April 10, 1933 [King Kong]

I dreamt that I was a little boy, as was my father--and in the dream he was my older brother, and his nickname is "Big Chief." And is it his size, or the size of his nose? One or the other, or both. So the other guys say, There goes Big Chief and his little brother--and my nickname is "Bud"--but in the dream I do not catch the gentle irony of a flower small and waiting; I’m simply Bud--which of course my father did call me when I was a boy. He holds my hand and whistles. I look up, and he looks down and winks. We are two boys in 1933, and what a good big brother he would have made--makes, as we walk up the street.

Where are they going? “Where you going?”

“Taking my little brother to see King Kong.”

And I walk with him through city streets dim and strained, anxious--but we are children, and see adult troubles only second-hand. Still, I reach in my pocket and there is a fried onion sandwich, the only meal until evening--but no complaints here, the bread bulging, the onions toasty-sweet, dripping from the bread a little, softening the paper.

It is noon, and the spring day is unusually warm, the sun coming up at us from the pavement like bars of lead against our temples. My brother says that's why we're going to the movies, where it’s "20 degrees cooler inside"--because he's seen King Kong already, and I'm such a baby I'll stay in the lobby through it. My protest and denial are automatic, as heartfelt as the insult itself, which isn't saying much. It is his duty to give me the business, and mine to complain about it; always following the rules, I shoot him a small Bronx cheer as we arrive at the theater.

He buys me a Coca-Cola and we watch Betty Boop in her rubbery world, Ko Ko the clown suddenly Cab Calloway, serenading Snow-White on Minnie the Moocher’s wedding day; later we might get an ice cream from one of the guys wandering around the theater hawking stuff. The empty Coke bottle will come in handy during a quiet spot in the movie: You just roll it down the aisle, its grinding music clear in the still dark.

But there is no “still” in this dark. The movie barrels at us like the great ape himself, one breathless sequence after another. It's like all the chapters in a serial run at once, with no stop, just a moment or two of wide-eyed panting before it's off again, tearing down through the centuries until the dinosaurs arrive, and then back again, swooping up to catch the sun on the biplanes as they bear down on Kong, who has scared me plenty--and when he’s finally defeated, a small, dark part of me is glad he topples: that arm reaching in through the window, those sliding eyes in close-up above the frozen grin, some fur-rippling mechanical bank that eats you up like coins. This is no Eighth Wonder of the World, but a real nightmare drawn out of the spot not on any map; it makes sense that Kong is taken from a place called "Skull Island," because that's where he lives--you know, underneath the thing we see.

So I’m scared; but another part of me, with my brother, with Kong, feels--well, not exactly safe, but not simply terrified: Kong shows me that the movies are beautiful because they ask me to love a terrible monster, to want him to make it back to the island, the lonely king on the cliff. But I also know that loving Kong drags him to the top of the Empire State building, just as his own love has done to him, cornered by impossible desires. This dream follows me until I'm myself--or the dream leads me to myself, willing to suspend my disbelief over yawning chasms so that I can see all the way down.

Leaving the theater, cold and shivering and shocked in the heat, we are suddenly in the trolley, and I lean against my brother, young enough to nap after all that, and go home, and wake up, and write in this diary.


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