Vocabulary lessons at the movies

Tonight I went to a free screening of “Nine Lives” at the Ritz Bourse. A week and a half ago, I emailed the review of this movie to my movie buddy (just one among many buddy roles she plays in my life) Shay with a note that said, “I want to see!!!” The next day I got an email invitation to the screening.

I had been looking forward to it all day, and made sure to leave work on time so that I could go to Trader Joe’s, buy something for dinner (and dark chocolate for Shay), get home, put on jeans, microwave said dinner and get back downstairs in time to be picked up. With all those tasks accomplished I climbed into Shay’s Honda at 6:15 and we headed for the theater. For some reason traffic was heavy on Chestnut street. It seems that with the onset of cold weather, the majority of drivers in Philadelphia have misplaced all knowledge they ever possessed about how exactly to navigate their vehicles.

Once we had our passes in hand, we got on line to wait to exchange the passes for tickets (they like the multi-step process around here). There was a woman standing in line in front of us who was obviously waiting for someone to join her. She stood there, in her black leather motorcycle jacket, with a feathered hair cut straight out of the 70’s, bobbing her head back and forth in an attempt to see around the people at the front of the line. She then turned to the woman to her right and asked a question about parking. When the target of question wasn’t able to give her the answer she wanted, I jumped in (I just can’t help it sometimes, you can call me nosy, I like to think of myself as helpful). Between the two of us, Shay and I told her everything she needed to know about parking in Center City in order to see movies at the Ritz (this is a subject about which I know more than I should, especially considering I live a mere 15 blocks from the theater we were waiting to enter). Just at the point when we had answered all her questions, her girlfriend showed up, the line began to move and the conversation came to a natural end.

Once in our seats, Shay and I started talking about the upcoming weekend and the group of friends she’s got coming into town. There’s a small party on Saturday night, and Shay wanted to make sure that we play “Angela’s party game.” Turns out I know Angela’s game by the name “Celebrity.”

The last time I played “Celebrity” was over a year ago at Seth’s birthday party, at the suggestion of Devon (who has since moved back to San Francisco. She was always one for proposing games at parties, a trait I used to poo-poo, but now genuinely miss). In preparation for this game, everyone writes down the name of five (or seven or ten) celebrities, and throws them into a basket. In the first round you can use as many words as you’d like in order to get your team to guess the name on your slip of paper. In the second round you can only use one word and in the third and final round you have to make them guess the name simply through your acting skills. Ellen’s then-boyfriend Chris was playing that night. He was a very smart, if slightly intellectually obscure guy (I’m sure he still is, but since they broke up, we don’t see him anymore) and the majority of the names he put into the basket followed suit.

As I described this particular game of Celebrity to Shay, I called Chris’s personality choices “esoteric.” We continued talking a moment more, but then the woman sitting in the seat in front of us interrupted. It was the same woman who had been in front of us in line outside. She asked, “This is going to sound really stupid, but I wonder if you could tell me what the word esoteric means. I hear it used all the time, but I never know. I have a really terrible vocabulary.”

For a moment we were both taken totally aback. I have never had a grown woman, someone older than me, ask me to define a word for her. I was also astounded by the bravery it must have taken to ask us for help in that manner. I stumbled over my words a little, but managed to get out, “Oh, okay. I’d be happy to. Well, I guess it means something that is intellectually obscure.” When she continued to look at me with a little bit of puzzlement, I continued with “it’s information or a reference to some piece of work that it out of the ordinary.” She started to get it, although before we were done with our vocab lesson, we had also referenced Pavlov’s dogs and Machiavelli.

At the end of our conversation she said to me, “You remind me a lot of my younger sister. She is an English teacher, and has told me that I should try to learn a new word every day. Thanks for your help.”

There was a certain innocence about this woman, a deep curiosity, an ingrained sense of kindness and a general appreciation for life. I am so glad that she was so willing to ask me a question, if for no other reason than I deeply enjoyed the few minutes I spent talking with her.

3 thoughts on “Vocabulary lessons at the movies

  1. beth

    See, so many of us would be embarrassed to ask, for fear of being judged. But who would judge you! Disposing of that sort of self-consciousness is something I’ve been trying to do more of in the past few years… I think it’s important.

  2. aasmodeus

    staring karma in the face. you opened yourself to wonderful experiences just by being who you are (back when you were in line explaining parking), and the wonderful (okay, maybe just better than average) experience happened to occur quite soon afterward.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *