Waaaay back in the year 2000 (I was still in my early thirties then. Ahhh, those were the days…), Julesie and I went to see a movie with a friend of mine. If I’m not mistaken (Julesie will, no doubt, correct this and any other details I may get wrong in this story…remember, I’m old now.), the movie was “Where the Heart Is”, featuring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. While at the theater, employees were handing out flyers advertising a free movie screening for the next evening. Advance reservations were required and even a reservation didn’t guarantee entry: it was first come, first served at the start time. The movie? No idea. The name wasn’t on the flyer. My friend said, “I’m not coming. I’ve come to them before and it’s always some crappy movie.”

Julesie wanted to go, but I was hesitant to go out two nights in a row because I felt some family guilt (not from them, from me). Julesie wisely reserved two seats, just in case I changed my mind.

I decided the following day that I would indeed like to go, and we got to the theater early to get in line. It felt completely ridiculous to stand in a huge line to see something that was a total mystery, and we stood there hoping that my friend wouldn’t be able to say “I told you so!”

After a while we noticed two limos that were parked in the lot the entire time. We spent our wait time speculating about who could have come to our theater in limos.

Finally the line began moving. We were led into one of the biggest theaters (it’s a 30-screen complex!). Julesie and I quickly became ticked off when we found out that, because we ended up being in the tail end of those let in (hey, at least we GOT in, right?), we had to sit in the 6th row. Our theater has stadium seating for the most part, which is awesome, but then there are about ten rows in the very front which are situated flat on the floor. (For good reason, though: I believe the reason they do this is to accommodate people with disabilities.) I do not like sitting that close to the mammoth screen, but there were no available seats higher up.

Everyone was a-buzz about what the movie could be. At some point during all of this madness, we overheard a gentleman two rows in front of us talking to those around him. He was a movie executive! He said, “Don’t worry…I can’t tell you what movie it is, but I guarantee you will NOT be disappointed.”

Wow. A guarantee? Sounded pretty spectacular. Movie time was approaching, people were trying to get the movie exec to spill the beans, and I looked to my right and saw a security guard standing by.

Suddenly, everyone started screaming like crazy. I’m talking BONKERS. Everyone was on their feet, and I, the dumba$$, was still looking at the security guard on my right, trying to figure out in all the madness what was going on.

Julesie was hitting me on my arm and talking, saying some jibberish. What?

“Ohmygod,” she was saying, “It’s Tom Cruise!!!!!!!”

I (remember, the Idiot?) am *still* looking at the security guard. What is wrong with me????

Because I apparently don’t respond to exciting news in a timely manner, my sister actually put her hands on me and turned me in the direction of Mr. Cruise.

Whoa.

Before I go any further, I have to back up a bit and fill you in on two things.

1. I do not typically crush on celebrities. I don’t swoon at stars like Brad Pitt or any of the other famous “hotties”. I mean, if you asked me to name attractive leading men I could come up with a couple to list for you, but I don’t have any certain one or two that I totally “adore” from afar.

2. Although I enjoyed Cruise’s work in movies like “Top Gun” (Loved it especially because Jim was in the Navy at the time it was released), “Rain Man”, “A Few Good Men”, and “Jerry Maguire”, I would not have ever been considered a “Tom Cruise Fan” and have never gone to see a movie *because* he was in it. Except for one. But that’s at the end of this post.

Where was I? Oh yes.

WHOA*.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. How handsome this guy was in person, in that moment, was something I can’t even describe. Julesie looked at me and said, “YOU’RE BLUSHING!”

And indeed, I was. I was just a long leap away from one of the biggest movie stars in the entire world (not in height though, but you knew that), and he was standing there grinning from ear to ear, soaking in all of the applause and trying to get everyone to sit down so he could speak.

Wait! Everyone! TOM CRUISE, WORLD-FAMOUS MOVIE STAR, wants to speak! Shut up!

So we did. All however-many-of-us there were, giddy as all get-out, managed to contain ourselves and shut our pie holes.

To give you a better idea of our proximity to Tom, check this out. This is not my actual theater but it’s a pretty good facsimile:


Rocking that glorious grin, Tom talked to only me and my sister, all of us, thanking us for coming (NO! Thank YOU, Tom!) and making the announcement that we were about to be the test audience for “Mission Impossible 2”! (WHAT???) He asked that we please enjoy it, don’t tell friends any spoilers, and please stay to fill out the survey when it was all over. And then he introduced John Woo, the Director, who was actually sitting up in the stadium seats! He thanked everyone again, and as everyone screamed out miscellaneous messages of adoration, he stepped out the side door. I’m assuming he went into the projection room so we could all stop sweating and blushing at the sight of him and concentrate on his movie. (John Woo stayed!)

We were sort of shaky at the magnitude of what was happening. This free screening was supposed to be a crappy movie. I couldn’t wait to get home and call my friend!

When the lights went down, everyone went wild all over again. And then we watched what is still, for me, one of the most memorable opening sequences of any movie I’ve ever seen. He did this stunt himself, by the way. And, you’ll see if you watch it and then hit “pause” at about 1:58, why I was beside myself with excitement and suddenly a HUGE Tom Cruise fan starting that evening.

Of course, every time Tom came into a scene in the movie, it was like throwing grease on a fire. People screamed and clapped and took a minute to settle back down. Everyone was nuts for the duration of the movie: three hours. That’s right. Let me summarize:

1. Night out with my sister
2. Free movie screening
3. Movie is future summer Blockbuster
4. Movie ends up that summer to be Tom Cruise’s highest grossing film to date
5. Star of movie, one of the biggest in the world, is standing, smiling, and talking a mere leap away
6. Free blockbuster movie screening is three hours long

Of course we loved it. We drove home and called my friend immediately. We called many people. Yes, it was 11 p.m. but this was Big News. Jealous? Of course they were! We couldn’t settle down. His visit, of course, made the news the next day and folks were talking about it on the internet too. As I was writing this post, I searched the internets to see if there were any write-ups of this magnificent event, and I found this, which is pretty interesting.

But the story doesn’t end well for Tom and Me. There I was, suddenly a massive Tom fan. In 2001, I was anxious to see his next film, “Vanilla Sky”. I rushed right out to see it immediately, and I found it completely confusing as hell, and depressing. I hated it. Every minute. Well, except for that *one* minute, during which he ran through an empty Times Square. I thought it was cool because you NEVER see Times Square empty. That’s all.

And with that movie, my temporary obsession with Tom Cruise ended abruptly. The End.

*Keep in mind that this was years before Katie Holmes, the couch-jumping incident, the first Matt Lauer interview, and the subsequent “Tom Cruise seems like a crazy guy” talk, most of which I find extremely unattractive (Katie’s pretty).