Monday Jun. 6, 2016

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All day he’s shoveled green pine sawdust
out of the trailer truck into the chute.
From time to time he’s clambered down to even
the pile. Now his hair is frosted with sawdust.
Little rivers of sawdust pour out of his boots.

I hope in the afterlife there’s none of this stuff
he says, stripping nude in the late September sun
while I broom off his jeans, his sweater flocked
with granules, his immersed-in-sawdust socks.
I hope there’s no bedding, no stalls, no barn

no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses
burst through when snow avalanches off the roof.
Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his,
horses, he’s fond of saying, make divorces.
Fifty years married, he’s safely facetious.

No garden pump that’s airbound, no window a grouse
flies into and shatters, no ancient tractor’s
intractable problem with carburetor
ignition or piston, no mowers and no chain saws
that refuse to start, or start, misfire and quit.

But after a Bloody Mary on the terrace
already frost-heaved despite our heroic efforts
to level the bricks a few years back, he says
let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset
and off we go, a couple of aging fools.

I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot
less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools.

“Chores” by Maxine Kumin from Connecting the Dots. © W.W. Norton, 1996. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1933 that the first drive-in movie theater opened, in Camden, New Jersey. The theater was the brainchild of a young man named Richard Hollingshead Jr., a manager at his father's Camden auto shop, Whiz Auto Products. He dreamed of creating something that would bring a little fun to the tough daily life of the Depression era. He was also thinking about his mother, who was a little bit overweight and wasn't comfortable in movie theater seats.

Once he had the idea for a drive-in theater, he got all the materials to try it out in his own backyard. He mounted a film projector on the hood of his car, and attached a screen to a couple of trees. Then he worked out a complicated system of parking spaces with various ramps and blocks to make sure that every car would have an equal view of the screen. Hollingshead even tried to test how well his system worked in adverse weather by turning on his sprinkler in place of rain. The sound was tougher to manage—in the early days of drive-ins, all the sound came through a speaker mounted by the screen, so it was hard to hear for cars parked in the back, and tinny-sounding for everyone. Eventually technology improved, and viewers were able to get the film's sound through the FM radio in their cars.

One of the big draws of the drive-in theater was that it gave families an activity to do together. There was a kids' play area and a stand that sold snacks. Hollingshead was quick to point out all the people who could suddenly enjoy going to a film: "Inveterate smokers rarely enjoy a movie because of the smoking prohibition. In the Drive-In theater one may smoke without offending others. People may chat or even partake of refreshments brought in their cars without disturbing those who prefer silence. The Drive-In theater idea virtually transforms an ordinary motor car into a private theater box. The younger children are not permitted in movie theaters and are frequently discouraged even when accompanied by parents or guardians. Here the whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are apt to be and parents are furthermore assured of the children's safety because youngsters remain in the car. The aged and infirm will find the Drive-In a boon because they will not be subjected to inconvenience such as getting up to let others pass in narrow aisles or the uncertainty of a seat."

Hollingsburg applied for a patent in May of 1933 and opened his first theater just three weeks later, on Crescent Boulevard in Camden. The film that played on this day was a comedy called Wife Beware, starring Adolph Menjou, which had come out in 1932. The cost was 25 cents per car, and 25 cents per person after that, with a cap at one dollar.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four  (books by this authorwas published on this date in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-four begins with the famous line: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Orwell wrote most of the novel on the island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides; grieving the loss of his wife and overwhelmed with all the demands on his time that arose from the success of Animal Farm (1945), he retreated there with his son. The weather was bad, and so he stayed inside and wrote. He kept on with the book even as he became more and more ill with tuberculosis. He died in 1950, less than a year after the book was published.

And it’s the birthday of poet Maxine Kumin (books by this author), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1925). Kumin is the author of many poetry collections, including Up Country (1973), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

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