Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Tales of small-town life: drive-in edition (Catholic version)
God bless the Internet. This is the actual marquee from the drive-in movie theater in my hometown. There is much I could write about this place. Could it be the sexy hideaway of passion from whence my film obsession was born? Could it be a nostalgia piece about how I was one of the lucky few born between 1975-1982, the last drive-in movie generation? Fortunately, those stories are going to have to wait. This story is much better. It is about how I grew up in a town so dreadfully empty and dull that my friends and I, in our absolute boredom, vandalized and disrupted one of the few places in town that offered any kind of alternative to shooting oneself in the face. We were so bored, we took out our frustrations on the things we loved. To the various owners of the Sunset Drive-In, c. 1977-1996, I apologize. However, I am not sorry. Here is my confession.
Dear Sunset Drive-In,
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
It has been seven or eight years since my last confession.
O my drive-in proprietor,
I am heartily sorry for having offended thee,
and I detest all my hijinks,
because I dread the loss of a three-month ban,
and the pains of missing such quality films as "Police Academy 6: Citizens Under Siege,"
but most of all because they offend thee, my drive-in proprietor,
who are all good, yo,
and deserving of all my nacho and popcorn money.
I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace,
to hijink no more and to avoid the near occasion of hijinks.
Here are the hijinks to which I am guilty:
1) At my friend Clint's birthday party, his older brother snuck us into "The Rocketeer." We hid under a tarp in the back of a pickup. He was the only one who paid. You caught us, since we all stupidly hit the snack bar for nachos during intermission. You let us off with a lecture. You knew that "The Rocketeer" was punishment enough.
2) In high school, that same friend Clint had an old van with tinted windows and a mini-fridge. Many of us in the back of the van never paid. However, I think we are even on this one. In fact, you owe me. True, I never paid to see "The Rocketeer." In my defense, I was so drunk during "Naked Gun 33 1/3" that I only watched 38 seconds of the film, and "The Flintstones" was so bad that we went to Clint's grandmother's basement to finish our weed. The way I see it, you owe me eight dollars.
3) During the bi-annual dusk-to-dawn marathon shows, some classmates got the idea to run around the screen while the movie was playing. This was a funny gag...for a while. We kicked it up a notch. Boo-yah! The Fourth of July was imminent, so a few no-goodniks and I had a carload full of ten-shot Roman Candles. A chance encounter with another classmate led to an inspirational bombshell. She was returning from a hard day at cheerleading camp, teaching a future generation of young women how to be vacuous second-class citizens, and the trunk of her car was full of glow-in-the-dark purple wigs. Could we borrow four, we asked? Yes, she said. Magic time. We were going to don the wigs, run in front of the screen during the middle of the film, and light ten of the ten-shot Roman Candles. One hundred firework explosions during a movie while four bored teenagers danced around in front of the fireworks while wearing glow-in-the-dark purple wigs! What could go wrong? Actually, nothing went wrong. The drive-in was a few miles outside of town. We parked on a dirt road next to the back of the screen, donned the wigs, grabbed a handful of Roman Candles and a lighter, left the car running, ran in front of the screen, stuck the Candles in the dirt, lit them, watched them go off, danced around in front of them, then hauled ass back to the running car, and drove away. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. That last sentence is very depressing. We got away with it, and we gave the people attending that particular screening something to talk about for a long time. I don't even remember what movie it was, but I do know it starred Goldie Hawn.
4) The running-around-the-screen fad ended shortly after our purple wig stunt. The owner was on amber alert, and was keeping an eye out for any troublesome teens. A classmate decided to run around the screen anyway, and was chased by the owner. Panicking, he ran into a fence and cut his hand badly, with the embarrassing result of being driven to the emergency room by the drive-in owner, the very guy who was chasing him. A few weeks later, the idea hit us. Let's change the letters on the marquee. The drive-in was only open in the summer on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Our plan of attack: a late, hot Wednesday night. I was driving that night, so I stayed in the car with the motor running, worst case scenario pending. My friends took a long time rearranging the words, and when they were done, I was a bit baffled. The marquee read "Ass Tit Rec." Now, ass and tit were solid gold, but what the hell was "rec"? I asked them when they got back to the car. "They were the only letters left, so we had to do something with them." Why not just leave them on the ground, I asked. "We didn't think of that," they said. Despite my questioning of their handiwork, a feeling of mirth could not be dampened by the infernal damnation of my need for explanations. We planned our next marquee attacks thoroughly, especially our masterpiece, "Help Fuck Santa." Unfortunately, it was only up for six hours. We had one last hurrah the summer after our freshmen year of college. A handful of us were back in town for the summer, and we were drinking at my house while my parents were out of town. Soon, marquee fever had us in its sexy, sexy grip. Not only was the drive-in calling out for a rearranging, but also the high school, right next door. The year after my graduation from the place, it had installed a marquee announcing school events. We split into teams. My brother, one friend, and I would hit the school, while two of my friends would attack the drive-in. Unfortunately, the school marquee had a protective layer of Plexiglas and a padlock keeping out hijink-makers. That did not deter us. We plundered my father's garage for many tools, and eventually sawed the fucker open. During our labors, several neighbors stepped out on their porches to see what the hell we were doing. Shit, I thought. We are busted. About an hour later, my drive-in friends returned, sweaty and confident. Ironically, nothing happened to my brother and I and our fellow school accomplice, but my friends who attacked the drive-in were visited by the police. Unbeknownst to us all, the drive-in owner had installed a hidden camera shortly after the "Help Fuck Santa" incident. My friends, who were witnessed by no human, were caught on tape. At the police station, the drive-in owner was exasperated, my friends told me. "Why?" he asked them. "What do you guys have against me?" He kept asking this, they said. He thought it was personal. No matter how many times my friends answered, he didn't believe them. But it was true. "We are just so bored," they said. "And you have a marquee."
One year later, he closed the drive-in. A few years after that, a particularly nasty hail and wind storm destoyed 75 percent of the screen. The Sunset Drive-In currently sits abandoned.
That is my confession, Lord of all Drive-Ins. What is my penance?
My son, you must repent for your sins by watching Lethal Weapon 3, Die Hard 3, Police Academy 3, and Short Circuit 2. Also, you must drink eight large Cokes, and eat three large nachos. One with jalapenos, two without. Do you accept your penance?
Yes. Yes, I do.