Above: Red eye, blue eye, aye-aye. Phyllis Kirk and Vincent Price in House of Wax (click to enlarge).
It was New Year’s Eve, and our segue into the new decade kicked off with the two of them in formal attire, and my eleven-year-old body packed into a tailored suit. (Dad supposedly made big bucks; mom rarely bought off the rack.) But as nine o’clock rolled around, we learned that dad had made arrangements that didn’t include us. My parents exchanged heated words right out on the front lawn, within earshot of four or five houses in the neighborhood. He slammed the door of his car and went off into the night — to screw his secretary, as I’d find out years later. He would never live with us again.
Her best jewelry dangling, her hair ‘done,’ and her ‘face on’ (do women still ‘put their face on,’ I wonder?), mom sat at the kitchen table, frantically pouring over the newspaper to find something for us to do, muttering about “getting out of the house.” The next thing I knew she was grabbing me by the arm and telling me to get into the car.
We drove to a movie theatre for a ten o’clock show, a revival of the 3D horror movie, House of Wax (1953), still suited up so elegantly for New Year’s Eve. My guess is that mom ‘wanted people to think’ we were going out clubbing afterward. She was always deathly afraid of ‘what people might think,’ and it would take me more than twenty fucking years until I understood what a crock of shit that is — hence my awareness of the adages that float around counseling sessions and 12-Step programs.
There were five or six people in the audience, a sad little group doing their best to get through a tough night without reaching for the razor. Unwanted, uninvited to party, cast aside to watch Vincent Price and a young Charles Bronson terrorize Caroline Jones and Frank Lovejoy in 3D. I’m sure the usher and the popcorn girl would’ve been hanging themselves if they weren’t so young and hopeful.
3D means wearing glasses and mom had hers on, a cardboard veil that did nothing to hide the stream of tears running down her face onto her pearl necklace. For some ninety minutes she sobbed quietly, even during the one interesting and lively scene I remember, a barker playing paddleball to the camera.