Thursday, February 25, 2016

You Can Leave Your Hat On

As surprising days go, this one had a lot to recommend it.

Today's road trip took me to Petersburg in the pouring rain, to a house where Lincoln met Grant to talk about the end of the Great Unpleasantness. War mongering aside, I was there to try on hats and admire a rather eclectic and enormous collection of stuff that resided in this house.

After establishing that my head is a large - no surprise since this is something my sisters and I have always been known for, along with disproportionately long legs and short cracks - I tried on gorgeously wide-brimmed hats that had the effect of almost making me look like a Southern belle and cloche styles that evoked flappers.

There was even one black and straw hat similar to the one purchased by Lynda Carter, which was a particularly interesting coincidence since Wonder Woman figured prominently in my plans once I returned to the capital city.

That's right, VCU's Cabell Library had put Wonder Woman's Invisible Plane on display for today only, complete with background and history. If it tells you anything, it was displayed at the Smithsonian on April 1 last year.

Now here's the real joke: I knew nothing about Wonder Woman. Never read the comic, never saw the '70s show, never even knew the super-hero premise. Which was exactly why I thought it kind of important to attend Jill Lepore's talk on "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," also the title of her book, and gain a little insight on the subject.

That meant inserting myself into an auditorium with lots of students in it, students who actually said things like, "Yea, but then you're going to have to deal with a bunch of young millennials who are sweaty and drunk."

The superior-sounding guy who said this couldn't have been more than nineteen. Hysterical.

Better yet, Lepore's talk turned out to be just the kind of cultural history that fascinates me.

In short order, she explained '70s "jiggle TV," which included both "Wonder Woman" (her twin brother's favorite) and "The Man from Atantis" (hers), which apparently involved Patrick Duffy pre-"Dallas" in a yellow Speedo ("So he was practically naked") and moved back in time to the excessive violence of 1930s male-dominated comic books.

A public opinion poll asked if Wonder Woman should be allowed to join the Justice Society as a means of establishing a standard of strong and courageous womanhood and enough people said yes to make it happen.

Where things got interesting was with the writer, William Marston, an avowed supporter of women's rights, a man who said that women like Wonder Woman should rule the world. A man who as a college freshman had been a member of Men for Women's Suffrage. A man who lived not only with his wife, but with a graduate student with whom he fathered two children.

A man who also invented the lie detector, wrote silent films for D.W. Griffith, penned a book called "Emotions for Normal People" and then detailed why certain behaviors should be considered normal (they weren't at the time). An odd bird, for sure.

What was so compelling was how her research showed that it was Marston's interests - in women's voting rights, in porn, in bondage, in birth control - that were being popularized through the character of Wonder Woman in her sassy costume and kinky boots based on a Vargas Girl from "Esquire" magazine.

I tell you what, it was a damn informative lecture, all the more so for how Lepore repeatedly pointed out how little women's history is taught in our schools. Middle-aged woman throughout the room invisibly raised their fists in support.

She made a terrific case for Wonder Woman tying together first and second wave feminism, a lesson most of the students could have used had they not already dipped out.

Walking home afterwards was exciting in that way that weather suddenly takes precedence over everything else. A fierce wind was whipping my hair and skirt but it was also eerily warm with an incredibly menacing sky, no doubt a foreshadowing of the bad news that awaited me there.

Bingo at Gallery 5 was canceled. Aw, man. I love my bingo nights.

Just as I was allowing that change in my plans to sink in, the tornado sirens cranked up like we were in Oklahoma or something. And not once, but several times until finally the torrential winds and rain began and I couldn't see across the street anymore.

I'll be honest with you, though, initially I wasn't sure what the sirens meant. It's not like we hear them in Richmond much ever, but luckily we have the Internets to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

My magic screen tells me there was a tornado in Chester at 5:52 that's supposed to pass over downtown/VCU at 6:10, so I figure I'll get cleaned up and go eat once the danger has passed.

Say, 6:20 or so.

Heading over to the Roosevelt, the sirens start up again, but in the distance, so I don't worry about it too much. It's not like there are cows or single-wides in the neighborhood to go flying past me, right?

Since the really pounding rain seems to come in waves, I spend time sitting in the car once I get to Church Hill, waiting for the rain to slacken enough to make a break for it. Even with flowered boots and a raincoat, I'm a little soggy on arrival.

Taking a seat at the bar, I find that most of the people around me are neighbors who'd sought refuge once they heard a storm was coming. Apparently it's less common to hear the sirens and leave for another neighborhood like some of us had.

Meanwhile, a woman near me was seriously freaked out, not by the potential of wind and rain damage, but by a yellow egg that kept showing up in different places around her house without her or her husband moving it. First it was on the table, then on the windowsill, then inside a candle with a lid on it and this was causing her some genuine consternation. Floorboards creaking at night weren't helping, either.

Trying to reassure her, I explained that my parents' house has a ghost - they even know her name: Bertha - and they've all peacefully co-existed for 32 years. You can't let a little thing like paranormal activity weird you out.

Turns out she could.

Just about the time I'd decided what I wanted for dinner, the bartender showed up with my Gabriele Rausse Vin de Gris and a recitation of the specials, which naturally changed my order entirely.

A warm, wet night like this felt beachy, you know, wild and watery, just perfect for a fried trout sandwich with hot sauce and cole slaw, the piece of trout hanging off the seeded bun by about three inches on either side, jutting into the fries.

Just what you ought to be eating when you have damp hair and bare feet inside rubber boots.

Next to me, a woman who lived four blocks away worked on a cheeseburger while we discussed the dining scene and how glad she was to have bought a house in Church Hill five years ago.

I still say it's too disconnected for my taste - I want to be able to walk most anywhere I might want to go - but I know plenty of people who like that about it.

Fish gone, I told the bartender I wanted dessert and he knew what I wanted without asking, or at least made the right guess. Trying to resist chocolate pudding with orange zest was futile, so I didn't.

"Wine and chocolate, it doesn't get much better than that, does it?" he inquired with a grin.

Actually, I hope it does.

No comments:

Post a Comment