A Space for Writers of the World
We are getting ready to go to the Mission Drive-In.
The four screen theater is just off of Holt and Central in Montclair, California. It doubles as a ramate, or swapmeet. On the weekends, my best friend Melinda and her dad sell used bike parts at their stall every Saturday. Tonight we are watching a movie called Tron about a guy stuck in a video game. We wanted to see something else, but my dad loves science fiction. Last weekend he took us to go see Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. It was pretty good. Ricardo Montalbán from Fantasy Island played the villain.
My mom never gets to go with us because she’s always working. She says Saturday nights are the best night for tips and she usually works until at least 10. It’s better without her there because that way everything goes smooth. The one time she did go to the drive in with us, she got into a fight with my dad on the way there and jumped out of the car at the stoplight. My dad had to drive after her and beg her to get back in the car. We missed the first 15 minutes of the movie because of her.
My dad is in the kitchen popping popcorn in a large cast iron pot. We watch as he turns on the heat. He waits a minute and then pours in a cup of Canola Oil. “The trick is letting the pan get hot” he says as the pot starts to sizzle. As soon as a kernel pops he starts shaking the pot, holding down the lid with a sweat stained rag. We can hear the kernels making fast popping sounds and our eyes follow his hands as he dumps the popcorn into a double bag with the Stater Brothers logo on the side. As he melts down a stick of butter, he looks at me and says, “This is the good stuff Jenny” and pours the hot butter straight from the pan into the bag. He pulls the Morton Salt down from the cupboard and hands it to Jackie who shakes it over the popcorn.
Jackie grabs a piece of the freshly salted popcorn and he slaps her hand. “C’mon dad, let me have a little bit,” she pleads and he winks and fills a plastic bowl on the counter which we all shove our hands into grabbing as much as possible on the first grab.
My dad turns off the TV and yells, “Time to go” and shouts, “Grab the lawn chairs girls.” As he walks outside and starts packing up his truck with the required blankets, Jackie and I scramble into the back of the camper throwing our plastic lawn chairs toward the back of the truck.
Annie climbs into the passenger seat struggling with the Styrofoam ice chest filled with a six pack of Shasta orange cola and a six pack of Budweiser. “Give me that,” my dad says as he takes the cooler from her hands, placing it in the middle of his bucket seat. Before starting the truck, he pulls out a beer and puts it into a green foam sleeve for the drive. He’s already had a couple.
As he starts up the truck, he turns his head toward us and says with a wink, “OK girls, duck down under the packing blankets when we get there.” Tickets are two dollars a person so my dad saves four dollars by us hiding under the blankets which he gives us to use at the snack bar.
“Dad, put it on KISS FM,” Jackie says poking her head through the window of the cab. My dad makes a face as he pops Loretta Lynn out of his 8 track player. “Our Lips Are Sealed” comes on the radio and Jackie and I start singing.
“I’m Belinda,” I tell Jackie grabbing my hairbrush from my backpack for a microphone, “you can be Jane Wiedlin or the drummer.”
Jackie makes a face.
“Why do you always get to be Belinda?” she asks.
I answer with my stock reply, “Cause I’m the oldest” and rustle in my backpack and hand Jackie two straws for drums.
At the ticket kiosk a young kid asks my dad, “How many?” My dad holds up two fingers and hands him four crumpled one dollar bills. We pull into a space close to the screen and pull out our lawn chairs from the back of the shell. We line our chairs up in a row as my dad adjusts the static filled speakers.
As soon as the movie comes on, no one says a word. We’re not allowed to talk during the movies and we don’t want to. Occasionally, we stick our hands into the bag for more popcorn, wiping our oil stained fingers on the blanket covering our legs. My dad is passed out in the driver’s seat by the time the end credits of the second movie roll. Annie shakes him awake and before long he starts up the pickup truck to take us home. He only swerves a little as he sings along to Johnny Cash.
When we get home it’s after eleven and all the windows are dark. My mom must be sleeping, I think to myself. As soon as we walk in the door, she is standing there, in her red shirt and black pants. I can’t tell if she’s mad or not. I whisper to my sister Jackie, “Get ready to run.” Annie tiptoes down the hallway to her room. I feel Jackie tense up beside me.
My mom says in her nice voice, “Girls, did you enjoy the movie?” I say, “Yeah mom, it was great.” My dad says, “Judy, you want me to make you something to eat?”
My mom and dad sit down at the table. Jackie kisses my dad on the cheek. We never kiss my mom, she doesn’t like it. We pad down the hallway, crossing ourselves as pass the plaster Jesus. As I slip under my covers, I can hear the oil sizzling as my dad fries up a pork chop for my mom to eat.
* * *
Juanita Mantz grew up in Ontario, California in a chaotic household, the likes of which great memoirs are made of. After dropping out of high school at seventeen, she took her GED and waitressed and bartended to support herself. Eventually, Juanita returned to school graduating magna cum laude from University of California, Riverside with a degree in English Literature. Juanita went on to obtain her Juris Doctorate from University of Southern California Law School and ended up at the largest law firm in Texas practicing corporate litigation.
After her father died in 2006, Juanita moved back home to the Inland Empire and is an attorney with the Law Offices of the Public Defender in Riverside, California. She is working on her childhood memoir My Inland Empire: Hometown Stories. Her stories have been published in the Inlandia anthology and in California Lawyer magazine. She writes a blog at http://wwwlifeofjemcom-jemmantz.blogspot.com/.