Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Richmond Time

I should know better.

You'd think years of going to music shows would teach me to be less punctual. But the FB event page was firm. "Music starts at 8 and is over at 10." Clear enough, right?

Wrong. My long-time music buddy Andrew had recently written a piece for RVA News pondering why live music never starts on time in Richmond. But since I'd read it, I'd been to three shows that had not only started on time, but I'd missed part of each one because I hadn't quite bought in to the revised start time ethos.

Tonight I intended to miss nothing at Black Iris and instead wound up with 45 minutes on my hand before the first band, Cherry Pitts, took the stage. I was put to good use, though, playing door (wo)man, taking people's money, checking their IDs and marking their hand with my official Sharpie to help out a friend who kept getting called away from his front door position.

In between, we talked about how Richmond's tardy shows punish the punctual and reward those operating on Richmond time. He brought up how some bands never evolve, musically or personally, using GWAR as an exception. A girl came in and told me she loved my hair, always nice to hear.

Two girls came in, paid their money and were about to leave the vestibule and enter the venue where Cherry Pitts were playing when one turned and asked me if the show was almost over. When I said that the band was on their fourth song and that they were the first band, she looked relieved and surprised. She knew she was late.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the pop punk band was only doing a seven-song set, a fact. I knew only because one of the members had borrowed the Sharpie to write the set list and I'd marveled at its brevity. But of course, punk songs are always short, fast and loud, as the Pitts knew.

And by loud, I mean over-amplified to the max (this from the woman who long ago lost her hearing by attending far too many shows), making it tough to fully appreciate their well-executed music. When my friend asked if I needed ear plugs, I pulled mine out of my bag but also stayed in the vestibule for their set.

You know it's loud when I take precautions.

It was an interesting crowd. A bartender I know came in, commenting that he hadn't seen me in a while. A talented songwriter arrived, proving that he was 30 by showing me his ID. A cute musician couple showed up. Best outfit award went to a girl in black and white zigzag shorts with an aqua blue bustier topped by a big blue bow across her chest.

I did make it inside for Digital Leather's synth-based set, though. The five of them didn't fit on the stage, so the singer/guitarist stood in front of it, face to face with the crowd.

Directly in front of him was a slightly older guy who'd arrived almost as early as I had, disappeared and then resurfaced just as the music started. Once Digital Leather began playing, this guy proved to be an unstoppable dancer.

He didn't take up a lot of space, but he about shook his head loose from his neck with every drumbeat and his limp arms were in complete service to the wild convulsions of his torso. It was truly impressive to see and I'm going to go out on a limb and say it wasn't his first DL show.

After a while, a few other people began dancing around him, moving across the floor flailing, while he stayed rooted in place dancing. They lost energy after one song while he didn't stop until the band did and by then, they were soaked in sweat, the drummer's long, straight hair plastered to his skull.

And you know what? As promised, the show was over right around 10-ish. For people like Andrew who claim to be old and have day jobs, this must have been very good news, while for some of us, it was more like, okay, what do we do now?

Maybe RVA is getting the hang of this live music thing after all.

Azaleas in Battery Park

Much as I like to talk, I also love to listen, trying to tease out more than someone intends to share.

That makes me think I'd have loved being part of the WPA's Federal Writer's Project back in the '30s gathering people's stories from all over the country. But it's 2015 and sometimes the best I can hope for is an afternoon spent listening to people reminisce.

"Battery Park Stories" promised an afternoon of long-time Battery Park residents sharing memories of a neighborhood I know far too little about, other than once attending a performance of "As You Like It" back in August 2010. First surprise: it's only a mile from my house, albeit across I-95.

I knew the couple who'd conceived of the project but didn't expect to know anyone else when in walked a familiar face, her husband and young daughter. "What are you doing here?" she asked, smiling. "Aren't you still in Jackson Ward?"

Well, yes, but fortunately, they weren't checking IDs at the door so maybe no one knew I was an interloper.

I'd already met another Karen at the door (we'd agreed you have to be of a certain age to be named Karen) as well as a woman named Laurie who overheard our discussion and joked that she'd never met another black Laurie in her life. "Just doesn't happen!" she'd laughed. Names do tell a story.

Once I found a seat, another Karen sat down next to me. What are the chances?

Assembled was a panel of five long-time residents with great memories who spent the next couple hours sharing stories and opinions (as cameras rolled) with the roomful of people who ranged from young families to decades-long residents. It was impressively diverse.

One mentioned how the neighborhood had been considered "new territory" for black folks back in the '40s and '50s (a home went for $9,000 in 1959) once white flight took hold. Another recalled people moving out because they moved in.

A shining example of how Richmond thinks of its neighborhoods was evident when one woman mentioned moving from the west end - she lived on Texas Avenue near Maymont - to northside. You can tell a Richmond old-timer when they refer to anything east of the downtown expressway as the west end.

The panel was unanimous abut Battery Park having been an ideal place to raise kids, a place where people were comfortable sitting on their porch after dark. "We had no reservations about the safety of the neighborhood," one said, explaining that it was a neighborhood of professionals who expected their children to go to college.

What was extraordinary to me was the casual way this panel referenced Richmonders who'd gone on to become names you see on buildings and streets, names such as Oliver Hill and Binford. One of the panelists was Lucille Brown, a name I knew only from the schools named after her.

Some of the stories were civil rights history lessons. A mother spoke of her children having to go to 7 different schools because the city kept redrawing school districts. Her son had to take a bus to downtown and then transfer to a bus that would take him to Thomas Jefferson High School.  Another said his father took him to school with explicit instructions to only drink out of the water fountain marked "colored."

Almost everyone agreed that it was Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Tropical Storm Gaston in 2006 that really helped the revitalized neighborhood gel as people shared resources and had communal meals in the streets. We heard about the city's first black firefighter and how he wasn't allowed to go in first to fight fires in a white home.

Probably the most shocking tale came from a woman who had Oliver Hill for a neighbor. Her mother, whose bedroom was at the front of the house, had woken up one night to a blinding light in the window. It was during the Brown versus Board of Education case and the KKK was burning a cross on Hill's lawn.

The program concluded with the panelists expressing their hopes for Battery Park going forward. Several wished for the glory days of Brookland Park Boulevard - which once was home to a haberdashery, fancy grocery with a butcher on premises, movie theater, ice cream parlor and more- and North Avenue to return. "It was a nice shopping district," one said.

But the overriding consensus among the panelists was for Battery Park to again become the neighborhood it once was. "I want it to again be a neighborhood where we care for each other and care about each other."

Judging by the communal energy in the air this afternoon, I'd say they're well on their way. Even though I may live in Jackson Ward, I wouldn't have missed hearing those stories of Battery Park.

Thankfully, a wise couple is seeing that they're recorded to be shared with generations to come. This interloper was just lucky enough to get to listen to those who lived it.

Bohemian Like You

The Internet has informed me that I'm guilty of masturdating.

Masturdating (n.) going out to a movie or restaurant alone

I knew I was doing it, I just didn't know it had a name. And then for the second time in two days, I was misidentified. Thursday I was invited to an art opening as part of the tattoo community. Fact: there's not a speck of ink on my body.

Tonight I was invited to the premiere  of "Artists Die Best in Black" at the Firehouse Theater. Martha Mabey, who wrote the book the film is based on, began the evening by saying, "Everyone I invited are people I like."

We've never met. So now I've been mistaken for part of Boho Richmond.

But that's okay, because I am the kind of person who'd enjoy seeing the premiere of a low-budget film ($2 million) based on a novel set in Richmond about a gallery owner written by a former Carytown gallery owner.

Walking up to the Firehouse, I was spotted by one of the best music bookers in town who was looking quite dapper in a suit instead of his usual t-shirt and shorts. He was outside so as to avoid the overcrowded reception and the attendant schmoozing going on inside.

Once in, we hovered together before lights were dimmed and everyone took a seat, me in the sole seat in the second row not marked "reserved."  As a frequent masturdater, I find I often score a superb seat by being alone.

Martha introduced some of the people in tonight's audience who were represented in the book/film, including the artist Mayo Everett, who set one of his driftwood sculptures on the stage.

That's when it hit me. I'd seen a show of his work at Pine Camp back in January. This was the guy who'd find a piece of driftwood and let it tell him what it wanted to be. Seems he'd also shown up at Martha's gallery with a driftwood giraffe and she'd given him a solo show back in the day.

I found it very cool to be watching the film with some of the people who'd inspired characters. Afterwards, Martha was asked if she minded all the changes that had been made - the film was apparently much darker than the book - from her original story line.

"No, because I wrote it for fun," she said with a big smile. "I had Lewis next door and Cindy I would go to exercise class together and Mayo just showed up at my gallery one day. It was just a fun time."

A fun time I'd known nothing about until seeing this film.

And because we masturdaters tend to overdo what we do, when I left there, it was to abandon my car and walk over to Gallery 5. Alone.

A four-band bill had begun at 8, so I was hoping to catch the last two bands. It was Spandrel's last show (a member is moving) and it's always bittersweet to see a band's final performance together. They played a solid set of their distinctive '70s sound before waving, saying goodbye and meaning it.

Waiting for the next band to set up, I noticed for the first time some of the more repellent sounding offerings on the chalkboard over the bar. Great Buds of Fire combined Budweiser with Fireball. Horrible as that sounds, it wasn't even the most off-putting. That honor went to Vomit Comet, a melange of Genesee and tequila.

I only knew a couple of people at the show - the sound guy I'd recently met, the filmmaker, the restaurant manager - but I had a good spot for viewing the debut of Spooky Cool.

Fronted by Zac Hyrciak formerly of the Junglebeat, the new group delivered killer harmonies with three singers including a female singer and drummer, Lee. That's not so different than Junglebeat.

What was different was how much harder hitting their sound was with big guitars and loud drums. No violin. "We're pretty hard, you guys," Zac said stating the obvious after their first song. It was still interesting music with clever stops and starts and tempo changes, just way more rockin' than anything I saw Junglebeat do.

Midway through their 3-song set, a girl near me asked what band this was. When I told her, she thumbed it into her device, showed it to me and asked again if that was it. She was wasting the short time they were playing on her phone rather than watching them. Don't get me started.

When the crowd called for another song, Zac explained that that was all they knew right now. They're doing a show at Hardywood at the end of June and he promised a couple more songs by then. But I have to say their first show sounded impressive, making me wish I had someone to discuss it with.

Two firsts and a last tonight, all taken in through the eyes of a masturdater. I'm lucky I haven't gown hair on my palms given how often I do it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Back to the Night

My parents are an inspiration to me, even when they're not present.

Today's lunch date had all the key ingredients: a scenic road trip up Route 301 to Fredericksburg, a reliably creative restaurant, pithy and opinionated company and chocolate.

My favorite tennis player and I had been trying to arrange a lunch date since January, canceling twice for snow and once for last minute schedule conflicts. Today's plans had happened spontaneously after I'd gotten a happy birthday e-mail last Saturday.

Choosing as my soundtrack "Joan Armatrading Classics," I rolled up 301 listening to songs about every stage of a women's life - "Rosie," a young woman's song about not coming on so willing and strong to the boys, "Kind Words and a Real Good Heart" about the more mature realization that life can be indiscriminate and "Me, Myself and I" about the reality of needing alone time.

It's as timeless a record as I know.

My aunt and I met at Bistro Bethem but sat inside since she'd just finished a match in F-burg this morning (and had another at 5 p.m. today) and was looking for a cool sit-down for a while. The salad I ordered was as good as any I've had in ages with kale, snow peas, quinoa, radishes and smoked turkey in a delicate mustard vinaigrette. I'd eat it again tomorrow, it was that good.

As we ate, we caught up since it had been over a year since we'd last met.

She's a UR grad who's never quite accepted the Westhampton campus merging with the UR campus, even going so far as to suggest that her class' 50-year reunion be held at a house rather than on campus because she doesn't care for the way the place feels and looks now.

To me, it's just a labyrinth I do my best to navigate when I'm over there for culture.

Since I'd just seen my folks, she asked how her brother/my father was, leading to some great stories about his misspent youth. Apparently he was quite the Lothario before meeting my Mom (whom she referred to as his soulmate), including one woman with whom he broke it off and who still refuses to attend an event he's at because of it.

Talking about the news (she's as savvy politically as anyone I know) I brought up free-range parenting and the debate going on in D.C. about it. She regaled me with stories of accompanying her mother, my Richmond grandmother, to Thalhimer's and Miller and Rhodes to shop before her mother went on to her job at the telephone company at Grace and 7th Street.

"Then I'd take the bus home and walk eight blocks to our apartment," she remembered. These days, DSS would pick her up and throw Grandma in jail. Different times, we agreed.

Talking about my parents and their decades-long romance, she mentioned their still active sex life, something my Dad apparently shares with her on occasion. "They were doing it in the shower in Cape Henry!" she tells me and I didn't dare ask for details.

Most interesting of all our chatting was when I turned the tables on her and asked about her life and relationship of the past 20+ years. They still live together, but on separate floors and schedules. "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't." she admitted, surprising me.

She's still attractive, very fit (almost daily tennis), smart as a whip and dryly funny. When she said she was considering a dating website, I seconded the motion. They're not married, his health is precarious and she's still vital and energetic. How much life do you owe someone once the trappings of a relationship are long gone?

Neither of us was sure about the answer.

For dessert, I had pot de creme au chocolat with a piece of house-made nut brittle the size of my hand while she enjoyed strawberry sorbet. Asking about my plans tonight, it occurred to her that she had the perfect host in me to show her the new Richmond.

We immediately started making plans for her to come stay for a few days (after the tennis championships are over, of course) so I could reacquaint her with the city of her birth and upbringing.Maybe she'll meet someone interesting while she's here or maybe she'll just have a good time.

Since we don't get do-overs, it only seems smart to make the most of right now. That was the topic of my thoughts tooling back down 301...and probably hers as well.

Don't we all want to be still doing it in the shower when we're 82?

Lick My Tongue

Ask me for a dark secret and I'll share with the entire room. FYI, I can also stare, get lost and cook.

Walking the pipeline so often, I've seen plenty of people fishing but yesterday was the first day I ever saw men throwing nets. It seemed so, I don't know, European or old-school. Charming and unexpected.

According to the one man staying dry on the sand (as opposed to the two with nets wading crotch-deep in the river in their shorts), the were casting for small perch, although in the 15 or so minutes I watched, they pulled in exactly zero.

Still, it's always cool to see new things happening on the river.

Despite my recent birthday, I am even still at this age navigationally-challenged. Today on my annual trek to Gallmeyer Farms in Henrico, I looked up a new route. Keep it fresh, right?

Instead, I somehow ended up on 895, almost immediately passing over the very road I'd been searching for. After getting off on 295 simply to escape the unknown, I eventually wound my way back to the strawberry farm.

Time eclipsed? Turned out to be a tragic 35 minutes for what should have been a 12-minute drive. It no longer even embarrasses me, it's just who I am.

Coming back from the farm with the box of ripe strawberries perfuming the car, I determined to go back the way I'd intended to come in hopes of seeing where I'd made my mistake. But the failure was technology's, not mine (vindicated!), because the directions had left out a key turn that would have put me on the correct road

Just so you know, this is a very satisfying moment for someone who gets lost as often as I do (such as Tuesday evening leaving Merroir for my parents' house and missing a turn...but I blame the darkness). I hadn't done a thing wrong for a change.

The reason I'd gone for strawberries was partly selfish (they're magical right now) and partly intentional. I was hosting a dinner party tonight and wanted them for dessert, along with the pound cake I'd put in the oven at 11:45 p.m. last night, by the way, the coolest time to bake when you don't use air conditioning.

With clear instructions from one of the guests ("Not gonna lie, I'm not easy to cook for. No meat, no dairy"), I'd chosen Alton Brown's guacamole and someone named Melissa Rubel Jacobson's chipotle shrimp tostada recipes, both of which went over smashingly well. In the process, I went through four avocados, three limes, two colors of tomatoes and onions and most of my cilantro plant.

Given today's heat and the amount of cooking going on in my bite-sized kitchen, I realized late in the game that I should have chilled the metal bowl and beaters before whipping heavy cream for the dessert but managed to achieve stiff peaks even so (culinary aside: the phrase "stiff peaks" ties with "hard ball stage" in candy-making for smuttiest sounding cooking terminology).

Is there anything more May-like than just-picked strawberries and cream? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy pound cake, but it plays second fiddle to berries and mounds of whipped cream this time of year.

On my walk to Belle Isle this morning, I'd noticed that Coalition Comedy was doing a "Dating Game" show tonight and immediately made a mental note. It's true, I remember that cheesy dating show, so I adored the idea of improv comedians riffing on it.

Paying my admission, I heard a woman member of the troupe tell a male one, "Lick my tongue," a proposition which appalled him. "What? No!" he said, backing up. "This is workplace harassment!"

The show hadn't started and already I was laughing.

On the counter was  sign suggesting patrons write an anonymous "deep secret" on a piece of paper for use in the sketch. Example: "I call my Mom when I score." I considered some possibilities and then jotted down a secret.

The name of the dating game was "Secret Suitcase"- "The dating game where two contestants fall in  love by ignoring all the major red flags!" - and the premise was identical to the real "Dating Game" with one lucky contestant and three eligible men or women.

The recorded music resembled the "Jeopardy" theme.

In the first game, it was a cocky plastic surgeon who referred to himself as a "titty doctor" meeting eligible bachelor girls Crystal ("I have a snack meat addiction"), Denise Jr. ("I judge men who don't sleep naked") and Emily ("I used to date Fabio") and having to eliminate one.

In between rounds, our host did half-assed commercials for Samsonite luggage (all the secrets were written on cardboard "suitcases"), saying things like "Samsonite Luggage...leather and so many compartments" and "Samsonite, what else kind of luggage is there?"

Much of the humor came from the inane questions the emcee asked when he put contestants in the "hot spot." Like, if you had to eat someone who was still alive, how would you do it? (Well, I have a robust pinking shears collection so I'd just cut him up...").

After intermission, we had a woman, Kelsey, choosing from three bachelors to pick out the best of true love.  "Look at these three fine, strapping bachelors," the host said.

"I'd do any of them," the giggling Kelsey replied. When one of the bachelors revealed that his member was fake, she dealt with it. "As long as it's a really big fake..."

Another secret read, "I have no idea where my life is going and for the first time, I'm okay with that." One time, a bachelor mentioned the "Kama Sutra" and the host told Kelsey, "I think that's a sex book." Her pause was momentary.

"If it is, I'll start reading!" she gushed.

Once she'd decided on a bachelor and he came out to meet her, they danced together (just like on the TV show) and then the host tossed his index cards of questions up in the air, also like on the show. Somebody had done their cornball homework.

And, as it happens, my deep, dark secret was used in the show, not that anyone but me knew. The woman who'd appropriated it ended up being the bachelor's chosen date. Coincidence?

There must be something to my secrets after all. And, no, I do not call my Mom when I score.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ink in My Dimples

Of course I'm going to RSVP "yes" when I get an invitation referencing me as "part of the tattoo community." Moi?

Sure, I'd love to attend the preview for "Japanese Tattoo: Perseverance, Art and Tradition." Don't mind if I do.

In the Claiborne Room upstairs at the VMFA, I found a roomful of tattooed body parts and the realization that I was most certainly going to be in the minority. When the VMFA's director said hello, I hypothesized that we were among the few un-inked people in the room.

Wrong. He's not only got a tattoo but he's already got his next one planned. Would have had it done before this opening if he hadn't been so understandably busy running one of the top ten museums in the country and all.

He was part way through a fascinating explanation of the origins and significance of his tattoos when a museum employee apologized and told him it was time to speak. He seemed to relish sharing stories of members calling his office, chagrined that the VMFA was going to have a tattoo-as-art show. Had the calls been put through, he said he'd have defended the choice and brought up his own ink.

The curator from the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (where the show originated) also spoke, emphasizing the long history of tattoo art in Japan. He compared it to calligraphy and woodblock printing, two art forms considered low brow once but now appreciated for their skill and artistry.

Pointing out that if museums don't do something provocative, they may as well close their doors, there was much nodding. Amen. This show should bring in an entirely new audience.

Downstairs in the Evans Court galleries, the images of tattooed bodies were more than enough testament to the masterful talent of these artists. A series of two-sided panels showed men with full body suits, their skin inked from neck (sometimes with a tattoo of a beaded necklace) to calf or sometimes thigh.

Let me begin by being honest. It's been a long time (okay, never) that I've seen pictures of that many men's butts at once. True, they wore loincloths, but in the back, that disappears into the cheeks. No objection here; most of them were pretty good looking butts.

Looking at a striking tattooed man done by Adrian Lee, I overheard a tattoo artist explaining to a friend the importance of Lee -considered a new style Japanese tattoo artist - in his own stylistic development. He was in awe looking at the piece.

What was so compelling about all the tattoo photographs (besides the  abundance of colors - brilliant red, so many shades of blue, dazzling white) was how they pulled from traditional Japanese art imagery: swords, warriors, birds, tigers, fish, dragons, calligraphy. Just on someone's skin (and a half dozen kites at the end of the exhibit).

Some were purely decorative and others told a complex story with characters and actions on different parts of the body. There were tattoos shaped like a vest or a bolero. It was entire bodies as canvas for artistry of the highest order and not just a random collection of body art. It was magnificent.

The question is, will those complaining members get that? I only hope so.

Leaving the VMFA afterwards. I saw that  the brick sidewalks were wet so apparently it had rained while I'd been ogling men's backsides (and chests), but just enough to raise the humidity to Hell-level. The air was thick out there.

After a pit stop to change from platform espadrilles to flip-flops, I landed at Sound of Music Studio for a show. Slipping in the back entrance (front isn't an option), the guy at the door starts to inform me there's a $5 admission but before he can get it out, I have un-clenched my fist and he removes the $5 bill from it.

Sheepishly, he thumbs over his shoulder, saying, "Then you know...?" Where the stage is? Sure do.

And here's more good news for the evening. The show begins nearly on time with young but always impressive Way, Shape or Form. It happened last week at Gallery 5 and I'd been impressed then. Is this a mini-trend? Could musicians finally be committing to starting shows on time? Be still, my heart.

As I let Way, Shape or Form's angular sound capture and then continually surprise my ears, I looked around at the inside of Sound of Music Studio. Talk about an intriguing place, it's got built-in bookshelves along an enormous 40' wall. My guess was that the collection was probably a reflection of more than one person's taste in reading.

When I spot Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland," I think of a guy I met at Rappahannock two summers ago who judged people on whether or not they'd read Pynchon (I haven't. I will).  I also see the dorky-sounding"In Quest of Quasars" and Darwin's "Origins of the Species."

A pristine red copy of "Mr. Boston's Official Bar and Party Guide" sits near lesser-known bar books and art histories.

"Diet or Die: The Dolly Dimples Weight Reduction Plan" boasts a lurid red, white and black cover complete with before and after pictures, presumably of Dolly on the cover. I have to squint to read the copyright (1968) because the dim room is lit only by the LED lights of the soundboard and a couple of strings of multi-colored Christmas lights strung up two pillars and draped in between.

Perusing "Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier," a 1981 gem, I see someone at my side. It's one of the studio's owners and he's gracious enough to say, "Feel free to take them down and read them." Read? I want to borrow Dolly Dimples and take it to a party.

Along another wall of the room sits a collection of objects - a large canvas of a smiling woman in the Pop art style so probably '70s, a table harp, a toy piano (grand, not upright), a globe where the bodies of water are sepia-toned and not blue. Look, there's a guy in a "Heck no techno" t-shirt.

Almost everyone is in shorts, although I'm still sporting the same $3 thrift dress I wore to the VMFA opening that netted a compliment from a  museum staffer in the photography gallery. I'm getting good mileage out of it today.

Blanco Basnet was next and the singer announced them as from Durham, N.C., which is redundant because you can look at some bands and know at once they're from North Carolina (see: the Connells). One song in and I could see why they were on this bill.

While their sound leaned a bit more rock/pop than Way, Shape or Form, they still had the tempo changes, unconventional song structure and occasional jazz drumming of the younger band. The crowd took to them enthusiastically, cheering them on when they chose to try a brand-new song

It was warm in there and before long the singer was wiping his dripping face with a towel between songs but his clear, melodic voice didn't seem to suffer any from the warmth.

After their set, I went over to ask the sound guy who was last. That's when he told me Dumb Waiter had to bow out because guitarist Nick was sick. Too bad. I'd been looking forward to them, as had he.

"By the way, I see you at shows all the time," he said extending his hand and introducing himself. I have lost count of the number of friends I have met after they've uttered some variation of those words. Go places and people will talk to you, kids.

Last up was Houdan the Mystic ("We hope you'll like us") and theirs was a harder sound, although still in the same musical family, just more fast and furious. A trio, every instrument counted more (lots of terrific bass parts) and they played that way.

During their sound-check, the guitarist told a joke, eliciting laughter, so when the bassist sound-checked, he began singing "Blue Moon," of all the unlikely things.

"How was that? I mean, besides great? I know it wasn't telling a joke or anything..." the bassist cracked. Their set winds up being a boisterous finish to the evening's music.

It's not quite as miserably hot when I leave Sound of Music, but it's not great, either. Back in my apartment sipping cold water, I hear cyclists' voices as they glide down the street. I can't quite make out what the first guy says.

Matter-of-factly, the other responds, "Okay, go home and commit suicide and we won't get together later" as their bikes whiz by to catch the light at the corner.

So ends another day in J-Ward.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Have Cassette Clock Radio, Will Travel

An overnight visit pleases my Mom no end.

She says it's because my Dad gets up so early and that's when he's most productive. Since I'm often going there to help with assorted chores, we can get an earlier start than if I arrive mid-morning. And maybe that's true but I think she also just likes having any of her daughters around to cook for and fuss over.

When I arrived after my dinner at Merroir, my parents' village wasn't just sleepy, it looked closed down tight except for their house. Getting out of the car, I was greeted by a salty breeze and the sound of the river lapping at the shore. I walked down to the dock before going inside just because I could.

Coming in via the big screened porch, I couldn't help but notice that my father had rearranged the porch furniture. Again. He's always been a re-arranger and as far back as elementary school, I have memories of him rearranging our bedrooms and the living room on a regular basis.

Complimenting him on the new arrangement, I admitted that I hadn't thought any new permutations were possible. "But of course!" he came back, one eye on the Nationals game and the other on finishing up a crossword puzzle.

But of course. Some fathers have hobbies, mine arranges furniture.

When he heard I'd just come from Merroir, his first question was about what kinds of oysters I'd had, pleased to hear I'd been downing Old Saltes. I am his daughter in that way.

After a practically silent night (so unlike the cacophony of city sleeping) with a steady breeze blowing through the window off the river, I joined my parents at the breakfast table just as they were finishing up. Knowing Dad was eager to get busy, I downed a quick breakfast of biscuits, bacon and Grape Nuts so we could.

There's never any way of knowing what a day holds when I go out there to help. Today we began in the bedroom on the third floor, a room with a magnificent view of the Rappahannock, hanging curtains. I gathered up loads of stuff they were ready to let go of and put it in my car bound for the thrift store.

While loading my car, I noticed two rabbits munching greens in the yard. Upstairs a bit later, Dad spotted something through the window and said, "Look at the wingspan of that raptor!" It was swooping directly over the yard where the bunnies had been. Goodbye, Thumper.

It was only morning and already hot and humid, so when my Mom came down dressed in pants and a long-sleeved shirt, I looked at her like she was crazy, asking why she wasn't wearing shorts. "Not with this scar on my leg!" she said dismissively, referring to the knee replacement surgery she had last summer.

There was no talking her into changing, so I let it go. Later, Dad and I were discussing his frustration with her modesty about the scar. "I could understand if we were going into town, but around here? It's just like the way she insists on wearing something to bed when there's someone else in the house, like last night." Oops, it had been a warm night and I hadn't bothered with that nicety.

"Now, me, I've slept nude since I left the army and I make no concessions for guests," he says, over-sharing as he's known to do.

Me, too, I remind him, causing him to nod approvingly. "As it should be." What, all fathers and daughters don't bond over commando sleeping habits?

Over the course of the day, we worked on two of the porches, the little one off their bedroom and the big sleeping porch, doing a thorough cleaning for the season while I nudged them to get rid of stuff they no longer use.

Sometimes that works in my favor, like when we uncovered four radios of various types on the big porch and I immediately called dibs on the cassette player clock radio, which had to be circa late '70s. I didn't recall that cassette clock radios had even existed. Now I have one.

Ditto the traveling bar we unearthed on their little porch. The case had been lovingly swathed in duct tape, no doubt to hold it together over the decades (Dad, matter-of-factly: "Oh, yes, I've recovered this several times") but inside it was as pristine as could be. All the components - four metal glasses, shot glass, wine opener, bottle opener and, yes, serving tray were nestled in their elastic holders inside.

The only surprise was a half-burnt red candle in the case and when I picked it up and looked at him inquisitively, he nodded and grinned. Apparently sometimes when you're using you travel bar, you need a little mood lighting. Leave it to my Dad.

For the first time in years, I saw my parents' record collection leaning up against two walls on the porch. Not sure what surprised me more, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart, or less, Neil Diamond and Herb Alpert.

After lunch we sat enjoying the breeze on the rearranged porch and they told me the latest on the locals. A little gray house had burned down and they'd never even heard the fire trucks. A neighbor had fallen down the steps, hit her head on a safe and died the next day. My Mom, ever the worrier, took this as indication that my father should move the bricks near their porch steps in case he fell and hit his head on them.

My father, never an alarmist, declined to move the bricks and we changed topics. Mom said several of my sisters have been trying to convince them to move to Maryland, where all five of them live. This was news to me.

"If we did move, and we probably won't, we would still want to be on the water," Mom said, surprising me. They don't go down to the dock or beach anymore but she insists they still feel the connection to the river and its calming effects after 30 years there. And they're not leaving that.

Mom wanted me to go upstairs with her so she could try on a new dress she needed hemmed. While we were up there, she pulled out a typewritten sheet and told me she'd come across it today and that she'd never shown it to any of her daughters.

"Since you're the writer, I want you to read it," she said. With no clue what it might be, I began reading something she'd written when she was 45, two months after her mother had died. She'd called it, "Nobody Told Me" and it was about adjusting to life once you're no longer someone's daughter. About losing part of how you define yourself.

It was incredibly moving and completely unlike anything I'd ever known her to write or say, like getting a glance inside her head when I would have been too young to imagine what she was going through. It was a "wow" moment of a perfectly lovely day.

We accomplished more - I hemmed the dress, helped Dad mount the goldfinch feeder over the lilies whose perfume scented our time on the porch, framed the wedding photo of my handsome grandparents - before winding down the day, what else, chatting on the porch again. We're talking people, that's for sure.

And by "we," I mean me and the two people I'm daughter to. Nobody told me I'd won the jackpot by springing from the loins of such shamelessly eccentric and happy people.

But of course I did.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Heart Strings

The only luthier I know suggested we have dinner next time I was out seeing my parents,

We'd met when I'd written a piece about him a year or so ago and enjoyed some lively conversation over lunch at the Corner. When he e-mailed with the offer, it was easy to arrange since I already had plans to go to the Northern Neck.

Even better when he suggested Merroir and I agreed quickly and enthusiastically. Driving out to Topping, I passed a car with the bumper sticker, "Peace. Love. Oysters." Right on.

Couldn't have asked for a more ideal day to spend at the river, breezy under a Crayola-blue sky. I scored a table in the shade not long before the luthier arrived to join me, his shirt as pretty a blue as the water and sky.

It was an interesting dynamic because although I knew some very specific things - why he'd first become a musician, how he'd gotten started fixing and eventually crafting guitars- from interviewing him, I didn't really know him.

Fortunately, our server was easygoing and tolerant of delays in making decisions, eventually delivering Raza Vinho Verde and Old Salt oysters while he told me about the growth of fiberglass guitar bodies.

It was some time after we placed our order that he let slip that he'd had an eruption of a year since I'd seen him last, with his marriage of multiple decades unexpectedly ending.

Over grilled Cesar, skate wing piccata with capers and lemon (which he was sure he wouldn't like and loved) and scallops, we talked about what his life had been like for the past year. He admitted that a big part of what he'd done was grieve for the loss of a long-time relationship.

He'd also moved to a one-bedroom cottage on the Carotoman River, a place with a deck where he spots deer, reads and relaxes by the river.

After a concerted effort to pick himself up, dust himself off and start all over again, he was feeling pretty good about life now. He'd even begun doing some dating, an impressive feat given that he hadn't dated since he was 20 (!) but it didn't take him long to notce that a lot about dating has changed.

He regaled me with stories about how bold some women have been, how eage to share their phone number. I patiently explained to him that there's a dearth of middle-aged men worth dating. He's finding out that his stock is worth far more than it was last time he was on the dating scene. Sadly, he's already convinced that half the women only show their crazy side after months of seemingly normal behavior.

His best stories were about all the advice he's been given about life after divorce. Several women have insisted he have as much (protected) sex as he possibly can to make up for only having had two women in his entire life. He's been instructed to do a lot of dating.

But we didn't just talk about his upheaval. He had discovered my blog, saying it made him laugh, and was curious if I had plans to write a book and, if so, fiction or non-fiction? He told me about trading his beloved aqua blue '72 MGB for the sailboat he now owns, which led to an explanation about what he likes about sailing. As a former MGBGT owner, though, I could tell he still missed that car.

Turns out his birthday was the week before mine so I heard about his celebration. I told him I was counting tonight as still part of mine since I'd been on a roll the last four nights and he agreed to be part of it.

Being the gentlemanly type, he couldn't resist clarifying that he hadn't asked me to dinner for ulterior motives, but more because he was making an effort to reconnect and establish some friendships now that he's in a new place in his life.

For the second time in a week, I talked to a someone about a decided left turn in direction that their lives were taking and the endless possibilities that offered. How, now that he's acknowledged to himself that he wasn't very happy with how his life was before, he can craft whatever sort of path he chooses.

He's tentatively started down that path by dating. So far, he's been most impressed with a woman 12 years younger who is completely different than him. Says he relishes being with someone who surprises him. I like the sound of that.

My best surprise came as I passed the outdoor kitchen and Chef Pete called out, "You are killin' that yellow summer dress, hon!" Happily married men give the best compliments.

I have to say that driving out there, I had no idea nor expectations about the evening beyond a second conversation with a man I'd met once. Being asked about some of my own choices and aspirations came as a bit of a surprise, albeit in a good way. When he nonchalantly asked if I'd ever get married again, it led to a whole, big discussion about the evolution of relationships. Not every guy's conversational cup of tea.

One thing I'd noticed immediately was that he'd lost weight and he admitted as much, emphasizing what a healthy eater he was now. Not so healthy that he didn't happily share a s'mores doughnut oozing marshmallow and chocolate with me, but apparently I'm the bad influence.

When it comes to desserts maybe, but not when it comes to life. Then I'm just a big cheerleader for anyone brave enough to create the life they want.

Go for it. If not now, when?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Celebrate Good Times

When I plan my birthday progression, I begin with the soundtrack.

That meant starting at Metzger where I'd be able to celebrate to the sounds of vintage soul courtesy of Mr. Fine Wine. I was doing my final primping before Holmes and Beloved were to pick me up when the phone rang.

It was Holmes announcing he was downstairs. I explained that during open window season, I ask that my callers announce themselves through the open window and promptly hung up on him. Looking out my front window, I saw him climb out of the car, spot me watching him and bellow, "Get down here right now!"

That's no way to talk to the birthday girl in her cutest pink dress.

When we arrived at Metzger, the place was empty and I don't just mean of customers. Not a soul, staff or otherwise, was in sight. We sat down at the bar in the silent restaurant to wait for signs of life. I don't know that I've ever been alone in a silent restaurant for 10 or 15 minutes with just my companions. This must be how it feels for the staff before the onslaught.

Eventually the barkeep appeared and set about turning on the soul music he knew I wanted before opening a bottle of Villa Wolf Rose and kicking off my celebration. It wasn't long before Pru and her Beau showed up to join the party while Mr. Fine Wine provided the killer soundtrack.

My plan was to have different courses at different places, so we began with a decadent quail and pistachio terrine lined with a beet gelle, a mound of rich liptauer and a pork belly special. Conversation ranged from how Pru's uncle was at Hazleton with Ozzy Osborn to a heated discussion of wine buying (Kroger versus independent wine shops).

Behind us, the restaurant filled up while we partied on stools.

Two hours later, we packed up to move to Dutch & Co, where a fetching server in a coral striped top, coral lipstick, '80s-style bangles (Beloved resolved to get hers out now that she saw they were back in fashion) and a leather skirt that looked almost identical to the one I got in 1993, led us to a table in the front window awaiting us.

With the last of my birthday's sunshine streaming through the front window, a bottle of Moulin de Gassac "Guilhem" Rose was opened (not that we weren't already pink happy) along with a promise by our server to begin icing down several more.

Before long, there was so much good food on the table it was almost embarrassing. Chilled pea soup appealed not just for how Spring-like it tasted studded with chili shrimp conserva and peanuts but because it came with a promise of pea tendrils, leading to a lament about the lack of the use of the word "tendrils." Word nerds unite.

Holmes got his rye-crusted perfect egg while Beau shared that he'd never had a softshell crab and promptly ordered risotto with Andouille sausage and a softshell. I admire brave eaters.

We started with Moses Sleeper Brie from Jasper Hills Creamery, notable not just for the exquisite mouthfeel of the creamy cheese but for the tangle of spun balsamic on top of it. You broke off a piece of the tangle, laid it on your tongue and the crisp strings dissolved into  the heavy sweetness of balsamic. Brilliant.

My choices, as usual, came off the $5 specials chalkboard because they are inevitably some of the most creative offerings on an already excellent menu. Ahi dolce sausage with cheddar and mustard greens was as bold as breakfast sausage with thin slices of new potatoes and baby bok choy was delicate. Both impressed. For that matter, Holmes' skirt steak with asparagus, smoked mushrooms (the most intriguing element, the fungi taking on ethereal smoky notes) and wild watercress got shared and admired around the table.

As we ate, Holmes brought up how bossy I can be and I argued for how ingrained it is for the oldest of six children to be bossy. Using examples from past dinner parties at this house, he regaled Pru and Beau with my dessert sharing instructions.

Fortunately, you can only say so many bad things about the birthday girl before you have to stop and be nice to her. At least, that's what my mother always said (that and "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," which would eliminate half my commentary).

Enough wine had flowed for talk to fly about sleeping (nude versus clothed), snoring (suffering versus moving to another room) and someone's former classmate Megan Mabe, pronounced "maybe," who played the clarinet.

Church Hill having served our needs nicely, we departed for Oregon Hill and L'Opossum, taking a table in the center of the restaurant because the bar lacked enough available stools for our party, a shame since the bartender is a favorite for his pithy conversation.

But we got the photographer who moonlights as a server and she was masterful at handling our little, loopy group. Ready for a change from endless bottles of Rose at this point, I chose Creme de cassis to accompany our upcoming dessert course of not one but two flaming le petite mort au chocolat (bricks of chocolate pate) and one hot black bottom a la mode (ganache over cake with whipped and ice creams).

As we waited for the arrival of our chocolate course, the booth behind us was served a dessert with a birthday candle and the table broke out into "Happy Birthday," with one of the guys having the most incredible tenor voice and ending the trite song with all kinds of vocal flourishes. They heard that we had a celebrant as well.

Naturally the birthday boy there invited me over to chat, slinging his arm around my shoulders and asking about me. Assuming we'd have similarities given our shared birth date, I asked him to describe himself. "Confident," he said and the woman next to him nodded. Perhaps it's a May 23rd thing.

The guy across the table, the one with the amazing voice, asked for a Sinatra song I particularly liked and then stood and began serenading me with "Happy Birthday." Even better, he then began singing me "Just the Way You Look Tonight," his mellifluous voice thrilling to hear and a completely unexpected gift.

Forks were flying all over the table once the desserts arrived. Beau requested an Emerson martini and the barkeep produced one, much to his great satisfaction. And, yes, we were the last table out.

Pru and Beau drove me home, depositing me on my doorstep not long before the final minutes of May 23rd. Waving farewell and thank you from my stoop, I said the first thing that came into my head. "So we're not going dancing then?"

From there, I was back in the car and headed to Balliceaux with them to catch Bump in the Night, with two women DJs and multiple genres being played. That's some good friends who are willing to unexpectedly go dancing with you when it's almost midnight and the evening's already lasted seven hours.

Pru and I danced, Beau occasionally joining in, as the music wandered from soul to pop to the only recognizable song for me anyway, Chic's "I Want Your Love." I gave up on my shoes for the last half hour (the next morning wondering why my feet were so filthy) but danced anyway.

Now that's how you celebrate a birthday, kids.

Next morning, the festivities continued with Johnny and brunch at a packed Can Can. Just when I'd decided on quiche, our affable server wooed me with a special of tempura-fried softshell on a BLT with brioche bun and a mound of frites the size of my head. He made the right call. Quiche is forever but softshells have a short window.

From there, the afternoon wandered agreeably all over the place. First it was a walk at Maymont, followed by quiet time at a shaded stone pavilion off the main pathway. After putting in an appearance at a party on northside, we retreated to the east end and the Lily Pad, long a favorite place for the two of us to wile away an afternoon. Once, we saw Joe Morrissey there with his teen-aged girlfriend before the whole underage and baby scandal broke.

To my astonishment, the place was crawling with familiar faces, mostly bearded. The songbird, the artist, the banjo player, the book seller, the events coordinator, the front of the house manager, the wine guru, I couldn't believe how many people I saw lounging at the Lily Pad when I never see anyone I know at the Lily Pad. Our server from Dutch & Co, arrived, waving and asking if I'd had a good birthday after I left there.

Good thing I wasn't trying to do anything secretive given how many witnesses I had.

We procured a bottle of Pinot Grigio iced down in a yellow bucket that matched my sunny yellow dress perfectly and set up camp. And wouldn't you just know it? Here comes Joe Morrissey with his teen-aged girlfriend and the baby that caused all the hoopla. Clearly Joe likes the Lily Pad as much as we do.

Boats came and went all afternoon, occasionally dumping out its occupants for a drink at the pad before relaunching. Musicians got up and played under the pergola, short sets mostly. Very casual, more like someone's backyard than at a cafe. It was a perfect afternoon for doing nothing more than sipping wine and watching the river.

Three hours later, we turned in our bucket and headed back to town for dinner. Graffiato's won the dinner lottery by virtue of being open on a holiday weekend Sunday night. It wasn't crowded and for the first time at this Graffiato's, we chose the pizza bar.

With Stevie Wonder continuing my birthday soundtrack overhead, a bottle of Yalumba Vermentino arrived first, followed by chili-marinated duck hearts on local greens and a Porky's Revenge pizza of soprasetta, pepperoni and sausage, the first pizza I ever had at Graffiato's in D.C.

Actually, my birthday celebration itself began in Washington, D.C. years ago at George Washington University Hospital where a woman doctor delivered me and I began the journey to bossiness.

I've been happy enough to be confident ever since. Must be all the terrific people in my life.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fine Art of Having Fun

It was a splendid day for a birthday walk.

Given that it's a long holiday weekend, I was expecting the city to be deserted - it sure is in my neighborhood - only to find it crawling with activity. Downtown, gaggles of families and couples were milling about on practically every block. Brown's Island was teeming with joggers, dog walkers and picnickers, probably lured out by the 70-degree weather.

Even the Pipeline Walkway was crowded and several times I had to stop and let people nervously make their way behind me. I overheard a woman ask her friend, "Would you come down here at 2 a.m.?" and the other responded, "Heck, no!" as if they were traversing a war zone or ghetto siege.

I don't know, on a full moon night, it might be a beautiful place to be.

Midway down the pipeline, I said hello to a guy fishing and he proudly pointed to the rockfish he'd already caught for dinner. When I told him I'd grown up having rockfish or bluefish my Dad had caught for dinner every Friday night of my youth, he grinned.

"Chesapeake Bay?" he asked, already knowing the answer. When he wished me a good day, I shared that it was my birthday and got my first spoken "happy birthday" of the day.

A woman sitting on the walkway while her man fished below pointed at my t-shirt ("Virginia is for wine lovers"), telling me how much she liked it.

Near the end of the walkway were groups of people tubing the river, paused against rocks, maybe for lunch. I usually see them near Belle Isle, but maybe this is where they get out of the water.

Over on the Capital Bike Trail were more bikers than I'd ever seen riding it, maybe because May is bike month, along with the usual walkers and joggers. Two canal boat tours passed by, the occupants on one cheering when they saw fish jumping and then another's waving to some of the bikers who got their attention.

In the Slip, I saw several groups of young girls in volleyball team shirts, their young voices shrill and  laughter obnoxiously loud as they lagged behind their coach or chaperone patiently trying to herd them.

When I got back to Grace Street, I passed a mother and daughter trying to get into Pasture, which isn't open until tonight. Naturally, I inquired if they wanted me to suggest another restaurant.

"That would be wonderful, but she's got to go to the bathroom badly plus we have to be at the convention center by 1:30 for a tournament," the woman said plaintively.

No problem, I got this. Leading them down the street to a Port-a-Potty, the young girl looked eternally grateful. Waiting for her, Mom introduced herself as Gwen from Annapolis, here for, what else, a volleyball tournament.

I led them over to Lucy's, conveniently located a block from their destination and they seemed thrilled. "People here are so nice!" Gwen enthused. Especially people having a birthday today.

Horoscope for May 23 birthday
This year you are so upbeat that some of your friends might not be able to relate to you in the same way. Try to be more responsive to those in your immediate circle. In any case, you put the finishing touches on the fine art of having fun.

Okay, so that might not be news, but it's always good to hear, even for us upbeat types.

She Don't Fade

A friend tells me the other night that I'm the only person over 25 she knows who makes a big deal of her birthday.

If it was meant to be an insult, I didn't pick up on it.

Instead, I went to Amuse at the (very quiet) VMFA to meet Moira for a birthday cocktail or two. Slow when we arrived, it was a hotbed of middle aged activity before long. If there was a middle aged Tinder, this room would have been ripe for it.

But we weren't there to date, we were there to kick off my birthday eve celebration.

I'd brought my Parisian absinthe spoon, a recent gift from Pru, and handed it over to a favorite bartender to fit on the lip of my glass to allow the drip to pass through the sugar cube. Meanwhile, Moira found her life's blood in a bourbon and bubbly cocktail with the most divine lemon/egg white foam that ever graced a drink.

It was an ideal night to be in Amuse's dining room, the deep blue sky and ecstatic sun mere embellishments to the occasion. Noshing on snacks - housemade beef jerky, bleu cheese and bacon deviled eggs and spiced pecans - we compared exes, considered exit strategies and daydreamed about the possibilities of shared free time.

Because it's birthday season, there must be dessert, in this case, a Madame X (absinthe, bubbly and a sugar cube) and a chocolate cake contained in chocolate ganache and split by chocolate mousse under a cloud of whipped cream. If you ever wonder why I walk five miles ever day (besides so that strangers can shout random things at me like this morning's "Great ass!" on the Lee bridge), this is why.

If you wonder what I do on my birthday eve, I go to the National to see Psychedelic Furs despite having seen them last April at the Beacon Theater in Hopewell. It's not just getting to gawk at how amazingly well Richard Butler has aged, it's to hear the music that defined a big chunk of my (relative) youth and to which I danced many, many nights in clubs.

Standing in line to get a wristband, one of the staff called out to the milling crowd, "If you're over 21, have your ID out. If you're under 21, you've all aged really badly." Young man humor. When I raised an eyebrow, he said, "What? I've always wanted to say that to people."

Another staff member pulled me aside, saying, "Don't mind him. He's really 84. He hasn't aged on the outside, but inside..."

Walking in late due to my extended absinthe interlude and much hilarious conversation, I managed to catch the last few songs of Bad English's set, including a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," admittedly captured by the lead singer's (striped shirt, cap, deep voice) charisma.

"We're Black English. Look us up on whatever you look people up on. If we come back, would you come see us?" and a fair amount of cheers resulted. I would for sure. A bit of a ham, he worked well off the drummer at center stage while the girl playing keys was tough to hear, whether by design or a bad sound mix, I don't know.

During the break, I headed to the bar for a Cazadores, delivered by a bartender who inquired sweetly, "Were you walking down the Lee Bridge today?" Damned if I wasn't, but I also wouldn't  think anyone could spot me at 45 mph.

"Oh, I knew it was you," he said. "I recognized you right away."

Chatting with a woman whose first concert was Kiss at age four, she told me that the crowd was older than it had been when she'd come to see INXS. My, how time flies.

Soon after, the Psychedelic Furs came out and from the first moment, singer Richard Butler could have had any one of the middle aged women in the room, present company included. Dapper in a suit with his shirt cuffs hanging out unfastened, he got even better after discarding the jacket leaving only  vest and shirt.

I'm an unabashed fan of it all, the posturing, the hand gestures, the drama. And don't get me started on how he curtsies, cuffs flying, after some songs.

Oblivious to my neighbors, I danced to everything - "High Wire Days," "I Wanna Sleep with You," "Love My Ways" (during which he had the crowd singing along) and "When She Comes." Personally, I could have died happy during "Heartbreak Beat" with his hand on his undulating hips.

And it feels like love,
got the radio on
and it's all that we need

Maybe it's my age, but every possibility imaginable in the '80s resurfaced listening to songs such as "The Ghost in You" tonight. So of course it ended too soon, even after an encore with "Pretty in Pink" that spoke to the crowd who'd arrived via film and not music.

Tequila gone, show over, there was only one thing to do: continue my birthday eve celebration somewhere else. What better way than to stop by Richmond Comedy Coalition and listen to rock god Prabir tell stories from his life and be skewered afterwards by a group of improvisational comedians?

When I arrived, he was telling a Prabir and the Substitutes tour tale from a  stop in West Virginia ("I'm sure that technically they were females...") and talking about some fans getting kind of "handsy" with band members afterwards as they appealed for a place to spend the night.

"I wouldn't say they were cougars but I would say they were bobcats," he explained. "These girls were very aggressive." He brilliantly solved that by putting on a  DVD of "Lord of the Rings" which apparently makes bobcats stop touching band members.

The comedy troupe was soon trashing West Virginia and riffing on his story, occasionally breaking out into "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "All You Need is Love," a scene which closed with the characters falling on their imaginary swords to end the song. West Virginia jokes abounded.

During intermission, I chatted with all kinds of friends - the tourism guy, the beer fiend, the theater lover, the former neighbor and DJ - before we heard one last story from Prabir. This one was less a memory and more a lecture about the wonders of science and time, hardly surprising coming from a major science geek.

As he got deep into metaphysical talk, one of the comedians threw his hands up, walking away shaking his head in disbelief. "F*ck, dude, f*ck," he wailed about trying to make comedy about fourth dimension talk.

"Are there different rules for mating in other dimensions? What if we needed a third element to replicate the species?" he asked rhetorically. "Is there a place where they pair off in threes?" You can only imagine the comedic possibilities of groups of people trying to mate in the fourth dimension.

Although I saw Prabir checking his phone during that sketch, I thought is was laugh out loud funny. Pair off in threes? God, no, two is tough enough.

From there, we somehow got to a funeral for pizza attended by Papa John, Grandma Sbarro and little Cesar, all delivering eulogies. Don't ask.

Absinthe, Furs and laughter? Sure, some people would call this making a big deal of their birthday. Pshaw. You don't see me pairing off in threes, do you?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Remembering What Astonishes

She knew what she wanted and it was poetry and dreampop.

Fortunately for me, Chop Suey was addressing that with a reading featuring three women reading, for an estrogen fest of poetry.

I got there early enough to look for Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd" but, alas, while they had others - "The Return of the Native," "Return of the Greenwood Tree," several copies of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" - no madding crowd.

Taking a seat in one of the metal chairs set up in the bookstore, I found myself conveniently wedged against the art history section. While I thumbed through a book on Currier and Ives (I really need to know more about these guys), I listened in on a debate about Norfolk versus Richmond living ("Have you been on the trails and the river? Have you?").

Fortunately, my favorite Bangles' song came on ("If She Knew What She Wants") and I was able to lose myself in that and my book.

First up was Sarah McCall, a Norfolk teacher and MFA candidate who began with a poem called "Household Survey" and judging by its references to race, sex, housing and education, I'm guessing she, like me, worked the census at some point. Final line: "Is this it? Where is that?"

She read "Ways of Being Born Twice" ("Time heals nothing") and a long poem about Greenwich Village's Cedar Tavern and the ghosts of people such as Frank O'Hara and Dylan. "Dear Love & Co." (sex was part of the & co.) had the most evocative imagery ("the warm bloom of desire").

Next came Michele Poulos, a far quieter and more timid reader, doing two from her chapbook while her husband watched from the second row. Explaining that she'd just finished five years of work on a film about poet Larry Levis, she read "St. Maximus in the Blue Margin," a poem about a monk.

My favorite of hers was the sexually-charged "Thursdays in Faubourg Marigny," written when she was living in New Orleans before relocating to Richmond after Katrina. "A Wind's Requiem" dealt with a Greek relative's house being burnt down ("If only houses could remember the skies that astonish them") and "X-Ray Visions" about flower X-rays ("Those petals, faint as a song").

Last up was Sommer Browning who read from her book "Backup Singers" ("Life accumulates like a U.S. Steel slag heap") while her young daughter made comments to her.

She mentioned that one poem "plagiarized from most of the people in the room" with its references to friends' life happenings. "Federal Holiday" yielded the exquisite imagery of a "sunset hinged to the sky."

Holding up her latest book, "The Circle Book," she observed dryly, "I drew 90 circles and someone published that shit." Showing us pages within, each page showed an identical circle with a different descriptor: Super ball, bottle cap, pencil point up close, tube sock from above, monocle. Even her two-year old found it funny.

And people think poets are dour. You just never know until you go to a reading.

Once we'd been released from our metal chairs, I strolled down to Secco to meet a man with a bent for comedy and a honey-dripping southern accent who offered to buy me a glass of wine in exchange for hearing his idea for me.

Over glasses of Domaine Cambon Beaujolais Rose, we talked about film and movie theaters, sight lines and audience sizes, recreating "My Dinner with Andre" and what a cultural landmark "Hard Day's Night" was. He's that rare person who understands why I only watch movies in public places on a big screen.

And while I didn't say yes to his offer, I'm certainly thinking it over.

When we parted ways, he was off to Emilio's to see Chez Roue and I to Balliceaux to see Night Idea and Shana Falana. The former I'd seen at Live at Ipanema and the latter was dreampop/shoegaze/right up my alley and from Brooklyn.

To my surprise, the show had started much earlier than I'd expected. Mea culpa. I only caught one song of duo Shana Falana's set but I could tell I would have liked more.

As quartet Night Idea was getting set up, I noticed one of the guitarists slip off his shoes and socks, perhaps the better to manipulate the buttons and knobs on his extensive pedal board with his toes. Night Idea is always touted as math rock, which in this case means a cross between prog rock and post rock with just a smidge of metal in there.

And sometimes I like that, the way a band takes you on a sound journey with no clue as to what's coming next, full of stops and starts and temp changes. Despite or maybe because of, some people really seem to like dancing to it.

A guy in front of me was a Deadhead sort of dancer, plucking at imaginary butterflies, flailing his hands at his side or occasionally looking to be in a full convulsion, you know the type. Just slightly off the irregular beat but he's dancing to an inner rhythm anyway so that's irrelevant. Having a good time, which is all that's important.

Another guy resembled that Peanuts character who, in the big dance scene, just stands in place and shakes his mop of curly hair. That was this guy. Adorable.

I spent time with the bartender who was doing his last shift as a single man before getting married Monday.

With random color and black and white videos playing behind them, they proceeded to get their audience (because it looked like all their friends were there) whipped into a frenzy with rock as complicated as a math problem. My response was understandably more subdued but I was still enjoying the musicianship and the surprises.

During their last song, I spotted a friend and he summed it up. "Such dude rock." Now that he mentioned it, practically everyone in the room was a guy.

That's why I always take care of my poetry fix first. You just never know where you'll end up.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

World Turning

Another part of my youth is history.

I mean, forget about growing up with a milkman (Mr. Ollie of Greenspring Dairy) delivering milk to our house when I was a child, forget about bringing home a live baby chick in second grade (as all second graders did after watching them incubate and hatch in class), forget about being allowed to walk home unattended from elementary school for lunch.

All small potatoes.

The Maryland DMV has eliminated the parallel parking test from its field driving test. Yes, yes, I understand that Virginia and D.C. had already axed it, but I clung to hope that Maryland, where I'd taken my driver's license test, was better than that. Nope.

My Richmond grandfather, then living with us, went with me to take my test, he in the passenger seat of his sporty 1973 Plymouth Duster and me at the wheel. He never doubted for a second that I'd pass my test with flying colors and I did. Even the parallel parking part, which didn't come nearly as easily to me then as it does now after decades of city living.

According to the Washington Post, and, yes, I still read an actual newspaper (go look it up, kids), the DMV is eliminating the test because it's redundant. New drivers have to do a two-point back up and they claim that covers the same skill set. Bull feathers. Popular consensus among driving instructors is that it's the back log of people wanting to take their driver's test that was the motivation for change.

Here's where I start sounding like an old person. First we don't require drivers to parallel park and next, what, we don't require them to learn how to downshift on a steep slope? Merge? Maybe we no longer bother teaching them to steer into a skid and see how that goes.

It's a slippery slope when kids are only expected to display the most rudimentary driving abilities to get a license that puts them in traffic with the rest of the world.

My grandfather would be appalled. But then, he began his career as a milkman for Richmond Dairy by driving a horse-drawn wagon, a far cry from that '73 Duster he used to cruise around in.

Looks like the adaptations over my life span will be just as dramatic...says the woman who wasn't allowed to wear pants to school until she was in the 10th grade and now seldom wears anyhing but skirts and dresses.

Ah, progress

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Darkness on the Edge of J-Ward

Windows open for a reason.

Granted, it's only been a few weeks since mine were opened for the season, but I'm already reaping the benefits. When I hear "Stel-la!" or "Karen Kay!" I know one of my friends is down on the sidewalk (or, like today, in his car, sunroof open) awaiting my arrival and I return the call from one of my windows.

When I invite a friend who's never seen my home to come upstairs this evening, I take pleasure in hearing compliments about my apartment and its abundant local art, tragically forgetting to show off my latest acquisition, an absinthe spoon shaped like the Eiffel Tower.

But it's the "I love your open windows!" comment that gives me the most satisfaction.

It's those open windows that bring the neighborhood into my apartment, too. I've heard it all: lovers' quarrels, drunken conversations, birds squawking to protect their nests, overly loud motorbikes, sirens. I often smell rain coming before I hear it.

Just now, hearing the sound of a truck idling outside, I go to my window and see a man climbing out of a utility truck. Spotting me, he waves. "We're just here to fix that street light," he says, pointing to the one between the two of us. In the dark? "Wouldn't want you to come home to darkness," he explains as if he knows my hours.

But of course, between my working and playing, no one knows my hours, sometimes not even me. There's a fair bit of crossover in both given what I do and how I do it.

Working at home, perk or drawback?

When I saw a friend had posted that question, I presumed it was a rhetorical question. Who wouldn't rather work at home? Turns out lots of people for all kinds of reasons.

They like having a work social set. They need the discipline of enforced attendance. They want to get out of the house. A "real" job validates them.

Not me. After six years of working at home, I still think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I love researching and writing in my underwear on a hot day. Sometimes I invite people I'm interviewing to my apartment so I don't even have to go out for that (although I do dress for them).

But not too often, because I like going out. Hello, have you met me?

Today's interview was in a glassed-in room on the fourth floor of the VMFA (a floor you have to be escorted to because it's off limit to visitors) where we had a bird's eye view of workers on top of the Virginia Historical Society, stately Benedictine and the old Johnston Willis Hospital apartments in the distance.

And sky, lots of bright blue sky.

My subject was a photographer who runs almost as much as I walk so when we weren't discussing photography, we were comparing routes and views. He takes his camera when he runs to capture anything that catches his eye, much the way I take mental notes on my walk to report back on my blog later.

He's a busy man so our interview was only set for 45 minutes due to his crowded schedule. The only problem was we found ourselves on the same page about the pleasures of two-footed travel and the unexpected things to be seen from that vantage point.

It's so easy to geek out about the wondrous tableaux life lays out for you on a walk or run when you meet a kindred soul who notices the same. Although it turns out that no one ever says, "Workin' it, girl!" to him like a guy did to me in Shockoe Slip today.

No, silly rabbit, workin' it is what I do in my apartment with my windows open. Among other things.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Being Funny When Jokes are Lies.

You know, it says something about Richmond when I can walk four blocks, pay five dollars and see three bands. I hope. I never stop appreciating that.

And if I do, somebody please smack me.

Make no mistake, it had already been a good day. I'd taken care of a last-minute deadline. I'd had lunch with two interesting women who spend a week every summer taking a 17th century-style batteau down the river. Heck, I'd even seen a lizard in Carver and I didn't even know they had lizards in Carver.

I'd heard a radio show focusing on Philly music, old and new. It caught my ear from two rooms away when I heard the distinctive sounds of Teddy Pendergrass in Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. "The Love I Lost"? Be still, my heart.

But they also had current bands playing in studio, and one particularly mentioned how great the scene is there, affordable and happening. Lots of space to create.

Which it may well be, but you'd have a tough time convincing me it's better than here.

By the time I finished working, the show had already begun, so I hustled out to the sultry sidewalks just after another of the quickie rain showers of the afternoon. Halfway up the block to Gallery 5, I heard beautiful music coming from inside.

It was D.C.'s Hayden Arp, jeans rolled up to just below his knees, and part deadly earnest perfectionist and part open sore. His soft, confessional voice had an audience member (and my hero) giving the international "shush" symbol (hand at throat) to two girls laughing loudly during his set.

This was someone to listen to intently. "The next song is electronic but I'm not going to play it electronically except the amp for my guitar. It's called, I don't know what it's called." When I say he may be too busy feeling deeply to have time to name songs, I mean it as a sincere compliment.

On some songs, words ended softly in the back of this throat, echoing Morrissey's pathos, albeit without an electric guitar and band behind him.

He closed with the soaring "Gabrielle," which he mentioned he's been working on for four years due to internal and external emotions. "It means a great deal to me." That came through in the grandeur of the song, making me sorry I'd missed any of his set.

Considering how young the chill audience was - mostly I saw a big "X" on almost everyone's hands - they probably didn't notice, but his voice and style reminded of young Sufjan Stevens before he discovered disco. For tonight's crowd, that would have been roughly while they were in elementary school, though.

Next up was Lucy Dacus (wearing high-waisted jean shorts I'm pretty sure I owned in 1985) whom I'd seen a couple of times before. Tonight she was backed up by 3/4 of the band Manatree, adding a fuller sound and harder edge to her sound, all of which I liked. Relentless drums were chased by guitars and bass while her husky yet strong voice drove it all.

After pummeling us with hard and fast twice, she proved she could go tender and only occasionally strong in the third song and showed her wit with an anthem couched in a little reverb, "I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore."

I don't wanna be funny anymore
I got a too-short skirt, maybe I could be the cute one?

Strong songwriting (lyric: "raised in the era of the milkman") and a distinctive voice (fans of Neko Case would approve) on songs about first love (for the record, she doesn't believe in it) and pillars of truth kept the small crowd inside for every minute of her set.

Telling us it was her Mom's birthday but that she hadn't shown up "Better things to do, I guess"), she then asked a friend to record her and the band as they did a full version of "Happy Birthday" to her Mom with the crowd singing along.

When the crowd called for an encore, Manatree's singer Jack jumped onstage with his band mates. "Looks like my set's been hijacked," Lucy said, surrendering her guitar to him for one Manatree song, which I recognized from having seen them several times.

Part of the crowd moved on at that point, a shame since they missed Boston's Western Den, a quartet of acoustic guitar, keyboards, cello and trumpet with three singers.

"Hi, we're Western Den and we're going to play some really sad folk songs for you," the female singer said. Halfway into the first song, I felt like there should have been lit candles on the stage to complement the mournful horn and ethereal harmonies they were putting out. It had a positively Irish folk sound to it.

If you liked the Romantic poets, this was your band.

A songs like "Eden" began with a hymn first and while I'm as heathen as they come, the three-part harmonies could only be described as heavenly, with just enough echo on the microphone to pretend we were in a castle or garden where the songs were set. They even sang rounds and how often do you hear that beyond childhood and camp?

We learned that the cello player was a recent addition from Los Angeles and that his cello was carbon fiber. By that point, it was tough to imagine what they would have sounded like cello-less because it was such a key piece of their sound.

The guitar player - who also sang some lead vocals- said it was their first time in Richmond. "You guys are so nice here," he gushed. Aw, shucks, we're nothin' but some southerners.

"Tumbling Down" necessitated her saying, "We're not sad people, we just write sad music," before playing a new, unrecorded song ("You heard it here first") and a Saintseneca cover (if you don't know them, look them up"), sounding like a chamber pop take on the Mamas and the Papas if they were just sad and not also obsessed with who was sleeping with whom.

"Desert Grand" was a sumptuous soundscape and their encore song was described as "a very sad folk song" to differentiate it from all the other merely sad ones. The trumpet player left the stage for that song and we learned that he'd recently announced he was leaving the group.

"If you know any trumpet players who sing, send them our way." Yes, do, because the horn works really well with her beautiful voice and expressive hands when she's not playing keys or guitar.

We've got plenty of great trumpet players, but who'd want to give up Richmond for Boston? What I mean is, what musician could afford to give up Richmond for Boston? Do they have $5 shows four blocks from home there?

And while we're checking, do they even have lizards in Boston? Could I be the cute one?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

One of my favorite questions to ask people is what their first concert was.

I know it's not like anyone's first concert is any sort of indicator of their musical taste. When you're talking first show, there are myriad factors to take into consideration.

Lack of choice is one. I've met people whose first show had nothing to do with their taste, just the result of a parent, sibling or friend inviting them along.

Sometimes it's as simple as being a a teenager. You were 13 and thought the band was speaking to your pimply soul, only to decide not long after that no one needed to know you were at that show. Too embarrassing.

For me, it was my high school boyfriend who suggested we go see the Who and as slightly more than a casual fan, I agreed immediately. What he didn't know was that I'd already ordered tickets to see Carole King, thinking that would be my first concert.

Wrong. The ear-splitting volume of the Who set the tone for my future music-listening and I was hooked. When you start out Who-loud, there's no going back.

For that matter, when the opening band is Lynyrd Skynyrd (unknown among the crowd of 20,000 that night) who spend the evening shaking up beers and letting them spray over the audience while they slug Jack Daniels, you're probably damaged goods anyway.

I didn't become a Skynyrd fan that night (or ever) but the concert convinced me that the Who were the real thing. Pete Townsend was a guitar virtuoso who seemed to be able to levitate off the stage while playing and Roger Daltrey reveled in the role of bare-chested rock god. And at that delicate age, sadly, I had no clue just had good John Entwhistle and Keith Moon were.

What I did know was that it was grand rock and roll theater.

That one night decades ago all but guaranteed that I'd be in the small minority (four people total at the Criterion) eager to see the new documentary "Lambert & Stamp" about the two guys who decided to make a film about a band's rise to fame. Their only challenge was finding a band to chronicle and they did in 1964 after Kit Lambert entered a sweaty club with blacked out windows, pink light bulbs and 500 kids dancing to the High Numbers.

Apparently even that far back the band had that indefinable something. They just needed a new name and two optimistic managers, which they got in Lambert and Stamp.

But let's hold on for a moment. In all my years of listening to the Who and probably reading countless interviews with them, I'd had no idea that they'd been essentially shaped by outsiders, their image and style created to better serve the film that was supposedly being made (it never was unless you count now). This was big news to me.

One thing I loved about this film was all the footage of the band from their early days. taken, naturally, by the wanna-be filmmakers/managers. So young. No one in the band was over 20.

And the footage of young Jimi Hendrix being asked by Lambert and Stamp to be on their record label made me go weak in the knees. Hendrix has to be one of the sexiest men of all time, especially then before he'd made it big.

Documentaries all but demand talking heads and here it was everyone left standing after the rigors of the rock and roll lifestyle, namely Townsend, Daltrey and Stamp, a charming and handsome man who wasn't much older than the band he was helping manage and film (and who has died since it was filmed).

One thing I'd never known about the band members was that while Townsend was an art school student at the time, the other three were already holding down jobs. Daltrey was a factory worker, of all things, who was used to settling things with his fists. When he tried doing that during band disagreements, Lambert and Stamp had to sit him down and make him promise to stop hitting people.

I'd forgotten what a big deal the rock opera "Tommy" was and how off-putting that concept was to people, especially opera fans, back then. "Without the libretto, it was harder to understand than Italian opera," one man lamented. Wow.

The most personally gratifying moment of the entire film was when a reporter asks Lambert if he thinks the Who will be bigger than the Rolling Stones. "Does that mean you think the Beatles are bigger than the Rolling Stones?" Lambert inquires. Of course, he says.

Back then, my entire generation could be boiled down to that one essential issue. Almost everyone agreed that the Beatles were at the pinnacle of the musical pyramid, but the standard party question, the one fact you had to know about someone before you dated them, the essential truth about music that everyone had an opinion on, boiled down to just that.

Rolling Stones or the Who?

If you don't know where I stand on that issue, I can't explain.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Barrels of Fun

Okay, kids, it's time to get on board with the Bijou.

Today's event at Hardywood - bands, movies, magician and raffle - is the latest fundraiser to help get the upcoming Bijou Film Center up and running so that those of us devoted to the movie theater experience will have a place to see not only films that don't make it to Richmond, but repertory film as well.

This is huge for someone such as me who doesn't watch movies at home.

So I enlisted a music-loving friend to spend the afternoon with me for a good cause. Like me, he's got no use for beer, but he was game anyway. This was for the good of our film future.

Little did he know how hot Hardywood would be.

Red Hot Lava Men, a band I knew of but had never seen despite their 18-year history, absolutely killed it with their distinctive brand of instrumental surf rock, shredding guitars and pummeling drums. Even more impressively, they did it in white dress shirts and ties.

Midway through their set, Bijou's instigator James took the microphone long enough to clarify, "Dancing is permitted." Plenty of people, myself included, were already dancing in place, but it looked like not enough beer had yet been consumed and no one had the nerve to take to the dance floor. Yet.

From where we stood, it was easy to gauge the room's temperature as I saw small sweat spots on people's backs (especially the WRIR crowd standing right up front) increase in size, sometimes becoming two sweat stains, sometimes just one large sweat amoeba.

The music was that hot.

When the band finished, the crowd called for them to come back and they obliged with an encore, one last reminder how much I dig this music.

During the break, our attention was called to what was going on in the back with one of the guys from AV Geeks, who was transferring old Super 8 and 8 mm films to digital. Glancing over, I spotted a guy in '70s-looking gym shorts onscreen, just the kind of historical artifact that needs to be saved for the sake of future generations.

Key here is that that's a service the Bijou will offer once they find a building and open.

"You wore the right dress for the occasion," a friend said of my tissue paper-thin bright yellow cotton dress with Indian-style bead detailing. "I wore this linen shirt for the same reason." I pity the fools who didn't take their attire into account today.

By then the tasting room was oppressively hot, so we took a break and went outside in the sunshine, which baked us but allowed us to breathe more easily for a bit. It's not the heat, it's the humidity and all that rot.

We slipped back in time to grab stools and watch Charlie Chaplin's 1916 short film "Easy Street," where he helps clean up the streets of bullies by becoming a policeman. Of course he wins the girl in the end, too. It was an interesting version because it had music and sound effects, so not the original I'm guessing.

Waiting for the next band to start, we saw the crowd increasing in size with the gallery owner, the filmmaker, the history buff, Mr. High on the Hog himself and the baker. Even the juvenile set came ready to listen with kids wearing colorful earphones and ear plugs to product their intact hearing.

Spotting the woman in front of me using a fan to maintain her cool, I complimented her wisdom in bringing it today. "No accident, I keep three in my purse all summer long. I never go anywhere without them," she shared. Brilliant (note to self).

The Happy Lucky Combo took the stage with accordionist Barry looking particularly dapper in a straw boater, a gentleman's best topper on a summer-hot day, introducing themselves to first-timers (although how that's possible, I can't imagine) with a song, "We're the Happy Lucky Combo."

Introductions out of the way, the moved on to a raucous song about Manchester called for obvious reasons "Dogtown." My friend leaned over to inform me that there's a Manchester AA group called "Dogtown Drunks" and my hat's off to them with a sense of humor like that.

With songs such as "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Jellyroll" and untold songs that sounded like tavern drinking songs, the Combo soon had the dancers the Lava Men hadn't. A toddler swayed side to side next to a wooden barrel while the Man About Town shook a leg with the artistic director of a local theater company. The band called him out from the stage, much to his delight.

He came over to say hello afterwards, explaining away his dancing bent saying, "Everyone should have an Agent Cooper," which meant nothing to me until I glanced at the chalkboard to see it was a 12.2% dry-hopped imperial something or other.

"They should have a nap room in the back after that," he suggested then reconsidered. "But that would probably lead to things."

Turns out he wasn't the only one feeling the wrath of Agent Cooper. One of the Combo's singers mentioned he indulged in beer infrequently and had had one, too. Knocked for a loop, he was.

"I think we should do a beer song," one of the other musicians said and they cobbled together "Roll Out the Barrel" to the audience's delight. There's a reason their name mentions happy because it's the effect they have on audiences.

By the time their set ended, "it" band and next on the bill Avers, had arrived and the crowd had again doubled in size, understandable given their talent pool.

But I've seen them on more than one occasion (and will again, of course) and my friend was beet red and sweating from every pore, so we made our way back to his car discussing all the VWs we'd both owned over the years. He trumped me with having had a Vanagon plus his Cabriolet had caught fire at a gas station, but losing my Squareback on the Beltway because I'd never put oil in it was a close third.

He apologized for being so overheated we needed to leave, but I was well satisfied with our afternoon supporting the Bijou, listening to live music and watching cartoons and silent films. No, we didn't win any of the raffles, but we supported something that will make Richmond even cooler than it already is.

Bring on the Bijou Film Center and I promise never to leave a movie early. I may need to pull out a fan, but I'm in it 'till the end.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Team Clicquot

Some days just scream out for cocktailing with strangers.

Ever since I got wind of the Urbanna Cup cocktail class races, it was my plan to attend. Had I ever heard of cocktail boats? Sure hadn't. Did that matter?

For whatever reason, discovering an all-day event focused on handmade skiffs crafted from 1930s plans intrigued me. And let's be real here, it doesn't take a whole lot - sunscreen, a straw hat - to get me to hit the road for the river. Any river, really.

Arriving in Urbanna after barely an hour's drive, I parked near a consignment shop and followed the clutches of people headed toward the marina. Golf carts whizzed by escorting the aged, the lazy and the out-of-shape to the scene of the action but I preferred a stroll, the better to appreciate the masses of sweet-smelling honeysuckle blooming all around me.

You better believe I inhaled.

A greeter automatically adorned me with a wristband, certain I'd be wanting beer (?) or wine because I was at a cocktail race. Or maybe it was my aura.

The first heat had just begun when I got there, so I found a spot along the dock with a clear view to witness my first cocktail boat race. Fuzzy Navel won. But before the day was out, there were plenty of other aptly-named boats such as Pickled Tink, Clicquot, Sazerac and Rum Runner.

As far as I could tell, after a "clean start" (something the announcer mentioned practically every race), the competitors shot up the creek, looped left around a buoy, back down and then right around another and back to the first for a final race to the finish.

Even a cocktail boat virgin could see that if you couldn't maneuver the turns quickly and smoothly, you didn't have a crustacean's chance in a crab pot of winning.

The crowd felt decidedly local. Using only t-shirts, an alien dropped into the middle of the dock could have used its deductive powers to ascertain its landing spot. Marinas, crab shacks, last year's Urbanna Cup and Northern Neck pride shirts dominated. My favorite was the most reassuring: What happens at the Rivah stays at the Rivah.

I might have made a few friends. The low-key guy to my right was a Richmonder with a river house and to my left was a Reedville transplant who was thrilled that I'd not only been to the Crazy Crab but that I didn't automatically equate Reedville with the fish factory.

Oh, please. I not only know about the fishermen's museum and the old sea captains' houses but where the guy lives who has a camera in his bathroom (forewarned is forearmed, especially as often as I use the loo). He was impressed I wasn't a Reedville idiot.

At one point, Mr. Right turned and asked me, "Would you race one of these boats?" Turns out women are good candidates because cocktail boats use small 6 and 8 hp engines and bigger people create more drag. I had noticed how some of the boaters leaned far forward when racing, much the way bicycle racers do.

I told him not to rule it out, but I'd have to get back to him about my racing future.

Periodically, the races would pause so that boats could enter the cove to get to the marina. When a grand boat came through, someone asked my new friend if it was a 44 footer, but he scoffed. "That's 50 feet, at least." Duh.

Because we were at the river, practically everyone except me knew everyone else (and probably their business, too). When a woman sashayed by with her two little dogs in a stroller, my friend nudged me, saying, "There's your Kodak moment."

I was surprised to see that both the food trucks were from Richmond - Carytown Burgers & Fries and Boardwalk - and opted for the latter's classic bologna burger with sauteed onions and mustard. Impossible to resist when fried bologna was part of the culinary thread of my childhood.

Meandering the dock and environs watching cocktail boats racing, weaving between people encamped in chairs, even eventually joining a group of children in bathing suits wading in the water, I wiled away the day amongst complete strangers, which is not to say I didn't enjoy some colorful conversations.

End of story. I have it on good authority that at least some of what happens at the rivah should stay at the rivah.