My friend Paul hates going to the movies alone. He’s spent more of his life single than he’d prefer, and soloing at the movies feels to him like he’s failed somehow; he’ll miss a flick rather than go by himself.
I, on the other hand, have generally had much less solitude than I wanted – between my partners and my children, I haven’t spent as much as a year living alone. And I’ve never quite understood the logic of a movie date: I want to spend time with you talking and getting caught up and enjoying each other’s company, so let’s go somewhere where we can sit silently side-by-side in the dark… how’s that again?
I love going to the movies alone. I don’t have to stand outside glancing at my watch and trying to decide whether to wait or give up, I get to eat all the good buttery popcorn from the top of the bag and throw the rest away, I can sit in the third row where Benedict Cumberbatch’s sexy sneer is the size of a Volkswagen. And, most of all, I don’t have to do that thing where, as you’re walking out, you quickly assess whether or not your companion enjoyed the movie more than you did, and immediately readjust your “man, I should’ve burned a $10 bill and saved the two hours” to “hmmm, not sure this one really worked for me.”
A few decades ago, I had forgotten what solitude felt like. I was 32, writing high-tech ad copy in Sacramento, raising two grade-schoolers, going through the motions of a friendly but passionless marriage. I struggled to figure out the narrative of my life: was I doing this, I wondered, because it was all I was able to do? Or was I capable of something else, more creative, more glamorous, more outrageous?
So I went to New York – by myself, just for a week. I went there to get acquainted with the single, talented, successful advertising genius I thought I might have been in a different lifetime. I have family in New York, but I didn’t tell them I was there; instead, I stayed alone in a cheap little tourist hotel uptown, the kind of place where you don’t have to worry about rapists but you may have to worry about roaches.
I figured out the bus and subway maps and rode where I wanted to go. I browsed in bookstores, drank cappuccinos, sat in the park and watched pale New York children climbing the monkey bars. I transformed myself so convincingly into my single urban doppelgänger that tourists asked me for directions.
And on my last night in New York, a Friday, I did what the other me would probably do: I went to a movie. I’d heard about something that was opening that night, a new movie with pirates and giants and other things I liked, so I took the bus downtown to see The Princess Bride.
It was mobbed. “Single seats only,” called the cashier. Hah! I was single!
I shoved my way to the front of the line, handed over my six bucks, and found the only seat left in the enormous, packed theater, in the second row next to the left-hand wall. The film was weirdly distorted by my seat position, and the crick in my neck was to persist for several days, but I didn’t care. I was enchanted – the flick was sheer romance, with just enough of a satirical gloss that I could immerse myself without embarrassment. I swooned over Inigo Montoya, fell in love with the sweetness of Fezzik the Giant, roared with laughter at the tail-turning cowardice of sinister Count Rugen.
A few times in a lifetime, you see a movie and at the end of it you say, “This was my movie. They made this movie for me.” Well, of course, a few million other people feel the same way about The Princess Bride. But as far as I was concerned that night, both of us – the Sacramento wife and mom, the brilliant New York copywriter – had just seen our movie.
And after an experience like that, neither of us wanted to clamber back onto a dirty crowded New York bus. So we – I – walked all the way back to the hotel. It was a crisp, starlit autumn night in New York, and the walk was some forty blocks up Park Avenue, past some of Manhattan’s ritziest real estate. Every building had a doorman, and it seemed as though all of them were smiling; I said “hello” to each one. At one building, limousines were pulling up to the curb, spilling out slender men in dinner jackets, women in furs and diamonds. I could hear piano music, laughter, the clinking of glasses inside.
Perhaps the other me would have been invited to that party – after all, she’d won a couple of Clio Awards by now and was probably making six figures. This me smiled and said hi to the doorman, strolled the rest of the way up Park Avenue, let myself into my hotel room, and began packing to go home to my husband and kids.
There are certain foods that you just don’t want anyone else to see you eating. This is one of them.
One slice whole wheat bread
Crunchy peanut butter
Toast the bread very lightly and let it cool. Spread with peanut butter. Cover with a thick layer of brown sugar. Broil the whole thing until the brown sugar darkens and bubbles and turns crunchy.
Resist temptation: let it cool a couple of minutes before you eat it, or you will inflict third-degree burns on the inside of your mouth.
This must be eaten, of course, with a tall cold glass of milk, while wearing your most reprehensible shabby-comfy clothing. Then tuck yourself into bed all alone with a trashy novel, and cherish your solitude.