chapter 23: cinderfelon


“i didn’t even have to use my A.K.

today was a good day.”

–ice cube (A.K. = Absent Kash)

los angeles.  city of angels.  sunshine.  palm trees.  mansions.  movie stars.  big dreams and good times.  tonight was an easy one.  my head wasn’t hurting too badly–just a mild, dull ache; the occasional swell of pain.  but nothing hard to handle.  i went to an outdoor shopping complex with an amiable compadre.  under a full moon, or at least that’s how it felt.  ate my favorite sandwich at Subway.  footlong meatball.  with so many toppings that Jared’s “before” weight couldn’t have squished it shut.  perfecto.

post-submarine satisfaction, i made a beeline for my best-loved store–i’d received a voucher for a free gift.  i found a manager and asked if i could have an additional gift as well.  he said yes.  the added freebie:  a $200 value.  check the price tag for yourself.  “ask, and you shall receive.”  i’ve always believed that–

flashback–  dateline:  Nashville.  job at the mall.  one night after work, i headed over to the large theater that took up the entire northwest wing.  spent my last dollar on a ticket, then approached the refreshment girl.  “hey what’s your name?”  “kim.”  “kim, i’m wade. (pause).  kim, why don’t you give me a free drink for no apparent reason.”  kim smiled and filled a large-sized cup with pepsi.  i always did like girls named kim.  oh, and lesson learned.

but back to Glendale, CA:  exit store with gift and extra gift.  superb time so far.

my friend and i strolled across the Americana.  it was a beautiful night, and music surrounded me.  the sounds of big band and happiness.  the smell of Wetzel’s Pretzels.  and the sights of lights, trolley tracks, luxury living, and nouveau shopping, all centered around a large, fantastic fountain.  the spray of the water provided an additional layer to the just-right soundtrack.  the air felt great tonight.  every step took me further into a welcome escape from my mundane, couch-ridden recovery.

we hit the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, my much preferred southern california source for hot beverages.  i made my play:  vanilla latte.  delicious.  then another promenade around the plaza.

10 minutes later, it was time to face the facts:  i had to pee.  and i had to pee now.

so did my friend.

we walked into the obvious place–the large movie theater in the corner of the expansive property.  there it was–20 yards beyond the cashier and red ropes:  “MEN.”  and that’s what i was.  and that’s where i needed to go.  i stood on the wrong side of the divide, shopping bags in hand.  i didn’t have a ticket.  but that’s where i needed to be–in the restroom of this plush, ornate multiplex moviehouse.  so i just went.  past the ticket window.  right through the red, unmanned ropes.  across the industrial strength, would-never-have-these-colors-in-my-house-but-they’re-good-for-a-cineplex carpet.  mission accomplished.

afterward, we convened in the middle of the huge, open-spaced cathedral of a lobby, contemplating our next move.  to our left was the ticket booth.  far to our right, on the other end of what was surely a 5 minute walk, stood the massive concession stand.  it looked like a giant oasis in the middle of the Sahara.  but with Icees.  what do we do now?

walk around some more?  call it quits?  where to go?

–hold that thought–

from the press release for the opening of the Pacific Theaters Glendale 18 at the Americana at Brand:

Concession choices will include popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, pretzels, and a selection of candy. Beverages and condiments are self-serve, so you can get just the right blend of ice in your drink and butter on your popcorn.

architectural highlights:

  • Venetian chandeliers made with hand blown crystal and 24 karat gold
  • Hand-painted mural paying tribute to classic Americana with iconic images of old Hollywood, the Wild West, aviation and the arts
  • Two inlaid mosaic tile designs on the lobby floor showcasing intricate and playful oval designs made of rich marble and smooth limestone

(But most importantly)

each of the 18 auditoriums features curved wall-to-wall screens, digital sound, and stadium seating with retractable arm rests and reclining seats.

—-i knew what i wanted to do.  how could i resist?

the only problem was, i had no money.  neither did my friend.  no money = no ticket.  no ticket = no movie.  but i had to ask–

“are you sure you don’t have any money?”


“i wish we could see iron man 2.”


“are we really this broke.”


“man.  and i have a brain tumor! dang it!!!!

the refreshment area beckoned me.  i couldn’t just smell the popcorn; i could taste it.  i wanted to eat it ’til that large bucket was as empty as my wallet.

“is there any way we could get some money?”


“i guess you’re right.  we might as well leave.”

“we have no choice.  but i wish we could stay.”

sadly, time to head for the glass, reinforced double doors…but then–

i thought of the old people:  when i was a child, adults would constantly comment on how polite i was.  especially the elderly–you know, people past 50…  “you are the most polite child.”  “thank you, ma’am.”

and what about those good grades?  not too shabby…

i never skipped school.

i once saved a puppy.

and sponsored a child through Compassion International.

i made the Dean’s list…

and an oversized card for a mere acquaintance in the hospital.

i adopted animals.

and gave money to the underprivileged.

i recited the Conversation Pledge every wednesday at church.

i bought and read a book called Honesty, Morality, and Conscience.

i even visited my kindergarten teacher when she was sick, twenty years after kindergarten.

let’s face it:  i’ve been a saint.  an angel.  a well behaved, nice guy.  been loyal to my friends.  been friendly to customers.  been courtly to waiters.  patted stray dogs on the head.  told people their babies were cute.

i’ve lived a Leave It to Beaver life.

and tonight, here i was, with a brain tumor.  standing in the middle of a movie theater.  my future uncertain.  my pocket ticketless.  if only i had money.  if only…

didn’t the Beave go to movies?

and it hit me.  this could be my last week on earth, for all i know…i just had a hemorrhage in my head.  is this how i want it to end?  having never taken risks?  having never colored outside the lines?  having never felt the rush of a clandestine mission?

and never knowing how Iron Man beats mickey rourke, aka Whiplash?

this was how i’d define my last night on earth? how about an alternative–the word “gutsy” came to mind.  “unpredictable.”  “dangerous.”  dare i?  i told my partner in poverty…we’d neither one ever risked it all…and we were already inside the ropes…

i learned in 10th grade that “sneaked” is correct, and “snuck” is not a word.

somewhere inside me, the noon whistle blew.  i’d been working my whole life to live beyond reproach.

and so i clocked out.

as myself.

time to take a break, be something else…put on the metaphorical shades.  straighten my tie.  james bond?  maybe.  replace my brain-hemorrhaged walk with a carefree saunter.  cruise in front of the oversized hand painted mural, past john wayne and up to the promo table halfway to the concession stand.  (confidently) “excuse me, what is this about?” “[irrelevant answer]”  “oh really?  you don’t say…”  …mosey atop the mosaic tile designs, giving humphrey bogart the cold shoulder.  here’s looking at me.  left foot, marble.  right foot, limestone.  “hi” to a passing theater worker…smile in front of the wright brothers…i’d whistle myself if i knew how.  waltz under the 24-karat gold, crystal chandeliers.  where’s Lawrence Welk music when ya need it?

i’d lie if i said my heart wasn’t beating a little faster.  and if i said it didn’t feel great.

and “great” was hitting the spot.  not the 20-spot, but who cares?  the cool thing about a popcorn and a coke, is that nickels and dimes buy them just as easily as cash.

who said “debonaire” mandates paper money?

and it wasn’t just about the movie or the popcorn.  tonight, i wasn’t merely hunting for food.  i was hunting for sport.

and on the field:

the most anticipated movie of the summer was playing in two auditoriums.  i pick:  the BEST one.

perfect theater.  perfect seats.  perfect swindle.  my pants are on fire.  but i’m blazing a trail.  this is my adventure, and it’s smoking.  even made it for the previews.  i’m sly and punctual.  i’m living on the edge.  so this is what it’s like to jump out of a plane.  or at least, sneak into a movie.  i feel like the wind is in my face.  don’t even care if my ‘chute opens.  i’m being blown away by the power of digital sound.  my fall’ll be broken by the cushy retractable arm rests and reclining seat.


the movie was like pumpkin pie–

october, 1998.  i got a pumpkin.  when i bought the jack-o-lantern kit, the grocery receipt had a recipe for that greatest of autumn desserts.  10 minutes later, i had everything i needed.  i went home, and carved that sucker up.  i set aside my pulpy and hard-to-remove treasure trove of pre-pie paradise, put on my chef hat and began confecting.  what seemed like a lifetime later, i had an impeccable last course, ready to be devoured like the main entree i always knew it could be.  i couldn’t wait.  i dug in.  looks great.  smells great.  tastes…wretched.  worst thing i’d ever eaten.  it was putrid.  for the next few weeks, i forced every houseguest to have some, until it was all gone.  some say you appreciate it more if you work for it; but not so with pumpkin pie.  i wish someone had just given me the quintessential Halloween baked good.  free is better.  with pumpkin pie, as well as…

Iron Man 2 was rocking the theater, and i was having the time of my life.  we may get caught, but that was half the thrill.  so far we were scott-free, and the movie was terrific.  alas, then:

two-thirds of the way through, my crafty comrade and i ran out of popcorn.

it wasn’t the extra-large, so there were no free refills.

this disturbed me; i’d beaten the system so far…  so:  remember kim?  it was time for a little thing i like to call “making the night perfect.”  i’d traipse my way to the concession counter and talk my way into a free refill.  this night, everything was going my way.  who cared if the roulette wheel was balanced?  as far as i was concerned, every spin was hitting my lucky number.  i had a sublime sundae with whipped cream, and it was cherry-on-top time.

but then i thought:  if i go out there, i’m gonna miss some of the movie.  sure, i’ll gain another notch in my belt, and a few more kernels between my teeth…but while i’m flossing later, i’ll wonder how gwyneth paltrow saved the day, or what happened to don cheadle’s attitude.  was buttering up a minimum wage employee so i could butter up my popcorn more important than the savory goodness of the third act?  plus, what if i got out there and someone said, “there’s that guy who went in without paying!”  –gambler’s confidence or no, everyone loses sometime; i learned that from Casino, and from the time i tried to “hold it” ’til the next rest stop.

i had to really think:  what was this night about?  conquering all, or simply enjoying myself?  wasn’t i in the movie because i wanted to see the movie?  in the end, i stuck with gwyneth.  for all i knew, she saved my day.  and so i’d live to fight another one.  there would be plenty of time for more popcorn later.

and i’d be back here soon enough.  maybe even to pay double for my next ticket.

but for now, i relaxed and sipped my coke.  or martini, shaken not stirred.  and on the big screen, i watched the good guys win.  afterward, the night air outside the theater felt better than ever.  and so did the ride home.

–because tonight, i lived it up.  for a moment in time, i was king of the world.  or at least, king of mine.  isn’t that what life is all about?  it’s a game of chance; we persevere through losses and relish our victories.  but win or lose, we cherish the privilege and the burden–the calm and the fear–of free will.  and the freedom to chance it all; to choose to do it our way; and maybe even bend the rules, for an exhilarating instant.  this is my time.  i could’ve died last week.  but tonight, i’m alive enough to feel scandalous.  this is what life is about.  whether it’s long and winding, or cut short when you least expect it.  no one knows where this train will stop; but tonight, in my small way, i rode the rails.  i felt the tracks.

now i’m in bed, and i can shut my heavy eyes and know i’m sleeping off an adventure.  and on the other side of sleep, tomorrow will bring another.

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