Working at a movie theater was my best retail experience. I wrote about how I grew disenchanted when the assistant manager tried to frame me for recycling dirty, used popcorn containers. However I wouldn’t have stayed in the job for 17 months if I wasn’t enjoying myself.
The recent passing of Kenny Rogers jolted a memory that I had almost forgotten. In the golden days of movie houses, there used to be organists who played music between showings. Later on, there would be “ad cards” accompanied by reel-to-reel recorded music. By the time I started at the United Artists (UA) Squire triplex in Great Neck, interstitial music was provided via cassette tape, on equipment housed between theaters one and two on the main level (the projectionist went upstairs via ladder to get to theater three).
United Artists predominantly programmed 70s soft rock. Which was fine but mind-numbing for high school and college students. Ushers cleaning seats would sing along once or twice. But in general, after you’ve heard Ambrosia’s “How Much I Feel” 20 or 30 times a month, you’re pretty much over it.
On a sweltering Thursday, the projectionist called downstairs to ask the manager to bring him more water. Thinking this was my chance to visit “the Nest” above theater three, I volunteered. However he had moved to the primary position between screens one and two, to spool together reels of a print that was opening the following day. After we shut for the evening, he was mandated to do a “test run” and was getting a head start.
I knocked, he let me in, and he chatted while he worked. He told me to put the new water to the side. “Wait, I’m almost done with this one,” he said.
Casually, I looked around the projection space. It was comprised mainly of two projectors placed approximately 25 feet apart. When there was a big “event” movie, such as Return of the Jedi or Sudden Impact (Clint’s big return as Dirty Harry after seven years), we had the ability to “spool” a print between two screens. You could leave theater one as Eastwood said “Make my day” and enter theater two in time to hear him say it.
On the wall behind me, I spotted the cassette deck. It was nearly the same model you’d put in a car dashboard, with exposed wires hooked into the A/V system for the…