Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Twenty-Nine

The Durwood Family Drive-In was carved out of a parcel of what had been meadow and grazing for the Durwood Family goats and cows. The particular piece of land ran along what was then called Jones Mill Road, a two-lane county maintained road which literally rolled through the hills of the area South of Donegal in the part of Pennsylvania just above the border with West Virginia.

The theater was the dream of one of the Durwood sons who came back from Korea and couldn’t get his mind around farming. This was Gregory Durwood, the youngest. Gregory convinced his father to turn the pasture over to him and he would make it much more profitable than it could ever be keeping dairy cattle. His father, who hadn’t seen a movie since “So Proudly We Hail” which he always remembered for the scene in which Veronica Lake put grenades in her bra and marched into a band of Japanese soldiers and pulls the pins, loved his son very much and let him have the land.

Young Gregory did much of the grading of the land and building of the screen and facilities himself. He decided to leave the grass. This made the Durwood Family Drive-In one of the handful of such establishments that wasn’t essentially a lumpy macadam parking lot facing a screen. The Durwood was green. It had room for perhaps a hundred cars in five curving rows facing a thirty foot by fifty foot wooden screen that was set at the edge of the property to block the setting sun behind it.

The projection equipment was built on top of the concession stand, which offered popcorn, bottles of soda, Mrs. Durwood’s goat cheese chili, and a large variety of salted snacks such as potato chips and pretzels.

Seeing a movie at the Durwood Family Drive-In was like seeing a movie in a Pennsylvania pasture, because that was precisely what you were doing. It was unlike any movie going experience available anywhere else in the world and Gregory Durwood was exceptionally proud of that. His father saw how happy the enterprise made his son and was glad he’d made the decision even before Gregory’s prediction came true and the pocket of converted meadow became more profitable as a movie theater than it had ever been as pasture.

Throughout the late Fifties and Sixties, the Durwood operated every weekend between Memorial Day and Halloween, and every night of the week between the Fourth of July and Labor Day showing second and third run features from sunset till about midnight. Gregory Durwood was on hand for every showing, wearing a dark suit he acquired from the McCormick boys when they closed their mortuary.

Gregory married one of the McCormick girls, Sybil, and they had two children Janet and Harley, named after Sybil’s mother and Gregory’s dad who died of a stroke in 1964.

Gregory Durwood was one of the many who felt the movie business change in the 70s. He was getting older, the crowds were getting thinner, and less interested in the movies. And the movies themselves were no longer the things Gregory felt were appropriate for projection in a pasture.

So, in October of 1979 The Durwood Family Drive-In ceased operation after the final showing of “The Adventures of Stella Star” featuring Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner and Christopher Plummer which had been produced in Italy under the title “Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione.”

The theater closed but was not torn down. It remained in the pasture adjacent to Jones Mill Road essentially the way it was on that long ago night of dubbed galactic adventure. This was due to Gregory’s decision to paint the place every now and then and cut the grass when he thought to do it. He continues to live in the house on the other side of the stand of trees to the north of the theater. Sybil is still alive. The two kids moved out after college. Harley is gay. He hasn’t told his parents, but they sort of know.

So when Mr. Barbicane eased his rented Ford Fusion off the county road and along the grass choked approach to the ticket booth, then into the rows with their metal stalks for the speakers long since removed, his was the first car to face the white wooden screen in more than twenty years.

Mr. Barbicane had recovered control when he felt the wheels of his car easing onto the shoulder across from the farm stand, but he still felt profoundly shaken, too shaken to proceed just then. He took the first turn off he found and that lead him to the Durwood Family Drive-In which seemed a good place to stop and collect himself.

Mr. Barbicane parked at the center of the theater, halfway between the screen and the concession stand/projection booth. There he turned off the engine and, still holding the steering wheel, tried to collect himself.

He had been deeply disturbed by the sight of the farm stand, particularly the sight of the old Franklin stove set by the side of the road. But he didn’t know why. The dream he had in the hotel room only a few hours earlier was unavailable to his conscious mind. He had a sense that something had distressed him while he slept, he knew that from the unease he’d felt when he took the band-aid off his finger. But, as with the band-aid, he was unable to associate the anxiety produced by the Franklin stove with the sequence of events acted out in his dream.

All he knew is that he was afraid. Afraid to move forward.

His inability to recall the dream was probably a kindness. Because if he had remembered the specifics of what he saw in his sleep and how they matched up with the reality he saw on the road, he would have been a good deal more frightened than he was at the moment. And he was not in a condition where he could take much more.

He thought for sure he was going to die as he drove through the Pennsylvania countryside. Driving he had experienced the pain he always feared, not the idea of the pain, but the reality of it.

There were still ghosts of that pain as he sat in his car facing the blank screen of The Durwood Family Drive-in, echoes of the squeezing intensity that bent him over the wheel of the car a few miles back. If the sight of the Franklin stove hadn’t stopped him, then the pain surely would have.

But now that he had stopped, now that he was no longer in motion, the pain was subsiding. Something irrational told him that the pain would return the moment he started the engine and resumed his trip. He was certain of this although he had no way or reason to know this.

He was at a loss. He had to keep going, but if he kept going he would die. Death would be awkward enough, but he was expected. People were waiting for him to arrive. He had to do something. Imagine what would happen if he, Mr. Barbicane, failed to arrive.

And he stopped to imagine just that.

A cloud drifted across the drive-in movie theater that was once a pasture and covered Mr. Barbicane’s car. And with the cloud came Mr. Barbicane’s conclusion, the result of imagining a world in which he did not arrive.

If Mr. Barbicane didn’t arrive, no one would notice.

His hands slipped off the steering wheel. The events of his dream were still out of reach, but more of their feelings, their emotions came to him. The feeling of being not only late, but too late. Of thinking he was part of something then seeing it seemed to be going along just fine without him. Of arriving and finding he had been tricked into arriving. That the thing he was going to was not what he thought it was.

The image of the young woman in the open coffin remained unavailable to his conscious mind and, really, that was a good thing. If her face returned to his memory now, if she came swimming up to his eyes and he remembered, considering the state he was in, it would not help him at all. Neither in the short term nor the long term.

He thought he would be filled with anger at the thought of no one noticing he wasn’t there, but surprisingly he discovered he wasn’t. He searched his heart for some rancor over being overlooked in his absence and found none. Rather the emotions he found were oddly comforting, like the sweet anonymity of traveling. Traveling without ever having to arrive.

There was, after all, a tremendous burden related to arriving. There were expectations he would be measured against, responsibilities he would be pressured to take on as his own. All this from people, he suddenly realized, didn’t really want him there at all.

It was all a trap. He was being lured someplace. He knew this, or thought he knew this when really it was just another trace of the dream pricking at his memory.

Mr. Barbicane realized this situation would require a substantial amount of concentrated thought if he was to discern the best possible way to proceed. So he sat there, considering all the factors, while the Duratec 2.3 liter, 16 valve I4 engine of his Ford Fusion clicked and ticked as it cooled in the afternoon breeze.


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