king of the porch


I don’t play golf. (I was forced to take up the ancient and honorable game as a small boy and it turned me against it forever.) Tennis, anyone? No, thanks. As for messing about in boats, I understand the rudiments of watercraft, but having been before the mast I know that sailing is hard work and expensive and you could always drown. That keeps me ashore.

Spring comes and I am not dreaming of fairways or forecastles. Spring means that I can move out on to my front porch. It will be open for business.

Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House when the Roland Park Corp. or its minions built my house. They made mistakes. The house was not insulated. Without central air conditioning, which I now have, the interior was like a pizza oven in the summer. To compensate for that in a time when air conditioning was inconceivable the builders added a sweeping porch that runs across the whole front of my house and around to the side. It’s a grand porch, like the deck of a ship.

On my porch there is none of the work associated with being under sail. Here I am master and commander, although I occasionally shanghai a deckhand. And all my voyages are in the pleasant land of counterpane. My house sits up away from the street, a full story above the passer-by, an outdoor room that a lazy man may laze away on.

To this indolent purpose I have a roomful of ancient wicker furniture, some belonging to my wife’s late grandmother and dating to before Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. I keep the wicker in top shape. An old lady who knew about wicker once told me that I had some beauties in my collection, which includes two long couches, ideal for napping—or resting my eyes, as I prefer to call it.

We use the porch to entertain. I can tell you that it is possible to have 34 Frenchmen on a porch this size. I know this because we had a rehearsal dinner for the daughter of a friend who was getting married (they are French) and a large contingent from France showed up. They declared the porch—which looks great under candlelight (don’t we all)—magnifique. It was a perfect late spring evening, warm enough to dine al fresco, but not humid nor threatened by thunderstorms or mosquitoes.

Rain and wind pose none of the problems that a turn in the weather would for a sailor or a golfer limping down the back nine. We remain underway, high and dry, no matter the weather, the roof overhead ample and sheltering.

Saturday mornings my old friends gather on the porch to drink coffee and discuss the vagaries of life in Charm City. We never lack for material. We have solved all of Baltimore’s problems on my porch. Several times.

When we bought this house there was a little birdhouse on the porch hanging from a wire. My wife took it down. (Don’t ask.) I went out and bought a better birdhouse (with a copper roof) and put it up in the same spot and am happy to say that the birds returned. I share this porch with Carolina wrens and starlings, not exotic feathered friends but my friends. A half-dozen huge Boston ferns hang on the porch and every year one bird makes a nest in one of the ferns and lays some eggs. It requires great care to keep the plant watered, but I do not disturb the mother or her eggs. So the porch can be said to have brought out the best in me.

I can use this porch eight months of the year—more than any sloop. I do not have to rent a mooring or slip. Nor do I have to drive any distance to get there. There are no greens fees. No one is asking to play through. As for membership, I am the chairman of the membership committee.

The porch is a powerful symbol in American life. Stories get told on the porch. Gentleman callers show up. When my daughter was young, scruffy teenage swains would come to see her on the porch. At Christmas the porch is draped with fresh greens and lights. At Halloween I put out five carved pumpkins.

Once my porch is open for business I feel obligated to use it. I’ll sit out in a peacoat to drink my coffee if need be. I like to watch the passing scene. It’s an observation deck. I see the neighbors charging off to play golf or tennis. I see the fierce cyclists. Someone is going camping. Yes, I know this is shockingly idle, but an elderly relative in Ireland, who spent his days at the dog track, used to say that it’s a poor town that cannot afford a gentleman of leisure.

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