Setting out to focus solely on booze and Jews meant winding up hearing about condoms in a vintage bowl by the bed.
Walking into Cabell Library for the "Jews and Booze: America in the Age of Prohibition" lecture, the only woman friend I know capable of singing opera - and now with two little ones under 5 - exhorted me, "Keep on writing! It's the only way I know what goes on in Richmond anymore. You're in my feed!"
I swore to do my best.
Naturally, I'd expected the talk to have its share of students and it did - including the guy next to me who claimed he was there solely because "that period of American history fascinates me," bless his heart - but there was also a large adult Jewish contingent because Cabell is now the proud owner of an 18th century Torah that had just been put on display.
Having learned at past forays to events at the JCC that I could never be mistaken for a Jew and decades past being mistaken for a student, the only group I neatly fit into was "people who take off their glasses to read," as exemplified by the guy reading a (gasp!) newspaper in the row in front of me, his glasses resting across his thigh.
Just as I was about to force conversation on a complete stranger and suggest we look for others like us in the room, a fellow culture-lover I've known for years took the seat in front of me, saying hello and then whispering that her father used to run liquor.
While processing that unexpected nugget, the program began and author Marni Davis began explaining the long and complex intertwining of Jews and alcohol.
It wasn't so much that Jews were drunks, in fact, she pulled out much period evidence to the contrary: testimonials from back in the day asserting that they could consume alcohol with rigorous moderation and that reason would overcome any passion for drunkenness.
But they'd brought from their home countries a deep-seated knowledge of how to make (mostly whisky) and sell it, convenient since U.S. residents had been heavy drinkers since the Colonial period. And truly, would you have stayed in this god-forsaken wilderness without alcohol? Exactly.
That appetite for booze offered a way for recent Jewish immigrants to establish themselves economically since all you needed to start a saloon was a few bottles and someplace for men to stand around and drink. Their needs are really very simple.
Then the Protestants decided that Prohibition was a great idea and proceeded to force it on the entire country, railing against the Irish immigrants and their whisky and the German immigrants and their beer and putting out alternative facts that these drinkers were having a negative effect at the ballot box. Horrors!
Part of what the Protestants got their panties in a wad about was that the Jewish saloon keepers saw no reason not to serve blacks and whites, problem being that whitey didn't like that, especially with Jim Crow taking over. How dare Jews not follow the well-established color divide in this fine country?
Gadzooks, when you look back right through to the current administration, it's tough to find a period in this country's history when arrogant and clueless white men weren't imposing their will on everybody else.
Like a good speaker, Davis had found a local link and showed an image of a label reading, "Straus Gunst and Company, whisky distributors, Richmond, Virginia," as if we didn't already have some sense of how long Ole Virginny's been making hooch.
Instead of staying for the post-talk reception and looking like a fish out of the Chosen People's water, I instead went to a comedy show at Crossroads Coffee along with scads of other people inside and on the patio. As many times as I've been there for music, I've never seen a crowd this size being entertained.
Of course, this new world order means everyone could use more reasons to laugh, too, besides at the inanity of those in charge.
I found a safe spot with a good view by a table with a gay couple who insisted I wasn't crashing their party by getting so intimate with their space. The more vocal of the two also provided running commentary about each of the bits ("Oh, no, she is not going to talk about that!" Um, she did), which I enjoyed immensely since it was delivered in such a soft voice.
There were four comedians scheduled, followed by an open mic night for which 20+ people had signed up for 13 spots, so things never lagged and the reasons to laugh kept coming, just from different faces at the back of the room.
No surprise, aspiring comedians riff on what they know. Their exes (and why they don't want to hear about your ex). Why lifeguards should charge by the pound for rescue. Having a bookie grandmother who ran numbers. How it's easier to give up crack than food because there are no crack commercials on TV to tempt you.
There was even dating advice. "Sleep with a Mom! They have the best snacks ever!" I've heard of a lot of reasons for sex, but snackage is a first.
One guy - bearded, large belly with a generous shirt - got up, looked over at an audience member - gray bearded, large belly with a generous dashiki - and announced to the room, "Look, that's a future version of me." Ouch.
The always-entertaining Mary Jane French took the stage to say,"I'm one of those trans-gendered women you've been reading about," before sharing that after surgery, her new girl parts looked so sore and swollen that she looked to her mother for advice. Asking her when the traumatized bits would look human, her Mom (sounding as sensible as mine), gave her the blunt truth.
"Human? I don't know, but it'll look better with time." Some mothers just don't want to talk vaginal beauty with their daughters. MJ assured us that she'd been given the real thing, though, no scientific simulation or pale imitation. "This isn't a Hydrox, this is a real Oreo."
The same comedian who'd asked for a show of hands of who's ever peed on a couch before (there were several in the air) ended with a clever comedic sign-off, saying, "Thank you for having me. I apologize."
As anyone's bookie grandmother can tell you, better to toss out an apology later than ask permission beforehand. Just as long as the apology's not too late.
And, please, keep it real. No Hydrox, thanks.