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Fishman: Walking in Memphis
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For the event, a 60th birthday celebration, the birthday girl, a woman of many talents, left no stone unturned, no detail untended.

But we know this about her -- and her daughter, a frisky twentysomething (with a penchant for red Wellington boots) and the one who really got the ball rolling.

We know the crowd these two can attract. Which is why so many people

traveled so far for the soiree at a recently restored house in Memphis’ historic Overton Park, including a former exchange student turned airline worker from Denmark and a college friend from Los Angeles who “chapters DVD’s.”

The French meringue birthday cake -- baked and hand-held on the plane by a beloved brother-in-law-slash-professional -caterer-from-New York -- would have been enough. Known in some circles as a dacquoise, accent on the second syllable, it’s a cake made with layers of hazelnut meringue and whipped cream. Perfect finger food the morning- and afternoon-after.

There was nothing shabby about the ribs, either, complemented by a Mongolian barbecue sauce, sweet and savory, that simmered for two days, a perfect reminder of how long it takes to do something right. Or the spicy fish cakes, dried fruit salad, chicken satay, bacon on skewers with pecan praline and tempura green beans with wasabi.

Ever considerate of a crowd who may not know or remember one another, the birthday girl, a high school classmate of Harriet Miers (Harriet who?), and her daughter asked invitees to wear name tags and to describe how they knew the guest of honor.

Most complied, however generically. Former neighbor. Oldest friend. College roommate. Business partner. Fellow board member. Former publisher.

But with a timeline of six decades in a world turned upside down and then some, it was the story behind the name that made for more interesting discussion - the dental student turned carpenter then developer, the astrologer turned personal coach, the art student turned leather entrepreneur, the potters from Missouri. That and the bits and

pieces of conversation between friends and with strangers.

Somehow it doesn’t matter where anyone lives, west coast, east coast,

prairies. Everyone has basically the same concerns - when to take social security; firsthand experience with crime; what to do about elderly parents; and health, high taxes, computer dating, real estate.

“So are you going to wait for 65 or take it at 62?”

“You’ve got a personal trainer, too? Good. I don’t feel so extravagant.”

“What? Your mother is nearly 100? And living by herself? Amazing.”

The night before the party, the twentysomething, who lives in Brooklyn, was eating Thai food with her mother and the host only to leave the restaurant and find all her things stolen, including the pearls she just got from her late grandmother, pearls the thrifty woman from Missouri never took out of her dresser.

“The only time I wore them was to the funeral,” said the twentysomething.

The talk was politics, from left to right. One bumper sticker on the Volvo of a former journalist read: “Clinton lied but no one died.”

But the biggest beef this man had was picking up a paper and suffering through poor editing, unnecessary words, incorrect syntax.

“It drives me crazy to read about something that happened at the

intersection of Elm and Washington streets,” he said.

Then there were some of the relatives from Texas -- dyed-in-the-wool

Republicans who could not bring themselves to vote for W (or Kerry or Gore).

For the younger generation riding the wave of possibilities, the talk was babies and unions. One woman I’ve known most of her life is pregnant and happy, happy, happy. Who cares if the father, a poet just turned 50, has six kids?

Another young woman I just met - a fortysomething niece to the birthday girl -- came with her 14-month-old son. His twin sister stayed home in Los Angeles with his other mother -- one is mommy, the other mama -- and a 7-year-old sister. All three children share the same father, an anonymous soul, bless his heart, who donated his sperm. The women -- one gave birth to the twins, the other to the older child -- have each adopted one another’s children.

Not to leave race out of the picture, since it’s as much a part of our looney, hypocritical society as high taxes, corrupt government and personal trainers, there were the people who came into the kitchen, saw three cooks in white chef’s jackets -- two white men and one black man -- and immediately assumed one of the white men was the one in charge. Wrong.

Gosh, all this and more. We can only wonder where the next few decades will take us.