HE WAS SHORT, weird-looking guy wearing a purple windbreaker and when he walked he moved with a lurch. He was standing before the radio City Music Hall in New York and he was asking people to save the place. He saw me with my notebook out, doing my reporter bit, and he came at me asking, "You wit da News?" I said no to that and then no to being with the Post and then no to being a reporter. There is something about the Music Hall that makes me lie.
The guy seemed confused by my answer, what with my notebook and all, but he asked me to sign his petition anyway. "Put your Hancock here," he said, and so I signed the thing which asked someone to do something to stop the Music from closing April 12.
"Dey're gonna make it an awfice building," he waxed poetically. "Dey got da plans already." This sort of talk is music to my ears but the fellow already had my Hancock and so he moved off in search of more signatures. I bought myself two paetzels at 30 cents a piece and a $4 general admission ticket and walked into the Radio City Music Hall a couple of minutes before the start of the stage show - "The Glory of Easter" - to do an obituary.
They say you can never go home again and there's no going back and you cannot make these in New York anyway and the Music Hall was closing and . . . You just had to give it a try. So now I was in the lobby, that lobby that reaches for the sky, and then I was in the elevator with the operator in his spiffy uniform and soon I was up on the second tier, the people down below looking small, eating my popcorn and waiting for the start of the show.
The place started to fill. About 200 kids came in all of them wearing a green club jacket and they took their seats hardly making a dent in the place. A couple with two kids came in and sat down right behind me and when the curtain opened to the left of the stage and you could see the man at the organ, the women said to the boy, "That's the largest organ in the world." I don't know if it is or not, but it plays with sound that goes right through you when you are a little boy and I knew how that kid felt.
The woman kept talking to the kid, explaining this and pointing at that, and it made me think of another kid who used to come here. He started coming dressed in his soldier suit and he kept coming as he grew older. Parents took him and aunts him and he remembered the long lines at Easter and Christmas and the wait to get inside and how once you got inside there was a show that filled your head with wonder.
One time the kid snuck down to the front and got a wink from the timpanist in the orchestra, but mostly saw the show from the second tier. He saw the Rockettes from up there and he fell in love with women who had long, wonderful legs and no faces that you could make out and who could dance and kick and then kick and kick until the people rose to their feet and whistled. The Rockettes could bring the house down.
Later, the Music Hall became something of a joke. Later, the same kid would come here with his friends and they would sit in the balcony and laugh themselves sick. It was always the same - nothing ever changing. One show they built a mountain on the stage and the Marines came and stormed in and planted a flay on top. Then leggy women dressed as Wacs and Waves danced and more soldiers ran out and bombs went off and fireworks exploded and the orchestra belted out the Marine Hymn. It was funny up in the balcony and we laughed and laughed and didn't stop until a man stood and challenged us to a fight. I never went back.
So now it is years later and now the reporter's pad is out and I am taking notes and this lady is explaining everything to the kid. Behind me the kid is saying gee and his voice is full of wonder, but then I came back and I forgot that and I start to write a column. I am conscious of the criticism, of the allegation that the Music Hall is dated and the Rockettes, for example, have no blacks in a city that has lots of blacks, and I am about to say that the Music Hall, like the steam train and the circus tent, has outlived its usefulness. Goodbye and all that, but goodbye.
But there is a lady who sits behind me and she saw what I was writing and she told me how her grandmother used to take her to the Music Hall. She said it has to be saved and I start to argue with but I think of that kid who sat behind me, his voice full of wonder, and I thought of that other kid who used to come with parents and his aunts and I thought that somewhere in the national council for this and the national endowment for that there ought to be buck for the Radio City Music Hall. Once, it made a kid wide-eyed in wonder and last week it did the same thing for another kid and I was going to say that for this reporter it was just another show. But sugary, sacchirine, noshtalgic trip that it is, it brought a fear I wasn't going to admit that.
Something about the Music Hall makes you want to lie.