|The Banquet of Life
By Dave Stinton
May 15, 2008
In 1996, my girlfriend and I sneaked food into a movie theatre.
This was not a box of candy or a bag of sliced apples. This was a chicken sandwich from Wendy’s.
I think Wendy’s was experimenting with some sort of spicy chicken sandwich at the time. Rossana and I hadn’t had dinner, so we stopped at the drive-thru on the way to see Twister. Because I was still naïve enough to imagine that the teens running the place would give a rat’s ass if I brought in outside food, I hid my foil-wrapped sandwich on my person. We sat in our seats and waited for the lights to dim for the previews.
They didn’t. The entire parade of trailers passed with the theatre lights up full, as I held my sandwich’s rapidly diminishing warmth against my chest.
Amazingly, even once the movie started, the lights refused to dim. I imagined battle-worn security guards behind a two-way mirror, studying me through binoculars.
“Keep those lights on. He’ll trip up. His kind always does.”
“Sarge, the opening credits are over. People are getting suspicious.”
“Dammit. Very well. Hit the lights. (under his breath) You win this round, you smug bastard. But one day, you’ll be out on your ear. You and your delicious contraband!”
So the lights finally came down, freeing me to dig into my lukewarm fast-food sandwich. That, coupled with a movie that was essentially two hours of spinning objects (climaxing with Helen Hunt confronting the tornado that killed her father!), left me reeling with nausea. I suppose if the lights were a ploy by the movie theatre, it worked. I haven’t tried that since.
• • •
I have little to no guilt sneaking candy in, though. I need a stop at a Walgreens to pick up my Dots or my Whoppers, or it doesn’t feel like a movie. Ironically, I usually don’t even realize I’m eating them. My consciousness is taken up with the action on screen, so eating becomes a mindless transfer of objects from a box into my body.
Why not take a sedentary activity and add some empty calories?
Nowhere is this truer than at B-Fest. It is a yearly 24-hour-long festival of awful movies held on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston. Technically, you’re not supposed to bring food into the theatre. But this rule is a quaint little relic that brings wistful smiles to the faces of audience members laden down with coolers. “There’s no outside food allowed in this room,” the host will announce, yelling to be heard over the rustles of hundreds of bags of Doritos.
Having a convenience-store-display-sized box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups within reach is about all you can cling to for sanity during B-Fest’s dark hours, the time between 2 and 5 A.M., when your fitful attempts at sleep are thwarted by the sound of William Shatner emoting loudly on the subject of what to do about all the mutant tarantulas.
One year I brought bell peppers and hummus. I felt healthier, but I also felt guilty of some sort of abomination.
• • •
Speaking of things that feel just plain wrong, I didn’t get around to seeing Ratatouille until well after the initial wave of popularity had died down. When I finally picked up my candy and headed to the cineplex, I found myself entering an empty theatre.
The next people to arrive were a dad and his two young daughters. And with a sea of empty seats all around us, they decided to sit directly in front of me.
That was bad enough. Then the dad left to hit the concession stand, and I was left alone with two little girls, waiting for the lights to dim and a children’s movie to start. In my lap, a box of candy. I am not sure I have ever felt creepier than I did in that moment. By the time Dad returned, I had moved several rows back.
• • •
The movie that finally shook me out of my food complacency was Se7en. By the time the “gluttony” sequence rolled around, my tub of popcorn lay abandoned on the floor.
This was followed by the jumpy handheld camera of Looking for Richard, Al Pacino’s experiment in acturbation. Motion sickness sent me standing at the back of the house, watching the movie from afar, the better to periodically turn and ground myself by looking at the surrounding walls. This paved the way for the over-hyped visual ipecac that was The Blair Witch Project, which actually sent me out of the theatre entirely, not out of fright but out of certainty that I was going to vomit. (I didn’t.)
In each case, extreme discomfort forced me to be more conscious of my eating habits. But for the most part, the presence of junk food in my hand enhances the movie-going experience, rather than the movie destroying the food.
But someone is going to have to explain the guys across the aisle from me who sneaked bottles of beer in to see Syriana. I guess that fingernail torture scene requires something stronger than a box of Jujyfruits.
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