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Chatterbox: The baby and the bathwater

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My favorite theater was The County Theater for decades, the only theater I went to. It showed off-beat films that ordinary theaters wouldn’t, independent films and new films. Famously, it routinely showed classic films too, but the theater, itself, was a classic. It did, recently, undergo changes with the acquisition of adjacent space. Most were improvements, but there’s always some loss in alteration. In this case, that was the theater’s old lobby.

At this point, it’s imperative to say that this amazing place is still well worth the price of admission and totally merits the support of the community. It’s local, still classic and a fabulous evening out. It remains that way through the diligence of its committee and members; they are, of course, to be commended.

However, as important as the effort to keep up with technology is, it’s also important to preserve the past. New isn’t automatically better and even if it is, if it has sentimental cost, it must be the only alternative.

The old lobby was beautifully retro, its vintage, aromatic popcorn machine … a classic. Along with the refreshment counter, the vibe was Norman Rockwell worthy, celebrating guests’ arrival and making us feel as special as the theater itself – timeless, unique, even elegant. The goodies were spread like a buffet, right in our face, like that mom who welcomes us with open arms, right inside the door, with food already on the table.

Not until after COVID and one major health crisis could we go back. Ironically, we were there to see “Downton Abbey,” a film of a lost era with which other lovely things disappeared. Certainly, we don’t lament everything about that time. We are most grateful we improved on a society in which people were supposed to accept the “station” they were born into, or when women were expected to be merely decorative, and subjugating whole groups of people was, literally, legal.

Imperfect by many measures, there still was a little something to the steady side of it, those parts that let people know what to expect, or how to handle certain situations. They could rely on certain manners and certain proprieties, and find some consistency in tradition. There was always mischief going on, but the decorum still helped.

With the sets flowing with lovely things that were once commonplace and, today, are rare and nearly forgotten, one couldn’t help but remember that old lobby. Okay, so sometimes even the most wonderful things are lost due to complications, and, yes, I was told the old lobby had issues. Even the movie seemed bent on reminding me of that with all those chandeliers.

Chandeliers actually got their very name from candles. Though stunning, they had issues ... besides fire. Their light was inadequate. They took time to light and extinguish. They were made to be lowered but needed constant cleaning and repeated candle replacement, and the candles dripped. Beeswax candles helped with that, but were costly.

Then, behold, the electric light bulb ... finally made a bit more reliable, it was brighter, easier and cleaner. It still had issues. People complained about how ghastly everyone looked under its harsh lighting; candlelight was so much more complimentary. The electric light was too invasive; candlelight’s warm and soothing glow invited tete-a-tetes and induced delicate social interaction. Regardless, our pores, wrinkles and even our secrets, were disclosed as the garish light of electric bulbs won out because it had fewer issues than candles. It was safer, cleaner, better for late night work, went on and off in a split second, and didn’t drip.

Maybe I wax too poetic over the lost lobby – a simple space and its contents frozen in time, unique and sentimental. Still, we don’t emote over things vintage or antique just because they’re beautiful, but because they’re rare and tangible pieces of a time that’s irretrievable.

I did learn that the old popcorn machine survived the update, thank goodness, but mom’s not at the door – she’s gone left ... way left. She’s got a new candy stand next to her. COVID cost us her pedestal cake plates filled with specialty cookies and my source wasn’t sure if the old self-serve coffee and tea decanters, that we all loved, were gone or not. I was too emotional to notice but I’ll check next time.

Most people don’t do well with change, especially change to little avail, like our unique lobby, its placement and energy. It had issues, I was told, but it was safe, clean, worked at night, and it wasn’t even dripping wax.


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