We are All Nothing Wrong With Us: Parkland Theater circa 1984

April 14, 2009

It was a Friday night, late springtime–a clear and warm evening. The lights at the box office just below the marquee made the star-pinpricked darkness look that much darker.

We were in a parking lot in the back of the theater, a space so vast that even during the Parkland Theater’s peak times it never completely filled up. In faint glow of the overhead lamps you could see teenagers loitering; cranking Priest, surreptitiously sneaking sips of vitamin R, making out, or just fidgeting and waiting for the previous showing’s audience to hemorrhage out of the multiple exits.

The four of us–me, my brother John, our puppy-eyed buddy Bobby, and sloe-eyed lanky Dug–sat in Bob’s hatchback drinking, cutting up, and getting high. We laughed and joked about the fuzzy blue dice dangling from the black plastic-encased rearview mirror. And everyone made fun of me because the movie was gonna start soon, and I would NOT be late, dammit. Miss a minute of Sho Kosugi flattening all comers in Revenge of the Ninja? Screw that.

The four of us stumbled out of the car and headed over to wait in line. It was a pretty crowded night, Friday was, and throngs of bored kids our age milled with grown-ups of varying stripes to kill a few hours in a darkened theater.

John’s hair was bleached-blonde and close-cropped at the sides: He looked tough and new-wave cool with his home-cut fade and grey trenchcoat enveloping his beefy frame. The rest of us wore regulation T-shirt and jeans, though my tee (David Bowie) sat several shades cooler than the Camaro-rock cotton that adorned most of the other paying customers. Dug framed his Van Halen with flannel. A right lot of anonymous misfits, we were.

So we stood, waiting for the 7:15pm assemblage to leave, and for our 9:40pm Posse to shuffle its way to the box office and into the lobby. Just in front of us was a tall (taller than me, anyway), olive-skinned guy about my age–sixteen or so. He looked Hispanic or mulatto, with an unruly-but-conservatively-cut mass of curly black hair and a ready cherub’s smile and laugh. He looked really, really familiar to me, and somewhere in my liquor-sodden head it occurred to me who he was.

“I know that guy,” I said, pointing to the curly-haired kid just beyond earshot.

“Yeah, whatever, Ass,” my brother deadpanned. No one else in my ranks knew–or cared about–this guy’s identity. He may as well have been from Jupiter. But this kid was, beyond a doubt, a figure from my past.

John momentarily distracted me by unleashing his favorite torture du jour, the Spot Torch (encircling some poor unfortunate’s wrists with your hands and twisting each hand in rapid succession until rope-burn-style chafing ensued) on my right arm. I swatted him away like some feyer-than-I-wanted-to-be Fourth Stooge. We surely looked mighty impressive to the Farrah-haired hotties behind us.

But I could not be shaken. I resolved to talk to this enigma of a cherub ahead  of us. He was an old friend–he just didn’t remember yet. But I did.

“Don?” I slurred out. John, Dug, and Bob–not exactly champions of social interaction in the most ideal of scenarios–all turned pale and shrunk back.

Don looked at me quizzically. “Do I know you?” he queried.

“Remember me? We were in second grade together!” I blurted out with joy. He stared at me, a bit leery but transfixed.

“Your best friend’s name was Rocky, and you made up the funniest lyrics about Miss Mousie’s Jelly Rolls when we sang ‘Froggy Went a’ Courtin” in Mrs. Moore’s class…”

I didn’t sound terrifically coherent, of course, but seeing Don’s distinctive features had unleashed a torrent of grade-school memories.  The funniest look crept up on his face. He was remembering, too.

One of his friends, obviously amused, jumped in. “Yeah, this is Don, man!” and Don’s expression swirled between the dusted-away and not-entirely-unwelcome tinge of nostalgia, and the sledgehammer blow of embarrassment. The cherub smile which was so unchanged over ten years got more forced: He was dressed to the prep-nines in a salmon polo shirt, and his yuppie friends were obviously enjoying a few chuckles at his expense.

After I regaled him and his friends with my account of Rocky’s sixth birthday party (during which Don boasted of his ability to eat twenty hot dogs, then proceeded to stuff himself to gut-lurching vomitous fullness), I sensed that my old elementary-school buddy no longer found enjoyment in my reminiscinces. I cut it short with a “Good to see you again, man.” He smiled, feeble but courteous, and said, “Yeah, you too. See ya.”

Don and his friends paid their admission and headed to the north side of the theater. John, Bob, Dug and I paid our two bits and entered on the south side. And that was the last I saw of Don, Hot-Dog Eater and Grade-School Bon Vivant Extraordinaire.

We are all nothing wrong with us.


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