Sunday, April 30, 2017

early morning strangers

Every so often, I ride the train to work with my friend Randi. I met Randi when our kids went to nursery school together, so I have known her for a very long time. A few years ago, Randi and her husband moved into my neighborhood and, coincidentally, we both work in the same office building in center city Philadelphia. Randi usually takes an earlier or later train than the one I regularly take, but, a few times a week, we ride to work together.

On our short commute into Philadelphia, we discuss a multitude of topics — religion, family situations, movies, television shows. This particular Monday morning, I was telling Randi about the Monster Mania convention, a twice-yearly gathering of all things horror that my son and I attended the day before.

I don't know why I continue to subject myself to this convention, but I do. And with much regret. I go specifically to add to my autographed photos collection, but over the years, the cost of admission and the autographs themselves, have become ridiculously overpriced. I really wrestle with myself every time a new roster of "celebrities" is announced. I assess the pros and cons of driving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, finding a place to park in the small hotel lot, paying the inflated admission and then paying the exorbitant fee for an autographed photo. But, this past weekend's "guest of honor" — Danny Lloyd — was the clincher. Thirty-seven years ago, Danny played Jack Nicholson's enigmatic son in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror classic The Shining. After filming wrapped, Danny had one more role in a TV movie about Watergate nut-job G. Gordon Liddy, then abandoned show business and fell back into "real life." Now, at 44, he is a biology professor at a community college in Kentucky. Well, I don't know exactly what he's teaching in his class, but he sure learned how to get forty bucks for writing his name on a photograph of himself from his youth. I begrudgingly handed him two twenty dollars bills (Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, who was also at this show, was only asking thirty bucks) and tried to make some small talk. I asked him if the Internet rumors about his not knowing that The Shining was a horror movie were true. He laughed and confirmed that Kubrick, a vicious taskmaster to the adult actors, was very protective of his underage actors (Danny and the Burns sisters, who played the ghostly Grady twins and were, coincidentally, seated at their own table to Danny's left). I asked if his students know about his former life as an actor (albeit two roles). He said some did, some didn't and most were not impressed and didn't care.

As I related my little weekend adventure to Randi, I noticed another commuter, just across the train aisle from us, was hanging on to every word I was saying. It was so obvious. He wasn't even trying to hide the fact that he was listening so intensely to our conversation as though he would be transcribing it later. I tried to subtly nudge Randi to covertly point the eavesdropper out. When the train stopped at our station, we all got off and I pointed the guy out as he hurried up the platform stairs.

The next day, I was standing on the train platform waiting for my morning train. Randi was not in sight on this morning, but that was not unusual. So, as I waited, I fiddled with my phone. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I could see someone approaching. I looked up and I was startled to see the eavesdropper from yesterday's morning commute standing less than a foot away from me.

"Hi.," he began, innocently enough.

"How're you doin'?," I mumbled, still trying to figure out what this guy wanted. I am, admittedly, very suspicious of people I don't know.

"I heard you talking on the train yesterday about The Shining." Well, at least he got right to the point. "I wanted to know if you ever saw the documentary Room 237? Have you ever heard of it?," he asked. Not only had I heard of the film, I had seen it. It is an independent production from 2012 that unobjectively relates several wild theories that The Shining is not merely an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but an elaborate puzzle, cryptically alluding to either the systematic slaughter of Native Americans or an apology by director Kubrick for his collusion with NASA in the ruse that was the first moon landing or a symbolic tale of the Holocaust or a combination of the three.

But the real question was: Why did this guy care if I saw this documentary? Plus, he just admitted that he was listening to my conversation from the previous day.

This was weird. I, however, was uncharacteristically polite. I answered his question and engaged him in a little chit-chat about my views on The Shining and my conversation with the now-adult Danny Lloyd. A train pulled up to the station, thankfully bringing this awkward exchange to an end. I started towards the last car of the train and he called out "Nice talking to you!," as he headed in the opposite direction. I was relived that he didn't feel compelled to continue our tête-à-tête in a more intimate setting on the train.

On subsequent days, I have seen the eavesdropper milling about on the train platform. He seems to be purposely steering clear of me. That's just fine with me. His "striking up a friendship" skills are in need some refinement.

Oh, and Room 237 was absolute bullshit.

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