I think about a place I love, the kind of place that can soothe my nerves, and give me a proper escape. I have many choices. My golf bag sits in the mudroom closet. My ski boots collect dust beneath the bicycles in the garage. The temperature is warm, the sun is shining, and a hundred hiking trails call to me from as far away as Incline and as close as my backyard. But I look past these possibilities, open the newspaper, peruse the titles and the times. I have an idea of my destination, in the quiet, in the dark, but I am unaware of its size. I may find myself in a giant auditorium, with enough seats to accommodate eighty-six friends. I may find myself in an intimate living room, with a screen the size of a foldout table. Whichever space I end up in, I know of one simple truth: I will be happy. I leave my home thirty minutes ahead of schedule, just in case, and whistle a classic Disney tune as I pull out of the driveway. It’s a glorious day, and nothing will get in my way. I’m going to the movies.
I approach the parking lot and find every space taken, so I park in the dirt. I sigh when my feet strike the puddle, and brown goop covers my jeans. I approach the line, which stretches around the building. I sigh and wait until it’s my turn at the ticket counter. The person behind the glass tells me my film has already started, but that it’s on two screens, and that it starts again in half an hour. I plop down my ten-dollar-bill and agree to wait some more. She shakes her head. She says I owe fifteen. I tell her I’ll pay fifteen when the DVD comes out. She says it’s extra for the 3D. I tell her that life is already in 3D. She tells me I’m holding up the line. I toss her the face of Abraham Lincoln and make my way inside. The man in the wheelchair rips my ticket and tells me theatre one is to my left. I point to the arcade, playfully confused, and he stares back at me with a blank stare. I approach the concession stand. I decide I’m ravenous, that even a hot dog that’s been spinning in a microwave oven for forty-eight hours will curb my appetite. I order the small popcorn, yet I end up buying a large. I order the junior sized drink, but the medium finds itself in my hand. The cashier tells me I owe her fifteen dollars. I say I already spent fifteen dollars. She says I can go back and get an extra large popcorn for fifty cents more. I tell her a large will suit me fine. I pay her another fifteen, the last cash I have left. She smiles at me and tells me to enjoy the movie. I tell her I’ll try.
I don’t mind the wait until showtime. I find a pinball machine in the arcade. It’s twenty years old and modeled after Batman Returns. I read from my Kindle. I look at my watch again. The time has finally come. I rise from my chair and saunter down the hallway. I pass several doors, all which tantalize me with endless possibilities. The final door on the right calls my name, and I enter. For a moment all is silent. I am in blackness. The only way to go is forward. I wind down a corridor, until the screen of hopes and dreams presents itself above me. With every step I take, the larger the screen becomes, the more the anticipation grows. Simply a room this is not. A place to escape the outside cold this is not. This is a venue for imagination. Some days the viewer finds the most stupendous of dreams; others, the creepiest of nightmares. But as I take a few steps up the aisle, turning and locating that perfect seat in the center, I remember a wise expression my high school stats teacher once wrote in my yearbook: Movies are the last source of magic in this world… never forget it. I didn’t forget it then, and I don’t forget it now. As I lean back in the chair, my eyes widening with excitement, my fingertips stroking the edge of the armrest, I smile. The lights go down. The projector ignites. My voyeuristic tendencies emerge. And the presentation begins.
The previews are endless. Will the movie begin already? I know the studio shelled out hundreds of millions on a sequel to a film I didn’t care about in the first place. I know those executives, high up in their colossal towers, want to lure me into shelling out money for Transformers 10. But the more footage they show, the more music they blast, the more nonsense that escapes the screen and smashes my eyeballs into oatmeal mush, the less I feel inclined to ever return to this place. By the time the sixth trailer shows its ugly face, my patience has depleted into the size of a peanut, my apathy has grown to the size of a T-Rex, and the title of the film I’ve been waiting for has escaped my fading memory. I’m relieved when the movie finally begins, but the screen is fuzzy and out of focus. I remember to put on my 3D glasses, but they have somehow dropped from my pocket. I crawl around on the sticky floor and find candy, gum, a KFC chicken thigh. I find the glasses and put them on.
A minute in and my head already pains me. I try to read the opening credits but all I can think about is the benefits of Tylenol. I admire the opening shot, so vivid and colorful. But the only color I see next is the bright white emanating from the tiny phone before me. A young girl giggles and texts her friend a funny joke. To my left are two boys, no older than nine; one sends a Facebook message, the other tweets a response. I feel a kick to my chair. It’s subtle but irksome. I smell the bottom of an old shoe, before a foot strikes me in the back of my head. The headache intensifies, but I try to stay calm. A married couple to my right holds hands and discusses the events on screen. Who is that, she says. I don’t know, he says. Is she mad at him, she says. I’m not sure, he says. Someone kicks my chair again. Some kids enter the theater and chat like they’re at a school assembly. Two cell phones ignite with shrieking ringtones of fury behind me. A baby awakens, and releases the worst sound of all.
I look back at the screen. The wizard performs his first spell, and our hero flies through outer space. The girl has recognized her psychic powers, and the British professor has fallen through a hole in time. I remove my 3D classes, and somehow the three dimensions burst through the screen, up the aisles, past the inane teenagers and inconsiderate adults and irritable little baby. The characters come to life. The mysteries enter my subconscious. The magic takes hold of me, and the endless problems and annoyances disappear. I forget about the baby, the kicks to the chair, the bright little screens. I realize I am meant to be here, that I was always meant to be here, that no single decision changed my life more than falling in love with the movies. They’re my everything. They’re my magical windows to wondrous dreams.