Duck Signs

Duck SignWhen I was a child, a Hollywood film crew came to my Oregon hometown and went to work shooting a movie. We didn’t have a clear idea of what they were doing behind the temporary plywood walls they erected around their set, but one thing was clear, at least as far as my father was concerned: they knew how to viciously fuck up traffic out on Center Street for months on end. He was happy see them go when they finally packed up and went back to California. Center Street traffic immediately returned to normal, and we all soon forgot about the film crew’s extended visit.

Time passed. At least a year anyway; maybe even two. And then one day, out of the blue, we heard that the movie was ready to be released in theaters. And, to my overwhelming disappointment, it was to be released with an “R” rating.

I was, I think, twelve years old that summer—too young to see an “R” rated movie, at least as far as my parents were concerned. But I begged. I thought an exception should be made. This was our hometown movie, after all. Didn’t I also have some sort of proprietary right to see it when it made its local debut?

Incredibly, my parents relented. Not only did they agree to take me, but they agreed that my best friend Hope (who was younger than I was by more than a year) could go too—if, of course, she had her mother’s permission. For Hope, the youngest of six children, getting that consent from her mom was a mere formality. So, on a warm summer night, my Dad and Mom packed the two of us into the family station wagon and we set out for the local drive-in theater. Hope and I had the back seats folded flat in my dad’s old Gran Torino. We had sleeping bags and pillows back there, along with all the popcorn we could eat. We were ready to make a night of it.

Sunset comes pretty late to Oregon in August, so the main feature didn’t really get underway until well after 9:00 pm. The movie was interesting—sort of—but not interesting enough to keep us awake for its entire duration. Hope and I, predictably enough, fell asleep in the back at least thirty, maybe forty-five minutes before the final credits rolled.

My mother was curious to find out what sort of impression my first “R” rated movie made on me. The next day she asked me what I had thought of it. “It was okay,” I assured her. “But there was one thing that had bothered me about it.”

“Oh,” she asked. “What was that?”

“Well,” I said. “You know the Duck Crossing sign on Center Street, right?”

“Sure,” she said. Everyone knew the sign. It was a minor local attraction. I think it was the only one of its kind back in the day because whenever we had visitors from out-of-town, they never failed to notice it, and it never failed to bring a smile to their faces. The only problem was that it stood on the shoulder at the side of the eastbound traffic lanes, but there was no corresponding sign displayed on the westbound side. If you were a duck in my hometown, you could count on getting to the middle of the street safely, but you were taking your life into your hands if you wanted to waddle across the westbound lanes too. That’s just the way it was. I don’t know why; probably no one else does either.

“So there was a scene in the movie where they all climbed into a bus for a trip to the coast, remember?” I said.  “And they showed the bus driving past the duck sign. But they would have been going west to get to the coast. They would have only seen that sign if they were traveling east. There’s no way they could have seen that sign on a trip to the beach. Only on the way back. That bugged me.”

My mother probably wondered what sort of sociopath she was raising at that point. Of all the things that could have disturbed me in that movie—One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—I had decided to fixate on a benign image that had been onscreen for probably a grand total of two seconds. She was undoubtedly concerned about broaching delicate subjects like the movie’s depictions of suicide or prostitution or electro shock therapy with her impressionable 12-year-old youngest child. But all those disturbing images rolled off of my cast iron psyche like water off a duck’s back—it was only a misplaced traffic sign that had disrupted my emotional equilibrium.

In my defense, I had slept through most of the critical scenes of the movie. I don’t think Mom knew that.

Evidently, few people shared my concern about the careless use of the duck sign in Cuckoo’s Nest. The movie won pretty much all of the Oscars that year, despite what I considered an egregious error. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I wasn’t a voting member of the Academy.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Margaret
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 21:48:15

    LOVED that movie–and didn’t know about the duck sign, naturally. Ashley’s first $ rated movie was when she was about 16 on Veteran’s Day; it was Saving Private Ryan minus the first 15 minutes or so.


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