The “movie guy” always showed up a little late. He wasn’t tall, wasn’t short, was pretty nondescript, in fact, but he usually wore a plaid short sleeve shirt, and black slacks, always black slacks, even in the dead of July when the temperature topped out past 90. He drove a beaten up blue/green station wagon, with half-bald tires and a filthy, grimy windshield that was a miracle could be seen through. Strapped to the roof of the wagon were long, metal cylinders and black, steel and iron poles that, after a little “movie guy” magic, were suddenly transformed into a giant screen, which wound up erect at the far end of the casino, in front of the stage.
Once he’d set up the screen, which invariably was more yellowish than white, and somewhat stained around the edges, he adjourned to the concession for coffee. Coffee! It was ninety-six degrees in the casino and the guy was drinking hot coffee! There he would endure the entreaties of 50 or more pajama-clad monsters, bags of Bon-Ton potato chips or pretzels in hand, pleading for him to finish his business and roll the film. The “kiddie films”-a long reel of short cartoons, usually began at 7 or 7:30, always too early for the summer sun to have left the sky. So the shades were pulled down on all the casino windows, and we sat in semi-darkness, our hair still damp from our evenings bath, bathrobes pulled snug against summer pajamas, our feet encased in slippers or pool thongs, and we delighted and enthralled by Heykyl and Jekyll, Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and, of course, Bugs Bunny. Sometimes, maybe once or twice a summer, by some miracle, we found a Three Stooges or Little rascals slipped in with the animation. That was a special treat.
Its been more than 30 years now, but I can still vividly remember the way the film would crackle over that screen, breaking up, as it counted down from 10, to 1, just at the moment before the color would appear. I remember the stream of white foggy light flowing out from the noisy old projector, bisecting the darkened casino, and how when the screen was still blank but for light some kid would thrust his hands into that beam and adroitly fashion his fingers into shadow puppets. I remember the sweet and tart taste of Orange Crush on my tongue, and how bits of potato chips would somehow wind up floating in the bottle. I remember sitting there in the darkness, my best friends in the world all about me, looking up to the screen and hoping against hope there were another 5 or 6 or more cartoons left on the reel.
Of course, years pass, and we all age, and then we one summer we discovered that by some mysterious decree we were suddenly old enough to be included with the elite group of “older” kids who got to see the “adult” film. We set up our lawn chairs in the front of the row upon row of casino folding chairs and waited for the few fans to blow some stale, stagnant air our way, while watching the flickering images of Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Doris Day, et al.
There were no VCRs, or cable TV. The movies were saw were truly a special amusement. There were some films that were pretty much bungalow colony movie night classics. Remember? Charade is one. And all the Rock Hudson-Doris Day flicks-especially Pillow Talk. Then there was The Thrill of It All. The Apartment. I remember seeing Rear Window and being scared silly by Psycho. Cary Grant was always big, aside from Charade, there was North by Northwest, That Touch of Mink, Houseboat, Father Goose. Jack Lemmon was a staple, too-Under the Yum Yum Tree, Some Like it Hot, It Happened to Jane. Oh, and Judy Holiday and Paul Douglas in the Solid Gold Cadillac. When the film ended, and the clacking of the final reel was done, we exited into the sweet summer night, startled by how the air had cooled so, brushing popcorn and pretzel crumbs off our clothing, totting our lawn chairs, and yawning, headed off for crisp, cold sheets and stacks of Superman’s and Batman’s and Green Lanterns, and maybe Arches, too.
You know, we never had what our kids do now-computers, video games, and 98 channels of TV, VCRs, and videos at $12.99. But maybe what we had was better. It certainly seems so in the remembering.
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