Eddie Anderson at the Oaks

Toast for dinner last night, and toast for breakfast this morning. It's a fine cheap alternative to cereal or eggs, if you buy the 69¢ loaf of bread and and generic margarine. 

Sadly though, I must announce the passing of two fleas, drowned and waiting for me in the margarine. It comes with a lid, but I hadn't lidded it. A year ago I would've spread the margarine with a few fleas for added protein, crunch, and flavor, but now I'm mostly vegetarian, so I plucked and flushed their tiny corpses.

Guess I'll be re-bugbombing my room. Judith says I should let the cat back into my bedroom, because the fleas will all jump onto t he cat. Seems like a mean trick to play on the cat. Instead I'll spend some money on another round of bugbombs.

♦ ♦ ♦

On Solano Avenue in North Berkeley, the Oaks Theater has started showing old movies on one of its two screens, and tonight's presentation was a double feature of musicals I'd never seen. I love musicals, so I packed several bread and flealess margarine sandwiches and rode the #8 bus across town.

When I got to the Oaks, I wanted to grab and study their movie calendar, but they don't have one. This seems dumb. Theaters that show old movies for a day or two at a time always print a calendar for people to take home and tack to their walls. My bedroom has calendars from the Castro, the Elmwood, the Pacific Film Archive, the Red Vic, the Roxie, the Stanford, the UC, and I have four thumbtacks and a little space where the Oaks calendar would fit nicely, but they didn't print a calendar. There's just a list of coming attractions, taped to the front window. 

I didn't feel like leaning on the glass and taking notes, and worse, with the exception of tonight's double feature, the window sign lists all the same old movies that play in any revival theater — Singin' In the Rain, A Clockwork Orange, your basic Woody Allen double features, etc. After tonight's shows, there are only two movies listed in the window that I haven't already seen, so it's unlikely I'll be back.

The next disappointment is that there were only two other customers in the theater. No loud talkers, and that's nice, but the Oaks won't be showing old movies for long if the crowd is that small every night.

Cabin in the Sky (1943) is a lightweight musical drama, with a sappy script about angels and demons battling for the soul of some schlemiel. The tunes are nice enough, and the cast is all-black, with the Louis Armstrong as a trumpet-toting devil and a young Lena Horn as temptation incarnate, and a number by Duke Ellington and his band that most definitely snap crackle pops.

As the schlemiel whose soul is up for grabs, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson gives a great performance, especially because he doesn't use his squeaky, gravely voice and endless eyerolls from playing Jack Benny's butler on TV. Given the chance to play a man instead of a manservent, Anderson makes this droll story seem dramatic. 

A sadness is that the movie actually bills him as Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson. The man's name was Eddie Anderson, and on TV he played the race-based caricature of a butler named Rochester. Seems an insult added to a thousand injuries to make Rochester part of the man's professional name.

Ah, but maybe it was his choice, name recognition and all, and anyway, I have bigger complaints about the second movie.

Showboat (1935) bored me out of my seat in about half an hour. It starts with the sympathetic portrayal of a vaguely interracial marriage, a brave topic to tackle sixty years ago. That ought to be all the drama you need, right? I assumed that's what the movie and music would be about, and I was eager for it.

Maybe in the 1930s nobody would've been eager for it, because the mixed marriage is a plot device, soon forgotten. Showboat is actually a love story about a nauseously bland empty-headed white girl and an equally-empty-headed bland white boy.  

I'm in favor of love, and love love stories, but I hate love stories like this, where the alleged lovers have nothing to say to each other except to chat about the weather. At no time before I got bored and left did the lovers have any conversation that wasn't shallow and empty. Literally all the lovers knew about each other was their names and faces, and we're supposed to root for such 'love'? What are they "in love" with? They've said so little of consequence, either of them could've been anybody.

Showboat does have Paul Robeson, singing the heartbreaking "Old Man River," mercifully in the movie's first few minutes, and he's remarkable. Tingled my spine and I wanted a rewind. After that, though, the song reviews the movie: "It must know something, but it don't say nothing, it just keeps rolling along."

♦ ♦ ♦

A panhandler approached me as I was waiting for my bus home. "Excuse me," he said. "Do you have a quarter?"

"Can't do it," I answered, avoiding eye contact.

He was silent for a few seconds, then asked, "You don't have a quarter?"

"I didn't say that," I said, with suddenly more eye contact than he could handle. "I do have a quarter. Probably I have several quarters, and when you walk away I'll have that same number of quarters."

He walked away, and on the ride home I wondered about the asshole I've become.

From Pathetic Life #17
Wednesday, October 11, 1995

Addendum, 2022: That was me, being an ass to a homeless man again. Like it's his fault he's homeless? It's not. Like a man with almost nothing needs to be treated like nothing? He does not. 

With more than twice as many years in me now, and a tiny smattering of empathy, what I'd say today is, Sorry, I don't have a quarter, but can I give you this five-dollar bill?

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called
Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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