Friday, August 31, 2012

A Lucky Cuss

Some enchanted evening, you may meet a stranger who offers to steal from a church.

In this case, the church was First Baptist and the problem was in the ladies' room.

There was no toilet paper.

Not in the stall or in the cabinet or drawers, not anywhere.

As an older woman and I scoured the bathroom, another woman walked in and discovered our dilemma.

"Is this your church?" she asked me, clearly unable to see that I was a heathen.

Nope, I told her.

"Mine, either," she smiled. "So I'll go  to the other bathroom and steal some."

That's just how Christians roll, I guess.

After making do with hand towels, I returned to my seat and my friend only to find the overture had begun.

Tonight was the final  night of the "Classics in the Courtyard" series and the big finale was "South Pacific," which I'd seen as a play twice, but never the movie.

Leave it to Hollywood to cast an Italian as a Frenchman.

I happen to know for a fact that they're not interchangeable, although a Frenchman once told me that if I couldn't find a good man from southern France, an Italian would do.

The movie's credits included thanking the Department of Defense, the Navy and the Pacific Fleet, although even after seeing the film, I still don't know what they did.

I always enjoy the period details of mid-century films, things like the pilot of the plane smoking a cigar in the cockpit as he dodges Japanese gunfire.

"South Pacific" was made in 1958, back when men still called women dames.

Nothing else was built the same
Nothing in the world
As the soft and wavy frame
Like the silhouette of a dame
There is absolutely nothing like the frame of a dame!

And back when we named their hips.

Her hair is blond and curly
Her curls are hurly burly
Her lips are pips
I call her hips "Twirly" and "Whirly"

A scene that got an unexpected response from the crowd dealt with age.

When Lt. Cable.learns Nelly is in love with Emile, he says, "That's hard to believe, sir. They tell me he's a middle-aged man."

The captain, himself past fifty, is not amused, shooting back, "Cable, it is a common mistake for boys of your age and athletic ability to underestimate men who have reached their maturity."

The mostly middle-aged and older audience found this hilarious, laughing out loud throughout the entire scene.

Mitzi Gaynor was adorable as Nelly and her very 1950s body with a tiny waist, curvy hips and thighs would look completely out of place by today's standards.

Curves aside, she knew how to play a small-town girl believably.

I'm as corny as Kansas in August
I'm as normal as blueberry pie
No more a smart little girl with no heart
I have found me a wonderful guy

And her point to Emile for why they were attracted to each other was one that resonated with this viewer.

"We're the same. We appreciate things. We get excited about things. We're not blase."

Like a lot of fifties movies, this one had its share of political incorrectness.

The scene where Bloody Mary brings the lieutenant to a hut to meet her teen-aged daughter smacked of something uncomfortably inappropriate, which the songwriters must have realized, necessitating the cheery  "Happy Talk."

Talk about the boy saying to the girl
Golly, baby, I'm a lucky cuss
Talk about the girl saying to the boy
You and me is lucky to be us

Likewise, only Rodgers and Hammerstein could write a song about how prejudice is learned.

You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

Because I'd been to two previous musicals of the series, by tonight I was a pro.

I brought candy to share with my girlfriend.

I was charmed rather than annoyed when a bird began flying around behind the screen, casting its shadow on the movie.

And when the explosions began, I immediately knew they were from the fireworks at the Diamond and not nearby gunfire, as some people had worried when it happened the first night.

So I finally got to see "South Pacific" on the big screen and under a nearly full moon.

Some enchanted evening 
Someone may be laughing
You may hear her laughing 
Across a crowded room
And night after night
As strange as it seems
The sound of her laughter
Will sing in your dreams

I must be as normal as blueberry pie to have enjoyed "South Pacific" in all its corny and un-PC glory.

But there's nothing like a dame who relishes a good love story about a middle-aged man.

Or even a cock-eyed optimist who wants to sit in a church courtyard at night with strangers.

She may not be younger than springtime, but she did remember the Milk Duds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Women Want

Why is it always too little too late?

With local restaurants closing left and right, it's interesting to see how people respond when they learn a place is near the end.

It was time for me and one of my favorite married women to meet up and catch up, so without even checking with her, I messaged, "Six Burner 5:30?"

Her immediate response: "Our place...our time. See ya, babe."

I've been a regular at Six Burner for the past seven years, alone, on dates, with friends.

For this friend and I, it has become the most regular choice for our monthly get-togethers, especially on Tuesdays when we're suckers for half priced wine by the glass.

And now, with Six Burner set to close its doors on September 8th, I wanted one last throw-down with her there.

Appropriately given the circumstances (or perhaps not so appropriately), we began with glasses of the rich and nutty Dibon Cava and a clinking of glasses.

She was full of stories - strange smells, biting mosquitoes, spitting out blood and Parisian plans.

I had my own to share - accusations of idiocy, a tale of being painted blue for a party and an island getaway.

With soul music playing unnecessarily softly, Six Burner began to fill up as we dished.

At first, it was just a full bar, then all the booths were taken.

Soon, table after table had occupants.

Where were all these people all the other times she and I had been in on a Tuesday evening?

But ours was not to judge (merely to talk trash), so we decided to mitigate our buzzes with some food.

A look at the menu yielded mussels with bacon, Gruyere and caramelized onions.

A listen to the specials had me panting for grilled beef heart.

"You and your body parts!" my friend teased, but obligingly agreed to try.

When the bartender returned for our order, I asked for mussels and hearts.

"Just what we want from our men!" my friend quipped.

I'd also put in my bid for a brain, a stellar sense of humor and superb kissing skills.

But not for dinner.

The thin slices of grilled heart came with a muscadine grape sauce and an array of crispy sides - celery, pear, peppers and peanuts.

It was her first heart and she had to agree that its taste wasn't far off from any other beef.

But she did prefer the mussels, hardly surprising given the abundance of bacon and cheese,

Once the bi-valves were history, she proclaimed the remaining broth "fondue" and we used toasted bread to soak it up.

Meanwhile, the owner was playing food runner, filling in for extra staff who have left for new jobs.

And still people continued to come in.

Maybe they were regulars like us and maybe they'd finally made the time or effort to come down knowing soon it will be no more.

I'm sorry Six Burner is closing.

With any luck, its replacement, Heritage, will be the kind of place at which I can be a regular like I've been at 6B for so long.

But mostly I hope that people don't wait until they hear the rattle of death to get a restaurant hopping on a Tuesday night.

It's our time to make sure our places get supported before we lose them.

I don't know about you, but I'm eating as fast as I can.

No Four Tops for One, Please

Monday night turned out to be for seeing old friends.

That meant starting at Avalon to see a friend of seventeen years whom I hadn't seen all summer.

"I figured your dance card was completely full," he said as explanation for why we hadn't gotten together in months.

And while it has been awfully full, that's still no excuse.

Avalon was all but dead until the arrival of several people he knew, all operatives for the Republican party.

Since my friend is the same kind of screaming liberal I am, I was surprised to meet his Gilmore-loving friends.

They weren't complete idiots, though; she was the first to say, "George Allen is a redneck and an idiot."

So at least we were in agreement on some things.

After listening to far too much blather from the right, I excused myself for my dinner date (a friend for twenty years).

We headed to Secco, only to walk in and find the familiar face of a friend having dinner with her parents.

A talented photographer, she'd moved to C-ville a while back so it was a complete surprise to find her back here.

Hearing how frequently we trek to Charlottesville, she suggested we call her next time we're out there for a show.

She'd even checked out our recommendation about Star Hill Park, our go-to spot every time we're there.

Leaving her to her charming Italian parents, we found seats at the end of the bar.

Since it was Monday (also known as flight night), I asked for the dealer's choice, which in this case was owner Julia's Spanish flight.

A vinho verse-like sparkling petillant, a cuvee rioja rosado and a tempranillo from Ribera del Duero had me set for the night.

It was a no-brainer to choose the orcchiette with swiss chard and oyster mushrooms with botargo (made with shad roe, making for a nice local touch) grated on the top.

"It's the only way I'd have shad roe in my restaurant," Julia cracked. No doubt.

The rich saltiness imparted by the dried and cured roe made the dish unforgettable, as good as the sea urchin gnocchi that was our menu favorite last spring.

When we heard the selection on the charcuterie plate, we ordered that, too.

Rabbit offal pate was decadently rich and creamy on the tongue.

It was the result of saving up rabbit kidneys and hearts and whatever else came with the whole rabbits for months to have enough to show off in this savory manner.

Five-spice duck terrine with prunes and scallions boasted the perfect balance of sweet and salty.

Pork pate with bacon and olives was the most rustic, but also a mouth-watering combination of pig and pig.

The meats were so rich and well executed that we couldn't even finish them all or we would have exploded.

We took our time eating while enjoying a varied soundtrack that swung from Death Cab to 40s-era jazz.

A guy came in with his laptop, expecting to take over a four-top and "do some work" at a time when nearly every table was taken.

It seemed a bit nervy to me and he was informed that he'd have to sit at the bar instead. He got huffy and left.

Imagine a restaurant not wasting a four-top on a guy who was only there to be on his computer.

Meanwhile the couple next to us, obviously enjoying their wine and conversation, inquired of the staff if they could come to their house and pour wine for them there.

Sadly, the answer was no.

We finished the tempranillo with a dessert of mini cream puffs stuffed with vanilla cream and covered in a caramel sauce with toffee bits.

I could feel the food coma settling in over me.

Truth be told, I shouldn't be allowed to eat again for a few days after a meal as splendidly rich as that.

But just you watch. I will.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Not Quite Mile High Club

I've long said that you can't count yourself a real Richmonder if you haven't had a picnic on top of city hall.

The observation deck situated on the 18th floor offers, hands down, the best view of our city in every direction.

So on this beautiful sunny afternoon with a picnic lunch in hand, I took the elevator to the top.

But which direction to face for enjoying my meal? I finally settled on east although given the views, there's really no bad choice.

At the beginning, it was just me and the birds.

And while I never actually saw them, they never stopped cheeping, so I guessed they were just under the eaves - and a lot of them.

And as good as my lunch was, the visual treats began with my walk around the deck afterwards.

Cumulus clouds were stacked up along the horizon in every direction.

Looking south, the river was viewable in small segments only, but looking east, I got the same bend in the river view that had given Richmond its name.

A guy joined me on the deck, eagerly snapping photos from all sides as we wound our way around again and again.

He told me he'd been at the credit union downstairs and made a crack about the view only to be informed about the observation deck, which he'd never even heard of.

Looking out with me, we marveled at our vantage point for admiring old city hall and the state capital, both magnificent from above.

He told me he'd once lunched on the top floor of the Federal Reserve building, but that the view wasn't nearly as impressive.

We watched a crane in action just north of the Altria building.

A couple of worker bees joined us for a cigarette break, undoubtedly the most scenic smoking lounge anywhere.

I could see west on Broad Street all the way to the WTVR tower, but no further, which is fine considering that Broad goes all the way to god-forsaken Short Pump.

We laughed at the Coliseum, deciding that it resembled a rusty 1950s-era notion of a space ship.

I tried to point out my beloved Clay Street, but it was barely visible given our location two blocks south and eighteen floors up.

By the time I was ready to go, he must have taken twenty or more pictures and was still crowing about having finally discovered the deck.

For the record, I did not welcome him to the real Richmonder club.

But I did make him promise that next time he comes up there, he has to bring lunch.

Rogue Party for the Few

It was practically a private show.

Walking into Balliceaux last night, we were among a very small group in the back room for music.

Too bad, too, because Bryan Hooten was doing some amazing things on trombone as we scored wine and slid into a front booth.

Listening to what sounded like multiple notes being played at the same time, we marveled at the un-trombone-like sounds emanating from his instrument.

"Those were two new as-yet unnamed tunes," he explained. "Now I'll improvise one and dedicate to Patrick, who I met at a workshop in Canada. It was sort of a rogue party and there was a lot of whiskey drinking, so I'll call this one 'Rogue Party."

The music came on like a party, eventually winding down to the point where it was easy to imagine that only a few party guests were still standing...and then none as the song closed with a whimper.

Pouring out the contents of his horn, he got a laugh when he said, "Don't worry, it's just condensed water."

"Mirrors," from his solo trombone album, came next and this music-lover was thrilled when he explained what to listen for beforehand.

"I'll be doing some things with the shape of  his mouth to create different sounds," he said. "So if you imagine this tune is a painting, look for the stuff near the top."

Honestly, I heard amazing stuff coming from the top, middle and bottom of that aural painting.

Next up was his workshop buddy Patrick, part of the band Sons of Daughters, who'd driven down from a show in Baltimore today for this show.

A duo tonight, Patrick was playing sax and clarinet and Devin drums and their bass player was missing in action.

"Our bass player couldn't join us for this little four-day retreat," Patrick explained.

Which was a shame in one way because he also provides vocals, but a treat because without him, they eschewed compositions for a whole lot of improvisation.

And they looked like they were having a ball doing it.

Barefoot Patrick closed his eyes and played his instrument waving it side to side, walking back and forth on the stage, sometimes even hanging his toes off the edge and once almost falling off.

Devin, in flip-flops, all but impaled himself on his drum kit, laying across it and even playing cymbals with his forearms.

Toward the end, he was going at it so hard that his drum all but danced further in between his legs and into his lap.

"Is It In You?" got the small audience riled up and "Jay's Tune" was based on music that got stuck in Devin's head.

"If you're enjoying any of this and want to take two thirds of us home with you, we have CDs for sale," they joked in conclusion.

No doubt everyone else in the room had far more musical knowledge than I did, because they called out at what I could only assume were impressive musical feats.

But this much I do know: it would have been hard to beat an evening of progressive jazz by some up and coming young guns, giving their all for a small group of strangers.

When they finished, a woman in the audience came up and asked Patrick, "How do you hold your breath for so long?"

I didn't hear the answer, but my guess would be years of practice.

We did ask about the band's name, clearly a reference to Everyman, since everyone is either a son of a daughter or a daughter of a son.

"Yea, my Mom seems to like it," he admitted with a grin.

Maybe even as much as every person in that room liked our intimate and excellent show.

Sometimes you just have to go out on a Sunday evening and take a chance.

That's when you find out that it is in you.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Criminally Fun Food Fight for Girls

It always comes down to music.

Sure, I could talk about the dinner I had at Lunch (where it was standing room only busy), the Wolftrap white blend, the French onion soup, the witty banter with a favorite recluse.

For that matter, I could  ramble on about "Farewell, My Queen," the French movie we saw afterwards, the opulence of the Versailles setting and costumes contrasted with the harsh reality of Marie Antoinette's time (dead rats, bug bites).

Favorite line: "Words are all I have. I wield them well."

But instead, I'll focus on the show.

Foodfight RVA was a stroke of brilliance - have a show of bands comprised only of people who work together at local restaurants and make it a benefit.

Come on, we all know most servers are really working to support their art or music habit, so it made perfect sense.

And the worthy beneficiary was Girls Rock RVA, the non-profit that holds a week-long empowerment camp every summer to teach girls 8-14 how to play an instrument, write a song and perform it.

Presenting the show was Quickness, the local delivery service that will bring food from a number of restaurants directly to your door.

And they were the first band up.

Just the Tip was a straight-ahead punk band, thrashing hard as they played a song called "Ophelia" about "a lady in Church Hill who always orders barbecue from Alamo and wears a turban."

Just another customer immortalized.

Black Sheep's band was Angry Chef and the Lowboys, a trio in chef coats and aprons all on acoustic guitars (and harmonica).

They got points for clever songwriting, singing "We Got the Kitchen Blues," "86 Bacon" (a dire situation if ever there was one) and perhaps the funniest, "Fry, Baby, Fry."

As you might guess, it sounded a lot like the Beatles "Cry, Baby, Cry" except it had lyrics like, "Kevin's in the kitchen cooking food for the people" and the customer lament, "They want switches and everything on the side."

Some of the women who'd led Girls Rock RVA this year performed next, doing the camp's theme song, but only after informing the crowd what Girls Rock was about.

This year's attendance was 44 (double the first year's) and their final performance was at the Hippodrome.

Hearing about their success made me glad I'd made a donation at the door.

Lamplighter's six-piece Funky Crumpets were next and they introduced themselves as, "We're those dudes who take way too long to make your sandwich."

The crowd laughed. "But they taste real good, don't they?" Much cheering and applause followed because they do.

They got off to a slow start but the guitarist locked into a groove and the singer (who'd said beforehand that she had no idea what she was going to sing) let loose and before long the crowd shut up and took note.

Ipanema's band turned out to be only Jonathan who said his missing band mates were "either working or already playing."

With typical Ips ingenuity, he proceeded to play guitar, loop it, get up and go play drums, loop that and return to guitar.

In other words, he filled in for everybody else, getting an A for effort alone.

Sticky Rice's trio Bonsai were energetic and melodic and especially appropriate for the evening's theme, given they had a female guitarist and drummer.

Duo Fat Side Up came from Alamo Barbecue and they played covers, one from Sublime and another from Fiona Apple ("Criminal").

For their last song, the singer announced he had brought ribs to eat as he sang, and he also waved bones over his head as he finished each one.

Returning from the bathroom mid-show, I ran into a favorite guitarist/server who sweatily informed me, "I'm too old for this shit. I used to do these shows and I remember how they smell."

It was more than a tad warm in Strange Matter tonight, but then a good percentage of the restaurant world was in the house.

Favorite t-shirt: "It's a lifestyle, not a fad."

Selba's Pregenators had a front man who was dying to show off his moves.

Dressed in low-slung jeans, an open black vest and medallion, he showed off his best pelvic thrusts while singing to a bass and drums.

The show closed with the Roosevelt's quartet (who got my vote for best band name), A Consensual Evening with Winston Stablock.

With a smoke machine obliterating bartender and drummer T, they pulled off two well-crafted R & B songs (written by Josh, natch) with him and fellow server Brandon singing back up.

And while I'd heard Mark singing along in the kitchen of the Roosevelt before, I had no idea he had it in him to be a rock star.

Favorite lyric: "I couldn't have you, I had to get you."

After a whole lot of applause, Mark closed by saying, "One more time for the smoke machine" and don't you know the crowd gave it up for the machine.

The audience had thinned considerably by the time the judges got up to award prizes.

The rib-eating Fat Side Up took third place (accepting, the singer said, "I'll bring more ribs next year"), Angry Chef and the Lowboys took second (no doubt for their clever lyrics and only acoustic guitars) and Bonsai took first (maybe being two thirds female helped their odds).

Personally, I'd have also given awards to the two people who had never been on stage before and totally won over the audience.

The guitarist for Funky Crumpets and the singer for A Consensual Evening were both playing their first shows ever.

So, like the aspiring musicians of Girls Rock RVA, they'd practiced, screwed up their nerve and taken the stage only to impress strangers and friends alike.

Because, let's face it, if you want to get good at music (or cooking or anything), you gotta make it a lifestyle, not a fad.

That's the only way I got so good at eating and going to shows.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Have Easel, Will Travel

What 23-year old could resist the idea of becoming part of something called the bohemian brigade?

Not Edwin Forbes, an artist from New York, who joined a group of reporters known that way and sent to Virginia in 1862 to capture war scenes for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

Fact was, cameras couldn’t capture motion, not that it mattered because newspaper presses didn't allow for the publication of photographs, so sketches reigned supreme.

All this I discovered at the Virginia Historical Society when I saw “An Artist’s Story: Civil War Drawings by Edwin Forbes,” an exhibit of more than 120 drawings depicting military life in battle and at rest.

His illustrations, along with those of others in the brigade, were instrumental in shaping the perceptions of an apprehensive public, most of whom never saw a photograph of a battlefield during the entire war years.

 Significantly, they were also the starting point for a book Forbes put together in 1890 called “Thirty Years After: An Artist’s Story of the Great War.” 

I don't care much about battle scenes, but I was fascinated by the drawings of daily life during the war. 

Like “Washing Day: Column on the March” showing soldiers marching with their laundry draped over their rifles air-drying. How else could an infantryman make sure he had dry, clean clothes for the next day?

An Old Campaigner” showed a twenty-something man whose face (and even demeanor) revealed how aging warfare was. Like your typical VCU student, he's a young man but unlike them, he's one who’s survived battles and seen hard service.

Laugh-worthy was “News at the Front” showing a soldier lying against a small foothill at Antietam reading a newspaper. As he takes in the headlines, the enemy’s bullets send bits from nearby rocks flying and kick up the dust all around him. 

But hell, a soldier’s got to read his paper sometime.

Forbes had an affinity for horses, often imbuing them with more personality than the soldiers he sketched.

In one, a personable horse peers around a man as if to say, "Excuse me, what are you doing here?" to the viewer. The man is oblivious.

Before leaving the bohemian brigade in 1864, Forbes documented his own digs in an 1864 drawing called “My Studio.” 

It's a pleasing image of a standard A-frame tent with an army-issue stove, an improvised chair but with an easel front and center.

From what I could tell, it appears to be an ideal setting for an artistic 23-year old to enjoy his time in military bohemia.

I got the sense that it was the adventure of the twenty-something's lifetime and he knew it. 

That's where he had it all over a VCU student.

Eat Tongue, Ride Like Hell

Everyone wants to make sure I have plans.

A friend messages me to see if I'm going to Amuse. I'm likely not.

She asks me if I'm going to see music and corrects herself to ask where I'm going to see music.

A friend messages wanting to know what I'm up to.

Just home from a dinner date, I say I'll find something to do.

"I know you will. Even if it's a late night run to 7-Eleven for pork cracklins and Boone's Farm," he writes.

I fear that if I don't have good enough plans, I disappoint some people.

And yet I do what I want to do.

All week, I've been planning to go to Tio Pablo for dinner tonight.

My date is on board with the idea and the good-sized crowd we find on our arrival must feel the same.

Our server is personable and chatty, bringing us two glasses of Albarino to our section of counter against the wall.

A quick look at the menu makes our taco decisions for us.

De nopales (sauteed cactus with tomatoes and jalapenos), de pollo chipotle (roasted chieckn chipotle with Oaxacan cheese), de lengua (stewed beef tongue) and de camarones (shrimp sauteed with tomatoes, avocado, garlic and nopales) are ordered with a side of frijoles charros (pinto beans with Surry ham).

When our server brings the food, it is with the acknowledgment, "That's a great four pack. You'll be happy with those. They're all awesome."

And so they were.

I was responsible for my date seeing his first cactus flowers and tonight for eating his first cacti, both a distinct pleasure.

The heat of the chipotle chicken is unexpected but the sublime texture of the tongue is just savored.

I delight in hearing my companion admit that he's now a tongue convert.

The camerones taco is good, but nothing surpasses that tongue.

As we sit sipping our Albarino, the crowd at the community table begins to thin and we look around at the decor, admiring a lizard sculpture and a paper mache animal head.

Full enough, we have no business asking about dessert.

Turns out tonight's special is tres leche coconut cake.

As a devotee of coconut cake, much less a tres leche version, they had me at "co."

The square of cake with icing on top is moist and sticky, much like the abundant fresh coconut that adorns it.

It could have made a coconut lover out of anyone, much less two people who are already fans of the tropical fruit.

By the time we leave, my only regret is not having sampled around the tequila menu, but there's always next time.

For my second act, I surprise everyone and don't go out for music.

I'd just read a Post review of "Premium Rush" about a bike courier in  NYC and, living amongst a dedicated fixed gear community, was more than a little curious.

I know several fixed gear fanatics. I've met their bike messenger friends.

My father owned a courier company in Washington that used bike couriers.

I've had a couple of jobs that used bike couriers (okay, so it was the '90s) and remember handing off to friendly, sweaty couriers.

I even volunteered at the North American Handmade Bicycle show at the convention center in 2010.

So I had more than a little interest, despite it being a Hollywood take on the subject.

And especially since the "Lincoln" movie filming because everyone in Richmond now has a Joseph Gordon-Levitt sighting or story (my favorite being him telling someone I know, "I just wish I could go to bed with a girl without her taking my picture while I'm asleep." Tragic really).

I was expecting the audience to be full of bike kids and it was; the two rows behind me were nothing but and they provided running commentary throughout.

More surprising was the guy in the row next to me, wearing a black cape, black pants, a white shirt and bow tie.

One of these things is not like the others.

But I digress.

The movie started like a shot, or more appropriately, like riding a fixed gear bike, fast and with no cruising.

I was glad I'd come opening night so I got the benefit of the Greek chorus of bike riders behind me.

Like the collective groan that went up when a car crossed the biker's path and he had no choice but to hit it.

Or the applause when a bicycle cop got doored or cheering when a biker drove straight through a market and out the alley door.

One very compelling aspect of the film was seeing the "what ifs" in the daily life of a cyclist.

In this case, it was a courier who was racing against a deadline to deliver an envelope on a bike with no gears or brakes.

But the challenges are universal for anyone riding without brakes: swerve right and hit the lady with the stroller, or swerve left and broadside a cab.

Just another day in the life of a fixed gear biker, set to a soundtrack that began and ended with the Who's "Baba O'Reilly."

And no, I have never ridden nor have any desire to ride a fixed gear bike.

But for a late summer evening of escapism with amazing camerawork of bikes darting through traffic in Manhattan, it couldn't be beat.

As a female courier says at the end of a 90-minute delivery escapade (coincidentally, the same length as the movie), "That's the most fun I ever had with my clothes on."

Amen, sister.

I'd agree that it was the most fun I could have had fully clothed tonight.

And I didn't end up anywhere near as sweaty as she did.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Out with the Most Beautiful Girl from Pennsylvania

Only a true friend takes pictures of you sucking bones.

Her husband was going camping so we were free to debauch any way we saw fit, so we began at Lemaire.

Somehow, despite decades in this city, she'd never been.

And not only never been, but never heard about the live alligators that used to live there.

Over Michael Shaps Wineworks Cabernet Franc, we talked about Calvin Trillin, abstract expressionists and NYC in the fifties.

Moving on to Acacia, we bellied up to the bar and ordered two glasses of Tocco Prosecco to celebrate our girls' night out.

Then we began to eat in earnest.

There were golden figs with bleu cheese and local honey. Honestly, at this time of year, I could eat figs every day of the week.

Next up was flounder ceviche Peruvian style over avocado puree, a creamy combination punctuated with chili oil for heat.

Risking a swollen tongue, we went on to house-made burrata with local peaches (my allergy), basil, olive oil and aged balsamic.

The creamy burrata was like butter with the ripe peaches.

With so much fortification, we took on weightier topics like former boyfriends, the respect of the community and the beauty of a truly southern name.

Moving on, we got Belle Glos "Meiomi" Pinot Noir, a food-friendly wine that was bound to loosen our tongues.

For dinner, we shared pan-roasted Polyface chicken breast with smoked Gouda polenta, local green beans and a country mustard sauce.

The rustic dish satisfied on all levels - the crispy seasoned skin, the freshness of the bright green beans and the beautifully creamy polenta.

And somehow, when I got busy getting the last of the meat off the bones, out came her phone to document it.

"You're so oblivious to technology, it's easy," she laughed.

By then we'd analyzed who was superficial, who was overly outspoken and who was oblivious.

I got major bonus points from her when I told her my latest realization.

"You wouldn't have said that a year ago," she marveled.

And who knows what I'll say in another year?

It's amazing how much two friends can accomplish with a little time and a little more wine.

Our bartender was unobtrusive until my friend inquired abut a whiskey, at which point he explained away his whiskey expertise by saying that he was Irish Catholic.

I countered by telling him I was the same and yet had no whiskey knowledge whatsoever.

"She drinks tequila," my friend piped up, causing a slight raise in his eyebrow.

Don't judge, I say.

Choosing to partake of neither whiskey nor tequila, we decided to move on for dessert.

It was a no-brainer to end up at Garnett's because we knew we'd have a fine selection of sweets from which to choose.

Hers was a peanut butter pie and mine was the black and white cake with both chocolate and white icing.

It was a decadent ending to our marathon meal.

We finished, as we always do, with conversation in the car before I dropped her off.

I'm sure it says something that we'd been together five plus hours and were still talking right up until she got out of my car.

What it says is we don't get together often enough, but maybe her husband will go camping more frequently when he sees how relaxed and happy she is after a girls' night out.

I could have gone home, I could have ended it right there, but naturally I didn't.

Instead, I went to Balliceaux to hear a Brooklyn band, Madam Macadam, billed as "angry rock and roll with an emphasis on fun."

The band featured members of Lake Street Dive, another band I'd previously heard at Balliceaux.

As soon as I saw them, I recognized one guy's distinctive pale blue guitar. Funny the things that stick in your head.

I got a warm greeting from Chris, who books the shows, saying, "Always my favorite person to see."

A friend came over, saying, "Long time, no see" only to admit that he'd been in the Bahamas for 75 days (75!) for a photo shoot for the tourism board there.

Nice work if you can get it.

He did say that he'd been depressed ever since he got back, trying to make the adjustment to real life.

Meanwhile, there was music. "Thank you for coming," the lead singer said. "Who are you people?"

We were the ones who wanted to see an up and coming band and not just Black Girls.

I found a relatively safe spot near the side wall where I could see and not get knocked into too much.

These guys rocked in a Chuck Berry meets New York Dolls kind of way and eventually a friend walked by, saying, "These guys are good."

Not only good, but determined.

They'd made the eight plus hour drive down for the show, sitting in Washington traffic for two and a half hours to get here.

And yet they thanked us for being there.

Favorite song: "The Most Beautiful Girl in Pennsylvania," coincidentally, the home state of the friend I'd just dropped off.

Their set was short, maybe 35 minutes and my photographer friend was taking bets on how late Black Girls would begin (answer: just before midnight).

I saw a favorite bartender singing along to their songs and the crowd began to shimmy as Black Girls got rolling with their "snuff rock," ostensibly celebrating the guitarist's birthday.

But with Black Girls, it's always any excuse for a party.

By the time I left, I'd had a full eight hours of fun.

Walking to my car, a couple in running attire jogged by.

Who exercises at this hour when they could be listening to angry rock and roll with an emphasis on fun?

Clearly nobody I know.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tales from the Banquette

I'm known for being particularly good at keeping up with what's going on.

Granted, I do it old-school style with a small purple calendar I carry in my bag, but I do keep track of what's coming up.

So when I looked at my book yesterday morning, I saw there was an art opening at UR.

And not just any opening, but one for the social documentary photography show I'd recently written up for Style Weekly, here.

So with an art-loving associate in tow, we headed out to UR.

From the second we pulled into the Modlin Center parking lot, it was clear I had my dates wrong.

Sure enough, despite having included the correct date in the article I'd done, I'd written it on the incorrect date in my book.

Just call me idiot.

But I am nothing if not resilient, so we simply turned the car eastward and headed to dinner ahead of schedule.

My companion had never been to Magpie, so that's where we decided to console ourselves over the absent art.

Surprise, surprise, they were at capacity when we walked in.

A promise of seats kept us cooling our heels and reading the new RVA magazine until we were seated at the far end of the curved, red banquette.

As many times as I've eaten at Magpie (a fair number, since it's mere blocks from home), I'd never been anywhere but the bar.

In fact, once I was seated, the owner (who'd designed it) came over to comment that it was my my first time on the banquette.

It was also my first time hearing current music, since Magpie is known for its reliably '80s soundtrack.

When I commented on hearing MGMT, our server proudly said, "This isn't '80s!"

It was turning out to be an alternate universe at Magpie tonight and we were along for the ride.

It turned out to be a cozy spot for a meal, even given the nerdy father/son duo bonding at the next table

"Dad, you tell the corniest jokes," the son said. "But you're never gonna stop, are you?"

Not while we were there he didn't.

With glasses of the crisp and floral-nosed Semeli "Feast" Moschofilero, we savored an amuse bouche of house-made Mozzarella with blackberry and shallot foam.

One perfect bite of freshness whetted our appetites for a sampling of small plates.

Lardo crostini, slathered with BellaVitano cheese and truffle oil over grilled asparagus was decadent even in small bites, but paired beautifully with the crisp acidity of the wine.

Fried hearts of palm were stacked up Jenga-style with an addictive roasted poblano pesto for dipping.

I remember the first time I'd had it, the bartender had told me he could eat that pesto with a spoon and my companion agreed, using bread to sop up the remaining pesto once the hearts were history.

The banana-crusted scallops with a spiced rum reduction and vanilla gelato proved once again the chef's mastery of sweet and savory.

As we ate, the small room got even busier, with people two deep at the bar.

At one point, two guys were in line for the one unisex bathroom and after a bit, one of them began banging on the door.

A mortified-looking woman came out to find the two guys hovering in front of her. Awkward.

Who knew Wednesdays were so popular in Carver?

Our server thought that it was due to people like us who eat out frequently choosing a mid-week dinner rather than deal with the weekend crowds.

And yet here was a midweek crowd, a pleasure to see in a month that has seen far too many local restaurants closing.

For our closer, we chose a chocolate caramel torte with seat salt and bourbon cream.

The shortbread crust provided a cookie character that enhanced the deep, dark chocolate filling and was a vehicle for the bourbon sauce.

By the time we got up to leave, we were well satisfied with the array of flavors we'd tasted, the father/son duo was wrapping up their rap session and everyone waiting had finally been seated.

No telling what else we missed, but with no art or music on the horizon, we set out to find something to do with our brains.

When my calendar and all else fails on a Wednesday night, there's always the art of conversation.

Once hearts are history, sometimes a discussion of words and their meaning is as good as an art opening.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Curated by Karen

Tonight I got my reward for nearly perfect attendance.

It was Listening Room 32 and I have  attended 31 of them, missing only July 2010, for which I was called out.

Let's just say I never made that mistake again.

So when I was asked many months ago to curate tonight's event, I agreed with anticipation and not a little trepidation.

If I chose bands that appealed to me, would other people feel the same?

Tonight I was going to find out.

Things got off to a great start with Dixie Donuts and lots of my friends in attendance for support.

Okay, so maybe they'd have been at the Listening Room anyway, but some knew I'd have their heads if they  didn't show.

And they did.

Emcee Chris did his usual casual opening speech, anticipating the inevitable arrival of organizer Jonathan to remind him of something.

It's like an old vaudeville routine in its reliability, much like the one light that always fell when the Listening Room was at the Michaux House.

Afterwards, Chris announced that the show had been curated by Karen, raved about my blog and the pressure was on.

I'd chosen locals Sweet Fern because they sound like no one else.

Josh, looking very dapper in a vest and button-down shirt, demonstrated his ability to play guitar, mandolin (played so enthusiastically he broke a string) and banjo, sing and crack wise while Allison's big voice is a singular pleasure.

Calling themselves an itinerant band, they did several Carter Family songs (they are, after all, the bedrock of Sweet Fern) and songs with evocative names like "You're Breaking My Heart" and "Three Night Drunk," an hilarious song that played to Allison's acting and comedic skills.

A couple of songs in, my friend turned to me and whispered excitedly, "I love male and female voices singing together."

I knew what she meant; hearing these two together was making fans of everyone in the room.

Eventually Josh tried passing his guitar to Allison to play, causing her to tell the crowd that it was the two-year anniversary of her playing guitar.

"Are you ever gonna commit to one guitar?" Josh teased her.

"I'm committed to the open road," she shot back.

Their banter was just another highlight of their performance and Josh indicated that they hoped to add some routines to their act.

"Are you guys excited about seeing Nettles?" he asked us. "I've been web-stalking them all afternoon. I'm excited to be on the bill with other plant life."

The very same thing had occurred to me.

Whether doing Doc Watson, Johnny Cash or Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn songs (Allison: "I'll sing Conway's part"), the set list was a peek into another time.

"Now all the Depression-era songs are coming back," Josh said, "What with poverty and debt and all."

I can do without Depression Redux, but as long as Sweet Fern is singing the soundtrack to the thrifty life, I'm good.

During the break, I made the rounds and had first-timers raving to me about what they'd just heard.

The scientist, as usual, slipped me some chocolate when he saw me; the friend who hadn't been to the L.R. since the night she met her good-looking hunk of man-meat (her words, not mine) came and brought her hunk; even the poet showed up after being singled out online.

Hey, whatever works, I say.

While the six-piece Nettles got set up onstage, I went up to meet leader Guion, whom I knew only from our series of e-mails arranging their appearance.

Everything was going according to my plan.

After some technical difficulties with a guitar, the band settled into making some exquisitely beautiful music, part folk, a little Celtic-inspired and in general very poetic.

Since they're from Charlottesville and don't play here, they were a fresh sound for an RVA audience.

Guion made the most of it, saying, "I can reuse all my jokes here."

Favorite line: "You'll be an old woman by the time I come to get you."

"Houses," about a friend who'd caught fire (we were assured said friend is better now) featured flute player Juliana playing saw (always a treat), heart-stopping harmonies of three or four voices and some of the most interesting banjo playing I've ever seen.

I was especially taken with what Sam's synth added to Nettles' sound; it was the element that kept working its way into my ears.

Guion mentioned the poet Frank Stanford as a source of inspiration, specifically his 542-page poem, "The Battlefield Where the Moon says I Love You."

The songs were beautiful, with titles like "Keep, Pt 2" and "It Wasn't a Dream, It Was a Flood" and full of spaces, superb musicianship and the blending of voices.

I felt like we were in the middle of a lyrical poetry reading with instruments.

As if I hadn't had enough pleasure from the evening, Guion took a moment to thank the Listening Room and saying, "I got to met Karen earlier. She seems like a great woman."

Sigh. And I was worried about what?

Nettles finished with something unexpected, "Leather-Winged Bat," an old song with different birds giving advice on love.

Hi, said the little turtle dove
I'll tell you how to win her love
Court her night and court her day
Never give her time to say oh, nay!

Naturally I was thrilled with a band that ended with an old English folk song, but the prolonged applause at the end was hardly just mine.

They'd like it, they'd really liked it.

And why not?

Once again, the Listening Room had provided a stellar night of (free) music without the annoyance of people blathering over a single note.

And if I got more than a few pats on the back (not to mention the poster with my curating credit on it), well, apparently that's what happens when you do 31 of 32.

As thrilled as I am to have been asked to curate, the biggest satisfaction will be if I made Sweet Fern and/or Nettles fans out of anyone in the audience.

"I told you so," said the delighted curator.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Want a Shake with Those Fries?

Roy's Big Burger delivers so much more.

And on a day when I was craving a quick cheeseburger, I knew I could duck in, eat in my car while reading the Post and be on my way easily.

I've posted before about how it always seems to be men sitting in their cars at Roy's, but today I joined a woman waiting for her order.

Within a minute, a long-haired older guy joined us.

Still, that's the evenest odds (gender-wise) I've ever been a party to at Roy's

But once I had my cheeseburger (all the way) and fries, I made for my car and newspaper, barely getting into my seat before pulling out a fry.

It needed salt.

Opening the car door quickly, I almost ram it into a vehicle pulling suddenly into the space next to me.

But he finally saw me, stopped and I went to grab a salt packet.

Back in my car, it was time to pull out the greasy waxed paper-wrapped burger and feed my blood.

I was holding the good-sized burger with both hands and had just taken a far-from-ladylike bite when the guy from the car next to me walked up.

"Excuse me, sorry to interrupt your lunch," he says smiling and I chew frantically a bite too large for my mouth. "Are you dating anyone?"

I struggle to swallow; he apologizes. "I'm sorry. Is that too forward?"

Yes, I tell him, asking if he always asks out women he almost mows down. "No, but I find you very attractive," he explains, "So I thought it was worth a shot."

I clarify my status to him and he is nothing if not persistent.

Writing his name and number down, he goes in for the big finish. "Have a nice lunch. I hope I hear from you."

Damn.

I know I'm lucky that such random things happen to me.

Double damn.

My cheeseburger is cold.

Ready for a New Session

I'm never going to get used to Sprout having become S@mple.

Granted, it was only my second time in, but the differences are so striking that they jump out at me as I eat.

As one in our party of four inquired, "Why did you pick a place that has so many screens when you hate screens?"

Truth is, I wanted to try their Intermezzo Hour menu, so I was willing to ignore the screens to the best of my ability (admittedly, limited).

Fortunately, one of the screens had an old episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on, meaning black and white images of terrified looking people.

High camp.

Meanwhile, I ignored the ones with sports and nature images completely.

After a lovely walk over on an unseasonably gray August day, we made it in time for the last thirty minutes of happy hour.

Prosecco rose got us started, along with fried oysters and a spicy remoulade.

For a Monday, it was a fairly good-sized crowd, and while we waited for our food to arrive, we discussed the music.

"This could be a Lamplighter mix," observed one of us who works there.

It was obviously Pandora, although we couldn't be sure of the starting point because of the way certain artists seem to appear no matter what the starting band is.

Fleet Foxes (whom I like) and Mumford and Sons (whom I can't stand) seem to show up in every mix whether you begin with electronica, garage or chamber pop.

Personally, I think Pandora could use a tune-up.

But S@mple's music isn't my problem, so we moved on to moules frites (mussels tender and served with the thinnest, saltiest matchstick fries ever) and spicy sausage flat bread (basically a simple white pizza), both of which were dirt cheap ($4-5) and tasty.

I showed the others the latest Rolling Stone where RVA's own Matt White was featured as "An artist to watch," making me proud I had been watching him since 2007.

For dessert, we got the chocolate espresso pot de creme, a tiny little serving which arrived without its billed ginger snaps (small chocolate bars replaced them), but provided a sweet ending.

Walking back toward Jackson Ward, it was through roving herds of incoming freshmen who have been rolling into town since the weekend.

I always have mixed feelings about a new VCU school year.

I'm thrilled that music and art ratchet up in quality and frequency, but I can only be knocked into so many times by oblivious groups of kids who haven't yet mastered city walking (or biking or driving) without casualties.

So we wound our way around chattering and unaware groups who would stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk when they got lost or confused about where they were going.

And while I know realistically that they must be at least 17 or 18, a lot of them look like they're 14.

So they'd probably have no idea what "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was.

But I'll bet they love Mumford and Sons.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Left to Our Own Devices

Remember the good old days when Hamilton Beach made vibrators in addition to blenders?

Yea, neither did I.

But then, I also didn't remember a time when 25% of all women suffered from a disease called hysteria, which basically amounted to sexual frustration.

Apparently playwright Sarah Ruhl did, though, because she wrote a play about it, "In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)," currently being produced by  the very creative Cadence Theater Company.

So on this rainy Sunday afternoon, we were part of the matinee audience watching a fascinating slice of cultural history when doctors essentially pleasured women to lessen their symptoms of irritability, fainting and general malaise.

Did I mention it was a love story?

Always cool and poised was the matter-of-fact doctor who serviced his patients while telling inane stories to distract both himself and the women.

"Three minutes, no more than five," he assures his patients.

His young wife, who was passionate and curious about what he was doing (but feeling inadequate as a mother), engaged each patient who came to see her husband in conversation to assuage her loneliness.

Then there was the female patient who went from being listless and always cold to sharing the joys of the electric vibrator with anyone she could.

She was also a fan of the efficient but lonely female nurse using the "manual massage" method.

A man came in exhibiting signs of "male hysteria" and was also treated with the vibrator, albeit in a different place.

Honestly, I've never seen so many orgasms on a stage in one sitting.

Because the  play took place in the 1880s, the women wore elaborate costumes with many layers of corsets, petticoats and bloomers, meaning there was a lot of dressing and undressing before the Hamilton Beach came out.

Often another scene was going on in the living room set to the left of the doctor's "operating theater" where he worked his magic.

The guy next to us seemed constitutionally unable to look at what else was going on elsewhere in the scene when someone was undressing.

Skeevy or just a costume buff? Hard to say.

So much of the play was funny despite addressing issues of  gender roles, sexual freedom and race relations.

But, as a female, it was hard not to feel for the constraints put on women (especially within the confines of marriage) and the utter lack of attention to their physical needs.

I'd be curious to know if the rate of wives killing husbands wasn't higher in those days.

One character said that her husband came to her in the dark while she was sleeping to take his marital rights and returned to his own bed after being satisfied.

No wonder the poor women needed to see the good doctor just to stay sane.

Luckily for them, he offered daily treatment.

By the end of the play,which ended with a beautiful snow-covered winter garden setting executed in a brilliant and believable way, I wanted to walk out of the theater and start telling strangers to buy a ticket.

Smart, funny, poignant, thought-provoking, intimate, why, every quality that describes a good woman could be applied to this play (and by default, Sarah Ruhl).

Not to mention how fortunate we are to have been born once Hamilton Beach-wielding doctors abdicated that responsibility to our mates (or ourselves).

About time we get to be only as hysterical as we want to be.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

When I wake up to a rainy, gray August Sunday, I feel like it's a gift.

So when I set out on my walk, it's under a large flowered umbrella and with a different goal in mind.

Instead of my usual three miles, I want to walk four today.

Partly that's because I so enjoy walking in the rain (especially on a 70 degree day) but also because a longer walk will deposit me at Dixie Donuts.

I walk in behind a family of six (!) who look like they've just come from church.

While the three youngest kids shout their choices, the teen-aged son hangs back, clearly mortified to be part of all this.

"I want a snowcap!" one yells about the doughnut adorned with the white-dotted candy.

"I want the French toast one," another shouts.

"Can I have two chocolate toffees?" asks a third before the high-maintenance looking mother finally takes control and helps expedite the ordering process.

I feel the counter girl's pain.

When the family clears out, I order a basic chocolate doughnut, the last one of its kind on the tray.

Apparently I am not the only one with  simple taste when it comes to doughnuts.

To me, candy on top is superfluous when you have a well made cake doughnut.

I compliment the cashier on how adorable she and the counter girl look with matching pink bandannas tied around their heads.

Walking back toward Jackson Ward munching my doughnut as it lightly rains all around me makes the extra mile feel effortless.

Or maybe that was just the sugar buzz kicking in.

Give Up the Funk

You've got a real type of thing going down, getting down
There's a whole lot of rhythm going round

I can always tell when the Down Home Family Reunion starts because I can hear it through my open windows.

After all, I'm only two blocks from Abner Clay Park.

I'd invited a non-family member to join me and he arrived with a picnic, so we took our chairs and dinner and walked the short distance toward the sound.

The Down Home Family Reunion isn't like any other festival I've been to, which is exactly what I love about it.

Besides the fact that it's two blocks away.

You see people dressed up at this one.

Like a leopard print jumpsuit.

Jean shorts, a red t-shirt and red and gold pumps.

His and her black leather chaps.

Skintight paisley bell-bottoms and a purple polyester shirt and hat.

I don't even try to compete with the likes of that.

Settling in with our picnic, the emcee said, "I wish y'all could see what y'all look like from up here!"

I'll bet the two of us looked starved, considering how we dug into roast chicken, caprese salad, bean and olive salad, hummus and peach pie.

We took a break to move closer when the Kenya Safari Acrobats took the stage.

Part dance, part magic, part gymnastic, part yoga, they amazed.

One condensed his body to almost nothing in the way they were taught to do in Kenya and Tanzania when confronted with a leopard.

Another got on a table and proceeded to bend his body backwards until his feet were resting on his head.

He even removed his hat with his toes.

There was a limbo dance (done to win a wife) with a stick on fire, making it essential to go as low as the limber, brave man could go.

He did.

For their final act, they created a human pyramid using a woman as the base.

It was significant because no acrobatic troupes there will use women because the men presume a woman will drop them.

Aminia, the female base, went on to support all kinds of men in various configurations, even walking a short distance while supporting them all.

The entire act required such skill and precision as to have been absolutely Olympic-worthy.

Meanwhile, I ran into a friend (and pianist for the Richmond Symphony) and caught up with his escapades (turkey burgers! Chopin! Pocahontas Park!)

And that's exactly what's supposed to happen at the Reunion.

I spent over six hours behind a woman who was serially greeted by no less than thirty people.

It was impressive to see.

A girl asked me to take a survey about the festival, inquiring about how far I'd come to see it, how much I might spend and if I'd been before.

I'm always happy to share my opinions.

Next onstage were NYCE, a local group who wore matching salmon-colored outfits while executing synchronized steps and singing '60s and '70s R & B.

Stuff like Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, but not the Top 40 stuff.

Their set got people in the mood, like when a man walked by, spotted a friend and did a synchronized dance move in front of him before saying hello.

The Elegba Folklore performance group played drums and danced while a costumed figure on stilts moved through the crowd.

"If you can walk, you can dance," the group's director shouted.

I would have broken it down even more basically than that.

Periodically, the scent of incense wafted by.

Once the sun went down and I lost my companion to work, I was glad I had a blanket to drape over my legs.

"You had the right idea with that blanket," a man said to me when he saw me getting cozy.

By the time the big names arrived, the crowd was large and feisty.

Original P, comprised of four of the original members of Parliament Funkadelic and eight of their siblings and children, took the stage like they owned it.

"We're ready to party like it's 1975!" leader Calvin shouted to raucous response.

Almost at once, a freaky-looking guy started walking through the crowd with a large sign saying, "One Nation Under a Groove."

A guy came by to check on me. "How you doing?" he inquired sweetly. "You look comfortable! Enjoy yourself."

Of course the twelve piece had a big horn section and an array of back-up singers, but I was unprepared for the keytar.

Damn, we were taking it all the way back.

The crowd went wild for "We Want the Funk," but they also went crazy for tales of booty patrols and an extended psychedelic jam that had people dancing in the field.

By that point, audience and band were feeding off of each other under the night sky.

"Richmond Vee-Yay in the mother-fu*kin' house!" the bandleader yelled as people waved glow light swords and hands in the air.

I alternated between staying in my seat (where a guy came over to ask if I was okay by myself over there) and standing closer to the stage to enjoy the sheer spectacle of so many musicians clearly having a ball.

"If y'all don't get up off your asses now, I'm gonna be forced to get mean," we were informed.

It only took one warning for everyone but the oldest and most infirm to follow P-Funk's advice: "Free your mind and your ass will follow."

When the band finally ended, it was only because the organizers told them they had to.

The band made it clear that they wanted to keep playing.

Danced out, the crowd resignedly started packing up.

Original P serenaded us as we made our way out to the streets of Jackson Ward.

If you're not gonna get it on
Grab your date and take her home

My date long gone, it looked like I wasn't going to get it on.

But my answer to the final survey question had been confirmed in spades.

Would I come back to the festival next year?

Hell, yes. We want the funk.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seeking Same

I figured I'd see a lot of my people tonight.

After all, if I go to the only restro-lounge in town, aren't I likely to see other enthusiastic eaters and loungers?

2113 had its usual orange, cool vibe presence when we arrived to music pulsing and a lively mostly male crowd.

Sliding in, we rearranged stools to put two together.

Conveniently, they were pouring Conde Villar Vinho Verde Rose, meaning low-alcohol, but with far more fruit (not to mention a lovely pink color) than a typical Vinho Verde, along with the usual effervescence.

When I was given free rein to order, I couldn't resist ordering the kinds of dishes my companion didn't used to eat.

Say, pan-fried sweetbreads with sweet carrot and a Grenoblaise sauce, the portion so generous as to be startling or the beets with duck confit with a superb smoked balsamic vinaigrette that made the dish.

Someone's been having a ball with his smoker and the result was stellar.

A guy nearby noticed me and asks if we hadn't met. And it wasn't a line.

We had met at Patrick Henry's over a year ago and talked food and restaurants all evening.

Coincidentally, we did the same tonight.

Bypassing the dessert with tobacco-flavored cotton candy, we got vanilla and olive oil parfait with chocolate crumbles for our last course.

I'm definitely seeing an uptick in 2113's food quality and execution.

Now if only I could see more people coming in for the lounge portion of the equation.

But I couldn't be part of that group tonight because Balliceaux was calling.

Walking in to a mostly full room, I was happy to see a friend and her cute husband in attendance.

She's usually the early-to-bed type, but tonight she'd been to a work function and had a Tall Boy so was enjoying herself immensely now.

Someone noted that the crowd was heavily male and a look around confirmed that.

I believe the technical term is "sausagefest."

There were lots of musicians at the show, so there would have been a serious hardship to the local scene if Balliceaux had gone up in a puff of smoke tonight.

I saw the scientist, who only stayed long enough to say hello and catch up with people.

Every time I turned around to face Dave Watkin's swirling light show, there was a familiar face.

The organizer. The (tardy) photographer.

The former prickly and now sunny one.

The WRIR DJs. The former co-worker. The beer geek.

The expectant singer adjusting to the limitations of pregnancy. The friend who came with his Zep bandmates.

A drummer who just got back from South Africa so we could dish on that subject together.

I even did some Replacements matchmaking.

Simply put, the place was crawling with my people.

White Laces was doing their record release show and DJ Ohbliv was opening.

I'd heard him before and been impressed with his knob turning and mashups so I was unprepared when I overheard a guy observe to his friends, "He's not very good at changing songs. Doesn't he know transitions?"

Clearly he was not getting the point.

Meanwhile, my cute friend laughed at his ignorance and danced on.

The room was full of energy and packed by the time White Laces started playing.

Oh, sure, some of it was the "pretty people" kind.

You know, those people who stand around shouting and laughing loudly while the band tries to play over them.

But a lot of the energy was also the fan variety where people just wanted to listen to a band that keeps sounding better and better with each performance.

All four members are terrific musicians and with each show I see, they push their dynamic range a bit further.

Unfortunately, by the end of their set, my girlfriend was ready to push some of the pretty people in the face.

Not me.

I wouldn't want to risk knocking them into my people.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Student of Life Maybe

I was just minding my own business.

Walking down Harrison Street, a man approaches me.

"Good morning, young lady," he says affably. "Are you a VCU student?"

I admit that I'm not.

"I give notebooks to VCU students," he says as if I hadn't just spoken. "Would you like a notebook?"

I demur even as he hands me a distinctive notebook.

It has a brushed metal front and a thick, cardboard back. It's a really nice notebook, easily the finest I've ever had.

"Here's a bag for you to carry it home in," he says as I thank him.

There's no doubt that I'll use my new notebook. Give me paper and I will write.

But I am not, and have never been, a VCU student.

Is this the grown-up equivalent of taking candy from a stranger?

If so, I think I'm okay with it.

We Just Had a Good Time* (*Julia Child)

By the time I'd finished driving back from the river and doing mad edits, it was suddenly time to go out.

Did I have plans? No.

How fortunate that when I called a friend and asked where to report, he responded "Amour."

I'd have been on time except that as I was approaching Amour, I ran into a J-Ward neighbor.

She was instantly recognizable and she claimed I was the same.

She'd been taking one for the team (that is, drinking gin and tonics) at Can Can as part of her job and was now finally off.

We bonded on Cary Street over layoffs, Sweet Fern and staying up late.

Naturally, I was late for my couple date at Amour.

In a pleasant twist, that meant that my Kir Royale was already in place when I arrived.

My friends immediately shared their vacation pics from Las Vegas, so I got to see the Eiffel Tower, untold fountains and views of tall buildings.

It sounded like they had a blast in the land of Celine Dion and 107 degrees.

Yes, the nights were late (they were operating on east coast time) and the food magnificent (I saw the menu from Bouchon), but mostly they raved about the sunsets and the views.

I was pleasantly surprised when Holmes gifted me with a CD, "Not Quite Beatles," a compilation he'd made of favorite songs derived from the masters.

It's true; I'm the type who can be won over by Bourgeois Tagg and Big Star.

Moving on to Provence rose, we ignored the rollicking parties in the front of the restaurant and ordered food.

I stayed honest with a large bistro salad, grilled mushroom caps with Comte and fresh chives while vichyssoise, frog legs and escargots showed up in front of my dates.

And without any fanfare, a fourth joined our group.

With a stylish hat, a quick wit and all kinds of life experience to share, he was a welcome addition to our trio.

Whether discussing peas in London, Chris Squire of Yes or compressed mp3 files, he was a worthy addition to our group.

We got to a point with wine where my friend Holmes mused, "Where should we go, red or white? How about blue?"

Oh, my. Don't give me an opening, because I'll take it.

When Holmes mentioned blue, I immediately suggested Jannison et Fils Bleu, a lovely champagne with a nose of flowers and a soft, round finish, that I knew Amour carried.

How could I not recommend a Frenchman who works on two continents, making bubbles both with Virginia and French grapes?

We included our new friend in our bleu tasting and blathered on about grand pianos, life in the Grenadines (him) and Hanover Avenue.

Dessert arrived and in addition to the sea salt chocolate creme bruelee and chocolate gelato, we ventured into hallowed ground.

Since we're a mere day past Julia Child's birthday, how could I not savor her classic cherry clafouti?

The dish, resembling a sweet, crustless quiche with a custard center and those lovely cherries, was the perfect nod to Julia on her 100th.

And who wouldn't want to celebrate Julia this week?

While our new best friend thoroughly explained steel drum making and playing, we shared desserts and Bleu.

Appropriately, the music was Django Reinhardt-inspired or even the great one himself, making for a superb soundtrack to our eating and drinking.

Props must go to our unexpected fourth who not only hung in until the end, but jumped in every art and music conversation with enough pertinent information to be a true asset to the group.

Holmes pontificated about the outsize girth of his own head and our fourth countered with details about Ignatius Hats, pleasing one of the native Richmonders no end.

Personally, I need neither hats nor a Petersburg hat shop, but the discussion was so lively and compelling that I felt interested despite no actual relevance to my little corner of the universe.

And considering I'd begun the evening with no real plans, having wound up with three clever people with whom I could eat, drink and be merry was a hugely unexpected bonus.

In fact, it may have been the perfect tribute to Julia.

As it is, I live by her words.

Life itself is the proper binge.

Best of all, with no desire to purge afterwards.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Italians and the Jefferson

I figured if I was going to hear tales of the Jefferson, I should go with someone I met at the Jefferson.

The Library of Virginia was hosting author Paul Herbert as he spoke about his book, "The Jefferson Hotel: The History of a Richmond Landmark."

And while the title is snooze-worthy, the subject was overdue for re-examination since the last book on the Jefferson had been in 1941.

As it turned out, the stories he shared were fascinating.

When he heard that the Jefferson had used a 12-year old clock cleaner, he tracked down the now 72-year old man to get the story.

When he was told a story of two young girls being asleep in the hotel when it caught on fire, he tracked down the girls.

"The thing about history is," he said with understated but obvious enthusiasm, "If you can find the people who were there."

Most of his stories ended with him meeting or talking to the person something happened to as a way yo corroborate the tales told in the book.

He clarified once and for all that the Jefferson's famed alligators lasted only until 1948, except for special occasions.

Billy Joel was an investor in the Jefferson, albeit a silent one. Herbert said he did once visit and play the piano, though.

I learned that the check-in desks used to be downstairs by the Main Street entrance, in front of what is now TJ's.

That there was a writing room in the lobby.

And, when it opened in 1895, a rooftop garden where entertainment was held.

Vaudeville from the roof of the Jefferson, can you imagine?

In the hotel's restaurant, Elvis ate bacon with his fingers, to the horror of one of the employees.

At one point in the evening, Herbert looked at the crowd and said, "In Richmond, everything ties back to the Jefferson. Everyone has a connection. It's like that seven degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon game. Everyone has a Jefferson story."

Who was I to argue?

I was sitting next to someone I'd met at the Jefferson two decades ago. Clearly there's a story there.

Dinner followed further east at Maximo's, the new tapas place in the Bottom.

It was livelier than I'd expected and the Spanish music was, too.

The menu was a bit of a split personality with tapas on one side and Italian on the other.

With a bottle of Verdejo, we ate around the tapas side, trying apple salad, chorizo in cherry sauce and a soft shell crab in a white wine cream sauce.

The people watching was colorful inside and outside the restaurant, with both Italian and New Jersey being spoken.

We finished with Warre's "Warrior" Port, leaving some Verdejo to go.

Our eager sever rushed off to get a bag for it, returning with a large brown grocery bag and saying apologetically, "We have one size bag: giant!"

So it was that we left with a giant bag with our leftover Verdejo and full bellies.

As if the evening needed any further enhancement, we made for Strange Matter to see an Italian band, Sultan Bathery.

What are young guys from Venice playing these days, you wonder?

Let me tell you. The best kind of lo-fi, garage (almost surf) pop in two to three minute bursts.

The bass player wore a long orange scarf wrapped around his forehead in that Steven Tyler-kind of way.

The guitarist would have looked right at home in the Trillions. Even better, he sang every song peering through curly bangs.

The drummer's non-stop arms were encased in a Cramps t-shirt with sleeves so short it looked like a girl's t-shirt.

In other words, they were adorable. And very young.

Even so, what came through was their Euro-swagger as they rocked hard and fast without ever really losing it.

And everyone, repeat, everyone in that room was constitutionally unable to stand still as a result.

After their 45-minute set (fact: you can only go so hard so long), the band made a plea in mostly Italian for support.

"We have not so much money," the singer said sweetly.

I bet they have no place finding a place to stay tonight, either.

And while I doubt it'll be the Jefferson, no doubt they'll find southern hospitality in Richmond.

I figure if I got to see a dynamite Italian band here on a Wednesday night, they're going to be just as lucky.

Cute can take Italians a long way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tales of Romance at Cucina

It's embarrassing how little I know of getting around in Church Hill.

Sure, I can get to the Roosevelt or Alamo, but that's about it.

So when a friend suggested lunch at a new place on the Hill, his neighborhood now since a recent move, I had to call (gasp!) him to get the specifics of getting there.

And, yes, I know it's barely two and a half miles from home.

But with exacting directions, I was able to find his new digs and we sat on his front porch while he drank his life-giving coffee wearing a hat that said, "Bartenders are gods."

Once properly caffeinated, the god and I made our way to Street Deli.

The charming little spot got high points right away for its cool, stone floor and tables laden with goodies like homemade coconut and chocolate cake.

As an enormous catering order was being loaded into a van, we ordered our lunch.

I couldn't resist the albacore tuna stuffed Hanover tomato (although it arrived minus the billed pesto cheese tortellini) and my friend got a turkey pesto panini.

While our food was being concocted, we went outside to the little patio area next door.

Technically, it doesn't belong to the owners, but their next-door neighbor (and landlord) cleared a space for al fresco dining.

The little enclosed area was winsome, with clay pots, an old tire-less scooter acting as outdoor sculpture and all kinds of blooming plants scattered around.

As we sat there eating our food, dog walkers from the nearby pet sitting service strolled by and people trickled in and out of the deli.

Over triple chocolate cake, Friend and I traded stories of the pleasures and pitfalls of dating at our age, citing how both good and bad traits are more firmly entrenched in a person.

I shared how I had once been informed that I was in a romance (unbeknownst to me) and he threw his head back laughing at me.

No big deal, because we've been friends long enough that he has a right to laugh at me when I'm that dense.

I'm just glad that he's found someone to appreciate his great qualities: perseverance, humor and a willingness to be open to whatever comes along.

His hat got it wrong.

It's smart, thoughtful men of a certain age who are gods.

But then who's going to put that on a hat?

Not Mistaken for Candy

I'd absolutely love to join you at the Firehouse on Tuesday evening for a $5 bongo thrumming soiree of pseudo-intellectual, empathetical thinking. When does the Beat generation begin? Do we have time for a nosh beforehand?

So it was that we began at Garnett's and ended with Gordon.

While it might not compare to Beat-era prices, twenty bucks for two glasses of wine and four small plates seemed positively square to the beat.

Dates wrapped in bacon with Gorgonzola, crostini with mayhaw jelly and Gorgonzola, toasted tea sandwiches of ham and garlic aioli, and prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe neatly took care of our noshing needs.

At the Firehouse, we took primo seats in the front row, the better to get up close and personal with Gordon Ball.

Never heard of him? Me, either.

Turns out he was the filmmaker who'd been hired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg back in the '60s to manage his farm in upstate New York.

Why did a Beat need a farm, you may wonder.

Where else could his drug and alcohol-dependent friends and fellow poets go to escape the evils of NYC and dry out?

As we sat there waiting for the  talk to begin, I got a visit from a non-Beat poet, a friend who'd just returned from writing poetry in Vermont.

As we caught up, a man walked up and stood in front of me.

"Hi," he said smiling shyly. "Are you Kathy?"

I had to admit I wasn't, that the best I could do was Karen.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, beginning to return to his front row seat near us.

Don't worry, I told him. I'm probably not half as interesting as Kathy is.

"I'm sure that's not true," he said.

Imagine my surprise when he was the one who walked onstage to do the reading.

I'd been mistaken for Kathy by Gordon Ball.

He began by showing photographs from the farm taken from 1968-70.

Everyone had that late sixties hippie look going - beards, long hair, lean bodies (no high fructose corn syrup in those days) - and the farm, which he described as "in the snow belt" looked remote beyond belief.

"So there's the line-up," he said at the end of the slide show, having introduced us to the cast of characters who regularly inhabited the bucolic Beat getaway.

We were then treated to him reading three chapters from his book, "East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg."

I loved how he referred to his girlfriend of the time, Candy, as "shapely energy."

Now I wished he'd mistaken me for Candy instead of Kathy.

As he was reading about being hassled by the police, a siren screamed down Broad Street outside and he paused and grinned.

Over the next  hour, we heard tales of under-appreciated Thanksgivings, black eyes and drunken poets beating their heads on flagstones.

He referred to the farm as a refuge for needy poets (there are other kinds?) but in the most affectionate way.

During the stage interview, host Liz referred to him repeatedly as Allen rather than Gordon.

Considering Allen is dead, not to mention he was a heavy man with a dark beard and Gordon was still lean and light-haired, it was rather disconcerting.

The evening concluded with Gordon showing his film "Mexican Jail Footage," shot in 1968, he said, and made with "chewing gum and love" and not intended to be anything but a documentation of time spent illegally detained in a jail south of the border.

Frankly, it was fascinating to see how he and his friends had occupied themselves during their incarceration.

Yoga, smoking pot (one handful acquired from the jailer), being taken to a Chinese restaurant by said jailer (and a whorehouse), being taken to a fancy hotel for dinner by a friend's mother and, obviously, shooting film footage.

Boy, they don't make jails like they used to, do they?

It wasn't all fun and games, though.

They had to pay a local to go out and buy them food during their stay, meaning they quickly ran through their money.

But it finished happily with a plane ticket to Texas (okay, relatively happily) and freedom.

The evening ended with me purchasing his book so I could get it signed by the man who'd known Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Burroughs.

He opted to inscribe it to Karen rather than Kathy, saying I was much younger than she was.

Despite the absence of bongo thrumming, I know I'll never get closer to a Beat than I did tonight.

Kind of makes me want to howl.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Far from Faultless

The funny thing is, they live on the Northern Neck.

And yet when I suggested lunch at Merroir, my parents, despite decades on the river, said they hadn't been.

Road trip.

So they drove one way and we drove another to meet in Topping at the home of Rappahannock River Oyster Company.

I'll be honest, it was my third time in five weeks.

My name is Karen and I'm an oysterholic.

So on a flawless August afternoon, I enjoyed lunch with my parents at a table riverside.

Three kinds of oysters, lamb sliders with spicy mustard mayo and celery/onion slaw and a foot-long lamb dog with onions sauteed in mustard.

Over a bottle of Wimmer Gruner Veltliner, I became the target, enjoying all kinds of well-intentioned (and very funny) jabs about myself.

Let's just say my Dad is still telling the story of why he should never have let me play kickball in the street.

I was eight at the time.

Naturally, I was ribbed about my track record.

And faults.

"One?" he said with great hilarity.

I may have even been called an idiot.

And four hours later when I left, replete and calmed by a post-lunch hour sitting on the dock, I felt lucky to have such great role models.

As a friend wrote to me just today after gushing about missing me, "I know that was corny but it just felt right."

Must be all that salt air. Besides, Mom and Dad never mind corny.

Spice Up Your Life

I passed up the Spice Girls for Nirvana, with a stop at Fort Knox along the way.

And by Fort Knox, I mean the pop-up called "And Now for the Last Course" held at Avalon by Chef Knox Vaughan and Mattias Haglund of Comfort.

It may not have been a true pop-up since Avalon used to be Knox's kitchen, but the one-night only event was a send -off for Knox, who's leaving RVA.

Naturally, he broke all the rules, meaning no set time for the dinner and no set menu.

Instead he'd created a  one-night only menu to tempt the faithful and from which to order.

So many choices - cumin lamb lollipops, skirt steak Oscar, ants on a log- made it hard to pick just a few.

An amuse bouche of heirloom cherry tomatoes, red and yellow, with EVOO and fresh basil merely whetted our appetites for more.

We began with the Misto to Share, a plate of peppery arugula with a creamy arugula, leek and Manchego pesto atop it, along with Spanish olives, sliced Manchego and saffron crackers.

It was the perfect starter.

Corn-husk wrapped  escolar came with cilantro corn and tequila lime reduction.

As promised by our server, the escolar melted in our mouths while the sweet corn was as summery as an August day.

I could have eaten an entire bowl of that corn.

We finished with melon panna cotta, the melon puree a vivid orange and tasting like the melon was barely hours old.

Usually panna cotta is not my thing, but this was too fresh-tasting not to savor.

The chef worked the dining room, saying goodbye to diners as they scarfed his delicious work.

Thus fortified, it was time for us to get in the way-back machine and revisit the '90s.

We did that at the Ghost Light Afterparty at Richmond Triangle Players.

This month's theme, "Saved By The GLAP" was a shoe-in for a Sunday funday kind of evening.

Host Matt was late, although we got a report from the stage that he'd be there the moment he finished eating McDonald's in his apartment.

Apparently, rehearsals for "All Fall Down" ran late.

But The GLAP audience is a patient one and we had plenty of alcohol and company to amuse us.

I was disappointed to hear that a talented friend is pulling up stakes for San Diego, but absolutely charmed when she described how she felt about RVA.

"We've been stupidly happy here," she said, smiling widely.

When Matt did arrive wearing a "This is Hardcore" t-shirt (hardcore never looked so adorable), the party swung into full gear.

Even his mother had come down from Jersey to join the fun.

Co-host Maggie kicked things off by saying, "This is what the '90s is to me," before singing "Groove is in the Heart."

Her Mom and Dad and assorted kin had also come down to be part of the GLAP festivities.

It was a family affair.

As usual, lots of people got into the act, dancing or playing instruments.

"Marquise is starting to turn into our resident bongo player," Matt observed after he'd added some nice percussion to a song.

We took a turn from Top 40 to punk when Matt did Green Day's "Long View," albeit in a slightly more Broadway style than Billie Joe had likely intended.

Or maybe not. The man did go on to write a musical, after all.

Afterwards at the mic, Maggie chatted up the crowd.

"First," she said dramatically, "Marvin Hamlisch."

There was a collective "Ohhhh," as only a theater crowd can do and not surprisingly, several Hamlisch songs were sung tonight.

The talented Robyn O'Neill (looking fabulous in green pants, green sandals with green toenail polish) did a stunning version of Hamlisch's "I Still Believe in Love."

Liz, in undone overalls and with a hat on, returned us to Top 40 with Four Non Blondes' "What's Going On."

We heard a mad-lib sung to which I'd contributed (tangoing, swimming and kissed) to REM's "Losing My Religion," and Matt rapped.

Seriously, sometimes you have to be there to believe some of this stuff you see.

We got an audience lesson in how to beatbox from  Annie, who told us afterwards, "That's on my resume."

Sadly, I was slow on the uptake so I don't think beat boxing will ever be on my resume.

"In a minute, the acoustic guitar is going to come out an then it'll get real '90s," Matt solemnly informed the crowd.

With a little tuning and very little previous practice they said, we heard the Goo Goo Dolls "Name" and Third Eye Blind's "Jumper" and we were suddenly knee-deep in the '90s.

It was awesome.

Maggie took the microphone looking uncharacteristically serious.

"My mother has harbored some bad feelings all these years about Kurt Cobain because of the pain he caused me," she mugged.

Which could only mean that it was time for some Nirvana worship in the form of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

It could be the anthem for Ghost Light Afterparty audience: "Here we are now, entertain us."

And month after month, they do. Hilariously. With an array of talent. With corny jokes and raffle prizes. With songs we'd like to forget and ones we're thrilled to hear live.

"Now Nirvana has been done at GLAP," Matt said mock-seriously, as if looking for meaning. "Never saw that one coming!"

Of course, as a loyal butt in the audience, I never see any of it coming.

I just show up prepared to be unprepared for whatever happens.

And I inevitably leave with my face sore from smiling and laughing.

Maybe like my friend, I'm aspiring to be stupidly happy from here on out.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Universal Q & A

Sundays are different.

Even though I walk every day of the week, there's always a different vibe to my Sunday stroll.

For one thing, walking through the VCU part of it is usually like walking through a ghost town.

Not so today because hell block was buzzing with move-in activity.

As a new crop of students eagerly take over the apartments that have played host to countless games of beer pong and anonymous hook-ups, it's funny to see the parents looking so worried about this next big step.

Let 'em go, I say. If you've done a good job as a parent, they'll be fine.

Ahh, I see. No wonder you're looking so concerned. A little late now.

But don't get me started.

Walking down Belvidere, a man approaching me steps off the sidewalk on to the grass to let me pass.

"Pretty girls scare me," he says with a smile and a sweep of his arm. "So, please go on."

Only on Sunday.

Heading home, I walk by a porch where two women are talking to a young girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old.

"Walk outside every day and ask the universe for answers," one of the women tells the child as I pass.

If that isn't the most appropriate Sunday advice I could hope for, I don't know what is.

My walks are an opportunity to ask my questions. Every single day.

Get a Little Action In

Saturday night's alright for fighting.

That and dating, 'cause Saturday is definitely date night.

Which means if I decide to go eat by myself in a restaurant, I am guaranteed to be surrounded by couples.

So it was at the Magpie.

With me at the bar were the aging blond rock star and his date (she paid the bill) and how she put up with his endless bragging, I'll never know.

Two seats away and I got tired of hearing how the girls adored him onstage.

There was the couple who spent the length of two drinks talking about stuff: the number of diamonds in her new ring, the options on his new car, how chilly she was in her new leather jacket.

Boring.

In other words, I was pretty satisfied being by myself.

When I ordered a glass of Semeli "Feast" Moschofilero, a Greek blend promising crisp acidity and an intense nose of peach and rose petals, the bartender informed me that it was the owner's favorite.

I continue to be impressed with the array of Greek wines showing up locally lately and their low price points don't hurt, either.

"I like value in wine," the owner laughed matter-of-factly when I told her how much I liked the Feast.

While all around me couples did the mating game (or, in some cases, spent more time looking at their phones than talking to their date), I took advantage of the cooler evening and ordered tonight's soup.

It was a roasted corn with bacon and, as it turns out, some unbilled poblano, making for an unexpected but welcome heat.

I can always count on Magpie's soundtrack to relive the old days and tonight's music was no exception.

"Listen Like Thieves" gave way to "Show Me" which begot "Girlfriend in a Coma," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (can you tell I saw "The King and I" a few days ago?).

For my next course, I got banana-crusted scallops with spiced rum reduction and (wait for it) vanilla gelato.

The thick, sweet sauce was beautiful with the scallops and the gelato, which conveniently also satisfied my sweet tooth.

By the time the bartender asked me about dessert, I had no need of anything further.

Well, except perhaps a date. It is Saturday night, after all.

And I'm really not a fighter.