Lawrence - My Hometown
Going to the RATS
By Richard E. Noble
RATS is STAR spelled backwards. The Star was a movie theater in North Lawrence. It was on the corner of Broadway and Daisy. I think Spruce St. became Daisy St. at some point but don’t hold me to that. It has been a long time away from home for me.
We called the STAR the RATS because the Spicket River snaked behind the theater and the word around the playgrounds was that the STAR was infested with giant river rats.
I never saw any rats at the STAR. I remember the cats taking up position in front of the movie projector though. This precipitated the thunder of hundreds of tiny Buster Brown shoes or All Star Canvass sneakers pounding in unison on the theater floor. This thunder occurred when anything went awry in the projection room.
Kids would bring rubber balls and “tonic” bottles to roll down the slope under the seats. When the object would hit somebody’s shoe, there would be a scream, “A rat! A rat!” This was great fun for some; not so much for others.
The floor was so caked with sticky spilled soda and greasy popcorn butter (real butter), that when you walked between the rows your sneakers would stick to the floor. There was enough bubble gum under each seat to supply the entire continent of Asia. The seats were so old and worn that for many it was necessary to hang on to the arms of the chairs or they would side to the floor. Most kids solved that problem by putting their knees or their feet up against the back of the chair in front of them.
But with all its shortcomings, it was packed every Saturday afternoon for a kids’ matinee. It was 12 cents to get in, but if you were able to scrounge up a quarter somewhere you could get the special - admission plus popcorn and a soda or candy bar.
We saw some classic movies at the Star - The Thing, The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and of course, Frankenstein. I remember ducking under my seat at some of the scary parts. I was the kind of little kid who used to like to ride “the bench” on the merry-go-round at Salisbury Beach. It took me a year or two to graduate to a wooded horse that didn’t go up and down. By the time that I was no longer afraid of the wooded horses that went up and down, I was too old to ride the merry-go-round anymore.
The afternoon matinee lasted all afternoon. The moms and dads loved it - and the kids did too. It seemed like they would show a hundred cartoons. We would see Bugs Bunny, Beep Beep the Road Runner, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam and a million others. That would be followed by a serial. The serials were old silent movies. Simon LaGree was big. He was mean. And the fair maiden was forever tied to a railroad track or hanging by a limb from a mountain top. Then we would see a newsreel - Edward R. Morrow or somebody like that.
We would see two full length features often interrupted by a sing-along where we would all “follow the bouncing ball.” The words to a famous song would appear on the screen and the animated “bouncing ball” would hop along on top of the words striking out the notes. Believe it or not the kids liked that. But if you didn’t, you could always take a trip to the snack bar and put a dime into the automatic soda machine. You had to watch what you were doing at that soda machine. A paper cup would drop down onto a tray where it was supposed to be filled with syrup and carbonated water. But the darn cup would invariably drop into position with the bottom side up. If you weren’t quick witted, your orange crush soda or RC cola would go right down the drain. And the owner would not give you another dime. That was learning personal responsibility the hard way!
But one of the biggest attractions of the Star Theater was to meet a boy or girl and hold hands - or whatever. No boy ever asked a girl to go to the Star with him. He would suggest a clandestine meeting. Sometimes the girls would even make the suggestion. Occasionally there would be an impromptu meeting precipitated by the question; Is this seat taken? Or, Can I sit with you?
One of my buddies had an impromptu meeting with just such a young lady. In the excitement of squeezing her elbow or shoulder, she was able to pick his back pocket and steal his wallet. He thought she was squeezing his butt. He felt that it was only fair to grant her the right to squeeze his butt in exchange for all of his illicit squeezing of her various body parts. He was very philosophic about the whole experience. He said that his lost wallet would be forgotten one day but the memory of little Lulu’s soft and tender “elbow” would last forever. This has proved to be correct.
There would be an usher walking around with a flashlight. He would shine his light and try to catch a couple embracing or as it was called “making out.” If he did, he would admonish them. If the couple persisted or got caught several times the usher could ask them to leave the theater. I don’t ever remember anyone getting bounced from the RATS for making out.
I always wondered if it was the usher and his persistent flashlight that precipitated the birthday parlor game called “Spotlight.”
Spotlight was played at home. The boys and girls would be randomly paired, the lights would be turned off, and the odd-man-out would try to catch a couple kissing with his flashlight so that he could change places with the boy caught in the light.
My god! Where were the parents in those days? I can hardly believe what I’m writing!
Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published five books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry - parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America, is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A and The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle.