By David Lindeman
I see the Mayflower Theater is up for sale again.
That venerable old movie theater once was a center of entertainment in Troy. Back before the days of multiplex theaters, cable TV and the Internet, the Mayflower was the place to go. I remember going there many times when I was growing up.
The excitement would start to build when I stood outside waiting my turn at the ticket window. Once you got inside, there was the instant smell of popcorn. The concession stand was on the left, and I always stopped to spend my few cents on a box of Milk Duds or Jujyfruits. Looking back, I see my choice of movie candy was enough to make any dentist wince (or maybe rub his hands with glee, depending on how you look at it). If I tried to eat Milk Duds or especially Jujyfruits today, my face probably would fall off.
Having procured my sugar fix, I would head for the movie. Back then, the Mayflower wasn’t broken up into various rooms as it is now. There was one giant auditorium with a big screen up front. If you didn’t mind the sometimes sticky floor and fraying seats, it was a regular palace.
My friends and I would usually sit in the middle near the front, and we would immediately eat all our candy and popcorn. Then we would settle in for the Big Show.
Usually, that show was a some kind of scary movie at the Saturday afternoon matinee. Back in the 1960s, the theater would be packed with kids on Saturday afternoon. It would have been a nightmare for the owner if he hadn’t been busy counting all his profits from ticket sales and concession sales.
I always stayed in my seat from start to finish — except for one time. The movie, if I remember correctly, was “The Last Man on Earth” starring Vincent Price. Those Saturday afternoon movies always seemed to star Vincent Price. I would have been 8 or 9 years old at the time.
Basically, the movie went like this: The whole world had become infected with some kind of plague that turned everyone into vampires with exceptionally low IQs who came out at night. Price spent his days hunting down vampires and his nights hiding in his house, which he draped with garlic to keep the vampires at bay. I think it all ended badly, but I’m not sure because before the ending I had my own little frightening experience.
Vincent was impaling a vampire when I realized I had to go to the bathroom. You never wanted to go to the bathroom at the Mayflower because the men’s bathroom was down a long, poorly-lit flight of stairs. Plus, I would have to walk all the way to the back of the theater in front of the older boys (some who were even sitting with girls!) and they would know where I was going.
But there was no helping it. I hurried up the aisle, past the smirking older guys and their girlfriends and opened the door under the sign marked “Men.”
In front of me was that long flight of stairs, lit only by a naked light bulb at the bottom. It might be the creepiest set of stairs I have ever seen (not helped by just watching an hour and a half of undead vampires chase Vincent Price around). If I would have known anything about Greek mythology at the time, I would have expected to see Charon waiting for me down there.
I made my way down the stairs and opened the door at the bottom, which led to a dingy little room with a single toilet and sink that looked like it had last been used sometime around 1940. I was so scared I almost forgot I had to go to the bathroom.
I never understood why the restroom was down there in the basement. It certainly wasn’t restful. I fully expected a vampire or, even worse, a teenager to come crashing through the door at any second and scare me to death. I set a new age class record for emptying my bladder.
I ran back up the stairs as fast as I could go, fully expecting a hand from below to reach up, grab me and pull me back down. I was one relieved little kid (in more ways than one) when I made it back to the main floor.
I composed myself and walked back down the aisle in front of the teenagers like nothing had happened. I now realize that they were paying a lot more attention to each other than they were to me or even the movie, but at the time I was not yet wise to the ways of the world.
I went to the Mayflower many times after that, but I never used that restroom again.