Sunday, November 30, 2014

Alone Again Naturally

Sometimes in the drama that is romance, you fly solo.

So while my choice of film was labeled a "chick flick," I had no girlfriend with me. You could also call it a date night movie, but I couldn't find one of those, either.

On the plus side, the evening began on a complimentary note when an apparently near-sighted ticket seller at Movieland addressed me as "Miss" and inquired if I was getting a student or adult ticket. Naturally I responded with every dimple on my face.

I'd decided on "Beyond the Lights" because two friends  - one with a degree in film and the other with a pop culture blog - had confessed that they, too, intended to see it. Even the Washington Post's critic Ann Hornaday had raved about it, even putting it in her top ten for 2014, so I had her blessing, too.

My point? There was no shame in seeing what I knew would be a full-on romance. That it had a woman director only added to the allure.

The problem with going to a somewhat mainstream movie quickly became apparent: half a dozen previews of not only movies I'd never go to, but previews I could barely stand sitting through. Horror, sex, aging stars and contrived plots, who wants to see this schlock?

Not that the film I'd come to see wasn't without its own cliches: rising R & B hip hop artist at the mercy of her driven stage mother attempts suicide and ripped, handsome police office saves her and they begin to fall in love.

Can you say "shades of "The Bodyguard"?

Romance aside, the film made a lot of subtle and not so subtle commentary about the objectification of women in pop culture and especially in hip hop. It jumped out at me, but I wonder if that wasn't because I don't watch TV or music videos so it's more glaringly apparent and offensive to me.

What the film had going for it was the radiant actress (with the unusual name of Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who conveyed so much with her eyes while hinting at the inner turmoil she was feeling as her career took off and her life ceased to be her own.

Let's just say we didn't have a lot in common except a mutual devotion to fried chicken.

But it's the chemistry between her and Nate Parker as the cop that totally wins the audience over. I couldn't have been the only one getting warm watching these two interact and react to each other.

Part of what appealed to me about the film was that it was a romantic drama, not a romantic comedy. Let's be real here; when it comes to creating a successful (read: long term) romance, real people are probably going to have as many problems as laughs.

Maybe it's my life experience, but I find that kind of story more appealing than your typical rom-com.

But it's still the movies, so when the couple needs to get away from her crazy lifestyle with its non-stop pressure and paparazzi, it's an easy drive to the coast of Mexico and an oceanfront cottage.

How can you not be in love with the sound of waves crashing just outside your windows? It was enough for our heroine to take off her fake nails and remove her weave and her man still loved her. Since I don't do fake hair or nails, I don't know how I'd prove myself.

There was a charming scene in a Mexican karaoke bar where he gets up to sing a song for her, choosing New Edition and butchering it so badly she gets up to rescue him. Honey, it must be love if he's crooning '80s boy bands to you.

Weave or no weave, I'm not going to hold my breath until that happens to me.

Calling Dr. Love

Kiss army! Do you have a case of rock 'n roll pneumonia? Dr. Love says the first step of the cure is all your Kiss favorites! It's gonna be hotter than hell at Sonny's in Lakeside!

So! Many! Exclamation! Points!

Reading Style Weekly's calendar as I ate breakfast this morning, I spot "HTH. European Kiss tribute act. Sonny's Bar and Grille."

This shouldn't have caught my attention. I was never a Kiss fan; in fact the only Kiss song I could name off the top of my head is "Beth" and isn't that the one that true Kiss aficionados deplore?

My sole Kiss memory is a comment my best friend made decades ago when I asked her about the band. "Have you ever heard Paul Stanley speak?" she asked rhetorically. "He sounds dumb as a brick."

I never gave Kiss another thought until today.

With no plans tonight, I was scouring the calendar for possibilities since Facebook had yielded nothing. Why not a night of middle-aged men in make-up? Especially in a bar I'd never heard of, much less been to. Who knew what might come of such randomness?

There was no shortage of Kiss fans (I was ticket #98 of 110) in the house when I arrived at Sonny's, despite the fact that the band didn't start for another hour plus. My guess is they'd all come in time to get seats. A server immediately pegged me for a first-timer and jetted over to offer me alcohol to ease me into the scene.

When I inquired what kind of tequila they had, she responded with, "Patron, Cuervo and the house crap-tastic." I think I'll have Patron, thanks.

I found a stool near the electronic bowling and sat down. Looking around, I spotted a half dozen people in Kiss t-shirts and more than a few people vaping away on their e-cigarettes.

A guy walked by and grinned. "You got a pretty smile." After a couple of minutes, the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I was waiting for someone. When I said no, he and his friend opened up a conversation.

One was an Oregon Hill native, a breed I'd never met, and his first concert had been Johnny and Edgar Winter (but his all-time favorite had been Def Leppard but "Before the drummer lost his arms"). His buddy's first had been Three Dog Night.

Another guy came over and set his Budweiser down next to my Patron and pointed at it. "I'm going to the bathroom. Don't you slip any date rape drug in my beer." Not especially funny.

I knew the show was close to starting when my server climbed atop the L-shaped bar and began shooting pictures of the crowd on both sides. "Act like you're having fun!" she yelled. It was apparently a record crowd for Sonny's, which I was told has only been open about six months.

Then the lights dimmed and four guys in white face makeup, platform boots and wild hair strode through the crowd toward the stage. It was show time for HTH, which I was informed meant Hotter than Hell. Suffice to say I had a lot of Kiss learning to do tonight.

When they started playing, I didn't recognize anything, but even a non-fan could tell that they were good musicians. A stranger said that two of them had other bands.

I kept waiting for one of them to fall off those ridiculously high silver boots they were wearing. The boots on the guy playing Gene Simmons (I know it was supposed to be Gene because he kept sticking his tongue out) looked like sharks' heads with teeth.

"We're up here knocking them out and you guys better be knocking them back!" the drummer Peter (when the musicians referred to each other onstage, it was as the real Kiss band members' names), called out to stimulate bar sales. He needn't have worried; trays of Fireballs and Budweisers were being ferried to customers constantly.

Unlike me, most of the crowd knew the words to every song. "How many people like to get lit?" Paul asked to major cheering. "How many people like to lick?" Screams. "Here's a singalong for you: "Lick It Up." You better believe they sang along.

An hour into their set, people were still arriving and my O-Hill buddy found a space for us right in front of the band so I could fully admire the detail of the band's costumes. The first thing I noticed was how sweat-slicked Paul's bare chest was in his cut-to-the-waist studded jumpsuit.

I only stayed right in the front for a couple of songs because it was mayhem up there and I wasn't enough of a Kiss devotee to deserve such prime real estate.

And just so you know, when they played "Beth," I did recognize it.

Back in my regular spot, I overheard a newcomer ask a server about craft beer selection. She looked at him with the shred of patience she still had at that point and informed him, "No, we don't have any custom beers, baby, just the basics."

When the cowbell kicked in, a guy near me matched it beat for beat by using the large ring on his finger slapped against his beer bottle. I gave him points for creativity.

My new friend observed that I must not smoke since I'd not once left the bar, unlike so many people who paraded in and out all night to stand outside in the freezing air and feed their habit. "Yea, me, neither," he said. "I used to work in a cigarette factory and I know what shit they put in those things."

Then, like a light bulb had gone off, he snapped his fingers and said, "That's who you remind me of! Debbie, the prettiest girl at the cigarette factory. You look like her!" I'm sure he meant it as a compliment.

When Paul took his guitar and came down off the stage to walk through the crowd, flashes went off like he was walking the red carpet for paparazzi. The crowd was into it.

Hell, I was into it. I may not have recognized many songs - I agreed with a guy who told me he was listening to other stuff when Kiss was big and so was I - but I'm no stranger to hard rock, either. With two guitars and pounding drums, it was '70s-style anthemic. It got my backside moving. It was fun for a night.

But European tribute band? The calendar editor must have made that part up.

After the evening ended, I headed out to my car. As I was backing up, a guy came toward me, motioning for me to roll my window down. "You've got such a pretty smile," he said. "When the weather gets warmer, would you go for a ride on my Harley with me?"

Who do you think I am, Debbie? Sorry, no, mister. I was not made for lovin' you.

See how I slid that Kiss reference in right there at the end? That's what one night of HTH can do for you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Wig in a Box

One day you meet a witty bartender and the next thing you know, he's a transgender woman. Or, playing one anyway.

Once upon a time in Richmond, back in the days before Heritage's world domination, I was a regular at Six Burner, the restaurant that preceded it. It was there that I met a new bartender, hit it off with him and spent the evening gabbing about life, theater and music.

He made sure I knew about the new event he'd started, the monthly Ghost Light afterparty at Richmond Triangle Players. I went a few weeks later and got to see my new bartender friend in his rightful place, a stage. Matt Shofner played host and frequent performer that night and I became his unabashed fan.

Only years of those Sunday nights listening to Matt's incredible voice and watching his non-stop showmanship could have prepared me for TheatreLab's production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" that I saw tonight.

I'd been dying to see the inside of TheaterLab's new space, dubbed The Basement because it is, conveniently for me located in Jackson Ward.

Down the stairs I've passed so many times I went, only to find the subterranean DIY space that is evolving into their permanent performance home, learning that it was formerly a shoe store and a speakeasy, somehow appropriate both of them.

As further proof that we weren't in Kansas anymore, this was not your granny's program. It warned us to pee beforehand (no intermission), that strobe lights would be used because they're awesome and that the band was going to be l-o-u-d. I was okay with all of that.

Saying hello to artistic director Deejay Gray - looking very '70s in his desert boots - he welcomed me warmly and instructed me to "sit close so Hedwig can see you." As someone who likes to see the actors spit, he didn't have to tell me twice.

I found a single seat in the second row center, only to have a tall guy sit down in front of me. Fortunately, he was a sloucher.

"Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not...Hedwig!" was a cue for the incredibly tight four piece band (appropriately bedazzled in makeup and glitter) to begin playing "America the Beautiful" as Matt strutted out in a cape, denim dress, torn fishnets and high-heeled boots.

He had some pretty impressive moves considering his heel height, that's all I'm going to say. Meanwhile, Hedwig said things like, "I do love a warm hand on my entrance."

Using song and monologue, he told the story of his life growing up in East Berlin, listening to the American music of the time  - Tony Tennille, Anne Murray - on Armed Forces Radio. At one point, he stood with his leg on either side of the guy in front of me, gyrating his hips and grinding his leopard-print shorts into his face.

You see, beneath that leopard print was Hedwig's greatest disappointment: the inch of flesh left after a botched sex change operation. Hence the band name, the Angry Inch.

The play has a great score and "Origin of Love" is the best musical explanation of predestined soul mates as any I've heard. The rousing "Sugar Daddy" was instantly familiar since Matt and crew always sing that at GLAP when the hat gets passed for the pianist, although I hadn't known it was from this.

Local references abounded in the script - Hedwig was supposedly starting her tour at The Basement, her ex-lover was playing that night at Richmond Coliseum - but the best one came after a raucous number.

"I think we finally found our single," Hedwig says of the kick ass song they'd just done.

Meanwhile, he's got a Hardywood Singel in the palm of his hand and is counting 1, 2,3, 4 under his breath as he displays it. "These things don't pay for themselves," he cracked, referring to Hardywood Craft Brewery's sponsorship of "Hedwig."

As if that wasn't funny enough, Hedwig also explained what he was doing for a living in his trailer. "I lost my job at the PX and lost my gag reflex, You do the math." Done.

Because of when the play took place, namely before and after the Berlin Wall came down, there were tons of '70s and '80s references and several times, I found myself one of the very few who laughed out loud at them, no doubt a result of a young Friday night audience.

"His face might have been a Yes cover, it was so still," he deadpanned and my laugh was the only one in the room. Come on, that's hilarious...if you knew the band Yes.

The only other actor in the show was Bianca Bryan and there were times I was riveted by her performance, usually over on the far side of the stage, no matter what Matt was doing. She was an ideal foil for him, both musically and in terms of her character.

Director Maggie Roop - Matt's longtime friend and original fan - deserves a round of applause herself for putting together a top-notch production theater lovers will be talking about for some time to come.

By the time we got to the climax, it had been 90 non-stop minutes of rock and roll, Matt Shofner's mega-talent and a story that reminds us that sometimes you don't realize who your soul mate is.

Best of all, it played out in a basement in my neighborhood, christening the new space in the most impressive and irreverent way. Six Burner, I owe you.

There's a lesson here: don't stop going to bars. Look at the talent I meet. You do the math.

More, Sir?

Orphans need to give thanks, too.

And by orphans, I mean all those people whose families are either too far away or are far too annoying to want to bother with on this most American of holidays. Holiday orphans.

At Camden's tonight, orphans were defined as any party of three or less; the chef's thinking was that if you had at least four, you could cook your own bird. Some people like to be the boss of everyone.

Fortunately for this orphan, I'd gotten an offer too good to refuse. A full Thanksgiving dinner for me, followed by helping a pro serve other orphans for a few hours. A chance to pay it forward, so to speak.

The only thing wrong with this picture is that I have absolutely no serving experience. Nada. Zip. But who's going to complain about the service at Thanksgiving? Do you give your Mom a hard time when she's slow in getting the stuffing on the table? When Uncle Bill takes too long to carve? Probably not.

By having my meal before the orphans showed up, I was able to speak with authority about what I was serving. Well, except to the woman who said she'd have fish instead of turkey. (Sound of record screeching) Do you see any fish on that menu, lady? There's no fish here on Thanksgiving.

What they did have was a handsome and hearty green salad (to clear the arteries for what was to come) followed by succulent smoked turkey - the skin crispy, salty and full of flavor - with all the usual suspects: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and pearl onions, cranberry relish, gravy and the carb lover's dream, stuffing.

Of course, the stuffing wasn't as good as my family's but how could it be with no pork sausage in it? Does anyone not prefer their own family's stuffing?

Before I'd even finished my meal, orphans began showing up despite the fact that dinner wasn't going to be served for another half hour. It was an understanding bunch, though, and they made do with beer and wine until it was time to feed them.

From then on, the evening became a jigsaw puzzle (where to seat everyone), a memory exercise (who wanted the Cotes du Rhone, who wanted the IPA?) and a hand/eye test (not enough experience pouring ice water from a pitcher).

In the interest of full disclosure, I let all the orphan tables know I was a neophyte with no serving experience so that their expectations wouldn't be too high. As a result, I was lavished with praise for not doing worse than I did.

What I excelled at was talking to the orphans and finding out why they were there. More than half said they'd opted out of family, even though they were close enough to visit. Fair enough. Orphaning by choice is a real thing.

A woman sitting at the bar got a text mid-meal from her sister saying she'd been proposed to. Another had come alone for the second year, having enjoyed last year's orphan meal so much. A wine rep brought his crew of two. Another wine pro brought one, was joined by a third and then got a text saying a fourth was on the way.

Whoa there, mister. There are no four tops at an orphans' Thanksgiving. They left to find a non-orphans' dinner.

Things were crazy busy for the next couple of hours as orphans continued to arrive, eat and depart with their turkey sandwich for tomorrow. One woman was so touched when I dropped off her table's sandwiches that she teared up. "That's the nicest thing I ever heard of," she said with a catch in her voice.

I was asked to mediate a debate about sweet potatoes versus yams. Not the same thing, I clarified. She gave me a high five and he scowled. At least we're learning something at this table tonight.

Dropping off a drink order to a couple, I took up their menus, reminding them that there were no choices tonight. "What if I don't like that?" he joked. Feel free to walk out that door and find yourself another orphans' Thanksgiving, I suggested. They grinned and stayed.

I had all the power (if none of the skill), especially with the scent of smoked turkey and gravy wafting out from the kitchen. They wanted what I could deliver.

Make no mistake, I had no idea what I was doing, but the real server was good enough to teach me terminology, tell me where to find certain beers and express appreciation for whatever I did.  In the ultimate compliment, when she was in the weeds and completely overwhelmed, she told me she'd have killed herself if I hadn't been there to help.

Pretty heady stuff for a novice server.

Three hours in, we began to run out of food. Peach crisp was the first casualty, but nobody complained about the pumpkin pie made extra creamy with Paula Deen's suggestion of adding cream cheese. By the time the last guest - celebrating his birthday today - arrived, we had exactly enough gravy for him and not one ladle more.

Only once he got to his dessert course did I sit down and have mine: chocolate pate, not an option for the walk-in orphans but available to the stopgap help.

Which, after being in constant motion serving orphans for four hours was about the nicest thing I'd ever heard of.

That would be just one of several things for which this orphan is thankful this year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Time Passages

History may repeat itself, but it should always be open to tweaking.

As one who rarely goes out of town for Thanksgiving, I long ago decided to make the most of Thanksgiving Eve. Considered one of the biggest bar nights of the year, I've made it a ritual to spend the evening out and about with other city-bound friends.

Last year, we switched things up and chose to stay in and make dinner instead; it was such a hit that we decided on a repeat this year. Taking a cue from the media and their made-up terminology, you could call it a "Friends-giving Eve" celebration. Or not.

By the time I walked home from a late afternoon interview, wet and cold from the wintry mix that was falling (two days after it was 78 degrees, what the hell?), I needed to jump immediately in the shower to make my FGE party.

When I arrived, seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau had already been poured and garlic was being prepped. I immediately began helping peel as a glass of Picpoul de Pinet was poured for me.

You see, what we'd discovered last year was how much fun we'd had all making dinner together as our cocktail hour activity. And, of course, it isn't an hour, but several.

My host is a stickler for choosing the appropriate soundtrack for an evening, beginning tonight with the 1978 album by Al Stewart, "Time Passages." I admit, I'd probably never heard the entire album before. But, sure, why not start with 1978?

So while it wasn't exactly a "Big Chill" kind of a kitchen prep scene (none of us were dancing at this point), there were a lot of different activities and multiple conversations going on at any given moment in one of the two adjacent rooms that make up my friend's kitchen. Yes, two rooms - one has a stove and refrigerator, the other has sink, dishwasher and counters. It's no weirder than my friend.

While he's sauteing onions and she's opening more wine - the smooth Gassier "Sables d'Azur" Rose - I'm instructed to remove the Sausagecraft mild Italian sausage from its casing. No problem.

I do this the only way I have ever done it, the totally satisfying way. I squeeze the casing until the loose sausage spurts out, leaving a slick but empty casing in my hand. Then I slide my hand down and repeat.

Think what you will, but I feel like the Sausagecraft guys would totally approve of my hands-on method.

My curly haired friend is aghast at my technique, presuming I was going to delicately slice the casing open to remove the sausage. Where's the fun in that, I ask? She watches in amazement as I squeeze out the contents of 15 inches of sausage, laughing at my fat-slicked hands.

When I explain that it's satisfying in the same way that popping bubble wrap is, my host pipes up from the stove where he's making sauce, asking, "Do you want some bubble wrap now?" He's giving me the raised eyebrow that says he can make it happen. Negative.

Instead, he pulls out a diminished bottle of Espolon and pours the remaining liquid into three mini shot glasses for a Thanksgiving eve toast. Looking at his girlfriend with a pained expression, he tells her they'll have to wait until Friday to replace the bottle since ABC stores are closed tomorrow.

This leads to a lively discussion of the "deals" the ABC is offering on Black Friday and the drawing they're holding for a gift certificate. Given the abundance of archaic ABC regulations, the notion of sales and prizes seems out of whack for a state agency.

But I also saw on my way to the Northern Neck yesterday that Southern States is opening at 7 a.m. on Friday and for the life of me, I can't imagine who'll be there at that hour. To get a deal on feed? Grain? Seriously?

At one point, my friend looks at me solemnly and announces apropos of nothing, "Your bangs are too short."

This is meant as humor because he has a long history of telling me my bangs are too long every time I see him. Even funnier, I'd been about to walk out the door tonight when I'd gone back into the bathroom and trimmed my bangs so he couldn't chide me for a change. "Just kidding, they look great!"

Everyone's a comedian on Thanksgiving eve.

As I move on to slicing a baguette for garlic bread and arranging antipasto in bowls, the music gets a bit rougher with "Sticky Fingers: The Alternate Album," a Rolling Stones' bootleg. So while the songs are mostly familiar, they may lack lead guitar or overdubs; maybe it's just a rehearsal take, a mono mix or an instrumental.

Not being a big Stones fan, I enjoy some cuts more than others. My host plays air guitar and air sax to "Sisters Morphine" and "All Down the Line" while I prefer the "Wild Horses" track with Gram Parsons on pedal steel since I play air nothing.

Over dinner, we share stories from last week's Beaujolais tastings, experienced on two different evenings since he was out of town the night of the release I attended. This leads to stories about the annual conference that kept him away, the meals he ate and the demise of the chocolate bombe dessert he's had in years past.

Our dessert had come from Fresh Market's bakery which he said looked like it had been sucked dry by hordes of hostesses buying them out of almost everything. He'd spied some bakers in the back frantically making Napoleons while he'd ordered our chocolate. All that mattered to us was that he'd secured it ("Do you want some chocolate, little girls?" he inquires lasciviously).

Eating behind us, we adjourned to the living room for wine and music, beginning with something so rhythmic I immediately began dancing. He followed suit. It was the Mavericks' "Melbourne Mamba," and I'd heard of neither the group nor the song.

Our host claimed that they were a country band, but I found it hard to hear that since the music had a decidedly Latin flair. Turns out they're from Miami and have taken on a far more Latin bent since leaving Nashville behind. By that point in the evening, it was a terrific choice for someone who loves to dance (that would be me) and friends who'd been partying for hours.

"Haven't I been nice to you tonight?" my friend asks as I go to leave. We've all been nice to each other. It's all part of another evening of Thanksgiving eve music, a group-made meal and the kind of fun worth repeating every year.

Too short, my ass. Friends are so much easier than family.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Brief History of Romance

Apparently no one is going to work tomorrow.

I say that because upon arriving at Movieland to see a 9:00 movie, I found the parking lot almost completely full and it's a big parking lot. Okay, but I was going to the Criterion, the art house theaters, and surely they wouldn't be mobbed like the mainstream Movieland obviously was.

Wrong, so wrong. I bought a ticket for "The Theory of Everything" and walked into a theater already 2/3 full. By the time the movie began, only the seats in the front row were still available.

I've been to Tuesday movies at 7:00 that had six people, so I had to presume that tonight all these fellow cinemaphiles do not have to get up in the morning. Even so, far more people than I would have guessed were interested in a biography of physicist Stephen Hawking.

For me, my curiosity was twofold. The director was James Marsh who'd done  "Man on Wire," still one of my all-time favorite documentaries. And honestly, I just didn't know that much about Stephen Hawking beyond what I remember of all the hoopla around 1988's "A Brief History of Time."

Now I know and it's both a sad and uplifting story in which real people get dealt bad hands in life (I couldn't watch the tracheotomy scene) and handle it anyway. And along the way, redefine the space/time continuum.

If his college romance was accurately portrayed (and there's no reason to think it wasn't since the film was based on his ex-wife's book), it was lovingly executed. The first time he tried asking her out, he invited her to play croquet. Then he took her to the May Ball for slow dancing and fireworks. The kicker was when he wooed her with Tide left on her front porch.

I ask you, can a man be more romantic than that?

Acting was top notch and I fully expect Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones to get Oscar nods for their roles as the Hawkings. Best of all, considering the movie was about a man trying to figure out the formula for the beginning of time, there was very little time spent on boring stuff (read: math and science).

My favorite line occurred when his girlfriend found him depressed and watching an old movie on TV after being given a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease and a two-year life expectancy.

When she asks what he's doing, he explains the movie's three characters and says, "I'm trying to work out the mathematical probability of happiness."

I can tell you this: it's a whole lot higher when when a besotted man uses croquet, slow dancing and a box of Tide to get the girl.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rev It Up

Make fun of my optimism all you want, but the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree.

And speaking of such, after a tree fell on my parents' Northern Neck house back in May, they were relocated to a neighbor's cottage for six months while massive repairs took place. The differences were huge for them: a far smaller (in fact, one story) house, no dishwasher or DVD player, limited access to their belongings. A lot of adjustment for two 80-somethings.

Now after six months of workmen toiling non-stop, they are days away from finally moving back into their repaired home. And how does my Mom feel about the half year of inconvenience and missing the comforts of home?

"That tree was the best thing that ever happened to us!" she told me cheerily when I went down today to help with some of the move-in effort.

What she means is that they would never have put on a $30,000 roof or ordered new living room furniture or had all the floors refinished or gotten new ceilings in three rooms or replaced chandeliers or had a stately column added to the front room or...any of it. Not these children of the Depression.

The challenge is that while all that work was being completed, the contents of their house were stuffed into three rooms which now need to be restored to order. In a three-story house, that's a hell of a lot of work.

So I drove down bright and early (there are few people for whom I will get up at 7:30 a.m.) to "help with the kitchen" as she put it, but we actually did very little in that room. Her first priority was the pantry/laundry room because that's what was important to her. From there, we went upstairs to hang curtains in the library and bathroom.

As we're working, she's telling me that she saw a brown fox sunbathing in the yard last week, behavior she thought odd for a fox. She pointed out white swans on the creek behind the cottage, something they'd never seen in their 30 years of living down there. She admits that will miss the view of the creek behind the cottage.

After lunch, we headed back upstairs to the big sun porch where all my father's clothes had been thrown into large plastic bags when the furniture had been moved out, Now it was time to sort through and place stuff back in the drawers.

Here's where my Dad and I are complete opposites. He keeps everything and by everything, I mean he had tube socks from the '80s in those bags. And not only that, but he had over 100 pairs of socks - stretched out at the top, with holes in them, missing a mate, every color and thickness. The man never threw a sock away.

He had  - I kid you not - a pair of socks with duct tape over a hole in the toe. I laughed so hard I fell off the bench I was sitting on. Duct tape! And he'd put them back in the sock drawer, duct tape and all.

But I'm pleased to say that by the time I finished with him, he had exactly one drawer of socks, separated by dividers into athletic, dress and polar vortex varieties. It was very satisfying for both of us.

Then we worked through T-shirts, my Mom and I vetoing any with obvious holes, ratty necklines or of the sleazy '70s fishnet variety (oh, yes, he had three of those). Ditto with sweaters.

There were even several dozen handkerchiefs from back in the day when men used them (he now prefers paper towels, claiming tissues aren't up to the task), but we whittled that collection down to just the two that were still white.

By the time we finished, there were two bags of discards and four to go to Goodwill, meaning some poor woman will have to put up with a man wearing those fishnet shirts. Good luck with that, honey.

While we were out on the sun porch, I took a photograph down off the wall, one that I had years ago put my name on to claim it. That's my Mom's idea since there are six of us daughters; if there's something you'd like to have, put your name on it for possible future distribution.

It's not a perfect system. My youngest sister is said to have crawled under the house and put her name on the foundation. But this photograph is something I've coveted for as long as I can remember.

In it, my parents sit astride a motorbike in Bermuda. They were there in 1980 for their 25th wedding anniversary. Both have on short shorts and helmets (straps not fastened) and my Mom is wearing the cutest platform shoes and smiling widely.

You don't know my Mom, so you can't understand how unlikely this scenario is. First of all, she's on a motorbike. Secondly she's on a motorbike in platform shoes. The most cautious woman on the planet, a woman who worries about absolutely everything and nothing, had  - at the age of 47, mind you - decided that she was going to ride a motorbike in platform shoes.

The woman had had six daughters by then and her legs were still flawless. It is from these loins that I sprang.

So after a long day of cleaning windows, stocking the pantry, restoring things to shelves and sorting through my Dad's history as told by his wardrobe, I had the ultimate souvenir of my fabulous parents.

I only hope optimism wears as well on me as it has on them.

To-Do List

In my family, we would call today a goof-off day.

I mean, come on, it's the first day of the shortened holiday week, it was 77 degrees and all I wanted to do was take advantage of it all.

The first thing I did on waking up was open every window in the house. Such a treat in late November.

Step one: a long, sunny walk down Colorado Avenue to Texas Beach (five people, five dogs, water cold but not freezing) and then back via the North Bank trail (surprisingly all but empty: two joggers, two bikers).

Soaking up sunshine on a rock at the beach and then again on Bubba's bench overlooking Belle Isle. Heavenly.

Step two: a saunter through Church Hill near Libbie Park with a stop at a 1904 house that's being renovated by a couple from Pittsburgh. The trunk room is becoming an office, old ceiling joists are becoming a dining room table and there are still raccoon hand prints on walls from the two years the house was uninhabited.

After the nickle tour and lots of conversation, I fell madly in love with this couple when she told me they weren't going to put in air conditioners, allowing the natural air flow to cool the house in warm weather. And here I thought I was the only one who turned my back on artificially frigid summers.

Step three: a seat on the patio at Conch Republic with a view of the river (even a couple of boats on it), happy hour Sauvignon Blanc and some steamed shrimp, ordered because my partner in crime said they couldn't mess it up. Wrong. All the spice was sprinkled on the shells after the fact while the shrimp had clearly been steamed without it. Duh.

Our server turned out to be a Charleston transplant studying environmental science at VCU so he can work at the Dismal Swamp when he graduates. A discussion of the summer the swamp was on fire ensued because we all remembered it.

His first concert was Kings of Leon (unless you count the Red Hot Chili Peppers show his Dad took him to which he doesn't remember), a band he went on to see 15 times since. I told him I'd seen the band in Chicago in 2007 and it had been the loudest show I'd ever seen. He grinned and agreed.

We watched as the sun set behind the trees, streaking the sky with peach and violet clouds and the thinnest sliver of a moon (2-3% visible, according to the meteorologist at the table) and vapor trails began appearing out of nowhere.

Step four: dinner at the bar of my neighborhood joint, Bistro 27 alongside an Ashland mother and son headed to the James Taylor concert at the Coliseum. She was beyond excited to finally get to see JT.

Her first show had been Chicago in 1978 and she recalled going with older friends who got stopped and searched for pot. Turns out she had the bag of weed on her person and no one bothered to check her. She shared this story out of the blue, saying it still gave her a laugh.

My dinner was French onion/mushroom soup followed by a petite crab cake while people continued to arrive for dinner before the big show. But by the time I was eating my double chocolate torte,  the dining room had cleared out. Time for fire and rain, I suppose.

Step five: a show at Sound of Music studios, in yet another location from the last time I was at a SoM show. The place looked dead from outside but a small sign directed people to the alley behind the building.

There, a burly man stood guard and when asked if this was the place, responded, "It is to rock and roll." In we went.

Lady God, a fairly new band, was already playing their pastiche of garage, soul and pop to an attentive crowd. I was sorry I'd missed any of their set based on the sound.

I ran into the baker/DJ who reminded me that the last time we'd seen each other had been at Metzger when Mr. Fine Wine deejayed. He was kind enough to tell me I was a great dancer but then shared that when he'd taken off his jacket to dance (at my insistence) and tossed it aside, his phone had been a casualty.

He wanted to blame it on my aggressive dancing but was quite happy because now he has a much nicer phone to replace it. All's well that ends well.

Next up were the lo-fi Beat Awfuls from Kentucky, notable because they had a female drummer. "This place is cool," one of the Awfuls said. "Is that ceiling tin?" Sure was.

Twice while the band was playing, a stranger walked up to me and introduced himself (Hi, Tom! Hi, Adam!). Maybe I looked like I could use some conversation.

During the break, I geeked out with my favorite nerd, discussing his trip to Shirley Plantation today (showed me his ticket to prove it), mine to Menokin (a place he's been keen to visit) and Fort Brady.

The evening's headliner was Warren Hixson, the band that reliably delivers surf guitar, pop gems and tight performances. Tonight was no different and, as usual, I leave their shows wishing they'd play out more often. I'm especially fond of the shared male/female vocals (Nelly and Brent) that distinguish their sound.

Did I do any work today? Sure, I made an appointment to do an interview late Wednesday afternoon when most people will have left work behind.

Did I make the best possible use of this gloriously unseasonable November day? Sure did. I didn't even go inside until a couple of hours after the sun set.

One more notch in my lipstick case for another stellar goof off day. Oh, I'm good at this.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Power Show

My day began with a walk over the Lee Bridge to stretch my legs before an all-day adventure.

There was a plan: go to southside and turn away from the sign for Huguenot Springs Cemetery and toward the artisan open house at historic Huguenot Springs.

The idea was that there'd be all kinds of artisans displaying wares - pottery, jewelry, homemade foodstuffs, paintings - along with munchables and fresh, country (ish) air on a bucolic property.

How better to begin a crisp Sunday afternoon?

Reason to go: Luke Flesichman's whimsical painted metal sculpture. Favorite bite at SausageCraft's counter: salted hog jowl. Coolest vendor space: an Airstream trailer. Loveliest soap dishes: Triple A Potters. Crunchiest contribution: Manakintowne Growers. Most talked about offering: Tutu Fab (because everyone needs a tutu?).

Scenes from an afternoon: The heart pine floors in all the old buildings that houses vendors. Crisp leaves underfoot, in some places ankle-deep. Wine for sharing with friends provided by James River Cellars by default (only winery).  Of course I didn't buy anything, but I looked at a lot.

The only horsewoman I know was dressed to the nines in a leopard print hat and gloves, black dress, silver jewelry, black fishnets and boots. I've never seen her so gussied up. The country squire who moonlights as a WRIR DJ shared the details of his upcoming sojourn to Jamaica.

Leaving all that behind, we set out in search of lunch, finding it at Mediterraneo, a generic-looking Italian place in a strip mall. Pane e Vino southside, so to speak, at a table with a view of the parking lot.

What it had going for it was a six top of Italian speakers at a nearby table, gesturing, talking loudly and eating non-stop. I did notice that when the patriarch went to the bathroom, though, the group reverted to English.

On the other side of the room, a multi-generational family spanning 83 years celebrated Grammy's 84th birthday. I'll give Gram credit, though, she had wine with lunch and triple chocolate cake afterwards, so she clearly still knows how to live right.

Long a fan of salad with protein, I reached back to memories of my 821 Cafe days for a baby arugula salad with craisins, Gorgonzola, apples and steak in a tarragon vinaigrette alongside Massone "Vigneto Masera" Gavi (just a tad past its prime) for a satisfying late afternoon meal.

Rain had begun when we headed back into the city for something completely different.

This documentary dork wanted to go to the Byrd Theater to see "Finding Fela," put on by the Afrikana Film Festival. African drummers played in the lobby. With overly buttered popcorn and Milk Duds in hand, we joined the throngs of film and music lovers wedging themselves into the ancient seats.

The women behind us had brought a box of fried chicken. Wish I'd thought of that.

I'd expected to see more music-loving friends than I did (one film friend was about it) given that Fela Kuti is the man responsible for giving the world Afrobeat - a melange of American funk and African rhythms - while writing songs that criticized the corrupt Nigerian government of the '70s and '80s.

The movie used the framing device of rehearsals of the 2009 Broadway production of "Fela!" but it was the old clips of the real Fela that were mesmerizing. Just to be clear, I mean that in a good and bad way.

The man had a true presence, a natural charisma and an ear for creating intricate, funky music with killer horns. His dancers were equally impressive moving to the poly-rhythms.

But he also married 27 women (he called them queens) at one time and believed it was okay to do whatever he wanted to them. A chauvinist pig of the highest order.

It was fascinating to learn how his music progressed; his early songs were about things like soup but after a trip to the U.S. and exposure to the Black Power movement and James Brown's music, he began writing lyrics that called out the Nigerian government, for which he was repeatedly beaten and jailed. In one scene, he shows his scarred body to the camera.

Given the strength of his music (and the size of the spliffs he smoked), it's hard to comprehend how he didn't catch on globally like Bob Marley did, but the film explains that because his songs went on for 20, 30 minutes, they weren't radio friendly. And we know it's all about the radio friendly.

Here was a movie that showed at Sundance in January and opened nationally a few months ago but never made it to Richmond. Kudos to the Afrikana Film Fest for giving music and film devotees a chance to know more about a remarkable musician and activist.

Not to mention it had a great beat and made me want to dance to it. I give my day a 9.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Poem of Poems

Opportunities to get my poetry fix have been few and far between lately.

In fact, I'd seen a poet friend at a history lecture a couple of weeks ago and we'd commiserated about the paucity of poetry readings lately. As if the poetry gods were listening, just yesterday I'd spotted one happening tonight at Chop Suey and decided then and there that it would be my evening's plan.

"Diversity in Verse" the event was called and I can only attribute the small crowd to the fact that it was happening prime time on Saturday night. Walking by Secco and Curry Craft, it was clear that most people had dinner, not poetry, plans tonight.

Arriving early enough to do some browsing (I still haven't spent my birthday gift certificate), I couldn't decide on what to buy myself before the reading began. So that pleasure still awaits.

Michael Trocchia, a teacher of philosophy at JMU, began the reading in his soft-spoken voice, with hybrid prose poems from his book "The Fatherlands," each of them driven by images and titled with a number, not a name.

These numbered poems produced evocative phrasing such as "Breathing out a dusty piece of existence" from "15" and "Strengthen his tongue against the poverty of his language" from "27." He saw "19" as having the spirit of Fellini -fanciful and earthy - with lines such as, "He was looking for a companion to help him write the poem of poems" and the thought-provoking "To move her thoughts around her face like he did."

I'm still trying to decide it moving her thoughts around her face is romantic or not. Possibly? As he read, he was accompanied by the creaking of floors overhead as customers browsed the upstairs shelves.

He also read from his upcoming collection "Unfounded' with a poem called "Of Shelter and Form" with the line, "One of us hangs on the last words of another." Who among us hasn't hung on another's words?

Following him was Angela Carter, a confessional poet who had nearly called off the publication of her book "Memory Chose a Woman's Body" several times before it finally came out.

She began with a spoken word piece addressed to the stereotypical person who walks out of her poetry readings because the subject of childhood abuse is too difficult. Her motto: silence is not golden.

"Hotel Song" was about the weekends of her youth that she'd stay with her mother in different motels and hotels, recalling a time when she'd left the pool and a man had offered her $250 to come back to his room. She ran back to her own instead. "When I'm breathing, I am prey."

The sarcastically-intentioned "Thanks for Not Understanding" referred to the mirror reflecting "two eyes prematurely dead." Before reading a new poem, "The Difference Between Waking Up and Living," with the line, "Still touching the world with bare fingertips though twice I've been burned," she looked at the small audience and told us to breathe, that it was okay. "Woman Child" was about being a secret keeper.

She also made a pitch to purchase her book after the reading, saying, "Every time you buy my book, I feel validated."

No doubt about it, some of her poetry made the audience uncomfortable, a powerful reminder of the sisterhood of survival.

Last up was Matthew Hamilton who'd taken a unique career path from Benedictine monk to legislative assistant on Capital Hill to Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia and the Philippines to librarian at Benedictine and poet. Needles to say, his subject matter was pretty specific to his range of experiences.

"The Land of Four Rivers" was about his first day landing in Armenia ("Fields of cognac and gold"). Another was about sharing vodka and barbecue with Russians at an impromptu picnic. About the monastic life, he wrote, "They woke up early with the sound of silent bells."

Silent bells?

From a new collection of poems, he read "Snakes Belong in the Wild" about not wanting to kiss a frog and where that can lead. "Transplant Tourism" was about organ harvesting and set in the Philippines after a plane trip where he "drank gin until I no longer remember the past."

In "Mama's Funeral" he recalled her telling him she'd see him on the other side and going outside to "listen to bees' wings drum against the apple blossoms" to feel close to her. "Kentucky Briar April 1975" centered around him being born during the Vietnam war while some boys were coming home dead. Heavy stuff.

They weren't kidding when the called this evening "diversity in verse." It had to be one of the most disparate group of poets I've ever heard read and as we know, I've been to a slew of readings.

But as Walt Whitman said, "To have great poets, there must be great audiences" and if we weren't great, it's only because we're out of practice with so few readings of late.

Ever the optimist, I will always hope for more. Hope for more chances to hang on the last words of another.

Looking Like an Old Maid

I'm a sucker for '50s movies, probably none more so than romantic comedies.

I know, I know, it's not a realistic world, but everything about it is so fabulous. The wardrobe! The nightclubs! The wooing!

Movieland was showing the 1953 classic "How to Marry a Millionaire" and while I no longer think that's a relevant topic for a film, you can be sure I was walking over there to see it for the first time.

The first movie filmed in CinemaScope's wide-screen process, meaning no should experience this film on their TV screen, no matter how big they think it is, it was big all right. Apparently exactly four other people in Richmond felt the same way and joined me at 11:00 on a Saturday morning.

To show off the movie's stereophonic score, it began with an enormous orchestra playing an overture, the camera panning side to side to take in all the musicians. What immediately struck me was that there were exactly four women in the entire orchestra: two violinists and two flutists, no doubt a sign of the times.

Only in the days before the sexual revolution could  you have a movie about three 20-something girls renting a ritzy apartment as a way to ensnare rich men and get married.

To my great delight, the movie began with Percy Helton (as the real estate agent), a character actor I recognized as the train conductor from "White Christmas," another classic '50s movie.

Bossy Lauren Bacall is the ringleader because she already married a poor guy, is now divorced and determined not to make that mistake a again. As she puts it, "Of course I want to get married again. Marriage is the best thing you can do." Pretty sure that's not still true.

Despite having to sell the furniture out of the apartment to subsist, the girls manage to have fabulous wardrobes for all their outings, whether to the mink department at Bergdorf's, the grocery store for cold cuts or the Stork Club to pick up oilmen.

All the expected '50s tropes were there: traveling by train, sending telegrams, women carrying muffs (Monroe carried her glasses in hers), cars without seat belts, people coming down with measles. A vastly different world, in other words.

And definitely a different mindset.

Bacall: If you wanna catch a mouse, you set a mousetrap. All right, so we set a bear trap. Now all we gotta do is, one of us has to catch a bear.
Grable: You mean marry him?
Bacall: If you don't marry him, you haven't caught him, he's caught you.

Like in "White Christmas," there were also dated references to political affiliations, in this case about Maine being a completely Republican state. Not so much these days.

Much as I enjoyed the corny story, I had a hard time getting behind any of the characters. Bacall was too bitchy (but so beautiful), Betty Grable was too dumb (but, oh, those million dollar legs) and I just don't care for Monroe's breathy delivery and put-on sensuality. But an older William Powell, that I could enjoy.

I could totally relate when Bacall's date tells her she's really a hamburger kind of a girl despite her protestations that she wanted a swankier lifestyle. I'd be the first to admit that I'm a cheeseburger girl.

Fortunately, I'm not looking for a rich husband. Although, if the right muff or train trip came along, I might be singing a different (albeit off-key) tune.

Not Without You

If Picasso was right and art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls, I am dust-free. Immaculate, even.

How could I not be after taking in three shows in one night? Beginning at VMFA, the first was Miwako Nishizawa's "Twelve Views of Virginia," done by the Japanese-American artist in the traditional Japanese woodblock style.

At first glance, the prints could be mistaken for Japanese works, but on closer inspection, no. I found the prints a fascinating look at depicting the state, although less successful when larger figures were involved. The horse in "Colonial Williamsburg" or the statue in "College of William and Mary" had a clunky solidity that I don't expect from true Japanese prints.

But "Skyline Drive," "Blue Ridge, the Priest" and "Hollywood Cemetery" translated beautifully. In any case, the twelve prints are as different a depiction of familiar landmarks as any you'll see.

From there, I stepped out of the gallery long enough to admire the people tangoing below in the atrium before walking to Evans Court, past a group on a Friday tour looking at Byzantine art.

Walking into "Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints," I was immediately surrounded by exquisite blue/gray walls that called to mind the sea at dusk. Just beautiful. The exhibit was far larger than I'd anticipated with multiple galleries of Hasui's sublime watercolors and prints.

Included were two large two-panel screens that were breathtaking. In "Coastal Landscape," you could see fish drying on a rooftop and people going about their business on the streets of the seaside village. "Lake Towada" was a study in serenity.

I'd learned in last week's lecture that Hasui had created these landscapes as a means of nostalgia, looking back at a Japan that was quickly being replaced with a more modern one. The simple scenes of winding roads, hillsides, boats on water and temples conjure up a simpler time.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw a woodblock print with the jolly old elf in it. "Christmas Card with Santa Claus in Japanese Landscape" was a tad jarring, but in the most beautiful way.

You see Santa from behind, his pack on his shoulder and leaving a trail of deep footprints in the snow behind him as he heads toward a typical Japanese-style house, with its roof and the surrounding trees laden with snow.

East meets west, right there in that one holiday print.

One thing that was apparent in looking at Hasui's work was how influenced he'd been by the western 19th century art he'd studied.

The other thing was that I was never going to be able to pick a favorite because every time I thought I'd chosen, I'd come upon another piece so striking that it became my new fave. Call me fickle (and some will), but if you see the show (and you definitely should), you'll likely find yourself with the same dilemma.

That, and an overwhelming sense of tranquility as you leave it.

Properly warmed up, my next outing was outside in the 27 degree air. "InLight" was being held in Monroe Park this year, meaning an easy walk for me and a fellow Jackson Ward dweller.

It was a shame it was so cold because the park was kind of a cool location for InLight - contained, but full of natural and man-made elements.

The first thing that caught my attention was "Not Without You," which used volunteers to don props - rabbit ears and a fox mask - and ride stationary bikes behind a lit screen to create a shadow play. One couple conspired to use their hands to shape a heart, eliciting an "ahh" moment from the crowd.

Did I mention it was 27 degrees?

Projections were being shown on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and in looking at them we noticed the open doors. Coming through the vestibule, I saw the cathedral was lit only by candlelight. Inside, I was given a small votive and further down the aisle it was lit for me.

The entire effect of so many tiny candles near the altar was stunning, gorgeous even, and I stopped long enough to take it all in. A man near me had his head bowed in prayer while many people knelt in front of the mass of candles. Some sat in pews and so did I for a minute.

I imagine the effect was similar to that of attending church at night in the time before electricity. It was easy to feel like a small part of something much bigger. Hell, it was almost enough to make a heathen like me think about religion. Almost.

Next door at the Episcopalian church, I found some sort of service going on in the tiny chapel, but nothing InLight-related. That was okay mainly because the vaulted ceiling and wooden buttresses were so impressive, they made it worth going in even without a light show.

Walking in as I left, a girl asked her companion, "Is this part of InLight? What could be in a church?" Her companion shot back, "Jesus." So, there was humor (and heat) at the Episcopal church at least.

On the far side from that, the neon tree house was noteworthy because its framework had been constructed around a couple of the large tree's branches, so we could see limbs against flashing blue neon. Appropriately, a neon ladder hung from it.

But my first thought when I saw it was that it owed a debt to the Jackson Ward house installation at InLight several years ago. Same idea, just smaller and higher off the ground.

And speaking of trees, a huge, old magnolia tree had been given a cluster of magnolia blossom lights - made of heavy coated paper - hanging from its branches. They were lovely, evoking the real thick-petaled blooms of the magnolia with the only thing missing being the smell.

Unfortunately, the brightest thing at InLight was that gaudy Mosque Landmark Altria theater marquee. Too bad because the projections of shimmering water on to the front of the theater were so well done. The artist had even planned it so that the projections were only on the flat parts of the facade and not on the recessed arch.

The problem with tonight's sub-freezing temperatures was that I wasn't motivated to stand in long lines to see a couple of installations such as the one with the shack over the ice hole. Curious about it? Undoubtedly. Willing to stand and wait and freeze (even in velvet pants over tights)? Not so much.

There was even a topical installation about Monroe Park. You asked a question about the park into a microphone and the screen showed someone talking about that subject. It was kind of amazing how quickly the program pulled up a local person's sound bite on the subject. Ah, technology.

But at the end of the night, my most vivid memory was of the cathedral lit by candlelight. No technology, no computer, no projections. Just light in a beautiful space. Art.

Soul dusting of the highest order.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Deep and the Shallow

Brag about your neighborhood all you want, it can't top mine.

That's because I can walk out of my door at night (after spending the afternoon with a 78-year old artist in his enormous Carver studio laughing and talking about art and life) and find the most interesting things to do within a five block radius.

The first was the Noir Cinema series, a monthly opportunity to see a black-made short film and hear about it from the filmmaker, tonight being held at Candela Books & Art. Walking in, a gallerist mentioned my art piece in this week's Style Weekly, noting that his wife had decided after reading the piece that she wanted to buy one of the pieces at Ghostprint Gallery.

It's always thrilling to know that something I write spurs people into action, especially when an artist stands to make money off of it.

There were maybe 25 people there when I arrived, so I laid my bag on a chair with a good view and went next door to buy a hot chocolate at Lift. The guy frothing the milk made sure I knew they closed in five minutes, but I informed him it was for the movie next door. Suddenly he looks at me differently.

"Oh, you're going to the Noir Film at Candela?" he asks. "That's so cool."

Back in my seat for the movie, a guy I know from music shows approaches and we start talking about Candela. "I love this place," he says. "This is like a gallery you'd see in San Francisco or New York City." He should know; he moved here a couple of years ago after 20 years in San Fran.

People kept arriving and finally the film "Contamination" was introduced, with the information that it was its sixth film festival screening and the Virginia premiere.

The film was a brief but compelling look at obsessive compulsive disorder through the lens of a character who hasn't left her apartment in over a year for fear of germs and getting sick. She scrubbed her hands fastidiously, wore latex gloves and an air mask and generally did nothing beyond cleaning things.

When the movie stopped abruptly midway through due to technological difficulties, I was disturbed to see some people immediately pull out their phones. Soapbox: people have lost the ability to wait for anything without looking at a screen. It's tragic.

Once rolling again, we watched as the woman tried to deal with her mental illness while losing all contact with the outside world. Eventually she reached out and the film ended.

Director R. Shanea took the director's chair in front of the room and told us a bit about how she'd come to make the film, hoping to provide a voice for mental illness in the black community, apparently something often swept under the rug and ignored.

A question and answer period followed with as many questions about the making of the movie ($7,000 and two 13-hour days filming) as about the topic (she suffers from anxiety issues). When asked how she'd gotten the lead actress, she gave the expected 21st-century answer: Facebook.

One man's comment was, "The only problem I had with your short film was that it was too short." Many people expressed interest in seeing it developed into a feature film.

Honestly, I feel the same way about movie shorts as I do short stories. In the right hands, a masterful story can be told briefly and there's a distinct pleasure in the brevity. More is not necessarily always better.

The Q & A kept up for a good, long while, an indicator that the film had gotten to the audience. I liked that.

Afterwards, I only had to walk around the block to Gallery 5 for "An Evening Among Exiles," a night of speakers of all kinds. I arrived as the first guy was finishing his story (all I heard was the last line about his Dad losing his wallet), said hi to a friend and found a seat in the back row.

A comedian named Joshua was first for me and he began by telling us, "We've had a lot of deep shit. It's time for some shallow shit." A recent graduate with a (useless) degree in English, he said saying that was a fancy way of saying he's unemployed and in debt.

Seems he wanted to be a poet and instead he works at Target while honing his comedic skills at night. He may be a poet yet.

Mary was up next and said while she'd known for a month and a half that she had this gig, she'd done no preparation until today other than deciding what she'd wear (all black, brown belt).

Sometime today she'd decided to riff on lists, which led her to talking about all the online quizzes she takes ("Which Kardashian are you?"). The one that bothered her most was about which "Sex and the City" character she was because the internets kept saying she was Miranda and she was convinced she's Samantha.

Since I've never seen the show, I have no idea who she is beyond Mary. And, for all I know, that could have been an alias.

A big part of her spiel was about the "How Kinky are You?" quiz where, despite lying to the internets about cucumber usage, she came out a super freak. Her conclusion? "I'm okay with being a slutty cat woman." At least until her cat dies, she said.

In between speakers, we heard snippets of the unlikeliest music - Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkle and perhaps most improbably, Tony Orlando and Dawn - as people made their way to the stage.

Host Shannon announced a break then so people could belly up to the bar, but I used the time to chat up a couple of friends, one of whom was a tad nervous because he was going on later. Another, looking professorial in a cardigan, told of a long day dealing with state and city employee types. I offered my condolences.

Shannon got the evening rolling again with a monologue about going to friends' weddings and returning to red wine bendering, something he'd moved away from with good reason (blackouts).

Kylin Ann took the stage next looking cute in a full skirt with tattoo-looking tights and read the speech she'd written for her grandfather's funeral as an introduction to a winding tale of her family's dysfunction.

Arriving at the family homestead after Grandpa's death, she found her relatives drinking and trying to figure out what quote to use on the old man's funeral card ("It looks like a baseball card laminated"). Once they found the perfect one and discovered it was by Helen Keller, the evening descended into Helen Keller jokes.

A year later, the family regrouped to scatter Grandpa's ashes except only half were being scattered and the rest were being divided up into Zip-Lock bags for family members. Her aunt planned to divvy with an ice cream scoop until someone expressed shock, at which time she realized Gramps' favorite food was soup (it was Uncle Jeff who loved ice cream) and switched to a soup ladle to dole out the ashes.

What I love about evenings like this is that you hear the craziest stuff. You couldn't make up this stuff because no one would believe it.

Quietly taking the stage, PJ began by saying, "If I bomb tonight, it's because I didn't listen to my wife." Unfortunately, she wasn't there to hear him say that, but he also said it would be on her if he didn't bomb. And he not only didn't, he was terrific.

You see, PJ takes photographs of bands as a hobby and tonight he shared some of his adventures in shooting bands.

Explaining that sometimes you need to write something to go with photos of bands in order to get press credentials, he'd managed to get them to talk to Henry Rollins (only one guy in the crowd admitted to not knowing who Rollins was).

Nervously setting up for his first interview, he was caught off guard when Rollins answered the phone himself after half a ring. "I asked him low-hanging fruit type questions," PJ said and while he'd been allotted 15 minutes to talk to the punk legend, he only used seven of them. Fear, pure fear.

His story of going to the Black Cat to interview and shoot Daniel Johnston was just as good because a local show, "Pancake Mountain," was also there filming - but with puppets - and Johnston kept screwing up each take on purpose by telling the puppets to go f*ck themselves.

Afterwards, they shot video of Johnston playing with the band and people, including PJ, dancing behind them. So now I know that PJ is sort of a celebrity because he's on YouTube.

At Merge's 20th anniversary festival, he shot Lambchop ("A f*cked-up country band, not punk, not my thing") and said it ended up being one of the best performances of his life. Even better, Lambchop liked one of his pictures so much they wanted to use it as an album cover

He got to shoot at a Foo Fighters concert (when he didn't want to fight the crowd to go down to the stage to shoot, his cute wife reminded him that he'd regret it if he didn't and she was, of course, right, so he went), something he'd gone on record as saying he wanted to do 7 or 8 years ago. The band ended up using one of his shots on their Twitter feed, a major thrill for him.

He closed with his advice for happiness. "Keep doing stuff that makes you feel awkward." I second that.

Last to take the stage was Kevin, a come-here who captains a canal boat and he'd brought three pages' (front and back) worth of Richmond's rich history to share with us, namely Elizabeth van Lew and Mary Bowser. He intended to weave a tale, he said.

And he did, talking about how van Lew freed her father's slaves, including little Mary, whom she educated in Philadelphia. The two then became the best spies in the south for General Grant, gleaning information from soldiers in Libbie Prison and sending it off to Grant in bouquets of flowers from her garden and eggs (yea, I still don't understand how she did that).

He seemed most impressed with Mary when she posed as a slow-witted, able-bodied slave in the house of Jefferson Davis, spying from within using her photographic memory. Brilliant.

Of course, after the war, both women were run out of town, but Kevin wanted us to know that Mary Bowser was badass.

Now, you tell me. Can you walk out of your house and see a provocative black-made film, hear a story of smoking pot with your Uncle Dave and learn a little espionage history, all within a matter of blocks of home?

FYI, that's a low-hanging fruit type of question. My guess? Probably not.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Broad Appeal

A person can only celebrate so many beverages in one evening, but I tried my best.

Seeing as how it's Cider Week, who better to give my attention to than our own urban cidery, Blue Bee?

Upon arrival at Camden's, I was given a seat at the bar, next to the cider maker herself and on my other side, a guy whose first choice of beverage is cider. I don't think I've ever met anyone of that opinion. Like me, he eschews beer, but cider beats wine for him (to each his own).

Looking around the room, I recognized a few faces - the beer geek, a couple I'd met at Secco and chatted for hours with, a woman I'd once interviewed for.

One thing was clear, though, this wasn't a millennial crowd for the most part, so I suggested to the staff that the music be adjusted accordingly and we got shifted to the Luther Vandross station ("I'm liking these slow jams," one of the servers observed, bobbing her head).

The cider lover turned out to be a fine conversational partner as we ate and drank our way through five courses, beginning with house-smoked salmon with dilled cream cheese, red onions, capers and sippets. When our plates arrived, he looked at me and asked how we were supposed to eat it. Like a bagel, I suggested.

Paired with the mouth-watering salmon was Blue Bee's Hopsap Shandy, a hop-infused cider that did nothing for me because I don't care for the taste of hops. It wasn't hard to find someone to take it off my hands, though.

Aragon 1904 was paired with roasted buttercup soup with pepitos, house-smoked bacon and cumin cream which had been drizzled into the shape of an "A" and debate ensued as to whether the letter was a nod to the cider or the chef's initial.

Meanwhile, I was gleaning all kinds of things from my dinner partner. A metal fan since elementary school, it had only been in the past five years that he'd begun exploring other kinds of music - Bastille, Explosions in the Sky  - to great success, despite lingering Pantera adoration. He'd even been asked to tour as part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

An Oregon Hill resident and proud of it, he allowed that Jackson Ward had its charms, too, but admitted being skittish about Church Hill.

When we got to grilled swordfish over apple and napa cabbage slaw with Charred Ordinary, he told me it was the first time he'd ever had swordfish. Considering we'd been talking about restaurants and he'd been to almost every place we discussed, it was a tad surprising.

When he overheard me mention that I didn't have a cell phone, we got off on the topic of device overuse and he surprised me with his disdain for how common that is among younger generations (younger than him, that is). As an example, he talked about seeing parents out with their kids and all of them were on phones or using games with no real interaction.

He was of the opinion that we've already raised a couple of generations without any measurable social skills and that this does not bode well for the future. So he was preaching to the choir. The coolest thing he told me all night was that when he goes out to eat with friends, he insists on a "no Google" rule throughout the evening. Delaying gratification is impressive.

The course he'd most been looking forward to arrived next with chipped duck on a shingle (roasted duck stew on puff pastry with grapes and micro greens) alongside the lovely pink Mill Race Bramble, a beautiful pairing.

When I asked him where he worked, he told me upstairs as a graphic designer, something he'd enjoyed doing since he was young. The only problem had come about when he tried to work at home for a while, finding it lonely because he's so social and unproductive because there were always distractions (guitar).

Since I'm also social and work at home, I suggested that he might feel differently down the road after working a regular job for years like I did.

I also mentioned how I walk first thing every day to get out and about and go out every night for socializing, two things that keep the walls from closing in on me and that he hadn't been doing.

Dessert was pumpkin cheesecake with Gorgonzola whipped cream and a glass of Harvest Ration, a dessert cider made from bittersweet apples. The name comes from a time when Virginians working the harvest would get a daily ration of cider (for hydration) and brandy (for aches and pains). Why do I guess that this is no longer the case?

One of the servers made my day when she told me that a very cool writer she knows who lives in Austin had just posted a link to a Style Weekly story on her Facebook page. When she'd checked the byline, she'd seen it was one of my pieces. "So you've got broad appeal," she said.

The beer geek had come with photos from his sojourn to Maine and New Hampshire, sharing dozens of images of breweries, a sculpture garden, a wedding he attended, a Frank Lloyd Wright house he'd visited and some beautiful shots of Portland and the bay, a place I still recall from a childhood vacation there.

One of the organizers of Fire, Flour and Fork stopped by to chat, soliciting my opinion of the classes and demonstrations I'd attended. Like me, she'd been terribly impressed with the lunch counters screening and discussion.

The happy couple I'd met at Secco came by, too, again suggesting that we meet up for more conversation, something I'd relish given how much fun they'd been last time. "The only reason we came to the cider dinner was to make contact with you again," she joked.

As the crowd began to thin, some of us turned our attention to "The Whistler," the 1944 movie showing on the screen. When one of the servers commented on how old the film looked, he was told it was from before he was born.

"Thriller" was before I was born," he announced, silencing the room. Wait, there are people legally drinking who were born after Nirvana's "Nevermind"? Wow, just wow.

By then it was getting on to time to head to Amour Wine Bistro for their annual Beaujolais tastings. They're smart; knowing that the Beaujolais Nouveau can't legally be released until the third Thursday of November, they always hold a party beginning at 10:30 on the Wednesday night before.

The idea is to savor some of the Cru Beaujolais before doing the requisite sipping of the bubblegum-flavored juice that is Nouveau. A plate of charcuterie was the ideal beginning.

Arriving about 10:45, there were already a dozen people in place and over the next hour, the restaurant all but filled up with people out late on a Wednesday night, including the cast from "Mame." Lots of familiar faces, in other words.

We began with a flight of four half glasses that included a Domaine des Carra Beaujolais Nouveau from 2013, aged a year until it was not only drinkable but delicious.

My favorite of the bunch was organic: Chenas Cave Saint Cyr 2010 but I also enjoyed sips of Brouilly Joseph Drouhin 2011 from someone else's glass.

Restaurant friends showed up unexpectedly, joining us at our little table in time for tasting of the Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 and the high spirits that permeated the room by that point. A restaurateur stopped by to pour a taste of a Beaujolais Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes, a uniquely lovely wine to experience.

Glasses were swept from the tables before 2 a.m., but a group of dedicated wine lovers lingered, chattering about all the good things we'd tasted and how much fun the party had been before spilling out into the cold, empty Carytown streets.

So, I've officially done my part to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. I've spent a meal saluting cider.

It's up to the rest of you now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

For the Greater Good

You know me, always willing to drink for a good cause.

With plans to get together with my favorite Southside dweller for sipping and chatting, it only made sense to do it where we could make a difference.

Tonight, that meant at the Give Thanks RVA happy hour at Emilio's, with a portion of all drink sales going to my favorite longhair music supporters, Classical Revolution.

What's not to like about a group whose mission is to bring classical music to bars and clubs? Hello?

The party had already been going on for an hour and a half when I arrived, making it pretty congested around the bar, but leaving a bar table for us near the back that just so happened to be situated directly under a heat vent. Score!

I'd barely sat down when Prabir, one of the evening's organizers, came by to say hello and discuss why it had been so long since we'd seen each other. Best philosophical gem to fall from his lips: "Flesh is torn and then it heals and you're stronger." So, yea, we got deep pretty quickly.

Moira joined us not long thereafter and the gallant Prabir asked to buy us wine and what woman in her right mind is going to turn down that offer? He returned with two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and a humorous summary of what we could expect for entertainment, but told to us in reverse order.

Turns out he was up first, without his usual guitar but planning to play a little John Williams for us. That's right, we heard a snippet of the theme to "Jaws" played on glasses.

From that highbrow beginning, we moved on to looped upright bass and then violin, all set to the high-spirited chatter of music supporters.

We were so far in the back of the room that all we could do was listen (no visuals) but with two months' worth of life to catch up on, it was probably just as well.

She explained why it's not good to have a double rye and then discuss guns with a conservative and I shared how I took commands from a stranger and caught my first fish.

Midway through our book discussion of "Gone Girl" and what it says about the current state of millennial relationships, our affable server stopped by and we ordered crispy Chorizo and Manchego empanadas to fuel things.

While I was reveling in the direct heat pouring down on us, Moira proceeded to peel off layers of clothing the longer we stayed. Had she not had to pick up her husband, she might have ended up nude.

One of our most interesting tangents was about the future, where we see ourselves a few years from now and what we'd like to do once we're there. She's curious to find out how shedding the tyranny of a regular job will affect her morning lark tendencies, but as I reminded her, I was once a lark, too. I'm of the opinion that night owls lurk inside many larks, at least for those who have that luxury.

We lasted far later than the fundraiser did - not that plenty of people weren't still happily imbibing when we left - and said our goodbyes on the corner after making plans for a cidery trip, an art outing and a space movie while her man is out of town.

My next stop was the Criterion to see "Whiplash," a movie I must have seen the previews for on my last three or four film-going trips. Somehow it seemed appropriate to see a jazz movie at night.

But then I was in full art geek overload as a preview came on for an upcoming film called "Mr. Turner" about - wait for it - the English artist J.M.W. Turner. Thank heavens for directors like Mike Leigh making movies about painters. Moira may want to change her mind about what we see once I tell her this.

But tonight's fascination was "Whiplash," a movie about a drum student at a prestigious New York conservatory (can you say Julliard?) and the sadistic teacher who taunts and pushes him to achieve greatness.

In an early scene, the student Andrew is at the movies with his father sharing a bucket of popcorn into which they've poured a box of Raisinettes. I understand the sweet/salty intention there, but everyone knows it should be Milk Duds (or even Junior Mints) amid the kernels.

From the opening scenes, it was hard not to be thrilled with the fabulous jazz soundtrack of the film. Add in the way that editing almost became a character as we saw all kinds of angles of musicians playing, quick cuts of the musical scores and closeups of the blood and sweat required to play drums at this level. A lot of bloody hand shots.

Being so unmusical, I can't speak to why the elusive double time swing beat seems to be the holy grail of jazz drumming, but watching so much percussion was far more exciting and suspenseful in the context of a 19-year old trying to prove himself to a brutal teacher.

And let's just say it right now: J.K. Simmons as the abusive teacher will get an Oscar nod for this performance, although Miles Teller as the young drummer is every bit as impressive in a less showy role. So that's a killer jazz score, two highly impressive actors and a story that feels less like a music saga and more like a suspense movie.

Walking out at close to midnight, a guy looked as bowled over as I felt and said simply, "Wow!" Don't I know it, mister.

See what larks miss?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Advice from an 80-Year Old

Let's talk about the weather, shall we?

Yesterday, it rained buckets all day long, but the temperature was perfectly tolerable: mid to upper '60s. I walked 4 1/2 miles under an umbrella without a complaint, enjoying the humid air.

But I got back to an e-mail saying, "I hope you are well on this dreary day. As an 80-year old friend of mine says, it's one for either good books or bad boys." Perhaps unfortunately, I partook of neither, but I also wasn't thinking it was dreary, just raining.

Last night, I inquired about someone's day only to be told, "It was a day for hunkering down and staying in." How come I didn't get this memo?

The heat pump in my apartment died some time Sunday while I was out and about, but the bottom line was I had no heat when I got home that night. First thing Monday, I called my repair guy who determined it was a fuse. Easily fixed, but then it blew again.

So I had no heat the last two nights which wasn't a problem with enough layers on my bed, but it also took all of today to ascertain the problem and get it fixed. What that meant was a whole lot of sitting around waiting for the repair guys to have access to and work in my apartment.

Knowing it was barely above freezing, you'd think I'd have relished a day inside (albeit with no heat but lots of sweaters) and used it as a legitimate excuse to hunker down. I tried that and failed miserably.

Finally, around 4 this afternoon, I told the guys I needed to escape my apartment. They warned me it was cold outside and I went anyway.

Oh, it was cold, but it was also just what I needed. I only walked a couple of miles because I needed to be back before they finished so my house wouldn't be left unlocked, but it was so worth it.

"You out exercising, are you?" a bundled up older man asked as I sailed past. "You're looking good, looking good." Forget that, I was feeling good after a day cooped up indoors. Clearly I need a good amount of fresh air everyday.

I'm not even sure good books and bad boys could have been as satisfying as finally getting out.

Hunkering down is over-rated. That said, working heat is not.

Suddenly I Can See Blue Skies

Never turn down an invitation for a road trip.

Do I want to go to a show? Probably. Do I want to go to a show in another town? Always.

Donning my finest rainy day attire - hot pink raincoat, green and pink floral rubber boots - we set off for Charlottesville, making our way through a traffic jam and skittish drivers despite the rain being over. Why must people overuse their brakes when pavement gets wet?

En route we decided to make our way to Belmont rather than the downtown mall for dinner, choosing the Local's inviting, dark ambiance once we were there (and obviously seduced by their adjacent wine room with its old outside sign saying "Betty's Beauty Salon" overhead).

Inside, we were asked if we were with the such and such party (meaning the unruly cluster of men in sports coats at the bar) and when we demurred, led upstairs to the charming (and well-heated) patio space enclosed by windows.

Because a night away feels like an occasion, we began with crisp, citrusy Cap Classique Colmant Brut Reserve (a nod to trips to South Africa of yore) and a cheese plate generously laid out with five cheeses - goat, cheddar, bleu, Brie and Swiss - including three from Virginia (they are called The Local, after all). While we worked that lovely combination down, the group of salesmen-looking sports coats from the bar arrived upstairs and settled at the table behind us.

Much ordering of Cabernet Sauvignon and hushed phone calls about the day's business ensued. Almost all of them wore wedding rings and almost all of them seemed to be overdoing it on a night out. They were a cliche, in other words.

We ignored them, choosing our entrees which seemed to arrive in a twinkling of an eye. A special of lamb shanks with potatoes and green beans went to my fellow road tripper and I'd chosen the buttermilk Tabasco-braised local chicken with mashed potatoes and horseradish poppy seed slaw. Braised and crispy, yes, please.

Each of us thought we'd made the right choice but if you ask me, how can can you beat a crispy thigh, drumstick and wing? Impossible.

By then, the patio space had begun to fill up with all sorts of Monday night revelers: a four top of a certain age who never stopped conversing and laughing, a couple of 20-somethings where she kept pulling out her phone for fear of missing out, a lively table of friends enjoying each other loudly - making us just another table of people happy to be out at the start of the week.

Keeping the bubbly thread going since we had an hour to kill, we stayed local with Veritas' creamy "Scintilla" to accompany a banana split for dessert. Not typically a split fan, I was seduced by the caramelized bananas, the three distinctive flavors of house-made ice cream (blackberry, blueberry and peanut butter with chocolate chip) under a blanket of chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Not your average banana split, am I right?

Between the split and the local bubbles delaying us, by the time we got to the Southern, T. Hardy Morris and his band were already playing. Much as I hate to miss an opening act, we'd been having too much fun to get there sooner, although I was glad to catch part of their set with its lovely pedal steel.

During the break, I headed out to wait in line for the bathroom. A guy joined me, asking if there were lines for men and women. Before I could answer, a bathroom door opened and I looked at him.

"No, you go ahead first," he said gallantly. "You're beautiful-er." That's the kind of man I want to wait in a bathroom line with.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - a waif with a guitar -came out joined by a bassist and a drummer, looking wan (surely she never sees the sun) with the blondest bob and briefest bangs.

She didn't have a lot of stage presence (she is only 25, after all), but after the second song, she inquired of an audience member, "What are you talking about? Tell me the secret!"

You can't handle the secret, honey.

Her set was an amalgamation of her earlier acoustic, confessional stuff and songs from her latest album, which sounds like it came directly from the Nirvana era with gloriously grungey guitar sounds.

"Are you guys having fun?" she asked of the unfortunately small crowd. "Cause this next song is called 'No Fun." Some might say her voice is no fun, bordering on a monotone with just enough edge to keep it interesting. And always, plenty of soul-baring in the lyrics.

"This is a song about having to do the dishes, do the laundry and kill yourself before your husband gets home." An amusing take on a song, even more so when she introduced the bass player Jessie as her husband ("He legally agreed to love me forever").

She was clearly getting off on the newer material, channeling her inner grunge ("I'm an awkward girl"- join the club, my dear) with raucous guitar and occasionally 12-string (be still, my heart). Some songs shimmered, others raged, but every one shone with her distinctive voice.

For the encore, she came back alone, sitting on the lip of the stage and singing, "You've got a stranglehold on my heart." Could I hope to hear anything more romantic?

Husband Jessie came out for the last song, playing guitar for her and singing along, just the two of them on the edge of the stage with the small crowd gathered around. Their voices melded beautifully to close out the night.

Sure, then we were looking at an hour's drive home, but there was so much to talk about. Jessica Lea. All that grunge. A fabulous meal. The clarity of the stars in the sky. The loss of clarity as we approached Richmond.

Even an awkward girl couldn't have asked for a beautiful-er evening.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Victim of the Modern Heart

Make the most of it, that was the plan.

So even though I'd walked a couple of miles this morning, by afternoon, I'd found a willing accomplice for another, more ambitious walk. After all, the polar vortex is coming.

Meaning, while it was 51 degrees today and the projection is for 69 tomorrow, we're also looking at a low of 28 degrees tomorrow night. I'm going to freeze my patootie off come my Wednesday trek.

But for today at least, the weather was brisk but bearable, so we set out on foot. Our first stop was at Perly's where we were told they were closed although it wasn't even 2:00 yet. No doubt they were running out of ingredients and patience by that point.

Hey, Perly's was on the way. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Never one to let denial stand in the way of a diverting afternoon, we continued on down Second Street, admiring the magnificent vista of the James at the top of Brown's Island Way. A young woman was coming up the hill, pushing her bike and puffing a bit, giving us the look (it sure is steep).

Crossing Brown's Island and greeted by gusts coming off the river as we walked beside it to the path leading down to the Pipeline Walkway, thrilled when the sun appeared and added its warmth to that of movement.

Then it was east along the Capital Trail (I shared my wish for a parallel raised walkway for pedestrians only under the train trestle) to Chapel Island to look at the remains of the Trigg Shipbuilding Company.

Besides the particular pleasure of being on an island, I was amazed at a photograph of the stadium-like structure once on the island that would've been drained so they could build the torpedo boats in it and then filled with water to launch them into the river. Brilliant 19th century technology.

Wandering back along Tobacco Row to admire the warehouses turned lofts and apartments (my favorites had narrow balconies on the first floor, created from the lip of the former loading dock), we wound our way over to Cary to see the recently-completed religious freedom sculpture erected in front of the new Marriott Hotel. It's a fitting replacement for the painted wall covered up by hotel construction that honored the site where the Virginia Assembly passed the Statute for Religious Freedom.

That's the kind of thing that matters to us heathens.

The good news on Main Street downtown is that finally (finally!) there are retail signs of weekend life down there. Subway had a sign on the door touting new Saturday hours and even the CVS recently began Saturday and Sunday hours. Hotel guests and downtown dwellers alike will fist bump in approval.

By the time I was back in J-Ward, we'd covered a 5 1/2 mile route, a worthy addition to my earlier couple of miles.

Although my morning oatmeal and fruit had carried me that far, I was ravenous by then. Coincidentally, my fellow walker had an itch to watch the Detroit game, so we drove to Gus' Bar and Grille, although at less than two miles away, it wouldn't have been much more of a walk. Kick-off, however, wouldn't allow it.

And while I (understand and) can watch football, I'd yet to dive into today's Washington Post, so I brought it along. Walking in to Gus', a guy in a Redskins jersey approaches us and leads us to a booth, "So it'll be easier for you to read your paper," he graciously says. It didn't hurt that there was a TV in the booth for the fan to watch.

Over 20 hot wings, I meandered through the kinds of stories I look forward to in the Sunday paper. A review of a new Peggy Lee bio (hadn't known she was the basis for Miss Piggy), where I learned she was a nutcase (and had four husbands).

An opinion piece about the use of the word "feminist," a subject near and dear to my heart (that will be an entire blog post one day soon). Touring whisky distilleries in Tasmania (traveling with someone originally labeled "ex-boyfriend" but by the end of the piece, "husband"...ah, the power of whisky). The new Elaine Sturtevant retrospective at MoMA (why it matters, why it doesn't).

A ridiculous two-month study showing that kids make better lunch selections in the school cafeteria if you reward them for healthy choices with stickers and fake tattoos (let's bribe their taste buds and reinforce the need for constant praising/rewarding). One-derful Records' recording of the Jackson 5's "Big Boy" and the subsequent unearthing of that master tape that pre-dates the Motown years.

In between sections, I kept an eye on Detroit's best field efforts on the mute screen, celebrating when they did something right and returning to the paper when they couldn't move the ball. Favorite player name: Golden Tate (did his parents know he was going to play football?).

Mostly I tried to ignore the very drunk trio of guys nearby high-fiving and lamenting being mid-40s and still single. Based on their corny, loud obnoxiousness and infantile humor, it was hardly surprising women weren't flocking to them.

My bowl of chili (I cook carrots in my chili so I'm always a little disappointed when no one else does) arrived with a plate of blue, red and yellow corn chips, so I scooped my sports-appropriate dinner out of a bowl with reds and blues as the clock ticked down and Detroit players put on their sad faces.

It's not whether you win or lose, boys. How about if we give you a sticker or a fake tattoo to make it feel all better?

If not, try Rose and some 1987-era Earth, Wind and Fire, say "Touch the World" and see if that doesn't send you over the moon.

Make the most of what you got, whatever it is. Right?