Morris drives through the lonely, snowy streets of Silt Ridge on his way to a boisterous preproduction meeting at the Five-Points Highway Diner. Down Second Avenue, he sees the Gypsum Palace Cinema, which is another prodigious local landmark, much like the Graphite County Opera House, where he and Verona Kendermants office and which is owned by Daddy. Morris remembers the first time he saw a movie at the storied Palace Cinema. He was seated alone in the ornate balcony, eagerly anticipating another installment of his favorite movie franchise, the comedy about cowboys on the moon. He loves it when the horses talk like they’re full of helium, in addition to the way they float over the lunar landscape. But something happens to really rattle Morris’ popcorn. His timid eyes are in no shape to partake of the shocking overhead mural . . .

Kudos for the Gypsum Palace Cinema

What Oyster Coal Meant to the Platinum Age

Down Venus Street, at the intersection of Second Avenue, is the neon-bathed testimony to an Art Deco-inspired masterpiece, the Gypsum Palace Cinema. The five-story, ornate structure features a sculpted frieze around the top of its ornamental exterior and a series of magnificent frescoes inside the monumental edifice across the interior dome of an imposing vaulted ceiling.

The architectural gem is arguably most noted for the subject matter of its friezes and frescoes. Or, quite possibly the presentation of said subject matter. The history of coalmining in the region from centuries ago is vividly portrayed, from the discovery of beloved Oyster coal to the advent of the Platinum-Age “Interplanetary Era,” which the refinement of the rare hemicellulose polymers made possible. Stalwart coalminers across bygone eras are portrayed in many aspects of their vocation in great bouts of sweat and discomfort. Indeed, their valiant labors don’t go unrewarded or unnoticed in this great effort to fuel spaceships and power lunar coffee shops.

Omitting Something Vital from Historical Perspective

The most visually arresting part of this artwork comes with the apparel–or lack thereof. All of the local coalminers depicted in these sprawling murals and masterpieces don’t have a stitch of clothing on, save for their scarred and dirty miners’ helmets. For decades, this has created a schism in this town wider than the Orcas Vein beneath the Windsor District. I personally side with the folks who profess indifference to the lurid artwork, basically a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude. Myself, I don’t care to look at all the muscular body parts, the straining limbs and appendages, but that’s just me.

I remember the first time I saw the cinema palace; well, I must tell you, I was quite taken aback. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I glanced a second time, and sure enough, this was like a locker room for the working class. Some things just don’t need to be seen. I knew right then that the sight of all those naked men was going to burn a hole into the core of my better sensibilities that I would never be able to get back.

Thankfully the Tile Guy Kept his Pants on

I have since learned my lesson: whenever I go to that movie house, I always look down at the floor. Thankfully, the guy who did the tiles wasn’t as obsessed with the coalminers’ anatomy. I am thankful that once I’m seated in the balcony, the lights are completely off and I’m spared from seeing the artful rendering above. Still, during a lull in the movie, my mind sometimes wanders, and I start thinking about how many naked coalminers are staring down at me from the graceful echelons of the sprawling vaulted ceiling. But I am not a proponent of plastering over the historical artwork, as some are. I refuse to let my own tastes and biases color the enjoyment and edification of others.

Cowboys on the Moon: Lunar Lassoes

I see on the big snow-encrusted marquee down the block that they are bringing back one of the all-time classics: a comedy about the first cowboys on the moon. I suddenly get a twinge of excitement, as the genesis for a new TV show comes to me. I want to call Noreen right away to pitch her.

Then I start thinking about the movie, I had seen it as a kid, and it was pretty hilarious when you thought about the horses trying to overcompensate for the lack of gravity. The protagonist was a sheriff who always had to deal with invaders from other dimensions. The movie ended with the camera zooming in on the earth until you’re able to see actual towns. Then, the cowboy drawls, “I sure do miss that ol’ rock.” And we fade out.

I could have sworn the camera zeroed in on Daddy’s compound on Lake Washington, but later found out it was in Hialeah, Florida. I should have known better: there were no mountains around.