Thursday, December 8, 2016

And We're There

While it wouldn't be fittin' not to tie dinner to the evening's entertainment, we proved that anything goes afterward.

Waiting to be scooped up by friends, I admired the remains of my garden, still amazingly colorful in December despite the recent spate of cold weather while noticing that the birdbath was filled to the brim after yesterday's day-long deluge.

I don't want to brag (nor do I deserve to given how long it's been since I gave my handkerchief-sized garden any attention), but interspersed with ferns and Gerbera daisies still surprisingly lush were blooms of all kinds: pink dianthus, fuchsia snapdragons, pink and white geraniums, purple and pink vinca, miniature lavender petunias, one pale pink blossom on the clematis hybrid that looks like a dahlia and hips galore on the pale pink miniature rosebush.

Considering I saw footage of snow falling on the Japanese Garden in Portland today, the colorful array felt like a near-winter gift.

Taking a cue from tonight's film, ours was a southern-themed evening, beginning in the understated brown and taupe interior of Spoonbread Bistro, where the flatware is golden and the vibe is luxe.

Pru and Beau faced me in a booth that sequestered us away from the restaurant's activity, while I grilled our server about the origins of her name, correctly having guessed her parents were inspired by a flame-haired movie star.

The subject of not responding to a person's texts came up (clearly not in reference to moi), with Beau mentioning one sent today to Pru, who'd been too busy to answer. My question was, if a compliment falls on a tart's ears and she fails to acknowledge it, did the text even happen?

Discuss.

The amuse bouche was a blue crab arancini, setting the meal's decadent tone from that first perfect bite.

What followed only got more obscene. As proof, I give you exhibits A) a lobster "Pop Tart" with Hollandaise sauce for icing, B) shrimp scampi with possibly the creamiest Cheddar grits I've ever swallowed, surrounded by chunky tomato "fondue," C) Cesar salad that tasted like the dressing had been made tableside it was so freshly egg-y, and D) scallops over caramel corn pudding with applewood bacon drizzle.

And that's just what I ate, never mind the sea bass Beau inhaled or the foie gras and spoonbread with Smithfield ham that Pru managed to disappear with not a bit of  assistance from us.

As she took the last succulent bite, she looked at us with only mild regret and said, "To be honest, I wanted to share with you two, but I literally could not stop myself from eating it all."

Luckily, Beau and I are not the judgmental types. But when she pronounced having had "an elegant sufficiency" and they both opted for coffee over dessert, I alone was left to order tonight's dessert special, a Gran Marnier chocolate mousse.

Just for the record, both their golden demitasse spoons touched down in my mousse more than once, despite earlier assurances that they had no room for sweets.

Tonight's conversation was particularly notable because it was the first in the two years of our three-way friendship that Beau actually heard it all.

After years of missing out due to ears damaged by heavy machinery when he was in the Navy, and despite being a man (so stubborn for no good reason), he'd gotten corrective devices so he could stop reading lips (only a slight exaggeration), a challenge given that  Pru and I talk a lot (both loudly and sotto voice) and he used to miss 85% of it.

No more. In fact, when I commented early on in the meal that he could finally hear us, he smirked and said, "I've already turned the volume down on you. You two are loud."

What his new hearing aids mean is that now when we ask him something, we needn't repeat ourselves. So it was that when Pru was discussing with him who he should conjure when mulling how to handle a situation, she asked who he admired and he came up immediately with Cary Grant.

"So do or say what Cary Grant would do or say," she explained, a point that somehow led to him admitting that if push came to shove and if he were to swing both ways, he'd have little problem swinging with Cary Grant.

The things you learn once everyone can hear the conversation clearly.

Walking out of Spoonbread feeling full as ticks and fully indulged, Pru turns to me and asks, "Remember the Jefferson?"

It took me a moment to get her drift, namely a long-ago December night as we were leaving Lemaire when she'd "appropriated" a poinsettia or two on our way out.

As I mentioned, I try not to judge but I know I left Spoonbread's poinsettia sitting on the table as we exited, stage right.

This month's classic film at the Byrd was "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a film that is as much about looking at two superior physical specimens - 26-year old Elizabeth Taylor and 33-year old Paul Newman - as it is about a dysfunctional southern family, especially in a Hollywood adaptation that all but scrubbed the homo-erotic elements from Tennessee Williams' script.

I wouldn't have even thought that was possible. Ditto the seemingly innocuous subject of the Sweet Tarts Beau was enjoying devolving into taking vitamins and minerals, which somehow led to the inner workings of Beau's, er, plumbing before, as Pru so eloquently put it, "And we're there."

TMI, that's all I'm going to say. Fortunately, the movie began.

Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?

Praise be that the film at least kept the setting, a stately house with screen doors opening to the veranda from second floor bedrooms cooled by constantly whirring ceiling fans. You could almost feel the humidity plucking on everyone's last nerve.

A drinking man's someone who wants to forget he isn't still young and believing.

Although I've seen "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" produced as a play multiple times, I'd never seen the 1958 movie version (shh, I didn't tell Pru so she wouldn't give me crap about it), so I was pleasantly surprised at the strong performances of everyone involved - scenery was chewed with real skill - although I was ready to smother those annoying child actors every time they came on screen.

Ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity.

After leaving the Byrd, I suggested a nightcap and film discussion but was voted down because Herself was tired, at least for the first block we drove east, but suddenly she reconsidered.

Our southern theme went out the window as easily as cigarette ashes, but now at least she was up for anything.

In no time, we were at the bar at Amour, complimenting the owner's new goatee, drinking and swooning over digestifs of Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum aged in French cognac barrels and taking topics from all four participants.

Sure, some people want to dish about annoying foodies, but others only want to covet swing coats and plan pre-concert parties. To each his own.

We covered a mutual friend's Studio 54-themed party, a planned trip to Antibes next summer, a formerly gawky teen morphing into a handsome young man aboard a yacht (with photos) and Pru's hippie chick Mom recently dying her hair green.

Digressions included Trump's excellent Blanc de Blanc, the grace notes of Willamette Valley wine and tastes of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.

Marveling at the number of years Amour's been open, Pru wanted to say that she'd visited it first, but the owner corrected her and I won that round.

Not that I hadn't already had dessert, but since my partners in crime had not, we over-indulged in chocolate sea salt caramel creme brulee, followed by the wonder of Beaujolais Nouveau sorbet (hints of orange on the front, anise on the finish), just the kind of delight you'd only get at Amour.

In the blink of an eye, three hours were gone and Beau had some wee concerns about his meetings tomorrow, so we thanked our host and departed.

This time, it took less than a block to realize that we'd not uttered a single word of discussion about the film, ostensibly the point of a third stop.

'We're done. There will be no do-overs tonight!" Pru announced firmly as Beau wisely kept the car moving eastward, knowing we'd made the same gaffe another time and then spent another full hour finally having the discussion we'd lost sight of.

The real question is, what would Cary Grant have done? Go home after a mere seven hours together?

Not likely. As I always say, ain't nothin' more powerful than conversations not shared.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Halcyon Pre-Machete Days

The third time was the charm on the T-Pot bridge.

My first two forays out on it had been on overcast days but with today's sunshine beckoning, I figured why not head down there and see just whether my only issue with it - how blinding its metal surface might potentially be - was justified.

Totally. Bright, really, really bright reflections and it's two weeks until Winter Solstice, so we're talking the least effective sun of the year. I actually felt sorry for those without sunglasses or hats to shade their eyes.

Then I spotted him, just ahead of me. Something about the fact that he was carrying a level, a measuring device and a sheaf of important-looking papers purposefully told me this guy meant business. Naturally, I had to ask.

And that's how I wound up meeting the landscape architect for the T-Pot bridge and, in my usual non-shy way, proceeded to engage him in impromptu Q & A session right there on the bridge with the river noisily rushing over the dam beneath us.

Yes, he agreed that the metal walkway was incredibly bright but he also explained that they had to use aluminum because steel would have been so heavy that they'd have needed to build expensive new supports for it.

But he also reminded me that over time dirt, the elements and usage would darken it, resulting in a patina that would be far less reflective.

Okay, I could buy that.

My next question was about the stepped retaining wall at the south end of the bridge. Right now it looks like new concrete and scattered dirt, but I couldn't help but hoping he had more of a living wall in mind.

Yep, Virginia Creeper will be planted and no doubt soon obscure every trace of concrete with its native species hardiness.

When I commented on the south end tree planting I'd seen on previous visits, he assured me there was a lot more to come and, in fact, he figured by the time the ornamental grasses over-winter for a season or two, it'll be a jungle up there.

"People will be telling us to get the machetes out, I guarantee it," he said with a smile. "It's going to be dense."

I was glad to hear it because that area behind Sun Trust Bank has always seemed barren and uninviting to me, kind of like a parking lot path thrown down in the wild.

Once I'd shared what I'd observed about all the foot traffic on my prior visits, he thanked me for my kind words.

After climbing to the overlook, then making the loop while dodging construction vehicles and men planting things, I headed back down the steep brown wooden steps past a liver-colored beagle, only to encounter my new landscape architect friend again, this time measuring along one of the promontories, probably for some sort of guard rail for idiots.

I asked him if I could call him Richmond's version of Frederic Law Olmstead, the man considered the father of American landscape architecture.

"No, no," he said laughing, but clearly pleased at the comparison to the man who designed Central Park and Golden Gate Park. "I mean, you can say that if you want to." I want to, I told him.

"We have the same trajectory, but not the same elevation, how about that?" he said.        

How about it? I've always found that modesty becomes a talented man.

A Bright, Willful, Curious Woman

Mining the record collection of my youth continues to be absolutely fascinating.

Apparently a young woman couldn't have too much Joan Armatrading, or maybe that was just me, while "Wings Over America" doesn't hold up nearly as well as I'd have expected. Luther Vandross on the other hand, well, Luther is timeless.

But the real gem was a Bill Conti soundtrack album to Paul Mazursky's 1978 film "An Unmarried Woman," all the more dated for the notation on the album that says, "Also available on 20th Century Fox Stereo Tapes."

Wow, I don't even know if that means 8 track or cassette given the era.

Coming across it in my stacks was a kick, not just because the movie had been such a big deal for me (and scores of other young women at the time), but because inside the record sleeve was a calendar page dated "Tuesday May 23, 1978."

Why I stuck that in there, I have no clue, other than that date - my birthday - was two months after the release of the film so perhaps I thought there was some cosmic connection.

This was, after all, not only my introduction to the hunky Englishman Alan Bates (and hearing him describe our heroine as "a bright, willful, curious woman" surely one of the finest compliments my young ears had ever heard directed at my sex) but a film that laid out in no uncertain terms that life without a partner was not only okay, but preferable in some ways.

Attention, kids: hard as it is to believe, this was a revolutionary notion at the time.

Although my then-boyfriend Curt liked to mock me about the movie's message by parroting Lily Tomlin's feminist catch phrase, "Right on, Sister Boogie Woman," the movie did have a huge impact on how I thought of relationships and what was expected of me in one.

All of a sudden, I was remembering how empowered "An Unmarried Woman" made me feel. None of which I expected when it came up next on the turntable rotation.

But I only got around to pulling out records to listen to after a soggy walk and a busy day researching and writing. At that point, my evening plans were nebulous at best until, voila!, I was offered a lifeline.

Do you have plans for dinner this evening? I can't stay out late but would enjoy company if you are available.

Sure, there was comedy happening and, yes, I'd found some live music, but neither comes close to a human who wants to share food and conversation, so I wasted little time in accepting the invitation despite the rain.

After all, I don't melt, despite the presumption in an email I came home to find from a weather wimp friend saying, "I assume you are out doing your thing. Pretty adventurous of you in this miserable weather." Is it?

We were far from the only adventurous souls who landed at Nota Bene where it was unexpectedly Date Night, so we played along, taking seats at the bar because the few open tables in the lively room were reserved and soon filled.

Almost immediately I heard my name called by a beer rep enjoying date night with her Dad while her husband is off in France drinking wine and missing her. As she pointed out, where better to be this wet night than in the cozy, wine and fire-warmed confines of Nota Bene?

Already, several items on the specials board had an "X" next to them, meaning they weren't meant to be for us, so we turned our attention to the plethora of menus for consideration.

Before long, we were joined at the bar by a trio of women who sat down, ordered and basically never shut up until they left. My friend was seated next to them, making it easier for him to overhear them than it was for me, but, as we learned later, one had been eavesdropping on us the entire time, concluding that we were, in fact, on a date.

Isn't everyone on a date when it's date night?

Our personable server delivered a bottle of Loire Valley Chardonnay along with a salad of mixed greens and herbs as we dove into dinner and recaps of our inner and outer lives since last we'd met.

Of paramount importance was establishing how much guilt was involved with tonight's rendezvous.

Only once our two pizzas - a classic Margherita and Pizza Tonight's standard-bearer, the fig and pig - showed up did we approach tonight's headlining topic of discourse, which had been pre-determined last Friday during a rescheduling of plans.

What, everyone doesn't designate a conversational topic days in advance?

Luckily, neither of us is so straight-laced we couldn't digress. I voted for the personality of Route 460 over the soul sucking of I-64 for his trip eastward tomorrow. He looked to me for restaurant recommendations down that way.

We compared thoughts on the new T-Pot bridge and I shared my personal back story on T Pot himself. When he described a cheesy '80s cover band he'd recently seen in the West end, I tried to suss out if it was the one I know and have seen in the east and west ends.

Curious about the ink arising from our server's shirt, I inquired and she graciously displayed the tattoo of a bat hanging upside down between her breasts before discussing the merits of almond brittle on chestnut honey panna cotta over the alternative, almond cake.

She may be no fan of nut brittle, but I am, so we chose brittle-covered pudding - the honey notes on the finish came across like a sunny, summer day on the palate - for our final course.

Well, not our final final course because that was Virginia whiskey and Mexican tequila - small cubes, both - as we lingered long enough to be the final guests in a restaurant so warm I was able to remove my sweater, a rarity for me.

Sort of like a rare last-minute Tuesday non-date. Right on, Sister Boogie Woman.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Heart Wants What It Wants

The best relationships are the ones you never saw coming.

Clocking in at 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, tonight might just be a date speed record, at least as far as my evenings go.

Besides a compliment about my dress and the opening sarcasm of "Long time, no see" from staff, Secco delivered the lovely and fruity Rolet Cremant Brut Rose, za'atar spiced almonds with sea salt (and the satisfyingly oily accompanying fingertips) along with house-smoked char salad with cured lemon, chives and creme fraiche smeared on crisped baguette slices.

The three large photo enlargements on Secco's walls took on new meaning when I learned that they were old black and white photos of the owner's parents engaged in being social, whether drinking, playing piano or cradling a cat in pearls.

And while I love them, my parents were never so cool as to have such pictures taken of them and this, perhaps, is why I'm unlikely to own a bar.

The music meandered from the XX to Pink Martini-ish as the place gradually filled up around us and countless dogs walked their owners down Robinson Street.

Lemon Cuisine provided a low-key dinner in a dining room that favored non-Indians when we arrived yet boasted a majority native advantage by the time we finished an hour and a half later.

My seafood kad hai of shrimp, ginger, tomato paste and spices set to medium heat was offset by garlic naan and a casual catch-up session with a white blend in our glasses.

I was home so early that a favorite person spotted me online and was quick to ask, "Back from your date already?" What, everyone isn't home by 9:01 after a date?

Fortunately, a romantic reward awaited me with an email from a friend sending me scads of fabulous photos from his secret wedding last Thursday.

We aren't posting them on social media yet, but I thought you would enjoy them!

That's putting it mildly. I was the one he'd come to when he'd first met the love of his life at a New Year's Eve party, seeking my advice about how to woo her. I coached him through a very successful Valentine's Day the next month and she was soon hooked.

Now, less than two years later, they've tied the knot and are off to South Africa to celebrate their love with wine and new adventures. This charming man told me he plans to raise a glass of Pinotage to me and my assist in winning her.

Meanwhile, I envy them every second of it.

Just last week, he'd shown me a note she'd written him pre-wedding, telling me, "I am so in love with this woman" and my heart had melted at his happiness. It's impossible to imagine someone saying the same about me, young or old.

Back in October, I'd been at a dinner with this adorable couple along with three middle-aged friends - one new, two long-time and all divorced. The lovebirds had been excitedly sharing their wedding and honeymoon plans while we more seasoned types basked in their glow.

A few days later, my new friend marveled at the irony of such optimism about their relationship with its wide-open future, especially when surrounded by people who'd already repeatedly failed at love.

Although he was unsure whether to be encouraged by it, I insisted that their passion for what could be should be contagious, regardless of age.

Remember what the Wizard of Oz said? Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable.

Even in this new world order, hearts still break which tells this optimist that all things remain possible. I just don't expect to see it coming.

Monday, December 5, 2016

I Think We Have a Topic for Conversation

For a Sunday spent entirely in my own company, it was a surprisingly satisfying day.

Not just because I knocked out the last minute deadline I was given to compensate for someone else's writing sloth, despite it taking up my entire afternoon and missing out on an invitation to see a play with a friend.

We intend to walk and take in an exhibit later this week instead.

Not just because I wrote a chatty and inquisitive four-page letter to answer one I got Friday, part of a correspondence recently begun to enjoy thoughts and questions in handwritten form.

Surely no one could be surprised that a Luddite like me could have a letter fetish.

Not just because I saw possibly the most simultaneously gorgeous and moving film I've experienced in years - "Moonlight" - which should be required viewing for every adult in our country now that we live in this terrifying post-apocalyptic Trump world, but a film that was also an open-ended storytelling wonder, unwilling to be tied up easily or neatly. Like life.

I did have the tiniest regret at having no one to discuss it with afterward, but I'll find someone who's seen it.

Not just because I can always count on the Washington Post to appeal to my wide-ranging interests once I get past the depressing front page news, as it did today with a travel piece about walking the Cotswolds, a book review explaining why playwright Eugene O'Neill was a terrible husband and a first-person piece about why being open, indelicate and downright impolite about your vices helps combat social pressure to relapse.

The struggle is real.

Not just because of enjoying at top volume my latest album acquisition - the National's "Alligator," an especially groovy chartreuse disc - scooped up at Steady Sounds yesterday, moments after the last Smurf passed as the Christmas parade ended and they bravely opened their doors to the masses.

When I first saw them in 2006 opening for Arcade Fire at Constitution Hall, they played a lot off that album and it's remained a sentimental favorite, one I now own on vinyl.

No, I think even an extrovert could be satisfied with a solitary day after a week soaking in the pretty wonderful things the people in my life have been telling me lately.

Like the email saying, "I have a bazillion questions about you I'd like to ask," or another complimenting me saying, "You are my best go-get-some-culture date!"

And probably the best of the best, "I need my Karen fix," like I was heroin or something.

With apologies to Roxy Music, life is the drug I'm thinking of.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Thanks to the Bijou, I finally saw D.A. Pennebaker's classic 1967 documentary "Don't Look Back."

You know the one, about Dylan's '65 tour of Britain that begins with the inspiration for INXS' finest video moment as Dylan drops cards with the words from "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

But more significantly, I got to watch a film that also caused a music critic to predict the future.

It will be a good joke on us all if, in fifty years or so, Dylan is regarded as a significant figure in English poetry. ~ Donal J. Henahan, New York Times, September 7, 1967

Maybe it's best the prescient Mr. Henahan was dead by the time Dylan's Nobel Prize nomination was announced.

Although I'm no one's idea of a rabid Dylan fan, I've always been aware of the poetry of his songwriting and over the years I've come to appreciate him in an entirely new light. Still, I needed this 90-minute crash course in that pivotal pre-electric moment in the icon's career.

Watching it, what struck me most was his unexpected charisma, the brashness of his youthful confidence and his sheer nerve in challenging the very square British press corps' shallow grasp of his music and mission.

I don't know how he kept a straight face looking at their bad teeth and walrus-like mustaches, or perhaps they're the reason he asked them questions like, "Are you sure you're really friends with [your friends] if you can't satisfy them?"

Fair question, then or now. For that matter, I'd pose it to my own friends.

But also: So. Much. Smoking.

It's a wonder Dylan's still alive given the 80 or so cigs (the press' estimate of his habit then) he smoked daily and that was on camera. Who know how often he lit up behind closed doors.

Like me, Dylan is a Gemini, so I recognized his tendency to constantly observe and make mental notes about people and surroundings. Some minds just don't turn off.

Is it wrong that after hearing him say, "Either be groovy or leave," I want to have that made into a sign for my apartment? After all, it's really not too much to ask of people, is it?

The many clips of him performing onstage and in hotel rooms were invaluable to a casual fan like me because I saw not only how completely androgynous he looked as a young man, but heard his youthful singing voice and realized it was far more melodic and less full-on nasal-y at this early point (he was 23) than it became.

The Bijou crowd may have been small for the late afternoon show, but our appreciation for the big screen Dylan experience was anything but.

Following the satisfaction of upping our Dylan quotient considerably, there were dogs to be let out and fed, shawarmas to be eaten and a show to get to.

We walked into Hardywood - where they were celebrating today's release of Christmas Morning, a gingerbread stout with coffee - just as Baltimore's Great American Canyon Band took the stage to seduce us with their ethereal folk pop and lovely harmonies.

You could tell that the two singers in front of the drummer were an item just by looking at them.

A musician friend looked at the long, tall drink of water playing guitar and observed, "He looks like Evan Dando." I laughed because had he said that to the younger set in the room, they'd have been clueless, while he bemoaned recently mentioning Michael Stipe to millennial blank stares.

Might I say once again that I weep for the future?

I'd have been happy devoting all my attention to the Great American Canyon Band, but in short order, I ran into a half dozen people I knew and paused from soaking up their gorgeous music to catching up with friends on matters of careers, families and pie-baking skills.

Seems some people are unwilling to pay for a wooden pie carrying box, even if it is American made and sold at a trendy shop.

As the next band, Mikrowaves, was setting up, a friend shared that he'd heard their new album and that if it were coming out this year (it's not), it would be his favorite album of the year, a fact which didn't surprise me since I've been an unabashed fan since the first time I heard their soulful sound.

Besides, who doesn't like a band with not only a drummer and a percussionist, but a female back-up singer and horn section? Or a song that singer Eddie described the opening riffs as sounding "like a Wendy and Lisa song?"

Not us, I can tell you that much.

We were totally getting into the band, dancing in place and having a superb Saturday night when, like a plague of locusts, a group of plastered middle aged people showed up all at once, leading us to joke that they'd arrived by bus.

One guy in a leather jacket, beer held aloft and sloshing dangerously near my head, proceeded to dance off-beat so close that his arm knocked me a few times. Meanwhile, the high-maintenance female contingent muscled their bejeweled selves to the front to dance frantically to songs like "Bubblegum."

Their moves weren't half as sweet as the song.

Fortunately, they were so far gone that when Eddie mocked them from the stage, they didn't even realize, although it got a good laugh out of us.

For my part, I began sending out subliminal messages to them so they'd clear out and return to whatever suburban hell they call home.

Either be groovy or leave, dig?

And they did leave so we could finish enjoying Mikrowaves' smooth musical stylings without the distraction of flailing drunks bearing down on us. Their killer set ended to major applause.

And, sure enough, when we left there was a black bus idling on the street outside. All I can say is, thank heaven that ain't me, babe.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pink Aluminum Tree Season Begins

My Christmas 2016 baptism by fire commenced today.

First up: a trip to the Northern Neck after an achingly short six hours' sleep to assist my ultra-organized parents with the first rumblings of the season, a morning endeavor that involved stuffing tiny glass ornaments into tiny stockings and then tying even tinier ornaments onto the stocking's ribbon hanger before putting a gift tag sticker on each.

It was just this side of mind-numbing, set to Christmas music, natch.

Post-lunch was spent on the third floor of their house - easily the most sweeping view of the Rappahannock river - digging through dusty boxes to locate tree essentials (stand, skirt, lights) among the scores of ancient brown cardboard boxes that hold their holiday artifacts.

And I'm not being unkind by calling them artifacts. The Smithsonian would.

I mean, we're talking about things such as the crumbling box that has for six decades held their manger scene, the one Mom bought at the Kresge in D.C. the year they married and the pieces of which still have the prices stamped on the bottom.

So you have some idea of what I was dealing with, Joseph and Mary are each marked 29 cents, but the baby in the manger is untarnished with anything so tawdry as a cost.

With glitter on my face and the ancient dust of Christmases past under my fingernails, I drove home into the setting sun for more holiday madness.

Having taken the advice of Comedy Coalition last week - "Wrap yourself in holiday cheer and get your tickets today before all comedy is outlawed forever" - I stood, ticket in hand, waiting on the sidewalk for Mac to pick me up for RVA Tonight's Christmas Spectacular.

After dinner in the service of my hired mouth, we joined the throngs at the Byrd Theater for an evening of comedy, interviews and music based on the saddest of holiday propositions: Santa isn't coming this year.

Holding up the Cheer-o-Meter, it was clear that we were dangerously low on holiday spirit after the events of that Tuesday in November that shall not be named.

Trying to bolster morale, co-host Matt told us that the good news was that NASA discovered 1200 new planets this year.

"So after the inauguration, we've got lots of options," host Beau Cribbs cracked from a set depicting his living room, right down to the band in the kitchen and the lurking elf near the Christmas tree.

When the point of the Christmas elf was questioned, Beau observed nonchalantly, "To normalize the idea of a surveillance state." Yikes.

Looking hard for more things we bid farewell to this year (besides the obvious: Prince, Bowie, Cohen), our hosts name-checked "American Idol" ("They saw America was dying, so they just went away"), Beau's liver and the first amendment.

Funny, not funny, right?

Guests kept showing up in Beau's living room, including mayor-elect Levar Stoney in a requisite awful red and white snowflake holiday sweater (and Levar Stoney socks given to him by his "team"), who good-naturedly answered Beau's burning question, "Can you describe what it felt like to kick Joe Morrissey's ass?"

After the theater erupted in laughter, applause and cheering, he explained that during the campaign, it was important for him to find ways to motivate himself. He found his way with, "I'm going to end this man's career."

When asked about former employer and mentor Terry McAuliffe and his role in all that, Levar didn't hesitate to kiss and tell. "He wasn't governor-ready when we got him. It took a lot of work."

Then it was back to his own debt.

"How many months do you have to do Jon Baliles' laundry? Asking for a friend," Beau wanted to know. "No laundry, I just had to take him to a few VCU basketball games." Lots of belly laughs at that since the pics were all over Facebook.

When asked if he'd been given any advice about his first year in office, Levar said he'd been advised not to try to do too much.

"I'm looking for some singles," he explained before realizing how that sounded. "I'm talking baseball here!" Laughter continued. "Don't go for home runs!" Applause. "I didn't mean that like that, either!"

Of course he didn't.

Holiday cheer arrived in many forms, from commercials for the Nog Bullet (for instantaneous egg nog) and an overly-complicated and frustrating board game, to everybody's favorite organist Bob Gulledge leading a singalong on the mighty Wurlitzer (flashback to every Christmas Eve of mine for the past 20 years, but obviously a novelty to many).

Even so, Beau was still not feeling it, so Matt suggested he sing his feelings, causing him to grab his guitar to sing "Blue Christmas," only to have songbird Natalie Prass walk out (looking absolutely fabulous in winter white palazzo pants and matching sweater) and join him onstage.

She was joined by Eric Slick, the drummer for Dr. Dog (and a solo artist as well), the two having met at the National.

He shared that Dr. Dog had just dropped a new album with all proceeds going to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which got enormous applause from the liberal-leaning crowd.

Natalie debuted her new self-penned holiday song, "Everyoneshavingfunbecauseitschristmas" - its profits are going to SPARC - and followed that by saying she'd do one we knew and proceeded to sing X-tina's "This Christmas," which helped get the Cheer-o-Meter to 99%. Finally.

When it ultimately hit the red zone, it was because the entire cast and band did "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," complete with sax solo, snow falling from the balcony and the jolly old elf marching down the aisle and taking the stage with the cast.

"Did we just save Christmas?" Beau asked incredulously and the crowd gave him his answer. Maybe we can still have a merry Christmas despite the Fascist waiting to take over our country!

It's practically a Christmas miracle.

Mac, also known as  Miss Christmas, wasn't content to let our holiday-themed evening end there, so going home involved a drive-by to ogle the insane decorations on a house in Randolph followed by an attempt at the Christmas house in Oregon Hill, except they'd already pulled the plug for the evening so we were left to admire the sheer amount of plastic figures, but, alas, no lights.

Legend has it that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big eastern syndicate, you know, and we've got 23 days before the first of the twelve days of Christmas even begins.

Ho-ho-ho, here's hoping they never outlaw comedy or music to get us through it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

This is the Last Time

It was a "Slow Show" kind of an evening that unfolded gradually.

"Racing Like a Pro" because of a last minute phone call from a friend seeking advice and an eleventh hour email from another seeking activity suggestions for him and a 21-year old, I barely made it on time.

Beginning on a "Brainy" note, a "Friend of Mine" met me at Chop Suey Books for Beth Macy's full house reading of "Truevine," about two albino black children stolen - not "Runaway" - from their mother and showcased in Ringling Brothers circus for 14 years until their mother's "Sorrow" led her to rescue them.

It's a wonder the poor things weren't "Afraid of Everyone."

From there, we moved on to a "Secret Meeting" in plain sight at Secco, where the volume was loud, we considered "Terrible Love," and ate well while drinking "All the Wine."

Or at least all the wine two people need while deep in conversation in "City Middle."

It was soon clear that "Baby, We'll Be Fine" eating spaghetti squash pancakes with harissa yogurt, sweet/salty Brussels sprouts with capers and candied pecans, PEI mussels with spicy sausage and a cheese plate of Midnight Moon, Ossau Iraty and prosciutto, matching glass for glass my Camprosso Gavi with "Mr. November's" Lopez de Heredia Temperanillo, although not to the point that we saw "Pink Rabbits."

The hostess was kind enough to compliment my colorful skirt and our server and I discussed the "Graceless" post-election behavior of certain voters. Meanwhile, it wasn't "Hard to Find" reasons to linger discussing the "Gospel" of middle age, personal "Demons" and lessons learned.

Sharing a recent "Apartment Story " from my own life, we could hardly have been "Mistaken for Strangers," although in certain calendars, I show up by initials rather than as "Karen."

While not exactly "Lit Up," we didn't hesitate to pair chocolate mousse with glasses of Cesar Florido Moscatel, pictures of "Heavenfaced" mountains and enough "Conversation 16" to outlast most of the crowd.

Walking out, we saw that karaoke at Metro Grille was just getting cranked up. A smoker on the sidewalk exhorted us to come have a drink, pick a song and belt it out for strangers. I don't need that kind of "Humiliation," friend.

Far better to acknowledge revised standing with full(er) stories, despite living in a "Lemonworld." As to "Patterns of Fairytales," I think you can say that having "Little Faith" has its rewards.

Most importantly of all, no records were harmed ('though several were listened to) in the making of this blog post.