Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Getting Busy On My Life Soon

When better than a solo birthday eve to reflect back on the early years that got me here?

Full as the card catalog in my brain may be (both family and friends defer to my collective memory rather than storing memories themselves), much of its archives are so densely packed at this point that they aren't easily accessed.

To the rescue: my handwritten journal, discovered in the bottom of a drawer today.

July 27, 1973
There was a picture on the front page of the Washington Post this morning showing the unanimous vote of the Watergate committee to bring Nixon for testimony. Should be interesting if he does appear.

July 28, 1973
Began Shakespeare's "As You Like It" yesterday and finished it today. I didn't know I had it in me. Really enjoyed it. I'd love to read them all soon, but I haven't got the time.

August 2, 1973
Roger wanted to see me badly tonight, or so he said. That was such a nice thing to tell me. Karen, the incurable romantic.

August 31, 1973
My third big day at University of MD. Botany lab doesn't look very encouraging. All that labeling could mean trouble. The pollution lately has been around 165 (100 being unsafe), which is the alert level. It just hangs in the air...The Watergate committee told Nixon he had to hand over his famous tapes.

September 27, 1973
The news is discussing the current gas station strike. They are closing to protest the prices of Phase IV (the illustrious plan of our wonderful leader)... My first hourly exams are coming up and I should be studying.

October 8, 1973
I heard Jane Fonda and Tom Haydn (husband activist) speak Friday. It was pretty interesting.

October 15, 1973
Agnew resigned last Wednesday and pleaded "no contest" to an income tax evasion charge. Nixon nominated Gerald Ford (minority leader) for the vice presidency. Agnew resigned on the agreement that he'd get court leniency and no more charges pressed...What a sad state of affairs this country is in.

April 3, 1974
The bookstore's still my part-time job and so far, I have no summer job. Roger got one at Greenbelt Park but he has to get a haircut first. And get this: he's going to do it!!! For a job! A year and a half's growth cut off! Oh, Pompidou died yesterday. France is all a-twitter wondering who will succeed him.

September 23, 1975
Kelsey and I went down to a club in Georgetown to dance Saturday night. Danced four straight hours...Bob had a party last week and we all had a great time. Got home about 4:45.

December 1, 1975
Bought a car last Friday! Blue VW, '66 that runs well...Jennie and I have taken up jogging  a mile every morning from 7:00 to 7:30. It feels really good and I don't mind the early hours at all.

December 7, 1975
I called Bob H. the other night to finally clear the air. I'm not sure if it did any good, though. He wants to either date but act the same at work or else continue ignoring each other like we are. I'd like to just be friends... Leo got married Friday at the courthouse. I was really surprised when he told us. Maybe he'll settle down a little, who knows? Leo was the one who told me to make up with Bob. He thought I'd probably blow it, though.

January 28, 1976
 I met a new person. Her name is Bonnie and she lives in Bowie but she's from California. We can talk about anything (and usually do!).

April 23, 1976
One month exactly until my birthday! We've had 80 and 90 degree weather all month. It's really weird. I can't ever remember April being like this...Curt and I saw America at the Capital Center last night. We saw a couple of ballets at the Kennedy Center the week before. Bonnie and I saw Carole King down at Constitution Hall back in March. The weekend before my birthday is the Paul McCartney concert and I'm really looking forward to that. Curt and I saw the Boston Symphony at the Kennedy Center a couple of weeks ago...I've been doing 40 sit-ups every night for the past month or so.

July 27, 1976
I registered to vote. The Democrats nominated Carter. It looks like the Peanut King may be our next President after all...Curt and I went to see "All's Well That Ends Well" at the Folger Theater. It was really super. I'd never been there before (nor had he)...Bonnie is teaching me to play tennis.

August 17, 1976
Curt wants to move to California next year. If he goes, so will I. He's worried I'll miss my friends and family but Bonnie says I'll love California. She's trying to convince Gerry to move out there but he doesn't want to.Who knows? Things could happen in the next year to change everyone's plans.

September 3, 1976
It's so unusual for me to make an entry in this book at night - and a Friday night at that...I saw "Same Time Next Year" with Cheryl at the National Theater Wednesday night. It was the funniest play I've ever seen.

April 5, 1977
Bonnie and Gerry may be moving to Boston in June!  I don't know what I'll do if Bonnie moves away. As it is, I can barely go two days without talking to her.  We're going to the Cap Center to see Boston tonight.

May 12, 1977
What do you do when you're bored all of a sudden and everything is routine? I'm not unhappy but I feel like I do the same things in the same way all the time. I wish I could think of some way to make this summer more exciting. It never does any good to get depressed and feel sorry for yourself (especially like now because I'm unsure why I feel this way) but then how can you stop yourself?

July 15, 1977
Sandy and I are in Guadeloupe...Monday breakfast: first croissant (good). Dancing: met Americans, hot!...Tuesday: beach and sunfish (always knew I'd like sailing)...Wednesday lunch: real Creole meal, stuffed conch (delicious!)...Thursday breakfast: boring, same ham and roll...Saturday afternoon: went to secluded nude beach to lay out...Sunday breakfast: I may turn into a piece of ham....

August 23, 1977
I registered for classes today. Schedule:
Art history -The Renaissance in Italy
Art history - Impressionism
Government
Sociology
English
...I am outside now and I am also listening to records.  It doesn't even stay light until 9 p.m. now. I guess Summer is fading fast. "Lemme go, lemme go," that 's the song now playing. P.S. I am listening through open windows...This reminds me of someone: "Baby, baby, I can live without you." Remember now? Tear stained lashes laced the pillow. Oh, my god! I'm turning into a romance writer! ...Elvis died last week. Sebastian Cabot died today...A guy walking his dog just asked, "How's your old man doing?" Etiquette 1977- Not how's your "husband doing" or "boyfriend doing," it's "old man doing." My boyfriend is fine.

May 31, 1978
Bonnie is down now visiting (I love it). She got down on my birthday (my 22nd- what an old lady I'm getting to be!)...Curt and I went through a bad period about a month ago, but that's over. He was feeling neglected  so I've made a point to spend more time with him. Mom gave me one of those talks about "losing a real gem" if I didn't shape up, so I've been thinking a lot about that...He's sweet, kind, patient (hard with me), gentle, generous (to a fault), loving and everything I could want except for deep-rooted male chauvinistic qualities which I would have to learn to live with...And would our relationship change if I did say yes to marrying him? Will we each subconsciously begin to role play? I dread such a thought and yet, who is to say?

November 14, 1978
Old Grandma died on November 2.  It was the saddest day I can imagine...I visited her every day except one during the three weeks she was in the hospital...I always teased her that I was her favorite...One day when I walked into her hospital room, her new roommate said, "You must be Karen, her granddaughter, the one she's always bragging about. She's always telling me how ambitious you are - how busy!" I just smiled but if Grandma had only known how much it pleased me that she would boast to a stranger about me- well, that's made me happy for weeks.

January 3, 1979
I can't believe I've been keeping up with this journal for 5 1/2 years - boy, all the things that have happened since 1973!... I'm going to be 23 this year and Curt will be 30! Boy, rocking chairs, here we come! If I don't get busy on my life soon, it'll be too late.

May 23, 2017
My, my, young Karen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I still read the Washington Post every day. Let's see, the lively arts - Shakespeare, ballet, symphony, theater - continue to seduce me weekly. Even now, guys who can pull off long hair, nights devoted to dancing, endless live music and travel float my boat. I'm also just now noticing a thread of Virgos.

No memory of discussing a move to California; botany lab was as awful as I'd expected and, if I hadn't seen it in my own youthful scrawl, I wouldn't have believed I ever jogged - even for a mile - much less at that hour.

Oh, and learning tennis? I only let her attempt to teach me because I wanted a really cute tennis dress I saw in a newspaper ad (no, really). Didn't get it.

At the start of this year's birthday, I could say the country remains mired in a sad state of affairs but the good news is, I'm not yet in a rocking chair (is that even still a phrase?).

And, for better or for worse, I'm still the same incurable romantic I've always been.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It Shoulda Been You

It's a Saturday night tradition to progressively celebrate my birthday.

The past three years, I've been accompanied by two favorite couples, but this year, I wanted a third dynamic duo added to the mix. The funny part was her comment, "Wow, we finally made the cut! I guess we were just being auditioned up 'till now."

Not true, but their presence was a lovely addition to the party.

Things kicked off at Metzger because Mr. Fine Wine's music never gets old and just after opening is the very best time to enjoy Metzger before it's noisy and overcrowded. I arrived at the bar to find four of my six friends awaiting my arrival with bubbles in front of them in my honor.

I'm not entirely convinced that they wouldn't have been drinking bubbles anyway, but still, it was a lovely greeting. The late arrivals merited ordering another bottle.

With the early evening sun beating down on Metzger's shaded windows, my friends ate through multiple cheese and charcuterie plates, a couple of specials of pork meatballs, Morattico oysters (home to my parents), a salad of English breakfast and watermelon radishes and, most impressively, roasted asparagus over the pinkest of shrimp mousse.

It was here that we learned about the seafood/kiss rule already well-established by the newlyweds. You see, she doesn't care for seafood, so he refrains from eating it until after she's had enough wine not to mind. Such was his rationale for turning down Morattico oysters before he scored an early kiss.

I'd be the first to admit I love to kiss, but I can't see turning down a perfectly delicious oyster, either.

Mowing through food like we didn't still have two more stops to make, I gently reminded my posse not to overly front-load. Not everyone took the gentle reminder well, but part of that is due to the siren song of Metzger.

Our next stop was Nota Bene, where we went from a bright, sunlit space to the dimness of multiple candles and a wood-burning oven. Holmes regaled us with tales from the accounting world, there was talk of men in yoga pants, and, in an extraordinary moment, the entire table voted for Germany over Provence when it came to drinking Rose.

In fact, the Villa Wolf Rose carried us though multiple plates of sugar toads, braised fennel with tomato sauce and breadcrumbs, the grilled cauliflower with fresno peppers that made Holmes a believer, squid ink pasta with scallops and pizzas of at least three varieties.

Anyone watching our feeding frenzy might have been inclined to judge...and justifiably so.

Once we had hit every possible savory note, we moved on to L'Opossum for dessert at the sole dining room that's actually dimmer than Nota Bene. The next step would've been complete darkness.

Instead we indulged in apperitifs and cocktails - the Laura Palmer, the Violet Femme - and every chocolate dessert on the menu, plus apple tartine and creme brulee. When I blew out my candle, it was with a very specific wish.

Gifts beyond the company of good friends were opened and I was the happy recipient of a very groovy beach towel, loads of vinyl and a bottle of South African Pinotage brought from the source that I hope to enjoy with abandon once I find another Pinotage lover beyond the gift-giver.

He's gotta be out there somewhere. That's what birthday wishes are for, right?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Midnight Love and Cheap Cigarettes

And other tales from 36 hours with a Kiwi.

One minute I'm at a wine dinner with "my" people and next thing I know, I'm having breakfast for the second day in a row with someone I didn't know a day and a half ago.

Camden's wine dinner Thursday night featured the bounty of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand courtesy of Supernatural Wines and the invitation carried a clear warning, "These are pricey, high acid wines with as much character as the man who runs the company (the ladies will love him! the men will envy him!)."

It didn't take much to round up four wine-loving sots friends to join me for the wine and wisdom of a stylish and soft spoken Kiwi.

His small production wines made for wonderful pairings from a chef who excels at playing food and wine matchmaker.

The "Supernatural" organic and bio-dynamic Sauvignion Blanc sang with oysters and pear slaw, "Spook Light, a skin-fermented Pinot Gris, made for a killer pairing with housemade Merguez, Kielbasa, Point Reye's Bleu and Manchego and finally, "Green Glow" skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc was swoon-worthy with grilled swordfish over red wheatberry salad with dill butter sauce.

By the time the dinner was finished, I'd learned that our visitor had spent the day being ferried around by wine reps and was hoping to experience Richmond  a tad more fully. Enter yours truly, with offers to show him some of the good stuff in his free time.

Turns out the appeal of a sunny tour guide negates any loose plans he might have been entertaining about getting right to work in the morning. For me, here's my chance to make a visitor love Richmond in record time.

My main challenge is that New Zealanders are unaccustomed to humidity and soon every square inch of his face and arms are covered in beads of sweat. I assure him he'll adjust but the crescent shaped sweat stains on the front of his shirt reappear periodically.

Two topics dominate our walk: architecture and trees. He's agog at the former because so much of New Zealand's is modern and not architect-designed and charmed by the second's lush feel.

We start at Perly's - but not too early because of how late the post-wine dinner salon had gone - because I sense he'll need a sturdy breakfast to overcome last night and stand up to what I have planned.

He immediately orders the Schnorrer, a platter laden with poached eggs, roast beef, his first potato latkes and rye toast, which I suggested he order since we were in a Jewish deli. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say he found the meal life-giving.

From there we walked to a nearby market so he could score cigarettes at which point, sated and with nicotine coursing through his veins, he decided to blow off work entirely. I led him directly to Steady Sounds where we both found some gems in a batch of used records recently arrived while he also picked up the new "Twin Peaks" soundtrack.

It was when I took my records to the counter to pay that I saw the familiar face of the owner as he was busy pricing even more fresh used arrivals. Glancing at my purchases - Janet Jackson, The Persuasions, Marvin Gaye - he inquires, "Karen, need any "Midnight Love?"

If my mind didn't live in the gutter, I might have responded with anything other than "always," but what he meant was Marvin's final studio album from 1982 and, yes, I needed it for $4.

By this point, the visitor had proven his mettle and quite happily accompanied me all over town.

After dropping off our purchases, I led him to the river through the gauntlet of RiverRock preparations, so he could experience the pipeline walkway, to the point that he was even game when I suggested we remove our shoes and wade through the last stretch still underwater.

Don't try this yourselves, kids, I am a pro.

Because other, lesser guides (aka wine reps) had raved about the T Pot Bridge to him, we lapped that, too, but I didn't sense he liked it better than the pipeline. Who would?

By the time I'd walked his Kiwi butt off, he was crying uncle for a seat inside and a glass of wine. I ensured both by landing at Saison Market where we indulged in New Zealand wine, (albeit not his,   which was being stocked on the shelf as we watched), sipping glasses of Cambridge Road Vineyard's orange wine, the appealingly funky Cloud Walker.

And speaking of, the sky suddenly darkened and rain poured down on the hot streets out front for exactly two minutes while we drank, and then it was back to being a sunny day.

We slurped Wicomico oysters and a cheese plate at Camden's while discoursing on literature and indie book stores with the she-woman happy hour chef fan club. Then it was on to music and cocktails at Savory Grain, where Mikrowaves' horn section kept the vibe soulful and lead singer Eddie welcomed all the visitors from other countries in the  audience (I may have mentioned my companion's provenance to him) with a smirk.

Of course there had to be another late night cigarette run, then GWARbar, which was his idea because he'd been taken there Wednesday night at 1:57 a.m. and wanted a fuller experience.

Leave it to me to make sure he had it with Espolon and warm pork rinds.

To the delight of both of us, one of the kitchen guys decided there had been quite enough metal playing at GWARbar for one Saturday evening and proceeded to go pop on us and I mean pop: Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Starship, Toto.

Kiwi even requested a classic -  America's "Horse With No Name" - and was obliged within three songs. Claims he likes the beat, surely a rare compliment for such a mellow '70s band.

Naturally a former denizen of London is a fan of electronica and dance music.

Eating breakfast at the counter of 821 Cafe this morning to thrash music ("Not exactly your normal cafe music, hmm?" he observes drolly), I pointed out that we'd eaten an awful lot of meals together lately for people who'd been complete strangers as recently as Thursday afternoon.

"When are you coming to visit New Zealand?" he asks in between sips of a Bloody Mary made with Texas Beach Bloody mix, a reference I have to explain since I hadn't included Texas Beach on our stroll. Instagram photos naturally ensued.

Like the rye toast yesterday, the biscuit on his plate was completely my idea since he was unfamiliar with them and needed a lesson on southern eating. "It's kind of big, isn't it?" he wonders before I suggest adding butter.

A tour guide's work is never finished.

At least it doesn't end officially until you've walked your guest to get cigarettes yet again ("They're so cheap!" he marvels, always followed by an earnest, "I'm going to quit very soon")) and waited with him for his train to arrive - mind you, over an hour late - enjoying possibly the last conversation you may have with this person.

Neither love nor envy were on the table, but the 11th hour dynamic certainly made for compelling trackside diversion. How unlikely and ultimately enjoyable to spend such focused time with someone you're unlikely to see again.

It was a pleasure, in other words.

Let's just call it a fabulously accented kick-off to my impending birthday. Character reigned supreme.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Small and Sweet

'Tis the season for reclaiming the 'hood.

Finals are over, apartments are being emptied out and Jackson Ward's true population - those here for more than a few semesters -  gets pared back to its devotees: the musically-inclined scientist, the couple who were original pioneers, the slightly OCD porch painter, the perky dog-walking couple.

All of a sudden, parking spaces reveal themselves where parent-bought vehicles recently occupied valuable real estate. For a change, the VCU circulator vans aren't endlessly circulating outside my open windows.

Practically as soon as the latest rains of May let up, visions of strawberry picking began dancing in my head. Setting my recent mental machinations aside, there's a lot to be said for doing something as simple and honest as picking food from a field, even if it's only 8 pounds' worth.

And if not in May, then not at all, at least in these parts.

At the uncivilized hour of 9:07 (notable in and of itself), I was calling a friend - the one with a fiancee and two kids, so plenty of berry lovers, making him a sure bet to say yes - inviting him to join me for a morning of migrant labor-like activity.

I have plenty of friends I would never think of asking to join me for such a thing, but he's not one of them.

Both of us were flattered when the woman who provided our picking baskets complimented us on our wide-brimmed hats, but once in the fields, we saw that it was more about the novelty value of them than anything else.

Easily 98% of the people out there, adults and children, were hat-less despite the clear sky, bright sun and morning heat. What self-respecting fruit picker doesn't wear a little shade?

I don't want to come across as some sort of expert field hand because I'd never picked a strawberry until I moved to Richmond in '86. For whatever reason, I took to the ritual that led me out of the city every May and got me bent over green rows looking for the reddest berries.

Maybe it's a continuity thing. So much has changed about my life in those three decades, but some habits I hang on to. There's never been a summer where I didn't go stay at the beach. I can't remember the last time I drove over a bridge without having at least one window down, even in winter.

I can't help but acknowledge that picking strawberries satisfies something in me, providing a, what, connection to who I was? Remnant of who I thought I'd be? Excuse to do something mindless and yet productive, so unlike how I earn my living?

Too complicated. Eating warm berries out of the field soothes the soul and stains the fingers.

Does a body good every May.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Whence This Perfume Floating Ev'rywhere

If the poetry that is May in Richmond can be conveyed in one breath, it's the headiness of honeysuckle.

Separating the manicured grounds of Ethyl Corp. from the historic sprawl of Tredegar Iron Works or weaving a dense hedge with brambly pink-flowered blackberries along the Manchester canal, the head-filling aroma provides an olfactory soundtrack to a walkabout.

It's on a May day like this one that Mac and I will see at least a dozen great blue herons who've set up sentinel posts along both sides of the river. Those standing on the north side are tucked into shady nooks near the pipeline, while those roosting on the southern shores seem content to perch on rocks and observe nearby fishermen.

Or...? If you were to ask me, I'd guess that they're all on the prowl for mates. It's the lusty month of May, after all.

Even the crabbiest weather wimps are going on record as being enamored of this particular May weather paradigm - sunny, '70s, cooler nights, low humidity - but, truth be told, I'd like a bit more humidity in the air. The air is softer with extra moisture caught up in it and May cries out for softer days and nights before the serious biz of Summer arrives.

May means that outdoor music is ramping up in earnest and a chance subterranean encounter last evening reminded me that there are times when I would want to make my way to a park at sunset.

The enveloping pleasures of listening to the Marcus Tenney Trio - complete with drum kit (!!), trumpet and upright bass - in a tiny park, under slowly deepening skies that draw out blinking fireflies is a well-composed example of what lies just barely beneath the surface of this offbeat charmer of a town I call home.

It's like that time I went to the Byrd Theater because I needed to laugh, only to well up instead when Bob Gulledge began playing "What a Wonderful World" on the mighty Wurlitzer before the movie.

Richmond, you may not be subtle but you're nothing if not relentless.

After my review of a Richmond institution hits the stands today, I heard from a friend and food writer, who opines, "Hi, I loved your Sally Bell's review today. You nailed it - vibe, food, history. Thank you."

I'm not entirely certain what the appreciation being proffered is about, but I have a guess.

A food establishment that's been around for 91 years deserves a little respect, not to mention context. My review had looked at the restaurant's cult of personality and explained it to those unfamiliar with it in a manner that could only have been done by someone who'd been in Richmond for at least 1/3 of the restaurant's life.

Someone newer to Richmond or even just less familiar with mid-Atlantic culinary cultural history, might have tried to compare it to or look for its place among the artisan and quirky food businesses that have sprouted like fungi after a rainy spell in trendy and trending neighborhoods.

Not this long-timer.

I took it back to my own prehistoric memories and a time of gentler social mores. While not exactly standing on the lawn and shaking my fist, my words were a reminder to more recent come-heres of a world where white cardboard boxed lunches were tied with string and included something as civilized as a cheese wafer.

It's living in a town where someone reads your words and bothers to extend appreciation. It's being able to walk for miles over or alongside the water before rejoining the urban world. It's music in a park in the approaching dark. It's tangles of overgrown honeysuckle that smell like what youthful me thought summer romance should.

It's living in Richmond. It's May, the month of "yes, you may."

Best I get on with it, everyone hints and hopes. Doing my best.

Friday, May 12, 2017

On Lonerism

Where is your blog? You know I live for that little bit of Karen everyday. Are you ok? Just making sure you are ok. If you need anything, let me know. I would do anything for you and I hope you know that! Love you.

I can't very well ignore the entreaties of the one person - family aside - who's loved me the longest.

My blog has been on hiatus since last weekend. I have a lot on my mind and I need time to retreat, work through some things that are occupying my brain to the point of waking me up and infiltrating my dreams, and ponder.

No, it never occurred to me that anyone, even you, lived for the little bit - and, let's be honest, usually a lot - of Karen I put out to the world every day.

The chronicling of my thoughts, opinions and activities are meant to be an historical record of 21st century life for some future cultural historian digging deep to see what kinds of things occupied ordinary people or, if it happens to be some sort of women's studies scholar, provide a snapshot that reflects a female of a certain generation, class and education level.

That my posts also provide a link to the people who care about me, though, has become the best reason to keep it up.

Am I okay? Yes and no, just like any other human being. Am I sorting through who I am and why I haven't been more successful in some areas of personal growth and relationships? Yes, definitely. Am I wishing I could just disappear and not ever feel sad again? No, I'm not.

As for your offer of anything, I do need things, but these things I need aren't the kind I can ask for. Coming to terms with what I do need and want and am willing to work for is on my shoulders. I wish I could just say "This will make me happy" and have it handed to me, but life has already shown me that it doesn't work that way.

So instead I think because I'm an over-thinker. Lately, I've given in to brooding and with that, I've taken on the habits of a loner. Atypically for me, that means not going out in the evenings, giving me nothing compelling to put out to the blogosphere.

Gemini, You are likely to feel as if you are in the middle of a difficult situation. The less said, the better. It would be best if you stayed centered, knowing what you want and expect from someone else.

This is me staying centered and saying less, while figuring out what I want and expect from myself. Love you, too.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Where Have You Been?

Celebrating the wedding of friends turns out like nothing that could have been anticipated.

The setting is bucolic, the weather cooperates, but only barely. These two people I have come to honor are in love as only young people can be, eager, open and confident their love will last a lifetime. I'm inclined to think it will.

But the moon shines
as bright as my adoration 
for you tonight,
fleeting or no
They both have their moods,
but like the moon,
even when shadowed from the glorious and warm sun,
my love for you still exists, 
whole and humbling,
Circling just out of sight

I have just enough time to greet the bride and groom, chat with the groom's parents and briefly with the two couples I know before it becomes clear I would be better serving the party as an extra set of hands rather than a frivolous guest.

The moon again,
Waxing, not quite as full as last
leaves long shadows 
across the would-be vineyard
Through the grackle feet
of the budding gums
Scratching at the sky

The hard-working brick oven needs more than one person to feed it personal pizzas, each crafted according to the ingredient list written on the back of a paper plate by a hungry guest.

Believing that I am just the person to assist in the endeavor, I volunteer and am soon busy rolling out dough balls, spreading toppings and chatting with guests who watch our every move. "I like to bake," says one wide-eyed 6-year old. "When did you start baking?"

A lifetime ago.

My bearded friend comes over to take a photo of me working, observing, "In seven years, I've never seen you actually working." I point out the same is true for me about him.

Midnight in the country
All windows and doors open,
Fantastic breeze 
with three layers of clouds
Moving past the moon
at different speeds
Recuperative sleep will dominate
I still think of you 
when I see the moon,
it seems

Five hours later, the crowd of nearly 200 - the number of pizzas we have crafted, baked and served - has thinned considerably and small groups are clustered in various locations: on benches under the canopy, near the still-playing band beside the barn and up on the hill near the bonfire.

I'm more than happy to sit and enjoy the flames, a glass of South African Rose and conversation with friends and strangers.

Again you upset
The quiet and unsaid thing
That makes us a whole

Slowly, the knot of people around the fire begins to drift away after a long day of dancing, partying, playing croquet and other yard games. The extended family will return first thing in the morning for a communal brunch featuring biscuits baked in the oven that held everyone in its thrall today.

Only a fool believes 
you can return
to the scene of the crime 
and not find the same intersection, 
even when 
hurt and disappointment 
have been paved over

Atop a bale of hay, the bride sits on the groom's lap, her arm around his neck, their smiles conveying both adoration and the loopiness born of  a day celebrating the start of their life together. My happiness for them knows no bounds.

Optimism drifts up 
like smoke, 
replaced 
by regret 
and melancholy

All the things you wish for them are all the things you haven't been fortunate enough to find yourself, a truth driven home by fireplace light. The fervent desire to be part of a sustained whole is unrelenting, even at middle age, yet continues to remain out of reach, circling just out of sight.

Overhead, the moon is bright in the late night sky but offers no solace.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Moonshine Conspiracy

Take warning, girls, don't ever marry a drunkard.

Advice, a pink grapefruit whiskey cocktail and anti-drinking music, what more could a girl ask to start her evening? Okay, someone willing to walk to the Library of Virginia with her to avail herself of all that would be a bonus.

He wasn't that hard to find.

The occasion was "Goodbye, Booze: The Music of Prohibition (with a beer chaser)," an event to celebrate the Library's moonshine and bootlegging exhibit which I'd already seen and really enjoyed. Tonight was icing on the cake foam on the beer.

By the time we moseyed in and took seats, the show had begun. On the left was an old-timey bluegrass trio (banjo, fiddle, guitar) and on the right, a gospel/R & B trio (drums, keys, singer), with curator Greg Kimball acting as moderator sitting in between and offering context.

Wisely, they'd decided to get the anti-liquor songs out of the way first. That marriage warning came between verses of "The Drunkard is No More" and was repeated afterward to ensure all the single ladies got the message. We did.

The banjo player was full of 'shine stories, like a Will Rogers quote that Prohibition was better than no liquor at all and how the only people not making moonshine in Franklin County were the Baptist preachers and they were making barrels. Ba dum bum.

Then there was the one about the guy who died of a heart attack, with a contributing cause of having been intoxicated for 13 weeks. Just ladled it up out of a bucket on the back porch until he was dead. Ouch.

"Better Quit Drinking 'Shine" was like a sermon condensed into a 3 1/2 minute song and singer Jessi delivered "God Don't Like It" to the rafters. The raucous "You Can't Get That Stuff No More" sounded like we were in a juke joint.

What I particularly liked about "I'm Wild About Moonshine" was the lyric, "I'm a little bit spoon-y, just a little bit loony." I'd be curious how spoon-y might manifest itself.

The reception afterward afforded guests the chance to taste the Three Notch'd Prohibition beer (already tasted it last night), but after we saw the exhibit, we made a bee line for the Virginia Distillery table for a cocktail featuring their whisky along with grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters.

As someone who keeps grapefruit juice in her refrigerator, drinks it after walks and has been known to mix it with Rose, of course I loved this combo, but so did my companion. I ran into several people I hadn't seen in years, including one who reminded me she's still envious of my self-directed life philosophy.

You never know what people are going to recall about you.

Looking at our empty cups, my companion observed, "Well, I could drink another of those, but I'd better not," so we went in search of dinner instead in service of my hired mouth.

Omnivores make the best companions for that - don't get me started on the friend who asked to join me once and then turned out to be a seafood-hater - and the meal benefited from a '90s soundtrack that included the likes of the Offspring which tickled my friend, who'd had their first album and was coveting their latest.

At Gallery 5, I admired Barry O'Keefe's "Open Inboxes," four beautifully detailed wooden boxes, each designed to reflect the neighborhood where they'll be placed this summer. I'm doubtlessly partial, but I think the Jackson Ward box - which took its cues from our magnificent cast iron porches - was by far the most handsome (others were Woodland Heights, Oregon Hill, Church Hill) of the lot.

Back at my place, I played DJ at the turntable while my friend set up my new computer (he's determined I achieve speed) and we bantered about relationships, laughed uproariously when he announced his phone would ring in 30 seconds and it did in about 5 and marveled over the brilliance of George Will's writing.

Hours later, we'd wound up discovering all kinds of things. He knew I was a Luddite, but  not that I'd have over 2500 photographs on my computer. Even I didn't know I took so many pictures.

Granted, I was sure he'd sing along to every Neil Diamond song and he didn't disappoint, but was totally impressed he knew the words to so many Thompson Twins tunes. And the Blow Monkeys, well, who doesn't appreciate a good English doo-wop song with a sax solo? The Dazz Band, Paul Carrack, I cast a wide '80s net to encapsulate what he called his formative years.

I think that means after he worked at the hardware/grocery store for a summer and before he discovered Christine and the Queens and laid her at my feet.

It's enough to make a girl get a little spoon-y.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Trim Reckoning

I was just waiting on a friend.

By the time he joined me at Three Notch'd Brewing's Collab House, Bard Unbound was already well into Shakespeare's drinking scenes. Since I was already enjoying the performance, where he was invaluable was with his sampler of four beers, including Falstaff's Folly, a beer brewed in collaboration with the Bard crew.

I tasted through all four, intrigued and open, but did not come out of it any more a beer lover than I went in. Still, it's all about the experience.

Can we still be friends?

Since it had been a month since our last rendezvous - I know, what kind of friends put that much time between laying eyes on each other? - we had plenty to catch up on and a noisy brewery wasn't exactly the ideal place to do it.

Instead, we crossed the river to Laura Lee's, more on principle than anything for me, since a friend had gone on record as saying I never go to the Southside.

Or perhaps I do go and just keep it on the down low.

That would have been tough tonight given the nearly full house (back to back stellar reviews will do that to a place), although we did park ourselves at the far end of the bar away from the crowds.

Personally, I was completely satisfied with a soundtrack of Paul Simon and fresh flowers along the bar.

And the menu! That was a love poem to Spring - the ramps! the asparagus! the softshells! - and we wasted no time in diving into the seasonal pool.

Glasses of Vina Galana Verdejo accompanied roasted tomato soup with whipped burrata and ramp oil, followed by softshell crabs with cauliflower puree, bacon, asparagus and mushrooms in ginger butter and a side of  broccolini with almonds, preserved lemon and shallots in brown butter.

It's not the first time I've led a man to softshells and, with any luck, it won't be the last.

All my friends say.

A favorite Gemini joined us for a bit, showing off a photo of a new-to-her vintage Bianchi, lamenting the porch furniture her mother removed from her porch and insisting she has no memory.

That's why she has me, despite the fact that she's convinced I make up the memories I tell her.

The friend currently working through his larva stage showed off a photo of art, lamented waiting too long to get Shins' tickets and insisted he really needs enough bikes for an ultimate Frisbee team. That would be seven. Seven!

That's why he has me, to keep him in line when he needs it most, which is more often than you'd think.

That's what friends are for.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Authentic Frontier Gibberish

Good thing I'm well-seasoned.

Age had a lot to do with what audience members did and didn't laugh at. See also: what they did or didn't get.

We'd gathered a quintet for the Byrd Theatre's screening of "Blazing Saddles." It was the second time I've ever seen it, the first also having been on the big screen, if that tells you anything.

My main memory? That it had been  a landmark film for being the first to include farting. No, really, that's what stuck.

Funny, a few decades go by and it's a completely different animal than you recalled. Sort of like the difference in reading "Lady Chatterly's Lover" when you're 17 and rereading it at 40. Same book, far different reads, who knew?

Not only was my younger self no fan of Westerns, but I find physical humor tiresome and sometimes disturbing. It was time for a reassessment.

Manager Todd took the time to remind the crowd that the movie had been made in a less politically-correct time, but what he didn't explain was that director Mel Brooks had been making an equal opportunity comedy and that none of it was intentionally malicious.

And yet, from the very 1970s look of the opening scene - you know, the one that's supposedly set in 1874 - everybody looked Old West via the '70s. Guys wore their dusty jeans with Liberty of London print button down shirts like guys really wore then. Cowboys had haircuts like Richard Carpenter and John Davidson.

They said you was hung
And they was right.

Barely into the film, the n-word is said for the first of countless times and the woman to my left muttered, "Oh, this is going to be offensive." No doubt being on her phone had prevented her from hearing Todd's clear warning. "Faggot" references repeatedly got uncomfortable moans from the crowd.

Of course, Harvey Korman was hilarious as the governor's henchman, whether getting visibly excited fondling a statue while talking about land snatching or hitting his head on the window frame every time he looked out of it. His ability to play creepy (in the bathtub with his rubber toys or begging for a feel of Lilly's ample breasts) only gave dimension to his character.

Anyone could pick up on that.

But did the younger people in the theater get the jokes referencing Jesse Owens, Randolph Scott or even Candy-grams?

I know how we can run everybody out of Rock Bridge.
How?
We'll kill the first born male child in every household.
Too Jewish.

Mel Brooks can write that, he's Jewish.

The audience's difficulty with 1974 language was apparent every time a character said the n-word, chinks, red devils, faggots, bull dykes and a host of other words we've long since excised from decent conversation. But hearing such derogatory terms, albeit representing 1874 mores, was impossible for many millennials tonight to even hear without wincing.

I saved my wincing for the uniformly offensive references to rape, except for the one about people stampeding and cattle raping, which was just silly.

I'd better sit up.
Need any help?
Oh...all I can get.

Corniness abounded, from a cheesy pop song to accompany the introduction of the Norman Rockwell-like town of Rock Bridge - a sun-drenched scene complete with children skipping, business owners waving and neighbors chatting - to a man being dragged across the muddy street hollering, "Well, that's the end of that suit."

The king of corny, conveniently seated next to me, ate it up with a spoon and asked for more.

What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?

I'm still no fan of physical humor and really have no interest in seeing a woman or a horse punched, but at least now I can appreciate for their place in the slapstick canon a string of sight gags the likes of which was pure Mel Brooks.

What surprised me was how many of the movie's pithy phrases are just part of the lexicon now. I had no idea that "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" came from this film. Ditto the scene where Gene Wilder uses Cleavon Little to lure two KKK members.

I was one of the people who roared when he said, "Where the white women at?" and the friend next to me did, too, whispering, "It never gets old!"

Baby, please, I am not from Havana!

In the bathroom after the film ended, I overheard a youngish voice saying, "I didn't think it was going to be so hilarious!" No?

Whether because of or despite the passage of time, I most certainly did. But then, some of my companions refer to me as "Susie Silver Linings," so of course I'm always expecting the best.

And what could be better afterward than a post-film discussion that lasts as long as the movie and includes dinner and dessert?

I can't speak for the younger members of the audience, but dazzling urbanites and white women of an age laughed like it was 1974.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Visiting My Books

It's a long way from Prince George's County to the Devil's Workshop.

Not every evening's companion could hold an extended conversation about Greenbelt, Maryland, a New Deal-era co-op community but also the first place I lived outside of my parents' home, not to mention my first exposure to a co-op grocery store.

We began our conversation marathon on this breezy Spring evening at Nota Bene, not just because I'm such a fan, but because visitors love a chef's recommendation and this was one he'd been given. Date Night ("Bring your friends!") was in full swing, but a happy-looking couple were kind enough to give us the international "we'll-slide-over-so-you-can-have two-barstools-together" signal and we were seasoned enough to read it.

Sitting down, the man leaned in and told me, "Three words: fig and pig. It'll change your life." Gently explaining that my world had been rocked, I don't know, six or seven years ago when I'd first had Pizza Tonight's fig and pig pizza, he looked incredulous. "It's our first time!"

Better late than never, sir.

My friend's suggestion to start with pasta and pizza was overruled (I was looking for a tad more balance) and he graciously relented, thus averting a carb nap for dessert. Straight outta the wood-burning oven, braised fennel got points for its charred bits while a special of seafood ragu - octopus, crab, scallops and rigatoni in a tomato and clam sauce - presented itself as rustic but tasted anything but peasant-like.

It was over dinner that the subject of our University of Maryland roots and my art history major came up. "Did you ever take a class from Rearick?" he asked, triggering a flood of classroom vignettes I hadn't even realized my brain still stored.

Professor Rearick lives on in my memory bank for many reasons, not the least of which was his complete passion for all things Italian. He had a habit of walking around the classroom as he lectured - not taught, a distinction we both recalled with clarity - one hand making a near-constant rhythmic movement as he moved about.

But it was mainly his voice that mattered. Stentorious with measured cadences, it would rise and fall for emphasis as he shared his wealth of knowledge with kids like me, in love with art history and eager to absorb this learned man's years of study.

No memory is clearer than the one where a hapless student casually referred to Leonardo as "da Vinci." Rearick looked at the kid like he was an imbecile and asked where he was born. After he squeaked out an answer, Rearick quizzed the kid about whether people called him "of Silver Spring?" Duh. The professor drew himself up and said that the great artist's name was Leonardo and he was to be referred to as Leonardo or Leonardo di ser Piero but never, not ever, as "da Vinci."

That story has lived on in my brain for decades, but until my dining companion brought up the professor's name, it had been stored so deeply in the recesses that I couldn't have pulled it up for anything. And that, dear reader, is the unabashed pleasure of spending time with a person who shares youthful people and places with you, even though we didn't know each other at the time.

Since there was still Gavi in my glass, we closed out the meal with a new dessert -  Sullivan's Pond Farm goat cheese custard with fruity Sicilian olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt - that ate like the equivalent of a cheese plate in a petite mason jar.

But there was more dazzlement to be had. We headed up the hill to the Gypsy Room for music, gingerly stepping around two passed out people being carried out of the Bonobo concert at the National and laid out on the sidewalk. It wasn't pretty.

Downstairs, my music aficionado of friend was immediately seduced by the low light ambiance of the subterranean venue as the Devil's Workshop Big Band set up to play and we sprawled out on one of the couches. I was especially impressed with the trombone player whose music stand was fitted out with a small shelf for his PBR.  That's a musician who'll go far.

The collective took a few minutes for their sound to fully gel, but the result was a satisfying evening of popular music arranged - often by the bass player - for 14 players (drums, bass, guitar, keys and horns), making for some bass-heavy funky grooves.

They played through Kool and the Gang's "Sea of Tranquility," with a segue into D'Angelo's reworking of the song for one of his own, along with Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad, Girl," The Spinners' "People Make the World Go Round" and something called "Houston Express" that wasn't readily found in my friend's mental musical card catalog.

Closing out with an original song, "Mushroom Tattoos" (only in Richmond, right?), that gave everyone a chance to solo and chant the refrain of "mushroom tattoos for everyone," the band put a feather in the cap of our evening.

The best I could do to follow that up was putting some Isley Brothers and Dramatics on the turntable and letting it wash over us with the windows wide open to the night air.

You can always count on a Prince George's County boy knowing his R & B.

Monday, May 1, 2017

United, We Bargain. Divided, We Beg

Life teaches us you can't always be someone's first choice.

S: Going down the list to see who might join me at Rapp Session. If I must, I will go alone, but I must eat more of their luscious crabcakes now. Can you join me?

Me: This moment or when?

S: No time like the present.

Since I was at a stopping point in my writing (waiting for a source to respond) and that bowl of soup I'd had for lunch was a distant memory, why wouldn't I stroll over to Rapp Session on the dot of 4 to see someone I hadn't seen in at least a year?

For that matter, why wouldn't I go eat a dozen discounted Old Saltes during oyster happy hour? Or sip my favorite orgeat lemonade given the 82-degree afternoon heat I'd walked through to get there? Not to mention that a few bites of those crabcakes my friend had been craving proved why we were in an oyster saloon in the first place.

As a Marylander might say, my, my, major backfin.

After catching up and filling up, I mentioned I was on my way to Abner Clay Park for the annual May Day parade and to my surprise, my friend wanted to join me, a sequel of sort to having been at the Science March in D.C. two weeks ago.

I started doing Richmond's May Day parade in 2009, back when I was laid off, on unemployment and trying to figure out the wreckage of my new life.

Then it had felt like a way to show solidarity with all those still fortunate enough to be employed as the Great Recession of 2008 trickled down. Now it felt like another thread in the anti-fascism tapestry decent Americans are trying to weave in reaction to a leader who just yesterday questioned why the Civil War could not be worked out.

Clearly when the Constitution was framed and the requirements for President laid out, the founding fathers couldn't foresee that it would be necessary to stipulate that he/she had a working knowledge of U.S. history. Sad.

Arriving at Abner Clay Park to a larger than usual police presence, a guy with the United National Antiwar Coalition handed me a flier and shared the reason for all the black and whites: a couple of white supremacists had shown up earlier and tried to pick a fight.

It's nothing short of terrifying how quickly the bigots have gotten comfortable with spewing their venom in public since 45 took the reins.

But they were gone now and tonight's pre-parade rally began, as they always do, with free food and short speeches about capitalism, socialism, and fighting white supremacy and the patriarchy while people socialized and chose signs, puppets and placards to carry.

My friend bravely took on a slug costume - paper mache slug head, business suit, cardboard briefcase emblazoned with the name of banks - Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank - who took advantage of consumers for corporate gain.

A parade veteran, my pick was a large "Sanctuary" flag to wave. "Your shirt matches your flag," the harmonium player observed. I told her it wasn't intentional. "Yea, right!" she cracked, grinning.

Unsurprisingly, I ran into loads of friends: my favorite hippie couple, the tailor, the Civil War re-enactor, multiple servers from a favorite wine bar, the dancer, the Party Liberation Front maestro, the activist and, of course, the event's organizer, master puppet-maker Lily, herding cats, assigning parade duties and totally in her element.

She said the plan was to walk down Leigh Street, through the public housing projects and on to City Hall, but the police, who'd be escorting us, nixed that because of a situation involving a shooter on Northside.

Instead, the drum contingent led us down Marshall Street to City Hall, chanting all the way.

No hate
No KKK
No fascist USA

Whose streets?
Our streets!

Tonight's crowd was far larger than those of past parades (hmm, do you suppose people could be motivated by the daily onslaught of disturbing information coming out of the blowhard-in-chief?), so things got warm walking downtown between tall buildings with zero room for air flow. The good news was every cross street delivered a gusty breeze that whipped banners and cooled us off.

We finished at City Hall, sweaty but resolute, but they wouldn't let us in. Still, our point had been made.

As we walked back down Broad Street, my friend mentioned a dream two nights ago about something very like tonight's parade and wondered now if it had something to do with being in a period of Mercury Retrograde (when coincidences are more common and frustration reigns supreme) since I'd been the one to share the news about the parade when we met up.

I said that on my walk this morning, I'd thought about where I might go eat tonight, considered Rapp Session and decided I wouldn't have time to get there before the parade. Mighty coincidental, both.

As for Mercury Retrograde's other effects, I can only assume that frustration was the motivation behind the carful of girls I just now heard egging the apartment downstairs. No doubt one of the young male occupants living underneath me was the source of frustration.

You can't always be someone's first choice, honey. You'll learn that what matters is who - or what - you're playing second fiddle to.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hello Kitty

Give me your hungry, your thirsty, your spontaneous.

At least that's what I was looking for come afternoon when I saw that there was going to be a Fast & Furious pop-up at the Roosevelt tonight. The chefs - Bobo Catoe and Craig Perkinson - work at Southbound but instead of southern, they'd be riffing on Asian street food.

Remember when you could swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a purveyor of Asian street food? That memory continues to get dimmer and dimmer, not that I'm complaining given the extroverted flavors and low cost that come standard with the cuisine.

And because they'd be setting up shop at the Roosevelt, aka Richmond mixology central, there'd be a special cocktail menu. That told me which friend to invite and he was immediately on board and enthusiastic. Knowing it was going to be popular and they'd surely run out of food items, I asked him to meet me there right at 5 when the pop-up was due to lift off.

This was not the time to be fashionably late, not that either of us are the tardy type.

Even so, there was already a line and I recognized several bartenders. By the time the doors opened and we made it inside, every bar stool had a butt in it. By 5:10, every table was occupied.

Wow, it must be nice to be so popular.

I'd donned a blue Hawaiian print dress and polka dot flip flops for the occasion, but was clearly bested by the guy in the shirt with tiny palm trees all over it. Or perhaps by the woman in a long blue and yellow print dress with a see-through band around the knees for ventilation, kind of a screen door effect.

Our evening kicked off with Shanghai Sours - who knew I'd enjoy a bourbon cocktail so much? - laden with plum wine, yuzu and 5-spice powder and served in coupes like we were Nick and Nora Charles minus the dog.

We shared a drink called Our Fog Cutter, wise, we decided, given that it had multiple spirits - rums, brandy, gin and sherry - and exotic fruit (our best guess was yuzu and papaya), only to find that it was beautifully balanced. A cocktail connoisseur friend observed that it was the kind of cocktail you'd suck back multiples of, only to find out you were suddenly loopy. One was enough for us, although we didn't hesitate to put our own spin on it by muddling the mint sprig garnish to add another layer of complexity.

Sometimes it's okay to play with your food.

Our final share probably should have been our first given its light, refreshing qualities. The gorgeous orange Chuhai blended the distilled rice beverage Shochu with mandarin soda and citrus, an ideal sipper on a hot day.

Despite a full dining room, people kept arriving and I spotted my newly unemployed (by choice, mind you) foodie friends joining the queue to wait for someplace to park their backsides.

I was surprised to see that one thing my friend is doing with all his extra hours is growing a beard, which proves that just because a person has an abundance of free time doesn't mean he wants to spend it with a razor in hand. Or perhaps he's joining the bearded hipster movement. Not likely.

Focused on food, I waved and went back to eating.

No doubt about it, my partner-in-crime was enjoying himself as much as I was as we ate through the Fast and Furious menu, from panko and spice-coated street corn to the Vietnamese pancakes Bahn Xeo laden with pickled shrimp, which we rolled up and ate like tacos.

Equally seduced by the lamb and the ramps, my friend did most (but not all) of the damage on lamb bulgogi with ramp kimchi, especially savoring the heat on the finish. I was the one who plowed through most of the crab salad, piling it high on rice crackers, while we shared to-die-for steam buns with crispy duck.

Oh, I'd come with the right friend all right. Returning from the loo, he was already halfway through a dish of obscenely creamy red bean ice cream, a wise move given the damage I can do with a spoon. We had a brief should-we moment when we saw a nearby table devouring a teacake with citrus frosting, but four drinks, six dishes and dessert answered that question for us.

Namely, we'll make up for it at their next pop-up.

In the meantime, how great is it to lose yourself in a novel experience and be back on the street in time to have a full evening elsewhere?

There's no shame in being satisfied by sunset.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nonesuch as She

Saturday is like heaven
An endless free hall pass

It was the rare Saturday where that sentiment rang true for me. All week long, I'd anticipated a day with not a single thing written in my datebook and nary a deadline in sight, both rarities.

My morning walk down to the pipeline walkway was thwarted because of how high and furious the river was, a fact underscored by the muddy edges of Brown's Island as I attempted to reach it. I forged on anyway, found the pipeline underwater and doubled back, passing a guy sitting near the very edge of land for the second time in five minutes.

We not only struck up a conversation - I learned he was a graphic designer - but he also joined me on the canal walk as I headed to the other side of the pipeline. We talked about Richmond's thriving scene and how necessary it is to be out every day in order to find inspiration in the world. The unexpected surprise was that he once lived on the same block of Clay I call home.

Small world.

Once I finally made it on to the pipeline, I wound up in another conversation, this one with a guy fishing for shad near the very end part that was underwater. He admitted the raging river didn't make for the best fishing conditions but it was a satisfying way to spend a Saturday morning.

As we were chatting, a Boy Scout troop passed by, one of the boys so busy shooting video with his phone that he almost lost his footing. Had the troop leader been right there with the boys - he was hanging back on the walkway, looking for all the world like a man terrified to walk on rounded, uneven concrete - he might have addressed the issue.

At Lowe's leisurely shopping for flowers for my garden and balcony, I ran into a favorite photographer who peered at me under my straw hat and tentatively asked, "Karen?"

Over the years, we've run into each other so many places - lectures, music shows, films, book readings - and now with the obvious horticulture connection, she pointed out that we had an awful lot in common not to spend more time together. Sealing the deal, she said she lives on the water in New Kent, so we should spend a day sitting on her dock and deck, admiring nature and talking.

Who's going to say no to that?

Even better, we both live alternate lifestyles, so we're not limited to weekends for socializing or anything for that matter. When she mentioned she often works on weekend days, I told her many's the time I do the same to make deadline. Our Saturdays are not like worker bees' Saturdays.

Except for a change, today was. For both of us.

Despite the sudden onslaught of summer (the Man About Town described today's weather as taking on the "characteristics of a terrarium and we are lizards, splayed upon a rock, still, except for our flickering tongues") and it being the hottest part of the day, I couldn't come home with 40-some new plants and not begin planting.

Damn, but it was hot and sticky getting them into the ground, though.

Once I'd showered off the dirt and debris, I couldn't help myself, scouting for a simple way to pass a little time without making a real commitment.

A poetry reading at Chop Suey was just the ticket: an hour of being read to was not only the ideal way to close out National Poetry Month but also celebrate Independent Bookstore Day.

And, I'm not going to lie, the metal folding chairs felt wonderful against my overheated back.

Allison Seay began by reminding the crowd that events such as this one matter, not just because naysayers have been predicting the death of poetry for years now, but because of the sense of community they inspire.

Her poems were born out of her own mental health issues, which she'd conquered and then used to inspire her poetry ("And it was not yet a metaphor for everything").

From her chapbook, Gina Myers read from "Philadelphia," her 2014 long poem about adjusting to a move to the city of brotherly love, touching on goals ("We will have fun until we won't"), self-acceptance ("I don't have to kiss every guy I spend an evening with, but I can if I want to"), and heartache ("Tonight I'm going to listen to every sad song ever. This will take the rest of my life").

Best conclusion drawn: "Love is the fiercest reason for living."

Reading from her phone - I know this is done now, but it lacks the soul of reading from a book or even a sheet of paper - two groups of poems, some serious, some not, she spoke of the number of planets dwindling and, yes, heavenly Saturdays and hall passes.

Favorite advice (even for those of us who took it nearly a decade ago) offered: "Remove yourself from the slow drain of 9 to 5."

That way, you have time enough for walks and conversations with strangers, planting flowers and poetry.

And, if you're truly lucky, time for the fiercest reason of all.

No Friday I'm in Love

Everyone who's not making their list is mocking those who are.

When the first one popped up in my feed, I thought it was an amusing game: here are 10 concerts X has been to and one is a lie. Which one?

Friends would scan the list looking for unlikely shows and try to guess which was the lie, thus allowing the poster to not only brag about when and where they'd seen the shows, but, in some cases, dazzle with how many times.

The opposing camp saw the whole game as a way for "hipsters to humble brag" about the obscure and unlikely shows they'd seen and get attention on Facebook.

Because I have scores of music-loving friends, I saw many, many lists. Because I don't often post on Facebook (not to mention having multiple interviews and deadlines and plans every night), I did not. But I could have.

1. Cher
2. The Raconteurs
3. Al Green
4. Interpol
5. My Chemical Romance
6. The Cure
7. Hall and Oates
8. My Bloody Valentine
9. Paul McCartney & Wings
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd

For that matter, I could make a list of plays I've seen, with one I haven't.

1. Pacific Overtures
2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
3. Thieves
4. The Odd Couple
5. Hello, Dolly!
6. Sweeney Todd
7. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
8. Porgy and Bess
9. Arcadia
10. A Kid Like Jake

Hint: that last one I saw tonight at Richmond Triangle Players and while it wasn't quite as emotionally-wrenching as last night's "Dry Land," it was a close second.

Watching an entitled Manhattan mother (and her easy-going husband who somehow put up with her) agonize, rail and refuse to accept reality over getting her gender-variant 4-year old into the best possible private school - with no concern for what was best for the child - was disconcerting at best and appalling at worst.

Like good theater should, it made me feel something, mostly revulsion for people who choose to parent and shouldn't.

As my companion and I were leaving the theater, we stopped to commiserate with friends who'd also seen consecutive nights of heavy theater. For entertainment, it was a lot to process.

"Your next play should be a musical like "Hello, Dolly!" with Bette Midler," my friend decided as we walked out. Well, that would be a first for me.

Now you know.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bathing Caps and Pity Sex

It was a lot to spring on a man.

When my bike-riding friend had suggested we get together, I'd suggested tonight so we could walk over to ThetareLAB and see "Dry Land." He'd offered up dinner in exchange for the play and was even willing to walk wherever I chose to dine.

We like that in our friends.

Given the balmy evening, nothing suited me better than meandering to Maya for tilapia tacos and a discussion of the best couples therapy book he's ever read. Across the street, hundreds of family members streamed into Centerstage for the Richmond Ballet's annual Minds in Motion performance.

By the time we left to walk over to TheatreLAB, the sun was waning and the night air ideal for a stroll. At this point, my friend still had no idea what he was in for, but it didn't take long to find out.

A sign by the box office was a trigger warning about the play and as strongly worded as it was, from the first scene it was clear it couldn't have been worded too strongly.

Taking place in a locker room, the story follows high school girls on the swim team dealing with the usual high school angst - you know, abortions, slut-shaming and the ugliness of female friendships.

Midway through the 90-minute play, my friend leaned in and whispered, "This is a tough play!"

He wasn't exaggerating, but it was also so well executed that you couldn't look away no matter how challenging it got.

As usual, TheatreLAB had managed to totally transform their basement space, this time into a blue-tiled locker room with wooden benches and lockers. You could practically smell the chlorine in the pool just offstage.

Like they always seem to do, TheatreLAB had also chosen a topic-of-the-moment, infusing it with veracity given the completely believable performances of leads Aiden Orr and Jessie Kraemer as the swimmer determined to abort her pregnancy and the swimmer doing her best to help her do so.

Although it was a small part, Dixon Cashwell, in a t-shirt reading "Pity sex," managed to be both awkward and sweet, a combination he always nails splendidly.

But ultimately it wasn't a play about abortion, but a play about children - because that's what high school students are - making important decisions without the assistance of the adults in their life, layered with the usual coming of age issues of how kids want their friends to see them, with a heaping helping of navigating female friendships and their mercurial nature on top of it all.

A reminder, in other words, that the high school years are exhausting.

Let's just say that by the time we'd watched the screaming agony of bloody labor, my friend was in no mood to stay for the talkback with the cast. Instead, we had our own discussion of the play as we walked home, quickly realizing that our gender disparity meant that I'd picked up on things few men, including him, would have.

"I think this is a play I'll be thinking about for a while," he observed as we sallied through Jackson Ward, thanking me again for inviting him.

Not every guy would be so gracious about seeing so much estrogen playing out onstage. Luckily, I'd asked someone just tough enough.

Whether or not he's willing to accept another play invitation from me remains to be seen.

In a Gay and Fastidious Manner

To sleep, perchance to wet dream...but during the Civil War?

The topic of today's Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society - "Civil War Dreams" - had the three little old ladies I always sit next to completely perplexed. What can you possibly say in a lecture about dreaming?

I told them my best guess was that Yankee author Jonathan White had gone down the rabbit hole of letters and diaries from that era if he'd been able to assemble enough anecdotal evidence to write a book called "Midnight in America: Darkness, Sleep and Dreams During the Civil War."

Bingo. They looked at me nodding once his talk got underway. I'd nailed it.

Using notes without sounding robotic and inserting plenty of humor, White began with Jefferson Davis' dreams of his family from his cell (overly and constantly bright as a means of sleep deprivation) at Fort Monroe and moved on to wife Varina's dreams of him being captured.

Soldiers' letters, it seems, were full of dream reports used as a way to stay close to loved ones but also to share emotional concerns and, let me tell you, these soldiers were not shy about their concerns. Adultery was high on the list, as was the fear of being ignored once the man returned home.

Yet, despite the concerns that manifested themselves in dreams, these men still felt close enough to their wives and sweethearts to write them about these dreams.

Because Mars and Venus are very different types, men's dreams revolved around partner, home and hearth - all the things they were fighting for - while women's centered on devious Yankee invaders and fears of their beloved in combat.

He closed out with a heartbreaking story about a 24-year old who'd lost his arm in the war, yet 40 years later, he told a doctor every time he dreamt, he always had both arms and was able to use them normally. Such is the power of dreams that despite living 2/3 of his life as an amputee, in his dreams he was always a whole man.

Tragedy aside, White's talk was most illuminating on the unlikely subject of bodily fluids and I don't mean blood. Turns out wet dreams were grounds for discharge ("No pun intended," White wisecracked) because nocturnal emissions were seen as a legitimate disability.

Like Corporal Klinger's efforts in M*A*S*H*  to secure a Section 8 to escape Army life, plenty of Civil War soldiers feigned wet dreams in hopes of going home. Tough break for them because White said 3/4 of the claims were shown to be bogus, the men having "fabricated" evidence.

I've been to a lot of Banner Lectures, but rarely do they make me and the old ladies crack up like they did today.

Well done, VHS. Foul dreams make for fascinating history.

But That's Another Story

The first non-rainy day in almost a week began with a discussion of my first make-out sessions.

Technically, my day began by walking over to the garage to pick up my recently-inspected car, except I was completely sidetracked when I spotted the magnificent fins of a 1961 Chrysler Imperial - white with blue interior - in one of the bays.

It was, as the B-52s sang, as big as a whale.

One of the mechanics I know saw me eyeing it and nodded in agreement, smiling. "Now, that's a ride!" he said, encouraging me to get closer and admire its interior. Peering inside at those generous bench seats, I had an immediate flashback.

Tommy Aquilino was the first boy I ever made out with and it happened in his ancient-even-then blue 1962 Chevy Impala on one of those giant bench seats where there was plenty of room for wayward teenage limbs. Mentioning this to the mechanic, he laughed and talked about how much more comfortable they were than the bucket seats that replaced them.

No kidding. It was like being on a couch but without your parents in the next room.

My walk took me down to the the T Pot bridge to see what so much rain had wrought - a churning, brown, debris-filled river - but over near the climbing wall, a calm cove looked like a turtle sanctuary with over a dozen of varying sizes clearly visible from the bridge.

First I pointed them out to a kid, then a couple stopped to look with us, then a group of worker bees on their lunchtime march joined in until we had as many people looking at turtles as turtles. Having attracted a crowd, only then did I walk away.

Knowing full well that the pipeline would be inaccessible, I took the canal walk instead but got off at 10th Street, mainly because I'd never noticed the sign for it before and I'm always up for a new route.

Standing at the corner of 10th and Canal, a parked car began to back up, then I heard my name from inside. There sat the familiar faces of two French chefs clearly up to no good, or at least trying to convince me they were hard at work. Or about to be. After lunch maybe.

Not as familiar but just as satisfying was 10th and Cary, where I passed two guys sitting on a stone wall eating lunch. When they said hello, I complimented one of them on his startlingly green eyes, joking that he'd undoubtedly heard that many times before. "And you've got gorgeous hair!" he responded as I sailed by.

What kind of fool am I for never having taken 10th Street before?

The gold standard for green eyes - fellow cinephile Pru - picked me up for dinner and a film and we immediately came to the realization that it's Restaurant Week so 40 eateries were out of the running entirely tonight. Reverting to our habit of days long gone, we decided on Garnett's where we scored a table next to the half open Dutch door.

Again I heard my name and there was the chef I used to work with back when I put in time at Garnett's for the morning coffee shift. We hadn't seen each other in years and the last place we had was right there.

"Feels pretty natural, doesn't it?" he cracked. It did, indeed.

With a blue sky for a view and warm spring air coming through the screened door, we had what can only be called a typical girls' night out meal: salads (Cobb, Farmer's) followed by enormous pieces of cake (chocolate chip, coconut) neither of us could fully finish despite valiant attempts and trades (her chocolate chips for some of my cake sans icing).

When we finally threw in the towel, Pru spoke for both of us when she observed, "If only I'd stopped eating four or five bites ago, I wouldn't feel so uncomfortably stuffed right now." Amen, sister.

When we got to Carytown, I realized I hadn't brought a wrap, but she came to the rescue with a little something she'd picked up in Paris and brought along just in case.

"I'm always prepared, like a Girl Scout," she tells me, going on to share that she's always prepared, despite having quit Girl Scouts pretty quickly.

 "I said 'Screw this, I'm missing Hogan's Heroes!'" A child like that doesn't belong in the shackles of Girl Scout-hood.

Once at the Byrd Theater, the woman at the concession stand asked if we wanted anything and I begged off, saying we'd just had cake at Garnett's.

"Omygod, their cake is so amazing!" she gushed, her face lighting up. "And it's huge so I know how you feel! I love that place." You and every other cake lover in town, sweetheart.

Tonight's cinematic masterpiece was Billy Wilder's 1962 gem, "Irma la Douce," and when Pru returned from the loo, she had Holmes and Beloved in tow, so we were suddenly a foursome. I was relieved to learn that I wasn't the only one who'd never seen it, although I continue to dismay Pru with the movies I've yet to lay eyes on.

How, she wondered, had I not seen a movie with a character known for her colorful tights?

The Byrd's manager Todd described it as "a good time and a little bit risque for its time,' but I was in love with it from the opening credits in absinthe green, right on through the obvious matte sets of Paris ("Ah, it's just like I remember it," Pru wisecracked) to the bustling depiction of Les Halles with countless shots of bloody sides of beef and pigs' heads.

Besides the Technicolor glory and period detail of the streetwalkers' outfits/make-up/hair, the main attraction was watching Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon effortlessly and hilariously inhabit their characters.

When he learns she sleeps naked except for a sleep mask, the incredulity on his face alone was worth the price of admission - which, I happen to know, is about the same price as a sleep mask.

Who sleeps that way? My guess would be girls whose first make-out sessions were in Renaults. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Love Shack

As with real estate, when it comes to parties, it's all about location, location, location.

Tonight's was pretty extraordinary: bucolic (Goochland County), outdoor (under a grand wooden pavilion) but warm (a roaring fireplace), adjacent to an orchard (cherry, pear, apple, fig and persimmon) and with a gorgeous Flemish bond brick oven we'd come to test out before the main event - a far grander party next weekend.

There's nothing like having a practice party before the real party.

Because six of the eight people at this shindig had been to South Africa, things kicked off, appropriately enough, with Wilderer Cape Fynbos grappa, an apperitif redolent with 30 South African herbs and made all the more special because it had been purchased there for the express purpose of drinking with friends here.

Over the course of the evening, ten pizzas of varying combinations - sausage, city ham, lamb, smoked salmon, bleu cheese, Fontina, Asiago, Mozzarella, homemade red and white sauces - were crafted and baked in the new oven, each one cut into 8 pieces so everyone got a slice and the opportunity to opine on the ever-changing permutations.

Not a tough assignment, especially with a glass of Goats Do Roam Rose in hand. The South African delights just kept on coming.

Three of the guys took on pizza-making duties, at least until we were down to our last ball of pizza dough, at which point our affable host, Pierre, insisted that it was my turn to learn the drill. I'm not here to tell you that my pizza was great, but after untold bottles of wine (some more expensive than my electric bill) and nine previous pizzas, it was a forgiving crowd.

There was even romance in the air when the blond said, "A bug just bit my cheek!" and her man called from across the massive table, "I wish I'd been that bug!"

An unexpected treat was watching our hostess as she made her 115th shack of 2017. That's right, 115 shacks in as many days.

Seems she'd decided to do an art project a day for a year (sort of like Noah Scalin's Skull-a-Day project) and the theme she'd chosen was shacks. Today's assignment was to create a shack from a wooden toy kit, which she'd purchased for $1.12.

Although the kit was for a flower truck, she handily turned it into a shack complete with overhanging front porch and cylindrical columns. Looking to be helpful, I asked if she'd like me to bring her some shrubbery and the shack soon had a "tree" on either side. When I showed up with mulch, she scattered it over the roof. A beer bottle cap became the front door.

It took almost as long to get just the right photograph (lighting was challenging despite using the flashlights on 3 cell phones) to document everything as it had taken to craft it in the first place.

It was clear she was taking great pleasure in this project, even admitting how much happier she's felt since adding daily art into her life. Her husband confirmed how much more she's been smiling since the start of the year. It's all about doing what you love.

What this group loved was talking about wine and food, with an occasional digression into naked survivor TV shows, the challenges of playing soccer with 18-year olds and why no one should eat a pepper when it's still green, ever, even if they are 30 cents cheaper than red ones.

If the practice party was this much of a good time, no telling what the real thing might bring with scads more people to join the fun.

I, for one, intend to find out.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I'm a firm believer that talking makes everything better.

It's a big part of why I've gotten behind the uptick in community conversations. Let's see, just in the past few years I've been to conversations on neighborhoods, racial issues, bike lanes, public art and tonight, VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art.

Since the ICA doesn't open until October, the staff is busy now holding these meetings to try to determine what the community wants the building with three floors of gallery space but no permanent collection to be and how it can be an asset to the community in a bigger way.

Already, they've identified their target visitors: VCU students, VCU faculty and staff, local teenagers and, wait for it, the curious-minded. I'm thinking I fall squarely in that last category. They've already come up with some clever ideas like using students as gallery attendants and tour guides, free admission and offering tours tailored to the specific interests of small groups.

The size of tonight's crowd was lessened considerably by the chilly temperatures and pouring rain I slogged through to get to the main library, but as facilitator (and fellow restaurant critic) Matt concluded, we were a small but mighty group. Step one was finding a buddy and learning enough about them - name, reason for coming, last memorable museum experience - to be able to introduce him or her to the rest of the audience.

Getting information out of strangers has always been one of my strong suits and former New Yorker John made it easy for me, offering up all kinds of personal information (and envy when he admitted he's already been to the Smithsonian's Black History Museum twice!).

From there, the group worked on lists of issues that matter to Richmond (and the country in general), finding that there was a lot of agreement on key trouble spots, with racial relations, poverty and education being the main themes that emerged.

But as you'd expect, coming up with ways in which the ICA can actively engage with the community on those issues was more challenging. How to get people who don't usually seek out art to come and take part in larger conversations? How to use the new building and all its space to best serve art lovers and art lovers in the making?

The discussion was fascinating because of the group's diversity. Several people mentioned the need to change the historical narrative by finally addressing issues of reconciliation. As one mover and shaker pointed out, New Orleans is probably the only U.S. city with more to atone for than Richmond.

A woman who hadn't known about tonight's meeting but just happened to be at the library provided a real life example of some of the issues at hand when she explained that she lives in the county but is dependent on public transportation, which makes it tough for her to get to cultural events and institutions after dark. I guarantee you, no one else in the room would have mentioned that point because it wouldn't have occurred to us.

And I'd even go so far as to say that that's a big part of what the ICA and all of Richmond's culture-focused organizations need to think about. How do we as a city get everyone at the table so that the voices are not so homogeneous? Is it realistic to expect people struggling with survival issues to weigh in on art?

On the other hand, is it fair for kids to reach adulthood without ever getting to experience the power of art as a force of change and an inspiration for mind expansion? I'll never forget my first school field trip to the National Gallery of Art and how profoundly it affected me to discover that such a place existed, free and open to the public, with such marvelous wonders to be seen and experienced.

Wouldn't it be grand if the ICA could provide that to kids whose parents would never make culture a priority or even adults who see museums as something for other people but not them?

The curious-minded think so. If we talk long, hard and honestly enough, surely we can make it a reality.

Backwash and Extreme Cooties

The beauty of my day would be all the people who supplied what I need.

There was the friend willing to walk to Big Secret at the crack of dawn (10:50) for sandwiches from Nate's Bagels, thus ensuring us first place in the line.

I took my everything bagel with a schmear of scallion cream cheese and he took his baker's wife on an everything bagel before we made our way to Saadia's Juicebox for the first offering of the Mozart Festival.

Situated on a cushion on the floor with a skylight view of a treetop blowing in the wind, we heard a flute duo, the Chamber Chicks ( a quintet of woodwinds) and an octet arrangement originally written for six and since transcribed for eight, because, as one of the oboe players noted, it was obvious something was missing.

More cowbell oboe. Two were added.

There was the IT geek friend willing to assess my computer needs with only a few instances of mocking my ancient computer, slow Internet and complete cluelessness when it comes to ram and operating systems. Fortunately, he determined my needs are small and easily satisfied.

Then there was the sextet of friends - couples, all - who gathered with me for a Rhone wine dinner at Camden's, one which began as a lesson on E Guigal (a winery and negociant, notable for being hands-on and not the silver spoon types) and ended up as conversational free-for-all after all the other guests had vacated the premises.

In between, we ate like we were hiking the Appalachian Trail, beginning with Comte, house baguettes and toasted walnuts accompanied by a Cotes du Rhone Blanc with a mouthfeel so soft, the friend with the green eyes said, it was like a pillow she wanted to sink into.

From the newlywed about her husband's house improvements: "He got wine drunk and ordered bidets."

A Rose from Tavel played up the sublime smokiness of house-smoked N.C. trout peeking out under a micro-green salad with champagne and caper dressing.

From the Claudine Longet fan about our server, the VCU Prof: "She used to make us martinis the color of moonlight."

Everyone was ga-ga for housemade sausage with wilted spring greens (their bitterness a stellar counterpoint to the sausage's richness) paired with Cote du Rhone rouge

From the musician who'd called me last week about Robyn Hitchcock's appearance at Plan 9: "Matthew Southern Comfort's is the best version of "Woodstock."

"Hermitage" made roasted ham and sage-stuffed pork loin shine and the friend who'd returned from South Africa with 21 bottles of wine in his suitcase deemed it his favorite wine of the night.

From the man with the dangling ears: "That's a civilized mob if they get paid in Rose."

Not that anyone at the table had any room left, the final course of sour cream-topped lamb stew over dumplings served with Chateaneuf du Pape was magnificent - earthy, rich and more than capable of standing up to lamb even by this late point in the festivities.

From he who shall not be named about how people pre-gamed before the wine dinner: "She ate lasagna and I did tequila shots."

I did nothing of either sort, but as we've established, my needs are small and easily satisfied. Just not often enough.

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.