It was quiet in the office today, only the clacking of a keyboard here or there, the roof vent clumping in the wind. If I pried myself away from my foot heater under my desk and walked over to the window I could see whitecaps on the Puget Sound, a shabby, loose window screen on the neighboring house pushing in and out, threatening to clatter to the ground two stories below. It felt cozy and safe inside. One of my co-workers made some popcorn in the cheap little kitchen microwave (with the odd conglomerate smell of years of microwavable meals and leftovers and mystery gunk no one seems motivated enough to clean), and the buttery waft permeated my olfactory memory. I was filled with a very strong desire to go see a movie. To slip into another reality in a warm darkened room with a hot box of popcorn on my lap. But since that wasn’t possible I slipped instead into the warm and fuzzy world of nostalgia.
I remember going to drive-in theaters with my family and we always made sure we had this foot-tall, ten-inch wide Tupperware container filled with buttery, salty popcorn. My favorite pieces were the ones wetly saturated with butter. My mother was ever-ready with those little foil packs of lemon-scented wet-naps, and I’d bet you a buck if we spilled out her purse today they would be there still, soft and worn, the print rubbed off. She still has the Tupperware, though opaque now and with the oily feeling of aged plastic. It also traveled with us to Japan, and the sort of community hall with cold, folding metal chairs in the off-base housing development we lived where they showed old movies on Saturday nights. Later when we moved on base we had our choice of several theaters, one especially thrilling to a 10-year old, in a Quonset hut where you dropped a dime into a turnstile for admittance and pushed through with your ribs.
Earlier, when we lived in Spokane, my city-grandparents let my sister, brother and I spend the night with them separately, so we each had some special time with them. One of my treats when it came to my turn (last because I was the youngest) was a trip to one of the nicer theaters to see Swiss Family Robinson. I loved the movie, and naturally became obsessed with tree houses, but I equally loved having a box of popcorn all to myself. Sometimes it’s nice to share, but I recall going to see a movie with Joe several years ago and He-Who-Claims-Not-To-Be-Into-Popcorn-That-Much started loudly diving into my little barrel. Much to my greedy popcorn-eatin’ annoyance. I leaned in close to his ear and hissed “Get your grubby six-piece grabbin’ fingers out of my popcorn!” He still thinks this is hilarious, though because of my unwillingness to share, or the fact that I counted how many pieces he grabbed, I don’t know.
In the military theaters the national anthem is played, very loudly, before each film, a close-up of an enormous red, white and blue flag furling gently, yet strong, against blue sky projected onto the screen, everyone required to stand. But to me it was like the anthem before a sporting event where I suffered through the torturously long song, impatiently waiting for “the brave” to fade out before I could plop into my seat and burrow my chubby hand into my popcorn. Now you know where my true loyalties lie.
Nowadays, I can take or leave the popcorn. Or rather my sometimes existent waistline can leave it. I’ve resigned myself to bottled water, diet Coke, and basking in the waft of that nostalgic smell. Sometimes a whiff is all you need.