Threat of violence pervades even most benign pasttimes

To clip a line from Paul Simon as cynically and sardonically as possible: “You know, I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.”

If life is a series of firsts, I recently had several during my semi-annual expedition to the local cinema.

Though unusual, but not a first, I arrived early, nicked my unsecured credit line for a small soda and popcorn, then went directly to the theater for a good seat.

Not just any good seat. But a Good Seat. One facilitating a hasty exit at the earliest onset of the right circumstance. One that didn’t allow too many people to slide in behind me and with a clear view of what was going on down front.

I also took note of the exits.

I’ve never taken note of the exits in a movie house.

At least not until the credits roll, and I have to deal with a distended bladder.

Inventorying exits in a theater is like listening to the flight attendant prior to take-off.

Plummeting toward a cornfield at 500 knots from 28,000 feet somehow makes knowledge of where the exits are irrelevant. Several will be presented in short order.

But this particular Saturday afternoon, I felt it important. I remember thinking they seemed too far away.

Then I crossed the line into unabashed political incorrectness and deviant behavior.

I began profiling.

I’m aware that profiling — looking in the most obvious places for a problem — is now among the more significant Thou Shalt Nots; however, it was my butt on the line, and I had just chucked a substantial investment to see a movie. Hate me if you must.

There was a benign-looking, older couple sitting behind me, but despite their outward harmless appearance, I edged down aisle a bit to keep them in my peripheral vision.

Two goofy pre-teen boys tripped in and took up within a couple rows of the back wall. I initially thought it odd but on further examination decided they were sufficiently geeky that if anything untoward happened at their hands, I deserved whatever I got.

Then he came in.

A late-middle-aged man. Alone. Somewhat overweight. Dark, plastic-rimmed glasses.

Pushing popcorn into his mouth and casting about for place to sit.

All by himself.

I squinted through the twilight at his silhouette, looking for any unusual protrusion. I particularly didn’t like his choice of seats. One at the end of the row, down by the main exit with an excellent angle on me.

I never really took my eye off him. Even during the BMW chase scenes.

The movie was good enough. An action-thriller requiring only a 131-minute suspension of logic and reality in exchange for an afternoon diversion.

Unfortunately, for the first time, I could never really settle in and make that commitment.

Reality now creeps in the darkness of even those places where we go to escape.

And there was that Paul Simon song I just couldn’t shake: “If you’ll be my bodyguard …”

Jim Mayfield is a former staff writer for the Daily Reporter. He lives in Irvington and can be reached at