When I was a child, my brother and I spent our summers in Tennessee, splitting our time between our mother’s mother and her husband, and our father’s parents. They were vastly different families, in food, dress, religion, expectations of behavior, punishment, and entertainment. (Contrast those summers with our usual life of freedom in Florida the rest of the year and it’s no wonder I developed a fertile imagination; hell, I’m lucky I didn’t develop multiple personalities! [Perhaps I did...])
Anyway, we went to the movies a lot during those summers, likely dropped there with a huge sigh of relief from our exhausted grandparents. But even at the movies there were differences. For instance, with our mother’s mother we were allowed popcorn, with our father’s mother, no way. We constantly challenged the No Popcorn rule, and, persistent child that I was, I pressed for details. But WHY? Why couldn’t we have popcorn? We’d had popcorn just the week before. We had popcorn at home, in Florida. We were popcorn experts. Seriously, WHY?
The answer never varied. It was because “you’ll choke on popcorn and die.” I was already a weary veteran of the “if you do/don’t do fill-in-the-blank you’ll die” threat, the most famous in our family coming from my mother’s father’s wife (getting the hang of this family yet? I have a flow chart I reference occasionally) whenever I asked why I had to wash my hands every single time I used the bathroom, even in our own house and even if I didn’t…you know. Her sage reply was because if I didn’t, “you’ll get hepatitis and die.”
The thing with this sort of response is that it’s very difficult to argue with. And I did so like to formulate mature, well-reasoned arguments. I mean, hotly replying “I will not,” was simply not an option for this kid. I needed facts, figures, newspaper articles to wave about triumphantly. But there was very little literature on popcorn related fatalities. (Or hepatitis, but that’s another blog.)
And how do you argue with someone who is, after all, simply trying to save your life? Was it possible that our father’s parents actually loved us more? Perhaps our mother’s mother was ambivalent about our certain demise, our violent, hacking, purple-faced popcorn choking deaths? During those hungry movies I would glance around at our fellow movie-goers happily snacking on their little butter-covered puffed kernels of salty doom and wonder who would get it first. I studied the Heimlich maneuver so that I could leap the aisle and be the hero (surely my arms were too short to have done any good?), and I was amazed that nobody else seemed concerned.
The very next day I’d take money from my mother’s mother, buy my popcorn, and munch away, the worry sliding away as easily as the popcorn slid down my throat. I didn’t look at the other patrons or obsess about their safety, I just watched the movie, ate my popcorn, drank my sugar and caffeine-laden Coke, and kicked my brother’s leg. It was heaven.
But those popcorn-less hours meant something too. I never did find out what the real reason was for our popcorn deprivation (it probably cost a pretty penny for one thing, or maybe they were concerned about nutrition, though the frequent donuts and Count Chocula would seem to belie that, or maybe they really thought we’d choke. Maybe someone they knew actually died.). But those hours in the dark, with nothing to be mindless about, made me more mindful. I noticed things. I sat in the midst of strangers and watched them in some of their most mindless moments, wide-eyed, slack-jawed except when shoveling in their deadly popcorn, enraptured, removed from their daily lives by…what?
A break from their daily lives, when they got to stop worrying about everything else, even choking to death on popcorn.
I love the movies, all kinds of movies. From foreign films where you leave feeling slightly bewildered, to comedies, to action films where it is required by law to have on the screen (at any given time) something blowing up or a woman who has breasts that should be declared a national landmark. Bonus points to action films where there are busty women in the scene where stuff is blowing up.
A year ago I took a film course that covered everything from the history of film to camera angles. Many weeks were dedicated to a specific film genre: silent, comedy, horror, action, romance or musical. One week was just Hitchcock movies. Another week we watched scenes from Casablanca broken down by different camera angles so that we could see how the camera’s point of view made a difference in terms of tone and feeling. I adored the class. I’ve read Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey a few hundred times since.
I have friends who work in the film industry. I conceptually understand that it isn’t romantic. Making movies is a frustrating process with long hours and short tempers. I don’t care – I still want to make a movie. As I have no acting talent (high school theatre was my golden era) and no ability to direct, this means I will have to write movies. The fact I’ve never written a movie doesn’t bother me in the least. A mere detail.
Movies I love (in no particular order) include: Casablanca, The Thin Man, King Kong (the 1933 original), Star Wars (the early movies), Indiana Jones, Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola’s version from 1992), Amelie, Apollo 13, Gosford Park, Serenity, Lord of the Rings (all twelve hours), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, etc. etc. Movies I’ve seen recently that I loved include The Good German, Last King of Scotland and Casino Royale.
I’ll be sure to mention all of you in my future Oscar speech. Who would you thank or what is your favorite movie?
Now, try not to be jealous, but here it is.
I have a home theater.
I know, I know. My book hasn’t even hit the shelves yet and already I’m acting very Hollywood, home theater and all. What can I say? State-of-the-art sound system, huge flat screen, plush velvet sofas and a fully-stocked mini bar and kitchenette. Every movie you could possibly ever want, right at your fingertips.
Okay, okay! So I’m in la-la-land. Our home “theater” isn’t exactly state-of-the-art. Or plush. Or fully stocked. It’s a $99 24-inch RCA color TV that weighs a ton, connected with a 2-in-1 VCR/DVD combo player that we got from Costco. Our movie collection consists mostly of Blue’s Clue’s (“Do you see a clue?”), Barbie adventures (“I want to grow up to be a princess!”), and a dated copy of Caddyshack (“Be the ball.”). We get our movies from the library for $1. We don’t have a mini bar; we don’t even have microwave popcorn. Nachos? Fuhgetaboutit.
Our theater seats consist of a polished rattan couch with fading palm tree print cushions, a rocking chair, and the floor. What’s found beneath the seats are your usual suspects: coins, paper clips, a missing princess slipper, bits of rice cake (my daughter … busted! She’s not allowed to eat in the living room), a dust bunny or two. Why should I travel 45 minutes to the nearest theater and pay $8 to deal with someone else’s dirt? I’ve got my own here, and it’s free!
Still, I miss the occasional movie in a movie theater. Movies have always been a great way to jump start my writing, so I will continue to dream of the ultimate home theater, plush velvet sofas and all … someday. In the meantime, I’m just going to have to make do without movie theaters, home theaters, Netflix or TIVO. I don’t even have cable. But I’ve got Blue’s Clues and Barbie for inspiration … what else do I need?
What movies are stocked in your home theater?
When I was a kid, Saturday night was drive-in night. Because they charged by the person, we’d arrive at the drive-in packed into the trunk of my best friend Lynn’s mom’s car. It was a big old boat of a car, and we could fit four kids in that trunk. Sometimes, she’d let us ride back there the whole way from her house. We had a flashlight and told each other gross, horrible stories. Dirty jokes. Who we had secret crushes on. Who we wanted to be when we grew up. I told Lynn I was in love with her cousin Russel who owned a silver Zippo lighter. I didn’t really love Russel, but I loved the idea of being in love. I loved making confessions in the dark trunk, zooming along back roads, knowing we could be rear-ended and the cops would never think to look for passengers in the back to rescue.
Once we got through the gates, Lynn’s mother would pull to the last row in the back where the high school kids parked with coolers of beer, smoking pot on the hoods of cars. Then out we’d tumble, like clowns at a circus. The stoned teenagers would point and laugh, but no one turned us in.
I loved the Plainville Drive-In. I loved the little tinny-sounding speaker that hooked on the window and the little film they showed before the movie started with dancing hotdogs and bubbling soda cups doing the cha-cha.
What I remember most are the Clint Eastwood movies: Dirty Harry showing the bad guys no mercy, Clint and the orangutan getting wacky in Every Which Way but Loose.
But it wasn’t about the movies. It was about sharing popcorn and Junior Mints with Lynn in the backseat and whispering back and forth, comparing notes on gunfights and virginity and which was a better candy: Charleston Chews or Milk Duds. It was about roaming through the rows of parked cars, seeing who was making out and who wasn’t. Trying to get buzzed from second hand pot smoke. Stealing a beer from a cooler without being caught. During intermission, we made our way to the playground where they had one of those spinning merry-go-round things that seem to be outlawed these days. We’d get on and push each other around and around, then stagger off drunkenly, falling down. We’d pick fights with other kids there. Act Dirty Harry tough while we spat Jujubes and turned up the collars of our jeans jackets and practiced whispering, “Go ahead, make my day…”
By the end of the second movie (it was always a double feature) we’d be struggling to keep our eyes open. On the way home, I’d somehow manage to outlast the others. Lynn and her brothers and cousins, and my own younger brother, would be sleeping all around me there in the warm cocoon of the car. I’d stay awake watching the headlights play across their faces, listening to the tires on the road and the quiet country music Lynn’s mother played. I’d try to stay awake the whole way home, but always, I drifted.
Here’s what I hate about going to the movies. I’m always seated directly in front of the cougher. When I’m not seated directly in front of the cougher, I’m seated in front of the sneezer. And it does absolutely no good to listen for sounds of sniffing, throat clearing or Thera-Flu ingestion while I’m looking for a seat. A true theater-cougher will wait to reveal himself until after the curtain has gone up and your uncovered popcorn is within the dreaded three-foot mucosal range.
The very best seat in the house is the seat right behind the cougher. The bacteria will always blow forward and your odds of having a secondary microbial infestation directly behind you are slim to none. However, exactly how to locate this golden seat remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. I’ve often thought, with my abysmal track record, of settling myself in a seat, then getting up and moving two rows back. But I’ve never risked it.
So how does a girl who stocks her purse, her car, and her office with Purell hand sanitizer make it through an entire film during cold and flu season?
It all has to do with stealthy coat management.
1. Choose your outerwear wisely before leaving the house. A thick hood will provide a germ barrier that can only be likened to an N-95 mask. A stand-up collar will work almost as well, but I cannot guarantee full microbial blockage should the infected one happen to be long in the torso or neck.
2. Before sitting down, position your coat with the hood or collar creating a nice ridge along your seat back. Being ever the optimist, I tend to keep the collar or hood folded down–but ready–at this point.
3. When the cough occurs–and this is doubly important if the cough is gurgly and vile–it’s important to act quickly. You have precious few seconds to activate your blockade. In one motion, flip up your collar or hood and slide down in your seat, forming additional obstruction on the sides of your face. These side “blinders” may not be altogether necessary, but will be very convincing when you explain to the members in your party that you find the theater chilly. You’d be well-advised to throw in a few well-timed shivers at this point, lest you appear…socially unhinged.
You may walk out of the theater with a kinked neck and you’ll likely miss any subtitles, but, dear reader, you’ll have your health. And if, in spite of your best efforts, you stumble in your execution and feel the vile spray of respiratory secretions against the back of your shirt collar, despair not.
As best you can, try to enjoy the film, then get your soon-to-be-ailing body to the nearest bar for a nip of something strapping. Compensatory. You deserve it. And when you do come down with your benefactor’s bug, go straight to the theater and pick any seat you desire. You have no one to fear but yourself.
All I ask is that you save me the seat behind you.
There’s simply no way I can write the word “popcorn” and not delve into my popcorn-and-Milk Duds combo obsession.
I don’t know when it started. I just know that today, as soon as someone says, “Hey, are you interested in seeing…” I’m already imagining scooping a handful of butter-drenched corn and Milk Dud into my mouth. Sometimes, when I’m not feeling remotely inspired by what’s out there, the thought is the only thing that will actually get me to agree to go to the movies.
Improvements have been made on the delicacy over the years. A huge moment — the dish’s most dramatic shift, really — was the day I went to the movies with a new-ish friend and heard her order butter in the middle and on top. I had no idea up until that point that such a thing was done and today, you’d never catch me for settling for any less.
Less than shining examples of my own character have been revealed to me through my experiences with this favorite food of mine. A friend need only start asking, “Want to sha –” before I’ve shaken my head and explained that I don’t, in fact, believe in sharing popcorn (though I may spare a Milk Dud). I’ve been known to do the same thing with General Tso’s chicken — which, it’s worth noting, is another excellent example of a salty-and-sweet combo.
And while I’ve never found any popcorn and Milk Dud combos under my seat, I only hesitate for a second before telling you that if I did, I would probably eat the entire thing, even if I didn’t know where it came from. The stuff is that good.
So give yourself just one more Christmas present and go join the rest of the people avoiding familial confrontations at the movies on Monday, where you can give this bit of heaven a try. We all need to treat ourselves right on the holidays, don’t we?
And if you’re successful at weaning yourself off of the stuff after you’ve tried it, please pass any and all tips along here. After writing this, even Night at the Musuem — hell, even Saw III — is suddenly sounding worth seeing. Like, right now.
What’s the food that makes you go weak in the knees?
I know it’s not Saturday, but I have reasons for my absence, which are not the same as excuses. But fear not, I shall manage my Saturdays with more efficiency in the future, because I know how it upset my multitude of fans to have come here only to find no post by Deb Kristy.
Despite the fact that I’ve been unable to comment on our very own Debutante posts this week (in addition to not being able to comment on our fine array of fellow bloggers [see list at right] which I aim to remedy this coming week) I have truly enjoyed catching up and reading about their protagonists. Do we have some serious talent on this site, or what? (If you answer “Or what.” you shall be banned from the site and have your dance card revoked for all future foxtrots.)
There are many things I’d like to say about my protagonist(s) in Catching Genius. I’d like to express my satisfaction in Connie’s orchid-murdering ways, my fascination with Estella’s number-crunching coping skills, my certainty that June is possibly the real hero in all of this for her surprising stories of hurricanes and card-counting. But therein lies the problem. In this mixture of struggling, flawed but trying, dammit, women I find myself confused about exactly who my real protagonist is.
So, instead, I’m going to steal a page from Jackie Kessler, talented author and blogger, and will interview the lot of them, hoping their personalities will speak for themselves.
KK: So, Connie, Estella, and June. Thanks for managing to sit in the same room without a single argument.
JUNE: It’s lovely to be here. I’ve brought you some exquisite Norman Love chocolates. Connie, Estella, thank our hostess.
ESTELLA: Sure. Thanks. Really. Can’t stay long.
CONNIE: Mother, I was just about to. Please don’t start…
JUNE: What? Start what? You’d think I didn’t raise you with any manners.
KK: Okay, let’s not get off track–
CONNIE: Every time we go somewhere you do this.
JUNE: What’s that, dear? Be polite? After all, it is Christmas Eve.
ESTELLA: (muttering) Twenty-four is the smallest number with eight divisors, the modular discriminant is the 24th power of the Dedekind eta function, there are twenty-four points on a backgammon board–
CONNIE: Stop that!
ESTELLA: Stop what? Why don’t you stop twisting your ring around like that? Work on your own OCD issues, Connie, and leave mine alone.
JUNE: OCD schmoseedee. You girls are just creative, like me.
KK: So, could I ask a question?
JUNE: Of course, dear.
CONNIE: (sighs) Do you have any wine?
KK: Um, no, sorry. What do you think of this whole thing with your lives being put down in print?
JUNE: I knew my story was interesting enough to be in print someday. It was really just a matter of who would do it.
CONNIE: It’s not your story, Mother. It’s mine, and Gib’s and Carson’s, and how we found their individual talents and worked through our family problems.
ESTELLA: Please. I have no idea how I wound up with these narcissists. I’m the one whose private and very personal secrets got splashed around. Frankly, I never gave my permission to have anything about my life put in print. I really don’t see how this is moral, or even legal.
JUNE: She has a point. Who said you could do this anyway? You know my dear friend, Bob, is a very important lawyer.
CONNIE: Did you get paid for this? Don’t you have to share with us? I have bills, you know. Mother, get Bob on the phone, please.
KK: Okay! Time to wrap this up then. Great having you ladies. Best of luck with that whole dysfunctional thing y’all have going.
* * *
I managed to get them to leave by pointing out the fabulous sunset and telling them that the beachside bar was serving free shrimp and sangria.
I kept the chocolate.