Sweets

cake

Drunk Again         

Grandma always added extra Vanilla Extract to her cake frosting. It could have been stirred by hand, but she preferred to use the old electric mixer with the heavy head that would clunk down into the mixing bowl and whir at the click of a switch. Grandma’s cakes reeked of alcohol. Licking the bowl wasn’t just a sugar high. I think I may have gotten a little drunk each time my birthday rolled around.

As a teenager, and beyond, I would buy 16 oz. plastic tubs of Pillsbury Vanilla Frosting and consume it one spoonful at a time when I couldn’t find a box of Screaming Yellow Zonkers. I was a Coke addict with a ready supply during the Drive-In days. The soda fountain at Westlane Auto Movie, and later the Del Oro Theatre, was tuned to my satisfaction, the perfect balance of syrup and carbon dioxide.

My drugs of choice were usually available over the counter. During the Winter months at Westlane, I would fight congestion with sweet throat lozenges, sucking Ludens, Chloraseptics, and Sucrets one after another.

Grocery stores usually stock eggnog November and December, but it’s hard to find it the rest of the year. When I complained, my parents referred me to a cookbook recipe that called for a lot of sugar and raw eggs. On Sunday nights, while my parents were working, I would mix up a wicked batch of nog and watch The Mothers-In-Law, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Mission Impossible. After the local news, I would watch an old movie with my parents, usually something made by Warner Brothers starring Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, James Cagney, or Errol Flynn. I seldom made it to bed until one or two on a Sunday night and I usually slept through my first couple of classes on Monday morning.

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Radio Club

frebergbest

The Stan Freberg Show

I met Terence in Junior High School, Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High to be exact. I would often see him sitting on the portable stairs practicing his intimidation skills. He looked like he might be a bully, but once we began to talk, we quickly found common ground. Our mutual appreciation of Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer lead to many hours of singing parodies and satirical songs, or coming up with our own lyrics to popular songs.

It was Terence who introduced me to Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and Joni Mitchell. And I introduced Terence to my collection of old radio shows on reel-to-reel tape.  We spent many hours in the dark listening to Arch Oboler’s Lights Out, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, and The Shadow. During the High School years, besides making movies, we improvised horror stories and end of the world scenarios that we preserved on tape. I spent many weekends at Terence’s suburban home, conceiving and executing media projects or discussing the philosophies of Jules Feiffer and Walt Kelly.

During my weekend vacations from drive-in life, we experimented with vices including stinky cigars, Kahlua, and Crème de coco or read passages from Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask.  We were not afraid.

There were field trips the UC Davis campus where we would see Marx Brothers movies at Freborn Hall. Best of all movie-wise was an all night movie marathon that included Mack Sennett shorts, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, The Bride of Frankenstein, and College Swing.

With so many clubs springing up at Davis Senior High School, I decided that I would start a radio club and invited my classmates to hear my collection of old radio programs. I found an empty classroom, set up a tape recorder that I borrowed from the library, and we listened to X-Minus One and other programs in unsupervised bliss.

My math teacher had written his own textbook and was using the Algebra class students as guinea pigs for what he thought was an innovative new system based on forming groups made up of different personality types. The only problem with this concept is that it’s difficult to divide any group of students into even numbers by category. I suppose it makes it even more difficult when students like me slept through class or cut class to read Pauline Kael’s reviews in The New Yorker in the school library.

And so, there we were, a small group of High School kids sitting in a dark classroom, in the 1970s, listening to a radio show from the 1950s, while we ate lunch, and in bursts the math teacher, accusing us, one and all, of smoking dope.  And what a dope he was.

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8mm

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein

My first exposure to a real movie camera was when my friend, Terence got permission for us to use his father’s 8mm Bell & Howell. Terence owned a white bedouin costume that made him look like and Arabian Sheik. Taking our lead from Laugh-In, which used silent action clips of their cast out and about in “beautiful downtown Burbank”, shot in a Mack Sennett/Richard Lester style, our Sheik would sneak about Terence’s backyard or jump off the roof of the house, robes billowing in the air.

We took turns wearing the costume and using the camera, paying close attention to how we framed each shot, cutting in the camera as much as we could, but we were both aware that there was editing equipment that we could use. Having a limited budget, we were frugal shooters. We seldom shot more than one take of anything.

Our first splices were made with Kodak 8mm Presstape that worked like tiny band-aids covering multiple frames of film. We soon realized that we could see the tape when we projected our movies and graduated to making wet splices using a metal block and film cement. They were less noticeable, but we could still see them. Presstape was only good for joining the processed 50 foot reels together on a larger reel when you had no intention of editing it. Editing was where the magic happened.

I didn’t have an 8mm projector of my own, but I ordered a Prevue 8 sampler from Blackhawk Films. I probably saw an ad for the sampler in a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that didn’t seem to follow any normal publishing schedule, but arrived on the newsstand at the whim of its editor, Forrest J. Ackerman, a punster who was as excited about the works of Ed Wood as he was about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Standard 8mm Sampler

Standard 8mm Sampler

The Blackhawk Prevue 8 was a revelation.  Clips of Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms, Charlie Chaplin in Easy Street, and the astonishing crane shot from Intolerance, could be projected on the wall and it was possible to own the entire films if you had enough money.

Intolerance

Intolerance

I could watch movies on the big screen or on television, but I found the idea of collecting and owning movies intriguing. Collecting would have to wait. First and foremost, what I wanted to do was make movies.  I may have lived on a drive-in theater with two 35mm carbon arc projectors and a work bench with everything you needed to splice 35mm film, but there wasn’t a 35mm camera or an unlimited supply of 35mm film stock. My film school would have to be the books by Sergei Eisenstein that I found in the school library and 8mm weekends at Terence’s house.

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Intolerable

John Barrymore whips up a potent cocktail

John Barrymore whips up a potent cocktail

My first exposure to John Barrymore was during the second episode of Fractured Flickers when it aired on August 8, 1963. In the episode, Christopher Hayward, who later gave us The Munsters, turned the transformation sequence in the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into Do Me a Flavor in which Dr. Al K. Seltzer invents Double Chocolate Seltzer.

While Barrymore, as Seltzer, flailed about in the laboratory, he uttered these unforgettable words:

Over the lips

Over the gums

Look out stomach

Here it comes

That same year, my grandmother took me to the Alameda Theatre to see Jerry Lewis go through similar gyrations as the meek Professor Kelp became the sex crazed Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor. The colorful chemicals and Stella Stevens left a vivid impression on me.

Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens

Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens

Between 1965 and 1971, Vincent Price was my go to mad scientist guy. In Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, he was making fembots long before anyone heard of Austin Powers. In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, he was whipping out the old colorful chemistry kit to challenge Joseph Cotton’s surgical skills in a campy climax to end all campy climaxes.

Joseph Cotton and Vincent Price

Joseph Cotton and Vincent Price

With these role models deeply embedded in my cinematic psyche, it wasn’t surprising that I would find myself gyrating Barrymore style to the tune of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s “Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet” in an 8mm freakout called Intolerable.

I read Lillian Gish’s autobiography, The Movies, D. W. Griffith, and Me, when it came out in paperback in 1969. I also read several Griffith related books in the Davis Senior High School library, including works by Iris Barry and Karl Brown.

Griffith’s response to the controversy surrounding his film, The Birth of a Nation, based on the theatrical version of Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman was to sidestep the outrage regarding the portrayal of blacks in the film, including the attempts of the NAACP to ban the film completely from ever being seen again, and to focus on freedom of speech and censorship.

Intolerance, and man’s inhumanity to man, would become the theme of Griffith’s next film, Intolerance, where he would weave together four stories, each one set in a different time period. Lillian Gish would be seen as a mother, rocking her baby in a cradle, linking the stories together.

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

Before Coppola (The Godfather: Part Two) and Altman (Nashville, Short Cuts) rediscovered and resuscitated Griffith’s cinematic story telling techniques, two high school kids decided to take on the Master, creating a monster of their own from stuff that they shot during weekend sleepovers and choice clips from silent films, their link to the pioneers of cinematic art and commerce.
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Bless the Beasts and the Children

The Trailer

The Trailer

When I arrived at Westlane Auto Movies, I had two pets, a turtle and a parakeet. The turtle wandered off one day while I was at school and the parakeet suffered a fate that has made me cautious of insecticides ever since.  Hoping to rid the kitchen of unwanted vermin, my mother sprayed Raid way too close to Petey the Parakeet. Once again, I came home from school to find a pet departed.

During our first few days at Westlane Auto Movie, the previous manager came by our trailer. He offered us advice regarding the swamp cooler over the hallway. He showed us the speaker he had asked the projectionist to install in the kitchen, so that he could watch and hear movies from the kitchen window.  And, he told us that there was a feral cat that would sometimes come around at night looking for food. It was a spooky gray creature. I would hear him meowing or see him wandering in the adjacent fields. In the daylight, he would stay on the other side of the fence, but at night he would come to our side of the fence to sing a sad kitty cat song.

Growing up, I never had a cat, so I was determined to win the creature over. Little by little I managed to get his trust, sort of. Once I was able to pet and hold him, I tried to bring him inside the trailer and make him my friend. As soon as I had him inside, he howled until I let him out again. Undaunted, I continued to bring the cat inside until he became accustomed to our home. He even slept on my bed one night. This was before we had any dogs. Just when I thought I had tamed him and named the beast, Smokey, he departed. It would be a long time before another cat came into my life, especially after I discovered that cats made me sneeze.

There was very little flora to be found at Westlane Auto Movie. The fenced area in front of the movie screen was a garden of weeds that had to be cut down once a year. Around the snack bar, there were small patches shrubbery that needed watering during the Summer. They did fine the rest of the year.

One day, I noticed that there was a loud croaking sound coming from every patch of green. Little frogs were everywhere. I collected a couple to show my parents, but they were not impressed, so I went to the snack bar and found an empty two gallon relish jar and started filling it up with frogs. When the jar was full, I took it to my parents and they still weren’t impressed. They said I couldn’t keep all the frogs in the jar, so I put them all back. The croaking continued for a few more days, but the frogs must have had a meeting and decided that it wasn’t safe to stay in a place where frogs are incarcerated in relish jars. They never came back.

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Hobo Strip Tease

The Stripper

The Stripper

There weren’t any kids in my neighborhood except at night. They came in cars, with their parents, to see the movies. In the summer, when it took longer to get dark at Westlane Auto Movie, the cars arrived early to set up camp. The patrons who hadn’t brought their own food and drinks would load up at the snack bar and the kids would make a beeline towards the playground. There I’d be, swinging on the swings or spinning the merry-go-round, anticipating the arrival of someone who might become my life-long friend.

There was one kid that almost fit the bill. His name, like mine, was Mike and he and his mom drove up from Dixon on a regular basis. Sometimes, Mike and I would hang out in the trailer while his mom watched the movie alone. We would listen to my comedy records or just talk about stuff.

I once tried to sell Mike one of my Bill Cosby albums. I didn’t think it was very funny. My plan was to pretend that it was funny and see if Mike would buy it. I played Mike the best track on the album and laughed more than I should. It was a real betrayal and probably killed any hope of a life-long friendship.

For the record, the album was called 8:15/12:15. It was recorded at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Bill Cosby’s own record label. You got his early show and his late show. The album does offer some insights into Cosby’s relationship with an audience, but it didn’t have the polish of Cosby’s Warner/Reprise albums. He even did a few bits twice.

One time, right before Halloween, Mike and I were trying to come up with costume ideas. I decided that we should try on some of my mother’s clothes. My father and mother knew better than to punish a kid for cross dressing and only expressed concern that I shouldn’t be going through my mother’s things without asking, especially when my friends were visiting. Since that time, I have done drag a few times for Halloween. Gender bending can be fun.

Another time, Mike and I dressed up as hobos and came up with a pantomime that we wanted to perform for our parents. Mike’s mom didn’t want to stick around after the movies, so I had to perform our hobo strip tease solo for my parents.  As hobo acts go, it was more Jackie Gleason pathos than Red Skelton slapstick. The music that I chose to set the mood was a track from David Rose’s popular album, The Stripper. David Rose was well known at the time as the orchestra leader for The Red Skelton Show. The skit required me to drop my pants at the end revealing boxer shorts covered with a heart. I had drawn the heart with my big red Sharpie pen. Unfortunately, it looked more like a blood stain than a heart. My parents were a tough audience. From the concerned looks on their faces, it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t ready for burlesque.

Once, and only once, was my father willing to drive me all the way to Dixon to spend an afternoon with Mike and that was only because Mike’s mother would drive us back to Davis when she came to see the movies that night. I don’t think my parents really liked Mike’s mother. They thought she was using her son as a bargaining chip to get into the drive-in for free. Eventually, Mike and his mom, stopped coming to the drive-in. I went back to haunting the playground hoping to find a friend.

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Watchdogs

Eldridge

Eldridge

Theater patrons have a sense of entitlement. In movie theaters some see nothing wrong with leaving gum on the bottom of their seat or taking a knife to the upholstery. On a drive-in, speakers and heaters are fair game for extraction. Getting past a drive-in box office with a few extra passengers hidden under blankets or sequestered in the trunk is considered fair play.

One of my main occupations at Westlane Auto Movie was the identification of a car with people in the trunk. Most gave themselves away by stopping on the road and turning off their lights. I didn’t even need binoculars, I could spot a sneak-in a mile away from the front window of our trailer.

Many nights, I stood beneath the projection booth, a flashlight in my hand, with my father or one of his employees. I would watch the movie. I would watch the road. I would answer questions and offer assistance. I even had a badge with my name on it.

My father was a dog lover. Being an apartment dweller and a theater manager, with iffy hours, he was never able to care for a dog. I remember he had a stuffed Scotty that he kept by the phony fireplace the apartment on 35th Avenue in Oakland, but it wasn’t until he took over Westlane Auto Movie that he seriously considered getting a family dog. We were living out in the middle of nowhere. A watchdog would offer security and companionship.

I grew up watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. As far as I knew, dogs were the smartest animals of Earth. If you wanted a breed of dog that would save the day, Collies and German Shepherds were the dog of choice. They could smell trouble and resolve any problem that might come your way.

Our first dog was a Collie that I named Whimpy.  I must have been going through a Popeye phase when I named him. Whimpy was a sweet dog, but he took to wandering off. We were able to retrieve him the first couple of times, alerted by a rural neighbor who lived across the road from the theater marquee, but Whimpy eventually disappeared and we replaced him with a German Shepard that I named Vaughn. I don’t think he resembled Robert Vaughn from The Man from UNCLE television show, but that’s probably where he got his name.

Vaughn seldom strayed beyond the drive-in gate. He was a noble watch dog. One day I found him in my small bedroom wandering around in circles completely disoriented. We took him to a vet who informed us that there was neurological damage, so we had to put him down. Given our low standard of living, we wouldn’t have been able to afford any extensive treatment, but I am pretty sure I was present for the diagnosis and Vaughn’s condition was fatal.

Soon after Vaughn’s demise, I saw a German Shepherd, playing between the playground and the snack bar with another dog. As it would turn out, the owners were looking for someone to adopt him. I guess they had one dog two many. His name was Eldridge, after political activist, Eldridge Cleaver. Since he already answered to Eldridge, we kept the name. Eldridge was a very good climber. He would often climb up the slide on the playground and survey the fields that surrounded the drive-in. He never strayed.

One night, I was hanging out at the snack bar when a customer came in and told my mother that someone was ripping speakers off their posts. My father told me to go to the trailer and get Eldridge. I quickly put him on his leash and headed for the glow of my father’s flashlight.

I arrived to the sound of a loud voice telling my father, “We paid our money and we don’t have to leave.” My father informed a group of three or four drunken college students that the police were on the way. Since we were out of the jurisdiction of the local police it was doubtful that the police had been called. A call to the County Sheriff would result in a response time of forty-five minutes to an hour, so we seldom bothered.

When Eldridge started growling the situation escalated. One of the young hoodlums pulled a knife and said, “If you let that dog go I will cut him to pieces.” We had no recourse but to back off and call the Sheriff. When the Sheriff arrived the car load of trouble makers was long gone.

The drive-in theater was our front yard. We called it home, but we had no real authority over our visitors. The power of the flashlight and the dog was an illusion. If I had let Eldridge go he wouldn’t have been a hero. He would have been a dead dog. I have no doubt.

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Long Blond Hair

Bardot and Mumy

Bardot and Mumy

There were only a few school days left when Robert Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968. Mr. Arvizu was not himself. His attempt to read from John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage was fraught with long pauses as Mr. A tried to keep his cool. Eventually, the dam burst open. Our teacher was reduced to tears.

Seeing Mr. A loose it caused a domino effect. Girls and boys got weepy. Not because American History had taken a turn, possibly for the worst, but because a man who had done his darnedest to mentor us out of childhood had revealed the boy beneath the man. Big boys do cry.

As always, there was a girl. She was the epitome of sixties style.  Ever since I saw Dear Brigette, I was a regular Billy Mumy when it came to long blond hair. It wasn’t just Brigette Bardot.  In 1968, most sixth graders were not aware of Catherine Deneuve, but I lived on a drive-in theater where International films were on the bill of fare. I had seen Belle De Jour and it wasn’t my first R rated film.

I was a Jane Fonda fan since Cat Ballou. By 1968, Fonda’s star was on the rise. Besides being known as an actress, she was also a fashion model of some influence. Her political activism was still in its infancy. Which brings us to “The Look” and the girl that had “The Look”, her name was Eden Weber.

To paraphrase the song popularized by Glen Campbell, Eden was moving on the back roads, by the rivers of my mem’ry. Yes, she was gentle on my mind.

She had long blond hair like a silver screen goddess. Fashion-wise, she favored the look of Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In. She frequently wore a green Simplicity type dress with a zipper running from the collar to the hem of her skirt. The hem was high enough above the knee to reveal extremely shapely legs for a sixth grader. The hoop zipper really caught my eye. It was hard not to stare. Eden was taller than the other girls and the dress emphasized her developing breasts and hips. I may have been more infatuated with the dress than I was the girl. As is often the case, I admired Eden from afar. The Garden of Eden was out of reach. Besides, I was still carrying a torch for my first sweetheart.

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Pioneer Days

The Nutty Professor Lobby Card

The Nutty Professor Lobby Card

I found my niche in the sixth grade while attending Pioneer Elementary School in Davis Mr. Arvizu, my sixth grade teacher, got me, but he may have cursed me too. This was his final evaluation on my sixth grade report card, “Michael enjoys the bizarre or different kind of school activities, i.e. plays, newspapers, acting. This is healthy if he can maintain the basic skills he will need for future. Michael’s communication skills improve tremendously when they are applied practically to something he wants to do. Such is not always the case in school. Concentration will pay big dividends next year for Michael. I have enjoyed having him in my class.”

Well, yes. I always do a better job when I’m following my own agenda or I am immersed in something that I am passionate about, but I can play the game if it means a good grade or a paycheck. Really, I can.

Film fascinated me. Up until the sixth grade most films at school were shown with a 16mm projector or a film strip projector. In Mr. A’s class there were 8mm film cartridges that played over and over again in a loop. One in particular possessed me. It was a colorful image of a jelly fish doing his or her thing near a coral reef. The blues were very blue, the reds were very red, and the yellows were very very yellow. Up until the sixth grade my school days seem to always be in black and white.

Mr. A. was my first male teacher. One day he brought in a large deck of Loteria cards and started to teach us Spanish. I especially liked the card that showed the Devil. He told us that in Spanish the Devil’s name was El Diablo.

My parents were not very enthusiastic that I was being taught Spanish. They assumed that the reason for the Spanish was that some of the other students were the children of local migrant workers who didn’t know very much English. I guess they thought it was supposed to even out the educational playing field.

One day, Mr. A. gave a lecture on responsibility and personal freedom. The gist of it was that the more we took responsibility for our actions the more personal freedom we would be allowed, first by our parents and then by society. Up until that time, teachers wanted me to follow the rules and do the work that was assigned. Mr. A was speaking in another language and I don’t mean Spanish.

I began to take personal freedom very seriously. Those who imposed on my freedom were a great aggravation to me. In particular, there was a bully named David who was always picking on me at recess. He would call me maggot and push me around whenever there wasn’t a teacher or playground monitor nearby.

It got to the point where I would stay in class during recess just to avoid the name calling and physical abuse. One day, I had all the name calling, kicking, and tripping I could take. The kid had the same name as my old nemesis, Uncle David. I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I told David to meet me on the playground after school and I would deal with him once and for all. It would be a fight to the death.

Word got out and there was a crowd of kids waiting after the final bell. David threw out a few choice words and the fight was on. If Mr. A hadn’t shown up to pull us apart I might have killed him. I had never been that angry before. The good news is that David never bothered me again.

At Christmas time, we sang some carols in Spanish to show off our second language skills. To my delight, we also did some songs from Mary Poppins. I already knew them by heart. Another teacher was brought in to help us with our musical education and our English skills, her name was Mrs. Wagstaff and she obviously had a thing for folk music.

She played us records by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Limelighters. It was great to be in the choir and sing songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “500 Miles”.  I received good marks for Music and Poetry, but I still needed to work on my Reading and Spelling skills according to Mrs. W.

My contribution to the class poetry book, published in January of 1968 included this poem:

Hippies, hippies everywhere,

In the closet over there.

Hippies in the bedroom,

Hippies on the roof,

Hippies in the bathroom,

Poof, poof, poof.

It was a poem for the time and surprisingly scatological for publication in a sixth grade collection. I also contributed a science fiction story to the class newspaper, Arvizu’s Articles, named in honor of our fearless leader, Mr. A.

I took mimeograph paper home to type my story on the office typewriter and illustrated it with a picture of a spacecraft drawn with the help of some mechanical drawing tools that I had bought at the Stationary Store. I didn’t know what beam compasses and French curves were, but I liked the shape of them and I knew that I could trace a design with strong lines better using these mysterious tools than I could freehand.

My story was about an air attack on a gas station near the school, and then, the school itself. It was meant to be a cliff hanger and in my mind the first episode in a serial about me and my classmates dealing with an alien invasion. It was big on atmosphere, but very weak on plot. There were also a few misspelled words.

I believed at the time that I would pick up the story where I left off when I went to Junior High School, but I never got any further than leaving a big imaginary hole in the ceiling of my sixth grade classroom.

The school owned a reel to reel tape recorder and there was blank tape available. A group of us kids improvised a Christmas play and recorded it scene by scene, stopping and starting the machine to listen to what we had done and then going back or going on until we reached the end. I loved improvisation and I loved telling a story using only sound.

When Mr. A told us that each of us would have an opportunity to talk about a hobby, my first thought was to talk about my stamp collection, but stamps are small and I was just getting started. I decided the thing to do, especially after one kid brought in his Iron Burtterfly album and played “In a Gadda Da Vida”, would be to share my movie posters, 8 x 10 movies stills, and lobby cards. Most kids had never seen a pressbook, so I also brought a few of them so that I could explain how movies were promoted.

I packed all this paper into a double stack of supermarket bags. Some of my most precious possessions were included. Titles dated back to The Nutty Professor and Mary Poppins from 1964. Since the bag was so heavy, and I also had a backpack and a lunchbox to deal with, I was waiting for a day that my father could pick me up at school and drive my collection home.  It was a long wait.

My collection remained in the classroom for a few weeks and Mr. A kept reminding me that I needed to take it home before something happened to it. One rainy day, I decided that I would walk to the nearby liquor store and call my father to come and pick me up. They knew me there. I had made phone calls before.

When my mother picked up, she told me that my father had gone to Sacramento for a manager’s meeting. She didn’t know when he would be home. I resigned myself to walking home in the rain with my paper-bag full of paper. I would keep my umbrella low and put my coat over the bag. It was starting to get cold and windy, but the important thing was to protect my collection.

The first mile, that took me just past the Forest Service facility, wasn’t bad. I kept my head down and sang aloud, “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”

When I got to the marquee, the weather took a turn. Thunder, lightning, and a great wind started to blow. It was a cartoon storm of Fantasia proportions that grabbed the bag out of my hands and sent paper flying around me. It was a mini tornado. I was so close, but I still had a way to go. Ditches on either side of the road were filled with water and there was no use in trying to reach any of my possessions since most were still in flight or landing beyond my reach in the mud and muck on either side of the road.

I continued my trek home in tears. I had been robbed by the sky.

The front gate was usually chained and locked. A side gate would be my final passage home. As I approached the front gate, the wind grew strong once again. I quickened my pace, my feet hardly touching the ground.  It was as if I was swimming home.

Suddenly, there was clap of thunder and a flash of light as the front gate burst open before me. I gasped.  Passing through the portal, I saw my mother coming towards me. She had been watching, waiting, and worrying. She took me in, drew me a hot bath, and brought me a cup of hot red wine that she had boiled on the stove.

After my bath, I slept. When I woke up my father gave me a few items that he had rescued for me. There wasn’t much left, but it was a kind gesture. There would be more posters, stills, and lobby cards in the future.

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15 Acres of Asphalt

Comedy of Terrors Poster

Comedy of Terrors

Westlane Auto Movie was situated between downtown Davis and West Sacramento off a strip of Interstate 80 called the Yolo Causeway. You could see the marquee from the highway.

Drive-in patrons would take the Chiles Road exit and follow the frontage road to the marquee. From there they took an access road towards the movie screen following the fence around the perimeter until they reached the gate to the box office.

The transition from Belvedere Street, in Oakland, to Chiles Road, in Davis, wasn’t easy. I was moving from Nana’s three bedroom house in the Fairfax District to a two bedroom trailer on the backside of 15 acres of asphalt.

In Oakland, I could holler to a friend from my bedroom window. Here on the drive-in, sequestered between crop fields that alternated annually between tomatoes and sugar beets, I was isolate from other kids. Yes, there would be kids using the playground located between my trailer and the Snack Bar on the weekends and there were kids at school, when school was in session, but most days my world was my mother, my father, and me.

I was told that I could bring my bike and a few books, but most of my stuff would have to be handed down to my cousins. I could keep my parakeet and my turtle, but the majority of my books, records, and toys would go to Uncle Gene and Aunt Sue’s kids.

I was able to sell my comic book collection to my cousin, Kim.  Kim and I were born a couple days apart, so there was always camaraderie between us. Admittedly, I was envious of Kim’s Disneyland memorabilia. My theme park experience was minimal. I had been to Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and Santa’s Village in Scotts Valley, but Kim had brochures showing Space Mountain and the other wonders of the Magic Kingdom, located in a faraway place called Anaheim.

DIAL H FOR HERO

DIAL H FOR HERO

When it came to comic books, I went for troubled Peter Parker (Spiderman) and Bruce Wayne (Batman) types. I was also developing an interest in a series called Dial H for Hero that started in 1966. I had five issues and considered them very special.

After selling all my Fantastic Four, Thor, and Superman to Kim, I pretty much lost interest in comics except what I read in the funny papers. About the only hold out was Mad Magazine which I enjoyed reading through High School and beyond.

My new bedroom was small. My bed, which amounted to a box spring and a mattress, sat flat on the floor. The remaining space allowed me access to the closet and drawers.  I was able to shove my father’s smallest book case into a cubby above the built in dresser to store my paperbacks.

My bedroom walls would transition from cards with silly sayings that I purchased at the stationary store to postcard size replicas of classic movie posters bought at a downtown bookstore.  I still have one of the cards. It says, “Keep Your Eye on the Ball, Your Shoulder to the Wheel, Your Nose to the Grindstone, Your Feet on the Ground.  Now – Try working from that position.”

During the Junior High years, images of Mae West, W. C. Fields, and The Marx Brothers were displayed, posters taken from albums that featured dialogue from Paramount and Universal films then owned by MCA. The albums were distributed on the DECCA label. These albums, narrated by Gary Owens of Laugh-In fame, had beautifully illustrated pop-art covers.

The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers

My final wall display would include one-sheets from 2001: A Space Oddysey, Serpico, Comedy of Terrors, and Let It Be which were first displayed in the coming attraction frames in the Snack Bar.

I finished my fifth grade curriculum at Pioneer Elementary School where the standards were much higher than Horace Mann in Oakland. Efforts were made to improve my academic skills and prepare me for the future. I wasn’t the best student. I seldom did my homework preferring to watch TV shows and movies on the big screen outside and the little screen in the living room.

I loved doing the TV Guide Crossword Puzzle with my father. I found a couple of paperback books called Trivia and More Trivial Trivia and began memorizing ephemeral information about pop culture. I began collecting comedy records and joined the The Nostalgia Book Club, later it would be called The Movie Book Club and I signed up for a subscription program with the Cadillac Press,  publishers of books like The Films of Spenser Tracy and The Films of Errol Flynn. I started collecting old radio shows on reel to reel tape and long playing records (LPs) of popular music from 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

During the summer, when I wasn’t visiting Nana in Oakland, I would try to beat the heat by reading directly beneath the swamp cooler in the hallway of the trailer or I would hideout at the Snack Bar which miraculously managed to stay cool even when it was 107 degrees outside. I would alternate between the stockroom, the projection booth, the office, and the men’s restroom.

During the wet and windy winter months, the drive-in would be closed. I was always worried that the trailer would blow over in the wind and the rain, but it never did.

Between 1966 and 1972, Westlane Auto Movie was my home.  We played first and second run features ranging from family fare to exploitation films. There were blockbusters that ran for several weeks like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and art house films like The Conformist that might appeal to the more sophisticated UC Davis students or aspiring cineastes like me.

Westlane Auto Movie began showing porno in the mid-seventies. After a few years of exposing Causeway travelers to a quick flash nudity or sex, the theater closed down in 1982 and was completely demolished in 1992.

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