Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lean In When It Gets Uncomfortable

If Martians were to drop in on Richmond lately, they could be forgiven for thinking of our film scene as diverse.

Never in my life can I recall so many films by and about the black experience. Just in the past couple of months, I've seen "Moonlight," "Fences," and "Hidden Figures" and I added two more over the past 48 hours.

For an overview of the country's racial conversation, Saturday Mac and I went to see Ava DuVernay's "13th," which VCU was screening as part of their Common Book program that has the entire campus reading and discussing the same book, Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption."

Everyone was instructed to take a copy of the book, but Mac and I decided to take just one and share, a good call because she's already halfway though it.

She'd conveniently shown up with a small copy of the Constitution, which we used to clarify what we knew about the 13th amendment.

"Notice anything wrong with that?" she asked. Um, yea. Basically, slavery was abolished for everyone except criminals, making the mass incarceration that followed effectively the new Jim Crow.

Besides horrific and telling statistics - 1 in 3 black men will go to jail, while only 1 in 17 white men will - the documentary made the case for how every President since Nixon has furthered an agenda that involves mass incarceration of blacks. How that happened was laid out for us.

We've got 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners.

If that isn't enough to get your blood boiling, how about this? Before "Birth of a Nation," burning crosses had never been part of the KKK's M.O., but when director D.W. Griffith used it for its striking cinematic value, the KKK adopted it as part of their insanity.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury in the film, the evil black man who eyes the young woman with bad intentions was played by a white man in blackface.

One of the documentary's strength was the well-chosen talking heads from author Bryan Stevenson to Angela Davis to Newt Gingrich to Henry Louis Gates, with one of the most compelling being author Michelle Alexander, who wrote "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness," a reality that began with convict leasing after emancipation.

Laying out the case for how capitalism factors into this (companies like Verizon and Aramark make ridiculous amounts of money by servicing prisons), as does politics (look up ALEC to find out how politicians and corporations are in bed writing legislative bills that perpetuate the prison industrial complex) and, let's be real, racism.

It was impossible not to cry during a segment about a young man who was wrongly accused of a crime and deliberately chose not to take a plea because he wasn't guilty and wanted to make a stand. He spent three years in prison enduring beatings before being released due to lack of evidence.

On camera, he looked sweet and shaken by what he'd endured, all of it unnecessary. But it's when the voice-over says that a couple years later, he committed suicide that tears and sniffles began in the auditorium. Absolutely heartbreaking and not even all that unusual.

Mac and I walked out of there shaken and disturbed, as we should have been, by what we'd seen.  So naturally, tonight we headed to Criterion to see "I Am Not Your Negro," a look at race relations by way of one of the most literate black men of the 20th century on the subject.

Using the first 30 pages of a book playwright, poet, novelist and social critic James Baldwin began and didn't finish before he died, the film uses words from that manuscript read by Samuel L. Jackson to frame a look at race relations using TV and film footage from the Civil Rights era, along with footage of Baldwin on Dick Cavett's TV show and at lectures and debates at various universities.

Listening to him make a case for how the races were portrayed by Hollywood (black men like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were not allowed to appear sexy so as not to offend white sensibilities), in government films, ads and training films while watching such things was both revelatory and upsetting.

What was striking was how Baldwin's words transcended time and sound just as applicable to today's race conversation as they did then. "The world was never white," he says, reminding me of a cartoon I'd seen on Facebook earlier.

A white man and a Native American are listening as the radio announces that for the first time, non-white baby births have exceeded white baby births in the U.S. "Second time," the Native American says. Boom.

Tonight's film ended with Baldwin making the case that as a nation, we'll never get our act together until we deal with race and inequality, a fact of life that's not going to go away until we have hard talk and changed behavior.

Over Garnett's coconut cake with chocolate frosting, Mac and I agreed that between Baldwin's words and Haitian director Raoul Peck's chosen visuals, it was too much to process in one viewing.

That's undoubtedly a good thing because it provides incentive to experience it again and reconsider the talking points Baldwin so eloquently stated throughout the film.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Truth in a time when we couldn't need it more.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight I'm Going to Dance

I've always found the Elbys a bit...Masturbatorial. The scene is good, but these felt like RVA giving itself a handjob without seeing what's really going on.

I think the phrase you're looking for is circle jerk.

So opined Facebook. After opting out last year, I gave the Elbys another shot last night, also breaking form by going with a date, albeit a couple date who'd spared no expense to outfit themselves in the evening's theme: the speakeasy era.

Overheard in the ladies' room during the soiree: "I can't believe I bought a hundred dollar dress and ended up wearing a $30 one."

Honey, you still got me beat by $30.

The best I could do was reaching to the very back of my closet and pulling out a black beaded dress I'd originally bought in 1997 for the first Library of Virginia Literary Awards and worn only once since. My only real effort, and it was minor, was crafting a stole of sorts from a fringed dress Pru had donated to the cause, tying a beaded choker around my neck and (gasp) putting on my mother's jade earrings.

I met a woman wearing a fabulous floor-length shell pink beaded dress and when I raved about it, she admitted it had been purchased as her wedding dress - "We dated for five straight years and I finally asked him if he was ever going to propose or did I have to?" - and now she's determined to wear it as much as possible.

As beautiful as it looked on her, I could understand why.

Some people's ensembles got the era right but not the day part. It was, after all, an evening affair, meaning that period bathing costumes (there were multiple) seemed a tad out of place. Not so all the fur stoles, headbands, fascinators, boas and of course, flasks.

Sitting in the theater waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, Pru commented that she'd ended up behind the tallest person in the theater. "And the brightest!" she whispered, alluding to the man's flamingo-colored blazer.

I overheard the group behind me discussing the nominees. When one pointed out that Mama J's gets nominated every year but she'd never been to it, her friend agreed, suggesting they make a date.

But it was when one asked, "Is it in Jackson Ward or Church Hill?" that I knew my intervention was required. Turning around in my seat (and no doubt dislocating a bead or two in the process), I brought the trio up to speed, answering their questions on what to order at Mama J's and the best and worst times to go, noticing midway through that the woman to my right was nodding as I spoke.

Have you been, I asked her rhetorically since why else would she be nodding in agreement. "Yes and you're right about all of it."

Nota Bene's owner Victoria took the very first award for Best New Restaurant, sounding honestly caught of guard by the win in a category with some supremely strong contenders: Laura Lee's, Shagbark and Spoonbread.

Chef of the year David Shannon looked magnificent accepting his award in black leather pants and stylish motorcycle jacket, but when he thanked his boyfriend for his patience with restaurant hours, Mr. Flamingo Jacket turned to his Republican-looking friend, rolling his eyes and making a disgusted face.

Knowing their thoughts on a matter which was none of their business only made it all the sweeter when David's restaurant L'Opossum won Restaurant of the Year at the end.

Earlier, while complimenting David's ensemble, I'd commented about how fun it is to see all the restaurant people out on the same night. He likened it to prom, but I couldn't relate since I hadn't gone to mine. Curious about his, he laughed and admitted that since he couldn't go with his boyfriend, they'd each gotten fake dates and gone as a foursome.

I told him how impressed I was that they'd gotten beards for prom and not just any prom, but one themed "Stairway to Heaven."

Now that I've been to Reservoir Distillery for a tasting, I could appreciate why they won Local Food or Beverage Product of the Year for their Rye Whiskey. When Triple Crossing Brewing Company won Brewery of the Year, I whispered to Pru that I'd been there several times and she looked at me like I had two heads.

For jazz, darling, solely for jazz.

Strong women corrected alternative facts. Before the award for Wine Program of the Year was announced, the hosts read from the judges' opinion, praising the winner for its global wine program. When Secco won, owner Julia wasted no time in correcting that statement. "Our wine list is not global, it's European."

Personally, I think the judge should have noticed that in the first place, but that's just me.

For the first time, the room where the party was held downstairs was large enough to accommodate all the attendees, although, as is standard at the Elbys, there were not enough bars set up. At one point, I counted 30+ people in line to get a glass of wine, meaning you may as well get in line again as soon as you get your first glass.

I call that a flawed system.

We made the food rounds, danced a little and as per usual with the Elbys, food and drink runs out in short order and everyone cuts out for an afterparty where the real fun happens. And, this year, the compliments.

Our group had decided on My Noodle for karaoke and as a restaurant owner I've known for 20 years and I headed to the garage side by side, he marveled at how much time had passed since we first met during the grunge era. It was when he said, "You're even more attractive now than when we met!" that I was reminded why it's good to have old friends.

My Noodle was already hopping and a song I didn't recognize was being sung only slightly off key by a couple when we walked in and the bartender squinted his eyes at me, saying, "I know you." In no time, we were handed shots of Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum, coincidentally by the guy who'd dated the woman in the pink wedding dress for five years before proposing.

The bartender I knew came from behind the bar to enthusiastically belt out Neil Diamond's "America" - I happen to know that Beau knew every word to that song - and I'm guessing by his polished perfromance that it wasn't his first time doing it, either.

When he finished showing off, he crafted cocktails for our group, mine a tequila, vermouth, pineapple and lime combo that appealed to a tequila-loving friend who ordered a repeat.

Other Elbys refugees arrived and before long the place was a wonderfully warm mass of humanity dancing, drinking, talking and flirting. At one point, I felt someone rhythmically bumping up against me and turned to see a woman using my backside to get my attention. It worked.

Our tweeting dictator wannabe would've hated how diverse the crowd was. I know I danced with no fewer than four successful immigrants and who knows what was going on with everybody else?

A guy who asked me to dance waited till we were on the so-called dance floor before assuring me that he and his wife have an open relationship, so he'd love to meet up with me away from the crowds.

I'm not going to lie, the dancing was great, but it was becoming clear that either the restaurant community is sex-starved or the Elbys make people horny.

Hardly surprising when you begin an evening in masturbatorial mode.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Everybody Cut Loose

Saturday nights don't always work out the way you expect them to.

When I'd first gotten tickets for HATTheatre's production of "Bill W. and Dr. Bob," the subject matter made my date decision for me.

Who better to see a play about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous with than the friend who will celebrate nine years of sobriety this summer? When we'd met in 2009, it was one of the first things he'd told me about himself - no doubt because he was barely a year sober at that point - and since then, I'd watched as he'd created a successful and satisfying post-drinking life.

So successful, in fact, that on Valentine's Day this week, he'd proposed to his girlfriend of the past year and tonight they were celebrating her birthday with a party.

Of course I'm incredibly happy for him and their future, but there went my date.

The friend I then invited had to cancel at the last minute because of a bout of vertigo, so I turned to another play lover who was unfortunately suffering with sinus problems. My final offer was received with great interest but no availability: he was having a dinner party tonight.

Clearly the powers that be intended for me to have a dateless Saturday night, a fact I accepted and exploited (chances are, I wouldn't have suggested to any of those companions that we begin at 821 Cafe, but with just me to please...) with pleasure.

Except I hadn't allowed for 821's proximity to the Altria Theater and tonight's Richmond Forum, so I had to throw back my black bean nachos at record speed before making the drive out Patterson to the sold out theater.

Snagging a single seat in the second row, I landed next to a guy (after tripping over his feet) also on his own, so once he apologized for his big feet, I couldn't resist asking what had attracted him to the play.

"My son is two years sober, but he almost died before he got sober, so I thought this would be interesting," he said. "Plus I got cut loose, so I'm always looking for things to do now." Seems that "cut loose" was his polite way of sharing that he was divorced.

Chatting revealed all kinds of information: that we'd arrived in Richmond within a year of each other, although he'd come from "downstate Illinois," so his move had been greater than mine. That he'd come tonight expecting a traditional stage and curtain, only to be informed what a black box theater was.

As the lights went down, he shared that he'd been to Al-Anon meetings himself, an apt segue to how the play began: with each character introducing himself and his situation in the style of AA meetings.

Telling the story of how two alcoholics - one a New York stockbroker and the other an Akron surgeon but both originally from Vermont ("Vermont is a good place to start a business for alcoholics") - who meet and discover that the road to recovery begins by sharing their story with another person who's been through the same liquor-induced hell, the play explores the early days of acceptance for alcohol as an incurable disease and not just weakness.

And while the production included much self-reflection on Bill and Bob's parts, it was also liberally laced with humor.

Are you Episcopalian?
No, I'm alcoholic.

But they're synonyms, right? And don'r get me started on the knowing and insightful words that came out of their wives' mouths before they started Al Anon together.

Loneliness becomes solitude...

At intermission, my seatmate and I picked up our getting-to-know each other conversation, beginning with his job buying furniture in Vietnam and China for importing here. What he likes about travel and what he avoids. He asked for suggestions on other theater companies to check out and returned the favor with book recommendations.

Then we moved on to our thoughts on the first act. He admitted that he'd done so much reading on the subject of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous that everything he'd seen so far was completely familiar to him.

Broken promises. Blackouts and memory loss. Compromised job skills. Inability to have a successful relationship. But he also mentioned the difficulties of trying to love someone who's been changed by alcohol and waiting for them to come alive again. Of the pain of watching a loved one slowly kill him or herself.

I was finding it fascinating to see how the tenets of AA had evolved as the two drunks, as they referred to each other, had tried to figure out how to best lead other drunks to sobriety. Finding the first one to try it on was the hardest part.

With his innate charm and winning smile, Chris Hester played Bill as a guy who could "talk a dog off a meat wagon" while Ken Moretti's Bob was older, more cynical and completely resigned to a life of lies, hidden binges and drying out. Yin and yang.

Both were heartbreaking in their own way, but also inspirational in their shared desire to show others what had worked for them: talking to someone else who'd been through it and establishing a support network of others who understood the struggle.

"It worked for my son," my new friend whispered as the cast got a standing ovation. "Great meeting you and I promise I'm going to check out some of those theater companies you told me about."

Sometimes you get the ideal date without even doing the inviting.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mistaken for Friends

The powers that be long ago decreed today as National My Way Day.

Seems that today has been designated as the day when the world revolves around how you want to do things. Which is kind of how I live every day, but apparently some people need permission to do so.

Not me. When I was a kid, my Mom told me that every day was Children's Day and I took that to heart, presuming that once I got to adulthood, every day would be Grown-Ups Day and since no one told me differently, I've been going the "My Way Day" route ever since.

For others, hope you enjoyed today.

Because February is Great American Pie Month, my day began by walking to Sugar and Twine with Mac for a brown butter apple hand pie enjoyed at an outside table on an unexpectedly nice morning next to a panting bulldog.

That my backside brushed the head of a guy sitting inside - but awfully close to the door - as we walked out was not my fault, but I apologized anyway. "No worries at all," the stranger said. "I enjoyed it."

Although this week is officially National Secondhand Wardrobe Week, let's be real here, every week of my life is secondhand wardrobe week, although my recommendation would be to rename it National Recycled Wardrobe Week to make it sound groovier.

A black and white geometric knit dress - worn backwards because I like the way the zipper looks in front - was tonight's recycled choice.

In honor of today being National Cabbage Day, I took a favorite eater out - because it's also International Friendship Week - to assist my hired mouth with heaping helpings of lamb, chicken and, yes, cabbage.

In further service of said week, I took that friend to TheatreLAB to see "Grand Concourse," part of the Acts of Faith Festival, and another superb opportunity to see how The Basement space had been transformed this time.

We were wowed by what a phenomenal job set designer David Melton had done nailing every detail of a basement church soup kitchen, from crucifixes and pictures of Jesus to posters of OSHA legalities and health requirements, with all the shelving, pots and pans and stores of food that a real kitchen would require.

That the story of good and evil, love and loss, mental illness and manipulation ended with the lead character realizing that some acts can never be forgiven - nor should they ever be - made it all worthwhile.

As for February's busy calendar, I find it fascinating that while it's International Friendship Week, it's also International Flirting Week. Could it be that simultaneous celebrations are in order?

Discuss. Because that's my way every day.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Put on Your Readers

These things are happening and this is the medium I use.

That about sums up Richmond-born photographer Leroy Henderson's explanation for why he's spent over 40 years taking pictures of the world around him, a philosophy he didn't share with the crowd at the VMFA until almost the end of his talk tonight.

Waiting for the talk to begin, I noticed a woman across the aisle shooting pictures with a disposable camera. Just as my brain was registering how long it had been since I'd last seen one, the two young photographers behind me picked up the thread.

Check it out, she's using a disposable camera.
That's funny, I was looking online for disposable cameras, but they're running like 5 or 10 dollars each. That's crazy!
What's wrong with that? Sounds about right. Where can you get them any cheaper?
Are you kidding? At thrift stores in Pennsylvania, they're going for 2 or 3 dollars.

First they appropriated old Polaroid cameras and now, apparently, they're into disposables. These kids today.

Leroy's first camera had been a Brownie Hawkeye (which I knew of only because my Grandmother had had one), followed by a small bellows camera he'd sit on the piano just so he could admire it. I was amazed to hear that when he went in the army, he was allowed to carry his camera ("I had a very progressive first sergeant") and took pictures of his fellow soldiers cleaning their guns and drilling.

But we didn't see any of those photographs tonight, instead focusing on his work from the 60s, 70s and 80s, all in black and white, before a brief foray into color work from 2016.

It's striking to look at images such as his from the '60s and '70s because the world they captured looks so quaint and old-fashioned.

A black waiter in a white uniform serves a white family in a train's dining car. A young black boy sits in front of a poster of old white guys: Nixon, Humphrey, Rockefeller, McCarthy, Reagan and George Wallace. Multiple images of immaculately-dressed children navigating muddy Resurrection City on the Mall during the Poor People's Campaign in '68.

When a photograph of a young black ballet student standing in front of a bas relief at the Brooklyn Music School came up, Leroy said that photo had been very good to him, meaning he had sold a limited run of it. One of his customers had been Oprah, who had asked for a 10% discount.

Some people got a lot of nerve, that's all I'll say about that.

A 1973 shot of a family strolling through Central Park showed a shirtless Dad, Mom in short shorts ("Some of you all might not know, but those are hot pants," he explained) and two naked children, both with shoes and socks on.

But what had caught his eye and tickled his fancy was that the toddler girl had a purse hanging on her naked shoulder.

Lots of famous faces showed up, too. An older Rosa Parks looking at a poster of Malcolm X  at the Black Political Convention in Indiana in '72. A hip-looking young Jesse Jackson in MLK medallion, bell bottoms and vest. Muhammed Ali with the Jackson 5 ("To Ali's right, that's Michael, back when he was still black"). Angela Davis at a rally in '75 just after she'd been taken off the FBI's Most Wanted List, speaking behind bulletproof screens.

The photographs taken last year in color were jarring, as much because everything else had been black and white as because they'd been shot at anti-Trump rallies during the campaign, making for a vivid reminder of how early the resistance began.

Because there were so many great photographs to see and stories to share with the crowd, the talk ran long, but no one was going anywhere as long as this talented, humorous and insightful man was talking.

The last part of the evening was dedicated to him sharing how touched he was by the VMFA's attention to his body of work.

Earlier, the VMFA's director had said the museum is dedicated to correcting the fact that Leroy has never been given proper credit for his place in the annals of American 20th century photography.

Seems they've not only bought many of his photographs, but are determined to amass the best Civil Rights photo collection in the country. Could our museum be any cooler?

Leroy said he was impressed that so many interested people had come out to hear his talk tonight, but mainly that he'd been lucky enough to do what he loved for so long.

When I interviewed him a few years ago, the renaissance of interest in his work had only recently begun, but even then, his sunny attitude about life oozed gratitude for how life had turned out for a Richmond boy possessing a way with a camera.

Afterward, I wasn't the only one who headed upstairs to the photography gallery to take in the just-opened exhibit, "A Commitment to Community: The Black Photographers Annual Volume 1," which included several of Leroy's pieces but also pretty much laid out the compelling state of black photography circa 1973.

One showed a trio of cops at a protest rally who'd been pushing the crowd - including Leroy- from behind with nightsticks. He whipped around and caught the unpleasant looks on their face, nightsticks pointed, at close range.

A masterful move, but he he also acknowledged that it would be too risky a thing for a black man to do in 2017. But photography is Leroy's medium.

During the 8+ years I've been writing this blog, I can't count the number of times someone has suggested I add photos to it. I'm not sure if they get tired of reading all my verbiage (there's a reason this blog is called what it is) or just prefer illustrated tomes, but it's nothing I'd ever consider.

I'm just going to quote the most talented photographer who ever wanted to take my picture and leave it at that.

These things are happening and this is the medium I use.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

People's Parties

If it hadn't been for getting a grape scratch and sniff Valentine showing purple pterodactyls, I'd never have laid eyes on the 20-year old bottle of Chivas Regal found crusted with dust.

"Where you been?" was scrawled on the back of the card atop the official Valentine message ("Flying by with a Valentine Hi!"), but what caused me to pick up the landline was that it had arrived in the mail uncharacteristically a day late.

Every year since I've known Holmes, he's bought a package of kiddie Valentine cards and mailed them to friends like me and family, where they arrived punctually on Valentine's Day, occasionally the day before. Not this year.

Procrastination delayed Cupid's delivery, I was told, but as long as he was questioning my whereabouts the past two months, I was offering myself up. Tonight. Not that he'd missed me, but why didn't I join him and Beloved for dinner at Peter Chang? Tonight.

It was a rhetorical question that landed us at the bar catching up over three kinds of soup, shrimp dumplings, multiple orders of sesame noodles and bamboo flounder to the accompaniment of a bottle of Rose in just over an hour, allowing ample time to retire to his man cave to listen to vinyl.

Which we did, beginning with Joni Mitchell's 1974 masterpiece "Court and Spark," which everyone was enjoying when Holmes eased back in his bar stool and and asked inscrutably, "You know how I used to listen to this album?"

Without missing a beat, Beloved causally asked, "Stoned on LSD?" which may or may not have been the case, but turned out to be merely a stepping stone to the tale of his successive stereo closets, a saga full of arcane detail no man should recall after 40 years.

Seems that when he and his young bride bought their first house, the closet in the front room had already been modified to house some serious audio geek hi-fi equipment. It was the '70s, after all.

Shelves were hung for components, holes had been drilled for wire and cords and, on either side of the wall above the door were sizable hooks, the better to hold sizable speakers, which were further fortified by two chains to hold each speaker.

Naturally, the speakers were angled toward the couch, not hung exactly straight out. Naturally.

But because the layout was typical Richmond - long and narrow - speaker wire had also been run throughout the house so you could hear what was playing when you were in the bedroom or, even more important, on the rear sun porch.

And that, boys and girls, was how Holmes had listened to "Court and Spark" back in the day.

But, alas, eventually the wife wanted an entire house and not just a duplex, meaning the hep cat hi-fi set-up was left behind. Ah, but at the new digs, he had a basement with the potential to be a true man cave with a bar, shelves for VHS movies and a small room for his extensive comic book collection.

He tried putting the turntable on the Formica bar, but flailing drinkers and good times soon proved that to be a disaster-in-the-making.

But, wait! The stairs to the basement ran above the bar, leaving a wedge of space that someone handy (Holmes hired a carpenter) could easily turn into another stereo construct. The only difference was that his massive speakers now sat on the floor of the rec room, angled in toward the bar, under which were shelves holding hundreds of albums and a ridiculous amount of booze.

"It's kind of sketchy down there," Holmes tells me tonight, gesturing at the below-bar area, explaining that he'd dropped the brush to his Disc-Washer (for what it's worth, I didn't date a single guy in high school or college who didn't own a Disc Washer) down there recently and when he began rummaging around, he'd unearthed the dust-crusted bottle of Chivas Regal.

Best guessing and carbon dating led him to estimate its age at 20 to 25 years old.

Ever thrifty and resourceful, he'd removed the layers of dust and debris, found a silver tin for the bottle to live in and added Chivas into his brown sipping rotation. It's hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Next came one of Beloved's estate sale record finds, Tony Mottola's "Mr. Big" from 1959, a late Eisenhower-era lounge vibe that made it sound like an automatic beatnik party: four guitars, bongos and congas. Wild, man.

The cover art was superb: a black bowler hat with "Mr. Big" in white letters sitting on a red stripe. Graphically, it was distinctive enough that I scanned the album notes to learn the artist's name (Irwin Rosenhouse), but also some history (he was a Merchant Marine), only to be brought up short by the equivalent of a business card.

In addition to painting, Rosenhouse does designing and illustrating on a freelance basis.

Somebody had some serious marketing chops there. So much so I'm thinking of putting something similar on a t-shirt I'll wear on my daily walks: In addition to walking, I do writing and editing on a freelance basis.

Then when someone asks, "Where you been?" I can say out drumming up business. Cue the bongos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Wit is Nothing to Her

There are so many metaphors to be found in the goings-on of a busy Valentine's Day.

It's when your first "Happy Valentine's Day" comes from a stranger on Broad Street but is quickly followed by one from your walking companion who's already heard it from her honey.

Like today's soundtrack, whether my new Prince albums (home), classics like "Torn" and "Love is a Battlefield" (dinner) or the sweeping innuendo of James, which greeted me at the theater.

Got a dark heart for Valentine's Day? Looking to fill that empty space in your life with food? Come, be alone...together!

With the promise of angst-filled love/hate songs like "Don't Speak" and cheap food, it wasn't hard for a dark heart to be seduced by the Lonely Hearts pop-up mixer at Citizen, where I took the sole remaining bar stool directly in front of the kitchen and was immediately handed a bowl of spiced chickpeas.

Butternut tamales with mole and BBQ shrimp with bread for sopping smokey broth followed by flourless chocolate almond cake delivered satisfying sustenance while the kitchen provided the entertainment, succeeding at making me laugh a lot.

Whether touting the uses of tongs ("They just invented them!") or telling his assistant how best to start a pastry cone, the chef kept his suggestions terse. "If you have to force it, you're doing it wrong."

When I said, "That's what she said," my server was at my side in an instant, saying, "I'm glad it was you that said it." You're welcome.

When we touched on the loud, pulsing club vibe of District 5's Sunday brunch scene, the assistant pronounced the place a "UR bro scene," a subset of the collegiate population I disdain as much for the large purses and high-maintenance looking women as for their inability to parallel park.

Tonight's crowd was anything but.

Next to me was a guy who seemed to always be a dish or two ahead of me - but somehow managed to eat through $57 worth of food but barely drank, significant when everything was priced at $4, $5, and $6 - while marveling that I live without a cell phone.

'How can you do that?" he asked. Too general a question. Ask me specifics of how I do things, sir.Yet, he said he loved being overseas and not having a phone for the freedom it afforded him.

Interesting compartmentalization, right?

When I asked for my check, my server looked surprised. "You don't want to stay for the rest of the playlist?"

Kind of, sure, but I have tickets for a Valentine's Day show. Besides, as soon as I got in my car, "Love is for Lovers" came on and you can't do much better than the dbs for a soundtrack today.

James' "Laid" provided the soundtrack as I took a seat at the Comedy Coalition for "It's Complicated," an evening of sketch comedy done in a variety format, kind of like "Laugh In" with different recurring characters and scenes and new bits throughout.

Next to me was a comedic couple from Chicago who moved here two years ago and recently landed in Barton Heights, which they love for its easy access to everything. Behind me, I overheard some young comedic types kvetching. "Man, that goes all the way back to Belushi and Akyroid."

The way he said it, he could have just as easily said Abbott and Costello. Or Fred and Barney.

"Now when I go back and visit Chicago, I go to the Tower and cool shit, which I never did when I lived there. My family always just went to the museums," another voice says. Bummer of a childhood, dude.

"It's Complicated" ran the gamut of relationship issues from distasteful (daughter sings a song at parents' suburban cocktail party to tell them the neighbor's been abusing her) to film geeky (parents square off over the appropriateness of letting children watch "Star Wars" prequels) to topical (a duo tries out for a wedding gig but all their songs turn out to be activist songs - "But policy change brought us together!" the bride laments - so not exactly right for a reception).

A recurring bit involved two old broads, one with an eye patch, the other formerly married to a stuntman, at a bar drinking bloody Marys and ruminating on life. "As a child, I always wanted to be divorced," Eye Patch says. "I always wanted to be a widow. It's why I married a stuntman," the cigarette-smoking other says.

Some humor was overwhelmingly millennial, like a sketch about a guy's meticulous preparations to pop the question, only to have his girlfriend guess immediately and upset everything. When she runs roughshod over his speech about bower birds feathering a nest by calling her mother, he says, "Could you just stop? I've put a lot of work into this presentation."

He didn't want a trophy, just her attention.

In between sketches, there were commercials for "Scwartzman Diamonds, Cupid's Jeweler," focusing on inter-tribal warfare over diamond mining, stealing diamonds from tombs and other blood diamond concerns that always ended with a slow fade to a couple embracing and in love.

A dating game show called "You're Too Thirsty" ("thirsty" being a euphemism for "needy") involved three bachelors taking questions from a bachelorette about important relationship concerns such as how soon he would return a text, while another sketch had a nobleman falling in love with Alexa (and, yes, I know what Alexa is, smartypants) although he couldn't figure out why she didn't return his love.

Or answer his questions when he didn't say her name just right.

The three tenets of marriage - active listening, creativity and teamwork - were taught to a prospective son-in-law by the girl's vaguely psychotic Dad, who tested him with sports trivia, intruder scenarios and viable conspiracy theories.

One of which involved '60s musicians in Laurel Canyon with parents working for military intelligence and how they made music that created secret brain slaves to the Doors' Jim Morrison.

Confidentially, I think the Doors' Jim Morrison may have had enough overt sex slaves to preclude the need for any secret brain slaves, although it makes for a solid contender for a conversational heart: B MY SBS.

But it's Citizen who gets the award for most romantic. Each item of food was listed on the receipt as "Lonely Hearts," so you know they put a lot of work into that presentation.

If you have to force at laugh at that, you're doing Valentine's Day wrong.