Thursday, September 14, 2017

Calling Out, Calling Out

My balcony is small but mighty.

It only has room enough for two chairs - one director's, one adirondack, both spring green - and a table (for a boombox) because the rest of the space is taken up by two large window boxes and a plant stand. The two deep window ledges hold more potted plants, candles, a clay sculpture of a head, seashells and, because time evaporates out there like rain on hot pavement, a clock.

Just last weekend, there were four of us on that balcony (a first), making for a pretty tight squeeze, but generally, I entertain one person at a time out there. It's cozy and intimate, an ideal place to dish while sipping wine or watching moonflowers open.

So when an old friend showed up with a bottle of Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs Brut wanting to toast to a mutual friend, neither of us could think of a better place to enjoy it than in the soft evening air of my balcony.

My sole job - besides the all-important one of holding up my end of the conversation - was handpicking our soundtrack and after one false start ("It's not very happy music," he observed of Yo la Tengo's "I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One" that I'd put on), we settled in with an old mix CD from summer 2003.

Called "Get Your Drive On," it had its own liner notes where the maker had written, "Music for a drive in the country...wishing you had a '67 Chevy droptop and an underwear model in the passenger seat."

And, yes, a former boyfriend actually thought it was a good idea to write that on the first mixtape he ever made me. Clearly he wasn't worried about leaving me with the wrong impression.

In any case, listening to the mix was a treat for both of us because it was such a well-chosen assortment of underplayed artists from the happy-go-lucky sounds of Amy Correia to the guilty pleasure pop of Rocking Horse Winner to the psychedelic groove of Mae Moore (aided by a requisite cover done by Todd Rundgren).

As my guest pointed out, with that kind of masterful song selection, it was no wonder I'd fallen hard for the guy who'd made it for me all those years ago.

By the time the 17 songs were over, we were ravenous and abandoned the balcony to head straight to 821 Cafe for dinner. Except that once parked, my friend decided he'd rather have Dinamo and I'm hardly going to argue with that.

We slid onto stools next to the massive espresso machine and in the blink of an eye were bantering with a guy at the bar about how mean people live longer. This was good news for my friend, who has limited tolerance for most human beings.

When the bar sitter got up to leave not long after, he came over to use his theory to reassure my friend, "You're going to live a long time!" Apparently I didn't come across crabby enough to rate my own dire warning.

A bottle of Italian Rosato accompanied a starter of crostini with smoked whitefish and red onions, so good it was worth being mean just so you could stay around to eat it longer. That was followed by an impressively large piece of rockfish with mixed greens (friend dubbed it the best piece of fish he'd ever had) and my abundance of mussels in sop-worthy white sauce with squid ink fettuccine.

Of all the available toppings for our chocolate espresso torte, friend opted for whipped cream and cherries and good as it was, we still couldn't finish it.

By that time, the other guests had cleared out and we realized that we recognized one of the servers from her former days of being a wine rep. Turns out serving suits her better these days since she became a Mom. "Nobody tells you what it's like," she lamented.

That's how we keep the human race going, my dear.

With an elegant sufficiency for both of us, we saw no better way to wile away the evening than returning to my balcony for music. The air was just as soft, it was still relatively early and we both knew there was plenty more conversation to be had.

The next CD was a 2008 mixtape that got us talking about the National's unusual drummer, the Decemberists' singer's braying voice and how I'd once been chided for not recognizing Neko Case's voice.

Following that was Tim Finn's 1993 gem "Before and After," a CD we'd both listened to repeatedly over a decade before discovering that we shared an appreciation for it. "And he's not even the most talented brother, " my friend cracked.

In vino veritas. He only wishes he was Finn brothers fan #485 (and yes, that's a real person).

Like I said, time vanishes on that balcony and the night was no exception as we talked about his current relationship ("It's not going to last," he announces), a recent missive from a mutual New Zealand friend and, most satisfying of all for me, people who are hokey.

Once the neighborhood had quieted down and my neighbors' lights went out, we were still hanging on the balcony, by that time listening to the evening's final offering, Big Star's "In Space" from 2005. It was a CD I'd gotten as a Christmas present just before going to London and Scotland for the first time and it holds up beautifully.

Not that just about any music wouldn't show well when you're comfortably ensconced on the balcony with a single moonflower in bloom and the occasional stiff breeze ruffling the wind chimes and tree tops just beyond my backyard.

Nobody tells you what it's like, so the only surefire way to find out is to get invited to my balcony. There's not much to it, but I can pretty much guarantee a most engaging evening once you're there.

Some people have even been known to thank me.


  1. I suspect- a most engaging spot to be enjoyed by few & maybe a quiet respite to reflect by you.