Circling Back and Forth

by Jacqueline Van Fleet


It is the first Saturday evening of November as I turn left into 11th Street.

I am going to the movies where I will catch the early evening showing of Waiting for Superman, but have decided to arrive a bit early, as is my habit.

The experience of movie-going is something I typically relish. For me, it isn’t just about the movie.

Several years ago I developed a preference for going to the theater on my own: no elbow jab from the left to point out a particularly meaningful scene or, worse, a funny one. There are still a few good friends with whom I like to go to films, those who can simply sit quietly and watch the screen. However, it requires planning, and the lack of spontaneity diminishes the event.

But I’m a big girl now. I’ve traveled alone a lot, and I can sit in any good restaurant and enjoy a meal all by myself. Alone at the movies? Piece of gateau.

I park my car in a good spot on the street, get out, and lean against the passenger door. Other movie-goers begin to assemble and I watch them for a bit. Who they might be interests me. A few are alone, others are coupled or in small cliques.

I notice one woman’s jean jacket with “Have You Found Jesus?” emblazoned on the back. I find the message offensive and out of place, and wonder why she is at the movies and not somewhere else looking for Jesus.

I attended The Circle back in the mid-60’s, when going to the movies was an event attended without necessity of religious or political statement worn on one’s body. As uncertain as we were, our issues were addressed at home over cocktails and card tables. We elected LBJ, we sobbed when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. We cried our eyes out when Bobby Kennedy was senselessly murdered.

The marquee lights form a soft halo against the violet evening sky.

I imagine Cassavetes stepping off the curb, snapping his fingers and calling out “Show me the magic!” For now, the magic hour begins, and very soon, we, my fellow Circle attendees and I, will join in darkness as we watch an impersonal screen and share our suspended disbelief of a story of love or violence, of dreams realized and lost.

I shrug off my historical annoyance, and wander into the theater proper to find a good seat. It is, after all, movie night. Our differences fade, and for just a couple of hours, we will be intimate friends.

Waiting for Superman turns out be an informative documentary that bravely cites failures of the American education system. Students of different ages and socio-economic ranges are the film’s stars. Its desolate story succeeds in moving us. As the film ends our previous conviviality has subsided. No one talks much and we wander out to the street and back to our separate lives.

Only four decades ago, we would have met up with the Tamale Man pushing his heated metal cart towards the crowd. We would buy delicious tamales for 25 cents apiece and head back home where our discussions of politics over cocktails and card games would resume.