Thursday, September 15, 2016

Gear and Spikes

Handsome C-ville prof
Takes photographs of Pompeii
Shows slide of girlfriend

You know, just in case any of the women in the over-packed room and hall at UR had designs on him by the time he finished discussing his new exhibit, "Unseen Pompeii: The Photographs of William Wylie."

I kid you not, it was standing room only and UR worker bees had to bring in additional chairs at the last second, something I appreciated since I had been roosting on the air conditioning vents along with several female students, all of whom were freezing right along with me until we sat on our bags and blocked the direct air flow.

Pompeii as seen through the eyes of a UVA professor turned out to be a real draw. Who knew?

If I look beyond his well-sculpted professorial looks and ignore his self-deprecating humor, he'd still win points for admitting how thrilled he'd been to be in the amphitheater, the very same one where Pink Floyd had played a show to, well, no one, a show which was filmed in '72 and made into a documentary.

"I was thrilled that they'd had their gear there," he chuckled. Music nerds represent.

He was also a talker (not that I'd ever complain about such a desirable trait), but the end result was that he'd been so busy showing us images of the work of his photographic idols that he barely started showing us images of his work 45 minutes into the hour-long talk.

The screen, such as it was, fluttered in the crowded room, causing him to dryly observe, "I'm usually a still photographer."

Ordinarily, I'd be disappointed to be rushed through slides of art and deprived of information, except that with his exhibit opening, it's be far preferable to see the photographs in real life rather than digitally anyway.

Walking to Balliceaux along Hanover, I witnessed the business of life around me. A Dad arrived home only to have his two kids come running from the house, informing him that Mom isn't home yet.

"She's not?' he replies, his voice sinking.

A bit further down, a young woman sat comfortably in a rocking chair on her porch, talking work into her phone, with her face lit by the glow of her laptop.

On a slab of a concrete porch sprinkled with leaves, a shirtless guy sat on a plastic folding chair taking in the night air, looking very mellow indeed.

Like me, they all know that nights like this, nights that still feel warm and summery, are numbered. Fall and temperatures in the '80s have moved in to stay around here despite my pleas to the weather gods.

Dateless meal at bar
"Karen, sit here," calls prof friend
All "isms" fair game

Like me, she was there for Hand to Hand Haiku, but unlike me, she'd had to put her 17-year old cat down today while I've had five years to adjust to putting my 15-year old beagle down. Still, she was there to end the day on a better note than it had begun. Props.

Because food is forgotten when we lose loved ones, this was her first meal of the day, which she enjoyed while I had my third: caramelized chicken thigh with pickled cabbage, a killer complementary flavor duo that has yet to disappoint.

Naturally she, the vegetarian, fell in love with my cabbage.

We nattered on for a while about eating healthier, her new part time job and our fears about the development of the old Village before scooting to the back for poetry.

Among the many familiar haiku faces was a young couple at the table next to me, the woman explaining how excited she will be to become a second grade teacher. "I can already see how my classroom will look," she gushes. "I know how my bulletin boards will look!"

Youthful exuberance aside, I flashed back to dinner at the bar with my friend, who'd pointedly said, "I wouldn't go back to being 21 for anything, although I would take back my body then."

Hand to Hand Haiku got started with host Raven Mack riffing on his subject du jour, namely cleaning up the rubble of your life because everyone has it.

Oh, he likened the process to a myth and drove home the point that life is about cleaning up enough of your own personal rubble to create a small space where you could actually breathe a little, but the message was clear.

That's exactly why he's such a great MC - he can do it all. He sets the tone with a revelatory monologue, keeps score and plays cheerleaders to the haiku readers and writes haikus prolifically, honestly and cleverly.

Tonight we got a bonus rant because he'd chosen two flags to identify contestants: Uruguay's with a sun and Angola's with a machete, sending him off on a spirited tangent about the glories of owning machetes and their myriad uses.

Pulling the funny card, he was insistent that if we heard any haikus we'd heard before, we should boo. "Now, here's Ryan," he said to great effect.

Everyone's favorite anarchist was there with her four week old baby happily nursing at her breast (Raven says, "If anyone has a problem with a woman breastfeeding here, you can go outside." I'd already given her my thumbs up) even when she took the stage to read her haikus.

Her first, read in a clear, strong voice, set the tone:

Dude, if you are selling 
moonshine legally
Then it's not moonshine. Duh.

Let me just say that hers was far from the only anti-hipster haiku. And Raven's so talented he managed to write haikus about everything from low fat desserts to burning bridges to entering silver crescents.

Only Benjamin, with his haiku about whips, being dominated and his mistress ("It's a good day") topped our host on that subject ("He seems all quiet, but now we know what he's really about..." Raven observed after he read it).

And the young couple next to me surprised us all by getting onstage and facing off, each having written exactly one haiku while they were there.

The judges picked hers over his, but he shrugged happily and said, "At least we did it!" Apply that to most things in life and you'll go far, kids.

There was a loser buy back round allowing those who'd lost in the preliminary rounds to come back for a second shot.

"One of them's going to fail a second time," Raven told the crowd before an older brother beat his younger brother while their Mom filmed the whole thing. The losers brought some fine writing to the buy back round.

Let us be powered
by the twin engines of
peace and tranquility

The powers that be 
do a great job of keeping
us in our places

Raven read us a handful from his latest "American" series and they were outstanding and more than a little depressingly honest about things, such as being as American as high fructose corn syrup. Truth.

As American 
as demolition of hoods
being called progress

Paul won the whole enchilada, earning himself a haiku-inscribed railroad spike, undoubtedly the most brilliant combination of words and hardware imaginable.

He closed out with a saga of going cross country via train from Charlottesville to Chicago, then bus from there to Seattle, then train to L.A. ("It was cheaper") then bus to New Orleans ("That was rough") before a final train back to C-ville.

His point? That he'd not been disappointed in the goodness of America or its people, in fact, quite the contrary.

His take-home was that we could all benefit from talking to each other more often and that doing so helps each of us deal with our personal rubble clean-up. My take?

We're as happy as
the space we clear out, Rubble 
gone means new chances

I'd go so far as to say it's a good day even without the whips.

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