By Seth Kushner

Across the table from me was Ami, a pretty Asian singer/songwriter with dyed blue hair and blue contacts.  We sat at a small table, approximately six inches from the tables on either side of us, at a small restaurant in the East Village, which if it were a tad larger could be considered “intimate.”

The couple on our right were chatting loudly about some band they just saw perform, and between them and the other the ambient conversations happening around us, plus the break beats emanating from a speaker above our heads, it was a bit of a struggle to get to know my date.

Despite the aural adversities, I managed to learn Ami had lots of rules.  For example:

“I never drink any alcohol unless I fully intended on getting drunk,” she said.

“What about a nice glass of wine with diner?” I asked.

“Nope, not even…what’s the point?”

“Ooookay, interesting…what other rules do you have?”

“Well, I never order appetizers because I need to save room for dessert which I MUST eat after EVERY meal.”

“Uh-huh…I like appetizers.”

“That’s fine, you can order them. But for yourself…I won’t have any.”

I ordered a calamari appetizer and a glass of pinot and we continued our conversation.

“What about you, Adam?’ She asked. “Do you have any rules?”

“Only about the movies.  You see, when I was about seven, I developed a phobia of movie theaters.”  I said.

“Movie theaters?”

“Yeah, well I know that doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but I LOVE going to the movies, always have. So for me it was unacceptable.  I don’t know how it started, but I remember being almost paralyzed with fear while waiting on line with my dad to see Superman 2, and I ended up throwing up in the theater’s bathroom.  After that, I wasn’t able to go to the movies for a while.  I used to look at the ads in the newspaper every day, and wish I were able to go and see those movies.  I remember going to see a psychologist and eventually he told my parents I was a fairly normal child and I would outgrow the problem.  He taught me breathing and relaxation exercises.”

“That’s kind of unbelievable,” she said.  “How are you with going to the movies now?”

“I’m fine and I go all the time, but this brings us back to MY rules. I am very particular about going to the movies. I guess it’s because of my childhood phobia.  First, I MUST order the tickets in advance.  The last time I attempted to see a new movie on opening night without ordering advance tickets, was when the first Matrix came out.  I was with my cousin David and we got to the theater to discover it was sold out for the entire night.  Needless to say, were we pissed.  Actually, he was screaming in the street ‘This is America damnit, what do you mean I can’t see The Matrix tonight!?’ So anyway, on that day I swore an oath to never allow that to happen to me again,” I said.”

“Okay, that’s not so bad,” she said.

“The other major rule I have regarding going to movies is that I MUST arrive at the theater early enough to have my pick of the choice seats.  That usually means getting there about 40 minutes before show time.”

Ami seemed to understand this and promised to be ready in time for our second date, when we planned to see a movie.

I never felt Ami was ever going to be the ‘One,’ but I did like her and was very happy to be going to see Lost in Translation with her.

When I got to Ami’s building (about 6 blocks from the theater) I had to wait in the lobby because she wasn’t ready.  Didn’t I explain to her my rules? I was starting to feel anxious about getting to the theater late and not getting an ideal seat. Or, God forbid, missing a trailer or two.  Just then, I heard a loud thud from inside the stairwell.  Ami came staggering out, with her boots untied.  She had fallen down the steps while rushing to meet me.  She said she knew I couldn’t be late for the movie.  Nice. I appreciate when girls were willing to fall down stairs for me.

I redeemed our tickets from the kiosk in the theater lobby and we entered the auditorium and though we had arrived later than my rules usually allow for, happily we were still early enough to get my preferred seating: first row, second section, in front of the metal bar, so I could put my feet up.

We talked about the film on the walk through the night air back to her building.  I always enjoy discussing the film immediately afterwards.

“What do you think Bill Murray whispered in Scarlet Johansson’s ear at the end?” Ami asked, as we stopped in front of her building.

“I think he said…” I leaned in and whispered just above the sounds of traffic into her ear: “I’m glad I met you.”

We kissed.  It was brief but sweet.

Ami left town to tour Europe with her band a few days later. I wanted to see her again.  She did respect my movie rules, after all.  I knew the fact that she was going away meant I would probably lose my momentum I had with her, and I did.  After phone tag weeks later, she sent me a message about work, life-changing drama, her best friend who professed his love for her and an ex-boyfriend who was coming to New York to  “win her back.” She told me she thought I was “super cool and talented” and she wished me the best. Blah, blah, blah.

At first I was angry and I didn’t respond. But, I’d been through this before and the sting wore off a few days later and I wrote her a simple message:

“We’ll always have the movies.”

-Seth Kushner

Read past installments of SCHMUCK

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Whenever Seth Kushner did anything foolish growing up, his mother would call him a “Schmuck,” that beloved Yiddish term of not-so-endearment. So, of course, it’s the title of his new comix semi-autobio on TRIP CITY, an online multimedia arts salon. Renowned for his books The Brooklynites (with Anthony LaSala) and Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics (With Chris Irving) and the webseries CulturePOP Photocomix, photographer and author Seth Kushner now throws his hat into the comics arena. SCHMUCK chronicles the period after his being dumped by a girlfriend, and the ensuing cascade of blind dates, Internet hook-ups, and comically tragic situations he endured with the hopes of finding “true love.”

SCHMUCK sheds a brutally honest light on 20-something relationships. Adam Kessler, our “hero,” is based on Kushner, ten years ago – a pop-culture-obsessed photographer torn between pleasing Mom by finding a “nice Jewish girl,” and figuring out what he really wants. His internal monologue is filled with the standard inane, perverted and self-deprecating thoughts we all have but are ashamed to admit. Meanwhile, his shit-talking, sex-obsessed Brooklyn boys stand by with their own, often wacky, advice.

Chapter One  “Beer, Babes and Bowel Movements,” illustrated by Kevin Colden, (with “Photocomix” by Seth) debuted on Monday, January 9. From there, a new chapter will appear on TripCity.net every second Monday for one year. Every fourth Monday will see the release of a prose piece, “THE SCHMUCK DIARIES,”  which will act as supplements to the comics. 2012 will see the release of 12 SCHMUCK comix and 12 SCHMUCK DIARIES.

SCHMUCK is an anthology series with different artists illustrating short “schmucky stories,” which can be read individually, or together to tell the complete narrative.  SCHMUCK artists include; Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), George Schall, (Dark Horse PresentsNathan Schreiber (Power-Out), Leland Purvis (Resistance), Stephen DeStefano (‘MAZING MAN) and more TBA.

What to expect: heartbreak, diarrhea, painful STD removal, rejection, Kung-Fu, Natalie Portman, vomit, boobs, self-loathing, unkempt genital regions, sex with an ex, drunkenness, sexual dysfunction, depression, misogyny, and somehow, hope.

Influences on SCHMUCK include; Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison, Bob Fingerman’s Beg The Question, Dean Haspiel’s Street Code, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Curb Your Enthusiasm, works by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Ames, Woody Allen, Adrian Tomine, Jeffrey Brown, Chester Brown and Joe Matt.