Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Protovision, I Have You Now.

When Adam called me to tell me about the 25th Anniversary theatrical showings of WarGames, I spazzed a little. Growing Up Nerd in the 80s – I was 12 years old the summer the movie came out, and it was just a few weeks after Return of the Jedi, which amazes me because the films seem to embody two such different personal eras – WarGames was the perfect blend of thriller, teen angst movie and geek video-gaming coolness.

So I’m driving to the theater last night, and it’s a gorgeous Ohio late afternoon, and the sun’s golden and it’s warm and I’m shuffling an all-’80s mix in and out of the CD player to get myself in the mood. Playlist: "Heat of the Moment" by Asia; "He Can’t Love You" by the Michael Stanley Band; "Synchronicity II" by the Police; "99 Luftballons" (German version, and yeah, I know the lyrics) by Nena.

Halfway there, this funny realization: I’d had no clean undershirts yesterday morning. Knowing that my work day would include no formal meetings, I opted for a gray novelty T-shirt and a plain blue button-down, though I kept it buttoned up through the workday. Now, on the way to see WarGames, my shirt was untucked and I’d undone the top three buttons because it was warm out.

Then it hits me: I’ve unintentionally donned the default high school outfit of the 1980s. Sadly, my "Bloom County" Steve Dallas shirt is long gone.

While I’m laughing about this to myself, I pass a car sitting for sale in someone’s yard: It’s a silver Porsche 924S, and now I’m practically howling with nostalgic delight while I’m singing, "Many miles away, there’s a shadow on the door…"

I meet up with Adam, and we take the center seats in the top row of the theater. The 25th Anniversary lookback, with its interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits, is OK. The Dead Code trailer is laughable.

And then WarGames starts, and sonofabitch, I’m so far back in time I’m stunned. Not just drawn into the movie itself, but shocked at the deep nerves it’s hitting: God, I can actually remember what it was like lying awake late on summer nights like this, hearing the wind in the cornfield behind our house and wondering what the hell WOULD happen if there was a nuclear war. And it wasn’t sci-fi cool post-apocalypse stuff, it was scary and sad and lonely.

David Lightman’s onscreen obsession with video games – and how sad is it that I think I caught a flaw in his Galaga game during the movie? – and computers was echoed in my real-life addiction to our Atari and later the Timex Sinclair 1000 that I bought for ten bucks, and then the Commodore 64 I finally talked dad into. I wanted so much to program a BASIC "Joshua" that I could pretend to play WarGames with, and I still love the sound of computer keys that clack and aren’t velvet-wrapped tickings. And has there ever been a computer voice better than Joshua’s? The closest we got on our street was playing with the "You Type It Talks" cartridge on the neighbors’ Magnavox Odyssey 2 system. (Did we program it to sing "Mickey" by Toni Basil? Well, DUH.)

When WarGames hit cable, I recorded what I thought were the best lines using a boombox set in front of our television: "Goddammit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!"; "Well, that’s a load of shit! (To president) No, not you, sir.";" "Hold the door! Hold the door!" >pause while door inexorably closes< "Hold the goddamn door!" Swearing, you see, was inherently funny to a 12-year-old kid. Adam and I were pleased to find that, on this night, it still was.

Plus, you know, David Lightman, the DORK, hooked up with Jennifer the BABE, and being a guy right on the edge of teenagerdom and still wearing thick plastic glasses and sporting brown corduroys regularly, I took this as was a sign of hope, just like when Billy Joel married Christy Brinkley.

The only flaw in this screening was a failure in the satellite feed that caused about a short intermission, but given the movie’s plot, it was pretty amusing. Seeing the Microsoft Windows task bar appear on the bottom of the screen during the reboot made it even funnier.

And  yet for all the jokes during that break and for all the quiet anticipatory snickering during most of the movie, the last 20 minutes or so were as tense as they ever were, and I couldn’t blink when those white glowing dots and their cold static hum explosions started mushrooming over the world map one by one, then in clusters, then in hyperspeed fireworks followed by those amazingly perfect final few lines from Joshua echoing through a NORAD movie set in the 1980s and reaching to a theater two and a half decades later.

After we left, I got in my car and realized I wasn’t quite ready to be back home in 2008 yet. The throwback selection was a little more cheesy, but the kind that tugs a little in ways I can’t quite explain: "Shadows of the Night" by Pat Benatar; "Go Insane" by Lindsay Buckingham; "Dreaming" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark; "When You Close Your Eyes" by Night Ranger.

It was cooler out now and I had about one song’s worth of driving to go, out between the fields and woods. With the damp night air swirling through the car, I put on Don Henley’s "Boys of Summer" and sang out of tune at the top of my lungs until I got home.

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July 25, 2008 - Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, Games, geek, video games, Web/Tech

2 Comments »

  1. […] at the ceremony is David Lightman’s father – “This corn is raw!” – from WarGames.) Again, I’m incredibly relieved to hear Buffalo Springfield’s “For What […]

    Pingback by The Wonder Years: Season One, through Older Eyes « Cornfield Meet | October 17, 2011 | Reply

  2. […] quite five years ago, Adam and I went to the WarGames 25th Anniversary theatrical showing. Here’s part of what I wrote the next […]

    Pingback by This is Me in ’83 – WarGames « Cornfield Meet | June 4, 2013 | Reply


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