I Went to See “Citizen Kane”

Seth Tisue / seth@tisue.net
October 1998

originally published in Monk Mink Pink Punk #5
  I went to see “Citizen Kane” today. According to the Chicago Reader, it was showing at the Northbrook Civic Center in the afternoon, so I had to skip school for the day. After a late night of Kozmik Bowling last night, I slept until 11:15. By the time I got up and got myself together it was too late to get to Evanston in time to catch the Pace bus out to Northbrook. So much for Plan A. Plan B was to ride the el downtown and catch a Metra train to Northbrook out of Union Station.

I didn’t have time to eat any breakfast before I left my apartment and I was really hungry. When I got to the el stop I went into the little store there to buy some donuts but when I got up to the counter I opened my wallet and there was no money in it. I had spent all my money at the bowling alley on pinball, air hockey, and Lethal Enforcer. I briefly debated whether to go to the Cash Station in the bank next door but I was afraid I would miss the 12:35 train as there was very little time to spare. So I got on the el and rode downtown.

I fucked up my right foot on Monday

By the time the train reached the Jackson stop it was 12:20 or so, and I realized that if I changed to the Blue Line like I had planned I would definitely not get to Union Station in time. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll take a taxi.” I hobbled up to street level — I fucked up my right foot on Monday, running — and as I emerged into the sunlight I realized I’d forgotten I had no money. I was going to have run the half mile or so to Union Station. It was 12:25. So I alternately dashed (with my left foot) and lumbered (with my right foot) down Van Buren Street, really dying for something to eat now, and out of breath and all sweaty because my coat was too hot for the weather but it would be too awkward to take it off and carry both coat and backpack while running.

About halfway there I remembered that my watch is intentionally set several minutes fast, so I realized with relief that I was going to make it. I even had time to get money out of the Cash Station by the train platform. The machine gave me five crisp new redesigned twenties, the first ones I’ve owned. I paid the $1.50 service charge because it was another bank’s machine, and then immediately afterwards went around a corner and there was one of my bank’s cash machines. Grumbling and cursing, I got on my train and it pulled out of the station less than a minute later. Still no food.

I thought he’d said “Northbrook”

I was half asleep when the conductor announced “Morton Grove”. I thought he’d said “Northbrook”, so I grabbed my possessions and made a mad, limping dash for the door. Fortunately, I checked with the conductor before exiting and he informed me of my mistake. Three stops later the train arrived in Northbrook. Northbrook turned out to be a sleepy little town that gives the impression that it is much farther away from Chicago than it really is. I felt like I’d come farther than I really had.

The relish was dyed an unnatural shade of green

I ate lunch, greedily, at a hot dog place along the town’s main drag. The relish on my veggie burger was dyed an unnatural shade of green. I treated myself to a vanilla shake as a reward for my morning’s suffering and sat and finished the short story I was reading. Then I went outside and wandered up and down the main street looking for Walters Street, where the Northbrook Civic Center is.

Bold rectilinear massing, gold trim, steps up the front, that kind of thing

Unprepossessing, one story, semi-modern

I didn’t spot it on my own so I got directions from a guy behind the counter of an auto parts store. I found the street and then the building. The building I had in my mind’s eye was a sort of 1930’s, gray, WPA-style municipal building, Art Deco, bold rectilinear massing, gold trim, steps up the front, that kind of thing. The actual civic center was an unprepossessing one-story semi-modern brick building. It looked like there couldn’t be room inside to project a movie.

There was no sign on the door or in the tiny foyer about any movies, but there were two secretaries at desks behind a window. When I asked the one who wasn’t on the phone if this was the place for the movie she said “Oh yes” and led me to a room in the back of the building.

The room was classroom-sized and contained two groups of institutional folding chairs arranged in rows with a wide aisle between them to allow the light from the 16mm film projector in back to reach the screen in front without being absorbed by the backs of heads. Even though I was ten minutes early, nearly every chair was already filled with a senior citizen. A nice young man from the public library was letting them all know about the other movies that would be showing in weeks to come. “Even if you don’t like Jim Carrey,” he reassured them, “you’ll still like ‘The Truman Show’.” I was the only other person in the room under 60.

I felt the full moral authority of World War II

I took a chair at the near end of the front row, which meant that I was viewing the screen from a very oblique angle, at least 45 degrees. Soon I decided that this would not do. So when the nice young man stopped speaking, I picked up my chair and moved it to the back of the room, in the aisle, by the projector. An old man with a white mustache caught me doing this. “Now there young man,” he addressed me disapprovingly, putting his hand on my shoulder, “you shouldn’t be moving our chairs around.” I somehow knew that he was a war veteran, and through his hand, I felt the full moral authority of World War II bearing down on me. “We have them arranged in a pattern,” he explained.

“I’ll put the chair back right after the movie,” I offered. He reconsidered, and his voice softened slightly: “Well, all right, you can stay here.” Then it hardened again: “But next time, don’t be moving the chairs!” I thanked the war veteran and settled sheepishly into my chair for the movie. The nice young man shut off the overhead lights, but the venetian blinds behind the screen weren’t doing a very good job of keeping out the sunlight. I’d forgotten what it was like to watch a movie projected from a projector right there in the room with you instead of in a soundproofed projection booth. The humming and clacking took me back in time to the educational movies of junior high school.

The audience was very quiet during the movie and hardly laughed even at the funny parts. Exception: the man next to me. After especially good lines of dialog, he would make a sort of “hmmmph” sound. In fact, he must have been some kind of “Citizen Kane” buff, because at one point, without warning, he recited a line of dialog in unison with the movie: the line where Kane describes his wife as “a cross section of the American public.” Which you have to admit, is a pretty good line. The man got up and left not long afterwards, carrying several large bags. I guess he’d come just for that one line.

The pattern, evidently, was self-regenerating

After the movie I went to put my chair back where I had found it, like a good citizen. I was aghast to find that a new, identical chair had materialized in the space I had left empty. The pattern, evidently, was self-regenerating. I left my chair in the aisle and exited quickly, imagining the war veteran fixing the back of my head with the evil eye.

“A genius! He was such a genius!”

On the way out, two women were discussing the film. “A genius! He was such a genius!” said the first. “Oh yes,” said the second. “There won’t be another like him!” said the first.

I limped menacingly up to the register

The Pace bus to Evanston wouldn’t arrive for another twenty minutes, so I headed down the street to the White Hen Pantry. As I limped in to the store I remembered a friend telling me that I had an ominous manner of walking on my injured foot, as if I were mentally as well as physically unbalanced. So, in addition to coffee to keep me warm, I bought a large, round cookie covered with bright yellow icing and with classic Smiley Face (TM) eyes and mouth drawn on top in chocolate. I did my best to limp menacingly up to the register and fix the clerk with the evil eye as I set the happy cookie down on the counter, but he was oblivious; my talents were wasted on him.

He was in radio contact with the war veteran

Outside, I waited for the bus and just a few minutes later it pulled up at the stop. As I boarded, the driver warned me, “You take it with you!” I said, “What?” He said, “Your cup! You take it with you! Don’t leave it on the bus!” I looked down at my coffee cup. I’m not sure what gave him the impression I was planning on leaving it on the bus. Perhaps he was in radio contact with the war veteran at the civic center.

The bus arrived in downtown Evanston at 5:15. I took my coffee cup with me.