The Last Time I Went To The Movies

by Ross Manus

A true story by Ross Manus (Ahab VIDEOSTAR) concerning an On The Road-inspired movie he walked out of and the Los Angeles "Mexican" bar he walked into.

What's that feeling called when you know a movie is going to be terrible but you go anyway just to check out the degree?

And so with The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a movie purporting to be about Neal Cassady - the hero of Jack Kerouac's seminal On The Road book - and based upon his "famous sex letter" - I'd never heard of this letter and didn't last long enough to learn. OOOFFF was it bad. I don't mean to diss the moviemakers, but just as a single example, why is Neal, in every scene at the Goodyear Tire Plant, shown either sitting down or talking or drunkenly stumbling about on a huge pile of tires?

Where is the Neal Cassady who, in his "beat shoes that flap" was, according to Kerouac, "The most fantastic parking lot attendant in the world; he can back a car forty miles an hour into a tight squeeze and stop at the wall, jump out, race over the fender, leap into another car, circle it fifty miles an hour in a narrow space, back swiftly into tight spot, hump, snap the car emergency So that you see it bounce as he flies out, then clear to the ticket shack, sprinting like a track star..." and so on, Kerouac's one paragraph pumping out more motivation than ten Tom Robbins books.

All acting but no action. After 40 minutes I split that plush $10 a ticket Beverly Hills theater and, in honor of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, cut to the Mexican part of town and into a tiny bar on Venice Boulevard, which, in a stroke of luck, turned out to be the beatest place in all of Los Angeles. As soon as I entered, I knew it was the right place.

Not a word of English was spoken or seen in writing, including the dirty jokes written on dirty plastic plaques, one that seemed to be about a virgin, a whore and one other female I couldn't make out. Hanging from the rear wall - a museum of boxing promotions, stuffed red roosters, crocodiles and falcons, posters of topless Latin beauties, black iron replicas of antique swords, muskets and crossbows, deer antlers, a treasure c hest, ammunition belt, a ship's mast, fish netting, photographs of Mexican amateur soccer teams seen proudly posing in their bright uniforms on sunburnt dirt soccer fields, all swirling behind a bartender so beautiful that I swore she was the nude calendar girl over the cash register, but when I asked she shyly shook her head "No".

I gave a " ¿Cómo usted? " - the only Spanish I know, to the ten or so quiet Mexicans there, some of them in white cowboy hats, and got myself a Corona. As drinks were downed, the place began to jump. Quarters were fed into the jukebox.

"Which one should I play?" I yelled at slow, stolid Juan, who shrugged, "It don't matter." The only right answer of course - and so I punched in numbers in ever increasing wildness, not even bothering to look at the Spanish playlist, until finally the green "Select Another" light went out and my only concern was the wailing horns, the lovelorn voices, the driving Mexican two stop beat pumping out of the speakers, each song a tale of sadder heartbreak than the previous.

I finally got Gloria dancing. She started with Jose, the nice soft-spoken man who works at the Marina market - all this from Gloria, of course, because Jose speaks barely a word of English. Apparently he had been a dancing instructor. Next song was my turn. "Like thiiiis", gestured Jose from his barstool not two feet from us in that crazy tiny bar, the light from the open alley door streaming in and casting hazy gray shadows.

Gloria, cherubic Gloria. She of the fair hair and the big blue eyes, who some thirty minutes earlier told me, "I only like rock and roll" (her whole gig was that she wanted an "American" husband. "Mexicans only want cleaning and cooking. I like walking on the beach, going dancing, eating in restaurants," the most desired catch being a highway patrolman) and worked at a Guess sweatshop in Tijuana.

Gloria - who had giggled like a fourteen year old when I told her that's how old she looked. I stood straight up looked her in the eyes and we swung it double stepped, she in her wild white six inch high platform shoes and a black skin-tight outfit, the top studded starlike with shining metallic studs, and a fake metal chain crossing the left shoulder. "You're a good dancer," she said.

By then I'd blown my entire $60 wad and decided it was time for the goodbyes. Besides I saw Maria taunting Juan in the corner, unfolding, holding up to the light and squinting as if better to read the napkin with my name and telephone number, Juan pretending not to notice.

Here's what that complication was all about.

I had admired Maria's body when she entered from the alley door, in a sexy turquoise dress which seemed to gleam ever brighter in contrast to her soft dark skin and black hair, braided like a Roman empress. In she sashayed and both Juan and I, on adjoining bar stools, fell in love. In fact, Casanova that old -sad-eyed Juan was, wouldn't you know but that she came his way and the two soon struck up a conversation.

When Juan turned his shoulder and let me introduce myself, I gently kissed her delicate hand and then jokingly angled her to give me and Juan her telephone number.

"No telephone. I just move to new apartment", she'd said in surprisingly good English; Juan then leaving me high and dry when, after writing down my name and telephone number on a napkin and asking for it, he only grunted: "No phone", his eyes on Maria, now pulling out a cash wad of dearly earned greenbacks and ordering drinks.

Consequence: I was in it alone.

I drank my Corona, summoning up courage. In the middle of their heart to heart, Maria standing, delicately pressing her leg against Juan's knee, I carefully fold the napkin and placed it her hand, which she closed and whispered to me, "Thank you."

But just as I thought everything was OK, Juan, his eyes never leaving Maria's, suddenly pulled back, shaking his head and exclaiming in English, "I can't believe that, I can't believe that.. I got scared and pulled the napkin back out, thus allowing their conversation to return to normal as if nothing had happened.

I returned to my Corna and thoughts.

What did Juan care so much about whether or not I gave a near-stranger the napkin - it just didn't make sense.

The second time easier. Besides Maria was very beautiful, and with her so close, her scent was on me. On the Road told of Kerouac's wonderful romance with Terri, the Mexican girl, why couldn't I? Once again I slipped the napkin in Maria's hand and moved up the bar.

Juan this time took no notice.

Now, at the goodbye, Juan seemed in good spirits, as well he should with Maria in his arms. "Everything unner control," he said, disengaging himself and giving me the Mexican salutation, with the clasp, finger roll and punch.

"It's OK?" I again pressed.

"Everyting unner control," he slurred.

I split the bar and kicked the old Ford Escort back to my bachelor pad, but before entering I got into a rollicking argument with my longtime next door neighbor, me really mixing it up, accusing her of having starved her previous cat to death, scorning her native country: "Norway, Denmark, Sweden, what's the difference? You're a Scandinavian. Period." And so on, all of which she took without flinching, but when I started screaming how a movie on her TV sucked, she actually stormed out of her own apartment and slammed the door - with me inside! I of course, being forced to apologize.

Serves me right for dissing someone's movie