Friday, March 18, 2011

Maybe My Hair Smells Good

"Wow," said the staring stranger, who looked like Colonel Sanders, except with a bow tie instead of a string tie. "You are exquisite." His girlfriend was sitting on the other side of him.

My evening was off to an odd start as I took one of very few available bar stools at Amuse before tonight's Friday Film. "Will you taste my absinthe?" he inquired, leaning in and extending his glass the moment I sat down.

Bartender Stephen raised his eyebrows in empathy and asked what I wanted to drink. An absinthe and a vaporizing gun perhaps? He set up the drip, but sadly offered me no defense.

"Why do you not have a boyfriend?" the Colonel asked, making a huge but correct assumption. I told him I was just getting back into dating and the reasons for that.

"Do not be quick to make your pick!" he lectured me loudly. "Do NOT be QUICK to make your PICK!" I assured him that I wouldn't, not sure why he should care.

"How many mistakes are they allowed to make before you eliminate them?" he asked in that way that made it clear it was a quiz.

"ZERO!" he said so loudly that the manager came over to diplomatically try to lower his decibel level. This was getting weirder by the second.

I kept wondering why his girlfriend continued to chat with the strangers on her other side when her man was so loudly flattering me. Finally, she turned to join our conversation and he introduced us.

"Look at those honest nails," he said, grabbing my short, un-manicured and unpainted fingernails and holding them up for her inspection. "And no jewelry, not even pierced ears!" he raved as if his girlfriend would be as worshipful of me as he was.

Nodding and smiling, she said, "Those kind of things really impress him!" We had just entered the Twilight Zone.

Further talk revealed his name, John Henry, and his location twenty minutes south. He told me extensive details about the restaurants he has owned, the art he has collected and even shared his motto, "Have Tools, Will Travel." I didn't ask.

What I did do was ask for a menu in hopes that that would give me a bit of breathing room. I chose the chicken, cheese and Chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers, much to Stephen's surprise ("I know how you love the mussels and sausage").

The Colonel asked for the check and his girlfriend left to talk on the phone and it was at that point that he slipped me his card and suggested we get together (ahem).

When he got to the end of the bar, he stopped and smiled at me, as if we shared a secret. Actually he'd shared quite a bit with me considering we'd been strangers an hour ago.

With my new friends gone and my peppers arrived, Stephen and I were finally able to discuss what had been going on for the past hour.

Like any good bartender, he'd been eavesdropping and was appalled at the suggestions made and the graphic verbiage used. On the plus side, we agreed, it was quiet now.

Then Harry the wine rep arrived to have a beer before conducting the Art of Spanish wine lecture and tour downstairs. The poor thing heard us talking about the other guy and for a moment thought we were referring to him, when actually I was thrilled to have his charming and knowledgeable company while I enjoyed my mocha mousse tower with house-baked ladyfingers.

He tried to get me to join his lecture tour even though it was sold out, but I explained that I had a film ticket for the very same time. I did convince him to try his first absinthe, though, making me two for two in tempting friends to the dark side.

As I was finishing mine and he was starting his, Stephen came by with amuse bouches, saying to me, "I know you already had dessert, but here," presenting us with smoked salmon tartare with creme fraiche, beet and caraway seeds. It was the perfect savory bite after the sweet richness of my dessert; I was officially done now.

Tonight's film was "Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies" about the intersection of technology and art. The screening began with a performance by Slam Nahuatl.

I had two favorite lines: "Unhappy people avoid mirrors" and "One is a moment, the other forever; take your pick." Perhaps they resonated because I'm fine with mirrors and I have made my pick.

The movie, produced by Martin Scorcese, had a host of interesting people sharing their thoughts on how Picasso and Braque were affected by the rapidly changing state of the world.

Artists Julian Schnabel, Chuck Close and critic Adam Gopnik all weighed in on how and why these two kicked down the conventions of representational art.

The importance of the development of motion pictures on painters of the time was enormous and very much reflected in their work. Even Picasso's fractured faces could be construed as showing multiple angles in succession, much the way film could.

Likewise, the Cubist move away from color was considered a function of their exposure to and admiration of the black and white films of the time.

Afterwards, we were treated to a short interview with the director Jean Renoir, son of Impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir, from a 1956 TV program, "Accent." Done in the garden of his childhood home in Montmarte, it was a fascinating glimpse into the world of his father and his friends, Cezanne, Utrillo, Monet et al.

After an over-eager admirer, the absinthe fairy and favorite dishes, slam poetry and two art films, I was ready to head back to J-Ward and a celebration.

Almost a year ago, one of my neighborhood joints, the Marshall Street Cafe, had had a run-in with a minivan, here. and tonight they were finally back in business.

I arrived to a full house and the band was in full swing playing "The Girl from Ipanema." Sidling up to the bar, I scored some wine, met the guys at the end of the bar (who offered me some fries) and was handed a long-stemmed rose by one of the proprietors. Not bad for five minutes in.

The band was having as good a time as the packed room was, grooving on vintage Motown and Stax courtesy of two keyboards, guitar, trumpet, sax, drums and two vocalists, one male and one female.

I was approached by a guy trying to unsuccessfully get the bartender's attention, so I took care of that for him. He introduced himself as Jessie and I learned he was a jazz musician, too. His band's keyboard player had been borrowed for the night and he was here checking things out.

When the bar table in the front window emptied out, we snagged it, just as the band broke into "Brick House" and the embarrassing white-people-dancing began. Now the entertainment was twofold.

During the set break, Jessie looked at me and told me to drink up because he was buying me more wine. "You're awfully bossy for a guitar player," I told him.

Fellow J-Ward lover and resident, not to mention musician, Prabir came in with a friend and I brought him up to speed on what he'd missed. Three of the five really bad dancers had just left, so he'd missed his chance for the full show.

The well-chosen musical nuggets continued in the second set ("Respect," "What's Goin' On?" "Neither One of Us") with the crowd chiming in on the choruses and Prabir talking about chord progressions, as if I understood such.

Marshall Street Cafe has added "& Jazz Bistro" to its name and are doing live music practically every night now. It was exciting seeing the place hopping like it was tonight and no doubt that'll continue as word gets out about all the music. They're even doing a jazz brunch on Sundays.

I just may have to take my honest hands and un-bejeweled self over there some Sunday and see what happens. I'm not counting on being called exquisite again, but I like the sounds of that quarter-cut fried chicken and Belgian waffle.

Watch how quick I make my pick for that.

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