Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flirt, Swoon, Use Your Womanly Devices

When your evening begins somewhere luxe, you don't anticipate it ending in an industrial corridor.

Our quartet arrived in the rain at Spoonbread Bistro, were shown to a table in the center of the room and immediately began social intercoursing, at least until we noticed the restaurant steadily filling up. Pros all, we knew it was best to order before the masses did.

The Four Graces Pinot Blanc wet our whistles and amuse bouches of spicy pimento cheese tarts whet our appetites. My companion's order changed once our ginger-bearded server announced that softshell crabs were in the house, while I stuck with a gift-wrapped salad and scallops with corn pudding and bacon drizzle.

The scared and profane part of the discussion began when the friend eating frogmore stew admitted he had shown up for Easter dinner with nothing more than a bouquet of flowers and a cherry pie, completely unaware that Easter was a gift-giving holiday.

Au contraire, he discovered, as we heard tell of Easters past with presents as varied as a BB gun and a Matchbox racetrack because apparently not everyone celebrates resurrection simply with black jellybeans.

And P.S., if anyone's going to bring me flowers and pie, please make it blueberry.

Tonight, mine was the rare case of dessert remorse because the 24k gold leaf carrot cake with maple icing my companion ordered was downright spectacular, certainly more alluring than the chocolate I'd opted for. Will I never learn?

We had no remorse about our choice of entertainment with "Something's Afoot," a murder mystery musical spoofing Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" that, according to director Tom Width, Swift Creek Mill had produced 25 years ago. Not to point out the obvious, but I did a lot of things in 1992 that I'd just as soon not repeat now (one incident involved lemon drops and that's all I'll say about that), but Swift Creek had no such compunction.

Adding drama to drama, he also told us to check out the creek because the water coming down from under Route 1 was battling with the roiling water from the rain on this side, making for some mighty agitation. Of course I trooped outside during intermission with my willing accomplice to see nature's churning spectacle.

The story of guests being invited to an English lake country manor house for a weekend was all kinds of fun with French malapropisms ("Quelle fromage!"), a maid with a pitch-perfect Cockney accent, multiple unlikely death scenarios (poison dart, missing step, falling shield) and near-constant laughter at the top-notch cast's delivery.

Jacqueline Jones was made for the role of Miss Tweed (in a tweed suit, natch), all efficiency and suspicion, while it was impossible not to keep an eye on John Mincks' every move (casually at the fireplace adjusting his junk after fondling a fellow guest) as the crafty nephew trying to secure his inheritance.

Not for a second did the play let us forget it was all one big device, never more evident than when one guest tells another, "We'll leave as soon as it's climatically possible."

The four of us left once the play was smoking its metaphorical cigarette, only to get right back off the highway when we saw a sign for a crash ahead. The nearest exit took us on a soul-less stretch of road that put me closer to Philip Morris than I'd ever been, involved some screaming at a perceived dangerous moment (it wasn't) and, at one shoddy point, was described as resembling a cow path.

Big deal. Once you've been serenaded about getting a rash from a man with a ginger mustache, it takes a lot more than Commerce Road to sour your night.

Besides, no one wants their evening to end before it's climatically optimal.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Lines Are Open

Move around the dial enough and you'll see and hear all manner of goings-on.

Setting out for my morning constitutional, I got three blocks before spotting a neighbor and one of Sunday's Mozart Festival organizers hanging signs.

Or, more accurately, hanging one measly sign, a process that involved upwards of six plastic zip ties, a long-winded story about City Hall's inefficiency in supplying said signs and his plans to meet the mayor for a drink to suggest improvements to the process.

Resist, man.

When his festival partner-in-crime had recently told him there'd now be a Nate's Bagels pop-up at the festival, he said his first reaction had been, "F*ckin' Karen!" knowing I'd originally suggested the idea and it meant more work for him. The way I see it, someone had to be the one to remind them to get rolling on my Sunday breakfast plans.

Arriving at Second and Grace moments after a car had hit a pedestrian, the woman was still sprawled in the street as the driver tried to move her car and park it to check on her victim. If there's one thing you don't want to see as you start your six-mile walk, it's someone else on foot bested by machinery.

(in Elephant Man-like voice) I am not a walker, I am a person.

By afternoon, I was at Reynolds Gallery to see "Donato: Fresh," a career-spanning look at Jerry Donato's paintings done in such far flung places as Paris and Hatteras, Italy and the Bowery. What I recall about the artist from the times our paths crossed at bars, parties and openings was how Chicago he was (all attitude), how Italian (insouciance oozing out of every pore) and how talented (this show).

In service of my hired mouth, a musician accompanied me for a late lunch listening to early Joni Mitchell and discussing open tuning along the way.

If you've got too many doubts
If there's no good reception for me
Then tune me out
Cause, honey, who needs the static?
It hurts the head

There was never any doubt I'd find my way to some of the 15 group readings comprising Richmond's first literary crawl which, like a Rose crawl (with which I have plenty of practice) has no fixed start or end point. I couldn't get rid of the friend who dropped by after work early enough to make the first reading at Babe's, but I managed the second at Chop Suey, along with 40 or so other bibliophiles browsing the shelves until the reading began.

Brilliant doesn't begin to describe the reading's premise, which used Roky Erikson's 1981 album "The Evil One" as a starting point for a book of short stories, each written using a song from the album as inspiration. In what may be the ultimate mash-up of my interests - be still my heart - this was a literary cover album.

And, as host Andrew pointed out, today was Iggy Pop's birthday. What better day for a literary crawl?

Five of the book's writers read their stories, sometimes over the sound of pouring rain, other times with an accompaniment of kids screaming outside on Cary Street. As you might imagine, the stories were all over the place, from observations that the smell of a woman's body reminds some men of the smell of bread to comparisons between campers kissing and sea lampreys sucking.

From there I crawled to Quirk Hotel for a reading billed as "The Originals," which seemed to mean authors who've been doing this a while reading from new work.

Unfortunately, Quirk had installed the crawl group in the lobby and between loudish music on the speakers and the conversation and laughter of a busy bar and dining room, first reader Dean King had to shout to be heard while holding someone's cell phone flashlight so he could read the too-small font of the chapter he was reading about the "self-defeatingly stubborn" John Muir and his journey.

When he finished, the Man About Town, seated next to me on the loveseat whilst sipping a pink cocktail, whispered, "I want to know where John Muir was going!"

After much (self-defeatingly) loud talking by one of the organizers during Dean's reading, the woman managed to secure a meeting room downstairs for the group to move to and off we traipsed to the relative peace and quiet of the Love and Happiness Room.

There David Robbins read from a new work on Israel, specifically from a poignant passage that took place at the liberation of Buchenwald, which he cleverly dedicated to Sean Spicer. On a somewhat related note, "Burning human flesh is a pretty good appetite suppressant" came from Howard Owen's sixth novel about a night reporter at a Richmond newspaper that was not the RTD, one where local references - the Devil's Triangle, VMFA, Sheppard Street and Patterson - abounded.

Phaedra Hise referred to herself as "the token non-fiction writer" and read a piece about raising pigs at Autumn Olive Farms, one I'd already read in the Post, with one notable exception. Her editor had cut the final sentence and tonight she included it, a satisfying moment for anyone who knows the pain of seeing her words cut.

And as people know, f*cking Karen has so many of them. But remember, when there's no good reception, tune me out.

Honey, no one needs the static who doesn't want it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Ghastly Menace

Fritos are not just for food anymore...and other cautionary tales from  April 20.

Visiting the Northern Neck today came with the added bonus of my oldest nephew being there as well as getting to explain the genesis of the holiday 4/20 to my Mom while my Dad and nephew chortled mightily. Mom just rolled her eyes.

It was over a lazy lunch on the screened-in porch that we began discussing the significance of Fritos in the cosmic scheme of things. Family law dictates that liverwurst sandwiches can only be served with Fritos, and despite not having liverwurst today, we were having Fritos. Nephew pointed out that they were the heaviest chip because of all the oil, which makes them handy when he's hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Fritos can be used as emergency fire starters, he informs us, like oil-soaked kindling sticks you can buy. Tor prove his point, he lighted one - not even a Scoop, just a regular one - right there at the lunch table. It flared at the touch of a match, impressing us with its instantaneous flame.

I only hope the Girl Scouts know this.

It was a gorgeous day to be at the river - all kinds of fragrant flowers and bushes in bloom, the water half a dozen shades of blue - and an unexpected opportunity to be learning which snacks are flammable. I'm always happy to learn.

Keeping the holiday theme going, I put on my flowered rubber boots to walk over in the pouring rain to Coalition Theater for "It's a Wonderful Plant," a comedic take on a world without weed (see: Frank Capra, spinning in his grave) and an outgrowth of the "High There!" live comedy series - I'd seen three humorous episodes - they'd done.

The boots ensured that no puddle was too deep to ford, no downspout too powerful to stick my foot under, no uneven juncture of the pavement unworthy of exploration. Granted, a few overly-zealous splashes did result in some interior boot splattering, but, truthfully, I brought that on myself, and my feet were barefoot inside the boots so what did it matter?

No need to worry about a lot on 4/20. Better to laugh.

With a guardian angel trying to earn his bong, "It's a Wonderful Plant" made a strong case for rollin' and bowlin' over reading "Cat Fancy" magazine and praying with your family, which is apparently what happens when people don't have weed. Oddly enough, in a world without pot, people use McDonald's coffee to alter their reality and things are really tense, making for some pretty hilarious sketch comedy.

And once live comedic actors have reminded you that the world is a better place where the devil's salad is served, any earnest 4/20 celebrant (or, ahem, any pathetic student of popular culture who hasn't seen it) really has no choice but to head to the Byrd to see a late screening of "Reefer Madness."

Like me, the ballet dancer (who moved here last Fall from Charlotte and is loving Richmond) in front of me in the popcorn line was a "Reefer" virgin and, like me, she was there as a student of cultural history. Where I was able to blow her mind was in telling her that even when I was in college, this was a very old and dated cult classic film.

"Wow, I had no idea it was that old," she marveled, with no clue of the implication there.

The sheer melodrama of a black and white 1936 church-made piece of propaganda about the violent narcotic and unspeakable scourge that was destroying the fabric of American youth had those of us in the audience howling in laughter just reading the introduction. And my goodness, when we got to the scenery-chewing histrionics of the low-budget actors, the crowd's younger members were groaning and giggling in agony at the remnants of old-school silent-era over-acting.

Now that I think about it, it sounded a lot like the uncontrollable laughter that the film said was the first effect of using the demon drug.

Once I'd had the full range of 4/20 experiences, I could wade through the sticky air to go home. Walking past my neighbor's porch, he called out asking how I was doing tonight. Great, I told him, because it feels like a warm summer night and I love that. "You can't ask for more!" he called as I rounded my garden.

Unless it's for more Fritos, I can't. I don't.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rather Than Alone and Pointless

The Facebook hive was working overtime when a bearded DJ threw out a simple enough inquiry.

Anyone going to the Robyn Hitchcock show tonight at Capital Alehouse?

The comedian immediately came back with the smart-assed, "I'm sure someone will be there." A fellow movie/music fan replied, "I'm going. Does this make me uncool?" A favorite music couple weighed in, saying, "In discussion now...we may be there."

The music writer/DJ lent his gravitas by sharing, "Never seen a bad - or even so-so - Robyn Hitchcock show. He's a treasure." Two different friends said they were sure it wouldn't sell out, yet I had a feeling they were way off the mark on that.

From a friend who told me he planned to go then opted out because he was "tired" (easily the most over-used middle aged fallback known to man), I got this: "He is hilarious. I saw him with the Egyptians in like 1986."

What? And you don't want to see how he and his live show have held up over the past three decades? Good god, man, is your curiosity completely shriveled?

Easily my favorite came from a guy I didn't even know, but whose affirmative answer could have been my own. "Alone and pointless by my moldering self I'd be otherwise." Also in lockstep was the guy who said simply, "mememe!"

Personally, I'd bought my ticket over a week ago and I joined the line snaking out of Capital Alehouse's door around 7:10. The problem was the doors weren't yet open despite a published door time of 7 p.m. The young host did his best to move people through once they finally opened, but by then he was facing an onslaught of people wanting to get into the sold out show.

As I finally passed him, I took a second to compliment his handling of the middle-aged mob, thanking him for gracefully wearing so many hats simultaneously. Just as I finished expressing my appreciation, a man just ahead whirled around and said in an overly loud voice," Well, I don't think you're doing a very good job. These doors should've been opened 25 minutes ago."

The host apologized to him for the wait but it wasn't enough. "This is all part of the experience and we didn't want to waste it standing in line!" After an awkward pause, a nearby woman reminded him that it wasn't the kid's fault and the cranky guy got crankier, saying he was telling him so he'd tell his boss and it wouldn't happen ever again.

Clearly he'd never been to a show at Cap Ale before. There's always a line.

The good news was that being solo meant I got seated with an existing table directly in front of the stage. The people there, a Robyn Hitchcock fan who'd seen him in '92 and her Dad, a poet who greeted me and told me he loved my hair, graciously welcomed me to their humble table.

They immediately proved their worth by sharing the reason for the line forming outside: Robyn Hitchcock had been meticulously setting up his merch table (which he later referred to as "dodgy merch"). Knowing the artist, what fan would complain about that?

Our table was complete when another singleton was dropped off by the hostess and he turned out to be a former photographer who had already seen Robyn at least four times. He's lost count. One of those shows was delayed starting because Robyn had insisted all the band members wear actual waffles on their heads to sing "Wafflehead."

"I think they used Eggos or something," he recalled.

We chatted non-stop for a while, ordered food and the lights dimmed as it arrived. The poet leaned in and stage whispered, "I can't see my food! Get out your lighter!" I reminded him that cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters and he was showing his age.

Nashville duo Cale Tyson (a long, tall drink of water who cherished sad songs) and Pete (bearded and less extroverted but killing it on lead guitar and harmonizing vocals) took the stage to sing songs offering romantic advice ("If you're going to love a woman, you're gonna be blue, and if you love a man, you're going to be sad and that's the truth"), pick-up lines ("I love you like the sunset, And all your drinks are on me") and lamentations about the foolhardiness of putting your own picture on a t-shirt ("I've sold 35% fewer t-shirts than when they just had my name on them").

Then Robyn Hitchcock came out with his fabulous white hair wearing a navy and white polka dot shirt to reminisce. "The last time I was here was in 1992 at the Flood Zone. My eyesight's not as good as it was then, but I think most of you were there then."

My friend had been correct; this guy was hilarious. His offbeat ruminations and occasionally surrealistic storytelling aided by his fast-processing mind ("I've got a cough, but it's really inspiring") meant between songs was as fully entertaining as the songs, which is truly saying something. Smart guy humor at its best.

Simply put, I don't think I have ever laughed at a music show more than I did tonight. Loudly, at times.

Besides singing a wide range of his catalog, from gems such as "My Wife and My Dead Wife" to "When I Was Dead" to his newest "I Want To Tell You About What I Want," he sipped a cup of good coffee and posited that, "A lot of being alive is all the things you can cram up into your mouth."

He was particularly clever with his requests to the sound guy, Joe, before many of the songs, such as asking him to put "a little sparkle dust" on his guitar so it would sound like a well-played 12-string. Or he wanted his voice to "move in a heavenly arena." One time he wanted his guitar to sound like "George Harrison, double-tracked" and another, "Graham Nash, triple-tracked." Once it was, "I want it to sound like David Crosby is singing harmony with me." Perfectly reasonable requests.

Joe made them so.

Ever the gracious Brit, Robyn thanked the audience for the listening room-like environment, specifically "for not discussing all the many thoughts in your head while I'm singing." I don't think it would've occurred to any of the devoted crowd to speak while this man sang or spoke.

He encored with "Mad Shelly's Letterbox" and a reworking of what he referred to as "an old folk song" done by his original band, the Soft Boys. The pointed "I Wanna Destroy You" had been updated to include a verse railing against Fox News. Actually, he asked for a pox on them, netting cheers and applause.

"I hope to see you again before another 25 years!" he said by way of farewell, causing the boisterous crowd to give him a couple of standing ovations. The uber-fan next to me turned to talk, comparing this show to the four previous he'd seen and insisting I immediately go buy the Soft Boys' "Underwater Moonlight." Will do.

As I'd expected, the line at the dodgy merch table was sizable.

Note to the doubting Thomases who showed their pessimism in the hive: the show was not only sold out, it was standing room only. Those who opted out missed out.

When my friend had decided to flake, he'd messaged me saying, "Sorry. Have fun." Pshaw, my response was not to apologize to me because the loss was his, not mine. I'd just seen that proven.

In fact, the evening was probably best summed up by the guy who'd earlier answered the hive query with a simple "I wish!"

Luckily, my moldering self didn't have to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fly Room

When you go to the beach in April, you've got to be adaptable.

The sunshine and heat of the first two days gave way to a very different sort of Tuesday, with strong winds off the ocean and when I say strong, I mean I gave up trying to walk on the beach after about two minutes of trying and I am not a walking quitter. It was just too much, too strong, too chilly.

Or perhaps it was the contrast. Leaving the comfort of bed after going back to bed after breakfast to read for a couple of hours - discovering through Springsteen's book that the time I'd seen the band had been on the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" tour, a fact I hadn't ever known since I wasn't a fan and went solely because my then-boyfriend insisted I needed to experience "The Boss" - and then take a nap (less than four hours after getting up) stands in stark contrast to battling 20 mph winds, feeling cold droplets of swirling surf and having to actually push my body into the wind in pursuit of movement.

Dedicated I am, but thanks, I'll take a pass.

Embracing the cowardly but still cardio-friendly path, we dumped the beach for the Nature Conservancy on the Sound side of the Outer Banks, where we walked three of the trails - two of which ended up at the sound, although with different vistas - under filtered sunlight from the tree canopy above.

It only amounted to a 4.1 mile trek, but included a girl in a bikini suggesting we visit her family's alpaca farm in Moyock, a slithering snake far bigger than I would ever want to see while walking and, as always when walking these Conservancy trails, the near-distant sounds of a shooting range.

Once again, off season languor meant that our servers at We Got Your Crabs had plenty of time to share their life stories with us. The young one was discussing a ridiculously handsome guy ("Is he fixin' to marry to her?"), while admitting she'd never give up her own boyfriend, even for someone so good looking.

But she was happy to drool.

The older one got into a chat with the local on the stool next to me, so by default, me, and they were soon caught up in a conversation identifying her cousins, Daddy, brother-in-law and what sounded like 20 other people it turned out they had in common.

Spare me, the Outer Banks are such a small town.

In the meantime, we downed oysters from nearby Edenton before I began dissecting my first steamed crabs of the season and my seatmate worked on a pound of steamed local shrimp. The wet and bedraggled brown paper on the counter looked like it had been through the war by the time we pushed ourselves away.

On Wednesday, two different people - the server who greeted us at the door and the chef who came out at the end of the evening - claimed to remember my previous visits to the Salt Box Cafe, despite having eaten outside on the screened-in porch both times.

Even if they were lying, it was a brilliant PR move.

Since that wasn't an option this time, we took up residence at the bar to tuck into crispy spicy green beans, an arugula and poached pear salad with goat cheese and nuts, creamy curry soup with garbanzo beans and a ridiculous amount of crabmeat and an entree of tilefish with Brussels sprouts.

You might expect a person wouldn't be able to down a large goblet of chocolate pudding with caramel sauce after so much dinner, but you'd be wrong.

For that matter, you might expect all kinds of revelatory conversations over three days of pure goofing off, but you'd be wrong again. Just a little lightness on the edge of beach.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Off Season

Because Bollywood before the beach makes sense when you think about it.

Knowing I had a full Saturday itinerary of getting stuff done - taxes, an interview, cleaning house - I hadn't made plans to go out until 10. When a friend inquired about my availability, I told him he was free to join me for the Gypsy Room's inaugural Bollywood evening.

Although he knew nothing of the style of music and while he said he hadn't danced since he stopped drinking, his main sticking point with my plans was the hour. "Go out at 10?" he asked incredulously. "That's what we used to do when I was young." Ouch.

I pointed out that that statement alone was proof positive he was old, that I'd been to these before and they were always great dancing and a stellar time. Trying to be game, he said yes, probably with all kinds of misgivings, but yes. He at least knew of DJ Carlito's legendary Bollywood dance parties, for years at Cous Cous, then at Balliceaux and now underneath Vagabond. He even knew Carl, which may have emboldened him a little.

Because we arrived semi-on time, the crowd was small (us and a few other duos who were not millennials), but the sounds were perfectly on point ("This music's all about the beat," my friend observed, stating the obvious) and within the hour, the room was nearly full.

Full, but not diverse. The Gypsy Room had become ground zero for well-dressed brown millennials, with a couple of middle-aged Indians observing from the safety of couches. Since Friend and I had seats at the bar, we had terrific sight lines for the mating rituals that were unfolding around the room.

He was curious about how someone signaled interest in someone else, since it was clear that assessing and making moves was part of the ritual that preceded the actual dancing. And DJ Carlito was hitting all their hot buttons, playing the kind of Indian pop songs that not only had the crowd singing along but, in some cases, doing coordinated hand gestures and moves.

They all knew things we didn't because we have no family or cultural ties to the music, just an appreciation for how infectiously danceable it is. As a result, we spent far more time talking (I was told I dress "eccentrically," but I took it as a compliment) than dancing while the well-dressed millennials got down tonight and, who knows, perhaps looked for an alternative to an arranged marriage.

It was funny, early on, Carl had mentioned that he was wondering if he'd pull a big crowd since he hadn't done a Bollywood night in so long, so he wasn't sure people would still dig it. And while it was completely different than the more diverse groups I'd seen at the old events, it looked like people still want to dance to that music, especially in such a dimly lit room on a Saturday night.

Nine hours after getting home, I was packing for a short beach trip and on the road before noon. The sole fly in that ointment was that it was Easter Sunday so many of the usual stopping points were closed due to Christianity being pushed on a country that supposedly separates church and state. And don't get me started on waking up to Google wishing me a Happy Easter. So not appropriate, guys.

Since getting here, life has been reduced to the essentials: a couple of walks, enjoying the constancy of waves hitting the beach through open balcony doors in two rooms and a diet likely to induce gout by mid-week (or so my Sister #2 would claim, after eating seafood 12 of 14 days at the beach and immediately getting "the gout," which sounds so Henry the VIII it's hilarious).

Frog Island Seafood delivered fish tacos and shrimp salad, Ocean Boulevard meant fried oysters and a special of sheepshead with local purple-tipped asparagus and N.C. shrimp over heirloom grits and tomatoes and from the Blue Moon Café, a crabcake sandwich a Marylander could get behind, thick and loaded with discernible hunks of backfin and little filler.

Best of all, two of the three meals were eaten outdoors at wooden picnic tables with the wind having its way with us.

It being April and all, servers are longing for the summer season to begin (ka-ching!), but as visitors, we can appreciate the more languid pace and the extra effort staff make for people now that they won't possibly have time to bother with come June and July.

Come to think of it, that's when I'll be back. But for now, it's all about the ice old ocean being off-limits, leaving hours with nothing to do but read (currently: "Born to Run," by Springsteen), dissect passersby on the uncrowded beach from the balcony and goof off with a capital "G."

You see why I had to get the Bollywood out of my system first.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bite Back

I began my day walking with one friend and finished walking with another.

The first took me to Scott's Addition for a much-needed massage (while he turned around and walked back to work) and the latter involved to and froing from Gallery 5 for music (never turn down an offer to be somebody's "plus one" for a show), with a drive to Petersburg in between to see Alpha Chino's Booty Sweat.

I can't make this stuff up.

Walking into G5, the show had already started and the singer was talking between songs. I couldn't see her, so I asked my much taller friend if they looked as young as they sounded. His answer was a firm yes.

Once we found places inside, he did recon, only to learn that the all-girl band was in fact comprised of high school students from Chesterfield County, half black, half white. The seasoned patter between songs belied their youth and the bands they chose to cover - Blink 182, My Chemical Romance - seemed to be ones they'd heard while still or shortly after being in Pampers.

The lead singer gave full credit for her determined path as a musician: Guitar Hero. 'Nuff said.

The break allowed Friend to regale me with stories of his misspent youth, including a data entry job at Marlo Furniture that taught him the phrase "total void," which he intends to use in an upcoming music project.

Nashville band Daddy Issues was a female trio, albeit old enough to drink, but theirs was a more lo-fi sound with nods to grunge. Songs revolved around life's major issues: someone wanting you to be their friend when you don't. Being creepy because you're so in love with someone. Breaking up with someone. And perhaps most tragic of all, losing your keys.

Universal themes aside, their sincerity in the material, the banter and playing for a spirited (and mostly underage, judging by the number of Xs on hands) audience rang true.

During the break, we were joined by one of Gallery 5's founders and board members, atypically dressed in a button-down shirt and vest, just back from a fundraising event for G5 that had netted $2,000. My friend and I acted suitably impressed because we were, while he saved his praise for the show we'd come to see.

"Things are poppin' here!" he grinned, then ducked out, saying he was beat, no doubt a factor of being out of his normal t-shirt and having to gladhand folks with open wallets.

Duo Diet Cig took their time getting to the stage to play, but also broke tonight's string of all female bands with a male drummer who, we were told, gave up his chance to be an Olympic skier so he could be in the band. If it's not true, it sure makes a good story to tell from stage.

Their pop-tinged punk set was sung with energy and enthusiasm, boasting pogo-ing and leg kicks from singer/guitarist Alex, adorable with her Pixie haircut, impish smile and black and white checked bike shorts. I got a little of a Matt and Kim vibe from their music.

Between songs, Alex made sure to announce that their shows are safe spaces and the young audience nodded in approval. My generation would've had no clue what that meant. She also mentioned that recently in Boston they'd come onstage to Cher's "Believe" and it had continued to blare into their headphones as they launched into what she called "our pop punk show."

Troopers, they overcame the challenge because, as Alex told us, "We believe in life after love."

Shazam. They might be young, but already aware you gotta have something to cling to when the booty sweat's all gone. Or gone to Petersburg.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hi-Ho From the Starship Bridge

Gemini, pace yourself, as you have a lot to do. You might feel as if something is bothering you on a subconscious level, which could be driving you much more than you are aware. Your anger is close to the surface.

And when my anger is closest to the surface, I seek out friends who make me laugh. Tonight, that was Pru and Beau as we headed to the VMFA for the James River Film Fest's final screening of "Truffaut Hitchcock," the kind of film that causes film nerds (and, as it turns out, people of a certain age) to congregate.

I was necessarily being collected at an early hour because of my refusal to conform. When Beau and I conferred about tonight's longstanding plans, I insisted on a slightly earlier time because I needed to pick up my ticket at the member services desk before the documentary.

They, on the other hand, had printed their tickets at home. Not my style.

A ticket, a real ticket, is a souvenir of an experience. I have tickets going back to the '70s that remind me of shows and plays, but it's also the retro aspect that keeps me from printing out a ticket. Mainly, it's the fact that I don't want my entire life standardized and printed on 8 1/2 by 11" sheets of paper.

We'll just call it a quality of life issue.

Heading to the museum, we immediately dove head first into a discussion about the difficulties of living with someone after becoming accustomed to living alone. Pru was the first to admit that her eccentricities have been showing, while Beau politely reminded her that everyone involved was already well aware of them.

Mine continue to come to light the more often I invite friends to stop by.

"Truffaut Hitchcock" turned out to be a cinema buff's movie, a film about film-making, one that covered Hitch's emphasis on style, how he was responsible for the "auteur" philosophy - that a director controls the artistic statement - with his ability to "write" with the camera and how he believed that logic was dull.

Tell me about it.

In addition to Truffaut and Hitchcock's conversation, so many good directors testified: Richard Linklater, Martin Scorcese, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader, among others,expounded on subjects such as how perverted "Vertigo" is (very), how Hitch deliberately made movies that played to 2,000 people, not just one and how "Psycho" was the first movie clearly drawn from the real world, so all the more disturbing for it.

One particularly satisfying takeaway is that cinema is a visual art form firmly rooted in silent films, so the long takes and leisurely pans that today unnerve and bore millennials actually make sense when referencing earlier eras. As one of our hosts pointed out, today's films have a climax every two minutes.

I don't know about you, but I find that climaxing pace exhausting. At the very least, give me a refractory period before tossing out any more expectations.

The film left us absolutely certain of Hitch's genius, but also of Truffaut's recognition of that fact, despite his relative youth. Some men catch on more quickly than others, that's all I'm going to say.

From the museum we headed to Secco for a post-film supper among the West End types that Beau pegged as being in the wrong part of town ("She's got to get home to the Barbie Dream House," Pru quipped of a stylishly-cut blond in white shoes and pricey-looking togs) whom we ignored.

Instead, we savored a bottle of Cherrier Sancerre Rose and not even two weeks after the last time we'd had grilled asparagus with breaded fried egg, oops, Pru and I had it again. Twice. There was my smoked fish brushetta with creme fraiche (tasting like pure Sweden), a special of gnocchi with oxtail (decadent and homey simultaneously) and Beau's creative entree of fried lentil pakora with artichoke, mushroom and cashew ricotta (a master class for its marriage of flavors and contrasting textures), all of which returned to the kitchen licked clean.

Because Pru and Beau once lived across the hall from each other, they keep bringing up memories I couldn't even imagine.

"Remember back in the '80s when you and Robert used to have depressing parties?" Pru asked, recalling soirees where the men smoked pipes and mulled, the music was the "Blade Runner" soundtrack and Beau turned his living room into a starship bridge ("Of course you did," Pru sniffed), whatever that might be.

Pardon my optimism, but I can imagine nothing less appealing than heading to a depressing party, although fortunately, I hadn't been invited. Or maybe I would turn it into an upbeat party and ask for dancing instead of depression.

Our final stop was Can Can for dessert, although our mistake had been in forgetting that they had an absinthe drip or we'd have headed there directly. Despite the late hour, our barkeep happily delivered chocolate fudge pudding cakes and three absinthe drips: two made with Trinity and one old school style, made from Grand Absinthe.

My only complaint was that he didn't do the drips in front of us for the pleasure that affords.

Extolling the sublime marriage of absinthe and chocolate, he became the enabler who fueled our last few hours, including procuring a baguette for the happy couple. Inexplicably, the baguettes we'd seen lolling in a basket behind the bar earlier were tossed when the kitchen closed, despite customers who wanted to purchase them. Go figure.

Appreciating the need to pace myself, I shared my second absinthe drip with Pru as the bar began to empty out and I ignored a restaurant owner leering from a nearby stool as he sipped a glass of red wine. Had ours been a depressing party, I might have asked him to join us. I didn't.

I'm pacing myself so my eccentricities don't show any more than they have to. I've been warned I have a lot to do.

Color me ready to do it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Found Light

Walking is the thread that connects up everything for me in this city.

Usually when I walk to Belle Isle, I come back through Oregon Hill on Pine Street. Today I wanted to walk Laurel instead for fresh views.

In front of just another house, I spotted one of those red-roofed wooden boxes with the clear front intended, usually at least, for real estate fliers about a house for sale. But this house had no for sale sign, so I looked at what was inside.

Poetry. There were several sheets of paper, each with a poem called "Forever Light" inside the box. But the real surprise was the poet's name because it was one familiar to me: Peter LaBerge, whom I'd just seen at a poetry reading at University of Richmond last Wednesday. If I'd stumbled on the box two weeks ago, the name would have meant nothing.

Standing on Laurel Street in the morning sunlight, I knew before reading it that the poem would be dark, elegiac even, and I wasn't wrong. You can learn a lot about a poet from one reading.

More alive
the body unit

Body made visible
after dawn.

Seconds of kissing
a man & I touching.

Body the gods decide 
should riverspin.

Arms and legs
invisible in seconds.

When I wake, a gun
nesting in my place.

Proof a man sunk
is a man inanimate.

Yet surely somewhere
dark there I am.

Chest disintegrating
lips: a feast of blue.

No skin to feed
the earth so I face up.

Bones green from a long
bed of moss.

Memory, a shorn path
through the forest.

Yet still regret is silver
and more silver.

Body beaming light
through the trees

It's Poetry Month, so perhaps Peter left the poems in the box for nerds like me who might appreciate poetry wherever we find it. Maybe he was simply curious whose eyes might alight on the box and investigate its contents. Walking is its own reward, but found poetry felt like a deliberate gift today.

Also a reminder - perhaps not to this young poet, but certainly to a body unit much older than Peter - that regret, silver or any color, is a waste of time and energy. Life's too short.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

You're Hopeful or You're the Problem

Mainly I went to the Siegel Center because hope is power.

Tonight, as part of VCU's Common Book program, "Just Mercy" author Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative was in the house talking about increasing justice in our country. Mac and I walked over to join the hundreds of others who wanted to hear this lawyer who works with death row inmates talk about how we can possibly hope to create a post-race world.

This is a man who has made his life's work beating the drum of justice.

Along with scores of students, some busier looking at their phones and laptops than paying attention to Stevenson, there were plenty of adults like us interested in hearing from this man who's dedicated his life to working with marginalized populations.

The middle-aged woman sitting next to me could barely contain her excitement at hearing him speak. "He's like a rock star, a real rock star to me!" she gushed. I only wish the students - whom he characterized as "more woke" than our generation, although I have my doubts - who began drifting out midway through his talk had realized that.

Mac and I had picked up his book when we'd seen the film "Thirteenth" about that amendment and the subsequent institutionalization of mass incarceration - which included Stevenson as one of the savviest talking heads - and decided then that we needed to hear this man speak.

A big part of his appeal is that he's not all doom and gloom despite a vast knowledge of all the disturbing history that would justify such a stance so rather than focus on that history, he instead offered solutions the country and especially young people could use going forward.

He talked about the power of proximity and how necessary it is for white people to position themselves near communities and people in crisis. With passion he explained the need for changing narratives that sustain oppression, things like the existing narratives of death row, of childhood, of race.

Referring to the U.S. as a post-genocide society, he showed how our forefathers denigrated those they wanted to control, calling Native Americans "savages" (while keeping Indian names for rivers and settlements) and using the misplaced notion of white supremacy to justify slavery.

Pointing out that our culture has gotten "too celebratory about the Civil Rights movement," he spoke truth to power to the audience. "You shouldn't live in Richmond and not know where the slave auction sites were." I admit, I only know a couple, but I intend to change that.

Stay hopeful, he told us, because you can't change the world if you lose hope. Pessimists and pragmatists, take note. It's particularly important in a world where trucks still proudly wave the Confederate flag and it's still possible to see a bumper sticker - as Stevenson did - that reads, "If I'd known it was going to turn out like this, I'd have picked my own cotton."

His final advice was to be willing to do uncomfortable or inconvenient things, which is just another way of saying, "Lean in when it gets uncomfortable," advice far too many white people are unwilling to take because, as a species, we are instinctively attracted to what's comfortable and easy.

Race relations are neither.

After the Q & A, we picked up the Equal Justice Initiative's 2017 calendar, as much for its iconic photographs (both vintage and modern) as for its 365 days of racial injustice history dates, every single one of which is positively heartbreaking.

On my birthday, for example, in 1796, President George Washington offered a $10 reward for the return of Oney Judge, an enslaved black woman who fled after learning that Martha planned to give her away as a wedding present.

That's right, a First Lady using human beings as gifts. Lest people think that things got better with time, how about June 16, 1944 when a 90-pound 14-year old black boy is wrongly accused of rape and murder and electrocuted in South Carolina, becoming the youngest person executed in the 20th century? Our country's history is strewn with such mortifying facts.

Calendars in arms, we walked over to 821 Cafe, to discuss what we'd heard and share an order of black bean nachos. When our affable server spotted our calendars with their haunting black and white photographs, he wanted to know where we'd been and from whence the calendars had come, afterward acknowledging that he had some important reading and film-watching to do.

When he came back to clear the table and found the platter all but licked clean, he was suitably impressed. "Not too many people can finish the whole thing," he said with awe. Hell, Mac and her main squeeze had tried recently and hadn't been able to. "Good job!"

Technically, the "good job" accolades go to VCU for assigning a compelling common book and bringing the rock star author to Richmond to share his vision of a better future with Mac, me and the masses.

With racial inequity as with most other things, the two of us have no intention of being part of the problem.

Invitation to a Grope

As if any visit to see my parents isn't colorful enough, today's visit included two of my sisters to draw even further outside the lines.

Mom had already asked me to come down today and do their taxes for them when I got a last minute email yesterday alerting me that two of the clan would be coming down for lunch, or, as she phrased it, "A veritable covey of daughters!"

In case you can't tell by that exclamatory sentence, she was thrilled at the prospect of having half her brood in house, while my main concern was who was making the trek so I could gird my loins depending on which two were involved.

Turns out it was going to be a favorite sister and a difficult sister, so I didn't reschedule and deny Mom her covey. Instead, I tried to arrive early enough to get taxes out of the way before the guests arrived. But life on the Northern Neck means the world's slowest wi-fi, so I was still at the computer when they sailed in bearing lunch.

One aspect new to the tax process this year was another layer of identification - driver's license ID number, expiration and issue dates - to thwart identity theft, so I called to Mom that I needed her driver's license as well as Dad's.

Now, you have to picture this: it's a gorgeous day on the river and my father is comfortably ensconced in his favorite chair on the screened porch, crossword puzzle in hand, engrossed in a conversation about sports (something about you don't get to make those kind of mistakes when you're being paid that much money) with Sister #5 when Mom goes out to retrieve his driver's license.

Mom: Karen needs your driver's license for the taxes.
Dad, sighing at the interruption: Okay, let me get my wallet.
Mom: Stay where you are. I'll get it for you. 
Dad, with a leer in his voice: Please do. It's in my shorts pocket. 

What, everyone's octogenarian parents don't make suggestive statements in front of their grown daughters?

Their taxes were filed and accepted by the IRS before we even sat down on the porch for a lunch that included chicken salad, a huge favorite of Mom's when it's made right, which prompted a story I'd heard but the sisters hadn't.

Back in the dark ages, Mom had taught us to make chicken salad using large irregular hunks of chicken meat, not diced or shredded, not minced or finely chopped chicken, but chunks. One day at a coffee shop in a nearby town, she ordered chicken salad, only to be served, according to her, texture-less chicken salad. Soupy and without so much as a hint of a hunk, my usually mild-mannered mother marched up to the manager and complained about the lack of discernible chicken.

My sisters were agog at the mental image of Mom trying to educate a stranger in a restaurant about the right way to make chicken salad. I visit her often enough to know that she abandoned mild manners shortly after passing the 3/4 of a century mark and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.

After eating, Mom had a project for us: dyeing Easter eggs for her bridge luncheon tomorrow at the Women's Club. I can't even recall the last time I dyed eggs, much less a dozen and a half of them, but here I was with my sisters filling mugs with vinegar and water to activate the coloring tablets.

I know, I know, it's morally wrong for a card-carrying heathen to be doing something even remotely connected to a crazy Christian holiday I have no use for, but Mom seemed to delight in doing something with us that dated back to childhood and, besides, she's still the boss of us.

Or, as we used to tell each other to signify importance when we were kids, "Mom said." Mom said we had to dye eggs today, so we dyed eggs.

Resurrections aside, we couldn't have asked for a more exquisite April day to be on the porch with a view of the Rappahannock's myriad shades of blue, feeling the soft, humid air around us and inhaling the perfume of the bouquet - tiny narcissus, tulips, pink lilacs, columbine, pussy willows, money plant - I'd plucked from the yard before starting taxes.

The three sisters drove the conversational bus with near constant laughter, with Mom and Dad adding context or claiming not to remember things that were etched in our minds decades ago.

"How come Karen got all the memory and the rest of us can't remember anything?" Sister #5 asked rhetorically. Why does the sun go on shining? How can women who've known each other for so long still have so much to talk about?

By the time I got home, it was with the certainty that I needed no further conversation, or at least only the incidental type (a fellow culture geek's opinions are always welcome), so I walked over to the Grace Street Theater for VCU Cinematheque's screening of "Russian Ark," memorable for the unexpected line, "Writers always have good hair."

Actually, what made the film notable was that all 96 minutes of metaphoric Russian history played out in the art and architectural magnificence of the Winter Palace of the Hermitage and were shot in one continuous take, one action or conversation immediately leading into the next one.

There it was: life had foreshadowed art, echoing my continuous take afternoon at the river, with a covey of sisters standing in for Russian royalty in period costumes.

Writers and good hair made appearances in both.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In Dog We Trust

It's never too late to figure out how you want to live your life.

I have friends who just this week shed their worker bee existences to explore minimalism - health, deep relationships and giving back - travel and seek out unique experiences.

Today on his first non-corporate Monday, I have no idea what she did, but he tried pickleball ("like playing tennis except on a smaller court and in slow motion"), with the result that he "beat up on a bunch of 60-some year olds." I guess this beats the office grind.

Today, on my 430th non-corporate Monday, I walked the pipeline, which is not uncommon for me, but the river was so high and furious that I couldn't even get to the pipeline walkway from the edge of Brown's Island, so I took the canal walk to the other end, walked it to the part where the James was higher than the pipeline, turned around and came back.

Granted, unlike my friend, it didn't earn me the hashtag #rogerfedererofpickleball, but to each of us our own way of starting the work week.

With such lofty goals announced to the world, I'll be curious to see how they choose to spend their time once the novelty wears off.

Will they be like me and devote their free time to the pursuit of culture, companionship and fun? Will they go to shows at the Camel on a Monday night and stay for all four bands?

Would they marvel at the beauty of Ben Shepherd's songs and chuckle when he has to use a cheat sheet taped to a microphone stand for the lyrics to a new song? Take as much delight in South Carolina band Those Lavender Whales' comparisons of their riverwalk and ours (theirs has a chicken factory, so ours won out)? Get their '90s on with the female-fronted, whiskey-sipping Hey Baby?

I can only hope they'd stay until Doll Baby played because seeing someone as low-key and soft-spoken as lead singer Julie take that fabulous voice of hers and turn it into angst and energy really needs to be experienced.

But then don't most things?

Today, on their 8th anniversary of dating, a favorite couple who also happen to be musicians, got married. It's not like they didn't already live together and own a house together, but they wanted the traditional trappings of marriage. Their excitement about their change in status was adorable.

I'd be the first to admit that sometimes it takes a while to decide how you want to live your life. Although I have no desire to beat up on 60-somethings, I'm wide open to travel and unique experiences.

Among other things.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Be For Real

As a long-time reader had to remind me today, "Too fine a day outside for us to be on the keyboard."

Amen, brother.

For the second weekend in a row, my passion for Nate's Bagels had me headed to his pop-up, this one at Blue Bee Cider, an easy walk for Mac and me, especially for the conversational time it afforded after not having seen each other in over a week and missing each other's smiling faces.

As we'd hoped, we were first in line as Nate got set up and ready to do business.

With Mac's glass of Blue Bee's bold-tasting Heirophant, an ice cider that's been fermented to dry, we took our bagels outside to the patio, the better to dish and chow down concurrently. And while we'd been the cidery's first visitors today, the next 10 arrived within minutes of us.

But, oh, the sheer pleasure of crunching down through that magnificent crust with its satisfying chew. We'd have walked far further than 2 1/2 miles to snag one.

I thought we were leaving to walk back but Mac led us directly to King of Pops where she had an orange dream pop and I, ever a creature of habit, succumbed to a chocolate sea salt pop, both eaten as we wound our way through Scott's Addition and back toward the Ward.

Despite the reminder from that favorite reader, I had no choice but to spend part of this fine day inside, having bought a ticket to see "The Sad and Beautiful World of Sparklehorse" at the Byrd back in mid-March.

After finding a seat in my favorite row, I listened as the crowd of a certain age filtered in, inevitably recognizing each other (one guy climbing over another: "Oh, it's you!" and another asking his seat mate about his kids) because so many in the crowd had either known Mark Linkous when he was part of the Richmond scene, or had been long-time fans of his music.

Spotting a lanky friend making his way down the aisle, I called for him to take advantage of the empty seat beside me, only to hear that he knew almost everyone sitting around me (which undoubtedly makes him far cooler than me).

The documentary was indeed sad and beautiful, like its subject, and much of that was because of its painful truth that untreated mental illness is a reality no one deserves, even the poor, even the musicians, even the uninsured.

It was also an unadulterated treat to hear so much lo-fi Sparklehorse music with its distinctive hushed vocals (he usually recorded while his wife was asleep upstairs and he didn't want to wake her) and utterly poetic sound.

Afterward, the music crowd gathered in clumps on the sidewalk in front of the Byrd, sharing impressions and memories. I heard a favorite couple greeted with, "Hi, chicken people!" (they liked it), was introduced to David Lowery (who'd been a talking head in the film), queried the Man About Town on his recent bout of bubonic plague ("It was just the flu") and held a movie poster so its owner could roll a cig.

When the Nerd - at least as big a geek as me, except he's also a singer/guitarist, which lifts him out of full nerd-dom - asked if I was off to the Bijou for the next film, I admitted to a need to eat, causing him to metaphorically roll his eyes. "I have an apple in the car to tide me over," he said before dashing to the Bijou.

Clearly he was the superior festival-goer with that kind of planning.

But once I'd put on the feedbag, I walked over to the Bijou for the Silent Music Revival, the James River Film Festival's final event of the weekend, with the Richmond Avant Improv Collective - a group I'd only seen for the first time a couple of months ago - improvising a soundtrack with a vocalist. They did it first to the 1924 classic "Ballet Mechanique" and then to 1928's "Seashell and the Clergy Man."

You couldn't really ask for a more suitable group to come up with a score on the fly for surrealistic films than this group, and that's organizer Jameson's real strength: pairing just the right local band with his choice of obscure silent film. I've been watching him do it for 10 years now and he only gets better.

Even Mike, one of the JRFF creators, admitted to being blown away seeing his first Silent Music Revival tonight and understanding how sublime the combination of silent film and live band is when witnessed.

Film over, I invited a teaching friend on Spring Break this week over for some record listening, knowing he usually pleads to early mornings and couldn't use that excuse this time. Asking for nothing more than a year as a starting point, he offered up 1973, because, he said, when he looks at the songs he plays on his radio show, the majority seem to come from that year.

Even though he's a musician and a music geek, I was able to stump him with my 1973 pick of McCartney's "Red Rose Speedway" before moving through Grin (also one he couldn't identify), Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" (his choice because he and other musicians are covering it soon), Prince's "1999" (spotted as I was flipping through discs because he hadn't heard it in eons), Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (both of us bowing to that '70s testifying style) and closed out with the Chi-Lites because the Chi-Lites.

The fine day had finally given way to moonlit night, so all bets were off. We, on the other hand, had the windows open listening to obscure '70s and the Sounds of Philly with nary a keyboard in sight.

Mission accomplished, dear reader.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Death is Like Chesterfield County

What begins with doughnuts and slapstick and ends with wine glass holder necklaces?

Another day in the life, of course.

Although I'm constitutionally opposed to events that begin at 10:30 a.m., I made an exception for James River Film Festival's Slapstick and Donuts program, not because I'm a huge fan of slapstick (I'm not especially) or because I thought they'd have my favorite chocolate-frosted cake doughnuts (they didn't) but because special guest filmmaker Guy Maddin was going to be there.

Other plans were going to prevent me from seeing any of his films the rest of the day, so it was my only chance to hear what brilliance might trip off his Canadian lips and that's what had me walking to the Bijou first thing in the morning.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts were laid out along with coffee, so I snagged a chocolate frosted one (though I've never understood why KK puts chocolate frosting on an already-glazed doughnut) and found a seat near a woman with a cup of coffee. when I challenged her on not having a doughnut (she'd already scarfed one) she challenged me back on not having any caffeine. Fair enough.

It was while a Laurel and Hardy short with a very young Jean Harlow (in which a baby chick was pulled out of a man's beard) and a Buster Keaton film were shown on 16 mm with the reassuring purring of the film projector the only sound that I realized that almost all of the belly laughs I was hearing around me were coming from men.

When I'm watching Buster Keaton balancing a ladder across a fence with cops on both ends trying to get to him and he's balancing precariously near the center, all I can think of is him cracking his head open when he falls while guys nearby laughed uproariously.

Then Maddin was introduced.

Laughing about Richmond, he joked, "If you don't get 'em with tobacco, you get 'em with Krispy Kreme," but he also raved about watching film on 16 mm and the accompanying clatter of a film projector. Reminding us how fragile nitrate film was and how it could cause projector fires, he commented that it would be nice to arrange an outdoor screening of a nitrate film where the projector could safely burst into flames.

It goes without saying I'd attend that.

We finished with Charlie Chaplin's "Easy Street," which I'd seen before, and I strolled home before noon, something that doesn't happen too often. After a few hours spent listening to my most recent used record acquisitions - Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Chi-Lites - I got ready for my couple date.

Flora, in the former Balliceaux space, welcomed us with a booth near the front and a stream of familiar faces - my favorite server from 821 Cafe who'd jumped ship to work here, a longtime Balliceaux server who runs the show and one of the owners thrilled to not be cooking southern - that had me jumping up and out of the booth repeatedly.

The changes to the decor were subtle yet made a statement that this was no longer Balliceaux. The porthole windows stayed (as well they should for the complete uniqueness) but the windows over the steps no longer open (a feature associated too much with Balliceaux). Bright pinks and greens, a peeling door covered with bright pots of succulents and textured walls contributed to a welcoming interior that hinted at Mexico without being cliched.

Conversation, as usual, swung wildly, with Pru getting major laughs for her matter of fact, "You know what's underrated? Chervil!" sending us off on a discussion of sorrel and other less common greens. Beau was also responsible for a bit of gum-flapping just to hear himself be corny, but we mostly ignored what Pru called his "murder of prose." Good times.

With a Spanish Rose that was tailor-made for the food's Oaxacan flavor profile, we dove into queso fundido with Chorizo, crunchy sticks of jicama with chili, lime and salt (and the ideal counterpoint to the queso's obscene creamy richness) and not one but two plates of what I will just go ahead and dub the most sensational and complex guacamole in Richmond, enhanced as it was by queso cotija and ancho.

Not content to be full when we could be stuffed, we moved on to pork shoulder tacos, tamale in banana leaf with mole negro and my choice, grilled shark tacos with a killer chipotle mayonnaise, cabbage, radish slices and a flurry of scallions. Every dish was solidly on point, although our final course of chocolate soup with marshmallows was a lighter milk chocolate than would've been my preference, not that I didn't finish it anyway.

We walked out agreeing that Flora should be part of our date rotation going forward. I say me having a date more often would be an even better plan, but some things are seemingly more difficult to achieve than well-executed Oaxacan food in the former capital of the Confederacy. Go figure.

Sitting chatting before we went to the theater, Beau mentioned Alanis Morrissette's song "Thank You" and specifically the line, "How about them transparent angling carrots?" and how he thought it referred to those crystal pendants people wear.

Funny, but I had to admit that I'd always thought the line was, "How about them transparent dangling carrots?" as a  metaphor for always reaching for what you'll never attain. Invoking the power of his phone, we learned I was right. Don't mess with me and lyrics, I know my dangling parts.

Quill Theater was performing "The Heir Apparent" at VMFA, where we took seats in the fourth row and began scanning the Saturday night crowd. Beau got busy trying to adjust his new hearing aid so that it would pick up salient points but tune out Pru and I kvetching.

Our back and forth about his selective hearing got the attention of the couple behind us and the wife explained that it had taken much cajoling to get her husband to be tested and get an aid himself. "It's a man thing," she explained with the wisdom of a well-dressed 75-year old woman who's done it all.

Talk centered on how it's mainly certain shrill female frequencies that both men can't hear and Beau admitted that on occasion he turns his hearing aid down so he doesn't have to hear or respond. Immediately, the husband piped up, saying, "That's a secret you should not have given away!" He also admitted to Pru and me that he loved talking to pretty women and did so with gusto.

The play was fun and funny, an adaptation of a 17th century French play spoken in pentameter, so a pleasure to listen to, and nicely interspersed with references to the present day with comments like, "Of course, if we had national health insurance..."

Even better were local references. When a character asked what dying was like, another quipped, "Chesterfield County!" Amen, brothers and sisters, we can all get behind this one.

Like a Shakespearean comedy, we had masks and lovers, wills and death, plotting and scheming and a cast up to the verse, my favorite being Adam Valentine who made the Crispin character the one to watch at all times.

Post-show discussion went down at the Rogue Gentlemen for cocktails, mine embarrassingly dubbed a "wine glass holder necklace" but made delicious with dry Rose, Cochaca, Pimms, lime, pineapple and mint simple syrup and served in an hourglass-shaped orange-colored tumbler, easily the grooviest glass on the bar despite stiff competition.

As for the music, Whitney Houston first caught my ear, followed by the Carpenters (a favorite of both Beau and mine), which caused Pru to joke, "Omygod, everyone gets a sandwich!" which left the rest of us in stitches.

Mars and Venus used well-crafted cocktails as a means of discussing differences, but that chasm may never be closed. Trying to explain some sophomoric male humor while sipping our cocktails, Beau announced, "I'm 13 in all the right ways!" to which Pru responded, "There are no right ways."

How about them transparent dangling carrots?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fight for Your Right to Post

Don't let anyone tell you it's the worst month of the year

This year's James River Film Festival will be the one remembered as the year of the wind. If I thought yesterday's gusts had moved on, I was sorely mistaken, as I discovered walking to the library for this afternoon's films.

And it's not just me getting blown around because the curator of last night's films never made it to Richmond at all because of his flight being canceled. And Guy Maddin, the Canadian director whose many films are screening this weekend, will be arriving on a later plane than scheduled because of windy weather.

But neither rain nor snow nor wind of afternoon would have kept me from today's screening of films devoted to protest and films that bore witness to history all the while questioning it. Most of the crowd who joined me were also of a certain age, including one filmmaker whom I overheard telling his seatmate, "I'm from a steamboat town...called Cincinnati."

I'm from a swamp town...called Washington, D.C. Just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

As it turned out, I'd already seen Gordon Ball's "Mexican Jail Footage" shot in 1968, because Ball himself had been at the Firehouse Theater in 2012 when his book about how beat poet Allen Ginsberg had hired him to run his farm in upstate New York.

Still, it was a kick to see Ball and his lean-as-jaguars (no high fructose corn syrup) buddies in a Mexican jail (being held without charges) and, in typical 1968 style, making the most of their time to the best of their capabilities. Hatha yoga sessions, smoking pot (one handful acquired from the jailer), an outing to a Chinese restaurant by said jailer (as well as a whorehouse), being taken to a fancy hotel for dinner by a friend's mother and, obviously, shooting footage on film smuggled in.

Clearly jails were held to different standards in the '60s, although it wasn't all fun and games, either. They had to pay local kids to go out and buy them food during their stay, meaning they quickly ran through their money and Ball had to sell his transistor radio to be able to eat. Luckily, he didn't sell the movie camera.

"Confrontation at Kent State" had been made in 1970 collectively by some faculty and students on Kent State's campus and featured interviews with students who'd been part of the mayhem, but also with townspeople about what had gone down.

Locals blamed everyone from the students to the governor to the school's administration to paid agitators for the deaths of four college students by National Guardsmen. It was appalling how many smug white townspeople said the students got exactly what they deserved.

Death for protesting? Um, I don't think so.

I don't know about the rest of the audience of a certain age, but I really knew nothing about the aftermath of the shootings: the tanks on campus, armed guards on corners, helicopters overhead rattling houses. Or even that students had burned a building in frustration after the deaths.

In the saddest possible way, it ended with the father of one of the victims reading a poem about his daughter.

"Buffalo Creek Revisited" about a West Virginia mining disaster caused by a coal waste dam collapsing and flooding nearby communities and killing 120 people, looked at the situation a decade later and things hadn't improved much.

Not just because the coal company didn't care but also because the land where people's houses had previously been located before being washed away had since been earmarked for a super-highway so they had nothing to go back to.

The final short had a local angle because the VCU film professor who introduced today's films was also the fresh-faced manager of the Biograph in a skinny tie being interviewed onscreen circa 1985. "Biograph Theater Handbill Rally" was a compilation of the three local newscasts reporting on the rally for freedom of speech issues after the city outlawed posting fliers on poles.

The idea was brilliant: place a pole on Biograph property and allow people to post on it, whether a copy of the Constitution, a lost pet flier or a music show, while gathering signatures for a petition to present the city to change the ordinance.

Meanwhile, behind him in the shots was the Biograph's marquee, clearly showing that "Stop Making Sense" was screening. Having to rally for the right to post public notices clearly demonstrates that sense was no longer being made in Richmond. I didn't get here until '86, but that's about the state I found it in when I got here.

As I recall anyway and I'm pretty good at recalling.

There was no recalling to do about poet Larry Levis because I'd never met him and he'd died of a cocaine overdose heart attack in 1996, except that I had heard his name mentioned at poetry readings for years as part of VCU's literary legacy.

JRFF was screening  at the Visual Arts Center tonight "A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet," a film I was especially eager to see for its local connections. A familiar poet sat down in the same row where I'd staked territory, so I did the only sensible thing and wished him happy poetry month.

Shaking his head, he joked, "It's the worst month of the year!" No, just the least celebrated and, worst of all, without cake.

The film provided a fascinating look at Levis' life, from growing up on a grape farm in California - where he'd concluded by his teen years that his choices were being a farmer or a poet - to the many wives and women he attracted, many of whom spoke lovingly about him on camera years after he'd let them down. Best of all, Levis' poems were read as part of the film, so the audience could get some sense of his words.

This was a man who could write a poem called, "Perfection of Solitude," yet he was also, as someone pointed out, a poet who kept a 12-gauge shotgun by the door, a rather un-poetic habit.

I especially enjoyed the inter-cut scenes of a reading he'd done in 1985, beer bottle at hand, looking very much the 40ish artistic/academic type who was as disarming reading to an audience as charming a woman. Ultimately, Levis believed he had to live self-destructively in order to create his best possible work so he was dead at 49 in Church Hill.

Ah, the siren song and simultaneous curse of self-medicating. Don't get me started.

The evening was capped off with a walk to Gallery 5 for their 12th anniversary celebration, a soiree with fire performers outside (whom I watched for 20 minutes standing outside in line waiting to get in), a burlesque show followed by Prabir's band and the Trillions inside and a multi-artist art show upstairs that included a giant kaleidoscope, a large sculptural piece with small doors of various materials which opened to show nude selfies sent to the artist (but not in a lustful way, the artistic statement assured us) and paintings, collages and drawings.

I've been in Jackson Ward for nearly 11 years, so Gallery 5 has me beat by one year, and at only 4 blocks from home, ranks as hands-down closest music venue for yours truly. In fact, when I finally got to the front of the line to get in, the door guy saw it was me and apologized that I'd had to wait in line given my frequent attendance cred.

No big deal. All that line time allowed for some fabulous eavesdropping from the lacrosse/soccer-playing female trio in front of me who could recall every game they'd played to the symphony musicians behind me who admitted they'd never been anywhere in J-Ward other than Gallery 5. Anywhere.

I don't have time to educate the entire population, people.

As it is, I barely have time to do all the things worth doing around here...or find people to do them with. The perfection of solitude is a work in progress.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Range Rover

If ever anyone wanted to understand the range of my taste, today would have been the day.

To start, it's the first day of the 24th annual James River Film Festival, which means kicking off a whirlwind of films between now and Sunday night, many of which call to me.

The first to get my seat in a chair was at the Main Library for the 1954 cinematic treasure (so says the Library of Congress' Film Registry and now that I've visited, I trust their judgment) made by a producer and director both blacklisted as part of the Hollywood 10 for refusing to name names.

Because of that, film labs refused to process the film and after a week, theaters refused to run the film about an actual 1951 mine strike in New Mexico.

Told neo-realistically with the director using a mixture of professional actors (including Grandpa Walton aka Will Geer, of whom host Mike Jones noted, "Grandpa Walton was a Communist" with delight) and local people - miners and their wives - for the cast, the film lacked any shallow Hollywood veneer.

And talk about ahead of its time.

What was completely surprising were the strong feminist themes as miners' wives fought for a voice in what the miners should strike for in addition to better working conditions and pay (say, indoor plumbing and hot water), but also in being allowed to physically walk the picket lines once an injunction rules that miners who strike would be arrested.

Watching these '50s-era Mexican immigrant women find their voices and take charge of the strike situation was positively inspiring. Matter of fact, the only thing more impressive was the women's expectations at neighborhood get-togethers: they'd make dinner and clean up while the men talked and played cards.

But after that, everyone knew the men were expected to dance with their wives for the remainder of the evening (even if they danced badly, the men, that is) to the radio. Or to a guitar player if it happened to be the night the radio got repossessed in front of all your friends.

So right out of the gate, the JRFF had fed my taste for American social history, early feminism, neo-realism filmmaking and it was only dinnertime.

That meant a trip to the VMFA to meet an out-of-town friend for a few hours before it was time for another film.

For me, taking the scenic route through the museum to get to the restaurant means cutting through the early 20th-century European gallery and midway though them, I saw a nerdy-handsome security guard engrossed in an Emil Nolde painting.

Teasing him about that being a perk of the job, he corrected me at once, "No, that's why I took this job." I liked him already.

Arriving at Amuse first, I scored a couple of mid-century chairs facing the majestic sunset resulting from today's bizarre revolving door of fronts - it's warm and humid, no it's cool and windy, wait, it's warm and drizzly - ordered a hibiscus lemonade of the most gorgeous pink hue and apologized to the older couple in the chairs across from me for interrupting their little cocktail hour.

The bartender was wearing a maxi dress as groovy as the chairs, complete with round holes the size of a quarter all over, making parts of the legs and shoulders visible through the holes. When she mentioned that she was getting the holes stuck on everything, I suggested that the problem was that the dress would be better worn at a party rather than work.

On the other hand, when you have a dress that cute, how can you not wear it?

Once my friend arrived, we moved so we both had a view of the sunset's cloud juggernaut over the former home for Confederate women, only bothering to look at the menu once our server had come back three times.

Creamy white bean soup with Tasso ham and scallions seemed particularly suited to the suddenly cooler temperatures and I followed that with a glass of Rose and a salad of beets, almonds, bleu cheese, pea shoots and mixed greens with an onion vinaigrette, while my companion stuck to variations on a French 75, citing a difficult week.

By the time the clock said that I needed to get to a movie, I'd been characterized as a life explorer, a Renaissance woman and someone unable to live anywhere but a walkable city with a plethora of options on all fronts.

To quote Bing Crosby, guilty as charged, I guess.

After goodnights and dropping off the auto at home, I walked over to the Grace Street Theater for what is easily this year's festival's finest movie title by a long shot: "Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red In It," essentially a Nigerian remake of "Purple Rain," the clunky title a result of there being no word for "purple" in the Tuareg language.

As soon as I got to the lobby, I found familiar faces: the photographer, the world DJ, the record store owner, the Bollywood DJ, the writer, the pariah, the record collector, the metalhead, the power pop singer. As someone joked, it was all the cool kids, but really, he meant all the middle aged dudes and a couple of women.

Truth be told, not everyone's schedule allows for a 9:30 movie screening on a Thursday night, even one with multiple hooks.

Too bad for them because the film borrowed heavily from Prince's debut - troubled relationship with father, love interest who throws jewelry, envious fellow musicians, purple motorcycle - while being completely original given that it involved nomadic Africans who trade pop music gems on their cellphones as a way to hear what's new and happening.

Our hero even wore purple, albeit what looked like shiny purple African pajamas with flip-flops, which, by the way, is also what he wore to ride his motorcycle around the desert.

And of course the soundtrack was phenomenal, merging Hendrix-like electric guitar with traditional Tuareg music for something George Harrison would probably have loved.

So my second film of the day had satisfied my music lust, fulfilled my appreciation for DIY filmmaking and provided an African cultural lesson.

As for that range, it's only a long way from feminist communism to left-handed guitars if you don't go by way German-Danish painters.

Just ask any Renaissance woman.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Music and Passion, Always the Fashion

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. ~ Kipling

So call me a word junkie, but the most curious kind of junkie.

Question: In a post-fact world, when we read words telling us that Barry Manilow is gay - by the way, something we've known since the 70s  - are we to presume this is but another example of alternative truth and he really isn't gay? Has it come to that?

Or are they merely distractionary words meant to keep us from noticing something far more dire? Because Barry deserves better, if only for his chutzpah.

I clearly remember hearing a Casey Kasem Top 40 show where he told a story about Barry, Springsteen and Billy Joel having a conversation at a dive venue when they were just starting out and Barry insisted he'd be bigger than either one of them.

I'm inclined to think he was mistaken, but that's just me. Still, looks like he made it.

And speaking of words, I got a slew of them from my Dad yesterday when I showed up to help Mom with a few things only to discover she'd broken a temporary crown and was headed off to the dentist, leaving Dad and I to take care of her "honey-do" list. As if.

I mean, we moved a desk and rearranged the computer's wiring, but along the way he told me about why he'd given up cigarettes in 1991, a story I'd never heard. Hell, I don't recall he was still smoking as late as the '90s.

I should have known there'd been competition involved given my Dad's athletic nature. He told me how we were at the engagement party for Sister #6 when Sister #3 threw down the gauntlet, saying she could go longer without a beer than he could without a cig.

Three weeks later, she was drinking again while 26 years later, he still doesn't smoke. How had I never heard this chestnut before?

While we were planting moonflowers on the screened porch, apropos of nothing, he said, "You know, it's an extraordinary string of circumstances that led to me even meeting your mother. I was in the army and the first time I was supposed to ship out to Europe, I was sick. The second time I was supposed to go to the South Seas, but I had a sports injury. Finally, they gave me a choice of Fort Lee or Fort McNair and I sure wasn't southern enough to want to go to Petersburg." So he went to D.C. and somehow met Mom.

Those words would never have come out of him if Mom had been there.

But that was yesterday. Today's words came courtesy of Poetry Month and a reading at University of Richmond, where I arrived a tad late (that labyrinthine campus) and while there were no multiple seats together, singletons can almost always find a lone chair.

Reading first was lanky and bespectacled Peter LaBerge coming across more like a theater student than a burgeoning poet with his animated reading and ease in talking to the room, looking up between each line of verse as if to re-engage us or perhaps check who was looking at their screens.

His elegiac poetry concerned the difficulties of growing up gay in suburban Ohio and several pieces were devoted to gay people who'd been senselessly attacked outside Target or in Texas simply because of their sexuality (too soon to make a crack about that being a factor in Barry's decision to hold off...discuss?).

Admitting he wrote a lot of dark poems, he went for lighter, reading one inspired by a man who wore high heels on "America's Next Top Model" and took guff from another contestant who had a problem with it. Peter could not only relate, but, said, "There was a poem there."

And there was but honestly, it was very dark, too.

"Thank you all for using your time to come here on a Wednesday night," he said earnestly from the lectern. "It is a good use of your time, though."

Chen Chen read next and his book was for sale tonight even though it doesn't technically come out until next Tuesday, so we were told to keep our mouths shut about that. He used humor and personal experience to write poetry about leaving China as a 3-year old and now not knowing whether his memories are real or imagined.

In "First Light" he wondered, "What is it to not remember your life?" He recalled his Mom telling him he'd have to be three times better than the white kids to be taken seriously, a surefire way to make a kid wish he wasn't Chinese. That and the frustration of being interchangeable in the eyes of white people.

He spoke of Paris and how it's impossible to be angry in Paris. Mad? Yes. Sad? Sure, but angry? Not in Paris, he asserted. I don't recall feeling angry in Paris last summer, so I think he's right on this one.

But mainly it was the underpinnings of a humorous observer of the universe that set his poetry apart.

Tarfia Faizullah, whom I'd heard read her challenging poems (about the lives of Bangladeshi women, about coming up in an Anglican school) as far back as 2010, was third and had a bit more gravitas then her predecessors.

Interestingly, she began by telling us that her dark focus had softened over the past few years, to the point that she added the word "illuminated" to her new book title in hopes of alerting readers to a shift in outlook. Some of her work dealt with being a brown-skinned woman and the assumptions that go along with that.

Eventually she pointed out her grad school professor, the poet David Wojahn, sitting in the second row, a fact that was making her nervous despite now living in Michigan, hanging around with fiction writers and long out of grad school. I can't imagine why when he was practically beaming with pride as she read a poem about water that had been inspired by signs pointing toward the city of Flint.

And while I wasn't beaming, my soul was most definitely feeling bathed in a calm I hadn't possessed when I walked in. It had been too long since I closed my eyes and let someone read poetry to me.

Coming back through the Fan, I stopped at Garnett's for a farmer's salad enjoyed at the counter directly in front of the open Dutch door, and every now and then, I could feel or smell a hint of Spring flowery breeze wafting in.

Since the soundtrack was right up my alley - guitar-driven indie rock, so New Pornographers, Wild Nothing, Real Estate - I didn't much need other amusements, so the two guys on a first date behind me were icing on the cake as they politely asked each other questions, each one proving a little more just how little they had in common.

Let me put it this way: the got separate checks.

Doing far better at connecting was the blond couple at the end of the counter - his stool swiveled toward hers, her hand on his arm to make a point - except that I found it a little weird that they both had on light blue and white gingham shirts.

When I asked the server who cut my slice of Almond Joy cake if she thought their matching attire was intentional, she said no. Seems that one day three Garnett's employees, including herself, had come to work in burgundy pants and blue denim shirts with no coordination whatsoever.

Randomness apparently happens. Hello, my life.

The two older woman at a table at the other end gabbed non-stop as if sharing state secrets, the only one of which I heard in its entirety was, "That's because the restaurant owner's mother was into horses." I only wish I understood whatever point that answer addressed.

Chances are there's a poem in it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Lunatic is a Minority of One

Fact #1: Watching "Nineteen Eight Four" would have been disturbing and difficult at any point in the 33 years since it came out.

Fact #2: Watching "Nineteen Eight Four" in a post-January 20th country was completely terrifying with far too many similarities to the shifting media landscape raining down alternative facts on us every day for the past 11+ weeks.

But since the Byrd Theater was showing it as part of a nationwide 90-theater movement to protest the idiot-in-chief and his proposed cuts to cultural programs like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Byrd had decided that it would be a benefit for our local NPR station, WCVE.

With a fellow screaming liberal in tow, we headed to Carytown (where he promptly locked his keys in his car, but that was a problem for later) to see a film he hadn't seen since 1984 and one I'd never seen, although both of us had read the book eons ago.

A character who rewrites history for mass consumption - instead of saying chocolate rations are being cut from 30% to 25%, he couches it as an increase from 20 to 25%, thereby ensuring the news will be received more happily - that's some scary stuff right there when you're talking about using that method on more significant issues than chocolate.

Tonight's screening was also a tribute to its star, the late John Hurt, but I didn't know until the film began that Richard Burton was in it, too. I'd call that a fine representation of major British acting talent right there.

Because I tend toward the squeamish, the torture scenes were mostly impossible for me to watch, but even hearing his agony without seeing it was still incredibly difficult.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.

And because I can't help myself, when he says "I love you" at the end, I chose to believe he meant the woman he'd been caught with and not the state that had brainwashed him. I have to think that way.

After a heavy reminder of the bleakness of what happens when a leader demands complete obedience, demonizes foreigners as enemies and makes up nonsense and calls them facts, we were subdued, starving and committed even further to the Resistance.

With just minutes to spare before the kitchen closed, Can Can took us in, fed and Loire-wined us - the bartender all the while providing his corny take on the restaurant business, alcoholism and the key role of dishwashers  - with a plat du jour of beef brisket, beer-cooked cabbage and rainbow carrots  for him and onion soup gratine and crispy Brussels sprouts for me.

When the organ-based server pointed at the ceiling and questioned the music I was enjoying, the bartender was on point, immediately dubbing it, "Booker T. and the MGs meets the Munsters" and noting a similarity to Booker T's "Green Onions," a soul classic.

By the time we finished, the staff was sweeping, wiping and putting away, a sure sign they wanted us to leave. All we asked was for a butter knife to aid in unlocking the car without a key and they were kind enough to oblige. I now know how easy popping a lock can be.

The good news is Big Brother obviously couldn't track me through my non-existent cell phone. That said, I'd be among the first charged if we had thought police and among the last willing to silence my opinions.

Choosing between freedom and happiness is not an option.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

We Can Still Be Friends

With time you learn there are various levels of friendship.

Even the guys down on Leigh Street selling crabs are sort-of-friends, in that we see each other regularly, speak often and, above all, they were ready to open a can of whoop-ass when they heard what some guy had said to me as I walked through the neighborhood. Today, it was letting me know that crabs are in already. Casual but steadfast acquaintances.

There's FotoBoy, a friend of the past 8 years (with whom I had two dates before we were smacking our foreheads and realizing we wanted friendship) who is pretty much at my beck and call when I need an extra mouth for work. That we can talk about the nitty gritty in our lives only adds to the depth of the friendship. That he appreciates how excited I get when a train conductor waves at me is gravy.

There's the friend I'm still getting to know who's given me an intermittent front row seat to watching him figure out who he is and what he wants, a fascinating chance for me to find out what makes him tick with no risk involved.

Since it has been four weeks since our last rendezvous, I knew I could count on some new revelations, maybe even a new character or two in his life. When last I'd seen the stubborn one, things were heating up with a woman I'd pegged as high maintenance from the start, but he was still dazzled by how fast she was on wheels, or at least, that's what he told me. For the sake of discussion, she was dubbed "Bachelorette #1."

The latest update on all that personal business was delivered after a warm walk in a light drizzle from Jackson Ward to Dinamo - spent discussing what a creature of habit he thinks I am because, he says, I always choose restaurants within my sphere, which I suppose means walking distance - where we took seats at the bar next to a couple discussing church business and adult children who can't problem solve.

I'm not sure which topic was more depressing.

Our meal was anything but, with his homey and hearty fava bean and maitake mushroom pasta and my seafood salad with enough clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, octopus, onions, lemon and oil to mimic a meal eaten seaside to guarantee we both wound up happy campers. A glass of Orvietto and a sea salt Nutella cookie took me to the finish line.

Meanwhile, the owner shelled fava beans nearby and we talked about his love life and yes, since we met last, onto the scene had come a new contestant whom we dubbed "Bachelorette #2," after briefly considering calling her "No Agenda" but deciding that such a phrase could also apply to Bachelorette #1.

The fact that they both, in fact, have agendas was deeper than he wanted to go tonight. So far, Bachelorette #2's only obvious weakness (and it's worth noting given his personality) is that she's terribly compliant and not especially opinionated.

Some friends would call that boring, but I try to be more diplomatic than that.

Leaving Dinamo shortly before the last customer could, we got as far as Grace and Laurel before the pouring rain was too much to slog through to get back to my place and his car, while Ipanema was a block and a half away. It wasn't a cold or unpleasant rain but it was definitely a directional one and we were both getting soggy.

As always, Ips was an oasis of warmth and soft lighting and with glasses of Spanish white and red in front of us, as good a place as any to continue exploring why people do certain things and what that tells others about them.

Coming in out of the deluge, a guy sat down next to me and began writing in a Moleskin. When I asked the subject, he said he was working on his thesis and you know I had to know. "Disaster Capitalism," he informs me.

My next question is what year was he born, an inquiry that so delights him he throws back his head, smiling.

"That is the best question ever asked!" he claims before explaining how his thesis deals with a post-human worldscape. My questions continue, my friend returns from the head and joins in and the future thinker asks if we're professors at VCU. Negative, but we play them in bars.

When I ask if he has a happy social life around working on such nihilistic theories, he assures me he's an optimist, albeit one in a post-human world. Yet again, I marvel at how differently his generation is wired than mine.

By the time our wine glasses are empty, the rain has stopped, the temperature and humidity have dropped, and we bid farewell to our disaster capitalist.

Could I see him as a friend? Certainly with his polar opposite worldview and comparatively brief body of life experience, I could enjoy many conversations delving into his thoughts and theories, just to hear them. I'd definitely have myriad questions to ask him.

While I'm sitting here typing this, the phone rings despite the relatively late hour. "Are you with a man?' asks FotoBoy - aka he who appreciates my enthusiasm for life - in a hushed voice as if someone might be listening.

Only a really good friend would have the nerve to call at this hour and check on whether I'm alone or not and then ask about lunch plans. But come on, friend, have we met? Do you think I'd answer the phone if I weren't alone?

And yes to lunch, always yes to more conversations. They're the stuff that the best friendships are made of.