Our choices for entertainment on Saturday night were the bar in the town of Leesville, Louisiana or going to the drive-in movie. Dave, who was training at Fort Polk, had been in the bar. We opted for the drive-in movie as the safer choice. The picture was HANG ‘EM HIGH starring Clint Eastwood. I packed a tote with pop corn and drinks from the commissary. Should be fun.
“It’s supposed to rain.” I said.
Dave shrugged, “If it gets too bad, we’ll come home.”
The drive-in movie theater had been literally carved out of a hay field. “Avenues” for the cars and spaces for them to park facing the screen had been mown, but the hay grew up every where else. When Dave parked our 1967 VW Bug in a spot, we found ourselves surrounded by hay as high as the car top, making it into a kind of private room. The phrases “passion pit” and “more action in the cars than in the movie” came to mind.
The screen was nothing more than a billboard painted white. Planks that had been nailed up here and there were weathered to silver gray. Obviously repairs. Hurricane winds must have hurled objects against the screen hard enough to break the original boards. I worried about the coming storm.
Cheers, hoots, and hollers from the crowd greeted the beginning of the movie. Dave and I opened our drinks. We munched pop corn. It started to rain. Big, fat drops. They broke the movie, now projected onto them, into a trillion glittering pieces. Very psychedelic!
A posse lynched Clint Eastwood. The audience booed as they rode away leaving him to die. Moments later, a stranger cuts him down. He wasn’t dead. Eastwood sets off to find the men in the posse. One lives in a near by town. Eastwood confronts him. Two things happened in the same instant. Shots rang out. Dave slammed me down and covered me with his body. More gun fire. The shots came from all around us. A fight between the locals and the base guys? My heart poundd.
After a moment, Dave sat up and laughed, “It’s okay. They’re shooting at the bad guys in the movie!”
I sat up, brushed spilled pop corn off my lap, and went back to watching the movie. A while later, Eastwood caught up with another man from the posse. I stuck my fingers in my ears. More shots. One as loud as a canon. Shards of lumber flew off the billboard. The crowd cheered, whistled, and honked their horns. There had been a lot of men in the lynch party and the billboard took many hits.
Gradually the wind picked up. The rain came down in torrents. Thunder shook the ground. Lightening flashed every few seconds. One bolt hit the projection shed. The power line hissed and sparked. The lights went out and the movie disappeared from the screen. There was a long moment of silence. Then horns honked. People rolled down their windows and shouted, “Movie! Movie! Movie!”
Dave looked at me. I nodded. He started our VW Bug and headed for the exit. The driver of the car in front of us stopped at the ticket booth and yelled, “You gonna give us our money back?”
A very long, double barrel shot gun emerged from the window of the booth. The man inside gave it the slightest flick the left. The driver in front went on his way. We rolled through without pause.
I shook my head at the juxtaposition of make believe gun play, crazy, relatively harmless gun play in the hay field, and the deadly gun (not-at-all) play that awaited Dave. I could only hope he’d come home safely, but, metaphorically speaking, I feared a coming storm.