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Home » Life So Far » And She Hadn’t Even Seen the Movie.

And She Hadn’t Even Seen the Movie.

Our family business was moving.

Or more specifically, we were getting kicked out of the two storefronts we were renting in The Marketplace, one for our flower shop, Rainbows, and the other for our ice cream parlor next door, so that Guardian National Bank could take over the spaces. We also closed our photomat kiosk just outside the flower shop, but that was more due to the one-hour photo business taking most of our business.

But the owners of the shopping center loved Rainbows. Pop was rough around the edges, but the flower shop had already made a name for itself in the few years it had been there. Before Guardian National moved in, the landlords offered my parents a sweet corner spot on the other side of the center. 

Because more of The Marketplace was visible at all times from the shop’s new location, I was instantly allowed more freedom, with more of the center to explore. Even better, Rainbows was now right around the corner from a Waldenbooks — a place I could go whenever I wanted without asking permission. The best part of all? Waldenbooks stocked everything that Stephen King had ever written. 

I had read everything in his catalog except for Danse Macabre, including the Bachman Books, by the time I was twelve. My love affair with Uncle Stevie didn’t stay secret for long. But I wasn’t in trouble for reading him. My parents seemed proud and impressed. Stephen King stories became something else that me and Mom could talk about. His books were a wonderland, full of things I didn’t yet understand but was constantly trying to figure out. The people felt real, and being in their heads was like eavesdropping on their thoughts. The writing had so much more immediacy than The Hobbit

And all of those dirty words. 

I already knew the hall of famers like fuck and shit. Pop bounced those words around like ping pong balls all the time, often while yelling at Mom. But King taught me new gems like whore and cunt. I not only read the word cocksucker for the first time in a Stephen King book, I learned what cock sucking was. 

It all started with The Talisman. Somewhere in the first few chapters, Jack is referred to as Penis Breath. I knew what a penis was, and that insult felt so lived-in to me. Like something a kid would really say to another kid. I believed King when he wrote something, captivated by his characters because of the language they used. 

I only read Christine once, thirty-eight years ago, but I still remember when the main character (I don’t remember his name) is checking out the Plymouth Fury from its original owner, who says something about the smell of a brand new car before adding: That’s just about the finest smell in the world, except maybe for pussy.

So, pussy had a smell, and it might be the finest in the world. Life lessons like that kept me reading King like a fiend. He was my pipeline to understanding the grownup world. Considering my general level of inquisitiveness, that was something I needed, seeing as there was such a serious disconnect between the stories I was allowed to read and the stories I was allowed to see. I was given the freedom to roam around the literary worlds of Stephen King, but my cinematic experiences were restricted to the borders of Steven Spielberg. 

At Waldenbooks, I could pick any book from the shelf that I wanted, then go to a corner and immediately start reading it. My incessant hunt for grownup stories started with King, but the employees at Waldenbooks were always my allies, leading me to books they thought I would enjoy, and never whispering a word to me or anyone else when they saw me reading something that I maybe shouldn’t have. Like Blanche Knott’s Truly Tasteless Jokes series. Approximately 47% of those punchlines were about sex, so I learned even more about the ins and outs of life from Blanche than I did from King. 

Home was the opposite. We had a cabinet full of videos, but most were verboten. More than a hundred channels on our TV, but only a few that Megan or I were allowed to watch. 

We had both cable and VHS before we could really afford it. Pop was the pioneer responsible for all the tapes in our collection (until Mom commandeered that job hardcore), while Mom decided sometime in the early 80s that she would rather die than live without cable. 

In the Marketplace, right around the corner from the original Rainbows location, there was a magical shop called The Video Place. Blockbuster’s massive boot heel would eventually smash this place from existence, but back when it was still brand-new, The Video Place was a paradise. 

I loved browsing the aisles and could never go enough times. I loved the New Releases, housed in a glass case by the register, the Classics shelved behind the counter, and the entire catalog spread out across the store, from Disney titles to Fritz the Cat, a cartoon I was dying to see on account of it being rated X, and right there in plain sight. What did an X-rated cartoon look like?, I asked myself every single time. 

From a very early age, profanity and violence were perfectly acceptable in my household. But nudity has never been okay with my mother. Die Hard is an ultimate example. I was twelve when that movie came out. It had cursing and killing, start to finish, but the objectionable scene for my mother is the two seconds of boob when canoodling gets interrupted by Gruber and his goons raiding the Nakatomi party. 

Before I ever experienced the magic of The Video Place for myself, Pop brought home a brown paper bag packed with enchantment. I felt the fascination become a part of me as he pulled that first video tape from the bag. I don’t remember if Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first movie Pop showed us, but it was for sure one of the original ten, and the one that inspires this memory. 

VHS tapes were unreasonably expensive at the time, $80-$100 for a first-run movie, in 1980s dollars. And we were a few years off of food stamps. The Video Place sold used videos: one for $50, three for $60, or 10 for $100. Pop started buying batches of ten at a time in 1983, adding to our collection until Target started selling new movies for the same price and Mom assumed the duty of building the collection. 

Our video library took a hit about a year later, when we first got cable. Two workers from OnTV were there to install a future with over a hundred channels, including Disney. Mom took the day off of work to take the appointment. Chatty Cathy that she is, she went on and on about how excited she was to finally be getting cable, telling these nice young gentleman all about how much she and her husband loved movies, and how it was wonderful that after working all day, every day, they could finally come home and watch a movie in front of the couch. Cable was a wonderful addition to all the videos they had been collecting. 

Translation: Our house is empty all day and we have thousands of dollars worth of movies in that cabinet over there.

Within a week our house was broken into during the day, and our video library was gone. But my relationship with movies continued to evolve in the theater. I still remember the day our parents took me and Megan to the most epic double feature of our lives. Still to this day, it has not been bested: The Explorers followed by Back to the Future

That was, by far, the best movie experience of my life so far. I had seen The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., and Return of the Jedi in the theaters, but at eight years old, I was already a different kid and felt the magic of cinema in my marrow while watching Marty and Doc Brown doing everything in their power to get Back to the Future. I couldn’t wait to tell Miss Lia about it. She was the newest teacher at McKinney, young, and the kind of pretty that I had learned from movies and TV was also supposed to mean nice

We had a field trip to the Belmont Pool that day. I should have taken my cue when Miss Lia started talking about the sinners who referred to a section of the nearby bay as Horny Corners, but I started babbling on about Back to the Future and how I couldn’t wait to see it again. 

Miss Lia was far from impressed by my taste in film, appalled by my affection for that specific movie, and disgusted by my parents for taking me to the theater where we could all sin in public. Miss Lia used a lot of phrases I had never heard before. Like “promotion of witchcraft and sorcery” and “incest.” Uncle Stevie might have dropped that one before, but if so, I had missed it. 

She went on and on as we walked in the sand, explaining that a movie glorifying disobedience with coarse language and inappropriate behavior was the wrong direction for me. 

Miss Lia didn’t change how I felt about Back to the Future in the slightest bit, but her perspective definitely shifted the way I felt about her. This wasn’t my initial realization that adults could be profoundly mistaken, but it was a memorable one that reinforced resolve to forge trust my own judgment, despite the wisdom of my elders. 

She hadn’t even seen the movie.