Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Better Yet, How Was Your Night?

One of these things was not like the other. Namely, me.

I was at Rappahannock alone at the end of a work day spent solely in my own company while all around me I could hear people talking about their days and, to a one, all their conversations centered around the annoying other people they work with.

Given the time, we were undoubtedly also all there for happy hour oysters, but I found myself surrounded by people answering the "How was your day?" question with their seatmate or mates, most sounding less than satisfied.

Without so much as glancing at the menus, I ordered my usual and sat back to watch others dissect their days, drink and eat oysters. It was easy to get lost in the minutiae.

Three trays of oysters headed to a four-top and I knew without looking that they'd all go to the worker bee males, leaving the buttoned-up looking woman to turn up her nose. Nearer to me, a guy thoughtfully ordered two beers and a dozen oysters in anticipation of his date's arrival. A guy at the bar sat patiently listening to a woman explain why she cares more about her customers than what her boss tells her to do.

Once the oyster trail opened up and trays of bivalves began appearing everywhere, I watched as the bar and nearby table populations got theirs while I was left still sipping my orgeat lemonade.

With nothing better to do, I discussed the greater brininess of Tangiers over Rappahannocks with a couple who were sure the Rapps were saltier (it's basic geography, do you understand which one is further east?), although they had a tendency to douse all of them in hot sauce which may have affected their judgement.

But it was when the couple near me got their second tray that I gave my affable bartender the "look" and he sheepishly assured me my Old Saltes would be up momentarily.

Mm-hmm, and Old Saltes take this much longer to be shucked? "Actually, they do have tougher shells..." he tried, trailing off.

"You got all Old Saltes?" a guy asked incredulously, as if I'd ordered twelve salt licks. Everybody's got their preference, sir. Mine is to feel like a wave knocked me down and I came up with a mouthful of salt water. What's so wrong with that?

When the bartender came over to check on me, he didn't bother asking anything after I did nodded contentedly, just giving me the smile and saying, "Glad to hear it."

Minutes before happy hour ended, he graciously inquired of everyone at the bar if they'd be needing more oysters, but I told him I thought a dozen would do it for one woman and he had to agree. It wasn't as if I'd worked up some big appetite writing by myself all day.

As luck would have it, sociability was addressed by a message from a musician friend awaiting me, inquiring if I wanted to meet for a drink before seeing Brunswick tonight. "Been too long!"

I could be impressed that she'd somehow intuited that Balliceaux already was my final destination tonight or I could accept that she knows it was likely since we'd seen them together before, not that I haven't gone behind her back and seen them without her.

But not tonight.

Since I had a couple hours before she was to pick me up and I'd just finished reading Charlottesville resident Charles Shields' "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee" last night, I figured I'd go start Martin Amis' memoir "Experience" on the balcony, at least until sunset, but it was too close to dusk and the mosquitoes were hungry.

Time to move the party inside.

I'd read about 40 pages when I heard her calling my actual name (so often, it's "Stellaaaa..."), brought her upstairs and, talking a mile a minute, left together for Balliceaux. Things immediately got deep on the drive over when she asked if I thought it was possible to keep romance alive in a long-term relationship.

Ever the optimist, I answered in the affirmative. She's determined to try.

All that was dashed once we were at the bar talking to a music-loving regular I know, one who admitted he liked some people solely because of how they looked. Did he mean women, I wondered.

"Well, yes, all the men look the same," he said with typical male tunnel vision. So he admitted to being shallow.

But he also insisted to us both that love comes and goes and sometimes we're glad when a relationship ends. She looked at me for reassurance of what I'd said in the car, but he was faster, making a toast.

"To love coming and going!" he said clinking glasses with us both. Talk about your Debbie Downer, I watched my friend's face sink as we abandoned him to find seats in the back.

With their standard 11 horns plus drums, bass and percussion, Brunswick delayed any further conversation with their high energy blast of originals and covers while a lone girl danced non-stop to whatever they played.

Touchingly, in honor of the passing of the one and only Gene Wilder, they played the "Willy Wonka" theme and, because they could, their version of Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids" from "Channel Orange."

Now that's range, kids.

Range! I hear that's exactly what you need if you want to keep love from coming and going. Full report to come.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Putting the Wet Stuff on the Red Stuff

The stories begin when you're standing in line waiting for the doors to open.

"Have you seen No BS? Omygod, you've never even been here before? But you've been to RiverRock, right? No? Once you've been here a year, you'll know everyone by two degrees of separation."

Somehow I am fortunate enough to be standing in front of the Oracle of RVA.

The newbie tries to redeem herself by stating that she really like female rappers and name-checking a few. With no irony, he says he likes Beyonce. "Is that all you got?" she asks in disgust.

Welcome to Secretly Y'All at Balliceaux where tonight's storytelling theme is "Starting Fires."

Historian Josh, who works at the Civil War Center at Tredegar, plans to give us some historical context about the burning of Richmond at the end of the Civil War but does it in an entirely entertaining manner.

Like a report from the Bureua of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, he cleverly uses anecdotal evidence about drinking (everyone, including kids, was), pre-set fires setting off munitions factories and tobacco warehouses being set ablaze to deliver what is essentially "The Compleat Story of the Burning of RVA, Abridged."

No exaggeration, his performance was right up there with local historian master, Mike Gorman. When I tell him this after the show, he asks if I'll tell Mike that myself.

Grace tells about setting her first pine cone fire at age 4, notable because her hippie parents don't punish, they use it as a teachable moment by taking her to the firehouse to learn about fire safety. The chief asks her if she wants to ride in the fire engine and the lesson ends abruptly.

Life can't be easy when you join Boy Scouts solely so your Dad will like you, nor when that same Dad signs up his easily-brought-to-tears young son, Richard, to play "Cotton" in the camp skit.

Because it's a role that requires him to be naked in front of the entire camp, he runs away from camp alone to spend the night outdoors. Happy ending: by college, he over-compensates by getting naked in front of others at the drop of a hat (or a party) and eventually surprising strangers by jumping on their beach towel unexpectedly on a dark night (before running away).

Kristin tells a story about an early summer fling when her criteria had been young (because she was 20), hot (because. "I was shallow") and stupid ("Because that's what I was into then").

At the end of August when he reminds her it's over, she bags up the souvenirs of their brief love (compartmentalizing) and later burns them in a bonfire (moving on).

She admitted to a lot of over-sharing.

Local firefighter Charlie had a just-the-facts delivery (pressure levels, hose weights when filled, lots of numbers), even though his story involved a fierce fire and a suicide by immolation.

Explaining his role as pump man, he said, "I'm the guy who gets to put the wet stuff on the red stuff," got a few laughs, looked up sheepishly and smiled when he got more.

I'd say he'd worked on that one.

Ending on a highly philosophical note, he questioned whether the suicide would've happened if the victim had known two nesting birds would die in the process.

For pure heart-wrenching childhood drama, nothing compared to Alhaji's saga of living through Sierra Leone's rebel uprising as a 6-year old, an endeavor that involved being locked in and escaping his school, finding a shelter and escaping that, only to return for others and find the shelter ablaze after the rebels have left.

He and his family members laid on the ground among dead bodies so that when the rebels returned they wouldn't be killed. His two year old sister never made a peep.

When he got to this country, he was placed in a foster home where his parents locked him and another child in a basement room. He escaped that, too, followed by sleeping on the steps of Social Services to plead his case and finally get a good home.

It was a hell of a note to end the first half with, profound, moving and far more real than most people came prepared to hear.

During intermission, I made a beeline for the front bar, only to spot two fire trucks, lights on, parked outside. It was so unexpected that people treated it like a mirage...were they really there after all those fire stories?

Dunno. I ordered a housemade root beer which, for the first time in all the times I've ordered it, arrived with a fat pretzel atop the foam. It was practically an intermission snack and I loved it.

A comedian friend stopped by to tell me that he'd been too busy playing with someone's phone during the first story to pay any attention to it (his loss). All he remembered was that it was about George Washington (close, it was about the end of the Civil War).

Like always, the second half's stories were far looser about sticking to the theme.

We heard about post-traumatic party disorder after a high school party went wrong (he called the cops on his own party to get everyone off his parents' property) and about how Iranian families cultivate tradition by celebrating pagan holidays jumping over fires, a ritual some then miss as an adult ("The horrible becomes normal").

Adding to the atypical additions to tonight's programming - history lesson, firetruck log, refugee story - was a PSA about eschewing burial for cremation so you could become a plant, say a rose or a tree.

We heard about how arson runs in families. First Mom sets Dad's morning newspaper aflame so he'll listen to her at breakfast and next thing you know, Brother is starting a fire with his Pokemon cards.

At hippie camp during an aura-cleansing ritual using sage, counselor Rainbow accidentally sets pretty little Stephanie Smiley's long locks afire (none of the other girls are sad).

Which was an ideal segue to the big finale, Josh's story about catching his own teen mane on fire with a creme brulee torch, thus ending the indoor portion of the storytelling evening.

Walking the six blocks back to my car, I found myself a half block ahead of a guy checking in with Mom and Dad, reeling off his class schedule (he was theater major, hence the excellent projection skills) and impressions.

"And then I have voice and speech and today the teacher used the word "sensual" in class, so I think he's going to be really cool." Apparently this young man has not had enough exposure to advanced vocabulary in his young life.

Pause. "Get this! We won't be able to sit together as a family after all. No, no, it's going to be like a lot of the award shows and all the nominees get to sit in the front row, so that's where I'll be. That's gonna feed my ego," he crowed and disappeared down a side street.

Some nights, the stories don't end 'til you get back in your car and drive away.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Are You Feeling Lucky?

My windfall amounted to what the Dutch paid the Native Americans to buy Manhattan.

After an abbreviated walk, a monster brunch and a semi-thorough reading of today's Washington Post, I sallied forth to TheatreLAB in the Basement, pausing only to chat up the handsome Gallery 5 curator along the way.

The Basement was bare bones tonight, sporting no more than a table with four silver Art Deco sconces, a mic stand and what looked like someone's AV Club set-up with a movie screen, podium with projection device and chair with laptop.

Next to me was a student quartet who aspired to do comedy and lived in Carver, undoubtedly a rich source from which to pull comedic material. The one next to me was a sophomore from Staunton, his major still undeclared.

I reminded him that few guys know what they want to do at his age. "So true!" he said seriously.

Tonight's host was Mary Jane French, whose comedy sprawled somewhere in the gender politics arena (vulva versus vagina was patiently explained), hardly surprising given MJ's birth as a girl in a boy's body.

Now on estrogen, she proudly showed off her new assets ("These are the newest breasts you'll see on a 22-year old") in a very familiar-looking black and blue polka-dotted dress.

"Does it count as privilege for a lady comedian to be able to talk about her dick?" she quipped. Yes, yes I believe it does.

Ken, a delivery guy for an unnamed Mom and Pop pizza joint, spent his time pacing while making jokes about 9/11, Kid Rock and Michael J. Fox having Parkinson's disease (his most offensive joke, he claimed).

"People don't like when I talk about tragedy onstage," he admitted. Not entirely true since we laughed at some of it.

Dimpled Mary Jane returned to show off her many talents, including playing harmonica and doing impressions.

Brandon wanted to dissect people who had both Trump and UR bumper stickers (both are good at spending their Dad's money) and praised meth as a hipster drug because it was made in small batches and crafted locally.

I thought that exceptionally funny.

He steered clear of white girls with dreadlocks, he said, because "they've already shown they make bad choices." Tell me about it.

During intermission, I went outside to warm up and it was there, in the stairwell, that MJ asked me and some other people if we wanted to buy raffle tickets.

A dollar a piece, ten for $5 or $10 for tickets stretching the length of MJ's leg (considerable, I can assure you, but also recently denuded by laser hair removal), so I dropped $5 on ten chances.

More importantly, I shared with MJ that the polka dot dress she was wearing was identical to one I wore in Aruba in '86. I have photos to prove it. "Did you donate it to Diversity Thrift because that's where I got it?" she asked. Negative.

Still, she liked the retro angle. "But that thrills me to know that."

The duo next to me were debating spicy options for his birthday dinner tomorrow, so I passed on some of my eating expertise. All in all, I think it was intermission time used wisely.

Back inside, the students in my row were talking about their band-in-the-making. One crowed about how they could all trade off instruments, but the one in the torn overalls demurred, saying he could only sing and write songs. His friend was quite sure he could also play bass.

"I could sing and play bass, but nobody does that," he said, admitting his lack of musical history knowledge. Um, hello Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy? Paul McCartney? Sting?

He was properly chastened. Once he learns bass, he's all set.

Next up was Sensible Comedy of which MJ was a part, but tonight her sole role was running AV. So we'd watch a brief film called, say, "The Homophobe" on the screen and then see a live skit about a game show featuring a young couple answering questions about each other.

For example, "Sarah, how many times has Alex come home and been distant to you?" was followed by, "Every day!" and they got 100 points. When asked if Alex still loved her (both said no), they won the grand prize for matching answers.

After a film called "The Bisexual," the skit featured a guy tasting a flight at a craft brewery, with each beer style described as this, that and "extra hops." The final taste came in a bucket and featured beer filtered through the brewmaster's kidneys, with the addition of a sweaty wife-beater and, you guessed it, extra hops.

Needless to say, it was served warm.

Chris from Ruckersville ("Twenty miles north of and 50 years behind Charlottesville") targeted the guy in the overalls next to me, inquiring of him if he was an Amish hipster. He tried for a quick butter joke and failed.

Since he was black, he could make jokes about Monticello glorifying its slaves quarters to make a buck ("They offer an emancipation fast pass for only $38 and I'm wondering where the friends and family discount is?") and when they got laughs, could say, "Ooh, lot of white guilt in this room."

Hilarious with great delivery, he talked Trump, throwing in some political references including mentioning Dukakis, which struck me as particularly funny. "Thanks, ma'am, for laughing," he said and turned to the crowd. "He was from the '80s, guys."

The only thing left to do by that point was for Mary Jane to pull a raffle ticket winner and it wound up being mine, making me the proud recipient of $24.

Not a bad score for an undeclared evening spent laughing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I'll Tell Anyone Whose Heart Can Comprehend

In many ways, this is an ode to one of my favorite men.

If the movie hadn't already gotten me thinking about him, I'd have started once I got off the marathon phone conversation. Or when I pulled out the envelope of old photos. Or when he left the smart-assed comment on Friday's post.

I went to see "Southside With You" (alternately known as "the Obama movie," at least according to the woman in line in front of me at Movieland) because I loved the idea of a film about nothing more than a couple's first date.

That it was set in 1989 and that they wound up being President and First Lady only made the movie's appeal greater. But what I was really hoping for was nothing more than romance.

Because it was simply the story of a guy's attraction to a girl and how he wrangled her into spending more time with him on their first date than her lack of interest in "dating" him warranted. Of course he did it brilliantly, suggesting an Afro-centric art exhibit, Spike Lee's new film "Do the Right Thing" and her favorite dessert, ice cream.

In addition to admiring the man's game plan, part of the pleasure in watching the film was the simplicity of the time.

Barack drives a grody old Nissan Sentra with a hole in the floorboard that reminded me of a long-ago friend's VW Bug with a similar view of passing asphalt. Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much" blares from his car radio as the credits come up while he drives to pick up Michelle for that first fateful date.

Watching the characters fall into conversations about their pasts and passions, discussing everything and nothing while navigating Southside Chicago on a summer Saturday was truly a primer on how to have a successful first date.

Keep talking, talking, talking and never stop listening. Eat and drink in between and look at things you can talk about. And godspeed.

And though the audience knows what will ultimately happen down the road, the film ends with both sitting at home alone taking stock, trying to process the magic of what's just transpired between former near strangers.

It's a feeling anyone who's ever been on an unexpectedly successful first date recognizes. I know I do. I can remember coming home and marveling at the time spent in non-stop conversation with someone I barely knew that morning.

But not everyone's long first date, even the wildly successful ones, results in a 24-year marriage like the Obamas. Some result in a marriage approaching 40 years and that's where my friend L. comes in.

When we first met as college students, we hit it off, becoming fast friends among a large circle of colorful characters. I don't recall a time when he didn't have his girlfriend, but I was still surprised when they got married and even more surprised when they stayed married.

But as I've gotten older, I've realized that, like the Obamas, they saw something in each other early on and worked at nurturing it, probably in an atypical manner since they're both decidedly individualistic.

Today's plans had been built around a scheduled phone call to my best friend from college, with whom I hadn't spoken in probably close to two years and could no longer stand it.

Allowing for the time difference - she's in San Antonio - I got up barely in time to eat breakfast before sprawling in my favorite chair with a view of my wall of books for a wide-ranging conversation to catch up.

We cackled when she admitted her rabble-rousing DNA had been passed on to Son #2 and how she's at a point where she finds herself caring for others because, she laments, "I'm surrounded by nitwits." Fortunately, her degree is in criminal justice, so that helps, I'm sure.

Somewhere around the two hour plus mark, she mentioned her surprise and delight that I finally have a bevy of female friends, something I most definitely did not as a younger woman. I'd always had her, but she's one of those rare people who has as many male qualities as female, putting her in a category by herself.

But it was when I mentioned that L. had said the same thing that we turned our attention to the subject of our long-time friend and his wife and how they've achieved what so very few of our friends have: a decades old thriving relationship.

My friend admitted that she hadn't expected it to last. He was a gregarious and social Detroit boy and she was a quiet, sweet girl from an Iowa farm, so what were the chances? When we first met her, they seemed like the unlikeliest of couples.

I mentioned that I'd pulled out some old photos last weekend, shots of our posse back during that era, and there was L., a hat on his Afro, a flowered shawl on his shoulders, smiling at the camera as he danced with a girl named Mary at a long-ago Halloween party.

The entire tone of the party is evident in his energy and enthusiasm.

Neither of us recalled his girlfriend being there and there were no photos to suggest she was. Maybe their first date hadn't happened yet.

Because clearly, something significant happened the night it did - just like with Barry and Michelle - or they wouldn't still be happily together.

And on that subject, I once again defer to Miss Jackson.

Our friends think we're opposites
Falling in and out of love
They all said we'd never last
Still we manage to stay together
There's no easy explanation for it
But whenever there's a problem
We always work it out somehow

They said it wouldn't last
We had to prove them wrong
Cause I've learned in the past
That love will never do without you

It would just be a song if I hadn't seen it unfold with my own eyes. A great first date proves that you just know when the other person is non-negotiable.

So far as I can see, there's no easy explanation for it. Ain't love grand?

Friday, August 26, 2016

If I Was a Drink

When planning an all day adventure, it's essential to pick a partner open to following your lead to create the perfect storm.

First, I need someone willing to knock off a quick five miles walking along the river, not to mention someone eager to climb rocks, remove shoes and cool down in one of the James' many natural Jacuzzis situated between rocks and created by the rushing water fed by nearby falls.

Someone who agrees that the second a snake is spotted - even a five inch one- it's time to move on.

Second, it's essential I have someone willing to cross state lines to eat lunch, and by lunch, I mean eat crabs until we can't eat anymore.

After a brief and soul-sucking stretch on I-95, we took Route 301 up past Fort A.P. Hill, through Port Royal and Dahlgren and landed in downtown Pope's Creek, Maryland at Captain Billy's Crabhouse.

And unlike my visit there last June, this time we ate outside on the deck overlooking the Potomac River and the bridge that had brought us there. Five other tables were occupied when we arrived and we outlasted them all, including a couple who sat down after us, only to rethink their decision and move indoors.


Everything about being there was ideal - the jet skis buzzing by with rooster tails arcing behind them, the noisy birds atop almost every post on the nearby docks, the especially white clouds in the sky - including our 22-year old waitress, Brittney, who's lived in that area her entire life, making her skittish about moving to Short Pump to live with her boyfriend.

She's tempted only because then she'd have access to Olive Garden and the Cheesecake Factory. Honestly, we wanted to kidnap her and bring her back to Richmond with us, if only to show her (cue music) a whole, new world.

Instead, we ordered crabs, steamed shrimp and coleslaw and began the slow process of eating a lunch that would take a couple of hours to finish satisfactorily.

Although we differed on a few points - I don't use malt vinegar or a knife and we remove the smallest legs at different points in the process - both of us grew up being home-schooled by our elders in Advanced Crab Eating for Connoisseurs.

Few attain our level of mastery.

The afternoon passed in a haze of claw cracking, view admiring (and a bit of boat envy when a couple set out in the boat we'd been hearing bang against the dock since we sat down) and contentment, with just enough of a breeze to keep flies away.

Only the music - modern country with an occasional classic rock artist like Steve Miller or '90s throwback such as 311 - could have used some improvement, although I was having such a wonderful time I found myself somehow sucked in by a Brad Paisley song.

If she was a drink, she'd be single barrel bourbon on ice
Smooth, with a kick, a chill and a burn all at the same time
She's Sunday drive meets high speed chase
She ain't just a song, she's the whole mixtape

I can't say if I'd have even noticed the song if I hadn't been so happily eating crabs on the river on a summer's day, or perhaps southern Maryland is just a place where such a song fits.

By the time we bid Brittney farewell, the early dining crowd was beginning to arrive, our hands still reeked of crabs despite multiple washings and we knew our clothes were more than a tad ripe.

Not ashamed to admit more than a couple hunks of crab landed in my bra and on the chair next to me once my hands and mouth got going.

The drive back down 301 was relatively uneventful except for when it was highly dramatic, but my partner in crime called for reinforcements and Super Bruno not only saved the day, but teased her about her crabby breath before sending us on our way.

Third, and perhaps most importantly because it would be at this point (8 hours into our adventure) that most people would falter, I require someone who sees the value in a completely unique experience, even if it is after a long day and situated 35 miles in a different direction.

And that's after we got home, cleaned up and changed. Coincidentally, we'd both chosen flowered dresses for our rendezvous in Goochland.

Lickinghole Creek Brewery was positively packed when we drove up its dusty, red clay-covered driveway to join the throngs there for pick-your-own sunflowers. Okay, probably just as many were there for beer, given the lines.

But we were there to gather armfuls of free flowers with which to brighten up our city apartments and remind us of a fabulous day.

Walking towards the fields, we saw an artist busy at his easel capturing all the yellow flowers nodding around him and passed scores of people clutching bouquets of sunflowers.

Pegging us for new arrivals, a woman advised, "Go to the back rows!"

The sum total of my experience working in fields harvesting involved picking strawberries, which, I'm here to tell you, bears little resemblance to cutting flowers taller than me.

Unlike low-growing berries, sunflower fields are tall and dense and once you hack your way through fields of squash and melons to get to them, it's sticky hot, even just before sunset.

Which is not to say that being surrounded by so many flowers under puffy, pink-tinged clouds as dusk settled in wasn't worth every drop of sweat that rolled down the back (and front) of my sunflower-printed dress, because it was.

But so is having a partner who thinks a day that begins on the rocks, moves out of state and ends in a field is just as wonderful as I do.

Brad would say she's the whole mixtape.

Simmer Down

You never know where the surprises are going to come from.

I saw Hitchcocks's "Rear Window" on the big screen for the first time in 2009 and then a second time in 2011. Tonight I saw it again but with two major differences: I was outdoors and I was seeing it with a whole passel of people who hadn't seen it before, much less heard of rear window ethics.


During dinner at a nearly empty Garnett's (there was a woman who'd dropped off her youngest at college and was having cake to help her deal with the trauma), I read the New York Times Magazine issue from December 15, 2015 (still not entirely sure why it remains in the reading box nine months later), mainly because the cover story was called "The Lives They Led" and was about obscure and notable people who died last year, so it was kind of fascinating.

And while I'd read that singer Leslie Gore of "It's My Party" fame was gay, I'd had no clue so many of her songs were about feeling like an outsider because of it.

I'd had no idea that there was a woman known as "Dust Lady" because of a haunting photograph taken shortly after the towers fell on September 11.

Or heard of Lee Israel, a two-bit writer who apparently faked a slew of correspondence by notable dead writers, a scam that led to a book deal about her literary thievery.

All dead now.

Showing my server a '60s photo of a mother and son sitting on a NYC stoop, a lit cigarette in her hand, I commented that you'd never see an image like that today and she agreed. "There's a simplicity to that that doesn't exist anymore. If they did it now, it would be so much more staged looking, so much less natural" she was sure.

Okay and there would also not be a cigarette in her hand.

Dessert consisted of a stranger's leftover frosting (she thinks icing is too sweet) and by the time I left, every seat was filled except mine. And despite everyone having someone with them, I made sure to return the magazine to the box in case others needed dinner company like I had.

Then I went undercover with the Baptists, as I do every August for their Classics in the Courtyard series. Just another heathen in a folding chair at First Baptist.

Trying to look unassuming, I began setting up my chair in the second row, only to have a woman ask me if I was with the James River Hikers. I admitted I wasn't, not sure if I needed to move my chair. She let me stay after I shared that I walk multiple miles every day.

The film had barely begun - Jimmy Stewart's window shades were just starting to roll up and Hitch had not yet cut to one of the many shots of the thermometer showing 90+ degrees - when I overheard a guy behind me ask, "Is this a murder mystery or a love story?" to which his friend replied, "Kind of both."

Kind of superfluous was the captioning, which I had to assume was on in case people couldn't hear all the dialog, but I'm pretty sure everyone there could hear the foghorns, whistles and cars beeping, so why did the captions need to show that inane information, too? It was just annoying.

It was not only an ideal summer flick, but a pretty great outdoor movie with all its references to heat. Beads of perspiration on Jimmy's face. A couple sleeping on their balcony. A composer mopping his studio in his boxers. Everyone's open windows.

As always happens when you're screening outdoors, the world becomes part of the experience. A cool breeze picked up just as it began raining onscreen and ended when it stopped.

As unfortunately also happens, glitches gum up the viewing. When the woman screams because she's discovered her little dog has been strangled, the screen froze, as if in horror.

Once we could have handled, but it kept happening, causing repeated pauses to correct it. Behind me, the "Rear Window" virgins were salivating to find out what was going to happen next.

Since I already knew that much, I focused on admiring the freeze frames of Grace Kelly, each one of which was utterly gorgeous, no matter where the frame settled.

All the starting and stopping was making for running commentary from behind, as in, "No, no, Lisa, get out of there!" when she was trapped in the murderer's apartment, or the clueless guy who saw Jimmy grabbing his camera bag for flashbulbs and whispered, "I hope he has a gun!"

Truly, I was amazed to hear so many people commenting as if this was their first time watching "Rear Window." How is that even possible in a crowd that definitely skewed pre-MTV?

When our hero mentioned needing a drink, the guy behind me said, "I need a drink, too. This is too much suspense!" Cover blown.

Not likely to happen with this crowd, friend. In any case, tonight proved that you haven't seen Hitchcock until you've seen it with the Baptists...and a few covert heathens.

And, yes, there will always be suspense.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Never Too Hot to Handle

Allow me to brag for a moment.

July 2016 was the hottest month on record according to NASA, and just about every other science nerd institution that pays people to monitor such things in hermetically sealed buildings across the country.

Certainly in Richmond it was a scorcher.

Yet, for the 24th year in a row, I eschewed air conditioning. It's not like I don't have central air retrofitted to my 1876 apartment, it's just that I've never turned it on in seven plus years of living here. For the other 17 years of living as Mother Nature intended during summer, I chose to live in un-air-conditioned residences.

My reasons are myriad, but let's start with how unnatural it is to be cool and comfortable in the south during the summer. You may be able to separate yourself from your body's natural responses, but I can't. I actually like that feeling of sweat working its way down my chest or back.

What air conditioning devotees (who, in a Venn diagram, overlap almost entirely with cell phone owners) refuse to acknowledge is that by being in climate-controlled spaces so much during the summer, your body's ability to deal with heat is severely compromised.

Even long-time friends who've accepted this eccentricity of mine aren't above looking at me with disdain, say on a patio or rooftop bar, and saying some version of, "You're not even sweating, are you?"

No, I'm not because my body is acclimated to dealing with heat, just as yours was at one time.

It's not like I don't sweat because I am slick with it after walking six miles every morning in this weather, but I also walk four miles an hour, so I'm not exactly lollygagging, either. But sitting outside, having a drink in 90 degree weather? That's hardly sweat-worthy once you're used to your apartment thermostat climbing to (occasionally above) 95.

Embracing summer would be reason enough for living outside societal norms, but the benefits pile on far beyond my preference for summers more reminiscent of those from my childhood.

My July electric bill was $38, how about yours? My carbon footprint is smaller than my actual footprint (although I don't exactly have petite feet) and I'm among the few who aren't contributing to global warming for the sake of sweater weather in July and August and, being an old hippie, that gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

But, honestly, I turned my back on A/C to enhance the quality of my life.

When I looked at this apartment initially, every window was painted shut and I immediately told my landlord-to-be that I wouldn't take it unless every window opened easily and had screens. Already pegging me for a long-term rental gem, he accommodated. Two years ago, he had storm windows put in so my 19th century windows were a bit more air tight during polar vortexes.

Open windows are like porch sitting; they involved you in the goings-on of your neighborhood.

I hear people riding bikes a block before they pass my windows, their voices projecting ahead of their tires. Snippets of pedestrian conversation and car music drift up from the street (hearing Al Green blasting from an open car window has been known to cause spontaneous harmonizing ), along with the hum of cicadas at night and birds in the morning.

Granted, I also hear the trash truck on Wednesdays, the neighbor's hound alerting his parents to people in the alley and VCU's catastrophic siren, but, really, that's all just part and parcel of city life, like dings on your bumpers from daily parallel parking. If you want to feel isolated from the world (and maintain pristine bumpers), move to the suburbs or country.

And did I mention the perks of living without A/C beyond your physiology, the planet, your wallet and neighborliness?

When the mercury climbs precariously high in my apartment, I take that as summer giving me permission to wallow in it. That means cool showers, heat naps with three fans pointed directly at me, reading in my north-facing bedroom or on the shaded balcony and ice cream, lots of ice cream.

It means that there are times when I don't do anything at all because it's simply too hot. Summer was like that when I was a kid and it's still like that.

I ask you, what other season extends such glorious goof-off opportunities?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dropping Anchor Late

Even if you don't arrive at the Bay until after 4:00, August cuts you some slack.

There's still just under four hours to get your beach on before a day as exquisite as this one winds down to a close.

If you're like me and unaccustomed to setting up an umbrella that late in the day, you might be as surprised as I was that the shade produced was several yards away from the umbrella, which looked like some kind of abandoned totem far behind our chairs.

Science, never my strong suit.

Actually, late afternoon is ideal if you want to catch the maneuvering of a flotilla of sailboats (which, as it happened, I did) that convened and set sail right in front of us shortly after the work day ended.

Instead of happy hours, these avid sailors seemed to be having regatta hours.

And while it was totally cool seeing them circle and crisscross in front of one another, I found it most engaging when they lined up across the horizon, tilted at identical angles and looking for all the world like a synchronized swim team performing some sort of graceful choreography as they heeled in unison.

Oh sure, I spotted some luffing here and there, but for the most part, it was an impressive show of rigidity, at least in sails.

The military presence made itself felt repeatedly with helicopters buzzing the coast, jets overhead and the occasional hovercraft producing an ungodly racket and forcing up enough spray to look like smoke on the water down by the Bay Bridge Tunnel.

That late in the day, you're also bound to see industrious souls out in the shallow depths (which is actually awfully far out given that it's the bay) casting nets. Just standing in the water, I spotted more than a few blue crabs scuttling along the bottom, so it couldn't have been too difficult to net a few dozen with minimal effort.

If only I'd had a net.

Eventually, we walked down to Mac's Place to join the locals on the sunny bayside patio, the kind of rustic place that puts no effort into decor or furniture because it's all about location, location, location.

Wisely, we took a table in the shade, but still with a fine view of the brilliant blue bay, the boats and, if you squinted, the Eastern Shore, only to overhear the two old duffers at the next table order a couple of Fireballs.

Silly me, I thought Fireball was something only young and stupid college kids drank, but apparently aging beach locals are also fond of it as prelude to their Budweisers.

These guys had randomly stopped by Mac's while out on their bikes, reminiscing about when the joint had been called the Ship's Captain and had been even seedier than it is now.

That alone is worth pondering.

When one guy's phone rang loudly and he went to answer it, his buddy mocked him, saying in an effeminate, whiny voice, "Yes, dear?"

I get that not everyone wants the little woman to know he's at Mac's Place.

Today's superior weather ensured that the patio was soon completely filled with a lot of people who looked like they could be Jimmy Buffet fans (and, yes, that's a judgement), but perhaps that's just what long-time locals look like in these parts.

Lots of leathery tans, lots of tank tops. Too much long, wind-blown hair and a couple of porn 'staches. Just another night at Mac's.

Dinner matched the setting with steamed spiced shrimp and spicy fish tacos full of cabbage slaw that took far longer to arrive than they did to eat, but we'd arrived just as the masses did and fortunately, were in no hurry.

Our server was MIA when we wanted the check, but neither of us complained about sitting there watching the last of the golden light transition to the pinks and violets of impending sunset set against blue-gray cirrus clouds streaked across the sky.

Walking back to our beach chairs, we saw a guy come out of the water with a fish in hand, but no fish-catching apparatus in the other. Judging by the satisfied look on his face, we figured he'd simply snatched it out of the water.

That's a serious bay pro. Me, I just figured out the best time to hang out. I've nailed that.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Epitome of Vague

Don't tell me what the poets are doing, especially now that the Tragically Hip have played their final show.

Don't go anywhere near campus unless you're prepared to experience the larva stage of the class of 2020 working their way out of the cocoon. These fresh recruits - un-tattooed, unable to navigate street crossings alone, un-pierced, unaware of how boldly they stand out - will burn your corneas.

Between Broad and Grove on Harrison this evening, I passed a woman in hip-hugger bell bottoms complete with studded leather belt, cropped jean jacket and cropped white shirt, a vast expanse of midriff reminiscent of the Britney Spears era glaring white in the late day sun.

Then there was the blond California girl type in cut-offs so short you could see the half moon crescents of her bottom airing out with each long-legged stride.

Mark my words: by the winter holidays, both of these girls will have moved beyond these ensembles to something more befitting Richmond's arty college city aesthetic. They will eventually look back in amazement at how they dressed early on.

Don't expect me to agree enthusiastically about how wonderful this weather is just because the humidity is way down and the high temperature was barely mid-80s. To people like me, this weather feels like Fall and I am not the slightest bit ready for Fall.

Not even a little.

Don't be surprised when you hear from your oldest and best friend after years of radio silence and you find that she's still the same yin to your yang she was when you first met in college. Just to be sure, I check her vitals.

And, yes, I still get wet when a souped-up Stingray or Mustang goes by. Love you.

That's my girl.

Don't take me to My Noodle & Bar and complain they we ordered too much food (no one ever says that about the wine, do they?). Two appetizers - pork dumplings and tempura shrimp and vegetables - and four entrees should be doable for four people.

And while I managed to lick the plate of my broccoli and chicken in brown sauce, not another entree was polished off, leaving me to accept who the hearty eater in this group is.

For that matter, don't tell someone who doesn't like staying on the oceanfront that he's invited to your oceanfront cottage next August, because he'll refuse you (I saw it happen). But ask me, an oceanfront devotee, and I'll give you my RSVP immediately.

Outdoor shower, enormous L-shaped deck facing the ocean? Oh, yes, I'll be there, for as long as you"ll have me.

Hilariously and unexpectedly, my acceptance changes everything. Even someone who prefers to reside a bit further back can't stand the thought that I might get yet another shot at beach time, causing him to decide he will come after all. Should be a great rotating party with guests coming and going all week.

Wow, by then I'll be agog again witnessing the incoming class of 2021. Tragic, perhaps. Hip? Unlikely.

Here's to a whole lot of poetry and ocean time before then.

Going to the Rec

Jackson Ward, the more I get to know you, the more crazy about you I am.

While today was officially my second visit to the new Black History Museum located in the former colored troops' armory, it was my first actually taking in the exhibits, although the upstairs galleries were closed because they're installing the next temporary exhibition right now.

A small group of people who'd arrived just before I did joined me to watch a 30-minute film about the neighborhood narrated by people who'd resided, gone to school and lived their full lives here.

Several of them recalled when the armory had been used as a rec center and enlargements of old black and white photos on the wall spoke to the nights it became a destination for mixers, socials and dances, with the women wearing stylish '40s and '50s strapless dresses with full skirts and tulle petticoats.

One woman recalled growing up on St. James Street, skating the block and playing outside all day with the dozens of other children who lived there, while mothers carried out their domestic duties indoors.

Another talked about what a big deal it had been to him when Armstrong High School had gotten a black principal. Oliver Hill, Jr. recalled seeing his mother walking a picket line to integrate Miller and Rhoads' tearoom.

But my favorite source was the man who ticked off where the businesses of life used to sit in J-Ward. He said there were two grocers, one at Clay and Prentice (a street I've never even heard of) and one at Brook and Clay.

Given what I know about Brook Road's legacy as a shopping route for farmers in the county, I wasn't at all surprised that Brook and Clay was also the site of Max's Drug Store (as opposed to Standard Drug at First and Broad), John D's Bar, Cameron's Service Station and Hall's Bar, the latter a tad further up on Brook.

This guy reminisced about taking dates to High's Ice Cream Shop at Second and Clay after church services. Several people mentioned Ebenezer Baptist and Sixth Mt. Zion as hubs of local activity.

Hill, who'd been part of the integration of Chandler Middle School, remembered being appalled at then-Virginia social studies textbooks, which portrayed slavery as a benign institution where everyone was just one big happy family.

Right, except some members of the family were bought and paid for.

Walking out of the auditorium after the film, one of the men looked up at the ceiling and said, "This used to be my old gym."

As I was soon to learn in the galleries, the armory had been converted to Monroe Elementary for colored kids in 1898, used as housing and a recreation center for black troops during WW II and used by various schools for its gym and facilities after that.

Many of the displays are touch screen, using old photographs, prints and drawings along with narrative to explain important eras: Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Massive Resistance and Civil Rights, although being of an age, I'd just as soon look at the objects framed on the wall as on a lighted screen,

Let's face it, few things resonate the same on a screen as the actual object does. Looking at a leather slave collar with metal rings and a lock is a far more visceral (and disturbing) experience and one I agreed was best seen in real life.

Lean in when it gets uncomfortable, that's the advice I took away from the race relations round table discussion I went to at this very building last month.

But photo choices were strong, too, like the one of a black man with his toddler on his shoulders holding a protest sign reading, "President Johnson, Go to Selma NOW!" which spoke volumes compared to the picture of white kids protesting busing on Franklin Street in 1970, looking like petulant racists-in-the-making.

One thing that stood out about the Civil Rights era scenes was how nicely dressed the protesters were. The male VUU students at the sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter wore overcoats and hats. You don't even see that at the symphony or opera anymore.

In the word nerd category, I was delighted to discover that J-Ward once had a resident and business owner (a shoe store at 506 E. Broad) at the turn of the century named St. James Gilpin, whose name wound up both on a street and public housing.

I wasn't entirely surprised to learn that a mailman named Victor Green had written something called the "Green Book for Black Travelers," listing out by location beauty salons, night clubs, restaurants, service stations and lodging that welcomed (rather than embarrassed or refused service to) black customers.

That said, I was incredulous that the book was still being printed as late as 1966. Except I shouldn't have been because of a story I'd heard at a history lecture a while back.

When LBJ and Lady Bird moved into the White House, they needed someone to drive their beagles from Texas to Washington and the black staffer they asked to do it expressed concern about where along the route would be safe and willing to lodge a black man, much less a black man with beagles.

So 1966, yea, our ugly past really is as unfortunately recent as that.

But what the galleries at the beautifully renovated Black History Museum really demonstrate is what a rich neighborhood I live in and how important it is to acknowledge the people, buildings and businesses that helped shape the fabric of Richmond.

I may be nothing more than one tiny little thread in that, but hearing the stories and seeing the photographs seems like a most excellent way to begin the leaning-in process.

Jackson Ward for the win.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Moment of Truth

You know how it feels when you lose somebody you cared about deeply, someone you thought was the one?

Yea, well, Billy Christopher Maupin knows that feeling, too, only he's got a far better singing voice than you do and he's a whiz at mining soundtracks for musical gems to tell the highs and lows of trying to navigate the world once you've been smitten.

So quit yer whining.

The Camel was the setting for his cabaret, "This Fish Needs a Bicycle," an evening of history ("I was a virgin until I was 19"), self-reflection (resolving to be okay with being single) and observation ("I'm always hitting on straight guys"), accompanied by Tristan on guitar and Joshua on keyboards, punctuated by show tunes and obscure character-driven songs.

Occasionally a random dancer appeared to great effect, like when long-legged Emily began shimmying to "Sister Kate" right up the aisles between the tables to the stage.

As long as they were songs about missin' a feller, lovin' a man or muddlin' through heartache, he was all over it while nattily clad in a red blazer, black shirt and cuffed pants.

Barefoot, naturally.

From Oklahoma's "I Can't Say No" to a torch song such as "The Man I Love" to "Down With Love," with a Cher imitation (not just voice, but hair flipping as well) smack dab in the middle of a killer medley, it was pretty easy to see where  this boy had channeled his feelings after his last big romance had ended.

Acknowledging his constant companion, stage fright, he promised to do one more song before the break, during which we were instructed to get a drink, order some dessert and avail ourselves of the bathroom, which he also planned to do.

Just as he was about to hop off the stage, he realized his error, sheepishly saying, "Oh, yea, the song."

Of course he'd told us about the romance that had spawned the evening earlier, because that's what lovesick people do after they call the whole thing off.

But their heart will go on, and in this case that meant the trio returned after a break (BC in a different blazer) only to start, stop and restart a song before realizing that their juju was off. "Okay, I'm just gonna go out and come in again," he said and once he did, all was well in the world of sung emotions.

BC brought up acoustic guitarist Psalm Swarr because at his request, she'd written a song about his breakup, telling him if he didn't want it, she'd sing it herself. Between Tristan's slide guitar and his harmonizing with Psalm and Emily, the heartbreaking song was rendered achingly.

There were songs about why people fall in love (can you say hormones? how about convenience?), future chances and endless optimism.

Things got a little emotional when he talked about getting really good at "hiding from life," but he also shared his attack plan: (F*ck that!" with enthusiasm), simultaneously citing Auntie Mame's advice abut life being a banquet while letting drop that Mame was one of his dream roles.

It never hurts to let people know what you want, said every kvetching mother ever.

When he came back for an encore, he asked the sell-out crowd, "One more?" and someone yelled out, "Ten more!" just before someone else laughing instructed, "Calm down there!"

Reaching in for a prime nugget with which to close the well-sung show, he pulled out Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Something Good" from "Sound of Music" and performed it like his life depended upon it.

Or at least his heart. The good news, he'd already sung, is that love is going around, heck, it's practically in the air.

Best to keep your resistance low.

Moaning and Needing

The young handsome friend put it best: "You had me at Loire."

Admitting that his top three wine regions are Loire, Rhone and Piemonte, he was one of six who said yes to joining me at Camden's for a Loire wine dinner with echoes of my summer vacation there just last month.

Man, a lot's happened since then.

Oysters Chenonceau - fried local oysters over corn cakes with housemade ham and sage aioli - kicked things off with Grenadiere Muuscadet 2014, but in my  mind, I was back at Chenonceau looking out a castle window to see a stand-up paddleboarder working his way down the river toward me.

I was happy to hear Holmes let slip that while combing the stacks of his vinyl collection recently, "Valley of the Dolls" fell out of the stack. That's the kind of unexpected treasure he doesn't want us to know he has, but will no doubt launch our next record-listening party.

The prize for the freshest-tasting course went to Cherrier Menetou Salon paired with house-cured (not smoked) salmon with a killer gremolata that made the wine and fish sing and Gruyere crisps.

For entertainment value between courses and knowing full well I'd shock the table, I shared my day spent deep in the bowels of the West End at Bugstock, leading to a discussion of how un-developed the East End is despite its proximity to downtown.

Holmes knew why. "I tried living in Varina and there was absolutely nothing to do. Nothing," he informed us, although that was 1974, so surely it was even less desirable then. Still, I gave him points for trying to be a pioneer.

The next wine - Pierne Prieur Sancerre Rose - was deemed the holy grail, partially because two of my female friends had never had a Sancerre Rose (Beloved was actually moaning while the Lovely One summed it up with, "I need more Roses like this").

Don't we all?

We lapped it up happily with a charcuterie plate heavy with housemade country pate, local prosciutto, housemade pastrami and pork confit, leading to spirited conversation about mustard's place at the pinnacle of the condiment pyramid. I even overheard whispering about a mustard museum.

The chef instructed our table sotto voice not to eat all our food with the Rose because we were being treated to a bonus secret wine he had received in error from a trip to Chateau de Miniere.

Bulles de Miniere Rouge was a gloriously fruity dry, dark red sparkling wine that immediately enraptured the handsome one, especially with the confit, and turned off Pru who generally loves anything French. Go figure.

Vacations were a big topic between courses, so we heard about an upcoming Las Vegas adventure (Penn & Teller and rock climbing), a Northern Neck getaway to replace one abruptly canceled (two meals already planned) and the trip that had me pea green with envy (not that I wouldn't have loved either of the others as well): four weeks in South Africa over the winter holidays.


Plates of roasted lamb lollipops atop fingerling sweet potatoes (a new obsession for me) with a salty tapenade to complete the sweet/salty dynamic accompanied by St. Nicolas de Bourgueil l'Elegante 2012 and my plate was notable because I had an extra pop to make up for being inadvertently shorted on the charcuterie.

And, really, can a girl ever have too many lamb lollipops?

The wine, made with 25-year old vines, got us reminiscing about how when Beau had joined our group, he'd been a California Cabernet Sauvignon kind of a drinker. "But I learned the error of my ways," he admitted bravely, but with a grin.

Holmes shocked everyone by pulling out his pocket antique collection, namely his flip phone, and sharing that it was a hand-me-down. "Why would anyone give you that phone?" Pru wanted to know, but some questions have no answers.

Others, such as, "Are you buying the Sancerre Rose?" were immediately answered with, "A lot!"

The final course - very French - was a cheese plate with herbed chevre, French 60% cream Brie, housemade farmer's cheese and the ideal sweet note, a housemade almond cookie, With those delights we sipped Domaine du Clos de L'Epinay Sparkling Vouvray, reminding me of several meals that began with these stellar Loire bubbles.

"Brie with wine and figs doesn't suck," the handsome one noted in the evening's funniest understatement.

As usual, some of the best lines of the night came courtesy of Holmes late in the wine drinking meal, as in, "Was Funky Joe ever even in a closet?" I'd like to say I recall the answer, but it may have been swallowed up by the table's laughter.

Which is exactly why I usually have my friends at "wine dinner." Loire was just icing on the cake.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Now and Zen

Cue Todd Rundgren's "We Gotta Get You a Woman" to set the scene (which, incidentally, the DJ did play).

Now imagine a field full of vintage Volkswagens, mostly Beetles, but rounded out by dune buggies, campers, Rabbits and, amazingly enough, the front of two Cabriolets welded together so there were two separate front seats/dashboards/steering wheels/hoods, each facing the opposite direction.

Crazy, man.

As you might guess, I didn't find this land of the mellow anywhere near home, but somewhere out in Henrico County that took  me deep into the land of endless planned communities, mega churches that gleamed with newness and high schools on steroids: Twin Hickory Park.

But I'll come clean here: I'd have driven in any direction for Bugstock 2: Deja Vu.

My youth was completely in bed with the German car makers, meaning I went in hopes of seeing Bugs of my past. And did I ever.

There was an eye shadow blue '70 Karmann Ghia, impossibly shiny and pristine, that reminded me of my first boyfriend's father's car. His Dad was a writer, a glamorous profession in my eyes, but he was also a populist, so it only seemed right that he drove a sporty car of the people, albeit a more sedate mustard yellow.

A VW Bus with louvered windows, a Humphrey/Muskie bumper sticker (1968, kids, look it up) and another that read, "!Just go around!" brought back that week after my car died and before I bought another, during which a friend loaned me his Bus. I loved the high perch, but always felt like I was going to topple on curves.

It was weird sticking my head into a mint green 1966 Beetle, only to get a noseful of new leather (pleather?) instead of the requisite vaguely moldy smell that every VW I ever owned (there were four) and every VW I ever rode in (too many to count) wafted from deep in its leaky recesses.

While Jefferson Airplane played, I admired a bright red '70 Beetle, the same color as my boyfriend's Bug, the car I learned to drive on. Or, more accurately, the car I learned to pop the clutch on coasting downhill.

Whatever works.

The Bug owners at Bugstock 2 were into it, with lots of vintage luggage (my favorite was three matched red leather suitcases atop a roof rack), lunch baskets - both wicker and red plaid - and thermoses (think Coleman, Vagabond and, yes, Thermos brand) inside and on top.

Tied for most surprising to me were a '68 VW Woody with a back window that looked like a ship's window (VW made Woodys? Where was I?) and a tan'57 Beetle sedan with a metal tube-like "thermador car cooler" attached to the passenger window. A fellow Bug fan informed me it was a primitive air conditioning device.

Most disjointed was seeing a 2016 Jetta, so far removed from my five-speed '84 Jetta as to be completely unrecognizable. One of the rarer cars was a '67 red convertible Cabriolet because VW had only made that particular model that year.

And, then, cue singing angels, like Venus rising from a clam shell, there she was. My car.

Well, not my car exactly, but a '66 blue Beetle identical to the one I'd bought for $600 (financed through my local Citizens Bank of Maryland), driven with abandon, with the same windshield where I'd discovered anonymous poetry and mash notes and then mourned when it was cruelly stolen from my apartment parking lot.

Except the one today was way shinier and better kept-up than mine had ever been.

I couldn't help but communicate my excitement to the owner, who completely understood because his first car had also been a blue '66 Bug, hence the purchase. When I commented about some of the new car smell VWs I'd been disappointed by, he chuckled and said, "If you're into moldy car smells, stick your nose in there."

Into? Well, not into, just...deep breath, ahhhh, yes, that's the ticket.

I told him that part of the reason for the damp smell in my VW had been the green metal window box full of plants I grew in the well behind the back seats, using the back window like a greenhouse. Pretty groovy, eh?

Let's just say he was impressed. "You don't look like you were from the Flower Child era," he said. We bought our Bugs a year apart, it turns out. I could drive this car blindfolded, I assured him. Know all the parts.

Kindred souls about the car that shaped us both, we just kept walking around it and discussing all the memories. Really, I was trying to walk away, but it was hard. Finally, I pulled out my digital camera and asked him to take a picture of me in front of my youth.

"Oh, wow, one of these!" he exclaimed as if I'd just pulled out a Brownie camera. He couldn't make it work, so instead he offered to use his phone. Feeling nervy, I asked if I could sit in the driver's seat for the photo.

Just as he's setting up the shot, a woman walks by and says, "That's going to be a great picture. It looks like a magazine cover the way her shirt matches her lipstick in that blue car!" My only regret was that my new cut-offs (the first I've worn since that era) were inside the car.

He took a couple while I got reacquainted with the angle of my arm and hand on the gearshift and the all too familiar dash board.

Sliding out with the muscle memory of youth, I thought it was finally time to introduce myself given his kindness, offer up my email so he could send me the pictures and thank him profusely for making my day.

His face lit up. "My wife had something else going on today, so I'm going to show her this and say, look what happens when you're not here," he joked. I hope she laughs and I hope he sends me the photos.

My parting shot was reminding him that my stolen blue Bug could have had a crazy life before ending up being restored and sold to him three years ago and wouldn't that be seriously poetic?

Kind of like time traveling to the '70s, going to a park in your cut-offs and rediscovering a relic of your youth.

You have no idea how much I can dig it.

So Many Pleasant Memories

I have tonight & Friday night plans, but all other nights are wide open for drinks somewhere cool. That's the first date request. The second is a DC art date to see William Merritt Chase AND Romaine Brooks. PLEASE!
Can't wait to hear from you, sweetheart.

And I couldn't wait to say yes to a DC art date soon enough, so it was barely after 9 a.m. when my date collected me and we headed north.

Once inside the city limits of my birth place on a breezy, sunny day, good native vibrations found us a parking space a block away from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Waiting at a corner, an 89-year old woman got out of a car to join us in crossing the street, explaining that her husband dropped her off because he wouldn't enjoy the museum like she would. Given that she was an artist and a former docent at the museum, she was probably right.

Turns out he was her second husband anyway, the first having left her in the late '70s when that was the thing to do ("I had three friends whose husbands also just walked out"). She'd made the best of it, but it hadn't been easy and it had necessitated her compromising how much time she could devote to art.

She wished us a good visit and we took off for the third floor. Walking across a brilliantly colorful floor mosaic, a guard approached us asking where we were from. When we said Richmond, he inquired if we knew the state's three names. We didn't.

"Virginia, the Commonwealth and the white boys' state," he said unexpectedly. We were still processing that when he leaned in and said, "Now someone's coming up from Arkansas to rule us." Was this some kind of crazy Trump supporter?

"What just happened?" my date asked, as confused as I was as we scurried away. Why would a security guard be talking to us about such things? Had we crossed into the Twilight Zone and not known it?

All was right with the world the moment we stepped into "The Art of Romaine Brooks" exhibit, full of Whistler-indebted canvases in muted shades of black, white and gray portraying androgynous-looking women and well-dressed upper class lesbians of the early 20th century by an American ex-pat.

"White Azaleas" from 1910 showed a pale nude reclining on a huge couch, much like Manet's "Olympia," but bolder because it was done by a woman at a time when it was unheard of for women to assert non-traditional views of their role.

And these women depicted were completely non-traditional, I can assure you.

The show made a case for Brooks' fashionable and daring portraits of androgyny being associated with the so-called "new woman" during a time when sexually independent women projecting new and visible lesbian identities post-World War I was becoming more commonplace.

Drawings filled one gallery, all done for Brooks' unpublished memoir, to be called "No Pleasant Memories," surely the most miserable and accusatory memoir title ever, although the drawings were fascinating, often done in a single line.

There was so much estrogen in that show that you could almost feel it pulsating off the walls. We both loved it, although probably for different reasons.

Leaving the cocoon of the museum behind, we walked a few blocks to the colorful Bantam King - sibling to Daikaya - for lunch. Black and white Japanese comics on front walls, bright blue and green plastic trays on back wall and bathrooms that read, "WC: Kings, Queens, Errbody."

Best bathroom sign ever.

Our server was eager to share his spiel (and the fact that he's a finance major), disappointing us only when we learned that it was too early for fried chicken.

Not to worry, we dove into a killer starter, meatydumplings with chili oil, followed by bowls of chicken ramen. I chose miso broth loaded with dandelion greens, white onions, chili threads, soft-boiled egg and then added fresh corn while my date went with shoyu ramen, creamy with garlic and ginger.

All that was missing was a plate of fried chicken, but that's what future art dates are for, no?

From there, we motored to my old 'hood, Dupont Circle, and the William Merritt Chase retrospective at the Philips Collection in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the man's death.

Words aren't nearly good enough for the 40+ years of artistry we saw today, but I'll try.

First off, I learned that Chase and I are kindred souls on the subject of home decor. His philosophy was to think of walls as a canvas, with real life objects taking the place of color on them, something I've done for years.

With the darker palette of Frans Hals, Velazquez and Manet, Chase demonstrated his indebtedness to both Whistler and Singer Sargent in canvas after canvas as we swooned.

His portrait of Whistler as a fop had caused a rift in the men's friendship, but Edward Steichen's sumptuous sepia-toned photograph of Chase showed him to be just as big a one with a top hat, fur-trimmed overcoat, cigar and walking stick.

In a case were some of Chase's family albums, full of circa 1900s blue-tinged cynotypes of his children on the lawn and house details such as a staircase and candlelit outdoor dining table.

Behind me, a man spotted the albums and said, "These photo books look like my Mom's," and I knew before I turned around that he had to be an old duffer.

Hands down, my favorite was "The End of the Season," showing a lone woman sitting at a small wooden table on the beach near other tables, all with the chairs leaning in on the tables to signify that summer business had ceased. Down on the shore, a few people gathered.

You could almost feel her wistfulness about the change in season, a feeling I echo.

"Sunlight to Shadow" showed a well-dressed man staring into his teacup while nearby, a woman lounged in an elaborate hammock, looking away from him, the two clearly not speaking, supporting the notion that the canvas' original title had been "The Tiff."

Absolutely delightful was "Washing Day," a backyard scene of four lines covered in wet clothing with a laundry servant in a bonnet hanging more.

You could almost hear the sheets flapping in the breeze.

One of the most unique features of Chase's paintings were their unusual titles, such as "I Think I'm Ready Now," a portrait of a young woman from the back, facing a mirror. Left hip thrust out, hairbrush in hand, the train of her pink dress gathered behind her, it was obvious she rushed for no man.

Another, "May I Come In?" showed a woman in hat and muff entering from behind a door, the back of which was covered in paintings. He face reads as curious and sociable, so why wouldn't he let her come in?

Chase, we learned, was a devotee of still life paintings and considered unsurpassed in his portraits of fish, which he managed to make look believably shiny, wet and slick. The subject matter of "Just Onions" may have been lowly, but the rendering was so realistic you could almost smell them.

By the time we finished admiring and studying the 70+ works, we were both totally enthralled with what we'd seen. My only regret was that we didn't have enough time to look at it all again.

We compromised by stopping at Teaism for ginger lemonades (they'd just sold out so I tried iced mint tea while my date went with today's iced tisane, an African berry blend), along with the house specialty cookies, chunky chocolate pecan salty oat cookies, each weighing about a pound each.

"I'll never be able to finish the whole thing," my date insisted, but we sat there chatting and watching the street theater of R Street long enough that never became history.

I don't travel with those who can resist big flakes of sea salt on top of chocolate cookies.

Driving up M Street, my date pointed to 2400 and shared a story about a couple whose first apartment had been in that building. "All they had was a mattress on the floor, but the first night they were there, they laid on that mattress and watched a storm roll in through the big window."

I can see such an experience boding well for the future of the relationship.

Further down in front of the State Department, we passed Navy types - sailors in white bell bottoms and officers in tan summer uniforms - marching and chanting behind their leader up 23rd Street.

It was only once we got on 395 that we opened up the floor to new topics and my date shared a story of recently finding out that a friend and his wife had a decidedly poly-amorous bent.

The wife wanted to have an affair with a woman (who also had a wife, not to mention two other girlfriends), so husband agreed because he knew it would make her happy. That they sometimes had three ways didn't seem to bother him at all.

As you might imagine, opening a can of worms like poly-amorous relationships made for non-stop conversational fodder all the way down 95 and almost too soon, we were home, our art date a rousing success.

Now, about those drinks someplace cool...I have a few ideas.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Here We Go Loop-de-Loo

They're baaaack!

Three of the female variety stood in front of me at Steady Sounds.

My favorite had long, curly red hair tied up in a black scrunchee, a black and white striped t-shirt over black shorts and low-top white Converse, but she won my heart with her violet cloth bag which was a copy of the original cover of Virginia Wolf's "A Room of One's Own" worn earnestly and un-ironically.

Three, or maybe it was four, of various sexes, all talking over top of each other like in a Robert Altman movie, spilled out of a house on Marshall Street as I walked home from the record store.

I heard one laughing voice asking, "Did you have fun today?" while another squealed, "Where are we going now?" and a third exclaimed, "I had so much fun today!"

Pure, unadulterated exuberance.

Three of the male persuasion of varying heights and one female with a skateboard awaited on the corner of Clay and Harrison.

Clearly new to city life, they were so hesitant as to be paralyzed about crossing the street, despite the red light that kept me from moving until they did, so I waved them across, garnering grins and thank yous. Their mothers would be so proud.

You guessed it, Richmond is suddenly lousy with incoming gringos freshmen and you can barely swing a dead cat without hitting one so inevitably when I leave my apartment, there they are.

As opposed to my three-block walk, Philly quintet Honey Radar said it took seven hours to get to Steady Sounds, which seemed to be a surprise to them but is really just common sense to anyone who knows I-95 on a Friday (especially during the summer).

Walking in, the first friends I saw there were the living room show hosts, still recovering from the high of Wednesday evening's show and the requisite celebrating that followed. On the other hand, they were there.

The band's catchy sound was short, jangly (hello, three guitarists), lo-fi and, at least one friend heard Guided By Voices influences as we listened to older stuff and songs from their new album. Most songs didn't so much end as fall away, as if their attention was already on to something else.

Midway through their set, the store owner slid a couple of beers across his counter in the direction of the long-haired guitarist (as opposed to the other two with wholesome short hair) who, without taking his right hand off the guitar used his left to give his benefactor a thumbs up, open the beer one-handed and take a swig before returning to the song.

That's talent, folks.

Even so, the in-store performance at Steady Sounds was merely the appetizer for the show at Hardywood that became my next stop.

I found the photographer minus his cute wife at a picnic table outside, chowing down while inside, the crowd was summer-small, meaning I scored a table and chair with no effort at all.

Kenneka Cook had just begun playing when I arrived and while I'd forgotten her name, immediately I recalled first seeing her al fresco at the Valentine's music in the garden series. Using her rich voice, she layers it with beat boxing until there's a full-bodied soul song with harmonies coming out of one woman.

"This is one I wrote the words to but not the music," she teased. "You'll recognize it." The theme to "Mission Impossible" turned out to be not only familiar but also a fine music bed for her songwriting.

Extroverts are always happy when the break between music is full of company.

I was soon joined by a dapper friend and comedian, fiendishly attired in sunglasses, a seersucker jacket with a pin on the lapel and a harmonica in the pocket. Occasionally he'd withdraw a black handkerchief and dab dramatically at his forehead and neck like a true Southern gentleman despite his Indian heritage.

He wasted no time trying to make me laugh, explaining how refers to Hillary Clinton. "I call her Hi C, but I know that's not a good name because no one likes Hi-C," he deadpanned.

When I responded, "Well, they like it better than Tang," his eyes grew wide and he laughed because he though its was so hilarious.

Hilarious to the point that he later told the story to another friend, with attribution, of course (despite me telling him he could use it), assuring me, "I don't steal jokes, well, except for that once and that was from a magazine article."

We all understand situational rationalization, don't we?

A musician friend came over to say hello and ask how my summer is going, to which I said it's been fabulous.

Her surprised look was followed by admitting that she tends to focus on the lame parts rather than the great bits when asked about her summer. Wednesday I'd been asked the exact same question and had responded the same way, only to have that friend lament, "Maybe mine has been fabulous and I just don't say it."

Why the hell not?

When Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots" began playing, my body took over but I also told Mr. Dapper that I was the only one in the room who not only knew the song title, but the artist.

Not content to believe me, he pulled out his phone and moved toward the speaker to Soundhound it, but I insisted on telling him what it was before he could tell me what his device said.

 Just then I spotted a nearby woman dancing just as hard as I was to it.

Naturally, she was soon added to my circle, saying she'd forgotten Patrice's name despite dancing to it like it was 1982 again.

Originally a native Richmonder, she'd spent 20 years living in Miami Beach and when I asked what lured her back, she put it succinctly. "I'd gotten too old for clubs, I was too young for Century Village, so I came back because Richmond got hip while I was gone."

On that topic, the photographer and I discoursed long and hard after he told me about a couple of record compilations his record label is putting together along with photographs, show flyers and video archives that trace the arc of the rise of RVA's scene the past seven years.

Well, butter me up and call me a biscuit because there's a project I intend to get behind 100%.

A big reason I'd come tonight was to hear Nelly Kate do her looping magic with voice, keyboard and knobs, which she did despite technical difficulties that would have beaten a lesser artist.

The haunting songs, though produced similarly to Kenneka's, sounded like they were from another universe, but her set was too short considering the gap between shows now that she's living out of town for a while.

She called Dave Watkins up to join her for one song before ceding the stage to him and his dulcitar looping magic. Guitar geeks and guys in general made up the front row, all agog at Dave's mastery with his handmade instrument.

Once he was finished, I got a sweaty hug and a chance to chat with him about summer, which must be close to over because there are three parties on my block tonight which is a sure indication that they're back.

But ask me how my evening went and I'll tell you it was fabulous. Because it was.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Choose Well

It figures that "The Odd Couple" was the only Neil Simon play I'd ever seen.

That finally got corrected at Hanover Tavern with a matinee of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," which, among other things, clued me in to the fact that Brighton Beach is an oceanside neighborhood in Brooklyn, a fact which was complete news to me.

And while the coming of age story of a Jewish boy navigating parents, older brother, aunt and two cousins all under the same roof was sweet and very much of an era (the '30s), one thing that struck me - besides the terrifically talented young Tyler Stevens as Eugene - was the nature of the relationship of young Eugene's parents, Kate and Jack.

In the story, there was a real bond between the parents, no matter how many difficult situations they were facing. Each was caring and solicitous of their partner, doing their best to look after and keep problems and annoyances from the other.

They were happily a unit.

Despite incredibly difficult financial times and mounting responsibilities, they plodded forward, never for a moment considering a future without the other.

My parents are like that, too, and the long-term success of their union feels like both a gift and a curse to someone who has yet to get an "A" in long-term relationships. But I recently got some unexpected clues from an unlikely source: a cast-off Time magazine.

Mom, being very much a product of the Depression, distributes her old magazines to others once she and my Dad finish reading them. The cleaning lady gets Good Housekeeping and Sports Illustrated goes to the barber shop, but Time and Vanity Fair she gives to me.

I admit, I don't always take all her cast-offs, preferring to flip through and choose based on cover stories. So when she handed me a stack on a recent visit and I spotted the June 13th issue of Time, I paused because of the topic: "How To Stay Married." Subhead: "Staying married is more challenging than ever. But new data says it's worth it."

Surely I could learn something from this article.

It seems Americans have elevated their expectations of marriage and while we actually are capable of achieving new heights, it's only with a lot of work. Without that effort, turns out we'll be more disappointed than previous generations because we'd been promised the moon (and believed it).

And what do we do when we get disappointed? We check out because we can.

Well, not all of us because people like my parents and Eugene's don't consider opting out an option. What's tantalizing to me is that a Cornell study of 700 elderly people revealed that every single one of them said the same two key things.

That a long marriage was the best thing in their lives but also that it was a difficult thing that required effort.

This surely ties in to statistics about older people in happy relationships being healthier and living longer. The article made it clear that sex played a bigger role than money in marital happiness.

All that made good sense to me. But where the article really got my attention was on the subject of soul mates, making the point that, "there are tens of thousands of people out there that anyone could be happily married to and each marriage would be different."

Well, that was certainly encouraging.

But it was the next two sentences, which someone (I'm assuming my Dad) had boldly underlined in red that spoke to real life experience.

And how do you make a soulmate? Practice, practice, practice.

Sitting in my apartment in Richmond, seeing those sentiments underscored felt like a direct message from my parents in the Northern Neck to me, although I seriously doubt that whoever did the underlining even considered that anyone besides their soulmate would see those emphatic red lines.

Or maybe they did, given how my mother has been telling me for years that she can't die because I'm not married. No, really.

Usually when the subject comes up, I remind her of one key factor she's ignoring and, as it happens, it's the same one that closes out the Time article.

Just pick out a good one and get lucky.

My parents were fortunate enough to do just that before they were even 25. Me, not so much.

On the bright side, I am willing to practice.

The Wednesday Crowd

Eric Bachmann played my friends' house during a summer storm. How was your night?

Pretty much just as good since I'd become a ticket-holding guest for the show two months ago, knowing chances were slim that I'd ever get invited to see the lead singer of Crooked Fingers and Archers of Loaf play a living room show again anytime soon.

Or ever.

And not just any living room, but an open floor plan design in a mid-century modern house with some of the grooviest art and furniture you're likely to see in Richmond. It wasn't hard to understand why the tour organizers had quickly agreed to let them host a show in such a funky and stylish place.

I'd shown up, as directed by our delightful hostess, with libations to share and a (recently purchased at Diversity Thrift) folding chair, only to abandon the chair in the laundry room when I immediately ran into friends.

Lots of good ones, too: the music writer recently back from San Jose where she was underwhelmed, the recently single, looking-to-move DJ, the poet/novelist, the book store owner, the cute couple from Northside, the historian with great hair.

One guy, a stranger to me, had driven five hours from Pennsylvania for the show. I got that. After all, how many living room shows does a person get invited to?

A little later when the room was beginning to fill up with people's chairs, I went to collect mine and secure a place on the floor. In front of the dryer I found our hostess and a man sitting in my seat. I politely explained that I needed my chair in order to reserve a good spot for the performance.

"Karen, this is Eric," she said introducing me to the guest of honor, coincidentally the same man I'd just asked to vacate my chair. So, yes, that was me asking the person I'd come to see to please clear out so I could secure a fine spot from which to watch him sing and play guitar.

I'm not saying it was right, I'm just telling you what happened.

The incident, the chair, my nerve, they all became moot when the photographer insisted I take the chair next to his cute wife since he'd be moving about shooting throughout. I told him my chair was there for him if he needed it.

Eric was seated in a chair in front of a large, curved window with 44 panes, with the window seat covered in lighted candles with all kinds of plants there and on the floor in front of it. Twinkling lights were strung from the top of the window, and through the glass we could see distant lightening.

A banjo stood in its stand next to the guitar's stand, their cases arranged fetchingly between larger plants.

There's chaos in the violins

This tableaux is why PJ was taunting online friends with his casual post about how magical the evening felt. Another friend put it even more directly after the show. "I felt honored to witness that."

I don't know who wouldn't agree with her on that - his lived-in voice, life experience lyrics, between song humor - after an evening listening to songs off just about all of his albums.

He'd told us at the start that he was more than happy to take requests, but it wasn't really that simple.

People would yell out songs and he'd demur because he no longer knew it, or it was a piano song, or he needed more power (he used only an acoustic guitar and once, only once, his least favorite instrument, the harmonica) so he couldn't pull them off.

He did his Mom's favorite song, which happened to be about cheating ("I didn't ask," he said), admitted that one song was very difficult to make not sound like McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" ("We must have plagiarized it, but we didn't know it") and admitted to coveting the red-laced, black Converse hi-tops with white stars Paul was wearing directly in front of him.

The lion doesn't mind if the lamb takes its time

When he grabbed his banjo to play a few songs, he shared that he and his fellow Crooked Fingers banjo player had considered starting a Bon Jovi cover band called - wait for it - Banjo- Vi to play bad Bon Jovi covers.

"What pisses me off is that I know it would make us rich," Eric said with a grimace. Ain't life a bitch sometimes?

When the thunder outside got fiercer, he told us about his little dog in her crate in a back room. Since she's afraid of storms, he worried about whether he should bring her into the room for reassurance. What's her name, someone called out.

"Lupe. Like Guadeloupe without the Guada," Eric explained and the crowd called for Lupe to join us, which she did, in receiving line fashion, going person to person for a back scratch, tummy rub or ear petting.

How do you save a thing that's meaning to die?

The crowd was pretty interactive, but when someone called out, "Is that song autobiographical?" Eric shot back, "You don't ask that, man." Ooh, damn. Then he admitted that they're all autobiographical.

Toward the end of the evening, he said, "This is great, you yell out songs and I don't play them. There's a lot of power in that." When he announced he was closing with "White Trash Heroes," there was some excited applause and a guy near me inhaled, "Nice!"

When he finished, he looked at us  and said, "I'm going to do two more. This is the encore. Pretend I left and came back."

He finished for real with a new song off this year's album, the one that everyone's raving about, bringing us back to why he was touring living rooms in the first place.

Afterward, it became a party as people mingled and discussed what a lovely thing we'd just experienced.

I kept going back to that moment when my raven-tressed friend had called out, asking if he'd cover Prince's "When You Were Mine" and while Eric continued strapping on his banjo, he'd also looked at her strangely and said, "I was just about to play that song."

Eric Bachmann just covered Prince at my friends' house during a summer storm. So how was your night anyway?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tell-All Tuesdays

Tinder Tuesdays aside, usually you have to go on a first date to get asked that many questions.

Instead, it was a solo night out.

Waiting at a stoplight en route, a gaggle of, yes, children (there really is no other word for them based on looks) crossed in front of me looking clueless and equal parts excited and terrified. Then I caught a glance at the back of one's t-shirt: VCU Class of 2020.

Well, now, that explains why they look like they need burp cloths.

My soundtrack for the drive over was "Best Kept Secret" by Case, Lang, Veirs, a harmony-fest as sunny and soul-soothing as the beautiful summer weather outside.

It's times such as that that you realize that the music randomly playing really is nothing more than the soundtrack to your life (cue long shoot from above).

Walking to Balliceaux after parking the car safely out of the parking nazis' purview, I had the pleasure of hearing before I saw him, a guy on a bike pedaling into the sun, a smile on his face as he whistled a song, not just loudly, but really well.

Already it was a good night. With a plan to park once and party thrice, I had some basic goals: eat, celebrate National Rum Day with a cocktail and hopefully get some laughs with Back Room Comedy. Modest intentions, really.

I may have confused the bartender a tad by wanting my food - caramelized boneless chicken thigh atop a forest of pickled cabbage - before my drink, but she played along as if she understood.

Just as I was starting to eat, the couple next to me took an interest in me and began chatting.

In that way that friendly strangers do, we began by talking about generalities - why wasn't Kampot busier, the pleasures of being able to walk out your door and have multiple worthy restaurants nearby, how it sometimes feels like you're always the oldest people at a venue - and soon found commonalities.

They live on Floyd Avenue and I did the same for 13 years. They feel perfectly safe walking around at night, as do I. We agreed that porches make great neighbors but also ideal perches for watching street theater unfold (including middle-aged people stumbling drunkenly down the sidewalk).

Honestly, I got so engrossed in our conversation about all the stuff that goes on in Richmond and how I (or anyone) finds out about it that I almost forgot to order my drink and what kind of a way is that to celebrate National Rum Day?

I found my party in a glass with a Billie Holiday in Cambodia made of Plantation 5-year rum, tamarind, palm sugar and fish sauce (Mac, are you listening? It's everywhere!) with a kaffir leaf floating on top like a dead frog in a pool skimmer basket. Except tastier, much tastier.

He was a builder and they were both real estate agents (although she admitted it with downcast eyes and a side glance that was pretty funny) but her curiosity revolved around my work, leading to stories from my past covering legal sex harassment, how I found my spirit liquor at a job interview and why a future mayoral candidate would want me to tell people what to do.

Seriously, those are stories that usually get trotted out on first dates.

Not wanting to scare them off, I neglected to mention my biggest eccentricities, thus avoiding the whole "Karen is so odd" conversation while we're still in the honeymoon phase of our budding relationship.

Things got eerie twice, once when we were talking about same sex families (they had three boys and I grew up with five sisters) and I told a story using the name "Cindy," which, oddly enough, turned out to be her name.

Just as surprising to me was when, apropos of nothing, she asked me if I blogged and while that wasn't an unusual question circa 2009 or 10, I do find it odd now that Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have replaced blogging in the hearts of device-carrying people, namely the entire first world except me.

Why, yes, thank you, I do blog, have blogged for close to nine years now, both for journaling purposes and as writing exercise.

Do I intend to write a book with so much material, she wondered. Why would I not might be a better question.

And like any good first date prospect, I answered all the queries about who I am, where I live, what I do and where I like to go. When pressed about my weekend plans, I shared Friday's, genuinely excited to entice new friends to see two favorite musicians playing a show together.

Especially new friends who like to talk.

Since my original intention had been to see stand-up and they were long since finished eating, we parted ways with all kinds of new information about former strangers. Cindy and I both speak very quickly and eschew clothing for sleeping, for instance. Her husband and I share a passion for tequila and hearing compromised by too many loud shows and no regrets about it.

By that estimation, the three of us are practically a match made in heaven.

Things almost got dicey when I let slip that I sleep nine hours a night and Cindy looked at me like I'd grown two heads. According to her husband, it's all that stressing out at 3 a.m. that keeps her from the same, a bad habit he long since left behind since there's no gain to it.

In the back room, I was solo again and had missed some of the comedians, but had no problem finding a good seat with a table and a view for the next one up, Winston.

Talking about adult children living with their parents, he immediately pulled me in by joking about his people, "The millennial plan is to live at home until you inherit it." Hilarious.

Having problems with a heckler seated with three young giggling women, he observed, "He doesn't need a $3 rail drink, he needs a $30 Uber back to his apartment. Alone." More tittering from the peanut gallery, who may or may not have been there because it was Tinder Tuesday.

John came next and jumped right into his foot fetish and sucking big toes, although a poll of the room proved that most men didn't share his attraction to feet. He was having trouble getting a stronghold with the audience.

"I like you guys," he told the room. "You have a very humbling response." Sometimes impassive faces and no laughter really do tell the whole story.

Cory was next, riffing on whatever his gaze landed upon. Balliceaux's name ("I thought it was "Ball o' cocks"), decor ("They got the theme for this place from, what, Noah's ark?") and ordinary signage ("That fire exit sign says no smoking or drinking in the alley, but the only things people do in alleys is smoke and drink. Occasionally kill people").

Instead of a heckler, he had a couple at the bar - although the guy came from the same Tinder table as the heckler - who were talking loudly non-stop through his set.

He tried calling them out but they didn't hear him for their conversation. Naturally he began mocking them and specifically, the guy's flip-flops and sleeveless shirt ensemble.  It was funny stuff.

The show's last segment involved John and Cory facing off on topics called out by the audience, which is apparently what they do on their podcast. Pro wrestling! This killer heat! Chain saws! Sandwiches!

"Sandwiches need to be talked about," John announced, making a case for square cut sandwiches over diagonally cut ones. A poll of the room revealed a distinct preference for diagonal.

"I have taken sandwiches back to WaWa because they were cut diagonally," John said, causing Cory to roll his eyes and end the topic.

It got even funnier when John began talking about trying to buy a chainsaw to take down a bush in the backyard of his newly purchased house. When he couldn't decide on the proper chain saw, he decided to go with an ax, a terribly challenging endeavor he discovered.

"Now that's something that needs to be live-streamed on YouTube," Cory insisted, trying to hold back laughter. "A black man chopping down a bush with an ax. You know that would've gone viral!"

Before it was all over, I (and apparently more than a few others in the room) had learned that lingerie football is a thing and so are trampolines in the Olympics.

Looking as aghast as I felt, Cory responded to that bit of news with, "Then there's hope for everyone now."

Everyone? I'm still holding out for an Olympic talking event. It's my only chance at a gold.