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Monday, August 18, 2008

A moment of introspection

By Dick Hirsch

Introspection is good. For those few who may not happen to know what introspection is, please don’t accuse me of using a big word and desert me by turning the page. I’ll be glad to tell you. Introspection is self analysis or soul-searching, examining your own inner self. For years this has been described as a very positive undertaking, comparable to exercising regularly, getting plenty of fresh air, and eating apples. However, in a typically busy life, there is often little time for introspection, so, when an opportunity presents itself, the experts say you should seize the moment and introspect.

Such a moment developed just the other day at the movies. I don’t go to the movies as often as some of my friends, so when I go I always make sure to arrive a few minutes early so I don’t miss any of the trailers, showing previews of coming attractions. It was during the preview of an upcoming action thriller that my attention strayed from the screen and I casually looked around in the half light.

I studied a man just arriving, walking down the aisle and sidling into the row just in front of me. I didn’t know the man, but his arrival stimulated an interval of introspection. That’s how introspection works, I guess. You’re just cruising along and then POW!...a random sight or an errant thought produces a moment of introspection.

It wasn’t just the man I noticed, I focused on what he was carrying, one of those enormous buckets of popcorn, the kind that sell for around $7 or so. Some might describe them as family size, but this man was alone, and he was already eating some popcorn as he walked down the aisle, searching for an appropriate place to sit.

I immediately embarked on introspection. It didn’t take long. The result? I realized that never, ever, not once in my entire life, have I ever eaten popcorn in a movie theater. I don’t know whether that discloses anything significant about my behavior patterns or personal shortcomings, but that is what that interlude of introspection yielded. By then it was time for the feature to begin, so for the next 140 or so minutes there was no further self analysis.

There was more later, walking to the parking lot. Of course, I knew that the sale of popcorn and other food items is a high profit for the theater operators. It has been said that more money is made on the popcorn than on the admission ticket.

I heard about that in my boyhood. My good friend, Arthur, who lived across the street, played an important role in my early movie-going schedule. His father was in the movie business, booking films for various theaters. In that role, he was in possession of a wallet filled with passes to virtually all the theaters in the city, good for “complimentary admission for the bearer and a guest.” Arthur was a good friend to have, since he had total access to all those movie passes. Thus, he was “the bearer” and I was “the guest,” roles we both enjoyed. Even though we went frequently, each time it continued to be an exhilarating experience to get in for nothing.

Often his father would issue an advisory before we departed for the movies: “Be sure to buy some popcorn,” he would say, once explaining occasionally that it was a way for the operator to at least make some profit while allowing us free admission. I think Arthur did buy popcorn, but I never enjoyed popcorn that much, favoring, instead, candy, such as a Butterfingers bar or a box of Milk Duds or Good & Plenty.

The “guest” phase of my life ended years ago, and I have been buying tickets ever since. The tickets cost much more today than in the past and so does the popcorn and candy. The popcorn portions are much bigger today, dwarfing the boxes sold years ago, and popcorn has emerged as an even larger revenue generator. Many theatergoers rely on popcorn and don’t seem to feel the prices are too high, although they surely know the raw material is inexpensive when purchased at a supermarket.

Expense has nothing to do with my situation. It would probably qualify as a personality quirk, the existence of which never surfaced until I experienced that recent interval of introspection. It’s another indication that even modest self assessment can produce unexpected results.


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