When I was little, I remember hearing the older kids on the school bus talk one day about a movie they’d seen on TV the night before: The Car.
Specifically, they were talking about the ending – which I’m going to reveal here, so consider this the pressing of the Big Red Spoiler Alert Button.
So, one of the kids was recalling the destruction of the murderous, driverless sedan of the title, describing it succinctly as “that big explosion where you could see the Devil’s face in the smoke.”
That’s all he said, but to my young ears, it was enough, and it sounded so creepy and cool.
For years, I had a picture in my head of what it must have looked like.
When I got older, the images that the Weekly World News used to publish of Satan’s visage appearing in clouds of disaster –
– matched almost exactly the mental pictures I had painted of The Car’s fiery demise.
Recently, The Car became available on Netflix instant-watch, and I was excited to have the chance to finally take a look at the scene which had so amazed the older kids at the bus stop. (I was not excited enough, mind you, to commit a full 96 minutes of my life to watching the entire movie, so yes, I skipped to the end.)
And what I saw bore practically no resemblance to what I’d pictured.
First, what seems to be sharp-clawed hand/paw/foot thing emerges from the flames:
… and then a face that looks more like a Chinese dragon costume than the devil himself:
I have to admit: It was actually a subtler effect than I expected, though that subtlety is offset by the fact that the explosion seems to sustain itself for a full five minutes. Watching James Brolin and the gang cower on ground as the flames consume the sky is a little reminiscent of the Austin Powers steamroller scene.
My extended family has played “Oh, Hell” at big holiday gatherings since I was little. A boxed version of the game – which came with plastic holders that I used for card-house construction – was kept in a cabinet in my grandma’s living room.
Sometime over the past year, my brother Adam proposed the creation of an annual holiday Oh Heck (which is what my grandma – who has always downplayed her skill at the game while regularly racking up victories – has called it for years) tournament and trophy.
We held the inaugural competition this Thanksgiving at my mom’s house. Format: A two-round contest, the first open to all entrants, the second consisting of the championship round between the five top scorers of the first round. Each year’s champion will receive an automatic bye into the next year’s championship round.
Trophies: To the winner, a small glass bowl with “Booth” engraved on it, and about which nobody in the family knows anything. To the competitor who, in either round, completes the most consecutive successful bids, a weird little brown glass vase with an orange string around it that Adam bought at the flea market for just this very purpose.
Our family is always good-naturedly competitive about Oh Heck, and my utterly terrible track record is legendary.
Which is why nobody was more surprised than I was yesterday when the dust settled after the Thanksgiving Day nine-person competition:
Mind you: Nobody in the family can recall me winning a game of Oh, Heck.
Winning the first playoff round was by itself a shock.
Never winning another game is fine by me: My Sharpie-inscribed name occupies the first spot on the Grandma Joan Booth Schoenberger Oh Heck Trophy Cup of Awesomeness (I just named it that. Just now. Try and change it.). This win’s for her, and as such, the trophy will spend the next year or so in the esteemed company of my favorite Shazam glass.
Over at GeekDad I reviewed the DVD set of the amazing Sixth Series of Doctor Who, from “The Impossible Astronaut” to “The Wedding of River Song” and a ton of extras to boot.
And if that alone isn’t enough to encourage you to click over and read it, how about this: GeekDad has three sets of the series to give away to lucky readers – so seriously, if you’re a Doctor Who fan, or you know someone who’s a Doctor Who fan, and you want a chance to maybe get a very cool present for someone (or yourself!), click through and register for the drawing: You have until 11:59 p.m. EST, Monday Nov. 28, but you’re online now, so why wait?
Seven months passed between the end of The Wonder Years‘ first season on April 19, 1988, and Season Two’s first episode – “The Heart of Darkness” – which aired November 30 of that year. In teenage time-passage perception terms, this felt like a long time, spanning as it did the end of my junior year of high school, the subsequent summer, the start of my senior year, and my 18th birthday.
It was a pretty dynamic and busy and fun time, so I guess it’s not surprising that in the years since, I’ve always felt like this episode was further along in the series.
Season Two is also the last Wonder Years season stamped with the intangible associations of being at home in the house where I grew up.
I mostly watched these episodes from our living room couch, or one of the chairs, or while reclined on the floor, propping my head up with a throw pillow. (Digression: Is there a physiological reason that kids lying on the floor watch TV from their stomachs, while as you get older, you flip over to your back?) Mom and dad are probably there. My two younger brothers are most likely getting ready for bed. The curtain covering the sliding glass door to our back porch is closed for the night. These are episodes where commercial time still meant it was time for a quick trip to the refrigerator or the bathroom, and they air early enough in the evening that I’m likely to stay up doing my homework afterward.
I also associate these episodes with my senior-year English teacher, Mr. Hoffman. I don’t remember the specific reference he made, but I do recall him asking one day in class if anyone had watched The Wonder Years the previous night, and mentioning that he liked the show. (Adam may be able to help me out on this one. Adam?)
There are 17 episodes in Season Two, which makes sense, since the combined total with season one makes for a standard-length 23-episode season.
So: “The Heart of Darkness.”
This episode stood out in my mind for a long time, most likely because it seems like I never caught it in syndicated broadcast, and I’m not entirely certain I saw it more than once or twice (assuming they re-ran it back in the eighties) until within the past few years, when on TV showed it. I have sometimes wondered – in particular, when ABC Family was airing the series during the day – if it was due to the show’s content.
Because this is The Episode Where Kevin and Paul Smoke Cigarettes and Drink Beer.
My mom did not like this episode and specifically said she didn’t want my brothers – who would have been in late elementary school – watching it.
The episode begins with the first of several dream sequences playing on Kevin’s typical junior high anxiety and including a great soundtrack use of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Back in the real world, Kevin’s still kind of smarting from the whole Winnie/Kirk McCrae thing, and the fact that she’s suddenly hanging out with the popular kids isn’t helping. Kevin reacts by snubbing her in the hallway and then throwing his lot in with a detention-hall regular – Gary Cosey, played by Breckin Meyer. A couple forged parental signatures here, a couple lies to moms there, and Kevin and Paul (peer-pressured along for the ride) find themselves “partying” with Gary out in the woods at night.
Of course, when Kevin and Paul bring stuff like marshmallows to the campfire, they’re stunned to find their fellow seventh-grader there with his stash of smokes and beer.
It’s clear that Kevin and Paul are hardly partaking of the alcohol and tobacco – although Paul seems to drink of the beer a little more deeply than Kevin, who barely touches the stuff to his lips, it’s also apparent that his subsequent goofiness is an effort to fit in, and he’s not really feeling any intoxicating effects. The scene is played for some laughs – as adult Kevin narrates the moment where Paul is deciding what to do with the beer in his hand, he urges his younger friend to be the level-headed one and Just Say No, only to see Paul heartily knock the can back for a swig – but it’s also fittingly uncomfortable. There’s talk of girls and girlfriends and their “honkers” (context: not noses) or the lack thereof, and the possibility of reaching second base.
Gary winds up talking Kevin and Paul into exploring a nearby “cave,” which turns out to be a storm sewer, and then turns into a full-on jackass, trying to scare the guys with tales of dead bodies and going into an obnoxious fit of ghostly moans. (This scene still strikes home: It reminds me of a kid who lived a couple streets away when I was in elementary school. We were becoming friends until he slowly squashed a tadpole to death on the road and then drove me to near tears by threatening to lock me in his family’s cellar.)
I also have to note that being the parent of a high-schooler adds a whole new layer of perspective to watching this episode. I don’t remember when I had my first illicit beer – though I can say for certain it was a shared can of Old Milwaukee that someone’s older brother had stashed out behind a tree somewhere, and it was so revolting that I didn’t have a second illicit beer for a good long time.
Last summer, my friend Jim created this fantastic painting as a birthday present for Jenn:
And lo, was I made envious.
This weekend, then, a package from Jim arrived, five days before my birthday. Upon opening it (which, yes, unless such things are explicitly marked “Do Not Open Until…” I will almost always open immediately), I found –
Twin suns? Faux brushed-metal Kenner-esque font? Ego-stroking book reference? To say Jim knows me well is clearly an understatement.
Note: This post originally appeared here in 2009.
Despite the fact that my Dad served overseas during the Vietnam War, I never really thought of him as a “veteran.”
He’d been stationed on a base in Korea near the DMZ. He never told “war stories.” I don’t remember groups of old Air Force buddies visiting the house when I was growing up. No medals or mementos around, unless you count the tables and lamps he had shipped back home as gifts for mom.
I was only two years old when his four-year service in the U.S. Air Force ended in 1972. He came back from South Korea to Lima, Ohio – I honestly don’t remember him being gone, though I do remember being small enough to wear the jacket in this picture – and he and mom and I went about our lives.
Among Dad’s pictures from overseas is a shot of him yelling across a crowded bar that always reminded me of a scene from M*A*S*H, and in the background is a sign reading, “Pardon me, sir, but you’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.” I always liked this picture because a) Dad looks like he’s having fun, and b) the sign said “shit,” and swearing was funny, especially when I was little.
After this recent post, my mom commented that she and Dad were supposed to get married in October of 1968, but they had moved the wedding up to early September after Dad was drafted.
This was news to me, and didn’t seem to make sense, since he’d been in the Air Force, so I visited mom yesterday morning to find out the story.
It goes like this, give or take:
Dad graduated from Upper Sandusky High School in 1965 and took a job at a manufacturing company, painting auto parts: one of the pieces that held the grill of a Pontiac Tempest in place, Mom thinks.
On the job, a piece of heavy equipment fell on his ankle and lopped off that bone that sticks out the side. He had it fixed with a pin, but the injury was enough to earn him a deferment when his number came up in the draft for the first time.
He spent a year at Bowling Green State University, but didn’t have the money to keep attending, so he returned to Upper Sandusky and got another job.
Mom, who went to nursing school right after high school, remembers the U.S.S. Pueblo’s capture in January 1968, and said suddenly it took a lot more than a pinned ankle to get a deferment, and when Dad’s number came up after that, he chose to enlist in the Air Force rather than be drafted into the Army.
He was barely six months past his 21st birthday.
When he was doing basic training at Sheppard AFB in Texas, Dad decided he wanted to be a medic.
This was an odd choice: All through her nursing school education, Mom said Dad never showed any interest in medicine.
In fact, he had apparently always planned on being an accountant. (This image of my Dad as a numbers-cruncher is so out-of-whack to me that I have trouble drawing even a remotely appropriate parallel.) Mom says Dad had even begun correspondence courses in accounting, and they bought an adding machine which she stuffed into his duffel bag so he could keep up with his schoolwork when he went into the service.
So now, here he is calling to let her know he checked the “medic” box, and her mind is immediately filled with images of Dad hauling injured guys from the battlefield under heavy fire, and she kind of freaks out.
After basic, they were transferred to Kincheloe AFB in Michigan’s upper peninsula, where Dad met a guy who told him about this thing called “anesthesia,” and about how being an anesthetist looked like a good career choice, and that’s where Dad decided what he’d do after finishing his Air Force service. (He also got papers to deploy to Turkey while he was at Kincheloe, but those were rescinded due to me arriving on the scene in November 1970.)
Not long after that, Dad wound up serving in South Korea, but I’m a little fuzzy on where, exactly. I always thought he was stationed at a place called Kojin – I have a baseball-style cap embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back – but I can’t find any references to such a location online. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72” on it, and along the back edge, “Johnny”, “Rich” and “Pam.”
My Dad, Richard Earl Booth, returned home in 1972 and became an anesthetist and a tremendously awesome father of three, and
despite his pre-Air Force aspirations always referred me to Mom for math advice once I was past Algebra I.
When I was about 16, he gave me the heavy wool Air Force trenchcoat he got when he enlisted, which I absolutely loved.
Dad died of complications from kidney cancer on May 12, 1993, one week after his 46th birthday. I think of him regularly, though until this year, for some reason, never really in the context of Veterans Day.
He always gave the impression that his time in Korea was no big deal; that he never did anything “heroic”; that he only did what he needed to do to take care of his family in the long term.
But what gets to me now, as a father coming all-too-rapidly to the end of my thirties, is thinking about the choices Dad made when was only 21, and then having to leave Mom and me an ocean and a continent away, and comparing that to where I was when I was that age, and wondering how in the world he ever did it.
I miss him. And I’m thinking of him today trying to truly appreciate what that choice meant.