The adventures of Bat Guano - Part 1  

rm_forrestp2 49M
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6/2/2006 3:43 am
The adventures of Bat Guano - Part 1

The Adventures of Bat Guano - Part 1
If you have lived in Birmingham for any length of time you know some of its most recent history. If you know some of the recent history, then you know about the existence of a small chain of theatres and the explosion (And ultimately and recently the Implosion) of the modern multiplex.

Theatre (Cinema) managers were an odd lot. My boss at the Village East twin, you know him….Guano…Bat Guano, was probably the oddest bird of all time. Bat was part of an exclusive group of managers that were swingers, porn freaks, drug addicts, and just generally weird and socially retarded. Doing drugs and watching porn are all fine, but you have to do everything in moderation…….

Bat was not one to do anything in moderation. This served the theatre well when it was time to put on a promotion for a film. Promotions for films were conducted the old fashioned way in those days. Managers could pick and choose the films they wanted to promote, and usually it was a film that they were interested in. Bat chose “Hairspray” in the summer of 1988 as his featured promotion. If your not familiar with John Water’s work, it is best not to explore it now. Waters is one of those rare film makers that has succeeded in putting gay porn, chicken snuffing and dog excrement consumption all in the same film; In fact, he’s not rare, but one of a kind. Waters would be jailed for making such movies today. Waters’ films are WAY disturbing and best left in Bat’s archives. The biggest shock about Hairspray is that it was incredibly mainstream and VERY un-Waters’. The movie explored early 60’s life in all its tacky glory, was rated PG-13 and introduced future Jerry Springer-Lite talk show host, Ricki Lake. I watched the movie once, for its grand opening at Village East. I gripped the arms of my chair waiting for someone to vomit, or eat something they weren’t supposed to, or have sex with something they weren’t supposed to, but none of that happened. The only thing that could be remotely offensive to anyone was the fact that Ricki’s co-star, who was playing her mother, was actually an overweight transvestite.

Even the promotion for the film itself was polite. The lobby was decorated like a 60’s hair salon complete with one of those hair-cooking things that women often sit under to make their hair behave; I assume it used a combination of heat and steam for this purpose. In any case, the example Bar obtained was from a junk pile in someone’s warehouse and was a non-functioning model. It looked the part though, very retro and “60’s” in appearance. There were also ladies present to bring the promotion alive so to speak; at least I think they were ladies, my memory is a little fuzzy now, they could have been men in drag. Divine, the transvestite star of the film died a few months before the film’s release. Bat wandered around the theatre for weeks after that event with a black armband around his right arm. I assumed at the time the Hairspray promotion was a healing experience for him.

Inappropriateness Maxima

Working in the theatre in those days was about being a part of the movies business just as much as it was about seeing what would happen next. With no Human Resources Department, no official training and a manual that was outdated and no one read anyway, the sky was the limit. From hiring a male stripper to climb into the concession stand to unnerve another employee to having men standing around in fishnet stockings and panties to promote midnight movies, Bat took advantage of the Swiss cheese of loopholes that existed in our company. One of my fondest memories is “The Dare”. This is a game played by juveniles to push the limits of what is acceptable and to get a thrill. I think Bat needed a thrill and I was looking to push the limits one night at the Village East. There was another employee that started working at Village shortly after I did. His name was Dave and he was an eccentric fellow that would do almost anything on a dare, but at a high cost….between 1 and 5 bucks. For regular weird thrills he would mispronounce the names of candies to customers just to see the looks on their faces. “Would you care for some “Spac Ons” or “Sdud Klim” this evening?” Customer with puzzled look: “What does Sdud…….Klim taste like?” Dave: “Kinda’ like Milk Duds!” holding up the box for them. This amused Dave to no end. For the Tuesday evening dare, Bat decided on a task for Dave that would be particularly thrilling for him and slightly illegal too. Dave’s mission: To strip down to his BVDs, and run across the parking lot and back to the theatre. This dare cost the maximum of course, $5; Dave was not one to sell his services cheaply. The manager’s office was the staging area for the mission, and clothes were laid on the chair; we made sure the lobby was clear. “Go!” Bat said. Dave ran through the lobby, out the front doors into the road and across the parking lot. What Dave didn’t know as he exited the theatre that Bat and I were going to lock the doors behind him; He was going to have to earn his 5 bucks tonight. We watched as he ran to the end of the parking lot and like a track runner, turned on his heel and started to run back. Click. The double doors were locked. Bat and I stood there with our arms folded and I suddenly had a flashback to my childhood. Village East was the theatre I saw Star Wars AND Empire Strikes Back in. Standing in the long lines that irritate adults, but thrilling for a kid, the best part was the smell of the popcorn….the even BESTEST part was getting close enough to hear and smell the popcorn. The manager would walk out in his fine suit and assure us that the lines would be moving quickly now. He had TWO cashiers working and they were punching up the red and green square tickets for customers as quickly as possible. I was standing next to greatness! This was the man that started the movie ‒ he made movie magic happen! He was my hero. KCHUNG!...WHIRRRRR! You could smell the operation of the old fashioned automaticket machine as it forced the tickets out….our tickets…. It was disappointing and thrilling at the same time to have the usher, who was dressed like a manager too, to tear the cardboard-like tickets in half. We were now in the theatre….my mom, my dad and me….dad spent a whole $11 to get us all in. With popcorn and drink in hand, we moved ever closer with the other customers to the double doors with EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in black lettering, back lit by a strong fluorescent glow…Closer….Closer…Closer…. BANG BANG BANG! I was snapped back to reality ‒ Dave stared at me with wild open eyes, his hair drenched with sweat from exertion and the humidity. “You Bastards let me back in!!!” Pulling at the doors, he was no match for the heavy-duty lock. “I’m gonna’ kill both of you!!! Let me in!!!” Then he looked over his shoulder, and then back again. His demeanor had changed….”Please let me back in guys”…….YES! He had reached the begging stage. All Bat and I had to do was wait and watch him melt in front of the doors into a sobbing mess. “Guys….the cops….” “Shit” said Bat. We hurriedly opened the doors and Dave ran back in. He raced to the office and slammed the door shut. We could hear muffled cursing from the office as got dressed; “Lock the doors on me you Muthflrrrtt Fuclfffrrs” Bat quickly attempted to appear as if he were sweeping nothing into a dustpan and I jumped behind the concession stand and tried to appear to not be selling anything to anyone. The Birmingham police car rolled slowly by the front of the theatre entrance, which was very close to the road, paused, and then went on. The office had a slightly disgusted look on his face; apparently he had seen this sort of thing before. Bat and I breathed a sigh of relief and went to the office to see how Dave was doing. “Buddy, How ya’ doin?” I asked. “Fu*k You!” Dave said. In those days that meant: “Thank you, I am well too. Thank you for cementing our relationship with a nicely played out prank.” And indeed all WAS well….until the next week……

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