Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eve Hands Off the Apple

Before Richmond had a Listening Room, there was Ashland Coffee and Tea.

It used to be the only place I knew of with a guaranteed no-talk policy during shows.

So with an invitation to head there to see The Hot Seats, we took a drive up 301 for an evening of bluegrass.

We got there in time to score a table right at the corner of the stage, affording a great view of the flying fingers of The Hot Seats.

Our waitress looked like Carole King in the '70s and had a low-key wit that made her endearing.

When she brought our food, we all noticed the absence of roll-ups.

Rushing off and returning with them, she said,: "And here's some silverware so you can eat with dignity."

I especially appreciated it since chili can be ugly when eaten with one's hands.

My partner-in-crime amused me with stories of a friend who had been busy "finalizing the loopholes on her New Year's Eve resolutions."

I found that to be laugh out loud-worthy. If I were going to make resolutions, I'm not sure I would have remembered that important step.

The Hot Seats have many strengths, not the least of which is their range.

From Flatt & Scruggs to Porter Wagoner to John Prine, they have a knack for finding the covers that most closely align with their original and hysterical material.

Introducing "Jail Song," banjo player Ben held them up a second, saying, "I'm not in tune. I got this one mixed up with the other jail song. Sorry."

I can't help but like a band with multiple jail songs.

The song "Peaches" provided one of my very favorite lines of the night (and there were many). "You can always find your type if you like 'em over ripe."

Fruit (low hanging or otherwise) as metaphor for women?

The song "Soft John Blues" got plenty of laughs with lines like, "Gotta get me some of those pills."

A statement of our time, Viagra references seem to be cropping up surprisingly often in songs, as in the zydeco tune "Can't Rooster like I Used To."

The band brought up guitarist Ed's brother Dave to add "traditional bluegrass trombone" to a few songs.

That brass and strings combination is one of my favorites and it's everywhere these days.

The Hot Seats' set moved along at a fast clip with a dozen songs in each set.

Introducing one, they said, "Not all bluegrass is supposed to be happy. Not only is this one not happy, but discordant."

Unhappy and discordant, what more could you need on New Year's Eve eve with trains whizzing by every few minutes?

Okay, house-made chocolate cake slathered in ganache, but we had that.

Another thing I loved about the band was their musicianship; they endlessly and effortlessly switched instruments, demonstrating the range of each performer.

After the encore, our server came back to bring us our check and thanked us for being such great customers.

Telling us that lots of shows brought in picky people, this one had not and she appreciated it.

Susan Greenbaum shows, she said, brought in the worst.

Why? I guessed that it was because the audience would be largely female.

Cracking wise, my dinner partner asked, "Aren't all women picky?"

"She's not!" the server said, pointing at me. "She's perfectly nice and reasonable. You should keep her."

As if I were up for keeping.

I'm not sure whose eyebrow went up higher, mine or my seatmate's.

We walked out into the mild late December air of Ashland and  began the leisurely drive through rural Hanover County homeward.

Among an evening of great lines, I'd have to give the honor of funniest yet deepest line to: "Can we just have intellectual honesty?"

Only if you're given the dignity of using silverware to eat while a talented and humorous band plays.

And a Honeycrisp apple.

Friday, December 30, 2011

First Shots, Hold the Pickle

VCU, we have a love/hate relationship with you.

A group of us at the bar at 821 cafe were discussing how glorious the city is these days with the students gone.

Walking, biking and driving are exponentially easier than when school's in session. Certain restaurants (like 821) become accessible in a way that they aren't most of the time.

Which is exactly how my friend and I ended up there for lunch today. That and we were both starving.

We're one of those rare couples where the female orders the regular Coke and the male wants the diet version.

But he also uses the carcinogenic pink packets for his coffee, so there's really no hope for him.

I tried to talk him into sharing the black bean nachos with me but he was hankering for a burger, so with an order for both we were guaranteed more food than any two people could need or eat at one sitting.

And not just any burger, but the Union burger with Swiss, bacon, Portobellos and fried onion rings. The thing sat up about 5" high.

I teased him by calling it a heart attack on a plate, which is not to say it wasn't incredibly delicious.

One of the servers greeted me with, "Long time no see," a crack on us both having been at the same dinner party last week and then, rolling her eyes, told me she knew that I'd order the nachos.

Just call me Karen, the predictable.

From a few stools down, I heard, "So, did you enjoy the ballet?" and, lo and behold, there was the scientist having a massive Friday breakfast.

Who has two large glasses of orange juice at one sitting?

We indulged in a little "Nutcracker" nerdiness about what we'd seen.

We talked about our New Year's Eve plans with him saying he goes to a Northside party that always includes fireworks, a bonfire and gunshots fired at midnight.

I admitted that I had never heard of those NYE traditions until moving to RVA but now look forward to the sound of shots to ring in the new year.

As my friend and I shared the nachos and burger, we talked about what Santa had brought us, including the bottle of rum his sister had given him.

He doesn't drink. Merry Christmas.

That doesn't stop him from scanning the back bar (he is a bartender, after all) and we both wondered about a gaudy bottle which turned out to be pickle-flavored vodka.

Repulsive as it sounded, we were assured it makes stellar Bloody Marys, not that either of us drink them. Or vodka at all, for that matter.

We totaled about 2/3 of the nachos and half the burger before throwing in the towel and making plans to start the new year with a first together.

Leaving 821, I said hello to a couple of musician friends sitting in a booth and looking like they were enjoying their Friday feast as much as we had.

If they'd decided to open their mouths and start singing, I'd have sat down on the floor to listen.

It's not that VCU doesn't bring much of what I love to the city's fabric. It's just kind of special when the city is down to just us regulars.

And many of them are friends. As 2011 winds down, I raise my glass of Coke to them all.

Patrick x 4

What an interesting evening of guys this turned out to be.

It began with a man carrying an ax at the Roosevelt.

As in, there was a huge ax handle sticking out of his backpack tucked discretely beneath the bar. Right next to me.

I was only mildly concerned until he informed me that he'd come directly from the hardware store and that he'd also bought a roll of plastic.

Uh huh. Sure.

Upon further conversation, I learned that Patrick, a recent transplant from San Francisco, had just bought a load of wood, all of which was too wide for his Church Hill fireplace.

Wisely, he'd bought an ax to chop it to fit. The plastic was to move and then cover the pile.

Uh huh. Sure.

Like the bartender, he'd been one of the "Lincoln" movie extras before getting bored with the whole process.

"I saw Daniel Day-Lewis do a scene, I saw Spielberg and then I was over it. Anyway, it was more of a bro-friend-fest. It was lots of guys I knew and we talked about music, Richmond and grilling meat."

Sort of sums up mankind, doesn't it?

Actually, a friend and his wife stopped by the bar to say hello and knew Patrick, a photographer with an awesome drooping Civil War mustache, and vouched for him.

It didn't much matter at that point since I was 45 minutes into our conversation by then and had decided to take my chances on talking to an ax murderer on my own.

My reassurance came when he told me he was going to the Drive By Truckers show at the 9:30 Club tomorrow night and borrowing his brother's Cadillac Escalade to make the trip.

He promised to wear his helmet in the Escalade, making the entire conversation worthwhile.

Once Patrick climbed aboard his motorcycle and took off, I turned to my right-hand neighbors and began chatting with the three guys on that side.

Somehow, they were all Patricks, too.

Luckily, by that time I'd finished my Gabrielle Rausse Vin de Gris and moved on to the Blenheim Cab Franc.

One can't face her second, third and fourth Patricks for the night without a bit of fortification.

And the Patricks varied widely. One was a P.E. teacher, one wanted to discuss restaurants and the third engaged me in a discussion of spirituality after death.

While entertaining them, a quartet came up behind us and tried to order the Barboursville Octagon, which the Roosevelt was out of.

The bartender's recommendation was to sub the Linden Hardscrabble Red and I took the opportunity to second that opinion.

Sharing my tale of a recent evening devoted to the Hardscrabble, I heartily recommended that they set their sights on Linden and convinced them to do so.

Meanwhile, I savored the roasted fennel and oyster stew with smoked bacon, fennel pollen and lemon oil. Divine and obscenely rich.

They were an eating out bunch, the Patricks, so once the conversation turned to how La Grotta had the best steak in town (no doubt much to the disgust of the vegan Patrick, also a fan of German hip-hop), I ordered the crostini with local beets and ricotta.

The crostini was a thing of beauty with thinly sliced yellow beets atop a thick layer of ricotta perfectly salted.

Eventually two of the Patricks departed, leaving me with the Philly Patrick who assured me that I'd love Cape May (I'd heard the same from multiple people before) and that he'd be at the Balliceaux show I'd soon be attending.

But only because I told him about it.

Even better, the Hardscrabble group stopped by to rave about the wine I'd chosen for them and left me aglow in heir gratitude.

Then it was on to Balliceaux and a most diverse crowd.

Long before I ran into Patrick #4, I saw several familiar faces: one of the members of Photosynthesizers, the band I'd come to see, who'd friended me after our first meeting ("I've been reading your blog, too" he told me) a guy who wished me Happy New Year "and all that pagan stuff" and a handsome gay friend who kissed me not once but four times on the lips ("Why don't you ever ask anything about the real me?").

I have to assume my pheromones were in full effect tonight.

A guy walked up behind me to get a drink and leaned in, taking a deep breath. "Mmmm" he said, "your hair smells so good. So do you."

For the record, I wear no scent.

Turns out he'd just come from the Republic (the smelliest place in town) so, in comparison, I'm sure I did smell pretty good since I didn't reek of cigarette smoke.

A  guy who'd been hired by the band to perform magic tricks approached me and made balls appear and disappear, stuck his finger through a non-existent hole in my hot pink scarf and even made the three of clubs dance after I'd chosen it from the deck, before leaving me to entertain the masses.

A charming guy (who turned out to be in the band) guessed me for a Leo (I'm a Gemini) but had high praise for my legs and their potential.

When he challenged me on not having seen the band before, I retaliated with specific shows and venues and he was forced to acknowledge his error in misjudging me.

Well, except for my legs and their potential.

He also told me straight up that I wasn't from Richmond or the West Coast. His guess? Boston or D.C.

Points were awarded for accuracy.

Photosynthesizers played an outstanding set, necessitating much dancing amongst the crowd. Hip-hop fan or not, there is a singular pleasure to live hip-hop done as well as they do it.

The magician returned and changed into a high school English teacher and I was rewarded with someone with whom I could discuss Shakespeare, the Iliad and punctuation.

I don't often meet a guy to whom I can recommend "Eats Shoots and Leaves" but he was one.

During the last song, the hair smeller returned, questioning the force field the gay friend had thrown around me.

Since when am I so interesting?

It was probably a good thing that the lights came up.

Mom always said that it's best to take raging pheromones home at a reasonable hour.

Okay, she didn't really, but she could should have.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Truth in Tostados

"T o live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." ~ Oscar Wilde

I am many things to many people, but not a one of them can stand it when I get low.

My natural tendency is toward optimism; the glass is always half full if you ask me.

I wake up raring to go and I rarely turn down a chance to do something that sounds interesting.

Even so, my state of mind had been wavering in a much lower place than usual for a few months now.

To be frank, I felt dangerously close to just existing.

Friends noticed and didn't like it, but had no idea what to do about it.

My mother expressed concern about the absence of my sunny side and strongly suggested online dating, as if that would do the trick.

And while I have several close friends who found love online, I knew that wasn't likely to be the solution to what ailed me.

Instead I went back to doing what I do best: living my life in the way that makes me happiest. Doing the things that matter to me.

But I also started reaching out beyond my usual circle and including some of the people I've known in the past but hadn't spent much time with lately.

Sometimes it backfired and I was sorry I hadn't gone out alone as usual, but sometimes the company was exactly the Rx I needed to return to fully enjoying myself.

Turns out I was lonely and just needed more company more often.

As practiced as I am at living life, I am a highly social creature and had been spending way too much time in my own company.

So there you have it.

Instead of sharing details of my dinner (Pescado's China Street), my companion (a friend for only the past couple of years), what we talked about (moving, admission of feelings, travel) and what happened around us, I offer a rumination on my life.

Merely existing might be easier, but I can't imagine it would be nearly as satisfying.

How's that for oblique?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mars Disarmed by Venus

Collaboration came highly recommended by a poet.

Two visiting poets, both former Richmond residents.were stopping at Chop Suey and I was doing my poetic duty taking a first-timer to hear them.

Everyone needs to hear poetry read out loud now and then, even more so when the subject of Mars and Venus comes up.

Especially me since it had been months since the last reading I'd been to. That's too long for someone like me.

Waiting for the reading to begin, I perused a book on unusual buildings only to find a Venetian floating theater used during the Italian Biennial and modeled on the kind popular in the 16th through 18th century in Italy.

It makes me happy to know that there are such things in the world, even if they are in Italy. Look at the stage or look out the window at the passing scenery, oh my!

Jay and Kristin Snodgrass read  to the small crowd in the back of the store while their nine-year old daughter made commentary from the floor.

When Jay introduced himself, she said, "Everybody knows that, Dad."

Progeny as peanut gallery.

He now lives in Florida and had done poems about oil slicks on the Gulf coast; many  were titled simply "Slick." South Florida and clouds were other topics.

Favorite line: "What passes between us is wafts of conversation."

Kristin was the one who highly recommended collaboration, a process she called "great." She brought it up by way of introducing some collaborative poems she'd worked on.

She mentioned that usually each poet read a part of a collaborative poem at a reading. Immediately, an audience member volunteered to read with her.

He was a fine reader, too, and his voice added a lot to the reading.

Afterwards, the Snodgrasses marveled at the changes around VCU since they were last here ("Chili's?" they asked appalled) and it felt more like friends talking than poets and audience.

Now that my companion had been indoctrinated into the world of poetry readings, we moved on to dinner at Acacia.

From the moment we walked in, it was clear that Richmond was eager to escape home and hearth. The place was mobbed.

We scored a couch and wine and sat down to wait for two seats at the bar.

All at once the packed bar patrons moved to tables and we were two of very few there, which was nice for a change.

It was especially interesting for my sidekick, the poetry reading virgin, since he hadn't been to Acacia since they moved from Carytown.

Thank goodness someone is bringing him up to speed in all the important areas. That's all I'm going to say.

A lover of all things Italian, he chose a bottle of the Kelerei Kaltern-Caldaro Pinot Grigio, a perfectly beautiful wine that reminded him of Italy and reminded me with its aromas a of flower and peaches just how good Pinot Grigio can be.

We started with the house made Coppa with pickled pumpkin and mesclun.  The thinly-sliced and flavorful coppa was outstanding, made even more so when we learned that it was the chef's doing.

Poetry works up an appetite, so I went on to the braised pork belly and miso sugar toads with maitake puree and a balsamic reduction.

Yes, I know pork belly is everywhere these days, but sometimes I just need a hunk of fat with a little meat attached. I'll work it off, I have no doubt.

The bacon-wrapped duck breast my dinner partner got was making him very happy, and a bite showed me why.

I have to assume the kitchen was thinking that duck simply isn't rich enough so pig was required to augment it.

We lingered over wine until we were the last customers in the place, talking about the wording of booty calls, unconventional lifestyles and how young is too young to meet and make a relationship work.

Luckily, we had nothing but time.

Or, as The National put it, "We're so disarming, darling. Everything we did believe is diving, diving, diving off the balcony."

And from five floors up, too. There's a kind of poetry to that.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Evening in 3/4 Time

Obviously, it had been a few years since I'd been to see "The Nutcracker."

For instance, I didn't realize until 6:40 that the performance began at 7, not 8:00. Fortunately for me, my partner in crime was able to get it together as quickly as I was.

And I remembered it as a nearly three-hour extravaganza whereas we were out on the sidewalk by 9:15. And that's with an intermission.

Ballet for the ADHD set?

Everyone's got favorite parts in this old chestnut. I'm enamored of the snake charmer dance for the sinewy athleticism and grace of the dancer who plays the snake.

But for sheer soul-swelling and heart-melting it's the music of "Waltz of the Flowers," that makes me wish I was being waltzed  could waltz.

And part of that is the pleasure of having the Richmond Symphony performing the music.

I was pleased to see a friend, the talented Nicholas Lewis, down from the north playing that bass clarinet that he does so well.

Looking around during intermission, I only saw one familiar face; the scientist was in attendance, hardly surprising since he'd once taken me to a dance performance when he'd scored some free tickets.

He was out of reach to inquire if he had any chocolate (he usually does at any kind of performance) so I put thoughts of chocolate out of my head as the lights came down.

After walking out of the theater at the mind-blowing hour of 9:15, we went down to the Belvidere for a bite and to try to figure out why people kept clapping and interrupting the flow of the dance.

Our stay there started with a big laugh when the bartender greeted us with, "Oh, I see you made it to the second date!"

We corrected his misconception and moved on to food before the kitchen closed.

Over smoked salmon (really, who does it better in this town? Belvidere's is like butter) for me and a grilled portabello sandwich for him, we listened to a guy tell us about how he lost his dream girl after five years.

As he explained it, there were no relationship issues, he just screwed up.

He owned right up to it.

And now he's ready to find the right girl. His qualifications? That she really like him.

That's it. After realizing that looks were not the key, he just wants someone who would enjoy him.

Boy, could it be as easy as that?

Maybe that and some chocolates to show he's not going to rush her.

Waltz time is plenty fast enough.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Awful Hole

Every Christmas Eve I go see "It's a Wonderful Life" at the Byrd Theater.

Which means that every year I wait in line to see a movie I know practically by heart in a sold-out theater.

It always starts with a singalong of Christmas songs to the organist's accompaniment, including a fabulous Power Point presentation that dates back to the '90s and provides the lyrics for easy reference.

New this year was a "canine chorus" to one song, created by the organist blending chords or something like that (or so I was told by a nearby music geek) to get the barking sound.

Also this year was a new high in the level of obnoxious attendees.

Moments after the film started, just as we were seeing the first of downtown Bedford Falls, a guy in the back row answered his phone.

"Oh, hey," he said loudly enough for me to hear rows away. "Yea, I'm at the Byrd watching a movie..."

The sheer nerve of it was startling. When he continued, several of us proceeded to shush him until he hung up.

Further along in the movie, he talked some more. Loudly and inappropriately, he acted like he was watching a movie in his man cave and could say whatever he wanted.

And then for something truly new and different on Christmas Eve at the Byrd, management came in and asked him to leave (he declined), tackled him and removed him.

The movie continued uninterrupted until the girl behind me got bored and started giving time updates to her mother every five minutes, as if that was going to make the movie end sooner.

Sometimes she talked to the screen. "Are you kidding?" she asked disgustedly at one point to something Jimmy Stewart said.

But that's okay. During the singalong to "White Christmas," I had been struck by an emotional feeling of shared holidays with strangers.

And this is a film that can bring a tear to the eye of strong men; as a friend and I discussed the other night, both of us have seen it happen to unlikely guys.

And if any movie can make you appreciate your own life, this is the one.

"Strange isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

Mine may not be perfect, but I'm absolutely certain I'd leave a hole.

Argyle Evening

Zeus, Shackleford's, Balliceaux.

Gruet, fillet, Ghost.

Empty, busy, over-capacity.

A guy with a rhyming first and last name said, "Wow, those tights are radical."

Funniest line heard tonight: "Shut up! You like kissing."

Tonight's lesson, kids? Thrift store shopping does not a hipster make.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Walking in Blue Suede Shoes

It's not like I was ever an Elvis fan.

By the time I got into music, he was old news.

As I got older, I grew to appreciate his seminal role in American music and became more enamored of his crucial role in cultural history than anything else.

Which makes the new show at the VMFA, "Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer," as good as an early Christmas present to me.

I met friends there today for the members' preview to see the large-format photographs of Elvis on the cusp of stardom.

The exhibit has photographs from 1956 when Wertheimer was given unlimited access to the up and coming young singer as he toured, recorded and gathered girls.

Best of all, several of the pictures were taken in Richmond when he did a two-night stand at the Mosque.

The series of pictures of him kissing a Richmond girl in the back hallways of the Mosque are provocatively intimate.

My favorite is the iconic one of them touching tongues before kissing, not because of that part but because of the way he has his hands on her waist, as if to secure her in his orbit.

There were photos of him in Broad Street Station when he arrived by train and was carrying his radio. The building's interior and trestles are instantly recognizable if you've been in the Science Museum much.

The photograph of the Jefferson Hotel luncheonette was endlessly fascinating to me.

First of all, I hadn't even known that there was such a thing in the grand hotel. Stacks of soup cans awaited lunchers along with signs touting sandwich specials like "Grilled cheese 20 cents" and "Smithfield ham 40 cents."

Secondly, the shot of Elvis and the same girl talking and eating at the lunch counter is notable for how unbothered they are by anyone. Just two kids having a date.

But it wasn't just the Richmond photos that caught my eye.

One of him on the Steve Allen show singing "Hound Dog" to an actual Basset Hound with a top hat was sweet, although less so when I learned that the point of using the dog was so that Elvis would sing to it and not be swiveling his hips.

Another of Elvis on the train with a portable record player on his lap shows him lost in listening to the music playing, no doubt his own recent recordings. His profile is incredibly young and beautiful.

After seeing the show, my friends and I went down to the Best Cafe for lunch and to talk about what we'd just seen.

As a huge fan of photography and cultural history, I will undoubtedly see the show again.

Getting to see glimpses of the man before the myth is tantalizing.

One picture showed Elvis reading fan mail with a pile of shredded letters nearby. It was his practice to tear them up once he'd read them. He felt that their contents were no one's business but his own.

True that, but how fortunate that the photographs are still very much ours to linger over.

Laughter is the Drug

We're getting down to just the stay-heres.

As the city continues to empty out for the holiday, it's an easy time to meet up with friends because no place is especially crowded.

I started at Avalon to meet a friend for a drink and we were two of five people at the mostly empty bar.

As the friend who'd recently given me tights from Vienna, he was disappointed I hadn't worn them.

Next time, I promised.

He told me what was wrong with a restaurant we'd recently visited and we plotted about where our next dinner out would be while an '80s soundtrack played.

I'm telling you, neither the Smiths nor the Cure could have guessed their staying power back then.

After a couple hours' worth of chatting, I stopped by to pick up a girlfriend for company the rest of the evening.

She plied me with turtles while she finished dressing (cute! cute! cute!) and we were off (like a dirty shirt, as she likes to say) to Six Burner

Actually, it was for a bite to eat.

The place was livelier than I expected, with several large groups and lots of conversation in the air. The soundtrack was vintage (Cat Stevens, Scott McKenzie) and muted.

The bartender is also an actor.

He immediately told me that he'd seen me at the Richmond Shakespeare reading last week when he'd been part of the cast.

I'd seen him, he'd seen me. It was a match made in heaven.

I began with the South African "Left Bank," a red blend accompanied by a satisfying bowl of bucatini a la carbonara with a 63.5-degree duck egg, bacon and Parmesan-Reggiano.

The perfectly cooked al dente pasta became a decadent delight once I broke the egg over it. Bacon and eggs with pasta, what's not to love?

We joined in conversation with the group of guys who sat down next to us. They shared stories of gas siphoning, shotguns and wedding valets.

The bartender started a new tap, the Flying Dog Oyster Stout, and asked if it appealed to any of them.

"Oyster stout, it kind of creeps me out," one guy said. My friend, however, found its slightly briny finish nicely done.

That led to talk of Chetti's Cow and Clam and its infamous oyster shooters. I was surprised to find my friend knew the place even better than I had.

Walking outside into mid-sixties temperatures and rain-slicked streets, she commented on how New York the moment felt (except cleaner).

I won't lie; I'm reveling in this unseasonable weather and if I can have my windows wide open tomorrow like I did today, I'll be thrilled.

As it is, my windows will be open when I go to sleep tonight.

We finally left Six Burner behind for Balliceaux and the Mondo Italia Dance party.

My friend had never been but I'm a huge fan of Glows in the Dark playing music from Italian cinema while a '60s Italian movie plays on the wall behind them.

There are always lots of breasts, shoot-outs and car chases, not to mention porn mustaches, and it's great fun.

We got there, got a comfy couch to sit on and the music began. The only thing was, there was no visual.

So the band played and the music was awesome with the addition of Bob Miller on trumpet and Lauren Serpa on flute, but still no film.

I found our during the break that the DVD player was broken and thus we were without moving pictures tonight.


It was a little disappointing but understandable, so we instead focused on the music, especially when Eddie Pendergrass came up and joined the band to do vocals for a few songs.

My friend and I agreed that we love a) men with soulful voices, b) guys who remind us of Elvis Costello and c) men who move rhythmically and unselfconsciously.

In other words, we had a visual after all.

We used the break to people-watch (impossible to resist at Balliceaux) when we weren't giving each other advice (who is the student and who is the master?) and sharing stories about our firsts, resulting in an awful  lot of laugh attacks.

My name is Karen and I am becoming addicted to all this laughter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Plenty Festive

Fight the Big Bull got gory for the holidays.

Tonight was their Christmas singalong show at Balliceaux. Having seen them do "Thriller" one Halloween, I wanted to see their take on this holiday.

By the end of the first set, the jam-packed room was overheated and people were complaining about how hot they were.

A cardboard bull came out to start their second set. He was gored with a toy sword and candy canes flew out from behind the bull.

The crowd then moved the bull's form over their heads like a crowd surfer.

With an ad hoc choir in front of the band, they played Christmas carols and songs while the talented musicians of this supergroup.took turns soloing with Matt White conducting.

My partner-in-crime followed me up to take seats on the back of a booth for a better view of the show and the crowd.

All those horns, bass and drums made for some lively music for the season.

When the server came by, my charming and witty companion reported to him that I hadn't been singing along with the crowd.

"That's not very festive," he reproached me.

First I'd heard that there were singing requirements.

Walking out into the night of the Winter Solstice and the balmy 65-degree air was a breath of fresh air.

Might be just what I needed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Art of Destruction

One site-specific installation divided by the eager hands of a few dozen adults and children and it becomes history.

Jonathan Brilliant's "Stick Stack" show at the Visual Arts Center ended today with people like me stopping by to pull apart the room-sized piece of sculpture made entirely of wooden coffee stir sticks held together by tension and compression.

Wisely, I arrived in time to take in the installation in its entirety before the mayhem began.

It was truly beautiful, open and airy in an almost lacy way with undulating curves around pipes, columns and walls.

Arched openings yielded to different ceiling heights in the structure; it felt like a magical place inside.

And then the group of excited children and eager adults were allowed to begin dismantling it all. Because no adhesives were used, it was a matter of gently prying apart a section or two to take home.

Some people were more interested in letting loose the tension and having sticks fall around them.

I took the time to pry out a section about three feet wide and tall, my personal part of Brilliant's RVA contribution of his "Have Sticks, Will Travel World Tour."

While the structure as a whole would never again exist exactly like what I'd seen just moments before, I now had my own piece of it for the ages.

The problem was that I had walked to the Visual Arts Center. And while it had been pouring on the walk over, it had been manageable because it wasn't cold and my umbrella was large.

Walking the mile and a half home with a section of unglued sticks under the umbrella was going to be considerably more challenging.

But art lovers persevere and I made it home with only one small piece having become dislodged.

With a bit of personal tension applied to it, I was able to reattach it to the larger piece and it's already been hung on one of the cantaloupe-colored walls in my kitchen.

I think a piece of art made form the detritus of commercial coffee consumption is the ideal thing to greet me when I go in my kitchen to make breakfast each morning.

Since I've never been a coffee drinker, I expect the irony of the piece to be a delicious daily reminder of Brilliant's "natural environment," the coffee shop, only without the alluring smell.

Frickin' brilliant.

A Sociological Experiment

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Boy, that could cover a lot, couldn't it?

My absence had been noted, but it's a busy season. Still, I had missed the Roosevelt for the food as well as the ever-changing company.

Blenheim Cabernet Franc ushered in the evening tucked under the poinsettia at the far end of the bar. As Josh pointed out, "That's your place."

Yes, in a corner as much as possible.

Tonight's special was Littlteneck clams with ham, Sea Island peas in a ham broth that proved to be not only a stellar combination but later became the starting point for a lesson in peas from the Chef.

I found out at the end of the night that I was the only person who'd ordered this savory dish full of chunks of salty ham and with a broth worthy of endless bread sopping.

My dessert was dubbed long-term coconut cake. It provided a lovely finish to my meal although we got so busy talking that the bartender asked if I was eating it in layers because  it was taking me so long to finish.

Eating and drinking yielded to storytelling at a  neighbor's. Who doesn't like being asked to share their stories?

I've got a million.

The best tug of war discussions come down to semantics. Words, always words.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Road Trip into the Past

The things you don't know about your parents.

About five years ago, my five sisters and I found out that my Dad had been married before he met my Mom.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

And not just married, but had had two daughters.

Clearly he shoots only X chromosomes.

When this tidbit was revealed to my sisters and me, there was much hair-tearing and chest-pounding by the other five

Most of them were appalled to learn about my Dad's former life.

I just thought it was interesting that I suddenly had two half sisters. And after years of my Dad referring to me as #1 daughter, I now knew I was really his third.

And then today I unexpectedly got to meet one of them during a routine visit to my parents' house.

She walked into the room and looked at me wide-eyed, like she'd seen the second coming.

I introduced myself and she hugged me. Hard. She told me how excited she was to finally meet me.

Naturally,I looked at her for signs of similarity. After all,we have the same father so surely there would be some resemblance.

After all, my five sisters and I are all variations on a theme.

Not really. She's blond and blue-eyed liked my dad, where I'm brown eyed and haired like my Mom. She was very slender where my sisters and I are curvy.

She asked me a million questions about my life, where I lived and, most surprisingly, kept referencing my Richmond grandmother, the queen of the biscuits and the fried chicken.

It had never occurred to me that, of course, she would have known or heard about her father's mother.

I talked to her, trying to sense what we might have in common. First off, I discovered, we both live in Richmond.

Conversation and a walk ruled out commonalities in politics, lifestyle, temperament or just about everything.

Still, I had the pleasure of meeting a half-sister after a lifetime of not even knowing she existed.

Because goodness knows, five sisters wasn't enough and I needed one more.


The most striking part of the day was hearing (essentially) a stranger call my Dad "Dad," just like I do.

And I'm fine with that. My Dad taught me a love of books, writing and conversation.

He once referred to me as "a work of art born of love" and I realize how lucky I am to have been raised by a man like that.

Unlike my half sister.

She more than deserves to call him Dad. We both do.

Jeff and Geoff Sling

I've eaten more deviled eggs since Pasture opened than I have in the past ten years.

For that matter, I thought I hated sweet tea until it met Pasture's trout. The beef brisket was out of this world. I had to explain pot liquor to my friend.

And once again, I had the fried chicken.

I hate to be that predictable, but if you fry a yard bird, I will eat it.

My dates for the evening were a happy couple whom I'll be seeing again at the end of the week. We caught up over a bottle or two of Elizabeth Spencer Sauvignon Blanc special cuvee and shared food.

At the moment, I am in love with their candy bar dessert.

They told me of a recent Christmas party where a guest tossed his cookies on the floor and I shared a similar story except it involved a club and a purse. And then there was the one who did it in her hair (I saw it, so I know it happened).

After a while, the bartender asked us how we'd managed to clear out the entire bar.

In my experience, talk of vomit does it every time.

What does it mean when both members of a couple you don't know compliment your legs?

My friends were on a tight schedule because they were going to pick up his nephew (Ken, the L.A. screenwriter) at the airport.

When we got up to go, the couple sitting at the table behind us both commented on my legs and tights. My friend bragged that he had even given me tights in the past (pre-girlfriend).

Excuse me, I'm right here.

Getting into my car outside, I heard my named called only to be greeted by James, my fellow nerd, for some sidewalk catch-up.

We covered that he wants to play in front of a Jason Mraz-sized crowd, we both take magazines as dates to restaurants and it's a slow time of year for the lectures we love.

Dropping the car at home, I headed to my neighborhood bar to meet up with an old friend and see a few neighbors

Gotta give the Belvidere credit for having house-made cider (my friend finished off the latest batch) and homemade eggnog.

Festive, indeed.

Several hours later, I have to conclude that nineteen years on, the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to certain people.

Funniest line of the night: "We've earned each other, Karen."

In its simplest  form, it's all about the laughter. And...?

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Four Overrated Things

It was Silent Music Revival, deluxe holiday edition.

The silent was the two movies, the music was Snowy Owls and the Revival was more of a party in a 19th-century townhouse on Franklin Street.

Shoegaze accompanied "The Insects' Christmas" and "The Frozen North," the latter with Buster Keaton killing people.

It was funnier than it sounds.

My only complaint with having Snowy Owls do the musical score tonight was that hearing them for 24 minutes was not enough.

They must have sensed my feelings because even after the films ended and Jameson said thanks for coming, they began to noodle around and people like me stayed to listen.

At a Christmas party afterwards, I was talking to a friendly woman I didn't know and she was complimenting me wildly on my tights.

When her boyfriend came up, she began to introduce me when he waved her off, saying we already knew each other.

"Oh? How do you two know each other? she asked in a less friendly voice than before.

I turned back around to her. "He's never seen me with my tights off," I assured her.

That cured that attitude problem.

Mingling and misconceptions, that's the stuff holiday parties: are made of.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Theory of Want

Steven Spielberg be damned.

I didn't say that, Sycamore Rouge did (figuratively, of course) when the director, who's shooting in Petersburg these days, asked if he could buy out the house for Friday and Saturday nights this weekend to cater for the crew.

Gambling, Sycamore Rouge said no. In a great cosmic payback, they sold out the house both nights.

Tonight, my girlfriend and I were the last patrons to arrive and duck into our table just as things were getting started.

"Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a play about a fictional meeting between Picasso and Einstein at a Parisian bar in 1904 was written by comedian Steve Martin.

In fact, at times, the dialog sounded far more 1993 (when it was written) than 1904 when it was set.

References to girls being no good at science and "Men want, women are wanted" had a contemporary ring to them, although the science comment elicited loud groans from the crowd.

Picasso: But I appreciate women. I draw them, don't I?
Suzanne: Well, that's because we're so goddamn beautiful, isn't it?

Like Martin's comedy, the play was full of wordplay and one liners, like when a girl is explaining how she couldn't say no to sleeping with Picasso.

"The word became as unpronounceable as a Polish town." But then how many girls did say no to an advance by Picasso?

Adam Mincks played Einstein and I always enjoy watching him perform because his timing and delivery are typically spot-on.

After coming out looking very circumspect, one of his best moments came when he let loose his long curly hair to look more like the popular culture image of Einstein.

Picasso and Matisse's art dealer was played by understudy Elise Boyd tonight and she brought great presence and humor to the Gertrude Stein-like role.

The play was short, but the dialog flew fast and furious and there was almost always something to laugh at.

My friend and I agreed that Sycamore Rouge, although cooler than we would have liked on such a cold night, was very much to our liking.

Sitting at tables with tablecloths and candles (and a nearby bar) made it feel like a night at a club in another era.

Walking outside afterwards, though, by an adjacent movie set and the attendant bright lights brought us right back to the 21st century.

So rather than settle for a bar with patrons not likely to offer up the likes of Picasso and Einstein, we went back to her place and drank our wine there.

We may not have had the philosophical arguments those men did about art versus science (since we already knew it takes both to make the world go round) but I think we pretty much cleared up that whole "men want, women are wanted" business.

It's as simple as Einstein's theory of relativity, really.

Women are wanted and women want.

Fact, not theory.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

All is Calm, All is Bright

If you know me, you probably know I hate to shop.

But at this time of year, shopping is as de rigueur as endless holiday parties but far less enjoyable.

So off I went to buy seasonal things because that's what our culture dictates.

It was as I was making my way around Target that I was reminded of the entertainment value of shopping when it's busy.

It didn't help that today is supposedly the busiest shopping day of the holiday season.

A young couple near the small appliances caught my eye. They were facing away from me so I didn't hear what he suggested.

Pivoting on her hell and rolling her eyes, she said, "That's so uninspired!" and walked away from him.

To no one in particular, he mumbled, "Apologies for failing" and took off after her.

In the men's department, I overheard a little boy, maybe five years old, insistently tell his dad that he should get some Batman underwear.

"I don't need those," the dad told his progeny. "I'm already a superhero."

At that moment, I caught the Dad's eye and he smiled a little sheepishly, walking on.

Behind him, the little boy was stunned. "Wait, Daddy, you're a superhero?" he asked taking off after SuperDad.

Not to worry, it's kids who aren't supposed to lie at this time of year.

While looking at cards near the gift wrap section, a harried-looking woman and her husband walked up with an overfull cart.

She glanced at the gift bag selection and started ranting at him because they didn't have any big enough for her needs.

Having just a few moments earlier noticed humongous gift bags a few aisles away, I walked up to her and calmly told her about them.

I could see her blood pressure dropping as she heard what I was saying; I pointed and she sprinted.

Her husband, no longer the target of her wrath, mouthed a quiet "thank you" at me and followed after.

Above all the bustle, it was a little tough to hear any hint of silver bells.

Actually, what came to mind was Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band's "Christmas at K-Mart" without the mood ring counter.

Like I said, it's not just shopping. That's entertainment.

Take the Weather with You

Which meant taking the pouring rain all the way to Charlottesville and back.

And why else would I do that except for a show? Tonight's was Rachael Yamagata with Mike Viola opening at the Southern.

Arriving just in time to drop into Marco & Luca Noodle bar for dumplings and pork steamed buns, I filled my belly before heading around the corner for music.

Two ways I knew I wasn't in Richmond anymore: everyone sat on the stone floor for the show and in the entire crowd, I only saw three beards.

When Mike Viola came out, a few people made a feeble attempt to stand and he said, "It's okay. You can sit down. We can truly do the campfire thing."

He was an engaging performer and songwriter, sharing tidbits of his life through between-song banter and the songs themselves.

Introducing "Strawberry Blond," he said he wanted to write a purely pop song for his "girl," and then corrected that to "wife."

Favorite lyric: You are an optimist, You think everything works out.

I do indeed.

The crowd swelled before Rachael Yamagata came out and she prefaced her set by telling us, "I'm super into being down and depressed and all why doesn't it ever work out?"

I'm a big fan of her throaty voice, made even more so last night because she'd caught a cold and was on Sudafed,

When she introduced "Sunday Afternoon," she said, "This was definitely a soulmate loss story song."

It was during "Be Be Your Love" that a girl who'd been very vocal during the show stood up and in front of Rachael at the keyboards and began singing "I want, want, want to be your love."

Rachael laughed and when she didn't go away, finally said, "You seem to be a little aggressive."

And that was being kind.

After Rachael asked the girl her name, she asked Rachael for a kiss ("I have a cold," she reminded her) and kept on talking to her mid-song.

Finally the bass player started singing, "Please, Samantha, won't you walk away?" and she finally sat down.

She contented herself who whoo-whoos during the next few songs.

There were normal fans there, too, like Sissy Spacek and her handsome husband Jack Fisk (I didn't complain when he seated himself at my feet) and many who knew every word to every song.

"People often mistake the title of this song," Rachael said. "It's not 'Worn Me Down Like a Rug.' It's like a road, people, like a road," and launched into "Worn Me Down" which caused Samantha, the rabid fan, to exhort the audience to stand up and dance.

She was getting on everyone's nerves by this point. The band finished with "one more sad song" as Rachael's cold-ravaged voice began to break up and then it was all over.

Walking outside, I passed by several band members and wasn't surprised to see Samantha in the midst of them.

I heard one say, "Sure you can make out with me if you want to" and another say, "Of course I smoke weed."

I'm guessing all Samantha's dreams came true last night.

The drive home brought more weather with me, this time fog and drizzle, and a dilemma once I finally got home a little after 1:00.

Was it too late to go out after that?

I decided for the right company it was as good a time as any, and since I hadn't had any good conversation all evening, why not?

While I'd been waiting for the show to start,  the prerecorded music had been my entertainment. I heard Neil Young "Heart of Gold," MGMT "Kids" and, delightfully surprisingly, Crowded House's "Weather with You."

Hearing it, I could only think of one person who'd appreciate hearing that song like I would. Besides, I knew he'd want to hear about the show.

I was rewarded with Italian wedding cake, my favorite Bloc Party song (among many others) and a couple hours of laughter.

It's not about geography or happenstance
You need to fly and take a chance
You don't need to soar to emptiness
And float on high and forever dance alone

I'm with you on that one, Rachael.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stables, I Mean Loft

What could be more fitting than a Christmas party in a stable?

Okay,  former stable, but you get the idea.  The invitation came from a couple whose loft is part of the former Richmond dairy stables across from the milk bottle building.

And although we see each other out all the time, it was my first time inside the home they created out of a blank canvas of a space.

The ceilings were incredibly high and only the guest bathroom had a lowered ceiling. Otherwise, walls between rooms were 8' high and ceiling-less.

The host's "beer sculpture," an elaborate stainless steel beer brewing station with a separate fermentation tank full of his latest brew, sat next to a grand piano.

All of the art, he told me, was "from the 'hood." Old photographs of J-Ward in the '30s lined one wall.

There was even a daybed in the kitchen for enjoying the afternoon sun.

It was the perfect backdrop for a mix of interesting people to get to know each other.

I met a couple who had been homesteaders in the Ward, having put their offices here long before most people chose to be anywhere near this part of town.

They've since moved to bigger spaces across the river, but I didn't hold that against them.

A woman tried to convince me of the benefits and fun of the Navy SEAL classes she does daily.

Not my idea of fun.

A Colorado transplant explained her confusion when first faced with spoonbread when she moved here. Even her Georgia-born mate didn't know it till coming here.

I may have been raised further north but I did have a Richmond grandmother, so unlike her, I always knew spoonbread.

Meanwhile, I talked to party-goers about kite surfing, the demise of Kluge winery and how confusing UR's campus can be.

When I finally left the festivities, it was to go to a show at the Camel that was billed as starting on time.

And it almost did, especially for a Camel show.

It was the very first gig for Mermaids, I mean Whales, a one man act with somber songs and a room full of friends and family.

After two very sad-sounding songs, he said, "I'm going to take it down a notch." Down where?

He said he'd set a goal to play one cover song at every show he plays and tonight's was "Sixteen Tons," a song he'd heard his parents sing as a child.

It'll be interesting to see what he covers in future shows.

Moonbees played next and it was my first time hearing them, despite having heard good things about them.

Somewhat psychedelic and very melodic, I loved the harmonies of three male voices singing together.

They sang a song "We Are the Moonbees," as if to brand us with their name, although I can't imagine anyone who heard them would forget them or their name.

By the time headliners Lobo Marino got ready to play, the crowd was a good size but very talkative.

Lobo Marino was playing without mics and on the floor in front of the stage. They formed a semi-circle of chairs around them for anyone who wanted to hear.

You know I promptly took one of those chairs.

Beginning with two Christmas songs, "We Three Kings" and "Silent Night," they tried their hardest to be heard over the noisy crowd.

After those songs, horn and banjo player Nathaniel thanked the crowd for coming out and hanging around.

"I've been working fifteen hour days on the 'Lincoln' movie and I really didn't want to come here tonight," he admitted. "But now seeing all of you, I'm glad to be here."

He may have spoken too soon since the audience never really quieted down appropriately given that we were listening to folk music without mics, but what can you do?

Note to self: Karen, not everyone goes to a music show to listen.

Excuse me, what?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Birthday Smackdown

For us, it was about birthdays, not holidays.

But for practically everyone else at Stella's for lunch today, it was all about the season.

The table next to us had a big bag of red and green Hershey's kisses on the table, which they ate between courses and after lunch.

Not far away sat a table of what looked like office mates with two women in red blouses (one satin) and two others with leopard scarves. Very festive.

The group next to us opened presents after eating, oohing and ahhing over gifts like year-round greeting card packs.

Fortunately, my friend and I were merely celebrating his birthday, like we do every year. I'd missed his birthday dinner due to prior plans last Saturday, a fact which he'd shared with the restaurant staff.

Because the place was packed when he'd arrived, he'd put his name on the list and we were seated after about 15 minutes of watching diners come in, hear the wait time and exit stage right.

There were a lot of big purse, big jewelry women, we noted.

He opened my birthday card, the basic store-bought kind, which I always desecrate by adding speech bubbles to make it dirtier or funnier. Inside, I just heap abuse for his amusement.

"You should get a job writing birthday cards," he laughed. "They'd sell really well."

Oh, I know.

I ordered pork souvlaki in pita but the best part of the meal was today's special side: lima bean salad.

Fully a third of my plates was mounded with an incredibly delicious mixture of limas, green onion tops, Feta and chopped greens in a lemon/olive oil dressing.

It was simple and absolutely perfect. I'd eat it again tomorrow.

The birthday boy told me about a recent foray to Tobacco Company for music and tried to convince me that it wasn't as awful as I presumed it had been.

"Light rock," he said dismissively. "I don't think it would have been your thing."

W reminisced about an Alley Katz show we'd seen together and when neither of us could recall when it had been, he used his Smartphone to look it up on my blog.

Because this is the 21st century and we don't have to use our stinkin' memories if we don't want to.

A couple of women sat down next to us as we were paying. I must have checked them out because my friend smiled, saying, "I know what you're thinking."

And I know him well enough to know that he did know.

"Don't worry, if you ever start turning into that, I'll smack you," he reassured me.

That's the kind of friend worth adulterating a birthday card for.

Laugh Attack

My record store is cooler than your record store.

Tonight Steady Sounds played host to comedy in the upstairs loft and while I'd seen bands before in the store, it was a first going for laughs.

It was also my first time at Midnight Suggestion's monthly comedy series and the loft was packed.

First we saw locals Manly Man (two girls and a ukulele) doing their musical comedy

A routine/song about buying a boyfriend of six months a Siamese Snuggie was called "You're In Me" and was double-entendre-hysterical.

Stand-up comic James Paulk was actually a sit-down comic, making his observations laconically and comfortably.

I saw several members of Richmond's Comedy Coalition in the audience, no doubt doing a field trip.

Midnight Suggestion had brought down NYC's James Adomian for the main event and he captured the audience's attention immediately.

His spot-on imitations of Gary Busey, Sam Elliott and Danny DeVito, among others, appeared effortless.

He mentioned that he was gay and made all kinds of witty observations about old gay bars, the Sheriff of Nottingham, gay villains and playing center on his football team.

The couple in front of me were clearly fans and recorded his set while I had never heard of him (what's "Last Comic Standing"?) and just laughed.

All I've got is my memory but it's a good one. A lot of it was laugh-out-loud funny.

Somehow I was fortunate enough to have dinner made for me for the second night in a row before heading off to Balliceaux for music.

Nashville honky-tonk band J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices were already playing to a dancing crowd when we arrived.

You know it's a good sign when people are dancing.

The band said in the two years they've been together, they've traveled 110,000 miles and played 175 dates. They're soon to release their first CD.

It was pretty obvious from how tight they were and how engaged the crowd was that they've mastered the live thing.

I had my best view ever of a guy in a big hat playing lap steel. And the drummer had the best mustache/hat combination ever.

Running into a teacher friend who'd been busy dancing a minute before, I praised her for being out on a school night.

"Honky-tonk here on a Wednesday night! I had to," she exclaimed.

I saw another friend who was there on a first date and he introduced me to her.

"I'm very uncultured," she said sweetly. "Is this hipster country music?"

Not surprisingly, Americana songbird Allison Self was there, appropriately dressed in a red shirt, boots and jeans, looking adorable and two-stepping around the dance floor all night.

You know this was her kind of music.

Aside from wishing the vocals had been higher in the mix, the band played two strong sets and most of the crowd stayed till the end.

Everyone was having too much fun to go anywhere.

The lead singer spoke to us before we left, thanking us for coming. He told a story about doing a public radio interview and being labeled "Americana" by the DJ.

He corrected her that the band was really country, only to render her speechless.

And for the umpteenth time tonight, I had to laugh. Oh, sure, their music is country, no question.

But a DJ rendered speechless?

Some people crack me up. I love it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Have Yourself a Grungey Little Christmas

It's going to be a Weiland Winter Wonderland and it makes me shudder a little to even think about it.

That's right, I'm talking Scott Weiland, the former lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver and the man who once checked into a hotel with Courtney Love and spent two months shooting up.

The man with a penchant for crack and heroin has gone all jingle bells on us and I want to gag.

As in he's touring behind his new holiday album, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year."


"It'll be a rare treat to see one of rock's greatest frontmen spreading cheer in an intimate setting," claims the e-mail notifying me of tickets going on sale.

I fear that it is a statement of our time that record execs even think there's anyone out there who wants to hear him croon "I'll Be Home for Christmas," much less perform a cheery holiday show.

Maybe with Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley dead, they figured this was the only way to give the kids a grunge Christmas.

Pardon my cynicism, but I think this is hysterical.

I Get to Decide

You don't get to decide what someone else's theme song is.

So when an old friend told me out of the blue what he thought mine was, it led to major discussion of why. A presumption on his part led to a challenge on mine.

That's how we ended up making plans to go to Richmond Shakespeare's staged reading of "Holiday Stories," whatever that meant.

Along the way he offered to make dinner first and we forgot all about my theme song, probably because we were laughing so much.

So why does food always taste better when someone else makes it? Did it have something to do with his stellar music mixes?

Afterwards, we adjourned to the Gottwald Playhouse for a little seasonal theater.

Unlike past readings, this one was three storytellers, each reading a holiday story from a wing chair onstage.

Shadow actors behind a screen acted out "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins" as Jacqueline Jones read the story of goblins trying to prevent the menorah from used.

Don't worry, by the end all the Hanukkah candles were lit.

Shanea Taylor did  a spirited reading of  "Santa's Kwanzaa," making the audience laugh with its wordplay.

My favorite was "Gift of the Magi" because of the language (Della uses her powder rag to powder her nose) and historical details (their apartment was $8 a week).

The talented Stephen Ryan read it in his red pajama pants and blue robe and again we had shadow acting to go along with the story of gift giving gone sad.

As far as I'm concerned, "Gift" is one holiday classic that's right there in the canon with "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas."

You know, sentimental, but with a lesson.

That's what my theme songs needs to convey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lecture Interruptus

Since when is it the audience's job to guide the speaker's lecture?

The question had never occurred to me until I saw it happen today.

The Virginia Center for Architecture was doing their monthly brown bag lunch lecture series, Design Bites, and I was there along with architects and dilettantes alike.

Today's speaker was James Wootton, Executive Director of the Capital Square Preservation Council and his topic was "Thomas Jefferson, American Architect."

A woman sitting in front of me turned and asked what had brought me out, an interest in Jefferson or architecture. Both, I told her.

That was the clue that I missed.

Wootton began with a look at Virginia architecture as it was in the 1600s when the colony was collectively building the kinds of structures they remembered from England.

Buildings like Bacon's Castle with its six angled chimneys to announce the owner's wealth from a distance.

He talked about the very British style of the College of William and Mary and Westover Plantation and was providing all kinds of interesting history about men and their buildings.

It was while he was talking about Jefferson lambasting locals for building with wood given the threat of fire or usage requiring replacement (which TJ saw as the only good thing about it) that the woman in front of me raised her hand.

She kept it there while Wooten finished his thought before calling on her.

"It's 12:30," she announced. "Can you get to Thomas Jefferson's architecture?"

There was a sharp intake of breath on the part of most of the audience at her audacity.

He clicked to the very next slide, which was of TJ and began talking about how he'd taught himself architecture by reading Palladio's "Four Books of Architecture" and using pattern books of the day.

Taking us through the many buildings in which Jefferson had a hand, I got nervous every time he mentioned a follower of TJ or a follower's building.

Was the woman going to chastise him again?

Fortunately it didn't happen and Wootton was able to talk about the design of the State Capitol, UVA and Monticello without further incident.

Ah, now I get the name "Design Bites."

It bites when someone is talking about design and gets rudely interrupted by a clock watcher dictating the lecture structure.

Where is Miss Manners when you need her?

Practically a Philanthropist

Restaurant weeks aside, you have to give props to a charitable restaurant.

And I don't know of a more charitable one than Pescado's China Street with their weekly Monday fundraisers donating 15% of the night's profits to a cause.

When I walked in tonight, the place was so lively it felt like a Christmas party.

Actually, it was a lot of supporters eating and drinking to benefit Cancer Dancer, an ovarian cancer awareness group.

Sliding into the one available bar stool, I ended up next to the illustrator/graphic designer who'd created the promotional bookmarks (marked "Steal this bookmark" and listing  the symptoms) all over the bar.

Since he was a Northside resident, we talked about the limited number of restaurants there and how he and his neighbors make a point to rotate their visits to each to ensure that all succeed.

We talked about Shenanigan's closing and what that means for the neighborhood's live music scene.

I laughed when he said that people badmouthed the food there but absolutely everybody ate it after four beers.

Never having had four beers, I had no way of verifying that.

My girlfriend arrived and I introduced my new friend to her while eating a mouthful of his ceviche.

And no, I wasn't poaching; he offered, saying, "I'm here to spend money so help me eat all this food."

Diners kept arriving which was good for fundraising but bad for the room temperature but the repeated door opening decided my first course for me.

Tonight's soup was chicken, carrot and mushroom with coconut rice and after being given a sample to decide, I ordered a bowl.

Chunky, aromatic and perfectly seasoned, I felt no guilt about eating yard bird in a fish restaurant.

My friend had known what she was going to order before she even arrived because she thinks Pescado's fish tacos are the best in town, but I hemmed and hawed over my choice.

"Since when do you not know what you want to eat?" she wondered.

The problem was that all that meat-covered pizza at lunch followed by the satisfying soup had  left me wanting very little.

I ended up ordering a big spinach salad with strawberries, walnuts and fried scallions in a strawberry vinaigrette.

It wasn't fish, but it did the trick. Besides,this is a free country.

And I wasn't the only one. Upon arrival, one of the first things I'd heard was to "86 the rib eye."

What else did I hear? About someone else who'd been laid off in the 2008 economic downturn and how bored he got working at home.

"You finish your work and then you look at the dog and the cat and then what?" he asked. Um, go out and find something interesting to do?

About the woman who'd started Cancer Dancer and the journey that had led her to begin the campaign.

About my friend's plan to put an offer on a house in another state and if it happens, great, and if it doesn't, she'll take it as a sign that it wasn't meant to be.

About how great I looked tonight from a guy I know only by his cooking.

About how wildly successful the night of fundraising had been, setting a record even.

Props to Pescado's, where doing good is as easy as eat, drink, swallow.

And I only ate the chocolate flan for the cause. Really.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Waiting on a Moment

My lunch buddy was waiting for me when I walked outside for our 12:30 date (I prefer a later lunch).

Getting in his car, he tells me that he's been there since noon.

"Why didn't you call me?" I ask logically.

"Are you kidding?" he asks incredulously. "Call you?"

Reaching over me, he goes to unlock my door.

"Get out!" he playfully instructs, making it clear that he's known me long enough to know better than to call.

To make it up to him, I agree to pizza with red sauce (I prefer white) with pepperoni and sausage (with an  onion concession to me) at Tarrant's.

Dropping me off, I suggest we meet up for another lunch soon.

Nodding and waving goodbye, he says, "See you on the Internets."

I prefer it to calling.

Where's My Cloud Now?

Big Sexy Sly was probably smiling down on Balliceaux's back room tonight.

That's because playing were Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird and Jonathan and Big Sexy were once coworkers at the old Bogart's.

You see, if you don't go to Sunday night music shows, you don't hear arcane trivia like that.

Even more impressive, you don't get to hear a favorite band in their latest permutation with the addition of cornet player Paul Watson. And cello player Josh Quarles on electric guitar and clarinet.

Balliceaux is not a frequent venue for JV & SB; the last time I'd seen them there was January and the show had unfortunately been scheduled for a Saturday night when all the pretty people show up there.

And by pretty people, I mean people who could not have cared less who was playing but came to drink on a Saturday night and talk loudly over the music.

Which is their prerogative, but made it hard to hear for those of us who came for music.

Tonight, on the other hand, everyone who came was there specifically to hear the band.

In fact, some of us arrived before the back room was even open. I waited at the front bar and a woman came in, sat down next to me and started peeling off clothing.

She was as hot as I was chilled, just having come in from the cold. She'd walked, so she'd gotten warmed up in a way I hadn't. I found out she'd come for the band, too.

When some friends came in and saw her next to me, one of them presumed us to be friends and introduced himself to her. Only then did I learn her name and that she lives in nearby Carver.

Once in the back room, though, I saw her saying hello to any number of people I know. I couldn't resist going over to her and teasing her about the two degrees of separation in Richmond.

We practically already knew each other except we'd never actually laid eyes on each other.

But it's that kind of crowd who comes out for a Sunday show of a local favorite: music lovers who know other music lovers.

Midway through the show I heard some nearby rustling and looked over to see the scientist with a chocolate bar.

He grinned and silently handed me a square.

After the first song, I  commented how much I liked the new sound of JV & SB and the musician next to me  agreed, saying,  "It's beautiful. It's the same and different."

The band was playing a lot of songs off their upcoming CD but had brought along overruns from their last CD, which they were giving away for free tonight.

"But we're not going to give our new one away for free," Jonathan told the crowd. Not that they'll need to considering how impressive the songs sounded.

The addition of Paul's horn, especially paired with Josh's clarinet, took the band's music to a whole new level.

When the set ended, the crowd clapped long and hard then didn't move.

"That's all the songs this band knows," Jonathan explained before Antonia suggested a song the two of them could do.

So the beautiful night of music ended with "Match Made in Heaven," an older song but the one that features Antonia's vox saw.

I can't imagine I'll ever get tired of hearing that amazing voice of hers emulate a musical saw to Jonathan's heartfelt (but always sad) lyrics.

No doubt Chef Big Sexy Sly would be awfully proud of his former dishwasher Jonathan and his excellent band.

I was just glad that the pretty people hadn't shown up so I got to hear every note.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Let the Dating Begin

No one should have to stumble upon a Santa crawl and see late night drunken drag jolly old elves.

Luckily, we'd been fortified by hours at a bustling Acacia beforehand. We were lucky they found room for us to eat at the bar given how steady the influx of people was.

An out-of-town couple came in just behind me and he was marveling at how "cool" the vibe was for Richmond. Like we can't do cool here.

My only regret was not asking where they were from, although his accent had a definite Jersey sound to it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But it's always great to hear someone say they have a 9:00 reservation given Richmond's tendency to want to eat early. A staff member expressed the same thought.

It was a festive crowd, too, with lots of sequins, bling and stilettos on the women while the men looked like they do every other month of the year.

They're men, after all.

We went Willamette Valley with WildAire Cellars 2009 "Timothy" Pinot Noir, lovely for its grassy nose and red fruit taste.

The prospect of a 28-degree night sent me straight to soup, in this case a creamy local elephant garlic with Chorizo that impressed us both.

Warm soup and hot sausage, a marriage made in winter heaven.

I followed that with an Asian spiced pork terrine with pickled pumpkin, a lively take on a classic dish.

It paired well with the crusty bread that has replaced the crustless rolls Acacia used to serve, which I hated.

I mentioned to the bartender how much better I liked the new bread and he said I was the first person to express that preference. Could that mean bland white rolls are more to most people's taste?

Because we'd come in late, by the time we finished eating, most of the room had cleared out, but we were allowed to linger over our wine for girltalk.

From there, we went to FanHouse where we walked into a room of garishly dressed people in variations of a Santa suit.

There were guys in red football jerseys and reindeer horns, a guy in a red Santa smoking jacket with leopard lapels and girls in tight red dresses with jingle bells hanging suggestively.

A costumed woman walked up to the bar and asked for an Absolut neat. The bartender said they were out of Absolut at that point.

"You mean I got dressed up like a reindeer for nothing?" she screeched. He calmly explained that he had four other kinds of vodka to choose from.

She was not a happy reindeer.

Given her reaction, I asked a nearby elf, who seemed less volatile, what was going on (Santa Crawl) and if they were being driven by a non-drinker (they were).

It gave me faith to make my own drive home afterwards.

My friend and I used the incredibly loud crowd as a mask to discuss our "number," our relationships and our sell-by dates.

I hear you, I hear you. Time to take myself off that shelf.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Artists and Monsters

Some people like a monster truck rally and some of us prefer a monster drawing rally (conveniently, there's beer at both).

As it happened, my kind of rally was happening at 1708 Gallery today, mere blocks from my house.

Sixty plus artists took up one hour shifts to create art while no-talents like me watched.

In the spirit of gallery support, each completed piece was then tacked to the wall, for sale at a mere $65.

And by the time I got there, a lot of pieces had the telltale red sticker. meaning they'd already been sold.

Smart local collectors, including some of the artists participating, were scooping up works by talents like Heide Trepanier, Jenna Chew, Amie Oliver and Kathryn Henry-Choisser.

I already own pieces by Bizhan Khodabandeh and Chris Milk Hulbert, not that I wasn't tempted by what they'd done today.

Envy set in when I saw several talented musicians sketching away. Apparently some people end up with both mad artistic and musical skills.

Ditto for the multiple talents of the beekeeper/fabric artist I recently wrote about for Belle, here, and the studio/gallery owners I'd seen just the other night at a lecture.

But envy gave way to awe because a big part of why I have adopted Richmond is because of how many talented people have also chosen to make their home here.

And there was an unusually high concentration of them at the rally today, both making art and walking around looking at what had been created.

Stealthily, I moved around them hoping no one could tell what limited talents I had.

Then it occurred to me: every artistic sort needs an audience of one kind or another.

I am your audience.

Of Botox and Baggies

Any way you look at it, it was a night of theater start to finish.

The opening act was at Lemaire after my good friend and confidante suggested it for its festive holiday dressing.

What we didn't allow for were the masses of holiday celebrants at the Jefferson on a Friday evening.

And we're not just talking women in Christmas sweaters and small children with large hair bows, although both groups were well represented.

No, no, we're talking a blond with lips so full of collagen that they resembled a duck's bill. My friend couldn't keep a straight face when she looked at them.

Then there was the showy trophy wife who looked about thirty years younger than her husband. He hovered around her like she was going to be snatched away.

One woman's face looked to have had so much work done that it was almost motionless and certainly expressionless.

My friend guessed she had a ball of skin under her hair where it had been pulled back and gathered up.

We'd never seen these people at Lemaire before, so we had to assume that it was the holidays that brought them out.

And we weren't complaining because there was so much to look at as the crowd kept getting bigger.

A distant cousin to street theater, we'll just call it bar theater.

Note to self: leave Lemaire for the new year, even if the view is fun to watch.

And it is.

From there I battled the Siegel Center traffic to get to the Firehouse to see a student production of "The Pillowman," the award-winning play by Martin McDonagh.

The most student-like part of the production was the bank for ticket purchases.

A Baggie.

You handed them a bill, which was put into the Baggie and change was made from the same Baggie.

Basic? Yep. Functional? Absolutely.

My theatrical evening continued with the dark comedy about a writer of grim stories in which children are often murdered (as in "101 ways to skewer a five-year old").

When actual kids start being murdered, he's brought in by the police for questioning along with the brain-damaged sister with whom he lives.

During the course of the play, several of his stories are acted out by a black-clad ensemble, making for every child's fantasy of seeing their bedtime story come to life.

Well, not these bedtime stories perhaps.

The young cast was strong, making for passionate performances of a riveting story line.

No one was just going through the motions.

Least of all the audience, who got to see a controversial play executed by a roving band of actors determined to put on a production wherever they could.

Let's just say it was a good night to be a theater lover in Richmond.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Talk to Me, Arcadia

If it's good enough for Daniel Day-Lewis, I guess it's good enough for me and a friend.

That was us at lunch, tucked away in an enormous back booth and sorting through the multi-ingredient descriptions of food attempting to decide what to try.

He made an executive decision and ordered the deviled eggs over basil gremolata to buy us more time.

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting deviled eggs in restaurants these days, but he was curious anyway.

Noshing on them, a server (one of many), appeared with a refill for my drink. I laughed and told him that I hadn't even realized I needed more.

"I'm here to see that you don't have to," he said. I appreciated the humor as much as the service.

I was tempted by the duck bacon BLT once I learned the bacon was done in house, but instead chose the Ashley Farms braised chicken thighs with ricotta spaetzle, beet oil and that basil gremolata 'cause my friend was dying for a bite of it.

He ordered purple rice crushed rockfish with spinach absinthe cream and arugula, deluding himself that he was "being good."

Hello, cream sauce?

While we waited for our food, the bartender came over with the brunch and wine menus in case we were interested in checking them out.

He was funny, asking if my friend and I actually knew each other or if we'd met on the street and decided to have lunch together.

I assured him that we were long-time buds and he complimented me on my skirt, saying he'd noticed it when I came in.

Forget celebrity sightings, I like a place where they say nice things about your Diversity Thrift flowered skirt.

We enjoyed our meal, trading bites and discussing the dinner menu, mainly for its 8-hour leg of lamb, a favorite of us both.

How soon do we come back and try that?

The dessert menu yielded only one chocolate option (a torte with sea salt caramel ice cream) which, as it turned out, they were out of.

Usually that's when this friend and I cut bait and forego dessert, but we made another choice for a change.

The Della Nona, a lemon filled pastry crust with nuts and confectioner's sugar on top, did a surprisingly fine job of addressing our sweet tooth.

On the way out, my friend admired the handsome wood bar while I admired the reasonably-priced wine list  where everything is $20 or $30, with some excellent values listed.

I have to say, I appreciate places who don't feel the need to do the typical restaurant markup on wine.

So unlike Mr. Lincoln, we didn't get our picture taken because we're not important enough to have our lunch documented.

Yea, but did anyone notice his skirt when he came in?

I think not.

Freudian Tights

While wearing my Berlin  tights, I was gifted with Vienna tights.

No doubt there's some sort of World War I or II metaphor to be made, but it escapes me at the moment.

Both pairs of tights came from the same European- visiting friend who is good enough to always return with a pair of tights from his most recent destination.

So, over talk of superb schnitzel and strudel, he presented me with a lovely pair of tights  called "Snake," a pattern sure to be eye-catching in these parts.

We met at Secco and tore through their menu while he told me all about his recent Vienna trip.

After, that is, I chose the Roagna Dolcetto d'Alba and got my fix of cherry fruit and a lovely round mouth feel.

Rabbit terrine with pickled vegetables (his immediate must-have), Olli hot lomo (chosen solely for its, ahem, appealing name) , a lean and spicy salt-cured pork loin,  la Peral ( a cow and sheep's milk rich, creamy bleu), and Prosciutto do Parma kept us going while I heard about the musical instrument museum, the armor museum and how easy it is to get lost in Vienna.

I also heard about the most amazing beet dessert at a Michelin-rated restaurant , the disappointment of Klimt's "The Kiss" and what I missed by not going to Vienna.

Like I needed to be told.

The music was an awesome blend of Washed Out, gypsy jazz and everything that fell in between. Much as I hate to say it, kudos to Pandora.

After we finished our three-hour travelogue, I made my way to Bistro 27 to meet a couple of visiting Frenchmen and the Brazilian chef, enjoy a Cote du Rhone and wallow in the mixed berries with marscarpone in a chocolate cup.

J-Ward neighbors came in only hours after I'd RSVP'd to their holiday party next week. When the mayor and a date came in, it began to seem like a neighborhood council meeting.

I suggested discussing the proposed restricted parking ordinance in Jackson Ward, but my friends voted me down.

Leave the mayor to his date and their fried calamari, they insisted and I obliged.

The soundtrack was vintage Christmas (Bing, Johnny Mathis and the Grinch) and the Frenchmen were charming in their eagerness to find out about what had brought me to Bistro 27.

Berlin tights-clad legs, that's what. Next up, the tights of Freud's Vienna.

Sex drive is the primary motivational force of human life, according to the good doctor.

I'm not sure if that means that Dr. Freud would have approved or disapproved of the Vienna tights.

Either way, I'm wearing them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

To Monumental Women

Damn Yankees.

So an English professor from NYC wrote a book called, "Virginia's Confederate Monuments" and talked about it at today's Banner Lecture at the Historical Society.

Moments before the talk began, the chatty octogenarian sitting next to me had mentioned going to a recent history lecture where the speaker was from Philly.

"I could tell he wasn't from down here because he kept saying nice things about the North," she'd sniffed.

Well, we certainly don't allow that down here. Wait, what year is this?

But she didn't have to worry about that kind of unpleasantness with author Timothy Sedore today.

His book was a virtual tribute to the Southern cause and the hundreds of memorials that were erected all over the state afterwards.

He showed slides of many of them, including two obscure ones (Lancaster and Tappahannock) I see on a regular basis.

Because there are distinct differences, he broke the monument-making down into three periods.

From the war's end through 1889, they tended to be funereal, objects of bereavement really, understandably since the catastrophic losses were so recent.

Then from 1890 through 1920, monuments were more celebratory in nature, highlighting the glorious deeds of those who fought for their state.

After a half century plus, the monuments took on a commemorative nature since so much time had passed.

Sedore said that the inscriptions on the monuments ranged from the cryptic to the banal to the provocative.

Interestingly, not a single one of the hundreds of Confederate monuments mentions the word slavery; that issue was always couched in words about fighting for Virginia or for the Constitution.

I was glad when he finally got around to discussing my people.

Since women had been the ones to originally organize efforts to raise funds to erect monuments, I was gratified to see that they earned a mention in some cases.

"To our loving and self-sacrificing Virginia women," says the text on one monument.

Hell, yes. Keeping the home fires burning is no easy task in wartime, or even post-war.

Nothing cryptic, banal or provocative about it, honey. That's just fact.

Purchase Order

The Moses bus caught the lecturer's eye.

VMFA's Curator of African Art, Richard Woodward,was speaking at Studio 23, that bastion of indie printmaking on Main Street about their new exhibit, "Land of a Thousand Greeting: Multimedia from Rwanda."

I've been in the studio many times, but tonight it was especially welcoming with the garage door rolled up to the warm, barely sprinkling weather.

Inside, a small crowd gathered slowly, leaving time to check out the show before the talk.

There were photographs, drawings and fabrics inspired by the artists' trip to Rwanda, including one of a brightly covered bus labeled Moses.

That was the one that caught Woodward's eye; he ended up buying it before the night was over.

His talk looked for a link between the VMFA's African collection (the most recent piece of which was acquired in 1960 or 1970, he said) to the Anderson Gallery's recent "Environment Object" show of contemporary African art.

He explained why Congolese chiefs were kept in check, how brutal many of the colonizing forces were and how divination worked.

He assured us that now if we go to the African galleries (not that I haven't already been) we'll know everything that's written on the wall cards.

And for the first half of his lecture, he had a soundtrack of cars driving down a very wet Main Street outside.

For the second half, the front door was rolled down but the wind and rain made it sound like bullets on the roof.

The Q & A period was brief and I didn't ask my question because I didn't want to put such an interesting speaker on the spot.

But why doesn't the VMFA have a piece of African (not African-American) art more recent than 40 years old?

I'm already on record as saying I think the Sokari Douglas Camp sculpture at the Anderson belongs in the VMFA's collection.

But since no one was asking my thoughts on museum purchases, I left for, where else these days, Pasture to meet a friend.

He had not been to the new restaurant on Grace Street yet, so I ended up there again so he could check it out, having contributed to its opening.

We went all caveman, ordering nothing but meat to go with a bottle of Mont Gras Carmenere.

It was my first crack at the ham plate (Kites, Olli, Edwards) with beer mustard and  pickles; I'll go with the speck as my favorite.

Then we had the beef tartare, which I'd had but he hadn't (as in not ever in his life).

He became a tartare convert, especially with the chili ketchup.

We finished with the pork rillettes. "Do you like rillettes?" the chef asked. "I love potted meat," I answered.

Is there any difference?

Arriving in a little Mason jar, the layer of fact on top was a delightful surprise to my friend, the rillettes virgin.

He made me laugh with a personal horror story (being in the Mall of America on Black Friday) and then told me about the restaurant project he's currently brainstorming.

Even better, he was honest enough to say that men are simple creatures and recommended a great hand lotion.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Letterpress Love

Everything old is new again.

The oldest poster in the Art of Hatch Show Print exhibit at the Library of Virginia is for a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist.

On the poster it says "Subject: Reign of the Common People."

It might just as well say "Subject: We Are the 99%." Except that they weren't using that phrase in the 19th century.

The entire show is full of fascinating posters and woodblocks created by Nashville's Show Print company and still used today.

Of course I was a sucker for the music show posters. I've never fully gotten over the shift from posters on telephone poles to Facebook invitations as the vehicle for hearing about upcoming music.

And today I saw the Lollapalooza '97 poster, the last year before it ended (although eventually resurrected).

Mid-nineties indie pop was pretty much summed up by a '95 poster for a Soul Asylum/Matthew Sweet show.

A '97 poster features a bill of the Tragically Hip, Wilco and Los Lobos. There's another for Beck's Odelay tour.

I never would have guessed that Sigur Ros played Nashville in 2006, but I saw the proof.

To be fair, tut there were also posters for Loretta Lynn (pre-Jack White) and Johnny Cash.

Even the newer posters use old lettering and original woodblocks, giving them a vintage look despite 21st century dates.

An early poster for Elvis Presley in Person with the Jordanaires at the Mississippi Alabama Fair teased with, "Hear 'Don't Be Cruel,' 'Hound Dog' and other great recording hits."

Recording hits?

But it wasn't all music. Ad posters for Hotpoint ranges, Frigidaires and Purity Dairy called to consumers.

There were posters for rodeos, Clarksville Speedway and Graves Whole Hog sausage (hot and mild). The phone number was 42-2592.

Six digit phone numbers? When was that?

The posters were a window into the mid-twentieth century South, a place impossible to fully know unless you were there.

You know, back in the day when you'd see a poster for the "Complete James Brown Revue plus the Fabulous JB's and featuring Richard Pryor, Jr. and Soul Courses. Two Shows 8 and 11."

And you'd plunk down your $8.50 if you were smart enough to buy a ticket in advance ($9.50 at the door) and spend three hours watching J.B. tearing up a stage.

I can only imagine. And the Hatch posters make it a pleasure to do that.