Eyes on the Prize

I’m outside dripping in sweat. Deborah’s teenage son is engrossed in gaming and wearing headphones that could fit an astronaut. Luckily, Ben senses I’m here. A “rescue retard” golden retriever turned down by two families, Ben howls and is joined by Cooper, a female yellow lab. Together they make enough noise to get the kid out of the recliner to answer the door.

It’s about 3:30 PM and I decide to save exploring Annapolis for tomorrow morning. I just want a shower, nap and to catch up on some writing and route planning.

All-I-can-eat appetizers
His mother Deborah arrives around 6 PM from her job as a court reporter at the federal courthouse. After we exchange pleasantries, countertop snacks are arranged with restaurant-style presentation.

I immediately start attacking the platters: carrots and humus, Tostitos Scoops with black bean and corn salad, and some kind of addictive dip ringed by butter crackers I can’t keep my fingers off. The crackers frustratingly crumble upon hitting the dip, which only strengthens my resolve to try again with a new cracker at a different angle while scooping up stranded splinters of the old cracker.

Deborah, whom I gather to be divorced, said a gentleman friend is joining us for dinner and will arrive shortly.

“I would call him a gentleman companion, but that sounds too old,” she said while slicing Jersey tomatoes. “Although he is older.”

After recent back surgery, Mel has trouble walking up the front stairs, but makes it inside and greets me with a hearty hello. His white hair matches the nautical navy and white stripes of his shirt. He looks a little like Ernest Hemingway without the beard.

Deborah and Mel kiss lightly on the lips and open a bottle of wine. I’m on my third Fat Tire beer and still pawing at the dip.

Dining on the deck
Our family meal is set outside overlooking a wooded area bordering the condo complex. Deb says she enjoys hosting cyclists because it gives her a reason to cook and use the patio.

Mel fumbles a slice of tomato onto the floor, and the dogs scramble to get it first. The son wins the race and tosses it like a discus into into the woods against his mother’s mild protest.

This evening’s entree is a recipe from McCormick spice: Arctic char with brown sugar and Old Bay Seasoning.

I assumed char was white, like everything else that lives up in the Arctic, but this looks and tastes like salmon, which is my favorite fish. Deb said char was less expensive, but we agreed it tasted as good as salmon, save for Mel who complained his piece was too fatty. I offer to eat the fat I’m that hungry.

Dreaming in the kitchen
After a cheesecake dessert, Mel heads home and the son heads downstairs to his gaming throne. I linger in the kitchen to learn more about my host.

Deborah went to court reporting school right out of high school, but didn’t pass certification. Instead, she diverted almost 20 years of her career to Hechinger before returning to her original aspiration.

“You gotta find what it is that makes you happy because you don’t want to spend life doing something that makes you frustrated,” she said.

That’s why I got out of the events business, I told her. Running around in circles to please people who couldn’t be pleased. One shallow emergency after another. What was the point of planning if everything was decided or changed at the last minute?

“It wasn’t event planning," I said. "It was event scrambling. But I did love the people I worked with. I miss them. Their humor got me through the tough times.”

Deb smiled, but I could tell she was thinking of something else. There was pain in her life. I didn’t want to continue my “so, what makes you happy?” line of questioning. Just after she got home, an appraiser came over to conduct an informal assessment of the condo. Was she thinking about moving?

“I just want to wake up and look at the Rockies” she said. “But that probably won’t happen until I retire, and then you get stricken with some awful disease, so….” The sentence goes unfinished.

Ben and Cooper are sprawled on the floor with none of these preoccupations. We get pets to make us happy and take our minds off the daily struggle.

“I just got to keep my eyes on the prize,” she sighed. “And in the meantime, at least there’s wine.”

She tosses back the last of the chardonnay and surrenders her glass to the dishwasher. The machine whirls to a start. Deborah wipes her hands, rests them on the sink and stares into the dark living room. Is she looking for the Rockies?

I, too, have my eyes on a prize. The nation’s capital is just a day away.