Friday, October 16, 2009

Midnight Spurring

So here I am once again with close friends in a darkened theater. We are about to see the late night viewing of yet another movie that I know will make me cry, if for no other reason than the fact that we could have seen it together. The door opens, paving a long, bright path on the floor. A tall shadow stretches down the length of this aisle of light, and in saunters the black urban cowboy. He sits just a few seats down the row from me and my posse of support, sparking glances of surprise, whispers of amazement. 'How many times have we seen that guy at this theater, and how weird is it that he always seems to pick the same movie, the same showing, even the same row of seats that we do? Weird, isn't it?' After a few moments of quiet discussion about who he might be, and debate over the odds of us seeing him again next weekend, we settle in to watch the movie. Credits pop and fade, thematic music cues, the leading lady appears, and my mind wanders back to the tall dark man at the end of our row. I lean back far into my seat and turn my head gradually until I am looking at the cowboy. He seems unaware that he is the subject of intense study, so I take my time, scanning his frame and face as best I can in the flickering darkness. His face is a weathered story line, the furrows and crows-feet of life experience marking each chapter. He is dressed in dark pants and a dark buttoned shirt, bolo tie with a lump of turquoise cinched up to his neck. I can't see them in the dark, but memory paints a mental image of his cowboy boots, with their black leather shining, chains dangling, and...golden spurs.

Spurs. Who wears spurs to a movie theater? More to the point, who wears golden spurs to a movie theater in New Hampshire? The cowboy shuffles his feet and the spurs jingle, presenting their own question in response to my silent query; why don't you ask?

I ignore the...spurring, and dismiss the suggestion that I approach a stranger in a dark theater during a movie to ask him why he is wearing spurs as ludicrous. I continue to watch him, and begin to wonder why he is here, and who he is. Did he know we would be here, and if so, how? Is he stalking me? Wouldn't that just be my luck, to have someone obsess about me, only to discover them to be a leathery cowboy. I play the scene out in my head; it is past midnight at the police station, and I am covered in blood, the trunk of my demolished car full of body parts. A single light bulb flickers overhead as I sit handcuffed to a chair, quivering before two detectives. "That's right, six-five, African-American, dressed in black, with a turquoise bolo tie, and golden spurs. He follows me to the movies every weekend for the late night showing, and sits in the same row. He killed them all! Why don't you believe me?"

Back to reality, I move on to a more reasonable scenario; could he be someone from my past that I offended or ignored? Returning to my life by chance, he is watching me, assessing the danger before approaching. I actually doubt that I have ever mattered to anyone that much, at least to anyone outside of the list of faces that I would recognize at first glance, and it seems impossible that I would fail to recognize such an odd figure. The possibility of past transgression dismissed, I review the personalities of those close to me, searching for one that would be patient enough to stretch a practical joke over several weeks. It would take some serious planning to pull this off, wouldn't it? No one that I know seems capable of such diligent coordination, but isn't that disbelief a critical element of the practical joke? Tired of speculation and drawn to the screen by the thunder of roller skates on screen, I dismiss the possibility that he is here on purpose, and declare myself to be the paranoid victim of my own imagination.

As planned, the movie pulls my mind away from the worries of family, the grief over your death, the woes of work, and the fear of the black cowboy at the end of the row. Moments later, clarity, as it often does when I am least expecting it to, pulls up alongside me and strikes me hard across the face;

Jared, have you returned to Earth as a lanky, misplaced cowboy? I ask not because I am a believer in reincarnation, but because it is impossible to trust my feelings right now, which hint that you may be back and trying to tell me something. If you have indeed returned to visit me, you didn't pick the most inconspicuous of vessels, did you? A six-and-a-half foot black cowboy wearing boots, bolo, and golden spurs tends to stand out a bit in southern New Hampshire. My first question, while it should lean more towards your purpose in returning is instead, were you given a choice? Did they present you with a catalog of personas available for possession, and you flipped to the last very last page, the discount and refurb section, where odds and ends are offered "as is", without instructions or guarantee? Perhaps, but I like to imagine that they lined up ten possibilities; the first nine being tall handsome men with smiling plastic faces, perky pectorals, and come-run-your-fingers-through-me hair, while the tenth man was a gangly, leather-skinned, time-ridden, black urban cowboy. He was every fat girl with coke-bottle glasses and an asthma attack that was never picked for dodgeball. To the surprise of all who watched, you chose this oddity as your method of manifestation. You picked him because that is what you always do; you make the alone less lonely, the weird seem normal, and the rejected feel welcome. Clarity striking me once more, this time more forcefully, is that the message you are trying to convey, that I should take up your cause?