Thursday, May 5, 2016

Beat Around the Bush

Just another evening ending in a history discussion on the front porch with a history major and an international studies major around midnight.

I scored major points in a discussion of British colonialism when I referred to Europeans as an invasive species, a discussion that could be traced back to theirs about the migrating patterns of one guy's Philippine ancestors (psst, there's a Philippine/Virginia pipeline) when I'd walked up.

They, naturally, were chain smoking, practically lighting one from another in that intense, deep discussion manner they probably first saw in an old '80s movie. Don't forget, this is the apartment downstairs that also yielded two guitarists, neither of whom knew much of anything about Prince or his significance musically when I brought up his untimely death.

Guitar players.

I stumbled on the history round table after getting home from an evening out with friends, wherein I found myself introducing two neighbors who live seven houses apart and didn't know each other despite decades in proximity.

Jaws dropped when we heard the story of the crazy neighbor - they all knew her, hell, I recognized her - who'd arrived at the neighborhood "Alley Cat" party, not only dressed as a cat, but pushing a cat dressed as a cat in a carriage. One neighbor used an air whistle to alert a friend of a sighting of her.

That's part of the magic that happens at the seductively-lit (and is that something that only people of a certain age notice?) Pizza Tonight - which deserves the more apt new name it's about to get - as I showed Holmes and Beloved tonight on our first date in two months.

Knowing what the kitchen is capable of with cabbage, how could we not try the cauliflower and capers that wove its spell on Holmes, a confirmed non-cauliflower eater? Or Beloved's suggestion of the warm olives, so far removed from the cheap martini garnish as to be of a separate botanical genus?

When a server went to remove the plate of pits, she checked for missed olives. The bartender scoffed. "That look on her face when she put that first olive in her mouth? No way she was leaving one!" They already had Beloved's number.

Fair to say that they also had Holmes' and mine with the shoegazing, dreampop soundtrack. After several songs so up my music-from-a-cave alley (and Holmes') that we looked for its source: the selfsame observant bartender. Curious, we asked.

"It's a band called Nothing," she said, making sure we knew it was a band, as if we were either 1) musical idiots or 2) clueless old people, reinforced when a woman nearby pointed out, "Or you could have just said, "It's Nothing."

Once we dispelled those notions, the evening unfolded with hours more of good music as she played us more Nothing from their last record, "Guilty of Everything," (and aren't we all?) along with Failure and her favorite, Hum, who were big in the '90s and broke up when the new millennium rolled around.

When Holmes suggested Bob Moses to her, she knew nothing of the band. What kind of electronica do you like, I wanted to know. She thought for hardly a moment and responded, "ELO," surprising the hell out of me because I would go right to prog rock if asked that.

But then this where Holmes, the consummate musician, comes to the rescue, explaining that their extensive use of synthesizers puts them squarely in the electronica camp, which totally makes sense for a woman raised by a Dad who loved Meat Loaf and pre-1990 Springsteen.

Coming highly recommended for the pig parts, the pizza of the week, Porchetta, onions and mushrooms was irrefutable evidence that whatever this place calls itself name-wise, its roots were in terrific pizza (and on the fly, at that).

When Beloved bragged about her latest estate sale find of the soundtrack to "Hair," a staffer jumped in, saying he had two copies, both of which had been mistreated before he got them. You heard right, people were debating their favorite "Hair" song at the bar, as if it isn't common knowledge that "Good Morning, Starshine" is the clear winner there.

We were told a great RVA stereotype story: apparently there are West End women who come to Carytown to brunch, ending their giggling forays buying cards at Mongrel, cards they then return a few days later when sober, unwilling after all to send Mom an Easter card with three forms of the verb "to suck" on it.

Coaxing from me and the staff got my friends trying their first sugar toads, mastering the eating method easily and moaning about the richness of the buttery fish like they'd never had puffer fish before.

Over dessert of an almond cake an Italian would appreciate and a couple of exquisite cream puffs, we grooved to the '90s with Superdrag, another bartender fave ("I should have been born ten years earlier so I could have experienced the whole '90s thing firsthand.") making for interesting music at an appealing volume, an all too rare combination.

More than once we discussed Pop ' Roll, a sub genre of Rock that Holmes is devoted to, and, for the bartender, a different way of looking at her musical taste.

As pre-history debate meals go, it's pretty hard to beat low lighting, honest food and another evening heavy on laughs and early morning singing songs.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Fourth Was With Us

Call me oblivious, but I'd never noticed the swift creek at Swift Creek Mill Theatre before.

It's not like I hadn't been there, I just hadn't heard the roar of the creek that I did today, undoubtedly a result of the almost non-stop rain we've had since Prince died. And roaring is no exaggeration. The original gristmill must have been wildly productive with that kind of water behind it.

Foto Boy and I were there for "Little Shop of Horrors," which, like the creek, I hadn't seen before. Oh, sure, I'd seen the 1986 film version but the play? Never.

And the eight-month run at Swift Creek Mill in 1986? That was the year I landed in Richmond and was far too busy adjusting to life in the county after Dupont Circle to pay attention to the local theater scene. Today allowed me to correct that.

Our pre-show lunch of salads, Nicoise and Cobb, at Garnett's ran long and as we slid into our seats a few short minutes before curtain, the woman next to us observed, "You're late!" and then smiled to show she was joking.

Everyone's a mother (or grandmother) at Swift Creek it seems.

Everything about the play was fun and well-executed, from helium-voiced Audra almost unrecognizable in a blond pageboy wig as Audrey, to Ian's earnest and nebbishy Seymour to Adam's shape-shifting takes on too many characters to count - the abusive dentist, the Life magazine reporter, the bum barfing on the street, Mrs. Luce - to the do-wop girls acting as a Greek chorus in bouffants, everybody hit their marks and projected energetic devotion to the comedy horror story.

Director Tom Width ably filled in for the actor who usually plays shop owner Mr. Mushnik, giving us a different "Little Shop" than most people have seen.

It was also a thrill to hear Audra and Ian sing "Suddenly Seymour," a song I've heard plenty of times at the Ghostlight After Party and any number of theater parties, but never live as part of the show.

Let's just say I can see why certain boys love to ham it up singing it after a few drinks.

And when all was said and done, the action wrapped up with a gaping Audrey II advancing on the theater audience while leaves and branches dropped down from the lighting to engulf us.

What else would we do during intermission but trek down to the creek to admire its high water and relentless rushing despite the enormous tree trunks clogging it? When I requested that Foto Boy snap me in front of this watery marvel, he tells me his cloud is full.

Do I even have a cloud, I ask of him. "No, of course you don't, you're Karen," he says. Which means if, as the cast sang, the meek will inherit, chances are slim I'll be getting any of that action, either.

Not meek
Don't have a cloud
Slow to notice a creek
Living out loud

Surely there's a song in there, right?

Highway to the Danger Zone

So, those 18 years of near daily walking? Paid off in spades by 10:30 this morning.

"You've got a badass walk," a guy informs me on Cary Street as I walk toward Can Can to have an apricot scone while my companion destroys a half baguette, the sausage of the day and a French Press.

Badass, you read that right.

Fittingly, I end the day with Mac, who never seems to have an umbrella on a rainy day (you have to appreciate a person's idiosyncrasies) despite prodigious walking skills but who doesn't mind borrowing or mocking one of mine (what's a few broken spokes between friends?).

Umbrellas in hand, we made it to Saison Market before the deluge was unleashed on J-Ward. There was an appropriately groovy alternative soundtrack while we ate the Springiest of Spring salads: asparagus, fresh peas, pea shoots, radishes, carrots, pickled onions and goat cheese lovingly drizzled with a practically perfect coriander vinaigrette.

Because how much help, really, do Spring vegetables need?

Fact is, I've been craving asparagus since spotting bunches of local Northern Neck asparagus on the counter at Ellen's store yesterday.

We followed our salads with oxtail sopas, which looked so enticing that a woman who sat down next to us asked what they were as if she might order them. Originally from Mechanicsville, she'd worked at an Applebee's there, which had proved to her that she needed to escape Mechanicsville ignorance and move into the city (her words).

A trip to the loo resulted in a memorization exercise when I flipped on the light switch and found the bulbs burnt out, but I only had to open the door once to determine the position of the essentials. Mac's subsequent visit benefited from me alerting the staff to the darkness problem and only then did I learn that the chalkboard wall in the loo had become a tribute to Prince. Sorry to have missed that.

I didn't even need the purple umbrella for the trek to The Basement, but the front had changed dramatically while we were eating, making it far cooler and drier than it had been pre-rain.

On Broad Street, we ran into some theater types "taking a walk" which they said was code for "sharing some gossip and talking about people," and isn't that one reason why having a walking buddy is essential sometimes?

Down the steps to the Basement we went, only to be greeted by the Prince station playing - although naturally there was no actual Prince music - but who's going to whine about Sheila E. and MJ?

My only complaint was when a Marvin Gay song came on and someone (Mags, was that you?) skipped it forward to Earth, Wind and Fire, whom I have nothing against (in fact, everything for) but seriously, no one at any time should ever be allowed to skip Marvin.

While the music was Purple-themed, the Basment's loo read, "Have you kissed a Canadian today?' with a drawing of a maple leaf beneath it. And you know what? I hadn't.

Tonight's comedy show was called "The Set Up" and featured four of Richmond Comedy Theatre's finest doing long-form improv on the set of TheatreLAB's current production of "Venus in Fur." For the uninitiated, this gave them access to a lounge chair (the kind psychiatrists had in their offices in Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies in the '50s and '60s), a desk, a radiator, two metal folding chairs and a fur coat.

Oh, yes, and a flip phone that was touted as a "brand new $800 Nokia phone" and got tons of laughs.

Using a bad Uncle Cracker song (redundant, I know) as a starting point, the first two actors took the lyric, "Swim through your veins like a fish in the sea" as their starting point for a riff on a shaky marriage ("I told you marrying me was a big mistake"), a Caddyshack-themed wedding ("Remember when the priest came out of the hole in the ground?") and a deluded attempt to arrange for more couple quality time to get the magic back by having their daughter kidnapped ("I have to come home every night and clean up my life!").

The crowd wasn't large but most everyone was doubled over with laughter watching masturbation under a fur coat and frustration with putting shoes on ("Double knots!").

Two people in the audience became part of the show with their non-stop commentary ("Oh, no, he did not just do that!") and reactions (hand slap to forehead, shaking head in disgust) as the drama and comedy unfolded.

Intermission gave everyone time to refill their glasses and give their face a rest from cracking up. Those of us huddled under a windbreaker were thrilled when the artistic director dialed back the A/C and put the warmth back in May.

For the second skit, the jumping off point was a song called "Nobody's Darlin' But Mine" - somebody in the audience's wedding song, awwww - with a line about, "Come lay your sweet head on my brow."

Somehow, this took us to the Founding Fathers' penchant for rye whiskey ("That's how they balled out") and getting the McGillicuddy contact ("Mama's gonna eat a lobster tonight!"). Maybe you have to be there to understand the transition, but it made perfect sense at the time.

What soon became clear was that when someone gets a grant to map the genome of a human squirrel, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to her injecting herself with squirrel venom containing squirrel genome.

The only problem with someone admitting, "I'm going to level with you, I'm 75% squirrel now," is that it also means they now have strong, furry thighs to climb a tree and that's not everyone's cup of tea (or bag of nuts).

With a cohabitation clause stipulating, "And they lived happily ever after" in her work contact, the squirrel woman finds out that contractually, she has to live in a tree with her coworker.

When he offers to inject himself with squirrel venom, she tells him, "I'm not attracted to squirrels," but she does sit him down to school him on what is and is not acceptable to say to squirrels.

She didn't mention it, but I'm pretty sure it's always okay to tell a human squirrel that she has a badass scamper. It's all in the furry thighs.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Harder: Change or Acceptance?

Sunday recap: It was a singular experience, both thrilling and demanding, to be asleep in a single bed on the screened porch of a guesthouse at the river when thunder and lightening roll in on three sides of me in the middle of the night. Truly, I felt the final thunderclap, painfully loud and incredibly near, reverberate inside my body. Okay, okay, you didn't have to shout.

Sometimes when you need it most, the universe delivers.

In the spirit of Helen Mirren wearing a purple dress in tribute to Prince at the White House Correspondents' dinner, I have been carrying a purple umbrella practically nonstop for over a week. The frequent showers have allowed me to grieve in my own purple way.

I'd barely left the house to walk over to Gallery 5 when a thunderclap announced the beginning of my night, rain began and out my Purpleness came again. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem walking in the rain, especially when it's warm, but I like it best from under an umbrella.

Hearing my name called as I reached for the gallery door, I saw a musician friend and sat down in an alcove to talk, where we were joined by guy who recognized her from a house show in Blacksburg. Next thing we knew, he was warming up his voice to ably demonstrate that he could throat sing, a rare skill in this town outside of Folk Fest weekend.

And that randomness doesn't even make it into the top tier tonight.

While I'd heard of Dharma Bombs, I didn't know what their sound was, but with four horns, guitar and bass, it very quickly showed itself to be a rousing mashup with some Dixieland roots that worked because of the group's sheer enthusiasm, energy and talent.

Or perhaps because of their intention to "chase away our Mondays."

The lead singer was barefoot and full of gusto for performing, which is not to say that the horn players weren't because the trumpeter pulled in a few jazz-like rounds of applause for his solos, the clarinet player had the crowd eating out of his hand, the sax players wailed and the bass player did an extended intro with no one else playing to highlight his abilities.

A rousing spiritual called "Glory, Bernie" ("Sing it with me!") was a bona fide toe-tapper while "Abigail" was more of a lament ("I went down to St. James Infirmary/To see my baby there/ Laid out on a cold, white table/ So calm, so cold, so fair") involving whiskey and "The Virginia Swing" closed out the set, appropriate given that people had been dancing throughout.

And if dancing on a Monday night isn't good for the soul, I don't know what is.

During the break, I caught up with my favorite silent movie expert about the public orchard he and others are spearheading on Southside. He's discovering the enormous satisfaction of working on an issue at the grass roots level to bring about change, even when you have to dance the bureaucratic dance to make it so.

This is just part of what makes him and his partner two of the grooviest people I count as friends.

We traded sides of the room when the Sun Flights took the stage, eager to be able to see all four band members: the two women who were the original members and the two guys recently added in to fill out their sound and add more beautiful voices to what was already exquisite harmony.

Seems they'd heard about Gallery 5 back in 2014 and been eager to play it ever since. "We made it out to the river today!" they shared with the crowd who responded with shouts of affirmation. "That's exactly how we felt about it!"

It's old news that I'm a sucker for harmonies and not only did they wow us with two and three-part versions, but they knocked it out of the park with a cover of "500 Miles," with each band member singing lead on a verse and breaking our hearts on the chorus singing together.

During their set, I used the friend card to call out a couple who were chatting near me while I was trying to lose myself in the ethereal harmonies onstage. Tapping on their shoulders, I whispered, "Two musicians walk into a venue. Who do you suppose were the talkers while another band played?"

The looks on their faces were priceless: surprise at my bossiness, perhaps, but also guilt because they are musicians and like people to pay attention to them. Pointing at each other, they mutually acknowledged that they'd been shot down.

All that matters is that turned their attention to their brethren onstage.

Referring to Virginia's river issues with Dominion Power, Sun Flights' last song was "These Times" (heaven help us with these times) which followed the introduction of the two new members of the Sun Flights project, who've sort of taken them from house show status to full-on venue status.

"Well, they were absolutely delightful," the guy next to me said. Turns out he'd come because a friend had told him he needed to see Lobo Marino, so I satisfied his curiosity about what he could expect as the duo began to set up (except his questions about the harmonium, which I hadn't a clue about).

Laney announced that while they got set up, there was going to be a Maypole dance since it was May first and that it would be set to Talking Heads.

A decorated May pole was produced and show-goers claimed ribbons attached to it to participate in the pagan ritual as one of the two guys next to me shook his head and grinned. Where else in Richmond could we be watching a Maypole dance set to Talking Heads? I wanted to know.

"Where else in the world?" one asked rhetorically, smiling happily.

Not judging here, but it was clear that not everyone participating understood right away the concept of going over and under the other ribbons, but eventually, the ribbons began to braid over the pole until it was mostly covered.

Ahh, can you feel it? Now May can begin.

Jameson began by telling the crowd to relax and let things happen, that they were going to ask us to step outside our comfort zones. "But not in a creepy way," Laney qualified. "In a migratory way."

When they performed the always-stirring "Holy River," a dancer named Sara in belly dancing garb took the stage behind them to undulate to the music, undoubtedly the first time many in the room had seen such dancing.

"Okay, here's where it starts to get experimental," Laney said. Jameson pulled out his mouth harp and played drum with his ankle, Laney played the rim of the drum and one of the Dharma Bombs' horn players appeared to blow. Midway through the song, DB's clarinetist and guitarist slunk through the curtains and joined in.

Then it was time to leave our zones. Jameson and Laney told us we were taking it to the streets and to grab some of the gigantic puppet heads sitting around.

With the musicians leading the way, the entire audience did a Pied Piper, following them down to Zephyr Gallery where people at the door were handing out small, lit white candles as we spilled in.

The gallery was dark, lit mainly by candles and the musicians sat down on the floor at the back and the audience filled up the floor in front of them. On the walls was art related to the mural projects, being readied for the First Fridays opening in a few days.

It was like we'd been led to a secret art temple to witness another Spring rite.

Listening to "We Hear the Ocean" in that hushed gallery was just short of a mystical experience. An a capella song followed with the audience providing the only accompaniment, our finger snapping.

"Candle down!" someone called out when a pillar was spotted horizontal. "Josh, can you get that?" someone called. "Oh, shit," Josh exclaimed before righting the wrong and making everyone feel a little safer.

And what would Laney say to all this, but, "See, this is what community is all about." Candles and May poles, spirituals and puppet heads, heavenly harmonies and migratory shows.

All that and walking home under the purple, in the rain. Where else, indeed?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Enormous Sighs

Stayin' close, keeping it Southern.

It would have been wrong to have eaten anything else before a Tennessee Williams play, don't you think? Sure, I knew Mama J's Kitchen would be crowded at prime dinnertime, but there was only one of me, so I figured I had a much better shot at a seat than the groups around me.

Skulking about close to the bar, I spotted a guy easing out of his stool and quickly made my move, asking if it was now free. "Have a seat," the man said graciously. "Look at you, being all aggressive or else you're just a pro at this."

Ten years in Jackson Ward, my friend, I know how to score a seat in this place. Busy as it was tonight, it was nothing like I've seen it on some occasions and despite the hostess having told me that it would be an hour and a half wait for a table, people were being seated in far less time.

Waiting for my dinner to arrive, I was entertained by the dishwasher when he brought out a rack of glasses. "Look at those glasses glistening like diamonds!" he said to me smiling. "I am so good at my job!"

The woman next to me wanted the same drink she'd had last time she was in, except she had no idea what it had been. "It was red and fruity and really delicious," was about all she could offer the bartender.

When my plate arrived, it had three pieces of fried chicken instead of two and the bartender explained it away by saying, "It's because the breast was kind of small." For the record, the breast was nothing like small, but who am I to complain about extra fried chicken?

Only problem was that three pieces plus sides put me way over my full threshold, so I didn't get a slice of cake, despite the guy near me raving about how they finally had German chocolate cake (his was already boxed up while he finished his third drink), although it was the black and white cake I had my eye on tonight.

I had to thread my way through a crowd of fifteen or so to get to the door, but I bet they were all seated before I even got to Virginia Rep a few blocks away.

Tonight I was seeing Williams' "Summer and Smoke" for the first time and walking into the theater, the audience was rewarded with just the kind of southern Gothic set you'd hope for. A massive "stone" angel fountain with water spigots dominated, with Spanish moss hanging everywhere and two smaller Victorian-looking room sets in front.

This production has great sentimental value because it is Virginia Rep's artistic director Bruce Miller's final directing job after 41 years with the company. Appropriately, the evening began with the actors talking about the formation of Barksdale Theater, which eventually became VA Rep.

It was a fabulous story: In 1953, six young NYC theater actors risked everything by buying a dilapidated old tavern (no indoor plumbing, no glass in the windows) with plans to turn it into a theater. A week later, they did a reading of "Summer and Smoke" in the basement for no one but themselves.

You could move to New Orleans and have a mysteriously colorful life like your aunt.

Out of necessity, every morning, the group, with a bar of soap in one hand and a towel in the other, would head up to Taylor's Pond to bathe. Naturally, hearing this just made me curious about the pond and I intend to find it next time I go to a play at Hanover Tavern, you can be sure.

There are women who want to love and be loved in a physical manner.

Miller had brilliantly chosen a deliberately young cast - a nod to those actors who'd come to Hanover - and while it was a tad jarring at first to see a 20-something playing the father of a 20-something, the talented Charley Raintree pulled it off.

Remembering last night and anticipating the next one...

The story of a frustrated preacher's daughter and the wild and undisciplined doctor's son who lives next door had all the usual Williams tropes: mentally unbalanced mother, the Southern belle hoping to be saved by a man, traveling salesmen, a hot Southern setting, men in white suits, all enhanced by excellent staging and nuanced acting (it's almost painful to watch Alexander Sapp's character's dissolution over the summer, so believable is his acting).

I've settled with life on the most comfortable terms.

Not knowing the story added a great deal to tonight's experience because while I never expected a Williams play to end happily, I couldn't have anticipated seeing two characters effectively change mindsets with each other, she finally craving the physical and him the spiritual.

Amen, sister. I'm dewy at the thought.

Bruce Miller picked a hell of a way to go out, effectively marrying the nostalgic - the original troupe's first reading 63 years ago - with one of Williams' under-produced but compelling plays and making sure it was done incredibly well.

Sexual repression dealt with, now I'm ready for that piece of cake.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Honk If You See Me

Sometimes, you take a newspaper to a restaurant, only to get moved three times.

Every seat at Amuse's bar was taken when I walked in, so I was directed to one of the mod green chairs, a perfectly fine perch for a solo diner intent on reading her Washington Post  and all the better if I could find someone who wanted to read a section with me

Just as I was finishing the Weekend section, sipping a glass of Rose and awaiting my food, I was asked if I minded moving so a group of four could use the chairs.

No problem. I took a chair near a couple who told me they were busy dissecting their awful Friday, but since my day had consisted of a walk (where one of the guys down on Dock Street had greeted me by saying, "I'd recognize that walk anywhere! Where's your hat today?") and hours in at my desk writing to make a deadline, I didn't have a lot to complain about with them.

It was a bit awkward trying to eat chicken tortilla soup while seated in a deep chair hovering over a low bar table, but the bartender's recommendation of the soup was right on. Full of chicken, chickpeas and tortilla strips, the broth had the level of heat that ensures you crave another bite immediately but not so hot that it was ever burning my mouth.

I was only halfway through the bowl when I was alerted that a seat had opened up at the bar, if I was willing to move yet again. With another drippy course on the way, it seemed wise to get to a closer surface to eat off of.

The bar crowd welcomed me into their fold, I cleaned my bowl of soup and started on a bowl of Mussels and ham in a white wine butter broth that eventually left me in a butter coma after sopping up an obscene amount of it.

Needing to move for fear I'd fall asleep, I strolled the new photography show, "Kertesz," marveling at the photographer's Modernist eye in the collection of stunning black and white images, some familiar like the one of two people looking at a circus through a hole in a fence. For another, Kertesz used his brothers as models, the two in Speedos, holding hands and using their body weight to counterbalance each other in mid-air.

I'll need to go back when I have a bit more time to scope out the show in full.

When a familiar face called my name, I joined their group, which involved tasting a new cocktail of mezcal, moonshine, pineapple juice and vanilla shrub (you'll never disappoint me with a mezcal cocktail) and discussing my trip to California with one who lived there a dozen years. It isn't often I meet someone who's also stayed at the Timber Cove Lodge, so that made for a delightful surprise.

Another restaurant type informed me that she'd spotted me in my natural habitat - J-Ward - recognized me immediately ("I spotted those legs and knew it was you!") but resisted the urge to hit the horn, knowing I wouldn't recognize her car. What's a random honk among friends?

Despite the dining room being completely full, for a change the bar wasn't overcrowded, so we had no guilt camping out to reminisce about the history of Richmond's restaurant scene and why certain neighborhoods are so far superior to others. Fan? No, thank you. Church Hill? Too isolated. Woodland Heights? Not for me.

When I pulled out my card to pay, I made a crack about its prehistoric nature since I don't yet have a chip card. As soon as I said it, the guy in the seat next to me whipped around to explain that if I called Wells Fargo, I could get a chip card immediately.

He pulled out his card to show me the graphic pattern he'd designed to go on his card and suggested when I do get my new card that I have an image put on it (so, yes, this stranger was trying to drag me into the 21st century right here at the bar) to further personalize it.

Explaining patiently to him that I'd only gotten a Wells Fargo card last year - yes, I've been carrying around a Wachovia card for years after the 2009 merger - he laughed.

I'm in no hurry for a chip card, I told him, because I'm a Luddite. When I said I had no cell phone, he countered proudly that he didn't use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. As a 29-year old, he thinks his generation is losing social skills due to reliance on technology and as a millennial who realizes this, he's an exception.

The funny part was, he sees the generation behind him (the early 20-somethings) as completely clueless and overly-dependent on devices in a much worse way than his people. I tried not to laugh at the distinction, then belatedly noticed he had a companion.

Wait, are you on a date? Yes, he says and turns back to it reluctantly. Good luck and godspeed with that, friend.

I got home to find a message waiting for me requesting the pleasure of my company and before long I was walking over to the Comedy Theater for some laughs and a Red Eye chocolate chip cookie, which, if you ask me, was a cookie tailored to the taste of generations raised on slice and bake cookies.

Overly sweet, not enough texture, just a lame sort of cookie. Granted, their target demographic is students studying and munched out at 2 a.m. and that's not me, but I couldn't help but be disappointed.

Luckily, the comedy made up for the cookie with the Disco Lemonade team kicking things off with a skit about boys - What do dudes like to do? Play video games and smash things - and the Work Family team taking on this unfortunate election cycle - I am a millennial and we are the future - with no hesitation about slamming Trump - I went to a restaurant and there was no T-bone on the menu. What's this world coming to? - and the rationalizations of racism - I think I'm a cute racist - all in pursuit of laughs.

Walking home in the finest of drizzles, my butter coma finally starting to wear off, I took stock of my evening. A few good laughs and excellent food and wine savored in multiple seats, although epic failure at finding a fellow reader.

Wait, I went to an art-filled restaurant and there were no newspaper-readers to discuss its articles with? What's this world coming to?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Since When Do You Wear a Ring?

Growing up in a '60s rancher did not feel like a mid-century modern experience.

It was, of course. The house was the kind of small, easy-living dwelling devoted to a more relaxed lifestyle than the more formal houses of my grandparents who lived in a townhouse in the city.

The post-war years were a new era and people optimistically thought this is what houses could like like in the modern world. Popular thought was that the right architecture could improve people's lives, a fact lost on kids like me.

Fast forward and now I know plenty of people with a passion for mid-century modern architecture, although now that I think about it, none of them actually lived in it growing up. I still look at ranchers (or Cape Cods or split levels) and shudder, but that's not to say that I don't have an appreciation for any of the architecture of that era.

For the final event of Design Month RVA, the Branch Museum and Modern Richmond were showing a documentary, "Modern Tide: Mid-Century Architecture on Long Island," and my curiosity was piqued by the beach connection.

Here's this strip of land between the bay and the ocean and starting back in the '20s and '30s, New Yorkers decided to build getaway houses in a simple, modern style that borrowed heavily from the Europeans. The clean, geometric lines of the houses designed by a new breed of architect were, as one talking head called them, "no more than an artful form of camping."

Of course, back then people expected beach life to be simple, a completely different experience from their city lives. While some of us still subscribe to that theory of beach-living, far more expect their beach houses, whether rentals or their own, to be elaborate affairs with wet bars, billiard rooms and, perhaps worst of all, hermetically sealed to prevent the intrusion of salt air and mist.

Tragic, in my opinion.

High ceilings for maximum light, a central room for gathering and small, utilitarian bedrooms ("What are you gonna do in them but sleep?") and lots of windows for maximum water views defined most of the Long Island houses - deliberately designed for the middle class, mind you - shown in the film.

And small in scale like the rancher I grew up in.

The heartbreaking part was how many fantastical houses we saw in photographs that have long since been demolished. The land is so valuable now that nobody cares about saving these mid-century jewels when the well-off can easily raze them and throw up a McMansion in their place.

And the crime is not just the size of the replacement house (although that's plenty obnoxious) but that in most cases, neighborhood associations now require traditional architecture to replace these once-modern houses, so this style of housing stock is being lost entirely.

But not all. Architect Andrew Geller's whimsical "double diamond" house, a practically perfect beach house when it was designed in 1958 practically at the ocean's edge, was moved back a bit and faithfully restored by Geller's grandson, making for a decided high spot in an otherwise unfortunate saga of the history of mid-century modern houses on Long Island.

Not that a documentary dork like me would have missed seeing such a fascinating slice of architectural history, especially with three familiar theater buffs in the row behind me to blather with until things git started.

Having dinner with a friend before the movie, I listened as he tried to convince me to join him tonight in going to hear a group of Tibetan monks talk about the snow leopard perimeter of their monastery. I couldn't imagine what that meant and he couldn't explain.

This was after he gave me a hard time for not going with him yesterday to watch the monks create a sand mandala. Monks? Meh.

Clearly he didn't understand the depths of my mid-century modern roots.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thank You for a Funky Time

I mean, how could I not stand in line with a purple umbrella under a pouring rain?

If the Byrd was going to show "Purple Rain," why would I not be there to see it? I'm not ashamed to say I'm still mourning the loss of a talent the likes of which I may never see again.

So, like any self-respecting fan who first saw the movie in 1984, I dressed the part with a purple shirt, ruffles and big hair and headed to Carytown early before the rest of the purple-clad masses arrived.

Secco welcomed me into its bosom with a Nebbiolo Rose, a mixed green salad with Feta and red onion and Spanish octopus with fiddleheads ('tis the season), savored along with a Shins-based soundtrack.

When I overheard the servers discussing Beyonce's "Lemonade," I invited them closer so I could hear their thoughts. One postulated that Bey and Jay Z. planned it all and there was never any real marital strife between them, while the other thought the album was a laundry list of women's complaints with the world, meant to be a manifesto.

Together they explained why L'il Kim was a far more significant music figure than she was given credit for and why Beyonce's feminist tracks owes a lot to Kim's groundbreaking style.

I'd forgotten what fertile territory Secco is for first date-watching and tonight was no exception. The duo nearest me spoke awkwardly until the first glasses of wine kicked in and then he began sharing his music taste (Dave Matthews Band - run, girl, run!) and she how demanding her nursing schedule is.

After she shared a story, his response was, "Sure you did! It's a cake job. You needed 20,000 steps today."  If I were to translate that, I'd say he insulted her, made light of her work and then presumed she's a Fitbit junkie, but what do I know?

Hearing that one of the dessert options was Baked Alaska, I told my server about my own Baked Alaska period (slightly before the "Purple Rain" period) when I decided that it wasn't all that difficult a thing to make and did so for many special occasions.

Even so, what I'd done in quantity couldn't have been matched by the quality of this version: a pistachio cookie topped with orange ice cream, blood orange slices and meringue, all situated on crushed pistachios and blood orange puree.

Hell, back when I was making Baked Alaskas, I'd probably never even heard of a blood orange.

In line at the Byrd by 8:30, I saw manager Todd in an orange shirt and chided him. "Just you wait!" he promised, directing traffic on the sidewalk.

Best of all, it began to rain, necessitating me taking out my - wait for it - purple umbrella. A man walked by in a purple frock coat and top hat.

In front of me was a trio from Philly (complaining about how southern drivers are clueless at merging and roundabouts) chain vaping (apparently that's a thing) and behind me a woman from Vancouver who in ten years of living here had never been to the Byrd.

Once we bought tickets, we switched lines and stood in the purple rain waiting to get in. Not a soul complained. The crowd was big enough to justify opening the balcony while latecomers straggled in looking for seats together in the rapidly-filling theater.

After taking a prime end seat, a guy asked to get by, explaining, "I'm with my mother," as if that mattered. He and Mom, a retired high school English teacher with a doctorate, quickly initiated conversation with me and I learned that she'd had six sons (I loved her stories of fading into the background when all six men get together - so relatable to what my Dad does when me and my five sisters get together), one of whom was with her and another, Mike, who was on his way.

Older brother was frustrated because Mike, who had initiated the evening, had yet to arrive and was not answering his phone. "That's just the kind of thing he would do," he complained repeatedly. Then why get upset if he's acting in his normal way?

"Good point!" he agreed, as if he hadn't realized the obvious.

Finally everyone was seated and Todd introduced the film wearing a purple shirt, saying, "This is what it sounds like when doves cry..."

The film had just begun to massive cheering with "Let's Go Crazy" when suddenly a man was at my side in the dark asking to get by.

Mike, you finally got here, I said to the stranger. Once he realized I knew his name, he asked for mine, demanded a hug and suggested he sit next to me.

He was a worthy seatmate, hooting and hollering along with the rest of the vocal crowd who'd come to be immersed in the purple world, and clearly very familiar with the film.

But unlike the more seasoned members of the audience, Mike couldn't possibly appreciate the '80s world depicted in the film like some of us could. Champagne served in martini glasses! So many VW Squarebacks! Impossibly big hair on girls wearing gloves! Perfectly applied eyeliner on so many guys!

I'm here to tell you it was all true, or at least it was true in the clubs of Washington, D.C. in the '80s. Unfortunately, back then it was also okay to have lines about "long-haired faggots" and that language is not missed.

The crowd couldn't stop themselves from reacting to the songs, so as "When Doves Cry" began, I heard murmurs - "There's my song!" and "Here we go!" - of affirmation and clapping in time by most of the room. Mike and I were already dancing in our seats anyway.

Seeing the Time onscreen brought back memories of seeing them at the Second Street Festival a few years ago, Morris Day and Jerome still seamless dancing partners, if a bit longer in the tooth.

Either many in the crowd hadn't seen the film before or had forgotten it because during the domestic violence scenes, there was utter silence.

Cheers ensued after Prince did "Purple Rain" and the lights in the theater's alcoves began pulsing in time to the music with "I Would Die 4 U" and finally, "Baby I'm a Star," his dancing bringing people to their feet, cheering and clapping.

Truly, it was as much a religious experience as a heathen like me could hope to have. Watching the beautiful young (26!) Prince onscreen for the first time in 32 years was powerful, made more so for the adoring energy in the room.

Walking out afterwards, the guy next to me says to no one in particular, "I gotta come back Saturday to see it again." Amen, brother.

This is what it sounds like when fans mourn.