Friday, February 10, 2012

Love is a Challenge: An Identity Crisis in Four Reels

Hey, you ain't never met a fool like me before,
You ain't never met a fool like me before,
They told you all romantic fools had died,
I'm here to tell you that they lied.

You can't be always right my friend,
Come on and tell me I got it wrong again.
"Fool Says," M. Ward

This week has been madness, so instead of penning some ruminations on life as it is, I will instead share a story that I wrote for the open mic at my friend's house this week. Enjoy.


The trouble all starts with the second date. The first date was awesome. We went to the coffee shop in the student center, got tea, talked about the things college kids talk about. I gave the guy at the counter my ID in exchange for some billiard balls, and we set up a game of pool. You ask, did she do the thing where she was all “I don’t know how to shoot pool…”? Yes. She did do that thing. And I did I do the thing where I was all “Let me show you…by putting my man arms around you to demonstrate”? Yes, I did do that thing. We had a great first date.

The second date, as I say, things start going haywire.

We go to The Snail for dinner. The Snail is the local Thai place (okay, it’s one of three Thai places in within literally a block of each other—and it’s the best one [chew on that, Thai 55 and Siam!]). It’s two blocks from my dorm, and whenever I’m too lazy/hungry to go to campus for food, I order crispy pad thai with chicken on the phone, walk over, and pick it up, bringing it back to my dorm to be eaten out of the box with a fork, accompanied by a Dr Pepper. I’m 19, and The Snail is the source and ground of all that is good. It’s a natural place for a second date with this pretty girl I met at a folk dance. It’s also closed today.

I salvage the date by proposing a viewing of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable.” It’s 2006, so Shyamalan’s record does not yet include the increasingly obtuse travesties Lady in the Water, The Happening, or Avatar: The Last Airbender. No, all he’s got are Signs, Unbreakable, the Village, and the Sixth Sense, each at least a solid film with some redeeming qualities, some actually pretty great, and all of them have super twisty McTwist endings that are so cool, man. “Unbreakable” is particularly dark and awesome, and the twist ending is going to blow this girl’s mind.

We watch the film. The twist ending happens. The credits roll. “Wasn’t that ending great? Didn’t it take you totally by surprise?” No, it did not. She figured out the twist ending less than an hour into the movie. She knew. And her mind is not blown. The date is not ruined, per se, but it wasn’t great, either. Next time, I think. We’ll have a great movie experience next time. I’ll pick something that’ll totally wow you.

It’s a month later. We’ve gone on a few other dates and done other cool things. I need an experience which will cement us together, the bond of some joyous, exciting thing that will make this girl think This guy is so great. We should hang out all the time. I need to seal the deal with the girl.

Much more than that, though, I need to salvage my reputation as a picker of high-quality date films. I grew up watching movies all the time. They were how I entertained friends, spent time with the family, or passed time by myself on nights or weekends. Being good at picking the right movie for a given social situation is something I pride myself on; it’s part of my identity. I need to redeem myself.

I see a movie listed in the schedule for the on-campus movie theater at our university. The movie is called “A Fist Full of Dynamite,” and it has everything I need to win the heart of a young woman for all time. First off, it’s got James Coburn, one of the coolest dudes anywhere (he was in “Charade” and “The Magnificent Seven,” playing a seriously kick-ass dude in both). Next, it’s directed by the legendary spaghetti western director Sergio Leone, of “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” fame, along with his best collaborator on the score, Ennio Morricone. Finally, it’s about the Mexican Revolution, which, as revolutions go, was pretty rad. What better way to seal the deal than with this obviously great date movie?

As it turns out, there are many better ways. “A Fist Full of Dynamite” is not a high-quality film. Its failure is in encapsulated nicely in the first scene of the movie. In it, a poor man hitches a ride with a really ritzy stagecoach. Instead of making sense, or finishing quickly, this scene spends a good three or four minutes focusing the camera on the rich people in the coach eating. Not just eating, but being really kind of disgusting, with juice dripping down faces and open-mouth chewing. It was gross. It was long. It was weird. And it was kind of boring. And so was the rest of the movie. (Sidenote: the soundtrack is awesome, if really, really weird. I listened to it all the way through while writing this.)

So the deal remains unsealed. The thought This guy is so great. We should hang out all the time does not pass through the girl’s head. But worst of all, I fail again to be a picker of good date movies. This must be rectified. A part of my identity is still at stake, and that cannot stand.

Soon after, the girl and I finally start seeing each other seriously. One night, I sit on a swinging bench with her and say, “Hey, would you like to, you know, go steady?” Later, we attend a throat singing concert on campus, holding hands in the dark auditorium, and I walk her back to her dorm, where I kiss her. (My memory tells me that I might have asked if that was her first kiss, and, getting the answer yes, I then apologized that her first kiss was from a guy with a beard. I sincerely hope that my memory is wrong. I don’t want to have done that.) In spite of our budding romance, the niggling thought remains: we still haven’t been on a good movie date, and it’s my fault.

Soon after, the girl has to go see a movie in French as an assignment for French class. There’s this movie in French that’s playing at the campus movie theater, and everyone says it’s supposed to be really good, so I suggest we go. This will surely break the trend in our movie watching, I think, some classy, elegant French cinema. It’ll be romantic, right? The French are all about romance. The string of bad movie dates is about to be broken. I can reclaim my rightful status as a picker of good movies.

The movie we end up seeing is Michael Haneke’s “Caché.” What I don’t know about this film is this: Michael Haneke is mostly known for making really, really unsettling movies that are very, very tense, with occasional flashes of brutal violence. “Caché,” it turns out, is no exception. The whole movie is about a man who gets these video tapes of his house, filmed on a hidden camera. The tapes come to his house, day after day, with no explanation. Over the course of the film, his family life begins to unravel and a forgotten conflict with a childhood friend comes to light. At the climax, he confronts his childhood friend, whom he has not seen in several decades, in the friend’s apartment, where—without warning or explanation—the friend kills himself on screen. To put it another way, this is how bad of a date movie this is: there is a scene in the film where my date curls up in the fetal position because of what happens on screen. It’s three tries in, and I have still not picked a good date movie.

More months pass. Our relationship consists mainly of sitting on the grass of the quad and reading out loud to each other, solving crossword puzzles, and playing two-person Risk, which is more fun than it sounds, but only just barely. I am happy. Or I would be, if I could just get this one thing right, and pick a doggone date movie worth watching. I give it one last shot.

It’s Oscar season, and we want to see something that’s been nominated. I pick, for reasons that remain obscure to me, “Brokeback Mountain.” While it is not the worst movie we ever see together, the fact remains that there is no good reason to take your girlfriend to see a movie about doomed gay cowboy romance. After this movie, we must have made an unspoken pact with each other never to go to the movies again: I, want to avoid further shame, and she wants to be spared, finally, the agony of my choices. Unspoken pact or no, we never see another movie together again. And I think that that was probably for the best.

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