Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Into the Great Wide Open

The things you miss when you have a social life every night.

There's the luxury of listening to country songwriter Brent Cobb who, I learn, hails from Ellaville, Georgia ("There's 1609 people where I'm from") on the radio telling his life story between singing songs from his new album.

The fact that I'd never heard of Brent only made hearing all this the more satisfying.

His life includes admitted worship of Shooter Jennings' attitude and Tom Petty's songwriting chops ("His songs seem simple because it's so conversational, because Tom Petty sings it like he says it") and makes for pretty entertaining listening as I putter about doing further trip preparation minutiae that will allow me to cross things off one of my many lists.

Like watering plants, choosing books and locating accessories. In what girlfriends would expect to be the unlikeliest of scenarios, I fashion a necklace out of one I'd created a couple years ago for a disco-themed party. Tonight, it lost the '70s flower and returned to its initial funky charm, albeit with some lengthening for a different look.

But all gainful activity pauses when Ray Charles' instrumental version of "One Mint Julep" comes on, not because I'd ever heard it before but because between its oh-so-'60s rhythms and beatnik-cool horn section, it is aural perfection that obliterates my capacity to do anything but wish I could samba or cha cha cha around sleek mid-century modern furniture in a Manhattan apartment.

As I'm grooving by the front windows, I glance down when I hear wailing. The Dad and sister of one of my young downstairs neighbors has kindly come to help the recent graduate move out, the mistake being that Dad left the driving and thus the parking to daughter, who has managed to park only after adding a fresh pole-shaped dent to the trunk and bumper.

It's a nice deep dent, too.

Standing next to the pole that managed to jump out at the back of the car, she whines, "I don't know how I did that!" to which I think, clearly there's much you don't know since the parking space could have accommodated a Chrysler as big as a whale and you struggled with your little entry-level Hyundai.

She tries the trunk, which no longer opens with the new pole imprint folding it into itself. Dad, meanwhile, is apoplectic, exchanging with her heated words in Spanish about her egregious error in judgement.

A simple trip to pick up your brother and look what you've done, his rapid-fire words and fierce scowl seem to say. Brother and friends come out and much excitable conversation unfolds. Clearly we have a situation on Clay Street.

Who knew there was so much drama right in front of my house on a Wednesday night? Certainly not me since I'm gone every night.

Later, when I come downstairs to go to the basement, I find a smiling man on the front porch, eager to introduce himself as Levar Stoney, former Commonwealth's secretary and recent addition to the mayoral race, the fourth I've met so far. Levar clarifies that he is the first in his family to graduate high school, much less college.

That's bootstraps right there.

So on a sunny summer evening at a time when I'd usually be out and about, we stand - he on the porch, me on the sidewalk - chatting genially about the next mayor addressing the deplorable school situation so we will stop losing families to the 'burbs once their tykes are school age.

Levar apologizes for his relative youth - 35 - but I point out that one need only be 35 to be President, so if it's apparently not too young for that job...

The funny part is, as soon as the words are out of my mouth, I think about this fact for the first time probably since Civics class and wonder holy hell, why would we even consider putting a 35-year old in charge of the free world?

I mean, 35 was old when the Constitution was written, so the age represented a far more evolved person than would be likely today.

For heaven's sake, it recently made news that for the first time in 130 years, Americans 18-34 are more likely to live with Mom and Dad than in any other living situation. Come on, millennials, what happened to good old-fashioned living in sin, or better yet, in a group house with other minimum wage lifelong students and artist types?

Really, Mom and Dad were the only choice?

I'm inclined to think that theoretically there should be more years between moving out of your parents' basement and into the White House than one. Let's say a minimum of ten and if we have to adjust the preamble to allow for delayed adolescence/arrested development, I say do it.

For that matter, are we even producing 35-year olds capable of running a country? Seems doubtful.

But that will have to be a discussion for another day since between phone conversations, hemming dresses and attempting to pack lightly, I have bigger fish to fry. Preferably a nice skate wing in brown butter with capers.

For now, a simple bon voyage will do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Moonflowers Blooming on the Balcony

Carpe diem. It never hurts to be reminded of that.

Just last week, one of my beach guests, recovering from chest pains while overlooking the ocean, had received that very reminder from her husband (hysterically responding to him with, "Who are you and what have you done with my husband?").

But it was sage advice.

Today's rainy road trip took me far enough into Mathews County that I was within spitting distance of Gwynn's Island to interview a successful business owner about his past, present and future. Standard stuff, right?

Except, no, anything but.

Imagine a 38-year old man having a heart problem misdiagnosed and now, six years later, his heart is in such bad shape as a result that in two days he will have a battery-powered mechanical pump implanted to stave off end-stage heart failure, followed by his name going on the heart transplant list.

Turns out that last week while I was reveling in my annual week in Kitty Hawk, he was a few miles away in Nags Head relishing his last trip frolicking in the ocean, at least until he gets a new heart because pumps and swimming are incompatible.

It's almost too difficult to get my head around the idea of going in the ocean last week (as I did) without knowing if you'll ever be able to go in again.

I look back now with cosmic gratitude for his sake for the 70-degree water.

The thing is, he's only 44 years old now and his life is already drastically changed and things are about to undergo even more adjustment post-surgery. So while I'll be flying across the pond Thursday, he'll be holed up at MCV, a few blocks from my house, undergoing eight hours of surgery and spending three weeks there recovering from it.

All because someone made a bad call and now he's paying with his health, perhaps even his life.

I know, I know, plenty of people have terrible things happen to them while others blithely move through life with nothing more serious than the usual bumps and scrapes that all humans experience.

When I shared my own great tragedy from a couple decades ago, he teared up in empathy, but we found common ground in a shared philosophy. When bad things happen, good people have two choices: curl up in a ball and give up, or deal and move on, which brings us back to carpe diem.

So I seized the day by making the most of a wet foray to the bay, loving up on two personable beagles - an old one at his house and a young one in the hallway of my apartment building - walking twice, morning and evening, simply because I could and seeing "Genius," a geeky literary movie based on a geeky, literary bio I read over a decade ago.

Don't mind me, I'm just over here gathering my rosebuds while I may. With, by the way, enormous gratitude for the ability to do so.

French Kissing in the USA

You know what the difference is in walking on the beach and walking down Broad Street?

When there's sand underfoot, no one asks you for a light and when you say you don't have anything, calls to your back, saying, "You know what? That's okay because you look good."

In all likelihood, I looked sweaty since it was far hotter and sunnier today than it had been at the beach for the past four days and I was not adapting easily. Funny, I have no problem transitioning to the beach when I arrive from the city, but not so much in reverse.

The transition to worker bee was only slightly less arduous as I hunkered down to produce 1500 words on chefs, another 700 on a filmmaker and finally prepare questions for tomorrow's two interviews, leaving my chair only to eat and relieve myself.

A far cry from beach life, that's all I can say.

Of course it's all geared to meeting deadlines before leaving on vacation again Thursday, so every bit of it was well worth it.

Heck, tonight's date even revolved around trip preparation, with a stop at DSW for somewhat stylish walking shoes (and a mild anxiety crisis over whether to choose form over function) and another for life essentials, where I ran into a restaurateur who agreed that all the cool kids head out for Monday night Target shopping sprees.

That helps explain why I had no idea this was a thing.

Dinner at My Noodle & Bar was by far the most pleasant part of the day, perched in the middle high booth so we could look down on others (literally and figuratively) while enjoying tempura shrimp and vegetables before I hoovered a plate of broccoli and chicken as if I were starving and hadn't been eating non-stop at the beach for a week.

Despite guide books, legal pads and good intentions, planning amounted to no more than an acknowledgment that the only plan is to fly by the seat of our pants.

Do I have enough black? Why don't I own more scarves and jewelry? Which cute shoes will give me the best mileage? Is a trench coat as essential as I've been told? How much bonne chance can it take to make this chick chic?

I've got no idea and two days minus a road trip and a rewrite to figure it all out. Sans lighter, it'll be enough if I can match today's Broad Street assessment.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Missing the Wild Air

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And so closes a beach week of magnificent moons, endless conversation and constantly-changing winds and fronts.

And by endless conversation, we're talking about descending into discussions of which excellent words have fallen out of usage due to the dumbing-down of language.

Let's bring back "togs" and "dither," shall we? And don't get me started on the subject of "Hollywood packing," a term new to me but instantly understandable, because we already went down that rabbit hole.

My cleverest guest played the winds superbly, moving from the West bedroom to the East suite once the winds did the same. She learned the hard way that the summer sunrise will penetrate eyelids and burn your retina if you let it, but she never lost the breeze.

A couple of overcast days and lower temperatures kept tan lines in check and me (and my rotating cast of six visitors) on the porch far more than usual. Not ashamed to admit that one afternoon slid seamlessly into evening with little change in seating arrangement or pauses for wardrobe changes.

After an especially lazy day, a guest acknowledged the naked truth, saying, "All I did yesterday was ripen." Perhaps, but her hygiene instincts kicked in before mine and I feel sure I was even riper.

In fact, I'm thinking a compliment about my "beach hair" may have been a reference to the sand and salt in it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The first rule of beach vacation is that there are no food police and the second rule is that there are no bathing police, either. We are not here to impress each other, except with our sparkling repartee.

One major result of having so much company and conversation was how little beach reading I accomplished this week. Past years have won me summer reading awards for sheer number of titles devoured and this year's consumption was a paltry two books, including the lackluster Pulitzer prize winner I regretted wasting time on.

When it was time to pack up the cottage and head back to the big city, I left with the usual regrets - since arriving home, I'm missing the constant breezes almost as much as the rhythm of the waves - along with the novel thrill of knowing I'm only a few days away from vacation number two.

Lucky me, right?

The drive back was my baptism by road reminder of the real world that awaited me: a sign on Route 168 warning, "Expect heavy congestion at next light," causing me to wonder why displaying that information was necessary at all.

Is unexpected heavy congestion somehow harder to bear? Honestly, who really needs to start obsessing about congestion ahead of time?

But wait, it gets better. All was clear at the next light, so the fear mongering was for naught.

Otherwise, it was a pretty inoffensive drive past gas stations offering $1.99 gas and a vintage car show at Ronnie's Barbecue, with the highlight being a woman riding a horse along the Capital Bike Trail, something I'd never seen among the Spandex-clad bikers, happy families and walkers galore.

It's no hawk soaring over the Atlantic, which we saw repeatedly from our porch perch, but it'll have to do, at least until I sally forth on Vacation Part Deux, stylish and not at all ripe.

Warning: unexpected heavy fashion emphasis on next trip. It's almost time for some Hollywood packing, so excuse me while I dither about which frocks to take.

I'm sorry my beach vacation is over, but I'm glad to be back so I can leave again.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tiny Dancer Under the Stars

Does your body tell you what it needs? Is your liver sending you IMs?
~porch guest

Late Wednesday afternoon, three women, many bubbles (sparkling Rose and Lambrusco) and a parlor games where one asks a life question and all three have to over-share an answer.

Both enlightening and unburdening, we repeat this game the next day.

By evening, we acknowledge how helpful it would be to have a master chart on the porch wall behind us time-lining the men and chronology of our pasts for easy referencing when the conversation gets especially deep.

Two nights in a row, we sup at Ocean Boulevard, the first night at the corner of the bar where both my guests swoon over my meal of braised Dijon,panko-crusted lamb shoulder with the most divine Spring asparagus custard (that's right) under a sprinkling of very crispy frites.

It may just be the best $13 plate of food I've ever had.

Part of the reason we return for a second night is so that the youngster can have this dish all to herself. The manager brings us roll-ups, bragging that he rolled them himself and when I comment about how firm they are, firm enough even to bounce a quarter off of, he grins and jokes, "We're talking about the roll-ups, right?"

Are we?

While a singer serenades us on the patio with Beatles and Van Morrison, even a little classic Elton John, we spot the man we've dubbed the "Junk Jogger," whom we first saw the night before. Then, we'd thought he'd been pogoing down the Beach Road (and only mildly questioned his intent), only to realize that no, he'd simply strapped a headlight to his lower quarters for a late night jog.

From the patio, we were close enough to see him coming and going, his light still inexplicably affixed to his loins. For all we know, it may be the OBX version of

We spent an entire morning watching rain and storms from the screened porch, grabbed lunch at John's - dolphin sandwich, fried shrimp and, oh, yes, milkshakes - and made very few inroads into our books, hardly surprising given the non-stop conversation.

Friday I threw a porch happy hour for five with three plates of meat and charcuterie, including fabulous locally-made beef sticks, and accompanying rumblings from the sky.

Another flashback when we dined canal-side (my second time this week) on the porch, effectively taking over a booth for six and outlasting everyone else, even those who'd arrived after us. I'd say my rib platter outshone all other dishes, but duck potstickers, Maryland crabcakes and crispy tofu with Thai green basil curry all got thumbs up.

Too full for dessert, we nonetheless headed back to the cottage to reconvene on the porch to eat Samoas, sip and watch the moon make its midnight ascent over the ocean, creating an ever-widening swath of moonlight on the becalmed water. whileSaturn and Mars lurked nearby.

The plan for the rest of vacation? According to the blond, it's to "Do things that make us feel like we're 19 again."

As long as I get to act 19 with the wisdom of the porch chart experience, I'm all about some fun.

We're talking about ignoring IMs from the liver, right?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All I Want

Yacht Dogs don't have to show up on time.

Granted, we were a tad early when one of the hostesses informed us the band would start playing at 10, which turned out to be not exactly correct because musicians have their own ideas.

Come on, people, we're talking Yacht Dogs at the Jolly Roger.

But eventually they began setting up in front of a crowd of regulars and locals, or at least it appeared so since everyone seemed to know everyone.

The kind of place where a blond in a hat walked through the door and sashayed right on to the "dance floor," never missing a beat as she shimmied in her cut-offs to demonstrate her affection for the sounds of Yacht Rock.

It's not like we didn't feel it, too, despite our strategic position near the front of the bar with a bird's eye view of the bar action unfolding around us. Their folk-tinged rock covered a wide swath of cover songs, including the Beatles, which probably pre-dates their parents' music collections so they got props for digging deep.

The squared off guy in front of us was hitting hard on a much younger-looking woman, all the while, removing his visor (why was he even wearing it at night?) every minute or so and then refitting it over his still hair-covered head. A show of vanity? Nervous tick? As regular as a mechanical monkey drumming?

D, all of the above. Put your pencils down, kids.

We'd welcomed summer with lunch celebrating early season bounty from our favorite veggie stand on the way down: fat red tomato slices on BLTs accompanied by succotash of limas, corn, onions, sage and garlic, eaten at the big table on the porch looking at the all but flat ocean.

"Summer has officially started!" Sir Succotash himself pronounced of his melange.

Dinner's perch was novel, new and panoramic, situated as we were on the very new (last week) deck of Steamers with a view of some of the houses on Southern Shores that we walk by daily.

"Look at that cloud break," our server (who'd been there since 11 and was soon mercifully cut) pointed out when we sat down and, indeed, there was a picture postcard-worthy spill of light cleaving the sky right in front of us, a worthy visual to pair with the lobster (no local sourcing guilt here), steamed shrimp and ribs with two kinds of slaw and hushpuppies that kept us busy until the sun was a non-issue.

A walk on the beach where I was jokingly accused of stealing ecological specimens when I picked up a shell took us by a new turtle nesting spot roped off and looking fairly innocuous. "Come back in 55 days to see the result," a nearby woman suggets.

Oh, look, I am free that third week of August. Only thing better than baby turtles would be if Yacht Dogs was playing.

Tardy, of course. True fans don't mind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dancin' in the Moonlight

What to do when the full moon intersects with the Summer Solstice for the first time since the Summer of Love?

My first thought was to party beach-style like it's 1967. Inspired, right?

Surely even way back then, spending the day on the beach - walking, reading (although my first book, a Pulitzer prize winner, has failed to thrill me so far), contemplating the ocean, marveling at the new and lamenting the loss of the old and, of course, commenting on the passersby - qualifies as appropriately laid back enough preparation for Mother Nature's convergence.

Our local lifeguards, Lindsey and Hunter (truer millennial names were never scratched on a guard stand chalkboard) kept busy all day, she blowing her whistle and chasing down idiots who'd ignored Hunter's warnings to wade out no further than knee depth because of ferocious rip tides and he cruising in the beach patrol vehicle, his long dirty blond hair glimmering under the afternoon sun.

They were a team, all right, keeping our beaches safe for the likes of bacchanalian visitors like us.

You know the type: first happy hour on the screened porch watching the colors of the sky and water deepen before moving the party to a favorite dive bar on the sound to join a cadre of four grizzled locals with enough stories, opinions ("Don't go to Dirty Dick's!") and jokes - some of the latter pretty awful - to amuse us, the guests, for as long as we were willing to stay and listen.

Our main man, Darryl, whom we've reliably run into at this bar the last four summers, regaled us with tales of bad cookouts due to drunken grillmasters (Darryl) and bad marriages due to crazy women (all of them, he swears).

Sunset seemed like a natural breaking point, so we took one of the regular's recommendations for a new place with a screened porch dining room affording a view of a canal, a boat's image still reflecting palely in the waning light.

And while it was no Cold Duck circa 1967, thank heavens, Veuve Devienne Brut Rose provided the perfect celebration sipper for our meal of gazpacho mounded with fresh crabmeat, New Orleans barbecue shrimp (the chef had spent  time cooking in NOLA), fat Maryland-style crabcakes (despite being in Carolina) and the rib-eye our new friend had so highly recommended (his assessment spot on).

The chef came out to say hello and chat, sharing that he'd worked in St. Michael's, Maryland and used every day he had off to drive to the Outer Banks until deciding it would be far smarter to work and surf in the same place and doing so.

I can appreciate a chef with a good head on his shoulders.

Once back in Kitty Hawk, the full moon made for a beacon over the ocean during a stroll toward it on the mostly empty beach. One thing's for sure, it's noticeably less crowded this week than my usual July fourth week, although we're still spotting an inordinate amount of flag-like bathing suits and shirts.

Once back home on the porch swing, wine in hand, the former drummer chose the mood music and while it technically wasn't from the Summer of Love, thematically it could not have been more fitting: Barry White.

Crooning to us with the surf crashing behind the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Barry White sung us into the first full day of Summer.

Can't get enough of several things, but this week pleasure isn't one of them. Cue "Love's Theme" and another night of fat moonlight.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mama's Got a Brand New (Beach) Bag

The modernization of my favorite beach cottage is, sadly, complete.

It now has wi-fi. Cue a single tear rolling down my cheek (and bonus points if you get the reference).

I first fell in love with this little oceanfront cottage in the early '90s because it reminded me of the kind of houses my parents rented when they brought us down to Kitty Hawk for summer vacations that became part of the fabric of our lives.

Its appeal was its simplicity: cedar walls, lots of windows (including one over the sink looking out to the ocean), a big screened porch facing the beach and an outdoor shower.

I required no more and it had no more.

But over the years, mod-cons arrived and I begrudgingly accepted them. First, there was a TV which I've never so much as turned on. Then came a telephone, a cheap white princess model that sits in the living room, rarely used.

Three years ago, we arrived to find window A/C units in each of the bedrooms, annoying not just because I had no intention of using them, but because they nullified the ocean breezes in one window of each bedroom.

Happily, last year, they weren't in the windows, not are they now thanks to some handiwork on arrival. We don't need no stinkin' A/C when the ocean is providing a far lovelier form of climate control.

Checking in this year, the realty company rep informs me of the wi-fi password, a necessity because the company now requires all its rental properties to have wi-fi. The past few years, we've "borrowed" wi-fi from other cottages when it was infrequently required (or gone to a place that had it).

Welcome to the wired vacation, which followed the trek down Route 460, also known as a zone of sign proximity stupidity, where you'll have a sign saying 45 miles per hour and ten feet further on, another sign saying "Curve 35 mph."

Is it just me or should that first sign come down? I passed so many conflicting sign messages, I gave up mentally chastising DOT after a while. Left hand, right hand, no communication whatsoever.

Lunch of salads and seafood was enjoyed at the Coinjock Marina (T-shirt: "wherethehelliscoinjock") at a counter facing the Inter-coastal waterway with a view of expensive boats arriving and departing. Within the hour, we were opening up the house, rearranging furniture and getting the place ready to receive visitors Karen-style (also known as old school).

Where we lucked out is not just with this exquisite weather with highs in the mid '70s and gorgeous northwesterly breezes wafting through every room, but with an ocean temperature of 70 degrees, a payback, perhaps, for last year's frigid water that put a hurting on ocean time.

By the time naps had been taken, sparkling Vouvray sipped and evening attire donned (as in, a change from our traveling clothes), it was 8ish when we arrived at I Got Your Crabs to a full bar and most tables occupied. We made do with two seats at the counter facing a mirror with a view of the bar.

Since it would've been impossible to pass up oysters for $8 a dozen, we didn't, slurping back two dozen with little more than some generous squeezes of lemon and smiles on our faces. We followed that with a half dozen steamed crabs, fried flounder tacos, hushpuppies and asparagus, nailing a fine beach arrival meal.

I have arrived on the Outer Banks, as I have for every summer of my life practically since birth (my Mom swears these trips began the summer I was born, but there's no photo evidence to prove that and the one picture of me from my first summer was taken in Colonial Beach, not here, so I'm doubting her memory) to live in a bathing suit, shower outside and read as many books as possible.

Best song heard so far: Talk Talk's "It's Your Life." Yes, yes is is and aren't I lucky?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

By the Time I Get to Richmond

Nature is clearly using the punish/reward system. I ask you, why else would weather this glorious follow so potent and scattered a storm?

Facebook postings had not prepared me to see a car in front of Emilio's with an indentation shaped suspiciously like the nearby tree that had caused the roof to cave in as far as the seats, a perfect groove of destruction. Trees languished across Floyd and on Monument's median.

Nor was I prepared to walk into Target only to find it fully operating, but on battery power. The further back you walked, the dimmer things got, yet shoppers bustled about. Ever shopped for sunglasses in a dimly lit store? I can't recommend it.

There weren't enough hours in the day to accomplish what I needed to in anticipation of tomorrow's motoring to the coast, so I did the best I could, then put on a new thrift store dress and went to dinner and a show.

Holmes was treating me to dinner since I was treating him to music, so I picked Rancho T, resulting in sort of a "you can't get there from here" situation now that Morris and Harvie are one way streets. But we persevered, and joined the unfashionable early Saturday diners (6ish) at a table facing a neon American flag and a partially shuttered window through which the sun was glaring intently (happily, our server corrected the latter).

Intent on seeing what a new chef and menu would bring, we then we gorged our way through dinner.

Chicken liver pate under a pickled rhubarb gel with totems of crispy chicken skin was as pink as it was perfect. Beer-battered maitake mushrooms almost made you believe you were eating something meatier than fungus. The to-die-for pairing of brown butter, capers and raisins elevated roasted cauliflower to swoon-worthy.

Spicy sticky chicken wings were both, but also - and absolutely key, to me anyway - fried up nice and crispy. When I insisted Beloved try one, Holmes tried to interrupt her grazing, causing her to murmur, "Leave me alone, I'm having my way with a chicken wing right now."

After all those assertive flavors, we ended with an elevated take on a diner classic: a tuna melt, but not just any tuna melt, but one made with poached tuna and remoulade on Billy Bread under a blanket of Gruyere, pickled onion and arugula. Classic dish, fresh take on it.

We had just enough time to see if they could possibly deliver as well on dessert as what went before and they knocked it out of the park with (Waring: preposition alert!) two layers of chocolate ancho cake between chocolate frosting next to whipped cream over caramel sauce.

I know it sounds like a lot, but it was exquisite...and just what I wanted after five savory courses.

Our next stop was the historic (and restored) Art Deco Henrico Theater, so we headed to Sandston (several jokes ensued) to see singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb, necessitating a few miles on I-64 and billboards that read, "Have pride in America! Vote Republican."

Speaking of scary people, at one point Webb joked, "I thought it was one of the better concerts we did and I don't always think that. I'm not Donald Trump."

We sat near a local violinist my friends knew from seeing him play, only to hear that he'd played with Webb last night and enjoyed it ("Maybe a little too much"), played golf all day and come home to a message from Webb asking, "What kind of strings do you use?"

Nerdy musician talk, that's what that is.

Holmes praised our seats for the view of Webb's hands on the piano, but the man's got so many hits that it would have been a great experience even if we hadn't been treated to the view.

Beginning with "The Highwayman" and talk of hanging out with Waylon Jennings ("He had his good and bad sides"), he spoke of writing "Galveston" during the Vietnam conflict (a fact Holmes and I only just learned), talked about being a PK (preacher's kid) and how the only place he could listen to his transistor was on the tractor, where he heard the Beach Boys and Glen Campbell, whom he characterized as having a five-octave voice like glass.

He showed off his mad piano skills by first playing the notes of "Amazing Grace" as written and then how it could sound after music lessons with Susan Goddard, his piano teacher (hint: very Rachmaninoff-like).

There was a semi-singalong to Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town," he mocked Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" in song set to "Suzanne's" melody ("I'm not bitter") and ruminated more than once ("Going into the music industry is like deciding to gamble for a living"). The guy was good at it all.

The show was equal parts stories - writing Art Garfunkel's first solo hit, "All I Know," David Crosby calling him Mr. Balloons because of his Grammy-winning "Up, Up and Away," and Nina Simone doing his "Do What You Gotta Do."

Honestly, the man had a thousand stories and almost as many songs and Glen Campbell recorded 80 of them, several of which we heard ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston," and "Wichita Lineman") over the evening's course.

Toward the end, Webb's mic stand kept unexpectedly drooping and every time he'd get it positioned again, down it would go. "It's been happening more and more to me lately," he quipped.

Of course he had to finish with the masterful four-movement "MacArthur Park" followed by promises to come back and share his Richard Harris anecdotes next time. I have a feeling this guy has stories he's not yet begun to share.

It isn't every day a living legend stops by Sandston to serenade us. Didn't we get lucky this time?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Shaking the Bag

Of all the unlikely places, I find myself in staying in Roland Park, the first planned suburban community in North America.

And while I'm no fan of suburbia, we're talking a turn-of-the-century house - I've gotten confused more than once as to what all these doors lead to - in an upper class streetcar suburb (sort of like how the Museum District was a streetcar suburb, except this one was for Richie Riches).

For a nerdy type like me, what's especially fascinating is that the landscape architect god  Frederick Law Olmstead laid out the early phases of the neighborhood, including sweetly named trails.

Everything about my friend's house is grand, from the double parlor to the hallway longer than my entire apartment to the third floor turret room. The front porch curves around the house, practically inviting you to linger a while on it.

His cat's name is Chewy (similar-looking fur to Chewbacca) and he prowls the premises like he owns it, staring down the frisky beagle and the elderly dogs (one was 17!) that live across the street when they came over to meet me.

Never pass up a chance to pet a beagle, that's my motto.

Despite the fact that I've been to Baltimore more than a few times (my sister lives in Canton), I was nonetheless startled when the dogs' owner casually mentioned that he was thinking of going to Pennsylvania to kayak this afternoon and it was already 4:00. My friend reminded me it was a 45-minute drive and the neighbor that thunderstorms were forecast for 5:00.

All I'm saying is I'm still getting my Baltimore bearings.

Knowing how I like to walk, my friend had planned a local evening for us at - wait for it - the world's first shopping center (certified by Guinness Book of World Records, no less) and spectacularly named the Roland Park Shopping Center, barely two blocks away.

His plan was to begin at Petit Louis Bistro, a charming spot with a standing-only zinc bar, a bartender who'd been there since 2001 and, from the Loire, Bouvet Brut Rose  "Excellence" by the glass, a nod to my upcoming trip.

Because he's lived in the 'hood for three decades, my friend knew everyone by name, staff and customers alike, so I was kissed on both cheeks by short French men and introduced to others. The bartender made sure to rib my friend for having made our dinner reservation at another place in the historic center, but we placated him by having a cone of frites with our drinks before leaving.

"Our frites are better than theirs!" he informed me proudly.. They were damn good fries, too, appropriately salty, crisp and likely double fried with lots of tiny brown bits.

Johnny's, an upscale diner, was on the side of the historic shopping center, although not part of the original stores. Instead, the owner had excavated underneath to create a subterranean restaurant that seemed to go on forever, room after room.

The breakfast part looked very diner-like with stools bolted to the floor around a counter, but the other rooms were sexier, with booths, low lighting and and a cozy feel given the low ceilings and brick walls. Okay, maybe it was the second glass of sparkling Rose.

Spiced lamb empanadas got us started before he went to duck breast with lemon mushroom risotto and I headed directly to fried North Carolina softshells under a flurry of jicama slaw, I have to admit, a portion too large to finish after frites and lamb.

Because we were underground, we'd had no idea if the storms had arrived but had been prudent enough to both bring along umbrellas, which, as it turned out, we needed.

Lightening and a gentle rain accompanied us as we strolled home through this leafy old first suburb, admiring the century-old architecture of rich people .

I wouldn't want to live here, but it sure is easy to visit.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Hero, Porkchop

Wanna know how to feel insignificant?

I found out by standing on the side of I-64 for half an hour waiting for a tow truck, traffic rushing by at 75 miles per hour and 18-wheelers sending non-stop wind gusts my way. I could have been naked and no one driving by would have noticed.

Without a cell phone, my first order of business after my car died beside the Camp Peary exit had been to walk back up the exit to the base. I'd barely set foot off the exit and onto what must have been secure property when a military cop signaled me to stop and wait for him.

Once he understood all I wanted was to call for a tow truck, we went through the whole I-can't-believe-you-don't have-a-cell phone discussion (his eyes wide in amazement), then he requested my ID and ran it through his computer.

I know you really can't argue with policemen, much less military policemen, but I had plans tonight and all I wanted was to get my car towed to a nearby garage to be fixed, not debate technology usage.

Once he'd called for the tow truck, he wanted me off the base but quick. Even though we both knew it was going to take some time for the truck to arrive, I was instructed to walk back down the exit and wait by my car. On the side of I-64.

As promised, eventually Larry showed up to tow me. When I tried to start a conversation with him, I quickly learned he was from Illinois and had moved here after a messy divorce. "My wife got everything! I got screwed." Larry scowled at me.

Alrighty then. When I inquired how he was adjusting to Virginia, he got feistier still. "The food here sucks! There's no good food in the South. It's all in the North and Mid-West, not here. The best pizza here doesn't match the worst pizza there and there's no Italian beef sandwiches at all!"

Larry had been so desperate for an Italian beef sandwich that he'd gotten in his car last month and driven to Chicago to eat a couple, then driven home. "That sandwich cost me $287 and it was worth every penny!"

Bitter and unhappy as Larry clearly was, he took pity on me, only charging me $10 over the base rate instead of for mileage and depositing me and my car at a Merchant's Tire he knew would still be open after 5 p.m.

Once there, he left me in the capable hands of Porkchop, coincidentally also his brother-in-law, and said farewell, presumably heading home to be miserable.

I explained to the affable Porkchop that what happened to my car had happened before (and repeatedly "repaired"), so perhaps he should check the screw on the rotor first. May I just say how gratifying it is when a woman tells a man what she thinks (actually, knows) is wrong with her vehicle and he believes her enough to check it first?

We adjourned outside together, he nosed around and looked up with a shit-eating grin. "Guess what?" It was indeed the screw again and he addressed the problem by replacing the screw with a larger one in hopes that that would prevent it happening again.

I didn't have the heart to tell him others before him had done the same, even replaced the parts where the screw resides and still, nine months later there I'd been on the side of the road. Again. Porkchop decided that no charges were in order, so I thanked him and hit the road, already late for my dinner plans.

There are times a woman has no choice but to apply lipstick en route.

The occasion was Fountain Books' "To Kill a Mockingbird" dinner at Camden's, which began in a most civilized manner with glasses of Cava sipped while author Charles Shields, wearing a polka dot pocket square, discussed his book "Mockingbird" about the life of Harper Lee.

Shields had just come from the Mississippi delta ("I was so far South even Episcopalians handled snakes") but the trip to the capital of the Confederacy had him sharing all kinds of tidbits about Harper Lee's life and times.

Like how she worked as an airline reservationist for Eastern Airlines so she could write nights and weekends. How she took her closet door off the hinges and used it as a desk and dining table. How uncharacteristically strong her female characters were for the era. How it took Lee and her editor 2 1/2 years to rework "Go Set a Watchman" into "To Kill a Mockingbird."

And get this: when the film premiered in Lee's hometown, patrons got $1 off for bringing a live mockingbird to the theater. I can't imagine such a thing would be legal anymore.

Unlike me, it seemed like most of the people in the room had chosen not to read "Watchman" for various reasons, but Shields pointed out that when a book makes $40 million, it helps pays the advances for a whole lot of struggling authors and poets whose books will never sell a fraction of that amount.

In any case, as he said, "Watchman" is, if nothing else, an important cultural document. Boom. End of discussion.

From there, we adjourned downstairs for a meal comprised of foods mentioned in the book as made by Calpurnia, Atticus Finch's housekeeper. Shields began the evening at our table before moving on to the others, signing books and answering questions in true speaker fashion.

Besides the author, Pru and Beau, two delightful literary ladies joined us, bringing the thickest of Richmond accents (war was pronounced "wo-wah") and opinions ("What would I do with a 35-year old? Play with him for a few weeks, but what would we have to talk about?").

We couldn't have hoped for better company than these two septegenarians.

Our first course was ambrosia salad - yes, the classic complete with miniature marshmallows, but updated with the freshest of Romaine spears - paired with Early Mountain 5 Forks White, leading to a discussion of what ingredients should be in ambrosia.

Never having heard of it until moving to the South in adulthood, I stayed out of it while the author moved to another table.

Pickle-brined and bacon fat-fried chicken thighs were accompanied by pickled peaches (my stone fruit allergy limiting me to just a couple slices) and the tastiest of turnip greens accompanied by Early Mountain Vineyards 2015 Rose, a course that had people at my table licking their fingers and moaning over how good the chicken was.

One of the two men at our table was the sole person unable to finish both thighs, a fact for which we teased him.

Meanwhile, the womenfolk got wrapped up in a discussion of Rit Dye, sparked by Pru's new dress which she had dyed brown from orange, but fascinating to the rest of us because Rit is so hard to find these days.

I recall when it was sold in grocery stores (a sure sign I'm ancient) and Beau mentioned that his Dad had a grocery/hardware store that carried it, but these days, it seems, only Amazon can be counted on to supply Rit Dye to the uncolored masses.

Our last course after much laughter and conversation, was Lane cake, a multi-layer treat with fruit between the layers and whipped cream to take it over the top, as if the Borgo Maragliano "La Caliera" Moscato d'Asti wasn't doing a superb job of that already.

All of a sudden, people got in a Christmas mood, buying extra books for presents and feeling virtuous about it. Christmas? Six months away and I live in the here and now.

Sometimes a little of that living turns out to be on the side of I-64, No lectures, please.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Barefoot on the Balcony

Is it a tangent of Murphy's Law that says that just when something's in reach, something else intervenes?

This week is the pre-vacation sprint to accomplish All the Things and not just all the beach preparations, but all the assignments that will come due while I'm gone (this hired mouth has eaten a dozen meals for the cause this month), all the arrangements for going away, all the little things that need to be picked up pre-departure and so on.

I awoke this morning knowing I could handily knock out the last of a review before starting and finishing one of the arts pieces today. Once I polished off my last assignment tomorrow, I'd be able to move onto less cerebral things.

Greeting me in my inbox four hours later was a 6:35 a.m. email from an editor asking for a multi-interview piece due smack in the middle of vacation. Compelling subject matter aside, of course, I want the assignment.

Fast forward to the end of a crazy busy, non stop day (I had so much to write that taking a break to hem a dress or go to the grocery store felt like skipping class) and I'm getting ready to meet a friend for a movie.

Out of the radio comes Michelle Shocked's "Come a Long Way," an upbeat classic '90s gem I haven't heard in forever that, at that moment, felt like a celebration of finishing as much as I did, so I'm not entirely certain if the dancing that ensued was the song itself or the satisfaction of a productive day.

Always up for an occasion, Pru showed up with a Bon Voyage card inscribed, "Wear It!" and the gift of a red "Kiss Me, You Fool" lipstick, part of her ongoing campaign to make a real woman out of me. Before she'd arrived, I'd fashioned a necklace to impress her for the very same reason.

There was also a bag of Tootsie Rolls, which spoke to our more immediate plans.

My second viewing of "Love & Friendship" at the Criterion allowed me the opportunity to pay less attention to Jane Austen's comedy of manners and more to sets (sumptuous), costumes (wildly colorful) and nuances of performance.

Even better, I was able to catch a few choice bon mots I'd missed when I'd first seen it alone.

The row of 20-something women behind us squawked in displeasure when Sir James (the unintended) explained that it's understandable that men may stray because of their biology, but that it's inconceivable that a woman might do the same, preposterous, even.

As if this attitude didn't still perpetuate itself today in some ways.

Fabulous as the film was again, by far the best part of the night was afterward, ensconced on my balcony for the breezes, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye playing on my archaic blue boombox and the two of us looking marvelous by the glow of candlelight as we sipped, dissected and reassessed to the sounds of J-Ward by night.

I have come a long way, but if I manage to finish all this work before vacation, it'll be a miracle and I'll be the fool wearing the red lipstick trying to do it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dancin', Shaggin' on the Bouelvard

I offer now both a cultural history lesson and a tribute to Steve "Mr. Beach" Leonard.

But first, let me qualify this by saying that when I moved to Richmond, I had never heard of shag dancing or beach music.

In fact, I managed to live here for five years before bearing witness to a suburban subculture devoted not just to a particular kind of dance music (100-130 bpm) but to a local who made listening to it a party.

And the only reason I was exposed then was because I took a job at the bottom of the ladder to get my foot in the door.

And now I give you a my introduction to the legend (and not just in his own mind, although it definitely started there) circa 1992.


During my first week as an over-qualified receptionist at a local radio station, I was sorting mail into staff mailboxes, my back to the door.

A guy breezes in and as I turn, he says, "Oh, you must be the new girl!" Yes, I'm Karen. "Hi, I'm Steve Leonard. I do the beach show." He couldn't be more innocuous looking, so I say hello and return to sorting mail.

Thwack! His hand lands firmly on my backside. "Nice ass," then more quietly, "You wearing a girdle?"

What was this, the 1950s?

Without hesitating - and I know this is where plenty of people will question my choice -  I answered him. With confusion, incredulity and a little more distance.

No. No.

"Wow, then that's a great ass!" he said all but beaming at me before walking away.


In Hollywood parlance, that is to say that Mr. Beach and I "met cute" and went on to share pizza and a few drinks.

In terms of being a woman, it's a reminder how recently ass-grabbing was still part of the acceptable culture of the workplace.

As forf forming an impression of a singular guy, it was definitive. Steve Leonard was Mr. Beach. RIP, sir.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Good Day Sunshine

Sunscreen, it always comes down to sunscreen, doesn't it? Other than forgetting to reapply it, I have no regrets.

There's no shame in planning an evening around a walk. Remember, today's 92 degrees felt like 98, which is why I took a quick two-mile walk this morning, threw in the towel and headed home to be productive.

Hired mouths needed brunch! Groceries needed purchasing! Dresses needed hemming! Restaurant reviews needed writing! Gardens needed watering! Newspapers needed reading! All this and more was accomplished.

But around 5:30, I ate an ice cream cone and started bargaining with myself.

A plan was in order. I'd only done a couple of miles, so my body was calling out for a longer walk once things cooled down and what could be more brilliant than putting a two-hour air conditioned movie break in the middle of a four-mile walk?

So I grabbed my hat and was out the door walking to Criterion by 5:45, at once blinded by the late afternoon sun and wilted by its intense heat. My brilliance in planning had not extended to considering the idiocy of walking two miles west at this hour.

But we persevere for art, do we not?

It hadn't been tough to select a movie after finding that a screwball romantic comedy directed by playwright Arthur Miller's daughter Rebecca and starring Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore and Ethan Hawke was playing. "Maggie's Plan" had it all: dense, literate dialog, an academic setting and characters who are as drawn to each other's bodies as their minds.

But then first world problems kick in - can a woman conspire to return to his former wife a man who no longer woos her? - and it makes for a fascinating look at the sell-by dates on relationships, which we all know are rarely as happily-ever-after as we might pine for.

The walk home was practically perfect, the sun setting behind me and the worst of the heat replaced with breezes, a moon and briefly, a firefly landing on my arm.

I'd made a good choice with the movie. Only with women writing and directing do audiences get female characters saying things such as, "Am I so capable I don't deserve attention?"

I can assure you that rare is the capable woman who doesn't deserve attention. And even capable women forget their sunscreen occasionally.

But they at least have a plan to get out.

For the Love of Mockery

Talk all you want about the "black" card or the "woman" card, but let's get serious about the "city" card.

As in, don't tell me you can't park your compact little car in a space that would accommodate both my Altima and Pru's Mini because I will expect you to park and adjust until you are less than 18 inches from the curb anyway.

Otherwise, I will make a citizen's arrest to confiscate your "city" card. Beau was so hesitant about taking on the parking gauntlet I threw down that a bicyclist riding by piled on, calling out, "Tell him he can park up here," gesturing at an open-ended space that could have accommodated an 18-wheeler.

That kind of condescension while biking is a treat to behold. Luckily, Beau kept his card.

The barkeep at Belmont Food Shop greeted me discreetly, as if we had not just seen each other 18 hours ago, and set up the four of us in the front window, where the confluence of today's 90-something temperatures, a western exposure and the setting sun ensured that perspiration ensued.

"Chef says it's too hot for confit," our server pronounced, setting down plates of amuse bouches (gougeres and three kinds of dressed diced beets, all swoon-worthy) to replace confit. Pickled shrimp and pate took us right into a conversation about the relationship across the table.

"You mean I'm still on trial?" he asks, mock incredulously. No, you're in training, we clarify.

"Training?" Pru challenges. "I prefer 'probation.'" It was immediately clarified that the end game was not a pre-determined outcome, but whatever worked best for both because the term "relationship" is a malleable one, god knows.

Everything we ordered was dead tasty (as my Scottish friend would phrase it) and that extended from the killer skate over sauteed pea shoots to clam chowder to crabmeat over avocado to a sunny asparagus salad with baked Ricotta and lemon to smoked bluefish dip.

When it came time to consider dessert, Pru admonished, "You can have whatever you want," only to get the cheeky response, "I want a 120-pound body and a tall, dark and handsome 35-year old."

Yes, don't we all?

When the subject returned to Beau's lack of parallel parking confidence, the tragic result of too many years living in suburbia, Pru interjected with an idea that she and I would sit in my apartment sipping wine while he practiced parking down on my street between two orange cones outfitted with eggs on top of them, a ploy gleaned from an episode of "The Brady BUnch."

For the record, Marcia did a far better job parallel parking than Greg Brady did, but who's really surprised at that?

In any case, Pru's thought was that we'd watch from above, judging his parking moves and tossing out small rewards when he succeeded. I thought Tootsie Rolls would make a fine reward.

"I'd parallel park for Tootsie Rolls!" she announces, proving yet again why we're soul mates. I'd do a lot for Tootsie Rolls.

After French silk pie and chocolate bread pudding was an acknowledgement that Pru and Beau "will always have coffee" (as opposed to Paris, I suppose), a reference to their shared caffeine addiction which, despite the heat, had them drinking a French press.

We left Belmont to take the scenic route past horse paddocks and nouveau riche houses to Agecroft for Quill's production of "Twelfth Night" on a hot eleventh night of June.

Fortunately, Pru had brought a dramatic black fan with purple flowers for self-cooling, while many in the crowd pressed their programs into service.

My job was to snag the tickets at the box office, where a man walked in and announced, "I hate dealing with old people," a statement that stopped me in my tracks. What exactly do you mean by old?

"Older than you," he assured me. "Besides, you're beautiful." Thanks, stranger.

Tucked to the side of the stage in front of a garden of delphiniums, zinnias, snapdragons and coneflowers and behind a man in a seersucker shirt, our seats afforded a fine view of the two actors laying down the ground rules about not leaving feet in the aisles or walking where the actors would be.

"It sounds silly, but it's happened before and we will cut you," Luke Schares as Feste deadpanned under light blue skies with a pale wedge of a moon overhead. Before the play was over, I'd marvel at a heron flying overhead, spot multiple planes, both large and small crafts, and see stars begin to appear.

Shall we set about some revels?

Goodness knows I've seen "Twelfth Night" more than my fair share of times. I've seen it done as a gender-reversed play, as a staged reading, outdoors in Petersburg, by a high school cast, with Scott Wichmann as Malvolio and actually on Twelfth Night and that's just what I can remember.

But it's an easy play to love, unlike others, as evidenced by the Bermudian explaining why she'd opted out of Quill's outdoor productions last summer. "I just couldn't do "Lear." Talk about depressing!"

Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage

Tonight's cast was strong, the energy never lagged and the entire production felt like a non-stop rollicking good time, the perfect summertime entertainment. There was dancing, singing and headstands.

I smell a device.

For language nerds, part of the satisfaction of Shakespeare is word choice and more than once - jot, dissemble, excellent ignorance - Pru and I bemoaned the loss of certain colorful words that have fallen out of use, at least in the circles we frequent.

Daylight and Champagne discovers not more.

Thomas Cunningham as the hapless Malvolio blustered, begged and was sweating bullets as the play's action moved around him, but we felt sorry for all the men in three piece suits onstage.

I am indeed not her fool but her corrupter of words.

The lights being on during intermission put out a call to nature, resulting in a swarm of night bugs joining the audience for the second act, flying about into our chairs, noses and mouths (so undoubtedly the actors' as well) and swirling around the stage.

Pru referred to it as "The Pestilence," but I prefer Shakespeare's words.

Why, this is very mid-summer madness.

Which perhaps is what sitting in the courtyard of a 500-year old Tudor house watching a 500-year old play about love and mockery absent Tootsie Rolls amounts to.

If so, give me excess of it.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Was There and I'm Told I Had a Good Time

I can always count on my neighborhood to deliver.

Walking up Henry Street just after 8:00 on a Friday evening, I hear the sounds of chanting and a drum. Here come the anti-Trump protesters down Marshall Street, not in lock step, but in solidarity against the racist white man running for President and the rally he's staging a few blocks east.

It's pretty catchy.

No facist USA
No Trump!

I don't hesitate to stop and chant along in accord and one of the marchers brings me a flyer about destroying white supremacists like Trump and his ongoing campaign demonizing Blacks, Latinos and Muslims. I spot the drummer from No BS Brass band among the protesters carrying banners and signs.

Behind the marchers is a cadre of VCU bicycle cops and a young white one rides over to greet me. "How are you, ma'am?" he says in a smarmy tone, as if he assumes I'm as disdainful of the march as he apparently is. Just fine, I tell him.

Nodding toward the marchers, he rolls his eyes and condescends, saying, "Just another day in the neighborhood." I roll my eyes in return and walk away without saying a word.

I revel in living in a place where people make their beliefs known in a peaceable way capable of inspiring others. I've marched in parades in J-Ward on multiple occasions, a fact I'm proud of.

A few block further at 1708 Gallery, people are gathering for the Bijou's pop-up members' screening, noshing and sipping. Talk beforehand centers on how the Bijou is moving toward weekly events, both first-run and repertory and how they'll make a point to screen on 16mm and 35 mm whenever possible.

I consider that essential for the Bijou since there are now so many people who have no sense of seeing movies on actual film.

Tonight's first 16 mm film, Truffaut's "Les Mistons," introduced me to the beautiful Bernadette Jouve and, predictably employed the most important trope in a French film: a woman riding a bike in a dress, a  fact I've gleaned from years of attendance at the French Film festival.

It was decidedly French in attitude, as when when the lovely Bernadette asks her lover what he feels for her and he responds, "A brutal physical appetite."

Not a bad answer.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, there were many occasions where the actors spoke and no subtitles were provided, a decided difference from today's inane captioning of every grunt and moan.

Also shown on 16 mm, "Mouseholes," by Helen Hill used 1999-era handmade animation and voice-over spoken by her dying grandfather in the hospital for a moving tribute to the man.

The main event was the Richmond premiere of "Chekhov for Children," by Sasha Waters-Freyer, the title referring to a group of kids in NYC's P.S. 75 who rehearsed and produced Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" in 1979 as part of an intensive arts program targeted at specific schools in the late '70s and early '80s.

Sasha explained that she'd been the student director of the production. Hello, for my one and only school play, I'd been chosen student director, which some thought was a waste since my dramatic nature had earned me the childhood nickname "Camille" with my Dad.

What she wanted to explore was how she'd grown up thinking that that experience, as well as the many films the school's students produced, was perfectly normal.

Only as a an adult did she see that having 10 and 11-year olds interpret the dark, adult viewpoint of Chekhov was not a typical rite of childhood passage.

The documentary was fascinating for the amount of archival footage she had to work with as well as the conversations with her fellow students, now grown up. Everyone credited the program and the play with making them feel like their possibilities were limitless.

Seeing children deliver heavy Chekhovian dialog with passion and adult weariness was startling. One little girl credited her emoting to dealing with her parents' divorce and the sadness that had caused her.

That's some deep stuff.

But they also felt like the production itself, not performing it for an audience (although they did that, too with a nearly 2 1/2 hour production at a real theater), was the point. They were doing it for themselves and the experience, a wonderful thing to teach 5th graders.

Fittingly, we heard a lot from the teacher who'd conceived the project and loved Chekhov.

Let me tell you, I was eating up this film's subject with a spoon. It was a sterling example of what the Bijou will mean to Richmond by having a small theater that shows this sort of film - the kind that never plays here or a classic piece of cinema like the Truffaut or even an artistic gem like the Hill film - week in and week out.

With a bar, I might add.

My great regret was having to leave before the Q & A period to meet friends because I'd have relished hearing more from the director about her original experiences.

Instead I revisited my own childhood, albeit not as a member of a Chekhov production, First up was presenting myself at Belmont Food Shop to meet two couples who'd just finished dinner and after minor chit chat, we strolled back to Holmes' house for a listening party.

"This album is so good I'm going to listen to it for the rest of my life," he announced, piquing everyone's (okay, my) interest.

The CD in question was the Monkees' latest, "Good Times!" which was intended as a commemoration of the band's 50th anniversary and something I somehow hadn't even read about.

The music was striking for how spot-on Monkees-like it sounded, not like an update or interpretation of their sound, but simply like a long-lost record had been unearthed. What was cool were the collaborators: Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Noel Gallagher, Rivers Cuomo and Paul Weller.

But the one that made us melt into teen-aged puddles was "You Bring the Summer," sung by my favorite Monkee, Mickey Dolenz and written by the fabulous Andy Partridge of XTC.

The three-minute gem is a practically perfect pop song.

We listened to the CD straight through twice, marveling at how good the songs sounded, how fortuitous it was that they had an unreleased Davy Jones track they could add backing vocals to and a Nilsson demo that Mickey could "duet" with in true Nat "King" Cole style.

They even included - wait for it - an unreleased Boyce and Hart song and as every girl who was ever Vice President of the local Monkees fan club knows, a lot of the Monkees' '60s hits were written by that songwriting duo.

Wait, it gets better. Calling into my local radio station to request the Monkees' new single, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," I'd been instead put on the line with the in-studio guest that day: singer Bobbie Gentry. Sure, I made small talk with her, but all I really wanted was for them to take my song request.

Of course, no kid would have time to listen to pop music if they were busy studying their lines for a Chekhov production.

Sounds like I got the childhood I was supposed to have.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Moons and Junes and Ferris Wheels

It only took nine plus hours to get from gospel in the garden to Joni on the balcony at 3:30 a.m.

The Valentine Museum's new Music in the Garden series was having its second installment on such a gorgeous and California-like Thursday night that I couldn't think of a single good reason not to head to the leafy garden for music before my date.

Kenneka Cook was mid-set when I found a spot and began scanning the crowd for people I knew. There was the show booker making faces at a baby, the brass band drummer adjusting knobs onstage, the marketing man looking studious in glasses and the Frenchman, just back from Tampa where they'd beaten the impending storm by just two days.

Moving closer, I was charmed to see people sprawled out on the wide porch of the adjoining Wickham House with the "door" windows behind them, a fact I learned from a tour of the house. I'd been struck by the concept of windows so tall that the house's occupants would just throw up the sash and stroll through the opening to the porch.

"We only know how to do one thing and that's gospel music, so let's go to church," the Ingramettes announced and commenced to get people clapping and toes tapping while shaking the rafters on the tent over their heads.

On my way home, I spotted a line at the National for Catfish and the Bottlemen, a group I'd never so much as heard of. A couple clicks once I got home and I quickly learned that they were a British indie band mining '80s jangle, '90s rock and '00s alternative pop in the service of one of my favorite genres: young man music.

Sounding like their influences were comprised of lots of my guilty pleasure songs with a singer whose voice resembles that of the Arctic Monkeys' leader, the songs were buoyant, testosterone-fueled and likely drawn from the narrow scope of boyish experience.

I was hooked immediately, of course.

And I'd beg you but you know I'm never home
I'd love you but I need another year alone
I'd try to ignore it every time you phone
But I'm never coming close

Adorable, right? Now I understood why all those people were standing in line for an evening of young man angst.

But my date and I were off to Amour for dinner where a private party had commandeered the bar area, which necessitated us taking up residence in the front window for a lovely meal that began with veal sweetbreads in a Madeira wine sauce, moved through a crabcake-topped salad, lamb chops and housemade cocoa sorbet.

After making a pit stop at Secco for pink bubbly from Greece and a unique Rose blend of Malbec, Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon, we witnessed a verbal testament to the powers of Queen Bey ("I want three things from a man and I can't remember the first two, but the last one is he has to know that Beyonce is the most important thing in the world") from a visiting California woman who will be seeing her hero in L.A. in September.

Pop star conversations aside, I'm trying to get in my Secco fixes in before they close their doors next week.

Once we were back on the street, the evening continued on my balcony with Breaux Rose we'd picked up at the winery and some triage on my boombox to get it to play on its inaugural night of summer season 2016, for which we couldn't have asked for finer weather.

Our musical entertainment began with the new Clair Morgan album "New Lions and the Not Good Night," which qualifies as young man music given its musicians, but not its subject matter, which is a reflection of songwriter Clair exploring his role parenting young children and memories of being a child himself.

But ultimately, it was Joni Mitchell's "Hits" album that we listened to twice, agreeably taking tangents about the musicians on her various albums, how sometimes a cover can be better than the original (CSNY's "Woodstock" being a perfect example) and what an absolutely brilliant medley "Chinese Cafe" and "Unchained Medley" make.

Somewhere around two hours before sunrise, my date expressed a wee bit of concern about the music and conversation being broadcast to the neighborhood pretty much in the middle of the night, so we scaled back a notch but it was a small notch.

We've never been the types to make ungainly concessions, whether music or relationships.

To "settle" is to give up. We never settled. But, man, can we kill some time together.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Steadfast and True

Doesn't matter where I'm headed
With you, I've arrived
But I know you get that all the time
Life is too short not to wake up beside you every day
But I know, I know, I know that's what they all say
You don't even have to love me back
~Lynchburg band Steal the Prize "Love Me Back"

I sure know how to show a girl a good time.

To start, I'll take her to dinner, although I'll also tell her what to order and use my hired mouth to eat part of everything she gets. And although I couldn't have planned for it, I'll take full credit for the unintended entertainment of men at a nearby table and their false bravado at eating challenges.

Then, because I know what she likes, I'll suggest a mile walk to enjoy the glorious weather - sunny, warm and very breezy, but most notably, nearly non-existent humidity - with a destination of Bev's, where we find a line nearly out the door but moving steadily.

When I order a classic hot fudge sundae with extra hot fudge for my topping, the young woman behind the counter smiles knowingly and says, "I got you covered," putting my regular scoop of mint chip into a large dish so that the obscene amount of hot fudge won't burble over the sides.

Handing it to me so I can pay, she ogles it one last time. "That looks so good, I wish I was eating it." What it looks like really is a dish of hot fudge since the ice cream is completely obliterated by the chocolate on top, so I understand her envy.

Eating it while my girlfriend licks a strawberry cone, we discuss how the line of customers looks like a tourism photo op with attractive people of various ages and colors happily waiting their turn for ice cream, yet more proof that Richmond is a happening place full of local charm every night of the week.

We even reminisce about the original Bev's over on Belmont, a place likely unfamiliar to every single person in line except long-timers like us.

After strolling back to the car, I'll suggest a movie, something critically acclaimed and vaguely foreign like "A Bigger Splash" (perfectly named after a David Hockmey painting) at Movieland, and she'll agree solely based on the name Ralph Fiennes, only realizing that it's also the new Tilda Swinton movie once we're there.

It's obvious the weather is far too wonderful to sit inside and watch a movie, as evidenced by there being only three other people in the theater, but we persevere for the sake of art and the handsome Matthias Schoenaerts.

And what art! From the landscapes of a breathtaking Italian island to Swinton's wardrobe which could have been borrowed from an old Audrey Hepburn movie (because no one but Tilda or Audrey had the height and lithe figure for so much fabric), pretty people and places abounded.

Because women dig this kind of stuff, it's got to be a girlfriend you take to a movie that places so much emphasis on the unbelievably fantastic relationship of a couple who are completely into each other mentally and physically.

And may I just say for the record how satisfying it is to see as much male nudity as female?

The film takes a darker turn when Fiennes as her ex-lover and former producer ("One way or another, we're going to grow old together") shows up with his nubile and scantily-clad 17-year old daughter in tow, a sure sign bad things are on the horizon.

Fiennes is a whirling dervish of a man who never shuts up, or eases up on his full court press to win back his ex, but it's a scene where he dances unabashedly to the Stones' "Emotional Rescue" that shows the real measure of the man as an uninhibited actor.

Meanwhile, Swinton manages to demonstrate her superb acting chops with a role that only allows her to whisper occasionally and never speak out loud, despite playing a rock star with Chrissie Hynde-like hair and Bowie-like make-up.

Best of all for my date and me, the movie clarifies nothing, shows little yet much, and ultimately ends on a discomforting note like all good foreign arthouse films do.

Some nights, all you need is the right woman to share that much with.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Circle is Unbroken

A woman needs situational friends, the kind whom you only see on specific occasions, say a Banner Lecture at the Virginia Historical Society.

I have sat next to the same older woman with twinkling eyes on at least half a dozen occasions and we always find so much to talk about, whether our respective neighborhoods, her years volunteering at the VMFA or changing women's roles.

For today's "Rightful Heritage: FDR and the Land of America" lecture, which had attracted me for its focus on the Civilian Conservation Corps' monumental effort to build national parks, parkways and nature refuges, she had a sentimental reason for coming.

"I remember Franklin Roosevelt being President," she said of the man who, as we were soon to learn, was as avid a conservationist as his fifth cousin, ex-President "Uncle Teddy," espousing the progressive philosophy, "Conservation is the basis for permanent peace" and envisioning national parks as dispensers of our heritage.

Pretty rad for the time.

Most surprising fact gleaned from Douglas Brinkley's effortlessly delivered lecture: FDR ran a tree plantation and whenever required to fill out his occupation on a form, always wrote "tree farmer." Pretty far-removed from his image of Hyde Park, cigarette holders and a monocle, eh?

A woman needs gay friends because who else would write something such as, "I saw you on Sunday at the food event on Broad Street with your "baby doll" dress on, but I was too far away to yell so I thought I'd do it here."

Nope, never comes out of the mouth of a straight man (because they would have no clue what a baby doll style dress is), so it's flattering to know someone notices, even from a distance.

A woman needs married friends because they're so accommodating, if not always as well-trained as one might expect.

We used to meet up regularly with the blessing of his wife (a far less adventurous eater), at least until he took a three-year position that resulted in a daily work schedule and our get-togethers petered out. When I bumped into him at a booze panel last winter, he set the ball in motion by instructing me to call him.

It only took half a year to make it happen tonight at Castanea, a place he'd never been. Naturally, he began by detailing his parking difficulties and concerns with the neighborhood, as he is inclined to do being a white suburbanite out of his comfort zone, although for food, he'll venture most anywhere.

Recently that had been Mama J's Kitchen where he and his wife had been made to feel like regulars, had enjoyed a terrific dinner of soul food ("those greens...that cake!") and generally fallen for the irresistible combo of good food, welcoming atmosphere and agreeable prices (albeit where they were the only white people, which, we agreed, is exactly the situation more white people need to place themselves in).

A Southside resident and regular at Southbound's bar ("It's so close!") he regaled me with tales of the wonder that is the new Wegman's, having joined the 24,000 other people who'd visited it on opening day, although he'd purposely ignored the carts and only looked.

The rest of the story is that they've been back three times since, spent lots of money and the two of them are besotted with the place. He went so far as to suggest that Whole Foods and Fresh Market just go ahead and close up shop since they're now superfluous.

"They've got mushrooms I've only seen on television!" he said with obvious fungus lust.

Much of his praise was for the seafood section and the impressive whole fish displays from which fillets are cut on demand and myriad oysters for roasting abound, but he was also drooling about the cured meat and cheese offerings, which so tempted them that he said they made dinner of bread, meat and cheese three times last week.

"You'll have to go check it out," he tells me. Will I really? Having an embarrassment of fresh produce is really only meaningful if the market's in your neighborhood and south of the river, west of Huguenot is nothing close to mine.

Since we'd last gotten together, he'd become a devotee of sour beers and a decision maker at work, resulting in his insistence that I pick and choose what we'd eat tonight. For me, being bossy is like breathing, so when I'm actually asked to call the shots, I don't even pretend to demur.

After choosing monkfish, a mezze of sauteed zucchini and a smoked pancetta pizza, we settled back with a bowl of olives which led to a discussion of the Olivator, a tool for inserting bleu cheese (or, I suppose, anything sort of soft) into an olive. I'm not kidding, the subject got him so worked up that he pulled out his phone to show me the single-function device, which, it seemed to me, operated pretty much identically to a syringe.

Not a good visual, I know.

"Let's check the 'don'ts,'" he insisted, confusing me at first. "Still no cell phone? No TV? No air conditioning?" No, no and I've always had central air, I just choose not to use it.

He admitted he could only give me so much crap about my lack of phone because his wife still has a flip phone and can't text. "And I'm not allowed to bring it out for any reason when we're out. It has to stay in my pocket, no matter how badly I need to check something."

First, brilliant woman. Second, how civilized. Can we make this official policy?

The first dish out was the monkfish with Victory Farm pac choi sauteed with hot pepper and a salty tapendae on the side, a strong start because the pac choi was every bit as stellar as the rich fish. A huge party at a nearby table must have slowed down receipt of our next course, so I casually mentioned to our overwhelmed barkeep that I was hoping the pizza showed up soon and it did.

As delicious as it was tardy, the pizza hit the spot nicely.

The zucchini, however, never found its way to us, so we punted by ordering double chocolate gelato, declining an offer from a nearby writer who's leaving Richmond (at least for the time being, since they always come back) to buy us drinks and then by offering her our last two slices of pizza, for which she was giddily grateful and promised to stalk me on Facebook so she could buy me that drink another time.

A woman may not need a stranger owing her a drink, but it's not necessarily a bad thing, either.

Blood and Biscuits Everywhere

By the standards of "The Lobster," I should have been turned into a beagle back in April 2009.

The way things work in this foreign film that won the Jury Prize at Cannes, once they're single, a person is sent to a special hotel and has 45 days to find a mate. So if your beloved dies or dumps you, you've got about six weeks to replace them or be turned into the animal of your choice (for yet another chance to find your soulmate).

Now there's a world I'm glad I don't live in.

But as imagined by Greek director/writer Yorgos Lanthimos in this romantic science fiction black comedy full of deadpan delivery and uncomfortably funny silences (making it exquisitely un-Hollywood), I thought it made for a fascinating movie in part for its commentary on our culture's emphasis on finding "the one" and living happily ever after.

Sometimes, we discover, it's easier to settle for someone who's less "the one" and more the person willing to rub liniment on that spot on our back we can't reach.

The way this film tells it, it's not enough to be physically or sexually attracted to someone to pair up, you've got to have a shared physical characteristic like nosebleeds or bad eyes.

Apparently I should have been looking for a man with disproportionately long legs or a peach allergy all this time.

Of course, not everyone wants to find a partner, so some of the singles escape to the woods to join the loner group, where there are just as many rules about behavior as at the hotel. With the loners, you don't get to flirt or have sex with anyone, but there's a lot of dancing alone to electronic music.

You're just there to be a loner.

The movie was brilliant in several ways, showing the emptiness of a relationship in which no one is truly vested and capturing the desperation people begin to feel as they realize their "sell-by date" is rapidly approaching.

In this case, that's at the 45-day mark (unless you've shot a loner or three, in which case you get an extra day for every loner brought down, how sick is that?), but in the real world, we know it's slightly less rigid (early 30s the first time and before all traces of youth have shifted south for the middle-aged) but just as pressing.

Like my Mom, who has a habit of reminding me that she can't die because I'm not married, the hotel director teaches the newly-single that all the advantages are in being coupled up like on the Ark.

Not only is everything better if you have someone at your side, it's also safer for women to walk and for men who choke during meals.

An absurd statement like "It's no coincidence that targets are shaped like single people, not couples" reminds us that two is always better than one.

Actually, it sounds a lot like the crackpot propaganda of the post-war world that espoused wifely duties and motherhood as the highest possible aspiration for any good American woman.

The problem, as I see it, with this notion of packing the newly alone off to a singles facility to try to score in 45 days is that sometimes a person just isn't ready to move on in such a short period of time after the loss of a loved one.

That would have been me in 2009, so now I'd be seven years into being a beagle and half my life would be over and who's to say I would have met the beagle of my dreams yet anyway?

There's nothing like a date film that provides big life questions and no answers, while reminding you that it's the persistence to find what you need that matters most.

Shoot, it would have been so much easier if all I'd needed was someone to rub liniment on my back.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mysteries of Love

Remember that day in 2010 when I went to see "Blue Velvet" at Capital Ale House and they'd canceled it in favor of National Beer Day?

Yea, neither do I, but it happened. My blog says so and it never lies.

So with Movie Club Richmond's screening of David Lynch's masterpiece in my sights again as the kickoff to the Great Southern (Richmond's second annual Twin Peaks Festival), I made a date that would eventually include the movie that inspired the oddball TV series.

So let's call it a teachable moment, shall we?

Contemplating dinner choices first, I suggested the new Peter Chang's in Scott's Addition (the space a huge improvement over that strip mall monstrosity in the West End) and to my date's surprise, it was not only open but barely occupied when we slid into bar stools at the empty bar and said hello to a familiar face behind it.

Score one for me.

Of course everything was stellar and most was Szechuan-hot - the deep-fried pork belly, the salmon-stuffed cucumber "boats," the duck rolls with barbecue sauce  - with the exception being the shrimp dumplings, which my date appropriately described as "bland and delicious" and I categorized as the ideal palate cleanser between courses for our increasingly fiery mouths.

By the time we finished all that and our Vinho Verde, the place had filled up nicely and we could fully appreciate what an opportune moment it had been that we arrived before the rush.

Stop #2 was a farewell of sorts because Secco closes in two weeks and since I'd made the drapes (and love the variety of by-the-glass wine options), I have a decided affinity for the place. In a lovely example of stranger kindness, five people at the bar immediately slid down a stool so that we could have two seats together to enjoy a glass of Austrian Rose and a cheese plate.

Seeing "Blue Velvet" at Strange Matter (who didn't let me down, unlike Capital Ale House had) couldn't have been any stranger than the film itself, none of which I remembered from having seen it 30 years ago. I mean none of it.

But it wasn't just me because my date had seen it multiple times and he didn't recall much more, so I didn't feel too bad.

What I did notice was how leisurely the film's pacing was (whether or not that was entirely intentional or a function of it being 1988, I'm not entirely certain), which had to be grueling for some of the younger members of the audience with their reduced attention spans, but also how completely strange it must have seemed for the time (not that everything about the Reagan years wasn't weird as all get out).

Post-film research yielded the fact that the movie's setting, Lumberton, USA (where it's always a sunny, woodsy day), is a real place in North Carolina.

Movie Club had even arranged for a show after the screening, so while the bands got set up, we headed up the block to Ipanema for snackage, scoring the timeless grilled Gouda sandwich and a slice of Mexican chocolate pie to fill in the cracks left by eating Chinese food earlier.

Or at least, that was my date's rationale. I just wanted dessert.

Ipanema, too, was getting set up for live music but we relocated to Strange Matter before it began, unable to be in two places at one time. The problem was, we'd dithered so long at Ipanema, we'd missed the first band, Christi, a shame because I really enjoy their sound.

We did catch Lady God's set - admiring bassist Chrissie's gorgeous instrument  - delivered to a particularly small crowd, which was hardly a surprise given that it's been a deader than usual weekend. Is everyone on vacation or at the river or does it just seem that way?

One of the few familiar faces was a fellow music-lover and his date Karen, just back from a weekend away and looking for some last minute Sunday entertainment. Chatting revealed that, unlike us, they'd caught Christi but had missed the 1986 film.

"Wow, that must have been something to see after all these years," my friend mused. "Was it still really weird?"

Well, sure, but that was the whole appeal. More importantly, it didn't get pre-empted for beer, and after six years of waiting that's enough right there.

Strange? "That's a human ear, all right." Yes, yes it was.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Love Is Careless in its Choosing

It's a swell life I have.

As I'm sitting on Hermitage Road en route to Hardywood, the evening sun inching toward setting on my left, a ridiculously long freight train crossing in front of me and Chakha Khan belting out "Through the Fire" at all-windows-open top volume, I am reminded of that fact yet again.

At the last minute I'd found out that tonight was Cover to Cover and that the Trunk Show band was doing "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" and decided it would be just disrespectful not to give the Thin White Duke my attention.

In no time, I made the acquaintance of a young women originally from Michigan after complimenting her gorgeous blond curly hair. "Yea, it's the best part of genetics," she said, both of us glowing from the warmth of the tap room.

Currently on a four-year post as a political scheduler in Richmond, she admitted to still getting to know the city, which made it all the more surprising that she'd found out about C2C.

"I was in Halcyon this afternoon and overheard someone talking about it and decided I definitely needed to come," she said. Turns out she'd done theater back in Michigan, leading to a comparison of which shows we'd both seen.

When Trunk Show took the stage, I pointed at guitarist Grant in a white short and vest and asked her if he was cute. "Well, he's got a guitar in front of him," she said rhetorically. "But, yes, he's definitely cute."

Then it was showtime. Matt, clad in synthetics with a blazer on top, yelled, "I'm really more ways than one!" and the show was off and running. When he got to the "I'm a space invader" lyric during "Moonage Daydream," the blazer was thrown off to reveal a symphony in Spandex: a backless, deep-cut purple top and silver skin-tight pants.

A few notes into "Starman," my young Michigan friend turns and grins, saying, "This is one of my very favorite Bowie songs!" Nearby, practically every middle-aged guy was singing along to every word.

Matt, on the other hand, only once forgot the lyrics all evening.

"This backless thing is great in a building that's 90,000 degrees, but the fabric just doesn't breathe!" Matt lamented from stage before going on to explain to the room (and especially newbies like Michigan) that the whole idea of Cover to Cover is to "bring back the idea of the album as a story meant to be heard start to finish, as opposed to his generation's habit of hearing one song out of context and never exploring the rest of the album at all.

Hey, he said it, I'm just seconding that notion.

But it wasn't just the Matt show and stellar vocalists Ali and Maggie (she's the brilliant one who came up with the C2C idea - it's always a woman, isn't it, with the best ideas?) were welcomed to the stage to sing lead in their appropriately glammy ensembles while the rest of us danced in the sweaty tap room to every song.

In the spirit of Matt's admonition, I followed Bowie with an evening of record-listening at Holmes' man cave, drinking "good swill," as he puts it (Graham Beck Brut Rose and French champagne Beloved had planned to save for her birthday) while grooving to "Ricky Nelson Live at the Troubadour," Joni Mitchell's "For the Roses" (after the third time Beloved and I replaced the needle on the start of "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio," Holmes cut off our needle privileges) and "Court and Spark" and "The Best of Spirit," which reeked of the late 1960s.

But it was Holmes' extensive Neil Young collection that yielded the new-to-me "This Note's for You," a 1988 record by Neil Young and the Bluenotes (which couldn't have pleased Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes) that not only had a horn section, but pulled from the same influences as Stray Cats.

Who knew Neil ever went in this direction? Certainly not me.

Throughout the night, Holmes would spontaneously announce, "Everybody dance!" and everybody did. We were having such a great time that the only reason I left at 1 a.m. was because I knew I had to be up early.

When I got home, my downstairs neighbor was on his porch, contemplating the thunderstorm rolling in, smoking a cigarette and curious about where I'd been. When I told him I'd gone to a show followed by a friend's house to listen to records and talk, he sat up in attention.

"That's so cool that you do that kind of stuff!" he enthused. Do what, have a life? "No, that's more than a life. That you intentionally listen to music with friends and talk about it. I feel like the people I know never do that. No one I know actively listens to music."

To be clear, he graduated from VCU two weeks ago and is a practicing musician and this is his reality, that people can't be bothered to really listen to music, much less discuss it.

Being a millennial must suck in so many ways.

After five minutes of shared storm watching and lifestyle discussion, I bid him goodnight, intent on getting to bed so I'd be up early enough to catch the first hour of Broad Appetit. And, unlike Holmes who cracked me up earlier by deadpanning, "I like to have secure premises when I retire," I closed not a single window before sliding between the sheets

I was not only up, I met my date on the street, so eager was I to eat and escape quickly.

Even at 11:02, Broad Street was alive with people pushing strollers, walking dogs and making the loop in search of the best small plates. Unfortunately, this year's event had a far greater amount of fair-type vendors shoulder to shoulder with local restaurants, but really just taking up valuable space, in my opinion.

In one hour, we ate the equivalent of brunch: Lucy's meatloaf over cornbread and bacon-wrapped chicken with ranch dressing, Amour's duck crepes, potato pancake with applesauce and chocolate crepes with fleur de sel, Maple and Pine's short rib shortcake with mushroom ragout and quinoa salad with avocado mousse over an heirloom tomato, Castanea's paella and Lehja's butter chicken over rice and my favorite, an edamame and avocado chaat.

Just as good as the food I ate was the weather, which maintained a mostly comfortable cloudy overhang the whole hour we strolled the circuit. Only once we headed away from the increasing crowds did the sun make a concerted effort to come out.

It's only 12:03 and the whole day and evening is still ahead of me. Yep, my life is truly swell.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Do It for the Girls

Our little scene is all grown up. Anybody got a tissue?

At least that's how I felt after waiting out the hardest of the rain to walk over to Gallery 5 in flip-flops and a drip-dry dress under an umbrella accidentally "borrowed" from an Air BnB in Portland, passing a photographer friend who called out, "Enjoy the show!" as we passed in the murky wetness of Madison Street.

To my surprise, I was greeted by a clutch of people at the door and an experienced doorman carefully managing a line, allowing one in for every one who came out. There was a time when a downpour would have kept Richmond from making any effort to bother going out at all.

Not so anymore, hipsters. Tonight's First Friday gallery opening was for Jennifer Kennedy's Girls Rock! benefit show with four of the artists' favorite bands and subjects (with at least one woman in each, coincidence or no?) performing while upstairs, people leaned in for a good look at all the familiar musical faces Jennifer had captured over the past few years.

Perhaps most noticeable about the pieces was how varied the state of completion was, some partially sketched out and others fully colored in and realized. The secret is that she only draws during the band's set, so if they stop playing, she puts her pencils down.

Avers' set had just begun when I finally made it inside, but something was off. Finishing a song, Alexandra (who resembles no one so much as a millennial version of Sheryl Crow in white jeans) explained, "If you've seen us before, you know Charlie is missing. He's in North Carolina at his sister's wedding where he's probably rocking out. Because Charlie is always rocking out somewhere."

Truer words were never spoken.

As good as the band's polished music-from-a-cave sound played tonight, Charlie's energetic presence, enthusiasm for playing and those outstanding chops were missed. Not to mention that glorious mop of hair, which even fellow guitarist Adrian's shoulder-length hair flipping, intentional and as frequent as breathing or blinking, could not offset, much as he might try.

There was a lot of it when he sang lead on "Girls with Headaches," which winds down with glorious three-part harmonies to further add to Avers' charms.

Set over, I head upstairs to ogle the art, immediately sucked in by the game of trying to identify the artists depicted without resorting to the key before choosing my favorite and supporting Girls Rock! by buying myself a piece of art that completely captured the energy of my friend and favorite instrument-maker, Dave.

As I was completing the paperwork, a couple approached, eager to buy their own drawing, only to learn it had been purchased but not yet marked sold. When it appeared they were going to give up on the idea, I insisted they find a second choice. In true Murphy's Law fashion, that, too, had been sold and not marked.

I sent them out again, entreating them to support the cause and find something they wanted, my second contribution to the Girls Rock! cause this evening.

It was upstairs that I also ran into the soon-to-deliver classical musician couple, with the magnificently-maned Mr. pointing at his wife's rounded belly saying, "Look at what I did!" with obvious pride. My chat with her involved the vagaries of laying out plans (say, for a healthy pregnancy) only to have life rudely intervene.

When I heard the first notes of Christi, I headed down and stationed myself on the landing of the staircase for a fine view of the band rocking out in the best pop punk marries girl group way and even covering Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" complete with '90s guitars and two front women in jean shorts, not that the youngsters in the room recognized the song until halfway through.

From my bird's eye vantage point, I saw the sound guy dash to the bathroom  and moments later the lead singer called out, "Can we keep playing?' The crowd cheered their approval and the sound guy, presumably, sighed in relief behind a closed door, oblivious to anything other than delayed relief.

They closed with "Get You Offa My Mind," because what woman hasn't had that annoying problem? Our foremothers could have saved us a lot of trouble by throwing themselves in front of buffaloes and ending the species when they had the chance. But alas.

Then who comes down the stairs grinning happily but the art-seeking couple who had finally decided on one of the many drawings of Gull? Turns out she'd been intent on buying a piece from a show where she'd attended and seen Jen drawing.

That hadn't occurred to me as motivation in choosing, although it was a happy accident because I had been at the WRIR fundraiser at Strange Matter in March 2014 when Jennifer had sketched the piece I'd bought.

After their set, I mingled. The post-punk wife had bought her husband's image and the dulcitar player's sister had bought one of him.

The PK (preacher's kid for those of us not raised in the Bible Belt) and I enjoyed a lively discussion of why I don't and he does engage people about their religious beliefs ("I love going down that hole with so-called believers," he said) and why he's convinced that the planet's salvation involves convincing the large Christian population to embrace environmentalism.

Think about how many people that would be if he could get them on board, even just the American Christians. Only a PK would even want to try.

There were other friends - the DJ from last night's show, the subject of my new art purchase, the organizer of the event with whom I discussed feminism briefly ("I said, 'Dad, you have three daughters, you're a feminist," she tells me), the earth mother, loopy after two 8.5% beers she got for performing, which I'd missed waiting out the raining cats and dogs portion of tonight's weather.

Lady God had the closing spot on the bill and the friend who claims to be an introvert but always chats through every show informed me, "The crowd's going to like them, They're good." What's not to like about a garage rock/pop band heavy on the bass?

They kicked off their set with "Rattlesnake" before bassist Chrissie asked sweetly of the sound guy, "Can I please get a sprinkle of guitar and a half teaspoon of bass more in my monitor?" The results of the tweaks were quite tasty as the band finished out the night with as big a crowd as Lobo Marino had had three hours earlier.

It's funny, more than one person tonight mentioned how Gallery 5 had been at capacity pretty much since the doors had opened. Several others, including two performers, commented on how Jennifer's show was a perfect example of how interwoven and mutually supportive Richmond's artistic scene has become these days.

Richmond is rocking out somewhere pretty much every night of the week, have you noticed?

Look what we did.