Saturday, December 30, 2017

In The Time Of Their Time-With Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show In Mind

In The Time Of Their Time-With Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show In Mind   

 

From The Pen Of Sam Easton

 

Sam Lowell spurted out the following almost automatically to Bart Webber after they had just finished watching the DVD version of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show on Bart’s H-D screen giving his take on various sections of the film that rang a bell, rang true to his and Bart’s own Podunk experiences in northern clime Carver a half a generation later than those portrayed in the film, “You know that Jenny, Jenny the waitress, the one who ran the Out Of Luck Café, or whatever Podunk name, Archer City Café, or whatever the cafe was called back then probably knew every sordid detail in that two-bit hick town (two-bit no exaggeration since the total sum of the inevitable Main Street of the town was the café, the pool hall, a gas station, a rundown movie theater getting ready and not soon enough to run its last picture show and not much else the look of a million towns on a million foreboding highways any direction you want to go in America except now they are filled in with strip malls of monotonous same-ness except a few regional variations and they are fading  but the small town-ness is still the same).

Sam continued, “Probably knew who every high school girl was screwing, ('doing the do' in corner boy Carver society after hearing Howlin' Wolf perform his blues song of the same name over WMEX one fugitive night) or not screwing, the former meaning she was 'easy' despite what she told the girls come Monday morning about how she had successfully fended some Travis off, again, although a few months later when she disappeared from town to 'visit Aunt Emma,' at least Bart if you remember that is what everybody in Carver called the situation when some girl got in 'trouble,' got in the family way, and had to leave town everybody would then know that her description of her heroic efforts at resistance had been less than true. The latter though probably closer to the truth in the lie-filled teenage world when it came to sex, and a lot of other things too. I know as you well know from a couple of times you caught me out that I was lying like a bastard a couple of times when I said I was screwing Mary Shea and Diana Nelson and they heard about it and set everybody straight, although they in their turn were screwing, respectively Timmy Callahan the football player and Sal Rizzo, one of our corner boys then while they were going out with me. Damn girls.”

“Knew too if the guy, frustrated by the 'not now, later when we are married' business was two-timing her with some Loretta who in fact was 'easy,' hell, three-timing her with her younger sister who was not so fussy about having the marriage bed the place where she was broken in like happened with Lana Jones and that wildcat blonde-headed younger sister of hers, Betty, who was taking guys around the world in the back halls in junior high, that same high school girl who thought her Jimmy was true blue.”

“Yeah, Jenny knew the real virgins from the sluts overhearing the real talk at the counter that came on after school when those girls came in for their hamburgers and Coke, no onions just in case some guy came in and wanted to talk (that 'no onions' though really got its serious workout not then but on date night if he and she had stopped by to have Jenny cook up a burger on the way to love’s exertions but come midnight, one o’clock,  after love’s exertions worked themselves out they would tell her to pile those damn onions sky high), to play the latest dreamy song after she had wound up in the back seat of some pick-up truck hearing that song on the radio and kept it in her head to spin at the jukebox which was a fixture at the café which had brought in a couple of generations of kids in going back to the days when Ralph Jordan ran the place and would have the best selection of Western Swing tunes in West Texas.

“Yeah, probably knew in detail the sex lives, or non-sex lives of every adult in town as well, knew who was playing around nearby or in the Hotel Deville in Wichita City where despite its regal sounding name operated under the 'motel, hotel, no tell' principle which allowed the owner to fly everywhere he wanted on those love’s exertions workouts at his place; probably knew the net worth of every guy too; and, knew who was failing and who was succeeding in the big time oil game down there among the weeds in Texas just like Lila knew everything about everybody in town over at Jimmy Jakes’ Diner when we used to go there after school.” Bart nodded his head in agreement.

“Didn’t we call her ‘Lila the beguiler’ or something like that since we though that she was sexy even through that steam-sweated white uniform Jimmy made all his waitresses wear, she sure had a shape to go after as every guy from high school corner boys like us to over-the-hill over-the-road truck drivers like Shorty Rail knew who tried to hit on her then once they knew she had been divorced after her husband abandoned her for another woman. You remember what that meant in those days unlike now since divorces were rare in our old town that she was 'easy,' knew the ropes. What people didn’t know was that the reason she was doing that waitressing job other than that was the only kind of work she knew how to do since she had dropped out of Carver High in her sophomore year to run off with that guy who ran off with that other woman was to support her young son who was staying at her mother’s place over in Plymouth since there was no money around otherwise.”

“I know I tried to take a run at her one night when I was alone and the place was kind of empty before the lovers’ lane crowd came in after, I think you guys had gone to a Friday night football game over in Bridgewater, and I was drunk enough to make a fool of myself by asking if she wanted company. She smiled then cut me to the quick and said she was 'no cradle robber no matter what anybody around town said,' Bart thoughtfully, maybe wistfully, replied. “You know though she never said word one about that to anybody, anybody that I ever heard about, that is why people, almost everybody who went into Jimmy’s would talk about stuff around her that they wouldn’t even talk among their friends, wouldn’t talk about ever when Lois the morning waitress was on duty since she was the town chatterbox.”                     

“Yeah, I’m sure now that you mentioned how tight-lipped she could be that Lila knew plenty, probably knew about my father that time he went up to Boston with that “bogger” girl that had him going every which way before she dumped him back on my mother’s doorstep all sorry and forgive me,” Sam, turning flush red at the thought of his father running around with every tramp in town before his mother finally lowered the boom on the bastard.

“I bet Lila knew about all the girls in school too, who was shacking up with who down at the far end of Squaw Rock, the “do the do” lovers’ lane in Carver. Remember we called it, the sex act, usually just straight sex and not oral or something like that which is what happened more often than you would think down at Squaw Rock when girls would get scared about the “visit to Aunt Emma” but not scared enough to want not give their boyfriends a smile on his face, back then after Pete Markin heard Howlin’ Wolf call it that in of those smoking blues songs where he practically devoured the harmonica, would probably now too. I know on a cold night you couldn’t see into a single window of a single car come midnight and then around one o’clock the whole lot all disheveled with guys’ shirts hanging out and hair messed up and girls with their skirts all every which way came in looking for some good diner food, didn’t worry about onions now that the night’s exertions were done and they were going home after they ate their food.”  

“ I never wanted to be around Lana Loren once she got a fistful of onions and garlic down her throat,” laughed Sam at the thought of that at-the door kiss he had taken from Lana on many an night when they were an “item” after their love’s exertions and food afterward before she decided that big football running backs probably had bigger dicks than his and drifted off to the boys’ locker room to make herself available to Jake McGee the star running back of the Carver High School Class of 1964 football team which played in the State Division III championship and lost at the last moment.        

“You know Sam Lila probably could have saved you plenty of anguish that time you tried your luck with Melinda Loring and struck out before round one instead of wasting all your time going nowhere with her before you pulled Duckie Drake aside and asked him what was what with her. I admit the school grapevine, especially when Pete Markin had anything to do with it since guys and gals always humored Pete with some kind of gossip and then he went to see if it was bullshit or not, was damn good mostly but I bet Lila had the ‘skinny’ on Melinda in a heartbeat when she used to go there after school with Muffy Mullin and Sarah Goode and let her hair down. Lila would have let you know what Duckie took a week to find out that Melinda liked you well enough but she was not ‘going out’ with the son of a ‘bogger,’ not going out with a guy whose father worked the cranberry bogs just outside of town. Period”

Sam looked at Bart and his face reddened even after fifty years at that thought of the faux pas over Melinda, a thought that he had believed all these years and only had been disabused of a couple of years before when he ran into Melinda at their fiftieth class reunion and she had asked him why back then after he had been talking to her all serious like he was interested and she had given, or had thought she had given, him some very flirty signals he never asked her for a date, stopped talking to her completely one day and they never spoke again before graduation. Damn. That reunion night Sam had told her that Duckie Drake had told him that she was a ‘no go’ with boggers’ sons and that left him out. Melinda had laughed that that figured since Duckie was trying to ‘make’ her and put the blast on Sam.


In any case, and he would never tell this to Bart since he would freak out and go off on him, would have called him foolish and every other damn thing, Sam had had an affair, a short one, a very short one,  with Melinda after the reunion which he thought was really just a fling on her part once the thrice-married Sam said “no go” to any idea of marriage, based in the acrimonious end on some foolish idea that fifty years later you could make up for something you missed rather than face the facts that you really can’t go home again as Thomas Wolfe named the sentiment in the title of one of his books.

See, as well, Sam could not tell Bart that he had almost destroyed his long-time relationship with Laura Perkins who Bart was crazy about, had tried to beat Sam’s time with  a few times when Sam and Laura  had momentarily split up a few years back  and Bart and his wife Sarah were going through rough retired “empty-nester” blues. He had to laugh because if Lila were alive today, or that couple of years back she probably would have known all about it right after the reunion since he and Melinda had made no bones about their attraction to each other that night and Dora Prescott, the perennial chair of class reunions still lived in town and still patronized Jimmy’s and would have been in there five minutes after the reunion was over.    

“You know The Last Picture Show has to be one of the ten best films ever made in my book, somewhere after Bogie and Bacall in To Have And Have Not where they have some of the hottest sexual attraction to each other with their clothes on scenes I have ever seen on the screen and a couple of others because even though it is nothing but a coming of age film about guys and girls in Podunk Texas in the early 1950s its really about us, about Podunk Carver in the early 1960s and probably a million other places in the 1950s, 1960s, now too, where guys just hung out waiting for something, waiting for what Pete Markin called the ‘fresh breeze coming through the land,’” Sam chimed in trying to erase the subject of Melinda Loring from his mind, “Remember that first time we saw it when it first came out and we both said at the same time after it was over and we were heading out the Olde Town Theater in Washington we wished we had had time to watch it again?”

Bart said he remembered, remembered too why they were in Washington, D.C. for about the tenth time that year, 1971, a fateful year, or so it seemed after Sam had gotten out of the Army with his limbs intact after service in Vietnam but also after he had as he always used to like to say back then he 'got religion'; religion on the questions of war and peace and had joined the anti-war GI movement, joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) organization which was hammering home the message that it was high time, more than high time to end the war against people we had not real quarrel with in that benighted country. Bart, exempted from the military due to a leg problem suffered in childhood which made him limp profoundly even after a couple of surgeries since the military whatever else it may like likes it soldiers to march their asses off, had come to the anti-war movement through Pete Markin who had served earlier than Sam in Vietnam and had been the first Carver kid that he knew who flamed against the war once he got back to what he called “the real world,” a term Sam used as well.

The meeting point had been May Day 1971 when both men, Sam with VVAW and Bart with a unit from People’s Committee for Peace and Justice out of Boston had tried to unsuccessfully shut down the government. All they got for their efforts was some time in the bastinado and a couple of court dates before the cases against them were thrown out by the irate judge who had a short fuse about the prosecution wasting his time when he had real crimes and criminals to get behind bars since the arresting officer never showed up to identify them. After that last court date they decided to go see this film which Bart’s girlfriend and later wife Sarah had seen when it came out in late October and raved about it noting the same thing that they did about the whole scene being like something out of their Carver experiences. (Sarah a year younger than Sam and Bart had not gone to Washington that May Day since she had opposed the idea of shutting down the government as a stupid tactic rather than trying to build larger and larger national demonstrations to put pressure on the government. In the end neither position had won out over the other since the Vietnamese people, the people we had not real quarrel with, had pushed the American presence and its bought and paid for South Vietnamese government out the door on their own in April 1975.)                   

This second, for Bart, and third time viewing for Sam who had seen the film again after he had seen the unsatisfactory sequel Texasville, talk about you can’t go home again, in 1991 which reunited many of those same stars about twenty years later had been initiated by Sam. Sam had since his semi-retirement from the day to day operations of his small law practice had been via the beauties of modern technology, through the Internet and Netflix,running the rack on many of the old time black and white films that he had seen in the old days at the Strand Theater over on Lapine Street on Saturday afternoon double features. He had noticed The Last Picture Show when he was scanning the pages for such films, although the main period of black and white films was back in the 1930s and 1940s this film had been done in black and white to give it the gritty feeling of a dying town where time seemed to stand still in the up and coming 1950s. A wise choice on the part of director Peter Bogdanovich.     

“Funny right from the first scene, that football scene so many of the scenes in that movie even today ring a bell, make me think back to those high school days when a lot of what went on seemed to be universal for teens in the post-World War II world. American Graffiti   done in color and portraying an early 1960s small town California had the same effect on me,” Sam remarked as he was putting the DVD disc back in the much used and abused container as he liked to call the ratty pouch provided to put into the Netflix envelope to mail back and in return get another film from his running list, from what they call his want list.

Bart had chortled at that football scene and remarked as Sam was doing his work, “Remember back in 1960 when you tried out for junior varsity football where you were going to be the star running back of the team, another Jimmy Dunne the legendary Carver fullback from the 1930s that they still talk about come Thanksgiving reunion times and after about two weeks you gave it up because you said you didn’t like the idea of cleating anybody, or being cheated I forget which.” Sam replied “Yeah I remember but it wasn’t that getting injured that bothered me that much as I wasn’t that good at running. I kept getting plowed under by Terry Smith who weighed about two hundred and twenty pounds then a lot of weight for a high school kid after about a one yard gain. Hell I was only about a hundred and forty pound then good for a cross country runner which is what you know I did pretty well at after the football dream faded so that was that. The other thing that bothered me as well was that in 1960 the junior varsity sucked, never won a game, got pounded just like Sonny and Bubba in the film, and so that was that.

"Who knew that Jack McGee was going to move to Carver from Adamsville and take the team when they were seniors to the state finals. Boy thought that year, actually the year before, junior year when Jack started to blossom weren’t we crazy every Saturday, every what did you and Markin call them, oh yeah, every granite-grey autumn afternoon, watching the guys go for glory, go for glory after all those years with bum teams that couldn’t tackle, couldn’t move the fucking ball. I would have made the situation worse although even I could have had any girl I wanted senior year just by being on the team , and you know this was true since Paul Dolan, just an ordinary looking guy and a second stringer got the class beauty, Anna Aikens, and it wasn’t  for his sparkling conversation. Or his big dick which he didn’t have according to Mindy Stein who went out with him for a while and then dumped him and took her shots at Jack McGee who according to Jack Callahan’s sister he had, a big dick that is.  Funny how as much as we were obsessed about sex, about tits and ass, the girls, some girls like Mindy anyway were making their own sexual prowess observations. All I got for being a cross-country runner and trackman even after I won a couple of races was this from Jilly Dubois when I told her about my track exploits as a build-up to asking for a date which I desperately wanted from the minute she came to town sophomore year-‘Oh, does Carver High have a track team?’ Deflated once again.”                       

Bart tried to contain a laugh thinking to himself that back then track guys, runners, guys running around in shorts and sleeveless tops and looking silly were the butt of many jokes and were considered a nuisance on the roads even by their parents. So Sam had gotten just about the right answer from Jilly who if he recalled was something of an airhead even if she filled out a cashmere sweater nicely then he said, “Sam, remember the night before Thanksgiving football rally in 1963 the last game of the year, the last scheduled game for the seniors if they didn’t win the next day against bigger arch-rival Adamsville High. How thrilled we were to be there after the great up until then undefeated season something no Carver team had done, ever. How all the girls looked great, especially that cheerleader Maura [Sam interrupts “majorette, you know the baton-twirler, Rosemary something that I was all hot and bothered about after Jilly gave me the air.], okay, and everything was so keyed up. Didn’t you write something up about the rally for the next issue of the North Star?”    

“Yeah, I did I think I still have it around somewhere I’ll look for it when I get home and if I find it I will sent the story to you,” Sam said absent-mindedly as he was thinking back to where the hell it would be, really where would his copy of the Magnet, the class yearbook where that article would be found if it was anywhere. As it turned out when he got home that night he tried up in the spare bedroom, spare now that the kids were mercifully gone off on their own and he used the space as a semi-home office but found nothing that night. The next morning still full of the hunt since Bart had awoken something in him when he mentioned that long ago silly article he found the yearbook up in the lower attic and within that document there sat his blessed article. On reading the thing he was surprised how good it was, with the editorial help of Merdy Manning of course who bailed everybody out with her insightful thoughts about how a newspaper article should look even in a silly school newspaper pitched that special issue to students and alumni alike as always on the week after Thanksgiving issue which was mailed through the alumni association to its members, still is, and wondered aloud why his writing skills had lost their edge once he took to writing the lawyerly dry brief, memoranda and opinions for a living. This is the copy he sent to Bart by mail, snail mail:    

Thanksgiving Football Rally, 1963-Go Red Raiders

“Scene: Around and inside the old high school gym entrance on the Hunt street side the night before the big Thanksgiving Day football game against our cross town arch-rival this senior year of 1963. (Yes, that is the street with the Merit gas station on the corner for those who do not pass that way, do not patronize the place for cheap gas for that hot Saturday night date or something like that.) This piece is written, if you have not been around the high school for a while, at a time when they are still building an addition modeled, if you can believe this, on the office buildings across the street behind the MBTA stop and a tribute to “high” concrete construction, and lowest bidder imagination. For all of you though the scene inside could have been a scene from any one of a number of years, your year too. And I am willing to bet six-two-and-even with cold hard cash gathered from my hard earned bank account against all takers that this story “speaks”, except the names, to your year as well:

Sure the air is cold, you can see your breath making curls before your eyes no problem, and the night feels cold, cold as one would expect from a late November New England night. It is also starless, as the weather report is projecting rain for the big game. Darn it, not darn it because I am worried about, or care about a little rain. I’ve seen and done many things in a late November New England winter rain, and December and January rains too, for that matter. No, this darn it is for the possibility that the muddy Veterans Stadium field will slow up our vaunted offensive attack. And good as it is a little rain, and a little mud, can be the great equalizer.

This after all is class struggle. No, not the kind that you might have heard old Karl Marx and his boys talk about, although now that I think of it there might be something to that here as well. I’ll have to check that out sometime but right now I am worried, worried to perdition about the battle of the titans on the gridiron, rain-soaked granite grey day or not. See, this particular class struggle is Class A  Adamsville against Class B Carver and we need every advantage against this bigger school.

Do I have to describe the physical aspects of the gym? Come on now this thing is any high school gym, any pubic high school gym, anywhere. Fold-away bleachers, fold-away divider (to separate boys for girls in gym class, if you can believe that in this day in age and you who graduated before us probably wondered too), waxed and polished floors made of sturdy wood, don’t ask me what kind (oak, maybe) with various sets of lines for its other uses as a basketball or volleyball court. But enough. The important thing is that guys and gals, old and young, students and alumni and just plan townies are milling about waiting for the annual gathering of the Red Raider clan, those who have bled, bleed or want to bleed Raider red and even those oddballs that don't. This one stirs the blood of even the most detached denizen of the old town.

This night of nights, moreover, every unattached red-blooded boy student, in addition, is looking around, and looking around frantically in some cases, to see if that certain she who said she would come, pretty please come, has come for the festivities, and every unattached red-blooded girl student for that certain he, ditto on the pretty please. Don’t tell you never took a peek, or at least a stealthy glance. Among this throng this night are a couple of fervent quasi-jock male students, one of them who is writing this entry the other, great track man Bill Cannon., who is busy getting in his glances in, both members of the Class of 1964, with a vested interest in seeing their football-playing fellow classmates pummel the cross town rival, and also, in the interest of full disclosure, in the hunt for those elusive shes. I do not see the certain she that I am looking for who I pretty pleased but, as is my style, I have taken a couple of stealthy glances at some alternate prospects.

This is the final football game of our final football-watching season, as students anyway, as well so we have brought extra energy to the night’s performance. We are on the prowl and ready to do everything in our power to bring home victory. ....Well almost everything except donning a football uniform to face the monstrous goliaths of the gridiron. We fancy ourselves built for more "refined" pursuits like those just mentioned stealthy glances, and the like.

Finally, after much hubbub (and more coy and meaningful looks all around the place that one could reasonably shake a stick at) the rally begins, at first somewhat subdued due to the very recent trauma of the Kennedy assassination, the dastardly murder of one of our own, for the many green-tinged Irish partisans among the crowd. But everyone, seemingly, has tacitly agreed for this little window of time that the outside world and its horrors will not intrude. A few obligatory (and forgettable) speeches by somber and lackluster school administrators, headed by Headmaster Walsh, and their lackeys in student government and among the faculty stressing good sportsmanship and that old chestnut about it not mattering about victory but how you play the game drone away.

Of course, no self-respecting “true” Red Raider has anything but thoughts of mayhem and casting the cross-town rivals to the gates of hell in his or her heart so this speechifying is so much wasted wind. This “wind tunnel,” obligatory or not, is followed with a little of this and that, mainly side show antics. People, amateurishly, twirling red and black things in the air, and the like. Boosters or Tri-Hi-Yi types for all I know. Certainly not the majorettes, who I will not hear a word against, and who certainly know how to twirl the right way. See, I am saving one of my sly, coy glances for one of them right now.

What every red-blooded senior boy, moreover, and probably others as well, is looking forward to is the cheer-leading to get things moving, led by the senior girls like the vivacious Roxanne Gaugh, the spunky Josie Weinstein, and the plucky Linda Proctor. They do not fail us with their flips, dips, and rah-rahs. Strangely, the band and its bevy of majorettes when it is their turn, with one exception, you know which one, do not inspire that same kind of devotion, although no one can deny that some of those girls can twirl.

But all this spectacle is so much, too much, introduction. For what is wanted, what is demanded of the situation, up close and personal, is a view of the Goliaths that will run over the cross town arch-rival the next day. A chance to yell ourselves silly. The season has been excellent, marred only by a bitter lost to a bigger area team, Walton, on their home field, and our team is highly regarded by lukewarm fans and sports nuts alike. Naturally, in the spirit, if not the letter of high school athletic ethos, the back-ups and non-seniors are introduced by Coach Leonard. Then come the drum roll of the senior starters, some of whom have been playing for an eternity it seems. Names like Tom Kelly, Walt Simon, Lee Moore, Paul Daley, Joe Zapp, Don McNally, Jim Fisk, Charlie McDonald, Stevie Collins, "Woj" and on and on (Jesus, don’t forget Woj even if I can’t spell his name right . I don't need that kind of madness coming down on my face for he was meanness itself even in ninth grade and maybe a reason I took up the sane sports of running cross-country and track) and on and on.

Oh, yes and “Bullwinkle”, Jack McGee, a behemoth of a run-over fullback, even by college standards (and he has been well-scouted by the local colleges like Boston College and Boston University). Yes, let him loose on that arch-rival's defense. Whoa! But something is missing. A sullen collective pout fills the room. After the intros are over the restless crowd needs an oral reassurance from their warriors that the enemy is done for. And as he ambles up to the microphone and says just a couple of words, “Victory tomorrow,” we get just that reassurance from “Bullwinkle” himself. That is all we need. Boys and girls, this one is in the bag. And as we head for the exits to dream our second-hand dreams of glory the band plays the school fight song to the tune of On Wisconsin. Yes, these are the days when boys and girls, young and old, wise or ignorance bleed Raider red in the old town. Did they do so in your day? And did they make those furtive glances as the hes and shes too? I hope so.”

Bart continued on about a scene from the movie that struck him as very familiar, “That scene with Sonny and his girlfriend, or whatever she was, maybe his whore from how fast she took off her blouse and bra, although she backed him off when he went to go up her thigh to the holy land, was beautiful even if the movie theater he getting was his ‘feel up’ in really should have been closed down because it was nothing but a rattrap. Remember that first time we went to the Strand Theater with dates, girls and how unsure we were about what to do, about kissing and about ‘sitting in the balcony’ so we just sat in the orchestra section and watched the movies. The whole thing seemed so confusing and awkward at first. Remember that time I tried to get a date with Sarah Goode, not my Sarah, but this other girl Sarah who I had a crush on in eight grade over at Myles Standish Junior High [Sam could not remember her face although he remembered the name.]

“I finally coaxed her into going to the Saturday afternoon matinee with me since she said she probably would be able to do that with a boy without her mother going crazy. I forget the movie, I forget how much it cost although I know we took the old Eastern Massachusetts bus up to the Square and then walked to the theater and I know we ordered a huge box of popcorn just in case things didn’t work out. That working out part remember was whether when you got to the theater, got inside, you were going to sit in the orchestra or in the balcony. After we got our popcorn and I think some sodas because that popcorn, theater popcorn was dry even with butter on it, and headed to the door to the seats I asked Sarah-orchestra or balcony? My heart was beating a thousand beats a minute until she answered-‘balcony, silly where else would we go. Bingo.’ Bingo too that she let me touch her breasts-outside her blouse of course- in those pitch dark seats where you could see and hear others breathing heavy and some moaning too. Double bingo when she taught me how to French kiss although the first time was messy and weird. To this day I could not tell you if you gave me a hundred chances what the damn movie was about or even what its title was. Oh yeah, we left an almost full box of dry popcorn on the seats when we left and two full cups of soda.”               

Sam laughed and thought about his own Strand Theater adventures once he realized that movie theaters were not just for watching movies like when he was a kid, a kid going dutifully to his double features every Saturday to get out of the house and out from under his nagging mother who was always bitching and moaning about something. Thought about Theresa Wallace, Linda Platt, Donna Nelson and a bunch of other girls he had taken to the balcony. He then startled Bart when he shouted out, “Hey didn’t they even have a drive-in theater in that whole goddamn dust bowl town?” That got Bart to thinking that Sam was right there was no scene, no classic teen scene where kids snuck into the theater piled in the trunk when you paid by each person not the carload when they got wise to what everybody was doing, had their own exclusive section for heavy breathing and foggy car windows where no parent with children would dare to go within one hundred yards of and crummy intermission food, those guys were really deprived because even his poor as church mice people brought their kids, him and his four sisters to the drive-in summer where you could see if not understand was going on that one hundred miles away. 

Later Sam would reflect on the meaning of the drive-in movie as part of his cultural heritage, think back to the times when he would ask his mother why they went there rather than the Strand and she had answered that aside from the cheaper price by the carload that was beginning to be the norm that she was smitten (her term) and had been since she was a young girl by Hollywood and its glamour which showed to better effect on the big outdoor screen so she was willing to put up with jungle jim craziness, awful intermission food and the damn green flies in July which meant that the speaker-side window practically had to be barricaded against the swarms. That old time conversation one of the few times that he and his mother had declared something like an armed truce made him write this little sketch to Bart giving his take on the drive-in experience that those poor oil field town dwellers were deprived of:

“Oh sure, everyone of a certain age, a certain baby-boomer age, a generation of ’68 age, has plenty of stories to tell of being bundled up as kids, maybe pre-set with full set pajamas on to defend against the late sleepy-eyed night, the sleepy-drowsy late movie night, placed in the car backseats and taken by adventurous parents (or so it seemed) to the local open air drive-in for the double feature. That usually also happened on a friendly summer night when school did not interfere with staying up late (hopefully through both films). And to top it all off you got to play in the inevitable jungle jim, see-saw, slide, swing set-laden playground during intermission between the film while waiting, waiting against all hope, for that skewered, shriveled hot dog, rusty, dusty hamburger, or stale, over the top buttered popcorn that was the real reason that you “consented” to stay out late with the parents. Yah, we all have variations on that basic theme to tell, although I challenge anyone, seriously challenge anyone, to name five films that you saw at the drive-in that you remembered from then-especially those droopy-eyed second films.

In any case, frankly, I don’t give a damn about that kid stuff family adventure drive-in experience. Come on, that was all, well, just kids' stuff. The “real” drive-in, as pictured in the cover art of a CD compilation I once purchased on Amazon when I was in a nostalgic 1950s minute a few years back and it showed what could have been our Meadow Glen Drive-In  scene is what I want to address. The time of our time in that awkward teen alienation, teen angst thing that only got abated by things like a teenage night at the drive-in. Yah, that was not, or at least I hope it was not, you father’s drive-in. That might have been in the next planet over, for all I know. For starters remember our planet involved girls (girls, ah, women, just reverse the genders here to tell your side of the experience), looking for girls, or want to be looking for girls, preferably a stray car-full to compliment your guy car-full and let god sort it out at intermission.

Wait a minute. I am getting ahead of myself in this story. First you needed that car, because no walkers or bus riders need apply for the drive-in movies like this was some kind of lame, low-rent, downtown matinee last picture show adventure. For me that was a problem, a personal problem, as I had no car and my family had cars only sporadically. Fortunately we early baby-boomers lived in the golden age of the automobile and could depend on a friend to either have a car (praise be teenage disposable income/allowances) or could use the family car. Once the car issue was clarified then it was simply a matter of getting a car-full of guys (or sometimes guys and gals) in for the price of two (maybe three) admissions.

What? Okay, I think that I can safely tell the story now because the statute of limitations must have surely passed. See, what you did was put a couple (or three guys) in the trunk of that old car (or in a pinch one guy on the backseat floor) as you entered the drive-thru admissions booth. The driver paid for the two (or three tickets) and took off to your parking spot (complete with ramp speaker just in case you wanted to actually listen to the film shown on that big wide white screen). Neat trick, right?

Now, of course, the purpose of all of this, as mentioned above, was to get that convoy of guys, trunk guys, backseat guys, backseat floor guys, whatever, to mix and moon with that elusive car-full of girls who did the very same thing (except easier because they were smaller) at the intermission stand or maybe just hanging around the unofficially designated teen hang-out area. No family sedans with those pajama-clad kids need apply (nor any sane, responsible parent get within fifty paces of said teens). And occasionally, very occasionally as it turned out, some “boss” car would show up complete with one guy (the driver) and one honey (girl, ah, woman) closely seated beside him for what one and all knew was going to be a very window-fogged night. And that was, secretly thought or not, the guy drive-in dream. As for the movies. Did they show movies there? Enough said.

Oh, except that at said drive-in, before the first show started at dusk, between shows and on the way home, girl-matched or not, you were very liable to hear many of the songs in this CD on the old car radio. The stick outs here include: Heat Wave (not as good as Dancing In The Streets but good), Martha and the Vandellas; Just One Look (make that look my way, please, even if you are munching on pop corn) Doris Troy; Wild Weekend (just in case you wanted to dance during intermission rather than watch the screen clock ticking off the time until that next film began), The Rockin’ Rebels ; and, Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby (yah, you have got that right, sisters), The Cookies.”

But that missive was later after Sam had gone home and thought about the matter. What Sam and Bart proceeded to think about were those steamy scenes with Jazzy that had them both going since she was such a fox even watching her some forty plus years later.  

“Jesus, didn’t that Jazzy Larkin remind you of Donna Nelson, looked like her a little although Donna could sing a song, sing a torch song to break your heart. I wonder whatever happened to her, never heard that she made it big after she won that talent show the town fathers put on which got her a chance at a record contract and that scholarship to State U,” wondered Bart as he got slightly heated up once again just thinking about that long blonde hair, those ocean blue eyes and that shapely body with those well-turned legs and that damn way she had of pointing her breasts to great advantage when she was talking to you. Then he blurted out the familiar chant of the time that went around the boys’ locker room when guys were finished with gym and were waiting for the bell to ring and were just chewing the fat, the fat being the guys’ versions of what the girls were saying on Monday morning before school in the senior girls’ lounge about what they did, or didn’t, do over the weekend and the subject in the locker room was of who got how far with various school foxes and Donna’s name would be on the tip of a lot of guys tongues since she didn’t like the idea of having a steady boyfriend, liked to “play the field” she called it and never had to worry about hanging by the midnight telephone on weekends if she didn’t want to.


“But she was a cunt too, left me  and few other guys hanging out to dry when it came ‘do the do’ time down at Squaw Rock, said she didn’t want to get that kind of reputation, although she would get every guy worked up and maybe let them feel her up but that was about it, didn’t want to be an ‘Aunt Emma’ girl, a girl who had to leave school because she was in the family way and when you hadn’t seen her around for a while the excuse would be that she was visiting her aunt for a while, a lot of girls were visiting a lot of aunts back then.

“Funny about Donna you expected the Irish Catholic girls with their novena books and rosary beads between their knees not to “put out” but I think Donna was a Protestant. I would see her coming out of the Congregational church across from school some Sundays when I was heading up to the golf course to do some caddying in grab some dough to take Sarah out, or to get something I needed when there was no money around to get it otherwise. Those Protestant girls were supposed to be looser, supposed to not be worried about going to hell if they did have premarital sex, or just gave a blowjob which most guys would be happy to get and not have to worry about getting a girl pregnant and have to deal with some irate father and a ‘shotgun’ wedding. Yeah, I wondered whatever happened to a fox like Donna, probably got married about three times and left them all to hang out and dry. Some women are just built that way.”       

Sam who had his own one on one entanglements with Donna, including a stupid midnight telephone call that he still got red in the face about all these years later asking her for a date when he got brave enough to give a call. They had been in English class together and like half the guys in the senior class he took a run at her especially when after they had been talking for a while about various literary subjects like Thomas Hardy’s books and T.S Eliot’s poetry he thought he was getting somewhere. Of course he was blind to the fact that lots of guys struck out with her, or had had a couple of dates and had gotten the “ice queen” treatment down at Squaw Rock, which he damn well knew from those boys’ locker room talkfests. But he pushed on anyway and of course Donna when she sensed a guy was interested and maybe was a little interested herself got all flirty and “wouldn’t it be nice” so a guy like Sam, or Bart, or the million other guys would take the bait, would figure they would be the one who would get to go up those luscious white thighs.

What Sam didn’t do, what he should have done as he had done in the past was check with Pete Markin to see if Donna was “spoken for” see if she was going with anybody just then since she had not been seen down at Squaw Rocks for a while with anybody from school. See Pete, ‘the Scribe’ as Frankie Riley called him, for some reason, was a guy everybody confided in, or at least told the latest gossip to and so he was the lynchpin to what was going on socially in the school, meaning really who was screwing who mostly but at least would help you with the grapevine intelligence about who was “spoken for.” He didn’t that time with Donna and wound up with egg on his face. Donna was going out with a guy from college, a freshman at Stonehill College a few towns over, and was according to Pete screwing the pants off the guy since college guys didn’t put up with that virginal stuff, they would just move on to the next girl who would put out. Peter figured that since she was not hauling some guy’s ashes around town where it would get out all over the place she could “do the do” up in some guy’s dorm and no one would know about it, no one around Carver anyway.

Sam still got red about that faux pas but he kept that to himself when he was talking to Bart as he told him about some information he had received about the late Donna Nelson when he had had gone to that 50th class reunion. Donna’s best high school friend, Diana Rich (nee Murphy), told him the tale. This is what Sam told Bart, “After Donna graduated she did go to State U on that music scholarship but like a lot of freshman then, now too maybe, she got caught up in the social life, got caught up big since she had missed that in Podunk Carver. She became a party girl, a girl who was up for a few things, a few kicks once she blew the dust of Carver off her shoes. At least that is what she had everybody thinking.

Diana didn’t know what happened with that college Joe from Stonelhill but he probably just drifted off to some other honey when Donna went to State U since that was about a hundred fifty miles away from Carver. She got involved with some up and coming folk-singer in her music class who turned her on to dope, marijuana and maybe some pills, some speed nothing heavy. This guy, Tim Harding, folk people would know who he was since he had some small success in that 1960s folk minute was conflicted about staying in school or trying to go out on his own and ride the folk minute wave. Eventually he decided to go out West and Donna bored and in love for the moment decided to go with him. They went to the Village then the Mecca for folk music after Bob Dylan and Joan Baez made the genre respectable for young people to listen to. In the Village as you can imagine with a ‘hot’ girl like Donna she went wild, left that folk-singer and started going through the alphabet of guys, some she slept with other she just teased with just like in high school. Stepped up her drug intake too, maybe a little alcoholic thrown in.   

“Along the way I guess she did a few ‘open mics’ at Murry’s across from the Gaslight which is where Tina Grace had gotten her start and her success later filled the place with singers like Donna looking to get a record contract and win some fame and fortune. Met a guy, a sleaze-bag from every account, a guy who said he could get her a contract. Naturally she had to go down the silky sheets with him, had to put up with few crazy things but mainly what this guy did was introduce her to horse, H, heroin back when that stuff was bad action, was some junkie tale out of The Man With The Golden Arm, bad stuff really and an expensive habit.

“The bullshit thing was this guy said it would help her voice, would bring her up that notch to get that Billie Holiday feel to her voice. That is all it took, although if she had thought about it for a while Billie went under one night on that stuff and never came back. But what does a foxy young woman with no dough and big dreams know about the down-side, probably figured that it wouldn’t happen to her even if she knew. Wanted to believe that bit about her voice. Needless to say she got more into the dope that into the music, the sleaze-bag eventually moved on to some other good-looking honey and left her with nothing but a habit, a habit and doing tricks in the street for dough. That went on for a while and then one night I guess she was about twenty-six, still had those flirty good looks even if she was sullen and moody now she deep sixed on some bad junk just like you read about these days and they found her in her small room in a rooming house on West Fourth Street, an overdose.”        

Bart was shocked, had not kept tabs on his old classmates, on Donna anyway but shed a small tear, Sam did too after he told the tale, and then said, “What made a girl like Jazzy, a girl like Donna tick. Made them all flirty and driving guys wild and then walking away like that was the most natural thing in the world, like a guy was supposed to take it and like it?” Sam shrugged his shoulders, “If I could have figured that out a long time ago I could have saved a lot of alimony and child support but I was always attracted to those teasers, those cock-teasers and probably always will be.” Bart laughed for moment before another small Donna tear came to his eyes.

The tears over, at least for the moment who knows what each man would think about later that night when Donna entered their midnight heads and what might have been, when Bart mentioned the scene about the drive-in restaurant and although it didn’t play much of a role in the movie it certainly did in the life of the Carver teen world, the life at Eddie’s Drive-In Restaurant out on Route 109 where every guy, with or without girls, with or without his corner boys would show up after dark, or maybe just before dark in the summer and go through the ritual of having Betty or Sue take their orders, wait, and then have the girls come out with a tray and put there hamburgers, fries and Cokes, maybe an odd Pepsi for some on the doors of those hot cars. This was a summer ritual as much as going to Jimmy Jakes’s Diner after school to play the jukebox was during the school season.

“Remember the night at Eddie’s when Johnny Blaze challenged Big Red Radley in that midnight “chicken run,” the one where the prize was Ellen Small,” Bart prodded Sam. “Oh yeah, that night when Johnny who had been hitting on Ellen, if anybody needed to hit on her to get what they wanted, for a while had had a few drinks, some Southern Comfort which I swear would rot anybody’s brain decided he wanted her and in best caveman style challenged Big Red and his ’57 Chevy with his modified ’49 Hudson that he probably spent about ten thousand hours on to a midnight “chicken run.” Usually these runs were just that to see who was “king of the hill,” but when Johnny called Big Red out he said if he won he wanted Ellen, wanted her sitting next to him in his coupe. Big Red, always full of himself and his prowess with cars and women, said in a flash, ‘bet,’ and so they were off down deserted Trever Road.

“Funny thing about guys, about girls too, this Ellen was as dumb as dish water even if she was well-built and had big tits which a lot of guys liked then, although I remember you and I talking about it one night and saying that we did not care one way or the other about that and we laughed about all we cared about was whether they did the number one question, did they want to put out. Ellen, dumb and sex crazy even in junior high school where she took many a guy in some back hallway and gave him a little something to think about. Not a tramp, not a nympho, but a girl who for some reason liked her sex which is something every guy probably found strange especially when they had to go through a civil war to get a kiss from a girl. So Ellen was what did we call them, oh yeah, the town pump, and even Pete Markin got his ashes hauled if you can believe that.

“You never did her, did you [Sam: no, a true no.]  I didn’t but that was because I was getting a little something from Janey Jordan, you remember her. [Sam; yeah, cute with very small breasts, right] Yeah, guys are strange sometimes because everybody knew Ellen was screwing on the side, some guy over in Plymouth according to Pete but Big Red and Johnny B. both were ready to storm heaven for this tart. Johnny won that night, won easily and Ellen cool as a cucumber sauntered over to Johnny’s car, slid up next to him and off they went heading to Squaw Rock for a little late night victory screw. Two weeks later and Big Red, missing his Ellen, called ‘bet’ on Johnny this time his won and she sauntered over to Big Red’s car and off to Squaw Rock. I heard later through Pete I think that this dumb as dishwater Ellen married some computer guy when that was just starting out and computers were just starting to jump and became some kind of society woman. Funny about that being from hunger Carver. I wonder if she was still screwing on the side, you never know.”                 

“It’s funny when you think about that film, when you think about when we were young guys too, how much time we spent just hanging around being corner boy guys hanging around, yakking about girls, cars, money and getting out of Podunk Carver, it must have been a universal thing then, maybe now too but you don’t see guys hanging around anymore, do you see them hanging at Jimmy Jakes’?,” asked Sam since Bart had pretty much stayed around the Carver area once he had sowed his wild oats out on the Coast and then come back, married his Sarah, and built up his printing business, raised a family. “No, those corner boy days are over, have been for a long time ever since they built the Evergreen Mall over on 109 and made “mall rats” out of all the kids. It’s not the same as my grandson, Prescott, told me one day when I asked him what they do over there. It ain’t dreaming our dreams that is for sure.”

Sam nodded his head, “You know I have a theory about that whole corner boy thing we had back then, how we had our little rituals, our little rules and regulations, and the “from hunger” stuff that pulled us together then. Just like Sonny and Bubba were looking for kindred, although we would not have used that word like we were some punk sociologists if we had known the word, looking for guys like us, Frankie, Pete, Five-Fingers, Jack before Chrissie took all the air out of him (or put it into him might be better), Be-Bop Benny, Flip, Danny Boy, all the guys who hung out successively at Carter’s Variety Store, Doc’s Drugstore, Tonio’s Pizza Parlor before he sold it to a couple who wanted to keep a family crowd and keep out cheapjack corner boys and we wound up at Jack Slack’s bowling lanes who were looking for the same thing, came from the same from hunger backgrounds, thought we had gotten a raw deal out of  life and just gravitated to the same company.


Peter, yeah, the Scribe said we were looking for that ‘new breeze’ he though was coming through the land then, and later when the breeze did come the great blue-pink American West night which even you went through with us. Or maybe it was just the girl hunger we all shared even when we had girls, even when we would get an occasional piece and be glad of it. But some kind of bond held us, held us for longer than just a minute anyway. But you could tell that same unspoken thing between Sonny and Bubba, the same grunts and groans when it came to saying anything about it.”          

“I wish that last chance last dance scene they had in the movie had been just a high school dance instead of a whole town dance mixed up with adult goings-on and coppers putting a damper on things because you know we lived for those damn things got all fixed up, dressed up, nervous and all in anticipation of the Fall Frolics, Bring Spring and the other thematic dances,” said Bart. Sam thought for a moment about what Bart had said and that triggered thoughts of a review of an “oldies but goodies” compilations about teen dance clubs which were the same thing as the last dance idea that he did for of all things the American Folk Music blog that his now companion, Laura (not wife remember he was over that idea after three marriages but he wished he had met her long ago and saved himself a ton of grief, money and loneliness), wrote for occasionally and had “dared” Sam to write something. He had initially balked and had used the excuse that he was a child of rock and roll and the aging folkies she associated with (and whom he was fond of in his own way since they were contemporaries and he was facing the aging process too, just like them, and moreover had had his own small folk minute memories) would give a rat’s ass (his old time corner boy expression never given up) about a last dance rock scene. Laura beat him to the draw and won the argument handily when she said “we were all children of rock and roll, get going). Here is what he came up with which he sent to Bart along with the other old writings at his request.                      

“I, seemingly, have endlessly gone back to my early musical roots in reviewing various compilations of a classic rock series that goes under the general title The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. And while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation, the generation of ’68, who had just started to tune in to music.

And we, we small-time punk (in the old-fashioned kindly sense of that word), we hardly “wet behind the ears” elementary school kids, and that is all we were for those who are now claiming otherwise, listened our ears off. Those were strange times indeed in that be-bop 1950s night when stuff happened, kid’s stuff, but still stuff like a friend of mine, not my grammar school best friend “wild man” Billie who I will talk about some other time, who claimed, with a straight face to the girls, that he was Elvis’ long lost son. Did the girls do the math on that one? Or, maybe, they like us more brazen boys were hoping, hoping and praying, that it was true despite the numbers, so they too could be washed by that flamed-out night.

Well, this I know, boy and girl alike tuned in on our transistor radios (small battery- operated radios mainly held to the ear but that we could also put in our pockets, and hide from snooping parental ears, at will) to listen to music that from about day one, at least in my household was not considered “refined” enough for young, young pious “you’ll never get to heaven listening to that devil music” and you had better say about eight zillion Hail Marys to get right Catholic, ears. Yah right, Ma, like Patti Page or Bob (not Bing, not the Bing of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? anyway) Crosby and The Bobcats were supposed to satisfy our jail-break cravings.

And we had our own little world, or as some hip sociologist trying to explain that Zeitgeist today might say, our own sub-group cultural expression. Our “cool” things, nothing hot, nothing sticky to the touch then. I have talked elsewhere about the pre 7/11 mom and pop corner variety store hangout with the tee-shirted, engineered-booted, cigarette (unfiltered) hanging from the lips, Coke, big sized glass Coke bottle at the side, pinball wizard guys thing. And about the pizza parlor juke box coin devouring, hold the onions on the pizza I might get lucky tonight, dreamy girl might come in the door thing. And, of course, the soda fountain, and…ditto, dreamy girl coming through the door thing, natch. Needless to say you know more about junior high school and high school dance stuff, including hot tip “ inside” stuff about manly preparations for those civil wars out in the working class neighborhood night, than you could ever possibly want to know, and, hell, you were there anyway (or at ones like them).

But the crème de la crème to beat all was the teen night club. The over fourteen and under eighteen teen night club. Easy concept, and something that could only have been thought up by someone in cahoots with our parents (or maybe it was them alone, although could they have been that smart). Open a “ballroom” (in reality some old VFW, Knight of Columbus, Elks, etc. hall that was either going to waste or was ready for the demolition ball), bring in live music on Friday and Saturday night with some rocking band (but not too rocking, not Elvis swiveling at the hips to the gates of hell rocking, no way), serve the kids drinks, tonic, …, oops, sodas (Coke Pepsi, Grape and Orange Nehi, Hires Root Beer, etc.), and have them out of there by midnight, unscathed. All supervised, and make no mistake these things were supervised, by something like the equivalent of the elite troops of the 101st Airborne Rangers.

And we bought it, and bought into it hard. And, if you had that set-up where you lived, you bought it too. Why? Come on now, have you been paying attention? Girls, tons of girls (or boys, as the case may be). See, even doubting Thomas-type parents gave their okay on this one because of that elite troops of the 101st Airborne factor. So, some down and the heels, tee-shirted, engineer- booted Jimmy or Johnny Speedo from the wrong side of the tracks, all boozed up and ready to “hot rod” with that ‘boss”’57 Chevy that he just painted to spec, is no going to blow into the joint and carry Mary Lou or Peggy Sue away, never to be seen again. No way. That stuff happened, sure, but that was on the side. This is not what drove that scene for the few years while we were still getting wise to the ways of the world The girls (and guys) were plentiful and friendly in that guarded, backed up by 101st Airborne way (damn it). And we had our …sodas (I won’t list the brands again, okay). But know this, and know this true, we blasted on the music. The music on some of those compilations previously mentioned. I will tell you some of the stick outs, strictly A-list stuff from those teen club nights so you get the flavor of those hormonally-maddened times:

Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters (oh, sweet baby, that I have had my eye on all night, please, please, James Brown, please, save that last one, that last dance for me); Only The Lonely, Roy Orbison (for some reason the girls loved covers of this one, and thus, we, meaning the boys “loved” it too); Alley Oop, The Hollywood Argyles (a good goofy song to break up the sexual tension that always filled the air, early and late, at these things as the mating ritual worked its mysterious ways); Handy Man, Jimmy Jones( a personal favorite, as I kept telling every girl, and maybe a few guys as well, that I was that very handy man that the gals had been waiting, waiting up on those lonely week day nights for. Egad!); Stay, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs (nice harmonics and good feeling); New Orleans, Joe Jones (great dance number as the twist and other exotic dances started to break into the early 1960s consciousness); and, Let The Little Girl Dance, Billy Bland (yes, let her dance, hesitant, saying no at first, honey , please, please, no I will not invoke James Brown on this one, please).
Sam thought to himself how after all these years how much growing up, how much coming of age in that corner boy world of the late 1950s and early 1960s centered on sex, on “doing the do” as something, probably the Scribe who was into the blues well before any of the rest of us who only got interested when the Stones came blasting over the Atlantic seas, had picked up from the lyrics of an old Howlin’ Wolf song, and of always being on the edge of some sexual exploration, some unexpressed sexual longing too and of some measurement of sexual prowess among the group, and among the school’s male population in general. And as he thought about the matter how much they lied, each one of them about their sexual adventures, lied over the top, lied on the high side about their sexual conquests. He thought since he and Bart were being candid with other, or as candid as two old time corner boys who came up the hard way, and came up with a certain ethos that was dominated by male prowess with the opposite sex could be he would pose a question to Bart about his relationship with Sarah, the girl who would be his wife, and who still was.

“Bart I have been thinking about this question off and on for a long time, since back when we were juniors and you first met Sarah Ridge, Sarah who you would marry. You always said that you never had sex with her then, that she was one of those Protestant girls who didn’t fit the mold about being easier about sex than those damn Irish Catholic girls who were always giving us the runaround about sex being the devil’s work or some such bullshit any time you went beyond some chaste kiss with them, Jesus, I remember Mary Shea almost ripped my arm off when I tried to go up her dress after she let me feel her boobs.

“Tell me the truth now, Christ fifty years later because although I know you were always a little shy about talking about sex in general and about protecting Sarah’s reputation so the rest of us would leave her alone when you guys were having one of your ten thousand little falling outs. Wouldn’t hit on an “ice queen” which we certainly would not do if we knew she was a certified one but Pete Markin one time told me that he saw you coming out of Sarah’s house late one night late junior year when her parents were away for the weekend and he said you looked all disheveled, had your shirt out or something but also had big grin on your face like you had just got laid. Now you know Markin was tight-fisted with his information, wouldn’t tell anybody anything if he wasn’t sure because that scrawny bastard didn’t want fists flying in his direction if he was wrong and wouldn’t have told me in confidence what he has seen that night if he wasn’t sure of what he had seen. You never mentioned it to the guys or me, always were grousing about how Sarah didn’t want to “do the do” was afraid to get pregnant, afraid she might have to go see "Aunt Emma" if she did, would barely let you squeeze her tits, from the outside of course, and never came clean with us. I wondered about it but since we had a certain code, a certain sense that what a guy said about his sexual exploits or as here not about his exploits was the skinny even if we knew from our own experiences half of what we said was bullshit just to appear not to be a fag, what did we call it then, oh yeah, ‘light on our feet’ but I know you were screwing the pants off her if what the Scribe said was right.”

“Yeah, I was, what about it,” Bart answered with as much bravado as if he had told the gang back then that he was getting his regularly from Sarah up in her room and not down at the far end of Squaw Rock where it was always presumed, even if incorrectly, that all those condoms on the ground had been usefully used. Bart then came back on Sam, “Don’t mention it to Sarah at this late date but Markin had asked her back then one day after school when he ran into her at Doc’s where he was playing the jukebox because he was crazy to hear some new tune he had heard on the radio the day before if she was a virgin and the Scribe was the kind of guy all the girls would confide in, knew he wouldn’t spread it around, and a few weeks after that night you are talking about she told him she wasn’t. She didn’t have to say more about who had deflowered her because everybody knew she was with me. 

“So if we are being what did you call it, being candid, what about the times you said you were screwing Sadie Hoffman, that hot Jewish girl that you were crazy for and who you said gave you a tumble that first date night, made your dick sore from doing it so hard? My sister Jenny who was friends with her from cheerleaders said that Sadie mentioned one Monday morning before school girls lavatory talkfest that she didn’t know what she was going to do with you. Said to the girls that she liked you but that you were trying, and failing, to get into her pants so hard she was going to have to break up with you. If I remember you did break up with her a couple of weeks later.

Sam thought for a minute, trying to draw a picture of Sadie in his mind, trying to at that late date still cut his losses when he said, “Okay, okay I didn’t get to first base with her, played it all wrong anyway, see some guy, some Jewish guy, Steve Kalish said she was easy, that for some reason Jewish girls were easy, maybe because they came from hot climates or something but that was bunk. But you remember a lot of guys thought that way about Protestant girls and Jewish girls too figuring they had to be easier to lay than those damn Catholic girls from the church who were nothing but cock-teasers.

“You couldn’t, I couldn’t say after I made a big deal out of it, a big deal out of screwing a Jewish girl which was worth about five stars in our scoring system if you remember how Frankie Riley would make up that point system for the number and hotness of our conquests that I didn’t even get a hand-job from her. A Jewish girl even an ugly one like Frida Stein would get you five points automatically unlike say Ellen Small who didn’t get you any points or maybe one since she was as easy as a whore and it didn’t cost you anything to do it with her except maybe a look her way.  That sure was a crazy time for learning about sex, or half learning and I am surprised more of us didn’t get caught lying our asses off but you know the girls were doing the same thing and so nobody wanted to challenge anybody about any sexual exploit they claimed. Thank God that whole sexual thing is easier these days, easier I guess although three expensive divorces and a bunch off affairs since then make me wonder some times. In any case if I ran into a piece like Jazzy I would be claiming I had all I wanted from that bitch just like old Bubba did, maybe claim more than I wanted to.                   

“Jesus, it was weird to see those high school kids, Bubba and Sonny leading the charge and the sheriff right there in front of them popping bottles of beer right there in public, carrying flasks of hard liquor,  drinking right out in the street like they were drinking soda, thinking nothing of it. I never checked the last time I saw the film to see what the liquor laws were in Texas in the early 1950s to see if you could drink that young but I never did,” Sam mentioned to Bart after he had said all he was going to say about his youthful sexual exploits, and non-exploits too. “Remember though that first time we had hard liquor down at the sea wall at Adamsville Beach after you went to see your grandmother to get medicine for her and you got a pint of liquor with it,”

Sam continued. “Oh yeah, I used to run up Adamsville to get Grandma Riley’s medicine and so they knew me at Cleary’s Drugstore even though  I was only sixteen they would let me as part of her order a pint of Seagram’s Whisky. All the Irish grandmothers who had accounts with Cleary’s did it, did it for medicinal purposes they would say, the doctors would write it up that way. That one time thought Grandma didn’t order her whiskey but I did anyway and they thought nothing of including it in the order. I brought the order to her house down the street then called you up and told you to come meet me up at Adamsville Beach and told you I had some booze if you wanted to taste what it was like. Jesus we drank the whole thing, probably too fast and I know we were sick for a while. I didn’t like whiskey after that for a while but as you too well know I developed a taste, the taste for it before it almost destroyed my life, and did destroy at least one marriage, the first one but maybe that wasn’t meant to be anyway.”

“Speaking of booze remember that time we went down to New York, Sam said, “down to New York when we were in high school senior year with a few of the guys when you only had to be eighteen to drink there. That was a blast that they were talking about for months afterward, a lot of it urban legend stuff but some of it true. We all piled into Jack Callahan’s car, remember how much hell Chrissie McNamara, now Mrs. Jack Callahan for the past thirty years or so (and in business circles Mrs. Toyota since Jack has been the hot rod Toyota guy in Eastern Massachusetts for a long time), gave Jack about going to New York with a bunch of heathens, that is what she called us, since this was shortly after she had put her foot down and came into Tonio’s Pizza Parlor one night when we were sitting there figuring out what the hell to do come spring break and she, tired of his taking his peaks at her, and she him, plopped her lovely ass on his lap and dared him to pull her off and the look in her face said it would take the whole football team of which he had been one of the star of that fall to get her off (“arse” we called that part of the body then mimicking our grandparents most of whom had come over from the old country the generation before, come over from Ireland and still held to some of old expressions and we just went nuts saying it). And equal time Jack looking at her like it would take more than a football team to get her off that lap if anybody was foolish enough that night to try. But Jack had said to Chrissie that he had promised the rest of us to go and as he was the only guy who had a car that could make the two hundred mile trip he was in.

“Let’s see Pete, Frankie, and the Be-Bop Kid went too yeah three front three back, that three front the days before bucket seats so you could get three in the front and not be illegal. So we went one Friday after school the week of spring break and got to the Taft Hotel, remember we were channeling the ghost of Holden Caulfield or something and since he has stayed there were decided we would invoke his memory by staying there as well. We got there and believe me we were in thrall to New York and all the skyscrapers, all the traffic, all the people but best of all the hotel didn’t hassle us about having three guys per room and we didn’t have any hassle at all pooling our money to get a ton of booze for the weekend at Cappy’s Liquor across the street. Funny how we were all thrilled to get to New York to see the sights, the Statute of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Plaza, the five cent Staten Island ferry and we wound up spending the whole four days never leaving the hotel except to grab more booze from Cappy’s and a ton of hamburgers from the White Tower. Remember those two sisters we met in the lobby from Trenton who were staying on the floor above us and their girlfriends and how we wore than elevator out, and not just the elevator, going up and down. I think everybody got laid except Jack and we already knew the story on Jack although maybe he did cadge a little something because he definitely was a girl magnet with his good looks and football built.

“Then when we came back to town that next Tuesday and stopped at Jimmy Jakes’ Diner for some real food everybody in the place knew we had been under the sheets, had had a hell of time although none of us could say what sights we saw when asked. Naturally Chrissie went crazy seeing Jack with a few days growth on his face and we had all we could do to keep her from taking a bat to us. I think Sarah was flaming arrows at you too.” “Yeah, she froze me out for about a week, maybe more, Bart chimed in, “wouldn’t talk to me until I lied like a bastard that I just drank myself under the table and she relented, but it was a close call. We almost didn’t wind up going to the senior prom because of it. Jesus, that was a time and as many times as I have been to New York since then for one reason or another I will always remember that time, and to be honest that Clark sister from Trenton I shacked up with the whole time.”                       

Sam, fixing himself a drink from Bart’s liquor cabinet now filled with high-end scotches and whiskies, while he was pouring began thinking about that crazy scene in the film where Bubba in a rage over Sonny taking his time with Jazzy after she had turned him over and they got into a fight where the crazed Bubba bonked Sonny over the head causing him to bleed and to have to be taken to the hospital to take care of his battered eye and face. “Bart, did we, did any of the guys ever fight over some girl of mutual interest I don’t remember. I know we almost came to blows that one time over Sarah when you two were on the outs and I tried to move in when I knew from Pete that she wasn’t a virgin and that maybe she would give me a tumble. But she solved that problem for us since she wouldn’t give me a tumble, said she was true blue to you although she did say she was flattered by my attentions, you know how she talked like that.”

Bart fired back, “Hey, don’t you remember the night Pete almost got his balls handed to him in a basket when he tried to pick up the Be-Bop Kid’s girl, what was her name, Betty something, Betty Bower. Pete had heard, had heard correctly as it turned out that Be-Bop and Betty had split up and so under our “code” she was fair game. Pete was pretty straight like that although if you recall on that New York trip he took that Suzie whatever her name was right away from Be-Bop so maybe there had been bad blood between them that we didn’t know about although it never came to the surface before that night with Betty.

“She had come into Tonio’s by herself to pick up a pizza to go and Pete was sitting in our corner booth along with Be-Bop who was in the dumps. So Pete went up and asks her if she needed somebody to help share that pizza at home, needed some company. And she said, yeah, sure they could watch a movie or something with her sisters that she was baby-sitting for that night. Be-Bop saw this action and saw red or whatever color he was seeing that meant he was not happy. As they went out the door to her car, her father’s car, to head to her house Be-Bop went up and took the pizza that Pete was carrying for Betty and dumped it on the ground. Now as you know Pete was a runt and even thought Be-Bop always said he was a lover not a fighter Pete got scared, thought Be-Bop was going to hit him. And he was, he definitely was because he had his fist in a ball ready to rock until Betty told Pete that maybe Be-Bop better pick up the pizza and take her home. Jesus. No double Jesus because Be-Bop said that night while the younger sisters were eating the damn pizza and watching television they were up in Betty’s room making the bed scream. Women.”                  

Bart got all solemn at the next moment as he always did when the subject of Sam’s military service came up in conversation as it would after watching this film since Bubba’s remedy for what ailed him, Jazzy ailed him was to get out of town and join the Army, join it at a time when the Korean War was eating up men at a prodigious rate, “Sam what did you think about Bubba going off to war to try to resolve what ailed him, try to get out of Dodge. Did you notice nobody, Sonny anyway, thought anything of it, didn’t even bat an eyelash when he announced that he was taking the Trail-way bus out in the morning.”

Bart waited as Sam mulled over what he had just said, thinking to himself that he had had it easy on that question since he had been declared 4-F, unfit for military duty due to that childhood injury that would not heal and Sam had been dragooned into the Army by his friends and neighbors at the draft board, had seen action in Vietnam, had come home disenchanted with the war, tried to tell everybody who would listen that the whole war was a disaster, had joined various G.I. anti-war organizations and had been a life-long opponent of almost every military action the American government had tried to foist on its citizens.

“You know that part of the film where Sonny and Bubba get back together just before the bus leaves when Bubba leaves his souped-up car for Sonny to take care of while he is gone probably has been replicated in more Archer City/Lima, Ohio, Davenport, Iowa, Ellsworth, Maine, Carver, Massachusetts small town America locales than you can shake a stick at. The young, when we were young didn’t want to speak of death, treated it like it wasn’t there, couldn’t happened to us, like we would live forever or close to it and so nobody was there in that town, nobody in Carver either and I am to this day still bitched out about it to tell us what the real cost of war was, what would happen if we made it back to the real world. So Bubba, so Sam, so Ralph, so Pete and all the other kids from working class towns, from the inner city barrios and ghettos never get somebody to tell them like they should that there is another way, a totally different way to deal with your military obligation. I am still bitched out about that too. But today I am bitched out mostly by the fact that the same kind of kids that got dragooned into the Vietnam War, and I am glad you did not have to face that choice, got dragooned into Afghanistan and Iraq. Jesus.”

Bart said nothing just kind of let it go, let that idea that Sam had said that it was okay, which he had never said before, that Bart had not served in the military a situation which had bothered him since back then. But he too knew that Carver the town that he had stayed in all his life except those few years when he sowed his wild oats with Sam and some of the boys was still sending more than its fair share of sons of boggers to fight the American government’s wars.           

“You know since we are being candid in a candid world that I have never asked you whether you ever regretted staying in Carver after those few years that you sowed your wild oats with out in California during various summers of love, various acid-etched experiences out in Haight-Ashbury, Joshua Tree, a few places south of the border where the dope was plentiful and cheap and came back to Carver, settled in with Sarah, developed your printing company before and after the that whole silk-screen fad on tee-shirts and posters came and went and had a pretty good if staid life after all,” as Sam posed that question kind of pensively to Bart who was still savoring Sam’s answer about Bart’s lack of military service back in the day when al lot of young men like Sam were being chewed up and spit out.”

Bart answered in kind, “Despite all the adventures we had for those couple of years we were out West and down in Mexico, despite all dope and women, especially the women who “made my toes curl” as one of them told me they would do to me and they did my heart still belonged to Sarah who I knew was waiting back here for me. I tried to talk to her about heading West, about getting the hell out of Carver but she said she was attached to her family that lived mostly around here, wanted to live in a small town, liked the idea that our kids would go through the same schools that we went through, that we would go to the Strand Theater like we had in high school although she was wrong on the longevity of that place since it closed down about ten years after we married when the mega-plexes came to the mall and sucked the air out of independent movie theaters, wanted to stay and smell the roses of the same old place and frankly after a while, after I had built the business up by adding a line of commercial accounts that kept us going before the new digital technology blew us out of the water I wanted to stay too although every once in a while I would dream wistfully about that beach at Big Sur where we stayed with those girls from UCLA who were as wild as the Huns and think well Carver really was too small for big pant dreams.”

Sam, who had been all over, had been married three times and had many affairs a couple when he was still married, had left Carver and not really looked back until many years later, until just a couple of years before that fateful fiftieth class reunion knew in his own heart that he could not go home again, that he could not hold the fort against the future like the Barts and Sonnys of the world.”

With that last bit of wisdom Sam yawned, knew that he had to get home to Laura in Boston and dream the dreams of the vagabond just. As he left out the front door of Bart’s house Bart yelled after him that “You are right, right as usual when it comes to films, you must have been in contact with the ghost of Pete Markin because The Last Picture Show really is one of the ten best film of all time, no question. And if we did not know it then, know it that first viewing, it really was about us, about growing up in Podunk, having friends, and dreaming dreams.”


Sam could think of nothing else that he would have added to that sentiment.