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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Ghastly Menace

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

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

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

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

I only hope the Girl Scouts know this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rather Than Alone and Pointless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe made them so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luckily, my moldering self didn't have to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fly Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she was happy to drool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Off Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bite Back

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

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

I can't make this stuff up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hi-Ho From the Starship Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color me ready to do it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Found Light

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

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

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

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

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

More alive
the body unit

Body made visible
after dawn.

Seconds of kissing
a man & I touching.

Body the gods decide 
should riverspin.

Arms and legs
invisible in seconds.

When I wake, a gun
nesting in my place.

Proof a man sunk
is a man inanimate.

Yet surely somewhere
dark there I am.

Chest disintegrating
lips: a feast of blue.

No skin to feed
the earth so I face up.

Bones green from a long
bed of moss.

Memory, a shorn path
through the forest.

Yet still regret is silver
and more silver.

Body beaming light
through the trees

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

You're Hopeful or You're the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race relations are neither.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to a Grope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writers and good hair made appearances in both.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In Dog We Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then don't most things?

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

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

Among other things.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Be For Real

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

Amen, brother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission accomplished, dear reader.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Death is Like Chesterfield County

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

Another day in the life, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

Then Maddin was introduced.

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

It goes without saying I'd attend that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about them transparent dangling carrots?