Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sipping in the Sand

Eventually, all good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, since we're Americans, that's going to happen sooner rather than later.

Beckham and the Beauty pulled out last evening, a while after we'd had an extensive discussion on the beach about how people in other countries do vacations far better than people here do. Like how the Europeans take the entire month of August off.

At issue was Beauty's comment that she was just beginning to feel relaxed after four days and nights and now they were leaving. "I think one more week would do it," she commented, but as one who has done two weeks here multiple times, I happen to know that at the end of two weeks, you'll likely still be craving a third.

Fact is, life is too easy and self-indulgent here not to instinctively want more of it.

When I finally woke up yesterday, it was to a house filled with the seductive scent of bacon and sausage - and lots of both - having been recently fried up by Beckham. Platters of meat sat in the kitchen for the taking, so much that some of it became BLTs for lunch.

Who's lucky enough to wake up to a fried meat smorgasbord at home? Certainly not me.

Because we knew the cute couple would be checking out right after dinner, we began happy hour on the beach especially early. That included a bottle of Fairview Roussanne which the newlyweds had brought back from their South African honeymoon and wanted to share as a group.

"This wine has some ass!" Beckham announced with a big grin on his face as he poured. Pru took one sip and said she could drink it in large quantities. Beau immediately took a photo so he could procure some once back in Church Hill. The three of us who'd been to Fairview regaled the others with stories from our winery visits, while everyone wished there was a second bottle handy. Truly a gorgeous wine.

The shame of it being their last day - besides the obvious: we'd miss their company - was that the "No swimming" flags were up all along the beach, limited how far we could go into the warm-as-bathwater ocean. But as Beckham so cleverly pointed out, if your feet are on the ocean bottom, you're not swimming by definition.

Rationalizations come fast and furious when you're at the beach.

Pru made sure their farewell dinner was memorable with chicken Cordon Bleu, steamed sugar snap peas and seasoned cantaloupe enjoyed overlooking the ocean.

After they left, I headed down to the beach just as dusk was settling in. Hardly anyone was there, other than one fisherman and a family with two young kids, making it ideal for soaking in the beach vibe at night without having to be social.

We really have had extraordinary weather this week, especially coming so soon on the heels of Hurricane Florence.

It had been such a busy day that I was the first to call it quits on the game we were playing and at the ridiculously early hour of 9:30 at that. Hell, Beckham and the Beauty weren't even back in Richmond yet when I said goodnight and headed down to my oceanfront room.

And you know what? After ten and a half hours of sleep, I'm ready to get up and do it all over again. My only regret is that there's no wine with ass in my future today.

And while I'll have to go home soon, too, it'll be to pack and leave again. Go ahead, call me un-American. My rationalizations run wide and deep. And happy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Under a Waxing Gibbous Moon

Being at the beach in September is a completely different animal than being here during the high season.

It's not just that there are fewer people down here, though that's part of it (which makes running into my sister's family twice even more bizarre). And while there are no lifeguards stationed along the beach, we do get the occasional drive-by from the Beach Patrol, so somebody's still on duty.

The funny part is, when we go into restaurants, it's a different story. If people are here, they're eating in restaurants for dinner, not at home. Last night at the venerable Sam & Omie's, we parked ourselves on the wooden benches with strangers for nearly 45 minutes for the sake of being served before the kitchen closed down at 9 p.m. sharp.

Shoot, by 8:45, a roving bus boy was going table to table in an attempt to gather any dishes that had been finished so he could get on with his dishwashing.

We'd gone out for an old-school beach meal, a fact which Beau found tough to grasp after looking at the menu online. He'd been hoping for a place with a more creative, perhaps more modern, take on the menu while those of us who are lifelong beachgoers wanted nothing more than the familiar.

For me, that was local steamed shrimp and vegetables, while Queen B and Beckham went directly to fried flounder. Beau was appeased with a special of grilled swordfish and Pru was committed to her usual clam strips and onion rings, but only after she'd had a massive salad. In fact, onion rings were on more than half the plates at the table, convenient for those of us who love a good onion ring but had none on our own plates.

Always a good sport, Beauty, who eschews the bounty of the sea and refrains from kissing Beckham once his lips have touched any, made do with cornbread, black beans and rice and any onion rings she could cadge.

Pru was aghast to learn that I have no history with Sam & Omie's beyond going there last year with her posse. Having always stayed in Kitty Hawk, I was never inclined to drive 20 miles to check it out. If I was going to cover that kind of distance, chances are I was eating in Manteo or along the causeway, whereas she remembers being a kid and spending entire days at Sam & Omie's with her uncle.

But what's really different about being down here so late in the year is the light and not just the fact that the beach is dark not long after 7:00. Even the afternoon sunlight lacks the brilliance of June or July light. When it shines on the (mostly empty) cottages during our afternoons on the beach, it's not nearly as bright or blinding as it was a few months ago.

It's almost as if there's no promise of more to come in September's sunlight, and of course, there's not because we're already ankle deep in hurricane season (the post-storm jellyfish arrived a couple days ago) and even I have to acknowledge that Fall is hovering, ready to descend (and harsh my mellow).

Make no mistake, I'm thrilled to be sleeping to the sound of waves through my sliding door and window and waking up to see the sun splayed out on the ocean, even if it's nowhere near as blinding as it had been. But I'm also smart enough to store away the memories of it all because I know this is it for life on the OBX this year.

And lest any of this sound like a complaint, be assured it's not. I know how lucky I am that there are unexplored beaches in my immediate and short-term future and that it's nowhere near time to pack away my Summer wardrobe yet.

Once I pluck it from the clothesline on the porch anyway. What's not to love about the drip-dry life?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chillin' and Grillin' Shack

Beach life is apparently exhausting.

Even allowing for an extended beach happy hour and last night's birthday dinner party with the attendant over-indulging that unfolded (never mind the series of unfortunate events that accompanied steak grilling) over many hours, everyone should not be so listless. So blasé.

Tuesday when I walked, Beauty was at my side. Yesterday, Beauty brought Beckham and Beau made us a foursome. Today, the only person who could be bothered accompanying me for a walk on a gorgeous beach day with roiling crowds overhead was Beau. And honestly, I think he just wanted to force himself to walk away from the bag of caramel corn he was hoovering.

When we got back, it was to an unmotivated household lousy with the stench of eau de ennui.

"I'm going to take a nap," Beckham announces after he and the Beauty wear themselves out eating a breakfast of steak and eggs followed by lounging in and next to the hot tub.

"I might be willing to walk after I take a nap," Beauty decides, heading downstairs after detouring for a cookie break.

Queen B hasn't even put in an appearance today and Beau and I have already finished lunch. It's exactly five minutes past noon.

"I really don't have any desires," Pru says in a resigned voice from her perch on a bar stool nursing her second (third?) cup of coffee. A nap, or even just quality time in her bed with her devices and more coffee, seems imminent. "What time were you hoping to go to the beach?" she muses as she passes me en route to her sanctuary.

Oh, I don't know. On a day where gray storm clouds have completely given way to blue skies with only a lacework of clouds along the horizon, I should think 2:00 would be an ideal time to convene this group on the beach and see what happens.

The only problem with this plan is that high tide arrives about 4:30 and this house is on a ridiculously narrow stretch of beach. We try to compensate by setting up chairs and umbrellas against the dunes that rise to our walkway, but rogue waves inevitably reach a cooler or someone's chair.

With any luck, everyone will still be a bit groggy after nap time and not mind too terribly that ocean and sand are going to happen at the beach. My plan is to lull them into submission with a well-packed cooler and just the right nibbly bits to get a base down for the evening ahead. Vacations are a marathon, not a sprint.

And if rest times are part of the marathon these days, so be it. To paraphrase Beauty while eating chips and laying in the hot tub, "Blogging from a porch facing the ocean while others nap isn't terrible."

Not a lot about beach life is. And please pass the caramel corn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rise Above or Sink Below

The beauty of the beach is that nothing much happens at the beach.

Oh, sure, the Beauty and I headed north for a walk only to be showered on repeatedly. The sun was either beating on our backs or the rain was dripping off our hats. While other people began to pack up to leave the beach, we kept walking and talking.

The sky was full of ominous-looking clouds on the sound side, but I ignored them for the sake of the abundance of seashells washed up on the beach, probably a function of last week's hurricane. This is my fourth time down here this summer and I picked up more shells on today's walk than on the other three weeks combined.

On the way back down the beach to the cottage, a man planted himself in the middle of the beach so Beauty and I had to both walk around him. "Really, you're going to make us split the difference?" I joked as we made our way on either side of him.

"Karen! It's me!" my now-bearded brother-in-law said. Seems Sister #6 had spotted Beauty and me walking down the beach and instructed her husband to flag us down. I'm not sure who was more surprised at the accidental meeting, me or the Beauty.

You just never know who you'll meet on the beach.

When the menfolk headed out to do hunting and gathering, Pru and I used the lull to set up camp on the beach. She brought a stainless slotted spoon from the kitchen, the better to dig a hole for the umbrella, while I was in charge of seeing that the bottle of Moet et Chandon made it safely to the spot between our beach chairs.

Earlier, when we'd walked, the "Dangerous Current" flags had been up all along our path to Jeannette's Pier, but by the time we returned, Beau said the swimming ban had been lifted. Given how mild the ocean temperature was, it was practically an invitation to hit the water.

After the guys returned, they (and Beauty) joined us at the beach for Domaine du Loriot Menetou-Salon and a cheese and charcuterie break while we watched a group of surfers take advantage of the better-than-usual wave action. The encroaching high tide overtook my chair while I was in the water, resulting in a soggy book (what's a beach week without baptizing your reading material?) and forcing us to relocate at one point to a more protected perch.

Our biggest accomplishment of the afternoon was killing a third bottle, this time of Whispering Angel Rose and making a group commitment to leave for the restaurant at the Outer Banks Pier by 7:30. An evening out necessitated elevated hygiene, so Beau kindly removed the chairs that had been stored in the outdoor shower during Florence so I could have my first outdoor shower of the week.

I won't even deign to comment on the fact that I was the first. I'm not here to judge, only to relax.

Our caravan set out for the pier barely half a mile away, secure in the knowledge that we could walk home if we needed to, assuming, that is, that we could find the beach house from the ocean side under cover of night.

It's a glorious thing to enjoy a breezy 76-degree night at a table on a pier over crashing surf. A trio was playing songs like Duncan Shiek's "Barely Breathing" and strings of lights overhead made things feel festive. We'd discovered this place last year and so enjoyed our dinner al fresco that we decided to do it again.

Choosing what to eat was easy as far as I was concerned because what's better pier food than a basket of fried shrimp with slaw and fries? Queen B's burger maybe? Or Beau's fish tacos? All good, all made better by a day of salty air.

Nope, thinking back over the day, I can't say much of anything was accomplished. As someone said on the deck this morning while they were all sucking back caffeine, "It's never too early for drinking or napping on vacation."

And never too late to be doing nothing at all. Ain't beach life grand?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Snap Out of It

When my course is set for the beach, don't get in my way.

It was just about the time I finished all the writing I had to do that I first heard the tornado sirens wailing. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the sound was, but that's what Facebook is for, right? Once I realized that there were tornados in the vicinity and that most of my friends at work were hunkered down in basements and interior rooms, I took the warning seriously.

While my disdain for the suburbs is well-known, no one wants to see photos and video of overturned cars, destroyed houses near Brandermill and swirling debris over the Huguenot Bridge. Scary.

But the main effect of the tornados on me was the warning not to drive for an hour.  By the time that was lifted, it was time for me to head to the Library of Virginia for Modern Richmond's kickoff event for Modern Richmond week. I'd had my ticket for the Haigh Jamgochian - the architect who designed the tin foil Markel building over at Willow Lawn - symposium for a few weeks now.

I wasn't at all encouraged when I arrived at 5:20 for a 5:30 event and only four people were in the auditorium. I heard two women discussing how their kids were still at school, having been held by the school system for fear of sending out buses into a tornado.

Around 6:15, an announcement was made that the start of the event was being delayed so that all the people who'd bought tickets had time to make it there. "We hope this isn't too much of an inconvenience," the Modern Richmond spokesperson announced.

Actually, it was. I'd only been planning to stay until 7:00 anyway, so that was my cue to exit stage right and head eastbound, where I promptly ran into a fierce thunderstorm directly over Shockoe Bottom. By the time I got to Rockett's Landing, the roads were dry and the sky looked sunny and clear. Proof positive that I'd escaped at just the right moment.

Driving away from the city and the scary black clouds hovering over the western skyline, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time I'd driven to the Outer Banks at night.  And while my goal was noble - who wouldn't want to fall asleep to the surf and wake up to the same? - I'm terrible at recognizing landmarks in the dark, so this was bound to be an adventure.

In Waverly, the Tastee Treat we'd eaten at a few months ago now had a "Closed for the season" sign out front. When I stopped at a Stuckey's for a bathroom break, the first thing I noticed was a sign reading, "NO LOUD MUSIC," which necessitated me turning the Pet Shop Boys down considerably. Inside, they had showers as well as bathrooms for weary travelers. Fortunately for me, I was already clean.

Crossing the state line, I saw several signs, all with the same ominous message: "Avoid travel in North Carolina. Major roads are impassable," not the most reassuring of greetings.

Despite a lifetime of coming to the beach, finding a house I've only been to once in an area (South Nags Head) I don't know well was, hmm, how shall I say, challenging to say the least. What made it easier was that there was no traffic to speak of on the beach road, so I could back up easily when I finally realized I'd reached my destination: Moonstruck.

It's a poetic name for a monster of a house, but it's oceanfront and nothing's better than that.

And while all appeared to be quiet at the house on my arrival (despite prolonged door knocking and tooting my horn), my hellos were finally met with two male faces with glowing cigars in their mouths from the deck on the third floor.

Beau and Beckham helped me bring my stuff into the house where Pru had assigned me the same oceanfront room I'd had last year. If anything proves that she loves me, that's it. I was given the news that Hot Dog won't be joining us after all, having opted out of making the trip from Arizona. His loss.

The three of us reconvened on the porch where the guys were doing some serious damage to a bottle of Scotch whilst puffing on their stogies. At one point, they switched cigars (also known as swapping spit), the better to compare flavors.

All I know is I heard something about "thick wrapper, delicate leaf" and knew I was out of my league.

I give the guys credit, though, because after all that Scotch, they had to be tired, but were gracious enough to sit up with me. Not that it was much of a sacrifice given the most excellent breezes, practically perfect temperatures ("It feels like nothing," Beau observed) and a view of foam on crashing surf. Even the stars were remarkably clear, at least until some wispy clouds moved in toward midnight.

Truth is, I'm sorry I missed hearing Haigh Jamogochian talk about architecture (who doesn't like to hear an architect go on and on?) but the delay in starting was enough for the siren call of the beach to drown out any remorse I had about not waiting around indefinitely for the lecture to begin. Besides, it's common knowledge that I hate it when the punctual are punished and the tardy rewarded.

Maybe I was just ready to leave my inner nerd at home and let the beach frivolity begin.

Hot Dog's going to be sorry he missed this.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eastbound and Down

So Burt's dead and the least I could do was pay my respects.

When I saw that the Byrd was showing "Smokey and the Bandit," I figured it was just the usual brilliance of the Byrd Theatre in tying films to current events, like when I'd gone to see "Purple Rain" there after Prince died. But no, "Smokey and the Bandit" was also playing at two other Richmond theaters today.

Heck, it was playing at 683 theaters across the country this weekend according to Byrd manager Todd. All hail Burt Reynolds.

And I was far from the only person wanting to pay my respects, either. Arriving ten minutes before the film was to start, I found the theater already surprisingly full and people kept on coming. Now mind you, almost all of these people were alive when the movie had came out originally in 1977, although the couple in front of me claimed that their teens were planning to attend.

Maybe they'd read that "Smokey" was the second highest grossing movie of the year, second only to "Star Wars" and were curious? Doubtful.

During a discussion of the new seats, a woman told me that when she came to the Byrd 30 years ago, there were already springs popping from the chair seats. A man behind me recalled seeing "Singin' in the Rain" at the Byrd decades ago. You get the idea, the audience had all seen this film when it first came out.

But just in case it was anybody's first time with the film, Todd explained how back in the '70s, Coors couldn't be shipped east of the Mississippi legally and taking it there yourself was considered bootlegging. He also said that didn't stop three Presidents from having it shipped to the White House.

Damn executive privilege.

Then Todd roared to the projectionist, "Then Mr. D, take us eastbound and down!" and the Burt tribute began.

If you know me, you know how much I love films from the '70s for the documentation of a world I not only remember well, but get a kick out of seeing again, unlike films made about the '70s, which always get the details wrong.

Details such as Burt's ring and watchband, both made of silver and studded with turquoise, because all the cool kids were wearing it back then. Like Cledus' wife, who when caught at home, is wearing a headful of electric curlers and a halter top. Or even something as simple but long-gone as the spray deodorant Burt sprays under Cledus' arms, despite the fact that he's still wearing his t-shirt.

It seems downright quaint to be reminded of life before we realized we were depleting the ozone with CFCs when we're now experiencing life-threatening climate change as a matter of course.

And everyone, young and old, is wearing bellbottoms, although not everyone's fit them quite the way Burt's did. I'll tell you what, that was one in-shape 41 year old man. Sally Field's jeans, just as molded, caused Cledus to observe, "Nice ass, Bandit" to Burt as he admires her backside.

As befits the decade of the women's movement, it's Sally who responds to Cledus, "Thanks a lot." After all, it's her ass.

Not all the '70s references are warm and fuzzy, though. When Jackie Gleason's character Sheriff Buford T. Justice finally meets a sheriff he'd only spoken to on the CB radio, he's surprised to see he's black and mutters, "What the hell is the world coming to?" The audience responded with dead silence to such a racist statement.

And don't get me started on the confederate plate on the Bandit's Trans Am. Wow, just wow.

When Bandit orders two cheeseburgers and an iced tea at a choke-and-puke (CB code for diner) and the waitress says it'll be $1.50, there was an audible gasp from the audience. I guess no one remembers that McDonald's was charging 40 cents for a cheeseburger in 1977.

Describing how the two of them are the perfect team, Burt names other dynamic duos - Fred and Ginger, Lester and Earl - either of which require a bit of age to recognize. Fortunately, today's audience had that in spades.

It was particularly interesting to me the cultural references in the script because Todd had told us most of it had been improvised.  "You know who's revolutionizing the theater?" Sally asks Burt. "Sondheim!" Later she asks if he's seen "A Chorus Line," which of course he hasn't.

I don't recall, but I'm guessing it was unusual in 1977 for dialog to reference groundbreaking theater in a blockbuster action comedy with a mustachioed star who beaks the fourth wall with a shit-eating grin.

But as we children of the '70s know, the kind of man willing to be Cosmo's first male centerfold could do whatever he wanted. Seeing him in his prime was a fine reminder of how much fun he had doing it, clothed or unclothed.

Because at the end of a life, what better way to measure it than in enjoyment? Burt, I'm in full agreement with you there.

A Cellar Full of Noise

Where was I ten years ago? Celebrating Ipanema's tenth anniversary.

Where was I tonight? Celebrating Ipanema's 20th anniversary. Are you seeing a pattern?

When I went to the tenth anniversary party, I had no real connection to the place. But that night, I met the owner and the first words out of her mouth were about how much she loved my blog and its positivity. I was, of course, smitten with her immediately and we became friends soon after. I called her my girl crush right up until she found the man of her dreams.

If you want to get personal about it, it's where I learned how to drink without getting trashed over the course of an evening, a skill set taught to me by my new friend, often on Ipanema's patio (the same patio where she threw me a birthday celebration).

Reasons enough to say that Ipanema is central to my history over the past decade. But every bit as important, Ipanema's anniversary coincides with our friend-iversary, so we were celebrating tonight, too.

Over the years, I've become an Ipanema semi-regular. I attended nearly every Live at Ipanema to hear new and familiar bands enliven a Sunday evening. Many a night I went for the DJ, especially if it was the Blood Brothers playing '60s and '70s music. I went for dessert after seeing movies at the Grace Street Cinema and sneaked over from Strange Matter during band breaks to get a decent glass of wine. I spent hours on conversation while sharing a bottle of wine off the Secret Stash wine list. I celebrated New Year's Eve at parties there and had a second Thannksgiving dinner after my own at home.

How could I not be part of the celebration of their longevity?

Mac and I walked over and found seats at the two-top against the dividing wall, out of the fray but with stellar views of the crowd back and front. It was bound to be an interesting view given how many people have sentimental attachment to Ipanema. Within no time, I spotted the urban planer whose weekly series of charettes I'd attended to give input about J-Ward. In the back was the bookseller and author who'd lived in my apartment before I did. The record collector and scene stalwart.

Our server turned out to be a familiar face from Balliceaux and from Gallery 5 and he was happy to bring me a glass of Garciarevalo Casamaro Verdejo and a tequila-laced La Casa Pacifica for Mac.

With the place getting more crowded by the minute, we scanned the anniversary menu dedicated to picnic food that was tacked to the usual menu chalkboard. For me, that meant a chicken of the wood "lobster roll," meaning fungi dressed with mayo and full of celery, along with sides of seeded cornbread (a combination I'd never had and adored) and killer baked beans, while Mac went with the mushroom and onion fajitas with broccoli salad, vegan mac and cheese and corn on the cob.

They may have all been vegan, but there wasn't a stinker in the bunch.

By the time we'd cleaned our plates, every seat and bar stool was taken and there was a waiting list for a seat. Our timing had been impeccable and completely accidental.

And while I don't know if the hordes were there for the anniversary, I tend to think they were. As the woman nearest me said to her friends, "Can we just stop and appreciate how long this place has been here?" When you're 23 or 24, it must be truly impressive to think of a favorite restaurant as having been around since you were a toddler, just waiting for you to be legal to indulge in its pleasures.

In no hurry to vacate, Mac and I ordered another round of drinks (her poison of choice this time was the Sweet Revenge, a yummy but not cloying coconut-based cocktail) and shared a slice of blueberry pie a la mode while the owner pulled up a chair to our table and sat down to dish. Or, more accurately get the scoop on my life since we'd last talked, the news of which made her very happy.

Eventually, Mac had to go (early morning travel plans) so I walked her back to my place to claim her car and returned to the anniversary party. The thing is, Ipanema won't have another 20th anniversary celebration. Hell, any day now a developer is going to swoop in and buy that building to erect a tower of student apartments. After that, it's only going to be the former regulars and barflies who even recall the subterranean spot that attracted generations of VCU students and neighbors like me.

It wasn't long after I returned that the manager grabbed me for the cutting of the birthday cake in the back of the restaurant. When I asked what flavor the cake was, he told me it was "cake flavor," although the flavor of the cake didn't matter because the icing was so good. Requesting a corner piece didn't hurt, either.

Music arrived shortly after in the form of DJ Bad Daughter and DJ Sad Boi, both carrying by the handles the same kind of colorful boxes of 45s I had in my youth.

When I asked a blond next to me if she'd come for the anniversary, she looked confused. She'd come for a beer to forget the stalker boyfriend she'd left behind in another city, but she was open-minded enough to jump on board with the occasion.

Ensconced at the bar with my girl crush and another glass of Verdejo, we talked about some of the good times we'd had there over the years. About whether or not a counter-culture even exists anymore (seems unlikely) like it did when she opened Ipanema. About how possessive people feel about Ipanema because of spending their formative years there discussing life and love over a grilled Gouda sandwich.

When we finally left, she walked me home before calling Lyft to get her home to Southside. Along the way, we talked about our trip to Memphis and Oxford, Mississippi a few years back, reminiscing about how much we'd seen, eaten and experienced that week. How neither of us had any interest in seeing Graceland. How much we'd laughed.

But mostly what I was thinking about was how fortunate I was to have ended up at Ipanema in 2008 to celebrate a decade in business. It not only introduced me to one of my favorite people, but taught me how lucky I was to have such a charming spot a half mile walk from home and open every night. Cue Petula Clark.

I know a place where the music is fine
And the lights are always low
I know a place where we can go

At the door there's a man who will greet you
Then you go downstairs to some tables and chairs
Soon, I'm sure, you'll be tapping your feet
Cause the beat is the greatest there

Congrats to the woman not only capable of creating such a place, but of keeping it going for 20 years. It's got an atmosphere of its own somehow because of the countless people whose lives have been lived partly in the low light of Ipanema.

I'm thrilled to have been one of them...and hoping for 20 more.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Mellow Yellow Age

Because why wouldn't you celebrate your birthday with brunch?

Queen B was celebrating her 80th at Max's on Broad and I was invited. Strangely enough, although I've celebrated my birthday in myriad ways - including years requesting a birthday dinner of cheeseburgers, which is exactly what B had asked for on her actual birthday dinner yesterday - not once have I made brunch a part of it. Some people clearly think otherwise.

So after a morning walk along Grace Street in the Fan - mind you, in 85% humidity (so beach-like I loved it) under a stormy sky - I got cleaned up and strolled over to Max's to return to the scene of last night's tequila for the big event.

Tucked in an alcove near the front window. we had enough privacy to feel like we could talk about anything without ears around. Not that any of our conversation was particularly personal unless a woman copping to her OCD tendencies counts.  Or another admitting standing naked in front of her refrigerator to cool off. Or a man confessing he lost his faith because of weather predictions.

Weaving its way through all this was a discussion of red wax lips and their edibility. As it happens, a pair resides on  a stack of old books on my mantle. Also mentioned: those little wax bottles of colored sugar water.

The hostess who led us to the table jumped in on the conversation when I said something about how cold the restaurant was and Pru said she found the temperature ideal. That was the hostess' daily dilemma: she's either freezing or overheated in the restaurant every shift, sometimes resorting to drinking a glass of cold water in the walk-in. TMI? Then she handed us dinner menus and sailed off.

A minute or so later, she was back, saying, "JK! I meant to give you brunch menus!" So cute. JK.

When it came time to order, it was obvious I was the only one who'd eaten breakfast already. They all went for some sort of eggs - over hard, over medium, quiche Florentine - while I went straight for a combination that epitomizes the marriage of breakfast and lunch that is brunch.

Half a dozen Little Saint oysters on the halfshell and the pancake platter, please. With jam and syrup.

My fellow celebrants laughed out loud at my selection, but not when our server inquired which I wanted first. Then everyone got pensive and offered suggestions on timing. To me, it made the most sense to begin with pancakes and move on to bivalves. And not just any bivalves, but ones cultivated in a secluded tributary of the James by none other than the Rappahannock Oyster Company guys solely for this restaurant group.

And while they weren't nearly as briny as is my preference, I can appreciate a restaurant serving their own locally grown oysters. Next thing you know, they'll be bartering them for plumbing services.

A discussion of the '60s took the conversation into go-go boot territory and as we're all sharing stories, Queen B casually leans over to Pru and asks, "Still got yours?" Without missing a beat, Pru says out of the side of her mouth, "Of course!" Once a smart girl finds a pair of good-fitting white go-go boots, she doesn't let them go.

Since I don't wear white, it's not an issue for me.

My card for the birthday girl was opened and commented on ("The Struggle is real. Acting your age vs. giving a damn" - though we both knew that's no struggle at all), as was my gift of several pendants of Murano glass for B to transform with her brilliant jewelry-making talent.

Our affable server came and went unobtrusively as the hours passed, dropping off a small pot of coffee here, a birthday Gran Marnier creme brulee complete with lit candle there. He delivered additional OJ for Beau's Mimosa (though how does one ever have extra bubbly?) and brought me bonus mixed berry jam for my pancakes. Like our own personal Jeeves, he kept glasses filled and himself out of the way.

All the better to celebrate the first eight decades of Queen B's colorful life...and clothing...and hair. Pru, never the romantic but always the realist, summed it up best. "Don't complain about 80 because think how good it'll seem on your next birthday!"

If I didn't know better, I'd think she was competing for my role of Suzy Silver Linings. Everyone seems to be mellowing with age lately. JK.

Throwing the Chihuahua

Turns out we're currently a sanctuary city.

All I knew when I left home was that it was raining lightly and I needed to be entertained. Walking past Gallery 5, I saw a young band knocking on the door, asking where to park to unload their equipment (I could've told them that). At Saison Market, I saw a guy smoking a cig under the awning and futher on, through the window, I could see a man on a table being tattooed. The clutch of valets at Max's were bored and teasing each other.

Inside, I could see the bar was empty. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

The bartender poured my Espolon and the manager - whom I'd seen on my walk this very morning - greeted me for the second time today. After the bartender asked how we knew each other (the early Balliceaux days) we lighted on the subject of fashion.

She bragged about how fashionable her leopard print roller skates with the red wheels are (and I don't doubt it), sharing how she'd put them on the day they arrived and skated around her house for four hours to practice. I don't have that kind of room in my apartment, but then again, I never could skate, so it's a moot point.

I left there at 7:56 ("Cutting it kind of close, aren't you?" the other bartender asked when I said I had an 8:00 show to go to) but since I was only going a few doors down to Coalition Comedy, I still managed to be early.

The room was pretty crowded for the final installment of "Made-up Movie," an improvised film of which I'd seen none of the previous episodes. I wound up between a woman saving three seats for friends (only one showed) and two brothers from Raleigh who'd escaped Florence's impending doom by high-tailing it to Richmond.

When the one seated closest to me mentioned that they were originally from New Jersey, I asked why they'd moved to Carolina. "The weather, mostly," he said with a grimace. Since I had some recent Jersey cred, I shared that I'd gone to Wildwood for the first time in March and been wowed by the roller coaster on the beach because I'd never seen one before.

"You know we don't have those on all of our beaches, right?" he asked solicitously.

The next question out of his mouth was about how long I've lived in Richmond. Telling him it had been 30 years seemed to impress him. My question to him was about where they'd eaten beforehand.

"The back door at Tarrant's," he said, mistakenly putting the emphasis on the second syllable, like ta-RANTS. "My brother likes hole-in-the-wall places." I gently broke it to him that said hole-in-the-wall is attached to a good-sized restaurant with several sibling eateries and unless he'd ordered off the back door menu (fish tacos, fried chicken, fried fish sandwich or pizza), he'd missed the mark.

Nope, they'd ordered off the main menu, but the good news was they'd loved their food, so it went in the win column.

After he asked what I did, of course he had to ask for restaurant recommendations, dutifully noting them in his phone. When he asked for good bars, I had to explain that we don't have just bars in Virginia, but I could suggest some lounge-y places to imbibe if he was interested. He was.

Finally, the show started with a pair of guys improvising sets based on bad movie theme songs we heard a snippet of. And by bad, I mean singers like Bryan Adams and Peter Cetera. You know, the kind of singers that the army would play at top volume as a torture method or to force bad guys out of their hideaways.

Highlights included a discussion of why saying "gambling bookie" is redundant and the hilarious non-sequiter, "That's my fault because I threw a chihuahua at her?"

For the main event, the made-up movie, the audience was asked for a song lyric as a starting point. "I was gonna go to work but then I got high," one guy yelled out immediately.

"Somebody was ready," the group leader said, shaking her head and leading her crew offstage.

Easily the most amusing recurring segment of the movie involved an old grandpa who, cane slung over his shoulder and at the ready should he need it, was guarding his family's ice cream store. If anyone dared approach it, he'd demand the password. Sometimes, he'd just poke kids with his cane to scare them off.

Eventually, an 8-year old boy comes by and begins talking to him about how awful childhood is these days. "Life as a kid in the '50s, what was that like?" he eagerly asks Grandpa.

"My Mom would kick me out of the house at 5 a.m. and lock the door," he told the young whipper snapper. "I'd be out all day playing with rusty stuff. I'd come home at 11:00 at night and had to find food for myself."

I was rolling on the floor laughing (definitely more so than some of the younger people around me) and the youngster was mesmerized by tales of the glory days of childhood. "Wow, I've never even seen 11 p.m.!" he gushed. "Did you ever get to smoke cigarettes in bomb shelters?"

When the old man can't take the fawning anymore, he tries to get rid of the kid, first by giving him a pack of cigs and pointing him towards his bomb shelter. Then, it was, "Here, kid it's a rusty can. Go play!" Naturally, the kid cuts himself badly, thus ensuring the best kind of unsupervised childhood.

Hearing, "You're going straight to juvey, kid," sounded straight out of a '30s crime movie about kids gone wrong.

There were other subplots, one about a strip mall cop with an overprotective mother and one about a woman with too many ferrets and too much time to talk to them. One had to do with two college roommates, one a stoner and one a good girl, at least until she succumbs to stoner life ("Every problem has a solution and it usually comes in a bottle," she says, cradling a prescription of Oxycotin) which, of course, involved a 311 song being sung by a cast member from the sidelines.

And funny as all that was, and it kept the room laughing pretty much nonstop, nothing compared to the moment when Grandpa's long-estranged son shows up at the ice cream shop in disguise. When Grandpa tells him he recognizes him, the son explains he's stayed away because of the way his father treated him.

"But I've always been proud of you, I'm still very proud of you," the old man tells his son. And what does the son do? Wait for it: he tells his father to say it again and pulls out his phone to record the admission.

Now that's some seriously hysterical improvisation. That's Seinfeld-worthy observational humor right there. What good is hearing the words you've craved since childhood, the words that mean more to you than anything, if you don't have a video clip of it? I mean, did it even happen with no video?

And that's exactly what I'd told the Raleigh-by-way-of-New-Jersey guy when he'd asked why I was at Coalition. I always laugh when I go, sometimes a little and sometimes a whole lot.

When you mock the obsession to give up real life experience for the sake of online documentation, there's nothing funnier. Why? Because that's real life. And after all, they say comedy is just a funny way of being serious.

Beats playing with a rusty can.