by Bob Schneider
On subsequent recon trips, I expanded the perimeter as far east as Fifth Ave., as far north as 49th Street. Tad’s, between Broadway and Sixth, was dark, mysterious—with flocked, red-velvet whorehouse wallpaper (though I didn’t know brothels from broccoli at the time). It smelled like a charnel house; yet it made my mouth water and my soul yearn for a taste of the proscribed, charred flesh. The kid’s room in the library of the double lions (which later turned out to be the logo of my favored Lebanese hash) initiated me, through circulating picture books of gods and goddesses, into the mysteries of the pagan mythos.
On Sixth between 42nd and 43rd, there was a used periodical dump, a treasure trove of back-issue comix—Uncle Scrooge, Plastic Man, Sgt. Rock, Blackhawk, and banned ECs—as well as secondhand stroke-zines which I would eventually get up the courage to buy and secrete back at cellblock Schneider. Next door was a record outlet where I got my first earful of the New Lost City Ramblers, Dave Van Ronk, Cisco Houston, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie, as well as Italian baroque and be-bop.
On Broadway, the Pepsi sign (the lighter refreshment) featured a built-in waterfall, the Camel sign a dude blowing a smoke ring. To my mind they just had to be two of the who-knew-how-many wonders of the modern world. (The year after I first saw the smoke-blowing sign, I discovered the principle art follows life, when I made the womb take me to the first run of Artists and Models and saw the sign and the smoke, inside and out, used as a Technicolor prop; the plot had an ur-Philip K. Dick premise—Jerry sonambu-screeches actual rocket-science supersecrets and becomes the target of bad-guy spies; and it featured a standing room only, Frank Tashlin busload of childhood faves: Martin and Lewis, Comic Books, commie spies and Shirley Maclaine.)
No voyage to the va-va world would have been complete without a visit to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, where the Iron Maiden, an inquisition torture/murder device (that I didn’t know at the time was built for the likes of this little Yid), always gave my spine a tingle and sent me into a meditative swoon on the nature of man’s inhumanity to man and (more to the solipsistic point), on the question of how would I/could I, through either cunning, daring or deus ex machina, survive an encounter with this objeto del dread.
But it all served as mere sideshow to the truly awe-inspiring main attraction—those ten movie theaters. It made me dizzy to look at all of those marquees so close together, like I had discovered the elephant graveyard of cinema. But none of the ten theaters sold tickets for children under thirteen. This vast mass of spinning celluloid would remain so close, yet so far away. And, by the looks of the paying customers it might be another dozen years before I could take my seat before the altar of the grindhouse gods.
Meanwhile, back in the world, I had treasured latchkey larks to the movies. There were three—the Apollo on Clinton featured westerns and war movies; the Loews Canal screened newsreels, serials and cartoon marathons; while top-of-the-ticket features would travel from Radio City to my part of the city to play at the Loews Delancey. All three had sections reserved for kids, sections ruled by an iron matron, short, squat, mean, dressed in white like a nurse out of a Hammer horror film. Armed only with a flashlight, a booming voice and a requisite hatred of children, she ruled her world through fear like any good movie monster, like Kong, Rodan or the Blob.
Short of the womb acting as matron—she too possessed a sincere hatred of children—movies on the Deuce were beyond my reach. But since necessity is the mother . . . and since it was absolutely necessary for me to be in rapport with the flickers (once again, see Creation of the Humanoids, see the hero/simpleton Cregis belch “My sister is in rapport with a clicker!”), I developed a system by which I could vicariously enjoy the Deuce’s bounty without ever crossing the threshold of any of its theaters.
© 2013 Bob Schneider