Close Encounters across the Street and of Another Sort

Close Encounters across the street

[Taking a brief recess from #1939TheMiracle Year]

I’ve written before about attending film screenings as part of my job. Both those in film industry screening rooms and those scheduled in theaters for press and word of mouth purposes. All of which I gained entree via my position as a film booker.

[The screening of “Star Wars” was one example of the latter kind, see this post]

Less than seven months later, my wife and I attended another film that was destined to be a ground breaking bit of cinema and another blockbuster. Our invitation was to the King Theater in Seattle on December 8, 1977 for Steven Spielberg’s latest picture “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

It was a familiar theater. It set right across the street from my former place of employment, the UA 150 and 70 (the site of our Star Wars viewing).

Dazzle – Din – Drive. A 3D trifecta in 2D, of sight and sound and emotion.

Eye-popping special effects.  That moved you between suspense and wonder.

A sound track and score that surrounded and carried you along.

And a story with characters that swept you up in their struggle and longing.

It was clear that Columbia had a hit on their hands. Both from the evidence of my own eyes, and from the reaction of the crowd.

I had an encounter of another kind with CE3K after our move to Portland for a booking position with Tom Moyer Theaters.

But first, there was another switch to be mentioned.  Within a year of moving down, my position was changed from that of a film booker to one in the accounting department. I was now responsible for paying the film rentals due to the studios – the biggest outlay of monies from the company.

Besides the normal activities of drawing up estimate and final payments, there was a whole lot of record keeping involved. And it was these records that were the point of my limited involvement with CE3K soon after this switch. Records that I myself had not created, for they hailed back a couple of years prior to my time at TMT. But now I was responsible for curating them. And it was in this new capacity that I was called upon to pull up the pertinent records needed by the lawyers in one of the lawsuits the company was embroiled in, which just happened to involve two blockbuster film titles.

It was then that I learned the curious details of this matter – when CE3K and Star Wars collided.

But more of that story next time.

Moving on Up to Booking Films

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The Seeley Theater in Pomeroy, WA

After I left the UA Cinemas 150 and 70, I applied for other “film biz” jobs in the Seattle area. One of the first places I applied was the Saffle Theater Service, a film buying and booking firm that covered the Northwest. I did not hear anything from them then, but soon after an assistant manager position opened up with Mann Theaters at their Fifth Avenue Theater, so I forgot about that application. However, the owner, Bud Saffle, must have remembered me, for a less than a year later something had changed and he contacted me with an offer for a position as his booker.

When I was hired on at the Saffle Theater Service, it was a big promotion in more ways than one. The salary was better to be sure. But so were the hours. They were regular “bankers’ hours.” A nine to five job. No more late, late nights. And there were other perks as well, but more on that later.

It was in a part of Seattle that was “new” to me, (possibly explained by the fact that it was in the opposite direction from the Fifth Avenue theater, and hence off my normal path). From our apartment on Fifth Avenue, I just had to head over to Westlake – a boulevard that cut diagonally across the regular grid. On the other side of Denny Way I took a right on John Street, and another right on Terry Avenue and looked for a spot to park.

I always took the Roadrunner and parked on the side of the small two story office building on the corner of John and Terry. The Saffle Theater Service was on the second floor on the Terry Avenue side. You entered through glass doors into a large open area, presided over by the company secretary and the company records. Mr Saffle had the office on the right; mine was beside his on the left (from its window, I could keep tabs on my Roadrunner).

Mr Saffle’s company represented about thirty independent exhibitors, i.e. theater owners, spread throughout the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. They were small town cinemas dating back to the thirties or before; or drive-ins from the fifties. Mr Saffle personally handled the larger accounts, the Mike Mercy Theaters of Yakima and the Kenworthy theaters of Moscow/Pullman. I had the smaller theaters around the hinterlands, like the Seeley in Pomeroy, WA. (It was only open a few months, being closed to store potatoes the bulk of the year). Of particular interest to me, was the Alpine Theater in Colville, WA. It was my Mom’s home town, and I was familiar with this theater, having lived in Colville when a boy.

Mornings were taken up with collecting grosses from our theaters and disseminating them to the pertinent distributors. You can be sure the distribs wanted to know, especially on Mondays after the weekend. They would press us to hold their films over (or try to get us to take off a competitor’s to bring their new title in – exhibitors and distributors have a notorious love-hate relationship). Monday mornings could be a real trial, especially for my boss, for he made all the big decisions – regarding hold overs and terms.

I had to learn new aspects of the “film biz.” Contracts, terms, booking dates and cutoff cards. Much of it was phone work, calling my counterparts with the distributors for film availabilities and terms, and advising my clients about what would perform well in their locations. Mr Saffle tutored me in the whole system that was in place governing the split of the box office monies, which is an interesting topic. Some films were flat $100 or $125, but those were always older films, usually booked as a lower half to a double bill. The newer films were paid on a percentage basis.

The stated percentage is what the exhibitor paid the distributor. So, for instance if the terms were 35%, that meant my client kept 65%. And that’s the way we liked it. Subsequent weeks bottomed out at 25%, and we liked that even better. Bigger films had bigger terms and required playtime commitments. For our bigger towns the minimum was four weeks. The first week was 70%, the second 60%, the third 50%, and the fourth 40%. If business held up the film could be held beyond that for 35%.

But there could be another wrinkle to the big term pictures – the dreaded 90/10. Each theater had an agreed upon house expense, the cost the exhibitor incurred just to open the doors for a week. (One which our firm always tried to negotiate up as high as possible). You would subtract that “nut” from your gross for the week, and of the balance you only kept 10%.  But hold on. There was an “if” involved. The distributor always took whichever was greater, the result of the 90/10 calculation, or the floor percentage for that week.

[Aside – I had heard one time that the whole 90/10 business had its origin back in the late thirties. An exhibitor came up with the formula in a bid that he put forth in an attempt to win the rights to show “Gone with the Wind” over his competitor. Then the floor was 25%]

When you ended up paying the floor percentage, you theoretically might not be covering your costs in that week. (And you always wondered why concessions cost so much. Many exhibitors would claim they weren’t in the film business, but in the popcorn business. They probably still do).

Then at multiple times during the week we had screenings to go to, (and the main reason I drove to work rather than walked). The distributors arranged these for film buyers in the exchange area to see their new product in advance of their release.

It was a much anticipated perk.

But more on that next time – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.

Burning Hellzapoppin’

Burning Hellzapoppin

[Warning – actual film stock was destroyed in the “making” of this post. I didn’t do it. I was just a witness. Please don’t do this at home.]

This all took place on a Saturday morning. I was not scheduled to work at the Fifth Avenue theater (not the matinee anyway). We had some time set aside to shoot some film. We had a script and some actors on call (all friends connected to the UA Cinemas).

My friend Pat and I drove out to Walt Coy’s house to pick up the Auricon camera and his camera dolly/crane. Walt brought us into his shop where he stored his equipment. He pulled them out from their places, and ran over what we needed to know to use them. And though the Auricon could record sound, he advised us to use his Nagra recorder instead. It had a pulse that synched with the camera. Somehow we got on to the topic of nitrate film. Probably, he had asked us what kind of stock we planned to use for the day. We told him, but all I can remember now was that it was black and white. Any other details such as ASA, etc., I do not recall.

Keying off of this discussion, Walt treated us to a “science experiment.” He pulled out a big white five gallon bucket and filled it with water. He rummaged around and came up with a spool of film – a little bigger than the size of your fist. He told us it was some footage from the film “Hellzapoppin.’” (This was was an Olsen and Johnson musical comedy from 1941. I surmise that he had played it at one of his theaters back in the day, needed a replacement reel, and kept the damaged one).

He held onto one end and let the rest unspool into the bucket. The bulk of the coil hit the bottom of the bucket and sat there. Walt took out a lighter, struck it, and set the flame to the end in his hand. We watched in amazement as that film end burst into flames. It looked like a burning fuse, the kind you see in old WB cartoons or movie serials. And raced down the length still exposed to the air.

The flame reached the surface of the water, and rather than being extinguished, actually seemed to speed up, following the ribbon of film and continuing to burn under water. It was eery seeing those white hot flames under water like that. Soon it hit the ball of film at the bottom and the flames flared in intensity. There were so many bubbles coming up that it looked to be boiling.

“The thing about nitrate film is,” Walt explained, “it creates its own oxygen in the very act of combustion.” He then went on to regale us with horror stories about projectionists dying in projection booth fires. Of note was a local example. The projectionist in this case, he told us, was suicidal. He unspooled every stitch of nitrate film onto the booth floor. He then got out a cigar, struck a match, lit the cigar and dropped the flaming stick into the mass. The resultant conflagration triggered the safety mechanisms that sealed the booth, automatically entombing him.

Oh, yes, I now recall one other thing about our film stock. It was “safety” film.

Clip from Hellzapoppin’

Down in the Canyons of Seattle

Down in the Canyons of Seattle

We were canyon dwellers in Seattle, and spent the majority of our time in the one canyon called Fifth Avenue. Out where our apartment was located the canyon was a little more open, but as we trudged off to work the canyon walls grew steeper and the shadows lengthened. My wife’s place of work came first on the trek up the arroyo. She cashiered at the Coliseum theater, a gleaming white Roman-like structure at the corner of Fifth and Pike. (Bruce Lee was mixing it up with Chuck Norris in “Return of the Dragon”). My theater was farther up the avenue past our opposition, SRO’s Music Box theater, at this juncture running the first run hit, “Chinatown”, the Jack Nicholson starrer, directed by Roman Polanski.

[Aside – though I was gone from the UA Cinema, I remained in contact with the cinephile’s there. Pat and Wendy, Karl, Stephen and Billie caught the film at the Music Box, too. We all liked it. Except Billie. For some strange reason she took umbrage to the red and green Lucky Strike cigarette packages, an Art Director’s touch that lent an additional layer of authenticity for the rest of us.]

On the first day I walked under the marquee, it was lettered with the title “Uptown Saturday Night,” a comedy starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Oddly, it was double billed with “The Getaway” (the Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw version, directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Walter Hill).

I have a lot of memories linked to the entrance of the Fifth Avenue theater. At break times I relieved the cashier in the octagonal box office, which sat smack dab in the center of the entrance. I took tickets at the ornate doors behind and in line with the box office. I changed the posters in the large shadow box frames lining the sides of the entrance. And I watched one building come down, and another go up.

By the time we changed our bill of fare (two thrillers – “The Black Windmill,” directed by Don Siegel; doubled with “The Day of the Jackal,” directed by Fred Zinneman) some big changes were underway across the street. The Fifth Avenue sat across from the White Henry Stuart Building. Both were within that section of Seattle known as the Metropolitan Tract. This valuable acreage of real estate is owned by the University of Washington, having been the former campus of the school (prior to 1895). The decision had been made to demolish the White Henry Stuart building in order to put up a newer and bigger structure. Now as the wrecking balls moved into place and began battering away at the canyon wall in front of us, we were introduced little by little to views of the setting sun on Puget Sound. The pounding continued throughout our run of “Airport 75” (directed by Jack Smight), and the pile drivers added their tune somewhere along the line to our Christmas film, “The Front Page” (directed by Billy Wilder, assisted by Howard Kazanjian). By the time John Cassavetes’ film “Woman Under the Influence”  moved in, we were treated to the spectacle of a non-ending convoy of cement trucks adding their contents to the continuous pour that resulted in that “golf-tee” like structure that is the base of the Rainier Tower. And two huge cranes worked in tandem as the new building sprouted up forty stories.

At one of these change of billings, I was almost seriously wounded by a falling plate glass window. No, it did not wing in from across the street. I was changing posters in that afore mentioned shadow box frame. The posters were enclosed behind two huge pieces of sliding plate glass. A cylindrical lock slid on and off a bayonet-type piece of metal that was attached to the plate glass that slid behind the other. I had just unlocked and removed the lock, and was gripping the plate glass in front to slide it open when that glass cracked in half. All the weight of the upper portion of the window came down on top of my right thumb, glanced off, and crashed back into the box frame, instead of falling towards me and chopping me off at the ankles.

The incident gave me pause to reflect. I had the smallest of wounds on the knuckle of my thumb, a mere quarter inch long (and a tiny scar that lasted a decade or so). It left me with a deep sense of gratitude. A thankfulness for God’s protection from injury. Something I will always remember.

Working the Fifth Avenue

Working the Fifth Avenue

Collage made from photos on the Fifth Avenue website.

As I mentioned in my last Memories post, I left the UA Cinemas and began a job as assistant manager for Mann’s Fifth Avenue in Seattle. It wasn’t an exercise of my own will that I left the UA. I was dismissed. The Manager Bill Shonk was being promoted, so the company brought over the manager from their theater in Spokane as his replacement. Russ (a Danny DeVito look- and sound-alike) didn’t take a shine to me, so he fired me to bring on his assistant from Spokane. Actually as it turned out, he had other plans, he needed a confederate to facilitate his thievery. It is heartening to know that what is hidden does not stay that way, but in the fullness of time will be revealed.

Anyway, I was on to other pastures, and the Fifth Avenue theater was a fantastic “pasture,” or perhaps a better analogy would be “rice paddy.” The Fifth Avenue, as most of the “Pleasure Palaces” built in the 20s and 30s, was designed with a exotic theme. In this instance, Imperial China. Like Grauman’s Chinese theater in Hollywood, the movie goer was treated to sumptuous surroundings – from the entrance to the lobby to the auditorium. And many critics consider the Fifth Avenue theater in Seattle to have “out Chinesed” Grauman’s. A story circulated that the Chinese dignitaries at the opening in 1926 marveled at the authenticity of the decor.

(Aside – I have seen depictions of the court at the Forbidden Palace in some films, and I had “deja vu” for the lobby at the Fifth).

My new boss was Johnny Bretz, a movie theater veteran, who began his career back in the thirties. He had started out at the Egyptian theater as a doorman and moved over to the Neptune as assistant manager. Both theaters were in the University District (near the UW), and at that time (1974) were art houses. In the 1960s he was a purchasing agent and auditor for the Evergreen State Amusement Corporation (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox) with 18 theaters in Oregon and Washington. He moved onto the Fifth Avenue after Mann Theaters of LA acquired the assets of National Theaters Corp (Fox West Coast).

My first day, Mr Bretz took me on a tour of the theater, showing me the lay out, where the doors were to check and lock at closing, and where the lights were to turn on and off, etc. He briefed me on details regarding the concession stand, which sat between the two main aisles into the theater from the lobby. Then into the theater proper, the decor inside was splashed in red and gold and green and blue. Coming out from underneath the cover of the mezzanine and upper balconies I saw the main lighting fixture, a golden dragon with an ornate lantern suspended from its teeth. A white globe was anchored beneath the lantern. Quite impressive. He explained that the globe, according to the Chinese motif (and legend) was a “pearl.” We went right down to the front of the auditorium and over to the left side, and climbed a short stair up to the stage. He brushed aside the curtain and led me back stage. As we went along that stage wing with all the paraphernalia of a theater stage – switches for stagelights, ropes and counterbalances, it reminded me of those old movies like “42nd Street” and “The Zeigfield Follies.” That notion was reinforced when he led me downstairs and through the dressing rooms and a chorus room. The picture would have been complete if a crusty old stage hand stood nearby puffing on a stogie. (Well, actually, I met that character later, only minus the stogie).

While downstairs, Mr. Bretz instructed me in the mechanics of the theater’s air conditioning system. It was a water cooled affair. By my spatial sense, I judged it to be under the center of the stage and running perpendicular to its longitudinal axis. A huge lever switch was thrown and a enormous drum at the back whirred and hummed to life. The movement of the air thus created was forced over and around some radiator like structures with cold water coursing through them. And the resultant cool air was propelled onward and upward in the ducts to their apertures in the auditorium.

On another occasion I visited another area of the structure. The theater itself is located inside the Skinner Building, an eight story office building. It comprises the first five floors. Office space fills up two of the floors above that, and another was given over to a ball room. It wasn’t Mr Bretz who took me up to the fifth floor, I believe that it was the afore-mentioned stage hand (more about him in future posts). He unlocked this most ordinary of doors and ushered me into a remarkable space. The fifth floor housed the magnificent terra cotta ceiling of the theater. It was not as beautiful as what could be seen from below. Lots of steel bars – horizontal and vertical – ran this way and that, around which and to which the terra cotta had been formed and fixed. You could make out the shapes of things, but they were in reverse. The biggest part of the structure was the dome section under which you knew the dragon lurked and from which the lantern hung. To see all this you tread a very narrow catwalk. Surprisingly there were holes in the terra cotta through which you could see the auditorium four stories below. It was a little unnerving, for that material seemed oh so fragile. Come time to retrace my steps, I remember with pleasure discovering an old poster resting on the terra cotta – too far out for me to reach, but close enough to admire – the image of a curly-topped Shirley Temple in “The Little Colonel” looked back at me. (I checked, the film did indeed play at the Fifth, opening on March 12, 1935).

The Fifth Avenue was a little farther away from our apartment than the UA, but at only six blocks there was still no need to fire up the Roadrunner.

Thunderball, Mr French

Thunderball, Mr French

We had a color TV in our little two room apartment. It sat on its own little cart with casters and we could wheel it from the sitting room through the double sliding door opening into our bedroom – a room that was normally empty save for a dresser and a couple of chairs, which chairs would be moved aside to make way for the murphy bed that folded down from the back wall.

One Sunday, after working the matinee (I was now assistant manager at Mann’s Fifth Avenue, and no longer at the UA Cinemas), my wife and I were looking forward to our evening meal and catching the broadcast of Sean Connery as James Bond in Thunderball. The meal out of the way, we settled in to watch the show from bed.

We did not get to see the whole show.  Sometime in the first half hour I was jolted by a stabbing pain in my backside. I vaulted upright and something was stuck in me, something from within the mattress. The something was a bedspring that had broken loose from its weld, its sharp edge having sliced into me and caught there like a fish hook.

[Aside – in Thunderball, Sean “James Bond” Connery upon despatching one of the evil minions with a speargun quips, “I think he got the point.”]

Though the actual wound was small, little more than an half inch long it was about a similar amount deep, so a trip to the emergency room was in order. Though when we got to Virginia Mason, no stitches were deemed necessary. A single butterfly bandage was applied.

The Sheridan apartments paid for it all of course (or their insurance did). And the manager was very solicitous. So much so that he made it a point to introduce us to his “star” tenants – Mr Sebastian Cabot and his wife.

I recognized the rotund actor as the British butler Mr French from the TV sitcom Family Affair. He was caught off guard and self conscious. Though his voice was very recognizable, his speech was halting and a bit slurred. Both my wife and I could sense he was a little embarrassed, so we did not not invite ourselves to dinner or any other such imposition. We rather excused ourselves at the earliest convenience, and thanking them for the acquaintance. And I didn’t tell him that another bloke from the UK had a hand in our meeting.

[Aside – I did some research on Mr Cabot and discovered that he suffered a stroke in July of 1974. This left his right side paralysed and impaired his speech. Before this he had just completed voice work for Disney – on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. He and his family had some property outside of Vancouver BC, which he briefly alluded to in our conversation, and kept this apartment as a residence stateside].

Swashbuckler

The long drawn out rasp of metal on metal accompanied the image of the sword being drawn from its scabbard. So began Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Throughout the title sequence a series of stop action multiple images of two figures locked in combat beautifully set the tone for the next hour and an half.

I was standing on the stairs of one of the exits, checking something behind the screen, when a customer who had recently entered came bounding up these stairs to bump the exit door open and let his pals in. I stepped forward and told the “doorman” that he could join his friends outside. Too bad, they missed out on what was going to happen next.

My friend Dave liked the film too. And it may have been the reason behind our seeking out a fencing club to join. We found one that met in the community center in the Green Lake area north of Seattle.

As for all beginners, there was no jumping into things the first day. Nor the second. Nor any time soon. Basics had to be learned first. How to stand. How to move. Forward and back. The stance at first was awkward, and self-conscious, but as you began to move, it became the most natural thing in the world. Your favored foot was pointed forward and your other heel in line with the front one and pointed at the perpendicular. And you sat into a crouch, with both knees bent, and with your weight balanced over the rear or anchor leg. The lower half of your body was changed into a giant spring, so it was explained. And you felt it, especially in rapid movement.

Then practice, practice, practice. Lunge and recover, lunge and recover. And then we were taught how to hold the foil. (Dave preferred the pistol grip; I preferred the regular). Lectures followed on the geometry of fencing. Everything comes down to two points: the point of your foil and that of your opponent, your line of attack or parrying of his.

I kept waiting for a reference to The Three Musketeers, but was surprised when the instructor mentioned a sequence from another film instead. He was demonstrating the balestra – a movement used to close distance quickly between yourself and an opponent. It is a fast hop, followed by a lunge at the other fencer. This was a movement that Basil Rathbone employed against Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood. I remembered seeing it, but it was all so fast – a blur really – that it took this extra knowledge of what the move was to understand what had taken place.

[Actually at the time I was more fixed on another realization. When I saw Robin Hood – at the Harvard Exit, of course – it was double billed with another Flynn flick, The Adventures of Don Juan. Watching them back to back you notice things. In Robin Hood, I saw a scene in which a drawbridge drops down and a number of riders charge out in pursuit. The exact same footage was repeated in Don Juan. It was my introduction to library footage. Say the director or the editor needs to fill a gap in his story, rather than setting up everything for another shoot, you just see what you can use from what the studio has in its “library.” In this instance the makers of Don Juan (1948) went back and borrowed this footage from the older film (1938).]

The Three Musketeers had a long run at the UA Cinemas, from the end of March 1974 through to September. And I was able to check in often and observe the swordplay. About the time it left, I was also leaving the UA (that story later) and moving on to the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. And you bet I was back when the sequel – The Four Musketeers – opened the next year. And I kept on fencing, even when we moved down to the Portland OR area. But that’s another story for another day – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.

Confessions of an Assistant Theater Manager

Confessions of an Assistant Theater Manager

Early in 1973, I had switched from being a doorman at the single screen theater, the Cinerama, to a job as assistant manager for the UA Cinema 150 and 70 down on Sixth and Blanchard. It was unlike any theater I had worked in up to that time. Yes, I had toiled in twin cinemas before, but the UA was different.

It was a twin theater that was twin everything. Each theater had its own projection booth, and its own concession stand with their own stock rooms. They did share one box office between them. You entered through the box office area, paid for your tickets, and either went right to the Cinema 150 or left to Cinema 70.

The lobby of the 150 was striking. It was lit by chandeliers and the white floors made it brighter. The walls were decorated with white wall paper that was imprinted with a red brocade pattern (this feature always reminded me of an ice cream parlor). Stairs led up from the lobby to the auditorium filled with rocking chair loges. Whereas the ceiling over the 70 was normal, that over the 150 was a high dome structure.

There was something just a bit eerie about walking in this auditorium. You could sense the whole structure move slightly under your tread as you walked up the aisle, for underneath it was all wood construction.

Mr. William Shonk was the manager of the UA (and also the regional manager for the UA circuit). He was a reserved individual, who approached everything with a calm and collected demeanor. He was all business in his relationships, though on certain occasions a wry sense of humor showed through the cracks of his reserve.

Around the time Mr. Shonk hired me, Sounder graced the screen on the 70 side and was doing a bit of business due to its four Oscar nominations. We had quite a few school groups coming in to see it. On the 150 side Harold and Maude shared a bill with Travels with My Aunt.

I wasn’t much older than the rest of the staff, the box office cashiers, the concession workers, and the ushers – most memorably – Karl, Wendy, Billie, and Fabio. (Add Wendy’s boyfriend Pat and you could not find a crazier bunch of cinephiles).

Given the responsibility to manage workers roughly the same age, was perhaps not the best situation, especially when we had time on our hands and the boss wasn’t around. The one instance along this line that I recall occurred just after putting a matinee show in. Concessions were restocked, the lobby was swept clean and empty of customers, (they were all in their seats, with eyes on the show, and not on us). Our breaks were upcoming for which we would each pour ourselves a small drink and use a similar cup for some popcorn (if you wanted candy or ice cream you had to pay for it). But since it was not yet break time, what else could we do?

That’s when curious minds enquired away. I must have been returning a stack of cups to their case, having misjudged how many were needed to refill the dispensers. That’s when I asked myself – “What would happen to this paper cup, if it were filled within a half inch from the top and set on fire?” Would it continue to burn when it reached the level of the liquid? Or would it continue to consume the outside of the cup where it had a dry surface and oxygen? Why don’t we experiment?

So, we did. We made sure to conduct it in a clear area behind the door to the stock room well away from anything else flammable. We took a small cup, filled it with some water, and set the lip on fire. It caught easily and made a neat ring of flame around the top. And as you may have guessed it extinguished itself when the cup burned down to the level of the water. And we learned another little fact – the wax on the cup had melted and spread across the surface of the water holding it in place.

Although this was an interesting bit of information, I have yet to employ the knowledge gained in any useful way.

Apartment on the Monorail

Apartment on the Monorail

Some people can look back with nostalgia about living in New York on the elevated train, or in Chicago on the El. We look back with fondness on our first “home,” the Sheridan Apartments on Fifth Avenue in Seattle on the monorail. It was a tiny studio on the second floor in the back – two rooms, a kitchen and a bath. Green was the theme – green walls – green chair cushions and the shaggiest green shag rug ever that overspread the two rooms: a living/sitting room in front, which opened onto the bedroom complete with murphy bed. If there had been a window in the wall from which the murphy bed dropped, we could have seen my old workplace, the Cinerama Theater. The UA Cinemas 150 and 70, my new workplace was also close by, a short two and a half block walk. Consequently our Roadrunner sat most days down in the parking lot, viewable from our kitchen window.

And talking about the kitchen. A postage stamp would have been bigger. We used to joke that you had to step out of the kitchen to open the fridge. You definitely could not open the doors on the fridge and the oven at the same time. Despite these little drawbacks it was a nice place to entertain friends. We had family over – from both sides – and friends – from our schools, Dave our best man, and co-workers from the UA.

Our space was not limited to the second floor. One could wander down to the basement for the laundry, or up onto the roof where an urban garden offered a place above it all. Karen used to sun herself up there in the summer. The Space Needle peered down on it from the north, with Queen Anne Hill frowning from behind.

Across the parking lot, on the corner of Lenore Street and Fifth Avenue sat the Trojan Horse Restaurant / nightclub. For the years I stood at the door at the Cinerama tearing tickets I saw a parade of famous names from the music world cross its marquee – Glenn Yarbrough, The Modernaires, Frank Sinatra jr., The Shirelles, The Platters, O.C. Smith, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Della Reese, and the Kingston Trio. The parade continued now that we were “neighbors,” – the Checkmates (in a reunion engagement), Ray Charles, Lloyd Lindroth (the Liberace of the harp), Lou Rawls, Bonnie Guitar, Harry James & Orchestra, and B. B. King. We never caught any of their acts. Number one, we had no money in our entertainment budget, and number two, I was always working during the times of their shows. However, there were some late, late nights, when I caught a few stray notes that escaped via the back door when some employee was out for a smoke.

The memories began early in this studio apartment (the most memorable I will cover in a future post that I’ve entitled “Thunderball, Mr. French”). On our very first morning there, we were awakened – no startled – actually shaken out of our murphy bed by an unholy crash and clatter from the alley just the other side of the bedroom wall. We thought the walls were caving in. It was only the Monday morning garbage truck making its way down the alley, welcoming us with the only concert we could afford – the Urban Gotterdammerung.

Not in Kansas Anymore

Not in Kansas Anymore

It was a crazy month leading up to our wedding. I got pulled over by a cop one evening. It had been a long day – school in the morning and work at night. Since I was now an assistant manager at the UA Cinemas 150 and 70, I had the responsibility to stay until after the shows were out and lock up. By the time I hit Mercer Island on my way home my Roadrunner was slowing below the speed limit and wandering a bit. Or so the officer told me. He was suspicious that I had been drinking. I assured him that “no officer, I’m just tired.” I guess I passed muster on that count for he let me off with just a warning.

The day of our wedding was both memorable and a blur. We were so thankful to my folks for their insistence that we take time after the ceremony to take dinner with them and the rest of our new extended families before departing on our honeymoon. Besides my (now our) Roadrunner was a mess. Neither Karen’s folks’ home nor mine were adjudged safe places to hide it. We had parked it in a large shopping center lot in hopes that the crew at the Renton Cinemas could not find it to practice their mischief on. We were unsuccessful.

But we were not stressed at all about it. And that was due to the efforts of my sterling best man Dave. We did not learn what had been done to it until he had taken care of the problems. He retrieved it after the ceremony, but he had to clean it out before he could even drive it – it had been stuffed full of popcorn and ballons – about three garbage cans full. He cleaned off the shaving cream that decorated the outside. And then there were the hubcaps that had been taken off and stuffed full of dirt and pennies that rattled around when he tried to drive away.

So we were relaxed and no longer in a blur when we set out on the road for our honeymoon destination, Victoria, BC. Now as you may know you cannot “drive” to Victoria, you have to take a ferry. And we set our first stop – Anacortas – from where we would depart from its ferry terminal the next morning. I’ll never forget the sight we saw as we were driving into this town that evening. There is an oil refinery just outside town that was visible against the night sky, bathed a bright green light looking for all the world like the Emerald City from the Wizard of Oz.

And like Dorothy, when we woke up the next morning, we knew that we were not in Kansas anymore.