Contentedly Alone in a Crowd

Sunday, November 29, 2015 - 7:14 am

Contentedly Alone in a Crowd

Technology breeds isolation and encourages us to huddle at home, able to do whatever we want, 24/7, without even bothering to get dressed.

Why pick up the phone to catch up with a friend when you can email, text, tweet/retweet, snap, or “like’’ their latest selfie on Facebook? Why meet for coffee when you can Skype? Why leave the house at all when you can shop, order food, stream movies and TV on-demand, take virtual museum tours, or watch real-time weather while sitting in front of the computer?

This holiday weekend, I plead guilty to all of that and more.

Thus, a flannel shirt, lined in fleece, is on its way from L.L Bean, avoiding braving Black Friday. I “talked’’ to seven people without vocalizing, unless crooning “good boy’’ to the dog counts. I refilled a prescription at Walgreens on the telephone keypad and “asked’’ for delivery.

I “watched’’ a cold front move off the East Coast on The Weather Channel and checked that my brother’s flight Alitalia had landed safely. I “saw” Gustav Klimt’s gold leaf paintings online without strolling ten blocks to the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue.

(Ben Raynal / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved.)

I streamed several missed episodes of The Good Wife, confusingly out of order because I usually see it in real time, Sundays at 9 pm. I wonder if I’m the last person on earth who prefers what might be called “appointment TV” when television was still the nation’s shared hearth.

But after two days, I was sick of myself, claustrophobic instead of cozy, ready to substitute jeans and a sweater for pajamas, eager to hear other people breathe and eavesdrop on their conversation. So with a little more tap-tap-taping, I found the theaters and times and watched trailers for the three movies that interest me: Carol, Brooklyn, and Creed.

Then I turned off the computer, where all things are possible and all questions answered immediately thanks to Google. Remember the good old days when questions were often answered with “I don’t know?”

Movie theaters are enchanting places, especially the two within walking distance of my apartment, and never more so since I qualified for the senior discount. Then I don’t have to calculate whether the complexity of the subway route entitles me to take a cab, or even two. Carol is in the two-taxi zone, which would cost upwards of . Brooklyn would likely mean a subway there and a cab back. Creed won, but the others will surely follow between now and Sunday.

(Blake Patterson / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved.)

If the usher doesn’t catch me, I can smuggle in bottled water from home and maybe a container of yogurt. That means the giddy frisson of being a “bad kid” and the satisfaction of not paying usurious sums for popcorn and soda.

If I’m not late, as I usually am, I can sit on the aisle so my legs can squirm at will. If I am late, I’ll survive the front row, a dreadful vantage when you wear bifocals but, as a solo movie-goer, there’s no need to apologize to companions who would justifiably be annoyed.

I know. I know. This persnickety person — me — is not your ideal movie companion. That’s OK. I prefer to go alone and always have. Once the lights go down, there’s no talking anyway so, unlike dining, it’s not a social event. Headed down the escalators afterward, I’m grateful to avoid active participation in the standard movie post mortem. Dissecting what I’ve just seen, on command, too quickly breaks the spell, as it did for Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall.

So why not stay home, under an afghan with a cup of steaming mint tea, and watch Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy on Turner Classic Movies? Why not use the DVR, the TiVo, or the ever-updated selection that my cable company provides for free? Why not binge-watch six seasons, or 86 episodes, of The Sopranos, which would entertain for at least a week?

Those questions suggest you are a hermit, or worse still, suffer from agoraphobia. They suggest you have no friends or family. They suggest a surfeit of bathrobes, nightgowns, and bunny slippers but no actual clothes. Or else they suggest that a dark theater, warmed by the breath of other like-minded strangers, is not a magical place to be.

A friend, himself surrounded by people this holiday season, reminded me that a passion for movies alone is not limited to the solitary among us. “It’s a way to escape the claustrophobia of loving but intense family intimacy, for concentrated periods of time,’’ he said. Except he didn’t say it; he wrote it. In an email.

That “conversation” is about to end, lest I’m late for a movie, which actually starts at a non-negotiable time. I’m dressed. The dog is fed. And before long I’ll be contentedly alone in a crowd.

(Leo Hidalgo / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved.)

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is a retired New York Times correspondent, who spent 30 years there covering all manner of subjects from sports to autism, aging and major earthquakes and wild fires in California. She is the author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — And Ourselves and creator of the “New Old Age” blog, now defunct, at the Times.
Prior to joining the Times, Ms. Gross worked for Long Island Newsday and Sports Illustrated magazine. Post-retirement, she volunteers mentoring New York City high school students and is trying her hand at ceramics.

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