I'm Jewish. My wife is Jewish. For the most part, we observe Jewish tradition (Mrs. P more than me). We have a kosher kitchen. We search for chametz before Passover begins. We fast on Yom Kippur and we light real, wax candles on Chanukah, instead of the electrified version. So, after a lapse of many years, we once again participated in one of the most revered and time-honored of all Jewish traditions. On Christmas, we went to the movies and ate Chinese food.
Anticipating a large crowd, I visited the confusing Regal Cinemas website on Monday evening and purchased tickets for a 4:00 p.m. Christmas Day showing of Saving Mr. Banks at a nearby theater where the film was playing in one of the 22 auditoriums. I figured at 4, most gentiles would still be assembling new bicycles, figuring out which way to install batteries or mixing up their third batch of eggnog before the Christmas goose hits the tablecloth. (Having never celebrated Christmas, my only frame of reference is the Cratchit Family gathered eagerly around the Scrooge-provided meal in the final scene of A Christmas Carol.) I also figured that most Jews would venture out later in the evening, taking advantage of a day off from work. I printed out my "Print-At-Home" tickets, wondering what specific "convenience" was afforded me by the $2.50 convenience charge, and stuck them in a safe place until Christmas.
After a morning of Christmas episodes of vintage television (Mr. Ed, Hazel and The Patty Duke Show all shared similar "Down with Christmas Commercialism" plot lines.), Mrs. P and I headed out to the movies. As we drove the twenty-five minutes north on Route 611, I noticed that every strip center boasting a Chinese restaurant had a full parking lot. All other business were dark and locked up tight, but the familiar red and yellow sign in front of each Chinese restaurant burned brightly as a welcoming beacon. We passed six or seven such eating establishments and every one bore an overabundance of parked vehicles.
We pulled into the theater's parking lot and, it too, was jammed with cars. My wife located a space a good distance from the theater. We parked and hurried in. Luckily, we already had our admission tickets because the queue line snaked through the lobby and onto the cement walkway out front. At the risk of making a very, very racist statement, the overwhelming majority of patrons were Jews. Oh, it's okay — we can spot each other a mile away. We know our mannerisms, our traits, our demeanor, our speech patterns and our overall "look." Don't ask me to be specific, we just know. By the pained murmurs of "Oy vey! What a line!" and the over-dramatic exaggerated shrieks of recognition exchanged by women who just saw each other a day ago at the hairdresser, we knew we were among "my people." There were more Jews here than the last time I was at High Holiday services.
Our ticket was scanned by a disinterested young man who was wedged into a tight red Regal Cinemas vest. He directed us down the labyrinth-like corridor to Theater 13, where a line for seating was winding out of the darkness into the light of the hallway. We joined the line and shuffled slowly into the auditorium. My wife stopped to say "Hello" to a fellow she knew from synagogue (See?). Soon, we were able to view a selection of available seats. The place was packed and a low rumble of hushed conversation filled the dimly-lit room. I spotted two unoccupied seats in the middle of a row about halfway up. Excusing myself to the few seated patrons on the aisle end of the row, I led my wife to what would be our location for the next two hours.
The movie (once it started, as it was preceded by thirty minutes worth of trailers for a slew of films I have already decided I have no desire to see) was great. Well acted, well written and, save for a few anachronisms, very entertaining — but now I was hungry.
We located our car (not before Mrs. P spotted and greeted another group of people she knew from synagogue) and headed back to Route 611. I found my cellphone and called a Chinese restaurant that's a few blocks from our house. Our plan was to place an order from the car and pick it up on the way home. I dialed the number. On the other end, I recognized the voice of the young lady at the restaurant that usually answers the phone, except this time she screamed "SZECHUANMANDARIN-CANYOUHOLDFORAMINUTE?" and I heard the receiver drop on something hard. She spewed the salutation as one long, angry word. She sounded harried and frantic. Through the phone I could heard the clinking of plates and tinkling of silverware, but above it all, I could hear the agitated tones of the usually demure hostess. Although the words were indiscernible, they were obviously foreign and decidedly furious. I waited patiently. And I waited some more. I could still hear a great commotion through the phone, but no one was returning to accept my order. My wife called on her phone and I could hear the ring through my phone. Her call was answered by a man. She quickly passed the phone to me and I placed the order, only to be told that it would be ready in about fifty minutes, nearly five times the usual waiting period.
We arrived at the restaurant and I hopped out of the car. As I approached the entrance to the restaurant, it looked as though all of my fellow movie-goers had beat me here. I was told my order was not yet ready, so I waited some more. The place looked like a typical morning at the Wailing Wall. I expected a Torah to pass by carried by a t'fillin-swathed gentleman. Men and women I recognized from our predominantly Jewish neighborhood were pacing and talking and complaining.
"Oy! It's so busy!"
"This is crazy meshuganeh!"
"So many people here — kine hora!"
I spied the regular hostess scurrying between the kitchen and the reception area, her spindly arms over-laden with take-out orders. A young man, pad and pencil in hand, was scribbling the names of entrees being screamed at him by fur-wrapped, jewelry-encrusted, white-haired women in condescending mock-Asian accents. I stood by a coat rack, waiting for my order number to be announced. Finally, my vegetarian feast, labeled "Number 25," appeared. I paid and maneuvered my way through the crowd. I weaved around a few more arriving families — annoyed Dads, distressed Moms, unruly children and bewildered, slothy grandparents — and made it to my wife's waiting car.
I will make a note to remember these events next Christmas. And we will be breaking tradition.