Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lose Yourself to Life

Time to get back in the game. The question is, given my life, why did I take myself out?

There was a time when Richmond wasn't cool enough to have a Farmer Speaker Series, but that day is long gone and when I saw that Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms was coming to Ellwood Thompson to share his thoughts on "You Can't Study What Isn't," I immediately bought a ticket and advised a friend, knowing it would be a (sorry) hot ticket.

That ship sailed within a week and I heard they had a waiting list for anyone who might drop out, not that that was likely.

Arriving at ET in time to score an enormous dark chocolate-iced gingerbread cookie (my Proustian reverie) while my date went for wine (sorry, grape overload after the past two days in wine country), we snagged seats in the second row behind an earnest-looking young man with a book on farming under his seat.

Joel's topic addressed the anti-meat culture that's become more and more of a thing, his point being that so much of the research is based on the kind of farming we shouldn't be doing anyway (and not the kind he's been doing at Polyface since 1982) that's it's irrelevant.

Maybe it's because he has an English degree and does so much writing, but he was a wonderful speaker, prowling the floor at the front of the room and and frequently asking in a rising voice, "What if...?"

But he also had a wicked smart sense of humor, sharing that he names all their bulls after philanderers - Don Juan, Teddy (as in Kennedy) - and pointing out the brains of the operation, his wife of many decades, as, "Behind every great man, there's an amazed woman. There's mine."

He was full of obscure information as in 500 years ago, this land that's now the U.S. produced more nutrition than it does today, solely because the Europeans arrived with their "progressive" methods and disease. Or, how about this one? 70% of all the drugs used in America are used on agricultural livestock.

"Who's been drugging your dinner?' he joked.

He'd already told us that he was not here to try to convert us to vegans or even vegetarians (ha, fat chance), but instead to point how too much farming was being done in ways that hurt the earth, depleted resources, provided a larger carbon footprint than necessary and produced poorer-tasting food.

All I can say to attest to that is that the first time I ate a "happy" pig - one raised on the kind of farm Joel runs and espouses - it was a revelation and as different a taste as any piece of pig I'd ever put in my mouth.

With me, he was preaching to the choir because I've tasted how right he is about proper farming.

After sharing scads of information and referencing a half dozen books that would probably make excellent food reading, he closed by saying, "May all your carrots be long and straight, all your radishes fat and not pithy," and went on from there.

Basically, Joel food-blessed us in closing.

Moving on to our own food needs, we trekked down the street to ZZaam, the new Korean grill, a place with all the ambiance of a betting parlor, with multiple screens, bad music playing and endless blackboards of food and drink info (is there any cuisine that hasn't adopted tacos as their own?) as patrons are herded along a counter to order and await sustenance.

A constant state of confusion reigned as people waited to order, waited for food, considered  options and milled about.

Crab pancakes, golden brown with egg, onions, carrots and even boasting a discernible crab taste were the best of the lot, which included mandoo - steamed pork dumplings with barely a hint of pig - and fat chicken lettuce wraps.

Home by 9:00, it was pretty obvious that I needed more. More everything that I'm not getting enough of. More reasons to be glad that this is my life. More reasons to enjoy right now instead of stressing to the point that a giant zit erupts on my face.

I put on some lip gloss and walked over to Balliceaux, my first time there since we rang in 2016. Overdue, long overdue.

The 13-piece Brunswick was getting set up. The guy on the bar stool next to me welcomed me, saying he was taking a load off because he'd walked over from Carver near Sugar Shack, touching off a discussion of my walk over and how he used to live in Jackson Ward.

One of the trombonists came over to order a drink, instrument in hand, and apologized when it ran into me, leading to a discussion of his Monette mouthpiece, apparently a Winton Marsalis favorite.

Oh, and by the way, it was made of gold and named for a yoga term.

A trumpet player I know looked especially dapper in a striped shirt, bow tie and jacket, having just come from VCU Jazz Orchestra's performance.

Everyone's favorite percussionist/trombonist told me he'd been playing in Europe and with Sufjan Stevens and asked what was new with me. An elementary school teacher friend told me her Spring Break plans, which were essentially non-plans for Spring weather. The brewery queen complimented my jacket and invited me to her pig event.

Brunswick knocked the collective socks off the room with an assortment of original material for ten horns, bass, drums and percussionist, along with covers of artists as diverse as Pedro the Lion and Daft Punk. Near the bandstand, a DJ danced alone, eyes closed, to practically every song.

Note to self: You're not getting any younger. Do more, dance more. Be open to everything at least once. Change things that need improving. Maybe it's time to lose the blog and put my abundance of energy elsewhere.

Maybe it's time to grow radishes fat and not pithy, and, yes, that's a euphemism.

Monday, March 21, 2016

DIY Day

This is great! They should let you do more of these! It's like 100% what you are good at: getting people to tell you stuff!

The friend who wrote that to me was referring to an interview I'd done, but it's not the first time I've been called out for my ability to get people to talk to me.

Some might call it a gift, but probably most would say I'm just nosey. I do it without thinking all the time - when I'm out walking, when I'm out at a restaurant or store, anywhere I run into people.

So the fact that I'm almost to West Virginia just means I'm probing into people's lives a little further from home at the moment.

At Breaux Vineyards, our server was both knowledgeable and lovely, with long curly red hair that made her look like a cross between Boticelli's "Venus" and a frolicking maid from a Watteau or Fragonard painting.

But here's the lowdown: she used to straighten her hair daily, but now reserves all that effort for special occasions like her birthday. She's a Purcellville girl, born and raised, and her philosophy is that if you open a bottle of wine, you finish a bottle of wine.

After finishing the Marquis de Lafayette, a 2013 Cabernet Franc, she poured the tiniest bit of the next wine  - 2014 Chere Marie, an off-dry Vidal Blanc - into our glasses and told us to rinse them, "Or don't, and  have some DIY Rose."

One guess which option we chose.
It was her suggestion that landed us at Magnolia's at the Mill in downtown Purcellville, a place that seemed to attract a wide variety of types for a late Monday lunch, although maybe that's also a reflection of what's available in the upper western reaches of NOVA.

The former mill next to the vintage train station was Zagat-rated, farm to table and a combination of rustic and refined, or as our flame-tressed pourer nailed it, "A white linen tablecloth place where you can wear jeans and sneakers. My favorite mix!" 

Not owning jeans, I don't know about all that, but the classic cheeseburger on a grilled brioche bun was plenty tasty, although the panko-crusted onion rings didn't measure up to battered rings for a purist like me.

We'd also solicited her recommendations on which wineries in the neighborhood to hit and she'd suggested two, the first being Otium Cellars, a winery with a focus on German grapes because the owners were, duh, German.

Arriving just as an older gentleman and his fur stole-clad wife in a wheelchair were leaving (thanking profusely the "young fella" who'd given them directions to the next winery), we admired the solidly built tasting room with its classic post construction and lovely chalet-like great room for lounging and sipping.

From that young fella I got the scoop on the owners, who'd bought the property to build his company's headquarters, only to wind up putting it in North Carolina instead.

So there he was with all this Virginia property and a wife who wanted to raise horses, so why not also put in grape vines, especially in service of making some German style wines?

Since they weren't really in the wine business (or so they told themselves), they had a neighboring winery pour their Blaufrankisch (how's that for an unexpected German in Virginia?) to get it out to the public, at least until it began selling better than any of that winery's offerings and it was oh-so politely suggested to the Germans that they open their own tasting room.

Meanwhile, a young couple came in and joined us for the tasting, but kept their distance. Not everyone wants to talk to strangers, I've learned.

The funny part was, we'd barely been at our next stop, Bluemont Winery, for five minutes, having just met our pourer Sue (who promised us a party of a tasting) when who walks in but the couple?

Like us, they'd heard about the magnificent view, no surprise given the location near the top of a mountain that afforded a view all the way to Tyson's Corner, I kid you not. Talk about your panorama.

From Sue I learned that their winemaker had had a baby at 3 a.m. this morning, having been at work and on a forklift until two days ago. That's good peasant breeding stock, I gotta say.

Once the topic turned to babies, the young woman of the couple who'd been following us jumped right in (as new mothers can't help but doing), sharing that they had a four month old and that this was the first time they'd left her overnight. All of a sudden, she was very friendly, explaining she was trying to deal with missing her little one while still having fun with her beloved.

He, on the other hand, was having no problem adjusting.

Eventually they got a bottle of Vidal Blanc and took off for the couches while I proceeded to get to know Sue, who said she'd been married 42 years. Well, there had to be a story there (who does that anymore, at least happily?), so I came out and asked for it.

Seems that it was right around the 25th anniversary when the kids had left home, the mother-in-law had died and - the straw that broke the camel's back - the dog had died, that she realized this wasn't the life she wanted.

"I just didn't come home from work that day." She left a note for her husband with a list of therapists, suggesting he pick one so they could start dealing with their problems (of which he was unaware unsurprisingly), which they did.

That's an exceptional man, she admitted, but also she'd expected the therapist to yell at him and instead she'd ended up learning a lot about herself in the process.

Fast forward and they sold the house, moved south, retired and are living happily ever after.

She's still amazed at all the things he does now that he didn't do in the first quarter century of their marriage - laundry, cooking, cleaning - but they also make time for nights out, shopping excursions and life.

How often does a story about a partner leaving a "so long" note for the other person turn out so satisfyingly?

And Sue's first concert? That would be "Jesus Christ Superstar" in NYC in 1972, which she claims blew her mind and which she still recalls detail for detail.

Who'd have thought I'd find so much to discuss with a woman who has eleven grandchildren?

The thing is, I never know until I get nosey. It's like 100% what I am good at.

Ranch Hands

You've got to get up pretty early in the morning if you want to have dinner in Paris.

We were at Boxwood Estate Winery by midday for Rose release weekend, all the staff in shirts far pinker than the pale salmon of the 2015 Rose.

After tasting through the Topiary from 2011 and 2012 and the Trellis 2012 and 2013, we toured the sleek space, admiring barrels in the cave, the Italian bottling and labeling machinery and the tank room with an annoying child rolling around on the floor.

I will never understand why people think it's a good idea to bring kids to a winery (or restaurant or bar...).

Driving into Delaplane Cellars, where a sign stipulated "No buses, no limos," I commented that I only wished it included "No children." Lo and behold, as we approached the tasting room, there was a sign stating, "Must be 21 to enter. This includes children."

Hallelujah, a winery that isn't afraid to forbid children at a place catering to adults. I liked them immediately for that and the panoramic view of mountains, farmhouses and fields didn't hurt either.

Of the six wines we tasted through, I fell hardest for the 2014 Traminette for its gorgeous nose and flavors of rose petals and lemon/lime, prompting bad 7-Up jokes for those of us old enough to remember long-ago commercials and tolerate corny humor.

A couple came in while we were tasting, notable because she had the most perfect Farrah Fawcett feathered hair you could hope to see post 1980. Chatting with them as they threw back their tasting in record  time, we learned that they'd met in Winchester when he'd walked into a bar to find her enjoying sex on a piano (that's a drink, by the way, as dated sounding as her do).

What we all had in common was the magnificent Handley Library in Winchester, making for that surprising moment when you find strangers know about something obscure you do, too.

After they left, we drank glasses of Traminette at a table overlooking the view as the winery began to fill up with people trying to make it to the tasting counter before the winery closed.

You know: hurry, we're not drunk enough yet!

We wound our way back to the Marriott Ranch, amazed to find cows lining the entrance road, something we'd never seen in two previous visits. They were bold, too, a mother cow and two young 'uns giving us the stink-eye when they were situated in the center of the road and we wanted to pass them.

To paraphrase Neko Case, cows gotta lotta nerve.

At the ranch - if you can call an elegant brick building that serves as a B & B a ranch - we got comfy on a couch in the library to enjoy a cheese plate and the rest of our Boxwood Rose while discussing the horror of our current political climate.

Every time I find out about another black man I know - or of, because this time it was a friend's father - being stopped by police, forced to the ground and treated like a criminal simply because he's black, I feel a little more discouraged about the direction we're heading.

The mood was lightened considerably when we flipped through Cowboys and Indians magazine (a little surprising, no?) to an article about Kurt Russell, who has an interest in winemaking. The result was one of the best lines of the day ("I'll stop the world and blend with you"), assuming '80s music puns are your thing.

Just so you know, they are mine.

For dinner, we went to the Ashby Inn, a place a friend had gone for an important anniversary dinner and been wowed enough to recommend I go. As in, he brought back a menu for me to reel me in.

His opinion was seconded by the woman pouring for us at Delaplane, who said it was the go-to for all of the staff when they wanted a fabulous meal. The fact that Maple and Pine's chef had come from there was icing on the cake.

And it's in Paris.

The 19th century Inn itself was charming, and our table on the glassed-in porch looked out over beds of daffodils in bloom and the Schoolhouse, which now housed more guest rooms.

The sommelier was happy to deliver bubbles in the form of Sokol-Blosser "Evolution," a wine I'd first had on a trip out west (but not to a ranch and not with a cowboy or Indian) and perfectly lovely with an amuse bouche of salmon mousse inside a rolled up slice of French radish, both ends dipped in chopped chives.

We soon had company on the porch: a family group with three prep school type sons, a Dad who began with a martini and a Mom who looked very high maintenance and a four-top from New Zealand who took pictures of everything (once almost knocking over the sommelier in the process) and expected the chef to come talk to them.

Everyone had been right. Everything about the food worked, from my earthy deep-hued lobster soup with potato and leeks and best of all, oyster and lobster beignets bobbing in it, to tilefish with artichoke, fingerling potatoes and pearl onions in a parsley pistou.

From across the table, I got tastes of chilled shrimp and a fat ribeye before taking my food coma to the next level with a chocolate "bar" covered in spiced almonds with chocolate sorbet. My date opted for red bubbles with a glass of Rosa Regale, the suggested pairing for my dessert and a perfect one at that.

By the time we left Paris, stuffed and happy, it felt a long way from Jackson Ward this morning.

But sometimes you just gotta stop the world and drive to where there's still snow on the mountaintops, whether or not you intend to blend.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dance Little Moo-Cow, Dance

Some people have a sweets addiction, meaning they'll never make it in the ballet world.

After a good-sized meal in service of my hired mouth, the two of us went off in search of just the right thing to finish off our palates, landing at Zosaro's Bakery over on Northside and walking in at an opportune moment.

The baker had been there for over eleven hours at that point, so she was tired and ready to close down shop within the hour. My companion immediately ordered two hazelnut-filled beignets while I dithered over my selection.

What exactly was Australian mud cake?

Assuring me that it was the silkiest chocolate cake I'd ever put in my mouth topped by rich chocolate ganache, she pulled the remaining square out of the case while I was still ogling the chocolate eclairs. "I'll throw in the eclair," she said generously. "Otherwise I'll take it home and eat it."

Better my hips than hers, she seemed to be saying.

In our defense, we didn't finish all the mud cake, but the other three were soon history.

And while our plan had been to park the car at my house and walk to the Ballet, we'd lingered so long over our sweets that we ran out of time to walk in the rain. Neither of us was willing to risk missing even a minute of tonight's Studio Two performance.

Up first was Stoner Winslet's "Echoing Past," made bittersweet by the fact that it's dancer Lauren Fagone's farewell performance after 14 years. I've seen her dance so many roles as such an integral part of this company that it'll be tough to imagine it without her.

As if that wasn't enough reason to tug on our heartstrings, pianist Joanna Kong accompanied the piece in a beautifully poetic way as the dance traced the stages of a woman's life. Dancers moved in and out as sort of visual memories as she looked back on it all.

I have a feeling a dance tracing my life stages would have looked a bit more chaotic.

During an intermission that involved some decidedly older people climbing over us and trying to crack wise about it ("Don't mind my big feet" from a woman the size of a sparrow), we talked about how incredibly muscular and slender the dancers were.

I mean, you could count ribs. It was obvious they didn't gorge at bakeries before shows like some of us did.

Next came visiting choreographer Edgar Zendejas' "Realms of Amber," a very different kind of work.

I knew from seeing a rehearsal as the piece was being worked up that it was about the strength of female energy set to Russian monks chanting - now there's a contrast - and we both agreed that the instrument-less music was out of this world, utterly enchanting.

But given the bare-chested male dancers glistening with sweat, the dance came across as very masculine despite the females involved. But it was beautifully choreographed and given what a talented bunch the Richmond Ballet dancers are, it was a thrill to watch the visceral and balletic movements executed so finely.

Unlike "Echos," there was little sense of a narrative, but who cares when admiring fine male forms?

Afterwards, we talked about why we like dance so much, attributing it in part to both of us taking lessons as a child. But we're not talking the kind of lessons offered by the School of the Richmond Ballet, let  me assure you.

I did three years of ballet and tap at Miss Rita's School of Dance, which was located in Miss Rita's cinder block basement painted blue with mirrors on one wall. Shuffle, hop, step.

Miss Rita was known to conduct class with a cigarette hanging out of one side of her mouth, not always, but often enough that that's my main memory of her after the one of my light blue tutu worn at the final recital.

Life-changing as all that sounds, my friend trumped me in spades.

Seems she'd gone to the only dance studio in Gordonsville, conveniently located in a room in the town livestock building. "That's right, during class we could hear the cows lowing in the next room," she tells me of her many years of ballet, tap and jazz instruction.

There was the year she danced to that classic, Three Dog Night's "One (is the loneliest number)" for her final recital. Tap was her favorite and one year, her Mom was helping out taking tickets at a recital and even joined the kick line.

I got nothing to compare to that.

Our dancing backgrounds matter not, because as she put it while we downed half the bakery's offerings, "If I had to give up sweets or alcohol, I'd have to lose the booze."

Go ahead and throw in another eclair. No one's ever going to be able to count our ribs.

Do Wot You Do

Call me life-experienced.

At this point, you can't always be certain if you're remembering the '80s as they actually were or as the film industry has been portraying them ever since.

That's when you need to stroll down to the Bowtie and see "Pretty in Pink" for the first time since 1986 just to refresh your memory, the only downside being the row of middle-aged woman double-fisting mimosas in the row directly behind me because they never shut up.

No, I don't care to hear your commentary on the gym suits just like what you wore in Junior High.

I can't even guess how much in the film would seem downright archaic to millennials now. Like those bulky CRT screens we thought were so new-fangled at the time. The boomboxes next to everyone's beds. The princess phone on the nightstand.

Hell, Karmann Ghias.

And for everyone who thinks they know what '80s fashion looked like from more recent movies, think again. It wasn't just about legwarmers, it was about Duckie layering white socks over striped tube socks and wearing them all slouched down to show some skin under a cuffed pant leg.

It was about every single prom dress pulling directly from Princess Di's overly-gaudy wedding dress with enormous sleeves, too much fabric and a fussiness that begged for restraint, something that was in very short supply back then.

My takeaway was twofold, the good and the bad.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to name a movie with as strong a soundtrack - and a New Wave soundtrack at that, meaning not yet mainstream music - in the past 20 years. From Echo and the Bunnymen to New Order to the Smiths, it was like the amazing mix tape that guy made to impress you once (it worked).

And to prove that three decades does a number on the memory, sure, I recalled Psychedelic Furs' title song, but I had no memory whatsoever of OMD's "If You Leave" being the big closing song for the dramatic ending.

None at all. In fact, my big memory of that song is that I visited Dallas in 1986 for the first time and I definitely remember dancing to that song in two different clubs while I was there.

But in today's film? It was a complete surprise.

My other takeaway was how cliched the ending was. Why couldn't she have gone off with Duckie instead? I mean, besides that he was a closeted gay man, but why couldn't she have stayed at the prom, danced with Duckie (come on, a man who asks, "Can I admire you again today?") and gone on to college without giving in to the shallow Blane who would have disappointed her shortly anyway?

Not only is that kind of entitlement and instinctive condescension bone-deep, but milquetoast men like that lack any real passion, meaning he would have probably been lousy in bed, too. Of course, few 18-year olds would know any of that at such a tender age.

Turns out that John Hughes originally shot the film to have her ending up with Duckie, but test audiences back then wanted Blane.

Wow, we were still looking for the cliched wrap-up in 1986, weren't we?

Come to think of it, that part I do remember. It's just that three decades teaches you that there are far more interesting endings out there, plus you get to choose your own soundtrack.

I'm with the Smiths on this one: please, please, please let me get what I want.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lunch Friday?

It's a personal best: I went to the Northern Neck four out of the last five days.

Today's trip was twofold. After scheduling a late afternoon interview, I'd received an unexpected lunch invitation, with the qualifier, "Wherever you wish."

I was quick to remind  my lunch date that my mother taught me that when you're invited to lunch, you let the host choose the place. Almost immediately, I heard back, "Let's go to the Kilmarnock Inn. It will be quieter there and we can have a nice lunch."

Honestly, we could have had a nice lunch anywhere on the coastal plain today given what a drop-dead gorgeous day it was, the sky a brilliant blue and the breeze warm enough to have the car windows down as I blasted Ryan Adams' "1989" and Tim Buckley's greatest hits.

Sailing past the turnoff to Merroir - where I'd been just last night - I thought about how much I'd been out at the river this week, how I'd have crossed the Rappahannock six times and the Pamunkey four times by the time I got home tonight.

Looking down from the top of the White Stone Bridge, I saw a couple of boats out on the water, reminding me of the times my favorite cop took me under the bridge, once because we were chasing a pod of dolphins.

As beautiful a day as it was, I couldn't help but notice how different the light is in mid-March as compared to late summer.

All I can say is, bring on the bright light.

The restaurant at the inn was hopping but we were led to a table with two wing chairs, making for an enclosing-feeling space tucked in a corner. Housemade cheese biscuits to start the meal didn't hurt, either.

Despite the season, I ordered the Crab Louie salad, aware that I wouldn't be eating local crab, but craving lumps of crabmeat (and fried croutons) nonetheless.

Tasty as the salad was, the conversation was every bit as good, as we discovered all the things we had in common, from school memories of like eras to a fondness for email communication to dreaming up second acts.

Things got a little raucous more than once (I always hear my Richmond grandmother's voice in my head, saying, "Karen, no one wants to hear you making all that racket"), but because we outlasted most of the dining room, it wasn't our problem.

When our chipper server offered dessert, I said sure, my host jumped on the bandwagon and we managed to stretch out our conversation for close to another hour, all in the service of eating decadent slices of chocolate chocolate cake.

To our everlasting credit, we at least refrained from housemade ice cream on our cake.

By the end (or nearing the beginning of dinner for the staff), we both admitted that lunch had lasted a lot longer and been a whole lot more fun than we could have hoped for.

It was a damn good thing my work assignment was nearby.

I was interviewing a former first lady's secretary, not because of her former job but because of what she'd created out of the former slave quarters on her house's property: the most incredible outdoor dining room imaginable.

We're talking an early 19th century building completely restored and redone as the best party room a person could hope for. A giant wooden chandelier from Mexico hanging from original arched ceiling. A trap door in the diamond pattern-painted floor leading to a bricked root cellar. Doors that opened out with a view of the property, 125-year old sycamores and lush fields of a nearby farm.

Turns out the owners of Good Luck Cellars, a nearby winery I know well, were at their celebratory first shindig last Fall. We agreed about the convenience of starting at the winery and ending up here for dinner and conversation late into the night.

It was getting late in the afternoon, very late, but the convivial space had a hold on us and she kept showing me finds - numbered bricks unearthed from the old foundation, a liquor jug a former neighbor recalls seeing in the building as a child, pieces of cracked pottery from inside the walls.

As I was getting ready to hit the road, she told me I needed to come back for a dinner party.

My mother taught me that when you're invited to dinner at a charmingly-restored slave quarters, you say yes to the hostess immediately.

This second act is working out awfully well.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Éirinn go Brách

As a half-Irish (O'Donnell), raised Catholic (practicing heathen), daughter of a woman named Patricia who was born the day before St. Patrick's Day (and who gave me a lecture just Monday about the meaning of shamrocks), I was a dismal failure at celebrating today's holiday like a traditionalist.

I did not wear green, instead opting for magenta and black.

I did not drink green beer, preferring to guzzle Prosecco on tap while admiring the visual wit of a Ralph Steadman-designed label on Pearl Necklace Stout.

I did not go to an Irish bar, I went to the river where I spotted a man in a green plastic hat toasting a woman in a kelly green sweater. Without irony.

I did not eat corned beef and cabbage, I ate corned rock fish over kimchee, salty oysters and smoky chowder.

I did not see a parade, I watched fireworks set off from a nearby dock soaring upwards before landing somewhere far out in the water near a flashing green channel marker.

Sitting outside under a sky still light enough to see clouds yet dark enough to admire moon and stars, I wrapped a house blanket around my legs and listened to one of the guys in the kitchen sing a surprisingly lovely version of "Danny Boy."

To my Irish Grandmother's way of thinking, that could be considered almost as good as being in heaven a half hour before the devil knew I was dead.

Instant Karma

This may surprise some people, but I didn't come into this world a tequila drinker.

Au contraire, my first drinking buddy was a college chum from California who dropped into my life, simultaneously becoming my best friend for life and alerting me to the pleasures of rum.

I began with Bacardi and almost immediately transitioned to Meyer's more complex taste, a preference that lasted until 1992 when a radio job introduced me to my soul mate, tequila.

Fast forward to January 2010 and master mixologist Bobby K. did a wine tasting at Julep complete with paired courses and I was once again reminded of the  beauty of a fine sipping rum.

The gradual increase in the number of obscure rums brought into the Commonwealth became apparent with each new tiki takeover, so when a friend asked me to join him for this week's Spring Break tiki menu at Saison, well, duh.

Wearing a favorite flowered dress, we met at a reasonable enough hour to beat the tiki crowds - rumor had it they'd made something crazy like 170 tiki drinks Sunday night - while it was still 80-something degrees and felt like island weather.

Inside Saison, it was perfectly civilized, if a touch heavy on the air conditioning and, appropriately (if a bit predictable), the Beach Boys soundtrack was making it feel like an endless summer.

Wasting no time, we dove into the tiki menu, he with a Jungle Bird (black strap rum) and me with a classic daiquiri (blended rum) because, as the owner pointed out, there's nothing quite like the beauty of a well-executed daiquiri.

As if a perfectly concocted daiquiri wasn't enough, it arrived with a miniature paper crane atop the cocktail pick, and not a mass-produced crane from China, either. Oh, no, these were crafted by a server's friend, a crafty woman who had given up drinking and needed a way to occupy her hands.

In fact, there was an entire flock of colorful paper cranes on picks roosting in a glass nearby, a testament to the boredom of abstinence.

"I'll never know that feeling," my friend observed with a sly smile, knowing we were in agreement on this one.

Almost at once, we were greeted by a wine geek friend who'd recently been to San Francisco for the second time in 2016 - "Hey, I'm thinking of going again in May. What are you doing in May?" - and shared tales of staying with new friends in Russian Hill and the Haight plus a natural wine party that featured platters of ribs, a dynamite combo.

This somehow segued into my friend sharing his fondness for the tropical Truchard Roussanne of nearby Napa and an insistence that I get my hands on some as soon as I could manage. It helps to have connections.

After ordering food, we chose our second round of drinks, this time the Tripe Windsor for me (Jamaican rum and Curacao) and the Chartruth for him, leading to a story about the bartender who claimed that as long as you began your drinking evening with Green Chartreuse and ended it with Green Chartreuse, you could count on no hangover.

He'd done field research to prove it, brave soul. The only problem, we agreed, is the ridiculous cost of Green Chartreuse in the Commonwealth.

I gave credence to this story by sharing a legendary Green Chartreuse party I threw back in 1997 where nothing was served but Green Chartreuse, on a night where both the heat and humidity hovered around 90%. That said, I heard no hangover complaints, although for all I know, my guests slept for days afterward.

"I can't keep Chartreuse around," tonight's bartender admitted. "No Fernet, no herbals at all. Can't trust myself." I know people who can't keep Chunky Monkey or Samoas around for the same reason.

Beginning with mussels in white wine herb broth and lots of bread for sopping, we moved through confit pork belly with a five-minute egg over Manchego grits and chili broth, to a jar of (obscene) foie gras pate with vermouth gelee and toasted pecans thickly schmeared on Billy bread, the latter a fitting choice for a person's last meal before execution.

Fortunately, it was not our final meal, just a prelude to whatever libation came next.

Discussion got heated when the subject of the bureaucratic miasma of the ABC came up, with the owner, bartender and the three of us bantering about what needs to change in order to bring Virginia into the 21st century bar world, a topic that merits some serious investigative journalism.

The San Fran devotee next to me ordered a Tortugan Conspiracy with all the things, namely a green plastic palm tree, a paper crane, a paper parasol, a pink flamingo, an orange plastic fish, a hunk o' fresh pineapple with leaves atop it and..wait for it...a bathing beauty who hung on the glass by her breasts.

Naturally, she immediately Instagrammed a picture of its magnificence to the world.

My date was intrigued by the drink mixer machine at the end of the bar, today concocting a Pina Colada (blended rum) that, while also boasting a bathing beauty hanging on the glass by her boobs, also tasted satisfyingly tart, not cloyingly sweet as so many bad Pina Coladas do.

This five-day tiki pop-up got us talking about the month-long Christmas pop-up at Mockingbird Hill in D.C., which two of us had experienced. My friend recalled the wonder of seeing a pricing mistake on the menu and ordering a $150 a glass sherry for $15 ("Merry Christmas," the bartender said after the error was pointed out) and much discussion about when Richmond might see a similar pop-up.

We all know people who know people, just saying.

Just as I was considering ordering the Tiki Love Hut, complete with flaming lime peel cup, my wine geek friend beat me to the (ha!) punch, so instead I chose Malibu Barbie's Dreamhouse (spiced rum, blended rum, Rhum Agricole) with its gorgeous nose of orgeat and allspice dram and stuck an extra straw in it (blue, of course, a fact he noticed at once) so we could share.

With 13 tiki drinks on the menu, we could only do so much damage, although my great regret was that we exercised restraint and didn't order a Zombie (limit one per person), because it was the one drink that contained absinthe and I am never averse to a visit from the green fairy.

By the time we left, sunlight had been replaced with moonlight but the air was still warm and inviting. Two of us walked a few blocks together, discussing the theory of opening yourself up to the universe and whomever and whatever that might deliver.

Blissfully optimistic, neither of us can understand why more people don't get it. "Think about that, two people end up in the same place on the same continent at the same time. That's bound to happen again."

And that, my friends, is the Chartruth, plain and simple.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tales from the Roadmaster

Beware the ides of March, or you may repeat your road trip.

Yesterday's drive East was my ritual trek to help Mom make potato cheddar soup and Irish soda bread for the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon for the 68 bridge-playing women in her club, which involves me doing a lot of chopping, measuring, tying and stirring to produce the necessary foodstuffs, party favors and accouterments to ensure a good time.

So naturally, I drag my butt out of bed hours earlier than usual to make it to the Northern Neck early enough that Mom isn't freaking out about how much we have to do, only to walk into the house and find them still at the breakfast table reading the paper and finishing up their pastries.

At 9:45, mind you.

"Oh, I figured you'd be late because of the time change," Mom says, casually. No big deal, in other words, except usually she wants me there just after dawn.

If there's one thing I've gleaned from my regular visits to my parents, it's that the rules change on a whim. Octogenarian privilege, I guess.

Besides helping Mom with food prep, Dad wanted assistance with hanging the two clocks I'd gotten fixed for them at the Clock Shop next to Mekong, a crazy place with scores of clocks chiming consecutively on the hour and a clock maker who looked straight out of a Disney movie.

I assumed it would be a quick and easy process assisting Dad in between making vats of soup, but instead, I was recruited to help scout locations, measure distances horizontal and vertical, hold drills/anchors/screwdrivers and rearrange furniture post-hanging so that the refurbished clocks could be shown off to best advantage.

But my favorite oddball chore came from Mom. Presenting me with a tiny, porcelain frame and an ancient black and white photograph in three sections, she asked that I "restore" the photo and re-frame it, please.

It was a tiny picture of my impossibly young-looking Dad sitting on a brick wall when he was stationed at Fort McNair. Without missing a beat, he says to me, "You can see why she was so interested, as handsome as I was."

And his image is handsome, but one arm is missing and most of the left side of his body has disintegrated with age, but I set about doing my best to tape what's left back together - some pieces crumbling to dust as I do so - before attaching it to a sturdy backing piece and returning it to the frame.

Because apparently Mom still wants to look at that crumbling picture of the man she fell in love with all those decades ago.

They just don't make romantics like they used to, do they?

Today's trip to the Northern Neck involved no one I was related to, but instead two men who sat me down at a farm table one of them had made a quarter of a century ago to spend hours talking about everything from chasing moonshiners to doing sound and lighting for bands.

Just to mess with my head, one of them brings out an old black and white photograph - not nearly as old nor crumbling - of himself and three buddies the day they left for Myrtle Beach after graduating high school.

The man standing in front of me is also the handsomest one in the picture and I tell him so.

"Oh, I wasn't so much," he says, clearly pleased at my compliment. "But look at that old car!" He's right, the curves of the Buick Roadmaster behind the boys are a thing of beauty and that big ole hunk of Detroit iron must have made for fabulous driving to the beach, so now we really get to talking.

I thought I'd be there for an hour and the entire afternoon is gone before I return to my car, one of the guys saying, "Well, it was gray when you got here and now it's sunny and beautiful! Sure you don't want to stay for sunset?"

Yesterday's sunset had been spent at Shelley's Comida Latina - or as the sign says for us gringos: "Shelley's Food" - after a favorite bartender had raved about the place as his go-to Monday joint. I knew the location well because it's where I used to go for Not So Classic Movie nights back when it was River City Diner and Grill.

Not a lot was different except the booths and the Latino MTV playing some of the corniest music videos ever, although even having table service was a decided step up from before.

Our timing was off, though, because I wanted beef tongue tacos and the tongue was still cooking, drat the luck.

We made do with the taco variety pack - yard bird, pig, steak - and shrimp tostadas, as a steady stream of Spanish-speaking customers came in for take-out or a quick bite at the counter, before cutting out for Sonny's Bar and Grill where I once saw a KISS cover band - despite not being a KISS fan - and met a lot of locals - as in born and bred Lakeside guys - over the course of a very loud and riotous Saturday night.

Turned out to be poker night at Sonny's and practically every table was full of card players - again, lots of Lakeside boys and a few women - so we had little competition for bar seats.

Probably a good thing since our bartender (who called herself a gin and tonic girl despite having a fondness for cheap tequila) was having a terrible, awful, no-good day because her man had looked at her phone and seen that a former boyfriend had messaged her.

First of all, and I don't even have a cell phone, but what kind of boyfriend snoops around on your phone? But she was upset because although she'd done nothing wrong, he was giving her a hard time about it all, ruining her day.

"I've been married twice and I don't need that shit any more," she said after a smoke break to clear her head. "I just need friends with benefits. You live in your house, I live in mine. I like things a certain way and I don't need anyone messing with my stuff."

Honey, find yourself a friend. Then pour yourself a G & T and enjoy the hell out of those benefits. Problem solved.

Monday, March 14, 2016

No Angora Underwear Ever

You go to a wine pairing dinner to learn about new wines, sure, but if you play your cards right, you pick up so much more.

The key is inviting the right crowd to fill out your table and the half dozen friends who joined me for an Italian dinner at Camden's more than qualified, from the humorist wearing a PETA - as in "People Eating Tasty Animals" - t-shirt, to the techie expert on call all night in case of an IT emergency ("I forgot how to Snapchat!"), to the guy who met a first date at Millie's only to discover she smelled like a grandmother (i.e., mothballs and lavender) and talked about her cats all evening.

A perfectly cast evening, in other words.

Early on, a stylish friend right down to her coordinating jewelry looked at me and suggested I remove my blazer to reveal my dress, amending, "Or is part of your ensemble?" Rarely has my attire been so flattered. I could only aspire to ensemble.

Jim Hutton of Vias Imports, a fount of information, was our genial host and took top ensemble honors doing it in his snazzy blue checked blazer, starting us off with Castelvero Cortese, an easy-drinking sipper we slurped happily with chicken liver mousse slathered on toasted bread adorned with red onion and arugula.

The upshot? A fabulous beginning all but guaranteeing that everyone had stinky breath from the get-go.

Naturally given the setting and this crowd, the topic of overindulging came up.

"If I slept with my clothes on, I was probably drunk," Young Blood shares, remembering her first date with her favorite man, a master of the cocktail. Pru recalls waking up with pajamas on and earrings off and no memory of either happening.

Holmes, ever the expert on such things, adds, "You did it yourself. No guy would bother taking off the earrings."

You can't argue with that kind of male logic.

Things started to get rowdy when the Stefanini Selse Soave was poured, as everyone at the table agreed that it was the kind of warm weather sipper that could keep a woman happy all summer. With it, we noshed on marinated white anchovy and roasted red pepper salad, although not everyone was the fan of tiny fish that some of us were.

Appropriately given Saturday night's time change, the subject of variations in sunsets/sunrises in different locales was discussed - how Nova Scotia would prefer not to be on EST given their location, how much later West Coast sunsets are than here and how difficult it would be to deal with Scandanavia's extensive darkness.

Amazingly (or not given the high octane evening) we had enough experts at the table to confirm that Iceland has the highest alcoholism rate and the highest reading rate (no surprise, either one), but somehow got off on a tangent about Icelandic angora sweaters.

"You can never wear Icelandic angora underwear ever," Pru shared with all the  authority of Joan Collins on the subject of wire hangers. "Your parts will be on fire."

Word to the wise there.

Next arrived the ideal Springtime red wine, Fuedo Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato that was made for the seared sea scallops swimming in a tomato and olive ragout, a sop-worthy dish of the highest order, especially given the chef's terrific focaccia.

Before each course, Jim gave us the savvy lowdown on the upcoming wine, rife with location and terroir details, grape history and winery specifics, but the moment he finished, it was always Holmes who chimed in with his favorite stat, using his best commercial announcer voice. "And, it's 13.5% alcohol!"

Seared duck breast with toothsome lentils, bitter greens and blackberry jus paired magnificently with Pecchino San Luigi Dogliani and the retelling of the worst first date ever.

Seems her date was so drunk she wound up having to pay for dinner and drive him home, where she discovered he still lived with his Dad, who opened the door. Said date proceeded to give her a consolation prize of a Glamour Shot of himself just as his girlfriend pulls up.

But, wait, here's the kicker: Dad invites her in for a drink with him. We were awestruck. None of us could top this story and we all had far more years of bad dating experience to pull from.

Officially, the meal concluded with Tenuta Pederzana Gibe Lambrusco, because what great Italian party doesn't end with red bubbles?

It was a huge hit with my group as we tucked into cannolis stuffed with chocolate mousse and a puddle of berry compote and bantered about renting a beach house ("You don't have to wear pajamas if you share a bed with me," one friend promised mischievously ) with this crew for the ultimate party week.

We shared more dating horror stories - "I didn't date for three years, then I tried a year of art, yoga and dating. The art went well..." - and far too many bubbles, the time change decidedly working in our favor because none of us were feeling the actual time, despite the reality of early mornings facing us all. Yes, even me.

But, alas, eventually we set glasses aside and our Italian party began breaking up.

And while I can't speak for the other six miscreants, I, for one, did not sleep in my ensemble.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Whenever You're on My Mind

For someone whose datebook has entries as far ahead as September, tonight's page was conspicuously blank.

Oh, sure, I knew of a few music shows and there's always comedy on a Saturday night, but nothing I'd committed to to the point of writing it in my book. Apparently I was still open to suggestion.

It arrived via bike on Park Avenue.

Walking back from getting a hot fudge sundae at Bev's in Carytown late this afternoon (if you walk six miles to get it, the calories don't count, right?), I spotted a friend pedaling by and called out his name.

He made an immediate U-turn and stopped to chat. Seems he'd just come from WRIR where Marshall Crenshaw had stopped by in advance of his show at the Tin Pan tonight. I'd forgotten about that show, but the moment he mentioned it, "Whenever You're on My Mind" began playing in my head.

When he asked if I was going to the show, I said something about having seen him already at Ashland Coffee and Tea. He had, too, so he was considering other possibilities. We went over them before going our separate ways, not sure if we'd run into each other again tonight. "I hope so!" he said as he pedaled away.

I think about you and I'm weak though I'm in my prime
Set my watch and still lose the track of time

By the time I got home, the song was still playing and I knew I was going to the show, so I called to procure a ticket (for a bar seat with a primo view, I was told), and get ready.

Sometimes you just need a walk to tell you what to do.

Walking in, I was surprised to see that the restaurant had been reconfigured since my last visit, the patio now the entrance way and the space itself now able to accommodate 200 music lovers.

My seat was indeed an excellent one at the corner of the bar with an unobstructed view, and, just as lucky, there was a guy sitting alone at the next stool. We started chatting almost at once about music.

His first show had been Billy Joel on "The Stranger" tour in '77, he'd seen Springsteen multiple times, including once at Wildwood, the convention hall on the boardwalk, and the Clash four times, including once during the Falklands War, which caused Joe Strummer to do a lot of ranting about the subject between songs.

Now he sees almost all the shows at Tin Pan because his wife owns it, so he regaled me with stories about various shows, including Leon Russell's  where he had to be driven from the tour bus in the parking lot to the venue, mere yards away. Also, he travels with his own grand piano, FYI.

But of course, he's Leon Russell.

We were still gabbing when Marshall Crenshaw walked out and took the stage, starting with a new song and explaining, "I played this at WRIR this afternoon on the wrong guitar and sang it in the wrong key. Everything was wrong. This is a make-up, I hope." It was.

I've been an unabashed fan of Marshall Crenshaw's for 30 years, so I was totally digging watching him in a small room with an adoring audience singing his brilliant songs with lines like, "There's no such thing as being who we were."

Oh, yes, I can attest to that being true.

He did a Buddy Holly cover, natch ("Cryin', Waitin', Hopin") and told us, "Let's see if we can remember this one, and by we, I mean me" and then did a flawless "There She Goes Again," along with another fave from his oldies bag, "Cynical Girl."

Well, I hate TV
There's got to be somebody other than me
Who's ready to write it off immediately
I'm looking for a cynical girl

For a Valentine's Day show last month, he'd unearthed some of his love songs such as "Long, Hard Road," which he said he'd only then learned was his 17-year old son's favorite of all his songs.

When a server brought out a piece of cake with a lit candle, he responded by singing a quick "Happy Birthday" and commenting on what a big piece of cake it was making for one hell of a memory for the birthday girl, I'd say.

Making my night with his next song choice by saying, "I've been staring at the chalkboard over there," pointing behind me, "with one of my song titles on it, so I'm just going to sing it." He was referring to tonight's specialty cocktail, the Mary Ann, a libation of gin, St. Germaine, pomegranate and grapefruit juice, but all I cared about was hearing that perfect pop gem.

Go on and have a laugh
Go have a laugh on me
Go on and have a laugh
At how bad it could be

In honor of George Martin's recent death (and reminding us that without him, there would have been no Beatles such as we know them), he played "I'm Only Sleeping," which he characterized as "Sung from the point of view of a stoned rich person."

And speaking of stoned, he played a newer song for which he wrote the music and Dan Bern wrote the lyrics, but he admitted that upon re-listening to the music, he realized he'd ripped off America's "Horse With No Name," a song he'd first heard while tooling around in his VW Bug smoking hash.

Years later when he met the songwriter, Dewey Bunnel, he found out that he'd written the song stoned, so there was some sort of symmetry there.

The man has such a deep catalog, he could have played all night, but I was just glad he included some of my favorites, including the pointed "Not For Me."

So I know what not to do
Cause I learned that from you
Now I feel sorry for you
And I hope that someday I can thank you

"This song was used a couple years ago in a breakfast cereal commercial in France. I was really happy about that," he says and plays "You're My Favorite Waste of Time" and then cleverly says, "Let's flip the 45 over for a song I wrote under the influence of a couple of chocolate brownies and coffee," and sings "Someday, Some Way," which got the room so amped they began clapping in time, which delighted him ("I like the clapping, that was cool!").

Waving goodbye, he said, "I'll be at the swag table and you can come attempt to have a conversation with me and see how that goes," and headed to the back.

But the crowd kept on clapping until he returned to do three more, including one request, "Stranger and Stranger," before heading to the swag table.

And my chatty seatmate? He told me next time I call for tickets, tell them to put me next to him at the bar so we can talk music some more.

Someday, some way
Someday, some way, yeah now
Someday, some way
Maybe you'll understand me

Doubtful, but maybe. And I will always hate TV.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Nothing Routine About It

People are always talking about what a fabulous art and music town this is and they're right.

But, my god, it's an absolutely killer theater town, too and witnessing yet another fledgling theater company's work tonight, I am dumbstruck yet again that there's so much theatrical talent in Richmond, onstage and behind the scenes.

After seeing Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company's "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow was Enuf" last week, there was no way I was missing out on the play written ten years later as a response to it, namely "For Black Boys Who Have Considered Homicide When the Streets Were Too Much."

Right on, right on is all I can say.

The two films have been rotating in repertory at Firehouse Theatre, so their artistic director welcomed the crowd, impressing upon us how incredibly lucky we were that Heritage was presenting these plays on alternate nights.

And, man, he wasn't lying.

Like "Colored Girls," the story was told in choreo-poem form by six black men identified only by the number on their chest.

It was a terrifically talented ensemble cast, but also very disturbing in that I had only seen one of the actors onstage before.

Honestly, given their acting chops, I don't even know how that's possible, but there you have it. Like everything else, it's just easier to be white, no matter your profession.

Through a series of vignettes and using no props except six black boxes, the men told their stories of knowing they were born only to die too soon.

In one scene where they danced, the crowd cracked up when they imitated white boys dancing. A sad scene involved a little boy telling how he used Nina Simone records for solace during a difficult childhood.

Millennials didn't get it, but older members of the audience laughed out loud to references to the TV show "Dark Shadows" and its vampire hero, Barnabas Collins. I may never have seen the show but I definitely knew of the dated reference.

In many ways, the play came across as a tragedy with one man explaining that, "Nobody came, nobody saw. I was just another routine autopsy."

But each of the men also told of wanting to love and be loved despite being told that black boys aren't supposed to be loved.

The crowd about lost it when #17 knelt down in front of a woman in the front row and, with a slow jam playing in the background, made verbal love to her while stroking her hand and staring deeply into her eyes.

I am rain. I come to make love to you.

When he returned to stage, she turned to the audience and said, "Don't fuss at me," knowing that every woman in the room was wishing she'd been chosen.

Adrift after his woman leaves him, one man addresses his woman, saying, "You say you love me so much, more than Patti LaBelle likes to sing, more than Martin Luther King had a dream," trying to figure out what went wrong.

Another, a successful IT guy who only wanted to be comfortable in life, has his world turned upside down when, while working late, he's picked up by the cops for a rape nearby simply because of racial profiling.

I am an endangered species but I sing no victory song.

Watching such a powerful play unfold, it was tough not to resent that we still live in a world where works as penetrating as this don't get produced nearly often enough and actors as compelling as these don't show up in enough productions around Richmond despite their talent. And I can say that with some authority because I see so much of what does get produced here.

Which brings us back to my original point (Stay on script, Karen), that we are incredibly fortunate that a new theater company, dedicated to producing more works by black playwrights and casting more roles with black talent has joined the robust theater scene we already enjoy.

In an era of #BlackLivesMatter, I think we can all agree that black art matters as well and that Richmond will never be the best theater town it can be without including more of it.

Enter Heritage Theatre Company, take a bow and keep up the good work.

You're just what this theater town needed.

Walker Nabbed in River Gambling Sting

Walking further east today than I ever have, it was all about the men.

There was the guy on the Low Line fishing, which surprised me since I had no clue there were fish in the canal. "Oh, I've caught plenty of bass in here," he says, chuckling. "'Cept I fish for sport, so I let 'em all go."

Wishing him much luck in his endeavor, I walked away, but he called after me, "You learned something today!"

Besides my fish lesson, I also got an up close look at all the site preparation work - leveling, planting, mulching - that's going on right now at the Low Line to go with the thousands of daffodil bulbs planted last Fall and in full bloom now along the Dock Street side.

Once I got past Great Shiplock Park, it was virgin territory for me because I'd never walked any further East, so it was a pleasant surprise to see how the Capital Trail meandered around fields and buildings, at one point separating the walking and biking trail into separate paths.

When the trail curved around by the old terminal, I came upon a table crowded with men playing cards by the river, all of whom waved or said something before returning to their morning illegal gambling card game.

One guy waved his cards in the air and motioned me over to join, but, just in case they weren't really supposed to be there doing that, I declined with a smile.

I can see the headline now.

Walking back up the hills, I saw school children picnicking on the shady grounds of the State Capital and worker bees eating lunch on the steps of buildings enjoying the 71-degree sunshine and breeze.

Crossing Main at 12th Street, I started across the intersection when I got the light, only to have a large truck make the turn and come barreling down on me as if I were invisible. It was definitely a few terrifying moments.

No one wants to have to run to prevent becoming road kill.

I have to admit, my body is still getting acclimated to the sudden rise in temperatures, so by the time I'd done nearly seven miles and was a block from home, I was sweaty and slowing down.

Then a guy rides by on a bike and, just as he rounds the corner, calls out, "You look beautiful today!"

No, I don't, but thank you for saying that.

Hook and Ladder

Unintentionally, we had a front row seat to a situation.

Sitting at Cask Cafe with the garage doors rolled up to this gorgeous evening, a car sped by at a terrifying speed, especially considering it was Robinson Street. Moments later, a fire truck did the same, followed by four or five more fire trucks.

So many vehicles continued tearing down the street that the capacity crowd at Cask barely even registered the sirens or lights after the first.

Or maybe they were distracted by the noisy Saison pop-up happening inside.

Fortunately we'd managed to nab the last open table when we walked into a sea of humanity milling around the bar. A restaurant friend spotted me from across the room and gave a thumbs up to the pastrami taco, shouting her recommendation over the heads of the crowd.

Given how busy the servers were, it seemed wisest to just order most everything on tonight's pop-up menu and go from there.

Mildest in flavor profile was the achiote grilled shrimp taco with avocado crema and cilantro slaw. Most flavorful was chicken tinga, crunchy with onion and radish. Spiciest was Chorizo-potato in a corn tortilla. And, yes, most distinctive was pulled brisket pastrami with Swiss, pickled cabbage and mustard seed and Russian dressing on a rye tortilla.

A side of chunky guacamole had us adding a schmear to everything.

Our only issue was the thickness of the housemade tortillas, which supplied too much breadiness, proportionately speaking, to the fillings. That said, the rye tortilla was nothing short of brilliant in combination with the usual suspects inside.

When we left Cask, we could see that a police car blocked access to Idlewood, confirming where the fire must have been, but all looked calm now on the southern front, so we drove on to Richmond Triangle Players to see their offering for the Richmond Acts of Faith Festival.

"Lazarus Syndrome" dealt with Elliott, a now-middle aged man taking a cocktail of drugs twice a day to combat his HIV-positive status, his "cheerer-upper" actor boyfriend, Steven ("You'll always be younger than me. I hate that'), brother Neil, who swears he's happy no matter how it looks otherwise, and father Jack, there to remind his sons of their family history and Jewishness.

At its most basic, it was a play about grieving for the losses we all experience, except that it was also told in an often humorous way, such as when Jack tells son Neil, "You name my grandchild Katelynn? It's like a knife in my heart!"

Better he should have named her Rachel or Esther?

The action centered around a big Jewish meal that Jack makes and brings over after taking cooking classes when his wife died. The joke is that he hadn't resorted to that until he'd eaten every last bite of food she'd left in Tupperware containers in the freezer for him.

I have no doubt that my mother will do the same, continuing to feed my father from the grave long after she's gone.

Playing brother Neil, Andrew Boothby was the standout, my friend and I agreed, with his easy conversational tone (even when speaking through a full mouth of sandwich) and perfect timing. We'd liked him in "Gypsy," but we loved him in this.

He never seemed to be acting with a capital "A."

The play was a terrific choice for the AoF festival, dealing with how we as humans go on after those around us are gone, whether in the Holocaust, the World Trade Centers or simply through age, disease or tragedy.

We do it through faith, because we have no other choice but to affirm life, preferably with a little humor.

Discussing the play afterwards, my friend compared how people who experienced the disasters in the play handled life to the post-Civil War era when soldiers who'd made it through battle and disease had to return home and jump back into farming again in order to survive.

She thought there was something about digging in the dirt and looking forward to future crops that represented a kind of therapy they desperately needed.

Everybody hurts, REM famously said. The people whose home went up in flames tonight are undoubtedly experiencing that right now. I know from my own catastrophic loss many years ago that life goes on, assuming you embrace it.

Of course, being a cheerer-upper myself, I couldn't have done anything else.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Likes: Pizza, Wine, Men

As my Mom felt the need to alert me by email this morning, Spring has sprung.

Even without her notification, the fact that my eyes are crusted shut with allergies by the time I get home from my six mile walk (didn't make it to 7 miles today #sorrynotsorry) and every street has ladders propped up against houses to accommodate painters and roofers had already tipped me off.

This next bit will only resonate with Girl Scouts, but here goes anyway.

Walking up Davis, I spotted a couple sitting on the steps of their porch, he on the cold concrete and her on a sit-upon. It's no exaggeration to say I squealed when I saw it and she confirmed that her daughter had made it in Girl Scouts.

For the uninitiated, every Brownie or Junior Scout makes a sit-upon. Back in the olden days when I made mine, we actually used oilcloth but nowadays, it's two pieces of plastic. Laced inside through holes punched along the four edges are newspapers, making for a waterproof and more comfy way to sit outdoors on the ground.

I bet I hadn't seen one in decades, so my delight was pretty obvious. In fact, after we discussed hers and I began to leave, she called after me, "You're welcome!"

Not nearly as memory-evoking, but a whole lot funnier was a poster stapled to a pole near Grace Street.

New to Richmond
Lonely as Shit
Wanna hang?
[photo of red-haired guy with facial hair and wide-eyed expression]
Likes: pizza, beer, Seinfeld, Women
Dislikes: Panic attacks, no pizza, being lonely
[email address]

Can you blame him? None of us wants to be lonely when it's sit-upon season.

Changing the Minds of Pretenders

Who doesn't enjoy seeing inside other people's houses?

Walking Monument Avenue today with another avid pedestrian discussing architecture - Ionic versus Corinthian columns, servants' porches, Italianate facades - I pointed out certain houses I had experience in.

For starters, there was the former Symphony Designer House I'd toured with a friend, and the one-time doctor's office I'd gone to for years and the recently-purchased and eccentrically-decorated manse of a woman who shares my name and the sprawling apartment with a butler's pantry and maid's room that a former boyfriend had lived in.

"So basically, you've been in half the houses on Monument Avenue," my companion ribbed as we walked.

It was a good launching point for tonight's adventure, a tour courtesy of Modern Richmond of a recently-constructed house on Leigh Street in Jackson Ward.

I know the couple who owns it - I've interviewed the one and the other and I have had rendezvous at any number of local eating establishments - so I'd heard construction details for the past couple of years, but this was a chance to see.

Rule #1: remove your shoes or sheathe them in disposable booties at the front porch. I had no problem padding barefoot throughout.

Because the house was built on such a narrow lot, it was too close to the property lines to allow windows on the sides, so the architects cleverly solved the natural light issue with a massive skylight bisecting the center of the house that goes down three floors to the kitchen.

A hearth of light and shadow, so to speak. I was equally impressed that there were opening windows on the front and back of the house.

The most striking features were the two glass bridges on the second and third floors, looking down into the kitchen. Nearly everybody had a moment of trepidation before crossing them - it's not often you walk on glass and look through to floors below - and some people were superstitious enough to wait until no one else was on them to cross.

As far as I was concerned, having on a dress while 100 people stood below me was far more of a concern, although the novelty of bare feet on glass more than made up for any modesty concerns.

Equally as impressive as the walkways was the couple's 300-piece art collection placed throughout and displayed beautifully. The simplicity of the house's design and the subtly gray walls (a color called "Big Chill") lent itself to be the framework for so much art.

As long as I'd been watching this house be built, it was gratifying to finally see the inside and backyard, even if it was as crowded as moving through the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" cocktail party.

After the Q & A period with the owners and architects, I meandered up Adams, where an apartment window was wide open and speakers facing out to the street were blaring Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." It was just the kind of gorgeous, warm evening where you'd want to hear something exactly like that.

My destination was Bistro 27 for some dessert. My backside had barely hit the stool when in walks an architecture critic I'd just recently seen at the opening of the Virginia Historical Society's new seating exhibition ("So have you written it up yet?") and I suddenly had company.

His panties were in a wad about how bad traffic on Broad Street has gotten at rush hour, but he also gave me a little neighborhood history while he was at it. By the time my chocolate torte was history, it was time for him to leave for his weekly date with friends to watch "Survivor," but not because he cares about the characters. Oh, no.

Seems this group of his used to play poker on Wednesday nights but they gave that up so the could watch "Survivor" instead...and bet on who gets voted off. I wished him good luck and left for Gallery 5.

It was a good night for female voices, first with my latest crush Dazeases, a one-woman musical powerhouse who sings emotionally-charged songs to her pre-recorded sound tracks, allowing her to emote and pantomime as she sings in a voice that could destroy you with its honesty and intensity.

Dressed in a chemise and sheer robe, she almost forgot to do her most radio-friendly song, "Sad College Kids," then destroyed the audience with it and acknowledged, "Now I'm a sad college graduate." As if.

Next came the female-fronted Blanks with husky-voiced Jessica out front and under-the-weather Zoe on cello and everything from debut songs ("No one's ever heard this one except the band") to classics like "Tidal Wave" to Ween covers ("They're one of my favorite bands," Jessica shared) on their set list.

Headlining tonight was Brooklyn's Teen, all clad in red and all arriving intent on engaging the crowd with their '80s-sounding take on synth pop and well-honed musicianship.

Some of us were particularly enamored with having three females who sang, while others of us were satisfied because it was all so dancey in a way that's instantly familiar because we already danced to it in the '80s.

Using fuzzed-out keys, driving rhythm section and the occasional frenetic guitar, the band delivered sassy pop music with a lead singer with a terrific voice, strong stage presence and fabulous harmonies.

I was far from the only one happily dancing in place to their energetic sound.

Although in all likelihood, I was the only one who'd walked over glass bridges, discussed Eames chairs and pointed out strangers' houses beforehand.

Want to bet on it?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hellbent for Leather

I want to open mouth kiss this weather.

I want to believe that we have turned a corner and that I won't have to turn my heat back on until November. I want to hope that, like tonight, I get to eat dinner on a patio with a view of people walking their dogs a few feet away on the sidewalk. I want to wear shorts on my walk every single day and, like today, shorts to an interview if I so choose.

It's crazy how Spring fever is instantly affecting people, too. My phone never rings this much.

Mid-afternoon, a neighbor calls to invite me on a prolonged stroll tomorrow. "Let's walk down Monument Avenue and talk about architecture!" he suggests. Let's.

Another friend calls up to remind me that we haven't gotten together recently and can we rectify that pronto? And by pronto, he means tonight. We can.

After over-indulging al fresco, we set out for the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, only to end up on a one-lane bridge on the far side of Old Washington Highway. Truthfully, I don't even know what county we're in.

The benefit of this is that we are in the sticks and the sound of frogs singing surrounds us. It may as well be June.

"It just got warm last week!" my friend jokes. "I thought frogs took 21 days to germinate! Where'd they all come from so fast?" That I don't know, but judging by the symphonic chorus of croaking we're hearing, they're fully formed.

After backtracking, we land at  the Cultural Arts Center and find seats in the November auditorium, the size and luxury of which surprises my friend. We're there to see a live radio broadcast of "When Westerns Were King," showcasing John Ford's "Stagecoach" (originally broadcast in 1949) and "The Lone Ranger: Footlights on the Frontier" from 1944.

A young girl in a period dress, looking very "Little House on the Prairie"-like, gives us a program and counts us off on her clicker.

Waiting for the show to begin, we get on the subject of pickling and although he says he's not a big pickle person, the fact is, he does love bread and butter pickles and pickled onions, so I figure he just needs more exposure. Ergo, I suggest we attend the upcoming Pickled & Fermented festival.

Now he's a on a roll. "My Dad used to make pickles, grew his own cucumbers and made bread and butters. He made balloon wine, too with grape juice and sugar." He's still explaining to me how a balloon enters into wine-making when the lights go down.

A man in a cowboy hat, bandana and jeans comes out to start the show, tossing his hat up in the air, explaining the applause light and how to clap properly (double time works best) for the first-timers, one of whom I'm sitting next to.

Suddenly, we're in Radio Gulch and drinking sarsaparilla.

"Stagecoach," billed as a romance of the West, gives us all the great tropes of the genre: gun shots, galloping horses and a bad girl named Dallas who really has a heart of gold. She's part of the group - you know, the usual: alcoholic doctor, pregnant woman, and our hero, the Ringo Kid aka the John Wayne role - heading to Lordsburg on the stagecoach.

It's just that the Apache Indians aren't real happy about white folk crossing into their territory. Fortunately, all that drama is leavened with lines like, "Well, I guess I can't break out of prison and into society in the same week." Probably not.

The fun in watching these radio plays comes from the actors playing multiple roles and the array of sound effects created onstage. We got to see a lot of sandbags hitting the floor tonight to simulate people falling off their horses after being shot.

"The Lone Ranger" episode was cornier, but saved by the Shakespeare-spouting actor ("Are you calling me a ham?") who helps save the buried miners and reveal the owner of a neighboring shaft as the bad guy, all in the guise of a performance.

Just as much fun were the commercials for "the new breakfast cereal, Cheerios," touted as the ideal way to break the monotony of corn cereals for breakfast every day. Hell, I didn't even realize we had cold cereals in the '40s.

Ordinarily, I'm not much of a Western fan - too much adventure for me - although honestly, I'm not sure how many I've seen, but it's tough not to enjoy a radio script with lines such as, "Let's plant some bullets where they'll do the most good."

And right after that, let's rustle up some balloon wine and plant that where it'll do the most good, preferably on a sunny patio where I'm wearing shorts.

Hi-ho, Silver.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Different From the Rest

Let this be a lesson to you, boys and girls.

When you stay out 'till 2 a.m., then you're likely to sleep in until 11 (or is that just me?), which is almost certain to put you behind for the (abbreviated) next day when you have work to do (a 1:00 interview is going to come up almost as soon as you finish eating breakfast, answering emails and opening every window in the house because it's already 75 degrees), which, let's face it, we all do.

Well, except my friend who bought Apple stock in the '90s, but he's one of the lucky ones.

Still, last night's nine-hour progressive restaurant crawl through Monroe Ward and Jackson Ward was well worth today's repercussions, one of which is this highlights reel post about it.

Things got rolling at Rappahannock for oyster and Prosecco happy hour, where an error in our server hearing our order resulted in a bonus four Old Salts to our dozen, making for a fine start to the night.

From there, we headed east to Lucca where sunny yellow stools and a familiar face at their raw bar greeted us.

Sitting at the regular bar under lights far too bright, we expressed our wish for dimmer and the bartender agreed wholeheartedly, immediately setting a far more intimate mood to accompany a stellar Motown soundtrack (gems such as "Love Child," and - be still my heart - "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me").

A charcuterie and frommage plate groaned under Comte, Tallegio and Humbolt Fog, along with Capricola, Rohschinken and grilled bread with apricot chutney. MIA was the promised honey and pickle, but all in all, it was a solid spread.

Crossing back over Broad Street to Vagabond, we settled in with coupes of Can Xa Brut Rosé to accompany smoked chicken wings in tequila honey sauce (because some people believe wings and Monday night go together like football and TV) and, my choice, a plate of sticky General Tso's sweetbreads, hoping the broccoli would count as tonight's lone vegetable.

With enough pink bubbly, a person could justify almost anything.

The evening's final stop was Saison where we ran into the daily sunrise-watcher (I had to ask when sunrise was since I had no clue) and then gradually watched the place begin to fill up with beards and tattoos for half-priced wine night.

From our vantage point at the top of the bar and glasses of Pheasants Tears Tavkeri Rosé, we debated the political candidates, the cost of a transmission and why some people scrimp to save for a week at the beach.

Walking outside just before 2 a.m., it was startling how warm it still was. Could Spring have sprung while we were catching up and crawling all evening?

Regardless, sitting down to post at that point seemed silly, so here I am now, late but not entirely lost.

Just in case anyone's keeping score.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Let the Music Play

Millie's was back in the music business tonight, so why not?

My escort made certain we arrived just as the doors opened, ensuring us seats in the soon-to-be-filled-to-overflowing back room, next to a charming older couple who gave us the lowdown on Stone Brewing.

They'd been expecting a river view, only to be disappointed. Unaware that Stone isn't yet brewing here, they had to settle for brought-in bottled beer. And apparently with so much construction equipment still parked around, they drove the circumference several times in search of the industrial-looking tasting room before finding it.

Seems that visit to Stone had been the other day and on their way back, they'd passed Millie's and the husband had commented that it had been years since they'd been to one of Millie's Sunday night music buffets. And then, poof! Just like that, they read that one was happening tonight.

Here they'd thought they'd just been missing out, but actually it was the first time in years Millie's had resurrected the dynamite combo of food and music, a bargain at $5 each, collected by a handsome man in a checked hat and striped shirt with a smile as wide as his face.

We settled into a two-top, ordering easy-drinking Castillo Peralada Brut Rosado from the "Giggle Water" menu because nothing says Sunday night fun like pink bubbles, meanwhile watching the room quickly swell with eager music devotees for what was spontaneously dubbed a "tiny room concert."

Our server alerted us sotto voice that the buffet was ready, so we headed over to score steaming bowls of chicken curry ("I thought we might order it in, but they made it in house," she shared) punctuated with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, onions and a melange of spices with the undercurrent of chili powder for subtle heat, over rice with triangles of pita.

Veggie curry was also an option, but why would we?

A quartet of condiments such as mango chutney, raita and a spicy green tomatillo sauce provided personalizing options. For five bucks, it was a solid meal and we chowed down as the band - acoustic guitar, mandolin and keys - began performing at the back of the room.

Playing a mixture of originals and covers, the Tarrant Trio won over the audience with songs about how it takes a woman like you to get to the man in me and another about the American Dream.

Singer Jordan said to the crowd, "She's coming back," after singing about how "the candle's always lit," but he didn't sound entirely confident that she would.

Even funnier was when he announced that when he'd first moved to town, owner Paul had given him a job as a dishwasher. "I was told repeatedly by every chef here that I was the worst dishwasher ever. I was slow."

"Slow but powerful!" Paul called from the back near where we sat. "That's what she said!"

The song "Cheap Shit from China" included a cheap kazoo solo that he admitted could use a little work and "Front Door" was about moving here, aka the dishwasher period.

Their take on David Allen Coe's "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" even got the cute couple next to us grinning and the missus dancing in her seat. Sometimes, all you need is the mention of Charlie Pride to feel the music on a Sunday night.

During the band's promised "five-minute break" that lasted 20, I ventured downstairs where the jarringly cold basement toilet seat greeted me and hastened the call of duty.

The second set began with the Millie's Diner girls - two women at a front table drinking red wine - joining the band on back-up vocals for "Hey, Good Lookin'." Things were sounding good, voices just the right volume, mandolin breaking your heart, keys tying it all together.

Soon the Tarrant Trio moved into a Beatles' set that seemed to delight most of the people in the room (I'd have danced to "Something" right there between the tables if I'd been asked) before returning to their own sensitive singer-songwriter milieu, in the vein of Townes van Zandt's "If I Needed You," which they'd done earlier.

Thanks, Millie's, for resurrecting a fine tradition with a twist. This new ex-dishwasher series you've got going is excellent.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

You Go for Me

I'm white and gobsmacked.

As someone living in the era of #OscarsSoWhite, how is it even possible that in 1954, Hollywood made an all-black film with Otto Preminger directing and Darryl Zanuck financing, using Bizet's score and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics?

How, how, how?

I didn't go for any of those reasons, I went to Bowtie's screening of "Carmen Jones" because I'd never seen a  Dorothy Dandridge movie and I wanted to correct that. What I hadn't expected was a film without a single white face, not that I'm complaining.

But for all the CinemaScope films I've seen, for all the '50s musicals, for all the Hammerstein lyrics I've heard sung over the years, never have I seen it done with a black cast.

It felt audacious just watching it 62 years later.

Yet, in many ways, it was also refreshing seeing an Eisenhower world occupied solely by something other than whites. The army base was all black, as was the bustling neighborhood in Chicago, the parachute factory, the attendees at the big prize fight.

I'm talking about a world where patrons at a backwoods North Carolina bar go crazy for a drum solo, hollering, "Go, Max, go!" and it's Max Roach playing the drums.

Just as startling were the usual outlandish conventions of the Hollywood musical, such as Carmen working at a factory wearing a black off-the-shoulder blouse and a fitted orange skirt with a major thigh slit in it. Prisoners on the army work gang toil shirtless, their oiled well-muscled torsos gleaming in the sun.

But who minds skimpy outfits and half-naked men when you're watching beautiful people like Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge?

Far more disconcerting was watching them sing and hearing other people's voices come out of their mouths, voices of people who could sing the operatic score with 20th century lyrics ("You Talk Just Like My Maw") that apparently they couldn't.

Ah, but that's old-school Hollywood, where characters such as Pearl Bailey say things like, "I hate it when hip chicks act like dumb clucks" and mean it.

But the best advice comes from none other than hot tomato Carmen herself, who gives meek, little Cindy Lou the best advice on men.

"Bait your hook for fish you can fry." Amen, honey. There's no point in going after any other kind.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Random Mutation

Why are intellectuals so bad at dirty talk?

That was just one of the questions posed in HATTheatre's latest production, "Creating Claire," their entry for the Acts of Faith Festival and a fairly obvious one at that.

Sometimes with the AoF productions, faith is a bit more of a concept than it was in this story of a formerly agnostic woman who works at a science museum as an "Origins of Life" guide and one day goes off script to ponder if perhaps there wasn't "intelligent design" behind it all.

Cue the choir of angels singing.

Her boss is having none of it. "Intelligent Design is just creationism with a better press agent," she informs her. "All the designers I know are either gay men or Jewish women."

Come on, that's pretty funny stuff.

Complicating things is her autistic teen-aged daughter who has met another autistic teen in a chat room she's not supposed to be in. Things are going well as they commiserate about being labeled as retards, but once he finds out she and her family don't believe in god, it's another story.

And the whole thing is a disaster for her loving and agnostic husband who emphatically insists that she not teach their daughter her new found faith beliefs, which are also destroying their marriage.

He was the one she called out about his lousy dirty talk when he refers to her as "nasty mama" while they're sitting on the sand at Myrtle Beach watching the sunset.

Except as anyone with half a brain knows, it isn't possible because the sun sets in the west, not over the Atlantic. But I digress.

Claire's boss Victoria sees no choice but to fire her since she can hardly have a creationist-spouting tour guide at her science museum. What was difficult for her (and this audience member) to accept was that Claire immediately hires a lawyer to fight it, despite her long-time friendship with her boss.

"There is nothing more insidious than a person with a higher purpose and a lawyer," she tells Claire, effectively articulating what I was thinking at that very moment.

Nailing the mannerisms and repetitive nature of her speaking role, Emma Grace Bailey was the standout as the autistic daughter. It was heartbreaking watching her trying to process her parents' arguments and desperately wanting to connect with a boy so she would feel loved.

The only problem with a play such as this one is that everybody in the audience falls on one side or the other when it comes to the $64,000 question (antiquated reference there). Either the universe took 14 million years to be created or it took seven days, your call.

My companion and I certainly weren't the only ones groaning at Claire's hyper-religious lines such as, 'She's in a better place now," when Victoria's partner finally dies after a protracted illness, but we'd also already agreed at intermission that we could find nothing sympathetic about Claire's character whatsoever

And that's really the crux of who'll be better able to relate to the play. Much as I enjoyed it, those of us who come down on the evolution side are bound to tire of Claire quickly.

Although given that this is already the season for crazies in the spotlight, what's one more?

Also, I refuse to believe that every intellectual fails at dirty talk. It's all in how you define the dirty part, no?

Black Tea Power

Today's offer: Get two drinks and pay for them both! ~ sign in front of Gus' Bar

Best reason to stop working and go listen to a DJ at my neighborhood record store?

Steady Sounds was hosting the release of DJ Carl Hamm's record anthology celebrating Pop Yeh Yeh master Adnan Othman, whose Malaysian rock is familiar to anyone who listens to Carl's show on WRIR.

And while it might be Malaysian in origin, it sounds pretty much like all the rock music being made in the late '60s, sort of Beatles-influenced, mildly garage-like and steadily rocking. Word was Carl had done a stellar job of interviewing the musician and gathering keys tracks for this compilation.

I walked in to find the man of the hour already spinning tunes from "Bershukor: A Retrospective of Hits by a Malaysian Pop Yeh Yeh Legend" in the loft, but also graciously serving a fabulous black tea to those he knew and who was I to turn down a cup of warm tea after a blustery three block walk over?

It was a great way to spend the late afternoon, with lots of music-loving friends in attendance, including two of the vinyl-collecting couples I'd written about recently, the gallerist dazzling me with his upcoming line-up, the guitarist and I comparing notes on why we hadn't gone to the Lucy Dacus show last night and the movie king looking for ideas for a band to play at his next event.

In between, the vintage store owner and I dished about why we'd both opted out of the Elbys (anything "en blanche" feels so passe) without regret. A musician chimed in when we began talking about how much the scene has grown and how it's now possible to go to a show and know so few people.

Especially house shows, my 36-year old friend added. "We went to one the other night and after the first band, I turned to my boyfriend and asked if he wanted to go home and make a pot of tea. I felt like the grandma, but I'd seen enough to reassure myself that the scene is okay without me and I just wanted to go home."

Unlike some of those shows, today's crowd was mostly familiar, meaning opportunities to talk about a friend's recent Vegas/Death Valley trip, another's adjustment to a new job that's not in the music industry and why cheaper motel rooms aren't always better when you're on tour ("The first thing to go is the comforter!").

And like a good party, the soundtrack was fabulous, with all kinds of Adnan Othman tunes blasting out, tempting people to buy the colorful album.

It was just another of today's offers: get an earful of terrific music and catch up with a dozen friends. What better reason to hit the pause button on work and join the party?

I loved it, yeh, yeh, yeh.

As Cloudy As I Wanna Be

Absinthe, it has been too long.

That was corrected at Amuse where I adjourned for dinner with friends I hadn't seen since December, met a deep-voiced Russian and marveled at a middle-aged couple who came in, sat down and proceeded to hold hands, stare into each other's eyes and talk non-stop for two hours.

It was wooing of the highest order and they were completely oblivious to everyone around them.

Meanwhile I wanted to hear about my friends' trip to Fort Lauderdale because they'd hit all the classic beach bars like Coconuts on the Intra-coastal Waterway and Elbo Room, where the classic "Where the Boys Are" was filmed.

I love me a good beach bar.

They wanted to hear about my trip to Sullivan's Island, mainly because he used to be a regular there in his youth because a close friend's family had a vintage cottage. We're talking about the kind of family who would pack up their entire household - including servants, and, yes, he actually said those words - and move to S.C. for three months every summer.

There's a lifestyle I could get used to.

And it wasn't just any old cottage, it was one that had separate servants' quarters that were air-conditioned, so the elderly members of the family had somewhere to stay if they should occasionally decide to come down.

The rest of the time, he and his buddies co-opted the space because it was air-conditioned and their cocaine would clump up in the moist beach humidity of the big house.

You really can't beat '70s stories for sheer shock value...says the woman who's never laid eyes on coke. I am such a lame relic of that era.

Arriving pre-reservation, we took up residence in the mod green chairs at Amuse with a bottle of J. Mourat Collection Rosé and a cheese plate to tide us over while we discussed the local art on the walls and the man who looked like he was straight off of Hawaii 5-0.

We're in the home stretch for the Rodin exhibit, so Amuse was full up with last minute art lovers, but eventually we were seated. At the table next to us was a couple nonchalantly enjoying dinner when my companion looked over and noted, "That's Gary. We used to buy our records from him every Saturday at Willow Lawn."

Not being a native, Gary's record store meant nothing to me, although I recognized his date, a well-known modern dancer I've seen perform several times. When they got up to leave, we chatted with them, sharing our familiarity like old friends.

Over bouillabaisse with scallops, mussels and salmon, mussels with Surry ham, curry fried oysters and fries, we talked about their recent visit to Tay Ho Vietnamese Restaurant, the possible mayoral candidates (all of us would vote for Jon Baliles) and the unfortunate state of Cafe Diem's bathrooms.

"They were like Buckroe Beach in the '60s," my friend observed, cracking us up with references to bad turquoise.

Our late reservation meant that by the time we finished eating, three quarters of the room had cleared and, technically, Amuse was closed. Fortunately, the staff was understanding and when our server came to see what else we needed, didn't blink an eye when two of us asked for absinthe drips.

Even better, he brought the absinthe fountain over to the table so that we could control our own drips through the sugar cubes, making them as cloudy as we liked while the friend who abstained from the Green Fairy indulged in a classic Manhattan.

It was then, during the sipping portion of the evening, that one friend hilariously shared how in his youth, he'd pretended his last name was Finkelstein so that Jewish fathers would allow their daughters to date him. He justified it because his mother's maiden name had been Fink.

Between the absinthe and the story, we thought he was hilarious.

Eventually, though, all good museums must close and even devoted customers leave, so we adjourned to the sculpture garden first and then to hear music.

I'd run into a friend at Amuse who'd asked if I was going to Balliceaux tonight for the Girls Rock benefit with multiple DJs playing 45s, but my friend offered to show off his enormous new-to-him speakers and vintage 45 collection so I took him up on it.

Appropriately since it had been months since we'd heard music together, he began by pouring Rosé and playing several most excellent Bowie 45s: "Underground" from "Labyrinth," "Blue Jeans," "Ashes to Ashes," "Cat People" and, from a film I'd never heard of, "Absolute Beginners," each sounding more spectacular than the last on kick-ass speakers that came up to my waist.

Things took a cheesy turn when he pulled out Starship's "We Built This City, " but he assured us from teh next room that he could top that, and did with "Against All Odds," hyper-corny with a bare-chested Jeff Bridges on the front.

It was only in playing a Jeff Lynne-produced George Harrison 45 that he was able to redeem himself at all.

Explaining that waking up on a day like today made him want to play the Bangles' cover of "Hazy Shade of Winter," he did, justifying the 45 by saying it was the only way he could get the song without buying the soundtrack to a terrible movie.

We left 45s behind only when the estate sale queen pulled out her latest 50-cent find, the original Broadway cast recording of "Hair," skips and all, with its oh-so groovy 1968 song descriptions, as in, "Easy to Be Hard, a pop lament" or my long-time favorite, "Good Morning, Starshine," summed up as "twinkles, shines and glows...join in, flower children."

Oh, some of us joined in, alright, while he who abstained rolled his eyes at the nonsense lyrics of flower children.

Gliddy glup gloopy, nibby nabby noopy la la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba, nooby abba dabba
Tooby ooby walla, nooby abba dabba
Early morning singing song

And by early morning, we're talking e-a-r-l-y morning. Green fairy early.

Like sunrise at Buckroe Beach in the '60s, with none of the guilt of youth early.