A few nights ago, I went over to my friend Matt’s house for dinner. Matt is a relatively new friend. We met this winter during the Nutcracker in the Castle, where he made me laugh at the most inappropriate times: during performances (by doing an improv session consisting of either glissando-like scales or half note scales), at the clumsiness of children (one fell over for no apparent reason), epic pigtails (on 70 year old women), and terms whose definition I’d expect to find only on Urban Dictionary.
I had been over a few weeks earlier when he invited my brother and I over for a few drinks. He told me to wear the girl equivalent of a suit. I toyed with the idea of wearing a pantsuit just to be snarky (I don’t actually have a pantsuit, but I do own black pants and a black blazer), but I decided to go with a dress and red lips instead. We spent the night drinking beers (one was so dark it looked like motor oil), wine, and whiskey over his homemade bar. At one point, the group migrated to his bedroom where he had his collection of instruments. If I’m remembering correctly, he has several guitars, a banjo, a bass, violin, viola, cello, and an accordion, which was stashed under his bed. I played Twinkle Twinkle on the cello before realizing I had no idea how to hold the bow and my fingers tend to press down in increments made for a violin rather than a cello. After I grabbed the violin, we started playing from his Real Book.
My ex is a drummer whose passion lies mostly in jazz, so I had seen a Real Book before, but I had never really looked through it. It was one of those things that I let exist in his realm. He was so passionate about it, it was a bit intimidating even trying to learn about it. Though I’m a musician, performances rarely amaze me. (Clearly this is different if we’re talking about literature. Give me a good Nabokov story and there’s a good chance I’ll tear up at the ending.) It’s not that I’m unimpressed and think I could do better. Believe me, I can’t, and I know it. It may be a jealousy I’m not willing to articulate, or it could be a decided apathy; I’ll never be as good as Joshua Bell or Mark O’Connor, so I won’t waste energy thinking about it. I could be alone in this, but I think that somewhere in admiration of art or music, there is at least some amount of drive to emulate. This could be why I don’t play violin as much as I could. It’s a completely unveiled self-fulfilling prophecy: I’ll never be a master violinist, so I don’t practice often. I play enough to keep my basic skills up, but I’d be embarrassed for any of my music professors to hear me play Bach.
We played a few tunes that night. Though I had a stout-cloudy mind and screwed up plenty of simple rhythms (a few times, Matt started singing what I was supposed to be playing), I think I started to understand why small ensemble musicians keep performing. It’s not the free drinks at bar gigs, it’s that feeling of creating a moment that is utterly unique. I’ve always loved that feeling of combined singularity (ignore that nonsense term and just go with what I’m saying) that comes a good performance, but this was different. Classical music has always made me feel like I was interacting with the music in front of me, but this was more like interacting with the music around me. I’m sure my musician readers will say you’re supposed to do both, but I’m usually just too aware of the fact that those around me are way better.
After the last Nutcracker gig, the quartet went out for a drink and Matt told me there were levels to his friendships – you could tell where you stood in terms of his acceptance. “If I give you a hug, I probably like you,” he told me, sipping a beer. “If I let you drink my beer, I consider you a friend. And if I cook for you, we’re probably gonna be in each other’s lives for a while.” That night, he gave me a hug. A few weeks later, he shared a favorite stout (the motor oil one), and on Tuesday he cooked for me. So I guess that’s it. We’re gonna be friends for a while.
I’m always a bit envious of good cooks. I can usually follow a recipe, but I’m disproportionately proud of myself when I throw a bunch of things in peanut sauce and call it a stir fry. It won’t surprise you to hear I was impressed by his ability to make a mostly vegan meal without a recipe in sight.
Sitting down to a meal completely void of leftovers and preservative-soaked “food” was an excellent treat. We had portabella sandwiches on homemade sandwich rolls with homemade hummus, onions, pepper, and burnt garlic; spinach salad with tomato, avocado and a balsamic dressing; red bananas, and an imperial porter (Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, whose label was an ode to Hunter S. Thompson).
It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and it was extremely nice to sit and talk with Matt in a non-Nutcracker setting. He’s full of entertaining stories like early college days spent drinking and cooking on roofs, dealing with students’ masturbation while teaching at music camps for handicapable children, and being chased by stripper dungeon basement guards at 3am in Budapest. I left his house that night with rolls, hummus, a full stomach, and a new friendship.
I told him I’d invite him over for a meal sometime, but not to expect anything more than a frozen pizza and a randomly-chosen pick-six from Festival. I figure that way he’ll be blown away when I make my signature peanut sauce stir fry, consisting of ramen noodles (sans season packet) and whatever happens to be in my cupboard and freezer.
Also, this is the second time this week I’ve used the word ‘masturbation’. I’m sorry, Mom.