By Sam Weller
At least two hundred people are transfixed, bathed in flickering blue light, eyes agog, starring upwards, a glaze of half horror, half arousal. Before them is an anatomical impossibility, a total and complete freak of nature. It can’t be, yet it is—a fully erect, pulsing monument. A forty-foot penis.
It is a summer night in the late 1980s in the far western suburbs. The sun has just set, blazing the rim of the rural horizon with fire. Out there, as far as the eye can see, are fields of tall grass and cornfields, and old barn silos that will one day be replaced by Wal-Mart and Costco, Best Buy and residential developments with names like “Cedar Ridge,” even though there are no cedars and no ridges to be found.
My friends and I are living out a bad cliché from an old episode of “Happy Days.” We do this often. Four of us pile into the trunk of a car parked on the shoulder of Route 59. The car is an old, battered, elongated Buick belonging to our friend Kyle.
We contort into the trunk, jostling in around jumper cables and tire irons, the intoxicating smell of rubber and spilt anti-freeze all around us. Kyle closes the top of the trunk and everything goes pitch black. At once, there is the sense of exhilaration and claustrophobia. Then comes the sound of Kyle’s feet on pea gravel. His door opens, then shuts. The car starts to move. Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the Starview Drive-In Theater, admittance: five for the price of one.
The Buick circles around for a while until, finally, Kyle parks the car and we all scamper out of the trunk. We’re stocked up on bags of Cheetos and soda. Nighttime has arrived in a hush here in Elgin, Illinois, home to a most singular cinematic oddity—the pornographic drive-in theater.
For a short window of time, perhaps just two summers in the late eighties, the Starview was a favorite destination for my friends and me. We were in our late teens, a bunch of lanky, nerdy, hormonally addled kids with horribly bad hair and even worse taste in music.
“Baby you’re all that I want, when you’re lying here in my arms, I’m finding it hard to believe, we’re in heaven,” Bryan Adams sang over Kyle’s cheap car radio.
We all sat on the hood of the Buick, swatting at mosquitoes, waiting for the porn film to begin. There was a flurry of activity in the dirt parking lot of the Starview, cars arriving by the dozen, mostly carrying couples and weird, creepy single occupants—men in shadow, their faces only slightly illumined by the green glow of dashboard lights. These men usually only stayed ten or fifteen minutes into a movie, when the driver’s side window would slowly roll down, a hand would emerge, throwing a wad of Kleenex out into the warm evening. In fact, looking around, Kleenex drifted like tumbleweeds all around the parking lot of the Starview.
These were fine summer nights. Boys talking philosophy: the meaning of life; the origins of the universe; the meaning of God; the chemical makeup of Cheetos powder and why it stained your fingertips.
The Starview Drive-In, at the corner of Route 59 and Business 20, was bordered by towering chain-link fences that had huge, prison-yard halogen lamps on top that beamed outwards so the people driving by on the adjacent roads couldn’t see the sweaty, Triple XXX images on the massive plywood movie screen.
The film started. “Ten Little Maidens” starring Ginger Lynn and Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy. We all sat there and watched, but, mostly, we talked. It was a summer bonding ritual, a time for boys on the edge of manhood to be boys for just a bit longer. Cars continued to pull in as graphic image after graphic image filled the movie screen. A white Cadillac Seville pulled down the row of vehicles in front of us, its front bumper dipping and rising with the potholes. There was something familiar about the car and my friend Bill pointed it out right away.
“Say, isn’t that Tom’s mother’s Cadillac?”
Tom was sitting next to me. His eyes moved from the movie screen to the approaching automobile.
“That is your mother, Tom,” Kyle said, laughing.
And it was. Our friend’s mom. The car parked directly in front of us. Tom was completely uncomfortable, his hands fidgeting, his mouth full of Cheetos. He took a swig of Pepsi.
No one said anything further. We could all see that the man in the car was not Tom’s stepdad. As the couple in the car nuzzled in closer together, we all felt bad. We all felt embarrassed. We all felt Tom’s anguish.
“I’m bored of this movie,” Bill said, finally.
And we left.