Sunday, May 31, 2009

Santa Cruz Theatre

A small rectangular room is tucked just a couple feet from the sidewalk. The walkway in front of the room is covered in semi-shiny squares of tiles, marking the space as uniquely different from the dull pedestrian sidewalk a couple steps away. The lower part of the wall is decorated in the same shiny tiles, the upper walls of the room are made of Plexiglas, their opaqueness reveals the three uniformed attendants inside the space. They wear matching black pants and pristine white collared shirts. Above the shirt is a maroon polyester vest and at the collar line is a shiny black bowtie. They are sitting in a row a foot away from the glass wall, a small blue tiled ledge in front of them acts as a table. Each person sits on a black padded chair, spaced in precise intervals. A small bendable microphone on a metal chord is connected to the glass in front of them and the microphone extends from the clear wall to their mouths and stops just an inch away from their lips. Before each uniformed attendant is a large computer monitor and beyond the glass wall are three lines of people that extend to the pedestrian sidewalk.
On either side of the glass room are two double glass doors, on the left are the exit doors, on the right is the entrance. A uniformed gatekeeper stands behind a blue tiled podium just a foot behind the open door. He is a big man and wears the same outfit as the people in the glass room. Resting on the podium’s flat surface is a list of the nine cinemas and the times that each movie will be playing. Past the gatekeeper is a flat surface of shiny tiles that stretches four feet and then abruptly ends at the flight of stairs.
They are smooth, shiny stairs, made of the same tiles that decorate the outer plaza and the gatekeeper’s podium. There are at least 100 stairs and they reach from wall to wall, at least fifty feet across, and rise to the upper level. Directly in the middle, breaking the lines of the continuous smooth stairs is a softly humming escalator which has one rotating flight of metal stairs going up and another beside it, going down.
At the crest of the stairs is a smooth, wide open floor covered in maroon carpet. The soft flooring is accented in squiggly lines of royal blue and yellow and punctuated by fluffy kernels of dropped popcorn. The upper level is shaped like a square donut, the wide open area of the stairs resembling the square donut’s middle. Except for the opening to the escalators and stairs, a four foot Plexiglas wall rings the large open hole. There are four leather benches placed against the Plexiglas railing on each of its three sides and people sit there, popping kernels of popcorn into their mouths while staring at the advertisements that line the walls.
The overall lighting is dim, there are carefully placed spot lights around the periphery of the large room that shine on the cardboard cutouts of an upcoming feature, and there is some wandering light from the neon signs of the concession stand, but there are no large chandeliers or grand lamps, it is just slightly brighter than the subdued cinemas themselves.
At the far end of the wall and directly in front of the stairs, is the long concession stand. Neon lights advertise popcorn and soda. There are eight different lines with a couple of people in each, each line ends at a thick Formica countertop, a tan cash register and a uniformed teenager. The wall behind the attendants is covered in glass and in front of the wall are 3 Plexiglas cases of yellow popcorn, made brighter with the accented yellow spotlights that shine upon them. Soda machines spurt and wizz in carbonation and a hotdog wheel spins endlessly on the far right side of the counter.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tour Ship

The ship is very large and composed of a string of connected cabins. There is little space out on deck, just a narrow walkway around the cabins. The plank boards are a dingy sandy blonde with stark white rails to keep them company and prevent passengers from falling overboard. The white paint is chipped and flaking off of the metal. Little wooden gangways lead from the dock onto the ship and crowds of people are streaming up and into the series of cabins.
Inside, a loud voice booms to the crowd already milling within the ships secretive insides. It is carried over a loud speaker and supplies concise little packets of trivial fact, directing the crowd’s attention to one or another aquarium, or that wall, or offering a historic or scientific anecdote.
The people are mostly older, anywhere from their late thirties to mid fifties. The men and women tend to be dressed alike, each wearing brightly colored polo shirts and khaki shorts or pleated slacks. The main difference is that the men are balding at the crest and their hair is white or gray while the women sport short haircuts full of unnatural curl and color. The women also wear bright lipstick and pearls or gold chains to add a touch of wasted femininity to their masculine couture. Both sexes tend to wear sun visors or other hats and carry little brochures and maps in their wrinkling, sun spotted hands.
They look where the voice tells them to look, nodding their heads and murmuring enthusiastically to one another. Many of them talk quite loudly, carrying on unrelated conversations about hotels, restaurants, or family members between moments of placing their attention where directed. Their feet shuffle along, carrying them where the voice suggests as if they were being moved along on a conveyor belt while their heads look at this and that and each other.
The various aquariums emit an eerie glow. The waving shimmer of light reflected off of the water dances upon the white walls of the cabin. There is otherwise nothing to be seen, except the occasional life saver mounted to a white wall. Nonetheless, the voice directs them to look, telling them what is in here and what is in there and where it came from and who discovered it and how long it lives and how it reproduces and who the captain of the ship was between the years of… and where it has traveled, and how it was named, and who has graced its decks with their shoe polish and so on. All the while, the crowd is responding to what they are told that they see. They snake their way from one room to the next to gaze into empty picture frames and exclaim things like,
“Oh Ralph, Nadia should have come! She would have liked this don’t you think? Maybe we can pick something up for her in the gift shop.”
Among the crowd, there are a few unruly children, also dressed in the classic polo shirts and khakis. They fight and play with their siblings and are ushered through the ship, one with the moving mass of humanity without taking notice of it or otherwise heeding their surroundings. There is an exit that allows a steady stream of homogeneous people to flow out of the string of cabins and across a second gangway. Just before crossing the threshold out of the cabin and onto the deck, they make their way through turn stiles with gleaming silver arms that let each patron push their tummy against a bar and get popped out on the deck as the following bar clicks into place behind them. They are especially merry as they emerge into the sunshine on the deck, smiling with satisfaction as the turnstiles count their passing.

Monday, May 04, 2009


In an old apartment building, eleven stories high, the clear canvases of windows are painted black by the night. Not a star shines through in the darkness, not one light from another building breaks through the thick color. The black windows are the only color on the white walls, walls which have taken a yellow glow from the single overhead lamp, illuminating every corner of the large square living room. The space has the empty power of a dance studio, bare, yet so empty as to be of complete service to anything that enters and moves within it. The room is devoid of clutter, no leather couches, no wooden end tables or entertainment stands littered with DVDs, just a dark wooden piano that leans against the wall closest to the front door. The floor of the room is wooden and old, the blond planks have streaks and scratches that have accumulated for decades, but in the yellow light, a sheen still exudes as though they were just installed.
At the far end of the room is a kitchen illuminated by bright white florescent bulbs, gleaming light dances off shiny tiles and chrome fixtures and creates an aura of sterilization. There is a hip-high wall that separates the kitchen from the living room and with the absence of a barrier, the bright white of the kitchen mixes with the subdued yellow glow from the living room. There is a woman in the kitchen who wears a black evening dress from the late 50s, her hair matches the dress in color and sophistication. She has a small cocktail glass in her hand and stares out expressionless into the living room.
In the bare room, a large circle of people sit on the floor, each one holding a musical instrument. At the far end of the circle, closest to the kitchen, a young woman sits on a plastic chair holding a violin. She plays a well practiced solo, her blond hair tilting to the side as she bends her chin towards the instrument. I am sitting cross-legged on the ground within the ring. On the floor in front of me is a guitar. The woman in the chair plays loudly and I bang on the body of the guitar in intervals. My two friends compose pieces of the human circle, they are separated from me by a stranger on my left. We all play with quiet anticipation, holding the moment that is building quietly and thoughtfully, like a well tended fire.