Anybody who has ever started up a store-front business knows what it’s like to discover yet one more license or inspection fee necessary to open the doors. Restaurants are famous for this sort of thing: a lot of money flows under and over the table in New York City to secure liquor licenses, sidewalk cafe licenses, and a dozen or so other costly diplomas.
It should have been simple. The concessionaire took care of licensing the candy stand, not to worry. But our stand-pipe system, which connected to the vintage fire hoses folded and waiting behind all those stained-glass FIRE HOSE doors, was a complicated affair. Just days after the theater opened, we found ourselves lacking an official Standpipe Operator, somebody who could take and pass a difficult test, and be knowledgeable about the function of standpipes. There had to be somebody who owned a “Fitness” license which enabled him (could have been a her, but in those days never was) to operate and maintain the system, which actually the fire department was in charge of running anyway.
Who could we find to rise to this task? Our good friend, Thom, happens to have a near-photographic memory and is known for his ability to grasp complex bodies of knowledge quickly and to learn them fully. Thom, if you’re out there and reading this, I tip what was once my theater manager’s cap to you for studying the voluminous texts required and striding right through that test in a single afternoon. And you really knew your stuff-probably still do! In the weeks that followed you proudly produced upon request said license, whenever an inspector came by.
Speaking of licenses, BTW, did you know that theaters — at least in our day — had to pay a marquee tax? Not upon the value or lack of value of the marquee, but because the signage hangs over a public sidewalk. Another regulation, one which was obsolete, from forty years prior, had made sense when film (once actually Celluloid) was highly combustible. The fire extinguisher in the projection booth had to be 24 inches off the floor and strapped to the wall, in order to be closer to the projectors. One Friday afternoon, ours was seen to be six inches too low, and the omnipresent fire inspector wrote us up.
Such was our professional life from April of ‘76 to March ’77. Over the years I have known several restaurant owners, and have always been glad we didn’t try to keep the doors to an eatery open. One sweltering night last summer when all we wanted was a simple meal that we hadn’t had to cook, we sat all evening in the back garden of a favorite restaurant, unable to eat, because the food inspector was on premises and insisted that this spotless establishment prove that their walk-in box was the proper temperature. To determine this, the refrigerator had to be closed — on a Saturday night at 8 P.M. while customers came and went, unserved. Isn’t there an old song from the seventies by Donovan that applies here?