In seven days I celebrate the forty-fourth anniversary of my birth.
Counting down to that day, I am posting birthday memories.
As a kid in America grows up, there are certain milestone birthdays to look forward to. Reaching the age when a driver’s license is possible, or the age when one can vote, or the age when one can drink, legally.
Lost in the midst of all those, however, is the age imposed on people who love movies: the age when one can see R-rated movies.
Seventeen years of age.
That was the age at which a person could see an R-rated movie without having their parent or guardian there. So when I turned 17, I wanted, more than pineapple upside-down cake, more than presents, I wanted to see an R-rated movie.
And my first “legal” R-rated movie was “Sharky’s Machine”, a Burt Reynolds cops-and-robbers thriller.
I picked it because most people in my family liked Burt Reynolds. This is not surprising. Lots of people liked Burt Reynolds. He was a huge star back in the 70s.
I wanted a movie that promised lots of action. A “boy movie”. I remember reading about the showpiece stunt in the film prior to it’s release: a 220-foot stunt fall that has never been surpassed even today.
But I have to admit that, mostly, I picked that movie because, to me, an R rating meant one thing and one thing only: nudity. I knew that Rachel Ward, the starlet playing a mob boss’s girlfriend in the flick, would probably, very likely, show her boobies.
So, after my birthday dinner at home, after some delicious pineapple upside-down cake, me, my sister, and my parents drove down to the Southgate Theater, a cinder block warehouse of a theater, and bought tickets for “Sharky’s Machine”.
…wait, what? I was 17. I did not have to have my parents’ permission. I did not need to be accompanied by my legal guardian. As long as I could prove I was 17, I could see any R-rated movie I wanted to.
And yet, my parents did, in fact, go to see it with me.
Now I look back and am a bit embarrassed by that. Details are fuzzy, but I’m certain that the reason mom and dad came with me was because I had no job of my own, therefore no spending money of my own. But maybe mom and dad just wanted to see that movie themselves?
In fact, waaaaaaaaay back when I was 7, I remember my parents taking me and my sister to a drive-in theater (remember those? Also, GET OFF MY LAWN) to see the R-rated “Fuzz”, staring Burt Reynolds. My parents made us kids hide in the back seat because they could not find a babysitter. I remember peeking up over the top of the front seat and seeing Burt Reynolds and his partner dressed up as Catholic nuns; Burt had a line complaining about his balls. Even at that young age, I knew what balls were and I thought that line was hilarious, a fact which scandalized my mom.
At 17, ten years later, watching a movie with much profanity, a tiny bit of nudity (there’s a quick scene where Rachel Ward is getting dressed while talking to Burt and we get a glimpse of boob), and lots of fake action (of the 220′ fall, only a brief moment of it was used in the movie; the rest was obviously a dummy), I had come full circle and, perhaps, made my parents a bit uncomfortable watching that movie with me.
Probably not dad. But probably mom, at least.