Monday, April 25, 2011

Part 13: Leaving for California...the first time....

No matter how I looked at it, my life had become an extended countdown.

Countdown to graduation, countdown to leaving for California, countdown to starting classes at CalArts.

It was equal parts frightening and exciting and there was no stopping it.  The plan was that toward the end of August, my brother and I would drive from New Orleans to Los Angeles in my car, a 1974 GTO that I had bought from a friend for $1500.  Once I was at school, he would spend a few days with a family friend that lived in Palmdale, CA and then would fly back to New Orleans.

Ah, yes...the GTO..Mine had "The Lizard King" painted across the back of it.
But there was another countdown...and that was the opening of the sequel to STAR WARS, entitled THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

After three years, the highly anticipated sequel was preceded by a novelization (which, of course I read because I couldn't wait) and the Soundtrack album that had photos from the movie inside.  My head reeled from what I was reading and seeing: Walkers, Taun-tauns, snow speeders, and YODA!  I couldn't get in line fast enough for this film and so...we did....

Perhaps one of my friends reading this can remind me whether THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK opened before we graduated or after, but it doesn't matter.  We arrived, once again, at the Lakeside Cinema but this time in our own cars and early in the day to stand in line.  In fact, I think we were the first to show up.  Standing and waiting in line, had been standard practice for years.  Many of us stood in long lines for ROCKY 2, ALIEN, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, as well as STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.
However, the sequel to STAR WARS demanded that we forget any obligations to school or work and get to the theater early and get in line.

Again, the details are fuzzy, but I know we were HOURS earlier than the opening of the box office, and, because technically we were High School students, and some of us technically were over eighteen, we began drinking while we waited.  By the time the box office opened, some (if not all of us) were sufficiently buzzed.  However, as the STAR WARS logo exploded onto the screen, and the famous three paragraph crawl began to roll into outer space, I think we were all sober.

As Luke, with his artificial hand, Leia, and the droids watched Lando and Chewbacca leave the rebel fleet at the end of the film, the entire audience cheered.  We all loved it.  But when all of the electricity faded, and I was at home talking with Tracy about the film over the phone (she wasn't allowed to skip school to see it), I began to feel a bit flat about it.  True, there were some INCREDIBLE sequences: Hoth and the Walkers, the asteroid field escape, and Yoda (although he did sound a BIT like Fozzie Bear to me), but other parts like the Cloud City and the "I am your father" scenes didn't ring true for me. STAR WARS had seemed so...genuine...and this felt forced some how. And I knew that it would be another two years or so before we found out what was going to happen to Han Solo and Boba Fett, the bounty hunter.

I realized something else.  Now, I'm willing to give this the benefit of many doubts: Maybe I was a bit too old.  Maybe I knew I was leaving for college in a few months.  Maybe I was saving my money for things like car insurance, gas, and dating.  But no matter what the reason, I didn't run out and buy every EMPIRE STRIKES BACK magazine, etc. that came out the way I did with STAR WARS.  Something was different, but only I seemed to notice, or care.

I think I only saw EMPIRE two more times in the theater....20 viewings less than STAR WARS and easily 5 viewings less than CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.

Jaded with franchise, you have become.
Meanwhile, my father had "decided" that I wasn't leaving for college in California.  Not that he had any influence by this point.  Since my mother had already written the check, and all of the paperwork had been sent in, I don't see how there was any alternative BUT for me to leave in August.  Oh well...

As the summer wore on, I tried to see Tracy and spend as much time as I could with her.  I think that her parents, sensing how difficult the separation would be to their daughter, did whatever they could to cool things off between Tracy and I but that just wasn't going to happen.

Decades later, on a film set, a woman asked me and two other happily married men when we realized that our wives were "the one."  We all answered similarly:  We knew when we met them.  Right from the start.  I knew that I would end up married to Tracy Fletcher, but there would be some tough years ahead of us.

Time moved differently in those days and the Summer of 1980 seemed like the Endless Summer of Beach Boys fame but the departure date drew near and I made plans for the trek across the country.

Two days before we left, I met my friend Jeff at a theater on the East Bank to catch one last film: PLANET OF DINOSAURS which was part of a double bill with GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND.  We arrived to an empty theater and took our seats.  The theater was odd because it had been split in half horizontally so now the balcony seats were one theater and the main floor was another.  Because we were upstairs we looked down on a theater screen that looked like it had been pegged with soft drinks and candy.

We weren't surprised when the film started.  We had seen enough photos in CINEFANTASTIQUE magazine to know what we were in for and it delivered!  For the time, there were PLENTY of Stop Motion dinosaurs by Doug Beswick, Steve Czerkas, and Jim Apperle, on the other hand there was a deficit of story and acting.  About a third of the way into the film, two gentlemen appeared a few rows behind us lofting a huge portable stereo that they propped on the seats between them.  Soon, all we could hear was the blaring of their music, but it didn't matter.  We weren't there for the electronic score of the film.

He couldn't eat the cast fast enough for us!
Another stop before my adventure was to say good bye to my father who was still laboring under the delusion that I had just made all of this up, or it was a fever dream, or he had been drunk and misheard what I had told him.  I showed up on the front door of his apartment and explained that Scott and I would be leaving the next day.  He acted like it was the first time anyone had told him anything.  I remember him tearing up and hastily taking what little money he had in his wallet and crumpling it into my hand.  "God speed, son." was what he offered as he closed the door.

The last stop was Tracy's house and it was very emotional (so emotional that I'm having difficulty reliving it now).  A lot of promises were made: writing letters, phone calls, etc. Finally it was time to say good bye and I drove away, feeling sad, but knowing that somehow this was all going to work out.

Scott, who now lived in his own apartment, stayed over that night.  We had dinner with my mother and sister and packed the car for an early departure the next day.  My sister, channeling my father's feelings clung to my leg and sang the K.C. (of the Sunshine Band fame) "Don't go."

The next morning, Scott and I got up early, said good bye to our bleary mother and left.  My destiny in California awaited!


1 comment:

  1. Another great entry! I can't believe you remember so vividly going to see PLANET OF DINOSAURS. LOL. It was at the Loew's State on Canal Street downtown, right? That place was such a dump. :D Those Lakeside Cinema pilgrimages were quite a ritual for us, as they always seemed to get all the best major films exclusively in town. We'd also go to the Pitt a lot to see revivals (I remember they even modified their projection system to show a rare engagement of "Suspiria" in true quadrophonic mag stereo for a week - that thing was LOUD!), and all those midnight movies at the Robert E. Lee and Aurora. Always booze in the car for the journey, of course. ;) Fun youthful days, yes.