Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Keeping You in Light

Timing is everything.

When Mac and I set out to walk this morning at 10 a.m., we were almost immediately passed by both a speeding cop and a speeding fire vehicle, but even that didn't prepare us to find several blocks of Franklin and Main closed to traffic as we walked down Second Street toward the river.

Now we know that's because at 10:05, police encountered a man in a kilt carrying a knife in one hand and an ax in the other at Third and Main Streets, tried to de-escalate the situation and wound up killing the man.

Honestly, I'm glad we were blissfully unaware of being a block from a situation, though I still feel we were a bit too close for comfort.

When we met up for dinner tonight at 8 1/2, the restaurant was as calm and serene as it had been harried and overcrowded last Tuesday.

Just when you make sure to allow extra time, it turns out you don't need it.

Not having to wait for my obscenely good turkey hero only meant that we could score a good bench and have a leisurely picnic in Scuffletown park before the music began. Mac showed off her mad picnicking skills by not only bringing cloth napkins but also a fat slice of chocolate espresso cake and two forks for sharing.

Originator of the music in the park series and tonight's featured performer Patrick arrived to unload his equipment with Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" blaring in his car and setting the evening's tone. Before long, a woman came over and asked if she could place her chair next to our bench without obstructing our view.

We welcomed the company and just before things got started, her husband showed up to join her.

The dance party king (and the man who'd once described me as "part of the fabric of Richmond") played host tonight, announcing, "Welcome to this Fall night in July," a nod to temperatures in the low '70s, before introducing Patrick and his band: violin, cello and drums.

At that moment, the woman turned to us and announced proudly, "That's our son!" and the man whispered, "He gets his talent from his parents."

Ah, that explained the young woman I'd overheard saying to them, "I heard your house was the one for jamming!" Good parents don't mind a little ruckus when their kid's got talent.

"Happy Tuesday. Finally, the weather broke!" Patrick said by way of greeting an ever-growing crowd that ignored the "Stay off the grass" signs and sprawled out on, yes, the lawn, as well as on bricks, on tables and benches. The crowds seem to grow every week.

Tonight's delightful weather was the ideal backdrop for the exquisite sounds of violin and cello played in the great outdoors to the thrum of cicada harmonies and brushes on drums.

Patrick's songs had the singer\songwriter qualities of dreamy lost '70s gems.

When he announced he was going to play a really old song, it got his parents buzzing, so I asked if they were trying to guess which song he might play. "Trying to guess the era," his Dad laughed.

Saying he was about to play some songs from the EP he put out a couple of years ago, Patrick admitted that he didn't get to play them much anymore. Why? "They're not as loud as I feel like I wanna be now."

Definitely not loud but most assuredly well-crafted and beautifully sung (and played), Before long, his parents were wondering which of his angst-y songs was next, while I was curious if he'd ever sung anything but.

"He always played angst-y songs, maybe a little less these days, but he only sang happy songs when he was little," his Mom explained as the band began what could almost surely be called a somewhat happy song.

She turned to me, palms up in surprise and grinning when she heard how relatively upbeat - "In the long run, you're going to have to help yourself" - it sounded with the strings winding their way through the rustling tree branches.

When Patrick announced that the band would do one more, someone called out, "Two!" and his devoted Mom yelled, "Three!" but he dashed their hopes, saying, "Not gonna happen" and instead inquired of the crowd who knew Suzanne Vega.

All the hands of a certain age went up and he rhapsodized about her music being the stuff of his childhood before taking on Vega's "Night Vision."

When the darkness takes you
With her hand across your face
Don't give in too quickly
Find the things she's erased

Find the line, find the shape
through the grain
Find the outline
Things will tell you their name

Some sets run long at Scuffletown, others, like tonight's, aren't nearly long enough given how wonderful the music sounds.

The consolation was that when the show broke up, the post-show mingling began and it soon became obvious that lots of people are pairing up these days.

I finally got to meet the dance king's new Queens-via-Texas squeeze, a charming woman who'd spent two hours in the river with him today and was already taken with Richmond's quirky charms.

Group discussion of architecture, history, trees and cost of living followed, with someone even nerdier than me suggesting a book she might enjoy for reference.

The scientist, whom I hadn't seen in at least a year, arrived after a Boy Scout meeting and surprised us all by announcing he now has a girlfriend and that he's "following her all over town."

Mac assured him that we love when guys do that.

As the blues harmonica player was being introduced to me, I reminded him that we'd met nearly a decade ago and he blushed to have forgotten me. I reminded him that while I've seen him play plenty, there would be no reason for him to recall one more face in the crowd. Still, he apologized unnecessarily.

As I was walking out, I ran into the traveling tailor and artist who's moving to New Orleans on Monday. In an effort to lighten his moving load, he's been selling off his paintings - at a rate of at least one per day, to his amazement - including a large piece sold to Black Sheep, coincidentally his favorite restaurant.

Talking about the move, he admitted that he hopes the time is right to do it, the consolation being that he can always come back if it doesn't suit him.

"But I've got to find out," he said earnestly about pulling up stakes.

If the timing's right, you'll know, I reassured him. And if not, heaven knows Richmond welcomes back all who leave.

As the great Fleetwood Mac oracle reminded us earlier tonight, it's not only right that you should play the way you feel, but that you listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness.

Sometimes it's the best motivator when you've just got to find out. And timing truly is everything.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Suddenly This Summer

"Good grief! Again?" a friend asks with exasperation.

Hallelujah, says I. No such thing as too much ocean breeze.

I can't help it if other people don't need as much time at the beach as I do, although I am glad that I know someone as inclined as I am to make the drive to spend even a day soaking up ever-changing breezes and bathing in the ocean.

A pro at this, I pack a cooler and a beach bag of necessities, although we have to make one pre-trip pit stop at Saison Market to score some pink: Le Fraghe "Rodon" because what would a trip to the shore be without sufficient Rose?

As my above-mentioned friend would say, "Quelle horreur!"

In my analog quest to make it to the ocean without using my date's technology, we may have chosen a rather scenic route through Pungo and environs, although who would complain about a bonus ride in the country en route to a day goofing off?

Certainly not anyone I'd want to get sandy with.

We stopped at Bandito's food truck to score lunch - enormous fish tacos and chicken burritos - from the same family who've been roadside since I began going to Sandbridge. And while the truck's location is no longer as convenient (nothing beats across the beach road), the food remains stellar.

Setting up camp squarely between two lifeguard stands not far from where the waves were breaking, we found ourselves on the international beach, with a group of German families to our right and two French couples to our left. It made for interesting eavesdropping since we could only guess at content by tone.

What was impressive were the two little German boys (one in a wide-brimmed black hat that you'd never see on an American 8 year old) who diligently spent hours building a sand castle and filling its moat bucket by red bucket, never once asking for their parents' assistance, or even talking to them.

They were all about their mission.

The ocean temperature felt cooler than our last couple forays to the beach, but not for long, forcing us to admit that we'd just been overly hot when we'd first gone in.

Or perhaps just traumatized.

Standing at water's edge, a woman and her son approached us, the kid wearing a Trump mask and making thumbs-up motions. We'd seen them earlier making their way up the beach and wondered what was up, but when they followed us into the water (we had our back to them) and stood there, he with his thumb up and she giggling like an idiot, we just turned away.

What kind of parent puts her kid in a hideous mask and trots him around to make others uncomfortable? This is childhood circa 2017?

Happily, once they exited stage right, the rest of the day was golden.

I finally finished A.E. Hotchner's "Papa Hemingway," which I'd begun at the last beach house (because a book with so many chapters set in Cuba and Spain deserves to be read seaside).

We took a mid-afternoon watermelon break because being covered in watermelon juices is just a fine excuse to get back in the water. We took a later-afternoon chips, guacamole and salsa break, causing my companion to ruminate on how he could possibly be hungry again.

According to my Mom's long-held wisdom, children eat and sleep better at the beach than anywhere else and realistically, why wouldn't the same apply to adults?

The ocean was striped with bands of color - olive green, bottle green, aquamarine and silvery blue - by the time the lifeguards blew their whistles and we took it to mean it was officially happy hour and got started on our groovy organic Italian Rose. Full-bodied, crisp and with a pleasing minerality, we took our glasses down to enjoy by the German boys' masterpiece now that they were gone.

By then, the beach had begun to empty out and my earlier prediction that we'd outlast 95% of the crowd had proved I'd learned a lesson or two since coming to Sandbridge.

It was going on 7:00 before the time felt right to walk, although that was partly the Rose and partly a comment someone made recently when they saw us walking together ("Girl, don't you walk that man to death!" - a hilarious comment Mac later attributed to my no-nonsense hat).

Our timing was perfect because the combination of the very wide beach and the McMansion houses that line it (the very same ones we mocked mercilessly as we passed them for their architectural mish-mash style, un-beachlike look and overblown size) meant that we weren't walking in direct sun and it was uncrowded, with most of the people left on the beach having arrived in the last hour or so.

I was especially taken with the large guy who'd arrived toting a load, set his young 'uns up and then walked directly into the ocean, not leaving it until near dark. The smile never left his face as he regarded them from his refreshing stance up to his shoulders in salt water.

We took plenty of ocean detours ourselves, arriving back to break up camp only minutes before the parking lot closed. You never saw two people shower publicly so quickly.

Luckily for us, Sandbridge may close its lots early, but Margie and Ray's rustic crabhouse is now open on Mondays and doesn't turn away pickled beach-lovers with sand in their hair, even when they show up at closing time to slide on to barstools.

The bartender was friendly, a local on a stool bantered with us about the fish-heavy decor and no one made us feel bad for showing up late and starving.

We discovered that one advantage of being a tardy arrival is that while plenty of people are still eating - a 16-top in the back was still picking away at mounds of crabs and two other large parties were nowhere close to finished eating when we showed up - the kitchen's not especially busy, so our mahi mahi and pound of spiced shrimp arrived in what felt like no time.

Everything was locally caught (okay, maybe not the hushpuppies) and positively delicious, but also, see: Mom's rule of thumb.

Let's just say I slept the sleep of the just. Good grief, yes again.

Fashionably Late

When it's your thing, you get to do what you want to do.

That meant my Sunday began with a rarity - hosting lunch at my house, complete with a bouquet of black-eyed Susans in the middle of the dining room table - and a nerdy indulgence: seeing the documentary "Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times" at the air conditioned VMFA.

That the near capacity crowd leaned 90% female mattered not to my non-alpha male companion, who, like me, is a documentary dork and was also eager to learn more about the man behind the designer.

Because YSL himself had been interviewed extensively, there were all kinds of intimate revelations, from his longing to be a beatnik (don't we all?) to the fact that his father never acknowledged his son was gay (in the interview with his mother, she says she knew, but her husband traveled a lot for business, so there didn't seem to be any point in telling him).

But the piece-de-resistance had to be the 3-year old Yves telling his great aunt to go change her dress before they went out...and she did. When he was hired as Christian Dior's assistant and his mother was coming to meet Dior, he also had final say on her ensemble.

That's talent the boy was born with.

Unlike a more typical American film, the pace was slow and measured (like YSL himself) with full admissions about his depression and addictions, with plenty of self doubt thrown in.

And always, those fabulous couture collections that he managed to design during two 2-week periods every year. In one outdoor scene, a series of models walk by, each dressed like the epitome of the swingin' modern '60s woman and so very different from the more constrained gender roles of the '50s.

It was a fascinating film that should have sent anyone in the audience who hadn't already seen the YSL exhibit (don't look at me) directly to it.

How is it this person arrived on earth so fully formed in his fashion sense? I was 40 before I had a clue what worked for me fashion-wise - and a lot of bad choices before that - and I'm still playing catch-up in some respects (jeans, scarves, jewelry) even now.

It wasn't hard to wile away the late afternoon or choose a place for an early dinner and when we pulled up to Metzger, who should we see heading in for dinner but one of the couples we'd recently shared a beach house with. Now it was a party.

Despite the shades being down, the sun had positioned itself so that all of the restaurant's windows were taking the brunt of the heat and things heated up as we sipped Anton Bauer Rose and chatted. They'd just come from Sub Rosa and seeing Miramar, which was exactly what we'd done last Sunday.

Small world.

But it was my date's first Metzger outing, so I had to introduce him to the myriad pleasures of it, beginning with Mr. Fine Wine providing the killer vintage soul soundtrack. Looking around to take it all in, he was impressed with a cleaver on the wall and intrigued by the bandoleer of Underberg singles.

The menu had been updated only the day before and maybe that's why the corn soup with crab and speck tasted like the corn had been in the field yesterday. The milky broth was sublime by itself, but in my world, everything's better with with crab and the speck provided a beautiful salty note to contrast with the sweetness of the corn and crab.

Mr. First Timer felt the siren song of a special of pork loin and I encouraged him since Metzger is magic with meat, while I had an heirloom tomato salad (the tops of the slices bruleed for a sweet note) with peaches, tarragon and seeded granola in buttermilk dressing.

In other words, a plate of summer.

Plenty of other familiar faces showed up - the IT whiz and his wife in a cute ticking jump suit, the dancer, the musician, the Italian I hadn't seen in ages - and then our beach friends moved on just as our black forest bombe (cherry ice cream over chocolate cake covered in hard chocolate with brandy cream) arrived.

A dessert so rich we couldn't finish it provided a splendid introduction for the Metzger virgin to the digestif Underberg, so we ordered two of the little single-serve bottles labeled with the promise: "To feel bright and alert" and took our dose of herbal bitters clocking in at 44%.

Those little empty bottles used to be found scattered on the floor during Mr. Fine Wine dance parties, but now that those have stopped, Underberg can be appreciated for its true purpose: settling an overly-full belly after a protracted and indulgent meal.

And while we briefly toyed with the idea of going to a show, it sounded just as appealing to sit on the balcony, listen to Brazil '66  followed by Isaac Hayes and watch heat lightening until the rain arrived.

Because bright and alert is in the eye of the beholders.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Take Door #2, Son

Sometimes you just need to take a break and catch up with friends.

That meant brunch at Helen's with the girlfriend I'd run into at several shows in the past two weeks, but hadn't sat down to dish with in eons. We'd both had too much life going on of late not to make time to debrief the other.

We timed it just right, sliding into one of the two window tables just as the early crowd was paying their checks. I'd forgotten about the charming flowered oil cloths that lend such kistch charm to the tables at the classic Richmond spot.

Because it had been far too long, we took turns eating and talking, so I got to hear about her life while diving into a well-constructed BLT with avocado on crusty sourdough toast while she listened intently to me while inhaling huevos rancheros.

In that typical Richmond-is-so-small way, when she began telling me about a guy who'd caught her eye but is looking at moving to the Big Easy, I knew who she was talking about before she even mentioned his name. When I shared details about my recent second trip to the beach, she already knew about the group house I'd gone to and with whom.

Small world.

We have no true secrets in Richmond, just the most delicate tendrils connecting us all whether we know it or not.

When we parted ways after giving each other love life advice, it was to do weekend girly-type things: go shopping for bras and flowerpots.

My evening's plans had been decided a few days ago when FotoBoy reached out to me.

I'm dateless Saturday I just found out and am wondering if you wanna do something with me?

Coincidentally, I was also dateless tonight, so I immediately suggested sharing some laughs at the Comedy Coalition, which got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from him. My idea was to meet here and walk the 6 blocks there even if it was still 97 degrees outside and he knew me well enough to agree.

En route, we passed a dozen or so people milling about and taking photos at the Maggie Walker statue and he marveled at the sheer amount of merchandise on the sidewalk in front of Circle Thrift. How do they get away with that?

Although we were greeted by a major blast of cold air inside the comedy theater, the air soon rose to a comfortable but not especially cold level once humans started filing in and soon we were joined by a third, a buddy of his, also dateless and looking for some Saturday night fun.

Turns out he'd found out 2 hours too late about "Stop Making Sense" playing the Byrd the other night and was mildly envious I'd been there, at least until he heard about the interview with Jonathan Demme and David Byrne that proceeded it and then he was hugely jealous.

I, in turn, was mildly envious he'd seen the film originally at the Biograph in 1984 when he was in 10th grade. I only became hugely jealous when he shared that he'd seen Demme and Werner Herzog interviewed in NYC and actually spoke to Herzog on the street before the event.

We put our petty jealousies aside when the show began.

Host Ryan reminded the crowd that what we were about to see would never be repeated and exhorted us to, "Breathe it in! Live in the moment!" before our evening of long-form improv began.

Ambassadors were up first and their verbal starting point was "old pants." That somehow took us to a closed Old Navy store ("I thought I had some idea of what capitalism would be like when it collapsed, but no!"), remorse about Circuit City closing and memories about the highs and lows of Orange Julius (there's a throwback).

The team was fairly young, so their comedy included references to pretentious young people, technology ("I'm swiping left and he\s still here!" about an intruder) and fluids.

Their climax involved kicking down a door, cocking a shotgun and yelling, "Biscuit!" but you had to be there to see how they got there.

Second team Da Vinci got started with a cue of "bike tires" and a couple of witches wanting to switch from brooms to bikes to save their magic.

Naturally, the witches weren't very nice. "Do you burn children?" they were asked. No, why, they wanted to know? "I have a nephew I don't like."

They made us laugh with comedy that referenced "Game of Thrones," accusations of infidelity, "Survivor" and boob sweat. There was also a cigarette-smoking bad father who needed to learn to hate less.

Big Bosses, the final team, was made up of the long-standing coalition members, the people who've been doing this since before they had a brick and mortar place to do it and were nomads.

These are the people who make it look so easy.

Their cue came from a guy in the front row after they asked the audience what our favorite soundtrack album was and the guy shouted out "Titanic." He was then mercilessly razzed about whether he knew anything else on the soundtrack besides "My Heart Will Go On" and he didn't seem to.

Naturally, their improv began on the bow of the Titanic, with passengers explaining how they got their tickets (murder, theft, death) and how they planned to find the American dream and segued into a bit about a Russian and American sub in the Arctic Ocean, each being manned by a guy who'd eaten too much chocolate and needed to poop.

One of the funniest bits concerned two passengers on a first date, one who was obsessed with his dead grandparents to the point of taking her to the cemetery to talk to the man who'd buried them.

After amusing herself playing Candy Crush while he chats up the gravedigger, she gets tired of waiting for him to finish questioning the man about them.

"Hey!  You can live in the past or come with me and at least get a hand job!" she calls out, bored and impatient.

I thought I had some idea how my Saturday night would end, but no. Hand jobs aside, I think we can all agree there's no point in living in the past.

And biscuits? Well, they'are always a good idea.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hot Blooded

It's not the heat, it's the sweat. Mine.

A person could be forgiven for seeking out conditioned air when it's 99 degrees outside and her apartment is 96. What I'm trying to say is, I felt no shame in starting my evening out at 4:00.

My date picked me up in his air conditioned car so we could drive to an air conditioned theater and spend two glorious hours watching a work of art in the guise of a true story/offbeat love story/artist biopic, shot beautifully in Nova Scotia.

Honestly, it was so immersive I forgot where I was until a noise in the row behind us jolted me, reminding me of my present reality.

"Maudie" was glorious in every way a film should be and, once again, we got no further than the car (a/c on, naturally) before we launched our film discussion.

We were two optimists discussing how one person with everything stacked against her remained so quietly happy and hopeful.

The cinematography was magnificent (who knew the four seasons in such a stark, northerly place could be so photogenic?), matched only by the stellar performances of Sally Hawkins as the arthritic and talented painter Maud and Ethan Hawk as her taciturn, cranky employer-turned-husband Everett.

I can't speak for my date, but I do know that one point I realized that tears were rolling down my face and I hadn't even had the presence of mind to know they were coming, I was that wrapped up in what was unfolding in front of me.

All I can say is, I'm so glad I had a voluble and non-cranky companion for the film so we could parse it together - the humor, the metaphors, the symbolism - for the rest of the evening.

Too often, I see something fabulous and don't know a soul with whom I can discuss it. Could that streak finally be broken?

But I'd also heard my date's stomach growling during a quiet moment in the theater and restaurants are air conditioned, too, so off we went to Acacia where a friend who once wrote a haiku about me was guest bartending for the night.

Driving over, we saw a digital thermometer reading 100 degrees.

Anticipating just such a thing, Acacia had earlier sent out an email to those in the know, stating that in honor of triple digit heat, all bottles of wine were half off. Now there's a brilliant strategy.

I'm going to guess that all the other couples at the bar had been notified as well, giving a party feel to a sticky evening.

After the barkeep asked what we'd be drinking, he followed the question with another. "Rose?"

My companion shrugged, saying he could do Rose or bubbles. Since it was too hot to make choices, we opted for a bottle of Paul Direder Frizzante Rose, thereby killing two (alcoholic) birds with one stone.

Only problem was we were accidentally poured flutes of Anton Bauer Rose first before the error was noted. "Think of it as the gift of an apperitif!" the haiku writer joked. Or a bonus round, depending on your point of view.

Our Frizzante Rose arrived just in time for our entrees: mine of succulent rockfish with a salad of lettuces, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese in balsamic, and his of pan-roasted chicken (with a fried chicken "tender" atop it), green beans that tasted like they'd been picked from the garden this morning and a mac and cheese gratin to die for.

Behind us, the restaurant had filled up, the techno music was pumping and we felt like we were sitting in the cat bird seats, happily content with everything that had landed in front of us. A restaurant owner and his wife showed up and took the stools next to us, the better to enlarge the party vibe and hear about what DJs were playing where tonight.

Because it's never too hot to eat dessert, we soldiered through a peanut butter ice cream sundae with hazelnut ganache and pretzel bark and a second bottle of pink bubbles while discussing some of our past travel destinations. He'd done Sicily, I'd done Italy. He'd been to Thailand while I'd gone to South Africa. How much we both enjoy the beach off-season.

Actually, we talked about a lot more than that, so much so that the restaurant had all but cleared out by the time Frizzante Rose Deux kicked the bucket and we were forced out of the air conditioned pleasures of Acacia.

So we glistened a little making our way to the next air conditioned destination. Mirroring Maudie's optimism, we didn't mind much. After all, it's summer and we're supposed to be hot.

I don't mind a little sweat if you don't.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Keep On Pushing

I have many talents, but being on camera is not one of them.

That's a cold, hard fact I first learned back in college when a friend tapped me to star in his film project to wooden results.

Oh, sure, I can talk to a brick wall or any complete stranger, but a camera? Not my forte.

Before being asked to try again, Mac and I had dinner at Garnett's where we admired the recently refurbished floors, talked about her Uncle Bootsy and ate our favorite salads like we do. Both of us briefly (and foolishly) considered ordering something different than our usual, but why mess with complete satisfaction?

And speaking of that, nothing could have pleased the two of us more than seeing that chocolate chocolate cake was in the house tonight, its frosting as soft as my cotton dress trying to stand up to another dog day of Summer (my apartment was a toasty 94 degrees when I left).

Luckily, the air conditioning at the Hoff Garden was set on full blast when we arrived for Sneakpeek: 2nd Annual Afrikana Film Festival's launch. The system struggled a bit once the room filled up with other devoted movie fans for an evening of short films by directors of color and the sunset beamed its warmth through the big window, but eventually recovered.

The trio of films came across like a trilogy of up-to-the-moment commentary on race relations in the 21st century.

First was Johnny Ray Gill's difficult "Strange Fruit hanging," an emotionally charged music video shaped as a tribute to victims of police brutality. It was painful to watch because the reality for blacks in this country is painful.

The next film was black and white, produced by Ava Duvernay and titled after Common's album "Black America Again." It featured the musician rapping the title track - a protest song of the highest order - to a percussionist in between emotionally charged scenes of women in white singing and dancing on urban streets.

His message was plain: "We write our own story."

The final film, "Hell You Talmbout," had a fascinating story behind it, in part because one of the filmmakers, Denzel Boyd, was from Richmond and in the audience tonight.

It began with children in a schoolroom and roll being called, the names being those of blacks killed by cops and went on to feature a group of kids in white t-shirts with a large "X" on each dancing behind a master tap dancer (in the same shirt) performing to Janelle Monae's Trump-era protest song, "Hell You Talmbout."

During the Q & A afterward, recent VCU graduate Boyd explained how the project had come about with a grant of $8,000 and two partners (one a filmmaker, the other a tap dancer). Since his degree was in graphic design, he was tasked with the visual elements of the film, which they completed in a single day.

I have to say, for one so young who'd been part of his very first film endeavor, he handled the non-stop barrage of questions and comments from the crowd admirably, admitting that they'd seen video of a Seattle tap group dancing to the song and taken their inspiration from that.

And while he hadn't felt any particular calling to address social injustice issues before making the film, he was feeling differently as a result of it. He also admitted (to appreciative laughter) that he was hoping to hear from Janelle any day now.

Then came the announcement of the theme for this year's 3-day Afrikana Film Fest  - Black with a Capital B: Celebrations of Black Personhood and a tease about one of the festival's guests.

When Talib Kweli's name was announced, the crowd roared its approval. Can. Not. Wait.

Tonight was also our opportunity to buy early bird festival passes at a discount rate (no dummies, Mac and I both did before they sell out) and it was after we'd done so that I got tapped to take a turn in front of the camera talking about Afrikana.

When I tried to get out of it based on my skin color, the brains and beauty behind the festival was having none of it. "That's exactly why you're just the person to do it!" she told me. Clearly she had no clue how lame I present when a camera is rolling.

But I did it anyway (with Terrance Trent D'Arby playing overhead) for the cause.

I did it because I think Afrikana Film Fest represents what Richmond is trying to become in terms of race relations. I did it because I attended the very first Afrikana screening back in fall 2014 and scores of their events since.

I did it because I want cultural happenings in this town to resemble the Prince concerts I went to in the '90s: a colorful mix of black and white, old and young and everything in between.

Just don't judge me for how poorly I convey my convictions. Really, I have other skill sets.

Once in a Lifetime

What happens when two people who've never seen what's considered to be the best concert film ever made finally see "Stop Making Sense?"

After dinner at Eleven Months - a massive pork chop with chorizo cornbread and spinach and chicken thigh escabeche with red pepper and arugula - watching a fellow bar sitter eat through four different desserts (the churros were his least favorite, the tequila chocolate cake the winner), they cross the street.

There, they wind up sitting in the center section of the Byrd Theater in seats that will no longer exist after tonight. That's right, beginning tomorrow morning, the Byrd will be ripping the seats that cradled our bums out of the floor in anticipation of the new ones arriving.

A dubious honor, but an honor nonetheless.

But besides the historic last stand for the seats, the duo are so enraptured with the 1984 film that they wind up discoursing on Talking Heads and what a fabulous film it was for an hour afterwards before even driving away from the theater.

One of them, who had only heard a very small portion of their music before tonight, is stunned by their musical chops and the stellar songwriting. One of them, who seldom sees videos, is gobsmacked by what a showman David Byrne is, whether dancing with a lamp, doing back bends or running circles around the risers.

The guitar geek takes note of every model of guitar and bass used in the performance, and even notes one continuity mistake in Tina Weymouth's bass during a cutaway. The cultural historian takes note of Weymouth's oh-so-'80s jumpsuit and gold flats and the percussionist's oh-so Flashdance sweatshirt with the neck and sleeves cut off.

Because today was a national screening day for the film, our night at the Byrd begins with an interview of director Jonathan Demme and David Byrne from 2004, both looking damn fine for middle-aged men with full heads of hair.

Demme recalls Byrne asking him repeatedly, "How is this going to be any different than other concert films?"

Frustrated with the questioning, Demme finally told him, "Because I'm making it and you're in it!" which pretty much sums up the brilliance of the film.

The surprises for me were myriad. That the band had five black and four white members. That Weymouth's hair was a ringer for that of Mary Travers'. That Byrne's famous "big suit" started out much smaller at the beginning of the set.

The delights were even more plentiful. The sheer exuberance of everyone's performances. Hearing "Psycho Killer" accompanied solely by acoustic guitar and drum machine. Hearing "Take Me to the River" as a full-on gospel show. Seeing Tom Tom Club do "Genius of Love" mid-set. All that lovely synth.

And, of course, the pure poetry of a pitch perfect version of "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" for ever and always my absolute favorite Talking Heads song.

Hi-yea, I got plenty of time
Hi-yea, you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight
Say goodnight

And the most wonderful part of seeing the film in a theater crowded with fans of the band and assorted middle-aged music-lovers was the collective energy that all but engulfed it.

Spontaneous applause and cheers broke out after almost every song, as if we were actually at a live show. People began murmuring when they recognized the first couple notes of a song. I was far from the only one who sighed loudly when "Naive Melody" began or squealed when Alex Weir did his lightening fast guitar solos.

I didn't have to guess that this must be the place. I knew I was exactly where I should be. Finally.

Say goodnight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ruby Tuesday

Time for my rating of today's zeitgeist.

Sitting on a rock in the James, our bodies submerged from the hips down, my companion spots a blue crab barely a foot away. In all my years of river walking, I've never seen a crab in the river. He's small, so maybe he's too young to know he's a tad west of the brackish water crabs prefer. Still, we saw a blue crab.

When we went to 8 1/2 to get heroes for a picnic, the counter guy knocked the wind out of our sails when he said they were all out of rolls, those incredible crusty rolls. Okay, so we ordered a white pizza with spinach and onion to accompany our J. Mourat Rose.

Only problem was when we picked up the pizza, they'd made it red instead. "Want us to remake it?" they asked reluctantly. And wait another 35 minutes? Our bellies declined the offer. Still, it was a killer pizza, the meal rounded out with pasta salad and grapes.

The group in front of us bought 2 bottles of wine but didn't have a wine opener. I asked if they were going to Scuffletown and when they said yes, I told them to look for my sunflower dress and they could borrow mine.

When she showed up, I learned that they were artists from NYC, down working on a virtual reality project with teens at Art 180, three blocks from my house. About 45 minutes later when he showed up to borrow it again and open their second bottle, he raved about what a cool town Richmond is. "You guys should keep this place a secret," he told me. We're trying.

On a breezy July night, listening to a singing accordion player with a quietly dramatic delivery, accompanied by a Russian guitarist and a drummer playing in a park was just this side of sublime. Beginning 15 minutes before sunset, they played through the arrival of fireflies and the street lights coming on to a much smaller crowd than 2 weeks ago. Simply beautiful.

Tonight's attendees were not an especially respectful bunch and many of them talked and laughed over the music being made. An accordion and acoustic guitars don't need competition from the noise made by people raised by wolves. Why come to a music show if you don't want to listen to the music?

It's a who's who at the show. The traveling world musicians, just back from Vermont and leaving again in 3 days. The activist who tells me I look beautiful in my sunflower dress. The bolero singer we'd seen just Sunday night at Sub Rosato. The brains behind the kite-flying club, coincidentally also working on his own music series.  The roadie (and best hugger I know), also just back from a tour. The songstress girlfriend I'm having brunch with Saturday. My favorite jazz metal guitarist and his cowboy roommate. The guy we'd met at the polo game 2 weeks ago.

Tuesday's score: 15
And that's not counting the afterparty, set to a soundtrack of cicadas and accompanied by warm breezes wafting through open windows.

As the Smithereens would say, groovy Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Best Laid Plans

What are we doing?

Because I seem to be everyone's default planner, inevitably when I make a date to meet someone, they count on me to decide what we're going to do (and usually, where we're going to eat). And it isn't a recent phenomena because I was always the organizer of trips and excursions as far back as my college days, when I was gifted with a shirt that read, "Social Director."

Plans "R" me, if you will.

So after a friend recently told me he was really enjoying getting to know new things through me, I laid out a simple Monday evening that began with parking once and partying twice.

Because it's only fair to revisit a place I haven't been in years, we began at Casa del Barco for happy hour.

I still love the Italianate building, the sunlight glinting off the bottles hung from the ceiling and the rustic metal light fixtures over the bar, yet I still marvel at how such a large staff can be so inattentive when there are only a dozen customers.

Heaven help us if we'd wanted food.

Still, through patience, hand signals and flagging down a manager with a headset, we were able to procure glasses of Prosecco on two separate occasions, although I have to believe it shouldn't be that challenging.

From there we walked to the turning basin to board the Martha Jefferson so my date could experience his first canal boat ride. I'd purposely chosen the last boat ride of the day, the better to appreciate the soft evening light and the sunset's reflections off the downtown buildings.

Where I was surprised - this was, after all, my fourth canal boat ride, although it had been several years since my last - was in the spiel delivered by our young female boat driver.

In addition to the standard patter about the burning of Richmond and the tobacco warehouses, we heard about how one of the bridges was modeled on Paris' Pont Neuf, the city's oldest bridge. Who knew?

Just as surprising was the story of Maggie Walker, complete with a reference to the new statue here in Jackson Ward. That definitely wasn't part of the tour before, although I was thrilled to hear it shared as just another key part of Richmond history.

On the uncrowded boat with us was an Hispanic family, the youngest son in a t-shirt with an American flag and the Dad proudly wearing a U.S. Army hat, all of them except the youngest child (who was fixated by a screen), seemingly enthralled with the history lesson they were hearing.

Depending on your politics, they could have been a poster family for American assimilation or an example of just the kind of no-good people we need to build a wall to keep out.

Don't get me started.

For my companion, who was seeing the Low Line, man-made Chapel Island and the half bascule bridge (think mules and rocks) from the water for the first time since I'd walked him over that territory, it was an opportunity to delight in an alternate vantage point.

Everything looks different from the water.

During the Q & A, someone inquired about the canal's depth and the driver said it was only up to her waist, a fact she'd recently learned when her sunglasses went overboard.

"But I don't recommend getting in because it's pretty gross," she shared. It was my first canal boat ride without a blue heron sighting, although I see them so frequently on the pipeline now that I can't really complain.

Once back on dry land, we weren't ready to return to air-conditioning, instead ending up in the brick-walled garden of Sang Jun Thai for dinner. We shared the dusky patio space with only one other table and it held friends already enjoying a meal.

Our server was sweet and incredibly young-looking, but also flummoxed when the first two bottles of wine we ordered were no longer available. Seems the wine list needs updating and no one could be bothered to do it.

Eventually, she brought out a hand-written list of available wines for us to choose from, we each ordered a glass and she returned with just one. We took it as a hint that we should abandon any hope of drinking.

But our entrees - broccoli lover with chicken and Chinese broccoli with crispy pork belly - were solid, the lanterns came on to provide ambiance and our friends moved on, leaving us the sole occupants of the charming patio.

No, I hadn't planned that part, although I might have if I'd known how.

But listening to Curtis Mayfield by candlelight on my balcony afterward while sipping Eden Imperial 11 Rose? That was all me.

I got this plan-making thing down cold. Or warm, as the night may be.