The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams
On Saturday's my mother would drop me off at the Starlight Theater. The Starlight had a Kids Matinee. They showed 10 cartoon, 3 Three stooges shorts, and some incredibly cheap Monster film. It was great. About 200 to 200 hyped up kids with only a teenaged usher for supervision!
My mother gave me a dollar. A dollar was a lot of money. It was 8 comic books, a league baseball. It was calculable wealth but it was still wealth. So, often I'd find out when the movie let out so I could meet my mother in front of the theater and then bug out of the movies to have more refined dollar flaunting fun.
The Starlight tried to live up to its name by having black ceilings that were studded with whispering galaxies made from those little white Christmas lights. In a more cynical time it was probably nothing but cheesy but in the age, the time and the fact that I was 7, it was a wondrous thing that took everything to the level of celestial purity that made the surf and the ball field seem somehow smaller than dreams.
My mother would give me a dollar to go to the kiddie matinee. I always carried the dollar rolled up in a ball, clenched tight in my fist. I carried so many gooney things in my pockets it was the only way to keep the dollar safe. I paid my admission, 25 cents, and got my 3 quarters in change. Immediately I went to the candy counter and got either a popcorn or a box of Boston Baked Beans. They were both a quarter so the choice depended on external factors. The popcorn came in a box that could be dismantled and turned into a wicked paper airplane. The plane could be launched at the screen at the appropriate moment for big laughs or for frantic boos if the plane fell short or missed some cool target, like a naughty human body part.
The Boston Baked Beans were more introspective, they could make a pretty nasty sounding kazoo but that was a one note joke and lacked nuance. It was in the eating that they shined. I could nibble off the candy and then save up a handful of the "beans" for dual snack age fun. I also got to debate whether they were some strange bean I should coerce my mother into buying or if they were, in dull reality, stale peanuts. And if you'd ever had my mother's Sunday bean dinner you also would prefer stale peanuts flavored beans.
We all loved the cartoons, especially Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. The theater would get quiet when they were on then get raucous again when they put on a Deputy Dawg or a Heckle and Jekyll. For me it was incredible seeing the cartoons on a big screen, an enormous screen.
I've never been blown away by IMAX movies. If you asked me how big the screen was at the Starlight, the Old Egyptian, or even the old Cinerama Dome, I'd have said it was as tall as an angel and as wide as an angel's wingspan. I always thought the IMAX screen was as tall as an angel and as wide as an angel's wingspan and a bit more.
In London there used to be a Cartoon Theater in Piccadilly Circus. It was only a pound so I went hoping to recapture some of the scents of the Starlight on a Saturday. It was disappointing. The screen was small and high above the crowd. They showed some Warner Brothers stuff but it was all the made for TV stuff. It kept cartoons far too life sized.
The Cartoon Theater is gone. I think there's a McDonald's there now or a Wendy's or some other American bastion of domination. It really doesn't matter much which one it is now. At least not as much as what it once was.
The Boston Baked Beans would last me through the cartoons and get me to the Three Stooges shorts. My next course of action was predicated on what 3 Stooges they showed. For a "Curley" I would not move. It was too much fun then. We all laughed if not at the movie itself than at all the great Curly impressions that would go on around us. For a "Curley Joe Rita" there would be pandemonium. We all hated him as an impostor, a ne'er do well who encroached on our sense of order in the universe. The sight of 7 to 10 year olds in near riot agitation must have terrified the theater manager enough that anything other than Curley or Shemp was a rare occurrence.
There are many Shemp fans out there. Some who consider Shemp a more mature flavor of Stooge. They point out that Shemp was actually in "real" movies. that Shemp stood up to Moe and tried to hold on to his place and individuality in life.
I'm not one of those. Without Curley the Stooges were a mere nostalgic craze, a dim memory of what greatness once was and what greatness would seldom be again.
If a Shemp Stooges came on screen I would go out to the lobby to construct the greatest concoction ever devised by the 7 year old mind.
I would go to the soda machine and get a cup of coca-cola without ice. Then I would go to the ice cream machine and get an ice cream bar. On the east coast I've heard them call an ice cream bar an Eskimo Pie and other heathen slurs. it doesn't matter as this was my invention and as such I claimed the right to name the ingredients appropriately and correctly.
Each ingredient was a quarter. Fifty cents was a fortune to me but is still cheap for the joy and pleasure it would soon construct. I mean, for fifty cents I could buy a pint of strawberry ice cream and two comic books from the drug store on Sunset Blvd and then go to the beach and stare at the waves while I waited for some gremmie surfer to lose his board so I could run out grab the lost stick and ride some shore break before the gremmie could yell at me. And yet, I insist my invention was better even than that!
The first time I had the stroke of inspired genius that led me to this creation was when the movie was "The Astounding She Monster!" was showing. It is appropriate that this piece of neglected cinema should have inspired other acts of genius. It was also a day we'd managed to smuggle my dog, Alex, into the movies. The pandemonium was such that after we got him into the theater, past the teenaged ticket taker we were totally safe to enjoy ourselves.
"The Astounding She Monster" was about a blonde alien woman who wore silver skin tight spandex (or whatever it was they used in the pre spandex days), with over plucked eyebrows and dark lipstick. She glowed and glittered!
Aside from the over plucked eyebrows she was as perfect a woman as had ever been imagined. Except she had one serious problem: Everything she touched on earth died.
A dog barked at her and she went to pet it and the poor thing died from the terrible radiation that coursed through her.
Everything of beauty, everything she might love was doomed to die at her touch. The tragic denouement had the "heroes" tracking the wracked creature by rolling her footprints, footprints that burned themselves into the grass.
This is pretty profound stuff for a kid. And you wrap profound messages up in a glowing glittering blonde and wrap it in sparkly spandex and you've opened up a path, a neural road to forever.
It's too bad "The Astounding She Monster" wasn't a better movie. Instead it's just a semiotic film that allows access to the better past and dreams of children who dream of making themselves better than their parents, the establishment and the world.
But it was during this movie that I learned to love story telling and it was during this movie that I learned my great kid secret and made my great kid invention. The first thing I had to do was eat the chocolate coating from the ice cream bar. This is very important as if any chocolate touches the other ingredients the chocolate becomes poison.
Trying to neatly nibble the icing off an ice cream bar in the dark while intently watching a monster movie while surrounded by 400 rowdy shouting running kids is no easy task. But, like many mundane chores, it has to be done. At least in this chore there's a payoff.
When the ice cream bar is denuded it has to be inspected and not dropped. This is especially important when your dog is with you. Dogs love ice cream. At least all my dogs love it. International is clear that anything that falls on the floor is automatically the dog's.
By now the ice cream was pretty drippy, which made my hands sticky, the dog excited and those gray shadows of despair were allowed to creep in. Everyone else was having fun and I was involved in experiments as deranged as the mad scientists on the screen. Great moments should always be thus.
The next step is not scientific, that means it must be art. In my world there is only science, art and faith.
You had to study the coke and study the ice cream - by now you have probably figured out what the invention is, if not its only because it is so mind snapping that you can't believe the simple genius invested here - and you must not account not only for the volume of the ice cream and the displacement of the coke but the variable that creates art - the foam! The foam that makes what happens next the pinnacle of greatness and not just another kid screwing around and making a mess.
When things were just right you plunged the ice cream into your paper cup of coke and there, as inconceivable as it might seem you were in possession of a portable black, the elusive coca cola float!
And after you had stirred the mix you still had the ice cream bar stick which your dog would enjoy eating until it was time to leave the movie.
I've told all of this because my wife has just gotten her visa. She can come and live and work here in the IS of A. So can giant dog and gentle dog and the new addition, aggro dog, can all come and live here and we can be a family once again. We've always been a family but now we get to live as one.
After nearly 2 and a half years it's over.
Al the money, all the paperwork and fretting and worrying and cursing and doubting is over. All the begging for letters of reference and being held prisoner to some whacko government standards of life are done. We're free.
And on hearing that my wife had gotten her visa the only emotion that compares is that time when I was 7 and I invented the portable black cow.
As I sat in the dark and watched my monster movie, my dog at my side while I sipped the aphrodisiacal sweet and foaming creamy concoction that I had made with my own two hands is about how I felt when I heard my wife and my family were going to be together with me again until the end.
Not that I would consider my wife an "Astounding She Monster" except maybe sometimes to keep things interesting. Although I do think she'd look great all glittery and glowing. But she probably wouldn't do that. She's like that.