Saturday, April 30, 2016

Honk If You See Me

Sometimes, you take a newspaper to a restaurant, only to get moved three times.

Every seat at Amuse's bar was taken when I walked in, so I was directed to one of the mod green chairs, a perfectly fine perch for a solo diner intent on reading her Washington Post  and all the better if I could find someone who wanted to read a section with me

Just as I was finishing the Weekend section, sipping a glass of Rose and awaiting my food, I was asked if I minded moving so a group of four could use the chairs.

No problem. I took a chair near a couple who told me they were busy dissecting their awful Friday, but since my day had consisted of a walk (where one of the guys down on Dock Street had greeted me by saying, "I'd recognize that walk anywhere! Where's your hat today?") and hours in at my desk writing to make a deadline, I didn't have a lot to complain about with them.

It was a bit awkward trying to eat chicken tortilla soup while seated in a deep chair hovering over a low bar table, but the bartender's recommendation of the soup was right on. Full of chicken, chickpeas and tortilla strips, the broth had the level of heat that ensures you crave another bite immediately but not so hot that it was ever burning my mouth.

I was only halfway through the bowl when I was alerted that a seat had opened up at the bar, if I was willing to move yet again. With another drippy course on the way, it seemed wise to get to a closer surface to eat off of.

The bar crowd welcomed me into their fold, I cleaned my bowl of soup and started on a bowl of Mussels and ham in a white wine butter broth that eventually left me in a butter coma after sopping up an obscene amount of it.

Needing to move for fear I'd fall asleep, I strolled the new photography show, "Kertesz," marveling at the photographer's Modernist eye in the collection of stunning black and white images, some familiar like the one of two people looking at a circus through a hole in a fence. For another, Kertesz used his brothers as models, the two in Speedos, holding hands and using their body weight to counterbalance each other in mid-air.

I'll need to go back when I have a bit more time to scope out the show in full.

When a familiar face called my name, I joined their group, which involved tasting a new cocktail of mezcal, moonshine, pineapple juice and vanilla shrub (you'll never disappoint me with a mezcal cocktail) and discussing my trip to California with one who lived there a dozen years. It isn't often I meet someone who's also stayed at the Timber Cove Lodge, so that made for a delightful surprise.

Another restaurant type informed me that she'd spotted me in my natural habitat - J-Ward - recognized me immediately ("I spotted those legs and knew it was you!") but resisted the urge to hit the horn, knowing I wouldn't recognize her car. What's a random honk among friends?

Despite the dining room being completely full, for a change the bar wasn't overcrowded, so we had no guilt camping out to reminisce about the history of Richmond's restaurant scene and why certain neighborhoods are so far superior to others. Fan? No, thank you. Church Hill? Too isolated. Woodland Heights? Not for me.

When I pulled out my card to pay, I made a crack about its prehistoric nature since I don't yet have a chip card. As soon as I said it, the guy in the seat next to me whipped around to explain that if I called Wells Fargo, I could get a chip card immediately.

He pulled out his card to show me the graphic pattern he'd designed to go on his card and suggested when I do get my new card that I have an image put on it (so, yes, this stranger was trying to drag me into the 21st century right here at the bar) to further personalize it.

Explaining patiently to him that I'd only gotten a Wells Fargo card last year - yes, I've been carrying around a Wachovia card for years after the 2009 merger - he laughed.

I'm in no hurry for a chip card, I told him, because I'm a Luddite. When I said I had no cell phone, he countered proudly that he didn't use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. As a 29-year old, he thinks his generation is losing social skills due to reliance on technology and as a millennial who realizes this, he's an exception.

The funny part was, he sees the generation behind him (the early 20-somethings) as completely clueless and overly-dependent on devices in a much worse way than his people. I tried not to laugh at the distinction, then belatedly noticed he had a companion.

Wait, are you on a date? Yes, he says and turns back to it reluctantly. Good luck and godspeed with that, friend.

I got home to find a message waiting for me requesting the pleasure of my company and before long I was walking over to the Comedy Theater for some laughs and a Red Eye chocolate chip cookie, which, if you ask me, was a cookie tailored to the taste of generations raised on slice and bake cookies.

Overly sweet, not enough texture, just a lame sort of cookie. Granted, their target demographic is students studying and munched out at 2 a.m. and that's not me, but I couldn't help but be disappointed.

Luckily, the comedy made up for the cookie with the Disco Lemonade team kicking things off with a skit about boys - What do dudes like to do? Play video games and smash things - and the Work Family team taking on this unfortunate election cycle - I am a millennial and we are the future - with no hesitation about slamming Trump - I went to a restaurant and there was no T-bone on the menu. What's this world coming to? - and the rationalizations of racism - I think I'm a cute racist - all in pursuit of laughs.

Walking home in the finest of drizzles, my butter coma finally starting to wear off, I took stock of my evening. A few good laughs and excellent food and wine savored in multiple seats, although epic failure at finding a fellow reader.

Wait, I went to an art-filled restaurant and there were no newspaper-readers to discuss its articles with? What's this world coming to?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Since When Do You Wear a Ring?

Growing up in a '60s rancher did not feel like a mid-century modern experience.

It was, of course. The house was the kind of small, easy-living dwelling devoted to a more relaxed lifestyle than the more formal houses of my grandparents who lived in a townhouse in the city.

The post-war years were a new era and people optimistically thought this is what houses could like like in the modern world. Popular thought was that the right architecture could improve people's lives, a fact lost on kids like me.

Fast forward and now I know plenty of people with a passion for mid-century modern architecture, although now that I think about it, none of them actually lived in it growing up. I still look at ranchers (or Cape Cods or split levels) and shudder, but that's not to say that I don't have an appreciation for any of the architecture of that era.

For the final event of Design Month RVA, the Branch Museum and Modern Richmond were showing a documentary, "Modern Tide: Mid-Century Architecture on Long Island," and my curiosity was piqued by the beach connection.

Here's this strip of land between the bay and the ocean and starting back in the '20s and '30s, New Yorkers decided to build getaway houses in a simple, modern style that borrowed heavily from the Europeans. The clean, geometric lines of the houses designed by a new breed of architect were, as one talking head called them, "no more than an artful form of camping."

Of course, back then people expected beach life to be simple, a completely different experience from their city lives. While some of us still subscribe to that theory of beach-living, far more expect their beach houses, whether rentals or their own, to be elaborate affairs with wet bars, billiard rooms and, perhaps worst of all, hermetically sealed to prevent the intrusion of salt air and mist.

Tragic, in my opinion.

High ceilings for maximum light, a central room for gathering and small, utilitarian bedrooms ("What are you gonna do in them but sleep?") and lots of windows for maximum water views defined most of the Long Island houses - deliberately designed for the middle class, mind you - shown in the film.

And small in scale like the rancher I grew up in.

The heartbreaking part was how many fantastical houses we saw in photographs that have long since been demolished. The land is so valuable now that nobody cares about saving these mid-century jewels when the well-off can easily raze them and throw up a McMansion in their place.

And the crime is not just the size of the replacement house (although that's plenty obnoxious) but that in most cases, neighborhood associations now require traditional architecture to replace these once-modern houses, so this style of housing stock is being lost entirely.

But not all. Architect Andrew Geller's whimsical "double diamond" house, a practically perfect beach house when it was designed in 1958 practically at the ocean's edge, was moved back a bit and faithfully restored by Geller's grandson, making for a decided high spot in an otherwise unfortunate saga of the history of mid-century modern houses on Long Island.

Not that a documentary dork like me would have missed seeing such a fascinating slice of architectural history, especially with three familiar theater buffs in the row behind me to blather with until things git started.

Having dinner with a friend before the movie, I listened as he tried to convince me to join him tonight in going to hear a group of Tibetan monks talk about the snow leopard perimeter of their monastery. I couldn't imagine what that meant and he couldn't explain.

This was after he gave me a hard time for not going with him yesterday to watch the monks create a sand mandala. Monks? Meh.

Clearly he didn't understand the depths of my mid-century modern roots.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thank You for a Funky Time

I mean, how could I not stand in line with a purple umbrella under a pouring rain?

If the Byrd was going to show "Purple Rain," why would I not be there to see it? I'm not ashamed to say I'm still mourning the loss of a talent the likes of which I may never see again.

So, like any self-respecting fan who first saw the movie in 1984, I dressed the part with a purple shirt, ruffles and big hair and headed to Carytown early before the rest of the purple-clad masses arrived.

Secco welcomed me into its bosom with a Nebbiolo Rose, a mixed green salad with Feta and red onion and Spanish octopus with fiddleheads ('tis the season), savored along with a Shins-based soundtrack.

When I overheard the servers discussing Beyonce's "Lemonade," I invited them closer so I could hear their thoughts. One postulated that Bey and Jay Z. planned it all and there was never any real marital strife between them, while the other thought the album was a laundry list of women's complaints with the world, meant to be a manifesto.

Together they explained why L'il Kim was a far more significant music figure than she was given credit for and why Beyonce's feminist tracks owes a lot to Kim's groundbreaking style.

I'd forgotten what fertile territory Secco is for first date-watching and tonight was no exception. The duo nearest me spoke awkwardly until the first glasses of wine kicked in and then he began sharing his music taste (Dave Matthews Band - run, girl, run!) and she how demanding her nursing schedule is.

After she shared a story, his response was, "Sure you did! It's a cake job. You needed 20,000 steps today."  If I were to translate that, I'd say he insulted her, made light of her work and then presumed she's a Fitbit junkie, but what do I know?

Hearing that one of the dessert options was Baked Alaska, I told my server about my own Baked Alaska period (slightly before the "Purple Rain" period) when I decided that it wasn't all that difficult a thing to make and did so for many special occasions.

Even so, what I'd done in quantity couldn't have been matched by the quality of this version: a pistachio cookie topped with orange ice cream, blood orange slices and meringue, all situated on crushed pistachios and blood orange puree.

Hell, back when I was making Baked Alaskas, I'd probably never even heard of a blood orange.

In line at the Byrd by 8:30, I saw manager Todd in an orange shirt and chided him. "Just you wait!" he promised, directing traffic on the sidewalk.

Best of all, it began to rain, necessitating me taking out my - wait for it - purple umbrella. A man walked by in a purple frock coat and top hat.

In front of me was a trio from Philly (complaining about how southern drivers are clueless at merging and roundabouts) chain vaping (apparently that's a thing) and behind me a woman from Vancouver who in ten years of living here had never been to the Byrd.

Once we bought tickets, we switched lines and stood in the purple rain waiting to get in. Not a soul complained. The crowd was big enough to justify opening the balcony while latecomers straggled in looking for seats together in the rapidly-filling theater.

After taking a prime end seat, a guy asked to get by, explaining, "I'm with my mother," as if that mattered. He and Mom, a retired high school English teacher with a doctorate, quickly initiated conversation with me and I learned that she'd had six sons (I loved her stories of fading into the background when all six men get together - so relatable to what my Dad does when me and my five sisters get together), one of whom was with her and another, Mike, who was on his way.

Older brother was frustrated because Mike, who had initiated the evening, had yet to arrive and was not answering his phone. "That's just the kind of thing he would do," he complained repeatedly. Then why get upset if he's acting in his normal way?

"Good point!" he agreed, as if he hadn't realized the obvious.

Finally everyone was seated and Todd introduced the film wearing a purple shirt, saying, "This is what it sounds like when doves cry..."

The film had just begun to massive cheering with "Let's Go Crazy" when suddenly a man was at my side in the dark asking to get by.

Mike, you finally got here, I said to the stranger. Once he realized I knew his name, he asked for mine, demanded a hug and suggested he sit next to me.

He was a worthy seatmate, hooting and hollering along with the rest of the vocal crowd who'd come to be immersed in the purple world, and clearly very familiar with the film.

But unlike the more seasoned members of the audience, Mike couldn't possibly appreciate the '80s world depicted in the film like some of us could. Champagne served in martini glasses! So many VW Squarebacks! Impossibly big hair on girls wearing gloves! Perfectly applied eyeliner on so many guys!

I'm here to tell you it was all true, or at least it was true in the clubs of Washington, D.C. in the '80s. Unfortunately, back then it was also okay to have lines about "long-haired faggots" and that language is not missed.

The crowd couldn't stop themselves from reacting to the songs, so as "When Doves Cry" began, I heard murmurs - "There's my song!" and "Here we go!" - of affirmation and clapping in time by most of the room. Mike and I were already dancing in our seats anyway.

Seeing the Time onscreen brought back memories of seeing them at the Second Street Festival a few years ago, Morris Day and Jerome still seamless dancing partners, if a bit longer in the tooth.

Either many in the crowd hadn't seen the film before or had forgotten it because during the domestic violence scenes, there was utter silence.

Cheers ensued after Prince did "Purple Rain" and the lights in the theater's alcoves began pulsing in time to the music with "I Would Die 4 U" and finally, "Baby I'm a Star," his dancing bringing people to their feet, cheering and clapping.

Truly, it was as much a religious experience as a heathen like me could hope to have. Watching the beautiful young (26!) Prince onscreen for the first time in 32 years was powerful, made more so for the adoring energy in the room.

Walking out afterwards, the guy next to me says to no one in particular, "I gotta come back Saturday to see it again." Amen, brother.

This is what it sounds like when fans mourn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Best Laid Plans

We need a better method of communication.

That particular sentiment, expressed by a friend frustrated when we didn't connect tonight, is one I hear in one form or another all the time. Because the rest of the world relies on cell phones for contact and I don't, I wind up frustrating people when they can't get in touch with me.

Everyone's so used to the instant gratification of their phone - quick, Google it and see who was in that movie, text her and tell her where we are - that, honestly, I feel like people have gotten lazy about making plans.

Scene: my apartment as I'm getting dressed, Friday around 5:00. The phone rings and it's a neighbor extending an invitation to start the weekend with drinks at Quirk, something he'd mentioned in the abstract on our walk last week.

When I explain that I have plans and am primping for a 7:15 pick-up, he's put out. Disappointed. Says he'd been really looking forward to seeing me.

Well, unless this desire for my company came upon you in a mad onslaught - which could be flattering if it did and I'm not entirely discounting - couldn't you have asked sooner? That said, I give him points for picking up the phone and calling to connect.

What if I buy you a cell phone?

It is astounding how many people - old friends, new acquaintances, dates and those just interested in knowing me better - have made that offer to me. Two people bought me an iPod Touch in hopes that I'd carry the device with me everywhere and thereby be somewhat reachable.

Another goes out of his way to send text messages to my land line via a computerized voice, a phone hack I didn't even know existed until I got his first few messages.

Sometimes it takes a few years to get the hang of communicating with me. A guy I started out dating before settling into long-term friendship relied on email for years, eventually switching over to phone calls because things were resolved so much more quickly that way.

It still delights him when I'm the one who calls first. I may be a Luddite, but I've got this land line thing down. Plus I like getting home at 1 a.m. and having a message waiting for me.

And tonight? While I was off with a fellow music obsessive enjoying Don Cheadle's splendid take on Miles Davis' fallow period, "Miles Ahead," and chomping popcorn at Bowtie, my company was eagerly sought elsewhere.

So call me maybe...with a little notice?

Pie in the Sky

I hope he's slurping oysters in the sky.

That semi-retired judge I'd met when I walked out on the sandbar, the one who was collecting oysters from his oyster beds in the Rappahannock behind my parents' house and gave me the Cliff's Notes version of his life while we stood in the river, the one who then directed me to a bushel basket under a nearby dock to help myself to two dozen freshly-caught oysters, just died.

It was one of the first things my parents told me when I arrived yesterday and I was truly sad to hear it. Many's the time since that first encounter that I'd gone down to the river to see if he was out in it collecting and always when he was, he'd wave and if I was willing to wade out, stop to chat with me.

I'd have gone down there yesterday to look for him if they hadn't showed me his obituary first.

Other than that, it was a beautiful day to be at the river, my purpose being to help Mom get ready for a bridge luncheon Wednesday, which involved things like cutting flowers for vases, sweeping the driveway and getting the big screened-in porch in tip-top shape for the "girls," all of whom are at least septuagenarians.

At that age, who's got the eyesight to notice a little cobweb action in the corner or a dead bug behind a chair? When I'm an old lady, I won't worry about any such things, I can assure you.

When I'm an old lady, I'll probably be less inclined to walk two miles in platform espadrilles (oh, the blisters this morning!) like I did last night, managing to hit Lapple - zero ambiance but solid Chinese food from Peter Chang proteges - and Ipanema - where on a trip to the loo I heard the kitchen inexplicably blasting  "Home on the Range" and "Que Sera, Sera" - for black and white cake ("But that's not pie!" the mutton-chopped manager said in surprise at my choice) and wine before making it to Balliceaux for music.

It was good to see so many people out for a show on a Monday night - the global DJ, the newsman, the guitarist, the Bijou crew, the former neighbor - even if it did make for a slightly airless room until the air conditioning kicked on to save us all.

My bell bottoms elicited both shock and advice, with three different guy friends asking me why I would ever intentionally cover up my assets. "I've spent plenty of time thinking about those legs," one shared. "I'd rather see 'em," another informed me, effectively voting down any future pants-wearing.

For the record, a friend long ago informed me that my legs are not my greatest asset, but he wasn't around to make a case for what was, either.

After Gary Kalar opened the show with his Ottoman empire music, Yeni Nostalji took the stage for what was being billed as guitarist Evrim's last show. Hardly a surprise since baking and music-making are hardly compatible past times.

Referencing the last Balliceaux show when Evrim's capo went missing, he joked that he'd stashed six of them around the room with different friends so as to ward off a possible capo emergency again.  I like a man who learns from his mistakes.

But, my god, they're so hard to find.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday: A Post-Electric Day

Rooting around Clay Street, that's what the pig was doing.

Walking over to The Basement for TheatreLAB's Roast and Toast, I came to a gray pig rooting around in the upturned dirt of a tiny front yard two blocks down the street.

Wait, a pig?

A guy was riding down the sidewalk on his bike, earbuds in, but that didn't stop me from tapping him on the shoulder to get his opinion on spotting a farm animal in J-Ward. He stopped, stared and looked at me incredulously. "It is a pig!"

Call us agog because we were.

From across the street, a woman called to ask if the pig was upsetting us. Please. It was easily the most unexpectedly charming thing I could have come upon strolling down the street and I told her so. She looked relieved.

Almost at the Basement, I fell into step with a woman who said hello and looked at my feet. "I like your toenail polish," she says of my silver polish, a leftover from a disco party I went to over a year ago but keep using. "It looks like you're really jammin'," she tells me.

Oh, honey, if you only knew.

At TheatreLAB, I found the usual theater suspects - during intermission a girl took selfies with her tongue stuck out Gene Simmons-style - along with breakfast items suited to a noon start to the party: mimosas, yogurt, fruit and granola and, most importantly, doughnuts. When I saw a young woman reach for yogurt, I let her know that doughnuts lurked just on the other side of the group of people next to us.

Putting her bowl back on the table, she looked at me incredulously. "Then why am I wasting my time with this?" she asked rhetorically. I'm here to help, kid.

Taking the stage, Deejay, Evan, Maggie and McLean proceeded to poke fun at everyone from theater critics to play choices to themselves. They played Pictionary with one theater's season, "Gay Family Feud" for another's and "Two Truths and a Lie" with yet a third.

No one was spared spoofing

Categories for Theater Jeopardy included "Actors drunk at other people's plays," "Name that Naked McLean Jessie play" and "Napping during Cat in the Hat Plays," a sweeping indictment of both CAT Theater and HATT Theater.

"Did anyone actually see that play?" our hosts joked. From the front row, a guy said, "I directed it." Ouch.

Such was the nature of all the barbs - sharply observed, honest whether politically correct or not and laugh-out-loud worthy - that eventually every theater type in this town had been skewered. It was easy to miss a crack still laughing from the last.

McLean's big announcement that she's off to DC to get her master's had her lamenting, "It's like I'm leaving just when we have money to finally pay ourselves!"

With visibly shaking hands trying to read from a piece of paper, creative director Deejay ("It's like I never spoke up here before") announced the new season, "Women at War," causing spontaneous applause because they'll all be women-directed performances. The Cellar series will all be one-woman shows.

From the back of the room, McLean had the afternoon's best line: "If all you guys just got disappointed hearing that, that's how it feels."

Right on, Sister Bogeywoman (look it up, kids).

Interspersed with announcements, we saw monologues from the upcoming plays, hearing from directors and actors.

Second best line: director Keri Womald, saying, "This company is the shit." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Walking home with the intent of checking on the neighborhood pig, I passed friends sitting outside enjoying beverages on this delightful afternoon. We spoke through the bars of their fence until they invited me in to chat about their experience at the new Quirk rooftop bar Friday night. Like me, they're hoping to make it a neighborhood stop during off hours when the mobs are elsewhere.

Expecting to impress them with my pig siting, I was thrown off when they said they'd seen someone with a pig on a leash in Abner Clay Park. He'd spotted it and called her over so he had a witness. Crazy.

Back at home, I dipped into today's Washington Post, out on my porch reading about a 70-year old who'd just this February had sex reassignment surgery after a lifetime of knowing he was a girl in a boy's body. Best of all, his wife of all those years was 100% behind him on it. It's gratifying to know that 70 is not to late to change your life and that love extends beyond a previously-defined set of genitals.

Taking advantage of the gorgeous day, I walked over to Cask Cafe late, late in the afternoon (early evening?) because Lucy's was doing a burger pop-up, grilling out behind the restaurant. So, yes, I was walking two miles to eat food from a nearby Jackson Ward restaurant.

Not the point.

Walking through campus, I complimented a student on a pair of high-waisted jean shorts that looked identical to a pair I had in 1979, but it was her friend in hip-hugger jeans who wanted to chat about how shallow young people today are.

"I listen to classic rock, like the stuff my parents listen to because I fell like all the current music is so shallow and meaningless. No one knows what came before them." She also thought that vintage fashion beat out today's mish-mash of trends encompassing the past half century, showing me the four pieces she'd just scored for $15 at a pop-up vintage shop. "Everything was better before we ruined it."

Out of the mouths of babes.

The natives (students, mostly male) were restless as I walked up Cary Street past houses with porches crowded with guys smoking, drinking, bullshitting and playing loud music in the late afternoon sunshine.

Cask was buzzing with people, windows up and energy high. Lots of familiar faces - the woman I always see there who once bought a Fitz & the Tantrums ticket from me, the shorn beer geek, a favorite chef not long off a brunch shift, the uber-Mom and practiced server, the bearded and bubbly front of the house manager, the town's best bagel-maker - and plenty of raves for the massive burgers.

Hmm, pork bacon or housemade beef bacon? There's a first world problem for you.

A woman complimented my skort and then noticed my top, ecstatic when she realized it was a Spoon t-shirt. "Ohmygod, I saw them at [insert obscure club I never heard of] and they were a-maze-ing!" she gushed.

"You like Spoon?" she asks nonsensically. Are there people who wear band shirts but haven't seen the band? Recognizing a teachable moment, I shared exactly why they appeal to me: his distinctive voice, decidedly clever lyrics, the unaltered guitars so rare these days.

She high-fives me not once but twice about our shared admiration for Spoon. "You're a-maze-ing!" If she only knew.

It wasn't easy getting a bartender's attention to order, but the subsequent cheddar-dripping burger satisfied me into submission about the wait. Lucy's couldn't have asked for a better grilling out day or me a finer perch than the counter at the rolled up garage door facing the old depot and its pastiche of street art.

"I've decided not to worry anymore about first world problems," I overheard a young woman tell her friends. You'll be a much happier person for it, I told her and she lit up. "Really? I thought so! But it works, right?"

Please, let my life experience work for you and save yourself the trouble.

A woman showed up with sprigs of lilacs, my favorite flower, and questions about how best to do Mama J's, a subject on which I am an expert. The chef sat down next to me, bringing gossip about the rebirth of a classic restaurant and disdain for overly fussy food when the subject turned to sculptural Cesar salads.

It was fairly late in the game when I finally saw tonight's menu and realized I had ice cream sandwich options. How had I missed this? Not for me chocolate chip between sugar cookies (makes my teeth ache thinking about it) but I certainly couldn't resist housemade vanilla between thick, chewy chocolate cookies, now could I?

There's a reason it's the classic, the standard-bearer of all ice cream sandwiches.

Even when I'd polished that off, I stayed on, chatting with friends about the new film "Elvis and Nixon," about customers who don't feel bound by waiting for a hostess to seat them and how, unbelievably, some people have never gone to the Byrd Theater. I can only suggest reasons to correct that, I can't make them sit in those seats.

By the time I said my good-nights, the sun had slid into setting mode my back as I wandered back up Cary, far quieter now than it had been four hours earlier. For the record, I did not make a third visit to check on the local swine, secure in the knowledge that he's apparently a Clay Street fixture.

At home, a message awaited from hours earlier. "Leaving Norfolk now. I come bearing fresh oysters. Meet me at my house?"

There's a reason I wear this toenail polish, friend. Word on Broad Street is that I'm really jammin' so I'm bound to miss a last minute invitation here and there. Thank you for asking, though.

A great burger can make you cocky like that.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Body Language

Body awareness is a life skill. If you'd told me a year ago I'd be out in public in bell bottoms, I'd have mocked you.

But why shouldn't I wear the grooviest of pants to dinner and a play with friends? No good reason, although if that's the case, why am I just now doing it after years of avoiding pants? And why did I put off having someone tell me that my hips looked good in pants?

Words: the intelligent woman's aphrodisiac.

You know what, somebody probably did tell me and I didn't believe them because body awareness takes time. Years of self-delusion. At dinner at Belmont Food Shop tonight, three women discussed how as young women, we'd followed the fickle thread of fashion rather than our particular body contours.

Big mistake.

I'm quite aware of my body's shortcomings at this stage and it's easy enough to dress to accentuate strengths rather than genetic shortcomings. Fashion, we finally learn, is what looks best on each of us, which is why I keep a needle and thread handy so I can hem every skirt and dress that crosses my path. empire waist dresses hide myriad body shortcomings.

Body awareness means sipping Gamay and tucking into a fabulous meal that begins with duck hearts confit ("The kitchen knows you like confit," I'm told. Who doesn't like meat cooked in its own fat? is what I want to know) and warm gougeres right out of the oven without a moment's thought to should I or shouldn't I?

It means feeling like I've hit the jackpot when my virtuous asparagus salad shows up with three rounds of baked Ricotta singing with lemon, a dish boasting splendid spring colors, sublimely complementary flavors and a textural bonanza (Beau is immediately as impressed as I am).

That awareness, though, extends to fullness, so I finish only most of my flounder with pea shoots and Surry sausage because I know I have the most obscene dessert possible - dark chocolate silk pie - en route.

Sure, I'm a little full by the time we depart for the theater, but I also hoofed it seven miles today with Phoenix, so I'm not worried about it.

Watching 5th Wall and Richmond Triangle Players' production of "Body Awareness" tonight, I am reminded that with age comes acceptance.

The middle-aged character Joyce decides to have a nude photograph of herself taken by a noted artist against the wishes of her partner. Would she have done the same at 25? Doubtful, because she would have fixated on what was wrong with her body, rather than celebrating what was right about it.

A few years ago, I interviewed a woman who was painting a series of nudes of middle-aged women for a show of nothing but them. Intrigued by the concept, I told her to please call me if she ever ran out of models. She hasn't, but I'd love to think that someday she might. A photographer friend offered to capture my well-seasoned frame any time I was ready.

I'm about there. I know my body doesn't look like it once did. To be fair, though, it didn't used to walk as fast or as far, nor was it as strong.

And wearing bell bottoms tonight, much to the shock and delight of friends, yet netting compliments from strangers?

One small step in espadrilles and one giant step for hip acceptance.

Painting the Town

I excel at being the extra woman.

When friends need an extra body (whether warm or hot) or some estrogen to balance out a dinner party's numbers, I'm that person who gets invited to fill the role and it's one I dispatch with great enthusiasm.

Get to know strangers? Entertain visitors? I got this. Years ago, when I was trying to right the capsizing ship that was my life, a friend (seriously) suggested that I offer just such a service to visitors, showing them places to eat, hear music and do fun things they might not otherwise uncover.

Because selling my time sounded just short of selling my body, I didn't pursue it, although I saw the wisdom of her idea. Now I happily accept invitations to share me.

This time, it was Pru and Beau doing the inviting and the occasion was two male house guests, a seasoned one from Phoenix and a young one one from Fredericksburg, and the destination was Can Can.

I got assigned to the male car, meaning three men called for me (complete with a glass of Miraval Rose - a stellar "car wine," I have to say - awaiting me in the back seat) while the other two womenfolk took another car. My kind of odds.

Beau scored heavily in the parking lot when he complimented my ensemble as "adorable," precisely the vibe I'd been going for with the Berlin tights and a more subdued palette than usual.

Brasseries are noisy places and Can Can is no exception, making for a lot of leaning in and repeated remarks while sipping Cotes de Provence Rose "Terra Amatta" and nibbling zucchini fritters and a cheese/charcuterie plate. A Languedoc Rose showed up with dinner - mine a demi plateau of oysters, clams, shrimp and mussels and a forest of greens mounded into a salad - along with an opportunity for the Phoenix visitor to be more vocal.

When Pru, presuming naturally, asked what I'd planned to do after dinner wound down, I copped to plans to go to Balliceaux to hear K-Pop and the visitor immediately let it be known that he loves to dance. I couldn't ask the young visitor to join because he was a month shy of being legal, so my contribution to his RVA experience was introducing him to some new cheeses during our first course.

So the male car dropped Phoenix and I off at my house so I could swap cute shoes for dancing shoes before heading to Balliceaux. I tried but failed to convince my guest that we should walk, but despite being a native Philly boy, a biking enthusiast and in shape, he resisted.

Next time.

The back room was pretty crowded on arrival and only grew more so with each new wave of K-Pop devotees who wandered in throughout the night. He was struck by their solitary dancing habits, their group movements rather than couple movements, but I'd seen it too many times for it to even register.

Last time I'd gone to a K-Pop night, I'd fallen hard for the Asian take on pop music from the '60s and '70s, but tonight's selections drew from the '90s and hip-hop, filtered through a Korean sensibility, sure, but less compelling to ears that remember music before Auto-Tune.

I was barely a couple sips into my Espolon before he was nodding toward the dance floor and why would I say no? Unlike some of the crowd, we couldn't sing along to any of the songs, but we found enough we could dance to to join the throngs in a room that continued to feel hotter, more crowded, more like Friday night.

On the way out, he admitted that he couldn't remember the last time he'd been dancing, never mind that it was his first exposure to K-Pop. See, this is why some people need to meet me.

Dropping him back at his hostess' house an hour after I'd promised to get him home, we solidified morning plans. He'd seen some night life, he'd claimed to be a fan of walking, so the plan was to show him some of my daytime Richmond.

This is where I get good. I wowed him with notable architecture, historic locations, and river views. I led him along the Pipeline Trail, over to Southern States for the Street Art RVA Festival, up to Tricycle Gardens' urban farm and back across the Lee bridge to admire Belle Isle and the river from a bird's eye view.

Lagging slightly behind me coming up Belvidere, he informed me that this was the longest walk he'd been on in ages. Someone needs to get out of the house more or maybe just out of Phoenix more.

As a thank you for the outstanding walkabout and tour, he offered to take me to lunch, so we detoured to 821 Cafe, found two stools at the bar ("You can't sit there!" a male voice growled at me, but it was only the handsome bass player/server razzing me) and let a soundtrack of '80s music (Hall and Oates-based) wash over us while sharing life stories.

"Are you the marrying kind?" he asked me. "Why did you get married?" I asked him. How hard is it to find your passion and follow it? It's fascinating what you can discuss with someone you didn't know 24 hours ago.

The extra woman tells all, but never judges. Also, she has a ball doing it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Birds and the Bees

My extravagantly-planted garden and my attendance on it since it was planted have turned out to be a draw for bees as well as a guy (latent gardener?) magnet.

"Watering again? Looking great!" my neighbor calls out, exiting his sleek Jaguar. Doing what I can, I say. "If anyone can, you can," he assures me with a wave.

A man walks by yesterday as I'm examining it, trying to decide how many stepping stones I need. "Three," he advises after assessing the situation and wishes me well. Tonight, he walks by again to find me staring just as intently as yesterday.

"Still working on that garden?" he cracks. I apologize for not having had time to get the stepping stones he suggested yet. It's on my list, though. Why do I think I'll see him again soon to check on my progress?

Leaving for Cinema Noir, I pause to admire how lush and colorful everything looks after a good sprinkler soaking earlier.

"Looks great!" the new guy next door walking up to his porch tells me enthusiastically, as if we've had a conversation before. Standing near the pink and white English daisies, he tells me about all the birds he's seen in my birdbath lately, so I tell him the birdbath's history of being rescued from behind an old wooden schoolhouse slated for demolition.

We discuss whether I should add a bowl to the top of the pedestal for a wider bird bathing surface. Being a guy, he wants to know how heavy the thing is was, if it has a drain and what the bottom of the pedestal looks like. Heavy, no, flat.

"I dig it," he says with a big smile.

At Cinema Noir, the DJ is playing a brilliantly-crafted tribute to Prince, an ideal soundtrack for this dark day.

Earlier, I'd chatted with my downstairs neighbors - students and musicians, including two guitarists - to inquire if they had been Prince fans. No, but they'd heard he was dead.

"I never really got into him," one said with no real interest. "I mean, I knew him, but not really," the other said.

Sound of record scratching.

Wait, you don't seem to understand what this man represented, what he did to bring a combination of rock and funk to black and white audiences. How about his mad musical skills, his stellar production abilities?

By the time I finished making my "why Prince matters" speech to these two whippersnappers, they got it. "Man, I never knew any of that about him," one said, clearly impressed. Someone needs musical guidance is all I can say.

Tonight's short film, "Only Light" was about the $32 billion a year human sex trafficking industry, a heavy yet important topic, followed by a trailer for a documentary on the same subject, "Amazing Grace: Freedom's Song" by musician and cultural ambassador Yewande.

Afterward, during the Q & A, a man asked what he and others could do to make a difference.

"I knew nothing about this, but I want to help," he said. "I was brought here tonight by an intelligent woman or I wouldn't have even known about it."

"Repeat that part," Yewande told him to laughter, and the second time he referred to his date as both intelligent and beautiful. Smart man.

Best line of the night: "Sometimes, I think I should have said yes to some of those goat herders' proposals."

She was probably just minding her own business, tending her garden, when goat herders started showing up to talk to her. Now she regrets not taking them up on their offers.

I can totally dig it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Condition of the Heart

Peace is the word, or at least it was on my convoluted walk today.

Stop one was the open house for VCU's new learning garden, situated on a lot next to parking garage on Harrison Street across from the expressway.

Raised beds of lettuce, blueberries and kale, strawberries growing in burlap sacks, a mini-greenhouse with seedlings sprouting (much like the ones in my dining room) and fig trees being planted in half barrels.

A vertical flower garden hung on pallets, providing pollination opportunities for the bees in the little wooden house nearby. We were told that pharmacy students help maintain the gardens as part of their service hours, but also so they can learn the importance of diet in health care. Even some of the frat houses nearby volunteer and that's about the last thing I'd have expected from frat boys.

After enjoying a Mason jar of minted water, I moseyed up to the end of Carytown, past people eating on the Fancy Biscuit's new patio, and back through the Museum district.

A motorcycle sported a green "peace" license plate bigger than its actual Virginia plate, there was a peace sign created out of bricks painted blue and laid out in an empty tree well and some child had drawn a multi-color peace sign in chalk on the sidewalk.

A couple of landscapers on Hanover near Floyd had the radio in their truck blasting as they worked, causing me to cross the street when I heard Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots" from, what, 1982?

I told the guys that I'd crossed because the song was part of my club-going youth and one of the guys - standing in the tiny, elevated front yard above me - invited me to dance with him so we did, albeit me on the sidewalk and him on the dirt four feet up.

When you're out walking, you take your dancing where it's offered.

Then you come home and find out the there's a new world order, at least musically speaking, because Prince has died. It doesn't seem possible.

Twice I saw his Royal Purpleness, both times at the Mosque in the '90s and both times with the most diverse crowd of any concerts I have been to in my long and storied show-going past. His charisma, energy and musicality made the evenings still memorable twenty years later.

His music remains part of what gets us through this thing called life.

I'd be his devotee if the only thing he'd ever written had been the masterfully metaphoric "Little Red Corvette" and the sublimely passionate "I Would Die 4 U" but in a bigger sense, Prince was the ongoing soundtrack to my youth.

Remembering how far away "1999" sounded when he was singing it in 1983, it's hard to believe that just as much time has passed since we passed that landmark year

I guess it's a sign of the times that we're losing the great ones from my generation now.

Peace out, Prince. You were too young to go.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Light, the Heat

It's 4/20. We know you're hungry!
~ sign outside the Village Cafe

Today is 4/20 (smiley face)
~ sign outside Rumors Boutique

A 420 Carol
~ tonight's show at Comedy Coalition Theater

With all that in mind, it only made sense to start the evening in a split level, just the kind of house where kids probably smoked pot to escape their southside ennui.

The occasion was another Designmonth RVA event, this one at a 1954 house on Riverside Drive that has been renovated from a suburban-looking cliche to what the architects referred to as "West coast modern," which involved re-imagining it by removing the split level and replacing it with an enormous vertical addition, moving the garage to the front and putting a massive garage rooftop patio atop it.

Besides more bedrooms than I can recall, it had a home brewing room (see: drain in center of floor), a closet that ran the length of thee master suite and was wide enough for a couch and gorgeous old azaleas in full bloom crowding the back deck.

One of the Modern Richmond crew referred to Riverside Drive as "Mulholland Drive Richmond" because of its view sheds and distinctly mid-century architecture. Driving out, I saw several houses that supported that theory.

Headed back to the Fan for dinner, I couldn't help but notice how much better at being pedestrians the VCU students are at this point. It's a shame, but by the time we train them in the art of walking around in a city, it's the end of the school year. Pity.

Today's warm yet dry weather meant that the top of the blue Dutch door at Garnett's was open, the screen door keeping bugs on their side of it, but allowing soft evening air to waft in.

The only two seats open in the lively restaurant were at the counter and we took them.

The two women behind us were discussing experiences with men in bars, a couple was enjoying a bottle of Early Mountain Rose as part of the date night deal and a young couple with twin babies was trying to have a meal despite two vocal babies.

When our server took a small hotel pan filled with boiling water to their table, it was to put a baby bottle in it to warm the milk. Impressed with her ingenuity, I complimented her on such cleverness. "Yea, I was pretty proud of that," she grinned. "I used to babysit a lot."

Before we'd even finished our salads, we ordered double chocolate cake and the check because we knew "A 420 Carol" was starting soon. Walking by Gallery 5 to Coalition Theater, the throbbing sounds of a punk show reverberated out while black-clad and deliberately disaffected-looking kids milled about outside smoking cigarettes. It could have been 1982.

Ah, youth.

Using the characters and premise from RCC's recent improvised series "High There" about a guy who inherits a head shop from his stoner Uncle Jim, tonight's special edition focused on owner Jonathan's indifference to the high holy day for potheads while his staff wants to close up and experience Bongzilla, the $11,000 bong that's the shop's centerpiece.

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Spliffness and good luck finding the true meaning of 4/20 and all that.

The staff wants to close the shop and party while he wants a good night's sleep (early morning meeting) while they keep the shop open for the expected 4/20 consumers. Further complicating things is that it's his anniversary and all his wife wants is to celebrate that ("He is a boner, but tonight, he should be my boner").

But, of course, Jonathan's sleep is interrupted repeatedly through the night, beginning with the Bob Marley poster on his wall coming to life as the ghost of Uncle Jim, complete with long multi-colored dreadlocks and lots of beads.

"Every mistake I made, I put a bead in my hair," Marley tells Jonathan. So glad that's not a universal rule.

Poor Jonathan, all he wants to do is sleep - "My mellow is 18 hours of sleep a night. Don't harsh my mellow!" - but all Uncle Jim has done is prepare him for a series of ghost visitors to keep him up.

The ghost of 4/20 past showed him how much fun he used to be, frequently using "Full House" analogies, reminding him of nights capped by a group sing of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," while the ghost of 4/20 present, wearing Redskins pajamas and stuffing jalapeno potato chips in his gob, wanted to know why he wasn't celebrating 4/20.

"Because I'm sleepy and I want my store to be profitable tonight?" he asked. In the voice of Moses, host of 4/20 present thundered, "Oh, what have you become?" and proceeded to show poor Jonathan how dull the party was downstairs without him.

An ongoing source of laughter was how none of the ghosts could remember their role, always identifying themselves as the "ghost of Christmas, I mean 4/20 past, present or whatever." Sounds to me like ghosts are freelancers who take whatever jobs they can.

You wear as many hats as you need to to make rent.

Wearing black satin elbow-length opera gloves ("These gloves feel amazing right now" said the first-time satin wearer) and a black shroud, the ghost of 4/20 future points out Jonathan's grave marker and shares that if he doesn't change, his High There shop will wind up becoming a Blimpie's when he's gone.

"Which would be perfect if Blimpie's came back," Future opined, momentarily unconcerned about Jonathan's fate for the sake of a good sub.

Laugh-out-loud improvised moments were constant, including a Matthew Broderick/Godzilla reference even some of the actors didn't get ("Huh?") but was quickly explained. Once Jonathan realizes that he really does have a wonderful life, he tells his girlfriend, "It's our anniversary! Roll me into a blunt and smoke me like one of your French girls."

That was the cue for the staff to toast each other with blunts and begin singing "In Your Eyes" again.

The end, except not really, because the sound guy immediately cues up the real "In Your Eyes" and everyone in the audience went out on a high note, possibly even hungry, definitely not harshed.

And my mellow? Nine hours of sleep a night. Yea, I'm pretty proud of that.

The East of my Youth, the West of My Future

An epic road trip called for an epic bon voyage lunch.

You know, "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road," as Kerouac put it.

The honor of my presence was requested at Can Can at 2 p.m. by the friend doing the departing so we could have one last gabfest before she and her man took off for places unseen and adventures unimaginable as they cross the country to the West coast and back.

Unwilling to sit inside (for some unfathomable reason, the front windows were closed on this beautiful Spring day), we took a table on the patio next to the flower vendor and partially shaded by a large tree, where I heard about the minutiae of planning a trip of this kind, which involves, it seems, picnic backpacks, plastic bins for clothes and a 30-year old sleeping bag acquired by her man from redeemable points on Marlboro cigarette packs.

No less than Kerouac himself would have approved of the procurement method.

Taking Orson Welles' advice, "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what's for lunch," we did, matching our choices to the warm day.

Both of us wound up choosing the plat du jour of seared scallops over a cucumber/avocado gazpacho with crisp seasonal veggies (beautiful radish slices as thin as a postcard) and paprika oil, an exquisite combination.

I got to hear about the itinerary, tickled to hear that the first stop was in Memphis so I could recommend a hotel right on the Mississippi where I'd stayed, then on to New Mexico next for the serious camping experience.

The funny part? My friend has never, well, actually camped.

Truth be told, I haven't either unless you count one night in the back of a VW Squareback when it was raining so hard my then-boyfriend took pity on me and set up camp in the way-back rather than subject a camping virgin to the hell of a soggy first time.

Smart man. He didn't last for other reasons, but that was his second most brilliant move in a three year relationship.

I give my girl high points for even agreeing to take this trip, although I wasn't surprised to hear that the original time frame of three months on the road has wisely been shortened to four weeks. Even so, she's a bit worried since she was more than ready to get home after only two weeks in France.

And that trip included Paris.

It's hard to say what my tolerance for such a trip might be, although the idea of fresh vistas, all-new experiences and endless conversation opportunities certainly appeal to me, even if the thought of campgrounds and sleeping bags don't.

Of course, they can always bag the trip at any point and set the GPS for Richmond, although it might be harder to do if only one person is having a miserable time.

Like Kerouac wrote, "The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view." There's only one way to get an "A" in that class and that's to strike out for places unknown.

Dessert was a given - the darkest of chocolate pot de cremes for me, profiteroles for her - as she ticked off the many tasks she still has to complete before their intended departure Thursday. She's already angling to move that to Friday so she can vacuum and change the bed linens before they go.

Just like a woman, always thinking ahead and, in this case, wanting to come home to a clean house. She's a better woman than I am for even thinking of such a thing.

After a couple of hours, we had to part ways because she had more trip errands to do and I needed to work. I expect my next contact from her will be a postcard showing fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.

Whether she makes it the entire trip sleeping in that ancient Marlboro sleeping bag or not, she will be the hero of her own epic adventure. She's got miles to go before I see her again.

But no matter, the road is life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Plan A, Plan B

Let the season begin. I have waded in the James.

Mac and I walked down to Belle Isle and around it, past new steps for the Folk Fest stage, dodging weekday running warriors and bikini-clad students to stake out our claim on a rock and remove our shoes to revel in the impending arrival of summer.

The sparkling blue water wasn't anywhere near as cold as I'd anticipated, while the air didn't have nearly the distinctive briny smell we'd thrilled to when we'd walked the pipeline just last Friday, but so what? Some people were at work on a Monday morning and we were in the river.

Don't drink and drive
Take acid and teleport


Making our way up the grade toward Oregon Hill, that pithy piece of graffiti greeted us. Mac spotted a cache of new water bottles under the bridge, accompanied by a notebook paper sign inviting sweaty types like us to help ourselves. Hell, yea.

Further up Pine Street, we met Jake the beagle, a spry six year old who'd never been neutered, perhaps accounting for his swaggering attitude. Nothing wrong with a little swagger.

Plenty of it was in evidence tonight when I walked over to Strange Matter for a killer Monday night show of energetic pop-punk with two Seattle bands (one written up in Rolling Stone last week) and two Richmond bands.

Despite a musician friend saying, "People are afraid of a Monday night show," I knew I could count on seeing familiar faces ignoring the day of the week for the quality of the music.

Local but new to me was Atta Girl, succinctly described to me by the shoegaze master as "twee punk," meaning a wholesome looking front woman in a dress snarling over short, fast, loud songs.

For the record, it should be noted that only a twee punk ban would get the show started right on time, at precisely 9 p.m.

Playing out for the first time in ages was Positive No with a new bass player (see: shoegaze wizard) and drummer completing Tracey and Kenny's musical world, a very happy, brightly colored place with stellar music, kind of like their house.

She was especially excited about how many show-goers were wearing bright colors when usually S'Matter is a sea of black. Let's just say I'd known to wear a color like orange.

When Kenny's guitar strap came off mid-high energy song, she managed to reattach it while still singing every word of the song. It's no wonder he loves her.

The first Seattle band was Boyfriends (who claim to worship Freddy Mercury and host frequent nail-painting parties), my main competition in the legs department, since three of the guys wore shorts (the singer's were maybe two inches longer than his over-sized t-shirt) and the fourth guy had donned leopard leggings.

The bass player (who had the shortest shorts) announced, "I love Richmond. Today I found the Hello, Kitty earrings that I've been looking for for six months!"

It may have been Monday night, but of course everyone who'd come out stayed to hear Seattle's finest surf-punk feminist band, Tacocat - who, by the way,  bring their own Tacocat banner complete with a spaceship on it to hang behind the drummer - three women, one man, two brunettes, two blonds, two with blue/green hair, all sweaty as hell on this unseasonably warm April East Coast night they claimed was making them drowsy.

You'd never know it by the way they play their surfy guitars and sing lyrics only a woman would write dressed up in the sparkling pop mode of the Go-Gos, except with blue hair and bras showing.

I'm talking songs like "FDP" about the first day of your period ("Stay away from me!"). How about "Hey, You!" about street harassment? Don't get me started on "Men Explain Things to Me" because they do.

Only a service industry worker could have written "I Hate the Weekend," which lead singer Emily apparently is. When she said the next song was called "Internet," and a guy called out, "What's the Internet?" she retorted immediately, "Trolls!" Asking who in the room had been "teenage horse girls," only three women reluctantly raised their hands.

"Come on, I know you all were," Emily teased.

I wasn't - no, really - but I'm also not afraid of a Monday night show, especially when three of the bands are female-fronted (polka dots abounded) and Boyfriends may as well have been with their fashion style, lipstick and nail polish.

Thank goodness I wasn't shamed, having had the foresight to come home from Belle Isle and paint my toenails silver to kick off the season.

Lamenting her inability to attend tonight's show earlier, a friend had warned me, "Don't tell me how good it is! I love that Tacocat record so damn much."

There is nothing quite like female swagger to the fourth power to kick off a sunny week. Okay, I won't tell you.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Someone Has to Look in on You

If I were a politician, I'd be accused of changing positions.

When I admit to my favorite millennial that I've left my taxes until today to complete, the reaction is immediate.

"The old Karen is rolling in her grave right now. I don't believe for one second that you haven't had an hour to file your taxes. I don't know who you are anymore."

The truth is, the old Karen would have gotten a refund but the new, self-employed Karen doesn't, so what's the rush?

After my long day in the garden yesterday, I'd picked up the phone and called a friend, suggesting we do something together last night, only to find that he was out of town. He messaged me as soon as he got back today.

"I'm still in shock that you called me on the telephone," he writes, complete with smiling emoji. Whole new me, huh? "Oh, I just thought I was special. Either way, I'll take it."

Who knew I could thrill with a phone call?

For the first time in my life, I'm wearing jewelry and not just my grandmother's ring, but necklaces and bracelets. A recent dinner companion did a double-take. "I thought you didn't wear jewelry?" he asks incredulously.

I didn't wear jewelry, but times change. I don't wear jeans, either, but that didn't stop some people from offering to buy me some.

On my walk today, I saw a girl in a pair of pants so groovy I stopped and complimented them, the third person to have done so, she said. Her boyfriend laughed when she told me where to get them, which I fully intend to do.

So if I start wearing pants for the first time in decades, what does that say about me?

According to the least romantic person I know, it's just one more brick in the wall. "I know you're a unique individual with superpowers. There. I've said it."

Am I? "Oh, yes, super. Definitely."

So I'm not as predictable as I once was. The important thing is, my position on using my powers for good remains the same.

That should reassure the old Karen from further rolling in her grave.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Time to Play B-sides.

As my favorite man who wears high heels says, "The time is now. That's all you need to know."

The pre-game at Rogue Gentlemen involved J. Mourat Rose, a lamb Philly steak, fried chicken skins and three luscious cheddar chive biscuits with apple butter that my companion had professed to be uninterested in until I ordered them.

Three warm, seductive biscuits later, I was given my due for ordering such deliciousness while a couple at the other end of the bar acttually lifted off of their stools to ogle our repast, eventually ordering the same.

The main event was TheatreLAB's performance of "Venus in Fur," easily one of the most fascinating two-person plays I've ever seen and not because it's about sado-masochism, either.

What, doesn't everyone have a dog collar?

All the cool kids were there for opening night, and it's always pleasant to begin by hearing my name called and then, "Hey, gorgeous" to get my attention. It was the walker/play-lover I'd not seen recently, finally getting out of his house.

He'd picked an outstanding choice for his return to play-going.

Watching Maggie Roop as Vanda and James Ricks as Thomas was an exquisite 90 minutes of thrust and parry with the two actors playing an actor and director ("Young women can't even play feminine anymore!") who are bringing to life a play about a masochist looking for his dominatrix.

You know, that old chestnut.

If it sounds like a hall of mirrors, that''s exactly what playwright David Ives seems to have been going for and it's brilliant stuff onstage.

I'm not convinced that all women want to control men, as the play's Thomas insists, but where I did agree was that nobody has out-sized emotions anymore (and we're the worse for it, I might add).

We're all explicable. What we're not is extricable.

Assured direction by Matt Shofner and terrific performances by both actors ensured that everyone who walked out of there knew they'd seen something they wouldn't soon forget.

Just as I was finding Maggie's Vanda character simplistic and a bit too broad with the comedic bits ("Remind me...?" when the Austro-Hungarian empire is mentioned), she slid seamlessly into the role of the woman being groomed to be Thomas' dominatrix, totally commanding the stage and showing what she was made of, both challenging him and seducing him.

And what man doesn't like that? She even arrived with period costumes for both of them, showing a  level of planning that speaks to those of us who tend to overthink everything.

James - still memorable as a blond Hamlet in the 2012 Bootleg Shakespeare production - "To be or...Line!" - was born to play the role of Thomas, the smugly arrogant director whose life has already settled into mediocrity without him noticing, but who can't help but be affected by the crass and sometimes contemptuous actress who's showed up in his office to read for the part in his play.

TheatreLAB never disappoints, but the combination of the brilliance in choosing this steamy play and casting and directing it to perfection already has me emailing friends to nudge them to get tickets.

Don't say I didn't tell you so, kids. You wouldn't want to miss the sound of zippering when a roomful of people hold their collective breath in complete silence as a pair of thigh-high black patent leather boots are zipped up two fabulous legs. Truth.

We barely made it to Comfort before the intricacies of the post-play discussion began, followed by long-delayed girl talk ("That old chestnut?" she asks, cracking me up with her dismissive take on my life) until we are the final customers and only the bartender is left to say goodnight.

Cue next day.

Talk about unlikely, I have been to Lowe's three times in 24 hours and that's a lifetime achievement record. Also, I was spending someone else's money, which makes it a whole lot more fun.

Over the course of the day together, I am mistaken repeatedly for my companion's wife, a highly unlikely occurrence given that he pitches for the other team, but he's more delighted with the mistaken identity every time it happens. Meanwhile, he digs, plants, spreads and sweeps as if I'd given him a Honey-Do list.

I only hope my garden represents me as well as the painting the jazz drummer created for me does. It certainly smells wonderful (the garden, not eh painting).

Tonight's Leap of Faith party for the upcoming Bijou Film Center was a thank-you to all of us who'd donated to get the arthouse theater off the ground (and hopefully in my neighborhood) as founding members.

Number 178, right here, folks.

After a full day outside working, even a hoppy-smelling brewery was a welcome change, as were the sounds of DJ Carlito spinning records, along with plenty of familiar faces and music lovers.

It was especially delightful to run into one half of the Blood Brothers, visiting from NYC and, I was happy to hear, cobbling together a satisfying life producing bands, delivering his wife's food to movie sets and playing music.

Hey, whatever combination works, that's my life philosophy.

Grass Panther - two guys who sound like a whole lot more- rocked everybody's faces off (a pink-clad five year old danced like a punk veteran, unable to stop herself), addressing the song "Stinky Pants" to the men in the room ("We'll have a group session later about that," singer/guitarist Michael says) and closing by saying, "Thanks for taking the journey with us."

No, thank you for a killer post-punk set. Just what I needed.

During the break, all the founding members were gathered for a group photo complete with Groucho Marx glasses/noses on each of us, destined to be come a classic...or Facebook blackmail

The highlight of the evening may have been when one of the Bijou's founders, James, got up to explain about the Bijou and what it will be. A 100-seat art house. A cafe and bar, with beers such as Hardywood on tap.

"We'll also serve wine for people like Karen who don't like beer," James announces from the stage, a stage in a brewery.

A guy near me leans over and whispers, "Did you see people step away from you when he said that?" Um, no, but I don't doubt it.

Despite that, when he'd said it, a DJ's wife had given me a thumbs up of support from across the floor. Later, a woman stopped me to tell me she didn't drink beer either.

The difference? She didn't get called out for it in front of a roomful of beer lovers.

But isn't that almost the point? Why does a non-beer drinker go to Hardywood? Because she gets to see terrific bands and support an artsy cause that's near and dear to her heart. Even better, the Bijou not only met its goal of 360 founding members, it beat it.

Turns out we are the movie town some of us thought we were.

Call it one of those perfect synchronicity moments when the Green Hearts took the stage, because off to the side was a guy I hadn't seen in years, but whose restaurant was the first place I ever saw the Green Hearts.

It's practically poetic, right?

The band got bonus points for doing several covers of songs used in movies, including a Cheap Trick song and Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You," a song I probably haven't heard this millennium.

I totally dug it, not gonna lie.

With their dark suits and energetic pop, they were well-suited to reminding the crowd that this was a party and at parties, people dance. Dancing in place, I was completely caught off guard when a founder and all-around great guy asked me to dance, inadvertently saying no out of sheer surprise instead of just jumping in.

What, a woman who loves to dance declining an invitation?

Perhaps we should have a group session about that later. The time is now and that should be enough.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Literary Husbandry

Arriving fully formed today was the first sentence of a book? a story? I hadn't known I was writing.

Eating a clementine and in search of new bras, I was driving to Victoria's Secret at Regency Square - a necessity given that the Victoria's Secret at the much-closer Willow Lawn has shuttered, apparently abandoning city breasts - when a wonderfully absurd idea announced itself.

I was still mulling over the concept when, unbidden, that sentence appeared like a ticker tape across my brain. But of course, that's exactly how I'd need to set the scene I hadn't realized I was planning to set. Parking, I scribbled it in my notepad.

Four or five years ago, someone asked me if all this blogging was material-gathering for a book, something that hadn't even crossed my mind.

The intention was always more of a record of a time and one woman's experiences living through it, but also, as more than one person has observed, it's a cultural journal of the goings-on of Richmond over the past seven plus years.

None of that specifically and all of that generally have simmered, it seems, to the point that a story arc has presented itself out of the stewing process. If it was inevitable, I was in denial.

Fittingly, tonight began at Fountain Bookstore for the first in a new experimental programming series, "Judge a Book By Its Spine" or JABBIES, an evening devoted to those curious about the book industry and featuring publishing pros - tonight Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions and Craig Popelars of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill - discussing the behind-the-scenes book world

There were more book-loving attendees than chairs ("Sold out! There we go!" Craig joked, throwing his arms over his head to indicate a score) and a fair amount of knowing nodding over a story about the distinct childhood pleasures of receiving your monthly order from Scholastic Books in elementary school.

Reading geeks, all.

The pros explained their job of making noise around exciting new books, getting authors media coverage and prime placement at Barnes & Noble (that front table at B & N costs "an arm and a leg," we heard). There were tales of fights over book titles and jackets.

"Managing expectations is a big part of this business," Michael admitted, before amazing the audience with the story of a current best-selling author who does absolutely no publicity. They've never even laid eyes on her because she claims the work speaks for itself.

As many times as I've been to Fountain, only tonight did I learn that moderator Kelly, the owner, had gone to school for animal husbandry, "specializing in beef and cattle nutrition and I somehow ended up here," she tells us to laughter, igniting a string of cow jokes.

According to her, booksellers and beer makers are the only industries who routinely praise competitors' products, an insightful observation.

Only at events like this do you hear someone use a term such as "Pynchon-esque" or get advice to "Read passionately, widely and as much as you can." In between everything else I'm doing passionately, widely and as much of as I can, it's safe to say I'm always reading.

"Never trust a man who doesn't make time to read books," a wise woman once told me.

To that I would add, better to finish an evening with one who does. Some habits speak for themselves.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Alive

Pink is the color of love and happiness.

I gleaned this, not by spending close to two hours in the love and happiness room at Quirk Hotel, but by listening to a Ted talk (as in Ted Ukrop was talking) about the hotel's restoration and renovation, a talk punctuated by the clinking glasses of the cocktail party vibe in the room and a fire alarm.

Given the blase age we live in, it was hardly surprising that, mid-talk, when the excruciatingly loud alarm began sounding, not a soul moved. In fact, a well-dressed guy turned and said to no one in particular, "Funny how no one's making a move to leave."

Funny? It took some time for the Modern Richmond crowd to begrudgingly accept that there was the possibility that the hotel above us was in dire straits and begin shuffling up the stairs, through the smoky lobby and outside.

We never got any explanation, but the moment the alarm ceased, we dutifully filed back in to hear more about how Quirk came to be from Ted and the architect. Like how they researched old photos at the Valentine to see what the lobby originally looked like back when the Italianate building was a toney department store.

How the second floor windows on the east side are original and high up on the walls, in the Italian style, so steps were added to access the views. How flooring from the building next door was used to fashion cabinets, closets and counters. How you can see the racetrack and the Diamond from the rooftop bar because it's the tallest building in the area.

Our ultimate goal was going upstairs to see a room and a loft suite, both with fabulous windows, local artisan-made ice buckets and Virginia art in every room and hallway. Since the rooms cost $200 and $400 a night respectively, it'll likely be my last look at them.

Chatting with a stranger about where I lived and how I liked it (J-Ward, love it) because she's considering a move to the city, she asks, apropos of nothing, "Do you work?"

I think this is about the oddest question you could ask an able-bodied person over 18 and under 65. Do I work? Do I need to pay for shelter and transportation? Do I have living expenses? What the hell?

Yes, I work.

I also eat, both for hire, for pleasure and for sustenance, meaning my next stop was dinner at Lucy's with my favorite walker.

Ensconced at the bar with "On the Town" playing silently on the screen, I licked a bowl of bacon and lentil soup clean and followed it with a fried Brussels sprout and mesclun salad jazzed up with goat cheese and red onions while my companion found religion with Lucy's incomparable cheeseburger.

Shortly, in came the chef and barkeep of Metzger, waiting to meet friends, but happy to share the plans for their new Scott's Addition restaurant in the meantime. While it certainly sounds like it's going to be fun, I can't help but wonder about the wisdom of this mass stampede to such a small and impossibly trendy neighborhood.

Or perhaps I'm secretly envious that more business owners don't consider some of the empty buildings in Jackson Ward when looking for real estate.

But no matter. In front of us was flourless chocolate cake dripping with real whipped cream on a plate squiggled with caramel sauce, so my attention was diverted to more important things like maintaining my daily chocolate quota.

That quota, in fact, had been the subject of discussion earlier today while I was out on my walkabout.

"I see you're still out here strutting every day," says the business owner whose shop I'd passed for years, at least until construction fences forced me to the opposite side of the street.

He felt comfortable giving me a hard time because we'd officially met and chatted at a nearby restaurant I was reviewing when he'd spotted me in non-walking attire. I reminded him that I strut so I can abuse chocolate and put off looking my age.

"I need to get back to the gym more often,:" he said, picking up the gauntlet and running with it before tossing me a delightful compliment (coincidentally, the third reason I walk).

Chocolate needs met for the time, I bade my companion farewell and set out for UR and the annual Musicircus,a tribute to composer John Cage. Since the first one I attended back at the old Chop Suey Books in 2007, I've been devoted to the one-hour cacophony of sound.

Wandering through the concert hall, I was a bit surprised at the small crowd, but there hadn't been much press or even social media about it, so it wasn't entirely surprising. In hallways and practice rooms, the crowd happened on all kinds of music and musicians.

A four-piece fado group, the singer's lovely voice shaping the words of Portuguese longing. A guy playing acoustic guitar and singing the stirring "This Land is Your Land." A piano and drum combo perfectly in sync. Gamelan musicians. A killer guitarist playing lap steel. A familiar sax player, eyes closed, wailing alone in a room.

One of the most unique sound contributors was The Hat, reading from his unfinished novel, using his best actorly voices and hand gestures for dramatic effect.

My only complaint was that the whole point of the Musicircus is the blending of all the disparate music being made, but with such a large building, even the sound of 50+ musicians didn't always reach to the next performer.

It was only when I ran into the jazz critic that I was clued in to the additional musicians playing their hearts out in the basement. Down I went, only to be rewarded with the best bleeding of sound by far.

Just outside a stairwell were three members of No BS - Lance using nothing but a mic'd cymbal and a xylophone, Marcus and Reggie blowing horns - making a disproportionately large sound for three people.

Two favorites - Scott and Cameron - whom I'd seen recently in separate outfits were reunited (and it feels so good) and playing with trumpeter Bob. A noise group turned knobs and produced sound so loud it scared some people off. A guy playing a keyboard with earbuds in seemed to be in his own world.

Walking in on Brian and Pinson, both drummers except tonight Brian - the event's organizer all these years - was playing piano (what?), a favorite gallerist arched an eyebrow and leaned in, saying, "I see your blog is back alive."

Now there was an unexpected compliment. You just never know what instruments people play or who might be paying attention to your blog, do you?

Fittingly, my final stop was a large room with an eight-piece (guitar, bass, drums, congas, trumpet, piano, two saxes) rocking out to the point that the two guys listening were head banging while the grooviest of light shows swirled red, green and yellow on the ceiling and walls.

Needless to say, their raucous sound was bleeding out and down hallways in a manner that had to have had John Cage smiling, wherever he and partner Merce are right now.

With any luck, they're in a place with walls painted in Benjamin Moore's "Love and Happiness Pink," coincidentally, the color of half the rooms at Quirk Hotel.

If only painting it made it so. We strutting types figure that love and happiness are where you find them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Life, Better than a Reproduction Lecture

I am completely unable to ignore the man who first informed me - before I knew it myself - that I was a hopeless romantic.

Oh, I was flattered when I heard from the west coast, "Oh, shoot, is this the end of the blog? Say it ain't so...xo," but I was, alas, so much busier with work and a decided uptick in my social life that I had to let go of something.

I certainly wasn't about to let go of things like a poetry reading at Scott House, with verse dedicated to topics such as nosebleeds, elk offal, pyre-building and gray scum (Gregory Kimbrell's first reading from his completely disarming and disturbing new book of poems, "The Primitive Observatory") or Allison Titus' elegiac space rock poems about fireflies lamping the back yard.

As a result, I decided to use my usual blogging time for fun so I didn't have to miss out on anything like the screening of "Labyrinth" at Hardywood (my first viewing of the Bowie/Jim Henson classic) or an afternoon under the spell of K Dance's "Shorts," with works by Tennessee Williams, Suzan-Lori Parks and Shel Silverstein.

With no obligation to keep track of my comings and goings, I left town for three days, taking long walks in unfamiliar places, doing a lot of reading and savoring the lobster roll my critic friend recommended. When I got back, it was to an unexpected message, letting me know of the sender's "continuing appreciation for what you do to show a strong, smart, engaged approach to living."

There are people reading me who get that? Praise the lord and pass the biscuits.

Right, and there was that time I went to the new Early Bird Biscuit and shared my biscuit and blackberry jam with a homeless man who called me kind for doing so. I would call the person who wrote that to me kind as well.

When the French Film Festival hit town, Pru and I set out to get our yearly Francophile fix, except that what she really wanted to discuss for those three days was not cineastes but my absence in the blogging sphere, having been immediately suspicious when I'd stopped.

Over dinner at Secco one day, Amour Wine Bistro another and Bistro Bobette a third, she tried to get me back in writing mode. "All these amusing things I've been saying and no one's writing them down for posterity!" she lamented.

Days later, I get a message from her. "It looks like your radishes are growing fat instead of pithy at present...hmmmm." After much back and forth about my personal life, she offered advice not printable in a  family blog...or this one. Her summation? "Get out there and get pithy!"

Can I not be pithy without blogging?

Perhaps I'm too busy flaunting my D.C. roots with a James River Film Fest screening of "S.E. 67," a documentary about a group of Southeast Washington kids offered free college educations back in the '80s. I sign a petition to save the Enid Haupt Gardens in D.C., aghast that their demolition is even being considered.

There's a show and dance party at Studio 23 of go-go posters from the '70s and '80s (the graphic style instantly recognizable because I grew up seeing them everywhere), along with two DJs playing nothing but go-go, something that rarely happens outside D.C.

I have a ball dancing, talking to fellow go-go fans and even to a guy who'd attended one of the shows advertised in the poster. I overheard so many fascinating conversations and shared none of them.

Not having to blog meant plenty of time for dinner at the ever-fabulous Acacia (duck heart salad with strawberries, my, oh my and squid ink pasta with clams) before seeing Quill Theater's "King Lear" and repairing to Can-Can for Shakespeare discussion among the Saturday night divorcee crowd.

Did anyone really need to hear my thoughts on the new bands I've been seeing lately? The new Scott Clark Trio, for instance, or Microwave's soulful sounds at Cary Street? Zomes at Steady Sounds or the killer chops of Ralston, Parker, Fonville at Balliceaux? Probably not.

I have taken epic walks with my new walking partners, shared an unexpected brunch with an attentive artist and gone to a late night screening of a movie about wine, "Premiere Cru." At the Valentine's final Community Conversation, I enthusiastically discussed Richmond's public spaces with strangers and people of opposing opinions.

If anyone actually cares that I saw the cult 1986 documentary "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," I'd be thrilled to hear from them. Personally, it was a kick seeing all those skinny kids in the Capital Centre parking lot, the scene of most of my concerts for the first 8 or 10 years of my concert-going life.

Paul McCartney, Elton John, Cher, the Who, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, all revealed themselves to me for the first time at ye old Cap Centre, but at this screening, I got the bonus of seeing the building's implosion, something I'd missed, having moved to Richmond  by then.

But who cares?

And does anyone really want to know that I've been to Merroir twice in recent weeks, along with Metzger, Pizza Tonight, My Noodle and Bar (I'm besotted with the decor) and the Roosevelt for a wine dinner with Chatham Vineyards, their delightful and voluble winemaker seated at our table? Probably not.

When it was last minute company I needed, I found it with an empathetic friend at Sabai for dinner and the Broadberry for a DJ out of Phoenix who took the stage at midnight after two others and melted our faces off with European beats.

Walking out of Richmond Ballet's Studio 3 series after being gobsmacked seeing "The Rite of Spring" and a world premiere of Mark Annear's "City Life," I run into the mustached scientist, whom I haven't seen in eons.

"Well, that was better than a reproduction lecture,' he observes in his usual deadpan, referring to the class he should have been teaching while he was instead watching dance.

Just before I get ready to leave the house Sunday, my trusty land line rings and it's the college friend who now resides in Key West, calling to check on me for the simple reason that I haven't blogged in a few weeks. Am I okay, how's my love life, how can anyone, friend or foe, be expected to match my energy level?

Although it sounds like typical friend phone conversation, you have to understand that we don't talk on the phone. Or if we do, there are years in between conversations. Clearly, he must have been worried and we can't have that.

After all, he's the one who advised me back in 2009 when my life was in shambles that, "Loneliness and regret are mean friends and piss poor mates."

I'm working on having none of either, thank you very much. So the blog is back, in some fashion or another, probably a less revealing one so more of my business is my own. How's that for pithy?

Say it ain't so.