Elmhurst, Queens, Winter 1968
I was sitting in a front row balcony seat with my feet up on the railing; smoking a cigarette. Kool extra longs. It’s what my older brother Dave smoked. It would be my brand, as well. I was fourteen.
I played hooky that day and decided to go see The Graduate at the Elmwood Theatre on Queens Blvd: a short walk from the house in which we lived. The Elmwood was built in 1928 as a vaudeville and movie house. It was called the Queensboro Theatre back then.
The Graduate was the first sexy adult movie I had seen. I had seen a lot of hooky-playing adult flicks in 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, In Cold Blood, Cool Hand Luke, In the Heat of the Night, and let’s throw in To Sir, With Love to satisfy my Brit fix. It was a great year for movies.
But the Graduate would be the first movie to grab hold of my adolescence and have me pay close attention. It was an education. So I didn’t feel that bad about cutting school. I was being educated by Mike Nichols, and my smoking in class was a bonus. Putting my feet on the railing was like telling the world to go fuck itself; you nuns have no say over me now.
Angry young man nodding in agreement as Benjamin battles the adult world. Light up another Kool, kid, and settle in for the ride. I was fourteen and hadn’t so much as kissed a girl, or held a job yet. But I felt every awkward Benjamin moment. Became aroused at the thought of seduction. Enraged at the status quo adult world with their martinis and plastics. It felt like a coming-out party. The sort of feeling I had when I first heard the Beatles in 1964. This is my world now. You can keep your Frankie and Annette Beach Blanket Bingo movies. I got it from here.
I remember leaving the movie theater feeling cooler than I did when I walked in. It would still be a while before I did any girl kissing, or found my way in the world. But, hey, I didn’t have me a Mrs. Robinson to strike a match and light my fire. Believe me, I looked. Unfortunately, the women in my neighborhood were more the Edith Bunker set. There was to be no seducing of my innocence.
I didn’t come from a bookish family. Movies and music were all I had, and I never complained. Our Lady of Good Counsel catholic school wasn’t stocking up on the Henry Miller’s just yet, and the only thing I remember reading in school – and only because I had to hold it to memory for a recital – was The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. I can’t even remember if I was costumed for this. If I was, the humiliation of it all probably blinded me to the fact that it happened in the first place.
You can’t smoke in a movie theater anymore, but you can damn well put your feet up on the balcony railing. Unless, of course, you get yelled at by the big lug sitting behind. Go to a matinee. It’s quieter.
Picture courtesy of Wiki Commons