Alfredo said, “The ending of parties is often more troublesome to neighbours that the parties themselves.”
Alfredo is staying with us. He arrived unexpectedly. We are quite a house-full as our friend George is also staying: his flat is under the builders. Anyway, one minute George was explaining to the better half and me the sinister influence of the Man in the Moon and why it is regularly overlooked by the newspapers (the reason is influence) and then there was Alfredo in the midst of us.
George, who has some accomplishments in the foothills of karate – he does not have a black belt but a lesser sort, possibly, I forget, a gingham belt – went into an ungainly but oriental crouch
Hello, Alfredo, I said. I thought the door was locked.
It was, he said.
It’s very nice to see you nonetheless.
I introduced him.
I hope, I said, that you’re not carrying.
My Beretta (the cardinal’s friend)?
I was disarmed by your doorkeeper. Little chap from Waziristan.
I’d always wondered what function he fulfilled.
Astute readers will have noticed that my first meeting with Alfredo, recently reported in these pages, took place some fifteen years ago, and here he is immediately translated to the present day. What I say, how time flies.
Even more astute readers will have noticed that that last sentence – ‘What I say, how time flies’ – is my homage to the great Elmore Leonard, who died a couple of weeks ago.
Wheels within wheels, as Alfredo is given to remarking.
Anyway, Alfredo said: The ending of parties is often more troublesome to neighbours than the parties themselves.
This was in the context of a discussion that we were having about the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a metaphor. I hesitated a minute before replying as there was a real party all-too-evidently taking place elsewhere in the building. It was still some hours before the party-goers would disperse and the bass from the music could be heard, or rather felt, relentlessly thumping through the fabric of the building.
I wonder, I said, pretending to take him literally. Random shouting and the slamming of car doors are louder, but you are forced to listen to the bass lines of the music. They may be quieter but they are much more intrusive.
Thinking back later, I realised that this was equally true, at a level of metaphor, of the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Let’s go out to the front door of the building and see what’s going on, Alfredo said.
I don’t smoke.
No reason to be deprived of fresh air.
So we walked down together to the front door. A group of people from the party stood around smoking, including a young West Indian woman who was the host. She wore a clinging lemon-yellow dress. She was strikingly attractive. She was smoking something non-conventionally wrapped.
I made a quiet comment about her to Alfredo. I hope that it was non-patriarchal, respectful and did not objectify her as a woman.
Yes, he said. So would I.
Why aren’t you capering then, I said to him, mildly surprised.
He looked at me kindly.
Indeed as the evening progressed I never saw him caper, either bandily or straight-legged. On the other hand I heard him use the word rassclaat more than once, with aplomb, and, given the word’s troubling etymology, with apparent semantic conviction.
But that is to jump ahead. Triply astute readers will realise that this is the second anniversary of my first post to this blog, Randy Belgians and French Roadside Whores. Last year, the first anniversary was marked by some gratifying – indeed humbling – attentions by various celebrities, friends and fans. I never expected that the second anniversary would be the same. Second anniversaries are so much more routine. So it was nice when Hassan arrived in the morning with a note of congratulation from His Highness Sultan Qaboos of Oman, and some chocolates.
The dear old bugger, I said to Hassan, inviting him in. But how did he find you?
I had forgotten all about my anniversary when the woman in lemon yellow advanced on me and took my hand.
You’re coming with me.
I looked at Alfredo, who had a cunning face on.
So you are, he said. So am I.
The sound system got louder as we approached her flat. Around the outside of the door were neighbours wondering how to start a conversation about the volume, but we went straight in and she took me to the centre of the room. At a signal from her the music was turned off and they all started to sing:
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy second birthday http://www.alablague.wordpress.com
Happy birthday to you
Then they all clapped. I was so moved that tears came to my eyes. I wondered if I should say a few words but she gestured to the Mickey Rooney figure in the corner (Let’s make a sound system, right here!) the music came back on at full volume and she turned to me.
Now we dance.
I got home very late. I missed the random shouting and the slamming of car doors altogether. Finally, Alfredo took my arm like an unwanted Virgil.
Time to go.
We picked our way between the bodies; then down the stairs to the front door.
Some fresh air please, I said, and he agreed.
Well, I said, what an evening. What a night. And how much of that was your doing?
He shrugged, but not convincingly.
How did you know about my blog? How did you know about my anniversary?
Come on, he said. Research. An assassin who is lazy is an assassin who is dead.
Well I think that it was a lovely and thoughtful gesture and I’m very grateful.
Rassclaat, said Alfredo.