Two Views

This is a true story in two versions. Each is very different. Both are very true.

First View

The cinema was crowded, but we found two seats on the aisle next to a man who seemed a bit dirty and smelled a bit foul. He was young, in his thirties, with a short cropped beard, short dark hair, and dark eyes. Mediterranean probably, or maybe Arab. He stared at the blank screen, motionless, his heels resting on the back of the occupied seat in front of him. He fidgeted with a backpack.

We were there to see a politically charged film set in the middle east. A film replete with guns and the slaughter of innocents. Thoughts about the man sitting next to us appeared in my mind. Worrisome thoughts. Imaginings of an angry man with a few loose screws in his head embarking on his own private jihad. A psycho off his meds, charging himself up with a movie that matched the feverish visions in his head, tightly wound, ready to spring. That backpack was easily large enough to hold a bomb or a gun. As the previews rolled my inner debate raged. Am I overreacting? Am I being näive? Parsing the probabilities, combined with knowledge of my highly active imagination, I found myself not willing to stand up and walk out. My intuition told me he was out of his mind but probably not dangerous. We stuck it out, one eye on the screen and one on the glassy-eyed man sitting next to us.

Ten minutes into the screening his phone rang. He answered it and began a mumbling conversation as if he were on the street and not in a darkened cinema surrounded by people intent on watching a movie. Someone objected and threatened to call the manager, provoking a fury of invective from the increasingly more dangerous-seeming man. I began making high-alert plans, what to do if he stands up and starts screaming, what to do if a gun comes out. Where to dive to avoid the brunt of a bomb blast.

45 minutes into the film he gathered his belongings, stood up, and left. He did not come back.

Second View

We went to a movie the other day and sat next to this drunk arsehole sitting there all by himself. He was really out of it, and he stunk. He stuck his feet upon the back of the seat in front of him, even though somebody was sitting there. After the movie started, his phone rang and he started talking on it like he was out in the lobby or something. The guy sitting in front of him told him to get off the phone, but the guy yelled back “shut the fuck up and look at the screen ya fuken douchebag!” Half an hour later he left, thank gawd!

8 thoughts on “Two Views

  1. Thoughtful comparison. The agonizing thing about it is there’s no way to validate or nullify either view. If a month from now, you find out that the guy had committed a crime, or alternatively if you never hear anything about him again, you still have no basis to decide which perception better conforms to reality.

    The only way would be to get to know him.

  2. At least you were in a movie theater and could up and leave. I was in a plane on my way to Paris at ten o’clock at night, taxied out to the runway when I hear a wailing behind me — almost a high-pitched screech of an adult man. The plane was packed to the max. I was in the middle seat.

    I immediately got up with visions of Flight 93, pushed past the legions of silent passengers and went to the very back, where the wailing guy was.

    Luckily there were a couple of free seats in the back row right opposite the wailing guy, who happened to be Arabic, and I buckled myself in. A flight attendant said to me “Sir, you must return to your seat.”

    I said “I’m not going a single foot until this guy is taken care of, and I’ll take care of him myself if I have to.”

    She let me stay there and two burly security men came through the BACK DOOR and took him off the flight.

    I returned to my seat and the stewardess later served me a double scotch. No charge.

    I will NO LONGER TAKE THREATS ON MY LIFE OR OTHERS’ WITHOUT ACTION of some sort. Guy hitting his wife in the parking lot? I will go and bash his head in.

    And I’m a little guy.

  3. Nick, that’s quite a story. And you are correct that your circumstances are different. But it all revolves around the question of what constitutes a threat. An over-active imagination can turn anything into a threat, which can end up making the perceived threatened more of an asshole than the perceived threat.

  4. Paranoia bundled with a little bit of racism creates this explosive mixture that certainly leads to these delusions of us and them, where no action escapes hyper-scrutiny.

    @Jim Royal
    “Thoughtful comparison. The agonizing thing about it is there’s no way to validate or nullify either view”.
    That is true in the broad sense of things, but the reason behind the post was to point how a series of statistically irrational conclusions can lead to drastic misconceptions.

    Ed/Nick: Arab is the correct term.

  5. Outcomes can and do change. Exercise your right to act and learn to trust your instincts.

  6. Monica B, thanks for the tip (I’ve corrected the text).

    Harry, the movie (Incendies) was pretty good. Not perfect, but good, and worth seeing.

    I want to emphasize that it wasn’t the fact that they guy might have been Arab that caused the concern; it was the confluence of a number of things. (a) The fact that the film was highly politically charged on Middle-Eastern issues, (b) the fact that the guy seemed to be a little bit weird or crazy, (c) the fact that he might have been Arab or Palestinian or whatever (the film contains several scenes of Christian Arabs slaughtering Muslim Arabs).

    At no time did I think he was any sort of “legitimate” jihadist (now there’s a loaded term). He was too dirty and smelly for that. The key was the fact that he seemed a bit crazy and contemptuous of the people around him. Substitute any other war/conflict and a person who appears to originate from that place and I would have felt the same way.

    Had there been somewhere else to sit, we would have moved. And it just seemed too weird to leave the room based on what I felt was wild conjecture. I also didn’t want to think of myself as the kind of person who leaves the room because of fearful paranoia.

    On the other hand, shit happens, and my instinct was to leave. This time it was nothing. What about next time?

  7. Yeah, it’s all perceived. But in these fractious days, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m just not going to be the mute patsy any more.

    I know — you think, what would I do if someone was having a seizure on the floor at Walmart? What would I do? Say “Okay, let someone else take care of this — I have no clue what to do.”

    But my mind has changed. The evil guy in the seat in front of me at the theater, drunk or not, I’m going to kick his chair and say “Shut the fuck up.”

    And I’m going to back it up if I have to.

    Too many assholes, so little time.

    And I remind you, I have never hit a single thing in anger.

    But I will if they piss me off enough, nowadays. Getting old has some benefits.

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