My friends and I did go to see the 1998 version of Godzilla three times in the theaters. This is a story about that although not what actually happened.
We graduate high school in four and a half weeks but first: Godzilla. On the balance, we’ve spent more time planning for Godzilla. Ivan explained it best: graduation is already set. Maybe some of the dumb kids have to sweat passing classes or getting credits, but the four of us have been cruising for months, or at least since I found out I wouldn’t fail gym for cutting most of the last quarter. We aren’t planning the ceremony, we don’t have to pick out clothes, people will tell us where to line up and where to sit, parents will plan the parties and order the macaroni salad and the cake with our pictures on it. But none of those parents or teachers or guidance counselors got us set up with Godzilla. We had to figure that out ourselves.
It started last summer when we saw the trailer where Godzilla’s foot came down and crushed a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, which was a clever way of saying fuck dinosaurs and fuck the movie you’re about to see which was The Lost World, which we still argue about on roughly forty percent of car rides: Henry and I pro, Chuck and Ivan more con.
Godzilla would obviously not invite this kind of controversy.
Since the trailer, we have been thinking about all the ways that we will agree on the awesomeness of Godzilla, such as: destroys buildings, kills thousands. And: more hands-on than the aliens from Independence Day. And also: doesn’t give a fuck. The point was not so much fuck dinosaurs as fuck everything because Godzilla will lay waste to all of it. After a few more trailers, thinking about the ways Godzilla would rule turned into thinking about the one way that we will see Godzilla: at the good mall in Albany, first showing, the night it comes out.
On that night, Henry is grounded.
Actually, Henry is never grounded. He just isn’t allowed out on school nights. Or some weekend nights. He’s on the track team. It’s a lot like being grounded.
The movie opens on a Tuesday. When Godzilla should be stomping on his first victim or fifty victims, Henry should be changing out of the track clothes his parents let him wear to the dinner table and sitting down to watch HBO with his homework in the background. Henry has become an expert at expanding the parameters of what he can do at home, because he is there so often. The HBO doesn’t bother his parents, maybe because his dad will watch anything it shows that isn’t animated, as if a well-dressed executive at the network has personally approved every movie, as if anyone has approved anyone watching Arli$$.
But HBO isn’t showing Godzilla until at least May 1999 so we need to get Henry out of track practice early and tell his parents that track practice ran late.
Chuck’s minivan is key — because it is a minivan and it is his; a gift from his parents when they got sick of minivans. To the layperson, it still looks like it belongs to them. Only keener eye might look at the Radiohead and Picard/Riker ’96 bumper stickers and think: gotcha, nerd.
If the track team or the track coach, Coach K, whose beard even somehow looks taut and muscular and wind-resistant, have any keen eyes, they do not point them at Chuck’s van when we pull up to the practice fields across the street from the school and honk. Henry looks around, more nervous than he should be, but unnoticed. He calls out to the coach and gestures to the van, saying something with the words family and ride and gotta, something without the word Godzilla.
Coach K says something back, probably about how he’s supposed to have them until seven on Tuesdays, maybe promising that he’ll expect double laps tomorrow, just to assert his ultimate authority over the mere possibility of his athletes’ families. He even takes a few steps in our direction, and I see Chuck shudder, I see him come real close to jamming his foot on the gas and shooting the minivan into a pole, because Chuck knows the coach; he quit track back in eighth grade and K’s beady unblinking eyes have followed him through the hallways ever since. Coach K teaches science, secondarily to and possibly as a means of recruitment for the track team, and Chuck is one of the skinny kids who washed out, really was better at science, no matter how fast he looked, and much to the coach’s disinterest.
We’re all skinny enough for track, except me. I’ve been scrawny and fattish and medium and never in shape, regardless of size.
I say to Chuck, easy, and I don’t know if this keeps him from hitting the gas but it at least counteracts Ivan saying GO before Henry has made it safely through the car door. This would have turned into a joke about speeding away and maybe circling back and we are behind schedule, do not have time for the better, more elaborate jokes.
Henry makes it in, demands sodas.
We have Surge.
We have forty-four Surges.
Our town was a test market for Surge last year – they installed machines on the college campus and in one of the parks, selling cans for a quarter. When we got wind of this, we sent Ivan and our buddy Eddie to both locations with pillowcases and a couple of duffel bags, and a pooled total of fifty-six dollars in cash. They turned that into 230 cans of Surge and there was an equation that explained how this saved us money long-term but it began with the premise that Surge does not taste like malted ringpops.
But we’ve been drinking it, so maybe the math works out.
Henry clears two Surges before we’re on the highway. They’re hidden and not hidden in caches around Chuck’s minivan, the main thing we’ve done to trick it out, apart from the stickers.
When we hit the exit out to the expressway, it’s Ivan’s job to put in the cassette and to have made the cassette thirty minutes to cover the drive and to have chosen songs that we can and will sing at the top of our lungs.
Ivan has done one of these jobs. He has chosen songs for singing. Two of them are on a cassette, mixed together with Godzilla roars throughout the ages along with the occasional cries of Rodan and King Ghidorah, and Ivan claims Monthra although none of us can hear it. There’s also dialogue from Stargate and Independence Day remixed to create new conversations over the breakdown of a version of “Paranoid Android” remixed in the style of Fatboy Slim.
The mix has been so time-intensive and computer-punishing that Ivan has not been able to finish it. After the second song, he switches to a stack of CDs, playing out the tracklist he selected but had no time to mix together and commit to tape. In the brief commotion of clattering jewel cases, Eddie jumps out of the way-back of the minivan and screams and we all scream in response, in the following descending order of surprise: Henry, me, Ivan, Chuck. Chuck, at least, presumably picked Eddie up and knew for sure he was in the vehicle, though it’s vaguely conceivable that Eddie slipped in after school and hid there until now, or at least that Chuck and Ivan forgot he was back there. Chuck, Ivan, and Eddie all live out in the nice developments outside of downtown, went to a different elementary school from me and Henry; I don’t know what goes on out there except everyone gets their drivers licenses right away.
Eddie reports, as Ivan cues up “El Scorcho,” that the girls are meeting us there, which is almost as big a shock as Eddie jumping out and screaming because I was under the distinct impression that the girls were putting their foot down over this Godzilla business. The trailers must have worn them down: in front of The Lost World, in front of Men in Black, then this spring the full-court press of Spice World, The Replacement Killers, Wild Things, The Big Hit – it’s been a banner year for the Sony corporation as far as we’re concerned and Godzilla will be the banner hanging above that banner that says FUCK ALL OTHER BANNERS NO MATTER HOW AWESOME THEY ARE. And they were often awesome. We almost flipped Chuck’s van in the mad rush to make it to see Wild Things on the schoolnight that the last of us, that’s me, turned seventeen. I skipped kindergarten and I cannot imagine what it would like to be in eleventh grade right now, while all my correct friends would be off seeing Godzilla without me. I’d know a completely different set of girls, too, and I can’t imagine some other set of girls agreeing to see Godzilla, especially because these girls, however reluctant tonight, at least really liked Wild Things, high-fived after it, swear to God, so they really are pretty cool, even if sometimes it seems like we need Eddie there to interpret for us. Like if they’re not in front of the theater at the good mall in Albany, Eddie will know where to find them, whereas the rest of us would have to either admit we don’t know or pretend we don’t care. Waiting outside a movie theater for anyone else but these four guys, I’ve found, is usually a mistake.
Eddie doesn’t say much more about the girl situation because the music gets loud and Henry downs another Surge and we sing.
When we pull into the mall parking lot, Chuck gets out of the car and spits the blood he scraped up singing the climax of “How’s It Gonna Be.” We cough and clear our throats and Henry pounds one more Surge and we head into the mall.
The girls aren’t there and Eddie goes to find them. We get on the line. We have tickets already – Ivan came down here two weeks ago and when he found out the theater wasn’t selling tickets yet he convinced the manager to accept cash for vouchers stating that the first five tickets would be set aside for us, and when he came back this week, they were waiting for us at the box office, though I suppose there’s no way of proving he sold us the very first five.
While we’re waiting on the line, a reporter for the local news comes over and asks if she can interview us, probably on account of our clothes.
I should explain: we are all wearing green.
Chuck is wearing a promotional Godzilla baseball cap he won from the radio station.
Ivan is wearing a green t-shirt with an iron-on image of Godzilla boxing King Ghidorah.
Henry is wearing green stage make-up that we smeared on his face in the car, though he may only remember because of the smudge marks it’s left on his Surge cans.
Eddie, long gone, is nonetheless wearing a green soccer jersey.
I’m just wearing a green shirt but the news gets the idea because collectively our outfits say: ask us about our Godzilla-mania.
I should explain: we came up with this plan before we watched some old Godzilla movies and realized Godzilla is only kind of green. The marketing materials for this new Godzilla movie also may have led us astray in that respect. But we couldn’t very well dress up in greenish or gray, and greenish or gray would certainly not attract the attentions of NewsChannel 13.
We say yes, you can ask us about our Godzilla-mania.
She asks us about our Godzilla-mania.
It is not the most coherent interview I have given.
It might be the only interview I have given, but still.
She asks us what we’re here to see. Ivan looks at her like she’s stupid and then we all scream GODZILLA, Henry the loudest although at this point Surge should probably share credit for anything he does.
She asks us if we have a favorite Godzilla movie and Chuck describes the plot of Godzilla vs. Mothra in rigorous detail.
She asks us if we saw Independence Day here two summers ago and Henry gives the Bill Pullman president speech from the movie, which sounds remarkably like Bill Pullman if he had just chugged six Surges. Other people in the line applaud, then he admits to the reporter, like a movie star in a rare moment of candor, that we saw it at our shitty hometown theater and Chuck wasn’t there because he spent that summer with his grandparents in Rhode Island.
He stops himself in the middle of the explanation right around grandparents and says, actually, wait, no – and then he looks over at me and I can read his panicked eyes: his parents and his grandparents further upstate all watch NewsChannel 13, will see where he wasn’t and what he wasn’t studying, practicing, or stretching.
Next question! says Ivan.
I can’t, says Henry. I’m getting in so much trouble.
Cool it, says Ivan. Just let it go and we’ll finish up and get on TV.
I’m serious, says Henry, and he makes a move to step out of our line group, and Ivan grabs him by the arm.
My friend here is just nervous, says Ivan. Pre-Godzilla jitters! Should’ve seen him before the prom!
He was far less nervous at the prom, I can’t stop myself from adding.
Henry twists in Ivan’s grip and the reporter only looks slightly less uncomfortable than he does.
ASK US ANOTHER, cries Ivan.
She says, without much enthusiasm as Henry and Ivan punch each other’s arms: are you excited?
Even Henry, kicking at Ivan and looking furious, roars. He in fact roars louder and longer than the rest of us. Mixed together, we sound more like the real Godzilla.
The reporter looks at the camera guy like, enough? And he nods.
They leave us to our punching. Ivan has released Henry but he no longer wants to go anywhere.
What the fuck, he says. My parents are gonna see that and I’m getting grounded.
They won’t and so what, says Ivan. Chuck and I look at each other like, oh, this. Ivan can be viciously articulate which somehow makes his occasional use of “so what?” even more vicious.
I’m fucking serious, says Henry.
Hank, says Ivan, like he’s explaining something to a child. We’re graduating next month. You should prepare yourself for a time when you can’t just use your parents as an excuse.
Are you fucking kidding me with this? says Henry. I cut track practice for this.
Why are you still going to track practice? says Ivan. I stopped going to volleyball a month ago, to prep for leaving.
I’m not you, says Henry. You stop doing things in preparation. Which makes no fucking sense.
Chuck and I move off to the side to talk about the Armageddon standee while Henry and Ivan seethe.
Eddie comes running up, no girls.
They didn’t get tickets ahead of time, got sold out, says Eddie. They’re gonna go see A Perfect Murder instead.
A Perfect Murder isn’t out yet, I say.
Then probably they’ll go home, says Eddie. But they told me to tell you guys: we’ll see it again, right?
Sure, says Ivan. Saturday?
I think Sarah’s busy Saturday, says Eddie. Maybe Thursday.
I can’t go Thursday, says Henry.
No kidding, mutters Ivan.
Okay, I say to no one, about nothing.
We stand in silence some more, except Eddie, who tells us about getting food-court ice cream with the girls before they left like he doesn’t consider it a betrayal at all.
An usher comes up and leads us to the theater. We take our seats in the third row, silent. We wait for the movie to lift our spirits and fix the night.
Godzilla is two hours and twenty minutes long.
When this news broke last month, we were elated, wished it could be longer, pictured 140 minutes of near-ceaseless destruction, pausing only long enough for foolish humans to hide in something that Godzilla would then destroy.
We see trailers for The X-Files and Armageddon and The Mask of Zorro and something with a bunch of kids who look nothing like us graduating high school.
Not all 140 minutes of Godzilla concern Godzilla smashing, stomping, killing, or eating.
The baby Godzillas look like raptors, like we wouldn’t notice.
Like we would think that was cool.
Godzilla runs around a lot. It seems cool to me that Godzilla can run around buildings like he’s playing hide and seek and then Chuck leans over and whispers: has he killed a single person yet?
The mayor is named Ebert and his assistant is named Gene, like Siskel.
I like the part where the heroes drive a car out of Godzilla’s mouth.
And the part where the old fisherman thinks he’s got a bite and it turns out to be Godzilla rising out of the water, although that was in the trailer. Ivan still yells at the screen: GET HIM! I start to applaud like when we first saw the trailer and Henry punches me in the arm.
We’re quiet on the drive back.
I’m home in time for the eleven o’clock news.
The segment on Godzilla comes out just before sports and weather and out. The first interviewee is a child. The second interviewee is a child. The third interviewee is a sedate older man showing off a bootleg Godzilla maquette he bought off the internet and brought to the show. We have been cut. Henry is safe. I wonder if Ivan knew — if he knew that after the first scream, we were already on the cutting room floor, but he wouldn’t explain it.
Then, as the reporter wraps up: a shot of the five of us, no longer than two seconds, standing on the line in silence. Three and a half of us, actually: Ivan is out of frame, Eddie is cut in half, and Henry stands just off center, unmistakable despite the green smears. I hope his parents went to bed early.
On Wednesday, Henry isn’t in school. At lunch, I call his house on the pay-phone outside the cafeteria, no answer. Ivan debates a guy at our lunch table about the quality of Godzilla, though he admits, even volunteers, that Starship Troopers is better. Chuck and I develop a working theory about Dean Devlin, the writer and producer. We picture him at a typewriter, for some reason not a computer, hunched over as Roland Emmerich dictates all of the things that will explode or crash, giggling to himself as he adds in the jokes about Mayor Ebert scarfing down candy.
On Thursday, Chuck and Ivan and Eddie and I go see Godzilla again with the girls, as promised. Having seen it once already better prepares me for the experience of not liking it a second time. To like it this little the first time would have hurt. I envy the girls, who five minutes later are talking to us like the movie didn’t exist, like they spent two hours and twenty minutes flipping through channels. They didn’t much like it and it didn’t much hurt. They are still excited about A Perfect Murder, which I now admit could turn out better than Godzilla. We make plans to see it.
On Friday, Chuck and Ivan and I go to Henry’s house when we think his parents will be out. They are, and most of the house is dark, but the door is unlocked and we let ourselves in and we go up to the second floor, to Henry’s room, which is lit by a single desk lamp.
Henry sits in a green easy chair opposite his bed, looking over bank statements addressed to his parents.
Hello, he says to us.
Hey, we say. What’s up?
I’m sorry I probably haven’t been in touch much this week, says Henry.
I’m sorry your parents are unmanageable, says Chuck, and Ivan rolls his eyes.
They’re just worried, says Henry, because I slept for so long on Wednesday and Thursday.
You sick? I say.
Long journey, says Henry.
Track? says Chuck.
From the mall? says Ivan.
From the future, says Henry.
Henry explains that his future consciousness has been sent back to his 1998 body.
Like in X-Men, I say.
Right, he says. Pretty much like that.
So the real Henry’s consciousness is in the future right now, says Chuck.
Yes, says Henry. Although I’m no less real. But yes, the Henry you know, from 1998, is off minding my store, as it were.
Prove it, says Ivan.
I don’t know that I can, says Henry. Not right away. And if I do remember something definite that happens around this time in the past, I could keep it from happening by telling you about it.
Convenient, says Ivan. Are you still mad at us?
Is 1998 me mad at you? says Henry.
Eh, not really, says Ivan, hoping to get a rise.
I see, says Henry, glancing down to his parents’ bank statements — peering, really, like he expects to be wearing reading glasses.
Can we ask you future questions? says Chuck.
Sure, says Henry.
Who does Eddie make out with after A Perfect Murder? says Chuck.
Oh, also, I say, we are going to see A Perfect Murder with the girls when it comes out. You know, in case you don’t remember that far back, and if you want to come. I tell him this because I don’t like feeling left out of plans.
We don’t ever see that, he says. The girls go without us.
Does Eddie go? I say.
It’s never clear to me, says Henry.
You guys are real futurists, says Ivan. Asking about some crap movie we may or may not see in June. Quick, ask if Kelly’s valedictorian speech will be ultra-tedious or just fully tedious.
What can you tell us about Godzilla 2? says Chuck. On the ride to school this morning, Chuck and I brainstormed a lot of ideas for how to build a better Godzilla 2. Step one: the entire cast, including Godzilla, is killed by a bigger, angrier Godzilla.
No Godzilla 2, says Henry. Not in this series. There will be another big Godzilla movie, but not for years, and we don’t see it together.
Why not? I say.
Henry looks up from his papers.
We get old, he says.
Why did you come back? I say.
The experiment sounded interesting, says Henry. I don’t have a lot else going on. And I thought I could look my life over a little. My memory isn’t what it used to be.
Somehow this scares me, probably because 1998 Henry remembers everything. Every joke and every slight and every party he didn’t even attend.
What do you want to do while you’re here, says Ivan, playing along. Is there anyone who need to stop from falling in love, or help fall in love, or warn about a global cataclysm?
No, says Henry. But I wouldn’t mind going to see Godzilla again. It’s been so long for me.
We already saw it again, I say, sheepish.
That’s okay, says Henry. We talked about seeing it five or six times. I remember that.
Do you also remember what it was like? says Ivan.
Not really, says Henry. I remember we were in bad moods.
It does not improve a bad mood, says Chuck. Just FYI.
That’s okay, says Henry. I’m not in a bad mood.
It doesn’t improve a good mood either, says Ivan.
It is not a good mood or a bad mood, says Chuck, repeating something someone said about Godzilla once.
Let’s all go see Godzilla one more time, says Henry, and I can’t tell what kind of smile he’s suppressing: Roland Emmerich’s, as he pitches his latest way to destroy buildings and cities, or Dean Devlin’s as he writes more comic relief.
We all give Henry the same look, but not all at once.
Ivan goes first, there in Henry’s unnervingly clean childhood bedroom. I’m next up, in the middle-back of Chuck’s minivan as we cruise through the center of our hometown on the way to Route 9, past the comic shop and the place that sells jewelry and Magic Cards, and the pizza place that offered us beer. Then Chuck adds his as we walk up to the ticket booth at the dirt mall with the movie theater that will close before this time next year and say, one after another, one for Godzilla, one for Godzilla, one for Godzilla, one for Godzilla.
All of the looks say: if we must, we will.
We will paint ourselves green. We will eat macaroni salad. We will grant you your wish from the future or we will grant you your spite from right now.