A couple of years ago, I heard an announcement about the discovery of a new species of giant elephant shrew found in the mountains of Tanzania. It's about the size of a cat.
It wasn't the jet black rump, spindly legs, amber hair, or even the gray face that gave it away for me; though those did come together in some type of grand flashback alignment when I heard the news on CNN.
No, it was the flexible snout aspect that convinced me that scientists had finally located "Debbie."
I met Debbie at the Belt Line Drive-In theater in Garland, Texas on October 28, 1977.
I was fourteen going on fifteen, and was with my parents. When we drove through the ticket lane that night in our 1964 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 convertible, I had no idea I would be meeting a female who shared a 100 million year ancestry with elephants, sea cows, aardvarks and hyraxes. I was just thinking about how many slices of pizza I was going to eat that night. (seven, all told)
It was awkward at first. You might even say aarkward. (Ha Ha.) I met her at the playground and brought her back to the car. My parents were too absorbed in the movie to notice I had a new friend. They might have been just a little bit tipsy, having already murdered a few Pabst beers before the first movie had rolled opening credits.
The Belt Line was playing a double feature that Friday night – The Serpent's Egg and Wizards.
Because I so loved the series Kung Fu, I had my hopes up about The Serpent's Egg. How could you go wrong with its director - Ingmar Bergman? How could you go wrong with the actor from Kung Fu?
However, after watching the performance by David Carradine in The Serpent's Egg, Debbie and I were both pretty shook up and decided to take a walk during intermission. We grabbed something at the snack shack first, then meandered back, all the way to the playground under the screen and found an empty picnic table.
Remember the atmosphere of those playgrounds, Joe Bob? It was a gray-silver, echoic dream, like the undersea graveyard visited by Captain Nemo - if you don't mind the literary reference to a specific ambiance.
It's a majestic, otherworldly experience that kids drooling over their X-Boxes these days will never know.
The strobing light of flickering concession ads and coming attractions baptized us, creating the illusion that Debbie and I were in our own type of motion picture – one that didn't suck like The Serpent's Egg.
Gazing toward and past the projector building, you could see cars zipping along on Route 67 like spaceships destined for Texarkana or Dallas.
We could have been Adam and Eve – prototype beings born of the Belt Line Drive-in, feasting on snack shack pepperoni pizza slices and large watery Cokes.
I say we were drinking our Cokes, but Debbie was actually siphoning her drink with that flexible schnauze, which by that time, had started to kind of grow on me. More than once she had leaned in and given me a little wet nudge on the side of my neck.
I thought it was cute when she reached the bottom of the cup and it made that telltale sound a straw makes when going for that last drop, though the sound she made was a bit more rich in its fleshy timbre.
"Cup empty?" I asked gently. She snorted a little laugh and flashed her big dark eyes at me.
Her haunches quivered.
I felt great.
Years later I would see a film called The Green Mile wherein the guards play the film Top Hat featuring Astaire and Rogers singing I'm In Heaven for prisoner John Coffey. When Debbie looked at me with those infinitely deep eyes I would have to say I felt a hell of a lot like John Coffey did.
Unfortunately, the feeling was short lived.
The next feature – Wizards - began and we decided to watch it for a while from the swings, as we could hear perfectly well on the playground speaker what was happening in the film.
When the narrator began reading about the history of Montagar, I voiced my enthusiasm for the animation to come.
Debbie released her empty cup and made non-distinct sounds of disapproval. She was really upset and it was clear that not only did she not want to watch Wizards, she didn't want me to watch it either.
Without warning, she ran toward and under the screen, then bounded off into the woods after easily scaling the corrugated metal windscreen perimeter.
She was last seen headed toward Sunnyvale.
I've always felt guilty at the relief that washed over me when Debbie abandoned me that night.
You see, Joe Bob, I didn't go after her.
I remained seated at the playground picnic table, thoroughly captivated by Wizards. I never saw Debbie or her fine pelt again. She may have thought I was a nerd - and I guess I was, of a sort, since I didn't give chase and was hypnotized by Wizards - but despite that, I can honestly say I really enjoyed petting Debbie.
I'm just glad to hear she's OK, Joe Bob, and that scientists have found her after all these years. You being who you are and what you do, I thought you might appreciate a strange, yet painfully honest story of drive-in romance.
I can also state unequivocally, that after all these years, The Serpent's Egg still sucks - which is a difficult thing to proclaim about any work by the great Ingmar Bergman.
I still love Wizards and have it on DVD.
... and sometimes … sometimes … Joe Bob, when I watch it, I fancy I can feel Debbie's moist little suction cup kiss testing my neck …
… and I'm in Heaven.
- "Relieved in Texas"
P.S. Go Belt Line Drive-In! Yeah! (even though it has long since been demolished and its popcorn fertilized soil has been hunted out by old geezers with their metal detectors.)
P.P.S. Joe Bob Briggs is a good friend of mine. I have the crew jacket to prove it - even if it isn't exactly true.