long brunch with with social-distancing exception
Sunday, October 18 2020
location: upper floor, Apartment [REDACTED], East Watergate Building, Washington, DC
Mercedes, the metal artist we'd met yesterday, wanted to clean up our respective freshly-cast bells and deliver them to the Watergate this morning. So she arrived at around breakfast time. Gretchen, naturally, saw this as an opportunity for vegan evangelism. So she was planning to offer her something made with faux egg in a vegan croissant. It turned out she and her girlfriend, Houry, had both come on a motorcycle, and Houry was still waiting downstairs. So of course we invited Houry up as well. Meanwhile Gretchen's parents had gone upstairs to participate in a funeral conducted over Zoom.
So while Gretchen and Powerful puttered around in the kitchen, I stood around awkwardly with the two women, all of us wearing masks. There were plenty of things in the apartment to catch Mercedes' attention, including a set of bells. Still, the covid-related awkwardness persisted. But then they told me that they had antibodies and were tested frequently, so we decided as a group that they were clean, and we all took off our masks. I don't know how wise that was, but at this point we all have quarantine fatique.
It turned out that Mercedes had once been vegetarian and even, for a month, vegan. But the Argentine is strong in her and she likes meat too much to give it up. She even related a story of a time when, as a child (when her parents were trying to raise her as vegetarian) she visited somebody's house, discovered the meat, and went off into a closet to devour it much the way Neville the Dog would. Despite all that, Mercedes and Houry were impressed with the vegan breakfast foods Gretchen prepared. Eventually Gretchen's parents came down from their Zoomeral and sat at the other end of the table, though they seemed okay with breakdown of social distancing.
A major topic of discussion was the long strange trip Houry has been on, both her family and herself. Her family started out in Armenia and were forced to flee during the time of the Armenian Genocide (committed, as they'd rather you not know, by Turkey). They ended up in Lebananon, where Mercedes' Houry was born. Despite a period peace in the early 2000s, Lebanon has been at war for much of its recent history, and eventually Houry managed to flee to Dubai, where she got a good job working for Armani. During this time, though, she had to be in the closet with respect to her sexual orientation, since that's how the gay survive in the Arab world. Early in her career, Armani tried to send her to New York to spend a million dollars on something, but her visa was denied, perhaps due to post-9Eleven American attitudes towards young people from the Arab world. Later, though, after Houry was older and her own savings, her personal travel visa was approved. Once arriving in the United States, she claimed asylum based on her sexual orientation, and her asylum process began. By then it was early in the Trump administration, though the administrative state had yet to be completely Trumpifed. Houry's asylum application is still pending, and in the meantime her Lebanese passport has expired. But even if it hadn't, she couldn't use it, because that would count against her asylum claim. This means she cannot open any bank accounts, though she can continue to use the one she opened as a tourist.
Meanwhile Houry's brother, a ball-room-dancing instructor, is stuck in Beiruit, unable to escape. All the borders have been closed and nobody will approve a visa for anyone from Lebanon ever since that massive harbor explosion.
From there, conversation moved on to subjects such as Armenian cuisine (it involves a lot of tomato paste, and there is something called Armenian delight) and ultra-orthodox Jews. Mercedes had some experiences with them as part of her job on a booze cruise boat line based in New York City. When the ultra-orthodox reserve a cruise, it's always either all-male or all-female. When it's all-male, one can expected hookers and blow, and when it's all-female, don't be surprised if you see all the ladies hanging out without their wigs on, revealing their shaved heads. Mercedes wasn't too clear on the basis for all this behavior, so we explained things like kosher, orthodox modesty codes, and sabbath-related work prohibitions.
Mercedes and Houry ended up staying until something like 1:30pm, at which time we had to wind things down because Gretchen had arranged to meet up with Andrea in Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle.
By then I was completely "socialed out" (as I put it). So while Gretchen's father was dropping off Gretchen and Powerful off on Dupont Circle, I cracked open an old IPA from the refrigerator and had some me time. Eventually I took a bath (there's a tub in the bedroom suite Gretchen and I are staying in).
This evening, after Gretchen and Powerful had eaten food in several places with Andrea (including HipCity Veg and some Ethiopian restaurant), they returned to Watergate just in time for dinner. Not having eaten more than spicy Indian snack food, I had more of an appetite. Gretchen's parents had made portobello mushrooms with globs of breaded vegan cheese, and it was pretty good.
Later, we had a family Zoom call with the Arkansas folks, which I did on my work computer by myself from the bedroom where Gretchen and I had been staying. This allowed me to sip vodka on ice as I participated. The most interesting revelation of this meeting was the crazy Trumpian coronavirus policies at Gretchen's brother's university. The word from the university board is that the December graduation must be held indoors with no social distancing. Gretchen's brother strongly advised against this, but the politics are such that it will happen anyway, and it may well prove to be a superspreader event, though in Washington County, Arkansas, this would be hard to know given that more than 10,000 people have already been infected there (among them a couple thousand university students).
Later, Gretchen's father took Powerful, Gretchen, and me down into the Wategate sub-basement, where the apartments have storage rooms. Two such rooms belong to Gretchen's family, and this was an opportunity for us to have extra things we might need. Gretchen and I are building a cabin on that Woodworth Lake in the Adirondacks, so our main interest was kitchen supplies for its kitchen, though there were a few other things of interest: a SodaStream device so Powerful can stop generating so many cans, various African artifacts, including a well bucket made of old tires, and some metal boxes, one of which I might be able to make into a custom, infinitely-hackable laptop computer. At some point in all of this, one of Gretchen's father's hearing aids fell out.
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