Dean Poling: Dealing with the real world at the movies

·4 min read

Jul. 23—A TALE

Johnny loved the movies.

Everybody knew it. Every Friday night or Saturday afternoon, they could find Johnny at the movies. Not that anyone looked for him there. He went to the movies alone. Everybody who knew Johnny, and knew him well, knew this, too.

They might bump into Johnny in the theater lobby now and again. He'd always talk to people about the movies he watched. He loved talking about the actors or the story or the lighting or the cinematography, what worked and didn't work in a movie.

People knew he loved the movies and they enjoyed hearing his take on the movies. They'd say he ought to write movie reviews. He'd laugh and say, nah, I just enjoy being in the theater.

And he did. He loved it.

The tubs of buttered popcorn, a fountain Coke, some M&Ms. The lobby filled with posters for coming attractions. Handing the ticket to the ticket taker. Taking his seat, settling into a chair, the audience murmur of people talking about the lives they were about to leave behind for a couple of hours. Voices going slack then hush as the lights dimmed and the previews played, bold, large, colorful, on the giant screen. The communal experience of sharing a story.

Johnny loved all of it, even the community of watching a movie in a theater, even if he did always go alone. On the occasion whenever a friend or relative wondered why Johnny loved the movies, they assumed it was the escape, a chance to turn off his phone and get away for a couple of hours each week.

They figured that's why he went alone and they were partly right.

Going to the movies was the only time when Johnny silenced his phone. He'd turn the phone off and shove it deep into his pocket. He didn't check for texts, or posts, or anything while the movie was on the screen.

The rest of the week, he checked his phone every time it rang, buzzed or pinged with calls or messages. His work demanded it and he didn't mind it. Being accessible was part of the job. So was the pressure and dealing with the stress.

In his work, he dealt with hard luck stories. Not people with excuses, though he encountered them, too, but people who faced real troubles. He dealt with calamities. He dealt with tragedy. He dealt with grief and mourning and loss.

His co-workers, friends and family said he dealt with these situations better than anyone. He could be sympathetic while keeping a composed stoicism. He was steady, a rock. He did what needed doing, responded in the matter-of-fact way that each situation needed.

Then, after hours, he would tell jokes over a beer or two, seemingly unaffected by the experiences of his day. If a co-worker had difficulties dealing with the wear-and-tear stress and pressure of their day, Johnny would listen and offer some Kleenex and advice, if needed.

He never lost his cool or composure dealing with hardship stories. He did his job and bulldozed through. Same in his personal life. He was the rock in the lives of his clients, co-workers, friends and family. He took care of them all.

But at the movies, his only job was to watch and listen and soak it up. The movies did not require Johnny to fix anything. The movies did not demand he have the answers and be the emotional support for his clients, co-workers, friends or family.

At the movies, he immersed himself into the story and the lives of the characters. He could embrace their struggles as an outlet to all of the real struggles he witnessed every week.

At the movies, Johnny could allow himself to feel, with no responsibility to be strong for anyone.

At the movies, Johnny would sit through the credits in the darkened theater, dabbing a napkin under his eyes and across his wet cheeks, hoping, without ever looking around, that no one he knew could see him.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and editor of The Tifton Gazette.