A Sneak in the House of Love


Today, my very dear friend and sneaking companion, Madame H, got married.

Pros: Nobody believes marriage will make her change her sneaky ways. Now that they are flesh of one flesh and therefore sneak of one sneak, I can probably press her husband into happy service as a second set of pockets. He was gifted by nature with something I have been striving to achieve my whole life: an innocent face.

Cons: When you're well known among your friends as a sneak, suspicion that you're hiding food about your person at any and all events grows as effortlessly as cedars on a rocky hillside. As the wedding ceremony, conducted almost entirely in Sanskrit, stretched into its second hour, people started looking at me apprehensively, as if they expected sub sandwiches to spontaneously spring from my handbag.

When I write this blog, I write about love: love of food, love of movies, love of sneaking food into movies and the attendant thrill of minor infractions. I am a sneak in love. Let me tell you two stories about Madame H that are ostensibly about sneaking food into a movie but are, down in the DNA, bound up with smooth ribbons of affection.

Show: Pulp Fiction, the first film of that summer's slate of midnight movies at the Tivoli, some years ago.

Food: Cheap beer, bottled. It came from my fridge, and I was still in grad school, so it was probably High Life.

Difficulty: Easy. Just two bottles of beer and an opener the size of a pack of gum, dropped into a messenger bag.

Cracking open a beer in the expectant darkness of a movie theater is always a rush, but it's amplified at the midnight show by the audience's awareness of time and place. Every person there knows that the midnight show is set apart and special, that there's something so valuable about sitting in the air conditioning together in the middle of the night, watching a movie practically everyone owns on DVD, that it's worth paying full price for a ticket. The midnight movie everyone's seen before is its own kind of church. The audience knows the liturgy of what Marcellus Wallace looks like, the passion of Mia's OD and resurrection, the mystery of a briefcase glowing like a star for the pulp underworld's most talkative shepherds.

One doesn't go see Pulp Fiction at midnight to know these things for the first time but rather to savor the summer-specific freedom of being there. Go in at midnight to come out into an early morning that's green and insistent, even aggressive, like biting into a celery stalk and leaving your teeth embedded, pressing its raggedly sheared off end hard into your gums. How could I not open up a cheap, cheap beer, savoring the hiss of the broken seal?

How could I not softly clink the rim against that of my sneaking compatriot and life-long friend, Madame H -- glass to glass, the truest platonic kiss? Normally I don't sneak beer into movie theaters that serve beer because it violates the Sneaking Code of Ethics, but this was an extreme case in which the Doctrine of Appropriate Pairings was controlling. Stella and Schlafly were too many miles away from a Royale with Cheese to pull the job. You would judge me? You would condemn us all, breathing our soft "Oh, hell yes," hallelujah into the flickering dark as the credits rolled.

Oddly enough Pulp Fiction was the midnight movie at The Tivoli this weekend, too. Alas, Madame H and I were too busy and beat from work, wedding preparations, other obligations, to make a good showing once more at midnight. We did, however, gain access to an early screening of Francis Ford Coppola's new film, Tetro, and I engaged in a little pre-wedding sneak luck-mongering.

Something Old: A St. Paul sandwich, that mysterious lurker on the back of Chinese takeout menus throughout the St. Louis area. How old is the St. Paul? Best estimates have it appearing in St. Louis as far back as the 1940s, but I prefer to think of them in an age before Chinese restaurants, before Des Peres (the missionaries, not the street), before the first bright human sacrifice etched inscrutable crimson pictograms of death on the mounds of Cahokia. I have quiet conviction that cryptozoologists will eventually find abundant remains of the St. Paul that date to the Cretaceous Period showing that they lived and thrived in the shallow inland sea and other waterways. Which came first, the chicken or the egg foo young in its white bread carapace? Only time and science of zero repute will tell.

Something New: Tetro is a movie that's bold, almost brash. Francis Ford Coppola is...not. If I hadn't already known going in, I would have guessed it was the work of a very talented but very young director. The scale is epic, intentionally operatic; the willingness to intercut footage of other, more overtly theatrical artforms to advance the story makes the ambition of the film palpable. The only point where the film really suffers from FFC's determination to make a bigass movie is the ending which stretches on and on long beyond the point where I would have cut it -- a malady suffered by many accomplished directors.

Something Borrowed: Tetro's plot of the cycle of love, fatherhood, betrayal, grief, escape, wrath, revenge, and redemption is an epic mashup, like a chicken truck jackknifing on the highway, except that it's full of opera plots instead of chickens.

Something Blue: The Tivoli serves Blue Moon beer, which not only goes well with the St. Paul sandwich, it's also highly appropriate for this film in the same way High Life was appropriate for Pulp Fiction. The movie's got a higher brow, but it's not full arthouse. There were plenty of intentionally funny moments, mostly at the incredible nastiness of tortured writer and professional jackass, Tetro, played by Vincent Gallo.

Up to now, Gallo seems to have geared his entire career towards making my life personally unpleasant, with the most egregious example being Moscow Zero. While I'm flattered by this, I'm not terribly appreciative for some reason. Unpleasantness works well for him in this movie, though, both because Tetro is pretty much the world's biggest jerk and because his craggy handsomeness is more easily revealed in good black-and-white film stock and effectively echoes the Patagonian mountains of the setting.

One of the things that struck me about Madame H's wedding was the prominent place of food as a symbol of devotion, prosperity, and sacrifice. Bowls of honey and butter, trays of blushing gold apples, handfulls of puffed rice fed to an open flame: These are sacred things, offered in public, like the newly married couple is presented to their family and friends. It is the opposite twin, the sun to the moon of handing half a St. Paul sandwich over in the dark as the opening credits roll. So different, and yet they have the same mother.

No matter which rings she wears on her fingers, I expect Madame H to still flick unwanted onions at me in the dark.

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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