FESTIVAL OF ROMANCE

 

"Even it this was a good idea, which it incidentally ain't, it would be still be a lousy idea," said Chuck. He was placing pieces of stale pre-popped popcorn onto a huge glue-coated sheet of oak tag paper. When he was done, there was going to be a big heart made out of popcorn which we were going to paint pink and hang in the lobby of the Park Theater. The big pink popcorn heart was a lousy idea, too, but it wasn't the lousy idea he was ranting about. THAT lousy idea was the weeklong Valentine's Day Film Festival, which we were hosting from February 8th through the 14th.

Generally we changed our bills twice a week; this week, we were changing it daily, in the hope that our love-befogged patrons would be returning to this festival of romance every 24 hours. The owner of the theater had advertised this magilla heavily-- fliers with the enormous headline "THE 14 MOST ROMANTIC MOVIES OF ALL TIME!" could be found in every barbershop window for, oh, just blocks and blocks. And just in case our customers were planning to show up for only one or two of our romantic double bills, there was the big pink popcorn heart and the promotional gimmick it represented: any patron who showed up at the box office with a piece of pink popcorn would receive a fabulous one dollar discount! How could all this fail to fill the ratty but still almost functional seats of the Park Theater? Chuck finished placing the popcorn and I turned the whole thing pink with a blast from my can of spray paint. That was the last fun I was to have that week.

The 14 Most Romantic Movies of All Time were an interesting assortment. Not one of them was advertised by name on the promotional fliers, because when the fliers were run off nobody knew what they were going to be. Our fearless owner felt it made little difference-- "Whatever romantic movies happen to be available at reasonable rates that week, they will be the 14 most romantic movies of all time." Chuck, the manager who did most of the booking, made a list of what he felt were appropriate movies, flipped through the catalogues of our usual distributors, and tried to line up a respectable Festival of Romance. The bill for the 8th of February was going to be "Casablanca" and "A Man and a Woman," but the owner over rode this ridiculous idea. "Boys! 'Casablanca' is a war movie! It's got Peter Lorrein it! No war movies! No Peter Lorre! Love, love, love! Kiss, kiss, kiss!" 'A Man and a Woman' got the heave-ho because the asking price was insane, i.e., commensurate with its popularity. Therefore our week of romance was kicked off by those classic love stories "Kiss Me Stupid" ("You can't go wrong with Dean Martin, boys. To America, he is Mister Valentine himself.") and, I swear, "The Nun's Story" starring Audrey Hepburn, because, boys, you can't go wrong with Audrey Hepburn. Unless you book "The Nun's Story" on opening day of your festival of Romance.

Somehow 14 movies were scheduled, some of which should have brought in the lovebirds, and none of which did. By day three ("Elvira Madigan" and "King Kong"--"He really loves Fay Wray, boys, he really does."), I was stationed outside the Theater with a huge bucket of pink popcorn. I was supposed to pass this out to pedestrians with the explanation that a single pink kernel would entitle them to a dollar off at the box office, but nobody hung around to hear my spiel. Most people ignored me. Kids grabbed pink popcorn by the fistful, stuffed it into their mouths, and then spit it out into the gutter-- like the big pink popcorn heart, this stuff had acquired its rosy hue via spray paint and was completely inedible. On day four ("Pillow Talk" plus "Monkey Business"-- it was supposed to be the 1952 "Monkey Business" with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe ("You can't go wrong with Cary Grant, boys..."), but because of a screw up at the distributors, it was the 1931 "Monkey Business" with the Marx Brothers-- "He really loves Thelma Todd, boys, he really does..."), I was stationed outside with the bucket of pink popcorn, and now I was wearing a pink gorilla suit. I have no idea why pink gorilla suits should even exist, but believe me, they do. Where the previous day I had been mercifully ignored by almost everyone, today no one ignored me, and there was precious little mercy. And just in case someone was inclined to mercy, I had a hand-lettered sign affixed to my fuzzy pink chest which read: MEET PINKY THE PINK VALENTINE GORILLA!

I had trouble seeing out through the eyeholes in the pink gorilla head, so I'm not sure who stole my bucket of popcorn. It couldn't have been one of our customers, because we didn't have any. My head was supposed to fasten to the suit with fabric straps that were stitched to the jaw line and tied to metal loops in the shoulders. I didn't bother to tie the straps to the loops, so I could periodically remove my head and cool off. Seconds after my popcorn was stolen, however, someone pinned my arms to my sides while a confederate turned my head backwards and engaged the loops with impregnable granny knots. Then I was spun around several times and released. Blind and with my head pointing behind me, I knew I'd better get to the safety of the theater, so I staggered towards what I hoped was the door, while assorted townsfolk chortled merrily and said things like "Look! Pinky the Pink Valentine Gorilla has been POSSESSED! Call the Exorcist!" I stepped off the curb twice to the accompaniment of screeching brakes and uproarious laughter. Finally some kind soul offered to lead me into the theater. He took my arm and began to walk with me. We crossed the street, and then we crossed another street, and my rescuer said, "Hey Pinky, I just want to introduce you to some friends of mine before I bring you back to the movies, okay?" Whatever I said must have been muffled by the gorilla head. I was soon sitting on a barstool, still blind, a lit cigar stuck in my gorilla mouth (located at the back of my head) while my new friend recounted our totally spurious adventures to the other people in the bar. I guess everyone dreams at some time or other of bringing a pink gorilla with a backwards head into a bar, but this guy had actually done it, so he can scarcely be blamed for making the most of it. He dragged me to at least two other bars-- apparently if you bring a pink gorilla into a bar, you automatically get free drinks--and finally Chuck showed up, furious-- "We leave you on your own for ten minutes and you're hitting the bars! This suit smells like a brewery! And, for Christ's sake, your head is on backwards!" The drunks cried, "Hey, you leave our buddy Pinky the Pink Valentine Gorilla alone!" but Chuck dragged me back to the theater where my head was removed and repositioned, and I went back on popcorn duty in my stinky pink gorilla suit. Later we sprayed the suit with air freshener and deodorant to remove the smoke and beer smells, but the result was not an improvement.

For years afterward Chuck told people the Valentine Week Festival of Romance would have been a roaring success if I hadn't gone on a toot in the pink gorilla costume, but it wouldn't have been, and anyway I didn't. I just want to set the record straight.