Monday, October 31, 2016

Confessions of a Tardy Filmgoer

I remember my first All the Saints Halloween party like it was yesterday and not 2008.

The responsibility of carrying one of puppet-maker Lily's hefty creations. The recognition of familiar faces among the barely 50 or so marchers. The scattered Oregon Hill-ites who deigned to sit on their porches and watch. The simplicity of it all.

With each subsequent year I became part of the parade - 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 - I fine-tuned the experience.

No more puppets for me (too heavy) but I can work a banner or sign all night long. Dress lighter than you think you need to in order to compensate for carrying weighty objects and near non-stop walking. Wear comfortable shoes.

One of the high points is always organizer Lily coming by in her painted skeleton face and white satin robe to squeal my name, tell me she loves me and thank me for coming.

This year, I had three people with me (two marching, one paralleling the parade with canine in tow) gaping at costumes, admiring myriad skeleton window coverings and getting a front row view of the eclectic audience (an outhouse, a guy in a barrel going over the falls, Elvis with a spangled cape and gold platforms) for the funeral march for the demons of the day.

But as the parade has also taken on a life of its own with masses of spectators, I've also had to adjust to it.

A continuous mega-watt smile is essential because at practically every step, people are taking our picture or shooting video. It's a truly weird experience if you're not used to it.

The crowds viewing the parade currently begin at Monroe Park where the parade is staged and started, when we used to not see crowds until we were across Cary and headed into the bowels of O-Hill.

We somehow lucked into being behind a bagpiper, making for some inspiring marching music as we made our way toward the river, a stiff breeze reminding us how close we were. When he'd give his cheeks a rest, I could hear No BS Brass band playing in front of me or Lobo Marino or the Zombie String Band behind us.

Despite being an air sign, this year I led the "water" section of the parade with my blue sign reading, "Water," just behind the Goddesses contingent (Bruno was the Goddess of Old Friends while the goddess of twerking did exactly that, causing an O-Hill resident standing next to her kids in the bed of a pick-up to ask rhetorically, "Is she jacking off under there?") and at the start of the Elements groupings, just behind the tooth fairy waving the purple banner perilously close to our heads.

My sign was read by enough people that I got used to hearing such things called out as, "Gotta have water!" and, "We all need water!" as I passed by with it high in the air, working every muscle in my arms while Mac waved an upside down banner next to me.

Two women dressed as Peter Pan flitted in a zigzag pattern throughout the length of the participant line toward the front while a guy on a BMX bike tried to ride through it against the grain. When we got down to make the U-turn near the overlook, the tooth fairy turned and pointed back at the scores of marchers coming down the hill toward us.

"Look at how many people!" It truly was an impressive mass of humanity.

As we walked up Pine Street, I spotted the outline of chef David Shannon against L'Opossum's kitchen door, a huge grin on his face. But of course a man with bad clown paintings in his bathroom would appreciate the oddities of this parade.

Those oddities were nothing compared to Gallery 5's holiday offering, "The Thingy: Confessions of a Teenage Placenta," part of the Troma film series and half of tonight's Halloween double feature. Except that the film was listed as starting at 9:30 and when we arrived at 9:20, it was already in progress.

To be honest, I hate it when I miss the beginning of a film, much less the beginning of a Belgian horror/comedy film with little discernible plot and no way of catching up, but we gave it our all.

Luke the placenta was coming of age and  made squishy noises wherever he went, left a slime trail behind him and used his umbilical cord to paste pictures from cigarette packs in his scrapbook.

He was the sweetest teenage placenta a mother could hope for.

But why did Mom have one giant overly-muscular arm? Who was Luke's mysterious father, anyway, Darth Vader? Why did his first date bite him ravenously after kissing him? Why did the priest torture Luke by tickling him (and, yes, it's torture, my Mom always said tickling was a form of torture)? Who thought a dog nursing at the breast of a woman was anything but repellent?

And why, oh, why, did Luke have to shoot all the newborns in the hospital nursery?

Because it's a Troma film, because the violence is so cartoonish, because...probably because of something that happened in those first 20 minutes we missed.

Placentas come and go, but the real accomplishment here is me getting my sixth Halloween parade notch on my belt, as always, marching to the beat of a different Halloween drummer.

Costume not required, attitude a plus.

Walking This Way All Day

Indulge me for a moment while I dream about this nearly perfect weather.

If there's a place that regularly has 80-degree days like today's as the norm for late October, can you please tell me where that magical place is? Days like this make me almost (but not quite) sorry that I slept until 11:00 because so little sunny time remains once I'm finally up.

After breakfast (okay, so it was 12:30), I walked to Carytown under an umbrella (once again fighting the stigma of parasol shame) to meet Pru, Beau and Burger for some classic Mel Brooks. I'd invited not one but two others, both of whom turned me down, only to learn at dinner last night that the trio had their own plans to attend.

Along the way, I pass a man on his front porch fluffing pillows. Asking why more people don't do the same, he answers, "I have no idea. They must not know how good a pillow smells after it's spent an afternoon outside."

This is a stranger who knows wise things. My pillows are immediately slated for a time-out on my balcony tomorrow.

My posse is waiting for me at the Byrd, Pru with assorted sizes of Tootsie Rolls in hand like the good friend that she is, to see "Young Frankenstein" and her first question once the lights go down and the title comes up is, "When's the last time you saw this movie?"

Answer: some time during the last millennium in a galaxy far, far away.

And though the film was made in 1974, period details make it seem older: a man's socks with garters, references to Tinker Toys and Ovaltine. College students actively engaged in class and not looking at their screens.

I'm nothing short of amazed at how many lines from this movie are not just part of standard pop culture references today, but are also family standards. When Igor tells Dr. Frankenstein, "Walk this way," I'm reminded of my Mom who uses this phrase before walking awkwardly nearly every time I visit.

For that matter, I have a sister who dredges up, "Two nasty-looking switches there but I'm not going to be the first," every time she sees a coupe of light switches next to each other. We all overuse, "Put ze candle back!" in my family to signify a bad choice and it's been 40 years.

"Taffeta, darling" was code for I'm all decked out, so don't mess with me (just ask any of the husbands in the family).

Favorite line: "Seven or eight quickies and then you're out with the boys to boast and brag. You better keep your mouth shut! Oh, I think I love him!"

Bottom line: "Young Frankenstein," despite just as much corny and '70s male humor as I recalled, holds up with some truly stellar performances, gorgeous black and white photography and the comedic script-writing chops of Brooks and Wilder.

That the screening was also a benefit for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society adds a layer of philanthropy to laughing with friends for two hours.

On the way home, I walk around a pizza delivery guy wearing a t-shirt, flannel pants and fuzzy slippers. I'm pretty sure he was delivering pies in his pjs in this glorious weather.

From an afternoon in Transylvania (where, I noted, all the townspeople had distinct British accents), it was on to an evening in Courtempierre, France (where vampires roam), two fitting nods to the season of slutty tacos (yes, a friend actually saw that costume).

Take it from someone who knows, the difference between the Silent Music Revival of 10 years ago and tonight's comes down to one thing: ear filler.

Where once a roll of toilet paper was torn, wadded and shared for earplugs, on the 10th anniversary, we had actual orange earplugs distributed to the capacity crowd.

Given my 9-year devotion to the SMR, I felt no shame in showing up way early and putting "reserved" cards on two chairs to hold places for tonight's 10th anniversary part one celebration.

Called out on it when we arrived, organizer Jameson laughed about it, confirming that he had no issue with me pulling rank to save seats (and not even comfortable seats, but those awful folding chairs at Gallery 5).

Long-time friendship has its privileges.

"Vampyr" from 1932 got a soundtrack courtesy of reunited noise-rock duo Navi, who managed to take an incredibly dark film and improvise to it magnificently, in part because Jameson had sped up the film by 21%, the better to marry it with the band's frenetic musical energy.

Sitting there for nearly an hour watching this classic horror film and its fabulous soundtrack, it was tough not to flash back to those early Silent Music Revivals with a fraction of the number of people and toilet paper in our ears to staunch the bleeding.

Like our grandparents having to walk uphill in a snowstorm five miles to get to school, some of us sat on hard store floors for nine years to make 2016's cushy-in-comparison SMR possible for those just now learning the pleasures of silent film set to local bands.

Feel free to thank me in person at part two of the 10th anniversary celebration come December.

Strolling from Gallery 5 afterward to Lucy's for a sandwich pop-up, we ran into two guy friends of mine just leaving and pumped them for recommendations. Inside, the place was nearly full-up with earnest-looking bearded types, a few more familiar faces and a smattering of Halloween costumes.

That's the beauty and/or problem with a Monday Halloween: the celebration starts Friday and rolls through for four consecutive nights, leaving broken glass on sidewalks and streets (at least here in J-Ward), shards of jack-o-lanterns everywhere and bits of costume (although I'm not entirely sure why I've also spotted two pairs of underwear) shed in the heat of the moment.

At some point, a person's bound to get tired of wearing a fake crown and toss it on the sidewalk, or so it would seem.

Tonight's sloppy sandwich pop-up provided the perfect late-night noshes - a manly Philly cheese steak and a more delicate but overloaded sensational seafood salad (and by that, I mean fake crab) sandwich dusted with flying fish roe inside a split hot dog roll - to accompany glasses of Rose and a dissection of the holes in the plot of "Vampyr."

After a stint at the bar watching the tail end of the World Series, we packed it in and headed out into the still-warm night, although the occasional rogue raindrop told us that a change of weather fronts was in the works. Sadly.

Mother Nature, put ze candle back!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

It Always Comes Back to Star Trek

Anyone close to me has, in all likelihood, alluded to my sunny side up affliction.

The go-to is derision. Pru calls it "unicorn land," another prefers "Karen's world" (art nerds, can't you just see me from the back on that grassy hill like Christina?), several family members call it "the bubble," and, sure, they're mocking me, but the reality is lovely things happen there all the time.

Like an evening during the absolute dregs of October - today's the 29th, for crying out loud - spent on a screened porch in Church Hill, a porch lit by strings of tiny lights and a small lamp or two, with the night air as soft and comfortable as if we were about to tear September off the calendar rather than October.

An evening accompanied by the business of life going on around us - dogs being walked, sirens in the distance, headlights in the alley - as the five of us converse across the table in the golden glow of that porch, where everywhere you look, something pleasurable or interesting catches your eye.

A master class of a porch.

The kind of space ideal for Pru to share a memory. "That reminds me of 10th grade when I said 'semen' instead of 'stamen." Pause. "It was the male part of the plant, so at least I got that part right."

That prch can become a cozy game room when the visitor from Arizona, Burger, admits he's never played Cards Against Humanity during dinner at Belmont Food Shop (where an autumn terrine of squashes, celery root and carrot rocks my world and chocolate truffles are referred to by FabCon as "tip manipulators" because they work).

It's once the game's underway, after we explain that you choose your answer from the ten cards in your hand that we learn Burger has 12...and a stack splayed out under his chair for easy accessing. Political commentary follows.
Q: In today's newscast, Donald Trump made headlines when he denounced what?
My A: The Dewey Decimal system
Peanut Gallery: He would.

With big, comfortable wicker chairs with cushions, it's a most suitable place for long-winded ruminations on language.

When Beau tries to explain the appeal of Hannah Montana, it's by saying she was wholesome and had hi-jinks. Hi-jinks, a word that dotted the Eisenhower-era series we read as kids. Nancy Drew had hi-jinks, the Hardy Boys had hi-jinks.

This crowd could do a minimum of 10 minutes just on a word like that.

As proof, earlier on the porch, we'd gotten on the topic of unlikely building materials, a rabbit hole that began with bales of hay, moved on to used car tires and crashed and burned with 2-litre soda bottles.

Why, you ask, did such a fascinating environmental and architectural topic die that premature death? Because some people brought only the veneer of information to the table and once others of us began digging, they admitted to no further knowledge on the subject than the shred they'd already hurled into the fray.

Don't come to a conversational pit unless you can hold your own.

The porch is just dim enough on a Saturday night for indelicate admissions.
Q: In the new Disney Channel original movie, "Hannah Montana Struggles with what?
My A: A really nasty yeast infection
Beau: I'd watch that.
Pru: Who ARE you?

It's the first time on this practically perfect porch for the dry wit from Philly now languishing in the southwest, who after observing the bossy and bossed dynamic between the usual cast of characters, thinks he's got it all figured.

"Ooooh, I see, it's a dominatrix party!" He only wishes (fervently, too).

Tonight, Bootleg Shakespeare (cue "There's something happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear") was performance art (none of it as riveting or hilarious as a pants-less BC Maupin as Brutus and a kneeling Sara Heifetz as Portia having a, shall we say, intimate moment) allowing an impromptu party to kick off early.

If memory serves, I lectured a man on italics (they are to be read aloud more emphatically), Pru got poetic with Burger ("We can't make plans with your "ifs") and Beau used the third person to feed me verbiage for this post ("Who knew that Beau was a mouth dispenser virgin?" about never having squirted whipped cream or E-Z Cheese in his mouth).

Middle-aged hi-jinks, as fine a way as any to spend an October evening on a screened porch with a great aura. Kind of makes me want to sing a song about Nebraska.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Out There versus Not

Musical karma, that's what it is.

I'm talking about that thing that happens when you first discover a new band or someone tells you about a terrific band and then, bam! You find out they're about to play nearby, so you can indulge your new-found interest or appreciation almost immediately.

It was kind of like that tonight.

When last the Barrister and I met, we'd naturally talked music and he'd brought up a new-to-me local band, Paulo Franco (and the Freightliners, as it turned out), saying he was fond of their sound.

The very next morning, he messaged to share that he'd been reading Style and seen that they were playing Friday night.

Horse trading of a sort ensued because my plan was to take in some seasonal comedy at the Coalition Theatre, specifically "Vincent Price's Late Night Horror Program," so I agreed to go to hear Paulo if he'd come be horrified with me.

A deal was struck and we made plans to meet at Saison Market, which only became problematic when I arrived there to find an absent Barr and that no food was being served because, yet again, Restaurant Week had reared its ugly head.

The former situation was rectified when I found him drinking brown liquor at Saison's bar where we toasted his new-found qualifications in the Peach State which, we agreed, he need not exercise immediately. The latter problem was solved with fish tacos from Tarrant's back door, eaten at a table pre-set for Restaurant Week overflow guests because a server insisted we do so.

Fortified, we crossed the street to be spooked.

In the grand tradition of bad Vincent Price variety shows, we found good seats in a sold out room for a series of laugh-worthy episodes. The show's delayed start gave us time to exchange information that people who have only laid eyes on each other three times in a life time are not yet privy to.

Fact: before Barr embraced the law, it was geology that floated his boat. He, in turn, said he wouldn't have figured me for a Terrapin. We discovered a mutual admiration for the National.

We ceased our blather when the show finally began.

When the impeccably dressed Vincent - in silky shirt and ascot - wanted to summon the spirit of Poe, Player's cheesy "Baby, Come Back" blared from the speakers, inadvertently summoning Ellen Adger Poe in period attire by mistake.

She was far less melancholy than her brother.

Then the Paranormal Sisters of Kalamazoo spotted ghosts around the room and brought people onstage to explain their presence.

Dakota thought one angry ghost might have been his great-great-great grandfather, a restaurateur who prohibited certain kinds of guests from eating in his restaurant.

"You mean he was racist?" one sister asked of poor Dakota. "Just say racist! You think we haven't talked to a racist ghost before? We're in Richmond!"

The other Kalamazoo sister contacted the dead by having sex with them. Onstage while we watched and listened.

"Has anyone seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary appearing in front of them? No? Just me?"" her sister asked the crowd before finding a guy who'd lost his Aunt Frenchy because she was old.

Vincent returned wearing a pink-trimmed apron that read, "Kill the Cook" to demonstrate a recipe for candy corn from his new cookbook that involved teeth and shaved corns, the kind from feet.

The master of horror was especially adept at bad horror puns. "Can you necro-feel the love tonight?' he asked to groans, and, "Don't let me slip up carrying this Edger Allen Po-dium."

A segment involving a cursed camera had two characters frantically thumbing through to look up something in an imaginary Yellow Pages, causing the girl to crack wise with millennial humor. "Man, won't it be great one day when we can just look stuff up?"

Which is, of course, exactly what she was pretending to do, but she didn't see it that way.

"Fly versus Fly" had Vincent challenging Jeff Goldblum to an obstacle course to prove who was the better fly, while offering Goldblum a chance to ramble on about nothing and everything, to Vincent's great consternation.

Perhaps because I'm a fan of his demeanor, it had never occurred to me how easy it would be to imitate Goldblum's distinctive delivery and detours.

The final segment was a "Match Game" parody with celebrity guests such as Chris Rock, Katherine Hepburn, pro wrestler Macho Man, the part French/part Spanish designer Phillippe, and Obi Wan Kenobi.

Questions involved such burning issues as what First Man Bill Clinton can't wait to install in the White House (a stripper pole, the Force, a zero-gravity bidet) as well as cultural commentary, such as Chris Rock's answer to how Target bathrooms could be divided ("There are no Targets in the 'hood").

By the time the show ended, people were crowding the lobby and sidewalk out front for the 10:00 show and we had two miles to cover to access my companion's needs for the evening half of the deal.

He'd already scored a table in front when I walked in during the first song of Paulo's second set, demonstrating impeccable timing on our part. With his rose-colored glasses, Paulo bore a distinct resemblance to Jerry Garcia and his four-piece played a tight set for a diminishing crowd.

Although new to me, Barr was hoping for a few songs from Paulo's latest album.

Too bad about the smaller crowd because the songs were compelling, whether they were murder ballads, sung in Spanish (Paulo is Colombian), or when they were his wife's favorite (because it was about his ex-wife).

That three of the band members sang added a lot to their sound.

Returning from the bathroom, Barr told of a guy's peculiar hygiene habits and I, naturally, passed judgment on the unseen miscreant. "You're okay if we can talk bathrooms," the Barrister informs me.

Wait, he's just now deciding I'm okay? "It shows your range," he corrects himself.

I said good night to the last of my tequila as Paulo and the boys finished out their set, wistfully singing, "Good night, whiskey, mend my broken heart."

That's karma for you, book-ending the evening with brown liquor and song.

Friday, October 28, 2016

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

This chair's for you, my imaginary friend.

Billie Jean King came to town, but this is really the story of a friendship that began in the mid '70s, right around the time that the legendary tennis player was showing herself to be a force to be reckoned with on many fronts.

An unlikely pair (and both Geminis, at that) who met during college, she was sporty and I was girly. She was athletically talented and I uncoordinated. She was a lifelong California girl, me, pure east coast. She hated me on sight.

Once we got past her youthful mis-perceptions, we became the yin to each other's yang, with sufficient shared enthusiasms to always make for a good ride. It was so comfortable that we knew early on we'd be lifelong friends.

Yet, somehow, we've lived in the same state for exactly two years. Or, more precisely, only two years.

We met, we had two wonderful years together and ever since, there have been multiple states in between us. Letters flew back and forth pre-Internet. Years would pass between visits, but we always reverted to instant familiarity.

Back when we met, she was an avid tennis player, even attempting fruitlessly to coach me in playing (I had no interest in the game, but coveted a cute strapless tennis dress) and naturally, BJK was a role model for what a woman could accomplish.

So when I walked over to the Seigel Center tonight to hear Billie Jean King speak as part of VCU's celebration of 40 years of LGBTQ activism, I knew my friend would have enthusiastically accompanied me if she weren't living in some far away Republican state.

Which is why when I chose a seat, I put my bag on the next seat as if I were saving it for someone, which I was, but more in spirit than reality. She'd have blended right in, too, because as the redhead in front of me observed looking around, "I expected it to be all middle-aged women."

My guess would be about 70%, but we're talking about an iconic '70s role model and women's rights activist, so that's hardly surprising. It would've been embarrassing if we hadn't represented.

After introductory remarks, we saw a video of photos, clips and sound bites (inexplicably set to the Rolling Stones and Dandy Warhols, and while the latter stole plenty of guitar riffs from the former, it's still an unlikely combination to soundtrack a tennis hero's bio), my main takeaway being how incredibly lithe, agile, fluid and altogether air-born she looked in so many of the old photographs.

Just as the video was ending, the woman who needed no introduction strode out smiling, looking 73-year old fabulous in sassy red glasses and a fuchsia jacket over black pants with her brown hair stylishly short.

Instant standing ovation. Just as instant, a fervent wish that my friend was here to experience it with me.

Taking to the stage, she began with a history of significant events in LGBTQ history, sort of a primer for those unaware, reminding us of the importance of history in our lives today.

She shared stories from her childhood about how her parents never pressured her or her brother about sports, yet both grew up to be professional athletes. "I think that's why my brother and I liked the pressure so much."

In fifth grade, Susan Williams asked her to play tennis and BJK had no idea what it was. After her second tennis lesson, she decided she wanted to be the best tennis player in the world.

In 1970, she and 8 other women signed $1 contracts to create the women's professional tennis league, with the vision that any girl who was good enough had a place to compete and could make a living playing tennis.

Helluva vision.

That's when the whole male chauvinist Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes nonsense started up and he wound up playing one of the nine women, trouncing her. BJK was next in his sites.

Here she paused in her talk to give some context to the time for the students in the audience.

"This was 1973. The war in Vietnam was winding down, but it never really did" - and here she deservedly scolded us as a nation for our treatment of returning Vietnam vets - "Watergate was just cranking up and a woman couldn't get a credit card in her own name, only her husband's!"

Audible millennial gasp from the crowd. Zinger from the star: "And why would they do that when  they know how much we love to shop?"

And here's where she set their brains ablaze. "The first portable phone came out that year, just as most of us were switching from rotary to touch-tone phones, and it weighed 2 1/2 pounds, you could only talk on it for 30 minutes and in order to do so, you had to charge it for ten hours!"

There were two reactions from the younger set: either their eyes glazed over or they laughed out loud. The middle-aged women nodded.

"I told the others I had to play him! The match was about social justice, not a paycheck!" Can't you just see her getting all riled up, raising her tennis racket over her head like the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue?

Perched behind the podium was a racket and BJK wasn't ten minutes in before she picked it up and never put it back down, her security blanket, moving from hand to hand.

She stuck her fingers through the criss-cross pattern as she spoke about being publicly outed by an ex-lover in '81, causing her to lose all her endorsements overnight. Theirs was the first "galimony" lawsuit, yet her husband wouldn't give her a divorce. Her parents were homophobic and she hated the shame-based life she was leading.

I tell you what, this would have made a highly successful nighttime soap opera at the time.

Our shero ended with advice to millennials, which would probably serve all of us well:
Be a problem solver
Relationships are everything
Stay informed and keep learning
Be your authentic self

Fascinating as her talk was, it got even better afterward when she dismounted the stage and walked in front of the seats answering questions submitted by the audience.

Did she ever think she'd lose to Bobby Riggs? Every day, all day.

Asked about diversity, she said she prefers the term equality ("It's like the '70s, we used to talk about equality. It's back!") because it doesn't focus on our differences.

Her advice to women was to use their body by harnessing its abilities.

When my question (Why do you think so many college students today resist being labeled a feminist?), she answered, "I do not know why that is, but if you believe in equality, you are a feminist whether you're male or female."

I felt equal parts pleasure that my question was asked and satisfaction at her succinct rebuttal.

The last question was from the English-born director of VCU's humanities resource center, asking in his clipped accent about how she and Elton John met up. Turns out it was two weeks before the Riggs match at a party for the singer who, she learned, wanted to write a song for her.

It was with obvious pride that she mentioned that "Philadelphia Freedom" made it to #1 on the charts, but she said Elton's greatest pride was that it made it to #1 on the R & B charts.

Sensing only a vague reaction from the students, BJK suggested, "Look it up on your little Spotify!"

And then, like a video director's dream, the music for "Philadelphia Freedom" started playing overhead and two VCU students with baskets of tennis balls appeared behind her and Billie Jean King began hitting autographed tennis balls into the frenzied crowd as scores of middle-aged women tried their creaky best to snatch a flying green ball out of mid-air.

Since I have zero hand/eye coordination, trying to snag a ball was never a consideration, so instead I stood among the flailing arms and watched the effortless motion of this woman's arm where the racket was nothing more than an extension of her hand as she hit 4 or 5 dozen balls into the stands while Elton John blared all around me.

I soaked it in as completely as I could and then walked a half mile home to call my friend and tell her what I'd just experienced for both of us. Like me, BJK represents a very specific era of our lives for her, so before long, we were going down the rabbit hole to those days.

What's curious is that each of us has become the repository for different aspects of our shared history.

She recalls visiting my tiny Dupont Circle apartment on 21st Street, where I showed her the window that looked out on the cute gay couple's bathroom, in case we wanted to ogle a nice male form. Until she mentioned it, this bonus feature of that place had long since left my head.

I can still conjure up the disdain on her face, the hand on her hip, the complete condescension in her voice when she first laid eyes on me.

Long complimented for her exceptional listening skills, she tells me she only acquired them after we met because I was always telling her one story or another. In my head, she'd arrived from the west coast fully loaded with a sympathetic ear.

Not so, she assures me.

An hour into the conversation, she shares that she envies me my connection to a place, something she hasn't had in a couple decades now. "Your heart is in Richmond, Kare" she tells me about my conversion to being a Virginian. "You've always had a sense of place."

Have I? I point out that this has become my place only because I took a chance on moving here when I knew no one other than my mate. That I stayed because of the pace of life here, the cost of living, the quality of life. The old houses and the green spaces. The ability to craft the life you want without being a slave to it.

I sing Richmond's praises with abandon now that she has admitted she has no reason to remain where she is.

Then I play dirty, reminding her all my city has to offer. I just came from a free event seeing one of her idols talk (and even answer my own question) mere blocks from my house. Outstanding as such an evening might seem to someone languishing in an uninspired outpost, it's hardly out of the ordinary.

The campaign to get her here has begun, essential given that we can't go our entire lives waiting for the right time to live in the same state. It's not like we're going to live forever, despite what some people say about me. Fact is, you've got to choose where you want to live your life.

And as Billie Jean came to Richmond to remind us, relationships are everything.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I'll Make Time

As every former Girl Scout knows, make new friends, but keep the old, blah, blah, silver and gold.

The old, a former co-worker and music buddy, had emailed with his standard, "Drinks or lunch soon?" so we'd planned lunch at Peking (I know, I know, who goes to Peking anymore, especially when a so-called Chinese restaurant doesn't provide chopsticks without asking) because it was near his office at the James Center.

Over my Sezchuan chicken and his General Tso's fried chicken, we discussed our shared allegiance in the mayoral race before moving on to the  state of the scene, a favorite topic of ours for a decade now.

Not for the first time, he thanked me for insisting he attend the Silent Music Revival back in 2008 when he hadn't a clue (always happy to be of service) and suggested a game where we chronicle our favorite cultural experiences back in that era when all the underground scenes were just beginning to burble up to a more mainstream audience.

Mermaid Skeletons in the Poe Garden, the first Listening Room at the Micheaux House, the Silent Music Revival with Blue Letter making our ears bleed, the first time we marched together in the Halloween parade.

We got a million of 'em, he and I.

Only problem is, we can play that game all day long and both of us had work to accomplish this afternoon, so I accompanied him as far as the James Center and continued my walk uphill to Jackson Ward.

As for the new (friend, that is), he was technically still wet behind the ears since we'd met exactly a week ago and this was our first outing. The man's only been back in Richmond for two months, so I'd offered to help a brother out by showcasing what I like about Richmond life.

Upon his return from a weekend in Asheville, the Barrister had notified me of his availability, I'd shared what my plans for that evening were and left him to decide if any or all of it was appealing enough to join in.

Whether bravely or foolishly, he'd checked all three boxes.

We met at Chop Suey Books for "One Hour, Four Places," with four writers reading from their work about linen closets, cheating spouses dying, overnights in a museum and bedside manner, although we were also those horrible people in the back row who only stayed for three of the readings.

Once out on the sidewalk, we agreed that Gayla Mills' ode to repeatedly patching the worn out jeans of the 21-year old she fell in love and began making music with rang truest.

As old friends of mine know well, memoir often trumps fiction for my interest.

From there, we did a convoy over to Vagabond for dinner, only to walk in and be informed that it was Restaurant Week and they were full up. On the one hand, I should probably have known what week it was given my occupation but on the other, I tend to block it out intentionally.

Fortunately, the bar was empty and dinner service extended to those stools, so we settled in to do battle with the unexpected constraints of the week, but the good news kept coming when I learned that ordering off the Restaurant Week menu was not required given the - ta da! - "Vagabond Staples" portion of the menu.

That and a glass of La Galope Rose ensured that even if Barr turned out to be dead boring as company, at least the meal wouldn't be (and he didn't). Additional points were earned because he's also firmly in the camp that food is meant to be shared so there can be no duplicate ordering.

Not a problem since I went with the staples and Barr went traditional with the Restaurant Week menu.

My first course was fried cauliflower with a swipe of earthy roasted pumpkin seed Romesco, while his was a smoked brisket taco combining pine nut salsa, pickled jalapeno and queso fresco that refused to stay contained in the tortilla despite our best efforts.

We covered the entire histories of all the people at the table where we'd met, as well as our conflicting plans for Saturday night. Despite his entreaties, Paula Poundstone yields to Julius Caesar for me in this instance.

Next up I tucked into scallops perfectly seared over smoked corn puree (something I'd love to see more of), butternut squash, pico de gallo and, yes, that's right, tortilla chips.

Snack food fine dining, yes, please.

His roasted rockfish brought up the whole roasted rockfish we'd shared with the table last Wednesday, a frequency he commented on, but, pshaw, I'd already had a second rockfish since then, making this my third in a week. Tonight's repeat fish benefited from toothsome collards, sea island red peas, potlikker and butter (although, let's face it, a fillet never measures up to whole fish).

Because that's what friends do - even brand new friends - I was happy to explain potlikker to the grown man next to me who was unfamiliar with the term despite an obvious affinity for the product.

More explaining was in order when he inquired about the photo on my blog  - Jonathan Borofsky's "Walking to the Sky" - which I took in 2008 laying in the grass at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas (and good for me since it has since been dismantled and not reinstalled) on a glorious winter day.

And since I can't mention Dallas without sharing how distasteful I repeatedly found the city despite the friend I adore who lived there, he gave me his take on Dallas, which was far more positive than mine.

But even newly-minted friends are bound to have differences of opinion, so I didn't hold it against him.

His third course was a chocolate torte with a Fall-tasting sweet Asian pear compote and goat cheese whipped cream, which he graciously shared with yours truly before we took our drinks and headed downstairs to the Gypsy Tea Room for the main event: music.

Two large groups of noisy talkers were just vacating their tables when we arrived, ordered more wine and claimed prime spaces on the banquette facing the Scott Clark Other Other 4-tet in the moody darkness, which also happens to be one reason I like this space so much.

So. Much. Atmosphere.

Given that it was a first outing for this friendship, we both had plenty of getting-to-know-you questions, such as him inquiring what radio station I listened to. When I said public radio WNRN, he said that told him everything he needed to know since he was also a huge fan of the station.

People continued to trickle in for the next half an hour as the quartet began playing and improvising, meaning I saw a favorite candidate for City Council, one of the musicians who used to live underneath me ("How are the new tenants?" he wondered about his replacements) and the drummer whose park show I'd missed last night.

Across the room, I spotted the jazz critic and several up and coming musicians, little surprise given the quality of musicianship on display tonight: the low key and multi-talented Scott on drums, Cameron Ralston slapping, plucking, bowing and generally owning the bass, Jason Scott killing it on sax and clarinet and Trey Pollard on guitar while making outstanding guitar faces.

I could see that the Barrister was enjoying himself completely. Leaning over between songs, he asked rhetorically, "Shows like this are happening all over town every night, aren't they?"

Sure are and some nights, they're in the same place where potlikker is being ladled up.

If this friendship continues to go well, in ten years I'd like to think he'll be another long-time friend thanking me for suggesting all kinds of places.

My gold and silver motto? Making new friends, keeping the old and laying in the grass when it's called for.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Study Period

When it comes to what constitutes "women's work," I don't know whether to be insulted or complimented.

If you were one of the brilliant black women hired by NASA's Langley Research Center in the 1940s, it was to be one of their human "computers" doing the mathematical calculations for the male engineers trying to win the space race.

That's right, they were doing one kind of women's work (incredibly complex math) so that the engineers could utilize it and hog all the glory for their accomplishments.

This means that some of these women wrote the trajectory equations for putting a spacecraft into orbit around our planet, a feat which boggles my mind. More correctly, it shuts it down entirely since the notion of math making space (or even air) travel possible is beyond my scope of understanding.

Don't forget, I'm the one who freaked out when I was told that Neptune was discovered by mathematical predictions rather than by observation.

Tonight's reading at the Library of Virginia featured Margot Lee Shetterly, author of "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race" (easily the clunkiest book title ever) sharing bits of the story of women who, until recently, languished in the shadows of American history.

Which is crazy given that these women were trailblazers in their field during a key period of the development of air travel safety and the space program. I'd call that way more than a big deal.

One of her best anecdotes concerned, of all things, "Star Trek" and Martin Luther King ("He was a Trekkie," she informs us as if she's letting us in on a secret).

Seems that the actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, was ready to quit the show for Broadway when she ran into her uber-fan.

King told her she couldn't quit because of how important her role was. He saw the inclusion of her character as significant because it meant that whites saw blacks as equals and part of the future, at least by science fiction standards.

"This is the kind of role we've been fighting for," he supposedly told her, changing her mind about quitting. "Keep doing what you're doing because you're our inspiration."

Shetterly's research showed that when the first five black women showed up at Langley in 1943, they were in a separate office with a bathroom and cafeteria designated for "coloreds," which isn't much of a surprise given that Jim Crow still flourished outside of the military base.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating peek into the story of women with brilliant mathematical minds who did calculations most of us can't begin to understand at a time when they had no role models for black women going into such a field.

Leaving behind tonight's history lesson, I walked five blocks down Broad for a civics lesson.

The Bijou was holding its third salon, this one with mayoral candidate Levar Stoney as its focus and since I'd missed the first two - Jack Berry and Jon Baliles - this one I intended to make.

When Stoney arrived from his last candidate obligation - a house party - he wasted no time in removing his tie, rolling up his sleeves and inquiring if the beer was free (it was).

Then he sat down in the hot seat to talk to 9 people curious about what he had to say.

Although I was a salon newbie, I'd heard that they all begin with grilling the candidate on the Shockoe stadium issue and this one was no exception, an easy segue into the ballpark miasma (he wants the city and VCU at the table to discuss any future plans) and the challenge of getting the counties involved ("Attendees at baseball games don't look like city residents").

There was a polish to his patter, a sense that he's been well-schooled in numbers and talking points that made him feel very much like a professional politician, which he more or less is.

Humor still showed through occasionally (when someone joked that the Coliseum was "built to last," he quipped, "Yea, that's what Bobby Ukrop said," and laughed) but even it seemed practiced.

Assuring us that he'd be a mayor who could bring money into the city, he also insisted that the mayor's role is to be a visible cheerleader for development and new programs, selling business start-ups to the citizenry.

Additional fun facts: he's not a Redskins fan, Chuck Richardson told him to be patient and wait his turn to run and when told he seems "tight as ticks" with Governor McAuliffe, assured us that the guv did not put him up to running.

After he told a forum audience that he'd explore increasing the cigarette tax, he got a call from Altria the next day and he's meeting with them tomorrow.

And while I know that politicians have to play the game, a lot of his answers involved finessing the deposits and withdrawals of political capital, which to me just sounds like typical good old boy backroom negotiating.

One point he was clear on was that with a median age of 33 years old in the city, it's time to pass the baton to the next generation and employ newer, younger voices to run Richmond. That he would also be the youngest mayor (35) of a mid-size city also seemed to sit well with him.

My issue is not his age, it's his tenure in Richmond and his mostly appointed job experience. As one salon participant commented after he left, "This guy intends to be President someday."

With at least ten years before that can happen, I'm more concerned with his fitness to run my city, a place I've lived for three decades now and come to love. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm with Chuck Richardson, at least on this one. It's not quite Stoney's time.

I need to feel like my mayor truly knows the city, not just how politics works.

For what it's worth, that's how this woman's mind works.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Buttering My Bridges

Usually, you need to go to a low rent restaurant to see color pictures of the food before ordering.

Tonight's menu was nothing like that.

Oxford chef John Currence was bringing his new cookbook, "Big Bad Breakfast" to Southbound, who in turn were cooking nine of the book's recipes for guests. Having been to three of Currence's restaurants (including Big Bad Breakfast), it sounded like a hoot to me.

Only problem was no one warned me about the apparently-standard traffic issues going into Chesterfield County during rush hour, thereby proving that I almost never head out of the city into the suburbs around 6:00.

I'll never understand the attraction of dealing with that mess for the sake of mowing a lawn and sacrificing your soul, but that's just me.

Once inside Southbound, tonight's Currence mix (ELO, Clash, Guns 'n Roses, Fleetwood Mac) was deemed too short, so was in the process of being augmented when an editor came in and immediately began bemoaning the state of traffic to the Southside, a subject I'd just covered with the DJ and the chefs.

"Traffic is a thing here now," the bearded one said earnestly, explaining that he made a point to avoid it. Really, a thing, a real thing here? That's just proof of how buried a woman can keep herself by not making that trip but once in a blue moon.

I glanced at the menu with its three sections with three offerings in each, but with a brand new copy of "Big Bad Breakfast" in front of me, it seemed to make sense to absorb some of the gospel according to John Currence before ordering.

In case you don't have a copy of the book, allow me to summarize the Chef's philosophy: Breakfast should be revered, respected and adored.

Which is why he opened a restaurant devoted to breakfast and why he firmly believes breakfast food deserves the full dinner treatment. Hell, he believes even all the components for breakfast should be homemade like Grandma did.

But if I had to pick one of his 10 commandments of breakfast as the tipping point for why I've crossed state lines to eat this man's food, here it is:

4. Thou shalt slather with butter. It will not kill you (consumed in quantities within reason, that is)...No fat tastes better on toast with jelly or when cooking eggs (bacon fat included).

As someone who was recently cited for the massive amounts of butter I can consume effortlessly, these simple lines speak to my inner butterball.

Ergo, it's why I'd driven through traffic roughly equivalent to the beer lines at a summer festival to eat breakfast for dinner and score his new cookbook.

I know, I know, you're wondering why I'd need a cookbook and I don't. Fortunately, this one is also a great read since every recipe is preceded by an essay combining culinary history, personal anecdote, obscure food facts and dish inspiration stories sprinkled with a healthy dose of sarcasm, profanity and attitude.

You don't need to cook to enjoy this cookbook.

Let's just say I felt no shame in cracking my book at the bar and starting to read about the most important meal of the day as a prelude to ordering.

The reason for that was that everything on the menu was followed by a page number, so inquiring diners could look up the recipe to scope out the ingredients or see a photo before placing their order.

The essay on pork posole begins with, "Make this. That's all I really have to say" (before going on to say another 500 words) so I did, rewarded with a runny poached egg atop a bowl of spicy pork rib tips, fresh corn and hominy that spoke to needs I didn't even know I had.

Double oyster hangtown fry (introduced as a Gold Rush dish known for its pricey ingredients) scored as much for its crispy fried oysters as for the scrambled eggs with bacon and thinly-sliced slices of serrano chilis mounded in the center of the ring of oysters.

My final course, sausage cinnamon rolls, was also the first recipe in the book, which says a fair amount about its place in the chef's recipe pantheon, but also about our shared addiction to the siren song of sweet and salty.

The yeast rolls' filling of brown sugar, sausage, butter and cinnamon was as integral to their perfection as the cream cheese and butter frosting they were lavishly frosted with. Even as I felt my arteries hardening, I used my very last bite to wipe up every last dab of icing from the plate's crevices.

It's probably safe to say that I had not consumed butter in quantities within reason tonight, and for that I make no apologies.

In fact, if I were the one writing a footnote under the 4th commandment about the power and memory-making ability of butter, I'd share that I can still recall with absolute clarity a childhood episode involving me on a backyard swing having my first slice of toast thickly spread with butter and  topped with a layer of jam.

The sky is blue, the swing is moving only slightly, and there is nothing in my life so far that has been quite as overwhelmingly wonderful as the layers of that toast.

Just another five year old who knew instinctively that no fat tastes better on toast with jam.

Try it. That's all I really have to say.

Black Fall's Nights

Some last-minute invitations you can't RSVP to fast enough.

Wanna come out to the country and start a fire and listen to Maxwell? Oh! And I have half a bushel of oysters...

If I didn't know better, I'd have thought I was being wooed.

The music alone - Maxwell's latest album, "BLACKsummers'night," which Pitchfork described as detailing "another emotionally complex romantic relationship" and exploring "the full spectrum of love. Curiosity - the desire to dissect and examine a partnership - has always set him apart; Maxwell wants to push far past the surface, almost clinically so, of any easily won emotion" - had me packing tout suite.

Cross your fingers, babe
I know sometimes your love is pessimistic
Oh, baby, baby

There may be women out there who wouldn't drive an hour for a chance to listen to any man who chooses to dissect and examine a relationship, but I'm not one of them.

Nope, I'm the type aiming for favorite guest status by making a pit stop at Rapp Session to pick up mignonette for the bivalves and a whole Branzino for dinner before heading west into the blinding setting sun.

After dropping my bag and the provisions, we parked ourselves in front of a fire on the deck, sipping Prosecco and slurping some of the freshest-tasting oysters we could hope for as dusk settles in around us and Maxwell sings it to us.

Maybe your love is just a big mistake
Maybe your love is what you fabricate
If you get the courage, baby
Someday, maybe, probably, maybe
You'll be mine, all mine

"This is a very civilized way to enjoy oysters and Prosecco," my host observes in between shucking duties.

Before long, our favorite locals show up to sip and slurp to Maxwell with us, ratcheting up the conversation with tales from country life ("Here comes the minutiae," his wife cracks) seen on his daily runs around the county.

A flurry of excitement erupts when I casually mention that my grandmother grew up in the very same county and my grandfather in the next one over, and, again, the wife gets the best line in, saying, "We're probably sisters!"

Strangely enough, it wouldn't be the first time I was late learning that I had new-to-me sisters out there.

They left before the Branzino was grilled over the fire, but it was for the best, really it was, given that we destroyed that fish without any outside assistance.

Sunday's road trip took us to Culpeper, first to the picaresque and tiny Honah Lee Vineyard (because where better to frolic in the autumn mist than in a land called...?) for a wine tasting of their wines as well as a few from Gabrielle Rausse, Well Hung and Michael Shaps, all enjoyed in an otherwise empty tasting room.

From there, we cruised on listening to whatever radio station we could get, which is how we wound up hearing Poco's "Call It Love," a song neither of us had heard in years.

I play my hand
You call my bluff
We push each other
'Till we've had enough
When it's all you've got
Call it love

I put in an immediate request to add Poco's "Legend" to our evening listening repertoire because it was an album I'd loved back when it came out - back when two of my three roommates owned it - so the songs were seared into my brain, yet I hadn't thought of Poco in years.

Then it was on to the farm that sells the best pork chops I've ever put in my mouth, a place I hadn't been in three years, although the farm stand store and a new dog appeared to be the only change from my last visit.

Looking for updates, I was sad to hear that Fred and Wilma, the parents of the past 3 or 4 years' worth of pigs, had been retired, but fortunately, their offspring (Pebbles and Bam Bam) were continuing the family tradition of spawning fine pork.

Talking to one of the farm interns after scooping up every chop in the freezer, my date inquired about the availability of pork bellies, to which she nonchalantly responded, "We've got 'em. I call 'em chef bait."

Predictably, he'd taken the bait and after a stroll over to the tree line (where a bunch of piglets had escaped the enclosure where Pebbles and Bam Bam noshed almost continuously), we left with multiple bellies and additional chops - enough to last until Spring, we're hoping - and brats.

Naturally, evening #2 began with more oysters and Prosecco and after a dignified amount of time, two of those fat chops landed on the fire to become dinner, followed by fireside music.

From the first two notes of "Boomerang" off Poco's "Legend," I was back in Kensington, Maryland, with my former roommates listening to an album funkier than either of us recalled and without a weak song. "Spellbound, " "Barbados," "Little Darling," I somehow still knew every word to every song.

I'll spare you the rabbit hole some people can go down trying to draw the lineage of the country rock genre once they're deep into dissecting a Poco record.

We've got all night
Let's take our time
Tell me your secrets
I'll tell you mine
When it makes us feel better
Call it love

Like Maxwell, I'm inclined to seek out those emotions not easily won. Whatever you want to call them.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sit Down, I Think I Love Your Music

That moment when you know you made the right musical call.

It's after you get home from the University of Richmond's International Film Series seeing "Tokyo Story," a black and white 1953 post-war commentary by the Japanese director considered second only to Kurasawa.

Shot from the point of view of a person sitting on a mat on the floor, the film offers a heart-breakingly sad look at the already seismic cultural shift from old to young after WW II. In fact, it may have been the birth of the whippersnapper generation that spawned successive legions of disrespectful children with no interest in history or heritage.

A beautiful film, but also a dispiriting one.

No, it's when I'm getting ready to head out in search of my evening's repast, but before I pick up dessert and head to Holmes' basement for a two-month catch-up session and music fest ("We've got some new music," he says with a leer in his voice on the phone call to arrange things).

Certainly, it's when "Almost Cut My Hair" comes on the radio and it's followed by John Prine and then Leonard Cohen's latest album "You Want It Darker" (do I or is that just his old age talking?) that I feel the universe patting me on the back.

Go to the vinyl, Karen. And take chocolate...

But my family's rule was always "no dinner, no dessert," so I head directly to Bistro 27 where a rehearsal dinner is in progress for what will surely be no more than a starter marriage for these two impossibly young people. Watching the guests occupy themselves with alcohol and each other's spawn reminds me how tedious such events are when small children are involved.

My meal, on the other hand, delivers in spades: the rockfish is weighed down with lumps of crabmeat and the accompanying sauteed vegetables - squash, mushrooms, zucchini and tomatoes rounded out with lemon juice and herbs de Provence - could not have been cooked more perfectly. The mushrooms, especially, are so flavorful they all but burst in my mouth.

I order two chocolate mouse cakes to go and head to the party of three.

Holmes and Beloved are just finishing up dinner when I arrive, pleased to no end with how their first attempt at chicken saltimbocca and pasta has turned out.

After our shared dessert, Beloved excitedly tells me she has a present for me: a hardback copy of "Valley of the Dolls" scored at an estate sale. Miraculously, the deceased had had two copies and she'd picked one up for herself as well. We're both elated at our new trashy reading score.

As a result, the time machine for the evening is right that moment set to '60s/70s as we move to the man cave, take up our assigned bar stools and the musical focus begins with them showing off some new vinyl finds: The 101 Strings' "East of Suez," and an Arthur Murray party record with appropriate music for rumbas, the waltz, fox trot, samba and others to keep your guests cutting a rug all night.

Then the radio's earlier foreshadowing kicks in as Holmes puts on Crosby and Nash's "Wind on the Water" so we can moon over "Sit Down, I Think I Love You," but it's when he puts on "Nuggets: Original Artifacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968" (modestly claiming that he'd just happened to come across it while perusing the "N" section of his record collection) that the party truly gets started.

Don't get me wrong, I only recognized a very few songs on this two-disc set, but the overall sound was completely memory-inducing. "Lies" by the Knickerbockers was familiar and the Standells' "Dirty Water" almost was, while Mouse's "A Public Execution" sounded eerily like Dylan, if he could sing.

Easily the most dramatic song was the Barbarians' "Moulty," an autobiographical ode to the drummer losing one of his hands. The song winds down with Moulty telling us not to pity him because he's happy with his lot in life. "I just need to find a good woman and I'll be complete!" he sing-songs dramatically.

"No, you won't!" hollers Beloved at the turntable. "You haven't got a hand!"

But it was when the Castaways "Liar, Liar" came on that Beloved got excited, recalling that the band had played a school dance when she was at Albert Hill Middle School. A classmate named Mac had been inspired to start a band, she said, and when they played "Gloria," all the girls at Hill swooned and screamed.

Not willing to be outdone in school memories, Holmes shares that he and friends at John B. Cary also started a band, with the dubious name of Dr. VD's Observatory. No report on how the girls reacted.

Virtually all the songs were one hit wonders, sometimes one of two, but one band was instantly recognizable and that was Nazz. No one sounds like Todd Rundgren and none of the other songs had the production his "Open My Eyes" did, either.

It was after listening to all four sides of "Nuggets" and lamenting Holmes' loss of a similar version except of original artifacts from the first English psychedelic era that he pulled out another album for one last bonus nugget, Syndicate of Sound's "Hey, Little Girl," who - we really shouldn't have been surprised - had also played at Albert Hill during Beloved's junior high tenure.

As we're listening, Beloved reaches over to the end of the bar and randomly picks up a 1967 issue of a Mad Magazine Special and begins flipping through. Shrieking, she holds it up, saying, "You know what's in Mad? Valley of the Dolls!"

Actually, it was Valley of the Dollars, a spoof on the millions author Jacqueline Susann had made on the book and movie, but also mocking the cheesy film with abandon. Actress Barbara Perkins is shown on her way to the movie set, walking past a sign that says, "You are now leaving Peyton Place.

I may be too young to have seen the cheesy prime time soap opera, but I nonetheless got the joke.

It was then that the happy couple pulled out another piece of the web they were weaving over me with the soundtrack to Valley of the Dolls, complete with movie montage music and the theme song sung by an uncredited vocalist because Dionne Warwick was under contractual obligation to another record company.

I ask you, how many friends gift you with the book, provide a period-appropriate magazine satire of it and then follow up with the music from the film?

Four plus hours into our evening, we had to decide on the final vinyl and Beloved scooped up the double "Shaft Soundtrack" album, asking rhetorically, "What is this?"

Holmes, no more than our obedient DJ by this point, barely looked up, mumbling, "I don't know. I'm just a captive."

Since I'd just seen "Shaft" a week ago, it was especially satisfying to hear Isaac Hayes' masterpiece on speakers as fine as Holmes has.

And because even when you're heading toward 2 a.m. Holmes will still try to slide in one last record to dazzle his guests, he put on a pink vinyl copy of a club mix of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You." Since it had been ages since our last rendezvous, he could have been trying to tell me something.

More likely, he was reminding me that when I stop by Dr. VD's Observatory, I always make the right musical call.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hitting the Chisholm Trail Redux

Talk about your timely film.

The Virginia Historical Society was showing "Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed," sucking me in on not only that era, but the women's rights movement, the Civil Rights connection and the parallels that a woman is running for President today.

Somehow I wound up sitting in the honorary Gerald Baliles seat, notable, sure, for my current top choice of his son for mayor, but also because of the woman who introduced the film and led the discussion afterward: Mary Sue Terry, who'd been running herself in '72 and had later been attorney general under Baliles.

See how I made a whole circle of life connection right there?

The crowd skewed heavily female, meaning lots of short gray hair and chatter ("I just came from yoga, so I'm a sweaty Betty" and "I went to see that movie "The Dressmaker" for the couture and it was the worst movie I ever saw!") before Terry directed the "Baptists in the back" to move closer to the auditorium's front for better interaction.

Oh, how they grumbled about that.

Regardless of where you sat, the 2004 documentary was a compelling look at a period in time and the sheer audacity of a black woman to decide to run for the highest office in the land.

She read her speech announcing her candidacy while holding the manila file folder that contained the speech, emphasizing that she wasn't the black candidate, she wasn't the woman candidate, that she was simply the candidate of the people.

And she did it with a West Indian lilt to her voice and a slight lisp that would likely not go over well in these highly critical social media times.

What was impressive was that from the moment she won a seat in the House in 1968, she was making it clear she was going to play by her own rules. About to be assigned to the agricultural committee, she balked, saying such a posting wasn't relevant to her Brooklyn constituency that included Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Thinks about it: that's a lot of nerve for for the first black woman elected to Congress.

My fondness for archival footage was rewarded with old news clips (Walter Cronkite referring to Chisholm and Muskie simply as "other candidates" not worthy of naming; saying that Chisholm was "throwing her bonnet in the ring" when she announced or referring to "old Hubert Humphrey" as "the warhorse") and commercials such as the one singing a "Nixon Now" jingle that was probably just as grating then as today.

Her commercial also involved singing - "If you're looking for freedom, take the Chisholm trail, We will set our women free" - but looked more like an outtake from a multi-cultural Partridge Family shoot than you might expect.

That she frequently wore a full-length fur coat (and corsage!) on the campaign trail seemed both odd and appropriately feminine for the times.

As much of a determined fighter as she was, Chisholm knew better than to think she'd win the Presidency, admitting that her role was to pave the way for other women.

You could just feel the female pride rising in the room as we watched and when a montage of women's rights marches was shown over Helen Reddy's '70s anthem "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar," I heard voices throughout the auditorium singing along.

If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

Probably most striking about the footage of Chisholm on the campaign trail was just how forthright and outspoken she was, absolutely certain of her beliefs and goals.

"I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the 20th century," she says stirringly near the end of the documentary and you get the sense that she really meant it.

Terry returned to the front of the room to lead a discussion once the film ended and some people (and most males) left. Her first question was about who had been born after '72 and what had shocked them most about what they'd just seen.

"That she ran against George Wallace!" one said and while I'd known that, I'd never seen the riff on "American Gothic" using her and Wallace. Bad taste has always been the currency of the body politic, it seems.

"That she stayed in the race," said another who hadn't realized she'd made it all the way to the Democratic convention. Terry had also been at that convention, sharing that it was nothing like today's highly-scheduled events.

"We worked for 37 hours that convention and 17 of them were after midnight," she recalled of the late night wheeling and dealing of delegates to produce one nominee. "People characterized our convention as all about sex, pot and queers."

As good a place to start as any..

She reminded us that in addition to Chisholm being black and female, she was also extremely short and, "We like our elected officials tall!"

"We prefer good hair, too, don't we?" a woman in the crowd called out, getting momentarily topical about bad comb-overs.

Terry stressed how much higher the health standard is for women running for elected office than it is for men, recalling George Allen attending an event with his arm in a sling because he'd signed so many autographs he had tendinitis.

She said she could never have gotten away with doing the same.

In fact, when she'd broken her back in a few places playing racket ball, she had less than a week before she needed to attend the opening of the General Assembly. "I've got to get out of this hospital," she insisted about the looming event. "And get a permanent!"

Every woman has her priorities. A woman once told me she couldn't stay out and drink wine too late because she had an appointment the next afternoon to get her fake lashes reapplied. We don't judge.

Terry's plan was to use a cane to make walking into the General Assembly and down its steps slightly less painful but she was instructed that if she planned to arrive with a cane, she shouldn't plan to come at all. She went cane-less and without taking a pain pill for fear it would make her appear out of it.

Always held to a higher standard.

Discussion was lively, both about Chisholm and her legacy and about Terry's personal soapbox.

"I hope I'm not being recorded tonight," she joked. "I'm not anti-man, really I'm not." But she did question how a Martian would perceive a place where the larger population (my people) had a governing body primarily comprised of the smaller population.

"My plea is for more women to be elected to office. Men just decide to run but women usually have to be pushed and convinced. Let's elect more women!" She was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the cause.

Walking outside next to a young black woman, I asked what she'd thought of the film. Admitting that she'd never even heard of Chisholm before today when she saw it was being shown, she'd been impressed with the candidate and confused as to why she'd never been taught about such a historic run for the Presidency.

I asked her when she'd been born: 1991. Chisholm left Congress before then - 1982 - but was alive until 2005, yet this woman had woken up today with no idea of her historic run for the White House.

We may have numbers too big to ignore, but how're we ever going to set our women free if we don't teach them about the efforts of their foremothers, even when it includes sex, pot and queers?

My plea aligns with Terry's. Let's show the Martians who's in charge, shall we?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mambo Italiano

Bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you.

What better way to bite the ass of life while also celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Big Night" than with a Big Night wine dinner with friends old and new at Camden's?

The usual suspects - Pru, Beau, Beckham and the Beauty - were joined by a new face from the neighborhood, only two months into his return to Richmond after forays to Baton Rouge and Atlanta.

The Barrister, as he was immediately dubbed, proved a worthy addition to the group and seemed unfazed by our ricocheting conversations, despite having been warned by the chef that we were a handful.

But most of the tables were similarly enthralled with their tablemates since the chef had made a point of combining reservations to create groups of 5 or 6, the better to appreciate a truer "Big Night" experience. My guess would be that we weren't the only table to make a new friend or two over five courses while the movie played and the music was set to Louis Prima.

This is a restaurant! This is not a f*cking school!

Good thing because all of us would have gotten marked down for talking out of turn.

In true "Big Night" style, platters of food and bottles of wine were dropped off at each table for people to enjoy family style and woe to the server who tried to remove a bottle that still contained a few sips in it from ours.

Tellingly, she only tried that once.

Starting with zuppa Toscana accompanied by Monferrato Bianco Giabine, we were fully into our food-friendly wines and elaborate meal before some of my fiends even realized that the Barrister was as new to me as to them. "Everyone gets along with you!"  Pru said by way of explanation for her assumption that Barr and I were BFFs.

The handsome Vittorio Fracchia of Sulin Winery paused at our table to introduce himself, explaining that he was the fifth generation of his wine-making family, but all I could think of was the scores of women that five generations of his male Italian ancestry must have gone through.

Speaking from experience with Italian men, I feel certain had I said it, he would have taken it as a compliment.

Tri-color risotto - pink seafood, white cheese and green spinach - resembled the Italian flag and was paired with the winery's crowd-pleasing Chardonnay while discussing the rigors of jury duty. As a juror for a murder trial, Pru had been appalled at the quality of the experience.

"Exhibit A was a Hennessy bottle!" she said to laughter. "All the character witnesses were wearing orange prison jumpsuits." New black, right?

"Here's your first Barbera of the evening," our server (and VCU prof) said, causing Beckham and I to swoon a bit at the prospect of more Barbera to come. What a lovely and extremely rare thing to be told, we agreed.

You could hear the oohs and ahhs at every single table when a whole roasted rockfish complete with cherry tomato eye was dropped off at each, along with roasted hens, grilled asparagus and roasted beets to go with glasses of the appealing Aleramo Barbera.

I can't speak to how refined the other tables were about de-boning and serving their rockfish, but from where I sat, it was a joint venture, hands-on continuum that ensured everyone had their fingers in that succulent fish at some point.

The chef went table to table, amusing himself with how each table autopsied the secondi course. I can't even recall the last time I ate so much rockfish at one sitting or enjoyed it more.

Goddamn it, I should kill you! This is so f*cking good, I should kill you!

Rapidly approaching full-as-a-tick territory, we nonetheless soldiered on happily because next up was suckling pig (the photo posted on Facebook earlier in the day showed us what the poor thing looked like before it got shredded and brought to us) to be washed down with Barbaresco Brasal Fracchia and savored listening to Vittorio's heartfelt ode to the Nebbiolo grape.

In this arena (and probably others) Vittorio and I are in complete agreement.

All the while conversation swirled from board games to restaurants to Beckham and the Beauty's envy-worthy plans to get married in South Africa in less than 8 weeks. When the topic turned to drink and why we do, Beauty made sure Barr understood that we don't drink because we have to.

Pru set the record straight quickly. "Not gonna lie, sometimes I do. I do have to." Beau would undoubtedly be qualified to attest to this.

The earlier promise of more Barbera was fulfilled with Barbera Ornella accompanied by the culinary orgy that is timpano, a pastry-covered "drum" holding ziti, cheese, sauce, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and sausage and that, by all rights, none of us should have had the room to attempt.

We dove in with abandon.

When to-go boxes were brought out after tables threw up the white flag in surrender to the final dish, we quickly determined that we needed boxes for everyone. Despite the appearance of three couples, we were a six-top, all of whom lived separately.

When the chef walked around tossing Squirrel Nut Zippers in front of each guest, it was the signal that the dinner portion of the big night was over, and that the Presidential debate portion was about to begin. Moving to the bar for a better view of the screen, we settled in for some Italian wine-fueled commentary as the nominees faced off.

Every time Trump used his favorite adjective, we'd hoot and holler "tremendous!" to show our disdain for his limited vocabulary and braggadocio. How can anyone watch him say, "No puppet. You're the puppet" and not expect to hear "na-na-na-na-na" next?

Beckham and the Beauty drifted out into the night before Trump had insisted he won't necessarily accept the election's results and sometime around midnight, Pru and Beau took charge of our friend and deposited the Barrister at his home five blocks away (and, yes, he'd gotten major points for walking to dinner).

Conversation didn't end then, not with the Prof there bringing up assorted salacious topics such as, "A dude better be able to - we'll sub in "perform oral sex" for how she actually phrased it - like a champ" and, "You got a sweet ass, Karen" to round out the evening.

We're not talking life here and it's not like she tried to bite it or anything.

Primo, do you know why this night is happening?
Because it has to happen.

And this, as you may have guessed, was how we dragged ourselves to it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Years May Go By

Concerts are about many things, not just joy.

Concerts are about a last minute gift of tickets to see Rickie Lee Jones, a show I'd coveted (but couldn't afford at $55 a ticket), a gift extended late this afternoon as I'm sitting with friends eating riverside.

They're about telling my favorite Rickie Lee Jones fan I got tickets and hearing, "Well, if you don't have a date, I'll make the time!" We allow enough time to walk given the magnificent Indian Summer weather.

Concerts are about arriving at Capital Ale House half an hour before the doors open for the show, being told to return at 7:00 and when we do at 7:02, the music hall is nearly full.

In the case of this concert, they're also about Rickie Lee Jones' rules, which include all plates being removed from the tables before she begins singing. A great idea in theory, except when doors aren't opened until an hour before showtime, feeding a sold out roomful of hungry show-goers and clearing plates in 60 minutes is damn near impossible.

Concerts are about last minute food (ours) and trying to eat very quietly once Rickie Lee Jones comes out and says, "This is the only thing I'm going to say about the election," then launches into "Lap Dog" and afterwards drolly observes, "I'm bored talking about politics now."

Excellent concerts are about hearing a singer with a distinctive voice treat the audience to many of her older, sadder songs (probably because she knows her $55-a-ticket audience wants to hear them) with running commentary that sounded toned in between ("We're all part of one big spirit, right?").

This concert was also about admitting that she didn't know all the answers to life, but if people wanted to form a church to worship her - "The Church of Rickie Lee" - she was fine with that.

Concerts for a musician who first came to notice in the late '70s are bound to include self-deprecating remarks about an early hit, such as, "Sometimes this song is a little anti-climatic, but let's see what happens," and then nailing "Chuck E.'s in Love" effortlessly as the crowd alternately laps it up and reverts to personal memories of 1979.

Sometimes concerts provide hints about where an artist grew up, as when Rickie Lee Jones says, "I appreciate you coming out when the Cubs are in the playoffs."

And, as any regular show-goer will tell you, sometimes people behave badly at concerts.

After another exquisitely-rendered song, a guy behind me let out a piercing whistle as he applauded his appreciation, causing the sound guy directly in front of him to immediately ask him to refrain for the sake of his ears.

A song or so later, the guy got loud again and the sound guy got firm about the rules again.

Slamming his beer bottle down next to my elbow, the whistler shouted, "Concerts are about having joy!" and stormed off.

Concerts can also be about inadvertent humor. "Thanks for coming out to the ale place!" Rickie Lee Jones said vaguely at the end of her set, sounding like she had no clue where she was. But I didn't know what "PLP" was back in '79, and that didn't matter, either.

Joy was had, but this concert was about being part of one big spirit together. Right?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Artsies Fever, We Know How to Show It

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here tonight to get through this thing called the Artsies. Preferably before midnight.

Many things happened at tonight's Richmond Theater Critics Circle awards show, many of them in glittery shoes and sparkly clothing.

I wore neither, yet the man who won "Best Actor in a Leading Role, Musical" complimented my ensemble as sexy and demure ("How are you pulling off both?") and referred to his own striking suit as looking "like a couch."

For the record, few couches are that shiny.

Naturally, things got topical. There was last year's Best Supporting Actor - a child actor, mind you - playing the Donald in a blond wig and patriotic ball cap and, when challenged on his fitness to do so given his diminutive stature, responded, " My hands are the right size!"

When the cast of "Green Day's American Idiot" did a medley, it involved a figure in a Trump mask and the entire cast finishing by giving the audience the finger. I like to think they were really giving it to Trump.

Calling a spade a spade, the Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Play called Richmond Triangle Players the "best-run theater in town," and he should know having worked for almost all the others as well.

Even her move to D.C. didn't prevent last year's Best Actress in a Play from being the butt of jokes about her frequent nude scenes, from showing up as a presenter tonight and from reminding us that we are more than a piece of ass.

Winningly, the multi-talented Best Actor nominee in both leading and supporting roles sang a song with green frog hands on.

Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" became the basis for the winner of Best Actress in a Lading Role, Musical and the winner of Best Director, Play to imagine a gospel-inspired MLK musical set to the Purple One.

One of the actors who was part of the deserving group who won the Ernie McClintock Best Acting Ensemble award - the one who's leaving us after five years for a bigger sandbox to show off in  - announced, "If you're not seeing TheatreLAB's shows, you're not really paying attention."

Five awards tonight? Everybody should be paying attention by now.

Because last years's winner of Best Director, Play was unable to attend, her esteemed Shakespeare leanings became the basis for jokes involving tests, balls and cunning linguists set to iambic pentameter.

Behold a 97-year old dancer (who could have passed for 75) accepting an award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater who not only did a few dance movements when she walked onstage, but also said, "I'm grateful to have had a long lifetime in order to achieve so much."

The young 'uns (particularly) in the audience gasped audibly when her age was given and clapped mightily when she sashayed offstage.

Just as moving was the 87-year old actress and mezzo-soprano accepting the same award and sharing her black history in the process. When told by a restaurant server in her youth that, "We don't serve n****rs here," she had the presence of mind to answer, "We don't eat 'em."

And when she told us to hold hands with the people on either side of us, we did while she prayed for a less divisive country and better treatment of women.

One critic's reviews were mocked as too short and another as too long. Both statements were true.

The audience went nuts when nominees for Best Supporting Actress, Play and Best Actor in a Leading Role, Musical sang "Suddenly Seymour" with charm and drama to spare.

There was more Girl Power than you could shake a stick at, like last year's Best Actress winner pointing at another actor in Colonial garb a la "1776" and saying, "This is what a President looked like in the past," and then doffing her own Revolutionary costume to reveal a sexy red dress underneath.

"And this is what a President will look like in the future!" Hear, hear.

Oh, and for the record, 5th Wall does more than "plays where smart women holler at each other." Why is it "hollering" when we do it and "discussing" when men do the same?

You'd never hear the Dowager Countess say such a thing.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pop Arias and Beach Goth

Take me away, Indian Summer.

Before I left my apartment for a show at Hardywood, I actually debated the need for leggings under my dress and while I wore them, they were overkill.

The mercury is back in the upper '70s and I feel fine.

I felt even better exiting my car at the brewery because I immediately heard the full-throttle power pop blast of the Green Hearts, whose set had begun moments earlier. Running into an acquaintance as I walked in, I asked how far gone their set was.

"It's only the third song, but they're just the openers," he assured me. Fact is, they were the reason I'd come.

With not a thing on my Sunday to-do list, I wanted to be nowhere so much as in that hops-stinking tasting room because when the Green Hearts are singing, "Baby I Can Save the World" on a gloriously warm and sunny October afternoon, you believe they can.

If anything can save the world, it's got to be five guys in ties rocking hook-laden garage pop on a gorgeous afternoon.

The icing on the cake was lead singer Paul ending their set by saying, "Please vote. Intelligently."

During the break, one friend talked about the Tin Pan usurping Ashland Coffee and Tea's business and the other informed me that he and a friend had accidentally discovered that they both knew me. The latter was only staying for a little of the next set but the former had come specifically to see them.

Although they weren't my reason for being there, the Dirty Bourbon River Show did provide an opportunity to assuage my loss at not having seen Big Freedia at the sold-out S'Matter show last night since both acts are from New Orleans.

With a lead singer who had a voice like Cab Calloway (despite being a skinny white boy), the brass band arrived locked and loaded, almost immediately sucking in the beer-drinking crowd with its joyous party vibe and five band members who clearly liked being in the spotlight.

Local burlesque queen Deanna Danger came out to dance during one song, gyrating in front of members of the crowd to elicit their participation, many of whom seemed to be experiencing their first brush with burlesque.

One girl, busy looking at her phone, barely looked up when Deanna did a dance challenge directly in front of her. Don't you just hate when that pesky real life stuff interferes with looking at your phone?

Turns out that while the band was thrilled to be in Richmond, they had no accommodations, so they solicited from the stage. "Come talk to us during the break...especially if you have five empty bedrooms!" Sadly, I don't.

Before that could happen, they did a fine rendition of "Minnie the Moocher" (complete with a few people singing along) as well as a song, "Knockin' On Your Headboard," from their upcoming Spring album.

There was even a pocket trumpet solo for good measure.

When I left the tasting room, the sun was still shining and the tuba still ringing in my ears. Once home, I decided to head over to My Noodle for dinner solely because I wanted a walk before the sun set.

Besides a most excellent meal, I fell hard for a new-to-me band that the bartender identified as "a Growlers playlist." That told me they had at least a few albums.

It was a southern California '60s influence that I'd first heard, but she identified them as a California beach-goth band, even while lamenting not having seen them in D.C. recently. Okay, there's another sub-genre I can add to my musical quiver.

Walking home was a reminder how little light we have left in early evening any more.

My final stop of the day required getting back in the car to follow a moon so large and round it resembled a theater prop to Church Hill for music at Sub Rosa, except I arrived a tad early, so I moseyed down to Union Market to cool my heels for a bit with a snack of Maine root beer and bag of blue corn chips while investigating the inventory at close range.

My favorite was the tea towel screen printed with Church Hill restaurants, but it's likely the neighbors are just grateful for bread and milk.

Back at Sub Rosa, the crowd stood at 8 people (including baker/owner Evrim) when I arrived to hear the dream folk stylings of Wes Swing for, what, probably the third time in five years.

"Hi, I'm Wes Swing and we're Wes Swing," Wes said, gesturing at his musical accomplice. "The last time we played here was for a music video and it was 20 degrees and the space wasn't renovated. It was awesome!"

So was he with his endless ways of playing the cello - plucking, bowing, using as percussion - and looping it to create densely-layered chamber folk pop, sometimes playing acoustic guitar, with his sidekick ably handling guitar, synth and everything else.

But, oh, Wes' voice had that high, yearning, earnest quality that so many voices I love do. With only the light of five hanging bulbs, the bakery felt like a magical place for a very few.

By the time the audience grew to 10, the band was well into their set, so the new guest apologized for his tardiness to the room just before they covered Townes van Zandt's "Flying Shoes" magnificently.

Spring only sighed
Summer had to be satisfied
Fall is a feeling 
That I just can't lose

After a couple of songs on guitar, Wes grabbed his cello and said, "We're gonna bring back the drum machine now" ("That looks like  a cello," the newcomer called out) and launched into a seductive cover of Bjork's "Unravel" that only further demonstrated the transcendent ache in his voice.

When Wes mentioned how one of Evrim's Turkish songs had gotten stuck in his head, it resulted in a three-way discussion with Evrim's fellow bandmate Christina about how they should do the song and put it on their next album.

For now, Evrim went up, took the guitar and with Wes on cello, sang the hauntingly beautiful song to us, pleasing Wes no end. In return, Evrim requested Wes do his dark pop aria - something about Dido building a funeral pyre - adapted from a Henry Purcell opera.

"It's nice to be in Sub Rosa in warmer climes and when it's a real bakery," Wes said in thanks.

After an especially beat-driven song with lots of drums and percussion, Evrim called out, "Next time you come, it's going to be a dance party right in front of you!" Wes said a house show had once gone in that direction.

"Except it's hard to cry and dance at the same time," Evrim amended.

The duo closed out the night with a new song, "The Next Life," another clear-voiced vocal punctuated with sumptuous strings. Our small audience donated, clapped heartily and felt lucky for what we'd just experienced.

When I mentioned to a friend that it seemed wrong that there were so few people there, she demurred. "I kind of like that it was just us," she admitted. Me, too, although I hate to seem greedy.

I may have sighed, but Indian summer and I had to be satisfied. We were.


I photographed my hand print and sent it off.

Local band (and stellar human beings) Positive No had requested that anyone who'd ever been sexually harassed, groped or verbally attacked in a public place such as a street, subway or school, or a business where people come together send them a close-up of their hand print.

The purpose? The images will be used as part of cover art on their upcoming digital single which deals with "sexual harassment, rape culture and the rage of feeling unsafe in places where a human being has every right to be left alone, have their dignity kept intact and, above all, remain safe."

With decades of experience, I didn't hesitate for a moment to submit mine and this morning I was reminded yet again why.

Walking down Leigh Street on a beautiful Sunday morning, I pass a guy who pulls out his ear buds to say hello and begins walking next to me, unasked, chatting pleasantly.

Wow, you walk fast, 
About four miles an hour.
Man, that is fast. Not sure I can keep up.
Most people can't.
How far do you walk?
About six miles.
Whoa, that's far! How old are you?
(mumbles age)
Damn, girl, I'd have never guessed! You look fine. Why do you walk so much?
It makes me feel better.
I could make you feel better.
You're a little young to be talking to me like this.
I don't care about age. You look good! And I got this...

And right there on Leigh Street, as I'm walking four miles an hour with my eyes straight ahead, this man, unbuckles his belt, reaches into his pants and pulls out...

"You can stop right there," I tell him forcefully and put on the afterburners to leave him standing there to zip up his pants.

This is not about my age, my attire, my body or my willingness to engage with strangers. This is about the rage of feeling unsafe in places where a human being has every right to be left alone.

Hashtag aside, this is 2016. Still. How?

Hold It, My Strumpet

Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as understood. ~ George Orwell, 1984

We'll start with my walk, which reliably delivers a defense for what is good in the world.

A pretty woman walking leisurely down Marshall Street in a tight blue dress and 4" blue heels on a sunny afternoon. Seeing a bug-eyed man admiring her, I comment that she looks so good, how could he possibly not look, to which he responds, "I know, right?" never taking his eyes off her.

At the John Marshall House, a crew of Hands On Richmond volunteers are painting the white picket fence outside the 19th century house, only occasionally dropping globules of paint on the brick wall, sort of a t-shirt clad group of Tom Sawyers.

On 11th Street, I hear the sounds of symphonic instruments before I see the musicians playing on the gracious patio of the Wickham House. A woman pushing a man in a wheelchair stops and puts the brakes on, saying to her husband, "Why don't we listen for a bit?"

It's such a lovely Fall day that I sweep leaves and pull weeds to make myself feel better about sleeping through Jackson Ward's clean-up day this morning.

For a refresher on the darker side, I need only turn to my daily culture.

First there's the documentary,"The Lovers and the Despot," the Bijou's offering this weekend and while I arrived a few minutes late for the afternoon screening, I didn't miss any of the film.

Good thing, too, because the story was so far-fetched, you had to keep reminding yourself that this was all based on real life to buy into it.

Still, it was jaw dropping to learn about North Korean leader and film fanatic Kim Jong-Il ordering a big name South Korean actress and her director ex-husband kidnapped in 1978 and brought to North Korea to (what else?) make films.

Seems he found North Korean films boring and burdened with too much crying, so he wanted some fresh creative blood in his country, the better to outdo South Korea's movie industry and put the North on the international film map.

All Kim Jong-Il wanted in return was complete obedience. No big deal, right?

Wait, what?

Wrong as the spoiled ruler's actions were, he gave director Shin not only complete artistic control but state-of-the-art filmmaking equipment and facilities and, realistically, what filmmaker wouldn't be seduced into not betraying a tyrant for all that?

That the kidnapping resulted in him being reunited with his ex-wife Choi was just gravy on top. Some people are just meant to be lovers.

What impressed me about the documentary was the amount of footage beyond talking heads - some of it taken during Choi's time in the company of the North Korean leader, some from films the couple made there and in South Korea over the years and some that was just audio recorded on a portable tape recorder by Choi when they met with the dictator.

What surprised me most was not that people questioned Shin's honesty - the issue of whether he'd defected or been kidnapped was only kind of resolved, although what artist chooses to go to a Communist country?  - but that I had never even heard of this couple or how they showed up at the U.S. embassy in Vienna in 1986 seeking asylum.

Granted, we didn't have all the media sources then that we do now, but I feel like defections were always well publicized. I leave the Bijou eager to discuss the movie with anyone who'll have me.

Carrying forward with that theme - abdication of self to the collective good - I met Mac at Firehouse to see their production of "UBU 84" from the very last row, a place I've never had the chance to sit at Firehouse before.

Mashing up Orwell's "1984" with an absurdist comedy called "King Ubu," resulted in simultaneous exposure to two scenarios proving that there will always be more than one face to evil and it may not always be a recognizable one.

Because there's definitely something inherently evil about the paring down of language, the limiting of self-expression and the erasing of history to better explain the present.

Foster Solomon owned the stage as Pere Ubu, clad in quilt-patterned leggings with striped socks. He also got topical running after Kimberly Jones Clark as Ma Ubu, chasing and calling to her, "I got a big sausage for you. I'm gonna grab your pussy!"

Betrayal again reared its ugly head with Charlie Raintree as Winston, a man who dares to explores human connection, and ultimately love, in a room he thinks is outside of Big Brother's purview (except nothing is ever outside of Big Brother's purview), yet ultimately betrays her.

Pay attention, kids, this is eerily relevant to today's chaotic political scene.

As for the paring down of language, I can conceive of no good reason why we'd ever want to eliminate words. As a long time word nerd, one of my pet peeves is when people say, "I could care less" when what they actually mean is "I couldn't care less."

For those who can't remember the difference, "UBU 84" reminded us that what we mean is, "I couldn't care any less."

And when most of the citizenry couldn't care any less, we're probably already well on our way to the dark side.

Which is exactly why I need a life-affirming, bird-chirping,  picket-painting walk every single day.