I live in the suburbs. On a cul-de-sac no less. It’s not Wisteria Lane of Desperate Housewives by any stretch of the imagination, but over the decades of living here with my neighbors, most of whom were already in residence when we moved in, we’ve shared enough stories for another 8-year season of that now cancelled show. We may not be as glamorous or as stylishly desperate as those “wives,” but we certainly can make a party come to life.
Last night, one of our neighbors invited us to dinner on a moment’s notice, the kind of thing few people in Marin do or can do, given their propensity to load their calendars with activities as if these were blue prints for the edifice of a life well lived. Not that I am immune to the charms of staring at a fully marked-up calendar myself, but it so happened that I had nothing planned for last night.
The neighbor who invited us had grown up in the house he now inhabits with his wife. After the passing of his parents he had remodeled the house extensively, but also kept its characteristically 1960s style so evident in the light fixtures, the paneling of some walls, and the general color palette of the décor.
The dinner was a group effort, with the hosting couple providing the main dishes and the drinks, and the rest of us bringing the appetizers and desserts. We arrived at the house of our neighbor with our trays of dips and chips and pies just as the sun was angling itself for lighting up Mt. Tam for its summer evening spectacular. We all have views of the mountain, views we take for granted, as if they were an architectural element of our own houses. When we find ourselves in each other’s homes, at first it’s always unsettling to catch a glimpse of the peaks of Mt. Tam as if they had slipped or moved along the horizon somehow.
As we got into the party mood, nibbling at the appetizers and sipping drinks, the mountain faded from view, or at least from our awareness of its constant presence. As did the sense of time, for me. Surrounded by the echoes of 1960s in the decor, I became aware of how we, too, seemed dressed up in clothes that wouldn’t look out of place at a gathering from that decade. The little black dress one neighbor wore, my capris & sweater set, the makeup on another, the casserole and the pies, and the talk about Manhattans, fishing trips and ancestors, but not much about our kids, of which we all have a few, ranging in age from teens to mid-forties … it all made me think of the world of Don Draper of Mad Men, another TV show that illuminates the world in the glow and heavy smoke of nostalgia, much the same way as the sun paints Mt. Tam larger and softer just before night falls.