Think of the most awkward moment in a movie going experience. Is it when you lean down and talk directly into that speaker, as if the ticket vendor couldn’t hear you if you were standing straight up? What about each time you ask for a large drink and grimace at the thought of paying full price for it? How about walking into the theater and standing for three whole minutes until you have the adjusted vision to see the silhouettes of people and their shadowy heads while still having no idea where you sat? Any one of those things might easily be one of the most awkward, but not today.
My friend Russ and I went to see Reno 911: Miami this afternoon, which by the way wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. After going through the usual routine of leaning into the little microphone to tell the ticket merchant which movie I had chosen to view and the time that I chose to view it, I began to make my way towards the movie foyer. Little did I know that in a very short time every ounce of awkwardness in the vicinity was going to seep its way to the cognitive part of my brain, converging on me and challenging my ability to maintain my composure and remain nonchalant. Ticket in hand, I approached the ticket taker.
He was an older man, with gray hair, who looked to be in his mid fifties. He was wearing a gray blazer, not too fashionable, but surely appropriate for a movie manager. His pose was casual, yet purposeful, as if standing and taking tickets had significance and meaning. I never caught his name, but he displayed every characteristic of a Phil or Larry.
As he reached out his left hand, I instinctively motioned to meet his hand with my ticket. It was at this point I knew something was wrong. With his left arm extended, and my ticket a half of a second away from reaching his hand, I noticed the right arm of his blazer was tucked firmly into his right coat pocket. I also noticed that his right arm was surprisingly flat, as if he had pulled his arm through his sleeve and was trying to play a trick on everyone around him, except this was no trick, his arm was missing.
My arm still had about a fourth of the way to go before I met his hand when it struck me that I was non-verbally about to ask a one armed man to take my ticket, tear it, and hand it back to me.
That’s when I started to panic.
I quickly thought of scenarios in which I wouldn’t feel comfortable; asking someone with one eye to read me a novel, relying on a one legged person to challenge me in hopscotch, or giving a one footed person a gift certificate to get a pedicure. How hypocritical would it be to non-verbally commit this person to the obligation of tearing my ticket?
I couldn’t back down. I couldn’t pull my arm back. I had to commit. I knew what followed would be awkward. I knew that an expression on my face would be present. I knew that the only thing I could do at that point was to hope for the best, to transfer all my mental energy into the task, with the hope that it would be a quick and smooth encounter. I didn’t want to think about all of the possibilities of him failing. I didn’t want to have to say “oh, I got it”, I didn’t want to imply that I was more capable of producing a perfect tear along the perforated middle than he was.
I couldn’t help but feel awkward the whole time. It was like asking a person with no legs to bring me a ladder. I felt like I should be the one tearing it or that the ticket shouldn’t have been torn in the first place. He grabbed my ticket and took full advantage of the perforation. He tore it as if he had done it before and was willing to do it again. He tore with the same enthusiasm that you have when you open a fortune cookie and take out the fortune, but he did it with one hand. Right arm need not apply.
For those few minutes, he defined equal opportunity employer. He reestablished the purpose of fingers, of perforation, and single-handedly redefined the ticket tearer position. True, it was probably one of the most awkward moments of my entire life (and believe me it was), but we got through it together. That’s the American dream.