IF YOU'RE A FULL HOUR EARLY, you have to decide. Do you knock and risk being rude, or do you sit in the car and listen to the radio and reprogram the buttons for an hour, then go in. It depends on how well you know the person, I suppose. He's a colleague, someone I've worked with for years and years, practically a brother.
I stomp confidently up the front steps. The door is red, same as my front door. The siding is a greenish tan, same as my siding, and the wood trim is crisp white, same as mine. I can't believe that, all these years, we've had the same color houses.
We've never seen each other, or talked to each other, out of a work setting. This is weird.
I pull out my cellphone and call him.
"Hello? I'm standing at your front door an hour early," I say. "I can, um, wait."
He hangs up, and I hear the thump of footsteps, and then the door opens. "Come on in!" he says. "How are you? Sorry, I was running. Sorry."
I don't know why he's apologizing for running, or what he even means -- like on an exercise machine or something? He doesn't look out of breath. He's in sweats, a T-shirt. I can't quite make eye contact. This is so strangely awkward. Normally, like so many co-workers these days, we deal with each other on the phone. Voices. If we see each other at all, it's if I'm in the city for a work function. Co-workers.
He leads me immediately to his children, two beautiful doe-eyed girls playing paper dolls while a basketball game airs silently on the TV. He fusses over them, tries to engage them in conversation about me and my girls, compares ages, heights. His girls politely wear the look: Who is this lady? He hangs up a jacket, throws out a newspaper, moves books from the coffee table to the bookshelf.
"You're picking up?" I say. "I didn't peg you for a picker-upper -- "
"I don't like mess," he says.
This is startling information. This completely throws me. This man, with whom I've worked for a decade, is in the space of 10 minutes turning into someone new.
"We have the same color house," I tell him. "Exactly the same."