Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conversation Peace

Not to be too specific, but my interest in origami can be traced back to the evening of April 15, 2001.

That evening, my then-boyfriend and I had plans to meet his arty VCU friends for drinks at Baja Bean, but he bowed out at the last minute because he hadn't finished his taxes (don't get me started). Mine, on the other hand, had long since been mailed off (it was the olden days, kids), so I figured I'd go solo.

It wasn't like I didn't know all of that arty crowd anyway.

The new face in the group belonged to a Peruvian sculptor who was doing a short residency at VCU and after being introduced, we settled down to happily converse for a couple of hours. He was a fascinating person with intriguing stories and since it was unlikely we'd ever see each other again, there was no reason not to talk about everything.

When I said goodbye, it was after a thoroughly satisfying evening talking to this man. End of story.

So you can imagine my surprise the following week when the VCU dean who'd brought the Peruvian into the bar that night shared that he had a gift for me from the artist who'd since returned home: a bronze-colored origami crab he'd crafted that night after meeting me.

It's an utterly amazing thing, this elaborate crab - complete with claws - folded from a single piece of paper. A gift from a man I'd never see again created for no other reason than to demonstrate his pleasure in the short time we'd spent talking.

These days, it occupies a place of honor atop my stereo receiver and invites conversation about origami. All of that's a roundabout way of saying of course I'm going to be interested in Lewis Ginter's outdoor exhibit of bronze, steel and aluminum origami, an invitation extended to me back in April, not to mention all the way from Japan.

Naturally, I'd said yes then and now we were finally making good on plans made while we were on different continents.

Given the heat and sun, I had no shame in bringing along my pink Victoria's Secret umbrella to act as a parasol as we made our way through the gardens. I wasn't the only one happy to carry her sun protection, either, which gives me hope that parasol pride is still growing.

Having the origami pieces scattered around the gardens all but ensured a haphazard path through them as we'd spot one in the distance and then have to try to figure out the best way to get there without missing anything along the way.

Given the heat, we also weren't shy about pausing at any shady bench we came to and letting the waves of sweaty humanity pass us by.

Artist Kevin Box and his collaborators - his wife, Jennifer, plus four origami masters - had managed to create metal sculptures that not only had the delicate detailing of folded paper, but also appeared to be as light as paper. Looking at a sculpture like "Flying Peace" (the most complicated origami crane ever folded) with its pleated wings, tail and head and legs stretched out behind it is to marvel at the minds and hands of artists inspired and brilliant enough to conjure up such a thing.

One of the simplest forms resembled nothing so much as a simple white folded paper boat set adrift in the middle of a pond. I felt cooler just looking at it.

We almost missed "Who Saw Who?" because it was tucked away in the children's garden, dangerously near the splish splash area rife with shrieking children. It was a tableau of an owl and a tiny mouse on a rock, each eyeing the other warily.

Yet again, we had to remind ourselves that the sculpture in front of us had begun life as a piece of folded paper. Truly amazing.

Looking at "Folding Planes," I was immediately reminded of the Air Force Memorial just outside of Washington, with its gracefully arcing folds reaching skyward. "White Bison" was exactly that, but my takeaway was learning that bison stand and face an oncoming storm, a fact I find unfathomable.

And if we were looking for a personal metaphor, there was a lot to be said for the wisdom of "Nesting Pair" and not just because of the beauty of two cast stainless steel cranes hovering above a cast bronze nest made from olive branches.

Because, you see, it gets even better: Most artwork is a self-portrait of some kind. This composition naturally emerged at a time in our lives when we were building a home together and discovering the value of compromise. ~ Kevin Box

Shoot, substitute "relationship" for "home" and "pleasure" for "value" and we're there.

As for my bronze crab, it's a daily reminder that you never know what might result from a great conversation. As for my origami-loving partner, ditto.

And as I was reminded afterward eating and drinking at Peter Chang's, if he can make me laugh, too, it's all over. P.S. It's all over.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I Defy You, Stars

Summer may not have officially begun, but its ways and means are well underway.

The bedspread is packed away (the cotton blanket soon to follow), heat naps have become the norm on unbearably sticky afternoons and the 20th annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival is in full swing at Agecroft Hall.

Now, I know that sitting outside in the courtyard of a 500-year old house on a summer night isn't everyone's cup of tea (Pru's complaints run from the humidity to the uncomfortable chairs to the bugs), but for decades, it's been mine.

Don't waste your love on somebody who doesn't value it.

Although my date wasn't technically an Agecroft virgin, it had been enough years since that one long-ago visit (for a party, not a play) to dim its full memory. Right there you know I just have to give him the full experience. Add in the production - "Romeo and Juliet" - and I'm in my element making sure we cover all the bases.

Intermission on the stone terrace, for example. A picnic dinner. The usual.

Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.

We were the first to spread a blanket on the lawn behind the gardens for a picnic with a diminishing view of the James and the bridge. Despite being non-natives, we both extolled the good old days of less verdant trees allowing for wider vistas from the lawn, ending up sounding like old-school Richmonders always assuming the past was better than the present.

Maybe it's something in the humidity.

Did my heart love 'til now?

The costumed young players moved from blanket to blanket, offering up scenes to accompany the al fresco dining going on, and though we never got asked, we had great seats for two scenes from "Taming of the Shrew," a play I inevitably enjoy.

I know, I know, plenty of people take issue with its chauvinistic overtones, but I can overlook that because of Petruchio and Katerina's brilliant dialogue (just as good but without the machismo: Beatrice and Benedick's parrying in "Much Ado About Nothing"). Those two sure can talk.

Under love's heavy burden do I sink.

When it came time to go to the courtyard to find seats, the location was left up to me, presumably the pro. Usually I'm a front row kind of a gal, but at Agecroft, that sometimes makes you part of the show.

I got pulled onstage once and told to scream on cue. I did it several times, but I'm no actress. Better we sit in the second row where we lucked out when no one sat in front of our view. More good first-timer vibes.

'Tis an ill cook that can not lick his own fingers.

I have no idea how many times I've seen "Romeo and Juliet," but a stellar production can still wow me every time. Quill's James Ricks had fashioned a teen-aged love story with equal parts sass and heart. And may I just say how utterly refreshing it is to see a Romeo still within reach of his teen-aged years? Tyler Stevens had the face and voice - not to mention all the young man bravado necessary to woo a major crush - to nail Romeo's youthful/testosterone-fueled exuberance.

Educated men are so impressive!

And don't get me started on Todd Patterson's scene-stealing depiction of the swaggering Mercutio. It was as if David Bowie and Mick Jagger had a love child and he channeled his parents to do Shakespeare (and then maybe bed a wench). Loyal, lascivious and oh-so fluid in his movements. a pity since he dies in the first act.

Seek happy nights to happy days.

Eventually the sun went down, the fireflies came out and both the lovers were dead. Everyone left was devastated. I don't know when I've had such a romantic evening.

Oh, wait, yes I do. Never mind me, that's just a fume of sighs...

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sunday Light, Summer Night

Electronica was the cherry on top of my Father's Day sundae.

Don't get me wrong, I got up early, grabbed lunch for all at Nate's Bagels and was in the Northern Neck to see Dad an hour before noon. It was a hot river day with only the occasional breeze and a fine haze still burning off the Rappahannock when I joined Sister #2 on the screened porch. Sister #3 arrived not long after and the time was passed with nothing more strenuous than conversation.

Even better, I came back with leftover crabs, meaning my first priority once back in Richmond was covering the outdoor table in newspapers and going to town on crustaceans in my shaded but still sticky-hot backyard.

Don't let the weather whining fool you, I was in heaven because they were outstanding - large and meaty - and I was happily reveling in a day that included two of my very favorite food groups: Nate's bagels and crabs.

But also music. And not just any music, but electronica, a genre I love but see live far too infrequently.

After a post-crabs heat nap, I woke up half an hour before showtime and made it to the Broadberry not long after Salt Lake City's Choirboy had started their dark pop set. Everything about their sound spoke to me, from singer Adam's incredible vocal range (a blend of Tears for Fears' Roland Orzabal and ABC's Martin Fry) to bass lines that owed their existence to the Cure to synth stylings reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Sigh.

I was immediately sorry I'd missed any of their set, given blond Adam's charismatic delivery and killer voice.

During the break, I scanned the crowd for familiar faces, even knowing that plenty of music friends wouldn't bother with a Sunday night show, and saw not a single one. What I did see plenty of was what I have decided is the electronica male stereotype: tall, skinny and with long hair and by long, I mean past their shoulders. That's not some random generalization, either, that's pure observation.

To give you some idea, there were dozens of guys in front of the stage who fit that description and there were only 300-some people at the entire show. Electronica = lotta long, tall drinks of water with serious hair.

Scanning the crowd, it occurred to me that standing at the Broadberry for three hours watching three bands was as good as it gets tonight and just exactly what I needed after three hours sitting in a hot car today.

Next up was L.A. band Black Marble (guitar and bass over drum tracks) and their post-punk sound reminded me why I'd fallen hard for Interpol 15 years ago and why I'll never tire of hearing young bands find their own interpretation of post-punk. Singer Chris Stewart's voice seduced my ears while the relentless beats and bass lines spoke to other body parts.

Both opening bands had delivered such strong sets that I could have gone home happy and felt I'd gotten my money's worth and the headliner hadn't even appeared yet.

When I saw Cold Cave last it was January 2017 and that show had been sold out, and while the weather outside had been frightfully cold, as usual it had been miserably hot inside Strange Matter. The Broadberry followed suit tonight, the temperature rising to an uncomfortable, stifling level and then the a/c kicking on just long enough to make you feel like you weren't going to pass out after all.

I'm not complaining, I'm just acknowledging that music and sweat go hand in hand.

It was the kind of heat that made you want to move as little as possible, while the bands tonight were relentlessly ensuring that you couldn't possibly stay still. We electronic fans are a bunch of dancing fools, temperatures be damned, and it wasn't long before I could feel my hair getting damp at the roots as my body looked to cool off any way possible.

Cold Cave never disappoints visually and tonight's set featured an elaborate light show (black an white pinwheels, fields of black and white sunflowers), strobe lights, songs sung in darkness while the lights were focused on the crowd and as much fog as you'd expect from a project so devoted to the darkwave synth-pop tradition.

That era was also mirrored in all the high-waisted jeans and shorts I saw on so many young women tonight, a style some of us were rocking in the '80s, first time around. Just like the music I'd come for.

And don't even get me started on how many Father's Days Dad and I have celebrated together at this point. It's like the number of crabs I've eaten since the Reagan years (you know, back when he was trying to make ketchup a vegetable in school lunches).

More than I care to count, but each a pleasure. Like dancing and sweating to electronica.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Everything is Beautiful

A dancer.

That had been the answer given years ago when a former boyfriend had been asked the question, "If Karen wasn't an editor, what would she have been instead?" I remember being surprised at the response while also knowing there was a kind of truth to it.

Granted, my dance training had amounted to three years at Miss Rita's School of Dance, but assuming that this was a bigger picture question, his answer wasn't far off. If I could have been exposed to real dance training, I think I'd have loved being a dancer, even given the relatively short span of a dance career.

So what better play to see to remind me of what never was than Richmond Triangle Players' production of "A Chorus Line" with my posse? The hardest part of seeing it was acknowledging that I remember when it debuted back in the dark ages of 1975.

After a stellar meal at Belmont Food Shop - the crab-topped Spring pea sformato over pea shoots was positively swoon-worthy - that began with amuse bouches of housemade pate, as well as gougeres, plus a hug from a long-time favorite chef now part of the kitchen there, we joined the throngs of theater-goers eager for one singular sensation.

I have little doubt that I saw "A Chorus Line" at the Kennedy Center back in the '70s, but the intervening four decades all but ensured that I had limited memories of it. Besides, if you lived through the '70s, you're not supposed to remember them, right?

Needless to say, I was surprised at how many of the Marvin Hamlish-penned songs besides "One" and "What I Did for Love" I knew (I Hope I Get It, I Can Do That, At the Ballet), a fact no doubt reinforced by all those Ghostlight After parties I attended at RTP where local actors got up and sang show tunes. Of course, to them "A Chorus Line" had been an "old" Broadway show, whereas to some of us, it represented the new breed of musicals that began taking over in the '70s.

But last night, it felt as rooted in the here and now as in that long-ago decade. In a nod to the 21st century, rather than cookie-cutter bodies, these dancers looked like real people of various shapes and sizes, similar only in that they could all dance and sing so well.

And while the entire cast was strong, I found my eye kept returning to Alexa Cepeda as Diana because her energy was so strong and her smile so beautiful, never more evident than when she brought down the house singing "What I Did for Love." Of course Alexander Sapp nailed the role of the imperious director, although it was hard not to miss watching him act since most of his lines were delivered from the back row.

The buzz among local theater geeks had been about how RTP was going to manage to stage this 17 actor-play on its petite stage, but I'm here to tell you they not only did, they made the audience forget its size when that chorus line was stretched out across the stage. It can't just be us wanna-be dancers who marvel at a well-executed kickline.

I may have missed out by choosing writing over dancing, but one thing I won't miss out on is seeing "A Chorus Line" a second time.

A girl can still dream of what could have been...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Obligated to Be Among the First

If a tone was being set tonight, it was an admirable one.

The Institute for Contemporary Art was hosting its inaugural Cinema Series and first up was Afrikana International Film Festival with a program simply entitled, "Richmond Speaks: A Short Film Showcase."

Mac was at my house by 5:30 and we strolled over to the ICA, dodging the speeding and ineptly-driven cars carrying crazed relatives of soon-to-be high school graduates. These days, both the Seigel Center and the Altria Theater are churning out multiple graduating classes a day, meaning it's a congested mess to go anywhere from Jackson Ward. That includes going to Lowe's - I know because I tried it this afternoon - barely 3/4 of a mile away.

First up was walking the entire perimeter of the block that houses the ICA so we could see it from every angle, including looking east from Grace Street against the traffic. Once we got inside for the films, it was only to be stopped cold and red-faced because we were those idiots who hadn't reserved tickets and now they were all gone.

I don't know who was more surprised at the oversight, Mac or me. Generally, we're pros at these kind of events.

Since it was sold out, there was nothing to do but put our name on a waiting list and browse the galleries until they determined who didn't show up. Failing that, the plan was to stream it live in the lobby and we'd try to snag a seat on one of the couches. Either way, we'd get to see the films and the post-film discussion, so we were happy.

Things worked out well for us because of the people who'd gotten tickets and then been no-shows, so we nabbed seats in the second row just before Afrikana founder  Enjoli Moon greeted the audience with some heartfelt gratitude and a bit of a preview of what was to come. One point she repeatedly stressed was that as tonight's first audience for the series, we were witnessing the start of something important, something with the potential to encourage Richmond's much-needed race conversation.

Then to bring it to a close with full southern charm, she announced, "Without any further ado, I will hush my mouth," and the Richmond-made films began.

"May It Be So" showcased the grassroots effort of one woman to ensure that the city memorializes its black ancestors and their burial grounds, insisting that, "We have the right to take care of our own ancestors." Her one-woman campaign to keep pushing for a truthful acknowledgment of Richmond's past, including the uncomfortable parts, proves the power of every voice.

Part of a larger social justice series, "Adrian's Story" focused on a man who'd been in trouble with the law since he was 15 and served time and probation repeatedly. Finally, he became a barber's apprentice and began to see another way of life. Seeing him cut the hair of street people who can't afford haircuts almost has Mac and I in tears

I'd already seen the third film,  "Don't Touch My Hair RVA," a fascinating look at what Richmond women consider "going natural," interspersed with shots of every type of black hair imaginable: braids, Afro, straightened, corn rows, even a black albino woman with natural platinum blond hair. That it had been made by a VCU ph.D student who'd never made a film (or even held a camera) before only made it more compelling and fun.

During a panel discussion with the filmmakers, the young couple who'd made "Adrian" were asked about their choice of subject matter. "If we can use our white privilege to undermine white privilege, we believe we're obligated to do so," as clear a point as could be made if any racial progress is to be made.

The last talking point of the evening revolved around what the ICA's role in the community needs to be now that it's open, state-supported and smack dab in the middle of the city. Enjoli probably said it best, hoping that the ICA embraces its role as needing to be responsive to the entire community, not just the traditional audience (not to be confused with the inaugural audience) with wide-ranging programming.

As an inaugural audience member, I'm not sure the ICA could have had a stronger kickoff to their new film series, even if more than one wine glass was heard shattering when everyone stood up after the final applause. We put our money on glass being banned in the auditorium from here on out, but maybe it's just a learning curve.

Mac and I did our own post-film discussion at the counter of 821 Cafe over a massive platter of black bean nachos we couldn't finish, while the restaurant filled up behind us. Next to us, a couple of guys discussed alcoholism in the workplace and asked about the taco special, which had already sold out.

You snooze, you lose. Just like those idiots who'd gotten tickets for tonight's screening and then not come, who'll never be able to say they were there when the ICA was brand new and you could still score a last-minute seat in the auditorium to hear Richmond speak.

How fitting that the ICA gives us a place to hush our mouths and listen.

Giddy and All In

It's been a while since anyone complimented me on my firm handshake.

But that's exactly how the Dutchman in the blue/green house greeted me after I said hello and extended my hand. And that's before I'd even handed off a bottle of J. Mourat Rose to him as a contribution to the evening's festivities.

My partner-in-crime/favorite traveling companion and I were there, in fact, for sipping and nibbly bits (as Pru likes to call them) accompanied by travel conversation - past and future - with he and his artist wife. But that came after admiring the art-filled house they'd completely renovated four years ago - including removing the balustrade from the staircase, turning mere steps into an eye-catching architectural focal point - and her compact backyard studio.

Part of the conversation was about change. Because he was Dutch and part of her youth had been spent in Europe, both carried memories of a time when far fewer tourists crowded desirable destinations. After dealing with massive crowds in Madrid and Amsterdam a while back, she'd had enough (her term was "a meltdown") and was ready to go home if they couldn't find a place less clogged with tourists and selfie sticks.

As someone who refused to even go in the Louvre gallery where the Mona Lisa hung for exactly that reason, I felt her pain. What was astounding was her adoring husband's reaction: he immediately returned all the tickets that had been procured for the remainder of their itinerary and instead found a small village in southernmost Italy for them to spend the rest of their vacation time.

Like any sane people, they were soon seduced by the region, resulting in them now owning a house there. Even better, a house they let out to close friends. And while I didn't yet qualify, my handsome partner apparently does, so for such a devoted planner, this was the kickoff for him to start another planning binge.

When we weren't talking travel, the womenfolk were comparing notes about how we got to Richmond in the first place. I thought I'd had it bad arriving here from D.C. in 1986 and first living in Chesterfield County before high-tailing it to the city, but she took the prize when she shared that she'd arrived in Colonial Heights in 1983. Ye gads.

After checking out the area, she'd promptly driven home to Boston, a reaction I find completely understandable. No intelligent, much less creative, woman should have had to live in Richmond back then and yet here we were: two survivors and glad we'd stayed.

As we got up to go, I was asked about my favorite restaurant (no one such thing, but I do have multiple top choices) but I turned the question on my hosts, who copped to liking Fat Dragon, Bacchus and Galley.

So after we'd said our good-byes, I thought our next stop should be Galley Market so I could deflower a Giustino's pizza virgin while furthering the travel talk. For the first time, I sat at a table among the shelves of groceries, rather than the counter. A Greek salad was followed by a Bianca (yes, I know I'm a creature of habit, but I wanted to make sure his first pie experience was one I could vouch for) and a whole lot of talking about everything. Like we do.

I was especially taken by his assessment of our long weekend in Irvington about how we have more conversation than any other two people would even think possible, much less intensely pleasurable. And he's right.

Walking to the river with Mac yesterday, she commented how my blog posts continue to sound giddy, even as I really do try to rein in my euphoria when blogging. "I love that you're so happy," she told me, cracking wise about my rose-colored glasses.

And it only took 32 years from my arrival in Richmond to get to that beatific point. And if I thought that time flew by, it's nothing compared to the warp speed that's become my new normal. It's like what the late, great Anthony Bourdain said. "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."

Enjoying. Every. Second.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

To Fall Down at Your Door

Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation. ~Angela Carter

Let's call tonight an evening of deja-vu in the Ward.

When I saw there was a touring pop-up photo exhibit at Black Iris Gallery, I considered starting my evening there. When I saw that it was an exhibit of large-format black and white photographs by Bill Daniel, the deal was sealed. That's because back in the dark ages of 2010, I'd gone to Gallery 5 to watch Daniel show a trove of lost and found music acts filmed between 1965 and 1987 and it had been fascinating.

As much as I'd enjoyed that, why wouldn't I want to see his photographs of skateboarders, punk bands, graffiti and the like from the past 35 years?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

The photographs were such snapshots in time, from the airborne skater with a Circle Jerks sticker on the bottom of his board to the punk singer - Fender guitar slung to the side and guitar pick between his bad teeth - playing the cowbell. Or put another way: it was an era when so many punk musicians were wearing Black Flag t-shirts to prove their cred.

Daniel captured the punk ethos in photo after photo, never more so than in a shot of a dingy music club door with a handwritten "NO MOHAWKS!" sign on it, in front of which was a mohawked guy in mid-jump in front of it. Another showed an old VW van modified with three sails atop it, presumably to increase the van's infamously slow pace.

Gawking at a photo of two '80s show-goers (her shoulder pads and bangles, his eyeliner and piercings), I heard my name and turned to see my favorite artist/DJ couple. After chatting about the exhibit and her new baby chicks (one of which she said likes to ride on the back of a full-grown chicken like it's a pony or something), we reverted to our favorite topic: what we're reading.

After mentioning Roberto Bolano, she asked if I'd ever read the English novelist Angela Carter, a new favorite of hers. Negative, I said and we launched into one of our standard procedure book talks (like we do) that involved her recommending Carter highly for her feminist, magical realistic style of writing. Sounds right up my alley.

But it was when she asked what was new with me that I had that moment. Where do I start when I run into friends I haven't seen for a while? In this case, I may have mentioned the update to my relationship status and having just returned from a long weekend at the river.

"Ooh, I like a man with a house on the river," she enthused with a knowing smile, since they live in his house on the Chickahominy River, a charming place, complete with chickens, that I'd visited last year. So she knows.

When I departed Black Iris, it was for some theater at the Basement, where I immediately ran into Foto Boy and his betrothed, an actress/director who was looking fabulous and theatrical in a way I could never pull off. Our first stop was at the bar in search of  alcohol for her, caffeine for him and sugar for me. Hey, whatever gets you through the play, right?

We were all there for the preview of TheatreLab's production of "Gruesome Playground Injuries," a play with which I had some familiarity, having seen a staged reading of it back in 2011. I said it was a night of deja-vu, after all.

Despite the intervening years. its poignant yet disturbing story had stayed with me. Imagine two kids who meet in the school infirmary at the tender age of eight; she's throwing up non-stop and he's ridden his bike off of the school's roof. Because boys are dumb.

The hook is that they immediately bond over shared maladies, touching each other's wounds and scars, while over the next thirty years, they continue to see each other periodically, always due to one or the other's sickness or injury. And to be clear, it's a story with many, many funny moments despite the gruesome injuries.

A dungeon is a place where people can go to languish.

They're both damaged souls and whether it's a fireworks accident that causes Doug to lose an eye or Kayleen's self-medicating and cutting, the two continue to share an increasing bond of personal pain throughout their friendship/love.

I don't want my first kiss to be with you. AND I just threw up.

When I'd first seen it, I kept hoping that they would acknowledge their feelings for each other, but there were always hospital beds and comas and psychiatric institutions keeping them distracted from their true feelings.

The top ten things anyone has ever done for me were all done by you.

As with any two-actor production, it's all about the chops and chemistry of the actors and Jeffrey Cole and Rachel Rose Gilmour nailed their characters in all their dysfunction and tragedy. Cole singing in a thick Scottish brogue while trying to dance with Gilmour to the Proclaimers' "500 Miles" was nothing short of masterful. And hilarious.

One particularly clever device was that the scenes didn't play out in chronological order, so we saw them first as children, then young adults, then back to teens, then slightly older adults and so on, while music marked scene transitions and the passage of time. From Aimee Mann's "Save Me" through David Gray's "Please Forgive Me" to a cover of REM's "Everybody Hurts," the music helped with the ten- and fifteen-year jumps the script made while providing time for the actors to change clothes onstage.

TheatreLab, you never cease to impress me.

As an added accompaniment to the theatrics we'd come to watch, throughout the production we also got a symphony of jackhammers blasting Broad Street just outside the Basement's door. It was the sound of the city desperately trying to finish up the Pulse construction for the touted completion date and while the cacophony was superfluous to the story, it did add a certain city grittiness.

Punk photographs, an emotional tour de force of a play and an unexpected chance to catch up with two favorite couples along the way. Exactly what a city woman needs after languishing at the rivah for a few days.

And by languishing, I mean having the time of her life.

Monday, June 11, 2018

As Dreams Make Way for Plans.

I can see the t-shirt now: I spent three days in Irvington and all I got was a lousy coffee mug

Except that's nowhere close to all I got during the time that Irvington - and my host with the most - were spinning their three-day charm offensive on me.

And I can say that even after slogging through a grueling Friday afternoon traffic jam on I-64 (the sign warned of a vehicle on fire at mile post 209, a vehicle long gone by the time I made my way past the mile marker) that turned an hour and 20 minute drive into a solid two hours, one hour of which was spent creeping along at 5 to 15 miles an hour happily listening to Paul Westerburg's "14 Songs."

On your mark
Here I am
I'm your spark
Runaway wind

I didn't mind a bit (windows down, sunny skies, weekend plans to look forward to) considering what (and who) was at the end of the journey. And while my new mug may be the only tangible souvenir (besides photos), I returned to the city with some pretty wonderful memories.

Like a trip to the River Market for picnic supplies where the affable and aproned owner Jimmy was kind enough to come from behind the counter to meet me and then extol the virtues of his hand-prepared food (the Thai noodles were stellar). He was invaluable in helping us choose our picnic fixin's for an evening at Good Luck Cellars sipping their Vidal Blanc and Petit Verdot while listening to a rather talented musician cover the discography of my youth.

Or like a mid-morning canoe ride on Carter's Creek accompanied by a who's who history of the houses, docks and boats we were gliding by. Electric boats? Who knew? And while I did do some rowing, there's also photographic evidence of me taken from the back of the boat that shows the paddle across my lap and arms leaning back on the sides of the canoe, that prove how easy I had it.

There was the second picnic of the weekend, that one at Belle Isle State Park on the Rappahannock, where a foreboding gray sky couldn't diminish the serious blues chops of the surprisingly young Tom Euler and his trio. Think John Mayer without the bad decision-making.

And speaking of decisions, I knew the performance was doomed when a park ranger stood nearby scoping out the thunder and lightening providing the light show. Only an hour into it, she told Tom that for safety's sake, they needed to stop the show. The trio obliged by playing the whimsical "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as picnickers packed up chairs, blankets and pic-a-nick baskets to head to safety.

But not to go home. If you know me, you know I love a good storm, especially on the water, which is how we ended up moving the truck to a better vantage point facing the river to watch the sky unleash its fury. Let's just say the drive home resembled nothing so much as driving through a monsoon with occasional roadside stops.

The after-affects of all that rain was on full display when my brilliant host suggested a walk at Hughlett Point Nature Preserve the next day. Whether walking on trails or a slightly raised boardwalk through forest and wetlands, we were surrounded by mosquito breeding pools standing water on all sides thanks to last night's torrential downpour.

But the payoff was emerging from that to - ta da! - a pristine sandy beach that fronted the Chesapeake Bay and had not a soul on it besides us. With nothing built anywhere nearby, it was like being on an abandoned island, with the warm waters of the Bay lapping at our feet as we walked.

There weren't even any footprints in the sand. When a small wave hit at just the right angle, it sent a drop of salty water flying into my open mouth, as if to make the moment completely unreal.

What we did come across was the equivalent of a sculpture installation: a dozen or so massive pieces of driftwood, most of which were still the size of full trees, albeit laying on their sides. It was unreal and beautiful, occupying almost the width of the narrow beach not long after high tide. A small part of the beach was closed to walkers because of nesting shore birds and the northeastern beach tiger beetle, whatever that is.

I have a new favorite place on the Northern Neck and I have my considerate host, ever the planner, to thank for giving it to me. Among other things.

There were breakfasts eaten on the deck overlooking Carter's Creek, a walk into town and a stop at The Local for drinks, a bagel sandwich (bacon and cucumber on an everything bagel, yum) and a look at local art, and more conversation than any other two people could possibly stand.

As for that mug, it now holds a place of honor on my desk, a reminder of a most memorable weekend and what could be considered my new life philosophy: "Keep calm and love an architect."

Nothing like stating the obvious. I mean, thanks, but both are already second nature.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Take What You Want and Leave the Rest

Being ridiculously happy seems to leave little time to blog.

It's not like I'm not still doing stuff because of course I am. After all, I'm me, so how could I not?

After a meal in service of my hired mouth, Mac and I went to the Basement to see TheatreLab's production of "Topdog/Underdog," marveling at the tightly wound performances of Jeremy Morris and Jamar Jones as brothers with issues in the Pulitzer prize-winning play.

The production clocked in at a hefty two hours and 45 minutes (I knew I had that padding for a reason) and I thought Mac might have to dip out at intermission because of having to go to work early tomorrow, but instead she admitted how sucked in she was by such compelling performances.

Props to first-time director Katrinah Carol Lewis for providing her actors enough room to the create full, albeit flawed, characters before us.

Granted, we walked out of there feeling as if we'd been beat up, but truly great theater is always affecting in some way.

I finally made it to Goatocado, notable for the killer Tuscan arepa (Oaxacan cheese, red pepper, greens, guac and corn in a corn cake) I ate along with a pomegranate ginger-ade, but also for the 50 minutes it took some hapless, young employee to hang the canvas triangles that provided the scant shade on a sunny, blue sky day.

After ten minutes, I was feeling his pain because he was out there in the blinding sunlight without sunglasses. When I questioned the wisdom of that move, he explained that he didn't like clipping sunshades to his regular glasses. But isn't it excruciating to be out here with no sunglasses?

"I'm thinking next time I get glasses, I'll get that kind that darkens in the sun," he explained. "You know, 'cause I don't want to get cataracts." How cute is that?

And for the record, he hung and rehung those triangles unsuccessfully and repeatedly, finally asking two fellow employees to help - one to hook the pieces and the other more knowledgeable one to direct - for over 50 minutes before they were hung properly. Meanwhile, customers like us who wanted to eat outside (inside was full) had a choice of minimal shade or no shade, not the best options on a bright June day at high noon.

Fifty minutes. Have I mentioned that I weep for the future?

Lady G had finally re-surfaced and since our last rendezvous had been March 30, we were in dire need of a blather. Her suggestion was Lemaire at the Jefferson, fine by me as long as we ate outside on the patio and not inside with the business stuffy clientele.

Our table afforded a view of Franklin Street and featured a music speaker that looked like a rock in the flower bed adjacent to us. Yea, it was corny and kind of Flintstones-like, but, hey, it worked, turning the miscellaneous noises of the city into background for the jazz that was playing.

Because our time apart had encompassed April and May, Lady G insisted that it was a birthday celebration and let me choose the bottle: Argyle Brut Rose from a winery I'd visited. And while it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive (it appeared to be our server's first night and he was doing his best, at least at joking with us), it was worth the wait.

When our young server made the rookie mistake of placing the stand holding the wine near the outdoor server's station rather than tableside and G's glass went dry, she did what any self-respecting woman does: walked over, took possession of the stand and bottle and set them in their rightful place within easy reach of us.

The five-top table of young millennial women next to us knew they were in the presence of greatness. "We applaud you taking control!" one called out as the others clapped.

Someday you, too, will just take what you want, grasshopper.

We swapped updates over chilled English pea soup, crispy fried deviled eggs with cornichons and red pepper jelly and Pernod-steamed mussels with apple, fennel and chorizo while we watched people sit down and wait 20 minutes for anything more than water. Luckily, we were in no hurry, not with all the life evaluating we had going on at the table.

At one point, our charming server arrived unexpectedly and a tad out of breath, smiling and saying apropos of nothing, "I've missed you both so." What can you do but crack up at that? At the very least, a sense of humor is essential in the service industry.

We ended the evening on my balcony, where Lady G's birthday gift to me - a bottle of Chateau Kalian 2015 Monbazillac, an organic dessert wine with gorgeous notes of orange and lemon, but also with nice acidity - was opened and sipped chilled as dusk descended on Jackson Ward.

As she does every time she's on my balcony, she commented on some of the high-up architectural details on the house next door. The kind of flourishes barely visible from the street, but striking from mere feet away on the second floor. The kind of thing an artist notices and that's what Lady G is.

She and I have been swapping stories and keeping each other abreast of where the bodies are buried for two decades now, and if that's not worth toasting, I don't know what is.

Check that. Also worth celebrating is finding someone who keeps me so busy talking, laughing and traveling that blogging is all but forgotten.

Sorry/not sorry. Happiness and devoted attention, I have missed you both so.

Monday, June 4, 2018

His Intellectual Trophy

It's not like you have to be head over heels in love to appreciate an unexpected romance.

Back in 2009, I went to see "Julie and Julia" expecting to come away with a fuller picture of how Julia Child became Julia Child. Instead, I was captivated by the love story between Julia and Paul Child and how devoted to each other they were, while the storyline about Julie was downright annoying.

The movie sent me straight to Chop Suey in search of a used copy of  Child's "My Life in France" so I could read more about how their romance and relationship began and flourished. I reread it five years later just to remind myself about that kind of love because I hadn't experienced it yet.

Tonight's film choice, "RBG," at the Criterion was based on nothing more than being a documentary dork and wanting to have a fuller sense of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legal accomplishments. Really, that was it. That her life contained a major love story was a complete and utterly wonderful bonus to learning how she changed the legal landscape for women in this country.

And while I vaguely recall those landmark gender disparity cases she argued as a lawyer in the '70s, when you look at them in hindsight, it was a remarkable entity she was knitting together to enlighten the all-male Supreme Court about the realities of being a woman in a weighted society.

I'm sure my Mom would have been even more impressed with the fact that the Notorious RBG lived by her own mother's cardinal rules: Be a lady. Be independent.  In many ways, those two things were mutually exclusive during the first few decades of RBG's career.

But where I fell hard for the well-executed documentary was with her romance with her husband Marty. RBG was up front about why she'd been so attracted to him after a string of first dates that never turned into second dates: "He was the first boy I ever knew who cared I had a brain."

Can we just have a moment of gratitude for all the men astute enough to be drawn to a woman's brain back in the dark ages of the 1950s when women were expected to excel at housekeeping and motherhood, not forming opinions and reading law? And RBG wasn't shy either about saying, "Meeting Marty was the most fortunate thing that ever happened to me."

Call it mush, if you must, but I call that pure romance.

Clinton was downright blunt about considering her for a Supreme Court nomination, saying that he'd known within 15 minutes of talking to her that he wanted that mind on the nation's highest court. The interesting part was that, despite her legal accomplishments and days on the DC Court of Appeals (a feat accomplished because President Carter was determined to put women and minorities in judicial positions - go Jimmy, incidentally the first president I ever voted for), her profile was too low and her demeanor too reserved for her to be on anyone's short list for a judgeship.

Enter Marty who began a campaign for her to at least be considered and, lo and behold, she winds up in Clinton's sites, allowing her the opportunity to wow him with her keen mind. And I think we all know Clinton appreciated a good mind, even if he was, shall we say, distractable.

The documentary tried to unpack RBG's lofty place in popular culture usisng millennial lawyers and even her own granddaughter gushing about what a role model and brilliant thinker she is. But, of course, it's bigger than that. The Notorious RBG is cool in a way few 85-year olds could ever hope to be.

Which reminds me of a screened porch discussion I was having with Pru and Beau the other night after a sensational meal at Lucy's (snapper with the texture of lobster in a coconut/ginger sauce with jasmine rice and matchstick green beans and red peppers, oh-so tropical-tasting) and seeing the Golden Girls-esque "Always a Bridesmaid" at Swift Creek Mill Theater.

Favorite line: "I just want to met a man who hates all the same things I do!" Good lucky, honey, that's harder than it sounds.

And on that night, Pru was looking at the big picture, inquiring of us, "Is this the coolest you've ever been in your life?"

Beau didn't hesitate, announcing that he was most definitely at his coolness peak (have you seen that swoop?) and frankly, this is probably as cool as I can ever hope to be after so many years as a nerd. Maybe not full-on cool, but at least less non-cool than before.

But when I turned the tables, her disdain was immediately evident when I asked if this was her coolest period.

"Uh, no!" she said with all the conviction of someone who'd been breaking rules and breaking bad for decades, while Beau and I had been ensuring that we never colored outside the lines.

And RBG's been exhibiting her brand of effortless cool even longer than Pru.

Legal accomplishments aside, I'm even going to say that her storybook romance with Marty alone elevated her into the cool kids' club. Let's face it, most people never get lucky enough to meet their person, so when it happens, it's automatic cool cred.

Which means I may have a shot at cool after all. Thanks, brain.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Walk Away, James

I was so ready for a good walk on a beautiful day.

To start, I began by giving myself permission to skip Broad Appetit this year.

Which means when I finally set out to walk around 11:00, the festival was just getting going, necessitating me navigating past all things Broad Appetit. It didn't, however, stop me from giving props to a volunteer at Jefferson Street who'd come prepared with chair, boom box tuned to vintage soul, large thermos and lunch box. Clearly not his first Broad Appetit rodeo.

Downtown was deserted, making for an easy walk cutting diagonally through empty parking lots as I came down the hill to the still muddy brown river. The downside of walking the canal walk was hearing a pipsqueak of a tour guide explain to his group that the Street Art Festival murals they were standing in front came about as a way to deal with what he called "blighted properties." I almost interrupted his patter to suggest "neglected properties" was a far more apt term.

Tell me about the blight, son, because I recall zero blight. Know what you're talking about before you go spouting off. But who am I to stop some twit from foisting his misconceptions on visitors?

I'm just a walker who hasn't been on the pipeline walkway in weeks and was determined to correct that today. That the weather was perfect for being outside - overcast, 72 degrees and breezy, especially at the river - only validated what I'd known when I set out: that this was going to be a good walk. Even finding a "trail closed" sign at the end of the pipeline walkway didn't dismay me (though I did re-attach one side of the sign to ensure the closed message was clear) because looking at the pipeline surrounded by raging river ahead, I knew people didn't belong on it.

But walking into the wind, against the direction of the water flowing, is not my usual direction, so I especially enjoyed the fierceness of the river's energy walking west. Strangely, returning in my usual direction was anti-climatic after that.

Capital Square was shady and quiet, but things got livelier once I hit the bustle of Broad Street. Fellow walker and Valentine director Bill Martin paused long enough on his way back up Church Hill to entreat me to go to Broad Appetit, though he wouldn't tell me what he'd eaten.

"Do you have a husband?" a smiling man joked to me further on. "Because I'd like to discuss that with you." Crossing First Street, a guy smiled politely and leaned toward me. "If you keep walking like that down there (gestures with head toward Broad Appetit), you're going to cause a traffic jam." I don't care if he was making it up as he went along, I thanked him with a smile.

And thought to myself, ah, yes, the Broad Appetit crowd has arrived. My presence here is no longer required.

Pardon me while I get ready for the rest of my Sunday and the reason for my comment-worthy happy mood. Lucky me, I finally have my own compliment source.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Thunder Only Happens When It's Raining

Seeing the same movie twice in ten days? Oh, please.

Do I sound like I have any extra time? Au contraire. Is this an issue for me? Not for a second. So when I repeat a film so quickly, it's easy to assume that it's a slightly trashy guilty pleasure, likely something in the RomCom wheelhouse. Except no.

I mean yes, there's romance, but the real draw is the rarity of seeing onscreen women - ranging in age, mind you, from 65 to 80 - portrayed as smart, accomplished, funny and, most unlikely of all, sexual beings. It's four actresses giving effortlessly authentic voice to an age usually relegated to characters who are wise or cranky/funny, but rarely shown as objects of desire.

And I've got no idea how much work these actresses have had done, because it wasn't about their physical condition so it doesn't matter. It was about interesting women, none of whom were at their first rodeo and all of whom were fully formed characters. Like all my girlfriends and all five of my sisters.

It's ridiculous how refreshing it is to see such characters onscreen, even with the prerequisite reminders that oldsters aren't pros with technology (there's a difference in being adept and being addicted, just sayin'). Generally, you have to look at French films for sexual depictions of women of an age, something American films shy away from.

So, yes, I returned for another dose of age-appropriate romance and friendship but I'm here to say there's no shame in that and if there is, I don't care. If it happened more regularly, I wouldn't be so excited.

Besides, it's not like I didn't eventually head to Gallery 5 for First Friday and a little live music. And since it was after 9, the line in front of G5 was 20 people deep but what's a little queue time but a chance to talk to strangers?

The first words out of my mouth when a fresh-faced young woman joined the line behind me was, "Now those are impressive! Looks like something we wore to clubs back in the late '70s," referring to the silver lame gaucho pants she had on.

"Why, because they're comfortable?" she wanted to know. No, because they're glitzy and looked cool on the dance floor, grasshopper. That they were totally synthetic meant they were also hot as hell to dance in, so definitely not comfy.

Turns out she was from Nashville, here two years and liking it because Richmond has so many fewer addicts and alcoholics, at least according to her. "Here you smile at someone and if they smile back at you, it's a real smile. In Nashville, it's a mask to hide something." Deep stuff in line. Even so, she acknowledged that Richmond is not her forever place, though she senses someplace like Santa Fe or Morrocco is.

Unless you go there and decide to come back here like so many other people do, I tell her to laughter. She has a million questions about Gallery 5 shows and she's run into just the right person to fill her in until we made it inside.

First up was locals Fat Spirit, pulling from post punk, with some shoegaze and psychedlia thrown in and making me smile as I heard references to bands from multiple decades.  Some guy near the front kept heckling, insisting that he wanted to get onstage and sing a song. Finally, the lead singer told him to just stop asking because the sound guy had said no, but it had to be annoying.

During their last song, my Nashville friend tapped me on the shoulder and said bye. Godspeed, newcomer.

During the break between bands I went upstairs to see an exhibit about urban heat and vulnerability in Richmond via a series of colored maps showing areas affected. Living, as I do, in the center of the city, I shouldn't have been surprised to see a map showing that J-Ward rated the highest vulnerability to urban heat or another indicating how small its tree canopy is. And don't get me started on our high percentage of impervious surfaces.

My kingdom could use more green.

This wall full of maps only confirmed what I already knew: when it's hot in the Ward, it's far hotter than in many areas of the city. For the record, this is why I've taken heat naps two of the past three days.

Back downstairs, I found a prime spot to watch Philly's glammy Sixteen Jackies, a quartet with an eye for rock fashion. Joey, the lead singer, wore a gold lame top belted at the peplum over a three-tiered flounced black skirt. Oh, and pearls.

If he wasn't a former theater kid, he missed a golden opportuntiy.

One guitarist resembled no one so much as the Who's Roger Daltrey during his white t-shirt, shoulder length curls and sunglasses phase, while the other nailed the British invasion look with a dark, flowered shirt, white scarf around his neck and mop top hair hanging in his eyes as he played. The drummer was no more than a head of long blond hair flying side to side.

Adorable doesn't begin to describe them. The singer's voice was part sweet sing-song and part ferocious growl with everything in between set to highly theatrical charisma: swiveling hips, drops to the floor, belt twisting, grand arm gestures and moments of speed shredding.

Once the band had exchanged instruments, it took a while for the mostly young crowd to realize the band was covering Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," but no time at all to see how singer Joey was masterfully channeling his inner Stevie Nicks for the song.

Now here you go again, but could there be a more age-appropriate way to spend a sticky June night than listening to a song from my youth sung by an earnest band of young Philadelpheans? Not tonight anyway.

It's just too bad the depiction of older woman as smart, accomplished, funny and sexual left out the part where they can't resist a little hip-shaking in a sweaty building if it means hearing live music. That kind of older woman.

Hopefully coming soon to a theater near me.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Don't Tell Me Not to Fly, I've Simply Got To

I'm just checking in. I see you're enjoying Chicago full on. Let me know when you're back, would love to hear more about your adventures in person. Do we need to make a porch date? ~ Pru

Um, yes.

Far be it for me to turn down an invitation to spend time blathering on the porch of Pru's manse. After a day spent trying to get back in the Richmond groove - laundry, setting up interviews, doing a rewrite, mopping floors - I was more than happy to brave the rain for an evening with friends.

Ever the hostess with the mostess, Pru soon had Beau pouring us glasses of J. Mourat Rose to accompany a dinner scored at the new Church Hill location of 8 1/2: arugula salad, white pizza and red pizza with sausage and mushrooms, savored on the porch while a light rain fell all around us.

Group consensus: 8 1/2's pizza tops Dinamo's, not that any of us would turn down Dinamo's pie.

And sure, we began the evening with a discussion of what I'd seen, done and eaten in Chicago, including my fondness for the Carbide & Carbon Building because its design resembles that of a champagne bottle, complete with dark green terra cotta tower and gold leaf accents to mimic the foil around the cork, but eventually moved on.

When Pru put me in charge of music, I asked if she had any restrictions on my choice. None, she claimed, at least until I told Alexa to play the Carpenters (a favorite of both Beau and I) and she groaned loudly. Looking for something completely different, I asked Alexa for Bon Jovi and she looked at me like I'd lost my mind. That's when Queen B stepped in and suggested Barbra Streisand and everyone finally seemed okay with the music.

Don't tell me not to live
Just sit and putter
Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter
Don't bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

Once the music was settled, the three womenfolk united to do an intervention on Beau who has an unfortunate habit of looking at his cell phone while lively conversation is taking place around him. And lively conversation with a guest present, at that.

While he swears he can multi-task, after the second time he started asking questions that had been covered in a conversation only moments earlier, we saw no option but to insist he step away from the phone. He couldn't, of course, but settled for cradling it in his lap and periodically making longing glances in its direction. Once an addict, always an addict.

Relationships turned out to be a hot topic, little surprise given how fascinated everyone is with the turn of my love life, but for a change, the focus was on Pru and Beau. That two people could meet in college, go their separate ways in terms of marriage and children, and somehow find their way back to each other 30 years later is nothing short of extraordinary.

That when they first began dating, Pru - in her usual straight forward manner - had told Beau that he was good raw material and just needed some guidance is proof positive that you can say anything if it's to the right person.

Beau, who decided last night to name his as yet unwritten autobiography "From Under the Swoop," a tribute to his magnificent mane of hair and its come-hither swoop in the front, admitted that he'd never stopped thinking about Pru in the intervening three decades. Now that's romance.

It was going on 11 p.m. and I'd been there for over four hours when I began my exit strategy. Not so fast, Pru insisted, you were invited over to share some juice, so sit back down and start spilling.

Hadn't I raved about our meals at the Purple Pig and Marisol? Did she want me to tell her about my other favorite buildings?

"You're not gushing as much as last time," Pru worried. "What's up?"

I'm just trying to contain my over-the-top happiness and not subject everyone I see to it, I explained. You want me to gush, I'll sit back down and gush. Happily.

Speaking of, just after Beau had observed that the Rose was having far more of an effect on me than it was on him, he'd had an epiphany. "Oh, wait," he insisted. "You've got Rose on top of euphoria, don't you?"

Sure do. And I'm hoping to live out the rest of my life that way. My parade is too fabulous to be affected by rain...or anything else.

Sorry, I just can't help myself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

From On High

So worry not
All things are well ~ The National

Zoom, where did those six days go?

I know it's lazy that I'm copping to a highlights reel today, but I've only been back in the Ward for a few hours and that laundry isn't going to do itself. So here goes, with digressions.

Best place to be on a record-breaking hot Chicago day: on the bow of the First Lady, listening to a volunteer docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation try to condense his encyclopedic knowledge about the buildings we're ogling from the river into 90 lively minutes (albeit with 2 breaks to cool down). His best anecdote involved recently seeing two coyotes on the sight of a cleared lot he'd shown us. As long as I've got my wide-brimmed hat on, I'll listen to the professor nerd out, watch powerboats full of scantily-clad millennials pass by and just bask in being on the water on such an uncharacteristic May afternoon here.

Best impromptu picnic: on lime green chairs in the courtyard of the Art Institute next to a Yoko Ono sculpture, but only after being told we weren't allowed to eat the museum's food outside. Pshaw, rules are for young people. Almost everyone who came in stayed only long enough to take selfies with the wall-hung sculpture we already had a seated view of. Amateurs.

Best urban walking bonuses: Because of a Memorial Day parade Saturday, many downtown streets were closed, meaning a dedicated walker and a native son had no problem taking it to the streets. Sans cars, they were a walker's paradise. Headed to the Girl and Goat Bakery for bagels (rye-onion) on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, I was more than a few times the only person walking the block and it was 10:30 in the morning. I saw traffic lights as no more than suggestions.

Best melding of food and art: brunch at Marisol at the Museum of Contemporary Art, with a booth that offered prospect and refuge (so important to some people), pale-as-Provence Rose from Veneto Italy and the opportunity to consider the art we'd been looking at for the past few hours. For guilty pleasure, there was "Heaven and Earth: Alexander Calder and Jeff Koons," although I question the curatorial choice not to use the word "stabile" to describe sculptures that weren't mobiles. Don't get me started on the dumbing down of museum signage. On the other hand, Otobong Nkanga's "To Dig a Hole that Collapses Again" combined political commentary about stripping third world countries of natural resources with tapestries and with a wave-like wall sculpture that incorporated materials and crops from those countries (tobacco, coffee, spices) and were intended to be smelled as you walked along it. Serious mind art.

Best backdrop for a meal, best breakfast eaten in a park on Rush Street, best drive through Lincoln Park...

Obviously I could do this all night, except I can't do this all night. The Purple Pig dazzled with cheese, swine and wine in a room full of community tables and serious food lovers and featured an offal menu. 'Nuff said. That seafood saganaki was so good I wanted to marry it. The couple next to us were from Kansas City and said they'd come three nights in a row last time they were in Chicago. Now they were back for more.

Food aside, who wouldn't keep going back for more when things are this good? I'm just trying to keep my head from exploding and not be too effusive but it's challenging. I know, I know, first world problems.

But also first time in a lifetime problems. Desert, meet the rain.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hey, Batter, Batter

I have been to Wrigleyville and it was berry, berry good to me. Look it up, kids, it's vintage SNL.

Yes, my Dad had supplied several pertinent facts for me to toss out in conversation - among them that Bryant is a real looker and Rizzo plays a mean first base - and my partner-in-crime had made certain we'd made a Cubs t-shirt purchase the day before so I'd fit in, so I was as ready as I'd ever be for my first trip to the ivy and bricks.

See what a quick study I am?

Mind you, it wasn't just my Chicago-born partner I had to impress at the game against the San Francisco Giants, it was also three of his associates from Milwaukee, all of them die-hard baseball fanatics lovers. As it turned out, they were a cinch to dazzle, far more curious about me and how we'd met than batting averages.

And while I'm no sports fan, I'd be the first to admit that a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field is a cultural experience as much as an athletic one and heaven knows I'm all about the culture. A Friday afternoon game meant that from the time we left the hotel, we were caught up in a sea of blue and red-clad people and while I'd never claim to say I could pass for a Chicagoan, I certainly fit in.

Sort of anyway.

Besides, it was a gloriously sunny, blue-sky kind of a day and our seats in the fourth row on the first base line ensured that we were right up in the action. The only ball that came our way, though, hit a woman in the second row in the head before being nabbed by a nearby man and handed off to a kid who looked like he'd won the lottery: out of school, in possession of a Cubs baseball and the three-day weekend hadn't even started.

Of course I had to have a hot dog and peanuts - I'm not a complete baseball idiot - and the afternoon passed in a blur of personal questions, baseball commentary and Cub mania on all sides. The few Giants fans were pretty much ignored, though I admired them for their bravery in showing up with this rabid bunch.

I'm talking the kind of people like the woman in front of me who was trying to rustle up some betting action, stuffing dollar bills in her cup holder as strangers around her bet on whether or not the ball would roll off the mound or stay put.

Hey, enough beer on a sunny afternoon and why not bet on the minutiae ?

Once the Cubs had put another win in their column, we walked through Wrigleyville to Uncommon Ground, an adorable, sprawling (it began by occupying one small building and kept adding others until now it's like something from "Alice in Wonderland," a series of interconnected rooms that require a step up or down) farm-to-table restaurant with a long history of live music.

We're talking Jeff Buckley dropping by with an acoustic guitar in 1994 and playing to a small crowd of gob-smacked Chicagoans. My kind of place, in other words, so I gave major props to the Milwaukee crew for the choice.

While I tucked into my dinner of spicy Korean calamari and shrimp tacos, the guys ate and regaled us with love life stories, from one's friends throwing in cash so he'd propose to his girlfriend via an airplane banner the next day to the merits of proposing via scoreboard at a baseball game and having it announced on the radio so Grandma knew about it by the time they got home.

All I can say is, who knew guys working in the financial world would be so romantic?

My Cubs t-shirt got baptized with mustard and relish and I managed to slide in all but one of my purloined baseball facts over the course of a perfect baseball afternoon in the Windy City.

We got so busy talking about travel and where we'd all been that I forgot to mention to the boys what a terrific manager Madden is. I mean, c'mon, he's got to be one of the best managers in the history of baseball.

Yea, I knew I couldn't pull that one off.

But that handwritten sign saying BRYZZO RULES I'd spotted earlier? The pure satisfaction of knowing what it meant without asking was almost as satisfying as the state of my Cubbies shirt.

I believe both are enough to qualify as a major score for this first-timer.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Only Happens in a Town Like This

No one beats a native Chicagoan for showing you the Windy City.

The funny part is that on the train in from the airport, we got to talking to a high-spirited quartet - two middle-aged brothers and the two sons of one of them - sitting nearby, only to learn that they were on a bucket list trip to see the Indianapolis 500 Sunday.

But, they added, they'd also be attending a Cubs game and hitting every Irish bar they came across, so the long weekend was a pretty big deal to them. They were also pretty sure they were going to run into us again based on nothing more than our conversation and how much we made them laugh.

Come on, guys, what are the chances?

My partner-in-crime wasted no time in demonstrating his Chi-town bona fides by advising the group not to spend all their time staring up at buildings, unless they wanted to be taken for the tourists that they were.

After checking in and admiring the view of the brilliant blue lake from the seventh floor, we set out to stretch our legs by walking the lakefront. I've said before that the best part of visiting Chicago in May is that the scores of lilacs are in full bloom and I wasn't disappointed. I leaned over iron railings and climbed concrete dividers for the sake of smelling my favorite flower every time I spotted one.

Having a native son as a field guide fulfilled every nerdy bone in my body as he ticked off the year/decade of the building, the architect/firm responsible, why it was significant when it was built and every other arcane fact he thought would interest me.

In other words, we spent the afternoon staring up at buildings looking like tourists, which I most certainly am and he could only pretend to be. It was grand.

We capped off the walk with glasses of Rose at Aire, the rooftop bar of our hotel, this time admiring the lake view from 24 floors up while a shady breeze provided respite from the unexpected heat of a late May Chicago afternoon. In between sips and conversation, I was trying to decide if Chicagoans have a "look" and I'm starting to think that they do.

Exhaustive research had resulted in a list of places I want to eat over the next five days. After a major pow-wow, we decided on a nearby wine bar, Acanto, for its extensive grape offerings and appealing menu, but nothing could have prepared me to follow the hostess to our patio table and be greeted by a server saying an exuberant, "Karen!" and throwing her arms around me. After an extended greeting, she scurried off, saying, "I'll get you a straw."

Welcome to Chicago, indeed.

The lovely C. had served me countless times at Secco and Acacia, but I'd been unaware she'd landed in Chicago last year. After dropping off glasses from a reserve magnum of Chianti Classico they were serving by the glass for the evening only, she told us to take our time because she was there all night. We were happy to settle in for the next three hours with a primo Michigan Avenue view of the promenade of humanity and cars honking/blaring music along it.

We ate through a black kale salad, tuna tartare (sublime with Fontanafredda Cuvee 157), red snapper over roasted eggplant and cauliflower, chickpea and blistered tomatoes in an olive puree, and a chocolate meringue dessert I couldn't even finish.

The additional glasses of Cuvee, however, I had no problem dispatching. We were, after all, celebrating somebody's homecoming, at least temporarily and admittedly with great enthusiasm. Even he started talking about coming back more often, so I see more Chicago in my future. Among other places.

No telling what other surprises Chicago holds, but I'm wide open to find out. I'll be the one with my mouth hanging open, staring up. Very happily.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sepia-Toned Afternoon

Birthdays were always high holy days in my family. The celebrant chose the meals.

Which means I shouldn't have been surprised when  I got to my parents' house Monday and Mom announced that today's lunch would be my birthday lunch, even though it was a couple days away. Not only that, but she gave me two choices, knowing they're both life-long favorites of mine: cheeseburgers or fried chicken.

And don't you know that despite having had cheeseburgers for my chosen birthday dinner my entire childhood and beyond, I requested fried chicken this year. "What else?" she wanted to know. Gherkins and clementines was all I desired to accompany my thigh and wings.

"I'll have some potato salad with mine," my Dad announces from his chair on the screened porch, making it clear that he thought gherkins and clementines inadequate sides for fried yard bird. It was a fabulous birthday repast (what meal that ends with greasy fingers isn't?) made even better because it was with the two of them.

It was a perfectly gorgeous day to be on the Northern Neck - mid-70s temperatures and a spirited breeze off the Rappahannock - and after I'd planted some moonflowers and hung some pictures, we all settled on the porch to enjoy the afternoon.

When the topic turned to the current administration (as it always does when you put three lifelong liberals together), I didn't expect to hear my Dad say, "I wish I was going to be around to see how history treats Trump."

I understood where he was coming from because Dad's been a lifelong student of history, meaning most of his pleasure reading is about the past, especially war and politics. As a kid, I just thought that was because I had the coolest and smartest Dad ever.

So naturally he's curious about how this era will be depicted by future historians.

But it turned out that his comment came from a deeper place. An athletic and active man all his life, he's been in a lot of pain lately from a bad knee and back problems and it's finally starting to get to him. After climbing a ladder to hang the refilled hummingbird feeder for him, I asked if there was anything else he wanted.

"Yes, a new body!" he admitted with no irony. That set me wondering what age he'd like his body to be again and he said twenty-two.

"I was 22 when I met your mother," he said by way of explanation and then turned to Mom. "Like that picture of us upstairs from when we were in our bathing suits at the beach when we first met." That black and white photo is a family classic of my 6' tall father standing next to my 5' mother, long before they knew they'd have six daughters and stay happily married for over six decades.

Yet again I was reminded of how fortunate some people are to meet their "person" so early on in life and stay with them through all that comes with children, careers and changing interests. It's a luck I never knew.

Talking about Dad's years abusing his body playing baseball and softball, he said that when Mom started coming to his games, she didn't even know how the game was played. She was quick to defend herself, though, saying that her family had always listened to baseball games on the radio, but she'd never had any visuals to go with it.

This was new intel for me. Baseball had been a big deal in Mom's family growing up?

Next thing I knew, she's telling me how my grandfather O'Donnell (known to us kids as "Papa") started playing on an Irish baseball team (because of course all the Irish kids would have played together back in the '20s) when he was just a kid.

The team's name? "Little Potatoes Hard to Peel."

Every time I see my parents, they make me laugh, tell me stories I didn't know or remind me of things I no longer recall.

The best part of my birthday isn't a surprise fried chicken and gherkin lunch, it's that I'm still lucky enough to have these two wildly eccentric people in my life.

Now that's a gift.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Planners Gotta Plan

As weekends away go, it had everything.

A fair amount of rain, yes, but also my first time on the National Gallery of Art's East Building rooftop terrace (yes, the one with the bright blue rooster sculpture) overlooking Constitution Avenue's puddle-slicked lanes. To the right, the Capital seemed close enough to touch.

Truth is, I've been devoted to the National Gallery since fourth grade and it can still thrill me with something new or different.

Art, natch, with the NGA's "Cezanne: Portraits" - surely never did a man repeatedly portray his wife in such a dour manner -  and the captivating newish Calder Gallery where I saw Piet Mondrian's influence on Calder's painting for the first time. The lighting in the gallery masterfully cast shadows on mobiles and stabiles, in many cases (see: "The Rearing Stallion") rendering shadows that looked quite different from the source.

Let's just say the Calder fan with me was transported.

There was the new-to-my mouth neighborhood of Del Ray where we sipped Hillinger Secco Rose at the Evening Star's atmospherically dark lounge and ate in a former house, now the farm-to-table (and French) Del Ray Cafe, which got bonus points when it seemed that every server spoke multiple languages, depending on which table they were speaking to. Or perhaps my head was turned by the chocolate beignets with orange creme anglaise accompanied by glasses of Port.

That's my kind of final course.

This trip definitely had fog. Walking toward the mall mid-morning, we found the Washington monument so shrouded in fog that its top third appeared lost in the atmosphere. Later, at Hank's Oyster Bar for Montand Brut Rose, gazpacho and tuna tartare, TV screens showed us an eerily foggy racetrack with horses being trotted out at Pimlico.

My Dad would be so proud if he knew I saw even a few minutes of one of his favorite sports. I mean, what girl-child doesn't remember going with her father to get a copy of The Racing Form from the drugstore?

Succulent cobia collar (and a charming server from Ukraine) were the bright spot at Vermilion, a place that could take itself a lot less seriously but is too self-involved to realize such a thing. At least the company was superb.

Architecture came courtesy of a private tour of the Pope-Leighey House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian (one story, affordable, small) houses, a tour given by a man so deeply involved with the house that he'd made some of the furniture reproductions in the house.

There were many things about the house that impressed me, not the least of which was a screened porch complete with screened roof that the original owners had used as a place for the kids to play while Mom cooked dinner. Child cage, screened porch, potatoes, potahtoes, call it what you like. It was a magnificent outdoor room.

I was told I got the star treatment when our guide opened up the dining room's two corner windows - yes, they were floor to ceiling windows - out into the yard. Apparently, most visitors don't get those windows opened so they can walk out them the way god and Frank Lloyd Wright intended.

We'll call that good birthday karma, although not mine.

A driving tour of mid-century modern neighborhood Hollin Hills provided an up-close look at what happens when a neighborhood association takes pains to insure that such concentrated housing stock stays true to its origins. House after house looked pretty much as it had been designed in the '40s, a startling reality in 2018.

As a fan of complementary colors, I found the bright yellow car parked in front of a low-slung purple house with clerestory windows especially fetching.

A meandering drive down the Parkway and along Route 1 (please, can we just take down those Jefferson Davis Highway signs and be done with it?) landed us in Fredericksburg by mid-afternoon, where we first tried out a rooftop deck before switching to the patio for the sake of being able to order brick oven pizza and wile away the hours discussing baseball, feminist writers and the definition of romance.

When our server discovered there was a birthday celebrant at the table, she offered up the traditional birthday cannoli (you know the one), a kind offer, but one which neither Taurus nor Gemini had room for after an elegant sufficiency of two pies, an arugula salad and a memorable weekend.

Next step: rinse and repeat.

I'm doing my best to hang on, but it's looking like it's going to be a wild ride. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sea Shell Millionaire

It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Say you're laying in bed at night and hear the distinctive sound of seashells hitting together just outside your bedroom.

It's not entirely unlikely, even in an urban jungle like Jackson Ward, because on my March foray to Cape May, Mac and I had scoured the Wildwood beach, with me scoring 17 sand-crusted conch shells which I loaded into a couple of found bags and toted home like a true tourist.

Since returning from Wildwood two months ago, the bags o' shells have been sitting on my balcony awaiting their fate. When I did my big Spring cleaning of the balcony last week, I'd moved the bags off the balcony and on to the first floor roof adjacent to the balcony to get them out of the way.

Of course, then I'd promptly forgotten about them, at least until Sunday night around midnight when I'd been awakened by the sound of shells banging against one another.

It certainly wasn't enough to get me out of bed to investigate, but I did glance out the bedroom window (which overlooks the balcony), only to see nothing unusual. One could say that darkness and uncorrected vision didn't make it any easier. If there was a roof prowler or seashell thief out there, they were tucked out of sight, and since I take getting my 9 hours of sleep pretty seriously, I gave up caring.

Imagine my surprise then when I went out on the balcony this morning and spotted the bags of shells ripped open with seashells scattered around the roof. Climbing over the railing to retrieve them - my first time walking on that roof since I moved in 9 years ago - I couldn't help but wondering who could have possibly taken most of the shells out of the bag.

A cat? My neighbor? A wild critter? That last one isn't quite as unlikely as it seems since I once woke up to find that some animal had climbed onto my balcony and removed cans from the recycler, presumably to lick, and left them sitting on the balcony floor. My neighbor's bathroom window faces over that same little roof and I noticed the window screen was sitting on the roof instead of being mounted in the window, so was he (or his goofy girlfriend) a suspect, too?

Beats me.

I finally knocked the New Jersey sand out of the shells and lined them up along one side of the balcony, sort of a repeating motif of long-gone animal homes, all fully intact and most still displaying their opalescent salmon-colored interiors. Souvenirs of a post-Nor'easter beach vacation that required gloves, hats and long pants but delivered long, windy walks, gingerbread architecture and tasty local oysters.

All I can say is, if I go out there in the morning and the shells are rearranged, I should probably have some serious concerns. But if something happens worth investigating during the next 9 hours, I make no guarantees.

Let us not forget what that wise sage Betty White once told us: "Get at least 8 hours of beauty sleep. Nine if you're ugly.

I don't want to brag, but last night I got eleven. Sleep before seashells because a woman's got to have her priorities straight.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Life You Choose

We're going to have to start calling me a very bad blogger.

Believe me, I started out with all good intentions at the beach last week. Then, as four guests were replaced by one bearing flowers, time became a precious commodity and blogging was replaced by endless oceanfront conversations.

When I got back Sunday, I barely had time to shop for and make Boursin-stuffed mushrooms (Pru's suggestion, natch) to take to a South African wine tasting patio party at Beckham and the Beauty's house.

The wines - souvenirs from their month-long honeymoon - were fabulous, starting with a magnum of Waterford Estate Sauvignon Blanc we agreed we could have sipped right through until sunrise. For something completely different, next came a viognier, Bloemcool Skilpadrug, particularly appealing because it was made at Fairview, a winery I'd also visited, as was Fairview Broken Barrel Red Blend boasting Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Tannat and Shiraz and pretty much an ideal pairing with our host's obscene Derby pie.

It hasn't helped that my week away at the beach meant that I had double the deadlines to meet this week, not to mention housecleaning, grocery shopping and all the other business of life to re-establish life in the city. The satisfaction I achieved mopping the floors of a week's worth of pollen (via open windows) alone was worth the time spent on menial labor, though I probably should have been writing.

Monday meant a trip to the Byrd House, aka the Graduate rooftop bar, where the view of the Jefferson Hotel is nothing short of breathtaking and you can all but look down on the Manchester Bridge like an osprey might. My favorite planner and I followed that with dinner at Saison Market surrounded by the raucous and the comedic, not that we paid attention to any of them.

When Tuesday rolled around, it was girlfriend time, so Mac and I headed to Rapp Session for smoked bluefish dip, Old Saltes and a catch-up session. Not long into the conversation, she said that she'd been reading the blog, saying it was blatantly obvious how happy I sounded, even going so far as to point her finger down her throat for smiling emphasis.

This is especially funny because if you knew Mac, you'd know she's the kindest person in the world. So while she made clear she's terribly happy for me, she couldn't resist doing it with teasing.

The thing is, I knew I'd been sounding deliriously happy going into beach week, but I wasn't expecting others to notice. And now, after a much anticipated reunion, I'm not fit to blog about anything but how unbelievable it is that I find myself in this enviable position.

Truly, madly, deeply happy and with a forecast of lots more to come. Let's get real here, I'm far too effusive and annoying to blog right now and not bore people with how wonderful my life is.

While being introduced to Pru's dog-walker, she mentioned the euphoric state of my love life, causing the woman to unexpectedly congratulate me. I thanked her, but explained that it had been a challenging, convoluted path to wind up where I am now.

Her response was immediate. "Was it worth it?" was all she wanted to know.

Completely doesn't begin to cover it. I would have done whatever it took to get to this place at this time.

See how obnoxious I am? Truly sorry, it cannot be helped. As Lady G likes to say, I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Never has the Outer Banks felt like a private beach. Until this week.

The weather is glorious: sunny, deep blue sky, highs in the upper '70s and lightly breezy. Practically perfect beach weather, right? Yet, the fact that it's the beginning of May means that the vacancy rate around here appears to be somewhere around 95%, as compared to Summer.

I'm not complaining, but it's awfully strange. You can look up or down the beach and see no more than a handful of umbrellas against the brilliant blue-green of the ocean. Typically, the sounds of kids screaming - because little ones somehow sense that the ocean will drown out their shrillest squawks and they're right - is a constant, but not this week. People-generated sounds are rare.

And get this. Not a single one of the infrequent cars that pass by on the Beach Road are blasting music or booming bass, leading me to believe that only low rent tourists are guilty of that particular kind of noise pollution.

Walking down to Wink's, the quintessential beachfront market, as high tide approached was like walking in uncharted new territory. I've been walking that stretch of beach for decades, but it's unrecognizable since the beach replenishment was done over the winter. Enormous tidal pools and a seriously wide beach have replaced what used to be an uncomfortably narrow stretch of sand that resulted in high tide waves licking the posts under some cottages. Looking like decoys, small seabirds stood up to their skinny ankles (if birds have such things) way out on sandbars.

So. Much. Beach.

Inside Wink's, a place that barely changes from decade to decade, the clerk came across as someone who long ago lost interest in her job and now merely shows up to suffer fools unhappily. A far cry from the kindly cashiers who used to strike up conversation with anyone willing. "Where y'all from?"

Yesterday we'd gone to John's Drive-in, so today we made do eating at home so we could spend most of the day on the beach reading to our heart's content. The only time we didn't have tomes in hand was when we had grub in hand, making for a day of simple pleasures, the last one for my companion who returns to the real world (and off-the-chart pollen levels) tomorrow morning.

Not me. I've got 3 1/2 days of vacation, plenty of wine and Espolon and another guest yet to enjoy before I have to breathe the yellow dust of allergy death in the city.

Until then, you'll find me right here on the quiet beach, ready for anything. Let the next chapter begin...

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Well-written with Juicy Bits

With May's arrival, there are no problems except where to be happiest.

For right now, I'm plenty happy at the beach doing very little. Before I left, Beau asked if I'd be doing any work this week and when I told him absolutely not, he'd been impressed. "Wow, not at all?" The extent of working this week is occasionally responding to an email with a quick "I'm on vacation" or "Send that info to my editor." Vacation with a capital "V."

Instead of working, I am reading morning, noon and night, totally indulging my need to read and making everything else secondary to that. It's delicious.

Today's read is "Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller" by Mary Dearborn, chosen from Chop Suey Books for the cover blurb: "Serious, scholarly, well-written and studded with juicy tidbits about Miller's eccentricities ~ L.A. Times.

Scholarly and studded? If that doesn't scream "read me!" I don't know what does.

My introduction to Henry Miller came courtesy of my 11th grade English teacher Mr. Crabill (completely uncool because he wore white socks with black shoes) who, on the first day of class, wrote the names of all the authors we could choose from to read for his class. Next to Henry Miller's name was an asterisk, so naturally I had to ask what that meant. "You have to have a note from your parents if you want to read Miller," he explained curtly.

Naturally, I went home and secured such a note from my Mom, who'd always said we could read what we wanted, as long as we were reading. Little did I know that his books had been banned in this country until a dozen years earlier.

I'm not sure what age would be best for a young woman to pick up Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," but I do know it was fascinating reading for a 16-year old who was curious about, well, almost everything and definitely mesmerized by how casually depicted the many sex scenes were. Twenty years ago, I circled back and read more Miller - "Letters to Anais Nin," "Crazy Cock" - so when I spotted the biography, it struck me as just the kind of person I wanted to immerse myself in while beach reading.

Reading this fascinating biography only reinforces my loss at not stopping at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur when I had the chance. Regrets, I have a few....
Then there's eating, of course.

Unlike yesterday, my beach crew and I gathered our forces enough today to make it to the Salt Box, one of my favorite restaurants here and, happily, open even during the off season. I could say I was disappointed that the screened porch doesn't open for another 10 days, but a lovely salad crowned by a massive, breadless crabcake, French Rose and mocha mousse made up for it.

My daily constitutional, now that's a different story. I'm still getting used to walking on a beach unlike the beach it has been since I began coming down here as a child. This past winter finally saw Kitty Hawk having beach replenishment done and the result is a finer grained sand with fewer shells, notable in that it's far more challenging to walk on. 

Don't get me wrong, this narrow strip of beach desperately needed more width, but it walks differently, a fact I would know. 

Still, I'm not saying it's a problem. It's the first of May and I've been told that I'm owed an April, which is about to be repaid at the beach, the happiest of places to collect.

Or, as Miller put it, "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." I'm looking intently and liking everything I see. 

May, you already got a hold on me...

Monday, April 30, 2018

Let the Countdown Begin

Getting into the beach groove here is as easy - and ultimately comfortable - as putting on an old pair of shoes.

The last to wake up, I ate breakfast on the porch watching the morning sun sparkle over bottle green water, then walked north to check out the Southern Shores beaches. I could count on two hands the number of people on the beach along the way.

A shame because the weather was glorious, a real switch from yesterday's breezy cool.

The day was spent on the beach reading, first the brief "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School," followed by Art Buchwald's 1993 memoir, "Leaving Home." I grew up reading his columns in the Washington Post so I was curious about how a Jewish kid from NYC wound up being a humorist in the nation's capital.

Lots of foster homes, an entrepreneurial spirit and a stint in the Marine Corps was apparently enough to do it. His self-deprecating style makes every anecdote he shares seem both hilarious and vaguely relatable, which is laughable given how he was friends with so many politicians and celebrities while I have nary a famous acquaintance to my name.

The little plane that flies over the beaches pulling a banner for a local company seemed a bit forlorn today, the banner dragging precipitously low, even considering the scarcity of people on the beach to see it.

Go big or go home, buddy. Drag that thing like you mean it or just stay in the hanger.

When I wasn't reading about Art losing his virginity to a hotel maid after his shift ended, I was stretched out on my beach towel napping like I hadn't slept 9 hours last night. The thing is, you don't even have to be tired, it's just the sun and the sound of the surf and next thing I know, I'm waking up with a crick in my neck.

Later, in line at the Food Lion, I wound up behind two guys I immediately pegged as locals.

The first, a surfer dude-looking guy with long blond curls and a very tan face, ended his transaction with the cashier by saying, "Thanks, my dude," and offering up a half-hearted peace sign. The second, shorter haired but just as tan, needed no more than a six pack and a steak, but informed the cashier he was crabby after a long day doing roofing.

My guess is that they come for the questionable glamour of OBX  life, then when life becomes mundane they end up just another clich├ęd middle-aged man shopping alone at the grocery store.

I might just be over-thinking that, though.

I haven't done a single thing today that I haven't done here scads of times before, yet that's the beauty of it. With the entire house open to the ocean, we're all just letting the sound of the surf reset our souls to full-on relaxation mode.

As for gratitude for my unfolding beach week, I can't even say, "Thanks, my dude" because I  orchestrated the whole thing myself. The best part is when I booked this trip week last Fall, I had absolutely no clue where my life might be by now.

So instead I'll say, thanks, Adjustment Department, for making everything dovetail so beautifully. I finally got this.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

RC Cola and a Pink Moon

Unofficially, Summer has been kicked off.

Friday night's dinner at Flora was winding down when one of the managers overheard me telling Pru and Beau a story involving Jello shooters at the Free Love Nursing Home, spurring her to tell me about the latest thing on their late-night drink menu: Jello shooters. And not your average vodka and fruit variety, but a Pimm's Cup Jello shooter, complete with tiny bits of cucumber on top. A grown-up shooter.

We'll take three, please.

The ample shooters were every bit as refreshing as you'd expect, but given that a Pimm's Cup is Pru's official Summer drink, it seemed only right to toast to my upcoming favorite season as part of the shooting.

Mind you, this was exactly what we womenfolk needed after a lengthy explanation to Beau about why the phrase "the rabbit died" is synonymous with getting pregnant. Pru, incredulous that he'd never made the connection between the two phrases, was gobsmacked when he said it seemed illogical to think that rabbits had ever been sacrificed for the sake of a pregnancy test. What else, she queried, could the phrase have meant?

I've since asked three other men if they understood the phrase's meaning, only to discover they were as unaware as Beau. Mars and Venus, I tell you what.

Pru put it most hilariously by asking Beau, "Oh, you think the doctor's office should have a rabbit hutch out back?" when he mused about the inconvenience of nabbing rabbits for testing.

After seeing Cadence Theatre's production of "Appropriate" about a family so dysfunctional it made all of us feel better, Pru was moved to observe, "Not the play I want to die in." One can only hope to have that choice.

Back at Pru's manse, we met up with Hotdog, an old family friend who'd flown in from Arizona while we were at the play and had been awaiting our arrival. The goal was to add him into our wide-ranging porch conversation - which only concluded shortly before 2 a.m. - while listening to music from 1969, the year he'd graduated high school.

That meant everything from the Beatles to Norman Greenbaum. "I wonder if he'd have had more hits if he'd changed his name?" Pru mused.

That kind of late night meant the morning came quickly, all the more so because I'd promised Hot Dog that he could walk with me after he'd emailed asking if I'd take him on a fun walk. The "fun" part was undoubtedly meant to convey that he wasn't up to another serious walk like the one I'd taken him on during a previous visit when I'd led him all over Manchester and back, to the tune of 6+ miles and a man who needed a nap afterward.

Today's was far more circumspect in length, less because of his request than that I needed to get back to pack my car and head out to the Outer Banks. That's right, it was another chance to set Summer in motion by returning to the little cottage I rent every year.

Hot Dog was good enough to help me load my car up after the walk and then Uber whisked him away and I headed to the ocean, stopping only at Adam's Country Store for an RC Cola (which the owner was kind enough to open for me) and a bag of local peanuts.

I enjoyed both as a I drove, following an older Jeep with faded OBX license plates, a bumper sticker that read, "Local as it gets" and another sticker that said "Tunnel Pass."

When I got to the bridge in Currituck, it turned out to be a throwback crossing because the old span is being renovated, meaning both directions are traveling on the same bridge, which is how I remember getting to the Outer Banks as a kid, but not in recent decades.

Then I got to the cottage, the same one I've been staying at since the early '90s and, yet again, time has marched on. Every year, the real world (the 21st century one) encroaches a little more on my favorite cottage, this year evidenced by a keyless entry (no more going to the realty office to pick up keys) and a new window a/c unit in the living room (bedroom units were put in 4 years ago, much to  my dismay).

Clearly I'm the last person on earth who wants a true old school beach experience sans TV, conditioned air and phone.

Today was cool, but the ocean breeze was stellar - briny and brisk - and the sky so dark blue it almost hurt your eyes to stare at it. The cottage next door is occupied, but most of the ones around here are not, making for an especially low-key start to Summer at the beach with my usual crew.

After a late dinner, everyone headed outside to admire the full moon aka the pink moon that signals the start of a new season, one I've been eagerly awaiting. Some might say that the only thing missing was Pimm's Cup Jello shooters with which to toast such a gorgeous night sky.

Personally, I'm not wishing for a single thing with my best Summer ever beginning. My invisible bumper sticker reads, "Happy as it gets."