Friday, April 19, 2013

The Wolfman

At our house, the home of movie buffs, there are at least thirty or forty films lovingly taped over the years because "we're going to watch them someday." 

We hope they're taped.  There have been some disastrous viewings, either all black and white snow or worse, seven-eighths of a film, the last crucial part gone.  One of these is "The Wolfman."  For me this movie is very special.

In the summer of 1942, when I was fifteen years old, the nearest moving picture theater was the Highland down Pennsylvania Avenue a block off of Minnesota Avenue and another block from the John Philip Sousa Bridge and the Anacostia River.  It was a quick trip by bus and, unless we were all going to spend Saturday downtown and take in movies at the Capitol or the Palace, this was the theater we frequented most.

The Highland was showing "The Wolfman."  My friend, Joyce, who lived over on Suitland Road, came by for me after supper and we went across the street and caught the WMA bus.  We were going to the 7:30 show.

It was a soft evening, still light and children were out playing.  The Washington humidity had not yet set in and the windows on the bus were open and let in warm summer air occasionally filled with the scent of flowers.

The trip was only a matter of ten minutes or so and we got off at the Minnesota Avenue stop and went across the street to the theater.  It was fairly full when we took our seats and almost immediately the lights went out and the coming attractions came on the screen.  After that, we had the cartoon and newsreel and then the credits for "The Wolfman."

I shivered a little in anticipation because this was my first real horror film.  I had been in grade school when "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" had been released and I was sent instead to a safe substitute like a Shirley Temple movie or the weekly cowboy offering.  So this was it.

Joyce and I clutched our armrests and sat back as Lon Chaney began his adventure into horror, in fog and howling in spite of Maria Ouspenskaya's warnings.  When the lights came up, we were relieved to be back in Washington.

We had a coke in People's Drug Store next door and went to the bus stop.  A Branch Avenue bus came by and we got on already nervous about the walk home in the dark.  We looked around at the other passengers and saw one of the neighborhood gang.

The neighborhood meant to us everything from Hillcrest and Alabama Avenue, Dupont Park up to Fairfax Village and Suitland Road to the District line.

Jimmy Hitaffer lived vaguely near, delivered papers and went to Anacostia High School.  So we knew him and began talking about the movie.  He had seen it also and agreed that it had been great and scary.  He needed no urging to walk us home, sparing us the dark way from Alabama Avenue to Suitland Road and Joyce's house.

There were no wolfmen jumping out of bushes now that there were three of us.  The sky was no longer pitch black, but star-filled and the dark street was no longer menacing.

Jimmy was a year older than we were, was nice looking, had black hair and was easy to talk to.  He had been downtown, hanging out with friends, and had just come from a Little Tavern and a late supper of hamburger.

We saw Joyce off at the bottom of her stairs, watched her to the top and into
her door.  Then we went down Suitland Road to 38th, my street. The conversation seemed to lag some and we were suddenly aware of each other.

I realized that this was the very first time I had been alone with a boy at this hour of the night.  Then we were in front of my door and I hesitated about going in.  I remember standing with my back to the door, hand on the knob, but still lingering, saying something very trivial.

Then he leaned down and suddenly kissed me.  I knew that this was something I had wanted to happen.  It was a light, gentle, slightly wet kiss flavored with onions from the Little Tavern hamburger.  I murmured a good night, turned the knob and backed into the house.  My mother had gone to bed and I could be alone to savor the moment.  It had been nothing, yet something.

I never really ran into Jimmy Hitaffer much after that, but when I hear the creepy little poem from "The Wolfman:"

                     Even a man who is pure at heart
                     And says his prayers at night
                     May become a wolf when the wofbane blooms
                     And the autumn moon is full and bright

I think of him and his black hair and my first kiss.

(Pictured, Sarah, Jimmy Hitaffer and Joyce.)

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