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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 225-246
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from Shoat Rumblin
His Sensations and Ideas
Samuel R. Delany
Part 1: In the Family
No advertisements, announcements, or title cards hung beside the door. Torn off along the bottom, from brown twine a six-by-eight-inch piece of shirt cardboard dangled inside the glass. On it written in blue magic marker:
10:00 am--4:00 AM
10:00 am--4:00 AM
Taped to the door's lower corner, facing out (again, inside), was a wrinkled yellow theater license--at shin level. Walking along the sidewalk's outer edge, if you glanced up, you saw a facade that made it look as if the place had once been a law firm or a medical clinic. The window covering most of the second-story frontage was painted black. Scraped-up gothic gilt arched the glass:
Smaller and off center beneath, running from the B to the A: adult entertainment--probably advertisement for the people driving on the river's edge highway. Wondering about it at all, more likely you'd think it a massage parlor than a movie. From outside, it looked like a three-story office building.
You entered by a glass door, Columbia across the transom in flaky gold. Between green walls a stairway led to a second-floor lobby, a hallway with a peeling rubber mat, a door to the balcony, steps down to the orchestra, a third of the seats broken or missing or just collapsed to the floor.
In the last three years, five people have tried to tell me the Columbia never existed. One claimed to have lived two blocks to the north--and swore that if there'd been a straight porn theater on 12th Avenue at 24th Street that encouraged gay activity in the audience, he would [End Page 225] have known. Highly active through the 'eighties and 'nineties, he was a gay man who'd regularly made the rounds of New York's cruisy movies, from the Metropolitan on 14th Street and the Variety on 3rd Avenue to the Hesperus, the Grotto, the Cameo, the Adonis, and the Beverly on 8th Avenue, the King and the David and the Circus on Broadway, to the Globe up on East Treemont, and half-a-dozen others he named in Queens and Brooklyn I'd never heard of.
Well, the Columbia was there.
"Shit, you know it was--so do I."
The city closed it, October '96, along with the Grotto and the Hesperus.
"Now that was one hell of a birthday present!"
It didn't look like a porno house. It didn't look like a movie theater at all.
"I was walkin' around over there three days ago . . . The goddam building's been torn down!"
Technically, I suppose, it wasn't. It showed out-of-focus hardcore videos from a three-color projector fixed to a beam running across the middle of its space. When you sat in most of the shallow balcony's seats, loose on their floor bolts, the sagging two-by-four cut the screen, putting now nipples, now genitals behind a black band, as if the Great God Muddle were trying to redeem triple-X for family values.
"Me and a dozen other guys, about, used to go piss in the back corner 'cause there was a hole in the floor--went down between some walls, somewhere. But that bathroom they had downstairs was so scuzzy--most of the time the toilets was filled with paper and diarrhea. Even I didn't wanna go in there. They knew about the hole, though, 'cause at night they'd come up and put lime or bleach down it or somethin'. Next mornin' it'd be scattered around the edge of the rotten boards--before another old guy'd go wet it down. A few times they nailed a piece of plankin' over it. I was always glad they did--but whenever somebody'd kick it off, I'd be back there usin' it again with everybody else...