"What's a good email for you?"
Two text messages, early June I think. I checked my inbox soon after and there was an evite from my friend Dave. He and I met in 8th grade and have been friends since. His passion is music and he was throwing an album release party in Northern Virginia on August 25th.
I looked at the calendar, the boys were with their father that day, so I decided way back then to commit. I responded yes. Like the pig in the ham and egg breakfast, I committed.
I usually commit to stuff like this and then come to dread it. But between this summer's constant rains finally giving way to sun, and listening all week to the album Dave had pre-released to party goers, I was ready for some summer fun. I didn't care that on a Saturday afternoon it would be a 3-4 hour drive. Live music outdoors on a beautiful summer evening is something I enjoy, live music by someone I know and care about makes it all the better.
It occured to me as I glanced at the evite list of attendees that other than Dave's family, I only knew one person on the list. Well, I've done a good bit of work over the past few years learning to be comfortable alone. There was also a switch for me some time ago. I started listening to people instead of waiting for my turn to talk. I've realized other people are way more interesting than hearing myself talk. Here's proof:
I arrived and was quickly reacquainted with Dave's mother, who is using a crutch. She is using a crutch because she has hurt her hip/leg. She has a stress fracture in her femur and is going to have surgery in early September.
Lee, Dave's older brother, works at the pentagon now. He has two children, one of whom did not attend the party because he was suffering from diarrhea and "there's only one bathroom there and I think that's a bad idea." Which is funny because this is a 15 year old boy and I'm pretty sure he would die if he knew his father shared that with anyone. Lee used to do logistics and route fuel all around Europe, he likes order and has to just shut his children's room doors when he walks by. He's formulating his dream, what he's going to do when he retires from the Army in a couple of years. He wants to do something he loves and is passionate about, but he seemed to not be quite sure yet what that is.
Zibby, whom I have heard about since she was born 13 years ago, is not Zibby. Well, that is her nickname. I just found out that her given name is Elizabeth. I had only ever read 'Zibby' in her grandmother's Christmas cards. I had no idea. Other than having a Peter Pan joke at the ready and implying that her father may be slow to finish projects, I didn't learn much else about her.
Claudia showed up solo and appeared a little nervous as she walked up, I was standing in a circle and was suddenly introducing her to the circle like I had been hanging out with these people for weeks, not just the last 5 minutes. That's okay though, she was grateful and I realized when the circle disappated I'd likely still have Claudia so I wouldn't be standing alone.
Claudia works for a non-profit that involves helping the homeless. She has a big deliverable on Thursday that may lead to a promotion, so she had been working prior to arrival at the party. She planned on working when she left as well. She mentioned that her big boss had been super-helpful with the project, but the person who was supposed to be her mentor/guide had been far less than helpful. A woman named Sahar joined our conversation, and remarked that she had recently been the the west coast and was troubled by the gravity of the homelessness problem.
Sahar is a dentist who was born in Iran. She has lived in the US for 17 years. She actually lives in Baltimore, and for quite a long time, didn't love it. Then she bought a house. Something about the home altered her view. I didn't sort out if it was a location thing or a permanance thing, but she felt like she found parts of Baltimore to enjoy that she hadn't to that point discovered. She loves it now. She mentioned a woman that would show up at her door who was looking for shelter (I don't know if this was her office door or home door). She recalled that when she encouraged the woman to find an official shelter, the woman responded, "have you been to a shelter?" This occurance, coupled with the homelessness she saw on her trip out west, has made her feel like she should volunteer in some capacity to help with the homeless. And don't get her wrong, she is clear that she is not your typical do-gooder, and that it's kind of a big deal that she has been inspired in this way.
It was during this exchange that Claudia mentioned a program that runs every January for one day a week. I can't remember if it's every Monday or Wednesday, and I don't know if it's everywhere or just in Baltimore. Lots of people put on layers of clothing to beat the cold and go out in the nighttime to interview/count the homeless. I wish I knew more, but it seemed that it was done to help with government funding and statistics. Sahar and I wondered if we would remember this in January, but Claudia was passionate as she talked about it and it seemed like they need the help so much that it's worth making an effort to remember.
The three of us also had a very funny exchange about young children, where Sahar remarked that she does not have the mothering gene. She recounted a story of her brother-in-law holding her newphew and offering to Sahar the opportunity to smell his head, "he still has that baby smell," he remarked. Sahar was stupefied. No. No she didn't want to purposefully sniff someone, what was he thinking? She recounted the event in such a way that I had a vivid image and it was funny and I could totally relate: I feel that way about dogs, and I told them so. I get why people love them, I just don't have that gene. I tolerate dogs, Sahar tolerates young people on an as-needed basis. If you're going to make her hang out with a child, the minimum preferred age is 13.
I also met the Virgin Mary. Okay, that's not true, but I did meet Mary with the long blonde hair who was vague and funny. When she introduced herself to the circle of people I was in she questioned everyone about whether or not they had heard of her, did they know of her? Although I wasn't sure where she was going with that, somehow it lead to a quip where I said something like, "not to be confused with the Virgin," which took a long second to land and then resulted in some chuckles. I later learned that Mary is a freelance artist who does some pretty cool projects. Mary was a rolling stone though, she stood for a moment and then moved on, so while we saw each other again and again through the night, we didn't get to speak more than a couple sentences with each other. The one time we began to, the band began to play, and since that was the reason for the occasion it seemed wise to postpone our conversation.
"So, Miguel, what's your connection to Dave?" He didn't know Dave until that night. He had come with his friend Mary for the drive in from Baltimore. She said there would be live music and he opted to join her on the trek." ~I will stop here to say that apparently many of Dave's friends reside in Baltimore~ I had met Miguel briefly in the kitchen, but at this point he he was standing over my left shoulder facing another direction while I talked to Claudia and Sahar. The two of them were engaged in a discussion of something and my attention had waned, so I turned and asked Miguel something. I forget exactly what that was, but he and I started to talk. I learned that he manages software developers, and used to work for Booz Hamilton. This flowed into a discussion about my company website and my struggles with it. He made me feel validated by saying, "oh, yea, they have no idea what they are doing." I learned that he makes a great Snickerdoodle cookie. Miguel is a giant man. Some people are tall, Miguel is big. He takes up a lot of space but also has a smile that reassures you that he's not trying to take up yours. A woman who does a duet with Dave was warming up and Miguel was impressed with her voice. As Mary walked out of the house into the yard he asked if she'd heard her, because she has great pipes.
The music began and I sat by myself and focused on the performance. Between songs sitting a little behind me to the right I met Ben. Ben is married to the back up singer, a very talented young woman. She and Ben were both in a previous band with Dave, that was where they first met, now they have an 11-month old boy named Arthur. Ben beams with love. Love for his wife and love for Arthur, it was lovely to see.
Later in the kitchen I met Olivia. She asked me about my braces and talked about how she used to have braces but had them taken off early and didn't wear her retainer. She told me about how one time she woke up with blood all over her pillow because part of her braces had broken and there was a wire jabbing her in the cheek. I asked how she was connected to the party and she said that her boyfriend, Jerry, had been in a band with Dave in the past. She mentioned that Jerry is 22 years older than her, but it's working for them. They have been together for a year now, and he treats her very well. She's an old soul anyway, she said.
I truly enjoyed hanging out a little with Dave's sister-in-law Jessie. She is warm and approachable and found many of the same things funny as I did. She also didn't mind when I asked her her name a second time and then told her that I would remember because of Toy Story. She is a school teacher who wasn't a super-fan of her former principal. She has changed schools and is very excited about the new year. She is married to Matthew, Dave's brother, whom I'd met years and years ago, but didn't know at all. He is smart and funny and didn't mind when I curled myself behind the neck of his guitar so I could sit next to Miguel. Well, he did seem slightly surprised, but didn't say anything. Matthew is not a big talker, but we had a couple of brief exchanges. One where I asked him what the P word was that Dave used in a song that I had never heard in lyrics before. It took him just a moment to say "Perambulate," which was absolutely correct. He agreed that it was different, but it fit.
I only briefly met John, one of Dave's fraternity brothers. He is a high school history teacher and I listened a bit as he and Dave's mom talked about PBS and historic things. John was able to bring his children and two others to meet one of the anchors of a PBS show. John lives in New Rochelle New York, and he was crashing at Dave's that night before he had to head back the next day. John's face lights up when he talks about history, so I thought it cool that he has a job where he shares his passion.
The night winded down and I was lucky to sit with part of Dave's family and Dave and visit a few minutes. Dave called his buddy Ken over and told two great stories about him from college: one involved a 3-pointer in a game versus Princeton, the other involved public nudity and President Clinton's motorcade. Dave and Ken were not only fraternity brothers, they also played in a band together after college.
There were plenty of others there, but those were the ones I felt I connected with, in addition to Dave. What's to say about Dave? He looks great, he sounds great. He spoke of being nervous before the performance and I gave him a strategy to calm down. He promptly remarked that he was so nervous he only heard half of what I said. He didn't need to be nervous. He gave a great performance and was kind to all. He went out of his way to acknowledge and thank the musicians playing with him that night, as well as those who also played on the album. I hope everyone that attended felt like their presence was as valued as Dave made me feel mine was. I could write more about watching the family dynamics among Dave and his brothers and parents, but I will simply say that I think they have great understanding of each other as well as tremendous love.
I think this is why I am tired after parties when I don't know the guests going into the event. I doubt I will see most of these people again, but that doesn't matter at all. I got to hear some part of who they are, and put that in the mental record I'm keeping of human kind. People and their stories fascinate me. Now I have written it down, which is all the better.
9/1/2018 Addendum :
Dave's album For All the Cities is now available on Soundcloud here.