Going to a movie in the theater isn’t “done” anymore–short of shelling out for the kind deemed “a spectacle” (e.g. Titanic). Or rather, the sort of ilk that shows reverence for a 35 mm print of something doesn’t seem to be in large supply during this personal device (not just vibrators) moment in time. Barrett did not take this into account while on a business trip in Modesto that led to a surfeit of free time to kill after an unsuccessful meeting selling the notion of more ad space to a client who only enjoyed getting together for the purpose of taking advantage of Barrett’s ability to write off the lunch. Barrett couldn’t figure out how someone could be cheap enough to want a meal gratis in Modesto, as the most expensive restaurant he could find had two dollar signs and was called Bella Italia, described as a “funky family chain for Italian dining.”
The client in question, Bill, preferred to talk about the latest way he had duped his wife, Valerie, into believing he wasn’t cheating. Barrett never found much interest in Bill’s braggadocio when it came to infidelity. He felt the shrewder thing was to not get married at all. But then, Barrett had always been smarter than most men he knew.
As he swigged his beer and nodded along to Bill’s tale of having sex with his wife while a prostitute he had yet to pay hid under the bed, Barrett fantasized about going to the movie. It was the only place he felt a sense of peace. It was dark and filled with the loud, booming sound of voices that weren’t those of commoners–they were those of stars, a higher caliber breed of person.
He had not taken into account, however, that the time of day–4:10–meant that the worst variety of clientele would be in attendance: suburban hens. There were the kind who had never married, were divorced or whose husbands had offed themselves under the guise of death from “natural causes,” but were really just saving themselves the agony of enduring the nonstop clucking. These types of women always went to public places in twos. To go anywhere alone would, for them, constitute a form of torture, for it would be an acknowledgement that, without someone else to make guttural sounds at, they were nonexistent.
Barrett tried to give the elderly lady duo nesting in the center aisle the benefit of the doubt as he sat down three rows in front of them. He had purchased popcorn, peanut M&Ms and Cherry Coke to heighten his viewing experience by invoking the five senses. He would write this off as part of his business affairs as well. As he dipped his fingers into the popcorn bag, feeling the warmth of the steam rise up, he experienced pure serenity–until the movie theater hens, whose names he would soon find out were Agnes and Bernice, proceeded to initiate their commentary about the trivia currently being projected on the screen. It was as though the question was tailored specifically to them.
Five minutes of seeing, “In The Notebook, what is Allie doing when Noah sees her for the first time?” was enough to leave a bad taste in Barrett’s butter-filled mouth. But to hear Agnes and Bernice quibble over the possible answers–“A) Eating cotton candy, B) Talking to her friend, C) Riding the bumper cars or D) Riding the Ferris wheel”–propelled him to turn around and glare at them. They didn’t notice.
Bernice insisted, “No, no Agnes. Now I distinctly remember she was on the Ferris wheel. That’s how he got her attention, hangin’ from it like he did. Oh, I tell ya, that Ryan Gosling is too cute. Just too cute.”
But Agnes knew better. “You’re forgettin’, Bernice, that he first saw her on the bumper cars before that whole Ferris wheel scene happened. You only remember that because Ryan Godsend whoever exposes his underpants when that happens.”
Bernice smacked her lips as she opened her maw to let in a handful of popcorn. It made Barrett ashamed that he was eating his own. “Oh goddammit, you’re right,” Bernice admitted as the answer finally appeared on the screen. “I thought I knew that movie so well too.”
Barrett sighed loudly, doing his best to express annoyance in a subtly overt way. The lights dimmed, which momentarily quelled Agnes and Bernice in their commentary. But when the previews came on, they started right back up again.
A trailer for a movie about a woman who finds out the man she’s in love with is her long lost brother made Agnes emotional, blowing her nose as she remarked, “That would just be awful,” while Bernice shrugged, “Flowers in the Attic is the only incest movie I’ll ever see.”
When the main attraction finally came on, that’s when Agnes and Bernice’s debate really heated up as they discussed in typical suburban fashion whether or not the teenage boy in the movie was a boy or a girl, merely because of his long hair and emulation of David Bowie.
“I thought it was a boy. But now I don’t know,” smacked Agnes.
“It’s a girl, I think. I’m pretty sure,” wagered Bernice.
Barrett forgot that these kind of people existed. It had been so long since he had to come to this town, usually sticking with major cities when called upon by his superior to travel for work. Bill was one of the last vestiges of a time when their company still bothered to nurture “small potatoes” relationships in order to sustain a reputation for being a proponent of the average joe. And now, Barrett remembered why they had stopped. These were the people who had to classify transes, the people who elevated The Notebook to a level on par with Casablanca. Barrett preferred to exist in a different America. The kind where you could go see a movie and everyone would either be silent out of veneration or because they were pulling a Paul Reubens and needed to be discreet.
But this one, this suburban bubble–which still held no cachet in spite of being where George Lucas spent his formative years and the largest “city” in Stanislaus County–was not an existence that Barrett could tolerate. In fact, towns like these were the reason film was invented, so that people of Barrett’s nature could escape from one false reality to a more captivating one.
He left about forty minutes in, right when Agnes and Bernice were squabbling over whether or not they caught a glimpse of the boy’s vagina during a bathroom segment. He had never left a movie in his life. But then, he had never watched one in suburbia in the middle of the day before either.