Sunday, March 26, 2017

Getting Along for Good

Have we made no progress in 25 years?

That could have been the theme for TheatreLAB's production of "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992" about the Rodney King beating and ensuing riots and also my first foray into verbatim theater, a genre I didn't even know existed.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith had used interviews with people associated with the events - everyone from the police chief to King's aunt to a Korean woman whose husband was attacked - as a way of gathering monologues for the one-woman show.

I had gathered up a favorite photographer who also remembered the historic events so I'd have a companion to discuss the play with afterward. No point in going with someone who was in elementary school during the seminal events.

Fortunately for the audience, that one woman was Katrinah Carol Lewis, a fierce presence who with each monologue and minimal costume change managed to display a different take on the crucial events, each distinct, memorable and tragic in his or her own way.

It was while she was playing a Mexican sculptor that the audience nervously laughed when she said, "I'm not a racist. I have white friends," one of those decidedly uncomfortable moments for anyone who recognizes how common that particular justification is despite its meaninglessness.

On the other hand, it was infuriating to hear one of the white jurors at the trial (of the cops who beat King 56 times in 81 seconds) say she felt like a pawn used to get a non-guilty verdict. That the juror later got a letter from the KKK - thrilled at the verdict and inviting her to join - drove the point home most unpleasantly.

In a sign of the times, more than one character made disparaging comments about Jesse Jackson. Oh, Jesse.

Lewis' convincing Cornel West character explained the difference between "optimism" and "hope," the former being secular, and the latter based on nothing, and also predicted that if whites could experience black sadness, it would be overwhelming for them.

No doubt. As it was, the incredibly well-acted play was overwhelming for its unfortunate reminder that there can be no progress until, as Rodney King pleaded, we can all get along.

Props to TheatreLAB for the win, both in thoughtfully choosing a piece of theater that's as relevant today with #blacklivesmatter as when it was written and for the assured execution by Lewis.

Sadly, we still need all the optimism and hope we can get.

Use Me Up

Life is a sunny Saturday with cake at the end.

My morning can be summed up as the epitome of soulful spring in Jackson Ward: a guy on Marshall Street washing a car with "Girl, I Wanna Shake You Down" blaring as I walked by. Another was driving down Clay Street with all his car windows down blasting Bill Withers' "Use Me Up." All my apartment windows open so I could share Donny Hathaway with the neighbors, too.

My afternoon took me to the Bijou, past a guy on Broad Street who inquired if he hadn't just seen me at Kroger, proving that some people pay far more attention to their fellow shoppers than I do.

The film that lured me inside on a gorgeous spring day was "Neruda," a biopic ostensibly about a communist poet going underground when communism was outlawed, but actually more of a poetic dream that allowed the director to take us on a journey through brothels and political meetings, orgies and snow-covered mountains as a driven policeman makes it his mission to find the poet.

To write well, one must know how to erase. ~ Neruda

Weird, but utterly entrancing and sometimes as enigmatic as poetry can be, it was a film that left the small crowd - including a musician there on what she called a "lady date" with a girlfriend - dazzled with the beauty of its cinematography and the sheer pleasure of watching the story of how a talented man indulged his every whim, with little regard for consequence but laser-focused desire on seeking out his own stimulation, whether physical, intellectual or emotional.

My evening began at Pru's manse on Church Hill with bubbly on the screened porch before dodging the green-clad masses of the Church Hill Irish Festival to make it down to the Slip and Bistro Bobette for a proper French birthday celebration meal in her honor.

Actually, feast might be a better word because of everything that landed on our table, was Hoovered up and whisked away by our young server, who quietly informed us that not only was it his first night there but we were his first table.

We promised to be gentle.

Out first were bowls of cream of asparagus soup, a cheese and charcuterie plate and ahi tuna tartare, followed by monkfish medallions, two kinds of beef including beef wellington for the birthday girl, and, for me a special of scallops with celery root galette with roasted garlic crema, all washed down with a Sancerre recommended by the barkeep who greeted us with hugs and the intel that a good friend of mine was downstairs at a private dinner.

When I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned to find said friend looming over me, and soon chiding me for not responding to his recent email, one which I'd mistaken for a mass email (it wasn't, apparently). Still, it was wonderful to see him.

And while I heard two Grand Marnier souffles being ordered, I missed out entirely by heading to the loo, where I ran into friends along the way and chatted a bit too long, returning to see empty plates. It mattered not because we were heading back to the manse for dark chocolate cake with ganache (lovingly made by Beau), and far more my dessert speed anyway.

That the evening was so beautifully temperate ensured that we all set up camp on the candlelit porch again, this time for bubbles, birthday cake and present-opening, a highlight being the exquisite absinthe fountain Beau had bought for his beloved. As much artful as functional, the winged woman holding up the glass reservoir with four taps exuded feminine energy and was a thing of beauty at the same time.

In the interest of testing out the new apparatus - and the new wormwood leaf-shaped absinthe spoons - Beau filled it with ice water and we all set our taps to drip over the Granddaddy of absinthes, Vieux Pontalier, mine being the slowest by far because of how much I enjoy the lead-up to the arrival of the green fairy.

Once she'd arrived, conversation reached new levels. On the subject of a former boyfriend who'd told me he dreamt of eating my belly for dinner once I'd gone to the other side, Pru observed, "Other cities donate their bodies to science, but in Richmond, we donate ours to local chefs."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Beau took issue when we pointed out his tendency to titter, claiming he was actually guffawing (as if), finally agreeing that he perhaps did giggle a bit. Neither Pru not I saw that as preferable. "Neither a titterer nor a giggler be," he quipped.

Impossible, we discovered, when you find yourself at an eight-hour birthday soiree. To party well, one must know how to go where the green fairy takes you. Preferably, without tittering.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Living for the Possibilities

Despite my Mom's predilection for it, I find worrying a waste of time.

Last night, I went to bed feeling guilty - which is first cousins with worry - knowing I had two play tickets for tonight and no date, although not for lack of asking. This morning, I woke up to a friend's message announcing that he was a bachelor for the weekend because his fiancee was out of town.

Woo hoo! My invitation was immediate.

If you're buying, I'm flying. Can I buy you some supper?

See? the universe seemed to be chiding me. Brief as it had been, all that late night obsessing was for naught. Lesson reinforced.

Like a good date, he gave me my choice of restaurants and I wanted My Noodle, preferably in a booth with a curtain. I got both. Like past men I have taken there, he fell in love with the green curry I highly recommended and the server seconded. Win/win.

Walking down Lombardy, we passed a long-time friend of mine who never even saw me, necessitating a brief dressing down on the sidewalk. I got home to a message with the subject line: "I'm an ass." He's not, just apparently oblivious, but now there's an apology (or perhaps guilt?) drink in it for me.

And I had on the fuchsia lace tights, too, so I wasn't all that easy to miss.

Tonight's gorgeous weather made the walk to Virginia Repertory downright delightful and we arrived early enough to have plenty of time for conversation before "The End of War" began.

We were only a few minutes into his dissertation on all the sex he got before his girlfriend left for the weekend when we noticed there was a man onstage, moving about on the incredibly immersive set of a bombed-out Berlin circa 1945.

But wait, there were still 15 minutes to curtain. What was up?

Interrupting his mention of the third time in 12 hours, I pointed to the man, raising my eyebrows. "He's either part of the show or psychotic," my friend surmised. Since we were in the second row, if the guy were to pull out a gun and begin spraying, we'd have been prime targets.

Since my friend is bigger than I am, I inquired if it would be okay for me to use him as a shield if such a thing went down. Without missing a beat, he whined, "Aww, but I'm getting laid a lot, so I've got more to live for."

Truth. That's the hardest I've laughed in weeks.

It was also the best possible thing to do before a very serious play about the hard choices people - embattled Russian soldiers, a desperate German woman, her adult daughter who was a female cellist with little empathy and a Jewish man hidden in a cellar - make in wartime.

At intermission, my friend had a slightly stricken look. "Just a little light Friday night entertainment," he quipped.

I can't say enough good about the sobering effect of the set or the projections of bombings, concentration camps and the general mayhem of war, even the eerie hues projected to convey mood. They were as much a character of the play as the actors.

And speaking of them, Nick Aliff nailed his part as a Russian killing machine so entrenched in the non-stop slaughter that he begins to see the ghosts of all his victims and eventually decides once they arrive in Berlin that he just needs the war to stop.

Tragically, as his comrade-in-arms points out, one war ends and the next one begins immediately (sort of like meals at my mother's house).

Which is exactly why my friend is brilliant for getting laid as much as possible right now. No telling what's on the horizon.

But I can tell you this much: whatever it is, I'm not worrying about it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Moonrise, Moon Set

If I had ever been here before, I would probably know just what to do - sound of record scratching - oh, wait, I do.

At the Foxygen show at the National the other night, a friend had observed that he used to go to a show and know most of the people there, at least recognize them. Not so any more and partly, we decided, because of the growth in the breadth and width of the scene.

Tonight was proof positive, with long-familiar musical faces in spaces that didn't exist 9 or 10 years ago and performed for only a few familiar faces.

Beginning the evening with the inaugural Southside Listening Room at WPA was hardly negotiable given my seasoned status with the original Listening Room series all those moons ago. That long-time friends Lobo Marino were not only organizing and curating but also performing second sealed the deal.

After establishing myself in a stool near the door next to a woman eating blueberry pie, a friend spirited me away ("You wanna be in the middle of everything?") to a seat right in front of the opening band, Swamp Trees. They said they hadn't played in a while, which may have had something to do with the toddler in green overalls whose Mommy was singing lead and playing ukulele and accordion while her bandmates were on guitar and drums.

Their set was short, but they managed to include both their newest song as well as the first song they ever sang as a band, exhorting the audience to sing along.

Let it in, let it out. Did we ever.

People kept arriving and while a few of them just got baked goods boxed up to go, most scored a treat at the counter and found somewhere to sit down and watch Lobo Marino's set. Whereas I had been "in the middle of everything" before, the duo took up far less room and the now-empty space in front of me was immediately claimed by a dozen people sitting cross-legged on the floor, some with coconut cream cake between their legs.

Unlike at the original, though, no hard and fast talking restrictions were announced, an opening two older women at the bar annoyingly took advantage of, despite that at least a third of the room was already so far into the music that their eyes were closed as they completely gave themselves over to Lobo Marino's soul-stirring world beats and damn fine harmonies.

Because I've been going to their shows for years, I always appreciate new material and tonight it was a song from their upcoming album recorded amidst the renovations on their urban farmhouse on southside.

"It's about remediating vines on your house and remediating vines in your mind," Laney pronounced.

When Jameson made a joke about how some neighbors were already referring to them as the "hippie house," Laney quickly shushed him. "Don't say that! Then we'll be the self-proclaimed hippie house!"

I'm pretty sure I've been referring to them, in the most complimentary way of course, as happy hippies for years. It's something I admire them for: trying to live the Foxfire life that young people in the '70s were and succeeding with a lot of it.

And they play great music. With Laney on harmonium, the rhythmic movement of her bellowing hand attracting the toddlers in the room, drummer Jameson pulled out his banjo for a song, his ankle bells and mouth harp for a couple others, as they took us through songs new and old.

Personally, I never tire of going down that path with them. When Jameson took out his mouth harp, he said it was to play exit music but who was going to leave while he did that?

Finally the bakery wanted to close and everyone headed out, my destination being the Gypsy Room at Vagabond to see a full band version of Yeni Nostalji.

Walking up Broad Street, I saw there was a show at the National. It was Minus the Bear, a band I'd seen 7 years ago at the National amongst a predominately male crowd.

That explained why I was seeing so many guys of various ages. Passing a couple of the middle-aged variety, the looked over repeatedly, probably surprised to see a woman in the vicinity. Then they looked some more. When I said howdy, they said hello and one inquired how I was doing. Good, I said, moving along. "I can see that!" one called after me.

Get out much, buddy?

About to go in Vagabond's door, I spotted two young women dressed like it was 1985 in cute little metallic dresses with combat boots and hair bows and I immediately told them how good they looked. "Wow, thank you!" they said. "You look good, too."

Adorable and polite, what a combination. As if they weren't already going to do well at a Minus the Bear show with ten men for every girl. Have a blast, girls. I did.

Not for me moody math rock tonight. Instead, I descended the stairs to the dark, atmospheric Gypsy Room for Turkish pop and love songs, tonight a quintet with Larry Branch working his keyboard magic to give the music a distinctive lounge vibe. It was very cool.

There was a large Turkish contingent at a big table and the bar was mostly full, but I snagged a stool near the end, next to a woman explaining that she was there because she'd been speaking Turkish and a man had recognized it and told her he was the drummer in a Turkish band. She'd even snagged a date whose Turkish was far better than hers.

I've seen the band as simply as just Christina and the guitarist Vlad, so having drums, bass and keys tonight was a real treat. Besides, if Dylan went electric, why shouldn't Yeni Nostlji?

Once they began playing with Christina's muted vocals in Turkish, her fluid hand gestures and the band smoothly accompanying her, the room's booker leaned over and whispered, "I think Quentin Tarrantino would like this band." He wasn't far off.

They did a lot of original material, along with a very well-known pop song from 50 or 60 years ago, and, lo and behold, some of the people in the room were rapt, singing along on the chorus. Two of the songs were written by Evrim, who used to be in the band before his bakery kept getting national awards and he was too busy to play Turkish music despite his ethnicity.

A loss to the music world, definitely, but the trade-off is stellar bread.

Christina, ever the low key charmer, announced that there were sheets of paper on which she'd hand-written Yeni Nostalji's pertinent information, in case anyone was interested in following them or finding out more. The entire room was disarmed.

I just don't necessarily know all of them anymore. And the scene rolls on...

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Don't Want Diamonds

Baby Boomers, they're not just for hating on anymore.

Just when I'm starting to believe the consensus that Boomers have ruined the country, I am reminded of my allegiance to them.

Not just because I'm one of them, but because out of the Boomer generation came the hippie radical types who were committed to taking on the work of making the world a better place. Groovy as that sounds, I don't think we breed that type much anymore.

Additionally, I'm the worst kind of lapsed Catholic. I'm a heathen.

But despite having been mostly raised Catholic - being baptized, making my first communion, getting confirmed - I had very little exposure to nuns. Oh, sure, I've heard the terrifying tales from people who went to Catholic schools (my parents were public school supporters), but none of that happened to me.

So my opinion of nuns was pretty much based on other people's experiences and not especially good.

I'm rethinking all of that now for the simple reason that I saw the documentary "Radical Grace" at the Virginia Historical Society. Because the screening was co-sponsored by St. Gertrude High School, the VHS curator who introduced the film was obligated to read a message from the school first.

Essentially, it said that the school supports the Catholic church's bishops and that their directives must be obeyed, a statement that meant little to me at that point and everything by the end of the film.

Focusing on three nuns who have committed their lives to fighting, one as a social justice lobbyist working to get the ACA passed so the poor and marginalized will have health care, one a church reform activist trying to move the needle on women being deacons in the Catholic church and one who works with ex-cons trying to get back on track.

In one scene, she even provided dating advice, telling the men, "Find yourself a decent woman who'll be your best friend. If she wants diamonds, dump her."

That these vocal women are doing their thing in street clothes out in society did not sit well with the U.S. bishops who accuse them of being radical feminists. As if. That the nuns not only swear but use you-know-who's name in vain surprised me big time.

Proving that the church needs to be part of the social fabric of the country to be of real service to those less fortunate, the nuns were tireless and enthusiastic about moving their agendas forward, even when risking being censured or kicked out of the church.

A group hit the road as "Nuns on the Bus," making stops all over, including at the 2012 Democratic convention and Colbert's show where huge, mostly supportive crowds greet them at every stop, although it's deeply disturbing to see a man yell at one of the nuns that she's as bad as a pedophile priest for not siding with the pro-life contingent.

Mac and I looked at each other incredulously and spitting mad after watching him say something so venomous in front of a camera.

Not gonna lie, I teared up more than once watching as these brave women continued fighting for their causes despite the whole of the Vatican insisting they cease and desist. In the Catholic church, women must be silenced and bishops must be obeyed. Radical feminism indeed.

Apparently this was why St. Gertrude was making their stance clear to all. Puh-leeze.

An especially satisfying element of the documentary was that so much relevant happened during its filming. The ACA passed and we got a new pope with more modern ideas, proving change is possible.

But the defining feature of the nuns' work was how they hung in there. These nuns weren't religious fanatics, they were old hippies trying to change the world by working for the causes that mattered to them.

Part of me wanted to cheer their outdated optimism with my own.

Mac and I left the VHS to walk 7 blocks in the windy cold night to Amour, where a Burgundy wine-tasting was going on. Leaving them to their learning, we dove into simple suppers: mine of French onion soup and a winter salad and hers of a decadent cream of mushroom soup and then a warm salad with duck confit.

Someone humorous thought it would be funny to Instagram pictures of our practically licked clean plates, but we talked him out of it.

Meanwhile, the wine tasters were looking ahead to the next tasting of Loire valley wines and the man with the house in the Loire wanted to know where I'd stayed when I'd been there last summer.

All I wanted was to sip my Madeira and savor salted dark chocolate creme brulee with side cars of raspberry, strawberry-lime, coconut milk and melon pastis sorbet.

As it happened, a radical Boomer feminist can polish off dessert and reminisce about France at the same time. It will not be captured on Instagram, however.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Leader is You

Of course it was the familiar faces, too, but you can't overlook how much I enjoy theatrical types.

As I discussed with three different friends at the National, tonight's Foxygen show was a no-brainer for multiple reasons besides it was a beautiful night to be out.

Let's see, to start with, the trio was being backed up by members of the Spacebomb Records house band aka some of the best jazz cats (don't look at me, that's what they call each other) in Richmond, from the 5-piece horn section to the well-known rhythm section of Pinson and Cameron to the incomparable Trey Pollard on guitar, the very same who'd done the arrangements for the new Foxygen record.

That alone would have gotten me there, but I'd also heard singer Sam refer to the duo as "just theater kids," and history shows I'm a  fan of onstage over-wrought millennial stage drama tunes (hello, how many times did I attend the Ghost Light afterparty just to hear such people belt out show tunes?).

A third reason that several of us also acknowledged was that it was only a $15 ticket and happening a Tuesday night where it was easily the most interesting thing going on in town tonight.

My favorite reason came from a fellow Yo La Tengo fan who said simply, "I love to dance." Enough said.

In any case, ding, ding, ding. We have a winner, folks.

The opener was Aussie Gabriella Cohen who came out alone, admitting she'd been worried she'd be late because she was still changing her blouse. She's apparently wearing a lot of blouses on this tour and tonight's was a stand-up collar, puffy-sleeved, cream colored one with lace trim, very Victorian and/or '70s, depending on your point of reference.

She tried to tell us she  just wanted to come along as Foxygen's roadie, but they insisted she get onstage. Since she used to be the singer for the Furrs, she's obviously got some experience, although one friend thought she came across as not quite ready for prime time.

This was an interesting comparison since just before the show, I'd heard a snippet from a 1994 interview with the Dave Matthews Band, not long after they'd gotten their first record deal. Besides sounding incredibly young and excited (and not ready for prime time, either), they'd played "Ants Marching" right there in the studio and the passion and freshness of it was evident compared to how it undoubtedly sounds live now.

Sometimes, not quite ready for the big league is exactly when you most enjoy a band.

After the first song solo and an acknowledgement she worshipped Johnny Cash, Gabriella was joined by her band whom she immediately introduced, a nice touch, I thought. The quartet's songs were a combination of neo-country/western and girl group with lots of effects on the voice  and guitars and a bit of underlying garage.

"Do you all live here?" she asked of the enthusiastic crowd. "Have you been to Australia? Do you want to?" When the crowd cheered, she laughed. "Do you think we all surf?" She rolls her eyes. "Not much."

Banter was minimal - "This is another song" and "Thank you" - and the other guitarist added her lovely vocals to Gabriella's, as did the bassist on occasion. "This is our last song which is a good thing because then you can hear Foxygen!" Maybe, but in the meantime, I was totally digging the screaming post-punk guitar behind lyrics like, "Why don't we get together?"

During the break, I heard from my musician friend about the satisfactions of teaching guitar (students noodling between lessons) and from a photographer friend about being smitten by someone who'd last significant other was an illustrator for the "New Yorker." Tough act to follow, man.

When he bemoaned the difficulties of a long distance relationship like the one on which he was embarking, I reminded him that if a long-distance one is better than none at all, he might want to keep his bellyaching to himself.

Then the lights went down and I lost my friend to the front rows so he could dance with the mob while I stayed directly in front of the sound board, shielded from behind and with a good view. Also, plenty of room to dance.

Foxygen came out, which meant three faces I didn't know and eight I did. When I think back to that first time I ever saw Trey Pollard at a Listening Room in 2010, I couldn't help but think how cool it was to see him as part of this.

Singer Sam, a theater kid if ever there was one, came out in a skinny white t-shirt and jeans with Todd Rundgren-like hair (short bangs, long hair), round sunglasses and all the moves. There was posturing, there was drama, there was showing off with kicks, mic stand manipulations and fists in the air.

And that was just in the first song.

He introduced the girl singer as Julie and her job, it appeared, was to flip her hair, dance in syncopation with Sam and sing back-up or harmonize while looking cute. She nailed it. On the second song, he sang, "I left my heart in San Francisco" and she sang back, "That's okay, I live in L.A."

Three songs in and the band's influences were clear: Bowie, Queen and a lot of Mick Jagger's dance moves. A friend heard prog rock influences while I heard psychedelic.

Potatoes, potahtoes.

"A lot of local boys on stage tonight," Sam shouted enthusiastically, referring to a group of musicians mostly older than himself. Too funny. "Give it up for the Spacebomb crew!" he directed and the crowd did.

With each song, we got another massive dose of theater kid drama, whether guitarist/keyboard player Jonathan's screaming guitar solo, one foot on his bench, the other on top of the piano, or singer Sam acting as much as singing, helicoptering his arms and dropping and catching the mic.

We heard songs that were Queen-esque and others that invoked ABBA big time while the bubbly crowd bopped four colorful balloons (no doubt supplied by the band) into the air. There were costume changes, during which the band competed: Jonathan's exuberant piano playing versus a percussive onslaught in return.

Then we also had a song called "Where the Red Fern Grows," which I'm quite sure refers to an old children's book title, and wildly theatrical-sounding songs with multiple-part arrangements that allowed Sam to pull out his best deep voice for emphasis.

So. Much. Drama. It was fully fabulous.

My musician friend concluded at the end that he'd liked about 65% of the songs we'd heard. Personally, I'd liked 100% of the overwrought songs that winked at themselves and and reached for grandiosity while eight of the most talented musicians I know backed them up.

Not only did I want to give it up for the Spacebomb crew, but we Yo La Tengo fans love to dance.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Crank Your City

How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb?
Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to talk about how great the old bulb was.

I bet I hadn't been in Richmond a month when someone told me that joke as warning for how resistant to change people here were. So why did that joke come to mind at tonight's community stakeholder meeting about bike lanes in Jackson Ward?

Since I seldom bike anymore, my interest in the meeting was as simple as my interest in anything related to J-Ward: I've lived in this neighborhood for over a decade, so when something's going on here, I'd like to at least be informed. That's why I went to meetings about the bus rapid transit, why I attended sessions about the Maggie Walker statue and why I was present at weekly charrettes about re-imagining Brook Road.

Arriving at the Speakeasy behind the Hippodrome, I headed for a table with two young guys I didn't know, the better to meet others. One was involved in bike advocacy and the other was a VCU journalism student required to attend a city meeting and report on it. That he also used to bike-deliver for Jimmy John's meant he understood the dog in this fight, too.

In no time, he was asking my name and noting it in his memo pad so he could quote me in his piece. Yes, I'd like to see dedicated bike lanes in Jackson Ward.

Council woman Kim Gray opened the meeting by saying that some local business owners had contacted her with serious concerns about the proposed bike lanes on First (which connects the city to Northside) and Second (which connects the city to Southside) Streets, fearful that dedicated bike lanes would be the death knell for their businesses. She empathized completely.

Ugh. I knew right there that this was going to be a long meeting.

The bike guy from the city was admirably even-keeled despite the adversarial vibe coming off half the room as he explained that the city was considering applying for a DoT grant that would provide 4 federal dollars for every $1 the city spent in doing a feasibility study and, assuming it made sense, creating bike lanes on those streets.

He made it very clear that the two streets would retain parking on both sides of the streets, with one of the current vehicular lanes being converted to a dedicated bike lane, a change already established as doable because of the limited amount of traffic on First and Second Streets that could be easily handled in one lane.

Heaven help me, that's when the moaning, beating of breasts and general lamentations began.

Business owner after residential owner took up valuable microphone time to whine about how difficult it can be to park in J-Ward. Several even had the gall to say that they expected to be able to park in front of their home at all times.

My question is, why on earth are you living in the city if you aren't happy unless you can park easily? Do you also complain about the dings on your bumper where parallel parkers have grazed your bumper with theirs in tight spaces? Give me a break.

As if their myopia about the addition of bike lanes (despite studies having proven that business increases and profits go up when bike lanes are added) wasn't enough to make me want to knock their heads together, consider this.

Mr. City Bike Guy made it quite clear that tonight's meeting was solely for the purpose of gathering opinions about whether or not to even apply for the grant, and if they did, part of the funds would be used to do a study to determine if the lanes would be best placed on those two streets or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we've got all these people whining about how inconvenienced they'll be in their cars if we put in bike lanes.

Never mind that people speed terribly on both those one-way streets, making them extremely unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, a situation that would be addressed with only one lane for cars because they'd have to slow down to the speed limit. It's called traffic calming and Floyd Avenue's bike boulevard has proven it works.

One speaker had the gall to complain that her customers wouldn't be able to (illegally) double park and run in to get something if there was a bike lane. Boo hoo.

Fortunately, there were a goodly number of cyclists of all ages there to remind some of the change-resistant that not everyone bikes for recreation. Plenty of people bike for transportation (20% of Richmond residents don't have a car), a proposition that can get pretty dicey given the lack of respect for cycling in the Ward.

I listened to question after question and it was apparent that many people really just wanted to maintain the status quo and ensure that cars remain top priority, while greener options like biking and walking take a backseat.

Finally, I raised my hand just to ask the question that would make sure everyone was hearing correctly: putting in these bike lanes wasn't going to take away parking spaces.

How many stakeholders does it take to accept change see the potential of adding bike lanes to under-utilized streets without sacrificing parking?

Looks like Jackson Ward is okay with being the burned-out light bulb. What a shame.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Venus with Peaches

In search of the divine within an hour, we nailed it.

I happen to know that the last time I saw so many Botticelli paintings was at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence back in October 2012, going on five years ago. As far as I was concerned, I was overdue for some masterful early Renaissance artwork, so the love story was a bonus.

Our first destination was the Muscarelle Museum to see "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine," a show so important that it will leave Williamsburg in two weeks and move on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. With no invitations to Boston currently pending, I thought I'd best get myself down there.

Walking into the dimly-lit exhibit with wine-colored walls, we encountered a mass of humanity clustered in front of a docent leading a tour of the exhibit in the most droning voice possible. Fortunately, they soon moved on to the next gallery so we could concentrate on the work of the man to whom Botticelli was apprenticed, Fra Filippo Lippi, and ascertain how the master's style influenced the younger's.

But where things really got good was in the second gallery, full of his exquisite mature works such as "The Madonna of the Loggia" and "Madonna and  Child with the Young St. John the Baptist" (although I'm not going to lie, I'd have far preferred to be seeing them in the Uffizi) and the breathtaking "Venus," which has never been shown in the U.S. before.

Like ever. How fortunate was I that someone was willing to ensure I saw it during its brief visit?

No, no, not his "Birth of Venus," this was just "Venus," although both paintings are clearly of the same woman and today I learned her name: Simonetta Vespucci, a cousin-in-law to the explorer Amerigo Vespucci we've all heard of (I say "all" presuming schools still teach such things).

Was Botticelli in love with the great beauty who was already married to a nobleman? The very male docent said there's no proof of passion unless you count the painter's request to be buried at her feet, which he was after she died at 22.

Allow me to get on my estrogen soapbox here and say for the record that if a man wants to be buried at a woman's feet, there's about a 100% chance he's madly in love with her. Art historians, you may quote me on that.

Looking at "Adoration of the Magi" with my 20th century eyes, all I could think of when I saw the limited palette of reds and blues was Paramount Studio's mid-century Vista-Vision, where everything looked red or blue.

I ask you, how many people could look at a Botticelli and see a connection to "White Christmas?" You're welcome.

The final gallery held Botticelli's later works and I'm not going to lie, once church reformer Savonorola took over Florence, forcing artists to burn profane art in the bonfires of the vanities (and, no, I hadn't known what historical event that term referred to until today) and create instead religious paintings, Botticelli's work suffered.

No one should have made that man abandon his depictions of the beautiful Simonetta.

My art lover and I continued on to the Gabriel Archer Tavern for brunch because what could be better than a drive down a grape vine-lined road after our immersion in all things Italian? The view continued as we ate and drank in a dining room with windows for walls that also looked out on trellised vines.

A wooden box reading "William Byrd Brand Peaches" set on a ledge nearby, a reminder that we were solidly in colonial territory.

Toasting the lovely Simonetta and her talented admirer with Wedmore Place Cremant and Wessex Hundred Petit Verdot, we had a most un-Renaissance meal that began with fried chili chickpeas and concluded with double chocolate hazelnut mousse, with all manner of quiche, salads and heartfelt conversation in between.

By the time we finished talking and sipping, a front had moved through and the gray humidity had been replaced with a fierce wind and a serious drop in temperature, making it more appealing to get in the car than walk the vineyard.

Homeward bound, we were barely 20 minutes in when a sign warned us of a crash ahead and traffic all but stopped. A car with New York license plates sped by us on the shoulder, was soon followed by a police car with his lights on and by the time we caught up to them, the driver was out of the car and listening earnestly, hands in pockets, to what the cop was saying.

That guy's response to the inconvenience of stopped traffic had been a poor one while we were making the most of it, especially after I was handed the driver's phone and told to choose any playlist that appealed to me, an offer I never refuse.

It took us almost an extra hour and a detour through downtown Sandston to get back to Richmond, but when you're conversing pretty much non-stop and listening to a mix called "As Time Goes By," it's pretty divine and you really don't.

Notice that it's going by, that is.

Situational Extrovert

"I'm not going to go to a movie by myself!"

So says the titular character in "Donald Cried," this weekend's brand spanking new film (it only opened in D.C. Friday and here it is already at our little arthouse theater) at the Bijou, and with sufficient disdain to make it sound like going to the movies alone is akin to going to prom alone.

Not that I'd know, since I didn't go at all.

As it happened, I heard that line sitting in the theater where the only other two occupants of the first row with me were, like me, at a movie alone.

I don't get it. You're not supposed to talk during a movie anyway, so why is going alone such a cringe-inducing option? Besides, when it's just me, I always get to choose which movie to see and when.

Before tonight's screening even got started, I joined the three solo film-goers in the lobby - two familiar, one new to me but nothing that an introduction didn't take care of - to talk about (what else?) movies, while the Shins played on a nearby turntable.

One admitted he has a habit of devoting entire Tuesdays to catching up on mainstream movies at Movieland, although he learned early on that if you start with something heavy like "The Green Room," you'll have zero emotional energy left to stay for further screenings.

He also assured me that I'd appreciate "Logan" even with limited testosterone and no interest in the "X-Men" franchise whatsoever, although he didn't fully convince me. Being guys, they seemed to think that because it's Hugh Jackman's final turn as Wolverine after 17 years, that's reason enough.

If you've got a "Y" chromosome maybe.

And on the subject of holding on to a man's younger self, tonight's screening of "Donald Cried" provided a tragicomedy about a 30-something man-child still living with Mom who has more unresolved issues than could possibly be dealt with in 90 minutes, many of which were exacerbated by his former best friend metalhead coming back to town when his Grandmother dies.

Because apparently boys will always be boys, there was the requisite rough housing, snowball fighting, weed smoking and thinly-veiled, long-simmering resentments bubbling up. It seems certain things don't change for some people no matter how old they get.

That first time director Kris Avedisian wrote the screenplay and also plays Donald (as one guy tonight said, "Because who else could fully inhabit that part and make him seem human?") only added to the believability of the character and his stunted life.

That he shot it in a crowded snow-covered suburb that felt formless and constrained mirrored the lives led by those who had stayed there.

But the strength of the film was that it wasn't a continuous pity party for Donald (though he certainly deserved some) because so often the audience's sympathy landed squarely with his best friend Pete, who while seemingly more successful in a conventional sense, had a fair number of issues of his own.

And that's not even counting dealing with Donald after two decades.

Much as I appreciated the movie, I had no frame of reference for it since I'm not from a small town and I've never once run into someone from my 1000-person high school class since graduating. So afterward, back in the lobby and talking about what we'd just seen, all three of these guys attested to returning to their small towns to find former classmates virtually unchanged since high school.

They knew guys like Donald, while I didn't. The movie necessarily resonated differently for them, especially the one headed back to a small town in Colorado soon.

So, let's see, how many movies have been made about men resisting growing up? Let's start with "Peter Pan" and go from there, shall we? Man-child fascination aside, what I'm truly curious about is, are there actually still grown men who wouldn't think of going to a movie solo?

I have to say, the three tonight represented well for those men who can not only venture into a darkened theater alone, but for those with civility as well. When we left the theater, I asked if anyone was walking my way and wound up with company for all but the last two blocks.

Sure, I could have walked by myself. But why would I not want to continue a conversation with a guy capable of solo movie-going?

Apparently, they're not as commonplace as womenfolk might hope.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

They're Giving Away Men

It's all in how you finesse.

Rule #1
When picking up your date, before you even pull away, christen the evening with a handshake - or even a pinky swear - that nothing that gets said tonight will ever go beyond the other's memory.

This is key for maximum pleasure.

Rule #2
When determining a restaurant for dinner, choose wisely and, if possible, try to hit on at least one of these reasons for the choice: someplace your date has never been or someplace with a cuisine from a place your date once lived or, occasionally when possible, someplace to which your date has a sentimental attachment.

Not bragging (well, perhaps a bit), but I accomplished a hat trick.

My date had never been to Maya Mexican Grill in the former Berry Burke building, my date had lived for 8 years in Mexico and - wait for it - my date had for years maintained her advertising office on the third floor of the Berry Burke building facing Grace Street with a view of the State Capital.

If anyone could have somehow topped that choice, please tell me how.

From the perspective of a Mexican come-there, I got an insider's assessment of Maya's menu. The lamb sliders elicited the surprising comment, "That's spot on. Every Mexican place has lamb." The fish tacos I ordered? Also authentic ("They were everywhere"). The beans and rice with cilantro and tomato were declared superb, each element of the combination working in harmony to create a greater whole. I couldn't recall when I'd had such well executed black beans myself. Carnitas, duh.

All of which was washed down with matching passionfruit/peach/lime libations sporting a multi-color sugar rim while we watched the evening parade of millennial dog walkers, including a (gulp) three-legged beagle that melted my heart with his determined hop-a-long gait. To a canine, they were all smaller breeds and our server shared that almost all of them lived in the apartments above the restaurant, so they were familiar dog faces.

From downtown, we set out for points north, dodging clumps of amateurs in green clothing already making bad walking choices in a light rain. It was not even 7:30 yet.

Rule #3
Accept that sometimes things turn out even better than you could possibly plan for. Our sights were set on Hanover Tavern to see Virginia Repertory's production of "Dancing Lessons," about which I'd already heard raves.

My date hadn't been to Hanover Tavern in eons (although she recalled that the place once had a movable ceiling), but recalled her beloved brother auditioning (and getting five callbacks!) for a role there back when Barksdale called the tavern home.

What were the chances we'd be back on Memory Lane?

Settling into our third row seats, my green-haired date was immediately hit on by the man sitting behind her in a green blazer, who announced, "Sit right down. You were meant to sit in front of me." His wife piped up, saying, "After the show, take him. He's all yours."

I suggested we discuss it further during intermission, but my date dismissed him out of hand.

Our guess was that they'd been married a while, but we never got the chance to ask because an usher appeared to inform them they were in the wrong seats. Even as they moved away, he was still tossing out innuendo to her.

Part of the reason I'd wanted to see the play was because of Dean Knight, a long-time favorite and a man who can convey more with a glance or downturn of his mouth than some actors can with entire monologues. For a long time, I'd only known his acting through Shakespearean roles, so I'm still getting used to him not always speaking in iambic pentameter.

That he was tonight playing a socially awkward autistic man who excelled as a science professor provided just the opportunity for him to show the earnestness and dignity of a man who knows he can't be normal, but would like to present that way sometimes.

Although it's unlikely that anyone's going to cry normal when a man takes a flashlight under the covers to look for a woman's second tattoo. That said, how many times is an autistic sex scene even part of a play?

Helping him learn to dance for a work function where he'll receive an award is Kylie Clark, a dancer with a busted leg from a freak accident and a whole lot of baggage from life. When he offers her a week of pay to give him a one-hour dance lesson, it first involves him dealing with some of his big issues.

Like he can't stand to be touched and he needs an alert when humor is coming so he'll know to laugh.

On a set that beautifully evoked the dancer's boho apartment, the duo get to know each other's weaknesses ("Some people thrive on challenging relationships") while getting in a little dancing instruction as well. Watching Dean try to fast dance recalled the spasms of Elaine dancing on "Seinfeld," except in a cardigan or sweater vest.

Dialog bounced back and forth smartly and before the play ended, some of us teared up, only to have the final resolution rendering us satisfied and happy to leave the theater. A patron asked of an usher if the sex scene had been problematic for theater goers so far and, sure enough, 14 churchwomen had marched out recently when it began.

Which is exactly why I'd never want to ask a churchwoman out on a date with me. They just don't have the style - and stories - of a woman with green hair and a colorful past.

She's excited!
No doubt. I'm a fabulous date, as you can attest.
I can!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ain't That Peculiar

Talk about your rabbit holes.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I love asking people what their first concert was. It's often a fascinating glimpse into a side of someone you'd never get otherwise and inevitably, it leads to far-reaching music conversation.

Like when I asked a woman and she responded, "Billy Joel, on "The Stranger" tour," and then began a conversation with herself, eventually concluding that it had actually been the "Glass Houses" tour. But for me, it was that she'd seen him at the Capital Centre in Maryland, where I saw scores of shows myself, including my first.

"Do you remember WPGC?" she asked me excitedly after finding out we had shared venues. To quote the name of a Facebook group I belong to, "Bitch, please, I grew up in Prince George's County." Yes, that's an actual group.

From there she reminisced about how every week the radio station would release a pamphlet with a band's photo on the front and inside, the Top 10 for the week. She'd recently come across a stack of them she'd tucked away back in the day, for what purpose she couldn't conceive.

"Can you imagine that we used to care that much what was gonna be number one?" she asked rhetorically. There was apparently so little to occupy the teenage mind in those days without the internet or porn.

Mentioning that she still remembered buying Billy Joel's "The Stranger" at Variety Records, we then took off in that direction. We'd both frequented Kemp Mill Records, but most of my album purchases back then had been made at the University of Maryland record co-op, a groovy student-run means of paying $3 for the latest Grin album or the all-girl Fanny's first album.

I've only met one other person who's ever even heard of them, although David Bowie famously said that Fanny was as important as anybody else, it just wasn't their time. "One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. Revivify Fanny and I will feel that my work is done," the Thin White Duke said, echoing my opinion.

When I said that while my first show (the Who) had been at the Cap Centre, my second a few weeks later had been at Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Carol King, her response was that she'd seen Joni Mitchell there sitting on the grass. We recalled how cheap it had been to get lawn seats at Merriweather back then and what a polar opposite experience it was from the 19,000-seat Cap Centre.

A millennial I asked said her first had been the Backstreet Boys at the LA Coliseum, but she couldn't resist pointing out that every other boy band that followed was inferior, a point that several others nearby disputed. Another's initiation into live music had been seeing Green Day on the "American Idiot" tour, which he half-apologized for, saying he knew it was lame even then (2005).

But it was when a young woman said her first show - at 23! - had been Lynyrd Skynrd opening for Kid Rock that we came full circle. A young and drunken Skynyrd had also opened that first show of mine by the Who and it seemed pretty obvious from the crowd's reaction that almost no one had any idea of who they were, much less cared.

It didn't stop the guys in the band from shaking up cans of beer and aiming them at the crowd or pulling on bottles of Jack Daniels between songs, but even then I sensed how difficult it must be to be in front of 19,000 people with zero interest in your music.

Of course, the Lynyrd Skynyrd she saw was minus the three members who died in '77, so barely the same band although they probably got a lot more appreciation from the audience than the one I was a part of. But aside from that, what 23-year old wants to go see Kid Rock?

Fanny is forgotten and Kid Rock still attracts our youth? Let the revivifying commence.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Geezers Gonna Geez

You try to save a dollar and some music friends just aren't up to the challenge.

First he said yes (when I told him there would be multiple female-fronted bands and reminded him that he likes guitars, he responded, "And females!") and then he backed down an hour later. No pressure here, though.

For all I know, it was that I was inviting him to a Sadie Hawkins Dance at the Camel, which wasn't actually a dance but did feature four young bands and since he's a musician himself, seemed like the kind of thing he'd dig. Which he did, until he didn't.

And because he's the ever-droll person he is, he announced his change of heart to the world on Facebook.

I wanted to go to the Rock Show, but I'm gonna stay in and make French toast. As many of you may be aware, I am elderly.

I find this especially hilarious not just because I am older but because I don't find the making of French toast and then going to a show mutually exclusive. As it turned out, paying the extra dollar penalty for not being part of a couple was more than worth it for the four young bands that tore up the stage tonight.

Onomatopooeia was one guy singing earnestly over electronica, making for pop songs that verged on chillwave and while he was a great opening for the show, I'm not gonna lie, I was there for the girl bands.

Call me a sexist who paid full price.

Next came the Talkies and they'd been highly recommended to me by a music nerd who'd featured them on his podcast repeatedly, not tough to understand after watching them for half a minute.

The lead singer wore a silvery blue knit dress with a dark blue bow centered above her bangs while the bass player - she had "yes" and "no" stickers just above her strings - had on a yellow print granny dress (look it up, kids), complete with ruffle at the bottom, an adorable choice to set off her dreads and tattoos.

And the other two members of the band? Nerd-cute guys with glasses in plaid shirts, a good look for a band that melds shoegaze and neo-grunge.

Apologizing for the possibility that her voice might crack - "I've had the flu all week. It sucks!" - the singer managed to nail everything she sang, from "Trashcan Doritos" to "Goosebumps Goodbye" (soon, I hope) while managing to look pouty and smart at the same time.

The Cyrenaics only boasted one woman and she was tiny, but her voice was twice her size and backing her up was a straight ahead '70s-sounding rock band (the drummer got points for wearing a scarf, tie, vest and jacket, removing the latter to actually drum) that allowed her talent to be the focal point of every song.

That big voice was enough to get the people in front of the stage bending rhythmically at the waist as a means of grooving, although I have no idea why that was their chosen means of expression.

Then out of the blue I was joined by the old friend I'd seen last night for the first time in two years, toting a camera. She sashayed in wearing a long white dress, fake fur white leopard jacket and plopped down next to me. I don't know which of us was more surprised, although it may have been her since she was actually expecting a dance.

I knew better.

She was just in time to hear the band say they were going to do Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind," a song with which she was familiar but I wasn't (go figure). "That's a hard song, hard on the voice," my friend informs me. "Beyonce couldn't do it." This singer could and the crowd ate it up, even if they had no idea who Etta James was.

During the break, my friend observed, "There are too many dreads for my taste here," and then brought me up to date on where she'd been since I used to see her on a regular basis.

Amsterdam, where she'd fallen for a French rugby player (and former culinary student) who'd taken her back to his apartment to make breakfast, only to find his so-called girlfriend there and in hysterics. St. Tropez where she'd met a cute basketball player from Monte Carlo, who told her it was over-rated, with empty casinos and tourists.

"To get sex on a regular basis in America, you have to be in a relationship," she tells me. "Not in Europe!" Clearly, she'd tested this hypothesis enough to have achieved quantifiable results.

She'd come to see the Smirks because she knew the singer but it wasn't long before she announced that they were pretty good, too. What's not to like about a garage punk trio with a female bass player singing, a female guitarist and a tattooed drummer with no shirt?

"Did he really need to play with his shirt off?" my friend asked rhetorically. No, but how else could he show off his huge chest piece (no, that's not a metaphor)?

Seconds after my friend's food was dropped off mid-set, the singer said, "I think somebody got fries because suddenly it smells so good in here." The offender never stopped chowing down long enough to acknowledge she was the culprit.

Besides, the melodic thrash they were putting out had inflamed the crowd to the point that they were slam-dancing, occasionally falling to the floor and being carried on the backs of others. The women from the Talkies were right in there slamming, flu germs and all.

Although tonight's crowd was small - one of the excuses my musician friend had used was that it was cold "AF" - it made for an intimate setting to see these up and coming young bands who'll almost certainly be playing to much fuller audiences before long. It's always a treat to see talent near the beginning.

You may be slightly older, but you are also a healthier specimen.

Pure conjecture on his part, although as many of you may be aware, I'm not much of a fan of French toast.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Before You Do Anything Rash, Dig This

We must have pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie. ~ David Mamet

It wasn't that driving over the Rappahannock River in rainy weather and high winds was stressful. Okay, yes, it was, because even crawling along at 30 mph, every gust felt like it could lift my car up and over the side of the bridge and remember, it's only been a month since that truck - an 18-wheeler, for cryin' out loud - blew off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

It wasn't that making potato soup and Irish soda bread for 75 women was stressful, although it was pretty labor-intensive and non-stop for 5 hours, including the period when Mom's bread machine stopped working and she had a mild freak-out.

On the plus side, today's gray skies, Constable-like clouds and wet weather did seem particularly Irish-like and suited to the foods we were making.

It wasn't that VCU Cinematheque's screening of the 2015 black and white Romanian western "Aferim!" was stressful, unless you find watching slurs about every race, religion and ethnicity, not to mention cutting off a captured slave's testicles, stressful.

Spoiler alert: I do.

It's just that after all of the above, my first thought walking out of the Grace Street Theater was that dessert was in order and I got no argument from the agreeable friend who'd walked over, hat on head, with me despite the cold, damp and fiercely windy weather to see such a visually stunning film.

Ipanema offered not only sweets but an open table for two, a lively Tuesday crowd, my kind of music (the wild card was the Main Ingredient's "Everybody Plays the Fool"), ten kinds of hot tea to choose from and desserts. Without even consulting each other, we both ignored the cakes available as I went straight for blueberry pie and mint tea while my companion's heart's delight was Earl Grey and cinnamon peach pie.

Only after our adorable server (clad in the high-waisted jeans I wore in the '80s) left did my friend remind me that today is Pi Day...314, of course it is.

And while I'm not especially mathematically-inclined, I'm all for any holiday that Mike Pence voted against (oh, yes, he did). I'm also all for finding any reason for celebrating, even when it's not intentional.

It's more than enough reason to linger over tea and pie, leaving stress in the rear-view mirror while admiring the idiosyncratic art hung over the booths and enjoying the cozy subterranean feel of the place on a busy winter evening.

A guy walked by in a striped sweater that so closely paralleled the colors and stripes on my sweater dress that I had no choice but to point it out to him. His sweater, though, was 15 years old and so much a favorite that he swore he'll never give it up, while mine is a far more recent find, although I'm just as attached because it's not only cute but ensures reliable warmth on nights such as this.

Walking toward Ipanema's door after pie, multiple cups of tea and a spirited discussion of why some people are afraid to use an ellipsis when writing to the opposite sex (neither of us is), we gave up our table to the next Tuesday night celebrants.

Getting as far as the end of the bar, I heard a familiar voice saying, "Karen, you are not going to walk by me and not say hello!" It wasn't that, but rather that I hadn't bothered to check out the bar's occupants as I passed by. I can't always be ogling people at a bar.

Because it had been several years since we'd last seen each other - though our friendship goes back about 8 - she immediately demanded that we get together soon now that she's living in Richmond full-time again. "Do you still not have a cell phone?" she asked with a knowing grin. Hey, my number's still the same, if that counts for anything.

"I almost didn't recognize you without your legs showing," she told me about starting there and working her way up as I walked by. Sorry, when it feels like 20 degrees outside, fleece leggings with tights over them mask familiar gams. Thank goodness she'd finally moved her gaze northward.

Hey, babe, my pie-hole is up here. Up here...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Almost Blinded Myself with Lime Juice

Tori Amos once claimed to be the queen of the nerds, but I'd argue that point, having been nerdy before she even knew what a piano was.

And I'm not talking your run-of-the-mill nerdiness here.

I'm not even talking about getting excited hearing about an event like the American Civil War Museum's history happy hour - slogan: drinks are on you, history is on us" - focused on "Winslow Homer's Civil War: How a Northern Artist Portrayed the South."

No, indeed, I'm talking about digging through your bookshelves so that you can bring along a book, "Winslow Homer's Watercolors" to share and discuss when your nerdy companion picks you up for dinner first.

And then over dinner, looking at the colored plates in the book and discussing watercolor technique and Homer's post-war travels to Bermuda, Key West and the Bahamas, such a long way from the battlefield work he'd done sketching war life for the pictorial newspapers back in New York.

It was like the pep squad getting us all riled up before the big game. By the time we finished dinner and went to the Camel for history happy hour, we were so ready for Winslow we could hardly stand it. Art historian Karen Sherry ("This is the first time I've ever given a talk in a bar") finished us off with a well thought out talk, lots of images and some insightful conclusions.

Homer was a worthy subject because he ignored the traditional depictions of the heroic aspects of war and zeroed in on the everyday life of rank and file soldiers. "The Last Goose at Yorktown" shows two uniformed soldiers on their knees in the grass, desperately trying to nab dinner. Pitiful, but not pretty.

But he also showed the impact on the home front and the changes war brought to women's roles."The Empty Sleeve at Newport" showed a woman driving a carriage because her male companion no longer has a left arm as a result of the war.

His wicked wit was apparent in almost every piece we saw, whether questioning stereotypes or contemplating which aspects of conflict are morally right, as in "The Sharpshooter" showing a Union solider perched high in a tree, rifle cocked and ready to shoot.

But as Sherry pointed out, the vantage point was high, as if that of a Confederate sharpshooter about to take aim, an unusual angle for Homer's Union-sympathetic eye.

More typical because he could show that blacks were better off with northern troops was "The Bright Side" showing, yes, the sunny side of a tent but also three black paid laborers on the Union side taking it easy in the sunshine. Ditto "Pay Day in the Army of the Potomac," where a black soldier is the first in line to collect his pay from a paymaster who looks like Lincoln's twin. No symbolism there.

By the time we got to the final image, "Prisoners from the Front," we're looking at a summary of the war's cast of characters. On the right (get it?) is the immaculately dressed, young but stalwart New England general who's taking possession of three Confederate soldiers.

Facing him with audacity, flowing red locks and his uniform mostly unbuttoned is a Virginia cavalry officer who would have set Scarlett O'Hara's heart a-flutter, accompanied by an old soldier clearly unable to accept the new world order and, bringing up the rear, a big, dumb galoot of a foot soldier, the kind who requires someone smarter to tell him what to do.

There it was, a wickedly witty cross-section of the lost cause captured in oil. Go, Winslow.

But you don't capture that sort of thing without seeing a lot of battle, dysentery and camp life along the way. Small wonder the man had been all but unrecognizable to his friends upon returning from being embedded with the army.

Even smaller wonder that after the war he began setting out for warmer climes and tropical locales to capture a kinder, gentler world. Our history happy hour proved he'd earned the right to spend his post-war career capturing a sloop in Bermuda, a river in Florida or a palm tree in Nassau.

Even a card-carrying nerd could enjoy those places, assuming there were drinks and history involved. Audacious southern types optional.

Don't Even Think

Sundays are a marathon, not a sprint.

It took asking five people to join my hired mouth for brunch before I was successful, the effort pretty much encompassing the shank of the afternoon but also leaving us utterly stuffed. I don't think there's any question that Richmond's first Black Restaurant Week has been a resounding success.

By that point, I had half an hour before Mac was showing up to walk with me to Movieland to see "Get Out," a feat we'd attempted Tuesday at 7 only to be told they were sold out until 10.

Today's 4:30 show was about 95% full and that's with a screening almost every hour. You make me proud, Richmond.

People who know me well had warned me about how difficult a movie like this would be for someone like me (that means someone who avoids suspense, thrillers and horror films), but everything I'd read made it crystal clear that this was a movie white people needed to see, if only to be completely unsettled.

You don't even know.

The best part was that the audience reacted as one, united in their reactions to not only the skulduggery of the bad guys, but the blatant racism of supposedly "nice" characters. That we had to watch the inevitable bad choices of people in horror movies - why does anyone go outside alone in the middle of the night?  - only allowed us to cheer loudly together when evil got its comeuppance.

And yet, near the end when carnage is everywhere and a siren is heard, there was collective breath-holding by the entire audience for fear that whatever law enforcement showed up would misconstrue the situation and our young black, male hero would pay the price.

Happily, art did not imitate life.

Kudos to first time director Jordan Peele for instead going comedic. But that he so seamlessly blends genres and still manages to make some biting social critiques all but guarantees he's a director worth knowing and one we'll see much more from.

Walking out of the theater a little after 7 to blue skies and sunshine felt like a March gift, yet I heard a woman complaining to her companions, "I don't care about later light. I hate losing an hour of sleep! Give me my hour back."

Perhaps that lost hour of sleep is what made her crabby. I know I hate to miss any of my nightly 9 hours.

We had dinner - entrees of homey wonton soup and chicken and broccoli in brown sauce, with limeades - at My Noodle & Bar, comfortably ensconced in the very last tree-house booth, the electric fireplace flickering away nearby. Sure, real is preferable but warmth is warmth, even if it's fake fire when it's 30 degrees outside.

In the booth next to us, a young woman referred to the man she was talking to repeatedly as Benjamin. When they got up to leave, she apologized, saying she'd forgotten his name was really Brandon. He smiled politely, but you know he noticed every time.

Mac dropped me home with just enough time to change clothes and walk over to Strange Matter for a show where $1 of every ticket was going to Planned Parenthood, meaning I could listen to live music and support the cause. Win/win.

Opener Grass Panther was set up and just starting to play on the floor in front of the stage when I got there. Since crowds tend to be smaller for the opening band, I always enjoy it when a band is playing at eye level like that.

Most of their songs have a fierce energy to them, but for one, singer Michael suggested we slow dance with someone "or make a new friend," but I contented myself with swaying in place. Even that seemed unusual for Grass Panther.

I'd expected to see more familiar faces than I did, but a few represented: the prof, the ad man, the roadie, the guitarist, with someone attributing the small numbers in general to Spring Break just winding down. All I know is that walking over tonight, I'd seen scads more people than I've been seeing lately on campus.

Louisville's Twin Limb was a psychedelic dream pop trio: singer/accordion player, drummer/singer (both female) and a guy on guitar with a decidedly post-punk bent, which probably sounds far less compelling than they actually were.

Most obvious about their sound was a languid Beach House-like quality, but the accordionist had a voice that echoed that of Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blond, all wail and beauty and when she and the drummer harmonized or traded vocals back and forth, it was nothing short of exquisite.

It occurred to me that this was the kind of talented, quirky band that would have played Balliceaux before it closed and everyone there would've known they were seeing something extraordinary. Tonight's mostly male crowd certainly seemed entranced.

After their set, a guy came up to me and asked if the band that had just played was Strand of Oaks. Nope, I told him and he went away looking perplexed.

A friend came over to chat about headliner Strand of Oaks and it turned out we'd both seen the band on their 2015 tour, me at S'Matter and he in Italy at a free festival. On a beach. With the XX. Doesn't seem fair to me.

Since we'd both last seen the band, leader Timothy had gotten his marriage together and stopped being so miserable about life, resulting in a new sound on his latest album, which probably explains why he led with "Radio Kids" from it.

After he finished singing it, he exhorted the crowd to come closer. "What's all this about?" he said, circling his hand over empty space near the stage. "Come on up here. I got no one to sing to." So we all moved so he could sing "Shut-in." Telling the drummer he had a good beat, he launched into the driving rhythm of "Heal" and it was like the '70s all over again.

Between songs he expressed appreciation for Green Panther, corrected himself to Grass Panther and said they didn't seem like the kind of precious band who'd get upset over a mistake.

"And Twin Limb, man! They should be playing opera halls or the halls of Valhalla! That's a cheap ticket getting to see them. We're still a $10 ticket, but you got all that, too. Richmond, you're lucky!" You know it, man.

By the time they played the anthemic "Goshen '97," it was midnight and the marathon was over. My only regret was that it hadn't been on a beach in Italy.

Bet I could have made a new friend there.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Will Use Legs for Music

It should be noted that I only go to shows with sentient beings.

P: HEY! Who wants to go with me to this show Saturday? Fo' freeeee?
K: Hey, are you still looking for a companion for the show?
P: Well, X was the first to respond affirmatively, but I will ditch him. Yea, let's go!
K: I don't want to supplant your first choice! Are you sure?
P: Yeah, I'll take care of it.
K: Gee, thanks! But if X takes a turn for the worst for any reason, I'll go straight to the police and tell 'em what you said.
P: The fact is, he's a fine gentleman but he ain't got your gams!
K: Thanks for noticing!
P: I am a sentient being.

We met at my house to walk over to Strange Matter together, a route that allowed him to point out the house in Carver where he lived in the '90s when the neighborhood was much rougher. Not counting the student population, it's almost civilized now and the housing stock is certainly in far better shape.

He'd been wary about walking, convinced we'd freeze, but it didn't take long before he allowed that he'd been wrong. Regaling him with tales from my earlier walk to the river today, he was especially taken with the story of the two boys in the hammock.

"That sounds like you could have made it up," he said without conveying if he thought I had. That's what happens when you're out as much as I am, I told him.

The proof was in the pudding as soon as the first one-woman act, Ghost Piss from NYC (aka River), took the stage, and began lighting candles and incense on her scarf-draped keyboard stand. "Hey, you guys! I used to live here but not for a while now. I came down for a pap smear and got an offer to do this show, so here I am."

I rest my case.

My friend turns around grinning and says, "That's going in the blog. You don't have to make this stuff up, it comes to you." Open yourself up to the universe and it'll envelop you like a shroud, I kid you not.

"I never expected to play this next song in public because it's so personal, but in light of recent circumstances, I'll play it for you guys. Don't judge," she said of a song with the lyric, "Sixty days since I last bled."

She was right, the topic was impeccably timed.

Also pulling from life, in the next song she sang, "Don't ghost me," but what surprised me was my friend sharing that she was second local artist he knew of to use that phrase. We didn't ghost in my day, so I can't relate. She called another song a public service announcement ("So listen up!"), singing, "I want a man who brushes his teeth," and then dedicating it "to all the crust punks who don't brush their teeth."

From behind me, I heard a guy say, "Brush your teeth. No one's gonna do it for you."

When she used the word celibate, my fellow language geek cringed, pointing out that what she meant was chaste, but also acknowledging how often lately the words are used interchangeably.

"But language evolves," he said not sounding entirely convinced. "If literally no longer means literally, that ship has sailed." An appreciation for the finer points of language has always been one of our commonalities. I never have to worry that his messages will be anything less than grammatically sound, correctly spelled and clever, always clever.

During the break, a girl came up to tell me she loved my hair. When I told her I cut it myself, she said she wanted to do the same but lacked the nerve. Like the wise older sister, I assured her it's not tough.

DJ Skirt provided the tunes and I saw two different guys come up and nod appreciatively at him for whatever song he was playing at the moment. After a hip hop song was followed by Nirvana, one of the nodders came over to ask Skirt what in the world he was trying to do.

"Play Nirvana," he said, shrugging. Boom.

After a ridiculously long break to build tension, Dazeases (aka London) came out, dropped her skirt on the stage and opened her set in her bra and panties, her standard M.O. After the first song about unbreakable hearts and before "Baby," she asked that the lights be turned down. "They're too bright for me."

With her torch singer voice, alluring dance moves and distinctive attire, she cut quite a figure prowling the low-lit and smokey stage. She was one part seductress, one part rejector and one part judge for desiring her in the first place.

Before a particularly meaningful song, she tried unsuccessfully for some time to get the room to stop talking and listen to her, even mentioning that she was black in a predominantly white venue, but even calling people out didn't work.

"I don't make these songs for capitalism," she said. "This is about existential dread. I don't care what they sound like, I want you to hear the message."

Once it was break time, I talked to a photographer friend about why he'd broken his hibernation to come out and see Negative Gemini (aka Lindsey), the next act. A huge fan of Lindsey's voice, he'd been bummed when she moved to Queens two years ago and hadn't kept up with her development. Tonight he was thrilled to hear whatever her new sound was.

Although I knew the name, somehow I'd never seen Negative Gemini in all the bazillion shows I've seen in the past decades, yet I also knew absolutely that between the name and that it was electronica, I'd probably love it.

One song in and the room was a strobe light-lit dance party with a swirling light show behind and Lindsey dancing to every song when she wasn't playing keys. Already I was kicking myself for not having scene her before.

"I need to catch my breath," she panted after one exuberant song that had her almost trampling instruments. "This guitar's not safe from me!"

Toward the end, she asked for all the lights to be turned off "except the pretty ones," then she wanted the light show stopped, asking, "Will you kill the projector?" Finally, with no beats or tones playing and no lights flashing, she picked up her guitar.

"This is for my sister," she said and with only the guitar for accompaniment and a pale violet haze of light, began languidly singing Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" like it was 1994 again.

I want to hold the hand inside you
I want to take a breath that's true
I look to you and I see nothing
I look to you to see the truth
Fade into you
Strange you never knew

What sentient being - celibate, chaste or otherwise - wouldn't want to finish up a Saturday night dance party so hauntingly?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Praise the Walk, Man, Praise the Walk

'Tis a day for avoiding the green.

Setting out on my walk, I couldn't do my westward circuit because of Shamrock the Boulevard and I wasn't going anywhere near Shockoe Slip due to the Sine Irish Pub Festival. The low line and Chapel Island were definitely out because of the vomit-inducing Blarney Bash in the Bottom, which left me bound for the river.

Walking down Fifth Street just before noon took on shades of Bourbon Street when I spotted a middle-aged foursome walking along while sipping on wine from glasses hung from embarrassing neck strap wine holders. That was my reminder that this was the weekend of the Virginia Wine Expo at the Convention Center, but a better point might be, how the hell did they get out of the building with wine in their glasses?

With a little weaving going on and a whole lot of loud talking, it was obvious that since it was only 12:30, they must have been at the Expo the moment it opened. Passing them, I overheard that they were in search of food and slowed down to investigate.

When they told me they were on their way to Penny Lane Pub, I couldn't help but ask why.

"Where should we go?" they asked, as if there were just one answer to that. My question was what they were looking for: filling (probably a good idea given their blood alcohol levels already), healthy ("Do we look like we eat healthy?" the largest guy asked rhetorically), ethnic (no response), within walking distance (absolutely).

My suggestion was Greenleaf's a block away and I backed that up with reasons: the fun and funky vibe that includes an upscale pool hall, the creative and delicious food (that bar toast!), the brightly-colored Mexican artisan-painted portraits of famous pool and billiard players, shoot, I even mentioned how cool the black and white photographs of female pool players from the '50s and '60s hanging in the ladies' room were.

Let's just say they were profuse in their gratitude for steering them someplace they'd never have found on their own. Wishing them bon appetit and continuing down the hill to the river, the large guy called out his thanks again, adding, "Walk a mile or two for me, wouldja?"

A mile or two? Sir, you clearly have a magic mirror at home if you think that's all you need.

When I got near the bottom of the hill, I spotted the female members of a wedding party clustered around the bridge to Brown's Island, the bride wearing a short-sleeved fur jacket while the lavender dresses of her six bridesmaids were partly covered by white shawls.

All of them appeared to be shivering.

As I passed them, the one woman in street clothes looked up from her phone and announced, "They're leaving the limo now," like she was the secret service or something. Presumably, she was talking about the male portion of the bridal party, but the bride didn't look any too pleased at further waiting.

Not the most auspicious start for marital bliss.

Brown's Island wasn't particularly hopping today, although one guy made my day by stopping to ask if he could tell me something. "You're gorgeous," he said apropos of nothing and then moved on. Maybe he'd already been to the Wine Expo, too, though there was no tell-tale glass hanging round his neck so I couldn't be sure.

Near the lip of Brown's Island, not far from where the pipeline begins, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that two green hammocks were now strung on top of each other between two trees. The occupants looked to be 14 or 15 year old boys and both were staring at their laps.

I couldn't resist.

Are you guys really laying in hammocks by the river in the sunshine looking at phones? Slowly, the top hammock brought his hands up, "I'm carving wood," he explained, holding up a knife and stick. I rained down praise on him, apologizing for my presumption.

From down below, the other boy peered around the side of his hammock. "Guilty as charged," he said sheepishly. "But I'm putting it away now."

My work here was finished.

On the pipeline, I followed behind a couple who, I would wager, were making their maiden foray on the curved and uneven surface, at least judging by their tentative and turtle-like pace. Coming up behind the man, he whispered to his wife and they paused awkwardly so I could pass.

As I was going around the terrified-looking woman trying to perch near the edge so I could pass, she smiled at me brightly and asked, "How are you doing today?" It seemed an odd moment to strike up a conversation but I stopped and answered.

By the time I got to the walkway, they were mere specks in the distance. Like I said, real slow movers.

After climbing the ladder off the pipeline, I heard the thundering bass and drums of a live band nearby the moment I stepped on land again, alerting me to the proximity of green beer and drunken revelers. Turning away from it, I headed across Mayo's Bridge.

Near the end, a man on a bike came toward me smiling and calling out, "Praise the lord, woman, praise the lord!" so I answered in kind and somehow lightening didn't strike me dead.

Instead, the insect world attacked. Just like earlier this week when Mac and I'd walked it, black gnats still swarmed along parts of the floodwall, a tad surprising given temperatures in the 30s today.

Walking toward me along the path under the Manchester bridge were parents with a young son on his training wheel bike and while the kid was clearly struggling with navigating on the gravel-strewn dirt, Mom was cutting him no slack.

"You have to learn to ride on rocks or regular," she told him firmly as he wobbled side to side on the pitted terrain. Feeling a little sorry for the budding cyclist, I reminded Mom that riding on gravel is hard and she gave me that "life is hard" look and kept walking.

Crossing the T Pot bridge, I was a little surprised to see 5 kayakers resting on some rocks near the bridge and another 4 or 5 making their way downriver toward them, while behind them were four tubing groups, easily the first of either activity I've seen on the water since before Christmas.

I'd have been less surprised had I seen them on one of the recent 70-degree days and not a chilly, windy one like today, but what do I know about such things?

It's enough just knowing which parts of the city are safe from the green-swilling mob today. As for the sweet-talking wine-swilling hordes, I can handle them any day.

Life is a New Draft for Every Day

Rolling in the deep of Women's History month, I can't resist.

There was the "Virginia Women: Their Lives and Times" lecture at the Library of Virginia, an event attended by 36 women and 6 men about a two-volume set by that name.

Editors Sandra Treadway and Cindy Kierner explained that they'd intentionally chose women that readers wouldn't know, the better to pique their interest.

Of course Dolly Madison was there, but not the Dolly of myriad social graces we usually hear about.

Instead, this essay dealt with how the North Carolina-born Dolly spent her life denying it and trying to pass herself off as a Virginian. True, her parents were Virginians, but the essay addresses the question of why she felt it preferable to be thought of as a Virginian.

There was Jane Webb, a free mixed race woman living on the Eastern Shore who spent much of her life shrewdly and tenaciously fighting the courts to ensure that her children were free as well. Virginia wasn't the best state for following the letter of the law about freed blacks so she used the law to protect her family at a time when few blacks could read, much less write legal documents.

But the most fascinating woman by far was Grace Sherwood, a woman tried five times - five! - on suspicion of being a witch, specifically, the witch of Pungo. And why did the men think that, you wonder?

Because her husband had died and she didn't remarry, so then she was a property owning woman. Because she was assertive and known to be crabby. Because - gasp! - she occasionally wore trousers. In other words, just the kind of woman that colonial men wanted to do away with.

And the best part of that story is that not only is there a statue of her in Virginia Beach now, but when Tim Kaine was governor, he pardoned Grace.

It takes a feminist man to reach back and right a 17th century wrong.

There was also TheatreLAB's production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie," a one-woman show about the Seattle born and raised activist (who says she ended up just like her mother expected: scattered and deviant and too loud) who died in 2003 in Palestine protesting the bulldozing of innocent people's homes.

The issue is real, obviously, and Rachel's concern for the kind of evil being powered by American dollars in that part of the world resonated with truth, but at intermission, the couple nearest me were discussing how manic the first act was and whether it was even convincing.

I was convinced, but also distracted by how frequently actress Kaelie James rearranged her hair, so it was a relief to see it in a ponytail for the second act.

Granted, it's a heavy subject (Pru had declined my invitation, saying she didn't want her evening entertainment with political commentary because it was too depressing), but given that the script was an amalgamation of Rachel's journal entries and emails, it was a powerful one, too.

The entire row behind me didn't return after intermission, and once it began, I saw two guys nodding off, jerking their heads up repeatedly, a shame really because they probably missed the final point of what a tragedy it is that so many people consider Israeli policy and Jewish people the same thing.

And then, just to rip out hearts out completely, the play ended with film footage of Rachel in a 5th grade speech, passionately making a case for feeding hungry people in the middle east regardless of their religion. In fifth grade.

But by far my biggest project in celebration of Women's History month was about books.

I'd recently seen a video of a mother and young daughter going through a bookcase of children's books, removing all the ones with no female characters, then all the ones with female characters who had no speaking parts until the shelves were decimated and it got me thinking.

I've got a bookcase the length of my living room wall - 23 shelves in all - and I had no earthly idea how many of the books I owned were written by women or about women.

So I set out to find out, pulling titles and authors that had XX chromosomes.

There were the usual literary suspects: Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Edith Wharton, Harper Lee, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Anne Porter, Ann Beattie (inside "Secrets and Surprises" I found my ticket stub to see Diana Ross at the Capital Centre..score!), Willa Cather, Muriel Spark and Anais Nin, among others.

There was the feminist element: Ellen Goodman, Marilyn French, Susan Jacoby, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gail Collins and Erica Jong, as well as the food contingent: Judith Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Betty Fussel and Ruth Reichl.

Long a fan of non-fiction, there were plenty of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies: Diane Arbus, Vera Nabokov, Sally Hemmings, Coco Chanel, Carrie Fisher, Georgia O'Keefe, Katherine Graham and Peggy Guggenheim. Not all written by women, but all written about a woman.

Dust flying, I pulled out books on art, photography ("The Female Focus: Women Photographers") and punctuation, a graphic novel, hell, even "Our American Sisters: Women in American Life and Thought," from my first women's studies class in college.

A few did double duty, like "Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" by Judith Thurman or "First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents" by Bonnie Angelo.

I'm not going to say I sorted through every single book in my collection because I didn't (why is it a deadline always rears its head when I'm in an organizing mood?), but I dug through enough to come up with nearly five shelves of nothing but female-centric books.

And, quite frankly and surprisingly, that's a little embarrassing. Out of 23 shelves, I only have enough tomes to fill five shelves representing the blood, sweat and tears of a woman's mind or life?

Time to preach. Ever Since Eve (also a title on my shelf), there's been an imbalance. The Possible She (yep, another one) is still just out of reach.

We may be scattered, deviant and loud, or even assertive, crabby and trouser-wearing, but that, ladies and witches, is exactly why we still need Women's History Month.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Feed Your Head, Warm Your Hands

It requires a friend of at least 7 years to know my hot buttons.

Perhaps that's how long it takes to know which compliments are going to resonate most with me. Refer to my lifestyle as bohemian? Thank you for noticing. Speak well of long, graceful fingers? I'm gobsmacked. Mention the dimples? Bonus points.

But walk into my living room - not for the first time - and declare that it looks like a salon, well, now I'm eating out of your hand. The fact that he's part of a group holding salon-like events only adds to my pleasure in the comment.

Among stacks of books written by and about women that I've pulled out for rearranging, he points to a copy of "Truevine," asking how I liked it and making a case for how it might have been better accomplished as a work of fiction (agreed).

Seems he went to school with the author back when neither was certain they'd write the books they wanted to. Now they both know better.

Because it was such a beautiful evening, we began with a walk over to 821 Cafe for the sole purpose of introducing him to my favorite black bean nachos and catching up after nearly a month. With the students away for spring break, it was like walking through a ghost town and even 821 seemed like a shadow of its normal state with so few tables and stools occupied.

An ideal place, in other words, to linger over a platter of well-layered nachos and talk about the novelty of simple food, community building through restaurants and the really big news that there's been interest in his book.

Rapid and enthusiastic interest, possibly the best kind.

Stuffed and in need of a walk, we made it as far as Saison Market's patio, understandably hopping with today's warmth tempered by Sunday's forecast of snow, where I amused my visitor with stories of dumb things his people have said to me.

It was somewhere after a story about the western hemisphere that he decided what we needed was some steps to sit on, the better to enjoy the Richmond air and notable citywide quiet.

Conveniently, my house has some and we took up residence there, first on the wide wooden steps of the house and then on the narrower brick steps leading to my door. Every time even a hint of breeze would lift a stem of the rose bush, the scent of hyacinths wafted up to perfume the air.

It's for that reason alone that I plant them.

People walked down the sidewalk a few feet away without even noticing us sitting in the shadows. Mainly, it was only my laughter that gave us away (my grandmother used to remind me that people could hear me a mile away) and got us a wave or two.

The shame was that he had to drive back tonight - the bohemian was not able to convince the smart mouth to stay for an LSD experience - so we called it quits after five hours of constant conversation, comparing memories and all around fast processing, just the way we like it.

With no one to talk to, I need something to talk about, so I made my way to the Bijou for the late screening of "Sunshine Makers," a documentary about two chemists making 750 million doses of "orange sunshine" LSD in the '60s as part of their plan to turn the world on with acid and raise everyone's consciousness.

Turn on, tune in and drop out, preferably rapidly and enthusiastically.

No one could say they didn't have lofty goals trying to change the world through psychedelics. Check that, Ronald Reagan was shown circa the late '60s excoriating LSD makers and users, but what else is new?

What was even more surprising was that these guys had an established distribution network in the form of a commune-turned-hippie-mafia called the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. The footage shown looked like every happy, hippie commune I've ever seen, full of long hairs, granny dresses and barely-clad children. Not a bra in sight.

Equally fascinating were the interviews with the women who not only dropped acid with them but assisted with their drug-making operations. To a person, they rhapsodized about the mind-expanding qualities of the LSD experience and the noble goals of trying to make LSD therapy available to the masses.

Now in old age, one of the women is again the girlfriend of one of the sunshine makers, although she makes it clear that, "We're partners and lovers, but not under the same roof."

Proof positive that LSD doesn't fry your brain. Speaking of, seems to met a little space doesn't hurt a good friendship much at all.