Of Wordplay and Angels and Secret Societies
Yes, I consulted Mapquest and found more or less intelligible directions. But what good does that do me, the woman who can't find her way outside Hampton or Newport News without drama to save her life? What good, I ask?
So I'm drivin down Granby Street, like the directions say, I think, and suddenly, I'm wondering, "Am I goin in the right direction? After all, folk can go down or up Granby, last I checked. I could very well be goin in the wrong direction. And this is crucial because it's what? A tiny bit before 7 pm, and 7 pm's the time the Naro's doors open, a half hour before the movie starts, yes, and my sister promised GAMES. Can't play GAMES if I don't get there on time." This is the kind of thing that runs through my mind every time I visit a place I've never been to before.
Bout the time I'm gonna do a U-ee and face the opposite direction on Granby, my cell phone rings. It's, R, my rolling mechanic --and a member of my church. (I tried to tell y'all.) His main job's finding disabled trucks and takin 'em back to the shop. He's in Norfolk, finding disabled trucks there, and wonderin what in the world Gine's doin there, too, endangerin Virginia drivers everywhere.
"I'm tryin to find the Naro," I replied. "Do you know where it is?"
"Naro. Naro movie theatre. N as in nigger*, A as in apple, R as in racist, O as in orange."
"Oh. I dunno. Gimme a minute." In a minute, he's tellin me that I'm going in the right direction and giving me several landmarks, street names and numbers as future proof. Of course, by then, I've done the U-ee, but I'd never tell him that, no, not if you pulled out my nails. So I do another U-ee, and it's now, what? Somethin after 7 pm, and Goobs is whining, "We're gonna be late!"
"Oh, we're not gonna be late," I say reasurringly, mostly for myself, because I haven't seen any of the landmarks R mentioned. I just don't see 'em. But then the girls are yellin, "Bear right! Bear right!" because the johnbrown Mapquest directions say so. And it's too late, I've passed the place where I'm supposed to take Monticello off Granby, so I do another U-ee.
We're gonna be late.
Interminable story short, I start seein those landmarks and numbers R told me about, I find the johnbrown theatre, and much later, we find a parking space behind a strange (that is, unknown) restaurant about a block away. We take a lovely short walk down cobblestoned sidewalks, passing a cute little shop here, and a quaint diner there, and a tiny bookstore the other place, and there's the Naro. A cute, quaint, tiny old restored theatre. The doorway's really jammed, and I ask the lovely young man holding the door where Will Call is.
"There," he says, pointing just inside the door. A coupla intellectual types are sitting at a longish table, checking sheaves of papers against the claims of folk comin in the door. I have some sheaves of paper myself: a printout my sister gave me on my birthday. It has my brother-in-law's name and confirmation number on it, in addition to the Naro's address and the time the doors open (among other things). Proof that somebody bought three tickets to this movie.
I give one of the intellectuals, a round, effusive lady, my confirmation number. (I can see that this is one of the columns on her sheaf of paper: "Confirmation Number".) But she chuckles and asks, "What's your name?"
I give her my brother-in-law's last name. Ain't there. Then I see my last name, my first name and my brother-in-law's first name. I give her that name.
"There you are!" she says and gives us three tickets. We go on in. We are not late. We have time to buy popcorn and sodas (outrageously, infuriatingly cheaper than at the AMC theatres at home). The Naro concessions sells, in addition to popcorn and gummy bears, roasted cashews and brownies. Wondrous. I pour myself some (free) ice water, and we look left. We look right.
"Either of these doors goes to the auditorium?" I ask an usher.
"Yes," he says, "but you can sit in the balcony, too." I have to say my first thought is completely contrary to the way I spelled Naro for R: My folk've sat in enough balconies.
"Let's go in," I tell the girls, and they follow me. As we go through the doors, one of the ushers hands me a postcard with a miniature poster of the movie on one side and a crossword puzzle on the other. "Finish this and put it in the bowl. There's a drawing," he said.
Goobs, as always, is very, very aware of how many white people surround us. I don't know why. Gotta be my fault, although I can't figure out, yet, how. She whispers very loudly that she thinks we're the only blacks in the joint (though not, of course, in those words). We sit down about halfway down the aisle. I get to work on the puzzle, which proves to be really easy: it's titled "Puzzling Movies," and I'm a movie buff from way back. I couldn't pick out Tab Hunter in a crowd, of course, but I know that's the guy the puzzle refers to when it offers "Actor Hunter." Even Goobs knows what goes in the "Seven Percent ____" blank.
"You made me watch that movie," she whispers.
But, alas, although we weren't too late for the movie, we didn't have time to finish the puzzle and drop the card in the bowl. Oh, well. (Later, Goobs will say she didn't think they'd've given us a prize anyway: "'Blackwell?' they'd say," she said, giggling, "and then when we stood up, they'd say, 'Uh, not you.'" I don't know where she gets this stuff.) While I'm workin on the puzzle, though, our hosts, whoever they are (actually representatives of WHRO, our local NPR station), are expressing surprise at how little like geeks we all look.
The crowd titters. After taking up as many postcards as are proferred, one of the hosts says, "There'll be two previews." I'm pleasantly surprised, both at the warning, and at the paucity of trailers. Good trailers, too: Peaceful Warrior and Scoop. Even the girls seem interested.
And the documentary started. Wordplay follows several crossword puzzle champions to the annual crossword puzzle championship. Like the Naro's host tonight, I fully expect these "champions" to be geeky. I'm wrong, though. They're all fascinating people. To me, at least. One, Ellen Ripstein , the only woman the movie pays much attention to, tells us that a boyfriend used to make fun of her for winning, and she replied, "Well, what are you champion of?" Good for you, Ellen.
The other champions are men. All of the champions are white. Well, I dunno about that, actually. Close to the end of the documentary, I saw a gorgeous black man in conversation with somebody at the Championship (and I gasped), but who knows who he was? (I'll go through the list of folk on the website and see if I can find him again.)
For me, this is food for thought (unfortunately for those of you who've been cringing since I spelled Naro). Why aren't there more blacks at that championship? Is the answer as easy as saying, "Blacks don't do crosswords"? Because that don't work where my family's concerned. (After all, there we were at the johnbrown Naro, watchin the johnbrown documentary, enjoyin it at least as much as anybody else there.)
Daddy bought the Encyclopedia Britannica to end dinner-table arguments. Mama reads only non-fiction: biographies. So does the brother who lives with us: politics, science, and history. Our oldest brother reads nearly everything, but he really loves Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My sister reads anything that looks interesting; she's read Toni Morrison, Sue Monk Kidd, Ben Carson, Frank Peretti (though she's nea'bout given up on him). My friends (some of 'em are black) are voracious readers.
And, oh, yeah: we do puzzles. Juice and Goobs like Sudoku. My brothers used to do those three dimensional wooden puzzles when they were kids --because Daddy brought them home from overseas, thinkin they'd like them. They did. My sister and I like crosswords. We buy them. But, you know, I'd never heard of the cult surrounding the New York Times crossword. I had no idea that Will Shortz (whom I just happen to have heard of before the movie) was regularly getting nasty mail about his crosswords. I didn't know that the Monday crossword was different from the Sunday crossword.
A lot of people couldn't care less, would say, "I don't care if you do wear dreadlocks; you are a geek if you care about that kinda stuff." But I do. Here is yet another society I never knew about. Bothers me. Yeah, I know: ain nobody bar me and mine from this "society."
But something did.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, yes, this is what I said. It was the first n-word I could think of off the bat.