Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memories of Mom, 1914 to 2011

SPOKANE -- A short distance from Mt. Nebo Cemetery in Spokane is Fort George Wright where Mom took me and my sister, Claudia shopping at the Post Exchange in about 1945.
Mom was an Army wife when Dad was drafted, serving with the occupation forces in Japan post World War Two. Dad was not amused and Mom must surely have felt stressed raising two children by herself while we all lived with our grandparents and rented out our house on 29th Avenue. With the post war economy Dad tried to figure out a way to support the family, returning for a short time to a retail sales job that he disliked. Dad’s story is similar to the Dana Andrews character in the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” in that he wound up in the junk business.
We held graveside services Friday at Mt. Nebo in Spokane for Mom, Gertie Zarkin, 96, who died May 20 in a Seattle convalescent facility.
With Mom I could share my joys and some frustrations, including a byline story in the Idaho Statesman or a photo I took of Lucky Peak Reservoir in winter that I was sure was a masterpiece. I enshrined it in a frame from Grand Central that I refinished and mailed to Mom for Mother’s Day. When Mom and Dad left Spokane she gave me the photo with the card pasted to the back. Now it hangs on my living room wall.
Mom at 96 remembered as a child being on a train from Toronto to Spokane and that the soldiers returning from World War One were courteous and attentive to Mom’s family.
Recently Mom would ask: “Are you keeping busy in retirement?” So I had pleasant conversations with Mom when I visited her in Seattle. She was an avid reader and years ago subscribed to the Readers’s Digest book club. She loaned me her books including Betty Macdonald’s “The Egg and I” when I was in grade school, but she would not let me read “Marjorie Morningstar” or “Peyton Place.”
Mom loved the lake and she is pictured here at Spirit Lake, Idaho, in the late 40s where the local movie house showed “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” which she wouldn’t let us see because scary movies gave us bad dreams. (See post on “Beer Hall Babies”.) Cousins Jan and Stan got to see that movie which my son Mike showed me a couple of years ago. Memories of my Mom.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Spokane's Dark Side: Rex Adult Theater

While some prefer to remember Spokane, WA, for its beautiful parks and lovely churches, I have a 55-year-old memory of the notorious Rex Theater on Riverside Avenue. This was too real to be a dream.
To say that the Rex was a BYOB “girlie show” movie house for gentlemen of dubious distinction is being kind. But to a hormonal 15-year-old the lurid poster advertising burlesque queen Patti Waggin in the feature “Too Hot to Handle” was something I never forgot. Not that I could see the movie because it was adults only and I was working. Then again who was going to negotiate with the imposing cashier, one stout tough looking bleached blonde.
For all I knew the publisher of the Spokesman-Review and local ministers could have been Rex regulars but I imagined it was a cheap place to enjoy a bottle of muscatel and take a nap.
Mom and Dad never took us to skid row so how did I find the Rex of my youth? After classes at Lewis and Clark High School, I delivered drugs for a downtown pharmacy and deliveries took me to west Riverside Avenue where I passed by the Rex Theater and saw the lurid poster with a nearly naked Miss Waggin for ADULTS ONLY.
No one will probably ever admit to the existence of the Rex Theater but me.
I realized that this was not a dream but the Waggin movie really existed. As I opened the pages of the movie catalogue I found the movie of my lost youth under the “exploitation” listings. So 55 years later I realize a youthful dream, I buy the DVD and watch THTH. The Rex was real according to the online document, “Washington State Movie Houses,” with 350 seats open from 1949 -59 at 326 Riverside Avenue. It also operated as the New Rex and the El Ray. I was fortunate to grow up in an era where movie houses had character and were distinctive if not colorful, That era lasted about 30 years as theaters were being torn down in the 50s. and 60s.
The DVD is pristine and features comics Harry Savoy and Mannie King, much like Abbott and Costello but with a lot of nauughtiness. (“I’ve got diabetes and you’ve got a couple of lulmps yourself. I went to a gay 90s party. The men were all gay and the women were in their 90s. I’ve never seen a waitress with such big tips”. Cop: “I’ve been pounding my beat for five years.” Comic: And you look it.”
Vegas has made an attempt to revive burlesque with the Absinthe show.
For more on the Paris sensation Ms. Waggin, go to A book is available, “Fan Letters to a Stripper” by Bob Brill.