Secret Origins: The Night I Saw A Bug’s Life

Chaos in Print

I’ve seen a lot of movies in my night, but no night at the movies was as momentous and eventful as that wintry Thursday in November of 1998 when I saw A Bug’s Life. I was still just a punk student at Augustana. My final year was well underway, and I (just like now) had no real plans for my future. I wasn’t seeing much beyond May of 1999, when I was going to be seeing Episode I. As this year was still just starting, Chuck and I began a tradition of sorts to see movies on Thursday nights. It began back in September. I was still embroiled in my election campaign for VP External, and Chuck was hard at work on one of his many projects. We just happened to run into each other outside of the computer lab, and I chided him for not having seen Blade yet. He said, “OK, let’s go see it.” So, we did. And from that point on, we were going to see movies on Thursday nights. Both being animation geeks, we had been looking forward to A Bug’s Life for a few weeks and had this night planned with great anticipation.

As is the way things go with the best laid plans, there had been a few changes along the way. A day earlier, I ran into Streiff, and I mentioned this plan to see A Bug’s Life. Streiff asked if he could come along, being a computer geek and thus a follower of the computer animation medium. Since Chuck and Streiff were acquaintances, I saw no problem, and a quick call to Chuck sealed the deal. Now, the night of the movie had come. On the way to supper in the cafeteria, I ran into Dexx. Also being a computer animation geek, Dexx too wanted to see A Bug’s Life. Chuck had a big car, so I invited Dexx along. The more, the merrier, after all. Now, as the hour drew neigh, Streiff, Dexx, and I had gathered in my dorm room. While Streiff and Dexx were relaxing, I was pacing with nervousness. I kept glancing at my watch. The movie was starting in half an hour. Chuck was, and still is, not the most punctual person in the world, but even this was cutting things too close for him. The minutes ticked away. Dexx decided to go back to his room to get a few things. I glanced at my watch. 20 minutes. I was going out of my mind. I was never late for a movie. There would not be enough to time to get across town, stand in line for tickets, get goodies, find good seats, and get settled in for the film. With 15 minutes to show time, Chuck finally arrived. But, he had a surprise.

Chuck brought a woman with him. Now, Chuck, like myself, was by no means a ladies man. We had spent a few late nights discussing our fears of making eye contact with a woman and musing aloud what this thing called a “relationship” is like. So, seeing him sprint into my room with a woman on his arm was a little off-putting. I still remember when I first saw her. She was about my height, with short, reddish hair. Her eyes were this piercing blue, and she had a simple, metal stud jutting from her lower lip. There was a dreamy look on her face, like she had just been ripped out of bed and wasn’t quite awake yet. That was about all I noticed of her, as I was starting to get somewhat panicked. As Chuck went to introduce her, I cut him off, pointed to my watch, and led the mad dash to his car.

As we piled into Amy (the name I bestowed on Chuck’s car), Streiff came to a shocking realization. “What about Dexx?” he asked. That’s right! Dexx hadn’t returned from his room yet. Valuable minutes would be wasted running to his dorm on the other side of the compound to get him. Chuck began clearing the remnants of projects past from his back seat. He looked up at me and asked if he should be making room for one more. Streiff looked at me and asked me what we were to do. Some how, I had become the leader of this ragtag band of geeks and a girl. Thrust into a true leadership position for the first time in my life, my mind reeled with what to do. Dexx was a good friend and all, but I am never late for a movie. A few nanoseconds passed, but it felt like an eternity. Everyone was looking to me for a decision. It was my call. My heart was racing. Sweat was soaking through my toque. It was my call. I made the decision that all of the great leaders I grew up idolizing never made. “Leave him behind,” I said. Chuck peeled rubber out of that parking lot, and we were on our way cross town.

Chuck knew a shortcut, and he drove like a bat out of hell. We pulled into the Duggan Mall parking lot with five minutes to spare. We sprinted into the mall and up to the Duggan Cinema’s box office. Since were we grossly late in my books, there was no line, and we bought our tickets with ease. I led the charge past the snack counter. I tossed my ticket to the usher without breaking my stride. I burst into the theater. The great thing about seeing the late showing of an animated movie on a weeknight is there is hardly anyone there. No one complained as I ran down the aisle to my favorite seats: as close to the exact middle of the theater as you can get. I dropped into my chair and checked my watch. 3 minutes to the start of the movie. I was still never late for a movie. But at what cost? Dexx…gone. I shook off the regret. I did what I had to do. I can’t go second guessing a command decision. The others soon walked in behind me. Chuck was quite relaxed. “See?” he said. “Plenty of time.” He always likes to sit a little closer to the screen, so he and this woman sat in the row right in front of me. Streiff sat by my side. Since they were convinced that they had so much time to spare, Chuck and Streiff waltzed back out to the snack counter to get some popcorn and such. I looked around. The theater was deserted. I was all alone with this woman.

Now, it’s not that I’m afraid of women. I only fear the ones that I seem to develop feelings for. It’s a fear I’m glad I discovered was not uncommon, as Chuck also had similar fears. This woman, then, was probably some sort of friend of his. It also doesn’t help that I’m somewhat shy around new people. But still, Chuck dragged this woman along, so I should at least try to be polite. “Hi!” I said to her, in my most friendly, non-threatening voice. “I don’t think we were properly introduced. I’m Scarecrow.”

“I’m L,” she said. She still had that dreamy look on her face. I did my best to make small talk, but she kept her responses short and, whenever possible, to one word. Her mind was definitely elsewhere. I let my natural shyness take control, and we soon reserved ourselves to an awkward silence. I let out a sigh of relief as Chuck and Streiff came back, and the relief soon gave way to excitement. As Chuck and Streiff settled down, the lights dimmed, the curtain parted, and the previews began. Those previews were a colossal disappointment. There was no Episode I teaser that I had been reading about online. I must complain to the management, I thought.

The projector whirred as the movie began. But it wasn’t the movie. When the Pixar hopping desk lamp winked out of sight, we weren’t treated to the adventures of a colony of ants. Instead, we got a short film called Geri’s Game. This was unexpected, but delightful. We all laughed ourselves silly as we watched this old man play a life-and-death chess game against…himself. We all smiled at the film’s resolution. As the end credits to Geri’s Game rolled, we began whispering to ourselves about what we had just saw, and that’s when he walked in. Dexx. He called a cab, and caught up with us. “Why didn’t you wait for me?” he asked. “We were running late!” I said in my defense. “Didn’t you see me in the rearview mirror?” he asked, “Doing this?” as we waved his arms around frantically. We all shook our heads. “Didn’t you hear me being dragged from the bumper?” We all shook our heads. He plopped down in a chair, somewhat frustrated. “What did I miss?” he enquired. “Not the movie,” Streiff said. And that’s when it began.

The Disney logo. The Pixar lamp (again). That opening shot of the tree. Randy Newman’s score began. The title: A Bug’s Life. Our first introduction to Flick. Our first introduction to the Queen and the Princesses Atta and Dot. “But it’s a rock.” The arrival of the grasshoppers. Flick’s journey across the canyon. The circus bugs. Flick meets the circus bugs. The circus bugs slow realization as to what they are chosen to do. The first battle with the bird. The grasshoppers decide to come back. The plan falls apart. The circus bugs leave in disgrace. The grasshoppers return. “Pretend it’s a seed.” The bugs go back. The epic final battle. Hopper’s gruesome death. Happy endings all around. I don’t think I need to say anymore. We’ve all seen it.

The end credits began to roll, but we didn’t leave our seats. After all, we were all a bunch of geeks, and geeks like to stay right to the end of the end credits. As the credits continued, we began discussing the movie. We pointed out all the subtle references to our favorite movies, debated about plot points, and compared favorite scenes. L still wasn’t contributing much to the conversation. Then, we heard a noise, and we all looked at the screen. It was more animation. It was one of the characters blowing her line. We were watching bloopers. Those wacky animators made bloopers! We all laughed our butts off! Some of us even sheepishly admitted that they were funnier than the whole film. The film truly was over when the Pixar desk lamp returned on screen, and we made our way out to the lobby.

In the lobby, we lingered a bit, still discussing the film. We gazed around at all the posters promoting upcoming films. Since this was the late showing, it was getting on to be 10:30 at night, and there was an employee walking around, doing some closing up janitorial work. This employee soon came and joined in our discussion. At this point, Chuck pointed to the banner over the snack counter that I had missed earlier. It was the Episode I banner, with that now iconic image of young Anakin Skywalker casting Darth Vader’s shadow. After I geeked out over it, I turned to that theater employee and filed my complaint. “Why didn’t you show the Episode I teaser in front of A Bug’s Life?” I asked. It turned out that this employee was the manager herself, so I was complaining to the right person. She glared at me, somewhat annoyed, and said, “If you want to see that, you’ve got to see The Waterboy.” I nodded, and sarcastically said that I’d be back tomorrow night. We turned around, and that’s when we noticed it.

While we were watching A Bug’s Life, the manager was putting up several newer promotional items. Our little geek gang was now staring at the six foot tall, light up lobby card for Star Trek: Insurrection. Our hearts lit up. Being a bunch of Trekkies as well as geeks, this was one of our most anticipated films of the holiday season. Streiff and I did our best “We’re not worthy” bows before it. The manager laughed. Since the manager was right there, we couldn’t help but ask. “When is it coming to this theater?” The manager beamed with pride. “December 8,” she said. “We’re premiering it.” Our eyes lit up. We were all thinking one thing: hell or highwater, we’ll be back on the eighth.

We piled back into Amy, Dexx included this time, and the drive back to campus was a lot more leisurely. Chuck pulled into dorm parking lot, and Dexx and Streiff went back to their dorms. I just had to drag Chuck down to my room and show off one of my latest acquisitions. Chuck smiled at my new Star Wars action figure, and L, well, I still couldn’t read her. She still had that dreamy look on her face. But one thing was clear. They were both in a rush to go. When I said my good-nights, I turned on my TV and began unwinding from the evening. But, there was still one thing bothering me. There was something about L…. I sat down at my computer and fired off a quick e-mail to Chuck. I only asked him one simple question. “That was her, wasn’t it?”

For the past few weeks, there had been a recurring theme in the conversations Chuck and I had about what it’d be like to have a girlfriend. He was telling me about this striking young woman in his drama class. Here, in there little study group, he was falling madly in love with her. Having been in a similar situation in a study group in my freshman year, I never told the woman I fell in love with how I felt. So I had been pressuring Chuck to tell her and not make the same mistake I did. The next morning, I got Chuck’s answer to my question. Yes, that was her. He had been planning it for almost a week, now. At the end of their evening drama class, there was an isolated moment where it was just him and L, so he laid his cards on the table. He poured his heart out to her and told her how he felt. And, just as she was about to reply, he glanced at his watch and said, “Damn. I gotta meet a friend for a movie. Wanna come?” She said yes. That’s also why they were in such a rush to go. They wanted to continue the conversation that they had started. Chuck then told me the tale, about how they talked until dawn about their feelings, and much to his joy, she felt the same way about him. As the sun rose, they decide to go for it, and start dating.

As the months drew on, L always seemed to accompany Chuck whenever he and I would discuss our upcoming creative projects. At first, I was a little fearful of this girlfriend. I was starting to think that she’d be the Yoko Ono to our John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But then, something weird happened. I got to know L. We soon began meeting and talking without Chuck around. It wasn’t long before she told me what she went through on that night. Chuck may have felt it was a perfect moment to get all romantic on her, but it was right of the blue to her. She was stunned into silence. She just had trouble dealing with everything that he just told her. She even confessed that her mind wasn’t at all on the movie. I can forgive her, then, for not being much of a talker that night. She had bigger issues on her mind. Once she even asked if I was aware of everything that went on that night. I was. That’s why I tend to live vicariously through their relationship. I was the fifth wheel on their first date.

Now, here we are, three years later and “Chuck’s girlfriend” is one of my closest friends. They are still together, and are as probably as close to living happily ever after as you can get in reality. I don’t know if Chuck and L have a song like most couples, but I’m pretty sure that A Bug’s Life is their movie. It was the first night I was a leader, and the first time I grew to regret a command decision. It was the first time I learned what kind of leader I’d be. I met one of my dearest friends, and watched my best friend fall in love. And, to top it all off, I saw a great movie. If that’s not a momentous evening, I don’t know what is. A Bug’s Life will always be more than just a great movie to me. It will forever be a symbol of one of the best nights of my life.

A brief epilogue. Two weeks and a day later, we were all back to see Star Trek: Insurrection. Darmok was there, with perhaps the biggest grin I’d ever seen on him. Streiff was decked out in a captain’s uniform. Chuck was fashionably late, as always. I was once again trying to be the leader. “Remember,” I kept barking out. “This is our dry run for Episode I.” Most of us had been standing in that line since early that afternoon. We were all sequestered behind the velvet ropes, awaiting the call for the theater to start letting people in. Right next to us was the theater showing A Bug’s Life. The door was open, and we could here the music for the closing credits. The people started streaming out. We were aghast! At this point, we had all seen A Bug’s Life and knew about the bloopers. So, we didn’t want these people to miss them. As the parents began escorting their children through the lobby, we began screaming at them. “GO BACK IN! YOU’LL MISS THE BLOOPERS!” The parents looked at us and picked up their pace. I’m sure they even warned their kids not to make eye contact. As the crowd dissipated, we could here the bloopers begin through the open door. But, we did hear a few laughs from within. When the bloopers ended, we saw about five people leave the theater. “Did you stay for the bloopers?” Darmok asked them. They all nodded, and we, the crowd, burst into a standing ovation for them.

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