Dad and I did four things together, played sports, attended sports, watched TV and went to the movies. I like movies the best; it’s much harder telling a kid what to do in the dark. You would have loved taking me to the movies when I was 6 years old. I was a cheap date, one box of Pom Pom caramels and a dime soda kept me blissful through the whole film and I shut up. Didn’t want to miss anything.
It was fall 1960, I remember for three reasons. I just started first grade, the Yankees had just lost to the Pirates and Dad was rooting for Nixon against Kennedy to spite my Irish grandfather. My father’s infallibility spell still entranced me. He never had to use this line on me, “are you gonna believe what you see or what I tell you?” He accomplished this without direct engagement. Looking back, I believe he seriously forgot I was his son at times and thought I was the most intelligent dog in the world.
This day would be different.
Dad’s charm was in full swing as he pulled me along by my hand up 86th Street. I kept my eye out for friends, because at 6 the last thing I needed were guys giving me the business, “Daddy still holds ya hand, Tommy the baby!” My resistance was futile, so I kept tight to Dad’s side so it looked like we were just walking very close together.
“So what do you want to see?” Dad stopped at the corner, moved the cigarette out of his mouth and looked down at me, “The Mouse that Roared, a very funny comedy, or that other film up there, The Time Machine?”
Up ahead of us on the north side of 86th Street were two movie houses, Loew’s Orpheum and the gigantic RKO.
“What are they about?”
“Well... The Mouse That Roared is about a little tiny country that declares war on the United States. The star of the film, Peter Sellers, is a famous English comedian. You’ll love him.”
I just stared at Dad hoping he’d move on, I didn’t like war. Finally he said, “The Time Machine is a science fiction movie I don’t know much about.”
“What do you know?”
“Its about time travel.”
“I want to see The Time Machine.”
Dad stared down at me, holding the look, hoping I’d keep talking. I didn’t. Getting this look made me nervous and I usually blabbed on just like Dad wanted so he could carefully talk me out of something, but this time we just stared at each other.
After a traffic light missing pause, Dad said, “What???”
“I love time travel.”
Dad rolled his eyes. He had no clue how crazy I was for Mr. Peabody and Sherman on the Rocky & Bullwinkle show that I watched faithfully every Sunday while Dad drew or painted and Mom did the dishes. Mr. Peabody invented the Way Back machine that allowed him and Sherman to time travel back to ancient Rome, Dinosaurs, Columbus, you name it. I’m not sure what science fiction was but I loved time travel.
Dad recovered and got his second wind, “Oh, I bet it’s going to be one of those talky films you hate.”
I said nothing.
Dad threw a wild punch towards my head, “If we go to The Mouse That Roared I’ll take you to Prexy’s afterwards for a hamburger and milk shake.”
I ducked, “Why can’t we go to Prexy’s anyway?”
Dad’s shoulders rolled forward, his chest fell as he grabbed my hand. Swiftly, we crossed Third Avenue side stepping a street cleaning truck’s spray and headed for Lexington and the RKO to see Rod Taylor, who ever he was, in The Time Machine.
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