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The Movies In Our Education

This article first appeared in issue 18, and was written by Ed Waggener.

Movies with ads taught us geography; DoD filmstrips taught safe sex (to boys)

We grew up on picture shows. It was part of our education.

And educators recognized it. They didn't want any cinema illiterates running around Adair County any more than the educators of today want any computer illiterates at large.

Films augmented our geography lessons.

They showed the film in the big auditorium at Columbia Graded and High School, the arched roof section between the main classroom building and the gymnasium.

It was way before Whittle Communications' Classroom One was conceived to corrupt public academia with commercials.

The Chrysler Corporation was already doing it.

We saw geography movies about African expeditions. And always, at one point, the narrator would describe an exceptional stretch of hard going in the bush, and as the vehicles ground through the mud or up the impassable hill, the narrator would say, "It was tough terrain, but our powerful Dodge trucks just kept on going."

Every boy student-maybe some of the girls, too-memorized the line by heart, and used it when making a tough tree climb, when "pulling" Jamestown Hill on their 80-lb Firestone bikes, or making it up Lowe's Lane from Miller Avenue when Lowe's Lane was two red clay ridges, in a swiped-from-somebody's-daddy pickup truck.

Back then, sex education was not taught by a teacher. That would have been perversion. Instead, the subject was handled with a 20-minute Department of Defense film on the subject. The film was shown about once a year, generally when the sap was rising, the first robins were seen, and pheromones filled the air. They might also show it when one of the teachers had heard or seen something which prompted a rerun. In between, the entire field of reproductive science was handled at service station by older guys, whose smirks at the first hint of acne or warnings that "your stinger will fall off," was enough to stop a great deal of procreational mischief.

Only the boys would see the film at school. During the screening there were plenty of catcalls-even some rooster crowing, I recall-as the reels spewed out the tragedy of succumbing to misguided sex.

The Defense Department movie would tell the story of enlisted men on liberty from the Navy. An uncouth slob of a sailor would tempt a pure-as-the-driven-snow one to come along to a place he knew where sex could be had for $2.

The film would show the sailor making a transaction with the ugliest female on the face of the earth. She would be a huge, clabbery, sloth of a woman. A cigarette dangle from her lips; she was sullen, and all business.

The next scene would have the young sailor, now compromised, exiting Satan's parlor, and the narrator would say that he left unfulfilled and with "that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex." Of course, the part we learned was not to get "that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex," and that phrase stayed with every male student who ever attended Columbia High and Graded School.

Ever afterward, if one CH&GS boy went to the carnival or-an unlikely event-to Bowling Green, that Sodom on the banks of the Barren with the house by the railroad tracks, the last advice given by another boy was not to come back with that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex.

Few ever did.

But it was not the way they always told it.

The words took on a life

which has lasted a lifetime

The words had a long life here. Visit a sick friend and ask how he was doing, "Terrible," he would always say, "I've got fever. I'm upchucking . . . and I've got that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex." The gales of therapeutic laughter would hasten his recovery.

I remember that the phrase was always the last advice I'd get, when leaving my buddies. It didn't matter if I was going to the drive-in movie or to Indianapolis to find work, or whatever. I would hear it before going to Louisville to buy White Castles or to get the midnight edition of the Courier-Journal with the climactic panel of a Buzz Sawyer episode; or to make a late evening run to Gallatin and Nashville to get better reception from WLAP and thus hear the Jiving Horseman play rhythm and blues more clearly. "Just remember one thing," my friends would always warn, and we all would be choking back the laughter which was inevitably to follow, "Don't come back with that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex."

They thought it was even funnier when I would tell them my parents were making me go to BTU, and I couldn't take them all down the Big Russell Creek Hill on East 80 and bury the hand on the 1954 Powerglide. "BTU" was Baptist Training Union; even those infidels knew that.

They would feign understanding and concern, and say, "Just one last thing we got to got to tell you, Eddie," and then they would pause-using Jack Benny's greatest comedic device ever so patiently. Most of the time the hilarity just wouldn't wait. Before the speaker's pause would end all our mental states would sync, and we would all say in unison, "Just don't come back with that cheap, crawly feeling of commercial sex," as we'd all double over laughing till our stomachs hurt.

This story was posted on 1997-12-24 12:01:01
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