Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Only during the summer could this happen, staying up late on a weeknight to watch a late movie. Dad went to bed half an hour ago, and as the local newscaster introduces the sports segment, Mom follows suit, shuffling into the big bedroom just off the living room. She pulls the door shut behind her but leaves it slightly ajar. "Enjoy the movie, Honey," she says as she vanishes.

Most of the lights are out, the older siblings are upstairs in their rooms, presumably sleeping. The cats and dogs are all outside. It feels so weird to be alone.

Mom said it was okay to leave the front door open to let some cool air in, and June bugs thump against the screen door at regular intervals. Outside, it's cooling off, but still warm enough inside to need the fan going, which leads to a dilemma. The volume on the TV can't be turned up too loud since Mom and Dad are sleeping in the next room, but it needs to be loud enough to hear over the fan. The initial solution is to sit as close to the old black-and-white Philco as possible and hope for the best, but the davenport looks more inviting. Off goes the fan, just in time to settle in and get comfortable.

Russ Van Dyke concludes the newscast in his stentorian tones, then throws it over to The CBS Late Movie. Why do they always show the best movies late at night? The Doberman Gang or Night Of The Lepus or The Black Scorpion.

Something about that kaleidoscopic opening is comforting and troubling at the same time. Comforting because it leads into a great movie, troubling because...why? Is it the music? Is the music just a little bit sad?

Ah, but no time to think about that now. Strange doings are under way in Mexico, and all the evidence is pointing to giant scorpions. Giant scorpions overturning trains and stinging guys and...

But first another commercial, then another. They come more frequently late at night, always announced by the same burst of music.

It's funny, as the movie goes along, there are even more commercial breaks, and as it gets later, the commercials get stranger and stranger. At first they're the same commercials that air during prime time, Chuck Wagon dog food and the Ti-D-Bol man, but as the night stretches on, they turn into endless repeats of the same ad for Maaco Auto Detailing and sleazy R-rated horror movies and drive-in comedies, and these ads seems weirdly disturbing yet somehow liberating, visions from an adult world slightly less refined yet more interesting than a world populated by the blandly smiling pitchmen familiar from regular TV.

Somehow these commercials become a kind of ritual unto themselves, maybe even more interesting than the movie--even though they've trapped the scorpion in a soccer stadium and are blasting away at it with tanks, and geez, how cool is that?--and when it's all over, the Late Movie theme plays one more time.

KCCI signs off the air, reminding us that portions of their broadcast day have been mechanically reproduced. Then the Star-Spangled Banner, then snow. Even as the TV is shut off, the Late Movie theme somehow lingers and yes, it seems so unbearably sad, so final, as though mourning the coming end of summer and the start of fifth grade. But that's silly, it's just music, and music shouldn't make a person feel sad, or reflect on how quickly this year is going by, or how strange it seems to be ten.