Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sunnyside Lit Up

Conclusion so far: Portland is only somewhat like Richmond.

Zillions of restaurants, so come meal time we have our pick. Last night we ate at Ned Ludd, a "craft kitchen" where everything, and I mean everything, is cooked in a wood-burning fireplace that dominates the dining room.

Axes and cut wood greeted us at the door. No kidding. Beer was poured into Mason jars, if you can believe that.

The low-tech cooking method was only part of the reason I chose it. The other is because it's named after the guy who resisted technology during the industrial revolution, causing those who turn their back on it to be called Luddites.

For the record, I am a proud Luddite, amazing Portlandia types by telling them I have (gasp!) no cell phone.

We couldn't resist drinking local with Love and  Squalor Rose (of Gewurztraminer, no less), a barely salmon pink Rose made all the more desirable for the mere 60 cases produced, the kind of thing that would never make it to the east coast.

After charcuterie, whole trout, cabbage and a chocolate chip cookie cooked in that brick oven (delivered with a glass of milk for dunking), we headed to Mississippi Studios to see a show.

The venue was cool with Oriental rugs over concrete floors and a seated balcony which we bypassed for the floor. On the bill was The Family Crest, a San Francisco band I'd seen on NPR's Tiny Desk concerts series last year.

The septet was so full of youthful enthusiasm and classical talent - violin, trombone, drums, bass, guitar, cello, piano/flute - and their orchestral pop infected the crowd like pot brownies, causing them to dance and sway with the music. We heard new material, Tiny Desk repeats and a cover of a Yeah, Yeah, Yeah song, "Maps." Standout evening and it was a frickin' Sunday

At breakfast this morning, it was bagel sandwiches and the Archies singing, "Sugar, Sugar,"  a song so notable the woman next to us felt compelled to comment about it.

Bumpersticker seen today:

Grow things.
Try not to be a dick.

This is what Portlandia aspires to, not that I'm judging.

We made two trips, one successful, one not, to Clear Creek Distillery for a tasting of liqueurs, grappas, brandy and even a whiskey. When I chose to taste the pale green Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir, our taster commented, "You'll definitely be tasting Christmas tree for the next hour.

If it's possible to drink a Christmas tree, this was it. I have to admit, I kind of liked it.

The being a tourist part has been oh-so nature-centered today, with visits to the Japanese garden and Rose Test Garden, the former a breathtaking study in contemplation, water and repose and the latter a riot of colors and fragrances.

I can't agree with the People's Choice, though, because a licorice-scented rose just doesn't do it for me.

After lunch at Broder - because why come to Portland if you're not going to eat Swedish food? - a transplanted Portlandia-ite suggested the Space Room, easily the darkest dive bar I've ever been to, followed by the Sapphire Hotel Bar, a swankier stop with club chairs and no Fleetwood Mac videos playing.

Since there's nothing like spending an afternoon on a Sunnyside (the name of the neighborhood) porch, we spent hours doing just that, talking about the recent nude bike ride and why not living together is the best thing a devoted couple can do.

Over dinner at Irving Street Kitchen, we saw a server spill a purple drink on a guest's white dress, a woman refuse to eat her fried chicken because it was too spicy and a couple discussing the oceanography classes they'd both taken (what are the chances?), all the while enjoying a an exquisite chilled sweet corn soup,  the most perfectly cooked halibut a mouth could hope for and meatballs with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and gravy.

Best of all, daylight here lasts until almost 10:00, making for evenings that stretch out much longer than at home. Tonight, eating outside on the patio, a practically full moon kept us company as we absorbed more Portlandia goings-on.

Yet to dance, growing things are everywhere and, for the most part, people have been anything but dick-like. Portland and its pines have been fun.

Also, note to Richmonders: drinking Christmas trees is under-rated.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hilltop Flyer

Portland's giving me a hell of a view.

Our Air B 'n B digs are in a posh house that's perched at the top of Nob Hill in what's called Hillside because it is. Sort of an Arts and Crafts-style house - dark wood floors and window frames, four or five levels and unusually-shaped windows everywhere -  it's got a view only swells could afford.

From the balcony off the music room (black grand piano) unfolds a panorama encompassing the bridge, city and more pine trees than I've ever seen in one place. They're so ubiquitous that when we were downtown earlier, I spotted the pointed tops of pines between high rise buildings.

One reason I was eager to come to Portland is because of years of hearing how similar it is to Richmond, meaning I expected beards, tattoos and skinny jeans. Check, check and check.

What I didn't anticipate was how seriously they take their Portlandia status. An ad for chewing tobacco touted, "Portland only does local," meaning, I guess, that even dip aficionados can expect chaw from these here hills.

 My newest past time is reading people's chests because apparently, they wear their thoughts. To wit, "Suck, Feattle." I didn't even know what that meant at first. "Beach, please?" is no doubt a nod to Portland's current heatwave, which is wilting locals used to far more temperate summers. "No pity in the Rose City" is, we're guessing, a sports reference since there was a soccer game today with many people sporting team scarves.

While I knew in advance that it's called the City of Roses, after two walkabouts, it's easy to see why. Enormous rose bushes are in bloom everywhere, evident even last night when we walked to dinner in the dark because  it seems that Portland, or at least Hillside, eschews street lights. It's dark in these here neighborhoods.

Last night's dinner at Papa Haydn's featured a savvy server, Argyle Brut to celebrate our arrival and a savory bread pudding with roasted corn, onions, chives and a blackberry compote to die for.

The local Argyle is notable because at brunch today at Rose & Raven, there was a bottle of it on the bar and written on it was, "Thanks for participating in bubbles week." Wouldn't it be something to think that Richmond might take a page from Portland and institute a bubbles week with featured sparklings all over town? A girl can dream, can't she?

Our brunch sparkler was Monmousseau Brut Rose, which went well with my farmer's market quiche, bacon and salad, savored in a LEEDS-certified former carriage house with great charm. So far, everyone's been friendly and oh-so helpful about making suggestions for the visiting Richmond contingent.

I'm not going to lie, the walk back up Hillside from town is not for the faint of heart or out-of-shape, but I love the  advantage it gives me in eating and drinking at will. Add in that around every corner is a new view, interesting architecture and lush gardens and it's a recipe for walking. Today we encountered a huge sculpture of a duck (goose?), made entirely of metal objects and parts such as baking pans, car grills and spatulas.

Their downtown was about as deserted as Richmond's on a Sunday, but that didn't stop us from walking through parks (both the one originally designated for men and the one for women...we mustn't mix our sexes in the park, my dear) and over to the Portland Art Museum.

Richmond's VMFA wins this one hands down. Despite work from Fragonard, Boucher, Delacroix, Corbet, Rousseau and Boudin, it was a bit thin, at least from what we saw.

Everyone insisted we needed to visit Powell's Book Store and let me tell you what. Powell's is paralyzing. Walking into a book store that spans a block and multiple floors and even a book devotee such as myself is immobilized. I contented myself with browsing the Portland table before crying uncle and leaving.

Climbing the hill to our temporary home, I spotted many windows open and fans oscillating just inside. Oregonians are clearly withering under the heat, which by Richmond standards is negligible, as is the humidity.

A girl on a bike struggled to carry a box fan still in the box as she pedaled. Earlier we'd passed a sign for the "skate route," with a skateboarder symbol.

Work it, Portland. You're like Richmond on steroids with less ink.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nothin' Like a Dame

Where better to go after a positively exhausting week than Bali Ha'i?

Despite the fact that my train wasn't getting in until almost 6:30 and despite that it was late and arrived closer to 7, I managed to get home, unpack, get cleaned up and present myself at the November Theater to meet my date for Virginia Repertory's opening night performance of "South Pacific."

Only a cock-eyed optimist would even attempt such a thing.

On the way over, I ran into a favorite server and his adorable beagle, both recently moved to Jackson Ward. He shared the newcomer's perspective (loves the vibe and touch of grit) and I the more long time resident's (nine years) view, all while scratching those velvet ears (the beagle's, not Michael's).

Opening night meant not only a gold medallion on our programs, but lots of familiar faces - the gallerist and his perky wife, the dancer I hadn't seen in years, and more actors, directors and theater people than should probably be in one place at any given time (you know, in case something happens).

My date was the perfect one because, somehow, some way, he'd never once in his middle-aged life seen "South Pacific." I shouldn't be surprised; I took him to see "Mame" last year and he'd mentioned then it was his first live musical.

Yes, I had myself an enchanted evening virgin.

The last time I'd seen this play live, it had been at the Landmark and no less a magnificent voice than Robert Goulet had played Emile, the handsome French planter. Fabulous as that touring production had been (just hearing him live had been a thrill), it wasn't like seeing talent I knew in classic roles.

I can't convey how satisfying it was to see the multi-talented Matt Shofner as one of the seabees singing "Nothin' Like a Dame." Now that's acting. Just as impressive was Audra Honaker with her impish demeanor and beautiful voice as one of the nurses. Nicole Oberleitner oozed sass and sex whether she was front and center or off to the side striking a pose.

And speaking of the nurses, during the "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" number, the women wore fabulous '40s-style bathing suits that were the talk of the ladies' room during intermission.

My only observation was that there weren't many '40s-era bodies with hips and curves to go along with those era-appropriate costumes. Let's face it, women's figures just aren't what they used to be.

Ditto wardrobes. In the remember when category, one of the nurse's lines alluded to the fact that the Navy only allowed them to bring two evening gowns overseas with them. How many women today even own one? I do have one long dress but I'm not certain it would qualify as an evening gown.

Waiting in line for the ladies room gave me a chance to check out the framed newspaper articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chicago Tribune and Honolulu State Bulletin hanging in the hallway, all of them actual copies from the war years. Overheard in line: "My nephew is in Wilco. Have you heard of them?" and soon after, "Well, yes, but Paul McCartney's still playing live and he's in his '70s."

So he's not younger than Springtime. Still, I heard it was a terrific show.

As my companion pointed out, it would have also been nice to have some maps hanging there, too, for a geography lesson to go along with the history lesson to clarify all these islands' locations in the play.

I was happy to hear that my date was very much enjoying the play, although still adjusting somewhat to the notion of a musical and actors singing so much of the plot. "It's such a great story!" he raved, admitting he was completely engrossed in the saga as it unfolded.

He was lucky to be seeing such a fine production. Both leads, Branch Fields and Stacey Cabel, were spot-on as the lovers from different sides of the world. Her Arkansas accent came and went occasionally but his French one never wavered and his bass voice was the kind that does things to a woman. It didn't hurt the appeal that the sets were so evocative of the South Seas with bamboo screens, palm trees and the illusion of water and sand on the island.

Because he's recently out of a relationship, my date admitted that half the time lately, he's been trying to avoid romantic entertainment. The other half, he's been seeking it out. "I'm just too much of a romantic," he said with a shrug, explaining why he was enjoying this so much.

Join the club, honey bun. From "A Wonderful Guy" to "This Nearly Was Mine," a person inclined to romance could pretty much melt into her seat the entire time.

Let's just say it was some enchanted evening.

Friday, June 26, 2015

On the Peninsula

Ah, the pleasures of walking a new neighborhood.

I'm in Annapolis visiting a friend who lives in Eastport, which she tells me is a peninsula moments before I leave on a walk this morning. While it's not my first visit here, it is my first time being told this nugget of information.

I set out with directions and the caveat that since water surrounds us on three sides, I can't really screw this up. Sure enough, mere blocks in, I look down a cross street and see blue water and masts bobbing. When the street I'm on dead ends, it's at the water and my view includes at least a dozen small sailboats in a cluster. Sailing camp, perhaps?

The neighborhood is a charming mix of architecture styles - cottages, bungalows, town houses, ranchers- and eras. The dated ranchers look straight out of the '60s and the town homes have the boring design and white plastic fences that scream 21st century.

What charms me are the historical marker signs that clue me in to Eastport's history.

I admire the oldest house (1876) because, like my parents' house, it has had many lives, including as a grocery store and currently as a B & B. Built by a German immigrant, the house stayed in the family for 72 years before selling out.

Another gem is a row of town houses built by the owner of Annapolis Glassworks to house his employees. Given the decidedly English stucco look of them, I'm hardly surprised that the man was English. In fact, he chose the name Eastport for the area because it was the name of the town he came from in England.

What I'm noticing as I walk is how very beach-like it feels around here. Clearly, many of the houses were originally built as weekend getaway places. Some even have signs with the house's name mounted on them: Shore Thing, Dog View. Kayaks and water playthings dot many yards.

Yards are small here and most are filled with fabulous perennial gardens which appear to be about a month behind Richmond because today lilies and honeysuckle are in bloom and both are way past their prime at home.

I went for a second walk this evening before we left for dinner and this time I pass an enormous farmhouse that once was the centerpiece of the 'hood. Now it's (sadly) divided into apartments.

Once again at the water, I find a tiny street-end park where a man is throwing a ball for his tireless dog who swims out to fetch while we chat, the sound of lapping water is the only other sound.

Just ahead of me when I get back to the street where my friend lives is a guy carrying a fishing rod and swinging a bucket as he sings out loud. My feeling is he's had a good day fishing.

Dinner is at Cantler's for crabs and we choose an outside table beside the river (creek?) for the view. We manage to polish off three extra large crabs each before the wind kicks up and droplets of rain begin to fall.

No problem, we're under a canopy. But when thunder and lightening start, the staff requests we move inside. Reluctantly, I agree because I am totally loving eating crabs outside in a thunderstorm.

The crowd of regulars at the bar welcome us in as we schlep our remaining crabs and drinks inside to finish out the evening in over-air conditioned discomfort. Man, I hate being cold in summer, but now that it's raining cats and dogs, what choice do we have?

The trade off is the quirky bunch we chat with: Phil, who has a boat maintenance business catering to the carriage trade (as in, what recession?), Mike, whose career working for a Canadian furniture company took him to the drug-ridden cities of South and Central America, and Bob.

Bob was interesting right off the bat because his drink was full of slices of English cucumber brought from his own garden, but also because after he retired, he fished for a living. "Just me, my rod and a boat," he said.

When he told me he once caught 828 pounds of rockfish in two days and two hours, I was impressed. "That's why I told you, so you'd be impressed." Well done, sir.

Coming home through downtown Annapolis, I spot a guy stretched out on the brick wall in front of the Naval Academy, couples hand in hand down by the dock. It's a gorgeous night now that the torrential rain has given way to cool air and frogs croaking.

Yellow flags fly here saying, "Maritime Republic of Eastport. We like it this way." As it stands right now, I totally agree.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

And the Award Goes to...

We have a winner in the Best Pickup Line ever sweepstakes.

Walking down Broad Street today, a man says hello and tells me how good I look. I thank him with a smile and keep walking.

From behind he calls, "Just got out of jail. I'm fresh meat! Don't you want some fresh meat?"

I don't think I do. The question is, would this line work on any woman in the world? Fresh is a subjective term, don't you think?

And We Swam

What happens in Pungo stays in Pungo.

I'm fine with that, agree with it even, but if you feel that way, why on earth would your car sport a bumper sticker advertising the fact? Not mine, though plenty of my day at the beach will remain at the beach.

Why go? Let's see, city swelter versus ocean breezes and surf? A willing partner and a forecast of 102 degrees made it a no-brainer.

Most topical bathing suit spotted: the Confederate flag bikini on the woman behind us who used f*ck every third word, including to her young children. A class act, we got the feeling she was making a statement about South Carolina.

Collecting on a bet: Looking around at the moderately crowded beach when we arrive at 11:30, I place a wager that we'll outlast 80% of the people around us. At day's end, with 95% of beach-goers gone, I win and he pays up.

Best music overheard: It's a tie between the Hooters' "And We Danced," which was playing at the market when we went to get watermelon to complement our fish tacos and bean burritos scored at Bandito's Taco stand just across the beach road and Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" playing at the Sandbridge Island Restaurant, where it was karaoke Tuesday.

Understatement of the day: Heading down to the surf after setting up camp, a man coming out of the ocean shook his wet head in my direction and smilingly tells me, "It's cool but it's delicious!" All that registered was delicious.

Cinematic anniversary moment: Mid-afternoon, we're deep in our books, contemplating yet another dip in the ocean when the nearest lifeguard blows her whistle in alarm mode, gesturing for everyone to get out of the water. People rush to shore yelling, as if it's a scene from "Jaws," appropriate since this week is the 40th anniversary of its release. Actual cause: sting rays. Yawn.

Benefits of delay tactics: I use the heat as excuse to begin my walk late in the day - 5ish - and then find it so refreshing walking in the surf that I'm gone an hour and a half, returning as the late afternoon sun is deepening the ocean's blues and greens and the shadows on the beach. I adore the color spectrum of happy hour.

Curtsying in the sand: Along the way, a man waves to me from his beach chair. On my return trip, he stands and bows from the waist as I pass.

No, it's not a mirage. I spot what appears to be a beagle frolicking in the surf but know perfectly well that beagles are not water dogs. Sure enough, when I get closer I find a woman and her beagle far enough out that only her tail and nose are above the foam. The dog's, that is.

Amazed because my beagle only entered the surf when he thought I was in grave danger, this dog's owner says her beagle loves the ocean and I am witness to it.  "She's a weird beagle," she confides. All beagles are weird in some way, I assure her. It's just the beagle personality.

For the next hour, we watch in fascination as this beagle chases a ball (what?), ducks under waves and general breaks every beagle/ocean rule known to nature. This alone would have made my day.

We stay through sunset, our chairs at the water's edge because it's low tide and we want to absorb every bit of beach we can before heading home.

Final thought on returning with bits of Pungo attached: It's probably just me, but I find few things as soul satisfying as the pleasures of a day that results in me being covered in sweat, sand and salt. Delicious.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Shock of the New

Let's just say it's satisfying to know that I can still surprise people.

Sometimes it's a literal surprise like when I came downstairs tonight to go out and surprised a guy hanging over the fence that fronts my little city garden. Camera in hand, he was shooting close-ups of my geraniums, daisies and roses, so nothing nefarious was going on, but he jumped up guiltily when I approached, asking, "Whatcha doin'?"

Once I calmed him down, assuring him I had no problem with him photographing my garden (it's not even the first time someone's done it), we quickly became friends as he shot more and showed me some of the images. The one of a bee on a lily stem was especially dazzling. After he told me he lives just down the street, he asked if he could come back and shoot my cannas once the buds open.

I don't think it was a metaphor for anything, but I'm not ruling it out yet.

I've surprised people several times lately because I had on jeans or shorts, stopping even close friends accustomed to seeing me only in skirts and dresses in their tracks. It's happened with three of my favorite bartenders this month- including tonight with the one whose silk-screened print hangs in my dining room - when I've ordered a cocktail.

"I have to say I'm a little in shock right now," he says with a proper stunned look after I order an Alright, Alright at the Roosevelt's bar. But even the one who recently told me he thinks I'd look great in jeans can't be surprised that I'd be attracted to a mezcal cocktail with pineapple, yellow Chartreuse, lime and cardamom, all flavors I like.

Of course, no one is surprised that when a bar-wide discussion of the origin of the phrase "alright, alright" comes up, I neither know the reference nor the film that spawned it. Sorry to be predictable sometimes, but I cannot be a continuous source of amazement to people.

The clatter of diners at all but two tables prevented me hearing the music, but not from eating, beginning with scallop crudo admirably set off with pickled ramps, cucumber chunks, capers and XO sauce for some kick, until I was joined by a restaurateur glad to see me but weary after dealing with a weekend full of problems requiring attention. It's a lament I've heard before.

My second course was pork belly over cheese grits with peanuts, exactly the kind of dish with which the Roosevelt built its reputation, and now carried on with a twist by Chef Mike Braune of whom I was a fan back when he was at Secco. After the delicacy of the seafood, the fatty richness of the pig felt indulgent.

It wasn't long before we were joined by a dedicated wine geek who'd been shut out at Ellwood Thompson and now wanted rum punch and the bluefish entree. This led to picture sharing of a recent luncheon feast at Edo's that featured wine, whole branzino (only problem: the eyeballs were a little dry), hangar steak, broccolini and three kinds of pasta that looked like it could have fed four rather than two.

Another story (alas, no pictures) involved going to the movies to see "Spy" and taking a really excellent bottle of Pinot Noir which they sipped out of paper cups, thus taking "Spy" to a whole new level. I was asked about my latest movie and recommended "Love and Mercy" highly as much for the thoughtful filmmaking as the well-told story.

By the time the evening ended, it was just us and the five-top in the window and judging by their loud hootin' and hollerin', they may have imbibed more but I doubt their conversation was any better.

When I got out of my car at home, my neighbor was sitting on his porch and called me over. "Would you like a beer?' he offered, apparently ever the good host. When I declined, he broadened the invitation, saying he also had Gatorade or water. "Would you like to sit down and talk?" was his final offer. Better not.

If he knew me, he'd have undoubtedly been surprised as hell to hear me turn down any chance to talk. Instead, he accepted it, telling me how really nice I looked in my shorts.

Alright, alright. If he only knew.

Patio Daddio

I have a great Dad and I went to the Northern Neck to visit him today.

He's not great because he was ahead of his time, helping my Mom with parental responsibilities and daily care of me and my five sisters. There was a time when he used to mention nonchalantly that he'd never once changed a diaper. By today's standards, he was a negligent parent.

He's not great because he fawned over me (or any of us) or told me I was his little princess. But at the dinner table, he would seek out our opinions or ask what we were reading currently and really listen when we answered.

He's not great because he gave me a car when I was of age (he didn't) or paid for my college education (I did) but because he taught me to play beach volleyball, croquet and badminton, all things I wouldn't have tried without his invitation.

Where he's truly great is in his devotion to and love for my Mom, whom he refers to as "my sweet" and "love of my life" as if these were normal terms of endearment after almost 60 years. The flip side of that is how utterly frustrating it is to grow up with that kind of relationship as the role modeling set by your parents because it's a rarity to find, much less maintain in the real world.

But he's also day-to-day great in that he refuses to be any less industrious, gallant or helpful just because he's 83 with a hip replacement. He's still out there cutting multiple acres of grass, going to the wood yard to dump off a load of fallen branches and stopping by the store to pick up some cherries after my Mom casually mentions she's been craving them.

He gives blood regularly at the Red Cross and the old lady volunteers flirt shamelessly with him. Funny part is, it barely registers with him because women have been flirting with him since he was a teenager in Highland Park. And if he hadn't been used to female attention before he had six daughters, he definitely got used to it once we all showed up.

I'm not saying he's perfect - what child wants to wake up and see her naked father delivering tooth fairy money? - and I've no doubt my mother has some anecdotes that would curl my hair (although honestly, I'd like that), but all in all, for a guy who would have probably gotten voted least like to stay married for over a half century, he's done all right.

Today's Father's Day lunch involved two of my sisters, grilling burgers for lunch (because that's one thing he doesn't do anymore), drinking Rose and grapefruit juice with him (his first) and sitting with him while he watched part of the Nationals game and ate the lemon/chocolate cake I'd made for him (because it's one of his favorite combinations and no one else will make it, much less eat it).

And like the father that he's always been, when he finished with his cake plate and fork, he instinctively turned to hand it off to one of the womenfolk, namely me, to rinse and put in the dishwasher.

"Thank you, daughter," he says. Thank you, Dad, for everything else.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jive Talkin'

Maybe it's the looming splendor of tomorrow's summer solstice, but I've been extraordinarily popular with my subjects lately.

Obviously since I'm not a blue blood royal with loyal subjects, I'm talking about people I've interviewed. For the second time in three weeks, I was invited to dinner by someone who'd earned me money by answering my questions. I'm sensing a pattern here.

On the outside chance you have no special plans this evening, please come and help me eat some fresh oysters tonight. I shuck. I am a big shucker, but not much of a jiver. Dress in something you don't mind getting shucky in. No beer for you!

If you come at say 5:30, we can kayak on the river until the sun begins to set. If you're not much for kayaking, come at 7. I will likely be coming back in from the river then. Then oysters and fire pit!

It's been a few years since I've been kayaking, but I'd have been game to try it again except I had too much to do to make it anywhere by 5:30. The beer comment was his way of letting me know he remembered that I don't drink beer, so there'd be other sippers available for me.

All in all, it was a timely invitation since I had zero plans tonight (not that I wouldn't have found something to do) and no better offer than to eat oysters, even if it was south of the river.

Although I'm far from an attire expert, my guess was that clothing suited to getting shucky in was similar to clothing to pick crabs in (wash and wear, in other words) and I've got crab options.

My Saturday night was laid out for me.

Clouds gathering and directions in hand, I headed across the river on the Huguenot Bridge (the wide new bridge not half as charming as the smaller, old one), listening to a blues version of an old song on the radio.

I hate it when she goes
but I love to see her walk away

Despite my lack of county knowledge, the house was easy to find so I arrived right on time but it was immediately obvious he wasn't home yet. Some host. I stationed myself on the wide front porch in a rocking chair and propped my feet up.

There were tall, old trees all around the house so the view was limited but I could hear the sounds of traffic on nearby roads and once, the sound of kids laughing. I don't think county kids actually play outside, so maybe they were on their way to or from the car.

Eventually my host arrived, all apologies, and began carting boxes and coolers from his truck to the deck and kitchen. As a guest, my only job was moving from the front porch to the back deck and talking to him as he passed by. I then got the nickel tour of the yard, particularly impressed with his miniature orchard of six trees: persimmon, plum, three types of apples and a cherry tree on which five kinds of cherries had been grafted on to one root stock.

Shrugging, he said, "I don't know why they did that, but the picture of it looked pretty cool." And there's the reason why they did it.

We chatted on the deck for a bit as he watered various herbs and recent plantings, everything faltering in the glare of the recent heat. He looked pretty sweaty himself and excused himself to go shower while I got comfortable on the deck.

No question it was hot out there, but all of a sudden it was sauna-like and I felt myself break out in an immediate sweat. Just as quickly, the humidity fell and the temperature dropped 15 degrees. Within three seconds, raindrops fell.

I moved so fast into the house I barely got wet, a miracle considering how it went from 0 to 60 in mere moments. The door I'd taken refuge in led to a sun porch with windows making up three entire walls. Color me thrilled because it was a fabulous place to watch the storm from although with no air flow, a tad stifling.

Absent the showering homeowner, I took charge of the situation by beginning to open the windows and sliding glass doors that made up three walls. Soon cooler air was wafting in as it continued to downpour outside.

I pulled a chair over to an especially breezy spot, admiring how different the backyard now looked, all the trunks stained dark with rain and the leaves a much darker green shade. The entire effect of the landscape was far more closed in than it had been before.

When he did join me, he wasn't any too pleased to see what the storm had wrought. Two event tents in his backyard had been blown over, their metal supports bent in the process ("That's gonna cost me"). Chairs were scattered upside down and small pots had blown over.

But with rain still coming down like crazy, all he could do was hurry out to the deck to fetch the enormous cooler of oysters left out there before the storm, returning from eight feet away with his shirt half soaked.

Even so, like a good host, he sliced lemons, made mignonette and poured French Sauvignon Blanc before he began the work of shucking (gloveless, I might add, which I consider foolish for a non-pro shucker) as promised.

There were two types of oysters, one from Connecticut and the other from Chincoteague, but all were wild, not farmed so much bigger than standard farm-raised oysters. Connecticut's were mildly briny while the Virginia were like a mouthful of ocean, so my favorite of the two.

He asked if I'd written a book yet and if I had a plan for what it would be about (no and yes). He's an inveterate traveler, so he had to know about any travels I'd done that he hadn't heard about. After sharing one of my better stories from Italy, his response was laughter. "That story has to go in the book!"

Rain continued to fall outside all the open windows as he brought out leftover crabs to accompany the oysters. Since I'd already downed over a dozen bivalves ("I just wanted to make sure you could hang"), I happily moved on to my favorite crustacean while he kept eating oysters.

That's when I got a front row seat to see what someone looks like when they eat a completely rotten oyster. I saw him slurp it, but then his eyes bugged out, his skin colored and the lock of revulsion on his face made him bolt from the table making a "gack" sound that seemed to indicate bad news.

Shortly back with a large bottle of Sauza Tequila, he took a long, hard pull on the bottle and settled back in with me to eat. I give him credit, he didn't let one rancid oyster stop him from shucking and eating. He could hang, too, it seemed. He assured me he'd be fine tonight because if the oyster was going to kill him, that would probably happen tomorrow.

When I asked if I was going to have to provide any answers to the authorities tomorrow, he seemed to think I would. I determined to pay more attention to what was going on.

After I turned the tables and asked about his travel plans, he told me about an upcoming trip to Costa Rica, one week in the jungle and one week on the coast. We agreed that the coast week would be the more relaxing one since the jungle adventure involves zip lines and ATVs. Just send me to the coast for the whole two weeks, thanks.

Once the rain stopped, it was clear there'd be no fire pit tonight, so we moved back out to the deck where the sound of rain had been replaced by the sound of trees dripping all around us, but not on us.

When I thanked him profusely for the invitation to eat oysters, he shrugged it off, saying that the oysters were leftovers from a party he'd just had (hence the event tents). So I'd been used to help him finish off his leftovers, his soon-to-be garbage, nothing more.

"Yes, but you were my first choice to help me finish up my garbage," he insisted, making it sound more sincere than he had to.

All I can say is, I must do a hell of an interview.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fight for Your Right

It sounds worse than it is.

Excellent plan! Magpie at 6 before cock at 8. I like it!

You have your cock on a schedule?

Wanna make sure I allow time for it.

It's fairly important to some. Can't say as I blame you.

The cock in question was TheaterLAB's production of "C*ck" at the Basement and joining me were Pru and her beau. In fact, they were gracious enough to collect me for an evening in my 'hood, an evening that began with the more manly of the two calling up to my open window, "Stellaaaaaa!"

We arrived at Magpie sufficiently early to nab three bar stools and a bottle of M. Lawrence "Sex" Brut Rose (Beau's Vivino wine app saved the data) because what could be more appropriate to pair with cock than sex?

It was accompanied by an amuse bouche of heirloom grape tomato halves with a blackberry, olive oil and fennel pollen, one exquisite bite that tasted like summer.

Matter of fact, most of the specials sounded that way, like the heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with Feta and salsa verde, a solid collection of fresh flavors Pru and I dove into. Why go to Magpie and not order the sausage of the day, in today's case pork with wildflower honey, a somewhat spicy link with just enough kick to make you pay attention?

Duck spring rolls rounded out our meal, their accompanying pickled vegetables adding nice tang to the duck's richness. Remember before pickling everything was a thing? Yea, neither do I.

Waiting for our food to arrive, we chatted about adjusting to living with Mom for the first time in 35 years. Not always an easy job, Pru attested, citing her Mom's doddering yet risque habits ("She told me she doesn't have filters anymore. She says f*cking a lot"), all of which are new to her now that they're under the same roof.

Personally, I thought the combination of doddering and risque sounded like a fun way to spend my golden years, but Pru quickly assured me that's not what we're aiming for.

The big topic was employer surveys seeking personal information about staff sexuality, time spent volunteering and other none-of-their-business issues. Pru cracked us up talking about the staff meeting today to discuss the survey and how it devolved into an Austin Powers skit with talk of good and evil.

Since we had a curtain to make, we moved on to dessert: chocolate beet creme brulee with peanut salad and, because we needed a second treat, a melange (not a menage, as some people hoped) of two gelatos - dulce de leche and buttered popcorn. I was ready to write off the latter as too "Jelly Belly" until I tasted it but the rich saltiness of the gelato won me over completely. I'm so easy sometimes.

We allowed 15 minutes to get to the theater barely over a mile away. Conveniently, that was enough time to park once, walk a block, reconsider, go get the car, re-park and walk two blocks (mind you, some of us walking pros, even in cute espadrilles).

This is the last weekend for Mike Bartlett's "C*ck" so of course it was sold out. I was feeling good about grabbing three seats in the front row of the low-walled, four-sided set (and I use the term loosely because the set was brilliantly conceived as a ring with dirt on the floor and chicken wire on the sides, an ideal setting for a cock fight), only later to realize that often actors sat on the bench in front of us, mere inches away, but with their backs to us.

You are a stream. I want a river.

I'm not complaining because it's pretty compelling to watch acting and theatrical interaction from that close up. At times I felt as if we were part of the scene, observing like a fly, eavesdropping.

You might be the one. That's why I'm still here.

The story of a gay man who breaks up with his boyfriend of seven years because the relationship has been going downhill took a detour when he met a woman and decided to sleep with her, eventually falling for her.

I'm not going to let you go, John, but you could contribute.

The cast of four was strong, each actor circling the others like they would in a cock fight. Deejay Gray as John showed the heartbreaking high wire act he was trying to balance deciding whether he loved a man or woman and going forward.

He eats tinned food...right from the tin!

That turned out to be the crux of the crisis: is it about the orientation of your sexuality or whatever person you wind up falling for? In this case, poor John can't decide which one he wants, swinging back and forth in his allegiance, and it's making the two people he loves crazy.

Each scene began with a character ringing a bell fight-style before another round of verbal battle began.  It was clearly a fight to the finish, assuming John could come to terms with his own needs and wants instead of caving to someone else's. The hard part, it seemed, was deciding what he deserved.

Good question. Do each of us deserve to be happy in love? And how much convincing should go into keeping a relationship going? Do you always know when it's right? What happens when you make a mistake and leave? How important is the way your partner makes you feel?

Don't look at me. I said I make sure I allow time for cock, not that I understand the way they think. "C*ck" made it seem that sometimes the minds that go along with it don't always know, either.

Streams, be gone. Some of us insist on a river.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Magic Kingdom on South Pine

Far out, man, I went to a happening.

Dig it, I didn't know when I decided to go that it would be a happening. I thought I was going to "Interpretations from the Disney Songbook" on soprano sax at Vinyl Conflict records in Oregon Hill. The event promised "experimental deconstruction" and "extended techniques."

But what everyone was commenting about was that he'd be deconstructing the art of Walt Disney. People, especially of a certain age, were practically twitterpated at the thought that he might deconstruct a personal favorite, say something from "The Lion King."

Personally, I was hoping he'd aim further back in the Disney catalog for something more classic to re-imagine. Over the past few days, the "going" tally on Facebook had climbed to 167 and the miniscule record store knew they'd have to move the performance outside to accommodate everyone.

After my hired mouth dined with two fellow music lovers, we plunged into the bowels of O-Hill to see what was being wrought. While cooling our heels on the sidewalk lively with other Disney lovers, assorted dogs and even a few people in quasi-costume or mouse ears, we were instructed to go to the parking lot.

Jamison Williams and his sax soon took the makeshift stage against the record store and began talking. And talking. And talking. He began by saying that his home state (Florida) provided no support whatsoever for what he did for a living. "None at all," he clarified.

He rambled about turning 40 and doing what he wanted to do. With no clear destination, his sentences and presumed points wandered all over, only occasionally resulting in a story being finished. More than a few in the audience seemed confused by his lengthy soliloquy.

On the plus side, the shadows of the nearby plant life adorned the wall behind him, resembling the undergrowth in a Rousseau painting, a seductive background in the last of the day's light.

After eventually admitting to OCD tendencies, he finally put the sax to his lips and began blowing. If it was related to Disney, you couldn't have proven it by the crowd's reaction.

There were exceptions. The two little girls in front of us turned around in amazement, enormous smiles on their faces that seemed to say, "Isn't it funny all that racket he's making? Is that allowed?" They might have been the only ones smiling.

The music, more likely labeled "noise" by sticklers for their place in the music pantheon, continued. You could almost see people's ears straining like in a cartoon to pay attention and make sense of the sounds. It was just so far removed from any sort of song structure or even vaguely melodic that it came across as pure dissonance.

After coming out of a squawking note, he'd let out a couple of pleasing notes to suck everybody in and then return to the most challenging kind of jazz improv. If there could be such a thing, he was producing feedback from his sax.

The audience didn't know what to make of it.  A few people dipped out. Many more re-focused their attention on their phones, ignoring it to the extent they could. People began filming it, barely containing their laughter. Somewhere, Walt was probably rolling his eyes.

That's when it hit me. This was performance art. This guy may have spent 100 hours learning the complete Disney catalog, but his goal was not to get you humming "Hakuna Matata," it was to perplex you to the point that you stayed to see how bad it might get or how long it might last.

We listened for the better part of an hour, people discreetly leaving, laughing or documenting, before I decided to poll my compatriots and make a fast break. In less than a block's walk we had a consensus: he was a most talented musician, playing multiple notes at one time and creating harmonics effortlessly, but Disney was dead to him. Or if he still had any rodent's breath left in him, it was buried so far down that our untrained ears were unable to grasp it.

I had no qualms about leaving because I'd come to the conclusion that he was going to play as long as one person remained to play to. There wasn't a point to this happening beyond that something was happening. Once I "got" it, I'd had enough of it.

After parting company with my companions, I got the online scoop about what all those heads buried in phones had been doing with their thumbs. Commentary was rife on the event page.

Holy WHAT?

This was undoubtedly the most common reaction as millennnials expecting a feel-good night that recalled their childhoods were instead assaulted with a genre  - jazz- they probably don't care for and a style - wildly improvisational and dissonant - that made no sense to their auto-tuned ears.

Bringing you the loosest of interpretations.

This had to come from a musician who could at least admit that yes, the guy knew Disney and was reworking it from the vantage point of another century and an OCD mind.

Mind = blown.

I prefer to think that this poster had lost brain matter to the sheer surprise of naively expecting what they wanted without doing any research that might have indicated a more bizarre purpose. Absent that, I can see where a happening virgin's mind could be blown attending their first happening, a situation meant to be considered art.

Too early to say best gig of the summer?

Humor gets me every time.

We all need to take a leaf from this man's book. Who's staying for autographs?

Ditto. My only wish is that someone actually did get his autograph.

Not the hero we need, but the one we deserve.

And, ding, ding, ding, we have a winner, boys and girls. If what it takes to get 167 or even 67 people to come outside on a muggy Thursday night to hear a soprano saxophonist play is to dangle the promise of Disney music in front of media-addled millennials and they're there, they really do deserve this.

That their bubble was burst when they didn't hear jazzy variations on "Whistle While You Work" will be seen as one more letdown in their post-modern lives when what they should appreciate is coming together to experience something totally off the wall just for the "whatever" of it.

Bambi in the bulls-eye, it's brilliant. Not too early to say best happening of the summer. If I'd stayed to the end, I'd be enthusiastically snapping my fingers right now.

Fortunate Daughter

Never let it be said that I can't take advantage of a last minute offer.

So when I saw at 7:45 that a friend had posted  a couple hours earlier that he had some passes to see "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" at the Basement, I immediately messaged him to see if one was left. It was.

I'm more than a little proud to say that I put myself together, got over there and was in my seat by 7:59. No joke.

All I knew about the one-person play was that it lasted an hour and used a different actor for each performance. Once there, I learned that Keri Wormald had see it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and decided that Richmond needed to stage it.

During the course of the play, we learned that the playwright, Nassim Soleimanpour, is an Iranian conscientious objector who refuses to do Iran's mandatory military service, so he's not allowed a passport and can't leave the country.

The play, his first written in English, is his way of getting his voice heard and having a presence in places he can't go. It's done with no set, no costumes, no director, no rehearsals. Just one brave person and an audience.

Our actor tonight was burlesque queen Deanna Danger in black and white striped pants, a long, red ponytail hanging almost to her waist. She opened the sealed envelope, began reading the script to us and immediately instructed us to count off by number. I was 24, one off my favorite number, 23.

Our numbers turned out to be the means by which the script could call someone else onstage to assist Deanna in telling the story (no, my number was not called). When she called number 5 up, she instructed her to pour one of the vials of poison on the table into one of two glasses.

So we were off to a most interesting start.

Over the course of the next hour, Deanna called others up, pretended to be a cheetah imitating an ostrich (she did a mean ostrich) and had us close our eyes so she could rearrange the glasses if she so chose. She also read out Nassim's e-mail address so that we could contact him if we so chose. "I promise to answer if I'm alive," he promised in the script.

It was a very cool construct; he'd written a play to future audiences, knowing he'd never see them or his play performed. Yet, his script was the reason people were gathered doing things he'd dreamed up, even taking notes and photographs in the process. "I make people do something," he wrote. That he did.

Near the end, Deanna read his 17 ways to commit suicide, adding that the 18th way was life, also an inevitable way to ensure death. "Luck is the key to flippancy," had to be his most brilliant line. So true.

Of course the play ends with the actor drinking one of the glasses and the audience has to presume? hope? that either it's the un-poisoned glass or that the poison wasn't real. It's all about the limits of obedience.

It was also one of the most compelling nights of theater I'd seen because of how it unfolded, completely in the voice of the man who wasn't there but had much to question. Keri Wormald had been right - Richmond did need to experience this.

With my evening's surprise over, I continued with my regularly scheduled evening, a show at Black Iris. The timing was perfect. Moments after I arrived, Nelly Kate took the stage, a groovy light show playing behind her and the rapt attention of the crowd in front of her.

If you haven't seen her, she's a master of looping, layering sound and voice to build up densely textured songs. Tonight she was doing a bunch of new material because she's about to leave on a summer tour. Not that we were her guinea pigs, but more like her devoted fans (and there were plenty of musicians in that group) eager to hear new music in her distinctive voice.

Each song built on itself until a blind man would've assumed there was more than one person onstage. Later, when I complimented the new stuff, she said that every night for months she'd written what she wanted to hear until she had all these gorgeous songs.

After her set, I said hello to the band photographer, the bridge builder, the Richmanian Rambler, the gallerist and the queen of booking bands. Later I ran into the poet who surprised me by saying she's gotten all domesticated and is buying a house in Goochland. Better her than me.

It took no time for California duo Them Are Us Too to set up and begin kicking ass and taking numbers.

Synth based with an incredible female vocalist (think Kate Bush or, yes, Elizabeth Fraser) who must have been listening to Cocteau Twins in utero (and played drums when necessary) and a guitarist (with both hair and a guitar sound deeply indebted to the Cure's Robert Smith) just as key, providing the reverb-laden counterpoint required to achieve the perfection of dreamy goth-pop.

I was in love with their sound midway through the first song. A friend came over and asked if I was having fun. Wordlessly nodding in response, he said, "They're amazing, aren't they? And she's singing through strep throat."

You'd never have known it as they created dreamscape after soundscape, her multiple octave vocals soaring through the shoegaze guitar of her partner, all of us in the room willing victims drowning in washes of sound.

I heard someone say they were both 21 and if that's true, they've been listening to all the '80s music I loved since they were in diapers, only to reinterpret it in a way that's reverential without being cluttered with other influences. They clearly know what they like and happily for me tonight, it's exactly the same stuff I loved the first time around.

Only problem? Their set was over way too quickly (or did it just seem that way?) when I could have easily listened to them go on for another hour.

Somehow I'd managed to take in a thought-provoking Iranian play and catch a show that would have been a sellout in a bigger city, all within the brief space of three hours.

Luck is the key to that kind of evening. I had it in spades tonight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hello, It's Me

Praise be for summer-long art series.

I'd been a huge fan of the Anderson Gallery's happy hour series, but with it now closed, needed some long-term summer stimulation (ahem). Just because the students are gone doesn't mean the rest of us don't need our fix. Enter 1708 Gallery's "10 x 10" series where a different artist or community organization takes over the gallery for one week.

Tonight was the opening of "Performing Statistics," more activist statement than anything, making a powerful case for stopping the school to prison pipeline. The project uses Art 180's artists, incarcerated people, legal experts and policy reformers to address the many issues of juvenile justice reform.

The gallery had an artistic feel but its art was facts and figures about how to keep kids in schools not prisons. Facts such as, there are more U.S. citizens with criminal records (70 million) than the entirety of France's population. I don't know how to get my head around that.

Patterned pieces on the floor told stories of children's lives changed by suspensions and incarceration, both a factor of racial profiling and mandatory sentencing. It was sobering to take in.

It was most definitely a community call to action to address the human and financial cost, making for a unique intersection of arts and activism. Because of that, I wasn't in the least surprised to run into the socially conscious artist/musician, the dedicated school teacher with one day left in the school year and one of the firebrands of Art 180.

After I left, brain stimulated and interest piqued, I moved on to Rancho T to meet friends for dinner. Waiting for them to arrive, I heard from the staff that today's 96 degree temperature heat had necessitated putting black tarps over the skylights because the restaurant was baking like a cake in an EZ-Bake oven  from their focused warmth.

It was 80 degrees when I arrived and I thought it felt divine, but then, I'd just come from my 94 degree apartment. A glass of Vina Sol Torres was just chilled and apple-y enough to further cool me down while ogling the specials board and pining for tongue, a common affliction of mine.

Once my friends arrived, we had the bar mostly to ourselves and wasted no time in getting them wine and ordering. With strong recommendations from staff, we began with a lemony chilled shrimp and mussel salad, pozole with clams, mussels and corn (and a broth so delectable that two fried tortillas was never going to be enough to sop up its goodness so I used a spoon) and, finally, beef tongue tacos with chile beer salsa.

The kitchen had knocked all three dishes out of the park, and that didn't even include my friend's entree of cobia brought in this morning to be broken down and served tonight.

As part of my ongoing mezcal cocktail research I had a Smokey and the Bandit, a gin and mezcal sour (lemon and lime juice), foamy with egg and enhanced with habanero shrub and bitters, that was a hit with one of my friends as well. Granted, she's never met a gin cocktail she didn't like, but I was behind her 100% on such a perfectly balanced libation.

As we were winding down, the only other occupant at the bar looked over and identified my friend. "I know you from the Triangle," he said smiling and showing deep dimples. When my friend didn't recognize or remember him at once, Dimples took off his hat as if that would help with recognition, showing a great head of hair. "When you knew me, I had a ponytail," he said, pushing fingers through his thick hair.

It quickly became apparent they had barely a degree of separation between them and Dimples was soon reeling off the name of restaurants he's had in this town over the years, including one barely a block away. I swear, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a restaurateur in this town.

"They had to come up with new liquor laws because of me," he said with not a little pride. As I pointed out, there had to be some good stories there. If you haven't got anything nice to say about the restaurant business in this town, please come sit beside me.

He joked about his past excesses - "At least a dozen 14 year olds must have given their lives so I could still be here," he quipped. "I should've been dead 20 years ago."

When he said good night, my friend asked if he was hurrying home to someone. "Nope, I got 2 dogs and 23 employees and that's more than enough," he said before shaking all our hands goodbye. Men who break liquor laws apparently don't need no stinkin' relationships.

For the rest of us, it's a lot more complicated than that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

94 and Rising

We're having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave
The temperature's rising, it isn't surprising
She certainly can can-can

With a forecast of temperatures close to 100 degrees for Monday and Tuesday, I declined an invitation to the country. It was going to be too hot to head inland. Instead, I got up yesterday and started for the river.

A mile in and sweat was running down my back. Two miles in and all I could think about was a drink of water, but with cemeteries to my left and houses to my right, there was no water in sight.

I crossed my fingers that there would be a water fountain at Texas Beach, although I knew it was unlikely.

Walking through the neighborhood a different route, I came across all kinds of charming things to take my mind off my unrelenting thirst. A tidy white church tucked onto a corner, with rows of blooming roses surrounding it. A front yard garden labeled "potager" with a rainbow-colored gate behind it. A yard so full of kitsch that it was difficult to take in the hundreds of items that adorned every inch of space.

And when I got to the parking lot at Texas Beach, I was thrilled to see not one but three water fountains, one for adults, one for kids and one for dogs. Drinking greedily, I yielded the fountain to two overheated runners and headed to a bench to sit down.

On it was a large, unopened bottle of water, condensation indicating it was still somewhat cold water. I picked it up and put it back down. Looking around, I saw no one looking for their water. In that instant, it became mine.

Once hydrated, I walked down the stairs to Texas Beach to get in the river and was completely surprised to see ten Japanese rock pile statues dotting the water. I'd been down there just last Wednesday and noticed that all the pilings from last year were gone. Somebody had been busy in the past few days reconstructing them.

Let the summer begin.

Heading back up to the parking lot to start the hot walk home, I got behind two men on the staircase discussing the Koran and how "they" are just as afraid of us as we are of them. When they paused on a landing to get their breath, one guy waved me by. "I can see you're in tip top shape and we're not, so go ahead," said the one in the VCU shirt.

I don't know about all that, but I passed them anyway, refilled "my" water bottle at the fountain and slogged toward home, grateful that the water gods had looked out for me when I hadn't had the sense to bring my own.

Half a mile from home, I heard my name called and there was a friend offering me a brief home in air conditioned comfort. With over five miles of walking under my sweaty belt, I happily hopped in. Maybe my Mom's right and some days are just too hot to walk.

Awaiting me at home was an invitation to spend the day in air conditioned places of my choosing, an offer too good to refuse.

We began at Saison Market for a cold beverage before moving on to Criterion to see "Love and Mercy," the biopic about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I've never been much of a Beach Boys fan, but I'm on record as loving a good true story and this one is hard to beat given its sordid elements: abusive father, controlling doctor, mental illness.

Probably most fascinating was the glimpse of Wilson's creative process as he tries to recreate the voices and sounds in his head into a record in the studio. Hearing those familiar songs broken down into the abstract components of his complicated vision was mesmerizing and all but a music lesson for the less musically savvy (read: me).

From there, we headed to the air conditioned comfort of Can Can for happy hour deals, enjoying three kinds of P.E.I. oysters (my favorite for the name alone: Salutation Cove) and a charcuterie plate with Morbier, pork pate and prosciutto-wrapped ripe cantaloupe, washed down with Muscadet.

In the bathroom, a woman was making a face at herself in the mirror, holding up a lock of hair. "Why did I spend half an hour straightening it if it's already curly again?" she asked me. Meanwhile my straight hair was losing what little body I'd forced in with a blow dryer to the heat, I pointed out.

"Your hair looks great," she claimed, but only a curly haired girl would say that. We all want what we don't have and my hair was suffering in the heat as much as hers.

From there, we braved the oven-like heat of Cary Street to walk down a few blocks to Chop Suey Books where the Music Circus was in full swing. I don't even know how many years now I've attended the annual tribute to John Cage, but at least since it was held at the old Chop Suey eight years ago.

Moving from room to room, looking at books along the way, I heard the Man About Town reading from his unfinished novel, saw a sax duo that included JC Kuhl upstairs near cookbooks and lingered to watch drummer extraordinaire Brian Jones playing percussion and song flutes. It was a far smaller Music Circus than any I'd seen before but just as cacophonous, which is exactly the point.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at Belmont Food Shop for appetizers of crab and avocado (one of my very favorite warm weather combos), lobster salad and, wait for it, lamb belly (obscenely delicious and one of my go-tos at Belmont).

As the crowd dwindled, the bartender got tired of the usual soundtrack ("I've been listening to it for two and a half years") and offered up his phone so I could choose some different music. Everyone knows I love playing DJ.

Hmm, so many options. I choose Strand of Oaks because I'd just seen them and Father John Misty because I'm currently infatuated with that album, eventually going with Ryan Adams because who doesn't like Ryan Adams? My date did and that's all I care about.

I couldn't leave without ordering silk pie, a crumb-encrusted dark chocolate mousse-like round that never disappoints, or a few minutes' conversation with the low key chef about his upcoming beach and fishing trip.

Sure, it would have been so easy to just go home at that point, but how could we when it was heavy metal Monday at GWARbar?

A DJ was set up just behind the stools we sat in and while I didn't recognize a single song as a series of appropriately dressed DJs took turns spinning, it's always great people watching there, whether it's poseurs or metalheads.

Not to mention that their air conditioning was working just fine and spending time in it had been our one and only goal of the day and night. We're simple people, although he was going home to sleep in air conditioned comfort while my overnight involved a ceiling fan and two auxiliary fans pointed directly at me. Bliss.

This morning, I considered routes for my walk, taking into account that it's supposed to be 99 degrees today, so desperately seeking some shade along the way.

Heading downtown, I was immediately struck by how few people were out and about. The Jehovah's Witnesses who usually set up shop near city hall were M.I.A. The lunchtime crowd appeared to have stayed inside. Even the guys who usually hang out in front of the barber shops were absent.

But a few brave souls were out. Walking down Marshall Street, from the apartment house stairs above me, I hear a man say, "There she is! There's summer!"

Looking up at him, I remark that it's not summer till next week. "It's summer today, darlin' and so are you!" he calls with a big smile. I have to assume he's referring to my wide-brimmed hat and limbs glistening with sunscreen.

"Nice sunblock!" a man with a backpack and tall walking stick calls to me from across the street, obviously not referring to my pink shorts.

We're having a heat wave, a tropical heatwave
The way that she moves, that thermometer proves
She certainly can can-can

Oh, and, for the record, under that hat that gets me so much complimentary attention, my hair most definitely does not look great. It's summer.

Monday, June 15, 2015

What's to Come

Let's adjust to the rhythms of almost summer, shall we?

When the sky is still pale blue at 9:00 and the temperature's only dropped to 80 outside, it only makes sense to go to a show that starts at 10.

Even so, when I'd bought my ticket weeks ago, I'd had no clue how oppressive it would be or that I was signing on to spend a hot night in a venue known for its anemic air conditioning. Good thing I like heat.

Mid-afternoon, the phone unexpectedly rings and it's the recent blast from my past with an invitation to go see Tom Chapin play at Tin Pan tonight. I no sooner decline when a friend posts that she's got an extra Prince ticket for the show in D.C. tonight.

If I didn't have such stellar memories of seeing Prince twice in the '90s, I might have jumped on that second offer, but no. I was going to see Avers and Strand of Oaks, as planned.

Positioning myself in my usual spot at Strange Matter - in front of the water dispenser - and waiting for Avers to take the stage, a favorite bartender I hadn't seen in ages came over for water and spotted me. He was on a  guys' night out and as thoughtful as ever ("It's so nice to see you. And you look great!" while gesturing at my flowered sundress) and I was genuinely happy to chat with him until the band began.

Filing onstage in single file, Avers proceeded to reward their local fans with their usual well-oiled machine of a set. With four guitars for any given song, it's a constant guitar fest with meaty interludes where everyone gets to show off, the way they also do with the many false stops and precision restarts that characterize their songs.

I love watching guitarist Charlie (whom I know from the Trillions) because he's not only multi-talented but a showman as well, lifting his knee to prop up his guitar or playing it perpendicular to his body. When his considerable talents were required to play keyboard, he'd sling his guitar behind him and proceed to use his knees and full body to play it. When the bass player sang lead vocal, Charlie played her bass for her.

My fourth grade teacher would have called him an asset to the class.

Also a pleasure to watch is James, a guitarist I first heard as part of Mason Brothers a couple years ago, for his expressive voice and low key yet appealing stage presence. He doesn't play or sing with a "look at me" frenzy, but I often found myself looking at him.

After their set ended and a trip to the always amusing bathroom (no TP but graffiti that read, "F*ck Punk!"), I had time to take attendance in the room and note the DJ who hadn't been able to take a nap despite laying down this afternoon, the guy my age who goes to as many shows as I do, the WRIR crew, the pensive songwriter.

Usual cast of characters, in other words.

During the break, the room cooled down a bit as people went outside to smoke, but once back, the infrequent hits of cooler air could barely address the radiating warmth of all the bodies. Good thing I like heat.

Then Strand of Oaks took the stage, with leader Timothy announcing, "It's Sunday f*cking night in Richmond! This is gonna be good!" A friend and I had already discussed that we'd made the right choice of where to be tonight.

Part of that is that Strand of Oaks' music references the '70s with wailing guitars, a sound I know well from my youth but don't listen to much now, but with an Americana feel that resonates as harder than most music of that genre. "Goshen '97" about growing up in his hometown got the crowd's attention with lyrics about teenage angst and shredding guitars.

"I haven't drank Black Label in 12 years," Timothy said, holding up a can. "It's good to be back." Turns out most of his tattoos had been acquired here on frequent trips while touring. Our ink cred stays strong.

"Daniel's Blues" was about Dan Aykroyd wanting revenge on Belushi's drug dealer. After the song, he said, "I remember my Dad had the Blues Brothers album on vinyl, pink vinyl. It had a naked lady picture on it, a Playboy picture. Thanks for showing a young man what was to come!"

His band was excellent, a fact he acknowledged when he introduced them, recalling the days when he toured alone with his guitar (and apparently frequently to Richmond). Now the band brings to life his big-as-the-'70s guitar sound and he seems thrilled, much like the crowd when they did "Shut In," a song with a big anthemic chorus that got the guy in front of me playing air guitar.

My bartender friend walked by, looking happy as a clam, and telling me he was blown away by the band. "I can't take my eyes off his face," he said. Timothy has a look with long, dark hair halfway down his chest and a huge beard, but there was such happy energy he was projecting that I found it compelling.

It was after midnight when he told the room they could play all night but that they would play one more song and "burn it extra long." It was "JM," a song about singer Jason Molina, and the band did indeed take us out with swelling and crashing guitars that sounded post punk and classic rock simultaneously.

Walking out into the warm night air that had barely dropped in temperature since I'd gone in, I found Grace Street quiet. The students are gone and everyone else must be in their air-conditioned homes.

A perfect time to walk home enjoying a summer night. Good thing I like the heat.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dead Sexy Dreams

Of course I went out last night.

Problem is, I stayed up talking until almost 3 a.m., so it was lunchtime before I even got up and then today's heat derailed my day even further. Walking, working, grocery shopping consumed the afternoon before I gave in to Mother Nature and just took a heat nap.

But all that's no excuse for not taking a moment to expound on last night's outing to see "I'll See You in My Dreams" at Criterion.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who chose an air-conditioned movie for an overheated Saturday night. I've never seen the parking lot at Movieland so overflowing. It was just too hot to do much else.

I'd chosen the film for several reasons: after seeing the previews at least three times, I was curious about seeing Blythe Danner in the starring role. Discussing her co-star Sam Elliott with a girlfriend, she'd said it best: "Sam Elliott is dead sexy." Hell, I'd go out with him just for the voice, never mind the easy charm and twinkling eyes.

The film's been getting great reviews for not being a senior cliche fest and I was interested in seeing a portrayal of a 72-year old woman holding her own as a single woman and then starting a relationship (you never know when you'll find yourself in a similar position...).

But I also wanted easy entertainment, I'll admit. I wanted a couple hours of escapism in a theater 30 degrees cooler than my apartment and I'm not ashamed to admit that.

Luckily for me, it wound up being a more nuanced and un-cliched story than I'd even hoped for (despite occasional backsliding with lines like, "You are a cougar and I'm proud of you!" and an episode where Blythe and her girlfriends get high on medical marijuana and go on a munchie shopping expedition that seems corny beyond belief), mainly because it was about nothing more than life.

How else to explain an early scene where we watch as she has to have her beloved dog Hazel put down after 13 years? I was welling up ten minutes into the movie.

Fortunately, there were plenty of light moments such as the friendship she develops with her much-younger pool serviceman, who compliments her, telling her what a good drinking buddy she is and takes her to a bar for karaoke.

I even learned something during the speed dating scene (if that even still happens in real life) about how women are given the lead role, offering their contact information only if they choose to.

And just for the record, if a man like Sam Elliott threw me a line such as, "You don't need any of that. You're fine just the way you are" in the drugstore, I'd give him my number, too. Ditto when he explains his philosophy at this point in his life: doesn't want to sit still and doesn't want to be alone.

So of course she opens up after decades of single life as a widow, realizing it's never too late to embrace the possibilities.

Based on the previews I'd seen, I'd been expecting a romantic comedy but that turned out to be far too narrow a definition of the film even with the dead sexy chemistry between the leads, because of how much sadness showed up throughout.

But then, that's life, isn't it?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Meal Enhancement

With apologies to Fanfarlo, I've been driving for twelve hours now and ending up in the same place.

It wasn't intentional.

Tuesday I'd made plans to go to Merroir with Pru tonight. Wednesday I'd gotten a couple of short but labor-intensive assignments due today. Wednesday night I'd heard from a friend that he was driving to Annapolis to sail for the weekend, planning to lunch today at Captain Billy's on 301 along the way. Knowing my assignments would be finished by then, I suggested meeting him in Pope's Creek for lunch.

When I got home that night, I found three more short but labor-intensive assignments. Did I want them? Yes. Was I going to finish them by Friday, too? Unlikely. I got an extension through the weekend.

That's how I found myself driving up Route 301 today to have lunch with a man who'd left an away message on his work phone saying, "Sailing the bounding main."

Arriving at Captain Billy's, I was surprised I'd arrived before he did and disappointed when they said that there was no outdoor dining today. But part of the restaurant is over the Potomac and we had a tiny table tucked into a corner by the windows, with a view of not only the bridge we'd just crossed, but boats and water.

"I've never noticed this place when I'm crossing the bridge," he observed about the proximity of the bridge. I hadn't either, but who really wants to look around when you're crossing a  bridge bounded by Jersey barricades? It just doesn't seem all that sturdy. I know a guy who drove over it in a snowstorm and was scarred for life. That bridge terrifies him.

But from a short distance, it was a picture-postcard view.

The paper placemat contained a lesson on how to enjoy steamed crabs with diagrams and instructions that involved using a spoon or knife to clean off the area under the shell. Give me a break. If you need a tool to eat a crab (beyond a mallet for the harder shells of claws), you did not learn to eat crabs in Maryland.

My knife was as pristine when I left the table as when I'd arrived. 'Nuff said.

He insisted the Maryland crab soup - touted on the menu as low in fat and full of vegetables -was the best thing on the menu, so we ordered a bowl to share. And it was good but less a bowl of vegetable and more a bowl of starch with peas, limas, corn and potatoes holding up enormous hunks of lump crabmeat.

I'd considered getting the crab salad cold plate but woke up and realized it would be foolish to drive an hour and a half to a crabhouse and not eat crabs. And by eat, I mean pick, so I asked for a half dozen.

Seven arrived (I didn't challenge their math) and I dove in, even using my superior picking skills to aid my friend, handing him claws sporting backfin lollipops. Meanwhile, he'd ordered a hot crab melt, essentially warm crab under cheddar on an English muffin. It was a lot of crab on that table, not that I'm of the opinion you can ever have too much.

I wanted to applaud when a woman at a table near us requested to her server that the frigid air conditioning be dialed back from sub-zero to something that allowed us to feel comfortable yet summery. No more summer sweaters ever!

Our server, a veteran of nine years at Captain Billy's, checked on us frequently, but we didn't need anything more that what we had. I heard about the sailing plans, the spots on the eastern shore they'd visit and his plans to detour through Solomon's Island for the scenery.

Most impressively of all, he pulled out a crisp Maryland map to study as he devised his route. Map reading is a lost art, one I admire when I see it being done.

By the time we finished eating, we were both stuffed to the gills and looking at drives of over an hour, although in different directions. "You enhanced my lunch," he said gallantly before taking me to the far end of the auxiliary parking lot to see a historical marker about John Wilkes Boothe called dramatically, "Journey Into Darkness: Story of an Assassin."

Coming back over the bridge, I looked back and sure enough, there was Billy's low-slung red building on the banks of the river. I guess it had been there in plain sight all along.

The drive back was some kind of hot, I felt covered in crab spices and sweat and far too many Sunday drivers lolly-gagged on 301, but I eventually got back so I could get cleaned up for another road trip.

It wasn't enough that I'd had breakfast in Richmond, Virginia and lunch in Pope's Creek, Maryland because I had plans to enjoy dinner in Topping, Virginia at Merroir. We arrived just shortly after the Friday dinner rush madness began to abate, as evidenced by our young server showing up looking slightly stressed, saying, "I'm just catching my breath."

We insisted he take a deep one, let us ask him some questions in order to buy him some down time and not to worry about giving us speedy service. His smile showed his appreciation after the craziness and our Cave de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet was delivered far sooner than was required.

After he left to assist the more demanding, we admired the seascape to our right, a scene of moored boats, many masts and the perfection of the evening colors on the river. It looked like an old Dutch master painting, the clouds and water streaked pink in front of the boats.

Pru doesn't do raw so I slurped Old Saltes solo before we shared an orgasmic plate of angels on horseback, baked oysters swimming in a pool of herbed butter under a blanket of Edwards ham. I drank the butter our of each shell, but Pru is far too much of a lady to slurp (all those years at boarding school), kindly pouring her butter on the remaining oysters.

Given the seafood orgy my day had become, there seemed to be no reason not to order steamed spiced shrimp and as with my crab picking companion earlier, my superior shrimp peeling skills made me popular with my date. I not only do the driving, I make the food mouth-ready. Who could ask for anything more?

Pru could and what she wanted was another batch of those angels on horseback to accompany more wine now that dusk had set in. It was her first time at Merroir and I could see she was firmly under its spell. It may not be as rustic as it used to be (or as I wish it still was) but its charms are still considerable, especially with a light wind blowing off the river.

A s'mores doughnut - pound cake doughnut, marshmallow cream, chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs - was the inevitable conclusion to our meal (because it was the only chocolate option), or so it seemed until Pru ordered a bottle of Rose to sip with it and take home, iced by our charming server for the road.

Unlike Boothe, my journey into darkness involved driving home, where the first thing that occurred to me was that I'd spent five of the past twelve hours driving. The second was that I'd had a boatload of seafood today, all of it stellar.

Should I have been home finishing those assignments to make a last minute deadline? That's what Saturday is for. My away message (as if I had one) might have said I was "doing research in two states." So there.

But, man, "sailing the bounding main" sounds way better.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Weakest Thread

If I lose a button off my dress during the course of the evening, is it cause for pride or embarrassment?

My first stop was Sabai, where I ran into friends - a musical married couple - eating dinner and wound up having a lengthy discussion of documentaries once we discovered we're all documentary dorks. Happily for me, they have a secret club where they show docs to other dorks so now I can join my people on a regular basis for non-fiction film.


Stop #2 was Glave Kocen Gallery for the opening of Alex Nyerges' first solo photography show, "Chasing the Light," which was abuzz with rich-looking people (a good thing since sales of the photographs were benefiting VMFA) when I arrived in my thrift store dress and shoes.

Servers were passing hors d'oeuvres from Heritage across the street, including spoonfuls of beets and burrata that went down like silk.

The first person I recognized was a blue-clad gallerist, followed by a painter who's recently become a first-time father. When I asked about the little one, he said they were in the back, away from the fray, but he also had made a point to bring the baby to start exposing her to art. I like that kind of thinking.

Further on, I saw a favorite printmaker who excitedly told me about the new Studio 23 printmaking collective space in Scott's Addition where she has a studio of her own. When the gallerist joined us, she started to introduce us, only to hear that we already knew each other.

"Of course, Karen knows everyone," she joked. Not true, but good for a laugh.

I already knew plenty about the show because I'd written a piece for Style Weekly about it after a long and enjoyable conversation with the photographer a few weeks ago. We'd hit it off because he's a runner and although my pace as a walker is slower, we bonded over the advantages of seeing the world from your feet rather than a car.

Unlike me, he carries a camera with him when he runs, meaning he's able to capture early morning moments that few are around to see. Add in that his job as director of the VMFA takes him all over the world and it's a recipe for compelling photographs.

Walking around the room to view the prints and read the artist's statements took me to Key West, China, Baltimore, San Francisco and France, among others, with the only common thread being each black and white photograph's heightened sense of contrast. Darks were the blackest black while lights were luminescent, almost heavenly in places.

The man has such a great eye, all the more so for shooting in color and then printing in black and white. The show had exactly one full color image - taken just before a close friend died - and one with the tiniest hint of color taken through a shower window.

It was fascinating to me to overhear people reacting to photographs of the James River, mainly because they were completely unfamiliar with the views of the bridges and train trestles every walker and runner in this city knows so well. "That's in Richmond?" was a frequent refrain. Sure is.

Several photographs already had the telltale red dots next to them denoting "sold" status and I saw a couple trying to narrow their choice to just one. With no such ability to buy, I just admired.

After much deliberation, I think my favorite was a view from San Francisco taken from the middle of a hilly street on which "STOP" had been painted. The image pulled your eye in until it was following the street up and down hills, past buildings to the horizon. My mind and stomach sensed the up and down motion of the terrain just standing in front of the picture.

It passed the "could I look at it every day?" test with flying colors.

When I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned to see a smiling man with his hand outstretched. In it was one of the shiny gold buttons that marched, double-breasted, down my navy blue dress.

"I saw this on the floor and I'd seen you in your dress earlier, so I thought it might be yours," he explained. It was a good guess, although embossed gold buttons are a bit of a giveaway.

How had I lost it, hugging someone maybe? Or had I caught it on one of the pedestals when I leaned over trying to view a photograph while people stood blathering with their backs to it? Maybe it was just one of those chance things whereby life has you meet someone you might not otherwise.

Because, contrary to popular opinion, I don't yet know everybody. Never underestimate the power of a dress...especially one that leaves a button trail.

Wine for a Small Party

You can make fun of my passion for all things summer all you want.

"Oh, my dear, you must be getting the vapors this afternoon, as steamy as it is," the soft male voice drawls in a thick southern accent when the phone unexpectedly rings mid-afternoon.

Ignoring his condescension, I explain that when an afternoon gets to be too much, I simply tilt the blinds and lay down for a bit, a time-honored southern way to deal with the summer heat. But today it's a temperate 83 degrees - admittedly inside and outside the apartment - and I hadn't the slightest need for a mid-day lie down.

What he's really calling for is to make plans for the later part of the night.

When he asks, "What time is the first seating?" I understand that he's asking when my first plans of the evening begin. Hearing that they begin at 5, he immediately puts me on notice to join him and friends post-plans.

My first seating is with my fellow Gemini to belatedly celebrate our birthdays at Amour. We're the first ones in - despite what passes for "heavy" traffic getting to Carytown from Church Hill - and begin with Le Petit Rouvier Rose and three small plates (mussels, steak and fried eggplant) over talk of John Currance's restaurants, three of which we've been to.

When people begin arriving around us, we realize the Alsatian wine tasting is about to begin and promptly put on our wine goggles. Gemini makes an aside that she may not be able to keep up, an amusing comment given that she practically taught me to drink six years ago.

"But I'm tasting to taste now," she says, making a distinction and putting herself at the mercy of my bad jokes.

No surprise, from the very first wine we taste, Cave de Belbenheim Heimberger Pinot Blanc with a nose of honeysuckle that makes me want to dive into it, we are led through a series of interesting wines that demonstrate the terroir, styles and flavor profiles of Alsace. Having an Alsatian teacher only makes it better.

That small plates arrive with each set of pairings is an unexpected surprise, especially after we'd just polished off a meat and cheese plate (the Morbier so deliciously barnyard funky we paused for cow poop humor) not long before. We are nothing if not hearty eaters.

Our group, which includes a recent new friend and her wine pro boyfriend, moves through Rieslings such as the Cave de Belbenheim Heimberger Riesling with its nose of petrol and citrus, to Pinot Gris (learning that the grape was brought to Alsace from Hungary in the 16th century) and finally to Gewurztraminer, described as "wine for a big party" and heavenly with the accompanying lychee and rose petal sorbet.

Much of our conversation revolved around oral history projects, something that interests us both. Who's collecting the good stories and recipes before the people with them are gone? Why doesn't someone ask us to do it? Where's FDR when you need him?

Five hours and nine wines later, we called it a night, considering our birthdays well celebrated, at least for the moment. Officially, it's my last birthday celebration of the 2015 season, although I'm always open to invitations. Hint, hint.

Once home, I found not one but two messages from the friend who'd called earlier, necessitating one last social gathering for the night. Our foursome took flutes of La Marca Prosecco outside to the deck to enjoy the languid evening heat and banter back and forth. Twice I was shushed for laughing too loud.

In my summer world, I like to think that all the humidity absorbs the sounds of night time laughter, bothering no one. That and everyone else in the first world besides me uses air conditioning, so their windows are sealed shut.

My dear, it's simply wrong to stop a summer lover from laughing on a warm night with friends. Especially when she's on her evening's second seating.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ode to a Walking Companion

Take me to the river, dip me in the water.

My new walking buddy, the one I met through my blog, had suggested another trek, this one along the North Bank Trail, which I hadn't walked in ages. We met at the O-Hill overlook like old friends and set out, talking all the way.

She told me about her business trip to New Jersey while I shared my recent ocean adventure. She's off to the Outer Banks soon and we bonded over old beach cottages with cross breezes and open windows.

Without even discussing it, we both climbed aboard Bubba's bench when we reached it, drinking in the view of the rapids and Belle Isle. Not everyone "gets" Bubba's, but she does.

Since our last walk had been the pipeline walkway and then on to Chapel Island, we hadn't done any real trail walking together yet, but we turned out to be more than compatible. Every short-cut slope I suggested, up or down, she agreed.

When we got close to Texas Beach, I was bowled over to see a new wooden trail walk where there used to be some boards and logs you had to balance yourself on to get across that muddy swath. I'd seen some family groups turn back rather than attempt the makeshift balance beam. Now it's wide, flat and safe, albeit totally without personality.

At Texas Beach, we found a couple on the rocks, a young mother and children spread out on a blanket and a girl in a bikini reading on a rock out in the water. We took off our shoes and socks and began making our way out into the James, our cooling reward after the heated slog through the riverbank's overgrowth.

The rocks underwater were slick and my friend headed down before catching herself, although wisely, she was wearing linen pants which dry quickly. We waded out into the river, immediately feeling our core temperatures dropping, and admired the peaceful serenity of the un-peopled view.

Gazing out at the river, I was disappointed to see that all the Japanese-looking piled rock sculptures that adorned the furthermost rocks last summer were gone. What a shame.

We talked as much as we walked on the way back - what a small town Richmond is (especially when it comes to online dating), the pleasures of house and dog-sitting (central A/C and two warm bodies in bed with her), Broad Appetit (we'd both gone alone) - pausing only when a passing screechy train made it impossible to hear each other.

As always, the walk back seemed far shorter than the walk there and I was soon saying goodbye to my friend as she set off to grocery shop and I headed home on Pine Street to scope out the progress of the ICA building on the corner of Broad.

Passing a guy in a hard hat by the site, I smiled and he returned it, saying, "Walk a mile for me, will you?" Explaining that I was closing in on six miles already and almost home, I said I could only do a half mile for him. He accepted my offer, I waved farewell and kept going.

As I approached the corner, from behind me I heard him calling, "I'd walk with you if I had time. I really would." And I'd take you up on that if you did, given how sincere you sound.

All I ask is that you keep up. I might even slow down just a tad just because it's such a treat to have company on my walk.

But it's most satisfying, like today, when I don't have to.

A Leg Up

So maybe I wasn't the very last person invited. Maybe I was just one of the last.

All I know is that when I got home from the beach at midnight last night, there was an invitation to Style Weekly's Best of party at Hardywood awaiting me. As a token of their appreciation for my hard work writing for the issue, two bands (Upper East Side Big Band and Photosynthesizers), lots of local restaurants and beer could all be mine, if I said the word.

I said yes, figuring I'd know a few people, go early and stay just as long as I chose to. Walking out of my apartment, the new guy next door sitting on his porch smiled and gave me an approving nod. "You look really great. Got a hot date?"

Not that I know of. P.S: Second oldest line in the book.

At Hardywood, the party was just starting, so I set out to mingle. I was talking to a restaurant owner about the double whammy of Broad Appetit and today's event, munching on Pasture's ham, pickle and pimento cheese roll, when I heard a familiar voice behind me saying, "I need to say hello to those legs."

You just never know who you're going to run into out of the blue or what's been going on in their life since you saw them last (a tumultuous relationship that didn't sound like much fun and was already over), but it was like old times listening to him critique all the dishes we sampled as we talked.

He was surprised to see I wasn't drinking, having forgotten I don't drink beer. In fact, the first time we hung out over a three-hour conversation, he'd e-mailed me when he got home with a fine compliment: "You'd be perfect if you drank beer." Not true, but flattering.

My friend and former neighbor, the councilman, introduced me to the owner of Paradise Garage, so I got to hear about his fabulous fundraiser parties. Maybe now my invitation will show up in the mail. When we went to try Torero Tapas Bar and Grill's paella, one of the chefs turned out to be a familiar face from another restaurant I frequent.

At the Alamo table, I asked for a sample of everything (although my hands-down favorite is that cowboy caviar) and looked around to see a disappointed-looking singer I've met before. Poor man doesn't eat pork and was having a devil of a time finding anything else at the party. This is a pig-centric town, after all.

Not shy, I didn't hesitate to ask the Alamo server if he had anything non-pig and sure enough, he got barbecued chicken for him from the back. Never hurts to ask...or to score points with a musician

Upper East Side Big Band was playing when I arrived so I caught most of their set, unsurprisingly a lot of clever arrangements of Beatles' songs ("Something" to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"), and then later, part of Photosynthesizers' set as well. I was honestly amazed at how few people were in the room listening to music at any given time.

It was the photographer I'd first met at the "Man Meat" dinner seven years ago who steered me to Goatacado, where, against his advice, I skipped over the Athena for the Mountain Tropp, a killer bowl of warm quinoa, arugula, smoked Gouda, avocado, black beans, plus apple and sweet corn pico de gallo in lime mango sauce.

Apparently I looked like I was enjoying the hell out of it (true story) because twice strangers came over and asked what I was eating because it looked so good. I sent them straight to the goat.

I decided I'd had enough savory to earn my sweet, a chocolate sea salt pop from King of Pops (the guy who handed it to me agreed). I carried it inside, letting it soften, and ran into the talented and energetic actor/singer I'd come to see here Saturday night.

We talked about that show for a minute and he started razzing me about being at Hardywood so often. "Want a beer?" he said, laughing and already knowing the answer. "Gotta ask!"

Outside, I saw a patient Mom occupying her two little ones with the cornhole boxes and before long, her youngest was smiling at me and trying to impress me with his toddler moves. It was very sweet. Then his hip father steps over to speak to me and says, "Are you still doing your blog?"

Hello! Once again, my past had shown up at the party. This time it was a musician I'd met seven or eight years ago when he'd been in a band I'd really liked. I'd interviewed them, been to plenty of their shows but hadn't seen him in eons. Apparently he'd been busy in that interim.

Just as I decided to leave, a friend insisted I try a beer that had been brewed with a wine component, something still in development, but he was praising it for its integration of the two. Couldn't I taste that? I'll take my wine straight, thanks, although not at Hardywood.

Walking to my car, I realized I'd had a far better time at the party than I'd expected, but then who doesn't like getting reacquainted when it comes with sides of compliments and dinner invitations?

Leaving behind that crowd, my next destination was the great outdoors for live music. It's the first of this series I'd made it to this year, despite frequent attendance the last two years.

Plenty of people had brought blankets (a lot of the Indian print kind we all had in college) and beer (although the girl next to me forgot an opener. Duh), but not me. I found a wooden bench with a  good view of the band and got comfortable, scanning the grass for my people. Before long, the organizer came over to say hello and update me on the band tour he's been working on as a roadie.

One thing I noticed right away was that the crowd was larger and more diverse age-wise than it had been in the past, a good thing. Since the organizers insist on no social media about the event, it looks like their goal of community building in real life is working. Hooray for the old ways.

The dance party king showed up and we commiserated about the (possible) loss of Balliceaux. I was certain he'd also been there that last night but I hadn't laid eyes on him. Sure enough, he'd been just as bummed as I was about the loss to the scene

I was happy to see the world travelers arrive, also recently back from their own tour. She thanked me kindly for the blog post about her outdoor birthday party, a laid back and enjoyable night with a potluck supper, a campfire, music on cassette and wide-ranging conversation. I thanked her for providing great fodder for me to write about, not to mention a thoroughly pleasant evening outdoors.

When they didn't recognize the band, Manatree, they asked who it was. "Man, they're babies!" my lanky friend said. If they looked like babies to him, they should have looked like embryos to me.

But of course, they don't because I've seen them plenty of times, although never unplugged like they were in the park tonight. There were even times when the annoying stage-whispering and laughing of self-involved twits near me all but drowned out their voices, guitars, fiddle, flute and tambourine. Only the drum beat out the rudeness.

Do I need to get back on my soap box about talkers not ruining the experience of others? If you go to a show to blather and not listen, at least have the decency to go to the back. Yeesh, I'd swear some people were raised by wolves.

Filling out their sound for the first time tonight were two female singers, also the source of the flute and fiddle playing. It was such a different experience hearing Manatree this way when their usual M.O. is short, hard, fast and loud. Tonight their sound was folky, harmonious and almost pretty.

During one song at dusk, the buzzing insects in the trees around us began humming in time with the tambourine shakes and drumbeats while fireflies lit on and off around our heads. It doesn't get much groovier than that.

It might have been perfect, but I didn't drink beer.