The Back RowMy name is Chuck. I consider myself fairly lucky in life. I’m the first person in my family to earn a college degree. I work from home, doing a job that affords me a lot of free time and the ability to actually enjoy all that free time. I have loving relatives who support my various endeavors in my day-to-day existence.More importantly, I’m lucky because my father’s surname is Marshall. I like being Chuck Marshall, mostly because on my mother’s side, the family name is Norris (they’re Irish – what do you want?). If it weren’t for my father marrying my mother, my name would be Chuck Norris, and that would destroy all the credibility I have in my love life.Mind you, for the longest time it wasn’t a woman with whom I shared my love, but with the art of cinema. Seriously, a movie buff like me with a name like Chuck Norris? I’d probably kill myself just to prove I can tell the difference between quality and utter crap.I’ve been going to the Landmark Theatre here in town pretty much since I moved here after college. I never go more than a few weeks without seeing what they’ve got in store. It’s the only theatre in the area that has a good mix of commercial films and more independent fare. One week I could be shelling out ten bucks for the latest blockbuster, the next I could be handing over my expendable cash for a low-budget documentary. It’s very rare when I look at the list and find nothing worth watching.Sometimes my friends or coworkers come with me, but most of the time, I’m by myself. The theatre itself is a little run down, and they only upgrade their facilities out of necessity. When George Lucas decided that he wanted his subpar prequels shown through digital projectors, the Landmark invested in one or two in order to keep pace. When 3D decided it wanted to be a relevant medium again, they bought a few hundred pairs of glasses and updated another projector.The small staff knows me by name. I come so often that the ushers don’t even bother tearing up my ticket to give me the stub. They simply print a duplicate to retain for their records. I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one who keeps the place open and running. The manager, old Mr. Kent, once offered me a job as his assistant, but I couldn’t do it. Never mix work with pleasure.So anyway, the Landmark is what I consider my special place. Even when I come with friends or the occasional date with a member of the opposite sex, I feel like this a place just for me. And the most special spot in the theatre is my most favorite seat, in the back row.The theatre has stadium-style seating. Each row is terraced so that the back of each chair only reaches about knee high to the person sitting in the row behind. It pretty much prevents the biggest irritant of the movie-going experience: sitting behind a really tall guy whose head blocks the screen.Because of this lovely feature, I always take my seat in the very back row, in the chair right under the projector. It’s perfect, absolutely perfect. Not only do I have an eye level view of the entire screen, but I don’t have to crane my neck like the schmucks in the front. Also, if the movie I’m watching happens to suck, I can divert my attention from the screen and just people watch. I can’t help but laugh every time I see some teenager try the tired and clichéd move of pretending to yawn in order to put his arm around his date’s shoulder. Guys have been doing it for close to a century, yet they never realize how silly and desperate they look. Still, most girls will forgive them for it; they even occasionally find it endearing. Hell, if it eventually gets them laid, more power to them. It’s still hilarious to watch, though.Every so often I’ll be the only one in the theatre. Usually this is when I’ve either seen a movie so many times that I can recite it from memory; or if I’ve put off seeing a particular one for so long that everyone else has already seen it, and the theatre is empty except for me. Times like those are when sitting under the projector is most ideal. The gentle, constant white noise of the projector’s reels spinning relaxes me like nothing else in this world. I dream the best dreams when I doze off under the projector.Yeah, it’s pretty much my nirvana that chair. I really shouldn’t say “that” chair, as the Landmark has five auditoria, and I’ve settled into the projector chair in each one. I’ve sat on them so many times that I’ve formed irreparable grooves in the cushions. There have been times when I’ve gained and lost weight, and the only way I know the difference is how well my ass cheeks settle into the seat. If the theatre ever closes, I’ll most likely buy one of the chairs just to keep it in my house. It is the one spot I know where I am truly the most content.So imagine how extremely pissed I was when someone had taken it.As mentioned earlier, I work from home, so I’m able to set my own hours. This also means I’m able to go to the movies pretty much whenever I feel like it. I usually try to hit a matinee in the middle of the week. It allows for the absolute minimum risk of having a theatre crowded with kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love children and can’t wait to have some of my own. But I’ve been to too many movies – mostly animated ones – where kids no older than five are constantly talking, asking questions, screaming, or just being generally annoying. And of course, their parents do nothing to quell them. Whenever I muster the courage to confront these negligent so-called “adults,” they usually either blow me off by telling me to come back a different time; or they try to fight me. Seriously, if any parents are reading this, either learn to control your offspring or put a gun in your mouth. You’ll increase the national IQ.Anyway, back to the theft of my seat. I took a break from work on a Tuesday and decided to check out this new goofball comedy. The lead was one of those forgettable character actors who most people either love or hate; there’s pretty much no middle ground. I’m fairly indifferent, but I needed a distraction, and I felt like laughing at something silly to start off the summer’s onslaught of popcorn fare.Checking the clock on my computer, I found that I had about an hour until the next showing, so I decided to walk. I needed the exercise. Shocker of the century, a guy who watches movies all the time doesn’t hit the gym all that much. Moving on, I threw on a t-shirt and a hoodie, as it was just a touch chilly outside despite it being early May. The walk took about 20 minutes.When I arrived at the Landmark, I bought my ticket, waved to old Mr. Kent up in his office, then headed for the concession stand. Yes, I recognize the irony of acknowledging my fitness issues and then going straight for a hot dog and a slushie. Whatever. Sue me.Today’s movie was in Auditorium 3, which was one of the remaining rooms that didn’t have a digital or 3D projector. If this satirical romp turned out to be a flop, I could probably catch a good nap if nothing else. People-watching was most likely out of the question for the exact same reason, but no big deal.As I reached for the door handle, the door itself swung out at me. In the moment I was caught off guard, the door, thrown open by someone already in the theatre who had no way of seeing me, hit me square in the chest. I stumbled backwards, bumped into the garbage cans, and fell flat on my ass, my lunch depositing itself on my torso in a manner resembling a Jackson Pollock painting made of mustard and sugar water.“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!”I looked up to see a vision I’d only seen in horrible romantic comedies. She had bright red hair, and eyes so green that the Norris side of my family would instantly try to adopt her. She had a nice body, not a model’s body or anything, but the kind of nice body that if you were dating her – and you weren’t a complete asshole – you’d create excuses to show her off in public. Her face had a cute little upturned nose, and I couldn’t help but grin as she giggled her apology.“Wow. I don’t normally fall for a girl this fast.” Yeah, I’m proud of that one. Sometimes I can come up with good stuff in the moment.She helped me to my feet, tossed a water bottle into the garbage bin that caused my final topple (I guess that’s why she came out of the theatre to begin with), and then ran to the concession stand to grab some napkins. Upon her return, she tried desperately to clean the mess off of me, but it was really no use. I told her I was fine, and she smiled slightly as she returned to the theatre.Mr. Kent came by with one of the ushers and apologized profusely for what happened. I don’t know why; it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he was just being a good friend. I peeled off my hoodie to find that my t-shirt underneath suffered minimal damage via seepage. Mr. Kent took the hoodie and promised to have his wife wash it later that night. It was an unnecessary gesture, but appreciated nonetheless. He then had the usher replace my food and drink. Again, unnecessary, as I’ve clearly established over the years that I don’t mind spending money freely in his establishment, but again, it was appreciated.When I finally went into the theatre, the trailers were just beginning. I was prepared to put the whole incident behind me and just enjoy my movie and/or nap. But my seat was already taken. The girl who had just unwittingly knocked me over not five minutes previous was sitting in my seat. My instant attraction all but vanished (what can I say, I’m petty), but I decided not to make an issue of it. I had sat in different seats when I came to the Landmark with my friends. I could handle one movie without my throne. I sat in the middle of an empty row about halfway up the auditorium, ate my lunch, and watched the flick. It kind of sucked.The next time I went to the Landmark, she was there again, and she was in my seat… again. This time it was Auditorium 2, the 3D auditorium. God, I was so lividly pissed. I even showed up early because Auditorium 2 had a 3D trivia contest. You put on the glasses in order to see the questions, then texted the answers to earn discounts at the theatre. I like giving Mr. Kent money, but if I can save five bucks here and there, well that’s just more money I can spend at the Landmark at another time.Sorry, I’m digressing. Where was I? Oh yes, lividly pissed! Part of me wanted to march right up there and tell her off. Part of me wanted to pretend she wasn’t there and just take my seat right on her lap, forcing her to endure my chunky tush for the next two hours. I decided against it. She probably wouldn’t see the humor in the act, especially if I farted. Also, she was already wearing her glasses and starting on the trivia contest. I couldn’t let her take my seat and take my discounts. I sat down and slaughtered her ass. You have to win the small battles in life.Unfortunately, I may have won the small battle, but I was losing the larger war. God that sounded trite, but it’s true. For the next three months, every time I came to the Landmark, there she was, sitting in my seat. My most perfect, relaxing, people watching, potential sleeping SEAT!No matter what I tried, she always beat me to the chair. I stopped walking to the theatre in spite of the great weather and exclusively used my car so I could get there as early as possible. She’d be there. If I saw her in the lobby, I’d check to see what auditorium she entered and would choose a different movie just to be in a different room. Somehow she’d be there (which really sucked when that plan backfired double – I lost the seat and had to watch a crappy teen melodrama about vampires with caked on makeup – terrible). I even showed up so early once that I waited outside Auditorium 5 until the previous showing ended, and then rushed inside before the usher could have a chance to clean. The chick was sleeping in my seat!Finally, I had had enough. It was August, and I was planning a full day at the Landmark for my birthday. I coordinated with Mr. Kent a rotation where I would visit each of the five auditoria twice over the course of about 18 hours from open to close, watching 10 movies in one day. It was planned down to the minute, overlapping show times so that I could skip the trailers and simply go from one room to the other, watch new and classic movies, and have a short bathroom break in between. When you’re this frequent of a flyer, you can pull some strings to get perks like this.I showed up at the Landmark at 6:00 am, ready for my first show, a screening of my all-time favorite movie. You know the one where a bunch of Marines get verbally abused in boot camp then turn into psychopaths in Vietnam? Yup, that one. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a bit of a crowd; good to know I’m not the only one who appreciates a masterpiece.I ducked into the bathroom before the film started, just to make sure my first round wouldn’t be interrupted by my bladder. If I had to miss a scene or two to dance with the urinal, I wanted to wait until the pointless superhero movie later in the day.I zipped up and headed inside Auditorium 1, ready for the best birthday ever. And there she was, sitting in my seat AGAIN! You’ve got to be kidding me!Well no more, not again. This time I was going to claim back what was rightfully mine. I put on as nice a face as I could (if I’m going to be an asshole, I might as well try to minimize the damage), marched up the stairs to the back row, sidled to the center, to the projector, and tapped her on the shoulder.“Excuse me, but you’re in my seat,” I whispered.She looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Your seat? I don’t see your name on it.”“No, but my ass is. You have to feel my groove under there. Come on; let’s not be children about this.”“Says the guy who claims a public seat in a movie theatre belongs to him,” she retorted. Okay, she got me there.“Look,” I sighed, attempting to level with her. “I’ve earned that seat. I’ve been coming here on an almost daily basis for the last three years. I’ve pumped more cash into this establishment than the Small Business Association.”“So?”“So? SO?! So, I’ve earned my credentials!” Admittedly I was getting defensive and grasping at straws at this point. My voiced gradually rose with every sentence. “This is the best seat in the theatre. It’s the best seat in all the theatres of this entire cinema! You can’t just sit there because you feel like it.”“Oh, and you don’t think I have ‘credentials?’” she asked, gesturing with finger air quotes like a middle school student. “Quiz me, then.”I had been challenged. I was not prepared for this. Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for anything. When you act out of anger, you rarely have a backup plan in case things don’t go the exact way you want them to, even though that’s almost always what happens. Still, I wasn’t just making crap up when I said I had earned my spot, so even though I was taken aback, I wasn’t going to go down easily.“Okay. You want to dance? Let’s dance. Name the top five directors of all time.”“Scorsese, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Capra.”“Four out of five, not bad.” I didn’t tell her which one she got wrong. You all should know. “Have you ever cried at the end of a movie?”She stood up to face me. “Once at the end of a cat and dog kiddy adventure as a child, and every Christmas at the end of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’”“Intriguing. Which Oscar-winning role for Meryl Streep was the best?”“Trick question. She didn’t deserve any of her Oscars!”“What the hell is going on here?” We were almost nose to nose at this point. The voice of Mr. Kent from behind me took us both off our guard. Maybe it was because I was puffing out my chest a bit, or maybe it was because he was standing two steps below us, but he seemed so short at that moment, and I felt really tall, but that’s neither here nor there.Neither one of us answered him at first. I think we were both a bit stunned that our witty repartee had been interrupted. Shut up, it was witty. Mr. Kent shined a flashlight at us and repeated himself. “I said, what is going on here, Sarah?”It took me a moment to process the fact that he was talking to the girl and not me. “What do you mean?” she asked, trying to appear innocent. Mr. Kent gestured with his flashlight toward the front of the auditorium, and we both stared in amazement. Our silhouettes were completely obstructing the screen. The rest of the audience was turned to us, staring at our utterly trivial argument over a chair. Thanks to us standing in front of the projector, rather than sitting under it, this was the only show these people were getting.I chuckled internally for about half a second, but then something occurred to me, so I turned to Mr. Kent. “Wait, you know this girl?”“Of course I do. She’s my daughter.” He looked exasperated as he said it, like he was explaining to a first grader that two and two does in fact equal four. Even I had to roll my eyes a bit. It seemed like the resolution of a terrible sitcom pilot.I turned to the girl, who was smirking like she had just won our argument, which to this day I believe remains unsettled. She sardonically extended her hand. “Sarah Kent at your service, Chuck.” Deciding to play along and not ask how she knew my name, I reached to shake it, but she withdrew immediately. “You’re supposed to kiss a lady’s hand.”“Oh, for God’s sake!” Clearly Mr. Kent wanted this over with long ago. “Chuck, Sarah’s my daughter. She’s working at the theatre and living at home for a while now that she’s done with college.”It explained a lot, I had to admit. She could travel from theatre to theatre via the door in the back that led to the projector room. When I caught her napping, she was on a break. As for why she was sitting in my most favorite seat…“For someone who fell for me so quickly, you sure took your sweet ass time to start a freaking conversation.”“Can we get back to the movie, already?” Honestly, I was shocked that no one in the audience had spoken up to that point. Mr. Kent stared at us in agreement, and we both sat down.We sat together through the rest of the movie, and through all the remaining movies of the day. Sarah’s father let her have the day off to spend with me, and as thanks I let her keep the seat throughout. Later on, some of my friends and coworkers joined us for a film here and there. There were quite a few gentle ribs asking who my girlfriend was and why I had been holding out on them. Sarah played along.During the last film, around 1:00 am, it finally became too much for her. She rested her head on shoulder and began drifting off to sleep. I couldn’t help but smile, though there was one thing still bugging me.“Out of curiosity, if you work here, then why were you playing the 3D trivia texting game? Surely you’d be ineligible for the discounts as an employee?”“Hmm?” She lifted her head just a touch and looked at me with her emerald eyes. “Oh I was just texting my friend about this cute guy I met by accident.” She smiled, closed her eyes, and nodded off.As I watched the Rebels fight the Empire for at least the thousandth time in my life, my attention was constantly diverted to the wonder clinging to me. Like I said earlier, I’m kind of a lucky guy, and not just because the right surname ended up on my birth certificate. That night I experienced a feeling of love that I had never known, even when sitting in my favorite seat in the back row. Still, that didn’t stop me from moving her sleeping form over one chair. It’s my seat after all.As the night ended, and Mr. Kent came to collect the girl who would later become my wife and take her home for the night, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that this would make a terribly cheesy movie. But I’d watch it anyway. And there’d be only one place I could watch it from.And for the record, the next day I took a screwdriver and carved my name into the wooden armrest of the chair and each of its four counterparts. I told Mr. Kent he could keep my hoodie as compensation.
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