Saturday, September 09, 2006

Oh Normandy Theatre Of My Youth

My father owned a luncheonette on New Utrecht Avenue in Borough Park Brooklyn that was located directly under the elevated subway. This long ugly avenue was and still is a dark and gloomy sort of street and not a ray of sunlight ever falls on it due to the noisy ugly dirty elevated train that hovers large over the street and blocks the days light. In the early 50’s there was a 2nd rate movie theatre called the Normandy that was across the street from my father’s store and the owner and manager a Mr. Harry Green would take his midday meal almost every day at the luncheonette. I recall him as a friendly kind man, but as a 4-year-old I didn’t quite take to him. I didn’t like the cologne that he used way too liberally and I found him to be scary even though he was a friendly kind man. The Normandy was a run down neighborhood movie theatre that showed mostly B & C movies and was no where as grand as the Loew’s 46th street that was a few blocks south on New Utrecht avenue or the less grand Boro Park that was a few blocks further south. But The Normandy was where my mother would deposit me when a babysitter was needed. The matronly matrons with their big flashlights would watch over me with nursemaid concern. With a bag of popcorn to eat and a favorite toy to hold I was a content little binkie more than happy to watch the strange shadows that talked and loomed large in front of my infant eyes. No doubt my love of films began here in the run down Normandy. The two films that stand out in my memory are “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh and “Anna” that starred the beautiful Italian actress Silvana Mangano. I have a memory of having sat through “Streetcar” many many times, not because I wanted to, but that’s what was showing when my mother parked me in one of the normandy's shabby seats so she could work at the luncheonette. For many years I could not bare to watch this film. To my young mind the film was odd and strange. I mean who were these violent loud people and what were they doing in that gray dingy world that looked like nothing I had ever seen before in my very young life. The other film, Anna had a scene where Magnano sang (or was she dubbed) the title song, a song that I grew to love. My mother bought me the record, which I played over and over on my little green plastic record player. Many years later this scene turned up in Cinema Paradiso as one of the clips that the young boy sees in the Cinema named Paradiso. It was an intense sweet moment for me to see this musical number again, but when I mentioned it to my mother she had no memory of the film or the song that Mangano performed and I was disappointed that she forgot this seminal memory from my childhood. Later on Mr. Green sold the Normandy and it was turned into a factory that made some kind of leather goods, and it was at this time that I saw my first Puerto Ricans. They would bound down the el’s stairway every morning, the men were young and good looking, and the women were lovely and sweet. They seemed so happy to me, not at all what one would expect from workers on their way to an 8-hour shift in a leather goods factory. Come lunch hour they would pour out of the factory and jam into my father’s restaurant for their lunch. My father would pile the food high on their plates and the vapors from the steam tables would fill the air with nice food smells. It was crowded and noisy with their fast Spanish and loud laughter and as a young child I loved these Puerto Rican people. It was at this point in my young life that I became attracted to young good looking Puerto Rican men. My father was nice to them, even though he hated minorities including Jews, and they would kid and joke with him, which I think he enjoyed. He would come off gruff as usual, but these Puerto Ricans were so sweet and charming that even he was seduced by them. I had my favorites and to this day I can still conjure up their faces. One rainy day when I was about 11 I was introduced to my first glimpse of pornography by a young handsome Puerto Rican man who was sitting next to me at the counter. As I ate my yummy sandwich with one ear pointed in his direction to try to hear what he and a friend were talking about, he suddenly pulled out a small photo from his shirt pocket and in broken English asked if I wanted to see “something nice.” “Sure” I said and took a gander at the photo, which showed a woman spread out on a bed with a guy fucking her. I was shocked by the rawness and turned a beet red but I was also turned on by the sexy young Puerto Rican man sitting next to me and by the photo. I was still too young to masturbate, but that did not stop me of fantasizing about kissing the sexy young Puerto Rican man who sat next to me one rainy day in my father’s luncheonette.


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