and I quote

october 2013

click for permalink October 13, 2013

I don't know what prompted it, but I was in the middle of some quintessential Sunday activity this morning (scanning the latest additions to the library's digital collection, which it shares with other libraries across the province so that the few times you actually find something you want to read, two out of three times it isn't available to patrons of your library) when the endlessly rotating video carousel in my head suddenly treated me to a rare showing of a fond but long-dormant memory. I was 12 years old and my best friend Nicholas and I were at our second-favorite movie theater in Seattle, the UA 150 on an awkward double date.

Photo by Scott Neff.

The only movie theater that surpassed the UA 150 back then was the Neptune, a gorgeously run-down art deco/nouveau palace that boasted one of Seattle's last true second-story balconies (although it was kept locked most evenings, probably to prevent teenagers from taking advantage of the isolation it offered). It was full of iconic details like the heads of Neptune mounted in the corners of the ornate crown mouldings and the six larger-than-life-sized stained glass murals recessed into glowing alcoves that flanked the floor-level seating, featuring the eponymous sea god and his daughter Amphitrite. The Neptune rarely showed new movies but when it did, it was usually a memorable event that would fill the seats with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. (The one that stands out in my mind is the double feature of Alien and Aliens upon the eagerly anticipated release of the latter in 1986.) Most of the time, the Neptune was one of those theaters that printed two-month calendars advertising their daily double features and every true cinephile had one posted on the fridge with emphatic circles drawn around not-to-be-missed coming attractions. They showed an eclectic mix of Hollywood classics, reserving an entire night for epics like Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia, and arthouse staples like Metropolis, Akira, Liquid Sky and Brazil. Hitchcock and Lynch, as well as masters of foreign cinema like Fellini and Kurosawa were in heavy rotation, and of course, there were midnight screenings of Rocky Horror every weekend. More about the Neptune later, but all this is to say that the UA 150 was hands-down the best first-run theater in Seattle in the mid-1980s.

So there we were, seated next to each other in the darkened theater (which had taken no small amount of maneuvering on our parts), with my "date," a parachute pant-wearing headbanger with a very premature and misguided jealous streak, on my left side and Nicholas' girlfriend (my soon-to-be ex-best friend) on his right. The girlfriend and I had become friends six months earlier when our 6th grade homeroom teacher devised a strategic new seating plan halfway through the year in an effort to curb the disruptive influence of an unfortunate concentration of restless boys whose first names were clustered at the end of the alphabet. The new seating chart reversed the order and since my name started with an "A" and hers with a "C" we found ourselves sharing a long table at the very back of the room. With her thick glasses, braces and impressive collection of pastel "Izod" t-shirts (you remember the ones with the little alligator?) and my miniskirts, leg warmers and fluorescent earrings, we weren't the most obvious match but we soon bonded over the one thing we did have in common, a natural proficiency in Language Arts class. This was the middle school equivalent of English and also the first period after morning roll call. Our homeroom teacher had a daily ritual the only motive for which seemed to be to bore us to death; every day she would wait for us to settle in, then after checking off all our names she would switch on the radio she kept on her desk and tune in to some godforsaken news-only station on the AM dial. The 10-minute broadcast would inevitably conclude with the recitation of the "Dow Jones industrial average," a baffling tidbit of not-quite-news that confounded our teacher's every attempt to contextualize the existence of the "stock market" to a class full of 11-year olds.

We would spend the remainder of the hour praying for her to leave the room just long enough for someone to sneak over to the radio, change the station and crank up the volume while leaving the power switched off, then return to his seat undetected before she came back in the room. If the sea of innocent heads bowed deep over desks in faux-concentration ever struck her, even if only subconsciously, as suspicious, she had forgotten all about it by the following morning when she would wait for us to file into the room, arrange our books and pens and papers and feet and hair and faces. She would then reach over to switch on the radio, only to be blasted by a wall of squealing electric guitar as Van Halen's "Jump" or some facsimile thereof exploded into the room and was immediately drowned out by the triumphant cackling of 30 preteen saboteurs.

Anyway, it was in this setting that Nicholas' girlfriend and I became unlikely allies, and eventually moved our friendship outside the classroom. Still, it was with some trepidation a few months later that she introduced me to her new boyfriend, who appeared to be a perfect test tube replica of herself in male form, right down to the ubiquitous Izod t-shirt. Despite her initial reservations, it was soon obvious to her that I had no intention of interfering with such a miraculous match, nor did I have any designs on her man. As she well knew, I had been nursing an obsessive and unrequited crush of my own all year. And so, Nicholas and I fell into a comfortable routine of making snarky comments at each other from opposite sides of our shared girlfriend, insulting each other's hair and clothes while we stalked the halls of our middle school three abreast at lunchtime every day. She went away for the summer between 6th and 7th grade, reluctantly leaving Nicholas and me behind to get to know each other. Without her Izod logoed torso to separate us, we were very quickly inseparable — although without a hint of romantic attraction — despite having almost nothing in common besides our taste in movies and a soon-to-be discovered love of mining his mother's medical dictionary for technical yet disgusting-sounding words we could use perversely out of context to make each other laugh whilst leaving everyone else in the dark (e.g. membranous, papule, alveoli, etc).

But back at the UA 150 theater; it is late 1985 and we are sitting in the dark waiting for the Jim Carrey-Lauren Hutton classic Once Bitten to begin when Nicholas taps me on the arm. I dig my forearm defensively into the armrest over which we have been battling for temporary control ever since we sat down (periodic skirmishes made all the more gruelling for the necessity of keeping them under the radars of our respective dates). Instead of pressing back with the full force of his arm like I'm expecting, though, he jabs my shoulder with his little finger and I have to stifle a reflexive squeak of alarm, the consequence of which would doubtless have been our being separated for our inability to sit together and behave.

I whip my head in his direction to fix him with a murderous, eyes-narrowed glare and realize too late that I've played right into his hands, which are cupped on either side of his mouth in the way of a child preparing to tell a secret. For a split-second I see nothing but cavernous darkness as my eyes adjust, and then in the space between his hands I see it: a glowing green squid suspended in an improbably vertical orientation, as if propped up by an invisible tongue. My eyes widen in alarm as his mouth snaps shut with a resounding clack (the sound, I will later learn, of someone almost accidentally swallowing a glow in the dark squid-shaped fishing lure). Before I've even fully registered what I've just seen, I catch his maniacal expression out of the corner of my eye; leaning forward with both hands clasped firmly over his face, eyes glittering wildly, and a wave of hysterical laughter overtakes me. Then we are both doubled over, heads in our laps, desperately trying to stifle the sound of our mischief.

Before long we are breathless with the effort to contain ourselves and it's becoming a borderline health hazard. We crouch to the floor and squeeze past the knees of what would have been, had we been composed enough to glance in her direction, a very annoyed girlfriend and spill out into the aisle, bursting seconds later past the padded double doors and out into the bright lobby. There we surrender, albeit briefly, to the helpless, uncontrollable, transcendent fits of hysteria which are probably not entirely muffled by the heavy spring-loaded door, beyond which our dates sat stewing in incandescent rage. They were almost angry enough, we figured, that had they not been an even more inconceivable pair than we were, they might have left together just to spite us. Of course, it might have been a while before we noticed they were gone... or at any rate before we cared.

Nicholas and his girlfriend broke up shortly after that and he came out of the closet a few years later. He's in medical school now and almost 30 years later we're still friends. The UA 150, I learned while needlessly researching this reminiscence, wasn't so fortunate. It fell on hard times after I moved away in 1988 and, after an unsuccessful attempt to rebrand as a second-run discount theater in the 90s, it closed and was finally torn down in 2002. I've spent the last hour dejectedly searching for pictures of its once palatial interior and looking instead at depressing shots of its demolition, and scanning the nostalgic comments of others who lived in Seattle in the 1980s (e.g. here, here and here). The excerpt below is from

"This theater, which opened in 1969, was originally outfitted with the Dimension 150 process. It was well known locally as the main theater that showed 'Star Wars' for a year in 1977/78. The interior of the main auditorium was a large wooden framed roof with an equally massive screen. In the mid-1990s it was a second run house that had revival screenings on weekend midnights. UA let the theater get very run down and ultimately closed the doors in 1998. The theater was demolished in 2002."

Photo by Scott Neff.

The Neptune, on the other hand, was miraculously rescued from the wrecking ball in 2011 by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board and the support of a passionately nostalgic community. The historic theater is now a fully operational concert hall and "multi-use arts venue." You can see more photos of the extensive renovations here and read all about the transformation here. (Photos by Christopher Nelson)