The Surgeon’s Estate

The house had such a stupifying abundance of rooms that, every time I learned how to reach one of them, I would catalogue sights along the way, memorizing routes. It was like dropping bread crumbs. Each time I prayed for the ability to find the damn thing again.

Pass the picture of her mother in the yellow jacket. Proceed up the stairs dappled with carved chipmunk statuettes. Look for the giant silver harmonica in front of the fireplace. Enter gleaming lemon marble hallway. Sliding door, stove island with visible pilot lights, bio-lab variety hanging vent. Three stairs down, beige carpeted hallway, sliding door: bathroom.

“Do you know where Rachel’s bedroom is?” a passing boy sporting low-riding swimming trunks asked me.

“It’s at the top of the tower.”

“The tower?”

“Go up as many stairs as you possibly can.” Now was the time when I could have handed him some crumbs, said “make sure you pass the Renoir poster in the golden frame” or “at some point, the carpet changes color” but I’ve learned that these details are never really appreciated by the direction-seeking public. One woman’s crumbs is another man’s “why are you still talking.” He was already gone.

The next morning, Caro and I would sit at the stove island as coffee percolated, and designate which parts of this home would be allowed in our dream houses. Massive kitchen, check. Built-in bookcases, check. Greenhouse, check. But overall, we decided pragmatically, this would be a four, five-room dream house, max. None of this ridiculous excess.

There was a swimming pool and pool table, a piano, several libraries, a workout room, several porches, stained glass windows, real paintings, a pond, three snapper turtles, two rowboats, a cabana — but most importantly, fifteen billion styrofoam floaty noodles, which served as the primary entertainment for the night. We would struggle to stand one-legged on them underwater, balance glasses of whiskey on their tabletop ends, straddle them like legless ponies to wander where the cannonball waves took us, and tie them into knots and circles which we would then dive into, tear apart.

There was a tree-house! It had four stories, a climbing rope, and a ridiculously high wooden swing. The surgeon had commissioned it from a patient who had the unfortunate distinction of recurring accidents, all involving nails getting hammered into his legs.

At some point, I found myself dancing in my bikini a la MTV spring break. Let me just say: this is entirely unprecedented. I don’t know how to walk in a bikini in front of strangers, let alone coordinate my limbs along to some kind of beat. I like to tell myself that this is a fault I needn’t concern myself with, there’s something not very classy about such skills, anyway, that it’s a little too College Girls Gone Wild for my superior educational background and interests. But there was a beat, and I’d just left the pool, and then a friend grabbed my hand and led me to my doom.

“Adrianne! How’s it going?”

“Oh, hey, you know. Pretty good. Um . . . trying not to look . . . awkward.”

Almost immediately, however, we found ourselves surrounded by ten more swimsuit-clad dancing people. I felt the irresistible siren call of music-video sexiness. Pool! Bodies! Beat! Bling bling! And self-consciousness, as it is wont to do, vanished with a song.

I take you home now watch me get you hot,
You’re just a parrot when you’re screaming and you’re shouting
“More crackers please! More crackers please!”
You want what you want, but you don’t wanna be on your knees —
Who does your . . . who does your hair?

We were possessed at this point with nine hours of straight debauchery and Doritoes, throwing ourselves around the slippery pool patio. Frankly it was a miracle no one died. “Linoleum floor, linoleum floor, your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor,” the speakers bemoaned. With no apparent plan or cue, we simultaneously threw our heads back and belted I’ll WALK ON IT! I’ll WALK ALL OVER YOU!, the volume of our own voices reverberating in our ribcages, bouncing off the roof some infinite distance away.

Walk on it, walk on it, walking one, two!

“Now would be an ideal time to spike the punch with about thirty hits of acid,” bearded-dude-with-guitar said.

“Nah,” our host replied, still dancing. “I always say, who needs drugs when there’s people like us around, doing whatever the hell we feel like doing?”

That night, we slept in tents beneath the tree-house surrounded by a tribal ring of tiki torches. It was the first time I’d been alone in a tent in half my lifetime, and I was convinced it would be lonely, cold and miserable. Shortly after I’d crawled into my cave and nodded off, I was awoken to cold water spraying all over my face, pillow, and sleeping bag. I let out an belligerent scream.

“Oh fuck!” someone cried. “The sprinklers are going off!”

Despite valiant efforts, there was no turning them off at this hour, with homeowners asleep in their beds. We resorted to zipping up windows and securing rain tarps. The sprinklers diligently watered us for the next few hours, their rotating showers becoming a nearly soothing — if somewhat loud — percussion. Chickkkachickkachickka-chik. Chickkkachickkachickka-chik. Anger was futile, and the ground soft. I snuggled into the depths of my mummy bag, ensconced in delicious warmth and protection from artificial elements. “Oh . . . my God,” I found myself thinking in surprise, shortly before disappearing forever into unconsciousness, “I am so happy.”

In the fresh air and dew of morning, I would poke my head out of the tent, tiptoe into the house to use the bathroom (the picture of her mother in the yellow jacket, stairs dappled with carved chipmunk statuettes, a giant silver harmonica, the gleaming lemon marble hallway, stove island with visible pilot lights, bio-lab hanging vent, beige-carpeted hallway, sliding door) and admire the sprawl of sleeping party, bodies draped on couches, chairs and rugs, the pool completely still, the whole house unmoving, quiet, very very quiet.

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  1. As an only child growing up in a small ranch in a neighborhood of identical houses on Long Island, I had a few seminal experiences visiting large, old homes which I envied for being distinctive and filled with character.

    I remember vividly the first time I saw our home as a nineteen year-old. My mother, a hard-working newspaper publisher, flush with success and fed-up with suburban life, grasping her dream of final escape from the ordinary turned to me inquiring “we’ll only buy this house if you’re interested in helping with it, and would take it when we die.”

    It seemed and adventure then, and still does now. All my romantic notions from Misselthwaite Manor to Bag End were at my disposal, with only my own imagination required to fill the rooms, design the gardens and accumulate whatever “stuff” that caught my fancy.

    I can’t deny, like Barnes and his Museum, that I revel in the juxtaposition and grouping of objects of interest, which all connect through a subliminal thread of personal meaning. My own right-brained dominance causes me to delight in the sights and sounds that result.

    Ostentatious, cluttered, atavistic, or just nostalgic; I don’t care, I think/hope you enjoyed your weekend with us.

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