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August 2, 2010


Until her later years, Mom was very accepting of people, regardless of color, culture, or, as this first post makes clear, sexual orientation. The second two posts, about the Chapalita drive-in, recount stories that have happened countless times at US drive-ins. Except maybe for the .45 pistol part. 

Mom Is Propositioned
 I think back to Mom’s question and I still wonder, as I wondered then. I don’t remember being shocked or embarrassed, even though at fifteen, it was certainly easy enough to be either. Or both. We were sitting on the second floor balcony of our house late one afternoon. Mom was drinking coffee and I was enjoying toast and hot chocolate, my usual after-school snack that Irene prepared for me. Mom began talking about Helen, a woman she’d met about a year before. They had become friends, exchanged visits and sometimes went shopping. Helen was an outgoing, pleasant woman, relaxed and friendly. I always felt at ease around her. She was a little older than Mom who was thirty-eight.
In the course of our conversation Mom casually mentioned that Helen had propositioned her.
“What does that mean?” I’d never heard the term.
Mom continued in a casual vein. “She wants to make love to me. What do you think?”
I didn’t know what I thought. I had no preconceptions about whether something like this would be right or wrong, good or bad. I could barely imagine heterosexual sex, let alone sex between two women. I was also remembering my response to Mom’s question on our border trip. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.
I don’t remember what my response was but I’m sure it reflected as much nonchalance as I could muster at fifteen. It probably ran something along the lines of, “Gosh, Mom, I don’t know. What do you think?”
The conversation ended abruptly. “I don’t think I want to,” she said and got up and went downstairs. I remember feeling vaguely relieved without knowing just why.
I think back and wonder: Why would Mom confide something like that in me? And why would she want my opinion? What perspective could I bring to her decision? Innocence? Objectivity? Morality? I’m sure she wasn’t looking for approval or disapproval, permission or proscription. Did other kids’ mothers bring up these kinds of things? Did they conduct opinion polls among family members to make decisions about their sexual activities? Were there family councils with each member having a vote? Was Mom bound by the results? “The motion to allow Mom a lesbian experience carries, three to two.”
It seemed possible to me.
Auto-Cine Chapalita
SNAPSHOT: A crude ladder is propped against the whitewashed wall, the moonlight glinting off the shards of glass cemented along the top. Behind us, acres and acres of cornfields. I’m at the top of the ladder, crouched at a spot where we had cleared the shards, ready to jump down on the other side. Perico has already jumped, Ramon and Alejo are behind me.
In Spanish it was called Auto-Cine Chapalita. Americans called it simply the drive-in. It was the only one in Guadalajara, maybe the only one in the whole country – I don’t know. I saw many movies there over the years: with Mom and Val, with my Mexican friends, with my American friends. The only two I can recall, however, are “Magnificent Obsession” and the 1959 “Dracula,” starring Richard Cushing. Curious juxtaposition.
The drive-in was owned by a retired American cop named Joe Freed, father of Lisa and Toni Freed, as I’ve said, the two most beautiful girls in the American crowd. It was centrally located in Chapalita, just off the large glorieta people went to on Sundays after church.
Like Al March, father of my friend Greg, Joe Freed was a big man, over six feet tall and weighing two-hundred pounds or more. He wore glasses, giving him – in my mind, anyway – a slightly intellectual look which I found hard to reconcile with my image of him as a cop.
He was friendly and easy to get along with. Mom and Valerie and I went to the drive-in one night and as we left, Mom forgot to remove the speaker from her window and tore it right off the post. She returned it personally the next afternoon and Mr. Freed told her not to worry about it. “It happens more often than you might think,” he said, “and most folks don’t even bring the speaker back.”
The drive-in was surrounded by a high wall, maybe eight feet tall, and it was topped with the shards of broken glass that are routinely cemented in place on walls in Mexico to deter burglars and trespassers.
One day as Perico, Alejo, Ramon and I were walking aimlessly around the Colonia kicking rocks and whistling at the occasional girl we saw, Perico said “Hey, cuates, I think I know how to get us in to the movies at the drive-in for free.” We were all ears.
“First, we have to get a ladder tall enough to reach the top of the wall.
Then we’ll clear off the glass at the top. After that, we can use the ladder to get in whenever we want. And no one’ll see us because of all the milpa behind the drive-in.” It didn’t occur to us that all those corn stalks would be harvested at some point, leaving us visible and vulnerable.
It sounded like the perfect plan to us. And Perico was right, the acres of cornfields behind the drive-in meant that we could carry out the plan unobserved. We were ecstatic. Never again would we have to pay the eight pesos (sixty-four cents U.S.) to get in! But where would we get a ladder?
“Leave it to me. I know just where to get one.” We generally left everything to Perico. “You know the house under construction next to Mela’s house on Avenida Guadalupe?” We nodded. “Well there’s a bunch of ladders there. Let’s meet there early Sunday morning and we’ll grab one and take it to the drive-in before anyone is around.”
“But that’s stealing,” I objected.
“It’s a fucking ladder, man, not a diamond ring. They make ‘em from scrap lumber. We take one, they make one, that’s all. Takes ‘em ten minutes.”
“How early is early?” was my next objection, stated as a question. “I’m not even up until around ten.”
“Oh, sure, that’s just fine, David. And while we’re on our way to the drive-in carrying the ladder we stole, passing all the people on their way to church we can just say, ‘¡Buenos dias, Sra. Orozco! The ladder? Oh, we stole it from down the street so we can sneak into the drive-in over the back wall.”
So it was decided. We’d meet at the house under construction at eight o’clock Sunday morning, filch the ladder and carry out our plan before anyone was around.
SNAPSHOT: A gray, deserted morning and four boys with studied, casual looks are carrying an eight-foot ladder alongside the wall of the drive-in.
And it worked. By eight-thirty we were behind the drive-in with our ladder propped against the wall. Perico had brought a hammer from home to pulverize the glass shards. We looked at him expectantly.
“What, I have to do everything?” he snorted. “Not a chance. I planned this, I brought the hammer, now you do something.”
Now we looked at each other expectantly. “Who’s going to do the glass?” Ramon asked. He looked at me and I looked at Alejo. Alejo looked at Ramon.
Even though there was probably no one around in the drive-in, none of us wanted to risk being seen. If someone did see us, whoever was on the ladder would be the most likely to get caught.
“OK, ninos,” Perico said, affecting a tone like he was, indeed, talking to little boys. “Put your fists in and we’ll do tin-marin.”
The three of us formed a little circle with our fists in the center and Perico begin the Spanish equivalent of eeny-meeny-miney-mo, hitting each of our fists in turn: “Tin marin, dedo pingue, cucara macara, titere fue.” On fue, Perico struck his brother’s fist and Alejo was out. Now it was me or Ramon. Once again, “Tin marin, dedo pingue, cucara macara, titere fue.” This time Ramon was out and I was the chosen one.
Perico looked at me. “OK, David, it’s you. Ramon, you head to the far corner of the wall and keep a lookout. Alejandro, go back the way we came and keep a lookout there.”
As Ramon and Alejandro trotted off in their assigned directions I looked at the ladder. It did, indeed, look like a “ten-minute” piece of equipment. Mismatched pieces of scrap wood had been hastily hammered together and as I stepped on the first rung, the ladder groaned. But, no backing down now, not from the ladder and not from the plan. Loose rung by loose rung and step-by-tentative-step I was almost at the top when Perico called up to me.
¡Oye, David! You gonna knock out the glass with your hands?”
Damn! The hammer! Damn the hammer, I thought. “Throw it up to me, man.” I didn’t want to go down and up the ladder again.
“OK, and if it goes over the wall, you go and get it.”
I made my way back down, got the hammer, went back up and peeked over the wall. No one was stirring in the drive-in. Hammering off the glass was a simple affair, took me maybe three or four minutes to clear a four foot section along the wall. Once down again, we put the ladder on the ground and covered it loosely with dirt and weeds. Perico hailed Ramon to come back, we turned and picked up Alejandro and made our way to the glorieta. We sat there for a while, smug with our cleverness.
SNAPSHOT: The same four boys with the same studied, casual looks are making their way through the darkness and across the soft dirt to the last row of speaker posts.
Mr. Freed must have been aware of the many times we sneaked in to the drive-in. He may even have known about the ladder and that the soft dirt and fifty feet of darkness before reaching the first row of speakers (the last row in the drive-in) would make it difficult to detect us. On occasion, just to keep us on our toes, Mr. Freed demanded to see our tickets and when we couldn’t produce them he told us to leave, which we always did without protest. For one thing, we thought of our regular illicit entries as a kind of game and we recognized that sometimes he won. For another, Mr. Freed, as I mentioned, was a big man. None of us wanted to force the issue. I also think his theater must have been doing reasonably well or he wouldn’t have tolerated the loss of ticket revenue. And, of course, we spent money on hot dogs, popcorn and sodas, even on those times when we had jumped the wall. Since that’s where theaters make their money anyway, it probably wasn’t a total loss for him.
            There was a man who worked at the drive-in, a kind of jack-of-all-trades: maintenance, repairs, projectionist, filling in at the ticket booth or concession stand, doing anything else that was needed. He lived with his wife and daughter in small quarters behind the screen. His daughter, Anita, was fifteen, she was beautiful and she was built like a brick shithouse, one of the witty phrases we American boys used to talk about girls with great bodies. Even better, Anita liked me.
I went to the drive-in as often as I could get the money and the car. I pulled into the same space each time so Anita would know where to find me and then I waited. When it was dark enough and her duties at the concession stand were over she would come and get in the car.
We spent many sessions passionately making out, steaming up the windows, occasionally wrestling in the back seat. (Me: “Si! Si! Si!” Her: “No! No! No!” No, no, no always beat out si, si, si.) Anita was scared to death that a) someone would tell her father where she was and what she was doing or, worse, b) he’d find her in the car with me. Girls and young women were never, but never, allowed alone in the company of boys or young men. It just wasn’t done, not if a girl wanted to retain her reputation and the family avoid being embarrassed and the subject of much gossip. There was always a chaperone, be it a parent, a grandparent or a sibling, older or younger. And this custom was in force across all social classes. There was no question Anita’s father would beat her and probably do worse to me if he were to discover us. This was brought home to me forcefully one afternoon.
It had been quite a while since I’d been to the drive-in because Mom kept denying me use of the car, probably due to my grades or my continued smoking or other misdemeanors. I could jump the wall, of course but, for obvious reasons, Anita wouldn’t sit with me on the concessions patio. She wouldn’t sit and make out with me, anyway, and that’s what I was interested in. I had to go in the car.
One summer afternoon I decided to walk over to the drive-in and see if I could find her there. Maybe she’d be getting things ready in the concession stand and we could at least talk.
SNAPSHOT: It’s a bright summer afternoon and that’s me in the distance. I’m walking past row after row of speaker posts, a flotilla of mini-masts rising up in strict formation from the crests of the blacktop billows. The deserted ticket booth is there on the left
I walked directly over to the concession stand. Anita wasn’t there but Mr. Freed was.
“Hi, Mr. Freed, have you seen Anita?”
He looked at me. “I think she’s at home, Dave. Why don’t you go on over and see?”
“Where’s her Dad?” I asked, feeling both nervous and hopeful.
“Oh, I don’t think he’s around right now. Go on over. You’ll find her there.” And he went on with his preparations.
Buoyed up by this apparent good news my pace quickened as I walked the hundred yards or so to the deserted children’s play area, skirted the screen, turned right, went up the steps of the little house and knocked on the door. Her father opened it.
“Did you want to see Anita?” he asked pleasantly enough, and before I could say a word he went on, in the same pleasant tone of voice. “Just a minute.”
I didn’t have long to wait even that long. In a matter of seconds he was back and even if the look on his face couldn’t kill, the big old .45 he was holding in his hand would have served the purpose just fine. “You see this?” He waved the pistol at me, his quiet voice gripping me like ice. “You see this?” he repeated. “It’s my friend and my protector. It protects me and my wife and my daughter. If I ever catch you around here again, or anywhere near Anita I’ll blow your fucking head off! Do we understand each other?”
We did. Gulping a couple of times, I turned and walked away, feeling so lightheaded I thought I was going to pitch face-forward into the dirt. I continued in a daze down the car exit lane. About halfway I heard Mr. Freed call out, “Hey, Dave!” he grinned, “How’d it go? Did you get to see Anita?” All I could manage was a feeble wave.
I never saw Anita again. And now, all these years later: I wonder. Did her father suspect that we’d been seeing each other? Was there collusion between Mr. Freed and her father? Joe must have known that her father was home when he sent me there. Could he have used the walkie-talkie I knew they both had to alert Anita’s father? And then there was Ed’s “gotcha” grin on the way out . . .

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 4:16 pm

    >Two quick notes -1 – Your mom depended on you direction and opinion more than she let on to you2 – Great drive-in adventure. Never had any mad dads pull a gun on me, but I do remember some pretty questioning mothers when I was in high school…Batain Claptic

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