Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Winter of My Discontent

Sirens wail, are you listening
In the Ward, snow is glistening
A beautiful view, 'though me without you
Walking in a winter wonderland

Gone away is the heron
Here to stay solo Karen
No cause for a song as I go along
Walking in a winter wonderland

On Brown's Island, I can see a snowman
And perhaps built to be Parson Brown
He'll ask if I'm married, I'll say no, man
Though Mom says she can't die until I am

Later on, I'll feel dire
Wanting for talk, not desire
To face once again the want of that friend
Walking in a winter wonderland

Sirens wail, are you listening
In the Ward, streets are glistening
A monochrome view, still moi without vous
Walking in a winter wonderland

All alone on the pipeline
Still it feels like a lifeline
Thinking of this song as I go along
Walking in a winter wonderland

In Jackson Ward, I could build a snowman
And pretend that he's the one I seek
I'll have lots to say to Mr. Snowman
Until my neighbors take me for a freak

When it snows, ain't it thrilling
Though my legs got a chilling
We'll talk and we'll play, the fun, brainy way
Walking in a winter wonderland
Walking in a winter wonderland

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Business as Usual

A person whose opinion I respect recently told me point blank, "All men suck."

Although I don't entirely believe it, the irony that it was a man telling me this wasn't lost on me. I saw Mac Tuesday night and by the time we got together less than 24 hours later, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and NPR's chief news editor David Sweeney had been added to the male rubble heap of harassers.

And yet, based on just the women I know, the height of that Mt. Trashmore is only going to climb as more and more women are finally emboldened to speak up.

In all the conversations I've had with women about this issue - and I admit, I bring it up with everyone - only one woman has said that she had never once been sexually harassed. What's notable about this is that she's 84 years old. She also happens to be my mother, so I'm not going to doubt her word, but I'm inclined to see her as the exception that proves the rule.

Every other woman with whom I've discussed this topic has stories, most of us lots and lots of stories. Unwanted kisses and touching. Inappropriate comments and gifts. Suggestions of actions generally reserved for partners.

Last night at dinner before we went to Virginia Repertory to see, of all things, "Mary Poppins," Mac and I were lamenting the women who don't side with the women making the accusations. Why are some women saying that decades-old incidents should not be brought up now? And what woman can't understand why a woman working for a powerful man would be afraid to go to her superiors (not that that usually got results) and risk her position?

Men, especially white men, hold all the power and women have long known this.

When I was sixteen, I interviewed for my first real job. I'd been babysitting for years and, in fact, that's when a man had first acted inappropriately to me. Sitting in my parents' friends' basement watching TV, I heard the door open upstairs hours before the couple and their friends had said they'd be home. The husband of the other couple came down the steps, walked over to the couch where I was sitting and laid down on it, placing his head in my lap.

I was equal parts terrified and at a complete loss what to do. He reached up and began stroking my face with his hand and talking, slurring actually, and I felt powerless to do anything. What pre-teen is prepared for something like that? When I didn't respond, he kept on doing it.

The only reason it didn't end worse was because the other three adults came through the upstairs door and he jumped up with the energy of a non-drunk, giving me a warning look as he did. Did I go home and tell my parents? Nope. I felt guilty somehow, so I kept my mouth shut.

Babysitting eventually lost its allure and not just because of that incident. I was ready for the big time: a pay check.

The job was as a Fotomate at a Fotomat booth, those yellow kiosks in strip center parking lots where people got their film developed and photos printed. The uniform was everything you'd expect of a job called Fotomate: a yellow and blue polyester mini-dress.

During the interview, the regional manager asking the questions was pleasant and polite, asking about my school life, family life and other innocuous subjects. When he'd heard enough, he told me I had the job. "We only hire pretty girls," he told me. "Welcome to the Fotomat family."

So the straight A report card wasn't a factor, the recommendations from teachers and people I'd babysat for were meaningless, the ease with which I answered his what-if scenarios had no merit. He liked my looks, perhaps thought I'd look good in the uniform and I was hired for $1.65 an hour.

As I got up to leave, he thanked me for coming and patted me on the ass. "Congratulations!" he said as we parted ways. Did I share that with anyone? Sure didn't.

When I took a job with a radio station in the '90s, it was only the second day of work when a DJ came in, slapped me on the ass and said, "Nice ass!" When he asked if I was wearing a girdle, I reflexively said no and he responded, "Great ass!" The station manager regularly called me in to his office because a) he "needed" a hug or b) he wanted to do a tequila shot and didn't want to do it alone. This is the man who'd hired me, so I said nothing.

The fact is, I've got plenty more stories like those. Don't talk to me about why women didn't come forward when they were touched, groped, propositioned, flashed or whatever.

Up until very recently, we knew better.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

To Neck, To Love, To Propose

My thinking was, if it's warm enough to be on the roof, it's warm enough to be by the bay.

So when a certain pink hotel-owning woman made an executive decision and posted it online - 63 degrees in November? That's enough for us to open Q Rooftop for a drink or two and watch a spectacular fall sunset. Bring a coat and scarf and come on up! - I naturally took note and mentioned it to Mac on our sunny walk along the river this morning.

Only then did it occur to me that weather fine enough for rooftop sipping combined with neither of us having to work today was practically a blueprint pointing us in the direction of Merroir. It didn't hurt that we both love a good road trip, either.

By 2:00, we were en route with her Sirius radio set to the '70s station - because Al Wilson's "Show and Tell" guarantees a good time - and by 3:00, easing down winding Locklie's Road, where the absence of leaves on the trees meant we spotted the brilliant, blue water far sooner than a summer visit allows.

We'd missed the lunch crowd, beat the dinner crowd and had our choice of tables, asking only for one in full sunlight.

The moon was already rising in the sky as we ordered a dozen Old Saltes and settled back to watch a sailboat, masts down, glide into the marina next door. Fate was smiling on us because instead of 12, 15 briny oysters arrived on our platter and we slurped them down like we'd just walked four miles. Oh, wait...

Within minutes, we realized how impeccable our timing was as a foursome joined us outside and a busload of people arrived in the parking lot. The latter (oyster tourists, perhaps?) were apparently on some sort of guided tour where they were led to the dockside building were oyster spat are nurtured to learn about aquaculture, but not to the tables to partake of the fruits of that labor. Tragic, really.

Recognizing us for the starving women we were, our server came back to recite the specials and we gave two the immediate nod: brussels sprouts with cherries and honey, and tuna tacos.

When I mentioned that I was tempted by the fish cakes over mesclun on the menu because they hadn't been on the menu last time I was there, our server tells us that the menu had been changed only yesterday and they'd been added. When I ask what kind of fish, she says rockfish and Mac swoons. We'll take them, too.

When the food arrived, we dove right in, so when she returned not too terribly long after to check on us, asking, "You ladies need any...oh, no, you don't," she was laughing as she looked at two empty plates and two more that were down to the last few bites.

No shame in a healthy appetite.

By that point, the tour bus had pulled around and was casting an enormous shadow on the area where the foursome was sitting enjoying their Stingrays (nice, but not nearly salty enough for some of us) and don't you know that one of the women at the table (the one wearing shorts) marched right over to that bus driver and asked him to pull up enough to give us back our sunlight?

On a day as fine as today, nobody wants their mellow harshed and if buses must be moved, so be it.

It was when I was coming back from the bathroom - still located outside, which Mac and I think is one of Merroir's most honest features - that I was spotted by the long-time chef I'd first met on my initial visit back in June 2012 when I'd interviewed him. I rave about the rockfish cakes, he grins, shrugs and says, "Tis the season."

Next thing I know, he's coming out to the porch to meet me for a quick catch-up session and bear hug. Just as I'm letting go, he squeezes me again and jokes, "It's so great to see you. Wanna go neck?" and cracks me up. When I tell Mac about it, she laughs, too, wondering who says "neck" anymore."

Middle-aged chefs?

The sun is dropping below the tree line when we finally pull away from the water, but we're both happier for having spent the time with a view of the moon rising, birds soaring and boat traffic.

Once back in J-Ward, we did the only sensible thing and strolled over to Quirk Hotel to ride the elevator to the Q rooftop bar. After all, Mac had never been, it had been over a year since I had and, frankly, we had nothing better to do. Sure, we'd missed the sunset, but drinks and views awaited us.

The real pleasure was how uncrowded it was. Because I'd only been during peak season in the past, I was unprepared for how spacious it felt with less than 20 people up there. As we were ordering, a guy paying his check pointed out how he'd expected it to feel colder and it wasn't. It was lovely.

Even so, Mac couldn't resist an Irish coffee, saying yes to the bartender when she offered both Jameson's and Bailey's, while I toasted the night sky with a plastic Christmas-decorated party cup two thirds full of Prosecco. I feel certain that's not a standard pour, not that I told her how to do her job.

Taking our libations in hand, we walked the perimeter of the rooftop so Mac could admire the views east, west and south, from whence the breeze was coming.

As it turned out, it was a new experience for me, too, since I'd never been up there in the dark before. The red and green traffic lights of Broad Street looked particularly seasonal and festive, but the most striking vista was the twin up-lit spires of the Mosque against a fading red horizon.

Once we'd finished sipping our drinks on a bench facing south and toward the river, we meandered back to my house and Mac's car, because of course the night wasn't over with Secretly Y'All starting in less than an hour.

Now I'm going to sound like the old-timer talking about how I've been going to Secretly Y'all for storytelling for years except that now it's so crowded that Mac and I couldn't even find seats despite arriving 35 minutes before it began. Insert shaking fist. As my theater critic friend and I discussed, Secretly Y'All has completely outgrown the space at Flora, unless the goal is to worry the fire marshal and make people shed clothing because it's so warm with body heat.

We plastered ourselves against the back wall with one stool between us for stories around tonight's theme, "This Doesn't End Well." As it turned out, that applied to more than the stories.

There was one about an 18-year old and his friends involving their shared love of trespassing and climbing on top of buildings that ended with a drunk girl duct-taped to a table and a friend in intense groin pain from a fall, but, as Mac pointed out, who doesn't have one of those stories?

Another involved a woman who was trying to say yes to life and wound up encouraging a sociopath (yes, I'll go to the park with you, yes, I'll give you my phone number, yes, I'll answer the door at all hours) who lived in the apartment beneath hers and kept a lizard farm in his old TV. So many red flags.

Then there was the guy who retired two weeks ago and couldn't stop talking. There are only three rules at Secretly Y'All: the story must be true, no notes are allowed and you must keep your story to 7 minutes. A bell rings at 6 minutes to give you a heads up and you wind things up quickly when you hear it. This guy showed up with notes (not used, thank heavens) and then proceeded to tell us about what the social climate was like in 1969, what the effects of Hurricane Camille were on Nelson County and a thousand other rambling details while ignoring the bell ringing every minute for about 12 or 13 minutes. Ouch.

We heard from a woman with a drinking problem assuming you think 12 glasses of wine and 9 gin and tonics in one night is problematic. No? How about after imbibing all that, she's outside a bar trying to make herself barf so she can go back in and drink some more? That one ended with, "Hi, I'm Sarah and I'm an alcoholic." Who knew we were going to an AA meeting?

One story involved a guy in traffic with no A/C flipping off another car and the guy following him and putting a pistol to his head. He got out of it by telling the guy that the finger wasn't for him, it was for the world and then spinning a tale about his wife and best friend's infidelity that had the pistol guy feeling sorry for him. If this sounds like it didn't end badly, please know that he still had no A/C after the guy left.

Finally, there was a guy who told a story of trying to avoid a crashed car on Powhite Parkway and then skidding on ice right into it. When another car skidded and headed for them both, he was hit, run over and his head pinned under the car's axle, getting third degree burns on his shoulders. Miraculously, once at the hospital, he was fine except for the burns. The worst part, he said, was seeing his mother's reactions to his situation.

With a theme like tonight's we were bound to hear some awful stories, but that one ended with the storyteller seriously choked up and trying to convey what he'd learned. "Fall in love with your existence," he directed the overflow crowd in a voice thick with emotion.

He even thanked his girlfriend for sticking by him during his difficult recovery, calling her up on stage to show his appreciation. And wouldn't you just know, after hearing an array of stories - awful, overly revealing, trite, uninteresting - he dropped to one knee and proposed to her right in front of all of us.

The question took longer to sink in for her than it did for the crowd who began cheering and applauding for what we'd just witnessed. Organizer Kathleen took control back by going to the mic and saying, "I don't know if that fits tonight's theme, but congratulations!"

Proof positive that sometimes you've got to ignore the theme and show and tell with your heart.

Meanwhile, I love my existence, but I'd heard all the bad endings I needed for one night. And on that note, Mac and I called it a day.  A very fine day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

With Filter Clogged

A restaurant-owning friend once told me that the best part of his place being closed on Mondays was that Dutch & Co. was open.

I'm inclined to agree and I'm only a lowly freelance writer. But the last few days - because of course I had to work every day of the long holiday weekend - involved some mind-expanding interviews that, while enriching, left me with lots to ponder.

There was the couples counselor who broke down the stages of a relationship, what happens in each one and, more importantly, why they happen and what you can do to address them. I shouldn't be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself and your relationships simply by talking to an expert.

Then there was the historian and author who explained the Virginia roots of today's radical right to demonstrate how the country got itself into the worst political crisis in living memory. She'd done a fascinating research job linking up all the balls that have been in play since the mid-1950s to lead us to this unenviable place we find ourselves in 2017.

And by "lots to ponder," I also mean "in need of bubbles and conversation."

I found both when the Lady G scooped me up and I directed her to Dutch & Co. - a place she'd somehow never been - past all kinds of traffic jams, police cars with lights on and fender benders. Holy cow, did everyone forget how to drive over the long weekend?

If the stretch between Jackson Ward and Church Hill is any indication, they sure did.

The restaurant was an oasis of calm with a sole bar sitter our only competition for the bartender's attention. He had no problem talking Lady G into the cocktail of the evening, an appealing reddish concoction called Your Pal and starring Rye and Campari among other things. Sitting next to my Cava on the bar, the two drinks made a festive holiday tableau.

Because it had been seven weeks since we'd last met up, we were both bursting with trials, tribulations and totally trivial anecdotes, so we just alternated opening our mouths to debrief the other. We both have out-of-town sisters and had seen them, so that's a reliably rich vein to mine. Thanksgiving tales were inevitable, but so was fine-tuning our road trip plans.

It was only because we both paused to catch our breath that the bartender had a moment to inquire after our appetites. Given how much more we had to cover, it seemed easiest just to order everything on the bar menu, two glasses of Cava and get back to it.

What finally shut us up was the arrival of food. We slathered pork fat biscuits - so rich they felt heavy - with butter and applebutter. Panko-crusted fried cauliflower got the spicy Chinese treatment with chile sauce, scallions, cucumbers and basil, causing Lady G to note, "I could eat this all night long."

We wrapped smoked salmon rillette in salmon skin blinis and topped them with chive yogurt. And to satisfy our love of brine and off-season longing for the beach, we slurped Ruby Salt oysters from the Eastern Shore with abandon.

Once we'd achieved an elegant sufficiency, we went back to swapping stories. She won the evening hands down with a crazy story about a psychic sending her a message from her dead husband about his favorite Honda lawnmower requiring attention.

Don't you know Lady G immediately informed her current husband that the mower had needs?

"And this is what I love about him," she shared, laughing hilariously. "He went right out to the garage to check on it." Turns out the mower was in such desperate need of a new air filter that he was amazed it was still running, so he replaced that, changed the oil and sharpened the blades.

When she reported this back to the friend who knows the psychic, she learned that there was an additional message for her from her first love, this one presumably about something other than power tools, but Lady G has yet to reach her to find out.

The bartender had no trouble interesting us in dessert, although we eschewed a menu and just asked for whatever was chocolate. We're simple women, really. That resulted in salt-dusted chocolate semi-freddo showing up, adorned with plum slices that had been stirred with aged balsamic, all of it over a puddle of extra virgin olive oil.

It was a perfectly lovely marriage of sweet and savory and only derailed our back and forth briefly.

Since I'm not in a relationship, all the conversation about dealing with a man came from her. Since I get out far more than she does, I was the one telling her about the plays and cabarets I'd recently seen, although not one but two friends had invited her to join them for "Legally Blond" and she'd declined both offers.

I got that. We're not the legally blond types, if you know what I mean.

And speaking of, I couldn't help but notice the black pom-pom earrings set against a blond up-do on a favorite stylish waitress. Complimenting her on them, she said, "You know I love to thrift," and I did from past conversations (we're like-minded in that respect). Seems she'd bought a black sweater with small pom-poms around the neck and had removed two, glued them to earring backs and voila! Instant DIY earrings.

"They sell pom-poms in all colors, so you could do the same with a lighter color that would show up on a brunette," she suggested. A fine idea if I wore earrings (I don't) or had pierced ears (nope) or was crafty (please!).

Meanwhile, the bartender complimented our style, telling us we'd done it right, leisurely sampling around the menu to give the newbie a sense of the kitchen and the vibe. Safe to say it's not my first rodeo.

By the time the last of the bubbles was finished, the dining room was well over half full, including several restaurant people enjoying their evening off.

"We should come back here next time," Lady G announced, although next time's location won't get decided until next time. "This place is perfect."

Not news to me or my restaurant friend. Hell, her psychic probably already knew that.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What She's Having

Certain sounds are positively unmistakable.

So when I walked out of my apartment this afternoon into the hallway to the sounds of a woman crying, "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, ohohohoh!" from behind the back apartment door, I knew exactly what I was hearing: neighbor sex.

And while we've all heard fake sex in movies, I can't say I've ever heard a woman climax live before. Granted, it sounds just like the simulated variety (see: "When Harry Met Sally"), but it somehow made me feel like an audio voyeur, not that my overhearing it was intentional.

All I needed was bananas and kleenex at the grocery store, for cryin' out loud (intentional, yes).

As I was headed down the steps toward the front door, her shrieks got louder, she reached that final "Ooooooooh!" and I felt obligated to let myself out and lock the door as silently as possible. But why? I'm not the one who was broadcasting my business, I was simply on my way out.

I know some people like a sandwich after having sex, but I'd only heard sex, so what I wanted was a pizza from Galley Market and I couldn't think of a single reason not to drive to southside to get one. I'd been craving another since I'd had my first a month ago.

When I ordered my Bianca pizza -  house Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, garlic, black pepper and olive oil on a crust with the chew of a fine baguette - I told the cashier I felt kind of lame ordering the exact same pizza I'd ordered last time.

"No shame in that," he assured me. "I go back and forth between the Bianca and the Grape & Gorgonzola, so I'm almost as bad."

Waiting at the counter for my pie to bake, I noticed a new piece of red neon announcing "Giustino's Pizza" hanging from the ceiling, an addition since my first visit giving credit to the multi-talented percussionist and pizza-maker who I could see busy in the kitchen through the open doors.

When he spotted me, he came out to say hello and I shared that I'd left Jackson Ward to come to southside for his outstanding crust and pitch perfect toppings. When I told him I've also been telling everyone I know to go eat his pie, he wrapped me in a bear hug, apologizing in advance for getting flour all over me.

What's a little flour between cook and eater?

It was everything I could do to drive that Bianca home before diving in. I thought I might arrive home to hear round two in progress, so I entered tentatively, but all was quiet on the back apartment front.

No shame in that. Sometimes once is enough.

Tiki and Tacky

We'll call it the kick-off to the holiday season.

Walking to the car when my posse came to pick me up, I saw Pru had her window down as she greeted me with one word. "Outfit?" I understood that to mean that she didn't recognize the dress under my unbuttoned coat and wanted a look-see at my latest thrift store find.

She not only approved of the red/gray/black chevron pattern but agreed with me that the $6 dress had my name written all over it. It makes it so much easier to shop when that's the case.

We were the first diners in Flora and our server recognized me immediately. "I've waited on you before, haven't I?" she inquired. Why, yes, I recall your face, too, but how do you remember one customer out of scores? Well done there.

When I requested a complicated yet sassy drink with no limitations on flavor profile, she grinned at my description and said she couldn't wait to pass my order on to the bartender. Pru seconded the order because who wants simple when complex is an option?

What neither of us could have expected was for her to return with a cookie-jar sized ceramic pineapple, complete with leaf-like lid. When she pulled off the top, there were two bendable straws, a pink paper umbrella for adornment and two very happy women to drink it.

The unlikely part of all that is that earlier when Beau had notified me of pick-up time, he'd commented on the grilled shark tacos we were both looking forward to and then on the unseasonable weather.

"I guess I'll wear shorts! 70!" he enthused, to which I'd responded, "Windows wide open! Wish we had a tiki bar to go to!" Ask and ye shall recieve, it seems.

What we didn't get was shark tacos because they're no longer on the menu, although the shrimp ceviche with watermelon, radishes, jalapenos and red onion I had instead was every bit as stellar as the tacos had been.

And that was after we'd had a leisurely first course of tomatillo and habanero salsa (too hot for anyone but Beau), not one but two orders of black bean dip topped with requeson and ancho chile oil (easily the most elevated black bean dip I've ever had), guacamole with queso cotija and ancho (still the best in town) and another salsa of tomatoes and pepitas (delicious but it had stiff competition for our attention).

No exaggeration, we went through three bowls of salty chips just to get all that to our mouths.

With this crew, we usually trade bites of entrees, but it was all any of us could do to finish what was on our own plates after such an indulgent first course. And there was no way on earth Pru and I could finish that punch bowl of a drink, try as we did.

En route to Richmond Triangle Players, we drove Monument Avenue to see what holiday lights were up on the grand houses that line it - even though I'm inclined to think it's a tad early for all that - as a prelude to the two David Sedaris seasonal plays we were about to see.

"Season's Greetings" featured the consistently excellent Jacqueline Jones as Jocelyn, the opinionated matriarch of a suburban family dictating the annual Christmas newsletter for friends and families, circa 1995. Jones is a master at skirting that line between sweet as pie and judgmental as hell, always with a smile on her face.

Where it got Sedaris hilarious were her rantings about having to care for her daughter's crack baby and put up with the 22-year old daughter (in a skirt the size of a beer koozie) her husband had fathered in Vietnam and who had shown up on their door step.

Naturally it ends up with death, incomplete Christmas shopping and complete empathy for Jocelyn.

Even more well-known, "The Santaland Diaries" starred Robert Throckmorton as a Sedaris stand-in for his time spent working as Crumpet the elf in Santaland at Macy's in New York, a job that not only requires wearing green velvet and red and white striped socks, but one that would pluck anyone's last nerve.

Along the way, we got a Billie Holiday impersonation, plenty of sexual innuendo and a sense of the challenges involved in dealing with photo-obsessed parents and demanding children when your job is to be an enthusiastic elf at all times. It's enough to drive a person to write.

Jumpin' jingle bells, it's not even December and it feels like the season of ask and you shall receive is already in full swing.

Yo, Santa, I've got a request or two and I'm not talking about tiki drinks...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Time to Fly

How about the 12:10? I can also do the 9:50 one, but I think it's too early for you.

Definitely too early. Even so, the only problem with meeting a girlfriend for a movie at 12:10 is that it's hard to have an appetite for buttered popcorn less than an hour and a half after finishing breakfast.

Meeting at 11:45 meant that I didn't get my walk in first, but it was worth it to hear about her trip this week to Pittsburgh: multiple record stores, killer Detroit-style pizza and the contemporary art museum known as the Mattress Factory, which she assured me I'd love.

Best of all, she and her cute husband took the jaunt for no reason other than to escape family turkey day.

When we'd run into each other at the Waxahatchee show on Sunday, we got on the subject of how much we both love movies and how eagerly we both were anticipating Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, "Lady Bird." Naturally when I saw it was at Movieland, I notified her so we could make a date, only to find out she was in Steel City. But only till Thursday, so we made a date for Friday.

She was expecting the theaters to be mobbed and I was expecting them to be dead and the reality was something in between. It was a good-sized crowd heavy on women of all ages for a film that began with a Joan Didion quote: "Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento."

I've no doubt Joan would know.

From there, it was a coming-of-age story focusing on the non-stop battles between a strong-willed high school senior and her strong-willed Mom who undoubtedly loves her, but never really shows that she likes her. Just what every teen-aged girl doesn't need.

It's also a love letter to Sacramento, which Lady Bird (her chosen name, not her given name) refers to as "the mid-west of California" and can't wait to escape its cloying confines by applying to east coast colleges. Her senior year involves eating communion wafers with her best friend, losing her virginity and waiting for the opportunity to live through something.

Only a 17-year old wishes for the inevitable.

Walking out, my girlfriend's first words were, "I love you, Karen, but I should have brought my Mom to see this with me. I could relate to all that. It was our story." I took no offense and told her that for me, it had no relevance at all to my relationship with my Mom, who had five younger daughters to focus on by the time I got to my last year of high school.

The film was stellar and will undoubtedly get all kinds of deserved Oscar nods, but its greatest strength in my eyes was how true the characters and story rang, a fact I attribute to a woman screenwriter and director. We never felt like we were seeing these women through a man's gaze and that's far too rare in filmmaking.

Meanwhile, today's lunch was pitch-perfect: a leftover turkey sandwich so good it left me wanting another. Fortunately, I didn't have another because I know from experience that's a slippery slope.

Because I got two last minute assignments on Thanksgiving Eve, I briefly considered staying in tonight, but gave into my baser instincts and went to the VMFA where I could hear the Reginald Cyntie Group onstage in the atrium practically the moment I walked in. A big crowd was seated in front of the Maryland quintet (tenor sax, trombone, bass, keys, drums) as they filled that high-ceilinged space with protest songs, African and Caribbean-influenced songs and original jazz.

I only heard a couple of songs before they went on break, giving me a chance to check out the brand new Eakins oil sketch in the American galleries, although it took asking four people before anyone could tell me its location.

Call me persnickety, but if you're going to notify members of a new acquisition, shouldn't you also be able to direct them to it?

And then, because the museum wasn't all that busy - certainly not as crazy as it is on a typical Friday night - I got a ticket and went downstairs to see "Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China" with a small, well-mannered crowd.

I was completely unprepared for learning that when Ying Zheng had been buried, it was with an army of almost 8,000 life-size clay soldiers, chariots and cavalry horses. This guy got his crew started on his burial entourage almost as soon as he became emperor, for heavens' sake.

It was also fascinating to learn that all this had only been discovered in 1974 and by farmers, accidentally at that. And by "all this," I'm referring to the mere 20% that's been excavated. That's a crazy amount left to uncover.

When I finished gawking at death souveniers, I returned to the atrium for music in time to hear Reginald introducing one of their protest songs, "Blues of the People."

"We have a lot going on that's not good in this country right now," he said. "We've got someone in office who's a bobblehead and that's a problem, so I wrote a song about how anyone can be a deplorable."

Preach it, son.

They followed that with a Fela Kuti-sounding song called, "Piece of Resistance" that inspired a couple to get up and dance. Soon another woman joined them and a man with a walker/seat on wheels made his way to the dance floor, too, leaning on it as he danced and twirled.

Acknowledging the upcoming season, the band went into the jazziest, most improv-filled "O Tannenbaum" you ever heard and all of a sudden, there were a couple dozen people up there shaking their groove things to a Christmas standard complete with far-ranging solos.

He dedicated "Ballad for the Masses" to all the people who sit at home while others attend protests and marches before doing another funked up and almost unrecognizable holiday gem, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

The band closed out with "Daybreak," which he said he'd written as a 20-year old while watching a sunset on the beach. I like to think he meant sunrise, but who's going to correct the man orchestrating the entertainment?

For that matter, daybreak is in the bleary eyes of the beholder. Around here, daybreak is whenever I get up.

And that's never in time to catch a 9:50 movie, I can assure you.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Teachable Turkey Moment

Yet again, pure coincidence took me down a rabbit hole.

Waking up to a colder-than-necessary Thanksgiving Day, I nevertheless headed down to the river for a walk. Like Thanksgiving days past, the city was eerily silent with next to no traffic and few cars parked in Jackson Ward or downtown.

People are gone, baby, gone.

I was within spitting distance of home when I passed my car on a side street and, knowing there was plenty of parking right in front of my apartment, decided to move it. It wasn't like it would have been a far walk to the car, so there was really no compelling reason for me to climb in and re-park.

Except that the moment I started the car, it was filled with the sound of a monologue-type song I didn't know, though the voice and nature of the song caught my ear. Did I know it? If I did, my brain wasn't sure what I was hearing, so I sat and listened to find out who and what it was.

Turns out it was Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," which apparently has been played as a Thanksgiving tradition on radio for decades because the lyrics involve a real life littering incident that happened to him on Thanksgiving 1965.

I'm seeing a pattern. Earlier this week, I'd seen "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and recognized none of it and now here I was hearing a song long associated with Thanksgiving yet new to me, except for the title.

Who am I and how have I missed out on these Thanksgiving Day classics?

Given that I'd heard the song on Thanksgiving and I had absolutely nothing to do until my turkey dinner at 4:00, I proceeded to research the 18-minute masterpiece that is the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree."

Not sure how much time I lost (best guess: a fair amount) to learning that not only had it been based on real events, but that the song's overall purpose was as an anti-Vietnam war protest song. Well, that explained all those lyrics I'd heard about the draft board inanity of refusing to induct him because his littering offense made him of questionable moral fiber to kill Vietnamese and burn villages.

All I can say is, thank you WNRN for upping my cultural literacy by playing a song I should have known about 40 years ago. I like to think I increased my Thanksgiving bona fides today because of it.

Turkey with all the trimmings was taken with my favorite musician at Camden's Orphans' Thanksgiving where the rule is you have to be a party of three or fewer because the chef believes if you have four or more, you should cook your own damn turkey. That said, we were seated next to a five-top and midway through our yams, a four-top sat down on the other side of us.

Clearly, the three person rule is up for interpretation.

But our dinner was pretty wonderful - though I'll always prefer stuffing with hot sausage - and after downing a fine salad of mesclun greens to clear the arteries for that was to come, we got down to the main event: turkey, dark and light, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, stuffing and green bean casserole.

To wash it all down, I enjoyed a glass of Louis Latour "Cuvee Latour," a perfectly balanced white burgundy with an appealing floral nose that provided a refined note for such an all-American meal.

Only when it came to dessert did my dinner companion and I part ways. He was in an apple pie mood while no less than our server anticipated that I'd require chocolate pate. "And I know not to take your plate until you've cleared the last crumb off it," she joked, referencing the one time she reached for it when I had a bite or two left and was merely taking a breather.

The smart ones learn so I don't have to resort to using my fork as a defensive weapon.

We rolled out of there - leftover turkey sandwiches in hand - as the next wave was settling in, although I pity anyone trying to eat a meal that substantial so long after sunset.

Like Arlo sang, I had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. Another thing the two of us have in common is long-winded opinions.

And now I know how much I've got to be thankful for - though perhaps not quite as much as in past years - since unlike Arlo, I've never been arrested for littering.

I may finally be up to Thanksgiving speed.

Mmm, Nice

If the hour we started was uncivilized, surely the hour we ended was.

For weeks now, I'd had plans with Pru and Beau for dinner at Secco followed by a screening of "Double Indemnity" at the Byrd. When I messaged Beau asking what time they'd be picking me up, his response was, "Ridiculously early at 4:45."

I patiently explained that it was Thanksgiving Eve and thus rules of civility don't apply. Plenty of people were starting happy hour mid-afternoon. I invoked the beach, where happy hour starts anytime you like, but he said the beach doesn't count. Also, it should be noted, he was the one who'd made the reservation.

A few hours later, he notified me that Pru was under the weather so it would be just us two. "You down with that?' he wanted to know. As long as you can provide sufficient conversation, I sure am.

We got to Secco just as the sun was setting at the ungodly hour of 4:54 and before they officially opened, but the owner was gracious enough to let us inside the warm building (where the staff was doing last second prep) rather than waiting outside in the suddenly frigid air.

Once seated with our coats checked, Beau realized he'd left his phone in his jacket, making it easy for us to qualify for Secco's unplugged happy hour, although we had nothing to put in the lidded box on our table, which is where customers are supposed put their devices to qualify. It was all window dressing anyway since Beau's smart enough to keep his phone pocketed when he's with me.

To assuage his concerns about the early hour, I suggested we begin with a civilized glass and not rush into ordering like senior citizens at a Golden Corral. Given that it was a holiday eve, I opted for festive with Hillinger Secco Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose, while Beau couldn't resist an offering from the Secret Stash chalkboard, Ostatu Rioja Blanco, with which we both were quite taken.

Normally, that's the point at which he'd pull out his phone and take a picture of the label so he could reference it later for purchasing purposes. With his device unavailable, he had to settle for me writing it down with a pen on paper, to him the equivalent of a chisel and stone tablet.

Glasses in hand, the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Steely Dan playing overhead, we were easing into civilized effortlessly, if I do say so myself.

Now that his job requires frequent travel, he has plenty of out-of-town restaurant stories to share, including one about a former theater being converted into a restaurant. And while the decor and set-up impressed him, the food didn't compare to what he eats in Richmond all the time, forcing him to acknowledge Pru's prior explanation that we're spoiled because Richmond is such an outstanding food town.

Our server, young and fresh-faced, won our affection for allowing us to determine the pace of our evening and eating. When I mentioned his beautiful skin, guessing that he moisturizes daily, he admitted he did. "And I got a facial mask this afternoon," he shared, surprising neither of us. Beau says he'll be happy with how his skin looks when he's his age.

Once we'd finished our wine, we looked the menu over for our next selections, deciding on an old favorite, Chateau de Roquefort Corail Rose, for me and Steininger Gruner Veltliner Reserve for Beau. The nose on his made me wish for a dozen oysters to magically appear in front of me.

That was the cue that we needed to get serious with the menu and as we bantered about what we wanted, I reminded Beau that like Pru's immortal comment about choosing a wine, "Why would we ever leave the Loire?" in my world, the question is, why would we ever leave the starters and small plates?

Indeed, we began ordering, choosing roasted carrots that got the star treatment with smoked beets, fermented honey, the nut and spice mixture known as almond dukkah, housemade rye crackers and the mildest goat cheese we may ever taste. We followed that with a special of rabbit soup that we both loved, as much for a clear broth heavy on shallots as for the abundance of rabbit, not to mention carrots and pea shoots on top.

Because 'tis the season, we went with a roast squash tostada, fried corn tortillas layered with salsa macha, hummus, cabbage and sprinkled in pepitas. Overlooking the fact that it was a main course, we got mushroom potstickers, which announced themselves with a heavenly aroma of black garlic dashi and were accompanied by roasted pumpkin under a flurry of sprouts.

Replete with savory and having discovered a mutual fondness for butterscotch, we moved on to a decadent butterscotch pudding with whipped creme fraiche and candied pecans that was only made better with H & H 5-Year Madiera to sip along side it.

I'm here to tell you that no matter how uncivilized we felt walking in, full civility was restored by the time we took our final sips of Madiera. Good thing, too, because the classic film noir we were off to see at the Byrd was more about brassy dames and malleable men than civilized behavior.

Manager Todd introduced the Billy Wilder-directed film (I'd had no idea), explaining how Raymond Chandler had done the screenplay from James Cain's novel, which probably explains why Fred MacMurray said "baby" at the end of every sentence to Barbara Stanwyck.

Shut up, baby. Good bye, baby. I love you, baby. Every time he said something like that, the millennial couple sitting next to me went into fits of giggles. For that matter, there was plenty of inappropriate laughter at some of the more dramatic moments in the film, as if certain audience members had no familiarity with acting norms circa 1948.

Personally, I loved Fred's easy-going California charm, like when he's offered iced tea when he really wants something stronger ("Unless you got a bottle of beer that's not working"). Holding the glass up to look at it, he muses, "I wonder if a little rum would get this up on its feet?"

Oh, I bet it would.

Turns out Beau enjoyed it, too, and not just because neither of us had seen it before. It was atmospherically shot, surprisingly dense with loads of '40s humor and revealed California before it was the hip state. Besides, it's on AFI's list at #38 of the 100 Best American Films of all time, so we got to check off a box.

As we're walking back to the car, Beau commented what a fun evening it had been with such a  fantastic meal and fascinating movie, as if it were over. Instead, I rang Holmes and Beloved and we landed there shortly after procuring holiday pecans for Pru's yams.

I should've known better than to bring another old soul to choose records with Beloved because she and Beau were soon knee-deep in "Moonglow." That changed when Beau got up to peruse Holmes' stack and asked ever-so-casually, "Oh, do you have any Mungo Jerry?"

Sure, the band name was familiar, even a hit song, but who asks for Mungo Jerry and who has it? Well, a few minutes later, we found out Holmes did when he returned from a back room with an album in hand and put it on. The sound of kazoos filled the man cave.

"Thanks for suggesting this," Holmes said to Beau. "I didn't know I had it." While this should have led to incredulity, it instead led to a conversation about the power of alphabetizing and jokes about the Dewey Decimal system.

Part of the blame for that undoubtedly goes to the Whispering Angels Rose then being poured into Holmes' mother's short champagne coupes as we listened to Bob Thompson's orchestra and chorus on a fabulous 1960 album, "Mmm, Nice!" that provided the ultimate party soundtrack.

Rose may also have been the culprit in discussing Beau's ring tones, one of which is from a Muhammad Ali commercial for D-Con, which Beau mimicked for us until we were laughing (so hard Beloved was in tears) at how spot-on his Ali imitation was, right down to inflections.

Imagine, if you will, the whitest of men, one who moisturizes, wears bow ties and has a fabulous swoop of hair, intoning, "I don't want you to live with roaches!" and sounding, for all the world, like the heavyweight great.

That led to Beau showing off other ringtones, until Holmes tried to compete by pulling a miniature toilet off a shelf and pushing its tiny handle down for a ridiculously loud flush sound. Game over.

And we were up on our feet, like rum-spiked tea. As in, back to a complete lack of civility. Time to go home, Gracie.