This One Time….

Story John Brocato

People_JohnBrocatoMy wife Kay and I met as undergraduates at Mississippi State but moved to the Los Angeles area with my band Skeleton Crew shortly after we got married. During the pre-Internet era of the early ’90s, MSU didn’t show up much out in Southern California. Except this one time …

Among our favorite pastimes back then was seeing bargain movies at a beautiful old theater just east of downtown Pasadena. This theater showed non-first-run films for $3, but on Wednesdays patrons got a double feature for $2, which perfectly fit our very meager budget.

One particular Wednesday, we took in a double-matinee of “Cool Runnings” and “Tombstone.” We sat in the balcony, and even though the theater was about one-third full, any casual theater-goer can guess what happened next: Someone sat directly in front of us despite the plethora of empty seats elsewhere. We saw them coming from the balcony entrance to our right, both of us whispering, “No, come on, please, not in front of us.” But, of course, there they came, an older man and woman along with what looked like their grandson, plopping down in the row directly in front of us.

And there, no more than three feet from our faces, sat a Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball cap, worn backwards by the probable grandson.

Consider this carefully: In a metropolitan area of over 17 million people, during a weekday bargain matinee, in the balcony of a 300-seat room where only 100 seats eventually got filled, the people who just happened to sit directly in front of us included someone who just happened to be wearing his baseball cap backwards, and his cap just happened to feature our alma mater — an alma mater located 2,000 miles away from where we sat at that moment.

Consider, too, the fragility of this coincidence. Had that trio sat anywhere else in the theater (even just down the aisle a bit), we almost certainly wouldn’t have noticed the cap given the room’s darkness. Had the young man worn the cap frontwards, we almost certainly wouldn’t have seen the cap’s logo even if they had still sat directly in front of us. Moreover, what are the chances that the two of us and the three of them just happened to choose the balcony over the entire rest of the mostly-empty room? (Behavioral psychologists and statisticians could probably answer this given certain parameters, but I, being neither of those, will just say the chances must be incredibly slim.)

Kay and I gaped at each other, literally speechless for a few moments, before we tapped the trio on their shoulders and asked about the cap. It turns out they had no specific affiliation with MSU or even Mississippi — the retiree grandparents often traveled the country in their RV, they knew their grandson loved bulldogs, they had recently traveled through Mississippi and spotted the cap, so they bought it for him.

It’s amazing how the past finds you.