Noah Brand’s eccentric mother offered an alternative to his senior year in high school. He regrets turning her down.
There was a pretty predictable pattern with my late mother. I’d tell friends and contemporaries stories about how she did this or she said that, how she pulled this on someone or got off a punchline somewhere else, and they’d nod and smile the way you do when your friend spins a yarn you’re privately kinda dubious of. Then they’d meet her, and again and again I’d be told “Dude, holy shit. I thought you were exaggerating, but she’s really like that.” She was a character, an eccentric, a larger-than-life figure who left a trail of anecdotes behind her like the various reading glasses she could never find.
One of the ballsiest and coolest things she ever did is linked to one of my own greatest regrets.
The town I grew up in had the UC Theatre, a crazy old Depression-era movie palace with one giant screen, where a different double feature would play every day of the week. I’d go every so often when there was something cool-looking playing. Classic movies, foreign movies, weird little local art-house things, Rocky Horror every Saturday night.. Sometimes they’d have a film festival for a whole week, but most weeks it was months-long themes like Hong Kong Thursdays and Noir Mondays.
Also, real butter on the popcorn. That is not a small deal.
For unrelated reasons, I left my first high school after being “suspended pending psychiatric evaluation”, a phrase I would put on my résumé if I could. My mom was going to let me go back to school until she found out that they didn’t give a shit about me, they were just worried about their insurance rates. At that point she got furious and refused to let me return to that school because fuck those guys. (Her phrase, not mine.)
Instead, she made me an offer. She told me I could just take a year off of high school entirely. Instead, I would go to the UC Theatre every day and watch both features, no matter what was playing. She’d pay for the whole thing, including popcorn. But I had to go every day, even if it was something I wasn’t interested in. She pointed out that I’d probably get a better education from that than from a year of high school.
And I thought it over and said no.
Like a dimwitted teenage asshole who thinks Truffaut films are boring and high school is actually important, I said no.
I wound up going to a different school and had other adventures and learned other things, but I’ve spent nearly two decades regretting that sick, stupid teenage delusion that high school matters more than art. When I try to remember what I learned at my second school, literally the first thing that comes to mind is “long-distance driving” because it was three counties away. Possibly also a couple novels from English, but … nope, can’t quite bring ’em to mind. Compare that to what I’d have learned from 600 or so movies from every genre and country on earth. In hindsight, teenage me wouldn’t know an education if it bit him on the ass.
When I’ve told folks about this, they often assume that my mother’s offer wasn’t sincere, that she was kidding or testing me or something. These are always, and only, the people who still think high school was important, who never learned better. Me, I did learn better, but too late.
Possibly just as well. An entire year of popcorn with real butter might have wreaked permanent damage on my arteries.
—Photo credit: o5com/Flickr