Cinema Paradiso

People_McRaePortraitStory Shane McRae

Pitch black darkness. Silence. The only sound the occasional pop of our weapons followed by a howl of pain. We warriors have spent hour upon hour in preparation. Hundreds of timecards torn into strips and folded to make square bullets that, when shot out of homemade rubber band slingshots, left red welts on the skin. We crawled through and under the rows of seats like uncoordinated ninjas. The air was thick with the smell of coconut oil and stale popcorn, the floor beneath us sticky and smelling sickeningly sweet from the thin layer of dried Coke covering it. We were after the enemy’s flag — a dirty sock — hidden somewhere in the darkness. The stakes could not be higher. This was war.

Actually, this was what happened when your friend Jack’s dad owned the local movie theater and all of Jack’s friends were the employees.

Oh, the glory of Starkville’s Cinema 12 in the early ’90s. It was the place where an entire generation of Starkville kids, including my brother and sister, grew up — first jobs, first kisses, first loves, first time to be fired (Doug), first time to be re-hired (again, Doug) — and it was where I first dreamed of being an actor.

There we fell in love with the music of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder … who am I kidding? … Boys 2 Men, Ace of Base and Counting Crows. We had a front-row seat for every movie of the era.

“Legends of the Fall” slayed us. We all fell in lust, er, love with Salma Hayek in “Desperado.” I fell out of my seat laughing at “Dumb and Dumber.” And there was the time the entire two-and-a-half hour film reel of “Wolf” starring Jack Nicholson ended up in a waist-high pile in the projection room … eh, it was a bad movie anyway.

Most exciting of all was working the midnight shift … the possibilities for drama were endless. I remember serving Jerry Rice popcorn several times. We pulled endless pranks and ate an endless amount of Raisinettes. Hell, I think we even worked a little bit.

That old broken-down theater was the stage of our adolescence. Twenty years have passed, and I’m living in New York City with my wife, Chelsey, and our two little girls. I’m living the dream that began so long ago in a dark theater at the Cinema 12. Although, it is much less glamorous than I imagined back then. I’ve been here for almost 17 years, surrounded by all the things that make New York, well, New York. I love it, but I can’t help but mourn that my kids are growing up in a community where the freedom and security we had and felt in Starkville isn’t a possibility. Many of my old Starkville friends have joined me up here, and the bond we shared — even after so many years — remains immediate and strong. It was a truly special place and moment in time to grow up.

Now, in those rare moments when I can find the time (toddlers don’t allow much of it), I like to find a rundown theater and see a movie. With the floor sticky under my feet, the permanent aroma of stale popcorn, old Coke and coconut oil in the air, I sit down in a slightly broken chair and pull out a box of Raisinettes. And it feels perfect. It feels like home.