MATT on the Drive-in Marquee
“I’ll be sure to take good care of Gale tonight Mrs. Hollis.”
“I expect that you will Zampo. She is on her summer break for only two months and hasn’t been out that much. Since my husband passed, things have been rough on us emotionally and financially. To have a young man like yourself with a good job, nice car, want to take out my sweet Gale is, well, it’s really kind.”
“Mrs. Hollis, I certainly understand the distress you must be going through and I would like to help.”
“Zampo, I’m not looking for a handout.”
“Mrs. Hollis, I would never disrespect you or your beautiful daughter.” He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a money clip thick with cash, and handed her five twenty-dollar bills.”
She looked both ways, folded the money and placed it in her bra, slightly exposing her cleavage. “Thank you (she winked). Let me see if Gale is ready.”
She called for Gale from the porch. No response. She stepped inside and called her name again. She could see Zampo through the screen door with his arms folded. “Gale!” Still no response. She walked upstairs and entered Gale’s bedroom.
“Gale, what are you doing in those raggedy clothes? Why are you not dressed?”
“Mom. I told you several times. I’m home from school to take a break. I just want to relax.”
“But I told you who was coming here tonight to take you on a date.”
“I never said yes.”
“Gale, I said yes because you need to get out. Now, don’t make me look like a fool after I worked hard to have Zampo take you on this date.”
“You worked hard? He bought your groceries at Red and White, drove you home in that red and shiny Lincoln Towne car. By the way, who even has that type of car painted red?”
“That’s because he’s special.”
Gale, who was sitting on her bed, abruptly stood. “Zampo wasn’t ‘Special’ in high school when we dated and he isn’t ‘Special’ now. I don’t care if his uncle owns the finest restaurant in the valley or not—I’m not going.”
“He co-owns the Chateau Lounge and Restaurant.”
“He… Mom, I just want to stay inside.”
“Your father would be ashamed of you disrespecting me in this town. Everyone saw me talking with him, getting a ride, they might think he’s dating me. You know how people talk in this town.” She walked to the door, slamming it shut.
Gale felt guilty after her dad’s name was used in vain. She looked out the window at the neighbor’s old and dying buckeye tree, sat back down, and took a deep breath.
Mrs. Hollis walked to the screen door, tapping the money in her bra as if she was tapping her heart. She was prepared to return the money. Just as she opened the door, Gale entered the living room.
“Gale, you look amazing.”
She stood next to her mom who leaned against the opened screen door.
“Look at these two beauty queens. Boy oh boy am I lucky to have seen your mom today. Thank you, Mrs. Hollis.”
She smiled at him. “You’re welcome.” Then she slowly moved her finger counter-clockwise over the top button of her shirt.
“OK, let’s go,” said Gale.
“Good-bye my love. You too Zampo.”
He turned back to her and winked. Gale waited by the passenger side door. He hopped on the driver’s side and unlocked it from there.
“Two years later and his rules of etiquette still apply.” She thought then sat down.
“We are going to Super 71 tonight. I got some beer in the cooler and a bottle of liquor.”
“Sure. Why break the routine of remarkable dates?”
“That was our spot.”
“No. That was your spot to get drunk with your buddies.”
“I never heard you say ‘No.’”
“I said ‘No’ several times—that’s why we broke up.”
“Well, you’ve always been in my heart.”
“I think you get heart and hard-on confused.”
Zampo drove at a fast speed, going up and down the hilly roads leading the to the drive-in.
They entered to the second row and parked center-right to the screen. He moved his window down enough for the car speaker, then gently adjusted it on top of the window.
Gale and the screen at dusk both were both blank.
Zampo reached in the back seat, grabbed a can of beer, opened it and drank it fast. Then he opened the bottle of liquor, sunk down is seat, and drank a shot. “You wanna do a shot before we get something to eat?”
She turned to him then looked back at the screen. “Yes.” She sunk down as well. He handed her the bottle. A few swigs later she returned the bottle.
“Take it easy college girl.”
“Why are we parked so close to the screen? Aren’t you worried about someone seeing us?”
“First of all, no one messes with me and secondly, these bucket seats and tinted windows provide me a private luxury.”
“First of all, you haven’t changed. Secondly, your window is down for the speaker.”
He gave her a deep stare while pushing the button for the window to rise until the speaker hit the frame.
She rolled her eyes at him.
He placed his hand on her leg. She quickly slapped it away.
“And you haven’t changed,” he said. “Still one tough cookie.”
“Speaking of cookies… When are we going to eat?” she asked.
“Let’s go before the movie starts.” He finished the beer, crushed it on his forehead that left a red mark. He chased the beer with a few gulps from the bottle. “Let’s go.”
“You sure you don’t want another beer?” she asked.
He contemplated her question… “No. I’m good. Plus, I don’t want to miss Mauler in the Meadow.”
“I saw that on the marquee. You know how to make a girl feel romantic.”
“You do realize Mauler in the Meadow is considered one of the best movies of 1992?”
“I hope another movie doesn’t knock it off its Oscar pedestal,” she said, laughing.
“That’s not funny!”
Zampo walked ahead of her in the lot to the concession stand. They entered, he grabbed a tray, cut in front of a family of four, and began to grab some food. “You coming?”
She was embarrassed about his actions and walked closely behind him to order French fries and a hot dog.
She looked left and right to see who called her name.
“Gale Hollis—I’m right here,” said a boy dressed in a khaki coverall.
She turned around. “Matt! I was looking all around—how are you?”
Zampo continued down the line with a few darts of discontent toward them.
“I feel like a million boxes and you know what’s inside each of those boxes?”
“A million dollars. Now ask me how I feel.”
“How do you feel?”
“Like a million dollars.”
She began to laugh loudly and he laughed with her.
Zampo made his way to the register to pay. This time the darts contained a few snarky comments: “Nothin’ like cartoonish humor to impress the ladies. What am I sayin’? You don’t need humor for the ladies when you show up on your bicycle for dates. I didn’t know the custodians were allowed to fraternize with the customers.”
She folded her arms: “Zampo.”
He placed the tray down and raised both hands. “What?”
“I’m the projectionist.”
“That’s really cool Matt. Of all the summer jobs, you have the coolest one.”
“I see myself as a young avant-garde filmmaker in the beginning stage of my illustrious life—would you like my autograph now or later?”
Zampo moved in behind them with a prowl and between them with a scowl.
Matt takes the container of popcorn and signs it with a large cursive M.
She laughs again to the ire of Zampo…
“Custodian! Make sure we don’t miss the movie—it’s going to be considered a classic.”
“Certainly, my Lord Zampo. Please sir if you will, ring the bell on the speaker stand and I’ll be there.”
This time she offered a timid smile sensing Zampo’s anger.
They went back to the car and Zampo began to drink heavily. She ate a hotdog with a beer as the movie began.
Half-way through the movie, he passed out.
“Jeez… He’s the same guy…I mean…drunk,” she thought.
Gale grabbed the trash on the floor board, mostly near Zampo’s feet, slowly opened the door, and headed back to the concession stand.
As she was placing the trash in a can, Matt approached her.
“My Lady Gale.”
She smiled. “What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be working.”
“Oh my God—you’re right.” He ran in a circle with his hands up in the air. “The movie—the movie—the movie.”
She followed him with her eyes each time he passed her. “I’m getting dizzy.”
He stopped. Looked at her and smiled. “This is how I make the projector work, I run in circles around it.”
“Yes, but you’re not in the room.”
She laughed again, but it was cut short by someone loudly clearing their throat—it was Zampo. He approached her from the entrance.
“We’re supposed to be watching the movie—what’s going on here?”
“I’m showing her movie magic.”
“You’re a fool—always a fool.”
“My Lord, you should have rung the bell if you needed something.”
“I’m going to ring you!”
Matt ran in a circle around both of them. “The movie—the movie—the movie.” He repeated as he exited.
She laughed. Zampo grunted.
“I didn’t pay to play on this date. Now I’m missing part of the movie.”
“You were sleeping.”
“I was resting my eyes and listening.”
“And what do you mean pay?”
“Nothin’.” He started to walk. She followed but not before thinking about Matt.
Zampo entered the car and she was about to open her door when the intermission started…
“Great. I missed the ending of the first part.”
A song about the concession stand for drinks and snacks began and the screen was filled with boxes of popcorn and sodas dancing—then the screen went blank and the song stopped. The glow from white canvas cast over the patrons…
“Great. I wonder what the fool is doing now?”
From car to car, people started to complain. One man in the front row said, “Its intermission—relax!” A woman, watching her kids play on the swing set with other kids below the screen yelled toward the concession stand and projector: “Start the darn movie already.” The kids on the swing set garnered the first three rows attention: “Look—Look—Look!”
Other than the kids, everyone saw a silhouette in front of the screen. “Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight I’ll be your intermission entertainment.”
Gale recognized Matt’s voice as she sat in the car. “What is he doing?”
This question was shared by most, but Matt started dancing and prancing around the narrow platform and the kids, along with a few parents, were laughing. He started to walked on his hands and feet, did a somersault and almost fell off.
From the shadows below the platform, he pulled himself back up. He stood and spread his hands like a gymnast after landing.
Most people and the kids laughed, some applauded, one woman said he should take his vaudeville act to a stage and let the movie start and that’s when Zampo stepped out of his car. “Get off the screen fool!”
Gale sunk down in the drinking a beer position with embarrassment.
Matt started clapping and many followed. Before he left the stage to start the movie, he thanked everyone but in particular two people: “Please give yourself a round of applause and my two good friends (he pointed toward Zampo’s car) Gale and Zampo.”
Zampo was embarrassed that he was part of the show. Gale discretely smiled, still laying low in the seat.
He stepped back in the car, slamming the door. “Were leaving!”
“What about the movie?”
“What about the show? I think that’s what you mean.”
“Are you jealous of Matt?”
He started the car, revving the engine, three times to the disgust of the people parked behind him. He drove from the lot with the same scowl from earlier.
Gale looked out the window as they left the lot. She wondered more about Matt than the boring movie and Zampo’s jealousy. However, the speed up and down the hills to her house in the car left her more focused on arriving safe. “Can you slow down?”
“Don’t tell me how to drive my car.”
Ten minutes later they arrived. The date was over.
Mrs. Hollis stepped onto the front porch with the light off. She watched closely hoping to see Zampo escort Gale back to the house. Her expectations dimmed quickly as he floored the gas pedal and left at the same time Gale stormed by her…
“How did it go?”
“It didn’t mom—I hope your happy.”
She followed Gale to the bottom of the steps before flinching at the sound of the bedroom door slamming. She turned back to the living room when the door reopened…
“By the way! I hope he paid you good money!”
“Young lady! Don’t you ever say such a thing!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time!”
The door slammed again. Mrs. Hollis tapped the money, removed it, and placed it in her cigarette case.
Zampo continued cruising the small hilly town with a new date to accompany his drinking—jealousy.
An hour later, everyone was asleep in the Hollis house when Gale heard something hit her window. She woke from a deep slumber and heard another ping. Slowly she pulled the drapes back to see Matt next to his bicycle. He waived for her to come down—she did.
“You’re crazy Matt.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
“You left this at the drive-in.”
“I left what?”
“An impression on me.” He leaned in and kissed her.
She had a smile that glowed like the screen and they started kissing.
A moment later, she stopped…
“What happened? Why did you stop kissing me?”
“I know. My buttery popcorn kisses are too…” (He paused and looked up).
“Buttery,” she said.
They laughed. After a few more kisses and deep stares he wished her a good night.
“Stop by tomorrow—OK?”
He winked as he hopped on his bike. He did a pirouette on the street, swerving next to her and blowing a kiss before riding down a hill under the street lights.
Matt flew down one hill with momentum and the moment pedaling up the next. On the last hill to his home “Fool!” would be the last word he ever heard.