16 November 2008

"Sic Transit Gloria Continental!"

That's what Jon said early this morning as he, Donna, and I exited the newly-redesigned Giant Screen Auditorium at Denver's Continental Theater.

We three were very disappointed. Not only was the movie, Quantum of Solace, pretty lackluster, but they finally did it: they wrecked the Continental.

This was Denver's last remaining big movie palace from the 1960s. It has been going strong, and was always a lovely place to see a movie. A big barn of a theater, the formerly 999-seat auditorium featured a large, curved screen. Sitting within the first ten rows or so, obsessive viewers such as ourselves could feel that we were really "in the movie."

Another lovely thing about the Continental of old was its seats. With gentle pressure on the seat back, the seat itself would slide forward and the back recline at a perfect, restful, angle. And there was always tons of legroom.

The only thing left is the legroom, which is still ample.

But the new seats are horrors: one-piece uncomfortable buckets whose only movement is to rock. The back and the seat are one, curving piece. So if your body doesn't like the configuration of the angle, too damn bad. You are stuck with it.

What a shame.

It was somebody's (very bad) idea to turn this lovely auditorium into a kind of gargantuan joke version of the modern "stadium seating" theater. A fine concept, maybe. Maybe in somebody's mind. But they succeeded in creating an unlovely, uncomfortable hybrid. These seats and this seating arrangement do not work in this theater, with this screen!

The lines of sight, nicely balanced in the original design, now suck. Yes, they suck.

For those of us who like to sit close to the screen, that screen is now too high above us for a pleasant view. And for those who like to sit further back?. . .

Let me tell you. You knew that I would. After the film, as Jon, Donna and I wandered disconsolately around our now-vanished cinematic Eden, I went and tried out the very first row of the stadium seating section of the theater. You'd think that from here, dead center, the view would be pretty good.

It is not. The screen looks anything but "giant" from that vantage point. It looks small and paltry and oddly stretched. They didn't account for the fact that this is a curved screen! From those "ideal" seats, you are looking at a stretched, twisted ribbon of a screen, thin in the middle, larger at the ends. It looks terrible!

I can only think that from further up it must look even worse.

Grrrrrrrrr. . .

To cap it all off, you now pay $11.00 for the privilege of viewing a film in this big mistake of an auditorium.

I've had so many happy and exciting experiences in this big theater. It has always been my favorite in Denver.

It is so sad to see it suffer this fate.

So, to repeat Jon's words:

Sic Transit Gloria Continental.

09 November 2008

Building and Loan

Woke up Wednesday morning, day after the election, with an image in my mind.

It was George Bailey, running down the main street of Bedford Falls, seeing all the old familiar sights, having woken up from his nightmare, yelling "Yay!!!!"

That's how I felt that morning.

"Hello, you lovely old Building and Loan!!"

06 November 2008

What We Did and How it Makes Us Feel

The feeling of having come together as a people and having elected this man, this self-confessed "most unlikely candidate," goes way beyond the historic milestone of his being this country's first African-American president. That unquestionably enormous fact is now history and will be written in the books, logged down.

One can speak, as many are speaking, of epochal changes, of a sea-change, of a transformational character.

But what I am feeling, what so many seem to be feeling, a lightness of heart, combined with deep pride, and a singing note of exhilaration, goes way deeper.

We've been cynical and battered so long.

And the cynic in us and the cynic outside can whisper that it's all projection, all symbolic, that we are loading a lot of hope and joy on a young man from Illinois.

And I say, that's right: we are feeling the beginnings of what it feels like to have a leader.

04 November 2008

Voting: The Reality

Howdy, folks!

My last, elegiac post gave my feelings about voting. I had written most of that a while back, but had to publish it before actually going out and voting, for goodness' sake.

So, today being THE DAY, I did go out and vote.

I pulled up and parked on the street at 11:27 am. My polling place (always a new one: don't think I have voted at the same place twice!) was the Washington Park Community Center, located in the east side of Denver's park of the same name.

I had wondered where I would park. I had wondered how long the fabled long lines would be. I had expected I would have time to drop a few tweets to Twitter friends, and to read my book, "The Unfolding of Language."

So I walked up the road toward the community center itself, looking for people streaming out, looking for the lines. I love those big black-on-white signs officially announcing 'Polling Place for Precincts . . ." They made it official. This was the place.

I went inside. The place is a community center with a large gym, workout room, and pool. Quite nice, actually.

And I still didn't see the line.

I was standing there wondering where to go when a fellow near me asked, "You here to vote?"


He pointed me around the main check-in desk and to the left, down to the gym.

I was trembling with excitement.

Followed the short hallway and the ramp down to the wide-open double doors of the gym. There, people were standing around, waiting to greet me.

Waiting to greet ANY voter.

In short, reader, there was NO LINE. Not a line at the table where they look your name up in the voter rolls. Not a line waiting for a voting booth. There were ten or so of these booths set up in the middle of the room, and three or so other people voting at the moment.

I approached the alphabetically correct "line" at the folding tables, and gave the young man my name. Just to make sure, I handed him my official voter card, the thing I got in the mail that told me that this was my polling place.

He riffled through the log. He paged forward, then back.

He looked up at me and said, "Um, I'm not sure. . ."

The guy sitting next to him asked me what my precinct number was. I told him. It was two-nineteen.

"Oh, well, 219 isn't here. You have to go somewhere else," said the second, older guy.

I was dumbfounded. But not convinced.

I knew that it said 219 right on my card, the card the young man still had in front of him on the open voter rolls. And I knew that that card had this location as my polling place. All of which I told them.

Looking behind the election judges, I saw a second row of folding tables. Piled on these tables were stacks of the paper ballots we are using in Denver County this year. They were allocated by precinct number. And right there at the first stack was a small hand-lettered sign that said "219."

As I tried to point that out, the older guy was telling me where I had to go. He insisted that it was not very far away.

He was "sure that 219 was not here."

Then, a breakthrough.

The younger election judge looked back at his computer printout rolls, back at my card, paged a few pages, and found me.

Then they fell into their official mode, the one man writing down my voter number in a log, the other one taking my signature.

"Well, what was this all about?" I asked.

"I was spelling your name with "Ha" instead of "He."

"Oh. That would do it," I said.

The rest of the experience went smoothly. I was handed two large thin cardboard ballot cards. They were inside a plain white "security sleeve." I took them over to one of the "booths," which was a flimsy but official place to write and to shield my ballot on three sides.

Our ballot here in Colorado was long this year, but I was perfectly prepared. I had my cheat sheet with me in my book, and I took it out and filled out the ballot.

These ballots, I assume, are identical to the ones people have been using for some weeks of mail-in voting. Next to each choice, each candidate, or the words Yes and No, is an arrow missing its middle section. To mark your choice, you connect the left and right parts of the arrow. A nice dark, thick pencil for this purpose is wired to the voting booth.

When I was done with that, I was not sure where to take the ballot. Looking around, it became clear. There was a table set up across the room with two large boxes. Somewhat disturbingly, one was red and one was blue, but this had nothing to do with party affiliation! The red one was for mail-in ballots that people were walking in with. The blue one was for people voting today, like me.

Part of this whole experience is the interaction with the people manning the polls. Obviously, it didn't start well for me, with the two somewhat incompetent election judges who were very quick to assume I was in the wrong place. But it ended well, with the pleasant lady standing behind the table with the boxes. We talked a little bit about the light turnout. She supposed it was because so many people voted early or by mail-in ballot.

I fumbled with my cards a bit. She told me that no, the security sleeve doesn't fit in the slot, just the ballot cards do. She told me to just slip them in the slot and tilt them up, so they would slide in.

For some reason I flashed on a death at sea, where the wrapped-up corpse is up-ended into the briny deep.

Erasing that from my mind and laughing at myself a bit, I tipped my ballots up, slid them in, and cast my vote.


I love to vote.

I am a voting fan, a voting junky, a voting devotee.

Sure, the activity is one of civic importance. It is one of our basic rights. It is one of the only times that your opinion counts to the country at large. All that sort of thing. Right.

But for me, the very act of voting bundles all of that and more up into a semi-religious civic rite, with time-honored traditions and trappings. It is the act itself and civic-holy approach to the act and the feeling of having done something important that gives me such a charge.

My devotion to the mystery of voting goes back to one childhood scene. One time my mother took me with her when she went to vote.

I knew this was something special, and something reserved for those mysterious beings who both protected me and bedeviled my world, adults. Though my mom and dad were of different parties, and always joked that their votes would "cancel out," they still always went to vote. And, though my mom might be inclined to tell me who she voted for, my Dad's vote was his secret, not to be revealed lightly.

This impressed me.

So, I already had feelings about the deep mystery of voting when my mom and I arrived at the town fire station, not far from our house. To tell the truth, it might have been the town hall building, I'm not sure which. This is not the important part of the memory, the visual image and the feelings I still carry with me.

What I remember is the machines, and the people in the machines. These were the old-time classic full-body voting machines, where you stepped inside and drew a huge muscular lever that closed the curtains behind you with a ringing clunk.

But I, perhaps ten years old, was not allowed inside the booth. I stood over at one side of the room and looked at the row of monolithic machines and the people doing whatever they were doing inside there.

All I saw were pairs of legs sticking out.

There was the bottom of my mother's green coat, and her bare legs, her feet in flat black shoes.

She seemed to be in there a long time.

What was she doing in there? What were all these adults doing that was so important that I was not allowed to do it as well or to even see it being done?

Looking at my mother there, from the back, at her legs and at that big curtained machine, I thought suddenly about The Wizard of Oz. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" But that was my mom behind the curtain now. The fumbling Wizard made himself into that scary, fire-drenched floating head! What would my mother do in there?

But it reminded me of something from Sunday School, too. Something about the temple of Solomon, and the place back in the temple, behind a curtain, where only the priests were allowed to go. Back where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.

Eventually, the curtains parted with a ratcheting clang, and my mother was delivered back to this world and to me.

Ever since then, a numinous exhalation surrounds the act of voting and all its trappings for me.

I sit here in the wee hours of Election Day 2008. The day has finally arrived.

Later today, I will go to a local community center and take my place in line.

I hope it will be a long, long line. There is something wonderful about a long, long line when everyone is in that line for the same reason and when most of the people feel about voting the way I do. Any person who does not want to be there is welcome to get out of line and go home.

But no. The long line of like-minded folks endures.

Eventually I will reach the election judges behind their folding tables. The first one will give me a voter registration card to fill out with my name and address. Birthdate optional. The next one, looking at the card, will look me up in a big computer printout of my precinct. Or maybe on a computer. That happened last time, although the failure of some of these computerized voting rolls was a scandal in the elections 2 years ago. A third judge will write my information down on a big sheet, to show that I have, indeed, voted. He or she will also give me my ticket, a printed slip of paper that I exchange for the actual process of being ushered into a voting area.

Another election judge will be scanning the room for a place for me to actually vote, waiting for the next person to be done with the activity.

This year in Denver county, we are using paper ballots, because of various scandals and challenges resulting from the use of electronic voting machines two years ago.

So that will be a new wrinkle for me. . .and also a kind of hisoric echo, back to basics.

I'll stand there in nervous anticipation, the voting ticket clutched in my hand, watching the body language of the election judge, looking for someone to be done.

And then the moment comes.

I'll be led into some kind of array, some kind of alcove, some kind of place to actually cast my vote.

Let's draw the curtains right here. This activity is private and does not bear up to the light of day. Grab that big red handle, if you will, and sweep it from right to left.


The curtains are closed.

Sssh, quiet!

We're voting now.

01 November 2008

Halloween Visitors: A List

Spent Halloween at my stepmother Amy's place.

For the first time in many years, I got to see some trick-or-treaters. I even got to give out the candy. I had a blood-red glass bowl filled with a mixture of "fun size" Snickers, Nestle's Crunch, Kit Kats, and Hershey's kisses.

I expected the little little kids to be coming around with their parents quite early, around 4:30 or so. But really, the first visitors, a small girl devil with her demon mother, came by just before 6:30.

The kids started out very small, like the amazing elfin Spiderman I opened the door to find next, and got bigger as the evening's modest parade went on. In the middle were the middle-school kids, too cool to wear costumes (unless those "cool" outfits they were wearing were their costumes!) They got taller and edgier toward the end, like the young man who announced himself as "a dead skateboarder," and who, indeed, had a full-sized skateboard right through his body!

Four days before Election Day, many of the older kids heartily approved of my "Obama/Biden" t-shirt.

For what it's worth, here is the modest list of trick-or-treaters at Amy's house in suburban Littleton:

- 1 small devil (1 accompanying parent)

-1 small Spiderman
-1 spider baby (in mom's chest harness)
-(2 parents)

-2 slightly older cute witches

-3 young teens, 1 dog. (too cool for costumes. small fluffy dog carried like a baby under a blanket)

-2 small Transformers
-1 self-confessed "homicidal murderer"
-1 girl genie
-(1 parent)

-1 dead skateboarder
-1 Jason

-1 female duck
-1 vampiress
(arrived after 9:00, after we had given up and closed the front door)

-7 assorted older teens: vampires, "a black man," hockey goalie, etc.