I've no doubt mentioned that my husband is working at the Pentagon these days. It means that he keeps an apartment in Arlington, Virginia, and stays there much of the time because he's working 24/7 or so it appears on many days.
Last weekend, I joined him there for a Fathers Day weekend and when he asked me to make his favorite roast chicken recipe rather than go out to dinner, I enthusiastically jumped in to do just that. When I put the chicken into the oven in his apartment, I noted that the oven desperately needed to be cleaned, but paid not much attention to it. Fairly soon thereafter, the oven was smoking unpleasantly so I opened the apartment windows to release some of the unattractive smell. Then I got the bright idea to open the apartment door as well, to create a draft that would take more of the smoke outside.
Seconds later the smoke alarm in the hallway ceiling starting blaring at such a high decibel rate we had to cup our hands over our ears. And seconds later, it became clear that the smoke alarm in our hall had triggered other alarms throughout the building. (It turned out that it also triggered alarms in the adjoining tower building.) Quickly there were people streaming past our apartment door out to the lobby, leaving the building because of what they assumed was a fire somewhere on the premises.
My husband went to the reception desk to explain the good news that there was no fire, only smoke from our oven which had been contained. But the reception people explained that once those alarms go on, there is no stopping them and that the fire department was on its way.
Minutes later, I went out to meet the two hook and ladder firetrucks and their crews, already busily gathering the hoses, axes and other equipment needed to put out what they assumed could be a serious fire. When I explained that it was all about my apartment and the dinner I had tried to cook for my husband, the Captain of the crew asked "So, what are you cooking?" "Roast chicken," says I." "Hey!" he replies..."that's what we're having tonight, too, at my house!"
At least they had a sense of humor.
By this time, there were about 800 people (yes indeed, that is the estimate the fire department made) out on the lawn of the Crystal Palace towers, my husband's Arlington home away from home. I swear in all my visits there, I've never seen more than twenty people over the span of a weekend. But there they were, hundreds of them, chatting and shaking hands with their neighbors, all thanks to my botched roast chicken plans.
The firefighters checked the entire apartment, brought in fans to clear the rest of the smoke, and stayed to chat about other adventures they've had around cooking mishaps. At one point, my husband took a picture of the Captain and me on his iPhone. Here it is, though hard to see.
And then we took a picture of me with the Captain and two other firefighters, now outside the window where they had put the fan. All of them said they'd love to stay for a taste of that chicken but had to move along.
I walked them out and saw that half our tribe of neighbors were still out on the lawn. It was a lovely day and once they learned there was no danger, they decided to continue chatting with their newly discovered neighbors.
This is a hard way to get to know one's neighbors, but I'll bet at least one romance was struck up as a result of my roast chicken fiasco. And certainly a number of neighbors met for the first time and will get together on a regular basis as a result of their conversation on the lawn.
At least that is what I tell myself in between bouts of absolute humiliation.
And, by the way, we went out to dinner.