Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Like the Way You Work It

Things got crazy today. When I woke up, I thought I had an idea of what my week entailed.

Wrong, so wrong.

By 10:31, one of my editors had unexpectedly said yes to four of my pitches. Great news, but it meant I needed to dive in quickly to make so many short deadlines.

By 11:24,  my companion for dinner and a play tomorrow night had to cancel and asked to reschedule for the weekend. Naturally, I already had plans for both nights.

By 2:37, I'd been asked if I could do a last-minute piece to be turned around this week. What poor freelancer turns down work?

By 3:17, I get a group email, first thanking us for the thankless job we do and then asking for pitches for two upcoming special issues. ASAP, as in, snooze and you lose.

By 3:49, my Friday night drinks and lecture companion has canceled. Can my Tuesday pick up the slack on Friday?

By 5:08, I again hear from an editor, this time with another last minute assignment, this one non-negotiable. Hey, it's money, so I'll find a way.

By 5:15, I am sitting at Rappahannock next to a woman who announces it is National Margarita Day and makes the bartender grimace when she asks if he can make one (long pause...he can) and then instead orders an Old Fashioned because it's a happy hour special.

Heaven give us both strength.

I, too, was there for happy hour, but more because of half off oysters and $5 Prosecco than because of any made-up holiday. The couple next to me were doing the same, albeit in a far more leisurely manner.

First they ordered two Old Fashioneds and half a dozen oysters, two of each kind. Only after emptying their glasses and slurping every oysters did they place the exact same order again.

Me? I got Prosecco and a dozen Old Saltes and just did it all in one fell swoop.

My efficiency allowed time to check out the newly-opened Rapp Session next door, a charming space that resembles a cleaner version of the inside bar at Merroir and boasts extras: beer and wine for sale, packaged mignonette, horseradish and pork rilletes, cured meats sliced off the bone, whole fish sold by the pound to come, all backed by a wall of old black and white photos and seafood advertisements.

Perhaps most brilliant of all, a bar with a completely different cocktail program than Rappahannock that stays open until 2 a.m. every night. Hello, gorgeous.

Properly warmed up, my next stop was the Modlin Center for a lecture by curator Michael Schreiber of the exhibit, "Bernard Perlin: An Anthology of Drawings 1934-1994."

My first surprise was that Perlin was a native Richmonder, growing up on Ellwood Avenue and graduating from T.J. at the tender age of 15. His credo was to live life to the fullest.

How had I never heard of this artist before?

Schreiber had gotten to know Perlin by writing him a fan letter, then visiting him in Connecticut, an evening that turned out to be his introduction to Scotch drinking. In the three years before Perlin died, he was privy to all kinds of stories and memories from the artist that he has now turned into a book.

Looking at the images of Perlins' work, it wasn't hard to see the social realist perspective of many artists of that era, including Ben Shahn, for whom he worked.

Happily embracing the bohemian life in NYC as a young man, one of his earliest commissions was a mural of Adam and Eve for Vincent Price's bathroom. His portrait of Price now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

His work moved through Post Office murals, war and propaganda posters and illustrations for prestigious magazines, then he stopped making art, then he went back to school and began again.

I couldn't have been the only person itching to get over to the gallery to see the work in person.

Perlin's skill was apparent in the delicacy of the silverpoints and nude drawings while his "message" pieces - a 1963 print called "The Divorce" showing a man bent over by the weight of his ex-wife, children, house, lawyer and accountant nearly destroy him - were heavier-handed.

It's a fabulous show that Richmond art-lovers absolutely need to see because I can't be the only one unaware of Perlin's obvious talent and prolonged productivity.

Several family members were there taking in the show. Leaning over a case of work from Perlin's youth, an older woman pointed at a colorful drawing and said, "He painted that for me when I was three! I don't know why my mother or I never got it framed."

Hopefully this new show makes up for that, although she did say as soon as it ended, she was finally framing it.

As long as I was at UR, I also caught "Nathan Benn: Kodachrome Memory, American Pictures 1972-1990," a show so colorful it was like watching a Technicolor film.

I mentioned to the man at the desk in the gallery that I had recently overheard a young woman discover what Kodachrome meant after hearing the Paul Simon song; she was amazed. He shook his head. "The only pictures those people will ever take is with one of these!" and held up a cell phone with a look of disgust.

Better not to further that conversation, so I went to look at the work.

Benn's subject choices were everyday people and scenes circa the '70s and '80s, so things such as a girl at a Vermont commune in 1973, standing on a porch calling people to dinner. Just another sweet-looking hippie chick rebelling against her parents' suburban life, no doubt.

A stylish but heavy Tennessee Williams in Key West in 1981. Mr. Rogers on a guest room bed in Pittsburgh in 1990. A locomotive mechanic with black, greasy fingers in Vermont circa 1973.

One that especially grabbed me was of Jamaican workers who'd come to Florida in 1981 to cut sugar cane. Two men, dressed to the nines in three-piece polyester suits, each with not one but two hats on their heads, posed at a Florida airport, flush with cash after the season.

Here were two dudes who were definitely going to be popular with the ladies back in Jamaica.

As I walked around the exhibit admiring the long-gone world of the photographs, a couple came in and we got to talking about the loss of Kodachrome and its vividness.

Pointing at a picture of cows by a barn, the man, who said he was a painter, exclaimed, "You could practically kiss them!" as if he had a history of kissing cows. When he got to one of trees, he made comparisons to Cezanne, saying, "You could almost pluck the fruit off the tree and eat it!"

And that woman with the enormous bouffant at the bus station in Mississippi? You could practically smell the Aqua Net.

By the time I got home, craziness resumed with multiple emails, my favorite not asking, but offering. "I am definitely flattered, humbled and at your service. Yes, I'd be delighted to meet with you. Please feel free to call me at your convenience at most hours."

Hmm, when do you suppose most hours end?

Everyone else needed to know something. Could I do lunch on Thursday? Could we do a phone interview because they're in Florida until Monday? Did I have a number so the media rep could call instead of email? Did I want to tour the factory with an apprentice? Did I want to eat before the play tomorrow? Could I do a road trip on Friday?

Could I answer everyone before my head explodes?

Apparently I can, providing me with the best response of all: Where is that kissing face emoticon when you need it?

Can I get back with you on that after this week?

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