The bottom line, I guess, is that I’m not likely to buy a house without cornice moulding, spike my hair, wear pink shorts or apologize for the Fourth of July. You can do that if you want to, but I got very much in touch with my hyper-traditionalism in grad school, the first time someone apologized for being “hetero-normative.” When someone apologizes for bikinis and boy-meets-girl, I knew it wasn’t worth pretending to be indignant along with them. Who were these people, anyway? There are times, in life, when you suddenly believe you are talking to a bunch of space aliens.
That’s why, when Brad and Sabrina moved in next door, years later, I fell into an easy backyard comradery over smoked salmon and beer and politics. Sabrina came up in the world through department store cosmetics and Brad was a casual commercial real estate warrior. They made a living. They liked the movies. They understood a practical joke. We tried to grow tomatoes and basil together one summer.
It was all easy and delightful and superficial, but then several years later, when Yvonne left me, when Brad and Sabrina had moved on to a much nicer neighborhood, I wasn’t particularly on guard when Sabrina invited me to what she called the “Lodge.”
“It’s special,” she said, “and we’ve missed you.”
So picture this, a few days later: I walk into a big room.
It’s spacious, high ceilings, carpeted, lined with windows and french doors on three sides, and a large oil painting of a pine tree on the 4th wall. There are several comfortable chairs in the room, facing the pine tree, and you can’t help noticing that as people take their seats, they put their hands over their face for a few seconds, close their eyes, and appear to be doing some sort of breathing exercise. They fall into easy conversation with other people after this is completed, but you haven’t seen one person take a seat without going through this ritual.
“Branch work,” Sabrina explains.
“It’s a peace-placing devotion,” Sabrina explains.
Brad chuckles. “There’s a lot of moss-drying to do before we truly feel Summer.”
Someone pats Brad on the back as he walks towards a chair. “I haven’t felt this moss-free in years.”
“Good for you!” Brad says. “Dry that bark!”
“The enemy,” Sabrina explains, “is spiritual moisture.”
“It’s so good,” Brad says. “To finally be dry.”
“Dryness!” a few nearby people shout wearing dreamy smiles.
“The tennis court,” you say, reeling a bit. “Did you mention something about this place having a tennis court.”
“So wet,” Sabrina calls you. “You are still so wet.”
At that point, Sabrina called over several female friends in the room. “Ellen, Jan, Brianne,” she said. “C’mon, ladies. Let’s see if we can dry Jared off.”
They surrounded me and asked me to close my eyes. Two of the women grabbed my ankles. Sabrina stood in front of me and held both of my shoulders. The last one, (I’m not sure which was which), started massaging my biceps and forearms.
“Okay,” I said, “Sabrina. I mean, I’m not complaining, but am I being punked here?”
“Poor thing,” one of the ladies said. “He’s as wet as they come.”
“Jared,” Sabrina said, “I need you to concentrate. The tree is growing, wet, but also destined for death. It’s in a dank, primal forest, alone, covered with moss and eventually it will fall, crushing everything it hits.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Do you want to be that wet, moss covered, vernal liability, Jared, or do you want dryness?”