That sweet, sultry summer of pain and agony — where the air was just as hot as the conversations and the coffee I poured into cups for people from Tennessee — was a blur. My songs were the best because they were all I had and the cold, dark theater of the $2 cheap seats and salty, good popcorn were my gospel.
It was the best nightmare I never will admit.
I went to the movies. A lot.
These flicks weren’t the latest to hit the screens. They were late bloomers, often overlooked films that didn’t make major headlines or re-showing of the spring/summer blockbusters that all the cool kids saw first. A lot of the movies were like me. Under the radar screenings that were out of place, yet had an impact that could only be appreciated by the very people that didn’t belong in the Land Of Certainty.
Outside the theater the air was sticky and the parking lot was a wasteland of halfwits with lowered, older model cars and brazen teens defying their parents wishes and indulging in tainted grope-fests, cradling each other on the hoods of their sick hand-me-down rides.
The stench of pesticides hung thick in the air from the cotton field across the road, a forewarning of doom for boll weevils everywhere.
These outdated, offbeat movies took me away and I left the pangs of angst if only for 2 hours. Lord knows the fantasy of living in the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max and being stranded on Mars with Matt Damon was the only respite from the world where Trump signs littered crop fields next to “Land for Sale” signs.
This wasn’t like the summers in Florida I had grown accustomed to, where the dream of escaping life was far sweeter than the reality of living. This wasn’t the Florida summers where midday naps in the ice cold AC were interrupted by sporadic anxiety attacks because the thought of getting fired or failing another class bolted me out of rest. This summer wasn’t the Florida summers where I was up before sunrise to head to the “mill” to sling boxes in a hot metal warehouse. No.
This was an Alabama summer.
The type of summers that presented an excruciating truth that contentment is king and change is slow, if it occurs at all — and folks are just fine with that. And the heat, good god, the heat. The heat of complacency and concrete ideologies and the idea that hard work and dirty hands is the name of the game, discounting any progressive-minded notion that working smart is a relevant substitute.
The heat of Jesus ridden colloquialism that has little tolerance for any argument against tradition. The heat of down-home southern grit that can’t fathom the idea of ever moving to cities like New York, god forbid.
The kind of heat that burned the back of your neck as you swept the parking lot of the god damn Starbucks you worked at at 26 years old for $8 an hour because you figured it can’t be that bad and being a barista seemed “chill af”.
This was the season where the summer dusks featured orange-blue sunsets and the occasional gnat could be found clinging to your plain shirt that still smelled of stale barbecue smoke from your backyard grill.
The movies were just as stale as everything else in Alabama. Just as stale as the memories of the pastor’s daughter that you befriended and made-out with in the front seat of her late 90’s Honda Accord, the taste of mint chocolate chip frappuccino still fresh in her mouth.
That dark theater was the highlight of a decrepit layover. It was a sanctuary and the films were the good news. They were all I had, by god. I ate them without complaint and drank them, every sip.