Sunday, September 24, 2006

Where there's Smoke...

I went with my mother to have lunch with her best friend. After spending the first moments hugging, kissing, hearing things like, how long has it been, you look wonderful, how are you, good to see you, we sat down to eat. Beba, the friend, invited my mother to an evening gathering at Tati's house later on in the week for food, wine, and conversation. Tati was planning on making this type of gathering a monthly event, maybe even spending some time talking about favorite books. Listening to them discuss the proposed book club meetings, for that's what it really was, reminded me of the only time I participated in a similiar event.

It was a year ago, and I was staying in the house on the Eastern Shore. At first I did not not really want to go because I was fighting what I knew to be an ultimately doomed tussle with a head cold. But off I went because I did not want to be a party pooper. As further inducement, I was told that the evening would not consist of just staying in the house and quietly reading, but rather included an invitation to a soiree.

Hmm. Soiree. Eastern Shore. Did not compute. It seemed that a local friend of my host had a friend who pined for the literary salons of 19th century France, and decided to gather people for an evening of food, drink, intelligent conversation. Now, the house I was staying at in the Eastern Shore was an agreeable 50 degrees when we first arrived. More importantly, the main heat was NOT GOING TO BE TURNED ON. Only the kitchen had heat; the bedrooms would rely on those portable radiators. So my thought was that the visit to this other house would give me some time to warm up because surely that house was hot.

It wasn’t. Oh, the heat was on. But all the large windows were opened and it must have been an agreeable 60 degrees. However, the hostess was friendly and there was wine and sandwiches. After getting pleasantly tipsy the, um, intelligent conversation part of the evening began in earnest.

HOSTESS: I was married twice, for ten years each time.
ALICE: Ten years? Each time?
ANOTHER GUEST: Why the number ten?
HOSTESS: Well, I was happy for the first seven. Then put up with the husband for the last three. They cheated, so that was that.
ALICE: You managed to marry two people who made you happy for seven years and then cheated on you? For three years? Each time?

Murmurs of so sorry came from all those gathered, but I didn't know if it was a so sorry you had bad luck, or so sorry you were an idiot. Twice. The hostess was smiling benignly at us.

The conversation turned to a scandalous occurrence that had transpired several months before. It concerned a man, his daughter, her boyfriend, his wife, and her boyfriend. Holy balls! Never mind salon francais, this was getting good!

So the man, named John, was once the owner of the local tavern and he and his wife were just not getting along. Hence, the boyfriend in the picture. So Mrs. John is telling everyone one afternoon that she was going to ask Mr. John for a divorce…that very evening… and if he would not agree, then she would make sure that he would change his mind.

Apparently, he didn’t think much of the idea, so on to Plan B -- the changing his mind part. They thought it was a foolproof plan; it consisted of daughter’s boyfriend and Mrs. John’s boyfriend going to see Mr. John and convincing, er, whacking him. Yes, Mr. John was bludgeoned. Repeatedly. And for good measure, they set the house on fire, with him in it.

We all stared at our hostess with horrified expressions and gaping mouths.

HOSTESS *looking shyly at us*: Now, promise you won’t laugh if I tell you something?

I privately thought that whenever you hear something like that you know that not only are you going to laugh, you're going to cough up a lung doing it!

ALL OF US: Oh, of course we won’t laugh. Just tell us!
HOSTESS: Well, my friend and I were coming to my home early in the morning after a long night out, and we were riding in my convertible when we smelled something. Yummy, I said to my friend. Someone is barbecuing ribs and it sure smells good!

I began to get uneasy because I just knew where this was headed.

HOSTESS: We finally saw the fire truck and the ambulance and I found out that it was John’s ribs that were cooking! Later on, people at the bar had a laugh about that. They poked fun at me.

We didn't laugh. We didn't smile. Basically we stopped breathing. And eating.

When we left, hostess told me that she thought she wanted to continue meeting monthly at her house because she really had had a lot of fun.

Well, that was some salon evening. Maybe we should call it a saloon evening and leave it at that.

Though barbecue is a word that comes to us from French, n’cest pas?