Things We Lost in the Theatre

Guys, I cannot work right now. I have been in the throes of intense final paper composition for the past week and a half and I don’t know if I’m going to make it. Even if I lock myself in my room, turn off the internet, silence my cell phone and swear to myself that I will not take my hands off the keyboard until I’ve written a page, I will somehow find something else to do. Last night I convinced myself that, for a section in my paper concerning stage directions, it was imperative that I compare different versions of Fafnir’s death on Youtube. Less than an hour later, my dubiously valid detour had devolved into ‘Cat Bloopers II’ (a pale imitation of the original; I did laugh until I cried at this newscaster getting attacked by a lizard, though, and this clown murderer set-up is well-executed.)

To get the compositional juices flowing, I thought I’d relate something that happened to me a few months ago that I’m still sore about.

I had gone by myself to a small movie theatre on rue Saint-André-des-Arts in the Latin Quarter. There was a Wim Wender’s festival that week and I hoped to catch up with one of my most glaring arthouse oversights: Paris, Texas (’84). There was only a handful of people in the theatre, mainly students. I was using my dad’s erstwhile camera bag (a vintage military gunnysack, dyed brown) to carry my things. Wary of thieves (but not wary enough), I placed the bag on the floor between my feet.

Paris, Texas is a rambling but powerful film, and certainly Sam Shepard’s best turn as a screenwriter. (I will die happy if I never have to sit through Zabriskie Point again.) When the lights came up in the theatre, I reached down for my sack. It was open, and my cell phone, weeks-old iPod and headphones were gone. My notebook and copy of Pariscope were still inside. I figured that my things must have rolled down the theatre’s raked seating, so I crawled around under the plush red rows, searching.

Have you lost something, jeune homme?‘ an elderly, exiting patron asked. Yes, I can’t seem to find my headphones. Do you see them? ‘No. Have you looked in the bathroom?’ That’s a good idea; perhaps I had left my things on the sink.

They weren’t there, of course. They had been stolen, quite literally from under my nose, and it took the flatulent French mouth of the theatre’s owner to convince me that theft was responsible for the disappearance: ‘Monsieur, there are pickpockets in every theatre in Paris. It’s dark in there, you see.‘ I heard someone leave about twenty minutes into the film. It must have been him.

I’ve had things stolen from me before. Someone broke into my car when I was in high school, but that didn’t involve someone slithering along the floor of a movie theatre and silently extracting only the valuables from a sack sitting between my legs. Hardly. The car thieves smashed the driver’s side window with a bat, pried out the stereo and squealed their tires as they sped off.

It’s the difference between old- and new-world crime. I’ve had a few friends mugged in New York. One was held up with a butcher’s knife (Hey Theo!), and the others were alternately punched, slapped or choked unconscious and robbed. My parents were recently held up at gunpoint in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In Paris, you get offered a bouquet of flowers on the subway and realize two hours later that your wallet’s gone. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t violent crime in Paris or the rest of Europe, but, in general, there’s an artistry to the crime here that is rare in the States (cf. Rififi, Le Cercle Rouge).

I occasionally think about the people that broke into my car. I was furious about it at the time. I’d never had my property violated like that, and the stereo was the fruit of a summer’s demeaning labor at a pie restaurant. If I’d been able to catch up to these guys, or somehow preempt them, would I have been content to turn them over to the police? Or would I have wanted a (less brutal) American History X level of satisfaction?

When I got home from the theatre, I was also furious. After I downed a fifth of J&B whiskey, though, that fury transformed into a kind of sympathetic awe. As opposed to the thugs that caused hundreds of dollars of damage to my car (in addition to the loss of my stereo), I had to admire how the man in the movie theatre had procured my valuables in an almost surgical manner. I started thinking about the training such a skill required, and how the man himself felt about his occupation. I doubt he’s as existentially freighted as the sullen protagonist of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (’59), but I realized that his vocation, despite the inconvenience to its victims, is likely a necessity. He steals for a living, literally.

This isn’t Les Misérables. If the police had caught the pickpocket as he was leaving the theatre, I wouldn’t have waved them off, handing over my digital camera, saying, ‘Sir, would you leave the best behind?‘ but I think my pathos would still have overwhelmed my anger, especially if I had known how readily my losses would be compensated. My friend gave me her sister’s old cell phone, my parents replaced the iPod with a bigger one at Christmas, and I used an Amazon gift certificate from my brother to get an even better pair of headphones. So, I’m pretty much restored. The pickpocket probably fed his kid for a few weeks with the money he got from my iPod. (Alternatively, I like to think that he kept the iPod for himself, fell for some of the artists, changed his criminal ways, and now publishes Villiers-le-Bel’s premiere Giorgio Moroder ‘zine.)

He’ll probably get caught some day. Or not. In either case, I wish him luck. If I could have word with him right now, I’d let him know: those Grado headphones are good for portable players, but you really should upgrade for your home system.

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~ by ohkrapp on June 7, 2008.

3 Responses to “Things We Lost in the Theatre”

  1. Alternatively, I like to think that he kept the iPod for himself, fell for some of the artists, changed his criminal ways, and now publishes Villiers-le-Bel’s premiere Giorgio Moroder ‘zine.

    Villiers-le-Bel!

    That’s RACIST! ! !

    (but funny)

  2. no no, he LIVES in Neuilly-sur-Seine but tapped into the italo-disco craze sweeping Villiers-le-Bel, obv.

  3. […] along the canal today, I rued the loss of my portable headphones. Something that jerks, dickweeds and killjoys like to say is, ‘Why […]

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