Cocaine, Cinema, and Remembering My Pop

I’m grateful that, in his storm of addiction, my father tried to give something: the movies.

By KEITH “FROMUPDABLOCK” RUFFIN


My pop had an addiction.

When I turned 12, he would call and ask me to meet him over by Cheltenham Mall. He’d give me 40 bucks, and we’d spend time together, usually at the movies.

That time and money are the fondest memories I have of my father.

The thing is, my pop would never watch the whole movie. He’d walk me into the theater, we’d get a seat, and then he would dip off for 30 minutes, and later return. Most likely, he went and did cocaine — because when he returned, he was happy, hyper, and his jaw was doing the cha-cha.

I remember it as though it were yesterday: the weekend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) came out. My dad had no idea what the movie was. He walked us in, went to get high, and then he returned to our seats.

There aren’t many memories I have of my mother, father, sister, and I being together. But going to the movies in Center City is one of them. We didn’t have a car, so there were times we’d all venture out onto the bus late at night and go downtown to the movies.

After the age of 12, when my father disappeared for a while, I started going to the cinema by myself. I was usually the youngest person in the theater — only 13 years old watching films like Do The Right Thing (1989), Mo Betta Blues (1990), The Godfather: Part III (1990), Graffiti Bridge (1990), GoodFellas (1990), and Boomerang (1992).

Harlem Nights. Image: Mov Pin.

From what I recall, the only movie my dad sat through entirely was Harlem Nights (1989). I loved it — the cinematography and the swag of that era.

After the film was over, my dad schooled me about Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Black Comedy in general.

Return of the Jedi. Image: FanPop.

Movie theaters have always meant a lot to me: the magic, the escape, being five years old, shedding tears over E.T.’s being sick. The same year at 19th and Chestnut, my Nana (RIP) took me to see what will still be my favorite cinematic experience of all time: Return of the Jedi (1983).

Last year, I dragged my teenage daughter to see the latest version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), that movie my father (partially) took me to see so long ago.

I just knew I was going to sit through it lecturing her on how different these turtles look from the ones I used to know. And I just knew she was going to hate the film (she did). But then again, teenage girls hate everything. I loved it.

Now I get to create events inside movie theaters, sharing what I’ve learned — about comedy, acting, filmmaking, dance, live-show production, music recording, and hosting — at a place in which I’ve always felt comfortable. In a way, this is me, waiting for my father to return from getting high.

I produce Stand Up At The Movies, a comedy show/music concert/film festival that takes place live inside a movie theatre, a mix between live entertainment and a full movie experience. We customize the events with enhanced sound, a stage, and lighting.

I am sometimes jealous when I see how involved other people are with their fathers. Still, I know the best thing my father did was to expose me to cinema, comedy, and music at a young age. It’s really surprising how much of my world revolves around creativity. I am grateful that in his storm of addiction, my dad tried to give something. I’m blessed I received the lesson and headed towards that path.

This past weekend was Father’s Day.

So Happy Father’s Day, Dad, wherever you are. I’ll be waiting. If you ever do decide to #StandUpAtTheMovies, your name’s on the list at the door.

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