Saturday between noon and one o’clock we’d be there inching our way across an aisle in the dark theater, my brother and I. It didn’t matter that the movie had started. Being four years older he was stuck with me; I was five, plus or minus. We were probably well-prepared for a long afternoon with boxes of Jujubes, Necco wafers and assorted agents of tooth decay and future zits.
We would stay until we could say, This is where we came in. How many movies did I watch starting in the middle and working itself to the end and then the beginning? You might think that the lesson would have taught me that life is cyclic like the seasons. But it didn’t quite take. The counter narrative is linear sequential.
I expect most of us behave as if the world started when we fell to earth. Page one. Anything before was preamble. Progression was assumed, corresponding to our own growing up. Life in the 1930s was simple because I was a simpleton and my senses were rudimentary. See Dick run … and he did.
Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger sang union songs extolling the working class. You can’t scare me I’m sticking with the union…till the day I die, went one song. Another lyric was, They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there / You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair. Blair was a coal mine owner who probably had brought in scab labor during a strike.
In today’s world of the absurd we have descendants of these mine-workers voting for Blair’s would-be chum, Donald Trump. This isn’t progress. It is regression. Some sort of twisted dictatorship of the proletariat. Karl Marx had it all wrong. The down-trodden masses have turned into the mob and cast their lot with the guy in the penthouse. The forgotten are led by the misbegotten. The sit-down strikers of the thirties are now marching to the hokum of a flimflam man.
We knew those fat cats back in the day. Sydney Greenstreet, Edward Arnold, Eugene Pallette and Charles Coburn weighed in at about half a ton. They nearly always played the filthy rich tycoons indifferent to the man asking, Brother, can you spare a dime.
As Ma Joad said in the Grapes of Wrath: Rich fellas come up an’ they die and their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cause we’re the people.
Yes, the people keep on coming but they took a wrong turn, it seems to me, back in Vietnam war days when unions of hard hats mistook it for WWII and felt left out of the social upheaval. They became misaligned with their own welfare and miscast with the generals and war profiteers.
Oliver Hardy famously said to Stan Laurel, Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. Their movies were part of my Saturday matinee menu along with the double feature, newsreels, March of Dimes collection, Looney Tunes, and a serial such as The Lone Ranger. We are currently in a bigger mess than Stan Laurel ever imagined and no William Tell Overture to signal the return of the masked Ranger or Tonto to set the world right.
Another Laurel quote: I had a dream that I was awake and woke up to find myself asleep. America is half asleep under the spell of malarkey. There is a card sharp robber baron and his band of cattle rustlers running the show with tacit support from the town folk. I am waiting for the part when the clean-shaven sheriff calls them out. It is high noon at the O.K. Corral. I’m waiting for the drunken doctor to sober up. For the schoolmarm to ring the bell and the saloon-keeper to prohibit brawls and shoot-outs. For the decent poor folk to figure out how their bread is buttered and stop shooting themselves in the foot. I can't leave now. I'm waiting for the scene when I can say, This is where we came in.