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Theatergoing is a communal act, movie going a solitary one.

-- Robert Brustein

'Are you ready?" I stood in front of the door, jiggling my keys. "The movie doesn't start for two hours ," David said, in his most exasperated tone of voice.

"Right, we should have left five minutes ago." I smiled in an attempt to appear more relaxed, but my jaw clenched involuntarily. I don't know why he puts up with me , I thought. But when he met me at the door, my angst was replaced with relief and a sense of urgency to go, go , go , and we were on our way.

I had already purchased four tickets online -- two for us, and two for Jason and Japhet, who would be meeting us at the theater. We arrived at Fashion Valley at 7:15 p.m. Wallace & Gromit was scheduled to begin at 9:05.

"I'm not going in yet," David said. His face was shaped into an adorable pout. I got our tickets from one of the machines in the lobby and agreed to venture only as far as the bookstore that was adjacent to the theaters. Not for the first time, I marveled aloud at the stupidity of all the people who wait in those long lines when there are three ticket machines right inside.

"I think we should go in now," I said after 20 minutes of book browsing. David sighed, put down the magazine he'd been flipping through, and followed me back to the theater. I left our friends' tickets for them at the customer service booth and marched inside. David took his time walking down the long corridor, pausing to study the posters along the way. When we turned the corner, I was ecstatic to find no one loitering in front of Theater 4, though David couldn't understand why -- it was no surprise to him. I sat down triumphantly. David made a sarcastic comment about time wasted.

Fifteen minutes later, a woman rounded the corner, looking startled to see us.

"You here for Wallace & Gromit ?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered.

"The last showing isn't out yet." I pointed to the marquee, where "7:00" was blinking in green. "Congratulations, by the way, you're 15 minutes less neurotic than I am."

"My friends think I'm crazy," she said. "They're still in the food court, but it's important for me to get the seats I like."

"Yeah, me too," I told her. David sat between us without commenting. Then, because I couldn't help myself, I added, "But you're behind us. So I get first pick."

Like a good sport, she simply said, "I bow down to your superior neurosis." Lucky for her, she had two rows she liked. I have only one (the one in front with the rail to put your feet on), which is why those 15 minutes turned out to be so crucial -- my row would have been her top pick. I would rather miss a movie altogether than watch it from a less desirable seat.

I realize that it's not fun for anyone to go to the movies with me. Except for my sister Heather. Like me, Heather has stayed true to her routine for years. She buys her tickets online and shows up to the theater early. Her first order of business -- get good seats. Once seated, between snippets of conversation, she pokes fun at the cheesy music and bland, rotating advertisements on the screen. Fifteen minutes before the movie starts, someone has to save Heather's seat so she can "go pee" and then purchase one small Diet Coke and one small popcorn that she will not share (she's happy to buy you your own, but asking for any of hers will distress her in ways most sane people are incapable of understanding). She is disturbed when people bring their own food. "Food from Taco Bell smells wrong in here. I know you don't want to pay for the food inside the theater, but you don't have to stink it up. I want to smell popcorn and licorice, not chimichanga! "

Heather is always offended by the "pre-show countdown," the handful of commercials that blare from the screen before the previews begin. She loves the previews, but her preview watching is always disrupted by her preoccupation with those who arrive during this time. A teenage couple stands at the front of the theater, searching rows of heads for any available seats. "It's always a source of amusement for me to look at their faces and find utter shock, dismay, even annoyance. Are you kidding me? The movie's supposed to be starting now . How can they be surprised that the tiniest theater in San Diego's busiest mall is full? Have they never been to see a movie before?" Each time someone appears in front of the theater, which can happen well into the beginning of the movie, Heather will pause from her watching to point them out and repeat her comments.

Heather has an irrational hatred for the theater's animated mascot -- that little man made of cartoon film -- every time he appears on the screen before a movie, as though she is pointing it out to her companions for the first time, and not the hundredth, Heather will lean over and whisper, "I hate him."

Though she has two young sons, my sister and I agree on the issue of bringing one's kids to the theater. I try to avoid encountering children by catching showings late at night. But to my amazement, I still find parents bringing toddlers into late-night R-rated films. During one horror flick Heather watched a group of people pass around a two-year-old girl. "During the most suspenseful parts, we'd hear, 'MAMA!' really freakin' loud. People made comments and finally, one of the members of their party picked up the child and walked to the back, and the theater erupted with applause." After the movie, the young mother, holding her baby, said, "I can't believe these people were so irritated at a child . I mean, what the fuck!"

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