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.


  1. ...i'm trying to picture you tapping your toes to Tony Orlando & Dawn, [my late Grandmothers' favorite] but todays' my birthday so i'm going to give you a break...


  2. Happy birthday, cw! Hope you have plans to celebrate all kinds of ways!

  3. ...monday it is...if Lazarus rises at 10 when should i expect you.. (time)... [unfair i suppose since i'm familiar with your features]..but it has been a while ...should be interesting...participants in a le Carre' novel? i'll be on the 2nd floor.

  4. VMFA is nice or City Hall deck. I enjoy both. one has many nooks & crannies with multiple pluses, the other the View. i know you enjoy both, i also. do you have a preference? it's important that i ask. usually i would choose the OB Deck, this time I'm leaning towards the vmfa. What's your flavor?

  5. not quite...

    2nd floor- Blvd. side of the new McGlothian Wing. front mezzanine area,ok maybe not a mezzanime, [that vast espanse of glass overlooking the Blvd.]. It has a nice view... sorry i only go in the Best cafe if i have to...don't mind do you?

  6. I thought we were meeting for lunch?

  7. let's meet first...

    this is a non-binding thing...if you're not interested that's ok.

  8. Confused...if I'm not interested in talking to you?

  9. meet


    go someplace to eat.

    too much?

  10. Not too much, it just seems like an unnecessary step to meet and then move. Why not just pick a restaurant and meet?

  11. unnecessary? ...not on my part.. in some ways, [for me], a fundamentally necessity.. inspired when there, [uplifting in a way]...however my feelings. perhaps the idea has been ill-founded on my part, a chance meeting more natural, less contrived. it has seemed a bit drawn out. perhaps another time...


  12. As you wish. I'm afraid the onus is on you, though, since you can recognize me and I can't you. Please do speak to me if you see me.

  13. k..

    i mostly certainly will speak to you & identify myself.

    followed you too long to quit now.


  14. Looking forward to our "chance" meeting.

  15. "it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

    -- Antoine de Saint- Exupery