this evening the bubbles floated over to me from the family party across the street. moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas sitting on the porch. grandkids, mostly grown from what i could tell, playing sandbag toss in the driveway. one of them resembles a guy i see occasionally and only at the deli. a not-very-tall guy, thin, with a half-circle of hair that matches his crayon-brown eyes and a habit of running into me as i'm going one way and he's going another. it's always a quick hey, how you doin, and then we're off. though with this guy it's not one of those obligatory hellos, bc we know each other so remotely that it would be just as well if we didn't say hi at all. he speaks bc he's a friendly, plain old nice guy. i just know. the grandson (or son or nephew) playing sandbags in the driveway across the street isn't the same guy. he's just a stranger who reminds me of a near-stranger.
i got up maybe twice to look out at the party. it made me feel better, more so than when i see the young couple with the two small girls across the street, on the porch having a tea party or in the front yard playing while daddy waters the lawn or stands way back on the sidewalk near the street and looks up at the house as if he's assessing some sort of repairs...though he doesn't look remotely handy, if you ask me. once he walked down my side of the street with one little girl on his shoulders and the other by his side, holding his hand. they're an ok family. but it's just the four of them, which is not as comforting as the extended-family party a few doors down. more history there, i guess. more assurance of longevity, that some things do last. my dogs have been sitting at the window watching, too. thinking about the morsels and crumbs of food tumbling from plates filled with hot dogs and baked beans and potato salad. or whatever they're eating.
after my last peek, i came back to my desk, resolute that i'd finish the last 8 pages of this neverending book i'm working on, only to be reined in by the change in tune, literally, from across the street. they were singing happy birthday. i bet they're having cake next. i talk about cake a lot. cupcakes, mostly. bc they're small and cute. but i like all cake. cake is the edible manifestation of things carefree and innocent. people who don't like cake, i'm convinced, have lost touch with their inner child. not me. not even on days when my faith in people seems to be thinning soo quickly, like that nice guy at the deli's hairline. except my faith can be restored more easily.
when my family has birthday parties, which is all the time bc there are hundreds of us, there are two aunts who make the cakes. i can't remember if both of them make it the same, but at least one of them fills the layers with a mix of homemade buttercream icing and raspberry jam. i always eat two pieces. or two and a half. i haven't been home for a party in years now, so i get lots of phone calls and text messages about the cake i'm missing. i think the last time i had my aunt's cake was my 31st birthday. my family had a big cookout for me at that same aunt's, right down the hill from my mom and dad's house. my uncle — who i will always remember in his red polka-dotted welder's cap, even though i haven't seen him wear it since i can't remember when — gave me a check and told me to eat a fat burger. even after 16 years the vegetarian jokes haven't died. after this long i'd probably miss it if they stopped.
at family cookouts certain things always happen: we eat way too much, we make fun of whoever isn't there or whoever did whatever annoying thing in church last sunday, and we play badminton in the yard beside the pool. we do it completely wrong...no score kept, no rules followed, too many people on a team and some playing with tennis rackets bc there aren't enough badminton rackets to go around. we play forever, and usually about midway through, the game is interrupted by a small child whining for attention until a young parent drops their racket to take him or her to the trampoline next to the pontoon boat sitting by the fence. my cousin who likes motocross and beer cracks jokes the entire time until we're laughing so hard we forget to pay attention to where the birdie is, and then he makes fun of us for not being able to play. at some point he always yells across the net at my 60-something uncle — don't play too hard, old man, you don't wanna ruin your thrusting hip. and it's never not funny.
it's dark now and the party is long over. i won't finish those 8 pages tonight. but i will be home for my birthday this year.