Monthly Archives: November 2013

Going to the Movies

John WayneThe holidays have me thinking of going to the movies, an occasion that has morphed into many venues, but what has stayed consistent is our desire for escape. When I lived in NYC as a child, going to the movies at Rockefeller Center was a monumental event for which we wore our Sunday best. The film “The Wizard of Oz” played on television every Thanksgiving evening, and we waited all year to see it. Now families own it or stream it to view whenever. 

A member of my writing workshop, Paul Wagoneer recalls a time when he and his friends worked all Saturday morning to scrape together the dime it took to each attend the matinee movie. Paul is ninety now, and I am pleased again to have him as guest writer on my blog. Here is his story:

At The Majestic and The Ritz

by Paul Wagoneer

My home town boasted two theaters, sometimes grandly called cinemas: The Ritz and The Majestic. I didn’t reach the town that I called home in time to see my first movie. I began at The Grand in another county seat, 50 miles north, where I paid the price for a first-grader. Ten cents. sounds like chump change, but earning a dime took as much sweat, tears and ingenuity as a ticket in 2013.

On Saturday morning our gang in Knoxville marshaled their four-wheeled Red Flyers, each about 3 feet long. We scoured alleys for scrap iron. Heavy grates were top-of-the line, followed by bicycle sprockets and fenders and at the bottom, tin cans. Railroad track, fish plates and spikes lay beyond our dreams. About 11:00 AM our troop reached the junk yard. Mr. Gavronsky weighed the junk tottering on our coaster wagons, and if the boy was lucky, swapped his metallic load for Mr. Gavronsky’s ten metallic pennies.

At 1:00 PM the gaggle reached The Grand, to be measured against the height of the teller ticket counter, the small shelf where the clerk took the dimes. If a tall, older kid approached, he owed the astronomical quarter dollar that adults paid. But that was before the Great Depression in 1929.

The show opened with a serial where monkeys pedaled tricycles. A Pathe’ newsreel showed Hitler’s rising brown-shirts goose stepping. In the main feature, a cowboy in a black hat chased a cowboy in a white hat to a precipice, drew his six-shooter and the movie ended, to be continued next Saturday.

By 1935 the Waggoners had detoured through South Dakota, deflation and hard times to reach my home town. Centerville, Iowa was another county seat that boasted two move theatres. The Ritz for whoop-and-holler entertainment and The Majestic, where I enacted the climax of my story.

The price was still 10 or 25 cents. By then I hunkered down, vainly trying to win classification for the 10 cent ticket. I raised my money by working for dad in his new store. The program had become: coming attractions, the news, and the Shepherd of the Hills set in the Ozark Mountains and starring John Wayne, starting his ascendance to immortality.

Then as in 2013, I sat with friends and talked at the wrong time. A large man in a three piece-suit, erect in front of us, turned and said with authority, “Be quiet.” He was Mr. Bradley, the town banker. Quiet reined.

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“Batkid Saves City”

I feel bad about the fact that in my efforts to raise extraordinary children, I fell short of being a good mom. By this I mean, in my mind costume items were kept in a costume trunk for dressing up at home or going out on Halloween. Otherwise, when we went out I wanted them well-dressed, well put-together. Now, who was I doing that for but for myself and maybe other moms?

Looking back, my daughters must have been turning their heads with awe at the girls who got to wear tutus over their pants if they felt like it, or boys of summer dressed as Spider Man, or all the children who put together the most interesting, outlandish combinations of clothes, themselves, every day. They are probably the most creative people today, including fashion designers. And many of them, I would imagine, live in San Francisco. A city that knows how to celebrate life in costume.

Witness the Batkid event in San Francisco on Friday, November 15th. No matter what one’s week was like, it had to be uplifted by a city that transformed itself into Gotham City, and the thousands of volunteers and onlookers who turned out see one little boy’s wish come true.

Miles Scott, age 5, dreamed of being Batkid. As a child battling cancer, he believed in Batman as only a child can. And Batman licked the cancer as only Batman can. In any case, superheros helped pull him through, and superheros always win. So when Miles’ treatments were finished and the leukemia went into remission, Make-A-Wish Foundation pulled out all the stops to make his wish come true.

By many accounts, the event was more phenomenal to the city than when the Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Miles came to the city with his family under the guise of picking up a Batkid costume. Everyone was in on it but Miles. In the family’s hotel room in the morning, “Breaking News” interrupted television programming with SF Police Chief Greg Suhr calling on Batkid with “We need your help!” Dressed in his new costume, Batkid scurried down to the lobby and, accompanied by an adult Batman, sped off in a black Lamborghini Batmobile—all major roads having been cleared for the event. Throughout the day the two of them sprung into action from one staged event to another: rescuing a damsel in distress tied to cable car tracks on Union Square, thwarting the Riddler’s attempted robbery of a bank vault and seeing him off in a paddy wagon, and onward to AT & T park to rescue Lou Seal, the Giant’s mascot, who had been kidnapped by the Penguin.

One long ambitious day with flash mobs and cheering crowds everywhere. A special edition of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper read “BATKID SAVES CITY” on the front page. And the day ended with Mayor Ed Lee presenting Miles with the keys to the city. Throughout it all, the five year old boy struck the pose and the poise of the superhero that he truly is.

The story that went around the world. And as one twitter user wrote, “Sometimes humans get it right.”

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Gray Matters

Winter is here. Dressed in a dark, wet overcoat like an old crow, rapping on the door.

In my first winter in Seattle, I found myself browsing garden shops wherever I could find them. At City People’s Mercantile on Sand Point Way I was somewhere between contemplating a root grubbing tool and musing over a new kneeling pad when suddenly, an announcement came over the store’s loud-speaker.

“We’re having a sun break,” the voice on the intercom cried. “Everyone step out, staff included!”

And we all ran out to raise our serotonin levels.

So where am I going with this?

I find it interesting that the Pacific Northwest and Scandinavia, both modern and progressive regions of significant light deprivation for well over half the year, deal with the phenomena so differently.

A sense of geographic isolation pervades both regions as well. “Geographically Scandinavia is a cul de sac, on the road to nowhere but the old enemy, Russia, across the Baltic Sea,” notes Jocasta Innes, author of Scandinavian Painted Décor. And I think we feel much that way, like a half way point to Alaska, in Seattle. But because of that isolation, each region has had the opportunity to create a highly developed style.

“All this green means that we take more rain than any but the most dreary of souls could find tolerable,” writes Ann Wall Frank, in her intro to Northwest Style. “Rain dulls the color of the skies. Rain seems endless. Rain soaks our psyches. When the Gods are spoon-feeding you rain, you deal with it, sometimes by creating the perfect shelter,” she continues.

In The Pacific Northwest we muddle through long rainy winters and much of spring and fall in rooms painted in somber colors, taking our color palatte “from the bark of a single Douglas fir,” notes Frank. We find warmth in full-toned woods and heavy textiles. Even our coffee shops are dark, like pubs. We tend to dress in darks or drab, and are easily startled by bright color.

And although the temperature is moderate, the architecture of our homes in the Pacific Northwest is designed with overhanging roof lines protecting us from the elements: rain, snow, pine needles, and I might add, light. What little light there is.

Whereas Scandinavians endure sub-zero temperatures and months of near total darkness, yet embrace the light by painting their interiors in shades of white, keeping their wood blond or painted light, and their fabrics lightweight, such as linen. It’s counterintuitive to our way of thinking, but Scandinavian interiors draw from a cool color palatte of pale muted blues and grays. Their rooms speak of summer houses, cottages, boathouses and such.

Remarkably different approaches to lack of light. One region is wet, the other, snowy. And therein lies the difference. It turns out to be not about the light. It’s the dampness, and that makes all the difference in the world.

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Ghosts, the Sequel

Apparently I am not done with my blog post of last week (https://alittleelbowroom.com/2013/10/30/the-ghost-in-my-computer/) in which I lamented personal loss of writing time due to addiction to the internet. For no sooner had I posted it, when I turned around and realized yet another victim: my reading time. And by that I mean books, not comments and articles online.

Anyone who knows me, or knows who I was until recently, knows my home to be my personal library. Literature has long been considered sacred in this house. In graduate school we were required to read a book each week, and following graduation I continued the ritual in earnest for a couple of years. Until just recently, in fact.

The only danger, I had thought, would be the house imploding under the weight of books. Being a bibliophile at a time when so many others are unloading has been a delight second to none.

I read because I felt I must. I’m talking close reading. Carnivorously, with a yellow highlighter in hand like a fork. Because, as all readers know, literature can be so much better than life. And literature makes us better people. Also, as a writer I knew that the very best thing I could be doing, if not writing, was reading.

And that was my life. I missed films to maintain it, became an introvert to maintain it. And whether under the sun, on the sofa before the fireplace, seated a city bus or in a waiting room, I loved my solitary time spent with books. For that matter, I found my tribe by our mutual investment in time spent reading, as well as writing. And the fact that online addiction is infringing on this too….

Well, this is war!

For the past three weeks my husband has been in Napal on a trek in the Himalayas. Living alone and a little lonelier, I turned to the internet like never before. This is when, I think, I got into serious trouble. Or could it be that as he climbed the Himalayas, I realized how much trouble I was in?

Prayer flags there, falling leaves here….

I have kept a thick anthology of poetry at Copper Canyon Press in the back of my car for as long as I’ve owned the car (many years). “Poetry for emergencies,” I called it, should I ever break down and get stranded. Well maybe that moment is now.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver

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