Chlora goes to see a Cecil B. DeMille bible movie and sits on the front row munching popcorn. She had planned ahead like young King David, and brought her slingshot to aim at villains.
There was only one G-rated movie in town,
so that’s where they went
after brother’s birthday party was rained out.
For heaven sakes, it was one of those Bible movies
but at least it had no bug-eyed Disney princesses in it.
Chlora was a bit wary,
as she had actually read the whole Bible
and there was a lot of gratuitous violence in there,
not to mention sex.
The Bible specialized in genocides
and torture, like flagellation, but
it’d be years before
Mel Gibson would make flagellation
into a character of its own in a movie.
Why The Passion of Christ wasn’t X-rated,
nobody knows. It was enough to
make a person wish that all bibles
had been taped shut.
Today’s film would probably be
another case of over-the-topitude
with a cast of thousands, including camels.
But Chlora loved going to the movies
no matter what was on. Well, that is, within limits.
In the dark theatre you could get some suspense
in your thin little life
and feel anonymous for awhile.
Being part of an audience thickened the drama,
made it more surreal than
just watching TV at home.
The movie theatre was much better than going to the drive-in,
where you sat in your hot or cold car
with a heavy clump of metal clamped on your window,
rasping out the dialogue and film score.
Regardless of the weather, lots of cars at the drive-in
would be all steamed up inside
for some reason. Chlora would walk by them detail from “Maybe”
on her way back from the concession stand up front,
and tap on the foggy window like a waitress
and ask if they needed a Dr. Pepper or something.
One time she scared a couple
and the car roared off
with the speaker still attached to its window,
cables flapping on the car door.
Another time Chlora rapped on a fogged car window
she got a foot in the face as an answer.
But in the dark movie theatre
a sort of magic would catch ahold of her
which made the film seem better
than it really was.
Typically, Chlora had a good crap detector
but with movies her first impressions were usually wrong.
She came out of Dumbo thinking
that to be sweet you needed to be dumb.
She bawled her eyes out over Old Yeller,
declaring it the saddest film ever made.
She even got teary-eyed in
Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians.
Cruella DeVille was the supreme villain,
wearing that flappy coat made of doggie pelts.
What could possibly be meaner?
Chlora hadn’t been exposed to the Holocaust film genre yet,
with its atrocious genealogy of violence,
begotting and begetting the banality of evil.
Nor had she been subjected to war movies
that glorified battle strategy and bravery
that resulted in gory killing
and unspeakable collateral damage,
not to mention damage to your eardrums
from the theatre’s loud speakers.
All she knew about these wars was from previews
that usually showed army tanks rumbling about
and stopped short of any spoilers that’d reveal
which side was the good guys and the bad guys.
Sometimes there was no difference.
Now westerns gave a big, fat clue for bad guys
and good guys, so when a black hat appeared,
you were justified in shooting your cap pistol
at the big screen. Chlora borrowed her little brother’s holster
for such vigilante opportunities.
Most Indians were savage in the movies.
Chlora gave them the benefit of the doubt
and didn’t shoot at them, as the blame surely lay
with the screenwriters guild.
Chlora sensed that someday she’d have to
conquer her own wuss factor
and watch those war movies,
since they were based on history.
History was a good thing
to know about so you wouldn’t repeat it.
But then, was it necessary to experience
all the bad stuff
so you’d know better next time around?
How about some preventive maintenance?
How about movies about non-violence?
Would that be too boring for the box office?
Such conflict resolution might be accidentally profound,
redemptive even, when an untouched soul
was moved to take action due to empathy.
Such mysteries can’t be delivered,
not even by the art of film;
they have to happen on their own.
But for now, a prolonged childhood fit Chlora to a T,
and she’d be content to learn history from the movies.
Chlora’s parents would not allow her to see scary movies,
which was fine by her.
The brush with evil from an Ouija board experience
she had last fall was bad enough.
She had no desire to watch dinosaurs
stomping on jeeps in the jungle
or King Kong destroying Hong Kong,
or a blob of goo snarfing up innocents,
much less some creepy guy with long fingernails
coming at you with a chainsaw.
A lady next door freaked out after seeing
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds
when a little sparrow got in her house.
God’s eye may be on the sparrow, but this one
frantically flew all over the living room
hitting the windows, and the lady screamed
bloody murder out on the front lawn until
Chlora’s mom came to rescue her
from that tiny bird.
Movies can do that to people.
Then there were the R-rated movies
which meant some kind of unmentionable stuff was going on,
like one of those old cougar ladies
seducing some cute young innocent
who didn’t know what a difference cellulite could make.
At least in the dark nobody could see you blush.
Chlora had not yet attended
an R movie but she did get to see
one of those beach blanket bingo games
that featured bikinis and big hair-dos,
neither of which should ever get wet.
They needed a hokiness patrol there
more than a beach patrol.
All that hand-holding and footsie-playing
didn’t tempt her to crave boys.
All they’d do was get sand in your pants.
Besides, who’d want to kiss around
when you had a chance at making
the world’s largest sandcastle
with all that raw material on the beach?
Chlora’s big sister, who was an authority on kissing,
said that if you’re ever in a movie
and the boy sitting beside you
tries to put his arm around you,
just sit on the edge of your seat,
with your feet on the floor, like
you are totally enthralled with the big screen.
You may have to crane your neck for two hours
or more if it is a loonnnggg movie like
Gone with the Wind.
But a neck ache is totally worth it if
you don’t like that guy.
And a good tip for the drive-in when you
don’t want to fog up the car windows is to
push your contact lens out of place,
feign pain, push him away,
and take off to the restroom.
Mom drove them to the Apollo Theatre
where a line had formed to buy tickets
from a bow-tied man in the booth.
Above them, in crooked red letters,
the marquee brightly touted
“David and Goliath: Exclusive Engagement.”
Rain dripped from above even though
the storm that had closed down brother’s
birthday party had finally subsided.
Chlora shared her little frilly umbrella with her brother just to embarrass him.
Tut tut, it looks like rain! she quipped
as she pushed the Winnie the Pooh figure
up the umbrella’s stem.
Out popped ruffles and Noah’s Ark
according to Edward Hicks.
Now, Noah would make a fine Bible movie,
but imagine how many zookeepers
would be involved. Too bad movies
couldn’t replicate smells, as the inside
of that ark had to be a stench pot.
There’d be a lot of action with drowning people and doves, and then there was that scene
when Noah got drunk. Genocide, wild animals,
nakedness, family dysfunction, alcohol
and cursing, Hollywood style,
all right there for the taking.
It sprinkled on Chlora’s umbrella
and she was thankful the wind wasn’t blowing,
as the thing was really a parasol
and it was a fair weather friend.
The clouds were still omnious,
but it appeared to be a psalm before the storm.
Therefore it was fitting that the movie was about
that writer of psalms, King David.
He had been the best slingshot
in the west. Or the mid-east, that is.
Chlora liked good underdog stories and
she identified with Davy
in the David and Goliath mismatch,
so she came to the movie
prepared with her slingshot.
For once they were early enough to
visit the concession stand.
They got their requisite drink and snack
and settled in on the front row.
Sitting pretty, Chlora was jack-knifed
into the velvet seat,
her feet straight up in the air,
slingshot poised between them.
Her homemade slingshot was a fine invention.
She made it out of a Y shaped stick,
strung up with big rubber bands, and a leather shoe tongue
from her Dad’s discarded wingtips.
Even though weapons were prohibited in the theatre,
this was deemed a precautionary measure.
Somebody had to protect the world from hyperbole.
Every time the movie got corny
she shot popcorn at the screen
to warn people not to succumb to
Pop, pop, pop, pop… popcorn was popping up
everywhere, like King David did.
Here he was playing his harp
like a curly-headed angel. There he was
goofing around with his best friend Jonathan.
Those two got a little too close for comfort,
in Chlora’s humble opinion.
But it was the scene with Bathsheba
that nearly wiped out her stash of popcorn.
If it was a king playing peeping Tom,
that poor lady had no choice.
After that, Chlora was down to the bottom of the box,
having to decide between eating the prized kernels,
or propelling them through the air like burnt offerings.
She took a swig of iced-down pickle juice,
which was the specialty of the concession stand.
It was the brine that those huge green pickles floated in,
and somebody sold kids on it, telling them
it was the next best thing to wine.
She snuck a fist full of popcorn from her brother
and crammed all of it in her mouth.
Once the saliva acted upon it, the
popcorn melted down,
and she stored up the buttery mush
inside her cheeks like a squirrel.
Then she stuffed more in.
Eating popcorn could be dangerous,
as she’d heard of a kid who got a hull
stuck in his throat and died.
So she chewed her cud slowly,
like doing lectio divina,
when you slowly savor some scripture passage
and let all your senses have at it.
Where did popcorn come from?
Did it grow in fields like regular ears of corn?
If it got really hot outside would the kernels pop?
Imagine a whole cornfield
all popped up; it’d look more like a field of cotton.
And it’d smell good,
especially if the cows in the adjacent pasture
ran around so much that they made
warm butter right there on the spot.
Chlora was smack out of popcorn
and thus, out of ammunition.
Plus her lips felt sore and salty.
To go to the other end of the tastebuds spectrum,
she borrowed a stick of Juicy Fruit from a friend.
Gum smacking was one of the worst sins
she ever did, and it was something
you could get away with at the movies.
The movie was winding down.
For an extravaganza, it hadn’t been too audacious.
David got away with a lot, like adultery and murder.
That is supposed to give hope to all of us.
However, that part where he chopped off
Goliath’s giant head was flat-out gross.
Goliath was already a goner from
the ace slingshot hit right between the eyes.
Was beheading really necessary?
Boys will be boys.
At least this movie did not show the bearded old man God
slinging lightning bolts, like Neptune on a rage.
For that sort of cliché, she would need heavy ammo
in her slingshot, like Milk Duds.
No doubt they’d hit the movie screen
with a good plop,
and they’d leave a mess if you’d warmed them up
in your hands. But then you’d get that
greasy chocolate all over your pants.
This might be a good way to dispose of Milk Duds.
They weren’t Chlora’s favorite after she once
lost a filling from chewing on them.
Lightning might be trying to strike her after all,
as there was definitely the sound of thunder around.
It could be just another cannon blasting off
in the war movie next door, but then came the
clatter of hard rain.
The mesmerizing sound of the projector
suddenly got irregular
and the picture on the screen flickered.
The hero, King David,
was about to enjoy some hanky-panky
with wife Number Eight
when the film went into slow motion
and got flappy.
Then all the lights went out.
A collective groan arose
and ushers appeared with flashlights.
Can’t somebody here just invent some electricity?
They would be denied a happily-ever-after
unless the creator who hard-wired us all
deemed this worth watching.
Let there be light!
The ushers began energetically shooing
everybody out of the theatre. In the dark,
Chlora spit out her worn-out chewing gum
and fingered under her seat for a vacancy.
There was the expected mass of
hardened shame stuck under there,
knobby lumps of pink and gray
their stickiness long gone.
She hurriedly added her deposit to the
collective collage of gum,
thinking that it was quite honorable
of her to do that rather than dropping it
on the floor.
A flashlight glared at Chlora
and its usher-y voice demanded,
What is that under your seat?
Oh, thanks, it’s just my umbrella,
she said in a cheerful voice.
The audience was upset.
There would be no refunds.
Someone asked an usher how the movie ended,
did King David get his due?
The usher replied, No, but sometimes
it takes a bastard like that
to write poetry good enough to last five thousand years.
But this is unfair! Chlora lamented.
Right, he said, it IS unfair.
Life is unfair.
The majority of those psalms are complaints.
Go home and read number 88 for a starter.