Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn, Comes She Will

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear today was it.

With a cold front approaching, it could be the last day I get to wear shorts on my walk and the last night I get to see moonflowers open. As if they knew, I watched three open tonight through the screen in my bedroom window as I was dressing to go out.

Ah, summer, I miss you already.

My date for the evening was Pru and we headed to Bistro 27 for dinner, just across the street from the November theater where we planned to see a play afterwards.

Looking at my legs as we walked to the restaurant, she demanded to know how they looked so tanned in October. Simple, I told her, I'm still wearing shorts on my walk every day.

Inside, we sidled up to the bar and ordered glasses of Bricco-dei-Tati Rose, the color of cherry Kool-aid, coincidentally also the color of Barbera Rose, a far tastier pink quaff. Alas, I fear I will soon be missing my Roses, too.

Momentarily distracted by a dessert going by on its way to a nearby couple, we then debated what to order since it had been a while since we'd been in and so much of the menu is new, eventually settling on crabcakes (her) and Tuscan chicken flatbread (me).

The flatbread loomed large over the entire plate and then some, covered in a savory/sweet combination of grilled chicken, balsamic, plum tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. Her crabcake appetizer was mostly crab and sauteed golden brown, in other words, practically perfect to a crabhead like me.

Over dinner, we compared our thrifting adventures today (I won with a haul of 17 tops, 2 skirts, 1 shorts, 1 pants and 3 shrugs for a total of $5) at the Robinson Street Festival. I heard about her outing to the Roosevelt with old college chums last night, an evening that involved absinthe and a 2 a.m. bedtime, neither unusual for me and both highly irregular for her.

Today, she had the headache and lethargy that follows infrequent debauchery.

Dessert was a given (hello, Saturday night with a girlfriend) and the triple chocolate confection we'd seen go by earlier seemed like the obvious choice. Made by one of the prep cooks, it's the newest dessert item, all but begging us to check it out.

When Pru decided she needed coffee with hers, our bartender offered her espresso and then a single or double.

"Double, please," she said demurely. "I want it dark and growling." I assumed we were no longer talking about coffee, but I didn't pry.

The triple chocolate cake got my thumbs up for both its lightness and its variety of chocolate textures: mousse, cake and ganache.

As we were devouring it, four young men arrived to serenade the Irish couple sitting at the front table celebrating an occasion. Their lilting harmonies were beautiful to behold, made even better by having chocolate in our mouth as we listened.

What a delightful addition to the evening.

A satisfying meal over, we strolled across the street to see Cadence Theater's production of "Sight Unseen" by Donald Margulies.

Waiting in line to pick up tickets, I ran into a woman I hadn't seen in years whose first words were, "You don't age! You look exactly the same." While I know this is a compliment, what I wanted to say is, sure, it's fine now, but who wanted to look like this at 25 or 35? Instead, I say thanks.

Tickets in hand, we find our seats in the second row minutes before the lights go down.

My preference is always to go into a production knowing as little as possible so that the action can unfold for me with no hints of what's to come. It's like how I don't like to see previews for movies before I see them. Just give me what you got and let me see what I think.

"Sight Unseen" begins in a chilly farmhouse ("Here we hold on to our overcoats") in England ("No one is a good cook over here") with a visit from a now-famous American painter named Jonathan to Patricia, the woman who'd been his muse in college, and her adoring husband, Nick ("I take what I can get. I'm English").

His father has died last week yet he's crossed the pond for his first career retrospective where he's finding the press combative and trying to focus solely on his Jewishness. A flashback shows us how cruelly he dumped Patricia fifteen years earlier.

All of a sudden, it's intermission and I have absolutely no idea where this play is going, a truly delicious feeling as a member of the audience.

As the second act unfolds, we hear some excellent debate on what art is and what an artist's responsibility is as Nick looks at the catalog from Jonathan's show and finds his paintings lacking. As far as Nick's concerned, art ended with the Renaissance and he's dismissive of all modern art.

Jonathan insists that the job of the artist is not to participate because his intention in painting is irrelevant. Art is what the viewer brings to his work and what they choose to take away. Defending himself and his work he says, "It's the layers people go to in order to feel something today."

The layers in this play are many: about how relationships change, about settling when we can't get what we really want, about how success and money changes people, about losing our way in life and love and never really recovering. Why do people feel obligated to attend blockbuster art shows and then spend more time in the gift shop than with the art?

Andrew Firda is a standout as the husband in a mostly sexless marriage and his dry, British wit provides much of the play's humor while his sweet attempts to challenge the man who's been haunting his wife's heart for 15 years hint at the passion beneath his archeologist's heart.

Smart and thought-provoking, yet again Cadence Theater had provided plenty for Pru and I to discuss once the play ended and we were walking down Broad Street.

Where, I might add, the temperature was noticeably cooler than when we'd gone in and the breeze hinted at a night that will require closing my windows.

Except the bedroom windows, which will remain open so I can luxuriate in the scent of the moonflowers for the last time this year.

I take what I can get when summer is on her way out.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Until the Songs are Done

I took the A6 - also known as the motorway to the sun -to a yard show.

Since it's Virginia wine month, I began the evening at Pasture for a glass of Cardinal Point Winery A6, the lovely Viognier/Chardonnay blend named after the road in France that links Paris to Lyon, a fact I know only because I poured for Cardinal Point at the Virginia Wine Expo two years in a row.

The restaurant was busy with some people even eating outside on the patio, a treat not to be missed on an October evening.

While I thought the rest of my evening would be spent indoors watching two favorite musicians play, I arrived at the address given to find a crowd gathering in the yard next door.

Following the light and laughter to what was clearly going to be a yard show, I saw a familiar face sitting at the front picnic table and promptly joined the Hat, a.k.a. the man about town, on his bench.

From our perch, we were facing a mural I hadn't seen before of black, white, gray and orange, depicting a quarter moon, a tee-pee and a suitcase dangling from a rope near the top of the mural. In front of the mural were several metal frames on which strings of white and orange twinkle lights had been strung. A lit jack-o-lantern sat in front of chairs for musicians and drums. Smaller lit pumpkins sat on the picnic tables.

It was like a Fall fairyland and an ideal place for a little night time music.

Sitting next to the Hat, I said hello to the Richmanian warbler, waved to the record producer, spotted the long-haired breakout musician, smiled at the fashionable keyboard player and her reclusive husband while smelling the candle burning in the pumpkin on the table behind us (humor centered around citronella versus sinsemilla).

A couple spread out an Indian print blanket and sat down on the grass in front of us Soon a second blanket appeared, then a third and forth, all of the same Indian-type print that used to hang from windows as curtains back in the '70s. Apparently they're back.

Josh Small played first, explaining that he'd set out to write a song about something other than himself and settled on the flower world. Except that when all was said and done, the flower song was also about him.

The man is not only musical, but very funny.

When he was introducing a song about farming, he admitted that while he often wore overalls, he may never have actually been to a farm. "I've been to a couple pumpkin patches," he offered. Invoking Burt Reynolds, he did a Jerry Reed song called "Papa's Knee." One of the great things about a Josh Small set is how eclectic they are.

It had been eons since I'd seen David Shultz play out but, in fairness, he and his wife did have triplets so the man's been understandably busy. He began by thanking Matt, the evening's organizer, saying, "The yard couldn't look more cozy."

While the staff from Lamplighter Coffee across the street dragged trashcans along the sidewalk and traffic from the downtown expressway rumbled by, David played guitar and sang lyrics like, "Would it be so bad to dance until the song is done?"

My answer? Never.

Singing "I can't, can't get away from you," the Hat leaned over and observed, "That's a double negative, you know." I did.

David brought up drummer Willis, who'd arrived straight from a volleyball game (he is kind of tall), and they did "The Farmer," Willis' deft touch on drums and percussion adding a lot to the song and then added in Curtis on pedal steel (which was also draped in twinkle lights) and Jonathan on accordion for Blaze Foley's "Clay Pigeons."

Curtis and David joked back and forth about the limited rehearsing they'd done for this show. When David introduced "Down the Road," Curtis said, "That's the one we jammed on for 16 seconds and then talked about the chords?"

"That's why David Shultz and the Skyline aren't a band anymore," David patiently explained."Because what I really want to do is go to your house and drink wine and talk about music."

Favorite lyric: The best laid plans are the ones that don't require a second thought.

We got a real treat when David and Jonathan brought up the very talented Grant to play mandolin so they could play some Ophelia songs such as "Hunter's Bow." Along with drummer Willis, that quartet had made some outstanding music as Ophelia a few years back.

"It's a sneak attack Ophelia reunion!" someone said. Lucky us.

They did "Easy Prey" but it was the aching of "One Too Many" ("One too many nights together or one too many nights apart") that knocked the crowd off its feet, sounding just as remarkable as it did when they first played it.

David and Grant did "Oklahoma Rose," a song they wrote together and a reminder how well those two harmonize, much like on "Days Go By," a song recorded by Grant's River City Band.

Jonathan's songs never fail to tug at the heart ("I'm on my way to being on my own") and it didn't hurt having Curtis' mournful pedal steel further ripping our hearts out.

They closed the show with "The Butcher" ("I got a quarter of a quart of wine") and sitting there listening to those familiar voices singing to the sky was a reminder of just how wonderful Richmond can be sometimes.

Sort of a musical motorway to the moon on a Fall night.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wicked Lives

I didn't go for scary, I went to increase my literacy. And dance a little.

FilmRoasters, the crew who shows bad movies and comments all the way through a la "Mystery Science Theater" was showing the 1978 horror classic "Halloween" tonight. Needless to say, I'd never seen it.

Which is not to say I'd never been to a FilmRoasters' event because I had. Three times. I knew the drill.

The bludgeoning of the cheesy film was taking place at Bottoms Up so I arrived in time to order a monstrous slice of their famous "Karen combo" pizza (no, it really is named that), featuring all kinds of my favorite things: Italian sausage, onions, spinach and Ricotta.

I don't know what Karen it's named for, but she had great taste.

While I ate, the Roasters got warmed up with a bad '80s TV show called "The Master" about a ninja and his pupil, notable mainly for big '80s hair, a Trump-less Las Vegas and a soundtrack by Bill Conti of "Rocky" fame.

By the time that corniness ended, there were eight people in the audience and five of them were gabbing loudly because they hadn't come to see the movie.

After more than a few pointed barbs in their direction, they got the hint and moved out on the patio so that the remaining three of us could hear the movie's bad dialog and the roasters' pithy improvisation.

They asked how recently the audience had seen the movie (um, never) and said, "If the last time you saw "Halloween" it was scary, it's been too long." The event invitation had warned that, "Only really old people still think it's scary."

The only thing I already knew about "Halloween" was its soundtrack and that's because local musician Scott Burton was a huge fan of director John Carpenter's soundtrack and had transposed it from piano to guitar and I'd heard him play it on several occasions near Halloween.

The first thing I learned about "Halloween" tonight was that the virginal Laurie character was Jamie Lee Curtis' first film (the credits "introduce" her).

Then the Roasters set about mocking it at every turn.

When the first babysitter has her nude scene, someone cracked, "Seventies boobs were different." You mean high and firm without being fake? Yea, they sure were.

They made fun of the nurse in her cap and cape. The turned the murder's voice into Darth Vader imitations and said things such as, "I hate a guy with a car and no sense of humor" about one of the teen-aged victims.

And like with previous screenings, the Roasters were profoundly impatient with the '70s style of film making, making frequent comments about long shots, extended takes and showing the viewer everything.

"Film it all, film her walking up the whole street!" one guy shouted when she took five steps on camera.

Call me old school, but I found it refreshing to see a film that allowed scenes to unfold and wasn't just a non-stop montage of quick cuts for the ADD set.

But the '70s details were on point: Laurie doesn't date because all the guys think she's too smart. Don't feel bad, Laurie, I didn't get asked to prom, either.

When she and her girlfriend take off in the enormous '70s car (not wearing seat belts, natch) for their babysitting jobs, they share a joint in the car on the way, her friend saying,"Come on, we have just enough time" and the Roasters retorting, "There's always time for marijuana!"

At her babysitting job, Laurie dons a full apron to make popcorn for her charges and carve a jack-o-lantern ("Remember when we used to say jack-o-lantern?"). Really, an apron?

As the murderer stalks them in his car, someone quipped, "Is anyone concerned that the killer is driving a station wagon?"

Not in the '70s, baby.

When a character says he thinks the murderer's former house is haunted, the Roasters said, "Haunted by eight bad sequels! And number three made no sense!" I wouldn't know.

Once all the sexually active babysitters have been murdered and Laurie thinks she's killed the killer, she sits sobbing on the floor in relief and post-terror. "She's sobbing because there's going to be a sequel."

So now, ladies and gentlemen, I can say I've seen "Halloween," the film credited with beginning a long line of slasher films based on Hitchcock's "Psycho" and a reminder that boobs were better in the '70s.

Or something.

Having upped my cultural literacy over a slice, I opted to finish out the night at Balliceaux to see Red Light Rodeo.

Walking up the alley, I saw a small crowd near the door and just as I came up behind them, one guy reared back with his leg and kicked my hand with his shoe. When he realized what had happened, he joked, "Don't sneak up on a brother like that, girl!" and then apologized. I chalked it up to my quiet shoes on the cobblestones.

Inside, I found a small but exuberant crowd in the back room, many of the women dancing already to Red Light Rodeo's take on bluegrass honky tonk, including two who finished "Sitting on Top of the World" by falling on the beer-slicked floor laughing their faces off.

The band was bigger than I expected with drums/percussion, acoustic guitar, upright bass, mandolin/electric fiddle and electric guitar/pedal steel and all dapperly dressed in bolo ties, western style shirts and a couple with cowboy hats on.

When the band took a break, a woman decided to talk to me, commenting on how I'd been observing the room as I sipped my tequila. I found out she left Richmond for the West Coast only to return and wonder why she'd ever left. In other words, a familiar tale.

The band scored big with a country version of "Louie, Louie" that got just about everyone in the room dancing before it was over. From there, they sang about about liquor and whores, wicked lives and mentioned how their favorite song subject was whiskey ("You and me and whiskey makes three").

Only really old people wouldn't appreciate that kind of music.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meantime (Little Notes)

Reasons why this is already shaping up to be a fine day:

A cloudy walk to Chapel Island with a view of raindrops dotting the canal.

An Amtrack conductor hanging out of the stopped train waving to me from the tracks overhead as I walk the Capital bike trail. Hello, stranger.

The shift from clouds to sun as I reach the island and walk over to a favorite spot on the far side to survey the river. Nothing much happening today.

Crossing Cary Street and hearing my name called by a friendly wine rep and stopping to chat about the pleasures of outside showers and  rooftop bars, both past and future. Top of the Tower? Nope, before my time.

Running into a culture-loving friend in front of the National box office waiting to buy tickets for Trampled by Turtles. He looks at me like he's never seen me in walking attire - shorts and a t-shirt - before, which I then realize he hasn't.

Coming home to a message from a good friend saying, "I miss you! Pick you up at 12:30? Yeah!"

Lunch right here in the 'hood at Lucy's, which is satisfyingly mobbed with eager eaters. A former Floyd Avenue neighbor stops to chat, I wave hello to the cattle farmer and the proprietor tells us there's a real estate convention in town.

The shrimp po' boy salad is stellar, full of fat fried shrimp under a drizzle of thousand island dressing with picture perfect end-of-the-season grape tomatoes still bursting with flavor.

Conversation tumbling out out of both of us as we discuss Cape Charles, not fitting in, out of town restaurateurs and Gullah culture.

Dessert of panna cotta with strawberry coulis, a worthy substitute for our usual post-lunch Rose, off limits since my friend has a meeting after we finish. 

Writing assignment completed and ready for my final edit tomorrow, still several days in advance of deadline.

And it's only mid-afternoon. Feeling as sunny as the day turned out to be.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True Love Seat Testing

Just another evening devoted to love, poetry and anniversaries.

While I'd been off celebrating summer last night, the Virginia Literary Festival had begun without me. Tonight I intended to wave my literary flag.

The rain had finally stopped by the time I left for Carytown, not that I'm complaining about a rainy day. My earlier walk down to the river had required an umbrella, but the temperature had been pleasant enough and I enjoy the unique perspective an umbrella provides: no sky, no rooves, nothing much higher than my chin. It's a very intimate kind of a walk.

But by early evening, only puddles remained as I walked to the Byrd theater for poetry and a film screening that began with buttered popcorn and people watching.

Like the couple who came down the aisle together but then each turned into different rows. From there, each would sit in a different seat, get up and move to another. They each tested out four or five seats a few rows from each other, occasionally exchanging glances.

Finally, she gave him a look and using his long legs to step over the two rows that separated them, he sat down next to her in a seat she'd already tested out for him.

The things some people do for love.

A group of older women came in looking for seats and were put off by how torn up some of them are. "Those seats look like rats have been chewing on them!" one said in disgust.

"I bet they really do," chimed in another. "You know, after it gets dark, they just come in here and tear into the seats." She sounded terrified.

My guess was more prosaic: that after 85 years of people using these seats, they're so threadbare that it doesn't take much touching for the fabric to begin to rip. Get over yourselves, ladies.

After greetings to the crowd of forty or so from the Byrd and the Virginia Literary Festival came the introduction of Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, Virginia's Poet laureate from 2006-2008.

Explaining that she'd felt a real connection to Frida Kahlo after first seeing her paintings, Foronda began to research Kahlo's life by going to Mexico to see the blue house where she'd lived, the home of Kahlo's husband, muralist Diego Rivera and more of her work.

She said it helped that her husband was a native Spanish speaker and had good street smarts because he was able to talk some of the guards into letting her into rooms not usually open to the public.

All that research into facts became the basis for her book of poetry, "The Embrace," about the artist, her life and her relationship with Rivera.

She read three of the poems, including one called "Blue House," told from the point of view of the house which, she said, "knew more about Frida than anyone else." Another, "Wedding Fiesta" was told from Frida's viewpoint about the day she married the man who'd wooed her by saying, "I was born to love you."

Favorite line: "Long live love."

Then we watched 2002's "Frida" with Salma Hayek taking on the role of the artistic woman with the unibrow and her unfaithful but loving husband.

What was especially interesting for me was seeing Alfred Molina as Diego because I'd just seen him a few weeks ago in "Love is Strange." But in this movie, he superbly captured the complex Diego, a man with a huge artistic ego, a driving political responsibility and utter devotion to Frida and her talent despite dalliances with other women.

The scene where he comes back to see her after they've divorced (and she's had her toes amputated) to ask her to marry him again was incredibly moving. When she demands to know why he's back, he looks at her with those eyes and says simply, "I miss us."

Obviously it worked because she married him again. When he thanks her, she asks him for what.

"For making a fat, old Communist a happy man." Sounds like true love to me.

On the way out of the Byrd, I dropped a donation in the popcorn tub toward those painful seats, said hi to Ward from Chop Suey at the book sale table and headed out into the night.

Next stop: Garnett's to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Where does the time go?

It seems like just a couple of years ago that the little sandwich place opened and found an immediate following. Back when it first opened, they even served coffee in the mornings and I helped out for several months, showing up before 7 a.m. to bake scones and brew coffee for the early morning worker bee crowd.

I quickly discovered how tough it is to go to bed at 2 a.m. and be unlocking the front door at 6:45. Many a morning I rode my bike over there in the early morning light fighting off yawns.

Coffee service didn't last long (so I was off the hook) but Garnett's thankfully has and as a thanks to the public, anyone who came in today and ordered a sandwich got a free dessert.

While I wasn't so much in the mood for dessert after popcorn, I was hungry for a nosh. Walking in, the place was empty except for two beat-looking servers.

"We don't have any cake or pie left!" they warned me as soon as they saw me. I reassured them that I wasn't looking for dessert and ordered chicken salad.

Naturally it had been a crazy busy day with non-stop crowds coming to claim their free desserts, but what they wanted to kvetch about was the customer who'd just called. Earlier he'd called and ordered a Cobb salad and then been late in picking it up.

Once home, he was dissatisfied that the bacon on the salad was cold so he called to register his unhappiness. He wanted to make sure the owner got a full report that his bacon was cold. He whined that he's ordered that salad a dozen times and the bacon had never been cold. He insisted that he'll never be back.

The servers, worn out after a non-stop day, politely took his complaints and apologized. What else could they do?

Finally eating and happy, I reminded them that such a customer was perfectly appropriate on the restaurant's fifth anniversary.

They'd had scads of people in all day long, worked their butts off and heard a lot of really nice things from people who make Garnett's one of their regular hangouts. So what's one bad apple in the scheme of things?

The way I see it, if you make it to five years successfully, you're doing a lot right. Especially in the restaurant business, five years is significant. Impressive, even.

As a wise poet once said on his own fifth anniversary, double or nothing?

Won't You Smile a While for Me?

Yesterday's escape to the river was enough to make me forego poetry.

My Tuesday evening plan had been to go to Poetic Principles at the Library of Virginia, an event I always look forward to.

The only problem was that it was still 82 degrees when I got home from my road trip and I couldn't bear the thought of being inside while all that summer-like warmth was still outside.

I laid out a Plan B and my fellow poetry-lover was gracious enough to agree to a change in plans.

The river it was, albeit the James this time, by way of my favorite waterfront stopover, the Lilly Pad. Expecting it to be mobbed on such a gorgeous evening, we found only one large table celebrating a birthday, complete with balloons tied to the chairs.

Inside, we inquired what our choices were in white wine and were told, "I have this Chardonnay," as she hauled out a big 1.5 bottle and looked at us expectantly. Well, if that's what the options are, we'd love two glasses of it.

Looking at the chalkboard menu, I gravitated to the adjective adorned "juicy cheeseburger" and since it was also sushi night, the poet chose a spicy roll to round out our pan Asian-American meal.

Back outside, we headed straight for the coveted glider table closest to the river, aiming for the most distance from the raucous birthday celebrants and the best views of the goings-on near the water.

Boaters were pulling their boats out of the river and a couple of small crafts were still making their way along the dock. On the other side were what looked like a couple of houseboats with the blue light of TV screens glowing from within and the occasional occupant on the upper deck.

It must be an interesting life living on a houseboat. I met a woman a couple of years ago who had a house in Urbanna but chose to live on a houseboat at the end of her dock rather than in the house, which is where she let her guests stay when she had visitors.

Touring the boat with her, I couldn't help but be impressed with what an efficient use of space it was while they still had everything they needed. She was a talented cook who whipped up elaborate meals on the boat every night for her husband after a liberal happy hour on the deck above first. It sounded like a pretty good life to me.

For all I knew, some of those houseboat residents we were looking at were doing the same.

After polishing of the (juicy) cheeseburger and spicy roll, we wasted time gliding in the warm night air and watching new arrivals - a couple who surprisingly chose to eat inside, a biker who arrived on a chopper and then walked around to get feeling back in his legs before going in - help populate the place.

I know it's October, but I was still surprised that more people hadn't been lured down to the river on this beautiful evening like we had.

The only problem with the Lily Pad is how early it closes, so we stopped on the way back to the city for a nightcap at the Checkered Flag, a place I knew I was going to like as soon as I approached the door and could hear the jukebox playing "Me and Mrs. Jones."

Inside, we were welcomed warmly and a couple gave up their stools to go play video bowling so we could sit down.

The bartender, affable, welcoming and attentive, looked pleased as punch when I asked for 1800. "I got a bottle already in the freezer, honey" she said, beaming. After asking us our names, she used them every time she addressed us, as if were old friends.

Turns out her mother owns the bar and it'll become hers in a few more years, something she was clearly looking forward to. So now that we knew her five-year plan, we kind of did qualify as friends. That and when we asked if the kitchen was still open, she went right in the back and perfectly fried up some chicken wings for us.

I was way into the music someone had selected on the jukebox and when it ended, the woman who'd been bowling got up to put more money in, inviting me to join her to make selections while her boyfriend did a quick shot at the bar.

Since it was her money, I didn't want to foist my taste on her, but luckily I didn't have to because she was as big a fan of old-school soul as I am. Between the two of us, we chose Marvin Gay, Four Tops, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and a bunch of others.

When I asked her what her first concert had been, she didn't hesitate. "Hall and Oates, Three Rivers Stadium, 1987" and then selected "Sara Smile" from the Hall and Oates offerings on the screen.

Not a personal favorite, but it wasn't my money.

Returning to the bar, we chatted with her and her younger boyfriend who didn't recognize a lot of the old R & B we'd chosen. Technically, she was also too young to recognize it but she said her taste reflected her mother's taste and that her mother had been young.

And by young, she meant fourteen.

When you're told such personal facts as that by a stranger, you just take a sip of your 1800 and smile.

With apologies to the Sundays, poetry was not for me tonight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rock Me, Baby

Afraid that today is the last time it's going to feel so gloriously summer-like this year, I took full advantage.

Conveniently, I had multiple interviews to do in Kilmarnock, leaving me mere minutes from Merroir at 1:45. Only an idiot would have high-tailed it back to Richmond without stopping by.

Driving back over the bridge, the river looked silver-gray and the sky was crowded with clouds but once on the gravel road to Merroir, I could see blue sky and bluer water beckoning.

The hostess sat me in the center-most table, the sun on my back and the river view spread out before me. Only two other tables were occupied (and only two when I left) and one was by a staff member schooling the visitors on oysters and how much more slowly the river heats and cools off than the air.

Boats were bobbing at the marina next door  - one had a small pirate flag next to a small Confederate flag - and sailboats were spanning the mouth of the bay.

I began with Wimmer Gruner Veltliner and a salad of hydroponic butter lettuce with cranberries (not craisins, so decidedly tart), sunflowers, sauteed honey onions and fromage bleu. Only problem? The hearty breeze kept trying to blow my lettuce leaves off my plate. Solution? Eat faster.

The music was pretty much bluegrass, with occasional recognizable songs such as "Wagon Wheel," easy background listening on such a gorgeous day.

Next to me was a trio who weren't speaking English but the most interesting thing I noted was how one of the guys would suck the spices off the steamed shrimp before shelling it. Brilliant! How had that never occurred to me?

I could hardly enjoy such a perfect day at the river without oysters, so I got my favorite Old Saltes and sucked the briny liquor out of the shells.

When I inquired of my server if I could finish with a half glass of wine, she said they didn't do that but she'd check with her manager and ask, returning with a generous half pour which accompanied me down to an Adirondack chair by the dock.

There, I again put my back to the sun and watched as sea gulls battled it out for supremacy on posts in the water, squawking  at each other as they tried to assert themselves.

One dock over, a series of tiny American flags stood out stiffly in the warm, afternoon breeze.

Summer was teasing me even as she was ripping out my heart with a day as gloriously warm and perfect as this set to the sounds of water lapping, tree tops rustling in the wind and bird calls. Is there any feeling more exquisite than sitting waterside on an 82-degree day?

Let's put it this way: if I hadn't had a date tonight, I'd have sat there until Merroir closed, returning to the restaurant only to score more food and drink.

My only regret was that now that the dock has railings, I couldn't stick my feet in the water. And I'd just heard from an oyster expert that the river is till plenty warm, so that was just too bad.

I was alone down there until a couple of employees came down to rearrange tables for an upcoming wedding on Saturday. Apparently they had their first one a couple of weeks ago and now they're hosting another. Couples get married at the end of the dock and the reception swirls in the area where I was sitting. The bride and groom-to be could only wish for a day as beautiful as today for their celebration.

I left them to their rearranging and headed back up to visit the loo and leave. On the way, I chatted with the duo who'd been seated near me, discovering that he was a visitor from Michigan who'd been to Merroir before a couple of years ago.

Like two old-timers, we immediately lapsed into a "remember when?" session, lamenting how fancy Merroir has gotten and missing its rustic elements. The old dock! The long-gone oyster shell pile! The mismatched tables!

Yet despite how uptown things have become, here we both were, back on a random gorgeous Tuesday, loving our lives because we'd spent the afternoon there.

It feels like today might be the last day of summer 2014, I told him. "Then we were exactly where we should've been for it," he agreed.

Out of the mouths of strangers straight to my sun-tinged ears. Oh, happy day.

Down versus Pound

It was really too beautiful to spend the evening indoors - 77 degrees in mid-October - unless love was involved.

As it turned out, it was, but I didn't know that. I thought I was getting dinner and a play.

Given the bodacious weather, I was hardly surprised when I arrived at Magpie to find only one couple in attendance. I took a seat at the bar to await my friend's arrival and discuss my theater plans with the bartender.

Although he'd never been to Richmond Triangle Players, he used to work with their bartender, a woman I've bought wine from on many an occasion. Funny how there's never more than three degrees of separation from anyone in this town.

Right on time, my friend arrived (amuse bouche: easter egg radish slice with golden raisin chutney and carrot top) and we lost no time ordering so we could discuss theater without our mouths being full.

My only regret was that he invited me to go with him to see "Book of Mormon," a show I could never afford, and I'll be out of town that weekend. Drat the luck.

Once dinner came, we focused on that.

Not that anyone needs to eat their sweetbreads chicken-fried, but as long as they were offering, why not? These came with turnip hash, pickled relish and house hot sauce and I also shared a side of roasted brussels sprouts with my friend as he ate his huntsman's stew, which smelled divine.

Unfortunately, we had so little time left that dessert wasn't an option so we left for the theater to see 5th Wall Theater's staged reading of John Anastasi's new play, "Transition," without my sweet tooth being satisfied.

Instead, I sublimated it when the reading began with a sex scene between two women, one of whom came noisily moments after the action began. Unfortunately, her partner hadn't come (or enjoyed the strap-on she'd been using), causing her to lament, "I'd rather you went downtown instead of taking me to Pound Town."

Hmm, "Pound Town." That's a new one on me.

"Transition" was the story of a man born in a woman's body who takes 28 years to decide he needs to transition to the male he's always been. The problem is that his partner, the love of his life, is a lesbian who wants a female, not male, partner.

When he tells his mother about his planned hormone treatments and surgery, she's forced to come to terms with what she always knew but never acknowledged: her daughter is her son. "You haven't even started the male hormones and already you're acting just like your father!" Jacqueline Jones as the mother said to a big laugh.

Ditto the laughs when the subject of genital reconstruction surgery came up. "That glorious organ with the head but no brain." Ah, yes, we know the one.

But the most unexpectedly funny moment came when Melissa Johnston Price (as the doctor planning to do the surgery) explained all that was involved, right down to creation of the brain-less head. "So that's it in the nutshell," she said before turning to look at the audience with a classic WTF? look on her face. "I never saw that coming."

The audience laughed long and hard at her reaction to the line in the script.

Danya/Daniel, the woman transitioning, was played superbly by Eva DeVirgilis, who tries to convince her true love Addison (played by Sara Heifetz) that even if she has the surgery, they'll still love each other just the same, pulling out Shakespeare's "A rose by another name would smell as sweet" to prove her point.

Addison is having none of it. "Male hormones do not smell good," she retorts, miserable at the idea of having a male partner when she's madly in love with a woman.

But the bigger issue wasn't about smell or hormones or any of that. The play asks us why do we love the person we do? Is it their heart, their soul, their personality, their body?

The play was terribly poignant in parts, especially in a scene that takes place five years after surgery and the couple's split, when Daniel runs into the doctor who tries to assure him he'll get over the loss of his true love. He corrects her.

"Those who've had a real loss know that it never gets better. You just get better at living with it." I'd like to see someone put that in a fortune cookie.

The play ended ambiguously, leaving the outcome to the viewer's imagination. Some saw a happy ending and others didn't. Sort of like life.

But the biggest question remained. Could you still have real love if one of the people changes?

During the talkback with the playwright, director Carol Piersol and cast, the audience had a lot of questions and a lot of opinions on what needed to be changed and not changed in the script.

That's a major reason I look forward to this kind of reading. Part of its purpose is to provide feedback to the author and another part is to gauge audience reaction to the idea of seeing the play fully produced.

As an opinionated woman and a theater lover, I find it immensely satisfying to have a chance to provide that kind of input.

Playwright Anastasi told us he'd spent a great deal of time talking to a doctor who does this kind of surgery in order to get the finer points right. "I still take a lot of criticism as a heterosexual writing about the trans experience. But, Stephen King, did he kill all those people?"

I think not. Clearly, the man had a sense of humor.

What he did make clear was that what he had written was, more than anything else, a love story. By the end, Daniel has fully transitioned and has finally gotten what he's wanted his whole life. But in the process, he's lost the only person he ever needed. He's alone but acknowledges that that's his choice.

"He chooses not to have someone else if he can't have the love of his life, "Anastasi told us to wrap things up.

And that, if you ask me, makes it a hell of a love story.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Remains of the Days (and Nights)

It was like going to the frat house where the big party had been the night before.

I'm talking about the riverfront after the Folk Fest this weekend.

Sneaking up on the remains of it all by taking 14th Street to the pipeline walkway, I got behind a British couple who've been Richmond residents for three years now.

The paused to let me pass by, presuming I was moving at a faster pace than they were, but instead I stopped to chat with them, learning it was their first time on the pipeline. We gushed about the river views it afforded and the pleasures of rushing water so nearby.

Like me, they'd been to the Folk Fest, but had to leave after seeing only two bands because their kids were getting restless. Today the kids were at school and they were enjoying a leisurely hike.

When the subject of the weekend weather came up, they laughed it off as "English weather," something they were used to. Good for the complexion, that's how I like to look at it. I hadn't minded it a bit.

Since they'd never taken the pipeline up to Brown's Island, they followed me up to see where it came out and then headed back down to the riverfront.

Teams of workers were busy disassembling all the trappings of the Folk Fest on the island - collapsing tents, folding chairs -and while the Dominion Dance pavilion stage was gone, the big dance floor remained so I glided across it, alone on the expanse that had seen so many dancing feet (including my own) all weekend.

Passing a Segway tour group further on, I paused to listen to the guide's spiel, learning something I never knew about the Federal Reserve building: it's a 1/8 scale version of the World Trade Center.

How had I never heard (or noticed) that interesting fact?

Heading up Fifth Street, I turned off on Gary Gerloff Way where a worker was pulling up the protective strips that cover the countless extension cords that went to the nearby stage.

I waited until he drove his little golf cart away and then ran down the hill to the RTD stage and mounted it like I had a right to be there. I may have even taken a bow to the empty field while I was up there.

The way I see it, life is full of opportunities and it's my right to grab them when I see them.

Good for way more than the complexion.