Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Uses for Movies
David Simmonds

It’s been a long hot summer and it must be almost Labour Day. Wait a minute, it’s only the 18th of July. We’re not even a month in, with more than two to go.

It’s that constant heat that’s getting to us - the stuff for which at other times of the year we get up at three in the morning, sit for hours in overcrowded planes, and then blow our budgets for six days in Punta Cana sipping margaritas while getting sunburns. 

How should we and our visiting friends handle it when our own places of abode are too hot?

That question burned in my mind as my wife and I made a swift trip down to the Foodland to buy some cold meat and bread to eat instead of cooked meal. The place was pretty crowded. The closer I looked, the more it seemed some people weren’t carrying anything. No one seemed to hold groceries or a cart, but with a sort of intense look at the selection of potatoes, and then a furtive backward glance. Others were pushing carts, but taking a heck of a long time in the baked bean section to decide whether it was going to be Clark’s or Heinz, classic baked or deep browned, with or without pork, with maple flavouring or plain. In fact, they seemed so flummoxed by the choice; they finally despaired of making one and put everything back on the shelf. Then it was on to breakfast cereals, which presented equivalent dilemmas and results. 

Let’s get to the point. Those people weren’t really shopping at all. They were faux shopping. They were refugees from the heat, taking advantage of the air conditioning.

I mentioned to the genial proprietor of the store, my friend Mr. Pierson, that he should be charging people, say, $10 an hour just to walk around his store, refundable with a minimum purchase of, say, $25. He muttered back to me about whether I had ever heard of something called goodwill. I blithely told him that he wouldn’t need to care a fig about goodwill if we had a few more days of constant heat - he could be off to retire in Punta Cana by summer’s end if he adopted my suggestion. In the end, I think he dismissed my suggestion and decided to earn his retirement the hard way.

Something in my past told me that this shopping charade could be put on a more rational footing. It couldn’t have been my childhood in pre-global warming England, where heat was never an issue. A 20 degree day would yield a predictable newspaper headline the next morning - “Phew, what a scorcher!” - and feature some Monte Python-esque figure paddling in the waves with his grey flannel trousers rolled up to his knees and his cotton handkerchief knotted over his head.

It could have been and was my teenage years in the suburbs of Toronto. In those days, the accepted way to get out of the heat was to go to a movie theatre. The bargain was up front. You got two hours of functional air conditioning. They got to recoup some of their costs on a ridiculous movie that had seemed to someone who has now left to pursue new opportunities, like it was a good idea at the time. You understood that you had no right to complain about how bad it was. The bargain was well understood, and the price you paid did not require you to ask your parents to remortgage their house.

What’s the difference between seeing a movie nobody even pretends is any good, and pretending to shop? What’s to stop us, ethically, from coming up with a legitimate figure that allows people to bask in Mr. Pierson’s air conditioning without a commitment to buy his groceries? All we would have to do is work out the cost-per-hour of the bad movie of teenaged times, adjust it for inflation over, let’s just say several decades; adjust it for market exigencies, and then you would have it: a formula to generate the Bad Movie Equivalent.

Once you came up with it, you could drop the pretence at the grocery store. You would pay a Bad Movie Equivalent price, and make yourself at home for the requisite period without obligation to shop.

If both parties were a little more up front about it, positive things could happen. For example, the store might want to consider investing in some seating. In turn, customers might begin to notice that the store sells cold drinks and Orville Redenbacher’s pre-popped popcorn. They might also notice that the store already stocks an interesting selection of remaindered DVDs, both good and bad. It should be easy enough to find a bad move, such as anything starring Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller or, indeed, anything marketed by Hollywood as a “Laugh a Minute Riot.” The store might, if it saw the bad movies flying off the shelves, invest in a TV and video player to be rented in store by the hour.

Of course, the Bad Movie Equivalent price is not just for grocery stores: it could be applied at any establishment that offered air conditioning. How about Home Hardware, which has chairs; or the Bank of Nova Scotia, which has screens?

Yes, Wellington may not have air conditioned movie theatres, but with the Bad Movie Equivalent, that’s copyright me, 2012, it can still be the coolest spot when the weather’s hot. 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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