Due to a recent and significant change in my work status (from "gainfully employed" to, "not"), I've found myself with a lot more free time during the day. By myself. While friends, girlfriend, parents, and other non-bartenders head off to the subway every morning, ready to make a dollar if not a difference, I'm left alone with idle hands and an anxious mind. Certainly, not working has it's pro's: catching up on Law & Order reruns, reading more books, getting eight hours of sleep, going to the gym regularly. I even got to play golf a few times with a buddy who is applying to Med School and was waiting for his MCAT scores. But there are cons as well, and I don't necessarily recommend the unemployed life to all twentysomethings. While it's interesting to see how many people seem to be out and about in the middle of the day, it's still fantastically boring having nothing to do.
I would like to think that my intrepid pursuit of leisure activities has served me well, and that I've done a good job in sampling all the mid-day activities, from sitting in the park to window-shopping with the best of them. I've even had lunch at a diner by myself. However, it took me a very long time to reach the pinnacle of "by yourself" activities: going to the movies alone. I know some people who don't object to this, who even relish the two hours of dark, quiet time. My dad has been known to use a few slow hours in between meetings to sneak into the local multiplex, and some other dads I know echo this sentiment. This probably has to do with getting away from the kids or the wife or the what have you - responsibilities I don't have to run from just yet.
For most of my years I have counted seeing a movie alone among the most depressing things a person could do - an explicit sign that, at least socially, life had not worked out. It was a symptom of post-traumatic stress. Or, maybe you just got dumped by a long time girlfriend, and everything you do reminds you of her but you can't break the routine of coupled life. You are so used to the way things were, so you still eat at your favorite restaurants and still go for jogs around the reservoir Sunday mornings, still see movies in the afternoon like you used to with her, only now you do everything without her and it magnifies how alone you are and always will be, yet you can't help carrying on the only way you know how. That's the psyche of the solo moviegoer, at least in my head.
My aversion to going to a movie alone is also a direct result of the only time I've ever done it. During sixth grade winter vacation I found myself in the unfortunate position of being at home while all of my friends vacationed out of town. After much deliberation, I rang 777-Film and settled on Jingle All The Way at 84th and Broadway. Now I don't know if it was the overcast sky, the toys-as-love undercurrent (the same emotion that has propped up the Hess toy truck business at gas stations for dozens of years), or the unfortunate casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a mild-mannered, Joe Nobody of the Twin Cities, but I found the whole experience profoundly depressing. Also the movie just sucked.
But here I was, jobless and out of ideas. It had been almost 15 years and it was time to get back in the water, time to give solo theater-going another chance.
There are a few things to consider when thinking about seeing a movie alone. The most important, and most obvious, is that, you will be seeing this movie with none of your friends. This means, first, that there will be no one to discuss the movie with when you leave. So avoid from any films designed to promote discussion or debate. Also, stay away from movies that have just come out. If it's a movie that gets any buzz, or that your friends will naturally want to see, you'll have to sheepishly explain that you've already seen it, and spend another afternoon alone while everyone else goes off to the theater. I had picked a good time of summer to avoid these particular predicaments; 4th of July and Hancock had just passed, and The Dark Knight was still a couple weeks away. But I still had to tread carefully in my movie selection.
Indeed, perhaps the most important do-not is seeing a comedy that has the potential for great quote-ability (a feature akin to "drinkability" in light beer). My roommate Will saw Super Troopers by himself one summer during college, and it was torture for him to have dozens of one-liner gems he could break out at any time, except that no one would understand what he was talking about. Who was Farva? What the hell were Shnozzberries? He had seen the future of our conversations, could see what we'd all be laughing about, what lines we'd be reciting, but couldn't do anything about it because none of us had been there to watch with him. With this proscription against solo viewings of quotable comedies in mind, I ruled out one of my initial top choices, The Foot Fist Way (an indie comedy from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay that stars brother-in-laughs Danny McBride). The trailer explicitly told me that even Ferrell and his buddies couldn't stop quoting this thing, so what hope would I have? On the flip side, I also had to remember not to see anything that promised to be a total bummer, lest I be further reminded that I was sitting in the dark by myself. This goes for everything from a Saving Private Ryan to a Closer.
In the end, I had few options. I decided on Wanted, which promised a few good action sequences, a glimpse of Angelina Jolie's naked body, and bullets that moved like tennis balls hit with a lot of topspin. The movie was better than I expected; some really cool action and more in depth characters than you'd think. But, even if the movie had been a total dud, my solo trip would have been worth it, just to experience the movie-alone atmosphere.
I figured I would be pretty much alone in the theater, but for a 1:30pm showing on a Tuesday, there were many more people than I expected. I shouldn't have been surprised; if not working has taught me anything, it's that New York is full of people with time on their hands. Interestingly, though, everyone in the theater was a man. Now this might not be surprising for the particular movie I was seeing, but I mean that everyone in the whole building was a guy, except the apathetic register operators. Maybe the girls were working on their tans or something, but, in any case, the mid-week afternoon movie lifestyle seems better suited to men.
There was a tinge of "I'm a regular" in the air, in a good way. Imagine being at a popular bar that is always crowded Thursday through Saturday, only you are there on a Tuesday. Eventually, since you are there when everyone else forgets the place exists, you and the other Tuesday-regulars build up some social equity at the place, a few free drinks come your way, and the bartender recognizes you by face and name. Such was the feeling at the movie theater. I know of no greater satisfaction than being a "regular", and I tip my hat to my fellow Regal Union Square patrons. Even though a movie theater is certainly one of the worst places to be a regular at, since it's almost guaranteed that none of the high schoolers running the place will remember or care about you, it did feel like this particular crowd had more of an "authority" than the average moviegoer. They don't just follow the masses, they are individuals. They'll see movies whenever they feel like it.
The actual viewing was also remarkably comfortable. Since the theater was relatively empty I could stretch out and make myself comfortable, and since everyone else there was by himself as well, conversations were at a minimum. I was worried I might have a cell phone talker who thought the afternoon starting time would give him carte blanche, but I got lucky.
I did, however, uncover perhaps the most serious downfall of flying solo. When the 64oz. Diet Coke sends you running to the restroom, you have no one to tell you what you missed. I held it as long as I could but ended up leaving in the middle of Terrence Stamp's explanation of the secret Assassin's society, the cotton looms, and who really was good and who was bad. Thankfully, I returned for the climactic 10-minute orchestra of violence and rats that helped clear things up.
Overall, my adventure, like that of James McAvoy's, was a success. I had tackled a tenet in the Loneliness Guidebook and re-emerged unscathed. A fun movie, some free A/C, and a full afternoon to do what I pleased. I think I'll definitely be back. Alone.
As for the rest of that day, I had a few Law & Orders to watch back at the homestead.