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Like many other professionals, haunted house actors (who call themselves haunters) are constantly negotiating the balance between customer expectations and their own standards for their work. Haunters continuously make snap readings of haunted house guests’ body language, determining how much of a scare they are really willing to handle.

And the correct word is “willing,” not “able.” Often, haunters encounter skeptical guests who don’t want to play along. Other times, guests have allowed their fear to overcome their rational minds, turning their excitement into hysteria.

Just like in most other customer service jobs, the haunters’ catering to their guests’ expectations is exhausting and often frustrating. So while most haunters will tell you the job is intrinsically rewarding, they’ll also admit to taking pleasure in giving someone a healthy fright every now and then. After all, they are experts in scare tactics.

Thanks to the candid haunters and the great people at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery Monster Museum in Salem. Find them at: nightmaregallery.com

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Halloween in Salem, Mass. is New England’s Mardi Gras. People dress up, party in the streets, and partake in crazy ritual behavior. While there’s no beads-for-peeps exchange in Salem, there is a seasonally unique quid pro quo: actors get paid to scare the bejeezus out of people, while their victims derive great pleasure out of the experience.

Normally it’s one-sided fun. But during the month of October, dozens of haunted house attractions around the region dust off their animatronic manikins, call in their best Freddy Kruger impersonators and rake in the dough. Enthusiastic guests stack up deep in lines, waiting to venture inside the labyrinthine house interiors and run screaming away from actors pretending to eat their brains.

The actors, however, call themselves “haunters.” They work in the “haunt industry.” To them scaring people is an artform. It takes dedication, skill, and ceaseless energy to induce the perfect adrenaline rush and ebullient nervous laughter from their guests. Above all else, it takes scare tactics.

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When Aren Salmela gets behind the wheel of his steel-caged golf cart at his after school job at a local driving range, he is under siege: golf balls driven off the turf matts are often aimed at his rumbling cart. Like many other custodial jobs, Aren’s duties consist of picking up discarded items and cleaning up after customers. Yet, what other custodians are subject to patrons’ attempted physical assaults?

Aren say’s he’s never even come close to being injured on his job and that he doesn’t sweat it when he takes a liner to the cage. But should his acceptance of driving range culture be taken for granted? Maybe aiming for the man pushing the picker is harmless target practice. Or maybe it’s unnecessary harassment of a guy just trying to do his job.

Either way, Aren’s cage is getting rattled.

Thanks to Aren, Matt, and the folks at Sun’N Air Golf Center in Danvers, Mass. Find them at: sunairgolf.com

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