This little story is significant for a few reasons:
- no one dies
- no one is involved in dangerous, compromising, or hideously embarrassing sexual situations…most of which end in someone’s death
- tragedy–neither of the epic Greek variety or the dark Flannery O’Connor in which the Holy Spirit moves and wreaks destruction in its path–happens.
I suppose all bullet points can be summed up in the first.
The man with the turtle said, “Just give my money back and I’ll be going.”
The boy behind the ticket counter looked as unsure as a new-born shrimp. Shrimplet? He wasn’t sure which, but he knew he looked unsure. And pale. He watched himself enough in the plexi-class reflection to know that. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I’ll have to ask you to keep voice down.” There, he took a chance and was brave. He waited to see what that would net him.
The man with the turtle blinked. The turtle blinked. The whole world blinked at least four or five times before the man said, “I haven’t raised my voice.”
The boy sighed and picked at the scabs on the backs of his hands. “I’ll have to get the manager, and he’ll just tell you the same thing, sir.” So he was back to saying “sir” after giving himself permission to drop it once and for all.
The man placed his box turtle on the ticket counter. The turtle, which seemed ordinary enough at first with brown and pale green squares on his shell, slowly turned his head toward the direction of the boy. The boy suddenly thought he looked like the wisest creature that ever existed. Forget the owl and all its purported wisdom…the turtle–this turtle– was where it was at.
“If I understand you correctly,” said the man, calm as an unruffled lake, “even if a patron leaves fifteen minutes into a show and politely asks for a return on his money because the show was a colossal disappointment, it’s the policy of this theater not to return his money and thereby ensure that said patron will never return?”
The boy knew most kids his age couldn’t follow the man’s words or ride the wave of his cadence toward full understanding. Many adults thought the kid wasn’t very smart because he loved skateboards and strange music and smoke the occasional joint. The boy was incredibly smart. “With all due respect, sir,” he said–meaning it, for what it’s worth–“you brought a turtle into the theater, and that’s not allowed.”
The man looked down at the turtle. “Mr. Chow enjoys the cinema,” he said. “I bring him with me every Friday, and then I take him to my film club as we discuss what we saw and what’s soon coming to the screen. He doesn’t make noise or disturb anyone, I assure you, in either venue.”
“It’s a pet, sir. In our theater. If I bring out the manager, he’ll freak out.”
“You can hide Mr. Chow and I can get him, but like I said, he’s weird about giving money back.” The boy found himself relaxing more and warming up to the man. And Mr. Chow. “He figures that today, you pretty much know what you getting before walking into a movie because trailers give so much away, and TV spots, and stuff like that.”
“That doesn’t change my disappointment in the film,” the man said. “And as a patron, I assumed your establishment valued my business. As I said, Mr. Chow and I come every Friday.”
The boy liked how the man referred to himself as a patron and the theater as an establishment. The man had better manners than anyone who bought tickets from the boy. Genteel. That was the word that described him.
“Okay,” the boy said. He took out his wallet and open the register, breaking a ten and giving the man $7.50. “Here’s your money, sir. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the film, and I hope you and Mr. Chow will continue to be patrons.”
The man looked down at the money. Mr. Chow turned his head, looked at the money, and slowly nodded. The man swept it from the counter and into his hands. “We accept your generosity and would like to buy you coffee some rainy afternoon, for that’s the best time to have coffee with a friend.”
The boy found himself smiling. He didn’t have many friends, and certainly none like the man. Well, he supposed, he did now. “My name’s Alan,” he said.
The man bowed. “My name is Stephen. I believe you’ve met Mr. Chow.”
“Nonetheless, it’s a pleasure still.”
Now it was the man’s turn to smile. They talked until other customers showed up, demanding tickets quickly so they didn’t miss the previews.