At age 26, I was firmly embedded in the music business. I caught a break from a well-established Boston band called Orchestra Luna. This required a location changed. My mother was used to this; for years my only address was hers as I gallumphed around the world.
[To read more about this fabulous octet, please see The Best Band Ever under the April posts in right-hand column]
I left my gig as musical director at a small theater, packed everything I owned in my van and headed from Connecticut to The Hub. This, once again, was no big feat. I had already traversed the country (to LA) twice in this fashion. I didn't buy my first piece of furniture until I was almost 30.
My contract with Luna included housing. This was provided by Diana Reddy, who was the band's publicist. I was to board with her mom and stepfather in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I had my van, my drums, my meager Hab und Gut, a few bucks and a slip of paper with an address on it. Done. Oh, plus the true spirit of dash and recklessness.
The house was a gorgeous old colonial, a few blocks from Harvard Square. Diana welcomed me and showed me my digs. I had my own atelier on the third floor, perfect.
Diana's mother, Sigrid, also welcomed me. She was a delightful woman, one who had traveled the world with her parents, who were missionaries. She told me that my rent (paid by the band) included my run of the house, including the kitchen and fridge. Summing up, she mentioned, "We have dinner every night, which you are welcome to share with us when you are in town. Tonight, we shall have cocktails at half five and dinner at six. Thereby, you can ablute as you wish."
Well, I abluted--then fretted over what to wear. I may have had a sport jacket at the time, but certainly no tie. I struggled trying to find a collared shirt. Arriving downstairs at the appointed time, I noticed that Sigrid and Diana wore dresses. The majordomo, Dr. Paul Watson (a professor of psychology at Harvard), sported a blue blazer and charcoal flannels with a crease worthy of a Bavarian cutlery maker. I have thanks that he didn't wear a tie.
We assembled in the living room. A largish sidebar was festooned with all sorts of alien-looking bottles and an assortment of mixology accessories.
The Doctor shook my hand and said, "A cocktail, perhaps?"
A cocktail? Up to that point, I was experienced in only beer and cheap wine.
"Er, I'll have what you're having."
Sigrid bustled in and out of the room, readying our repast. Heady fumes of strange foods wafted from the dining room.
The conversation was muted, devoid of controversy. I silently thanked the Jesuits for boosting my vocabulary.
The dining room could have been conjured by an Impressionist. A huge crystal chandelier provided a muted glow, augmented by candles. Linen everywhere, plus an assortment of heavy utensils that looked like they came from a surgery. In my semi-wobbly state, I was grateful to have Diana on my left, who guided me through the meal, particuarly the myriad hardware.
I had never been in a restaurant this soigné, much less a domestic dining room.
A largish silver vessel sat in the center of the table, warmed by a candle underneath. "A light consommé ," said Sigrid, as she doled out ladlesful of a clear broth into ridiculously delicate china bowls.
Then she said, "Oops. The wine. I think we should let our star boarder do the honors."
A swaddled bottled sat in a sweaty, silvery ice bucket.
Unsteady, almost doddering, I got up and made my way to Sigrid's side of the table. I cradled the Pouilly-Fuissé as if it were a newborn. The gods were with me as someone had already uncorked the wine and attached a silver spout to it. Diana also pitched in, pantomiming keeping the napkin under the bottle to avoid spillage.
The silence in the room was oppressive, I think the lights dimmed. Sigrid slid her glass toward me.
Nooooooooooo! Had I botched my first test?
Sigrid assuaged my fear. Gently pulling my elbow, she leaned toward me and whispered, "Pour boldly."
And so I did, effecting my job without error for the rest of the meal.
For the next nine months, I sat with the family for a score or two of dinners. Viands from around the world: Asia, India, Africa and more. I learned to become a passable sommelier: uncorking, chilling and pouring.
Sigrid, thank the Lord, is still with us. Diana, who has lofted herself from roomie into the staunchest of lifelong friends, is somewhere in Indiana.
My checkered past has morphed into a cloudy future.
But those two words continue to serve me well.