- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


Rockvale TN, April 17, 2009 - - There was a time when I found myself in desperate need of actual work…actually there have been somewhat more than several of those times, but I’m only going to discuss one of them today. 

Anyway, I had a friend of sorts, a prince of a fellow, actually,  who owned a string of theatres which showed what were called “dirty movies” back then, and he offered me a job as a projectionist at one of his places.  I jumped at the chance, frankly, because in addition to earning some money I actually would learn a new skill to add to my set:  operating a Hortzon 35-mm projector.
It was a complicated machine.

My first day on the job I spent under the tutelage of a projectionist at a theater other than the one I was hired for, in order to learn the duties of my job. My tutor was an actual bonafide member of IATSE.   My job was basically to keep something on the screen at all times. Which required two projectors, so while Reel #1 was unwinding off Projector #1, I would be loading up Reel#2 onto Projector #2, and when I saw that little square in the corner of the screen, it would signal that it was time to unleash Projector #2 onto the fevered viewers in the darkness below.

The movies then were not much different than those of today(I know because I accidentally stumbled across some internet pornography when I mistakenly typed “video porn” into the Google search box), though there’s a lot more anal fascination currently.  It’s a cultural thing, I suppose.  But basically they were of the same format:  a lame (and always blessedly short) plot line leading to displays of sexual activity….the French maid, the lady cop, the neglected housewife and the pool guy, the teacher who keeps a student after class, your basic juvenile fantasies enacted on the silver screen.  There were also “hippies” in some of the flicks, as the world at large was pretty sure that “hippies” had great sex.  Those “hippies” are respectable property-owning, tax-paying  AARP members now, so we’ll leave them alone, shall we?  

One thing about pornography that I discovered back then is that, after a few times of seeing the same movies while waiting for that little square to appear in the corner, well, it gets to be at first boring, and then tedious, and then downright aggravating. The same camera angles recording the same coital positions, the same “ummms” and “ahhhs” and “ohhhhs” on the sound track. Over and over and over and over and over.  I mean there’s only so many ways….even when new movies arrived each week, they turned out to be just as dull as those the week before.

Another of my duties was that, if a film should break, I had to throw the other projector into action and take the broken film off its Hortzon and into a little room off the projection booth, where I would splice it back together. I learned to splice a film really really well.  The usual reel was about 12 inches in diameter.  One day while I was back there splicing a broken film, I happened to look under the splicing table and saw that there were two empty 18-inch reels.  Think about this:  if a twelve inch reel holds, say, 40 minutes of film, then an 18-inch reel, using that math stuff, will hold a lot more, because of the ever-increasing length of film with each turn of the reel..
I had an idea.

While showing the first movie for the day, I would splice all the other movies for that day onto one 18-inch reel, set it up on the other Hortzon and when the first movie ended, let it rip.  When it had finally unwound, I’d turn on the other projector while I respooled the 18-incher.  Once I got rolling, I was actually working about 2 hours out of every eight.
Nobody ever noticed that most of the movies seemed to be coming from the same projection window.  I turned the sound in the projection booth down  as well, and at last had a complete perfect job: one where I had to do almost nothing.  I could read the New York Times, for instance, even do the crossword puzzle if it was before Friday and therefore easy enough to do in the two and a half hours the 18-inchers were unspooling.  I kept a film on the other Hortzon just in case one of my splices broke and I had to turn it on, and to run while I rewound the 18-incher.  At the end of my shift, I took the splices back apart and restored them to their 12-inchers.  Nobody caught wise. 

All went along just fine, the films never broke, the place never caught fire, nothing happened.  I admit that I got a little laissez-faire.  I started cranking up the 18-inch and lying down to rest my eyes a little from all that splicing. 

My last day in the pornography industry happened like this:  I was lying on the floor resting my eyes, when I gradually became aware of the "thlip thlip thlip” sound of a broken film slapping the projector.  One of my impeccable splices had given way.  I opened my eyes and the first thing they saw was a pair of elegant millionaire Miami Beach pale green alligator shoes, which I immediately recognized as belonging to my boss and benefactor.   “Panama, believe me, I know this stuff is boring, but you cannot go to SLEEP, so I gotta fire you.  As soon as you finish today, you’re finished, okay?”

And so I undid my 18-inch reel for the last time, put the movies back on their proper 12-inchers, collected my pay (there was even a little bonus – I told you the guy was a prince), and walked out into the wonderful, sultry Old Miami Beach afternoon, cleansed by the sun.