Larry Enright

Larry Enright

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guest Post by Al Them - Drive-In Movies

My good friend, Al Them, a writer and humorist, read A King in a Court of Fools, episode 12, Drive-In Movie, and here is his reaction.

Sad to say, I may have contributed to the demise of drive-in theaters. I did my fair share of Zagnut buying, and on those rare occasions I hankered for a mouthful of wax and syrup I would buy a Nik-L-Nip or two, but I might have killed off Richard Hollingshead's glorious invention.

The first time I went to a drive-in theater was in 1960 in June. I had finished a 12-hour shift pumping gas, fixing flats, and cleaning and restocking tools at the Hamilton Garage, and I drove alone to the Toms River Drive-In to see "Gone With the Wind." I awoke sometime during the burning of Atlanta. If any drive-in inspector saw me dozing they might have declared the Era of the Drive-In over. It wasn't their fault; it was just a long day. Sorry, Mr. Hollingshead. Please give me another chance.

In 1961, I asked Ellen if she would go to the drive-in with me. Ellen, whom I had just met,  was the friend of a girl I knew platonically, it was the first week of summer, and Ellen's family was "down" for the month. ("Down" means "down the shore" or, equivalently, "in that place appointed by God for human fulfillment and watery exercise.") Ellen said she would ask her parents, and the next I heard was from mutual friends who reported Ellen was offended at being asked for an intimate encounter with a stranger. What?! I was not so naive to be unaware a drive-in was called a "passion pit," but that was for other people, not harmless creatures like me who had only two characteristics to recommend him: a liking for movies and access to a car.

I was so embarrassed and distraught that I immediately walked to the trampoline concession where Ellen had gone to jump with some friends. I found Ellen and told her so insistently that my request was innocent and friendly that she believed me, and we became good friends that summer. We never did go out on a "date" date, but we did fun things in groups, and the only loser in the whole fiasco was Mr. Hollingshead, who was forced to write a second "X" in his accounts notebook.

In August of 1961, I did manage to have a "hot" drive-in date with the cousin of Kathy D., a beach buddy from Jersey City who had a thick Jersey accent and smoked Marlboros. In an amazing coincidence, thirty years after my third drive-in experience, Kathy and her husband bought the shore house that had been built by my grandfather for himself and his two generations of progeny. Anyway, Kathy's cousin Linda was happy to impress me with how wild and free a Jersey City girl could behave in a steamy, parked car, and we happily necked for twenty minutes without regard to anything that was occurring on-screen. If real life were like the movies, the scene would dissolve and refocus on a contented couple puffing Chesterfields, but real life is instead like...well, real life. In particular, the real lives of two Catholic teenagers. So we stopped kissing in fear we would go too far and make the Blessed Mother cry, even if the Blessed Mother had not been paying strict attention to us and was perhaps watching the movie, as we eventually wound up doing. Watching the movie, that is, not crying. For the rest of that summer, I was so embarrassed at being unable to smoothly handle an unclimactic evening, that Linda and I exchanged sheepish looks and spoke mostly through intermediaries. I fear that if Richard Hollingshead, Jr., were informed, he may have envisioned the collapse of his enterprise.

Some years later, I made one last curious attempt to extend the longevity of drive-ins, whose extinction had been predicted for a while. "Fritz the Cat," the only X-rated cartoon, was featured at the ironically named Family Drive-In in Virginia. I had never seen an X-rated movie, I loved cartoons, and I seized the opportunity to see forbidden fare without feeling the need to shield my face or wear a trenchcoat. I suppose I expected to see furry, silly, animal body parts with jokes, but alas, the film was confusing, boring, slightly crude, and unfunny. As it turns out, I never went to a drive-in again, so I guess the cat killed my curiosity. Goodnight, Mr. Hollingshead.


Check out Al's books on Amazon. He's a great writer and really funny guy.

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