Joan called the other morning, 8 a.m. sharp, from the kitchen of her home off Nebraska Avenue, the last house on her block without a deck.
"They're at it again," Joan said testily. "Can you hear them?" she asked, holding the phone out in the direction of the workmen next door.
Warren heard something that sounded like bowling balls dropping on a tile floor.
"Sounds like bowling balls dropping on a tile floor," he said.
"Yeah, and you're half a mile away," Joan said. "From here it sounds like the Battle for North Africa. I think what happens is that guys audition to be drummers with Metallica, and the ones who play too loudly, someone tells them they'd be better off building decks."
Joan hates decks. She hates the olive green color of the pressure-treated wood that deck builders use. What kind of forest yields pressure-treated wood, she wonders, the Weyerhauser/Du Pont Synthetic Forest? Joan hates the neighbors who compete in these conspicuous "deck-offs" by building ever bigger decks, pod decks that sweep around the entire expanse of their brick homes and appear like gargantuan parasites sucking the house to death.
She hates hearing her neighbors clomp-clomp-clomping on the pressure-treated wood at night. She stares at the twinkling luau lights they've strung around the decks, and thinks to herself, surely this must be what it was like right before the Titanic hit the iceberg. Joan hates people for chopping down their honeysuckle vines, killing the sweet, airy smell of spring to make room for these monstrosities. And she hates that every single deck is decorated the same way, as if from a catalogue, festooned with red geraniums in beige pots -- Laura Ashley meets the Burpees.
"Hang in there, Joanie, it'll be over soon," Warren said soothingly.
This much was true. Memorial Day is the final day of deck-building season. If your deck isn't done by then, you've violated the Kingsford-Weber Act. That carries a minimum penalty of two years without grilled mahi-mahi.
"Warren," Joan said "have you ever heard of Homer Formby?"
"You mean the Orville Redenbacher of the wood world?"
"Right. Well, I'm so sick of wood, if Homer Formby were standing in front of me now, I'd gut him like a rabbit."
Dr. R J. Gilgallon Jr., the noted life-style psychiatrist, first saw Joan two years ago when she complained of anxiety brought on by the workman's vans parked on her block each morning.
"Joan was bothered by the proliferation of decks on her street," Gilgallon recalled. "She complained about being awakened each morning by the drone of an electric saw slicing through pressure-treated wood. She feared her neighborhood would be overrun. Joan was obsessed with decks. She described herself as triskaideckaphobic -- it's an unnatural dread of being buried alive beneath 13 decks.
"She went into great detail about aesthetic deficiencies of back-yard decks; she herself preferred a screened-in porch. I got the impression privacy was her major concern. Joan felt offended having to look out her kitchen window at her neighbors' decks. She grew animated recapitulating stories of watching extended families grilling, drinking and going hurry-scurry along their deck boards like ants; she said she felt she was watching a one-act play by Pirandello.
"The potted geraniums and the luau lights, of course, infuriated Joan, and she had quite a loathing for citronella candles. She was particularly incensed by the nouveau riche aspect of decks. I remember one doleful session where she began to weep, and, choking back tears, she said, quite poignantly I must say, 'Whatever happened to the simple, quiet Georgetown patio?' "
"Well, the symptoms were so obvious even my imbecile lab technician Shafer, whom we can't trust with anything more complicated than collecting the urine specimens, could see it: Joan suffers from lignum malevolentia, what the layman might call deck envy."
"A condition common to semi-urban and suburban homeowners characterized by feelings of inadequacy about their status within their neighborhood," Gilgallon explained, "that manifests itself through loud declarations of hostility toward decks and barbecue grills."
"I suppose they'll be grilling again tonight," Joan said. "Marinating their bad meat in that teriyaki sauce. I drive home through Rock Creek Park and I can smell the teriyaki sauce all the way to Tilden Street."
"You're obsessing," Warren warned her.
"Well, maybe so. But it's obnoxious enough that these people don't have the decency to put shrubbery around their hideous decks, so I have to eyeball them when they camp out there like barn owls, but to have to smell them too, that's a bit much. All the hickory and cherry chips they use on their charcoal, I come home and think my grandmother's furniture is burning."
"Have you eaten yet?" Warren asked.
"Tell you what, get David and Jonathan and come over here."
"You actually want me to sit on your deck?" Joan asked.
"You can wear a bag over your head so the neighbors don't recognize you."
"And I suppose you'll barbecue?" Joan asked.
"With lemon thyme?"
"With Miller Time if you want."
Joan giggled. Me clomping on pressure-treated wood, she thought to herself, well la-di-da.