Sunday, September 24, 2017

Big Love

Be present. Well, duh.

That zen-like reminder was painted on the wall of the restaurant, but not the first restaurant I went to today because that one was in service of my hired mouth and was for breakfast.

Breakfast was before we took a road trip to Norfolk listening to REM and the Bo Deans and cursing people who brake for no good reason and before our silver-tongued tour guide gave us a walking tour of Norfolk's waterfront.

It was during that walkabout that he led us to Java Surf Coffee Shop, passing a window display with a sign that read, "In a relationship, one person needs to be the emotional designated driver," sparking a discussion of whether that's true or not. Dissent was expressed; I abstained.

Eventually, we made it to the piece-de-resistance: the USS Wisconsin, a circa 1943 battleship rising up like a giant silver blowfish on steroids when we first encountered it head on.

Honestly, I was unprepared for how massive it was and if we'd had the time, I'd have been all about touring it. Another time, I hope.

Impressive in a different sort of way was a ridiculously long dark blue sailboat (by that, I mean far longer than my apartment times two) with masts too high to fit in the photograph I tried to take of it. That it was registered in the Cayman Islands gave us to believe there was drug-laundering money involved, but made it no less beautiful or tremendously sized.

After meandering through downtown, we landed on the sidewalk in front of a doormat-sized inlay that used fancy script to spell out "The Fontaine Room," giving testament to the restaurant's former life.

These days, it's a swinging hot spot called the Grilled Cheese Bistro which required a short wait for one of the community tables (which is the only kind they have, a trend I embrace), but paid off in spades with exceptional sandwiches (cooked in buckets of clarified butter), killer fries and a bartender who never let the hordes wipe the smile off her face or the good attitude from her words.

I think it was because she was being present. I know I was.

Now that I think about it, though, I may also have been swayed by them having Dominion Brewing root beer on tap, because what accompanies a Johnny Appleseed grilled cheese better?

By the time we rolled out of there, a long line had already begun snaking down the sidewalk in anticipation of tonight's Hanson show at the Norva, bringing up the question, who loves Hanson that much in 2017 anyway?

Clearly the show was sold out, but it mattered not because by late afternoon, we were heading back because we've got shows of our own in Richmond, you know.

And tonight's was a helluva bill: the Richmond Symphony with Tim Barry, Clair Morgan, Natalie Prass, Bio Ritmo and Matthew E. White.

Setting out on foot, we breezed past the crowded Grace Street restaurant patios to land at Maya, where our server was a familiar face and, coincidentally, a J-Ward neighbor. Given tonight's show, the place was mobbed and he was keeping everything handled with his usual aplomb and self-deprecation.

I don't often eat three meals out in one day unless I'm on vacation (I could stretch that a bit and say that with the road trip and playing tourist all day that it was vacation-like), but sometimes you just have to eat the fish tacos and be happy someone else is willing to cook for you.

Across the street, the Carpenter Center was filling up with a mix of longtime Symphony Pops subscribers and a whole lot of people who'd probably never been to the Symphony in their life, but were fans of one of the bands performing tonight.

It was a pretty fascinating show in that local musician Trey Pollard had written arrangements for their songs based on what would best suit their existing music. It ranged from Tim Barry being just a voice and guitar to Bio Ritmo's nine musicians (tonight with the bonus of singer Laura Ann Singh) and salsa rhythms, providing huge flexibility in where and how much the symphony came in.

Clair Morgan provided humor when his band took the stage without him and he finally came out, saying, "My wife's gonna kill me, but I can't find my guitar strap." Luckily, it was soon located and they could play, vibraphones and all, without any husbands being killed.

Ultimately, rock trumped symphony and light projections made the performance oh-so groovy while the crowd didn't hesitate to call out to friends and favorite performers onstage.

In the loo during intermission, I heard my name called and there was the woman I run into everywhere: the Northern Neck, a southside coffee shop, an obscure house show, now the symphony.

Heading back to my seat, I heard my name called and turned around to see my former neighbor. When I marveled that he'd recognized me from the back, he said it was my hair. I think I believe him.

Walking through the inner lobby, I ran into a gorgeous girlfriend and once in the outer lobby, a favorite sax player greeted me. My people were everywhere.

Be present often enough and they all find you. Okay, maybe not in the Fontaine Room, but definitely here in Richmond.

Does being asleep count as being present? Asking for a friend...

Friday, September 22, 2017

No Sin, No Trespass

Fall arrives and the play's the thing again.

I've been back from the beach for exactly 29 hours and in that time, I've eaten at 2 restaurants, been accompanied by two men, seen two plays, walked 5 miles with a friend I haven't walked with since we had a non-dotard president and interviewed a southern soul legend.

All I can say is, that's a lot to jump back into after being oceanfront for days.

For plot novelty and the elusive lesbian central character, there was Cadence Theatre's production of "Fun Home," spun from the graphic novel of the same name about a young woman growing up in Pennsylvania, discovering who she was and finally learning that her father was a closeted gay man, too.

Now there's a switch from walking on the beach.

Barely a day later, I got Virginia Repertory's production of "Shakespeare in Love," which means Tom Stoppard-written words (Is she obedient? As any mule in Christiandom!), fabulous period costumes and a plot designed for Shakespeare fans and students of love.

I will have poetry in my life!

Upstairs at Max's for dinner, we were part of the sizable pre-theater crowd, though most of them were on their way to see "Shakespeare in Love" and we weren't. But we were greeted by a favorite actor stopping by to say hello and guarantee that we'd be out in time for our curtain.

He wasn't just whistling dixie, either, because he also showed up with trifle at the end of dinner.

On the other hand, it was nothing but crickets chirping at Graffiato's, where we were the lone bar sitters and the crowd didn't even begin arriving until we were well into our roasted cauliflower, pizza and monkfish. Clearly some people didn't have a curtain to make.

The best part of coming back from the beach is all the things the beach doesn't offer, you know, plays and restaurants where people don't all wear flip-flops. Engaging my brain again and restocking on opinions and experiences.

The worst part is all these people complaining today that it's 85 degrees on the first day of fall. We've got plenty of time in the months ahead for cool, dry air and I'm going to enjoy every warm moment until I have to close my windows.

I'm also going to take the advice of the 75-year old southern soul legend, who assured me from Memphis, "Don't give up on love because love won't give up on you."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe entire plays have been written on that subject. Turns out I go to a lot of them.

Because in addition to the beach, I will have poetry in my life.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

No Way, Jose

I didn't buy the t-shirt (of course there was one), but I did survive Hurricane Jose.

Which means when I got back tonight and saw a photo online captioned that it was Jeanette's Pier on Monday as Jose was bearing down, I could scoff. I was on that stretch of beach Monday and while the waves were fairly furious and creating all kinds of wild sea spray, it was nothing as dramatic as in that picture.

By the time I got home, the internet powers-that-be had already decreed the picture to be photo-shopped, but all they really had to do was consult with any of us in the Moonstruck cottage posse. Had they, we would've commenced imemdiate scoffing.

And while Monday and Tuesday were as gray, soggy and cloudy as you'd expect from a hurricane, yesterday and today were perfectly glorious: sunny, breezy and perfect except that Jose's grip on the ocean - unlike the skies - continued.

The red "No swimming" warning flags have been a fixture for four days now. My bathing suits never got wet above the waist. The heartbreak of that was how ridiculously warm the ocean water was, not that we could do more than walk along the edge of the breakers and hope for unexpected crashing waves to come to us.

On today's walk coming back from Jeanette's Pier, we watched as a lifeguard in an ocean rescue vehicle began blaring his horn to alert a man and child that they'd ventured too far into the surf. The guy looked angry at being called out and the child looked grateful to be saved from this idiot.

We also walked through a surfing competition, complete with a grandstand of judges and scores of people manning cameras with telephoto lenses. We were so caught up in our conversation that we didn't immediately realize that everyone but us was staring out at the ocean watching skilled surfers take advantage of Jose's leftovers.

But then, part of that conversation centered around peeping toms.

Let me explain: when I first went to use Moonstruck cottage's outdoor shower Monday, I was impressed because it had a small dressing/undressing area separate from but enclosed in the shower area. At least I was impressed until I looked up as I was undressing and realized that two upper windows in the house next door had birds' eye views of me or anyone else in the dressing area.

Fast forward to the next day as we're walking to the pier and critiquing cottage architecture, quality of (or absence of) screen porches and the like. I spotted a small, old school cottage in the shadow of a much larger house, but what caught my eye was that the small house's outdoor shower was so low and so open that there were at least 5 vantage points from upper windows next door where a peeping tom could get an eyeful.

That's when it hit me: maybe there's some creepy website somewhere where people who want exactly that situation can rent those two houses and indulge their, um, peccadilloes, with willing strangers.

Voyeurs rent the big house, exhibitionists rent the small one and everybody gets a little extra fun out of their beach trip this year. Twisted, but kind of brilliant, right?

As our first full day on the beach, yesterday was a day to indulge ourselves after Jose's damp start to the week, which means that by the time happy hour rolled around, we did it up right with an oceanside cocktail party.

That meant Schramsburg "Mirabelle" Brut (because a day at the beach requires good bubbles) and Pierre Prieur et Fils Sancerre Rose (and not just because it reminded me of being in the Loire last summer, although that certainly didn't hurt), plus the always-charming Aime Roquesante Rose (which, given the fish-shaped bottle, should only be sipped beside a large body of water) and as we headed in to shower prior to going out to eat, glasses of J. Mourat "Collection" Rose (also known as Old Faithful).

Our afternoon stroll included me taking a side trip to the Outer Banks Fishing Pier to suss out its worthiness for an evening meal. I met the owner at the bait shop cash register and he told me to go out on the pier, check out the restaurant and see for myself why I'd want to come back.

Let's see, tables located over crashing surf? Check. Covered for shade but open to the salty breezes? Check. Live music tonight? Yup. Owner swearing they that stay open till at least 1 a.m.? Oh, yes.

With that kind of report, it wasn't too difficult to convince the rest of the cottage's occupants that we were eating al fresco after happy hour. We scarfed fish tacos, shrimp tacos, a massive cheeseburger and a dog, while listening to the waves crash and a cover band serenading us with '70s and '80s rock hits.

Best recap of last night's meal came at breakfast this morning, when the Manteo-born queen of the beach announced incredulously, "I ate a chili dog on the pier last night!"

As it turned out, she hadn't done such a thing in at least four decades. Ditto for how long since she'd last seen waves the likes of what Jose was kicking up.

I always say, it's never too late for an experience update.

Today was every bit as beautiful as yesterday but with the ideal breezes for flying kites.

We must have passed over a dozen of them walking along the shore, including one guy who had two strings attached to his kite so he could do all kinds of flips and tricks by maneuvering the strings with both hands. Several people had gotten their kites to just the right height that they could simply tie the string to a beach chair where it flew unaided.

Best line from my hostess: "Thanks for loaning me yours," a reference to my date, who'd been good enough to play the role of helpmate - setting up beach umbrellas, digging out sandy walkways, playing chauffeur - to her until hers arrives tomorrow.

Always happy to share.

She did also threaten him with revoking his musician's card ("I"ll revoke your hippie card, too," she warned him) when he didn't know certain musical trivia about the Grateful Dead, but that was the wine talking.

Driving 19 miles up the beach road to leave with all the car windows wide open, we were greeted time and time again by the scent of grass being cut in yard after yard. It's not what you expect to smell at the beach, but there it was.

I'm usually a Kitty Hawk kind of a girl, always preferring more northerly beaches, but damn if I didn't have a fantastic time in south Nags Head this week. I liked that there were some older houses mixed in with the wanna-be-McMansions, I liked being with walking distance of two very different piers and I loved going to older places new to me to eat and drink.

Mainly I loved the slower pace and smaller crowds of off-season. I'm now wondering why I haven't spent more time down here when it wasn't summer. The ocean sounds and smells just as fabulous in fall as it did in summer.

"I can't remember the last time I drove for three hours with the windows down," my date commented as we approached Richmond, clearly as happy with the situation as he was surprised. All I'd done was roll my window down as we'd pulled away from Moonstruck and he'd followed suit.

Hmm, sometimes I think my job is just to suggest wonderful things and see who wants to do them with me.

What that t-shirt I didn't get should have said was, "I lived through Jose and all I got was four absolutely stellar days of storms, sun, fun and laughter."

October, anyone?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Seen as Something More

As Stevie Nicks once sang, "Never, ever been a blue, calm sea. I have always been a storm."

When you've been coming to the beach since you were two weeks old, you get used to storms as just part of a beach trip. I know people who are bummed when a storm interrupts any part of their beach stay, but I'm not one of them.

Yesterday's walk involved a northerly wind so stiff I walked backwards for most of it. We came across what can only be called spontaneous beach sculpture - a shapely mass of wood, wire and dried seaweed - laid out on the sand as if part of some larger display.

Glossy black sea crows (we looked them up to verify) also looked like pieces of art against a turquoise cottage with bright white trim. The ocean was warmer even than the day before, with waves crashing so hard as the tide went out that there was a constant lace of ocean spray above the breakers.

All in all, a gorgeous day even given the constantly roiling clouds, intermittent rain and changeable gusts of wind that seemed to blow from multiple directions at once.

The balcony off our room is covered, making it a fabulous retreat when it is raining and the two-seater Nags Head Hammock Company chair that hangs from the floor above is about the most comfortable, not to mention local, way to lounge while taking in the length of the beach in front of us.

When it came time to decide where to head for dinner, the state of the flooded roads became a factor so we decided to stay in the 'hood and go to the venerable Sam & Omie's.

Interestingly enough, all 3 of my partners-in-surf-and-sand have been there before. Only I had somehow vacationed for decades here without ever making it there to eat. Part of that is my preference for more northerly beaches and part is simply that I've been to plenty of places very similar, so I'd never felt any urgency to make it a destination.

We shouldn't have been surprised to arrive to find lots of people sitting around waiting for a table, but we were. It was a gorgeous evening to await our turn outside, especially given how close the ocean is to the restaurant and how briny the air smelled.

Unfortunately, not everyone had the same attitude and one group walked by us, grumbling because they hadn't been given buzzers or pagers and were expected to listen for their names to be called.

Honestly, I applaud Sam & Omie's for keeping it pure with names and not devices. It's worked for them since 1937, so why change?

Everything about it was immediately familiar: the woody interior, sprawling layout, servers who call you "hon" and a straightforward menu with only a few concessions to eating off the land. Not the kind of place to find trendy fish, but just the place to find fried clam strips.

Old school seafood eating in a convivial atmosphere right up until 9 p.m. because when you're open from breakfast on, that's plenty late enough to be serving dinner.

My flounder was stellar, my date's marinated tuna brought two large pieces of flavorful fish and the onion rings positively perfect (sweet inside, lightly battered outside), making the accompanying clams the understudy not the lead.

Where Sam and Omie let me down was with dessert. Their coconut cake had whipped cream, not frosting (unacceptable) and our server regretted to inform us that the last piece of Heath bar chocolate torte had just been served.

That's where staying with the hostess with the mostess comes in handy because she spirited us back to the cottage for chocolate rum cake which she'd picked up in Bermuda a few weeks ago and a lively game of Scattergories set to a soundtrack of '60s R&B and crashing ocean surf.

But only after my companion and I walked down to the beach to investigate the unusually high tide which had come in during our absence and, with its serious encroachment on our walkway and steps, made clear that while Hurricane Jose had moved on, he wanted to be remembered.

Me, too. And because I'm a Gemini, I'd like it to be as part blue, calm sea and part storm. Always warm.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hurricane Hideaway

The surf is fierce and magnificent.

For my fourth trip to the Outer Banks in as many months, I packed a variety of clothes to cover all possible weather possibilities given the unknown effects of Hurricane Jose. The first thing we saw when we hit the beach road was a succession of red "No swimming" flags standing at attention in the stiff breeze.

And since we were driving nearly 19 miles along the beach road - the cottage is deep in South Nags Head - that meant we saw a lot of warning flags and, even better, plenty of off-season vacationers on their porches or trekking to and from the beach despite the weather.

The cottage is newish, three stories and except for a few design flaws, a fabulous vantage point for watching Jose's fury play out in the ocean from one of the four porches. As for those flaws, who the hell builds an oceanfront house with only one oceanfront bedroom (happily for me, the one assigned to yours truly) and leaves half the living room wall facing the ocean without a window?

Amateurs, that's who.

After we arrived, we chatted with our hosts who were wiling away the gray, misty afternoon watching their favorite Italian TV series before leaving them to it and heading to the beach. It was windy and the air was wet, if not actually raining, and I needed my jean jacket for the walk.

We passed only one other person brave enough to be out there, but the shell offerings were rich and we had a pier in sight to walk to, even if it was indistinct in the mist. It turned out to be the Outer Banks pier, but that paled in comparison to seeing the strings of lights and the tables full of people eating and drinking on it, the wild surf crashing underneath them.

Bummed that neither of us had our wallets, we were buoyed to know of local spot I haven't been to, which means one more place to land this September trip.

When we returned to the house, our hostess assumed I'd used the outdoor shower because of my wet hair, when all I'd done was walk outside through 99% humidity, enjoying every moment.

Happy hour began with Miraval Rose and segued seamlessly into a marathon game of Cards Against Humanity (with cards mixed in from Crabs Adjust Humidity  and how perfectly appropriate, given our current digs) that was interrupted only by the need to eat bowls of the cook's stellar chili.

Because our room has a sliding glass door to the balcony and a window oceanfront - both open at all times in sharp contrast to the rest of the air-conditioned house - we had front row seats when Jose kicked up winds so strong in the middle of the night that it was banging the bedroom door in its frame and knocking over items on the dresser.

None of which was a problem because of the satisfaction of hearing the roar of the surf all night long, as perfect a sleep aid as ever imagined. Also a terrific encouragement to sleep in to a ridiculous hour, for those who need such justification.

I don't. If 9 hours is my usual night's sleep, surely I qualify for more when my bed is mere feet from the ocean.

We woke up to hear that school and activities are canceled and Route 12 south of the Bonner bridge is closed completely. And from the looks of the ocean - enormous breakers are rising up so high and far out that the horizon has effectively disappeared - with good cause.

Sounds like an ideal time for a walk, if you ask me. Show me what you got, Jose...

Monday, September 18, 2017

Safe Travels

How do you say goodbye to someone who left too soon?

With tears and stories and wine. It starts with many uncomfortable greetings, acknowledging how great it is to see people and yet for such a sad reason. Most people are still at the stunned stage, somewhere just past anger.

There's a box filled with slips of paper and Sharpies so everyone can write a message to she who is no longer inhabiting flesh.

This part's easy. I know what I want to tell her and I know what I need to thank her for.

Eventually, we all go outside and gather around a small fire to pay tribute to her. Some, not all, people eulogize her, share anecdotes, raise a toast and lay flowers on the fire. When everyone who wants to speak has done so, all the notes are put on the flame to become smoke signals to the great beyond.

I choose not to speak, although I know exactly what stories I'd share. Instead, I wait until people begin moving inside and go stand by the fire to silently tell her all the things that matter. All the reasons I have to be grateful for her insight.

Where I feel lucky is with how many people share with me things she said about me. She once told me that my only responsibility was to keep being as fabulous as I was, but I'd had no clue she'd said such generous things to others about me.

Everyone praises her forthrightness, her live and let live demeanor, her ability to make everyone feel like she was happy to see them.

As the hours pass, the crowd dwindles to just a handful of people sitting outside as the fire dies out. More heartfelt toasts ensue because everyone left knew her well.

Well enough to know she'd have hated what we did for her tonight, even if she understood why we needed to do it.

All I can do is remember her kindness to me and her hope that I'd find the happiness she was sure I deserved.

All I can be is glad to have known someone so gloriously unfiltered.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Film Supreme

It's in my own best interest to take a musician with me to see a film about music. Or even two.

When I saw that the 2nd annual Afrikana Independent Film Festival was showing "Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary," I wasted no time in inviting a musically-inclined date. Then, for good measure, I invited another favorite musician, because I can never have too many musicians to ask questions of.

And while he wasn't available for dinner beforehand, my date was, so we strolled over to Asado and managed to grab the last two bar stools in a place full of the usual Friday night revelers as well as Afrikana-bound film lovers.

For all we knew, there were counter-protesters eating and drinking away, too.

Given the clutch of people outside on the sidewalk waiting for an opening, one thing no one was doing was lingering, so we ordered guacamole and chips to buy us time to check out the menu and then ordered promptly.

Although I'm not particularly a heathead, I was completely seduced by the honey sriracha shrimp tacos with their reassuring kind of heat - the kind that immediately fires up your mouth and then drops off quickly. All the fire, none of the pain. My date seemed to think his barbacoa tacos surpassed mine, but he was mistaken.

We didn't gulp our meal, but we definitely inhaled it faster than my grandmother would have approved of, mainly because of all the hungry people hovering near the door. I got up to use the loo before we left and a guy swooped in and claimed my stool before I even opened the bathroom door.

Our walk continued to the Grace Street Theatre where we met up with musician #2, a longtime Coltrane fan. One of several festival photographers came over and asked to take a shot of us representing some of the first VIP passholders in line (I'm just hoping it's not captioned, "A musical idiot accompanies two men with a clue").

Inside, we found excellent seats in the center and watched a jazz trio onstage, notable because the sax player's instrument was clear. As in see-through. I don't know about you, but I had no idea clear saxophones existed.

And I'm going to guess that Coltrane himself couldn't have imagined such a thing, either.

The film was a fascinating primer on Coltrane's short life (he died of liver cancer at 40) and for me, it was invaluable in laying out how the man's sound and musical philosophy developed. Equally compelling was learning who had influenced him along the way: Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk.

Of the various talking heads in the documentary - John Densmore of the Doors, Carlos Santana, Bill Clinton, Wynton Marsalis and various former bandmates of Coltrane's - by far the most engaging was Cornel West, who managed to add a dramatic element (eyes wide, voice inflection, body lean into the camera) to every comment he made, often eliciting laughter from the crowd.

One of the funniest anecdotes told was about the extended solos Coltrane did while working with Miles Davis. In one scene of Davis' band playing live, we could see Miles taking a cigarette break on the side of the stage with other musicians while Coltrane blew his solo.

Apparently, Trane's solos ran way longer than Davis' and he called him on it. Trane explained that he didn't know how to stop playing and Davis told him to try taking the horn out of his mouth. Hilarious.

And because Coltrane never did any TV interviews, his words from print interviews and liner notes were read by Denzel Washington to accompany still photos and that would be my only complaint about the film. It's impossible not to recognize Denzel's voice, which makes it tough for the words to register as Coltrane's.

There was footage of Coltrane playing at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, where his atonal, more challenging and exploratory new style caused half the attendees to walk out mid-set.

Interestingly enough, one of those who'd walked out was saxophonist Plunky Branch who, along with hip hop artist Talib Kweli, gathered onstage after the film to discuss Coltrane and take questions from the audience.

Not surprisingly, Plunky had some regrets about walking out that long ago day.

I didn't walk out of the film a Coltrane expert by an stretch, but I did leave with a far better understanding of the man and how his soulful, spiritual tone became a new standard in jazz. Like Santana said, Trane didn't limit himself to any one genre because he "played life."

Walking out of the theater, all three of us acknowledged that we'd learned things about Coltrane we hadn't known and isn't that the point of a great documentary? It only made sense to begin our post-film discussion (and my questions) on the walk home.

Once my date and I were back at my place and comfortably ensconced on the balcony, I played the only Coltrane album I own, not "A Love Supreme," but "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman" from 1963.

It sounds like the ultra hip late night music of the early '60s when the U.S. was on a post-war high and acting like it was the coolest kid on the planet. The kind of sound that inevitably involved a low-ceilinged club, lots of cigarette smoke and a singer, in this case, Johnny Hartman, with the classic jazz vocal range of an Ella Fitzgerald.

And, you know what? His sax solos frequently lasted longer than the verses sung by Hartman. Unlike Miles Davis, though, neither of us had any complaints about that.

Conclusion of a musician and a musical imbecile: no one beats Trane for "playing life" on a warm September night.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Blow Out the Candles and Make a Wish

Virgos, so they say, dislike being the center of attention.

But that kind of minor detail goes out the window when a favorite Virgo is celebrating her 80th turn around the planet and she has a posse itching to celebrate with a seven-hour party in her honor.

The fetivities kicked off on the screened porch of Pru's manse - complete with a string of pink flamingo lights - where the birthday queen made her entrance in a gorgeous white dress with a green coral-looking design and wearing a necklace and earrings she'd crafted the day before to match the dress' colors.

I can only hope that someday I'm cool enough to have a necklace to match a particular dress.

We raised our flutes filled with Simmonet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc and the birthday girl was quickest at the verbal draw, announcing, "To me!" before any of us could do it for her.

You know how dependable Virgos can be.

But they're also known to be self indulgent and if you're going to splurge on your birthday, Shagbark is as good a place as any to do it, assuming you don't mind eating in a strip mall. The patio was new to us but plenty of people seemed to be enjoying themselves there, no doubt due to the glorious weather.

The first matter was setting up our table to accommodate three left-handed people, no easy task, and followed by tales from growing up left-handed (beatings with rulers, adamant grandmothers, forced switching) that sounded positively Byzantine.

You don't think about right hand privilege until you hear about left hand reality.

In what turned out to be foreshadowing, we decided on Domaine du Dragon Rose despite none of us having heard of it. Our server explained that they'd brought in the Provence Rose because of a "Game of Thrones" watching party.

He also apparently took stock of our group and decided to warn us that there were only three more bottles of it in house.

Forewarned is forearmed and all that.

And while Virgos may be sensible, the rest of us ordered with abandon. The star of a dish called up south fried green tomatoes with shrimp and bleu cheese was the summery succotash, of which I could have eaten an entire bowlful. Black mission figs with prosciutto were to die for. An heirloom tomato salad reminded us that fall is a week away.

It was all fish, all the time when it came to entrees - tilefish, swordfish,  two trouts and a seafood stew - with bites being traded via bread plates and boarding school reaches.

When our server came over, he wanted to know if we needed anything else. My standard answer to that since November 8th has been, "A new president?" and as I said the words, his face lit up in relief and pleasure.

Leaning down so he could speak honestly and quietly, he said, "Oh my god, I love you! I have to bite my tongue when I hear tables talking about how great Trump is and it happens a lot." Looking around at the clientele, it seemed likely we were in the minority when it came to politics and tax brackets.

Too bad, my date commented, since his guess was that Democrats tip better than Republicans.

Pru had brought one of her presents to be opened at dinner and the birthday girl was nothing short of gob-smacked to open a card and see that she'd been given a week at the beach. Her jaw dropped even further when she was told she'd better start packing because she leaves Sunday. Fortunately, Virgos are also flexible.

"I need to get busy washing my underwear!" she exclaimed. Or use my method and just wear your bathing suits the entire week. Whatever works for you.

The good news is, there are no underwear police at the beach.

In what was surely a first for this group, we eschewed dessert off the menu, but only because we knew that the porch awaited with birthday carrot cake, more gift-opening and libations galore.

The two non-alpha males discussed their need for only one pair of pants between them and brought science into the conversation every chance they got, while the womenfolk kept things lively with our thoughts on everything else that mattered.

Like why you marry someone. The birthday girl had given up on her boyfriend of 8 years not proposing, so when she met another guy and he proposed after 3 weeks, she married him. Of course, then the boyfriend wanted to marry her but she turned him down despite their history.

Her rationale was that the new guy was taken enough with her to propose after 3 weeks while her former boyfriend hadn't been motivated during 8 years and only asked when he heard she was getting married.

Pru thought that was crazy talk, but I could see where the Virgo was coming from.

Where things got a bit hazy for me was when everyone else went down the "Game of Thrones" rabbit hole and I was left buffing my nails and looking at the ceiling. I'm sure it was impressive to see a tribe of half naked men with one foot in the stirrup and the other on their steeds' back as they shot arrows at the enemy, but...yawn.

Beau noticed my glassy eyes and suggested ways to entertain me, but there was too much GoT passion on the porch to fight it, so I just had to wait it out. It's a huge favorite of the birthday girl who loved the spectacle of it and, because she's an analytical Virgo, the layers of sub plots and story twists best followed when binge-watching. Or so I was told.

One subject where we could all agree was that age is nothing but a number and more a matter of how you feel than what your driver's license says. Even so, I made it clear that I refuse to think of anyone as old if my number is higher than theirs and that was everybody on the porch except the birthday girl.

And although she wouldn't divulge her wish when she blew out her candles, Virgos are naturally curious, so I wouldn't be surprised if it involved a half naked man on a steed.

But they're also down to earth, so I'm pretty sure she'll get that underwear washed first.

I bow down to a magnificent Virgo woman who has her priorities straight.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The One That Got Away

Another  morning with James, or what I did for friendship.

My planned walking companion pulled the weather wimp card when the sky began spitting, so I replaced him in the blink of an eye with fleet-footed Mac. She'd spilled coffee on her white shirt just before coming over and elected not to bother changing because she knew I wouldn't care.

Pshaw, as long as my companion's feet and conversational skills can keep up with me, I care not what state their attire is in.

As always happens when we first get on the pipeline, she expressed her joy in being there, saying she never wanted to lose an appreciation for such a treasure. Is it any reason I love her?

Just as we got to the first major fall, we spotted a loon taking the rapidly moving water like a champ and then craning its neck to look back at what it had just conquered before moving on to the next rapid. I've seen kayakers do the same thing.

We passed a man bathing in the river, rinsing out his clothes and hanging them on nearby branches to dry. Any day is apparently laundry day when you live at the river.

A little further on, we spotted a blue heron through the trees perched on one leg atop a branch, its head tucked so far down  it appeared neck-less. "I'm going to try to get a picture," Mac said, unzipping her pants pocket to retrieve her cell phone.

Cue dramatic music in the background.

Also in that pocket was her car key, her only car key, which inadvertently followed the phone out before dropping into the shallow river bed below. Surprisingly, given the proliferation of marsh grasses and rocks, we could see exactly where the key had landed.

Now getting to it, that was an entirely different matter.

The area just under us was shallow, but there were much deeper waters between us and the key, while the closest ladder to dismount the pipeline was one of those small series of curved rungs with virtually no toe room attached to the pipeline itself.

I headed toward it, with Mac saying how glad she was this had happened with an easygoing friend like me and not someone who wouldn't have seen it for the adventure it was.

The most challenging part of making our way across the water to the other side - which we had to do to avoid the deep areas - was finding footing in an ever-changing river bottom. The silt-y sand wasn't so bad but plenty of rocks (and rusted out beer cans) made themselves known as we attempted to mount them or find a path between them.

It was slow going but also beautiful in that we were getting a view of the river and pipeline few do as we waded through schools of tiny fish and underwater jungles of fallen branches.

The visuals alone were worth the adventure. Heading westward, the river took a bend, providing a view of the water between overhanging branches that appeared to lead to some sort of fairyland or enchanted cove where small scallops of whitewater broke up the surface.

Moments after the key was retrieved, a man walking on the pipeline above spotted us, waved and called down, "I used to do that kind of thing when I was young!"

Rather than let him think we were Dora the Explorer, we stood there thigh deep in the river explaining what had happened and how we'd addressed it. Mac kept patting her zippered pocket to make sure the key was safely there.

"You're my heroes!" he called before continuing his walk while we tried to navigate slippery rocks and slog our way back to put on our shoes and maneuver the curved ladder that was far more difficult to climb up than down.

Righting ourselves once we reached the pipeline, we felt energized and not a little like conquering heroes.

When it comes to friendship and the river James, whiners and the unadventurous need not apply.

Calling Out, Calling Out

My balcony is small but mighty.

It only has room enough for two chairs - one director's, one adirondack, both spring green - and a table (for a boombox) because the rest of the space is taken up by two large window boxes and a plant stand. The two deep window ledges hold more potted plants, candles, a clay sculpture of a head, seashells and, because time evaporates out there like rain on hot pavement, a clock.

Just last weekend, there were four of us on that balcony (a first), making for a pretty tight squeeze, but generally, I entertain one person at a time out there. It's cozy and intimate, an ideal place to dish while sipping wine or watching moonflowers open.

So when an old friend showed up with a bottle of Jean Laurent Blanc de Noirs Brut wanting to toast to a mutual friend, neither of us could think of a better place to enjoy it than in the soft evening air of my balcony.

My sole job - besides the all-important one of holding up my end of the conversation - was handpicking our soundtrack and after one false start ("It's not very happy music," he observed of Yo la Tengo's "I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One" that I'd put on), we settled in with an old mix CD from summer 2003.

Called "Get Your Drive On," it had its own liner notes where the maker had written, "Music for a drive in the country...wishing you had a '67 Chevy droptop and an underwear model in the passenger seat."

And, yes, a former boyfriend actually thought it was a good idea to write that on the first mixtape he ever made me. Clearly he wasn't worried about leaving me with the wrong impression.

In any case, listening to the mix was a treat for both of us because it was such a well-chosen assortment of underplayed artists from the happy-go-lucky sounds of Amy Correia to the guilty pleasure pop of Rocking Horse Winner to the psychedelic groove of Mae Moore (aided by a requisite cover done by Todd Rundgren).

As my guest pointed out, with that kind of masterful song selection, it was no wonder I'd fallen hard for the guy who'd made it for me all those years ago.

By the time the 17 songs were over, we were ravenous and abandoned the balcony to head straight to 821 Cafe for dinner. Except that once parked, my friend decided he'd rather have Dinamo and I'm hardly going to argue with that.

We slid onto stools next to the massive espresso machine and in the blink of an eye were bantering with a guy at the bar about how mean people live longer. This was good news for my friend, who has limited tolerance for most human beings.

When the bar sitter got up to leave not long after, he came over to use his theory to reassure my friend, "You're going to live a long time!" Apparently I didn't come across crabby enough to rate my own dire warning.

A bottle of Italian Rosato accompanied a starter of crostini with smoked whitefish and red onions, so good it was worth being mean just so you could stay around to eat it longer. That was followed by an impressively large piece of rockfish with mixed greens (friend dubbed it the best piece of fish he'd ever had) and my abundance of mussels in sop-worthy white sauce with squid ink fettuccine.

Of all the available toppings for our chocolate espresso torte, friend opted for whipped cream and cherries and good as it was, we still couldn't finish it.

By that time, the other guests had cleared out and we realized that we recognized one of the servers from her former days of being a wine rep. Turns out serving suits her better these days since she became a Mom. "Nobody tells you what it's like," she lamented.

That's how we keep the human race going, my dear.

With an elegant sufficiency for both of us, we saw no better way to wile away the evening than returning to my balcony for music. The air was just as soft, it was still relatively early and we both knew there was plenty more conversation to be had.

The next CD was a 2008 mixtape that got us talking about the National's unusual drummer, the Decemberists' singer's braying voice and how I'd once been chided for not recognizing Neko Case's voice.

Following that was Tim Finn's 1993 gem "Before and After," a CD we'd both listened to repeatedly over a decade before discovering that we shared an appreciation for it. "And he's not even the most talented brother, " my friend cracked.

In vino veritas. He only wishes he was Finn brothers fan #485 (and yes, that's a real person).

Like I said, time vanishes on that balcony and the night was no exception as we talked about life goals, a recent missive from a mutual New Zealand friend and, best of all, people who are hokey.

Once the neighborhood had quieted down and my neighbors' lights went out, we were still hanging on the balcony, by that time listening to the evening's final offering, Big Star's "In Space" from 2005. It was a CD I'd gotten as a Christmas present just before going to London and Scotland for the first time and it holds up beautifully.

Not that just about any music wouldn't show well when you're comfortably ensconced on the balcony with a single moonflower in bloom and the occasional stiff breeze ruffling the wind chimes and tree tops just beyond my backyard.

Nobody tells you what it's like, so the only surefire way to find out is to get invited to my balcony. There's not much to it, but I can pretty much guarantee a most engaging evening once you're there.

Some people have even been known to thank me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Smokin' in the Dorm Room

If you're of an age, you know where you were.

Over dinner at My Noodle & Bar, Mac and I talked about where we'd been the morning of September 11 when we heard the news. She'd heard it on NPR on the way to work while I'd already been at work when the art director came into my office to say that a plane has hit the World Trade Center.

Of course, this being 2001, I immediately assumed that it was some horrible accident. Despite not being a television watcher, at his suggestion I'd followed him into his office to find a tiny TV showing the burning building.

And as I watched, the second plane hit. That was all I needed to get up, walk back into my office and get back to work. I'm not the kind of person who needs to see horror and in those few moments, I'd already seen something I wished I hadn't.

Mid-day, I'd left the office to go to the nearby seafood joint for a shrimp salad sandwich, which I took back to my apartment on Floyd Avenue and ate on the screened porch listening to NPR while trying to process the shift in the world under my feet.

I recall looking at the sky and wondering how it could look so normal.

Because I'm not a TV person, I did not tune in to see any more footage of the attacks then or later. Sure, I saw pictures in the Washington Post and I read thousands of words about what had happened, but I consciously avoided TVs.

Only today, 16 years later, did I see a photograph apparently known as "falling man" and it's not an image I wanted to see. I'd read plenty about people who'd fallen or jumped to their death that day, but I could have lived out my life without seeing an actual photo of it.

Tough as the events that day had been to process as an adult, they were nearly impossible for newly-arrived college students to grasp and that was the basis of "September Morning," a just-released film that made its L.A. premiere Friday.

After a minute of silence for those lost in the attacks, the lights went down as Mac and I scarfed through the holy grail of movie snacks: buttered popcorn and Milk Duds.

Director Ryan Frost had just started classes at University of Richmond when the attacks happened and his script was a result of how he and his posse handled such a momentous event at the tender age of 18.

No surprise, it involved pizza, alcohol and cigarettes, plus endless trivial freshmen discussion of sex, SAT scores, divorced parents, religion, fate and genital size over the course of September 11th into September 12th.

And while the students never said exactly what school they were attening (although they did admit it was no one's first choice for college), the spider on the dorm room wall (near the beige Trimline phone) made it pretty clear to locals it was UR.

In the Q & A with the director after the film, he admitted he'd had the set designed to mimic his UR dorm, complete with bay window.

My biggest complaint with the film was how self-aware these 18-year old were made to sound. Do I believe that freshmen talk about how they were the center of their parents' world? Nope. Or that an 18-year old guy is going to tell his buddies that nothing will change because of a terrorist act? I do not.

That said, I can see how by the age of 30 when he wrote the script, that those lines of dialog seemed necessary to further the theme. But don't try to convince me that any UR kid pontificated about how they really didn't know each other, despite the tragedy-induced closeness they felt that night.

But my main takeaway was about how inherently different those 18-year old kids were than 18-year olds today.

Today's freshmen have a better sense of how awful the world can be (hell, they're living through the most disturbing administration in history, all the while trying to rack up "likes"), so I doubt they could be as affected as the class of 2005 had been.

And that's a tragedy in its own way, but hopefully we'll never have to find out.

At Least It Took

Don't lure me to a cemetery with wine and then try to get me to say god. Not happening.

This afternoon was the official unveiling and dedication of the new Daniel Norton grave monument at Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Those not up on their Virginia wine might not recognize the name of the man who discovered Virginia's native grape, but let me assure you, he's a pretty big deal.

As today's speaker acknowledged, other than Chief Justice John Marshall, Dr. Norton is the most important person buried in that cemetery and that's saying something.

None of that was news to me since years ago I'd read Todd Kliman's "The Wild Vine" and learned the story of the doctor-turned-viticulturist and his life-long devotion to the grape that has since carried his name: the Norton.

For that matter, for years now I've made a regular pilgrimage to Shockoe Hill Cemetery for the sole purpose of maintaining the five stones I placed on Norton's original grave marker.

I'd even trekked to Chrysalis Vineyard because it has more acres planted with Norton than any place in the world and an array of wines made with the Norton grape. I know a lot of people find the grape's taste too foxy, but I like what our speaker described as "an American kind of wildness taste" that Norton has.

That's just a long-winded way of saying that I was happy to walk over to the cemetery to witness any and all festivities dedicated to Dr. N.

Walking toward the gravestone, I noticed two things simultaneously: two rifles casually propped against a nearby tree and a swooping trail of large white mushrooms, no doubt the result of those rainy days last week.

Things got started when a four-piece color guard from the General Society of the War of 1812 marched out from behind a tree in lockstep, all carrying flags. That's when they wanted us all to say the pledge of allegiance and while I'm willing to do that, I have never accepted Dwight Eisenhower's decision to insert the words "under god" into the pledge.

Which made me the sole person at the cemetery today with her hand over her heart who also went seamlessly from "one nation" directly to "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Sorry, but I fail to see how a country founded on the principles of separation of church and state should require its citizens to acknowledge some crazy Christian's notion of a higher being. Nope.

Shockoe Hill had brought in the big gun to sing the praises of the Norton grape (and the 30-some varieties that grow in Virginia today): Jenni McCloud, owner of Chrysalis.

She talked about how all the Norton grapes in Virginia died out during Prohibition and how Horton Vineyards had been the first to plant it again. How Norton had been trained as a surgeon but followed his passion to become a farmer and viticulturist instead. She even humble bragged that her Norton Locksley Reserve had been rated #2 in the world by an important European wine magazine.

The marker, complete with a bas relief image of the good doctor, was unveiled to oohs and ahs. But the real treat was watching the color guard's rifle salute afterward, marred only when one of the two riflemen found his gun jamming and unable to fire.

To lighten the moment, the head of the color guard observed, "Can you imagine everyone coming at you in battle and you have trouble loading your gun?" Rhetorical question.

Naturally, "Taps" followed, taking me back to summer camp, except then it had been played on a bugle and not a cell phone. But don't get me started.

Tonight's fun was Laura Lee's one year anniversary party for friends and neighbors and held in their about-to-open back garden, which was in full blooming splendor tonight.

As far back as late May, I'd celebrated my birthday and that of a fellow Gemini in Laura Lee's garden, but none of the plantings were nearly as mature then, the strings of lights hadn't been added nor the comfortable furniture brought in. All the pieces were in place tonight to wow.

People had broken up into small groups, so simply moving between groups meant a change in conversations. A woman eating only a bite of spanikopita said that spanikopita was the only food she knew how to make. Another lamented her decision to wear high-heeled pumps. A man blanched at the mention of a $42 steak.

A favorite couple was there and they were just back from eating at Oriole in Chicago, although they'd run out of time to do the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio. That led to a conversation about Richmond's restaurant scene back in the days when Millie's, Mama Zu and Helen's were as good as it got.

Those who didn't live here then found it tough to fathom that Helen's had ever been a big deal, but I know that it was the first place I was ever served gold leaf on top of a bisque, something that was most definitely not happening anywhere else in Richmond back then.

There was speculation about what's going into the former Kinfolk spot (and who signs a ten-year lease on a restaurant anyhow?), opinion swapping about the swank Brenner Pass, an in-depth analysis of the Roosevelt's burger versus Laura Lee's and a fair amount of trash talk about the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Wine and whiskey punch were laid out for guests to help themselves while appetizers of Mexican street corn, spanikopita, sausages and egg rolls were scooped up to keep pace with the booze.

Being surrounded by so many of Laura Lee's neighbors, I was bound to hear the restaurant's praises sung all night long. Everyone was so grateful that they now have this wonderful place to eat, drink and hang out right in their neighborhood.

I get it. People like to be able to walk to their neighborhood joint and stumble home when necessary.

And while it's not that for me - it's a tad too far to J-Ward - it has turned out to be a terrific place not only to meet up with friends but to meet new people. Repeatedly, in some cases.

You know what they say, as many times as it takes. The rest is easy.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Your Song Still Needs a Chorus

As 12-hour double dates go, it would be tough to beat one as epic as today's.

The four of us convened at my house for the trek to the Northern Neck with Pru and Beau regaling us with tales from their recent trip to Bermuda. I don't know which sounded more wonderful, the meals or the beaches, but I'd be willing to go back to make that determination.

Our first stop of the day was Dog and Oyster Vineyard where I had zero interest in sitting outside and every intention of parking ourselves on the expansive screened porch. We were shortly joined at our table by an older couple who were driving back from Hampton and stopped for a sip.

Consensus: the 2015 Oyster White required, well, an oyster (Beau scored a half dozen from the Byrd Seafood stand but not until after the wine was history), the 2015 Pearl was an easy porch sipper, the robust 2016 Rosie spoke to all of us (that 5% Chambourcin tank bleed), the 2014 Shelter Dog Red was a lovely, soft Chambourcin and the 2014 "Mellow" Merlot finished us off.

Half the time, the conversation at our table was so lively (a polite word for loud) that the woman pouring for us could barely make herself heard as she attempted to describe the wines.

In the center of the tasting table was a pile of oyster shells, plenty of which had been decorated using the array of colorful Sharpies grouped in a glass. There were mentions of a great girls' weekend away, several "I love yous" to specific people, artistic renderings of butterflies, sun and skies, and abstract squiggles.

My date studied the interior of a shell looking for something, much the way we find images in clouds, and cleverly used the shell's markings to fashion a face.

Beau wasted no time using a dark green Sharpie to design his own, which alluded to his willingness to relinquish the wearing of his pants to Pru. I added an orange sun so it wouldn't be so monochromatic and it was added to the pile for posterity.

We met the vineyard dogs - a couple of old beagles and a hound - in the closest vineyard while admiring the size of nearby grape clusters. Across the road, we spotted a couple bicycling across the field en route to the tasting room.

The scene was nothing short of a picture postcard extolling reasons to visit the Northern Neck.

From there, we wound our way back across the Whitestone Bridge - still being painted the most glorious shade of silvery sky blue - in search of riverside dining. We timed it perfectly: a large table near the river was being cleaned off as we approached the nearly full patio.

The next few hours were given over to sipping and supping (although I was the only one who'd expected this meal to be dinner, since the others had all skipped lunch and were ravenous) under cumulus cloud-strewn bright blue skies. An American flag on a nearby dock showed us the wind direction, although since I was facing it, I already knew from whence it blew.

On a trip to the bathroom, I ran into the chef I've known since the place opened, who was busy shucking oysters because of how busy they were.

We reminisced about how a simple tasting room concept had morphed into a place that's busy just about every day ("This place was never meant to serve 800 covers a day!" he lamented), causing me to apologize for adding to the weekend madness.

Pru warned our server that we were never going to leave and she seemed to take it in stride, allowing us to order leisurely until dusk. We started with bottles of Cave de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet and La Galope Rose Comte to accompany the Old Saltes my date (the one who didn't eat raw oysters before taking up with me) and I inhaled and the pound of seriously spiced shrimp Pru and Beau needed.

As tables around us came and went, we continued the feast and endless commentary. Angels on horseback, a shrimp and crab roll, tuna tacos, a special of drum fish and a summer salad did a fine job of plugging the holes in our appetites.

Which is not to say we didn't save room for dessert. My date and I shared a stellar key lime pie while Beau tried an interesting take on pecan pie (airier and less Karo syrup-based than any I'd ever had) and Pru had her own key lime pie. When the two of them asked our server for coffee, she said they didn't have any.

When Pru inquired when they would, our server said, "Next month." Pru didn't miss a beat. "We'll wait."

Instead, we finished off the wine as the sun slid lower in the sky and plotted our next move on the drive back. A stop at Saison Market addressed their caffeine needs, after which the party re-commenced at my place.

And by party, I mean a swingin' scene that required playing not one but two Brass Ring records to get everyone in the proper frame of mind. We imagined my apartment crowded with guests and just how we'd samba through the hordes in search of a drink or new acquaintance.

For that matter, the Gary Farrell Pinot Noir didn't hurt the cause, either.

The two pants-optional science/audio nerds dipped down a rabbit hole that involved wow and flutter, pop and hiss and lost Pru and I entirely along the way.

Meanwhile, I kept the records playing with Roberta Flack (always a classic for a DC girl), Gladys Knight and the Pips (a live album that spurred a discussion of music recorded live), Linda Ronstatd (and correcting mistaken assumptions she had expired), Rickie Lee Jones (Pru: "All I need is a cheroot") and when we moved to the balcony for Pru's smoke break, Marshall Crenshaw's iconic first album under a midnight blue sky.

At one point sometime after midnight, Pru inquired about the time and Beau stood up, taking it as a signal they were leaving shortly. Instead, she explained that one announces one is leaving but the actual process of doing so involves another 30-60 minutes of conversation.

It's like a warning shot: we will depart the premises in an hour or so.

Frankly, I was fine with the notice. As one of our quartet pointed out late in the evening, her face hurt from laughing so hard all day. All of us nodded in agreement.

By that time, we were into our tenth or eleventh hour of non-stop chatter and humor, broken up only by putting food or drink in our mouths.

This groove may be out of fashion and these beats may be 30 years old, but any time you can maintain a solid 12 hours of enjoying every minute, you're doing something right. Must be the company.

A sore face is a small price to pay.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Not a Hot Mess

It only took 7 years of friendship to get Beckham to my apartment.

Of course, if you asked him, he'd say it was 7 years before I invited him to my apartment. Semantics, really.

In any case, he and his betrothed, the Beauty, picked me up promptly at 5 for a trip to the Visual Arts Center for the opening of "After Dark," a new show by Carli Holcomb. We had enough time before the artist's talk to walk through the exhibition and acquaint ourselves with the variety of materials and styles assembled in the 3 galleries.

I looked up at one point to see a photographer capturing the moment, certain I'd just had my photo taken, though her camera was down by then.

The place began to fill up and eventually we were bound to see people we knew like the art instructor who once had a sandwich snatched out of her hands by a bird, the photography curator, the geologist-turned-lawyer who'd been M.I.A. and for the Beauty, her first pottery teacher.

When the talk began, Holcomb took us through the exhibit explaining her intent and sometimes her process. She talked of the title "After Dark" as referring to that period where nature looks different, an apt comparison given how she uses real and synthetic materials to explore light and shadow.

Some pieces were sculpture, others more like installations (hanging from the ceiling's rafters) while still others were two-dimensional pieces. You sensed that this young artist (and former artist-in-residence at Visual Arts/Quirk Gallery) was very much spreading her wings and trying new methods and materials.

She called out her Mom and Dad during her talk, acknowledging all that they'd exposed her to, including their long-time successful relationship. It was very sweet.

When we left there, it was to drop the car at my house and sashay over to Yaki for dinner. To get there, we had to run the parking lot gauntlet on Henry Street, where one guy mumbled about needing money and another who looked me right in the eye and insisted all he needed was a date tonight.

I already have a date, sir and it's this couple right here.

Yaki was just getting going when we took up seats at the bar but classic hip hop was playing and the vibe was Friday-welcoming.

Trying to decide where to sit, the Beauty suggested me between the two of them. "Let's make a Karen sandwich," she cracked.

I was fine with that.

Because they'd never been to Yaki and because I'd only been once, we dove headlong into the menu.

The Beauty had a bad experience with wine at a wine dinner, so we made cocktails - the rye and pineapple-infused rum Be Humble, the whisky-based Toki highball, a 'Round the Rings because it used macadamia orgeat and a rose-colored, off-the-menu cocktail we used as a palate cleanser - our focus.

We did just as much experimenting with the food.

Skewers of chicken thighs sang with sake and scallion, only Beckham and I devoured chicken hearts with olive oil and sea salt, meatballs with tare dipping sauce adorned by an egg yolk (to mix in for richness), broccolini skewers with sesame and 5-spice, fried chicken don (a sweet and spicy rice bowl), curry poutine (with curry gravy to die for) and one of tonight's specials, chicken oysters (easily the best two bites on a chicken).

The funny part was that the Beauty, who's not a seafood fan at all, misheard and thought we'd gotten real oysters.

They have a rule in their marriage that if he eats seafood, she doesn't kiss him, so she was ready to write off any lip locks for the rest of the evening until we assured her it didn't just taste like (incredibly rich and unctuous) chicken, it was chicken.

Still no interest on her part, but at least kissing could resume.

With our check arrived dark chocolate covered cookie sticks, the ideal way to reset our palates after so much savory food.

Though stuffed, we still had plenty to discuss, so we set off for a stroll. If nothing else, the two block walk gave us a chance to discuss the design and finish on the still-incomplete Institute for Contemporary Art as we rounded the corner.

Only when we got back to my block and their car did I I invite them up to my place. "You know what?" Beckham asked as if just now seeing the light. "I would like to see your apartment...finally!"

You never know who wants to see how you live. I was happy to invite them upstairs for wine and vinyl because if I'm going to put on Prince and open a bottle of Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, this is the friend I'd want to do it for.

He was the one who'd given me my first absinthe spoon and now I could show him the Eiffel Tower-shaped one Pru brought me from Paris. The Beauty commented on a tiny origami bird in an Underberg bottle and I reminded him that I'd gotten it the night he and I'd gone to the tiki pop-up at Saison, drank far too much rum and laughed like fools.

Beckham loved the wainscoting in my bedroom and hall and she wanted to know the story behind several pieces of my art (because, of course, most of them have back stories). For extra credit, I showed off my balcony, resplendent with moonlight and moonflowers a-bloom.

We sipped that gorgeous Pinot Noir right through "Purple Rain" and a discussion of the militarization of our police forces, then moved on to the latest XX album, "I See You" before the early risers began to lose steam, although some fault may go to chasing cocktails with wine.

As they got up to leave, I asked Beckham if my abode had been what he'd expected. He claimed no preconceived notions, but, yea, all the art on the walls didn't surprise him. "And it only took you 8 years to invite me!" he teased.

Seven, but who's counting?

Besides, I've become the entertaining queen this summer, offering up wine and records in my living room, wine and CDs on my balcony and abundant conversation anywhere there's art.

And as you might expect, that's everywhere.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

More Mayberry, Less Fallujah

Because it's 2017 and we have to be aware of this stuff.

On a day when Richmond woke up to Klansmen effigies hung in Bryant Park, how better to finish it than watching a documentary about the militarization of our police forces?

In conjunction with the Created Equal Film series, the VCU Southern Film Festival was showing the 2016 documentary "Do Not Resist" at the Virginia Historical Society. Not sure how crowded it would be, I arrived a mite early (but with reading material) to score a decent seat.

My mistake was taking one in front of a self-involved woman who couldn't shut up. After explaining to anyone who would listen that she'd have to move when her daughter left for college so that she wasn't more than 2 hours from her side in case of emergency, she moved on to giving her hapless daughter tips for college life.

At least until her daughter couldn't take it anymore.

Daughter (in a disgusted voice): Face it, Mom, you want to go to college for me.
Mom (tossing hair): Yes, I do.

Thankfully, the film was about to be introduced, so someone shushed them. We were told that the Tribeca Film Festival had awarded the film best documentary winner and 72 minutes later when it ended, it was pretty clear why.

First off, filmmaker Craig Atkinson had obtained stellar access to film whatever he wanted for the most part, going along on raids with SWAT teams and being on the street during protests and police confrontations. And lest we get the impression that these raids are on an as-needed basis, the film explains that in 1980 there were 3,000 Swat busts and now we average 50-80,000 a year. A year.

Why has the American public been so unaware that since September 11th, the department of Homeland Security has been issuing military equipment - heavily armored trucks, bayonets, for crying out loud - to any Tom, Dick or Harry small town that wants them?

One town had a single law enforcement officer yet had requested two armored trucks. What kind of crazy is this?

As one woman on the street in Ferguson says, "They need to stop giving these boys these toys because they don't know how to handle them." Shout it to the heavens, honey.

That may be because every FBI agent and a lot of local cops are schooled by the same motivational whacko, Dave Grossman, who instructs them - "What do you fight violence with? Superior violence!" - to think of themselves as the frontline and the people in the streets as the enemy. A man who talks about "righteous violence."

A man who has helped militarize police training.

Even former FBI director James Comey puts in an appearance, trying to justify militarizing the cops but his argument doesn't hold much water.

A professor explains that with increasing technology, we'll soon be able to discover while a baby is in utero if it's more than 50% likely to grow up to commit a homicide. "What do you do with that information?" he asks rhetorically. "What does the mother do?"

Watching SWAT team members suit up,and drive over (in one case, with no clear idea where their target was, but they intended to Google map it on the way) to bust a house was disquieting, but seeming them forcefully break windows as a diversionary technique (for which they don't reimburse the homeowner) and storm doors was downright disturbing.

One agent even admits that busts are a 50/50 chance, so half the time they've swooped in on the wrong people. Their attitude? Oh, well.

In one case in the film where they were wrong and it wasn't a drug house, they steal nearly $900 of the suspect's savings after handcuffing him. Then when all they find is a tiny bud of weed in the kid's backpack, they decide to go back in the house for a further "search."

The head agent tells the filmmaker to stop filming at that point. Apparently he didn't want caught on camera their staging of the scene. Um, what country is this again?

During the Q & A afterward, it seemed clear that some people are reluctant to admit that we're currently a country transitioning to martial law without so much as acknowledging it's become the new normal.

"Do Not Resist" should be required resistance viewing. What is it that bumper sticker says, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention?

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

Beautiful and Brilliant

Finally, I've got a partner in playing cultural catch-up.

We'd knocked off "Easy Rider" a couple of months ago and tonight, after a meal in service of my hired mouth, we made a bee line for the Byrd to take in the romantic and sexual wisdom circa 1969 of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

Walking into the lobby, the manager called out a greeting to me and I reluctantly admitted that I'd never seen the film. "What? Maggie Smith won an Academy award for this role!" he said accusingly.

But it was my own fault for saying it out loud, especially after my date and I had agreed to keep our cultural shortcomings to ourselves. No need to advertise our cinematic ignorance.

Because the new seats still haven't been installed at the Byrd, side seating is the only option given that the center section is still nothing but a big concrete slab. We thought it was just ugly, but it also turned out to be a massive hard surface for the film's sound to bounce off of, problematic when Dame Maggie Smith began speaking shrilly in a Scottish brogue.

Or maybe that's just a middle-aged auditory problem.

So while I knew absolutely nothing about the film, I had read Muriel Spark's novel from which it came and I immediately recognized the theme song "Jean" that played over the opening shot of Miss Brodie riding her bike to the exclusive girls' school where she teaches.

Granted, I knew the Top 40 version by Oliver and not the Rod McKuen-sung movie version, although we chuckled over the unlikelihood of hearing another Rod McKuen-penned song two days after we'd heard another one.

We're just praying no one makes it a trifecta by playing "Joanathn Livingston Seagull" for us anytime soon.

It wasn't hard to see why Dame Maggie had won the Oscar with her portrayal of a modern woman (in 1969, that apparently meant she'd slept with two men, neither of whom she was married to) determined to teach her girls more than just sums and the succession of the Stuarts.

And really, every young girl could use a teacher who instills a mantra of following your heart and never losing your youthful idealism. That she also heralded the brilliance of Mussolini and Franco to them was considerably less desirable, but understandable given the era depicted: 1932.

But what especially resonated with me was her insistence to her students and friends that she was in her prime. Smith was only 35 when she made the film, although it was suggested by her lover in the film that she was well past her prime.

Hold it right there.

I wouldn't think that being in one's prime should be something decided by others. Who knows better than yourself when you're in your prime?

When I was in my mid-forties, the publisher I worked for me told me more than once that he thought I was just reaching my prime physically and professionally. I recall agreeing that I was just hitting my stride in a number of ways.

Yet by conventional assessments, an argument could have been made that I was well past my prime. Potatoes, po-tahtoes, prime is a matter of self-determination, no?

The film was notable, too, for the dozens of casually tossed off lines that Smith delivered, many of them coming so quickly on the heels of others that it was almost impossible to catch them all.

When Miss Brodie gets a request from the headmistress to report to her office, she's told to be there at 4:15. "Not 4, not 4:30, but 4:15. Hmm, she thinks to intimidate me by the use of quarter hours?" Hilarious.

And there were so many more.How about, "Six inches is perfectly adequate! More is vulgar!" Or, "I do not intend to devote my prime to petrification!" Amen, sister.

But the main thing "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" did for me was galvanize my desire to curate a late '60s/early '70s film festival focusing on films that were trying to sort out the new world order as the sexual revolution took hold.

I'm talking about films such as "Carnal Knowledge," "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice," "Myra Breckinridge" and "Midnight Cowboy." I'm inclined to think such films were instrumental in introducing middle America to a whole lot of new possibilities and it would be fascinating to see them with 21st century eyes.

So while I may or may not be in my prime, I do agree heartily with Miss Brodie that there's no contradiction in being both ridiculous and magnificent.

And any smart man worth his salt can easily spot a woman in her prime. Among other things, she's the one not intimidated by the use of quarter hours.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Summer People

It's like the dome of post-summer/autumn/back to school responsibility has been lowered over the city.

At 8 1/2, we walked into an empty restaurant, where just a few weeks ago, there would have been an eager crowd looking to score takeout before heading to the park for music. We ordered our hoagies, sat down at one of the empty tables and waited for my date's name to be called.

I'm not going to lie, it was a little bit eerie being in 8 1/2 on a beautiful Tuesday evening an hour before sunset and not encountering a mob scene. The oddness continued in the nearby park where exactly three people sat: a couple eating at a table and a woman on a bench alternating between a book and her phone.

Where were all the usual suspects?

My guess was that they all were laboring under the misconception that the live music ended at the same moment when white shoes and clothing became verboten: Labor Day. Because no one mentioned anything about the music stopping come September.

You know what they say about presuming.

We ate our hoagies, Italian and turkey, accompanied by Cherrier "Les Chailloux" Sancerre Rose on a bench, while singer/banjo/guitar player Kia Cavallaro got set up, a little girl in a smocked dress did interpretive dance and the wind picked up, causing the massive wind chimes on the power pole to commence ringing

For that matter, we bantered about how soul satisfying the sub rolls we were eating were. Neither of us could imagine being friends with anyone who didn't worship at the altar of these rolls.

When the flies arrived en massse (another stark difference to previous nights in the park), I saved the day by wiping mayonnaise dribbles from my sub with a wad of paper napkins and laying said wad on the ground for them to feast on.

In moments, the white napkins were covered in dozens of flies. Gross, certainly; effective, absolutely.

Once replete, the whole mess went in the Supercans and suddenly nary a fly had any interest in us or our Rose. Even so, we switched benches once the book/phone reader vacated hers, mainly for the better view it afforded.

Because tonight's crowd was small and because so many of them were tardy, the show kicked off late and only after organizer Patrick reminded everyone yet again the formula for when the show begins. If you can use your device for good - to research when the sun goes down - and count back 15 minutes, you can figure it out pretty easily.

We looked up from our fruit course of grapes and clementines to see friends with whom we'd been at the beach in July, so of course they spread their blanket next to our bench shortly before the set began.

Hearing a fretless banjo accompanying Kia's distinctive little girl voice would have been pleasure enough, but several of her songs were in French and I'm an absolute sucker for lyrics I can't understand.

Coupled with air that registered as Goldilocks just right (not too hot, not too cold) and a soft breeze, it was a glorious night for live music in a park. The thing is, there are weeks of outdoor music coming for those who haven't given up on life simply because Labor Day has come and gone.

That said, it was going on dark and a huge yellow moon was making its way up in the sky when we returned to the car after the show ended at 8:15. Shoot, it wasn't that long ago that the shows were starting at 8:15.

Every Summer has its own story and with mine still unfolding, I could put off Fall indefinitely. That, or accept that Summer is a state of mind.

But live under the dome of post-summer/autumn/back to school responsibility? Never.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Seasons in the Sun

No one wants to start the day hearing that someone you know has died.

Not someone young, not someone unfailingly kind to you, not someone with a good attitude and quick sense of humor. But especially not someone young.

Although I hadn't seen her in three weeks, her last email to me was about getting together. "My love, we shall hang," she'd written after offering some relationship advice. As recently as Thursday, I'd messaged a mutual friend about making a date for the three of us to do just that. Saturday, she was gone.

I know life's not fair, but that's a hell of a reminder of it.

The rest of Sunday - the filling of the Labor Day sandwich - stretched out in front of me without a single commitment beyond a phone call.

First up was a walk to Scott's Addition along Broad Street, where I was treated to doughnut samples on a stick from an affable employee of a new doughnut shop poised to open. When I couldn't decide between chocolate with caramel and chocolate with jimmies, he insisted I take both. Done.

I was nothing short of amazed once I got to Scott's Addition because the streets were abuzz with people despite it being noonish on a Sunday during a holiday weekend.  Apparently if you were still in town, you were there.

In a related note, when I overheard a young couple whining about there being an hour and a half wait at Supper, I wanted to shake them and point out that any open place in Richmond with a patio was bound to be mobbed on a gloriously sunny day smack dab in the middle of a holiday weekend.

Walking past a 4-unit apartment building, a guy came out and calls, "Where have you been?" as if he knows me.

Turns out we'd met years ago when I used to walk Grace Street and he'd been rehabbing an apartment building over there. Now he's elbows deep in the rehab of two buildings across the street from Supper that are bound to be snapped up the moment they're listed. I admire the business acumen of the decision, but no thanks.

Seems I'm one of the few for whom Scott's Addition holds no allure.

But back to the man in front of me with a clear recollection of our conversations circa 2011, it never ceases to amaze me that people recall a random walking woman when she's completely out of context. And I thought I had a good memory.

Blue Bee Cider was already crowded when I walked in to score lunch from the Nate's Bagels pop-up. Nate was impressed when I told him I'd walked 2.2 miles for one of his bagels, but it didn't help me score an everything bagel because they'd already sold out half an hour into the pop-up, if that tells you the power of the everything.

All I can say is, come on 2018, which is when his shop is expected to open and hopefully the supply of everything bagels will be endless.

My afternoon was given over to talking to my best friend in San Antonio for 2 1/4 hours, an almost sufficient period to cover all the relevant topics after months without a phone call. Still, no matter how much time passes between calls, we pick up where we left off, as if we'd spoken yesterday.

I may not have met the love of my life and married him when I was a 20-something like my parents did and preach (I'd heard that talk again from Dad just the other day), but instead I met the best friend of my life when I was not even 20 and that's just as big a gift.

My evening's plans didn't even start until 9 when my presence was requested for an extended record listening party - including my introduction to session guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spedding - with the windows, doors and a bottle of Chateau d'Esclans Whispering Angel Rose open, all enjoyed with friends just returned from a weekend in Annapolis.

Driving home just after 1 a.m., I spotted a fair number of students still milling about on the sidewalks and arrived home to a raging party with a fire pit going at the house next door. It was certainly the perfect night for it.

Monday dawned just as gorgeous, a good thing since post-walk, my day revolved around an all day/night party celebrating the one year anniversary of Laura Lee's in the sylvan-like backyard of my walking companion.

He'd staged a collection of benches, gliders and chairs in a huge circle around a fire pit, while various tables and chairs had been set up under trees, along walkways and in every grassy corner. First-timers understandably got enthused about the treehouse, but personally, I think the yard's greatest strength is the recently-added outdoor shower.

When someone asked what had inspired him to build it, I don't want to brag but he admitted it that it had its roots in two trips to the beach this summer at cottages boasting the same. Hey, I can lead a man to my favorite outdoor shower, but what he does with that knowledge is up to him.

The party was a rambling affair with people I mostly knew arriving from 2 until 7 and lingering until nearly midnight.

There was the friend who'd brought her "pool carafe," neatly labeled "California Cabernet," and so called because it was plastic and allowed at the "criminal pool" she frequents. Only now do I know where said pool is located.

One of my favorite girl crushes arrived and proceeded to get back at me for all the times I've razzed her about when she first met her husband by teasing me about my date's solicitous behavior, although she was quick to shut up when he returned.

I used the superior fire-making skills my Dad installed in me and my five sisters by collecting tinder around the yard and stoking the fire as dusk settled in.

Then I got comfortable on the glider and chatted with the neighbor/reporter who'd just arrived. When I had to go inside to use the facilities, I asked him to save my seat and I returned to find that he'd put his hat on it to reserve it. Such a gentleman.

The UR prof showed up late and sat down next to me to ask for recommendations of where to breakfast around town, while I wanted to hear how his move was going.

Eventually, one of the guests asked to borrow a guitar from the extensive collection in the music room and sat down in a nearby chair to play. Almost at once, a young woman looking like she wandered out of Woodstock - cropped top, long skirt, flowing straight blond hair - took the chair beside him to provide harmonies.

They started with Jacques Briel's "Le Moribond," immediately recognized by my date as "Seasons in the Sun," a trite 1974 song with English lyrics by Rod McKuen. Needless to say, I liked it much better sung in French.

Also winningly covered was Nilsson's "Everybody's Talking at Me," and that's a song you could go your whole life without hearing live, so I gave major props to the duo for reaching way back.

His was a wide range of songs - the Beatles to Air to the Cranberries - and when someone suggested a Steely Dan song in honor of Walter Becker's death, he tried to oblige with lyrics but couldn't quite recall all the chords so my date called them out for him.

Now that's what you call community music-making.

The moon came out so big and bright that the tiki torches were superfluous (except for neo-Nazi jokes) and the twinkle lights mere ornamentation. Eventually, Ubers and Lyfts were called and people began to drift out into the night.

Driving home at 2 a.m. was like driving through a movie set with almost no one on the street. With Labor Day officially over (and the first day of school looming for many), Richmond was tucked in tight.

It's funny, before I'd left for the party, I'd spotted a 3" wide pile of sand on my kitchen rug. I hadn't noticed it before, but it had to be from the eclipse day beach trip two weeks ago. Shaking out the sand over the balcony felt like a metaphor.

It's symbolic, right? Labor Day means the technical end of summer fun and refocusing on real life. Balderdash. As long as the weather stays nice, I'll milk it for as long as I can.

Oh, my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And, oh, my dreams, it's never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems

It's been a pretty swell 90 days, if I do say so myself. Summer is my season.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

To Dream the Impossible Dream

On a day when the rain just didn't want to stop, a trip to Spain sounded mighty appealing.

Not Spain the actual country - although I'd happily accept an invitation any time it comes along - but the film "The Trip to Spain," which was playing at Movieland. I'd seen the last in the series, "The Trip to Italy," in 2014, two years after my own first trip to Italy and enjoyed every moment of it.

But Spain, that was fresh territory for me.

My date and I began with glasses of Fazio Aegades Grillo and a record listening party to test his memory and launch tangents. Listening to the Grass Roots' "More Golden Grass" led us to "The Supremes Sing Holland Dozier Holland" when he heard a similar musical phrase ("whoa, whoa, whoa"), which necessitated me demonstrating the same sort of connection I'd heard between a song on the Brass Ring's "Disadvantages of You" and another on "The Association's Greatest Hits."

Nothing is new, kids, we just recycle the riffs of the past and hope no one's paying attention.

Because that kind of musical tangent-following can lead a couple of music nerds down endless rabbit holes while we starved to death, we stepped away from the turntable and made our way to Peter Chang's for dinner.

There were far more families with young children than you might expect on a Saturday night, but we were seated at a table in the bar area far from high chairs.

Since it was my date's first visit to Peter Chang's, he was understandably overwhelmed at the menu, but seemed to have little problem pinpointing a wine we'd both love. Cherrie "Les Chailloux" Sancerre Rose delivered all the textbook charms of a good Sancerre with its clean-tasting grapefruit flavors the color of pink diamonds. The Loire never disappoints.

Bowing to the power of Peter Chang's dry-fried anything, my companion chose dry-fried shredded chicken while I took our server's advice and opted for dry-fried flounder with wood ear mushrooms, potatoes, broccoli, onions and peppers. Naturally, an air-filled scallion bubble pancake accompanied our meals so we could pinch up food and mitigate heat when necessary.

It's such a pleasure to experience Peter Chang's with a first-timer and my date did not disappoint as he rhapsodized over the pancake and accustomed his palate to the spiciness. Our only complaint was that we had to request chopsticks because they weren't automatically offered.

There was no way either of us could finish such enormous servings, though we gave it our best shot as the families moved on and the second wave of Saturday night date couples began taking their places. And while we qualified to stay, we had a movie to catch.

We came in out of the rain into the theater just as two friends - a fellow theater panel member and a former art gallery director working on a new book - did, providing some last minute socializing before finding theater #2.

Although my date hadn't seen either of the first two installments of the series featuring Brits Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, I felt like I knew him well enough to know how much he'd enjoy the dry humor, middle age ruminations and vocal impressions that are standard in these films.

Me, I go because the movies encompass my interests: travel (with splendid photography of places I'd love to see in person and an introduction to a sleep aboard ferry I can only dream about), food (Bryden is supposedly writing restaurant reviews so we see loads of shots of kitchen prep and sumptuous plus rustic dishes being delivered to their table) and endless brilliantly clever banter.

Their conversations about aging were just icing on the cake.

That so much of the dialog is improvised ensured our interest and attention, in the same way that listening to an erudite and comedic friend riff on life at a party does. What will he say next?

Less than an hour into the film during a quiet moment in dialog, I could hear fireworks outside the theater coming from the Diamond's final fireworks display of the baseball season. Yet another unpleasant reminder that summer is fading and cooler weather looms.

But while we were entertained by conversations about Cervantes and Don Quioxte and seduced by scenes of Spain, its architecture, mountains, monuments and churches - not to mention fabulous seaside restaurants - I forgot all about Richmond and rain.

In fact, scenes of them driving around the countryside instead brought Joni Mitchell's "California" to mind.

So I bought me a ticket
I caught a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there...

Never have red dirt roads and the red dust clouds that trail vehicles on them looked so appealing. And certainly, never has a rambling discussion that begins with the Moors and segues to Roger Moore been so laugh-out-loud funny.

Probably to no one's surprise, I'm also a fan of tilting at windmills. Whoa, whoa, whoa...

Saturday, September 2, 2017

53rd Place Trophy

So, when did we start celebrating the American labor movement with explosives?

Personally, I just learned about it today while driving to the Northern Neck in the pouring rain. Signs and stands along Route 360 were advertising "Labor Day fireworks!" Huh?

But, as always, it was worth it for my companion and I to spend the day with my parents who never cease to entertain with their pithy political commentary, extensive bird knowledge and hilarious reflections on life.

We had crab melts for lunch, the lump crabmeat from as near as Reedville, and then settled in for hours of conversation while keeping an eye on the non-stop flight patterns of birds incoming for meals at their various feeders despite the continued onslaught of rain.

A couple of tiny hummingbirds were adorable to watch, the sparrows were particularly tenacious in returning and a male cardinal arrived so drenched that the crest on his head was flattened out completely.

From my perch on the wicker settee, I watched as the rain obliterated the land on the far side of the river, making it look like the silvery water met the sky.

For fun, we looked through a massive album full of old photos, ticket stubs, poems and notes that one of my sisters had made for my Dad's 70th birthday. I especially loved the pictures of my parents from the '70s, my Dad with his massive mutton chops and plaid pants with white belt and my Mom in short skirts and hip jewelry.

My groovy parents.

One photo in particular caught my eye because it showed Dad with his six young daughters at the beach in 1969, which led to ribbing about how very fertile Mom had been.

"With three of my daughters, all I had to do was throw my shorts on the bed and she got pregnant," my Dad cracked to uproarious laughter and mild mortification on the part of my companion. Dads will be dads, no?

Of course, once he heard laughter, he couldn't stop himself from going for more, bringing up my, ahem, colorful past and passing judgement on it as only a man who found the love of his life at 23 can. Must be nice to be so lucky that way.

By the time we drove back to Richmond (with only a few minor episodes of hydroplaning, yikes), we had just enough time for a meal in service of my hired mouth before parting ways.

Given that it was already after 7, all I could think was thank goodness you don't have to look good for comedy, so I tidied up and set out (again, this time on foot through massive puddles) in the pouring rain for the Comedy Coalition and some non-Dad humor.

Tonight's show was "What Was I Thinking?" and was based on journal entries from people brave enough to share their adolescent angst.

From her Hello, Kitty locked diary, Kim read several entries from 1997 and 1999 about the posters on her walls, the songs she liked and Anthony, her one true love since 3rd grade, although she was still nervous about fast dancing with him unless there were plenty of people around. Slow dancing, now that was fine.

Life sucks. I might have to move to Cali. I might have scoliosis.

The improv performers wasted no time in riffing on her teen-aged malaise, like using pinhole cameras to avoid eye contact with someone you liked and explaining human vibrators. Best line from a Mom to her daughter: "You're going to be alone because no man is going to want to listen to your music!"

Matt was the next victim willing to bare his journal and, in his case, ephemera for the sake of comedy.

He'd brought posters acquired over time - "You don't get that kind of collection overnight"  ("Ace Ventura," Ren & Stimpy, the Road Kill Cafe, Green Day, aliens) - plus the journal he'd begun when he started drinking and writing and a scrapbook of his sports accomplishments (swim team ribbons ranging from 1st place to 23rd place) compiled by - who else? - his Mom.

Your eyes take me too close to a past I'm not ready to look at yet

That mother lode resulted in a bit about his Mom knitting a sweater that incorporated his accomplishments (53rd place in arriving to school on time) and a pair of Converse painted with the names people, including bullies, called him. Another centered on "X Files" and mouth-probing aliens.

Last to sacrifice her dignity on the altar of comedy was Katie with her fuzzy blue leopard spotted journal detailing her first mosh pit at Sauce-a-palooza ("Jeez, it was so spiffy!"), poetry ("Let love come to you. If it doesn't, you don't deserve it." was topped only by "Now and forever, you are an obstetrician. You helped me be born again.") and a list of every cliched '90s CD she absolutely needed (Disturbd, System of a Down, Sublime).

Like Kim's diary entries, Katie's listed every single friend she went places with, even if it was 20 people, sometimes with first and last names and other times with just a first name and last initial, as if to keep their identity secret. Hilarious.

Clinging to you like a pair of wet jeans
Heavy on the wet

No one get deep like a teen-aged girl.

It was some rich material to pull from and the performers mocked high school poetry competitions (one teacher trading a year of overseeing detention to get out of judging the competition) and girls who started thinking marriage after a boy did no more than talk to them, all of which involved ridiculously long lists of friends' names ("Was that Cher B. or Cher M? I think it was Cher C.").

This rainy day turned out to be full of laughs start to finish. They say you have to let comedy come to you and if it doesn't, you don't deserve it.

Hell, I don't mind driving or walking to it if the laughs are good.