The scene reminded me of the 1971 experiment on authority which suggested why Nazis conformed, only instead of cells with prisoners there was an IMAX movie theater full of Star Wars nerds.
My numbered wristband revealed when I could enter the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum the night Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened. I would be the 362nd nerd in the theater because I arrived only 90 minutes before the showing instead of 630 minutes like the luckiest nerd, Number 1.
Screw this. I cut through the pack, weaving between ropes, to stand with my friend Griffin who had arrived 150 minutes early.
“Do not cut in line or stand out of order!” a uniformed man who was standing outside the roped area screamed to the moviegoers. “You will enter the theater single-file! We will check your wristband! If you are out of order we will remove you! There will be no saving seats!”
Nerds began chattering, asking other nerds “What number are you?” to ensure they lined properly. When nerds asked about my number, I said, “I’m just standing with my friend,” and pocketed my right hand.
“Good luck, I hope you make it,” nerds said patting me on the back.
The line began moving and solemn nerds shuffled towards the leader, the man checking wristbands, in front of the theater. I quickly considered what to say to that man justifying my disorder in as few words as possible. My confidence grew, remembering that I was young and strong and I teach classes on how to write in plain language for my profession.
“This is wrong,” Griffin said. “Let me handle this.”
I looked at my livid friend, Number 158, who always supports social justice and is never afraid to speak up. “Ok. Thanks for sticking up for me,” I said.
Terror overtook me when just eight nerds stood between us and Wristband Checker. “150,” he yelled and I searched for a hidden tunnel under my feet, a ram to sacrifice, or anything else to help me escape.
The line shortened even more and I could see three nerds standing outside the roped area next to a burly security guard. They were caught. Before I could turn back, Wristband Checker yelled “158.”
Griffin, animated and high-pitched, started in rapid fire. “My friend goes in with me he had cancer twice and couldn’t stand in line with me that long his hip bone was removed due to childhood cancer!”
Wristband Checker, who didn’t look in our eyes and saw us only as numbers, grabbed my arm and said, “362. . . to the side! You can’t enter yet. Wait until you are called.”
“But he wouldn’t have been able to stand with me for two and a half hours!” Griffin fought back.
“I can’t let him in.”
“I’m sorry, I tried!” Number 158 said to me, walking away.
I drooped and watched as hundreds of other nerds entered, taking the best seats. The security guard looked down at the two-inch lift in the sole of my left shoe, which I need to walk after cancer left that leg shorter. He said in a voice softer than I had expected, “You should have taken the disabled entrance. There’s a special entrance upstairs for you people. I wish you took the disabled entrance.”
A young woman joined us segregated nerds. “That’s my fiancé!” she said, looking towards a young man walking away and miming something like, “I’ll come for you later, I promise.”
She was Number 410 and he was Number 279. “You are going to split up an engaged couple?” she said almost in tears.
“You were out of line,” Wristband Checker said, his focus already having moved on to Number 280’s wristband.
“Nothing he can do. He has to follow orders,” the guard told her.
“Get those people back!” Wristband Checker instructed the guard, pointing to us. “They’re too close to the ropes.”
We retreated from the ropes and from the security guard who had a gun, or maybe a light saber? I suddenly forgot where and who I was.
Twice the guard asked me, “Who are you again?”
It was easy for him to forget amid the chaos we marching nerds caused. “I’m Number 362,” I said.
“I told you you should’ve taken the disabled entrance,” he said again.
After Number 361 entered, the guard stopped Wristband Checker. “I got Number 362 here!” he said, sweeping me into the dark theater as if it were a hidden cellar.
That man saw my humanity and I won’t forget him.
I followed the other nerds down the hallway and up stairs towards empty seats when I spotted Griffin in the middle of the fourth row, a great location that allowed the 85-foot-wide screen to occupy her entire visual field. “Hey!” I said.
“Hey you made it, thank God! I even saved a seat for you.”
I didn’t ask how she did it. I sat beside Griffin and eyed my right wrist. For years hospital wristbands branded me a “cancer patient,” and now I was branded a “lesser nerd.” Rage began bubbling.
Then I beat the authoritarian Wristband Checker by forgetting he exists when the screen illuminated my life for two and a half hours with bastard children and cute robots. I felt for the end of the wristband inside the loop and pinched it with my thumb and the knuckle of my forefinger. In one yank I ripped it apart and thought, as I did after finishing treatment for both my first and second cancers, never again . . . never again.