The Night No One Talked About Real Estate
It seems that as you get older, you tend not to form many new friendships. Maybe it’s because your dance card is fairly full just keeping up with the friends and family you already have. And I suppose this would change if you were to move somewhere where you didn’t know many people.
Anyway, my wife, Lorrie, and I went out for a drink with the Palmers, a couple we hardly knew, last night. The four of us had been promising to do this for quite some time.
There’s no denying that the experience is much like that of going on a first date – except that you’re playing doubles. There’s a certain nervousness involved, a modicum of shyness and self-consciousness that needs to be overcome, maybe a bit of pressing, born of the desire to be liked.
But all in all, I’d have to say that we had a really good time. I know for a fact that I did. And because I subscribe pretty completely to the notion that the unexamined life is not worth living, I’ve decided to try to figure out why…
The conversation. It had everything to do with our conversation. What, then, did we discuss that found me leaving the table at the end of the evening with profound feelings of bonhomie and well-being? Well, let’s see.
We talked about British army officers having sex with camels; and about how our parents met. Hemingway’s house in Key West came up, as did African birthing chairs and the fact that Roald Dahl had named one of his characters the name of a medication for warts that he’d found in his medicine cabinet.
I contributed Thomas Keller’s preferred method for cooking lobster, in exchange for which I learned from Sally Palmer that Dave had interviewed every presidential candidate since 1968.
We talked at length about our children, and here’s something worth noting: those of our kids who are having some difficulties in life got far more airtime than did those whose lives are going swimmingly well.
Our favored modes of communication came up, Lorrie and Sally emerging as IM devotees, while Tom and I prefer the phone or, in a perfect world, to be men of letters.
There was a certain amount of toilet talk, which started when I decided to flaunt my knowledge – gained that very morning – of why indoor plumbing had disappeared for over 1500 years after having been a fixture in ancient Rome.
A debate as to whether Jewish or Catholic mothers reigned supreme as the queens of guilt ended in a draw, though it was admitted by the Catholics at the table that the Jews probably had the edge when it came to mothers who suffered from pre-traumatic stress disorder.
I’d say that half the time the girls talked to each other while the guys did the same; and the other half found the four of us on the same topic. Never did I find myself playing singles with Sally, nor did Dave engage Lorrie one on one. I suspect that this would change in the course of time.
Perhaps the thing that impressed me most about this first social go-round had more to do with what wasn’t brought up than with what was. For never once, in the hour and a half or so that we sat there together, did the subject of real estate values get dragged onto the table. Not once.
I hate talking about real estate; hate it with a passion. Yet it seems like it’s all that people have on their minds these days. They come here to Vermont, ostensibly to immerse themselves in this enchanted land where the hills are alive with the sound of music, and the first thing they ask when they arrive: “How’s the real estate market around here?”
Even in my restaurant, where I have occasion to meet and feed tourists from all over the world, people seem less interested in my food than in my property taxes. Why? Why, why, why?
But Dave and Sally Palmer were different, I decided as Lorrie and I strolled the two blocks home. Here were people who enjoyed a good chat about bestiality, crustacean cookery and how hot and cold running water might have staved off the Black Death.
“Let’s have them over for dinner some time soon,” I suggested as we walked along. “I’d really like to get to know them better.”
“O.K. That would be fun.”
But that was before the dream …
(A cheerful knock at the front door. Enter Sally and Dave. They have brought wine. I come down the hall to greet them.)
DAVE (shaking my hand, and surveying the room): Nice place. What’d you pay for it?
SALLY: No, stop. Let me guess. Six hundred … no, six-fifty.
DAVE: You’re nuts, Sal. Look at the moldings. It had to be closer to seven.
SALLY (to us): How much are the taxes?
DAVE: What’s that going to tell you if you don’t know the assessed value?
SALLY and DAVE (in unison): Come on, you two – tell.
“Have a look at this recipe for striped bass,” Lorrie said to me that morning. “I think I’ll do it for the Palmers. When do you want to have them over?”