Author: Dugal Harris, Childhood, Childhood & Family

When I was young, I was in love with Loopy de Loop – the cartoon wolf. His calling was to redeem the bad name of his species, and to fail horribly at that. I got to know him at the drive-in, where my parents would take us in our faded station-wagon. There were two movies shown, the later one age-restricted, so my sister and I were instructed to hide behind the front seats, so that we could sneak through the ticket gate unseen. I’m not sure if this routine was actually necessary, or just down to my parents’ strangeness. It made an impression on me though, passing through the drive-in gates in this way, laying low and bundled in a woollen blanket. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Excited, yet uneasy that I was somehow letting good
Loopy down.

Inside patient folds of tar waited to be lit by the screen and we wove between the arriving cars to find a space. The aluminium grill of the drive-in radio would scrape on the car window and scratch out announcements of the coming shows. The cars, the tar, and the people all full of expectation. They would show cartoons before the first movie, with Loopy de Loop among them, and I would peer out between the car seats. Transfixed by the moving images and under their spell. I remember that more than the details of the stories. It seemed that as much as on the screen, the theatre was on that stretch of tar, under the neon of the fast-food place where other children were allowed to eat hotdogs, and in the urgency of the misted cars, everything washed in thin light.

When the second movie started, my sister and I curled up in the back of the wagon to sleep. I once woke up and looked out at the forbidden images. A woman pursued a man up a staircase, grabbed him and tore his shirt open, vicious and animal. I was indignant for the man, even angry at him. Why did he stand there so passively, mutely accepting his role as prey while his clothes were ruined? I couldn’t say anything though, as I was supposed to be asleep. So I just had to let it pass as one of those confusions children have about adult behaviour.

Thinking back on Loopy now, there is something both noble and naive about him. He would persuade his sibling wolves into self-improvement schemes, hoping to civilise them and find acceptance in human eyes. Inevitably it was a botched effort, and he would end up taking the blame for their sins, like a bungling messiah. His band of reluctant disciples followed the law of their flesh, with its own bright truth and vitality. Wider than ideas of higher law was the drive-in, where everything was welcome and everything was good. Sins found their place in the steel shadows and were overlooked by the man selling tickets at the gate.

During the gap between the first and second shows, I would excuse myself from the car and run down to a grassy area of swings and slides beyond the tar, and under the great height of the screen. The air cool and silky, and stretched skywards – all the children gone wild. Screams and laughter rung up the rusted ladders, and between the bushes the darkness thickened into doorways. Where the wolves were waiting for you, redeemed of their evil now.

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