Hey, space aliens, take me, too.

There was a garbage can on my chair when I got to the office. A small one, that’s usually under my desk. Inside, at the bottom of a clean liner were two books of short stories, and a note from George: “Doug — I found these in the trash, just like you did.”

George the janitor, if you haven’t guessed, is an OK guy and maybe something of a character.

♦ ♦ ♦

Yesterday, everyone received an e-mail announcing that there would be Christmas cookies for all employees in the cafeteria today. Yippee, I thought — stale Oreos in lieu of a living wage.

Today, just before noon, a guy I know from Advertising came up to me with a dazed expression on his face. He looked like he’d just seen naked Santa screwing a reindeer. “What’s wrong, dude?” I said. 

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “I went to the employees’ cafeteria for a free cookie, and this woman was all ‘Merry Christmas’ and smiling, and then she said, ‘Are you store?’ and I said, ‘No, regional’ — and she snatched the cookie from my hand. ‘The cookies are for store personnel only!’ I thought she was kidding, and started to laugh, but she shooed me away from the cookie table!”

Let me explain: We work for the regional office of a giant department store chain, atop their downtown San Francisco store. In company lingo, there are two kinds of employees in the building: 'store' and 'regional'. The email said the cookies were for “all employees,” but now we know, they're for all 'store' employees, but not 'all' employees.

I had to see this for myself, though, so I walked to the cafeteria, put on my best phony Christmas smile, and sauntered up to the table where a big colorful sign said, “Merry Christmas from [company]!”

Before I could even reach for a cookie, a middle-aged woman (think Edie McClurg) behind the table asked, very pleasantly, “Are you 'store', or 'regional'?” When I said ‘regional’ her smile vanished, and she acted like she’d caught a shoplifter. Needless to say, no cookie for me.

It was all too funny to be angry about it, and I giggled and shook my head all the way back to the office. Then I wrote an e-mail to the company’s “suggestion e-box,” which was probably not a good idea. Well, if I’m fired for complaining about the Christmas cookies, I’ll go straight to Herb Caen.

♦ ♦ ♦

A warning to those who find my trips to the movies the dullest part of the zine: Prepare to be bored, or skip ahead to tomorrow’s entry.

As I was scanning the Chronicle on my break, I found what might be my favorite movie playing at the Elmwood, tonight and tomorrow only. I’ve never heard or read anyone else claiming Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is anything more than an effective pop fantasy, but I loved it like no other movie. It was one of the first films I’d seen, and then immediately wanted to see it again.

And I saw it many, many times while it was in first release at a rundown cinema in downtown Seattle. I went on Monday-Friday nights after work, then went to the first matinee shows on Saturday and Sunday, and stayed for all five screenings both days. Then I was back at the theater Monday-Friday, and all day on Saturday. That’s 25 times in 13 days, and I remember being annoyed that a family commitment kept me from going on Sunday.

But why, Doug? Why go ape over this movie, instead of Star Wars or Gumball Rally? Not sure — who can explain an emotional reaction anyway?

Certainly, I identified with Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), the guy who’s obsessed with something indefinable, something nobody else understands, something even he doesn’t understand. 

Other than the old Star Trek television show, Close Encounters was the first mega-media science-fiction I’d seen where beings from another world came to Earth not to enslave us or obliterate us or eat us, but to say hello and befriend us.

Mostly, though, it’s the movie’s ending that always made me giddy. If you don’t know the story, avert your eyes, because I’m about to give it all away: Roy is invited to leave this boring rock, climb aboard the aliens' ship, and leave the human herd behind. Man oh man, that resonated with me. Hey, space aliens, take me, too. This world is not my home. I don't speak the language, don't like the people, can't afford the rent.

All the above I wrote on my lunch half-hour, excited about a chance to see an old friend tonight — that’s what this movie is, to me. I’ve seen it on tape and on TV, but I hadn’t seen CE3K on a big screen in almost fifteen years. 

Would it be less than I’d remembered? Maybe I’d be jaded and not so easily impressed. Nah, it was still magic for me. I have most of the movie memorized, from the opening line (“Are we the first?”) to the little kid's plaintive “G’bye” at the end, but my response hasn’t dimmed.

Sure, there are some scenes that are silly, but they seemed silly years ago, too. And I’ve always thought, hey Spielberg, if you’re spending millions on special effects, couldn’t the aliens make music with something more imaginative than a tuba? 

I still love this movie, though, and I’m going again tomorrow.

(Before editing, I’d written twice as much about Close Encounters. You’re welcome.)

♦ ♦ ♦

There were certainly no picketers when I got to the Elmwood, but on my way out, half a dozen men were carrying placards. “Management unfair,” said the signs, so I spent a few minutes talking with one of them. Then I read the theater owner’s response, posted on the side of the ticket booth. 

There’s no strike at the Elmwood, not even an employee-management dispute. It’s only an “informational picket.” The Elmwood has non-union projectionists, and the union naturally thinks that’s a problem.

Unions are a good thing. Wish we had a union where I work. At the Elmwood, though, labor and management seem to be getting along, and the films are shown in focus and frame, unlike at the (unionized) UC Theater. In the face of war and famine and pestilence and Pauly Shore, I’m not sure I give a damn whether the projectionists are in a union.

 From Pathetic Life #7
Friday, December 16, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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