I considered my options carefully.
My first impulse, one which I wrestled with for about a half-hour, was to use my elbow to strike you once in the throat, as hard as possible, hoping that if I were to crush your windpipe completely, it would silence you.
Obviously, there are drawbacks to that approach, not the least of which would be the assault charge. I’d hate to have to deal with bail just because I went to see a review screening of “This Means War,” so I restrained myself.
But I want you to know… it was not easy.
Let’s back up a bit. I’d like to try to have an actual dialogue here, and that probably isn’t going to happen if I start by describing imagined violence against your person. It’s not my fault, though. It really isn’t. You need to take some responsibility because your conduct tonight was so above and beyond horrible that I can’t believe you are allowed out in public without a leash, a handler, strong medication, or some combination of the three.
First of all, if you’re the person I intend this letter for, then you were at the 7:00 screening of “This Means War” at the AMC Century City theater tonight. You sat in the second row, and you appeared to be in your mid-50s or early-60s. You are a silver-haired woman who spent a fair amount of the pre-show loudly explaining to the people in front of you that the gentleman you were at the theater with tonight is from Argentina. You seemed to want everyone to know that. People in other auditoriums were probably aware of it based on how emphatic you were and how many times you said it.
My wife is from Argentina. So we both dig Argentinians. Good. There we go. There’s a common ground we can start from. That’s always important, figuring out something that you have in common with someone else. It may be our only common ground, though, because I am not garbage wrapped in skin, unable to control myself in a manner befitting social contact with other human beings, and you, evidently, are. I’ve been an avid film fan for roughly 35 years now, and in that time, you are without question the worst human being I have ever sat next to.
It’s not even close. I’ve met my fair share of ill-mannered boors. I’ve heard people who were chemically incapable of shutting their mouths. I’ve seen a homeless man remove his pants and poop in a popcorn bucket. And yet, I would buy that man a ticket to join me for another film before I would willingly sit next to you again. That is how low you have set the bar. I am almost in awe of your horrifying lack of social grace.
It started before the lights went down, but to be fair, I was actually betting that the woman on the other side of me, the one who dragged out a giant knitting project and who spent twenty minutes talking about how she snuck her cell phone into the theater because “nobody’s going to tell me I can’t use my phone if I want to,” was going to be the nightmare. And while much of what poured out of the awful hole in the front of her skull made me wish I’d been born deaf, she at least grasped the general idea that when the lights went down, it was time for her to be quiet. She put away her knitting needles. She watched the movie. And she was perfectly fine.
You, on the other hand, took the opportunity when the lights went down to begin a running narration that only occasionally actually had anything to do with what was onscreen. As the 20th Century Fox logo came up, you mentioned to your companion, “You know, I like Fox. I like that they give us unlimited concessions.” I only wish you had availed yourself of more of them so that you had less time with an empty mouth. Unfortunately, two pieces of pizza, a pretzel, a large popcorn, ice cream, and the diet soda you were so proud of did not manage to keep your maw busy for the full two hours. And that was a shame.
Now, here’s where I need your help. I need to know how you would have wanted me to handle things differently tonight. Because I thought all three attempts I made to ask you to perhaps take it down a decibel or two were polite and well-mannered. I have this bizarre tendency to treat people with a modicum of respect even when they don’t deserve it, because I am aware that I am a 6’2″ guy and that I look like a mental patient when I’m angry. It rarely works out when I approach someone with my dander up, because I seem to activate the flight-or-fight response in people. I went out of my way to be courteous when I asked you to please stop talking. All three times.
Here’s where things sort of fell apart. All three times, your response was to lean away from me as if I had just started throwing up in your ear. You ignored me, and you refused to even look at me. You stopped speaking for a combined total of maybe 20 seconds, and then immediately went back to it.
I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. Really. I am glad your long incarceration is over and you have finally been allowed audiovisual entertainment again, and I would imagine after being locked in a dungeon for the aggressively stupid, anything would seem amazing. I don’t think my own enjoyment of Chelsea Handler’s sex jokes matched yours, but I’m fine with someone digging something more than I do. I admit I found it disturbing when you would throw yourself from side to side as if gripped by a seizure, and spilling my drink on me repeatedly probably didn’t help my mood at all. It is also probably not appropriate for you to slap my arm while you clap like Billy Madison on Nudie Magazine Day. Technically, I think I could make the case that I feared for my life and that any and all physical response was a matter of self-defense. You know how you were sitting with your legs curled up under you and you kept putting your shoes on me? You remember that? Would it surprise you to know that i find feet disgusting and the idea of you putting your feet on me makes my skin crawl? Would it shock you to learn that all fifteen times you did it, and all fifteen times I pushed your feet away, that was because I WANTED YOU TO TAKE YOUR FEET OFF OF ME? Or that I considered taking them off of you completely and then feeding them to you?
Again, though… that’s obviously a line I can’t cross. I can’t pick you up by your little chicken head and shake you until I am rewarded with a wet snap that ends the party of stupidity that is your daily life. I can’t use the steps of the theater to reproduce the funniest scene from “American History X.” Those aren’t things I can do, no matter how richly you might beg me for them. So how then do we handle this next time?
When you go to a movie theater and you treat it like it’s your living room, sharing every horrifying spasm of that flaccid muscle occupying space between your eyes, you have to understand that it is intolerable. I suspect you made a choice tonight that your enjoyment was more important than the enjoyment of anyone else in that theater, and that you routinely make that same choice. I don’t believe anyone is as horrible as this woman was without being firmly aware of it. So I’m asking… on the record… how do we handle this differently next time?
Do you want me to stand up over you and loudly ask you how recent your head injury was and applaud you for your brave attempts to overcome your behavioral issues? Do you want me to simply take the top off my drink and pour it in your lap in an effort to cool you down? Do you want me to join in your conversation and share my honest opinion of your honest opinion of the shirt Tom Hardy is wearing? Tell me how to handle you, and I’ll give it a try.
And even if you’re not that particular person, let me throw the question out to all of you on a larger scale. What do we do? What is too much, and what recourse is left to us at this point? If I was at the Drafthouse, I would have simply raised a card and watched the Drafthouse staff take tangible physical pleasure in the destruction of the simpleton, but unfortunately, not every theater is the Drafthouse. Even in LA, even in theaters where they charge a premium, there is no venue that will spend real energy removing a problem from the theater. They treat all theatergoers as equal, and it would take a criminal action to get them to step in and actually do something.
But not all theatergoers are equal. Tonight’s screening was free, but I regularly pay full price to go see things, and my feeling is that we all pay the same thing to get in, but once you cross the line, you forfeit your ticket price. If there were a theater in LA that aggressively threw people out for using their phones or talking loudly or any of a dozen other activities that poison the room for people trying to watch a film, I would give that theater all of my money. I would drive to any part of LA for that privilege.
For now, though, I find myself dreading even a free screening, surrounded by people who technically do something that could be loosely described as “the same job” that I do. I think that scares me most of all. There is a chance that the freakshow I sat next to tonight is actually allowed access to writers and directors and actors, actually given permission to walk into rooms with them to discuss their work. This cancer with a bad haircut might actually show up at another screening I attend.
Tonight was the one and only time I will tolerate this person. I honestly can’t say what I’ll do if faced with them again. I can say it will be embarrassing, and it will no doubt hurt someone’s feelings terribly. Then again, if you are so strikingly unaware of just how awful you are that you would behave the way this woman did in public, you may be beyond shaming.
Have we finally reached the point where we are powerless to take the moviegoing experience back from these animals?
Give me some indication that there is hope here. Please make me feel better about my options for the future.
Because after tonight, I can honestly say something I’ve never said before, something I didn’t think could ever say: I hate going to a movie theater.
You broke me, lady. And I only wish I could have returned the favor.
Weigh in, folks. How do we make this better? Because it can’t get much worse.