My neighborhood used to have regular Friday night happy hours whenever the weather permitted. The only requirements for hosting one were to provide the backyard, trash cans and access to the restroom. Everyone who wanted to show up would just bring a liter of soda and a bag of chips.
We used to announce the happy hours with a brief note in residents' mailboxes. But soon we realized that that is against the law, unless you invite the mail carrier, who likes hot pizza dip; and it is simpler to activate the second-family network.
To do this, we would go up to the elementary school a little early to pick up our children, and we would stand around and talk. Someone would ask, "Who's having happy hour?" and someone else would volunteer, or be volunteered. Next, we would organize ourselves to tell everyone on our various streets. Eventually, we got so good at it that we started inviting nearby neighborhoods.
At the time, so many of us had young children that we looked forward to adult conversation at the end of the week with a zealous zeal. We had an ambitious ambition to connect with other adults. We would willingly stand around the neon-patterned baby pools for hours, dotting the host's backyard in mid-July, passing each other the hot pizza dip as our toddlers passed each other the virus du jour. What a lovely summer image from Janet's World!
More often than not, these happy hours would run into dinner, with someone passing the hat for pizza delivery and the hosts bringing out tiki torches.
I'm not certain, but I believe some host families ended up bringing out the coffee and orange juice after a few particularly enthusiastic happy hours.
The happy hours' humble beginnings were short-lived in our neighborhood. As the children grew, DJs and volleyball nets appeared, and the bag of chips came with the fantastic hot pizza dip - the recipe for which I am certain I can find in every single home in my neighborhood. In fact, I may be personally responsible for introducing the hot pizza dip recipe west of the Patapsco via e-mail. Unfortunately, as a result, I am served hot pizza dip as an appetizer whenever I travel anywhere between here and Indianapolis.
I wish I could host an episode of Deal or No Deal, wherein there were ordinary people standing in front of their recipe files. "Number 35, OPEN THE BOX!" I'd say dramatically. I'm 10 percent sure that the recipe for hot pizza dip would be in there, along with another fabulous recipe - the macaroni and cheese casserole from Eus Snikpmot, whose name has been cleverly spelled backwards for privacy.
Only now this recipe - along with the hot pizza dip - has my name attached to it - because I am the one who sent it around on the Internet. Right now, somewhere in Mishawaka, Ind., someone is saying, "Have you tried Janet's hot pizza dip and macaroni and cheese casserole?" Thanks to modern technology, I have become a renowned chef. Look for the Janet's World Pilfered Neighborhood Happy Hour Recipes Cookbook in your bookstore soon.
So here in Janet's World, we are very connected by these happy hours, and I write this in the hope you will start some in your communities. And I hope you will all bring my hot pizza dip, the recipe for which is on my Web site: www.janetgilbert online.com.
Because here's the thing: I have found that the happy hours sustain you through the sad hours, which seem to happen more frequently as neighborhoods age.
As the world gets smaller, the role of the neighborhood gets bigger. And it all starts with a bag of chips.