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Hollywood Soot Page 2

The Cozy Theater

by Audrey A. Herbrich

"The theater had always been a town staple, not unlike cotton of the 40s, Chicken Ranch hookers of the 60s, or oil of the 80s. It was a prime hot spot. First dates, first kisses, first tastes of Cokes not from cans—all in the Cozy. It was the Friday night hangout, the Sunday afternoon retreat, the weeknight default."

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Fighting fire
Photo courtesy Boyd Photography, La Grange, 3-8-00
The theater was still vivid in my mind. It was where I saw a cartoon for the first time (Pinocchio, when I was four). Never mind my dad falling asleep just as Geppetto was bringing his “real, live boy!” to life. It was also where I first held hands with a boy, and where my cousin got in his first fistfight (over a girl). I knew those walls well. The plexiglassed ticket window was scratched and foggy. Two double glass doors connected outdoors to indoors. The theater lobby was a delicious den of assorted Red Hots, Junior Mints, Mike and Ikes, Snowcaps, and Terriyaki Beef Jerky. The popcorn machine in the corner glowed beneath the homemade price signs. Movie preview posters always lined the walls. The entrance was split, allowing for access by going either right or left, and introduced viewers to three sections of seating. There was even a balcony, rarely used, but there nonetheless. The bathrooms were tiled a banana yellow and always smelled of pine. The theater itself was tall—two storied ceiling—but the lobby area was not as grand because it had an upstairs. Above part of the lobby lay a quiet apartment flat: occupied, normally, but not today. The occupants, along with the entire northeast side of the town’s square, had been suddenly tossed on the asphalt like dice, they becoming spectators of this fantastic, this final, picture.

I like theaters, but I really liked the Cozy Theater. The Cozy always felt damp; moisture hung in the air. The thermostat was always down, way down. The concrete floors steamed cool. The plush blue velvet of the seats was kept refrigerated by the steel frame of each chair. Even the clown on the painting on the way past the entrance wore a coat. Sodas always stayed icy, and the Jujubes never stuck together at the Cozy. The temperature could always be used to the advantage of a first dater, hoping to slide closer to his girl. It was always a good excuse to borrow momma’s knit sweater or daddy’s nylon jacket. Never mind the smell of Avon or Old Spice. Just curl up, feet folded back between body and seat, coat spread over the body like a tarp, and enjoy the cool.
Water, fire and smoke
Photo courtesy Boyd Photography, La Grange, 3-8-00
But the realization that there would be no more cool hit me as I stood watching from these three stories up. Now, only heat emanated from the enflamed exterior, the heat so intense that it floated across the now smoky sky and settled around my feet, making the tar stick to the soles of my leather flats as I moved closer to the edge to get a better look at the fire, those fanciful flames that ate away our Hollywood. Sirens squealed. The flames stretched higher. Particles peppered the air. The heat began to hurt. I was sure by now my sweat had made the holy day ashes disappear. I felt my legs becoming like those dimestore wiggle animals. The toy animal—cartoon colors, ill proportions, toothy grin--would stand erect until pressure was applied to the plastic base. The legs would crash to the base, and the animal would sit, like a pretzel, with the same toothy grin. When the pressure was off, he would stand up. And that’s how I felt: as if my legs would collapse like those wiggle animals. The cinder blocks of the theater looked as if, at any moment, they too would tumble, covering perhaps the Chinese woman, the lawyer, the children, the barber, his customer.

“Get off ‘a there!” Someone yelled. “Down! Now!” came the voice from the bucket truck. I focused my gaze to the fireman who was looking at me. The truck drove closer to the dancing flames, water streaming sharply from the rubber hose. I staggered back a bit, watching, before turning to shimmy down the ladder on the opposite side of the bank, near the alley. I didn’t even feel my legs bend, but they did. I joined the crowd below. We all stared.
La Grange's burned block

The next day

Photo courtesy Boyd Photography, La Grange, 3-00
Cozy Theater facade after the fire
The Cozy facade after the fire

Photo courtesy Boyd Photography, La Grange, 3-00
And so the town watched their Hollywood disappear that day, saying goodbye to has-beens and would-bees. These heroes who visited for a week at a time—sometimes two—would not be returning. Not even for a sequel. Starlettes and heartthrobs evaporated. Adventures, comedies, and romances all vanished. Stories faded away. Memories melted. They disappeared along with half our city block that day, leaving little but an ashy reminder of their presence.
Cozy Theater's stabilized facade
The Cozy Theater's stabilized facade as seen from the rear.

Photo by John Troesser, November, 2004
Hollywood Soot, page 1

© Audrey A. Herbrich
Herbrich is an English instructor at Blinn College in Brenham and Schulenburg as well as a proud native Texan.
Photos © Boyd Photography, La Grange, Texas
November 24, 2004
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