by Joe Tyburczy
THE FIRST REAL MOVIE I EVER WENT TO SEE WITHOUT MY PARENTS was "Goldfinger". Weeks before the film was due to open, local TV channels were saturated by vivid promotional trailers that depicted Sean Connery punching people and dashing about in his Aston-Martin. As if this weren't enough, there were glimpses of what looked like a buxom, naked woman with golden skin. The trailers seemed to hint that once inside the theatre, we'd get to see every inch of this babe in all her naked glory and nobody'd be the wiser.
Kevin O'Connor and I were hooked. My mom agreed to drive us both to see the film that coming Saturday. But Kevin's parents flat-out refused to let him go. They subscribed to the Roman-Catholic newspaper, The Pilot, and faithfully digested every inch of it, including which current movies were "RECOMMENDED" or "BANNED" by a holy committee of bishops and cardinals. No amount of Kevin's begging and pleading could change their minds. They cut him short, saying, "It's not a movie for children", warning that even thinking about "Goldfinger" was a mortal sin.
For reasons of their own, it seemed important to Kevin's parents to keep him sheltered from all matters sexual, probably until he either entered the priesthood, or joined the Army. For this reason, he was compelled to keep up a continual ruse of not showing any interest in girls well into the 8th grade. I suggested that he try and talk up the movie's bomb explosions and car chases, and downplay the unwholesome kissing scenes between James Bond and a number of scantily-clad women. But Kevin knew better than to pursue it. The case was closed on "Goldfinger", and any further discussion would prompt some kind of corporal punishment. Outwardly at least, he meekly accepted this fascism from his parents, but I sensed that he was deeply angry and resentful about it. Especially when, at the last minute and without apparent explanation, they suddenly relented and allowed him to go. This seemed to be a cruel game they often played with him and I couldn't figure out why he put up with it.
Saturday, we were driven to the Star Theatre by my mom and dropped right into a huge, squirming mob of kids waiting to get in. The Star was situated in a seedy part of nearby Lawrence, a run-down industrial city on its last legs. The joke was that "Star" spelled backwards was "Rats", and that rodent bite cases were all too frequent within the theatre's darkened environs.
There was a lot of hooting and screaming during the movie as Sean Connery went about his business. The audience was packed with kids our own age who ate up their first taste of celluloid sex and violence. Kevin and I were particularly fascinated by the movie's villains, one of them a nasty Asian called "Oddjob". He wore a black derby with a steel rim that he tossed at people and broke their necks with.
After the movie, we immediately went back to my house and tried to reconstruct the film's highlights from memory. This consisted of us taking turns playing "Oddjob", and menacing each other with stiff-legged pursuits around the yard. I asked my mother if I could have one of my dad's old hats. She rummaged in the closets and produced an old brown fedora. It wasn't exactly a derby, but it would have to do. Kevin and I flung it like a frisbee at each other, but the effect was less than satisfying. It was too light, flopped around stupidly, and just wouldn't sail very far. Not at all like the movie.
I remembered seeing some old, discarded telephone pole cable in the bushes by the road. A quick search turned up a two-foot length of steel-stranded cable, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Using a penknife, I cut a hole in the outer brim of the fedora and managed to snake the heavy cable inside the seam, until it bulged all the way around the brim. The fedora, now heavily weighted, sailed like a dream. Plus, it had the added bonus of producing a satisfying whack when it hit its target. Perfect.
Most all the boys at St. Joseph's School had seen the movie that weekend, one way or another. When we got to school on Monday, everybody seemed to be playing "James Bond". My "derby" and I were extremely popular during recess. Kevin and I took turns "whacking" delighted victims. Many kids were surprised at the weight of the thing, and took their own turns, hurling it all over the schoolyard, hitting trees and denting parked cars with it. By the time I got it back, it was beat to shit, but mostly intact.
Soon the bell rang, signalling the end of recess. I decided to go for one last perfect throw, and searched the grounds for a target. I spotted Robert Perrault, a tall quiet kid with a sweet disposition, ambling his way up the hill towards the school doors. "Hey Look!" I shouted to him, "I'm OddJob!". I cocked my arm like a discus thrower, took aim, and threw. As soon as it left my hand, I realized that I'd used much more force than necessary. The fedora seemed to slice through the air faster than I'd ever seen anything go. Jesus, how it flew! I watched helplessly as the damn thing actually seemed to be gaining speed. Robert's face, as my missle ruthlessly homed in on him, disturbed me even further. Obviously, he was one of the few who hadn't seen "Goldfinger" that weekend. His expression seemed to say "Why me, Joe? What did I ever do to you?". Right then, I prayed for the thing to miss, to fall harmlessly to one side, for Robert to jump out of the way, for the hat to magically disintegrate and vaporize in mid-air. But its trajectory was perfect, precise and unswerving. It caught Robert squarely in the neck.
He went down screaming. And bleeding. I ran over to him. The heavy steel cable had apparently sprung from the hat seam, exposing jagged, razor-sharp edges. It had sliced the poor kid's neck viciously. Quickly, the rumble of nuns on the pavement was like old testament thunder as they swooped down and took charge of the situation.
Here's where it gets strange. The hat simply disappeared in the confusion and I never saw it again. Maybe the nuns took it. Or maybe it really did vaporize. In any case, I was never officially approached about the lethally-modified hat. Robert was back in school the next day with a small band-aid marking the site of his wound. Apparently he never talked about exactly who or what caused his injury. Why he did this I'll never know. I often wondered if the nuns convinced themselves that it was related to some kind of religious stigmata. We were always hearing about child saints named Bosco or Theordoric whose spontaneous bleeding was considered a sign from God. Among my pals, the truth of the Oddjob Derby incident became famous in our schoolyard-lore, and whenever somebody would reminisce "...remember that HAT?" Kevin and my other classmates would be overtaken by fits of raunchy laughter at the mere mention of it.