Sunday, January 31, 2016

January in the Rearview Mirror

Could there be a bigger treat than waking up on January 31 to a predicted high of 66 degrees?

While I was already looking forward to brunch plans in Carytown, it never occurred to me we'd be able to eat on the sunny patio or that I'd be inclined to walk there. Double score. Also, totally weird to be wearing a skort and t-shirt while still climbing over massive snow piles on the north side of the streets.

Knowing that Dixie Donuts closes in two weeks, there was no way I was walking by it without dipping inside for a doughnut. I may live far closer to Sugar Shack, but I far prefer Dixie's doughnuts.

The guy in line in front of me was dithering about his choice because as a newcomer to Richmond, it was his first time in, but he finally decided, telling the owner that he'd be back every Sunday after church to try all the other varieties.

"We close after Valentine's Day," she told him and his face fell, as mine would've if I hadn't already known. Somehow, the owner remembered me from our ages-ago meeting at Cask Cafe as I ordered a my usual: a chocolate chocolate doughnut (but not, it should be noted, a chocolate chocolate chocolate doughnut  because I'm not a jimmies fan).

Walking home, the streets were buzzing with everyone who'd been trapped inside last weekend, strolling, running, porch drinking, dog-walking, biking, eating outside and generally just hanging out in the sunshine. It was glorious.

My first order of business once I got home was opening all seven windows in my house, which means opening storm windows, too, but completely worth the double duty. Coming a week after the near-blizzard, I'd have done pretty much anything to access fresh, warm air.

I no sooner got the apartment opened up than I left for Sub Rosa to hear some '60s Turkish music.

Yeni Nostalji was playing a set and, as you might expect on a sunny, warm winter day, people were out and about in Church Hill withsome, like me, stopping by specifically because of Christina's dulcet tones and Vlad's beautiful guitar playing, but also others seeking the best breads in town.

The bakery was filling up quickly when I arrived to find a stool behind the wide open door. Unfortunately, one idiot closed it on his way out and after that, everyone followed suit, trapping the hot air from Evrim's wood-fired oven and putting a glow on everyone's face in minutes.

But who's going to complain when Yeni Nostalji are playing their exquisite take on Turkish pop?  A foursome came in and stood right next to the musicians, riveted, even dancing a little in place. Turns out they were Turkish students, paying Christina the ultimate compliment by praising her Turkish accent before they left.

Most of us couldn't determine that, but just being in a place that sounded and smelled so good on this beautiful last day of January was more than enough.

Thanks, Mother Nature, for the payback. Double or nothing tomorrow?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

No Truth is Marching On

Another night in J-Ward, another new friend wowed.

Lessons learned from Mama J's on a Friday night: Arrive at 4:00, like the couple next to us (he'd also been there last night, pre-KRS-One at the National) or after 7:00 (happy hour is over) when the waits are shorter than the length of the meal, a worthy goal.

Ordinarily, I'd never attempt Mama's at prime time but that's the window we had available and I wanted to show off the neighborhood fried chicken and cake. Okay, and the fried catfish, the perfectly cooked greens and the corn muffins.

As it was, with the bar two deep and a crowd of people waiting by the door, I used the time to school my newbie on the importance of choosing your cake variety early to have it cut and set aside before the cake's all gone.

Coincidentally, chocolate cake with white icing is tops for both of us, so that worked out very nicely.

We were making do with one stool when the bartender pointed us to the end of the bar and two open stools, but I no sooner planted my backside when the stool's previous owner got indignant with me. Of course I moved and the barkeep apologized, but also whispered that she'd been ready for some new faces, namely us.

A table soon opened up so I could introduce my first-timer to Jackson Ward soul food while the Spinners and O'Jays played overhead. I pity the fool who isn't won over by that combination.

Our massive slice o' cake had to accompany us to Richmond Comedy Coalition for "High There," the weekly improvised sit-com set in an inherited head shop. Odd as that might sound, it isn't the first time I've shown up there with cake in hand (last time it was Garnett's).

Cake and comedy, it's a natural, don't you think?

Tonight's sealed envelope revealed the two-pronged plot: High Times magazine was coming to review High There while the two ditzy staffers plot to get a 50-cent an hour raise. Grace needs it for her kombucha brewing start-up and Townsend tells Grace she needs more money because her cat, Mr. Tibalt, has colitis and it's getting very expensive (Grace: "I know, I follow the blog!").

The dreadlocked reviewer Star Brody shows up and mistakenly interviews Joe, the owner of the bookshop upstairs, while the staff waits on a woman they think is the reviewer but is actually writing for Water Aerobics Weekly ("Yes, weekly, there's enough water aerobics news for a weekly!").

And if you're dying to know how the shop fared with the review, you'll be happy to know that it was rated three pot leaves and a half. Not only that, but the staff managed to sell the 8-foot king bong (with matching tiara), so they both got 75-cent raises.

Let's just have a moment, shall we, to appreciate the RCC talent, a group of people who are able to improvise such hilarious situations and dialog on the fly.

Just like when I saw episode #1, between scenes we were shown the cheesiest vintage commercials known to man. I'm talking Mr. T cereal and Valley Ball, a Van Nuys bar boasting a vodka drip and topless dancers. An amusement park called Flintstones Bedrock City in British Columbia ("Kids, get your dinosaur driving license!") and a Chuck Norris movie of non-stop violence called "Code of Silence."

After this week's episode ended with a group hug, our host invited everyone to stay for the late show, but, alas, my companion works tomorrow morning, so we walked back to my house and said goodnight, but not before I was given way too much credit for dreaming up a great evening.

Stop that, it's just not all that tough to do where I live.

I couldn't think of any reason not to go right back for the late show, even getting the same seat, for a show based on Reddit's ridiculous postings. The funny part was, more than a few of the comedy crew admitted that they had no idea what Reddit was before planning this show.

Oh, good, then it's not just me.

A screen shot of several Reddit pages and the accompanying comments were screened on the wall, honing in on a guy named Superthug with an obviously Photoshopped gash on his head, a bullshit caption and, in the comments, a brief video of what claimed to be "Siri's ass."

I suppose for those of you who follow Siri's directions, this might hold some appeal.

Believe it or not, this evolved into a skit starring a man with a head gash because of having sex with a shark (but still looking for more action) and a stilted-voiced Siri checking her data base, only to inform him that Helen Mirren was "DTF."

You can challenge me on this, but I'm willing to bet that Helen Mirren and "DTF" have never before been used in the same sentence.

After a miscue by our host who tried to send us home before the second part of the program. we again scanned Reddit, this time coming up with a piece about a guy who took credit for telling Obama, "Yes, we can" and creating his campaign slogan. The comments section yielded a reference to Forest Gump and his indelible effect on history and they were off and running.

Two brothers both want to be president, but it's the simple-minded Marquise who talks of nothing but recycling, composting and garbage (his three-pronged political plan) who gets the support of big money, Angela Merkel and the little people, who chant, "Marquise, Marquise, Marquise."

Along the way, Dark Justice gives a speech while others hum the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and an interpretive dance is done. "Did you just shoot me with an interpretive dance gun?" DJ asks Marquise incredulously. Sure did and probably recycled it afterwards.

You'd think people couldn't make this stuff up, but I'm here to tell you they can. Glory, glory, hallelujah.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Footsteps in the Dark, Parts 1 & 2

Trust me, I can show a visitor from the county a real good time.

Step one: when they call on the way over, advise them to park the car because it won't be needed again until they head back to suburbia.

Step two: invite them up to your apartment to "see your newest pieces of art" (not a euphemism), marvel at the 9' ceilings and remark on the coziness of your bedroom.

Spotting a framed print with broken glass that mysteriously fell off the wall Christmas Eve when the Ghost of Christmas Past blew through, my guest insists on taking it to redo the glass for me. Everyone should have such a generous guest.

Favorite comment: "Your apartment is the antithesis of a suburban house." Oh, you noticed?

Step three: stroll over to Saison Market where the music is set to the Isley Brothers and "For the Love of You" is playing. This thrills me but the staff is debating how wise a choice it is. I assure them that anyone who walks out because of the Isleys is no customer they want and they take my word for it.

We make a meal of mussels in herbed white wine broth accompanied by piles of grilled Billy bread and one of the most artfully presented cheese plates I've seen in a while. Dried apple chips marched down a plate of Meadow Creek Mountaineer, piles of hazelnuts, Gruyere cheese straws, onion marmalade and, most intriguing of all, cider gel, while the cutest white-muzzled beagle stares at us from his perch outside the window facing us.

A couple of the guys from Richmond Comedy Coalition come in, not the first time I've seen them here given their theater's proximity to Saison, and we chat with our mouths full while the Isleys sing "Between the Sheets." Life is good.

A quick trip to the loo and I come back with a new philosophy from bathroom graffiti: Be the person Mr. Rogers thought you could be.

Working on it, every day, in every way.

Step four: backtracking to Steady Sounds to arrive early enough that we have time to browse the offerings at Blue Bones Vintage while upstairs, DJ Troy of Scorpio Brothers is playing his usual stellar soulful mix, somehow playing R & B songs you don't know but are nonetheless familiar.

While I can't be bothered with the racks of jeans or flannel shirts (although the cropped Geoffrey Beene plaid flannel is one for the ages), the dress and coat rack calls to me and before long, I'm trying on a full-length fur coat just for the hell of it.

There's already a section of white dresses, a nod to this year's all white Elby's theme. One very '20s-looking dress has a large portrait collar and a loose silhouette, much like something Zelda Fitzgerald would have worn.

If there's one color I can't wear, don't wear, it's white. Looks awful on me. And as the owner pointed out, it's not exactly slimming for anyone with a real figure. Count me out. As we discussed, a black and white theme a la Truman Capote, would have been far superior.

But there were other gems, one that looked like something a secretary in Manhattan in the '50s might have worn to her low-level publishing job and another that screamed French college student in the '60s, probably worn with knee socks.

Curiosity had me teasing a musician/DJ friend (and known homebody) I hadn't seen in months about his unexpected presence. Turns out today was his first post-snow day back at work and interacting with people had him feeling like a real person again. "So I decided to keep it going by coming out, plus it sounded interesting."

My thought exactly. Author and pop music critic Rashod Ollison's new book, "Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues and Coming of Age through Vinyl" had come out just two days ago and as Fountain Bookstore's owner told us, "The books still smell new."

I ask you, what reader doesn't love that new book smell?

Ollison was delightful to listen to and not just because of his Arkansas drawl and self-deprecating humility. He explained that his memoir tells the story of growing up with the soul records left behind by his Vietnam vet father ("A cold Miller in one hand and a Viceroy in the other") after he divorces his mother. "The connective thread in my dysfunctional family was music."

Son, you could have worse connective threads.

Explaining that even as a child, he could predict how things were going between his parents based on what music they were playing - some songs guaranteed a fight but, "Whenever Aretha was on, order was restored" - he went on to read a chapter to us before taking questions.

Needless to say, my date was among those in line to buy the book ("We'll share it") and have it signed while Troy went back to spinning soul.

So far, I was two for two in dazzling my suburban guest.

Step five: sauntering down Broad Street to the Basement, our book discussion gets a real world comparison when my guest shares a childhood anecdote. Seems you could guess how the family's night would go based on what Mom and Dad were drinking - gin meant fighting and probably no dinner, while bourbon made for a mellower night and hopefully dinner by 9.

So, loosely speaking, Aretha = bourbon.

We pass a guy who does a double take when he sees me. "Well, hey there!" he says, clearly surprised. He's one of the regulars I see on my walks but he's never seen me in anything but walking clothes. "You look very nice!" he says with a big smile.

I'm out on the town, don't you know?

We're at TheatreLAB to see "9 Circles," a dark and riveting play about war crimes based on actual events and loosely correlating to Dante's version of Hell. Because it's such a difficult story, it helps immensely that the actors are up to the task of interpreting it.

It's tough not to focus entirely on the very young-looking Tyler Stevens who admirably plays the disturbed and clueless young man sucked into military service when that's the last place he should be. For me, the heartbreaking part about a character such as his is knowing that there's some terrible back story that created this kind of person and it's too late to undo it.

Wrenching as the play is, my guest is bowled over with having seen such impressive theater.

Step six: taking the scenic way home past Quirk, my guest points out that it's not just the terrific food, satisfying soul music, interesting author reading and edgy play that made this night so outstanding, it's also all the walking we've done together (not that they - or anyone except my favorite walking buddy - can walk at my pace).

Aw, shucks, that's nothing but living up to expectations. Mr. Rogers must have thought I could be the kind of person to deliver a good time. I like to think he was right.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That's Entertainment

It's when you start thinking well of yourself that the universe smacks you down.

Out walking by the ICA construction site this afternoon, I smiled at a guy on his smoke break and he lit up. "I love your smile! And those boots, wow, with that smile and those boots, you're going to make Spring happen!"

Those green and pink flowered rubber boots, best $2 investment I ever made.

Before I had too much time to revel in my ability to bring on the seasons, I learned I am, in restaurant parlance, a bar loser. Reading Bill Buford's "Heat" informs me that kitchen shorthand for a single diner at the bar is, well, bar loser and it's common knowledge how much time I've spent eating alone at bars.

Hopefully there's no comparable word for people who go to a show alone or I'm dead in the water, no matter the footwear.

Given the still partially snow-strewn sidewalks and monstrous puddles on the way to Gallery 5, the boots put in another appearance, although they had nothing to do with being greeted by the prettiest bassist in town telling me, "You're at all the good shows!"

Truth is, I had zero plans and went looking for something fun, only to find a stellar show of bands I'd never heard of playing at G5. Curiosity compelled me to listen to their three Bandcamp pages to get a feel for the sound of each.

Conclusion? I should have been planning to go to this show all along.

Besides the bassist, I knew only one person, the door guy who's a musician and occasional cross-dressing bingo caller. Most in the crowd had the telltale "X" on their hand signifying youth and device devotion.

Standing next to me were two young women who were pretty much non-stop on Tinder or discussing it, as in, "Tinder is dry tonight." You need to come to a show to discover that?

First up was Erik, who called himself Cat Be Damned which, under ordinary circumstances would no doubt win best band name of the evening, but not tonight.

Playing through his own songs (including one about Virginia rednecks "which I need to explain when I play it north of here, but you guys get it") as well as some by Bon Jovi, Ted Nugent and a friend named Joey who moved away, Erik proved that a guitar and a good voice is timeless.

He also scared himself when, glancing down during a song, he mistook his boot for a rat. Fear not, I've seen many scary things at Gallery 5 over the years, but never any rodents.

Closing with a plea, "If anyone's going to Elvis' show in Charlottesville tomorrow night, I could use a ride. My car crapped out," a girl in the crowd immediately yelled out, "I got you!" and he looked pleased.

It seemed like it was mere moments after he left the stage to major applause that Brooklyn quartet Cende was up there beginning their set and it occurred to me that with a crowd overwhelmingly underage, there was no point in allowing long breaks so people could go to the bar.

With the first few notes, Cende established themselves as one of my favorite musical genres: young man power pop. All four had haircuts that mirrored the Beach Boys circa 1965. Absolutely stellar live, their songs were short, fast and wildly energetic.

"This is our first time playing in Richmond," the lead singer and one of the guitarists said. "I love it. We had the best ice cream at, um, I don't know," and the crowd supplied the answer: Bev's, of course.

Likely, I was the only one who chuckled when we were told that they were going to play some new songs, as if they could be playing some old classics? I don't think so.

Initially, I was surprised to see the bass player center stage in front of the drummer, with a guitarist on either side, but it soon was evident that he was the most animated or at least the most dramatic, putting me in mind of Interpol's Carlos D and his sexy showboating. Good stuff.

Their set was too soon over and I had to go back to listening to the dimwit twins looking for love. "Look at all our shared interests!" one said to the other sticking the phone in her friend's face. "What, music?" she responded. "Yea, but he's ugly," she said, undoubtedly swiping left.

Somewhere, some lucky guy just missed a scrape with an inane and vapid woman.

Headlining and winning the award for best band name of the night was Asheville's Elvis Depressedly, with Mat on guitar, adorable manic pixie dream girl Delaney on keys and half of Cende: the bass player sans his black sweater (whom Mat called his best friend from college and who was playing completely differently) and the drummer (same t-shirt) backing them up.

Mat began by explaining why it had been so long since they'd played here. "I stayed away from Virginia for years because I got a crazy speeding ticket. I finally let it go." He hasn't, though, let go of the resentment of the person who gave him the ticket.

I, for one, was really glad about that since their melodic and melancholic pop sound - shimmering guitar over layers of keyboard, enhanced with bass and drums - brought back listening to indie music on warm summer days that now feel like ancient history (see: boots, also scarves tied around columns on porches, although I'm not sure what that's all about).

But just as satisfying as the achingly feel-good vibes of the sound? The smart lyrics of songs such as "Rock and Roll" or "Madison Acid."

Cause I'm not in the band,
It don't mean I'm square
And if I am,
Then I don't care

Squares or not, their last song was a low-key one, so they dismissed the rhythm section and finished with an appropriately sweet song to send us out into the night. It turned out to be a hella good night of music, like one of the Sprout shows in days of old.

Take it from a show loser, Gallery 5 was most definitely not dry tonight.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Irish Roots, Plenty of Napkins

It was a red letter post-snow day. I got driven in a car.

Let's see, I believe the last time I motored was last Thursday, so the fact that a friend could show up (laundry in hand to use my washer and dryer, but that's another story) to drive us to dinner and a play was big news in these parts.

That said, it took a ridiculous 25 minutes to get to a restaurant a mere two miles away given the slow-moving traffic, massive piles of snow still blocking lanes and idiots with low-to-the-ground cars attempting to conquer snow drifts.

We are our own worst enemies post-Jonas.

Regaling me at dinner with his snow day problems - cat escaped, a movie that wouldn't play, no beans for nachos - my friend caused me to almost shoot liquid out of my nose when he took a tangent to sing the praises of his small appliances.

"I looove my toaster oven," he gushed, then raised his voice two octaves, "Holla!"

Someone's been spending way too much time in the house alone.

Despite more massive snow piles, getting to Chamberlayne Actors Theatre turned out to be surprisingly easy, not that we didn't manage to miss our final turn, but then everything looks different in the snow, doesn't it? It's not like I haven't been to CAT's cozy theater before.

Inside, my driver went off in search of chocolate for me, returning with a Hostess cupcake and earning my eternal gratitude, while I chatted with the play's charming sound designer, a playwright I hadn't seen in months.

Hardly surprisingly, tonight's crowd was small and included lots of theater insiders - actors, critics, devotees - to take in a collaboration between CAT Theatre and 5th Wall of Israel Horovitz's "Unexpected Tenderness," a snippet of which I'd seen at 5th Wall's preview party last April.

But a snippet could not have prepared me for such a powerful look at domestic terrorism and family dysfunction circa the early 1950s.

The memory play is narrated by the older version of the son, so we alternate between seeing him as part of the family dynamic trying to deal with a paranoid father who rigidly controls the family's lives and as the grown man looking back on it.

Early moments of politically incorrect humor ("No napkins, are we eating like Irish people now?" or "No socks? What are you, Italian?") spewing forth from the mother, Molly, played by a fiery yet fearful Eva DeVirgilis, set a scene of Jewish life in Massachusetts during the Eisenhower years.

Fred Iacovo delivered as the pathological husband Archie who is obsessively convinced that every time he leaves the house, his wife cheats on him, a misconception he tragically comes by honestly since his Parkinson's-ridden father felt the same raging jealousy about his wife ("It was hell being married 47 years to a beauty like your grandmother").

Like poverty, you wonder if it's a cycle that can ever be broken.

Strong performances by the entire cast ensured that the audience wouldn't look away while the darkness of the story made it difficult not to wince watching. In one particularly ugly scene, an involuntary moan escaped my mouth when Archie hit his son. It's wrenching to watch actions you can't fathom.

Dark as the playwright's memories were, the complex play wound down on a hopeful note. "Things have got to keep changing," Molly tells her children. "This is life. Thank god for that."

And while we're at it, thank goodness for CAT Theatre supporting 5th Wall's long-time devotion to the work of Israel Horovitz. Like life, it's not always easy. Like the best theater, it makes you feel deeply.

And for the reminder that tenderness should never be unexpected.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Curious Beasts and Exiles

Every day's just another adventure in the land of the black and yellow beer can-studded snow.

Monday's foray into the greater beyond involved walking through throngs of rude students across campus to the peaceful environs of Dinamo, sparsely populated as it was (although not so sparse that I didn't see three friends).

But the non-stop slow jam reggae station provided a fine soundtrack for a low-key meal that began with Gruet Brut and the ideal cold weather welcome: a bowl of fish soup loaded with mussels, rockfish, calamari, pasta and tiny diced carrots and onions that tasted as fresh as if I'd ordered it seaside.

While the owner took many phone calls - "Yes, we're open," and "Yes, we're doing delivery" seemed to be the two stock answers - we ate our way through a flavorful arugula and crunchy green bean salad made rich with hard-boiled egg and lashings of Parmesan.

Seeing a white pizza delivered to the couple next to us caused pie envy, ensuring that we ended up with one of our own, along with crostini with thick schmears of chicken liver and red onion, a decadent and heavenly main course I'd not really earned given my minimal efforts earlier at snow-shoveling.

Yes, I know I'm breaking the law by not having my sidewalks cleared by Sunday at 11 a.m. A woman living alone does the best she can because the fragile-looking VCU students below are of no use with vigorous chores such as shoveling.

Despite the weather outside, I finished my meal with housemade mint chocolate chip gelato, although not an ice cream sandwich like the one that went to the table near us. Call me a freak, but unlike most people, I do not like sweet cookies around/on/in my ice cream.

With an elegant sufficiency, we departed Dianmo's futuristic coziness for a gander at the recently completed Cabell Library at VCU, impressively lit at night. I remember standing at the Compass last March to watch as they installed the top beam and here it was in all its completed glory.

From there, we wandered over to Ipanema for some wine and people-watching. It's tough to beat the half-priced deals on their Steal this Wine List, so I chose a bottle of 2006 Chateau-Thebaud "Betes Curieuses" Muscadet because how often do you have the option to drink a curious beast such as decade-old Muscadet, much less one described as "white flowers and mineral power"?

Even our young bartender commented on it, telling us he'd had it last year and raving about how surprisingly good it was. We gave him a taste to refresh his palate.

That led to him sharing that just a few days ago he'd been drinking young Muscadet with Olde Salts and Tangier oysters at Rappahannock, coincidentally the exact same combination I'd slurped and sipped the last non-snow weekend. Small world.

Once the dinner crowd dissipated, it was an Evolution Brewing tap takeover with three brews priced at three bucks and the beer lovers began arriving tout de suite to score Lucky 7 Porter, Lot No. 3 double IPA (get there faster with 8.75%!) and Exile Red Ale.

Suddenly, many glasses of darkness sat on the bar.

When things settled down enough that the barkeep could take a smoke break, he bundled up, made sure we wanted for nothing and headed out front. Wouldn't you know the music almost immediately crapped out?

My clever date pulled a McGyver, tuning into my favorite R & B podcast on his phone, inserting it in a cocktail shaker for a substitute speaker and supplying us with music until our boy's habit had been fed and he returned happily drugged with nicotine to restart the party.

Walking home through throngs of squealing students, we arrived at my house to find my colorful neighbors on their porch happily inhaling Swisher Sweets in the cold night air.

Proof positive that all of us are still taking our meager pleasures where we can in this winter wasteland.

Minor Miseries

So much on my mind that I'm a day late in posting.

Mirroring my feelings lately, a gallerist wrote to me, "You, more than most, must hate not being able to go out in the evenings!"

You know it and it was time to correct it.

Yesterday's epic walk to the Criterion - down the middle of Leigh Street, necessitating climbing snow mounds and the occasional splash from speeding cars - to see Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion "Anomalisa" delivered puppet porn and a consumer culture theme seemingly meant to echo the tragic world we now live in.

And while I can feel superior all I want about my simplistic lifestyle, all too often I am listening to new music, i.e.consuming. Guilty as charged.

And if I am lost - the person who subsists on the fringes of current cultural norms - all is lost. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

My date found "Anomalisa" to be too depressing for entertainment, but my pleasure came in admiring the puppets, the stop animation, essentially the craft of it all. This is a film not about the performance of the actors, but about the art of puppetry.

Of course, there was also the premise: Sadly, there's so much sameness surrounding us in the 21st century that something different becomes jarring ("What, you don't have a cell phone?" people ask me in horror or, "What do you mean you don't watch TV?") or, for the lonely, irresistibly attractive.

As in real life, a happy ending was impossible - even after our heroine sung "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - so we were left with a sense that we as a society are too far gone to dare hope that things might work out satisfactorily in our lives.

Tragically, in 2016 that no longer seems to be an option. Everyone seems to be older, fatter and tireder, meaning the collective passion of youth is spent and happy endings impossible.

Dwelling on this sad fact is pointless. It is what is is.

Did I mention how impressed I was with an hour and a half of state-of-the-art stop-motion animation? If "Rudolph" or "Gumby" is your frame of reference for this art form (as it was mine), prepare to be bowled over.

Just don't expect that an enthusiastic male suitor, even one portrayed by a puppet, can sustain devotion.

After a fruitless high-speed walk to TheatreLAB to see "Nine Circles," only to find it closed down tight due to snow, we punted.

That meant razzing the familiar faces shoveling snow in front of Max's on Broad and then drinks at Quirk Hotel where the liveliest table was a group of male West Enders who'd refused to allow Storm Jonas to crush their birthday celebration plans.

The bartender let slip that rapper Macklemore had been staying there as a lead-up to last night's performance at the Altria, keeping busy writing during the recent snow storm.

Devoted fans stopped by on their way to the show, downing Lemon Drops (I kid you not) and Tres Generations Tequila (different duo, this one with a babysitter at home) to prep for the show ahead.

Whatever it takes, kids.

Since Macklemore isn't my thing, I enjoyed watching the arriving guests - my favorite being the couple who loaded cases of wine on the luggage cart because they weren't willing to risk a shortage - as well as the bored kitchen staff (not a single reservation for the night) and the punchy servers, many of whom, like our bartender, had stayed the past few nights at the hotel so as to be on the job when required.

She said her only mistake had been in forgetting her boots. Not so me and my green and pink flowered rubber boots, which reliably garner compliments for its wearer while allowing me to wade through the deepest puddle.

I'm still hoping to be the one who walks in the sun, but Charlie Kaufman has convinced me that that's unlikely.

That's life, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Dancing with Myself

For crying out loud, what's a girl to do?

Despite what may go down as the two longest days of my life, I have a dubious (at best) list of accomplishments to show for so many hours.

I'm on my fourth book, Bill Buford's "Heat," having crushed "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (classic '50s post-WWII tale of former soldier's adjustment to new suburban world order), "A Gift from Brittany" (memoir of young Chicago artist who decamps to Paris in 1960, marries fellow artist and moves to French countryside for love and loss) and "Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages" (1983 assessment by strident second wave feminist about why sexless marriage are flexible, not abnormal).

I love to read, but this is ridiculous.

My refrigerator is dazzling, the cleanest it's been since it was delivered two years ago. While far fuller than usual with snow foodstuffs, I doggedly removed every edible bit of it, scrubbed the inside down and returned everything to its place. Mind you, that's my second Suzy Homemaker endeavor of the weekend, after the top to bottom bathroom scrub down.

Don't I get a golden apron pin for that or something?

Last night, I made a big pot of chili (mind you, using light red kidney beans because Kroger was out of the dark ones by Wednesday) so it could sit for a day melding before eating it. Warming it up tonight, I stirred up a batch of corn muffins, an excuse to go through half a stick of butter in the name of dinner.

I'm just showing my solidarity with my walking friend who laid in provisions yesterday at Sub Rosa, Stock, Rostov's, Sugar Shack and Kroger and then emailed me saying, "I figure I will come out 20 pounds heavier by the end of the weekend."

We're kindred souls. I'm well aware that the rest of that pound of butter in my sparkling fridge isn't going to eat itself. Hot chocolate is the drug.

My usual walking was supplanted by even more useless snow shoveling and car clearing because I desperately needed to do something physical and, to put it bluntly, walking was a bitch. Ten hours of that noisy wintry mix last night made for deep, slippery surfaces and cars spinning out dangerously close to where I was trying to walk. Twice.

Thank you, no, I don't think I do trust the snow navigational skills of students behind the wheel and those were the fools who were out in cars this afternoon.

In what can only be an acknowledgement that some people are spending the day trolling Facebook, I got four friend requests today. Four! Apparently when there's nothing else to do, you can always look for new friends.

Being the Luddite that I am, I retaliated by sitting down and writing a long letter, not that I expect the Postal Service will be operating any time soon. I haven't had mail delivery since Thursday and, needless to say, I did not get my Washington Post this morning.

Sigh. I can stand a missing Saturday paper, except I know it bodes poorly for the likelihood that I'll get my Sunday paper and that will be missed.

Sort of like real life at this point. All I can say is, thank heavens for music, because eleven new CDs are what's keeping me going at this point.

Loud music, muffled by all that snow.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Record High, Record Low

Cocooning goes against my nature. Who do I talk to if I'm home alone for days?

What I mean is, I woke up knowing that I was going to start my walk by heading to Kroger, not because I was in dire need of anything - although I did have a craving for waffles and I'm out of blackberry jam - but because I knew it would be an experience. Hell, earlier this week I got asked out just walking out of Kroger.

Trudging up Clay Street, I saw a girl headed back, toting two heavy-looking  Kroger bags. How bad is it, I wanted to know. "Really, really busy," she said with a smile. "Crazy busy."

Perfect, company!

I was amazed that they still had bananas, but not a single egg or rasher of bacon. "No eggs, what's wrong with these people?" a man asked me, shaking his head in disgust. The number of people clutching frozen pizzas was ridiculous.

Walking home with my jam, I passed half a dozen people making the trek toward Kroger and every single one of them spoke to me.

One girl wanted to know how bad it was and whether she had a chance in hell of getting what she needed for lasagna and baking cookies. One guy just rolled his eyes and told me without provocation that yea, he knew he was nuts for going today. Further up, a guy shoveling his walk invited me back for a chili party. An older woman wished me "happy snow day."

Snow makes everyone so friendly.

I detoured by Nick's Market where there was zero sandwich business, but several neighbors busy picking up groceries rather than facing the chaos of Kroger. While I was paying, they got a call from a Baltimore supplier saying they wouldn't be coming on Monday to make deliveries.

First world snow problems.

When I got home, I did the least logical thing: I cleared the snow off my car and shoveled the sidewalk and walkway, not because there was any point in it, but because of my Scottish girlfriend Irene's cardinal rule. She says if you're cold, get up and vacuum and you'll be warm in no time. Snow shoveling is the outdoor equivalent.

Back inside, I was trying to decide between reading and my to-do list when I saw a friend's post.

"I can now spend the rest of the weekend on the couch, as I organized my spice/baking cabinet. I have a WHOLE ROW of extract that is not vanilla."

Her friend responded, "Have thoughts of cleaning out my dining room hutch, but just in the thought stage right now. Maybe if I am bored tomorrow."

"Do it! It's so satisfying!" my friend goaded her. So, yes, I succumbed to that inexplicable urge that hits some women on snow days and got busy hanging pictures in the hallway and making phone calls I'd been putting off. Scrubbing the bathroom top to bottom, including the floor on my hands and knees.

She'd been right. It was incredibly satisfying, I immediately sat down and read two days' worth of the Washington Post, both of which had been delivered today. Snow news dominated.

Looking out the window, I saw that my car and walkway were again covered. Time to fetch the umbrella (ignoring the Canadian who'd told me back in the big 2009 snow that it was silly to carry an umbrella in the snow), go for another walk and see what was happening in the Ward.

In the hallway, I inhaled the heady scent of baking bread, alerting me to how my neighbor was passing her afternoon.

Once on the street, you know what I found happening in J-Ward? Pretty much the same stuff that happens here any other time.

A guy stuck his head out the door of his English basement to pour out the remains of a friend's PBR and we got to talking (he's given up drinking). Clutches of people were gathered on porches, drinking and talking. From inside a house, I heard a band practicing. A guy complimented my umbrella. GWAR Bar was just getting going.

Downtown was a ghost town except for people getting on and off buses. Vagabond had a sign saying they were closed tonight- "sorry for the inconvenience" - making me wonder why they didn't just acknowledge they'd be closed Saturday night, too. Surely another 24 hours of this weather all but guarantees they won't be open tomorrow, either.

Passing a guy with just a jacket on and no hat or umbrella, I was tickled when he smiled and asked if I was enjoying this wonderful weather.

Sure am. My only regret is that my beagle's not here because he adored the snow, so we'd walk five or six times on a day like this, his tail up and nose down sniffing in the snow.

Back home, I  busied myself clearing my car and shoveling the sidewalk, not that it'll make any difference besides momentary warmth and personal satisfaction.

And since I'm also not lowering my blinds today - it's far too charming a view not to enjoy all evening - I can watch my hard work undone by Mother Nature.

My work is finished, but tonight's Fretful Porcupine show has been canceled. Time to least until it isn't. Cocooning is hard for some of us.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Powder Monkeys and Plasmagenes

I may not drink beer, but I'm all about the art. Besides, I can always find a beer drinker.

It wasn't just that Isley Brewing Company was hosting an art show, it was that from what I could see of the work online, it was wildly appealing. Literary, even. With my favorite beer drinking illustrator at my side, we braved the frigid and crowded streets of Scott's Addition to see if the real thing lived up to Facebook.

The overpowering aroma of hops greeted us inside where a good-sized crowd was already ogling the art and drinking happily. We joined the line so my friend could score a Plain Jane Belgian Ale from the smiling server before moving on to the main event.

Seth Moreau's "Away with Words: Dictionary Portraiture" featured images of authors, poets, playwrights and musicians done in pen on the dictionary page where their name would fall, meaning poet John Berryman was on the page that began with "Bering" and ended with "Berwick."

I didn't even know Seth and I was already impressed with how clever he was.

We took our time going through the images trying to identify the figures portrayed without resorting to the key, but apparently we're not as savvy as we like to think because we had to look a few up.

Call me an idiot for not immediately recognizing Sylvia Plath (plasmagene - platinum) or JRR Tolkien (together- Tolstoy), but not to have guessed Beatrix Potter (potosi- powder monkey) given the rabbit in the image points to our slipshod sleuthing skills.

Some of Seth's work had clearly been recently inspired - the late greats David Bowie and Lenny Kilmister - but a lot of it was pulled straight from classic literature. The two of us agreed that the appeal of each piece was twofold: the drawing itself but also who the author was.

Handsome Herman Melville (Melbourne- memory trace), with his thick hair and dense beard, looked one step removed from your garden variety Richmond hipster, or even the self-portrait of Seth Moreau (slightly more trimmed beer, a bit of a tighter haircut). But and I'm a little ashamed to admit it, I've never read any Melville.

Centered in the portraits was a standout one of Mark Twain (turtleneck - Twelver), his magnificent shock of thick, white hair completely owning the page. My friend's favorite was the striking one of Poe (pneumatolysis - pogrom) due, no doubt, to her own illustration skills and the piece's lavish use of black in the eyes, mustache and hair.

Honestly, it was hard to choose a favorite and since I knew I shouldn't be buying any art, I didn't have to, but my friend pushed to find out which spoke to me the loudest. Granted, I was completely smitten with the herringbone pattern on the vest and coat of Joseph Conrad (connatural - consequential damages), but, alas, I've not ready any of his work.

But I have read lots of Dorothy Parker (Parima, Serra - parliament), although she was one unhappy soul and I don't know that I'd want to look at her every day. Ditto Hemingway (Hellenist - Hemingway) who was far too much of a chauvinist for my taste.

So I'm inclined to say it was Vonnegut (voltameter - I don't know what because Kurt's hair obliterated the word), not just because of that affable face with its mass of curly hair and big eyes, but because it was the sole piece on which Seth had written words: "So it goes."

It's not often I leave an art show feeling like a dunce. Looking at all those dictionary pages, I was struck by how many words I didn't know. Somebody needs a vocabulary lesson.

My friend, on the other hand, was struck by what a terrific event I'd chosen for our pre-dinner activity. "Look at this place, where everyone knows everybody else, buzzing on a Thursday night before a big snow with beer and art lovers. How cool is this?"

Very cool, although truth be told, I didn't know a soul in the place. But walking out, past the Return of the Mac food truck, we heard a voice call out, "Karen!" and emerge from the truck. Wouldn't you know, turns out I did know somebody, albeit just outside the brewery.

And so it goes.

Everybody Was a Book Lover

For all the online blathering about the impending Snowpacalypse, it seems to be completely focused on one of two things.

The first is alcohol, with reports of heavy-duty trips to the ABC store, trying to figure out how many bottles of wine or cases of beer will be necessary to manage so much leisure time.

The second is the inevitable grumbling about what might happen, as in, the city will be slow to clear streets, how long will we be without power, why do people have to lay in provisions for a week, whine, grumble, complain.

I've yet to see anything about laying in sufficient reading material. Aren't snow days the best possible time to curl up with (insert beverage of choice) and get lost in a story?

January's been a wonderful reading month for me, partially because of vacation, but also because I've been devoting more time to reading at night, resulting in three books already finished this month. I'm on a roll.

The first was Patti Smith's "M Train," a Christmas gift, but also a title that had been highly recommended to me a week before by my aunt as something especially suited to me. And it was, both Smith's prose and the snippets of her colorful life, especially the thread about her finding a ramshackle bungle by the sea, a dilapidated old place that manages to survive Hurricane Sandy's devastation a short time later.

From there, I began a book loaned to me by a friend who knows my taste. "Everybody Was So Young" told the true story of Sara and Gerald Murphy, a well-off couple who married after World War I and proceeded to live their life by entertaining, supporting and sharing ideas with an incredible array of Lost Generation notables.

I'm talking Picasso (who did drawings of Sara), Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald (who was a bit in love with Sara), Dorothy Parker, Cole Porter, John dos Passos and Stravinsky, among many others.

Naturally I was as fascinated by two people who could attract that kind of circle of friends as by their life in Antibes in their bohemian Villa America.

It left me wondering if those kinds of people still exist today, Americans living abroad and willing to support starving artists, critique their work when asked, buy their art when it would help them or if we've become too self-centered a culture for that.

And it wasn't even as if their entire lives were charmed because two of their three children met tragic deaths and, at least in my reading, Gerald was actually a closeted gay man who ignored his own needs for the sake of the marriage and family.

Yesterday, I finished "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life," one of my library giveaway finds offering many details about Jackie's life I'd never before read. Surprisingly, the book left me feeling sorry for a woman who was never properly loved her entire life, beginning with her parents and right on through her husbands.

It was fascinating reading about how separately she and JFK lived their White House years, with one or the other often in another state or country most of the time, something that seems unthinkable for a First Lady today and yet that was 50 years ago.

Finishing that book last night leaves me wide open to pick the perfect Snowmageddon book or books for the next few days.

Do I want another memoir - I have so many to choose from - or perhaps a best-selling 1950s novel? Ooh, maybe I should finally read the third book in a five book series, having read numbers one, two and five?

Assuming that all my going out plans for the next three days will be canceled, I've got days to lose myself in books, all the more so for the stack of 26 books awaiting my attention in my bedroom. It's a little like my annual sojourn at the beach, when I happily devour books by the day.

Come on, Jonas, give me a reason to knock off a few more.

Never Gonna Give You Up

The lead-up to Snowstorm Jonas has begun in earnest.

And by that, I mean a routine stop at Kroger felt like entering a madhouse or, on a more positive note, a carnival.

Granted, it doesn't help that the VCU student population started classes two days ago, but it looked pretty obvious from people's baskets - beer, milk, snack foods -that people are planning to hunker down once the white stuff begins falling Friday.

In the soup aisle, I ran into a J-Ward restaurant owner out procuring citrus after his supplier shorted him. Curious about his establishment's snow plans, he confirmed that the restaurant would probably close but the market would stay open. Good to know.

Tonight was bingo at Gallery 5 and, judging by the fact that there were more tables than usual, a crowd was expected. But no, the crowd was a tad smaller than last month, which we regulars chalked up to weather wimps succumbing to fear of frigid temperatures.

That said, G5's hardy curator admitted that he's already canceled both his Friday and Saturday night music shows. Sigh.

At least we had tonight.

Grandma Muriel, who calls the bingo games using an effects pedal, a peach peignoir and a beer with a straw (the mask precludes guzzling) was sporting a new hat tonight and looking particularly fetching, assuming you like cross-dressing sax players in drag and who doesn't?

Once the games got underway. it became obvious we had some first-timers in our midst because they tittered every time Grandma batted the light fixture with her rolling pin or called out a number with so much reverb you could barely understand her.

Another clue came when people realized they'd scored. "Oh, shit! Bingo...a while ago!" one guy yelled, just then noticing that he had five in a row. Another guy's cry of, "Bingo" was so faint that only his tablemates heard him.

Come on, guys, belt it out like you mean it, especially when you're winning fabulous prizes such as $53 or a Richard Simmons workout record complete with instructive poster (plus, it should be added, Hardywood bucks, gift certificates to G5 and a ten spot). Novices.

I mean, come on, Richard Simmons on vinyl? Who'd have thought such a thing was ever even created?

Between games when we broke so people could buy more bingo cards or grab a beer at the bar, Grandma would pull our her harmonica and play a few bars and then point at someone to sing.

She tried it with me, but that wasn't going to happen, nor with his next victim. Finally, he put it down, crushed his PBR can and went to score another beer. I think we disappointed her.

For the first time in the four month history of G5 bingo, the music wasn't solely John Carpenter's "Halloween" all night (not that there's anything wrong with that). Not only did we hear some electronica, but even a little Rick Astley - radical for bingo night.

There were only two of us at my usual table, two regulars who show up every month because we've been seduced by the bingo goddess. But because it was just us, for the first time we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves and chat. Turns out he lives a few blocks from G5, too, except eastward to my westward.

Neither of us won tonight, a first for me since I've won something every month since bingo began. But that's okay, I'm not owed. I needn't win to enjoy the mild gambling thrill of bingo.

And, more importantly, knowing that my social life will be severely curtailed this weekend thanks to Jonas, it was enough just to have some fun tonight.

I fear my thrills may be limited for a few days. But afterwards? I will be owed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Did Me Some Talking to the Sun

Given my choice of a '60s film or a Western, I'll take the '60s film every time.

But when they're one and the same, that's kind of cool. I wasn't the only one excited to read about Movieland's TCM screening of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." A friend I'd had dinner with last week mentioned looking forward to it before I even brought it up.

We're talking a classic here.

What I hadn't remembered was how quintessentially '60s these two guys were. Let's see, anti-authority? Yep. Desire to live off the grid? Oh, yes. Refusal to take a mainstream job? Affirmative. Living off the land? Right on.

Hell, if you just read the descriptors, you'd assume they were hippies. If you looked at the facial hair, you'd be convinced of it.

But, no, they were sepia-toned outlaws with a pretty partner-in-crime (who just happened to wear Twiggy-like eye make-up), promiscuous when they wanted to be and easy-going about life. All in all, a pretty groovy story.

There weren't a lot of us in the theater, but then it was a mid-afternoon screening and some people, unlike Butch and Sundance, have straight-laced 9 to 5 jobs. Everyone in the theater was at least 40, although I'm not sure how many were, like me, seeing it for the first time since it was in theaters.

Despite the decades in between, several scenes were burned in my memory, probably due to having seen them at such a young age.

Like the bike scene, beginning with Butch's disembodied head riding past the window's of Etta's cabin where she's in bed with Sundance, with its charmingly dated soundtrack (as the credits put it, " B.J. Thomas sings 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head'") and soft-focus tableaux of Butch with Etta riding on the handlebars.

That could have happened on any commune.

And the jump scene where Sundance admits he can't swim just before they leap over the side of the cliff into a rushing river. You never forget the first time you hear an actor yell, "Shiiiiiiit!" that long.

Most unforgettable probably was that last scene, where the duo, bloodied and wounded, come out blazing only to face scores of Bolivian military. That iconic freeze frame as you hear scores of bullets.

And yet, a minute or two before that, when they're holed up inside discussing how bad a situation they're in, the older woman nearest me got up to go to the bathroom. Part of me wanted to remind her how close we were to the end, but she had to know that, right?

When she returned, credits were rolling. Whispering loudly to her friends, she asked, "What happened at the end? I forgot." And you got up anyway? Yeesh.

So while I'd remembered some scenes, I'd long since forgotten the sublime dry humor and how much of it there was. It may have been a western, but it was also a solid comedy ("If he'd just pay me what he's spending to make me stop robbing him, I'd stop robbing him").

Chalk it up to the vantage point of middle age, but equally surprising was that there was a definite disparity in Butch and Sundance's ages. I feel pretty certain when I first saw it, I thought they were the same age, but then an 11-year difference in old people is invisible to the young.

Besides, I was probably starry-eyed over Sundance saying such things as, "Well, I think I'll get saddled up and go looking for a woman. Shouldn't take more than a couple days. I'm not picky. As long as she's smart, pretty and sweet, and gentle and tender and refined and lovely...and carefree."

None of which would have mattered in a classic western, but, let's be real, 1969 was still all about the carefree.

I'm never gonna stop the rain 
By complaining
Because I'm free
Nothing's bothering me

Let's Be Buddies

If I'm going to go out on a 15-degree night, it had better be for something smart, funny and chocolate.

Never mind that my date forgot to pick me up, only realizing her mistake once she got to Firehouse Theater and I wasn't there. Fortunately, it's less than a mile from house, so I showed up minutes after she called to admit her mistake.

Tonight's audience was rife with theater people - actors, artistic directors, managing directors - to chat with before and after the show, not that Pru and I didn't have plenty of our own to discuss.

Watching "The Fourth Wall," a tribute of sorts to theater cloaked in political and societal commentary, was kind of like taking apart one of those Russian dolls where you keep discovering another face.

Chock full of theater references from August Wilson, George Bernard Shaw and Neil Simon to questions of plot and the intricacies of the craft ("Half of acting is listening"), the play made the point that theater can be an analogy for the real world.

Straddling the line between an existential drama and a drawing room comedy of manners, it mocked British actors, American devotion to bad TV, and, most significantly since it was set in 2003, George W. Bush.

As a bonus, all that was interspersed with Cole Porter numbers, supposedly sung to the accompaniment of a player piano. Incongruous and hilarious.

Jacqueline Jones was fabulous as the wife fighting the same good fight (sort of) as Joan of Arc, only her goal was to keep worthy theater alive to ensure a healthy, self-critical society by reforming the country and enlightening the clueless President.

Boy, if only that part had really happened back when W. was floundering and embarrassing the country.

Naturally, being a woman, in between she was also making dinner, being told she was crazy by a girlfriend and getting hit on by a gay professor who falls for her idealistic pluck. Just another day in the life for a smart woman.

Along with the rest of the audience, Pru and I laughed throughout ("Like most Americans, he prefers musical comedy to serious drama"), but mostly, it was all the self-referential commentary about theater that we enjoyed most ("You'd know that if you'd been here for the exposition"). So, sure, call us theater geeks.

Our heroine Peggy finally breaks through the fourth wall, greeting people in the audience, and her husband Roger follows in the willing role of slave. The end.

Well, you can't watch something so clever and full of sharp acting - all four actors nailed their parts - without heading out to dish about it afterwards.

Garnett's was winding down when we arrived to find a guy in shorts (no idea what that was about) and a few other people finishing up dinner.

All we wanted was dessert so we could have all the conversations we couldn't have during the play, unlike the woman in front of us who talked to her date throughout. I have to presume some people are raised by wolves because what other explanation could there be for such behavior?

If there's a cozier space to sip hot tea and work my way through a monster slice of chocolate chip cake with cream cheese frosting on a frigid Tuesday night, it didn't come to mind. Likewise, Pru got more content by the minute with a warm slice of Dutch apple pie.

Busy talking about Howard Hughes, $7 lunches and stockings from Barcelona, we thought we'd just outlasted everybody else until we realized they'd closed.

I guess we'd have known that if we'd been there for the exposition.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Women in Love

If only every movie I went to alone wound up with a film discussion in the lobby.

Maybe it was the mostly female audience or perhaps the topic of lesbian love or, for that matter, even the ambiguous ending, but five of us (including two particularly savvy moviegoers/readers, one of whom remarked about the preview of the new Coen Brothers film "Hail, Cesar!" that, "They could make a movie of the alphabet and I'd go see it!") found ourselves in the lobby afterwards for quite a while, dissecting "Carol," the film we'd just seen.

With younger friends referring to Cate Blanchett as "the Meryl Streep of our generation," and Todd Haynes directing, I'd been looking forward to seeing this movie about two women who fall in love in the early 1950s.

As bad as it must have been to be a straight woman back then with no reliable birth control, clearly it was far worse to be a gay woman.

Part of our post-film discussion centered on the period-looking cinematography and another part on the fanatical attention to period detail. As one woman put it, "The music was right and that never happens, like when you hear the Beatles in a movie set in the '50s. My husband always notices if the cars are right, but I always notice the music. They got it right in this one."

So, too, the cultural climate references. When Carol's husband leaves after a screaming confrontation, she badly needs a smoke but discovers she's out.

"Just when you think it can't get any worse, you run out of cigarettes," she mutters to herself without irony. Because cigarettes were life in 1952.

Actually, the conversation had begun inside the theater as the credits rolled at the end when the two women next to me were discussing what the ending meant. As I got up to leave, they stopped and asked me what my interpretation was. We had differing opinions, as it turned out.

Once in the lobby and organically joined by others, we took a poll to see what the majority thought. Intentionally ambiguous? Or just Haynes' usual subtlety? Happy ending or no?

And "happy ending," what could that possibly have meant in 1952? Even if the two women acknowledged they loved each other, there was no openly living together, so what would happiness involve?

Not that that's a question that only applies to women in love in the Eisenhower era. And on that note, we convened for drinks with strangers.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Pleasure of Your Company

I miss all of you an awful lot. I know it is my own fault that I haven't enjoyed your company for far too long, but I would really like to see you all. Can we either individually or collectively see each other soon? By my estimation, it has been long enough without a visit. I love and miss each and every one of you.

No exaggeration, fifty eight messages later we had a definitive plan, resulting in me taking it upon myself to dub the conversation "Eaters Anonymous Attempted Rendezvous" for the convoluted process.

But that's what happens when you try to round up seven people whose lives are all going in different directions. But we had a date and a plan: 88 Garden at 7. Done.

I was the first to arrive and took up sentry next to a powerful heater near the door, despite being invited to wait at our table. Moi, leave a heat source? Never!

And, yes, we were the only non-Korean customers in the place, tucked away at a table in the front, as far away as possible from the real customers and, toward the end of the night, the backroom karaoke stage where some pretty hilarious attempted singing was happening.

It only took us about two and a half hours to eat ourselves silly and consume epic amounts of food. We began with two platters of chicken ggan pung gi - crispy, garlicky chicken wings with sesame seeds - that were out of this world and a kimchee sampler, as much to buy time to decide what to order as to begin eating.

We had a Steelers fan in our midst who listened to the end of the game in the car in the parking lot before rejoining us, disappointed in her team. The evening's instigator, looking very handsome in a voluminous beard, shared his latest business building venture. Two of our group are yoga devotees, so we heard about yoga training and postures that contribute to a good night's sleep.

On the subject of sleep, it turned out we had several people with sleep problems, never an issue for me. Ambien horror stories were shared about meals eaten while asleep, unknown things said to others in the dead of night, waking up on the bathroom floor, toothbrush in mouth with no recollection of getting there.

It all made me very grateful that I sleep so well (the "sleep of the just" as my aunt always refers to it), although I think my daily walks contribute to that.

Eventually we began to order, which had the added benefit of meat being cooked on the burner directly in front of my seat, providing a lovely heat source right in my cold face.

While most of us are thoroughly adventurous eaters, we had two more tentative types, meaning no overt ordering of beef tongue or ox knee, or at least none that we identified by name to them, but we still managed an ungodly amount of bulgogi, pork belly, short ribs and beef (wink, wink). Glass noodles and pan-fried vegetables were the ideal complement to all that protein along with gold-flecked sake (well, it was a celebration of friendship).

With tongues loosened, we heard about who doesn't like having their feet rubbed (I love it) and who has a hard time relaxing when they get a massage (not me). A friend bemoaned his trendy barbershop, which doesn't do shampoos, meaning he misses a good scalp massage.

Who knew there were people who didn't like rubbing as much as I do?

Meanwhile, plates just kept being passed until the only thing that remained on the table were lettuce leaves, condiments and scraps of kimchee, leaving everyone in a food coma.

Sikhye, the sweet Korean digestif with grains of cooked rice, was ordered next, but the chef's homemade version had sold out, so we settled for a canned version, not bad, but not as good, either.

A friend talked about the food website he's having built (he was also the one to insist on taking pictures before we were allowed to eat anything), we got off on a tangent about the limitations of getting security clearance (a lot of which I knew from my brother-in-law) and heard a lawyer's advice on what to do if a cop stops you, as in how to respond and phrase questions (Are you detaining me, officer?).

And with the exception of one person who claims he's so famous he has to stay connected, no one looked at their phones during our meal. Just seven friends laughing, talking, drinking and eating.

Putting on our coats to go, one of our group chimed in with the karaoke in the back, warbling "A Whole New World" as we trooped out.

By any estimation, the night had been a rousing success. Shining, shimmering and splendid, in Aladdin's words. Fun and filling in mine.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Interrelated Structure of Reality

We must learn to live together as brothers sisters or perish together as fools. 
~ MLK (with a small adjustment)

Some movies are worth seeing a second time. Some issues are worth addressing until we get them right.

"Selma" is one of those films and racial justice definitely one of those issues, so when I saw that Hands On Greater Richmond was showing it at the Byrd this afternoon in honor of tomorrow's MLK holiday, I not only decided to attend, but made plans with others to go.

Waiting for the film to start, I watched as a diverse crowd - ages and ethnicities -filed into the Byrd. When I asked the woman next to me what had brought her out, she said it was her sister, who'd read about the screening online. Her sister soon arrived with a large popcorn and joined the conversation about King.

And then she did something extraordinary: she extended her popcorn tub and offered me some. As many times as I've been to the movies, no stranger has ever offered to share. Mind blown.

The film was every bit as difficult and uplifting as it had been the first time and the scenes of troopers beating peaceful protesters were no easier to watch the second time. Once again, I was dumbstruck at how perfectly David Oyelowo captured King's cadence, look and mannerisms.

After the film, there was a panel (including Oliver Hill, Jr.) to lead a discussion about race in Richmond and while about a third of the audience bolted after the movie ended, I stayed, as did my seat mates.

One of the panelists talked about how some people who participated in the marches later came down with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another spoke of how although Virginia tried to be more genteel about race relations back then, there was the same threat of violence for blacks (Hill recalled a cross being burnt on his family's lawn in Battery Park). We were reminded of the key role of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee, in tandem with King's efforts and the legal battle to get states to comply with integration.

If you weren't alive or haven't studied the Civil Rights movement, this film is a good platform to learn about it, we were told. "What is the person in your seat going to do?" one of the panelists challenged.

In other words, it was an interesting start to the discussion, but one of us needed to use the bathroom, so I crept out, intending to come back. Except then I wound up having a far more significant discussion in the ladies' room of the Byrd Theater and never went back.

When I came out of the stall, a black woman was washing her hands and I asked how she'd liked the movie. "I cried so many times," she said, which was also true for me, I told her, and it was my second time seeing it. Hers, too.

Very naturally and quickly, Wilma and I discovered we were four years apart in age and had a lot of memories of that era in common. "Remember how we all listened to the same music?" she recollected. "Black, white, nobody paid attention to what color they were, we listened to it all. Now they listen to the music that matches their skin. We didn't make that distinction."

I did know.

Standing in the ladies' room, we talked about racial attitudes then and now. She shared how a new co-worker in her office had expressed surprise to find she was black because she didn't think her name "sounded black." Wait, it gets worse. The woman said to her, "I bet you cook some good fried chicken."

It's the 21st century and a woman working at VCU said this to her. Brilliantly, Wilma told her that no, she didn't like the popping oil, so she always bought chicken when she wanted it. She should have smacked her upside the head.

As recently as Friday, one of the doctors she works with made a comment that she'd probably be going to a rally Monday (for the MLK holiday). This was an educated man who said this.

I was struck by her comments about Africans and American blacks when she mentioned how little knowledge she and others have about life in Africa, so they wouldn't fit in there, either. It made my heart hurt when she said, "We don't belong anywhere."

She remembered the houses torn down in Jackson Ward for the highway and the creation of housing projects. When she began to explain where Gilpin Court was, I told her I lived in J-Ward and knew what she was talking about.

"Where in Jackson Ward?" she asked, clearly surprised and we exchanged addresses. Turns out she lives three blocks from me, so we've probably seen each other plenty of times. I don't know which of us was more tickled or incredulous.

When she brought up how generations used to live together, I told her that my grandmother had moved in with us when she was in her '50s and how her wisdom had added to the household. I heard how her parents had kept most of the ugly racial goings-on of the time from her and her siblings.

Since she never had to sit at the back of the bus, the Civil Rights movement was more of a history lesson to her than a reality, while I was actually bussed to a black high school, so I have memories of the changes happening.

Eventually, we chatted so long, bonding almost, that the real discussion ended, people began exiting the auditorium and women began coming into the bathroom.

We walked out together not long after the sun set and strolled down Cary Street still talking about the difference in how people react to injustice now as opposed to then. "Young people today are too involved with their devices. No one cares beyond their own interests and needs," she lamented.

Passing a man who was asking for change, she got upset. "Grown men asking for money! Men didn't use to beg on the streets like that, they went out and looked for work. What's happened to the world?"

Too much to cover before we reached our cars. Besides, we're just a couple of Jackson Ward sisters saying goodnight and hoping we'd see each other around the neighborhood.

Yes, I missed a lot of the official discussion post-film and that's a shame. But the person in my seat is convinced connecting with a stranger and the resulting conversation is what really matters today.

Shouldn't we all have a dream?

Fast and Flurry-ous

Forget snow ice cream, here's my recipe for a snow day:

Head toward Belle Isle, umbrella overhead, meeting a couple of guys and their dogs frolicking on a hill near Tredegar along the way.

Fold in a snowy walk - a rare treat - across a bridge spanning the silvery James.

After wandering the island, meander back to Jackson Ward, stopping for a fried chicken biscuit at Saison market. It's Sunday, so fried chicken and biscuits is de rigueur where I come from.

Add in running into a friend who'd left for San Francisco two days after I got back and lose time comparing Mission notes, walking adventures and Gloria Ferrar stories.

Take time to savor La Lunotte's "Terra Incognito," a Sauvignon Blanc from 25-75 year old vines that tastes like butterscotch and lemon custard in a glass, as unlike a Sauvignon Blanc as any I've tasted.

Arrive home cold, only marginally wet and very satisfied. Serves: one.

A Conversation to Be Wished

A carefully scripted evening delivered a surprise ending with intermittent attention below the waist.

For the second night in a row, I had the pleasure of being ferried, this time by a right-brain friend, a person from whom I get a Google calendar reminder that he'll be picking me up at 5:45 so we can make our 6:00 reservation at Rappahannock. So personal.

Seated next to the kitchen, my couple date got their winter on, indulging in hot gin punch and a hot buttered rum while we noshed on a pork and pickles plate of Soprasetta, Prosciutto, pickles and and apple mostarda, a piquant pork preamble to our meal.

When I inquired about tonight's oysters, our server (who was apparently untrained in silverware placement, having reversed knives and forks at all three place settings) surprised me by announcing a "guest oyster" from Tangier Island. Oh, boy, where do I sign up?

I didn't forgo my usual Olde Salts (puh-leeze), I just added in Tangiers for contrast since they were described as "buttery and meaty," two qualities I admire in my food. Naturally, I began with the Tangiers since they were milder (and as decidedly meaty as promised), so when I slurped my first Old Salt afterwards, it was especially like getting a mouthful of ocean after being knocked down by a wave.

Exquisitely delicious, in other words.

After being invited to dip into Beau's colorful ceviche studded with beets and grapefruit, I went straight to my Chincoteague clam chowder which boasted an appealingly and unexpectedly light hand with cream and was chock full of house bacon and crispy fingerling potatoes. I don't know that I've had better.

Our server expressed difficulty in grasping "theater time," asking if we needed the check by 8 for an 8:00 curtain (a bit of travel time would be helpful, my dear), but we we made it out in time to collect the car and have a short adventure along the way.

Waiting downstairs by the parking lot attendant for Beau to fetch the car, the attendant looked over at me and without missing a beat, observed, "You have some nice legs!" no doubt due to my magenta lace tights. In a fine mood, I got cocky, informing him he wasn't going to see a better pair tonight.

"You don't need to tell me," he said, taking a seat on a stool in front of his booth. "I'm a leg man." He went on to explain that he'd bought his wife some lacy tights, "But then she got big and they didn't look the same."

And since I always introduce myself to a leg man, I met Alvin, who seemed quite happy to chat with us between dealing with arriving parkers.

When Pru cracked wise about his name, Alvin asked if we remembered Alvin, Theodore and Simon, the chipmunks. Duh. "I had a friend named Theodore," he says. " We used to run the streets together. Then one time, he decided to rob a bank on Broad Street. Who'd have thought the boy had it in him? Tripped me out," he finished, shaking his head.

Whoa. I didn't even want to ask if he'd known anyone named Simon.

It was a sold-out crowd at Richmond Triangle Players for Quill Theater's production of "Stupid F**king Bird," a crowd that included the play's actors in costume mingling with patrons. I did a double-take standing next to Audra, whose dark make-up rendered her almost unrecognizable.

Walking by a small group, my tights again got noticed, this time by a couple of award-winning actresses, one of whom declared, "You look fierce!" about my ensemble. Not bad for an old lady, eh?

Is it wrong to admit that I've always wanted to be called fierce, at least once?

Beau had procured seats in the "sky box," that is, the uppermost tier of RTP, with the bonus of a cocktail table and a commanding view of the immersive set containing life-size trees and a wooden walkway with the audience seated all throughout.

The play, a riff on Chekov's "The Seagull," was as navel-gazing as a Seinfeld episode with everyone absorbed by their own reality and problems. Emma was the worst kind of mother, self-centered and un-involved, and her son Con's psyche was deeply bruised from it.

Only Trig, the successful writer who alone manages to die happy, is able to see himself "in a complicated mirror, not a fun house mirror," a difficult appraisal for all of us.

Mash is in love with Con (who aspires to create a new form of theater rather than re-imagining the old way), who only has eyes for the vapid Nina, but Mosh's misery over unrequited love necessitates boundless misery, black clothing and make-up.

When challenged about her somber attire, she shoots back, "Black is slimming. I'm in mourning for my life, I'm that unhappy."

And she's one of the ones who finally throws off the shackles of misery and embraces life, marrying and starting a family with the devoted Dev, a gem of a guy who's loved her for years while she ignored him, but never given up (the kind of male character women dream of).

Plenty of the play's lines resonated with me ("You can be happy if you're poor"), some of it mirrored a time I well remember ("It was sexual harassment that worked out at the time") and some stated truths I'd willingly attest to ("A love so profound my thighs ache").

Interactivity was key to the story as the actors actively engaged the audience for opinions. Con, seeking to figure out why ambitious Nina doesn't love him, queried a man who advised that she'd love him if he was successful because "cute doesn't matter."

The over-riding theme was that it was time to make some fresh choices, and who among us wouldn't agree with that, no matter what point we're at in our lives.

"I wanna be 27 again," 60-year old Sorn says. "I think I'm ready to do my late twenties really well now." Couldn't we all?

Like on Seinfeld, it wasn't easy to like all the characters given how baldly they wore their neuroses and issues on their sleeves ("You all are so hopelessly f*cked up in so many ways"), but the cast made these unhappy people come alive in a way that balanced comedy and drama as if on life's see-saw.

Deny it if you want, but all of us have, like Mash, wallowed in our unhappiness while squirting a can of whipped cream into our open mouth (okay, if you're a guy, maybe it was EZ-Cheese), a scene that read like a page from anyone's story.

Love and life are discussed endlessly (add clouds and you'd have Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now"), as is art and the issue of whether anyone will care about what you're creating in 100 years (personally, I hope my blog is an informative chronicle of Richmond's 21st century scene and that's enough), making for endless soul-searching.

As we all learn in the journey of life, too often "all the bullshit stifles all the possibilities." Sadly, when we allow that to happen, it's easy to wake up one day and realize most of your life is over and you've never really lived it. I see no point in that.

The creative staging of the play meant that from our sky box seats, we were often looking at actors' backs as they spoke, not a bad thing since part of Con's goal as a playwright/director was to create new forms of theater, aka happenings, not boring actors playing others in scripted traditional theater, which he hoped was going the way of the dodo and bell-botttoms.

Tonight's production proved that Quill is masterful at staging a thought-provoking happening that expands the definition of theater. I only wished I'd been in a seat that allowed one of the actors to ask my opinion of life and love because I could have talked.

But you don't go see fascinating theater and not allow discussion time, so we left Scott's Addition for Belle & James' DJ night, where, as it turned out, I was happy to run into all the young dudes, or at least plenty of my male friends.

My favorite shoegaze guitarist was playing DJ, so the soundtrack (which, appropriately, included multiple obscure Bowie covers) was killer, but there was also the unexpected delight of running into the history nerd, the heavily bearded former bartender now construction hero, the fashion expert leaving tomorrow for Cancun, the liquor rep now transplanted to the beach and up for a tasting and, of course, the friend in charge of B&J's comestibles.

Once we finished our drinks, he was so kind as to take us on a tour of the soon-to-be-opened hotel. It was like being on a set, kind of eerie looking at rooms completely devoid of humans, but already with touches such as fragrant lilies in vases and piles of fruit in bowls.

The scene was set for people to begin arriving and living their lives, whether enthusiastically or miserably, exactly like the characters in "Stupid F*cking Bird."

Except I don't want to do my late 20s again. Truth be told, I'm more than happy throwing myself into living out all the possibilities of every decade.

Something's lost, but something's gained, in fiercely living every day.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Nothing Happens Here

I'm not going to lie, I'd never seen "Grand Hotel" before. Somewhere out there, I know my film friends are recoiling in horror.

Even so, I almost missed it today at Movialand, sleeping in longer than I intended to, although not as long as a friend off in Washington for the weekend, who posted, "Can't think of the last time I got out of bed after noon. Feeling 22 and 92 all at once. Thanks, D.C.!"

Personally, I see nothing old lady-like about sleeping in. My measuring stick is when I went to bed plus nine hours and, voila! I'm up, whatever time that may be. Today, it allowed just enough time for a quick bowl of cereal and a fast walk to the Bowtie under sunny skies.

Among the many surprises about this film (besides that only five people attended) was learning that this is where Garbo's famous line, "I want to be alone" came from. That and, man, was she flat-chested.

It was easily the youngest role I'd ever seen Joan Crawford in - Joan before she was a caricature of herself - so young she didn't yet have those awful eyebrows or exaggerated lipstick mouth. And no enormous shoulder pads, either. In fact, playing a stenographer, she wore the same dress the entire movie something Miss Crawford never would have allowed in her heyday.

But I could still see the seeds of the character she would become, such as when the meek Otto offers to buy her a drink, namely the same rum-based Louisiana Flip he's drinking, and she demurs with, "No, absinthe."

Now there's a woman after my own heart.

John Barrymore plays the baron, a charming man with no money who asks her, "Don't you like dancing with strangers?" She apparently doesn't, while I have no such hang-up.

Since the film began with naming the many characters and the actors playing them, I knew that Lionel Barrymore was one of them, but it took me until the final 15 minutes to recognize him, and then it was only because of his voice.

Yes, I know he's a member of the esteemed Barrymores, but my only frame of reference for him is "It's a Wonderful Life" and the physical similarities were non-existent (hair present, belly absent). During a key scene, though, he sounded so much like Mr. Potter that the light bulb finally went off in my head.

Since I knew almost nothing about the film going in besides a vague notion that it had a star-studded cast, I wasn't even sure when it had been made. Given the luminous Art Deco set of the hotel, my guess was the '30s.

But it sure wasn't the circumspect kind of '30s films that immediately comes to mind. Unmarried characters stay in the same hotel room overnight. A married man buys a woman's services to accompany him to London. An unscrupulous businessman lies to potential partners with no repercussions. Scantily-clad women sashay around men. Men exercising in nothing but a towel. Wait a minute...

Midway through the movie, it dawned on me that this had to be a pre-Hays Code film, otherwise these characters would never have gotten away with such "unseemly" (in other words, real life) behavior. Wow, this was an old movie.

More importantly, another notch in my cultural literacy belt.

Favorite line:  "A man who is not with a woman is a dead man." It's good to know that some sentiments are timeless.

Drinking It All In

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. ~ Hamlet

I feel bad as I'm leaving the grocery store and a man approaches me smiling, pleased to run into me again, he says. I don't really recognize him but I don't not recognize him, either, if you know what I mean. Pausing to talk for a few minutes, we cover a lot of ground, ending with laughter.

As we're parting, a woman walking by says, "You two look well together," and he grins with pleasure.

But I'm feeling good when I get an e-mail from a friend with a night off and I invite her to join me in my plans for the evening. Not only is she willing, she offers to pick me up, a rare treat for me.

I'd chosen the new red-striped Boulevard Burgers and Brews, not for any other reason than I'm thrilled with the renovation of that long-ago hamburger stand. I was pretty much certain it would be mobbed (it was) and that we'd have to wait, not a problem since it had been months since we'd gotten together and there was lots to share.

While the music was plenty loud in the parking lot, the cacophony inside made hearing even a snippet of a song difficult and we had to repeat our name to the hostess several times before she heard it and put us on the list (wait time: 45 minutes).

As luck would have it, a single stool opened up at the bar, so we took it as our base of operation during the interim. She's just back from Isla Holbox in Mexico, full of stories (and photos) of the freshest of ceviche lunches, roads paved with sand rather than concrete, and nothing else to do but eat, drink and read.

My heathen ism aside, it sounds a little like heaven to me.

Jammed in as we were, it was inevitable that our neighbors would chat us up at some point. The couple to our left overheard us discussing movies and jumped in to highly recommend Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" (at the same time warning us about the huge amount of violence) while her date nodded his agreement.

I have to admit, we were the ones who engaged the woman to our right (whose seat I was coveting) when she ordered one of the "adult" milkshakes, the Muddy Beaver, a long, tall glass of Kahlua, Frangelico and chocolate soft serve ice cream with a dark chocolate rim, a concoction she was having for dessert.

The boozy shake took me right back to my 20s in Washington, when I frequented Armand's in Tenleytown, partly for their fabulous deep dish pizza, but just as much for the obscenely alcoholic ice cream drinks they served. It had been decades since I'd thought about them.

Once she left, all was good as I commandeered her stool and we could finally order, in my case, an order of B3s (a recurring theme for the night) and a side of onion rings. My sliders came on sweet Hawaiian bread with sauteed onions, cheddar and secret sauce, while her Cali was festooned with kale, Granny Smith apples, avocado, tomato and apple preserves.

Watching the chaos in the room as we ate, I inquired of the bartender if it had been such a madhouse every moment since opening. Affirmative. "I'm just glad I'm not working the milkshake station," she said with real feeling. "I have nightmares about that." No doubt given the scores of both kid-friendly and adult shakes we saw go by.

It seemed like a bad idea to linger when people were still poring through the doors, so we settled up.

Fed and mostly up to date on each other's lives, we left for Hardywood and Movie Club Richmond's screening of "Strange Brew," a movie, I admit, I completely ignored in 1983 when it came out. In all likelihood, I was too busy drinking strawberry orgasms at Armand's.

I can also say with certainty that I have absolutely no recollection of it being a riff on "Hamlet."

We arrived in time to catch the end of Dirty Bourbon River Show's set, with my friend commenting that the lead singer looked like the strong man at the circus with his mustache and red tank top. "How often do you see a tuba in a band?" she asked of me. Let's see, every time I see No BS Brass band?

Looking around, she mentioned what a small town Richmond is, pointing out a couple her sister knows (and dislikes) and a woman wearing a sweater by an artisan she knows. It's tough to be sneaky in this town, that's for sure.

Once they cleared out and chairs were set up, we nabbed two in the front row, being short and all, and awaited the hilarity of a movie so intentionally bad it was good.

Movie Club's Andrew introduced "Strange Brew," a movie supposedly shot in 3B (that's 3 beers) as "a Canadian cult comic classic and my favorite adaptation of 'Hamlet," while its 1983 production ensured bad facial hair, jeans and glasses.

The setting? Elsinore Brewery, of course, where something is rotten.

Just as good were references to the era, such as, "The brewery business has become very competitive" and "Sounds like a British new wave band" about some odd screeching on a disc.

There was even a Star Wars joke - "He saw 'Jedi' 17 times" - and an intermission, or at least the words "intermission" on the screen briefly, causing some guys in the crowd, to yell, "What the hell? F*ck you!" in response to an intermission in a 90-minute film. That's just Canadian humor, kids.

And because it was SCTV, well Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas anyway, the film was rife with fart jokes, pee humor, steamrolling and hockey references, but their best may have been, "If I didn't have puke breath, I'd kiss you."

After Bob McKenzie puts out the fire at the insane asylum by peeing on it (he has, after all, drunk all the beer in a tank to save him and our heroine from drowning in it), my friend leans over and observes, "My nephews would have loved this. They're 8 and 10."

You don't have to like beer to like "Hamlet" in 3B.

When we get up to leave after the brothers have saved the world, a couple of guys approach us. "How'd you like your burgers?' they ask as casually as if they knew us. No recognition on my part. Turns out they were sitting at a nearby table at Boulevard Burgers, reason enough to chat.

Bad as my memory can be, the good news is, I'm memorable. Or at least thinking makes it so.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Making a Woman Fan Out of Me

If I couldn't actually be at the edge of the sea, at least I could witness the funk.

Ghostprint Gallery's opening for Carol Meese's "Edge of the Sea" exhibition offered a vaguely abstract look at a landscape I know very well. The artist, one of those fortunate people who have a house on the Outer Banks, created works evoking but not technically representing the beach and water I've been visiting annually since I was two.

The pieces are incredibly atmospheric, whether it's a view of the beach walking South, like "Orange and Gray" or one from the non-ocean side, such as "Salvo Sound." Birds, sea foam, grasses, everything is suggested rather than clearly defined with Meese's loose brushstrokes and painterly style.

If you're like me, the show will make you wish it were warmer weather and you were there. That, or it'll make you wish you had a fatter wallet. As a girlfriend I ran into put it, "I aspire to be able to buy art." The works in the show were actually very well-priced, just out of the range of freelance writers.

I convened an ad hoc film discussion when I ran into a couple of fellow film buffs, briefly abandoning art. UR's International Film series is about to crank up again and a friend made me laugh when she described it as, "A wonderful foreign film series, but all the movies, even the comedies, are depressing." She exaggerates, but only a tad.

A pragmatist would say they're just more realistic than Hollywood versions.

Tonight's main event was a show at the National which began with only about 40 people present for opener Rome Fortune, a hip hop artist from Atlanta dressed all in white. No, hip hop isn't usually my thing, but if I only went to see musicians who were my "thing," I'd be a pretty stale person, now wouldn't I?

I prefer to think that I'm not.

We gave the guy credit, though, because despite the insufficient crowd, he danced and rapped his heart out with solid beats and engaging arrangements, gradually enticing people to, as he put it, "move those asses,' even calling out a guy for not dancing with the lovely lady beside him.

Personally, I think men should be called out for that sin more often.

In the bathroom after his set, I heard a girl tell her friend, "I'm a fan of tall, well-dressed dudes but right now, I don't wanna walk that slanted floor in these heels." I have no clue what good-looking hunk of man meat she was passing on for the sake of cute shoes.

As a woman of a certain age, I  have a policy on that matter, learned through experience. Never wear shoes you can't walk in to do whatever it is you might want to do, honey.

Walking back to my position in front of the sound booth, I was amazed at how many more people of all ages had shown up, including a guy behind me who leaned in and asked, "Do they sell pot here?"

Well, I don't know about that, but there definitely was a lot of pot smoking going on in the crowd once Lettuce took the stage and, for that matter, there was also crowd-surfing and light saber-waving. It was a colorful crowd, all around.

I'd discovered Lettuce a few months ago when I'd first heard "He Made a Woman Out of Me" and been smitten, intrigued by the sound of a six-piece funk band inspired by Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire who'd formed at Berklee College 24 years ago.

As long as I've been around and as much as I like a good funk band, that's a long time not to have heard of them.

Needless to say, after a quarter of a century together the group - trumpet, sax, guitar, bass, keys, drums - was impressively tight, nailing stops, starts and tempo changes as easily as batting their eyes. The horns were especially swoon-worthy, put through all kinds of effects and sometimes following the lead guitar's role in moving the music along. The drummer killed it and every kind of percussion was trotted out to fuel the funk.

A sticker on the sound guy's laptop proclaimed the band's intent: "May the funk be with you."

Best of all, the dude-heavy crowd - described by my companion as old, young, hippies, music geeks and festival kids - started dancing from the first notes and never stopped (except between songs) for two sets. Fact is, you can still dance, even when you're passing a joint or waving a light saber. But then, the point of funk is to shake your ass.

As the keyboard player soulfully sang, "You gotta do your thing." You know I did.