Going anywhere with my family is a major event. There are only four of us, but the potential for hilarity and disaster looms large. While most families are the worst kind of inside joke - the kind where everyone's sure something's funny but no one can explain it to anyone else - our family's hijinks seem to bear up well under retelling. To wit:
On Boxing Day we decided to take in a film. My Week With Marilyn. The theatre was the AMC 20 at Kennedy Commons, one of those typical firebomb strip malls for which suburban Ontario is famous. All the stores are of the Big Box variety, and surely this is the world's only parking lot with its own set of traffic lights. (As in to direct traffic within the parking lot. Four ways, two lanes each way.)
As luck would have it, a person in a motorized wheelchair eschewed the generous sidewalks and was moving upstream just as we turned into the parking lot's multi-lane entrance, causing my father to exclaim with the kind of piteous and disbelieving opprobrium that only he can muster.
"Oh for crying I don't believe that's just holy Christ."
Conversation on the drive over was light but focused on whether my parents were eligible for the theatre's senior discount. My father is a man who knows his limitations - and has courage enough to admit these - so the decision was taken that my mother would buy the tickets and thus deal with any potential 'Are we seniors or not?' fiasco. "You're much better at that stuff than I am", my father humbly confessed.
As it happens, my mother does have superior abilities when it comes to making arrangements and otherwise getting things organized. (She takes extraordinary pride, for example, in her ability to pack a suitcase or the trunk of our car to 'within an inch of its life'.) Clearly, however, mother is used to dealing with just herself and my father, and the added complexity of my sister and I needing tickets - definitely not seniors' tickets - stretched her organizational memory to its limits: she approached the wicket and recited, trance-like, "Two seniors, one student and one adult, please. Oh, and we have cards." My mother thrust three loyalty cards at the cashier and breathed a sigh of relief at having discharged her duty without forgetting anyone's ticket or price status or the opportunity to accumulate loyalty points.
(My father, by the way, always keeps a respectful distance during these exchanges - currently standing about six feet away, in front of an unattended wicket - either because he doesn't want my mother to feel like he's supervising or he really can't handle the stress.)
After an appropriate pause the young girl cashier asked, with one helluva straight face, "What show would you like to see?"
"Oh!" exclaimed my mother. Mortified. "Ah..." [Looking sideways at my father, who has become fascinated with a small sign attached to the wicket glass in front of him.]
"My Week With Marilyn." I decided to shoulder some of the burden.
"Honey, that sign says seniors are people over 60, so we get the discount." My father joined us in the queue and delivered his report.
"Yes, dear, I told the lady already, it's all taken care of."
"The sign says the discount applies only during the day," my father elaborated his findings, "but I wonder if that also includes the night?"
We are buying tickets to the 3.40PM show.
As my mother collects our tickets a young man at the next wicket is describing the show he'd like to see to the cashier. "Was there a film that was released yesterday? With extraterrestrials? They come down like this..." He's gesturing with his hands how the ETs come down as we walk away and into the theatre.
Concessions: mother remains in charge of orders. As we approach the front of the queue my father whispers in her ear that he'd like a large popcorn and a large Coke. Then he moves to take up his perimeter but remembers just in time to lunge back in and whisper to my mother - just as she's about to give his order to the cashier - "...and butter."
"What?" My mother's focus, shot to hell.
"Oh, it says you get your own..." My father wanders off to investigate the butter station, which is indeed self-serve.
"Honey, our theatre's that way". My mother points in the opposite direction.
"No, I know that." My father clarifies his intentions. "I'm just going to see the butter, which it says is over here."
"Hi." My mother addresses the cashier and gives our order. "And we have cards." She fans our three AMC loyalty cards meaningfully before the till. It occurs to me that neither my sister nor I live at home anymore, so at least one of those cards is dubious. No matter, though, as the cashier shrugs off my mother's Royal Flush of accumulated discount. "Sorry, those are only good at the Box Office."
"What did he say?" My father has sidled-up after successfully reconnoitering the self-serve butter.
My mother repeats the cashier.
"What does that mean?" My father's a corporate lawyer and so knows a defined term when he hears one.
"It's the place where we bought the tickets."
The film is very good. Michele Williams plays the lead, brilliantly. Her Marilyn teeters between innocence and delusion, for most of the film balanced precisely, exquisitely in between. Beguiling even to herself. It's a compelling performance that's strangely apposite to at least our foursome in the next-to-last row.
We emerge from the theatre at dusk, the western sky bands of blue getting lighter towards the horizon. A brilliant new moon hangs low, the polished edge of a tarnished silver dollar. We stand together and admire the indifferent beauty shining down over six concrete apartment towers, eighteen lanes of highway traffic, what my mother estimates as “the busiest Chapter's book store in the city”, and a red-roofed Casey's Bar & Grill that probably seats 150 but in the Kennedy Commons looks like an outhouse with (of course) it's own parking lot.
For almost a minute nobody says anything, just squints against the sodium glare of streetlights and listens to the white noise of highway traffic. Then we turn, all together, and walk away from the theatre with the kind of fearlessness and certainty that only lifelong suburban residents can summon while trying to remember where somebody parked.