Awake

By Peter Hess

I used to write poetry and short creative thoughts on a small black moleskin notebook that I carried in my backpack. Sometimes I stick it in my pocket these days in the hopes that it will encourage me to start writing again, but mostly it just makes me feel bad for not writing. I’ve been too afraid that what came out would not be good enough. The neglected notebook reminds me that I no longer do the things that used to make me happy.

In the last two years, though, I only use it for scrap paper. Last week I ripped out a blank page to copy down my schedule at a new minimum wage food delivery job. (Actually it pays less than minimum wage.) I gave the piece of paper to the manager at my other minimum wage job so that my two schedules wouldn’t conflict and I could work two shitty jobs to pay the rent and buy Bojangle’s country ham biscuits.

The realization that this former depository of creative ideas has become a notepad for depressing minutiae finally gave me the inspiration to start writing again.

It’s like exercising a muscle that has been consciously ignored for years. It hurts. It’s difficult. I feel unsteady and self-conscious. I need help, but I want to act like I can do it on my own. Hell, maybe I can.

No, probably not.

Standing at the podium in the front of the movie theatre lobby, I write my thoughts because I know I’ll forget them if I wait until 2:30am when I get off of work from my job as an usher. Looking over my shoulder to make sure that my manager in the cheap baggy pin-striped suit that he wears every day without fail doesn’t see me. He spikes his thinning hair with gel in an earnest but fruitless attempt at looking professional or fashionable or something. Now I feel like an asshole because that’s exactly what I wrote in my notebook. That, too. He has three kids and whatever time he doesn’t have to spend at work he spends with them. And who the fuck am I to talk shit about him? A college dropout working less than forty hours a week at two jobs for which I would have been qualified without a high school diploma. That’s who. My illusions fall to the floor and I feel a sense of unity with Steve (that’s his name). We’re just doing our best (well, maybe he is but I’m not so sure about me). There I go again, with those illusions about myself. I’m an egomaniac with an inferiority complex; I’m not much, but I’m all I think about.

My uniform at the movie theater is a navy blue shirt and black pants. Sometimes it is humbling to look so unfashionable. Sometimes I need to be humbled.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in love with the girl who works in the box office. But probably I’m just lonely and Alexis is beautiful. Maybe I feel an affinity for her because we both don’t know what we’re doing with our lives. Maybe I’m just projecting. Maybe I like her because she thinks I’m funny. I want to say something to her. Pass the time. Shoot the shit. Preferably something impressive or at least funny. But when it comes out, it doesn’t feel worth it. I don’t hear what she says in response because she’s on the other side of thick glass and doesn’t have her intercom microphone switched on.

I didn’t catch that, I tell her. What did you say? She smiles sheepishly and turns on the microphone.

I said, do you like sushi?

Oh. Yeah, I do.

Silence. I try to think of something more to say.

I like salmon, I say to her.

What?

I lean in closer to the microphone. I like salmon sashimi, I said.

Yeah, me too.

Some people are coming to buy tickets, I tell her. She turns around to help them, and we’re back in our own worlds.

Some moments feel kind of beautiful in this plugged-in and disconnected world. We are living in the future and it’s nothing like we imagined it would be, talking to each other face-to-face through glass via intercom. Never saying what we mean, what we really want to say.

I turn away, feeling embarrassed for my flash of sentimentality. She gazes at the clock. I try to think of something to say to her, but I can’t so I just stand next to the intercom and the glass hoping that she will say something. But she doesn’t.

If she knew how much I thought about her she would probably blush. More likely she’d be totally weirded out.

An unattractive dorky gray-haired couple comes in to see a Christian movie about cops. They are very polite. They seem grateful to be at the movie theater.

A regular customer walks in. An obese Puerto Rican man with his five cute little girls. Imagine Big Pun, but more thuggish, and as a loving father. He has an M-16 tattooed on his right forearm and an AK-47 on his left. He’s always joking around with me. I like him. You’re here every time we come in, he says to me with a smile. Yeah, tell me about it. I laugh hollowly. We both know what’s up.

As a cinema employee, I get unlimited free movie tickets for myself and one guest. I usually go by myself. Friends can be too much of a hassle sometimes. I like going during the day on a weekday so that I’m the only one in the theater. It becomes my palace of escape. In the darkened auditorium, surrounded by 119 empty seats, I don’t worry about whether anybody saw me wipe away a tear when they win the big game. I don’t wonder why I’m the only one laughing out loud at a racist joke. I don’t feel embarrassed that I jumped in my seat because I got startled by the shadow passing by the window.

I feel free there.

It’s weird that I feel so much more at peace with my life when I’m sitting in a darkened room surrounded by empty seats, absorbing someone else’s vision. I guess I like being entertained. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been overstimulated and underwhelmed. But in these moments I feel balance. Sometimes I wonder what that says about me. I wonder if I define myself by the entertainment that I choose to consume. These thoughts make me feel guilty for enjoying myself. Maybe I just think I deserve some mindless escape. Yeah, that’s it. My life is OK, but I don’t think that many people would pay $9.25 apiece to watch it on a big screen.

The people in movies lead much more interesting lives than I do. At least they have nicer shoes.

<< Back to Spring 2012

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