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   Strange Fruit in the living room
Saturday, December 17 2005
Gretchen had organized a viewing of the one hour documentary Strange Fruit this afternoon in our living room. While she continued a multi-day cooking marathon, I instigated something of a cleaning jihad, powered mostly by our long-suffering household vacuum cleaner. Later I brought our television and VCR downstairs and set them up. We'd originally planned to have the viewing in the teevee room, but space there is limited and at the time we thought Don Byron (the movie's score composer) would be making an appearance. He suffers from terrible allergies and probably should avoid carpeted rooms in houses full of cats and dogs.
When Gretchen plans something like a movie viewing, she makes it into a huge event. We're at the point now where we have over two dozen friends, and Gretchen invited all of them. So this afternoon we ended up with between fourteen and seventeen people in our house. It was a parking nightmare, though we'd had the foresight to first move our cars into the farm road next door.
For a half hour we mingled, talking, drinking mulled wine and hot apple cider, and eating a variety of cookie-like confections, nearly all of them vegan (though only two of our guests were of that persuasion). Then we all sat down and watched the movie even though some folks had yet to arrive. Unfortunately, I'd negelected to get a raging fire going in the woodstove before the film and Gretchen shot me evil looks whenever I made stove noise once it was under way. So the room gradually became colder as the hour progressed. Eventually CAS Kathy told me it was too cold, so I had to turn up the heat for the living room zone. I think this was the first time that zone had been operated this year, and for some reason using it caused the boiler to eject more than a gallon of hydronic fluid. I'd thought I'd solved the boil-over problem by doubling the size of the expansion tank, but evidently something else is causing the boil over. Perhaps the boiler feeder valve really is on the fritz, one of my early working theories. (I'd actually included a replacement boiler feeder valve in the new solar plumbing, but had never gotten around to hooking it up.)
It's perhaps a bit much to place such intense scrutiny on any particular film, particularly a matter-of-fact documentary like Strange Fruit. It's a great film and I'd enjoyed it when I'd encountered it casually on PBS, but demanding that it do tricks on a stage, as it seemed we were, seemed to crush it just a little. Happily, though, this was counteracted somewhat when Joel, the filmmaker, came by after it was done and did a little Q&A about it. (He hadn't wanted to sit through it yet again!) When one sees a documentary of this sort, it's easy to overlook the compromises necessary within the constraints of a budget. It's probably a mark of a good film that it's only after knowing a lot about the filmmaker that you can see these compromises. Had we not met Joel through Don Byron, for example, I might not have ever noticed who had scored the soundtrack or that the film track composer also appeared in two interviews in the film itself, acting in the capacity as a (highly qualified) jazz historian. And only after talking to Joel were we aware that the travel undertaken for some of clips shot in Georgia had simply been piggybacked onto visits to relatives in the area.
Don Byron never did show up, despite all the preemptive vacuuming I'd done (even of the furniture). But Joel and his wife stayed after everyone else left and conversation lingered for a long time on the subject of adoption. Gretchen, it bears noting, has been seriously floating the idea of adopting a teenage kid. Her favorite so far at is a nerdy African American boy named Nadaniel who is supposedly interested in science and the television show Smallville.

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