A Sneak of One's Own


  • Fernando de Sousa, Wikimedia Commons
Show: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Food: Izumi salad, unagi crêpe, and taro milk tea with boba from BBC Asian Cafe & Bar.

Difficulty: Junior-varsity -- food was poorly packed for sneaking and nearly impossible to repackage; mitigating factors included a dark plastic takeout bag and a drink in a self-sealing container.

There is a jar of pickled asparagus in my purse.

Sometimes I have these moments of clarity about my sneaking where I see myself as if I'm leaning back in a stadium seat and watching the events of my life unfold after the house lights go down. Sometimes I replay snippets of conversation in my head, and I realize how far I've fallen out of the fraternity of humankind. Finding that unexpected jar of asparagus in my purse was exactly such a moment. I wasn't even trying to sneak it anywhere. I'd brought it to a dinner party to round out a cheese plate and it never made it out of my bag. Finding food you forgot you were carrying around in your bag is the Sneak's equivalent of waking up poured over the wheel of someone else's car ten miles from Reno with the radio playing, both back doors open and two and a half lines of blow left on the dash.

That jar of pickled asparagus is my marker, my saline-packed scarlet letter, setting me apart from most of modern civilization as thoroughly as a set of adamantium claws. It was fitting that I discovered it just before this solo sneak.

Although I mostly write about sneaks I have perpetrated with another person, sneaking is at its core a solitary experience. Think about all the times in your life you have eaten in public, down to the last taco: Someone could see you. Until you were about twelve, it was probably your mother. That hot dog you had at the last Cards game? Anyone who didn't have her eye on the ball could see you lick ketchup off your fingers. Even when I'm standing over the sink in the privacy of my own damn home, the unblinking glass-green eyes of Nebula, my cat, watch every bite. One of the only places you can eat utterly inconnu is the movie theater.

It's been statistically proven by no one at all that 75% of Americans feel uncomfortable to very uncomfortable going to a movie alone and upwards of 85% of those same made-up people say the same thing about eating at a restaurant. I do both often and without hesitation. In fact, I have occasional moments of sneaking introversion, where I feel I need to "recharge" by sneaking alone after prolonged contact sneaking with others. It should surprise no one that when it comes to food and movies, I am some sort of mutant. The jar of pickled asparagus is only the latest manifestation.

This wolverine has not won a Tony award.
  • This wolverine has not won a Tony award.
Wolverine is a good movie to see alone. I might damn it with faint praise, but about all I can say is that it was entertaining. Anyone who expected it to be a great film with something important to say about the human condition got what willful but gentle ignorance usually deserves. Going alone, I didn't have to take responsibility for dragging friends to a possibly awful flick and could cackle with unabashed nerdy glee when a set-piece thrilled or a line winked at something from outside the movie itself.

(Sadly, this did not include the usual cameo from X-Men creator, Stan Lee, who was unavailable for filming.)

The story itself was more or less internally consistent and in keeping with the Bryan Singer X-Men movies, though the general boneheadedness of the convolutions in the plot would not have worked with a character other than Wolverine, who has already been established for 30+ years as a guy who's awfully good at kicking ass but probably doesn't have the consistent intellectual capacity to be trusted to take names without some help. It still definitely plays the duet that's made X-Men comics popular with teenagers since the 60s: some people are different because they are extraordinarily talented and they will always be alone because society fears and hates them for it.

My rule of thumb for movies I'm seeing for the first time is that if something technical even registers in my consciousness, you're doing it wrong. While I was watching Wolverine, I was struck by several points of just flat-out lazy film-making. For example, one of the more interesting technical aspects of the previous X-Men movies (in which Wolverine was prominently featured) was that they were shot to make Hugh Jackman appear noticeably shorter than the other actors because that's the way Wolverine appears in the comics. Hugh Jackman is a 6'3" Tony Award-winning dancer. His legs come up to my clavicle. He's the same height as Wolverine co-star Liev Schreiber, who as Sabertooth should be (and has been consistently depicted before as being) taller. Nobody even bothered to reset the camera angle a little to shave down a couple of inches this time around.

There was also a problem with some of the sets looking sort of cheap. And fake. Like...original Lost In Space fake. Seriously, you guys were in New Zealand and you couldn't find some genuine rocks? It's a chain of volcanic islands. They started out with nothing but rocks. Had I seen the exact same set in, say, Sushine Cleaning, I probably wouldn't have even noticed. But Wolverine is a movie that constantly, insistently wants you to notice that it cost a lot of money to make. Lots of sound, lots of fury, signifying nothing but a good time alone in the air conditioned dark.

Ryan Reynolds, notable torso-for-hire, stood out as the fan favorite wise-cracking mercenary, Deadpool. He's already agreed to reprise the role in a stand-alone movie which will probably leave me saying the exact same things in two years that I'm saying about Wolverine now.

  • Ian Froeb
Let's focus now on a different evolution. Through serendipitous coincidence, I went to BBC Asian Cafe & Bar for sneakable takeout just days before Stefani posted her excellent review of its suitability for a large group. I don't feel bad about giving so much information about one place in two weeks because our experiences were so fundamentally different: She focused on its atmosphere and the communal experience of eating with a large and companionable group; I furtively ordered to go at the bar and scuttled away to enjoy the previews in perfect solitude.

There's also a major difference because I've been eating at BBC since the week it opened as a single storefront operation with little seating space. Until this February's big switch to the more restaurant-like, less café-esque service and decor (not a problem) and tapas-rich, less Asian street food menu (massive problem), BBC was one of my favorite places in the CWE, either to eat in with friends or to get food to sneak to the fine nearby movie theaters. They used to carry a much larger menu of crêpes as well as bahn mi and the best okonomiyaki I've had in St. Louis that didn't involve sweet-talking a Japanese grad student.

Now they have tapas, the Eurotrash of menu items. Let me say this clearly and plainly, because it is spreading to local restaurants with a virulence that should concern the CDC: tapas has its place, but unless there was already some jamon serrano sitting around in your kitchen, it probably doesn't belong in your restaurant. One of the best things about being in a restaurant by yourself is that it lowers your inhibitions. When I was looking at the BBC menu, I noticed that the short dessert list included crème brûlée. I leaned in close, fixing the diacritical cuneiform over the name of the faux French ur-dessert with a detestation that tapped into the xenophobia of the shogunate and hissed: You don't belong here.

I may be harsh, but I am fair. I ordered one of the dozen cold tapas, the Izumi salad, to test it out. It was billed as slices of raw fish in a spicy dressing and came packed in a standard dinner-sized white styrofoam hinged takeout box, very courteously wrapped with my other box in a black plastic takeout bag. When I opened it in the theater, the tasty fish and two or three times too much dressing had merged with a surprise bed of spring greens to form a sloppy, vertiginous ball. How to describe that dressing? Aggressive, pervasive, cloyingly creamy. Sri Ranch-a? This probably would have realized more of its potential with the dressing on the side. I did my best to pick out the fish in the dark because the greens were a lost cause.

Crêpe in appropriate conical form. - USER "FREEDOM_WIZARD," WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • User "Freedom_Wizard," Wikimedia Commons
  • Crêpe in appropriate conical form.
Better was the unagi crêpe, which has always been one of my favorites. The combination of roasted eel in its sweet sauce, smooth avocado, melting cheddar cheese, cold, snapping cucumber and delicately spongy crepe has always presented an amazing fusion of textures, temperatures and flavors far better than it looks on paper.

This also came in that same large styrofoam container, and when I opened it up, I was confused. Asian crêpes, like baguette-based bahn mi (but not crème brûlée), are a fusion of the best of a departed colonial occupier and the local favorites. They're served as street foods, made fresh in carts, open-air stalls, or small storefronts and are meant to be eaten on the go. The street food crêpe is not a knife and fork meal but a one-handed cone, a cornucopia of processed seafood and unusual parts of the pig. I had always eaten it that way at BBC before and even snuck it into movies in exactly that format with the help of my trusty roll of aluminum foil.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the takeout container and couldn't find the opening of my crêpe. Instead of a long cone, it was folded into a squared-off cushion with all of the crêpe's edges tucked underneath the filling in a way I've seen at neither Asian-style nor European-style crepe restaurants. I picked it up in both hands and ate it like a sandwich. While I'll definitely give it points for being the most convenient way to eat a crêpe without utensils (the cone-style wrap has the same drip problems as its American cousin, the ice cream cone), it also trapped the heat of the eel in with the other ingredients, detracting from the frisson of temperatures that had always made it so interesting.

The only thing I got that I think might actually have been better than it was before the big menu switch was the bubble tea. While the list of flavors BBC carries has been cut down significantly, they still have some unusual favorites like red bean and taro. Part of what I love about taro-flavored treats is how unusual they are when you take a step back and think about what you're ordering. It's supposed to taste like a sweet potato? And it's purple? Excellent. Just the thing to take into a movie about a bunch of ostracized superheroes.

Bubble tea is one of the prime sneakable foods because the lid of the plastic cup is sealed with a special air-tight heat seal, usually with a cartoon of something even stranger than what's under the lid itself. Mine appeared to be an anthropomorphised T-bone steak cuddling a teddy bear and wondering if it came from/was going to grow up to be a cow or a pig. I could not make this stuff up. I also couldn't find a more enjoyable beverage for Wolverine than one that you can only drink if you puncture the seal correctly with a murderously pointed straw.

The most difficult part of this sneak was the squeak factor. I've already written about how when sneaking bottles, cans or silverware, one must beware the clink factor. The squeak factor is its styrofoam-specific kin, caused when two containers rub together to make it sound like you're smuggling miniature dolphins in your bag. I was able to mitigate this with the help of the weather -- more specifically, since it had been raining off and on all day, with the help of my umbrella. By holding the folded umbrella against the top of my sneaking tote, I pressed the two containers together, eliminating the range of motion necessary for squeak-causing friction between the two containers. This can also be accomplished by placing napkins, a layer of foil or really anything that will prevents contact, between the two containers. I was looking back over this and had one of those moments of clarity I was mentioned before.

I realized that, left without the specter of companionable judgment, I will not only talk smack to a menu, I will tell other people about doing it. Pickled asparagus is the least of my problems.

Dara Strickland is a leading expert on sneaking food and drink into the movies. She reports on her exploits for Gut Check (from an undisclosed location) every Monday.


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