The First Picture Show:

Volume Number 1 of a Series of Reminisces

As I embark on a new journey, moving to a new country for the first time in almost 7 years, I will write a series of brief, unabashedly nostalgic memoirs. This is the first.

May in Massachusetts is when warm air, pungent, in-bloom flowers, and a nearly blinding sunshine finally invades. In a state where a full-blown blizzard can suddenly strike in April, and in which winter, despite what calendars and meteorologists claim, truly lasts some six-odd months, this blessed time is when spring explodes in all its glory. It is arguably the ideal time in New England, right before the dog-days of June, July, and especially August turn everything to wet, sweaty, humid sop.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

I grew up in a small, quaint, mind-numbingly boring coastal town on the overtly touristy peninsula Cape Cod, far away from the Kennedy-derived ritz of Hyannisport or the arts mecca and LGBT-pride fiesta-land known as P-town. This sleepy seaside hamlet, a safe and appropriately tedious place to grow up, is improbably called Sandwich. Inevitably, this always leads to ¨clever¨ jokes on whether I grew up on Mustard Avenue and other corny puns and digs that somehow seem ingenious to the person telling them.

Looking back to May 2001, in particular, when I had yet to turn 11 years old and the region was not yet dominated by the Patriots and NFL fever; in fact, only real nerds knew who this Tom Brady, some backup nobody from University of Michigan, even was. At the time, the local sports heroes were Pedro Martinez and ¨Nomah!¨Garciaparra, despite another sub-par season for the Bosox. This was the last era in which the hated New York Yankees practically were a given to at least play in the Fall Classic every season, even as everyone pulled for the Boston squad to ¨reverse the curse!¨

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More than 20 years on, people have seemed to have forgotten all about the team that not only broke the so-called curse of the Bambino but has won more World Series, a total of 4, than any other MLB team this young century. NFL fever, as it has long done so in the South and Midwest, has firmly taken over New England, but when I was growing up, baseball was the true, undisputed king in the heart of Red Sox Nation.

I was, frankly, not an athletic kid. I absolutely hated gym, viewing it as a stressful, sweaty, and maddening break from actual learning. My parents never had any type of sporting event on when I was growing up, not even the Super Bowl. In January 1997, the Bledsoe-led Pats shockingly played in the big game, only to unsurprisingly be defeated by the Brett Favre era Packers. I did not even know that the hometown heroes had played in this nationally transmitted extravaganza, and had to overhear the summary by 6-year-old pigskin experts on why the local boys didn´t pull through.

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Before fourth-grade, the closest I came to getting into sports was my obsession with the Michael Jordan-Looney Tunes crossover flick Space Jam. This briefly led to buying books about basketball icons and even watching a Pacers-Bulls game in nearly its entirety. However, this b-ball fever was short-lived. Suddenly, in my fourth-grade classroom, I was introduced to the world of Topps baseball cards and Sports Illustrated magazines, of RBIs, home runs, and wind-ups. Of Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, and Manny Ramirez, and most earth-shatteringly for a nostalgic nerd like myself, Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams. I memorized their statistics and lore; within weeks, I could you tell that Williams´ lifetime batting average was .344, that Robinson had won the MVP in 1949, or that Nolan Ryan had pitched seven no-hitters.

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Despite my sudden love of baseball, I did not immediately transform into a hitting machine. I bought a bat and fooled around in the yard, scraping at the air like I was some budding slugger, as my tan, faded Sox cap wafted in the breeze; yet I would never join the Little Leagues or something official along those lines. As my peers tried to become mini-Peles or Jerry Rice´s on the recess yard, I would rather engage them in a ¨Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig¨ or ¨49ers vs Cowboys¨ discussion.

My parents, as could be expected, were a bit baffled by my newfound interests. My father famously was noted for the fact that he was the first to read the Arts & Leisure section of the Boston Globe but never, even once in his life, the Sports page. As I rented out all nine ïnnings¨ of Ken Burns´ iconic baseball documentary series, my father surprisingly accompanied me as I sat engrossed in hours of anecdotes and poetic talking heads ruminating about Ebbets Field, Joe DiMaggio, the Negro Leagues and the Ïmpossible Dream.¨ One afternoon he remarked in amazement, ¨My son, you´ve made me like baseball!¨

In the classic macho-father all-American mode, this was the dream in reverse; ironically, it was the son introducing his father to the as-American-as-apple-pie national pastime rather than the other way around.

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One interest that my father and I had long shared, and one that was truly mutual and deeply-ingrained at that, was going to the movies. The problem was that Sandwich, with its kitschy desire to preserve its 17th Century colonial ambience, did not even have a movie theater. The classic film The Last Picture Show spotlighted a dying town that was so empty and devoid of culture that its only movie house was about to shutter. In Sandwich, there was not a single cinema; one had to schlep off to Buzzards Bay, a slightly menacing town of sketchy shops and sketchier denizens that had a humble, two-screen theater, or better yet, head off to Hyannis, with both an Äirport¨ Cinema megaplex and a burgeoning movie theater at its slowly-growing mall.

In May 2001, this all began to change. For months, there were fevered whisperings about a new complex opening up around the corner from my quiet neighborhood, simply called ¨Heritage Plaza.¨A hustling, big-living Greek immigrant was the brainchild, and there were soon rumors that Sandwich, miraculously, would soon have its very own cinema, called, simply, Heritage Theaters.

Finally, talk around the small, sheltered town centered around the fact that indeed, this theater existed and was open for business- even with free popcorn promotions! My 10-year-old movie-obsessed mind was truly blown. One Friday afternoon, I was to leave school a bit early to go to a dental appointment; I gripped the much-loved early dismissal slip in anticipation, the clock ticking until 2:00 P.M. I walked to the main lobby, flashing said slip as proof, and saw my father waiting outside. As we got into his Ford Taurus, I suddenly saw an extraordinarily familiar man outside of the car door; my grandfather, who lived quite a way´s away in suburban Atlanta, GA.

I did a massive double-take, not believing my own eyes. As it turns out, the ¨dentist appointment¨ was just an excuse to get me out early and see my grandfather before he went off to a school reunion in central MA. We promptly drove to the newly-opened theater, and caught a screening of the then-brand-new Shrek, laughing uproariously for 90 minutes, falling salty kernels and soft-drink filled straws in tow.

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As my tastes grew more sophisticated, my father and I would soon prefer to see the likes of Charlie Kaufman and Jim Jarmusch movies at the now-defunct art-house the Nickelodeon, but the impact of having a cinema in walking distance cannot be overstated. By the time I was in middle school, I was already a movie snob, but at age 10, the likes of Shrek or Spy Kids were just good and dandy, as satisfying as a pop fly on a sunny May afternoon at Fenway.

The impending summer of 2001 did not see many cinematic gems; Shrek had proven so irresistible I saw it another time, while other hot-weather fare included middling sequels such as Rush Hour 2 or Dr. Dolittle 2, as well as the instantly forgettable attempt at an old-school animated Disney swashbuckler Atlantis. While socially 4th grade had been relatively decent, my time in summer camp , en route to 5th grade, wasn´t so pleasant; my tastes over the summer suddenly had shifted from baseball to the Beatles, and one can easily guess which interest was more accepted by a bunch of insecure, judgmental 10-year-olds.

Despite this, in late August, a week after my birthday, my father went to his first baseball game in more than three decades as we saw one of Cal Ripken Jr.´s last stands, and gasped in amazement at a Manny Ramirez home run. The scorching 99 degree weather ensured that we would not stay more than 4 or 5 innings, but it was a memorable bonding moment nonetheless. We left the hallowed Fenway Park and slowly ambled into air-conditioned establishments. We spent what seemed like an eternity at a Newbury Comics records and collectibles store, as I snatched up baseball cards and a Woodstock soundtrack album, my dual interests in a nutshell.

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We somehow ended up at a fisherman´s feast street festival in Boston´s Italian enclave The North End, hiding out in the shade with fried clam bellies and ice-cold lemonade. As we listened to cheesy old Mario Lanza and Louis Prima standards cranked at maximum intensity in a colorful evocation of the öld country,¨ I began to realize what a great, wide world lay beyond the shores of Sandwich and Cape Cod.

Coming Up..

Part 2: If You´re Going to San Francisco..

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