Photo by Sara Robertson
Dad and I did four things together: play sports, attend sports, watch TV, and go to the movies. I liked 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 Poms caramels and a dime soda kept me blissful through the whole film and I shut up. Didn’t want to miss anything.
It was the fall of 1960, which I remember for three reasons.
I had just started first grade, the Yankees had lost to the Pirates in the World Series, and Dad was rooting for Nixon against Kennedy to spite my Irish grandfather. I still believed my father was infallible. He never had to use this line on me — “Are you gonna believe what you see or what I tell you?” He accomplished his goals without direct engagement. Looking back, I suspect he periodically forgot I was his son and thought I was the most intelligent dog in the world. But this day would be different.
Dad’s charm was in full swing as he pulled me along up 86th Street. I kept my eye out for friends. The last thing I needed were the guys giving me the business, “Daddy still holds ya hand, Tommy the baby!” Resistance was futile, so I decided to keep 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 of Third Avenue, 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, the Loew’s Orpheum and the gigantic RKO.
“What are they about?”
“Well… The Mouse That Roared is about a tiny little 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?”
“It’s 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 and Bullwinkle Show, which I watched faithfully every Sunday. Mr. Peabody invented the WABAC Machine (pronounced “way back”), which allowed him and Sherman to time-travel to ancient Rome, the voyages of Columbus, the dinosaur era, you name it. I wasn’t sure what science fiction was, but I loved time travel.
Dad recovered. “Oh, I bet it’s going to be one of those talky films you hate.”
I said nothing.
Dad threw a wild punch, hoping it would land. “If we go to The Mouse That Roared I’ll take you to Prexy’s afterwards for a hamburger and a milk shake.”
I ducked his shot. “Why can’t we go to Prexy’s anyway?”
Dad’s shoulders rolled forward and his chest fell as he grabbed my hand. Swiftly, we crossed Third Avenue, sidestepping the spray from a street-cleaner truck, and headed to the RKO to see Rod Taylor, whoever he was, in The Time Machine.
Thomas R. Pryor’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, A Prairie Home Companion, and other periodicals. His short stories are published in Thomas Beller’s, “Lost and Found: Stories from New York,” Larry Canale’s, “Mickey Mantle – Memories and Memorabilia,” and Three Rooms Press, “Have A NYC 2.” His blog: “Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts,” was chosen by The New York Times for their Blog Roll. Thomas appeared on PBS’s series: “Baseball: A New York Love Story,” NBC’s “New York Nonstop,” and “This American Life.” His memoir, “I Hate the Dallas Cowboys ~ tales of a scrappy New York boyhood,” was published October 2014 (YBK).