Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

It was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1946. A clear winter night but, as usual, a sharp cold wind blew hard off Lake Erie. There were three of us or four, I’m not sure now, teenage Catholic school boys looking for nighttime adventure in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. But it wasn’t Times Square and nothing much was happening as the clocks struck midnight.

So, in checking out the movie theaters, we saw that the Palace, which usually featured celebrity entertainers billed with “B” movies, had something different: a New Year’s preview of a regular “A” movie playing at midnight. Since it was already past midnight, the box-office was closed and the outer lobby was empty, except for the short, somewhat elderly ticket taker at the top of the lobby; looking neither officious nor dignified in his yellow-buttoned usher’s uniform. When he reached for our tickets, we shrugged him off and explained that the special ticket price was more that we could afford.

He told us it was a pretty good movie and asked if we wanted to see it. When we all agreed we did, he looked around and about the inner lobby behind him and then quickly waved us in, urging us to hurry to our seats.

The theater was warm and it gave me a cozy feeling as I slumped in my seat watching Jimmy Stewart do good deeds in the little town of Bedford Falls, USA. Nonetheless, his character suffers some serious trials and tribulations and the story turns dark as noir and pretty depressing as he contemplates suicide. A somewhat fumbling, but insightful Angel, however, comes to his rescue and leads Jimmy back to the warmth of his family and friends in time to enjoy the loving spirit of Christmas.

My pals and I were slow to leave the auditorium after the movie was ended. When we reached the lobby, we looked for the ticket taker to tell him how much we enjoyed the picture. A tall young man in a tuxedo suit and bow tie stood at the door, wishing a “Happy New Year” to the exiting patrons as he waited to lock up. I asked him if the ticket taker was still around and he told us that he was the ticket taker. I said I meant the older guy who was on duty around midnight.

What the tuxedo guy tried to explain to us, but didn’t make any sense, was that he, the Assistant Manager, was the only taker of the special preview tickets that night. And that the entry door was closed and locked before midnight so that the audience could hear the radio broadcast of Auld Lang Syne from Times Square and welcome in the New Year before the movie started.

He directed our attention to the clock on the wall and wished us a “Happy New Year” as he ushered us out the door and let it slam behind us with a heavy “click”. So we went back out into the cold early morning and grabbed a streetcar heading home.

For a while, whenever I went downtown, I would look into the Palace Theatre lobby. It was always young men in dark suits taking the tickets. I never did see the old guy again.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a holiday staple that doesn't hold up for me any more. But every year I remember that old ticket taker and have to wonder what that was all about.


At January 02, 2006 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting memory of a New Years past, but you being you, and not being a believer as such, don't you suppose the asst. manager was pulling your leg?

At January 02, 2006 9:23 AM, Blogger BJMe said...

Me being me is not being a supposer, as such.

At January 02, 2006 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but you being you, you wouldn't believe the older man wasn't there in the first place, right?
Some would want to beleive it was an angel, or?

At January 02, 2006 8:33 PM, Blogger BJMe said...

Of course he was there in the first place. I didn't make him up.


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