Like many women in America, last week I loaded up a in a car full of suburban moms and went to my local movie theater to cheer and whistle at a screen featuring the projected images of several half-naked (okay, mostly-naked) men, aka Magic Mike XXL.
I thought the trickiest part of my night would be trying to explain to my kids what a movie called Magic Mike is about. “Is he magic?”, “Does he do magic?”, “Oh, I like dancing! What kind of dancing?”
As it turned out, that explanation was easy compared to trying to explain to my husband why I returning home from watching Magic Mike wearing a soaking wet shirt.
Which excuse sounds the most believable:
- In all the cheering and the cat calling during the grand finale dance number, I accidentally spilled my beer all over my shirt.
- We were so inspired by the movie that we went into the bar and started our own wet t-shirt competition.
- I was in the line of fire when my friend had to throw a glass of water at a strange woman to get her to release me from a headlock while exiting the movie theater.
Believe it or not, it was #3.
As we all stood outside, shell-shocked, replaying the past 2 hours and trying to inject some humor into the situation by joking about possible explanations for me going home in a wet shirt, we realize that we wouldn’t be going home any time soon. The reason? A group of middle-aged women whose problem solving skills had not advanced past the age of 13 were waiting for us in the parking lot, presumably to finish what they started inside.
And boy, had they started something inside.
Let me back up a bit and start from the beginning.
To protect their identities, I’m giving my friends code names that correspond with the roles they played that night:
Adira: Because a baby naming tool I Googled tells me that name means ‘brave & strong’
Splash: Because of her water-throwing, super hero power.
StreetSmart: Because at the first sign of trouble she takes out her earrings & assumes the ready position.
Lucky: Because she was the sense to situate herself far away from drama.
I will also give code names to our rival gang, waiting to mess us up in the parking lot.
Narci: The narcissistic, angry, loud-mouthed, hot mess of the group.
Minion: The friend that both defends, yet seems scared of Narci.
Culpable: Don’t remember her instigating anything but still guilty of being Narci’s echo.
The five ladies in our party were all seated and watching the previews when a group of three women arrived late and started getting settled next to us. They were loud and kind of rowdy but it was Magic Mike after all, and the movie hadn’t started yet so we didn’t worry too much about it yet.
We were seated as such.
An important note about this particular theater is that you can order from a full menu of drinks and food items throughout the movie using a handy ‘order card’ ordering system. (A.MA.ZING!) The theater also encourages moviegoers to use this same ‘order card’ system to discreetly notify them if someone is breaking their zero tolerance policy for talking or texting during the movie.
During the first half of the movie, there was the normal (okay, maybe not normal, but expected) amount of clapping, shout-outs, whistles and WOOO HOOOOs coming from the audience. It was Magic Mike after all, not The Piano.
Unfortunately, our new neighbors decided to also help fill in the less exciting lulls in the movie with their own commentary and completely unrelated, full volume conversations.
You know what I mean. You’ve been there. We all have.
You start by looking around looking for any kind of look of shared annoyance by other moviegoers in your shared radius. You all give each other the wide-eyed, head shake of disbelief like, “why do I always choose the seats next to the loudmouths?”
And you wait….and use your best yoga-class focus, trying to drown out their chatter and concentrate on the movie while simultaneously willing them to shut up through the pure power of your mind.
But they don’t shut up.
They just get louder and more “look at me instead of this movie – I’m infinitely more interesting – Just ask me, I’ll tell you all about it….FULL VOLUME DURING A MOVIE!”
And now you can’t even pretend to concentrate on the movie because your brain has entered the non-stop rehearsal of scenarios about how you can politely ask them to be quiet without causing some weird movie-neighbor tension for the next 50 minutes.
Should I say anything?
Maybe if I give them 5 more minutes they’ll wear themselves out.
Should I passive aggressively put up the little “noise complaint” food order flag or should I just try to ask them, person to person?
We’re all grown ups here, right?
Fortunately, Adira, who was sitting sitting closest to Narci and her enabling posse had enough and politely asked if they could please keep it down.
Let’s all take a moment together to think of some normal, adult responses to this request:
“Sorry. Naked, oiled up men make me lose my mind. We’ll try to keep it down.”
“Sorry, we didn’t realize the song we’re singing ended over a minute ago.”
“C’mon we’re just having fun – My friends keep telling me how much they love hearing me curse with my British accent, so I assumed everyone must like it!”
The response I did NOT expect was a full-out, verbal assault on Adira.
“YOU STUPID, F*CKING BITCH! IT’S F*CKING MAGIC MIKE! YOU’RE AT THE MOVIES, NOT SOME FANCY PLAY! WHAT A F*CKING C—!”
Now mentally play that loop on repeat for a minute straight. Full volume.
We started looking around. Were we being punked? Did someone just want to see what a bunch of PTA moms would do in an uncomfortable, curse-filled situation? This couldn’t really be happening.
But it was.
Since the human to human approach did not work. Adira grabbed her order card and scribbled down “Noisy neighbor” and put it in the holder for the waiter. Obviously our new neighbors knew she wasn’t placing a food order with that card.
Suddenly Minion was not so tough anymore and started in with a new apologetic tone, over Narci’s continued rant. “Noooooo, please don’t, c’mon, don’t do that. We’ll stop…what can we do?”
“I told you, just be quiet,” said Adira, calmly but firmly.
And that’s when the real excitement started.
Narci got up out of her seat, stood in front of Adira and started screaming in her face.
“YOU F*CKING BITCH! YOU F*CKING C—! WHAT IS YOUR F*CKING PROBLEM?!!”
For at least a full minute, which felt like forever, she stood there in the middle of the movie theater, screaming, arms waving about and at one time even thrusting her hips in my friend’s face inviting her to “lick her —-”. She also screamed a few things about interrupting her orgasm or perhaps asking if she was interrupting ours. It’s hard to keep track of all the crazy when it’s coming at you like a loud, drunk firehose.
When she had hit her daily quota for screaming “f*ck you, c— bitch” at a complete stranger, she finally went back to her seat, at which point Adira went and hand delivered her “noisy neighbor” note to one of the waiters who had not been in the theater during this display.
The waiter sent someone in to monitor the situation, but like little kids who know they’re being observed, they were on their best behavior while being watched. In the end, it worked out since we finally got to hear the rest of the movie while they were doing their best impersonation of normal people watching a movie.
As the final credits rolled, our row remained as we waited for our server to return with our credit cards and bills to sign. Since the past thirty minutes or so had been relatively uneventful, I was under the delusion that the drama was over. Once we paid, we grabbed our things and started to exit.
Lucky, Splash and StreetSmart made it to the stairs okay, but as Adira walked past the group the yelling, cursing and name calling started all over again.
As I walked by shaking my head, they started shouting at me how “she (Adira) had started it”. I had had enough and turned and said, “No, she really didn’t and this neighborhood is too small to go around acting like this.” (In the past week I have come up with about a hundred more bad-ass responses than this, but I figured I better not edit history to try to sound cooler than I really am.)
I continued walking past and then felt a hard shove against my back. Narci had stood up and had started pushing me and Adira towards the stairs as she continued cursing at no one in particular.
The events after this became a little unclear, partly because things happened so quickly, but mostly because it’s hard to keep track of things while you’re in a headlock. Yes, Narci had taken the next logical step in any noise dispute and grabbed me around the neck with her arm and put me in a headlock, shoving me toward the wall. Fortunately, at some point, Splash threw the contents of a glass of water at Narci which made her arm slippery so I could slide out of her grip. (This also explains the wet t-shirt part of the story.)
While this was going on, someone had grabbed the manager who then joined us in witnessing the final few minutes of Narci’s “F*ck off” tirade before being she was escorted from the building. He stayed with us to make sure we were okay and even went so far as to offer to walk us to our car or treat us to a round of drinks at their restaurant.
Which brings us back to the start of this story, all of us standing outside, keeping a watchful eye on three adult women who were standing at the edge of the parking lot, ready to rumble. We waited almost 20 minutes before finally deciding to take the manager up on his offer and ordered a round of drinks (which we barely touched since we were all too busy glancing at every person and car that went by, ensuring that they had not returned.)
As we sat down, Adira looked at me and asked, “If I would have told you a few hours ago that ‘we’re going to go out for a fun movie and at the end some woman you’ve never met before is going to put you in a headlock’ would you have believed me?”
No way. I still have a hard time believing it happened.
I’m also having a hard time deciding what the lesson is from this experience.
I tell my daughter all the time to stand up and speak up for herself. But what happens if the person you stand up to is a Narci who is completely irrational? Would we have been better off just letting her go on ruining the movie for everyone around her? Is it worth the risk of getting hurt? Will I speak up the next time this happens?
I honestly don’t know. I’m starting to think that people who are selfish and clueless enough to act like this in the first place, generally don’t respond well to being corrected.
What I do know, and what I will tell my daughter is that there will always be “Nardis” in life. Part of me thinks that her behavior was so extreme that some of it may not have been by choice. But the Minions and the Culpables of the world definitely have a choice.
They choose to be friends with, and spend their time with, someone who says mean and hurtful things to people they don’t even know.
They choose to feed the Nardis’ inflated sense of self by laughing and playing along even when it’s obvious to others that they feel uncomfortable doing so.
They choose to stand by and do nothing as their friend becomes physical and dangerous.
I choose to give my time and energy to a different type of friend.
I choose Ardis, who speaks up for the greater good when the rest of us are too scared to.
I choose StreetSmart, who knows not to escalate a bad situation, but stands her ground and takes her earrings out just in case she has to come to the defense of a friend.
I choose Splash, who uses whatever is at her disposal to try to help a friend.
I choose Lucky, who has an innate sense to simply keep herself far away from drama.
I choose the complete strangers who stayed around during this mess to make sure we were okay and to offer their witness statements instead of simply staring and walking away.
I choose to surround myself who people who respect themselves and the people around them.
I choose to not make it my responsibility to change the Narcis of the world.
But I will still choose to (politely) call them out when they’re infringing on the rights of others.
Hopefully if enough of us do, the Minions and the Culpables of the world will hear our voices over those of the Narcis and will decide to make some different choices of their own.
Important note: This story is not meant to reflect poorly on the movie or the movie theater. I have an unhealthy love for this theater and once they were aware of the seriousness of the situation, they were very responsive. Just like us, they could not have prepared for or expected this situation. It’s not every day you meet one of those unexpected, unpredictable people that move through this world with brute force and an unwavering insistence that they are always right. I have been to dozens (and dozens) of movies at this theater and have only had wonderful experiences there and appreciate their commitment to making going to the movies such a fun experience.
Once upon a time, Susanne Kerns was a Senior Account Director at an advertising agency working for two of the top brands in the world. Nine years ago she traded in her corporate life for a life as a stay at home mom, raising two of the best kids in the world. She started her blog, The Dusty Parachute as a way to dust off her online advertising skills and begin her job search. Instead, she now uses it as a way to spend lots of time on the computer so her kids think that mommy has a job.
Susanne’s essays have been featured in Scary Mommy, BonBon Break and Redbook and she is also a contributor in the upcoming books, It’s Really 10 Months, Special Delivery and Martinis & Motherhood – Tales of Wonder Woe & WTF?! You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.