When I was about five years old, my life was completely dominated by two enormous, all-consuming obsessions: Batman and Popeye. I was captured by these characters. Everything they represented, all that they stood for; they were everything I could ever wish to be. And yet they were so different– Batman was a dark shadow prowling the rooftops at night smiting the wicked, defending the helpless, bringing down corruption one lousily-costumed villain at a time. Popeye was just a one-eyed sailor with a taste for canned vegetables, just looking to get laid. But he kicked so much ass.
But Batman was always the predominant obsession. My grandpa Jaime, my mom’s father and someone who I have written about here before, used to sit with me every saturday morning to watch the Batman shows that would play on Canal A– Supefriends, that stupid Bat-o-Mite cartoon from the seventies, and the once-inescapable 60′s Batman TV Show, with the hilariously campy setpieces and acting that I was way too young to realize was supposed to be funny. I took it seriously. I was a huge fan of it all. I felt the sudden rush of emotion when Bruce Wayne slid down that bat-pole and came out in Bat-attire. When he delivered justice upon the ruffians with an onomatopoeic ass-whopping, I felt saved. I felt justified. I felt righteous. Every kid has a childhood idol. Mine was Batman.
So imagine my excitement when one day, after we’re done watching the television, he turns to me and proudly announces “Jorgito, the new Batman movie opens next wednesday. We are gonna go see it!”. My eyes went wide as I smiled from ear to ear and gave my grandpa a big hug. Batman!! On the BIG SCREEN, imagine that? At that time I had only seen a couple movies in a movie theatre and all of them animated. I had seen the first Batman movie as well as the original 1960′s feature-length TV show spinoff, but on the small screen. This was going to be the first time I had a real Batman movie watching experience. This was to bring me closer to the object of my adoration than I had ever been. This was going to change my life.
So for the following week the Batman movie thing served as leverage for my parents to keep me tamed. Any time I misbehaved, or threatened to do so, my mom or my dad would throw a sharp, cold “if you don’t stop doing that, there’ll be no Batman movie for you on wednesday” to which I reacted by immediately obliging and fix whatever I had broken or quit whatever I was doing and give them a big smile. My six year old existence knew no other purpose during that week but to live at least long enough to watch the Batman movie. There was nothing more horrifying than the thought of missing out on what was definitely gonna be the event that shaped the rest of my life. At six years old, I knew that watching Batman give the villains hell was gonna give some meaning to my life and anything that could possibly maybe slightly almost threaten the possibility of it happening was to be avoided at all cost. So during that week, probably the happiest week in my parents’ lives, I was obedient. I was clean. I was orderly and I was quiet. Nothing was gonna ruin this.
Wednesday rolled along. My mom had dressed me up in my best clothes– my red buttoned shirt with yellow horizontal stripes, more ironed than I’d ever seen it, my navy blue pants and my dark grey Batman sneakers. My hair was slicked back and my teeth had been brushed particularly vigorously. I wanted to look perfect for my date with my hero. But Grandpa Jaime took his time. I waited impatiently and pretended to look repeatedly at the clock like I had seen grownups do when they were waiting for something, too. About a half hour later, grandpa shows up, apologizes for being late muttering something about the traffic, and off we went.
The Capri was this dodgy, worn-down theater in Barranquilla where I went for a number of years to watch movies. For years it was the most popular theater in Barranquilla, where the only real alternatives were El Metro or Cinerama 84. The Capri was generally thought of as better because it had a larger screen and I guess a nicer-looking front. The place was by no means really good and found its demise when the Villa Country opened its multiplex facility and showed our insignificant city what movie theaters should aspire to be. The Villa Country cinema was more modernized in a lot of ways and was the first taste that Barranquilla got of a real movie theater, but Capri remained open for a number of years after the obviously superior Villa Country took over and was frequented by people looking for a sudden rush of nostalgia. There was something very charming about the place, how shitty it really was, how there always seemed to be stale popcorn stuck to the floor and how it wasn’t unusual to see some stray cat wandering across the isles during a movie.
This is where I was to see the film. Well before the Villa Country cinemas, this was the coolest theater in Barranquilla and where I would get to meet my personal role model up close. We got to the place and there was no line outside, which struck me as odd seeing how it was the premiere of the movie. As we went to buy tickets, the horrible reality of it all sits before us: the box office had closed, the doors were shut and the movie was already playing inside. We were late. I was gonna miss my movie. To say I was devastated would be an understatement– I never experienced such grief before in my brief lifespan. My grandpa could tell how disappointed I was, and patted me on the back reassuringly. “It’s okay, Jorgito”, he said, “we’ll catch it tomorrow. Come on. Let’s go home.”
But I didn’t want to go home. I walked over to the stairs which led up to the entrance and sat on one. My grandpa sat beside me. I looked down at my Batman sneakers– the embedded Bat-shield now looking up at me harshly, judgemental. Like it was disappointed at me. I couldn’t bear the thought of just “catching it tomorrow”, ’cause to me tomorrow didn’t even exist. I had missed my window. It stung. And I started to sob. After a few seconds, I was crying uncontrollably at the foot of the theater and my grandpa, ever the sensitive soul, was moved by my sadness and started crying himself. There we both were– a six year old chubby boy and a sixty year old man, sitting outside a cinema while people were inside watching a movie, crying our eyes off because we couldn’t get in. It was heartbreaking and, to be honest, quite pathetic.
An older, slightly overweight man in a suit walked up to my grandpa and asked him what was wrong. In between sobs, he related the whole story– my adoration for all things Batman, the promise of a movie, being late ’cause of traffic– all as I wept quite loudly in the background. The man seemed interested in the story, and after my grandpa was done, removed his glasses and remained in thought for a few seconds. He then told us he was the manager of the movie theater and he was so touched by our story that he was gonna see what he could do. He disappeared for a minute and then came back, peering from inside the box office and telling us to follow him. We walked in and he led us into the theater. The place was packed full and most of the audience were kids my age and their parents. I looked around, awestruck. The movie had already started but was only about ten minutes in. I saw no available seats and wondered if we were gonna have to watch the movie standing up. When I turn around, I see the manager guy had pulled up three plastic chairs and set them right there at the door, giving us a look like “will this do?”.
He provided us with free popcorn and soda. Never charged us for entry. I was totally blown away by the movie even if most of it went over my head at the time– I was just so fucking thrilled to be there. Whenever Batman showed up in costume, the entire audience exploded in cheers and applause, just like I did inside any time I saw the Caped Crusader pop up in the small screen. After the movie was over, the guy talked to my grandpa for a while and showed us the projection room. It was the first time I ever saw how movies worked and I was amazed by it. It seemed so magical and unearthly. After giving me an overly simplified explanation of how it worked, he started to say goodbye, but then stopped himself with a snap of the fingers and an “oh! Hold on” as he hurried excitedly to the back of the room. A few seconds later, he came back with a huge promotional poster for the movie– the Bat-symbol placed on top of a black background and the word “RETURNS” in big white letters underneath it. He shook both our hands and bid us farewell.
That was one of the greatest days of my life. I remember it as being a hallmark and a catalyst for the person I was yet to become. That afternoon, I was changed in more ways than one. If it weren’t for that man, who knows what I’d be doing with my life now. I wonder if he knows how his actions influenced that chubby little six year old. People don’t often think of how their actions are going to affect others in the long run. One little act of kindness like that was enough to shape the way the rest of my life was going to be.
It’s remarkable, how this life works.