Friday, June 9, 2017

In Retrospect, I Kind of Question My Parents' Decision to Take Me to See the Silence of the Lambs in the Theater

The Riverdale Twin movie theater at 257th Street and Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx was the kind of place that doesn't exist anymore in most places in the country, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

An independent two-screen movie theater in a grungy strip mall, the Riverdale Twin had a big, 20-foot sign on a metal pole in the parking lot that featured the movie titles. Like someone had to literally go up there with a ladder and a grabber-pole thingie every few weeks and change the names of the movies, giant red plastic letter by giant red plastic letter. 

Invariably some letters were broken, missing, or upside down, so the sign looked like this: 

NOM PLAYING: THE B3EAKFAST CLU8

Even in February of 1991--when I was 13 years old--the Riverdale Twin was hanging on by a literal thread. The seats were shabby and worn with springs poking through in places, and the carpet was a greasy blue-gray wall-to-wall mat with decades-old gum ground into it. The floors were so sticky they felt like they'd been shellacked with wet glue. The whole place smelled like buttered popcorn-flavored industrial antiseptic.

The people working there regarded you with a marked disinterest. The teenage girls at the window could not have cared less how old you were or what any movie was rated. The guy taking the tickets was halfway out of a halfway house, and halfway asleep on his feet. 

You had to call an answering machine to hear the movie times, and the woman on the recording shouted all of them at you in a tone of voice that sounded annoyed. Like even though the message was pre-recorded, and you were supposed to call the machine, she was pissed at you for calling. The candy and popcorn were really cheap. 

I loved it.

My parents liked it too. Once in awhile we'd go there to catch a movie, the three of us. I was an only child, and my parents treated me somewhat like a partial-equal. They had high expectations but very few rules, if that makes sense. They definitely weren't into censorship. They didn't actively try to expose me to shocking or inappropriate media, but they also made very little effort to prevent me from accessing it, and occasionally they inadvertently abetted it.

That's what happened, I think, with The Silence of the Lambs.

In retrospect, I appreciated my parents' leeway a lot, and practice a version of it with my own kids. Still, once you have your own kids, you can't help but Monday Morning quarterback certain parental decisions. It's inevitable, and so inevitably I kind of question my parents' decision to take me to see The Silence of the Lambs when I was 13 years old.

Let's recall some of the more memorable themes and scenes from this film: a cross-dressing serial killer named Buffalo Bill skins his female victims' corpses to make a coat out of human hide. Buffalo Bill also puts his dick between his knees and dances around after kidnapping a Senator's daughter and throwing her down a well. Then he yells at her to PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASKET OR ELSE IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN. 

The guy that's helping to catch Buffalo Bill is a maniac, cannibalistic serial killer shrink who bites off a cop's face and tells a young female FBI agent that he "can smell her cunt," and that he once ate someone's liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. The film ends with a lesson in forensic entomology amid a hail of gunfire.

On the way out, we ran into a boy who lived in my neighborhood named Dino. Dino was there with a group of other tweens and teens. I didn't know him well and we went to different schools, but I saw him at the park from time to time, and we'd struck up a flirtation. 

Dino was super cheesy, but there was something about him I liked. His confident swagger in his fake leather jacket; his heavy cologne; his bad-boy cigarette habit and prepubescent Justin Bieber/Karate Kid mustache. We'd even kissed behind a swing on the playground, I think.

Anyway, the minute I saw Dino, I knew nothing could be more horrifying than encountering a juvenile delinquent whose tongue had been in your mouth at the movie theater with your parents. It was too late to pretend I wasn't with them. Dino looked back and forth from me to them a few times with a look that said I was the exact appropriate level of embarrassed for myself, which was a lot.

And this, let me tell you, was much scarier than The Silence of the Lambs. How could my parents have risked subjecting me to this? I will NOT make the same mistake.

The Riverdale Twin may be long gone along with 27% of the collagen in my face, but serial killing cannibal shrinks or not, I will make sure I drop my kids OFF at the movies after age 12.

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