The State Theater – My Own Personal Fort Knox


I’m going to tell you a story which is very close to my heart.  It’s a story about fear, feelings of safety, and a particular movie theater, once open and thriving, in my hometown of Greenville, Ohio.

I was born with the temperament of a dreamer.  As a kid, I lived in my imagination.  Don’t get me wrong, I did plenty of exploring in the external world too, but the adventures in my head were way more exciting because I could bend the rules of physics to fit my explorations.

Carrying this theme, a bit further, I love movies.  I love all things about movies because I am able, without effort, to enter into the protagonist’s head and live and feel his/her adventure along with them.

As a youngster I was allowed to walk or ride my bike to the State Theater on Saturdays to watch matinees.  I was also allowed to attend movies at night. I was inside the State Theater like, a million times.  Consequently, I have the entire inside of the State Theater mapped out in my head, still.

Okay, I’m shifting to second gear.  Do any of you have a safe place, in your imagination, where you can go or imagine you are there, when life overwhelms you?  Some may picture themselves walking along a white sandy beach, with blue ocean waves gently lapping at the shoreline.  Others may picture themselves sitting in their favorite chair next to a warm fire as they quietly listen to the burning wood crackle as they smell their favorite kind of wood burning, while they sip on their favorite port or brandy.

The list of safe places a person can place themselves into or retreat to is as numerous as the population, I’m sure.  And many of these imagined safe havens are as highly unique as are the personalities conjuring them up.

We’re now in third gear.  I loved the State Theater so much that it became my default safe place to enter when the horrors of war presented themselves to me, both in reality, and in my imagination.  Once a soldier views, hears, and smells death, that image can haunt him for a long time.  It’s an easy next step (because it is highly plausible) for a soldier to imagine himself blown to pieces, as well.

For people with vivid imaginations, this can be a problem, to say the least.  So, here’s what I did.  Whenever I laid awake at night, in Vietnam, if my mind started taking me to bad places, I would override these thought streams by replacing them with pictures of safety.

I imagined that the State Theater was always open, but it was only open for me.  In my head, I would walk up to the ticket booth where I was always greeted warmly with “how are you today, Alan.  Here is your ticket.  Enjoy the show.”  After receiving my ticket, I would walk into the lobby and watch the doors behind me close.  No one but me was allowed in the lobby.  I then imagined that as I walked through the set of doors leading to the concession stand, the doors behind me would also close and lock.  I was safe at last, well, almost, anyway.

I would sometimes stop at the concession stand and chat with the people selling the snacks and beverages.  These were trusted friends who would smile and tell me hello. And they were always glad to see me.

Fourth gear – with popcorn and coke in hand I would walk towards the door leading into the theater.  For some reason, I always used the left side entrance.  And this is where the real magic begins.  As I approached the entrance to the theater I came to a locked steel sliding door, over two feet thick, made of a type of armor which no earthly weapon or bomb could penetrate.  It was invincible, as was the entire inside of the theater.

In order for the door to open, I had to place my left hand on a particular location on the door.  The door would only open for me.  Thus, no person, predator or explosive device could pass through this door.  Once inside the theater, the door would shut, and I was completely safe from any and all imaginable situations which could harm me.

Fifth gear – once inside, I would take my seat.  There were only four seats.  Sometimes I would bring a guest but mostly, not.  I would then concentrate on the stage and the screen above.  And from this position I would watch the images (the negative ones from my imagination) as they scrolled downwards from the top of the screen towards the bottom until they disappeared into and through the stage below.  If they were ugly images, I let them roll out of sight, if pleasant, I held them in my mind’s eye until I started feeling safe once again.

Sixth and final gear – When I lived in the Outer Banks, N.C., I built a home theater on the ground floor.  It had three levels of stadium seats, two to a row.  The room was built by a pair of guys, one of which was an electrical engineer, the other, a finished carpenter.  The room’s walls were placed at angles, with sound quality in mind.  The speakers were all recessed inside the walls.  It was a 7.1 system, powered by a 1,500-watt receiver, with an overhead ceiling mounted projector projecting images on a 100-inch screen.  Subwoofers (seat knockers) were buried in each of the three levels of seating.  The room was completely soundproofed.  I could not even hear my neighbor’s lawnmower.

And finally, I had the carpenter build me a replica of the State Theater’s stage, inside my home theater.  I can’t believe I don’t have a million photos to show you but here is the only one I could find, and it does not show the stage – major bummer.

Bottom line – I never felt safe during the war.  With random nightly shellings from the enemy, death was always near.  And since I could not protect myself from actual rocket and mortar attacks, I coped by pretending I was safe.  I know this sounds a lil crazy, but it worked for me on numerous occasions.

In retrospect, I think it’s quite telling that the place I chose as my safe haven was the inside of a movie theater.  I was a hard child to raise so I sort of staid in trouble but when I was alone inside the state theater no teacher or parent could touch me.  I always felt both free and safe while watching a movie.

Thank you for reading my essay.

Postscript – The base where I was stationed (Phu Cat) had a homemade (built by air force personnel) movie theater.  The movie changed every three days.  It was a two mile hike to the theater and I was exposed to any sort of attack while making my sojourn.  But I didn’t care, I made the trek every time the movie changed even though most of the movies sucked.