Welcome May Day!  Welcome M Day!  I’ve seen M several times now on various mediums (late-night PBS broadcasts, small theater revivals), but the last two times I’ve watched it on DVD, I’ve dozed off at approximately the same spot — as the police and the criminal underworld decide on a course of action.  In my defense I’ll say that the first of May was the first hot day of the year, rising into the high 80s.  The green stalks of day lilies rampaging over the front lawn like Mongols.  And on the third floor of the house, where my “home theater” is, the heat is as thick as a wet towel.  Jelly beans melt in my hand.  My cats assume the “let’s trip Daddy on the stairs and break his neck” stretch.

Once Peter Lorre appears on-screen, however, M becomes a completely different creature.  Lorre has forever ruined Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” for me.  While I was growing up, I had my share of child-safety lessons in elementary school:  don’t trust strangers, don’t get lured off the path on the way home, travel in groups if necessary, don’t hitchhike.  But we didn’t have the same level of hysteria as today.  No Amber alerts, no Code Adam.  (It’s tempting to assume that people weren’t as crazy back in the good old days, but more and more, I subscribe to Will Self’s Quantity Theory of Insanity.)

Every precaution my parents took seemed at the time sensible, though in retrospect, I wonder how effective they would have been.  One idea that never caught on:  parents should have a ‘password’ with their child.  So, for instance, if my parents were in the hospital and had to dispatch someone to pick me up, the person was to give this ‘password’ before I went with them.  Though I’m sure my parents and I had agreed on a password, I forgot it — by the next day, most likely.  Besides, if something terrible had happened to my parents, my aunt and uncle who lived not-too-far-away would have been the ones to ferry me around.  No password needed.

The other thing I remember doing was making an ‘identification card.’  Our local Safeway sponsored the cards; they consisted of a passport-sized photograph pasted onto a 4×6 piece of blue cardstock, a short description, and the location of prominent birthmarks (I have a dime-sized one on my left hand, which depending on the angle, can be described as a rider on a horse or a turtle).  Maybe there had been a high-profile kidnapping around that time.  Oh, I’ve heard the horror stories:  someone follows a young girl into the restroom, drugs her, shaves her head and passes her off as an ill son.  But these weren’t enough to stop the range of my wanderlust:  from Wheeling St. into the grassy field at the end of the street.  Before long, I roamed from Peoria to Sable and would soon enough discover Colfax Ave.  My wanderings never brought me into contact with real danger, of course, but it’s not necessarily comforting to think that mere luck separated me from poor, doomed Elsie Brinkmann.

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