Into the lobby strode a man wearing a hopeful smile and lugging a large sales case.
“I’d like to show you some light bulbs...” he began, extending his hand to Dean.
“We can’t buy that kind of thing door to door,” Dean countered, but somehow, the man had already made his way past the usher’s station to the candy stand. There, he quickly unlatched the heavy four-sided sales case, covering the counter with every imaginable size, color and shape of lightbulb — flame-shaped, pencil-thin, clear with a glass rosebud in the center — each screwed into its own special socket. With a Robert Preston flourish, he pulled a cord from the side of the case, and gestured for someone to unplug the butter warmer.
Row by row the case came alive as he hit the switches; it was like watching E. Power Biggs play the pipe organ at the Fillmore East.
“These are for accents — and these... are long-lasting! These two lines are utility.” He paused a moment, not wanting to rush things. “Now these... are for your chandeliers and sconces!” He gestured approvingly at the three dark shapes looming above the lobby.
It wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that, before selling light-bulbs, he’d apprenticed with a hypnotist.
A group of us gathered, and someone came up with a notebook.
• 15 stained-glass exit signs, 1 bulb each
• 4 fire hose door signs, 2 bulbs
• chandelier in the outer lobby, 24 candles
• chandeliers in main lobby? (we didn’t know what they contained, having never cranked them down)
• footlights, 24
• backstage lights, 7
• aisle lights (too numerous to count)
• 22 sconces
• statuary illumination?
• bulbs in dome?
The list ended with the biggest question mark of all, the main chandelier, which, we imagined had at least 80 empty sockets, although we couldn’t figure out how — or if it was safe — to crank the thing down. There were niches and indentations with outlets we’d never dreamed of, which we found from time to time, crawling around the catwalk and in other out-of-the-way places, some with bulbs dating, perhaps to the second world war, rusted into their sockets.
Back at the candy stand the euphoric salesman slid his hand into the a crevice of the sales case and, with another flourish, withdrew a hand-held calculator, one of the first I’d ever seen. I wanted that too!
“It all comes to just $917.60!” he told us, beaming.
A full fifteen seconds passed. “We don’t have that much money,” Dean said.
“Oh...that’s okay, you can put it on time!”
So we did. Time was something we didn’t have much of either, but we didn’t know it yet.
How could we refuse him? — so earnest! — and his bulbs did make the theater a little less dusty and cave-like. By the following spring, the first of them had begun to burn out, after our hopes, dimmed months before.