Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The Rhett way to handle awkward moments

I’ve spent a lot of my life slinking away from uncomfortable situations, hoping that if I slowly slope sideways I might quietly disappear as the screen fades to black, without anyone noticing I have left the scene. Which may be why I still remember Alan’s cinematic approach to awkward situations.

He was the assistant manager of the city’s main movie theater when I was a reporter on the local evening newspaper, and serving as its film critic in my spare time. Alan loved movies but was an unlikely front-of-house man. Slightly dumpy, eyes blinking behind round glasses, and with a penchant for dark suits and thin black ties, he looked like an uncharacteristically jolly undertaker.

Gone With the Wind was running at Alan’s place, on one of its regular revival re-releases—it’s something you do have see on the big screen to really appreciate, after all. One night, just a couple of minutes shy of the end of the near-four-hour classic, there was a crunching sound, and the screen went blank as the remaining film spewed out of the projector.

Having just invested most of their evening in Rhett and Scarlett and their tempestuous relationship, the patrons were, needless to say, less than happy. Frankly, my dear, they gave a damn. Had I been him I would have been tempted to find something very important to do in the back office, but Alan swung into action with style.

He quickly recruited one of the staff who was putting on her coat to go home, at the end of a shift punching tickets and serving ice creams. Then he walked with her down to the front of the theater. He apologized for the breakdown, acknowledged the audience’s frustration, offered refunds or return tickets, and then asked how many wanted to know how the film ended? Then he and his assistant acted out the final moments to cheers, an unlikely Rhett and Scarlett.

By moving towards difficulty, he diffused tension. He admitted the problem, he did what he could to rectify things, and he did it all with a splash of style. I try to remember that when things unspool in life, and I want to exit stage-left. Stepping up is the better move. Call it doing the Rhett thing.

Though it’s not part of the life lesson I got, there’s a cute postscript to the story, too. Not only did Alan salvage his theater’s reputation, he won an unexpected few minutes of fame. After my write-up in the newspaper about his reenactment, Alan and his assistant were invited on national television to recreate the scene one more time, in full costume.

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