Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sliding Down the Bannister of Life

You've spent time in any number of strange, haunted, sepulchral movie theaters in your time, ranging in decor from art deco to rococo splendor and near church-like acoustics as well as one , enigmatic in its awfulness, and given a name you didn't realize at the time was a racial slur.

Because you grew up in Los Angeles, you had occasion more than once to attend some of the iconic theatres such as the Grumman's Chinese, The Egyptian, the Pantages, and in its way the most hallowed of all, the now defunct Carthay Circle, where you first saw Fantasia, The Wizard of Oz, an d even more memorably, Around the World in Eighty Days, made special because you bought your ticket with money from the sale of a story to a science fiction magazine you'd always wished to crack.

Another theater, the Pan Pacific, south side of Beverly Boulevard, about equidistant from Fairfax and La Brea, stands out in this list as well because it, more than any other theater you've ever attended on a regular basis, became the scene for most of your boyhood pranks.  

You rarely attended a screening there without having sneaked in at least one cat, which you set free once the lights were dimmed,  The Pan Pacific had a lovely, sloping concrete floor and the proper acoustics, you thought, to accommodate bags of marbles of BBs being released, mid film, the clatter and reverberate their way downhill.

You were not alone in your boyhood pranks at the Pan-Pacific.  Other boys of your age and older had felt the same inspiration, thus, whether it be an afternoon matinee or a weekend double feature special, you went to this otherwise undistinctive theater for the effects of your own pranks and the surprise and potential inspiration of your mischievous peers.

All these reminiscences are grand nostalgia you enjoy bringing forth.  You could never tell when, on some whim, your mother would arrive at your grammar school to pick you up for a doctor's appointment, which meant the Grumman's Chinese and a bag lunch from Canter's Delicatessen.  

Even so, much as these mattered, much as at times you recall small, far flung movie houses in Los Angeles, New York, Fall River, Providence, and Miami Beach, the movie theater of greatest moment of all was the Fox Ritz on Wilshire Boulevard, a scant block below the southern border of the fabled Miracle Mile.

The Ritz was often your choice for the Saturday matinee, the double feature plus cartoon plus serial, plus an occasional feature and always, at those times, the newsreel, a three- or four-minute encapsulation of local, national, and international news.  

All these aspects colored your high regard for the Ritz, but the one thing that caused--and still to this day causes--the Ritz to stand so prominent in your memory is the long, wide, steep, polished banister, extending from the balcony mezzanine to the ground floor.

The restrooms were located on the balcony mezzanine, making it an even more prominent feature in your young, excitable life.  As you remember the manager of the Ritz Theater, he always wore a formal, dark suit with a black bow tie.  His neatly trimmed hair parted in the middle, ending on distinguished--so you thought--patches of gray.  He was soft-spoken and polite, except when he spoke to you, at which point you were always aware of an undertone of menace.  You wished for the longest time to be as much like this man as you could possibly grow up to be.  

Many of your comic book and adventure heroes had nemeses of much lesser stature than this fine, remarkable manager, who, for a time, referred to you as Mundy, because that was one of the names you signed on the Return-of-Admission forms when push came to shove and you were returned your eleven cents admission and sent out into the Los Angeles afternoon.  You'd got the name Mundy from the English adventure writer, Talbott Mundy.

For tome time, when he confronted you, the manager called you Mundy.  "See here, Mundy.  How many times do we have to go into this banister sliding?'

Once, when you'd been caught against a stern warning, you'd forgotten the Mundy part, and signed your true name on the refund slip.  You'd have thought Mundy would have been easier to remember than Lowenkopf.  But perhaps there'd been other banister sliders than you, who'd been warned, caught, and banished.

When you came to work for the scholarly publisher in Santa Barbara, the office was, coincidentally, over the Riviera Theater.  There'd been at one time a steeper bannister than the one at the Ritz, and sure enough, you had to give it a try.  Even though it irritated the publisher to see you doing so--"How do you rationalize sliding down a bannister as an editor in chief?"--and you were reaching the point in your relationship with him where that was of little matter, you recalled instead the bannister at the Ritz Theater.

You come out of the men's room, peer about the mezzanine, dash to the edge, peer over to see if the manager is at all in sight.  Then you edge your way over to the bannister, hoist yourself up onto it, getting the proper leg dangle.  Then--ah, then you push off.

There is something comforting and exciting about sliding on a bannister.  Most people, theater managers and scholarly book publishers the possible exceptions, smile at the idea of a person of any age sliding on a bannister.  Bannisters are made for sliding.  At least, so they seem to you.  For long moments, you are in a sweeping descent, into the bowels of adventure.

The first time you watched Walter White, in that pivotal Breaking Bad episode, challenge his would-be nemesis, "Go ahead, say it.  Say my name."  And the reply is "Heisenberg," you are there with Walter White.  But you are also back in the Ritz Theater, with the manager confronting you.  "Dammit, Mundy.  I told you."

To have grown into manhood without sliding a bannister is to have grown into a simulated manhood with a missing component.

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