Friday, April 08, 2011
Time Did What We Couldn't
We fell out before noon on the appointed day with our mauls and saws, ten of us. Plague had sent over a 'dozer and operator, but he just sat on the machine and waited for us to start. After all, he wasn't a native. It was our play, to begin.
It was a right good scheme, too, well thought out and practical. The American Theatre was very famous in our county. It had been the host of D W Griffin silents, such as Intolerance, which some elders in our town remember seeing there. It was a potential Historic Society relic if ever there was one in Bowdoin.
Our job was to partially destroy it.
The town of Bowdoin was dying. You could see it, feel it dying. Buildings up around the square were vacant, and some abandoned for a while were falling. We needed help to save the little village of our ancestors.
And so, during one or another city council meeting at Keene's (there were regular meetings but they were too formal, what with Ma there from the Favorite to rwrite down what was said) the plan was hatched to qualify for state development funds.
This was the program to raise property values in blighted regions with reconstruction and bank the additional taxes assessed for more civic remodeling. Redevelopment. Easy as pie, but the state would not buy into just your standard issue ghost town. There were just too many of those out in the dusty Texas plains, so we had to offer up something worth saving.
We figured we could render the American. It was so pretty; ornate and noir-gothic, with fillagreed columns and painted high frescoes and heavy purple velvet curtains. It was designed to allow for one day a week the commons to feel special, if that ain't a contradiction.
Calahan set his sledge on the floor, the handle resting against his thigh as he pulled on his gloves. Woesong circled beneath the screen, seeking where the most damage might be inflicted quickest.
Reloj just stood and looked. Up there in the balcony was where the Blacks were confined, but he had been up there one splendid night with Anna Lou. Right at the low railing towards the east, where the projectionist would be unable to see them.
Woesong thought, in the lower front section, just above the lateral aisle, that's where everything I knew about natural-motion activity beyond Bowdoin was absorbed. We had no TV in his early days, so we were pretty much left to entertain ourselves, to work out our own version of enterprise and folly and old glad social networking.
Nobody saw Abbot and Costello, or Francis the Talking Mule, as cultural forces worthy of emulation, fear or rejection. The movies were westerns or big city gangster or drawing room comedy flicks, and we walked out the same door we came in. It was foreign, like the carnies that came to town with their strange alien critters, and then they packed up and went on out 82 come some sunup.
It was TV followed us home, but that came later.
"Remember the tunes they played so low you could hardly hear in the time just before they drew the purple velvet aside and the previews began?"
Reloj wasn't moving, not even preparing to move. He sang very softly.
'Twas given by the mighty hand of God
"Yes. Oh, yes. You can date that one. 1949, before the Russkies had their own bomb."
"And there was the very thin transparent mesh curtain behind the purple one, which remained to cover the screen for a little while to mute the picture, almost like it was through a glass darkly, or waking up from a dream, instead of drifting off into one."
Reloj turned with his big hammer on his shoulder and walked clean out of the American Theatre. Not saying anything, not even looking back. I followed him. We weren't the first, and the stragglers came soon after.
The guy on the 'dozer watched us head on up and down South Main to our vehicles, then cranked up his own.
Time did for us eventually what we couldn't, which is ever the way. There were other schemes, but none of them worked. But such measure and manner as our civic pride took was expressed most elegantly and honorably the day we came to do damage to our heritage, like insulting our ancestors to please fickle strangers, and didn't.