Buzzing Along Under the Monorail

buzzing-along-under-the-monorail

There I was on a trip, zipping along under the monorail. It was surreal, almost psychedelic.

Visions of 2001: a Space Odessey.

But I get ahead of myself.

Our world as a married couple expanded a bit when my wife took a new job at Virginia Mason Hospital. So our footprint in Seattle was enlarging. She had a further distance to travel, double what it took me to go to the Fifth Avenue Theater. She easily walked it. Or depending upon schedules I was sometimes able to drop her off at the Spring St entrance.

For the past five years we had been pretty insulated, having met each other in show biz, it seems the only people we knew were family or in show business (and a good percentage of individuals in those two categories overlapped).

At Virginia Mason she worked in the kitchen, cutting raw produce for the hospital cafeteria and for the patients’ meals. Carrots and celery for instance. In fifty pound bags – character and muscle building.

She co-ordinated closely with one of her co-workers, Dan Daniels. His job was to receive the produce, store them, then distribute them where and when needed; i.e., her cutting board. Not too long after she started there, he invited the two of us up to his home to introduce us to his wife, Mary. And for many times after.

Dan and Mary lived in the Queen Anne District, which, as some readers may know, is north of the downtown Seattle area. We were only familiar with a few things up in that neck of the woods. Things like the Pacific Science Center and the Space Needle; and our favorite restaurant at the time, Bloch’s.  (It was great for after a show. We came for the sandwiches. I always had the hot pastrami, and my wife had the prime rib. Yum).

Dan and Mary were fun-loving, festive folks. And holidays for them were always an excuse for a party. They were also artistic souls and everything was always tastefully decorated to the hilt. They introduced us to other things as well.

It must have been a New Year’s Eve celebration. There were noisemakers and party hats. And champagne at midnight. I believe it was the first time I had ever sampled the “bubbly.” I had had beer before, and that always with food, and never to the point of drunkenness. This new concoction was definitely something different.

It’s why I found myself in the passenger seat of the Roadrunner, buzzing along under the monorail at night back to our apartment. The supports to the monorail track flicked by with rythmic regularity. Any lights we passed seemed to bend around and through the windshield and side window and funnel somehow through my wide awake eyes, directly into my brain. It really was the “light show” segment from “2001.” The swift motion of the vehicle that cradled me, instead of comforting, added an element of creepiness, an edge of unease.

That “trip” contributed a great deal to the reasons I have been a teetotaler for the majority of my life.

The Bouncer of the Coliseum

The Bouncer of the Coliseum

I have mentioned the Coliseum Theater in Seattle in two former posts, filed in the “Memories” category, but have not yet spilled any ink (nor emitted any electrons) describing it. When it opened in 1916, it had the distinction of being the first theater in Seattle (if not the entire country) specifically designed for showing film. The secret was in the floor. The design called for a curve to the floor of a sufficient pitch that one had a clear sight line over the people in the row in front of you – not unlike the theory behind the stadium type seating that revolutionized movie theater design in the 1990s.

Another strange detail about its design – was the lack of stage space – it was tall and wide, but had no depth. The screen was mounted on that shallow back wall. (I understand from my research that this was a choice by the owner at that time – Alexander Pantages, who, though his was a vaudeville circuit, intentionally cut down on the scale to save on the number of musicians and stagehands he had to hire).

By this time – the mid-70s, there were no muscians (except for those neon ones up on the revolving sign above the marquee), and there was one lone stagehand. Or half a stagehand, as they shared one with my theater the Fifth Avenue up the street. (Again this was the redoubtable Walt Coy).

Gone for the moment were the big Hollywood productions from the Coliseum’s screen. Instead the invasion of violent Hong Kong Kung Fu flicks and blaxploitation bombshells exploded daily in its auditorium. As a consequence the company thought it prudent to have a bouncer on hand to control any instances of patrons imitating the bad behavior of their favorites up on the screen. Into this latest incarnation of the Coliseum stepped my bride of just a few months.

[Aside – My uncle Bud was then the manager of the theater. She had worked for him when he was assistant to my Dad at the GCC Renton Village Cinemas. He knew what a great cashier she was, and hired her, no nepotism required.]

The box office in which my wife spent most of her time, was out in front of the entrance, situated at the corner of Fifth and Pike. It was literally all by itself – an island – cut off from the rest of the building. One gained entrance by stooping over and waddling through the low half door – the only way in or out.

All went well until the night the projector broke down. My uncle announced to the patrons inside that the problem could not be fixed and that they could repair to the box office and there receive passes for another day. They soon surrounded my wife, sitting in the glass fishbowl that was the box office. None of them wanted a pass. They all loudly demanded their money back. Strangely, to a man they all argued that they were from out of town and only in for the night, and would not be coming back any time soon. It felt to her like a riot was about to break out.

Before that could happen, the Coliseum bouncer stepped in. His name was Bobby, a black, ex-prizefighter from Chicago. (The rumor circulating the district had him on the lam from the Windy City, hiding out from a vindictive mobster). I had heard of the description “caulifower ear” before, but had had no concept of what that even meant – until I saw Bobby – and that vegetable like appendage attached to his head. Even then it was an afterthought to your consciousness, as he had an overwhelming presence. To call him “solid” is an understatement – more like a brick wall in motion. Yet for all his power and mass (and cauliflower ear), he had the sweetest and gentlest temperament.

He soon had things in hand, and when through, escorted my wife from the Coliseum to my theater.

My wife was shaken, understandably. And I did not object nor try to dissuade her when she decided to resign the next day. (She soon found a job at Virginia Mason Hospital, where she was the one weilding a knife when surrounded by carrots and celery).

We still paid an occasional call to the Coliseum. Shortly after this time, its bill of fare changed and a couple of back to back blockbusters settled in. That is where we caught The Towering Inferno, followed six months later by Jaws. The Coliseum was the only place to see them in the Seattle area.

And still under the protection of Bobby.

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].