Please Refrain from Crying Out During the Show

It was only after I posted that last short story, ‘Rasp’, that I decided to write a post about the true story behind it. Shall I just tell you how I remember it? Everything you are about to read is true:

In August 1994, we celebrated our wedding anniversary by having a little dinner and then going to the movies in Richmond, Surrey, which was close to where we lived.

There wasn’t much on but I’d heard that ‘The Mask’ with Jim Carey was at least a little bit funny and had some good special effects so we settled for that.

The cinema was pretty full for a midweek show. We ended up sitting beside a couple who were about the same age as us. The girl was sitting to my right and her guy, who I hadn’t seen much of, was in the next seat over to her right.

The main feature hadn’t long started when this girl produced a sealed cellophane bag of sweets. My purgatory was about to begin.

Over the next few minutes, she proceeded to drill a tiny hole in the bag with her fingernail. She then set about trying to extract one of the sweets out through this tiny hole using only one finger. This keyhole-candy-surgery produced the most tooth-grinding of noises – a gentle crinkling and crackling which went on and on and on… and still the damned sweet would not come out.

And all the while, this girl was keeping up an unceasing commentary on the film with her invisible boyfriend on her other side.

Trish took to squeezing my hand. She knew how I got. I tried to silently reassure her that I would not start anything but the finger - in the hole - in the bag - kept on crinkling and crackling and ‘rasping’ and something… had to give.

A voice in my head – a voice which often appears dressed up in a rational suit but is, in fact, anything but – this voice suggested to me that I should simply have a quiet word with this girl about this noise. In the words of some great man, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I leaned over a little and said to the girl in my most kindly voice.

“Wouldn’t it be much easier if you just tore the top of the bag open?”

The girl did something I didn’t expect then. She started to cry. I could see huge wet tears roll down her cheek as she let out a big heartfelt sob.

I felt like a complete bully.

I sat for a few minutes silently cursing myself for making this poor girl feel so bad. I couldn’t leave it at that, I had to apologise to her.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, looking at the screen, “I really didn’t mean to upset you,”

The girl tuned to me angrily and, in a very loud voice, said, “Shut up, just shut up, you’ve been annoying me all evening. Just shut up!”

The entire cinema was suddenly aware of us.

One of my many failings, arguably my greatest one, is that I never know when I am at the end of my tether. I am given no warning. One second I am, to my mind, the epitome of sweetness and light, the next moment I can be gone, real real gone. This happens less now as I get older but it can still happen. I have to tread carefully.

When this noisy girl told me to shut up, I immediately fell far beyond the end of my tether and my base instincts marched in took over.

“Well that’s just fucking rich,” I roared at her, “You sit there all night, blabbing, and… fingering your little crinkley bag and then you have the gall to tell me to shut up?”

The girl started to cry. No liddle bitty tear this time, we were talking floods.

A huge shadow fell over me. Her boyfriend was ready to enter the fray. He stood up and inched past her. I’m sorry to swear again so soon but he was fucking enormous, he really was.

“You,” he boomed, “stand up.”

“You,” a disgruntled punter from the back muttered, “sit down.”

At this point his poor upset girlfriend pulled on the big guy’s sleeve and said, “let’s go, I want to go.”

“No way, I’m gonna tear_”

“Let’s just go… please.”

So they gathered up their stuff and they left. But, as he was going, the big guy calmly said the following words to me, “I will be waiting outside for you and when you come out I am going to kill you.”


I felt just awful, like a criminal. That always happens when I lose my cool.

Trish and I left shortly afterward, at Trish’s request although I wasn’t sorry to go. We left through a fire exit at the rear, walked to a nearby bus stop and got a bus home.

The bus went past the front of the cinema. The big guy and his girlfriend were sitting on the steps outside. I swear to God they were.

I’ve never watched ‘The Mask’. Is it any good?

Interestingly, when I went and researched the writing of the story, I found my memory to be suspect and my perceived truth to be actually completely false.

The above story is true but the timeline is all wrong.

The above ‘cinema argument’ did not inspire me to write ‘Rasp’. In fact, the story had been written a full year earlier. I had completely forgotten this fact and, over the years, had totally come to associate the events described above with the writing of this story.

This means that, when the above fight was unfolding, my story was already written. Did it occur to me at the time that this was life-imitating-fiction quite scarily? I don’t recall that it did.

The facts are irrefutable. We always went to see movies when they first came out and ‘The Mask’ did not come out until 1994. My story ‘Rasp’ was fully complete in 1993. As soon as I realised this was true, I immediately recalled the actual events behind the story and they are as simple as they are unexciting.

The facts (as they say on ‘Pushing Daisies’) are these:

One Saturday night in 1993, Trish and I went to see ‘Indecent Proposal’ in the West End. (Don’t judge us on these movies, we saw everything back then). The guy in the seat behind me talked non-stop all the way through the film. He drove me completely mad but I said nothing. Instead I went home and sat up half the night writing the story that’s in my previous post.

That’s really all there was to it.

Yet I had forgotten this truth completely and convinced myself that an entirely different version of reality was true. Isn’t memory a funny thing?

Or perhaps it’s just mine…


Rachel Fox said...

I had my worst people-talking-in-the-cinema experience in London too. Those Londoners...they just never shut up.

And the 'Mask' is dire. No real loss there.


Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, the vagaries of human memory. It's like living inside a fiction I'll tell you.

Anonymous said...

How true Ken... I'm constantly replaying my memory - and I'm sure it's the only version there is. And in enters the XO (my lovely other half) - and fight though I might in defence of MY version of events, I find myself rewinding it later (you know in - when you're in memory purgatory), and slowly forcing yourself to accept that you might just be wrong.

You understand though that if you EVER tell the XO this - I'll find you, gaffa tape you to a cinema seat, and have a grade three class crinkle all manners of 'lolly' bags at you until you go mad - MAD I say! lol ;-)

And I find it plays absolute havoc with my writing - especially when you add sleep deprivation to the picture (little boys who won't sleep)... arghhhhhhh!


Unknown said...

The girl sounds like a human emotional roller coaster-- I mean, who cries when someone just addresses them?

Regarding the memory issue, I have a good friend who I've known since I was 5 years old. We get together and compare notes on what we think actually happened during grade school and high school. We each remember a ton of things that the other does not.

Funny ol' world. :)

CS McClellan/Catana said...

That's more fascinating than the original story. Scarey, in fact. How much of what we remember about our lives is even real? Kind of makes you wonder.

Anonymous said...

No, your memory is no better or worse than anyone's. We all remember things by association. While your subconscious remembered you writing the story, your active memory associated it with the incident that happened a year later and now it's inextricably done.

I'm looking forward to the next story!

Reese said...

Don't feel bad, Ken. I make people cry all the time (not really) I do make them angry, though!

I'm finding my past history is getting much blurrier! It's exactly as you say...I remember the details, just not the timing.

(you don't think we are getting old, do you?)

Ken Armstrong said...

Rachel: If I were a better liar, I would have stitched in some cool movies we went to see. Such fond memories of London nights with stuff like 'Subway' 'Carravagio' 'A Room with a View' (loved that muchly) Henry V (those follow-ups are never as good) oh and Die Hard - I *loved* Die Hard on the day it came out!! :)

Jim: It's a 'Truth About Lies' thing, isn't it. I was thinking of you as I was writing the last bit of this post - not romantically, you'll understand.

belongum: Our first lad slept through the night for the first time... 365 days after he was born. I was up half the night checking he was okay. :)

Jenn: 'Nail on The Head' Jenn. I should have emphasised, I really didn't do anything to upset her (until I completely exploded). I'd say she was a bit edgy at least and I still genuinely regret that I spoiled her evening - I really really do.

Catana: Yes. I worry about my memory quite a bit these day. And my stories must now be advertised as just that - stories - rather than any form of truth.

Margaret: Thanks. I think my memory is great in some unlikely ways but terrible in the more useful ways. Oddly enough though I see this as one of my talents. Another talent of mine is my ability to add 2 and 2 and make 5, almost every time. Expect a post on this subject sometime next week. :)

Reese: perhaps that's it, perhaps we're just getting on a bit. Thank heavens we're doing it so very gracefully, eh?

Debbie said...

these stories are beginning to weave themselves into a fabric of Ken. I wouldn't swear by it, but I think there are therapies for minds like yours. Please, whatever you do, don't allow them to be imposed upon your creative genius, no matter how mad you seem.

Susan at Stony River said...

Well, I loved your story, and I love it even better after hearing the story-behind-the-story.

I wish wish wish WISH that the cinemas would have a food-free showing once a day. I swear I'd pay double for my ticket, if I could just know that 1. there'd be no crisp packets, sweet wrappers, or crunchiness, 2. I wouldn't have to pay €215 for a bucket of popcorn that my child will dump on the floor somewhere between the door and finding a seat, and 3. somebody else's child won't dump their icy-cold sody-pop all over my damn foot halfway through the most exciting part of the film.

Hey, I'd pay TRIPLE.

hope said...

I guess movie rudeness is universal. :)

We rarely go to the movies any more for that very reason. And it never fails, wherever we sit, some guy 6 foot 4 and his five foot tall date sit in front of us... and yes, HE always sits in front of me. Sigh.

I hate the seat kickers. Drives me bonkers. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres did a really funny bit on how we do that sideways peer back over our shoulders, as if that's warning enough to knock it off. Last movie we had a Mom and two kids behind us. They kicked the back of my seat almost non-stop for 30 minutes. Peering didn't work. The faster the action, the more my seat vibrated. I finally got annoyed and turned around to ask the Mother to DO something with her children.

Yep, Mom was the seat kicker.

They say a messy desk is a sign of genius...I'd like to think scattered thoughts are a sign of brilliant writers. ;)

Ken Armstrong said...

Debbie: I like your 'fabic of ken' comment. I think I'm trying for that... sort of. :)

Susan: Food free cinema, yay! I'll be there. (I may smuggle in a Kit Kat though).

Hope: I detest seat kickers. :(
I have a messy desk too so that's good, right? :)

Laura Brown said...

I've never been bothered by anyone at the theatre. One kid kicking the back of my seat but his Mother was with him and she straightened him out when I turned around and asked him to stop.

Ken Armstrong said...

Laura: I'll drop by some night and bother you at the theatre.

It's an experience we all need. :)

Kat Mortensen said...

Ken, are you sure you and I are not related somewhere along the line? We appear to have identical temperaments. Have you ever seen the cartoon with the frazzled character and the caption says: "I have one nerve left and you're getting on it"? That is me, to a tee!
At a performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" I was driven to distraction by some guys watch ticking in the row in front of me. At a screening of "Howard's End" I nearly went out of my mind with some old guy who was snorting and snuffling the whole way through.
I have been known --in the past;I'm more fearful now-- to turn around to people chatting in a movie and point blank tell them to "shut up". I am great with the "evil eye" as well. I once got into a pushing match with a girl twice my size on a dance floor in a dingy club in Toronto. I'm a bit meeker now...I just seethe until I get out to the car and then, look out!
I understand where you were coming from entirely. I cringe when I see people coming into the theatre with the supersized popcorn and plank themselves down in front of me. I will move as many times as it takes to get a quiet spot (even in church).


Kat Mortensen said...

Sorry to be hogging the limelight, but I just read that you love "A Room With a View". You just shot up a little further on my scale of admiration, boyo.


Jena Isle said...

Hi Ken,

Sometimes due to age, our memory fails us...(he he he) and well, it's not our fault if we can't remember all the details, what's important is that you are able to convey your message to your readers. Thanks for those wonderful stories about life and love. They have been part of my learning process. Cheers and happy blogging.

Laura Brown said...

That's just one of the things I like about you Ken. Always so eager to help everyone experience life to the full. :P

Ken Armstrong said...

Kat: It'd be nice to be related to you. I bet you do great family din dins. :)

I saw 'Room With a View' in Mayfair on the first Saturday night it was released. I remember it very well. Love everything about that movie, recommend it to love story and action hero movie fans alike.

Jena: You will not age. You are forever young. :)

Laura: Let's see how you feel after I've kicked the back of your seat, crunched popcorn and muttered spoilers for an hour. :)

Laura Brown said...

Well, at least you're only muttering. :P

Anonymous said...

there have been so many times where I wanted to strangle someone for doing something like this in the cinema! :D and no the mask is shyte! :p