Friday, August 5, 2011

A Reminder and the Remainder: Don Pancho's Art Theater

By Rudolfo Carrillo

Here is something to read.

It is as dark and beautiful as tonight will be.

A large cloud occludes the moon and spreads itself across our humble burg and I watch it pass through, waiting for the light from the moon to conquer that gray blanket, effusively. There is a mulberry tree across the street and its branches are waving and quivering under the influence of August.

If you are lucky and read this right after it gets posted, I urge you to step outside and observe that moon’s arrival in Albuquerque.

By the way, and with no obvious intention of disrupting the poetic moment engendered in the text above, here are some of the lyrics to the song I am listening to, as I transfer data regarding this post from my head, through my hands and onto a mechanical device designed to send an electronic signal each time I tap on it…et cetera, et cetera:

If I get old
I will not give in
But if I do
Remind me of this

Remind me that
Once I was free
Once I was cool
Once I was me

And if I sat down
And crossed my arms
Hold me into
This song

Knock me out
Smash out my brains
If I take a chair
Start to talk shit

If I get old
Remind me of this
That night we kissed
And I really meant it

Whatever happens
If we're still speaking
Pick up the phone
Play me this song.

Ah, that is one of my favorite songs. And though it is not about Albuquerque and the band that sings it have never been here, the following narrative is about events that occurred in this here town, more than a few years ago, in the late nineteen eighties, as it were.

I was
working the night shift at UNM, ushering famous classical musicians onstage. I spent the time after they went on stage listening to them deconstruct their instruments. I thought I had heard it all, I would say to myself, each time they surprised me with their facility and grace.

So, I learned the classical repertoire and it was mostly accidental. That is not all I did while cooped up in the College of Fine Arts post-graduation.

I also spent time in the lighting control booth and read the
Daily Lobo.

One night in that dim light of LEDs and green glowing dials, I read an ad on the back page of that venerable publication. The advertisement announced a job at a place called Don Pancho’s Art Theater. It was for a job as a projectionist.

I circled the ad. The next day I appeared at the front of the theater. It was near the corner of Buena Vista and Central. The front was covered with crackly blue and grey paint. An older well dressed woman sat at the ticket booth. She was wearing a blue sweater and wore a dainty pearl necklace. Here hair looked like it had been styled in 1955 and she smiled demurely when I banged on the door.

Eventually I was greeted by an elvish and well-kempt man in his thirties. He led me up a spiral staircase and through an oaken door. Really. Behind the door it was dark and noisy.

There was an office, two projectors, an editing table, a couch and a toilet. A red bulb buzzed overhead. Little bits of very bright light poured out of gaps in one projector.

A fellow I knew from
Lee Bartlett’s Beat Generation class sat at one of the projectors. He had long blond hair and was rolling up a cigarette. He was waiting for the changeover, from one projector to the other. Just as one reel started flapping around and then sped up, he lit the cigarette and hit a switch on the wall. The second projector came to life and the smoke from his cigarette filled the room. It danced around in the thin rays of light and red ambience.

Hey, man, the thin man with blond hair said.

I took the job and started working there on weekends. It was a welcome refuge from the ornate formality of my other job. I had so many transformative experiences with those people at the theater that I could write about a million words on it.

Here are some of the things I would write about.

The time
a famous writer’s hair got caught in the projector.

The discovery of the surreptitious recycling of popcorn buckets by a feisty Earth-Firster who tended the machines for matinees and laughed at the customers.

The tenure of the projectionist
who was named for a greek goddess.

And most notably, the day we all arrived at work and found that the theater was closing. I sat and watched an old man in safety glasses dismantle the projectors and put them in a big truck headed for Phoenix. The next day the place was boarded up.

After that, it was dark inside Don Pancho’s Art Theater for the first time. When the moon rose that night, I rode my bike over to the college and then sat in another dark booth, where there was no imminent changeover to wait upon, only beautiful music wafting around and around.

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