During a quick trip home to Batesville over the weekend,
finding it necessary to make the 300 mile drive from
Westside to over near Newark, where the entire city has
apparently decided to relocate, me ‘n mama took our
customary vehicular stroll down Main Street on the way
back – just to get a look.
Imagine our surprise when we saw the gutted remains of
the Landers Theater, and a sign there proclaiming it to
be the location of a new church.
My first words to Becky were that this should not happen, because so much sinnin’ had taken place inside that building. I know this, because I was responsible for much of it, myself.
In 1967, about a week after moving to town and temporarily residing in the American Motor Inn, my folks determined it might help alleviate some of our Blytheville blues if they took my sister and brother and I to the movies. For whatever reason, they decided to take us to the Landers instead of the more… respectable Melba Theater down the street. I don’t really recall whether or not we actually stayed for the movie. All I remember is that I learned instantly that this was the place a young teen wanted to be on a Friday night in Batesville – the closest thing to the wild west this kid had ever seen.
Within a few weeks my parents rented a house on Harrison Street and one-by-one I was introduced to the guys in the neighborhood: James Milum, Chris Magouyrk, Kevin Bowie, and Randy Magar. It wasn’t long after that we would meet early on Friday nights in the Central Elementary School yard and walk to the Landers, where we’d put up our (as I recall) 35 cents and have our weekly adventure.
Once inside this cultural melting pot, I was actually able to meet and interact with kids from the other schools – Westside and Eastside. This was something that was just not done in Blytheville, and it opened up a whole new world. And the most amazing part of this experience what that there, inside that dark theater, were girls who were looking for adventures of their own. How cool was that?
Even the wild west had its sheriffs. Stealthily walking the aisles of the Landers was a large, flashlight-totin’, cigar-chewin’ mountain of a man named Clyde, who was charged with the awesome responsibility of attempting to assure the few people inside who actually wanted to watch the movie that they would be able to do so. It would be many years before I was able to appreciate the difficulty of this man’s job, but I learned the power of the flashlight very quickly.
Blinded by the light, the first time I heard his famous words, “You wanna leave the show?”, I had no idea what that meant. Kevin explained to me that, although we had paid our thirty five cents, this man had the authority to toss us out onto the street if he determined that we were not behaving properly – which, of course, we never were. So, each of us ultimately found ourselves sitting on the curb, waiting for the others to get bounced before we walked around town long enough so that we didn’t have to tell our parents that we got kicked out of “the show”.
Once, on Halloween, we even landed a job at the theater. They were showing some scary movie, and management thought it would be a cool idea to have guys dressed up like monsters run down the aisles and scare people. We put on our costumes upstairs in the projection room, and they opened up the projector to charge these illuminated, glow in the dark get-ups with the bright light. Then, in the most intense part of the movie, we attempted to run down the side aisles and freak everybody out. It seemed like fun when they explained it to us, but we weren’t considering the fact that there were a hundred other guys like us in that audience, and I think some of them knew we were coming. Maybe all of them knew we were coming, because, no sooner than we started through the doors, we were dogpiled and beaten within inches of our young lives as we fought and clawed our ways down to the emergency exits to escape.
We only took that job once.
Older now, after healing up and having a car and a girlfriend, no, a wife, of my own, me ‘n Bec and David & Tammy took in an “owl show” one night that offered up some new surprises. Apparently, they hadn’t screened the movie very well and it turned out to be something that, in the day, would have been more appropriately shown with an 8mm projector in the back room of a warehouse. From the very first scene, it was obvious that this wasn’t the typical late night movie in Batesville. But, sitting close to the front, there was no way we were going to walk back up that aisle to leave, facing everybody on our way out. It wasn’t that dark. We decided to wait it out and blend in with the crowd when the credits were showing, before the lights came up.
Of course David, being David, found much humor in the situation, and took the opportunity to introduce Becky to the ol’ pickle in the popcorn trick during one of the more poignant scenes. Well, yes, she screamed, drawing the attention of everybody in the theater to us. Now, we knew, they were all going to try to see who we were when this thing ended. But determined that we had a foolproof plan, we stuck to it.
Who knew? At the end of the movie, apparently realizing that since nobody had ever heard of any of these “actors”, there was no need to show the credits, the screen just went blank and the house lights popped on, full force. With all four of us scratching our foreheads walking out, trying in vain to conceal our faces, there at the top of the ramp, cigar stub in this mouth, grinning wildly, was Clyde.
“Well, Becky Price!” he said. “Does your mama know where you are?”
Somehow, she never found out.
© 2009, Rick Baber