Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We Have Lift-Off

All it took was girl parts to finally get me interested in the history of the space program.

When a fellow music-lover suggested that it would be nice to have something scheduled soon, my first thought was a movie and he bit. I'd been wanting to see "Hidden Figures" since it opened (with nearly hourly shows, Movieland is making it easy) and here was someone I could discuss it with, albeit a man.

Worried about being late as we walked in, he was reassured when I said all we'd miss would be trailers to bad movies (really, do we need a new Smurf movie?), a promise fulfilled. I'm convinced the worst part of seeing award-worthy films is having to sit through mass market previews.

The film had interested me not only because it was based on a true story about brilliant women, but because of the long white-washed history books that made no mention of the black STEM superstars who calculated the country's way to John Glenn orbiting of earth.

How did they get away with leaving women out of the history books for so long anyway?

I stand in awe of mathematical and scientific minds because I have so little inclination that way. The idea of spending hours at a blackboard working out analytical geometry problems (like our heroine did) is so foreign, I can't even conceive of how they begin to figure. My brain doesn't work that way.

Because the movie was full of episodes a woman could easily relate to - being under-payed for the same work, seeking work/life balance with kids, looking for love, getting equal credit for shared work - even 50 years later, it occurred to me about halfway through that my date might think I'd dragged him to a chick flick (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Lo and behold, I couldn't have been more wrong. Turns out he's an avid student of the U.S. space program, yet despite extensive reading on its history, had not encountered the story of these black "computers" who figured out the projections that got NASA off the ground and eventually back to earth.

So he thought it was a fascinating story.

For those of us with far less space savvy, the movie was also a visual history lesson, complete with actual news footage from the '60s inter-cut to clarify each attempt and failure as the country raced to show Russia who was who when it came to the final frontier.

The astronauts came across less like the sanitized media portrayals of the day and more like who they must have actually been at the time: young, cocky adrenaline junkies eager to do something nobody had done before and become a new American hero.

Lots of testosterone.

Ultimately, the movie satisfied on many levels besides sharing history and telling a terrific story, because seeing these smart women go on to long, successful careers and lives seems to me affirmation for finding what you love and doing it.

Not that I needed history to reinforce that around here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You the Man

The time is always right to do what is right. ~ MLK

Seemed like the right thing to do tonight was to walk over to the VCU Depot for a candlelight vigil for Martin Luther King.

When Mac and I got there, there couldn't have been more than a dozen people there, but within no time, the number had grown to many dozens and we'd all been handed white candles to carry. A VCU student sang a song and we were instructed by an organizer to walk two abreast in an orderly line as we made our way to the Student Commons for remarks.

His next instruction was couched in the usual millennial manner. "This is a silent vigil, so please refrain from talking...if you can." As if to say, if you just can't shut up for five blocks, we understand.

What??

As we proceeded in an orderly manner, complete with a VCU police escort along side us, it was in a mostly silent manner (a few people just couldn't resist talking to a friend), our breath visible as we moved slowly through campus.

After the first couple of blocks, the silence became so enveloping that the conversations of passersby seemed unnaturally loud and intrusive while in some cases, people would notice the silence hanging over the march and lower their voices,although not quite sure why.

There was a stirring solemnity to the vigil - it was tempting to get lost in watching the small flame flickering in your own hand - that was frequently overshadowed by the sound of shutters closing as hordes of cameramen walked and ran alongside us, shooting our faces, our marching feet, our candles.

It must be what being a model on a runway feels like, except we weren't there to be looked at or photographed.

Walking into the ballroom at VCU to find few seats available beyond the first row (we took them), we heard, appropriately enough, Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" right up until a student in a fraternity jacket got up and gave what sounded like a poorly-delivered book report on King and his accomplishments, leaving out most of the highlights.

He was also extremely careful about his word choices, using "African-American" and studiously avoiding using "black" as if it were the n-word. Fortunately, he was just the prelude to a slide show of mostly old black and white photographs while we listened to King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech.

When it concluded, we agreed that we were both glad we'd come.

After a quick dinner of chicken and lamb shawarmas at Doner Kebab while listening to middle-eastern dance music and admiring sunny posters of Syrian landscapes and buildings that probably don't exist any longer, we headed to the Byrd.

Standing at the front of the line for the late show, a young mixed race couple came walking down the sidewalk and inquired what we were waiting for.

I didn't just tell them that we were waiting to see Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," I wondered out loud why they weren't planning to see a classic black film and one of the top movies of the '80s as well.

He was black, had seen it with his parents when he was 12 and been underwhelmed at its lack of CGI effects and high-definition production values. So old fashioned.

As you might guess, this was catnip to me since the notion of style winning out over substance is not one that holds any water for me. Before long, he was explaining how his generation needs to be entertained (she said they all have attention deficit) constantly, so why risk the uncertainty of human interaction when you've got the reliability of Reddit?

I'm not kidding, he said that.

We went on to spend enough time talking about race relations, millennial malaise, sexual exploitation and the value of old movies to the point that she eventually admitted she'd never seen the film and was a little curious. Next thing we knew, she was in the line to buy a ticket, so of course he joined her, despite having dissed the film repeatedly.

Come on, he was 20 years old and she was pretty. He's going to go where she wants to go.

As luck would have it, they wound up in the row right in front of us so we could further the conversation. He was still leery about having to sit through the film (which I assured him would resonate differently now from how it had at 12), so I leaned forward to reassure him that his parents would approve, that this is where he should be on this holiday.

"I'm doing the right thing," he said, cracking himself and me up at his humor.

It had been so many years since I'd seen "Do the Right Thing" that there were some surprises along the way. The trio of men sitting by the wall and constantly commenting on the street theater played as completely real, especially the deeply dimpled Sweet Dick Willy who insists it's never too hot for sex and made me laugh out loud when he saw a pretty girl and said, "Oh,, Lord, I better not see her on payday!"

I hadn't remembered Samuel L. Jackson as the DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy, dropping gems such as, "Today's temperature's gonna rise up over 100 degrees, so there's a Jheri Curl alert. If you have a Jheri curl, stay in the house or you'll end up with a permanent black helmet on your head fo-evah!"

And I certainly didn't recall derogatory references to Trump and his hotel.

But the final scene had been burned into my brain, or perhaps the believable violence just seemed too current and real even then not to make a lasting impression, but after 28 years, it still left me pondering and us discussing what the right thing was.

When the lights came up, we reconvened our discussion group about the production and content value of the film, diving so far into it that it was only an usher calling to us from the doors, "Hey, it's time to leave!" that got us moving.

On the other hand, Mac and I had been the sole reason two 20-somethings not only talked to strangers, but sat through a classic piece of black cinema tonight and, for that reason, I have no doubt we did the right thing.

In the words of Mister Senor Love Daddy, that's the double truth, Ruth.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Beats Per Minute of a Life

Breakfast at home aside, it may be a personal best land eating record for one day.

Consider:
chicken and waffles from GWAR Bar
an everything bagel shmeared with chive cream cheese from Nate's Bagels
bread pudding from Spoonbread
quinoa, spinach and mandarin salad from Tarrant's
a sweet roll (or two) from WPA Bakery
tuna crudo from Culinard
fish dip, spaghetti squash pancakes with harissa yogurt and Rouet Brut Rose at Secco
Old Salte oysters, deviled crab cake with pimento cheese and Lawrence "Sex" sparkling Rose at Rapp Session
Moroccan mint tea at Maple & Pine
squid pancake and spicy sweet wings at J Kogi
Espolon on ice at Saison

While it sounds like I did nothing but eat and drink for an entire day and night, you should know that the truth is far more interesting.

Luckily it's only 4 blocks away because by 11 a.m. I had to be at the Black History Museum for Afrikana Film Fest's "Movies and Mimosas brunch" where the event's founder welcomed black folks and black-minded folks to the sold-out event.

Having been raised by atypically black-minded folks in a very white neighborhood back during the shank of the white-focused 20th century, I took to the descriptor.

Besides gorging ourselves on a veritable feast (and I didn't even have room for Comfort's Nutella and banana French toast), we were all there to see "Soundtrack for a Revolution," a stellar 2009 documentary about the key role music played in the civil rights movement creating solidarity and encouraging participants to carry on when things got tough.

Practically every important face of the era - Julian Bond, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte - showed up as a talking head between graphic news footage of white policemen terrorizing peaceful black protesters/freedom riders and modern-day musicians  - John Legend, the Roots, Wyclef Jean - playing some of the protest songs in a modern way.

Not to brag, but it was only my first Questlove sighting of the day.

Of course songs had been written about racist governor George Wallace (not that I knew that before) with lyrics such as, "He must be removed, like a can of garbage in the alley..."

I can only imagine how much coarser and pointed the protest language would be today if a song was written about an unpopular elected official.

As is often the case with Afrikana's events, the discussion afterward was positively illuminating. One millennial was agog to learn that King had been 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott, having assumed that a leader had to be a middle-aged man. Another admitted that after witnessing the recent Twitter fracas denigrating John Lewis' role in the movement, he'd been amazed to see so much footage of Lewis at the very front of marches, right there with King.

One of the oddest comments came from someone who insisted that we must not look down on those whose sole contribution to moving social justice forward is sharing a post, Instagramming a picture or re-tweeting, insisting that such "actions" are as good as live participation in meetings, marches and movements.

"Don't judge others if that's how they choose to participate," she instructed the room twice. Interestingly enough, I have repeated this story to several people now, every single one of whom has reacted with incredulity, insisting that they are nowhere close to the same level of involvement.

The big announcement at the end of the brunch, that Afrikana is bringing - wait for it, because I about exploded when I heard - activist Angela Davis to town was enough to send me scurrying to the lobby to score a ticket as quickly as possible. I was #2 in line to nab mine. Angela Davis!

From there, it was on to the also sold-out Break It Down panel with Questlove at VMFA on the subject of food, music and creativity led by writer Todd Kliman who was clever enough to reference Carol Merrill, Faulkner, Run DMC and Maria Callas, use a white board and test the audience's literacy with references to articles in the "Washington Post" and "New Yorker."

The panelists had ties to food, music or both, although it was a major disappointment to see a sole woman on a panel of six with a male moderator. It's 2017 for heavens' sake, how is it a token woman is still okay?

Q teased the crowd by coming out when chef Mike Derks' name was called and then disappearing again. He told the crowd that a Roots fan, a true Roots fan would own all 17 of their albums. How despite 20 years in the band, he's only learned the craft of songwriting in the past five. How working with Virginia's own D'Angelo made him a more human drummer.

When he mentioned that his record collection was up to 80,000, there was an audible gasp in the room, but he also acknowledged that he'll never get time to hear them all. So what's the point?

Particularly insightful on the subject of millennials, the 45-year old expressed a hope that they learn the art of patience and develop a knack for boredom, since nothing spurs creativity more than being bored.

There's a message that needs to get out.

Panelist and singer Natalie Prass, looking 60s fabulous in matching flowered tunic and bell bottoms over a white blouse, regaled the crowd with an improvised song based on the images on the white board and also gave us a few bars of her middle school band's hit song, "Mangoes," inspired by her bandmate's parents getting mad when the kids ate all the mangoes in the house.

The panel closed out by taking audience questions, including a guy up front who asked the panelists about the rhythm of their own lives and if it had shifted at some point.

"Good job, Guy in the Front Row!" Kliman said about the final question, which elicited thoughtful answers from all, including Q, who allowed that the BPMs of his life had varied as wildly as his drumming does.

As the slow-moving crowd shuffled out, my companion and I headed to Secco to beat the crowds and admire the owner's orange cast, then to Rapp Session where a kindly server gave us a happy hour menu (3-6 p.m.) and told us we could order off it until 7. Score.

By 9, I was sipping tea at Quirk, catching up with an out-of-town friend - in the seven years of our friendship, we're lucky to see each other twice a year - and planning how to paint the town red on a Sunday evening in my eminently walkable neighborhood.

The fact that we both had so much news to share meant that by the time we said hello to the panel organizer and escaped the hotel, it was almost 10, never an easy time to eat well on Sunday night...except when you're in the mood for Korean street food, which we were.

Knowing J Kogi was open till 2 a.m. encouraged us to linger in the back-most table next to six chattering young women and a large sack of volleyballs, but it also meant that by the time we got to The Rogue Gentleman, they were closing down.

Saison saved the night, welcoming us in with a couple of prime bar stools, a Boulevardier for him and Espolon for me. We were deep in conversation about life changes when I overheard a familiar voice behind me and turned to see a favorite deep-voiced liquor rep who briefly joined our tete-a-tete.

Going back down the conversational rabbit hole, I came back up briefly when a favorite chef arrived, hugging me bear-style and telling me he was just looking to see what kind of trouble he could get into, essentially the same reason we were there.

Strolling back through Jackson Ward just before 2 a.m., we paused under an awning to sum up our latest get-together since he was heading home in the morning.

Describing his last year as "storm-tossed," he tossed out a compliment, saying that our evening had provided a much-needed dose of equilibrium and distraction thanks to me.

My last year, while not quite a storm, has certainly been a game-changer as well. It felt good to spend hours talking to someone else in flux

It was a Sunday for the books in many ways, but I'm not here to tell you it was perfect. Did you see any dessert on that list of non-stop eating? You did not.

Chocolate, you were the only thing missed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Birth of the Cool

Because this:

We, the humble members of  the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, are trying to initiate a jazz-themed monthly series at Gallery 5. This would be our initial attempt at such a  foolish endeavor.

So with that kind of can-do spirit and the abundance of talent consistently on display here, it's little wonder that gushing articles about the delights of Richmond keep showing up in the national press. Let me tell you, a non-local travel writer would have a field day trying to convey the abundance of cool here.

From the trendy Quirk Hotel, walk a short two blocks to Gallery 5, a quaint 19th century firehouse that now houses an art gallery and hosts a music stage. 

If you're lucky, you may stumble into a dimly-lit show of local talent such as the Richmond Avant Improv Collective. The ever-changing line-up could be dropping cymbals, rattling chains and riffing on Italian music scores while a woman sings in a voice that sounds otherworldly with Hudson Valley jazz fusion guitarist Lucas Brode sitting in. That's the kind of thing five bucks buys you on a Saturday night in Richmond.

Come on, you're reading this in Des Moines as you plan your trip to the capital of the Confederacy to experience battlefields and all of a sudden, you're getting a clue that Richmond may be way cooler than what your aunt Betty told you it was after her trip there in the '80s.

With Richmond's vibrant music scene, you're going to have to make hard choices, especially on a weekend night. Do you want to hang out at the funky Gallery 5 and hear Yeni Nostlji playing '60s Turkish pop music and original material - a song title translates as "Don't You Dare Take Me Lightly" - inspired by that sound sung in a throaty female voice and accompanied by guitar, maracas and whistling? 

Maybe you'd prefer a tenth anniversary show at the Broadberry featuring No BS Brass band, a 13-piece ensemble of horns and drums born out of VCU's Jazz Studies program. At tucked away Sound of Music, you could catch indie rock from the Trillions, a group of nerdy scientific types with masterful musical chops and boundless energy. 

All ages feel welcome at Richmond's venues, where you might spot a keyboard player sporting a fur Cossack-style hat and belted coat in a nod to mid-60s-esque Dr. Zhivago style heading outside for a cigarette before her band's set. Welcome to Richmond, where eccentric is the norm.

The thing is, a visiting writer would be hard pressed not to leave with a favorable impression, no matter what the angle of the piece might be. Richmond is a place where people talk to strangers and simply eavesdropping on conversations would be a good indicator of the kind of locals a visitor might encounter out.

Spend some time in the architecturally significant neighborhoods known as Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward for galleries, arthouse films, a comedy club, live theater and music.

It's the kind of place where you'll hear a musician telling a jewelry maker she painted her earrings to match her fingernail polish before tonight's performance. Or a couple of writers trading book recommendations on the Civil Rights era. After getting down on the concrete floor to shoot, a photographer will explain what a pain it used to be to have to change a roll of film mid-performance. A place where a singer will call out hello from the stage to a late-arriving friend.

Richmond's high quality of life and low cost of living make it a hotbed for practically everyone to indulge their artistic impulses on the side.

And don't get me started on how so many of the national articles I read about Richmond regurgitate the same "hot spots" rather than cluing in an out-of-towner to some of the city's lesser known charms and secrets.

Fans of world music as well as Dead followers who like to dance (or is that redundant?) should check local listings to see if the long-running Hotel X is playing. Their improvisational takes on songs about cul-de-sacs and dedications to Jamaican guitarists often culminate in a Senegalese prayer for peace while fans allow their bodies to interpret the music in a scene that wouldn't have been out of place at a '60s "happening." 

Richmond's got its groove on and it's an organic one that grew out of a scene that relied on local momentum and not mainstream move-ins. Richmond's hip quotient is not be taken lightly, but not heavily, either.

Man, this stuff practically writes itself. Too bad I was just a music-lover at a show tonight and not a travel writer on assignment.

Otherwise, I might have shared the secret to our charm: Richmond excels at trying foolish endeavors and showing up to witness them makes you part of it all. Fur hat not required.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post-Midnight City

As M83 would say, hurry up, we're dreaming.

Vorfreude aside, when an outing begins with the presumption that trouble will find you and ends on hold - not once but twice, mind you - someone's bound to describe it as a wonderful evening.

Even if it takes almost eight hours to reach that conclusion.

At Pasture for drinks and curry cauliflower, a wall map of the state's geology results in the devoted urban dweller being teased about being a devotee of Virginia's coastal plain and light-heartedly chided for not venturing to the western part of the state more often.

I say give me a reason and I'll get in the car.

With my back to a young woman at the bar, I overhear her bemoaning how she feels like a cougar ogling young male actors in movies. I can't let that go, so I whirl around and tell her to imagine how I feel at the movies admiring younger men.

"Yeah, but you've earned the right to do whatever you want!" she tells me, a perfect stranger. I lean in and assure her I already do anything I want without compunction.

"Ooh, can we hang out? Can I have your phone number? What's your name?" she eagerly asks, sounding for all the world like a fangirl of a middle aged woman. I'll take it, but only because there don't seem to be fanboys of the same.

The crowd at CentreStage for the Richmond Symphony's casual Friday concert is a decidedly different one than what you'd see at a Masterworks concert: more diverse in age and race and many, many decibels louder as people take their seats and chatter.

In what has to be the bossiest thing I've yet to hear out of my ultra-polite companion's mouth, he commands me, "Move!" when yet another couple arrives at the end of row O, where we're seated. It's not that we mind getting up to allow late arrivals in, it's just easier for them not to have to climb over us.

This is not an agile crowd.

I silently nickname him Bossy Boots, moving over and rearranging. A tiny piece of paper flutters out of the side pocket of my purse - a fortune from a cookie eaten my first night in San Francisco last month.

Investigate new possibilities with friends. Now is the time!

Now BB really had something to chuckle about while I look around, noting other differences from a usual symphony performance, like the lights not being lowered for the performance and that there's a host making his way through the orchestra section with a mic, warming up the crowd.

What was especially cool, though, was that Jacques Houtmann, who'd conducted the R-Symphony from 1971-86 (so right up until I arrived in Richmond) had been tapped to lead tonight's performance of Franck's "Symphony in D Minor," which we were told in his charmingly French-accented English was particularly significant for its use of English horns (a first) and that it was written in only three movements.

Easier to digest for casual audiences, one presumes.

The program described the piece as a "cathedral of sound," which is sort of what I strive for in my living room with my turntable cranked to loud, but this was a different sort of cathedral. And while it wasn't an uplifting piece, I'm not about to complain about any aspect of starting my night surrounded by classical musicians playing.

Back on the pavement, we needed sustenance for more than the soul.

It was my first time in Maya, diagonally across from CentreStage, where I was immediately won over when I saw "tequileria" painted on the glass, found flights of tequila on the menu and heard a soundtrack playing loud enough to make things lively despite being isolated by a wall on the bar side.

I only had a bite, but his corn tamal with shrimp and scallops was stellar - sweet from corn and smoky from poblano - while my tilapia tacos suffered only for the pedestrian tortillas that cradled the fish, mango salsa, jicama, cabbage and jalapeno crema contents.

Libation-wise, my Espolon blanco won out hands down for how well it complemented both our dishes in a way that his COTU beer simply couldn't begin to match, for obvious reasons. Agave, tomatillo, poblano, hello?

Once sated, it was time to move on to my cathedral of sound for records, wine and a wide-ranging conversation that stayed fluid enough to take tangential tracks when a song lyric, a painting on my wall or a recounting of a conversation with mutual friends provoked something (the latter usually causing major laughter on his part).

I wish that I believed in fate
I wish I didn't sleep so late

Next thing you know, I'm listening to his defense of why he doesn't believe in fate, a point raised by the National's "Mr. November," a song about new blue-bloods and great white hopes. Perhaps he's both; I didn't inquire. I, on the other hand, made no defense for liking to sleep late.

I regaled him with stories from my recent past, including an evening with another friend who'd marveled at not having to "entertain" me after making me dinner because I was more than happy doing nothing more than conversing for pleasure and diversion.

We talked about people we know who are in it for the long game, despite the challenges. He explained the sonic reasons I need to ride my bike over the T Pot bridge. I let slip that I'm only 5'5", which is how he discovered I'm short.

Meanwhile, we listened to records: Lydia Loveless, Roxy Music, The National x 2, Arcade Fire, the XX.

The stars and the charts and the cards make sense
Only when we want them to
When I lie awake, staring into space
I see a different view

A tad long, but otherwise, I'd say that's practically fortune cookie material.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Whatcha See is Whatcha Get

It is a stellar January day when I can wear shorts the whole day long. You'd be amazed at what a conversation-starter they can be.

With temperatures already lounging in the upper '60s by the time I left for my walk, it was a foregone conclusion that I'd head to the river, where I spotted a stand-up paddleboarder from the top of the Second Street hill and enormous flocks of what looked like sea birds roosting in the river as I crossed the T Pot bridge.

I wasn't the only one happily wearing shorts to give my legs an airing - although I only saw three others among the sunny day throngs - but lots of sandals were proof positive that plenty of people were celebrating a 70 degree high only four days after suffering through a 19 degree high (which, incidentally felt like 8 with the wind chill factor).

Yesterday's high of 50 had been more than enough to lure me outside on any pretext, which is how a supposed quick errand to the drug store two blocks away somehow resulted in spontaneously dropping by my neighborhood record store.

Despite my wafer-thin wallet, I can justify a mid-afternoon visit to Steady Sounds because I don't mind being at the mercy of the $1 bins.

When I finally got a turntable a couple of months ago, my record collection (which hadn't been played in decades) numbered around 100, which probably represents about half of what I'd owned before friends borrowed and didn't return and mates absconded with choice albums when we parted ways.

But it didn't matter because I hadn't heard any of them in so long and I owned very few of them on CD. So I set out to listen to the records of my youth, a fascinating process that showed me how much of my current musical taste was shaped back then.

What I mean is, I can hear now that Grin led me directly to Ryan Adams. Thanks, Nils.

I lasted exactly ten days (and listened to about 80% of my collection) before I just couldn't stand it anymore and hit two record stores in one day, netting probably close to 20 albums, almost all of which cost a whopping $1 a piece.

And here's the beauty of shopping the cheapo bins: it affords me the chance to revisit long-stolen faves as well as indulge in guilty pleasures I'd never have allowed myself to buy back then. Recent additions such as Spandau Ballet, the Thompson Twins and Taylor Dane would've all been off limits to a certain kind of music snob (my best friend recently reminded me I used to chide her for listening to pop music) in the '80s.

A locked door on a candy store
That's what you are

So now the world knows, I even picked up a Paul Carrack album. I feel like only Holmes will give me credit for that.

Another pleasure of the $1 bins is the chance they offer to go deeper on music I only know about superficially. I now own Roberta Flack, the Chi-Lites and the Dazz Band, for whatever that's worth. And the Dramatics' album, hell, I've already played that 3 or 4 times in the 30 hours I've owned it.

Some people are made of plastic
And, you know, some people are made of wood
Some people have hearts of stone
Some people are up to no good
But, baby, I'm for real
I'm as real as real can get

Back from interviewing two artists at a church (after going to the wrong church initially because apparently all churches are the same to me), I found an email from my 84-year old Dad with the subject line "Music." What's this?

"Are you familiar with a song "Black Coffee in Bed" by Squeeze?"

I'm a tad surprised at this inquiry, but assure him I do know Squeeze (although I only own them on CD, not album) and inquire if he likes them.

"Indeed! I have to get the CD that has 'Black Coffee in Bed' on it!"

This new-found enthusiasm for Squeeze cracks me up, so I send him the link to buy the CD still pondering why a New Wave band's song spoke to my father. Could it be he can relate to black coffee in bed? I probably don't need to know.

Now she's gone
And I'm out with a friend
With lips full of passion 
And coffee in bed

I only hope I'm still discovering music when I'm 84. And no matter my age, I know I'll still be wearing shorts every warm day that comes along, even in January.

Cause that's as real as real can get. And the real thing, I've been told, is the best thing yet.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Let's Go in the Talking Room

The time to make up your mind about people is never.

The time to make plans to see one of the pithiest romantic comedies of the past 75 years - and make reservations at Spoonbread - was weeks ago. Pru and Beau collected me shortly before sunset and we navigated around VCU because of tonight's basketball game, of which we were all completely unaware.

We landed upstairs at Spoonbread this visit, sipping Left Coast Pinot Noir and eating ourselves into a stupor with the aid of an affable server who lavished attention on us, including crawling under teh table to wedge folded paper to stop the table from doing the see-saw.

Talk about clever, an amuse bouche of especially decadent pimento cheese rested in an edible cracker spoon with swipes of spinach aoili and tomato fondue for dipping. "If we used edible spoons all the time, we'd never have to wash silverware again," Pru noted with delight.

I got to hear about one of Beau's Christmas presents to Pru, a laser-cut listing of all the rules of the house (hers, that is), all of which he's gradually learned over the course of the relationship, stipulations such as "don't bring up a topic unless you can go deep on it." True enough.

The most succinct: "Mix wit, sarcasm and profanity. Shake well." This is one of those house rules that follows us wherever we go, so it's actually more of a lifestyle rule, just as applicable in situations far from home.

Meanwhile, the menu had fresh appeal. Not going to lie, this frequent diner was terribly impressed to see changes and tweaks to the fish and seafood-heavy menu since we were last there in November.

Much like then, every dish succeeded splendidly tonight, not just in execution but in sheer over-the-top largesse, whether it was the killer South-meets-Asian pork sriracha collard green rolls (more, please!), a repeat from last visit of the completely obscene foie gras over spoonbread or tonight's special, bouillabaisse with an Old Bay broth.

I could have mainlined that broth, so of the Bay it tasted.

While originally billed as having John Dory along with shrimp, lobster and mussels, our server was mistaken, but since the kitchen made up for the missing Dory with a lobster tail and rockfish, no one was complaining, although even with Beau's help, I couldn't finish the bowl.

Now, the chocolate mousse tart, that I managed to polish off while the happy couple downed caffeine and our server belatedly showed up to advise us of the after-dinner offerings - Sauternes, Madeira, Port, Chartreuse, Fernet - which spawned a discussion about places to go after a film or play for drinks and discussion.

While they have some fine late night choices, Spoonbread only stays open till 10 during the week and 11 on weekends, which might not be late enough to really dig deep, depending on the subject matter. Nevertheless, we added them to our list of possibilities for the future

At the Byrd Theater for "The Philadelphia Story," I found us seats in my favorite row (no visible springs in the seat), immediately spotted two women passing a silver flask back and forth two rows back and heard my name called by a theater critic in the row right behind me.

Turns out his girlfriend had never seen "The Philadelphia Story" while her friend considers it her favorite movie. The minute Pru sat down, I introduced the two of them, since it's also her favorite film. Naturally, a film discussion group sprung up immediately, with Beau doing his best to listen in and grin.

In short order, we discussed the gender issues of "The Apartment," Jack Lemmon's limitations as a dramatic actor and why "High Society" should never have been made. My contribution was telling everyone about the upcoming Fascist mini-film fest at the Bijou, two can't miss weekends for film and democracy fans.

The course of true love...
Gathers no moss.

While Pru can recite the script along with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, it had been a couple of years since I'd seen the classic comedy of remarriage from 1940 with its non-stop wittily romantic script and the added bonus for me of a 32-year old James Stewart, lanky, full of attitude and, as usual, achingly sincere (no one says "doggone" like he does).

Whiskey is a slap on the back and champagne's heavy mist before my eyes.

Besides, I have to love a film showing a party where the band is still playing while people are still dancing and talking and it's 4 a.m. Can I go to parties like that, please?

You have unsuspected depth!

Knowing we'd want to end the evening on a conversational note, I'd made sure to have wine in the house and a fresh stack of newly-acquired records for the turntable in case we opted for here over a more public gathering spot.

We did and while the two of them prefer '70s (Roberta Flack, Art Garfuckel, CSNY) over '80s, I slid in both because the pithy dissection of male and female behavior, traditional gender roles versus expanded and Beau's passionate prosecution of marriage meant that half the time they were arguing their points, not paying attention to the music.

Except when Gladys Knight and the Pips came on, at which time Pru was visibly dancing in her chair.

Nearly three hours into our conversational soiree, Beau reminded us it was a school night for him and we wound down our closing topics, making up our minds about absolutely no one.

As is to be hoped, nothing had been brought up that hadn't been examined in great depth using wit, sarcasm and profanity. That's just how we do.

Oh, dear, is there no such thing as privacy anymore?
Only in bed, Mother, and not always there.