Monday, December 3, 2012


Carol has lived in the house on the corner for years and now she’s selling.   Marnie has lived in another house, around the corner, originally identical, now very different. But she intends to stay there for life.

Carol is selling her place for the land. She just wants to see.  Getting the place up to code is too much hassle and she wants to move out quickly.  Hers is a small corner lot. "It’s not exactly Oklahoma," Ben points out to me, when we pass the sign that says, "Land for Sale".

Carol was a hippie in her youth. Now she is beautiful and fit with grey hair and earrings, and she's always going to the Smithsonian.  

 Marnie is tall, striking and very healthy. She wears jogging pants and loves to talk about architecture. Hers is the greenest house on the block with solar panels and thermal heating and a new roof that keeps in the heat and will pay for itself over time.  She says she’s going to be in this house for the rest of her life, which is why she is keen on getting it, not just to code, but better than that.  They are forever chopping wood, going off to yoga class and eating raw vegetables for dinner. When they bring a dish to the neighborhood pot luck, Marnie’s is home grown broccoli.

 If you pass Carol in the street when you’re walking the dog, she is usually on her way to the metro. She will have been every day to the Folklife Festival, for instance, seen all the dancing, attended the lectures, even on the hottest days.  Even when she thought she might faint, she stayed out 'til past nine and went back in the following day, as there was also a concert she didn’t want to miss and a Star Wars spectacle to which she was taking her nephew. She was planning on seeing the fireworks too, from a hotel roof – "the best spot in the city."

Ben and me and our neighbors Sara and Jacky, who were only up for walking the dogs said "oh" when we heard all this.  It didn’t really matter what we said, though. We weren’t able to get another word in edgewise. Carol doesn’t bother to wait for an answer because she just likes to talk, to fill the air with voices and the hours with activity. She's in a kind of race for life.
I suppose that’s why she’s moving. So that she can be closer to all the exhibits, openings and happenings in DC. She’s always going to some preview of a show – has subscriptions at the Kennedy Center and National Shakespeare Company. If you've seen a production, you can be sure that she's seen it first and has a lot more to say about it than you do.

I feel a little exhausted by both Marnie and Carol.

And now I’m at Sara and Jacky's party, and I find myself in a corner of the room discussing STUFF with Marnie and Carol - how you have so much stuff all the time and you want to get rid of it.  Carol has to get rid of stuff in the house because she’s selling. But then Marnie goes off on a kind of monologue about her mother's things – and how there was a spigot – I'm not quite sure why this is such an important story to tell, but she keeps going back to it, over the course of the conversation. Whenever we wind ourselves off track, she brings the story back to this anecdote about the spigot.

It's important for her to tell us that she was at her mother's house after her father died, and she was trying to help them sort through all the accumulation of years – the things they had, the china and so on, when she saw that the parquet had come up underneath the bureau, because of the spigot that was never mended. They just didn’t use it -  knowing it was broken. 

Except  then evidently someone DID use it, and it caused a leak and the parquet came up. So they had to move all of the china out of the bureau. And her mother loved this china while Marnie did not love the china.  And Marnie told her, "Mama, I don’t want any of this stuff. So make sure you get out all the things you want.

 And then her mum said, "Why don’t you like this china?"

 And Marnie said, "I don’t care about plates. Just because things have been in the family for generations it doesn’t mean they are valuable.

This was the important line that Marnie wanted us to absorb in all its implications. How she had told her mother – and apparently they became quite heated in this exchange - that she was going to take a match to this stuff at some point so that the mother better get out the things that she wanted.

Carol nods and smiles in recognition at the anecdote. They both seem to get it. I guess I’m the odd one out and they have more in common with each other than I thought. Because I just can't figure out what it means.

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