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Updated: Apr 5, 2023

We come down the steps next to the barren fountains, tagged and full of garbage.

A beloved community icon, quickly forgotten and soon to be no more.

Fractured tiles.

Crumbling cement.

Layers of peeling paint, the trendy colors of each decade lingering as nature takes its course.

And just ahead, there’s the gateway to a better place, now sealed shut, my memories the only thing to take me back.

I marvel at the wandering of the mind, at its wondering. The places it can go.

Approaching the aged kiosk, I call out my request to a balding man in a wheelchair, pay him, and he hands me two tickets. We go down another set of stairs.

I smell the popcorn, old and new, piled inside walls of glass, and waging war against one another to get me to to spend seven dollars more than I should to a zit-faced punk standing just behind the dusty, sticky counter. Ugh. The fake butter. I don’t even like it, but the place’s emptiness guilts me into giving the kid a reason to earn his measly wage.

Then, there’s the sound of ice dropping into a Styrofoam cup as it fills with my carbonated drink of choice— Artificially sweetened happiness, a mere eight bucks away.

There’s a piano man in the lobby, but unlike Billy Joel, he’s got no listeners, not even his mother.

I lock eyes with my significant other, the musician’s empty tip jar in the frame. The subtle shake of her head tells me to move on as I give the starving artist a weak head nod.

We hand our stubs to the woman with the taped-up glasses, the bun in her greasy hair a tad tight, a smudge of chocolate stained on her burgundy vest. She motions us down the hall like we’re in her way, and that’s when I wonder whether the next one hundred and sixteen minutes will be worthy of investment.

Approaching the rear of the building, faces and names line its walls, images dated and polished. Some reflective of success, some of flops, and others, ones that you and I have never heard of.

We walk toward the doors, the number nine above, a little off-center.

The dark room beckons, another story to tell.

And though I can never return, the beautiful memory remains, and that costs me forty-three bucks less.

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