No One Admitted Without Raymond
In the halycon days of a much earlier time in my life there was a movie playing at a theater in Passaic, NJ that my friend Donald and I had to see. This was the occasional movie that became a passion, an unalterable task to have on the big screen before you while you sat with a friend in the confines of your popcorn-scented pew. A Saturday afternoon at the movies was what we did, it was our escape into the magic of other worlds that existed beyond the middle-class suburban formula we were bred into.
The problem was the tag on the movie said “no one under 12 admitted unless accompanied by an adult”, which created a dilemma for us because I just turned 11 and Donald was younger than me (imagine a world where suburban-raised boys so young were left to their guiles on the streets of a small city). Back then, the only movies that were ever classified to a particular audience were X-rated films, and they were only showing in special movie houses that we couldn’t even consider approaching (although we did often enough until we were chased away). Regular films were for everyone, but sometimes they carried a small disclaimer that detailed certain conditions of access into a theater.
We stood with our .50 cents admission fee before the round booth in front of the theater. Inside the booth was a sour-looking elderly woman, wearing thick glasses and hating children of any age, who adamantly stated no admission unless we went inside with someone “who was an adult”. We assumed the term “adult” meant someone older than 12 to the movie industry which was confusing because in our world adults were old people, like our parents. Donald and I were desperate, we really wanted to see this flick, and so we decided to become resourceful.
We positioned ourselves down the block from the theater, making sure to be out of sight of the old woman and we began asking any “adult” walking towards the movie house if that was indeed where they were going and would they agree to have the ticket lady think we were with them. Time was running out and we weren’t having any luck (I guess it wasn’t that popular a movie), until we found Raymond.
Raymond was a tall black man, wearing a dapper flower-patterned shirt and a slick gray trilby hat with a slightly darker gray band. I would have guessed him to be in his late 30’s. Don’t ask me how I possibly remember all that, but this gentleman sticks in my mind. We told him our names and declared our mission. He smiled graciously, shook our hands and introduced himself.
Poor Raymond! He reacted like we were assaulting him with our pleas for help. He laughed through disbelief at our request; to tell the old lady in the booth that, as luck would have it, we met a neighbor who was an adult and who happened to be going to see the very same movie. How convenient! I think he wanted to say no, but he wore that look of Samaritan and he couldn’t refuse.
We approached the booth cautiously, two young white boys going to the movies with a black adult was not a common scenario in those days. I explained the legitimate reason why we can now see the featured film that lie beyond this aged sentry and her steadfast moral-protecting agenda for American youth. As would have occurred to anyone in her position with a stitch of common sense: she doubted our story. “I’ll have to speak with the manager” she said and picked up a phone.
We waited…and waited…and waited for what we assumed was an unanswered ring at the other end.
I remember Donald and I literally shaking where we stood. Raymond, gazing straight ahead, must have been very angry with himself for walking into this one, (but I swear he was still smiling). It was a few moments of fear caught in time, the manager not picking up his ringing phone while we quivered in our shoes. Then, as abruptly as it all began, it ended when she put the phone down, put out her hand, took our money and told us to go ahead in.
Of course we had that fleeting second of hesitation. Was it a trap? Were we committing some dastardly social evil? In any case, we found ourselves inside. Thanking Raymond for his help, we vanished into the dark in another direction to find our own seats. What I do remember is that he never lost that smile. We were certain he must have been angry, but his infectious grin made us feel devilishly good at what we just accomplished and off we went, never to see him again.
Circa years later. My 15-year old son and his friends ask me to drive them to see the new South Park movie. I mention to them that it’s an R-rated film, no one under 17 was allowed in without an adult and I sure as heck wasn’t going inside with them. Also, from what I’ve been reading, everyone from the President of the United States on down won’t let them in. They laugh and tell me not to worry, they’ll get in. So I drive them without so much as a second thought. Why? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe in today’s world I figure that by 15 my son’s morals are as right or wrong as they’re going to get. Or maybe I believe that regardless of its rating, South Park is still only a cartoon (obviously forgetting Fritz the Cat).
They get in without a hitch, telling the young woman at the ticket window that my son’s friend, younger in age but bigger in size, with a very boyish-looking face, is 17. No i.d. was asked for, there was no need to hunt down an unsuspecting adult, no call was made to the manager’s phone, the theater just took their $7.50 admission fee and in they went. When I picked them up later, they told me how filthy and vulgar the movie and its language was, and I realize what has happened:
I’ve become Raymond.
So Raymond, wherever you are, for one brief moment I wore your dapper flower-patterned shirt and your slick gray trilby with the slightly darker gray band and now I understand why I remember you so well: you showed me how to smile through this whole experience because I realized it doesn’t matter what the film is rated or what course is taken to get in, some movies just have to be seen!
RjCook’s is the author of The Road Behind Me and Dream Lover and Other Tales. Click HERE for info.