By Hank Rosenfeld

We live in the movie capital of the world. So I feel it’s one’s duty to head out to the local cineplex; how can I not leap at an opportunity for big time entertainment in front of what film aficionados call the silver screen? Where, despite everything lives that sense of wonder at the flickering light and shadows. We love seeing flicks! And I’m in need of America’s irreplaceable distraction: the moviegoing experience.

With new protocols, of course. First of all, purchasing popcorn is problematic: The scooper they scoop it with must be sprayed down every few shovels. And the butter-pushing metal thing is completely non-operational. I can get Junior Mints but am afraid to ask about the shortage of ketchup packets.

Next, I need to navigate the huge, empty surroundings myself. Ushers—so energetic and helpful, those kids!— must still be laid off. Reaching E6, there it is: the familiar red recliner crafted squeaky clean for all those who come to lounge. A sign reads “No food service available” to the luxury section. Who cares? I’m snug and cozy—always bring my own blanket—my extended feet resting regally. Socially distanced; I see maybe ten other souls—fellow filmgoers! And so few of them. We sit together (safe, distanced) staring into the face of something bigger than life. Bigger even than our wall-to-wall Vizios.

Is this joy I feel? Numbingly absorbing eight trailers, two TV show promos, wristwatch, beer, automobile commercials and a PSA? A longer message may be needed to remind us not to do what we’ve been doing for a year: talking through the movie, pausing it, rewinding it, skipping the credits. Dashing into the kitchen and shouting back at the bedroom: “Want whipped cream on your ice cream?”

This plush dark cave is way bigger than the cave I hide at home in. Bring. It. On. Take me away from everything. Whoops—an additional PSA. We see a blocky cartoon figure of indeterminate gender. Simply-drawn, in cap and overalls. And they’re spraying. With a see-through pack on their back, they’re spraying everything. A power washer of spray, reaching the top rows —maybe even trees outside (now they’re just showing off).The theater has also installed massive screens downstairs: Alerts about their bathrooms and high-touch surfaces wiped down between movies with an EPA-registered disinfectant.

Chilling in my recliner, it hits me: There’s no escaping the times we live in—the view’s better from here. When I get home and FaceTime my nephew, he’ll tell me all about King Kong, Godzilla, Falcon, Winter Soldier, and the WandaVision he watches. I won’t tell him he has no idea what he’s missing. I’m sure he never gives it a thought.