Last Friday, brightly believing that I’d now become immune to Covid because of finally receiving the first of two Pfizer shots on Thursday, I decided that I was going to do something from back in those days of the normal world, before so many things had become ancient history due to the damn pandemic. My goal was to take one step back into the real world by going to a new movie in an actual movie theater.
After I retired a few years ago, I used to love going to early movie showings at theaters around town because, typically, they were sparsely attended. In fact it was very often the case, unless the movie were some megahit, that I’d be the only person in the audience. Sadly, this was not to be, I felt sure, since there were no shows that were early enough in the day.
Back in 2019 it would have been easy to find empty theaters. Shows would start up before noon. With most people working or in school, the odds were pretty much in my favor. Last Friday, with only limited theater openings, the earliest I could get in to see Minari was 5:00.
Okay, I thought, the crowd will still be small though, right? And in that assumption I was happily correct. The ticket line was mega-short.
I stepped to the window and asked for one ticket. The pretty woman behind the glass took my credit card, processed my payment, and then said, as she passed everything back, “And here’s a special pass for a two-for-one purchase on your next movie. It’s a special promotion to get people back into our theaters.”
“Oh,” I said, “that’s nice, but I probably won’t be using that.”
I didn’t want to get into my long lucky streak with the various online dating sites upon which, like a doomed Vegas gambler, I persist in throwing away time and money. It was bad enough that I tortured myself with the disheartening returns on that investment. Far be it from me to torment as well this poor Consolidated Theatres employee women with my insipid tale of woe.
“Oh go ahead and take it,” she said, “you never know. There’s no expiration date on the pass, so maybe you’ll find someone who’d like to see a movie with you.”
Now this stung. I’d of course not pained this woman with recounting my dearth of romantic entanglements, yet she had somehow perceived that my bachelor days were hard set upon me, and that like the doomed fisherman who casts an unbaited line, there is the less than zero chance that a fish fry for dinner will be forthcoming.
Immediately depressed, I said, “If I give this to them,” pointing to the couple waiting six feet behind me, “can they use it right now.”
“Oh, yes, well sure they can,” said the lovely woman.
“Great,” I said, turning and reaching the coupon to the man and woman behind me. “Here,” I said, “you get two for one.”
They said thank you, and I turned back to the window.
“And for being such a nice person,” the ticket seller said, “here’s a coupon for a one dollar ticket price on a future movie.”
I looked at the card. “Is this one of the promotions too?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said, “we’re trying very hard to get people back into the theaters.”
I thanked her, went over, and entered the theater complex. Oddly, while there were a couple of staff over at the concession stand, helping the few customers present, there was apparently no one to check my ticket. I waited a bit, then simply walked on in. No one anywhere said anything.
I sauntered down the eerily empty hall toward the number nine screen. There is a smell to movie theaters, right, that is deeply ingrained in memory. It is a combination of popcorn, perspiration, and je ne sais quoi. Its absence, I noted immediately, replaced by the strong smell of disinfectant permeated the air. Maybe a little too much disinfectant. It was a bit dizzying.
Sure enough, the auditorium was empty. Perhaps I would be alone. I went up the stairs, turning to look at the screen as I did. I like to be at the exact right height, my sight line ahead, directly in the middle of row. No problem today.
I watched the weird wheel of ads and factoids that ran on its little loop. All the while I kept my fingers crossed that no one else would walk in.
Very casually, I pulled the one dollar coupon from my pocket, looked at it wondering if I’d ever actually used it, then flipped it over. You can imagine my surprise when I found a name and phone number on the back.
Senior citizen that I am, I sat there thinking, what’s this? Now why would someone do this? I wonder who would do this?
Of course if I’d been thirty years younger, I’d know the answer to these questions instantly, but between those thirty years and the overpowering smell of disinfectant, and throw in who knows what kind of reaction to my Covid shot, I puzzled over this a moment.
And then of course it hit me. This must, I said to myself, be the woman who sold me the ticket.
I pictured her again. She was maybe ten or so years younger than me, I guessed. All of sudden, in my foggy memory, she was one of the most attractive women I’d ever met in my life. And so, I thought, must I appear perhaps to her as well.
I mean right at that moment I was feeling pretty darn good. Special. Desired. Steamy. Very steamy. If only it worked this way all the time, I mused. Imagine the amount of money I could save in online dating memberships.
Taking out my phone, I quickly entered the name and number in my contacts. I wiped some future romance inspired perspiration from my eyes. Cognizant of my age and its sometime limitations, I did not trust myself not to lose this ticket. I took out my wallet and tucked it with love and great aloha into my pocket.
My bases were covered. I had the information safely stored in two places. But wait, I thought, running a finger across my sweaty forehead. Let me email her name and number to myself. This I did. I was filled with a warm feeling. Very, very warm. Why wasn’t the air conditioning blasting to circulate the hell out of the damn Covid virus?
Still, there was no one else in the room. I pinched the front of my shirt, pulled it in and pushed it out to simulate some kind of fanning action. I was sweating quite a bit now.
Geez, it was as if I were back in Wisconsin. These guys were blowing heat into the place, not AC. I pumped my shirt a more vigorously. That smell of disinfectant had grown noticeably stronger. God, it was like an over in here.
“Are you okay?” the nurse sticking the needle in my arm asked.
I’d not even noticed that the needle was in my arm already. Not the slightest prick did I feel.
“So far so good,” I said, laughing.
“Oh my, that’s good to hear,” she said. “Well you know, if it turns bad, don’t tell them at the exit that I was the one who gave you the shot.”
We both laughed. She pulled the needle out of my arm. Not only had I not felt any kind of prick, but there’d not been that little build-up of pressure I associate with my annual flu shot.
“Wow,” I said, “that was painless.”
“Oh good,” she said. “That’s a huge relief.”
“I know, right?” I said. “Because I would definitely have had to report you if something did go wrong. And then of course it would be like the CIA and you’d have to kill me.”
We’d both laughed again. Covid vaccine humor. Perhaps I’d found something positive about living through this yearlong nightmare.
“I’d better forget your name, just in case I do suffer any bad after effects,” I joked.
“Good idea,” she said, raising her hand to signal that she was ready for her next vaccination victim.
“Thank you,” I said, standing up, “anonymous nurse.”
She laughed again and we parted ways.
Hey, I thought, maybe when I get home I should free write some Covid jokes, maybe video myself doing my routine. It could go viral. Maybe I can get my comedian friend Jose or maybe Karen over in Atlanta to critique my schtick. You never know. I might become –
“Excuse me.” I came groggily awake, someone shking my arm. It hurt like hell. “Please,” the woman said, “we’re trying to watch the movie.”
“Huh?” I said. It was the woman of the couple I’d given the two-for-one coupon to. “Yeah yeah, me too.”
“Well you’re snoring,” she said. “We can hear you all the way up at the top.”
“Oh, oh, I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep. I didn’t realize . . .”
“No problem,” she said. “And thanks again for the coupon.”
Looking around, I could see that we were the only three people in the place. I tried to focus on the screen. I had absolutely no clue about where in the movie I was. What language were these people speaking anyway? Oh, of course, Korean. I squinted, but I couldn’t read the blurry subtitles.
I pulled out my phone, checked the time. Cripes. I’d been asleep for about a half hour.
Try as I might, I could not figure out what was going on with the movie. And now my arm was really hurting. The place where the needled had gone in and out so painlessly yesterday felt like someone had hit me with a ballpeen hammer. And the woman shaking it had not performed any curative wonders.
I was really sweating now. Fever. What the fuck! Did I have Covid? Did I get if from the shot?
My heart rate shot up. Suddenly I was in a huge pandemic panic. Standing up, I hurried wobbling down the stairs, around the bend, and out the door. It was very hard to walk. Out in the hallway, I plopped down on a couch, leaned back against the wall, my head spinning. I have this fear of throwing up in public. This fear was clawing its way to the position of primary thought.
With great effort, I forced myself to focus, managed to get myself under control. You don’t have Covid, you moron. It’s just those vaccine after effects. Everyone’s been talking about them. The shot hits everyone in different ways. The lucky ones aren’t affected. You’re just not one of the lucky ones. Buck up, you baby. Pull yourself together.
My breathing became a little less erratic. I leaned forward, elbows on my knees. I’d stopped sweating, but my arm throbbed. How could this happen a whole day later?
“Are you all right, sir?”
I looked up. It was the woman, Caroline, who’d sold me the ticket, given me her name and number.
My heart started beating in a different way. My body temperature instantly began climbing again, but this was the kind of fever I liked. I smiled. “Oh, ah, yes, I had my first Covid shot yesterday, and it’s hitting me pretty hard, Caroline.”
“My shot, Caroline. My Covid vaccination. It’s making me a little sick, Caroline.”
“I’m sorry, but who’s Caroline,” she said.
I stopped smiling. “Aren’t you Caroline?”
She gave me an odd look. “No, sorry, my name’s Maka. Not Caroline.”
Geez. What the heck?
I reached for my wallet, pulled it out, took out the coupon. Turning it over I could see very plainly that it was blank.
“Didn’t you write . . .”
I took out my phone. I did a search on my contacts. Thankfully Caroline’s contact information came up. “Isn’t this your phone number?” I asked, holding up my phone for her to see.
She shook her head. Looked odd. “That’s not me, sir. I don’t know who that is.”
Her expression now was not one of concern inspired by a customer who appeared to be ailing physically. No, this was the expression of someone who is caught between pity and a good dose of fear over a customer who appears to be ailing mentally.
“Oh, sorry, I’m sorry.” I was absolutely confused. I tried to cover. “Of course that’s not you. This vaccination shot. I tell you. I think I’m okay now, though.”
“That’s good,” she said, sounding relieved for more than one reason. Now she could hardly wait to get away. Her exit walk was brisk.
Who the hell is Caroline? I wondered. Covid confusion. Is that a side effect? I didn’t remember that one. I needed to get home, lie down, sleep.
The drive from Ward Theatres to my house is short. Now, however, I felt like Odysseus trying to make it back home before Penelope develops dementia and can no longer remember how to weave.
After I parked, I had to sit for a bit. The dizziness subsided again. I staggered into the house, made it to my bed, and collapsed.
When I woke up it was still daylight. Wait, still daylight? It had been dark out by the time I left the theater.
“Alexa,” I mumbled, “what time is it?”
“It’s 8:15 a.m. Enjoy your morning, Lanning”
I dragged my ass to the side of the bed. I felt like something stuck to the bottom of my shoe. My arm still hurt a little.
Finally I moseyed out to the kitchen and got Mr. Coffee going. I leaned my forehead against the cool sink, waiting for the perking to cease. Then, cup in hand, I sat down at the dining room table.
Wow. I remembered my theater field trip in quite vivid detail. That poor Maka woman. What the hell? It is not my goal in life to terrorize women. And yet, nice guy that I am, I’m still not married.
What about my contacts. Who is this Caroline? Should I try that number?
I did a search on my phone. By the time I’d typed in the first four letters the search area went blank. I tried again. Nothing. Then I started with the As and went all the way down to the Ys, There were no last names beginning with Z in my directory.
Unbelievable. Shuffling back to my bedroom, I picked up my wallet, retrieved the one dollar coupon. Of course there was still no name and number on the back. I’d known that even before I looked.