June 25, 2009

Top of the Shark

I had been home from work for fifteen minutes when I decided to take a nap. If I was going out at 10:00 PM on a weeknight, there was no way I'd make it without one.

In a strange intersection of luck and city planning, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival would be screening Jaws at Top of the Park. This is my sister's favorite movie, and I had never seen it all the way through, so we made nebulous plans to go. As the day inched closer, we each made offhand comments, "Oh, it's a Wednesday..." "What time do you think we'll get home?" desperately hoping the other would want to cancel, so we could go back to our hermitly/spinster ways. So it was surprising that at 9:50, we grabbed the last parking space in the Deuce and rolled out a fleece blanket to watch Sherrif Brody bust a cap in a killer Great White for the sake of Amity Island.

It was, in a word, spectacular.

The blankets in front of us were full of children. I questioned this move--not because of the content (although I wasn't allowed to watch scary movies until I was over the age of thirteen, when any resulting therapy was arguably my own fault). My question was, why would they enjoy it? Why would seven-, ten- and twelve-year olds sit sweating on the concrete on a school night to watch a movie made before their parents were born?

My parents took us to the park, and to the field for races, on long car rides. Things, I realize, that didn't cost any money. I had come prepared with a twenty, and it remained unbroken in my bag, along with the snacks and drinks I had packed from home.

As I sat on the ground in front of the giant inflatable screen in front of Rackham, I realized the setting itself was just as much--if not more--of a draw: the refreshment tents stayed open throughout the showing, wisely stocking up on popcorn and much-needed frozen yogurt. The moon was reduced to a thin, glowing crescent before disappearing completely, and the high-rise construction on Huron looked beautiful with the exposed bulbs shining out through its skeleton.

The movie was an excuse for the real reason we were out here: to enjoy these ephemeral summer nights--something it seems we're incapable of doing without an excuse. By giving us a destination, we're granted the rare permission to enjoy ourselves.

These kids weren't watching a free movie on a closed off street--they were watching a big-ass shark bite the hell out of a titanium cage. And they were screaming about it. My flip-flops lay discarded at the end of the blanket, my sister slapped at mosquitoes; I jumped behind her when Jaws broke through the water at the back of the Orca. We were all here for the same reason.

We cheered when the shark exploded. We cheered at all the best jokes. And--the true mark of a engaged audience--we cheered at the credits.

When the movie was over, my sister and I helped each other off the warm pavement and stumbled to the car, as we did after watching fireworks on the city hall lawn twenty years ago. As we were waved through the crosswalk, I wondered if any of the small bobbing heads would need a nap tomorrow. I slapped a mosquito.

At least they didn't have to drive.

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