Sunday, January 24, 2010

Town Characters, Coca-Cola Earl.

I’ve traveled a little, here and there. I spend a lot of time “people watching”. Wherever I go, I always notice the similarities in people, and especially in the town characters.

The last post about The Garberville Theatre reminded me of a town character that we all knew back in the fifties thru the seventies. His name was Earl Berry. He was a regular at the Garberville Theater. I always liked Earl, but if you talked to him for just a few minutes, you would know that he was “different”.

When we were cruel little kids we used to call him “Crazy Earl”. When we grew up a little, and became more P.C. we started calling him Coca-Cola Earl after his penchant for Coca-Cola. He was kinda’ like the guy in the movie “The Rainman”. He was a lot more functional, but he didn’t have that quality that people would accept as “smart”. I have always liked to build things, or invent some new tool, or some useful item, so I was particularly impressed with Earls ability to built many things out of cardboard and masking tape. You would hardly ever see him downtown without the special pouch that he had made for himself to carry a full six-pack of 8oz Coke bottles. He had made his own hat and at one time he even made a vest out of masking tape and cardboard.

As you might have guessed by now, he did many things on a very tight schedule. He would walk to town to get his Coke several times a day. You could set your watch by his regularity. He wouldn’t talk to you unless you engaged him first. I always liked to take a few minutes to just talk to him, and watch him smile. He liked for people to ask him how he made his cardboard stuff. He got so he would start grinning as soon as he saw me, because he knew that I was going to ask him about his precious “stuff”. He always knew exactly how many rolls of tape went into his inventions. He would go into great detail about his hinges, and lids, and latches, or how he made the straps out of pure masking tape. I always thought that if Garberville had a museum, it would be great to have some of Coca-Cola Earl's stuff in it.

Earl was a good looking guy, clean, and neat, and under other circumstances he would have been a great ladies-man. His mother made him stay clean. She made sure that he would shave and wear clean clothes. His hair was always neatly trimmed. That’s how he was when I was young. As his mother’s health failed, he let himself go a bit, and he looked like a vagabond. But, for most of his life he was spiffy and neat.

As I said, the post below about the Garberville Theatre reminded me of him. Anybody that ever attended the Saturday matinee back in the fifties and sixties knows what I mean. The theatre was the central source of entertainment back then. It was a very well run and organized place. The theater had ushers. One in each isle. Just like parking attendants, they would ask how many in your group, then they would seat you row by row as you filed in. During popular movies, or the first day of a movie, the theater was quite often completely filled. No empty seats. Also, the theater had many more seats than it has today.

The back quarter of the theater was the loge (hard o, soft g) section. The seats were red velvet, and no child under twelve was allowed to sit in them unless they were accompanied by and adult. So, the Saturday matinee was filled up front, but the loge section was mostly empty. In the evening seating, the section on the right was the smoking section. Sometimes the smoking section was full and a few smokers would have to sit in the center section. It was obvious why they wanted the smokers to sit at the side. As soon as somebody would light-up, they would exhale a large cloud of smoke into the projection beam. That was back before the cigarette smoke was reduced. Cigarettes were extremely smoky back then. Even while being held in a persons hand, they gave off a stream of smoke. We are sooooo lucky today, that smokers are not allowed inside, for a variety of reasons.

The theater had a nursing room behind the smoking section. It was a glassed in room with speakers inside. Mothers with squeally babies were not tolerated, whatsoever, in the audience. But, they were given every convenience in the nursing room.

As you know, I’m fascinated by tools and gadgets, so the usher’s flashlights were interesting to me. They had a tube out in the front that focused the light into a tight little spot. If you went to the restroom or the snack bar during the movie, they would escort you back to your seat with the light discretely shining on the floor, so you could find your way. If you made any noise, or laughed too loud you would find the light shining on you. You got one warning, the second time the light was shined on you there would be a come-hither finger wiggling in it. Then you were escorted to the lobby where you were required to stay until the movie was over. At least that’s what they tell me… It never happened to me… Unless somebody was there.

The second hand store, down the hill by the union oil company, had a female urinal that Burl Keating told me came out of the Garberville Theatre. He said that back when women wore dresses it was more convenient to use, but women started wearing slacks, and they removed it because it was unusable if it could not be straddled. Of course my curious mind went nuts with wonder over the urinal. How…. Oh, never mind!

Let’s get back to Earl. Anybody that went to the Saturday matinee knew that the isle seat in the third row of the general seating was reserved for Earl. The ushers would tell you not to sit there. If someone unknowingly sat there, Earl would stare incredulously at them until the usher came to ask the person to move. Earl was at every Saturday matinee with his large Coca-Cola and bag of popcorn.

As soon as they got Earl seated the lights would slowly dim and you could hear Woody Woodpecker start his familiar song in the background and it was “Showtime”.


omr said...

What a sweet post Ernie, your prose paints a vividly detailed picture.


EARL BERRY??? i just can't get a handle on him??? did he wear PLAID shirts??

spyrock said...

those 8 oz cokes were something special. i think they used to put pure coca leaf extract in them. when the 12 oz pepsi's came out, i switched. they were the best. the 16 oz marked the decline of regular pepsi. i was so disgusted, i finally switched to diet pepsi cans. they used to call me the great northern california pepsi king. linda lu introduced me to her uncle stoney that way. he seemed insulted and said "whiskey or fight" gave me a dirty gabby haze look and went on his way. people are fond of their addictions.
our theater was much the same as yours. i think the loges in our theater saw more sex than anyplace else in town. not that we started making out up there as soon as we turned 13. i think it was more fun throwing ju ju bees at the kids still sitting down below.

Dave said...

I really enjoy hearing about people - especially if they're different or eccentric.
Coca-Cola Earl is a classic.
I've always liked writing feature stories about people. No two stories are ever alike.We're all so different and fascinating.

Keep those people profiles coming. I know you must have tons of them.

Finally, when are you going to put those stories together and publish a book? I promise to buy a copy if you do.

DLKirby said...

I remember him. I was most impressed when he up dated his look with fresh masking tape. He struck me as a man on a mission.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm kinda' surprised that more people don’t remember him. I doesn’t seem that long ago. They say that is the second sign of Alzheimer’s … What was the first again?


Anonymous said...

Dang Ernie, That guy sounds familiar but I do have a bad memory.
I remember a guy that used to put half a White Owl Banker cigar in his TOP lip and leave it there all day. After a few hours the leaves of the cigar would hang down like black moss and when he talked it would flop in the wind. I don't want to say his name and I remember it too. However I never did see this guy at the theatre.



OREGON,i'm in the same boat as you!!!

i remember certain characters around town also,but hate to mention their names or who they were!!! for the life of me i can't remember Earl Berry???

not that he was challanged,but Elmer Hurlbutt was quite a character!!! so were the Harris Brothers!!

should i mention Sammy M'C...! ???

i had several warts on my hands when i was young,Charlie Cary told me to wash my hands with an old dish rag,then go bury the dish rag.
PRESTO,50 years later all my warts are gone!!BTW,Charlie worked at the TackleBox,part time.

Anonymous said...

I could tell lots of stories about Charlie when he worked in the Tackle Shop. I think Darrell had him in the store for help as much as he had him in there for entertainment.



Tackle Shop, i knew i had that screwed up after i posted IT!!!

omr said...

Did anyone else collect bottle caps? We had all kinds of little brandnames in the Midwest. I had to raid every Soda (didn't call it Pop) machine at every gas stop. At home, on the rug, I would line them up in their categories as military units on battlefields, a regular Napoleon of bottlecaps.

Frank Pratt said...

Ernie it seems like yesterday I can see him plain as day with his masking tape box and then he had a strap that went around his neck and held his box in place can you imagine him now with duct tape Do you remember rabbit man Earl Boyer Frank Pratt

ultradave said...

Hi Ernie -

Posts like this are why I've followed you for years now. You've really become quite a good writer over time.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I remember many stories about Earl. I wish that I could tell some of the stuff I know about the people in this town. I often wish that I could change the names and places to protect the innocent, (and not so innocent) But, I'm sure that any attempts to disguise myself and the town would soon be seen through, and there would be a price on my head.

Thank-you for the compliment, but to me, my writing still seems stilted and clumsy. Not now, but sometime in the future, I'm going to start trying to make the words flow better. In the past when I've done that, it seems to lose meaning, and it doesn't sound like me. So if I can get the words to flow, and it sound like me, and I can still tell a good story, I'll be where I want to be. But thanks....

jim said...

I Remember that guy and I'm not to old going on 36. I remembered going trick or treating there as a kid and being facinated by all the stuff in the yard. I remember him being a collecter of "stuff". Didn't he have some sort of bike with a trailer in the lator year? I'm kind of remembering something like that.