Sunday, August 30, 2015

Right with the World

To paraphrase Frank Kennedy to Scarlett O'Hara, "Oh, you act on me just like a tonic, Miss Pru!" Or maybe that was the Barbados rum.

It had been ages since Pru and I had had a girls' night out, so we got gussied up Saturday night style and did a seven-hour date to reinstate our chops and see what we could get into.

Without even speaking of it, we both showed up locked and loaded and before the night was over, she was being hit on by a 25-year old. Good times.

First up was my house for Pinotage and catching up. When a friend tells you she's going to spend the day puttering, inquiring minds want to know what's involved. I may not putter the way she putters. Let's just say I have a new appreciation for Zulilly and being thought of in crucial moments.

Once the sun had set, we decided on Amour's bar, beginning the next portion of our Saturday night with Mauresques, the owner's favorite summertime drink when in southern France. Pastis and almond syrup made for a refreshing and eminently quaffable libation that could easily spell trouble over the course of a long, hot afternoon.

Fortunately, we had only the night to deal with.

Dinner began with Macon-Villages and a stunning vichyssoise that knocked Pru's Uncle Elmer's out of the running. "It's better he's dead so I don't have to tell Elmer I found better vichyssoise than his," Pru observed. Better for whom? The chilled soup was exquisite.

Pru and I parted ways next because she's not the sweetbreads fan I am - despite an appreciation for the Madeira cream sauce they came in - so I ate my glands while she had escargots, sopping up every last drop of garlicky butter with the accompanying bread.

We used the time to make plans because her beach house rental is fast approaching and we want to ensure that we have the most fun during the time that I'm there, her other guests be damned (or left at the house while we go play). If ever two women could find some trouble at the beach, we'd like to think it'll be us.

Kir Royals and dessert followed. The selection of sorbets included raspberry (with chocolate sea salt caramel creme brulee), melon Pastis, the owner's first attempt at coconut milk (so delicious even non-coconut lover Pru was smacking her lips over it) and the queen of the evening's sorbets, lychee rose petal, which tasted like lychee on the tongue but after swallowing rewarded us with a mouth full of heavenly rosiness. Just gorgeous.

To finish off the night, we had Plantation Rum Barbados, the kind of sipper that tastes like Barbados - a place I had a blast in - on a warm, breezy night, but by the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean.

We'd barely begun sipping when a favorite Carytown chef stopped by to join the party and before long, another chef, his fiancee (Pru and I were invited to their destination wedding in the Yucatan next Spring) and a friend named Karen. All of a sudden, we had a party.

Before long, we were planning a party ourselves (my vote was for a Bollywood dance party) and one of the chefs said all he needed was a pig's head to make the ultimate party foods. This will be a party I could really do some damage at.

By the time we left hours later, Pru was insisting on returning to my pad for mroe wine and conversation and what single, middle-aged woman doesn't want to discuss what she's learned in life and what she still wants in life with a good friend until 2 a.m.?

Especially a friend who tells you she's never met a man who satisfies as many of her needs as I do. Aw, go on.

Honestly, I only threw her out because I knew I had to get up early this morning. I woke up to a message from her: "I swear I had no idea it was that late. Came home, ate some leftover spaghetti. It was fun. You're too funny and wonderful as always. All is right with the world."

Fiddle-dee-dee. That's how you should feel after a good tonic works its magic on you.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Explain It All with a SIgh

Just today, I was wished all the patience and strength I need to see me through. Through what?

I was so excited and not because it was Sister #5's birthday. Sister #6 was combining a visit to see Dad at the hospital with an overnight visit with me and no sister is as well suited to having fun with me as she is.

Plans change when Dad is unexpectedly released from the hospital and she has to fetch him and return the parents to the northern neck.

Oh, the fun we could have had.

For the second time this month, my gas service was cut off. It's been one long saga after another with the department of public utilities and me trying to figure out who thinks they live in apartment 2 (the answer should be me for six years plus now) and keeps terminating service. Once again, I can cook. Once again, I don't trust it to last.

Good thing I don't need my stove very often.

I've been looking at looming deadlines all week, which is just part of my life. The pain in the ass part is that one of the stories requires me to contact and deal with multiple "modern busy" women. Just to be clear, these are like the women I read about in magazine articles and book reviews, women with demanding jobs, expensive haircuts and a dedication to having it all.

Good luck with all that, ladies.

But despite disappointments, DPU runaround and high-maintenance women, I had plans tonight to go to Hardywood to see "The Astrologer," a psychedelic film made in 1975 by an astrologer about an astrologer who decides to make a movie about his life. How meta is that?

The hook? The film had been lost for 40 years so practically no one has seen it.

The walk over to Hardywood was notable for its contrasting celestial bodies, the enormous nearly full moon on one side of the street and the setting sun on the other. A gorgeous walk on a night that most definitely had the dry air and crisp temperatures of autumn to it.

I want to cry thinking summer is coming to an end.

DJ Sister Goldenhaze took the 1975 cake with enormous bell bottoms and a shirt tied at the waist. It had been so long since I'd seen her that I hadn't known she'd cut bangs again, leading to an entire dissertation on why some of us are bang devotees.

"If you've got bangs, you don't even have to do anything else and you've got a hairstyle," she said, echoing something I've known for decades.

With the most positive couple I know I talked about how - given Richmond's accelerated cool quotient -challenging it's become to choose between competing events on any one given night.

Like tonight (see: Daniel Bachman at Black Iris). Also, like next Sunday when the Bijou fundraiser "The Third Man" shows at the Byrd and Movie Club was showing "Beyond Valley of the Dolls" outside under the stars.

A cinephile shouldn't have to choose one or the other..

I took my case to Andrew, who organizes Movie Club, and was rewarded with him moving the date of "Dolls" so he too could catch the restored version of "The Third Man." Yep, that's me, affecting change at a brewery.

The movie was fascinating in that it's so terrible it's good kind of way. Nobody had any acting chops and there was no reason to care about a two-bit carnie who winds up being the most talented astrologer in the world. He also pronounces Libra as "lie-bra."

Judging by the audience's reactions, nobody was prepared for a movie made by someone who didn't hesitate to set an entire scene to one song. That's how you end up with a scene of a couple on a date, chewing, smiling, talking, arguing and drinking in slow motion and silent pantomime while a corny song plays over it for three agonizing minutes.

Although I did admire the slo-mo hair shaking and glass throwing.

The Moody Blues' classic "Tuesday Afternoon" was also played in its entirety over ponderously long shots in a scene of our hero on a sailboat, the pages of a calendar (three months' worth), peeling off in silent testimony to the passing of time as people tittered, laughed and looked away uncomfortably.

Okay, we get the point, their discomfort seemed to imply, as if prolonged attention was a sign of weakness or inferiority. So just watch the damn scene and stop expecting a quick cut, kids.

Later a 30-year old said that he'd assumed the director was trying to be funny and obvious with these shots. Not so, grasshopper. This was just self-indulgent '70s filmmaking.

Favorite line of dialog: "You're not an astrologer, you're an asshole." Best of all, it was said in the most heartfelt way. No irony. Just pure '70s sincerity (insert smiley face).

I left after the movie, missing hearing the band Manzara play, to hoof it back to J-Ward and catch Richmond Comedy Coalition's monthly "Richmond Famous" show with Ed Edge as the locally famous muse for the improv troupe.

I knew of Ed from Cafe Verde, his vegan taco joint, but also from Secretly Y'All when he'd shared a monumental secret, possibly the biggest secret someone could have. So, sure, I was curious to hear more stories from Ed.

A few minutes late, I walked in as Ed, a paramedic and organizer of several local non-profits, was in the middle of a tale about being kicked out of Canada. The story involved a black man (Ed) with his arms full of something - "Whether cash or cashews, they didn't know" - running from a convenience store.

That was all RCC needed to riff on two cops interrogating a woman for eating nuts ("Seventy percent of the population here is allergic to nuts!") and another about a guy who had caffeine blackouts that turned him into a southern gentleman ("I have great respect for the Negro") with a mustache, played by another comedian's finger as he followed along behind him.

Off to the side of the stage, Ed was cracking up louder than anyone.

In one piece, kids kept showing up in the principal's office because they were inappropriately dressed - a bikini, an evening gown, a cock sock and pasties made from pages of the bible.

"This one is Genesis, this is Revelations," he said twirling his fingers in front of his breasts.

Ed's next stories involved always being asked the worst thing he's ever seen as a paramedic. For him, that was childbirth. Once he fainted and once he projectile vomited. "This slimy Smurf thing - a baby- comes out," he said to hysterics.

Naturally, the troupe followed that with a pissing contest of each person's worst thing ever, namely things such as hangnails, blisters and ripping a Band-aid off. Next came two smurfs commiserating with a house owner about gentrification and bad city schools

For his last shared bit, Ed talked about the years when he was so busy with two jobs and multiple non-profits that he moved into a warehouse space to sleep and save money, effectively killing his dating life.

Naturally, he reverted to online dating, resulting in 47 first dates in 2011 and three second dates. Because he's vegan and a creature of habit, he took all his lunch dates to Harrison Street Cafe and all his dinner dates to Ipanema.

Humor followed with bits about trying to pretend it was a guy's first time at Ipanema on a date (everyone recognizes him and says hello) and a butler named Jeffrey who serenades him with "Major Tom" ("He may have a good voice but he isn't very good at reading social cues").

No one laughed harder than Ed, although the guy with the horse laugh behind me and I came close.

Patience and strength are overrated. Maybe all I needed to get through this day was a '70s flashback and some good laughs.

Cue August 28 page being ripped from calendar, my bangs fluttering in slow motion in the breeze...

Friday, August 28, 2015

There Were Never Such Devoted

Most common response: How did you not kill each other?

Today was a testament to the peccadilloes of family. You see, my Dad is in a local hospital after surgery for kidney stones. As the sole Richmond daughter of six, I am the closest to the hospital and, by default, the hostess to all who come down to see Dad.

Colorful Sister #3 was the first. Well, actually, Sister #5 was the first because she was there with my mother at the hospital room when I arrived to take up my post. But she soon headed north for Maryland, leaving me and Sister #3 to carry on caring for Dad.

Perhaps our most compelling conversation was about whether Mom or Dad had chosen each of our names and middle names. Mom settled the score, making it clear which names had been chosen by whom and why. These were stories I'd never heard shared.

Naturally, I had to invite Sister #3 out for a bite and a drink since she'd never come to visit me in Richmond.

While she tied up loose ends at the hospital, I visited the Valentine Museum for the opening of "In Gear: Richmond Cycles," a look at how our fair city took to and advanced the cause of the bike. Because it was the Valentine, there was a fabulous slide show of (far superior) old black and white photographs and (interesting but lesser) color cigarette cards documenting the development of bicycle culture here.

Every aspect - Christmas morning with tricycles, courting couples, families on bikes all wearing black socks - was covered along with actual bikes owned by Richmonders. Video showed extended shots of local cyclists. In the crowd I saw bike kids, rich people and artsy types, all curious about Richmond's cycling past.

Back at my house, I met Sister #3 for a nickel tour ("It's not at all tiny like Mom said") before heading the seven blocks to Magpie. The Rolling Stones were blaring and we waited patiently for two bar stools to empty out before taking our rightful places at the bar.

Having given herself over to Fall, she went with red wine, but I held out for La Bella Fernando Tempranillo Blanco (because why not a white skinned mutation of the dark-skinned Tempranillo?) and a plate of roasted goat shoulder, Romesco, petite salad, orange vinaigrette and Manchego. Beer bread and honey butter filled in the cracks. Our server shared that the very same goat had been the taco filling at lunch of late, a Magpie meal I've yet to experience.

Because it was her first time there, I strongly suggested my sister begin with Chef Owen's pork and Manchego sausage, an obscenely large portion of sausage and onion rings. "Go on, I know you like a good onion ring," my sister cajoled, so I did.

Both servers, upon hearing of our status as one of six daughters inquired, "How have you not killed each other?" It's a question I ask only when I spend any time with one of them.

Our conversation about family travails caught the attention of the bartender, who was a middle child (like Sister #3) with a younger sister. "I could tell you were sisters by the way you talked to each other and the way you talked about your Mom and Dad," she explained. With exasperation, right?

The funny part is that Sister #3 and I are far from the closest but yet share certain very particular traits. Both city people, we are outspoken and at ease anywhere. Not so others (sisters #2, 4 and often 5). If anyone's going to dance on tables, it's the two of us.

In fact, years ago, Dad shared with me that the sisters could be split into two groups. Half were the result of a romantic meal with Mom and tender lovemaking afterwards.

The other three (and I fall into this group, as you may be able to tell) were conceived after wild nights out with guy friends where he came home and had a ripping good time with Mom. As you might imagine, the resulting spawn are wildly different.

Celebrating the sisterhood, we enjoyed corn bread cake with Nutella ice cream and blackberry gastrique to end the meal, discussing how Bessie, our Richmond grandmother, had been an impressive role model when it came to fried chicken, biscuits, string beans, walking, abstinence and life advice.

Perhaps because we'd been so flamboyantly different than her and her Cumberland County ways, we'd appreciated her wisdom. Sister #3 even selected her as the person she'd most like to talk to from the grave, should she be given the chance to glean from a past family member. I didn't go that far.

What finally ended our evening of reminiscing and one upmanship was that my sister needed to get back to her hotel. Seems her husband had discovered online that she'd booked herself into a local pet-friendly hotel and like any good spouse had decided to gather up the dog, drive down from Baltimore and come spend the night with her in Richmond.

I'd be barfing at the corniness of it if it wasn't quite romantic. He's off tomorrow, she's in a nearby city (relatively speaking - it's a 2 1/2 hour drive), so why shouldn't he come help keep her king size bed warm?

I may never have hitchhiked barefoot to Ocean City like Sister #3 did, but we're blood brothers sisters when it comes to some things. Did she get loopy and over-share tonight with people I know and she doesn't? Of course.

Isn't that what middle sisters do?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dance the Night Away

On this, National Women's Equality Day, it's fitting I read that the New York Times describes  Madonna as a crusader, willing or not, against ageism.

Because after all, how can we have true equality if we consider one person less (take your pick) attractive, interesting, viable, capable, sexual or otherwise simply because of the year they were born?

I'm not a pop star, so I've never had the need to continuously shock and titillate, but I can completely relate to her mission to kick down the doors so younger women won't have to deal with ageism. Unlike Madonna, I'm not going to lift my skirt to show my fishnet-covered bottom, but I'm part of the sisterhood that believes that if I wanted to, I have as much right as a 22-year old to do so.

Madge and I, we're in the trenches together.

Except that she performs for thousands and I walk around Jackson Ward, taking advantage of what's happening in the 'hood. Tonight's later start could be attributed to all kinds of things - my father's first kidney stone, two cats taking up residence on the roof outside my balcony, and last minute news that I've got a guest coming for the weekend - but by the time I did get away, age was not a factor in my plans.

Gallery 5's chalkboard announced that it was game night -"Chess or whatever else you are into!" (doubtful) - as I strolled over to Saison Market for some cultural observation and a bite before the show. Minimal reward on the former: one mute couple, both on their laptops, and three people playing cards with the two guys still teaching the girl the game loudly.

And why weren't they at game night a block away?

I took the little two-top in the center near the (hipster alert) vermouth selection, taking in the reliably interesting soundtrack as I enjoyed a $5 glass of wine (Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cuvee) with brightly-colored and artistically-plated lamb belly with cantaloupe soubise, curried granola, fennel and shallot.

And by belly, I mean thick strips of lamb bacon to die for. When the server tried to take my plate when I still had one perfect bite left - belly, shallot, cantaloupe, granola - I shook my head like I meant it. "Oops, sorry, I should've realized," he apologized, smiling, hands over his head as if he were being held up.

From there, I walked down to Black Iris because if Olivia Neutron-John was giving an unbridled performance three blocks from home, I needed to be part of that.

I walked in as opener Louie, Louie from Philly finished their soundcheck and announced that the show was beginning. With age comes wisdom to know just when to show up to catch the opening band.

Good for me 'cause their all-girl reverb-heavy garage/psych/pop was right up my alley, catchy, guitar-driven and with that distinctive "music from a cave" sound I adore. Already happy shaking my non fishnet-covered booty to their energetic sound, my night was made with the one-two (covers) punch of the BeeGees' "To Love Somebody" followed by an extended take on Tommy James' classic,"Crimson and Clover," effects-laden guitar making for orgasmic ears.

It was during that medley that the dance party king spotted me and came over to share his enthusiasm for the band. "If Quentin Tarantino had a band, this is what it would sound like," he hypothesized. Yes, and there would be dancing, so we'd both be happy.

I was intrigued to hear about a recent dinner party he'd attended, its purpose being to bring people together to have more than quick, superficial conversations, the kind so common in bars and at shows. I lament that occasions must be created specifically to ensure such discourse, but I'd rather that than to think it didn't happen at all.

Explaining to the dance enthusiast that there was a time when conversations easily went deeper because no one was lost in their device, I saw a look of regret cross his face. Clearly that's a world he barely recalls.

What we share in common, though, is a love of availing ourselves of whatever the city has going on. Not for us the lifestyles of the cocooning couples and buried-up-to-their-eyeballs parents who rarely go out. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"This is what I want to be doing on a Wednesday night," he said decidedly. "I don't want to be at home watching TV." Preach it, brother.

In no time, Anna Nasty of Chain and the Gang took the stage to deliver what should rightfully be called performance art. All synths, drumbeats and flying black hair, she crafted a sound that was secondary to the visuals and lighting effects.

On some songs, she whipped her hair side to side in one head-jerking motion while on others she did a proper up and down head-banging. Would her set have been as compelling without the hair? Chances are, no.

A gallerist friend walked by pushing ear plugs in his ears and asking if I needed some, not realizing it wasn't my first rodeo. I don't leave the house without a pair in my bag...just in case. Rarely used, but there if absolutely necessary, like Maxwell Smart's shoe phone (aged cultural reference #1).

It took me only a few minutes of the fast and furious set before I pulled out my plugs in a half-hearted attempt to be kinder to my ears.

Tonight's room was testament to the return of VCU students, with lots of fresh-scrubbed (and artfully dirty) faces in the crowd. That said, there was a small but confused subset of people who left after the first 15 minutes, not willing to take a chance on something they hadn't expected.

What they were missing was that it was loud, almost hypnotic plus she was selling it 100% so where else would you want to be on this Wednesday night?

Then came aged cultural reference #2. "If the computer Hal from "2001" had a band, this would be it," my friend concluded and I could laugh, but not disagree.

Madonna's gone on record - Instagram, even - as saying age won't slow her down.

Shut up, jealous bitches! I hope you are as fun-loving and adventurous as me when you're my age!!!! Hahahhaha let's see!"

I don't even need to see. Time makes you bolder, even children get older and I'm getting older, too. Let's see how you feel about age when it's you. Looking forward to hearing, "Oops, sorry, should've realized."

Raising hands over head not required.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

You Ought To Know

We were yin and yang, this stranger and I, reacting completely differently to the same thing.

Both of us had gone to the Criterion to see "The End of the Tour," a film best described as a talk-fest, nearly two hours of two men talking to each other - in diners, in cars, in Mall of America, at home.

I was riveted; this was the story of writer David Foster Wallace and his genius 1996 work "Infinite Jest," a book I knew of but had never read. The movie revolves around Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky's five day interview with Wallace, a far-ranging conversation about loneliness, fame, writing and aspirations.

Meanwhile the woman one seat away from me was clearly bored out of her mind and miserable watching the film. She draped her legs over her boyfriend's legs, leaned her head on his shoulder while closing her eyes and laid her head in his lap, anything to avoid watching the screen. She sighed loudly and often.

I didn't hear her ask if they could leave, but I'd be willing to bet that she did during one of the many times she whispered in his ear and he patted her thigh to calm her down like she was a restless toddler.

How could she not have been fascinated by this brilliant writer who also happened to be a TV addict (and back in the '90s, too, before the birth of binge-watching), recovering alcoholic, devoted Dad to his goofy rescue dogs and a guy who went to dances at the local Baptist church where he did the "monkey" and the "swim"?

I know I was. This was a man who kept a poster of Alanis Morisette on his wall because she had "real woman" hotness, believable hotness.

As someone who's been in the interviewing game for decades, I could relate to the scenes where DFW began asking Lipsky questions, essentially turning the tables on the interviewer, who was surprised to find himself in the conversational cross hairs.

I can tell you from experience that when that happens, the interviewer is never sure if the subject is honestly interested enough to ask (in which case I answer) or merely trying to deflect questions aimed at them (in which case I reroute the direction of the conversation).

As it happened, my day prior to the movie had been spent doing two interviews, the more enjoyable of which was at a winery having a fabulous lunch - salad of wheatberries, arugula, strawberries and goat cheese with one petite yet perfect crabcake atop it - with the winemaker outside on a patio under a wisteria-covered pergola.

He was a good subject: passionate about what he does, full of knowledge yet eager to learn more. When I asked why he'd left Napa Valley for Virginia, one of his reasons was to cut his travel time to Europe in half.

That's a man who has his priorities in order.

But where he won my utter devotion was when he told me that if he goes in to a Virginia restaurant that has no Virginia wines on the list, he gets up and leaves. This subject alone sent us on a protracted tangent that only someone who feels the same way can possibly understand.

Make no mistake, I love a good conversational tangent. I seek out companions who can follow mine, usually finding myself disappointed when they can't. If you can't take the occasional detour off the beaten path and wind your way back around, you're not capable of the kind of talk-fest I live for.

All comers welcome.

This Woman is His Destiny

It's not all boat rides and deck sitting, you know.

I look forward to being invited down to my friends' yellow and blue river cottage and yes, I probably am the first one to raise my hand when the captain of the boat asks who wants to go for a boat ride. I can't wait to use the outdoor shower while I'm there and it's my considered opinion that the screened-in porch on their guest cottage is a practically perfect place to sleep, even in a thunderstorm.

But honestly, the most appealing reason to spend the Sunday and Monday just past (or any days) at their cottage is to watch the relationship of two people who are crazy in love. Two people who had a relationship, broke up (a period they refer to as the "Terrible Awful") and got back together five years ago for an even better Version 2.0.

I tell you, it's positively inspiring.

Every time he goes to open a big beer, he always asks of her, "You want half?" Because he leaves for work before she gets up, he makes her breakfast and leaves it for her. He's especially quick with a compliment, whether about how she's dressed, the meal she's prepared or a body part.

No lie, he goes around telling people, "Yea, I'm married to that!" in a voice bursting with pride.

Besides my Dad, I've never seen a man so forthcoming about how he adores his woman. The best part is, she confided while we were stretched out on lounge chairs on the deck that he's every bit as attentive and sweet when no one else is around but them.

She never takes advantage of her role as the adored. Planning, she always considers his preferences first. Accepting his kind gestures, she always thanks him, often complimenting his behavior to others. She flirts shamelessly with him and he eats it up...still.

So when I spend a couple of days with them like I just did, I get a first hand, up close and personal look at how a happy couple not only enjoys a good relationship, but works at it. Little gestures, sweet words, random kissing.

Their interactions remind me that successful relationships are only as satisfying as what both people put into them. With them, it's like watching silly love songs play out against their spacious deck and the sparkling blue waters of the Carotoman River.

He: What are you doing?
She: Taking barbecue out of the friggin' freezer.
He: Shut up and dance with me.

Is it any wonder they were bound to get together? Yea, I'm envious of that.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ordinary World

Things I didn't expect to happen today:

Finding out how someone arrived at my blog. True story: someone in Midlothian Googled "how to find local sex buddies in zip code 23112." My blog was the 7th listing on the Google results page, apparently because I'd recently used the words find, sex, buddy and local in a post, although not in the same sentence. I imagine he was rather disappointed once he got to my page. And, yes, I'm presuming it was a "he."

Indulgent reading. By 3:30, I'd fine-tuned all four assignments due tomorrow, the same lot that's had me so busy the past week or so. It was a gorgeous afternoon, not humid and comfortably warm. Goof-off time.

Eager to finish John Taylor's "The Pleasure Groove," a memoir of life in Duran Duran (sure, I was around in the '80s but I certainly wasn't paying attention to DD), my book and I settled down in my green Adirondack chair on the balcony, read for two and a half hours straight and finished the sordid saga cultural memoir in the sunshine. It was glorious.

Being asked out in a parking lot. A guy who'd made eye contact and smiled at me in the toilet paper aisle at Kroger approached me in the parking lot afterwards to inquire if I was attached. When I pointed out the obvious age difference, he responded with, "Should that matter?" He said he was 31, but I probably should have asked for ID.

Using earplugs. I go to a lot of shows. A lot. In other words, I long ago destroyed my hearing. Even so, I keep a pair of earplugs in my bag at all times just in case the band is ear-bleedingly loud. I don't pull them out often.

At tonight's installment of Shannon Cleary's Commonwealth of Notions show, I went looking for them within the first two minutes of walking into Sound of Music. Noise rock duo Among the Rocks and Roots were the reason.

The photographer friend, new camera in hand, who'd met me for the show came up, pushing earplugs into his ears, "I wasn't expecting that. I'm glad I had these in the car." Be prepared, my friend, that's my motto.

Feeling like I would faint. Sound of Music was hot and not just un-air conditioned hot (I'm used to that, I live that way) but stagnant air hot. Heat that penetrates your brain and pores, making you feel woozy.

Bolting outside between sets to evening air easily 15 degrees cooler than inside was like immersion in a pool. So refreshing. An ensuing book discussion - come on, I had to talk about "Pleasure Groove" and friend is about to read musician Colin Meloy's "Wildwood Imperium" - kept us out there long enough to cool down and catch up.

Hearing blog pros and cons. A friend told me that when she reads on my blog what I write about my visits to her house, it makes her cry - in a good way. Another friend told me his secret plan to spread a rumor and convince people of an untruth for his personal amusement. I was instructed not to blog about it for fear of ruining his evil fun.

Heat trumping music. Lobo Marino's set had all the usual pleasures - tribal drumming, harmonium and jaw harp, Laney and Jameson's voices blending sublimely - that ensured that a song such as "Holy River" was  a religious experience, while the classic "Animal Hands" got a spirited revival and "Old Man Snapping Turtle" got a variation on a theme by replacing the didgeridoo that had been played on the record with Jameson making what he called "weird animal noises."

On the way out the door after their set, the doorman complimented my hair, saying it still looked great despite the sultry heat of the room. If this was intended to lure me back inside, it failed. Epically.

By this point, I was ready to throw in the towel. I wasn't the only one who stood on Broad Street talking for 20 minutes before admitting we just couldn't handle going back into the airless room, especially since another 30 or 40 people had arrived while we chatted out front.

I'm not proud of that, but there it is.

You think you know how a Saturday's going to go, but you never really do. I wasn't expecting any of that.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Theater of the Field

It feels like summer is slipping away.

I figure tonight's outdoor movie may the last of the season. After last night's 3 a.m. bedtime, I thought I'd take a quick nap before the film, only to wake up at 7:15 to fading daylight. Given the cooler temperature, I made sure to bring a sweater to the movie. Say it isn't so, summer.

I stopped by Tarrant's to-go on my way to Tredegar, in need of some fried chicken for a movie snack and wound up running into the new bride of a favorite bartender. We lamented August's rush to September and how we still want more time at the beach and river.

From last month's Starry Night Cinema Lawn Chair Series I'd learned that I didn't need to tote along my lawn chair and instead took one of the folding chairs set up in the grassy field above the iron works to enjoy my chicken dinner and the lights of downtown.

Last time, it was after 9 before it was dark enough to begin the film but not so tonight (sniff), I'm afraid. I'd barely wiped the grease off my fingers when the documentary "Evolution of a Criminal" was introduced.

I've been an avowed documentary dork for longer than I can remember, but I've never seen a documentary where the filmmaker (Darius Clark Monroe) is also the subject of the film. It can be a tad disconcerting to watch as subjects in the film answer Monroe's questions about his youthful bad behavior directly to him.

And what bad behavior! By age 16, his parents are in such dire financial straits that the teenager decides to get a couple friends to help him rob a bank to help his family's situation. Only a teenager could decide on such a foolish plan and not see the million red flags waving.

So of course they're eventually caught and Monroe is sentenced to five years in jail at age 17. It's tragic, but it's only right. The kid did rob a band, terrorizing customers with a gun and leaving with $140,000.

Interviewing his parents, grandmother, cousins, schoolmates and teachers, he asks the hard questions about who he was and if they ever expected such behavior out of him (no one had). One aunt admits that six people in their extended family have been to jail, so maybe it's in the kid's blood.

Still, it's unnerving to have a subject talk to the camera using the pronoun "you" as they share their memories with Monroe. When he talks about his time in prison, he says it's the mundane stuff he misses: washing dishes, taking out trash, smiling at his parents. It's intensely moving stuff.

But the best part of the story is that he gets his GED while in prison and when he gets out, he applies to NYU, having decided he wants to be a filmmaker and tell his story. For the record, he does not mention his prior convict status when he applies to the school.

Later he interviews some of his film professors, asking if they'd have treated him differently if they'd known. Sadly, they say the answer is probably, yes. The white, Texan district attorney who prosecuted him says she's happy he's turned his life around for now, but she won't believe it's true until he's 50 and still out of trouble. Ouch. Talk about racial profiling.

Call me gullible, but I saw a straight A kid who took honors classes and was psychologically affected by his family's poverty, making a stupid uninformed decision to "fix" the situation at a point in his young life when he wasn't capable of making truly thoughtful choices. After tonight, I also saw a gifted filmmaker, one I'm curious to see develop other stories beyond his own cautionary tale.

Afrikana Film Festival had chosen another outstanding offering by a black filmmaker, one I wouldn't have seen if they hadn't brought it to town.

Part of the charm of an outdoor movie is not being hemmed in by four walls while watching. Midway through tonight's film, fireworks began exploding over near Oregon Hill. A long freight train chugged along the river, its screeching competing with the movie's soundtrack. Someone sent four lit sky lanterns burning orange and sparkly soaring into the black sky.

Walking back to my car, I saw people walking along the riverfront under a clear sky and a yellow wedge of a moon. Realizing that nights this lovely are to be enjoyed while we still can, I joined them.

Gather ye summer nights while ye may. Color me wistful to see another warm season on its way out.

The Waiting Game

There are so many ways this blog post could go.

I could talk about the afternoon spent at my parents helping my Mom prepare for today's bridge luncheon using Betty Crocker's 1969 cookbook "Salads" to craft the main dish, tuna/egg/olive salad in a puff pastry bowl.

When she took me upstairs, it was to give me her mother's ring, significant because my Washington. D.C. grandma and I were very close and she knew that despite my not being a jewelry person, I would want it.

I could write about going to the new Mott Gallery in Carytown to see Frederick Chiribog's fascinating work, an exhibit of ready-mades a la Marcel Duchamp, mobiles (one strung on fishing wire so it appeared to be flying unaided across the gallery) and detailed wooden dioramas.

But the real draw was guitarist/singer Samantha Pearl sharing her fierce guitar chops and lovely voice against a colorful mural of Cubist-like figures dancing and cavorting.

I probably ought to post about the Todd Rundgren show at the National, for which I arrived on time only to learn, along with the middle-aged masses, that Todd had hit traffic on I-95, so the show wouldn't start until 9:30.

It would make for hilarious reading if I blogged about the Deadhead couple from Dinwiddie County, long-time dedicated show-goers I befriended when they were looking for somewhere to have a drink besides Coda next store, and our sojourn to Greenleaf's Pool Room where I had Sloppy Joe sliders and they had mojitos and Don Julio.

The real subject should undoubtedly be the Todd show, a flashy, LED-lit performance with Todd, a DJ and two wig and costume-changing female dancers/back-up singers. This was not my mother's Todd show (although I'd been amazed when she'd told me she knew who Todd was) of yore or even like the show I saw of his 10 years ago at the Canal Club.

Instead, the highly-energetic 67-year old sang, danced, mimed lyrics and occasionally played guitar as he tore through a two-hour set of his most EDM-sounding material, adding in other material here and there and giving it the dance beat treatment.

There may have been disappointed Todd fans out there who were secretly wishing for a full band and note-perfect renditions of the hits, but I wasn't one of them. I was more than happy to dance in place - my usual: in front of the sound booth - to just about every song.

For one such as me, who's been a fan of Todd's practically since I bought my first records (45s, natch), the pure pleasure principle was just hearing that voice and how amazingly good it still sounds, even coming from a balding man in an overly tight sleeveless t-shirt prancing across the stage.

For sheer humor, I could write about going to Saison after the show, where I talked to a drunk man slurring his words, questioning my hair and critiquing how I wore my necklace (no, really) and watched as front and back of the house staffs from the Roosevelt and Metzger showed up for late night refreshment after closing their own kitchens.

Bathroom graffiti was outstanding: "Bring back pubes" and "If you ain't handcrafting shit in RVA, you ain't poppin'." Your pubes are your business, and I'm hand-picking words, so I hope that counts.

But, no, for the best possible story, what I should blog about is that as I was leaving the National, the guy who was holding the door open in front of me met my eyes and it may as well have been 1992 again. Standing in front of me was a featured player from my past, someone with whom I had a colorful back story and someone I hadn't seen in 20 years.

Cue "Hello, It's Me."

We met when we were both doing radio, a business I got out of in 2006 and he only escaped four years ago after years of considering himself a radio rat, to open a record store. No surprise there; the two of us had spent ridiculous amounts of time talking music and going to shows. Cue "A Long Time, A Long Way to Go."

Last night, we caught up as best we could walking down the block before he and his friend headed for their car to drive back to Tidewater. He made one last appearance as I was standing at my car. Cue "Something/Anything?"

He suggested I come down to his record store. My suggestion was that a conversation (or many) were in order. Cue "Parallel Lines." How do you run into someone you haven't seen in 20 years and just pick up the conversation?

Given the complete surprise of our meeting, it felt more natural than it had any right to be walking down Broad Street doing just that. Wow.

Cue "Can We Still Be Friends?" Hold on 1992, I'm about to find out...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Perks of Being a Walker

Muggy morning, quick walk, limited time. Lots of payoffs.

On a side street, a guy walking parallel to me smiles widely from across the street, then mimes writing on his palm. Either he wants his check or my number. I proffer a smile instead.

Next block, a guy says, "I want to walk with you but I haven't got a walk that good." Says who?

Crossing the triangle, a tall, handsome man says, "What does it take to tame a woman like you?" Before I can respond (the answer is words, both spoken and written), he tells me, "You have such confidence and swing to your walk." When I attribute both to my age, he says, "I'm just happy you stopped to talk to me. If you ever want a man to appreciate you, please look me up." A card is extended.

I go three blocks before a guy calls out, "They're going to give you a ticket for sexy in public." I say I'll take my chances.

Turning the corner, a man smiles and says, "Walky, walky, you certainly don't need to exercise, young lady."

Young?

I'm wearing my typical walking ensemble, a t-shirt (today it's "Virginia is for wine lovers") and shorts like I do every day. It's cloudy enough that I don't have my usual hat on, but nothing else is different about today except that I'm in more of a hurry so it's a shorter walk.

Almost home and a guy greets me with, "Good morning, beautiful."

My quick two-miler turned into an epic walk. Compliments can be hard to come by. A girl would have to be crazy not to appreciate that kind of random affirmation

Tame?

Digging for Depth

Would it be stating the obvious to say that the suburbs are expensive and shallow?

When I got invited across the river to Cinebistro, it was because of a special one night event: the New York Film Critic series, the hook being a post-film Q & A with members of the cast and crew. As my friend put it, "It sounds pretty cool and I could use some cool points."

Fair enough.

The featured film was mumblecore director Joe Swanberg's "Digging for Fire," the 17th film for the 34-year old director. I'd seen my first mumblecore film back in 2012 (though until tonight I'd never heard the term "slackervetes," a brilliant reference to John Cassavetes), so I knew enough to expect improvised dialog.

What I didn't know to expect was how frigging expensive a night at the palatial-looking Cinebistro was, although I got a clue when I overheard an employee tell someone on the phone that the most expensive entree was $30 and the most costly app was $26. At a movie theater.

Oh, and tickets? A mere $33 for two and that's just for the cinema part. Forget about the bistro part.

Except we didn't of course, bellying up to the bar since we'd arrived an hour and a half before showtime. It passed quickly enough with a bottle of Broadbent Vino Verde, yellowfin tuna tacos and crispy brussels sprouts and cauliflower (appealingly seasoned with the North African spice mix ras el hanout) while we talked about our recent trips north and south.

Once permitted into the theater, we found ourselves impressed with the cushy seats and nonplussed about the trays connected to them, which felt a bit like those school chairs with the desk part that swings up for taking notes.

Three different servers tried to give us the spiel about when we could order, information we'd already been given at the bar, so we knew we had 20 minutes before we were on our own. Given that the evening had already cost enough to go to Lemaire, we decided to share a dessert ($9, by the way, at a movie theater) and buttered popcorn, which came in an asymmetrical china bowl.

Who knew seeing a movie in suburbia could be so pricey?

"Digging for Fire" turned out to be a movie about the state of a millennial marriage with a three year old. Husband and wife are both feeling the pinch of not having enough time to hang with their buddies like they used to or even to have enough time for themselves personally.

And because they're millennials who feel entitled to have everything their way, they talk about how tough this is. Then they act out.

It wasn't all scenes from a marriage, though, because the story begins when the couple goes to house-sit for one of the wife's yoga students (it's California where apparently this sort of thing happens) in a grand house that only serves to make their simple little lives seem inadequate.

Husband happens to find a rusty gun and a bone buried in the yard. He wants to keep digging and explore but Wifey says no dice. Let sleeping dogs lie.

But she's feeling dissatisfied with life, so she and the toddler take off to visit her Mom (appallingly stealing cash from her Mom's wallet for a hip black leather jacket) and step-dad (the always devastatingly handsome and deep-voiced Sam Elliott, this time sans mustache, but also appealingly talking about the self versus being part of a couple) for a weekend.

There's the requisite opposite sex flirtation for both of them (her dalliance involves a guy on a motorcycle, causing my date to say, "It would be a Norton") while they're apart, followed by her going back so they can shower together, declare their love and go out to breakfast alone (Grandma still has Junior).

We weren't 15 minutes into the film when my date leaned over and observed, "I don't like a single one of these people." Even by the end of the movie, we were certain that these were entitled brats still balking at adulthood despite having procreated.

Cry me a river.

The Q & A with Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers, the lead actor, producer and cinematographer (director Swanberg had planned to attend until his wife had delivered his child that day) afterwards took place in New York City and allowed people in theaters all over the country to ask questions about the movie and its participants, resulting in a mixture of interesting and tedious.

Most fascinating to me was that Swanberg had dedicated the movie to director Paul Mazursky - known for frequently addressing marriage/relationships and their hardships in his films - who died last year.

Far from mumblecore, Mazursky made often brilliant movies with dense, literate scripts that explored the changing roles in modern relationships.

I still remember how blown away I was by his film "An Unmarried Woman," which garnered Mazursky a nomination for best picture. It wasn't just that everyone in the movie seemed so real and relatable, it was that he dug into the depths of the characters, giving us a real sense of who these people were inside.

There wasn't much inside of the people in tonight's movie.

Ditto Cinebistro. Some cool points are just too expensive.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

3 Blokes and a Bird

To dare is to do. At any rate, so says the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

I know this solely because of a promise made to James, an English stranger I met tonight at Dutch & Co., which is where I ended up for dinner. It was so civilized when I arrived, only a half dozen tables occupied, although the bar was full except for two stools. I only needed one.

It took me until after a glass of the house Rose arrived (all the way from Languedoc) and my salmon rilletes with salmon skin blinis and chive yogurt were set down in front of me to meet the adjacent Brit couple.

I'd already compared day trips with one of the servers, hearing a glowing report of Yorktown beach (although I can do without a stop at the outlets) and a so-so one of Buckroe Beach, a place she hadn't been since she was four.

Coincidentally, one of the first pictures of me after birth is my Dad holding me at Buckroe Beach, him clad in only a bathing suit, me in nothing but a pink and white checked diaper and I haven't been back, either.

Another of Dutch's lovelies and I began with summer hair challenges - we both see humidity as our enemy but for different reasons- and moved on to the need to make over our living space occasionally.

After ten years with chartreuse walls, she'd switched to a far more neutral color recently and was reveling in the change. I'd done some rearranging myself a few months ago and still delight in the new look nearly every day.

But now the dining room was filling up and my conversational partners had work to do, so I turned to the Brits, who were curious if I lived in the neighborhood. When I mentioned Jackson Ward, they admitted to no knowledge of it.

"I'm not even going to pretend like I know where that is," he told me charmingly.

Turns out they'd only been residents for six weeks after moving from Williamsburg, although they'd already established Dutch & Co. as their go-to restaurant because it was across the street. The one place they had ventured out for had disappointed (had I known them then, I'd have saved them the trip), so they wanted a recommendation.

Needless to say, they're thrilled with Richmond's dining scene, and, in fact, Richmond in general compared to W-burg. "Everyone there is sedate and dull, even the University students," James said, speaking the unspoken about William and Mary students.

It was while we were talking about all the things they needed to check out here that he shared that they were about to go on holiday to...wait for it...England. On the itinerary for their trip was a visit to White Hart Lane stadium (a 19th century stadium, he bragged) so James could see his long-time favorite team, the Hotspurs, play a home game.

Despite being a fan since the Spurs won the championship in 1961, he'd yet to see them play. "It's on my bucket list to see them win the championship again," he said, beaming.

I explained that you don't get to make other people do what you want on your bucket list.

"Oh, no, probably not, right?' he said matter-of-factly in his clipped British accent. Since I had no idea where Tottenham was beyond his description of north London, I was told to look at a map when I got home. Done.

He could tell me that because he's a Virginia historian who used to be director of Jefferson studies at Monticello, which I found hilarious, necessitating me pointing out that we 'd needed to import an Englishman to help us understand TJ, yet another in a long string of embarrassments for the Yanks.

But now he works with the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, so he's currently over the moon about the four bodies discovered under the ruins of a historic Jamestown church. And it wasn't just the bodies that got him excited, but a small silver box they also found that looks to have been a Catholic reliquary (but not like with a  thumb in it because I asked) belonging to one of the dead men.

Hmm, what are good god-fearing Episcopalian colonials doing with a Catholic object? You can just imagine the issues that brings up.

After they left for their house almost diagonally across from the restaurant, I ordered the crispy fried trotter pate with tomato confit and arugula, which arrived just as the two guys did who filled the Brits' stools.

With no trouble, I quickly established that the duo were IT nerds ("But cool nerds," the one wearing the high top Chuck Taylors said) who work for MCV four days a week and then go back to their real lives in small town Georgia and Houston respectively.

It was their first time at Dutch & Co. and the one next to me, we'll call him Georgia, wanted to know what I was eating with such pleasure. Figuring him for a pig lover after he said he was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, I raved about the dish, omitting that it was made from pigs' feet.

He not only ordered it, but loved it. Score one for me.

Because they live at the Hilton Garden which is half a mile from my house, I was curious about which neighborhood restaurants they frequented Monday through Thursday. Of course they'd hit the overpriced average ones, so I reassured them about a few places they'd heard about but not been.

Just call me a servant to the cause.

When they asked if there was trivia anywhere tonight, the barkeep (wearing the cutest red print vintage dress and weeks away from moving to J-Ward) piped up suggesting New York Deli. Houston looked at me quizzically as if I were the fun expert. "Will we have fun drinking and hanging out there?"

There was a 20-year age difference between the two. Um, you will but Georgia is going to tire of that scene pretty quickly.

Then again, to dare is to do, my friend. Cool nerds should take a Tuesday trivia night out over going back to the hotel any time. I'm not even cool and I know I would.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Violas and Vibrations

I consider myself fortunate to know talented people.

But sometimes you're planning to go see one talented friend play and you come home from a day in the country to find a message from another friend saying he's playing the same night. In a case like that, you go with the friend who plays out less frequently.

That's also how you end up at O'Toole's - a place I go years without visiting - for the second time in a month to meet friends.

The back room where the music would be played is filling up and judging by the familiarity of the arrivals and the musicians, I suspect a lot of friends are in the audience. I get introduced to three guys and spot a female singer I've known for years.

We're all there for the Songwriters Showcase, the 289th (!) consecutive show of "A Showcase of Original Songs" sponsored by VOCAL, Virginia's composer and lyricist organization ("If you're a songwriter  or a recovering songwriter, we're the group for you.").

Our food arrived ahead of the first performer, Glenda Creamer, who shared that she was writing a musical about Jesus. If I'm not mistaken, that's also what Andrew Lloyd Webber said in 1970.

"I tried to decide which songs would go over best in a bar," she said from behind her acoustic guitar. "If you don't like religion, just listen to the stories." That was for me because she could no doubt spot my heathen face in the crowd since I was only one table back.

Fortunately for those of us short on a theological education, she set up the songs for us, explaining who was singing to whom and why before each song. The music had a distinctively mid-'60s folk vibe as we heard about Zechariah, Job and, my personal favorite, Lazarus, mainly because the song had a line where Jesus yells, "Lazarus, come out of there!" and she shouted that line like a champ.

I know I'm not supposes to find it amusing, but I did. It's good that I'm not religious, because I'd be going straight to hell.

The trio of Russell, Josh and David took the stage next with two guitars and viola. Russell explained that the three had met back at University of Richmond in the '60s and he'd been song writing partners with Josh for forty-some years and best friends with David for just as long.

Pointing to the audience, he  said, "I know a lot of you out there thought you were my best friend, but it was really Dave." Those years of friendship and practicing had paid off because apparently they'd had only one practice yesterday afternoon to prepare for this show, not that you'd ever know it from how rehearsed they sounded.

With two voices and three instruments, their version of folk was textured and polished-sounding as they went through songs such as "Let Me Stay with You," "Friend" and Josh's lovely "Stars of Las Vegas," although he admitted to never having made it to Vegas.

That makes two of us.

As well played as the guitars were, it was the viola parts - and especially the solos - that really made the songs something special, especially knowing that some of the parts had been created yesterday. That's that talent thing I admire so much.

After Pete Seeger had died, Russell had written "Thank Ya, Pete," a nod to Seeger being the first artist that he and his father had both liked. The song required him to play banjo and after he finished, he said, "That's all the banjo we can afford tonight" and put it away.

We need to start saving up so we can have more banjo next time.

One of my favorite songs tonight was Josh's "Synchronized Vibrations," a song that incorporated scientific terminology in a song about love while David played a killer counterpoint on viola.

Like steel to an MRI
Like gravitation
Strange attractors, you and I
Synchronized vibrations

They closed with "Land of Opportunity," a keenly-observed commentary on politics, and the night would have been over except that the crowd had other ideas. My friend returned to the table long enough to slurp back a Jello shot with me before returning to stage when the crowd called for "Church Hill Tunnel."

History has proven that disasters make great folk music.

Once we'd gotten the band back up there, they played several more songs to an enthusiastic crowd before Russell announced, "I'm going to have to stop. I can't stand any more magic."

That's what she said after every date. Fans of talent can stand all the magic they can get.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Agony and the Blown Mind

Sartre was right. Hell is other people and I've concluded that those other people are incoming freshmen.

Somehow I must have missed the dire warnings that the Class of 2019 has been moving in over the past two days, discovering it only when I tried to get to Shoryuken Ramen to meet my dinner date and found Franklin Street closed to cars while over-sized suburban SUVs delivered spawn to dorms.

Another crop of Northern Virginia teenagers who've never lived in a city before have descended en masse to make our life more complicated while they learn to cross streets and parallel park.

I waited an eternity today behind a kid who sat in front of a flashing red light assuming it would eventually turn green. It didn't. And it won't ever.

My dinner companion and I weren't sure whether to expect Shoryuken to be empty or mobbed given the blockades, so we were pleasantly surprised at how uninhabited it was. That said, within half an hour every seat was filled and an awful lot of them looked like parents and or/parents and freshmen.

Translation: none of them looked like Richmonders.

Eating my Hiyashi Chucka - cold ramen in soy-tahini vinaigrette with corn, pulled chicken, scallions, pickled mushrooms, egg and bamboo - facing a window over Franklin Street, I marveled at a student toting a vacuum cleaner (probably his mother's idea) into his new abode. Surely he's not planning on using that thing.

Meanwhile my classic ramen-eating companion told me great stories about a mutual friend who now works at the Ignatius Hat Company in Petersburg. Of course I know someone who works in the hat business.

Replete, we headed to the Firehouse Theater to see Jean Paul Sartre's "No Exit," a play I'd never even read, unlike the guy behind me who boasted that he'd read Sartre in philosophy class. Even so, he was the worst kind of person to sit in front of, constantly fidgeting, folding and unfolding his program and moving in his seat non-stop.

I want to choose my own hell.

I was fascinated to learn that the play had been formatted as a one-act play so French audiences could get home before the German-imposed curfew. There was no curfew, but I definitely had plans to get my mind blown afterwards, so I appreciated the brevity tonight.

You can always tell what a man really wants by his actions.

Because it's the Firehouse Theater, no performance would be complete without a fire truck screeching by mid-play. It's nice to know that there are constants in life.

You are your life and nothing else.

It's even better to know that a provocative play cast with three solid leads can take an audience into hell for a night. Of course the lately-ubiquitous McLean Jesse nails the shallow socialite and  DL Hopkins inhabits the cowardly journalist but it's Bianca Bryan's all encompassing portrayal of the lesbian secretary that's most electrifying. Foot tapping, eyes piercing, legs open when sitting, she's a fiercely cruel combatant.

But surely all of us would be miserable in a windowless room with no need to sleep and two people we can't stand our only company for eternity.

Outside on the sidewalk afterwards, we were surprised by fireworks exploding over the Diamond and paused to opine about what we'd just seen while we watched the explosions. "We could talk about the play all night, but you have places to be," he reminded me after 20 minutes of discussion.

As if nubile freshmen weren't enough of a hazard, tonight was also the Down Home Family Reunion in Abner Clay Park, so the streets of Jackson Ward were alive with cars cruising for parking spaces and people lugging chairs to the park.

Clearly Hell was all around me today.

I lugged my own chair to a prime spot and was soon joined by Charlie, a sweet man who has worked at the Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Mechanicsville for 25 years. In fact, he'd come straight from work, intending to stay 20 minutes and go home.

By the time we met, he'd been there five hours. But like me (and probably most of the crowd), he was looking forward to seeing the Delphonics. I give him credit; he knew the words to practically every song and the man could sing.

I've been to enough Down Home Family Reunions to know that by the time the headliner comes on, the show is running seriously behind. Tonight, the Delphonics came on at 10:43 instead of the 9:30 start time listed on the schedule. Not a problem for me, but plenty of people packed up and gave up.

There was a teachable moment tonight when I learned that Major Harris had been a Delphonic back in the '70s (what?), with the band covering Harris' big solo hit, "Love Won't Let Me Wait." The shocker was that Harris was a Richmond boy (Charlie tells me, "I met him in Petersburg a good while back. Nice guy"), news to me.

Maybe because the Delphonics didn't have loads of big hits, their set included a few classics from groups like the Temptations - "My Girl" got the dancing started followed by "Just My Imagination" - and in their shiny red suits, they pulled it off.

Some of the high notes were still there ("I ain't lost nothin'!" the lead singer said after a particularly silvery one), a very good things when they got to the biggies: "La-la Means I Love You" and "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" which got not only broken down, but an extended jam. The entire crowd sang along in fine voice, plenty swaying in place.

Walking home, mind blown, a guy in a giant truck looks at me and asks if he has enough room to pull out of his parking space. Are you kidding, buddy? There's at least three feet in front of your truck. Just go.

Gack. Too many people harshing my mellow.

Don't let me end up in a locked room with people who wait endlessly at flashing red lights or can't parallel park. Please, no freshmen after death. I want to choose my own Hell.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Pass the Old Bay

I wonder if I could live at the water.

In theory, I feel like I could. Every time I visit people who live at the river or when I spend time at the ocean, I seem to come away just a wee bit green with envy of their proximity, not just to water, but to a more relaxed sort of lifestyle.

I'm a person who can sit contently in front of a body of water and wile away whole parts of the day. There is no more enjoyable walking than along the water's edge. It's tough to be stressed or unhappy listening to the sound of lapping water.

This is very much on my mind at the moment because of today's visit to a favorite couple's new digs in Ocean View. Back story: Two surfing types found a fantastic house, both loved it, but he still felt the need to ask of her, "Are you serious about moving?" Unequivocal yes.

The two-story house sits back on a big shady lot, tucked into a neighborhood where many of the older, smaller houses have been bonged down and replaced with much larger, showier houses. Not this one.

Theirs is compact and charming, with blue trim on both porches, seashells instead of handles on the screen doors and entire walls of windows. The downstairs floor plan is completely open, much like my favorite beach cottage, for easy interacting no matter what room you're in. The radio plays music for the entire floor.

Step out in the verdant backyard and you see a patio and a lattice storage unit for their many surfboards. The upstairs porch off the bedroom is the dog's favorite place to nap. Photographs of trips to Nicaragua and California fill the walls.

They're one block from the Chesapeake Bay, up some wooden steps and down a few more to the beach. That's where we spent most of the day, beach-clad, under an umbrella, in chairs. Because of the proximity to the ocean - the Bay bridge tunnel is easily visible to the east and the eastern shore beyond that- there were plenty of waves.

I'd brought my book but never got to it. A pod of dolphins entertained us with tail splashing and high diving. Tumblers of wine kept the conversation flowing, a walk to Little Creek for a view of the Joint Expeditionary Base (I heard my first hovercraft) took us as far east as we were able to go and the bath water-warm bay provided the setting for a solid hour in the waves.

Because they've only been Ocean View residents for two weeks, they're still learning the 'hood. Fair enough. But when they told me there was a waterfront restaurant within spitting distance, I was amazed they hadn't yet checked it out. You've got  a bayside bar you can walk on the beach to?

That was the point at which my plans to leave before dinner changed. We were all three showered and strolling down there within 20 minutes.

Although they'd never been, they'd heard some scuttlebutt about the place - rowdy tales of pool games, an unlikely piano and, most  intriguing, a tree growing in the men's room. Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Despite arriving at the bay-front patio, we dutifully walked to the front of the restaurant to enter. The place turned out to be huge, very deep and definitely a little long in the tooth. We spotted a shuffleboard table, but no pool table, an upright piano and several private dining rooms. Not a soul was eating inside.

The crowd was out on the patio, of course, where half the tables sat in full sun and the other half under an awning. I'd have been willing to bet that I was the sole non-local. A band was setting up. Our tentative server told us it was happy hour and encouraged us to drink up, so we did.

Trying to decide on what to eat, we spotted some sumptuous looking sandwiches at the table next to us. Turning in our seats, we inquired, only to learn that they were lobster rolls, which both couples at this table were having.

"It's so good," the one guy said, explaining that it was a special and not on the menu. "But hurry up and order before they run out." Tragically, they already had.

But our new friends were there to do more than tease us, offering up the full scoop. Fridays are lobster roll special days. Mondays, everything is half-priced, food and drink. For decades, the place had been a high end restaurant that attracted people for miles around. After the owners sold, the place went through a succession of owners.

The current incarnation, Mac's Place, has only been open for "four or five weeks," they said. And they should know. The handsome guy told us he'd come to Ocean View in 1959 and watched it grow. The other guy, hearing I was from Richmond, shared that he'd graduated from RPI. "Not VCU, RPI," he said, as if we'd never heard of the school's predecessor.

They'd discovered the lobster rolls last week. "There were 15 people here last week at 5:00 for them. This week, there were 30 people here by 5. You need to show up at 4 when happy hour starts," they advised. Duly noted.

After thanking them for their assistance, we turned back to our table, every few minutes hearing one of them say loudly for our benefit, "Boy, this lobster roll is so good!" to rub it in.

Nothing we ordered wowed us like the lobster rolls had the locals, but as my host reminded us, "We didn't come for the food."

That much was true. The drinks were cheap, the early evening light made the water and sky a brilliant blue and the view of sailboats, powerboats and a Navy ship (the one we'd heard firing earlier) created a picture postcard view.

"I am so happy to be here," my host said, beaming. "You started something, Karen. We're going to have to bring all our guests here." I told him if my neighborhood bar was a quarter mile walk down a beach, they'd have a stool with my name on it.

By the time I left, I'd seen an "I LV OV" license plate, met three beagles on one leash and been invited to return for an overnight visit, an offer I will undoubtedly take them up on. If nothing else, I need to return and verify that tree in the men's room story. It was occupied when I went to check.

But could I live there? Could I give up city life like they did and move to a place absent so many of the things I like to do? Would I miss being able to walk to venues and theaters, the grocery store and restaurants?

Being a block away from such a lovely beach is powerfully appealing. The ocean is within sight or a 15-minute drive. Everyone I met - on the street, at the beach, in the restaurant - was incredibly friendly and all of them very much sending out "I love my life and where I live" vibes. Small, old, affordable cottages still sit between McMansions. Tempting, all of it.

According to the happy couple, it just depends on how serious you are about moving.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Saw One Cute Girl and Met One

Dear Diary,

In a rebuke to all the ridiculous stuff - kittens and deer bonding, personality quizzes, baby pictures - people post online, the intrepid Holmes has been posting a page a day from his diary as a 13-year. Imagine a newly-minted teenager on a two-month trip to Europe with the 'rents and brother.

Best of all, it's 1965 and the whole crazy cultural and sexual revolution is unfolding before his virgin eyes.

August 14, 1965
There I bought Thunderball for 3 and 6 (49 cents)...We went to eat dinner at the hotel (boy, there is one good looking girl there).

So when it came time to head out tonight, he was the first person I thought of and we made plans to meet at Amuse.

Arriving first, I staked out three stools, trying to stretch my belongings to indicate "taken." A guy at mid-bar raises an eyebrow about my attempts and suggests the stool next to him so I could guard the other two. "Are they always late?" he asks.

Thinking about it, I couldn't say that they were habitually tardy, but as I pointed out, I probably hadn't noticed their punctuality because my evening wasn't dependent on their arrival. "What if they stand you up?" he asks.

What if they do? I'll still drink Rose and eat something, I'll still admire the Manet-like view of the pink and blue sunset in the back bar's mirror, I'll undoubtedly still talk to strangers. Business as usual, with or without them.

"Being late is one of my pet peeves," he shares. Life will go on if I have to wait, I tell him.

"Tell me your story," he insists and I give him a bulleted summary in record time. "Wow," he says, clearly unprepared for an efficient delivery of key points. "Tell me more."

When he finds out I write about art, he responds with "I love art!" Call me dogmatic, but doesn't everyone love some kind of art? It's like those stupid "I love mountains" bumper stickers. Are there really mountain haters out there? Art haters, too?

What's funny is when he wisecracks and I can't help but laugh. "So that was funny, hmm? I made you laugh." He says it as if he's proving something to me.

When Holmes and Beloved do arrive, the man next to my new friend leans in and tells him loudly, "Now you're going to have to talk to me." He's eager to find out if this is true.

We took our bags to room 19 and then went down to lunch. After lunch, I listened to the radio. "Help" is no. 1 in Scotland at the present.

My attention turned to my friends because after seeing "Help" for the first time last night, I wanted to talk about it. Holmes had seen "Help" in London on opening night, so the film holds a special place in his adolescent memory.

The bartender was new but perfectly capable of delivering a bottle of J. Mourat "Collection" Rose, although we did enjoy a bit of "who's on first" when we asked about specials. Everyone behind the bar claimed to be unable to recall what they were until someone actually checked and found that there were no specials tonight.

The subject of the diary came up and Holmes cracked me up when telling me, "Tomorrow Dad crashes the car." It was like a "coming attractions" for his diary.

Amuse bouches arrived, one perfect bite of shrimp salad on summer tomato, as we talked about the Eastern Shore with the hostess. Once the three of them got off on old Richmond stories, though, I was lost. From here, I do not come, as Yoda would say.

After that I went swimming. The water was very cold and the only other person swimming was Sheila Boyd. I think Sheila must be around 14. Instead of dinner, I had high tea. After high tea, I watched TV.

Holmes had ordered the last rack of lamb in the house, but mussels and sausage were plenty for me while the little lady had truffle fries and fried oysters. Another bottle of J. Mourat benefited us all.

Our dinner travelogue came courtesy of one of the staff who shared his upcoming plans to move to Maui. He's currently living in a packed box-filled apartment and planning to fly first class so he can take extra baggage without a fee.

In the time since he made the call to move, he said he's not yet wavered in his resolve to go. "I have lots of attachments here but nothing keeping me here. I can always come back here and be happy."

If not now, when? My vote was to embrace the new.

From tonight on, I shall start locking this diary.

It was during a trip to the loo that a woman came in and I complimented her hair as she sailed into a stall. From behind the door, she thanked me.

"I've got some gray and it's curly," she said, as if these were bad things. Within moments, we were engaged in a deep philosophical discussion about learning to accept yourself and having a style of your own, all without actually being able to see each other.

By the time she emerged, we were pondering whether our 25-year old selves would have taken any advice from wise old broads like us (unlikely).

I think I'm developing a crush on Sheila. Right before bed I found out her room was no. 15. I accidentally walked into the wrong room.

After introducing himself to my friends, I couldn't help but notice that the guy next to me had begun casually draping his arm on the back of my chair, sometimes even brushing my shoulder or back when he was making a point.

Glamour magazine used to call this a "don't". I did, too.

Someone asked him what this guy did for a living and we discovered that he was an antiques dealer with a sprawling storefront in Hanover County housing millions of items (Holmes guessed one, he claimed six). He often supplies pieces for film shoots. That's when it hit me.

Beloved has a house and three garages full of almost 90 years of family stuff, none of which she needs or uses. Here was a man whose business bought stuff from hoarders people with too much if it.

How old is your oldest furniture, I asked of her pointedly.

"Some of it's from the 1890s," she said. "But he's not going to want that." The hell he isn't. Although he tried to hide it, I saw him react to the prospect of some pristine antique furniture. Beloved asks how to contact him and he wisely writes down his name, store name, phone number and e-mail and hands her the piece of paper.

He also slides an identical sheet under my silverware, presumably thinking I have antiques to sell as well. I don't.

We then got in the car and drove to the university and the museum. I saw three Rodins at the museum.

When Mr. Punctuality goes to pay his bill, he cracks to the new bartender, "Well, that was an amusing meal." Barkeep groans and says, "Gee, I haven't already heard that too many times."

Holmes has missed the exchange and asks for a summary. I say he told a corny joke the bartender's already heard a bazillion times. "Corny?!" he says to me as if affronted. As Kansas in August, mister.

We have a three-way for dessert, sharing the towering triple chocolate cake - mousse, ganache, cake-  with a high hat of laced chocolate, raspberries and blackberries, but Holmes has something different in mind.

We then  proceed along the A85 until we reach the town of Oban.

Fifty years ago today, Holmes was in Oban, although at such a tender age, not yet a Scotch drinker. He decides to toast that memory with Oban single malt 14 year malt scotch, neat of course, offering to buy me one but I decline.

I do take his glass and inhale deeply, trying to imagine how wondrous a 13-year old Richmond teenager would have found Scotland in 1965. One thing that's already apparent in his writings is that Holmes' brain was already that of an accountant.

Diary entries include conversion rates from pounds to dollars and references to route numbers, distances, movie ticket prices, even room rates.

I got my first jip, a 10 cent Pepsi for 25 cents.

He may have been jipped monetarily in his young eyes, but it's hard to feel sorry for a kid who spent his thirteenth summer on the Continent.

Walked to a shop and then bought three firecrackers.

I've yet to have high tea. I didn't see "Help" until yesterday. Never read "Thunderball" or any Ian Fleming for that matter. Teenagers could buy firecrackers?

We then came home, watched the "Addams Family" and went to bed.

Well, kiss my arm, Gomez. Thirteen-year old Holmes is my hero.

A View to the Fab Four

Sooner or later, I was bound to see my first Beatles movie.

As it happened, when it finally happened, it was in a grassy lot and on the 50th anniversary of its premiere in New York. What are the chances?

Movie Club Richmond was screening "Help" tonight and after missing the Bijou's screening of "A Hard Day's Night" last year, there was no way I was missing another chance to finally see a Beatles movie.

I can only be this culturally illiterate for so long.

Once my hired mouth had taken care of business, I joined the group forming in the lot across from Lamplighter, chair and Milk Duds in hand. When I admitted to several friends that I'd yet to see "Help," they made jokes. "Well, there's a lot of movies out there."

True, although half a century is generally long enough to catch one you want to see.

Waiting for the movie to start, it was hard to miss the scent of dog poop occasionally wafting my way. Before long, the blanket of people sitting to my right started checking around, also looking for the smell's source. It wasn't constant, but when it wafted by, it had a certain nose hair-singing quality.

Ah, but such is the price we pay for a movie under the stars...and on a perfectly gorgeous evening, too.

Tonight's bill began with a trailer of the cult classic "Big Trouble in Little China" because it's the next film Movie Club will be showing. I'll be out of town or I'd be front and center for what looks like a pretty funny '80s John Carpenter film. And can you ever really have too much Kurt Russell?

When "Help" started, I realized from the opening scene that I had almost no idea what this film was about. And since I hadn't seen "A Hard Day's Night," I didn't even know what a typical Beatles film was like.

Let's see, it took no time at all to recognize its zaniness (the entire "Monkees" TV show must have been directly inspired by it), its droll British humor ("He's an idiot. Degree in woodwork! I ask you!) and tons of slapstick and physical humor (trying to walk up a ladder with rungs cut so every rung breaks when stepped on).

What surprised me was how much the crowd laughed at what by today's standards is corny humor, obvious stuff and physical comedy. Have millennials traded their trademark irony and aloof detachment for the pleasure of 1965 humor? Be still my heart.

Technical difficulties showed up not far into the film and our A/V squad decided to switch projectors. I used the time to pull out my Milk Duds and offer everyone within arm's length a handful while several groups around me produced popcorn from their bags.

No, we didn't have pour your own butter like at the Criterion, but other than that, it was a regular movie night behind the chain link fence.

Rolling again, we jumped back into 1965, when there was zero political correctness ("They approach an Oriental") and plenty of very British-sounding phrases ("There's a certain amount of hurry up involved").

The only problem was that projector #2 was dim. Dim like Jethro Bodine, to use a '60s reference. So we paused for another projector switch.

I was surprised by all the James Bond references (and music) used in the movie, an obvious nod to what was popular at the time. And talk about your product placement: the bad guys used the Goodyear blimp to chase the Beatles.

It was definitely cool to see the band playing songs in between scenes from the convoluted plot. Paul "playing" a girl in place of his usual bass seemed pretty risque for 1965. But my favorite part was just hearing the guys speak and rib each other.

George, supposedly the "quiet Beatle" was unexpectedly amusing with his off the cuff comments ("I'm always getting winked at these days. Used to be you, didn't it, Paul?") and background scene-stealing antics (shoplifting at the jewelry store while Ringo is trying to have the sacrificial ring removed from his finger).

If I'd been a Beatles fan in 1965, I think I would have been in the George fan club. He was dreamy.

When the movie ended, there was trivia with prizes for the best and brightest. Despite having lived my life without seeing "Help" until tonight, when the question, "Why was this filmed in the Alps and the Bahamas?" was asked, I knew the answer.

Those were the places the Beatles wanted to go on vacation.

Bingo. My prize was a book but not just any book: bassist John Taylor's "In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran," incidentally a New York Times bestseller. No, really.

Was I a Duran Duran fan back in the '80s? Not really. Will I wind up one after reading the book?

If I can finally see my first Beatles movie at my age, anything's possible.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

I got it backwards, but I came back from the river to eat oysters.

Tonight was Metzger's "Don't Chuck that Shuck" night with the Ruby Salts people shucking and the rest of us slurping $1 oysters for a good cause, namely the Virginia oyster shell recycling program. As in, all the proceeds (they brought 1,000 oysters, btw) would be donated.

Was I willing to consume bivalves for the sake of replenishing Virginia's natural oyster habitats? I would. Judging by the capacity size crowd when I arrived, so would half of Richmond.

Undeterred, I found a space near the door to wait for an open stool, happy to have the soulful stylings of Mr. Fine wine playing overhead. Still on river time, I was in no hurry.

The knot of people in front of the shucking table was the greeting party for the constant stream of people coming through the door, each time allowing the waning sun's still-yellow brilliance to bathe the bar sitters in the bright light of a Church Hill evening. Eventually, a server stood on a ledge to lower the shades for nearby diners.

Standing by the VOSRP explanatory display was a favorite drummer hanging out with a market-owning couple who were gracious enough to draw me into their group once I'd gotten a glass of Muscadet from the harried barkeep. I felt a tickle on my back and turned to find a familiar face looking for a hug.

But all in all, there were only three familiar faces in the crowd and that's a delightful change for a Richmond evening.

I dazzled my companions with oyster knowledge gleaned from past interviews with oyster gardeners, experts and shuckers, even a few lifetime watermen. Why learn if I don't share?

Because the drummer had band practice looming in 20 minutes, they'd already ordered their oysters, expecting to slurp them standing up if need be. When three stools opened up, we took possession, the drummer using his stool long enough to finish his beer and oysters before saying goodbye and turning it over to me.

I was curious about how the market owners had ended up as market owners, impressed that they'd been waiting for someone else to do it and when no one did, jumped on the idea. Frugal and DIY-driven, they'd been amazed and thrilled at the neighborhood's embrace of their concept.

Now that I had a stool, I could order my own oysters and begin my philanthropic work for the evening. Those Ruby Salts weren't going to eat themselves, although I also wouldn't be averse to someone pouring them down my throat.

Once the sun set, things began to settle down within while I moved on to more Muscadet and my next course of pork belly confit with stone fruit mostarda, walnuts and Geuze (not that I'm a lambic drinker).

The small bowl belied the big flavors within - the salty, crispy pieces of pork belly balanced by the sweetness of the mostarda - making for a dish that read sort of like a highbrow and obscenely rich General Tso's.

Of course talk turned to restaurants since their market serves food and we hashed out which places deserve how much frequency. Of course, everyone draws this line in the sand in a different place. I know there are places I can go months without visiting while others draw me in more regularly.

Their top choices and mine had some overlap and some glaring differences, but I'm used to that. My taste, my preferences in general, rarely match other people's and I'm not just talking about food.

Looking around, it was obvious that I was the sole person in Metzger who'd come out to dinner solo. In all likelihood, I was probably the only person who'd come back from the river to eat bivalves from the river.

While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes

For better or for worse, most of the time no one does know.

Mike and the Mechanics

Longest trip to the river. Ever. Also, unexpectedly pleasant.

Cruising along Route 360 at 60 mph, my car dies and I somehow manage with all my strength to guide it into a market located inconveniently across the median strip. It would be traumatic if the exact same thing hadn't happened 15 months ago.

Inside the market, I ask the clerk if there's a garage nearby. Before she can respond, the guy in line in front of me buying cigarettes - two packs of Marlboro Reds, hard packs, natch - turns around and gestures to me. "Let's go have a  look at it."

Some 20 minutes later, he has used a fresh can of Coke to clean the corrosion off my battery connections and topped off my antifreeze tank with the bottle in his trunk, but is no closer to figuring out why my car gave out.

So we pile into his car so he can drive me the half a mile to Cassidy's Garage to see what they can do for me. Along the way, he introduces himself as Linwood, a local guy. "My wife lives in Chesterfield County but I don't much like it out there, so I live here."

Don't like there or don't like her? I wonder but I don't ask.

At the garage, he introduces me to the owner, Mike, so I can explain my dilemma, but not before Linwood explains what he's already done to try to help me. Because we're in the wilds of Aylett, a tow-truck driver is conveniently located right next to Cassidy's and Mike assures me it'll be no time until he fetches my car.

But Linwood's worried that I'll be bored in the meantime, so he offers to take me back to my car to get my stuff so I'll have something to read in the interim. When he returns me to the garage, it's with the assurance that I'll be fine with these guys at the garage while he goes off to take care of some business. "I can vouch for ev'ry one of 'em," he says. "Good guys."

I have two choices for where to set up camp: the little office with the TV blaring and grimy calendars from 2008 on the wall or a cracked and sagging wooden bench out in front of the office next to a fading statue of a black bear holding a fish atop its head that reads, "Welcome."

Without hesitation, I opt for the great outdoors. The bench leans against a wall, so it'll be a fine place to read, there's a cooler for a footstool (Linwood jokes, "Let's see if there's any beer in it for you," before opening it, only to say, "Naw, I was just kidding" when we find nothing but water) and, luckily for me, it's a gorgeous day to be outside, cloudy but warm, breezy but hinting at humid.

A beach day, except I'm sitting in a grassy field in front of a garage six car lengths off of 360.

From my bag, I pull out Sunday and Monday's Washington Posts and proceed to get lost in news and features, looking up only when the tow truck shows up with my wounded car atop it. The timing is off though, because shortly, Mike and another mechanic gather up their lunches and leave the premises.

While I'd never begrudge a man an off-premise lunch, I had hoped to be at my friend's house at the river by now. But with nothing I can do about it, I move on to my book "Five Sisters" and speed through the last 80 or so pages, stopping only to eat the banana and clementine I have with me.

Once the guys are back, they take turns looking at my car, trying to figure out its malady. Clearly, they are flummoxed. Lunch is a Lance peanut bar purchased from a cardboard box display in the office. I leave $1 in the slotted box and hope that the sugar and peanuts have held up since the last time the Lance salesman was by.

I'm into my third hour at Cassidy's when I finish my book and pick up my brand spankin' new copy of Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" and get immediately drawn into the Maycomb world of the Finch family. This may not be the book that won Lee the Pulitzer, but the writing is every bit as beautiful.

I get up to stretch my legs and wander over to my car where two mechanics are puzzling over it. I mention that the last time this exact thing happened, it had to do with my distributor cap and a loose screw in the rotor. They're too busy to answer and I return to my bench to read.

Honestly, other than the beach, I can't recall the last time I've had this much time to sit around and read for hours on end. It's an unexpected afternoon, but except for the delay in being with my friend, a perfectly lovely one. The air is soft and wanna-be damp, meaning my sunglasses have a constant film on them, my feet are up and I'm lost in a good book.

Eventually Linwood returns with his 11 year old granddaughter Savannah Hope in tow, back to check on me and my progress. If there isn't any, he's willing to drive me back to Richmond. But the guys have finally determined the problem: the screw in my rotor had come loose. Again.

In trying to assess the problem, the screw had fallen out of the hole and on to the grass below. They push the car backwards, the better to search for the screw in the wire grass. Futile. Or as the guy with more teeth missing than in his mouth observed, "Like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Mike saves the day by getting a new screw and sawing it to the proper length. Another guys secures it with Locktite. They tell me it needs half an hour to cure. I go back to the bench and Atticus Finch.

Savannah spots the beach towel and straw hat in my car and tells me she guesses that I'm going to the beach. I tell her I'm headed to the river, not the ocean. "I've never seen the ocean," she says plaintively. "I've never even been out of Virginia." I assure her she will and hope I'm right.

Once my noble steed is deemed safe to travel, I pay and the guys come out to say goodbye to me after five hours in their midst. "I'm really sorry to have inconvenienced you," Mike tells me, sounding like he's truly bothered.

No, no, it was a beautiful day to sit outside and read, I tell him, grateful that the problem is at long last solved. It wasn't where I intended to spend the afternoon, but I could've done far worse than reading on a bench in the grass.

Then it's on to my girl crush.

When I pull up at my friend's house 50 minutes later, she and her husband are just returning from a walk with their exuberant dog, having all but given up on me. I drop my stuff in the guest house and they're soon plying me with wine and questions about my adventure as we sit facing the river.

Since a girl can't last forever on a peanut bar, they graciously move dinner up a little and he's soon grilling perfectly seasoned planked salmon while she and I bond over making a big salad featuring avocado, bacon, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Over more wine and dinner, we discuss the current big murder trial in the county - aptly characterized as a perfect storm of cocaine and booze - and how its sordid details have captured the locals' attention. Strawberries, pound cake and whipped cream follow before we move outside to admire the tide.

My host had already informed me of the unusually high tides they'd been having all week and even a couple hours before high tide, we were already marveling as the river began swallowing deck ladders and lower platforms. We were willing the sun to stay up long enough for us to see the pinnacle, but it it had already gotten cool enough that we womenfolk had donned wraps.

Our very masculine host reveled in the stiff breeze of what can only be called manly weather. But it's August, so I don't want any stinkin' manly weather. I want warmth.

I always love hearing stories about the locals (and not just the murderers) and tonight was rewarded with tales of Cyrus, a local whose accomplishments included being the sergeant at arms at the local Moose lodge, the town drunk, the landscaper for the county courthouse and the area's unofficial mayor.

That's a resume most men can only aspire to. Someday I hope to meet Cyrus.

Once there was enough wine, we had to discuss our first meeting where my friend had barfed on her dog. Tonight, she offered rationale for her behavior. "I think he kind of like it," she said. "He was licking it off."

After laughing hysterically at her reasoning, I shared that I had once thrown up on a fourth grade classmate named Mark in the backseat of his parents' car on our way home from a party. All I could remember him saying about it was, "All of a sudden, there was something warm on my leg."

Tonight, my handsome host says, "Yea, now he trolls the Internet looking for woman willing to throw up on him." I may have ruined Mark, but it wasn't intentional.

Humor will always make a guest who was five hours late forget all about her convoluted day.

When I go to bed, it's on the screened-in porch of the little guest house and only after another stint with my book while my hosts' house goes dark. I'm awakened at 2:30 by thunder and lightening, but no rain is making its way on to the porch, so I lay there happily enjoying the bursts of light and steady rain.

I might as well be glamping for how comfortable and dry I am when everything around me is wet and dripping. When I finally wake up after ten hours of sleep, the rain has stopped and there's every sign it'll be a nice day after all.

We take a long walk after breakfast seeking out the white farmhouse of a neighbor (don't find it). We go to the pool at Yankee Point Marina, having it all to ourselves (though the umbrellas are locked in the ladies' room). Later, we wash off sweat and chlorine under blue skies in her enormous outdoor shower.

Once we get hungry, we head over to the Ottoman Ferry to catch it to go to the Corner in Lively. It's a four car ferry but it arrives in front of us with only one car on it and that car drives off the ferry, makes a U-turn and gets back on it behind us.

What the what?

Despite the sign suggesting strongly that you remain in your car during the ferry ride, I get out and proceed directly to the car that's making its second ferry run. Surely they didn't make a wrong turn?

In the only other car on the ferry are two tiny bird-like white-haired women. Saying I'm curious about their motivation for consecutive ferry rides, I ask what they're up to.

One giggles. "We went to a missionary meeting and then to lunch," she says. Well, that was a good day, I point out, not because I mean it but because my mother taught me to be polite to my elders.

"Then we took the ferry twice and now it's a perfect day," she finishes, smiling ear to war.

This granny is my spirit animal. Perfect days are wherever you find them, girl crush conversations and unexpected reading afternoons included.

And screw loose screws.