My recent column about Martinsville’s positive trajectory put me in a reflective mood. I found myself thinking about my time managing the Rives Theatre back in the late 2000s and some of the fascinating people I met during my time there. One figure in particular stands out, and according to a cursory Google search, I’ve somehow never written a column about him.
This is the story of the Boohoo.
The day I met the Boohoo was a perfectly normal day; I was sitting in the concession stand on a sunny afternoon, waiting for folks to come see the matinee. Suddenly, a small fellow burst into the theater, bypassing the ticket window and making his way straight to me. He was a Latino gentlemen with a thick mustache, and he was profoundly, awe-inspiringly drunk.
“Three quarters,” he said, smacking his palm on the concession stand and grinning crazily. “Three quarters.”
“What?” I said.
“Three quarters!” he repeated.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any change I can give you,” I said.
“Take no @#$%!” the man said, and then left.
This happened multiple times over the next few weeks. The man would burst into the theater, drunkenly ask me for three quarters, and then when I told him I couldn’t give him any change, he would announce to the room that he “take no @#$%!” and then leave.
Sometimes, the man would say other things, but there was absolutely no way of understanding anything else he said. It was tempting to think that he didn’t have a great grasp of English, but based on my years of Spanish classes, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t speaking Spanish, either. He was speaking the slurred tongue of the unbelievably inebriated.
Over time, my friend Greg and I christened him “The Boohoo” after a minor character from Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” The original Boohoo was a maniac that Thompson handed his press pass to and shoved onto Democratic Presidential candidate Ed Muskie’s Sunshine Special train, whereupon he proceeded to sow drunken mayhem.
Our own Boohoo was a similar source of chaos, but there was something oddly lovable about him. Sure, he was perpetually intoxicated and totally unintelligible, but he always seemed to be in good spirits. He would bang his way into the theater at random times, usually once every week or two, and I would always be excited to see him. It was like being visited by a strange mascot.
“Hey, it’s the Boohoo!” I’d say when he stumbled through the doors. “No quarters today, buddy!”
“Ayyyy!” the Boohoo would yell. “Take no @#$%!”
“Yeah man!” I’d holler back.
And then he would stagger off to his next destination.
The Boohoo was a thought-provoking figure. Where did he live? Did he have a job? How does a man survive in the world when he’s constantly drunk and only knows two sentences, one of which contains an expletive? His very existence defied logic and provoked deep questions, like a zen koan come to life.
Over time, the Boohoo developed an uncanny sixth sense for picking the worst possible times to show up at the Rives. On one memorable occasion, the theater had been rented out for a young lady’s sweet sixteen party. As she and her schoolyard friends were milling around in the lobby before the movie, the Boohoo heaved himself through the doors.
“Ayyyyy, three quarters!” he drunkenly shrieked. “Take no @#$%!”
“Ha ha!” I shouted, grabbing him by the shoulders and shoving him back out the door. These girls weren’t ready to learn about people like the Boohoo yet. Maybe in college.
The Boohoo’s greatest appearance, however, was also his last.
The theater had been rented out that evening for a private fundraising event for Rep. Tom Perriello, one of the finest statesmen I have ever personally known. It was a fancy affair, with endlessly flowing wine and various shrimps and canapés. I had even dusted off a suit for the occasion. I was sipping my wine and talking to a dowager of some sort when I heard the front door crash open.
It was the Boohoo. Incredibly, he was wearing a tuxedo coat.
Admittedly, the tuxedo coat was pretty heavily worn and looked like it had previously belonged to one of the folks on the Titanic who didn’t make it, but still, I was impressed.
“Ayyyyyy!” the Boohoo drunkenly screamed, “Take no @#$%! Three quarters!”
I darted towards the Boohoo with such speed that, much like Snagglepuss, I left behind a little dust cloud in the shape of my silhouette. I slung an arm around his shoulders and half-guided, half-wrestled him back outside.
The Boohoo and I stood on the stoop in front of the Rives. I glanced over my shoulder through the window and noticed that every single person in the building was watching us with utter bewilderment.
Suddenly, the Boohoo began to speak.
I could not begin to tell you anything that the Boohoo said — it was absolute gibberish — but I could tell from the tone that it was very serious gibberish. He went on and on, pausing occasionally to look at me expectantly. Tears began to fill his eyes. I could tell he was asking me a question of some kind, seeking some sort of support.
“Yeah man,” I said.
He nodded and smiled, then rattled off something else I couldn’t understand. Again, he looked at me expectantly, wiping away his tears.
“Yeah man,” I said. “Yeah! You can do it!”
The Boohoo’s eyes widened. He grinned, nodding his head.
“Yeah!” he said. “YEAH! TAKE NO @#$%!”
I clapped the Boohoo on the back. He gave me a big hug, then turned and went sprinting down Church Street, screaming at the top of his lungs, his threadbare tuxedo coat shining and flapping under the sodium vapor lights.
I never saw the Boohoo again. I’m still not sure what I gave him permission to do.
Hopefully he didn’t kill anybody.