonly equate “urban legend” with “false” (i.e., “Oh, that’s an urban legend!”). Though the vast majority of such tales are pure invention, a handful do turn out to be based on real incidents, and whether or not something actually happened has no bearing on its status as an urban legend. What lifts true tales of this type out of the world of news and into the genre of contemporary lore is the blurring of details and multiplicity of claims that the events happened locally, alterations that take place as the stories are passed through countless hands. Though there might indeed have been an original actual event, it clearly did not happen to as many people or in as many places as the various recountings of it would have us believe.
With the rise of the Internet, there is all kinds of junk and misinformation out there, but I’m rather fond of the ones that formed part of the folklore of my adolescence.
The moral of “The Hook” is don’t have teen sex, of course. Over the years, I’ve found people from every part of the country who grew up hearing versions of this spooky tale. Small details may differ, but the essence remains the same. Having premarital sex is bad. Freud would have a field day with this one.
I’ve collected versions of “The Hook” for years. Almost everyone I’ve talked to about it swears that it really happened in their area. But never to someone they actually knew, or could provide documentation for.
However, I have no information that fear of “The Hook” ever stopped anyone from going to a romantic parking spot.
Also, unhappy real-life killers like the Zodiac Killer and Son of Sam have made “The Hook” all too real.
Kids these days watch movies that are far more gruesome than some dubious, if entertaining tale about an escaped serial killer. “The Hook” legend seems to have died a natural death, as the sexual revolution, the Pill and electronic technology have replaced oral traditions. Can you imagine trying to text “The Hook” story to a friend?