Thursday, May 26, 2016

Earth on Hell

Not for one second today did I celebrate my birthday. Doubters, take note.

Probably today's unlikeliest adventure involved walking to the Virginia Historical Society at 9:30, an hour at which I am usually still happily between the sheets, to catch the preview of their new traveling exhibition, "Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

When the laughter subsides, I'll continue.

While I may eschew athletic endeavor or spectating sports, I was raised in a decent football fanatic household - since 1963, my parents have had Redskins season tickets at the 50-yard line, ten rows back behind the Redskins' bench - so besides honestly being curious about the historical aspects of the blood sport, I actually understand the game.

I know, surprise, right?

Chock full of interesting artifacts and interactive screens and shoulder pads, the show is a dense look at the game, right down to a ledger showing the first time a player was paid for playing. So it's a little something for the history nerd and a lot of something for the sports buff.

And, frankly, it's also an ideal payback for all those women who dragged their main men to see the "Dressing Downton" exhibit some months back.

Come, ladies, and marvel at the size of a linebacker's arm or thigh (there are molds).

Leaving the Historical Society, I walked by the Department of Historical Resources next door and decide there's no time like the present to research the house I live in, especially having recently learned that the downstairs windows are not original.

Besides immediately learning that the date I'd been told was incorrect - the house was built in 1880, not 1876 - I started digging through files of newspaper clippings, correspondence and other official documents, only to find my house not only once served as a girls' home but also had an additional third story.

Call me Nancy Drew, but I plan to go back when I have more time to dig deeper.

The big news in the neighborhood is the opening of Antler and Fin in the old Broad at Belvidere and with a party there tonight, I strolled the two blocks to check out the renovation.

You can't imagine my delight in seeing a guy busily sweeping the parking lot behind the Antler, an area that is treated like a block-sized trash can by people coming and going from the Rite-Aid or 804 Convenience store. When I asked if he was doing it because of Antler, he said yes.

Even better, he'd seen a cop who said they'd been trying to clean up the area with Antler & Fin moving in, hardly a surprise since the area used to be far better looked after when the B at B was there.

I'm just happy to hear J-Ward is back on their radar.

The renovated space looks completely different because the heavy shades that blocked the view of Broad Street are gone and late afternoon light pours in now in a way that never happened before. Prints of different fish types are framed on the wall along with antlers and even an antler chandelier. A living wall near the front window and a white grid with planters hanging from it on the side wall make for a groovy feel.

But the smartest thing they did was remove the back of the front booth to open up that row of dark, boxy booths and replace the tables with lighter wood tables.

None of the food being served - phyllo with wild boar or pulled pig, rillettes, smoked duck wings - appeared on the menu I saw, so that wasn't the point, not that that stopped me from eating it.

Familiar faces - a neighbor couple, a favorite drummer, the facilitator not in charge for a change, the PR beard - lined the bar and before long I'd met the commercial real estate agent whose name I've known for years and a tall man whose height means he never has problems ordering at a bar (except a Democratic one, according to him). Next thing I knew, a beer geek and a workaholic friend walked in to join the party.

The conversation turned out to be good, so I wound up staying far longer than I'd anticipated. Apparently I was the only one with the knowledge of who used to make those insanely good biscuits at Monument Coffee, a place everyone lamented losing.

And one by one, we scattered to the winds.

From one end of Jackson Ward to the other, my last stop was the Basement for "A Life Behind Bars," part of Theatre LAB's Cellar series in cahoots with Women's Mercury, written and performed by Dan Ruth, a VCU grad who moved to NYC in 1993, only to return (as they all seem to do).

The difference was that Dan had turned his years cleaning up customers' bodily fluids and picking up strangers ("What, none of you frisk your street trash?") into this compelling piece of theater.

Although I scored the full body hug from The Man About Town, the woman behind him must have taken an instant dislike to me because when I asked if the seat next to her was taken, she said, "I don't know," but moved immediately when I sat in it.

The women on my other side, however, were not only friendly but hugely enthusiastic about seeing Dan whom they'd seen ages ago and been "electrified" by (her words).

From the get-go, the show was compelling because years of bartending and being an alcoholic provided rich fodder for hilarity and piteousness once actor/writer Ruth decided to share (and get cleaned up). But it was also a poignant look at the Big Apple, both pre- and post - September 11th, with an emphasis on Brooklyn, Hell's Kitchen ("I'm here to get you loaded, not fix your life" he tells millennials) and kitchens with bathtubs.

"We were the last generation who knew how to bartend without a phone in our face." Only a 50-year old can say this.

He was especially funny ruminating on the changes in Richmond since he last lived here, marveling at the growth of VCU's footprint. "I"m going to try to finish the show before VCU tears down TheatreLAB and builds another dorm."

Another place he excelled was at impressions - drunk, old Jewish ladies, a skater punk kid, an entitled Manhattan millennial - effectively becoming the people he mocks, demonstrating particular skill at bringing to life the city health inspector he despises.

Of course the stories get pretty fierce once he descends into full-blown alcoholism, but the show ends with him announcing a decade of sobriety and a new lease on life (not to mention a solid piece of theater).

That had already become clear when he'd held up a photo of himself just before he went into detox, a disturbing shot of a man so far down the rabbit hole of alcoholism as to be oblivious to absolutely everything else.

A man who might, like me, celebrate his birthday for week, but would hurt more for it and likely wouldn't recall any of it.

Pity, because it's so much fun retelling the good stuff. It's like doing it all over again without any of the effort. And, believe me, birthday weeks take effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment