Yepper, it's the Wayback Machine again. Heck, it's my blog, dangit.
Had a Vuja Daze recently. It was a winter Saturday in Black Rock. Didn't have a basketball game. My parents were busy. My gramma said, “GET OUTTA DA HOUSE!”
“But the weather's crappy!”
She'd palm a half-buck to me. “GO TIDDA SHOW!”
Of course, I had even more jingle in my pocket. Uncle Doc usually came over on Fridays to see his mom and wrassle with my brother and me. Invariably, he would give us some change. Plus what we could grab from the floor, recently separated from his bib overalls. He smelled of beer and shuffleboard parmesan.
So I would go. Along with umpteen other kids. We didn't text each other, didn't even use the phone. It was a two-block walk for me to—where else—the Hippodrome of the neighborhood, The Beverly Theater.
Per the language of the day: What was showing? Who cared? We were, so to speak, outta da house!
Actually, our first stop would be at Nick's Crown Superette, across the Avenue. This was due to the fact that Nick was a swell guy; he would put up our school photos on a board behind the register. Moreover, candy bars (JuJubes, Mounds, Snickers) were a nickel and the Bev charged six cents! I was a Milk Duds kid, sometimes living dangerously with Junior Mints.
We'd always find buddies to sit with; the theater was cavernous. Compared to today's Cinema 1-2 Many (credit: T-Bone Stone), the Bev was like Radio City, sans balcony.
The drill was a dozen or so cartoons preceding a lukewarm film. We would be little Eberts out there, booing Casper and cheering Roadrunner. I didn't mind Speedy Gonzalez, either. Imagine the lawsuits today from handwringing parents, railing against Satanism, coyote-bullying and Mex-baiting.
Right around Labor Day was The Pencil Box Special. I actually think some had compasses in them, until too many kids got jabbed. None us knew what the protractor was for—except scaling them around the venue.
I always tried to sit by Lip. Actually, there was cadre of bothers Lip: Bush, Caveman, Lip, Pea and Little Ricky. But Ronnie, the original Lip, was the class clown. His voice carried, along with his unique manner of speech, which cannot be phoneticized—at least not by this writer.
One week, the movie was a chick flick—yea, they existed even then, The Littlest Hobo. It was a cross between Lassie, Old Yeller and 8½. When the title canine, a shabby little tramp, appeared on the screen, several girls exclaimed, “Oh look! There's the littlest hobo!”
Lip turned and shouted, “Whadja expect, a [expletive] donkey?”
We boys reveled in the horror flicks. The films of William Castle predominated. [Note: See the film Matinee—set in 1962—for a scarily accurate re-creation of schlock shock of the day.]. Vincent Price starred in most of them: Thirteen Ghosts, House on Haunted Hill, etc.
When such films showed, the rubrics of intersexual touching were suspended. Girls would hug you, bury her head in your shoulder, or—for the lucky—jump in your lap. The hefty Angela Fleming effected this once on my buddy Johnny Sabo (whom she massively outweighed), almost causing severe pelvic distress.
My favorite film was The Tingler. The “monster” was a creature that attached to your spine and could only be detached by the victims' screaming. Castle's brilliant marketing plan included installing industrial vibrators under some of the seats. He touted this on TV ads.
Sabo and I found out that the film was due a week hence, so we started a rumor that seats would deliver painful electroshock, even during the preview. Sure enough, the short came on, and as Vincent Price admonished, “Scream! SCREAM FOR YOUR LIVES!” about 500 kids stood and keened lustily, en masse. Mission successful.
I even found my first “romance” at the Bev. Word had gotten to me, via the amazing Black Rock Kid Pipeline, that Gayle Kjellgren, a Nordic blond blouseful from Homestead Avenue, “liked” me. I saw her on the street one day with her handlers and she shouted to me, “Hey, Timmy or Jimmy or whatever your name is, you goin' to the movies Saturday?”
Of course I was. Now. Romeo Holleran, at your service. Nascent fluids coursed through my veins as I daubed some of my dad's Hai Karate, preparing for the fray.
During the film (another horror pic), a local gossipeuse came by and told me where Gayle was sitting—with a vacant spot next to her. I wormed my way over to the other aisle and plopped down next to her. During one scary part, she grabbed my hand for a millisecond. Then let go. She then said, “I'm ugly. I look like that witch up there.”
Before I could assuage her, the evil red torch shone upon us. Rats! The Usher. The most malevolent, vile human on the planet, so all of us thought. “Shaddup,” he said. “Or you're out.”
Gayle withdrew from me and announced. “I don't like you anymore. Go sit somewhere else.”
I left alright—out the door. Plodding home, fighting back tears, I vowed to dismember, maim and eventually dispatch The Usher someday, conveniently blaming my lost love on him. I had been dumped for the first time. My Warholian quarter-hour had elapsed.
I can feel my innards go Möbius at the mere thought of this wretch. He wore an official-looking uniform and wielded his flashlight like a death ray. It had an elongated red lens, and he used it on on kissers, lispers and hissers—with reckless glee. He had a pasty face, which he slathered in fleshtone emollients to vainly hide the mélange of craters and pustules that pocked his puss. Confused, wiry hair defied brillantine. His eyes were venomously gray, almost feral. We would throw Dots at him as he passed by.
After we outgrew matinees, some of us took the CR&L bus to Bassick High to see some hoops. We arrived near the end of the jayvee game and sat in thinly occupied bleachers. With the game well in hand, Coach emptied his bench. And who came off the pines, wearing a castoff uniform from days gone by?
The dozen of us booed, hissed and raised a general ruckus. No prompting was needed.
Lip led the charge of the blight brigade. “YOU SUCK, PIZZA-FACE!” Along with a torrent of other, bluer epithets.
“WHERE'S YOUR FLASHLIGHT?”
And worse. Much, much worse. Of course, he heard us. The entire gym did. As The Usher attempted two free throws, we let fly the fusillade further. I could see his face and neck flush, further highlighting the relief map of his mush. He missed both shots miserably. Justice was served. By the time a faculty member could reign us in, the game ended. The fall of the louse of Usher, finally.
The Bev turned into a second-run, 99-cent house a few years later. Of note: Kevin “Iodine” Connery saw American Graffiti there 37 times. He couldn't top the all-time mark of Zoltan “Liberty Valance” Kish, a dour, flop-eared, monosyllablic kid who viewed said film over a hundred times, earning him his nickname which he wore proudly.
Today, no one walks to the movies. Kiddy matinees? Doubtful. And you'd better have a tenner in your kip. At least.
Or wait for the movie on Netflix. But I bet your sofa won't vibrate.