Sunday, November 16, 2008

This Boy's Life

Today is America Recycles Day. Think of something in your past: an item, a person, an event, a feeling, that you wish you could recycle and write about it.

This one provides a bit of a conundrum. It comes down to the interpretation of recycle. Do again, or do over. Not sure. Definitely not a do-over, I don't think. Do-overs are for the regretful and there's no regrets for those who are happy with who they are. This has nothing to do with being happy where you are. For that, you need lots and lots of money...

But, a do-again...That, I can get behind.

But what day? I could get maudlin and say I want to relive something standard like the day I got married or the day my child was born, but since I'm neither married, nor a parent, that would just be silly. I could relive the day I was born, but that would just be creepy. But, somewhere in between those two days, there is one in particular that I seem to remember being the finest, purest most enjoyable I've ever had, and oddly enough, it just occurred to me as I say here bullshitting about what to write.

June 12, 1982:

If this were a movie, "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners would be playing over the credit sequence. (BTW, am I the only one who watches movies set in the 80's and thinks shit like, "no way that song would be playing. it wasn't released until the Christmas of that year and that scene is so obviously taking place in June!" Am I the only one?)

This was the point in my life when I had around two friends and didn't really do anything with them outside of school, so I spent a lot of quality me time. This would become something that I came to find desirous in my adult life, but it was also something that puzzled the shit out of my parents. Typical of the parents of bookish nerds, they really wanted a more outgoing, socially acclimated child, but that one really wasn't going to work out for them. I remember one birthday in particular (and it might very well and most likely could have been the one that followed this particular day) when, in lieu of presents,I was given by various relatives and family friends a princely sum of money to spend as I saw fit. It was about $120, which in the halcyon dawn of the Reagan administration was equal to about $300 in today's economy. My mom had only one directive as I took off the mall to spend my ill gotten booty. "Don't spend it on books!" Seriously? They had no clue how easy they had it. Less fortunate mothers would have directed their child to avoid spending money on Meth or hookers. I spent it on books anyway, and it was well spent, as I still own a few of the books I bought that day. Books about Ninjas! It was a good time to be a boy in 1982.

It it was a good day to be alive on June 12. Having few (no) friends and needing, apparently, to spend time outside of the house, I would often convince my mom to let me spend a Saturday at the mall. Sure, lots of kids did this, but not many actually had to tell their parents that they were actually meeting other people there, so they wouldn't be alone all day. Spending the day alone was as bad as spending the day in my room as far as my parents were concerned. So, I would tell them that I was meeting Mark or Bobby at the mall later, so they just had to drop me off out front and wait for my call five or six hours later, letting them know that I was ready to be picked up. They usually gave me about ten bucks to spend, and I was off.

Sitting here recalling the details of that time, I'm at an utter loss at trying to figure out just what the hell I managed to do for more than three hours let alone five or six. I was still at that age where a trip to the toy store wasn't totally out of the question, but I was venturing towards other new areas of the store and starting to avoid the more traditional aisles I used to haunt. Star Wars action figures no longer held sway with me and the following year, when Return of The Jedi was released, would mark the first time I made no effort to acquire the new Star Wars merchandise. I was starting to spend more time spying at the mysterious books and boxes of D&D related materials that they kept behind the glass case, but I think the side of the game recommended it for ages 12 and up, and guidelines like that held a powerful grip on my mother. It would be another year before that particular obsession was unloosed up the world.

There was also the bookstore of course. I could burn more than an hour in there. Again, it was a very transitional time in my life and my tastes were slowly taking shape. I had fairly typical interests for a kid my age and my purchases had reflected that. I was really into books about monster movies for a time. Anything that had any information about monster movies, especially Universal Studios classic line up (Dracula/Frankenstein/Wolfman) was right up my alley. It was also the tail end of the Silver Age for "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine and I snatched those up at the bookstore whenever I could. There were also a few video game guides that I had picked up along the way to help me beat Pacman, but those were mostly wasted, since I got really tired of that game long before it reached pop culture overload. By the time Buckner and Garcia released the song "Pacman Fever", I had moved on to "Frogger". I had yet to get into Fantasy fiction, but I did still have Ninjas going for me, so that was cool.

With the toy store done, and the bookstore browsed, that left the movie theater. That's why I wonder what the hell I did with myself for all that time. Circus World, B. Dalton's and The Cinema 3. That was it. That's like three hours max. Maybe, if I was hungry, I could kill another half hour at Giovanni's Pizza where you could get a slice and a Coke for $1.50. I had not yet become the stylish fashion plate that I would be, so Chess King was not on my agenda. Thriller was still five months away so pop music was not on my radar at all. There was no reason to go to Music Express. That left the pet store and K-Mart. Who knows what I did with myself.

But I have digressed. Cue Music.

June 12 1982:
Standard weekend operating procedure. My mom dropped me off at the back entrance of Plaza Del Sol Mall with ten bucks in my hand and an entire afternoon to blow. It was just past noon and I had one thing in mind. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had opened last week and this was my first chance to see it. In the decades that followed, anthropologists would come to refer to 1982 as the greatest year ever for Sci-Fi cinema. (A few even say that it was the greatest year ever for cinema in general) Tron, The Thing, The Dark Crystal, Conan The Barbarian, Blade Runner and Poltergeist were only six of the all time classics that would open that year. Wrath of Khan was another. I'd never been a fan of the original show (still not) and I only had a vague recollection of the first film, but for some reason, I was super stoked to see the sequel. Maybe it was the presence of sex god Ricardo Montalban. He was Mr. Roark after all. Or maybe the power of the Shatner really does conquer all. That white hot quasar of manliness can quite convincing, or at least he used to be until he got all homophobic AND bitchy (figure that one out).

It was sublime. Any Trekker in the know will tell you that Wrath Of Khan is without qualification, the greatest movie in the series, by leaps and bounds. This was as good as it was gonna get. Earwigs, Evil Chekhov, hot Kirstie Alley (?!?!?), dead Spock. And the greatest dying villain soliloquy since Richard III.

(at about the 5:00 mark)
"For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!"
-Khan Noonien Singh

Before I knew anything could be the shit, THIS WAS THE SHIT! I remember watching the closing credits all the way through, just trying to soak in as much of the movie that I could. I was the last one left in the theatre when the lights came up and the kid with the broom came in. I was a little wobble legged and night blind (not much has changed) and I started to stagger out of the room.

The Cinema3 in the mall had three screens. (I know this sounds paltry, but until it opened Del Rio had an old style movie palace, a discount run theatre and a drive in. The Cinema3 doubled the number of movies that could play in town, at least for a few years. Eventually, lack of business killed the other three, and Del Rio was back to square one. ) Wrath of Khan wasn't the most recent movie, but it was the more profitable so it was playing on the biggest screen at the furthest end of the place. When I walked out, I was dazzled by the light and noise and was not in my right mind. I was sure I wasn't ready to go home, but I didn't know what to do next. I passed the middle screen door and was more than halfway to the exit when I suddenly decided that I wasn't done yet. Sensing a rare moment of unobserved privacy, I hung a quick right and walked into the smallest screen, which ironically was screening the most recent release:


Yeah, I know. But buzz off! I was 11. And Michelle Pfeiffer was hot. Because of the end time of the last movie, I came in about 20 minutes late. Having missed some very important expository information, I was so confused that it took me almost 2 minutes to figure out what the hell was going on. Who's the new kid? What's with Zmed's hair? Isn't that the same villain from the first movie? What the fuck is Frenchy doing here? Is this for real? I'm so confused!!!

I was spent. And hungry. When Grease 2 was over, I went to the pizza joint and got a slice and a Coke and I was pondering my options. I could probably go home now and consider this a day well spent, but that would run counter to the instincts of any adolescent boy. Why be happy when you can be overloaded. Is there time for more, then have too much. I checked my watch and walked back toward the theatre. I checked the marquee and confirmed that I still had time to get into the next showing of the only movie I hadn't seen yet. I had to walk all the way back to the center of the mall to use the payphone. There was one in the cinema, but I couldn't get in without buying a ticket and I wanted to be sure that my parents were cool with what I wanted to do. If they said no, I'd have had to leave and would have wasted the ticket. Back then, the $2.50 matinee admission was a lot of money to me. The parents were cool with it and I raced back to the movies to get there on time. I gave the girl my money for the second time that day and ran through the doors for screen 2 just as the lights were going down. I found a free seat during the previews and waited for the movie to start.

Cue music again:

Risin' up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

Arguably the second best film in the Rocky franchise (this is an accurate statement since most people tend to forget that not only did the first film win an Oscar for best picture, it really was a fantastic film), Rocky III took what brains I had left that weren't scrambled from Star Trek, and put them in the blender, pureed them and served them back to my in a tall iced glass with a pineapple umbrella garnish. Stallone was in genuine (non-grotesque) fighting shape and Mr.T was batshit scary. It may seem ridiculous today, but contrary to his post A Team media friendly persona, Mr T was once a bad mother fucker. I actually remember seeing him win the title of "World's Toughest Bouncer" in 1980 during a televised competition, and as Eddie Murphy so eloquently put it, "he don't look like he can't fight." Between fighting Mr T, and Hulk Hogan playing an over the top wrestler named "Thunder Lips", Stallone took a hell of an ass whuppin in the movie. And I was in heaven. Another unexpected death during the movie brought the day full circle back to the surprise death in Star Trek. The day was complete.

Now, I want to go on record and say that by this point in the day, I was not thinking too clearly and can't be held responsible for my actions. In the cold harsh light of today, I realize that mistakes were made, but there can be no going back. But I did what I did and I can't change that. Furthermore, I'm not sorry.

Remember when I said that for an adolescent boy enough isn't enough if too much is an option? Here's too much.

Walking out of the theatre, I glanced back at the marquee, checked my watch and then checked my pocket. I had five minutes and $2.50 to spare. Just enough time and money to catch one more. And which one did I choose? The one whose opening I'd missed. Yes my friends, i turned around, got back in line and payed my cash money to watch Grease f'ing 2 one more time, all because didn't see the beginning the first time. LOSER!

By the time I got out, it was dark and I was hungry again. I finally called home and asked them to pick me up. As I sat outside on the benches, I was tingling with the kind of giddy nervous energy that comes from lack of sleep. That third wind that hits you at about 8 the following morning when you're trying to decide whether it's worth trying to catch some sleep or whether you should say "fuck it" and stay up through work later that afternoon since any sleep you do get will only make you feel worse. It may seem totally "Stand By Me" to say it, but I think that even then I was aware that I would never have a day quite like that again. First there was the logistical matter of bringing three movie of such magnificent quality together again. It was the Great Conjunction, a once in a century occurrence that you never recognize until you see it in the rear view mirror of your past. Secondly, I knew that in spite of my too much is never enough attitude, I knew that if I did this all the time, it would cease to become that cool thing I did and become that thing I do all the time. You know, like masturbation.

My mom pulled up and I got in the car. She asked me if I had fun with my friends. I said yes. As we drove home, I still couldn't stop thinking about Wrath Of Khan. It was one of the best movies I'd ever seen, and I didn't think that I would see another movie that good all year. A week later, E.T. would open its local run. I had the whole world ahead of me and it was a good time to be a dork.

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