Indiana Jones and the Temple of Overpriced Theater Food

I now offer to you a new guest entry here at Bag Stranded. This one comes highly recommended. It is well worth your time to read it and laugh at it. It is written by Doug Giddings, a co-worker and kindred spirit of mine. We both bleed Red Sox red. We both have screaming children in tow. And, as you will soon read, we both love, or at least loved, going to the movies. Leaving a comment will make Doug feel special as well. We should make him feel special.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Overpriced Theater Food
By Doug Giddings

America’s great pastime is dead. I’m not talking about baseball, which is still the best thing ever invented—I refer to the cinematic experience of being swept away to different times, better places, and inconceivable adventures. What grandma still calls “the movie house.”

The explanation behind this slow, cancerous death that has afflicted what was once an almost obsessive part of my life has been debated for decades. For many, the exorbitant ticket prices have been enough to discourage people from going to the theater to see their favorite films. Others argue that it is the development of state-of-the-art electronics now available on the consumer level, allowing people to experience better sound and crisper picture from the darkness of their own homes. But I think it’s more than that—if prices and accessibility were the only thing keeping people in on Friday nights, Disney On Ice would have stopped coming to town by now.

For me, the last straw came a few years ago. My wife and I met another couple on opening day of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Script, and we were running late. By the time we got to the theater, the only two seats still available were the ones my friend had saved for us. The moment I sat down I realized my chair was wet. Great.

But that’s just the half of it. Ever notice how bad something smells when it’s covered with dirty upholstery and something really sugary—say, root beer—is spilled on it? It reeks. So I plugged my nose, put my wife’s jacket on the chair, and sat down.

Thirty minutes into the movie, the jacket reached its absorption threshold. I was uncomfortable, my butt was soaked, and every time I fidgeted my friend would hiss.

“Stop moving, it stinks!”

An eternity later, the movie ended and the lights came on. I stood and stretched, glancing casually down at the wretched seat. That’s when I realized—the chair wasn’t covered in root beer after all—someone had actually thrown up on it. Yes, I had sat for three hours in someone else’s puke.

I’ve rarely been back to the movies since. And never without checking my seat first. But of course, that’s not the real reason for my estrangement with what had once been the love of my life. If one bad experience were all it took to discourage me from going to movies, then I would have given up my other passions long ago. I’m sure I would have stopped playing baseball after my first broken finger, and I think I would have quit frequenting restaurants with the ever-alluring “All You Can Eat” sign after the time I got sick and yakked roughly 10 pounds of partially digested hash browns all over myself. Yes, most of my stories seem to involve vomit in one form or another. Sorry.

Looking back, my first awkward moment at the movies came during Titanic, and it had nothing to do with Kate Winslet’ nipples. The movie was playing at the one-screen theater in the small town where I grew up, and nearly caused mass-suicides among the young girls of our school when Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end. I hadn’t gone with a girl, nor was I stalking women I’d hoped to lure into my arms in a moment of emotional distress. Instead, I sat next to The Hoe—a burly man-friend who weighed 12 pounds at birth and was shaving by the time he was seven. He had talked me into attending the movie in hopes of trolling for women; instead, he squirmed for almost three hours, clearly uncomfortable at the lack of a buffer seat between us. We went home emotionally confused and without so much as a phone number between us.

Despite any previous awkwardness, the magic of going to the movies re-entered my life when I was 14 and my dad sent me in from the parking lot to purchase tickets for a rated-R movie we wanted to see. It wasn’t my first movie with an R-rating, but it was the first time I had purchased the tickets myself. I shuffled slowly to the counter, like Oliver Twist preparing to ask for more food. I knew what was going to happen—I’d ask for the tickets, unable to keep my voice from cracking with every other word, and storm troopers would burst into the lobby from hidden doorways and drag me to an interrogation room where Clint Eastwood would tickle my chin with the barrel of his .44 caliber handgun. Instead, the pimply and uninterested cashier handed me the tickets and I skipped out to my waiting father like a convict newly released on parole.

While the movie itself had been awesome, my real appreciation had nothing to do with watching Arnold throw terrorists out of airplanes. I had done something wrong, and I liked it. For me, going to the movies had taken on a new sense of excitement.

As I got older and started driving, my friends and I went to movies all the time. And if we weren’t going to R-rated movies just for the sake of sneaking into them, we would hide in the bathroom or behind dark corners, and slip from theater to theater when the members of the Cinema Gestapo weren’t looking. We moved like ninjas, silently crushing stray pieces of popcorn into the seizure-inducing carpet with the speed of mythical creatures, only to emerge several days later with blurry eyes and movie hangovers.

Of course, such movie marathons presented us with an even greater challenge—man cannot live on Dots alone. My meager manual labor salary wasn’t sufficient enough for me to dine on theater food. I might as well have ordered a steak at a fancy restaurant as have afforded five-dollar hotdogs on a regular basis. I briefly considered eating what I found on the floor between the rows of padded chairs, but that was pretty low, even for me.

I was debating the nutritional value of urinal cakes with my friends when our answer came in the form of a flashing neon sign. A discount grocery store opened right next to the theater, complete with dim lighting and questionable produce. But they had candy—rows and rows of candy, available at a fraction of the Cinemark price. I paid for my treats and stuffed my pockets, along with my partners-in-crime, Jack and Pete, and we headed back to the theater, daring them to catch us in the act of smuggling food. Words cannot express the rush I felt as I successfully walked past the bored ticket-taker who didn’t utter so much as a single word at my bulging pants; I felt like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, smuggling tools past the Nazi guards for a chance at uninhibited freedom.

As the weeks progressed, so did my cravings. I was tired of Milk Duds and Shock Tarts, and would have killed for a cool, refreshing beverage. Our food purchases became more exotic, and every day posed a challenge to see what we could get away with. We started wearing knee-length tube socks to conceal the packages of Twizzlers hidden snugly against our calves, and the two-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper sloshed from their hiding place behind my belt. I’d occasionally carry in super-sized value meals from McDonald’s, and once I successfully managed to smuggle in a large pizza, which left grease stains on my back from where it had been hidden under my shirt.

Of course, such reverse-thievery wasn’t easy. As our treats grew more elaborate, we required more clothing to conceal them. For Jack and Pete this posed a problem, as they were both a little on the heavy side of the scale, and didn’t have a lot of hiding places left for an entire coconut cream pie. This left things up to me—the “Skinny Bitch” of our trio—and my friends quickly became the Short Round and Willie Scott to my Temple of Doom.

I began stocking an entire winter wardrobe in the trunk of my car, never knowing what smuggling needs I would have from one evening to the next. On a random day in July I’d waddle into the theater wearing long jeans and a full winter coat, looking like Kirstie Alley after swallowing both Oprah and Ricki Lake in one gulp. Theater employees began looking at me a little more closely, awkward as I seemed, but their glances were always of pity or disgust at the fat man with a skinny face—never suspicion.

In fact, we were never caught. And we never came close to eating all the food we had brought in with us. But it was never really about the food anyway; while the Milk Duds and oatmeal pies helped sustain us from one movie to the next, it was really more about the movie experience itself. It was my own random form of participation that made the movies better—there was something indescribable about sneaking into a theater by climbing through the rafters and then free-rappelling into a seat reserved for someone else, or smuggling in enough food to feed a third world country, that helped erase some of my own inadequacies. I knew that I would never be able to scale the walls like Spiderman. I’d never fight like Jackie Chan, and Natalie Portman would never be waiting for me out in the parking lot. Nevertheless, my own little triumphs somehow dulled the pain of being average and ordinary.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stopped sneaking into movies. I’m not sure when it happened—somewhere between the dates with women who were unimpressed by the number of two-liter bottles I could fit down my pants, and the need to empty the clothes from my trunk to make room for strollers. Either way, it happened slowly, like the unraveling plot in an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The weekend movie marathons have ended. If my wife wants a drink, I pay for it at the concessions counter rather than strapping one to my leg like a catheter bag in the parking lot. And while I’ve seen some decent films in the past few years, the magic of the theater seems to have gone.

A few months ago my younger brother and I went to a movie. Unfortunately, the film we wanted to see was sold-out, and a Quasimodo-like man stood outside the theater doors double-checking tickets.

“Dude,” my brother said, “let’s sneak in.”

The dying embers in my heart were suddenly roused to life—a challenge. But the torch had been passed years before, and instead I went to another movie—one I paid for—and left my determined brother to fend for himself.

Half an hour later, I received a text from my brother that he had gotten inside and secured us seats in the sold-out theater. I took a deep breath and prepared to dust off my ninja skills. Within minutes I found myself in the crowded room and joined my brother on the second row, where seeing the screen would require craning my head at an angle that would leave my neck numb for weeks.

“Dude, what took you so long?”

For a kid with a mohawk and enough tattoos to get himself into The Guinness Book of World Records, he’s awfully intolerant.

There I was—I had sneaked into a movie for the first time in years, and it was no small feat. But the joy was no longer there; instead, I watched with remiss as my brother beamed smugly from his chair and pulled a bag of Twizzlers from his sock. I declined his outstretched offering and turned my attention back to the screen, where I waited impatiently for the movie to end.


AliciaG said...

OMG So funny. Thank you for sharing that was great. I remember those days of sneaking in your own treats. My husband and I in recent years have taken the kids to the drive in. Not as exciting as those younger years but makes for some good summer memories for the kids. Thanks again.... :)

AliciaG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mary said...

I actually almost spit orange juice on my laptop as I read the "Kirstie Alley" joke. Too funny.

Gerbers said...

I'm really impressed with the smuggling in of the large pizza. Doug, I enjoyed your story. Please tell your wife I said hello and that I was sorry to hear about her jacket! :)

Camille said...

Oh, it makes me so sad that you don't love going to the movies anymore. I heart the movies--but then I have no children and lots of free time.

Awesome post Doug. I did once smuggle someone into the drive in by hiding them in the trunk, but that was the extent of my movie malfeasance. Thanks for the vicarious rebellion.

Chris said...

Just got here from Jen Worick's Punch Bowl. I've printed out a couple of these. I will read now. The only thing is, considering I'm completely new to your blog and you don't owe me nothin, could you lighten up the background a bit? It's really hard to be here because it's so dark.

I'll be back because I bet you say something funny that I just have to respond to.


p.s. the veri word is 'digness' what a spiffy word!