One Night at the Granada
The story that began in Issue 13 continues ...
Entering the door itself was a bit anticlimactic. It was indeed just resting in place, so we moved it out of the way and stepped into what looked like a small office. It had obviously already been ransacked and it was a complete mess of old papers and overturned file cabinets. We trekked through a number of connected rooms in silence, with Conor in the lead. We could see OK as these rooms ran parallel to the alley and had windows, but then Conor took a quick left and a quicker right and suddenly we were shrouded in darkness and completely at his mercy.
“Dude, slow down,” I pleaded, feeling my head narrowly miss a light fixture or something as I walked by, vaguely cursing myself for not getting a flashlight at the 7-11 when we passed by it. “I can barely even see you, much less the walls and all this crap that I keep almost smacking into!”
But Conor just kept moving, and R.J. was right behind me kicking at my feet when I proceeded too tentatively, so I kept going, muttering about flashlights and beer.
God, I hoped someone had beer.
It occurred to me that everyone there probably would be hoping we had brought beer, but before I could ponder that potential problem we made an abrupt turn and entered a huge open space. It was obviously the theater, and apparently we had somehow cut through the back stage area, and were now right at the front gazing at hundreds of velvety seats in the faint light coming from a skylight near the other end of the hall.
After a brief pause Conor kept going. “Come on, everyone will be in the lobby.”
The incredible stained-glass window in front of us generously bathed the lobby in a thousand shades of maroon and amber light.
We walked through the theater entrance doors and I just soaked it all in — the incredible stained-glass window in front of us generously bathed the lobby in a thousand shades of maroon and amber light. On either side as we walked further in were tremendous staircases that spiraled up to the second floor of the theater. There were all sorts of different folks sitting in small groups on the stairs. Each stair looked different from the others due to the light from the stained glass, but all of them were just huge — each the width of a park bench, with the end connecting to the wall and then tapering off as it curved into a banister that you could have ridden a sled down. There were candles lit everywhere, and one boom box at the top of the staircase on the left was playing ambient, trance-like music I didn’t recognize, but it was very fitting.
At first it seemed like there really weren’t many folks there at all, but as my eyes adjusted to the lighting and the sheer size of the place, I realized that there were a good 20 people or more. Some of them were curled up and sleeping, others were talking but their voices were drowned out by the noise of the L and just seemed to disappear in the air.
I was surprised by this mellowness, and wasn’t sure what to do, so I was grateful when Conor started walking up one of the staircases, saying, “Come on, let’s say hello to a few folks and check out the rest of the place.”
Conor knew pretty much every single person in there by name, and vice versa. After exchanging brief words he led us to the top of the stairs, saying, “Looks like the man at the 400 came through tonight. I think almost everyone here is dosed”.
“What’s the 400?” I asked.
“The 400 is the movie theater down the street. It shows the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night, and there’s usually a guy there selling doses right out in front. I guess he gets away with it because he looks pretty normal and everybody else is dressed up like a freak for the movie.”
“Is this the movie where everyone in the audience throws crap at the screen and people act out the scenes?”
“Yup. It’s great, you meet the coolest people there. Nobody is afraid to be different, everyone’s a character.”
R.J. chimed in, “Of course, when it becomes apparent that you don’t know the words to the songs in the movie, everyone is gonna call you a virgin and a cherry and chuck stuff at you, but it’s worth it”.
I had never taken LSD, but the people here sure made it look appealing.
Bizarre. Both this strange movie and the unusual silence of all of these people who looked like extras from the flick Sid & Nancy. I had never taken LSD, but the people here sure made it look appealing. Nobody was freaking out, like those stupid drug prevention classes in school had led me to believe would happen. Instead there was a curious calm and people just seemed really introspective, or really into conversations. R.J. and Conor had both already tried LSD and loved it, so I figured I’d end up trying it sooner or later. With any luck it might be here in this place ...it seemed so natural.
I snapped out of my thoughts with the realization that we had walked past everyone and nobody had any beer. Nobody was drinking — something I wasn’t expecting at a gathering this late on a Saturday night. Crap, there was no way to get any either. It would take another 20 minutes just to get out, and then we’d be stuck trying to find a liquor store that was open and would sell to us. Looking wistfully at all the folks with their smiles and contented looks, I had a dreadful feeling we’d be the only sober people in the joint once our quickly evaporating buzz from the party had worn off.
Conor gave me a look. “Looking for something? Beer, perhaps? Well, as you can see it doesn’t really fit in with the vibe here tonight, but let’s take a walk upstairs.”
Just amazing. I felt reassured that my friends had planned all this, so I happily followed them, eyes boggling at every new detail that appeared as we walked around upstairs. When we got to the end of the long, main hallway, Conor suddenly opened up a door and R.J. and I followed him in.
Holy shit. There were no words to describe how strange the room was. I realized we were right above the lobby on the main floor, as the stained glass was one entire wall of the room. Unlike the lobby where the stained glass was 20 feet above us, in this room we could walk right up and touch it.
Dozens of pigeons had come crashing through the stained glass and now lay dead all over the floor.
But what lent the room such a surreal look was the pigeons — dozens of pigeons had come crashing through the stained glass and now lay dead all over the floor. Beams of light from the street poured in from the holes the pigeons had created and cut through the earthier glow of the stained glass. We had also kicked up some dust, which now, combined with the light pouring in, created a strange effect like something you’d get at a carnival haunted house.
I was a bit overwhelmed, although curiously enough the dead pigeons didn’t seem to smell. As I tried to rationalize how that was possible, I saw R.J. whisper to Conor and Conor pull something out of his pocket.
“Dude!” I almost yelled, “You took that guy’s entire bag of weed? How the hell did you pull that off? Aren’t you worried he’s gonna kill you?”
“Relax,” said Conor. “I actually got this by the L stop when I said I was just going to take a leak. I didn’t want to get your hopes up in case I couldn’t get anything.”
“Well break it out!” cheered R.J., and I nodded vigorously in agreement.
We all sat down in the pigeon-corpse-free area at the far end of the room, and proceeded to watch R.J. expertly roll up a killer jay, complete with this odd trick he’d do with a dollar bill that somehow smoothed the whole thing out and transformed it into something worthy of a centerfold shot in High Times magazine. He amazed me — here’s this guy that has the fine dexterity of a gem-cutter, and just because he cuts the dumb classes at his crappy school that bore the hell out of him he gets tagged a failure? Just didn’t seem right — street smarts ought to count for something.
A few minutes later we lay backwards and silently grooved on the smoke wafting up towards the ceiling. The stained-glass-filtered light cut crazy angular lines through the smoke and changed as the smoke moved. How could this be illegal? It didn’t seem any different than people appreciating art or special effects in a movie. I cursed society under my breath and drifted off into a dream-like state, only to be startled awake as our friend Darius came in and said, “Hey, you dudes up for exploring?”
Conor raised his head just far enough to appear attentive. “Well, we were gonna do it in a bit. You have a light by any chance?”
He nodded and Conor jumped up. “All right! C’mon guys, now we can check out the parts of this place I’ve been dying to see!”
So we exited the room, walked back down the hallway and down the huge spiral staircase. Almost nothing had changed, although a few more people had curled up and fallen asleep on the steps and on the carpeted areas. We got down to the lobby and went back through the old theater, but then we made a turn I didn’t recognize.
Darius led us through a couple of rooms that had some natural light from a skylight above, although I wasn’t sure if it was an outdoor skylight or just light somehow filtering in from the main lobby areas. Regardless, I was taking up the rear as I had no idea where I was going. I could see flickering images on the walls as we moved, and the realization sunk in that Darius didn’t have a flashlight, just a candle.
Ugh, bad sign. I prayed this guy knew where the hell he was going, although I wasn’t expecting he did. Good thing I was still feeling pretty mellow, or I’d have been freaked out. I turned my head quickly to look behind and I couldn’t see five feet in front of me. Crap, definitely not good.
“Hey Darius, that candle you’ve got — how long does that thing have left?”
Before I could stop myself I just blurted out, “Hey Darius, that candle you’ve got — how long does that thing have left?” Then I immediately felt stupid, like I had lost a game of Chicken or something.
“Don’t worry bro, I have extras.” Darius replied, much to my relief. I think I heard an audible sigh of relief from R.J. also, so I felt a little less like a chump.
Darius continued, “So me and Conor have been down here a few times, but we always get to this corridor that’s pitch black, and without a light we just turn around. We’re in the corridor now, so keep your eyes out for doors or other openings. I’m not sure but I think at some point we should run into some stairs that will take us down a level to where the actors’ dressing rooms are. I’m hoping there’s going to be some cool stuff in there, maybe old masks or costumes, something like that.”
“Yeah,” piped in Conor, “I’ve gone backstage in big theaters downtown when I was a kid. They’re way bigger on the inside than you could imagine. The area open to the public is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s got to be staging areas where they assembled props and stuff, and maybe kitchens for catering — hell, maybe we’ll find some ancient beer!”
Funny how even the mention of beer was a mood-lightener, but before I could follow up with a snappy remark Darius had stopped ahead.
“Hmm. Looks like this is the end here — we’ve got a door on each side, so let’s check ‘em out.”
So R.J. opened the door on the left, reminding me of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, and found ...
A broom closet.
“Well, nuts,” said R.J. “Darius, you’ve got the light, maybe you should be in the lead.”
“Awright man”, said Darius as he opened the door on the right, revealing a descending staircase. “Hey hey, now we’re talking! The mysterious lower level prophesized by Conor!”
We had to walk single file down the staircase, which kind of sucked ‘cause I was second to last and that bastard R.J. kept kicking me, then we came to a grinding halt.
“Problem, gentlemen. There appears to be some flooding.”
“Problem, gentlemen. There appears to be some flooding.” I craned my neck around Conor to see what Darius was talking about, and I could see a dim reflection of the candle across the floor.
“How bad is it?” I said, “We came all this damn way, and you know if we turn around we’ll always be sorry.”
Darius poked a toe into the water, “Maybe an inch or two? You guys want to keep going? I’m up for it if you are, but we could always backtrack and try exploring a different part of the theater. It smells a bit funky too.”
“Man,” howled R.J., “Let’s do it. The night’s perfect, and if we go back upstairs with something cool we find down here that would be perfect. Come on dude,” R.J. was talking to me now, “Imagine what an icebreaker it could be with one of those chicks upstairs if you bring back a prop from a play or something. Besides, otherwise those freaks will never believe we finally found the — um, what do we think this is, anyway — the area below the stage?”
“I don’t know”, said Conor, “We were on the same level as the stage when we started, but we went pretty far away from it. Those stairs took us down pretty far, so I’d guess this is probably the basement. There’s probably mechanical stuff down here, who knows?”
“All right, here we go.” And with that I heard a soft “sploosh” as Darius tentatively started walking ...