This was originally given to Geof in April, 2013. Additional text— added since— is shown in blue.
I don’t take complements well. I am uncomfortable with attention. I like parties, but not when they are about me (as in birthday celebrations).
However, I’m happy recognizing others’ birthdays and milestones. In other words, I can dish it out, but I can’t take it. How petty of me. Sorry. -G
Fifty Years of Geof
A M u s i n g
My first awareness of your existence must have been from mom. She and dad put together that series of photos, with her whispering in my ear the news of another family member on his way, the reaction shot of my surprise, then my excited whispering in dad’s ear, and finally the shot of dad’s face with that masterfully camp yet convincing expression of shock and incredulity.
Those were probably taken with a Pentax. Later came the Konicas, and finally the Nikons (along with various point ‘n’ shoots in between). Mom and Dad’s photos over the years are as important as they are entertaining, and have rekindled, augmented, or filled in where my memory has faded. For instance, years ago, I was pretty sure I recalled you biting my foot, but more likely it was the black and white photograph that generated the memory.
I do vaguely remember bits from living in the apartment, where I led our gleeful binge on delicious orange-flavored multi-vitamins before we visited the hospital together. Of course most memories come from the Monroe street address. The best ones have nothing to do with responsibility, prudence, manners, safety, propriety, or respect.
We knew we lived someplace special. No one else had a home that even remotely resembled ours. There was a consistent stream of cars that would nose in our driveway, pause, then turn around and drive off. Occasionally photographers would come to shoot the house.
I don’t know if you remember the time some fashion magazine used our home as a backdrop for the latest in women’s wear. I might have been five or six. The house was packed with what seemed like 20 young models— bare-ing almost as much as they were wearing. Bright tight-fitting clothes, big white bell-bottoms. They walked with a hip-movement I hadn’t seen at home or school. It was my introduction to sexy, though I did not know the word, or really understand anything about it.
As young boys, I believe we both played more with things and imagination than with board games with rules. Lots of time went into building vast facilities from wood blocks. We didn’t do as much with Lego-- maybe the scale wasn’t big enough. I don’t know if you played as much with the Erector Set as I did— but we both liked Fisher-Technik. Some of our friends might have had G. I. Joe, but our play space was explored and defended by Major Matt Mason (the Major could hold a pose because of the malleable wires within his space suit. When a wire broke, dad fashioned an uncharacteristically crude repair, inserting a piece of coat hanger wire that might as well have been made of titanium-- those limbs never moved again).
We became masters at covering nearly every square inch the of the fold-down playtable, often spilling over on to the desk, with Lionel train rails, or an elaborate multi-level slot-car track we would build, or a combination of both.
Dad made sure we built plenty of character as well, with outdoor clean-up or improvement projects: pulling poison ivy, building an archery range with a log bridge, spreading wood chips and gravel, planting bamboo, shrubs and trees, raking leaves, and picking up limbs and sticks after a storm. We worked in green fatigues purchased from Sunny’s Surplus. They were thick and became hot and sticky quickly in the summer. But they were also the uniform of choice for the “wars” we fought hiding from each other, but taunting each other through our walkie talkies “I see you...”, leading to brief exchanges of bamboo spears and tulip seed-pod projectiles. Sometimes we would sabotage each other’s room (today, they’d call it hacking). Afterwards we’d take turns watching the other walk around to discover the nature of his victimhood, I remember proudly explaining how I pulled off some technical act of vandalism, such as taping the back of a light bulb-- insulating it so that it wouldn’t work.
Your room was always neater than mine— you kept it in a more orderly state, with sharpened pencils or colored pens in a neat tin or jar at the corner of your desk: everything had its place. You had collections of items, such as seashells, or bottle caps, carefully arranged in boxes, with like sized boxes meticulously stacked and numbered in your closet or in the large drawers dad incorporated in the beds he built for us. You even had that 3”x 5” card filing system in your desk drawer. I still recall thumbing through those cards one day when you were not around. Under P, you might have had a card for Paper clips: which had a “D2” writ-ten on it. If the “D” boxes were on a shelf in your closet it was easy enough to find box D2, Written neatly on a corner of the box. I was browsing through the Cs, when I was startled to see a card with my name on it, it said “Candy”, “No way, Greg”. I wasn’t sure whether to beam with pride or shrink with shame.
Early on, it was decided that we would benefit from Sunday school. Clearly no one thought about what might be best for the church. I have no doubt that you were pretty well behaved. For me, especially later as a teen, the fact that Reverend Hoffman never bought a handgun – or at least never used one on me, is proof of a higher power.
I can recall a few shameful triumphs of teenage big-brother hooliganism that I perpetrated on my smaller brother. I am sorry. If nothing else, know that the embarrassment of those actions proved to be powerful material for ethical and moral re-calibration. Guilt is an excellent teacher from which I learned and can thank for more recent, better choices and behavior.
Regular summer vacations included Rehoboth beach: rental bikes on the boardwalk, crepes, donuts and (mostly dad) digging huge unsafe holes in the sand; the cottage: Jennifer and Kristen, a choice of boats, the deadhead and raft, and BB shooting, and usually a few days in New York for mom’s birthday— which meant raspberry ice or pie. Then there were bigger trips like New England or the sweep through the south. You sat in the back of the gray ’57 Beetle, Gus Gus (named after a Disney mouse, maybe from Cinderella). Cute little Gus Gus leaked Carbon Monoxide and made you violently ill, so at a very young age, you were left be-hind at the motel, unmonitored— with cell phones yet to be invented—while we went out for authentic southern cooking. I’m glad I can say I was too young to be a part of that decision.
Eating out was not uncommon for us, and being able to pick any restaurant we wanted for our birthday dinner was a favorite tradition.
One year, very early on, dad asked you where you wanted to go. You said “McDonalds” and when asked why, you replied, “because Greg said he’d give me a dollar if we went there”. I was surprised at your disclosure— I guess I assumed discretion was part of the deal. Dad was rather unhappy with me, and he made sure I actually paid up. Other food categories I was not as enthusiastic about in my youth included anything with mushrooms, and most seafood (though as long as they served battered, fried shrimp (and ketchup), my criteria were met. But aside from, and in spite of those early years of culinary shyness, our proximity to such an international cosmopolitan hub (no more than five minutes to the closest parts of town), DC afforded us opportunities to discover foods from all over the globe. Even as grade-schoolers, we were quite familiar with gastronomic offerings from Mexico, Austria/Germany, France, Italy, and some delicious parts of Asia. There was also a vegetarian place in the early or mid-seventies, I think it was called The Gate Soup Kitchen. I recall getting a huge sandwich there that tasted pretty good, but after I finished it I still felt empty. It was my first time having that experience. Now it seems like the norm. That restaurant didn’t last long— probably the rents for that premiere Georgetown address had something to do with it. Of course we went to a lot of Chinese places, especially (I think it was) the Yenching Palace restaurant , which had a blue-tinted mirror facade covering the whole front of the sizable establishment. The mirrors looked so delicate, I remember wondering how they survived freezing winters or possible vandals each time we went there. Dad would make sure we got some Moo Shu Ro (the pork dish with the light crepe-like pancakes), and gyōza to share (no one called them pot-stickers back then). Those dishes made Mandarin cooking his favorite (though we ate at occasional Cantonese, Hunan, or spicy Szechwan places as well). We could be pretty sure how to pronounce those dishes because Dad’s best friend Alan Dean had a “Native Fluency” rating in Mandarin from the particular three-letter agency where he worked. In the late ‘70s the boat people introduced Vietnamese food to our region. The delicious fusion of french and asian flavors— especially spring rolls— became a carry-out staple. Other gourmand trends that come to mind are Sushi, Thai, and Korean food. I quickly developed a taste for Indian cuisine. There were a few rare French meals, ostensibly for me to practice my awkward Bon jours and Merci boucoups. While those restaurants were pricey, they couldn’t have been as dear as the actual trips to Mexico and Venezuela (where you could practice your Spanish). I kept track of the more bizarre things we ate, so that whenever a “weirdest food” discussion came up, I’d be prepared. I don’t recall a single instance of someone topping my Great Sea Mammal ingestion story.
Grandma Pauline heard about a Viking restaurant and was excited to take us. Unfortunately, it was described as fancy which meant you and I had to wear ties. There was a large buffet, but I found little that appealed to me, (a genuine problem for a growing teen), Then I saw some thinly sliced bologna stacked on a tray. I was never a big bologna fan, but this would more than do, given my growing hunger. When I returned to our table with a third plateful, dad asked if I knew what it was that I kept heaping on my plate,"Sure" I said, “it's bologna”. “It's whale’s tongue,” dad stated matter-of-factly. I froze. I’d always taken pride in being able to eat nearly anything. but somehow the whale tongue became difficult- if not impossible to swallow. As bologna, it slid down effortlessly, but now I couldn’t get past the idea that the tongue-that-wasn’t-mine didn’t belong in my mouth. Nor could it make the plunge to my stomach.I don’t recall what I did with my dish. You know dad would never have allowed us to waste food, and I'm pretty sure I stopped eating it then and there. The important thing was- I ate whale's tongue. Those words never failed to top weird food conversations for at least a decade... I cannot let this subject go without mentioning my experiences in eastern Europe, in the spring of 1985. There were some fine restaurants there, and there were also some lesser restaurants, or institutional food places, like school cafeterias, that were not fine. As an exchange student in Lublin, I ordered beefsteak tartare, the locals in our party decried, “there are no cows in Poland” and the consensus was I ate raw horse meat. Oh, and we had sheep brains. Once we found bones in our pizza (from chicken), and although it didn’t happen to me, one of our group swore they were served meat that had fur on it. Let us move on to more pleasant recollections...
Another way we learned a little bit about other countries and cultures was through the movies. Films were certainly one of our favorite forms of entertainment. The American Film Institute, (AFI) had that tiny theater at L’Enfant Plaza, with car parts (fenders and hoods) arranged as art along the walls. Later they occupied a tiny theater in a corner of the Kennedy Center, and finally the grand Silver Theater. But it was in that small dark room in L’Enfant Plaza, we saw our first Buster Keaton movie. You were so little you could not see the screen for the seat in front of you. Mom put a wicker picnic basket on the seat to boost you to a workable height. then she wondered if you would understand the film or get the humor. After a classic sight gag- the hallmark of Keaton’s films- she looked over and saw you gleefully shaking with laughter, and she knew you’d be all right. Mom reminded me that dad would take us to a movie almost every week. We might see a current studio release or an old classic. There was the Biograph and maybe the Key in Georgetown; but mostly it was AFI’s retrospective cinema and foreign films that provided essentially a Masters program of world cinema, some-thing I have only appreciated in recent years. It also gave us precedent and context: — a yardstick by which we could measure other films, or just enjoy them more. Mom and dad would whisper the subtitles to us for foreign and silent films, until we could read them on our own. We were introduced to comedies not only by Keaton, but Harold Lloyd, the Marx Brothers, and Charlie Chaplin; Horror embodied by Boris Karloff or Bella Lugosi; Thrillers, Mysteries and McGuffins from Hitch-cock, or from from Basil Rathbone’s Holmes, or of the characters of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marpole; epic, sweeping historical dramas such as David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia; Acrobatic daring-do from Errol Flynn; Bruce Lee’s martial arts action; the grit of a John Wayne Western- shot in Monument Valley; Second guessing the intentions of other-world beings in The Day the Earth Stood Still, or the meaning of a lot of things in Kubtick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey, I also re-learned Western European geography through its cinematic styles: Italian Neorealism, German Expressionism, and French New wave…
And then there’s Bond. James Bond. I remember the evening when we were just starting dinner (burgers, without buns) and dad said, “Boys, would you like to see a spy movie tonight? We blurted out an impassioned “Yes” even before he completed the question. Dad continued, “If you can finish your dinners in five minutes, we’ll have time to make it to the theater”. And that was the beginning of my career in speed-eating (culminating, of course, in the legendary, porcine inspired, undisputed first place triumph at the 1983 Lock Haven University Greek Olympic Games Frat-burger eating contest. I was dwarfed by my opponents; the guys were huge, and all appeared to be football players or wrestlers; it seemed like even the sorority sisters were a good five inches taller than me that day. We were each handed a Sandwich about the size of a loaf of bread. Three hamburger patties lay in a row, inside the enormous bun. There were probably a lot of other ingredients, but all I remember is the three side-by-side patties. And that huge bun.
I think they blew a whistle to start. There was an immediate din of raised voices cheering, yelling and chanting. There might have been more going on as well, but I was focused on the task at hand. If I remember correctly, they did not allow drinks that year, so it was particularly tough getting that dry bun past my throat. A minute passed, or maybe it was several. I consciously made an effort to chew faster, and I started thinking about my endgame. I didn’t see any judges around. I was most of the way through my edible juggernaut, and I started to fear that the officials might not see me finish. I gestured wildly as I shoved the last bit of Frat-burger towards the back of my throat. I put my hands out, to indicate there was nothing left outside my mouth. Brother Vince told me later that he had been watching nervously as a Sorority girl seemingly kept pace with me, bite for bite, until finally I finished— and she picked up the second half of her sandwich. My jaw ached a bit. I pointed at my mouth with both hands, while struggling to swallow the last few remnants. A guy with a clipboard approached me and told me to open my mouth. For an instant I worried he might see a few bits of bread stuck in my teeth, and maybe claim I was not quite done— but I guess he wasn’t that picky.
Upon being declared the winner, a giddy cadre of enthusiastic brothers and little sisters hoisted me in the air carrying me over their heads for maybe 10 yards or so. It was, of course, a spontaneous, unrehearsed act of celebration, but given the inherent difficulties of holding a then 180+ pound, sometimes ticklish winner on raised arms, I was genuinely worried that I would inadvertently be dropped. That, or I would succumb to all the jostling, and share that Frat-burger with all my cheering and well-wishing supporters. Fortunately, they managed an uneventful landing, and I managed to contain myself.
I’m embarrassed now to admit I don’t recall which 007 movie dad took us to see. It was one of the better ones— with Sean Connery. Possibly From Russia with Love, or Diamonds are Forever. I know it was not Goldfinger, because I did not see that one until many years later. It seemed an unspoken truth that the number of Bond films one had seen was a measure of one’s worldliness, cool, almost Bond-likeness (for boys anyway). In those days before streaming 4k; before the internet- over fiber to your home, before blue ray, before DVD, before Laser-disc and VHS and Beta-max, all we had were over-the-air TV (with a choice of five stations), and theaters. We would always check the TV listings and the movie section for any opportunity to catch a Bond film on your unseen list. Even a low res, edited, commercially interrupted small screen in black and white counted. For years, my list had one title: Goldfinger. I don’t recall AFI showing a lot of the Bond films, but there was a theater uptown (though not the Uptown) that would show Bond double features for about for about two weeks in the summer months (and kids these days think Netflix invented binge-watching!)
Holidays, especially Christmases in Arlington, Spring Valley, and East Lansing each had their own unique qualities. Hanging our eclectic collection of hand-made decorations on a stick-tree tannenbaum (introduced to us by Aunt Sylvia), and sculpting unconventionally shaped gingerbread cookies were among the activities that fueled excitement and high expectations every December. I have vague recollections of the mouth-feel (to use the wine taster’s term) of shards of a Christmas bulb in my mouth after chomping down on the undoubtedly delicious-looking holiday ornament. More vivid in my mind is the concern I felt some years later when you did the same. Each year, we’d somehow get past the often-grueling holiday card photo shoot. Then on the 25th, opening gifts was usually delayed half an hour or so, with dad downstairs, “almost ready”. I recall a few times in the mid-70s there was friction or some family unpleasantness that preceded exchanging gifts -- no doubt brought on by holiday stress, reaction to general teenage behavior (the likes of which I’m experi-encing nowadays), and maybe other factors we were not privy to.
We always looked forward to seeing the Michigan Gainers. Lots of cookies and other desserts – Gladys and Hazel made enough pies to satisfy us for the holiday dinner. And breakfasts. And snacks. There was Uno, Aggravation, Spite and Malice – or “Sprite and Molasses” (cookies) as we called it, and setting up Mouse-Trap (not to play— just to watch the Rube Goldberg inspired mechanical performance). Games played there and at the cottage with Jennifer and Kristen always seemed more fun. The long drive north was made easier with stories and music on the Sony cassette player and Bose cube-speakers dad managed to install smartly in the nonstandard spaces of the ‘68 Squareback we rattled around in. Upon arrival, our reward was time on the pool table, playing the organ, and in later years, visiting exceptionally cool second-hand stores and pawn shops. Later in life, we came to realize how warped the pool table was, and how cheesy the organ sounded. At least the second-hand stores continued to provide exciting prospects; though sadly, they were often too big to fit in the car to take home.
Perhaps the best playground on earth was on New Hempstead Road. Pauline’s short stature, imperfect hear-ing, plus-sized waddle, and cantankerous personality made her one of a kind— a bit intimidating when we were young, but entertaining and endearing over time. We– or at least I– took for granted the enormous variety, quantity and quality of Grandma’s cooking, especially deserts. Grandpa’s quiet tolerance and even encouragement to do almost anything was like having an all-access pass to run amok in a Smithsonian warehouse, handling and mishandling all manner of possibly-priceless artifacts, occasionally even breaking stuff— with near-impunity. We had a large collection of spirited Sherwood cousins, who at that age shared our irrepressible and irresponsible tendencies, and our general lack of respect for property. We had the choice of two excellent bannisters to slide down, and scores of hiding places among (I believe) 14 halls or rooms on the main floors alone.
When we were tired, or ran out of things to talk about, we occupied ourselves with marathon sessions reading Mad magazine-- there were a few decades worth of old issues. It was remarkable that the herd of hyper-active kids whose previous stampeding literally shook plaster from Grandma’s aging ceilings would then sit in a silence rarely found outside a monastery, reading and rereading the same tired movie spoofs, Don Martin gags, Spy vs Spy, and seldom funny folded back covers ad nauseam. The best times were spent exploring. The attic would be sometimes too cold in winter, and like an oven in July. I would climb that top, final staircase, and find you-- with enough stuff scattered at your feet to suggest you’d been there for hours. We’d get something to sit on; as the ceiling was so low you could not stand. Bumping your head on one of those beams seemed an unavoidable, but small price to pay for the visit. We were surrounded by large, masterfully crafted, museum-quality models of airplanes, a circa 50’s high school dance announcement poster that I think mom drew (“Hey fellas, want to see a change?”), some clothes hanger storage bags that held no interest for us, and dusty old chests and trunks piled to form a nearly impenetrable labyrinth of obstacles stacked in the overcrowded attic. Over the years, we managed to shift things around to examine every box. We’d discover old letters with cool stamps your collection lacked, photographs and spools of negatives, and Malcolm’s collection of dirty jokes. There were more treasures to find in piles of crates in the carriage house and other out buildings. Hearing the story of the big barn fire – for the three hundredth time-- was a form of torture. From the stories, you’d believe it contained pirate gold, real mummies, machine guns, and other items topping every boy’s list of cool. In the cellar we made sparks on the grinder— at the expense of a perfectly good screwdriver– under Harold’s watchful but approving eye. We’d go through the countless carefully labeled cigar boxes and other containers that filled antique drawers and shelves. There were all manner of materials and curious tools, the function of which we could sometimes figure out: cutting or polishing glass, drafting, woodworking, repairing truck engines, etc. There were grappling hooks, World War II Arial cameras, Japanese parachute rope, firecrackers... a jar of black powder for Pete’s sake. The explosive we made was just begging to be built. It might have worried mom and dad, but I’m sure Harold Tallman would have chuckled, especially at our reaction when we set it off atop a nearby construction site dirt pile. After the deafening report, we stood for a moment, in stunned silence, with a mix of pride, awe and wonderment at the mighty force we had unleashed. Then we turned and ran in panic, terrified that police must surely be on their way. I recall returning to the kitchen with a sweaty, nervous adrenaline charge – a familiar feeling I probably experienced a little too often in my youth. How spoiled we were there– no one will ever have it that good. I think now of how we should have appreciated that place more, but I doubt the human spirit has the capacity to hold appreciation in the quantities necessary or appropriate. As if the unlimited access to priceless and dangerous materials weren’t enough, as teens we could hop a bus or drive into the city. Canal Street, bargain cassette tapes, tools, and that plastics store with bright acrylic containers and inflatable pillows that might resemble a stop sign, or read “Sock It To Me, Baby”; funky clothes at Canal Jeans and Unique Boutique, sidewalk vendors with fake Movado watches for eleven bucks and cheap sunglasses with frame designs found nowhere else on the planet. Pastries for lunch in Little Italy; la dolce vita indeed.
I left you and mom and dad when I went to college. I probably did so with no more excitement and terror than most freshmen have. I got to work right away on testing the limits of my new-found freedoms; quantifying how much was too much, etc. This line of research helped me to distract myself enough to avoid any serious homesickness. For both of us, college was a place to compensate for the timid starts of our adolescence. I recall your acceptance to VA Tech, and how you were in the computer degree program because the Architecture school was full, and the best way in was to study something else and wait for an opening. Blacksburg was a way cooler college town than Lock Haven. While it was a long drive from Arlington, it was always worth the trip. Your apartment above the Our Daily Bread bakery seemed like the absolute best spot in the community. Important places like the ice cream shop, the diner, and the Ton 80 club were what – half a block away? I fondly remember one summer, helping you add a wall in the oversized kitchen – to make an additional bedroom. It was a great week. I think I subsisted exclusively on jalapeno nachos and Guinness Stout. We were so cheap we used torn newspaper instead of drywall tape for the seams. We found out there is a reason no one does that. The end of that week may have also been when we brought back the huge welded metal sculpture you made of a crouched human form. We strapped it to the roof of the white ’77 Mazda GLC, drove the six hours home without incident, only to catch a branch in the driveway, causing the roof to make a loud plunk sound, and succumb to a good sized dent.
Among the first real architectural projects you undertook was the addition to Paul Hotis’ house. I believe it included a breakfast room, or area (nook?). The addition met the existing structure in a way that allowed windows at a lowered roof line, which let in light. You were especially enthusiastic about your design of the beam structure supporting the roof. I did not have the engineering background to fully appreciate what you were doing. But it was during that project that we heard about how impressed the builder was-- how you “really knew what you were talking about” from a design aspect, and importantly-- from building and engineering perspectives as well. While I always figured you would be more than competent in the field, it was the first time I had a hint of the depth and breadth of all of the germane disciplines you brought to creating places.
Another fond memory from that era was your “B” themed birthday bash. How many people were there – 20? 30? It was the only bona fide college-caliber beer party ever thrown in the sacred Jacobsonian structure. It was also immediately followed by the anticipation and dread of mom and dad returning from (I think) Finland. We cleaned and cleared the property as thoroughly and as meticulously as only sons of Ron Gainer could, but I think we both lost sleep with the idea some undetected, and undisposed piece of evidence would surface and reveal our crime. Over a period of weeks the mix of guilt and doom slowly dissipated, replaced by a guarded relief, as mom and dad detected nothing amiss. Then anxiety briefly spiked again one dinnertime when your hand brushed against something unfamiliar, which later turned out to be a label from a beer bottle, stuck on the underside of the dining table.
We took a vacation together to London, Paris, and Czechoslovakia. For me it was both marred slightly by – and a distraction from the cancellation of a visit I had hoped to pay. We went to some of the usual sites and museums, as well as lesser known places, like the park outside Paris—with the small red structures laid out in an array. I discovered that on the infrequent occasion you seemed irritated for no apparent reason, it was often because you hadn’t eaten. Ice cream was a near-instant cure, and held you until we could find some-thing more substantial.
Around that time, we were both full grown, and working. In my mind, part of being an adult was having your own place. In the late 80s we talked with mom and dad about investing in a house – and thus helping us pur-chase a bachelor pad. I started looking at some of the possibilities. It did not take long to figure out just how small the pool was of choices compatible with our limited budget. I started to develop an eye for what a structure could become, rather than what it was. 2317 Old Trail Drive may not have been the very best property we could have found, but we could afford it, and my patience had waned with each month of looking. In retrospect, I think it was pretty good. We were excited, transferring a truckload of our belongings to a permanent residence. Twelve sets of speakers, zero dish towels. From years of moves into various college housing, I had learned to set up a stereo first – to have music while we unloaded, unboxed, and arranged. Sometimes you chose to stay in Arlington. I always liked it better when you came out to Reston. It was like the tree fort we never had, and always more fun with you and Gary. I can still picture your neat, LED-style printing on an exposed lintel beam, since covered with drywall: something like “07:55 CH20” indicating the time to dish up ice cream, and channel to tune in for Star Trek; The Next Generation. That lintel beam was for one of the three large windows we (mostly you) installed on the East side of the house. Opening those walls to the trees was the beginning of the transformation of that structure from a thought-free checklist of builder requirements to a space conscious of its site, and an efficient, refined environment for living. Later, your kitchen design really gave the place a “there”; bright, open, clean, and with a greater ease of function. I remember being disappointed that the builders could not, for instance, center a ceiling light precisely over a set of cabinet doors (because the joist was in the way). My overreaction kept me from fully appreciating the kitchen for too many months, but I finally came around.
As you know, the kitchen was built long after you had settled in San Francisco. I remember how profoundly sad I was the morning you rolled out of the driveway in the little Mazda, stuffed to the ceiling with every-thing you needed in life. For a long time I held out hope you might move back to the area. A long time. I’ll let you know if it ends. Fortunately, I get to see you at least once a year. And modern communications allow a modicum of interaction between real visits. Talking in person during beach vacations, Christmases and other gatherings are high points for me, and though occasionally stressful, those visits are generally fun for everybody. Of course, for really getting to know each other again, there was no better way than to share a noisy, inefficient, and impractically-priced, closet-sized truck cab for over a week, crossing the continent at 15 miles per gallon. That trip let me reconnect with you at a level I had not felt since childhood. I doubt we’ll be so lucky again. It was probably the greatest of the many great gifts mom and dad have given us.
By gifts, in that context, of course I mean presents in the traditional sense. There are also priceless characteristics you were given-- traits of nature and nurturing that shaped, directed, and defined your fifty years. We can both thank mom for the origins of our cooking skills and what few social abilities we possess— and for exposing us to a broad set of experiences in our formative years. I think mom and dad (and through them, Jacobson) gave us an appreciation for clean, functional design, and a simple, straight forward aesthetic. At the same time, perhaps in part from time in Pauline’s house, an acknowledgement and respect for some decorative, ornate design– a kind of counterpoint to what we grew up with. You broadened your exposure to design, craft, and humanities in college and through personal endeavors. The collective experience and education makes for a more complete, holistic body of knowledge. For instance, we like many of the same things. I know what I like (pretty much). You know what you like, why you like it, why I like it, and what historic movement or political ideology is informed by the content. You might observe how each of the materials used is celebrated, revered, or exploited in the context of the function it performs. You cite the generally accepted interpretation of the meaning derived of the color palate, as well as other, alternate interpretations, the relationship that certain style elements share with parallel movements in other aesthetic media or literature, note telltale qualities in the binding of a particular edition of that literature, and explain how they reflect the progress of the publishing technologies and practices of the era, and with almost holmesian deduction, venture an educated guess as to the origins of the wood pulp and dyes used in the publication. Then you might conclude with a humorous anecdote about a long forgotten chemist’s accidental discovery that revolutionized the industrial process used to refine those materials. I have the impression you know a lot of other stuff, but you stop out of fear you might over-load my mind.
If only Google could be as contextually relevant and inter-disciplinarily authoritative.
You benefit from methodical problem solving abilities, carefulness and patience. You have a meticulousness- the kernel of which was surely inherited from dad, but which has evolved some uniquely Geoffrey Scott properties. Good list-keeping helps both of us from exhibiting too much absent mindedness. When you do have an occasional episode of inattention, it is due, I expect, to a full-brain focus on some project or engineering problem, such as refining spacial flow for a laundry closet plan, to make clothes washing activity more ergonomic. I won’t embarrass both of us by listing more of the things you do well. More important, perhaps, is how you handle those things at which you do not naturally excel: you learn, invent methods, or adopt techniques that compensate. The end result is an unlikely preponderance of excellence.
I suppose it is possible that for fifty years I might have had a better friend, foot biting nemesis, broken ornament tasting partner, vitamin abuser and puke pal, Major Matt Mason mission coordinator, slot-car race competitor, foreign film buff, 007 fan, church youth-group disruption abettor, bamboo and tulip bud warrior, juvenile debate contrarian, child labor co-survivor, world-travel companion, home improver, innovation provocateur, aesthetic and practical project motivator, art educator, architect, cross country driver/ raconteur/ philosopher, and brother.
But I can’t imagine how.