After School, the Pictures
By Steve Carr
I still think of the last day of school as the first day of summer, not that I know, nor have I known, our schools’ schedules for years. Carefree memories of my fortunate youth, so vividly happy, are indelibly etched in my increasingly muddled brain. The summer of my twelfth year shines.
On the last day of school, parole day, we traded four bits for a string of movie tickets. Every Tuesday, all summer long, hundreds of T-shirted ruffians tumbled into the town’s ornate, once-vaudeville theater to watch Flubber, Son of Flubber, or a show about a Volkswagen Bug that could talk. How wonderful was that? But our favorites were the Westerns, and our hardscrabble heroes like the Lone Ranger and Zorro. The masked men lived double lives that encouraged our burgeoning virility.
Hours before showtime, I’d locate my bike on a neighbor’s lawn and commence the trek to town. My sidekick would meet me at the intersection and we’d ride on to the zoo at Tautphaus Park in Idaho Falls. Our posse grew as more riders joined at the monkey house, where we paused to watch the cigarette-smoking chimpanzee and squeeze our skinny arms inside the popcorn machine for a handful on the house. Chipmunk-cheeked with stale popcorn, we’d proceed along the canal to 17th Street. The balance of the journey depended upon what activities we espied along the way. Sometimes a sandlot ball game behind Hawthorne School distracted us. Other times, reported sightings of high school girls sunbathing would find us steering through alleys and peeping through knotholes.
The last stop was always Fogg Drug, next to the theater, where we provisioned up on penny candy. Our bikes were left in a heap, where they rested untethered until the last movie villain fell in his own heap outside a saloon on a wagon wheel-rutted street.
The season finale was John Wayne as the eye-patched Rooster Cogburn: first-run movie for a dime’s admission. We almost missed it. Our own numbskulled but resolute Rooster Cogburn was last in line to reach deep inside the popcorn machine, where his arm promptly wedged into place. We ignored his initial entreaties for assistance while we interrogated the macaws, who shared a cell in the monkey house, and whose language was as irreverent as Cogburn’s. It wasn’t until we realized we might miss The Three Stooges, who always preceded the main feature, that we turned to his rescue. We could see his fist through the glass, periscoping through mounds of popcorn, within inches of the yellow light bulb, his fingers on broil. We pulled, we bent, we twisted—all to no avail.
We told him we were going to have to cut off his arm with one of our scout knives. We just needed to agree on whose knife would get the honor. When it dawned on me that we might miss True Grit altogether if we started sawing, I suggested that if he released the popcorn in his fist, his arm might slip free. He did and it did. We raced on our Schwinn stallions, arriving just in time to see the stagecoach deliver a cloud of dust onto the silver screen. And then we sat bug-eyed for two hours, reloading on grit before the adventure home.