I met Colette in a microbiology class, then later in a phenomenology seminar. She was brilliant both times, even brighter than the professors, and intelligence like hers gets me really turned on. Since then, we’ve had great conversations in coffee shops, and I get the feeling she thinks I’m a pretty smart guy. Now I want Colette to have sex with me, and I’m not sure how to move forward. I don’t want to be too assertive and ruin the friendship we already have, but I’m also thinking she might be expecting me to make the first move. When we talk, it’s so exciting that I want to rip off my clothes and get down to business. I’m pretty sure she does too. But what if I’m wrong? What if she gets offended?
I decide to play it safe and ask if she wants to go to a movie, where I’m hoping we can start touching each other by sharing a bucket of popcorn. She looks eager to go, says yes without hesitation. Fortunately, a great movie is opening later this week. Everyone wants to see it. It’s understood that we won’t get a seat if we’re not there well in advance. We get there five hours before showtime, and the line is already ten blocks long. But since I’m with Colette, I’m not upset that we’ll have a long wait. And besides, the city lights up and down the block are beautiful. There’s a cool breeze. Large white clouds are moving in the night sky over the buildings.
I say: I’m glad we’re here, even though I don’t like crowds.
Colette nods: Me neither. I hate waiting in line for a movie. It’s so stupid. You stand there like a moron wasting your time, then the movie sucks.
Right. But this time I think we’re going to see something different, not the usual thing.
Let’s hope so. I mean, I’ve seen so many movies where they say you’re going to have an incredible experience. They highlight all the big-name stars. They spew all the lame superlatives. But then you finally get in and the movie starts and it’s the same dumb thing you’ve seen a hundred times before. Annoying soundtrack music, formulaic plot, theatrical acting.
I nod and smile: But this time I’m pretty sure that things will be different. So different that we’ll need a better word than different.
It’s a good sign that no one seems to know what it’s about.
There’s no way to know what it’s about. Reviewers weren’t allowed to see the movie in advance. No one even knows who the film maker is.
Colette laughs: Really? That’s incredible! So, the absence of reviews made everyone want to be here?
Apparently. But I’ve heard that at least one reviewer wrote about the film anyway.
He reviewed the absence of reviews?
Yeah. He was really hostile and dismissive. He said that the film’s director told critics to fuck off, in no uncertain terms. Of course that got people interested, even though the critic urged people to stay away and called the whole thing a cheap publicity stunt.
Cheap or not, it worked. Look at all the people waiting!
And they all have no idea what the film is about. It could be anything!
Colette hesitates, then says: I hope I don’t sound like a snob, but if you’re like me, you don’t care what a film is about.
I nod: What it’s about isn’t really what it’s about.
We’ll also need a better word than about.
She smiles and shrugs and puts her hand on my wrist and says: I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I smile and shrug and say: Let’s begin right here.
I pull Colette close to me and kiss her fiercely. She returns the kiss with equal intensity. It goes on for twenty minutes. Our teeth click and our tongues are dancing and wrestling. People in line start clapping and cheering and whistling.
When we finally stop Colette says: Wow, that was great!
It really was. I was planning to wait until we got inside, but when you said you didn’t know where to begin, I knew I could say let’s begin right here, and follow it with a kiss.
The timing was perfect.
I like the way she looks. She looks at me like she likes the way I look. Now she’s pushing up against me, pushing me into the storefront behind me, a place that sells used books and vinyl records. For a second, it’s like she’s about to push me right through the display window, and I’m thinking how cool it would be to be kissing and falling back through shattering glass, tumbling into the store with Colette on top of me, with all the people inside looking shocked and amused.
I’ve never had so much fun waiting in line before. I’m really glad I decided to ask Colette out. I like her more than ever now. She looks like she feels the same way.
I say: Wow! You really know how to kiss. You’re so fucking good with your tongue!
She puts her mouth on my ear and says: I really want you to lick my nipples.
We better wait until we’re inside and it’s dark and no one can see.
Yeah, if you lick my nipples out here, we might get in trouble.
I wonder what the penalty is.
Colette shrugs: I’m not sure. But they’d probably put us in a car and take us somewhere and then we’d lose our place in line.
Would they use handcuffs?
Only if we fought back or told them to fuck off.
Maybe if we were nice and polite once they pulled out the cuffs, they’d let us keep them and we could use them on each other.
That would be awesome! I’m so glad you’re into stuff like that!
Absolutely! I mean, you can buy handcuffs in those kinky sex equipment stores or order them online, but if we got the cuffs from the cops, we’d be using things that have probably used on actual killers!
Colette starts laughing: Would the pleasure would be more authentic?
I nod: Much more authentic, whatever that means.
The line for the movie keeps growing. People are checking their smartphones and saying that it’s the longest movie line ever. I feel honored to be part of an unprecedented event. I can tell Colette feels the same way.
A cab pulls up and four people tumble out of the back seat. One of them asks: Where’s the end of the line?
Someone says: It’s got to be thirty blocks away by now, and it keeps getting longer.
Wow! That’s incredible. We can’t take the cab. It’s a one-way street. I guess we better start walking.
Someone says: I’d run if I were you. It’s pretty far.
Does anyone mind if we cut in line here?
There’s sudden silence. The playful mood in the line disappears. Suddenly we’re all looking at each other, not sure what to do. Finally, Colette says: I’d like to yes. But it wouldn’t be right. People who got here a long time ago would feel cheated.
I say: Exactly. I think you need to hustle back to the end of the line and wait your turn.
But then we might not get to see the film. We left early just like the rest of you. But the traffic was horrible. You guys just got lucky. You were close enough that you didn’t need a cab like we did.
Colette says: Come back tomorrow night. Go home and get some booze and camping gear. Then come back and pitch a tent and get drunk and spend the night in front of the ticket booth, so you’ll be first in line tomorrow. You’ll get the best seats in the house!
The people from the cab look stunned. They look at each other and clear their throats and stuff their hands in their pockets.
Colette says: Think about it. If you wait until tomorrow, you can read the reviews and find out if it’s your kind of movie. Maybe it’s not. There haven’t been any advance reviews, so how would you know? Maybe it sucks, and if so, you’ll be glad that you didn’t waste your money. Right?
The people from the cab are nodding. One of them, a guy with a white bowtie and bowler hat, turns to me, points to Colette and says: Is this your girlfriend?
You’re a lucky guy. She’s brilliant!
I know. And she really turns me on.
He looks at Colette: Thanks for the suggestion. Things were just about to get nasty. But you really turned things around. You should run for president once you’re old enough.
She frowns and says: I hate politics. I think it’s all bullshit! I think the president is a joke! And not just a joke, but a really bad joke, the kind that no one laughs at.
The people from the cab all nod and laugh. The bowtie guy tips his bowler hat and bows. They all get back in the cab, which quickly disappears into the traffic.
Colette looks at me with bedroom eyes and says: I’m so glad you think I’m your girlfriend!
I say: You’re fantastic. The way you turned that situation around really blew me away.
The rest of the line is cheering. Colette is their hero. They’re telling me I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. I’m nodding and smiling.
A guy beside me says: You know what, buddy? I’d keep this woman around. Don’t let her get away. She looks like the mother of your children.
The women beside the guy are eagerly nodding. One of them says: I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been catching fragments of your conversation. You’re both so smart. Your children would be brilliant!
Colette smiles, but I can tell she feels weird. Once the people around us return to their own conversations, we give each other a look that says we’re not quite ready for kids.
She says: Actually, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for kids.
Me neither. It sounds too difficult.
Way too difficult. Not to mention expensive. And for me, because I’m a woman, and I’m almost thirty, it’s hard to admit that I’m not desperate to have kids, but I’m totally not. I like my life the way it is.
Yeah, women really get a raw deal. They’re brainwashed all their lives to think that they have to make babies, and it’s going to be the greatest thing in the world. Then they have kids and find out that motherhood is a pain in the ass.
Suddenly, I’m aware of a distant sound. I don’t know what it is at first, but then I’m pretty sure that it’s drumming of some kind, and maybe chanting. Then it’s clear that it’s kettle drums, a surging rhythmic pulse, and people chanting in unison—one, one, one, one, or maybe it’s hum, hum, hum, hum, or maybe it’s yum, yum, yum, yum, or sum, sum, sum, sum, or none, none, none, none, or fun, fun, fun, fun, or all of them at once. It sounds like a million footsteps approaching, feet on the pavement marching in time to the drumming and chanting.
I look at Colette: Do you hear that?
Yeah. At first, I thought it was in my head, but—
What the fuck is it?
I don’t know, but it’s getting closer.
Over the next thirty minutes, it keeps getting closer and louder. Everyone looks puzzled, asking each other what’s happening. The line keeps getting longer. The news reports from our phones say that the line is now backed up to the Lincoln Tunnel, blocking traffic, and backed up all the way across the George Washington Bridge, blocking traffic. Streets have been closed all over the city. There’s talk of the mayor declaring a state of emergency.
The street is shaking. At the corner I can see soldiers, dressed like people in technicolor movies about ancient Rome, coming up the street, pounding drums and chanting fiercely. At first, I think it might be a re-enactment of some kind. But such a thing wouldn’t make sense in midtown Manhattan, which doesn’t look anything like ancient Rome and wouldn’t work as a realistic setting.
Hundreds of Roman soldiers are moving toward us now. The drumming and chanting are deafening, shaking the street. I’m afraid that the shopfront windows are going to start shattering. Then behind the soldiers, a huge head appears, a woman’s long black hair, her face and neck and shoulders, all gigantic, like her full body might be the size of an ocean liner. She’s on her back, naked and chained to a giant pallet on wooden wheels, gagged and struggling fiercely. When the procession gets close, she gathers her strength, every huge muscle straining. She finally rips free, tears off her gag, stands ferociously, glaring around with disgust. The soldiers and start shouting and running in all directions.
Her voice is huge: You little fuckbrains! Now you’ll pay for what you’ve done!
She bends and smashes groups of them into mush with her giant fists. There’s screaming, the sounds of bones crunching. Someone in line shouts up at her: Why are you doing this? She leans down and spits in his face, knocking him back through a shopfront window. Her voice booms: Why am I doing this? Figure it out for yourselves!
She stomps down the avenue laughing loudly, squashing cars and kicking in shopfronts.
Soon she’s out of sight. The streets are covered with dead Roman soldiers. Everyone is in shock. It occurs to me that they can’t really be Roman soldiers, so I start to wonder what they are. Out of work Hollywood extras? But then where did they find this gigantic woman? How did they manage to get her tied up? I can only assume they secretly sedated her, but the drugs wore off too soon.
Colette says: She was really pissed off.
I don’t blame her. If someone tied me up like that, I’d be pissed off too.
Even if it was me?
Well, actually, I wouldn’t mind at all if it was you.
I wouldn’t either. You can tie me up and have a date, any old time.
That’s like that song, which had a phone number for a title.
The crowd begins to move. The line moves forward ten feet, stops, moves forward ten feet, stops, moves forward ten feet, stops, for more than an hour, then moves forward five feet, stops, moves five more feet, stops, moves five more feet, stops, for more an hour, then moves forward three feet, stops, moves three feet more, stops, moves three feet more, stops, for more than an hour. Colette and I hardly notice how long it’s taking. We’re talking eagerly about psycholinguistic theory, doomsday bunkers, the weird apartments we’ve lived in, manatees in the Sargasso Sea, cognitive biology, our most embarrassing moments, the best dive bars in Brooklyn, the varieties of identity theft, the nasty profits made by detaining immigrants, the secret grove of redwoods in northern California, fractal patterns in baseball games, the Cuban Missile Crisis, kinky websites, cave paintings in southern France, our shared hatred of motorcycle noise, the weirdest micronations, the president’s pathological self-absorption, the crazy jobs we’ve had, the tourist garbage in the Himalayas, the best unknown progressive rock albums, the Caspian Sea, Scriabin’s piano sonatas, the endless replication of smiles in photo opportunities, the growing number of unaffordable cities, arctic rock formations, the subjects we don’t like talking about, our favorite foods and books, but we’re also using our mouths in other ways, sharing the longest kisses in the history of passion.
Someone checks the news on their phone, then loudly announces: That huge pissed-off woman—she’s heading for Washington!
I pull out my phone and check my news feed. It says that she was just seen outside Baltimore, heading south.
I tell Colette: I’m amazed at how fast she’s moving, getting from here to Baltimore in just three hours on foot. She sounds highly motivated. I’m figuring that in maybe thirty minutes, we’ll get footage of her tearing down the Washington Monument, crushing the Lincoln Memorial. Or maybe she’s got the White House in mind.
Colette says: She’s probably going after the president. I’m glad that someone’s got the balls to finally squash that mother fucker.
If they know she’s on her way, they’ll be prepared.
They’ll probably nuke her.
They won’t have much choice. She’s clearly not in the mood for negotiation.
At last, we can see the marquee, which says nothing except the word movie. Then we’re past the robot in the ticket booth, a square metallic head and torso telling us to enjoy the show. The lobby is a blur of tightly packed bodies, no popcorn smell, no soda machine, no glass concession counter with overpriced candy. Then we’re in what looks in the semi-dark like a massive place, vaguely resembling old pictures I’ve seen of opera houses in nineteenth-century Paris. It seems to get larger and larger as more and more people are squeezed inside. The seats are quickly filled on the ground floor, the second floor, the galleries, and the balconies. The aisles fill up, then we’re crushed together, sitting on top of each other. No matter how large the theater seems to be getting, it’s not enough to accommodate the masses of people surging in. The doors are closed. We’re stuffed like cattle in sardine cans, or sardines in cattle cars. The lights go out. But for the next hour, the screen remains blank. People start to panic, try to get out, but the doors are locked. Big guys form groups and try to smash their way out but the doors don’t budge. People try their phones to call for help, but there’s no reception.
Images form on the screen—no opening credits, no title or sound track music.
Colette looks at me, bewildered: Do you remember what this movie is called?
I say: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have a title. That’s one of the things that made it so different, so different than different.
It’s a film about a huge line of people waiting for a movie. The pace is extremely slow, exquisitely so. The camera pauses in front of each person or couple or group, providing detailed shots of each one, from a number of distances and angles, with ongoing changes in lighting and texture. Some scenes are in color, others in black and white, others are made of several scenes from other parts of the movie, and parts of scenes from other movies, juxtaposed or superimposed, running at different speeds, forward and backward. Soundtrack segments pop in and out, some of them specially composed for the movie we’re watching, others taken from other movies cut up and recombined. All the dialogue segments last a long time, at least twenty minutes for each interaction. Nothing sounds scripted. Either the actors have mastered the art of sounding unscripted, or there’s no script and the actors aren’t really actors, just regular people. They don’t have the screen personality look. They’re not wearing any make-up.
Some of the conversations build to fierce levels of emotional intensity. Other conversations drift, going nowhere and taking a long time doing it, never going beyond small talk, or smaller talk, or even smaller talk. Other conversations are loaded with body language, some of it threatening, some of it playful, some of it crude or obscenely polite. Other conversations have no body language at all, the people never moving even slightly. Other conversations seem to have come from another language, with English dubbed in awkwardly, absurdly out of synch. Other conversations condemn the President. Other conversations avoid politics and the weather. Other conversations develop as if the world came to a ludicrous end a few days, months, or years ago, without anyone knowing it. Other conversations make the end of the world sound like parlor talk or pillow talk. Other conversations go back and forth like ping pong. Other conversations rage like a mastodon trapped in a tar pit. Other conversations turn philosophy into philately into philology into phylogeny. Other conversations are microscopic or telescopic, making the difference between them seem unimportant. Other conversations move like trains making dangerous turns on snowy mountains, or surfers cutting back and forth on mountainous waves. Other conversations contain all other conversations. Other conversations acknowledge that something is always missing. Other conversations conclude that nothing is ever missing. Other conversations are interrupted by people cutting in line or failing to cut in line and feeling like shit for even trying. Other conversations focus on shirts. Other conversations focus on weapons. Other conversations focus on sex, or make it seem that no one has ever had sex, or even thought about sex. Other conversations turn mammals into plants, or plant microphones in flowers. Other conversations make botany sound like astronomy, or make Austria sound like Australia, or make it sound like germs all come from Germany, all perfume from Peru, all fire from Tierra del Fuego. Other conversations can’t get started. Other conversations echo other conversations. Other conversations make no difference, while seeming to make all the difference in the world, making it clear that words like difference need to be more than different.
Then silence—five four three two one—then it’s all conversation again, then silence, then a stormy background scene, a gigantic woman smashing the White House, lifting the President into a flashing sky, taking obvious pleasure in watching the President squirm and beg, then biting his head off, spitting it out, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, laughing savagely, stomping into a thundering distance, then silence—five four three two one—then it’s all conversation again, camera work so carefully designed that each moment is worth years of close observation.
I’m packed so close to Colette that I’m feeling orgasmic pleasure in every cell of my body. I say, “Are you feeling orgasmic pleasure in every cell of your body?”
She says, “Yeah. I’m feeling orgasmic pleasure in every cell of my body. It’s fun to watch a movie this way. It makes everything on the screen much more exciting.”
“It’s like listening to music on acid.”
“Or like a joke that keeps getting better.”
“My dick feels hard enough to fuck the Grand Canyon.”
“My cunt feels wet enough to flood the Grand Canyon.”
The line in the movie keeps getting longer, caught between parallel lines of receding streetlights. The buildings around them are dark and distorted by moonlight. Half of them are empty; the other half might as well be. The longer the film goes on, the more the conversations keep changing. With so much time set aside for each dialogue segment, everyone here will die of old age before the movie is over.