The desperation was entirely real. What else were we doing in an aged movie palace, if not hiding from the streets? We had a kind of sanctuary. We had at least the illusion of safety — under our pleasure dome and in the cool recesses of the alcoves, the defunct green-tiled water fountain in the lobby, the pink and white-tiled candy stand with its sweet and grassy (popcorn) smells.
Outside people were getting mugged, sometimes right under the marquee. A fist-fight blew up there one afternoon, resulting in one guy knocked out of his Birkenstocks — they remained pointed downhill on the pavement while he flew sideways into the street. He got up, using his teeshirt to staunch the blood, and moved on. Nobody called the cops.
Many people didn’t seem to trust cops. The need to keep things to yourself was primal, which is why we had grown men from the neighborhood working off the books on weekends — to keep some of the tougher local kids from walking on the backs of the theater’s seats or assaulting each other with broken bottles in our lobby.
The shops up and down Hyatt Street — the luncheonette, the barbershop next to the theater — were part of another era too. I never saw a soul go into the barbershop; it was as if the ninety-year-old barber lived there, periodically flicking dust off his red naugahyde chairs with a frayed whisk broom.
Night was another thing altogether, the street deserted, sounds of glass shattering. The bank’s night drop was only two storefronts away. Some nights I just didn’t go, but hid the cash instead.
Dog Day was one of many movies I watched in snatches. Seeing it a second time, I remembered parts of it, and other parts seemed new, which may mean I had never seen them at all. I’d get some popcorn, go in and sit down for a half hour or so, then remember that I needed to figure out how to make payroll and still buy cleaning supplies — and pay the carting company, who, it was rumored, would break somebody’s kneecaps if not paid in a timely fashion. That detail from my actual theater-management life fits the tenor of Dog Day nicely — that and another movie we showed that I haven’t seen yet again, Taxi Driver — about a Vietnam Vet with violent streaks who drives a night taxi and tries to save a prostitute. Desperation was part of the Zeitgeist. Which is why I savor my memories of the theater’s cool lobby and sheltering dome. Like a medieval cathedral, it held us: you could walk in there and drop out of time.