A Story from a Long Time Ago
Thursday, October 27, 2016
I will introduce this story by saying that I have a freakish memory. So much so that sometimes I wonder if there is not something better I could be doing with my brain than remembering details from other people’s lives that even they do not remember. (At least this story is about my actual life, not someone else’s.)
I saw in the paper a few weeks ago that Hal Ketchum was playing in Durham. I have never heard Hal Ketchum’s music and I know basically nothing about him, but it made me laugh because of the following story.
In June 1995, I broke my arm playing soccer. I was living in Arlington, Virginia and working in Dupont Circle, and had been commuting to work by bike. Given the broken arm, I had to find a new mode of transport. After a few morning trips on the Metro, I decided I would walk to work until I was able to ride my bike again — turned out that summertime Metro riding with a broken arm was not that much fun.
So I’m heading off to work walking across Key Bridge and I’m wearing a t-shirt I’d had since college that had on it a comic strip character drawn by someone I had been friendly with in school. The character was named Sidney. I’m about a third of the way across the bridge and I see a person walking toward me from the other direction and he gets to where he can see me and he says, “Hey! You’re wearing a Sidney t-shirt!” And then he says, “What did you do to your arm?”
It was Ted Rex, the person I had been friendly with at school who was the creator of Sidney and the designer of the 6 year-old t-shirt I was wearing. (Later he told me that he recognized the t-shirt long before he could tell who I was.)
[Random aside: He is also the person who told me about the space shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986. We were sitting next to each other on the bus. After he told me the news he said, “Yeah. And it’s so weird because yesterday was Mozart’s birthday.”]
So we stop and exchange pleasantries and I tell him what I did to my arm and then we move along in our opposite directions on our way to our respective workplaces.
And then later when I’m thinking about it I’m thinking that this is odd, because the last I knew, Ted was living in Falls Church. I’m like what was he doing walking across Key Bridge at 8 o’clock in the morning? It was Forth of July weekend, so I thought it might be related to that, and also that meant we had a break in our normal commuting schedules and I didn’t walk to work for a few days and I was sort of mad at myself for not asking more questions. I was stuck in a state of mild confusion trying to figure out what was going on.
But then the holiday weekend ended and it was back to the regular routine, and I walked to work and ran into Ted on the bridge again, so I got to ask him all of the follow-up questions I should have asked in the first place.
Turned out that his housemate in Falls Church had gotten married so he had to move out and he was subletting a place in Georgetown for the summer waiting for his friend Chip to finish a post-law school clerkship and then they were going to rent a house to live in.
Coincidentally, my housemate was getting married in a few months so I too was looking for a new place to live.
Ted and I were on the same work schedule and we had basically the same route to work, in opposite directions, so we saw each other every day and would check in on how the house-hunting was going. Which of course was grim. (People who believe that renting is better than owning have never tried to find an affordable apartment within walking distance to the Metro in the Washington, D.C. area.)
One day I took the Metro instead of walking, and when I got home that night, there was a message on the answering machine from Ted.
He said he missed me walking and hoped everything was okay. Then he said that Chip had been in town and they were looking at houses and had an idea — they wondered if I wanted to go in on a house with them.
This was an intriguing notion.
The market for small apartments was terrible, as was, it turned out, the market for small houses. Ted and Chip figured that if the three of us pooled our resources, we could get a much better place than we could each on our own.
I continued to look for the perfect apartment, but I also started looking at houses with Ted. This was much more enjoyable than looking for an apartment, if only because I had someone to suffer with.
We looked at many, many houses. Most of them were completely unsuitable for three unrelated people to live in, or completely geographically undesirable, or completely out of our price range. Or some combination thereof.
We finally found one house, on Jackson Street, that we loved, but someone else rented it before we could get our name on it. After that, Ted kept comparing every house we looked at to the Jackson Street house. Finally I was like, “Ted, that house is gone. It doesn’t matter whether this house is better or worse than the Jackson Street house because we can’t live in the Jackson Street house. Stop thinking about the Jackson Street house. You need to move on.”
We then found this completely AMAZING house on Washington Boulevard. It had five bedrooms and three full bathrooms and was built by an architect for his family. It was exactly in our price range. The only downsides were that it was on a busy street and it was a bit far from the Metro. But it was definitely within walking distance to the Metro and it was very bikeable and I was able to convince Ted that the busy street would be fine. Because everything else about it was perfect, we both loved it.
Chip was still in Virginia Beach and we were going to have to make a decision without his input because we needed to get everything signed so we didn’t lose it. So we signed the lease and I fronted the $2,000 for the security deposit.
It was a huge relief to find a place and I was really excited about living there.
Ted and I continued to see each other every morning on our walk to work. During one of our morning chats, I said I was going to a concert at Wolf Trap that night. Ted said he had just been there. He said he had seen Hank Ketchum. And I was like, “Really? Hank Ketchum?”
I said, “Hank Ketchum, the guy who draws Dennis the Menace?”
Ted said, without hesitation, “Yeah.”
This seemed very odd to me. “What was he doing?,” I asked.
Ted said, again with a completely straight face, “Drawing pictures.” He mimed the action of someone up on a stage drawing a cartoon, “To music.”
And I just looked at him. I was like “Really?” And I didn’t really believe him but whatever, it was Ted and I had to get to work. I let it go and we went off in our opposite directions.
I don’t remember exactly how I found out that it was Hal Ketchum at Wolf Trap, not Hank Ketchum. Maybe someone told me or maybe I looked it up. (Or, now that I’m thinking about it, I probably saw a list of scheduled shows when I was at the concert that night.)
Later that week, Ted calls me at work. He sounds very serious. He says, “Uh, hey, I have some bad news.” He pauses. “Chippy came up and I took him to look at the house and he didn’t like it.”
And I was like, “What???”
This sent me into a panic — my office started spinning. We had just signed a lease on a house for $2,000 a month, which was way more than I could afford by myself, and I put my $2,000 down for the security deposit, and I did not know what it meant that Chip was saying he didn’t like the house.
“What do you mean he doesn’t like it?” I said. “He doesn’t like the location?”
“No,” Ted said. “He doesn’t like the house.”
And this was completely not making sense to me because the house was great, there was no way we could find a better house than that. I’m like how can he not like the house?
I think Ted could feel my panic so he let me off the hook early. He says, “Oh, I’m just kidding. Chip loved it.”
And I start to breathe again but now I want to kill Ted. I was like Oh my god, I hate you. And I may have said that. And then the next thing that comes out of my mouth is, “And it wasn’t Hank Ketchum at Wolf Trap either.” (As if this mattered at all at this point, I have no idea why I brought this up.)
I can tell that Ted is laughing on the other end of the line but he plays it straight. He doubles down, he says, “Yes it was.”
I say, “No it wasn’t. It was Hal Ketchum.”
Ted says, “Oh. Well Hank Ketchum opened.”