I had two wallets when I was a kid. One was for money, and the other was for ticket stubs. I still have them all – hundreds of tiny paper rectangles with titles like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Dark Knight, Click and Hairspray and Nancy Drew printed in square black ink, next to dates and times that are a lot like the kid’s memories they represent: foggy and fading, stuffed into a purple plastic wallet in some closet somewhere.
Even when they no longer had a place in my high school backpack or on the shelves of my dorm room or tucked into my purse, it was nice to know I could always go back to them. In that way, they were a lot like the theater they came from: the old multiplex outside my hometown would always be there, even if I rarely went anymore. But it closed six months ago because of the pandemic. And now it’s mostly gone, bulldozed to build something else in its place.
I had my birthday parties at that theater every year, and spent countless Friday nights there with friends who would rather goof around and make noise and throw popcorn than get lost in Remember the Titans and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It was blasphemy to me that other 12-year-olds would act their age! That they could get up and leave the theater, or open their flip phones, at the exact moment the Templar treasure was found, or the jackpot was won, or the hero stopped the train. Still is.
If I went more than week without walking through those doors, it felt strange. As I got older and left town, I started going to “nicer” theaters and sterile press screening rooms in the city. Somewhere along the way, I started throwing the tickets in the trash along with my empty fountain drink cup, like the rest of the world. But when I did go back to my old theater, the grungy place with its 18 auditoriums and expensive pretzel bites and sticky floors still meant childhood to me. It meant forgetting about algebra tests or hard times or mean girls. It meant laughing, mocking or thoroughly enjoying a story for a few hours, with my family or friends or my critic’s notebook in my lap.
It’s so beyond strange that it won’t be there anymore. It was really nothing special, not an old-fashioned movie-house or a fancy recline-and-dine cineplex. It screamed late 90s, and the popcorn was bad and the floors were sticky, and the seats were so old that some were literally duct taped.
And yet I’ll really miss it. I guess even Spielberg outgrew his Peter Pan Syndrome, but I’m not sure I ever will. I’ll always be that sentimental, sappy person who attaches so much meaning to a building that she cries watching it get torn down. And I fully blame the characters I first found within its walls for that.
I went back to the movies for the first time in 18 months a few weeks ago, to another theater I love. This time, I kept the ticket stub.