Friday, December 23, 2016

Absent the Spanking December Breeze

You know Christmas has me firmly in its grip when I can't even find time for my walk.

Instead, the morning found me upstairs from Chop Suey Books at the Bizarre Market finishing up one of my least favorite chores, shopping, not long after I finished up breakfast.

Impressive as all the locally hand-crafted items were, I was most awed when I saw two wooden Velveeta boxes in the familiar loaf shape. Imagine, there was a time when that totally unnatural cheese food product was sold in small wooden crates as if it were a legitimate foodstuff.

This is cultural history, kids.

By mid-day, Mac and I were strolling over to Chez Foushee for lunch, savoring every second in the 61-degree air. Like Max's, which we'd passed on the way over, Foushee was mobbed because it's that most wonderful time of year: matinee season.

And, sure, it could be that kind of matinee season, too, but for now, we're talking about the theatrical kind, okay?

Between Virginia Rep, where we were headed, and Richmond Ballet's Nutcracker at CenterStage, the ladies who lunch were out in force, and we proudly joined their ranks by eating salads (mine was roasted Brussels sprouts with candied walnuts, bleu cheese, bacon and pickled red onions, hers a Caesar with fried oysters) followed by a shared chocolate mousse tart with caramel sauce for a classic pre-theater luncheon that probably dates back to the Cole Porter days.

Afterward, we strolled a few blocks east to take in the air before making a U-turn and heading to our destination.

The November Theater was packed and the artistic director mentioned that the show had been added at the last minute, so they hadn't been sure how its timing would work with people's holiday schedules. Judging by the full orchestra and faces peering over the balcony, I'd guess rather well.

The draw may have been the play and its roots as a childhood favorite for some. Mac was one of them and when she'd seen the marquee saying that "A Christmas Story, the Musical" was playing, she'd expressed enthusiasm while I had to admit that I'd never even see the 1983 original movie ("Of course you haven't," Pru would observe later, rolling her eyes).

So we came to our afternoon with Ralphie's family from completely different backgrounds, she looking for a familiar touchstone and me hoping to connect the dots on the few cultural references I knew about, namely the BB gun and the leg lamp.

I'd say we both came away satisfied.

The set resembled a little girl's dollhouse with its cutaway views of rooms and the claustrophobic feel of a small suburban home. In "A Major Award," dancers wore lamp-shade-like dresses (complete with tassels) and formed a kick line that appealed to us both.

Then there were the quaint elements of the yarn. When the story reached the point where it was 12 days until Christmas, Ralphie's family set out to get a tree, a laughable and old-fashioned time frame in 2016.

Just last week, a Christmas tree seller had told Mac that it used to be that peak tree-buying time was around December 10th, but that's been pushed back to Black Friday weekend now and most places are cleaned out of firs long before December 9th.

Call me a dinosaur because when I was a kid, plenty of families didn't even go buy their tree until Christmas Eve, which made sense given that the 12 days of Christmas don't officially begin until Christmas, but in our typical bigger-is-better American way, we've shifted the focus to beforehand for a Christmas that begins with the last bite of turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and is history by Boxing Day.


While it wasn't the kind of musical where you leave humming a great song (all were entirely forgettable, in my opinion), there was lots of dazzling dancing thanks to an extensive ensemble doing everything from Moulin Rouge dancing to pioneer square dancing to a chorus of heavenly angels whenever the BB gun was mentioned. Ahhhhhhhhhh.......

The funniest scene to a word nerd, hands down, was when Ralphie imagines his teacher Mrs. Shields coming to his house to inform his parents what a stellar theme paper he's written on "What I Want for Christmas." Actress Susan Sanford's impeccably-delivered speech about the splendor of Ralphie's prose, the beauty of his conjugated verbs, the wonder of his magnificent margins, made me laugh so hard I almost choked.

Less funny was a scene on Christmas Day at Chop Suey Palace Co. (with a sign reading, "Never closed") where the family goes for dinner after the neighbor's dogs eat their turkey and where they're served by a dated caricature of a Chinese man. Awkward, very awkward.

It was particularly interestingly timed because over lunch, Mac had used the idiomatic expression "shanghaied" and it had, for the first time, struck me for the negative connotation that it has. Funny how you can hear something a hundred times before it resonates as the racist remark it really is.

"Christmas Story" concluded with Mac more than satisfied with the musical version, me up to speed on the plot of a classic and that holiday line item off my list. Win/win.

Walking home afterward, we stopped by my neighborhood candy store, Chocolates by Kelly, for some more last-minute shopping and found Kelly and her mate a tad frazzled after the non-stop parade of frenzied customers today.

After tying up our packages, I wished them lots more business right up until the minute they close for the holiday.

"And then we're going to get wasted in a ditch!" she sang out as we headed out the door. More power to you both.

Gathering up an armful of presents, my final stop of the day was Pru's manse on Church Hill for a bit of five-way holiday socializing in the glow of twinkling lights.

Gifts addressed to "K-Bar" and "K-Wow" accompany Beau's fabulous musical gifts (tags identify him as the self-deprecating "Corn Boy" and "V-Corn"), while from the three Church Hill residents I get all manner of grooviness, including a plantable card, a mod little dress, sweater leggings and a sassy lipstick in a color called cherry pie.

"It's such a great color, all you need to do is fall out of bed, put that on and you're set," Pru advises as I go on to unwrap a copy of "Tales of French Love and Passion," a brief collection by Guy de Maupassant on an obvious subject of interest.

When I say something to Beau about being a huge fan of short stories, he looks lost.

"I'm still stuck on the part about you naked with just red lipstick on," he says from his chair in the corner. I blame Pru, but given the conversational odds at tonight's get-together - four women, one man - he could be forgiven for tuning out.

If I don't get a walk tomorrow, I may wind up doing the same. Ralphie may insist that it all comes down to Christmas, but at this late stage, a little cherry pie lipstick never hurts.

Although how it helps could make for some fabulous tales of Christmas love and passion.

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