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Triple Feature

Jake La Botz

The Oriental was amazing back then. Always a triple feature. Three movies for a dollar—one kung fu, one horror, one softcore drama. It was the poor folks’ theatre. The street drunks’ theater. The prostitutes’ and pimps’ theater. The abandoned, runaway, and truant kids’ theater. 


There was a seating system at the Oriental everyone figured out pretty quickly. Kids running wild up front. Movie watchers and make out sessions in the middle. Drunks and sex workers in the back. Steve always sat middle-front. Far enough from the souses, sleepers, and sexers but not too close to the rowdy kids. Urine occasionally streamed down the slanted concrete floor from the back rows. He kept his feet propped on the chair in front to avoid the mess, wondering if the back row pissers didn’t want to miss the movie or were just too wasted to get up and use the toilet. 


At intermission Steve liked to wander up and down corridors, touching the sculpted walls, pillars and railings. The heavy red curtain pulled back at each side of the screen smelled like cigars and mold and looked like it was a hundred years old. Even the men’s room seemed marvelous with its massive sturdy urinals—almost too beautiful to piss in. Maybe that’s the real reason so many people pissed on the floors, he figured. Sometimes he went treasure hunting, finding things people had dropped or left behind before the ushers got to them. Coins. Articles of clothing. Bottles of alcohol. Once he found a wallet with a two-dollar bill and a driver's license. And if he got hungry there were plenty of half-full buckets of popcorn lying around. 


Though his father always promised to pick him up later, Steve kept enough change on hand to catch the subway home when Ernie inevitably didn’t show. On the twenty-five-minute rides from State and Randolph to Wilson and Broadway Steve imagined other passengers to be actors in a movie of his own creation: 


She’s following the killer off the train. When she finds out where he lives, she’ll come back with her friends and burn his house down. 


He belongs to a secret martial arts society and has vowed never to cause harm unless someone litters on the train. 


The lovers are riding to the end of the line where no one can ever bother them again. 


“Wilson and Broadway,” the conductor announces, interrupting Steve’s reminiscing. He tucks away the eulogy he’s been preparing for his father’s funeral and moves towards the door. As the train slows Steve looks back at the other passengers and runs the game one more time: 


Seven-year-old boy shakes sleeping father, worrying he may have overdosed again. 


Teenager acts tough, psyching himself up for first prison visit. 


Hollywood filmmaker finds childhood memories waiting for him in a Chicago train car twenty years later. 


Too bad they don’t show movies at the Oriental anymore, he thinks. 




Jake La Botz is a touring musician and meditation teacher. His songs, and sometimes acting, have been featured in film and television, including True Detective, Shameless, Rambo and many more. La Botz’ fiction has appeared in The Museum of Americana, In Parentheses, and Wrong Turn Lit.

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