The Plastic Age

Source: Percy Marks, The Plastic Age (New York: The Century Co., 1924), pp. 24-28

Text: “Well,” he exclaimed, “that’s that! At last I know where I’m going. You certainly saved my life. I know where all the buildings are; so it ought to be easy.”

“Sure,” said Carl encouragingly; “it’s easy. Now there’s nothing to do till to-morrow until eight forty-five when we attend chapel to the glory of the Lord. I think I’ll pray to-morrow; I may need it. Christ! I hate to study.”

“Me, too,” Hugh lied. He really loved books, but somehow he couldn’t admit the fact, which had suddenly become shameful, to Carl. “Let’s go to the movies,” he suggested, changing the subject for safety.

“Right-o!” Carl put on his freshman cap and flung Hugh’s to him. “Gloria Nielsen is there, and she’s a pash baby. Ought to be a good fillum.”

The Blue and Orange – it was the only movie theater in town – was almost full when the boys arrived. Only a few seats near the front were still vacant. A freshman started down the aisle, his “baby bonnet” stuck jauntily on the back of his head.

“Freshman!”… “Kill him!”… “Murder the frosh!” Shouts came from all parts of the house, and an instant later hundreds of peanuts shot swiftly at the startled freshman. “Cap! Cap! Cap off!” There was a panic of excitement. Upper-classmen were standing on their chairs to get free throwing room. The freshman snatched off his cap, drew his head like a scared turtle down into his coat collar, and ran for a seat. Hugh and Carl tucked their caps into their coat pockets and attempted to stroll nonchalantly down the aisle. They hadn’t taken three steps before the bombardment began. Like their classmate, they ran for safety.

Then some one in the front of the theatre threw a peanut at some one in the rear. The fight was on! Yelling like madmen, the students stood on their chairs and hurled peanuts, the front and rear of the house automatically dividing into enemy camps. When the fight was at its hottest, three girls entered.

“Wimmen! Wimmen!” As the girls walked down the aisle, infinitely pleased with their reception, five hundred men stamped in time with their steps.

No sooner were the girls seated than there was a scramble in one corner, an excited scuffling of feet. “I’ve got it!” a boy screamed. He stood on his chair and held up a live mouse by its tail. There was a shout of applause and then – “Play catch!”

The boy dropped the writhing mouse into a peanut bag, screwed the open end tight-closed, and then threw the bag far across the room. Another boy caught it and threw it, this time over the girls’ heads. They screamed and jumped upon their chairs, holding their skirts, and dancing up and down in assumed terror. Back over their heads, back and over, again and again the bagged mouse was thrown while the girls screamed and the boys roared with delight. Suddenly one of he girls threw up her arm, caught the bag deftly, held it for a second, and then tossed it into the rear of the theater.

Cheers of terrifying violence broke loose: “Ray! Ray! Atta girl! Hot dog! Ray, ray!” And then the lights went out.

“Moosick! Moosick! Moo-sick!” The audience stamped and roared, whistled and howled. “Moosick! We want moosick!”

The pianist, an undergraduate, calmly strolled down the aisle.

“Get a move on!”… “Earn your salary!”… “Give us moosick!”

The pianist paused to thumb his nose casually at the entire audience, and then amid shouts and hisses sat down at the piano and began to play “Love Nest.”

Immediately the boys began to whistle, and as the comedy was utterly stupid, they relieved their boredom by whistling the various tunes that the pianist played until the miserable film flickered out.

Then the “feature” and the fun began. During the stretches of pure narrative, the boys whistled, but when there was any real action they talked. The picture was a melodrama of “love and hate,” as the advertisement said.

The boys told the actors what to do; they revealed to them the secrets of the plot. “She’s hiding behind the door, Harold. No, no! Not that way. Hey, dumbbell – behind the door.”… “Catch him, Gloria; he’s only shy!”… “No, that’s not him!”

The climactic fight brought shouts of encouragement – to the villain. “Kill him!”… “Shoot one to his kidneys!”… “Ahhhhh,” as the villain hit the hero in the stomach…. “Muss his hair. Attaboy!”… “Kill the skunk!” And finally groans of despair when the hero won his inevitable victory.

But it was the love scenes that aroused the greatest ardor and joy. The hero was given careful instructions. “Some neckin’, Harold!”… “Kiss her! Kiss her! Ahhh!”… “Harold, Harold, you’re getting rough!”… “She’s vamping you, Harold!”… “Stop it; Gloria; he’s a good boy.” And so on until the picture ended in the usual close-up of the hero and heroine silhouetted in a tender embrace against the setting sun. The boys breathed “Ahhhh” and “Ooooh” ecstatically – and laughed. The meretricious melodrama did not fool them, but they delighted in its absurdities.

The lights flashed on and the crowd filed out, “wise-cracking” about the picture and commenting favorably on the heroine’s figure. There were shouts to this fellow or that fellow to come on over and play bridge, and suggestions here and there to go to a drug store and get a drink.

Hugh and Carl strolled home over the dark campus, both of them radiant with excitement, Hugh frankly so.

Comments: Percy Marks (1891-1956) was an American author whose notorious novel of college life, The Plastic Age, was filmed under that title in 1925 (starring Clara Bow) and in 1929 as Red Lips.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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