Back in the 80’s, there were a group of apartment complexes close to the most well-known university in Dallas. One in particular was situated to serve not only the students who could afford to live off campus but the uptown theater crowd, the downtown employees, and the teachers of the school. Within this complex, a smaller, more exclusive center existed. A first-floor apartment had been converted into the manager’s office, and this office was part of a circle of two-story apartments which wrapped around a lush courtyard. In the center of this courtyard sat a water fountain; always running soothing sounds. The fountain was surrounded by a variety of plants, as well as sculpted blocks of concrete to keep small dogs out. The dwellers around here had prime viewing of all residents, since others had to pass through to pay rent or turn in work orders. This smaller community became gossip central, and they reveled in their status. There was a communal sense of pride for the courtyard and its upkeep, and each felt personally invested in the tranquility of the space. Beyond the obvious benefits of being in good graces with the manager, though, a personal investment in one another took shape, and they soon became family.
These neighbors were made up of an eclectic mix of characters: stylists, interior designers, hairstylists, dancers, theater actors, and the costume or set designers for the plays; this included a number of gays and all their vibrancy. The apartment manager was one of the only older ladies in the crowd. She got her hair done weekly by the hairdresser. Gobs of hairspray kept it together between visits. There was one other very old, retired man who was always checked on and catered to with visits and prepared meals. Mainly, it was a young, hip crowd. Their social lives could spill out into the courtyard. Most loud hackling could be heard when one of these residents was returning home late at night amped up on who-knows-how-many cocktails and lines of coke. Never enough to provoke the manager; her wrath had a reputation of its own.
Some homes were conservative and charming. They all had some variety of antiques. Couches could be deep and sunken or firm mid-century mod. It was the 80’s, so almost all had brass and glass cocktail serving carts. Most tore out the carpet and remodeled with polished wood floors. Turkish carpets hung on the walls as art instead of treaded on beneath foot. On these floors, one could often hear the constant scurrying from tiny dogs, like miniature schnauzers and west highland terriers. A superiority wafted in air, whether they were moneyed prior to moving in or slowly building up to it. The scent of both Chanel*5 and marijuana debuted.
The desire to show off one’s new remodel or antique and painting acquisition leant itself to a lot of comings-and-goings. The idea soon sprung up to start progressive dining.* To trade out the work and responsibility of a single place hosting an elaborate dinner, attending neighbors would start at one apartment for a cocktail, move to another apartment for hors d’oeuvres, then another apartment for dinner, and a last stop for dessert. A proceeding host door was merely ten steps away. The most difficult transition was carrying a freshly poured cocktail outside and upstairs to a second-floor apartment. The most organized had to be the dinner server. They’d leave a tad sooner to pull the main course out of a warming oven, set up to serve buffet style. All would still eat at the fully decked out dining table. These slowly paced evenings tended to happen outside of the holidays, as any excuse to dress up was reason enough. The appeal to dress formally took the concept to extravagance. Go all out! The costume jewelry dawning hands of women with names like Muzzy or MiMi introduced themselves. ‘Call me Rebecca, never Becky,’ one chastised!
I may have had a couple suit sets with matching hats from Neiman Marcus; purchased by one of these neighbors -not by my own family. I was always the only child in attendance; aggravating to some, I’m certain. I may have not fully engaged the conversation, but I absorbed like a sponge. I was my grandmother’s grand-daughter though, and she was the one who held court and issued dictates from the manager’s office. No matter how many shows, dramas, or tantrums residents of the property put on, it was my grandmother’s theater.
I don’t remember a single food item served. Not a one. Yet, I can very easily picture the finger-licking and smacking coming from such snobbish people. Despite my young age, I would never have fully inserted an index finger into my mouth to suck it.
*I recently became aware of ‘bang bang dinners.’ These are not in fact similar to progressive ones. To bang bang is to eat an entire meal before moving onto the next. Food critics suffer this pain. The title wrote itself, though. Forgive me!