And Then There Were......... The Movies

May, 2009



After reading a few issues of Reminisce magazine, I came up with my own childhood reminiscence.......

When I was a young man, I spent a lot of time at the movies.. Now, before you youngsters get the wrong idea-- movies and theaters were a lot different back then, and not at all like the super/mega/hyper/terraplex movie warehouses of today. -  where for the cost equivalent to a mere tank of gasoline- you can sit inside a tin can and see a picture so hi-def that you can actually count George Clooney's nasal hairs. No, there were no IMAX, THX or Dolby digital high definition experiences when I was a kid growing up back in Action Ridge.  But we had our own Grand Movie Palaces-- The 3 Big P's  The Pickwick, The Patio and The Portage theatres -  veritable Taj Mahals of entertainment, featuring first run high class films, and actual stage productions made with real professional amateur actors- and sets too!  For a buck seventy-five you could have it all- right in your own town. 
But that's not where I went to see a movie.  If you went a couple miles or so in the other direction, down along the Chicago & Northwestern tracks, there was the Little Theater That Time Forgot, the 60 Cent Wonder, The Little "p"-- otherwise known as the Des Plaines Theater.  This was the home of  The Ultimate Cheap Date-- where a stack of six thin dimes, 6/10ths of a dollar-- brought forth not just one -- but two full length motion pictures for your matinee or evening's entertainment. It was the Holy Grail for cheapskates. Amid dozens of "b" rated blockbusters,  I saw my first Alfred Hitchcock movie at the Des Plaines, along with the war epic Midway, Rollercoaster and at least a dozen Disney kid shows. I got my first movie kiss in one of the back rows.  
But Utopia it was not. There were certain adjustments that one had to make when in attendance at the Des Plaines. The management had a slightly different definition of a 'first run' motion picture. For them it meant movies that they had never shown before, even movies that were made prior to your lifetime. The 'second run' films were a little older than that. Some of them pre-dated the Middle Ages.  I remember seeing some old Roman Toga epic that starred Nero and something else with Cleopatra in it and Socretes in a supporting role. Then there were the seats. You never really 'sat' in the Des Plaines theater- not as much as you bonded to it. The entire floor had this 1/8 inch  thick coating of congealed soda pop, candy wrappers, old Jujubees and rancid popcorn. (Aviation engineers tried it as a safety non-skid surface for the runways at the local airport (O'Hare International) but it didn't work. Even at full throttle, the jets couldn't detach from it.)   The seats were luxuriously upholstered in burlap, spilled soda and old chewing gum. 3M got their idea for the 'Post-It Note' from these seats. 
 It wasn't such a big deal, for once you de-adhered your way down the aisle and into your row, and attached yourself to your seat, you could lose yourself into that 16mm magic lantern show-- you, your date, 150 mice and countless vermin . If you were ever unfortunate enough to drop something valuable onto the floor during the show, you had best give it up for lost-- as the 'house lights' consisted of 2 bare 75 watt bulbs mounted twenty five feet up on the ceiling. That way, the patrons wouldn't see the light reflected in a dozen pairs of eyes glowing from dark corners and under unoccupied seats. The ushers never liked to use their flashlights for the same reason. Nobody likes to stare down a raccoon if they can help it. For another thing, you never turned around in your seat and looked behind you during the movie- remember the scary scene when Snow White saw all the evil eyes of the woodland creatures in the dark forest? Life imitates art.
The concession stand was not much to worry about, once you checked your box of Goobers or Rasinettes for gnaw marks-- and rapped the side of the popcorn machine a couple of times just to make sure nothing was burrowing under the mounds of reasonably freshly-poped popcorn.. Anything that might be stupid enough to hide in the ice cream freezer would die soon enough, and most of the seat-cooties I may have encountered brushed off pretty easily.
After staring at the screen for a few hours, and keeping the crawling and/or furry things off my pant legs, I was ready for some real refreshment. I'd unstick my way back up the aisle and down the street to a little place called The Sugar Bowl, a restaurant with a real soda fountain. My date and I would share some fountain creation that would be sweet enough to kill me, and some puppy love conversation that I would pay thousands to forget that I was ever a part of..
Over the next years, inflation came slowly to the Des Plaines. The price jumped to 70cents, 90 cents, a dollar, then 1.10, and finally 1.35. I began to pass by the Sugar Bowl for its next door neighbor, the Cyprus Inn, where I might knock back something a little stiffer than a root beer float.  And then, the end. The old Des Plaines theater caught fire- possibly started by ferrets playing with matches- or else somebody finally worked up the nerve to turn on the light in the men's room - and the place was gutted. It took more than a year for the place to reopen-- and when it did- it was ruined. They carpeted the whole place, put in new seats, real lighting and a new screen. They turned the place into an ordinary (Expensive!) movie house.  It turned my stomach.  
I ponder what became of the critters, many of whom became salt and sugar junkies.  Were they able to kick their diets of Coke syrup, old popcorn and Milk Duds when they were moved to the wildlife preserve?  Or did they start raiding outdoor vending machines?   If I ever see some gout stricken raccoon hustling quarters by the local McDonalds, I'll have a pretty good idea......... 
There you are, Reminisce---- and I dare you to print it.