You Might Get Shot. Now Enjoy the Show!

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I don’t go out to movies all that often. My wife and I spend plenty of our down time at home staring at movies and TV shows. So when we actually have a chance to go out, and the energy to do so, staring at a screen is pretty far down the list of activities we choose.

Prior to Friday, November 3rd, when we went to see Blade Runner 2049, the last time we’d been to a movie in a theater was…oh, I don’t know, The Revenant? Maybe Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

So, it’s possible I’m just forgetting things, but before the showing of Blade Runner 2049, there was an announcement about knowing where the exits are, and exiting the theater in an orderly fashion in the event of an emergency which seemed like a new and different thing to me–or at least a new and different tone to an old thing.

There may have been similar announcements prior to movies back when I was a kid, mostly suggesting or stating that the expected emergency would be a fire, but, again, I might be forgetting things, or misremembering them. Still, I’m pretty sure that, despite the long-ago shooting of a President in Ford’s Theater, we weren’t being prompted to think that we might be the victims of a gun-toting psychopath, politically- or otherwise-motivated. Getting shot in a theater was something reserved for really important people back then.

This time, though, the announcement about the emergency exits came after an announcement with the catch phrase “If you see something, say something”, which came after an M&Ms-sponsored announcement not to use cell phones during the movie.

So, in the complete context of the announcements, there was a request to be polite despite modern technology, followed by a suggestion that terrorists might target the movie theater, followed by a none-too-specific reminder that at least one well-known mass-murder had taken place in a movie theater.

In other words, merely by being at a movie theater, we had all become Presidential in our desirability as targets for people looking to make something happen…even if that something was just racking up an impressive body count.

Given that Thor: Ragnarok was playing in the much larger, opening-day, capacity-crowd theater just through the wall to our right, and I was in a much smaller theater, with only about 12 other movie-goers, I figured we were not a prime target.

theater target

But still, with the presentation of those announcements, a twinge of panic surged up in me. I quickly dismissed it. (Hey, I’m a trained mental health professional—and in addition to the NRA thinking I’m responsible for stopping mass shootings, I know how to stop anxiety). And by the time the previews were over, and the movie started, I had almost entirely forgotten about the notion of danger. I’m not one to live in (too much) fear, or (too much) paranoia, or to imagine (all that much) danger is around every corner. I know that the chances of being killed in a mass shooting are pretty slim, despite the great deal of attention that is paid to them.

Yet, I was saddened to think that this is what we’ve allowed to happen, what we’ve chosen to accept…that we need to be reminded, before watching a movie in public, (or attending any other event, of any other kind) that we need to be prepared for the possibility that we might get shot, or blown up, or…okay, mostly that we might get shot.

We’ve been directed to think that because guns are a sacred American right, that we all have to live with the possibility that guns will be brought into any situation, anywhere, and that we should be prepared to duck down and slip out in the event of a mass shooting…er, I mean, an emergency.

We’ve been directed to think that because guns are a sacred American right, we should all just start bringing guns into every situation, so that if someone starts shooting at us, we can all shoot back.

We’ve all been directed to believe that this madness is normalcy, the expected price of freedom, although no other developed countries have to live with the expectation that any random citizen—not somebody connected to an extreme political movement, not somebody connected to a network of other like-minded terrorists, not somebody who has to engage in a great deal of planning in order to inflict maximum destruction to make a point—but just anybody, by right of birth into a particular geographical area between Mexico and Canada, can stock up on guns and ammo, and create a name for her/himself (okay, it’s almost always a him) by entering a public place, guns a-blazing.

We’re told that people being murdered in movie theaters, their workplaces, malls, nightclubs, and even in churches and schools, is the price of freedom…to be addressed with thoughts and prayers…to be ignored by lawmakers, who tie the hands of law enforcement, and who then blame counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, for not fixing the problem…all to ensure the profitability of the NRA/gun lobby.

So, sit back, relax, and do your damnedest to enjoy the show (or your day at work, your stop in the food court, the music and dancing, the sermon, your math lesson…), because you never know when your average, everyday, American outing might turn into an average, everyday, American mass shooting.

Advertisements

The Horror of the Straws –or– Reduce, Chew, Reuse, Recycle

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

It was a hot day in late spring when Tim (probably not his real name) came jogging up behind me, slowed his pace to match my walk, and invited himself over to my house.

Tim’s request was unusual for plenty of reasons. For one thing, I didn’t really know him at all. He was in a different fifth-grade class than me and we’d barely spoken to each other outside of, maybe, a game or two of four-square or wall-ball at recess.

His family had arrived in town sometime after the start of the school year, and would be gone before the next school year was out.

He offered no explanation for his sudden interest in my companionship. I had no particular plans, nothing I had to do until dinnertime, or after, depending on which job was mine that night—setting or clearing the table, or washing the dishes. Still, I didn’t know how my mom would react to me brining home a classmate I had never spoken of, without having gone through the usual dance of informal invitations and phone calls between parents—the kind of parental back and forth that would eventually drop off either by dint of establishing an ongoing familiarity with the friend, or by the friendship falling away completely.

So, by way of trying to avoid any awkwardness at home, I asked Tim if maybe he should go home first and ask his mom. He answered only that it was fine with his mom, implying that it should be just fine with my mom, as well. He provided no tangible clues as to his home life. Had he already asked his mother before he left home in the morning? Was his mother out working? Did she just let him roam free? Was he avoiding someone or some situation at home—or wherever it was that he was actually supposed to be?

Tim’s self-invitation felt like an imposition. And yet, I didn’t want to be rude or leave a classmate hanging if he really was in need.

But I was in uncharted waters. I had never just brought someone home before, unannounced, without asking permission.

My mom’s reaction was one of curiosity more than anything. ‘Why are you bringing home some kid I’ve never heard of?’ may have been the direct question she wanted to put to me. But after the introductions, she took a similar approach to mine: “Does your mother know you’re here?” and “Do you need to call your parents and let them know where you are?”

Tim denied any such need, and the notion that his mother might be at all concerned.

There may have been further pressing, or boundaries set, like my mom asking for Tim’s home phone number so she could make a call, or insisting that he call home, or maybe saying we had an hour to play before x, y, and/or z needed to happen, necessitating Tim’s exit.

Whatever the case, and whether or not there was ever any go-ahead from Tim’s parents, he was sticking around for at least a little while.

I went forward with my just-home-from-school routine—turning on the TV for some cartoons, and heading to the kitchen for a snack. The default snack for years was two Graham crackers and a Daffy Duck glass full of chocolate milk—made with Hershey’s Instant chocolate powder. Sometimes, I’d really mix things up and add peanut butter to the crackers, but usually I would just dunk the bare Graham crackers in the chocolate milk.

After school snack, or frightening faux pas?

After school snack, or frightening faux pas?

Tim accepted when I offered him the same.

But then, with crackers and glasses in hand, we crossed the kitchen to the silverware drawer. I set my glass down, slid open the drawer, and…

There they were…to the side of the silverware tray…the straws.

Something's definitely not right here.

Something’s definitely not right here.

Now, the entire time I was growing up, I don’t think my mother ever paid for a package of drinking straws. It was just a wasteful expense as far as she was concerned. After all, straws are basically unnecessary for drinking, except in some very limited circumstances—like being ill and having difficulty sitting up to take a drink. Besides, restaurants give them away for free.

These were not ideas I ever remember my mother speaking. I have a vague sense that she told us if we really wanted drinking straws, we could keep the straws we got from restaurants, and wash and reuse them. That’s what we did, afterall. It seemed reasonable enough to me. After all, this was the era of the original Krazy Straw—people washed and re-used those all the time.

Saving and re-using straws was a more daunting task than one might think, though. We very rarely went out to restaurants—only for some birthdays and other special occasions, or when Grandpa decided to treat us all to Friday Night Fish at the Chuckwagon buffet. And aside from a cross-country car trip in the summer of 1977, fast food was mostly kept out of our diet. So, no steady supply of straws was to be had.

On the day that Tim invited himself over, the supply of straws had become quite decrepit. And, well, a big part of that is because I tended to chew on them as I drank my chocolate milk and watched my cartoons. Still, until they were cracked and unusable, we would wash them and send them back to the drawer.

Covering up my crimes of mastication would take some quick thinking. So I did what anybody would do in that situation—I blamed my little brother for the chewed straws–‘Some of the straws are messed up.  My little brother chews on them sometimes.’

Crisis averted. Or so I thought.

But as I sought out two reasonably functional straws, Tim shrieked, “You share straws?!?”

I can still clearly picture the look of terror and disgust on Tim’s face. If you can imagine what Leave-it-to-Beaver-era Jerry Mathers would look like if I’d just handed him a straw and a live guinea pig, picked up my own straw and guinea pig and said, “Here, this is really good—just go like this” and then jammed the straw through the guinea pig’s eye socket and started sucking out the contents of its skull as it squealed, writhed, and died—that’s roughly what Tim looked like in that moment—eyes bulging in fright, ample, freckled cheeks twitching around a scowling mouth.

Well, you're getting there, Jerry. But we need more terror, more disgust!

Well, you’re getting there, Jerry. But we need more terror, more disgust!

I can’t remember anything that took place beyond that. I’m sure there was a moment or two of profound awkwardness.  And then I’m guessing we went to the living room where Tim drank his chocolate milk without a straw. I probably passed on the straw, too, since I’d just learned it how monstrously disturbing it was to drink through a previously-used straw.

Tim and I probably eventually went up to the room I shared with two brothers, and picked over the toys. We may have gone out to shoot baskets in the driveway, or sat at the game table in the living room drawing pictures. Whatever the case, Tim’s sharp reaction to the straws numbed me to any other occurrences for the rest of his time there.

My mom’s only comment on Tim’s shock at the used straws was a deadpan, “They’ve been washed.” But, again, I don’t remember if this happened in the moment of Tim’s freak-out, or if it happened later, as I was describing his reaction to her (and undoubtedly questioning if there was something terribly wrong with us).

At school the next day, Tim tried to call me out for reusing straws, as I passed him and a few of his friends on recess. Tim’s attempted insult—roughly, ‘Hey, I went to his house, and you know what? He shares straws with his brothers’–failed to land. The other kids did not react. Perhaps Tim just didn’t paint a particularly effective picture of the insanity involved. Or perhaps they were all so dumbfounded, they couldn’t think of a proper response to demonstrate their disgust. I walked on.

I suppose I should have held on to the non-reaction of the other kids as the takeaway in all this. But memories have a way of forming around the moment of impact and maximum anxiety, not the moment when that anxiety should have evaporated. Although, at the time, given the extreme nature of Tim’s reaction, I was convinced that the lack of reaction from the others was a silent acknowledgment that, yes, I was a damnable freak.

And perhaps I am a damnable freak—but certainly not because of anything I’ve ever done with a straw…or at least not for anything I ever did with a straw while I was in elementary school.