Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

How Grownups Can Still Go to the Movies
(In the Twenty-first Century)

Joe Reese

I love going to the movies. Always have. Actually, I love everything that goes with going to the movies. Hot dogs. Popcorn. Once, you could get buttered popcorn with each—what do you call a popcorn kernel
once popped?—each cloudlike thing perfectly formed, tender and buttery. Not tender, really, but just popcorn-like. And the hot dog. One small line of mustard bisecting the wiener, or a big glop of mustard somewhere in mid-wiener, so that you could squeeze the hot dog in its middle, feel and hear a slight "plop" on your lap, and emerging from the movie later on, in the middle of a hot summer day, see a large yellow stain on your clothes, but it did not matter, because it was a bright, summer day. Forever.

Things have changed now, of course. The theaters are still dark and wonderful (albeit smaller), and the popcorn is still all right. But the movies themselves are far too wretched to watch. I called the other day and found out what was showing at the Southtown Sixteen in my little town of Waxahachie, Texas. I also inquired about prices. Tickets, popcorn, Coke (or Pepsi), hot dogs—a total of twenty five dollars to watch the latest slasher/horror movie one time. Thinking that a reasonable figure—just barely—I went. I was shocked to find that they wanted me to pay them twenty- five dollars. So, I rethought the matter entirely, and am both willing and happy to share with you my new plan.

This is a way that you can continue to go to the theater, but be spared the pain of the actual movies.
This is the only way, in fact, to continue to be a movie fan in the twenty-first century.

Let me describe what I did just last Saturday afternoon. I called the Southtown Sixteen and reserved a seat in one of the dark rooms. Yes, they will let you do that. It costs more, but it’s worth it. Theater Eleven, they told me, would be dark from four twenty-eight until five fifteen. At four twenty the third Adam Sandler movie was finishing its second afternoon matinee, and the art movie about the paraplegic woman on drugs but still attempting to support her thirteen children in an indeterminate central European newly formed country (subtitled) would not, they told me, be beginning until five
twenty. I could have seat fourteen, third row from the back. The other seats had all been taken.

I arrived at the Southtown Sixteen and parked. There was a line, mainly composed of older people. (How hard it is for me to realize that I am now an older people. When has that happened?)

“I called ahead,” I told the lady at the ticket window.

“Good. Let’s see: here. One seat left. There’s a big demand today for the dark theaters.”

I looked at what was playing. The names of the movies were all listed on glowing placard-like signs hung above the ticket window:

Theater One: Bobby
Theater Two: Happy Feet (Adam Sandler movie number one)
Theater Three: Santa Clause 4
Theater Four: Despair (the paraplegic movie)
Theater Five: Ricky
Theater Six: Disembowled!
Theater Seven: Flushed Away! (the Jenifer Aniston movie)
Theater Eight: Let’s Go to Prison!
Theater Nine: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Third Remake)
Theater Ten: Rocky XIV
Theater Eleven: Jerry (Adam Sandler movie number two)
Theater Twelve: Blood Bath III
Theater Thirteen: Simba! (Disney movie)
Theater Fourteen: Bubbaloo (an Indian musical based on the works of Jane Austen)
Theater Fifteen: Soul Brother
Theater Sixteen: Hamlet (Adam Sandler movie number three)

“Which theater is dark?” I asked.

“Theater Eleven. Four twenty-eight.”

“Thank you.”

There was a nice snack bar. The wieners rotated on the hot dog machine, which was indescribable in English prose. Popcorn erupted continually in a large plastic chamber. All of the various kinds of candy were laid out in the glass case before me. The person working at the snack bar was an adult, probably the manager.

“May I help you, Sir?"

“I’d like a hot dog, a small buttered popcorn, and a medium coke. For here.”

“For here! Ha! That’s funny!”

For some years I had taken to saying “For here!” (as opposed to “to go!”) when ordering refreshments in a movie theater. It was a small joke. None of the teen-agers who waited on me ever laughed. They all, male or female, merely looked at me and, after a time, said:“What?”

“Nothing.”

But this man, the manager, laughed.

“For here! That’s funny!”

“Thank you.”

“Never heard that one.”

“Well, when you go to McDonalds…”

“I know, they always ask you 'For here?' or 'To go?'"

“Yes, they do.”

“I used to manage a McDonalds.”

“Did you?”

“Oh yeah. Dirty business.”

“I guess so.”

“There you are. There’s the hot dog. There’s the popcorn. You get mustard over there at the end of the counter, and the popcorn flavoring is on the counter behind you. Oh, and we only have Pepsi, not Coke.”

“That’s OK.”

“Good. What movie you seeing today?”

“I have a ticket for the empty theater.”

“Oh, Theater Eleven?”

“That’s the one.”

“You must have called ahead.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Smart. I tell you, we’re turning a lot of folks away.”

“From Theater Eleven?”

“Yeah. They just don’t think in advance.”

“People are like that.”

“Yes, they are. Dirty business.”

I took my hot dog, made my way through serpentine corridors—Theater One—big picture of Humphrey Bogart; Theater Two—big picture of Laurel and Hardy; Theater Three—big picture of someone with
a tuxedo on…and so on. Finally I came to Theater Eleven.

I opened the door. It was, indeed, dark. Good. I still had to make my way over the knees of the people
crowded in row 3 (third row from the back), to seat fourteen.

“Excuse me; sorry; sorry; excuse me…”

“That’s all right; that’s all right; that’s all right; that’s ok…”

Finally I was there. I put the Pepsi (Coke, OK?) in its perfectly formed circular holder right there at the end of the rest meant for my left arm. I held the popcorn bag securely between my knees, feeling the grease ooze through and onto my pants…

And then I simply ate and drank. This was going to the movies.

Of course it wasn’t perfect. Theater Eleven was small and cramped. On either side of me, through the thin walls, came the sounds from the other movies: horrific screams, occasional yelps as a man was hit between his legs by something (a bowling ball, a wrecking ball, a woman’s high heeled shoe) in one of the Adam Sandler movies; a stuttered, gasping line in an indeterminate central European language as one of the paraplegic drug-addicted mother’s fourteen children died; a zingy one liner from one of the two comedians from the Catskills who were the voices of two indeterminate small furry animals—codexes, imbus, rattigers?—helping Simba regain his throne—these sounds.

“Ma’am?”
I noticed that the manager had come into the darkened theater and was whispering to the woman sitting beside me.

“Ma’am?”

“What is it?" she whispered back.

The others in the crowded room tried to pretend that they did not hear. They were all chewing popcorn, or hot dogs, or they were eating ju ju fruits or huge planks of Nestle Crunch candy bars.

“What is it?”

“May I see your ticket?”

“What’s wrong with my ticket?”

“I just need to see it, please.”

“Well. Here.”

She fished for a time in her purse, and finally handed him what appeared to be a ticket stub.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!” The sound came through the walls behind us: it was a character screaming from the movie Disemboweled.

“This is not,” whispered the manager, “a ticket for Theater Eleven.”

“But can’t I sit here and eat my popcorn?”

“No, ma’am. This is a ticket for Theater Six.”

“There’s a movie showing there.”

“Yes, ma’am. You have to go in there.”

“I don’t want to. Please don’t make me go in there! That’s Disemboweled!”

“It’s supposed to be very good, Ma’am. It has Lindsay Lohan in a cameo role.”

“No!”

“This seat is reserved, ma’am. Someone else has paid to sit here. It’s a more expensive seat.”

“Can’t they wait until the movie starts?”

“They don’t want it then,” the manager said. “Then the movie will be on. If you wanted to sit in the quiet, dark theater, you should have paid more money. Now come on.”

“What about my food?”

“You can take it with you into Theater Six.”

“Can I take it home?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Why not? I paid for it!”

“You can’t take food out, ma’am. You can eat it here and watch one of the movies, but you can’t take it home with you.”

“I don’t want to watch one of the movies; don’t make me watch one of the movies. It isn’t fair!”

“Those are the rules, ma’am.”

“I have half a hot dog and…and some popcorn, and a little bit of Coke.”

“Pepsi.”

“Pepsi. Why can’t I take them home?”

“If we allowed people to do that, then everyone would just come and take the food with them and no one would watch the movies. Come on.”

She went with him, leaving the partially eaten hot dog on her arm rest. I reached over and got it before the other ticket owner got there. I felt somewhat guilty as I did these things, but I said to
myself:“She knew the rules.”

Then the theater was silent again, except for munching, and an occasional sigh, and the quiet plastic- rattle of soft drink cups as movie goers-but-not-watchers carefully placed them in ringed holders
at the end of the arm rests. It was a blissful afternoon. Until, of course, one of the movies began, and we all had to leave.

You can, then, take all of this for what it is worth. But I promise you: if you want to continue going to the movies in the twenty-first century, this is the only way to do it.

_____

Joe Reese is a novelist/storyteller/adjunct English teacher, based in Athens, Ohio, but originally a southerner (born and raised in Texas, long a resident of Atlanta). He has two novels: Katie Dee and Katie Haw: Letters from a Texas Farm Girl and Dear Katie Dee: More Letters from a Texas Farm (website: www.katiedee.com). He’s just finished a novel called TAAS: A Novel of the Standardized Examination, which deals with one day in the life of a Texas high school driven insane by the desire to be EXEMPLORY rather than just excellent. He’s also written plays, short stories, and articles, and put in thirty-six years of English teaching, during which time he’s been fired by almost every institution of higher learning in the country. In spite of this, his wife Pam still says she loves him, as do his kids, Kate, Matthew, and Sam.

© Joe Reese

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012