Friday, May 28, 2010

Going downtown

We collected our allowance and walked downtown. Past the stone house that was the oldest house in town - the old land office. Past the house where my old teacher lived. All the way to our church - perhaps we'd make a quick detour and go up the side street where the playground was. That playground had the most unusual merry-go-round... instead of the usual wooden platform that spun a few inches off the ground, this one rested atop a five-foot high metal pole. There were chains attaching the platform to the top of the pole. If you were tall enough, you could spin the platform, then grab ahold and haul yourself up to the spinning ledge. Or more scary yet, you could hang from the chain as the thing spun like crazy. I was never tall enough to reach it, but watched in awe as the older kids dangerously careened around and around, feet kicking and voices hollering.

Then back to Main Street and over the bridge. The bridge had white concrete walls, over which you could peer down at the dam and the waterfall. Along the sidewalk, there were small holes in the wall, for drainage I suppose. I was afraid that I might slip through one of these holes. What would happen if you fell into that green water below? Especially if it was winter, when the bridge was particularly slippery. The dam was encrusted with snow and ice, and the creek was nearly solid. But even in mid-winter, you could hear the sound of water running below the icy surface, especially under the bridge.

The bridge safely crossed, we had arrived downtown. Shelby's jewelry store on the corner, and down from that, the Italian restaurant where you could get fried clams every Friday. The 5 and 10, with its large windows and funky smell of goldfish and hamsters in the back. In there, they sold outfits for Barbie and Tinkertoys and sleds as well as undergarments and tools. There was a counter where the town folks could enjoy coffee and gossip. The front of the store had large glass counters to peer into. I can see the collection of combs and hair decorations, and a rack of hairnets.

Next to the movie theater was the soda fountain place. A glorious place of high red-topped stools along a marble counter, with large phosphate dispensers that had huge handles. Large colorful bottles of syrup lined the back counter below the big mirrors.  Once you climbed up onto one of the stools, you could see your face reflected back to you, a bit faded or warped, but looking you directly into your eyes. There were booths in the dim store, with cracked red leather banquettes and crowds of teens giggling and sipping.

On to the main event! the Saturday matinee. Kids ran in and out of the lobby. Here we bought our ticket from the musty man in the threadbare suit. We pushed our way to the candy counter, if we were lucky enough to have an extra dime or two for Snoballs or Malted Milk candy. If not, we rushed into the auditorium and found empty seats, where we flopped down and tore off our coats and hats. The room was never dimmed until the main feature started. Cartoons and newsreels played non-stop. Sometimes a man dressed as a clown would come and make balloon animals, or chase kids around the aisles. If it was a holiday, there would be little presents of candy or penny-whistles or tops.

I remember counting down the days until Mary Poppins came to our town. I had a calendar and, with a red crayon, I made a big X each evening on the date that we had achieved. Several months went by before the big day finally arrived. I can't remember if I knew the story from having read it, or if I was hyped up from the advertising that they no doubt ran every Sunday night on the weekly Wonderful World of Disney tv show. The movie did not disappoint. I will never forget magical moment when Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke jumped into the chalk drawing on the sidewalk. I think it has given me a lifelong appreciation of magical realism and the permeability of seemingly concrete objects.

The seats were rough and cracked and the cushions were long since collapsed. When the seats were up, you could see the thick layer of gum that had been smashed there by generations of children. The gum was grayish pink and had a sickly smell. It was hard as a rock and on some seats, looked like lava, all pitted and encrusted with dirt.

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