Some call it a sofa. My dad called it a davenport. I, like most people, call it a couch, defined as “a long, upholstered piece of furniture for several people to sit on.”
Residentially, couches are most often found in living rooms, family rooms, dens and basement rec rooms. Commercially, I’ve seen them in waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and coffee shops, among others.
But I’ve also seen couches “in the wild,” that place where we find things we don’t expect (or wish) to see, and out there, I’ve seen couches both in traffic and along the shoulder of a busy highway; on the lawns of college apartment houses (some ready for disposal; others still 100% “in play”); on front porches in small towns, and one time, a dark blue corduroy model sitting alone, inert, in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, replete with decorative pillows (maybe a couch looking for a good home or simply one running away to “find itself.”)
While witnessing couches in all the aforementioned locations and including my own living room (the natural habitat for such a creature), I was reminded of a memory from my childhood; one that also includes a couch positioned in a place where I wouldn’t have expected one.
The Towne Cinema was a landmark in my hometown, as I’m sure places like the Bijoy, Savoy and others with cool, retro names where staples of downtowns across America before a wave of cineplexes arrived on the scene, offering a buffet of options and showtimes for moviegoers looking to escape reality, the summer heat or just sneak away with one’s “steady” for several hours on a weekend. (For those of you under a certain age, “steady” is the prehistoric term for “significant other.”)
In “those days” (defined as my childhood in Watertown, Wisconsin), the Towne was not unlike the movie theater you’d see in … well, old movies. The ticket window was a small booth that faced the street, and patrons would line up on the sidewalk to buy their tickets from a lone theater employee, long before the days of pre-orders and online access.
Talking through a small, round grate cut into the window, the ticket purveyor would ask, “How many?” and after reporting the size of your party, you’d slide your cash through a small cutout, the same cutout in which your ticket(s) would be delivered, along with your change, moments later. Back in those days, there was no need to indicate what movie you were seeing; the Towne had only one screen.
Upon receiving your ticket(s), you’d enter a long lobby, dark and impressive, with posters along either side promoting upcoming blockbusters (some of which, no doubt, turned out to be massive flops). There, you’d give your tickets a well-appointed employee who would rip them in half, give you the “stub” and tell you to enjoy the movie (as though one needed a reminder).
As always, the smell of popcorn wafted invitingly throughout the place, luring one to the concession counter, where all sorts of treats and goodies were on display, back in the days when you could see a show and enjoy a box of popcorn, a soda and a package of Milk Duds for less than one’s weekly pay (after taxes, of course).
Upon purchasing your treats, you entered the dark, opulent theater from either side, and when I was a kid, this experience was not much different than the first time (and frankly, every time since) I entered a baseball stadium from the concourse.
Like the majestic sight of a huge field opening up to my eyes and ears, walking into a large, dark theater and seeing that massive screen, trimmed with velvet curtains and the rows and rows of plush, comfortable seats raised goosebumps on my arms and gave my stomach a jump-start of anxious anticipation as I looked around for just the right seat to see the feature of the day.
But I’m not here to wax nostalgic about my childhood and the role movies – and the Towne Cinema – played in it. I won’t tell you that it inspired me to write and direct my own movies, or that it sparked some entrepreneurial spirit in my gut, one that would lead me to a career building and operating cinemas around the country.
Because it didn’t. Instead, what I’m here to discuss is the restrooms of the Towne Cinema; specifically, the women’s restroom.
In the Towne, the men’s restroom was in the basement, while the women’s was on the main floor to the right of the concession stand. That said, once one purchased one’s snack, and assuming they had chosen to enter on the right side of the theater, one would pass the women’s restroom, and if that person was 1) not a female or 2) a female but one who didn’t require a restroom at the time, would keep making their way into the theater to find their seat.
Occasionally, while passing the women’s restroom, the door would be in some stage of “ajar” as one would pass, as was the case for yours truly in more than one instance.
And even to the young, untrained and casual pre-teen eye (I never intentionally peered into the room; it simply happened upon me) it was obvious that, unlike the spartan, dank environs of the men’s room (after all, it was in the basement), the women’s restroom told a different story, one of comfort and style, with multiple rooms and decorative feature.
To be clear, I never set foot in the women’s bathroom in the Towne Cinema or in any women’s bathroom (intentionally, anyway, though I did accidentally enter one at a mall one day; an experience I chalk up to bad sign placement … upon realizing the error, I immediately and quite rapidly exited with head down and eyes shielded just in case).
However, if memory serves (and I believe it does), I swear that on those rare occasions when someone was entering that restroom (one that seemed well-appointed and colorful, like someone inside might be serving tea and small cookies), I noticed a large, upholstered piece of furniture for several people to sit on (i.e., a couch), just inside, in the “lobby” of the women’s restroom.
Back then, it made me wonder two things: 1) Why in the world does a bathroom need a couch? and 2) If a bathroom needs a couch, how come there isn’t one in the men’s room as well? Please realize that these sophisticated musings were a product of a pre-teen brain at the time; however, I think should I stumble upon the situation even today, my questions would remain unchanged.
To this day, I can explain couches in office waiting rooms, on front lawns, porches and even in the middle (or on the side) of busy highways. I will neither regale nor bore you with my theories on any of them at this time, but rest assured, I have them and they are solid arguments all.
On the other, it still stumps me as to why a restroom requires a couch (even though the term “rest” is in the room’s name).
Maybe I’ll never know, but even if I’m given a reason, I’m not sure I’ll understand. That’s my cross to bear.
© 2022 David R. Haznaw