Head-scratchingLacey and I suffer from a baffling inability to get to movies on time. But on Friday, a gorgeous lazy stretch of clock yawned between us and our movie when she and I and her roommate, Annie, decided to make dinner before seeing “Notes on a Scandal” at the Ritz 5. We dawdled as we prepared coconut curry with tofu and veggies, Lacey entertaining Annie with her first sing-song phrases of Mandarin, me wondering out loud why the tofu wasn’t brown yet (I had forgotten to turn the heat up). Time passed this way until I happened to look at the clock and realized that our endless cushion of time had dwindled: the movie was going to start at 9:45, but at 8:50 we were still in the middle of cooking, the theater a 20-minute drive from Lacey’s house.

While Lacey turned up the heat on the curry, I powered up my trusty laptop and used a neighbor’s wireless signal to find a movie ticket web site. I was certain that modern technology would solve our chronic problem. Unfortunately I failed to notice the checked box that said “Print tickets to take to theater,” and before I could change anything, our incredibly convenient printable ticket for 3 popped up on the screen. Which would have been incredibly convenient, except that Lacey and Annie don’t have a printer.

Gulping down coconut curry didn’t bring answers to our dilemma, and by the time Lacey and Annie were ready it was 9:25. We ran down the three flights of stairs to the street and the car, my laptop shoved into my backpack as an ambiguous last resort. As I dropped my backpack in and turned the key I began my predictions of doom and gloom: we wouldn’t get there in time, we wouldn’t find parking, they weren’t going to let us into the theater anyway, it was my fault for messing up the ticket purchase. Lacey disagreed, unilaterally, but in light of my flawless realism I think this was mostly a stress response. Annie, the consummate backseat optimist, predicted that we would reach our seats during the opening credits, or maybe just after. I shut up and sped through a gauntlet of yellow lights.

Somehow we reached the parking garage by 9:40. There we found a reflective attendant waving us away at the entrance: it was full. We hadn’t seen a single empty parking spot on the street, and our situation was rapidly deteriorating. We drove toward the theater. We drove past the theater. Two blocks further we agonized, then skipped a not-really-legal spot where Lacey had once gotten a ticket. Three blocks away there was nothing. Hope evanesced. We reached the fourth block. Suddenly I saw an tiny opening. My grim heart opened just enough to ignore Lacey and Annie’s protests; heroically I maneuvered us into the miniscule opening, wedging Lacey’s small Honda between two other cars at the opposite ends of their meters. It was 9:45 when we jumped out of the car and ran to the theater.

Two breathless minutes later we were there. Inside the lobby we looked at each other and nodded, disagreements aside: it was showtime. I approached the ticket taker, trailed by Lacey and Annie looking innocent and hopeful as I swung my backpack around in front of me to pry out my laptop. Our happy ending hinged here. I swung open the laptop and held up the screen like a salesman, the bar-coded and unprinted e-ticket still glowing in the foreground window of my browser. I dropped my line.

“This wouldn’t print.”

The ticket-taker was unmoved. In fact, his look suggested that he was regularly approached by breathless laptop-wielding maniacs who would do anything to find their way past him. He frowned, grunted and pointed back to the ticket window. I stared at him, stunned. Finally I turned back. My laptop still open, I cut back out to the line on the sidewalk and waited. Everyone in front of me was paying with a credit card, chatting or staring into space instead of signing their slips. A mild self-consciousness set in and I held the laptop down as far as I could, pedestrians staring at me as if I had wet my pants and looking away again just as quickly. Inside Lacey and Annie stood, frozen, next to the ticket-taker. Finally my turn came and I stepped to the window.

With a deep breath I unfurled my laptop and started talking fast, screen and keyboard open at 180 degrees, pressed as close as possible to the window while I tried to explain the whole situation through the little microphone in a cool, level tone that said that this kind of thing was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, really, but for some reason the guy over there wanted me to come check with you first.

The cashier cracked up. He leaned closer, looked at me, looked at the laptop, and cracked up again. When he recovered he ducked out of the office to tell the ticket taker to let us through, the across-the-lobby announcement interrupted by another round of hilarity. At this point I didn’t care; I cut back inside all restrained jubilance, motioning to Lacey and Annie and nodding to the ticket taker, businesslike, stuffing the laptop into my backpack as we skipped through the doors. We were in!!!

But the theater was nearly empty. For a moment we thought we had gone down the wrong hall, picked the wrong showtime, made some final, critical mistake that would conclude our ill-fated efforts. And then the opening credits of a movie, our movie, appeared on the screen. Before anything happened we were in our perfect seats, stunned, incredulous, perched in the middle of the middle row, reaching across to slap each other on the backs and stage-whisper congratulations over the miracle journey that had ended here, now, just as the movie began.

Still, when I think about everything it took to get us to our movie in time, it’s hard not to wonder: if this is what we’re like at home, what will Guatemala and China be like? Will we ever make it as globe-trotting expats? Fortunately, Lacey and I have plenty of movies left to shoot for before we even leave this country. By August we might even be casually buying popcorn and taking turns visiting the bathroom before the previews start. And there’s probably no better practice for Lacey and I than trying to get to the movies on time, no better way to build up the resourcefulness and mutual tolerance that we will need to rely on so heavily once our trip begins. So to be honest, I’m not that worried. Plus, if we can get anyone in Guatemala or China to crack up as much as the guy at the ticket window, our trip is sure to be a wild, unequivocal success.

3 thoughts on “If This Is What We’re Like at Home, What Will Guatemala and China Be Like?

  • February 7, 2007 at 4:42 am

    I commend your desparate courage, nay, chutzpah, in the face of sure defeat.

    Watch your nominative and objective pronouns.

    I love the image of a reflective attendant! There is a sect of Buddhism in which you reach tranquility by taking entry-level jobs where you stand around; I bet he is a disciple.

    Finally, we remember the master:
    “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

    Your writing reaches for and very nearly attains Strunkian perfection.

    Well done!

  • February 16, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you, sir. Grade-school warnings about always avoiding the “me and so-and-so” structure have left me scarred. Can you give me examples of proper usage of the nominative and objective pronouns?

    Also note: The “reflective attendant” has two meanings; can you guess what the other refers to?

  • February 28, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Another update: Lacey and I made it to our last movie, “Babel,” in time to save good seats, buy popcorn and use the bathroom. We were very proud.


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