Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thrill Me

You know how sometimes you get a feeling like someone is going to spring big news on you?

Apparently that was the friend I invited to lunch at Lucy's, who came convinced I was going to announce I was getting married. She was wrong, but the lunch was mighty good.

So was the dinner, but that was solo and at Bistro 27 where the new chef, an alum of Heritage, Rogue Gentlemen and Six Burner, has revamped the menu most appealingly.

This is very good news for me since it's within spitting distance of my apartment a neighborhood joint and I'm a big fan of eating.

I could have hit repeat on pan-seared fresh artichokes and pancetta with olive oil and baguette, or an even more unique starter, baguette slices spread with chocolate, orange liqueur, sea salt, orange zest and tarragon, both savored while observing costumed revelers shambling down Broad Street.

The bartender tried to impress me with his Halloween costume - the briefest of gym shorts, tube socks, a white boy 'fro wig and striped headband - which sounded suspiciously like a '70s basketball player. He seemed to expect me to be appalled, but I let him know I actually preferred shorter shorts on basketball players back in the day.

Michael Jordan ruined that for everyone, male and female, who likes men's legs.

You know how sometimes you need to appeal to your mind and not just your mouth?

My high culture came courtesy of the VMFA where they were showing "Enough to Live On: The Arts of the WPA" to a sold out crowd that was just a little long in the tooth.

And I'm not being judgmental. People who were alive when FDR was president were asked to raise their hands and it was a decent number of people.

They were the ones who'd had a president cool enough - never mind the cocktail and cigarette holder in hand in so many of his photographs - to say things like, "My administration will be remembered not for its relief but for its art."

Because I'm fascinated by that era when the government took on the responsibility of keeping artists employed during the worst depression in our country's history, this documentary was right up my alley.

Fact: Sometimes jobs for the sake of jobs is exactly what this country needs. Hello 2008.

Or, as someone dead said, how can a finished citizen be made in an artless world? It's stirring to learn that we were once a culture who though that the way to rebuild society after widespread financial ruin was through sharing the experience of art.

Forget amber waves of grain, I'm talking murals in post offices and libraries.

But of course, it wasn't just muralists. There was the Federal Theater Project and the Federal Music Project and my personal favorite, the Federal Writers' Project. Even when times are good, there's never any shortage of unemployed actors, musicians and writers, no?

I would have loved to have been part of the America Eats Project, chronicling regional cuisine. Or part of the oral history project that transcribed the memories of slaves and their children, who were rapidly dying out at that point.

The brilliance of the government sending out photographers to document the misery of subsistence farmers and the rural poor during the Dust Bowl years in order to determine how to best address the problem seems inconceivable now.

And you know what else does? The poster division of the Federal Art Project, all those nameless graphic artists who created the posters that conveyed messages to the American people and inspired them to action, to a collective purpose.

That kind of cultural uplifting is unthinkable in the 21st century, when we don't want our government telling us what to think or do.

By the time I walked out of there, I was inspired to learn more about the many facets of that era, to read more about the intricacies of how a creative class was kept afloat through a period that could have ended our country's artistic output.

So naturally I had to follow that with schlock, and not just any schlock, but an '80s homage to B movies, slasher films, zombie flicks and science fiction, all rolled into one big-haired, campy package.

And because Movie Club Richmond was showing it at Hardywood, I'd be watching it to the unappealing stench of hops.

The trade off was I ran into a favorite Beer Betty and thoroughly enjoyed commiserating over the gross incompetence of a shared idiot.

You know how sometimes you get a feeling that something you would have passed by at one time might be far more appealing at another? "Night of the Creeps," which I obviously ignored in 1986, was calling my name tonight.

What began on sorority row in 1959 ("I'll even let you fondle my dress!") quickly moved to pledge week 1986 ("What is this, a homicide or a bad B-movie?"), a time apparently just as politically incorrect as it was corny.

Need proof? A hardened cop who repeatedly answers the phone and greets people with, "Thrill me." An Asian character made to appear like a simple-minded twit. Humor at the expense of a handicapped student. Bathroom wall graffiti reading, "Stryper Rules." Gratuitous female nudity with distinct tan lines and decidedly un-augmented breasts. A "PARTY" sign in a dorm room, because college boys need reminders to party.

So. Much. Bad. '80s. Music.

Also, surprisingly funny, often suspenseful, disgustingly gory and a veritable fashion show of hideous formal dresses of the era. I'd just about blocked them out until being reminded tonight. Impossible for the audience not to talk back to ("Wait, did the dog call the police?").

Let's put it this way: I can see why "Night of the Creeps" has become a cult classic. Not sure I could have seen that in '86, but there it was tonight.

So deliberately bad that it was good. Or, as the late, great FDR said, "It is fun to be in the same decade with you."

All except the Stryper part.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fate Up Against Your Will

Because some days, you want to feel as if you're a ball pinging from one side of a pinball machine to the other.

Driving to Urbanna on a gloriously sunny, warm day meant that I got to see an original 1754 map of the then-colonies, impressive enough, but mind-blowing when I hear that it's valued at $550,000.

Of course I touch it, not that my hands make any contact through the museum quality glass.

Attending the opening of "Design 2015: A Retrospective of Winning Work" at the Branch Museum ensured that I saw the very best of design and restoration projects in the middle Atlantic over the past year.

Because I'm the kind of architectural geek who doesn't even use her two drink tickets at the opening.

My favorite honorees are places I know, such as the gorgeous new waterfront Research and Education building in Wanchese, N.C. Its best side is the one that faces the water and I intend to see it next summer.

Or Seaside Hall in Wachapreague, Virginia, built by VIMS for William & Mary. The brilliant use of the local architectural style - wood-framed, on stilts, a fabulous long, screened porch - ensures that it fits in from the day it was completed. Next trip to the Eastern Shore, it's a must-see.

Even the VCU Depot took honors, with the judges noting that, "Removing dreadful 1970s aluminum facade...was a gift to the city." As a walker, I agree, but mainly I was glad I'd finally been in the Depot for the first time last week for a frame of reference.

And, of course, Citizen 6, the six modern townhouses built on Floyd Avenue were honored for keeping the scale, mission and relationship to the street that nearby houses have, but without trying to do faux historic.

As one who made my home on that street for 13 years, I can assure you we tolerate no faux on Floyd.

Walking around looking at the winners, I overheard a visiting architect tell another that his wife had been busy going to see historic buildings around town, in Williamsburg and Charlottesville since they arrived. The other man nodded knowingly.

"There's basically more history here than anywhere," he said knowingly. Hopefully he meant in this country.

Having dinner on Supper's patio for the first time was not only an unexpected delight but also meant a long conversation with my favorite summer friend and lots of catching up.

Estrogen was rampant, as evidenced by our extremely feminine ordering: wine, salads with protein and an enormous chocolate dessert dubbed the southern hot mess, which, incidentally, was dusted with shaved candied bacon.

Cliched or not, as she put it, they probably knew our order the minute we walked in.

I will say the patio had a lot of charm. Old doors, hanging wooden flower boxes, a vintage wash sink in a stand planted with trailing vines, a fountain with coins in the water and generous tables with umbrellas all contributed to a place conducive to lingering, especially on such a balmy late October night.

Even if it hadn't, we would have because it had been a couple of months and we both had lots to share. Joaquin pictures and stories, Cinebistro memories, what we wish we could have told our 25-year old selves, you know, the usual.

Best story gleaned? That in trying to figure out life and love, she'd written a memoir (I was terribly impressed) to sort out her experiences and where she wanted to go, which turned out to be straight back into the arms of the man she'd already tried a relationship with once.

Moral: writing works. And seeing my girl crush always makes me happy.

Beginning my Halloweek festivities meant walking over to the Comedy Coalition for the start of their annual Nightmare on Broad Street because this heathen has no other time to celebrate the Christianized feast influenced by Celtic harvest festivals with possible pagan roots.

Tonight's offering was irresistible: Vincent Price's Late Night Horror Hotline, made even better because the fun kicked off with Echo and the Bunnymen's "Killing Moon" playing to a practically full house.

Horror icon and dead person Vincent Price (okay, an imitator, but one with a mustache, burnt orange ascot and smarmy delivery) was our host for an evening of things we wouldn't be able to unsee.

There were monsters of stand-up, with Teen Wolf complaining about the unreal standards of werewolf beauty set by things like "Twilight" and "True Blood." The Mummy complained because his parents never sacrificed any of his sisters and you know how annoying sisters can be (oh, don't I?).

Freddy Kreuger said he might vote for Ben Carson because he "speaks to me as a fellow sociopath," while Frankenstein had Vincent's favorite line of the night when he said, "Bitches be lobbing" about cutting off a hand.

An improvised sketch called "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" played on every slasher movie cliche - campers and campfires, terrifying sounds, woods - but also millennial malaise - "I haven't been affected by this so I don't know if I care to get involved," one camper tells another.

But its beauty was that the campers were being terrified by "pioneer spirits" and the only way to kill them was by reading from a history book. Historical facts flew and they wilted like the bad witch with water thrown on her.

"We all came together to fight this through the power of history!" one camper exclaimed. "Give me liberty or give me death," another chimed in.

Meanwhile, the audience was rolling on the floor laughing.

Our Vincent Price came out and said, "Patriotism is the truest exorcism. Go Trump! Make America great again!"

In between acts, he also took hotline calls from high school bullies, lonely women and indignant viewers upset because "Mad About You" had been replaced with his show ("I was angry when I called but that pun was delightful!").

"The Paranormal Sisters from Kalamazoo" featured Claire and her sister Silence, both of whom had been struck by lightening. Claire ended up with a southern accent and Silence was rendered, well, you know, but now she could channel spirits.

Using audience members, they conjured Tim's Uncle Barry (sounding very New York), Robert's dog Blue who'd died of cancer ("Claire: "What, your parents were too cheap to pay for chemo?") and Albert Einstein, who was asked what he thought of Google ("Why use Google when you can use your brain?).

Vincent came out after that, trembling. "Ooh, I'm "E" equals MC scared!"

But the absolute funniest sketch was the Match Game with the late Senator Ted Kennedy as the red-faced, cranky, drunken host who arrived late ("I had some car trouble, let's put it that way"), insulted/hit on contestants and ridiculed the panel mercilessly.

Even the Match Game music didn't escape his ire ("Stop that shitty music now!" every time it started playing).

The panel was too good to be true: pregnant Michelle Duggar, Glen Danzig, Carrie, Keith Richards, Lena Dunham and Roseanne Rosanna Danna.

Sample round: The rumor is all over the circus. The bearded lady is going to marry _____.

Michelle Duggar: The man her father chose for her. Danzig: the hounds of hell. Keith: the guy who  picks up the elephant shit. Lena: I had a beard in college, so I put another bearded lady.

You get the idea.

Or, Frank was such a good salesman, he sold a NuvaRing to ______. Michelle: me.

I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard for nearly two hours straight.

By the time Vincent Price bade us farewell, I had no memory of Urbanna, limited recall of architecture and only a passing idea of dinner conversation with my crush.

Just call me a pinball wizard tonight.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Hard-Worn Place of Mystery

Bingo. It's not just for grandmas anymore.

I did a double take when I saw the invitation to bingo at Gallery 5. Had bingo gotten cool when I wasn't looking? I knew they did RVA Pieces, a night of games like chess, but this was the first I'd heard of bingo, much less with the numbers being called by someone named Grandma Muriel.

Come on, how could I not go?

When I got there, a couple of duos were engrossed in chess matches, but on the stage side, two long tables were set up and a tall, skinny cross-dressing man in an orange peignoir, flowered head scarf and old lady mask was setting up effects pedals.

This was going to even better than I thought.

A few people straggled in as I told organizer Nick that I hadn't played bingo since I was a kid. "Really? I played last year in North Carolina," he said. "I look for bingo wherever I go."

With time to kill before the first number was called, I checked out Gallery 5's current show,"All the Saints Theater Company: A 10 Year Retrospective," featuring some of the puppets, sculpture and banners used by ATS over the years, including in their Halloween parades, of which I've been a part many times.

Giant sculptures made of recycled materials resembled elephants, lips and Poe while huge cloth banners carried in the parade had stronger messages, such as "How Much Longer?" with a picture of a soldier pointing a gun at a small child.

It was an exhibit of whimsy and message, like anything ATS does and I was happy to get to see it before it closes.

Then it was bingo time.

Grandma Muriel was totally into her role, crafting a complete experience with a hanging light (which she hit periodically to send it swinging eerily), a Halloween soundtrack and a microphone so she could call numbers and distort the words through the pedals for effect.

She seemed to especially like calling the letter "O" and letting it reverberate endlessly.

The wooden tokens with the numbers/letters on them were placed in a red bucket and she'd stick the mic in there as she shook them to get a rumbling reverb effect for each call.

There were only six of us for the first round, but with Grandma Muriel's full production on each call, it was slow going for us participants. "Bingo games are long, " the guy across from me said sadly and we were only on the first round.

We got two new players for round two ("This is way better than watching jujitsu," one observed) as Grandma Muriel got even more into it. "I think it's disturbing that someone would want to dress up and do this," one guy said, although not loud enough for Grandma Muriel to hear.

Things got a little competitive, with people looking over at other people's bingo cards to see how close they were to calling bingo and bemoaning when someone else won, but I think that's just the spirited nature of playing bingo. Isn't this why old ladies end up using the F-word in church basements?

There were prizes - tickets to the Comedy Coalition, to Gallery 5, a gift certificate to Bunny Hop bike shop - but the biggie was dinner for two at Max's and, as the organizer pointed out, not even a designated amount, just "dinner for two."

Yours truly won that, playing two cards for the first time in her life (the guy next to me was playing four) in a round that lasted far longer than the first three rounds had. Who knew bingo could be so suspenseful?

The final round was a cash prize and a guy who'd joined the table only for the last round won that, loudly and happily. Several of us asked when the next bingo game was (last Wednesday of the month is the plan, but it's just that since this was the first event) and if Grandma Muriel would be available for it.

And if not? "I've got a friend who does Stone Cold Steve Austin. I can see if he's available," Nick says. What could be more bingo-like than a wrestler, I ask you?

So I walked out of there five dollars poorer except that I also had a gift certificate for dinner, so not a bad way to laugh, watch some hilarious performance art by a man in drag and experience the thrill of filling your bingo card.

And thank goodness I was in a happy place when I left there because I almost got creamed in the middle of Broad Street.

I'm cruising along at the speed limit in the middle lane, and some VCU twit decides she's going to make an illegal U-turn at Harrison Street right in front of me, causing me to swerve and just barely avoid her. The best part? The cop in the lane next to me waiting to turn, who immediately put on his lights, caught up to her and nailed her.

Sometimes there is justice...and it's sweet to witness.

I was en route to Balliceaux to drink a housemade root beer and see the Sam Reed Syndicate, whom I'd never seen before.

As is so often the case, though, I'd seen several of the group's members in other configurations. Sam's the singer for Photosynthesizers, whom I've seen plenty, but I also recognized her keyboard player/producer, the amazing Devonne Harris, and the ubiquitous Mark Ingraham on trumpet.

Sam looked fabulous in a purple kimono belted low at the waist ("I'm all taped up here and I want to make sure I don't show anything") over black leggings, but with her dynamic singing style it wasn't long before she was hot as hell and pulled out a Japanese-looking fan with which to fan herself during and after songs.

At one point, she bemoaned having bothered to straighten her hair "on the most humid day of the Fall," but the truth was, no one cared about her hair when they were listening to that voice.

"I'm Sam Reed and this is the Sam Reed syndicate," she said by way of introduction. "A syndicate is a group who has a common goal and expectations. And I knew I could make music with these guys." And she did.

She's got such a powerful voice, which I knew, but not having heard her new album "This is Love," I hadn't had a feel for the sound of this band, which turned out to be pretty diverse. Sometimes the band  - guitar, bass, keys, trumpet, drums - was full-on funky and other times, more definitively rocking.

Telling us we'd recognize the next song, and that it was one she was known for on Thursday nights (karaoke, perhaps?), the band did a killer cover of "Maniac" from "Flashdance" and a couple of girls proceeded to dance to it almost appropriately.

They did an old Mark Ingraham song, another song she characterized as an experiment between her and Devonne and the funky "Astrobelt" before closing out their set, effectively ending my night.

All in all, it turned out way better than watching jujitsu.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Love a Rainy Day

There's something about this weather that affects people.

It's like being at the beach on a stormy day, except without the ocean. When I got up, my apartment felt chilly, but when I went down to get the newspaper, I found it was surprisingly warm outside.

Immediately, I threw all the windows open and changed clothes.

Then I was off to the eye doctor in bike shorts. When he walked in the examining room, it was the first thing he commented on. "Taking advantage of the weather today, I see." Sure am. Some of us detest the cold.

After going through part of the exam, he asked how I was doing, aside from "deploring the oncoming season." I've been going to this doctor for years and we know a little about each other, at least as much as you can know when you only see someone once a year.

For instance, I know he's on the board of the VMFA and the Smithsonian and that he's an art collector. He knows I'm a writer and restaurant reviewer, so he asked for a recommendation.

Shifting gears back to my eyes, he asks if I ever got my glasses prescription filled, knowing full well I didn't. I haven't worn glasses since 1979 and I remind him I'm a contact lens person, morning 'till night.

So he starts lecturing me about oxygenating my corneas and giving my eyes a break by not wearing my contacts every waking second like I do. This is something new, a caveat he's never given me before. I ask if I'm getting this warning because of my age.

"You're still hot," he says, surprising me and apparently trying to offer some consolation by sharing his age.

I experience the briefest second wondering if doctors are supposed to tell patients they're hot, but it's a fraction of the time I spend enjoying the compliment.

After asking if there's any point in writing me a glasses prescription, he does, as well as one for contacts, then instructs me to take my lenses out more often and come back in a year. We both know we could have talked much longer, but also that other patients are waiting.

Same time next year, doc.

Back home, I walk into a misty swampland home. Every glass surface, every window, every mirror - especially bad are the two over the fireplaces, which are original to this 1876 house - is fogged over as the warm outside air met the cold fixtures of my formerly closed up apartment. My thick plaster walls and heart pine floors are shiny with moisture. The black and white linoleum in the hallway looks like it was just mopped. It wasn't.

Welcome to Damp Land.

When I leave for my walk in shorts, I spot people in jackets and hats. Either they've based their attire on yesterday's weather or they're sweating bullets under so many layers. I, on the other hand, am perfectly comfortable and, I might add, dressed appropriately for the weather.

There's a small, warehouse-like building I often pass as I'm leaving for my walk and anytime I see the guy inside working, I call out hello. He usually has NPR on and a dog or two lounging nearby, but he'll at least wave as I go by.

I call out on my way by and get as far as the next building when I hear him calling to me.

"I thought you'd moved since I haven't seen you in a while!" he hollers. Well, this is something new. He's come outside to talk to me for the first time in years of walking by him. I explain my recent absence, we introduce ourselves and I ask about what he does and where he does it, fascinated to learn that his building used to be the Markow Florist warehouse.

But where we're not soul mates is when I rave about the weather. "I'm not too excited about going home and having my house be 80 degrees," he says. Why not? I'd be thrilled.

Closer to City Hall, a man walks by, looks at my legs, then my face and exclaims (there's no other word for how it came out of his mouth), "Those shorts!" then gulps and grins like a fool. Yep, those shorts are ideal for a 72-degree day, aren't they, sir?

Funny how 90% humidity loosens some people's tongues. Me, I'm all about the warmth.

Eating for Sport

Pin a rose on me. I helped a guy figure out how he wanted to die tonight.

It was while I was over-eating with two friends and blathering about how good the food, glorious food was that our server dropped in on the conversation.

"I know, right?" he said, joining right in. "There's a 600-pound man trapped inside this body and all he wants to do is eat. That's how I want to die...eating." He paused. "Or with a woman."

What about both? I asked him and his eyes lit up. "Yes! That's how I want to go. Food, a woman and well, you know." I did know. "Maybe with an egg cracked over us."

Be still my heart. This is a man I get.

And these are the kinds of conversation we were having while an eclectic world music station played everything from French torch songs to African percussion to Bollywood dance rhythms, making for a party soundtrack. The lighting may have been a tad bright and I have no use for a big screen with football on, but otherwise, Castanea was definitely working for us.

The fact of the matter is, my original plan had been to go hear a scholarly talk on the movie "Django Unchained" and then see the movie for the first time. See a little violence, learn a little something, you know, typical Tuesday evening.

But I'd run into a friend who wanted to go to the opening of the new Belle & James downtown instead so I donned opening party attire (as in, cute tights) and met a favorite couple there, where we ogled the gorgeous bar and arresting art.

There were so many more people crammed into the space than we'd anticipated, some looking incredibly stylish - a favorite sommelier - and others spouting cliches and platitudes - the mayor dubbing Belle & James a "New York City restaurant" before he'd even tasted a bite of food.

I ran into the parents of a good friend and was tickled to hear that he'd shared with his mother the dating advice I'd given him. She told me that since she'd married her first date, she hadn't had the life experience to advise him.

And while I don't date for sport (one of the pithiest descriptors I've heard lately), I definitely have had enough dating experience to advise a good friend when I can.

The place was so packed that mingling was pretty much limited to the area immediately adjacent to where you stood, but luckily it was central enough that I spotted a few familiar faces and made do with those around me.

After an hour or so, the three of us left the movers and shakers behind to meet at Castanea so we could really talk. Despite all leaving in separate cars from the same place, I arrived a full 15 minutes ahead of each of them and the bartender warmly welcomed me back. When my friendsy didn't show up shortly, he asked if they could have stopped to canoodle, delaying their arrival.

I like the way he thinks, but it is to laugh. I told him no, that hell would have to freeze over first before their delay could be blamed on canoodling, and eventually she walked in the door and a bit later, he did, too.

You'd think people with GPS systems could beat a Luddite who still uses maps, but apparently not.

We were in wildly different wine moods, so she who wanted bubbles got a Lambrusco and he fell in love with Ancient Ruins Merlot/Cab Franc, resulting in a fascinating lecture on the many micro-climates and abundance of completely different soils at this Pasa Robles vineyard.

After one sip, I had to have Casa Ferreirinha "Planalto" Branco Reserva, a Portuguese wine that drank like a mouthful of rainwater (or ocean, according to my friend who praised its hint of salinity), with a finish that just dropped off at the end, like leaping off a cliff into the ocean. I only wish I was drinking it at the ocean.

Since it was their first time, they wanted to taste all over the menu and since I'm the last person to preach moderation with a glass of wine in hand, we dove right in.

Speaking of the sea, we got a bowl of it in the form of panzanella fruit de mar, a bright citric combination of mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, anchovies, orange peppers, onion, olives and bread that was exquisite with my wine. So good, in fact, that the female half ordered a glass for herself to enjoy with the seafood.

We got our meaty fix with albondigas, Spanish meatballs noticeably absent any filler, with pine nuts and a chunky tomato sauce, before taking it over the top. Impressed as we'd been with both of those, when the cresto de gallo showed up, it rocked our night.

Perfectly pan-fried chicken livers had a texture to die for and the al dente cresto de gallo (looking like ruffled tubes of pasta with a cockscomb) equally so. A Marsala wine sauce gave the dish its richness while rainbow Swiss chard complemented the understated but definitive spiciness that had us all moaning with pleasure.

There's nothing more unappealing than an overcooked chicken liver where all you taste is that overpowering mineral quality that reminds you you're eating a filtering organ. This, I'm happy to report, was the furthest thing from it.

Make no mistake, we were full by this point, but having too good a time talking with our amiable Dutch server, taking in the terrific music playing overhead and discussing theater, Chartreuse-centric bars and sushi at 2:45 a.m. to notice.

Which may or may not explain ordering a shakshuka pizza sporting garlic, tomato, paprika and two runny eggs atop it. Smokiness dominated and the eggs imparted an obscene richness to each slice.

Given our bloated state, we moved on to cinnamon-spiked digestifs with a nose of orange and bitters that righted our world and prepared us to face the final frontier: dessert.

Part of the reason we'd come had been because I'd told my food-obsessed friend about the Sicilian pistachio gelato made from pistachio paste flown over from Sicily and he had to have it. She went with prickly pear, a beautiful rose-colored sweet thing, and I had - no surprise here - double chocolate.

We stopped short of licking the designs off the howl, but otherwise left little. If there's a better $3 dessert in town, please tell me about it.

When the chef came out to check on our satisfaction level, my friend let slip that tonight's visit represented his 646th Richmond restaurant visit and that, yes, he keeps a spreadsheet with notes.

I couldn't let the opportunity pass to point out that he also keeps a spread sheet on the qualities that make up the perfect woman. His long-time girlfriend sitting to my right, who's never seen that spreadsheet, was surprised to hear that she scores 56 out of 72. She thought she was a 60.

She may want to consider cracking an egg over herself. I hear some men like that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Somewhere Back in Her Long Ago

Lucky me. I may have gone to bed at 3 a.m. last night, but when I got up, it was to go to a rehearsal of the Richmond Ballet.

Short of a champagne brunch with an adoring man who woos me with intellect, desire and humor, I can't think of too many finer ways to start the day.

The Richmond Ballet was rehearsing "Windows 3" and ballet master Malcolm Burn welcomed me in before using the next hour to direct, assess and demonstrate exactly how he wanted this section of the ballet to look.

What was most enjoyable as an observer was watching him use his keen sense of humor, Australian accent and flawless technique to teach the young troupe what he wanted out of this ballet. There's a reason he's called a master.

Using constant correction, he detailed a dancer's suspension and engagement, bemoaned technology (the remote for the music) and joked about how modern ballets are always shown in the dark. And he wasn't shy about correcting a company member.

What's going on, he asked a male dancer, who explained he was slipping in a certain corner. Malcolm walks over to the dancer, meeting him eye to eye and says softly but authoritatively, "Don't."

The implication is: Ever. Again. The dancer doesn't.

I marvel at being close enough to hear the heavy breathing of the dancers performing athletic endeavors over and over again. Or being close enough to see their rib cages expanding and contracting after an arabesque or two.

It was almost humorous when a dancer looked guiltily at him and admitted that the last step had been his mistake.  "Uh-huh," Malcolm agrees. "Do tell." Again, the mistake is never repeated.

Or, "I could be in Ohio and I'd see that mistake." Malcolm seems to be a pro at getting his point across with a smile. "I'm not asking your opinion and I don't care what you think," he tells a male dancer. "I want your hands on her waist."

By the way, this is good advice for any man, not just dancers.

It's also a marvelous thing to observe up close. It gives a balletomane the opportunity to witness the work that goes into shaping a ballet into the finished piece an audience sees while providing a close-up view of the blood, sweat and tears involved in making it happen.

And if this is how you get to start your day, it's bound to be a good one.

Just as good is being asked out to dinner. Expecting a mob scene like the last time I went to the Roosevelt, I am suitably impressed when we walk in and find two bar stools free in an otherwise full dining room.

Good karma rolls on when we begin with Thibaud-Janisson Brut, followed by an unexpected gift ("prezzies" as Pru would say) and friends stopping by my stool. The wine geek wants to tell me about half price bottles at her restaurant and the guitarist wants to share a band he knows I'll love, but being given a present is the best part.

Bartender T., clearly not working tonight, says hello and I inquire if his sole reason for being there is to look good in his blue t-shirt. "I may drink some coffee, too," he says laconically, hoisting a coffee cup.

The restaurant is loud, its hard surfaces and boisterous conversation making it tough to hear the music, but my date leans in and we manage conversation about California wine country, the best places to read a book and lighthouse tours.

Someone looked around and observed of the capacity crowd eating and laughing at tables, "It's a good-looking bunch tonight." Probably anything would look good after the rigors of the recent restaurant week.

Dinner began with a scrumptious plate of varying textures and flavors: burrata, fried Brussels sprouts, Asian pear, sunflower seeds and bacon vinaigrette, followed closely by a rich and satisfying Virginia lamb Bolognese over a polenta cake with fried egg and Parmesan.

Neither dish felt especially Roosevelt-like and both were stellar.

Next came a bistro steak with fingerling potatoes, bleu cheese, bacon, pickled red onion and homemade steak sauce and then farro with celery and apple which led to a discussion of it currently being celery season, a fact I'd recently read.

In season or not, the dish was a hit, its earthy nuttiness the ideal foil for the crunch and sweetness of apples and celery. My date suggested it tasted like breakfast, but not to me.

Michael McDonald came on the sound system overhead and suddenly, half the staff were trying to recall a certain one of his songs.

Given that they could have been the singer's grandchildren, they didn't know any of the words and their humming left a lot to be desired. Even so, it wasn't long before they figured out it was "What a Fool Believes," a song I didn't need to hear again in this lifetime, and put it on.

A group of us got started on what to do and see in Philly - the mosaics, the Liberty Bell, certain restaurants - in anticipation of the host's upcoming visit. I wasn't much help; I haven't been there in about eight years, so I'd be very curious about the scene these days, too.

I recognized a guy I'd met out the other night when he'd been a bit loopy and tonight we made formal introductions.

By the time I was ready for dessert, the restaurant was beginning to clear out and Monday was making its presence felt. While people headed out into the cool night air, I asked for Coca Cola cake and a glass of the bartender's housemade grapefruit-cello, a riff on Limoncello.

Much as I liked the cake, I felt like the mini-marshmallows in it were overkill, or perhaps I was just so full at that point that they seemed extraneous.

But my grapefruit-cello was delightful, tart and fresh tasting with just enough kick behind the citrus. Sipping and chatting, it reminded me a bit of nights in Italy sipping ridiculous amounts of Limoncello into the night.

For the record, tonight I only had two. A girl can't stay up until 3 a.m. every night wondering what a fool believes.

Or at least not blog about it when she does.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Pickin' Up the Pieces

Drama queens, as you might expect, were rampant at the Artsies, this year also known as the "ratcocks."

Anything to get a chance to say "cock" as much as possible, right?

Because I have no dramatic abilities, I can put on a purple cocktail dress, 4 1/2 inch platform shoes with feathers and a wrap featuring a Picasso painting and fade right into the woodwork in this crowd. Photos, we were told, should be tagged #ratcocks, so I tried to stay away from the cameras.

The Richmond Theater Critics Circle Awards are the annual excuse for the theater community to put on cute but painful shoes, dress up as over the top as possible and scream like banshees when a friend or production gets mentioned from stage.

And that's not even the official entertainment.

That came courtesy of our hostess, the multi-talented (star of cabaret and domestic goddess) Georgia Rogers Farmer, who not only managed to name-check every nominated play to the tune of Madonna's "Vogue" but finished the opening number by doing a handstand which caused her skirt to drop over her head and reveal the letters "RTCC."

Safe to say that photos were taken and immediately tagged.

Anything for art, right? The youngest winner, Brandon McKinney, closed out his acceptance speech for "Caroline or Change" by instructing the roomful of adults, "Make sure you are always making art!"

After BJ Wilkinson won for outstanding achievement in lighting design, he made a succinct speech, ending by saying, "Now I have 600 steps to climb to get back up in the booth."

The show must go on and all that.

Jokes were made about the critics who'd voted on the awards - critic most likely to be a know-it-all, critic most likely to go on about a cute actress - and people nominated, as when Bruce Miller talked about a second career as a bartender, but not at the level of Evan Nasteff, actor and barkeep extraordinaire.

Some presenters used the moment to pass the torch - last year's winners Jacquie O'Connor and Jeanie Rule passing on their tiaras to this year's recipients- while others used it to make time.

When Alexander Sapp and Doug Schneider came out to present the supporting actress awards, Alex suavely greeted the applause with, "Thank you, ladies" and smiled his most debonair smile. Doug looked out and said, "Good evening, gentlemen," getting just as many squeals.

To finish the first act with a bang, Matt Shofner as Hedwig paraded down the aisle to screaming adoration, lips and cheeks covered in glitter, to perform "Tear Me Down," with the band from TheaterLAB's production playing plastic toy instruments behind him while the real band backed them up.

With explicit instructions to take no more than 15 minutes for intermission, this crowd too as long as they wanted to schmooze, smoke and drink before ambling back to their seats.

Georgia kicked off the second act singing about "ratcocks" to the tune of Blondie's "Rapture" and surrounded by Audra Honaker and Evan in giant costumes that resembled the awards themselves dancing around her.

Unfortunately, the show, which Georgia said ran 70-some hours the first year, was already running long not far into the second act, causing her to admonish us, "Let's pick it up. Mama needs a drink."

The guys singing "Nothing Like a Dame" from "South Pacific" got the crowd worked up, especially with those lyrics coming out of some unlikely mouths and guys like Matt caressing their own form when singing about a dame's curves.

The biggest non-surprise came about when Bruce Miller and Irene Ziegler announced Desiree Roots had won best actress in a leading role in a musical because earlier on, the envelope with her name in it had been opened and read by mistake.

"I'm so surprised!" she joked when she got to the podium. Not.

The new theater alliance panel was announced and introduced onstage and while yours truly is a member of that, she didn't get the memo about when to go backstage so was saved the trauma of having to stand up there and face the masses.

On the plus side, overly exuberant artistic director Deejay Gray, sitting directly in front of me, did turn around and start pointing. "She's right here and she looks amazing!" Still better than having to go onstage. Non-actors belong in the audience.

"And now the moment you've all been waiting for!" Georgia, the domestic goddess, called out and began tossing little baggies of bacon out to the audience. I didn't get one originally, but a lovely actress nearby did and turned to me, saying, "I don't eat bacon."

Fortunately, I do and dispensed with that bit of pig flesh in a flash.

Some categories looked like duplicate listings with the same named repeated more than once. Joey Luck was nominated four times for outstanding achievement in sound design and beat out the competition of one other sound guy.

Ditto Jan Powell, nominated for directing both "Equivocation" and "Hamlet," who heard her name called but not the play. Once onstage, she turned to the presenters and looked quizzical. "This is for 'Equivocation,' right?"

Once the final ratcock had been awarded, people began streaming across the street to Graffiato's for the afterparty (coincidentally, also the scene of the pre-party, but with more people) and a chance to revel in wins and put on a brave face for losses.

But most importantly, a chance to cure what ailed our hostess and countless others: Mama did need a drink.

Flying solo, I must have looked like I wanted to talk because several well-lubricated people came up and introduced themselves, a prime opportunity to talk theater with strangers in between catching up with the familiar faces, tipsy and otherwise.

With the ratcock crowd, even mingling at a party is considered making art. Alcohol and drama queens are just part of the process.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fast, Loose and Oh-So Smart

I have discovered the Sunday morning holy grail and it's hash and dope.

The Afrikana Independent Film Fest and Feast RVA were doing a Movies and Mimosas family brunch and screening at Candela Gallery. Ticket in hand, I was practically the first guest to arrive, although it didn't hurt that it was four blocks from home, either.

Somehow, I'd never been to a Feast RVA event, 'though I was well aware of how they worked and their higher purposes (supporting up and coming start-ups). Today there was a Mimosa bar courtesy of Saison and a sumptuous brunch buffet that covered all the important bases.

Finding a good seat was paramount because we'd be watching a movie after brunch, so I staked out a front seat and was soon joined at my table by a fascinating woman who works at Tricycle Gardens and with whom I had loads to talk about.

Of the many things we agreed on, one was that we were both starving, so we made sure to get in line early to get the brunch ball rolling. Returning to the table, her handsome brother - another Tricycle Gardens staffer - joined us and I got to enjoy watching sibling banter after he asked me for some romantic places I liked to hang out in the evening.

No sister could hear that question and not wonder what woman her bro wants to romance, but after that tangent, I brought it back to laughter, which I always find romantic.

Having piled my plate high, I'd chosen from fried chicken from Lee's (if only there had been waffles), an absolutely killer hash of crispy Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onions from Ellwood Thompson's (there was a buzz going around the room about that hash), fried fish and grits from Croaker's Spot, two kinds of quiche (I chose kale) and an assortment of sweet breads, cinnamon rolls and freshly-baked cookies, the latter courtesy of my new friend.

The three of us ate ourselves silly and then it was time for "Dope," a movie I hadn't even heard of, although it was apparently a darling at Sundance and played here briefly this summer.

Ridiculously funny, appealingly smart and with a casual attitude about three black high school geeks in the L.A. suburbs who only want to ace their SATs and move on to college, the movie dished up satire to dispel every black movie cliche.

Riffing on our time, one kids suggests, "How about small batch craft-brewed malt liquor?" How about it?

With the improbable name of Malcolm, complete devotion to '90s-era hip hop music and a flat top, our hero plays in a punk band (hilariously called Oreo) with his geeky friends, studies hard and is a virgin. Cheerfully irreverent, the film doesn't try to teach any hard lessons or point out any inequities, instead portraying a black coming of age story for geeks.

When the drug Molly unexpectedly enter Malcolm's circumscribed world, in his backpack, no less, he deals with the situation just as a smart kid would: with foresight, false bravado and the assurance that he can problem-solve his way out of it.

Humor was pervasive, like when Malcolm's gay buddy Diggy shares that her parents took her to church to "pray away the gay" or he defends his college application's personal statement with, "If Neil Degrasse Tyson was writing about Ice Cube, this is what it would be."

A protracted conversation between white and black characters about the usage of the "n" word was riveting for delving into the various connotations the word has to different people.

I don't know what I found more satisfying about "Dope," the atypical characters (who were undoubtedly more common than the media acknowledge) or the lack of moralizing about the situations they found themselves in. Life happens and you deal with it and hopefully you still get into Harvard.

Post-movie, the crowd had a lively discussion about it, with many people justifying not having seen it at the theater because of a mistaken perception of what "Dope" was about. Some thought it got little attention because it's not a view of blacks that whites want to see (I disagree) and others thought that blacks like to keep great black films like this on the down low.

Personally, all I cared about was that I got to see such an interesting movie on the big screen after stuffing myself silly at brunch and making a couple of new friends. And I really dug the hash.

If it's okay for white people to use the "d" word, I'd call that a pretty dope morning.

Evening as a Work of Art

For better or for worse, I have a tendency to romanticize.

So I can be completely carried away by something as simple as watching what is most likely the last moonflower of 2015 opening on my porch last night. I feel somehow wistful and anticipatory about having to wait another eight months to see one of those big, white blossoms unfurl itself right in front of my eyes.

And smells! It's rare I pass a blooming gardenia or rose bush without stopping to inhale its perfume, which manages to evoke a sense of gentleman callers on soft, summer nights, even though that's obviously never been my experience.

So naturally I am sucked in by an event called "Richmond As a Work of Art," a panel discussion at the Depot on Broad Street, about the city.

Because I absolutely do see this city as a work of art.

Since I'd never been upstairs at the Depot, I was clueless that the exact spot where I was sitting was the point at which the Ashland train would board and unload passengers on the loading platforms on either side. Nor was I aware of the existence of a viaduct that extended from that platform out the back and over Carver to Brook Road.

Truth be told, I find the notion of a train traveling over a neighborhood kind of romantic. You see my problem?

It took a good quarter of an hour for the moderator to get the ball rolling, so I used the time to catch up with an old friend who'd come in just behind me. Finally, we started.

"I'd like to achieve a Republican debate format without the..." the moderator said, trailing off. "Republicans?" my friend joked.

"The hair," Ms. Moderator finished and began the slide show. Explaining that Richmond was built on a grid, she made a case for it being a superior grid to Philadelphia's because ours isn't built around a central point. And then there's the matter of adapting a grid to Richmond's unique terrain.

I give her credit, she'd assembled a terrific panel: Bill Martin of the Valentine, mural artist Ed Trask, architecture critic Ed Slipek, architect Burt Pinnock of Baskerville and, perhaps most surprisingly, Dimitra Tsachrelia, an associate of the NYC firm that's designing the Institute for Contemporary Art a few blocks away.

After Ed Trask made a plea for bringing the viaduct back, Bill harshed his mellow by insisting that we not romanticize the building we were in. The front doors to this very building, he told us, had once been labeled "Whites" and "Coloreds," hardly a romantic memory.

Dimitra, whose honeyed Greek-accented voice had everyone leaning in to hear her pearls of architectural wisdom, had done her homework, learning that on the site of the ICA once stood a train station. She made an analogy about the new building welcoming arrivals just as the old one had.

From Burt, we heard about the renovations of the old armory into the Black History Museum, a project just a few blocks from my house. He also spoke passionately about developing a memorial at the Lumpkin's jail site, preferably a raised pavilion (100 year flood plain and all) that allows sight lines to the ongoing archaeological dig.

Mostly, they all discussed the aspirational nature of building for the future, even when you're building to memorialize people and events of the past and what a lengthy process that's traditionally been. Bill pointed out that it's always the elite few who decide what buildings will look like, not a consensus of citizens.

News to me: the main library is a building wrapped around the original building, a feat praised by the moderator, and one of which I'd been completely unaware. Not that long ago, a friend had lamented the loss of the beautiful Art Deco library when the new one was built in the '70s, and now I wonder if she knows that her beloved library lives on inside those dated-looking walls.

Kind of romantic, right, that older library just inside a newer facade? Or hearing about the city's buildings while sitting on a former train platform, looking out enormous windows where a viaduct once soared over houses?

Okay, maybe it's just me.

Black Iris was hosting Play/Things, a performance by Leslie Rogers and Nelly Kate, pulling from the gallery installation based on their cross country trip this summer, which I'd seen a few weeks ago.

The only problem? The invitation asked that we "joyously abandon romantic notions of journey and catharsis." What? Give up my notions?

Instead, we were asked to revel in the unearthing and production of art, life and mischief, aka performance art, with Nelly doing music for Leslie.

Words can't adequately convey the ruminations on the 9,000-mile journey the two women took, but let's just say it involved apologies - for potholes, for butt holes, for Santa and Santana - from behind an American flag with six silver stars, commentary about older men ogling the two of them showering outside in St. Augustine and the saga of a farmer and closet quilter, a man who took credit for many quilting practices even though he hadn't really conceived of them.

At one point, Leslie went behind a quilt she'd made in a workshop at a Nebraska museum and stripped off her clothes, replacing them with a body stocking complete with penis, a cop jacket and hat and making remarks about police policy ("Did you get your feelings hurt? Shoot. Did they get up again? Shoot." Scary, all of it.).

The piece ended with that character laying down on the map of the U.S. and pulling the American flag up over her. She laid there so long the audience wasn't sure whether to clap or not. Was the performance over? We'll never know because Black Iris started the applause and then people got up to leave.

What can you do after having your mind stimulated with musings on consumerism, feminism and nationalism but seek out food, wine and conversation? Some things call out to be shared.

The first thing I found on arriving in Carytown was a 12-piece brass band playing in front of Mongrel to an enthusiastic crowd. The band members looked young but their sound was fully formed and before long, people were dancing and applauding on the sidewalk.

I found what I was looking for at Curry Craft where I also stumbled into a favorite couple I'd not seen in months. Guilt was induced, hugs were offered and we were soon making plans for lunch and soft openings.

Sipping a Rose made from the mencia grape, I dug into pondicherry escargots, a fantastic hybrid of French and Indian featuring escargots made irresistible with pondi spices and tamarind peanut ketchup, sopping up the ketchup with garlic naan smeared with goat cheese.

It was fusion of the very best kind, enjoyed to a pulsing Bollywood beat and with friends and chef to talk to. I lost them early to the ravages of their last night's 3 a.m. bedtime (amateurs!) but made friends with a Russian (made all the more surprising because the girlfriend who'd just left was from Ukraine) and a girl who invited me to join her for a drink at Portrait House (her boyfriend having gone home tipsy to spoon with the dog).

Fortunately, they left me an excellent conversationalist with whom I could sip Rose, discuss offal and timid diners and finish out my night laughing.

I'm not romanticizing it, but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Choose Your Adjectives Carefully

Guys like treble. Girls like bass. It must be true because I heard it on public radio.

An early Christmas present means I now own a pair of sky-high black suede platform shoes with feathers on the outside and leopard print inside, appropriately made by Bettie Page Shoes. It's a thrill to be so tall.

Sometimes I need to keep my thoughts to myself. Spying a neighbor sporting a big, puffy jacket in today's 75-degree weather, I crack wise. "A jacket, really?" and he responds soberly, "I'm allergic to the sun."  Awkward.

At the Rogue Gentlemen for dinner, Michael Jackson's "PYT" playing, my compadre and I meet a 25-year old celebrating her birthday.

Waiting for her friend to arrive, we begin filling in the Mad-Lib book, which also doubles as the cocktail list, in front of us. She is young, so her word choices are meant to show off her vocabulary (oscillating, expository) whereas my friend and I know how much funnier Mad-Libs are with raunch (spits, bends, lubricates).

Although practically strangers, we read them to each other to great effect until the food arrives.

Buttermilk-brined country-fried popcorn chicken sports a swipe of barbecue sauce with a serious kick, offset by pickle relish. I might take issue with that "country-fried" part, though.

My companion is dismayed when her Painted Hills strip steak arrives as a series of medallions and accompanied by too few butterbeans (are there ever enough butterbeans, really?), although we both get off on the toothsome baby carrots and red bliss potatoes.

The birthday girl's friend arrives and they order matching drinks and then pass one over to us to sniff, as if we're some sort of experts.

"It smells like an old book," she says, although my date finds it closer to Mercurochrome, a tincture this 25-year old has never even heard of. Given that, it's probably better that she missed our discussion of Madge Wildwood ("Timber!") in the party scene at "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The way I figure it, my little apartment is an ideal place to replicate that iconic, overstuffed party, something that's been a goal of mine for several years now. And I bought a fabulous cocktail dress today that would be perfect for hostessing (and by hostessing, I mean offering up my abode for the revelry, nothing more), maybe even with those cute new shoes.

First I'll need a liquor store that delivers.

Laughs came courtesy of "Richmond Famous" at the Comedy Coalition Theater, where the guest of honor was Maat Free who told stories from her life and then let the improv troupe destroy them.

From Maat and the resulting hilarity, we gleaned several things.

Normal is boring, but it's accepted by society. Some people's biggest problem is missing their shows.

The reason so many chairs were unoccupied, Maat said, was because her friends weren't yet there. "It's because of CPT," she said. "Look it up in the Urban Dictionary when you get home." Did. It means colored people's time and the stereotype that they're usually late.

You see how educational "Richmond Famous" can be?

Also, gentlemen, don't piss off Maat Free. She has decked three different men - whom she refers to as "testosterits" - for various infractions, including a boyfriend for not washing the wok after making pork before preparing her vegan string beans. Another went down for looking at her across a crowded room.

I'd need far more serious infractions to attempt decking a man, I think.

And in a first for "Richmond Famous," the evening ended with a lecture about the difference in being called a slave (defining a person) and referring to them as enslaved (a reference to their condition). When everyone agrees with that distinction by a show of hands, she asks us all to make a fist with that raised hand, making for a rather cool moment in a crowd that was probably 85% white.

"In Richmond, yes!" she exclaims, clearly delighted at the show of solidarity.

It was a beautiful thing to witness: bass and treble united in their beliefs at RCC tonight. Of course, everyone knows it really is all about the bass.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Consigned to History

That time a man you've just met tells you he's expecting you to dance "for us" once the music starts and offers four reasons why. I don't, but that's not the point.

Which could only happen when you go solo to a Tom Smith show - their first playing out together - at Balliceaux. The Tom in question is Waites and the Smith is the Smiths and the hat-wearing, gravel-voiced singer says they were shooting for a weird combination. Done.

Upright bass, acoustic guitar, sax and drums. Heard? "This Charming Man" to "Downtown Train" to "Girlfriend in a Coma" with a whole lot of Tom Waites songs I didn't know in between.

Which only came after I'd arrived outside and been asked for ID by a guy who referred to me as "young lady." After guaranteeing me that he was older, we shook on a bet.The stakes: good will.

Don't bet me on age because I'll almost always win. What follows is wildly complimentary and leads to a discussion of DNA versus lifestyle, and his belief in the power of being happy. Of course he's a musician and perfectly charming.

But I don't get to him until I finish with the play "Peter and the Starcatcher," a sort of prequel to "Peter Pan" produced by Virginia Rep at the November Theater.

There's Scott Wichmann  playing a pirate named Black Stache (or Nancy, if you ask his crew) in a thick black mustache and curly black wig that make him a ringer for John Oates circa 1984.

Combining wordplay, modern references ("Please, is there a vegetarian option?" when an orphan is given a bucket of worms to eat, or "It's the Cadillac Escalade of dilemmas!") and actors as part of the set, it's a madcap romp through Peter's back story, complete with an effeminate pirate, a food-obsessed orphan and the man born to play a woman - Robert Throckmorton - as the besotted Nanny.

It's a damn clever take on how Peter Pan ended up so messed up and the patron saint of non-committal men boys.

But before we got to Peter Pan Syndrome, Maple and Pine at Quirk beckoned with Prosecco, Virginia pork rilettes (meh) and oxtail egg rolls (more, sir) perched at one of the overly-small bar tables with the uncomfortable pedestal bottoms.

Which was only possible after Pru came straight from work to my house in order to primp and powder here before starting out for dinner and a play.

Just two girlfriends sitting at the dining table by a sunny open window while one puts on make-up and brings the other up to date and Pet Shop Boys' "Discography" blasts through the warm, late afternoon air of the wide-open apartment.

And that only happens after driving to Middlesex County for lunch with strangers to talk oysters and reefs, music blasting the entire way.

Especially satisfying on such a perfect, warm October afternoon is Del Amitri's 1992 "Change Everything" record on repeat. I'm a sucker for a Scottish band, much less one where the lead singer is nothing more than an '80s poet, a Romeo in black jeans with a jangley guitar.

Listening as I drive back, I hear for the 748th time how his choice of words, his phrasing and his brooding Scottish soul conspire to make me love every lyric and note of this album. Few can do yearning, heartache and drinking songs like the Scots. And precipitation.

Under seasick skies
I pick up the paper in the useless decent of the rain
With your standard-issue broken heart
Hopelessly honeymoon-bound
Another hour without you is consigned to history

Every line evocative, every line from a different song. Combined, just because it's a leisurely drive and I have time to let the words linger in my head.

It's that standard issue broken heart that changes everything, isn't it? Luckily, I'm way ahead on good will.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads

That moment when we realized that as of tomorrow, "Back to the Future" will be a movie about the past.

Jeez Louise, that 30 years slipped by quickly. Now, don't get the wrong idea. It's not like I'm some big "Back to the Future" fan. I saw it once when it came out in 1985 and that was plenty. Never saw either sequel.

Which raises the question of why I would choose to spend Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - the date of the action in "Back to the Future II" watching the original. Why, indeed?

Because all three were showing at the drive-in!

Not to sound like a dinosaur, but the last time I went to the drive-in, it was with my parents in a station wagon, my sisters and I were all wearing our pajamas and you had to hook a speaker to the window of the car to hear the movie.

Are you kidding? I'd been dying to go to the Goochland Drive-in since I first heard that there was a drive-in within a (more or less) reasonable driving distance. Here was my opportunity.

After feeding my hired mouth, my fellow movie fan and I headed westward ho to join the throngs in front of the colossal screen facing a parking lot. Because we were in a car and not an SUV or truck, we got to park in the front rows, where some people were setting up chairs in front of their cars. In the back, truck beds were full of family members in chairs and under blankets.

Not us. The whole point, to me anyway, was watching a movie in my car, albeit not in my pajamas. We moved our seats back, reclined the seat backs and got as comfy as if we were in Barco-loungers on wheels. Tuning in to the radio station for the drive-in, I unexpectedly heard Casey Kasem doing his top 40 show. Wait, this man is dead, right?

Dead or not, they were playing a show from '78 or '79 because Casey mentioned the new Barry Manilow album "Even Now" and played the treacly "Can't Smile Without You," saying it was up to number 17 on the chart. Some things are better left forgotten.

We strolled the grounds before the movie began, inspecting the DeLorean parked near the snack shack (license plate: TIMELSS) and talking about the likelihood of seeing any familiar faces (not a one). Good thing we'd eaten because the lines at the snack bar stretched into the parking lot.

Just after the half moon rose in the sky, the announcer (sounding a lot like the guy we'd paid to get in) came on and welcomed the regulars and the new faces and mentioned that it was Joe's 15th birthday. Immediately, horns began honking because this is apparently what you do at the drive-in.

Promising us 13 minutes of "bonus material," the show began with a vintage cartoon about concessions, complete with drawings of cups of soda, twinkling with carbonation. Ooh, effervescence.

That was followed by a cartoon with an evil, mustachioed villain stealing a  girl and taking her to the sawmill to cut in half, but luckily the Dudley Do-Right hero managed to save her after getting assistance from an embarrassing caricature of a native American ("How!").

Both of these came across as pure '60s, but from there, it was all about 1985.

There was an old commercial for the first Sony Walkman, advertised as "the size of a cassette!" We saw a Michael J. Fox Pepsi ad and a Clearasil ad with two pimply teen-aged girls lamenting their skin and their social life.

A commercial for Calvin Klein jeans featured Brooke Shields saying that she when she had  money, she bought CK jeans and if she had a little left over, she paid rent. Little did I remember then that Calvin Klein was mentioned in the movie because Marty McFly wears CK underwear.

We got to see the full video for Madonna's "Material Girl," in all its Marilyn Monroe-aping splendor. Keith Carradine, who remembered he was in it?

I kid you not, we saw an ad for DeLorean and another for the new Jeep, a steal at $6765. We saw yet another ad with Michael J. Fox, this one for Diet Pepsi and featuring a lot of billowing smoke and rain-slicked roads.

Finally, we got down to brass tacks and the drive-in's cardinal rules appeared on the screen.

Don't forget:

Dream big
Cherish friends and family
Visit our snack bar - nothing over $3.75!

My guess is they're okay with you forgetting the first two, but not that last one. And in a bid to seem very 2015, they also carry gluten-free items (although they go as high as $6, so fair warning), about the last thing I'd expect at a drive-in.

So, wow, "Back to the Future." First off, I remembered almost nothing about the particulars of the film, certainly not that Crispin Glover was in it. It's not like it was ever high art, for goodness' sake, it was a Robert Zemeckis film.

Plenty of establishing '80s details: references to Reagan, big hair, skateboarding, loud guitars, but also lots of what would be considered politically incorrect now: calling black characters "spooks," relentless bullying, a near-rape scene in a car.

Christopher Lloyd's character Dr. Brown had most of the best lines - "Look! There's a rhythmic ceremonial ritual coming up!" referring to a school dance or "No wonder your president has to be an actor. He's gotta look good on television" - and, by far, the best hair.

I'd like to say I stayed for all three movies, but why would I? A 1989 version of what 2015 would be like couldn't possibly be any better represented than a 1985 version of what 1955 (see: references to "reefer addicts") was like and I prefer to dream bigger (as instructed).

Because time is in flux and all of a sudden, the future is today. The good news is, I spent it at a drive-in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Just a June Cleaver

I probably don't come across like the apron type. Tonight I was.

Actually, the evening began, as so many good ones do, with music. In a park. Just before sunset. It featured a piano brought over from Jackson Ward.

And lots of friends. Mr. Mount Vernon, in town to do radio, immediately calls my name. The resident ballet expert, worn out. The harmonium queen, sharing how she'd finagled permission to sing in a VMFA Hindu gallery. Senor Songwriting, watching intently. The dance party king was only spotted from a distance, constantly busy taking photographs with his camera.

The piano was delivered to the enclosed grassy park and Chris Dowhan, in a seasonal blue plaid shirt, was introduced. As he began playing, the birds in the trees around us took up a cheeping chorus. "That song was by Josh Ritter. Anyone know who he is? It's called 'Another New World."

From there on, it was all original material and eventually crickets replace birds as the accompanists. He told us that a friend was supposed to play with him but he'd dropped out at the last minute. "So here we are."

Even after admitting he was getting cold, he played one last piece before the crowd of 3 or 4 dozen broke up, wandering off into the fall night. These shows always end just after nightfall; it's planned that way.

Which conveniently allowed time for me to join friends for dinner.

I'd been invited for fried chicken night and, despite having had fried chicken 48 hours ago, was looking forward to more. My host had begun buttermilk- brining the chicken last night in anticipation of our dinner party, having chosen the recipe because it appeared in both Martha Stewart and the Times-Dispatch, which, I might point out, could almost be considered an axis of evil.

Having had cooking dinner parties with these two before, I know what my role is. I corral the troops, assign jobs and coordinate to make sure everything is coming along simultaneously. It's not tough because I was born to boss.

In no time, I'm handed a glass of Cote des Roses and pointed in the direction of the recipe clipping attached to a standing book. Simple enough, but I am not dressed for frying chicken, even if my dress is a $3 thrift store find.

When I grab a dish towel (we grew up calling them "tea towels") to tuck into the shoulders of my dress to protect it, I wish for an apron. Voila! The host is soon tying one around my waist and not just a yellow, red and black beauty, but an apron made from a Siegel's Ham that came out of the trunk of a car.*

*He recalls his family driving to meet a man on Christmas Day and the man taking a Siegel's ham out of the trunk to give to his Dad. "My mother used every scrap of that ham and bone," he brags, 50 years later. "And she made an apron out of the bag!"

It may as well be the Eisenhower years again, with this perky little apron tied in a bow over my polka dot dress. Mamie would be proud.

I'm ready to work.

Coating is combined, chicken parts are dredged and oil is heated. I'm reminded of the years my Richmond grandmother lived with us and our frequent Sunday dinners of fried chicken. She would wait 'till everyone had had breakfast and then begin the lengthy process of frying enough chicken for nine people.

That was me tonight, without the weekly practice. But it's not that different from riding a bike once you get back in the rhythm of it. Or - dare I say it? - maybe the right apron provides the juju.

While the host begins the frying, he is soon over it, handing off utensils and placing me in full command.

You can be sure many jokes were cracked about the last time I fried chicken (don't have to), along with a desire to photograph the spectacle (didn't happen). But the chicken got fried.

The music was every bit as good as the meal because I discovered Bob Moses, described by my host as sounding like "Talk Talk meets Bryan Ferry" and instantly fell in love with the sound. Smoky vocals, lots of guitars and a thumping dance beat bore his assessment out nicely.

After it ended the first time, I made him play the album again. Full of influences that I listened to the first time around and neatly re-packaged in 2015 by young musicians, it's everything I like about new music. And fabulous dinner music.

We gorged on fried chicken, Mrs. Marshall's potato salad (they're both native Richmonders), rolls and an endless salad bowl of spring greens, an obscene amount of red onions, apples, craisins, spiced nuts and Feta, patting ourselves on the back for different reasons.

Post savory course, we drift apart. While two of us are drooling over an oozing chocolate cake, we call to the third, asking what he's doing while we do dessert. From the other room, we hear a timid, "I'm not sure," sending us into a laugh attack while not letting up on the chocolate for a moment.

Reuniting to listen to records, I got a lecture on why Daniel Craig makes such a fine Bond (they've already got a date for opening day). I was introduced to Joe Williams' album "A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry" from 1958, finding that his voice reminds me of Johnny Hartman's.

From 1972, he played the Incredible String Band ("They exploded after Woodstock," he tells me, ever the rock historian) and hear the roots of chamber folk. I crack up when I hear that the singers' names are Rose and Licorice. I'm sorry, these names are too groovy for words circa 1972.

Because my host has recently done a thorough alphabetizing of his collection, he's stumbled on some gems he's not played in decades.

One is "Roots of British Rock" from 1975 featuring an assortment of bands doing their damnedest to sound American. It's almost eerie how un-British they sound. A song called "Apache" sounds about like what you'd expect a cliched interpretation of an Indian name to sound like, but when an American band covered it, they added the sound of rifle shots and it was a big hit.

How like us to add violence and sensationalize an otherwise corny song.

Even better is "In the Beginning," a compilation of big-name artists - Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstsadt, Billy Joel, Steve Miller, David Bowie - in unknown bands before they were big. It was incredibly cool hearing these people long before they made it and had a definable sound.

It's like seeing a home movie of a friend as a child when you've only known them as an adult. Ohhhh, so that's where you came from. You hear the seeds of their sound but also so much unsure youth as they try to figure out who they are and what their sound is.

The musical one refers to the other two of us as tone deaf (which is likely true) and likes to show off his superior music knowledge whenever possible. Tonight it's on this album because it features Brinsley Schwarz, an English guitarist who got famous playing with Graham Parker (whose music I do know fairly well).

He tells us he can't play certain songs because (and here it gets loud), "You can't handle Brinsley Schwarz!" like he's Jack Nicholson. As it turns out, we can.

If I can handle frying chicken in an apron to an electronic pop soundtrack, I can pretty much handle anything. Give me a crack at a Siegel's ham from a trunk and just watch me go.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Journey's End

You can't overstate the pleasures of a well-executed Monday during Restaurant Week.

Goodness knows, it's not that I'm antisocial, but why would I put myself into that madness when I don't have to? With a little judicious planning, I can be in all the uncrowded places over the course of one evening and never even have to deal with all that.

Like Sabai, where the the music was pure funk, the vino verde was well-priced and only four tables were occupied, one with a trombonist and his yoga partner for life. It was a far cry from the madness of summer the last few times I was there.

Or like Dinamo. where only a few tables supported customers and the rest sat awaiting an influx of the hungry. The surprise was on me when I felt a tap on my shoulder and all of a sudden, it was 2004 again. Standing next to me was a woman who worked for me as an editor in another lifetime.

When I inquired if she still lived in Woodlake, she grinned and responded, "No, we moved to Brandermill. Less traffic." I wanted to laugh but I wasn't sure if she meant it. On the other hand, she's doing the social work she'd always wanted to, and that's admirable.

My date had shown up with stories of small town shady dealings and on-demand loans, but they took a back seat to Dinamo's iconic white pizza, a beet and fennel salad I could eat almost every day, plus taglietelle with Gogonzola, pancetta and radicchio, all eaten while admiring the miniature menorah on the shelf behind the bar.

During the two hours we took to chow down and discuss life, customers straggled in - the stylish older couple, the six-top with the woman whose voice could carry through a brick wall, and the overly loud Middle eastern man, whose foreign language patter was interrupted with the words "roast chicken."

I'm fascinated by how certain words are said in English, no matter the language being spoken (see: X-ray, refrigerator, Technicolor).

But, all in all, it was the least crowded I'd ever seen Dinamo and it was delightful to enjoy a meal without the madding crowds closing in around me. Restaurant Week, you were not missed.

The meal ended richly with a Nutella and hazelnut cookie to accompany a dish of caramel sea salt gelato (imagine butter pecan without the nuts) whilst discussing appealing destinations for winter vacations. Argentina? Belize? Somewhere else in the Caribbean?

I'm absolutely agog to think that Christmas is barely two months away and 2016 looms right behind it. May I be the first to say that 2015 passed in the blink of an eye.

Walking towards the door to leave, a friend spotted me and, without hesitation, asked where the music was tonight. As if I'm in charge of knowing what's playing where. Okay, I did know and we were on our way to hear some.

When I told him it was sibling country music, so I wasn't sure if he'd like it, his response was, "I'm from North Carolina. I grew up listening to country." Given his honey-coated southern drawl I bet he did.

The final uncrowded stop of the night was the Camel, a place I hadn't been in ages, despite its proximity to home.

We managed to make it there in time to hear BTW - also known as Ben Willson - singing and playing keys. He's been a long time favorite of mine and his closing cover of "Hallelujah" was gorgeous with its breathy vocals and weighted lyrics.

Meanwhile, my date thought he recognized Ben and he did - I'd taken him to see We Know, Plato! one of Ben's early band projects, years ago. Ain't it funny how time slips away?

Up second was singer/guitarist Jon Brown (and his body) playing the earnest songs he's known for in Horsehead.

I gave him major points when he shamed a couple of loud talkers during his set. "Can you just stop talking?' he asked rhetorically. They didn't. The shame was that one of the talkers was someone he knew. Some people are just raised by wolves, that's the only explanation for their bad behavior.

Tonight's headliner was The Cains from Alabama, a quintet of two blond sisters and a brother in a trucker hat, plus a crack guitarist and rock steady drummer.

No, I'm not usually much into country music, but I'm the first to admit I'm a sucker for sibling harmonizing.

They were only a few songs in when lead singer Taylor commented about the frog in her throat and apologized for not being able to make the notes in a song. She put lead vocal duties on her brother Logan, while they also adjusted the set list to include more covers and avoid the high notes of their new record, "The Cains."

From "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to "Landslide," they managed to harmonize well enough to distract us from the relatively few new songs they were doing, "Smoke on the Hill" being an exception. The ubiquitous "Shut Up and Dance with Me" got a half dozen energetic women on the dance floor because, well, shut up and dance with me.

When Taylor mentioned that they were just back from a tour of the UK, "Which was great, but we're happy to be back here in America," sister Madison raised a fist overhead in solidarity. I bet two blond sisters singing country - their first album was produced in Muscle Shoals, their second in Nashville - were mighty popular across the pond.

Despite regular apologies for the cracks in Taylor's voice and the altered set list, they really sounded quite good once they got going, a fact borne out by listening to their music now that I'm home.

I know because one of the benefits of going to an uncrowded show is that the band members come around to talk to everyone in the crowd afterwards and give out their CDs. Both of them.

An uncrowded show and party favors. Hallelujah.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Gems from the Jitney

Good vibes carried me into a Sunday evening.

When I walked into Saison for dinner, there was a friend I hadn't seen in months but who'd apparently been thinking about me earlier this week. He'd tuned in to the blog to see what I'd been up to and it made him want to see me.

Wishing had apparently made it so.

We took so long catching up that by the time I got to the bar and ordered my quarter chicken, the bartender told me it would be a while because an order for four whole chickens had just gone in, so the fryer was full.

It was well-timed news after all, because a guy walked in, sat down in the stool next to me and began chatting like we were old friends. It was his first time at fried chicken night and he was unsure about all of it, but finally put on his big boy pants and ordered a half chicken.

Minutes later, he looks at me and asks, "What do you wager I can't finish a half chicken?" Are you kidding? You're a grown ass man, of course you can finish half a chicken, I assure him. When he sees my quarter chicken delivered, he feels more confident about his order.

When it arrives, the bartender asks if he wants another cocktail. Gesturing at my Mexican Coke, he says, "She's got the right idea. I'll have one of those."

As we eat together, I learn that he's a restaurant worker, leading us down the rabbit hole of the nature of the hospitality industry and those inhospitable people who have no business in it (he works with a few). He obviously loves it, with an eye on opening his own place someday.

When I comment about what an appropriate Sunday supper fried chicken is, he looks at me askance. "Maybe here, but not in my family," he announces. "My family's from Maryland, Italian Catholics, and we always have lasagna for Sunday dinner."

Next, as if the dish is foreign to me, he explains the arduous and multi-hour process of lasagna making - "...and then there's the bechamel..." - and how anyone who thinks ground beef belongs in lasagna has a screw loose. These are things he clearly feels strongly about.

Saison's chicken, as usual, shatters into crispy bits with every bite of the moist meat and this week's sides are classically southern: braised greens and a biscuit with sorghum butter, all of which which beats pasta any day in my book. Don't talk to me about lasagna when I've got fried yard bird in hand.

We chat so long I have to suddenly pay and leave when I realize my play starts in ten minutes. It's only at this point that we finally introduce ourselves and he insists that I come by the restaurant where he works for more conversation and, he assures me, an excellent meal by their new chef.

Will do.

Then it's on to the Basement for the second night in a row, except this time it's for a one-night performance of "Blacklist: August Wilson," a night devoted to spotlighting the works of this most significant black playwright.

Since it was general admission, I found a single seat, conveniently located next to a talkative guy who turned out to be a park ranger by day and a playwright by night. Considering I'd spent an hour listening to a park ranger earlier today - and everyone knows Mike Gorman - it was like we had multiple things in common from the get-go.

Where he far surpassed me was in his August Wilson scholarship, having read most of them and already certain that "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" was his favorite. I'm not completely Wilson illiterate because I recognized the names of three of the plays, although I'd never seen one produced. I wasn't proud of that.

Introduced by Mary Shaw, who along with Carolyn Meade had conceived of and created the event, she made a point of saying, "There were murmurs around town that if you do this kind of work, people won't come. Thank you."

The beauty of it was that she was saying it to a full house.

A group of twenty talented black actors had come together to learn scenes from Wilson's "Century Cycle," a group of ten plays, one for each decade of the 20th century black experience, with musical segues featuring music from the appropriate decade before each scene.

Not knowing the plays, I could  glean a little from the monologues and scenes we saw, and the benefit of this was that it was all about the acting. And, holy cow, what acting!

So many times tonight, I found myself dazzled by an actor I'd never seen before. Scenery was chewed by talent I'd never so much as heard of and I'm a regular theater-goer. If there are this many extremely talented black actors in this town, shouldn't more of them be cast more often?

I got a kick out of one scene from "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" because it involved a fried chicken dinner ("Now, my Mom, she could fry some chicken!") like the one I'd just enjoyed, but "The Piano Lesson" told a heartbreaking story of a piano traded for a slave and a half, a horrific concept.

It wasn't surprising to read that "Fences" had won the Pulitzer and a Tony because the scenes we saw were electrifying (Father to son, "Liking your black ass wasn't part of the bargain").

The audience responded to the stories within the scenes viscerally and loudly. When a wife finds out her husband has cheated on her, she says, "Where was "we" when you was rolling around with some god-forsaken woman?" or, "You're not the only one with wants and needs," and a spontaneous chorus of "Mmm-hmm" and "That's right" went up from the people in the seats around me.

"Two Trains Running" appealed to me because it dealt with the '60s, the height of black power, and the different reactions blacks had to the changing social climate, but, honestly, I'd happily see any one of these ten plays produced in full.

Do you know the last time I saw an all-black cast in a play? This will date me, but it was when TheatreVirginia did an all-black casting of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." And while it was a fascinating thing to experience, it's not the same as seeing parts written for blacks by a black playwright.

As I told one of my favorite artistic directors tonight, Richmond has a terrific theater scene but the casting could better represent the city's demographics. He heartily agreed. Tonight's performance proved that we have more than enough talent to do that.

Seems like it's about time to do the right thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

An Afternoon of Woe

I sold Eliza down the river for history and tragedy.

It wasn't that I didn't want to see the 50th anniversary restored print of "My Fair Lady," I did, but I couldn't justify passing up the funniest park ranger ever or an abridged teenage love story for it.

And, just for the record, I did see a movie (several, actually), improbably enough of the Civil War.

Ranger Mike Gorman - one part photography geek, one part dedicated historian and one part stand-up comedian - was giving a talk and slide show entitled "Richmond, 1865." If, like me, you'd attended "Richmond, 1864," you knew there was no funnier or more informative way to spend an hour without alcohol.

What I love about his presentations is that he does all the work while the audience reaps all the fascinating results.

Leading us on a virtual tour of the city using photographs, he zooms in, blows up and points out minute details an amateur like me would never notice otherwise.

So he's showing us a picture of the laboratory buildings on Belle Isle (and by laboratory, he means girls and women stuffing gun powder in things to be shot) and then zooms in on the far distance where we can clearly see Monroe's tomb in Hollywood Cemetery a mile away.

Like a twisted scientist, he says thing like, "Look, I'll blow that up again. Because I can," and then gives an evil chuckle. Hilarious. Or, about staging photographs back then, "They faked a shot? Of course they did!"

But I also learn so much at his talks, like when he showed us the Gallego flour mills, the largest in the world at the time, and shares that they were 15 stories high in an era when reinforced steel was unknown. Or a photograph of Union graves on Belle Isle when I'd had no clue that had ever been the case.

It wouldn't be a Gorman talk without the picture of NDH - that's "nasty, dead horse" for Gorman virgins - floating in the canal, which he turns into a "movie" by combining it with another view of NDH.

Shots of Lee once he returned to Richmond were taken behind his house on the day Lincoln died and intended to send a message that the war was over.Time to move on, rebels.

One seated shot exposed what Gorman called a "big male no-no," white socks with black shoes. Scratched on the negative was "do not use" because fashion faux pas don't become a losing general apparently. Showing a detail of a standing shot, he showed us graffiti on Lee's house: the word "devil" scratched on a brick behind him.

See? Richmond's tagging problem can't be blamed on VCU students. It goes back to the Civil War.

The presentation ended on a particularly amusing shot of ships in the river, which, once he blew up a detail, showed a man standing naked in the water. "Expose yourself to history," Mike had written across the man's twigs and berries.

With pleasure, as long as it's history cheerleader Mike Gorman doing the exposing.

My exposure to literature, which followed, wasn't nearly as amusing, but it was awfully succinct.

Quill Theater had invited the public to come watch their final dress rehearsal of their 55-minute, six actor touring production of "Romeo and Juliet" at Shafer Street Playhouse.

I don't think I could have invented a good enough reason not to watch love's heavy burden sink a couple of teenagers.

Bonus: I can't help but appreciate a production of "Romeo and Juliet" where the actors playing the leads seem young enough to be believable.

And it never hurts a tragedy to have its light moments courtesy of John Mincks playing a woman, in this case, Juliet's nurse (the cap alone was pure gold). Or, especially for middle and high school audiences, the superb diction of someone like David Janosik or Audra Honaker playing so many roles and making the language accessible to all.

Although I'm far from the target audience for this kind of production - feel free to use every last word of Shakespeare's text and I promise I won't get bored if it's well acted - it was fun watching the classic story unfold in record time.

"The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged" aside, the only briefer Shakespeare I ever saw was an acting class' ten-minute version of "Hamlet" that had the audience in hysterics when the Queen said, "I am poisoned," and tossed her cup to the floor pronto.

But today's "Romeo and Juliet" did accomplish one lovely thing and that was deliver nearly an hour of talented actors reciting some of the most romantic lines in the English language.

Oh, she teaches the torches to burn bright.

And no amount of dancing all night can compare to that.

This Way to Love and Happiness

Ah, the pleasures of a space transformed.

The first was the new Quirk Hotel, and while I'd walked by countless time since it opened (hello, bike race), I'd yet to go inside, which meant I hadn't anticipated the two doormen in their flowered pink ties greeting me. Beards seemed to be everywhere.

Going inside the pink, gray and glass room required the minutest mental shift - oh, right, we're in a hotel now - before heading back to place ourselves in the capable hands of the host of Maple & Pine.  We landed at a center table, Pru and Beau at one of the curved banquettes and me facing them with a splendid view of the Jefferson Street hill.

Our server was generous sharing his time with us so I used the opportunity to get his story, unexpectedly tickled to learn that he grew up in Cumberland County, where his grandmother still lives and knows everyone and every scrap of history. When I told him my grandmother had been born and raised there as well, he assured me they had to have known each other's families, because that's just how small Cumberland County was. And is, apparently.

When Beau complimented his bow-tie, the former country boy explained that the staff has a choice of bow-tie or regular tie, with some people choosing the latter so they don't have to bother learning how to tie a bow-tie (clip-ons are forbidden).

I'd have thought think quirky types would appreciate a good challenge.

We began with a Bordeaux blend because Fall. Color me cold at this drastic turn in the weather because I was not ready for 40-degree temperatures yet, much less the mid-30s expected tonight. If one more person chirps about how much they love Fall, I may personally tighten their trendy scarf for them.

The beauty of it being the first time for all three of us at M & P was that it made it easy to order. Basically, we asked for everything on the small plates menu except for the ramen. When our server said the scallop plate was small, we said fine, bring two then.

If tonight's meal was any indication, there are some exquisite bites to be had mere blocks from my house.

Chestnut soup with bacon and croutons almost lost out because I was put off by croutons being misspelled as crouton's. Let us all witness the failure of the American school system in the first line of this menu. Call me petty, call me a word geek, but it's not that hard to have someone proofread your menu to save you from inappropriate apostrophes and other menu abominations.

That the soup was a symphony of complementary Fall flavors only mildly assuaged my longing for summer, but you'd never know it for how quickly it was devoured.

Marinated vegetables with sourdough and brown butter was the first item to catch my eye and it took exactly one bite to prove my instinct correct. The preserved orange mousse under duck breast prosciutto was glorious, seriously tempting me to lick the plate (I settled for the fork).

Glossy slices of diver scallop (thank you Jean-Louis Palladin) crudo took on heat from curry, but neither Pru nor Beau are as big a fan of uncooked seafood as I am, so neither liked the dish as much as me. As Holmes' Dad used to say about blueberry pie, "Don't like it? Fine, more for me."

What we were in complete agreement over was smoked pork pate with BBQ Dijonnaise and tiny fried pickles (we're talking a delicate tempura batter, not those buried-in-breading versions that obliterate all sense of a brined vegetable inside), which took a French staple and introduced it to the American south, the smokiness of the pig perfectly attuned to the hints of barbecue sauce

Let's put it this way: before we'd finished the first plate of pate, we ordered it a second time.

We were struck by the number of dogs who led their owners through the lobby and restaurant during our meal, amused by the signs pointing downstairs to "Love, Happiness, Conference Rooms, Restrooms" and charmed enough by the room's vibe and the succession of first-rate food to know we'd be back soon.

But before we left, there was dessert to be had and for my companions, Blanchard's coffee served in brilliantly-conceived coffee cups that were fitted into deep-holed saucers to eliminate spillage. I'd like to shake the hand of the genius who conceived of this long-overdue concept and I don't even drink the stuff.

Hearkening back to my childhood was warm pineapple upside down cake (thankfully sans the unnaturally bright maraschino cherries of my youth), although never so elevated as this version, served with bourbon ice cream. For the requisite chocolate course, we had chocolate espresso mousse with roasted hazelnuts on top, good, but not as dark a chocolate as this chocoholic would have wished.

Of the more ridiculous topics covered was what name I should use for myself in this blog. While Karen has worked rather well for the past six years, Beau sought an alias comparable to his and Pru's.

"How about Candy?" Pru interjected nonsensically. Not in this lifetime, but the suggestion did made me laugh.

Happily replete and with a curtain to catch, we soon left for the nearby Basement and Quill Theater's production of David Mamet's "American Buffalo."

Here again, we were walking into a transformed space.

The lettering on the door read "Don's Resale Shop" and practically every inch of the Basement was crammed with what could diplomatically be called antiques and less kindly referred to as junk.

Culled from Caravatti's, Diversity Thrift and Paul's Place, it was a treasure trove for would-be hoarders with a baby carriage filled with "elephant toothpicks," a pipe stand with pipes, a crate of albums (the classic "Buckingham and Nicks" at the front), snow shoes, pennants and a signed, framed photo of RFK.

Hanging from the ceiling in the front were lampshades and in the back, tennis rackets. Hubcaps adorned one wall. I opened an old Encyclopedia Britannica - the P volume - to Painting to find color plates of significant art works. And get this: any item with a price tag was for sale...with the stipulation that you couldn't take it with you until after the run of the play ended.

It was a total transformation of the space. Without a doubt, it was the most immersive set I'd experienced.

And it took us directly into Mamet's world, a place populated by unpleasant men, much swearing and the relentless push and pull of capitalism and altruism, friendship and business. No one's ever light and happy the way Mamet sees it.

Because the roles were written so strongly, the trio of actors - Alan Sader, Jesse Mattes and Jeffrey Schmidt - disappear into their macho '70s-era roles, inhabiting them so completely that at times it was impossible for the audience not to look at the actions or comments of a character and lose sight of the fact that it wasn't reality.

Pity, revulsion and disgust were all elicited as these three would-be big men prove that they aren't capable of much beyond infighting and false bravado. It's heartbreaking on so many levels and also wildly compelling. Mamet World may not be pretty, but it sucks you in even as you know deep down that the playwright is never going to provide any real answers.

"We all live like cavemen." This is just life for below average Joes and it's tragic to see when so well acted.

Have I bragged lately about how my neighborhood is way cooler than yours? Because unless you can walk out your door, have a memorable dinner at a jewel of a new restaurant in an offbeat boutique hotel followed by a brilliant Mamet play at an underground space a few blocks east, my neighborhood still wins.

Don't doubt it. Candy says so.