Dreams of Bloody Knuckles and Quiet Theaters

I want BLOOD on my hands.

It’s three am and the memory of what happened Friday afternoon still twists my gut.  God help me, I wanted to beat a man to death right in front of his baby’s eyes.  The rage flickered inside my heart only for a moment, but I can’t deny it was there.

Let me set the scene.

My wife and I went to see the new movie "Smokin Aces" with a couple of friends of ours.  Being a Friday, there was a good-sized crowd, but the theater was far from packed.  Some "gentleman" high in the auditorium seats had brought his baby to the movie and it wailed during the previews.  I was shaking my head in disgust, muttering in disbelief, when another single father strolled down our isle and sat down with his infant child.  There were more than a dozen empty rows, but he chose to sit DIRECTLY in front of us.

In case you haven’t seen the ads, let me tell you, "Smokin Aces" is violent on an apocalyptic scale.  The film is littered with bodies.  Men are shot, stabbed, burnt, beaten, tortured, and decimated by chain saws.  That theater, showing that movie, was NO place for a baby.

So of course, the baby got restless.

For twenty minutes, she cried and squirmed as the man wrestled her in and out of the stroller.  At times, he handed the kid a box of candy to use as a rattle.  So when we weren’t distracted by the baby’s cries we got to listen to "RATTLE, RATTLE, RATTLE."

I was about to go to the lobby and speak to a manager when my wife very calmly, very politely asked the man if he could please try to keep the baby quiet.

The man glared at my wife angrily and said, "It’s a fucking baby." 

He said it so quickly, I can only assume he was waiting for someone to say something to him.  It’s a fucking baby.  As if my wife were somehow a horrible person.  How dare she.  A poor, innocent baby is frightened and crying.  How dare she ask him to please keep the baby quiet.

By the way, did I mention that my wife is seven months pregnant?

"It’s a fucking baby," he repeated, snarling at my wife.

"Yeah, and it’s a rated-R movie," I responded.  "You don’t bring a kid into a movie like this."

The man tore out of seat and gathered up his things.  He was a stocky guy with a shaved head and a heavy frame, bulging with fat and muscle–he could’ve been a nameless thug in the movie we were watching.  He left, yelling curses while my wife pleaded with me to stay in my chair.

Rage coursed through my veins so hard that I trembled.  (In fact, I tremble now typing this account.)  And just when I began to calm down the man came back.

He left his stroller a few yards away and yelled horrible things at my wife–a woman with child herself.  I wish I could say I took the high ground.  I wish I could say that I remained zen and let it slide.  But any zen I might’ve had slipped away when he said those things to my wife.  I had my own words for the man, and they weren’t pretty.

The man eventually left, and we got back to the film.  But the whole time, we had to look over our shoulders, because there is no doubt in my mind that he wanted to fight.

My mind staggers trying to comprehend him.  In the end, it boils down to one thing–selfishness.  The man thought only of himself.  He didn’t care about anyone in the theater.  He didn’t care that he would have to knock down a pregnant woman to get to me.  And most of all, he didn’t care about his own child, whose safety was put at risk because of stupidity and a twisted sense of self-entitlement. 

I cared more about his child than he did. 

There were many reasons why I didn’t try to take the bastard’s head off.  I didn’t want to risk my wife’s safety.  I didn’t want to go to jail over a scumbag.  I didn’t know if he had a gun.  But most of all, I simply couldn’t beat this man in front of his child.  As much as I wanted to feel his blood on my knuckles, it would’ve been wrong.  What if the baby was hurt in the scuffle?  What would that make me?

In some way, this event will end up in my fiction.  It has crystallized at least one motive for all the evil in the world.  Selfishness.

If you like a good nihilistic bullet-fest, the movie was great, and I really enjoyed it.  Up until the end. 

As the climax crested its peak and the bloody action gave way to quiet, reflective dialogue, the baby up in the auditorium seating began to wail.  Its father, who no doubt wanted to see the end of the movie, stayed in his seat.

My mind staggers.

18 thoughts on “Dreams of Bloody Knuckles and Quiet Theaters

  1. Mike MacLean

    I wrote this post with heat. I was very angry with this man for threatening my wife, and let that anger boil out into my writing. Reading it now, I come off as trying to sound like a tough guy.

    I am not a tough guy. I am the opposite of a tough guy.

    Thankfully, my life has never been touched by real violence. My parents raised me to be courteous to others and to respect women. I’m guessing the man I argued with cannot say the same. But now, he has a chance to break the chain and teach his baby a different path. It’s too bad he’s failing miserably.

    Reply
  2. Alex Sokoloff

    When I was teaching I became convinced that the only way to break the cycle of violence in this world is to put birth control in the water.

    To get the antidote, you have to attend childcare school for two years. No fee – mandatory attendance.

    I still think so.

    There is something about rude people in movie theaters that incites violence in me, as well. If people are talkers, and don’t respond to a quiet request or prolonged icy glances, I have been known to move directly behind them and lean forward. Not touching, just listening. If I have a pad with me, I start taking notes.

    Maybe not very spiritual of me, but it’s worked every single time.

    Reply
  3. billie

    When Blackhawk Down came out, I wanted to see it in the theatre, big screen, up close. There were parents who brought very young children to that movie. I was completely stunned.

    I’ve worked with a lot of abused children and I tend to agree with Alex – violence inside a family is so multi-layered and complex and I don’t know how effectively one can intervene. There’s really no way to intervene until some level of violence has already been done – that’s what brings the family into the “system” if it’s even reported.

    Sigh.

    Your description didn’t make you sound like you were trying to be a tough guy – more like you were trying to protect both your own wife and child, and his child, at the same time.

    I can’t help but wonder what was going on inside that father’s mind – not in the moment, but before the movie and after. It would be nice to think he had some struggles of his own, and not just pure narcissism.

    billie

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  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Mike,Your post hits so many of my hot points.

    Babies at a violent movie?

    Hell no.

    Taking young children to graphically violent pictures isn’t just selfish; it’s cruel. They don’t know how to interpret what they see and often internalize images that no child should have in his/her mind, period.

    I’m going to get into trouble here, but the parents who took young ones to “The Passion of Christ” because it was a spiritual movie make me want to scream for the reason above.

    You’re right about selfishness.

    All of us who are responsible for raising children know the urge to put our wants above their needs. We can’t do it — no matter how tired or trummeled we feel.

    The longer I’m a parent, the more compassion I have for other *parents* AND the less patience I have for people who never should have had children.

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  5. Guyot

    The sad thing is the guy probably took it out on the baby, blaming the child for him missing the movie.

    The only real chance that child has in life is if the “gentleman” meets with an industrial accident of some sort.

    I can’t believe after witnessing the episode, the other guy STAYED with his baby.

    Reply
  6. Mike MacLean

    Alex,

    Putting birth control in the water supply might raise the ire of the reproductive rights folks. I wonder how many of them have spent time with an angry 19 year-old with a fourth grade education and three kids.

    Billie,

    Thanks for the insights. My guess that the guy was such a narcissist (great word choice) that he felt that HE was wronged. Who knows, perhaps he feels somehow wronged by the world. I just wish he could go ahead and stew in those feelings at home.

    Pari,

    “The longer I’m a parent, the more compassion I have for other *parents* AND the less patience I have for people who never should have had children.”

    Exactly what I was thinking (although I’m not a parent yet). Maybe I’m just noticing it more, but it seems the ranks of parents who shouldn’t be parents are growing. A truly horrifying notion if you think on it too long and imagine the future.

    Reply
  7. Mike MacLean

    Paul,

    “I can’t believe after witnessing the episode, the other guy STAYED with his baby.”

    You’ve hit the mark with that statement.

    You can’t believe the other guy stayed because you’re a good father who wouldn’t have brought his child to the movie in the first place.

    As mystery/thriller writers, we are entertainers. But we’re also communicators, and to communicate effectively with someone we must have some common ground. If we don’t agree on everything, that’s okay. But we must have some sort of understanding, some connection.

    I felt no connection with either of those men. I could not wrap my head around their motives, and that frustrates me beyond belief.

    Reply
  8. billie

    I immediately wondered why he was alone with his child on a Saturday night. Maybe he’s divorced, or never married, and has weekends with his child. Or maybe he was giving his wife a break.

    A layer deeper, he’s got his child weekends and it’s driving him nuts that his ex is out w/o him. So he determines to do something HE wants to do, i.e. the movie. Child be damned. Beneath that is probably the fact that he doesn’t really know or care what appropriate parenting is. Maybe he never had it himself. Maybe he did but just can’t bring himself to sacrifice his own surface needs for that of his child’s.

    Or he’s over his ex but is lonely himself and can’t bear being home all night with his child. Bad, bad choice of movie, but… it’s using up the time he has to spend.

    Maybe wife is having an affair and he’s mad as hell and doing what he wants as a way to get back at her. Again, child’s needs shoved aside.

    There are so many possibilities.

    The thing that angers me is that at some point this child will possibly be the client in a therapist’s office. When really it’s the parent(s) who need the help.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the children simply b/c the parents couldn’t face doing their own work. And I figured it was better to have the child getting something positive and the *chance* at influencing the parents than nothing at all.

    When I decided to go to grad school to become a therapist, Lee Smith (one of my undergrad writing professors, back when she taught) told me she felt being a novelist and being a therapist were very close to the same job.

    She’s totally right – it’s so much the same energy that gets tapped, working with clients, writing characters, trying to discover what motivates them and how to follow them where they need to go.

    I discovered awhile back that I can only write if I limit the number of clients I see – there’s a very tangible number of clients that, if I go over it, my ability to work on a book just dies.

    Anyway, I’m way off on a tangent now, but your post today sort of brings it all together for me – the way writing intersects with life and people and for me, my other job.

    The silver lining (if you can call it that in this kind of thing) is that you discovered something new about yourself and your role as a father. And you can safely let it boil into your writing. However this finds its way into a future scene, it will hit the mark hard and true. And it will touch readers b/c of that.

    billie

    Reply
  9. wendy roberts

    My blood pressure went up just reading your post. The very best part about being a novelist is that we can take horrible situations and use them as fodder and fuel for future scenes. I hope you get to give him his due in a story very soon!

    Reply
  10. Naomi

    After the twenty bucks spent on tickets and the other ten on popcorn and Coke, you’d think that quiet wouldn’t be too much to ask for. I’m all for community and “it takes a village,” but why does the village/community get so noisy and insensitive in movie theatres? One-way cell phone conversations, kids going back and forth several times in our row, constant talking–yeah, it makes our blood boil, too. I’m a bit of a chicken–I do say the standard “shhhhh–, please be quiet,” which doesn’t seem to work. The husband, with his East L.A. attitude and high-school teaching experience, knows how to get into people’s face more, but he usually doesn’t go as far as he wants to be because of me.

    Reply
  11. Rae

    Totally agree with the idea of birth control in the water, Alex. Why can any idiot have a baby, when you have to pass a test to be able to drive a car, or sell a house, or put dead people in the ground? Or get a license to hunt or fish?

    I’ve come to think of the era we live in as the Age of Incivility. There’s a miasma of ill-mannered thoughtlessness floating over every sort of public arena, from movie theaters to airplanes to grocery stores. Blech. Makes me prefer to stay home, most days.

    Glad you took the high road, Mike. It must have been tough.

    Reply
  12. louiseure

    Like Billie, I tried to first put myself in this other guy’s shoes. Maybe this as as close to real parenting as he’s ever done.

    Should babies be taken to violent films? Who knows? I’m not a parent; I wouldn’t even know if the noise/images on the screen register with very young children.

    But my disgust with him is at his response. “It’s a fucking baby.” Why, in this most uncivil of times, do we immediately lash out? That even the mention of a child in your arms has to be described as “a fucking baby.”

    I’m no prude. I use fuck more often than I use my husband’s name.

    But my reply to him would have been the equally uncivil, “Yeah, and it’s a fucking movie theater and you’re disturbing the rest of us.”

    Good on ‘ya for not resorting to more than verbal violence. Some days I’m not sure I could have done it.

    Reply
  13. Elaine Flinn

    I was all ready to say something profound – besides congratulating you, Mike – for being more of a hero by restraining yourself than if you’d punched the guy out – when I read Louise’s comment about not being a prude, etc. It cracked me up – and I lost the thread of my brilliant reply…’cause fuck is my catch all word as well (as most of you already know) 🙂

    But to even attach it to ‘baby’ said more about the bum than anything. Too bad movie theaters don’t have glassed off rooms, or a special theatre for parents with small children.

    And Pari? No flack from me re your comments about Mel’s epic. That was no movie for youngsters. Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if movie makers and theaters enforced the age thing? And not encourage wannabe thugs – and miscreants? And please don’t start with the people kill people, not guns thing vis a vis movies. Kids emulate, okay?

    Reply
  14. Mike MacLean

    Naomi,

    Unfortunately, “Please be quiet” has somehow become offensive. As if you are somehow infringing on their rights (How dare you ask me to be quiet!). People with the “It takes a Village” mentality first have to teach their children to respect those around them.

    Rae,

    I often feel like it IS the Age of Incivility.

    Louise,

    To be honest, I might have in fact said, “and it’s a fucking theater.” I’m not sure. I do cop to cursing at him when he came back.

    There is a possibility that he was drawing me into a trap. If I went after him, I’d be the guy who assaulted a single father with his infant in a carriage just feet away. I don’t want to give the scumbag that much credit in the brains department. My guess is, if you scrape the rim of your toilet, you’ll find something with more intelligence than him.

    Reply
  15. Keith

    The same basic thing happens to us every time (which would be maybe three times in the last three years?) we manage to get to a movie together.

    The most recent was yesterday. We paid a babysitter a hundred dollars to get away for six hours. Starbucks, movie, dinner. And then, as usual, the babies and senior citizens at the matinee don’t know how to behave.

    This time, after I got fed up enough to confront the parents directly (there’s no point confronting seniors, since they can’t hear you), the mother and father shushed the kid every time he piped up: IS HE GOING BACK TO JAIL? IS THE MOMMY COMING BACK?

    But they didn’t leave.

    As we were walking out, I said to my wife, “When are we going to learn not to go to movies?”

    Reply
  16. Karen Olson

    I think because we can now watch movies at home, people are far less civilized at the movie theater. A couple of years ago, my husband and I got a babysitter to go to the movies. When you have a small child at home, going to a grownup movie is a huge treat, something really special. We decided to see “The Bourne Supremacy,” R-rated. A couple came in behind us with a little girl, who was probably not more than a year old. Now, I’m sure she wasn’t concentrating on the film, but it was LOUD. Lots of explosions, gunshots, and anyone who’s been to the movies lately knows that they always make the sound really really loud like we’re all 90 and need hearing aids. This child began to cry with the first explosion on screen. I finally got up and spoke quietly to the mother, saying that I’d gotten a babysitter because I wanted to enjoy this film and perhaps she should take her crying child out of the theater because it was disturbing people. She yelled at me loudly. But after a few minutes, she left with the child. She did come back, with the child, who did continue to cry. But no one else complained; we just accepted it.

    I still wish I’d spoken to management, because this is unacceptable. We wanted a nice grownup evening out without a child, and we got one who was far worse than our own would’ve been (she was 7 and at least wouldn’t have cried).

    I’m sorry, but people who do this are stupid, and it explains why a lot of kids are messed up. (And as a quick story, I found out that a boy in my daughter’s grade (he’s 10) is reading Carl Hiassen’s Nature Girl for a book report. This was approved by the parents, who probably didn’t even look at the book, which contains fairly graphic sex scenes and violence. This is the way we’re bringing up the next generation.)

    Reply

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