The day I walked in, The Florida’s lobby was full of kids waiting to perform in a dance recital, eating pizza on the steps. Hard to imagine that same lobby a wading pool, with Hurricane Irma and the St. John’s River its only guests. Of course that’s nothing compared to all the condos, trailer homes, houses, libraries, hospitals and even shelters filling up all over the wracked state of Florida and its neighboring states.The river in Jacksonville crested yesterday at historic levels, almost covering the bridge I took last June.
Theatre demolition is generally something you can blame on (developers’) greed and (citizens’) lack of imagination, or both. Well, wait a minute. What, after all, causes mega-hurricanes? — among other things, greed and lack of imagination! Wrecker’s ball? Or series of gigantic hurricanes brought on by overheated oceans? — wreckage is wreckage. And If this storm has switched off or changed the lives of millions of people, then a treasured movie palace — even if it is the one where Elvis caused hundreds to pray for his soul merely by threatening to gyrate his famous pelvis — is still relatively small potatoes. So I send all good thoughts to each and every resident of Florida, as well as all the states affected directly or indirectly by Irma and her companion storms: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama,Texas, even Virginia, according to some sources. And to my friends in California, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, and other western states, surrounded by yet one more of the four elements, fire.
Finally, here’s to the Florida Theatre on East Forsythe Street, a street I fear might be a canal today, with waist-high water. Hope I’m wrong.
This is what fantasy does to a writer. It was the same with my overactive imagination for years after we ran the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, where I live. The theater was shuttered for the better part of the 1980’s, its marquee depositing rust stains on the sidewalk. I used to walk under that marquee (or even around it, because I was afraid it would fall on me!) and wonder when the wrecker’s ball would come. But despite the fact that greed and lack of imagination (frequent causes of theater demolition) are hardly in short supply in my borough, the St. George still stands, and has become a post-millennium working theater. New York Harbor is right down the hill; but in that we are lucky as well, because the storm that climbs high enough to flood our theater probably will not happen in our time. If you want to read further on that topic, read Ian Frazier’s excellent New Yorker piece written in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. Or don’t, if you’re not in an apocalyptic mood!
Here’s a more comforting solution: go to a movie! No, not in your living room, but somewhere with a nice high and dry concession stand --eat popcorn! -- and seats facing a shared screen. It’s what our ancestors did, gather around the hearth. It’s what we all need to do right now.