Friday, April 30, 2010

I Walk to Talk

I know that not everybody likes to walk as much as I do. Hell, a neighbor told me the other day that she drives to Rite Aid and we live TWO blocks from the place. I'll admit I like it for the exercise, but it's mainly because you never know who you'll end up talking to when you're on foot.

Walking to the Census training this morning, there was this girl coming toward me with her ear buds in and I didn't even see her glance up at me, but as we came upon each other, she smiled and said rather loudly (I guess because of her music), "Great style!" How random was that compliment? I have to say, though, she made my morning.

Walking home for lunch, I came upon two mounted officers at the corner of Monroe and Marshall. I always get a kick out of seeing horses on cobblestone in Jackson Ward, but something was different this time. One of them was pointing a gun-like device down the street and being the oblivious sort, I had to be told it what it was and that they were targeting speeders.

I couldn't have been happier if they were handing out $20 bills. I've always taken issue with people who speed through city neighborhoods, treating them like thoroughfares and ignoring the fact that people live and play there. I told the cop that I was a neighbor and how pleased I was about what they were doing. He said that they've started a campaign in the 'hood to address the problem. Hallelujah, they're targeting speeders, stop sign-runners and red light-runners in the 'hood for the foreseeable future.

When they mentioned red light running, I asked about that nightmare intersection at Belvidere and Broad and was told that it and the Belvidere and Leigh intersections take the dubious prize for most accidents of all city intersections. I was not in the least surprised having seen people run red lights there with impunity every single day of my life and it irks me no end. Needless to say, that assignment won't go to the mounted unit.

Nor should it. It's enough that they're in J-Ward nabbing speeders and chatting up walking neighbors like me.

Wine Drunk by 9:00

I met a good friend at Ipanema to catch up after several months of not seeing each other, except the random run-in at a show. And don't tell my mother, but I had blueberry pie a la mode for dinner instead of a proper meal (but it was damn fine blueberry pie with a brown sugar crumble on top), although we did share some cornmeal-crusted fried oyster and button mushrooms beforehand.

It didn't take long for him to remind me yet again that I am a Luddite for not having a cell phone or PDA (despite him freely admiting being addicted to his crackberry). As my friend said upon returning from the men's room, "See, if you had a phone you could have been checking your Twitter feed while I was gone." Instead, while he was off taking care of business, one of the two guys at the end of the bar had invited me to come share their feast; they'd ordered six dishes for the two of them, so I'm not sure how much was wanting my sparkling company and how much just seeking eating assistance.

Having both recently done the Robinson Street ramble after avoiding it for years , we compared notes on which of its bar crowds provide the most amusement for our viewing pleasure. He nominated Racine for best happy hour given its end time of 9:00 (even so, it's still impossible to beat a $2 glass of wine at Ipanema). He wanted me to help him understand the decor at Commercial Taphouse; clearly he doesn't remember the Early Rec Room period of the 70s or he wouldn't have to ask such a silly question.

Best lament of the night from said friend: "Wine drunk by 9:00 and ready for bed. God, I'm turning into my mother."

Coming home a few minutes ago, I heard my phone ringing and rushed up the stairs to grab it (no land line lectures, please). Whoever it was must have just wanted to hear my voice (a comment I've heard twice this week already), because they didn't say anything despite obviously being on the line.

Glancing at the clock as I put down the phone, it occurred to me that it's after 1, I'm just now getting in and someone has just called me. And then there's that matter of pie for dinner. God, I'm not turning into anything like my mother, that's for sure.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Abundance of Exes

I'm back in training for another Census Bureau project and that means a whole new crop of jobless people and colorful stories from the field. It's even better this time because everyone in the group is from Jackson Ward or Monroe Ward, the areas we'll soon be counting. I've already met a neighbor from only a few houses down the block and another who lives just around the corner. Get paid! Make friends!

Like any work-related training class or seminar, they begin by making you stand up to introduce yourself and tell the group why you're there. Since I'd done this just a couple of months ago, I knew better than to say "for the money" but twelve of the other fourteen people said that that was their only reason for taking this job. They just don't realize yet what a fascinating slice of humanity you get to meet working for the Census, and that's before you even hit the streets to count.

One interesting and talkative girl who was 45 minutes late to class put it best. "I'm here because they pay way better than Lee's Chicken," she offered. "And no grease!" Well, I can certainly see where that would be motivating.

Later on in the morning, our trainer put up a big map of the area we'll be enumerating and it stretches from Goshen in Carver down to 8th and Bank, an area I know pretty well. She told us to familiarize ourselves with the area, prompting a few questions about the specifics of our assignment ("You're not sending us to the projects, are you?" one guy asked nervously. No, they're not.).

The Lee's Chicken girl girl raised her hand and disdainfully asked, "We gotta go to Jackson Ward to do this?" immediately making me bristle at the tone she used for my beloved neighborhood. Feeling my inner J-Ward girl rising from within, I shot right back at her. "You got a problem with Jackson Ward or what?"

Well, she hemmed and hawed and finally got it out. "Well, um, it's, you know, it's just I got an ex-boyfriend in Jackson Ward!"

Was that all it was? Really? "Don't worry," I reassured her. "I've got an ex-boyfriend in Jackson Ward, too. We'll figure it out."

From behind me, the trainer interjected, "I got an ex-boyfriend in Jackson Ward myself. Live long enough and you'll have plentyof ex-boyfriends in Jackson Ward."

With that kind of wisdom, is it any wonder that she's the trainer? And just so that you know, the Lee's girl never came back after the first day. I'm thinking that must have been one bad breakup.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do I Look Like the NASCAR Type?

There's so much to like about that venerable northside institution, Dot's Back Inn now that the smoke screen is absent. From the 48-star flag to the 1950 Look magazine in the ladies' room (which included a recipe for authentic French dressing: oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. The secret, it said, was in the measurements.) to the quotes on the menu (from Twain to Wimpy; I think that says it all), it's a classic diner in every sense. The chalkboard even said they had butter beans as a side tonight, so what's not to love?

I took a friend who was a Dot's virgin there this evening and he was won over by the food, the atmosphere and the Vargas tray on the wall. The place was crowded when we arrived around 6:45, but with a "Neighborhood Hour" of drink specials from 3:30 to 7, we weren't surprised to find no empty bar stools. There's a reason this place has been around for more than half a century.

Our waitress (of whom it was said by Butch that she's the best shag dancer in Richmond and I tend to believe a man named Butch on the subject of shag dancing because I've never actually seen shag dancing...and, no, I didn't know Butch before walking into Dot's) assumed we were out-of-towners in for NASCAR this weekend. You could not find a couple of less likely NASCAR looking fans than the two of us, but it did help explain the endless stream of people who kept trying to find a seat in an already full restaurant. Of course, being the NASCAR neophytes that we are, neither one of us even knew it was a race weekend.

Feeling fibrous, we decided to share the back bean nachos and the black bean corn cakes (grilled corn cakes topped with black beans, provolone, onions and tomatoes) although my friend was sorely tempted by the fried cod and tater tots. The spongy corn cake was the highlight but the nachos somehow disappeared first. Funny that.

Afterwards, we went to Strange Matter for dessert (chocolate cake with peanut butter icing made by Ipanema) and a showing of American Hardcore, about the short- lived hardcore music scene which began in California and was embraced by D.C. The DIY aesthetic that accompanied it was epitomized by band members recalling cutting and Elmer's gluing record covers together.

The documentary explained the birth of the hardcore scene as a result of the frustration of Reagan's election and the bland preppy world that accompanied it. Hardcore was by kids, for kids and about kids and musician after musician reiterated that there was no expectation of radio play or any kind of mainstream success. The scene had a violent side, evident in the regular fighting at shows, intense stage diving and even fans trading pipe bombs for admission to shows; this was the anti-Reagan world.

A lot of attention was given to seminal hardcore bands like Bad Brains, the band you didn't want to play after because they owned the show with their technically challenging music and stop and start precision and Minor Threat, whose song "Straight Edge" spurred a movement and spoke to a whole generation of kids who'd just lived through the drug-happy 70s; now they had an excuse to celebrate the fact that they were smart, hostile and sober.

I was surprised at the amount of video that existed of these obscure shows in unlikely locations and while we never got to see any song in its entirety, the energy of the music came through loud and clear. Henry Rollins and Black Flag especially were a force of nature to watch perform.

Not surprisingly, Reagan's reelection sounded the death knell for hardcore and by 1986 it had flamed out; many of its musicians felt like the attendant violence had become too alienating to its audience. One musician insisted that "there was no organized left in the 80s, but there was hardcore, in the best tradition of radicalism." And when it was time to go, hardcore went away as suddenly as it had begun. It had to.

Turns out it was an evening to enjoy short-lived music and long-lived restaurants; thankfully there was cake in between to soften the transition. Unlike our brethren NASCAR fans, my friend and I needed a little buffer to go from butter beans to pipe bombs.

On the other hand, we both lived through the Reagan years, so we should be able to handle anything. Come to think of it, you can even consider us hardcore.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Old Editor and the New Empress

Why do I continue to try to navigate that hellacious UR campus when inevitably I end up driving in circles unable to find the building I seek? When I stop and ask for help from students, I hear things like, "Dunno. I'm the wrong person to ask." Really? Isn't someone paying a lot of money for you to attend classes here? Don't you know your own campus?

Tonight's destination was a lecture by longtime RTD city editor Earl Dunford on the subject of "Second Thoughts on Writing a Book." This guy graduated UR in 1948 and was city editor for the Richmond Times Dispatch for something like 36 "mostly happy years," so he'd seen some seismic shifts in the culture during his tenure. As a former RTD employee, I was curious to hear stories from an old-school newspaperman.

When asked to write a history of the RTD, starting with its origins as four separate papers (The Times, The Dispatch, The News and The Leader), he begged off saying he was an editor, not a writer, someone who aimed to "improve other people's work," not have other people improve his. So of course he was persuaded. He was even told by the great Stewart Bryant that he wanted "a history that would be warts and all," which Dunford delivered. I have no doubt that, much like today, there were plenty of warts to reveal.

Escaping that vortex of a campus, I headed straight for Broad Street's newest social food destination, The Empress, at the old Enoteca location. What a beautiful ambiance the new owners have wrought out of the dark and unappealing ashes of Enoteca. About all that remains of the former space is the bar, but even that's been moved.

Church pews were cut down and lined with cushions and pillows for lounging. The chairs are from the old Cabo's. The curtains are thankfully gone, opening up the windows to the activity and characters of Broad Street (One random girl stuck her head in the door and asked a standing customer if he had fourteen cents. When he said no, she gave him a confused look, backed out, and came back in to look at him again, still clearly bewildered).

The owner Melissa came over to take my order and I couldn't help complimenting her on the variety and pricing of the menu (labeled 'Evening Types 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.'). Nothing was over $13 and most were $10 or lower; there was everything from a meat and cheese plate to quiche to a grilled lamb chop. She told me that the menu items were planned with sharing in mind and the restaurant designed for slow eating and lounging; all of a sudden I regretted not having brought a companion.

I was thrilled to see that the part of the menu devoted to "For the Sweet Tooth" indicated dessert service until 1:00 a.m. and told her so. She said that she felt the same way and her love of late sweets was nurtured in Italy where people sat around socializing and enjoying dessert, especially gelato, until 3 a.m. I told her that many was the time I wanted dessert late when others were content with just alcohol and she knew exactly what I meant; here was a kindred dessert soul.

The place is very green with a recycling station, compostable paper products, including dinner napkins, and loads of reclaimed and recycled products used in the renovation. This led to a discussion of buying clothes from consignment and thrift shops, something it turned out, both she and I do. She bragged on her vintage blue step stool, the kind where the steps fold out like we all had in out childhood kitchens; this one purchased from everyone's favorite, the For the Love of Jesus thrift store on southside.

After placing my order, I heard her talking away in the kitchen and she returned with an amuse bouche for me, a baguette slice with pancetta, a sliced cornichon and a Gorgonzola reduction. Mmm, my bouche was most certainly amused. Not long after the chef came out with my beef carpaccio with shaved Manchego, arugula, black sea salt and fresh toasted sourdough. She introduced herself as Carly and told me that Melissa had been telling her what an interesting person I was so she came out to meet me; I call this very good service. I commented on the black sea salt and was delivered a smoked gray sea salt to try.

Just as I was about to dive into my chocolate soup with grilled fruit, a certain man-about-town and Richmond writer dropped by after work and was persuaded to have a few beers (note to my gluten-intolerant friends: the owners both have Celiac's so they carry Bard's gluten-free beer), giving me a terrific conversational partner on the topic of theater, architecture, Richmond neighborhoods and history, among other things. I didn't need to bring a companion after all; one just magically appeared.

Also magically appearing was a bowl of cracklins being offered by Carly, "if you want some." And who wouldn't? Freshly fried and still warm, I can't imagine who would decline such a delicious offering. Don't look at me; I helped myself and then came back for more.

Melissa showed us her $7 couch which she'd reupholstered herself; I lounged on it fainting couch-style and was told it looked good underneath me. It was extremely comfortable and she admitted to having fallen asleep on it frequently in recent months, only to be awakened by her 6:30 a.m. breakfast crew. There's a vintage wine storage unit that looks like a bottle of wine, another wine cabinet with the most amazing sliding door on it and several pieces of sculpture by local Nicholai Jerome that need to be seen.

Carly described their roles as, "I cook; she does everything else" and I asked them how, as a couple, do they have any time at all for a life. Apparently that's on hold for the moment, which is too bad for them but great for the eating and hanging out crowd. You know, people like me.

Luckily they're already married and since they work together, they don't have to be out and about with people hoping to meet the right one. You know, people like me.

Monday, April 26, 2010

No I Don't Want a Beating

You know you made the right dining decision when the person making your food is also making sexual wisecracks with you. Tonight that happened when I went to Olio for dinner before the theater. I wanted to try the Beef and Bleu (rare Angus beef, bleu cheese, mixed greens, dried fruits, walnuts, red onion, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and a Parmesan peppercorn dressing) and enjoy it in the front window so as to have a view of the impending storm rolling in.

Owner Jason saw me with the menu and said hello, followed by a pointed crack about,"Long time, no see." And although I hadn't been in since January, as I told him, "I've eaten at your lunch cart twice in the past month. Does that count?" Obviously pleased, he admitted that it certainly did, so I got in line and placed my order.

Afterwards, as I was perusing the beverage case, I heard Jason call out to the girl who took my order, "Who ordered the black and blue?" I turned and identified myself and he said, "So you want a beating , huh?" That was definitely not what I was expecting him to say, but I played along, "Maybe it is." But Jason was even quicker than me and shot back, "Welcome to Olio, also known as Jason's house of S & M." Well done, Jason, well done.

And speaking of beverages, there on the shelf was Sprecher's root beer, voted by the New York Times as the #1 root beer for its "well-integrated flavors, soft carbonation and creamy texture." And while the Washington Post will always be my newspaper of choice, I trust the NYT when it comes to taste-testing 25 root beers. Clearly those Sprecher folks in Wisconsin know what they're doing with root beer, at least to my taste. As a complement to my black and bleu, it was perfect.

The salad itself contained an array of delicious ingredients but the standout was the hunk of bleu cheese bigger than my palm resting on the side of the plate. It was a Dutch bleu and a pocketed (rather than veined) bleu to boot. Pocketed bleus were more common in old-school French bleu- cheese making, according to Jason when I asked him about what kind of heavenly bleu this was. Crumbling it into my salad, my fingers were actually turning blue, which I was happy to lick off.

The storm arrived mid-meal with lightening and the rain came down hard, making for some excellent dinner viewing. I lingered as long as I could without missing the 8:00 curtain at the Firehouse. Playing tonight and tomorrow is "365 Days/365 Plays Revisited." It was a tribute of sorts to playwright Susan Lori Parks' project to write a play every day for a year. I'm prolific, but good god, a play a day? It boggles the mind.

Tonight's production was a theatrical/dance piece with nineteen vignettes, each paying tribute to a different one of the 365 plays. "At the start, there's always energy" one character said early on and there was plenty of energy all evening. From "trust life" to "the first constant: remember who you are," the pieces hinted at a bigger story with some danced and some acted.

There was even a piece about the intermission with one character asking another, "Do you get it so far?" and the other pronouncing, "It's very post-modern." (Note to self: isn't everything anymore?) That concept was perfectly rendered in the "2-for-1" piece in which one character said to the other, "Think I'll go pick up a gun. There's that two for one sale down the street. Want me to get you a couple?," to which the other carelessly responded, "Yea, sure."

The final search for the meaning of life had the entire cast crawling around on stage, with one girl shouting, "I found it...oh, never mind" and back they all went to examining the floor for answers.

As we all know, there's no telling where a person might find the meaning of life. For all we know, it could be somewhere as unlikely as Jason's House of S & M. One just never knows.

Scones and Oddballs at Garnett's

Sure, Garnett's seems like just a nice, normal sandwich place, but don't let it fool you. Just this morning I encountered an alien there. Only last month, I'd been there and a friend had told me about an alien he'd met and almost dated, here. But that was just a story; I didn't actually lay eyes on a stranger from a strange land.

Today I did. I was innocently sitting at the counter when a guy came in, a guy I'd met a while back at Garnett's; now that we know each other, we usually have a good chat when we run into one another. He was meeting a friend for coffee after her run and she soon arrived, dimpled and pretty and still in her running clothes. As they began catching up, it was hard not to overhear their conversation; Garnett's bar is small. She was lamenting that, "I've never ever done anything wrong in my life. I've always been good."

He laughed but clearly couldn't think of how to answer that, so I turned to her and said, "Give it a few years and that'll take care of itself. You won't have to worry about that anymore." He agreed enthusiastically and she looked dubious. And no, that didn't make her an alien.

What did was when he told her that his hard drive had crashed and he'd lost all his music, years- worth gone with no backup. She looked at him as if he were speaking Mandarin. "What's the big deal?" she asked. "I haven't put any new music on my iPod in five and a half years."

WTF? They already knew I was eavesdropping so, I didn't hesitate to give her my best incredulous stare and asked, "Are you kidding? How is that possible that you haven't wanted any new music in five and a half years?"

Shrugging nonchalantly, she said (and I quote), "Well I don't really like music. I just use it when I run." This was the moment she officially qualified for alien status. Who doesn't like music? I mean, seriously, who? And note the employment of the word "use" instead of enjoy, like music is a utilitarian thing instead of pure pleasure.

There's no way to respond to a comment like that and I didn't try. After they left, I went over to Hunter, busy prepping for lunch, and told him the story. He was as shocked as I was that there could be someone so alien in our midst and said, "Not like music? I'd..." and pantomimed blowing his brains out.

Now I don't want to judge here (be quiet, Andrew) but, honey, you most definitely have done something wrong in your life and sadly, you're paying the price every single day and not even realizing it. Alien or not, you have my deepest sympathy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gorging at Avalon

Earlier in the week, a dear friend had slipped me the new menu at Avalon which was set to debut this weekend.

Scanning it, I found loads of small plates full of creative-sounding combinations and extremely reasonable prices.

So when a friend and I made plans to attend Project Resolution tonight, I suggested we start there.

Her response was encouraging; she told me she thought Knox was one of the best chefs in the city, which landed us at Avalon's door at 5:02 (it was locked).

Luckily, the inimitable Jason heard us at the door and we headed in to see how this new menu was going to impress us.

Naturally the first thing Jason told us was not to ask too many questions about the menu because he wasn't familiar with it yet; if you know this popular and longtime Avalon bartender, that comment should not surprise you in the least.

We had a tough time narrowing down our choices because we wanted to taste as much as possible.

After much deliberation, we ordered grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce and Manchego; Fava bean, fingerling potato and leek succotash with white corn butter; Merguez sausage on Granny Smith apples and 6-month Manchego; Tempura-fried Serrano ham- wrapped figs with basil and Hooks 1-year bleu cheese; steamed mussels with crispy fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions and marjoram sherry butter; and escolar wrapped in marinated corn husk with white corn and tequila lime reduction.

Everything was $8 or less except the $10 fish.

There wasn't a disappointment in the bunch and if forced to pick a couple of favorites, I might go for the succotash and the sausage, but I could make a case for each of the other dishes as well.

Next time I will definitely try the wild boar chop.

Six small plates turned out to be way too much food for two mere females (where is Cy when you need him?) but our pleasure in taking in so many tastes overrode any good sense in ordering.

Project Resolution was leaner than usual with only three films shown tonight and two were essentially music videos (one a photo essay set to music) with the most disparate of bands for soundtracks: Muse and Tone Loc.

It's not often that those two show up in the same sentence, much less the same evening.

Because of the brevity of the film screenings, there was more time in between for discussion of each film although I'm not sure how pleasurable that was for the directors involved.

More time to over analyze your films, oh boy!

Since P-Res ended unexpectedly early, we could think of nothing better to do than go to Can-Can for dessert.

Why Can Can, you wonder?

Who else has an entire section of their dessert menu devoted to Chocolate?

No one.

Friend got the chocolate creme brulee with mint chocolate chip ice cream, and chocolate vanilla sauce, a chocolate honeycomb and chocolate brownie round.

I opted for the chocolate ice cream in chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and a chocolate biscotti.

Again, our eyes were bigger than our bellies and we both left chocolate on the plate, a real shame, but unavoidable.

The highlight for sure was the mint chocolate chip ice cream, which could not have tasted any more of fresh mint.

Don't quote me on this because I'll deny it, but I was actually chocolated out by the time I gave up and pushed my plate away.

Tonight's big topic was online dating, a route we're both shunned but which may need to be considered unless one of us is willing to have a sex change operation (neither is).

According to today's Washington Post, more than twice as many couples who married last year met through online dating services than at a bar or social event.

One out of every five new relationships owes its origins to the Internet.

Aww, do we really have to?

Needless to say, neither of us actually committed to giving it a try but we did talk about thinking about considering it maybe down the road.

We figure we'll make a good enough impression on the screen but once they discover how much we can eat, it may be a different story.

Until then we're just a couple of bottomless pits enjoying each other's sparkling companionship.

But if you know any interesting guys, by all means, send them our way.

Don't worry, we have no intention of mentioning that sex change business.

Earth Day Hip Hop

Okay, I admit it; I went to the Earth Day Festival for music BUT before you judge me too harshly, know that I did take in a lot of the festival too. I am a gardener, I do compost and recycle (including clothing; I never buy new), and I bike and walk whenever possible. So I'm not anti-earth by any means.

But, yes, I went because I wanted to hear Photosyntheizers play outside; I saw them first at WRIR's birthday bash, but in a too-small room, so I wanted to hear what live hip hop could sound like in the great outdoors. The answer: amazing. There was so much room for that sound and the audience kept growing throughout their set.

At one point, the track the DJ was playing was a live one so it ended with clapping. "See, we bring our own applause in case you guys aren't feeling it," Barcodez joked, not that appreciation was a problem. Their other vocalist, Samsun brought her smooth soul vocals to his and the audience ate it up.

After my music jones was satisfied, I walked the festival, running into people and stopping at what interested me. I picked up a sweet pea seedling while a couple of girls next to me argued over whether or not it's too late to be planting. Ladies, it's April 25th, I think we're safe to still plant. Maybe the early warmth has fooled people into thinking we're already to summer but that's just not the case.

I signed up to join the local chapter of the Slow Food Movement and discussed its recent formation with a volunteer. I'm excited to be in on the early stages of this group's arrival in rva. They had a plate of Belmont Butchery's country pate on bread and it was so good it made my eyes close in enjoyment as I ate it. Mmm, slow food good.

I picked up handfuls of seed bombs, the better to improve some of the uglier vacant lots in J-Ward and fired them off on my way home. I've been a big proponent of seed bombs for a couple of years now, as a couple of my friends can attest. ("He's so BAD at this," is all I'm going to say, guys.). So easy and so effective.

I even ventured out onto the Mayo Bridge where they had equipment for the rod-less to try fishing. As many times as I've seen the regular fisherman on that bridge, it was really cool to be one of them for the first time. And no, I didn't catch anything, but now I know what the view looks like and how it feels to be one of the guys wiling away an afternoon on the bridge. My dad was the type who kept our family supplied with a freezer full of rockfish and bluefish year round (Irish Catholics; fish every Friday, don't you know?), so I know he'll be so proud, even with no catch to boast about.

It was the first year for beer at the festival, not that I drink beer, but it seemed to make a lot of people more earth-enthusiastic, so I say, hey, whatever it takes.

For me, it was music, but then who out there is really the least bit surprised about that?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Elvis at The National

"If I'd known you'd be so enthusiastic, I'd have started earlier," joked Elvis Costello returning for the first of two encores.

If he'd realized how psyched this crowd of mostly middle-aged fans was, he would have had to start around 4:00 this afternoon and that seems a bit unlikely to have happened, wouldn't you say?

From the second the straw-hatted Elvis took the stage, the audience was in his thrall.

With the Sugarcanes behind him, we were treated to a peerless group of musicians including the incomparable Jerry Douglas on dobro (and mandolin) and Jim Lauderdale on guitar.

Adding to those magnificent music makers were violin, mandolin, upright bass and accordion.

I was lucky enough to happen on a couple of National regulars, the kind of people who see shows weekly and while we don't attend the same shows for the most part(although we have three upcoming shows in common), I can always enjoy talking to other live music lovers.

We became fast friends, holding each other's places in front of the sound booth during bar runs and bathroom breaks.

Not surprisingly, Costello's between-song banter was witty and smart. Introducing a song, he said, "For all you out there who think you can rid the world of alcohol by drinking it," and a general chuckle arose from the crowd.

When he finally had his electric guitar brought out, he cautioned the audience not to get too excited because, "it only has four strings."

Costello told the audience that he was raised "across the river from Richmond" and that his father had told him that "someday his name would be up in Richmond , VA."

This show had happened not a moment too soon for this crowd; I heard more than one person say that it was their first trip to the National.

Not to judge, but that's pathetic, people. How long has this venue been open now?

I never expected to hear Costello's unique voice live so I would have been happy with whatever he chose to sing.

I have to admit that I would have been thrilled beyond words to have heard anything from his collaborative CD with Burt Bacharach, but that would have been tough to pull off without an orchestra.

Of course, with a catalog the size of Costello's, composing a set list had to have been a challenge.

Several female George Jones fans near me about lost it when he launched into, "A good year for the roses;" apparently they were more familiar with Jones' cover of the song than Costello's.

 To tease us, he saved his most well-known material for the two encores, including a slow-tempo version of "Every Day I Write the Book."

No surprise, the biggest crowd reaction came with "Allison," which became a sing-along and segued into the other Elvis' "Suspicious Minds;" the fans went absolutely crazy.

The closing song was "(What's so funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

For an audience which mostly drew from the '70s, there could not have been a better way to end the show.

No doubt they were also happy with its respectable ending time: 10:30 on a Saturday night.

New wave has mellowed into middle age but when the performance is as outstanding as this one was, it's easy to forgive such un-rock and roll behavior.

We are, after all, talking about Elvis Costello.

No telling, maybe he had better things to do in Richmond, VA after finally getting his name up in lights.

This fan would have happily made a few enthusiastic suggestions.

Pie and Poetry

A sweet friend had e-mailed me at 3 a.m. this morning saying he was saddened to read about the loss of my beagle and suggesting we do something fun together today. As someone who had walked the beagle with me on more than a few occasions, he knew I might be low so I appreciated the gesture.

We ended up at Pie because I'd been craving pizza all week and 8 1/2 is still closed from the fire damage they experienced. He'd never been to Pie so he wanted to experience the pizza for himself after the two scathing local reviews the place had gotten.

They have a $5 lunch menu from 11-4, with salads, sandwiches and wraps on it, so we started with a chopped Greek salad which was easily large enough to split and satisfy us both. The ingredients were fresh, the feta plentiful and we felt more virtuous for having begun with greens.

We chose the Cured Meat pizza (with Soprasetta), thus taking care of my desire for white pizza and the male need for meat. It was quite good with garlic, Fontina and Mozzarella and the desired pig product. Friend commented on how much he likes a thin, cracker-like crust which this was. We managed to down all but two slices.

Afterwards, he wanted to go down to the river to see the heron rookery I'd been so enthralled with, here, but the trees had leafed out so much in the past four weeks that we were barely able to see three of the 45 nests. Of course, any excuse to do the Pipeline walkway is a good one. We did see plenty of bird life while we were there, though.

Bird-watching turned out to be the ideal activity to segue into my next activity, an author reading at Chop Suey Books. Scheduled to read first was Tara Bray, a poet with frequent references to birds in her poetry, but it was one of her students who unexpectedly got the ball rolling.

As we waited for the reading to start, someone noted that what we needed was a slam poet to kick things off. Funny that, there was one in the audience and he volunteered to do one of his favorite pieces, written on paper after years of using a computer to create his poetry. It was entitled Soul at Sunrise and was riveting, a commentary on life filled with alliteration, wordplay and rhyme. Like the audience, I could not believe our fortune in hearing such a strong piece from a completely unexpected source.

Acknowledging her fondness for winged creatures, Bray's poetry contained references to starlings, juncos, blue jays, crows and the kingfisher, which she referred to a " a poem kind of a bird." One poem about pelicans contained the visually evocative line, "They float on the water's tension." She did have non-avian poetry, including a poignant piece about her mother's death when she was a child and one she considered a tribute to her three brothers.

She was followed by her husband, poet Bill Notter who sheepishly admitted he had not one single poem about his lovely wife, although he did have one bird poem. He had poems written during the time he lived in Mississippi ("I guess to say rural Mississippi is redundant.") as well as his birth state, Colorado ("I grew up in Colorado, but the flat part. But I knew about mountains.").

Of living in Nebraska, he wrote that it had "more space than anyone can stand until he leaves." I can't attest to that feeling, but I understood what he was trying to say. Likewise his line about a life well-lived which began with, "If I got run over by a sugar beet truck tonight..." evoked a world with which I personally have no familiarity, but became conceivable with his choice of words. Somehow, I don't think being run over by a UPS truck would have quite the same impact on reading or hearing.

The reading was SRO, an unusual occurrence I can say with certainty since I attend so many of them. It was soul satisfying to see so many people in a poetic frame of mind on a Saturday afternoon.

Obviously I wasn't the only one who needed beautiful words to improve this particular day. How lucky for me that they were just waiting to be heard.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hey, You! Come Watch!

Ah, what to do when a man standing in a doorway smoking calls out your name as you're crossing Broad Street? These are the dilemmas innocent women face as they try walking to a neighborhood eatery. Actually, it was Carlos at Bistro 27 standing at the kitchen door to the restaurant and beckoning me over. What fresh fun was this?

It seems the restaurant was closed for a private party (actually, a rehearsal dinner for 68) and he was suggesting that I spend the evening as a guest of the kitchen watching the action and enjoying the view from his vantage point. Hell yea, no one's ever invited me to get a first hand look at a busy restaurant on a weekend night so there was no way I was turning that down. Little did I realize what a whirlwind I was about to witness.

The guests were already in full cocktail mode, noshing on appetizers and mingling away when I took up residence in the back corner of the kitchen. A glass of Gavi di Gavi was immediately poured for me and Carlos handed me the Les Halles cookbook to prove why the tenderloin was siting out on trays (Anthony Bourdain insists meat be room temperature before hitting the grill).

I was introduced to various members of the crew and within minutes Lucia spread a towel on a shelf for me to sit on. Moments later, I was the recipient of mini crab cakes; I was liking this already. As I continued reading the expletive-filled book, one of the servers walked by and told me what a stellar book it was and the dishwasher asked if I spoke Spanish (I don't). I was already like part of the furniture.

Carlos reappeared with shrimp over his version of cocktail sauce which he calls Carlos' sauce. He told me that the recipe is top secret but that it involved mayonnaise. I didn't care what was in it; it was delicious so I ate it and got a wine refill. I was enjoying how warm it was in my little corner spot, but then, I get cold at the drop of a hat. Others appeared to be sweating.

Bruschetta came next and another person asked me if I spoke Spanish. The bustle in the kitchen was increasing madly by this point, with trays and trays of house made beef ravioli being preppped and cooked. It was served under a sauce rosa and melted in my mouth. The irony of me reading a book about the madness of a restaurant kitchen as I sat in a crazy restaurant kitchen was not lost on me.

About this time, one of the servers asked if it was possible to get chicken nuggets and fries for the antsy four year old in attendance, so the fryer was turned on and breading prepared for the chicken. Right about then, my glass began to be refilled with the Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon the chef was drinking.

Waiting in line for the ladies' room, the woman behind me introduced herself and asked if I was from the bride or groom's side. I introduced myself and explained that I was merely the guest of the chef (I started to say paramour just to spice things up, but decided against it). Turns out she was the stepmother of the bride, but gave me an enthusiastic welcome nonetheless and told me to drink up.

When it came time to cook the beef, chicken and salmon for the entrees, I moved to the bar (the party had moved to tables on the other side) to get out of the way. Shortly thereafter, the mayor and a companion came in and sat down at one of the bar tables; apparently he's a regular at 27. He certainly seemed to know all the cops who walked by on their way toward Club Rendezvous.

My beef tenderloin arrived and it was beautifully rare inside a crispy outside. It was during my enjoyment of it that the toasts began on the other side and, good god, I've never heard so many people pontificate about an impending marriage in my life; I think it was close to ten people who spoke about what incredible people these two lovebirds were.

It was during the endless toasting that the father of the bride came over to the bar ans started snapping his fingers at the staff to tell them to quiet down. Apparently taking out the champagne glasses and popping corks was preventing him from hearing the cliched thoughts of his friends and family. The staff did their best to quietly prepare 68 glasses of bubbly for the guests and I moved back into the kitchen where the people were not pompous asses.

One of the girls wiping the counters asked me my age (and paid me a compliment) so I asked her hers (19; how's that for putting me in my place?). Then she asked if I spoke Spanish. "Not any?" she lamented. Gracias was the best I could do and that was clearly disappointing her.

Once dessert was served, Carlos suggested we move back to the bar to further our conversation. Randy, his new guy, asked me what was happening tonight now that he was off the clock. I asked him why he thought I'd know and it turned out that since he'd seen me at the Against Me! show that that meant I knew how to party. I suggested the Boy-lesque show at Gallery 5, which had been my intended destination before I got sucked into the vortex of a restaurant kitchen on a busy night.

Just as Carlos and I were getting into a juicy discussion of girl vs. boy parts, a blogger girl I know showed up with a friend and they joined our group. It turned into a lively discussion of prudishness ("I don't want to see other people take off their clothes when I'm with a friend.") and experimental eating ("If I know I like chicken and beef, why would I want to try things I don't know I'd like?").

Of course, you can't say things like that to Carlos; he and I had just been discussing beef tongue tacos, of which we're both very fond. They were repulsed at his suggestions of soft-shelled crabs, spiders and sweetbreads. He tried to convince them that they should be braver in trying new foods. "You only have one life. You have to eat it."

Out of the mouth of a Brazilian to my ears. I'm eating as fast as I can.

The Beagle Has Ended

My long-time companion (more than fourteen years) and charming wingman has left J-Ward for the last time.

This is the beagle who accompanied me throughout the 'hood, winning us both friends and admirers.

He's also the one who befriended every single person I ever invited to my apartment.

At the beach, one of his favorite places on earth, he would sleep in the room with my various guests, disarming them to the point that when I finally got up the two of them had already been out for a walk while I snoozed.

His health had been steadily deteriorating since March last year and in the past six months or so, he was having trouble seeing and hearing.

He's always loved snow, but the three big storms we had this year were tough for him,

We still walked, but he was no longer able to frolic like he used to.

But it was really the last couple of months that told me what I needed to know.

He no longer wanted to go for walks and for a dog who liked nothing better, I knew he had to be feeling his age.

Even so, it's an unbearably difficult decision to make to say "It's time."

So the beagle who loved Jackson Ward as much as I do will be absent from its brick-lined sidewalks and Abner Clay Park.

His devotion to me was a thing of beauty especially considering how allergic I am to dogs.

Over the past year and all its difficulties, he had become my constant companion, something I badly needed.

My only consolation is knowing that I won't be the only person who notices the absence of the charming J-Ward beagle.

Farewell, my lifesaver.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Make My Night: The National and Marionette

It's almost exactly three years since I first saw The National live (they were opening for the Arcade Fire) and nearly two years since I saw them last (while on a night off from the tour with REM), so I was more than overdue to see them tonight.

When the tickets originally went on sale, I'd purposely chosen the Thursday show rather than the Friday, knowing I wouldn't be able to enjoy doing anything else on Thursday knowing they were playing here and I wasn't there. It turned out to be a wise choice.

As much as I'd been eagerly anticipating tonight, I was in for the surprise of the year when, checking online this afternoon for when the show started, I saw that the opener was local band Marionette, a band I've been a huge fan of for a couple of years now. There could be no more perfect show for me than the combination of these two on stage in one evening. They might as well have called it the Karen Show (and wouldn't it have been amazing if The National had sung "Karen"?).

I started out by meeting a friend and his charming out-of-town guest at Comfort. He'd already introduced her to my blog (she thought it was funny) and told me about hers (more serious due to its work-related nature). We had some great music talk and she was very surprised to learn that I'm not one of those people who tries to get backstage to meet the band. Must be my innate shyness that keeps me in the audience (okay, not likely). I raved about Marionette to them so we left in time to catch their set.

At the National we found frigid temperatures in anticipation of the crowd tonight. Only 800 tickets had been sold in advance, but people continued to walk up and buy them. I didn't want to deal with a shoulder-to-shoulder sell-out crowd (hence the choice of tonight over tomorrow) but I wasn't adverse to more warm bodies nearby either. Unfortunately when I got them, they were of the most obnoxious kind, but more on that later.

Marionette was performing as a four piece , rather than five, and played an excellent and energetic set. My friends were won over in a matter of a couple songs and it was obvious that the audience recognized them as something special as they got more and more into it with each song.
I loved that so many new people were being exposed to this talented band who have had me raving about their unique sound for over some time now. They're playing for the grand re-opening of the Virginia Museum next Saturday night and I can't suggest strongly enough that you go check them out. Not to be corny, but they will knock your socks off and besides, then I can say I told you so.

I wasn't sure what to expect different from The National other than new material, of which we got plenty. The main change I noticed was how much looser the band was, especially lead singer Matt Berninger. Last time, he'd been more staid, singing with closed eyes and less crowd interaction.

Tonight he was touching hands, bending down and engaging with the audience so much more. Maybe it was the bottle and glass of wine he'd brought onstage with him. I have to say, him removing the cork with his teeth was a pretty appealing picture.

At one point, he jumped off the stage and moved through the crowd singing, finally stopping at the sound booth. Much like my favorite bar stool at a restaurant, I have a favorite place at the National and it's against the guard rail of the sound booth. So it was a stroke of luck for me that he mounted the rail and sang from it, putting him a matter of a couple feet from where we were standing. It might have been the most exciting thing I've witnessed at a show and that's saying something, considering how many shows I attend every year.

Another (unfortunate) difference at the show was the addition of the party fan base. The summer 2008 show was a collection of The National fanatics who came to hear an amazing band. Tonight's crowd included those unpleasant types who are jumping on the bandwagon late and are far less devoted to the music.

The two guys in front of us, for instance, were obnoxiously drunk before the band even came onstage (one guy had five empty beer cups when his friend brought him his sixth beer). I heard him say, "I'm determined to get thrown out of here tonight."

By the third song, he and his buddy were shouting an inane conversation directly in front of me. As they got louder and obliterated my view, I couldn't stop myself from asking them to move or be quiet so I could hear the music. The guy with the six beers decided to challenge me by saying, "Yea, well we don't have to shut up. We're from New Orleans and we come to shows to party."

He continued to berate me while I ignored him and my friends closed in around me, but at least he wasn't in front of me anymore. Eventually his ADD kicked in and he moved away. I'm the wrong person to be near if you plan to talk loudly through a show; I've got no compunction about telling you to shut the fuck up, as I did with this guy tonight. No one's going to drown out bands this good in my presence.

The new material sounded great and Matt B. acknowledged that he was doing much better with the new material tonight than with the old. He said that, "At the end of a show, we give demerits and count the fuck-ups and tonight I'm going to win." During the encore, he apologized again for his mistakes. Honestly, the audience was just thrilled to hear that magnificent baritone and obtuse lyrics.

At that last show of theirs I saw, all the material was drawn from Alligator and Boxer, so the devoted got to hear all their favorites. With so much new stuff tonight, that wasn't necessarily the case. For me, satisfaction arrived in the form of "Slow Show," quite possibly the most romantic song ever written. And that's not just my opinion because I know for a fact that guitarist Adam Rose of Marionette agrees with me on that. Romance is, after all, in the ear of the beholder.

And tonight's performances by two of my all-time favorite bands made for a night not likely to be topped musically for quite some time. If ever there were two bands who understand what appeals to my ears, it's these guys. Or, as The National puts it:

I'm put together beautifully
Big wet bottle in my fist
Big wet rose in my teeth
I'm a perfect piece of ass

I couldn't have said it better myself. Hats off to both bands for making my night a perfect piece.

My Life Will Look so Good in Death (I Hope)

When I went to visit my parents earlier this week, my mom unexpectedly gave me a big box containing all the letters and cards I'd ever sent her. Being the phone-phobe that I am, when I moved to rva in 1986, our primary means of communicating was letter-writing and unbeknownst to me, she'd saved them all.

I've only begun to look through them, but I can already tell what an in-depth archive of my life and what was happening culturally they're going to be. I wrote her about everything that interested me, it would appear. And as has been noted by more than one person in my lifetime, I never use a sentence when a paragraph will do.

Which brings us to the trunks of Mary Custis Lee, the second child of Robert E. Lee and the topic of today's Banner lecture at the Virginia Historical Society. "Hidden Treasures: A Short History of the Mary Custis Lee Trunks" was about the recently discovered trunks containing over 6500 items, such as journals, letters, invitations and tickets of a woman who held a crucial role in archiving her famous family's ephemera.

The letters from her father during the Civil War were fascinating for their honesty; as early as 1861, he wrote her advising that people should "plan for a several-years war." In an 1862 letter he was quite adamant about his troops not considering themselves beaten at Sharpsburg, although I'm not sure the Union troops would have agreed with his assessment.

About getting the government to return the Lee family possessions taken from Arlington House during the war, he wrote about the delay in getting things done in Washington, D.C., "But in Washington, it often takes many days to accomplish a little." The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The lecture was given by long-time VHS staffer E. Lee Shepard, who closed the talk by saying, "Thank you for coming and thank you for staying." It was a reference to his talk being a replacement for the originally planned speaker, a U.K. resident who was trapped at home by the volcanic ash ramifications. Shepard's closing quip was especially appropriate because there were some attendees who, on learning of the change in topic/speakers at the door, actually turned on their heels and left. My nerdy friend and I were glad we'd stayed for such an interesting and poignant talk.

Afterwards, we lunched on the patio at New York Deli and I had their excellent Southwestern Cobb salad, a tasty take on the traditional version with its guacamole, salsa and baby corn in addition to the usual Cobb suspects. I shared the contents of some of my letters to my mother, but it was tough to compete with what Mary Custis Lee had accumulated in her trunks. I mean, the woman had invitations to hang with Queen Victoria.

I can only hope that when I die, my letters, tickets, journals and what-not tell a story of a life half as well-lived as hers. Believe me, I'm working on it.

Secco: Drapes to Drink By

Last month a friend put out a Facebook bulletin looking for someone to hem her new jeans in exchange for a bottle of wine (Inama Vin Soave). It was Julia of River City Cellars and I figured I can sew and I can drink, so I'm your girl. I'm on it.

She must have been pleased with my work because last week she contacted me with something much grander in mind. Would I be willing to make the drapes for her upcoming wine bar Secco in Carytown? The payoff sounded good, so sure, I said I'd do it. Just don't call me Suzy Homemaker.

I love rainy days, so after doing my four miles with an umbrella yesterday, I decided it was drape-making time. And while i have a really terrific apartment in Jackson Ward, there aren't many 9 1/2' furniture-free stretches in it. The hallways is long enough but not wide enough, the aged beagle spends his day moving from place to place in the living room and it didn't seem worth it to move the table out of the dining room. Okay, so the bedroom won by default.

So began the tedious process of laying out, measuring, ironing, pinning, sewing and ironing some more. Keep in mind that each of these six panels is fully four feet longer than I am; I periodically felt like I was in a fabric cocoon.

And voila! After a mere six hours, I had six panels ready for blocking the afternoon sun from the western windows at Secco. I got cleaned up for my wine dinner plans and headed over to Secco to deliver the goods. As it turned out, I also got to meet the kitchen staff and admire the boiling octopus they were cooking (with corks in the pot for tenderizing it; the things I randomly learn as I trip through life continue to amaze me).

Server-to-be Lincoln was industrious enough to fetch a ladder and immediately hang the drapes. I was gratified by the impressed nosies made by everyone once they were hung. I have to admit they did add a nice finishing touch to the space.

So when Secco finally opens in a week or so and you're sitting inside sipping some grape, take a moment to check out the locally-sourced window treatments. It's not every day you see Jackson Ward-made drinking drapes and these are a fine example of such.

I'm not bragging; I'm just happy to see J-Ward representing in Carytown. The Ward is after all, the home of Whiskey Wednesday and the dumping ground for an obscene number of empty 40-ounce bottles on a daily basis.

There's a certain poetic justice to knowing we can produce drinking drapes for our uptown grape friends. Do take note and raise a glass to the Ward.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All About a Stranger at Acacia

When a good friend has to cancel on you for the night's festivities, it should ruin the whole evening, right? Our plan had been to got to the wine dinner at Acacia and then over to Gallery 5 to hear Mouthbreather play. But unfortunately, business took precedence over pleasure and she couldn't go with me.

Since we already had a reservation at the bar (please take note, yet another place that honors bar reservations), I decided to just go by myself and see what happened. It's not like I haven't done wine dinners by myself before, after all. Besides, it was a Spanish wine dinner and I wanted to drink Spanish wine tonight, even if it was just with the bartender. So off I went alone.

Arthur welcomed me graciously and gallantly didn't even point out my absent dinner partner. Learning that I wanted to partake of the wine dinner, it wasn't long before things were set in motion and the Cordorniu Pinot Brut was being poured for me. A lovely pink Cava, it was paired with local asparagus, house made Mozzarella, lemon caper and olive vinaigrette. About this time, a charming man appeared next to me to introduce himself and talk to me about wine.

I guessed that it was Clement Brown, the wine rep for the evening and I was correct. He wanted to tell me about the Cava but we wound up talking about so much more. First off, he referred to me as attractive, always a good way to get a customer's attention. Next he asked if I was in the wine business, but I quickly corrected that presumption. Before we could get to the good stuff, he was off to educate other winer/diners.

The first course was wonderful paired with the Cava. Arthur and I were discussing celebrating Earth day tomorrow and I pointed out what an earth-friendly dish this was, what with the local asparagus and house-made Mozzarella having such a low carbon footprint. Then Clement was back and conversation about his French roots and British schooling ensued. He asked how I was enjoying the Cava and I had to rave. We chatted about the brilliance of Acacia's mini-wine dinners with their oh-so-affordable $35 price tag and schedule-free timing.

Course #2 was warm pastrami smoked salmon with rye gnocchi and light fennel kraut paired with Mar de Frades Rias Baxas Albarino (or, as we like to say, hay and honeysuckle) and to die for. By now Clement was back and we'd moved on to the French Film Fest (we'd seen the same films this year) and the perils of being oldest children. There may have even been some discussion of Catholic guilt and birth control pills; it was truly a delightful conversation. And rye gnocchi. well, I want that again, preferably real soon.

There were two entree choices: lime-crusted rare tuna, fava bean mash, red pepper compote and spring pea cilantro sauce or pig on pig (as Acacia's menu called it, roasted pork loin wrapped with pork belly with celery root gratin and apple pecan pork sauce). When Arthur asked my preference, I asked him who could resist pig wrapped pig and he understood. Clement leaned over and said, "The wine for it is better, too." Chardonnay vs. Temperanillo is no choice, really.

Shortly before my pork feast arrived, Arthur began setting up the bar for the stool next to me and it wasn't long before Clement joined me for dinner. Considering that I was expecting a solo dining experience tonight, I was quite happy to have such an articulate and fascinating dinner partner. It didn't hurt that he explained taking up residence next to me by saying that it wasn't often he found someone so interesting. Compliments are a sure-fire way to get someone's attention.

Gentlemen, take note, if you want to impress a nerd, ask questions like, "What are you currently reading?" and "What are you looking for in a man?" Besides being great conversation starters, they show what an interesting guy you are. Meanwhile he was tucking into the tuna and I was enjoying the pig (three huge slices, by the way) but both of us were savoring the 2006 Vina Zaco Temperanillo Rioja and talking about the pleasures of well-chosen pairings. Chef Dale Reitzer had given him the menu and he'd been left to pick the pairings and I was happy to acknowledge what a terrific job he'd done.

After we compared our vastly different love lives (he's long-time happily married and I'm, well, still trying to attract the love of my life)), Clement suggested dessert and then asked if I was the dessert-eating type. Yes, I'm one of those females I had to admit, impressing him with my lack of sanctimonious abstention. He suggested one of his Sauternes with our sweets, a fine idea in my opinion.

Dessert consisted of prickly pear cactus sorbet, chocolate ganache and passion fruit flan, giving us all kinds of taste delights to accompany our Sauterne and discussion of the romance of Out of Africa. "Tell me a story," a line from the movie we agreed was about the most romantic thing to say to the opposite sex.

Dale came over to dish and talk about how the kitchen handles these events (from crazed to nonchalant all in the course of an hour or so) and the need to address the economic climate to keep diners coming back for these events. Judging by tonight's crowd, I'd say he's nailed the concept; even the pulsing club music adds something to the experience that other places just don't have.

Arthur and I were talking about tomorrow's Earth Day drink event at Julep, which naturally led to talking about my favorite spirit, tequila. He insisted I try El Tessoro before I left because, as a recent convert, it's his new tequila favorite and I had to admit it was a fine example of the good stuff. As my mom always used to say, there's no better way to end a good wine dinner than with tequila. Okay, she didn't day that but she should have.

And okay, I didn't expect to have such a good time without my gal pal, but as fate would have it, I enjoyed myself way too much with what started as a random encounter with a stranger who just so happened to be a good talker and full of interesting life experience.

You just never know who or what you're going to find unless you're out there to discover it. I've never liked adventure movies but I'm all about some exploring. So to speak.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Listening for All the Right Reasons

You don't see a good friend for a few weeks and when you finally do your time is limited by prior committments, so all the Counoise and Malbec in the restaurant can't help you catch up on each other's lives any faster than you do. But we tried diligently, we really did.

The starting point was Six Burner (at her request but always a good choice for me) and while I was the sole customer at 6:00, within the hour, the place was bustling. By the time my friend arrived, I'd already regaled Josh with the details of last night's supreme soul show, knowing that as a musician he'd want to hear about such talent and showmanship and he did. His biggest regret was that I hadn't forewarned him since he'd been off by 9:30 and could have made it over. I keep forgetting that that's my job around here: tell people what to do.

My friend started by asking if I had the minutes of our last get-together and, sadly, I did not. Once we got rolling on the value of blog posts with depth, there was no stopping the words, though. Theater was next with a discussion of the hardest part of being an actor not being the actual acting, but the onstage listening and reacting (can you say Brandon Crowder?). Having just seen Tommy too, we compared notes.

She's recently started working out with a personal trainer who's been treating her respectfully and politely. much to her disgust. Tired of that nonsense, when he told her today to do another set of crunches after two previous sets, she responded, "Fuck you!" in an effort to loosen him up. After that, he seemed to finally get a feel for who she really is and how best to handle her; a well-placed expletive can do that for a woman.

Josh reappeared with an amuse bouche and we tucked into eel with roasted ramp in a mushroom sauce and what a delicious thing that was. We then ordered the salumi plate of cured meats and the risotto balls with mozzarella (that superb crust and creamy interior, what a beautiful contrast that was) to have some sustenance while we delved into heavier things.

She reads the blog so, as she pointed out, she knew the general framework of what had been happening, but wanted the full-on versions with the details I don't share publicly. It had been so long that entire chapters had closed, new intrigue had occurred and fresh fodder for discussion developed. Josh kept our glasses refilled and we talked right up until we went our separate ways on the sidewalk out front.

I had to get going because I was not willing to be late for the Listening Room; music starts promptly at 8 and I like to have a few minutes to socialize before zipping it for the sake of music.

The program began with the soft-voiced Lydia Ooghe, playing with Trey Pollard and Wells Hanley. "This is a song about wanting to go out and drink by myself," she informed the audience. Then turning to her musicians, she asked, "Do you guys know what song that is? It 's actually all of them." Favorite lyric: "I don't really care if you're a good boy/you're the only one for me."

Worth noting is that Trey was not playing his usual guitar, but instead the pedal steel, an instrument whose sound I love but don't really understand. I corrected that tonight by going up to him after the performance and asking my dumb non-musician questions. Unlike the guitar, which he's played since childhood, the pedal steel is fairly new to him. "It takes every ounce of concentration I have to play this thing," he told me, saying it was well worth it. Ah, but the sound is so wonderful we both agreed.

Nick Coward played next and up until tonight, I'd only seen him with his band, the Last Battle. He played a song from his upcoming EP and mentioned that it had horns, but that he was going to sing the horns, which he did beautifully; he also covered the Arcade Fire's Ocean of Noise. Best lyric: "Blaming the past/for what the future lacks/in this backward waltz."

Last up was Moruza (it means mish-mash and was the leader's middle name), a quintet of three women and two guys (keys, fiddle, bass, drums, singer). Saying she was nervous and babbling, a song was introduced with, "This is a song about liars...which is almost everybody." She paused to let the audience react. "No, she didn't," she said smiling at her pronouncement.

The band had beautiful harmonies with two and sometimes three female voices and claimed that usually they were the quietest band, although that was not the case at the Listening Room. Favorite lyric: "And you loved me/just the way I'd hoped you could/And you followed me/just the way I'd hoped you would." That's from a song entitled Richmond, written, they said, because the band is from here, lives here and loves it here.

I can relate. While I'm not from here, evenings like tonight are exactly why I live here and love it here. Some people would call it a big, stupid city, but I feel lucky enough to think I'll find someone amazing here.

And in the meantime, I have nights like this.

Do the Right Thing, VCU

Despite knowing several of the people involved in the making for the documentary, Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond's African Burial Ground, I had not actually seen the film until today when the Library of Virgina showed it as part of their noontime lunch series.

And while I understand VCU's error in building a parking lot over a Negro burial ground, now that it's been established that that's what's under it, I have a difficult time comprehending how they can continue to allow the land to be used as a surface parking lot. In fact, I have to question whether or not the circumstances would be the same if, say my ancestors were buried there; of course, by that I mean white people. Wouldn't the outcry over ignoring an historic white burial ground almost certainly attract VCU's attention?

As filmmaker Shawn Utsey pointed out, after much back and forth, VCU has agreed to sell the property for $3 million, as if the community can collectively raise that kind of money. It would seem that doing the morally correct thing by ceasing to use the burial ground for parking and beginning an archaeological dig for the purpose of learning more about some of Richmond's earliest residents is insufficient motivation.

Given RVA' shameful history in the slave trade, it seems to me that it's the very least we could do to give peace to the departed who helped shape our city. A full excavation and eventual memorial to this essential part of our collective ancestry should be the only option on the table.

My friend Kenny, the chief organizer of the protests about the burial ground, is right. We all lose when we don't stand up and fight such injustice.

IOU Soulpower

If you weren't at the Kings Go Forth show at Balliceaux tonight, you have my condolences, but please let me tell you what you missed because you're going to rue the day you elected to do anything other than see this amazing ten-piece perform live.

For free, by the way, just to rub it in.

My girlfriend and I arrived at 7 to score the best possible table for viewing and to enjoy a leisurely meal beforehand.

I enjoyed the ribollita free range chicken/peasant bread/cannellini bean/Tuscan kale soup,followed by the Bibb lettuce/buttermilk blue cheese dressing/pickled shallots/crispy Brussels sprouts salad and finally the crispy braised pork belly.

Okay, there were multiple desserts later, but I won't waste your time when there's music to be discussed.

When we'd arrived, the room was mostly full of DJs, most of whom came over to say hi and talk about the show, but as we ate, people began to trickle in and the room picked up energy along the way.

Eventually our evening was complete when our dancing fool of a guy pal arrived to help us eat, drink and funk out.

Best line of the night and possibly the month, although it wasn't his, was "I'm the Watson to your Holmes."

Pretend it's the 70s during the golden age of soul/funk /dance music with multiple vocalists (black, white, Hispanic) to harmonize, two drummers making for non-stop rhythm and a horn section to keep it all moving.

Now transfer that sound to 2010 and try to imagine how amazing it is to hear a band not just replicate that sound, getting the audience dancing and moving, but actually updating it in a purely retro way.

Milwaukee should be very proud to have produced a band with such an R & B pedigree executed by the current generation.

Kudos got to DJ Pari for making Richmond the start of their record-release tour which heads to DC tomorrow, followed by NYC and, and according to the band member I chatted with, even the holy grail of NPR.

Getting to see Kings Go Forth for free on a random Monday night may be the biggest musical gift RVA has gotten in many a moon; I can guarantee you that everyone in that room tonight will have bragging rights for years about having witnessed what we did.

Perched atop a booth back, shaking it non-stop and being sung to from the floor, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Another friend joined me on my booth-top seat and we really did have the best view in the room.

They played for over an hour but the crowd clearly wanted the music to go on.

We all knew we'd never see these guys in a venue so small again. The Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings analogy that several people made is bound to be true.

Dancing away a Monday night to some of the most amazing soul funk we could hope for in this millennium, I gotta say, that's just one more example of why Richmond rocks.

Not that I haven't made that point a hundred times before here, but I'm just sayin'.

You should have been there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Take Me Away Music

On this cooler-than-expected Monday, I took a road trip to the Northern Neck to see the river and have lunch with the parental units.

And as any sane person knows, a road trip requires the proper music to enhance the experience, so I always spend a little time choosing a variety of CDs for the occasion, despite my car being fully stocked.

What does fully stocked mean?

It means that my newest music is already in the car; at the moment, that would be Yeasayer, BeachHouse, the new Shout Out Louds and the XX.

It means that the CDs that can sustain me through any eventuality and listen to endlessly are already there too: Turn on the Bright Lights. Antics, Alligator, Boxer, Summer Sun, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, and Our Ill Wills.

So when I look for road music, I generally choose with variety in mind. I want at least one, if not two, old and reminiscent CDS, something not-so-old but not often listened to and a guilty pleasure, that is, something I once listened to way more than I needed to.

Here's how it broke down today: Graham Parker's 1988 The Mona Lisa's Sister, Al Green's 2003 gem I Can't Stop, Autolux's Future Perfect, the Killer's Hot Fuss and for good measure I also brought Helio Sequences' Keep Your Eyes Ahead. 

And would you believe I almost dipped into the regular car stash after listening to all the ones I'd brought?

Please don't judge me.

The trip takes me out Route 360 beyond Mechanicsville and after a while, there's not much on the road besides gas stations, storage places and farmland.

It can lull you into complacency, especially with great music at full blast.

Way out near Aylett with nary a house in sight, I saw an Exxon gas station's sign that read, "Best chicken and rice pudding in town!"

Town? I think what they meant was, "Best chicken and rice pudding in this desolate stretch of highway," but maybe they didn't have enough letters to spell that out.

I'd have stopped and suggested it to them, but I was in the middle of a really great CD and couldn't bear the thought of pausing my road music for even a minute.

Such is the musical beauty of choosing right for road trips.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

See Me, Feel Me, Feed Me

My first concert was the Who (I know, right?), which in no way explains why I went to see The Who's Tommy at Theatre VCU today. Because I had never seen the movie, I had absolutely no idea what the storyline was, although I fully expected to recognize and enjoy the music, which I did. My girlfriend was no better informed than I was, so we settled in to enjoy an afternoon of theater from the front row. I love watching spit and sweat fly.

Turns out the reasons for Tommy's deaf, dumb and blind kid status was being witness to a murder followed by abuse, both sexual and physical; it was really quite disturbing. The production, however, was terrific, with one of the best parts being having the band onstage performing the Who's music throughout.

Ryan Lake was stellar on guitar doing his best Pete Townsend and one of my favorite keyboard players, Gabe Churray of Ilad (one of my favorite local bands) shone. VCU has done a great job with this show and it's definitely worth spending an hour and 45 minutes at this Tony-award winning musical before it closes.

Afterwards we strolled down to Kuba Kuba ostensibly for a glass of wine, but ultimately for a feast. It was nothing like busy; Manny greeted us and immediately made himself director of our evening. Since it was still technically late afternoon and sunny we began with glasses of Vino Verde and a bowl of olives. Within minutes, grilled shrimp appeared at the table. We were busy dissecting the play and peeling the tails off our shrimp before we knew it.

Moving on to talk of the nefarious motives for friendship, we were the recipients of smoked salmon bruschetta with cream and capers. My friend is gluten-intolerant, so she could only enjoy the salmon, but I had no problem with the oil-toasted bread underneath with melt-in-your-mouth salmon on top.

And probably because Manny knows I can't get past his mussels with Tasso ham even after all these years, a small bowl of it appeared in front of each of us. By now our topic was working vacations and U.S. vs. Europe, not that either would be a hardship when it comes to learning a new skill. Manny opined that vacations should involve no work.

Cod cakes with a spicy cream sauce arrived next, but their cornmeal crust prevented my friend from partaking, so once again, it was up to me to follow through, which I happily did. Manny came over and sat with us for a bit to discuss leisure activities, specifically music at Balliceaux and the pleasures of cocktails versus straight spirits on the rocks. Note the plural; his complaint was with places that provide only one slow-melting cube. To each his own, I say.

He'd also graciously delivered a bottle of Sass Pinot Noir, announcing it as his current favorite small production winery. Girlfriend and I were impressed first with the delicious aroma and then with its balanced fruit followed by an earthy finish. It was meant to accompany the lamb chop lollipops that suddenly appeared in front of us. What a beautiful combination these two were! I'm not in the least embarrassed to say that we sucked the bones clean.

To assuage any guilt about our protein overload, our last course was large salads with a side of cornbread. At this point, we were comparing past relationships and trying to determine what could be gleaned from them. As two unintentional singles who both want to be attached again, we are seriously trying to suss out relationship success by examining the past. Of course, we're both smart enough to know that it will happen when it happens. Still, we can't seem to stop talking about the possibilities.

Kuba Kuba was definitely starting to fill up by this time but so were we, so we gave up our table, bade Manny a grateful good-bye and decided to walk over to the Black Sheep for our last course of wine and dessert. Naturally I got the chocolate creme brulee, (as if I order any other dessert there) but my friend has become a convert, too and may have even finished hers first, no shabby accomplishment when eating dessert with a pro like me.

Walking back to our cars at VCU in the cool night air, we marveled at how our theater date had turned into a multi-course extravaganza which had given us unexpected hours to solve the intricacies of friendship and relationships.

Or perhaps we were just so full that we had a false sense of contentment, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's always tomorrow for figuring out how to handle friends and find new loves.

We're convinced that we're only going to get better at this. I wonder, does that make us optimistic or just naive?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thrash Unreal by the Men's Room Door

Not to rub it in your face or anything, but yours truly was the bathroom monitor for the men's bathroom at Alley Katz for the Against Me! show tonight.

As more than one guy told me, "You ought to be getting paid for this." I ought to be getting paid for something, that's for sure.

My bathroom management began because, arriving near the beginning of Dead to Me's set, I found a great place to stand with an unobstructed view. It was on the side of the stage, three feet from the band and I was only two people back. For a short person (let's just say I never get to see musician's legs), that's an infrequent vantage point. The last time I remember such a great view was a Pinback show at the Satellite Ballroom several years back and it was a revelation.

So I happily took up residence just to the right of the men's room door. Dead to Me's lead singer was just telling the audience how great a show Against Me! was going to be. He then looked up at the people on the third floor and said, "I was looking at these guys when I said that, but it's true for you guys, posers! Afraid to be down here and have a real moshing experience?"

The posers didn't respond. Dead to Me continued with their energetic set.

During their set, guys kept coming to use the facilities and it soon became clear that there was no process in place, no clear line and as a result, girls were walking into the men's room (not a good idea when guys are using the sink as a back-up urinal) and others were butting in line.

I took charge, directing girls away to the proper place and telling the guys where the line was. It only made sense and worked out well for me as I now had an ever-changing line of potential music conversational partners.

I'd say close to three quarters of the guys had seen Against Me! before. Of those who hadn't, most were like me, had missed seeing them the last time they came through and were determined to see them at Alley Katz tonight. I asked one guy his three favorite bands; he said Interpol, Editors and the Shins. When I said I'd seen all three live, he about lost it. Editors, especially was of such interest to him that he gave up his place in line to quiz me on where and when and how good it had been; the man wanted details.

When another guy learned I'd seen the Arcade Fire, he was so impressed that I was afraid he was going to kiss the hem of my skirt. Seriously.

One guy recognized me immediately while I had no idea who he was: turns out he's the new food talent in Carlos' kitchen at Bistro 27 and we'd just met Thursday (sorry, he was out of context and looked different in real clothes after having met him in chef garb).

As the night wore on, guys were back in line and greeting me like an old friend. It was pretty funny.

I know old-school Against Me! fans shun the band post-New Wave, their major label debut. I also know Spin named New Wave the number one album of the year for 2007. Somewhere in between I'm happy to appreciate their melodic punk muscle, especially in an ideal venue for them like Alley Katz.

Despite an alarming number of people using earplugs (seriously, kids, live music is supposed to ruin your hearing; believe me, I know), moshing and stage diving were rampant and you can't get that at the National or the Camel.

Tom Gabel's voice was terrific live, their energy indicated they really were happy to be playing rva and they played old and new material to satisfy the sing-along crowd. Before the encore, two bathroom line guys I'd already talked to came by to pee and ask if I thought the show was as excellent as they had. I'm not sure why they wanted a first-timer's opinion, but I assured them that I did.

The WRIR DJ I'd met in line came by and thoughtfully gave me the link to his podcasts. The nearby bouncer thanked me for all my hard work managing the line, making his job easier.

Hey, you do what you have to do at a punk show. More than one guy asked me why I was putting up with the endless line of guys, but when I explained my superior vantage point, they immediately got it.

Sometimes you've got to suffer for art, even if all you're doing is appreciating rather than creating it. I'm okay with that, although my bruised toes would probably beg to differ.

But my ringing ears couldn't be happier.

Tallying Up the Day So Far

Number of classic lines I got on my walk today: 2
("Hey, girl, you looking for a man to take care of you?" from a guy sitting on his group house stoop. Later, caught behind another walker, I pass him and from behind hear "You're making me look bad." "I'm good at this," I turn around and say reassuringly. "I walk every day."
"You're still making me look bad," he says, smiling but not speeding up any.)

Number of unexpected friends who showed up while I was eating lunch at the Belvidere: 2
(One of whom I hadn't seen in months and who was not only looking terrific, but actually said the words, "I'm happy." You have to understand, this is a guy who would rather dwell on the negative than the positive just to be contrary, no matter how well things are going. He had the Eggs Belvidere while I ate a Caesar with grilled salmon; it was downright pleasant, not always the case with our shared meals in the past. And then another friend showed up to get a companion for Saturday Stroll and remind me that his birthday is tomorrow, in case I'd forgotten.)

Number of sidewalk chalk artists I saw on my way to the Byrd Theater: 7
(One girl, whose chalk art was labeled VMFA, was actually copying a 19th century Impressionist masterpiece and doing a magnificent job of translating oil on canvas to chalk on sidewalk.)

Number of phalluses in the locally-made film The Taint: Hundreds
(I'd heard about the film at Project Resolution where the director described it as a film about "a tainted river that makes all the men become misogynists and bash in women's heads. It's a comedy." Was it ever! The nearly full audience laughed almost the whole way through at vomiting, internal organs being ripped out, defecation, ejaculation and so much more. You kind of had to be there. Mimicking the age-old litter promo that the Byrd plays, there were several times when a character said, "Sick!" with just the right inflection to be an inside joke for regular Byrd attendees.)

Number of brilliant one-liners directed at me: 1
(Settled into my painful seat at the Byrd, local comic and ukulele player extraordinaire Herschel walked by and I said hello for the third time in three days; he'd been at the show at Alley Katz Thursday, at Gallery 5 last night, and here we were at the same place again. "My god," he exclaimed. "We're soulmates!"

But we all know there's no such things as soulmates. Right?

Wordy Birds Eat

If you're going to create a new event and catch my attention, here's what needs to be included: music (duh), a nerdy element (lecture, reading), art and alcohol (nibbles are a bonus). So it was that last night's first Gallery 5 After 5 sucked me in, delivered the goods and spit me out in time to meet a friend for dinner afterwards.

G5 After 5 had a $5 admission, but since that entitled you to your first drink free, essentially there was no admission. They had a nice selection of beer and wine choices and whiskey for sampling. When I arrived, the Dvorak American String Quartet was playing and people were milling about, looking at the photographic exhibit and chatting. I saw familiar faces and a lot of newbies, undoubtedly on their first visit to G5. There were a lot of cute summer dresses in attendance.

After a while, David Olli of the Science Museum gave a short informative but fun talk about the cosmos and everyone seemed to be into it (who doesn't like star talk?). The Scott Burton Trio was scheduled to play afterwards, supplying a jazz element to the evening. I met some new people and ran into some I already knew while mingling and everyone agreed that this would make a great series. There's already talk of making it one, so I'd highly recommend checking out the next one just for something completely different.

Then it was on to Avalon to meet a friend for a glass of wine (Fantail Pinotage, should you care). He was running late because his weekly Friday massage ran over; I know, tough life, right? Meanwhile, I ran into another former RTD employee who'd been laid off two weeks before me, so it was great to compare notes about life post-layoff. We both agreed that it beats life at the RTD hands down in just about every way. He and my friend were comparing travel notes since they both have trips coming up in the near future and volcanic ash is suddenly an issue for travelers.

By then, dinner was starting to sound like a lovely idea, so we ambled over to Acacia, which was mobbed, with would-be diners spilling out on to Cary Street for a 45-minute wait. Eschewing that, we instead drove to Lemaire, which was nearly full, but they found us a table in the conservatory overlooking Franklin Street, which was perfect, tucked away but with a view of Friday night revelers tripping down the street.

The meal was a lovely thing, consisting of a bottle of Cava, the fresh Gulf shrimp cocktail (actually, two of those), Rappahannock River oysters on the half shell (with Meyer lemon sorbet and shaved radish), cornmeal-crusted Chesapeake bay oysters with jicama slaw, and the jumbo lump crab cakes with grits, baby spinach and caramelized onions. Bubbles and seafood, truly the perfect meal on a balmy spring night; even more so when followed by the perfect dessert, in this case, the hazelnut caramel layer torte. At that point, it was nearing midnight and you could have stuck a fork in us, because we were done.

As good as the meal had been, the conversation was even better, highlighted by my friend referencing a screed, a word I'd used just hours before and, honestly, not a word you hear out of just anyone's mouth. Such are the little pleasures of language geeks.

Let me qualify that: language geeks who love to eat. Because, as we discussed throughout the meal, as fanatical as we are about words, at our most basic, what we love best is food.

Just call us enthusiastic eaters; we like the alliteration and it really is as basic as that.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Music Lust, Not (yet) Man Lust

"If you are free, we need to go to this show," said the e-mail from Andrew, my musical partner in crime. Fortunately, he gave me enough notice that I could guarantee my presence where it was needed last night. I'd just recently discovered Jukebox the Ghost so I was excited to have a chance to hear them live so soon. With the local additions of Prabir and the Goldrush and The Trillions opening, it looked to be a musical bonanza of an evening.

Garnett's was our choice for dinner and it worked out well because it wasn't crazily busy, so we got plenty of conversation from the staff as well as a visit from George, the cat, who once again had wandered down the four blocks from where he actually lives. His daily presence is thought to have something to do with Hunter feeding him salmon ("I just wanted a companion," he explained, "and someone to stroke." Ahem), but I've never seen a cat so nonchalantly work a dinner crowd. Having both doors open probably doesn't discourage George much, either.

Searching the menu for a new sandwich to try, (Andrew the smart-ass said, "You haven't tried them all yet?") I decided on the grilled cheddar (with hot mustard and red onions on rye bread) on Curt's recommendation, with a side of Mac's fresher-than-fresh gazpacho. It was a variation on a cliched theme, that of the grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch of childhood; there was absolutely nothing cliched about this combination. I'd like to dub Mac the Soup Master for his talent with liquids, but he already knows I worship him. Dessert was the luscious chocolate cake with coffee icing and then we headed down to the Bottom for music.

We were early, or the show was late starting, however you want to look at it, so we did a stroll since it was such a beautiful night, which resulted in one of those sublime moments that you wish you could capture, raved about here.

And then it was show time. It was our first time seeing Prabir and then the Trillions (his former Substitutes plus one) at Alley Katz. My only complaint was the sound mix; the recently-added drums of the Goldrush pretty much canceled out Matt's bass, which was a real shame. If there's going to be an instrument that big on stage and being played with that much verve and enthusiasm, I want to hear it and I couldn't, except when the drummer was playing the high hat.
Prabir, take note.

I'd run into several friends who, like me, were there for Jukebox the Ghost and they delivered in spades. A Philly trio with an emphasis on crazy keyboards, they were tight, melodic and completely engaging. Pianist Ben was also a ham, using elaborate hand gestures and high voices to dramatize their songs (almost Freddy Mercury-like).

The crowd had a clear contingent of fans who knew every word and danced pretty much non-stop. The band even introduced their first two songs as "dance sensations." A skinny older man in the front row provided a frenetic dance performance to many of the songs, amusing the band and entertaining the crowd. He was completely into following that frenzied keyboard and it was awesome to watch. Andrew had been exactly right, I needed to see this show.

My last stop of the evening was Ipanema to meet up with a friend for catch-up conversation and of course we ended up closing the place (not that I was drinking after the lunch I'd had, here). It was funny, we both had a story about how a guy we knew had misinterpreted one of my recent blog posts. Both guys had had reading comprehension issues about this post, here, reading into it a completely different meaning than what I wrote.

Luckily, my girlfriend had interpreted it exactly as it was intended when I wrote it (so I knew I wasn't crazy), but these guys saw a completely different and provocative meaning to it. Song lyrics, guys, they were just lyrics and I wasn't lusting after or propositioning anyone in that post. Hell, the point of that post was about all the various enjoyable guys she and I had run into that night.

Until I get this guy thing going right again, thank god there are girlfriends who get me without needing explanations. Believe me, if I'm lusting after someone, I will be clear as crystal and you won't have to read into anything I write.

I'll spell it out for you and, male or female, you won't be able to miss my meaning.