When Saturdays were fun

In our youth, Saturdays were the greatest of days. For 26 cents, we could spend the entire day at the movies. Sixteen cents allowed us to enter the Serf Theater, and the extra dime would get us popcorn.

Even though we had three thriving theaters in town, including the Coronado and the Kiva, most of the kids in my circle went to the Serf because the features usually were first-run and in English. There were cartoons, a newsreel and a double-feature.

After two viewings of the continuous filmings, my sister Bingy and brother Severino would stagger out, overdosed on popcorn. But what was even more enjoyable Monday at school was watching classmates — most of whom sat through as many screenings as we had on Saturday — re-enacting scenes we had all seen, sometimes twice.

I recall a number of swash-buckling movies in which the protagonist fought off a dozen less-experienced sword handlers. I recall the dramatic rescues and the tossings overboard. It amazed me how easily many of us students at Immaculate Conception School tried to become the persona of Errol Flynn or Clark Gable.

My childhood friend Wilfred Martinez, who, as noted in previous columns, would do anything for a laugh, performed one such re-enactment. Of course, those of us who cheered him on, while pretending to be offended by such levity, knew he and we could go only so far. One phone call to our parents often meant not being allowed to attend movies for the rest of the school year.

One time Wilfred pretended to be one of the movie stars and picked up a yardstick, poking it at his imaginary adversary. Almost as if they’d rehearsed it, a student named Jack got the teacher’s pointer and retaliated, much to the delight of (most of) the rest of us. Wilfred took a short break, caught his breath and became energized after fashioning a dead cigarette by folding up an index card and letting it hang from his lips.

What was most shocking was that neither combatant seemed aware that our homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Nunca Frieges, was right there, in the supply room, taking in all the action. Part of the fun was watching her expression as we imagined the diabolical punishments she was conjuring up for our swordsmen.

One of us eventually hollered “truchas,” our lingo which is the equivalent of “Cheese it — the cops!” It seemed that the entire class was aware of the nun’s presence as eyewitness to the swordplay, except for Wilfred and Jack, who enjoyed putting on the show and going into extra innings.

So how did the performance end? It ended with several of us — excluding the performers — being made to write lines, and worse, being fearful Sister would keep her promise to notify our parents. And why did Captain Hook and Scaramouch get off so lightly? Well, it turns out that the rest of us hadn’t done anything to prevent the rough-housing. We simply stood there, enjoying the performance without attempting to break them up.

Our teacher never phoned any of our parents about our collective sin of omission. But she didn’t need to. Remember, in those days, word-of-mouth worked far more effectively and rapidly than anything invented today, some 65 years later.

The computer chip and cyberspace are no match for the rapid communication our moms used when their children stepped out of line.

A few days later I asked Wilfred how his own parents reacted when they asked him to account for his classroom antics.

“They laughed all through dinner,” Wilfred said.
And for our passive roles in the spectacle, several of us observers earned a paddling.

• • •

Is it possible for some words to be misused with such frequency that they eventually become “correct,” or at least “acceptable”?

“Irregardless” ranks high in the linguistic pantheon as a word that we hear constantly. People use the word in place of “regardless.” I suspect the negation implied by the prefix “ir” helps to legitimize the word. People use “irrespective,” “irresponsible” and “irreplaceable” and then tack it on to “regardless,” which already had a negative flavor.

Then, count the number of times you hear “humbled,” usually in political victory speeches: “I’m humbled that the voters chose to give me another term.” Now how and when did the exact opposite of “humbled” qualify as a replacement?

Politicians like to feign humility when they call themselves “your humble servant.” But at least a servant cleans up the mess. Shades of humility often comprise victory speeches, but the results of the election, and the very fact that the winner is delivering a speech ought to show that “humbled” is not what the speakers mean.

I looked up the synonyms and antonyms for “humble” and came up with meek, deferential, respectful, submissive, diffident, self-effacing, unassertive; unpresuming, modest, unassuming, self-deprecating; subdued and chastened. And the antonyms: proud and overbearing.

Unless someone employs exaggerated humility, the winner of the election ought not feel humbled. Rather, that person ought to feel emboldened and even a wee bit proud.

• • •

An old-timer defeated a relative newcomer in the recent primary race for the New Mexico House. Here’s what happened:

By winning the primary, Rep. Nick Salazar now seeks another term in a long career in November’s general election. His much younger opponent, Bengie Regensberg, made Salazar’s age — in his 80s — a campaign issue.

Salazar won anyway. Meanwhile, Joseph Baca of KFUN radio mentioned the age difference, the political tactics — and the results. For the occasion, Baca, assuring his radio audience it was all in fun, played that old western song, “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.”

But what does that mean? I searched several dictionaries, hoping to discover why anyone would even dream of cutting the mustard. Most dictionaries refer to old-timers’ inability to perform as they once did. But learning why cutting mustard is such a feat remains elusive.

The word “muster” does refer to meeting expectations, as in the phrase “pass muster.”

But that explanation doesn’t cut it.

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