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My brother lives in a “gated community,” one of those manufactured neighborhoods. It was like we were driving through the streets of a toy city, a miniature suburb built for the amusement of a god-sized obsessive compulsive. I myself was steering the matchbox car, a massive and ancient gray truck I borrowed from my dad, and my girlfriend Alexis occupied the passenger’s seat. Clone after architectural clone, we watched the houses float by the truck’s windows. We were headed to our very first Listening Party.
I really didn’t know what to expect. My “brother” Keith is actually my half-brother–Dad’s first marriage–and quite a bit older than I. He’s very intelligent and congenial, albeit occasionally unpredictable, and good looking for someone in his late thirties. He’s just the sort of older sibling to suggest a vague “listening party” in the middle of the school week and actually inspire me to come. Plus, his friend Astrid was going to be there. She’s “hip.” I’m not certain what that means, but if someone were “hip,” it would be Astrid. (She and Keith met in a health food store-he sells aged garlic extract and she’s going to be a naturopathic doctor-and they’ve been good friends ever since.) Tall and unconventionally beautiful, she made a vivid impression on Alexis and me the first time we all met. We both looked forward to a rendezvous with her and Keith again.
We’re an unlikely group of friends, I’ll admit. Alexis, a freshman at the University of Washington, is…well, how does one describe Alexis? Long, reddish brown hair and a clever smile. Musical prodigy and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. A girl of her own style. As for me, I’m an academic type still in his senior year of high school who has a knack for theater but hates being labeled an actor. I can balance a picnic table bench on my chin. I’m composedly quirky.
You’ve met Keith and Astrid.
As a group, we span twenty years from oldest to youngest and yet we connect on a level of common understanding. We click.
So that brings us back to the listening party. Let me set the stage:
His living room is clean, comfortable, and open, with windows on two sides overlooking the neighborhood. There’s a gas fireplace and an elegant coffee table. Not opulent, but nice. After we had all taken up a station on the couch or one of the armchairs, Keith dimmed the lights. The mood was set with the mysterious glow of a few candles; the atmosphere was decidedly rich. The final step was adding the music.
Turn by turn, we filled the evening with melody, with rhythm. With chords and memories. Now and then, one of us would dispatch a story: “the first time I heard this song…” Or we’d talk about the way the music made us feel, why it was effective. The mood in the air became warm, reminiscent, thick, electric, inspired, deep, deeper, and intricate. We shared ourselves through our appreciation of good music. Time flew.
And as the evening finally drew to a close, (“We have to get going-school tomorrow”) I knew it had been time well spent. Time away from work and obligations. Time with good friends, good music, good conversation, and a feeling like something glowing in the atmosphere. We drove back down the street, now befallen with night, and headed home.
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