I always hated that my birthday so quickly follows the Fourth of July. Any attempt to celebrate both adequately leaves both fêtes trite, underdeveloped, and unfulfilling. As a result, most often, the two have always been combined in my household. But, pragmatist that I sometimes am, I realize that I pale when standing tall next to my homeland and its heritage. Besides, I reserve my most genuine revelry for that birthday when the weather is cool and breezy … such daytime temperatures I have rarely felt only in in the most peculiar of July festivities.
That was certainly the case in Washington, D.C., where the anti-Christ and I lived for more years than I prefer recall. We lived in a restored Civil War farmhouse, in a slightly rough and “transitional” area. Although we were considered by our peers to be urban pioneers and often were harassed by the teenagers that passed by, we loved the charm, trees, and the entertaining older residents who doted on us so frequently. We even learned not to wince when rocks were tossed at windows late at night.
It was once such birthday weekend and we had made few plans, opting simply to let them unfold. Woods, a former professor of George’s, was our houseguest for the week; he was a brilliant man of seventy given to shuffling as he walked and filling his morning coffee cup with gin. He actually believed we could never tell, although slurring conversation by 10AM is oft a giveaway in polite society.
On Saturday night on the 3rd, our friends Jim and Richard dropped by with a huge carton … so huge that it required four of us to carry it onto the porch. They handed me a card, which I opened, and read. I proceeded to discover what was secreted inside the behemoth of cardboard! I was at once thrilled and overwhelmed: they had presented me with a gas grill for my birthday. I had eyed one in particular for so long, but (being the late 80’s) they were not yet commonplace and still considered quite the luxury.As George and Jim completed whatever assembly the grill required, Richard and I played bartender and started to plan a gathering for the next day. What better way to inaugurate a grill but by hosting a birthday cookout, honoring both my country and me! By the time all cogs and screws were in place, Richard and I had invited a dozen folks over for the next afternoon … and there was still time to get to the Safeway that night to gather all the provisions for burgers, slaw, and a novel potato salad creation. (Such “off the cuff” creations are my forte and pleasure.)
Of course, with such a short notice, we’d have to limit alcohol options to beer and wine. Liquor stores would be closed the next day and we were out of most everything except Pimm’s and Chartreuse! An assortment of beers and ales would just have to suffice. George was a little pissed since he was assuredly a martini man, always and frequently.
I spent the rest of the evening obsessing over the party while George and Woods sat on the back porch enjoying a multitude of Pimm’s and sodas, pondering George’s college days … and his progression since.
The next morning was typical for a Sunday… except that Woods was already rather tipsy when I finally went downstairs at 8AM. Apparently, he couldn’t sleep and decided to greet the world at 5AM. He claimed to have attempted to make coffee, but I suspect he went straight to the liquor cabinet.
I sent him upstairs and went out front to get the paper when I noticed a bundle in front of the glass doors. Suspicious, I summoned George. What looked a babe wrapped in swaddling appeared lifeless. Could it be a wretched prank by the marauding teenagers? In any case, it was certainly horrific and spelled disaster. Surely, we were targeted by someone with something for some reason.
At that point, Woods shuffled up from behind us and flung the door open: “Bbbbbbbb-beh-behs, allow me to get thee-us for you. Steh-ep aside!” He reached down, fumbled through the blanket, and showed us what was clearly a liquor bottle, a bottle of Stoli undoubtedly from their reserve. The dotty man clutched and cradled the “booty” and proceeded inside, unwrapped it fully, and said it MUST be for him.
“I DON’T THINK SO,” I countered as a note fell to the tile floor:
Those sweet guys. The cookout was great. The house echoed with the alluring music of Tanita Tikaram. Woods had fallen asleep long before the guests started to arrive, only to awaken right after dessert. And we had several rounds of various and sundry martinis. Though I have never understood how, in a gathering of a dozen gay men, NO two will ever prefer their martini in the same manner.
And the temperature remained in the refreshing low 70’s, as it will tomorrow I just know. I had a Sea Breeze, my soiree beverage of choice back then.
A tall, well-shaken iced coffee is my libation of choice these days.
(Image: “The Climb” by Gil Bruvel.)