Original in Asheboro Courier-Tribune, April 21, 2017
His face glistening with butter, Bobby was rapt. One hand poised over the popcorn barrel as Eric the Viking (aka Tony Curtis) was tied to a post where either the tides or giant man-eating crabs would finish him off. This was so cool.
Summer 1958. The Orpheum Theater, downtown Omaha. Built in 1927 for the vaudeville circuit it seats 2,700. In the late 40s a cinema screen was added, probably 50 by 75 feet.
I was relishing the finest movie ever made. Ever. The Viking with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine, had everything a kid could want.
Einar the Viking (Kirk Douglas) sported a ghastly, milky left eye. It was a terrible thing to behold. He drank his grog right out of the barrel. He and Eric didn’t get along. It had something to do with Janet Leigh, I suspected.
At some point it was time to get rid of Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine). No arrow through the heart for old Ragnar. Wolves. Bound hand and foot Ragnar was to be tossed into a pit of them – and presumably they hadn’t been fed in some time.
“You would deny me entrance to Valhalla by having me die without a sword? I must die as a Viking!” They cut his bonds, they gave him a sword, and he jumped into the pit.
Offscreen: Chomping, snuffling, and snarling sounds.
I was quivering. It just couldn’t get any better. But I was wrong.
As the story winds down Eric and Einar get into another fight (again, I suspect it somehow centered around Janet Leigh). Eric runs Einar through with a broken sword. Ow. I guess Einar, being the rougher character to the more refined Eric, had to die.
But then this: The finest scene in cinematography’s history. The Viking Funeral.
It was night. A craggy Scandinavian seashore. Lashed to some rocks, a Viking longboat awaited. A half dozen huge furry warriors carried a shrouded Kirk Douglas onboard. A full male choir sang a dirge off screen. The rest of the Vikings carried flaming torches and longbows.
I noticed Einar’s escort plop him down and make haste to abandon ship. “What is going on here?” I wondered. And then it hit me as torches arced through the night and on to the boat. I nearly choked on a kernel of popcorn as my breath caught at the sheer, yes, the sheer, beauty of it.
Then Eric lets loose with a flaming arrow and others follow. The camera cuts between a close-up of a roasting Kirk Douglas and a long shot of flaming sails as the credits roll.
I didn’t know whether to cry or wet myself. This. Was. Too. Cool.
Over the next two years my kid sister, Jimmy Bouvette, Sam Marshall, and a few other neighbor kids had plenty of opportunity for critter funerals. Living near a wooded area (perhaps the last in Nebraska until the Rocky Mountains) there were plenty of recently deceased. Enshrouded, perhaps nestled into a cigar box, they were then consigned to a two-foot-deep crypt. These were dignified affairs, complete with a prayer or two.
Then one day a few of us came upon a squirrel. Dead. His right eye looked like Einar’s left eye.
I forget whose idea it was, but Mr. Squirrel took on a new name: Einar the Squirrel. He was to be given a full Viking funeral on the nearby pond.
It wouldn’t end well.
Wrapped gently in rags, Einar was placed on the metal bottle rack of an old wooden milk box (remember those?). The box and Einar’s shroud were thoroughly doused in gasoline (I hope the statute of limitations has run on these environmental crimes).
Whoosh! The Viking milk box was cast adrift, pushed away with a long stick. Big oily flames and smoke billowed skyward. After five minutes, the box keeled over with a great steamy hiss and quickly disappeared into the deep, leaving a trail of bubbles.
We could only stare. Awestruck.
Moments later an eight inch bundle of scorched rags and fur popped up and out, landing with a splashy plop.
I don’t know what happened next, because we were all elbows and rear-ends out of there.
Bob Mason is owner of Mason Law, PC, a statewide law practice based in Asheboro devoted exclusively to solving problems for elders, the disabled and their families. A Board Certified Specialist in Elder Law, he is a two-term past chair of the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association and vice chair of the N.C. Board of Legal Specialization. Contact: Follow Mason Law, PC on Facebook at facebook.com/masonlawpc or at masonlawpc.com.