Some movie experiences have unexpected endings
If you want a relationship, the advice goes, do what you like and you’ll eventually bump into the love of your life. None of that was on my mind when I opened up the newspaper and read about a film series at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Goldwyn Theater on Wilshire Boulevard. The academy would be screening, every Monday night for 75 weeks, all of the best picture winners from “Wings” (1927) to “Chicago” (2002) for just $75. I sprinted to buy my series pass.
My Monday night ritual: Get to the theater early. Stake out my favorite seat — low, on the aisle to the right. Then bury my face in a book to avoid eye contact with my fellow film enthusiasts, who usually arrived in pairs.
I’m not antisocial by nature. In my 20s I was a punk rock musician and the life of the party — too many parties, actually. Imagine a bowling ball (me) set on fire and thrown through a crowd of innocent bystanders. My relationships ranged from nightmarish to OK, but they were usually based on a mutual love of punk rock, cheap beer and little else.
Over time, I developed an almost pathological shyness. Most of my 30s were spent as a non-dating recluse focused on comedy and writing, and I steered clear of human intimacy as much as possible.
So as the film series progressed, I continued to go alone but did notice the same people sitting in my general vicinity every week, staking out their favorite seats too. I noticed one person in particular, a smiling cutie with big blue eyes and a bob haircut. I could almost sense when she entered the theater. I would note where she sat down, then quickly would go back to my book.
One week the blue-eyed girl sat directly in front of me. After she settled into her seat and saved one for her chronically late friend, she turned to me and asked, “What are you reading?” My book was about commedia dell’arte, the centuries-old form of Italian comedy. I clumsily started explaining what commedia was, and why I was reading about it, before I was mercifully saved by the start of the movie. When it was over, I left the theater while the credits were rolling because I was afraid she might want to finish our conversation.
And so began the slowest courtship in modern history. We would greet each other every week, but the best I could manage were shy “How was your weekend?” conversations. I always was afraid I’d say or do something dumb, which of course I did. I have a knack for falling asleep in public places — a talent developed during my punk-rock years of sleeping in vans and on floors — and “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937) put me into such a deep sleep not even hundreds of people laughing at my snoring could wake me up. Lucky for me, she found it endearing.
Then I landed a job writing fart jokes and “thought balloons” for a popular reality-TV dating show. The gig made me miss 2 1/2 decades of Oscar winners, but mostly I missed seeing her.
I discovered the feeling might be mutual when I returned for"Patton"(1970). Seeing me coming down the aisle for the first time in months, she rushed up and gave me a large and wonderful hug. We sat together after that, and we exchanged email addresses.
We stayed in touch when the film series ended, finding excuses to invite each other to screenings or double features at the New Beverly Cinema. I crafted a carefully worded Valentine’s Day email that took only 11 drafts to get right. Getting to our first real date (a movie, of course) and first kiss took two years.
On paper it shouldn’t work. An Irish Catholic/Buddhist punk rocker who is into comedy and long stretches of brooding, and a nice Jewish girl who prefers jazz, architecture and fine art. But it does work, magnificently. A decade after “Wings,” we’re still together.
I am experiencing the sort of happiness I didn’t even know was possible — and I try not to think about how empty my life would be today if her favorite seat had been on the other side of the theater.
Writer, comedian and filmmaker Tom O’Connor is at planetoconnor.com.
L.A. Affairs chronicles dating, romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at email@example.com.
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