“About Last Night” – Essay

April5

I had music in my house last night, a jam session that roused the heavens. There was freedom, and harmony and joy. And it happened next to the Thomas the Tank Engine table.

My tribe from the east coast blew into town and we hung out all weekend. On Friday night, this group met up for dinner at a dear friend’s house. I had heard about this house – a massive palace not entirely in keeping with our hostess’ humble, generous spirit.

Now, I have visited my share of fancy homes, but this one took my breath away. It was, well, perfect. Tasteful, celadon kitchen cabinets, sparkling china all in a row, We ate home-made pizza by the outdoor hearth, cozy in a corner away from the palatial main house.

I came home. My house felt, well, tiny as shit.

So cue the weekend. I worked to make my hovel shine. I wasn’t afraid of judgment from these friends, it wasn’t that. It was the specter of that castle – the perfect 4-seasons decorating, the fact that it was utterly pristine. Where were the broken pens, go-kart ticket stubs, and crappy McDonald’s happy meal toys from days gone by? Where were the barnacles that grow on every suburban life?

Happy to report, my house spruced right up. Put into boxes “Bodhi’s crap” and “Charlotte’s stuff.” I chucked all manner of detritus from drawers that no longer sparked any kind of joy. I wiped down surfaces; I carefully placed votive candles like mad. Hey, the place wasn’t looking half bad.
The black hole (every house has one) was our guesthouse, which over our 18 years here has been a recording studio an editing suite, a guest room, a Thomas the Tank Engine Empire. It is “in transition” now, code for the room where all the crap goes to die: an enormous stuffed fish that Bodhi won in 6 Flags San Antonio, mounds of markers (some good, some not, who has time to discern which?), a paper-mache sculpture guitar (or is it a wand?!) from a play that Charlotte wrote long ago. It is the Island of Misfit Toys, waiting for permanent placement. I chucked stuff in and closed the door. Surely my elegant party would never migrate there?…

But after the hummus and kabobs, before the sunset and during all manner of wine, my guests wanted to play. They are musicians, after all, but musicians who had not brought their own instruments. So there they went – looking for instruments like pigs looking for truffles. Brad and I are somewhat musical, our kids too, but not currently so. So my friends scared up Brad’s electric guitar, Bodhi’s baby Taylor with only 5 strings, a banjo I didn’t know I had (who doesn’t realize she has a banjo in her house??)
I kept encouraging everyone to luxuriate in the luscious patio, but in the end, we were tethered to the place where the electric guitar and amp were enshrined – in the infernal guesthouse. We left the land of wiped clean counters and thoughtful flower arrangements, of carefully placed throw pillows and newly vacuumed rugs. There, amid long-ago-loved wooden castles ad bean bag chairs way past their prime, we piled up and watched the masters play: Chris Stills, his pop Stephen, our friend Natasha Bedingfield harmonizing with her sister and the brilliant David Saw backing her up. I stood—and listened – in awe.

Now I suppose we actors have some equivalent to jamming – riffing off each other improvising, witty word play. But for a non-musician, watching these musicians find each other – human tuning forks all – there is no other response but awe. Despite – or because of? – the baby Taylor with 5 strings and the crunching of Lego pieces underfoot, the music, if not the surroundings, became soaring, free.
Perfect.

At church yesterday, Richard Rohr reminded us that St. Francis deliberately wore patches on his habit to demonstrate his patched up heart within. External perfection never the goal, since it covers up the truth: that we humans are broken inside, and it’s because of this common trait that we stay open to intimacy and hope. To this day, Franciscans’ robes are brown – not the crisp white of other orders. I thought of that last night as the gleaming living room sat unoccupied and we negotiated Bodhi’s ancient stuffed animals. Our souls were freer in that patched-up space. Our bodies jived and us non-singers opened our throats boldly and off-key. We probably would not have dared to that, in the room where the tables were dusted. Thomas the Tank Engine? Way more forgiving. And way more fun than a 4 Seasons flower arrangement, come to think of it.

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