Friday, January 27, 2017

Cherish the Light Years

Director of Vibe, now there's a job I could excel at.

In many ways, I suppose I already am my own director of vibe - I do, after all, curate everything about my life from music played to routes taken to gathering a group that has come to be known as "my people" - but only now am I learning that there are restaurants who hire such a person.

Joe Blow
Director of Vibe
Such a business card could open doors.

As director of my personal vibe, rather than getting upset or worried when a lunch date is tardy, I embrace a make-the-most-of-it vibe, planting myself on the sunny front porch of the house and taking in the 65-degree air while the sunshine warms me to the bone.

How better to chat with passersby and await his eventual arrival?

Once he does and we're strolling through a wildly windy Jackson Ward to Mama J's, the vibe shifts to familiar and teasing because while this is the second time we've met up in 11 days, prior to that it had been a year and a half. This is partly attributable to him living across state lines (sounds almost dangerous, right?), but also to some adjustments in his personal life.

When he mentions having just seen a good friend of mine, I joke that he's gone from one opinionated woman to another. "Oh, you're way more opinionated than she is," he assures me before clarifying that strong women hold all the appeal, a sentiment I appreciate hearing.

We're a most unlikely pair at Mama J's because it's his maiden voyage and I've been dozens of times but neither fact compromises our pleasure vibe as we swoon over Mama's incomparable fried catfish, pork chops both fried and baked, the signature seafood pasta salad and collard greens that spark a debate.

I find the greens positively perfect in flavor and texture, as always, while he's not ready to concede that fact. Granted he's a long-time food writer, but I've had these greens plenty and I've compared them to others so I know they're standouts.

He tries to explain that for him, there are three sub-categories of greens: traditional long-cooked with pig, contemporary interpretations that lean toward crisp and vinegary and a variation he calls "modern southern" that falls somewhere in between.

Potato, patahto, let's just call them delicious and move on to just as important a topic: how sweet a corn muffin should be. The two of us could do this all day and night. Despite having grown up in the same county, not all our flavor profiles would overlap on a Venn diagram

A good Mama's vibe necessarily includes a fat slice of homemade cake and my visitor chooses buttercream, but the cake itself is as dense as a pound cake and the buttercream a half inch thick, so we barely make a dent in it. Now he's got a souvenir of our afternoon, not that I expect it'll last long.

Our conversation has a lot to do with the differences in Washington and Richmond, with our relaxed vibe and extensive yet accessible and affordable scene posing an even greater allure for him now that he's less encumbered by situation. Being the saleswoman for the city I am, I wasn't the least bit shy about extending the welcome vibe to the point of discussing neighborhoods he should consider and why.

Despite my lack of cheerleading chops, I am a spirited booster rooting for everyone to consider a move here.

Walking back along Clay Street, we see what the mighty wind has wrought in our absence: much scattered debris and branches down everywhere, including what looks like half a tree atop a car. I come home to a message from a friend," This wind is no joke. I feel like god is trying to communicate something."

Some of us are hoping they're just winds of change.

I have only to do an excruciating interview with a space cadet (so many platitudes, so little to say) before curating my next vibe with a favorite girlfriend I haven't seen since early December. Walking over to Saison Market, she regales me with a gory tale of how since we last met, she sliced her finger using a mandolin to make scalloped potatoes and wound up with five stitches.

But we've come to talk blood and guts of a different sort.

We've come for opinion swapping and updates on each other's lives, accompanied by a bit of wine, fried Brussels sprouts with goat cheese, fennel and coriander (too much cheese, I opine, while she insist she's never uttered those words because such a thing is impossible) and meaty pastrami spare ribs over a vinegary red slaw.

Alternating seems to be the best way to cover the past seven weeks efficiently, so we volley back and forth - the Women's March in D.C., my trip to California, watercolor classes, plays seen, the appeal of new friends, dealing with old friends, welcome and unwelcome visitors, life, love and chocolate.

The vibe is convivial and familiar with an '80s soundtrack of the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Split Enz. She and I have traded in these types of in-depth conversations for two decades now and it's become increasingly essential that we keep each other abreast of where the bodies are buried.

Somebody will need to know.

Before we can get to dessert, her beloved texts that they are still without power at home so he wants to meet her for dinner at Joe's Inn in Bon Air. Just like that, our outing winds down with the expectation that it will resume next week exactly where it left off.

If only all relationships worked that way. If we stop here, then we begin exactly here next time, with no period of reacquaintance necessary. Such tactics result in getting to the buried secrets so much more naturally.

Little was required from me to direct the vibe for the rest of the evening because company and location mostly did the job for me. I'd bought a ticket to see Cold Cave at Strange Matter back before Christmas and only a couple of days ago spontaneously invited a fellow music lover to join me for some deliciously millennial neo-'80s.

No, really, that's how I sold it to him. And he bit.

By design, I suggested Ipanema for a pre-show glass because the dim, low-ceilinged room is an ideal place to start the conversational ball rolling, not that that's been an issue at our meet-ups. Rapport came easily from the first.

Arriving first and snagging a prime seat at the head of the bar, I overhear the two young women behind me discussing life.

I'm so glad I'm in a relationship again. I'm a shit show when I'm single, out of control! I need to know I'm in a relationship to behave.

So much I could offer there. But before I could whirl around and share some older woman experience on that subject, a friend stopped by to say hello and share that he and his girlfriend had split up, a fact I hadn't known. Asking if it was mutual, he grimaced. "Well, look at her and look at me, so, no, not really. It's best for her, though and we're still friends."

My words were probably inadequate, as they tend to be when someone is clearly still hurting, but it was then that my friend showed up, shifting the vibe from casual social empathy to the pleasures of pre-music sipping and banter among a crowd full of others headed to the same dark place.

We walked into Strange Matter - the handwritten yellow sign on the door screamed "sold out!!" - where he took one look at the crowd and decided he was dressed wrong. But honestly, did he have anything suitable for watching L.A.'s Drab Majesty, a two-piece led by an androgynous singer in a space-age tunic with shocking Warhol-like white hair and kabuki-style make-up with black points above and below his eyes?

I'm not sure he did. Suspecting as much, I hadn't even tried.

The band's sound was equal parts Flock of Seagulls and New Order with liberal sprinkles of Goth darkness and played at a volume that probably should have had me reaching for the ear plugs in my bag, but didn't. What it did have me doing was moving in place non-stop, wishing there'd been room to really dance.

With no effort on my part beyond a ticket purchase, here I was part of a solid retro '80s vibe that spoke to an entire decade of music I'd loved the first time around.

Standing behind me, my friend leaned in and whispered, "How did you hear about this show?" Pshaw. My people know that at any given time, I often have the dirt on, if not the most compelling stuff going on, certainly something worth experiencing. That said, I also have a bad tendency to just make plans to go alone when I could be more mindful of inviting company to join me.

Cold Cave, the reason for the evening, came out and took the volume down just a notch, but kept us solidly in the '80s groove with leader Wesley's darkwave take on synth pop performed against a backdrop of changing images, words ("People are poison") and pulsating light shows.

Coming from a  hardcore background as he does (and which you could feel in his black leather-jacketed quasi-menacing performance style), we could have heard far more nods to Nine Inch Nails than we did, but mainly it was Depeche Mode and Joy Division influences front and center as they sucked in the electronica and goth-loving crowd.

On a night where the temperature had been steadily plummeting since I'd walked in shorts this morning, S'Matter still managed to wind up a sweaty, hot mess before Drab Majesty had even finished their set.

I marvel at how a venue can be stifling hot in both summer and the dead of winter. First I shed my coat, then my scarf, then my outermost shirt, yet still I glowed. And it's not like I run hot or anything 'cause it's gotta be stinkin' hot before you see me start disrobing.

The show wound down at a reasonable enough hour to settle in again at Ipanema, where the bartender welcomed us back by pouring more wine, while others from the show straggled in and we dove down the conversational hole.

By that point in my evening, the vibe once again established itself based solely on fine company and the cozy setting so truthfully, there wouldn't have been much a director of vibe could do to improve either.

Correcting a matter of semantics, perhaps, but who's up to to clarifying definitions at 1:30 a.m.? Even opinionated women have been known to get caught up when good vibes abide.

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