I sat near the back with a program folded in my joined hands as composer Jerry Goldsmith took his position before the symphony to a polite flutter of applause.I wore the same dress I’d wear months later to my high school graduation.Ruffles on the cap sleeves, tiny cloth-covered buttons, narrow all the way down.An idea of adulthood I’d squeezed into too soon. Most likely I hadn’t told my friends I was here, but I would be clearing a special place amongst all the rock-concert ticket stubs in my scrapbook to add this one.

Although I like the way Joel and Ethan Coen try to circumvent the scandal of standing toe to toe with John Wayne’s ghost (might as well be Jesus) by emphasizing that their True Grit isn’t a remake but a literary adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, I’d like to take a crack at measuring the Coens’ 2010 effort against the 1969 True Grit anyway.

Gloria Harrison:  My summary of Tron: Legacy is this: it was a visually beautiful, highly entertaining Lady Gaga video.

Cynthia Hawkins:  I like that summary. I think anyone who thinks Tron: Legacy is either a good or bad movie based on its story is missing the point. It’s more than its story. Let me ask you this. What did the first Tron mean to you?

Hi again, Cynthia Hawkins! I guess this was inevitable-we’ve spoken about the past history of action films (or at least, that part of it that fell in the 1980s), we’ve waxed lyrical about The Expendables and how it’s a modern-day retelling of those older stories… but we haven’t covered the extensions of those series; your Predators, your Die Hard 4.0s, your-and I’m sorry to use this words on such an august site as TNB-your Crystal Skulls.

Man, I hated that film.

Note:  In case you’d like to watch the three-minute film version of this instead, I’m including it after the text.

45s I’ve kept wrapped in newspaper in the attic.These are all mine.Some doubling up in sleeves.Some pushing tears in the seams.Unwrapped, they slide against each other in my hands, collectively bigger than my grip.

Here is the evidence, my small thumbprints still sitting ghostly across the grooves, of the films a young me had tried to re-imagine as I went to sleep and the needle came to a stop with a click.

Here is the evidence of being a generation or two behind, of fitting in, of deep contradiction.

Two-dozen little shoe soles squeaked and squelched across the linoleum of the hallway.The teacher at our church school, leading the way, walked backwards for a few steps, winding the cord of her whistle around her finger.The whistle clacked against her rings.She pivoted to lead us into the library, and the squeaks turned to shuffling on the carpet in the dark.We could see the shapes of things we moved between – tables and shelves.We could see the projector and the screen, and with a click of sound the screen held a square of light and the square of light held our moving shadows.When we lowered to sit on a cleared space on the floor, there was a tingle at my fingertips that traveled all the way up my arm, across my chest, buzzing in my rib cage.A movie.

Kindergarten.Snack-time.Children quietly convey Chex mix softly rattling across paper plates to their desks.And the one with a wooden chair on her head, a cup half-filled with orange juice balanced on the seat, dancing the Steve Martin “wild and crazy guys” shimmy?That’d be me.Minutes before, I’d told some joke the other kids laughed at.It was all the encouragement I needed to spring my inner funny on them full tilt, let loose and be the me I was at home, the me who invented the make-the-corpse-laugh game and kept a rubber-worm fishing lure in a box with holes cut in it.What could be funnier than that?Except maybe a five-year-old shimmying with a chair on her head balancing a cup of orange juice.

Cynthia Hawkins:  Hi Simon Smithson! Here we are again like an ’80s action sequel striving to be bigger and badder than last time. I’d just like to note that for the occasion I’m wearing mirrored sunglasses and just lit a match off my husband’s five o’clock shadow for no reason at all.  In other words, I’m ready to discuss The Expendables.

SS: Hi, Cynthia Hawkins! I’ve been enjoying your cinema posts on TNB; given that people are discussing and deconstructing literature and music and poetry it seems only fair that film is included. I’m glad you’re picking up the slack on that front, and I’m glad you seem to have become TNB’s resident movie buff. However, for this particular piece I’m not even going to make an attempt to go highbrow or even to attempt a neat segue … because what I’d really like to discuss is ’80s action flicks. The ’80s (to me) seems to be when action movies really hit their stride. I’m talking Terminator, Aliens, Die Hard, Predator… First Blood, Tango and Cash, Commando. This was the golden age of guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Do you think there’s a defining quality, or qualities, to the action films that were such an iconic part of the 1980s?

CH: Why, hello, Simon Smithson! You don’t know how happy it makes me to take up any slack there might be in the TNB movie department. Finally, I feel as if my movie-geekness is being used for good instead of evil. And by evil I mean being unbeatable at Scene It on X-Box. It’s like I finally have a true purpose now, and that purpose is to talk about ’80s action flicks with Simon Smithson. I’d say ’80s action flicks were equal parts mullet, saxophone, slip-on shoes, and kicking ass. But more importantly, I think what seems to set the ’80s action flicks apart as a golden era is that they departed from the gritty realism of the ’70s action flicks and took action movies over the top. Everything was bigger and flashier — the actors, their personalities, the explosions. The same thing was happening in music as well, if you think about it. It’s like going from Boston to Motley Crue.

SS: Well, if you were to have any kind of life purpose, you probably couldn’t get better than talking about ’80s action flicks with yours truly.

Obviously, I’m kidding.

There’s no place for the word ‘probably’ in that sentence.

Do you think advances in special effects had anything to do with the hallmarks of the era? The technical ability catching up with the film-makers’s vision? Because you’re so right – reality went straight out the window. Suddenly, the archetypal story became the one guy, killing a whole bunch of other guys, in the most explosive ways possible, and kind of enjoying himself while he did it.

CH: Your description of the jubilant one-guy killing machine immediately brings to mind Bruce Willis yelling “Yippee ki yay, mother fucker!” in Die Hard. That has to be the quintessential ’80s movie moment. It has everything except a mullet. Now that you mention it, I don’t think the bombast of the era could have been facilitated without those advancements. But it’s funny to think of them as “advancements” now. I remember at the time The Terminator was, in true James Cameron fashion, supposed to be the second-coming of movies thanks to its use of the absolute latest in special effects. Watch that now, though, and it looks a bit chintzy by today’s standards.

In fact, it’s a little hard to pinpoint ’80s action films that do stand the test of time, whether that’s due to the special effects or not. They tend to be so very ’80s even when they aren’t supposed to be. Take Young Guns, for example. A western, so I’m veering a little from the action genre here, but even Billy the Kid has a mullet in Young Guns. And I’m pretty sure there’s a Casio on the soundtrack. The ’80s flicks unabashedly embrace the tastes and trends of the era in ways I don’t necessarily notice films in the decades after doing to that same degree. It’s not too much of a distraction for me, though. I love The Terminator anyway, even if a shot does look like an egg beater getting mangled in a high-school wood-shop vice. Since this is one of your favourite eras and genres, I’m wondering if there are a few that do stand the test of time for you — or if perhaps their rebellious refusal to do so might be part of their allure?

SS: I think you’re right – there’s so much about ’80s movies as a whole – not just action flicks – that are so soaked in the unique ambience of the decade that it’s impossible to see them as anything else. In terms of special effects, some films stand the test of time… some really don’t. So much of a film’s longevity comes down to storytelling, and so much comes down to how and what special effects are being used, and how judiciously – Aliens, for example. The menace is hinted at in darkness, and done with model work as opposed to the shoddy early-era CGI that started coming in afterwards. And it’s amazing how the monsters in Aliens look so much realer than the creature in Alien 3.

I think what makes an action film stand the test of time is – and I’m loath to say this, I really am – honesty. For want of a better word.

Take Die Hard, for instance. It was a new take on a genre that was still being figured out; the storyline was one everyman up against terrible odds, he’s human, he’s damaged, he keeps getting beaten down… then compare that to Die Hard 4.0, which is slick and highly-produced and had tens of millions thrown at it in post-production. Die Hard is, by far, the better, more memorable, and more re-watchable film. Because I think they were still taking risks and trying new things and working from an idea rather than market research and exit polls, as opposed to the hollowness of Die Hard 4.0. Even though, I guess, Die Hard was one of the films that moved action films into the ’90s.

So. Schwarzenegger. Stallone. Willis. Van Damme. Russell. Norris.

Any particular favourite? And why?

CH: I noticed you left Mel Gibson off that list. Does his sharp turn into utter misogynistic, racist madness cancel him out of ’80s flick glory? Talk about things that can make a movie largely unwatchable. Is it possible to watch his Three-Stooges flip-out scenes as Riggs in Lethal Weapon without inserting that weird animal huffing followed by something like, “And I’m gonna chop you up in little pieces and put you in the garden! Rawr!” Tsk, tsk, Mel. You coulda been a contenda.

Stallone. I’d have to say Stallone is the stand-out for the variety of iconic characters he portrayed, the success of the majority of his films, and the fact that his works span that entire decade (whereas someone like Bruce is just getting started at the end of it). Stallone’s characters tend to be dark, brooding outsiders, which always appeals to me because there’s something in that darkness that implies this person is capable of wreaking serious havoc without a moment’s notice. You have faith in this person no matter the odds.

It’s an interesting list you’ve created, though, because each of them had such strong and distinct personalities driving their films. And if there’s anyone I’d cross off it’d be because their personalities just don’t click with me. Chuck Norris for example (I think I just unleashed the hate mail kraken!). Norris’ films just seemed comparatively sub-par in my estimation and his characters weren’t quite compelling enough to remedy that for me. I know I’ll meet with dissenters on that score, and I’ll probably deserve it.

I expect you to answer this question of favourites now, because if I’m going out on a limb here you’re coming with me compadre!

SS: Mel has, unfortunately, lost all cachet with me. Even home-town pride only goes so far, you know?

I have to go for Stallone as well. He gets a lot of flak for his less cerebral roles (which, let’s be fair, sums up most of them), but I would have dinner with him any day of the week.

Admittedly, he would pay.

The guy wrote Rocky when he was 30 and won an Academy Award for it. Say what you like, that’s a better script than I see myself writing at 30. He threw himself into action roles – First Blood is a good movie too; there’s a reason the word ‘Rambo’ became synonomous with the genre – but there’s a lot of darkness and thought that went into Stallone’s performance. I’ve never actually seen a Norris film – I just suspect I wouldn’t care for him, and I don’t really feel any yearning to challenge that assumption.

It’s interesting you say ’80s flick glory – because there’s a lot of glorying going on in ’80s actions flicks. I can’t help but link it to the fact the US was riding high in the ’80s – there’s even a scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where they talk about how people aren’t patriotic any more, and Mac says ‘Not like we were in the ’80s!’

Your thoughts on this matter, Ms. Hawkins?

CH: You do realize that there are now parts of the U.S., Texas mostly, in which we’ll only be able to travel incognito due to our Norris sentiments. And I live in Texas. There’s such a fervour over Norris of late, and I haven’t figured out if it’s a joke (like nominating Carrie for prom queen) or if it’s genuine admiration for the guy. I think I’ll quietly tiptoe away from this one and move along…

Oh, I absolutely agree that the bigness of those movies is reflective of the bigness of America’s collective sense of self at the time. I’ve always suspected that the best way to get a handle on any era is through its pop-culture. That said, this is the U.S.A. of the ‘80s based on Rocky IV: “If all we have is a donkey cart to train on, we can still kick your ass. And we will do it to synthesizers. Now, step back and take in the awesomeness of my shimmery satin stars-and-stripes shorts.”

But this reminds me that as much as we love them, these films aren’t entirely representative. They’re largely white, and they’re largely male-centric. Your thoughts on this, Mr. Smithson? (It’s like I just dropped a grenade at your feet and ran away!)

…Okay, I’m starting to feel bad for sticking you with analyzing 80’s flicks for NOT ONLY issues of race but gender as well. I mean, sweet jeebus, how much time do you have? If you’d rather, I was also going to ask you about what you thought of Stallone’s comment regarding the “death” of the genre as it was envisioned in the 80’s. If you’d rather go that route, here’s the official set-up…

Ahem…

So, Stallone told the Los Angeles Times recently that he felt Tim Burton’s Batman marked the beginning of the end for the 80’s-style action hero such as himself. Suddenly, someone more ordinary, less ripped, someone like Michael Keaton, could be the hero. He also felt that the “visuals took over,” becoming more important than the individual. Do you think the 80’s brand of action movie and action hero is truly dead? And, if so, would you agree with Stallone’s assessment of why? I’ll remind you he’s still really big and he’s buying you dinner.

SS: But wasn’t that what America was all about in the ’80s? White guys kicking ass all over the world? Even if they had a decidedly non-American accent. Huh. Can I even say this? Wesley Snipes didn’t become an action hero until Passenger 57, in ’92. Jackie Chan didn’t break for Western audiences until Rumble in the Bronx, which was what, ’95? Bruce Lee was a one-off in Hollywood, so it was up to Chan to open the market for guys like Jet Li and Stephen Chow. Carl Weathers and Bill Duke were probably the most well-known mainstream non-white action stars, and Sigourney Weaver was the sole representative for female heroes (although she beat the other guys to the punch – Alien was ’79). I don’t know, can you think of many other non-white, non-male action stars with the same level of notoriety?

As for the Batman idea… that’s really interesting. I remember reading that there was an outcry surrounding Burton’s decision to go with casting Keaton; people thought Keaton, known up until then primarily for comedic roles, couldn’t pull it off. I would say Stallone was right on the money there – although I think visuals probably would have been just as over-the-top as they are now, if they’d just had the technology at the time to do them. There is an element of escalation – action movies have to keep upping the ante, it seems, which could be one of the reasons they’re becoming so blase and staid.

I think now we’re seeing a combination of 80s and 90s heroes. Bond and Bourne and Batman are just as buff as their 80s forebears ever were – it’s become mandatory to have an shot of someone’s amazingly-ripped body as they train or fight; every film since Fight Club has sought to include it (Pitt’s toplessly muscular fight scenes set the gold standard). But they also have to be psychologically fascinating – the best of both worlds?

And of course, that brings us to The Expendables

CH: I think you’ve covered it well! If there is, by chance, any non-white or non-male kick-ass action hero we’ve left off, I think the fact we’ve forgotten them says it all about their unfortunate status in the ‘80s. I distinctly remember watching Burton’s Batman and feeling really anxious at one point when it seemed Batman was utterly defeated. He’d just gotten the crap beat out of him. His Batmobile was trashed. And I thought, “What is this? Stallone would have had this wrapped up twenty minutes ago.” Of course, he manages, just barely, to get out of trouble, but Burton’s vision of the action hero introduced a level of vulnerability and ordinariness you just didn’t see often in the ’80s. I think that’s the direction the action hero has continued to go coupled with that attention to visuals Stallone laments.

So … The Expendables. Have you seen it? Is it on where you are? I’m going this weekend, so I’ll report back on it afterward. I was going to avoid it, actually, but after our chat I’m feeling a little nostalgic for that bunch. Except maybe Dolph Lundgren. I’m not feeling nostalgic for Dolph. At all. Until then… I really want to know two things. What is it about this era of action movies that appeals to you, and if I asked you to queue up one of these films to watch this evening which one would it be?

SS: Are you kidding? Lundgren is one of the unmoveable Scandinavian pillars of the action genre. He’s blonde death incarnate. At least, he’s blonde death incarnate up until the last five minutes of any film, when he usually gets iced by the hero. Did you know he has a master’s degree in Chemistry, speaks seven languages, and competed in the Olympics? Which makes two ex-Olympians in The Expendables, along with Statham (and yes, it will shortly be on where I am, and yes, I am going to see it).

I think the simplicity of the concept is what appeals to me. There’s no pretense in ’80s action flicks – the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and an explosion will, most times, take care of any problems admirably. Most Hollywood movies – most movies, really – despite how high their aspirations may be, don’t really have all that much higher-level functioning to them as a matter of course. Which is OK, because, honestly, how much philosophy and understanding of the human condition can you fit into two hours of running time? Sometimes it’s nice to see something that dispenses with any kind of effort to be anything but gun porn.

Any one of those films? Damn. You know, I might go with the original Terminator. It’s been a very long time since I saw that film. Did you know that in every James Cameron film that Michael Biehn stars in, Biehn gets bitten in the hand?

I wish Snipes and Van Damme could have made it into The Expendables. That would have been perfect.

So how about you? Any single ’80s action movie?

CH: I do appreciate Lundgren for one thing: uttering the words “I must break you.”

I have to say that Die Hard, First Blood, and the first Terminator are all movies I watch more than the normal person should. So I’m going to follow your lead and pick something I haven’t seen in a very long time. Predator. For one thing, it offers one of my other favourite movie quotes with Arnold’s “you one ugly mudda fucka.” For another, it has Carl Weathers who survives just slightly longer than most non-white people do in ’80s action movies. And then there’s the awesome heat vision special effects, the jungle razing explosions, and an alien enemy who leaves its prey hanging like strips of beef jerky in the trees. What’s not to love?

SS: Nothing.

Okay.  I am not an orderly, neat-freak sort of person.  Though I have an inexplicable, longstanding repulsion of bathtub drains, as in if I accidentally touch one I will spend at least ten minutes convincing myself I’m not going to vomit by thinking happy thoughts about polar bear babies with my eyes scrunched shut.  There’s just something about a bathtub drain being the equivalent of a bathtub’s anus, maybe, that implies it will never, ever be clean no matter what you do to it.  But I am not neurotic nor fastidious nor particularly organized. I mean, you should see the rest of my bathroom.  Maybe once a year, we chisel into five inches of residue to remind ourselves the bathroom countertop is white.  Things stick to it.  Cotton balls.  Band-aid wrappers.  And stay there for months like bug carcasses in a barnyard web.  I should be repulsed by the toothpaste tumor amassing in the bottom of the toothbrush cup.  My friend showed me an animation of what happens when you flush the toilet and your toothbrush is nearby.  Think nuclear fallout in a bathroom-shaped radius.  Think fecal matter instead of ashes.  I should be repulsed by that.  My bathroom says it all:  I’m a mess, but there’s a small, bathtub-drain-sized chance I could completely flip out and be anything but.  I am an O.C.D. time bomb.

If Robert Duvall were some kind of cult leader we’d all be in trouble. The man is a marvel.With the tiniest of adjustments in facial expression alone he conjures such a surge of adoration that I would wade through piranha infested waters for him, pant hems hitched, without a moment’s hesitation. Consider his 1962 film debut as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.One jolting sidestep out of the shadows, clenched jaw loosening, eyes gathering crinkles at the corners, and Duvall transforms the boogey-man of neighborhood lore into man most likely to snuggle with baby bunnies.In roughly two wordless minutes of screen time at that.You can’t blame Scout for wanting to take his hand.He’s one of two actors I’d feel compelled to squeeze like my own grandfather if I ever saw him in person (the other being Michael Caine).Sure, he played the only bastard to ever shoot John Wayne in a movie. Sure, he loves the smell of napalm in the morning. Sure, he’s had many sinister turns as an actor in his roughly fifty year career, but he can so easily wipe any bad sentiments clean with the slightest smiling squint of his eyes it’s scary.

If you imagine in a dream some sort of bank vault, your subconscious will instinctively shove all your secrets in there, typed single-spaced on resume paper with “confidential” stamped across the top in red ink.That’s how it works in Inception, anyway.This is your brain: an empty dining room with sliding doors and paper lanterns.This is your brain with secrets: a combination safe behind a painting on said dining room wall.My, aren’t you clever?My brain, however, keeps its secrets in a hollowed-out coconut guarded by Gilligan. Or is it Mary Anne?I’m not telling!

Take note.We are one month away from my birthday (Aaron Dietz directed my attention to a Tauntaun sleeping bag, if you’d like to start up a collection), and every year on my birthday I go see a movie.Which isn’t so unlike any other time of year, except that any other time of year I can choose not to go to the movies if there’s nothing good on.But on my birthday, I MUST GO TO THE MOVIES. I must because somehow squashing down in a theater seat with a contraband package of HoHos has become a tradition that if not practiced will result in meteors pelting the earth, puppies and kittens spontaneously combusting, and Sandra Bullock winning an Oscar.

The Northpark Mall Theater. The Color of Money. 1986. I was getting ready to move again. Just thirty miles north this time, and mom and dad had arranged for a couple of kids from the new school to take me to the movies. Dad knew one of their parents through work. A football player and a cheerleader … and me, the kid who built miniature set designs out of shoe boxes in drama class and recited lines from All the President’s Men at random and set her alarm clock so she could phone in the answer to the morning quiz on the oldies station – you know, the kind when they play a two-second clip and you have to guess what it is.

Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dollarhyde, aka the Red Dragon, hastens, naked and tattooed, down a flight of stairs, his johnson wagging in every direction as if sketching an imaginary landscape. It’s like a character all its own in this scene, Fiennes’ member, with its own momentum and its own agenda (getting ready for the starving artist’s show in the lobby of the Marriott) and most likely its own spot in the end credits. I don’t know about the latter. I didn’t stay long enough to find out. There are some things you just don’t want to know about your friends, like the maximum circumference their penis can chart.

My friendship with Fiennes began the way most friendships begin, as a mere idea hatched in Jane Austen’s drawing room. “Take a turn about the room with me, my dear Margaret,” I said to my other friend who is not Ralph as I latched an arm around hers. “I’d hoped to touch upon the subject of one Mr. Fiennes. Or more to the point, how we might best make his acquaintance.” And thus we plotted as we ambled past the diminutive writing table with the “do not touch” sign amidst the inkwell and papers arranged to look as if Ms. Austen herself had just abandoned it for the loo. I scraped a finger along the table’s edge. Galway, London, Chawton, then the theater in Shoreditch. This was our travel agenda, and it ended with Ralph in Richard II.

“We can’t very well blurt out, ‘we love your movies, we’re such big fans,’ and have him think us common!” I gasped.

“Of course not,” Margaret said with the lingering sensibleness of her Mennonite upbringing. She’d grown up in a German colony in Mexico without ever having watched a single episode of the “The Love Boat.” I’m still not quite sure how she managed to be my friend without the common denominator of Captain Stubing. All of my Aloha-Deck jokes fall on deaf ears. “We’ll have to engage Mr. Fiennes in the sort of intellectual repartee befitting his status.” Or maybe she’d just pointed to a pot on the floor and asked, “Is that where they had to take a piss?” I don’t really remember.

But I do know that as we made our way into the Admiral’s room of the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton we’d decided we’d wait that next night near the stage and then say really smart, scripted things about Ralph Fiennes’ mother being a writer or us being writers or us having taught Shakespeare or the theater being Alfred Hitchcock’s old soundstage.

After the performance, however, there was no one left in the auditorium except the janitor sweeping between the aisles and around our feet. It wasn’t until we were finally thrown out that we found Ralph Fiennes swirling something in a glass at the bar in the lobby. He stood in a leather jacket with his ribs pressed against the padded edge, a bag at his feet. I signaled for Margaret to go order a drink, which put us right beside him. She sucked down a gin and tonic like someone who’d just belly-crawled across the Sahara, exhaled the smell of Christmas trees, and ordered another.

Then Ralph Fiennes turned to me beside him and asked, “How did you like this space for a theater? Wonderful, isn’t it? It was Alfred Hitchcock’s soundstage.”

Here’s the problem with meeting someone whose work you ardently admire. Someone is going to come away from this moment looking like a jackass. I can’t even begin to explain what happened next except maybe to say that Ralph Fiennes was to me as water is to a toaster. I could practically hear the sizzle and pop of my nervous system shorting out as one eye fluttered shut and my right shoulder began to twitch. When my teeth clamped down on my trembling lower lip, aching under the pressure of a vast smile, the tremors erupted in every other direction instead. My arms, my knees, my fingers – there was a blip on the seismology readings that evening, and it was all me.

What was that I was planning to say about Hitchcock? Gone. It was all right. I was just to follow Margaret’s lead. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to remember the script. I had Margaret. Margaret would remember the script. I turned to her, awaiting her answer to the question. It was all going to be okay.

“Oh my god!” Margaret yelled in Ralph Fiennes’ face. “You were so beautiful in Oscar and Lucinda! We loved it we love all your films we love you oh my god!”

As she took a long swig of the drink in her fist, Ralph Fiennes fixed his eyes on the theater program beginning to make an audible flapping noise in my hands. “Would you like me to autograph that?” he asked as he padded his pockets for something to write with.

Margaret rummaged through her handbag. “Found one!” When I scraped the pen from Margaret’s palm, I dropped the program. Ralph Fiennes caught it somewhere along its frenetic, flapping journey from my hand to the floor, narrowly missing a head-butt with me lunging after it. When both of us were upright again, he delicately worked at taking the pen from my wavering fist before the pen could stab him in the eye. All that’s missing here are the slide-whistle sound effects and the laugh track.

“Well,” he said, scribbling his name and then trying to fit the program and pen back into my hands, “I should go. It was nice to meet–”

“So nice to meet you too!” Margaret beamed with the empty glass in one hand and her handbag scrunched up in the other.

As he walked away and out the door, my eye magically fluttered open, my shoulder relaxed, my limbs went slack, and Margaret leaned to say, “I don’t know what happened. I just couldn’t remember all that shit we thought up.”

“That was bad,” I said in the pained wince this memory would elicit forever after. “I almost stabbed Ralph Fiennes. In the eye.”

“Oh, psh, it could have been worse,” she assured me.

She looped her arm in mine and out we walked, decidedly less Jane Austen and more Bridget Jones.

Following Ralph Fiennes’ path out the main entrance and onto the sidewalk, we stood in the lamplight watching his leather jacket retreat into the shadows as he walked further and further away from us. When it seemed he was well out of earshot, Margaret and I grabbed each other’s hands, jumped up and down, my heels clomping, her curls springing, both of us squealing something like, “We met Ralph Fiennes! We met Ralph Fiennes! And he was so totally into us, we could have easily been his hot little side dishes!” We stopped, slapped each other’s shoulders, caught our breath, and then realized that wasn’t Ralph Fiennes we’d watched walk down the street. That was another man in another leather jacket, because Ralph Fiennes was standing maybe three feet from us in the other direction, head ducked, fingertips to temple sheltering his face, waiting on a cab at the street corner.

“Oh shit,” I breathed and nudged Margaret’s arm to get her attention.

“Oh shit,” she said when she saw what I saw.

I’d had to work myself up to seeing Ralph Fiennes again in anything after that. I’d had to talk myself through buying the tickets to The Red Dragon. There are many factors at play here, but mostly it’s that when you’ve met an actor in person it’s so much harder not to see the person behind the act. Instead you see someone peering into the audience thinking, “Good gawd, there’s that American jackass from the bar.” It didn’t help that he forever became known in my house as “mommy’s friend Ralph” whenever everyone else needed a good laugh. A little time had passed, though, and I thought I could face it. Or pretend it never happened. And it was all going okay until he decided to bound down the stairs naked. Turns out what’s even worse than feeling embarrassed for myself is feeling embarrassed for Ralph Fiennes’ schlong.