The results are in: The Washington Post Magazine has finally published the winners of their Humor Writing Contest, conducted this summer. My little ditty—a 1000-word “true memoir” (the editors’ words)—didn’t make the cut. Having previously alluded to entering the competition, I am now going to make good on my promise to publish it here. Fair warning: the humor is self-deprecating, but the story fills me with pride. It’s also very personal, but as we’re all cinephiles, I think it’s universal, too. Please note that some movie titles may seem “old” or at least not representative of what’s now in theaters because I wrote this in July.
The auditorium isn’t as cold as it usually is. Many of the seats are filled, pairs of eyes transfixed on the animated ball bouncing across the screen. More people file in, looking up at the rows of chairs laid out stadium-style, trying to spot enough consecutive seats to accommodate the adults and children of their respective parties. From my perch in the back, I observe that most of the families here resemble my own. Like the other children in this theater waiting to see Brave, I have come with my dad. The only difference is that I am almost twenty-six, and my “peers” in this context are twelve and younger. How did I get here?
Well, my dad drove us here. Ever since I moved back home from New York City, I have depended upon him to get places because I never got my driver’s license and, in case you are wondering, I have no plans to get it now, either. So stop nagging. Living in suburban Washington, D.C., about ten miles away from the nearest movie theater, I see so few new releases these days, I get depressed. In fact, giving up the easy access to dozens of multiplexes and art-houses all around New York was the hardest part of my move; in spite of the economic crisis, I gleefully quit my dead-end retail job and toxic living arrangement. I traded them for eight months of unemployment and petty fights with my younger lay-about brother.
Going to the movies has always been my favorite pastime, especially when I lived in NYC on my own. On average, I would see two new films a week, sometimes on days before I was due at work. That’s how I spent my discretionary income. I hardly ever bought clothes or dined out. But I didn’t splash out on these movie-going experiences; I sought bargain matinee prices at a nationwide theater chain and, if permitted, flashed my student ID at the art-houses’s box offices. I went to the movies alone, a practice that I learned at work and school made me strange (my reason for moving to New York in the first place was to get a master’s degree at NYU in film theory and history, of all things). My co-workers would raise their eyebrows when I answered that I had seen Thor and The Tree of Life by myself. For them, going to the movies is an event that doesn’t happen all too often, and when it does, they prefer it to be a social experience that they share with their family, friends, or lovers.
OK. Let’s get this over with: in New York, I didn’t have many friends. And I had absolutely no lovers. (Come to think of it, not much has changed since then.) I loved going to the movies alone simply because I could. Just as I can’t get anywhere alone outside a three-mile radius now, so I couldn’t while growing up. Plus, as someone who likes to plan her activities days ahead of time so that they coincide with a film’s release, going to the movies alone meant I wasn’t beholden to someone else’s schedule. And nothing, aside from a headache or a bout of lethargy, could stop me. For example, on the day I received the essay questions for my comprehensive master’s exam, which I needed to pass in order to graduate, I went early to see the newest version of Jane Eyre. I knew that putting off seeing it for a whole week would distract me from the task at hand. Nor did I let an early morning fire raging next door deter me from my plans to see Beginners. I had waited long enough.
Other than last December’s double bill featuring The Artist and Shame, which I took a bus to see because silent pictures and Michael Fassbender’s penis do very little for my dad, I never go to the movies alone now. Unfortunately, no one I live with shares the same enthusiasm for movies and the movie-going experience. I miss being able to watch a new movie the weekend it premieres. I miss sitting alone in the dark with a bunch of strangers, most of us equally rapt in the shadowplay taking place onscreen. I miss the whir of the celluloid film projector sitting behind me (I prefer to be all the way in the back, left of center). This last gripe has probably less to do with my movie-going frequency and more to do with the fact that theaters are installing digital, 3D-ready projectors at an overwhelmingly rapid rate. Then again, just think of how many films on celluloid I missed the chance to see because I couldn’t get to them in time. I feel like my whole identity is in flux since I’m no longer experiencing the cinema every week.
I love my dad. He puts up with my neuroses, such as my fear of driving and lack of motivation in finding a job. Have you looked at the numbers lately for people my age? My future looks so bleak, I gotta crawl into bed. But my dad isn’t the best movie-going companion. For starters, he almost always falls asleep in the theater, and then he proceeds to judge a film’s worth based on whether or not it kept him awake. Siskel and Ebert we aren’t. Even getting him to agree to see a movie is a feat in and of itself. Originally, he refused to see Brave, citing his last attempt at watching a Pixar movie as reason enough not to go: he—you guessed it—fell asleep during Ratatouille. Recognizing how important it was to me to see Brave, Dad relented. He still fell asleep during it, but I loved the story about a fiery princess whose fairytale trajectory doesn’t track her steps toward the altar but rather her emotionally complex relationships with her mother and kingdom.
Now I’m trying to convince Dad to take me to Magic Mike.