Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Drunk on Foolish Pleasures: The Apple Dumpling Gang

A letter has just arrived from my thirteen year-old self.

Dear Fuckin’ Future Me:

So, how’ s the fuckin’ 21st century? I bet you have all sorts of fuckin’ cool shit -- like wrist TVs and fuckin’ shoe phones, or robots. But by now you’re stuck in a stupid job at Dad’s paper that’s so fuckin’ boring you want to shoot your eyes out with your own fuckin’ laser gun. Even the cool stuff we have today is probably so old-fashioned to you that you don’t even do it anymore. That’s why I wanted to tell you about the last fuckin’ time I went to the fuckin’ movies with Don.

And hey, you old fuck: Yeah, I say the word "fuck" a lot. Don’t you remember? All our friends do. It makes us sound fuckin’ cool. It is my fuckin’ favorite word. We go to fuckin’ Catholic school, so we have to do something to rebel. Fuckin’ A.

Mom says I spend way too much time at the Arlington Theater. Fuckin’ figures. Mom, you spend way too much time clipping coupons for five cents off wax paper. Get off my fuckin’ back! It must be great to be a man and not have some woman telling you how to spend your time, Future Me.

Don is my best fuckin’ friend because we see the world in the same fuckin’ way --as mostly bullshit, fakers, a-holes and idiots. We are better than that, thank you very much. We are a gang of two, a gang, from all of the available evidence, no one else wants to join. Fuck it -- their loss. Remember when we prank-called NBC Chicago Channel 5 news and got all the way to the fuckin’ anchorman? He fuckin’ yelled at us. Score!

So Don and I go to the Arlington Theater a lot, mostly to Disney movies, because that is the shit that they play at the one theatre we can ride bikes to. We are too old for, and therefore superior to, almost every movie we see. The P’s do not question the fact that we seem to have an insatiable fuckin’ appetite for these movies. I suspect that, because of the boring crap they’re always dealing with in their fuckin’ lives, they have forgotten how old we are.

The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Plot in Fuckin’ Brief: Some fuckin’ orphans are loose in the old fuckin’ West. Bill Fuckin’ Bixby is some sort of fuckin’ gambler; he gets the idea to adopt these fuckin’ rugrats. God knows why. I think he might be trying to rob them? (I don’t know -- me and Don are having so much fun making snot-nosed jokes at the expense of the lousy actors and the cheap-ass production values that we have no time for the vagaries of the fuckin’ plot.) But I guess we’re not the only ones who think it’s kind of pervy for a single man in the old West to adopt such cute little moppets, so he needs to fuckin’ pretend to be fuckin’ married. Bixby chooses Susan Clark for this ridiculous fuckin’ subterfuge. She is the fuckin’ stagecoach driver of this fuckin’ town and, based on appearances, a lesbian. This is one of those fuckin’ comical complications that Disney was so fuckin’ famous for, remember? "Bill Bixby has no idea what’s in store for him when he pretends to marry a dyke!" They should have put that on the fuckin’ movie poster.

Now, there are these two others fuckin’ guys, played by Tim Conway and Don Knotts, both way past their fuckin’ primes. Based on appearances, they are both fuckin’ retarded -- they keep bumping into each other and blowing themselves up. They have nothing to do with the fuckin’ movie. Every ten minutes, the plot literally stops for more of their so-called comical fuckin’ hijinks. It is fuckin’ nauseating.

So the whole fuckin’ movie kind of resembles a waiting room for fuckin’ B-list actors who need something to do until The Fuckin’ Love Boat or Fantasy Fuckin’ Island calls and wants them in to guest star on this week’s fuckin’ episode.

In conclusion, this movie was a fuckin’ hoot. I can’t believe that adults spent time and money, making The Fuckin’ Apple Dumpling Gang, thinking it would be entertaining to human beings.

So that’s about it, Future Fuckin’ Me. I hope that when you get this, you are still alive, and have a job that doesn’t completely suck. Hey, I just wrote that fuckin’ hilarious poster for Apple Dumpling Gang... I wish writing about movies could be a job in the future, but that’s not fuckin’ likely. I guess me and Don will just have to be robot mechanics or some fuckin’ thing.
The letter ends there. It is rife with punctuation and spelling mistakes. There are greasy, buttery fingerprints all over it. It smells of sweat and Dots.

I was certainly right about Disney’s decline.  Disney started out making live action gems like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in 1954 and Mary Poppins in 1964*. In the '70s, we were treated to the likes of The Boatniks, The Million Dollar Duck, SuperDad, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, and Unidentified Flying Oddball. Joe Dante succinctly summarized and parodied all of this piffle in The Shook-Up Shopping Cart trailer featured in his masterpiece, Matinee.

I wonder whatever happened to Don. We went to different high schools and then lost touch. Overall, Junior High was brutal -- but some of my happiest memories involve Don and the back row of the Arlington Theater.

I still remember that theater so vividly: the smell, the small outdoor courtyard, and the lobby cards on the walls. Don’t look for it; it is not there anymore. In its place is a pricey apartment complex. Fuckin’ figures. The popcorn there smelled so good -- a heady mélange of FDA-banned tropical oils and butter-drenched cardboard tubs -- and tasted better than any theatre popcorn before or since.

At thirteen I had not yet gone through puberty. I had never kissed a girl. Yet I was only a year away from seeing Annie Hall, one of several films that would change my life -- and I think those hours I spent with Don, laughing until we had Coke coming out our noses, helped make my Annie Hall epiphany happen. Maybe I’m better than this was my first step toward thinking, movies can be better than this -- so that when I was finally old enough to happen across one that really was better, I was ready for it to bust me open.

I honed my inner critic on Apple Dumpling Gang, and in a world of bullshit, fakers, a-holes and idiots, Don and I had movies too. To be that young again, that clueless and carefree... Now that would really be something...

In the spirit of an alcoholic going through Step Nine of a Twelve-Step program, I now wish I could apologize to all those people I bothered, all of those kids for whom I ruined the movie. Perhaps in a future installment of "Drunk on Foolish Pleasures," we will read a letter from one of them, explaining how I turned them off movies for life with my obnoxious, inexcusable behavior.

Perhaps one of them was Patrick or Doug.

Did I just blow your fuckin’ mind?

*Yes, I know last week I said I saw Mary Poppins in 1965. That’ s because I did! Here’s the thing: movies were not released in the fifties and sixties they way they are released today. Back then the studios had a lot more patience and were willing to wait more than a single weekend to get their money back. A major release would open in a single theater in each of the major cities, play there for a long time, and then slowly, ever so slowly, move out to the suburbs. That is why I trust my treasured memory that my little ‘burb of Bellwood, IL did not get Poppins until well into 1965.


  1. My "having fun while being a dick in a cinema and annoying those around me" memories were with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (when 11) and The Santa Clause (when 14). I dont regret either of them.

  2. Great letter JB, I'm hoping for a letter from my younger self telling me how fucking awesome Mortal Kombat was when it came out. I remember thinking even as a kid that a lot of the disney live action movies from the late 60's and 70's were pretty cheap except for The Parent Trap which my sister and I thought was classic cinema, although in retrospect I may have had a crush on short hair Hayley Mills twin, not long hair Mills.