Secret Pop

Dec 27, 2002

"Forgive me. I was wrong to despair."

Note: This will not be a review of The Two Towers but rather of the experience of sitting next to a hulking pile of man filth for the duration of the film.

I was really looking forward to seeing The Two Towers, and sorely disappointed that I wasn't able to manage to see the midnight showing on the morning of the night it opened -- if that makes any sense. But I finally got there. And I finally got to see a film on the Cinerama Dome screen at the Arclight, which was a fine thing. They claim to have the best popcorm. They're not just tooting their own horns.

The man sitting next to me couldn't have had any rings on his fingers. Unless they were masonic. He could not have belonged to anyone. I don't say this because I have some elitist opinion about who does and doesn't deserve to have love or partnership. I'm just saying that this person could not have been the sort who had had to live in the state of compromise required by an intimate relationship. And also there is the fact that he was very human-smelling. And he had such a preposterous mole on his upper lip. No one could ever be paired up with someone with a mole like that. I'm sure of it.

Carrying on. He was there with two other male "buddies." They were all well past the age of the middle. He was a heavy-set fellow, with a paunchy girth resting high up on his torso, and squat, fat legs that splayed out to either side, the right one managing to rest almost perpetually in my pre-purchased seating territory. He was wearing a short-sleeved, button-down shirt. It was reddish and sort of plaid or gingham. I tried to only look at him peripherally. Particularly when he began to do things that would have encouraged me to memorize his face lest I ever see him on the street and have the opportunity to dispose of him without anyone noticing.

From the very commencement of the film, he would not be still. And he had brought with him a big crinkly jacket that made a great deal of noise every time he balled it up and tried to stuff it further into his lap. Which was often. He only spoke twice, and in both cases it was full voice and to say something inane. The two utterances were, "Dwarf tossing?" and "At least he didn't say, 'Walk this way.'" But in the periods when he was not speaking, he made more noise than I thought humanly possible. Every yawn was followed by a luxurious groan and smacking of the mouth. Popcorn was perpetually being urged from between his teeth with loud sucking noises. His breathing was more like persistent sighing with intermittent sniffling and whimpering and frequent coughs and sneezes. Then there were the belches. Which required him to actually scoot forward in his seat to steady their force. Early in the film I saw him do something which he proceeded to do at least seven or eight times, despite my attempts to not notice. He would reach his chubby arm across himself and insert his fingers into the opening of his sleeve, scratch at his armpits for a few seconds, and then quite plainly raise those fingers back to his nose and sniff at them. He did this to both armpits a number of times. I thought I was going to be sick.

And when he wasn't scratching himself, pawing at his crotch, smoothing his hair, fidgeting, clearing his throat, picking his teeth, or rearranging his clothing -- well, he wasn't doing anything, because there simply was not a moment in the film when he wasn't doing at least one of those things. I even recall seeing him readjusting the buttons of his shirt, finding a kernel of popped corn within the shirt, and raising it to his lips and eating it. Yuck.

My only complaint about the film was that it wasn't loud enough. If only the battle for Helm's Deep would have taken the whole length of the film, I might not have had to hear his laborious efforts to keep from suffocating on his own membranes. Instead, at all the quiet, tender, sentimental moments, he was coughing or chortling or hacking or harrumphing. So much so that I wanted to pound him. I kept asking myself what one says in this circumstance. How does one ask another person to be still? How does one ask an adult to breathe more quietly or to stop punching his crisp outerwear into a ball. Most of the phrases that came to mind were sarcastic and nasty and would probably have provoked a conversation, if only because he wouldn't have understood my meaning. So I kept to myself. All the while thinking, "I will have to write this down when I'm out of here." And the cataloguing of the annoyances began to take precedence over the watching of the film. That's one of the problems with watching films with the public when one is hypersensitive to inconsiderate behavior. It's the same problem with driving in any urban setting.

The thing is, his apparent struggle for life was such a noisy affair that, at points, I would turn and look right at him in horror and disbelief. And he was completely oblivious to it. He never noticed me glaring at him or leaning away from him or trying to call up the dormant powers of my Asian laser eye rays (all of us Asians have them, but some of us haven't figured out how to use them on command -- I'm one of these unfortunates). He was unfazed. And I thought to myself, "He wins, you know. He wins. He's not bothered by you. And you're bothered by the very fact of his existence. I cannot enjoy myself, and he has no idea that he is party to that. What a rotting bargain this is."

That's the sad truth. When you go to the movies and it bugs you that other people are unaware or in some cases deliberately rude, you're the only one who suffers. Some jerks -- incredibly -- are even amused and goaded on by your vocalized displeasure. There are people who feel empowered when they have ruined someone else's day. A guy in a truck was able to claim that of me on Christmas morning, as a matter of fact. And the only victory over that sort of abominable behavior is to ignore it. Which seems like a ridiculous compromise. "Be the bigger person," the world will tell you. "Don't let him get the best of you." But this is all nonsense. I'm of the mind today that it would be far more satisfying to surprise these folks with a smashing of the face with a mallet or a dropping of a nice, sturdy safe on their head. I did not leave the cinema with my fists raised in victory for not having let that fat heap know that he should aspire to never again leave his house. That he should only watch programs in a soundproof booth. Or underwater. That he should have his septum examined. And that he should stop picking at his armpits. I felt somewhat deflated and impotent. And the catharsis of writing it all down is only half a treat. Most people, reading this, would think I'm an unreasonable looney. They're wrong, though. I'm the sort of considerate that you don't notice. So considerate that it never occurs to you that you have never been disturbed by me. So careful to not interfere in your fun-having that you have no idea that I've made the effort. And I get about as much credit for that as the tooth fairy. It's all about as rewarding as giving a pizza to a homeless man who is annoyed because you have unwittingly interrupted him in the middle of a cell phone call. If this is the city of angels, the angels are mostly asses.

I should add that I am guiltily and girlishly taken with both Viggo Mortensen (spaces between his teeth and all) and Orlando Bloom. All that valor and bombast makes a girl want to go off to war. But then the dirty fingernails and the days and days without bathing bring her right back to reality.

And that's what I thought of The Two Towers.

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