You think you know how things will go, but you never really do.
I thought I'd sleep in like I always do, but I awoke at 7:44 and never got back to sleep. Might as well get up.
My reward for not getting up at my usual time was a day already so gorgeous that I opened all the windows before I even made breakfast.
I got dressed for my walk as if it were December 1st, got as far as the front door and came back upstairs to change into shorts and a t-shirt. With the sun already making me warm, I headed over to Oregon Hill to pick up the North Bank trail to Texas Beach.
For a change, I came back not along the river but on South Lombardy Street, a stretch I'd never been on. Of note was a street where every street light had a solar collector, a pile of fragrant new wood-smelling roof trusses in front of a house being built and the elaborate Petronius Jones Park which I'd never laid eyes on.
Walking back toward J Ward, I was plotting how to best use this gorgeous day. A drive to Merroir for lunch? A book in the park? Some gardening? How to make the most of 71 degrees in December?
It didn't matter. I got home to e-mails from three editors and spent most of the afternoon addressing their needs. "Stamping on ants," as a former boss used to call it. By the time they'd been satisfied, it was time to shower and go do an interview.
But when that was finished, I was free. My first stop was 8 1/2 for dinner - roasted red peppers and Mozzarella followed by a white pizza - which I did get to eat outside to enjoy the last of today's warmth.
With serious garlic breath, I headed to Balliceaux, parking five blocks away (parking restrictions until 9) but enjoying every step of the walk to get there, even if I did pass far too many houses already decorated for Christmas. The sidewalks were alive with dog walkers and joggers sweating almost as much as I had this morning.
Inside, I joined the line to pay my five bucks (to be donated to Richmond Conexiones) to hear strangers and friends over-share at Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, with tonight's theme being "Plot Twist."
You have to understand, I go to this event because I am fascinated to hear strangers (and occasionally friends) share stories I have no business hearing. Simply put, I am nosy.
The crowd was huge although I saw very few people I knew. Okay, less socializing than usual. But as a long-time regular, I know enough to arrive before 7 so at least I'm assured of a seat. Let the first-timers sit on the floor.
And then we began with the plot twists, so many plots twists.
The first storyteller was Mack, a tattooed hairdresser whose true love was Shakespeare, sharing "I Owe You a Bullet." His saga involved taking his Dad's gun apart in 7th grade and putting it back together incorrectly.
This only became an issue after his Dad took in Steve, a recovering heroin addict, who isolated his Dad once he began dying and then stole and pawned many of his dad's possessions after the funeral, causing Mack to hate him. Back on heroin, Steve decided to end his life using the malfunctioning gun. See the plot twist there?
"The one person I'd most like to kill and I saved his life," Mack concluded. It was a fierce start to the evening.
Next came Sylvia telling "Steering Wheels and Circles" about her belligerent Dad and how he was always yelling at her, whether she was driving the boat and he was trying to water ski behind it or when he was teaching her to drive (and wasting 36 cents of rubber) and she hit pot holes.
After her Dad died and was cremated, she picked up his ashes to drive them home and had to brake suddenly, sending the box with Dad inside careening around the back seat. "He didn't say a word," she said to laughter. After that, she swerved on purpose just because she knew he couldn't yell at her anymore.
Katelyn's "How Did I Get Here?" was about her bad ass stepmom Anne whom she worshiped as a 14 year old when she saw her take a handful of pills with no water ("Why do you think men like me so much?" she asked the traumatized teen. Awkward).
She recalled how much fun she saw her Dad have with Anne, who called him the great love of her life. Ah, but Anne strayed and had an affair with Glen after he presented her with a 72-page PowerPoint presentation. End of marriage.
Then Anne got sick and sicker with ALS and died and Katelyn was asked to speak at the funeral. "Glen showed his 72 page PowerPoint and I wanted to scream at him that this was about Anne, not how big his penis was. That's what the PowerPoint was about," she shared.
Host Colin got up to introduce the next storyteller, saying drolly, "I wooed my girlfriend with a PowerPoint presentation but it was only two pages." Ba dum bum.
Shannon told "Cop Land on Repeat," about getting the call that his dad was dead while he'd been watching Cop Land on the IFC channel. FedEx delivered the ashes which Shannon managed to spill on the kitchen counter, a fact he wasn't eager to share with his roommates.
What helped him deal with the pain of losing his Dad was telling stories - at Richmond Comedy Coalition, at a pocket park -like the one he told tonight. He called 2014 the best and worst year of his life because although he'd lost a parent, he'd found beauty in life.
"It's so easy to be cynical," he said sagely. "There's no such thing as guilty pleasures, just missed opportunities and regrets."
Now there's a twist.
Austin's "The Awesome Story" happened after a night of cocaine and drinking Tuaca when he and a friend got home and found a possum in the dog's mouth. Managing to remove it, they saw it was half dead and decided to finish it off with a ceramic boot planter.
"We didn't realize it was playing possum. Apparently that's a real thing," he said to much hooting and hollering. After beating it with the sharp end of a tiki torch, he tried throwing it over the fence but twice it hit his brother's girlfriend's window.
His conclusion was, "Don't do drugs, guys."
Richard's story, "The Rose City" involved a low point in his life with an aborted move to Portland ("Before "Portlandia." It was a northwest backwater"), marrying a girl because they challenged each other to and winding up in a mental institution ("Westbrook, it's not there anymore") because he needed sleep.
Fortunately, at 47, he has since met his current wife and is not crazy. "Don't let people tell you that you can't run away from your problems. You can for a while."
During the intermission, hosts Kathleen and Colin told us that tonight was the fourth anniversary of Secretly Y'All and that in that time, they'd raised nearly $10,000 for various charities and non-profits. I like to think my regular attendance and all those $5 contributions helped that a little.
A friend came over to chat, asking why I didn't get up and share a story. "You blog every night," he reminded me. Not the same, I reminded him. "Just cover your face while you talk." Nope.
The two people sitting next to me were considering leaving during the break, but I warned them that often the best stories come from the hat when anyone can put their name in for a shot at being called. They stayed.
First up was Herschel with one of his distinctive rambling and tangent-heavy memories. This one involved running into a friend at Balliceaux ("Men come here because the women are attractive") before he was headed to an afterparty at Tavares' house.
On their way to the car, a man asked to use his phone and stole it. Over the next two days, he went through six cell phones trying to find a replacement for his stolen one. Apparently, Craig's List and soldiers shipping out the next day to Afghanistan aren't the best sources of replacement phones.
"I Will Survive" was Jessie's title and she began by telling us she was a confident woman who loves life and singing karaoke, even when sober.
Problems arose, however, when her boyfriend cheated on her and she found out from a woman at the bar he was cheating with. Sure, she threw a glass of water in his face but she also sought karaoke therapy.
At her favorite karaoke bar ("I'd built a dynasty of five years at this bar and he'd lived in this town for six moths"), she sees him come in and responds by singing "I Will Survive," pointing at him the whole while. She even sang part of it tonight.
"It was cathartic," she concluded. "He moved after that. Left the city." Damn, girl, well done.
Denise's story involved her last night at home before leaving for college, cough syrup loopiness and going dancing. Seems she ended up sleepwalking to her parents' bed, waking up with Mom and Dad beside her. "Honey, we're going to miss you, too," Mom says. She's since given up cough syrup entirely.
Somehow, and there's no good explanation for why this happens given the randomness of a drawing, the best story was saved for last. Rocky was a first timer and had assumed that the stories after intermission were somehow lesser storytellers than those in the first half. He'd already seen that that wasn't the case so he was a tad nervous.
Raised in a small (population 170 then, 140 now) town between Missouri (he pronounced it "Missoura") and Iowa where, according to him, gender roles were set in stone.
While he knew that it was traditional for 7 year old boys to get a gun for their birthday, he wanted roller skates. "I was the kid who wanted to sing the Snow White song to get birds to land on my fingers," he said sincerely. "F*ckers never did."
When a neighbor gave him a ride from school, he was asked how many quail he'd shot so far. None. "What kind of boy don't hunt?" the man had asked him. "I don't know, you tell me, " the young Rocky said, honestly curious. "I asked for roller skates."
But when his birthday rolled around, he saw a long box and hoped it was roller skates that needed to be assembled. When it was a gun, his disappointment showed and his Dad's face fell so he pretended to love it. Ricky's voice broke as he told this part of the story.
While his Dad plowed, the 7 year old pretended to hunt, telling his Dad he'd shot four birds but when asked to produce them, he couldn't and his Dad understood. "You don't want to kill anything?" he asked. No, he didn't. "What do you want?" Roller skates.
Three days later, red, white and blue roller skates arrived at the farm.
The applause was thunderous for Rocky's story. Between the telling and the tale, it had hit everyone in the room right between the eyes, which is the whole point of a Secretly Y'All evening.
Plot twists, we've all got them.
Walking to the front room to use the loo before I left, I ran into the photographer just back from the beach and enjoyed catching up with him. He wants to start a movement to add some lighter food to the Thanksgiving menu. I'd started with a big salad this year for the first time and loved the addition.
Waiting to use the facilities, a man asked if I was the end of the line and joined me. It took him no time to start quizzing me so I answered.
Do you know that the bathroom door opens in? Cause I once stood here for five minutes thinking it was occupied. I do. But I saw two women go in.
Did you see "Pulp Fiction"? I did.
Then you know what two girls do in the bathroom? I do.
Where do you live? Jackson Ward.
Where do you live? The Warsaw.
What do you do? I'm a freelance writer.
What do you do? I'm an architect.
You know, you're gorgeous. Even better, I'm fast in the bathroom.
On my way out, I stopped to say hello to tonight's DJ, the multi-talented "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" Reggie Pace, whom I've known for at least six years now. In no time at all, we got into how welcoming Richmond's music scene is, how many free shows there are and where No BS is playing New Year's Eve.
When he brought up a recent article I'd written, I explained that I try to write about people and events that I think are worth knowing, trying to stir up interest. "Tastemaker," he proclaimed. Just sharing what I enjoy. "Tastemaker," he confirmed.
When I went to say goodnight, he extended his hand, changed his mind and said he wanted a hug. First a compliment from a stranger, then a hug from a friend. I was liking the twists my plot was taking tonight.
There's no such thing as guilty pleasures, just missed opportunities and regrets. I want neither.