I heaved a deep sigh when I heard the familiar jingle-jangle of the belt buckle. Sometimes it sounded like a pocket full of keys –I had been fooled before. I look at my lap and the seat to my right in the darkened cinema. I brought a pile of Chinese food and other snacks for the double feature.
I am escaping the scorching heat with a Busby Berkley Festival at the Thalia between 90th and 91st.
I take myself to the movies often, despite the frequent masturbators.
I was barely 18 when I moved to the upper west side of Manhattan. It was still a neighborhood that was affordable to raise a family in, not far from the illustrious Columbia University campus. While I will live all over the city in the next dozen years, I will return to this neighborhood again and again.
Usually, I contend with the jerk-offs at the Olympia theater on 106th, but I am avoiding everything from 96th and above because of the posters . When I first arrived in New York, I found myself at loose ends on the evenings that I wasn’t working. All my roomies had love interests or social lives and I was still a little lonely, so on my evenings off, I dress up carefully and take myself to a movie two blocks up the street from my apartment.
“Clinky-clank, clank clank clink,” jangles my seat-mate as a circle of spangled dancers create a kaleidoscope effect on the projected screen in front of us both.
Until my first foray alone in the cinema, I don’t think I understood the concept of public masturbation even though I had heard about flashers. I was introduced to the notion by another young woman one evening as I enjoyed the film production of “Goin’ South” with Jack Nicolson and Mary Steenburgen.
I hadn’t yet considered the possibility of smuggling food into the movies and was chewing vigorously on some cold stale popcorn when a woman slid into the seat beside me asking, “Do you mind? The guy that was next to me just started playing with himself.”
I offer her my bucket of popcorn.
“No thanks,” she said. “I’ve eaten here before.”
Some months later I met this woman again when I joined a local band as the lead singer. Amy dated our piano player off and on for the next decade.
When we meet again, we extend our arms, pointing to one another with surprise and astonishment. After we tell everyone the story, we assure each other that we will always go to the movies together rather than alone.
But for the next twelve years that I live in this city, we never do.
In the dark, I feel around for my takeout container of cold noodles in a sesame sauce. I could live off of this and scallion pancakes if I didn’t take most of my meals in the restaurant I currently worked in.
I ruined my chances for employment in my own neighborhood and will eventually work my way down to the tip of the island in the financial district.
But for now, I am comfortable hanging out ten blocks south of my own residence.
Because of the posters, I am reluctant to even take a meal in my usual local. The stupid things are everywhere. A recent ex-Beau has pasted flyers begging for my return and attached several to every street lamp on Broadway and West End Avenue.
Last night in an effort to escape the spectacle of them, I popped into my neighborhood tavern for a few laughs and a couple Bombay and tonics. But, on the wall to the right of the service bar, for all who entered to see, was a fucking poster.
Neil’s name had been crossed out and it had so many signatures below it that several lengths of paper had been stapled to the bottom. The men at the bar all roared when they saw me behold it.
Instead of alcoholic relief that night, I backed out of the bar and retreated to a night of television reruns at home.
The clanking is getting faster now, I know I should find another seat but I am sick of having to move every fucking time I try to watch a damn movie.
The last one had been “Superman.”
In 1979 there were certain sections of the theater reserved for smokers. And apparently masturbators.
One night, in the smoking section of the balcony, I sat between two couples who were obviously out on a date. I congratulated myself on securing a safe location, free of lonely fappers. I watched as Christopher Reeve dragged Margot Kidder across the sky.
I heard the man behind me fumble in his pocket for a lighter again and again. The noise was starting to intrude on my movie watching pleasure.
At last, not able to stand the sound another second, I quietly unzipped my purse to hunt for some fire to give to this poor nicotine addict. But the man to the left of me had the same idea and flicked his Bic lighter in the direction of the stranger behind us all.
“If you don’t put that away or take it to the bathroom or something I’ll rip that thing off at the roots!” erupted my seat mate in fury.
He turned to the audience at large and in a booming and indignant voice hollered, “HE’S JERKIN’ OFF BACK THEYAH!”
Oddly enough, the man behind us put his thing away and finished watching “Superman” with the rest of the movie goers.
“I don’t care,” I think mutinously as the stranger beside me clanks faster and faster towards erotic relief. I am sick of having to move for these fucking perverts every time I go to see a movie. I have the best seat for viewing that I can get in the smoking section and I have my food spread out all around me. What difference does it really make after all, if he jerks off beside me or two rows in front if I get up to move?
Even if the temperature wasn’t broiling outside I do not care to leave my darkened sanctuary just yet. The posters outside were getting out of hand and it was time to remove them. But it was a gargantuan task. Neil had told my mother that night, in between sobbing tears, that he had printed up ten thousand of them. He sent my mother five hundred, begging her to put them up in my hometown in Connecticut.
Like I would ever return to that place.
I tried to remove them yesterday, but he had switched from scotch tape to wallpaper glue at 107th and peeling them off was tedious.
But what was worse was the look of pure disbelief when someone discovered that it was only me who had inspired such lunacy.
“YOU’RE JJ?” One skateboarding youth had asked incredulously, the night before.
I was trying vigorously to free the name “JJ” from the paper that was decoupaged to the streetlamp.
Right in the middle of Broadway and 108th.
I wasn’t looking my best with old clothes and no makeup.
“It’s laundry day!” I snarl as if that explained my disappointing appearance. He was right, these posters deserved someone more alluring and it annoyed the shit out of me.
“I think that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” said the idiot skateboarder dreamily. “I think you should definitely take him back.”
I slam the fistful of papers into his arms saying, “You do? Here, you take these then.”
I stormed off only to discover the ever growing stapled sheet of signatures in my local watering hole.
I bend forward to light a cigarette, trying hard now to ignore the jingling beside me when an anonymous hand grips my thigh. I shoot straight out of my seat and launch myself outside onto the sizzling streets. Leaving my Chinese feast behind, I don’t even stop to complain about the molester inside. In this city, I doubt the attendant would even care.
Instead, I hoof it back to my old neighborhood to free it of those dreadful pleading posters.
I only have 6800 or so left to destroy.