We did our trip. It was a revisiting of beloved people from start to finish, and it was the best and smartest gift we could give ourselves. We saw friends we hadn’t hugged since 2019, without any excuse of performance or book sales: it was just to be with these people. And it was magnificent. Oh, the waves of memories.
The memories of people were updated with the lovely presences of their current living selves, mental snapshots of who they are now, of an age with who we are now. All of us had war stories and epiphanies to share from these years of Covid, and we’re up to date with each other.
The memories of place were sometimes different. Michele and Mary’s home in the farm country south of Millersville was as lush and gorgeous as ever, enhanced by their careful caretaking. Bill and Bridget’s home outside Bethlehem had kept all the beauty we remembered, and had added a new guest cottage, straw-bale built and old-barn-timbered. We shared it overnight with Bloomsburg’s Laurie McCants and demolished half a black box of wine catching outselves up to the present. But when we went back to Philadelphia, I walked to where our home and theatre had been from 1992 to 1999, and it was a different story.
When we’d found it in 1992, knowing that we needed to relocate from Lancaster, it was a comic first meeting. Conrad had been pounding the streets following up any possible rentals, finding only spaces too grimy and small or too pricey. Then came the day we somehow turned onto the first block of Arch Street and saw a “for lease” sign plastered on a storefront. He pulled to the curb and I got out to peer into the window.
I was looking through dusty glass into 132 feet of 23-foot-wide space with 12-foot ceilings, a huge pristine ex-warehouse, half a block long. After I started breathing again, I went back to the car, took out my cell phone, and did the dumbest thing a prospective tenant could possibly do: “I’m in front of 115 Arch Street and I’m in love.” Dumb or not, it worked, and we got the space.
When we shoved our stuff into the van and a U-Haul and arrived at our new home, we only had the energy to drag our sleeping bag and floor mats and a few big set-flats to screen ourselves from the big storefront windows. We spent our first night in the middle of an empty huge space with only one little votive candle for light. In 1999, after we’d packed to leave for California, it was exactly the same way we’d spent our first night there, a little bed in the middle of a huge empty space, lit by one votive candle.
In those seven years, we’d built our theatre, our apartment, and our office. We had a braided ficus tree given to us by a friend who’d had it outgrow her law office, and it graced our front window by the bin that housed the many many umbrellas forgotten by audience members, next to the fireplug we’d gotten in Lancaster to make the set for American Splendor.
We built platforms to support the 49 seats of our theatre, seats that included a rocking chair, a throne, the back seat from our van, and a little front-row couch that guaranteed us front-row audience. I climbed a twelve-foot ladder to hang lighting pipes from the ceiling and drilled big holes in the red-cedar flooring to wire our dimmers into the basement’s 220 volts. I helped build the massive firewall that made it legal for us to live in the back, and after more than a year of freaking about building a stair, I got rid of the ladder we’d had to use to get us up to our bedroom loft. I’d built that loft so strong you could have done Irish dancing on it, but I had nightmares about building a stair.
Our four nine-foot north windows were the glory of our apartment, and I got very attached to the squirrel who showed up regularly to beg for peanuts. When I didn’t appear on time, she’d rap on the window with her little paw. The day we left for California I cried about that squirrel: who was going to give her peanuts?
Now it’s a condominium, with one place left for 3 million dollars. The ground floor, our apartment, office, and theatre space, is a parking garage. But in my mind, the secure space of my memory, there is still a place where we made our living, made our home, and made love.