So, it seems I'm not as good with this digital camera as I may have thought. If I'm trying to capture scenery on a day with brilliant light and diamond-sharp shadows, apparently I can manage not to fuck things up too much. If I'm trying to photograph people, or pets, however, I turn into a drooling moron. The camera insists on flashing, regardless of light or setting, and I don't know how to turn that off (if it's even possible; it must be, right?). It often doesn't really understand what I want to be focusing on, so when faced with this problem it focuses at random on an object of its own choosing. We're working on our communication, though I'll admit I don't always behave like a grown-up and will sometimes remove its batteries in a fit of pique. That doesn't seem to accomplish much, but it makes me feel better. Yes, I'm just that petty. I hate being defeated by inanimate objects.
What is my evidence for all this? See that picture above? Out of all the photos I took of Jess, Marc, the dogs (none of whom have blogs yet), the house, the train-ride, that photo there is the best one I got out of my visit to East Meadow. I mean, you can actually see who it is I'm photographing. The others, all of them, don't know what the hell happened there. Yes, I know you can look at the little screen after taking a shot, see if it came out, then try again if necessary, bite me okay? Yeah, I didn't do that. Like, ever. I blame Marc really. He made this amazing blackberry (yes blackberry) cosmo that is without a doubt the most delicious mixed drink I've ever had. Not too sweet, beautiful color, it went down like water, so I really can't be held responsible.
So, lacking the extensive photo journal I was hoping to share with you, I'll just have to tell you about my lovely day. Oh, that above is Mandy. She is of the devil, apparently. In my own defense, Jess says that effect always happens with her eyes, so again, it's not my fault. She was coming over to smooch me, by the way, not chew off my face, as it might appear. I get those looks confused a lot.
After a relaxing train-ride out (I love trains), Jess was there to pick me up at the station. The conversation started up without any awkwardness, as between familiar friends, as I guess we were by that point. At the house I was greeted by the dogs first. Bernice and Mandy were effusive and affectionate from the start, competing a bit with one another for my attention. Dodger was courtly and gracious, but made clear he was reserving judgement pending further evidence. I can respect that.
Finally I got to meet Marc as well. Both gentlemen were every bit as charming, funny and welcoming as their blogs, comments and emails had led me to expect. What I hadn't gotten to experience directly was the loving banter between them, which started up immediately. They seemed as amazed, amused and delighted with each other as if they had just met, and it was lovely to bask in.
First order of business, I requested a tour of the house. Marc had before pictures to give me a sense of how extensive their renovations had been. Jess grew up in this house, so the renovations helped to shape the house more to their tastes and needs, while also perhaps banishing a ghost or two. The home they've created is both elegant and cozy, taking advantage of some wonderful original features (black walnut trim!), and antiques from their families, combining them with beautiful new marble or granite in the kitchen and bathrooms, wonderful light fixtures, and a variety of rich, soothing colors. Throughout there were several large beautiful photographs hanging and only later did I learn that Jess had taken them. The house throughout sang of the two of them, and of their relationship. After turning to smaller bedrooms into one large one, they decided to make it the new master bedroom. Jess felt he was never going to be able to see the original as anything but his parents' room. Talk about a recipe for chastity. I would have made the same choice. Periodically one of them would point to what I thought was a small, tastefully arrayed collection, and say "sorry about the mess."
They are never, ever coming to my house.
So much of the furniture or collections (there were actual ones too) came with family stories, so one sensed the history of these two men in a way that I have rarely found with Americans. I got to hear about some of their relatives -Jess's mom and grandmother, Marc's mom- triggered perhaps by a collection of silver pieces, a surprisingly valuable couch (that narrowly missed being left on the curb) or a great old cabinet.
Jess and Marc then began preparations for dinner in the kitchen, while I sat in the living room, peeking through the large window there, sipping my cosmo, and petting any dog who stopped by to say hi. Dodger seemed to be warming up a bit. All five of them had been in Vermont over the weekend with friends, so Iwas informed the dogs were a bit more sedate than usual, due to being tired. I was comforted to hear this, since I was starting to wonder if I should be offended by the fact that Mandy had not yet lived up to her nickname -Moose- by trying to climb into my lap.
Just so you know, if you say to these gentlemen "please don't go to any trouble" what they hear is "please order gulf shrimp from a company in Texas that provides next day delivery." Jess tried to make it seem like that was all Marc's doing, but I didn't detect any evidence he had tried to stop him.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Jess made a delicious scampi, while Marc sauteed asparagus, and buttered garlic bread, periodically checking on the state of his cheesecake. He then topped up my drink, discreetly provided me with a tarp the size of a circus tent to deal with my drooling, and the six of us sat down to eat in the sunroom. The meal was every bit as wonderful as you're thinking it was, topped only by the company and the conversation. I learned more about Jess's parents, and regretted that I would never get to meet them. The love they shared for over forty years had clearly shaped Jess, his siblings, and the home in ways too many to count; one felt it radiating out of the walls, surrounding us with a warm, gentle glow.
Once the humans had eaten our fill, Bernice and Mandy intensified their campaign for scraps, and were rewarded with some pieces of garlic bread. Dodger has to be invited to partake, such a gentleman he is, but he didn't require too much coaxing.
Jess and I continued talking while Marc disappeared for quite a while in the kitchen, until I began to feel like we had abandoned him. "Don't worry," Jess assured me, "he would much rather we stay out here for the moment." Far be it from me to disturb an artist in process.
Eventually we retired to the living room with our cheesecake with strawberries (heaven!) and our coffee. This is the one room in the house where the dogs are not allowed. Bernice and Mandy accept this without complaint (or at least they did that night). Dodger, on the other hand, utilizes the debate of legal minutiae so popular with dogs and teenagers. He'd lie just outside the door, only his snout crossing the border into the living room, testing to see if the judges felt this honored the spirit of the law. That having gone well, he tried the reverse, placing his entire body in the living room, except for his snout, which also helped his case, since he was facing out of the room. When this began to look like he'd push too far, he also stretched both forepaws to the safe side of the border. Eventually Jess told him to leave, and he did, with no evident disgruntlement.
Perusing some of the Adonises (Adonisae?) hot guys in Jess's high school yearbook -he was the editor, so had a certain amount of say in who got multiple shots- led to a discussion of opportunities missed because we were too young, timid and closeted. This led somehow into a discussion of whether there is life after death. Trust me, in the context that jump made sense. Actually you probably can come up with your own links without much trouble, can't you. I learned about the trip they took with Marc's mom to Europe, getting her out of the country for the first time in her seventies, for what was clearly a wonderful time for all three of them. Jess says they have a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for her sake, but occasionally she forgets, and calls him 'son'.
A phone call from a friend led us to the TV room (Oh, I neglected to mention the Bose surround sound system throughout the house!) so said friend could get Jess's expert opinion on some guns being evaluated on the Antiques Road Show. Marc suddenly thought it had been cruel to keep me in the living room, no dogs allowed, when I had come out in part to see them, but he needn't have worried. The company in both rooms had been a delight, I didn't feel deprived in the slightest. This did however give Dodger a chance to deliver his final judgement, which he did by playfully wrassling with me, biting ever so gently. Jess informed me this meant I was in.
We were all looking at early starts the next day, so I elected to get on the 9:30 train back to Penn Station. The three of us drove to the station, which meant I got to save my hugs until the very last moment with both of them. As they drove off I appreciated the fact that three rough looking guys were standing next to three fabulous young gay boys (one of them in a sequin-covered vest, a fedora, and just a touch of eye-liner) without any evident animosity. Even the 'burbs of New York tend to have a live and let live attitude most of the time.
The train arrived right on time, and after I had been riding for a bit, I thought to turn my phone back on. There was a text message and a voice message from Jess. The voice message said "Marc wanted to know if you'd made your train all right--OW. I just got hit. Okay I was worried you might have missed your train, it's the Jewish mother in me..." I called back immediately to reassure Mama, and thanked them again for a lovely day.
I was home before eleven, which gave me time to make a full report to Nicky, and to learn that my photos were for shit. I guess that just means I'm going to have to go back for another visit, after I've beaten the camera into submission-I mean learned all its fine nuances and needs. It's rough, but for you, my readers, I'm willing to make that sacrifice. No need to thank me. Its just the kind of guy I am. I'm a giver.
Thanks again, Guys, it was wonderful. It's my turn to host next, which I'll find some way to do without letting you see the state of squalor I generally live in.