We have selected a number of Geoffrey Notkin's published articles from various sources, and made them available here as part of Geoff Notkin's online bibliography project.
The following story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the arts and humor magazine Popsmear, in the Spring, 1997 issue. It describes events that took place on February 1, 1997 as George Lucas' "Star Wars" re-opens to a frenzied reception at New York's Zeigfeld cinema.
At first, there is a feeling of camaraderie and expectation in the line.
Saturday is my birthday. The special edition of Star Wars has opened the previous day. Like everyone on line, Ive seen Star Wars far too many times. Like everyone on line, I discovered that the special edition was opening at the Ziegfeld, and that it was possible, through a tortuous and irritating process (listening to that damn guy at 777-FILM go: Opening soon at a theater near you . . . rated arrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!), to get advance tickets. But only four at a time. It cost $100 and five phone calls, but I got ten.
And then came the hard part. Showtime is 6:45 p.m. Lach, who has been a companion through many a science fiction opening night brouhaha wants to get there early. Really early. That would be 3 or 4 oclock early. Its a nice day, but I dont want to spend my birthday standing on 54th. Street.
Look, Geoff, he says. New York is a city of eight million people, right? Among that eight million there are MANY people who are more insane than we are. Even if one percent of one percent goes early, the line will be around the block by 5.
I call up the other eight members of our team -- eight people who have not had to hang on the phone for an hour listening to that Rated arrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! guy -- and ask them to please get there early. We will take turns on line, Lach says. Itll be fun, Lach says.
Tell them that the price of the ticket is getting there early and waiting on line while we go play video games. After all, you got the tickets, and its your birthday.
It seems fair to me.
But nobody else agrees. They all promise to get there between 5 and 6, but nobody is willing to give up their gym sessions, or the other important things they have to do. Lach and I compromise: Well get there at 4:30. Thats still more that two hours before showtime, I reassure him.
Yeah, well see you up around Central Park, then, he says glumly, and hangs up.
Im late. When I show up at 4:45, Lach is already on line. Hes wearing a bright red jacket, and is easy to spot among the masses. Hes in a good mood. Well, this isnt too bad, he beams. And it wasnt. There were maybe 50 people ahead of us. We will have no trouble getting good seats, even though we need ten seats together -- in the center, perfectly positioned about 15 rows back from the screen. Everything must be just so.
I have made it quite clear that anyone who doesnt arrive by 6 p.m. will forfeit their ticket. I am not standing outside in the cold waiting for stragglers to show up. At two minutes before 6, Im just about ready to offer up my final two tickets for scalping, when the last members of our party rush up, breathless.
Originally, we were two people in line. But our little space on 54th. Street now accommodates ten people. Our segment of the line has grown sideways and now stretches from the curb to a concrete wall on the north side of the sidewalk. And this phenomenon -- this New Yorker Ill-meet-you-on-line thing has been going on everywhere. The line ahead of us has swelled to include hundreds of rabid fans. Lach and I look at each other. It is not necessary to state the obvious: There is no chance that we will get our perfect seats if we wait in the line like good boys.
As always, Lach has a plan. He and I will act as a small high-speed force and try to break through with the first customers at 6:15. The other eight will keep our place in case we fail on our mission. It is dangerous, but the force is with us.
First, a brief reconnaissance. The front of the line is about thirty feet from the entrance to the theater. The gaggle of fans right up front are crammed in between velvet ropes. The crowd sways and churns, and threatens to knock over the barricade. Off to the right is an open area called the park, and a number of rebels are clustered there, no doubt with the same idea. But Imperial Ziegfeld security guards are keeping a careful eye on them, and it looks like it will be difficult, or even fatal, to stage a surprise assault from there.
Now Lach has to make a phone call. In the triangle formed between the front of the line, the entrance to the Ziegfeld, and the park, is one public telephone, on a concrete column. A young woman is using the phone. Lach and I wander over. It is the perfect staging point for our attack. Slow down, he whispers in my ear. Weve got about six minutes to kill.
We both get on line and wait for the phone. We do not talk. We pretend not to know each other. A security guard comes up and tells us theres a phone on the other side of the garage. Tells us not in a friendly, helpful way, but rather in a You should use the other phone if you know whats good for you, you rebel scum kind of a way. We decline to move.
Its the first time Ive ever been glad that someone is taking so damn long on the phone. Just keep on talkin, I think. When shes done, Lach walks up, fumbling for change. Another punter walks by.
Are you using the phone? he asks Lach politely.
Oh, yeah, but you go ahead. My number was . . . uh . . . busy.
Lach gets back on line in front of me. About three minutes to go. The guards are keeping an eye on us, but are more concerned with the gang orbiting the park. There are about 40 of them now.
The guy ahead of us finishes too soon. Two more people join the phone line behind us. They look anxious and annoyed. Lach tries his call. Lets it ring about ten times. Busy, he says to no-one in particular, and goes to the back of the phone line.
Now Im up. Its crunch time. I have to stall for just two and a half minutes. More security guards have arrived, and the ticket holders line is swaying like a big worm. They know the moment is almost upon us. I take the phone off the hook, and reach inside my shirt. I pull out my wallet, and then my phone card. I dial up the 800 ATT number. I go through the tape recordings, punch in my home number, then, squinting at my card, dial in the wrong code.
We are sorry. That code is invalid. Please try again.
I try it again. And I punch in the wrong numbers again. I hang up, and try dialing a second time.
The guys waiting behind me give me dirty looks.
I go through the whole wrong number routine a second time. Damn card! I say out loud, and wave it between two fingers as if it smells bad. Im pushing my luck, but I try calling a third time. Lach is edging closer to me, when we see a gargantuan uniformed woman go over to the ticket holders line, and unhook the purple rope.
Fireball XL5, he whispers. Its our secret code. I drop the phone, as the mass of punters surge forward. Lach and I split up, joining the crush on opposite sides. We are almost through the doors, when disaster strikes.
Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo! Yo! Someone shouts. Yo! That mother is pushin in. I glance sideways, and see that theyre pointing at Lach. I still have a clear shot. I move quickly across the foyer, eyes fixed on the target.
Yo! Yo! That one too! Now theyre pointing at me. Stay on target, stay on target. Im moving across the floor, casually but quickly. I hand my ticket to the usher.
Yo! Hes gettin away. Tear the ticket, I think. The force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. If he tears the ticket, Im in. But he hesitates. Hes watching the commotion, which is spiralling out of control across the lobby. Lach is surrounded by four guards: tall, uniformed, officious.
Get to the back of the line, one of them orders.
Back of the line! Lach exclaims. Ive been waiting here for four hours!
No you havent I saw you cut through the park.
I have my own troubles. Not one person has actually made it into the inner foyer. We have created a bottleneck that is holding up hundreds of movie fanatics. People outside are shoving, and the Ziegfeld staff are getting nervous. My gang of accusers break through the cordon at the door, and get right up to me. This guy too, this guy cut in. This guy too. Get him, get him, throw him out! Ive had enough. I turn around to one guy and shout: Shut the hell up. (After all, the only thing worse than a line jumper is a snitch).
What did you say to me? You wanna make sumthin of it mutha? He says. His face is punctuated with cheap piercings.
I point at him slowly, and in my best Han Solo manner say: Listen pal, youre pickin on the wrong guy.
This is too much for him, and he explodes with rage, which is handy for me, because the security guards now descend upon him, mistaking him for the cause of this disturbance.
The usher is holding my ticket up. I look at him and concentrate. I think: These arent the droids youre looking for. I look down at the ticket. You dont need to see his identification. He tears it in half and Im in.
Lach is still arguing with the guards. He is not going to surrender. Im not waiting outside!
We saw you push in.
It wasnt me! It was someone else in a red jacket. It was . . . that guy, he points at someone else in a red jacket, trying to work his way through the angry crowd. I want to go back and help Lach, but I must get to our seats. I look across at Lach. I catch his eye, and it says to me Run, Luke, run!
And I do. I run up that escalator so damn fast. I am not the very first person into the theater, but almost. I cut sideways through the first block of seats, to one of the center aisles, and down, down, towards the front. A few rows are already taken. I find mine, but I have a problem. I am only one person and I have to fill ten seats. Frenzied Star Wars fans are pouring in about as fast as I imagine cold water poured into the hull of the "Titanic."
So I start taking my clothes off. I drop my backpack on the first seat of my row, count out ten seats with my umbrella, and drop it on the last one. Then I run back. My scarf goes on one chair, my coat on another. I take off my dress shirt, and dump stuff out of my pack. I stand at the aisle end, with my arms folded. Even so people descend on me like harpies: Are these seats . . .
And then Lach flies out of the crowd, and takes up position at the far end. Its a good ten minutes before the rest of our team arrives.
And dont you know, the other guy with the red jacket ends up sitting right behind us. He leans forward. That was mean, what you did, he says to Lach in a shlumpy voice.
Sorry, Lach says. I did what I felt was right, of course.