We're at the movies. We're in one of those modern shopping-mall "cinema complexes" where each individual theater is the size of a Pez dispenser, which means it is very difficult to avoid sitting near the Loud People. They're always there. One theory is that they actually live in the cinema complex, bearing live offspring and feeding themselves by hacking off chunks of the inch-thick layer of old Raisinets coating the floor.

As soon as we sit down, a herd of Loud People lumbers up behind us and begins to discuss the incredibly complex problem of where everybody will sit. This keeps them busy all the way through the opening Short Feature, which years ago consisted of Heckle and Jeckle engaging in comical stunts but now consists of a public-serviceannouncement wherein Clint Eastwood tells us, in a stern voice, not to use crack cocaine. (Easy for HIM to say. He's not sitting in front of the Loud People.)

We know, from experience, what will happen next. What will happen is that we will experience each scene from the movie twice: once when it appears on the actual screen, and once when the Loud People, whose brains operate on a 10-second tape delay, comprehend it. If, for example, the villain, in a shocking and dramatic moment, suddenly pulls out a knife, and the camera moves in for a close-up, so that the entire screen is filled with a knife the size of a 1967 Buick, there will be a 10-second pause, and then one of the Loud People will say:

"He has a knife."

Or maybe:

"What is that? A knife?"

So we decide to move to seats that are closer to the screen, which turns out to be foolish because it puts us near the Teen-agers, who, in terms of their grasp of basic theater etiquette, make the Loud People look like the royal family. It is not their fault. Due to raging hormonal imbalances over which they have no control, their entire social hierarchy undergoes a complete transformation every four minutes, requiring all 137 of them to change seats immediately. We occasionally catch glimpses of the screen, in between the teen-age bodies lurching back and forth, sometimes getting stuck in the Raisinets.

And now, rising above the din, is a new sound, coming from a person who is standing near the screen and carrying on a lengthy and friendly conversation with people who, to judge from this person's voice level, must be in Nova Scotia. We strain to see, between Teen-agers, who this person is; imagine our surprise when we realize that it is: THE USHER. It is a chilling moment, similar to the moment experienced by the heroine in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" when she discovers that everybody, even Donald Sutherland, has been taken over by the pod creatures. Suddenly we see that we are not in a situation where a majority of basically polite people are being inconvenienced by a few louts; we are in a situation where, as far as we can tell, EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE THEATER IS RUDE.

This kind of thing is happening more and more as a result of the International Rudeness Epidemic, which scientists now believe started in France, and which has been worsening rapidly. I myself have tracked its growth via the simple research technique of holding doors open for people walking behind me. Years ago, almost everybody would say "Thank you," and I would say "You're welcome." Then a lot of people stopped saying "Thank you," and I compensated by saying "You're welcome" anyway, in a loud and brutally polite voice, which would cause some of them to become sheepish and say "Thank you." Then they stopped becoming sheepish and started making obscene gestures. Now many of them don't even bother to do that.

So we find ourselves hunched down in our theater seats, trapped in the middle of Expo JerkFest '87. We are, quite frankly, terrified. We decide to try to make a break for it. Our plan is to walk brazenly up the aisle, laughing and burping real loud so nobody will notice us, then sprint for the car. We're just about to make our move when the theater doors burst open. Our eyes are momentarily blinded by a tasteful flash of light, and then, standing in front of the screen, we see: Miss Manners. She reaches into her purse, which is of, course, exactly the color of her shoes, and pulls out: Clint Eastwood's gun.

"What is that?" says one of the Loud People. "A knife?"