Monday, November 19, 2018

Ladies Who Brunch

Except for having to explain what a fern bar was to one of my girlfriends, we chose the ideal spot to reconvene after a year.

As for how three long-time friends who'd met through a shared love of music could let a year go by without breaking bread, well, I blame myself. Between my low period and the whirlwind of meeting my match, I'd not been pushing for get-togethers like I used to.

No surprise, today's overdue brunch happened because of music, too. Earlier this week, I'd heard from Xtina after she'd spotted me at a show and we'd decided a rendezvous was in order. Naturally we folded in Em, which made running into her Friday night even more unlikely.

Surely my moon must be in the seventh house or something.

These two always defer to me about picking where to eat and though I tried to suggest our usual place, 821 Cafe, they were hankering for something new to them. That was simple enough because neither had been to Laura Lee's, a shame given the fabulous food and decidedly female vibe, and it took no time for Em to jump on making a reservation.

Good thing, too, because the place was mobbed by mid-day.

Walking in to find I was the last to arrive, a fact which thrilled Xtina who'd made it one of her life goals to arrive before I did at one of our dates, led to a discussion of punctuality. For most of my life, I can safely say I was always on time, but that changed a decade ago when I stopped holding myself to that standard. It was hugely liberating, a fact I shared, and both friends marveled at my willingness to go easier on myself.

"Women have such a hard time with that," Em noted. "I wish I could relax about it." Give it a decade or so, my dear, and see if you don't soften all kinds of self-imposed rules.

I watched as they ogled the joint and made suitably appreciative comments about the decor: the soft green curved banquettes, the beguiling art that doubled as sound baffles, the glass garage door that let in loads of November sunlight.

Then I explained to the young 'un that bars were once bastions of male dominance, news to her. So I shared that fern bars were created in the happenin' days of the sexual revolution in the '70s as a means to attract young, single women to drink in public, something many had been reluctant to do  - more likely explicitly forbidden to do by their mothers - in seedy, smokey dives full of men.

The ones I remember from the '80s were indeed full of ferns, along with Tiffany lamps, plenty of brass railings and as many women as men, so it never occurred to me that bars hadn't always been crowded by both sexes. Fast forward to the 21st century and Laura Lee's nods to the fern bar Version 2.0, combining the best of what originally set those bars apart with a more contemporary sensibility.

Of course they were enchanted once they knew the history and, as the senior member of this trio, it's my job to inform them.

First on the conversational docket was the development of Xtina's stage presence, a  subject brought up because Em had recently seen Xtina's band perform and had been wowed at how much more comfortable she'd become on stage. I'd noticed myself the last few shows.

"She was dancing and wearing a crop top onstage, Karen!" Em explained, seeking to share her surprise with a like-minded friend. Who was this person inhabiting our friend's body? We reminisced how when we'd first seen her performing in a band, she'd sung and played guitar while keeping her eyes closed and pretending that the audience wasn't there.

Shyness had prevented any sort of audience rapport.

But no more. Her new attitude, she said, was to have a good time and not worry about messing up a line singing or with a goofy dance step. She was far happier for letting go of unrealistic expectations.

When we finally got around to ordering, the orders broke down along party lines. Xtina got her usual huevos rancheros, while Em was a shoe-in for the enormous chocolate chip pancakes. What I really wanted was the fried chicken for two, but since I had no partner-in-yardbird, I made do with avocado  toast with tomato jam, bacon and part of the biscuits we ordered for the table.

Also for the table was a hot toddy with chai spice, which arrived in a black glass that resembled the intricate designs on milk glass. We agreed that it tasted like Christmas - or Thanksgiving at the least - and Xtina especially dug the lemony warmth of it.

And while I don't need to rhapsodize about Laura Lee's biscuits, let's just have a moment for biscuits with enough fat baked into them (Em: "If they're made with lard, I don't want to know about it") that slathering butter on them isn't essential. That said, I did slather cherry jam over every available biscuit surface.

I gave props to Em (and her cute husband) for having DJ'd the Abigail Spanberger victory party - that's right, I'm friends with the brilliant woman who played Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" - and really gotten that party started. That led to her telling us about how often a guy will approach them when they're DJing together, but direct every question, whether about equipment, music choice or just DJing, directly to her husband as if she were invisible.

The struggle is real.

Much of today's extended brunch talk was about Xtina's new dating life now that she's recently out of a two-year relationship. She's torn about going forward with a nice drummer she met and looking forward to meeting up with a handsome NOLA transplant who used to live in Richmond and will be back soon. Meanwhile, we watched as our server made eye contact with her every chance he could and she debated whether or not to leave her phone number on her bill. Should she, shouldn't she, how do you know who's right for you?

It must be exhausting to be young, beautiful and single.

Of course, we couldn't dissect their lives without touching on mine, meaning I got to hear both telling me how much I deserve this new reality of mine, even if it does keep me out of the widespread circulation that used to define my life. I'm still out an awful lot, but often now it's with my biggest fan.

Which sort of makes me the poster child for hanging in there until the right person shows up. You just never know how long it'll take or how worthwhile the wait will be. Patience, not necessarily punctuality.

Try telling that to someone who doesn't know what a fern bar is.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Leave a Light On

There are multiple reasons to attend InLight, but overhearing strangers is surely one of them.

I'm liking Fresh Market these days, how about you?

Yea, Richmond the past two weeks reminds me of Blacksburg...

You don't have to read the sign, just look at it and come on.

It's a million hours past your bedtime, so we have to go.

I've gone on record as saying that I don't think the VMFA is as well suited to InLight as neighborhood locations, but no one listens to me. So here we - that's the thousands of us who traipsed through - were, back at a confined location being herded along paths to see light installations blocked by hordes of people.

Just an observation from the cheap seats.

My favorite piece revealed itself on the way in with Sarah Choo Jing's "Art of the Rehearsal," a massive projection on the side of the museum. My immediate reaction was one of familiarity - the two-story streetscape allowed views inside individual apartments where each tenant danced a different kind of dance to the same music - because I was reminded of "Rear Window" and the views afforded to wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart.

But unlike his bird's eye view of Miss Lonely Hearts, a composer and a murderer, I had a view of a salsa dancer on the roof, a ballerina in the kitchen, a Middle Eastern dancer in the hallway and myriad others going through their individual rehearsals, each framed by their space.

I don't know which I was more into, the choreography or the voyeuristic elements of of the elaborate scene. I do know I found it captivating to watch as the empty windows, balconies and patios became the setting for multiple dances before they retreated to their apartments again out of sight. I don't know about others, but I stood and watched it through many times so I could focus on a different dancer every time.

A man with a thick Spanish accent asked someone if the dancers were real and a passerby responded politely, "I think it's projections coming from these boxes." Knowing nods followed.

And while she wasn't technically part of InLight, Chloe, the 24'-high resin head of a woman, was every bit as striking as the light installations. Viewed against a deepening gray-blue sky, a tree with half its leaves still hanging on providing the backdrop, Chloe caught every bit of available light and glowed like the moon with its whiteness.

I'd have lingered there even longer than I did except that people kept posing groups in front of it for photo ops. Meanwhile, I had to accept that not everyone wanted to actually take in the art when it was so much easier to just snap a picture and move on.

I was bent over, reading a sign about Bob Kaputof's "Oasis in the Night Sky" when a woman asked if she could butt in front of me to take a picture of the sign in front of me. Without so much as looking up, I shook my head no and continued reading.

Sorry, honey, real time life trumps virtual documentation every time, at least for now. Yes, I have my concerns about the future.

Approaching the former Confederate Home for Women (now the Pauley Center), I heard a young guy exclaim, "Look, it's Chiocca's!" in reference to all the neon signs: a hand pointing downstairs, a crescent moon, an "open" sign and another that said "Butter" in yellow lights, among others. The Theremin Collection's "Hidden in Plain Sight" celebrated they neon heyday of the 1920s.

One of the best views I saw was accidental, coming when I reached the top of the hill and looked back toward the many lighted windows of the museum, the Chihuly red reeds and the endless stream of people making their way around the grounds. I'm telling you, Richmond Tourism could use that picaresque image to entice people to visit such a cool city.

Mart Finkelstein's "Echoes in Motion" was like a beacon from the sculpture garden's highest level, except that long before I'd arrived, it had become Selfie Central, so it was impossible to fully see the back-lit series of black, white and colored panels, some still and others undulating organically like microbes reproducing, for all the photo shoots and re-takes ("I look awful, take it again!").

Darkness is a big part of why InLight works, but the slate steps leading down the hill were clogged with people going in both directions, so it was inevitable there'd be traffic jams as the steps receded into the darkness.

I overheard a woman complain that she couldn't see where she was going (though she was also on the incorrect side of the staircase to go up) and then gulp, "Oops!" loudly. She'd landed on one of the stones to the side of the steps and something had toppled in the process. "It's just an orange cone," her companion said reassuringly. "I'll put it back!"

Surely one of the most lovely and unusual installations was Leila Ehteshaim and Carl Patow's "River City Reflections," a reflecting pool filled with small glass jars with lights in them. At the top of the hill, a person would write down their wish for Richmond, seal it in the jar and send it cascading down the water-covered steps to the pool to join the undulating mass of jars floating on the water's surface.

"I think Mayor Stoney should have to pull one of these out of the water and make it come true," a woman in a blue hat announced.

"What if it's for something like making unicorns real?" a stranger challenged her back. "Well, it has to be in his sphere," the first insisted, while several people chimed in, saying the best thing that could happen would be for us to become one city, black and white, rich and poor.

If only.

Because I'd waited to go to InLight until the last couple hours before it closed, the crowds had thinned a tad by the time I made my way back for one final visit to the dancers of "Art of the Rehearsal," where I was every bit as enchanted as the first time.

So the VMFA isn't my first choice for InLight. You don't see that stopping me from attending, do you? I was at the first one eleven years ago and, barring being in another country, I'll be at future events. There will be no photos to prove it, but trust me on this.

Because if I don't go, there won't be a single person there not taking photographs and that's just wrong. Somebody besides Chloe's gotta represent the Luddites, experiencing it all IRL, not virtually later.

At you service, InLight.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hail to the Indigenous People

Knowing me, you might not guess that I'm football savvy, but it's in my DNA.

I was probably five years old when my parents, along with Dad's best friend, purchased season's tickets for the Washington R*dskins at RFK Stadium. Because they had three tickets, my sisters and I would occasionally be given the opportunity to attend a game with Mom and Dad. And I'm here to tell you that no matter what your feelings are about watching a football game on TV, watching it from the tenth row on the 50-yard line behind the Washington bench is a wholly different experience.

Sometimes wet, often cold and always exuberantly noisy and enthusiastic.

So while I never became the obsessive football fan that all five of my sisters did, I attended enough games to appreciate watching them live in a stadium filled with rabid fans, at least once a year anyway. That said, I haven't been to a game since 1999, a fact attributable to several things: my disdain for the new stadium and the madhouse that is getting there, lack of desire to use free time for football and, yes, the refusal of the team to address their racist mascot.

Now let's go back a few years to when the subject of their politically incorrect name first became a hot topic in popular culture. Yes, the R*dskins were part of my childhood and yes, my family had spent thousands of dollars on seats year after year, but it seemed pretty clear to me that the term was offensive. Period.

Yet I remember a lengthy discussion with a local music promoter and major Washington fan about changing the team's name and he was adamantly against it, claiming it was in no way objectionable, especially given its long history as the team's name. We agreed to disagree.

So naturally when I discover that the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is screening "More Than a Word," a film analyzing the Washington team and their use of the derogatory term, and presented by the filmmaker John Little, I made sure I was there. If nothing else, so I could report back to my parents.

When I claimed a seat, the woman in front of me turned to explain why there was a blanket on the seat next to her: the Byrd's heating system wasn't working, a fact she'd discovered at an earlier screening and addressed by going to her car for a blanket. Soon another woman arrived with a large leaf bag in hand, her solution to being cold.

Both looked at me in pity for having no covering, but at least I had on my usual five layers of clothing, so I hoped I could manage.

"More Than a Name" got my attention almost immediately when a historian referred to Washington team owner Dan Snyder as "the George Wallace of the NFL" for going on record as saying that he would NEVER change the team's name. His racist words appealed to the fans interviewed - including one in a garish headdress, war paint and a burgundy and gold jersey (gee, no cultural appropriation there) - all of whom basically said the name was meant "in fun" or that Native Americans "should be honored" by its use.

Look, I don't want to make sweeping generalizations about Washington fans, but they came across as a short-sighted and uninformed bunch.

The documentary explained how the team had begun life as the Boston Braves in 1932 before changing their moniker to the Boston Redskins a year later. But it was when their owner George Preston Marshall, an open racist, moved the team to Washington and hired Coach Lone Star Dietz  as well as four Native American players that the name was cemented.

And, lest we forget, the Washington team was the very last one in the NFL to desegregate, so they didn't exactly have a great track record with non-whites at any point.

Despite fans claiming that they saw nothing offensive in the term "R*dskins," as far back as 1898, the Merriam-Webster dictionary listed the word as a "contemptuous term for American Indians." Frankly, I prefer the term used by Native Americans: the "R" word, because, like the "N" word, it's a term no white person should ever consider using.

That it is emblazoned on hats, shirts, sweats, blankets, underwear and just about every other thing you can imagine (I regret to recall that my parents had a folding card table with the logo on it) is a national embarrassment.

Some of the best parts of the film came from Native American lawyers and activists who've been fighting this battle in the courts as far back as the '60s. But, as the historian/professor pointed out, this is a sea change that will not only require proper teaching of American history to school children, but also a massive re-education of adults who either think there are no more Native Americans left or that they're the uneducated savages popular culture has told us they are.

As he so eloquently put it, this effort is about disrupting colonial practices, because that's where this whole mess began.

Which only serves as a reminder that events such as the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival (incidentally, the largest Native American film fest on the east coast) are hugely important as a means of teaching people both the correct history and current status of the many tribes from whom we stole land to begin this great democratic experiment.

So in case you're wondering if my Thanksgiving festivities will involve watching the Washington/Dallas match-up, my answer is an emphatic hell no. I may be a native Washingtonian, but I don't have to buy into hometown team loyalty when it involves racism.

Not to mention I have far better things to do post-turkey.

Holy, Holy

I hate to correct someone who came all this way to entertain me, but it wasn't the first time.

What I mean is, when I went to see Wye Oak at Capital Alehouse tonight, it was not the first time I'd seen them in Richmond. That honor dates back to September 2011 at the National on the "Civilian" tour. It's not even the second time, that having taken place on the "Shriek" tour three years later.

Yet here was singer/guitarist/keyboardist Jenn telling a roomful of people that this was their first show in Richmond and they were believing it. Did I need to show her that first blog post detailing  her telling us that she'd decided to opt out of using the National's hot tub for concerns of who had been in it recently?

So when she comes onstage in a buttoned-down mustard-yellow jumpsuit (an ideal background for her black and white patterned guitars) and begins by saying, "Sorry it's taken us so long to get here, but we're finally playing a proper show," I can't help but roll my eyes at my girlfriend.

Good thing somebody's documenting all this for the record. (Note: Andy was wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt with a deliberately torn hole in one sleeve).

I even had a corroborating witness in the friend (and her cute husband) I ran into almost as soon as I arrived. They both looked surprised to see me and his words came out first, "Where have you been for the past...year? I haven't seen you anywhere!"

Fortunately, I've worked the response to that question down to a manageable and only partially gushing answer to update my reality to friends I haven't seen in a while, but I probably still smile too much telling it. I now had a conversational partner in her for the duration because he was there taking photographs of the bands.

And, man, he must have gotten some fantastic ones given that the opening band, Thor and Friends, had three (three!) marimba/vibes/xylophone players, a violinist and, sitting in on sax, Andy the drummer from Wye Oak playing saxophone.

Jenn later referred to Thor as "the bad boy of meditative marimba music," a high compliment alluding to them calling to mind the soundtrack of a dramedy where some scenes take place in a fairy forest. And when all three had their mallets flying on the same or adjacent instruments, it was indeed a sight to behold.

The three women in the band, probably unbeknownst to them, looked like archetypes for various musical decades. One had long curly blond hair with bangs and was wearing a fitted Edwardian-style shirt and high waisted jeans, sort of an early Stevie Nicks look before the scarves overtook her. The '70s.

Next to her was a brunette with a layered haircut and a bold print top over a short, flared black skirt and black tights, pure '80s club kid. Then the violinist nailed the '90s with a black tank and a statement pendant over fitted jeans and low boots. As dressed up as grunge ever got.

Well done, ladies. You have to know your history in order to hold your spot.

As cold as I usually run, I thought the room was hot and felt kind of airless, so it was gratifying to hear from others during the break that they were feeling it, too. so, at least if we passed out, we'd all go down together.

Familiar music friends were easy to spot - the film buff, the park concerts organizer - including the sociology professor who'd recently posted a photo of the great selection of metal CDs at the Clothes Rack, coincidentally my go-to thrift store.

For a place that supplies my wardrobe, the occasional bedspread, a stylish lamp and my striped rubber boots, I'd have never given them credit for being a source for metalheads.

The crowd seemed to be full of first time Wye Oak show-goers - how else to explain no one reminding her that they've been here before - but even so, there was no reason for someone to yell out, "Encore!" after the third song. "Did you say encore?" Jenn asked politely, if a bit incredulously. "It's not over, guys," she says and proceeds to strap on her guitar.

Really, Richmond, get out much?

I'm such a fan of the band's sound, from the loud/soft shifting dynamics to the screaming guitar and wailing keyboards and that includes the raging as well as the songs of peace. That Jenn's voice is one of the most beautiful alternative vocal instruments going is indisputable, especially when experienced in a small venue like this one.

Hearing "Glory," a quintessential bad-ass song complete with killer guitar solo, made me glad we'd ended up near the front, even if the big guy next to kept knocking his elbow into my shoulder. Seriously, do you not know where you stop and strangers begin?

They played songs from "Civilian," their guitar-based album, "Shriek," their keyboard-based album and their new one, "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs," apparently their "grown-up" album because they compromise and use both. They've also been a band for over 15 years now, so you figure it out.

As the wise sage John Mayer put it, "There's no substitute for time."

It's hard to describe the pleasure of seeing a band that so perfectly embodies a sound I respond to: dense and busy, smart and inquisitive, loud but not too loud. So often, her vocals are the calm or urgent counterpoint to the music's swirling sound and I would close my eyes and get lost in it entirely except I love watching her and Andy (and tonight, a bassist instead of Andy doing double duty on bass and drums) produce so much sound from so few people.

"If you've seen us before, you know we don't do fake encores," Jenn announced before their last song. "So we're going to play our last song and then play one more and then all go home to our cozy beds." The crowded nodded in agreement, like the devoted first-time fans that they were.

You can lay in a cozy bed when you're dead, kids. The future is now.

"Thanks so much for coming out tonight," she said before the encore. "It's so easy to stay at home with all your things and not go out and interact with others and you came out, so thank you." Then they launched into "Logic of Color," a personal favorite, although this version was completely reworked.

Talk to me and I'll talk back
Let's lock eyes here in real time
Your illogical device
My impossible demand

If Jenn was trying to suck up to me by finishing with something I love so I wouldn't spill the beans about this not being their first Richmond show, well, it worked.

Holy cow, is this how fake news gets started and accepted as fact? Could this be the logic of lies?

Tell future generations they can seek out the truth in the sunny, rambling and convoluted stories captured on my blog posts.

And based on that, Wye Oak, it's welcome back. Don't be a stranger.

Friday, November 16, 2018

That's What She Said

He: How do you take it? She: Anyway you give it.

That simple exchange could sum up the entire evening. It was a girls' night out for dinner and a play, but it was the equal opportunity offender of a cabaret that got us most jazzed.

Make no mistake, dinner at Peter Chang in Scott's Addition - somehow, unbelievably, Queen B's first visit there - was every bit as fresh and expertly cooked as it always is (anything eaten with two scallion bubble pancakes is automatically memorable), not to mention netting all three of us compliments on our hair.

On a cold, rainy night, what woman doesn't love hearing that?

When we got to Richmond Triangle Players for "Who's Holiday," a look at the later life of Cindy Lou Who of Whoville, we picked up our tickets and were told to fill out a card with our worst Christmas present ever (although mine wasn't my worst, just lame), which Pru and I dutifully did.

It was like a ransom. We had to bare our souls before we were allowed into the theater.

Set in Cindy Lou Who's dilapidated trailer somewhere in the snowy hills of Mt. Crumpit, the one-woman play utilized the multi-talented Kimberly Jones-Clark as Cindy Lou, explaining through rhyme and song how her life had gone south after meeting the Grinch. I don't want to spoil anything here, but let's just say it was a tale about diversity and how sometimes your parents don't want you to marry someone who looks different than they do, even if he impregnates you.

Prejudice is real, y'all.

Telling that sad tale of woe involved a rap song sung under a spotlight in a darkened room (complete with conclusion reached: a Grinch is always a Grinch) and hearing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" sung in a pitch-perfect Judy Garland voice by Cindy Lou in a green leather bustier and red capri pants.

Fortunately, it also involved Cindy Lou realizing that the years spent in jail for killing the Grinch allowed her to blossom as a person and even, at the very end, reunite with the love child she and the Grinch had produced before his nasty fall off the mountain.

So, at least there was redemption.

And, it's probably safe to say, the holiday season has been officially kicked off since this was clearly a Christmas offering to theater-goers. Can't say I'm happy about such a ridiculously early start to the most annoying of seasons, but sometimes a play is just a play.

After it ended, some in the audience left, but most merely milled about because our programs clearly invited us to stay for a special holiday cabaret featuring Georgia Rogers Farmer and Josh Worsham afterward. And with only a brief, one act play to start, it was still awfully early.

Staff moved around clearing empty wine and cocktail glasses, but when a guy made a move to clear Pru's coffee mug, she looked disappointed to be reminded it was empty of caffeine. He responded by offering to fetch her a fresh cup and she was so surprised and grateful, she uncharacteristically agreed to take it anyway he gave it.

Don't quote me on this, but that may be the first time those words ever left her lips.

Last in line in the ladies' room, I overheard several women discussing how the theater will be building more bathrooms, a very good thing given that two stalls is never enough at intermission. Meanwhile, those of us in line marveled at all the dialog Clark had had to memorize to carry the entire play, an impressive feat. A woman washing her hands polled us all, asking who was staying for the cabaret.

Well, duh.

Pru and I knew what a treat we were in for, having seen Georgia on multiple occasions and being well aware of her double threat status when it comes to comedy and music. Her ensemble tonight was black pants, a black t-shirt printed with a tuxedo front, black Chuck Taylors (low tops) and shoulder-dusting rhinestone earrings for pizzaz.

She was accompanied by Josh Worsham, clad appropriately in a red holiday sweater that read, "Baaa humbug," and asking the crowd, "Are you drunk yet? You're going to wanna be!"

With their tongues planted firmly in cheeks, these two were primed to deliver the ideal holiday music for a heathen.

I'm talking about their song choices, beginning with "Text Me Merry Christmas (a smiley face will do)," a modern day ode to keeping your phone charged when your loved one is off celebrating with their family and you want to reach out.

Georgia cooed "Santa, Baby," walking through the room as she did so, and noting, "Everyone looks scared!" as she approached them. She must not have been able to smell fear on me because she stopped to sing a few lines to my face.

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me

Josh did an extremely clever revision of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" called "The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen," replacing the traditional lyrics with more topical ones about the male and female signs being switched on public bathrooms and the problems that caused once he found himself in the ladies' loo.

The next song was introduced as for "our Jewish friends," resulting in Georgia singing "Shalom" to the tune of Adele's "Hello." With references to latkes ("We need more apple sauce!") and dreidels, their ode to the Chosen People had the audience dying laughing.

After putting on a scarf with a keyboard pattern, Josh announced, "This is a holiday favorite and, to be honest, I'm not sure why." The duo launched into "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with Georgia playing the part of the aggressor, feeding Josh drinks, rubbing her body parts on him and barring the door to punctuate the song's suggestive words. At one point, she lashed him to the couch so he had to spend the night at her place.

"Nothing like a politically incorrect song tonight!" an audience member seated next to Queen B called out about the very improper tune. But Georgia was quick, immediately calling back, "That's why we're here!"

To compensate, Georgia promised us a "sweet one" next, doing "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus," eventually seeing Daddy hugging, fondling and finally undressing Santa before it was all over. What's sweeter than that?

I know, Josh's next song - "Coming Out This Christmas" was even more saccharine, with lines like, "Here's your Christmas present, Mom and Dad. I'm gay!" Meanwhile, Georgia draped a yellow and orange boa around his neck as he sang to drive the point home.

Not every song skewered tradition. There was a singalong to "Rudolph" and a straight version of "The Christmas Song," but all that was just prelude to the big number. When you've got a voice like Georgia's that spans octaves and the comedic timing of a pro, of course your slam bang winner is going to be "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Except that instead of all that crap about turtle doves and marchers marching, Georgia was using the cards we'd filled out with our worst Christmas presents ever written on them. So, we got two "coupons for a free hug" and one pair of "used underwear from my Grandmama," that kind of thing. My personal favorite was the five "diabetic socks and I was only 45," for the way Georgia got all those syllables to work in that one line.

Although she sang through blocks of cement, MAGA hats, Chlamydia, electric curlers and fire extinguishers with no problem, she paused when she sang "half whistle bowtie" because, as Josh informed everyone, "For those who don't know, Georgia makes half whistle bowties."

Are you kidding? Beau is the bowtie king, so we know all about her talent.

But the best submission of all came directly from Pru, so we heard Georgia sing about 12 "home colonoscopy test kits," a line that cracked up the entire audience for its ridiculousness and had Pru calling out, "Thanks, Dad!" Queen B and I already knew about the test kits  because Pru's Dad had gifted not just her but Queen B as well, even going so far as to try to explain how they worked before Pru shut him down.

Once the song ended, Josh called out to the crowd, asking who wanted to claim their entry and Pru raised her hand. Her worst gift offering had gotten the biggest laugh, by far, so why not be recognized for it? When Georgia saw her hand, she squinted at Pru and observed, "I thought sure you were the chlamydia!"

For submitting the finest worst present, Pru was awarded a limited edition ornament of Georgia and Josh, a holiday keeper the likes of which Hallmark only wishes they put it out first.

This most sacrilegious of holiday cabarets closed out with the Barbra Streisand arrangement for "Jingle Bells," chosen because it was what Josh's mother used to play while they decorated the Christmas tree.

My only question is, do you even have to come out to your parents if your Mom is already playing Babs for you? Doesn't she kind of know?

Personally, I've long been a fan of that album for all the unusual arrangements and offbeat timing on it, not to mention the woman's voice, a mainstay in my life since the Bicentennial. Because of that longevity, when we got to the line, "The horse was lean and lank. Misfortune seemed his lot. We got into a drifted bank and then we got upsot," I knew the proper response was, "Upsot?" and was one of a few who called it out.

That's how I take my doses of the holidays: with irreverence, bathroom humor and the occasional comedic bit from the queen of the Chosen People. Only latkes could have made it better.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

It Had Better Be Tonight

I may be a complicated woman, but I have simple needs.

Sometimes, nothing suits me better than dinner and a movie, especially when the restaurant is a personal favorite, the film is from the '60s and the company is hilarious. I'll even do the driving for a change, which right away tells you I wasn't with Mac or Pru, both of whom prefer to be in control the driver's seat.

Since I was collecting Mr. Wright from the East End, it only made sense to drive directly to Nota Bene for dinner, where we were early enough to score the bar stools with the best prospect and refuge and the music wasn't yet drowned out by people talking.

That darkness was already falling was just another reminder of how much I detest this time of year. And don't get me started on tomorrow's rainy cold front.

But at Note Bene, everything was warm and good (wood fired ovens are reliable that way), from the bartender's favorite salad, a Brussels Caesar of shaved Brussels sprouts, oil-cured olives, pickled radish, the fermented fish sauce garum, white anchovies and the always delicious cheese Grana Padano, to a crispy pizza singing with the sweet/salty balance of wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, Parmesan and Fontina.

My only regret was how quickly we demolished both while Mr. Wright patiently explained to me how well I was coming along in celebrating my (according to him) new-found shallowness and open-armed embrace of his suggestion that selfishness should guide what we do in this relationship. He argued that both qualities had long existed in me but I'd tamped them down, while I believe that both are learned behaviors since this whole shebang began.

Since he thinks both qualities are a good thing - or a "good bad thing," as he phrased it - I don't know why I'm resisting getting on board with it. Then again, if you listen to him, I hopped that shallow/selfish train a while back, somewhere after the week in Chicago or around the time of the two weeks at the beach, but most certainly after Dubrovnik and Athens.

Go ahead and ask, who am I?

Well, for one thing, I'm a dessert lover and Note Bene has one of my favorites, a fig crostada made obscene with Pineau des Charentes cream, although it's the figs and rustic glazed crust that speak to me more than the cream. Plain and simple, it's a fancy pants Fig Newton and I mean that in the most complimentary way because who else has such a way with figs?

After lingering so long, we barely made it to the Byrd in time for "The Pink Panther," taking our seats while a Pink Panther cartoon played on the screen, a prelude to manager Todd explaining that the reason "The Pink Panther" film had an animated panther in its credits was because United Artists, then at the height of its creative powers, had just formed an animation department and wanted to show off.

Just as importantly, he pointed out that this was the film where Peter Sellers essentially developed the iconic Inspector Clouseau character and took it to the bank, so we were watching its creation.

Billed as "a madcap frolic of crime and fun," I was enchanted by the movie from the credits - "Clothing by Yves St. Laurent" - right on through the opening scene, which began with, "Once upon a time," as all truly great stories should. Eye candy was everywhere since the movie was set in Rome, Paris and Cortina d'Ampezzo, a ski resort in the Alps, making for a gorgeous travelogue, if nothing else.

But the movie had plenty else, from Sellers' brilliant physical comedy (the scene where everyone's dancing and then stops, except Clouseau, who continue to do the Jerk) and deadpan delivery to a glimpse at 1963 Europe. I may hate cold weather, but I could get used to covering myself with a thick lap blanket for a horse-drawn sleigh ride to my destination in Italy.

Those sleigh bells are nothing if not festive.

For that matter, I'd also love to attend a party like those thrown by the mindless social-climbing doyenne Mrs. Dunning because I've always wanted to go to a party where the dancing involved doing the Twist, the Frug and, yes, the Jerk. I didn't see anyone doing the Pony, but it was  crowded party, so I might have missed it.

Not to mention that every movie should have a scene that starts with a close-up of a woman's behind, followed by her singing and dancing as she moves through the seated party guests, clapping and grooving along.

Fact: we have lost something in party-throwing since the '60s.

YSL's clothes were fabulous, especially the brightly-colored tunic and skinny pants ensembles worn by several female characters. all of whom, by the way, wore massive beehive up-dos. Had the film been in Smell-o-Vision, we'd have been choking on the scent of Aqua Net.

And, man, oh, man, I'd forgotten how drop dead gorgeous Robert Wagner was back then. Almost too pretty boy, but not quite. Even more exquisite was Claudia Cardinale, who was new to me but who possessed such astonishing beauty that just ogling her was enough. I don't know how a straight guy could even follow the story for gawking at her.

But that's not my problem. I've got enough on my plate taking Shallow 101 and Selfishness 101, in addition to my usual non-stop cultural calendar. Tonight, it was all I could do to do dinner and a movie while discussing my progress in the courses.

Mr. Wright likes to say that it takes a lot of thinking and talking to keep up with me. I don't know why. I'm a simple woman.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Worlds Colliding

This is an evening for people who love all forms of music and are most excited to see something unlike anything else out there. If you're a true music fan, you're not going to want to miss it. 
~ RVA Mag "Shows you must see this week."

Tell me something I didn't already know.

I mean, how could you call yourself a music fan and not jump on an intimate show of a string quartet performing selections from Trey Pollard's new album "Antiphones?"

Throw in that hometown-boy-made-good Matthew E. White was opening and it was a benefit for Classical Revolution RVA and you'd have to be a musical fool not to snap up tickets early. And I'm no fool, or at least, no musical fool.

Besides, despite being strangers, Trey and I go way back. I'd seen Foxygen at the National last year, the same Foxygen who'd had Trey do the arrangements for the album, which is why I went (that and local musicians backing them on said arrangements). I was part of the enthusiastic audiences that saw him play as part of Ombak at Balliceaux in 2010 and 2014. That's right, I saw him backing Lydia Ooghe at Live at Ipanema in 2010, a cozy and memorable show. Back in 2011, I'd not only heard jazz sextet Old New Things do Trey's "Americana" at the Camel, but met a middle-aged man who'd recently begun taking guitar lessons from Trey and bragged about it to me, a stranger. Heck, in 2016, he'd been part of the appeal of hearing the Scott Clark Other Other 4-tet in the dim light of the Gypsy Tea Room. For that matter, there was the time I saw him as part of the Matt White hometown show at Strange Matter touring behind Matt's "Big Love" album just when it was breaking huge. And let's not forget the Richmond Symphony Pops performance in 2017 where Trey wrote the arrangements for all the performers - Tim Barry, Bio Ritmo, Clair Morgan - and I was in the nosebleeds for them all.

But if you really want to drill down, I was at the Listening Room in April 2010 when he'd been playing pedal steel instead of his usual guitar and found myself too curious not to go up to him afterward. Music novice that I am, I'd asked him about it and been surprised when he admitted that the instrument was new to him, so it still required every bit of concentration he had.

Who knew anything musical was ever difficult for Trey Pollard?

All of that's just a long way of saying that seeing the RVA Mag piece after I'd gotten tickets for last night's birthday week fundraiser for Classical Revolution RVA was just validation that I'd made the right call.

Not that I need validation, mind you, but it's always a nice bonus.

After dinner at Goatocado - me with a Californian, Mr. Wright with a Mediterranean - you can be sure we arrived moments after the doors opened so I could have my choice of seats (second row, center, behind family members in the front row) for an evening with Spacebomb founder Matt and longtime collaborator Trey.

Spotting the usual suspects - the DJ I'd just seen at "La Dolce Vita," the Bridgepark mastermind, assorted local musicians - I somehow managed to miss a favorite girlfriend who messaged me this morning, saying she'd seen me before the show and then I'd disappeared. How we missed each other, I'm not quite sure.

Next to me was a young couple, sounding new to each other because they were sharing their musical tastes. She explained that her taste was eclectic, although she couldn't abide country and he listened politely as she told him how much more music there was where she came from than here. Still, they agreed, Richmond was getting better and they were hoping they hadn't made a bad choice in coming tonight.

I didn't have the time or inclination for some real talk with them.

Matt came out and sat down at the piano with the uber-talented Alan Parker on guitar, explaining that it had been only last night when he'd asked Alan to accompany him. That's some serious chops right there. He then proceeded to play some of his new hushed and soulful songs, his back to the room because of the piano's placement.

"I was gonna tell a Trey story between every song - I've known Trey half my life - but I decided not to," he joked at the start, a shame for those of us who love a good yarn. His song about the current dictator in the White House was entitled "No Future in Our Frontman" and got a resounding round of applause, as much for the song's urgency as its message.

If not our musicians and artists speaking out against this abomination-in-chief, then who?

Eventually, Matt relented and shared a favorite Trey story, telling us how, as a teenager, his Virginia Beach guitar teacher was always holding up Trey as the local guitar pinnacle, which was meaningless because Matt had no idea who he was. At least he didn't until he realized that the cheesy Norfolk restaurant where he was hosting had a weekly band consisting of old guys playing rock and roll covers with one young guy shredding mightily on guitar.

Matt, meet Trey.

The string quintet - two violins, viola, cello and upright bass - joined Matt for the last couple of songs, with Trey warning the room that they'd not rehearsed together for this. But these were classical musicians and pros, and they nailed his arrangements, adding an incredibly lush note to Matt's music.

They were so good, in fact, that after the final note, Matt turned to them and Trey looking terribly impressed. "Hey, that was pretty good, Trey!" he marveled since he had just heard the arrangements for the first time, too.

Apparently when you've known someone nearly all your musical life, arranging for their songs is no big deal, or at least it isn't for someone as talented as Trey.

After a brief intermission, the string quintet returned to play selections from Trey's "Preludes and Fugues for String Quartet," a series of short pieces that delivered various moods and musical expectations, only to take off in a direction that felt fresher than any string quartet music you can remember hearing.

Trey introduced the musicians, then took up a spot standing off in a corner as they played.

Like an expectant father being asked to witness his baby's delivery, Trey's focus involved listening intently to the quintet while staring down with his eyes covered or up at the ceiling, at least until his young son approached him, arms extended. Trey took in the rest of the performance with his son's head nestled in his Daddy's neck. It was incredibly sweet.

But so was being on the second floor of the Hof with a small crowd of music lovers listening to homegrown Richmond music about to be released to the world. These guys represent Richmond impressively well and anyone who knew about the show and chose not to come had missed out.

Trey and the Classical Revolution musicians got a much-deserved and extended standing ovation and every time they tried to stop bowing and leave, the clapping kicked into a higher gear. Safe to say, everyone there knew they'd witnessed something extraordinary.

Making our way out, I ran smack into the handsomest bass player I know, surprising both of us since it had been a while and I'd missed his annual Halloween extravaganza because I'd been at a black tie gala dancing to "Brick House" instead of at his house.

"As I live and breathe, Karen Newton!" he exclaimed, hugging me while holding his wife's violin off to the side.

Just another part of a stellar evening I wouldn't have wanted to miss. As the DJ and I agreed, there was absolutely nowhere better to be in Richmond this Tuesday night.

P.S. Happy sixth birthday, Classical Revolution. Helluva celebration.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cherry Bombs and Jezebels

For the record I am not particularly, nor have I ever been, a Joan Jett fan.

That said, I didn't hesitate when I saw that the James River Film Society was screening "Bad Reputation," the new documentary (I am, after all, a major documentary dork) about her at the Visual Arts Center, grabbing a couple of tickets the moment I saw it would be showing a few weeks later on a Friday night.

And not that I needed validation, but the next day at lunch with a favorite Gemini, she brought up seeing a photo of Joan Jett online. "Maybe it's the hair, but I immediately thought of you," she told me. "That was your era, right?"

Technically it was, because the Runaways first album came out in 1976, although I didn't know that until I saw the documentary. Sort of like I didn't know that Rolling Stone considers her one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Nor did I have a clue that her first band, the Runaways, were teenagers and considered a glam band.

Look, I couldn't pay attention to everything being played in the '70s and frankly, disco offered the allure of dancing, so I missed out on a lot of rock 'n roll back then. But I digress.

Since it only made sense to invite someone who'd been a music lover when Joan kicked off her career, Mr. Wright got the other ticket and we set off to up our Joan Jett knowledge. Always eager to park once and party twice, I chose El Pope for dinner, mainly so I could have their "Best in the Fan" pupusas again while Mr. Wright demolished chicken and Chorizo sopapillas.

Honestly, I don't know how this place has hung on in the high-rent Fan for over a year now, but I do know that despite a dining room that never seems to get full, they put out some stellar food and always with a smile. For my three pupusa mix, I chose tilapia, shrimp and bean, mainly because the other times I'd not been asked to choose and had wound up with pork, beans and beef. Delicious all, but it was time for something different.

Besides, Joan Jett's a vegetarian, so it was the least I could do.

Walking into Vis Arts, we ran into MJ, the guy responsible for the James River Film Society all these years. After apologizing for not getting a chance to chat at the Silent Music Revival a few weeks ago, he shared that "Bad Reputation" had played at Movieland for exactly one screening (for 63 people) and that was part of the reason they decided to show it.

I hadn't even gotten wind of that one screening, so I was just glad that fellow movie and film fans were on the ball.

The evening began with trivia and a t-shirt giveaway, but no one seemed to know Joan's real name  - Joan Larkin - so I felt better about being there despite my lack of Joan Jett cred. At the very least, I was alive all the while she was making music, even if I wasn't paying attention.

And now that I've seen the documentary, I'm a little ashamed that I wasn't following her. There's no doubt that the woman is a feminist icon, from her early days with an all girl band through her years spent proving that women can be killer guitarists to all the artists she's helped, mentored or played/sung on their records.

I mean, this is the woman who fronted the two remaining members of Nirvana in their performance when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Cobain died. I can't imagine how many musicians would have sold their soul to be taking Cobain's place on that stage.

Yet one of the most startling things about the documentary was all the old photographs of Joan, first as a fresh-faced teenager, later as a serious '80s babe with spiky hair, smokey eyes and serious attitude. Asked to describe her trademark shag haircut, she referred to it as "a bastardized bob." I'm telling you, Joan Jett has always been an attractive woman, although I was far less impressed with her current nip and tuck/botox look. I'll never understand wanting to look that fake.

Plastic surgeries aside, watching clips of her performing for the past 40+ years was nothing short of awe-inspiring because of her mad guitar skills and full-on punk attitude. That she chose not to marry or have kids only made her devotion to rock and roll more obvious, never more clearly shown than in a clip when she was on a '70s talk show and asked about those two feminine goals.

Joan was on a mission to rock the world and there was no place for something so mundane as diapers in her life.

Considering the subject, it was a wide-ranging group of people who made up the talking heads in the documentary. What I'm saying is, when's the last time Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox, Miley Cyrus and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day shared the screen (don't even get me started on Debbie Harry in her bug-like sunglasses, obviously intended to hide her eyes).

And that's without even acknowledging how Nikki Haley got in there.

Where the film let me down was on the subject of anything personal because clearly Joan wasn't interested in sharing that part of herself, although given how often she was the onscreen talking head, there was no shortage of Joan commenting about her musical life.

The good news is, I'll never hear a Joan Jett song the same again. I didn't even recall that she'd covered "Crimson and Clover" in 1983, not even bothering to change the pronouns from "her" to "him."

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby, that's how much Joan loved rock and roll. My era or not, I may not have been a fan before, but I sure am now.

Time is Telling

When you haven't spoken to your best friend from college in six months, you're overdue.

The two of us had spent all last week trying to ascertain when the best time to talk would be, no easy proposition since our phone calls usually last about two hours and I had all kinds of things I had to or wanted to accomplish on Saturday.

And getting out of bed early wasn't one of them.

She had a haircut at 10 a.m., but I had a walk to do that was complicated by the marathon going on, lunch plans in service of my hired mouth, errands to run and an afternoon show to catch a favorite band I hadn't seen in a while, so we finally settled on 5:30 p.m.

Good thing we started early, too, or we'd never have been off the phone by 9:00.

The walk was my annual reminder that somehow people are so totally clueless as to be completely unaware of how much of the city is closed down for runners. I know because I saw the same cars sitting in traffic or making repeated loops in their vain attempts to cross Lombardy or Broad (impossible) or figure out a secret shortcut that would set them free.

Get on the highway or go home, kids.

In Carytown running errands, I was delayed by the guy singing to recorded tracks in front of the Virginia Shop. Stepping out of the car to his smiling face and dulcet tones singing the Spinners' "I'll Be Around" was matched only by returning to hear him do Smokey's "The Tracks of My Tears." I could have stood there half the afternoon just to hear him sing so beautifully.

After lunch, I dropped off the car and walked over to Gallery 5 for King of Pops' "Popchella" show, arriving in time to hear the last few songs of the Wimps' set. I'm not going to lie, it was a cold day and the last thing I wanted was a frozen pop, even if King of Pops was giving them away, although more than a few people were sucking on a pop.

Not me, I stood directly next to the radiator to hear the Wimps' lead singer say, "This song is for everyone who's ever had a broken heart. So it's for everyone." True that. Favorite line: "I know I left a lot of holes. Careful, darlin', how you fill 'em." Conclusion? I'll go see the Wimps again for a full set.

The band had a look going on, with suspenders being the common thread. The singer's suspenders were blue, the bass player's patterned and the drummer's pink. Only the keyboard player had the nerve to let his flannel shirt go un-suspendered.

Next up was Spooky Cool, a long-time favorite and in his usual, understated way, lead singer Zac announced, "We're Spooky Cool. We have some songs" and began playing to a half-filled room of attentive fans. The one thing you can count on with Spooky Cool is how beautifully Zac's ethereal voice will blend with the female singer's in harmony, even as the band rocks out.

A few songs in, Zac was heating up and asked the bassist to help him pull his hoodie sleeve off without removing his guitar. "How's that belly sweat stain coming along?" he asked, tugging on a sleeve. "It's getting there," Zac said, pushing his long hair back and pulling his t-shirt out to give said belly some air before launching into "Time Will Tell."

"We're Spooky Cool and we appreciate you being here on a Saturday afternoon and not running," Zac said to close out. Who would run when they could be listening to bands play four blocks from home? And that's not even with a pop in hand.

I got home exactly ten minutes before She Who Hated Me On Sight and Has Loved Me Since College and I were to rendezvous on the phone. My only error was in not fueling up beforehand, resulting in multiple mini-meals being taken during the course of the phone call. She'd never have known if I hadn't started choking on a pretzel mid-story.

I'm not a good telephone person, never have been, but when your best friend lives in god-forsaken Texas (or North Dakota or New Hampshire), you have no choice but to suck it up and be a phone person, at least for a couple hours.

This time, we added a visual element as I sent her photographs throughout the conversation. First, it was one of Mr. Wright and me because she was naturally curious about this person who set my world on its ear. But then she wanted to see snaps of my sisters and parents, whom she hadn't seen in 30 years.

"Wow, Pat looks great!" she gushed about my Mom. "She's hardly changed at all!" That's one comment I'll definitely pass along to Mom, who won't believe it but will nonetheless appreciate the words. Some of my five sisters she couldn't recognize at all, while others she thought were instantly familiar. A photo of me with her and her ex in Dallas from a decade ago was one she barely recalled, although it set her off on a tangent about the color of her hair at the time.

Hey, we are our own worst critics.

And because she's been my best friend since I was 19, we laugh almost non-stop. Half the time, we don't even have to finish our sentence to elicit a response from the other. She still gives me a hard time about things she was giving me a hard time about in the '70s and '80s and I take it because it gives her such pleasure.

What I didn't expect was all the bonus points she, the athlete in this duo, gave me for some of my activities with Mr. Wright. Canoeing, tandem bicycle riding and going to a Cubs game all elicited new respect from her since none seemed like things she thought I'd ever do.

Let's just say we've come a long way since she tried to teach me to play tennis, 'though she loves to crack herself up thinking about what a failure I was at it.

Finally, after three and a half hours talking, she pointed out the time and it only seemed wise to wrap up the conversation, with a plan to talk again before the end of the year so we don't have so much ground to cover.

Next morning, I woke up to a message from her. "I haven't laughed that much in a long time. I cannot tell you enough how truly happy I am that your life is going so beautifully. There is no one in the world who deserves it more."

Pshaw, it's not for me to say I deserve it. But I was careful, darlin', and waited my turn for it to happen. Tennis was hard. Nothing was easier than this.

Health, Happiness and Prosperity

If you're going for the sweet life, you've got to do it right.

The moment I saw that the Byrd was screening Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" on a Sunday afternoon, I was on board.

Roger Ebert's favorite film of all time? Sign me up.

But it was when I invited Mr. Wright to join me that the plot thickened. To his way of thinking, why would we leave a three-hour Italian film and not head directly to an old school Italian restaurant? "Think Chianti bottles with candle wax melted down them," he suggested, leaving the actual choice to me.

To add the final touch, he showed up with a rather large bottle of Sambuca to finish out the evening in fine Italian style. All of a sudden, we had a theme going.

At the Byrd, I ran into a trio of music friends who were as excited as we were to spend the afternoon looking through the lens of 1960 Italy. We were also united in our dismay at having learned that Strange Matter is closing, a place where we ran into each other regularly to see interesting bands, and cautiously hopeful that another music venue will replace it.

"La Dolce Vita" was everything I'd hoped it would be: sumptuous black and white cinematography, scenes of post-war Italian decadence, endless commentary on life and love and the drop dead gorgeousness of Marcello Mastroianni (who seemed to bed every beautiful woman he came in contact with). When he tried to convince the other party-goers that it was orgy time, it occurred to me that it was my second Italian movie this week with orgies.

I can assure you, that's not usually the case.

That every night's pleasure - which usually ended at dawn - caused one character or another to suggest eating spaghetti only added to the charm. "Come home, I'll make ravioli! I want to make love!"

And, truthfully, the movie didn't feel anywhere near as long as it should have given the three hours spent scarfing popcorn, watching Anita Eckberg climb the steps of St. Peter's ("She's like an elevator!") and dance every chance she got, and gawking at how much less populated Rome was in 1960 than 2012 when I went.

Not to mention how much better the dresses were back then.

Although the film was a huge box office success and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it's also notable for birthing the term "paparazzi," which comes from the character Paparazzo, one of the many celebrity photographers who make up the story of Rome as decaying. Or, as one of the orgy-goers put it, "By 1965, there'll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be."

Flash forward to 2018 in the U.S., my friend, and you'll see just how low things have gotten.

Given the buzz kill that the time change is, we walked out of the Byrd as dusk was settling in and headed directly to the Robin Inn, as old school Italian (and Greek) as was befitting a post-Fellini meal. Granted, the red checkered tablecloths are only on the service tables, not, for instance, on the booth table where we sat, but close enough.

Certainly the carafe of Chianti we drank could have been lifted from 1960.

We were clearly in the minority as a couple since there were two large parties going on and a steady stream of people arriving with gift-wrapped boxes. When one party-goer overheard Mr. Wright comment to our server that we hadn't been invited to either, he stopped and extended his hospitality right there. His mistake was in mentioning that his group included six children. Thanks, but no thanks.

There's a certain old school charm to a place like the Robin Inn, including the iceberg lettuce salads that got us talking about how maligned iceberg lettuce is these days. Sure, it's just pale green water with almost no nutritional value, but it sure does give good crunch.

Meanwhile, his veal scallopini and spaghetti with meat sauce and my baked manicotti Florentine (c'mon, we had an theme going here) oozing ricotta, spinach, mushrooms and Mozzarella were every bit as filling and mass appeal as you'd expect.

After lingering over such a heavy meal, I defy you to come up with a better way to wile away the evening than listening to Sinatra and enjoying the sweet anise flavor of Sambuca. No, we didn't sip it with the traditional three coffee beans, but it was as good as dessert, especially given that even I, the dessert queen, couldn't possibly have eaten another bite.

Now Mr. Wright is thinking we need more themed movie/dinner/after-dinner drink extravaganzas. I'm warning you, by 2023, there'll be total indulgence. How wonderful everything will be.

No orgies, though.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Skin of My Teeth

My film education continues to unfold nightly.

On the surface, last night's installment of VCU Cinematheque should have been right up my alley. I've gone on record admitting that '60s and '70s movies fascinate me for the shifting cultural mores given voice through Hollywood's eyes.

Of course, the groovy fashions and music don't hurt, either.

So, by all accounts, I should have loved Michelangelo Antonioni's overblown paean to the late '60s counterculture, "Zabriskie Point." Mr. Wright had not only been to Death Valley and spotted the sign for Zabriskie Point, but had already seen the film several times, including as an impressionable young man when it came out. For me, only the title was familiar.

We started at Ipanema and then shifted the action across to the Grace Street Theatre. Both were full of people who weren't alive when Kurt Cobain checked out. Think about that.

When the visiting professor with the German accent got up to introduce the film, he began to wax poetic about the era of student protests and dropping out and turning on, explaining to the clueless student audience that the film was part of a 3-part deal with MGM for the talented Italian director. "Hollywood thought they cold throw big money at Antonioni," he shared and then chuckled in disgust.

Little did they realize that he'd just spend all their money while essentially holding up a giant middle finger to the U.S. To that, I say "well done," although I can see where others might see it as ungrateful and nervy.

Looking around the theater at students born at the tail end of the '90s, the prof instructed them, "Go ask your grandparents about the '70s." If they remember, they weren't there.

It was just too bad that no one had taken the time to explain to these world studies and film students how and why films were being made in 1970. No doubt Antonioni, known for his brilliant framing,  cinematography and use of music, would have been disdainful of students today who simply couldn't fathom a film with an extended orgy scene in the desert (first uncomfortable tittering, followed by outright laughter) or a succession of a dozen shots of a house being blown up from different angles.

And don't get me started on their major sighing at the leisurely pacing of the film, which I loved.

If only MGM hadn't cut Antonioni's original ending - a plane sky-writing "F*ck you, America" - they'd have seen something they could understand. As it stood, they'd need to go ask their grandparents why there were so many bad mustaches in the olden days.

Tonight's lesson in film was much more of a treat because there's a particular pleasure to seeing a Hitchcock movie you've never seen before. Even Mr. Wright was in the dark on this one.

Hello, "Shadow of Doubt," nice to make your acquaintance.

After crispy golden rolls and a banh mi at Sen across from the Byrd, we crossed the street for the 1943 psychological thriller written by Thornton Wilder - yes, he of "Our Town" - that Hitch often referred to as his favorite.

And, if not his favorite, according to Byrd manager Todd, his most plausible story.

Because only Hitch would think that a serial murderer coming to live with his older sister's family in the bucolic town of Santa Rosa and talking an unnatural interest in his namesake niece (knowing Hitch, he probably intended the squirm-worthy implications of Uncle Charlie hitting on his sister's oldest daughter) was perfectly plausible.

Not that I cared. From the opening shot, what had my attention was that I was seeing the actor Henry Travers onscreen as something other than Clarence, the angel, from "It's a Wonderful Life." Like a kindergartner who thinks her teacher lives in the classroom, I just assumed Travers had only played that one role.

The funniest scenes in the movie were those between Travers and a nerdy, young Hume Cronyn (whom I only knew as an old man, so I didn't even recognize him until the credits), neighbors who spent their free time trading ideas for how to murder each other creatively and successfully.

Mainly, I reveled in watching a Hitchcock movie I'd never seen before, taking in every dramatically lit shadow, oddball ceiling angle and telltale hand gesture in a crisply black and white movie with infinite shades of gray.

I was so engrossed I missed Hitchcock's cameo as a bridge player on board a train and had to ask Todd on the way out when he'd been onscreen.

Best of all, there were no tittering students and nobody whining about the film's pacing, although a couple in our aisle walked out after half an hour (I was dying to know why). Everyone who'd come to see "Shadow of Doubt" - and many of us were first-timers, evidenced by Todd asking who'd never seen it and more than half the room raising their hands - accepted the film for the 1943 Hitchcock classic that it was.

And if you don't believe me, go ask your grandparents.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

My Vote, My Voice

We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate. 
~ Thomas Jefferson

Turns out both Tim Kaine and I have a soft spot for Carver Elementary School.

For me, it was the 2008 election at Carver because despite having been an active voter since I was 18, never had I seen the diversity - black, brown, white, young, old - or the sheer number of people in a line that snaked up and down halls of classrooms, outdoors and down the block. I'll never forget how moved I was by people doing their civic duty.

When Mac came over to walk today, I suggested our walk include me voting, which wasn't a hard sell because we haven't been able to get on the pipeline for days. Once at Carver, I headed inside to vote while Mac said she'd wait outside to enjoy the last of the warm front before the thunderstorms moved in.

Imagine my surprise when I walked outside to rejoin her, only to hear, "Look who I'm talking to" and see Tim Kaine standing next to her. Moments earlier, I'd been filling in the circle to vote for him and then, just to make sure, going back over that circle to ensure that I was clear on my choice.

Now here he was smiling at me.

Like any idiot unexpectedly faced with her U.S. Senator, I babbled something about having just voted for him, but then my brain cleared and I realized I had something to tell him: that I'd just recently seen "The Laramie Project" and been terribly impressed with the show in general and specifically, his daughters's performance in it.

What Dad doesn't want to hear how talented his offspring is?

He beamed. He shared that she's living in NYC these days, a fact I already knew but didn't let on. He told me how great Richmond Triangle Players - where "Laramie" had been produced - was and I told him I agreed. We were united in our RTP love. That, and an unspoken hope for a blue voting wave today.

It was then that Mac's need to document clicked in and she asked if he would pose for a picture and he did us one better, asking one of his assistants standing nearby to snap a picture of all three of us. So there we are in front of the Carver Elementary School sign, grinning like the happy voters we all three were.

Except that Tim Kaine doesn't live in my neighborhood, so what was he doing there? Seems that my precinct was the one that won him a seat on city council, his first elected position, so he always makes a point to hang out at Carver on election days.

"Thanks again!" he said, smiling, as we headed off on our walk, photographic evidence of our chance meeting on Mac's phone.

Well, if I didn't think I had the best polling place ever before, I'm thoroughly convinced of it now. When I sent the photo to my parents - the same parents who told me and my sisters not to bring home any boy who didn't vote in every election - my Dad had his usual pithy response.

"Very nice pic! Such tidbits of wisdom is why T.J. is one of my favorites. Assuming and not voting is one of the main reasons we are in this current predicament! It will be a lengthy reclamation project..."

Doing my part to reclaim at Carver Elementary every chance I get. Tim was just a bonus.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Variations on a Girls' Night Out

When Typhoid Mary sets out for help alone, it's trumpet time.

Because it had been two months since I'd last seen Lady G, I had no idea she'd been battling the Galloping Consumption for a while now. When she showed up to fetch me, she was coughing like a consumptive and looking a tad peaked, not exactly ideal conditions to share anecdotes from her recent trip to Ireland.

Much less throw back wine and laugh at everything.

But like the trooper she is, she insisted we were good to go and that she wasn't nearly as sick as she looked or sounded. As someone who suffered with pneumonia for weeks under the delusion that I'd snap out of it, her false bravado was uncomfortably familiar. Still, no one wants to nag a sick friend.

Well, except for someone who mishandled her own illness and isn't afraid to be pushy about the risks of not getting treatment. So I put on my big sister hat and told her not to be stupid.

So my bedside manner could use some tweaking.

At her insistence, we carried on with our plans, landing at Bar Solita a few blocks away to try to cover three countries, hundreds of photographs, dozens of personal anecdotes and make plans for a road trip. Drawing on the only medicine that seems to be working currently, G ordered what she called "tea," a hot mixture of rye, honey and lemon that she thinks helps her cough but really helps her not care about her cough.

Over a basil pesto pizza and pastry, she shared photos, all of which proved how green Ireland is, and tall tales gleaned from wizened guides on her trip to the Motherland, while the pink-haired bartender worried about the seriousness of her cough. Every time G got into a good story, she'd begin a coughing fit from too much talking and we were back in the tubercular ward.

Make no mistake, I tried to convince her that we should go directly from Bar Solita to MCV, but she remained unconvinced. The bartender put in her two cents' worth, suggesting Patient First instead. "You should have that cough looked at!" the woman said with all the solemnity someone with pink hair can manage.

It was some time during dessert that Lady G caved and agreed to go directly to Patient First, albeit the one in her far-flung neighborhood. The time elapsed since we'd started our evening together was 90 minutes, so I felt pretty good about my nagging.

But at least she'd agreed to go and report back on her diagnosis.

All of a sudden, my evening was over. But rather than going home, I asked G to drop me at the Singleton Center (sign in stall of Singelton bathroom: "Swipe left on the flu!") on the way to having her cough examined. She was surprised that I just happened to know there was a musical program there tonight and I was surprised that she'd think I don't know of at least one, if not several, things going on on any given night.

After all, we have known each other for 20 years at this point.

Rex Richardson's Trumpet Spectacular had begun moments before I took my seat in the auditorium, so the VCU Trumpet ensemble was already playing. I'm one of those people who actually enjoys seeing a student group play because sometimes it's a first glance at an up and comer in the local jazz scene.

Not to make generalizations (because somebody will call me on it if I do) but trumpet fans appear to skew heavily male, or at least, that was my conclusion when I looked around the room and saw ten guys for every girl. Or perhaps, like me, all those guys were just out to hear top notch trumpet and piano playing on a Monday night after finishing a plate of profiteroles.

More likely, they were just big trumpet nerds like Rex, a man who tosses around phrases like, "If you know trumpet music," which I don't, but I also enjoy being in a room where there are people who do. People like trumpeter Taylor Barnett whom I've seen play in No BS Brass band and any number of big bands, and who joined Rex and pianist Magda Adamek for "Variations on a Theme" by Haydn.

Lady G might have benefited from some Haydn almost as much as from the "tea."

Finding Taylor was a bit of a problem, so Rex called out to the crowd, saying, "Taylor Barnett, are you here?" only to have Taylor walk onstage behind him. "Oh, there he is!" Rex exclaimed, acknowledging, "That's what you get when you don't entirely print out everything on your program and that's all my fault."

Everyone's - okay my - favorite pianist Russell Wilson of the Richmond Symphony, joined Rex for the next piece. I may have been going to Rex's performances for years, but I took my first jazz appreciation course from Russell, so I always feel fortunate to hear him play. I swear, he always looks like he's having a good time.

Trumpeter Mike Davison was Rex's next partner for "Tournament," a piece in three movements - Jousting, Hawaiian Song and Revelry - that had originally been written for Davison in 1999. "But when I asked him if he had the music, he didn't," Rex said, laughing.

Eager to have the last word, Mike cracked, "Must not have liked that one!" Regardless, they made it sound like they'd been playing it together since 1999.

Rex dedicated the tragically beautiful "Elegy" to the recently-deceased musician Roy Hargrove (whom he referred to as "a direct contemporary of mine") and trumpeter Thomas Steven.

The meatiest piece was Andy Scott's "Freedom of Movement," performed as recently as September by the VCU Wind Ensemble, but tonight performed using a piano-reduction version instead of the full ensemble for something completely different. Of the piece's three sections, the middle one with its jazz-like piano parts was the most intriguing to me, never more so than when pianist Magda began bopping her head, throwing her arms around and grooving like crazy.

Isn't there a saying about leading a classical pianist to jazz, but not being able to make her...something?

With G long gone (hopefully off being examined for whooping cough), it was a fine night for taking my time walking home given the relatively mild temperature and my post-trumpet buzz. Not the evening I expected, but sometimes a friend needs to be coerced to take care of herself.

And if you know stubborn friends better than you know trumpets, you know plying them with rye is the way to do it.

A Natural, Zesty Enterprise

It was like walking into a secret society without knowing the password.

Granted, no reasonably cultured woman of my age should have lived this long without seeing "The Big Lebowski," but I somehow had. And it's not because it was a Coen Brothers film, either, because I've seen plenty of them: "Fargo," "Barton Fink," "No Country for Old Men," "Hail Caesar," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Raising Arizona," "Blood Simple," "Barton Fink."

Okay, nowhere near all of them, but plenty.

And let's not forget that in 1998, "The Big Lewbowski" was just another Coen Brothers movie and not even a blockbuster at that. Besides having lost my taste for big Hollywood movies by then (I also didn't see "Saving Private Ryan" or "There's Something About Mary" that year), I was busy seeing films like "Shakespeare in Love" and "Run, Lola, Run."

Let the movie snob ribbing begin.

But given how "The Big Lewbowski" has grown in stature to a cult film, I was at least savvy enough to know I needed to see it for the sake of cultural references. I'd been aware that for the past three years the Byrd Theatre had held a "Big LeByrdski" screening, but never made it there. So when I saw that this was the 20th anniversary of the movie, I resolved to up my cultural literacy.

Like I said, I was entering a zone for which I had no credentials. Countless people had come dressed as characters in the movie which means beyond the Dude, I had no idea who they were supposed to be. In theory, they were dressed up so they could participate in the costume contest, but since there were more costumes than participants, I sense that dressing the part was just part of the fun.

Hello "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Byrd manager Todd not only wore a Dude-like sweater but danced the part before his introduction of the film. He also insisted we chant "The Byrd abides!" three times before instructing the projectionist to start the movie, saying, "Let's see what condition our condition is in!"

The near capacity crowd ate it up with a spoon, belched and ate some more.

They cheered and clapped as soon as the title appeared. They hooted and hollered at the mention of "El Duderino," not surprising since many of them were sucking back Center of the Universe's "El Duderino," a White Russian-inspired beer. And while I should have expected it, they repeated lines verbatim along with the actors on the screen.

I got it, the rug really tied the room together.

A guy in the row behind us also sang every song in the movie, word for word, which got annoying, especially during a Creedence Clearwater Revival song because they're a band I can't stand. On the other hand, I felt a kinship with the Dude when he said, "I hate the f*ckin' Eagles, man," given I've been hating on that band since the '70s. So we had that bond.

Certainly the writing was at times hilarious. When John Goodman's character Walter nonchalantly and maniacally tells the Dude, "You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me...Hell, I can get you a toe by 3:00 this afternoon. With nail polish. These f*ckin' amateurs," I was laughing as hard as anyone.

Even an unlikely detail like the Dude's car spoke to me since I took Driver's Ed in an early '70s four door Ford Torino.

But when all was said and done, after taking in the superb casting - I only wished John Turturro's character Jesus had been in more scenes and seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a toadie was mesmerizing - the unexpectedly elaborate dream sequences, the complete surprise of Sam Elliott being in the movie, I was left shrugging.

This is what all the hoopla has been about?

Granted, my reaction might have been different had I seen it in 1998. With several references to Saddam Hussein, Bush and Reagan, it was very much art of its time and certainly the political incorrectness of it placed it squarely in the '90s.

Which is where I shall leave it to rest, having finally, if temporarily, joined the close-knit Lebowski clan for one brief evening. I am not worthy to put on a bathrobe, sip White Russians and recite dialog along with true fans.

Am I wrong? Am I wrong? Okay then.

Porn Names and Handcuffs

I've been slacking off in the wine dinner department.

A year and a half ago, I'd been tasked with keeping the group up-to-date on upcoming wine dinners. Mind you, I didn't ask for the job, but it was mine.

The last time I'd arranged for the posse to attend one, it was February and I'd arrived with the biggest news of the year: I'd accepted a lunch date. And because that lunch was so successful, I'd put keeping everyone abreast of wine dinners on the back burner.

Hell, if I was honest, I'd say I'd moved that pan off the stove entirely. My new love life took precedence over mere wine dinners, even with friends who had a wine jail to keep filled.

But a month ago, I'd gotten an email about Secco's upcoming Vom Boden five course wine dinner with Collin Wagner taking the reins for three courses and all five wines. Secco's wine dinners never disappoint, I was months overdue in my scheduling duties and here was my chance to get back in the swing of things. Beau made the reservation and we were set.

Driving through the Fan to get to Secco tonight, poor Beau had to deal with every possible annoyance: double-parking, unsure turners, darting pedestrians, slow parallel parkers. He got so frustrated he shouted, "City much?" to the last of the automobile-challenged we passed.

That's a brilliant phrase to describe the unfortunate subset of drivers plaguing those of us competent to drive in urban areas.

As we were walking up to Secco, the owner came out to meet us, a concerned look on her face because the dinner was sold out and she hadn't seen my name on the reservation list. I explained I'd been grouped with my friends. Inside, her partner saw me, glanced at his seating chart and took on the look of a deer in headlights. Only once he found out I was part of Beau's party did he relax.

Even better, the owner came over once we'd been seated to say that she'd looked at Beau's last name and assumed he was porn star Jack Vidra, in town this weekend for the Fire, Flour and Fork dinner at L'Opossum.

Instinctively I knew this was an association Beau would welcome. And he did.

Our six top was completed with an IT guy for the Federal Reserve whose wife was pregnant (and why waste five wines?) so he'd come alone and a cop and his German-born wife. To kick things off, we sipped Hild Elbling Sekt until the owner tapped her glass to get the ball rolling.

Almost as soon as she did, a late arrival came in and had to do the walk of shame to his seat at a table in the back while she continued talking. Pru and I just assume that people who would do such a thing were raised by wolves. That's fair, right?

Introducing Collin, who'd started at Secco in 2010 at the tender age of 19, she said that he'd been cooking all over Europe and NYC, at least right up until he'd fallen in love with the Vom Boden portfolio and become a wine rep.

Tonight he was combining both skill sets to dazzle us.

"We're going to drink esoteric German wines you'll never drink again!" he promised, sharing that he was just back from the harvest in Germany. When he returned to the kitchen, the older woman at the table next to us said wistfully to her husband, "Don't you wish you were young enough to go work in the vineyards?"

Don't we all?

Along with the bubbly Sekt, we crunched through wonton cups filled with apple. cucumber and tarragon cream sauce topped with micro-greens. We were that table who, when asked who needed a touch-up on their Sekt, saw every hand go up.

Meanwhile, Beau told us he'd been too busy working night and day last week to see any of Seattle - any, mind you - but he was hoping for better luck in San Francisco when he gets there tomorrow. Pru regaled us with the story of her father coming to visit today, a Time Life book on Nazi sympathizers in hand. I find this hysterical.

I never tire of hearing her Dad stories. I mean, a man who wears a jacket indoors because he's so underweight? A man who claims to be a vegetarian but eats ham and hot dogs? A man who is considering hair plugs at 86? Tell me more, please.

Our first course was smoked Max Creek rainbow trout ("Farm raised fish from a dude named Dave," Collin tells us) in a creamy herb emulsion with kohlrabi and celery, a dish that paired magnificently with Stein Blauschiefer Riesling Trokcen, which caused Collin to brag a little because he'd helped pick the grapes that went into what we were drinking. I loved this pairing and so did Beau, although he had to come around to the wine, which he hadn't liked until he had food with it.

How many wine dinners have I reminded him of this reality and will he ever learn?

As plates were being cleared, I noticed that the cop's wife hadn't eaten her trout and asked why not. Seems she doesn't like smoked fish, so I offered to take it off her hands, knowing Beau would aid the cause. Let no smoked trout go to waste at my table.

By that time, tongues were loosened and people were talking across tables. When Beau and the father-to-be discovered they made their livings in the soul-sucking field of technology  IT security, they turned toward each other and the rest of us could have spontaneously combusted and they'd not have noticed.

Another gorgeous pairing, JB Becker Walkenberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken and rye, farro and wild rice cooked like risotto in brown butter, garlic and thyme, then crowned with the thinnest of matsutake mushrooms slices, and even the naysayers were starting to believe in the power of Riesling. Collin came out to rave about the strong and powerful 2008 wine, which, of course, was only available in very limited quantities.

The father-to-be shared the names he and his bride have chosen for their daughter once she arrives - Hannah, Eleanor and Kara - and we took a vote on it. Looks like she'll be Eleanor, though they have a cat named Theodore, so they have some concerns about establishing a theme.

It didn't take much wine for Pru to learn that the older couple next to us are also denizens of Church Hill and from there, it was all about upcoming holiday events in the 'hood. When we complimented the lovely mauve jacket the wife had on, she said she chose such colors because she'd always had to wear black, navy and gray when she was a businesswoman.

Naturally, I had to know what her business was (fundraising for MCV) even as I admired her gold shoes.

Collin returned to rave, first about the Free Union Grass farms roasted duck we were about to eat and then about his enjoyment of the Shelter Winery "Lovely Lilly" Pinot Noir. Secco's owner jumped in to talk about procuring the 40 pounds of duck required at the South of the James Market, where she had to endure listening to vegans discuss "salad and houseplants" while wearing Uggs and giving the duck the stinkeye.

A shame for them, really, because the platter arrived piled high with duck breast that was rosy and medium rare and confit duck legs with crispy bits that would rival any cracklins. I know because Beau and I sampled enough to find out. Along with the mound o' duck came freshly made steam buns, housemade hoison sauce, sliced scallions and cucumbers and pickled carrots for an assemble-your-own kind of meal.

Don't get me started on those who ate theirs with fork and knife. They're buns, people. Pick 'em up and eat 'em.

Pru wasted no time in finding out that, like her, the cop's wife had been a financial analyst and since the IT boys were still mooning over each other's RAM, that left me and the cop to find common ground while the others bonded. Pru tried to help, saying, "Both you and John are into handcuffs," a joke that went nowhere since it wasn't true.

I mean, John obviously is because of his job, but other than that time a fellow guest unexpectedly handcuffed himself to me at a dinner party in 1991, I really have no experience with cuffs. And the cop wasn't talking about his.

The gentleman at the table next to us sported a spectacular handlebar mustache and Van Dyke, leading us to compliment both while his bride was in the loo. Curious about the handlebar's origins, we learned from him that he'd had a regular mustache when he'd met his wife 20 years ago and she'd been the one to suggest waxing and twirling it.

When she returned to find what we were discussing, he said he'd told us that she was responsible for his mustache. "You should tell them that," she said with all the authority of a woman who had helped her man become more attractive.

We were, it turned out, a table full of fig fans, so when fig Lintzer cookies showed up, we were a happy bunch. Paired with the delicately sweet Julian Haart 1000L Riesling Feinherb, it was each of our duties to find room in otherwise overcrowded bellies for such a well-crafted final course. I recalled my mother's rule - "There's always a corner left for dessert" - and polished off two cookies with no shame.

If you don't consider housemade fig jam a thing of beauty, truly you are missing out.

But my posse - minus two charter members tonight, but they checked in with humor mid-meal - is no longer missing out on wine dinners because I am back on task, in search of grape and food pairings that double as social occasions. At least, in between everything else life entails now, I am.

Wine dinner much? Not lately, but tonight's esoteric German wines and strangers' back stories were enough to remind me why I should.

Even if I wasn't at Jack Vidra's table. Too bad. I'd love to hear his handcuff stories.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Delicate Quickness

My parents weren't especially creative when naming me or my five sisters.

Family legend has it they resorted to combing through the phone book to find monikers for all their daughters and even then, the most exotic one they could come up with was Melanie.

But on a girls' night out last evening at Lucy's with Pru and Queen B, I learned what creative naming is. Discussing the antics of family members - something about a 14-year old marrying her cousin, a feat which should be illegal, but Queen B assured me she just changed her last name so it wouldn't be so obvious - that they mentioned name after name with a romantic bent: Mathilda, Lorna, Amelia, all a far cry from standard mid-century names like Karen, Cheryl and Nancy.

When I commented on the fancifulness of their family names, Pru admitted that they'd all come from literature, namely whatever romance her great-grandmother had been reading at the time. Of course a family of readers would pluck names from books.

I should have guessed.

"There was even a Nicodemus!" she shared. "Oh, but he was a cousin," Queen B explained dismissively. Apparently there were also several Elmers, including Queen B's terribly charming artist brother whom I've heard so much about.

Given how applause-worthy my meal was - a Fall hash of roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips  and celery root over beets and walnuts with a perfect poached egg on top was followed by roasted snapper over barley in leek and celery root cream sauce with green beans - it's amazing that I was even paying attention to the conversation. For a place with a focus on family-raised beef, it was easily one of the best pieces of fish I've had lately and that's not the Chateau de Brique Rose talking.

And while neither of my companions wanted dessert, I made sure they at least sampled my chocolate mousse pie before we dipped out. What did they think the three spoons were for?

It's a good thing we had a leisurely dinner, too, because once we got to the Firehouse Theatre, things got a little crazy when Pru's car keys were inadvertently locked in the trunk by yours truly. That we were parked along bustling Broad Street didn't help matters any since no one slowed down despite open car doors and me crouched in the street.

Only problem was, she was driving Beau's car, so it took the two of us a while to figure out where the trunk release button was and save the day.

Everything was made better, though, when Queen B and I headed inside and a woman standing nearby glanced over, saying, "You have great hair! Both of you!" I don't know about me, but Queen B is currently sporting purple hair and had already gotten a compliment leaving the restaurant, so she's used to hair praise.

As long as I evoke the '80s, I'm happy.

Inside, I'd been assigned my favorite seats in the second row, but the news of the day was that five people had been given seats onstage for "Songs from Bedlam," a play consisting of a series of monologues by "patients" at the infamous mental hospital during past centuries. The stage seating was inspired by the practice of the hospital charging admission for sane people to come in and watch the lunatics on display.

The first vignette involved a guy who spent every afternoon at the zoo, staring at the animal inmates and commenting on them. "The tigers are past caring, having been too long deprived of everything that matters to them...The fish are doomed, but separate."

That line alone evoked more sadness than I was prepared to handle. And, believe me, I'm not even thinking about tigers or fish in captivity. Another involved an alcoholic explaining the difficulty of having a disease everyone thinks is a choice.

Queen B and I found the production interesting, while Pru struggled with the characters. "They're supposed to be crazy?" she wondered. "I deal with people like that in my life every single day!"

I'm not sure, she may have been talking about me closing the trunk with the keys in them, among other idiocy she has to deal with. And you know what? I'm not even offended when someone calls me crazy.

I've been told there's no better excuse to do whatever the hell you want. Well, except changing your name and marrying your cousin. Even I wouldn't go there.