Snack smuggler tests AMC theater's no-food policy

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snack smugglerIt is 11:15 a.m. at the AMC Empire 25 in Manhattan, and I am packing. Microwave popcorn, Cheez-Its, pineapple soda, Halloween leftovers, Chex Mix and bags of chips hide at the bottom of my backpack. Chocolate bars and more bags of chips are stuffed into my jacket pockets. Street value: about 9 dollars. If I had purchased a similar bundle of junk food at the theater concession, it would have run me about 36 big ones.

I am on a mission to preserve a way of life for the fiscally responsible movie goer: to save the smuggled snack.

AMC officially banned outside food three weeks ago. I am about to test the theater chain's resolve. My French wife, Karine, who is usually above this sort of thing, is an accessory, cradling a Snapple White Tea in her purse in case I get tossed. Thanks for the support, ma cherie.

We buy our tickets at the counter for "Up in the Air." I wait for security to pounce on me as we make our way up the escalators. Nothing. I point out a man holding the bulging bottom of his Members Only jacket, as if a baby would tumble out if he let go. Another co-conspirator, I whisper, and one with really bad taste in retro-outerwear.

We reach the ticket taker. Surely he will say something about my backpack, which is bloated as if it had botulism. Never mind candy. What if I had a camera to make $5 DVDs to sell on the subway? The young man takes our tickets and asks if we would like to sign up for a free-popcorn points program. I snicker to myself. "No thanks," we say.

We enter the theater, slinking into the third row. We bide our time through the trailers. Then George Clooney's pink-slip-bearing reaper is soon airborne, and the assault begins. Karine asks me for the baked chips. Of course they're buried in the most remote part of my backpack. So we tear into two separate bags of Trader Joe's microwave popcorn first. She tells me I'm munching too loudly. Oh yeah, I answer, you're crinkling the bag as if it were our living room, and even there it's annoying.

The scent of scorched kernels fills the air. Or is it fear?

I bring out the Cheez-Its and we nurse those for, oh, 45 seconds. We like Cheez-Its. Then another round of chips. It is an orgy of crunching, slurping, and wrappers unwrapping and plastic unpeeling. Out come the Hershey bar and the Lindt dark chocolate. Lollipops follow. The savory and the sweet dance down our gullets. I'm having such a good time that I forget I am exposed.

snack smugglerAnd then it happens: An usher enters the theater. If something goes down, it's gonna go down fast. I see Vera Farmiga's cleavage flash before my eyes. Oh wait, that really is happening. The usher glances up the stadium-stacked rows. We are to the side, with contraband spread across our laps and on the floor. Will he turn his head? It's all up to fate. I freeze. My wife chews obliviously.

The usher approaches and ... and ... and ... Oh wait, he's not an usher at all. Just a guy in a polo shirt. He just needed a second to adjust his eyesight and find his seat. (I might have to get my eyes checked for real.)

Whew!

The movie ends. The lights go up. I throw away the evidence. Mission accomplished.

For irony's sake, we visit the AMC guest relations desk and inquire about the get-a-free-popcorn program. Heartburn has never been so satisfying.
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