Jake walked into the cinema on a hot summer afternoon. It was the first time he had ventured into a theater in a very long time. He had forgotten the tactile and sensory impact, along with the ephemeral ‘something’ that enveloped him as he walked in.
Entering the lobby one goes from the blinding bright heat of the day, into a dimmer, cool world complete with neon lights, music, and chattering people. It is almost a shock to the system, when he take his first deep breath, the aroma of popcorn, hot dogs, and chocolate overwhelm the olfactory senses, and his mouth starts to water, because deep inside, we all know that a good movie deserves good popcorn and soda.
After garnering the prerequisite treats, he headed for the theater inside the giant building. Used to be that the theater was one large auditorium that showed two movies in a row. The coveted place to sit, for anyone under 20, was in the balcony. Little kids loved the front row of the balcony so they could throw popcorn down on people and be as obnoxious as they could until the ushers threw them out. The older kids loved the back row of the balcony where they could cuddle and kiss in the dark. Things have changed, however.
Jake wandered down the corridor to the door marked with the number 16 and an LED sign that ran the name of the movie over and over above the door. As he stood waiting for the cleaning staff to let him in, he realized the same smell existed in the building as it did in the old cinemas of his youth. The slightly dusty smell of carpets combined with a hint of urine, spilled drinks, and too much cologne slathered on by both males and females surprised him. It felt comforting, because it was so familiar. He always wondered why, even if the restrooms were in perfect order, the slight tinge of urine always lingered creating a piquant note to the warm oder of the salty popcorn.
Entering the theater auditorium used to be a big moment. Walking into the hushed semi dark atmosphere, down a aisle with lights embedded in the carpet at the end of each row, searching in the darkness for a special seat or one’s friends, and scooting into the middle of a row over knees and packages were part of the ritual of going to the cinema. Back in the day, people chatted, crackled paper, crunched on ice, and babies would toddle up and down the aisle until the parents finally got them to settle down. Today, however, there are the added benefits of commercials on the screen, blaring music and announcements, and the ever present cell phones beeping, squeaking, and lending bright light to the darkness.
Jake sat down in his favorite place, center seat, center row of the theater. He always counted rows and seats before sitting down to make sure he was dead center in the room. That way he was able to see and hear everything while ignoring the noises from the other patrons. Cup of soda on his right, popcorn nestled in his left arm, he settled back to enjoy his favorite part of any movie, the previews of coming attractions. Lights go down, music is cued, and with each preview, the sound gets louder, until, at last, the main event lights up the screen. Cue the dramatic music, action sequence to introduce the story, and the outside world goes away for two hours or so.
If the movie is good, Jake gets sucked into the story and action, never hearing or paying attention to his noisy companions. If the movie is bad, or boring, every little thing about his neighbors annoys him, sometimes to the point of complaining to management. It paid to have a reputation as a grumpy old man.
With the high cost of attending the cinema, a cost he has seen double over and over again since the days he could spend the entire afternoon at the cinema and spend less than a dollar, Jake didn’t go as much as he used to. Watching a movie at home on all the new gadgets and gizmos was, eh, okay. But, it simply didn’t have the magical feeling of a theater. The anticipation, the aromas, the feeling of isolation and distance from the every day world, were only experienced in an honest to goodness cinema. As expensive as it was, Jake had to get is movie fix once every few months. It wasn’t the movie he saw that mattered so much, as it was the experience of the mysterious world of the cinema.
When the movie ended, he always stayed to see the credits roll by. Generally, there was a theme song that played along with them, so he sat quietly watching and listening as everyone bustled around grabbing up their items and debris as they headed out. Jake was almost always the last person out of the theater, annoying the cleaners at his delay. Head still wrapped up in the story, he would slowly wander down the corridor to the exit.
It was always a shock to the system to realize that the world had kept on going while he was away in the mysteries of the cinema. The lobby seemed too bright, loud, and full of people. The aroma of popcorn wasn’t nearly as enticing, and, depending on the time of day and year, he knew once he opened the exterior door, he would step back into the heat or cold of the rat race. It always made him feel tired and ready for a nap. Regretting the cost, he, once again, made himself a promise that he wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a wasted afternoon. He could, after all, see the movie at home in a few months.
Of course, like all addicts, deep inside, Jake knew that he would be back as soon as a new movie came out that just had to be seen in a theater to gain the most from the story. At least that is what he told himself. It was better than admitting he was a cinema junky.