Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Just a June Cleaver

I probably don't come across like the apron type. Tonight I was.

Actually, the evening began, as so many good ones do, with music. In a park. Just before sunset. It featured a piano brought over from Jackson Ward.

And lots of friends. Mr. Mount Vernon, in town to do radio, immediately calls my name. The resident ballet expert, worn out. The harmonium queen, sharing how she'd finagled permission to sing in a VMFA Hindu gallery. Senor Songwriting, watching intently. The dance party king was only spotted from a distance, constantly busy taking photographs with his camera.

The piano was delivered to the enclosed grassy park and Chris Dowhan, in a seasonal blue plaid shirt, was introduced. As he began playing, the birds in the trees around us took up a cheeping chorus. "That song was by Josh Ritter. Anyone know who he is? It's called 'Another New World."

From there on, it was all original material and eventually crickets replace birds as the accompanists. He told us that a friend was supposed to play with him but he'd dropped out at the last minute. "So here we are."

Even after admitting he was getting cold, he played one last piece before the crowd of 3 or 4 dozen broke up, wandering off into the fall night. These shows always end just after nightfall; it's planned that way.

Which conveniently allowed time for me to join friends for dinner.

I'd been invited for fried chicken night and, despite having had fried chicken 48 hours ago, was looking forward to more. My host had begun buttermilk- brining the chicken last night in anticipation of our dinner party, having chosen the recipe because it appeared in both Martha Stewart and the Times-Dispatch, which, I might point out, could almost be considered an axis of evil.

Having had cooking dinner parties with these two before, I know what my role is. I corral the troops, assign jobs and coordinate to make sure everything is coming along simultaneously. It's not tough because I was born to boss.

In no time, I'm handed a glass of Cote des Roses and pointed in the direction of the recipe clipping attached to a standing book. Simple enough, but I am not dressed for frying chicken, even if my dress is a $3 thrift store find.

When I grab a dish towel (we grew up calling them "tea towels") to tuck into the shoulders of my dress to protect it, I wish for an apron. Voila! The host is soon tying one around my waist and not just a yellow, red and black beauty, but an apron made from a Siegel's Ham that came out of the trunk of a car.*

*He recalls his family driving to meet a man on Christmas Day and the man taking a Siegel's ham out of the trunk to give to his Dad. "My mother used every scrap of that ham and bone," he brags, 50 years later. "And she made an apron out of the bag!"

It may as well be the Eisenhower years again, with this perky little apron tied in a bow over my polka dot dress. Mamie would be proud.

I'm ready to work.

Coating is combined, chicken parts are dredged and oil is heated. I'm reminded of the years my Richmond grandmother lived with us and our frequent Sunday dinners of fried chicken. She would wait 'till everyone had had breakfast and then begin the lengthy process of frying enough chicken for nine people.

That was me tonight, without the weekly practice. But it's not that different from riding a bike once you get back in the rhythm of it. Or - dare I say it? - maybe the right apron provides the juju.

While the host begins the frying, he is soon over it, handing off utensils and placing me in full command.

You can be sure many jokes were cracked about the last time I fried chicken (don't have to), along with a desire to photograph the spectacle (didn't happen). But the chicken got fried.

The music was every bit as good as the meal because I discovered Bob Moses, described by my host as sounding like "Talk Talk meets Bryan Ferry" and instantly fell in love with the sound. Smoky vocals, lots of guitars and a thumping dance beat bore his assessment out nicely.

After it ended the first time, I made him play the album again. Full of influences that I listened to the first time around and neatly re-packaged in 2015 by young musicians, it's everything I like about new music. And fabulous dinner music.

We gorged on fried chicken, Mrs. Marshall's potato salad (they're both native Richmonders), rolls and an endless salad bowl of spring greens, an obscene amount of red onions, apples, craisins, spiced nuts and Feta, patting ourselves on the back for different reasons.

Post savory course, we drift apart. While two of us are drooling over an oozing chocolate cake, we call to the third, asking what he's doing while we do dessert. From the other room, we hear a timid, "I'm not sure," sending us into a laugh attack while not letting up on the chocolate for a moment.

Reuniting to listen to records, I got a lecture on why Daniel Craig makes such a fine Bond (they've already got a date for opening day). I was introduced to Joe Williams' album "A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry" from 1958, finding that his voice reminds me of Johnny Hartman's.

From 1972, he played the Incredible String Band ("They exploded after Woodstock," he tells me, ever the rock historian) and hear the roots of chamber folk. I crack up when I hear that the singers' names are Rose and Licorice. I'm sorry, these names are too groovy for words circa 1972.

Because my host has recently done a thorough alphabetizing of his collection, he's stumbled on some gems he's not played in decades.

One is "Roots of British Rock" from 1975 featuring an assortment of bands doing their damnedest to sound American. It's almost eerie how un-British they sound. A song called "Apache" sounds about like what you'd expect a cliched interpretation of an Indian name to sound like, but when an American band covered it, they added the sound of rifle shots and it was a big hit.

How like us to add violence and sensationalize an otherwise corny song.

Even better is "In the Beginning," a compilation of big-name artists - Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstsadt, Billy Joel, Steve Miller, David Bowie - in unknown bands before they were big. It was incredibly cool hearing these people long before they made it and had a definable sound.

It's like seeing a home movie of a friend as a child when you've only known them as an adult. Ohhhh, so that's where you came from. You hear the seeds of their sound but also so much unsure youth as they try to figure out who they are and what their sound is.

The musical one refers to the other two of us as tone deaf (which is likely true) and likes to show off his superior music knowledge whenever possible. Tonight it's on this album because it features Brinsley Schwarz, an English guitarist who got famous playing with Graham Parker (whose music I do know fairly well).

He tells us he can't play certain songs because (and here it gets loud), "You can't handle Brinsley Schwarz!" like he's Jack Nicholson. As it turns out, we can.

If I can handle frying chicken in an apron to an electronic pop soundtrack, I can pretty much handle anything. Give me a crack at a Siegel's ham from a trunk and just watch me go.


  1. Well since you're talking about "Food"....[when aren't you?]... your review of Divine was on the mark. I've been an on & off guest there since it opened....two years ago?? is a bright spot within a harsh landscape.


  2. Thanks, cw! I was delighted with how good the food was because I'd never even heard of it.

    I've been wondering where you were...seems like ages since you commented. Thought my piece on Playboy 1980 might have elicited some response but you've been so quiet lately. Nice to hear from you!

  3. Been down by the water a lot K. ...the seasons been rough on the bay & I 've had to check on my berth more than usual. ..however not ignoring you....seen your pieces on Vietnam/photos, Allende --[guess you might have been juz a little younger when that was goin' down]...Prince of Tides reference....(actually liked it back then...not now). Still no turntable? figures... an 'Images of Prostitution" .... what a grand show that could be .. ala nan would pack 'un in but you're right...never going to happen... so see I've been around...followin' U... how's your ego?



  4. I didn't know you had the bay connection, cw. All these years of back and forth and there's till much I don't know about you. Do tell!
    Never fear, the last thing you need to worry about is my ego.

  5. ...I have a sloop, diesel/sail.