The weekend is almost here! In case you were debating between reading that book that keeps staring at you from the top of your TBR and binge-watching Netflix, we’ve got the perfect solution for you, a book that’s a mix of both!
In this enormously funny, smart, and moving contemporary YA novel, fighting for the thing you love doesn’t always turn out like in the movies. Read an excerpt below!
Ethan’s Glossary of Film Terms
A completely black screen. Then, slowly,
an image becomes visible.
You’ve seen it a thousand times. First
darkness. Then the light.
Sound next. A face maybe. A landscape.
A world born before your eyes. One minute you’re sitting there in the dim theater with
a room full of strangers, and the next you
are somewhere else.
It only takes a second, but it feels like magic every time.
A Fade In says: Welcome.
It says: Shhhhhh
A story is about to start.
When I was fourteen, I started watching a movie a day.
It wasn’t always easy to fit them in.
There was life to contend with. Homework. Job. School. Sustenance. The occasional human interaction. But I tried my best to do it no matter what. No matter how tired I might be. Saturdays were my binge days when I left reality behind for hours, cocooned in my vintage Star Wars bedspread with only a box of cereal and a warm Dr Pepper to get me through the day. Sundays I rested, like the Lord.
Then I watched a movie.
I’m seventeen now, so if you do the math, that’s three years at 365 days a year. Which is 1,095 total days. With an average run time of about 90 minutes a movie, that’s at least 1,642 hours. Or, if you prefer: 68 days.
Sixty-eight days of movie time. Sixty-eight days of being someone else.
For a person who spends most of his life indoors, I’ve done some fairly epic things during those hours. For example: I’ve stormed a castle with some samurai in feudal Japan, which I totally recommend. I’ve done heroin in Scotland and watched a zombie baby crawl on the ceiling (don’t recommend). I’ve been a piano prodigy, a submarine captain, and a prison inmate, not necessarily in that order. I have whispered my secrets into a tree, pulled a human heart from a toilet, and walked a tightrope across the New York skyline in a pair of revealing tights.
And whenever my mother or anyone else well-meaning asks me why I spend so much time in a darkened room, staring at a glowing screen, I answer with a question of my own: Why do you live one life? As in: Why be content with one life when you could live one thousand and ninety-five? A few of them are bound to be more interesting than your own. Or in my case: most of them.
Aside from a few movies by this Japanese director, Ozu, and long sections of The Hobbit, which should have been called The Desolation of My Attention Span, it doesn’t take much to beat the movie of my life these days.
For one thing, I work at a dying movie theater. That should come as no surprise. The movie part, anyway. It pays almost nothing, but it makes my daily quota a little easier to meet. Though I should clarify right off the bat that by “work at,” I mean “am the boss of.” I used to be just another humble employee of the Green Street Cinema in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but then the owner, Randy, had a personal crisis, skipped town, and left me in charge during his absence. He never came back.
I have two theories about why he chose me.
The first is that I am the longest-standing employee of the Green Street aside from Sweet Lou, our organ player, who is maybe two hundred years old.
And second: Randy was once pretty chummy with my dad, who used to be the chair of the Film Studies Department at the university down the street. For these reasons, I am currently the captain of this sinking ship.
Ahoy there, movie nerds. All aboard.
Call me Wendy.
That’s not my name. My name is Ethan, but Wendy is what everyone here calls me since I became de facto manager. If you haven’t guessed already—and why would you?—it’s a Peter Pan reference, and not a very clever one at that. I’m not sure how it got started, but one day I came in with the new schedules for the week and everyone was saying it with the same smirk on their faces.
I guess that makes my crew of barely employable movie geeks the Lost Boys. They aren’t all boys, but they are definitely lost anywhere other than this theater.
So Wendy it is.
I’ve learned to live with it. Just like I’ve learned to live with the smell of curdled butter, the perpetually clogged toilet in the employee bathroom, and the fact that I never see the projectionist leave the premises. But before I get too caught up in the details, I should let you know why any of this matters.
It all got started on a day when I thought my only problem was going to be the rats.
Rats, you say?
We had many. They enjoyed eating candy. Specifically the candy we stored to serve at our concession stand. But this was the first day a rat-chewed candy box had been served to a customer. Which is how my only break of the day was disturbed.
I was standing outside the theater, when Griffin, the stoned ticket taker, walked up behind me and cleared his throat.
“Um. Wendy?” he said.
I knew Griffin was stoned because Griffin is always stoned. If he came to work sober, planets would drift out of alignment. The tides would reverse. Or . . . he might just do his job competently. His favorite director is Terry Gilliam, and at last count, he had seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas fifty-four times. He tried to re-enact it once, but he didn’t have a car, and he only made it to the city limits on his ten-speed before he got distracted by the extensive beef jerky selection at SuperAmerica.
“Remember what I said about bothering me on break?” I asked Griffin.
Griffin scratched the back of his neck. He pushed his enormous black glasses up his nose. His mop of dark hair obscured the top third of the lenses.
“You said not to do it.”
“That is correct,” I said.
Longest pause ever.
“The rats ate most of the Dots,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “I saw the mess this morning.”
“Right,” he said. “So, I gave a lady a box that I thought was fine, but turned out to be kinda compromised, rat-wise, and she left saying she was going to sue all of us. Like personally. Everyone who works here.”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “I’ve been thinking it over, and I’m just not sure my finances can take that kind of hit right now.”
I took a glance at the cloudless sky above me. There was an airplane inching its way through the blue, leaving a breathy white trail behind it. I imagined myself in an aisle seat, sipping a ginger ale and laughing at a movie I would never pay to watch. I had about five seconds to enjoy this fantasy before I walked to the entrance of the Green Street, shoved open the glass doors, and smelled the stale popcorn and musty carpeting.
“Yo, Wendy!” said Lucas, an international student from the U who worked concessions. “The rats got into the candy again! Your traps aren’t working, my man.”
I passed him without comment, trying to remember if he’d ever actually been hired, or if he’d just walked behind the counter one day in his Bill Murray T-shirt and never left. His mom was American, but he grew up with his dad in Lebanon, watching pirated tapes from the States. He had seen more movies than any of us combined, and he rarely let us forget it.
“He knows, dude,” said Griffin, “And he knows about the lawsuit. Wendy has a lot on his mind right now.”
I left them behind to discuss my mind. Meanwhile, I walked down the main hallway to the storage room where there was probably some kind of massive rat orgy taking place at that very moment. I did this because, even though I am underage and technically too young to be a manager, I am somehow a manager. And even though I haven’t been able to “manage” many things in my own life, I still felt like trying at the Green Street. It was maybe the last place I felt like trying.
Because, if I’m honest, things had been a little rough of recent.
And by “of recent,” I mean the three years since my dad died.
He died just before I turned fourteen, and it’s still hard for me to say it or even write about it without getting
depressed and angry and then depressed again. For now I’ll just say: It was quick and surprising. And afterward, I kind of took a hall pass from life. My grades went south. Things with my mom got weird. And to make matters worse, my best friend moved away. In the years that followed, I kinda stopped thinking about college. And basically the only thing I didn’t give up on entirely was watching movies and doing my job at the Green Street. Which, come to think of it, is probably why Randy made me temporary manager.
That and someone had to deal with the rats.
I opened the door now to the storage room and things were eerily quiet. If my life were a movie, there would have been some slightly out-of-tune violins starting in the background. Maybe a close-up of a single bead of sweat on my forehead. Inside the closet there were boxes of candy that had been knocked from the shelves. Raisinets. Twizzlers. Mike and Ikes. An all-you-can-eat buffet.
On top of the pile was a single rat the size of a small
raccoon. I only slightly exaggerate his size. He was the
rodent king of candy hill. Lord of the Junior Mints. Master of Milk Dud Mountain. His two bottom teeth looked sharpened to kill, and I’m pretty sure he was in a diabetic coma.
“Begone, Brando!” I said.
I had decided to name him Brando (after late career Marlon Brando).
No reaction. I looked at the traps I bought last week:
I picked up a nearby broom, and I was about to take a swing at him when I received another tap on the shoulder. Which caused me to jump and scream louder and higher than I have ever screamed maybe in my life. Griffin dropped his glasses.
“Whoa,” he said. “Sorry, man.”
“Jesus, Griffin!” I yelled when I turned around. “I thought you were a rat.”
He stared at me wide-eyed. He seemed a little frightened at this possibility.
“I’m not,” he said.
I looked over at Brando, but he was long gone.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “What could possibly be so important that you need to interrupt me in the middle of an attempted murder?”
Griffin took his signature pause, reaching down to pick up his glasses.
“There’s a man here with some papers. He says we’re being evicted.”
Once upon a time, when I was younger, Dad and I used to go to the movies.
Like once a week at least when my mom worked Saturdays. It was our day, and we had a ritual. We always got to the theater early enough to see all the previews. We always got one big popcorn to share and two individual boxes of Nerds (our mascot). We always went to the bathroom right before the movie to avoid mid-film emergencies. And when we got inside the theater, we connected straws together so that they could go from the sodas on the floor all the way up to our mouths—that way we would never have to look away. Afterward, we each had to answer two questions.
1) What was the image from the film that we just couldn’t shake?
2) How was the last line?
And the Green Street Cinema is where we went the most.
Dad didn’t like the multiplexes. He thought they were soulless and bland. Besides, the Green Street was right down the street from the university where he taught, and everyone knew him there. The concession guys gave him extra butter. And most Saturdays I got in free. “If that kid can sit through Das Boot,” the cashier once said, “it’s on the house.” I started volunteering there before I was old enough to work, and even before that, I hung around while Dad did his college film screenings.
I would watch him from the back row as he gesticulated in front of the screen, saying outrageous things in his lecture about Rear Window, like, “Clearly Hitchcock is taking on impotence here! Right? Look at that phallic cast on Jefferies! But he can’t do anything!” and ignoring the chuckles that followed. His hair was curly and he didn’t get it cut often enough. Mom used to say he looked like the professor from central casting, but it wasn’t quite that bad. He was surprisingly athletic. He played pickup basketball, and once when I went to the college gym, I saw him sink a jump hook from the free-throw line over the outstretched arm of a winded biology professor. It was a thing of beauty.
But still, he never seemed more at home than at the Green Street. It was his home away from home, and especially after he died, it became mine, too. These days I
usually came in at eight a.m. only to leave at six or seven
that night after every smooshed Milk Dud had been scraped from the floor. I still changed each letter on the antique marquee by hand. And I could feel it in my soul when a spring popped loose on our duct-taped seats.
Which is why my heart nearly stopped when I first held the papers that said we were done. The man holding the papers was from the university’s real estate office, which owned our building. He had a thin beard and a crisp university polo shirt tucked in tight to his slim cut jeans. His eyes were squinty behind a pair of frameless glasses. I looked at the paper on top of the pile, which said:
It was written in the largest font I have ever seen. People could probably see it from space.
“What’s this all about?” I asked.
The man looked down at the gigantic words EVICTION NOTICE. Then he looked back at me. Then he told me what this was all about.
1) The theater was in debt, in excess of $145,000.
2) Randy had mismanaged the budget very badly over the last five years and had missed a lot of grant deadlines that might have kept us afloat.
3) Randy had personally loaned his theater over $75,000, guaranteed against the value of the property, but now he was out of money.
4) This had been a problem for a long time, and why Randy had never told us about it was anyone’s guess.
5) Barring any ability to pay off the debt in full, the university would be forced to demolish the Green Street to make way for a “Residential/Retail establishment.”
Once he was done telling me very clearly what this was all about, the man looked at my name tag, which read, “Wendy.
Manager,” and asked:
“You in charge here, Wendy?”
“I am,” I said.
“How old are you?”
“I am very old,” was my reply.
He squinted at me with his already squinty eyes. Then he looked around the place, as if for the first time. And it might help to know here that the Green Street was last remodeled in 1935. You know, when Franklin Roosevelt was president. It was originally done in an Art Deco style, which should be really cool. Bold colors and wild geometric shapes. But the glamour had faded over the years.
Like literally faded.
We used to have gold wallpaper, but now most of the shine had worn off and it looked like faded tinfoil. The cool old light fixtures hadn’t been wired in years and collected dust on the walls beneath some bad fluorescents. And the concessions counter looked more like an Old Country Buffet than Radio City Music Hall. In short: The Green Street looked like something that used to be awesome, but was now very not-awesome, and possibly full of black mold.
The man took all this in and then turned back to me.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said.
“Free country,” said Griffin from beside me, radiating THC.
I gave him a look. The man’s gaze bounced around the room.
“Does anybody actually come to see movies here?” he asked.
He seemed genuinely curious, like the concept was
totally mind-blowing to him. Before I could say anything, though, Lucas chimed in from behind the counter, stuffing a handful of popcorn in his mouth straight from the
“We cater to an elite clientele,” he said. “True cineastes!”
The man looked at Lucas like he had just blown a particularly foul odor in his direction.
“Ah,” he said. “Cineastes.”
My feelings at the moment were tough to pin down. On one hand, I wanted to murder Lucas for being such a pretentious ass. But I also wanted to hug him for being so wholly himself in the face of this dude. I wanted to start crying. But I also didn’t want to show weakness in front of the enemy. Oddly enough, I also felt like going back into the rat closet. Life had been easier in there.
I was supposed to say something now—that much was clear—but I didn’t know what to say. So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to say: I quoted a movie. I have a lot of them memorized. All those post-movie discussions with dad had carved them into my mind.
Here’s what I came up with:
“Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead!”
The man watched me carefully. Then, after a few seconds, he furrowed his sizable brow, and turned around to walk out the door of the theater. At just that moment, however, Sweet Lou, the organ player happened to be showing up for work. She was very old, and quite large, and she walked with an amazing gold-topped cane. And when the polo man opened the door, Sweet Lou wedged herself past him, stomping out her cigarette on the threadbare carpet of the theater in the process.
“Watch it, honcho,” she said.
Then she walked off. The man looked down at the
smoldering cigarette butt, then at Lou disappearing into the theater, paying him absolutely no attention. He left the building then without uttering another word. When he was gone, Lucas walked over and stood beside me.
“Was that a line from Gladiator?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “It was.”
“Oh,” he said. “Huh.”
Behind us at the concession stand, the popcorn was starting to burn.
This Book Is Not Yet Rated is coming April 9th!