Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dickensian House Parties, or a Tale of Two Dalmatians

Hmm, I wonder what it would feel like to be the only person in the entire city of Washington DC to be at work. Oh wait a minute! I know how that feels!

I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took yesterday off and snuggled deeply under the down comforter and thought about coffee and the Today Show and all those other perks of a morning spent at home.

We took Nick to Chevy Chase for the day. Oh splendid sunny blue sky! Oh fabulous over-the-top extravagance! Neiman Marcus, Tiffany, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Barney’s…all in two city blocks. The magnificent half mile. So silly, callow and overwrought, but who cares!

We took Nick to lunch at the Hall of Cheeseball fame—that even has cheese in its name!—The Cheesecake Factory. Which was actually really fun because it’s an Italianate gobstopper with lovely tapestry booths overlooking the hustle ‘n bustle of Wisconsin Avenue below.

Nick liked it right away. He ordered a “Tons of Fun” burger “medium rare” and started things off with a tropical smoothie made with mango and passion fruit. He took one taste of the confection and pronounced it “to die for.”

There are few things more irresistible than an excited little kid in a restaurant booth—ordering with a grave seriousness and attacking new pleasures with relish. And looking out the window, and unfolding a too-large cloth napkin and eating sourdough bread.

We hit Neiman’s, just cuz I love it—the mink and chinchilla scarves, the Michal Negrin baubles, all topped with a phalanx of white fluttering butterflies strung in the glass atrium, like a mad lepidopterist’s conservatory.

Williams-Sonoma—fingering the copper, the Calphalon, the fanciful bundt tins, Villeroy and Boch, wanting everything (sort of, not really), MZA said, “None of this is really your style.” Yes, but it’s 50% off!!

The most fun was T.J. Maxx because it had things you could actually procure, AND there was super duper World Market, a new addition to the Chevy Chase strand. MZA loved it. They had Indian glass bangles, like I used to wear, and sensational zonked out rosey/pomegranate smelling candles. Nick liked the candy section. On and on about Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans—flavor highlights: Earwax and booger. Mmmm.

We walked past all the new behemoths of luxury with beefy black bodyguards at every entrance, but did not walk in. Not out of intimidation, but out of irrelevance—as in, how do hideous brown steamer trunks with beige LVs splashed on them apply to my life?

That night we got ready for Hope’s après Christmas fete. I was wearing black stockings and m'skivvies—still getting ready--and Nick said, “You look like a centaur, Mommy!” MZA said, “What’s a centaur?” I said, “One of those half man half goat things from mythology.” Ian chimed in delightedly, “Mommy is a go-at! Mommy is a go-at!”

Sheila’s holiday party was Dickensian, and Hope’s parties at her parents’ formidable town house on Dupont Circle are Dickensian as well, in that sense of the cold, gray unforgiving city outside and the heightened contrast of glowing yellow lights, tinkling glass and mellow conversational grooves from within. There are Venetian glass mirrors, gilt frames, Japanese art, and voluptuous chandeliers draped elegantly from high ceilings.

Hope, just in from Brussels for the holidays, serves an ex-pat’s dream meal of macaroni and cheese made with penne pasta and little perfect ham sandwiches on mini-buns. All kid friendly. Hope’s father was in the diplomatic corps and so is a familiar archetype for me—the gracious gent, the instant name recognition, the interested gaze, the effortless courtesy and the ability to welcome one instantly to the fold. He greets MZA warmly, always, and says his name perfectly.

Daisy, the committed dog lover, immediately reaches for a stuffed Dalmatian toy from the “Japanese altar”—filled with Dalmatian paraphernalia meant to honor a family member, in this case the family Dalmatian Jessica—and carries it with her, proprietarily, everywhere. She keeps bringing it up to show to the real Jessica.

Hope’s parents kindly decide that Daisy needs the stuffed Jessica and they give it to her. I tell Daisy to thank Hope’s father and she goes up to him, shyly, clutching the spotted dog. He leans over and asks for a kiss on the cheek. I have that breathless Mommy moment—please God let her come through—and she sweetly walks up and plants a dainty one right on his cheek. It’s m’girl’s one touch from a fading era, that the eye catches in the form of a heat image from an infrared camera—a light that detects warmth the naked eye cannot perceive.

Hope and Nick are old friends. I walk upstairs to the informal sitting room and hear Hope giving a discourse to Nick on how “Flemish is actually much more guttural…” while he listens intently.

We drive home through the curving tree-thick Rock Creek Park, watching for deer and minding the low curbs and misted fog, made more opaque by the headlights.


Cynicism is another word for reality

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