Paul Prather

Am I becoming my grandparents? A night at the movies isn’t what it used to be.

If you haven’t been to the movies in a while, you will find a lot has changed at theaters like Lexington’s Regal Hamburg Pavilion.
If you haven’t been to the movies in a while, you will find a lot has changed at theaters like Lexington’s Regal Hamburg Pavilion. 1999 Herald-Leader

Consider this Part 2 of my column last week on rediscovering my mortality.

My mom’s mom, widowed in her 50s, lived in an isolated Pulaski County farmhouse. She continued to work part-time, go to church and get together with her sisters, but she also spent broad swaths of time alone, in silence.

When she’d occasionally come to Mount Sterling for a visit with my parents, my sister and me, I used to get tickled at her.

It only took an hour of our rapid-fire conversation and youthful comings and goings and our always blaring television and our ever-ringing telephone to send poor Grandma into delirium.

Her eyes would dart from one of us to the other as she tried to keep up with the pandemonium. She’d unconsciously cover her mouth with a hand as if stunned. She’d mumble, “Eh, law.”

I’d giggle and say, “Grandma, are we too much for you?”

It was clear the world — our world, of vibrant adults, teenagers, modernism — had passed her by.

Now, I know how Grandma felt.

Last week, my wife Liz and I decided to watch a movie at an actual theater. We wanted to see “American Animals,” a true story about four misdirected college boys who tried to steal millions of dollars’ worth of books from Transylvania University.

I’m a lifelong film fanatic. When I was in 4th grade, at the end of each school day the other guys would run out to play sandlot baseball. I’d rush home to watch the afternoon movies broadcast by a Louisville TV station, usually obscure black-and-white B movies from the 1930s. I didn’t care — a movie was a movie.

From childhood into my 40s, I averaged going to a brick-and-mortar theater at least every week or two, often more than that.

But now, I rarely go to a theater. Instead, I watch the Turner Classic Movies channel in my den.

My film obsession hasn’t changed. The movies themselves have changed.

Sometimes many months, seemingly whole years, go by where there isn’t anything playing at the multiplexes except third-sequel blockbusters adapted from comic books. Given that I quit reading comic books at 12, I stay home.

Liz and I both were excited about “American Animals,” though — a real film starring real humans not wearing superhero costumes and featuring a real, adult plot.

We drove to Lexington. Figuring a movie like that might be popular in the city where the actual heist on which it’s based took place, I suggested we stop at the theater several hours before show time to buy our tickets, then go eat.

I parked in the fire lane out front (yes, I know) while Liz ran inside to make the purchase.

First shock: even though there was no line inside at the ticket counter, the show was nearly sold out. Liz had a choice between getting us seats together on the front row, or else selecting from a handful of one-seat openings scattered around the auditorium, because …

Second shock: it was reserved seating, like a play or concert. Not first-come, first-served, like every movie I’ve been to for six decades.

Third shock: the tickets were $11 and change. Each.

The fourth shock came when we eventually returned to the multiplex after dinner. Liz bought a small soft drink and small bag of popcorn. Price: $13.

I righteously declined to buy treats myself on the principle that it’s dishonorable and possibly un-American to pay four times what a concession should cost.

Fifth shock: When we made our way into the designated auditorium, we found that the front-row seats Liz had selected were literally at the foot of the screen. We’d be craning our necks for two hours, staring straight up into the soles of the actors’ shoes.

We returned to the ticket counter to try to exchange those seats for separate ones.

Meanwhile, we’d noticed that the multiplex’s other patrons strolled right past the ticket booth, waved their cell phones at an usher holding a wand and headed for their particular screens.

When we got to the ticket booth, I asked the kid behind the counter what was up. Why were there no lines? How come the seats for our movie had been nearly sold out three hours ahead of time? Why were patrons showing the usher their phones?

She gave me one of those looks — part disgust, part astonishment, part pure pity — that teenagers reserve for the dotty shuffling off toward oblivion on their walkers.

Most people buy tickets and select their seats way in advance, she explained. Online. An app on their phones serves as their ticket stub.

Final shock: it struck me that by arriving in person, at the ticket window, early, carrying cash, Liz and I had demonstrated ourselves a generation too late for the show.

There’s more to say, but I’m out of space. We ended up sitting apart from each other. Happily, we were close enough to wave. The movie was interesting.

But everything about our experience screamed, “You are out of touch. You are dinosaurs. Take your nerve meds and go lie down quietly, old timers.”

I don’t even begrudge this.

So has it always gone, with each passing generation. I saw a version of this realization in Grandma’s eyes 45 years ago — she was no longer in the game.

I just never thought it would happen to me.

I never thought I’d be the one mumbling “Eh, law” into my hand.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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