Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Taking Some Air

My reputation as a heathen precedes me.

After inviting Mac to join me for some Fat Tuesday revelry, she mentioned her plans to her Mom on the phone, being sure to tell her that it was the most religious inclination she'd seen in me in our nearly two years of friendship.

My Catholic upbringing has nothing to do with it. It's all about dressing gaudy by layering on pattern, purple, green and orange (tonight while blasting Sergio Mendez and Brazil '66), eating pancakes and hearing a brass band.

We walked over to 821 Cafe for brinner (their word, not mine) and our adorable server - cut-offs, midriff and enormous red plaid flannel shirt - thanked us for reminding her it was Fat Tuesday since she'd forgotten.

Debating whether or not to share an order of buttermilk pancakes, when pressed, I had to admit that I could eat way more than half an order.

So it was that we shared an order of bacon, I got basic buttermilk pancakes, dousing half in syrup and half in strawberry jam as is my family's habit, and Mac got Union cakes, essentially the same pancakes except hers were mounded with berries, bananas and chocolate chips.

Deciding that it was an ideal evening for Espolon with pancakes, I ordered some, only to hear that they were out and that it was our server's favorite tequila, too. Seems it's what she always orders when she gets off her shift, which makes me suspect it was her fault they were out.

And I was right about the pancakes, I could devour far more than half a plate, yet I was still the recipient of pancake shaming. Mac ate exactly half her order and asked for a box, while I worked my plate down to nearly gone, yet guess who got the comments?

"Really, you can't finish that?" the server asked incredulously. "That's like four bites!" The problem was I'd been too full to eat the previous four bites, so I certainly didn't need anymore now. Convinced I'd want them later, she insisted on bringing me a box, too.

Leftovers in hand, we walked to the Grace Street Theater for VCU Cinematheque which was tonight showing "Black Girl" from 1966, the first film made by a black director on the African continent and focusing on colonialism (the French in Senegal), religion, education and a host of social activism-motivated themes.

The professor giving the pre-film talk prattled on about depictions of women and race, but also casually slid into her rambling that the main character commits suicide, a fact we were both furious to be told in advance. I don't even read movie summaries because I want the story to unfold for me with no prior information.

We'll call her a spoilsport.

Because it had sub-titles, we had to put up with simplistic translations like, "I'm going for a walk" when the character actually said, "I'm going to take some air," a far more lyrical way to say the same thing. But overall, the film was a fascinating look at an unfairly tilted colonial situation, replete with mid-century modern furniture, frosted lipstick and entitled white people.

It was while we were watching the film that the skies opened up and we heard rain beating so hard on the theater's roof that it competed with the soundtrack. No dummies, we'd both brought umbrellas for just such an eventuality.

The rain had lessened but not stopped when "Black Girl" ended, so we stayed for the Q & A despite wanting to tell the prof she'd spoiled the movie for us. Stepping outside, puddles were everywhere but nothing was officially falling.

We got as far as Broad Street when a guy asked for money for food and Mac inquired if he liked pancakes. When I turned around to check, he was devouring hers as we rounded the corner to Belvidere. That's a good egg, giving up her leftover breakfast like that.

She was also stoked about heading out for a brass band, saying, "You always know how to show a girl a good time!" I pride myself on it, actually.

Our final stop was the Gypsy Room because Illegal States was playing, albeit not for another hour. We made ourselves at home at the bar next to some of the musicians getting their dinner on beforehand, several wearing Mardi Gras beads.

When the bartender asked what we'd like, I told him to slide the absinthe drip our way because tonight was going to be Mac's first absinthe drip. She'd told me recently that she wanted to try the green fairy and there's no time like the present, especially on a night devoted to one last indulgence before sacrifice season sets in tomorrow.

It's not like I don't know this stuff, it's just I have no use for practicing any of it, well, except tonight.

Once our drips were cloudy and the green fairy in attendance, we turned our attentions to nearby strangers. Her first score was a Puerto Rican drummer playing with the band tonight, while mine was a Belgian woman who just last week sold the Fan house she'd owned for decades and moved to a cottage in Goochland.

 One guy arrived with a sequined silver mask on. Another had on an '80s sweater worthy of (dare I?) Cliff Huxtable. A lawyer came in and asked for a tall bourbon and ginger. "Tall or double?" the barkeep inquired. "Tall, but that's a good question to ask, especially on Fat Tuesday!" True that.

A bearded guy showed up bemoaning the abundance of what he called neo-Christian teenagers lined up next door at the National (not exactly how I'd have described them given the number of girls in fishnets and booty shorts), only to be told it was an Excision show - dubstep, in other words.

"You mean dumbstep?" he cracked. "No, thanks."

Turns out the Belgian was the mother of one of the band's drummers and she told me that her son had no idea she was coming tonight. When a young man walked up, he didn't look surprised in the least to see his Maman, and she couldn't figure out how he knew she'd be there.

"Call it a hunch," he grinned. Leaning into the bar, he said he wanted a Hurricane. "Hey, it's Fat Tuesday," he shrugged. The bartender had already told me he'd stopped by Lady N'Awlins on his way to work in order to score a Hurricane and some of the crawfish boil they were serving up.

The drummer Mac had been talking to had warned us that the Belgian's son's drumming was going to make things loud and when I shared that with him, he looked pleased as punch. "Wait, was he saying that was a good or bad thing?" he wondered aloud.

"No, that's cool," he concluded.

One of the band's trumpet player's came over to order a drink and I couldn't resist commenting on his magnificent sweater of white elephants on a black background, curious about where one acquires such a unique garment.

"Actually, Forever 21's men's section," he admitted softly, as if it were a secret. "They have some hidden gems there."

Finally, it seemed, the 10-piece Illegal Sates - 2 trombones, sax, 2 trumpets, tuba and 4 drummers/percussionists - got started and the sound of horns and rhythm filled the low-ceilinged room in an appropriately Mardi Gras manner.

The Belgian's son had his cowbell clipped to the side of the drum hanging from a strap around his neck. These guys weren't fooling around and girls were soon dancing with abandon in front of the band, while some of us kept our dancing on our bar stools.

"I like the WASP-y guy with his eyes closed," Mac whispered about a guy standing near us and so totally grooving to the music that he seemed oblivious to the rest of us.

When the band paused between songs, the Belgian looked at me and said, "We need a samba!" Considering she had an in with the band, I told her to tell them, not me.

It was easy to get lost in the band's energetic sound and never more so than when the horns stood to the side and let the drummers and percussionists steal the show playing off each other for an extended period.

Things got so heated that one guy called out from the crowd, "Is my girlfriend on fire?"

We didn't see any girls in flames, but she could have been radiating a heat others couldn't see. No question about it, these guys were tight on a night devoted to getting loose.

That's cool. And may Lent begin now that good times have put another Fat Tuesday in the bead-bedecked rear-view mirror.

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