Thursday, January 7, 2010

40th Street (Cont. #5)

The saga of my youth in Borough Park, Brooklyn, continues. The following has a somewhat lighter touch than earlier posts in this series.


VIII. The Movie

On Saturday afternoons, all the kids would go to the movies. In our section of Borough Park, that meant the Windsor, on 15th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets, one of many similarly constructed houses in Brooklyn showing two features, an hour of cartoons, Newsreel (a news report on international happenings of the day, often about war), and coming attractions. Free of advertisements, unlike today.

It cost twenty-five cents to enter (about two dollars today). From my parents, I'd get thirty-one cents: a quarter for admission, a nickel for a candy bar, and a penny for a paper cup to fill with tap water.

Inside the Windsor—which we often referred to as The Movie—reality turned to magic. It didn't matter what was playing. The interior became a castle or a palace. The dim lights became candles or torches fixed into stone walls. The rusty fittings on doors were made of pure gold. The carpeting was wine-red and thick, just like in any palace, running up two swirling staircases that opened onto the second floor--where the balcony was--that bore the same carpeting as well as embroidered heavy drapes. Which meant that if you were a pirate or Robin Hood or Rob Roy, you could grab onto a drape and swing down from the balcony through the air with a sword in your hand and beat back all the king’s evil guards.

One Saturday, when I was eleven, I saw Chip, our upstairs neighbors’ younger son, walking towards 15th Avenue. I called out to ask if he knew what was playing at The Movie.

“Baloney on rye,” he said.

He wasn't being a smartass. I knew, and everybody else in our world knew, exactly what he meant. The film was “Salomé,” starring Rita Hayworth and Charles Laughton and Stewart Granger. Here’s how you knew: Salomé sounds like salami; salami is sort of like baloney. And you can get a baloney sandwich on rye bread, if your mother makes it.

“You goin’?”

“Yeah. You?"

“Yeah. You goin’ now?”

“No, later. Now I’m goin’a Soynce Avenue.” Chip had a lisp. He couldn’t say “Thirteenth Avenue," which was the main shopping district in our neighborhood. So he called it Soynce. Again, we all understood what he meant.

Once a year for a few years, movie excitement coursed like a collective shiver throughout 40th Street (and all the surrounding streets). That’s because The Movie would distribute advertisements for a forthcoming show on pieces of colored paper. Red and green and yellow and pink and gray and others. One of those colors—only one—would allow the holder to get in free! You could save a quarter! During the next two or three weeks, therefore, the main activity on the street was a kind of feverish trading with each other: I’ll give you a pink if you give me a blue. No, I need a brown, I need a brown! The goal was to get at least one of every color. We traded and traded, arguing about which color would be the prize. We wouldn't know until the day of the show itself.

That year, the winning color was purple. But The Movie, of course, didn’t print many purple fliers. That would have defeated their purpose: to entice hundreds of kids to the theater by promoting a false hope of getting in free. So they distributed thousands of fliers in all the other colors, yet maybe three or four, if that many, in purple.

I never got the purple flier. Nor did Chip. Nor did anyone else I knew. But inside The Movie, I still became Robin Hood. Or a pirate.

* * *

1 comment:

Ed Lieber said...

I remember those days of my youth, when movies were magical. Actually, I still find them magical. Maybe movies are one link to our childhood that some of us never lose.