Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poem: Going to the Rivoli in Downtown Paterson

Abandoned Theater - Photo by Mark Hillringhouse

Going to the Rivoli in Downtown Paterson
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

When we were growing up, we went to downtown Paterson
to the Rivoli theater on Main Street to see the latest movies
and the stars we loved – Rock Hudson, Doris Day,
Tab Hunter – the theater ornately carved with cherubs
and angels, elaborate moldings and glass chandeliers
and velvet curtains. That was when Paterson still thrived,
before the first shopping center opened in Elmwood Park
and then on Rte. 4, the Garden State Plaza and the Bergen
Mall, and people stopped taking the buses into downtown
to shop at Meyer Brothers where the elevator operators
wore white gloves and announced the goods on each floor,
before they stopped going to Quackenbush’s with its curving
stair that led to the restaurant where people with money
(or more money than we had) would stop for lunch
or to Berman’s for cashmere sweaters or to the Rivoli
or the Fabian to watch movies. That was in the fifties before
the wealthy people from the Eastside section moved out
to Fair Lawn or Glen Rock, before they moved to places
where they had to have a car because there was no
public transportation, before poor people started moving
into Paterson, people poorer than we were, the immigrants
who crowded into the ethnic neighborhoods
like the Totowa section or Riverside in the thirties and forties, and who
by the late fifties moved out, too, to blue collar suburbs, looking
for more space, bigger gardens, before they, too,
all bought cars and stopped walking or taking buses
and trains. On Saturdays, after school when I was a girl,
we’d take the bus downtown and we’d walk up and down
Main Street in and out of stores. We never bought anything,
but we liked wandering the aisles of Meyer Brothers,
spritzing ourselves with perfume, if we dared, and smelling
the leather purses we couldn’t afford. Then we’d retreat
to the Rivoli, to the elegance of the theater, to that moment
when they’d dim the lights and the movie would flash onto
the huge screen and we’d leave behind our ordinary lives
and enter the world of the film, a place
where people lived lives that were magical and glittering, a place
where people could have whatever they desired
and never have to count the costs.

This poem appears in Maria's collection Ancestor's Song and in the new poetry and photography volume Paterson Light and Shadow

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