This is my third piece about the odd things happening at the Market Street Cinema in San Francisco. The theater is closed now, supposedly for remodelling but, according to persistent rumors, because it became so haunted that the dancers and staff refused to continue working there unless something was done about it. What? A cleansing? An exorcism of the building?
Two days ago I wrote about meeting an old homeless woman in Stevenson Alley behind the theater, who told me that she slept in the theater and that the back door was left slightly open for her at 2am every morning. I hid across the alley at 2am on Sunday morning, but she did not appear. Around 2:30 I checked the door and it was locked. I put my ear to the door and heard music and laughter coming from inside. It sounded like the theater was open. I went around to the front entrance on Market Street and the iron gates were securely padlocked. There were no sounds coming from the lobby but I thought I saw something move behind one of the glass doors. Probabaly just a reflection from the street.
I staked out Stevenson Alley again at 2am this (Monday) morning. Two cops in a cruiser pulled into the alley and shined their light on me. They pulled over and asked me what I was doing. One of them recognized me from the neighborhood and knew that I was a retiree who lived in a SRO and was harmless but kind of eccentric. He asked me if I had found any ghosts tonight. I guess my reputation was getting around. Maybe I had been asking too many questions around the neighborhood about the theater closing. He told me that it would be better if I just forgot about the whole thing, especially at two in the morning on Stevenson Alley. I said OK and they cruised off.
I walked off in the opposite direction and then seemed pulled to turn around. I did and found myself face to face with a huge 300 pound black guy. I jumped back and he grinned at me. He told me not to worry that he was not going to rob or kill me, that he knew I wanted to find out what was going on in the theater. He said that his name was Chocolate, that he used to be a DJ and MC at the theater and that he could show me around. I asked him if he knew the old homeless woman who slept in the theater and he laughed and said oh yes that is Agnes and she is already inside with the others. He motioned for me to follow him but something told me that I should not. I asked him what was going on in there, wasn’t the theater closed. He said yes, but that that didn’t make any difference and if I wanted to meet some ghosts he would introduce me. Matter of fact, he himself was a ghost, he said as he grinned again. That he had been dead for three years or so but that he still liked to hang out here like the others.
At this point, I figured that I was talking to a street hustler who knew me from the neighborhood like the cops did and that he was about to get me to go into the abandoned building with him so that he could rob me or worse. He sensed my fear and turned around. He told me that was OK, that he could show me around some other time and that I should go home and go to bed. What was going on here? Maybe I should go with him. Maybe this was a once in a lifetime chance to really experience the paranormal.
He said not to worry. This was not my only chance to find out what was really happening in the theater. I asked what that was. He said that since more than thirty years a guy named James who had worked at the theater before he died, had rented space in the basement for a small amount a night to all sorts of street people as a place to sleep. Hundreds had taken him up on over the years. On any given night there may be ten or twenty people sleeping in the darkness of the basement rooms and passageways. Very creepy, even when they were all alive. When James’ “tenants” died off it did not mean that they stopped coming to the theater to pass the Tenderloin nights with each other. Even in death, they wandered the streets during the day, unnoticed by the living “normal” population, then headed for the Market Street Cinema at night. The dancers and staff all knew what was going on and didn’t mind. On some nights half the audience was made up of the dead, enjoying a show before heading for the basement. This continued until the recent trouble, which he refused to talk about.
He realized that this story sounded like the rantings of a deragned or very stoned person and then asked me if he looked deranged or stoned. I admitted that he did not. He asked me again if I wanted him to show me around inside. He could tell that I was trembling and suggested that some other time might be better. I agreed.
He turned and walked toward the back door of the theater but disappeared in a shadow before he got there. The door did not open. I went back to my room and went to bed.
I plan to return and see if I can find Chocolate again some other night.
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