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  • Writer's pictureCarl McCoy

Does That Come with Free Refills?

Updated: Jan 13

Movies and films are slightly different animals, aren’t they? ‘Ghost Busters’ was a movie, whereas ‘The English Patient’ was a film. Films are cerebral, and troubling – like Stravinsky or blank verse – yet they probe the depths of the human condition while making astute, subtle claims, and insightful noir points that are contemplated and skeptically absorbed by the half dozen people in the audience.

Movies are raucous and loud, sweaty and explosive: mainstream popcorn-filled extravaganzas with Dolby surround-sound and high budget CGI and loud teenagers and some guy in the back row eating a large deep-dish pizza and a burrito while Dwayne Johnson saves us all from the Gravitational Neutron device that fell into the clutches of the evil, British-accented villain with the goatee. There was very little contemplation or subtlety in “Rampage” – just a big, muscular guy saving Chicago from a massive, genetically modified Crocodile and a giant gorilla named George.

I go to the movies fairly often (but I don’t see films as much as I should) with a group of co-workers, and I have (unfairly) earned a bad reputation as being a somewhat high-maintenance moviegoer: “He can’t miss the previews – he gets annoyed if he misses the previews. He always has to sit on the aisle…He only likes popcorn if it’s fresh…He never shares popcorn, unless there are free refills. Don’t ask him to sit on the left side of the theater because he just won’t do it.” Just because I have certain rules, regulations and sub-clauses in place to ensure an optimal movie-going experience for myself and other parties involved, they think I’m uptight.

It’s true that I get angry if we’re late for the previews, but this goes back to the fall of 2015, when ‘Star Wars – Force Awakens’ was coming out, and I just really wanted the experience of seeing that trailer on the big screen – who wouldn’t? It was the one where they showed the remnants of a Star Destroyer on Tatooine in the opening scene. If you know which one I’m talking about, the prospect of being late would make you angry too. Anyway, I had watched it many times on YouTube, but it’s not the same as seeing it on the big screen, of course. So I made everybody run through the streets in the rain to get to the theater on time – dodging buses and rappelling down a couple of buildings, in the hopes that they might show this trailer – which they did, and of course I was vindicated, because it was a deeply moving experience for everyone involved. Never mind what my coworker said to me that night.

But now I’ve got this ugly reputation for being “the guy who can’t miss the previews…” I suppose there are worse things to be known as. But at least I keep everybody on schedule. One time, my co-workers organized a movie-going expedition without me (I have no idea why they would do this) and I took a weird, perverse pleasure when I found out that they all missed the previews without me – and worst of all, I heard that they were so late, they ended up having to sit in the front row, which is a movie-going fate that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody, including a group of spiteful co-workers who didn’t invite me to their party. Their necks were all stiff by the end of the evening, and their visual-spatial sense of how large someone’s face should be – that was way off for quite some time. But I suppose that’s justice. Now they know why they need me in that theater. I always knew it was better to be feared, than to be loved.

I consider myself a generous and kind person, but I generally won’t share popcorn with anybody. I will only share with you if we get a large popcorn with free refills; I like to space out my popcorn over the entire movie. I’ve always thought the 2nd half of a movie is where the popcorn is most needed and most enjoyable. I like to be munching – savoring the salty, buttery taste – when the action has slowed down considerably about an hour in, and people around you are starting to drift off to sleep, and you’ve still got 45 minutes left to go: the quiet, calm part of the film, when character development is happening – this is when the popcorn tastes the best, and when you need the carbs.

But not everybody agrees with me – or maybe they don’t give it as much thought as I do (which is probably healthy) – they just eat the popcorn, because it’s there, and they can. My friend eats popcorn this way; not considering the ramifications, he just barrels through, devouring half the bag before the previews are finished, in a kind of cavalier, living dangerously-fashion. My wife does this too, and it stresses me out when I’m sharing popcorn with either of them, because it forces me to eat faster than I would prefer, just to keep up with them, and also nobody knows if there’s going to be any popcorn remaining in the bucket, once we get deep into the 2nd half of the movie, so it seems kind of reckless to me. This is why I will only share if there are free refills. It’s the same reason that I’ll only drive with someone if they let me hold onto my half of the steering wheel. It’s about fairness.

I’m usually the guy who goes and gets the free refill, in my movie-going group. I think they like it when I leave for a few minutes. But have you ever tested the limits of the free-refill policy, to find out how many refills you can get away with before the people at the concession stand start to look at you with an expression of both awe and concern? My movie-going buddy and I are both fairly big guys, and we can really get going with that popcorn, especially if it’s one of the Marvel movies, which can run up to 3 hours, and so you really need a solid supply to sustain you, especially during that long, quiet second hour of character development. I remember the time we were already working on the second large bin of popcorn (so the concession guy had already seen me and knew me – we had had a nice long talk about butter), when some guy tripped over my friend in the darkness, and caused the popcorn to spill all over my face. It happened too fast for me to grab all of the flying kernels in my mouth – although I tried, biting the air desperately – and instead the great vat of popcorn essentially exploded all over me, landing all over the floor and the aisle, and on some nice woman two rows back. Rather than throwing myself onto the floor and grabbing what was available under the 5-second rule, we all decided it was better and more sanitary to avail ourselves of a third free refill. Mind you, I had just been back for the second refill about three minutes ago. But there I was, marching purposefully back towards the concession stand, empty silo of popcorn in hand, hungry look on my face, and the guy at the counter looked at me with an expression of both shock and admiration: “How the hell does that guy eat so fast?” But in America, free refills means free refills: no judgment, and no questions asked, so he obliged and filled up the silo with more of the wonderful, buttery stuff. And off I went, fully equipped to survive at least ten more minutes of ‘Avengers Infinity War.’

It wasn’t the first time where I pushed the limits of the free refill policy; when I was sixteen years old, my parents took me to an all-you-can-eat buffet at a local restaurant, and I pretty much wiped out the entire supply of pizza, mashed potatoes, and rotisserie chicken. (I hadn’t eaten anything for almost an hour) We got some nasty looks from the other hungry patrons, empty forks in hand. The owner declared to my parents, “I’m sorry folks – but this isn’t what we had in mind when we said, ‘All you can eat’ – that boy’s appetite is just way too powerful – we’re gonna’ have to shut him down!” It was the first time I was banned from a restaurant. Luckily, that rarely happens anymore.

Anyway, so I’ve taken my share of walks to the concession stand to make good on the free refills – empty bucket of popcorn in hand. It’s certainly worth it for the extra popcorn, but it means that you miss part of the movie – that’s the trade off. When I come back, one of my movie-going friends usually feels compelled to fill me in on what I missed, in hushed, whispered tones:

“…He just found out that his boss was the same guy that smuggled the weapons from the Ukraine – and now he’s going out with that woman assassin…”


“No problem. Can I have some popcorn?”


I actually don’t mind that long, lonely walk back to the concession stand – I know that I’m going to watch the movie again on iTunes or Amazon Prime, so I usually don’t flat-out run like I used to, before iTunes or Amazon. I just walk or jog, casually, pretending that I’m a laid back person who doesn’t care that he’s missing what might be the best part of the movie. But it’s always fun to hear the sounds coming from the other theaters, as I pass by. There’s the wistful melody of a romantic comedy, followed immediately thereafter by the thunderous vibrations of the latest disaster movie, and then the laser beam explosions of that new Sci-Fi flick that won't be in theaters much longer. The screams and tension of a horror movie give way to the sunny, innovative score of the latest Pixar movie, as I breeze on by, bound for the concession stand.

I’m often tempted to dive into a different theater for a minute or two – just to reincarnate myself into an audience member of a documentary about mountain climbing, for some contrast and risky excitement. But I never do – I’m always afraid I’ll be discovered by one of those theater attendants with the flashlight, and I would end up being banned from the theater, just like with that restaurant with the rotisserie chicken.

It’s always a little jarring, as you depart the theater, midway through the movie. At the end of the movie, you have a transition period back into reality: the lights come back on, and the credits roll, and people stand up and yawn, and it gives you a moment to shift gears as you prepare to reenter society. But when you’re the designated popcorn-refill-man, you must exit abruptly, right in the middle of the dream, and there you are – back in the mundane hallway, with the bright lights and the candy machines – passing the restroom, and one of the theater attendants is on her cell phone talking about her final exam tomorrow, and none of this has anything to do with the stolen weapons from Ukraine or that woman assassin. And of course that’s mostly a good thing.

And when you reach the concessions, there are all the people coming and going, still wearing their jackets, buying their tickets, shaking off the real world, just beginning to order their popcorn for the night, and you’re just passing through, not quite a full customer – just a hungry, wayfaring stranger emerging from a cinematic dream, breezing by for a free refill or two.

And now, please excuse me, but it’s time to grab a free refill on my coffee. Until next time, enjoy the movie.

Carl McCoy, Copyright 2019

Check out my book, "Job Hunter Road," a humorous look at modern-day job-hunting.

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