Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Psychedelic Pineapple Collective

My evening took me down a gravel and grass path to the '70s.

Technically speaking, it was a friend's birthday celebration but it was also a chance to show off their recently purchased Southside house and property. All I'd been told was that it was across from a park and needed a lot of work.

Finding it was the first challenge because while I saw 2716 and 2720, I saw nothing in between. Except above mentioned path. To quote Talking Heads, this must be the place.

Wrangling armfuls of stuff - spinach avocado dip, a bag of "really seedy" (actually the name) crackers, a blue hydrangea for the birthday girl's new garden, a jean jacket for once the sun went down - I joined two friends in taking the path to the party.

Passing a large camper (sold but not yet picked up), we soon came to the ramshackle house (originally 1780, addition 1800). This house pre-dates everything around it, having been built when Manchester was a separate city and the grid had not yet been extended that far. Old as dirt.

Nearby was a circle of seats and cushions around a fire pit, while behind that was the sweetest little camper painted dusty blue (matching the color on my host's knuckles) and their current living quarters.

Asked if I wanted a tour, I signed on to hear about their plans to grow indigenous perennials and fruit trees on the front acreage. On the back 40, they plan to convert the former shed to a tiny house they'll live in and the carport will become a studio and place for gardening classes.

As for the aging house, after renovations their intention is to rent out the two upstairs bedrooms to like-minded souls and use the large room downstairs as a community space. A summer kitchen using a gray water system will be built outdoors.

My only question was where will the outdoor shower be?

So, yes, it'll be an earth-friendly farming collective in the city. I felt like I was right back in the '70s, loving everything about the whole, groovy plan.

There were only about eight people at the party when I arrived, but already conversation was getting real. The mother of a toddler was explaining to another woman the miracle of childbirth, complete with open knees, saying giving birth was basically the same as sex, only better. "It's the ultimate sex."

Immediately, the birthday girl challenged her on how she knew how good someone's sex was and that maybe childbirth isn't better than some people's "getting busy" mode. I was in her camp.

People kept arriving with contributions for the vegetarian food table, soon groaning under an assortment of salads, bean dips and salsas, cheeses, fruits and casseroles. The unlikely crowd favorite turned out to have come from a funeral.

Well, if there's going to be a wake and folks are going to bring food, you may as well pick up fresh ideas for group meals.

This one was Paula Deen's pineapple casserole and as disgusting as that sounds, I have to say it was quite tasty, no doubt due to the abundance of cheddar, Ritz cracker crumbs and buttah, as Paula would say.

Rock solid southern funeral eating at its best.

A table held libations, a cassette deck player and a box of cassettes (Beatles, Phil Collins, a mix tape, natch) which were played throughout the night, although at times it was turned down to accommodate nearby conversations.

Toting buckets, flats of squash seedlings and pies from WPA, a girl showed up with party favors: bunches of carrots and bags of spinach from Tricycle Gardens where she works. Adult party favors, so much better than kazoos and bubble gum.

More than once, I was asked how I'd met the birthday girl and for the life of me, I couldn't recall. Probably a show, but I really wasn't sure. Midway through the night, it hit me.

It was her silent film-loving boyfriend I'd first met back in 2007 at one of his Silent Music Revival events. He was the reason I'd gotten into silent films. That was it.

I met a yoga teacher and another woman who'd done her yoga training in Colorado, only to feel like it didn't translate once she got back to Virginia. A passionate 5th grade teacher lamented the frustrations of having to teach to standardized tests.

Upon learning that my parents lived on the northern neck, a favorite couple told me about a friend they'd known who'd also lived there. No longer, because he committed suicide (or his wife killed him, if you believe the scuttlebutt).

Seems that he was loaded. He'd ended up down there because he'd run his boat into a mud flat on the Carrotoman river and his solution was to buy all the land around the mud. He wanted a circus, so he created and paid for an annual I Love America Festival, complete with elephants.

Because we all want to celebrate how much we love our country with America's indigenous species, the elephant. Hilarious!

Talking about the annual James River Batteau Festival, one long-time participant shared that while she wears a long skirt on the boat, her costume is hardly period correct.

"There's a guy on another batteau who dresses to the period in Revolutionary War clothing down to the details. He looked at me and said I was a "far-be," as in, "far be it from historically accurate." Not that she cares when she and her fellow boat mates are wrangling a shallow, flat-bottomed boat down the James River for a week.

I got a recommendation for a new Philly band, Foxhound, with ties to another musician I've seen several times, Chris Kasper. Described as psychedelic Appalachian folk music, I was assured I'd like it a lot. Now I'll need to hear it and find out.

Once the sun set, a fire was lit as people continued to arrive, take the tour and chat with each other. What was so interesting was how far away from the city it all felt, surrounded as we were by land and greenery (lots and lots of mulberry trees). Yet, at the end of the path and across the street, a night baseball game was happening on a lit field with fans shouting their team support.

You just wouldn't know it from where we stood.

The birthday girl told me some great stories she'd been told by the owner of the house, who'd bought it back in the rough and tumble '80s when Richmond was a very different city.

To discourage crackheads from squatting on his property, he'd gone out and shot five bucks, decapitated them and placed the five heads on stakes around the property to ward off unwelcome visitors. I can't imagine they smelled too good come summer.

She said when they'd first asked to look at the house before they bought it, the owner had admitted he'd lost the house keys while using a scythe (!) to trim the grass in the yard. Undaunted, they'd propped a ladder against the rickety old wooden porch and climbed through an upstairs window to gain access to look at the house ("I can't believe we did that!").

The funniest part of that story is that when they returned after buying it, they found that a homeless man had picked the lock and gained entry, although not yet moved in. Basically, he'd saved them a locksmith's fee.

"I shouldn't tell you this," she went on, looking around, "But a friend suggested we christen the camper the "stabbin' cabin." When her partner was informed of this, he cringed, saying that when he gets lucky, he never thinks of it as stabbing. Good man.

Besides, stabbin' cabin doesn't flow with the feel-good vibe of their sprawling compound.

Unable to resist, I told a similarly-aged friend that everything from stepping into the camper to the sense of community and shared goals felt like deja vu. She nodded. "It's just how we lived back then."

Everyone who heard the master plan for the property was impressed, many complimenting it as the wave of the future, energy efficient and green in most every possible way. The whole idea of a collective suggests a group of like-minded people doing their part to be part of the solution, not the problem.

I think we called it a commune back in the '70s and there was no craft beer or pineapple casserole. But otherwise, take me home, country roads.

And don't come a-knockin' if the van is a-rockin'.

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