We’re at Art Walk, the first Friday of each month where you walk around looking at other people walking around looking at you while wondering why there’s no art.
This one’s a little different because it’s Dia de los Infantes, the prelude to Dia de los Muertos. It’s a celebration for the spirits of relatives. I like it a lot — a cross between a reverence to the deceased and a big, colorful party.
Tonight’s special because Mo has a painting in the Fancy Art Gallery. Artists made their own interpretations of loteria cards — a game sort of like bingo. Mo’s is a fish with a derby. It’s pretty great. So is she. But the joint is crawling with Artists and Art Lovers and Rich People Who Enjoy Eating Crackers and Grapes, so we make our escape.
We wander around for a while with the usual list of suspects, but not much is going on. It’s the day after Halloween, and the official Dia de los Muertos party is tomorrow, so I guess this is like that day between Thanksgiving and the Christmas rush where you sleep on the couch and pretend to watch football. Except there’s no couch or football here.
We walk down the block toward the car when we see the sign.
The Ritz is open.
The Ritz is one of those old, crumbling theaters that every city has. Its website says it was built in 1929 and opened three days after the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression. Timing is everything. It’s been closed and decaying forever. Although the building is only a block from where I work, we’ve never been inside. Until now.
You can’t really take a photo; it’s too big to capture the essence. It’s a classic old theater. The ceiling is a million miles overhead. The walls have ornate decorations; the space is huge. It’s hard to describe old theaters if you’ve never been in one. There’s a magic from days gone by, an aura of a time when movies weren’t crammed into little boxes in shopping malls. When the venue and the event were one.
Sadly, I’m guessing this is a losing battle. It’s badly deteriorated. Mo has seen bats flying in and out at night for some late show we aren’t invited to. She notes a styrofoam cup that has been chewed up by rats near where I’m sitting. I lift my feet up.
The theater is dark and moody but still seems to call out. Just give me a chance. And 20 million bucks. We can make this work! I’m skeptical. But it’s a fine dream.
Off to the left is a little beer stand inset into the wall. A Lone Star sign shares wall space with decaying concert posters from what must have been a rebirth along the way somewhere. Willie Nelson with Doak Snead, playing a block from work? I realize we just lived here at the wrong time. Doug Kershaw, David Allen Coe. Damn. These walls have stories. I’m sorry I missed it.
I’m wandering around aimlessly when an ashen Mo comes back. You have to see the basement, she says. I’m thinking it’s an Alamo joke and I’m Pee-Wee Herman. I know you are, but what am I? But she appears to be serious. I reluctantly follow her.
We go through the lobby and turn left, down some stairs. There’s a small room to the right filled with circuit breakers. Huge switches and fuses. It’s dark. It’s spooky.
There’s a room at the end. It’s a tiny space. Dark, quiet, grimy. A hot water heater is in the corner; an open trap door is overhead. The walls are a mixture of tile and cement; pipes run aimlessly along the walls.
And there’s a chair.
I have no idea what it might have been used for. It’s sort of a sickly green and takes up most of the small room. This room is scary. Like really, really, really scary. Really. Scary.
I try to get Mo to come in so I can take a photo of her in it. She is totally freaked out and won’t get anywhere near it. It has a truly dark feeling to it. The small cubbyhole in the bottom of a spooky theater. Why is there an ominous chair here?
I’m not a fan of horror movies. But in the few I’ve seen, I find myself yelling at the people in this situation, “JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!!! DON’T LOOK UP THE TRAP DOOR TO SEE WHAT’S UP THERE, YOU MORONS!!! RUN AWAY!!!!!!” I feel like we’re in that scene. I await the sound of a chainsaw.
In all likelihood nothing would have happened, of course. The first people to get killed in any such horror movie would be the promiscuous mostly nude teen couple having sex in the chair. And I’m pretty sure Mo isn’t going to go for that.
But just in case, we leave. Quickly. On the way out, Mo asks the guy at the door about the room. He shrugs and says he knows nothing about it. Cue scary music. The old guy sitting next to him ominously says nothing.
We walk away, totally weirded out. I guess there are some things you aren’t meant to understand. All you can do is let sleeping spirits sleep, celebrate them when you can, and try to avoid starring in scary movies.
Happy Day of the Dead …