“The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
you gotta promise not to stop
when I say when.”
Chapter 4 is entitled At the Movies and, as you might guess, is the chapter in which you get to see what Jose and I spent all our time doing. We loved the movies. I mean we LOVED the movies. This is also the chapter in which Jose dies. What? You’ve seen Jose die in this story already? Get used to it. He dies a lot in this book. “Death is a dance. A ballroom. A glove. An extension of total abandon in/love.” That’s Patti Smith and she had it right. There is nothing straightforward about love or death.
I had planned on taking a little break after Chapter 3 to give you, my dear sweet readers, a chance to breathe between bouts of The Movie Lovers and to read something different, but at this point my head is deep into the book. Perhaps just as salient are the twin facts that a) I’ve been fighting the headache from hell, on and off for four days now, and that hasn’t given me a lot of creative time; and b) the best, albeit temporary, remedy for the headache has been an online flirtation with a certain cowboy. I rest assured that you’ll all forgive me for not sharing the details. So on with The Movie Lovers it is!
Those of you who’ve read from the beginning know that Frank and Cliff are Jose’s and my husbands, respectively. For those of you who’ve just begun the story, Frank belongs to Jose and Cliff belongs to me. Catch up.
AT THE MOVIES, part 1
Jose and I became friends over a movie, a really bad movie; worse: a bad film. Movie lovers, both of us, we were destined to become fast friends, but we didn’t know that at the time. We didn’t even know each other, not outside the Writing Center where I tutored. It happened like this. Jose invited me to an art film at the Northwest Film Center, something about an impressionist painter -- I forget which one, but that doesn’t matter; it was our first movie together. When I told this story to a friend, her response was to say that Jose and I had not yet established our movie protocol, those unwritten codes of conduct and procedure that people develop between them over time, but that’s not it. Jose and I were never as formal as all that. Or maybe it’s love that cannot formal; love, even with its needs and its courtesies, that cannot be contained by protocol. But forget all that. Think of it this way. This friend of mine enjoys the movies, films too, but she isn’t what I would call a movie lover, not like Jose and me. A movie lover lives for the interplay of light and shadow. A movie lover is someone obsessed with the emotion of a camera angle, the truth of a close-up or a cut, the rhythm of the heartbeat behind the story behind the pictures on the screen. A movie lover is someone who gets to the theater in time to see the previews and the opening credits, someone who sits through all the end credits and all the music until the screen goes dark and the house lights come up. A movie lover doesn't expect a movie in which gratification is instant or continuous but is willing, happy even, to sit through even an agonizingly paced film until the last frame transforms it, retroactively altering the entire nature of the story. After this art house film, Jose and I drove back to my house in that blank silence only people unknown to each other can have. Finally, I blurted, "That was really awful." Jose let out his breath. "Yes," was all he got out before we broke up laughing. “I promise to do better next time,” he said. And so we were friends.
Going to the movies left Jose and me like children after a trip through the haunted house: laughing, gasping, waving our arms and contorting our faces, our truncated sentences all starting or ending with, Wow! That was incredible. The same thing happens whenever someone asks me to describe our friendship. My words fall out in a heap, or they careen out of control, first running amuck then abruptly dead-ending: inarticulation again. Me and Jose? I just shrug and smile. And day I asked my husband to describe us. "Best girlfriends," he said. "You used to get together and squeal." "Squeal?" He shrugged. "Well, Jose's was a manly squeal.”
I don’t know about squealing, but we did giggle a lot. And we went to the movies a lot where, eventually, we fell into a ritual. It started with Jose smiling one day and saying, “My treat.” It wasn't a you-got-it-last-time-so-I'll-get-it-this-time deal, nor was it based on who had money, since neither of us ever had much of that. It was simply our ritual, and I, whose idea of being on time is rushing around in a hell-fire hurry five or ten minutes behind schedule, I began to arrive early so that I might be the one to smile and say, "My treat." We went on like this for over four years, but my husband was right when he said we were still in the romance stage of our friendship. "A truncated courtship," Cliff called it. A movie lovers' courtship.
Being movie lovers, Jose and I attended the Cans Film Festival religiously. This festival is an entire day in November during which movie lovers can escape to the alternate reality of their choice for, at that time, two cans of food donated to the Oregon Food Bank. And when I say we attended, I don't mean we saw a movie or two in the evening, I mean we plotted a timetable. We calculated the quickest mode of transportation between shows -- my car, the bus, MAX, or our feet -- and we saw our first movie when the first theater opened, at eleven, shuttling throughout the day between three downtown theaters on one side of the river and a Cineplex on the other. We had two goals: to see the movies we wanted most to see, and just as important, to see as many movies as possible.
The morning of the festival, Jose and I would meet for breakfast with our backpacks full of cans. This in itself required planning. Each year we scoped out the sales and discussed the cheapest, the most nutritious, and (since we carried these packs all day) the smallest can of food we could offer up in exchange for our tickets to movie lovers' heaven. Tuna always won, hands down, but we tried to give no more than one can at a time. We'd hand over tuna and a can of pork and beans, tuna and a can of soup, tuna and a can of vegetables. There wasn’t much variety in the menu we offered; we were poor. Sometimes Jose went to Esther’s Pantry for food, his AIDS status and poor finances granting him access. The one time I chided him about receiving food for the poor only to give it away to the poor in exchange for a movie ticket, Jose said, “I don’t just take what I like. I take a little of everything,” and while I pondered the logic of that, the coup de grace: he offered me his extra cans.
Each year Jose and I started our festival date with a couple of movies at the Lloyd Cinemas, happy smugglers snacking on apple slices, cheese and crackers, grapes, chocolate. When it came time to go downtown, we would abandon my old car for the train. My husband, Cliff, bused to the parking lot after work to pick it up, and sometimes he and Jose's partner, Frank, joined us for that movie or two in the evening. We always finished at the KOIN Center downtown, the only chain theater that played foreign films and art-house fare, and most importantly, the theater that ran the latest festival showings. One year, my festival total reached a record six movies in thirteen and a half hours. That was the year, the first year, Jose had to go home early.
Now I go to the Cans Film Festival alone. I don't plan the day. Sometimes I don't even plan the movies. I’ll see one in the afternoon at the Guild, maybe another in the evening if the day has gone well. The first year I went without Jose I saw only one movie, Pulp Fiction, and I cried all through the end credits; it would have been our new favorite. The next year I managed to take in three movies, the third late at night -- last showing -- after Cliff and I argued. Bundled up in Jose's wool overcoat, the tan one with the blue flecks, and driving Frank’s Miata, I put the top down, turned the music up, and took the long way to the cinema, speeding down Front Avenue into the pink sodium-lit industrial district, chanting with Rush on the radio: “We are young . . . learning that we're only immortal for a limited time.” The pocket of my Levi’s held a tiny blue ceramic vase with a cork in it, a chestnut-sized urn of Jose's ashes. At the movies, I curled my fingers around it.
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