"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan

Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

Screenplay for Portlandia

Scene one: A Portland Neighborhood

A male and female fire fighter are looking at a notice on the door of a house.  Smoke is coming out of the bottom and sides of the door.

Behind them across the street is a house on fire.  Two children are in a second story window crying out for help as smoke billows around them.

First Fireperson:  Is that a three or a two under dogs?

Second Fireperson:  Let’s assume it’s a three.

First Fireperson:  I wish they’d differentiate on the type of bird.  That Blue Macaw that surprised us last week was uncalled for.

They pull down their visors and break down the door.

In the background neighbors with a ladder are rescuing the children

Scene two:  A neighborhood in Portland.

A canvasser for OSPIRG is approaching a house.  From an opposite direction the fire fighters, now in civilian dress,  also approach’  The man is carrying a small potted plant.  The couple stop the canvasser:

Man:  Oh, you don’t want to knock on their door. They are in mourning.

Woman:  Yes, they just lost their 16 year old d (the canvasser assumes the d is the start of daughter)…dog.


Scene three:  A Portland neighborhood.


A canvasser for Environment Oregon walks up on a porch and knocks on the door.  It is opened by the female fire fighter in civilian dress.  She is holding a small elderly dog.

Canvasser:  Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m with Environment Oregon. We’re working to protect Crater Lake, and we’re looking for our member Carrie.

Carrie:  Oh, I am so sorry.  I just can’t renew my membership this year.  Portlandia (she indicates the dog) just got out of the hospital and the bill was $12,000 dollars.  She also is taking seven different medicines and her special diet is costing three hundred a month.

Scene four:  Alberta Street in front of the Tin Shed Garden Cafe.


The fire fighter couple approach, enter and are shown to a table. They pick up menus.


Man:  What looks good to you?

Woman:  Gosh, we should have brought Portlandia!  There are three items on the menu for dogs.

Scene Five:  The couple are in a car.  They stop at a light.  A homeless man with a sign approaches them.  In back of him is a billboard.




Alfred Hitchcock and Me

On November 19th I took the train from Portland to Olympia. That night as a guest of the Olympia Film Festival I showed a program of films I had rescued from trash cans. I  also introduced the screening of the recently found Alfred Hitchcock related film The White Shadow. In the introduction it would have taken much too long to have told the story of Mr. Hitchcock and me.  Instead I gave some brief biographical information and then to illustrate just how dangerous introducing a film at a festival could be I told the story of how Werner Herzog was introduced to the crowd at the 2rd Seattle International Film Festival in Seattle in 1977. Since there is no time limit here, I now can tell the not as exciting story of my long relationship with the great film maker Alfred Hitchcock.

I was six years old when the film Psycho came out. You had to be there to understand just how exciting it was to just about every sentient being in the world. For what seemed ages it was Psycho, Psycho and more Psycho. At that time my mother was keeping a boarding house of college girls from nearby Clark Jr. College who studied nursing. It seemed that every one of those girls, and their various boyfriends, had an opinion on Psycho, whether they had seen it or not. Since there was no such thing as Google exactly what happened in the film seemed a big mystery to everyone talking about it. The general consensus was that it was the most terrifying film ever made and very possibly the watching of it might result in death by fright. In other words it was even scarier than the scariest film ever, House On Haunted Hill, that had appeared the year before.

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Not much later I met Mr. Hitchcock in person. Or at least as in person his weekly TV show Alfred Hitchock Presents could bring him into our home. His introduction would be preceded by the Charles Gounod music “Funeral March of a Marionette” over a profile line drawing consisting of of just nine strokes that Mr. Hitchcock himself had drawn. He then would come from the left of the screen and fill in the drawn profile. From there he would personally introduce that night’s show with droll comments such as, as well as I remember, “This is a revolver. It can be used to attain money in towns where one is not well known.” The shows were routinely good, but could never top Mr. Hitchcock’s personal appearances.

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A few weeks ago I had to give a deposition in regard to a traffic accident. The one attorney said to the other attorney “I assume you’ve filed a general denial?” I then said “You know that he’s not a military man.” The attorney said “Huh?” I said “General Denial.” He just stared at me. Funny guys, attorneys. He laughed nervously after I explained the joke. It was a variation on a joke I got from from Alfred Hitchcock on the Dick Cavett show.

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 While still in my teens I saw his 1972 film Frenzy at the Blue Mouse Theater in Portland, Oregon upon its inititial release.


I don’t recall ever watching an Alfred Hitchock film on TV or on video or digitally. I have either seen or shown the large majority of his films in theaters. I began working as a projectionist at the Movie House, an art and revival theater in the University District of Seattle, in 1973. I lived in an apartment above the theater and attended the nearby University of Washington. Early in my projectionist career I ran The 39 Steps. It was a great time for revival screenings with old films being available on the big screen in more than a dozen theaters in the Seattle area. Due to my being a projectionist I got in free to all of them via professional courtesy. I was able to see the more famous of his films; Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rebecca, Strangers On a Train, and others in various Seattle theaters. I saw Shadow of a Doubt in a film class at the UW taught by Richard T. Jameson. This was before video. It and other films in the class were screened in 16mm.

Teresa Wright - Life Magazine [United States] (16 December 1946)

After the screening of Shadow of a Doubt I wrote my first and last  fan letter. It was to Teresa Wright in New York. She was appearing there in a play. I told her I would be taking Spring quarter off from school to ride freight trains around the country and would like to meet her when I got to New York. She sent a very nice reply which did not state out loud she thought I was nuts. I embarked on the freight train riding trip in April of 1976. I spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago but didn’t make it to New York. The security in rail yards increased the farther East I got. I was taken to jail in North Platte, Nebraska, and narrowly avoided the same in Salt Lake City and Laramie, Wyoming.

On that trip I did not see a single Hitchcock film. I should add here that he was not a large interest with me. He was just part of the great history of film I was interested in. In San Francisco I saw Maytime with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy at a nickelodeon era theater on Powell Street. In Los Angeles I saw a great double feature of  The Old Dark House and She (Who Must Be Obeyed) at the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica.

In Chicago I made a bee line to the Biograph Theater on North Lincoln Street.  That was where John Dillinger watched Manhattan Melodrama before exiting the theater and being shot dead by the Feds.  There I saw a Bette Davis double feature of The Letter and Now Voyager.


 Back in Seattle I was able to see Dial M For Murder in 3-D. It was included in a 3-D festival in Ballard. Ballard is a neighborhood in Seattle that is most well known for a large Scandinavian population and the most profitible liquor store in the state. I saw a bunch of his more or less famous movies in a series at the Seattle Art Museum that included Saboteur, Notorious, Stage Fright, Under Capricorn,  Rope, and others.  In a film class taught by Kathleen Murphy I saw Life Boat.

When I took over operation of the Rose Bud Movie Palace in Seattle in 1979 one of the first films I showed was Foreign Correspondent. Soon after that I showed Jamaica Inn. I got them from Kit Parker Films.

In the late eighties I showed films in the Jewel Box Theater, located inside the Rendezvous Restaurant, in Seattle. Nearby was the Film Exchange Building. It had been built in 1928 to house the offices of many Hollywood studios including Universal, Columbia, RKO, and others. MGM had its own small building across the street. Paramount Pictures was up the street. The area was called Film Row and through it passed almost all the Hollywood movies that were shown in Washington, Idaho and Montana for the next fifty years. In an effort to save the Film Exchange Building, I employed Mr. Hitchcock in an event. It was the public trial and execution of a television set for the crime of murder of revival movies on the big screen.


The event involved the slow hoisting of a working TV set to the top of a not very tall building as scenes of destruction were shown on it through a video of Koyaanisqatsi.  At the top of the improvised gibbet we changed the video to the climactic scene of Saboteur where Norman Lloyd, as the character Fry, is hanging off the edge of the hand of the Statue of Liberty.  Barry, played by Robert Cummings, tries to save him but is left just holding Fry’s empty sleeve. As Fry fell we dropped the TV.

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It was a sunny day so it was darned hard to see anything on the TV set. In hindsight I can see how that was sort of to the point of how crummy a TV image is in comparison to the big screen. We gave away free popcorn and everyone had a good time. One defender of the TV set did appear, a drunken man who said he didn’t own a TV and wanted us to spare it and give it to him. He was ignored.

At the Pike Street Cinema, a storefront movie theater that was created for six hundred dollars with the help of Beth Rozier and Doug Stewart in 1992 in Seattle, I showed as many of Hitchock’s British films as I could find to rent. Most of them came from The Em Gee Film Library in Reseda, California. Among them were The Lodger, Easy Virtue, The Manxman, Blackmail, and most of the sound British films that followed.


In 1995 I dismantled the Pike Street Cinema and loaded it into a truck that I drove to New York. There in 1996 I created The Lighthouse Theater for somewhat more than six hundred bucks and the help of several friends. During the short life of the Lighthouse I did not show a single Hitchcock film. Living in New York on and off over the next ten years I did see more Hitchcock films, some for the second or third time, at the Film Forum and other venues.

Now the ability to see Hitchcock on the big screen has pretty much vanished. It is piquant to consider that I first saw his work from the end of his career as new product and then was able to watch the earlier films as revivals until the revival business was replaced by home theater systems. This may be off topic, but I saw an outdoor screening of The Wizard of Oz last year on a huge screen in a park. Unfortunately the image had been stretched to wide screen. Poor Judy Garland and all the others looked like they had put on forty pounds. No one complained. I wonder how much more of that will occur?  Could  Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window someday look more like Laird Cregar than himself.


Which at last gets us to last fall and me standing on the stage of the Capital Theater in Olympia to introduce The White Shadow.  Here is that story.

The 2rd Seattle International Film Festival was much bigger than the first and could not have been successful without the hard work of dozens of people. One of the most important was a young man named James. He was an unpaid intern who was always available to do any task asked of him, and do it well. During the festival he spent many nights sleeping on a sofa in the basement of the theater. He worked himself into a position of hierarchy just below Darryl MacDonald and Dan Ireland who had turned the staid old Moore Theater (1907) into the exciting Moore Egyptian Theater and the first home of the SIFF.


On the night of Werner Herzog’s appearancel James asked for his reward. All he wanted was to introduce Werner Herzog to the audience. Dan Ireland laughed in James’ face and denied the request. He told him that Rajeeve Gupta would introduce Werner.  Rajeeve had come to Seattle to attend the University of Washington. As a child in India he had appeared in Satyajit Ray films. He had international contacts with film makers and was responsible for a large part of the success of the first festivals. James stood stunned as Dan walked off. After a minute or so he walked to the concession bar and filled a large cup up with Coke, no ice.

The lobby of the Moore can correctly be called cavernous. Where Werner was standing at the door to the stage he could not see Rajeeve standing thirty feet away around a corner. James walked up behind Rajeeve and called his name. As Rajeeve turned, James threw the large cup of Coke at him. The Coke caught Rajeeve in the face and chest and seemed to envelope him in sticky carbonated wetness.  James left the astonished Rejeeve gasping and walked to the stage door. He took Werner by the arm and escorted him onto the stage. The audience greeted them warmly with James giving a very good introduction.  He then walked Werner back to the lobby, left him there, and exited through the front doors, never to be seen again.

After telling the story to the Olympia crowd I sat down to watch The White Shadow. Just how Hitchcockian was it? Not a lot. He was credited as  writer, production designer, art director, and set designer. The direction by Graham Cutts showed nothing of  Hitchock’s flair or originality. Betty Compson appeared in a duel role with Clive Brook as the man caught between. The story is told competently for a couple of reels and then a couple of reels are missing and then there is most of the ending.  There  I finally saw something of Hitchcock’s genius. A long scene takes place in a nightclub. Here is where Hitchock the set designer could shine. The nightclub is a crackerjack wonderful spooky art deco place. In it are dozens of characters in fabulous outfits. The creaky plot only gets in the way of enjoying Hitchock’s vision of what decadent night clubbing could be. Putting that aside one can just revel in his vision and realize it is just the beginning of one of the greatest cinematic careers ever.



Carolina in the Morning

When I was growing up there were certain songs that were much more than words and music.  They seemed be part of the fabric of existence.  They were as much a part of American life as a street or a house or a tree.  Some were instrumentals, melodies I had no idea of the name of.  Some were repeatedly used as accompaniment for dance acts on TV.   Later I found a couple of those songs were   “Fine and Dandy” and “Poppin’ the Cork” .

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Others were songs with lyrics from Tin Pan Alley that had outlasted their ilk to lodge in the minds of the multitudes such as  “I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover,”   “Button Up Your Overcoat,” and “When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin Along,”   Everyone knew them without ever realizing just how, maybe not knowing all of the lyric,  always recognizing the tune  and probably being able to sing the opening bars and hum the rest.

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Some of the songs were of greater antiquity such as “Dixie,” My Darling Clementine,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

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One song, out of what must be hundreds,  deserves further comment.  That is “Carolina In the Morning” which was composed by Walter Donaldson in 1922 with lyrics by Gus Kahn.  It falls into a sub-genre of these songs in that not only did few people really know the lyrics, but that other lyrics, of the obscene kind, seemed to have superseded them.

I had good friend in high school named Mike Brech who was both a talented visual artist and a good singer.  He had a band called “The Electric Link” that played around the area and once was the opening act for the “Box Tops” at some dance hall in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  He told me the Box Tops could barely play their instruments.

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I cannot repeat here the lyrics to “Carolina in the Morning” that Mike would sing.  I don’t think he made them up, but whoever did, they were obscene.

In college at the University of Washington in Seattle I got involved with a group of people who were into jazz music of the Twenties and Thirties.  Many of them played in the big band The Swingland Express and in a smaller group called The Salmon City Seven.  For fun they would have jam sessions.  Some of the best were after hours at a bar called Skippers Tavern on Eastlake East.  The bartender there was a bass player. Musicians would show up at closing time and after the front door was locked the fun and music would begin.  To give you an idea of just how old the songs were that were played here is a story.  One night a reeds player showed up named Mike Edwards.  He was talented on both clarinet and soprano sax.  That night, after an hour or two of music, there was a longish pause between songs. The piano player Buck Evans asked “What should we play?”   Mike said “How about Girl From Ipanema?”  Buck replied “OK.”

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 The longish pause continued for a few more minutes.  Then Buck again asked “What should we play?”  Mike replied “I thought we were going to play Girl From Ipanema.”  Buck replied “I thought you were kidding.”

Eventually they played “Ain’t No Sweet Man’s Worth the Salt of My Tears.”

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Before the piano player Ross Harrison moved to New York there were many jam sessions at his house not far from Skippers Tavern.  The party was always in the daylight basement, which being on the down hill side,  had a nice view of Lake Union.  It was still early in the evening when Buck asked the singer Odessa Swan if she knew the song “Carolina in the Morning.”  She replied “None clean enough to sing in public.”   Instead she sang “Did I Remember,” which coincidentally was also written by Walter Donaldson.  A little later an attractive young woman, high as a kite, attracted by the music, wearing nothing but a string of pearls, wandered in.

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Recently I decided to finally learn the lyrics to Carolina in the Morning.  They are more complicated than you’d guess.  Mike Brech’s alternate lyrics just covered the first 16 bars.   That was also what I had always known; with the bridge and what followed a mystery.   It really is a wonderful song.

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The Rat In the Popcorn

Published in Otherzine issue 2
by Dennis Nyback

It was in the late 70’s at Seattle’s Moore-Egyptian Theater, home of the Seattle International Film Festival, that the incident of the dead rat happened. When the theater was built in 1907 it was just called “The Moore” but when a couple of young bon vivants from Canada in 1974 decided to turn its’ two balconies, six stage boxes, 1500 seats and an orchestra pit into a movie theater, they thought calling it the “Egyptian” would give it that air of an old-time movie palace. The fact that most of the old-timemovie palaces in

Seattle had already been razed, or soon would be, didn’t seem to bother them, but then drug use can have that effect on one’s perceptions. It took a large staff to run the old barn and with the drug use, romantic attachments, and just plain sexual licentiousness, not everyone got along. This story concerns four of them: Three candy girls and a janitor.
It was in the late 70’s at Seattle’s Moore-Egyptian Theater, home of the Seattle International Film Festival, that the incident of the dead rat happened. When the theater was built in 1907 it was just called “The Moore” but when a couple of young bon vivants from Canada in 1974 decided to turn its’ two balconies, six stage boxes, 1500 seats and an orchestra pit into a movie theater, they thought calling it the “Egyptian” would give it that air of an old-time movie palace. The fact that most of the old-timemovie palaces in Seattle had already been razed, or soon would be, didn’t seem to bother them, but then drug use can have that effect on one’s perceptions. It took a large staff to run the old barn and with the drug use, romantic attachments, and just plain sexual licentiousness, not everyone got along. This story concerns four of them: Three candy girls and a janitor.
Two of the candy girls had been working there for a while when the third one was hired. Needless to say, for no tangible reasons, they hated her. The janitor had been there longer and he didn’t like anybody, but then nobody liked him either. One day he found a dead rat in the auditorium and instead of giving it a decent burial, or just throwing it out with the trash, he decided it would be fun to put it in some conspicuous place behind the candy counter where the girls would happen upon it and scream. Whether or not they screamed when they found it I do not know,
all I know is that the new girl wasn’t around when the other two discovered it and they decided it was the perfect thing to use to put the new girl in her place. They kept it hidden, waiting patiently for the perfect moment, and eventually there was one. The new girl, not smart enough to pour sodas, was in charge of popcorn. While her back was to the machine, one of the girls quickly brought out the dead rat and adroitly dropped it into an empty popcorn cup. The plan was that the new girl would turn, pick up the cup, look inside, scream and walk off the job never to return again.
The plan worked perfectly, up to a point. The only problem was that after picking up the cup she didn’t look inside, didn’t see the dead rat, didn’t scream, and didn’t walk off the job. What she did do was fill the cup with popcorn, covering the dead rat, and served it to an unsuspecting customer who had no idea of the movie palace intrigues behind the scenes. Roughly ten minutes later, the scream was finally heard and shortly thereafter a very upset man came charging out of the auditorium,
vomitus dripping from his chin, holding the popcorn cup as far away from his body as his arms could reach. He had spent ten minutes eating the unbeknownst-to-him-rat-contaminated popcorn and put it in his mouth and then, at the bottom of the cup, his hand found the dead rat. No one knows if he mistook the rat for a large clump of popcorn and put it in his mouth, but even without that, he had every right to be upset.
The only people in the cavernous lobby were the three candy girls, so he charged across to them and thrust the dead rat under their noses and demanded to know how it got into his popcorn. The new girl was understandably amazed and the other two were quick enough on their feet to imitate her. About this time, the word “lawsuit” first entered the discourse, and other than a flat denial, the candy girls couldn’t think up a plausible story. By this time, the manager on duty had wandered by and sizing up the situation, more accurately than most people would give him credit for, said “It must have been delivered in the pre-pop.” His quick thinking cleverly shifted the specter of a lawsuit away from the theater and directed it at a company called Harlan Fairbanks, supplier of most of the Pre-Popped Popcorn sold in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. As ridiculous as it may seem to suppose that a dead rat could be delivered in a clear plastic bag, emptied into the popcorn machine and scooped into an individual cup without anyone noticing, the guilty candy girls immediately seized on it as the gospel truth.
The damaged patron, faced with the blanket denials of everyone present, finally wrote down all of their names and left the building. He took the popcorn cup nad the dead rat with him. After a couple of months, the brouhaha died down and I suppose that the customer finally gave up his plans of instant wealth when confronted with the righteous stonewalling from everyone at the Moore-Egyptian and at the Harlan Fairbanks company.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The new candy girl survived the nefarious plot and eventually became good friends with the other girls. The janitor had to clean up the vomit and never did become well liked, but I suppose that was a result of his questionable sense of humor.

(Note: You can visit the official website for the Moore-Egyptian theatre at http://www.themoore.com/main.html)

Hollywood Garbage and How to Smell It

Published in Otherzine Issue One

The continuing waste of Newspaper space in the Arts and Entertainment pages on Hollywood movies mystifies and appalls me. Please be advised that I use the term Hollywood very loosely and intend it to cover 90% of current films. For roughly twenty years, the films being churned out have had nothing to do with art and everything to do with money. If these films should be reported on at all it should be in the financial section. The Arts & Entertainment pages should report on just that: films that qualify.
How is that we’ve arrived at this desperate place? In the late Seventies, the big motion picture producers hit on a formula
for money-making movies and have stuck to it. The big secret of the formula is the concept of structured mediocrity. Don’t strive for greatness, play it safe. Don’t challenge the audience, feed them pabulum. Filmmaker John Woo recently said “Movies today lack heart and tears. Studios don’t want to take the risk”.

In contrast, Robert Browning once said “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”. That statement is the antithesis of Hollywood today. They realize that art is not created by playing it safe but instead of reaching further, they grasp the easily attainable. Over and over and over. The critics have apparently failed to notice this and continue to take part in this colossal fraud by writing about the same old shit.

The steady growth of the pure Garbage spewed out every year results in a massive waste of newspaper ink and pulp. The modern market of exponenentially increasing multiplexes, short theatrical runs, unlimited TV channels, and video outlets, effectively monopolizes the limited available newspaper space. As a result, films made by people whose vision goes beyond profit are lost in the flood of celluloid sewage with its mega ad camapigns. This tacit conspiracy between film producers and newspapers almost guarantees that films made for profit will succeed and films made for art will fail.

The first part of the formula for box-office success that I mentioned earlier is an overriding philosophy. The most important thing is to strive for mediocrity. The mediocre film doesn’t need to generate huge box office in the theatres. It may take a while but product placement alone offsets much of the cost. After the US theatrical run comes the Overseas markets, TV, and Video. The only way to screw this up is to try and make a better film. A film that challenges an audience, that is thought-provoking and something more than chewing gum for the eyes is the only one that can fail.

The second part of the standard formula emphasizes style over substance and includes the followng dictates:

  • Start with a concept, not a script, writing is not important.
  • Never depend on the vision of one writer but get a committee so that one writer can spot the mistakes the others are making.
  • Get a star, acting is not important.
  • Get a bombastic composer. The composer is more important than the writer. Good writing is rare and difficult. So, why bother doing that when you can stir the emotions with loud music. (In certain films aimed at the baby-boom generation, a composer is not even neded; a disc-jockey is. Select the right blend of golden oldies a la Quentin Tarentino and you’re home free!)
  • Get some special effects, again volume not content is important.
  • Most importantly, tack on a happy ending. Voila! It goes down easy and has no side effects such as being remembered a week later when the same thing is dressed up and trotted out again.
I say that this has now been going on for twenty years based on a conversation reported in the New York Times several years ago. The reporter followed a maverick Hollywood producer around for awhile and wrote about him. At one point he is having lunch with a mainstream producers and says to him “Remember how great some of those films were back in the Seventies when they would actually have unhappy endings? Films like MEAN STREETS and THE PARALLAX VIEW and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER?” The mainstream guy just looked at him like he was an idiot and said “Oh, that. That all ended with ROCKY!”.The producers have realized this but the critics still haven’t caught on. Many critics are now simply “Quote Whores”. They will try to include one catchy line in every review they write in the hope that it will be used and credited to them in the advertisements. As long as they get their name in the ads, their career is a success. No matter how lousy a film is, it can always find a half dozen critics who will say it’s great in some quotable way. In today’s New York Times, Siskel and Ebert give “two thumbs up” to seven crummy movies. They also trot out the tried and true “A great date film” for an eighth. Paul Wunder is quoted as saying THE LOST WORLD is “The entertainment event of the decade”. Maria Sales says CONAIR is “The Roller-coaster ride of your life”. Joel Siegal says SPEED 2 is “A great summer film”. Janet Maslin says BREAKDOWN “Packs a punch”. It goes on and on. Silly overstatement, mindless hyperbole, trite cliches and out and out lies.

To help people to just say no to Hollywood Garbage, I offer the following ten suggestions:

  1. Never go to a film because it is “The Number One Film In America”
  2. Never go to a film that used more than two script writers or is based on a best selling novel.
  3. Never go to a film that advertises its soundtrack on sale. Especially if it lists several artists as being featured on the soundtrack.
  4. Never go to a film because you saw it advertised on Television or because the trailer had a hilarious line. Trailers were once used to hint at what you would see. They didn’t want to give anything away free but make you shell out money to watch. Today they use the best scenes and funniest lines to sucker you into believing that there’s plenty more where that came from.
  5. Never go to a film that features product tie-ins with any multi-national burger chain.
  6. Never go to a film that runs an advertisemet with guns pointing at your or that has a number after its title.
  7. Never go to a film if it’s based on a true story and you’re expecting the truth.
  8. Never go to a film based on a TV show that baby-boomers remember.
  9. Never go to a film that is so bad that even Siskel and Ebert don’t like it and the producers have to resort to some quote whore you’ve never heard of from an equally obscure publication.
  10. Never go to a film with Quentin Tarentino, Oliver Stone, or anyone else that you care to add to this list.

That’s enough for now. See you at the Movies!

Ten Years in Short A report from 2005

Published in Otherzine Issue 11    Aug 2006

Bad Bugs BunnyIt was a Monday in late September of 1996. I was sitting in my movie theater, The Lighthouse, on Suffolk Street at Rivington, in New York, when the phone rang. It was the New York Times calling. I had been waiting for the call for two months. It was about a feature article, with pictures, about my theater. The story had been written in July and been waiting for available space. The caller told me it would be in the Thursday edition. They wanted me to proof the story for errors. I told them not to run the story. My lease was up at the end of the month and I would be closing the theater and vacating the premises. It was not an uncommon New York story. I had taken a rough space a year earlier and had transformed it into a movie theater. The theater had been written up in all of the New York papers and in a couple of magazines. The Village Voice had led off a “Best in the City” feature with “To The Lighthouse,” a glowing story about my place and me. With the year lease coming to an end my landlord had told me that the new lease would be at over three times the old. I supposed that was because through my efforts the place was much nicer than when I had found it. The landlord realized I could go to court and challenge an eviction. He offered me ten thousand dollars if I would leave quietly. Good press doesn’t always mean good business. I had barely survived the first year. The twenty thousand dollar nest egg I had arrived in New York with was gone. There was no way I could pay three times as much rent. I took the money. It was a wise decision. Six months later my landlord made the front page of the Post for trying to kill two tenants who refused similar offers.

In February I will be showing films at the Cinema Village. What have I been doing the previous ten years? The years as a theater owner, in Seattle as well as New York, had left me the owner of thousands of short films. After closing The Lighthouse I managed to eke out a living curating programs from my collection for various venues in New York, the West Coast, and abroad. My most requested programs include Bad Bugs Bunny, Stag Party Special, Fuck Mickey Mouse, The Mormon Church Explains It All To You, The Dark Side of Dr. Suess, Billie Holiday From First to Last, and The Effect of Dada and Surrealism On Hollywood Movies of the 1930’s. In all I have created over three hundred film programs. In New York I would regularly show films at The Cinema Village, The Pratt Institute, The Collective Unconscious, and at bars and art galleries. Every spring I would take films to Europe. In the summer I would escape the heat of the city by showing films on the west coast.

‘Bosko In Person’ (1933) It was a nice life. It lasted until 1999. In June I was showing films in Portland, Oregon, at the Clinton Street Theater. The Clinton had been a regular stop on my west coast tours. I would usually do a one week run of fourteen film programs. Arriving at the theater I was told it would be closing at the end of the summer. It was the oldest continuously running movie theater in the United States. I made an agreement with my ex-wife in Seattle to take over operation of the theater on September 1st. We had operated a theater together before, and we both liked the challenge of reviving a 350 seat neighborhood movie house built ninety years ago.

I arrived back in New York on July 15 by way of San Francisco. A friend had promised me $100 if I arrived on that date to show films at a gallery. I did the show and was given fifty bucks. Not everyone in NY is as honorable as my former landlord who is now in prison. Twelve days later I rented a truck and collected things I had in storage in several places around Manhattan. That included a pair of 35mm projectors that I had loaned to Films Charas on East 9th. My 1938 Rockola juke box was at Rick Prellinger’s film archive space in the Meatpacking District. Some filing cabinets, theater seats, and other furniture was in the basement of the Cultural Center across the street from Lighthouse. Various things, including my collection of vintage baseball bats, were in the old Andy Warhol warehouse on St. Marks. I managed to collect everything except the theater seats which I donated to the cultural center and the baseball bats which were gone. It wasn’t the end of the world. What actual use did I have for vintage bats engraved with the names of Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Paul Waner, and other Hall of Fame players? The hard job started the next day. My films were stored in Staten Island at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. They occupied half of the top floor of a three story building. It had been built in the 1880’s. The building had a tin roof and no insulation. The city was sweltering under a heat wave when I started moving the films into the truck. Working by myself it took two days of carrying forty pound loads down three flights of stairs. I don’t know what the temperature was in the room under the tin roof. After descending the stairs and stepping outside it would feel cool in the near 100 degrees heat. On the walk back up I would stop to drink a cup of water. On July 30 the truck was fully loaded. I was ten pounds lighter. It was my 46th birthday.

Defining the 1970’s Through Classic Commercials I arrived in Portland on July 11. I was lucky to be alive. The brakes on the truck had gone out in Huntington, Indiana. I was able to stop the truck without damaging anything. The truck company arranged to have the brakes repaired there. Huntington is the home of the Dan Quayle Museum. I had a very pleasant couple of hours there looking at mementos from Huntington’s favorite native son. Back on the road the truck was fine until I neared Iowa City. Going up what seemed to be the only hill in the state there was the loudest bang I had ever heard. It was followed by a sound like a metal bat hitting the inside of garbage can. The truck lost power. I coasted to a stop on the side of the interstate. The bang had been the sound of the drive line breaking. The banging was the sound of the broken drive line hitting the underside of the truck. Parts of the underside were ripped up pretty good. The gas tank was only dented. That was lucky. Tearing the gas tank would have resulted in a fireball that probably would have killed me. Walking along the freeway to an on-ramp that would have a phone I was picked up by a biker who -must have seen the stopped truck and decided to take pity on me. He was a Viet Nam vet on a Harley on his way to the big bike meet in Sturgis.

I spent two nights in Iowa City waiting for the truck to be repaired. It is a nice town. The only drawback was that several bikers on the way to Sturgis were staying at my motel. Many of them were early risers who didn’t like to hit the road before idling and revving their engines for several minutes. The bikers would start about five in the morning and keep it up until I got of bed an hour or two later. I was almost half way to Portland and getting nervous. I shouldn’t have been – the truck was repaired and the forced rest had done me good. The truck labored crossing the Rockies but made it over the top. I arrived in Portland without any further trauma. My arrangement with the Clinton was to do seventeen nights of films starting on Friday the thirteenth of August. The theater would use the money to pay off debts. I took over the theater on September 1. While running the theater I could still take time to go to Europe in spring.

Bad Bugs Bunny In 2003 I left the Clinton Street Theater, moved to New York and got married. The theater is still in business and doing well. I am going to Europe in April to show films. Once again I will be traveling without corporate sponsorship, public funding or private grants. But things have changed in the ten years since my first tour. As a freelance ambassador of American culture, I am always treated well, but I can see that the image of America has suffered in the eyes of Europeans. Last year I showed a program called Cartoons Too Violent For Children. In Poitiers, France, a young man, visibly upset, asked me why I had included a Superman cartoon in the program. He claimed that it was just a metaphor for George Bush running roughshod over the world. Murmurs in the crowd showed agreement with him. I was taken aback. To me it was just a violent cartoon. I know the reaction to it would have been different ten years earlier. Just as there have been changes in my life, there have been changes in the world. The changes in my life have all been for the good.


Land of a Thousand Balconies by Jack Stevenson was published in 2003. It has a chapter called “The Nyback Chronicles.” The story of the Lighthouse is in that chapter. In 2004 I received a call from a young man in Portland Oregon. He was opening a small movie theater and wanted to call it The Lighthouse. That was fine with me. The Lighthouse lives on.

I made my first film tour of Europe in 1995; since then I have made seven more tours of Europe as well as Japan, Korea, Australia, Iceland, England, and the USA. 2005 may be my last tour of Europe.

Bad Bugs Bunny, first presented in 1995, remains the most popular film program I have created.

Note from 3/3/12:  2005 was not my last film tour of Europe.  Last year in early March I was flown to Tampere, Finland for the wonderful festival there.  It was my first time in Finland.  Both of my grandparents on my father’s side were born there.  I remained in Europe for a month and then had a week showing films in England after that.

An American in Paris 2004

Original title which I never liked   “Rapt at Unwrapped Bread”

By Dennis Nyback

Published in The New York Spirit  (New York City) June 10, 2004

While standing in line last week in a grocery store in New York, I
noticed the man in front of me was buying a gallon of water. I asked
him how much it would cost. He said $3.79. I thought to myself,
there’s the signal difference between America and France. In France,
red wine costs less than Coca Cola. In America, gas costs less than

Every year I travel in Europe for a month or so, taking my films on
tour. I don’t stay in hotels; I stay with the people who have booked my
programs. I have been doing this for nine years. When I hear George W.
Bush say we are fighting in Iraq for “our way of life”, I know exactly
what he means. We do live differently than they do.

In Europe escalators work on demand. They do not endlessly run while
no one is using them. They sit idle when not needed and start up when
you approach them. Apartment building stairs are not lit twenty four
hours a day. When you step into a dark stairway you will see a lighted
switch. You turn the switch and the lights go on for as long as it
normally takes to climb the stairs. They then go off, until they are
needed again. European apartment kitchens and bathrooms use small water
heaters that work on demand. In America, big water heaters keep
hundreds of gallons of waters hot and ready twenty four hours a day.
Many European apartments have a clothes washer. I have seen only one
with a clothes dryer.

In America everyone gets a bag with every purchase to be later thrown
away and take up space in a land fill. In Europe people provide their
own cloth bags when shopping at grocery stores. Unwrapped loaves of
bread peep out of cloth bags or are held nakedly in hands. At small
patisseries and frankfurter stands your food is handed you on a small
square of paper. Paris streets have very little trash, but the trash
you do see is from MacDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut. It is a
peculiarly American practice to put a hamburger in a Styrofoam
container and place that inside a paper bag.

Gasoline in Europe costs roughly twice as much as it does in America.
In cities people walk or take public transportation. Many smaller
cities in Europe, Munich and Nuremberg for example, have subways.
Trains criss cross the continent. They are comfortable and they run
on time. Danish trains cross bodies of water on specially designed
ferries. Train stations are in the center of the towns and are reached
by public transportation or on foot. On average people are slimmer
than Americans. Could it be walking and not eating fast food has
something to do with it?

I wish more Americans would travel in Europe. I’ll bet that George W.
Bush never went to Europe before he could fly on Air Force One. Maybe
if he had walked through Berlin when he was young, he would have a
deeper understanding of what can happen to a country which prioritizes
putting itself on “war footing”. But Bush is not a curious man.
Overall, Americans are not a curious people.
Only fifteen percent of all Americans have passports. That means only
fifteen percent of us are in a position to judge for ourselves the wide
variety of possible meanings for the phrase “our way of life”. In
France it is affordable wine. In America it is affordable gas. Both
require price supports. Both are national policy. But French soldiers
are not dying to guarantee that a Frenchman can buy a bottle of wine.
In Europe, many small things are done to conserve energy. I’ve seen
how they work. To Europeans, our decision to pursue our abundantly
fossil fueled lifestyle at all cost, without taking these same
conservation measures at home, must seem nothing short of insane.

The Dog Show/The Bike Show 2002

by Dennis Nyback

Published in Otherzine Issue five


Sunday, July 27, was BRING YOUR DOGGIE TO DOGGIE FILM SHOW DAY at the Clinton St. Theater. Yes, doggie films for an audience of at least forty-five dogs and their owners. If you were there you’d have been in dog heaven. A very nice assemblage. big dogs, small dogs, one in a doggie wheel chair, and no un-attractive women brought in as a joke. The dogs were very well behaved. They were also appreciative. During certain scenes a bark of approval was heard. At least I assume they were barking in approval. Other than having several dogs around while growing up, I don’t know that much about them. The house lights were left up a little so the dears wouldn’t get confused in the dark.

The program appropriately started with Puddy the Pup (1936) in…………………………..SCAT CATS! Apparently most of the dogs were illiterate as the title card did not get the response it deserved. The second film was Shep The Farm Dog (1940) a nice black and white oooold educational. This one elicited barks when Shep would run directly at the camera. That sort of action seemed to draw most of the dog’s attention. The next film was Step Lively (1919) starring Harold Lloyd and an un-credited Boston Terrier. Harold tries to steal a hot dog and the Terrier makes his life miserable for the next ten minutes of this one reel short. This one got a big round of applause by the humans. Then came Washee Ironee (1934) with Pete the Our Gang dog (and the rest of the cast). Too bad a lot of these Our Gang shorts can no longer be seen due to their suppression in the interest of erasing evidence of America’s past stereotypical treatment of blacks.

There was then a ten minute break in case anyone needed trip to the toilet or the nearest tree.

The show resumed for the relieved attendees with Tippy The Town Dog (1957) an amazingly dumb and wonderful educational, in Kodachrome. A not too bright ten year old wheedles himself into the ownership of a stray mutt. The title character than runs off. The suspense is incredible as we follow the boy in search of Tippy and follow Tippy’s near misses with automobiles. There is of course a happy reunion at the end.

The triumphant end of the show was provided by Teddy At The Throttle (1916) starring KEYSTONE TEDDY! Also in the cast were Gloria Swanson, Bobby Vernon and Wallace Beery. I’d call Teddy a Great Dane. He absolutely steals the show when he leaps from a second floor window, dives from a cliff into a raging river, and vaults into the cab of speeding locomotive to save Gloria’s life. The audience erupted in barks, cheers and applause at the end of the program.

The mess left behind was much lighter than that left by the people who come to Rocky Horror. The best thing was: a good time was had by all.


In the middle of July I was asked to take part in an interesting event. A rabid bicyclist named Gail Buteau decided to have an outdoor circus and film show. She rounded up a traveling three person circus. They were from New Orleans and were driving around the country in a re-fitted bread truck. It was kind of like an old time medicine show. I would provide the films. They would feature bicycles, circus acts, jazz and dance. The electricity for everything would be generated by seven bicyclists pedaling like mad. A local artisan who makes things out of junked bicycles built the device. It involved two automobile alternators, a car battery, a thousand watt inverter, and a bunch of bikes linked together with chains and gears. To put on a good show I decided to provide a twelve foot pull down screen (no frame to support it), a projector, films, a 1950 Bell and Howell Power Speaker (c.1950 Bell and Howell with a built in 25 watt tube amp), a standard speaker, and everything needed to hook it all up.

The show was Thursday, August 22. I would guess 300 in attendance. It was the same night as the protest against President Bush appearance in town, which siphoned off a lot of the intended crowd. No one at this event got pepper sprayed. Most of them arrived on bikes. Children arrived on foot and in strollers, many clinging perilously to the seat attached to their parent’s Schwin. A few had the temerity to arrive in an automobile. They all loved the films, the circus acts, and the vegetarian food sold from a cart. I ended the show with the finale from Stormy Weather, the all-black Hollywood musical from 1943, in which the Nicholas Brothers come down the huge stair steps landing in the splits at each tier. No crowd can resist going wild over that. It is probably the single greatest thing ever put on film.

I had arrived at the site at five in the afternoon with no real plan to hang the screen. I knew I would use the truck that belonged to the circus. I knew I would need something to put on the roof of the truck to add height. What that something would be was the mystery. I thought I would find something by walking around the neighborhood. A couple of shopping carts would have worked. There were several construction sites, but everything of use was locked up. The site was a grassy, vacant lot at the corner of 20th and Alberta in the slowly gentrifying black section of town. I finally found six milk crates that I was allowed to borrow from a food co-op five blocks away.

To set up, Ed, the owner of the circus got up on the truck. I tossed up the milk crates. I handed up the screen and he set it across the milk crates. He hung on to the screen frame while I pulled the screen down and tied it to the wheels. He then stretched bungee cords from the top of the milk crates to the edge of the trucks roof. Voila! As long as the wind didn’t kick up it would be ok. The seven bikes provided ample power. There were plenty of riders, taking turns. I would run a ten minute film, then Ed or the girls would do an act, not always involving fire, which gave the pedalers a chance to rest and change places. Other than the crowd tromping over everything and accidentally unplugging the power speaker once, the show went smooth as silk.

Ed was front man for the circus, assisted by Rose and Mary. They were darn cute. They did a few tricks, using fire, hoola hoops, etc. The emcee for the night was a man on very tall stilts. He didn’t fall over once. The most popular event was bike jousting. Two riders at each end of the arena were mounted on ten foot tall bikes. They brandished long, padded lances. They sped toward each other and tried to dismount the other. They did it several times. No one was killed.

A Reel of Fire

Published Otherzine  Issue Seven  Sep 2004

projector, ca 1938It happened at the Green Parrot Theater in Seattle in the late 1930’s. The Parrot, or Dirty Bird, to its later low-life customers, lasted until 1979. At the end it was a bottom-of-the-gutter porno theater on First Avenue. Sadly, it was destroyed by an arson fire. Although it had descended from its lofty beginning during the silent film era to cinema degradation it was part of the protected Pike Street Market historic area and could not be torn down. It took a “fire of suspicious origins” to make it give way to what many call progress. Or maybe it was the hand of fate. Fate that had not been cheated, but merely delayed, when it escaped a firey end forty years before.

It had been built in the early twenties as a legitimate movie theater. It was built in the glory days of the silent film. It was before selling popcorn and Coca-Cola became an integral part of the show. Not needing a snack bar, it had only a small lobby. It had a long, narrow auditorium that seated five hundred. There was a small balcony. The square marquee jutted out over the sidewalk. Originally hundreds of incandescent lights adorned it. Later they were replaced by neon. The incandescents only remained as a frame around the edges, controlled by an ancient mechanical chaser circuit device. By the mid 1950s, as the skid road neighborhood grew rougher; it became a sub-run, or sub sub-run house. In the sixties you could see a western triple feature for 35 cents. In the seventies you could see hard-core sex for five dollars. By then much of the neon was broken. There was a Coke machine in the lobby. The incandescents on the marquee still happily chased each other. The patrons inside chased each other in the dark.

On the night of the fire it was still a respectable downtown theater. Just down the street was the beautiful Liberty Theater. Within a short walk were other grand movie palaces. It was the era of reel to reel projection. It was before multi-plexes and automation. A union operator manned the projection booth at all times. Every twenty minutes he would make a seamless reel change without the rapt audience being any the wiser. He would start the show by dimming the house lights, opening the main curtain and projecting the first image, usually a Hollywood studio logo, on the scrim curtain. As the logo faded to black he would open the scrim, bring down the colored foot lights, and the credits would appear on the naked screen. The film stock swiftly running through the projector was called Nitrate. It was aesthetically the best film stock ever created. It was discontinued in the 1950’s. It possessed a black that defined black and white. A black that was black. A black that few filmgoers have ever seen. A black that does not exist in modern film stock. Unfortunately, it could also burst into flame.

In accordance with strict fire codes all projection booths were lined with fire proof metal. Metal walls, ceiling and door. Over the port windows, through which the projection beam passed, were suspended metal shutters. They ran on tracks, much like a guillotine blade, poised to fall at the first sign of flame. Slim chains restrained them. The chains ran through pulleys, over the projectors, and were linked to the projection booth door. Directly above the projector the chain was joined by a heat fuse link. This link would melt at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If the film caught fire, the heat fuse would melt, all of the port window shutters would slam down, and the booth door would slam shut. This would contain the fire to the booth, protecting the theater’s patrons and the theater owner’s investment. The projectionist was on his own.

All projection booths contained a carbon tetrachloride type fire extinguisher which produced phosgene gas in the presence of flame. Phosgene gas is poisonous. It was used in trench warfare during World War I. By both German and Allied armies. Phosgene often had a delayed effect; apparently healthy soldiers were taken down with phosgene gas poisoning up to 48 hours after inhalation.

safety projectorAt the top and the bottom of the projector the film would pass through tight rollers. They were called fire rollers. They were designed to snuff out the flame. Sometimes they worked. A typical fire would start when the film broke and lodged in the aperture gate. The flame would travel upward. If it passed through the fire roller the upper reel, with up to two thousand feet of film, would be in full flame in ten seconds. The fire would produce copious amounts of smoke and poison nitric acid gas. At the first sign of flame the sensible projectionist would run for the door, jerking the chain as he passed through.

On the warm summer night in question the projectionist was the intrepid Ash Bridgham. He had joined the Union in 1927, making the transition from silent to sound. He was also a pioneer aviator and member in good standing in the OX-5 club, open only to those who had flown in Ox-5 airplanes in the teens and twenties. He wasn’t likely to panic in the face of fear. When the fire started he was standing near the projector. Quick as a cat he grabbed the upper reel and jerked it away from the projector, breaking the film. Unfortunately the burning end of the film came away with the reel. The fire rollers snuffed the fire out before the flames reached the lower reel. Luckily, there was a window in the projection booth. It opened onto First Avenue. A couple of feet below it was the top of the flat marquee extending several feet over the sidewalk. In one motion Ash tossed the burning reel out the open window. He grabbed the extinguisher and ran to the window intending to snuff out the flame. He expected to find the burning reel resting on the flat roof of the marquee. Ah, tis many a slip twixt cup and lip. The burning reel wasn’t there!

Fire extinguisher in hand he clambered out the window onto the marquee. He looked down the street. Maybe it was adrenaline that had made him toss it too far. Maybe it had just bounced. Maybe the hand of fate of had reached out and carried it. In any case, the reel, in full flame, was rolling down the middle of First Avenue. The avenue sloped gently downward to the south. The reel rolled and rolled and as it rolled it unspooled the burning film behind it. Passing cars gave it wide berth. Ash watched until it rolled out of sight.

The Green Parrot remained in business for another forty years before flames finally closed its doors forever.

Getting There is Half the Fun

Published in Otherzine  Fall 2001

What would a film tour of Europe be without an overnight train ride? Leave it to me to figure a way not to find out.

I got out of Nurnberg a couple of hours behind schedule. At 11:00 there was no one to let me into Kinokomm so I could grab my bags am as promised. I killed an hour and a half by sitting on the cement step and doing the Sunday crossword. Around midnight I would regret it. By 2:00 I was finally off and rolling toward two days of rest in Leuven before flying back to America. Things were fine until I changed trains at Koln, a little after five. I blissfully boarded a Thalys train. Unbeknownst to me, it required a supplementary fee. This was explained to me by the conductor.

The train was nothing special, and being in no rush, I balked at paying the extra eight bucks. As a result, I had to get off at Aachen. The next train would do as well. The rub? The next train was in three hours. I decided to take the eight bucks I’d saved and eat dinner. The only problem was I had no German Marks. Here is where the introduction of the Euro screwed me up. I had 9 Dutch gulders in change and a ten gulder note. The Dutch border was nearby. The coins would be worthless the next time I went to Holland with the introduction of the commom currency.

I boarded the milk run to Herleen. It took 24 minutes and I was soon eating a burger and fries in that sorry ass town. I finished eating and took the train back to Aachen. I would have five minutes to make my connection to Brussels. Snag? The milk run ran ten minutes late. Back in Aachen I found the next train to Belgium wasn’t till the next morning. Double snag? My rail pass would expire at midnight.

Two trains came in at the same time. One went to Koln and the other to Dortmund. I asked a conductor if there was a way to get to Leuven by backtracking and working around. It was 9:10. He consulted many pages in his master pocket schedule and finally came up with the answer: take the train out of Aachen in the morning.

I went to the train info desk. The harried clerk was being screamed at by a woman. I asked him about bus service. He told me “In the morning”. I explained my problem to him. He felt that since the late train had caused my problem (not my Euro addled stupidity) that I could get an extra day added to my pass. He also said the night train, not on the schedule, would stop to change from German to French crews, at four in the morning. He told me to come back at 3:30 and he would fix it up. I could do that.

It would help if I had a book to read. I was fresh out. I thought a youth hostel would have a few. I would read anything. Unfortunately, I was informed, the youth hostel was out of town. I killed an hour walking to the only big hotel in town on the long chance some English traveler had left one in the lost and found. A pretty blond desk clerk told me they had no such thing, managing to do it while looking at me like I was a lunatic. That got me to 10:30.

At the Aachen station there is a small doorless waiting alcove off the main lobby. It has five chairs in a row. Opposite are five pay phones. There are three vending machines at the closed end. One of the vending machines talks and makes annoying noises. The noises grew more annoying as the night wore on. It also made it hard to sleep. Other things also contributed to that. A young, well dressed, Japanese girl, her long black hair pulled back in a jaunty ponytail, used the phone. She used it for two hours. She would make a call, heatedly bark into the receiver, for what seemed like forever, get hung up on, and call back and repeat the exercise. She did the same thing to several different people. She barked in Japanese, German, and Italian.

A spry old man with silver hair came in and exchanged greetings with the info guy. He wore gray and black checkered slacks, black socks, black oxfords, and a navy blue pea coat. He had the deep tan you can only get by living in LA or living on the street. There was an inch and a half long gash on his brow that had been not too recently repaired with stitches. He looked like William O. Douglas.

He sat in the chair next to me, pulled his coat up around his ears and went to sleep. He smelled horrible. I wanted to move to the chair at the end of the row, but a bicycle leaned against it. It had been pushed in by a small woman with short curly red hair. It was laden down with tent, sleeping bag, camping gear and who knows what else. The woman had a wrinkled face and couldn’t have been a day under sixty-five. She sat next to the bike carefully studying a map. I wanted to ask her how far she had come, but fearing a language barrier, I remained mute.

I stayed where I was, smelling the fragrant William O., who slept on blissfully undisturbed by the barking Japanese woman, the talking vending machine, and the occasional drunken men who wandered in and out of the station, always speaking in very loud voices. I got up and walked around the corner to the bathroom. It had a turnstile and required 50p to get in. I only had 95p left and decided it wasn’t worth it. When I returned to my seat I found that the woman with the bike had finally left, bound for god knows where. I changed seats. The Japanese woman finally ran out of people to yell at and left at 12:30.

I closed my eyes and nodded off. Nearby drunken voices awakened me. It was one AM. Four men and a woman had invaded the alcove. They each clutched a 16 ounce Tuburg in their hand. They seemed to be arguing about money. The woman didn’t say much. After she’d had enough to drink, she carefully placed her beer on the floor to get ready to talk, opened her mouth, and accidentally kicked the beer can over. She finished talking before righting it. A large puddle of beer moved toward my feet. I moved them.

The arguing drunks left. I was now left with the odor of spilt beer to mingle with the odor of William O. who continued to sleep like a baby. It was one thirty. It went on like that for the next hour. I would close my eyes and immediately drunken men would start singing, the click click click of women’s shoes would pass by on the way to the vending machines, or someone would start speaking angrily into one of the phones. It seemed that every third person who used the machines would drop all of their change on the floor.

At 2:00, I looked once again at the prices on the vending machine. I was 5p short of a candy bar. I decided I really wanted one. I took everything out of my bags searching for a lost coin. I didn’t find one. I then remembered the sound of people dropping their change on the floor. I carefully scanned the floor around the machines. Nothing. I then scanned the floor around the photo booth, instant business card, zodiac bracelet, and other odd machines scattered around the lobby. Nothing. I then did a systematic search of every inch of floor in the entire station. Still nothing, but at least it was now past 3:00. I suddenly realized I was being a fool in not spending 50p to use the toilet. Next spring, with the advent of the Euro, the coins would be worthless. I walked to the turnstile to find it only accepted 50p pieces. I looked both ways and hopped over the turnstile.

At 3:30 I approached the info guy. He was reading a newspaper, a cigarette dangling from his lip, with a small radio playing 70′s pop music by his side. He didn’t seem glad to see me. It had been quiet for all of fifteen minutes. I thought he would make some official notation on my rail pass, or issue me some sort of ticket. He just told me to get on the train and explain the problem to the conductor. Great I thought. I had never found a conductor who spoke English on a night train between Berlin and Paris. It turned out that it didn’t matter. The train was a mile long, and since there was a fifteen minute layover, I could take my time looking for a seat. I walked along a dozen cars with the curtains of the compartments closed, and sleeping passengers within. No one disturbed them. In years past I would have been one of them, only then, before the European Union, we would have all been rudely awakened to show our passports before crossing the border.

I finally came to a car with the curtains open and several empty compartments inside. I entered it, dumped my bags, and was soon asleep. I awakened with a start. Sunlight crept past the curtains. I wondered if I had slept past Brussels and was now on my way to Paris with my expired rail pass. I looked out the window. We were entering a large rail yard. The sign said Brussels Midi. I had awakened just in time. It was 6:00 am. I got off, and after a half hour wait was on the train to Leuven. I sat in first class. The conductor came by. He glanced at my now fraudulent rail pass and handed it back with a “Merci”. I got off in Leuven and trudged through the deserted Sunday morning streets to Stuc. At 7:10 I entered the dorm room and was soon fast asleep. And so goes the end of the race, staggering toward the finish line. Stuc is deserted. All I have to do is find someone to tell me how to get to the train station in the morning and I will be on my way home.