Let’s return once more to my childhood....ah, those halcyon days before disco was King and Elton John was Queen....
The Elm City Post will never win a Pulitzer Prize.
Overshadowed by the dailies from New York, our local newspaper’s idea of hard-hitting journalism rarely ventured further than garage sale announcements, church supper notices, and the Christmas countdown.
Where it excelled was its movies page. Even though Bridgeport couldn’t claim a single cinema of its own (unless you counted the peep show on State Street), it provided feature information for theaters throughout southwestern Connecticut.
I scanned the listings trying to find something to break up the monotony of the afternoon. There was nothing on TV except soap operas and, since our pool’s filter was clogged by a G.I. Joe who strayed a little too far from his unit, swimming was out.
Ah, good, the two movie houses in town were showing matinees. I preferred afternoon shows. They were cheaper and mercifully free of “ssshhing” adults. Plus, matinees let out early enough for evening television.
The movie at the Hi-Way Cinema was a dog. Even though it was only a few blocks from my house, the Hi-Way was showing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Now, I like a movie about flying cars as much as the next guy, but a singing Dick Van Dyke was more than I could handle. Plus, the place would be foul with little kids.
But, the Stratford Theater was showing Escape From the Planet of the Apes. Now, that sounded like a good movie. Anything that has talking chimps in it can’t be all that bad.
As soon as my best friend Tommy got to my house, we’d take off. I knew he wouldn’t care which movie we saw because he wasn’t all that picky. In fact, he told me he once watched a TV test pattern all night. Apparently, his cousin told him the networks put subliminal messages from naked girls in them.
My mind made up, I stepped onto the porch and into a white cloud spewing from a passing mosquito control truck. I breathed its sweet aroma deeply, ignoring any possible birth defects that could result from any toxins concealed in its puffy billows. In fact, I thought that if I eventually had kids with flippers, that’d be cool.
Once the noxious bug van trundled down the street, I saw Tom speeding toward me on the rusty Schwinn his dad had gotten him for his 14th birthday. With one fluid motion, he whipped his legs over the bike’s forks and jumped to the sidewalk. Deprived of its primary guidance system, the riderless bicycle then rammed into my father’s defenseless rosebushes.
I heard the door behind me squeak open.
We weren’t fast enough.
As we waited our turn in line, Tom jerked a thumb behind him. “Did we have to bring him?”
Without looking back, I answered, “My mom told me to bring Phil. You think I wanted to?”
My ten year-old brother jabbed Tom in the back with a stick he found wedged into a pile of dog poop. “Yeah, jerk, Mom made Al.” To me, “You better be nice to me, too, or I’m gonna tell.”
I shook my head and sighed as I stepped to the window.
The ticket-taker regarded me with bored indifference.
“One child ticket,” I lied.
Without batting an eye, he slid a green stub though the window and insincerely droned, “Enjoy the show.”
As I stepped into the air-conditioning, I was immediately confronted by a huge placard of a man dressed in an Indian headdress. The bottom of the poster proclaimed that it was “Frank DeKova-Chief Wild Eagle from TV’s F-Troop!”
I had to cover my mouth to avoid laughing.
Tom joined me, followed by Phil (the only one of us who could legitimately lay claim to a child’s ticket). “What’s so f-oh!”
The diminutive owner of the Stratford Theater walked up to us. He proudly draped his arm over the top of the poster and crowed, “Well, what do you think, boys?”
I glanced at Tom, who was also having trouble keeping a straight face. “Gee, that’s, uh, great, Mr. Bickes.”
Chester Bickes had owned the building as far back as I could remember. What’s more, my parents swore he ran the theater as far back as they could remember. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the original owner.
Just shy of five feet tall, most of us towered over him. He was so short, in fact, that rumor had it he was one of the original Lollipop Kids from the Wizard of Oz. I didn’t believe it, of course, but, still, I wondered where that autographed picture of Judy Garland hanging in the lobby came from.
Whenever he stared at you through his enormous coke bottle glasses or spoke in that gravely voice ravaged by decades of cigarette smoke, you knew you couldn’t get much past him.
Which made the Wild Eagle poster that much funnier.
A few months earlier, Tom had scribbled “Frank DeKova Sat Here” across the back wall of one of the bathroom stalls. Why he chose an obscure character actor from an obscure television program was beyond me. But, that was Tom Spagnoula for you.
Mr. Bickes discovered the artwork one night after closing. Even though he’d never watched a single episode of F-Troop, he was overwhelmed that an actual celebrity had used his rest room.
He covered the magic marker scrawl with a pane of glass and reverently placed a toy Indian war bonnet on the toilet tank. After scrubbing the stall clean, he proclaimed that it was no longer for public use. Finishing the job, he affixed a sign to the door which was neatly lettered, “The Frank DeKova Rest Stop.”
Incredibly, he’d found a poster of Wild Eagle somewhere and thought to jazz up the Stratford’s lobby. Even though I knew it was all bogus, I was still impressed with his resourcefulness. I mean, how many posters of Frank DeKova can there even be in the world?
To be continued.....
Next: Choo Choo Charlie and Chimps On Horses (or not)