I approached the theatre on Lavalle y Esmerelda with the intention of seeing Gatsby. I’d heard reviews both raving and hating and wanted to glimpse the glam myself. However upon scanning the billboard, I couldn’t find any listings.
“Ya se fue el Gran Gatsby?” I asked the man in line in front of me, friendly-looking, in maybe his early 50′s.
“Si, solo quedó por dos semanas,” he replied, holding something in his hand.
“Que rápido, quería verlo!” I said.
“Claro, no sé… Bueno, si no podés ver el Gatsby, querés ver Rapido y Furioso 6? Tengo este boleto que es, como, dos por uno— nos daría entrada por treinta pesos.”
I re-scanned the billboard, checking out the other options. I didn’t recognize anything else, and this guy was saving me money, so I decided to go with it. He paid, I paid him, and then I followed him into the theatre lobby where I found myself being presented to a group of people.
“Mira, esta es mi familia.” The man— Roberto— proceeded to introduce me to a woman who I think was his wife, and then to each of his four children, two younger, two older. The younger kids were a smiley bunch. The teenagers were also smiley but they wore those embarrassed smiles of ‘Dad’s doing it again’, a smile I remember quite well myself. I kissed cheeks and shook hands, bemused, as they asked me questions about who I am and why I exist and what part of Brasil I’m from. “Estadounidense, de Boston,” I replied. Apparently my accent sounds Brazilian. OK, I’ll take it, maybe I’d be good at Portuguese.
I learned that the rest of his family was going to see a different movie, a comedy, so Roberto and I would be seeing the Fast and the Furious 6 together, alone. Fine by me. This was all very random, I thought. Roberto interrupted my thoughts by shouting, “Foto! Foto! Un foto!” So I posed with his family while he took a picture of us grinning near a cutout of Iron Man. He told me that his daughter would share the photo with me on Facebook. She overheard, seethed. “Papá!” More exasperated smiling, and then it was time to enter the theatre.
We sat next to each other, squarely in the center row. It was a pretty full house, with the seats in front of us occupied by two couples who were far more interested in making out than watching the film. We shared a pack of tropical flavored mentos, and he offered me a piece of gum. I accepted. The movie started.
It was cheesy but awesome. Come on, it’s the Fast and the Furious SIX— at this point you know what you’re in for: impossible action scenes, hot chicks, unbreakable bones, absurd explosions, and the classic Vin Deisel one-liner melodrama. Perfect. Exactly what I paid for.
But there was something else familiar about this situation. There was a man next to me; laughing when I laughed, wincing when I winced, caught in the same predictable sequences of suspense and relief. He, taking up the entire arm rest, leaning forward during the car chases, letting out that roar of gladiatorial bloodlust as the bad guys are stopped in their tracks.
I know this feeling.
I didn’t realize I was crying until I tasted my tears. And then I realized, and realized, and felt that rigid rage build as my body went stiff and my fists shook fast and furious in time with the explosions onscreen. A car flying through the air narrowly misses Vin Deisel’s head and I hear that familiar cackle and realize that it was me, not him, and then realize, and realize, and feel my rigid body clench anew and tears spout like oil from when BP fucked up.
I know this feeling. I remember having felt it so many times. Rambo. Conan the Barbarian. Blade. True Lies. All the Terminators. Van Helsing. Hellboy. Marvel everything. Judgement Day. LOTR. Hidalgo. Hell, even the Three Stooges. Lost in Space. Watching fucking Raffi with my father. Cookie monster singing, “healthy food, tastes so good…”
I miss this feeling. It is so painfully familiar and bountiful in my memory, but now so uncommon. It’s not the same as being with friends, male or female, regardless of the activity. It’s not even a particularly social or interactive feeling, as most communication was conveyed through grunts and yells or perhaps the rare ‘whoop’. But it was part of the bond that I shared with my father, and it is gone and irreplaceable, and I miss it dearly.
The movie ended without Roberto realizing anything about my condition. I wrote down my name on a napkin so that his daughter might be able to facebook me that photo. We started walking out of the theatre, exchanged a few remarks about the movie, and got out to the street, where I stopped him—
“Una cosita” — “Si?” — “Bueno, sobre su familia. Es muy linda. Guárdala.”
Essentially, I told him to value and protect his family. I then told him in one quick sentence that my own father had passed, and (building off of a Vin Diesel one-liner from 10 minutes earlier) delivered that damn cliche that you never know what you have until it’s gone, which I’m not sure I always agree with, but it was a busy street and we were on our way. He gave me his card. I smiled. We shook hands and parted. I walked off and cried.