The Cone of Silence

Yesterday I was at the gym (hey, I work out guys! Guys?), enjoying myself on the elliptical machine, listening to Jordan Jesse Go! on my ipod, and trying to follow the subtitles on ESPN. In general, it was a grand old time. Then it happened. Somebody got on the machine next to me.

I try to go to my gym in SoHo during off hours: either in the middle of the day or late at night. I hate having to wait around for machines, and a gym in downtown NYC is almost as bad as a gym near UT-Austin. Still, it was the middle of the day, and this was one of about six people in the entire cardio area. Satisfied that I wasn’t about to be besieged by gym rats, I returned to my run. A few minutes later, I heard a sound so loud and grating that it broke through my earbuds. At first I thought it was some sort of horrible mechanical failure, and I looked around, concerned that my machine was about to collapse from under me.

Nope, it was the dude on the machine next to me. Every ten seconds or so, like clockwork, he would make the sound of clearing phlegm from his throat, then follow with a rhythmic “huh-huh-huh-huh”. Every ten seconds. So loud I could hear it through headphones. Right next to me. What the fuck? First of all, I dont know why he was making this noise, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having some sort of congestion issue and not just being a deranged asshole. That said, if you know you’re going to be a nuisance in and enclosed space with strangers, why not go to a machine that’s a little out of the way so you don’t bother people?

I endured it for maybe three more minutes before hopping to a further machine. Then I stopped to wonder: when did I get so damn non-confrontational?

Despite it’s reputation as a burg for badassery, New Yorkers, in my experience, tend to shy away from confrontation quite a bit (drunken fights notwithstanding). You only have to sit on the subway on any weekend night to see carloads of people politely looking away from some obnoxious fool ranting and raving about what Jesus told them, and any day of the week you can see a bunch of people who will do nothing but violently glare at people holding up the train by holding the door for their nine friends who are 30 seconds behind them.

I count myself among these poor souls now, justifying my fear of confrontation with promises to myself that I’m above such encounters and also too busy. I can’t remember the last time I said anything to a stranger on the subway. In fact, I still get kind of weirded out when well-meaning strangers talk to you on the train (hint: if you’re under 50 and talk to people you don’t know on the train for any reason except to get directions, it immediately marks you as crazy or a tourist). There is, however, one place that I haven’t shied away from yet.

If anybody knows me or has been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am an avid movie-goer, and that nothing fills me with more rage than a movie talker or texter. Over the weekend I even leaned over to shush my own mother at “Motown” because her stage whispers to my brother were annoying me and probably everyone else around her (she in turn didn’t say anything to the 70 year old man who was keeping time with all musical numbers–badly–by slapping his knee, but I digress). If anybody lives in New York, you know that everybody talks in places where it’s totally inappropriate, and it pisses everybody off, but precious few do anything about it. One man, nay hero, did rise to the occasion recently: theater critic/common decency vigilante Kevin Williamson, whose phone-chucking justice you can read about here.

I myself have never quite had the gumption that Williamson had, but then again nobody has ever reacted to me in quite that brazenly rude a manner before. A few weeks ago, I was attending a screening of The Shining at IFC. It was a late weeknight show, beginning at around 9:30PM, in one of the theater’s smaller auditoriums. The usual crowd-gabbing and light phone usage continued over the advertisements an trailers, something that irritates me but that I’ve learned to accept and not comment on. However, a man three seats away from me, on the same aisle, was texting up until the opening credits rolled. I breathed a sigh of relief  as he pocketed his phone, hoping that was the end of it.

Nope. As those opening, beautiful Steadicam shots rolled out, the opening fanfare, with its ominous horn stabs, undercut my own personal horror show as the man took out his glowing cellphone, time and again, to answer what must have been some pretty damn important texts. Each time he pocketed the phone I told myself it was over, but then I would hear the music swell…Dun…dun…DUN…dun…and then little rectangle of light would be there again, half-assedly covered by his cupped hands. I told myself I would say something if he did it again. I repeated this process maybe two or three times. Then, finally, like a booze-deprived Jack Torrance, I couldn’t take it anymore, and leaned over Jen, my movie companion, tapped the texter on the shoulder (perhaps a little roughly), and addressed him in a normal conversation volume of voice:

“Excuse me, could you please stop using your cell phone? It’s extremely distracting.”

I’ll admit it, my heart was racing. I’m not used to doing this sort of thing anymore, thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking-no-texting policies and the general manners of those audiences. What if he responded the way Williamson’s villain did, and told me to mind my own business? Was I going to have to become a martyr for the cause as well?

Luckily, no such thing happened. As a matter of fact, he was the most polite and downright remorseful person I’ve ever reprimanded in a movie theater (I actually just remembered the asshole who had the balls to hard-stare me after I told him to stop texting at SXSW screening and got angry all over again): he seemed to momentarily pop out of a trance, suddenly realize what a raging asshole he was being, and then apologized to me before quickly scurrying out of the theater (guess it was important, in which case maybe he should have settled the damn thing before he sat down in a fucking movie, but what do I know).While I was impressed with the man’s ability to face the music, I was still a bit miffed that somebody who cared enough about movies to attend a 9:30 weeknight showing of The Shining didn’t care enough to not ruin the experience for everybody around him, but IFC remains one of the best places in the city to catch a flick without having to deal with hordes of rude-asses, and I can also say very good things about Williamsburg Cinemas (the absolute worst: Regal off Union Square, where the employees make every screening unbearable by checking logs in the middle of the film AT THE FRONT OF THE THEATER). I suppose I’ll have to make do until the Drafthouse opens their two locations up here.

Until then, would-be texters and talkers take note: it behooves you to follow the example of the thoroughly shamed man in this story, because the next time you decide to ruin somebody’s theater experience, you just might get a Kevin Williamson.

 

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