Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Last Barbecue...

This is a longer blob than usual, but it’s funny and given our present state of living, I wanted to share it – I think we see a pattern

My original move to Washington DC was somewhat unconventional.
I moved without having a place to live. So I lived, or at least
I slept, in a Fiat 128 station wagon parked in a plethora of
places on the streets surrounding the Capitol. In the morning I
would wake up and make my way to the home of a friend where I
would shower, dress, and go out to look for a job. This went on
for some time until Jane, the person I visited most frequently,
insisted that I spend an entire night at her home. After
spending six months of entire nights at her home I moved to a
rental house which I shared with another close friend. The
landlord was despicable and the arrangement was clearly temporary.
I had moved five times in one year and I was exhausted. I needed
to find a place which was mine. A place where I could belong. A
place in which I would feel secure and permanent and which would
allow me the freedom to repay the kindnesses of lots of friends.

The four story, unfortunately green, limestone townhouse in
somewhat "fashionable" downtown Washington looked like it would be a wonderful place to to live. It was a large Victorian (about 1200 square feet
a floor) charming, airy, and because there was no furniture,
overwhelmingly spacious. Built around 1900 it contained many
turn-of-the-century features: three working fireplaces; the one
in the master bedroom being the most erotic, the others
beautifully carved and totally energy inefficient; 12 foot
ceilings; original wood moldings; a brick patio garden area;
three parking spaces (which in downtown were probably worth as
much as the house); and a front stoop on which one could sit for
endless hours during the summer, fall, part of winter and spring,
peacefully watching all of Washington walk by. I bought it with the help of friends and lived there for nine years.

The house was now for sale. David and I had purchased a
much more managable house in Northern Virginia and we intended to
move within the month. But the Victorian house had been my
friend. It was my salvation during a time when I desperately
needed a place to live. And it became, over the years, a
substitute home for many friends who needed shelter from a bad
situation, or a break from their normal routine. It was a great
space to have a party, or a fundraiser, or any type of
spontaneous diversion. l715 Q Street was used as a home, as a
studio, as a shelter and as a place of business. People always
felt that they could just "drop by" -- and they did, sometimes
for hours, sometimes for months, but that was fine with me because
the visits made for a multitude of memories.

The house held nine years of memories for me, some
exceedingly painful...most very sweet...yet all having to do
with people who were important in my life. It seemed only
fitting that the house host a parting event... and even though
invitations were never extended a few friends just dropped by to
share memories at the last barbecue we would have at the Q
Street house.

John and Susan arrived at 6:30 with a big bag full of fresh
corn on the cob and two large bottles of white wine. Pat and
MaryAnn arrived soon after carrying mounds of magnificent
vegetables with which to make a salad, and two large bottles of
white wine. Mary dropped by on her way back from a California
business trip and, of course, stayed for the evening. At 6:50 she
rushed to the market (which closed at 7:00) to
buy some fish for grilling. She returned with lots of halibut
and two large bottles of white wine.

Despite the fact that evening was developing into quite an
interesting prospect, and I was looking forward to it, I was a
little nervous about the sale and/or rental of the house. That
day we had advertised the availability of the basement apartment
and although we had been inundated with inquiries there were no
prospective rentors on the horizon. Futhermore, that afternoon, the
real estate agent held an open house for prospective buyers and
only two people came to look at it. (Part of the problem was the
realtor's intimidating and clearly inaccurate description of the
house as a Magnificent Mansion.) Actually to say I was a little
nervous is a slightly understated description of my emotional
state. I was a wreck. In fact, by the time Pat and MaryAnn
arrived I was pacing the floor, wringing my hands and obsessing
about the total lack of prospective interest. They, having just
spent endless months selling their house, were most sympathetic.

"It's awful selling a house! How long have you had it on
the market?" Mary Ann inquired with great concern.

"Four days!" I cried back at her. "Do you think I should
lower the price?"

MaryAnn is a sensible person and a mighty good friend who was
now in the process of unloading the vegetables. She simply
paused for a moment, looked at me as if my behavior was perfectly
normal and said, "I'd probably wait just a little longer before I
made any changes."

There had been no indications by any of the crack weather
people in the greater Metropolitan area that there would be a
thunder storm. But just as the coals for barbecuing reached
the absolute perfect temperature, the sky blackened and the rains
came down about as hard as I'd ever seen rains come down. It
should be noted here that in the weeks, months and years prior to
this last barbecue, although the house had been repaired,
reroofed, and reconstructed, it still suffered the symptoms of
old age-- it was never totally sound. There was always a little
something wrong. A dripping faucet, a broken appliance, a new
crack,... always just a little something. Lately the little
something was a strange leak in the ceiling of the country
kitchen/central entertainment area. It was strange because we
had taken what seemed like every possible step to repair the
leak. The roof over the area had been resealed, the bricks over
the area had been reflashed and pointed, the windows on the floor
above the area had been replaced and all the sills had been
reworked. Yet everytime it rained there seemed to be some
leakage. This had two effects: visible new cracks with each
new storm and continued painting of the area once the storm
damage was repaired. In fact, that very morning before the open
house for potential buyers, we had painted a small area that had
been repaired the day before.

The thunder from the storm might as well have come right
through my body as through the sky for it dampened all my visions
of a pleasantly dry evening and an easy sale of the property. My
life in the house flashed before my eyes and I knew that I would
never get rid of it. It would be my albatross. Me and the Q
street house forever bound together by an exceedingly strange
ceiling leak. There was however, only limited time for
"flashing before the eyes".

I raced up the stairs to see what was happening with the
window above the ceiling. The rain was cascading right through
the middle . The rain was coming in between the inside window
and the newly replaced storm window. It was as if there were no
window at all. And then I heard the dreaded words... "It"s
coming through the ceiling!"

I raced back down the stairs. David, my husband, my love ,
the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life, was
struggling to get a large ladder out of a small closet... he was
not pleased and was not his usual objective self. The phone
rang. It was Paula and Arthur who couldn't be with us because
Arthur's parents were spending the weekend.

"Hi", Paula said cheerfully. "Can you believe this weather?
It's so awful we're not even going to drive to the country for
dinner. What's going on over there?"

"P, " I answered, "It would be impossible to describe to you
exactly what is going on here, but if you want a few laughs put
the parents in the car and stop by here for just a glimpse of the

"Sounds interesting but we have to find somewhere to feed
the folks so we won't have the time to drop by--but send our
love, see you, bye."

I raced back up the stairs, ripped through the boxes I had
carefully packed for the move and located some towels which I
immediately stuffed into the middle of the window to impede the
entry of any more water.

I raced back down the stairs to see if it had worked. Pat
was now up on the incredibly shakey ladder trying to dry the
wall. John was holding the ladder to prevent any further rain
related disaster. Mary was running back and forth into the
kitchen exchanging wet towels for dry. MaryAnn was watching to
make sure the fire for grilling did not go out (We had no more
charcoal and the stores anywhere within reason were closed).
Susan was busily shucking corn. And David who had obviously
succeeded in removing the ladder from the closet had decided that
the most useful thing he could do was refill the wine glasses.
The phone rang. It was Chuck. He couldn't be there because he
was entertaining his kids for dinner.

"Hi, is it raining as hard there as it is here?” he asked,
hoping the answer was no. Chuck, having participated in the
repair and painting knew only too well what a heavy rain could

"Yes" I said (exhaling the sound to indicate frustration.)

"Well don't worry, we still have enough paint for two more
storms. Gotta go but I'll speak to you tomorrow." He hung up.

I raced back up stairs to see if the window towels were
helping. They were not.

I raced back down the stairs to see if there was anything
I could do to help in the drying effort. Mary was now on the
ladder, Pat was holding, MaryAnn was exchanging wet towels for
dry, Susan was watching the fire and John was shucking corn,
David was still pouring wine. It seemed there was only one thing
I could do... grill the fish. Yes there was a torrential
downpour and yes I was going to get wet to the point where I
thought I would never dry, but I needed to do something. We were
all getting hungry, the fish needed to be grilled, and cooking
was the only way I knew to control my hysteria... so I grilled
the fish while Mary and Pat switched off on the ladder in a
ongoing attempt to dry the wall, John and Susan switched off or
shucked simultaneously, MaryAnn made the salad and David, while
pouring the much needed wine remarked, "Gee the leak would have
been boring if our friends hadn't been here!"

Eventually, the force of the rain diminished with the chaos
of the wall drying/dinner preparation and my anxieties.
The fish was grilled, the salad was no longer separate vegetable
entities, and the corn had shed its final shuck. We gathered
around a rectangular shaped glass coffee table (which was always
used in lieu of a dining room table) and we sat on the floor with
our dinner plates on our laps. Dinner was warm, dry and
delicious. We sat in comfortable positions on pillows that were
mushed to sitting perfection. We spoke of the places we loved
most, the geography we thought most beautiful, and our favorite
things to eat. We laughed about what it was like, as
adolescents, to buy prophylactics or have a first period.

We shared a melange of stories and secrets about ourselves
and our friends. The phone rand continuously. Mel and David
called from the coast just to say hello. Jane called from
Africa. Nikki called from Virginia. Carolyn called from Capitol
Hill and Louise called from up the street. It was as if all the
voices of the past and present knew that there was only a little
time left to have contact with an era about to end. We missed the
people who belonged at the barbecue but couldn't be there. In
their honor we tried to remember all the times we had spent
together having fun. And then we spoke joyously of the adventures
we would share in the future.

That evening was a flawless reflection of what my life had
been in that house. A continuing mixture of joy, sorrow,
frustration, love, and shared secrets.

The last barbecue most certainly reconfirmed David's
perception of the evening. Situations are less boring when you
share them with friends. What a fitting finale for a perfect
beginning. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

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