Friday, September 4, 2015

Give It Up, Turn It Loose

"Whoa RVA. You probably have nothing better to than go to this lecture tonight. Sweet."

That gentle reminder was from Nelly, a Richmond musician currently on the road, referring to the Cornel West talk at VCU tonight. She must have posted it just after I left my apartment to walk over to the Seigel Center.

There, I joined a line that snaked the length of the building, overhearing comments as we filed into the auditorium such as, "I fell in love with him because he's chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America," and "I haven't contacted Bernie Sanders' campaign yet, but I need to because that's where he needs help: the South." The first came from a guy who appeared to be about 18, the second from an aging hippie who probably voted for LBJ.

Knowing I'd have to wait once seated, I'd brought a book, "The Thurber Carnival," a delightful collection of James Thurber's essays and drawings from 1932-49.

Let's just say it was jarring reading dated descriptors such as, "with a colored woman like Della" and "Mrs. Robertson, the aged colored washerwoman" as I'm awaiting the start of a lecture by a major black intellectual in a series entitled, "Race, Citizenry and Memory in the South."

But that was then and this is now.

The crowd was diverse and just kept growing until the moment West walked out (accompanied by the man who introduced him) and began bowing to massive applause and then a standing ovation. Before he'd said a word.

But of course, we knew he'd have plenty of interesting points to make and he did, using the cadences and occasionally the rhetoric of a preacher on the pulpit. Meanwhile, people kept showing up although 95% of those who arrived after West was already speaking looked to be students (obviously raised by wolves).

He began by warning us that, "I move with the spirit so I don't move in calendar time," before moving through a one-hour talk and another hour spent answering audience questions.

In between, the audience testified when he said something profound, clapped when he hit a nerve and generally gave themselves over to the gospel of Cornel. Okay, there was one girl who sat plastered against her seat back, eyes wide, as if affronted by the passion of his commentary, but she was the exception.

Music and especially jazz were woven into his analogies. Talking about how Hoover had kept track of the goings-on of black literary and art figures, he roared, "Ever kept track of John Coltrane? How are you going to keep track of a love supreme?"

He talked about the inaccurate black worlds Disney created in films. "Yes, Disney enriched my childhood. I had to deconstruct it later."

Beginning with a Socratic note, he challenged everyone to decide what kind of human they'll choose to be. Running through his points and anecdotes was an entreaty to invoke our collective memory and examine preconceived notions.

Referencing people from Donny Hathaway ("He did not need a pat on the back") to Curtis Mayfield to Martin Luther King, Jr ("55% of blacks disapproved of him when he died but he didn't care because that's who he was"), he explained, "We love Lincoln, not because he was always right, but because he was willing to grow."

In an hour, he managed to address white supremacy, ecology, the 1%, "vanilla" suburbs and "chocolate" neighborhoods and the commodification of churches ("Not the titillation of praise choirs looking for a record deal").

He of course got political, with comments about the milquetoast neo-liberalism of the Democratic party, the donor-based and the corporate sponsored Presidential candidates ("The problem with Brother Trump is...well, that's another lecture").

Over the course of the evening, he admitted to two things. First, being a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities, or, as he said, "I"m not being evangelical tonight telling you to become a Christian - it is a good idea - but that's not what I was doing."

Secondly, that he'd choose Aretha over Beyonce (while MLK had been devoted to Mahalia Jackson).

I feel sure I'm not alone in saying that it's always satisfying to spend time listening to a smart, funny man.

Once the Q & A ended, lots of people rushed the floor, no doubt eager to touch the man or ask for an autograph. He was quickly surrounded by a crowd.

For what? Far better to absorb what the man was saying and apply that to your life going forward than fawn, kids. Just do it.

The truth is, Nelly, I could have been satisfied at that point. I'd gotten to hear a brilliant man rail against not just the staus quo for blacks, but also for women, Latinos, the working class and poor and the prison population.

My mind had been stimulated and I'd gotten to hear an excellent orator.  But why not more?

Why not also go to Balliceaux for their first night with live music since closing at the beginning of the summer and just reopening two nights ago?

Why the hell not?

As I told several people tonight, I'm just happy to have one of my music venues back. I'd have felt the loss just as strongly if it had been Gallery 5 or Strange Matter that had closed for three months.

Bopst had booked Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess ("I love how her voice sounds like a 78 record. I wanna play scratching in the background," he says to me), a quartet of guitar, upright bass, clarinet/sax and washboard/cymbals, to re-inaugurate the back room and they were just beginning their first song when I went back there and found a place near the side.

Within moments, two couples were up and swing dancing, their perfectly synchronized moves an inspiration to the rest of us.

It's at least my third time seeing the band whose music is a pastiche of Dixieland, Tin Pan Alley and neo- bluegrass, with their secret weapon Jessy's voice, part little girl, part crooner and always full-bodied.

Once the band started "Old Fashioned Love," Bopst was on the floor in front of them, snapping pictures for the Internets (probably "Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess, Balliceaux, first set, NOW").

Near me, a guy slid his hand discreetly under the dress and up the leg of his girlfriend while continuing to look in her eyes and talk to her.

A barback returning from the side door by the stage where liquor is stored, two gallon bottles in each hand, did a nimble side step twice as he minced his way through the three couples dancing on the floor.

The lights were low, Jessy's voice was sultry and the band was swingin'.

Balliceaux was back to normal.

A very tall woman - maybe 5'10" or 11" - walked in wearing a cute dress and four-inch stilettos. Next time I saw her, the heels had been traded for white Keds and she was swing dancing.

During the band's second set, Jessy moved to the front of the stage to belt out a song without the mic, her voice carrying all the heartache of an old blues woman to the back of the room.

After another raucous number, she told her band, "Okay, let's do something easy. What's easy on that list?" Whatever it was, it got a few couples slow dancing.

Familiar faces dotted the crowd, all people I felt certain wanted to show their support for the return of live music: the organizer, the DJ, the former neighbor, the nattily-attired barkeep.

The last song was so fast-tempo that the three couples who staked out the floor were soon flummoxed. One stopped dancing and began clapping instead, another moved to the side and the third couple tore it up, changing out one partner for another throughout the fast part until all three were back to dancing with their partners by mid-song.

Yep, you read right. The evening was capped off with a dance-off to live music.

So, Nelly, don't worry. I went and heard Dr. West speak and then I went out for live music. I'm keeping the RVA flame burning in your absence. But come back soon because there is so much sweet stuff happening.

I just don't know how anyone had anything better to do tonight.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Speak Low

Do not lump me in with the vastness.

According to actress Helen Mirren, "The vast American public will not accept films with subtitles." That's why she was told to use accented English to play a French character in "The Hundred-Foot Journey," despite being fluent in French.

Today's article in the Washington Post about subtitles pointed out how the US gets stereotyped as a country that refuses to read dialogue, so fewer foreign language films arrive on our shores.

You know what they say: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Not me. After a stop at 8 1/2 for white pizza (as a friend who moved to food-centric Portland told me, not a single pizza there comes anywhere close to pie from 8 1/2) and watching the parade of to-go orders (including a restaurateur's wife) being claimed in rapid succession, I headed directly to the nearest foreign film for reading time.

The Criterion was showing "Phoenix," a German film about Nelly, a Jewish singer and concentration camp survivor, who was left for dead with a bullet to the face not long before the camps were liberated.

After reconstructive surgery and the rebuilding of Germany begins, she sets out to find her beloved husband, despite a friend warning her that he was the one who betrayed her to the Nazis.

What besotted woman wants to believe that?

The movie was a slow burner, unfolding a suspenseful - almost Hitchcock-like- story after Nelly (unrecognizable after surgery) locates her husband, who hatches a plan to pass this woman off as his wife and claim her inheritance, a scheme she goes along with in hopes of discovering that he still loves her.

Atmosphere, melancholy and an enormous sense of loss permeated the beautifully shot film that just about destroyed the small audience with its achingly unexpected ending.

No one does sad quite like the Germans.

And you know what? That film wouldn't have packed the same wallop in English. We needed to read subtitles while hearing German spoken for the full effect. I have to say, it was my first time hearing Cole Porter sung in German, but it felt right.

I just don't get it. What's the hang up about reading while you watch a movie? Am I wrong in thinking it's only non-readers who avoid subtitled films?

You could say that it's just the devoted reader in me, but it's also that distinctively un-American take on storytelling that we get from foreign films.

I can still remember how moved I was when I first saw the poignant "Life is Beautiful." By the time it came to the Byrd if had been dubbed in English. It wasn't the same film.

Okay, maybe I do just love to read. You know what won the Internet for me today? A meme of a pink dress-clad housewife vacuuming the floor with the caption, "Anyone who has time to clean is not reading nearly enough."

Amen, sister.

If you ask me, the vast American public who avoids subtitled films is missing out on some pretty amazing movies, not to mention things like the entire French Film Festival. Of course, they may also have cleaner houses than I do.

I can live with that.

If I Only Had a Brain

It makes me more than a little sad to turn the calendar to September. I did it today, but I didn't like it.

Despite memories that include the bicentennial and disco, my face still occasionally breaks out with a typically teenage monster zit, a reality I accept and no longer question. Or bemoan.

The perfect lifetime reading list alternates fiction and non-fiction and always allows for short stories when more immediate gratification is needed.

Most nights, I get 8 1/2 to 9 hours of sleep, a fact for which I make no apologies.

Acacia is as constant as the northern star and I have yet to be disappointed with a meal there, including tonight's of ceviche and avocado followed by steamed pork belly buns. My friend's pork shank looked like a Fred Flintstone snack, meaty and enormous.

I don't hear my name said to me by anyone as often as I'd like.

That moment when the lights go down, just before the band I want to see comes onstage, gives me the same thrill now that it did when I was 16.

My whole life might have been different person had I not been born with an outgoing personality, dimples and good legs. Fact.

Two things make me feel like anything is possible: the colors and light of late afternoon at the beach on a sunny summer day and the smell of lilacs in spring.

A friend tells me at dinner tonight, "I wish I'd figured out who I was and what I wanted sooner than I did." She muses about when it was that she got "old" and wonders how she'd not realized.

Are we supposed to? Discuss.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Bridge Too Far

As usual, two days without posting means I'd left the building - or at least, the city - and spent some time decamped to the country, not my natural habitat.

Cue "Green Acres" theme song as in, "I get allergic smelling hay" (and mildew and dust and grass and...).

But fortunately it also means I finally got to walk the High Bridge Trail, a former railroad path in Farmville that stretches across the anemic-looking Appomattox River, but only after we walked three miles from the Rice Depot to get to the bridge.

Along the way, signs made it clear who trumped whom. Let me sum it up for you: horses trump everyone, basically.

Yea, sure, bicyclists had to yield to pedestrians, too, but basically, if it walks on four legs, get out of its way. Just before the bridge was a dismount station - wooden steps and platform- to allow riders to climb down with dignity. Or pose suggestively for the camera, depending on your predilections.

I only wish we'd seen a horse or two along the trail. God knows we saw enough horse poop on the ground.

The view from the bridge was impressively panoramic and with benches and a breeze, worth stopping to admire after a walk in that afforded far too little shade. Next time, the plan is to take bikes and a picnic lunch to enjoy 125 feet above the water.

The ultimate al fresco, no?

After that kind of sweating, it was time for outdoor showers under the bluest of skies before guests arrived for a birthday celebration that had been neither planned nor thought through. In other words, no birthday cake awaited us and no party games had been procured.

My solution was to pull out the croquet mallets, balls and wickets and invite the celebrants to set aside their wine glasses for a bit of recreating. Let the record show, some people were good enough players one-handed to be able to smack balls and get loopier simultaneously.

In honor of the birthday boy, the youngest in attendance, we took turns in order of age, meaning almost everyone got to play before me. My athletic competitive spirit being all but non-existent, I was just fine with that.

And while I might have game suggestions, I certainly wasn't going to bake a cake on a warm day (even a birthday), although I did come up with a pretty decent birthday dessert (if I do say so myself) on the spot: fudge brownie ice cream with crushed Fritos and a wedge of dark chocolate candy.

Fattening, easy and low-brow. What self-respecting country-dweller wouldn't dig in?

This city girl liked it just fine, even among land spreading out so far and wide. Enjoying myself so far out in the sticks all depends on the quality of the company.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Right with the World

To paraphrase Frank Kennedy to Scarlett O'Hara, "Oh, you act on me just like a tonic, Miss Pru!" Or maybe that was the Barbados rum.

It had been ages since Pru and I had had a girls' night out, so we got gussied up Saturday night style and did a seven-hour date to reinstate our chops and see what we could get into.

Without even speaking of it, we both showed up locked and loaded and before the night was over, she was being hit on by a 25-year old. Good times.

First up was my house for Pinotage and catching up. When a friend tells you she's going to spend the day puttering, inquiring minds want to know what's involved. I may not putter the way she putters. Let's just say I have a new appreciation for Zulilly and being thought of in crucial moments.

Once the sun had set, we decided on Amour's bar, beginning the next portion of our Saturday night with Mauresques, the owner's favorite summertime drink when in southern France. Pastis and almond syrup made for a refreshing and eminently quaffable libation that could easily spell trouble over the course of a long, hot afternoon.

Fortunately, we had only the night to deal with.

Dinner began with Macon-Villages and a stunning vichyssoise that knocked Pru's Uncle Elmer's out of the running. "It's better he's dead so I don't have to tell Elmer I found better vichyssoise than his," Pru observed. Better for whom? The chilled soup was exquisite.

Pru and I parted ways next because she's not the sweetbreads fan I am - despite an appreciation for the Madeira cream sauce they came in - so I ate my glands while she had escargots, sopping up every last drop of garlicky butter with the accompanying bread.

We used the time to make plans because her beach house rental is fast approaching and we want to ensure that we have the most fun during the time that I'm there, her other guests be damned (or left at the house while we go play). If ever two women could find some trouble at the beach, we'd like to think it'll be us.

Kir Royals and dessert followed. The selection of sorbets included raspberry (with chocolate sea salt caramel creme brulee), melon Pastis, the owner's first attempt at coconut milk (so delicious even non-coconut lover Pru was smacking her lips over it) and the queen of the evening's sorbets, lychee rose petal, which tasted like lychee on the tongue but after swallowing rewarded us with a mouth full of heavenly rosiness. Just gorgeous.

To finish off the night, we had Plantation Rum Barbados, the kind of sipper that tastes like Barbados - a place I had a blast in - on a warm, breezy night, but by the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean.

We'd barely begun sipping when a favorite Carytown chef stopped by to join the party and before long, another chef, his fiancee (Pru and I were invited to their destination wedding in the Yucatan next Spring) and a friend named Karen. All of a sudden, we had a party.

Before long, we were planning a party ourselves (my vote was for a Bollywood dance party) and one of the chefs said all he needed was a pig's head to make the ultimate party foods. This will be a party I could really do some damage at.

By the time we left hours later, Pru was insisting on returning to my pad for mroe wine and conversation and what single, middle-aged woman doesn't want to discuss what she's learned in life and what she still wants in life with a good friend until 2 a.m.?

Especially a friend who tells you she's never met a man who satisfies as many of her needs as I do. Aw, go on.

Honestly, I only threw her out because I knew I had to get up early this morning. I woke up to a message from her: "I swear I had no idea it was that late. Came home, ate some leftover spaghetti. It was fun. You're too funny and wonderful as always. All is right with the world."

Fiddle-dee-dee. That's how you should feel after a good tonic works its magic on you.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Explain It All with a SIgh

Just today, I was wished all the patience and strength I need to see me through. Through what?

I was so excited and not because it was Sister #5's birthday. Sister #6 was combining a visit to see Dad at the hospital with an overnight visit with me and no sister is as well suited to having fun with me as she is.

Plans change when Dad is unexpectedly released from the hospital and she has to fetch him and return the parents to the northern neck.

Oh, the fun we could have had.

For the second time this month, my gas service was cut off. It's been one long saga after another with the department of public utilities and me trying to figure out who thinks they live in apartment 2 (the answer should be me for six years plus now) and keeps terminating service. Once again, I can cook. Once again, I don't trust it to last.

Good thing I don't need my stove very often.

I've been looking at looming deadlines all week, which is just part of my life. The pain in the ass part is that one of the stories requires me to contact and deal with multiple "modern busy" women. Just to be clear, these are like the women I read about in magazine articles and book reviews, women with demanding jobs, expensive haircuts and a dedication to having it all.

Good luck with all that, ladies.

But despite disappointments, DPU runaround and high-maintenance women, I had plans tonight to go to Hardywood to see "The Astrologer," a psychedelic film made in 1975 by an astrologer about an astrologer who decides to make a movie about his life. How meta is that?

The hook? The film had been lost for 40 years so practically no one has seen it.

The walk over to Hardywood was notable for its contrasting celestial bodies, the enormous nearly full moon on one side of the street and the setting sun on the other. A gorgeous walk on a night that most definitely had the dry air and crisp temperatures of autumn to it.

I want to cry thinking summer is coming to an end.

DJ Sister Goldenhaze took the 1975 cake with enormous bell bottoms and a shirt tied at the waist. It had been so long since I'd seen her that I hadn't known she'd cut bangs again, leading to an entire dissertation on why some of us are bang devotees.

"If you've got bangs, you don't even have to do anything else and you've got a hairstyle," she said, echoing something I've known for decades.

With the most positive couple I know I talked about how - given Richmond's accelerated cool quotient -challenging it's become to choose between competing events on any one given night.

Like tonight (see: Daniel Bachman at Black Iris). Also, like next Sunday when the Bijou fundraiser "The Third Man" shows at the Byrd and Movie Club was showing "Beyond Valley of the Dolls" outside under the stars.

A cinephile shouldn't have to choose one or the other..

I took my case to Andrew, who organizes Movie Club, and was rewarded with him moving the date of "Dolls" so he too could catch the restored version of "The Third Man." Yep, that's me, affecting change at a brewery.

The movie was fascinating in that it's so terrible it's good kind of way. Nobody had any acting chops and there was no reason to care about a two-bit carnie who winds up being the most talented astrologer in the world. He also pronounces Libra as "lie-bra."

Judging by the audience's reactions, nobody was prepared for a movie made by someone who didn't hesitate to set an entire scene to one song. That's how you end up with a scene of a couple on a date, chewing, smiling, talking, arguing and drinking in slow motion and silent pantomime while a corny song plays over it for three agonizing minutes.

Although I did admire the slo-mo hair shaking and glass throwing.

The Moody Blues' classic "Tuesday Afternoon" was also played in its entirety over ponderously long shots in a scene of our hero on a sailboat, the pages of a calendar (three months' worth), peeling off in silent testimony to the passing of time as people tittered, laughed and looked away uncomfortably.

Okay, we get the point, their discomfort seemed to imply, as if prolonged attention was a sign of weakness or inferiority. So just watch the damn scene and stop expecting a quick cut, kids.

Later a 30-year old said that he'd assumed the director was trying to be funny and obvious with these shots. Not so, grasshopper. This was just self-indulgent '70s filmmaking.

Favorite line of dialog: "You're not an astrologer, you're an asshole." Best of all, it was said in the most heartfelt way. No irony. Just pure '70s sincerity (insert smiley face).

I left after the movie, missing hearing the band Manzara play, to hoof it back to J-Ward and catch Richmond Comedy Coalition's monthly "Richmond Famous" show with Ed Edge as the locally famous muse for the improv troupe.

I knew of Ed from Cafe Verde, his vegan taco joint, but also from Secretly Y'All when he'd shared a monumental secret, possibly the biggest secret someone could have. So, sure, I was curious to hear more stories from Ed.

A few minutes late, I walked in as Ed, a paramedic and organizer of several local non-profits, was in the middle of a tale about being kicked out of Canada. The story involved a black man (Ed) with his arms full of something - "Whether cash or cashews, they didn't know" - running from a convenience store.

That was all RCC needed to riff on two cops interrogating a woman for eating nuts ("Seventy percent of the population here is allergic to nuts!") and another about a guy who had caffeine blackouts that turned him into a southern gentleman ("I have great respect for the Negro") with a mustache, played by another comedian's finger as he followed along behind him.

Off to the side of the stage, Ed was cracking up louder than anyone.

In one piece, kids kept showing up in the principal's office because they were inappropriately dressed - a bikini, an evening gown, a cock sock and pasties made from pages of the bible.

"This one is Genesis, this is Revelations," he said twirling his fingers in front of his breasts.

Ed's next stories involved always being asked the worst thing he's ever seen as a paramedic. For him, that was childbirth. Once he fainted and once he projectile vomited. "This slimy Smurf thing - a baby- comes out," he said to hysterics.

Naturally, the troupe followed that with a pissing contest of each person's worst thing ever, namely things such as hangnails, blisters and ripping a Band-aid off. Next came two smurfs commiserating with a house owner about gentrification and bad city schools

For his last shared bit, Ed talked about the years when he was so busy with two jobs and multiple non-profits that he moved into a warehouse space to sleep and save money, effectively killing his dating life.

Naturally, he reverted to online dating, resulting in 47 first dates in 2011 and three second dates. Because he's vegan and a creature of habit, he took all his lunch dates to Harrison Street Cafe and all his dinner dates to Ipanema.

Humor followed with bits about trying to pretend it was a guy's first time at Ipanema on a date (everyone recognizes him and says hello) and a butler named Jeffrey who serenades him with "Major Tom" ("He may have a good voice but he isn't very good at reading social cues").

No one laughed harder than Ed, although the guy with the horse laugh behind me and I came close.

Patience and strength are overrated. Maybe all I needed to get through this day was a '70s flashback and some good laughs.

Cue August 28 page being ripped from calendar, my bangs fluttering in slow motion in the breeze...

Friday, August 28, 2015

There Were Never Such Devoted

Most common response: How did you not kill each other?

Today was a testament to the peccadilloes of family. You see, my Dad is in a local hospital after surgery for kidney stones. As the sole Richmond daughter of six, I am the closest to the hospital and, by default, the hostess to all who come down to see Dad.

Colorful Sister #3 was the first. Well, actually, Sister #5 was the first because she was there with my mother at the hospital room when I arrived to take up my post. But she soon headed north for Maryland, leaving me and Sister #3 to carry on caring for Dad.

Perhaps our most compelling conversation was about whether Mom or Dad had chosen each of our names and middle names. Mom settled the score, making it clear which names had been chosen by whom and why. These were stories I'd never heard shared.

Naturally, I had to invite Sister #3 out for a bite and a drink since she'd never come to visit me in Richmond.

While she tied up loose ends at the hospital, I visited the Valentine Museum for the opening of "In Gear: Richmond Cycles," a look at how our fair city took to and advanced the cause of the bike. Because it was the Valentine, there was a fabulous slide show of (far superior) old black and white photographs and (interesting but lesser) color cigarette cards documenting the development of bicycle culture here.

Every aspect - Christmas morning with tricycles, courting couples, families on bikes all wearing black socks - was covered along with actual bikes owned by Richmonders. Video showed extended shots of local cyclists. In the crowd I saw bike kids, rich people and artsy types, all curious about Richmond's cycling past.

Back at my house, I met Sister #3 for a nickel tour ("It's not at all tiny like Mom said") before heading the seven blocks to Magpie. The Rolling Stones were blaring and we waited patiently for two bar stools to empty out before taking our rightful places at the bar.

Having given herself over to Fall, she went with red wine, but I held out for La Bella Fernando Tempranillo Blanco (because why not a white skinned mutation of the dark-skinned Tempranillo?) and a plate of roasted goat shoulder, Romesco, petite salad, orange vinaigrette and Manchego. Beer bread and honey butter filled in the cracks. Our server shared that the very same goat had been the taco filling at lunch of late, a Magpie meal I've yet to experience.

Because it was her first time there, I strongly suggested my sister begin with Chef Owen's pork and Manchego sausage, an obscenely large portion of sausage and onion rings. "Go on, I know you like a good onion ring," my sister cajoled, so I did.

Both servers, upon hearing of our status as one of six daughters inquired, "How have you not killed each other?" It's a question I ask only when I spend any time with one of them.

Our conversation about family travails caught the attention of the bartender, who was a middle child (like Sister #3) with a younger sister. "I could tell you were sisters by the way you talked to each other and the way you talked about your Mom and Dad," she explained. With exasperation, right?

The funny part is that Sister #3 and I are far from the closest but yet share certain very particular traits. Both city people, we are outspoken and at ease anywhere. Not so others (sisters #2, 4 and often 5). If anyone's going to dance on tables, it's the two of us.

In fact, years ago, Dad shared with me that the sisters could be split into two groups. Half were the result of a romantic meal with Mom and tender lovemaking afterwards.

The other three (and I fall into this group, as you may be able to tell) were conceived after wild nights out with guy friends where he came home and had a ripping good time with Mom. As you might imagine, the resulting spawn are wildly different.

Celebrating the sisterhood, we enjoyed corn bread cake with Nutella ice cream and blackberry gastrique to end the meal, discussing how Bessie, our Richmond grandmother, had been an impressive role model when it came to fried chicken, biscuits, string beans, walking, abstinence and life advice.

Perhaps because we'd been so flamboyantly different than her and her Cumberland County ways, we'd appreciated her wisdom. Sister #3 even selected her as the person she'd most like to talk to from the grave, should she be given the chance to glean from a past family member. I didn't go that far.

What finally ended our evening of reminiscing and one upmanship was that my sister needed to get back to her hotel. Seems her husband had discovered online that she'd booked herself into a local pet-friendly hotel and like any good spouse had decided to gather up the dog, drive down from Baltimore and come spend the night with her in Richmond.

I'd be barfing at the corniness of it if it wasn't quite romantic. He's off tomorrow, she's in a nearby city (relatively speaking - it's a 2 1/2 hour drive), so why shouldn't he come help keep her king size bed warm?

I may never have hitchhiked barefoot to Ocean City like Sister #3 did, but we're blood brothers sisters when it comes to some things. Did she get loopy and over-share tonight with people I know and she doesn't? Of course.

Isn't that what middle sisters do?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dance the Night Away

On this, National Women's Equality Day, it's fitting I read that the New York Times describes  Madonna as a crusader, willing or not, against ageism.

Because after all, how can we have true equality if we consider one person less (take your pick) attractive, interesting, viable, capable, sexual or otherwise simply because of the year they were born?

I'm not a pop star, so I've never had the need to continuously shock and titillate, but I can completely relate to her mission to kick down the doors so younger women won't have to deal with ageism. Unlike Madonna, I'm not going to lift my skirt to show my fishnet-covered bottom, but I'm part of the sisterhood that believes that if I wanted to, I have as much right as a 22-year old to do so.

Madge and I, we're in the trenches together.

Except that she performs for thousands and I walk around Jackson Ward, taking advantage of what's happening in the 'hood. Tonight's later start could be attributed to all kinds of things - my father's first kidney stone, two cats taking up residence on the roof outside my balcony, and last minute news that I've got a guest coming for the weekend - but by the time I did get away, age was not a factor in my plans.

Gallery 5's chalkboard announced that it was game night -"Chess or whatever else you are into!" (doubtful) - as I strolled over to Saison Market for some cultural observation and a bite before the show. Minimal reward on the former: one mute couple, both on their laptops, and three people playing cards with the two guys still teaching the girl the game loudly.

And why weren't they at game night a block away?

I took the little two-top in the center near the (hipster alert) vermouth selection, taking in the reliably interesting soundtrack as I enjoyed a $5 glass of wine (Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cuvee) with brightly-colored and artistically-plated lamb belly with cantaloupe soubise, curried granola, fennel and shallot.

And by belly, I mean thick strips of lamb bacon to die for. When the server tried to take my plate when I still had one perfect bite left - belly, shallot, cantaloupe, granola - I shook my head like I meant it. "Oops, sorry, I should've realized," he apologized, smiling, hands over his head as if he were being held up.

From there, I walked down to Black Iris because if Olivia Neutron-John was giving an unbridled performance three blocks from home, I needed to be part of that.

I walked in as opener Louie, Louie from Philly finished their soundcheck and announced that the show was beginning. With age comes wisdom to know just when to show up to catch the opening band.

Good for me 'cause their all-girl reverb-heavy garage/psych/pop was right up my alley, catchy, guitar-driven and with that distinctive "music from a cave" sound I adore. Already happy shaking my non fishnet-covered booty to their energetic sound, my night was made with the one-two (covers) punch of the BeeGees' "To Love Somebody" followed by an extended take on Tommy James' classic,"Crimson and Clover," effects-laden guitar making for orgasmic ears.

It was during that medley that the dance party king spotted me and came over to share his enthusiasm for the band. "If Quentin Tarantino had a band, this is what it would sound like," he hypothesized. Yes, and there would be dancing, so we'd both be happy.

I was intrigued to hear about a recent dinner party he'd attended, its purpose being to bring people together to have more than quick, superficial conversations, the kind so common in bars and at shows. I lament that occasions must be created specifically to ensure such discourse, but I'd rather that than to think it didn't happen at all.

Explaining to the dance enthusiast that there was a time when conversations easily went deeper because no one was lost in their device, I saw a look of regret cross his face. Clearly that's a world he barely recalls.

What we share in common, though, is a love of availing ourselves of whatever the city has going on. Not for us the lifestyles of the cocooning couples and buried-up-to-their-eyeballs parents who rarely go out. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"This is what I want to be doing on a Wednesday night," he said decidedly. "I don't want to be at home watching TV." Preach it, brother.

In no time, Anna Nasty of Chain and the Gang took the stage to deliver what should rightfully be called performance art. All synths, drumbeats and flying black hair, she crafted a sound that was secondary to the visuals and lighting effects.

On some songs, she whipped her hair side to side in one head-jerking motion while on others she did a proper up and down head-banging. Would her set have been as compelling without the hair? Chances are, no.

A gallerist friend walked by pushing ear plugs in his ears and asking if I needed some, not realizing it wasn't my first rodeo. I don't leave the house without a pair in my bag...just in case. Rarely used, but there if absolutely necessary, like Maxwell Smart's shoe phone (aged cultural reference #1).

It took me only a few minutes of the fast and furious set before I pulled out my plugs in a half-hearted attempt to be kinder to my ears.

Tonight's room was testament to the return of VCU students, with lots of fresh-scrubbed (and artfully dirty) faces in the crowd. That said, there was a small but confused subset of people who left after the first 15 minutes, not willing to take a chance on something they hadn't expected.

What they were missing was that it was loud, almost hypnotic plus she was selling it 100% so where else would you want to be on this Wednesday night?

Then came aged cultural reference #2. "If the computer Hal from "2001" had a band, this would be it," my friend concluded and I could laugh, but not disagree.

Madonna's gone on record - Instagram, even - as saying age won't slow her down.

Shut up, jealous bitches! I hope you are as fun-loving and adventurous as me when you're my age!!!! Hahahhaha let's see!"

I don't even need to see. Time makes you bolder, even children get older and I'm getting older, too. Let's see how you feel about age when it's you. Looking forward to hearing, "Oops, sorry, should've realized."

Raising hands over head not required.