Sunday, July 29, 2012
I had just finished consuming utterly a bag of gummi colas at a nearby park when I redirected myself towards the Mesilla Valley mall. The too-distant night suns had borne witness to my meandering around the rolling hills and over the bridges spanning micro-lakes, as I chewed into the tender sugary goodness, all lit by some of the orange street-lamps that turned our southern New Mexico cities into a firmament holding copper glitter.
The hands on my desert-wind-warmed stainless steel watch read 11:00. I thought that I could stand to sit in a movie theater for a little under an hour, and made my way there.
I had to stop and turn around at the crest of a hill to find a garbage can to dispose of my first bag. The second bag, unopened and still full of high-fructose delight, kept my keys company in my cargo pants' left pocket. Two bags were bought, both intended for the movie itself, but one bag was stored next to my wallet and could have been detected when I went for my debit card to pay for further confections. Thus, when I realized that I had arrived early, I took a short-distance longer-time detour through that nearby park to enjoy the bag's contents.
When I reached the street, I climbed back onto my bike and rode to get onto Lohman, which cut the that part of the city into north and south, and ran along the short side of Shopping Mall territory. The sound of cars punching through the air and of my bike's creaking suspension were unheard, but felt, as auditory candy looped about from my smartphone, to my earbuds, and into my mind.
The song was Everything's Chill in Silent Hill – the artist? Hamster Alliance – the tune itself? Harsh industrial grinds that gave way to a span of tranquility in the middle of its duration, like the eye of a storm in a hurricane of shrapnel and shards of glass.
The mall parking-lot was a gently curving, ascending, descending thing that was definitely a flattening of the local, hilly geography. I let go of the brakes and let gravity pull me from the roadway and through empty aisles marked by yellow, angled lines – like the spines and ribs of golden-boned fish.
I rode past the northern end of the mall and drifted along its western flank until I saw the parked car population swell, and over their glossy carapaces, the movie-theater's neon icons. I curved into a driving lane and made my way to the courtyard and round-about – the former section had a bicycle rack, and the latter was used by irate and exhausted parents to disgorge their ornery spawn into that great temple to American consumerism.
I cleared the ocean of technicolored four-wheel-drive oil-ticks and saw the line of people which stretched from the entrance of the movie theater, itself attached to the shopping mall, to beyond the southern tip of the complex. I won't speculate on the length of the line, as I am even more terrible at estimating distances in memory than I am in reality, but I can estimate the population.
It seemed like half the Mall's weekend population had been siphoned out, rolled, and stretched into a filament of noisy anticipation. An anticipation that shined in their skin but seemed coated, caked on, like the sarcophagus of makeup that some vain, bitter old women sleeve themselves into so they can fill their wrinkles away.
There was enough space between the theater proper and the midnight showing's line for me to cut through and reach the anchored vertical hoops of the bike-rack. I jumped off my bicycle ten feet away from the rack, walked up, and at zero feet away locked it to the rack.
I wasn't yet sure what the line was for, so I walked up to the front of it to ask.
“Excuse me,” I said just under a yell so that I wouldn't need to repeat myself. A group of five or so people – five men, two woman, all wearing different styles and colors of shirts and shorts and a skirt while all seemingly abiding by contemporary casual fashion – turned to look at me.
“Is this the line for people who have tickets or who need tickets?” I continued, and ended.
“This is the line for people who have tickets,” said the man in the yellow, blue-striped polo shirt, short micro-spiked hair, and long face.
“Thanks,” I said, before I started walking contrary to the line's facing.
“Hey!” he shouted as the distance grew. “Hey dude! Do you need a ticket?”
I walked a block and found nothing but more line, which stretched further and around the JC Penny's at the southern tip of the mall. This would have bode well if it were opposite day. When I rounded the corner, I found the end of the line – a group of people who formed a frayed terminus. I took my place behind them, and sat down on the sidewalk decorated in black spots that were once gobs of chewing gum, and now were the sterilized, polymerized manifestations of countless peoples inability to adhere to (increasingly un)common decency.
I slipped my smartphone out of my pocket and checked the charge and the time, and upon noting that there was ample amounts of both, opened the browser and searched for digital reading material. More people joined the line, lengthening that great fiber, forming kinks as groups cliqued into congresses of various sizes and makeup.
“yeah, and then he lost his job,” I thought I heard a woman in the group before me say. She was short, had dark and curly hair and “That's bad,” started a man in the same group – short, pudgy What's he going to do now?”
Then he lost his job.
Then he lost his job.
It's been our anthem for the past four years.
Then he lost his job.
Then he lost his job.
I left my phone alone to buffer and load the page as one of many zeitgeists bubbled out of my bloodstream and into the gears in my skull.
Then he lost his job.
Then he lost his job.
It's the heart killer. It's everything we watch, everywhere we hear: people who can't lose their paycheck see it, and their entire future, cast into flame. Simultaneously, we see those modern moneyed lords who should lose their paycheck laugh and celebrate and douse hope with gasolene and blame the holders of that hope for the spark that makes it glow and disintegrate.
Then there's the rest of us. The few that do fulfilling work who see their just bounties slowly trickle out of their grasp as they work harder and longer to not see every single thing that they earned detonate at the end of a pink-slip fuse. The many who work jobs they hate for people who hate them so they can see their life grind into a bitter dust.
Lastly, there are those of us who throw themselves into increasingly higher cost higher education, who risk serfdom for only the possibility a fulfilling life. We are the ones who drown our existential terror with studying and exams as we pray that the degrees that we're working for won't just be billions of dollars of toilet paper that the corporate overlords are more than happy to examine with their brown eye.
It's passe to wipe butts with Franklins, apparently. They need to use the names of living, breathing, screaming, raging human beings to wipe the shit from between their immaculately groomed ass cheeks.
I noticed the theater staff working their way up the line by their shirts – black, with movie logos casually displayed as if to suggest fandom, but in truth, to serve as only advertisement. One of them walked up, with pink strips of paper in one hand.
“Tickets please,” she asked.
I reached into my pocket and pulled mine out before handing it to her. In exchange, she gave me one of the strips. I quickly found the adhesive end.
“You need to wear it to get in,” she said.
“I ventured as much,” I replied.
I removed the cover over the adhesive strip and wrapped it around my arm. I was always scrawny enough for a significant amount of slack, and in the past when I still went to public pools and water parks their removal was straightforward – I simply reached under the arm-band, grabbed the slack, and pulled to turn it into a literal rip-cord, removing the device without the need for tools or raw strength.
It was then that I thought of the people who weren't as scrawny as I always was – those whose flesh swelled with corpulent bloat. What if someone was too large for scissors? What if any attempts at cutting the admittance bands were thwarted by the protests of the lard? Do the admittance bands just keep accumulating? Do these people have a pinch about their wrist, composed of layer upon layer of differently colored admittance bands so that it looked like a jawbreaker in cross section? Can they act as a sort of geological strata, and thus be used to estimate the ages of the dead things found within their lipidinous folds?
I stopped thinking of fat people and turned my attention to the fiction now displayed on my smartphone's screen.
It was a story that focused on the dysfunctional romantic and sexual relationship betwixt two ladies in London. I liked it because I related with the protagonist, who was saturated with self loathing but still managed to find someone who could see the good in her, and love her for it, even if she herself couldn't.
And then she lost her job.
And then I kept reading, even as the line started to move. Then it stopped. Then it started again, and so it continued in a stuttered fashion.
I was at the part when the protagonist was fighting to escape her lover's arms when I heard someone from the group further ahead of the line yell, “hey!” and wave at himself. The sound of jogging feet followed, which belonged to a tall man wearing a baseball hat (the functional way), a blue shirt, and black pants.
Their tone and dialogue indicated that they're good friends – good enough for the newcomer to say as a simple matter of fact, “you know? This is my first midnight showing. Ever.”
Upon dead gods, how wonderful is that? To have been so busy, so in demand that the occasion for a free evening and day after, and of ones interest in a piece of cinema, could had never had previously aligned.
And what a movie to pop one's midnight cinemaphiliac cherry with! I could only imagine what it would be like to have one's first midnight showing be the capstone of Christopher Nolan's immensely successful and well crafted Batman trilogy.
I imagined that it was what I felt at that point in time, minus the memories of the handful of other midnight showings that I had previously perused. It wasn't that difficult, as I could only remember one in the nook of my mind – Prometheus, filed away in the “Stuff I Did This Summer” vault.
I felt anticipation there. It was a thing groomed to be miniature, but adequate. I had trimmed my excitement like bonsai, yet could hear a great forest all around me. People in the line had chosen to wear shirts and other items that proudly declared their allegiance to the dark knight – Batman insignias were draped upon pectoral muscle, perked breast, gentle mound, and flab slope without discrimination.
Some of my fellow moviegoers were in costume, as well, and one or two of them even had the gall to dress up as relevant characters!
As the line lurched forward, I could see that the becostumed fans had congregated just outside the entrance, to bask in the line-lurchers' gaze and the theater lights' neon haze.
I glanced up from the romantic escapades spelled out from my screen and found that a whole two of the five-ish group of cosplayers were actually costumed as batman – dressed in shabby nylon cloaks and hoods with bent ears. One was in a jumpsuit of similar manufacture and quality, and the other just had black pants and a Tim Burton era Batman t-shirt.
It could only have been guessed at at what in the names of dead gods two of the others were doing.
One was dressed as a mouse. His gray flannel costume ill-fit his lanky frame – he looked like a great fat rat that, after a single day and night of emergency liposuction, had been reduced to a husk. The other person breaking theme was unevenly died blue, for whatever reason. It was only after when my place in line reached the doors to the theater's lobby that I could see the face-paint, and knew that he painted himself up like some Na'avi tribal from James Cameron's Avatar.
And it made sense.
It was the evidence for a theory that I had not yet made. It was a a cognitive fastener that, when sealed, assembled my disparate thoughts and observations into a single cohesive hole.
This was what happened when 'geek culture' turned from a super category, divided and partitioned into thousands of discrete realms of obsessive interest, into a single hegemonic whole of which all objects within it belonged. The walls that divided fandoms into individual microcultures had become porous, if not blasted into ash and ruin.
Those old distinctions – comic book nerds, movie buffs, Trekkies, Star Wars Nerds, Otaku, - have become functionally useless. How nobody jeered nor noticed nor cared that a furry and a Na'avi cosplayer had showed up for an event at which their costume choices would have been charitably labeled as 'inappropriate' demonstrated this.
It was then that I realized that the last boundary – between geek culture and mainstream culture – might have already been crushed under the sheer, monumental weight of the collective money that these comic-book movies have made. Those, combined with the titanic profits and influence that the modern video-game industry have attained, lend credibility to the possibility that it will not be a simple merger between mainstream and geek cultures – but rather, it would be geek culture devouring in totality mainstream culture.
Because 'geek culture,' despite the dissolution of boundaries, the elevated social status of geeks, and rapidly growing domain of inclusion still holds within it that initial draw – it still had that primeval allure that, during its emergence in early to mid 20th century America, called out to the clumsy, awkward, masses. The Statue of Geekery stands tall, with torch and tablet, tights and glasses, along the coastline of that sensational continent, proclaiming that upon those lands there is sense, justice, and hope.
The Avengers, the Batman trilogy, and countless films before presented images of those defenders who made sense, championed justice, and rewarded our hope.
More and more people flee in droves and lines that wrap around movie theaters to see these films because more and more people are refugees of the real world – a world where there is no sense, justice, or hope.
We lost the class war. Our bank accounts have been pillaged. Our prospects have been raped.
We are pregnant with despair.
I raised my pink-paper banded arm as my section of the line entered the theater lobby. The great antechamber composed of neon lights and primary colored everythings reflected and concentrated the fantastic din. I initially bypassed the the concession stand and made, with the rest of my line segment, my way towards the theater proper. The theater employee present at the threshold to the theater access halls told us all to head to theater eight.
Since I then learned where to go, I went to where I needed to go – to the restroom, to vent my bowels.
Afterwards I made for the shifting, hybridizing, and splicing lines that jutted out from the great candy counter. I loved the pure, dry sodium-chloride rich popcorn that could only be acquired from movie theaters, and I never skipped a chance to indulge in that particular delight.
Each of the five or six or so registers were open, and theater drones counted monies, dispensed candies, filled cups and bags, swiped plastic, and did so very rapidly. Even so, every lines' pace was glacial. I found the shortest que, and lengthened it by a man.
The din became slightly inimical to my mental state, and thus I plugged my ears with speaker buds, ran the music program on my smartphone, and found Raja by Doctor Steel. The song plinqued into its preamble before diving into the rest of its delicious industrial nightmare storm. My mind matched tempo and found the theme, and was so pulled into contemplations of the desert. The family at the front of the line acquired their goodies and shuffled out – the next cluster of people shuffled in to order theirs, and they pulled the line with them.
The lyrics, in one of the few durations of the song where they dragged themselves out of the rhythmic whirlwind, were as follows: “Wait 'till the sun is down; drown in a sea of sand; wish glutton wanted more.”
And thus I wondered.
I wondered of the when, whence the desert comes to reclaim the cities man had dared conjure in this region. I wondered when the water would be stolen by the sun and held hostage above thirsty towns and a thirstier earth. When men would look into the sky, and if are so unfortunate as to see clouds far above them, scream at that taunting, haunting moisture. When the weeping of women become treasures to kill for. When the only currency capable of balancing the scale, when the only thing for which water becomes worth is human blood.
Blood: fresh, red, pooling. I blinked and saw and felt gallons of it, wrenched from the once living in the lobby, and left to coat the polished, squared tile with an imminently coagulating veneer. Corpses... countless due to the pointlessness in counting, submerged enough into that red strata so as to create an exhibit of parts.
In that moment I knew a... cold flare. Some kind of ancient flash, a distant nova that I looked down to examine.
And that flare was the urge to kill as many of my fellow human beings as I could.
Then I blinked. I lifted my head up, shook it out, and attributed it to just one more brief episode of my forever inhibited instinct towards omnicide.
My lizard brain crept out to see if it was a suitable time to bask. I let it crawl back under its stone.
When my view of the counter became significantly less obstructed, I stepped up to it as I removed the buds from my ears.
The young, dark-haired woman in yet another advertisement shirt addressed me one moment after stepping to the register: “What would you like?”
I kept it terse with, “A large popcorn and a large cherry coke.” One of the workers behind the counter immediately grabbed the prepared bag and moved it right next to the register. I enjoyed making sure that it was still delicious. The soda took somewhat longer, but was dispensed without complication nor unbearable wait. I paid in electronic currency with the slash of my card, and made my way into theater 8.
The theater was lit, the screen was blank, and almost every seat was filled. My preferred seats, just above the broadened row designed to be comfortable and accessible for those who rode into the theater, were all otherwise occupied.
But there was no person – cyborg nor otherwise – in the handicapped row seats. As I saw that they were both unused and that there was no sign prohibiting their usage by the unwheeled, I walked to and sat in the center-most seat.
My comfort in theater seats is defined by a bag of popcorn on my lap, a soda in one arm rest, and a bag of candy in the opposite. I unbuttoned my cargo pocket, withdrew my parcel of gummi cola, ripped it open, and resisted the urge to just stuff it all in my mouth and chew my way out of asphyxiation.
The screen flashed green with white text detailing the intended ages of the audience. The lights dimmed. The theatergoers drank the cocktail of social more and Pavlovian conditioning and promptly shut up.
Three hours later I was at my apartment, going on an online news binge due to the fact that I was not yet willing to sleep, and hungered for global data.
That was when I found out about the Aurora movie theater shooting. I read the scant details – of a crowded theater, of dead and wounded, of shots fired, and of gas dispensed.
After that was when I wondered if what I saw in the theater - in the line, in the pool of blood and the gallery of killed anatomy – was some sort of internal image so conjured solely by my mind or something outside of my skull.
And if I was not the only person who saw it.