Wednesday, November 22, 2017

'Neath the Cover of November Skies

Not gonna lie, I like a man with range.

And that Scott Wichmann has range to spare. It's been so long I can't even remember when I first saw him onstage and though I've seen him dozens of times since, he never fails to dazzle, chewing scenery and singing with a voice that belies his height.

He'd dubbed his show tonight at Richmond Triangle Players "Leave Them Wanting Less" and with a three piece combo backing him up (including the always stellar Scott Clark on drums), he pretty much succeeded, although I'm pretty sure the devoted crowd would have stayed as long as he was willing to sing.

My seat was in the second row, off to the side, making for a fine view that included a canoodling couple in front of me and easy proximity to theater friends in the row behind.

Appearing from the back of the theater, Scott bounded to the stage and started right in with Van Morrison's "Moondance," singing, snapping his fingers and reminding us that it was a marvelous night to listen to him, too.

It immediately became clear that all his song choices had personal reasons behind them. His first date with his wife had been to see "Muppets Most Wanted," so he did "I Can Get You What You Want" and then bragged he'd already gotten her the dog and the ice cream cone and he was working on the moon.

No indication whether he intended to lasso or acquire it otherwise.

In 2003, he'd gotten a message from a director saying he had the perfect role for him ("It's probably Hamlet," he cracked), which turned out to be the lead in "Batboy, the Musical." Before singing a song from it, he quipped, "The play ran during Isabel when people didn't have power, but Firehouse was on a good grid so people came for the air conditioning and it sold out!"

I remember that production because my then-boyfriend suggested we go, only to find out it was sold out. As a consolation prize, he took me to see it while we were in London, which was pretty wonderful, albeit absent Scott.

There was a Mel Torme (one of his heroes, along with Sinatra and Bobby Darin) arrangement of a song from "The Nutty Professor" and a sweet tribute to his wife who's been away for a while ("Don't Dream of Anybody But Me") and tonight was sitting in the back.

"I love the feeling of being in the middle of the Great American songbook," he enthused to a roomful of people feeling the same without having to do any of the work.

Then he moved into hilarious mode for a couple songs, beginning with the favorite song of an older friend called "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," complete with skipping and tossing out poisonous bits to the birds as he sang about strychnine and arsenic. In a nod to the fact that he was performing on the set of "The Santaland Diaries," next came a holiday classic he first heard as a 15-year old listening to Dr. Demento on the radio.

Whip me, Santa Claus
Spank me, Santa Claus
Don't worry if my flesh be seared
I should be harshly punished
For being bad all year
Choosing the correction is solely up to you
But I would like a reddened butt
Do what you have to do

Periodically as he sang, he'd face the drummer and raise his coat jacket enough to provide easy access to his backside. The audience roared. For "You've Got a Lot to See" from "Family Guy," he had us laughing so hard some of us missed lyrics.

The PC age has moved the bar
A word like "redneck" is a step too far
The proper term is "country music star"
You've got a lot to see

That's a big part of the Wichmann charm: he doesn't just sing anything, he acts and sings everything. Midway through the American standard "Skylark" when the pianist began a solo, Scott sat down on the floor and gazed at him raptly.

During intermission, I chatted with fellow theater regulars about the trend toward plays without intermissions, musing about the causes for it. Someone posited that it's an attempt to woo younger audiences with shorter attention spans, another complained that it hurt bar sales.

I was introduced to a woman, a devoted beer drinker, who'd just recently started drinking cocktails. Tonight was her first Cosmo ("I'm buzzed," she admitted when asked if she'd liked it) and her plan for next time was to have a Blue Lagoon. You've got to admire a woman with a plan.

Scott came back swinging with "Settle for Me," from a TV series I'd never even heard of (not that that's saying much) and using all his acting ability to sell it.

Settle for me
Darling, just settle for me
I think you'll have to agree
We make quite a pair
I know I'm only second place in this game
But like 2% milk or seitan beef
I almost taste the same

Then he got all serious on us, saying there's so much tumult and bad stuff happening in the world, so it was a good thing that we'd come out to hear some music and be with people. Just as we were buying into his solemnity, he launched into "From Russia With Love," ending by turning in profile and crouching with an imaginary gun. The crowd about lost it.

That song took us on a tangent about the Columbia Record and Tape Club where you'd send them a penny and get 13 records or tapes and then be indebted to them for the rest of your life. After scoring a penny from his Mom, one of young Scott's 13 records had been a selection of James Bond movie themes.

"So while the other kids were out playing football or baseball, I was singing Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" in my backyard. That led me to where I am today," he joked, but probably everyone in the room was grateful for that penny.

As a proud member of the Navy Reserve, he dedicated "I'll Be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" to his retiring commanding officer and everyone in the Greatest Generation who'd won the war at home.

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

"I'm So Lucky To Be Me" went to "all the people who come up to me in the grocery store and say, hey, I saw you in that play or, hey, I thought you were taller! This song is about how you make me feel."

The song he sang for his estranged biological father who died this summer left him in tears, so he moved right into one about driving to Cape Cod, tying it into his Massachusetts childhood. The satirical "Entering Marion" managed to combine a road trip with enough sexual innuendo about townships to be full-on comedy.

Explaining that there were two basic truths - he would never play Alexander Hamilton on Broadway and we would never get tickets to see it, so as a matter of public service, he was going to perform "My Shot" and play all the characters.

Of course he nailed, right down to the distinctive accents and mannerisms of each of the participants and the show ended. At least until the standing ovation dictated that he return for an encore.

Turns out his last role in high school had been against actress Elizabeth Banks, so he took his next song from that. "This song is my personal musical statement," he said and began singing "The Impossible Dream." Goosebumps.

Classic songs, unlikely songs, hysterical songs and moving songs and not one pigeon harmed in the making of this song fest. Who could ask for anything more?

As for wanting less, I don't know that anyone left with a reddened butt, but I didn't check, either.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Scores of Thanks

It's only the start of the week and I'm already sensing a thankful theme.

Walking the pipeline, I smelled a fire before I saw anyone, which is not all that unusual. I've seen guys cooking food over an open fire, I've seen them washing their clothes in the river and hanging them on branches to dry, seen them washing face and hands in the river.

But today topped them all. Looking down from the walkway, I saw a guy with a hand mirror held high in his left hand and a pair of scissors in his right, as he went about trimming his nose hairs on the banks of the James. And these weren't small scissors, so his couldn't have been small nostrils.

He's probably thankful to have what he needs to groom, while I'm thankful I don't have to groom in public.

For dinner, I chose Rapp Session because they've initiated a Monday movie night and what else could they show this week other than "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and the John Hughes gem, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles?"

I settled at a hi-top table so I could have a stool with a back for viewing comfort and the bantering bartender came over to bring me whatever libations and foodstuffs I required. When I mentioned I'd come for the movies, he was thrilled, making me think I was the first.

Waiting for the entertainment to commence, I asked for orgeat lemonade and a dozen Old Saltes to get me going. Before long, the manager went over to ask the bartender if anyone was there for the movies and he apparently pointed to me.

"She was so excited to hear that," he told me on the sly, confirming my suspicion that I was it.

But then he tried to joke it off. "We've got scores of people here for the movie," he claimed, but when I challenged him on "scores," he said, "Well, I'm counting everyone in the bar and somehow 13 becomes a score or two." Like I said, he was quick with the quips.

That said, once "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" got started and I was tucking into smoked bluefish dip and crackers, everyone at the bar and the staff was glued to the screen. What was funny for me was that I had no recollection of the story whatsoever, as if I'd never seen it. It came out in 1973 (Woodstock was in it), so it's possible I hadn't, but it unfolded for me as if it were new.

The bartender was as into it as I was, commenting, "Man, I forgot how good the soundtrack is for this. It's Vince Guaraldi, right?" Not only that, but the best piece, "Linus and Lucy," came directly from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

And how is it I'm just now noticing that Peppermint Patty is destined to grow up to be a gym teacher?

As part of the movie theme, there was a popcorn maker on the front counter and red and white striped plastic popcorn holders ready to be filled and taken to your viewing station. I didn't hesitate to grab one and several of the staff helped themselves, too, because, hey, it's Monday night and it's slow. That's why there's movie night, right?

As for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," which I know I saw in the theater in 1987 when it came out, I doubt I appreciated Steve Martin or John Candy's performances like I can now.

What also made it so much fun was that it was a road trip movie that showed travel in the good old pre-technology days. Your flight is grounded? Get in line for a pay phone.

I'd forgotten how masterful Martin is with graceful physical comedy (like Dick van Dyke), not to mention his ability to register strong emotions with so little actual movement. And Candy's ability to play a genuinely decent guy, albeit a schlub who screws up a lot, with a caterpillar-like mustache and clothes that had to have been dated even in the '80s, was a revelation.

Then there's their knock-out chemistry - you can almost see how delighted they are to be playing off each other - which makes both of them better and more believable in their roles. The scene where they wake up spooning in bed, Candy kissing Martin's earlobe is one for the books as they can't assert their manhood quickly enough with talk about the Bears and how their season is going.

You know, just a sweet, funny John Hughes film about a man trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving any way he can.

Because, let's face it, no one wants to trim their nose hairs anywhere but at home.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sparks Fly/It Never Ends

That's what I needed, a healthy does of estrogen.

It's not like I hadn't seen music this week. Hell, I'd been out for music Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and now again tonight. It was the kind of music I needed.

When I bought two tickets to see Waxahatchee over two months ago, I had no idea who I might invite to join me in seeing the all-female band on tour for their magnificent new record "Out in the Storm," which, everyone agrees is a meditation on a failed relationship.

I believe in pop circles, they call that a breakup album.

Since I'm the last person to hold such subject matter against an album, I've been listening to it a lot since those sunny, warm days of September gave way to the sharp winds and chilly nights of November. Tonight was the pay-off to hear them live.

It was also Mac's birthday, so who better to share my extra ticket with than the birthday girl, who'd already had two birthday dinners, a visit to the VMFA to see the new Terracotta Army exhibit, birthday cake and a disco nap, all before we met up at 6:45?

We were the first arrivals for the show at Capital Ale House, although the Waxahatchee devoted weren't far behind. We met a pregnant couple who'd seen the band last year when they'd played Cap Ale and another couple who'd discovered them only because she'd heard one song on an online radio station and followed through on looking up the artist because, like them, she was from Birmingham, Alabama.

But I also ran into a good friend and her cute husband, longtime fans of the band who'd seen them at Hopscotch, but then they're cool like that and always see new bands before anybody else. Since I'd last seen her, she'd learned that her Mom had named her after a line in a Barry Manilow song and was still a bit traumatized over that.

We all have our crosses to bear.

Turns out that fabulous Cap Ale show a year ago was the first night of Waxahatchee's tour and tonight was the last, and it had been a non-stop year touring for the all-female band in between. The good news for the capacity crowd (in a room with only a couple tables and chairs tonight, so a standing show, not typical of my experiences at Capital Ale House) was how tight and comfortable the band was with the material at this point.

From the opening of "Recite Remorse," which does the quiet-loud-quiet thing a la the Pixies so well, the band was fully committed to showing off what so much time on the road can do and the crowd of devoted fans - because you're not seeing a band like this on a Sunday night if you have only passing acquaintance with them - sang along, bopped in place or at least stared raptly.

They alternated between raucous '90s-sounding guitar heavy songs and simpler piano-based songs, always with Katie's lovely yet strong voice overtaking the music (and her twin sister Allison providing harmony, guitar and keys) to deliver smart and sensitive lyrics chronicling both relationships and lessons learned.

Death grip on some feigned humility
Effort executed beautifully
My pride clenched tight in my shaky hand
Till I let go and buried my head in the sand

It doesn't matter how much music you've heard lately, when what you need to hear is women playing songs about love and life, nothing else will do.

And if that requires reciting some remorse, so be it. We've all been there.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cheers, Big Ears

It's got to be pretty early in the morning before J-Ward rolls up the sidewalks.

The proof was everywhere when I got home at 1:43 on a breezy, 64-degree November night with signs of life buzzing all around. Next door, a woman is knocking at the front door. Double parked is a pizza delivery guy. A guy is walking down my side of the street, while on the other side, close to a dozen people are milling abut in front of house, red party cups in hand, as music plays from the porch.

Fortunately, I keep similar hours with the people on my block.

When I'd left my house at 5:15 to walk to Lucy's, my next door neighbor was sitting on his porch and called to me, "Hey, you look nice. Got a hot date? I bet you have a hot date." It is to laugh, but I nonetheless assured him I was merely meeting friends for dinner and a play and kept walking.

When I'd suggested Lucy's for dinner, I'd been unaware that Beau and Pru's Mom (who's currently sporting the most gorgeous purple hair) hadn't been there before, which is just short of amazing given how often they/we eat out. Luckily, we had plenty of time to introduce them to one of Jackson Ward's finest.

Beau likes to joke that he has protect himself from his all-female company - aka the intellectual dominatrices, a moniker the three of us are fine with - on outings such as this, but for the most part he handles it as well as can be expected for a mere male.

In the hands-on spirit of the conversation that was already flowing, we began with a bottle of Villa Wolf Rose of Pinot Noir and by sharing a righteous fondue of Boursin and Gorgonzola, into which we dipped fried cauliflower, apple slices and fried croutons. When our server came to check on our progress, Beau (who's been known to pun with impunity) told her to take the empty dish away because we were "fon-done."

He redeemed himself by suggesting a second bottle of Rose as we moved into entrees. Pru and I had both chosen the seared flounder over butternut squash puree with collards and housemade bacon in apple cider vinaigrette (some of the finest collards I've had in a while), while Beau went meatless with Non-Spaghetti and Meatballs (fried artichoke, spinach and avocado balls over sauteed spaghetti squash) and the Purple One had fettucine with braised short ribs.

All around us, Lucy's had gotten crazy busy with people hovering waiting for tables, while we were comfortably ensconced in our booth looking at a dessert menu and feeling no pressure to turn over our table to latecomers. We finished up with a flourless chocolate torte, apple crisp and a housemade ice cream sandwich that Beau attempted to eat with a fork until Pru set him straight about ice cream sandwich etiquette.

She and I used to assume that clueless people had been raised by wolves, but in some cases, it seems they merely lived in Ladysmith and thus had no access to basic civility practices.

We followed dinner with CAT Theatre's production of "Ripcord," a play about two nursing home roommates who try to best each other in terrible ways to win a bet and get the bed with the best sunlight and view. If this is old age, kill me now.

The play began with a warning that it contained mild profanity which had apparently already offended some attendees, although my guess would be that anyone offended doesn't see much theater in this town because that barn door was long ago flung open.

Surprisingly, the audience was probably half millennials, not a typical representation at the theater, with the exception of TheatreLAB. It was kind of refreshing to see. In the row in front of us was a guy with a loud, distinctive laugh who seemed to find almost everything funny and let loose at lines that no one else laughed at.

Some lines - "Why can't people be peculiar anymore?" - were funny, while others - "You're turning into an old lady" fell flat as the two women did awful things (tearing up a grandchild's painting, faking suicide, putting a bogus ad in the classifieds) to each other, presumably because they had nothing better to do. I did wonder if the fact that the play was written by a man had anything to do with how difficult it was to like either of the two unpleasant female characters.

Walking out afterwards, the weather was still as breezy and warm as when I'd first walked over to Lucy's, so it only made sense to head back to Pru's screened porch and see what happened. Intellectual dominatrices-led conversation, that's what happened.

When the wind kept turning on the motion sensor lights outside, Beau gave us a mini-science lesson about motion sensors versus heat sensors. Pru, somewhat of a science nerd herself, explained the theory of bio-mimicry and I did my best to understand. We also had a lesson on lake effect snow and Alberta Clippers, neither of which have much practical application in Richmond.

Discussing their shared bent for sciences, Beau asked Pru if she hadn't been good at biology. "I was exceptional," she deadpanned.

When Beau was found to be in error because of assumptions made, Pru threatened to cut him off. "Please don't take my assumption abilities away!" he pleaded.

Because it's all the news lately, we had to discuss all the men behaving badly, taking it further to the gradations of what men have been getting away with for centuries now. We reached a consensus that sticking an unwanted tongue down a woman's throat is not as bad as grabbing a woman by the you-know-what (incidentally, something that had happened to all three of the women on the porch. All. Three.), not that either needs to happen.

This topic went deep and Beau wasn't always able to participate fully since his gender was the one being skewered and he was quick to admit that there was no justification for bad behavior. But we had to acknowledge how times have changed and what was tolerated then is punishable now.

One of the most satisfying conversations began when Beau pointed out that what we'd been doing for the past three hours - sitting around sharing opinions, making a case for your beliefs, sharing experiences and lessons learned, positing ideas - had been exactly what he'd done in college. "But then I stopped doing it," he pondered. "And now I'm doing it again."

Why, I asked, would you ever stop sitting around exchanging ideas with friends? Trying to convince them of your point? Sharing a point of view they may not have considered? I prefer to live a life where that's business as usual.

Because any intellectual dominatrix will tell you the way to be exceptional is to be peculiar like that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pardon My Asking What's New

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. ~ Rilke

Leave it to me to find reassurance in poetry. Moral: When life throws up roadblocks, find a way around them. And, yes, there's a metaphor somewhere in there.

My first message of the day Thursday was from a Frenchman, wishing me happy Beaujolais Nouveau day. My second was from my parents, asking if I was free for lunch Friday since they'd be in town for a car repair. Granted, I already had Beaujolais Nouveau dinner plans Friday evening, but what's one more meal out?

On that subject, my favorite comment ever was the friend who sincerely asked, "Does your apartment even have an oven?" Well, duh, where do you think I dry my gloves after cleaning snow off my car?

After picking the 'rents up at the dealership out on godforsaken West Broad Street, I drove them right back into the city, past scores of chain restaurants, to take them to Garnett's. Not because there's a sandwich named after me there, although there is (the Bon Vivant), but because I knew the combination of well-made sandwiches and killer desserts would be right up their alley.

What hadn't occurred to me was not just how mobbed Garnett's would be at mid-day on Friday, but how noisy. Dad dealt with it by sucking back a South Street Brewery Virginia Lager while Mom complained about the incessant chatter and unpleasant frequency of the table of millennials behind her, wishing for it to cease and desist.

If there's one demographic they don't spend much time around on the Northern Neck, it's millennials.

But they loved their sandwiches - the Colonel and the Dutch Aunt, which probably somehow reflected their personalities - especially the side of housemade pickles. It took all three of us to conquer a massive slice of crumb-topped blueberry peach pie, but we managed just barely.

Meanwhile, I listened as they exchanged their typical differences of opinion. Dad doesn't hear something said and Mom claims it's because he has selective hearing. He swears she talks so softly no one can hear her and eats like a sparrow. She thinks he talks too loudly and he says he's just making his point. If I've heard them say these things to each other once, I've heard them hundreds of times and I only see them once or twice a month.

Which means they've both heard it all thousands of times. Apparently after 62 years of marriage, there's a fair amount of repeated conversation that's just accepted as part of the bargain. On the other hand, he continues to hold doors open for her and she's always noticing when he requires something.

More belongs to marriage than four legs in a bed. ~ Rilke 

After returning them to the dealership, I had only a brief afternoon to work before meeting Holmes and Beloved for dinner and their annual bacchanal starring Beaujolais Nouveau.

When I strolled into his house, they'd already cracked the first bottle of the young wine. On the counter sat additional bottles for future sipping because Holmes believes it should be consumed in copious quantities while you can get it.

After the ritual toast to the harvest (notably France's overall smallest since 1945), we piled in my car to head to Camden's to check out the new all prix fixe, all the time menu. Naturally, our meal was to be accompanied by the star of the evening, in this case, Manior de Carra Beaujolais Nouveau (but only after a pretty funny exchange with the hostess who'd seated us), although I couldn't resist a celebratory glass of Cava to start.

The hardest part of any prix fixe menu is choosing three courses while observing the paramount rule of dining with friends: no one duplicates an item. We lucked out there because there were so many appealing choices to work from.

For starters, we had a sensational salad of watercress, house bacon and pickled cauliflower in champagne vinaigrette, turkey liver mousse to die for (the grilled bread was just a way to get it to our mouths) and a savory bleu cheesecake with honey that made Holmes, who'd never even heard of such a thing, a believer in savory cheesecakes.

Please, I made my first savory cheesecake when Clinton was eating Big Macs in the White House and people joke about my kitchen? Get with the program, man.

I hadn't gotten together with Holmes and Beloved since the first week of August, so there were plenty of updates on both our sides to discuss. Holmes shared stories and Beloved showed photos from their trek to St. Michaels, Maryland, where they'd done some memorable eating and drinking at an Italian trattoria called Limoncello that they highly recommended.

Don't talk to me about Limoncello unless it's in Sorrento, Italy where the best lemons in the world grow and Limoncello was birthed. I've only been once, but I'm ready to go back any time.

Alas, conversation was derailed when our entrees showed up. He-man Holmes had chosen London Broil and was soon crying uncle about how good it was but how large the portion size. My crispy-skinned pecan-smoked chicken thighs got a nice sweetness from apple slaw, but I could also appreciate the well-cooked black beans and rice that shared the plate.

But top prize went to Beloved's melt-in-your-mouth steelhead trout over creamy polenta and peas, a wondrous combination I intend to return for so I can eat the whole thing rather than just have a couple bites.

Meanwhile, Holmes had heard scuttlebutt and was seeking confirmation, details and rationale. A lot can happen in 3+ months, friend. A good portion of our entree conversation was given over to the Leonardo painting that just sold for $450 million, with Holmes insisting that if turns out to be a fake, Christie's should be fined heavily and put out of business.

When it came time for our final course, the choices were easy but finishing was more challenging after gorging ourselves on the first two courses.

There was no way I was getting anything over than the chocolate butter walnut-crusted chocolate torte I've been devoted to (for, what, 16 years now?) and Beloved got the same. Only Holmes opted for lavender creme brulee and scraped the bowl clean as we finished up the last of the Beaujolais Nouveau.

We rolled out of there determined to have a record-listening party despite our overfed state, only to run into a roadblock as we came across the Lee Bridge. There must have been a dozen cops, lights on and flashing, lined up, along with a sign alerting motorists that a traffic checkpoint was just ahead.

It wasn't that my alcohol level was too high at that point, but we were intent on starting the party, so I seamlessly slid over to the Second Street exit and in no time we found ourselves settled into Holmes' wood-paneled man cave for the next four hours. Beginning with Linda Ronstadt's classic 1983 album, "What's New?" so beautifully arranged by Nelson Riddle, we got off on the unlikely subject of crinolines because of the album cover photograph of her in a strapless pink gown.

From there, we zig-zagged through their Plan 9 and estate sale record finds, which, given Beloved's old soul status and musical taste, meant all kinds of gems from the '50s and '60s. At one point, Holmes presented me with an early Christmas present (Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark"), a shame since that is the sole Joni Mitchell record I already own.

Errol Garner's "Paris Impressions" may have been my first album of harpsichord music by a multi-talented jazz pianist. "The Swingin's Mutual!" by Nancy Wilson and the George Shearing Quintet sounded like a happening 1961 party in Manhattan. We gave Earl "Fatha" Hines' "Live at Buffalo" record a shot but Beloved soon gave it a thumbs down, deeming it not right for a swingin' Friday night.

Holmes took us in a new direction with the Giorgio Moroder-produced Bowie song "Cat People," although somehow, I was the only one of the three who knew who Moroder was. Clearly they'd checked out of popular music by the Flashdance period. As is his habit, Holmes slid in some Stephen Stills via the CSNY classic "Deja Vu."

That's the beauty of a listening party where the host not only has multiple formats - record, CD, cassette - but extensive collections of music for them all. Since we take turns choosing, the fun of it is trying to play something that'll surprise, impress or please the other two.

And the music is really just the background for a wide-ranging conversation about what's going on in everybody's life and the world beyond. Tonight that included the tsunami of men finally being challenged on their inappropriate behavior toward those of us with girl parts.

Beloved shared the recent saga of one of Holmes' friends ostensibly going in for a goodbye hug and groping her like he had a right to. "What the hell are you doing?' she'd accused him. It's barely been a month since a male friend I've known for 6 or 7 years took the liberty of placing his hand inappropriately low on the small of my back (aka the top of my butt), to which I rather rudely asked, "Is that your idea of making a move?" and shut him down.

Friendship has its priveleges, but that's not one. I've got no problem with a man's hand being in that place as long as it's the right man, preferably someone who appreciates that undersung curve.

Love is like the measles. The older you get it, the worse the attack. ~ Rilke

Tonight, the swingin' was mutual, the food was superb and the Beaujolais Noveau was drinkable. I don't know that you could ask for more the day after the third Thursday in November.

Well, of course I could, but I'd be discreet enough to ask for it silently. Final feelings and all...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roll Over, Beethoven

Let's be real here: making it to five years is an accomplishment.

If you can also score $10,000 on your fifth anniversary, there's even more reason to celebrate. No, no, I'm not talking about relationships here (though I could) but about the little music organization that could. And did.

After a delightful day in the warmer environs of Norfolk, I got home with barely enough time to shower and make it to the Hof in time to score a ticket for Classical Revolution's Birthday Bash with Beethoven's 5th.

The first people I spotted were Beckham and Beauty, but since I hadn't known I was coming, they hadn't saved me a seat in the front row with them. And by front row, I'm guessing they could have seen the fillings in the cellists' teeth if they'd yawned, they were that close.

I found a seat two rows behind them and chatted them up from there - given our shared affection for South Africa, they were the ideal friends to share the Post write-up about Stellenbosch Vineyards Four Secrets Sparkling Shiraz I was reading - as the crowd wandered in and the room began to fill up with music lovers and the 40 musicians who were about to dazzle us.

Surprisingly, I only spotted a few people I knew: the museum director, the Man About Town, the former neighbor and his main squeeze. While I read the rest of my newspaper (Roy Moore is clearly the serial pedophile from Liarsville), DJ Rattan played his always excellent music choices, nailing Latin gems, obscure foreign pop music and the random Steely Dan song, in that way he does so well.

Once the room was standing room only, Classical Revolution's director Ellen took center stage to talk about the non-profit's original mission to get classical music out of concert halls and into everyday life, where they've succeed at playing in bars and bookstores, cideries and galleries, breweries and theaters, even a pedestrian bridge.

I'm truly sorry I missed that last one. Sounds right up my alley.

She went on to issue thank yous to sponsors, the musicians volunteering their time and talent, supporters and, especially, those who'd showed their love with cash. A local couple had issued a challenge that if CR could raise $5,000 during the week of their anniversary celebration, they'd match the amount.

Today, she said, they'd surpassed their goal, so she turned toward the couple, also in the front row, and joked, "I'm going to take you up on that!" as the man extended what looked like a folded check. Real or not, the crowd went crazy hootin' and hollerin' about the good news.

After reminding the crowd that this was a raw performance - everyone was sight-reading music and there'd been no rehearsal - she introduced conductor Daniel Myssyk. He took up his wand, looked at the orchestra and turned back to us. "The beginning is very tricky, so I need to have this very brief conversation with the orchestra musicians."

Take as long as you need, Daniel. In what seemed like no time, he whirled around and said, "Easy!" and the performance began.

The beginning of Beethoven's Fifth is so instantly recognizable (come on, even cartoon fans know it) that right away, people began reacting.

More than a few closed their eyes, several with their heads back. The Hat followed the music's movement with his entire head. A redheaded woman smiled broadly as she watched. A young girl sat folded on her chair like a pretzel, busy reading a paperback rather than watching the orchestra.

Everyone experiences Beethoven in their own way. I vacillated, sometimes closing my eyes to let it wash over me and other times, focusing on a musician, section or Myssyk, who, by the way, gave good conductor face. No guitarist could have done better at guitar face.

Unlike at a more staid Richmond Symphony concert at CenterStage, this crowd, diverse with Baby Boomers, Millennials and everything in between, wasn't shy about clapping in between movements. The first time, the conductor looked surprised, but he adjusted.

You can't very well play in a bar and not expect some spontaneous reactions. The standing ovation at the end felt as much about the pleasure of hearing the music as a celebration of what Classical Revolution has accomplished in five short years.

Walking out with Beckham and Beauty, we encountered a distraught-looking woman who said in an accusatory tone, "They towed my car!" Without a word, we nodded together in sympathy and kept walking, with Beckham murmuring our thoughts, "The way to prevent that is to park legally."

We'd barely turned the corner when we saw an older couple standing in a business lot and he was testily identifying his missing car to the person on the other end of the line. "It was a Ford FAIRLANE!" No need to shout, sir.

No doubt it was a hell of a buzz kill after that fabulous performance to come out and find your car gone, but like Beckham said, there's ways to prevent that.

Kind of like there's ways to celebrate having made it five years. As a man once told me, "Five years with you will never be enough. I'll need at least 25!"

I say we raise a glass of Sparkling Shiraz to Classical Revolution's next 25 years.

Back to You

The one thing you hate in life is drama, as your core personality is peace-loving. The defining feature of your personality, thus, is sensibility, dignity and wisdom, which you possess in surplus.


The sensible thing to do was get work out of the way first, meaning I met up with Mac (dubbed by a reader as "Mac and Cheese," which I love, especially since Mac detests mac and cheese) in service of my hired mouth.

Once I'd checked that box, we moved on to Ginter Park for House Story, a new combination tour and storytelling event, this time about a beautifully dignified 1912 house with a porch to die for on an acre lot. Running a tad behind, we arrived in the foyer just after the owner began sharing the history of the house with an attentive crowd.

I immediately found a place up against a warm radiator for a saga about the murder that had happened in the yard in 1919 when owner Robert Stolz's son, asleep on the porch on a warm, summer night, heard someone on the property. While it was only a neighbor and friend of his father, the son didn't know that and grabbed a pistol and shot the man three times.

They got him in the house before they realized they needed to get him to a hospital, but the neighbor absolved the boy before he died. Whether 1919 or 2017, readily available guns kill people.

It was a heavy start to the story of a fabulous and huge house - third floor servants' quarters, stand-up attic and basement, brick carriage house - built right on a corner lot on the trolley line. The house had been broken up into a rooming house from the '30s through the '70s, until it was turned into the first Unitarian church of Richmond, sadly with plywood covering the pocket doors and moldings.

A man in the crowd actually recalled going to church there back in the day. The owner said people still knock on the door and ask to walk through because they remember going to services in the house.

After the talk, Mac and I toured the house, agog at how all the moldings, trim and columns had survived in such excellent condition over 105 years ("Good caretakers," the owner insisted).

While looking at old layout maps of Ginter Park when it was a brand new subdivision, a man came up to me smiling and asked, "Did you walk over from Jackson Ward?" like he knew me.

No, I'd driven, but then he jogged my memory about our past conversation on Marshall Street so I'd get his joke. When Mac piped up and said she walked with me, he wan't buying it. "I see her, not you," he insisted. Explaining that back in Mac's unemployment days, she did walk with me far more often, our friend suggested she consider giving up work for walking, but her new car payment demands otherwise.

We parted ways after touring the expansive garden, she back to work and me, because I have wisdom, to Capital Ale House for music. I was surprised when I arrived to see how few people were there for Bedouine, an artist the New York Times said sounded like a future legend, the kind of singer you'll wish you'd seen back in a small venue like the tour she's on now.

I know I'd taken that to heart, especially after hearing the songs produced by Richmond's own Spacebomb, so I was thrilled to snag a table only three back from the stage. In no time, though, the room was at capacity.

The show began with local Andy Jenkins' musical wordplay, accompanied by guitarist par excellence Alan Parker. Favorite lyric: Being with you is like being stoned, I've gotten so good at being alone.

During the break after his set, I was greeted by a musician I hadn't seen in eons and was amazed to hear he'd never been to Capital Ale House for a show, especially given the eclectic nature of their programming. I pointed out that he was overdue and that nothing better was going on in Richmond tonight, so what else would he be doing if he wasn't here?

"Watching Netflix," he deadpanned. "But I can do that later." Hilarious.

Next up was quartet Howard Ivans, led by Ivan Howard, the guy who also gave the world the Rosebuds, a N.C. band I've long admired (and seen several times). Saying tonight is only the second night of this tour, they intended to play us some songs off their new Spacebomb record and then gushed about the talent of the Spacebomb band.

"Those guys really know how to play their instruments," he enthused, before launching into a song called "Denise" about Lisa Bonet and his inability to handle meeting her. The band was a pastiche of sounds with soulful vocals, driving rhythm section and atmospheric guitar that added up to neo-soul-with the occasional alt-country hint.

Favorite lyric: Show me the darkest shadows of yourself.

Things got lively and loud (or perhaps the alcohol was kicking in) during the break, but the second Bedouine walked onstage, acoustic guitar in hand, a hush fell over the room. She carefully set her cup of tea on a music stand placed next to her mic for just that purpose and began seducing the room with her voice and songwriting against a deep blue backdrop.

Just the way she could bend the word "honey" with her warm and emotive vocals was enough to feel your heart twinge. And her lyrics - more like heartfelt poetry - were like a look into her heart and mind. It felt like the world stopped when she began singing "Nice and Quiet."

All of the reasons to keep me at bay
Are the same reasons that I should stay

Despite not feeling up to snuff, she bantered between songs, sometimes with introductions ("This is my love/hate song to California"), other times with disclaimers ("This is not your typical pop song. It's like 1 BPM"). Between songs, she'd serenely sip from her mug of tea.

Announcing she was doing a song so new it hadn't been named yet, she asked for our help in suggesting names. "You have to earn your entertainment tonight." Afterward, when someone suggested "Sunshine, Sometimes," she said that had been her first inclination ("With a pretentious little comma in there") and then someone said "You're Still on my Mind," which had been her second choice (and my first).

About doing "Mind's Eye," she joked, "I've got one record and this is on it. You should buy it." After explaining that the record is only 37 minutes long and her set just a bit longer, she did "You Never Leave Me," a song that had been swapped out at the last moment. "Now that you're all warmed up, maybe someone has a suggestion for a better title?"

You can feel so far, but you never are
You never leave me

On the haunting and self-assured "Solitary Daughter" (a subject I'd know nothing of given my five sisters), she sang, I'm not an island, I am a body of water.

Guitarist Alan Parker returned to play with her for the final two songs, before which she took a sip of tea and said, "One final one for the road."

Several people recognized "Dusty Eyes" as soon as she began it and reacted accordingly. Afterward, she thanked everyone for being "so lovely and attentive" and closed with the enchanting song everyone from NPR to Pitchfork is raving about, "One of These Days."

If it's true that I feel 
More for you than you feel for me
It's stunning, honey, how love has some delays
Cause one of these days our love takes flight
We're gonna get it right
And get it right one of these days.
One of these days, you know I'm gonna set our hearts ablaze
If it's my last living deal

It was stunning. The New York Times had nailed it and I knew I was lucky to be there for such an intimate show.

Confessional tendency aside, I like to think it's not drama if your core personality is peace loving.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Post-Serenade Unctuous Notes

Apparently, there's a presumption that I'm always up for something.

How else to explain three last minute invitations from friends of wildly varying degrees in one evening?

After spending the day at my parents' house, some of it watching the memory lapse-laden testimony of our Attorney General - I kissed them goodbye and headed out the door after his 37th bogus "I don't recall" - I got home to a phone message from an out of town friend and a FB message from an in-town friend.

This is a long shot, but I was thinking of grabbing a bite in your 'hood soon.

Since I had two tickets to an early performance and no date, I welcomed the chance to share music with a musician, inviting X-tina to join me, after which we could have that bite in the 'hood she was desperately seeking.

Driving to the Virginia Holocaust Museum for its 20th Anniversary concert, we discovered that neither of us had ever been to the museum, despite both being interested in doing so and the museum having been open since 2003. Tonight was not the night to do it (the exhibits were closed), so we made plans to make that happen so we can hold our heads up as worthy Richmond culture mavens.

Walking into the Choral Synagogue Auditorium, I would guess we were in the non-Jewish minority, although unlike that time I went to a lecture at the Jewish Community Center, no one approached me to guess, "You're not Jewish, are you?" like they had there.

Seated in the front row were Holocaust survivors while in our section, it was more about older people kvetching until historian Charles Sydnor took to the lectern to welcome us with a moving speech about silence signaling consent and the importance of speaking out against racism and intolerance. Sadly, there were far too many eerie parallels to today.

Next came Tony Morcos, whose great aunt had been a violinist until she was killed in a concentration camp, although she'd handed off her violin - now known by her nickname, Nettie - to a safekeeper before being arrested. That violin was to be played tonight, all these years later, as part of the performance, but first he showed old photographs of his great aunt, often with her violin in hand, and their family during happier times.

I particularly liked one of her with her hot jazz trio, looking very modern and hip.

Performing were the Richmond Symphony's Jocelyn Vorenberg on violin and David Fisk on piano doing works by Jewish composers whose work had been suppressed or banned during the Nazi regime. Surprisingly, for work made during such a dark period, much of it was uplifting, light and beautiful and in the case of "Serenade '42" by Robert Dauber (who died at 20), almost Gershwin-like.

The entire performance was wondrous, watching these two musicians perform against a backdrop of an elaborate, arched, gold, altar-like bema in a high-ceilinged two-story room where the sounds of their instruments seemed to float heavenward as they played music no one had heard live for decades, if ever.

Saying, "You can't end the evening without "Schindler's List," the duo closed out with the heart-wrenching piece and took their final bows.

Even the speeches afterward were moving (Fisk saying, "When words fail, there is music"), with reminders that being Jewish is a cultural identification as much as religious and one with Jewish soul at the heart of its music. X-tina was tearing up and I was feeling privileged to have witnessed such a touching reminder, musical and spoken, of a hideously dark period.

Rather than staying for the reception - because did it really need two non-Jewish, unmarried women? - we made our way back to J-Ward and Saison Market so X-tina could have the burger she'd been craving and I could dive into a bowl of chicken wings with smoked jalapeno and charred pineapple rub. Fernet with ginger was icing on the cake while we commiserated about our love lives and debated the appeal of difficult men.

Not that I have one in my life, unless you look at my wider circle. Although really, in order to rate as a friend, there has to be frequent contact and shared adventures, not to mention hours of conversation. I can't see where I have any male acquaintances who qualify there, so my difficulties will have to come from the most casual of relationships.

You can't end a blog post without a thinly veiled reference. Oh, can't you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Johnny Danger Says Welcome

Sometimes a documentary dork has to settle for a fictional film.

If she's smart, she'll find one that might as well be a documentary (albeit one with Willem Dafoe in it), given the non-actors and alternately charming and wrenching subject matter: "The Florida Project."

I'd seen previews for it at the Criterion a couple of times, but had no intention of going back to see it until review after review began raving about what a masterpiece it was as an observational look at an under-represented demographic in, of all places, Florida.

Granted, my exposure to Florida is limited, with two vacations having taught me the little I know of the alligator (which, for the record, I ate while there) state. What sticks in my mind are little details: the Econo-Kill taxidermy shop, tiki bars and dancing to "Brick House" on New Year's Eve.

Telling, isn't it?

Tonight's film revolved around a trashy, unfit mother, a seedy lavender-colored hotel in the shadow of Disney World and a foul-mouthed 6-year old enjoying the myriad pleasures of childhood - spitting contests, setting things on fire, trying to find the end of a rainbow - despite those handicaps.

Like a documentary, it was often painful to watch. Midway through, I began questioning why I'd chosen a film that raised such difficult and hopeless scenarios.

What about all the teen-aged mothers too immature to properly parent their children? What about the no and low-income women who scrape by doing whatever they have to do to pay rent? What about children who see things daily that they can't possibly process?

And what about all the people who don't have a good-hearted motel manager like Dafoe's character to cut them slack when rent is late and chase potential pedophiles off the playground?

The movie's strength was in how compelling it was to watch - and not just the cinematography, which was absolutely gorgeous -given the way it was shot from the perspective of a kid who doesn't realize how dire her Mom's situation is or how lackluster her living situation might seem to others.

What was interesting to me was how differently the film was affecting me from the woman sitting a seat away. When mother and child go on a spending spree using money from selling stolen goods, the woman cheered them on, laughing at their extravagance, while all I could think about was that there were bound to be repercussions, so why be so foolish as to blow the cash? Rent's due weekly, you idiot.

Then when Social Services shows up to launch an investigation about Mom's parenting skills, the woman beside me began to cry, whereas I'm thinking, hallelujah, finally the child will get to drink something other than soda and not have to scam tourists with Mom anymore.

Which, I suppose, is a roundabout way of saying that "The Florida Project" affected me just as strongly as a documentary about a child in a grim situation would have and that's really saying something.

It's saying that Florida may be a sunny, colorful place for a vacation, but I wouldn't want to be raised there.

Duh. Documentary dorks don't do Disney World.

With or Without Clothes

On Sunday, November 11, 2012, I saw my first Classical Revolution at Balliceaux.

I know that because one of the benefits of keeping a blog like this is being able to see where I was on any given day, assuming I blogged that day and presuming I chose to share everything I did, which no one should be surprised to learn I don't always do.

It's not just that casual revelations can backfire on me (but, oh, man, can they...), but that there's plenty that should only be shared face to face. A long-time reader recently summed it up nicely.

"All I know is the blog and that continually revolving story of events that you churn out day after day, something new, something old, hit replay or reset...offering yourself to the world (or what you want us to see)."

That's all you can know unless I want you to know more. Fair, no?

So when Beckham and the Beauty met up with me tonight for Classical Revolution's cleverly-titled "Haydn Where You Least Expect It," it was for a performance celebrating the series' fifth anniversary. That's part of the wonder of Richmond: start doing something interesting and it's bound to take off and with tending, last.

And why not celebrate at everyone's favorite lesbian bar, Babes of Carytown? Sure, I 've been there before - for the Mozart Festival, for book readings - but neither Beckham nor Beauty had ever set foot inside. In fact, it was funny, Beckham remembered it as having quite the fearsome reputation for a young male whippersnapper back when he was in high school.

Now it's just another cozy bar for Classical Revolution to share their message of bringing classical music to the kind of places popular music is so easily found.

The three of us weren't shy about claiming front row seats - Beauty immediately insisting on a "Karen sandwich" with me between them for sharing - with terrific views of two violinists, a viola and a cello player for tonight's performance of Haydn's "Emperor Quartet in C Major." Turns out it was so-called because the melody of the second movement went on to become both Austria and Germany's national anthem.

According to violinist Ellen, that came about because Haydn visited England, where he first heard "God Save the Queen," and thought to himself (her words, not mine), "Hey, we need one of those!" Further proof that musical history can be humorous and informative.

Explaining each movement before it was played went a long way toward helping the more musically-challenged among us (*raises hand) understand the nuances of the beautiful piece of music we were hearing, although as Beauty put it, "Sometimes it's nice to just lose yourself in the music and not even listen for what's going on."

Amen to that, especially on a dark, rainy night and especially after getting a chance to catch up with friends beforehand. After months of relentless studying, Beauty made me laugh rhapsodizing about the pleasures of vacuuming and her cooking faux pas at the cabin in Buckingham County.

I needed to hear that story about Beckham's cousin burning half his beard and all his eyebrows off lighting a fire with gasoline. Who hasn't made some poor choices while drinking whiskey and lighting fires? Hmm, I point out that last time I saw those two together, it involved alcohol and flames and Beckham looks mildly sheepish.

Of course that's not all we talked about - big knuckles and blood diamonds, the shawarma with preserved lemon I'd had earlier, hormones - but probably enough to share now.

"Really, in essence, what else is a writer to do? Besides, you're a blast because, to a great extent, your work is you. You make a connection. Your humanity comes shining through your endeavors. Every writer wants to be read, to be liked in some form or fashion. You're no exception. What's a poor girl to do but keep moving on?"

I'm just going to assume that's a rhetorical question and hit reset. Seems that's what I do.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

It's Alright, It's Okay

 If this is fall, I rest my case.

For months now I've had to listen to how eagerly everyone wanted autumn to roll in, for it to be sweater and scarf weather, for the heat and humidity to go away. Now that you all got what you wanted, I find myself waking up today to find that's it's 42 degrees and today's high is 43! Not acceptable.

How is it that Monday I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and today I have on leggings, two layers of tops, a sweater, a wool coat, scarf, boots and gloves? How can it be that all my windows were open when the week began and now they're all shut, with storm windows lowered behind them?

I'll tell you how: flippin' fall is finally here, with the moldy leaves to prove it.

All I can say is, I hope all of you are happy. I'm not. Granted, there are other reasons for that (and that's another blog post, one that only the few see), but this frigid air and gusty wind need to go.

Cold and crabby about it, I landed at Citizen, which turned out to be just the thing on a night like this. The place was warm, fragrant with good smells and hopping, no doubt in part because both Dylan and John Cleese are in town tonight. As a bonus, the affable chef came by to say hello.

Giving black bean and cheese pupusas a swipe of tomatillo salsa, I tucked into them, appreciating the complementary crunchiness of the curtido on the side, while eavesdropping on the next table, two of whom were planning to run the marathon tomorrow.

Good luck with that, I'll wave as I walk by.

Tasty as the pupusas were, I've had them before, so for my main course I chose a special of rockfish over a tomato-based stew of potatoes, onions, garlic and wilted kale for something new. The moment I got a whiff of that warm, well-seasoned broth, I started to thaw and once I began sopping the broth with bread, I could almost forget the unfortunate season that raged outside.

If that sounds a bit over-dramatic, consider that my Dad's nickname for me as a child was Camille for just that reason.

But laughter was what I needed, so I finished out the evening at the Coalition Theater for "Project 27," an improvised long-form spoof series on '70s spy movies. The 27 comes from the ages of the skit's three main characters - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison - when they died.

Tonight, they were sent on a mission by Agent X to apprehend the Russian female agent Natalia, who, along with the evil Dr. Money, plans to blow up New York and then go dig up the gold he buried in Dover, Delaware. Natalia plans to rocket toward safety listening to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" because she loves to dance.

Whether the subject was disco, orgies or  drugs, Dr. Money would just shrug and remind us, "Hey, it's the '70s." Right on.

Because our heroes were rock gods, there was a fair amount of comedy about heroin and tripping, with one of Jim Morrison's best lines (comparing tripping and tryptophan) all but drowned out from so much laughter. There were times when the cast could barely keep from cracking up at each other, it was so hilarious. As audience members, we didn't even have to try.

Besides, I was there. If it was the '70s, nobody would remember either way.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Branded By Love

Love: because that's what friends discuss for hours whilst sitting on a screened porch on a 50-degree November night.

And it wasn't just that it was comfortable enough out there, what with heaters and wraps, it was the 99% humidity under a soft-focus moon that sealed the deal. In fact, it had been noted that the clouds were hanging at street level when we'd left Club Infusion and its disco ball for a porch party conversation.

Nothing deep, just acknowledging the nature of attraction and defining quality in a relationship, an impossible task because it varies so much from person to person, even within a relationship, much less among a trio of playgoers sprawled on a porch sipping Rose while listening to the steady drip of a nearby gutter.

Communication necessarily came up and Pru posited that, "Men don't want the banana all the way in," which is in no way a quixotic euphemism and instead refers to guys who are able to tune out what their partner is saying, sometimes even while appearing to listen.

We saw that when a man is paying attention, he may participate using laments, such as Beau vainly trying to convince us that before he met Pru, he was the funny one.

"No," she said firmly and with utter disdain, followed quickly by disbelief. "I don't know why you'd think that?" But what do we know? Pru's an only child and I have five sisters, so perhaps we just never learned that all men think they're funny whether their humor supports that or not.

Tonight's topic - and its tangents - had presented itself via 5th Wall's engaging production of "Murder Ballad," which had three big things going for it: major talent, a story that was entirely sung with no dialog, and that it unfolded in an actual bar. Since we went into the play knowing there'd be a murder, one of the most compelling aspects was the ever-building tension around who would die.

At issue in "Murder Ballad" was whether or not a person can live with a simply comfortable relationship after leaving one that involved true passion. If the love of Sara's life is Tom, could she ever be truly happy with Michael? Discuss.

Perhaps most importantly, if two people who truly love each other break up, do they ever stop loving each other or trying to get back together? This was Sara and Tom's problem.

Don't ask how long
We're built for longing
Don't ask how long
Cause every answer's wrong
You and me
Are made for wanting

According to Pru, it was all a moot point because, as she pointed out, not everyone is interested in love, herself included.

From there we tried to parse the elements of attraction, discussing whether love and passion are part of a whole or separate components of a relationship. Beau made a case for the passion of an early relationship being impossible to sustain and, thus, why bother attempting love at all?

On a porch or at a restaurant - we'd begun at Peter Chang's with dinner and a bottle of the divine Domaine Paul Cherrier Sancerre Rose - the three of us make good sparring partners on the topic of romance because of our composition: two who don't believe in love and one who does. It makes for lively discussion since at this stage of life, no one's opinion is going to be changed, no matter how compelling the argument.

Someone made a case for the sentiment seen expressed on a middle-aged woman's tramp stamp at a bar: "Ain't Nobody's Old Lady," naturally tattooed in Old English script for effect and raising an eternal question. Why in 2017 do women still want to be thought of as somebody's partner?

Don't look to me for answers. If I knew, I wouldn't wake up at 4 a.m. so often to mull it over.

We hadn't gone into the well-acted "Murder Ballad" expecting it to shape the post-play porch conversation, and yet there we were making our individual cases for what constitutes love and why people behave the way they do within and without the context of relationships. I could buy into "a kiss like a mouth tattoo" reference, while they couldn't. But we didn't have to understand each other's feelings, just accept them.

"I think I've been elevated to consort," Beau observed by the end of the long evening, seemingly pleased with his new status. "You still do the dishes," Pru reminded him, tarnishing his consort crown slightly. It's amazing it even stays on with that banana coming out of his ear.

Some people won't call it love, even when it is. And this from nobody's old lady...minus the tattoo.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Some Kind of a Man

Blue skies weren't necessary today when we woke up to a blue victory.

On this gray and soggy day, it was all anybody was talking about on Facebook, so I shouldn't have been surprised to hear from my Dad - from whom I get my tendency to have an opinion on everything - on the subject.

"Nice result! Glad to see the Commonwealth took the high road. Personally, I was dubious about all last week's FAKE NEWS about how Gillespie was almost dead even. Couldn't see it. Yucky weather. Have a good one."

Just last night I'd invoked my Dad's name while I was at the Valentine's community conversation about voting. Each of the participants was asked to share how voting was handled in our families growing up, so I'd told my seatmate that both my parents follow politics closely and voting was taken seriously in our house.

So seriously that my sisters and I were told not to consider dating a guy who didn't vote - perish the thought - much less bring one home to meet Mom and Dad.

I was well into middle age before I - gasp! - did start dating a man who not only didn't vote, he'd never even registered to vote. Fortunately, he seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation when I explained the family rule and registered forthwith so he could cast a vote in the 2012 election.

Needless to say, I never told my parents.

Responding to Dad's message, I told him I thought it sent a message to the narcissist-in-chief as well as the rest of the country. I went on, "A gray, depressing day but with encouraging and hopeful news...I'll take it! But I already miss wearing shorts on my walk."

Without missing a beat, he shot back, "The eyeballers probably do as! Now if the Dems can sustain this momentum. Ciao!"

The eyeballers? Only my father can crack me up, then bring it back around to what's important: politics.

What did seem ideal for the damp, dreary cold was film noir, especially one described as "A truly great flick with Orson Welles at his obese, dissipated best," although neither of the friends I invited were free (although one got points for acknowledging, "What could better complement the weather?").

That much was clear by the decent-size crowd that assembled at the Byrd for "Touch of Evil," in which we got a Welles hat trick: he starred, wrote and directed the 1958 film. Although why he chose to have Charlton Heston playing a Mexican we'll never know.

The Byrd's manager Todd clued us in to the extended opening shot, considered to be so masterfully executed that it alone caused generations of people to want to become cinematographers. He also shared that the film had been finished by Welles to his satisfaction, recut by Universal Studios to his dissatisfaction and then a third version reassembled in 1998 using a 58-page memo from Welles' after his original cut was lost.

"So you're seeing a film that's part Welles, part Universal and part '50s," he warned us. The '50s elements were glaring: the young Mexican men wore leather jackets and sideburns, listened to loud rock and roll music and smoked reefers while Janet Leigh's undergarments shaped her breasts into sharp, conical points that could have cut glass.

In fact, every shot of her was a '50s man's dream of a hot woman, from her fitted clothes and sexy lingerie to her wanton scenes with her blond hair loose in bed, or on a fire escape with nothing but a sheet wrapped around her.

Titillation was so much simpler in those days.

And film noir, well, that was so much better then, too. Evil was obvious and good guys realized when they hadn't kissed their woman in the past hour and did so no matter where they were.

The eyeballers must have loved that.

For the Whole Round World to Hear

To paraphrase Miss Nina Simone, Virginia goddam. But in a good way.

I voted this morning behind a friend/neighbor/immigrant, who managed to crack me up and insinuate innuendo into the 90 seconds we sat next to each other waiting for voting booths to open up. At least we were voting for the same people.

At the Valentine for the first in their History/Controversy series, the ice breaker question asked of everyone in the room was who would win the gubernatorial race. A solid 90% of us predicted (or fervently hoped) Northam. Then we were polled about who had voted and 6% had not.

"All right, you 6%-ers are dismissed to go vote," our facilitator joked. And if he wasn't kidding, nobody was brave enough to leave and prove they'd shirked their civic duty.

Tonight's topic was voting and we were given historical context via the back stories of Sally Dooley (Virginia Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage) and Lila Meade Valentine (Equal Suffrage League of Virginia), but by far the most astounding fact we learned was that despite the Nineteenth Amendment (granting women the right to vote) being ratified in 1919, Virginia didn't get around to ratification until 1952.

That kind of crap could also be characterized as Virginia goddam, although not in a good way.

Tonight's experts - two UR law professors, one black, one white, one male, one female, hell, they were practically the Mod Squad - shared that as Virginians, we have a long history of gerrymandering going back to Patrick Henry, who tried to swing things so that James Monroe would beat out James Madison (he failed).

Looking at the current district maps was disturbing for how flagrantly they flaunted their only requirement: to be compact and contiguous. I think we can all agree that a district shaped like an amoeba with tumors hardly qualifies as compact.

It was a timely evening for a discussion of the importance of winning tonight's election because the re-districting maps will be drawn during the next administration and heaven knows, we could use some major amoeba trimming.

When I left there in the pouring rain, I only had to go two blocks to Vagabond for the music of a seminal pianist, singer, songwriter and activist. Down in the warm, dimly lit basement known as the Rabbit Hole, a crowd was already gathering for an event billed as "Sam Reed Sings Nina Simone."

Bellying up to the bar was no easy feat given the size of the crowd, but all it really gave me was a better view of a bartender so far in the weeds that he couldn't see out. The floor behind the bar was slick with moisture and I watched as he skidded on it repeatedly while people kept trying to get his attention to order.

Suddenly, from the end of the bar, somebody yelled, "Northam won!" and the room erupted in shrieks and applause. It was such a fantastic way to start the musical - and now celebratory - part of my evening. Spotting an abandoned bar stool, I dragged it over near a couch so I'd have a better (and seated) view.

That bit of luck was followed by the arrival of a guy I know and hadn't seen in ages (unless Facebook counts and it doesn't) and suddenly I had someone to chat with, too. I wanted to hear all about the Fire, Flour and Fork barbecue dinner he'd gone to - White Stone oysters at a BBQ, really? - and, since it was his first visit to the Rabbit Hole for music, he wanted to hear about bands I'd seen there.

Meanwhile, we saw other people giving up on the bartender and going upstairs to score drinks. One guy came down carrying two cans of PBR so he wouldn't have to go back up again. And people just kept coming in, filling up the place until there wasn't any room for more.

Sam Reed came out looking like a million bucks in wide, red bell bottoms and a long-sleeved black crop top and introduced her keyboard player Calvin. "We've been rehearsing these songs for weeks now, but it's not easy to come up here and suddenly become one amazing person."

After only a couple of songs, including a poignant "I Loves You, Porgy," during which some people continued to blather, Sam asked the sound guy to check on a buzz from the drum. "Any of you seen the documentary "What Happened, Miss Simone?" she inquired and a fair number of people indicated they had.

"Well, then you know she would have stopped a show with a snare drum buzzing like that. She'd also stop singing if people were talking because she wanted them to listen to her, like they did when she played classical music on piano." At that comment, many people shouted affirmations, telling her she should do just that and I agreed since near me were a couple of women catching up far too loudly while she sang.

It was just the reminder some people needed to be more respectful as she went forward with other Simone standards like "Don't Smoke in Bed" and "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl," nailing that male/female tone that Nina's voice had.

Sam reminded the audience of Nina's place in civil rights history, chiding us with, "I hope you all voted!" and going into a set of music from that period, including a killer rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which I have to admit I knew only by the Animals' version.

But it was the song Sam said Simone had written after being devastated by the death of the four little girls in the Birmingham church that got the crowd singing along. With no prodding from her, people spontaneously joined in for the refrain of "Do it slow" in "Mississippi Goddam," making for a powerful moment to witness.

I was quickly brought back to reality when Sam said she was doing "Old Jim Crow" next and the young girl behind me asked her companion, "Jim who?"

Old Jim Crow, I thought I had you beat
Now I see you walkin' and talkin' up and down my street
Old Jim Crow, don't you know it's all over now

Referring to those lines of the song, Sam said, "I feel like that's what's been going on for the past year. But we're going to persevere and work together to change that, right?"

Right, indeed. She ended her set with "I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free" and people clapping along in rhythm, like a gospel chorus. I couldn't have asked for a better way to close out election night.

Well, except to get home and see how many Republicans had been unseated in the House of Delegates. Oh, and what's this, a transgendered woman has beaten a dinosaur of a legislator, a man who bragged about being anti-LGBTQ? Karma really is a bitch.

Can't you see it? 
Can't you feel it? 
It's all in the air. 
Virginia, goddam!

And I mean that in the best possible way.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pain Revolution

Most everyone around me was there for extra credit.

It was a full house, orchestra and balcony, at the Singleton Center, plus an overflow room at Cabell Library. My guess was that a lot of freshmen are already in need of a bit of grade enhancement.

We were all there for the Common Book lecture by Sam Quinones, author of "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic." Unlike the incoming class, I hadn't read the book, although I have my doubts that all the 18 year olds around me had, either.

Behind me, a student said that his mother had wanted to come to this. "If my Mom knew about it, she would have, too," her companion assured him. Taking on a high-pitched voice, he went on, "It sounds very interesting!" Does everyone who imitates their mother do it in an unnaturally high register?

My seatmate was a young woman, originally from Chesterfield and now living in a dorm on the medical campus, who'd come for extra credit in her English and Critical Thinking class. She was still adjusting to city life and having strangers like me randomly talk to her, but she gamely answered my questions anyway.

When I asked her about music (her first show was Parachute and she was thrilled I knew of them), she couldn't think of any bands she liked and instead asked what I liked. When I began naming off bands, she took out her Moleskin and began writing down band names earnestly. It was adorable.

After an interminable introduction thanking everyone but the janitor at VCU, the talk finally got underway.

Quinones' book was a heavy one, making it all the better when he wasn't dwelling on the direct link between Oxycontin being over-prescribed and addicts eventually turning to black tar heroin as a cost-saving means. Like when he said before he'd researched this book, all his knowledge of heroin came from movies like "Serpico" and "The French Connection."

"You should watch them!" he advised the room. Since Q and I were of similar generations, I already had. "Back then, dealers used pay phones and pagers, which for you first year students, is how criminals used to communicate."

Did I hear the slightest hint of condescension in that statement? I think I did.

He chronicled the factors that made up the perfect storm we find ourselves in today (mass overdoses), listing out the development by Purdue Pharma of Oxycontin in 1996, the subsequent tripling of the number of pharmaceutical reps (including lots of attractive women) and a shift in patient perspective that no American had to be in pain anymore.

Just tell the doctor where it hurts, he'll hand over the pills and god bless Amurica.

The only problem with that scenario, he told us, was that eventually doctors wouldn't keep prescribing it, or it got too expensive for middle America. That problem was soon nicely solved by small town Mexicans willing to deliver black tar heroin in un-inflated balloons right to your door, like pizza, but with more nodding off.

Talk about convenient...and way cheaper.

Best of all, it was a violence-free drug trade because all the Mexicans were from the same small town and planning to move back, so no one wanted to shoot someone they knew.

Where Quinones got really interesting was in his hypotheses about why by the new century everyone wanted to be medicated: lack of connection with other humans. He cited kids who aren't allowed to play outside and parents who over-protected kids and never let them learn from life. He pointed the finger at children being given trophies just for showing up and then not getting that kind of attention once they were out in the real world.

Of course he called out cell phones and social media. Especially impressive was his rant against trigger warnings. "First year students, do not ever ask for a trigger warning!" he shouted. "The whole reason you go to college is to be disturbed!"

Preach it, brother.

Pointing out that Americans wind up dangerously separate, whether in poverty or in affluence, he likened 24-hour cable news to heroin for how it numbs people.

Then there was his story of how his mother would stand on the front lawn and ring a bell at 6:00 every night and he and his brothers would scurry home when they heard it. "She had no idea where we were or where we'd been," he said. Older heads nodded, remembering the same sort of rituals growing up, while the students looked amazed or uncomfortable.

"Isolation is heroin's natural habitat," he said. "The antidote to heroin is community."

If it was a coded trigger warning, I don't think the students got it. But, hey, they did get their extra credit trophies.

In other news, we're doomed.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bloom Where You're Planted

The "Don't Tread On Me" license plate said it all: TRU MP.

In what could only be called foreshadowing, FotoBoy and I followed an enormous white truck with that unpleasant personalized plate most of the way down Patterson Avenue to get to HATTheatre to see "Hillary and Clinton."

Because as we get ready to head to the polls Tuesday, what could feel more timely than a look back at a time when our biggest problem was choosing between a woman and a black man, both whip smart and worthy of the job, to be our candidate?

Good god, was that only 9 years ago?

It was only somewhat mortifying to be the last arrivals - FB was tardy in picking me up - to see the four-actor production. The set was an all-white hotel room, framed in white as if to provide a glimpse into "an alternate universe light years from our own, January 2008 in New Hampshire."

Working from a decidedly strong script, the story follows Hillary, then predicted to lose the upcoming primary, as she listens to advice from her driven campaign manager Mark and politically savvy husband Bill, whom she's asked to join her in New Hampshire despite her manager's insistence that she keep him far away.

Since this is an alternate universe, Hillary is winningly played by Patricia Ali, a black actress who uses calm, measured delivery rather than looks to convey Hillary and her unenviable position of trying to break the glass ceiling without having to avail herself of her husband's money or charisma with voters.

The playwright gives us a Bill Clinton who is feeling his age, needy and contrite, eager to return to his wife's good graces, a man who rests his head on her shoulder, telling her he's lonely and missing her. A man who needs his head patted by his wife to feel like everything is all better now. Jeff Clevenger ably takes the character from marital suck-up to master politician reveling in being right about how to win.

As campaign manager Mark, Billy Christopher Maupin nails the obsessive political insider type that anyone who's lived in D.C. has met at some point. He was especially moving in his scenes disagreeing with Bill, because he knows there's no way to win and acknowledges it in ways both humorous and resigned. The kicker was that he'd already caught the audience off guard when he privately drops an unexpected bomb on Hillary.

What? Wonks have emotions, too? Who knew?

The final character was known only as Other Guy, but we know it's the guy who ultimately took the nomination and the presidency. Here, he's willing to offer her the vice-presidency if she'll lose the next few primaries. It's a small and tightly wound role for Waleed Sami.

Kudos to director Deejay Gray for delivering a solid 80-minute entertainment that never for a moment lost our interest, despite knowing how things turned out, at least in this universe. And nothing could have been more poignant than Hillary's final line acknowledging that she knows she can't ever win.

That said, not much could have been more discouraging than the exchange I had with a server at a nearby restaurant. When she politely inquired if we needed anything, I jokingly said, yes, how about a new president?

"I voted for him, but now I know what a mistake that was," this young black woman tells me to my utter surprise. Gobsmacked, I ask how she could have ever thought he was worthy of being elected.

"I believed him when he said he would make America great again," she says, looking obviously apologetic. "I was wrong. All he cares about is himself." Oh, honey, if only you and your kind had come to that realization a year ago.

So "Hillary and Clinton" turned out to be both a compelling look at what if and a sad reminder of what is now. As for the latter, my only hope is that people like the guy in the white supremacist pick-up truck won't be voting on Tuesday.

And hats off to HATT. If ever there was a time for the intersection of theater and politics, that time is now.

Walk This Way

There I was, just minding my own business on Brown's Island.

But as I rounded a bridge support to access the pipeline, I saw a couple approach a trio of sweaty women coming from that direction. I could sense that the duo were visitors from 50 paces. When I got closer, all I needed to hear were the words "Potterfield" and "pipeline" to know that I needed to intervene.

Seems the visitors were looking for the Potterfield Bridge and asking the runners if they'd just come from it and the runners were trying to direct them there, despite having just come from the far-superior Pipeline. Whoa, there, sweaty ones.

Inserting myself into a group of strangers' conversation, I ascertained that the trio had just come from running the Pipeline, yet didn't hesitate to direct the tourists to a far inferior river experience. Granted, they asked for it, but what do out-of-towners know? Explaining that if they only had time for one walk, it needed to be the Pipeline and I would be happy to lead them there. The runners became my cheerleaders.

"Go with her!" they insisted, despite not knowing me from Eve. "She's right and she can show you how great it is." They followed willingly.

John and Sharon were visiting from Indianapolis and it didn't take long to see that they were my kind of tourists. Yesterday they'd begun at Lewis Ginter, moved on VMFA, shopped Carytown, gone to the Byrd to hear the mighty Wurlitzer played (and left once the ultra-violent film lost their interest) and eaten at Sen Organic across the street, which they'd loved.

Not bad for one day in RVA.

Making our way down the edges of Brown's Island, they were surprised when we came to the actual pipeline at the river's edge. "It really is a pipeline!" Sharon marveled. Yup, that's what was promised you.

With the overcast sky, the pipeline felt especially cozy today with trees and overhanging branches the dominating motifs instead of the usual sunshine. They were instantly smitten with the vibe - noisy, rushing water, faint breeze, proximity to the James - and John began taking pictures.

"Stop, you two, turn around and smile!" he instructed midway along the walkway. I'm a stranger, I reminded him, just take the photo of Sharon. "No, you're absolutely part of this experience now. Smile!"

Once we'd climbed up the ladder at the end, they wanted advice about the rest of their plans for the day: Monument Avenue and Maymont's Dooley Mansion. John said they'd hoped to do a plantation but had to get to Virginia Beach tonight. I explained that Shirley Plantation could be part of the trip to the beach and next thing you know, they're having me rewrite their itinerary.

John wanted to see the Capital, but they needed to retrieve their car, so I said I was already heading home through Capital Square, so maybe they'd see me there. I'd barely reached the top of the steps when they called my name from their car as they passed on Bank Street. Parking on Ninth Street, they caught up to me near the George Washington statue.

"Hope you don't mind, here we are again!" they called.

Not in the least. They marveled at the Gothic grandeur of Old City Hall and we walked to new City Hall in hopes of the observation deck being open, but alas, no. More questions followed - Poe Museum? Texas Beach? Chapel Island? - and finally we said goodbye.

They thanked me profusely for being their guide for the morning before I instructed them on the most scenic way to get to Maymont and they left with a backward glance.

Walking back through J-Ward, I ran into a favorite actor climbing into his red pick-up truck with a "HEDWIIG" license plate. Asking if I was out walking, he got an earful as I shared my unexpected turn at entertaining strangers.

"Lucky them! They ran into the best possible welcome committee and tour guide in Richmond" he enthused, before we moved on to all the terrific plays currently in or about to be in production.

Wait, since when do men with better shoe collections than me have red pick-up trucks?

Probably since people like me have been leading strangers to the river. A good, long while anyway.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Of Waves and Storms

Leave it to my favorite Kiwi to rub it in: "Bits of me are getting browner."

He's luxuriating in summer's arrival there, so I reminded him that we're sliding toward the dreaded winter here. "Does it get that cold there?" he asks, clearly surprised. How do you explain Virginia's schizoid weather to someone who's never experienced it?

Like today, for instance. When Mac and I walked to the river at 1:00, it was sunny and closing in on 80 degrees. When X-tina and Mac showed up at my apartment at 8 to go to InLight, it was cloudy and 69. By the time we got to Foushee Street, great gusts blew in, a few giant raindrops fell and the temperature plummeted to what felt like 50. Half an hour later, it was back to warmer but a downpour had begun. I try to convey all this.

Naturally, he responds with a photo of his dog George snoozing on the porch under a bright blue afternoon sky. Show-off.

InLight was mobbed when we made it over to Broad Street, making it difficult at best to appreciate any but the largest of works. We saw dogs and babies strung with lights, as well as a store window with an installation called "Freak Show" where willing volunteers were allowing themselves to be made up like a Kardashian.

Meanwhile, the ICA looked fabulous in shades of fuchsia and magenta being projected on its asymmetrical sides..

"Wave Form" involved three half bicycles that, when the pedals were rotated, caused wave forms on the walls, making for a colored Etch-a-Sketch effect. The best part of "Storm Ending" wasn't the glass cases of moving clouds but the rolling thunder soundtrack that accompanied it, especially once the downpour began.

It was a good thing we were having fun together because our timing seemed to be off. We stopped by Chocolates by Kelly in hopes of seeing truffles made under a black light, but the chocolate-maker was on a break. At the installation where the VCU dancers were in performance, we were at the back of the crowd and moments later, applause erupted as it ended.

Once the rain began, many installations involving projectors had to be shut down, so we headed over to Gallery 5 to see "Lit," two large-scale light shows in the upstairs gallery. The one on the south wall was particularly cool because it encompassed two windows that punctuated the groovy, swirling images being projected with real-life night scenes.

In the tiny back gallery, we watched a time-lapse video by Jackson Ward resident (and science nerd) Prabir, composed of images of the James River Park, the Sierra Nevadas, the Outer Banks and Great Smokey Mountains, full of dramatic shadows, racing clouds and shooting stars.

Everywhere we went, there was a lot of light inside while outside, it was a dark and stormy night.

The last thing I expected once my friends headed home was a protracted conversation with the only person I know in New Zealand, but there he was, looking to catch up. He wanted to know how life was and I, having just removed soggy shoes and a dripping jacket, said wet.

That's when he began bragging about summer and how great the vibe was, with lots of international visitors and fun. From there, we were off and running. Their local food and wine festival had begun yesterday, so he told me about the chef who'd prepared last night's multi-course meal pairing raw wines and food. Sounded fabulous to me.

Over the next little while, we delved into his travels, what he's been up to and our lives, with him sharing that he loved that his girlfriend had taught him the importance of conversation. Only a man would have to be taught such a thing.

What he had clearly absorbed while he was here back in May was what an enjoyable town this can be. "I have such good memories of my time in your hood. Really, it's a wonderful place." Tell me something I don't know, friend.

As we were closing in on an hour chatting, I began my farewells. Lazily, he responded, "Right. I think I need to have a snooze before dinner. Nice chatting, Karen. You made my time in Richmond."

Ah, but bits of you didn't get browner here. Next visit, more time at the river, I promise.

And, of course, all the conversation you can handle. That I've got in spades.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

If She Drinks Beer, She's a Keeper

Perhaps the problem is that I didn't get the hops gene.

Otherwise, why would I feel the need to observe that while I wouldn't want to say breweries have taken over Richmond, breweries have taken over Richmond.

And it's not just the sheer number of breweries - although that's got be way above the norm - but the fact that so many of Richmond's cultural events now take place at breweries. It's as if the only way to attract people is with beer.

So of my most interesting choices for culture tonight, there was storytelling at one brewery or opera at another. No kidding. I opted for the brewery where I saw Shakespeare most recently, since I've seen Shakespeare at both. Ridiculous, isn't it?

Three Notch'd Brewing Collab House was hosting a special edition of Secretly Y'All, Tell Me a Story, held in conjunction with the Library of Virginia's exhibition "Teetotalers and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia" (which I've not only seen, but attended a panel discussion about).

The theme was "Cheers, Beers and Tears" and tonight they were tapping the bourbon barrel-aged "Last Call," a beer which had been a collaboration between Three Notch'd and the Library. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but do you see what I mean about this town being beer-besotted?

Unlike with the Shakespeare performance, chairs had been set up for those who'd come, not for beer but to hear stories, and mine was near a barrel, on top of which rested an assortment of nerdy Library of Virginia stickers, two of which - "Got books?" and "I like big books and I cannot lie" - came home with me.

Since this was a one-off edition of Secretly Y'All, there were only five storytellers, although they each got a generous ten minutes instead of the usual seven. Initially, some of the hardcore beer geeks kept talking over the first storyteller, but eventually even most of them were sucked in by true tales being shared with strangers.

One woman told of her time working for Redhook Brewery in Seattle and how that went south once Anheuser-Busch bought them and harassment entered the equation. Another told of her moonshiner great-grandfather and the family's Appalachian roots, stressing that it was pronounced with a "ch" sound, not  "sh" ("That's like fingernails on a blackboard to us hillbillies") and trying to counter stereotypes ("We have our teeth, we wear shoes and some of us are educated").

The oldest of a large, fundamental Christian family told of her mother earning side money as a mystery shopper, which once involved her having to order an O'Doul's at the bar despite her fear of being kicked out of the church for drinking a fake beer. Instead, she was accused of coming on to a man (incidentally, her brother, so make that incest). The always reliable Mr. King told of his days as a private detective investigating moonshiners, most of whom, he assured us, would give you the shirt off their backs.

Closing out the evening was what amounted to a ringer, an older man from Botetourt County (which he pronounced "BOT-tot"), dressed in jeans and a green checkered shirt with red suspenders, speaking in a distinctive southwestern Virginia drawl.

Not sure about how much we city slickers knew, he first asked who'd heard of Botetourt (most) and who knew what a bender was (all). Alrighty, then, he could go on.

His story had to do with an old drunk known to go on three-week benders and how, as a young man of 20, he'd been asked to "babysit" the drunk, The benefit of this odd job was hearing the old guy's colorful moonshining stories from his younger years.

Tonight he told us one about three 'shiners who set up operation in South Carolina (because there was the least law presence there), buying cans from Continental Company in which to put their moonshine, and then slapping labels on the cans saying they contained tomatoes.

They shipped the cans north on trucks to distributors in Philly, Pittsburgh, NYC and Chicago, and eventually got so bold as to ship on trains, at which point Continental got worried and stopped supplying cans rather than risk a lawsuit.

And don't you know those moonshiners were smart enough to close up shop, take all that money they'd earned, move back to Botetourt and buy farms to live out their lives on?

Kind of gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling, doesn't it, although if you were drinking "Last Call," that feeling could be nothing more than the 8.5% APV.

So another hop-scented cultural evening came to a close without my lips getting anywhere near a beer.

But with the temperature still hovering in the '70s, it only made sense to stop for a bite on the way home and My Noodle & Bar had their front door wide open and the booth closest to the door available.

As if that weren't enough, a guy was folded into the highest perch above the booths, first playing an accordion and then a violin. The way I see it, if you're going to indulge in steamed dumplings and broccoli with chicken while the soft November night air wafts in, how better than with someone bowing a violin for your aural enjoyment?

After a first date a few years back, the guy emailed me about how fascinating he'd found me, but saying point blank, "If you drank beer, you'd be perfect."

But I don't. Got beer? No. I like wine and I cannot lie.