Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Once Upon An Armrest

This is a true story.

We went to see "The Day After Tomorrow" the day after it came out, and as soon as the tickets were bought, jobs were assigned: I would buy popcorn and drinks, Jay would grab napkins and straws, and Henry would save seats in the theater. This was our default plan, and each of us was an expert in our respective fields, so it seemed like the movie-going would go without a hitch. The line for snacks was long, so Jay finished early and joined me. Seconds later, we spotted Henry walking past the concessions towards us. "What is he doing?!" But based on his grin, it seemed like he bore good news. And what news it was: "Hey guys," he smiled, "the theater's empty!"

We nodded to each other in silent joy. This sort of thing happened every once in a while, and was always a source of great fun; nothing is better than being free to shout at the screen and laugh outloud at unintentional humor in a film. This, a private viewing of "The Day After Tomorrow," was an unexpected treat. As it had just opened the day before, we assumed that theaters would be crowded, and thus went to see it at an off-time in the morning. Plus, based on the trailers, we were ready to have fun with what looked like a "so-ridiculously-laughable-that-it's-awesome film." Combine the two and... well, it seemed like this would be a blast. I ordered as much food as the three of us could safely carry, and we stumbled into the theater. The three of us plopped down in the dead center, Jay in the middle (popcorn in hand), and Henry and I on either side of him.

The minutes to showtime counted down, and every time something in the theater creaked, we quietly prayed that it wasn't someone else entering. The trailers came and went, and soon the lights dimmed. We had made it, and passed the bucket of popcorn around in celebration, when suddenly a ray of light seared through the doorway behind us, backlighting a tiny silhouette. Jay grunted in annoyance as the small, hunched figure--an elderly woman--passed down the aisle. Abruptly, she stopped. At our row. Still facing the screen, she sidestepped towards us, and sat down in the chair immediately next to Henry. He was shocked. She carried a jumbo-sized plastic cup of soda from the concession stand, and fitted it into the cup-holder on the armrest; the armrest that she and Henry shared.

The theater was silent as the 20th Century Fox logo filled the screen, and I leaned towards Jay. "We have to move," I whispered. "We can't, it's too rude," he said, and quickly added "Plus, if she was crazy enough to sit next to us, she's probably crazy enough to kill us if we sit somewhere else." We glanced at Henry, whose mouth was still agape as he shrugged towards us. The opening credits began to roll across the screen. "What do we do?" I whispered. "What do we do?" Henry, always smart, discovered a solution. He let out an over-top-sounding gasp and turned to the old woman. "Excuse me, this is 'Shrek 2,' right?" he said. She squawked: "What? No, that's across the hall. This is 'The Day After Tomorrow.'"

The three of us threw our hands up in the air. "Oh no," Henry cried, "we're in the wrong theater, guys!" Excusing ourselves for the interruption, we apologized to the old woman, gathered our horde of food, and walked towards the back of the theater. Once there, Jay loudly kicked open the door, and we quickly dove behind the nearest seats. Once we were sure that she had lost interest in the three teenagers who had mistakely entered the wrong room and then left, we crept to the side of the theater and quickly found chairs in the back row. The movie played, but our enjoyment was hampered by the persistant fear that she would get up to go to the bathroom and notice us. About an hour into the film, Henry reached for his unopened pack of M&Ms, and Jay swatted his hand away: we were taking no chances. The popcorn bucket remained nearly filled, our drinks went unslurped. Every comedic part of the movie was met with total silence as we covered our mouths, and we held our breath during the quieter moments to avoid being heard. Eventually, the movie was just about over, and we had survived.

But the hunched, old woman... she was crafty, and one of those horrible people who leave before the credits have even rolled. True, this was one of those movies with a final scene that screamed "this is the end of the movie," but she had no respect, and was already packing up her belongings before the lights in the theater faded back on. I could tell from the beginning: she was the kind that would leave a baseball game in the 7th inning to beat the traffic. But what excuse did she have here? To her, she was alone. But no, nothing would stop her. The movie faded to black, and she was already halfway down the aisle, carefully treading back towards the exit. Back towards us. She was old, and possibly nearly blind in the dark theater, but I know that all three of sank in our seats, even just a little bit--I nearly crouched on the floor. She stumbled by, not noticing anything, and left.

We sat up and sighed a relief. She was gone, and we were alone in the theater once more. Free. And yet we still sat in silence, unmoving, terrified that she would be waiting for us right outside the theater, ready to pounce on us and expose our lies. The three of us stayed through the end of the credits, appreciating every name that had worked on this movie which we had barely even watched. Soon, ushers came through the door, mops in hand, and we had no choice to leave. She was nowhere to be found as we walked through the multiplex and left. But never again would we talk outloud and mock a movie in an empty theater, just in case she would be sitting in the back row, watching us, ready at any moment to walk down the aisle and sit down with our group. Sit down, and turn, asking us just which movie we had come see.

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