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