Man Dates with Alan
By Skip Montross
I go to the movies a lot, usually with one of my closest friends. He happens to be gay. I happen to be a straight, doughy, middle-aged, married stay-at-home dad. My wife calls them my “Man-Dates.” Often times when I tell people this, as I’m wont to do while recalling a humorous story from one of our outings, they seem slightly taken aback. As if the thought of it is foreign to them. A gay man and a straight man seeing a movie together. It’s typically a widening of the eyes or a quiet “huh.” A barely-noticeable gesture that tells you they find the thought somehow weird. Though it shouldn’t, this always manages to surprise me. Each time I’m reminded of the fact that what is perfectly normal to me is still viewed as, dare I say, queer to some folks. In fairness though, there was a time where it was new to me too. And I’d wager for Alan as well.
I’m not entirely sure what the first film Alan and I went to see together was. What I do remember was how funny it was when we went to take our seats. Alan didn’t know at the time, nor did I really, that I had become a practitioner of Straight-Guy Movie Etiquette. Something ingrained through years upon years of seeing films with other straight guy friends. When Alan sat I realized that my first inclination was to leave an empty seat between us. As I reflected on this later on I would come to understand a practice that straight men might refer to as the “Homophobia Seat.” You see, in the life of most straight men there are few moments as uncomfortable as sitting right next to another dude in a theater where additional space is available. If it’s a full crowd, of course we’re fine filling all available seats in a row. But when the theater is wide open the threat of incidental elbow contact is too much. Hence the open seat reserved for our mutual discomfort.
As I took my seat next to Alan I vaguely recall explaining the concept to him. It’s one of those things. The little minutiae ~ slight but well-defined differences in culture. Like the first time I went to the bathroom at Alan’s home and realized that when two men live together no one worries about the seat being up. I mean, how cool is that? For what it’s worth, even when it’s an open theater with plenty of space we still sit side by side like Siskel and Ebert. We’re probably more like those two old guys from the Muppet Show if I’m being perfectly honest.
Sometimes it’s a packed house. On more than one occasion we’ve gone to a midnight showing of a new blockbuster, the kind of film that has a line around the lobby. One such night happened last year. I had gone into Alan’s to pick him up for the film. Pretty sure it was the sequel to “Thor.” He was sitting at his dining room table in front of his overpriced MacBook. [Editor’s note: it’s a MacBook Air, thank you, also known as the prettiest girl in the room.] A tab was open to Fandango. He was insistent that we buy our tickets ahead of time. As it was a late Thursday night in the deep cold of a New York November I managed to convince him that it wouldn’t be necessary. There would be plenty of seats. I was wrong. So very wrong.
As we approached the pasty 17-year-old kid who would rip our tickets I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a line of people that looked as if it were 1000 deep. It began about 10 feet to the kid’s right and extended down the hall, around the corner and doubling back again. By my estimation the man up front had probably been waiting a couple hours at best. He eyeballed me. He was big enough to be scary. I don’t believe Alan noticed him. Or the giant line behind him. The ticket boy looked at us and said something I’ll never forget: “I’m just about to let them in. I’m not going to make you wait in line. Go ahead in.” Alan began to walk to the theater and for a brief moment, I’m not afraid to admit, I panicked a little bit. I didn’t know what to say so I started to follow Alan. As I did the line began to open and follow us into the theater. I’ll never forget what I heard the man behind me say as he followed. You see, to him, he had just waited two-plus hours and here we were just cutting the entire goddamned line!
I heard him say, “These two motherfuckers right here better not take my fucking seat I swear to God.” Sometimes at night I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about this man and the utter rage he must have felt inside watching us walk in front of him. But Alan just kept walking. Blissfully ignorant of the fact that rage incarnate was marching 10 feet behind us. Of course as we entered the theater Alan started zeroing in on the best seats in the house. Why not? No one was in front of us to stop us. He went right towards them. I had no idea what to do. With no other valid option I just made a bee-line over to the shitty seats in that weird side row and said, “Hey, let’s sit here!” I was emphatic but Alan was utterly confused. He looked at me like I had confessed that I enjoy backrubs from goats.
“What?!” He replied incredulously.
“Dude these are great seats…” I attempted.
“Uh no… they’re not. What are you talking about?” he inquired.
“Dude. Just sit over here man. Please. Dude. Please.” I begged.
He finally acquiesced but until a few weeks ago had no idea why. I couldn’t explain it to him then. We were surrounded on every side by people who wanted to kill us. To him it was just a weird night where I inexplicably had horrible taste in seats. But to me that will always be the night where we were villains who almost incited a hate mob. We would laugh at it later when I explained what really happened. A lot, in fact.
And that’s part of the reason why I dig seeing movies with Alan.