Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Mad and Faithful Telling

If there were an online final exam, I would fail.

No really, I don't Google people, I've never Facebook stalked an ex, it just doesn't occur to me to research people that way. I don't even friend people on Facebook, assuming they'll friend me if they're interested.

So in a recent conversation about my past, I was met with incredulity when I admitted I'd never so much as thought of looking for my first love online.

Apparently I'm susceptible to suggestion because that's exactly what I did today.

To be clear here, we're talking about a guy I haven't seen since 1981, but what do you know, I typed in his name (an unusual one I still, coincidentally, use for my bank password), his page popped up and there he was, just as attractive as he'd been the year MTV went on the air.

Back then, everyone told him he looked like Paul McCartney, but these days, he looks way better, but then he's not nearly as old as Sir Paul, either.

Do you have any idea how strange it is to lay eyes on someone who was once an integral part of your life and then out of sight for decades? Would it be out of line to message him? What would he think of how I look today? What kind of conversation might we have if I opened that door?

Well, I'm here to tell you that looking up a piece of your past for the first time is nothing but a gateway drug.

It occurred to me that I could be using the wondrous powers of the Internet to catch up with all kinds of people from my recent past, especially given how many new people I'd met in the seven years since my life imploded and put itself back together.

My intent was pretty simple, nothing more than contacting people I hadn't seen in a while (okay, years in some cases) and asking if we weren't about due to meet up for a drink and a catch-up session.

You know, throw it up against the wall and see what sticks, so to speak.

The first message I put out there got a response within minutes. "Overdue. My, did you come into the 21st century and buy a phone? Hello, Karen. When do you have a free evening?"

Well, that was way simpler than I'd expected.

I suggest tomorrow night and he counters with tonight, so my plans for seeing a Norwegian film at VCU Cinematheque go by the wayside. He defers to me for a new-to-him restaurant idea and then confirms place and time.

I'll be the one - what the hell - you'll recognize me, I message him in farewell.

"You make me laugh," he writes. And who doesn't like that?

We meet at Pizza Tonight because he hasn't even heard of it, much less been there yet. I get there first and am hearing from the chef about his woodpile freezing in the recent Polar Vortex, a problem not easily solved when even the interior of a log has ice crystals.

My friend arrives and immediately jumps into the conversation because, according to an article I read just today, there's nothing men enjoy discussing more than fire and bourbon.

I've little interest in either but it's great entertainment watching them dive off the deep end into wood suppliers (it's hysterical when a certain one is named and both their faces wrinkle in disgust), fire-starting methods and broken hose repair.

Honestly, I'm more interested in the bartender's spiel about the Autumn Olive Farms pig specials on the chalkboard (the 24 ounce pork chop has already sold out- what?) and how fabulous this pork belly special is.

"It's got a layer of fat," she explains, almost drooling, "But not like the fat on commercially-raised pigs. This is well-earned fat from roaming over 80 acres."

I'm sold and so is my companion, who's been sick in bed for the past couple days and is finally now feeling human enough to eat, so we proceed to order with abandon.

First to come out are cabbage leaves with olive oil and bottarga, rich and deeply flavorful and inspiring my friend to note, "I don't even have to put bottarga on anything to eat it!" Next is the pork belly over pickled cabbage, a sublime balance of fat and piquancy that proves the bartender's description was no hype.

Since it had been a while since the two of us had broken bread and talked, he brought me up to speed on his life, including a funny/not funny story about a terrible, awful, no good day when he'd first taken a tumble off a poorly-constructed dock, tearing up his knee cap, and then accidentally put his hand through the windshield of his boat when the engine had died unexpectedly while they were out on the river.

It sounded disastrous to me, but he was long over it, so we got back to chowing down.

It was all about the beautiful texture of charred octopus and white beans, leading to him sharing that he'd cooked baby octopus just last week in much the same fashion, but enjoying tonight's no less for it.

So you know, I have never once cooked octopus. Why would I when others can do it for me so much better?

Accompanying this delightful meal was a Spotify station called Gardens and Villa that was totally on my musical wavelength, playing the likes of Tan Lines, a band I have never once heard out (which is why I own the CD) and Mike Snow. Good stuff, in other words.

When I commented to a server about how excellent the music was sounding, she lit up, making me think it had been her choice. Like me, she said she can't stand the frequent blandness of restaurant music. With all the songs in the world available these days, why should anyone settle for same old, same old?

An entree of prawns roasted in their shells came with a traditional sauce of olive oil, anchovy, parsley, lemon, garlic and red pepper, the crustaceans so large we actually left one on the plate, but for different reasons: he was stuffed and I was saving myself for dessert.

Pizza Tonight occupies the building that formerly housed Aziza's, who were known for their massive cream puffs coated in dark chocolate ganache that few people left without ordering.

Needless to say, PT knew they had to carry on the cream puff tradition, but I knew from a prior visit that the chef had revamped the puff to better reflect his taste (read: less sweet and massive) and make it his own.

These (for there were two small instead of one enormous) were far more refined and elegant cream puffs (more Myrna Loy than Jayne Mansfield), filled with a ricotta mixture studded with bits of dark chocolate and almonds and dusted with confectioner's sugar.

We were the last to finish eating, the last to finish talking and yet still, the fire-starters had to retreat to the back kitchen to discuss the long oven, which my friend immediately saw as the ideal vehicle for cooking whole chickens to crispy-skinned perfection, something he says is not yet being done correctly in Richmond.

I don't know about all that, but I do know I had a hell of  a better time than I would have at that Norwegian movie and it was only because I belatedly harnessed the power of the Internets.

Who knows what else might come of the other messages I sent out earlier today?

I came home to a message responding to mine from my Boston buddy saying, "I am an open book. I always think of you when I hear Devotchka. I met a girl from Richmond in a bar in NYC and told her about your blog. She looked it up and said she wants your life, so watch out!"

This mission to get up to speed in the online world could turn out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated. Watch out, indeed.


  1. It's great that it worked out for you. I'm somewhat older so when I tried to contact my first love it didn't turn out so well. C'est la vie.

  2. What a poignant story!

    Last night's adventure wasn't with my first love, although I did - after much deliberation - send him a message.

    What was interesting was that the person with whom I reconnected last night was quite different than when I'd first met him in 2011. Happier, calmer, less stressed. Maybe age does that to us all?

    It's always great to hear from you and know that you're still reading! Thank you for both.

  3. I still see several of my high school "girl friends" regularly and they still like me! I think the fact that we were never "hot and heavy" in our relationships then makes it a lot easier now.

  4. Not to sound pathetic, but I didn't have any boyfriends in high school beyond the one, so that's not really an option for me. But that's really cool that you still see them, given the long history and shared memories you undoubtedly have.