Our private tours of New York City will take us past some of my old haunts: Theaters where I toiled as a movie projectionist, long before I found my calling as a guide.
Before Forty-Second Street became what it is today, it contained row after row of theaters with illustrious histories and lavish appointments. Most are gone; some have been restored to their original glory. I can show you where they stood, and tell you stories that no one else can.
Come on a private guided tour of NYC with me. Journey back through time!
The button depressed and released with an exquisitely satisfying mechanical click, known to the true aficionado of mechanism and machine. I can feel it if I close my eyes. And in a split second I was Evel Knevel, wind full in my face, motorcycle way out over the canyon wall. I stood there waiting, my shoulders hunched, expecting the sky to fall, or a loud boom, but there was nothing, not a sound. I backed slowly out of the room and gingerly closed the door. Although nothing seemed amiss, I sensed on the periphery of my consciousness a discontinuity, I couldn’t put my finger on it, something different, maybe a sound that wasn’t there before, maybe. A little on edge, I started to retrace my path along the catwalk, tiptoeing with urgency. Then in mid-stride it hit me, that deeply muffled hum was the collective voice of the enraged audience forty feet below; the beast was awake. Pandemonium had broken out in the theater,
With no pretense I took off running down the catwalk as fast as I could, my feet ringing on the metal. It must have sounded crazy downstairs. Tearing down the walk, I could sense their eyes on me, necks craning, heads turning in unison, following my footfalls bang, bang, all the way to the trap door. Now everyone knew that the problem on the screen was directly related to the ass-hole running across the ceiling. As I approached the booth, I could hear the intercom buzzing incessantly, adding another layer to the already frenetic scene, I wanted to rip it off the wall. The poor freakin’ manager must have been crazed too, he had no idea what was going on. He could have easily assumed that I had passed out between the machines, It was he and his mom that were going to feel the crowd’s wrath. Zzzzzt, Zzzzzt, Zzzzzt. I pictured his sweaty face and pudgy little thumb pawing the buzzer. Back in the booth, I immediately saw what had occurred. I’d killed the power to the two ancient generators that supplied the DC power for the arc lights in the projectors. The film was running, and the audience could hear the sound but no picture! It was the no picture show! I’d made the big mistake, public error number one! The sheet was pitch black.
Immediately, my finely honed projecting skills kicked in. I faded the sound, dropped the fire shutter, then disengaged the power to the arc. I prayed that this solid demonstration of someone on the case would chill the mob for a couple of seconds.
I could hear people hurling curses at me from downstairs. “You stupid motherfucka, we’re gonna come upstairs and kick your ass”“You fuckin’ suck, we want our money back.” Others started to pick up that chorus. What was I supposed to do, make a balcony speech explaining the problem, appeal to their sense of reason? Damn I thought, why hadn’t I just left that button undisturbed, what was I thinking, where was my common sense? But, the moment for contemplation had come and gone. It was time for action. When you’re on, you’re on!
My best shot was to re-start the generators from the electrical panel! I was damn anxious about the possibility that I might have to run back upstairs to re-push the button that had originally seduced me. If that happened, it was curtains for me, the manager, and my buddy the candy lady. I beat hasty feet back to the electrical closet and hit the button. I instantly felt the solenoid engage, locking solidly into place, then the sweet whine of the generators spooling up. I tore back to the projector re-struck the arc and hit the sheet with that sweet blue light; the film leapt to life on the screen. The crowd immediately calmed down, the fantasy violence soothing them.
Well, the damn intercom was still buzzing, I picked it up, it was the manager, who else, the President? Naturally he wanted to know what had happened. And he wasn’t being very nice either, he was using a torrent of four letter words that belied his milquetoast manner. It was the longest conversation he and I had ever had. But, I had my lie all set, I told him a circuit breaker had malfunctioned; a totally plausible story in this wreck of a theater, I didn’t feel compelled to confess my role in the drama. I do have to admit though, that for the last hour, time had really whizzed by.
For the rest of the day you can bet I made damn sure the show stayed on the screen. I even slipped the audience a special free treat by “de-luxing” the curtain between the trailers and the feature so they wouldn’t see the screen masking change from flat projection to wide screen. Hey, I knew that no one in the theater could dig it, but I was quite the showman. The manager was probably just emerging from his barricaded office, so I decided to forgo a final visit to the candy stand, because I knew I was gonna get the malocchio from the candy lady, and I didn’t want to see it.
It was only around five or so; I still had seven hours to go, I was in hostile territory. I decided the best course of action was to stay upstairs, lock the door, and read a book.