Monday, February 29, 2016

Just Like Christmas

Only on a leap year's extra day might I walk outside on a balmy February evening and hear the bells of the ice cream truck on the next block.

If that doesn't scream global warming, I don't know what does.

In between writing sessions, I roped a willing walking partner into doing a seven mile loop with me that took us down to Belle Isle where winter's heavy precipitation left trees with roots exposed and sunning rocks still completely underwater.

We ran into a friend of his out walking his dog and his comment about the weather was the pithiest of the day. "Don't you love this Spring-like weather? Hell, it hasn't been this warm since Christmas Day!"

Hilarious and true.

Starved from all the walking, we lunched mid-afternoon in a restaurant with the door wide open, a warm breeze blowing in and jazz standards playing overhead.

After closeting myself away, albeit with windows wide open, to work for the rest of the daylight hours, or, at least until I heard the ice cream truck, I decided to keep tonight simple with some British humor.

For my evening's entertainment, I'd chosen the play-turned-movie based on mostly true events and starring the inimitable Maggie Smith - incidentally speaking fluid French and playing the piano flawlessly - as "The Lady in the Van," who takes up residence in the driveway of playwright Alan Bennett for 15 years.

Describing her scent as equal parts lavender talc (such an old lady thing), latrine and sherbet lemons, the story of why this reclusive writer with no social life and a fair amount of guilt about not seeing his aging mother more often would allow such a cantankerous and demanding person to take over his property works because every scene with Dame Maggie is like watching a master class in acting.

What she does with one withering look represents a lifetime of acting experience.

Watching the film, which takes place between 1970 and 1989, I was struck by how accepting of this essentially homeless person with a van the middle class London neighborhood was.

Parents and their children deliver Christmas gifts, people bring her fruit and desserts (which she accepts most ungraciously or turns down entirely), everyone accepts that she's taken up residence, even when she surrounds the van with plastic bag full of junk and feces.

It occurred to me that at some point since 1989, we crossed over into the NIMBY zone, as in "not in my backyard" and that few middle-class neighborhoods today would put up with a smelly, unfriendly, mostly alienating and hugely selfish person basically camping out on their street.

Happily, all this transpired in a different world and, luckily for successive generations, it was a writer's driveway she unknowingly sought for her final resting place (if by final you mean a decade and a half) so that the saga could be recorded for the ages.

Or until global warming reaches the heat intensity of the Grippo's barbecue potato chips I was turned on to today, whichever comes first.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The New Normal

Sometimes you just have to walk away from the work and go hear a couple of bands.

Because this weekend has been pretty much one continuous attempt to make deadlines, I missed a lot of things I'd wanted to do. I didn't get to see "Love Me Tender" for the first time at Bowtie or go hear Buscrates' live set at Steady Sounds or make it to the UR movie "Two Days, One Night."

Other than walking, the past few days have been all about the writing and while I briefly considered staying home tonight to do more of the same, I caved.

It was still unseasonably warm, so I walked over to Tarrant's back door for a slice, randomly running into two couples along the way, and realizing afterwards that those two conversations were the first I'd had all day.

At Gallery 5, I felt an hand on my arm, only to find a Brazilian musician I know who's in town to produce a couple of songs for Candy Spots, the first band playing tonight. He'd also played a gig with Bio Ritmo at Hardywood yesterday - "They gave me a big beer!" he gushed - and enjoyed that immensely.

I could see why he'd wanted to produce Candy Spots. To my ear, their jangly '90s-alternative sound had a lot to recommend it. The fact that it was one of the guitarists' birthdays tonight clearly distracted him because he forgot the chords on the chorus of the first song, a fact he pointed out.

The girl playing bass cut him slack, though, saying, "It's his birthday! Who needs a chorus?" When she thanked the room for coming out on a Sunday night and Oscar night at that, someone yelled, "Who cares? Leo's not gonna win!"

Pshaw, I know people who stayed home to watch solely so they could critique the red carpet attire, never mind the awards.

Just as the band began the song they're working on with the Brazilian, all the power went out. After much scurrying, it came back on, the show picked up where it left off and the band completed their short set.

After an interminable set-up period, Baltimore's Other Colors - sax, bongos, guitars, bass, keyboards and drums - began their set romantically with "Dream of Me."  It didn't matter; they had me at bongos.

Even if they hadn't announced they were from Charm City, I'd have known they weren't Richmond musicians. Too much short hair (except the drummer), fashionable clothes (pushed up sleeves on the sax player's blazer, so very not Richmond) and a glaring lack of facial hair (again, the drummer abstained) confirmed their outsider status.

Superficial qualities aside, they were well-rehearsed and had a dancey sound that appealed to the crowd and got some people moving in place.

"Is It Love" featured both bongos and sax and felt a bit like 21st century Boz Scaggs, if you know what I mean. Lyrics such as "a slippery sense of rhythm" were married to beats, recorded tracks and multiple vocalists, making for a vibe that would've been ideal for a hip lounge scene in a foreign film.

They call their sound "spectralist pop" which came across as earnest pop with a wailing sax and tinges of '70s jazz to it. I liked it.

Before doing "Life in Boxes," the keyboard player said, "I'd like to thank electricity for making this performance possible." After the earlier delay, I think we could all get behind that.

They were very gracious, too, thanking the crowd for being friendly, letting us know it was the last night of their tour and how cool they though Gallery 5 was. Good manners, these Baltimore boys.

But eventually work guilt reared its ugly head and I left after their set. The big surprise for me came once I walked home to find that apparently all of Jackson Ward had lost power, not just Gallery 5, because my stove clock was flashing and my computer turned off.

As someone who's lived here for almost ten years, I can tell you it's almost unheard of to lose power in this neighborhood. Whew! Good thing I hadn't been home working and lost a particularly pithy paragraph to power failure.

They say it's hard to get through a day without a good rationalization. There's mine.

Give Peace a Chance

Some intersections are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I seriously doubt I will ever again listen to a poet laureate and living legend on the same night I witness a woman in a mini-trench coat lip sync-ing to "Man, I Feel Like a Woman."

The great January snowstorm Jonas had caused "An Evening with an Icon: Sonia Sanchez" to be rescheduled, allowing even more anticipation for it, so waiting in line for 40 minutes just to get in to the Grace Street Theater despite having bought my ticket two months ago shouldn't have surprised me.

Inside the theater, I sat down between two men, both wearing Bernie buttons (one of whom who had been a Sanders' HQ this afternoon when a 4' cutout of Bernie being arrested during a '60s demonstration had been delivered) and both dedicated jazz nerds.

My only value in the conversation was when it came to current jazz cats (their term) in the local scene, many of whom I've seen play at Balliceaux. The Bernie fan to my right, formerly very active in Detroit's jazz scene and a come-here eight years ago, even asked for a list of local acts to check out.

In return, he gave me a book recommendation, so we're even now.

When he found out I'd done the piece in Style about Sanchez, he leaned in and said, "I wanna thank you for writing that article because otherwise I'd never have known about this." Interestingly enough, he had seen her read her poetry back in the '80s.

First we saw the recent documentary about her, "BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez," a fascinating look at her life as an activist, member of the Black Arts movement, teacher and poet as well as the challenges she'd faced - FBI, being a single mother, recriminations from her father, lack of tenure - for being politically active.

When she was introduced, suddenly scores of phones were held up to capture her arrival and a lot of what she had to say, so I could barely see her onstage for the first ten or so minutes..

Asked about being poet laureate, she told a story of neighborhood children about to fight in front of her house and teaching them how to breathe to unwind. She then surprised everyone in the audience by telling us to stand and do deep ten deep breaths with her as a way of calming, a  practice she teaches her students.

"That's what I've been doing as Poet Laureate," she said to much laughter.

She also said many meaningful things, such as, "Each generation has to continue the struggle of the generation before," and "It always comes back to peace," but the most significant admonishment was, "Don't tell me you came and enjoyed this film and you're not going to go back and do something."

I think that's why my seatmates were wearing Bernie pins.

When one man, during the Q & A, asked how his generation could come together in the same way the '60s and '70s generations had, she corrected him, explaining that that only happens once people begin working toward what's important to them and finding like-minded individuals.

Another man asked how to clear his head of negative energy so he could write better and she  became my hero by asking, "Do you walk? Walking frames you for the day. It clears the brain," and went on about the benefits of daily walking. As an 81-year old, she would know.

All I can say is, major props to the Afrikana Film Festival for bringing such a culturally important woman to Richmond to share her life and stories with a sold-out audience. This city's cool points were off the charts tonight.

The only way to follow something so wonderfully high-brow was with, um, something quite the opposite?

Tonight was Late Night Lip Sync Battle at the Basement and it's impossible to convey how much fun it is to watch teams of local theater types compete for nothing but bragging rights.

Tonight's battle was even more special because both teams - the Velvet Rope and Cats Don't Care - were all women teams who, as Sonia had proven, are fearless and brilliant (one, a doula, had participated in the delivery of a 9 1/2 pound baby yesterday). They can even dance.

So much estrogen at battle also opened the door to multiple costume and wig changes, a lot of pumps and lipstick as prop.

You have to understand, there's a million points at stake for each round and three million for the final round. That's millions of meaningless points.

In between, there are erotic vegetable poses, scavenger hunts (Sarah won because I gave her my ballpoint pen, the requested item) and beer chugging to determine who goes first.

The Velvet Rope killed it with their opening song, "Alexander Hamilton," complete with whisky bottle and umbrellas to further the story and followed strong with Mary singing lead on Beyonce's "Formation," performed in camouflage jackets while tossing out packets of hot sauce.

Pretty impressive, right?

But then Cats Don't Care retaliated with a song from Disney's "Hercules," which Sarah had never heard before yesterday, having been a late addition to the team and having had parents who didn't let her watch Greek mythology.

Or maybe that was just her story and she was sticking to it.

The Improv round is always terrific because the teams don't know the upcoming songs and have to decide on the spot who will handle each. Their consternation is part of the fun of watching.

Watching these woman take on gems like "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," and "What's Love Got to Do With It?" and "Don't You Want to Dance?" and "My Heart Will Go On" was like a primer in the classic gay karaoke repertoire, pure emoting and overacting that worked the crowd into a drama kid frenzy.

The big finales took it even further with TVR doing "Hey, Now" in fur coats and hats and CDC doing "Bang, Bang" complete with black banged-bob.

For those keeping score at home, Cats Don't Care took home the non-existent prize, but, of course, they didn't care and a dance party ensued.

Mind and body got a workout tonight. Tomorrow, like the icon Sonia Sanchez, I will walk to clear the mind.

Only then can doing something follow.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hook, Line and Sinker

Physically, yes, I could fight a bird. But emotionally? Imagine the toll. ~ sign outside Rumors

If you'd asked me on Monday what I was doing Friday, I'd have said going to a lecture on Rodin and dishing with a friend. If you'd asked me this morning what I was doing tonight, I'd have said meeting a friend at Rapp Session, going to dinner at Heritage and then attending the "B" word, a rap session for women only.

That's not exactly how it worked out.

Oh, sure, I was at Rapp Session at the appointed time, only to have a balled up napkin thrown at me as I walked in, courtesy of a favorite gardener-turned-wine maven ensconced at a table with his wine brethren.

He stood up to chat with his target, regaling me with tales of his new career path, his retreat from gardening and his unwieldy schedule. Apparently, it's hard becoming a grown-up at 41.

Taking a seat at the bar (backless wooden bar stools, yuck) provided the first opportunity to look at the drink list (all Virginia wines except the sparklers with one exception, hooray), assess the chalkboard listing of oyster varieties (pricey and hard to read) and take a gander at the menu (the tiniest of fonts, lots of snacks and, finally, seafood towers arrive in RVA) while waiting for my friend to show.

Eventually, the hostess comes over to pass on a message that my friend was delayed but would arrive shortly. When she guessed that he'd lost his phone, forcing him to have to call the restaurant, I politely explained that, in fact, it was actually my lack of cell phone that prevented him from contacting me directly.

The look of horror in her eyes was adorable. Or maybe that was just pity?

While I waited, the lights dimmed seductively, brightened again ten minutes later, dimmed again and finally settled on mid-bright. I assumed it was an electrical malfunction until being told that no, they were still trying to establish the correct light level given the ridiculously small font on the menu.

When asked my opinion, I said I was quite sure that most women would prefer a larger font to operation room-like lighting. The music, on the other hand, worked well with gems straight out of the Great American Songbook, swingin' gems such as "Sentimental Journey" and "Stormy Weather."

After what I considered a reasonable amount of time, I gave up any pretense of politeness in waiting for my friend and ordered a glass of Barren Ridge Vidal Blanc. The couple to my left was enjoying Old Saltes and cocktails while the man to my right ordered Scotch.

Looking for conversation, I asked why he was there and he explained that he works in Richmond during the week and usually goes home to New England on the weekend. "Except when it's so much colder up there, then I stay here. If it's cold in both places, I go to Florida for the weekend."

I could relate. I prefer as much warmth as possible myself.

Eventually, I gave up on my tardy friend and decided to leave for greener pastures. I wasn't upset, just ready for a change of scenery. Wouldn't you know just as I was crossing the street to my car, here he comes around the corner in his car?

After jokes about picking up women in the street, we drove to Heritage where he'd at least had the foresight to make a reservation at the bar. It was a good thing, too, because the place was stupidly busy, not that you'd know it given the gracious and smiling staff that flitted about between tables and bar as if they were weightless.

My friend's one of those people who goes far too long without eating and then inhales two days' worth of food at once, a gluttonous plan he insisted I be a part of and then increased the chance of me acquiescing with a bottle of McPhearson Sparkling Riesling.

Since it was his first time at Heritage, we had to begin with pork fries and house pickles (I do love a good bread and butter pickle), followed by a special of steak tartare with a fried Soba noodle nest (loved the crunch) and then fried broccoli taking its kick from yuzukosho and Japanese mayo.

We had our backs to the room which was so raucous that any trace of music was obliterated. Several tables seemed to be celebrating, obvious because of occasional outbursts and noisy hilarity, making it feel like we were in the midst of a giant party.

Why not? After all, it is Friday night.

As the chef was making his rounds, he stopped behind us and was soon lost in animated conversation with my buddy about fishing, boats and other angling topics that certain men get excited about. I did glean that you can catch some pretty big, ugly stingrays at Stingray Point (duh) and large mouth bass in Goochland.

Beyond that, they may as well have been Charlie Brown's teacher for all I heard. Wah, wah, wah.

But chefs gotta cook and customers gotta eat, so we went back to making up for Friend's deficit with hickory-smoked pork belly that got the Asian treatment courtesy of kimchi, bok choy, carrots and ginger, with Virginia peanuts thrown in for good measure.

My friend was craving pasta and although I could usually ignore housemade orecchiette in pork and beef Bolognese, the oozing Burrata atop all that meaty goodness called to me like a siren song and I caved for a few bites with no regrets.

Worth noting is the beautifully artistic bowl the Bolognese arrived in because it was handmade by one of the servers, along with a lot of the coffee service pieces, we were told. Several other dishes also arrived on the distinctive-looking stoneware, a decidedly appropriate way for a restaurant to show off local talent.

Not since Aziza's water pitchers can I recall a restaurant doing something so groovy.

Another tasty Asian take was on beef and broccoli and starred Wagyu beef, Haas mushrooms (my companion, the forager - who knew? - had to have the back story), ginger and toothsome black rice, but by that point, I can't say I was really pulling my weight any more.

Unlike him, I had eaten regular meals over the past two days and I was just about stuffed.

Even so, I managed to indulge in several schmears of chicken liver pate topped by apple mostarda and beet gelee, albeit not to the extent that some people I could mention did (while their arteries closed incrementally).

"I'll get him out on that boat and make him give me this recipe," the evil, avid fisherman next to me insisted.

Or you could just ask nicely for it?

Of course I was going to order dessert, despite my friend explaining that he doesn't really have a sweet tooth. The funny part was, once the chocolate "candy bar" and housemade Nutella ice cream showed up, his spoon made several guest appearances in both dishes.

Devoted as I am to dark chocolate, it was the accouterments - burnt meringue, candied corn pops and "crunch" - that made it something out of the ordinary.

Since I hadn't realized tonight's plan was to eat for the recent past (or foreseeable future), all of a sudden, it was far too late to make it to my public bitch session on what it means to be a woman in 2016.

It's sort of a wide-ranging topic, but I've got a few things to say on the subject. Ask nicely and I'll tell you.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Keep Your Eyes on the Legs

Gemini: Allow a little more levity into your daily life. Sometimes you could feel overwhelmed by all the requests being made of you. Schedule time for a loved one, whether it's a lengthy lunch or a special happening at the end of the day.

Believe me, I'm trying to look for levity in all the right places.

After two solid months of planning, two Geminis took on today's fierce wind by walking to Citizen for lunch (see above) and two hours of conversation.

What do you call something if you're trying to name it after me? The Bon Vivant, I'm told.

My day was made.

The new location boasts everything the old one didn't: soaring ceiling height, a rack of vintage comic books, colorful artwork, lots of light and a bar (not to mention dinner hours).

Lunch was two pupusas filled with black beans and cheese, topped with radishes, cilantro and pulled pork with a sassy tomatillo salsa for dipping. The accompanying curtido was less slaw-like and more pickled sliced vegetables, but the fruit salad - pineapple, apples, grapefruit, orange, kiwi - was appealingly fresh and juicy.

The entire afternoon was spent south of the river at the studio of a painter whose Dad once told me I was hot. Did I mention his Dad is my eye doctor? When I shared this information, he chuckled, insisting his father had every right since it was an "appropriate compliment."

With a clever wit and decided talent for mimicry, he entertained me to the point of laughter (see above) while surrounded by his paintings on the wall. Even when we got on to heavier subjects, an innate positivity suffused his take on life, something a fellow optimist appreciates.

Then there was the geek appeal. There is nothing quite as satisfying as spending hours with another art history nerd.

To illustrate what he was talking about, he'd pull out an art book or six and show me color plates of the paintings in question. Eventually, he brought out his laptop and we went down countless rabbit holes when we were reminded of this artist or that.

We went so far as to look at his high school yearbook so I could see him as a fresh-faced over-achiever participating in almost every activity.

It's no wonder when we looked up hours had passed and the sun was looking faint.

Scheduling time for me, I stopped at home long enough to find out how many people were making requests of me (see above) in the time I'd been gone (eight), changed clothes and went to dinner.

L'Opossum's bar had my favorite stool free and a man just finishing up his dinner - well, actually scraping every last bit of creme brulee out of the dish noisily with his spoon - so I slid in and was immediately greeted by the bartender who said he remembered serving me at Balliceaux.

Honestly, I marvel at how servers manage to remember a face out of so many.

As always, the lighting was gloriously dim (read: flattering) and the chef's play list was terrific. I'm talking French pop songs, Liberace, Burl Ives' "Keep Your Eyes on the Hands," a cover of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" and my favorite Petula Clark song, "Don't Sleep in the Subway."

Noting my interest in the eclectic soundtrack, a photographer friend walked over, pointed at the speaker and said, "And that's Charro. I love this play list he made." Coochie, coochie (Google it, kids).

New to me on the menu was French onion dip gratinee with brandied figs served with Grandma Dave's toasted pecan-currant bread, which read like a list of things Karen loves. Accompanied by a glass of Jean-Luc Columbo Rose, I swooned over the sweet/salty combination and the flavorful vehicle to get it to my mouth.

Just as I finished eating, a guy asked if the seat next to me was taken (nope), ordered a martini (gin, so it counts as a martini) and provided me with a conversational partner.

I couldn't get too excited about his taste in music - jam bands, as in he's seen Phish scores of times - but his job fascinated me. First of all, he lives nowhere, as in no apartment, no house.

Because he works for the largest mobile power company in the world, he moves around and makes his home in different places depending on the job. Right now, that's in Richmond, but often his job involves happenings such as movie shoots and major sporting events. As in, he'll be in Rio this summer for the Olympics.

No home base, how interesting is that?

It suits his foodie nature fine because he gets to discover fabulous food cities through constantly moving around. Right now, he's in love with Richmond, especially how affordable it is to eat here, although he admitted a tendency to find something he likes and get in a rut with it.

He's been to Pizza Tonight four of the past seven days and had the same dish - pappardelle with duck ragout - every time.

Running into me seemed pre-ordained since he immediately asked for a list of places to eat so he can branch out, noting them in his phone and checking the spellings with me.

While I enjoyed venison carpaccio, he dug into Moroccan chicken, moaning over its complexity (and price) and feeling virtuous for a) having gone to the gym and b) breaking his pasta streak.

Despite our near stranger status, I neatly took care of that by sharing with him my lobster mac and cheese adrift in truffle mornay sauce and effectively sucking him right back down the pasta rabbit hole. Don't let him tell you he wasn't willing to be seduced.

Sated, our conversation drifted back to music. After procuring paper from the bartender and checking his phone, he wrote something down and slid it over to me like a secret password. The New Mastersounds, April 26, Broadberry.

"I expect you to be there," he said, certain that the British jazz fusion/funk band would appeal to me. "I hope you show up on a bar stool next to me at one of these other restaurants."

Are you trying to overwhelm me by making a request of me?

The final stop of the evening was at Stir Crazy Cafe to see Eastern European and Balkan folk band My Son, the Doctor play.

Not that I haven't seen them before, but now my friend is their bass player, a fact I only learned  last weekend when I randomly ran into him for the first time in three years. So long that both our relationship statuses had changed since I'd last seen him.

Holy cow, he'd gotten married. I had nothing to compare to that.

With dueling clarinets, guitar, bass, drums and percussion, the band wove a spell over the coffee shop that eventually caused two obviously talented women to get up and begin belly dancing in the center of the room (see above), despite not a single song being sung in English.

Sometimes special happenings at the end of the day don't require words you can understand. Most times they do.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

You Can Leave Your Hat On

As surprising days go, this one had a lot to recommend it.

Today's road trip took me to Petersburg in the pouring rain, to a house where Lincoln met Grant to talk about the end of the Great Unpleasantness. War mongering aside, I was there to try on hats and admire a rather eclectic and enormous collection of stuff that resided in this house.

After establishing that my head is a large - no surprise since this is something my sisters and I have always been known for, along with disproportionately long legs and short cracks - I tried on gorgeously wide-brimmed hats that had the effect of almost making me look like a Southern belle and cloche styles that evoked flappers.

There was even one black and straw hat similar to the one purchased by Lynda Carter, which was a particularly interesting coincidence since Wonder Woman figured prominently in my plans once I returned to the capital city.

That's right, VCU's Cabell Library had put Wonder Woman's Invisible Plane on display for today only, complete with background and history. If it tells you anything, it was displayed at the Smithsonian on April 1 last year.

Now here's the real joke: I knew nothing about Wonder Woman. Never read the comic, never saw the '70s show, never even knew the super-hero premise. Which was exactly why I thought it kind of important to attend Jill Lepore's talk on "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," also the title of her book, and gain a little insight on the subject.

That meant inserting myself into an auditorium with lots of students in it, students who actually said things like, "Yea, but then you're going to have to deal with a bunch of young millennials who are sweaty and drunk."

The superior-sounding guy who said this couldn't have been more than nineteen. Hysterical.

Better yet, Lepore's talk turned out to be just the kind of cultural history that fascinates me.

In short order, she explained '70s "jiggle TV," which included both "Wonder Woman" (her twin brother's favorite) and "The Man from Atantis" (hers), which apparently involved Patrick Duffy pre-"Dallas" in a yellow Speedo ("So he was practically naked") and moved back in time to the excessive violence of 1930s male-dominated comic books.

A public opinion poll asked if Wonder Woman should be allowed to join the Justice Society as a means of establishing a standard of strong and courageous womanhood and enough people said yes to make it happen.

Where things got interesting was with the writer, William Marston, an avowed supporter of women's rights, a man who said that women like Wonder Woman should rule the world. A man who as a college freshman had been a member of Men for Women's Suffrage. A man who lived not only with his wife, but with a graduate student with whom he fathered two children.

A man who also invented the lie detector, wrote silent films for D.W. Griffith, penned a book called "Emotions for Normal People" and then detailed why certain behaviors should be considered normal (they weren't at the time). An odd bird, for sure.

What was so compelling was how her research showed that it was Marston's interests - in women's voting rights, in porn, in bondage, in birth control - that were being popularized through the character of Wonder Woman in her sassy costume and kinky boots based on a Vargas Girl from "Esquire" magazine.

I tell you what, it was a damn informative lecture, all the more so for how Lepore repeatedly pointed out how little women's history is taught in our schools. Middle-aged woman throughout the room invisibly raised their fists in support.

She made a terrific case for Wonder Woman tying together first and second wave feminism, a lesson most of the students could have used had they not already dipped out.

Walking home afterwards was exciting in that way that weather suddenly takes precedence over everything else. A fierce wind was whipping my hair and skirt but it was also eerily warm with an incredibly menacing sky, no doubt a foreshadowing of the bad news that awaited me there.

Bingo at Gallery 5 was canceled. Aw, man. I love my bingo nights.

Just as I was allowing that change in my plans to sink in, the tornado sirens cranked up like we were in Oklahoma or something. And not once, but several times until finally the torrential winds and rain began and I couldn't see across the street anymore.

I'll be honest with you, though, initially I wasn't sure what the sirens meant. It's not like we hear them in Richmond much ever, but luckily we have the Internets to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

My magic screen tells me there was a tornado in Chester at 5:52 that's supposed to pass over downtown/VCU at 6:10, so I figure I'll get cleaned up and go eat once the danger has passed.

Say, 6:20 or so.

Heading over to the Roosevelt, the sirens start up again, but in the distance, so I don't worry about it too much. It's not like there are cows or single-wides in the neighborhood to go flying past me, right?

Since the really pounding rain seems to come in waves, I spend time sitting in the car once I get to Church Hill, waiting for the rain to slacken enough to make a break for it. Even with flowered boots and a raincoat, I'm a little soggy on arrival.

Taking a seat at the bar, I find that most of the people around me are neighbors who'd sought refuge once they heard a storm was coming. Apparently it's less common to hear the sirens and leave for another neighborhood like some of us had.

Meanwhile, a woman near me was seriously freaked out, not by the potential of wind and rain damage, but by a yellow egg that kept showing up in different places around her house without her or her husband moving it. First it was on the table, then on the windowsill, then inside a candle with a lid on it and this was causing her some genuine consternation. Floorboards creaking at night weren't helping, either.

Trying to reassure her, I explained that my parents' house has a ghost - they even know her name: Bertha - and they've all peacefully co-existed for 32 years. You can't let a little thing like paranormal activity weird you out.

Turns out she could.

Just about the time I'd decided what I wanted for dinner, the bartender showed up with my Gabriele Rausse Vin de Gris and a recitation of the specials, which naturally changed my order entirely.

A warm, wet night like this felt beachy, you know, wild and watery, just perfect for a fried trout sandwich with hot sauce and cole slaw, the piece of trout hanging off the seeded bun by about three inches on either side, jutting into the fries.

Just what you ought to be eating when you have damp hair and bare feet inside rubber boots.

Next to me, a woman who lived four blocks away worked on a cheeseburger while we discussed the dining scene and how glad she was to have bought a house in Church Hill five years ago.

I still say it's too disconnected for my taste - I want to be able to walk most anywhere I might want to go - but I know plenty of people who like that about it.

Fish gone, I told the bartender I wanted dessert and he knew what I wanted without asking, or at least made the right guess. Trying to resist chocolate pudding with orange zest was futile, so I didn't.

"Wine and chocolate, it doesn't get much better than that, does it?" he inquired with a grin.

Actually, I hope it does.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You'll Take to the Sky

You know it's going to be a good day when it starts in the clouds.

My road trip took me through rain, mist and wet weather bad drivers, but rewarded me in spades once I started across the arcing Norris Bridge with almost no other traffic on it. Because it's so high and the day was so moist, the entire drive across it was like being suspended in a cloud.

Everything was hidden from view: the shoreline, buildings I knew to be there, the mighty Rappahannock River below, even any sea birds that might have been winging by. Honestly, it felt like floating in mid-air, made all the more exhilarating because I had the windows down to drink in the smell of being inside a cloud.

Satisfying as my day on the water was, so was my evening spent in the company of the best walker I know, who'd picked up the slack when my original date needed to cancel.

Despite a throng of people in line for tonight's Kevin Gates show at the National, we had no problem finding parking in my usual National space, conveniently available. The hostess at Vagabond recognized me at once because as strangers, we had once shared a cheese plate at Amuse. Small world.

The bar was full with so many concert-goers in attendance, so we took a table. While my friend was in the loo, a familiar wine face and his posse sat down at the next table.

When I overheard him say to his Portuguese guests that perhaps they should begin with a Virginia wine, I couldn't resist jumping in, saying it was the least he could do for them given his profession. His eyebrow shot up; clearly I had piqued his interest. How did...?

I love that moment when you remind a man that he's already met you. Even better is when you remind him where and he can immediately recall details.

Moving on, I cast my vote for him to break their Virginia wine cherries before the Portuguese asked for dinner recommendations - easy enough to do after our stellar supper (the only disappointment being they were out of the scallop casserole) - and I left them to enjoy themselves as much as we had.

Griddled ham and Idiazabal bocadillos dunked in salsa verde had gotten us started, a beautifully colorful butternut squash and beet salad with pea shoots had kept us going and killer beef cheeks with grilled pineapple, Manchego churros and a coffee reduction took care of my eating needs and made a convert out of the Vagabond first-timer.

And since the savory churros were so outstanding, we had to try the dessert version, rolled in cinnamon sugar and accompanied by melted chocolate and poblano jam for dipping, making for the exclamation point to our meal.

Saying goodnight to the foreign contingent, we headed four blocks down to TheatreLAB for their Acts of Faith collaboration with the JCC in producing "Bad Jews," a story of three grandkids arguing over their dead grandfather's memory and jewelry, except that they're really arguing about far bigger issues of envy and resentment.

You know how families do.

In this case, it was the ultra-Jewish Diana versus the happily more secular Liam who's about to propose to a shiksa from Delaware, while the mild-mannered younger brother just tries to stay out of the fray.

Recriminations, shouting matches, shoving and revelations, so, needless to say, it's very funny, especially if you enjoy outrageous family drama.

TheatreLAB company artist Kelsey Cordrey's Diana is assured and acerbically overwhelming in making her case for why she should be the chosen one, only showing her insecurity in how she constantly tugs at her Vassar shirt. Her timing's so on point and her portrayal so fierce, it's a role she'll be remembered for in years to come.

Despite the many roles I've seen him play, never have I seen Evan Nasteff - looking geek-handsome in spectacles -  convey the kind of mean-spirited, neurotic behavior that makes Liam as culpable as Diana for the evening from Hell.

Can't you two just get along?

No matter which side you take - maintaining one's pure Jewishness in tribute to the torturous legacy of the past or accepting that as Americans we are a melting pot of races and religions that allows for individuality - both points of view can make a strong case.

"Bad Jews" sure did, insisting that a play should both entertain and provide food for thought.

Not bad for a day that began with my head in the clouds, feet nowhere near the ground.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Like the Way You Work It

Things got crazy today. When I woke up, I thought I had an idea of what my week entailed.

Wrong, so wrong.

By 10:31, one of my editors had unexpectedly said yes to four of my pitches. Great news, but it meant I needed to dive in quickly to make so many short deadlines.

By 11:24,  my companion for dinner and a play tomorrow night had to cancel and asked to reschedule for the weekend. Naturally, I already had plans for both nights.

By 2:37, I'd been asked if I could do a last-minute piece to be turned around this week. What poor freelancer turns down work?

By 3:17, I get a group email, first thanking us for the thankless job we do and then asking for pitches for two upcoming special issues. ASAP, as in, snooze and you lose.

By 3:49, my Friday night drinks and lecture companion has canceled. Can my Tuesday pick up the slack on Friday?

By 5:08, I again hear from an editor, this time with another last minute assignment, this one non-negotiable. Hey, it's money, so I'll find a way.

By 5:15, I am sitting at Rappahannock next to a woman who announces it is National Margarita Day and makes the bartender grimace when she asks if he can make one (long pause...he can) and then instead orders an Old Fashioned because it's a happy hour special.

Heaven give us both strength.

I, too, was there for happy hour, but more because of half off oysters and $5 Prosecco than because of any made-up holiday. The couple next to me were doing the same, albeit in a far more leisurely manner.

First they ordered two Old Fashioneds and half a dozen oysters, two of each kind. Only after emptying their glasses and slurping every oysters did they place the exact same order again.

Me? I got Prosecco and a dozen Old Saltes and just did it all in one fell swoop.

My efficiency allowed time to check out the newly-opened Rapp Session next door, a charming space that resembles a cleaner version of the inside bar at Merroir and boasts extras: beer and wine for sale, packaged mignonette, horseradish and pork rilletes, cured meats sliced off the bone, whole fish sold by the pound to come, all backed by a wall of old black and white photos and seafood advertisements.

Perhaps most brilliant of all, a bar with a completely different cocktail program than Rappahannock that stays open until 2 a.m. every night. Hello, gorgeous.

Properly warmed up, my next stop was the Modlin Center for a lecture by curator Michael Schreiber of the exhibit, "Bernard Perlin: An Anthology of Drawings 1934-1994."

My first surprise was that Perlin was a native Richmonder, growing up on Ellwood Avenue and graduating from T.J. at the tender age of 15. His credo was to live life to the fullest.

How had I never heard of this artist before?

Schreiber had gotten to know Perlin by writing him a fan letter, then visiting him in Connecticut, an evening that turned out to be his introduction to Scotch drinking. In the three years before Perlin died, he was privy to all kinds of stories and memories from the artist that he has now turned into a book.

Looking at the images of Perlins' work, it wasn't hard to see the social realist perspective of many artists of that era, including Ben Shahn, for whom he worked.

Happily embracing the bohemian life in NYC as a young man, one of his earliest commissions was a mural of Adam and Eve for Vincent Price's bathroom. His portrait of Price now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

His work moved through Post Office murals, war and propaganda posters and illustrations for prestigious magazines, then he stopped making art, then he went back to school and began again.

I couldn't have been the only person itching to get over to the gallery to see the work in person.

Perlin's skill was apparent in the delicacy of the silverpoints and nude drawings while his "message" pieces - a 1963 print called "The Divorce" showing a man bent over by the weight of his ex-wife, children, house, lawyer and accountant nearly destroy him - were heavier-handed.

It's a fabulous show that Richmond art-lovers absolutely need to see because I can't be the only one unaware of Perlin's obvious talent and prolonged productivity.

Several family members were there taking in the show. Leaning over a case of work from Perlin's youth, an older woman pointed at a colorful drawing and said, "He painted that for me when I was three! I don't know why my mother or I never got it framed."

Hopefully this new show makes up for that, although she did say as soon as it ended, she was finally framing it.

As long as I was at UR, I also caught "Nathan Benn: Kodachrome Memory, American Pictures 1972-1990," a show so colorful it was like watching a Technicolor film.

I mentioned to the man at the desk in the gallery that I had recently overheard a young woman discover what Kodachrome meant after hearing the Paul Simon song; she was amazed. He shook his head. "The only pictures those people will ever take is with one of these!" and held up a cell phone with a look of disgust.

Better not to further that conversation, so I went to look at the work.

Benn's subject choices were everyday people and scenes circa the '70s and '80s, so things such as a girl at a Vermont commune in 1973, standing on a porch calling people to dinner. Just another sweet-looking hippie chick rebelling against her parents' suburban life, no doubt.

A stylish but heavy Tennessee Williams in Key West in 1981. Mr. Rogers on a guest room bed in Pittsburgh in 1990. A locomotive mechanic with black, greasy fingers in Vermont circa 1973.

One that especially grabbed me was of Jamaican workers who'd come to Florida in 1981 to cut sugar cane. Two men, dressed to the nines in three-piece polyester suits, each with not one but two hats on their heads, posed at a Florida airport, flush with cash after the season.

Here were two dudes who were definitely going to be popular with the ladies back in Jamaica.

As I walked around the exhibit admiring the long-gone world of the photographs, a couple came in and we got to talking about the loss of Kodachrome and its vividness.

Pointing at a picture of cows by a barn, the man, who said he was a painter, exclaimed, "You could practically kiss them!" as if he had a history of kissing cows. When he got to one of trees, he made comparisons to Cezanne, saying, "You could almost pluck the fruit off the tree and eat it!"

And that woman with the enormous bouffant at the bus station in Mississippi? You could practically smell the Aqua Net.

By the time I got home, craziness resumed with multiple emails, my favorite not asking, but offering. "I am definitely flattered, humbled and at your service. Yes, I'd be delighted to meet with you. Please feel free to call me at your convenience at most hours."

Hmm, when do you suppose most hours end?

Everyone else needed to know something. Could I do lunch on Thursday? Could we do a phone interview because they're in Florida until Monday? Did I have a number so the media rep could call instead of email? Did I want to tour the factory with an apprentice? Did I want to eat before the play tomorrow? Could I do a road trip on Friday?

Could I answer everyone before my head explodes?

Apparently I can, providing me with the best response of all: Where is that kissing face emoticon when you need it?

Can I get back with you on that after this week?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Woman's Animal Nature Triumphs Again

If there was one thing I wasn't going to do tonight, it was go to the Elbys.

I'd made it known back when the 2016 announcement was made that this year's event was a no-go for me. My objections were twofold: primarily the sameness of the nominees (besides best new restaurant, who cares about the same old, same old?) and secondarily, the theme: Elbys en Blanc.

As the owner of a vintage shop put it succinctly, "I am not dressing this ass and these hips in white."

Nor was I. Sure, I'd attended the past four Elbys, but I was over it.

Happily for me, this opened me up to all kinds of Sunday night fun that did not involve restaurant worship.

With a light rain falling, I walked over to Quirk Hotel to hear actress/poet Amber Tamblyn read from her latest book of poetry, "Dark Sparkler." It was common knowledge that the only reason she was reading in Richmond was because her husband, comedian David Cross, is performing at CenterStage tonight.

Whatever the reason, I got myself to Quirk Gallery where arrivals were being told we could score a drink at Maple & Pine's bar and bring it into the reading.

At the bar, I ran into a dapperly dressed gentleman in a white linen suit who - wouldn't you know - informed me that he only looked that way because he was going to the Elbys because Maple & Pine was nominated for best new restaurant.

After we'd both gotten our drinks - my Ms. Genevieve of Aperol, elderflower liqueur and Prosecco was prettier than his julep, I thought - we adjourned to the gallery and took seats to chat.

I wanted nothing more than the scoop on the upcoming rooftop deck (got it), although we dipped into the subject of Amber, whom he also knew from "House" and "Two and a Half Men," while all I knew was her father, Russ Tamblyn, the outstanding dancer I'd first seen in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and later in "West Side Story."

Amber arrived, beer in hand, to applause, said, "I love doing readings where there's a bar attached," and dove right into the reading of poetry about the lives and deaths of young actresses.

The first, "Actress" read like a casting call with specific qualifications - "small bust preferred, not taller than 5'5", good teeth, lean but not gaunt, no brown eyes" - and finished with the clincher: "Not a speaking part."

All of her poems examined not just the women's lives and deaths but the commodification of women in Hollywood ("I suppose you're detecting a theme"). "I want to go down on your cliche," she writes in "Jane Doe, along with, "And wrestle the Ayn Rand impersonator for her flask," noting in an aside, "I did that once."

How can you not want to hear from a woman who wrestled an Ayn Rand impersonator for anything? Who writes, "I will never have the knees of Bardot?"

Midway through the reading, a white-suited man, clad exactly like the one next to me, walked past the window down Broad Street, undoubtedly on his way to the Elbys.

Wordplay was a constant - serial kisser and serial cereal eater - as in her list of fake actress names such as Ivory Sopra and Iwanna Oscar.

Toward the end, she surprised us with a love poem which included my favorite line of the evening, "Someone who needs the way you kiss, the way you graze on a lip." Lovely.

During the Q & A, someone teased her about drinking a Heineken instead of one of our local craft brews and then asked about the poem, "Marilyn Monroe," which is titled, but has no words. As Amber flipped through the book to find the poem, the woman said, "Page 27."

Amber beamed. "You know we're definitely making out after this." I liked her quick wit.

It wasn't just that I'd finished my cocktail, I was sorry when the reading ended because it had been too long since I'd had poetry read to me. But I was on to another adventure so I wished my seatmate an Elbys win and left for Strange Matter.

Because last month was the 50th anniversary, Movie Club Richmond was showing the 1966 Bond spoof, "Our Man Flint," and I hoped to eat before the action started. My Blastoff, a BLT with avocado on rye, and mountain of fries was history by the time the lights went down.

I'm happy to say it was everything I adore about a '60s movie: overly saturated colors (Cinemascope, no doubt), a girl with a blond bouffant and a giant daisy in her hair, go-go dancers, computers the size of a gymnasium with zillions of punch cards and, of course, sexism galore ("How often woman's animal nature triumphs!").

The recurring joke is that Flint's secret code is based on a mathematical progression, 40-26-36. He also excels at everything he does - judo, fencing, cooking, saving lives, saving the world. He even teaches ballet the Russians, no less.

It was a Cold War classic with everything from anti-American eagles who only attack Americans ("It's diabolical!") to bad acronyms (ZOWIE) and a red hotline phone to the commander-in-chief (who sounded a lot like LBJ).

There was so much to laugh out loud about.

Flint plays both sides of the fence, taking the time to de-program women who have been brainwashed by the bad guys to be nothing but "pleasure units," but also with a staff of four pretty women to shave him, choose his clothes, manage his finances and dance with him when they all go to the club together.

Sounds pretty pleasurable to me, sort of like tonight's choice of movie.

Conveniently for me, there was a synth-pop show following the screening, so I could have parked once and partied twice, except I'd walked over. As a friend and I discussed between sets, synthpop is hard to find in Richmond, a shame for those of us devoted to the genre.

First up was Dazeases, the one-woman project that I'd come to see. Singer London came onstage in a cream sweater and plaid skirt to do her soundcheck and then removed the skirt to do a set so mind-blowing no one could have been prepared for it.

With a big voice, incredibly personal and emotional lyrics and a way of dancing/prowling the stage that ensured no one took their eyes off her, she hit play on an unseen laptop and music she'd recorded accompanied her as she sang in the dark room with only a few spotlights on her.

It was mesmerizing.

From "Possession" to "S'mores on the Hellfire," where she sang, "I will keep you warm when no one else will," her big voice made every song sound as if her life depended on it.

And yet, it was all very dancey and the small crowd obliged, moving constantly, although maybe not as sinuously or emotively as she did. So young, so raw and yet obviously so much potential.

Given that she was singing to her own prerecorded tracks, it could have come off like karaoke, but it didn't. Between the low lights and how completely she sold herself and her music, it was like watching the birth of something that's only going to get better.

Next came Raleigh's Band and the Beat, a husband and wife duo layering her vocals over lush synths and drum machines for a dreamgaze sound that would have been at home in '80s clubs (and my heart).

I especially enjoyed how he would get things going and start dancing enthusiastically in place as she sang before going back to knob-turning. If they weren't having a good time, they were giving a terrific approximation of it onstage.

Mine was better than a good time and best of all, didn't involve wearing white. The funny part is, I got home to a message from a friend: "Elbys weren't the same without you."

Oh, I bet they were.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Promised Saturday Night

Nonsense coming out of a pretty woman's mouth ain't nonsense at all. It's poetry.

Which begs the question, what does that make nonsense coming out of this ordinary woman's mouth?

Had you wanted to know, you needn't have gone any further than Graffiato tonight, where a favorite girlfriend and I landed in the middle of the Saturday night rush in search of nothing more than a pizza.

The only possible place to situate our backsides was at the community table, where we were surrounded by first-time visitors, suburbanites and couples who went to college in the '70s, one of whom observed, "When I was in college, I never expected to see such undesirable people running for the Presidency."

We gave her a round of applause.

While it appeared that there were at least three dozen black-shirted servers working, service did not come quickly, so when it did arrive and knowing we had a curtain to make, we wisely cut to the chase, ordering two Proseccos and a Porky's Revenge pizza in one breath.

Somehow or another, the pig-laden pizza (Soprasetta, sausage and pepperoni) arrived prior to the bubbles, don't ask me how. When our vino did show up, my friend immediately informed our server we needed two more in an attempt to jump-start what was clearly a  moribund process.

Given our time constraints, we'd no sooner polished off the stellar pizza when we requested the dessert menu, gave it a cursory glance and asked for the chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel gelato.

I mean, those second glasses of Prosecco were practically begging for an accompaniment.

As our forks slid into the cake, the foursome next to us turned their attention our way. The woman next to me leaned back and her husband leaned toward me, spoon in hand, eyes big as saucers. He didn't say a word, so I smiled at him.

"Don't you know what it looks like when a man begs?" he asked plaintively. I smiled again. Actually, yes, I do know what it looks like when a man begs, I told him sweetly.

The quartet roared. "Best retort ever!" the husband across the table from me laughed. "Good for you!"

Do I get extra points for quickness, for lying on the spur of the moment, for saying it convincingly?

Because we could see the theater from our seats, we lingered until 7:50 and still easily made our curtain for Cadence Theatre Company's "The Mountaintop," even having time to jump into a theater discussion before curtain time.

When we overheard the theater critic behind us talking about watching "the most Anglicized Italian family" and about "how foreign an ethnic family is to Richmond Baptists and Republicans," both of us swiveled in our seat, sure that he was talking about "Saturday, Sunday, Monday," a play the two of us had just seen and been underwhelmed by (where were the Italian accents, the hand gestures, the signature Neapolitan passion? All MIA).

Dissecting a disappointing play turned out to be an ideal segue to a fiercely powerful one without a weak link in the cast, albeit a cast of two.

"The Mountaintop" told the story of Martin Luther King's last night on earth, and his imagined conversation with a maid at the Lorraine Motel who brings him coffee.

During the time they smoke Pall Malls ("My Momma said those Winstons'll kill you") and talk, it gradually comes out that she's not a maid, but an angel come to prepare MLK for his final hour. But it's not all dour doings because along the way, she tells him how she'd lead the movement, informs him that god is a woman and engages him in a raucous pillow fight.

A two-actor play rests squarely on the shoulders of the talent and there was no shortage in such a compelling production.

Nailing the inflections and cadence of King's distinctive preacher-man speaking voice - when he answers the phone, it's always in a deeper, more heroic voice - Jerold Solomon conveys both the charismatic leader determined to leave the world a better place and the weary and worried Everyman who knows he's a walking target.

Commanding the stage in her turquoise blue uniform and white apron, Katrinah Carol Lewis plays Camea with all the passion of a deeply flawed woman who has a chance to redeem herself by doing this job for the woman upstairs.

She's sort of the Clarence to Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," in that she's studied her subject - his file was thicker than the one the FBI had and thicker than the Bible - and she's just as determined to earn her wings.

Let me put it another way. You know how Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels?

Well, Katrinah had to portray not one, but two characters, perform a fiery monologue wearing men's shoes while standing on a bed and voice/sing a video montage of the future.

Oh, yes, and wear high heels.

While I've long been a fan of Cadence's top-notch productions, it was the first time for my friend - who worked in the theater business for years - although I'd assured her she'd be impressed.

When the play ended, she turned to me and exclaimed, "Now, that's theater!"

Neither nonsense nor poetry, that was just fact.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hey, Legs!

I'm no actor, so it's best if I put decades in between my acting jobs.

Back in college, a filmmaker friend roped me into playing the lead in his film "Druid" and I was predictably awful, hardly a surprise given I'd never acted before, unless fake tears to get sympathy from your mother count.

Yet despite my poor emoting, he put me in his second film, although eventually I figured out that he also wanted to date me so perhaps that was partly responsible for his casting decisions.

In any case, fast forward to this week and I get a message from a friend asking me to be in a crowd-sourcing video. I agree because I believe in the cause, but I also warn him that while I have many talents, acting in front of the camera isn't one of them.

As he put it, "We will be coaxing a fine method acting job outta you! Oh, and we have a prop for you."

When I ask if I can hold said prop in front of my face, he responds, "Not a chance!" but when I ask if they can just shoot my legs, he agrees. "That could be arranged! You have admiring fans behind the camera after all."

So I show up on Broad Street, appropriately clad, at my appointed time, ready to embarrass myself for the sake of the cause, only to learn that more than my legs will make the final cut.

And the coaching begins. The angles are worked out, cues are explained to me and we have the scene mapped out. Sorta, anyway.

Taking a cue from the opening of "Saturday Night Fever," I start walking down Broad Street, with the camera beginning on my feet and panning up my legs, only to be reminded by the director that I should be strolling rather than my usual fast walking.

This is not my usual M.O. I stroll poorly, just ask my slow-walking friends.

We do this five or six times until everyone's happy with it, then move on to the actual interactive part of the scene, where I see James, nattily dressed in a brown plaid vest and pants, fedora on his head, and stop and have a conversation with him.

He teases me into the scene. "Okay, what's your character, who are you, what's your methodology?"

Um, I'm a Jackson Ward resident who loves seeing movies old and new in public places, especially my neighborhood? Bingo.

We work out the dialog and shooting resumes. This is where I'm reminded of those other acting roles decades ago and that's the endless repetition of shooting scenes, first from this angle, then from that, with the camera in his face and then in mine, from behind, as I spot James, as I sit down.

Part of the action involved me handing him a $50 bill with Groucho Marx on it and this is where my method acting resume comes in, or at least, the method to my madness.

As we're sitting at an orange table in front of Candela Gallery, I slide the bill just under the hem of my skirt, so when I have to reach for it, we're back to my legs. The crew loves it.

I consider this little piece of brilliance a far greater contribution to the filming than anything I actually say on camera. Of course, it, too, is filmed repeatedly.

"That's the money shot!" the director yells with gusto.

And that's a wrap. Let's just say I'd have made a terrific silent movie actress and leave it at that.

Venus Flypaper

All play most of the day and no work means Karen's Friday night is a little duller than usual.

Well, except for those three hours I was out with a friend, watching a film at the museum and enjoying myself immensely. But the rest of the afternoon and night, I was working, I really was working.

We met near the Membership desk, both of us having been mistakenly told goodnight by the security guard when actually we'd just arrived - clearly he was paying more attention to his book than the comings and goings of the patrons - and made our way past the monthly tango dance floor, considering whether we'd be any good at learning to tango.

Living Social keeps tempting me with ridiculously cheap private dance lessons and one of these days, I'm just going to give in. I'll never know until I try, right?

At the entrance to the Leslie Cheek Theater, a woman asked if I'd be willing to sign up for a chance to win a museum membership and handed me a clipboard with a list on it, while my friend was handed a tablet to enter the same information.

My guess for why the disparity in recording methods was they'd spotted me for the Luddite I am, choosing to give me the Stone Age technology, but she assured me it was just her preference. Sure, honey, whatever you say.

Inside, we scored seats in the best row (the one with unlimited leg room) and ate clementines while discussing Clark Gable's false teeth and how quickly Millie's had run out of corned beef and shrimp tacos today at lunch.

Fortunately for me, 821 never runs out of black bean nachos.

Tonight's feature was director Thomas Allen Harris' "Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of A People," a documentary about looking at history through the lens of family photo albums and the work of scores of black photographers from well-known names (at least to those of us who'd seen the VMFA "Posing Beauty" exhibit) such as Gordon Parks, James Van Der Zee and Roy DeCarava to amateur photographers.

It was a sprawling film, with multiple stories - about the director's search for identity, about the way the black story was ignored for so long, about how black people were represented in photography - and some truly horrific photographs documenting atrocities done to blacks in this country.

But also mixed in were some of the sweetest pictures imaginable, pictures of little boys in suspenders and bow ties dressed up for church, shots of wedding parties in the mid 20th century with women in pastel dresses and men in straw boaters, soldiers in uniform, home from the war with their arm around their sweethearts.

My absolute favorite was one of a lean black man on a beach in a 1950s bathing suit (with belt, no less) crouched down, box camera in hand, smiling and shooting directly at whomever was taking his picture. So handsome!

I learned for the first time of a wonderful-sounding book that nearly every photographer in the film referenced, "The Sweet Flypaper of Life," a collaboration of Langston Hughes' words and Roy DeCarava's photographs about a woman's life in Harlem in 1955. One female photographer admitted to lifting it from the library as a young woman because she wanted it so badly.

Now I come home to research more about it (after doing my work, of course), only to find that a used copy starts at $105 so I'm even more curious. I suppose it's too much to hope that I could check it out from the library? Yes, check it out and return it.

But after the post-screening Q & A with the director and producer, I had to bid my friend goodnight and get myself home to work on a deadline piece.

Not that I'm complaining. All play and no work makes Karen a very poor girl and we don't want that any more than we want her to be dull.

Especially now that I've been told I'm in someone's read feed, I've got an obligation to keep things lively. Oh, the pressure....

Friday, February 19, 2016

Longhorns and Trust Falls

Don't bother taking the first man that's offered to you in the morning.

Walking down Grace Street at the ungodly hour of 9:15, a woman heads toward me with an obvious gray cloud over her head.

"You want a boyfriend?" she asks, clearly seething. "You can have mine!" I'm inclined to say no but that fact is confirmed when I see a guy walking down the middle of the street in her direction.

"How can you hit a tree?" she hollers just before spotting her car. "Thomas!"

"What?" he asks innocently. "I didn't see the tree!"

"How can you not see a tree? Thomaaaaaas!" she wails.

I walk faster in the opposite direction, passing a guy who says, "Good morning, pretty girl!" and making me forget all about the drama behind me.

Arriving at the Virginia Historical Society for the preview of "The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design," I mingle, check out the colonial flag collection and eat a mini-doughnut before following the president into the galleries to see the show.

You might be surprised at how well 43 chairs can chronicle the evolution of American taste, but you wouldn't be if you saw this exhibit.

From the simplicity of a Shaker rocking chair with a lovely blue and tan checkerboard seat to an elaborate throne-like chair on casters designed in 1854 for representatives to sit in inside the House of Representatives grand, formal hall, these chairs all tell a story.

And like architecture, they can reflect the styles - Gothic Revival, Egyptian Revival, Colonial Revival - popular at the time or the image of the place they were created. An 1890 chair from Texas incorporates both longhorns, ivory and Tiffany ball casters in a strikingly "Western" style chair, while a Southern Appalachian chair is evocatively made of willow branches.

Even office chairs dazzled, such as the Frank Lloyd wright chair designed for the Johnson Wax Company that echoes the rest of the building's design and color scheme.

Things got groovy in the back gallery once we got to the post-WW I era, with chairs in Lucite, plywood and patterned fiberglass. Eero Saarinen's Grasshopper American chair was beautifully sculptural and, unlike so many earlier chairs, actually looked quite comfortable.

I couldn't have been more surprised to see Frank Gehry's compressed cardboard high stool, mainly because I remember seeing all his cardboard furniture for sale at Bloomingdale's back in the '80s. What a fool I was not to buy one.

You could almost feel the good vibrations from Jon Brooks' 1970 solid elm ball chair carved from a massive piece of elm, complete with cracks and highly polished surface. It looked like the kind of thing created at a commune while listening to Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers" album and smoking pot with a couple of hippie chicks breastfeeding their babies on a blanket.

That's what I mean about the exhibit coming across like a cultural history lesson (only way more enjoyable). As society eased up on rules, even chairs morphed into something more comfortable, more colorful and more likely to show up in the everyday person's home and not just the well-off.

Richmond, we keep getting cooler. This is just the kind of show that people from D.C. are going to drive down to see because of its uniqueness and hip factor. These are some amazingly cool chairs.

When I left the Historical Society, I took a meandering walk, part of which took me down Broad Street and past Assado, where their sign read, "Taco fact #1: Tacos are healthier than crystal meth."

Certain that would bring in lots of business, I was equally impressed with Rumors Boutique's sign, reading, "How do snakes know who their real friends are if they can't do trust falls?"

That's a one-two punch of sign wisdom you don't see just every day.

My walk eventually deposited me at the handsome new VCU Cabell Library where a friend who works there had offered me a tour. Having only been inside the auditorium, why wouldn't I want to see what years of construction had wrought?

Holy, moley, Batman, this is a library like none you've ever seen before.

The now-shuttered Anderson Gallery's collection lives here now and piece by piece, some of it is being installed on the walls. A couple of sublime Theresa Pollaks here, a six-panel Gerry Donato there, it's a who's who of the talent that taught at VCU.

Views like you can't imagine (unless, perhaps, you lived in the Prestwould) provide a bird's eye view of the top of the Cathedral, the rooftop garden and wind turbine on top of the Pollak Building and the sweep of the Compass (sadly, Bad Hackysack Guy was nowhere to be seen).

A terrace on the third floor seemed like the ultimate library destination until I saw the reading porch full of rockers with - wait for it - windows that open and sun streaming in them. Be still, my heart.

White boards were everywhere, even on that porch, because apparently today's students use them like we used to use notebooks and scrap paper. "We can't have enough white boards," my library friend shared.

Everywhere we went, students were sprawled out, some asleep, many checking their phones, some companionably studying in small groups but not interacting (this is called "parallel play" when you're talking about toddlers), and, another favorite, the silent floor, where it truly sounded like the libraries of my youth.

For me, the Innovative Media Center might as well have been from a sci-fi movie, with laser printers where my friend informed me a med student could create a replica of a human heart while an art student made a shirt sleeve out of LED lights.

There were sewing machines, record players so students could digitize their vinyl collection and, yes, even a gaming room. Most adorable was a curio cabinet of things known only to students' parents and fans of history: slide carousels, film projectors, ViewMasters. All the stuff the AV geeks used to live for, now locked up in a museum-like display.

But that's because this library is geared to a different generation, one that had to get the hang of revolving doors on the new entrance and liked being asked to test out various chair styles and vote on their favorite before final decisions were made. One that is the reason why the library Starbucks is in the top four in the entire country.

And to think we used to go to the library solely to look for books. How hopelessly old-fashioned.

Afterwards, we strolled over to 821 Cafe for lunch - I had black bean nachos because they're healthier than crystal meth while she chose the most fattening sandwich she could conceive of, according to her - and some non-library conversation, finishing out for me a full but fabulous Friday around the city.

You know, just checking out the excellent new chair exhibit and VCU's impressive LEED-certified library, no big deal.

And, no, I don't want Thomas or any man who can't see a tree, or even the forest for it. Thanks, anyway.

I Do Want Change

How about Wednesday?
I can not go.
Okay, do you want to do something any other night?
Thursday or Friday?
How about Cinema Noir? 
OK, cool!
So we're on for Thursday?
Okay, so I want to stop by the opening of the new exhibit at the Branch Museum before the movie. If you want to join me for that, we can go somewhere first to eat.
You are such a party animal! I'm off at 2, so sounds all good to me!

You read right, I got called a party animal for wanting to go to an architecture museum and eat dinner before a movie. Whoa, things are getting crazy here.

Say, what happened to late nights, excessive drinking and wild behavior...or is that so party animal 2015?

Doesn't matter, I suppose, since we had a fine time at dinner, seat-dancing to the '80s and stuffing our faces for the sake of my livelihood (he's good about always taking home the leftovers so I don't have to) while talking about life.

It was important to him to bring me up to speed on the hilarious SNL "The Day Beyonce Turned Black" video  - "Kerry Washington can't be black! She's on ABC!" - once we finished eating.

Apparently he worries about others mocking my lack of cultural literacy and he's here to save me from that.

Judging by the sedate-looking crowd at the Branch Museum, I certainly didn't need to be up to speed before the opening of "The Historic American Buildings Survey: Documenting Virginia's Architectural Heritage," not that I didn't find it fascinating.

Turns out that HABS was yet another brilliant New Deal initiative in 1933, implemented to begin the important preservation process as it pertains to the built environment, engineering technologies and landscape design.

An architecture nerd's wet dream, in other words.

Using large-format black and white photographs and detailed architectural renderings, the exhibit displayed the work of countless people who painstakingly recorded specifics about important buildings, such as the Rising Sun Tavern on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg (a street I know well), erected before 1781, and Bacon's Castle in Surry County, built before 1676.

Equally familiar to me were Menokin on the Northern Neck, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington and Monticello, although the specificity of details was far greater than any average Joe would know, or even any art history fanatic.

When we left there, it was for me to get a hot fudge sundae at Bev's - where we were alone since ice cream is not the most popular sweet in February - while my friend explained his lactose intolerance and sipped a cup of coffee, his drug of choice.

In no hurry, we took the alley on our way out, resulting in a couple of fun discoveries. The first was a mural on a garage door of the "Spy versus Spy" characters expertly rendered and the other was a discarded mattress on which someone had spray-painted, "Nothing else mattress."

Dyslexia humor is a wonderful thing.

Eventually, we made our way over to Manchester's Browne Gallery on Hull Street for Cinema Noir where I found myself back on the same stretch I'd walked a few weeks ago, discovering Croaker's Spot and Sweet Fix Bakery in the process.

The gallery was filling up quickly, so we nabbed seats in the second row and another friend showed up to sit just in front of us. One of the great things about this event is the pre-film music and tonight's was especially good, all Earth, Wind and Fire in tribute to Maurice White's recent earthly exit.

Several EWF album covers were placed around the gallery as visual reminders, a couple next to a classic classroom turntable, inspiring my friend to ask, "Where's the slide projector?" like the AV Club geek he probably was.

Tonight's short film was director Pete Chaimon's "Blackcard," a subtly scathing look at a world where a group called The Commission makes it their job to check on infractions by African Americans of the "black code."

The audience was cracking up within the first two minutes of the film.

It began with Commission staff raiding a woman's refrigerator, nodding in approval at malt liquor, sniffing a pitcher of ice tea to determine if it was sweetened and ultimately discovering unacceptable items such as kale and, later, a book by Malcolm Gladwell.

"Malcolm Galdwell?" the agent asks. You'd have thought he found "Mein Kampf."

It's these kinds of things that cause our heroine Lona to lose her black card, a fact that doesn't bother her boyfriend because he thinks self trumps race. She's not so sure.

Interrogating another man about his blackness, the guy admits to voting for Romney. Incredulous, the Commission investigator, asks, "You didn't want change?"

The films' leitmotif - whether to chose oneself over one's race - provided much of the post-film discussion with director Pete, looking very hip perched in a director's chair at the front of the room.

"Black is not a genre," he said, explaining why he thought of the term as pejorative. A film made by and/or with blacks can be any genre a white film can: romance, sci-fi, western, comedy or drama, a fact which should be obvious to anyone.

Although his film contained much to laugh at, he saw the comedy as being in service of the dramatic element, namely Lona trying to get her black card back and, ultimately, Leonard laying his on the ground and opting to follow his own path rather than the prescribed racial one.

Pete pulled out metaphors galore and a recent eating example -questioning his own meal of quinoa in Los Angeles as "un-black" - to explain the importance of making individual calls about what kind of black you choose to be.

Many of his tight, slightly awkward camera angles owed a debt to Terry Gilliams' "Brazil," he explained, saying, "You're going to turn me into a film nerd now."

Truth be told, that's the absolute beauty of these Cinema Nouir evenings. As intriguing as it is to get to see a contemporary black film short, it's always the discussion afterwards that makes them such compelling evenings.

I'm far more interested in the day Richmond becomes successfully multi-racial than I am the day Beyonce became black. What's cool is that Cinema Noir and the Afrikanna Film Fest are chipping away at that every single month.

And if I have to be a party animal to be a part of that, well, that's the way of the world.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wine is Not Sad

In the game of life, I've been told, sometimes you have to focus on the end game.

Today's challenge was fitting in a whole lot of work around a fair amount of fun that began with a very ladylike plan for the afternoon: walking over to Chez Foushee for lunch, followed by a play at Virginia Rep.

Yes, we were the ladies who lunch and then matinee. It may as well have been 1959 except for the salty language and absence of gloves.

We began with a sunny table in the front window - "Great people watching!" the hostess told us as she installed us there - and the best of intentions. I knew the brussels sprouts salad with red onions, bleu cheese, walnuts and red wine vinaigrette was divine, a fact confirmed not once, but four times by our handsome young server, so we both ordered it.

Just before he takes the menus away, my friend looks at me guiltily and tells him, "And the pate."

And by pate, it was really a plate of country pork pate and a massive hunk of chicken liver pate, along with cornichons, mustard and toasted bread, none of which we needed and most of which we downed.

Because it was Chez Foushee, we easily brought down the average age significantly, but also enjoyed basking in the glow of a place so fussy and old-school.

We got so embroiled in discussing my recent post about my past (favorite comment, "Wait, you once dated men older than you?" Sure, when I was 18) that all too soon it was going on 2:00 and we had seats to fill. Luckily Virginia Rep is spitting distance from Chez Foushee.

"Saturday, Sunday, Monday" began with an actor singing "Volare" while playing guitar and went on to tell the tale of an extended Italian family in Naples in 1959 where Mama's not happy and as we all know, if Mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

For that matter, nor is Dad, who not only thinks his wife is having an affair with the accountant upstairs, but is also trying to accept that his son is leaving the family business to open his own menswear shop.

All the Italian cliches were in place (except Italian accents): the mythical process of making the weekly Sunday ragu, the strong-willed aunt who's already buried her husband and lover and now dominates her meek son's life, the dutiful daughter trying to carve out her own niche and not follow her mother's path and the doddering grandfather lost in the shuffle.

After a while, you wonder if anyone in Naples is happy. And don't get me started on the dutiful sons who worship at Mama's altar. Catherine Shaffner as Aunt Meme was the most compelling to watch as she espoused higher education and having the courage to be honest to get what you want.

But as my theater-savvy friend and I discussed walking home, no matter what the minor flaws of a play, there's always a great deal of satisfaction simply in watching actors act on the stage.

We parted ways at my house because she was home to sew while I had an assignment to finish before going to school. Tonight was Amour Wine Bistro's "Taste the Terroir" class and no one wants to be tardy for class.

Taking my seat at the bar, some of the other attendees introduced themselves and our teacher began explaining tonight's topic beginning with how to read a wine label in French, Italian and German before moving on to the specifics of terroir.

Naturally this was a class with experiments to prove the teachers' points, meaning two glasses set in front of each of us, both utilizing the same grape but from different regions, the better to assess terroir. So we'd taste a Sauvignon Blanc from the chalky Loire (citrusy) and compare it to one from the hot and sunny Rhone (ripe fruits and herbs) and then enjoy them both with salmon ceviche and grilled bread.

One of the women near me asked her couple date why their friend Kyle had canceled. "Did he get a girlfriend?" she asked, sounding sarcastic.

"No," the husband answered. "He said he had to save his money for dates that have the potential to reach the end zone." Everyone within earshot cracked up at hearing this. but I understand. The man has priorities.

We repeated the wine lesson with two Chardonnays from Burgundy served with Comte and bread, and during this discussion period, I was schooled on what is referred to as the "Asian flush," a result of Asians lacking enough of the enzyme dehydrogenase to properly process alcohol.

I know this only because the two Asian women explained it patiently to the rest of us and then half an hour later, showed us their flushed cheeks and ears. Oh, the things we were learning tonight.

It was while we were sussing out the differences in two Pinot Noirs, one from Burgundy (berries, no tannins) and another from Languedoc (cherries, more acidic) that plates of rabbit rilletes arrived, leading to more new information from one of the students.

Seems that when she decided to go vegetarian, she heavily researched proteins and discovered that humans can't rely solely on rabbit as a protein source. "So when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, don't think you can rely on rabbit meat to sustain yourself," she warned us. "Not enough vitamins for survival."

Well, don't you know that led to a round table discussion of cricket-eating and fortunately, we had two firsthand sources for reference. One girl had eaten them in Japan, skewered on a stick and resolved never to eat them again, while a guy had enjoyed them in Mexico, scooped out of a bucket like peanuts, covered in oil, lime juice and cayenne.

"They were tasty, but the legs got stuck in my teeth," he said with a straight face.

Nerdy as I am, I don't remember school ever being as much fun as tonight was turning out to be.

The couple from Petersburg told us that he was soon leaving for Alabama for a year and a half's training learning to fly helicopters. "You have to learn to crash a helicopter to fly one," his chipper wife piped up like a sage.

Her husband grinned. "Can we all just admire that statement: "You have to learn to crash a helicopter to fly one?" he asked, beaming with pride.

Our final experiment involved Cabernet Franc from Loire (blueberries and minerality) and Bordeaux (smoky, full-bodied, velvety) and a plate of Soprasetta arranged to look like a heart. When that was pointed out, a collective "awww" went up from the room and one woman pointed at her mate of a year and a half and announced, "He was super romantic."

"You burned that out of me like the Vikings burned their dead," he said without missing a beat.

Clearly we had a lot of class clowns at school tonight.

By evening's end, everyone agreed that they'd learned plenty and enjoyed the process even more. Turns out tonight was part of a whole series of wine classes Amour is doing, meaning more opportunities to drink for the sake of learning to come.

And speaking of learning, once class was over and everyone was chatting and drinking full glasses of their favorites, one woman shared that she was about to embark on a class in ethical hacking, which sounded a lot like an oxymoron to me.

When I asked if that was really a thing, she answered, "No, not really," which meant yes, but she also hopes it'll help her get a job in this brave new world where people carry their every secret in their phones.

Several of tonight's participants were part of a 2500-person group called "New in Richmond," although some members have lived here for as many as 16 years, which hardly sounds new to me. When I asked what kind of activities the group did, the answer was short and to the point: "Drink!"

I suppose that's one way to get used to Richmond.

Alan Rickman's namecame up and almost everyone there had something to say about a favorite role or movie - Dogma! Truly, Madly, Deeply! Love, Actually, but you have to fast forward through that scene of Carl undressing!- but then people began getting sad because Alan's dead now.

"But wine's not sad," owner Paul said, stepping in and saving the moment by returning us to topic like a good teacher does.

We also had some runners in the group, so the rest of us heard about the difference in how the French do marathons and, let me tell you, it's way better than the way we do them here.

Who knew that at the Paris marathon or the Medoc marathon, there are stops for cheese, chocolate and fine wine? How civilized is that?

Ditto tonight's adventure at school.

In addition to all the laughter and new faces (last question from a recent acquaintance before I left: "You're coming for next week's class, aren't you? Yes, you are!"), I really did further my understanding of terroir with a well-executed lesson plan and the kind of science experiments that can make an Asian flush.

Besides, haven't you heard? The only acceptable excuse for missing out is if you're saving money for dates that have the potential to reach the end zone.

Just don't go all Viking and burn out the romance getting there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Mad and Faithful Telling

If there were an online final exam, I would fail.

No really, I don't Google people, I've never Facebook stalked an ex, it just doesn't occur to me to research people that way. I don't even friend people on Facebook, assuming they'll friend me if they're interested.

So in a recent conversation about my past, I was met with incredulity when I admitted I'd never so much as thought of looking for my first love online.

Apparently I'm susceptible to suggestion because that's exactly what I did today.

To be clear here, we're talking about a guy I haven't seen since 1981, but what do you know, I typed in his name (an unusual one I still, coincidentally, use for my bank password), his page popped up and there he was, just as attractive as he'd been the year MTV went on the air.

Back then, everyone told him he looked like Paul McCartney, but these days, he looks way better, but then he's not nearly as old as Sir Paul, either.

Do you have any idea how strange it is to lay eyes on someone who was once an integral part of your life and then out of sight for decades? Would it be out of line to message him? What would he think of how I look today? What kind of conversation might we have if I opened that door?

Well, I'm here to tell you that looking up a piece of your past for the first time is nothing but a gateway drug.

It occurred to me that I could be using the wondrous powers of the Internet to catch up with all kinds of people from my recent past, especially given how many new people I'd met in the seven years since my life imploded and put itself back together.

My intent was pretty simple, nothing more than contacting people I hadn't seen in a while (okay, years in some cases) and asking if we weren't about due to meet up for a drink and a catch-up session.

You know, throw it up against the wall and see what sticks, so to speak.

The first message I put out there got a response within minutes. "Overdue. My, did you come into the 21st century and buy a phone? Hello, Karen. When do you have a free evening?"

Well, that was way simpler than I'd expected.

I suggest tomorrow night and he counters with tonight, so my plans for seeing a Norwegian film at VCU Cinematheque go by the wayside. He defers to me for a new-to-him restaurant idea and then confirms place and time.

I'll be the one - what the hell - you'll recognize me, I message him in farewell.

"You make me laugh," he writes. And who doesn't like that?

We meet at Pizza Tonight because he hasn't even heard of it, much less been there yet. I get there first and am hearing from the chef about his woodpile freezing in the recent Polar Vortex, a problem not easily solved when even the interior of a log has ice crystals.

My friend arrives and immediately jumps into the conversation because, according to an article I read just today, there's nothing men enjoy discussing more than fire and bourbon.

I've little interest in either but it's great entertainment watching them dive off the deep end into wood suppliers (it's hysterical when a certain one is named and both their faces wrinkle in disgust), fire-starting methods and broken hose repair.

Honestly, I'm more interested in the bartender's spiel about the Autumn Olive Farms pig specials on the chalkboard (the 24 ounce pork chop has already sold out- what?) and how fabulous this pork belly special is.

"It's got a layer of fat," she explains, almost drooling, "But not like the fat on commercially-raised pigs. This is well-earned fat from roaming over 80 acres."

I'm sold and so is my companion, who's been sick in bed for the past couple days and is finally now feeling human enough to eat, so we proceed to order with abandon.

First to come out are cabbage leaves with olive oil and bottarga, rich and deeply flavorful and inspiring my friend to note, "I don't even have to put bottarga on anything to eat it!" Next is the pork belly over pickled cabbage, a sublime balance of fat and piquancy that proves the bartender's description was no hype.

Since it had been a while since the two of us had broken bread and talked, he brought me up to speed on his life, including a funny/not funny story about a terrible, awful, no good day when he'd first taken a tumble off a poorly-constructed dock, tearing up his knee cap, and then accidentally put his hand through the windshield of his boat when the engine had died unexpectedly while they were out on the river.

It sounded disastrous to me, but he was long over it, so we got back to chowing down.

It was all about the beautiful texture of charred octopus and white beans, leading to him sharing that he'd cooked baby octopus just last week in much the same fashion, but enjoying tonight's no less for it.

So you know, I have never once cooked octopus. Why would I when others can do it for me so much better?

Accompanying this delightful meal was a Spotify station called Gardens and Villa that was totally on my musical wavelength, playing the likes of Tan Lines, a band I have never once heard out (which is why I own the CD) and Mike Snow. Good stuff, in other words.

When I commented to a server about how excellent the music was sounding, she lit up, making me think it had been her choice. Like me, she said she can't stand the frequent blandness of restaurant music. With all the songs in the world available these days, why should anyone settle for same old, same old?

An entree of prawns roasted in their shells came with a traditional sauce of olive oil, anchovy, parsley, lemon, garlic and red pepper, the crustaceans so large we actually left one on the plate, but for different reasons: he was stuffed and I was saving myself for dessert.

Pizza Tonight occupies the building that formerly housed Aziza's, who were known for their massive cream puffs coated in dark chocolate ganache that few people left without ordering.

Needless to say, PT knew they had to carry on the cream puff tradition, but I knew from a prior visit that the chef had revamped the puff to better reflect his taste (read: less sweet and massive) and make it his own.

These (for there were two small instead of one enormous) were far more refined and elegant cream puffs (more Myrna Loy than Jayne Mansfield), filled with a ricotta mixture studded with bits of dark chocolate and almonds and dusted with confectioner's sugar.

We were the last to finish eating, the last to finish talking and yet still, the fire-starters had to retreat to the back kitchen to discuss the long oven, which my friend immediately saw as the ideal vehicle for cooking whole chickens to crispy-skinned perfection, something he says is not yet being done correctly in Richmond.

I don't know about all that, but I do know I had a hell of  a better time than I would have at that Norwegian movie and it was only because I belatedly harnessed the power of the Internets.

Who knows what else might come of the other messages I sent out earlier today?

I came home to a message responding to mine from my Boston buddy saying, "I am an open book. I always think of you when I hear Devotchka. I met a girl from Richmond in a bar in NYC and told her about your blog. She looked it up and said she wants your life, so watch out!"

This mission to get up to speed in the online world could turn out to be a lot more fun than I anticipated. Watch out, indeed.