Friday, May 29, 2015

Ink in My Dimples

Of course I'm going to RSVP "yes" when I get an invitation referencing me as "part of the tattoo community." Moi?

Sure, I'd love to attend the preview for "Japanese Tattoo: Perseverance, Art and Tradition." Don't mind if I do.

In the Claiborne Room upstairs at the VMFA, I found a roomful of tattooed body parts and the realization that I was most certainly going to be in the minority. When the VMFA's director said hello, I hypothesized that we were among the few un-inked people in the room.

Wrong. He's not only got a tattoo but he's already got his next one planned. Would have had it done before this opening if he hadn't been so understandably busy running one of the top ten museums in the country and all.

He was part way through a fascinating explanation of the origins and significance of his tattoos when a museum employee apologized and told him it was time to speak. He seemed to relish sharing stories of members calling his office, chagrined that the VMFA was going to have a tattoo-as-art show. Had the calls been put through, he said he'd have defended the choice and brought up his own ink.

The curator from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (where the show originated) also spoke, emphasizing the long history of tattoo art in Japan. He compared it to calligraphy and woodblock printing, two art forms considered low brow once but now appreciated for their skill and artistry.

Pointing out that if museums don't do something provocative, they may as well close their doors, there was much nodding. Amen. This show should bring in an entirely new audience.

Downstairs in the Evans Court galleries, the images of tattooed bodies were more than enough testament to the masterful talent of these artists. A series of two-sided panels showed men with full body suits, their skin inked from neck (sometimes with a tattoo of a beaded necklace) to calf or sometimes thigh.

Let me begin by being honest. It's been a long time (okay, never) that I've seen pictures of that many men's butts at once. True, they wore loincloths, but in the back, that disappears into the cheeks. No objection here; most of them were pretty good looking butts.

Looking at a striking tattooed man done by Adrian Lee, I overheard a tattoo artist explaining to a friend the importance of Lee -considered a new style Japanese tattoo artist - in his own stylistic development. He was in awe looking at the piece.

What was so compelling about all the tattoo photographs (besides the  abundance of colors - brilliant red, so many shades of blue, dazzling white) was how they pulled from traditional Japanese art imagery: swords, warriors, birds, tigers, fish, dragons, calligraphy. Just on someone's skin (and a half dozen kites at the end of the exhibit).

Some were purely decorative and others told a complex story with characters and actions on different parts of the body. There were tattoos shaped like a vest or a bolero. It was entire bodies as canvas for artistry of the highest order and not just a random collection of body art. It was magnificent.

The question is, will those complaining members get that? I only hope so.

Leaving the VMFA afterwards. I saw that  the brick sidewalks were wet so apparently it had rained while I'd been ogling men's backsides (and chests), but just enough to raise the humidity to Hell-level. The air was thick out there.

After a pit stop to change from platform espadrilles to flip-flops, I landed at Sound of Music Studio for a show. Slipping in the back entrance (front isn't an option), the guy at the door starts to inform me there's a $5 admission but before he can get it out, I have un-clenched my fist and he removes the $5 bill from it.

Sheepishly, he thumbs over his shoulder, saying, "Then you know...?" Where the stage is? Sure do.

And here's more good news for the evening. The show begins nearly on time with young but always impressive Way, Shape or Form. It happened last week at Gallery 5 and I'd been impressed then. Is this a mini-trend? Could musicians finally be committing to starting shows on time? Be still, my heart.

As I let Way, Shape or Form's angular sound capture and then continually surprise my ears, I looked around at the inside of Sound of Music Studio. Talk about an intriguing place, it's got built-in bookshelves along an enormous 40' wall. My guess was that the collection was probably a reflection of more than one person's taste in reading.

When I spot Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland," I think of a guy I met at Rappahannock two summers ago who judged people on whether or not they'd read Pynchon (I haven't. I will).  I also see the dorky-sounding"In Quest of Quasars" and Darwin's "Origins of the Species."

A pristine red copy of "Mr. Boston's Official Bar and Party Guide" sits near lesser-known bar books and art histories.

"Diet or Die: The Dolly Dimples Weight Reduction Plan" boasts a lurid red, white and black cover complete with before and after pictures, presumably of Dolly on the cover. I have to squint to read the copyright (1968) because the dim room is lit only by the LED lights of the soundboard and a couple of strings of multi-colored Christmas lights strung up two pillars and draped in between.

Perusing "Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier," a 1981 gem, I see someone at my side. It's one of the studio's owners and he's gracious enough to say, "Feel free to take them down and read them." Read? I want to borrow Dolly Dimples and take it to a party.

Along another wall of the room sits a collection of objects - a large canvas of a smiling woman in the Pop art style so probably '70s, a table harp, a toy piano (grand, not upright), a globe where the bodies of water are sepia-toned and not blue. Look, there's a guy in a "Heck no techno" t-shirt.

Almost everyone is in shorts, although I'm still sporting the same $3 thrift dress I wore to the VMFA opening that netted a compliment from a  museum staffer in the photography gallery. I'm getting good mileage out of it today.

Blanco Basnet was next and the singer announced them as from Durham, N.C., which is redundant because you can look at some bands and know at once they're from North Carolina (see: the Connells). One song in and I could see why they were on this bill.

While their sound leaned a bit more rock/pop than Way, Shape or Form, they still had the tempo changes, unconventional song structure and occasional jazz drumming of the younger band. The crowd took to them enthusiastically, cheering them on when they chose to try a brand-new song

It was warm in there and before long the singer was wiping his dripping face with a towel between songs but his clear, melodic voice didn't seem to suffer any from the warmth.

After their set, I went over to ask the sound guy who was last. That's when he told me Dumb Waiter had to bow out because guitarist Nick was sick. Too bad. I'd been looking forward to them, as had he.

"By the way, I see you at shows all the time," he said extending his hand and introducing himself. I have lost count of the number of friends I have met after they've uttered some variation of those words. Go places and people will talk to you, kids.

Last up was Houdan the Mystic ("We hope you'll like us") and theirs was a harder sound, although still in the same musical family, just more fast and furious. A trio, every instrument counted more (lots of terrific bass parts) and they played that way.

During their sound-check, the guitarist told a joke, eliciting laughter, so when the bassist sound-checked, he began singing "Blue Moon," of all the unlikely things.

"How was that? I mean, besides great? I know it wasn't telling a joke or anything..." the bassist cracked. Their set winds up being a boisterous finish to the evening's music.

It's not quite as miserably hot when I leave Sound of Music, but it's not great, either. Back in my apartment sipping cold water, I hear cyclists' voices as they glide down the street. I can't quite make out what the first guy says.

Matter-of-factly, the other responds, "Okay, go home and commit suicide and we won't get together later" as their bikes whiz by to catch the light at the corner.

So ends another day in J-Ward.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Have Cassette Clock Radio, Will Travel

An overnight visit pleases my Mom no end.

She says it's because my Dad gets up so early and that's when he's most productive. Since I'm often going there to help with assorted chores, we can get an earlier start than if I arrive mid-morning. And maybe that's true but I think she also just likes having any of her daughters around to cook for and fuss over.

When I arrived after my dinner at Merroir, my parents' village wasn't just sleepy, it looked closed down tight except for their house. Getting out of the car, I was greeted by a salty breeze and the sound of the river lapping at the shore. I walked down to the dock before going inside just because I could.

Coming in via the big screened porch, I couldn't help but notice that my father had rearranged the porch furniture. Again. He's always been a re-arranger and as far back as elementary school, I have memories of him rearranging our bedrooms and the living room on a regular basis.

Complimenting him on the new arrangement, I admitted that I hadn't thought any new permutations were possible. "But of course!" he came back, one eye on the Nationals game and the other on finishing up a crossword puzzle.

But of course. Some fathers have hobbies, mine arranges furniture.

When he heard I'd just come from Merroir, his first question was about what kinds of oysters I'd had, pleased to hear I'd been downing Old Saltes. I am his daughter in that way.

After a practically silent night (so unlike the cacophony of city sleeping) with a steady breeze blowing through the window off the river, I joined my parents at the breakfast table just as they were finishing up. Knowing Dad was eager to get busy, I downed a quick breakfast of biscuits, bacon and Grape Nuts so we could.

There's never any way of knowing what a day holds when I go out there to help. Today we began in the bedroom on the third floor, a room with a magnificent view of the Rappahannock, hanging curtains. I gathered up loads of stuff they were ready to let go of and put it in my car bound for the thrift store.

While loading my car, I noticed two rabbits munching greens in the yard. Upstairs a bit later, Dad spotted something through the window and said, "Look at the wingspan of that raptor!" It was swooping directly over the yard where the bunnies had been. Goodbye, Thumper.

It was only morning and already hot and humid, so when my Mom came down dressed in pants and a long-sleeved shirt, I looked at her like she was crazy, asking why she wasn't wearing shorts. "Not with this scar on my leg!" she said dismissively, referring to the knee replacement surgery she had last summer.

There was no talking her into changing, so I let it go. Later, Dad and I were discussing his frustration with her modesty about the scar. "I could understand if we were going into town, but around here? It's just like the way she insists on wearing something to bed when there's someone else in the house, like last night." Oops, it had been a warm night and I hadn't bothered with that nicety.

"Now, me, I've slept nude since I left the army and I make no concessions for guests," he says, over-sharing as he's known to do.

Me, too, I remind him, causing him to nod approvingly. "As it should be." What, all fathers and daughters don't bond over commando sleeping habits?

Over the course of the day, we worked on two of the porches, the little one off their bedroom and the big sleeping porch, doing a thorough cleaning for the season while I nudged them to get rid of stuff they no longer use.

Sometimes that works in my favor, like when we uncovered four radios of various types on the big porch and I immediately called dibs on the cassette player clock radio, which had to be circa late '70s. I didn't recall that cassette clock radios had even existed. Now I have one.

Ditto the traveling bar we unearthed on their little porch. The case had been lovingly swathed in duct tape, no doubt to hold it together over the decades (Dad, matter-of-factly: "Oh, yes, I've recovered this several times") but inside it was as pristine as could be. All the components - four metal glasses, shot glass, wine opener, bottle opener and, yes, serving tray were nestled in their elastic holders inside.

The only surprise was a half-burnt red candle in the case and when I picked it up and looked at him inquisitively, he nodded and grinned. Apparently sometimes when you're using you travel bar, you need a little mood lighting. Leave it to my Dad.

For the first time in years, I saw my parents' record collection leaning up against two walls on the porch. Not sure what surprised me more, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart, or less, Neil Diamond and Herb Alpert.

After lunch we sat enjoying the breeze on the rearranged porch and they told me the latest on the locals. A little gray house had burned down and they'd never even heard the fire trucks. A neighbor had fallen down the steps, hit her head on a safe and died the next day. My Mom, ever the worrier, took this as indication that my father should move the bricks near their porch steps in case he fell and hit his head on them.

My father, never an alarmist, declined to move the bricks and we changed topics. Mom said several of my sisters have been trying to convince them to move to Maryland, where all five of them live. This was news to me.

"If we did move, and we probably won't, we would still want to be on the water," Mom said, surprising me. They don't go down to the dock or beach anymore but she insists they still feel the connection to the river and its calming effects after 30 years there. And they're not leaving that.

Mom wanted me to go upstairs with her so she could try on a new dress she needed hemmed. While we were up there, she pulled out a typewritten sheet and told me she'd come across it today and that she'd never shown it to any of her daughters.

"Since you're the writer, I want you to read it," she said. With no clue what it might be, I began reading something she'd written when she was 45, two months after her mother had died. She'd called it, "Nobody Told Me" and it was about adjusting to life once you're no longer someone's daughter. About losing part of how you define yourself.

It was incredibly moving and completely unlike anything I'd ever known her to write or say, like getting a glance inside her head when I would have been too young to imagine what she was going through. It was a "wow" moment of a perfectly lovely day.

We accomplished more - I hemmed the dress, helped Dad mount the goldfinch feeder over the lilies whose perfume scented our time on the porch, framed the wedding photo of my handsome grandparents - before winding down the day, what else, chatting on the porch again. We're talking people, that's for sure.

And by "we," I mean me and the two people I'm daughter to. Nobody told me I'd won the jackpot by springing from the loins of such shamelessly eccentric and happy people.

But of course I did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Heart Strings

The only luthier I know suggested we have dinner next time I was out seeing my parents,

We'd met when I'd written a piece about him a year or so ago and enjoyed some lively conversation over lunch at the Corner. When he e-mailed with the offer, it was easy to arrange since I already had plans to go to the Northern Neck.

Even better when he suggested Merroir and I agreed quickly and enthusiastically. Driving out to Topping, I passed a car with the bumper sticker, "Peace. Love. Oysters." Right on.

Couldn't have asked for a more ideal day to spend at the river, breezy under a Crayola-blue sky. I scored a table in the shade not long before the luthier arrived to join me, his shirt as pretty a blue as the water and sky.

It was an interesting dynamic because although I knew some very specific things - why he'd first become a musician, how he'd gotten started fixing and eventually crafting guitars- from interviewing him, I didn't really know him.

Fortunately, our server was easygoing and tolerant of delays in making decisions, eventually delivering Raza Vinho Verde and Old Salt oysters while he told me about the growth of fiberglass guitar bodies.

It was some time after we placed our order that he let slip that he'd had an eruption of a year since I'd seen him last, with his marriage of multiple decades unexpectedly ending.

Over grilled Cesar, skate wing piccata with capers and lemon (which he was sure he wouldn't like and loved) and scallops, we talked about what his life had been like for the past year. He admitted that a big part of what he'd done was grieve for the loss of a long-time relationship.

He'd also moved to a one-bedroom cottage on the Carotoman River, a place with a deck where he spots deer, reads and relaxes by the river.

After a concerted effort to pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again, he was feeling pretty good about life now. He'd even begun doing some dating, an impressive feat given that he hadn't dated since he was 20 (!) but it didn't take him long to notce that a lot about dating has changed.

He regaled me with stories about how bold some women have been, how eage to share their phone number. I patiently explained to him that there's a dearth of middle-aged men worth dating. He's finding out that his stock is worth far more than it was last time he was on the dating scene. Sadly, he's already convinced that half the women only show their crazy side after months of seemingly normal behavior.

His best stories were about all the advice he's been given about life after divorce. Several women have insisted he have as much (protected) sex as he possibly can to make up for only having had two women in his entire life. He's been instructed to do a lot of dating.

But we didn't just talk about his upheaval. He had discovered my blog, saying it made him laugh, and was curious if I had plans to write a book and, if so, fiction or non-fiction? He told me about trading his beloved aqua blue '72 MGB for the sailboat he now owns, which led to an explanation about what he likes about sailing. As a former MGBGT owner, though, I could tell he still missed that car.

Turns out his birthday was the week before mine so I heard about his celebration. I told him I was counting tonight as still part of mine since I'd been on a roll the last four nights and he agreed to be part of it.

Being the gentlemanly type, he couldn't resist clarifying that he hadn't asked me to dinner for ulterior motives, but more because he was making an effort to reconnect and establish some friendships now that he's in a new place in his life.

For the second time in a week, I talked to a someone about a decided left turn in direction that their lives were taking and the endless possibilities that offered. How, now that he's acknowledged to himself that he wasn't very happy with how his life was before, he can craft whatever sort of path he chooses.

He's tentatively started down that path by dating. So far, he's been most impressed with a woman 12 years younger who is completely different than him. Says he relishes being with someone who surprises him. I like the sound of that.

My best surprise came as I passed the outdoor kitchen and Chef Pete called out, "You are killin' that yellow summer dress, hon!" Happily married men give the best compliments.

I have to say that driving out there, I had no idea nor expectations about the evening beyond a second conversation with a man I'd met once. Being asked about some of my own choices and aspirations came as a bit of a surprise, albeit in a good way. When he nonchalantly asked if I'd ever get married again, it led to a whole, big discussion about the evolution of relationships. Not every guy's conversational cup of tea.

One thing I'd noticed immediately was that he'd lost weight and he admitted as much, emphasizing what a healthy eater he was now. Not so healthy that he didn't happily share a s'mores doughnut oozing marshmallow and chocolate with me, but apparently I'm the bad influence.

When it comes to desserts maybe, but not when it comes to life. Then I'm just a big cheerleader for anyone brave enough to create the life they want.

Go for it. If not now, when?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Celebrate Good Times

When I plan my birthday progression, I begin with the soundtrack.

That meant starting at Metzger where I'd be able to celebrate to the sounds of vintage soul courtesy of Mr. Fine Wine. I was doing my final primping before Holmes and Beloved were to pick me up when the phone rang.

It was Holmes announcing he was downstairs. I explained that during open window season, I ask that my callers announce themselves through the open window and promptly hung up on him. Looking out my front window, I saw him climb out of the car, spot me watching him and bellow, "Get down here right now!"

That's no way to talk to the birthday girl in her cutest pink dress.

When we arrived at Metzger, the place was empty and I don't just mean of customers. Not a soul, staff or otherwise, was in sight. We sat down at the bar in the silent restaurant to wait for signs of life. I don't know that I've ever been alone in a silent restaurant for 10 or 15 minutes with just my companions. This must be how it feels for the staff before the onslaught.

Eventually the barkeep appeared and set about turning on the soul music he knew I wanted before opening a bottle of Villa Wolf Rose and kicking off my celebration. It wasn't long before Pru and her Beau showed up to join the party while Mr. Fine Wine provided the killer soundtrack.

My plan was to have different courses at different places, so we began with a decadent quail and pistachio terrine lined with a beet gelle, a mound of rich liptauer and a pork belly special. Conversation ranged from how Pru's uncle was at Hazleton with Ozzy Osborn to a heated discussion of wine buying (Kroger versus independent wine shops).

Behind us, the restaurant filled up while we partied on stools.

Two hours later, we packed up to move to Dutch & Co, where a fetching server in a coral striped top, coral lipstick, '80s-style bangles (Beloved resolved to get hers out now that she saw they were back in fashion) and a leather skirt that looked almost identical to the one I got in 1993, led us to a table in the front window awaiting us.

With the last of my birthday's sunshine streaming through the front window, a bottle of Moulin de Gassac "Guilhem" Rose was opened (not that we weren't already pink happy) along with a promise by our server to begin icing down several more.

Before long, there was so much good food on the table it was almost embarrassing. Chilled pea soup appealed not just for how Spring-like it tasted studded with chili shrimp conserva and peanuts but because it came with a promise of pea tendrils, leading to a lament about the lack of the use of the word "tendrils." Word nerds unite.

Holmes got his rye-crusted perfect egg while Beau shared that he'd never had a softshell crab and promptly ordered risotto with Andouille sausage and a softshell. I admire brave eaters.

We started with Moses Sleeper Brie from Jasper Hills Creamery, notable not just for the exquisite mouthfeel of the creamy cheese but for the tangle of spun balsamic on top of it. You broke off a piece of the tangle, laid it on your tongue and the crisp strings dissolved into  the heavy sweetness of balsamic. Brilliant.

My choices, as usual, came off the $5 specials chalkboard because they are inevitably some of the most creative offerings on an already excellent menu. Ahi dolce sausage with cheddar and mustard greens was as bold as breakfast sausage with thin slices of new potatoes and baby bok choy was delicate. Both impressed. For that matter, Holmes' skirt steak with asparagus, smoked mushrooms (the most intriguing element, the fungi taking on ethereal smoky notes) and wild watercress got shared and admired around the table.

As we ate, Holmes brought up how bossy I can be and I argued for how ingrained it is for the oldest of six children to be bossy. Using examples from past dinner parties at this house, he regaled Pru and Beau with my dessert sharing instructions.

Fortunately, you can only say so many bad things about the birthday girl before you have to stop and be nice to her. At least, that's what my mother always said (that and "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," which would eliminate half my commentary).

Enough wine had flowed for talk to fly about sleeping (nude versus clothed), snoring (suffering versus moving to another room) and someone's former classmate Megan Mabe, pronounced "maybe," who played the clarinet.

Church Hill having served our needs nicely, we departed for Oregon Hill and L'Opossum, taking a table in the center of the restaurant because the bar lacked enough available stools for our party, a shame since the bartender is a favorite for his pithy conversation.

But we got the photographer who moonlights as a server and she was masterful at handling our little, loopy group. Ready for a change from endless bottles of Rose at this point, I chose Creme de cassis to accompany our upcoming dessert course of not one but two flaming le petite mort au chocolat (bricks of chocolate pate) and one hot black bottom a la mode (ganache over cake with whipped and ice creams).

As we waited for the arrival of our chocolate course, the booth behind us was served a dessert with a birthday candle and the table broke out into "Happy Birthday," with one of the guys having the most incredible tenor voice and ending the trite song with all kinds of vocal flourishes. They heard that we had a celebrant as well.

Naturally the birthday boy there invited me over to chat, slinging his arm around my shoulders and asking about me. Assuming we'd have similarities given our shared birth date, I asked him to describe himself. "Confident," he said and the woman next to him nodded. Perhaps it's a May 23rd thing.

The guy across the table, the one with the amazing voice, asked for a Sinatra song I particularly liked and then stood and began serenading me with "Happy Birthday." Even better, he then began singing me "Just the Way You Look Tonight," his mellifluous voice thrilling to hear and a completely unexpected gift.

Forks were flying all over the table once the desserts arrived. Beau requested an Emerson martini and the barkeep produced one, much to his great satisfaction. And, yes, we were the last table out.

Pru and Beau drove me home, depositing me on my doorstep not long before the final minutes of May 23rd. Waving farewell and thank you from my stoop, I said the first thing that came into my head. "So we're not going dancing then?"

From there, I was back in the car and headed to Balliceaux with them to catch Bump in the Night, with two women DJs and multiple genres being played. That's some good friends who are willing to unexpectedly go dancing with you when it's almost midnight and the evening's already lasted seven hours.

Pru and I danced, Beau occasionally joining in, as the music wandered from soul to pop to the only recognizable song for me anyway, Chic's "I Want Your Love." I gave up on my shoes for the last half hour (the next morning wondering why my feet were so filthy) but danced anyway.

Now that's how you celebrate a birthday, kids.

Next morning, the festivities continued with Johnny and brunch at a packed Can Can. Just when I'd decided on quiche, our affable server wooed me with a special of tempura-fried softshell on a BLT with brioche bun and a mound of frites the size of my head. He made the right call. Quiche is forever but softshells have a short window.

From there, the afternoon wandered agreeably all over the place. First it was a walk at Maymont, followed by quiet time at a shaded stone pavilion off the main pathway. After putting in an appearance at a party on northside, we retreated to the east end and the Lily Pad, long a favorite place for the two of us to wile away an afternoon. Once, we saw Joe Morrissey there with his teen-aged girlfriend before the whole underage and baby scandal broke.

To my astonishment, the place was crawling with familiar faces, mostly bearded. The songbird, the artist, the banjo player, the book seller, the events coordinator, the front of the house manager, the wine guru, I couldn't believe how many people I saw lounging at the Lily Pad when I never see anyone I know at the Lily Pad. Our server from Dutch & Co, arrived, waving and asking if I'd had a good birthday after I left there.

Good thing I wasn't trying to do anything secretive given how many witnesses I had.

We procured a bottle of Pinot Grigio iced down in a yellow bucket that matched my sunny yellow dress perfectly and set up camp. And wouldn't you just know it? Here comes Joe Morrissey with his teen-aged girlfriend and the baby that caused all the hoopla. Clearly Joe likes the Lily Pad as much as we do.

Boats came and went all afternoon, occasionally dumping out its occupants for a drink at the pad before relaunching. Musicians got up and played under the pergola, short sets mostly. Very casual, more like someone's backyard than at a cafe. It was a perfect afternoon for doing nothing more than sipping wine and watching the river.

Three hours later, we turned in our bucket and headed back to town for dinner. Graffiato's won the dinner lottery by virtue of being open on a holiday weekend Sunday night. It wasn't crowded and for the first time at this Graffiato's, we chose the pizza bar.

With Stevie Wonder continuing my birthday soundtrack overhead, a bottle of Yalumba Vermentino arrived first, followed by chili-marinated duck hearts on local greens and a Porky's Revenge pizza of soprasetta, pepperoni and sausage, the first pizza I ever had at Graffiato's in D.C.

Actually, my birthday celebration itself began in Washington, D.C. years ago at George Washington University Hospital where a woman doctor delivered me and I began the journey to bossiness.

I've been happy enough to be confident ever since. Must be all the terrific people in my life.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fine Art of Having Fun

It was a splendid day for a birthday walk.

Given that it's a long holiday weekend, I was expecting the city to be deserted - it sure is in my neighborhood - only to find it crawling with activity. Downtown, gaggles of families and couples were milling about on practically every block. Brown's Island was teeming with joggers, dog walkers and picnickers, probably lured out by the 70-degree weather.

Even the Pipeline Walkway was crowded and several times I had to stop and let people nervously make their way behind me. I overheard a woman ask her friend, "Would you come down here at 2 a.m.?" and the other responded, "Heck, no!" as if they were traversing a war zone or ghetto siege.

I don't know, on a full moon night, it might be a beautiful place to be.

Midway down the pipeline, I said hello to a guy fishing and he proudly pointed to the rockfish he'd already caught for dinner. When I told him I'd grown up having rockfish or bluefish my Dad had caught for dinner every Friday night of my youth, he grinned.

"Chesapeake Bay?" he asked, already knowing the answer. When he wished me a good day, I shared that it was my birthday and got my first spoken "happy birthday" of the day.

A woman sitting on the walkway while her man fished below pointed at my t-shirt ("Virginia is for wine lovers"), telling me how much she liked it.

Near the end of the walkway were groups of people tubing the river, paused against rocks, maybe for lunch. I usually see them near Belle Isle, but maybe this is where they get out of the water.

Over on the Capital Bike Trail were more bikers than I'd ever seen riding it, maybe because May is bike month, along with the usual walkers and joggers. Two canal boat tours passed by, the occupants on one cheering when they saw fish jumping and then another's waving to some of the bikers who got their attention.

In the Slip, I saw several groups of young girls in volleyball team shirts, their young voices shrill and  laughter obnoxiously loud as they lagged behind their coach or chaperone patiently trying to herd them.

When I got back to Grace Street, I passed a mother and daughter trying to get into Pasture, which isn't open until tonight. Naturally, I inquired if they wanted me to suggest another restaurant.

"That would be wonderful, but she's got to go to the bathroom badly plus we have to be at the convention center by 1:30 for a tournament," the woman said plaintively.

No problem, I got this. Leading them down the street to a Port-a-Potty, the young girl looked eternally grateful. Waiting for her, Mom introduced herself as Gwen from Annapolis, here for, what else, a volleyball tournament.

I led them over to Lucy's, conveniently located a block from their destination and they seemed thrilled. "People here are so nice!" Gwen enthused. Especially people having a birthday today.

Horoscope for May 23 birthday
This year you are so upbeat that some of your friends might not be able to relate to you in the same way. Try to be more responsive to those in your immediate circle. In any case, you put the finishing touches on the fine art of having fun.

Okay, so that might not be news, but it's always good to hear, even for us upbeat types.

She Don't Fade

A friend tells me the other night that I'm the only person over 25 she knows who makes a big deal of her birthday.

If it was meant to be an insult, I didn't pick up on it.

Instead, I went to Amuse at the (very quiet) VMFA to meet Moira for a birthday cocktail or two. Slow when we arrived, it was a hotbed of middle aged activity before long. If there was a middle aged Tinder, this room would have been ripe for it.

But we weren't there to date, we were there to kick off my birthday eve celebration.

I'd brought my Parisian absinthe spoon, a recent gift from Pru, and handed it over to a favorite bartender to fit on the lip of my glass to allow the drip to pass through the sugar cube. Meanwhile, Moira found her life's blood in a bourbon and bubbly cocktail with the most divine lemon/egg white foam that ever graced a drink.

It was an ideal night to be in Amuse's dining room, the deep blue sky and ecstatic sun mere embellishments to the occasion. Noshing on snacks - housemade beef jerky, bleu cheese and bacon deviled eggs and spiced pecans - we compared exes, considered exit strategies and daydreamed about the possibilities of shared free time.

Because it's birthday season, there must be dessert, in this case, a Madame X (absinthe, bubbly and a sugar cube) and a chocolate cake contained in chocolate ganache and split by chocolate mousse under a cloud of whipped cream. If you ever wonder why I walk five miles ever day (besides so that strangers can shout random things at me like this morning's "Great ass!" on the Lee bridge), this is why.

If you wonder what I do on my birthday eve, I go to the National to see Psychedelic Furs despite having seen them last April at the Beacon Theater in Hopewell. It's not just getting to gawk at how amazingly well Richard Butler has aged, it's to hear the music that defined a big chunk of my (relative) youth and to which I danced many, many nights in clubs.

Standing in line to get a wristband, one of the staff called out to the milling crowd, "If you're over 21, have your ID out. If you're under 21, you've all aged really badly." Young man humor. When I raised an eyebrow, he said, "What? I've always wanted to say that to people."

Another staff member pulled me aside, saying, "Don't mind him. He's really 84. He hasn't aged on the outside, but inside..."

Walking in late due to my extended absinthe interlude and much hilarious conversation, I managed to catch the last few songs of Bad English's set, including a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," admittedly captured by the lead singer's (striped shirt, cap, deep voice) charisma.

"We're Black English. Look us up on whatever you look people up on. If we come back, would you come see us?" and a fair amount of cheers resulted. I would for sure. A bit of a ham, he worked well off the drummer at center stage while the girl playing keys was tough to hear, whether by design or a bad sound mix, I don't know.

During the break, I headed to the bar for a Cazadores, delivered by a bartender who inquired sweetly, "Were you walking down the Lee Bridge today?" Damned if I wasn't, but I also wouldn't  think anyone could spot me at 45 mph.

"Oh, I knew it was you," he said. "I recognized you right away."

Chatting with a woman whose first concert was Kiss at age four, she told me that the crowd was older than it had been when she'd come to see INXS. My, how time flies.

Soon after, the Psychedelic Furs came out and from the first moment, singer Richard Butler could have had any one of the middle aged women in the room, present company included. Dapper in a suit with his shirt cuffs hanging out unfastened, he got even better after discarding the jacket leaving only  vest and shirt.

I'm an unabashed fan of it all, the posturing, the hand gestures, the drama. And don't get me started on how he curtsies, cuffs flying, after some songs.

Oblivious to my neighbors, I danced to everything - "High Wire Days," "I Wanna Sleep with You," "Love My Ways" (during which he had the crowd singing along) and "When She Comes." Personally, I could have died happy during "Heartbreak Beat" with his hand on his undulating hips.

And it feels like love,
got the radio on
and it's all that we need

Maybe it's my age, but every possibility imaginable in the '80s resurfaced listening to songs such as "The Ghost in You" tonight. So of course it ended too soon, even after an encore with "Pretty in Pink" that spoke to the crowd who'd arrived via film and not music.

Tequila gone, show over, there was only one thing to do: continue my birthday eve celebration somewhere else. What better way than to stop by Richmond Comedy Coalition and listen to rock god Prabir tell stories from his life and be skewered afterwards by a group of improvisational comedians?

When I arrived, he was telling a Prabir and the Substitutes tour tale from a  stop in West Virginia ("I'm sure that technically they were females...") and talking about some fans getting kind of "handsy" with band members afterwards as they appealed for a place to spend the night.

"I wouldn't say they were cougars but I would say they were bobcats," he explained. "These girls were very aggressive." He brilliantly solved that by putting on a  DVD of "Lord of the Rings" which apparently makes bobcats stop touching band members.

The comedy troupe was soon trashing West Virginia and riffing on his story, occasionally breaking out into "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "All You Need is Love," a scene which closed with the characters falling on their imaginary swords to end the song. West Virginia jokes abounded.

During intermission, I chatted with all kinds of friends - the tourism guy, the beer fiend, the theater lover, the former neighbor and DJ - before we heard one last story from Prabir. This one was less a memory and more a lecture about the wonders of science and time, hardly surprising coming from a major science geek.

As he got deep into metaphysical talk, one of the comedians threw his hands up, walking away shaking his head in disbelief. "F*ck, dude, f*ck," he wailed about trying to make comedy about fourth dimension talk.

"Are there different rules for mating in other dimensions? What if we needed a third element to replicate the species?" he asked rhetorically. "Is there a place where they pair off in threes?" You can only imagine the comedic possibilities of groups of people trying to mate in the fourth dimension.

Although I saw Prabir checking his phone during that sketch, I thought is was laugh out loud funny. Pair off in threes? God, no, two is tough enough.

From there, we somehow got to a funeral for pizza attended by Papa John, Grandma Sbarro and little Cesar, all delivering eulogies. Don't ask.

Absinthe, Furs and laughter? Sure, some people would call this making a big deal of their birthday. Pshaw. You don't see me pairing off in threes, do you?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Remembering What Astonishes

She knew what she wanted and it was poetry and dreampop.

Fortunately for me, Chop Suey was addressing that with a reading featuring three women reading, for an estrogen fest of poetry.

I got there early enough to look for Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd" but, alas, while they had others - "The Return of the Native," "Return of the Greenwood Tree," several copies of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" - no madding crowd.

Taking a seat in one of the metal chairs set up in the bookstore, I found myself conveniently wedged against the art history section. While I thumbed through a book on Currier and Ives (I really need to know more about these guys), I listened in on a debate about Norfolk versus Richmond living ("Have you been on the trails and the river? Have you?").

Fortunately, my favorite Bangles' song came on ("If She Knew What She Wants") and I was able to lose myself in that and my book.

First up was Sarah McCall, a Norfolk teacher and MFA candidate who began with a poem called "Household Survey" and judging by its references to race, sex, housing and education, I'm guessing she, like me, worked the census at some point. Final line: "Is this it? Where is that?"

She read "Ways of Being Born Twice" ("Time heals nothing") and a long poem about Greenwich Village's Cedar Tavern and the ghosts of people such as Frank O'Hara and Dylan. "Dear Love & Co." (sex was part of the & co.) had the most evocative imagery ("the warm bloom of desire").

Next came Michele Poulos, a far quieter and more timid reader, doing two from her chapbook while her husband watched from the second row. Explaining that she'd just finished five years of work on a film about poet Larry Levis, she read "St. Maximus in the Blue Margin," a poem about a monk.

My favorite of hers was the sexually-charged "Thursdays in Faubourg Marigny," written when she was living in New Orleans before relocating to Richmond after Katrina. "A Wind's Requiem" dealt with a Greek relative's house being burnt down ("If only houses could remember the skies that astonish them") and "X-Ray Visions" about flower X-rays ("Those petals, faint as a song").

Last up was Sommer Browning who read from her book "Backup Singers" ("Life accumulates like a U.S. Steel slag heap") while her young daughter made comments to her.

She mentioned that one poem "plagiarized from most of the people in the room" with its references to friends' life happenings. "Federal Holiday" yielded the exquisite imagery of a "sunset hinged to the sky."

Holding up her latest book, "The Circle Book," she observed dryly, "I drew 90 circles and someone published that shit." Showing us pages within, each page showed an identical circle with a different descriptor: Super ball, bottle cap, pencil point up close, tube sock from above, monocle. Even her two-year old found it funny.

And people think poets are dour. You just never know until you go to a reading.

Once we'd been released from our metal chairs, I strolled down to Secco to meet a man with a bent for comedy and a honey-dripping southern accent who offered to buy me a glass of wine in exchange for hearing his idea for me.

Over glasses of Domaine Cambon Beaujolais Rose, we talked about film and movie theaters, sight lines and audience sizes, recreating "My Dinner with Andre" and what a cultural landmark "Hard Day's Night" was. He's that rare person who understands why I only watch movies in public places on a big screen.

And while I didn't say yes to his offer, I'm certainly thinking it over.

When we parted ways, he was off to Emilio's to see Chez Roue and I to Balliceaux to see Night Idea and Shana Falana. The former I'd seen at Live at Ipanema and the latter was dreampop/shoegaze/right up my alley and from Brooklyn.

To my surprise, the show had started much earlier than I'd expected. Mea culpa. I only caught one song of duo Shana Falana's set but I could tell I would have liked more.

As quartet Night Idea was getting set up, I noticed one of the guitarists slip off his shoes and socks, perhaps the better to manipulate the buttons and knobs on his extensive pedal board with his toes. Night Idea is always touted as math rock, which in this case means a cross between prog rock and post rock with just a smidge of metal in there.

And sometimes I like that, the way a band takes you on a sound journey with no clue as to what's coming next, full of stops and starts and temp changes. Despite or maybe because of, some people really seem to like dancing to it.

A guy in front of me was a Deadhead sort of dancer, plucking at imaginary butterflies, flailing his hands at his side or occasionally looking to be in a full convulsion, you know the type. Just slightly off the irregular beat but he's dancing to an inner rhythm anyway so that's irrelevant. Having a good time, which is all that's important.

Another guy resembled that Peanuts character who, in the big dance scene, just stands in place and shakes his mop of curly hair. That was this guy. Adorable.

I spent time with the bartender who was doing his last shift as a single man before getting married Monday.

With random color and black and white videos playing behind them, they proceeded to get their audience (because it looked like all their friends were there) whipped into a frenzy with rock as complicated as a math problem. My response was understandably more subdued but I was still enjoying the musicianship and the surprises.

During their last song, I spotted a friend and he summed it up. "Such dude rock." Now that he mentioned it, practically everyone in the room was a guy.

That's why I always take care of my poetry fix first. You just never know where you'll end up.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

World Turning

Another part of my youth is history.

I mean, forget about growing up with a milkman (Mr. Ollie of Greenspring Dairy) delivering milk to our house when I was a child, forget about bringing home a live baby chick in second grade (as all second graders did after watching them incubate and hatch in class), forget about being allowed to walk home unattended from elementary school for lunch.

All small potatoes.

The Maryland DMV has eliminated the parallel parking test from its field driving test. Yes, yes, I understand that Virginia and D.C. had already axed it, but I clung to hope that Maryland, where I'd taken my driver's license test, was better than that. Nope.

My Richmond grandfather, then living with us, went with me to take my test, he in the passenger seat of his sporty 1973 Plymouth Duster and me at the wheel. He never doubted for a second that I'd pass my test with flying colors and I did. Even the parallel parking part, which didn't come nearly as easily to me then as it does now after decades of city living.

According to the Washington Post, and, yes, I still read an actual newspaper (go look it up, kids), the DMV is eliminating the test because it's redundant. New drivers have to do a two-point back up and they claim that covers the same skill set. Bull feathers. Popular consensus among driving instructors is that it's the back log of people wanting to take their driver's test that was the motivation for change.

Here's where I start sounding like an old person. First we don't require drivers to parallel park and next, what, we don't require them to learn how to downshift on a steep slope? Merge? Maybe we no longer bother teaching them to steer into a skid and see how that goes.

It's a slippery slope when kids are only expected to display the most rudimentary driving abilities to get a license that puts them in traffic with the rest of the world.

My grandfather would be appalled. But then, he began his career as a milkman for Richmond Dairy by driving a horse-drawn wagon, a far cry from that '73 Duster he used to cruise around in.

Looks like the adaptations over my life span will be just as dramatic...says the woman who wasn't allowed to wear pants to school until she was in the 10th grade and now seldom wears anyhing but skirts and dresses.

Ah, progress