You know, there are very few things in life that give me pleasure.

Well, that’s not true, technically, but since it’s a lot more entertaining for me to write about the things that annoy me than those that make me happy, I’m content to let you guys run around all day long convinced that I live a bleak, joyless existence devoid of any inner happiness or sense of fulfillment.

For the record, I like many things. Books, plays, the blues, barbecues, the company of my friends and family, my cat, my garden, my city, and, yes Randy, even men. Usually. In fact, it is because I enjoy all these things so much that it causes me such great anguish whenever someone comes along to mess with them.

Take going to the movies, for example. Tell me, my little cyber-friends, when was it, exactly, that so benign an activity as going to see the latest movie became such an adventure in irritation?

It’s gotten to the point where most of my friends just flatly refuse to invite me to go to the movies with them anymore. They say it’s because I get so stressed out that they fear for my sanity, but I know what’s really going on. They don’t want to go with me because they know I’m a magnet. I am a magnet for every annoying moviegoer on earth, and, as a result, my own friends have come to shun my company.

It never fails. We’ll be in the theater, all settled in and ready for the show, having arrived early enough to get good seats and organize all our snacks for ease of access (popcorn in the middle, M&Ms on the left, and Big Diet Coke on the right). And then…in they come, bearing down upon me like a massive, thundering, heat-seeking missile: The Family. The Family with the two hyperactive toddlers, the sullen pre-teen, the squalling infant, the overstuffed diaper bag, and the armfuls upon armfuls of super-sized movie snacks. They’ve got the nachos, the chicken nuggets, the mini-pizzas - and they’ve cleaned out the concession stand of every piece of candy and kernel of popcorn that was on display. And never you mind that it’s an R-rated movie and it’s past 9 p.m. on a school night - they’ll haughtily tell you to mind your own business and continue to lumber on down the aisle as I hunker lower and lower in my seat, hoping against hope that this is the one time they’ll pass me by.

No such luck. There they plop - right behind me. They plunk the whole ugly brood down while taking a small eternity to distribute hunks of fried dough, napkins, straws, and sodas, squabbling over who gets the Junior Mints and who will be stuck sucking on the Sno-Caps. No sooner do they seat themselves then one of them has to go to the bathroom. And thus it begins. The hopping up and down. The running of the aisles. The kicking of my chair. The whining. The wheedling. The whiplash (from the ten thousand times I turn to glare at them, a fruitless effort that I eventually abandon).

I’d love to say this is the only problem I encounter in the movie theaters of Greater Boston, because if that were the case I’d have only to change my seat to solve the problem (well, I’d still be annoyed just knowing they were there, but at least they wouldn’t be right on top of me and at that point it’d be my problem anyway). Unfortunately, this is not the case. They’re just the warm-up act - the Greek chorus in the zany pageant of colorful characters who appear like clockwork at every show, all conspiring to drive me out into the street, insane and muttering all the while:

The Tall Guy Beneath the Large Hat: It may not be cold enough outside to warrant the donning of this stunning feat of haberdashery, but that does not dissuade this hardy fashionista from affixing his headdress and venturing forth into the night. So proud is he of his dapper ensemble that his enormous headpiece will remain insistently anchored atop his scalp for the duration of the film, thoroughly hindering the view of anyone (ie., me) unlucky enough to be seated behind the Large Hat. If forced by theater management, he will grudgingly remove said Large Hat and place it lovingly on the seat next to him, showering one and all with a cascade of dandruff and offering up such a horrifying yet compelling glimpse of Hat Hair Gone Bad that one’s eyes will be riveted upon the Tall Guy, rather than the screen, for the remainder of the evening.

Professor Snooty le Film Buff: The theater may be completely empty except for me, but that does not stop this discerning judge of acoustics and camera angles from choosing the very spot from which he can most thoroughly expound upon the technical merits of the picture - that spot being, of course, right by my side. On most occasions, Professor Snooty will be accompanied by at least one of his Starry-Eyed Acolytes, to whom he will graciously impart his expert opinions regarding everything from the underlying homoerotic subtext of Die Hard to the overt Hitchcockian references in Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, my friends, it is indeed a treat to be seated next to this erudite fellow - quite the educational experience all around. Do not miss it.

Slick Sleazy and his Hot-Looking Euro-Date: We all know what this sly charmer is up to. It’s obvious that Euro-Date cannot understand a word of English, and, absent any French subtitles, Slick will helpfully pretend to translate every line into her ear while copping a not-so-subtle feel at the same time. This would ordinarily be no concern of mine; however, the closeness of their heads during this process manages to create a giant obstruction, through which it is quite difficult to see. Polite coughs and obvious neck-cranes go unheeded. It is far better to just consider this display a form of live pornography and make the best of it.

The Demanding Latecomers of Entitlement: I hate the Demanding Latecomers of Entitlement with the fire of a thousand Klieg lights. They stroll into the theater several minutes after the film has begun (no doubt after having had difficulty finding a parking space large enough to contain both their new Chevy Suburban and their overblown egos) and stand in the aisle, noisily conferring between themselves as to the most desirable seat location. Upon deciding upon a spot somewhere near the center of the middle row, they then insist upon reconfiguring the seating arrangements of everyone already present in order to accommodate their own desire to sit together. Refusing to move (so as to avoid ending up, once again, behind the Tall Guy With The Large Hat) is futile, as they will huffily engage the services of the nearest usher and, if necessary, Theater Security until all are forced to bend to their will. Not only does this little drama rudely interrupt everyone’s enjoyment of the drama on the screen, it is also entirely unnecessary. Why the pressing need to sit together? I ask. It is a movie, after all. It’s not as though they are going to be talking to one another or anything…ARE THEY?

The Screen Whisperer: Ah, The Screen Whisperer. A true enigma. Able to communicate his slightest whims and helpful suggestions to the actors on screen at will. If only they would heed his dire warnings (“Don’t go in there! It’s a trap!”), the film would likely be over before the opening credits finish rolling. How is it that The Screen Whisperer has such uncanny insights into all movie events past, present, and future? He instantly knows who is who (“I’ll bet that’s the old girlfriend there in the pink!”), what is happening at that very moment (“Look! He’s opening the door!”), and what is about to happen (“Watch out! He’s going to get shot!”), helpfully communicating this crucial information to the rest of the audience in such a clear, audible, and excited voice that our entire moviegoing experience is enhanced a thousand times over. Thank you, Screen Whisperer, for sharing your insights with us all. A movie would not be a movie without you there to explain it all to us.

Mr. & Mrs. Bickerson: Omnipresent during afternoon matinees (before the early bird special at Applebee’s and whenever the senior citizens’ discount program is in full force), this longtime couple has perfected the art of joint moviegoing. They are two soulmates moving as one: he watches (her eyes are bad), she listens (he’s deaf), and, together, they make garbled sense of the action before them. Their running commentary is liberally sprinkled with color commentary and often punctuated by sharp disagreements as to the worthiness of a particular actor. Let’s listen in, shall we?

Mrs. B: What’s he doing now?

Mr. B: He’s going around back. What did he just say?

Mrs. B: He says he’s going to bust a cap in his ass.

Mr. B: What?


Mr. B: What does that mean? What cap? He’s not wearing any cap!

Mrs. B: Ssssh! Where’s he going now?

Mr. B: He’s going back inside.

Mrs. B: Why’s he doing that? That’s stupid! I don’t understand this movie at all. Why did you insist on seeing this anyway? I wanted to see the other one - the one with that actor - what’s his name…

Mr. B: That’s where the other guy is. What’d he just say?

Mrs. B: That’s not where the other guy is - that’s where the first guy is!

Mr. B: What? What’s that?


Mr. B: No! What did HE say?

Mrs. B: I don’t know! Stop talking so I can concentrate!

Mr. B: WHAT?

Mrs. B: I SAID STOP TALKING SO I CAN CONCENTRATE. Wait! Where’s he going now?

Leslie: Sssh!

Mrs. B: Oh, YOU, sssh!

Mr. B: WHAT?

Leslie: Look. The first guy went around back to chase the second guy and threatened to bust a cap in his ass, which is street slang for shooting him. Then he went back inside to find the third guy so he could tell him he threatened the second guy. OKAY? Now will you please, please be quiet so I can watch this?

Mr. B: WHAT?

Leslie (banging head on seat in front of her): Never mind.

Mrs. B: What’s she doing that for?

Mr. B: WHAT?

And so it goes.
Down In Front