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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

These Pink Ladies Are Getting Hornier by the Minute

(or: Grizzly Attack Survival Tips)

Introductory Sentence Option #1: Some of my fondest childhood memories take place in movie theaters, sitting next to my dad.

Introductory Sentence Option #2: Some of my most painful, embarrassing, anxiety-inducing childhood memories take place in movie theaters, sitting next to my dad. Like a beautiful song interrupted by someone violently yanking the needle off the record, these memories begin with warm nostalgia, but end in agonizing shame, as my dad stands up in a crowded theater, in the middle of a movie, and loudly announces that we are leaving…

My dad’s name is Pat. My dad has a problem. He has been known to spend a vacation day hunkered down at the local multiplex, seeing four or five movies in a row. He buys those yearly 800-page “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” books, and reads them like novels. At the slightest provocation, he will wax rhapsodic about the first time he spent his allowance money to see “Ivanhoe” with his older brother, or the time he rode his bike 20 miles to see “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” and had to ride home in the dark, terrified. My dad passionately – perhaps even obsessively – LOVES movies. But his love of movies is not the problem, exactly. The problem is that his love of movies sometimes conflicts with his “Bible-trained conscience” (his phrase, not mine). When this happens, he does weird stuff.

Vignette 1: Titanic

An example: He thoroughly enjoyed “Titanic,” saw it in the theater several times, then purchased the 2 tape VHS set so that he could watch it at home. But after having the tapes on his shelf for a while, that naughty scene – the one where Leonardo DiCaprio sketches Kate Winslet’s breast – started to nag at his conscience. One day, I popped in the tape to find that he had clumsily erased that 30-second sequence. The masking tape was still covering the safety slots. When I questioned him about it, he grumbled something about “unclean desires” and “keeping company with fornicators,” and then changed the subject.

Like I said: Weird.

There was a point at which I realized that the intense energy my dad devoted to “objectionable” movies was actually directed at himself. It is not without significance that he rarely finds reason to point out the evils of, say, gangsta rap, erotic romance novels, or first-person-shooter video games. It’s always movies, because movies are what HE cannot resist.

At this point, of course, I can laugh bemusedly at his idiosyncrasies. I am 37 years old, after all, and it doesn’t really affect me if he believes that I am “consorting with the Father of All Lies” when I watch “The Omen” on late-night TV. But when I was a kid… it affected me profoundly.

Vignette 2: Star Wars

As recounted elsewhere, my dad’s refusal to allow me to see “Star Wars” was a turning point in my young life. But I wasn’t the only one impacted by Pat Toews’ conscientious objections to popular culture. My dad’s position as an elder in our church meant that his opinions were influential on a much larger scale. I was therefore doubly fucked: Not only was I denied access to the most important cultural event of my generation, but my friends hated my guts because their parents followed my dad’s lead.

I still remember vividly a sermon given by my dad, in which he counseled the congregation members to follow his example and reject this godless sci-fi entertainment.

“Brothers and sisters – why would we seek entertainment that is nothing but the glorification of WAR?” he demanded from the podium. No one had a satisfactory answer, so he continued. “The Scriptures tell us clearly to ‘learn war no more.’ Is WAR any less objectionable if it takes place in a ‘galaxy far, far away?'” The congregation could not think of any situation under which an interstellar war would be preferable to a strictly earth-based war, and therefore nodded in agreement. I thought I might die of embarrassment. All of my friends knew exactly what this meant: Anti-Star Wars lectures in the car on the way home, limitations on Star Wars viewing, and a permanent embargo on all Star Wars-related merchandise. All because of Jason’s dad. At that moment, I despised him – almost as much as I despised him years later, when he confiscated all of my Rush albums.

The ironic punchline is that a couple years later, when the movie “Local Hero” was sold out, my dad took me and a couple of my friends to go see “The Empire Strikes Back.” In the intervening years, my dad has seen all of the Star Wars movies several times. When the “Special Edition” versions were released, he went with me and my son to see all three of them. To my chagrin, however, he never made a public retraction of his earlier anti-Star Wars edict.

Vignette 3: Grizzly!

Certain scenes (by which I mean “scenes of mortified embarrassment at my dad’s tight-ass behavior”) are etched in my memory. I remember a conversation between my dad and a family friend that took place after a Bible study meeting. I remember this conversation as though it happened yesterday, even though it was at least 25 years ago. It started off simply enough, with our friend Keith mentioning in passing that he had seen a movie over the weekend.

“Oh? What movie did you see?” replied my dad. This friendly, seemingly innocuous question made my stomach tight and my face hot. Naively hoping that a sermon could be avoided, I silently prayed that Keith had seen something G-rated (but not any of the Disney films featuring witches or even mountains named after witches). Something like “The Apple Dumpling Gang” or “The Wilderness Family Returns” would be perfect. When it came, our friend’s answer dashed all remaining hope.

“‘Grizzly!’ It was pretty awesome.”

My jaw dropped in horror. What the FUCK?? NO! NO! NO! You don’t tell Elder Toews that you saw a horror movie about a rampaging bear that mauls half-naked teen campers! (I had seen the poster: “18 feet of gut-crunching, man-eating terror!”)

grizzly

“‘Grizzly!’ eh?” Suddenly, my dad’s tone became that of a gravely concerned and disappointed father. “Wasn’t that pretty gruesome and upsetting? I’ve heard that it was horribly, horribly brutal and that the grizzly attack scenes were particularly savage and gory.”

Which illustrates another maddening aspect of my dad’s movie “issues”: He avidly reads every review he can find, so he knows EVERYTHING about any movie that he doesn’t think you should see.

“Well, yeah, I mean… I guess some people might say it was gory, but I just thought it depicted the, uh, grizzly attacks in a more, I don’t know, truthful way than other killer bear movies that I’ve seen.”

I attempted to mentally will our friend to stop talking, but to no avail. He rambled on, oblivious to the looming abyss.

“‘Cos, you know, I’ve seen a LOT of killer bear movies, and usually they just aren’t that realistic. I mean, grizzlies will use their claws to slash your belly clean open,” he concluded, as if this proved his point, whatever that point might have been.

“Well,” my dad began, in a weary, beleaguered voice that conveyed deep sadness, “I have to question why you would choose to fill your mind with brutality and ugliness. Be honest, Keith – did the movie ‘Grizzly!’ enrich your mind or heart in any way, or was it simply an excuse to be titillated by gruesome, sexualized violence?”

I was trying to convey via my body language that I did not concur with my father’s harsh judgment of the film “Grizzly!” I’m not sure if Keith picked up on that.

Our friend considered the question honestly for a moment. “Well, I guess I’d have to say that the movie ‘Grizzly!’ gave me a greater respect for Jehovah God’s creation of the grizzly bear, because, let’s face it – those things are designed like the ultimate killing machine! And it also just made me a little more aware, a little more, you know, cautious when I’m out hiking solo in the wilderness.” Throughout this speech, Keith crouched slightly, narrowed his eyes, and looked quickly from side to side, in order to demonstrate his new, “Grizzly!”-inspired level of alertness. Finally, he concluded: “So, yeah, I did feel like it was enriching for me. On a personal level.”

Stymied by this response, my dad sadly shook his head and excused himself, convinced that Keith had forfeited his soul. I was elated. Behind my dad’s back, I gave Keith a thumbs-up sign to express my admiration for his cunning rhetorical tactics, but he looked kinda confused so I’m not sure he understood what I was trying to tell him.

Vignette 4: Zelig

If only I could be so cavalier in the face of my father’s judgment. My usual response was paralyzed, red-faced mortification. As an example, I’d like to describe an evening on which my dad took Matt and me to see the Woody Allen film, “Zelig.” Before the film, there was a short subject. As an outsider, Matt might have a clearer memory, so I’ll let him tell that part of the story…

“The short subject was an animated film of repeating images. One person walked in, tossed an apple in the air, bit the apple, and walked out, then walked in again, tossed the apple, bit it, walked out, etc. And then new images entered and repeated over the existing images. Just at the point where this idea started to wear thin… a (cartoon) woman entered, disrobed, and walked off, and that repeated over and over… Then a (cartoon) couple entered, took off all their clothes and began having (cartoon) sex (under the covers). Then THAT repeated over and over.

“So my interest was piqued, and I turned to Jason to see what he thought. Jason was staring intently – not at the film, however, but straight down at his lap. Patrick said something to himself, or maybe it was to Jason, or maybe it was directed at sinful humanity in general, but in any case he promptly stood up and walked out. Jason now appeared to be hyperventilating and about to explode in some sort of “MY GOD THE DEVIL IS TRYING TO STEAL MY SOUL!!” state – or maybe he was just embarrassed as all hell – I don’t know (I STILL don’t know) – but he sat there becoming ever more fetal and staring at the sticky floor, hands up beside his head as if to preclude the possibility of even catching a mere glimpse of a robe falling open, or – God forbid – an animated breast.”

At least on that night, my dad did not make US get up and walk out. I was simply left to agonize silently in my own guilt and embarrassment. Other times, I wasn’t so lucky.

Vignette 5: Grease

I remember being intensely eager to see “Grease.” Olivia Newton-John was so damn hot, for one thing (sigh…).

More importantly, however: EVERYBODY ELSE HAD ALREADY SEEN IT. I already knew all of the songs by heart; they pretty much played nothing BUT the “Grease” soundtrack on the radio that summer. All of my friends were talking about the movie, buying the soundtrack – Sha Na Na got their own TV show, for Chrissakes – it was a BIG DEAL.

The title song did not lie: Grease was, indeed, the word.

My dad figured it would be harmless fun, since it was set in the 50’s, back when he was a teenager and there weren’t any of those problems with premarital sex or alcohol or drugs or anything unseemly like that. So he took our whole family, plus my sister and I got to bring friends. There were probably eight of us. We got there early to secure good seats, and sat right in the middle of the best row. The theater was packed. As the lights went down and the animated title sequence began, I felt a shiver of anticipation.

Pretty quickly, however, the tension set in. First there was that “Tell me more, tell me more, did she put up a fight” song, which, okay, is pretty creepy. I didn’t totally understand it at the time, but I was pretty sure they were talking about having sex, and I was pretty sure my dad also knew this, and I felt him fuming two seats to my left and my stomach went sour. Then there was the “Pink Lady sleepover” scene. Stockard Channing and her girl gang are having a sleepover, and they banter about typical “teens at a sleepover” topics, namely: sex. Sweat beaded on my forehead, and the back of my shirt was damp. My mouth was dry. Finally, one of the Pink Ladies made a veiled reference to a friend’s abortion, and it was all over.

In the middle of the aisle, my dad rose to his feet and announced in a stage whisper, “WE’RE LEAVING.” (When I say “stage whisper,” I mean that it was spoken in a hissing, breathy kind of way, but loudly enough that everyone in the theater could hear it distinctly.) Someone made the fatal error of asking why, so he explained it to us, in a slightly louder voice: “THESE PINK LADIES ARE GETTING HORNIER BY THE MINUTE.” All eight of us stood up, then asked everyone ELSE in the row to stand up so that we could escape from the orgiastic on-screen debauchery. We fled the theater, followed by hissed rebukes from audience members who were apparently not bothered by the parade of wanton depravity. Running out of the theater, I pulled my coat over my face to prevent identification. I imagined the story on the local news: “FREAKISH CHRISTIAN FAMILY OFFENDED BY OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN MUSICAL,” blurry photographs of us displayed behind the newscaster…

Vignette 6: Xanadu

My dad should have learned that Olivia Newton-John’s presence in a film was a sure indicator of pornographic filth.

Sadly, he ignored this important lesson. Perhaps he was hopeful that her sleazy “Grease” period was behind her. Or perhaps we just nagged until he caved in. In any case, a few years later, we found ourselves again in a theater, excited to see the latest Newton-John spectacular, “Xanadu.”

At first, all was well. The movie was soul-crushingly bad, but innocuous. Gene Kelly even appeared in the film – perhaps that reassured my dad. It was a fairly typical “struggling young billboard artist meets past-his-prime tap dancer on a fishing pier, and with the help of a Greek muse, they decide to open a magical roller disco” movie, featuring the always-stunning Olivia Newton-John (sigh…) as the muse (who wears this diaphanous dress which I kept hoping I could see through and catch a glimpse of something, but I couldn’t).

Then came the Tubes. Perhaps you remember the Tubes?

“White Punks On Dope?” “Don’t Touch Me There?” The Tubes who used to put on all-nude concerts in San Francisco? Anyway, somehow the Tubes snuck into Xanadu. It was during a sort of fantasy sequence, and I think they were like the “Gods of Acid Rock” or something. They did a song called “Dancin'” which was played in a kind of “rock duel” against another group doing a more jazzy, soft rock song. (Kind of like the “I’m a little bit country / I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll” section of the “Donny and Marie Show,” if that helps.) So first the soft rock song would play, all wimpy-sounding and flaccid, then the TUBES would appear and GET THEIR FREAK ON!

“Should a genuine Christian want to identify with most of the trends in modern music? Recently the TorontoStar, a Canadian newspaper, reported: ‘Sex and sadism merge in the Tubes [San Francisco rock group] concert.’ The writer went on to comment: ‘What is social satire to The Tubes may be just plain sado-masochism, sex in bondage, profanity and perversion to anybody else.’ What can Christianity have in common with that?”
“Modern Trends in Music-Can They Sway You?”
“Watchtower” magazine, 1/15/83

The scene went back and forth, and each time the Tubes re-appeared, their antics became more outrageously bacchanalian. My anxiety mounting, I tapped my fingers and bit my lip. Lingerie-clad backup dancers/strippers were now cavorting around the Tubes in a highly suggestive manner. The Tubes’ guitarist was wearing some sort of S & M outfit. He was holding one of the women and, well, this is a little difficult to describe, but she had strings painted down the front of her body, and he was “playing” her like a guitar. My face felt hot. The guitarist was now playing a solo on the woman’s body, frenetically stroking and picking at her crotch. As a grand finale, he flipped her over, buried his face in her, uh, private bathing suit area, and continued playing the solo with his teeth. You know, like Stevie Ray Vaughan.

My dad stood up. “WE’RE LEAVING.” Again we traipsed out, apologizing to everyone in the row, our heads hung in shame. To my eternal regret, we did not get to see the big ELO production number at the end.

Vignette 7: Epilogue

Last week, my wife went to an out-of-town conference. When she returned, she told me all about the conference, the jerks she had to deal with, a nice dinner she had with friends… then she asked what I did while she was gone.

“Oh, I did some laundry, worked on a story I’ve been writing, walked the dogs, went out with a friend, watched a couple of movies…”

“Sounds nice. What movies did you watch?” she asked nonchalantly, unpacking her suitcase.

“WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS JUDGING ME??” I exploded. “I can watch anything I WANT TO!! You don’t have to MONITOR my viewing like I’m a BABY or something!! I AM NOT A CHILD!!” I shrieked, stamping my feet. For emphasis, I repeated my central point: “I’M NOT A CHILD! I’M NOT! I’M NOT! I’M NOT!”

I think she tried to say something conciliatory, but I couldn’t hear her, because I had already locked myself in the bedroom. To indicate just how wrong she was, I slammed the door behind me and turned up Rush’s “2112” on the stereo really loud.

One Comment

  1. Remind me to tell you about my dad taking me to see Saturday Night Fever. Also, I saw The Tubes at an incrediblely loud MIT spring concert.

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