Thursday, February 10, 2005

if life were a film noir

It was snowing when I got off work tonight, which is depressing in and of itself. However, the roads were strangely vacent. I didn't even have to slow down when I was yielding to get onto the highway. Getting off, there's another off-ramp from the other direction that I have to cross in order to not go across the bridge, but instead end up getting spit out into my sleepy little town. It can be a real bitch in rush hour traffic, you have exactly fifty feet to determine if someone is coming off the other onramp, cut over, not hit the median, and make the tiny loop for the exit. As soon as I passed the median, I drove straight into thick white smoke pouring out of the smoke stacks of the paper factory that the ramp crosses over. I looked back behind me, and kind of hoped for the best. Like I said, I was lucky there wasn't any traffic tonight. I'd like to say it was as thick as oatmeal, but that'd be doing a disservice to it. It wasn't lumpy like oatmeal, it was smooth and wet and almost organic, like finely worked carrara marble.

Coming out of the fog, onto the street illuminated by those disgusting salmon orange street lights, I thought of another foggy day that was too surreal to have possibly taken place.

I'm not sure what the hell I was doing down town, maybe I was changing buses to go home from my parents' house, maybe I actually had real business down there. It's probably not important. All I remember was that I had time to kill, and I decided it was a nice night for a walk--humid and warm for early spring. Walking away from the bus stop I needed to be at, I made my way down the main drag, staring at the reflection of the blue neon lights of the the one screen "art film" theater and the red blinking exterior of the subway station in the wet asphalt. In the middle of the street, several manhole covers were billowing smoke.

It was a sight too bizzar not to stop and try to absorb. It was a section down town where the buildings were often lucky to reach past seven floors, with dates like 1894 or 1920 carved in stone or layed in tile on the exterior. If you squinted and ignored the Viper parked in the loading dock and the cartoon characters dancing in the candy store window, it could have been another time and place. Some place a hell of a lot more interesting than here and now--it was late and I should have been in bed an hour ago, if I wanted to get my full eight in before work tomorrow. I had to admit it, as much as I didn't want to; I was a grown-up, boring, working stiff. I wore matching pant suits and had a retirement, and I was barely twenty one.

But this... this could make me forget. It looked like a well-planned movie set, and I was about to either watch an old school gangland shootout repleat with buggy carriage Fords and tommyguns, or a vampire was about to jump out of the alley between the Harris and the candy shop and make lunch of me.

Turning the corner, I saw thick steam pouring out of another manhole cover in front of the performing arts center. The blinking lights from it's time as a movie house caught in the smoke. I could live here, I decided. On these thin, two lane streets beneath these four-story structures breathing in the humid air on a just-right warm night like tonight.

I peaked into the lobby of the theatre, past the shiny brass doors, into the lavish lobby. The show wasn't over, so it was empty except for the door man with the handle bar moustache who'd once chastized a friend and me for waiting too long after a show for a ride and the thin old women in the white shirts who sould souviners.

The theatre took up the whole block, so I came around another corner, past the eight floor building where I had my voice lessons. The restraunt on the bottom was lively, but the offices above were dark and the little old man who operated the elevator had gone home. Half of a block away, on my side of the street, the stage door of the theatre was closed, but a petite girl in black with an oversized wireless head set strapped to her head was talking to the actor playing Piangi in The Phantom of the Opera--a round, redfaced man in a costume adorned with firs, and he was sucking on a cancer stick. That couldn't have been good for the voice. I almost crossed the street. I get weird around people.

There wasn't much time to think about it, however. He tugged twice on the stage door, then took off in a dead-run towards me. I stepped off the corner, looking around to make sure I wasn't about to get pummled by a car, and to see if anyone else was seeing this. He huffed past me, crossed in front of the brass doors leading to the lobby and turned again. I quickly and quietly walked his way, trying to casually look around the corner. He tore opened the other stage door, a glass and brass ficture that lead past a guard's desk and into the dressing rooms and went inside.

I was left standing on the corner again, looking at the lights from the one-screen movie theater and the subway station as they throbbed and melted into the rain shined street.

I really could have lived there forever.


Blogger Gretchen said...

The way you wrote this one made me feel like I was at the beginning of an old gumshoe movie. You know, where the guy's wearing a trenchcoat and hat, saying, "It was midnight and raining outside, and I had just finished my paperwork for the day. When she walked through the door, I knew it was going to be a long night." :)

1:14 PM  

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