Thursday, September 29, 2016

We Built This City

The Presidential debate's got nothing on the Richmond Mayorathon.

Did the Clinton/Trump shindig begin with the director of a top ten museum clutching a doll representing "The Scream" while bragging about the upcoming Edvard Munch/Jasper Johns show? I'm afraid it didn't.

Did the national event have not one but two women moderators? It did not. Nor did it have a moderator who repeatedly called out candidates who rambled without answering the question, although she wasn't consistent about it, letting some people off the hook.

Did the prez debate begin with each candidate walking out to his or her own self-selected theme song? I don't think so and although some choices were regrettably trite - "I am the Champion, "Fight Song" or ~shudder~ Dave Matthews Band - it established early on that Richmond was doing this debate thing in our usual DIY way.

Did the unpleasant big business candidate in Monday's debate get showered in a spontaneous chorus of "boos" from the crowd when he went self-servingly off-topic in the very first question of the evening like RVA's unpleasant big business candidate did tonight? No such luck.

Did the main event have a pedophile on the dais main-splaining about how, despite being known as a fighter, he works well with others to accomplish things? Um, nope.

Well, did the televised debate have a candidate who would answer a question about the city's defects by saying, "The biggest weakness is Miss Mosby not being mayor" or fake pout because she wasn't getting enough applause?

And am I the only voter concerned about a would-be mayor referring to herself in the third person?

You don't think Monday's moderator would have had the balls to pull a speed round titled "Team of Rivals" and ask each candidate to say what person running they'd pick to be part of their team and in what capacity, do you?

Or have a candidate so clueless he would respond, "I'd pick a name out of a hat" when asked to choose a specific person, or another who could - with a straight face, mind you - refer to corporate pimp Berry as a "fine southern gentleman"?

It is to laugh.

Where tonight's local version of democracy in action aligned with the all-important Presidential debate was that there was clearly one candidate who'd prepared scrupulously to talk issues and past record and, best of all, even bring humor to the table while others were known to traffic in run-on sentences, platitudes and meaningless rah-rah.

On the subject of transit and how to sell regional transit to the counties, Jon Baliles pointed to the Broad Street corridor labeled in purple on the map and said, "We need to convince the people along the purple route that bus is not a four-letter word."

Boom. And, make no mistake, by "people," he means NIMBY-type white people.

Asked about increasing the city's walkability and bikability, Baliles reminded the sold-out crowd that, "Everyone knows Richmonders are equally bad at walking, biking and driving." Affirmations like we were in church abounded.

Even when reminiscing about the James when he was a boy growing up in Stratford Hills, he managed to elicit a laugh when he said, "Back then, you didn't go in the river for fear you'd grow a second head."

No, where the Presidential debate and Richmond's Mayorathon dovetailed was that any sentient voter could plainly see there was only one viable option to lead. Even the other candidates knew it.

When asked about who they'd want on their team if elected, three of them chose Baliles. Duh. Let's hope Richmond voters in five districts are that savvy in November.

Next to me was a couple who moved to the Fan from London two weeks ago with a table and chairs ("It's a long story," they said in unison when I asked), yet here they were, out trying to learn about the people who want to run their adopted city.

Leaning in, he asked me, "We're new here. Is there a runoff if no one candidate gets at east 50% of the vote?"

I explained that if no candidate gets a majority in at least 5 of the 9 districts, there most certainly is a runoff and he seemed satisfied with that as we exited the auditorium.

Using the warm, humid and breezy night that we agreed felt like beach weather as an excuse, Mac and I ditched the post-debate reception at the museum for the greener pastures of Meadow and Park, where we could hear Janis Joplin blaring from Garnett's open windows and doors from a block away.

Inside, the air was every bit as beach-like as outside, but the music was even more enjoyable at close range and we could sup and sip while rehashing Richmond's political spectacle and the folly of a proposed riverfront project to turn the wilderness of one of our favorite walking destinations, Chapel Island, into a manicured, concrete "park."

Our sense of being at peace with the world eating strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting in the soft night air while Jefferson Airplane blared only encouraged us to believe that yes, we can elect a mayor who will move Richmond forward without selling out or diluting what makes this place so distinctive and livable.

He's only got one head, but tonight proved that was plenty. Baliles is our guy. Even the Londoners said so.

Looking and Sounding Fab

You didn't have to grow up in a rancher or split level, but it definitely upped the sense of deja vu if you had.

Modern Richmond was doing a pop-up of a 1960 split level in Maymont and by pop-up, that meant no one was going to speak about the house built by local architect Louis Stephenson, which is what usually happens at these events.

But visitors were welcome to traipse through - sans shoes, as usual - all four levels and marvel at its near-museum state and period-appropriate furniture.

Because I'd also grown up in a house built in 1960, there was a hella lot to relate to for me, along with plenty I couldn't because this was a custom built house (ahem, intercoms in every room) and my parents' house was just another suburban tract house.

Walking toward it just as a light rain began, my first impression was pure Brady Bunch; it just had that look with a wall of windows in the front, a shared balcony spanning several bedrooms and blue and white diamond panels next to the front door.

Apparently the original owner had recently died and her children are selling off the family homestead, so we were treated to a staged house using - with the exception of some living room pieces - the owner's mid-century modern furnishings.

See: diamond-shaped mirror over the dining room credenza.

In the downstairs rec-room, I was immediately at home with the wood paneling but my Dad's modest Formica bar couldn't compare to the extensive curved bar with alternating blue and yellow stools and we sure didn't have a fireplace in our rec room.

In the entrance way was possibly the grooviest element of the entire house: a Nutone built-into-the-wall stereo/high-fidelity/radio/intercom system that consisted of four units including reel to reel player and turntable, each jutting from the wall in brown and gold glory.

Even the kitchen had a long stretch of windows, but also an amoeba-shaped built-in table, a tall cabinet with pegboard lining ("My grandparents had the same thing," Mac observed) and, wonder of wonders, a Hot Point range with a knob labeled "Supermatic" (we hadn't a clue) and where the fourth burner (electric, of course, this was 1960 and gas was old-fashioned) was actually a deep fryer.

As in, a hole where the burner would've been with a fry basket resting inside, their very own built-in Fry Daddy.

Praise be the days before we were collectively nagged about eating fried food.

Hardly surprisingly, nearby on the counter was a metal grease can with inside strainer exactly like the one my Mom had had, except hers had looked a little greasier than this one.

You know, because cooking for a family of eight, it was probably hard to have nice things.

The oven, just so you know, was that distinctive shade of aqua that defined the late '50s and early '60s and hanging it from its lower oven was a cloth tea towel with a 1967 calendar on it.

Classic stuff, I tell you.

In the dining room, atop a Danish modern-looking sideboard was an electric Presto-Pride percolator with settings spanning "mild" to "strong."

In my house, the percolator was always set on "strong" and the boys my sisters and I brought home judged by whether they drank their coffee black.

Upstairs, I opened a closet that still held linens and assorted junk, only to find a small red volume, Peg Bracken's "On Getting Old for the First Time," and while the title wasn't familiar, the author was.

My favorite grandmother was a huge fan of Bracken's smart-assed writings on cooking and housekeeping and even had a copy of her "I Hate to Cook" book. As a kid, I recall reading some of her articles and thinking she was hilarious.

Stir and let cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.

Come on, she was Betty Friedan with a cocktail and without the sermonizing.

In one of the upstairs bathrooms, we were delighted when Mac discovered a shiny, stainless steel square over the sink that, when touched, swiveled to reveal a hidden toothbrush and glass holder.

Above it was a generously-sized medicine cabinet ("They don't put these in houses anymore," Mac commented with disdain) with more than enough room for cold cream, cake mascara and Dexedrine.

The four bedrooms were not only familiar for their compact size, but a reminder that our notion of personal space has grown way out of proportion. You should've seen the tiny rooms I shared with another sister.

Honestly, how much bedroom does one kid - or even two - really need?

More than once, we heard other guests saying some variation of the same thing: "This place is like a museum" and "This is all so familiar."

By the time we left, my head was firmly planted in the '60s, exactly the right place to be to go see the documentary, "The Beatles Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years" at Movieland with others of an age.

I hadn't become a Beatles fan until the '70s, so there was plenty I didn't know and hadn't seen.

Because it was a Ron Howard-directed project, I was counting on great archival footage and obscure finds, and that's exactly what we got. Beatles obsessives might have seen some of this stuff before, but a lot of it was fresh to me.

The sheer joyfulness of the early performances and how well they managed to sing despite non-stop screaming offered a glimpse into the bizzaro world they more or less created.

Since the documentary only told the story of a very specific period - essentially 1961-66, although it ended with the 1969 rooftop concert - it didn't deal with a lot of the band's deeper issues, just the steamroller effect of Beatlemania and how it wore the four lads down eventually.

In one fairly early sequence, the band introduces itself.

I'm Paul and I play bass guitar. I'm George and I play solo guitar. I'm John and I play better guitar.

No friendly rivalry there or anything.

It was fascinating hearing a young Paul insist that they wouldn't play the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville if the concert hall was segregated and seeing the contract where that was stipulated, but the really impressive part was hearing that from then on, stadium shows were no longer segregated for anyone.

As a history lesson, I learned that they took flak when a concert in Japan was planned for Budokan because it was a scared place. My first thought was that apparently the Japanese got over that by 1978 when Cheap Trick recorded an entire album there.

What mainly came across was what a lark the band considered the whole experience, at least at first. When a reporter asks Paul about the Beatles' affect on the culture, Paul corrects him, saying they weren't culture, they were just a good laugh.

And they were, at press conferences and interviews, using bad puns, quick quips and sarcasm to make the endless round of press stops not only tolerable but fun for them.

During a recording session, John tells George Martin, "Keep that take! It sounded fab!"

One thing that surprised me was that in the present day interviews with Paul and Ringo, it was Ringo who came across more robustly and less old man-sounding.

When the film ended, we got a surprise screening of the Beatles historic 30-minute set at Shea Stadium, but not the scream-filled audio I'd heard before but a remastered version that put the band's vocals high in the mix and the endless screaming far in the background.

That alone was worth hearing, if nothing else than for the marvel of how these guys managed to stay in tune when they couldn't hear each other at all. Ringo used to watch Paul and John's backsides to know when a song ended.

But my main takeaway was what a pivotal period in women's liberation the arrival of the Beatles was. Watching those girls in the audience swoon shamelessly, cry with desire for these log-haired lads and all but climax in their seats had to be an empowering thing after the buttoned-up Eisenhower years.

It's like they were conveying, we are sexual creatures and we will display that in public if we want to.

Do you want to know a secret? Staring at a guy's backside beats the hell out of staring sullenly at a sink.

We've come a long way, baby, from aqua ovens.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Captured for Posterity

Tonight was #3 of 6 dates with a multi-talented dead man.

After twice seeing "Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott" at the VMFA, I was ready for the lecture at University of Richmond entitled, "Gordon Parks from Kansas to New York: A Conversation."

Well...conversation may be a bit of a stretch - it was more of presentation, presentation, questions from moderator, questions from audience - but it did flesh out my knowledge of Parks and provide a bit of mental stimulation after an unusually intense day.

While Peter Kunhart, Jr., the executive director of the Parks Foundation, actually knew Parks (his grandfather was an editor at Life and a personal friend of Parks - he had a photo to prove it), it was Karen Haas, the photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from whence the show originated, who brought unadulterated enthusiasm for everything Parks to the talk.

Rarely, she stressed, does a curator have such a fabulous opportunity to dig deep into a particular segment of an artist's work as she had done with the previously unpublished Fort Scott photographs and artist's notes.

As she pointed out in far more ladylike language, that's the kind of assignment curators have wet dreams about.

She'd even roped in her husband to do a road trip to retrace the places where Parks had gone as Life's first black staff photographer to capture his elementary school classmates as part of an assignment to honestly depict segregation issues.

It seems that while the magazine claimed to be pro-integration, they hadn't actually covered the subject in its pages before. In a stroke of brilliance, they sent a black photographer who took days getting comfortable with his subjects before shooting them.

What Parks discovered was that 11 of the 12 had left Fort Scott as part of southern blacks' great migration to northern cities in hopes of a better life. What Haas discussed was how nuanced were Parks' photos of these migratory families in the years just before the first stirrings of the Civil Rights movement began.

The photographer's goal, she explained, was to open the minds of Life's mostly white middle-class readership and he planned to do that with portraits of families in front of their homes (always in all-black neighborhoods), couples eating dinner, posed on couches and children playing piano with families singing along.

The latter was to be especially meaningful to whites because it showed the stability and strength of black middle class families engaged in cultured activities, no doubt images that would have been eye-openers for racist readers.

Except the piece never ran because of the little matter of the Korean conflict breaking out and taking precedence in the magazine (tell me about it - an assignment I turned in last March just ran this week).

But Parks' words and images never ran until this exhibition was mounted.

The importance of Fort Scott in shaping Parks came full circle during the Q & A period when a guy from Fort Scott pointed to a photo on the screen of black children standing on a platform behind rows of white people in seats watching a baseball game.

"I played on that field and my Dad coached me there," he shared, pointing at the image. "And in Fort Scott, Gordon Parks was like a god."

Fortunately for me, I have three more dates with that god.

Passport in Order

I am not a political junkie, despite coming from the loins of two such people.

For the most part, I stay out of the fray, basing my political opinions on what I read since I don't watch TV or listen to radio news.

If you want the truth, I don't generally bother watching debates, either - can't remember the last one I saw - because I'd just as soon read the analysis the next day to assess who said what and how they handled themselves.


In my decades as a registered voter, I have never felt the queasiness I feel this year and, like most Americans, my opinion of this election cycle is shared by everyone, as in every single person I know. I honestly can't say I've met a single Trump supporter, making it even harder for me to fathom the human beings who support this wing nut.

So, yes, Virginia, when I saw there was a debate-watching party at Camden's, I made it part of my evening's plans after wine on the porch and dinner out with Pru, who good-naturedly agreed to end the evening with politics.

Since we were a few minutes late arriving, the attentive crowd was already intent on the screen when we walked in, accepted the glasses of Rose and plate of fried chicken wings we were handed and took up our position standing next to a late-blooming political junkie and a visiting North Carolinian.

That's right, this debate was important enough to stand for an hour and a half.

Since my only frame of reference for Trump was the Internet snippets liberal friends have posted, I was there to see how the man held up over the long haul, not that an hour and a half should be especially long should you be President.

First of all, if his long-dead Scottish mother wasn't rolling over in her grave, then that's proof that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I have never seen such a deplorable lack of manners, especially for someone who somehow believes he'd be a fine leader of the free world. In the "everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten" category, interrupting someone, shouting them down while speaking, is certainly on the list, along with other basic rules of civility.

Play fair.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Share everything.

Perhaps the Donald didn't go to kindergarten. He clearly never learned to speak in coherent sentences (or maybe he and Sarah Palin went to the same kindergarten).

It was satisfying hearing the cheers when Hillary nailed something ("I have a feeling that by the end of the evening I'll be blamed for everything.") and when Trump had yet another misstep  ("That makes me smart"), as if the room was all on the same wavelength.

The only two Trump supporters sitting in the back slipped out of their seats and left before the debate ended, effectively confirming even their mortification with the candidate.

But everyone's still terrified on some level because we just don't know what'll happen in November. My favorite Virgo is looking at New Zealand and my biggest fan emailed this morning, saying, "Want to move to Canada, Sweden, Bali?"

Trump's finest moment came when he said, "We are a nation that is seriously troubled."

Yes, yes we are, but at the possibility that a loser like you could represent and govern us.

Even a non-political junkie with a penchant for Rose and wings has that much sense.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Way You Remember Me

How long 'till we learn dancing is dangerous?
How long 'till we find the devil inside of us?
How high is too low?
We're not that young*
So we're never going to stop

*Mind you, written and sung by a man of indeterminate age, so his notion of "youth" may be suspect.

I bought my ticket for St. Lucia at the National six weeks ago, but only found a worthy date for it a few days ago. In the meantime, the only other St. Lucia fan I know had commented that while the new album "Matter" wasn't quite as good as the first (because how many are?), there were more than a few terrific songs.

My first listen uncovered "Dancing on Glass," the Prince-titled "Game 4 You," the driving (and vaguely Christopher Cross-inflected) "Winds of Change" and the slow jam "Love Someone," meaning I now had even more reasons to look forward to this show.

We stopped at Rapp Session for Old Saltes and bluefish dip accompanied by sparkling Rose while the duo next to us nattered over why a friend had managed to pull down the towel racks and shower curtain while staying in their home.

"What could you be doing in a bathroom that would pull things off the wall?" she wondered aloud. Sex was my guess but I was told to shush.

Our time at Rapp Session was limited by needing to get a ticket for my companion at the National's box office, which required navigating the hustle and bustle of crowds on their way to eat before the Richmond Symphony season opener with Itzhak Perlman, resulting in blue hairs crowding every restaurant we passed.

But once that was accomplished, we were free to adjourn to Vagabond, where sparkling Rose and a massive ancho cocoa-smoked lamb shoulder tostada with chimichurri aioli and a flurry of Manchego on top finished off our appetites with lamb-be-cue worthy of the State Fair.

Arriving at the National shortly after Sofi Tukker (that's Sofi and Tukker, a duo) began their set, I overheard a guy refer to Tukker's hair as "Very Split Enz," while we all know that no one has hair with quite the swoop of Split Enz.

We heard songs in Portuguese, songs sung to recorded tracks (karaoke?) and praise when the audience followed instructions to do hand gestures to a song.

"We haven't had that much participation since we were in Latvia and no, that's not a punchline!" Tukker said from the stage.

I'm not gonna lie, I've been an unabashed fan of St. Lucia's debut album "When the Night" since I first heard it in 2013 and for years kept it in my car as quality back-up emergency music when I hadn't time to select fresh road trip soundtracks.

Fact: when you're on cruise control to the Northern Neck or Outer Banks, sometimes nothing but synth and danceable percussion will do.

After a couple of songs from the new album, the crowd roared when they launched into "Closer Than This," but I couldn't have been the only one noticing singer Jean-Philip Grobler's indebtedness to, say, George Michael.

I especially loved the wind effect that defined his performance, as his hair and black and white patterned shirt were blown constantly, as if he were starring in a cheesy '80s video, which, for all I know, he may have wished he was. He certainly wouldn't be the first.

He certainly had no fear of walking through the crowd, eventually making it back to the area in front of the sound booth where we stood and watched him high-five any number of dizzy fans.

Come to think of it, the percussionist bore a fair resemblance to John Oates in a sleeveless t-shirt and sweat pants tapered at the ankle, his shirt also billowing from an unseen fan.

Oh, if it were only that easy to revive that era.

Interestingly enough, I saw not a soul I know, a rarity for a show at the National, so I can only assume that my passion for '80s synth music-influenced bands with singers from South Africa is not one shared by my friends.

Happily, I only needed one, difficult as he may be. I'd be the first to admit that dancing can be dangerous but how high is too low?

I aim to find out.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kick Out the Jams

It was out of the natural order but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

When it comes to spinning vintage 45s, my heart belongs to Mr. Fine Wine, the problem being that it had been ten months since he'd made the trek from New Jersey to Metzger and I was jonesing badly.

I know we have a lot of great DJs in this town and I have friends who are superb DJs, but no one has ever quite nailed my musical needs on the dance floor quite like Mr. Fine Wine and it's for this reason that I would move heaven and hell to catch him when he comes to town.

Tonight, as it turned out, I didn't need to do much more than work into the early evening before Mac arrived to accompany me to Metzger's Oktoberfest.

Granted, I don't drink beer and true, sunset was nigh and the event had already been going on for close to seven hours when we arrived to find a bored-looking cop popping a squat in his cruiser, probably alternately mocking the crowd and checking the police radio.

You see, tonight's Fine Wine dance party was happening on a closed-off street, part of the Oktoberfest vibe and therein lies the rub.

If there's one thing that's a constant at all Metzger's throwdowns where he DJs, it's the heat. You can't very well fill a small restaurant to capacity with sweaty dancers and not expect the temperature to rise.

But when you're dancing outdoors on a breezy 68 degree night, such issues are moot.

But the party began with listening (nay, reveling in), not dancing, as we arrived, took stock of the knots of people and decided our course of action. Food was first.

The restaurant's windows were being utilized as order and pick-up stations, so we placed our order for roast chicken, sauerkraut and an obscenely over-sized soft pretzel with Chef Brittney after chatting her up.

When she thanked me for coming, I reminded her that I'd yet to miss a Fine Wine evening and that my main purpose in coming tonight was just that. Food and drink were mere icing on the cake. "I know, I wish more people were paying attention to the music," she lamented, a fact I'd already noticed.

Clearly most of the Oktoberfest celebrants had either no knowledge of this component of the festivities or else were oblivious to the non-stop rare yet catchy series of three-minute soul gems he was spinning.

Either way, it was tragic.

She allowed that while tonight's weather was glorious for the occasion, the street had been a miserable place along about mid-afternoon on this especially warm Fall day without so much as a lick of shade anywhere.

Our delayed arrival, it seems, was perfectly timed.

Job one was scoring Ruby Salts and slurping them standing up while mulling over the wisdom of cocktail sauce next to them (far better the accompanying lemon or mignonette, even upright) while I told her about a rainy afternoon in the kitchen of the woman anointed world's best oyster shucker, with the only warmth coming from the oven.

Mostly, we talked about "mens," as she called them and what a problem they can be. You can't buy memories like that.

Food in hand, we roosted on the steps of the church just on the other side of the magic chain that delineated the biergarten, with a clear view of Mr. You Know Who and his seemingly endless supply of obscure R & B vinyl that was already causing my hips to twitch.

After devouring crispy-skinned chicken (the juicy leg being my favorite), tangy kraut and what amounted to an everything pretzel, we procured glasses of Gruner Veltliner and took up residency on the street dance floor.

Since it was Mac's first time, I was hardly surprised when she repeatedly turned to me to say, "Man, this music is just so good!" Tell me about it....or, better yet, ask the tall guy in leiderhosen dancing non-stop. Or the trio using a hula hoop to dance over and through.

For the most part, the crowd was unfamiliar to me, unlike at past Fine Wine events, but there was one major difference tonight and it was a doozy.

This vinyl party was to stop at 9:00. For someone who's used to him starting to spin at 11, it was enough to make me dread the stroke of nine.

Not long before that cataclysmic event, a couple came over to say hi and I recognized them because we'd met previously when he'd approached me to share that his wife was a devoted reader of my blog. Apparently, she still feels shy about approaching me, despite also feeling like she knows me well given how long she's been reading about my life.

Hoping to prove the point that the blog is just another vehicle to meet people, I introduced her to Mac, suggesting she ask her how we'd come to be out together.

Because, of course, our friendship was a direct result of the blog. You just never know where a new pal is coming from.

Two beer-loving friends came over to talk, telling me they'd gone to Pridefest on Brown's Island to see my favorite cover band, Trunk Show, play this afternoon, a show I'd had to forego to work on assignments.

So, what did they play?

"Let's see, Amy Winehouse, um, there was some David Bowie..." he said, trailing off. I bet there was Fleetwood Mac, I said. "How'd you know that?" he said, sounding incredulous.

Simple, I miss about as many Cover to Cover shows as I do Mr. Fine Wine nights, although the former ends around 9 and the latter, usually not until 2 a.m. I only wish tonight.

Promptly at 9, the music died, although the man who'd introduced me to WFMU's master DJ gave him permission to play one final song, but even one final hour would never have been enough, so when that ended, we knew we had to move on.

Or as one of the more amusing staffers yelled, "The cops want you guys to get the hell out of the street!" and people began to disperse.

After a heartfelt thanks to Mr. Fine Wine, who was kind enough to remember me from past evenings, and a soulful sigh, we exited stage right.

Fortunately, I had another stellar plan, although sadly, this one didn't involve dancing.

The Bijou - the new arthouse theater that has laid claim to my last three Saturday nights, mind you - was showing the music documentary "Danny Says" about rock gadfly and former Ramones/MC5/Stooges manager Danny Fields.

Adding to the cachet of the film was that today was arthouse theater day, meaning the Bijou was showing a film that hasn't even opened nationally yet.

Yet again, Richmond manages to be too cool for school.

When one of the co-founders thanked me for coming, I reminded him I'm practically a fixture lately. "You class up the joint," he kindly told me before Mac and I joined her man in third row seats to eat gratis popcorn.

The film was a who's who of music talent from the '60s to the late '70s - Judy Collins (who kindly took Danny to a beach so he could enjoy his first acid trip at the that's a friend), Iggy Pop (young and old, but always lean and leathery), Alice Cooper - but the undisputed star of it all was the interviews of Reid, who manages to distance himself and completely immerse himself in the tangential glow of musical evolution, which he helped shape with his support of underdog punk bands he believed in.

But as a film and photography geek, I was bowled over by all the archival footage, including a recording of Danny playing the Ramones for Lou Reed the first time ("This is the greatest thing I've ever heard!") and hearing that MC5 was the only band with a minister of defense.

You don't learn these nuggets unless you're a dedicated documentary dork and you're lucky enough to have a small, independent theater looking out for your film needs.

Nor do you have your killer Saturday night tied neatly with a bow when you learn that Danny did a stint as a DJ at WFMU, coincidentally, the same WFMU that currently hosts Mr. Fine Wine's ode to the music of my heart, Downtown Soulville.

I could have danced all night and still have begged for more.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bumpersticker: No Music, No Life

It was pure poetry.

I'd worn my 2006 Pete Yorn "Nightcrawler" t-shirt - the one with holes under the arms from so many sweaty walks, so admittedly worse for the wear after a decade of use, but still the lightest and most breathable shirt I own - walking this morning and when I got in the car to go meet my dinner date, Yorn's "Life on a Chain" came blaring out of the radio.

There are no musical accidents, so I took it as a good sign that after a day tied to my desk writing on deadline, the night would be a fine one.

Because Pete Yorn never lets me down.

The plan was to meet in the atrium of the VMFA, which I always approach by cutting through the Early 20th century European art galleries -  home to French Modern and German Expressionism - an impossibility when I found them closed, the walls bare of art.

Since I'd been under the impression that they were permanent galleries, I made a beeline for the members' desk to get the scoop. "Off-view until September 28th," the knowledgeable staffer informs me, with no further explanation. Hmm...

Pondering what could be going on with the art between now and Wednesday, I almost ran into my evening's companion, only to hear that he'd been killing time waiting for me playing Frisbee outside with a stranger, at least until museum security told them the obvious: to knock it off.

We weren't hurting anything, he protested. Boys will be boys, I suggested.

Since he hadn't been to the VMFA since his Grandmother used to take him (we're talking decades), he put me in charge and I promptly led him to the outstanding "Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott" photography exhibit for a shared interest in that era.

Make no mistake, I know how to show a newbie our museum.

From there, I led him to see the glorious American works that make up the new McGlothlin wing and while he had no existing knowledge of the brilliance of John Singer Sargent - or why some of those smaller genre scenes are so atypically Sargent - he strode across the gallery intent on contemplating what I consider a prime jewel of the collection: Julius Leblanc Stewart's "Yachting the Mediterranean."

Part of his attraction was the precariously heeling and enormous sailboat, but he was polite enough to listen to the reasons for my affection for the piece, which had little to do with the boat itself.

Since we still had daylight left, a walkabout seemed in order, and we took off through the sculpture garden, only to hear my name called out repeatedly from the balcony of Amuse.

A friend waved enthusiastically from above as we headed out to stroll around the Museum District where I lived for 13 years and he harbored happy memories of long-ago visits to his great grandparents house on Floyd Avenue.

One story he shared involved his great grandfather, a railroad engineer, and the multi-acre farm he owned a couple miles away, and how once he'd run into cows on the railroad tracks, only to realize they were his own.

Funny, not funny, if you know what I mean.

Ever the devoted tour guide (and, perhaps, over-sharer), I took him to see my hands-down favorite screened porch/side yard combination, explaining that while I'm very much a compact, city townhouse type, I have for 23 years found that this particular yard gives me a zen-like sense of porch perfection.

The house that porch is attached to, though, is large and appeals to me not at all. "What if you didn't have to take care of it?" he asked. I still don't want to occupy that much space on earth, I explained, a philosophy he shares despite living on three acres (but in a renovated house that maintained its original footprint, a fact I find impressive).

Further up Floyd, I randomly glanced at a couple with a baby sitting on their front porch and realized it was the people who'd lived across the street from me for 13 years. Calling out their names, they came over to greet us carrying their first grandchild and bringing me up to date on their six kids offspring.

Of course the youngest has just moved back home while he goes back for his master's degree.  Millennial children: gone but never for good.

A block or two up, I spotted a basket tied to a white picket fence with a sign offering up sage and bay leaves. "Take some, PLEASE!" the sign entreated. Grabbing a glossy branch of bay, I thanked the couple on the wide front porch.

"Take more!" she called with a grin, although a woman known for infrequent dinners at home only needs so many fresh bay leaves, you know?

Can Can was mobbed and noisy, so we moved on, opting for Belmont Food Shop and two stools at the very end of the bar, which was lively with Friday night revelers.

It wasn't long before we met the two next to us and dug into their story.

Together 20 years, used to live in Lynchburg, now live in (formerly groovy) Mount Pleasant (parkside condo purchased in 2001 before the real estate bubble priced such things out of their range) and in town for a wedding, staying at an Air BnB on Colonial. Last time they were here, they'd stayed at an Air BnB directly across from Belmont Food Shop but not eaten here, a faux pas they were correcting tonight.

Delightful dinner companions, in other words.

Our food was out just a few beats ahead of theirs, allowing us to eat and continue the conversation about what a dead town Lynchburg had been when they'd both worked at Randolph Macon Women's College and how wildly improved it had been when they'd gone back a couple of years ago.

Part of that, we all agreed, came about solely because crazy Christian Jerry Falwell finally kicked the bucket, leading to spirited conversation about how his son may be even scarier.

Then the unlikeliest and most amusing of sentences came out of my friend's mouth - "I have several Jerry Falwell stories if you care to hear them" - and we were off and running with his hilarious anecdotes.

Turns out he had a close friend who used to live next door to Falwell, resulting in a couple of engaging stories, one involving stealth painting of pot leaves on the evangelical's car (no repercussions) and another with a pie directed at his face (jail time).

Then food arrived and talk ceased.

Warm gougeres got us started, followed by an amuse bouche of cured salmon with trout row, then I had crab and avocado over an insanely flavorful smoked tomato coulis, followed by wrapped, smoked bluefish with frisee.

Dinner was followed with another walk, this one in darkness, as we chatted about the weekend and his plans to hike to a waterfall and get together with fellow musicians to jam. Me, I'll be trying to make a few more deadlines, so not nearly so enjoyable as his.

"Are you going to write a book?" he'd asked me, early in the evening and apropos of nothing.

Fair question, but who doesn't have a book in them by this age? Unless, of course, you prefer your life to be off-view.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spasms of Honesty

You know how they say a person knows within the first ten minutes of a date whether or not they're going to like the person?

Hello, "Rapture, Blister, Burn," the latest production by 5th Wall Theatre.

I probably knew in less than ten that this was a play I was going to relish based on an early lively interchange about how women's lives have changed since the '70s. It was terribly satisfying hearing so many references to feminist history and theory (Phyllis Schlafly, Betty Friedan), many of which got metaphoric amens from the mostly female audience tonight.

Oh, yes, bring it on. I have some thoughts on this matter.

Let's see, a play billed as "a witty, unflinching look at gender politics?" Yes, please.

Hmm, a play about a woman's so-called choices of sedate marriage and family or go-getter career woman with attendant swinging social and sexual life? Most definitely.

Because, the truth is, at some point probably everyone wonders about the life not lived.

In this instantly intriguing play, Cathy, a sexy scholar who's written books on pornography and horror film theory and Gwen, a stay-at-home Mom in a less-than-ideal marriage - the two roommates until one left for London and the other married her ex-boyfriend and settled down for a life of penniless domestic tranquility - reunite and decide to try out each other's life.

Because that's an option for most people. Not.

Never mind that this means that the four-year old gets packed off to live with pot-smoking Dad and his hot professor girlfriend while Mom takes the Broadway-loving older son to live in Manhattan so she can go back to school finally.

Plot issues aside, all the discussion of feminism, relationships - "Relationships are an exercise in illusion" - and how women's behavior is perceived is the stuff of dream women's studies classes or consciousness raising groups minus the hand mirrors.

If a woman chooses the career fast track, how much must she compromise to succeed? Is it wrong (or even possible) for family trackers to outsource the homemaking part? What about out-sourcing the child-raising part? Has online porn replaced desire for real sex in middle-aged men?

With a decidedly strong cast, the play covered three generations, making for expansive conversations about how each handled the restrictions (or lack thereof) placed on her at a particular juncture in time.

The millennnial, Avery (of course, because no millennial is ever named Linda or Donna or - gasp - Karen) played by a pitch-perfect Aiden Orr, can't conceive of why 60-something Alice couldn't have gone to a dance when she was young simply because she didn't have a date.

But what if you'd just gone, she presses? Well, that just wasn't done and that's the way it was, she's told and you can tell by Avery's reaction that such a notion is beyond her comprehension because she has no understanding of how differently the world was ordered before she was born.

How people would "talk" about women stepping out of tightly circumscribed roles. Why a woman would not do something she wanted very badly to for fear that it would sully her reputation. That there was a time when "hooking up" meant being called a slut.

In the pet peeves category, the play also touched on millennial Avery's uninformed take on the ongoing struggle. "Yea, I believe in those things but I don't self-identify as a feminist," she says, almost nonchalantly.

Even after years of young women telling me this, I still cringe every time I hear it.

Call me a product of the '70s, but everyone, and I do mean everyone, should self-identify as a feminist, if for no other reason than forward progress of the human race. End of discussion.

My fellow feminist and I used intermission to begin our own discussion group of the topics raised, so of course we stayed after the play ended for the talkback with cast, dramaturg and director.

It was only mildly depressing when a millennial woman asked how it's possible for two empowered people to give enough ground to make a relationship successful.

Tip #1: stop referring to yourself as empowered and decide if this is a person you're willing to occasionally compromise with or not because every successful relationship is going to require it.

Love and alcohol dupe you into thinking average people are great.

A big part of the beauty of "Rapture, Blister, Burn" is how winningly it points out that not everyone has to want a relationship, either.

For those who do, the life-experienced voice of Cathy sums it up best:  My middle-aged observation is that, in a relationship between two equals, you can't both go first.

My middle-aged observation? It's all about exercising that illusion...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dance the Night Away

You know what this world needs? More female-fronted bands, that's what.

Proof positive presented itself tonight with three bands at Strange Matter representing Richmond, Denver and Athens, Georgia and a wildly enthusiastic, albeit not as large as it should've been, Wednesday crowd.

Do you remember twenty first night of September?
Before you go cold like December
All you saw was a cloudy day...

Greeting me first were a couple of guitarists lamenting Richmond's tardiness to shows, something they said they didn't see when touring other east coast cities. In those magical places, if doors were at 8 and music at 9, people began arriving shortly after 8 and were fully in place when the first band took the stage.

Mind you, they were telling me this at 8:45 when I was among the very few non-band members in the room. But they also mentioned the absence of simple amenities for bands - rooms to stow gear and change, food - basically just good hospitality.

The kind of thing I would never know, being a non-musician.

I heard about opening band Positive No's tradition of pre-show Jagermeisters and when I wondered aloud about the choice of shots, got testimonials.

Matt recalled a night when his stomach was badly upset just before their set and the Jager calmed it (well, it is a digestif) and Kenny told of a night he was flat out beat, yet felt completely energized afterward.

It's hard to argue with the restorative powers of a good shot, no?

Tracy, the queen bee of Positive No, came over looking fabulous, as always, in a brightly colored tunic and make-up that would have done the mod era proud, and the best smile in the room. Her energy glowed.

The good news was she had a friend in town from Seattle, a musicologist she called him, and she wanted to introduce us because she thought we'd hit it off conversationally. Conversation, we agreed, could be bested only by sex and even better when they go hand in hand.

Positive No's set was partly bittersweet because it was bassist Matt's last show with the band, meaning I had to drink in as much of his excellent playing as possible, while appreciating the visual of his curtain of hair obscuring his face when he really got going.

Luckily, I can continue to revel in Kenny's killer guitar playing.

The band's pop strength is catchy hooks, fuzzy guitars, changing dynamics and the pull of Tracy's voice as she dances, bounces and totally inhabits any space not occupied by a bandmate. Tonight we even got a few new songs, a real treat for someone who's seen them as often as I have.

From the stage, she talked about deciding to move to Seattle the year grunge (i.e., Kurt Cobain) died and then introduced her Seattle friend from the stage.

By the time their excellent set ended, the room had finally filled up nicely. Afterward, I saw a guy buy the band's album and shyly take it over to Tracy to sign, looking for all the world like a devoted fan boy.

After a quick trip to the loo (graffiti: It's not always easy to smile but it's easy to drink beer ~ a drunk Mac Mac), I approached the Seattle visitor to let him know that Tracy thought we'd have conversation and music in common, notwithstanding his second concert ever being Van Halen.

Oh, the things we overlook for the sake of conversation.

Without so much as asking my name, he followed Tracy's directive ("But of course!), asking where we should talk and accompanying me to my spot near the sound booth so we could dive into shared musical interests, why he's back in Virginia for the election cycle ( a thing he does every four years) and our shared disdain for arena shows.

Then Denver's Dressy Bessy took the stage to show us how many influences they could channel with singer Tammy's endless energy at the forefront. Well matched with Positive No's boundless energy, I could also see them on a bill with Tacocat.

Mixing the energy of punk with the girliness of pop and a smidge of twee, the band delivered a solid set with Tammy's left leg constantly in motion dancing, pointing, twisting and kicking for emphasis.

"Are you excited about seeing Pylon Reenactment Society?" she asked the crowd. "We are! They're our heroes, too, so we'll be geeking out as much as you guys!"

The visitor and I used the break to expand our conversation, talking about venue histories and our own musicality (mine being none). He admitted that music was not in his purview until punk and hardcore came along and it no longer mattered that he didn't really have the chops to play.

Just as the next band was getting set up, he looked at me and wondered aloud if we'd even introduced ourselves or had just jumped into conversation. Oops. Intros were made.

The headliner was Athens' Pylon Reenactment Society, a band built around the seminal Athens band Pylon that had come out of the same scene that birthed REM and the B52s, both of whom have repeatedly acknowledged their debt to Pylon.

But founding guitarist Randy died a few years ago, so the band no longer considers themselves Pylon, but a reenactment of them, done in the spirit of Pylon with its original lead singer.

Let's put it this way: it was more than enough reason to be at a Wednesday night show.

Singer Vanessa seemed clearly overwhelmed with the rampant love and fandom in the room, saying, "One guy here told me that his first show at the 9:30 Club was Pylon! I guess I shouldn't talk about it, but thanks so much for coming out!"

Years gone by aside, certainly her particular style of singing and phrasing was as unique and compelling as it had always been.

From there, we were treated to punchy vocals, distinctive melodies and, for those of us who recall the Athens scene, reminders of how fresh their sound of jangle pop via Gang of 4 was to our ears back then...and now.

Vanessa still does her arm waving, body bending style of dancing, continuing the evening's trend of non-stop movement both onstage and in the audience. She called up Tracy and a fan onstage for one of the last songs, making for a room full of dancers on and off stage.

They may be reenactors, but Pylon's spirit was as alive and enthralling as ever.

Walking home at nearly 1:00, it was a full-on party on Grace Street with Ipanema's patio full, people cruising the streets, shouting across them to have conversations, cars with windows down and music blasting and a general vibe of fun.

The whole city feels it when estrogen times three is on a Wednesday bill. Girl power must be in the air.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lost and Found

That moment when the universe deigns to help a sister out.

After driving through pouring rain to Williamsburg, I find my handwritten directions, alas, woefully inadequate, making me quite certain I will never make my lunch date at Cochon on 2nd in a timely manner.

There's just one thing to do and only my lack of twigs and berries allows me to do it: I pull into a 7-11 to ask for assistance in finding the restaurant.

Just as I walk through the door, I hear an incredulous, "Karen?" from behind.

Like a guardian angel from a heaven I don't believe in, there stands one of Richmond's most gifted actresses - as gobsmacked as I am to find a familiar RVA face in a convenience store in the 'Burg - on a lunch break from her gig at Colonial Williamsburg.

When I share my navigational dilemma, she whips out her phone, shows me a map of the 'hood and walks me through the quarter mile jaunt to my destination.

Dazzling me with her stage-worthy smile, she sums up our serendipitous encounter. "It was divine timing!"

As it turned out, it was also divine eating - Asian-inspired Moody sticky ribs followed by a mammoth Wagyu burger with Cochon bacon and extra-sharp Cheddar, neither of which I was able to finish - although probably not for her since I happen to know she's a devout vegetarian.

Not so much me and a couple of hours passed with stellar conversation about shared D.C. roots (his, technically, were Northern Virginia, should I be inclined to judge), the value of waiting until you have some life experience to decide what you want to be when you grow up (again, both of us) and the pleasures of gardening (why do so many of us come to growing roses late?), before finishing out with Sally Sue's buttery lemon poundcake.

Talk, eat, talk, eat, talk some more. Now that's some divine rainy day time spent right there.

For the record, I was able to get home without assistance, thespian or otherwise.

Setting Sail on the Oregon Trail

Conclusion: apparently if I'm drinking Elizabeth Chambers wines, there are cookies involved.

The connection was set in stone last summer after missing the originally scheduled appointment and showing up with locally-baked cookies as a peace offering for tardiness.

As it turned out, baked good were hardly necessary given the laid back attitude of our Oregon come-here pourer, who gushed about mossy rooves, gray skies and a wine scene small enough to be groovy, unlike California, from whence she'd come.

And, of course, the micro-boutique wines had been fabulous, so my hand was in the air when I got an invitation to an Elizabeth Chambers wine dinner at Camden's. Pru and Beau, being devoted fans of the pinot noir grape, were my date.

Tucked into a table amidst cartons of grape juice from various winemaking regions, we happily held court, with both the wine rep and the winery rep stopping by periodically to school us on what had been poured, why it was significant and how it fit into the winery's repertoire.

Beginning the evening with Silvan Ridge 2014 Pinot Gris paired with watermelon and tomato salad with feta and micro-basil felt like a summery rebuke to the damp, gray skies outside, so sunny was the salad and wine combo.

And, really, it only takes one glass of Pinot Gris to get a party started when I'm seated with these two. After a spirited discussion, Beau leaned over to Pru, smiling, saying, "Did I hear you say I was right?'

Without so much as missing a beat, Pru came back with, "You'll never get it in writing!" True as that might be, I've no doubt that just the satisfaction and memory of her words will live on in perpetuity for him.

It was while we sipped Silvan Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir that our wine rep explained the 1979 medallion on the bottle's label, touting the winery as one of the oldest in Oregon. When he spoke of earnest young people moving to the area in the late '70s to work the soil and eventually grow grapes, I felt the vibe.

So these were hippie types who moved up from California looking for fresh, cheap dirt, eh? The wine rep laughed and said I'd nailed it, mentioning that in the early years, the hippies focused on growing, with no clear sense of what.

"Then they'd take a bottle of their finished product to the nearest agriculture school and ask for an analysis. They'd say, tell me what we've got because they had no idea. For them, it was all about the dirt and the growing." Yea, yea, they probably had terrariums, too, and plants growing in the back of their VW Bugs, just like I did.

Far out, man, that's an interesting way to launch a state's wine industry.

We enjoyed the light red wine with grilled asparagus wrapped in housemade ham over local greens and goat cheese creme fraiche, a dish that got high marks all around and a gold star for the ham.

But the wine that Pru and Beau were instantly enamored with was Elizabeth Chambers Cellars 2013 Winemaker's Cuvee, a Wine Enthusiast 93-point selection with notes of French oak and a lingering finish.

"We want this one, don't we?" Pru asked of Beau after she'd finished her first sip. While Beau is known to be among the most agreeable people on the planet, his heartfelt agreement seemed to come more from an appreciation of the elegant and complex Pinot Noir than a slavish desire to please the little woman.

It was served with pan-roasted Pacific salmon over beet carpaccio with poached Black Mission figs, which inevitably led to a fig discussion given the passion Pru and I carry for figs of any stripe. The recent planting of a fig tree at her Church Hill manse has not yet produced fruit, but we continue to be hopeful given her great success raising figs when she lived on Mulberry Street.

Segueing from fruit to body parts, Pru explained the weenus to us, pulling on hers and sharing that  a person's age could be determined by their weenus. Is it dark or red, dry-skinned or pliant, or, god forbid, nothing more than an unappealing stop for a pair of lips kissing up a woman's arm?

You make the call.

Like a pair of prize fighters slugging it out, in the fourth round Elizabeth Chambers 2012 Temperance Hill vineyard Pinot Noir took on roasted Hudson Valley duck breast with fingerling potatoes and mixed roasted olives, the fat and saltiness standing up to the sturdy, tannic and expensive ($52 a bottle) wine for a most-evenly matched round.

One wouldn't be half as good without the other.

Because Beau was wearing a black t-shirt under a cream-colored button down, Pru called him on it, leading to a discussion of one of the silliest fashion accessories we could think of: dickies.

I'm not gonna lie, I had a couple in middle school, but I can't recall that they lasted much later than when the hippies started growing grapes in Oregon.

"When are the dickies coming back?" Pru mused to no real answers.

Just when we thought dinner was finished, dark chocolate cookies with sea salt arrived and my night was complete with the sweet being the final punctuation to a long, savory sentence. I, alone, had two.

By then, the room was noisy with wine-lubricated conversations, including ours which ranged from '70s decor - green and silver bamboo wallpaper, mirrored walls with distinctive gold filigree designs on the mirror tiles - to misheard conversations.

Referencing her favorite hippie chick's new-found passion for weed brownies and holding up her own chocolate cookie, Pru observed the contrast, noting, "There's no pot in here" and took a bite.

Beau, whose years in the Navy ensure that he only hears half of our conversations and who'd conveniently forgotten his ear trumpet, replied, "Yes, it is warm."

Say goodnight, wine lovers. It's already Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Here I Go Again

I'll just be blunt about it: without the food angle, there'd have been no art.

My weekend away was set in motion two days after returning from France, when an email arrived July 12th notifying me of another in the Smithsonian's culinary lecture series (so far the series had rewarded me with evenings listening to Anthony Bordain and Ruth Reichl), this one called "Mid-Atlantic Cuisine on the Rise."

As a life-long resident of the mid-Atlantic (where every grade school child had to study the history and bounty of the Chesapeake Bay), my interest was piqued not only by the topic but by the chefs discussing it: Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen (where I'd enjoyed a lovely meal a year and a half ago) and Jeremiah Langhorne of the Dabney (where I haven't eaten, but will).

So, with a primary stated purpose of learning - regional focus! culinary history! chef humor! - I could then concoct a well-rounded couple of days in support of my food curiosity and slide in a little art as long as I was in the neighborhood.

Or so I told myself as I set out to fill up 48 hours with all tomorrow's fun.

Stop #1 for lunch was brasserie Le Diplomat, because an outside table on a sunny afternoon is the best kind of welcome back to my hometown, even when spoiled kids and incompetent parents are just on the other side of an open window.

That the meal involved an exquisite warm shrimp salad with lemon buerre blanc and mesclun that I will surely dream about in days to come only added to the welcome back vibe.

Dinner was a dream, set at Kinship, which was clearly styled by a designer with an eye for subtlety and style and lit with hanging pendant lights and recessed lights so as to be completely flattering to my fair sex, no matter her age.

But I'd have eaten a torchon of white mushrooms in the dark, so fabulously conceived was this dish, but then I'd have missed the gorgeous purple tones of huckleberry gastrique on which it sat next to baby beet and wild mushroom salad.

Never - at least in my experience - have mushrooms tasted so much like duck liver.

Green and white striped tzatziki terrine of grilled octopus with dill-lemon vinaigrette was far lighter in flavor and rosy yellowfin tuna tataki felt very regional with spring onion and butter pickle salad with shiso tempura for crunch over a chilled bowl of dashi - a kind of Japanese stock - gelee to tie all the flavors together.

Agreeing with the woman at the table next door who had raved about it, I only managed to score a bite of pan-seared lamb ribeye with crispy eggplant, patty pan squash and green tomato chutney, but it was a mighty fine bite.

Our server scored high points for his relaxed attitude, patience and humor (when asked if he had a spiel about the menu, he said yes, "But I'll give you the colloquial version") as he came and went throughout the night, appearing out of nowhere with exactly what we needed before we even asked for it.

Full or not, I wasn't leaving Kinship without dessert, savoring whipped chocolate nougat with every bite, but probably most impressed with the one-two punch of whipped creme fraiche under a drizzle of espresso caramel, although the incredible smoothness of chocolate sorbet didn't hurt, either.

After a meal like that, there's not much more you can do beyond sleep for ten and a half hours and get up and go see some art in the pouring rain.

At the National Portrait Gallery,"In the Groove: Jazz Portraits by Herman Leonard" delivered stunning black and white photographs from the '40s through the '60s of iconic musicians.

A young Quincy Jones in a sporty striped shirt, pencil in hand, sheet music spread out in front of him, appears to have been caught mid-studio session. A still life of Lester Young includes all the sax player's essentials - his instrument case, his porkpie hat, sheet music and his lit cigarette atop an empty Coke bottle -  suggesting that he's just momentarily stepped away.

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, "Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl van Vechten" provided a sepia-toned history lesson of handmade gravure prints from a series of significant black figures of the Harlem Renaissance such as James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Richmond's own Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, strikingly shot shirtless.

It's not that art is exhausting or anything, but lunch necessarily followed at breezy, blue and fish-focused Drift on 7th, with a voluble server who admitted that on this soggy afternoon, he wanted nothing more than to be home, curled up with his dog.

Instead, he went out of his way to ensure that we enjoyed our lunch of tuna tartare with avocado and crispy shallots, fish tacos and fish and chips along with the palest of pink Provence Roses to wash it all down, but he was still probably glad when we finally moved on so he and the pup could be reunited for a rainy day nap.

Bar Pillar had barely opened its doors when we stopped by for a pre-lecture glass of bubbly before high-tailing it to the main event, the mid-Atlantic cuisine lecture.

Washington Post food section editor Joe Yonan moderated Spike and Jeremiah's discussion of what mid-Atlantic cuisine is - a combination of what grows here, how the local people have used those ingredients for centuries and, duh, the Chesapeake Bay - so we're talking oysters, crabs, rockfish, country ham, apple butter, sorghum, lima beans and peanuts.

And corn, of course, since we made full use of what the Native Americans taught us about growing and cooking corn after stealing their land.

Both chefs were wildly enthusiastic about their insistence on only using ingredients from the collection of eco-systems located within 150-200 miles of their restaurants.

Unfortunately, that local sourcing didn't extend to the wine glass and both admitted to a huge carbon footprint when it came to their wine lists.

For shame, gentlemen, although Spike did allow as how Virginia wine has made huge strides since his first 1991 restaurant.

On the food front, he laughed about how "older people love their shad roe" but how few today would embrace terrapin or canvasback duck on a menu.

Talking about the over-abundance of eel and snakefish and trying to find uses for it, he said that even commercial fishermen are reluctant. "They'll say, I don't know why you'd want to eat that!" he laughed before Jeremiah called salmon "the bane of my existence. I hate having to have salmon on my menu!"

It's a sentiment I share.

Both showed their testosterone by rhapsodizing about working with fire - Spike uses a wood-fired oven, Jeremiah a wood-fired grill to cook everything - which inevitably brought us back around to the evening's theme: "It all comes back to pizza."

What man doesn't agree with that?

As for the female vote, my favorite quote of the evening came from Spike and was heavily seconded by Jeremiah. "Chefs learn by failing." Can I get an amen on that?

Since we were already on the Mall, we headed up to Barrack's Row and EatBar for dinner, a place where an entire wall is covered with thousands of cassette tapes in boxes and represent the gamut when it comes to music. As in Oingo Boingo to White Snake, with a list of juke box album offerings on the back of the menu.

Music and food, my kind of place.

Argyle Brut paired perfectly with Trinidadian chicken wings, batter-coated and pulling off spicy and sweet at the same time, while the most obscene award went to ham fries, which combined  potatoes, ham, chili paste and balsamic-glazed pearl onions for a rib-sticking indulgence that sent me straight to the tomato, corn and winter savory salad with buttermilk dressing in penance.

A fair amount of my attention went to the juke box (why not, it required no cash outlay?) where I played everything from the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" to Paul Westerburg's "Dyslexic Heart," with a somewhat protracted tangent about who produced Bowie's "Modern Love" (Nile Rodgers) after I played that song.

And why? Because my food curiosity is matched only by my music curiosity, which is roughly matched by my art curiosity.

Wait, did I mention the Spanish singer/guitarist and drummer/percussionist we randomly caught at Rumba Cafe? It wasn't planned, but there's always time for for some things. I can sleep in Richmond.

Consider that the colloquial version of the story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Heavy on the Old Bay

GOD, tell me what I am doing wrong! Love, d 
~ note written in black Sharpie on back of Pick 4 lottery card found on 3rd Street

We'll call it a personal best: I saw four films today.

There was the morning walk to Movieland to see "Stir Crazy," party of their ongoing Gene Wilde tribute series. Walking down Leigh Street with Mac, we passed the crab guys I've passed a hundred times, only today I stopped to check crab prices.

When I explained that I'd walked by his crab stand all those times, Mr. Jimmy chuckled and said, "I know that's true. I've seen you in your hat walking by a whole lot of times. When are you coming back for crabs?"

Fair enough. But first we had a 1980 movie to see and while several lines of dialog were still lodged in my brain  - "Carry me back to ole Virginny" for one and "We bad!" for another - I had no memory that Sidney Poitier directed or that the film began with Gene Wilder singing "Crazy" to a jazz combo accompaniment.

And don't even get me started on Gene Wilder's pink Izod shirt and sweater tied over his shoulders or the pink bandana jauntily tied around his neck while he's doing hard labor on a rock pile.

But mostly it was a fabulous Gene Wilder vehicle, his character a trusting, optimistic cornball capable of turning us into laughing fools with his delivery.

Warden: I have good news for you.
Wilder: My wine magazines came?

Needless to say, we left with a renewed appreciation of Wilder's genius and a trip down Memory Lane as I commented on Kiki Dee singing over the closing credits.

Mac: Who's Kiki Dee?
Me: She did a duet with Elton John called "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"
Mac: Ohhhh, Kiki Dee.

After a shared lunch in service of my hired mouth, Mac abandoned me for men and dogs while I made my way to the Bijou for my next dose of Afrikana Film Fest, this time the documentary "Hip Hop Fellow" about, that's right, DJ/producer/professor 9th Wonder, aka the Hip Hop Fellow at Harvard.

As far as I was concerned, this was the most compelling film being shown because it had never occurred to met that Harvard would have such a thing. Turns out they've got an actual hip hop archive and I don't even know which to be more impressed by.

Walking up 3rd Street, I saw Afrikana's photographer appear from around the corner and immediately train her camera in my direction, snapping and laughing as she went. We're both in on the joke.

It was a full house for "Hip Hop Fellow" and why not when the film did such a fine job of explaining how his research shows hip hop bridging gaps between generations while developing a greater appreciation for sampling?

9th referred to what he does as "hip hop archaeology," an apt descriptor considering the way he'd dig deep into a classic hip hop album to identify every single sample used, whether it was 10 or 30 because he sees samples as a way of introducing younger audiences to older music  they either missed or dismissed.

Scholar and literary critic Kenneth Gates explains in the film, "Sampling is what Western literature is all about. Look at T.S. Elliott, Melville or James Joyce's "Ulysses" which is stolen from "The Odyssey. We call it the art of literary license."

Ahem, aka sampling.

9th Wonder talked and took questions afterward, deflecting one about how slow Richmond is to embrace its own musical talent. "That's every city," he said. "They didn't like Jesus in Jerusalem."

So how could I not return for the afterparty later, knowing he was going to DJ it? Film, talk, hit play...a practically perfect trifecta.

First, there were crabs scored from my Leigh Street boys and eaten on the wrought iron table in the backyard with Mac, then back to the Bijou for the equivalent of French New Wave 101, first with "The Red Balloon" and followed by Truffaut's "The 400 Blows."

I know it probably sounds like I was cheating on the Afrikana Film Fest, but I'd already seen "Miles Ahead," tonight's main feature, and, frankly, my film history could use some basic French classics like these two.

Bijou co-founder James explained that the Bijou planned to "show some dog films to show you how a director got to a certain point," asked for a show of hands of who hadn't seen tonight's (me and quite a few others) and let the films speak for themselves.

"Just remember," James said after the first film. "The Bijou is a place where you can come see balloons die." It's also where a friend complained about all the distraction of people rattling their popcorn bags during the film.

It's a lot of things, so remember that instead.

Filmmaking aside, both were intriguing looks back at the landscape of Paris and France in the late '50s and given my trip there a couple months ago, I was wide-eyed, looking for familiar buildings and street signs.

Aching glutes aside, it had been a pretty wonderful day.

But the night wouldn't have been complete without that afterparty and I managed to arrive shortly before 9th Wonder took over DJ duties and proceeded to absolutely kill it for the next three hours.

When he took the stage, he looked out and said, "Let's move these tables outta the way to get things going. We're gonna be dancing."

The man was not lying.

A favorite couple came in, danced a bit and headed home, waving as they threaded their way through the crowd. I stayed put near the back where it was slightly cooler plus I could dance in place and survey the room.

From the stage, the MC suggested we meet our neighbors and find out what their favorite film had been this weekend, but my neighbor hadn't made it to anything except the afterparty. But my next neighbor over had also seen the documentary, making for lively conversation about how it had impressed us and how thrilled we were for the rare DJ experience to follow.

Then there was the music, most of it unfamiliar to me while the rest of the room knew every word to the samples and full songs he played.

But the room went electric when the first few strains of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" came on, soon to be followed by MJ and Prince and eventually, even the Eurythmics, before returning to what I didn't know but could dance endlessly to.

Eventually, my fellow documentary dork came over and asked how I could go to the film, hear 9th speak and not be in the center of the dance floor where he was.

It was like he thought I was doing something wrong. Like d in his message to GOD.

The Afrikana Afterparty is where you come to dance wherever you want to.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Kissing Like a Bandit

Because ultimately, don't we all gotta have it?

But  first of all, we gotta have that indefinable "thing."

Sitting in the Grace Street Theater waiting for the second installment of the inaugural Afrikana Independent Film Festival, the three of us - full as ticks after fish tacos at Asado - were seriously grooving to Afrikana's usual excellent pre-show mix (see 1985's "Oh Sheila") when "Wishing Well" came on and all our faces lit up.

"Terrance Trent D'Arby," my photographer friend announced authoritatively and his girlfriend immediately leaned over close, rubbing up against him, saying, "I love this man" because he'd known the artist's name.

Of course, in my perfect world, all men would recognize the sound of Terrance Trent D'Arby. It would be a fine way to separate the men from the boys.

We agreed that everyone needs their person to know certain things and he'd just scored big by knowing that one. But there's no way to know what your potential person needs you to know and therein lies the rub.

Seeing Spike Lee's first film, "She's Gotta Have It" on this, the 30th anniversary of the film, delivered a fascinating look at the '80s (white socks almost up to the knees, jumpsuits, Jane Fonda-era workout gear and men in gym shorts), female sexuality (I recall from seeing it in the theater what a huge deal the depiction of a black woman's sexuality was) and the very beginnings of the indie movie genre.

I can't recall how the black and whiteness of the film registered in '86, but tonight it felt right for the time, meaning that the interlude in color with singing and dancing amounted to an unpleasant reminder of bad '80s cliches.

For that matter, the audience cracked up at many of the cheesy '80s details throughout, but then, it had already been established that few in the audience had ever seen the film on a big screen, being far too young.

Which means that for them, the film's message of societal acceptance of female choice when it comes to number of partners must seem ridiculously obvious since they've never known any other reality.

For those of us seeing it 30 years later, it was a poignant reminder of the long arc of the double standard.

Because whether they're concurrent or consecutive, we shes of the world do gotta have it. Fact.

Bidding goodbye to the "sleepy" (perhaps a euphemism for "needing to have it") couple, I did a fast walk to Comedy Coalition for "Live from the Pacement," a variety show staged by trombonist/percussionist extraordinaire, Reggie Pace.

He and co-host Aaron sat in chairs with a revolving colored lamp on the floor casting patterns on the wall and welcomed an odd assortment of guests, to great hilarity.

Josh told online dating and Tinder ("The shallowest dating app ever") stories, asking for a show of hands on who's used Tinder, only to find a model couple there who'd met on the shallow app. In his own experience, he'd learned that nerd girls date for life because ~ spoiler alert, he said ~ to them, they don't see any difference in one guy from another.

From my vantage point of seniority, I could challenge that but I won't.

We got music from jazz guitarist Scott Burton, keyboard player Larry Branch and Reggie playing his smorgasbord of percussion, after which he pocketed his triangle. That led to a discussion of how John Popper wears a bandoleer to hold all his harmonicas and a side story about a man who carries his pacemaker in a similar vest.

It was real variety with potato jokes courtesy of comedian Katie as Mrs. Potatohead (What's the difference in mashed potatoes and pea soup? Anyone can mash potatoes), interpretive dancing (Josh: "That was proof that the girls in "Napoleon Dynamite' do grow up") and, in a more serious vein, a gorgeous flute rendition of "Winter Spirits" by Lauren Serpa.

"That was beautiful and now we're gonna ruin it," Aaron said, introducing Jim as Eleanor Gasm, who had the ability to read people's sexual histories by touching their foreheads.

Touching a couple's foreheads, she announced, "They don't love each other." To a guy with a peculiar high-pitched laugh, "You're going to die alone." To a guy about his date: "She likes the goatee, but lose the mustache." Her: "No, it's the reverse, lose the goatee."

To the crowd, "Who's willing to go home with someone here tonight?" No hands raised.

When he got to me, he touched, asked how I was doing tonight and announced that I was looking for two men. No one said Eleanor was always right.

The two guys next to me got highly uncomfortable when he asked how long they'd been dating (a month) and then if they'd done it yet ("We're not going to talk about that," the more uptight one said).

Man of the evening Reggie expressed amazement that Eleanor was polling the audience on their sex lives, noting that things had taken a turn for the worse. That was actually one of the best parts of the evening: watching Reggie as audience member onstage (when he wasn't performing), squirming and laughing along with the rest of us

Before the night was over, there was a hot dog break with three costumed hot dogs and a riff on "Rapper's Delight" done by Reggie's "father" in a bad fake mustache and high voice ("My boy is so talented!").

The collection of hosts and performers on the stage eventually came up with a takeaway for the evening: Things can always get worse.

Now there's a mantra for a Friday night.

To prove it, the show closed with "Barb" in a glitter vest and wearing rollerblades, entreating people to join her in karaoke, including a Dido tune which evolved into a rousing group singalong.

Because sometimes you gotta make do when you gotta have it and can't.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Mr. Big Stuff, Who Do You Think You Are?

I still have the remnants of last Monday's skinned knee and other tales from middle aged bohemia.

Walking over to Rappahannock to meet a friend for quality time, a car rolled around the corner at First and Grace, blaring "Mr. Big Stuff" like it was 1971. Crossing the street at Third, I heard church bells begin to ring, my signal that I was going to be just a tad late.

Inside, my friend awaited me, a mixed drink and Prosecco in front of her, but it was orgeat lemonade I wanted with our two dozen Old Saltes and marathon storytelling session requiring that we trade the spotlight to get it all in.

We swapped beach memories (hers trumped mine with an evacuation) and testosterone tales (sometimes there's nothing to do but explain women to a man) while slurping bivalves, rolling our eyes and kvetching.

A couple sat down not far from us and when the woman asked about a particular beer, the barkeep was good enough to pour her a taste. She wasted no time in finishing every drop.

Do you like that beer?
Yes, can I have one of those but in a bigger glass?
Well, yes, that glass was just for you to sample. 
Yea, yea, I know.

Well, if you knew, you should have known that when you order one, it arrives in a full-sized glass without having to stipulate that.

Yes, we mocked her mercilessly.

After a couple of hours that included our gloating over having seen the William Merritt Chase exhibit before it goes to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (her New England chums are pea green with envy), ticking off the myriad pleasures of retired life (hers, not mine) and listening to one of the bartenders as he did a show and tell lecture of the ink on his right arm (planets and geometry, oh, my), we parted ways.

She admitted to having lost her mojo for a cultural evening and mine was non-negotiable: the kickoff of the first Afrikanna Independent Film Fest, tonight at the Valentine, a short eight block walk away.

The party was just getting going in the garden, although before I even made it that far, I waited in the brick corridor to use the bathroom, only to find myself in the lens of the festival photographer.

Reminding her that they've already got far too many shots of me from past events ("Oh, look, honey, it's the same middle-aged woman we saw in that earlier slide"), she was quick with a retort.

"Because you've been a supporter since the beginning," she claims, snapping the shutter a couple more times for good measure.

The Valentine's charming brick garden space was made cozier tonight with a canopy overhead, plenty of tiny lights and a band warming up to entertain us.

Meanwhile, the singer, clad in a red turban with matching shoes, black tank top, a yellow skirt lively with purple, red and green zigzags (such a '70s pattern!) and armfuls of silver bangles that provided accompaniment when she danced, stole the spotlight.

But it wasn't just her ensemble because her fabulous voice was what really mattered, as she bade farewell to our mutual favorite season with Gershwin's "Summertime," even pulling a willing young man in a back-zippered t-shirt from the front table to execute a sinuous pas de deux with her.

During a bass solo in "All of Me," she said it made her want to do "the old missionary church walk," which she then demonstrated, followed by a Caribbean-infused cover of "At Last."

One of her own songs had been inspired, she said, by a two-month relationship that hadn't worked. "But we're friends now because grown folks can do grown folks stuff and still be friends afterwards and go to the movies and hang out," she explained for the record.

The evening moved indoors for the first screening of the festival, which was preceded by creative director Enjoli entreating us, "It's our first year, y'all, so don't go killin' us on Twitter. We're learning as we go."

In truth, from my vantage point, everything had gone off without a hitch tonight.

One of the most exciting things she shared was that the city of Richmond's tourism department had come on board as a new sponsor, a fact that speaks volumes about how far this city has come.

Tonight's film was actually a series of shorts by director A. V. Rockwell strung together under the title "Open City Mix Tape," and represented both documentaries and narratives based on black life in NYC, covering such topics as kids, women being objectified and, one of the most powerful called "B.L.B.," as in bad little boy.

Except of course, he wasn't bad, merely dealing with life as he knew it, even at a tender age. Many audience members reacted out loud to the ending of the film, feeling for the kid.

Shot in black and white to echo the bleakness and other-worldliness of these parts of the city, some of the shorts staged and others simply capturing real life, the vignettes were extraordinary glimpses into other lives.

As each would end, the audience was left to gasp or take a deep breath to restore equilibrium.

Afterwards, the petite Rockwell was introduced - with Enjoli saying that she looked like she was 12 - and took the director's chair for a Q & A, sharing that the film was her first after she finished her undergraduate film studies.

It had been the rapid gentrification of the city that had inspired her need to express what she saw happening and changing around her and the snippets felt like the equivalent of a visual mix tape. Pointing out that her favorite albums had an arc, she said she'd been going for the same thing in her films.

Confidentially, I strive for the same in my life.

After assorted questions about film-making and particularly film-making as a young black woman, Enjoli asked her how old she was, a question that caused her to demur ("You don't ask a woman her age") but not half as much as when a guy asked, "Do you have a man...or a woman?"

Now, my mother taught us that you never ask a woman her age or weight, but she said nothing about nosing into somebody's relationship status. Still, I would think there are subtler ways to discern a woman's status than in front of a roomful of people.

After all, grown folks should be able to ask other grown folks what they want to know. In theory, anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Gear and Spikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As American 
as demolition of hoods
being called progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Movin' On Up

Home is where the what is? Discuss.

I've been here for three decades, which, as any native Richmonder will tell you, doesn't make me anything more than an extended come-here. A long-term transplant at best.

More than a few times, someone has been talking to me, only to pause and ask quizzically, "You're not from here, are you?" My lack of a drawl gives me away every time.

But my Dad was born and raised here and that combined with my Mom's Washington D.C. upbringing ensured that I eventually felt comfortable living a southern life. At this point, I've got long-time friends and extensive job histories here.

I kid you not, a friend once described me as being "part of the fabric of RVA." He exaggerates, but still.

Hell, I make my living based on knowing what goes on here. You might even say I'm a common law Richmonder after all these years.

So why in less than a week have two different people tried to convince me to leave Richmond?

You should be in Washington again, one insists, a bigger city more suited to the breadth of your interests with a greater variety of people. Have you ever considered Charlottesville, the other probes, for an overdue change of scenery and a wholly different vibe that might suit you better than you know?

Um, let's see, between the four road trips in eleven days and two more in the offing, no, I can't say I've had the time to consider whether a more permanent change of scenery is in order.

Here's the problem with that. I get home from one of these trips and I fall effortlessly back into Richmond.

Like tonight, I unpack, answer a few emails, change clothes and head out. Nothing fancy, just a mile-long walk over to My Noodle right around sunset, weaving and bobbing between the scores of VCU students clotting the sidewalk.

Taking up residence at the bar, I pull out my Washington Post, order a Cool Hand Lucas (a spicy libation of aged Thai rum, pineapple, tangerine chile, cilantro and egg white), my favorite broccoli and chicken entree and lose myself to a soundtrack that starts with Sly and the Family Stone, moves through Al Green and is belting Stevie Wonder when I finally leave.

Walking home along Grace Street in the dark, I see a sign in front of the Grace Street theater advertising "Free movie tonight 7 p.m.," a reminder that the VCU Cinematheque series has started up again screening the kind of well-crafted films that all good film students are required to see.

I knew it was happening, but I'd gotten home too late to make the start.

Further down the street, I spy a large room inside one of the new dorms full of couples - hands clasped, arms around each other, standing inches apart - listening intently as a teacher explains the finer points of salsa dancing.

Everyone in the room looks sincerely interested, eager even, in what comes next.

A couple of students walk by, see the dancers and one begins singing, "I salsaaaaa, you salsaaaa, let's salsaaaa..." at the top of her lungs as they make their way up the block.

You're just so damn charming, Richmond. That's how you suck people in.