Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jive Talkin'

Maybe it's the looming splendor of tomorrow's summer solstice, but I've been extraordinarily popular with my subjects lately.

Obviously since I'm not a blue blood royal with loyal subjects, I'm talking about people I've interviewed. For the second time in three weeks, I was invited to dinner by someone who'd earned me money by answering my questions. I'm sensing a pattern here.

On the outside chance you have no special plans this evening, please come and help me eat some fresh oysters tonight. I shuck. I am a big shucker, but not much of a jiver. Dress in something you don't mind getting shucky in. No beer for you!

If you come at say 5:30, we can kayak on the river until the sun begins to set. If you're not much for kayaking, come at 7. I will likely be coming back in from the river then. Then oysters and fire pit!

It's been a few years since I've been kayaking, but I'd have been game to try it again except I had too much to do to make it anywhere by 5:30. The beer comment was his way of letting me know he remembered that I don't drink beer, so there'd be other sippers available for me.

All in all, it was a timely invitation since I had zero plans tonight (not that I wouldn't have found something to do) and no better offer than to eat oysters, even if it was south of the river.

Although I'm far from an attire expert, my guess was that clothing suited to getting shucky in was similar to clothing to pick crabs in (wash and wear, in other words) and I've got crab options.

My Saturday night was laid out for me.

Clouds gathering and directions in hand, I headed across the river on the Huguenot Bridge (the wide new bridge not half as charming as the smaller, old one), listening to a blues version of an old song on the radio.

I hate it when she goes
but I love to see her walk away

Despite my lack of county knowledge, the house was easy to find so I arrived right on time but it was immediately obvious he wasn't home yet. Some host. I stationed myself on the wide front porch in a rocking chair and propped my feet up.

There were tall, old trees all around the house so the view was limited but I could hear the sounds of traffic on nearby roads and once, the sound of kids laughing. I don't think county kids actually play outside, so maybe they were on their way to or from the car.

Eventually my host arrived, all apologies, and began carting boxes and coolers from his truck to the deck and kitchen. As a guest, my only job was moving from the front porch to the back deck and talking to him as he passed by. I then got the nickel tour of the yard, particularly impressed with his miniature orchard of six trees: persimmon, plum, three types of apples and a cherry tree on which five kinds of cherries had been grafted on to one root stock.

Shrugging, he said, "I don't know why they did that, but the picture of it looked pretty cool." And there's the reason why they did it.

We chatted on the deck for a bit as he watered various herbs and recent plantings, everything faltering in the glare of the recent heat. He looked pretty sweaty himself and excused himself to go shower while I got comfortable on the deck.

No question it was hot out there, but all of a sudden it was sauna-like and I felt myself break out in an immediate sweat. Just as quickly, the humidity fell and the temperature dropped 15 degrees. Within three seconds, raindrops fell.

I moved so fast into the house I barely got wet, a miracle considering how it went from 0 to 60 in mere moments. The door I'd taken refuge in led to a sun porch with windows making up three entire walls. Color me thrilled because it was a fabulous place to watch the storm from although with no air flow, a tad stifling.

Absent the showering homeowner, I took charge of the situation by beginning to open the windows and sliding glass doors that made up three walls. Soon cooler air was wafting in as it continued to downpour outside.

I pulled a chair over to an especially breezy spot, admiring how different the backyard now looked, all the trunks stained dark with rain and the leaves a much darker green shade. The entire effect of the landscape was far more closed in than it had been before.

When he did join me, he wasn't any too pleased to see what the storm had wrought. Two event tents in his backyard had been blown over, their metal supports bent in the process ("That's gonna cost me"). Chairs were scattered upside down and small pots had blown over.

But with rain still coming down like crazy, all he could do was hurry out to the deck to fetch the enormous cooler of oysters left out there before the storm, returning from eight feet away with his shirt half soaked.

Even so, like a good host, he sliced lemons, made mignonette and poured French Sauvignon Blanc before he began the work of shucking (gloveless, I might add, which I consider foolish for a non-pro shucker) as promised.

There were two types of oysters, one from Connecticut and the other from Chincoteague, but all were wild, not farmed so much bigger than standard farm-raised oysters. Connecticut's were mildly briny while the Virginia were like a mouthful of ocean, so my favorite of the two.

He asked if I'd written a book yet and if I had a plan for what it would be about (no and yes). He's an inveterate traveler, so he had to know about any travels I'd done that he hadn't heard about. After sharing one of my better stories from Italy, his response was laughter. "That story has to go in the book!"

Rain continued to fall outside all the open windows as he brought out leftover crabs to accompany the oysters. Since I'd already downed over a dozen bivalves ("I just wanted to make sure you could hang"), I happily moved on to my favorite crustacean while he kept eating oysters.

That's when I got a front row seat to see what someone looks like when they eat a completely rotten oyster. I saw him slurp it, but then his eyes bugged out, his skin colored and the lock of revulsion on his face made him bolt from the table making a "gack" sound that seemed to indicate bad news.

Shortly back with a large bottle of Sauza Tequila, he took a long, hard pull on the bottle and settled back in with me to eat. I give him credit, he didn't let one rancid oyster stop him from shucking and eating. He could hang, too, it seemed. He assured me he'd be fine tonight because if the oyster was going to kill him, that would probably happen tomorrow.

When I asked if I was going to have to provide any answers to the authorities tomorrow, he seemed to think I would. I determined to pay more attention to what was going on.

After I turned the tables and asked about his travel plans, he told me about an upcoming trip to Costa Rica, one week in the jungle and one week on the coast. We agreed that the coast week would be the more relaxing one since the jungle adventure involves zip lines and ATVs. Just send me to the coast for the whole two weeks, thanks.

Once the rain stopped, it was clear there'd be no fire pit tonight, so we moved back out to the deck where the sound of rain had been replaced by the sound of trees dripping all around us, but not on us.

When I thanked him profusely for the invitation to eat oysters, he shrugged it off, saying that the oysters were leftovers from a party he'd just had (hence the event tents). So I'd been used to help him finish off his leftovers, his soon-to-be garbage, nothing more.

"Yes, but you were my first choice to help me finish up my garbage," he insisted, making it sound more sincere than he had to.

All I can say is, I must do a hell of an interview.

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