This Used To Be My Playground, Part 23: I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life

#224. “Killing Me Softly” — The Fugees

#225. “Who Will Save Your Soul” — Jewel

#226. “Criminal” — Fiona Apple

#227. “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)” — Los Del Rio

Summer ‘96! (as should be obvious from the songs above)

I floated lazily around most days on buoyant pool chair…I customized the drink holder in the styrofoam independence_day_movieposterchair arm to be able to handle a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor…Beck’s Odelay played on repeat from speakers perched in my bedroom window…When the sun started dipping, I would wash the chlorine off, put on my managerial shirt and tie, and head for the theater…

The State looked like it might finally turn a profit by opening The Nutty Professor and Independence Day back to back…we had lines around the block…and a total lack of parking which reminded us why the place had to shut down in the first place…Frosted-Tip Douche was fired for stealing from the register…Rodger had long since quit and moved to a nearby town…Smokey quit to chase her dream of dealing blackjack in Vegas…

Caspar and Audrey returned from Colorado…they had left at the start of the previous summer impulsively with no plan…they spent the first couple of months literally homeless…living in their car and a tent in a campground…they came back to California and moved back into the exact same apartment complex we had lived in before (not the same unit)…Future Ex-Wife and I made up a social foursome with them…Caspar took a job washing and folding clothes at LaundryTime…

s-l400I was usually in charge of changing the marquee at the theater…nothing like being perched on a teetering ladder which was in turn perched on the edge of a building to get you over your fear of heights…My specialty, though, was “build and tear”…movie prints arrived on six to eight individual reels of about 2000 feet each (Braveheart had ten), in battered, Depression-era cans, and had to be “built” up — spliced together into one massive piece of film about the diameter of a tractor tire, which would rest on a platter system that would feed into the projector…(sit still dammit, this is like the parts in Moby Dick that talk about whaling technicalities…I actually liked those parts)…movies that had finished their run had to be “torn” back down into their component reels to be shipped out…the whole process could take a couple of hours at least, depending on how many movies we were turning over, and had to be done after the last showing on Thursday night…so most Thursdays I was at the theater all alone from midnight until two or three in the morning…


Typical pre-digital platter & projection system. Our projection booth was never that clean.

Of course the State Theater was rumored to be haunted…and of course I did hear footsteps and a few mysterious knocks on the projection booth door when no one was there… I took to wearing my Discman (90s alert!) when doing build & tear…I had an elaborate back-and-forth system of turning on and off all the lights so I was never walking through total darkness on my way out…I took to calling out “good night!” as I locked up, to get on their good side…despite knowing on an intellectual level it was all nonsense, I lived in abject fear of looking up from the auditorium floor and seeing a horrid pale face peering out the projection booth window, which allegedly happened to a late-working employee one build and tear night back in the 70s…

Film prints were in the process of switching from a celluloid base to a longer-lasting polyester 11dc959a2bb7ae2ec88881867e97755cbase…we got some of the older kind, some of the newer…if the projector jammed on a celluloid print, the lamp would just burn a hole through it (remember that?)…the print would break, the fail-safe lever would drop, stopping the system, and it was a mere few minutes’ work to splice it together and get it going again…if it jammed on a polyester print, it would not break, and often pull thousands of feet of film off the platter right onto the floor…movie cancelled…customers pissed…

But it’s all digital now, so none of the above is anything anymore…I’m old…call me Ishmael…

Speaking of old…the World Wide Web was now a thing…at least for me…I plunged in after many, ahead of some… I began paying twenty-five bucks a month for dial-up service in July…


Pebble Beach, Summer ’96

#228. “El Scorcho” — Weezer

#229. “Santa Monica” — Everclear

At the start of August, Future Ex-Wife moved down to Monterey to attend Monterey Peninsula College. We decided to take a stab the long-distance thing, knowing it was probably futile. I listened to Weezer’s Pinkerton a lot on the three-hour drive I made several times that fall. (I found out later that Rodger was also making that three-hour drive several times that fall. I don’t know what he listened to. Probably something much cooler.) Santa Monica is pretty far from Monterey, but it was the theme song of the separation.

#230. “Everyday Is A Winding Road” — Sheryl Crow

I started the university not long after she left. I stayed living at home, and began life as a commuter, making the hour-long trip up and the hour-long trip back every day (at first — I soon learned not to schedule classes on every day of the week.) My major was Mass Communications. But after years of slacking around community college and not doing much, I had no discipline, and my mind was in Monterey. I did poorly.


One night in October, Future Ex-Wife came home to visit her family…she came to see me at the theater when I was up in the booth…she told me the long-distance thing was too difficult…we should split up…but would I please continue to visit her as a friend?…it was a quick, clean break…her dad was waiting outside with the engine running the whole time…

#231. “Crash Into Me” — Dave Matthews Band

Hey, guess who left England and her husband flat, and waddled back stateside, heavily pregnant, just in time to find me when Future Ex-Wife called it quits? I was jaded and wily enough by now not to get sucked in. (Much later, Emily told me I was actually quite rude to her when we talked around this time. I don’t recall that, but I don’t deny slowly growing a backbone when dealing with her.) Oh, and Dave Matthews Band can go sit in the corner and be fucking awful with Morrissey.

#232. The Wallflowers — “One Headlight”


Entrance to The Graduate — the planter to the left almost received my shameful, regurgitated Jack & Cokes

Caspar and Audrey began their random wandering again. They were living in an apartment near the University of California in Davis, about 45 miles away. (It seems like everything is 45 miles from Yuba City/Marysville — Chico to the north, Sacramento to the south, Davis to the southwest.) The hot Davis nightspot was called The Graduate which was just across the street from their seedy, drug dealer-friendly apartment (long-gone now — a new and much nicer complex stands in its place today). The four of us (McKinney joined in) wandered over there one late-October evening because it was two-dollar well drink night from 5:00 to 8:00. We got there at around 6:30. I had five double Jack-and-Cokes (pictured below, in case you’ve never seen a double Jack-and-Coke) in the space of about ninety minutes. It was also disco night. I was so drunk I actually danced. Audrey matched me, drink for drink, dance for dance. McKinney was attempting to chat up the female waitstaff over on the restaurant side. When happy hour ended, Caspar announced he was tired and walking back home. A slow number started (I’m pretty sure itxxl_jack_and_coke was “How Deep Is Your Love” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) and Audrey and I began slow-dancing. Suddenly, the feelings I had for her since the ninth grade that I had long suppressed (see all the way back in Part 2) hit me in a drunken rush, and we began passionately making out on the dance floor. She slid both hands into my back pockets. I ran my hand up the nape of her neck and my fingers plunged into her hair. It went on forever (it’s a pretty slow-moving song, and that rush hit me right at the start), and we made quite a spectacle of ourselves…

…in front of Caspar, who had decided not to go home, but was observing us from a nearby booth. As soon as the song was over and the clench ended, the two of us locked eyes with him at the same time, if such a thing is mathematically possible. Audrey staggered over to him, chanting a mantra of “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…” I staggered outside thinking I was going to be sick. McKinney had continued trying to score with the waitresses and missed the whole thing. The nausea passed and I sheepishly went back inside. Audrey was peacefully passed out in the booth, head in Caspar’s lap. I apologized as well. Caspar shrugged. “It’s fine. It’s not the first time. I know how she gets when she drinks. I’d rather it was you than some random guy.” I don’t think I 100% believed his equanimity.

#233. Wilco — “Say You Miss Me”

Not long after The Graduate Incident (as it came to be known in local lore), I went down to make my first “friend” visit to Monterey…with Caspar in tow. I bought Wilco’s new double album Being There specifically for the drive. I had to go back to work the very next day. Caspar did not, and was planning a visit with another friend in the area, who would give him a lift back. Remember, I had just publicly and sloppily made out with his long-time girlfriend right in front of him. So Caspar stayed behind, alone, with Future Ex-Wife for a day or so. I let sleeping dogs lie for the time being, but next summer they each told differing stories of the inevitable attempt at a retaliatory make-out session, one story ending with a win for Caspar, and one story ending with a firm rebuff. The reader can decide.


Monterey, Fall ’96

After Will Smith and the alien invaders left the screen at the end of summer, the State Theater plunged straight downhill…after a few weeks as a sad discount dollar theater, it closed its doors again — permanently, it seems — in late November of 1996…I was fired via phone call, and unemployed for fifteen seconds before I called Caspar, who was now a manager at LaundryTime…and before I even turned in my theater keys, I was in the staff rotation as a professional launderer, doing other people’s wash (“fluff & fold service”), wiping down washers and dryers, and selling snacks and little boxes of detergent…


This Used To Be (And Still Is) LaundryTime

It was the worst job I’ve ever had…people do not care what state their undergarments are in when they give them to a stranger to wash…but to this day I can fold a fitted sheet, and smartly fold a t-shirt faster than a sneeze…WH assured me as soon as a position at the much more well-established Sutter Theater opened up, they would take me in…

My first semester at the state university came to a similarly ignoble end…I was now on “academic probation” after a shameful set of grades…Over winter break, I decided to change my major to History, and scheduled only two classes for spring semester…I had some scholastic rebuilding to do…

#234. The Cardigans — “Lovefool”

After one semester, Future Ex-Wife returned from Monterey, got hired at LaundryTime along with me…and immediately started dating Rodger again. Goddammit. This affrontery could not stand. I would have to swipe her from him all over again. I promptly did so.

#235. R. Kelly — “I Believe I Can Fly”aquabarbie

#236. Spice Girls — “Wannabe”

#237. Aqua — “Barbie Girl”

#238. OMC — “How Bizarre”

The above was the kind of stuff dominating MTV in the early part of 1997, along with more and more reality shows. It was no longer constantly on in the background of my life for the first time since we got cable in 1989. I switched to old re-runs on Nick At Nite.

#239. The Chemical Brothers — “Block Rockin’ Beats”

In March ‘97, the day finally came when I could say good-bye to washing other people’s crusty socks. The Sutter Theater was expanding its staff for the predicted-to-be-huge opening of the Jim Carrey comedy Liar Liar, and the subsequent summer season. A guarantee was made regarding a management position as soon as possible. I packed it in at LaundryTime (for a couple of months at least).

One of advantages of running a theater out from under corporate oversight was that we could pick what we wanted as “before the movie” music in the auditoriums. The just-released big beat classic from the Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole, was a particular favorite for this purpose.


This Used To Be The Sutter Theater (early 2010s)

There was a while there after spring semester ended when I was working three jobs… LaundryTime was desperate for someone to work the short opening shift…I don’t know why I said I would return and do it…probably because they needed me more than I needed them, and could earn money while slacking off horribly…as long as I was there to unlock the door at 6:30 am and perched myself behind the counter until 10:30 without (audibly) insulting the customers, I didn’t have to do much…then home to sleep…or the pool chair, where I would fall asleep…or to WH’s house to watch a movie from his massive laserdisc collection, during which I would fall asleep…then the Sutter from 4:30 or so to midnight, then helping Future Ex-Wife at her second job, doing janitorial work at a preschool until about 2:30 am…then home for a little more sleep…wash, rinse, repeat…

#240. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy — “You And Me And The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight”

#241. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies — “Zoot Suit Riot”

Yeah, the swing music “revival” was a thing for about fifteen minutes around this time.


#242. “The Freshmen” — The Verve Pipe

#243. “I Want You” — Savage Garden

#244. “Song 2” — Blur

#245. “Push” — Matchbox Twenty

#246. “Semi-Charmed Life” — Third Eye Blind

#247. “Tubthumping” — Chumbawumba

#248. “MMMbop” — Hanson

#249. “Santeria” — Sublime

#250. “Walkin’ On The Sun” — Smash Mouth

#251. “Bitch” — Meredith Brooks 

#252. “Fly” — Sugar Ray

Summer ‘97!

The above songs blasted from the radio in the theater box office and passing cars all summer…


The Sutter re-furbished, 2016

The theater was jumping…Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery came out of the blue and ran for weeks…Face/Off…My Best Friend’s Wedding…Batman And Robin (yes, people came to see it…in droves…)

work-boots-steel-toe-black-sbaumapwI hadn’t been promoted yet…still just a ticket-taking, popcorn-pushing regular floor staff worker… in a uniform of crisp white shirt, black tie, black slacks, black apron, black boots…I bought a new pair of steel-toed, non-slip work boots about twice a year at Sears…these were my preferred footwear on all occasions for second half of the 90s (yes, even with shorts, see pic below)…A couple of casual chats-over-coffee with Emily and her infant daughter…I would continue to have feelings for her, but the real heartache pangs were thankfully long-gone…the husband returned from overseas and they tried to make a go of it, but when I saw her name in the paper I knew it was over for them…booked for “corporeal injury to a spouse or cohabitant”…evidently she austin-powers-international-man-of-mystery-movie-posterbounced something heavy off his head in the heat of battle, which then required several stitches…

The Future Ex-Wife and I also broke up after another fight…no physical injuries to each other, but…she kicked a dent in my car with her tiny oxblood Doc Martens and I badly cut my hand punching an inanimate object (phone pole? parking meter? I forget)…the second half of the summer passed with me as a single man…enjoying such delights with my fellow Sutter employees as watching the Kiss TV movie The Phantom of the Park…and a bootleg VHS of the Star Wars Holiday Special…and sneaking a quart of blackberry schnapps into a screening of Men In Black at our rival theater, the soulless multiplex Movies 8…I also received my promotion to management at the Sutter…I could get my State-era colored shirts and ties and Dockers back out of storage…during my absence from LaundryTime, Future Ex-Wife had been promoted as well…so when I worked there that summer, she was my supervisor…when she picked up a few shifts at the Sutter, I was her supervisor…It was a weird, fluid time…

Summer ’97 ended, as summers tend to do…No more LaundryTime forever…school was starting again…I upped my class load to three (and kept it there for the duration of my college career, no more, no less)…very difficult upper-level history courses…I took them seriously and began doing well… 

220px-beherenowcover#253. “D’You Know What I Mean” — Oasis

Unsurprisingly, Caspar and Audrey’s relationship was also crumbling pretty badly by this point. Caspar had moved by himself to Chico. He worked during the day, and gave me his spare key. I spent a lot of time between my last class of the day and the long drive back to work napping in his tiny, hot, cat-hair covered studio apartment. It was here that I first spun Oasis’ much-anticipated third album, Be Here Now. (Chico was riddled with book stores and record stores, which is one reason I was so distracted up there all the time.) Critics dismissed it as a cocaine-fueled, over-baked monument to their own collective ego (most songs topped six minutes for no reason at all — they just kept singing the chorus), but I kind of loved it.


Jorts. Dillon Beach, Sept. ’97

#254. “Brimful Of Asha” — Cornershop

The most common reason for pulling a Superdrag (see previous entry) was listening to something on the “listening station” headphones at the record store. I swear they do something to make mediocre stuff sound fantastic. (Not that Cornershop is mediocre, but I remember buying it based on about five seconds of hearing it over the listening station headphones. In this case, the gamble paid off. In the case of Jawbreaker’s Dear You, Hum’s You’d Prefer An Astronaut, and so, so, so many others, not so much.)

The arthritic Bronco II had finally given up the ghost…it dropped its drive shaft one too many times and its axles were getting wobbly…I was now driving a white Dodge Colt with a black fender and an Oasis sticker in the back window…I made sure to transfer my sound system…the speaker cabinet went in the trunk and you had to put the back seats down to get the full effect of the sub-woofers…and I transferred the Empire Records tape in case I ran into whatever her name was…


The Sutter is now a live performing arts center. That second “T” was always a problem.

#255. Paula Cole — “I Don’t Want To Wait”

#256. Green Day — “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”

I honestly don’t know if Future Ex-Wife and I rekindled an actual relationship that fall, or if we just started a friends-with-benefits kind of thing. I think it was something in between. I was 22 and she was 20 and we just wanted to screw each other silly. We probably would have drifted apart again had fate not intervened.

I had whiled away a chilly early-November evening on my super-slow dial-up Internet, downloading and printing a leaked copy of Kevin Smith’s script for Dogma (which took at least two hours), reading about the new Coen Brothers movie in post-production (The Big Lebowski), and hunting for plot rumors about the first Star Wars prequel (sure to be mind-blowingly awesome) on Ain’t It Cool News. I was probably listening to Be Here Now for the 10,000 time, with Welcome Back, Kotter or The Bob Newhart Show on Nick At Nite muted in the background on my bedroom TV.

A knock came at the front door.

Standing on the stoop was Future Ex-Wife, bundled up and ruddy after attending a high school football game with friends, breath puffing visibly in the frigid air, and a sickly half-smile on her face.

“Hi. I’m pregnant.”

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