“Impatient Truck Driver Destroys Latchis Marquee,” reads the alarming headline from yesterday’s Brattleboro Reformer.
For those who may not know, the Reformer is the local paper in my hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. And the Latchis Theater is the place I called “work” for three years before I moved to Seattle in 2001. Both the town and the theater hold very special places in my heart, so this crazy bit of news hits close to home – literally.
It’s been a rough few months for Brattleboro’s historic and normally quite lovely and vibrant Main Street. Back in April, a fire nearly destroyed the iconic Brooks House, displacing about 80 residents and a dozen or so beloved local businesses (no small blow for town of Brattleboro’s size).
And now this nonsense.
The Latchis Memorial Building is another true Brattleboro icon. Built in 1938, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and is one of only two authentic Art Deco structures in the entire state of Vermont. The Greek Revival-themed interior of the Latchis Theater is one of downtown Brattleboro’s must-sees. Even Rachel Maddow recently saw fit to give a televised shout-out to Brattleboro’s “awesome, old, independent movie theater.”
Personally, my favorite Latchis Theater memory was the time James Earl Jones came to host a special screening of Doctor Strangelove. While introducing the film, he indulged his audience with a dramatic, Darth Vader-voiced, “May the Force be with you.” I’m not gonna lie: it was possibly the most thrilling moment in my Star Wars-geeky life. (And I know, I know. That was never an actual Vader line. But I was so schoolgirl-giddy in the moment that I totally let it slide.)
Anyway, while working at the Latchis Theater, I fulfilled a number of regular duties: projectionist, concession seller, ticket seller, ticket taker, popcorn sweeper and floor un-sticky-er, to name just a few. Also, candy taster (unofficial), and seat warmer (if the movies were good).
But probably my least favorite of these tasks was the weekly changing of movie titles on the three-screen theater’s dual-sided marquee. New movies started on Fridays, so every Thursday evening – rain or shine, blizzard or hurricane, zombie stampede or alien-robot invasion – up the ladder I went.
For a guy not terribly keen on heights, the situation was less than ideal. Keeping my balance on a rickety, fifteen-foot ladder while trying to loosen the previous week’s jammed-on film titles – and then doing my best to securely affix the new ones – was no simple chore.
Pulling from a heavy bucket of steel letters that dangled precariously from the ladder’s side didn’t help much either. Most of these decades-old letters were rusty, jagged, and thoroughly grimy. (And, according to Mr. Latchis himself, banned by OSHA many years prior. But whatever). And they had a peculiar aversion to staying put on the marquee panels (hence the forceful jamming).
All the while, I prayed that no one passing on the sidewalk below would unwittingly kick out the ladder, or be unlucky enough to catch a jumper-letter with their cranium. I also hoped people would refrain from stopping and staring (because they did that. It’s a small town), or trying to take my picture.*
Meanwhile, limited marquee space sometimes called for awkward and increasingly cryptic abbreviations like “CROUCH TIG HID DRAG,” “B WITCH PROJ,” and “SWEITPM.” (Care to take a crack at that last one?)
With these, one had to be very careful not to confuse or offend. I’m just sayin’ – my handiwork probably had a few passersby wondering who this fool on the ladder was calling a “b-witch.”
But at least there was a little hazardous-duty pay involved. My minimum-wage base got a two-dollar bump for every hour spent up on the ladder. I know, right? That was two bucks extra per week! Suckers.
Just before I departed my job at the theater, I was permitted to hang a brief farewell message – to myself – on the marquee (because I’m modest like that). I don’t exactly recall what I decided to say – about myself – but it was, no doubt, very touching (because I’m generous like that).
Anyway, in all seriousness, I love the Latchis Theater. It is a genuine treasure in the heart of my hometown. And as much as I may have griped about my often-menial chores as a lowly movie theater staffer, I consider it a great privilege to be able to say I once worked there.
Of course, I know the building will be just fine. A destroyed marquee is a relatively superficial wound for a sturdy block, and for a resilient community.
But the thoughtless dolt behind the wheel of that truck did more than just rip a fancy sign from the face of an old building. He demolished a small piece of my hometown, and with it, a little bit of my own personal history. And that makes me a little sad.
I may have hated changing that crusty old marquee. But I never wanted it to disappear.
*One night, while on marquee duty, I looked down and noticed a guy with a fancy-looking camera slowly strolling by. I didn’t think much of this at the time, but two days later, there it was: A huge photo of my backside splashed across the FRONT PAGE of the Reformer. The image had nothing to do with anything. Just a great big picture flashing my ass-end across most of Southern Vermont and parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The caption simply read, “A man changes the Latchis Theater marquee.” Now, I know I have a lovely posterior. That’s a given. But it’s not really that newsworthy, is it?