The Palace 15
"E.T held-over for its 7th week" I print on my meticulously crafted, weekly advertisement for "my" movie theater, The Palace 15. I can really lose myself in this. No matter how mean the kids are to me in school, no matter how many times the teachers mistreat me, or that I'm called a nasty name, I can come home every Thursday, lie down on the floor with a few pieces of notebook paper in front of me, pull out a pencil, and make out the entire ad for Friday's movies at The Palace 15. I put down admission prices, senior discounts, bargain matinee prices and even the popcorn and pop special of the week. With 15 screens at my theater, way back in 1982, I am one of the first in the country to own a multiplex. Sure, it's all fantasy, but if you believe something long enough, and stay true to your dream, I hear it will become a reality ("when you wish upon a star").
I wake abruptly from the screaming down the hall. It's a terrifying sound. I can't quite place where I am. I look around and notice the antiseptic white of a mental ward. The sterility of a wilting wish. I punch the switch by my bed and the humming fluorescent comes on again. At first I think the sedatives they've loaded me up with have my eyes seeing funny, but I quickly remember the light fixtures are set in an odd diagonal pattern. The screaming continues. "Oh GOD!" the person yells, "let me leave this place! Let me go home!" Then there's a moment of silence that leads into another bout of violent screams. I hear a few orderlies telling the man to calm down.
Next, a flashlight shines into my eyes. "Why are you awake?" the nurse-assistant-type-person asks. "Well," I respond, still sort of dazed, "the screaming wasn't very calming, and the blinding flashlight didn't exactly help." She lets out a small laugh and sits at the edge of my bed. "Are you doing okay?" She asks. "No," I reply, "I haven't slept more than a few hours in the past 2 days and I don't even know why I'm here." I sit up to face the lady, and realize that my body is covered in sweat, due to pressing against the plastic they insist be on every bed, because some of the patients "have accidents."
"Why are you here?" the lady asks. "They just brought me in. I violated some harassment order that I shouldn't have gotten in the first place." She looks skeptical. "How did you violate it?" "I emailed my local movie theater and asked them which of the Academy Award nominated films they were going to bring to town, so I could find out which ones I had to drive somewhere else to see." She raises an eyebrow. "It doesn't sound like you did anything wrong to me," she says.
"That's because I didn't do anything wrong. Still, there are certain people who have all the power, especially in a small-town, and they can essentially get away with anything." There is a moment of awkward silence. "What was the harassment order for, in the first place?" I'm asked by the ever-inquisitive flashlight-lady. I roll my eyes, I have explained this story one too many times.
"I sent two or three emails, over a period of like 2 years, to the cinema." "They don't like being emailed?" She asks. "No, they actually enthusiastically ask their patrons to send in their comments, questions, complaints and suggestions." "Then what was the problem?" She asks, while clumsily dropping her flashlight. "I guess I knew too much about movies and it intimidated them. I was sort of a cog in the wheel of their smooth operation. Being a monopoly, they could dump junk that should have went straight to video onto their small-town customers and nobody would know any better."
"Were your emails actually harassing?"
"Not unless you consider asking someone to get a quality film, or charge dollar-theater prices for dollar-theater movies that are already months old 'harassment,'" I reply. "I guess there were a couple of times when I requested a pass to see a movie again when the movie I went to was completely out of focus the entire time, broke down in the middle, or the sound shut off." She seems almost appalled. "I would have requested a pass at the very least," she says, "I probably would have demanded my money back and a pass!" "If you would have done that," I say, "you'd be the one locked in this loony-bin right now." She cringes at the thought.
"What it boils down to is that I sent my comments, complaints and suggestions to the theater, as they requested, and they happened to not like the comments, complaints and suggestions that I sent them." I pause momentarily, wondering if I should continue. She tells me to go on. "The manager, who seemed almost afraid I'd steal his job, made crap up to the owner, about how I came in for a job interview with an 'I'd rather be masturbating' T-shirt on, which is absolutely untrue. I do have that T-shirt, but I never wore it to an interview. As a matter of fact, I never even had a job interview at that theater. I never even filled out an application. I asked for one once, but the manager told me they were all out, and that he'd let me know when they came back in. The next time I asked him, about two weeks later, he said all the positions had been filled. It's sort of sad, being that he all but promised me a job." "Why would he lie to you like that?" the increasingly interested flashlight-lady asks, while turning on and off the flashlight bulb, creating an odd sort of "ghost town disco of the dead" lighting effect to accompany my story. "He didn't just lie to me," I respond, "he lied about me, as did the owner of the theater. Both of them knew that they had put themselves over a barrel with what I feel were their smug attitudes and manipulative behaviors." I'm interrupted by some more screaming down the hall. When the sound of sheer terror subsides, I continue, "It's a long story, but to make a long story slightly shorter, they felt it was either me or them, and they knew that, since the owner of the theater was also the mayor of the town, at the time, they had the power to make it be me, rather than them, who was put in the hot-seat." I feel my eyes welling with tears.
"All I ever wanted to do was to be able to see some quality movies in my own town, rather than having to drive 2 or 3 hours to see them. I never harassed anyone at that theater, and they all knew it. At the court case the manager was squirming; he had actually brought along a lawyer; and the theater owner had to essentially admit that he 'stretched the truth' in the harassment order. Still, the judge ordered that I couldn't contact anyone from the theater for a year, and I made the mistake of emailing that same theater 6 months later to ask which Academy Award movies they were getting. I figured the first amendment covered things like this, but I guess it doesn't when you live in a town of less than 10,000 people, and the leader of the pack has decided to make you public enemy # 1. In a town like that, the first amendment doesn't cover anything." I stop again, and decide it's time to go back to bed.
"There's a lot more to the story," I tell the flashlight-lady, who is transfixed by either my narrative, or her hypnotizing light show, "but I'm pretty tired, and you probably have to get back to work. I'll see you in fifteen minutes. Next time, be a little more gentle with that flashlight of yours." The flashlight-lady giggles and promises that she will. She says she wants to hear the rest of the story, and tells me that, for what it's worth, she doesn't think I should be in this place, either. She pats me on my sweaty shoulder and walks out of the room, knocking over a small chair, in the process. "Oops," she says through a chuckle, "guess I'm getting antsy waiting to hear the rest of that story of yours." "She's not the only one that's going to hear that story of mine," I think to myself. I begin falling back into my fevered-dreams.
"Special midnight screening of Star Wars, only $.25 cents! Free soda for the first 25 people in line!" I smile over this little favor to the loyal patrons of The Palace 15. My arm is aching from the school bully slugging me earlier in the day, but writing out this fantasy ad, which is extremely gracious to my imaginary theater loyalists, is slowly easing the pain. The dreams of actually owning my own theater are all but erasing the residual hurt. If I can get through just 7 more years of school, I can start working at a theater, work my way up, and by the time I'm 27, 28, or 29, I can own the place! That's how it's going to happen. No bully will be hitting me in the arm then!
The cop hits me in the arm and pushes my face into the hospital wall. I see two more coming up behind him. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" I yell, "I TURNED MY HEAD ABOUT HALF AN INCH TO ASK MY MOM IF I COULD HAVE A SIP OF HER SODA! THIS IS FUCKING ABUSE! GET AWAY FROM ME!" The cops only become all the more enraged.
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