It’s Monday, about 6PM. My friend notices me outside the Village East Cinemas on the corner of 12th Street and 2nd Avenue. She’s tall, easily 5’10, slender; long, dark brown hair to the middle of her back. She’s wearing black slacks and a black shirt, over which is a cute, off-white crocheted top that I can’t imagine her not having. Her accessories are black, strappy heels, a short necklace that looks like moderately flattened reddish-brown marbles (the mashers, not the little ones) strung together, and a backpack. Her oval face shows off high cheekbones which her smile always obeys; a cute, slightly pointed nose that tames the cheekbones, but not too much; brown, deeply discerning eyes – thoughtful eyes that I’ve never been able to not see a friendly glint in – they beat the crocheted top, hands down.
So, you may say her face is well balanced; it’s very appealing. While it is beautiful and familiar and comfortable, I don’t know if I would say it is balanced. It’s that way all the time. Those eyes capture a lot. They hold sincerity and curiosity: those oglers are constantly hungry. Always reading and inquiring and seeking understanding. Cynicism and bitterness simply cannot fit into those eyes. Who needs that kind of balance, anyway?
I buy my ticket and we stroll toward the restaurant. It’s a little Korean place; very minimalistic, but the food is fabulous. I order the tofu, and she gets the prime beef lettuce wraps. The conversation expands and shrinks like a bellows. We talk about news and NPR and music. We talk a lot about books and authors we adore. We talk about blogs, each other’s as well as our friends’. We try each other’s food. It’s all spicy, so I end up drinking a lot of water and getting full a lot sooner than I wanted. I don’t finish my plate. I build a pyramid out of my leftover tofu cubes. My friend takes a picture. She has a laugh that has a life of its own. I want to be friends with her laugh, all shouty and cheerful. After offering her what I didn’t eat, she takes a cube from the bottom of the pyramid, which doesn’t topple.
The food is cheap. Come visit me, and I’ll take you there. They serve little spicy appetizers before the main course, then they cleanse your palate after the meal with a perky, mysterious cinnamon elixir served in what looks like half a large test tube with a flattened bottom. Liquid Big Red. Spice, spice, spice. We talk about our favorite parts of town and the endless choice of fooderies. She’s a good conversationalist, asking questions that I can always turn back to her. She mentions browsing the website for the Jordanian Royalty regularly, similarly to fans who follow British Royalty. She self-proclaims her dorkiness, while I think of my other friends who have been chosen for Jeopardy, or whose favorite metal is titanium, or have a photo of part of the ceiling of the Library of Congress as her Facebook profile picture. This friend sitting across from me? fits right in with my crowd. Except she’s the only one who has met Desmond Tutu.
We leave the restaurant. It had been raining all morning and afternoon, but the evening is cool and overcast. We enter a little market to search for movie snacks. She intends to buy junior mints but picks up some haribo gummy candy instead. She grabs a wrapped bar of marzipan and shows it to me, and I take it, deciding to try it.
We walk into the theater. We find the ladies room. We wind up the stairs to the theater. No one takes our tickets. We are watching a film starring a friend of ours who was a member of our congregation and whose family moved to Utah about a year ago. The movie is part of an independent film festival. The movie is about a man returning home from serving a mission. He’s engaged; his fiancee has been waiting for him. His sole purpose, other than getting married, is to baptize his mom. He has a death experience where he’s told he has 60 days to fulfill his purpose. Of course he faces some obstacles. Of course a heartwrenching twist is at the end.
We sit in the midst of a bunch of other curious Mormons for the film. I’m usually a bit skeptical about Mormon cinema, but it isn’t as awkward as I expected. Our friend the star was supposed to attend, but the director announces a family emergency and relays an apology to the audience. A question-and-answer session follows the film. The director gets emotional as he explains the commitment and work that goes into creating a film. The next presentation is about to begin, so the crowd exits the theater. One of our friends dares us to ask the costar who is not the star’s wife if he is a good kisser. I stand in a procession of fans who want photos taken with the cute costar. The line seems neverending. I tell her I’m friends with the star, and I laugh nervously as I ask if he’s a good kisser. (I don’t want her to think I’m asking for me, but $20 is on the line here.) She laughs and says it’s like kissing your brother – it felt like he was looking after her. Plus, he’s married with kids. And he’s “older.” My age? Hmm. HMM.
We board the subway. I start to run out of steam, but my friend, she keeps asking questions. She’s genuinely wants to know me better. Am I that interesting? I think about her husband, who’s the bishop in our ward; her two adorable children who would probably be fast asleep when she got home. The last conversation is about politics and our favorites for president. My stop comes pretty quickly. I thank her for her time and company. And she smiles that smile that takes no effort and we wave goodbye. I am so lucky to be going to church with that one.
I remember running into her at Target a few years back. She mentioned her husband working toward his PhD and how their family would lead a quiet, intellectual life. I can still see it. She’s very gentle-spoken; she seems she would never lose her temper. Nice, cozy home. The kids would be off somewhere, being precocious, and she and her husband would have their books, sitting in big, cushy chairs not quite facing each other. They’d discuss the issues of the world, things that matter. The tireless smile, the wiser eyes, still seeking understanding. Then her husband would make a joke. Could someone bring out another chair? That laugh needs a place to sit, too.
Oh. Sidebar. The Jones Family. She’s the webmaster over there. If it suits your fancy, take a clicky gander.