Small Wonders: Putting the party out front, where it belongs

This is second in a two-part series. Read part one here.

Unprotected by hills to the west, Burbank suffers under the laser-like rays of the setting sun each evening. Driving, or even walking, becomes dangerous as you shield your eyes and hunt for the safety of shade.

But for homes on the west side of the street, like ours, the sun's descent turns front lawns into shady glens — well-lit yet comforting oases.

I return home from Monte Carlo Deli with my bagful of delights: prosciutto, salami, cheese, fig spread, olives and artichoke hearts; also a few loaves of the mini rustica bread they run out of midway through each day.

Two weather-worn Adirondack chairs are permanent fixtures on our front lawn. So is a small plastic table. The wife found a $10 rocking chair at a yard sale some time ago. It never made it past the front porch. I pull that out on the lawn, along with a fold-up camping tray I keep handy for such occasions.

In hope and anticipation, I bust out camp chairs and the swing-bench that kills my back and squeaks annoyingly.

Dining room table? Living room couch? Perhaps. We'll see.

I open the wine, pour myself a grande and let it breathe as I place the assortment of antipasti on the assortment of plates and tables.

And then I wait.

It won't take long.

First to arrive is Scott the Southern Sophisticate, focused and ready. Besides a touch of gentility and Gatsbyesque charm becoming his roots, he brings with him the heaviest plate in the world laden with more enchanting edibles. Seriously, this plate is made of an atomic element not found on the periodic table.

Minutes later his wife, the Ohio Farm Girl, shows up, bubbly, cheery, glass in hand. That's good. I'm almost out of wine glasses and she's had the unfortunate condition of being in proximity to all my broken ones. Curious.

On cue, The Rockette and Goldenvoice arrive. Our token neighborhood “showbiz” folk, they bring more wine and merriment. We'd ask them to move to the Westside, but they're just so normal and friendly it makes you sick.

Our collective offspring, some of which I've never seen before, immediately run amok. We forfeit them the house, garage and backyard. Just leave us our front lawn in peace, and stay away from power tools. That's all we ask.

Soon the air is filled with the astringent, strangely satisfying blend of night-blooming jasmine, citronella candle and the banter that comes with time, survival and familiarity.

Complaints about work come first, then — when they are out of earshot — gripes about kids. Then catching up on the sundry topics left hanging last week: movies watched, upcoming vacations and new body aches. As the shadows grow long across the land, so does the conversation.

“Why don't grown-ups have prom?!” shouts the wife.

And soon we're planning a formal dance for children of the 80's — a cross between the climactic scene of “Footloose” and every John Hughes film ever made. I immediately start scheming how to pilfer some hooch from my parent's liquor cabinet.

Then we rekindle talk of renting a flatbed truck for next year's Burbank parade. Our official float will be a faux grass lawn and us sitting upon the Adirondacks and squeaky bench sipping wine, eating cheese and ignoring our children. We'll blend right in with the marching bands, classic cars and Lipizzaner stallions.

We scold the Southern Sophisticate for using the same toothpick for olives and cheese cubes. We listen to the Ohio Farm Girl describe, with vivid hand gestures, the preferred method for “expressing” the anal gland of the family pooch. I toss a dead soldier into the neighbor's Bird of Paradise hedge without the Rockette or Goldenvoice noticing.

A classy bunch are we.

Since we got the speed bumps/humps on our street, we no longer need to yell at speeding cars to slow down. So now we wave to curious motorists wandering down our suburban aisle, staring at us like a five-car pileup. It seems like the right thing to do.

The oft seen yet unfamiliar neighbor is welcomed, as are dog walkers and strangers who happen by. Being out front has a gravitational effect on people. And that's good.

We spend so much time hidden behind fences, curtains, dark sunglasses, computer screens and smart phones. But we're meant for human interaction in all its messy, beautiful and complicated glory.

And your neighbor is more than the person next door or down the block.

Summer's here. Get out on the front lawn.

PATRICK CANEDAY calls this DOTL. What do you call it? Contact him at Read more at

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