Midnight Movies with Mom

Last night I dropped M off at the movies with her friends. A gaggle of teens lingered around the front of the theater, all engaged in typical teen protocol- texting, sneaking glances at the eye-catching, and then back to more texting. The giggling and talking swirled skyward, in accelerated volume like a Saturday night tribal choir.

My adolescent experience hadn’t been so lucky, socially speaking. I didn’t often have someone to go to the movies with. Many Friday and Saturday nights would find me home in my fuzzy slippers, paging through teen magazines, or even – studying. It’s good to get all the studying out-of-the-way so that when “everyone calls”- perhaps on Sunday they will call- then church would be the only impediment to all that teen fun.

The UA movie theater at the Oaks Mall was the place to be weekends in 1983. Midnight movies would bring the teens by the droves, with music and hair both set to high volume. The choices might include: The Song Remains the Same (Led Zepplin), The Kids are Alright (the Who), Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heavy Metal, The Wall (Pink Floyd), and a few others. Rocky Horror was always standard, with everyone dressing up in character, repeating movie lines loudly in chorus, and talk of throwing things at the screen. The Rocky Horror show scared me- it seemed so odd- and the only girl at school I knew who went was Dee Dee Wood, who more or less really disliked me. I extrapolated other Rocky Horror folks would likely dislike me, too, so I stayed far away.

I’d never been to the midnight movies, but I really wanted to go. Everyone talked about it, and I wanted to go so I could 1) see what the fuss was all about 2) feel like part of the popular crowd and 3) talk about it casually-yet-loudly-enough-to-be-overheard at a later time. Of course, I’d practice sounding cool and nonchalant beforehand.

When I told Mom, she said, “Midnight movies, huh?” John had gone many times with all his friends, mostly to see The Song Remains the Same. John was not a Rocky Horror type person either. He would have just raised one eyebrow and shouldered far, far around anyone like that.

“I really want to go. I want to see The Kids are Alright,” I relayed. “Keith Moon was cute.” I liked the way he peeked, wide-eyed over his drum kit, and kept standing up. It made me laugh.

“Well, I’ll go with you?” Mom offered.

“Would you?” I was still at the age where it would be highly uncool to be seen in public, let alone voluntarily and socially, with a parent. Still, I felt hopeful. My first thought was that if no one I knew was there, or- if we arrived a bit late- we might be seated quickly. No one might notice me. I could still accomplish goals 1 through 3, especially number three.

So Mom and I went off to the movies. We got there a bit early, and I positioned myself in an inconspicuous place against the wall. Mom didn’t exactly blend. We’d wandered among metalers, mods, punkers, and Rocky Horror folks who were pushing and shoving, playing their boom boxes, being talked to by mall security, etc… Then there was me, dressed like a hippie in preppy drag, out in Sunday best with my Mom. And there was Mom, who was rocking a very mid-century modern type look. She had on a sensible length skirt ensemble, white sweater, buttoned a few times toward the hem, a conservative square-shaped purse, nylons, and half-inch-heels, open-toed. Mom’s hair was sprayed with so much hairspray that she gave the younger hair band wanna-be’s a run for their money.

What I felt was a mix of teen angst and adult gratitude. After losing my Dad so young, I knew I would not have Mom forever. I knew a day would come when this would be a memory and all the worth of these strangers would not amount to a teaspoon of vinegar in the wine of life. I knew, mentally, to cherish Mom and her willingness to go with me. I knew she was not going because she was itching to see the Who rock Thousand Oaks. And I was hyper aware, as always, of mortality and love. Mom must really love me to be willing to go with me. She held her head high past many a sideways glance, and adopted an air as if to say, “My money is the same color as yours.” And that was that.

However, being a teen, with teen emotional sensibilities, I knew the reason I was not there with members of my fellow pack was because I was somewhat of an oddball. Had I been socially more skilled, then I would be there gawking at the teen boys with some compatriot.

I will always remember going in and stubbornly holding fast to the conviction, “This is my Mom and my best friend and if you…or you… or you… don’t like it then…. too bad!” I would set my jaw and use my teen defiance as a resource. Mom and I got our popcorn and drinks and settled in for the movie. They showed a DEVO movie first, a collection of videos from them. Mom was giggling next to me. She leaned over and whispered, “Why do they wear those silly hats? Are they in disguise? Hiding from someone?”

Part way through the movies, I used the restroom, and on the way back to the seat sauntered with the swag of a real teen. I used a walk I couldn’t use with Mom. She’d have asked why I was walking funny, had I hurt my leg?- knowing the whole time I was trying to saunter, but trying to discourage me from trying on a new (false) persona. She liked the one I had going already. Let me say though, I remember that strut back to my seat and how very cool I felt. Queen of Me… and then I quietly scooted in next to my Mom.

The Kids are Alright came on, and I felt the coolness to my bones. This was life, you bet! This was Fonzie-level cool. Mom leaned over and whispered a little too loudly, “Oh, so these fellows don’t wear any silly hats?!” The people in front of us looked half back at us, and I sank a little down into my seat. “No, no, Mom, they don’t.” Mom was terribly amused.

We watched the movie and gathered up to leave. So far I had not spotted any classmates. The angel on my one shoulder said, “And if you do, proudly introduce them to your Mom who loves you enough to go to the midnight movies.” And the little devil on the other shoulder sneered, “If you walk quickly no one might see you. Then on Monday you can refer to going to midnight movies with ‘a friend’.” Upset with my own disquiet and lack of fully saturated gratitude, I forced myself to walk slowly. I would not give in to that side.

No doubt Mom knew what was going on, what I was feeling. She could read me like a book. She put her arm around me on the way out and tried to repress her giggles over what she considered an amusing spectacle. She was teaching me how to not take myself so seriously.

So, this is my coming-out-as-a-nerd story. World, I went to the midnight movies with my Mom. And we had an awefully good time. And she loved me enough to go. And we also had laughs for many years, long after I left worries about coolness behind me. Times I would ask her, “Wanna go see a movie?” or “Want to see a movie with me and the kids?”… Mom would giggle and inquire, teasing, “Will this one have those men with the funny hats in it?”

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