Friday, December 30, 2016

To Having, Making, Drinking

It was a day dedicated to worshiping at the temple of the grape.

The highlight at Field Recordings Winery (besides the sweet old winery dog Boomer napping in a sunny spot in the parking lot like she owned it) was "Book Club" Sauvignon Blanc - described in the tasting notes as having notes of "raspberry otter pop and aloe vera."

Let's just say I am in awe of the people who can taste a wine and detect raspberry otter pop.

Besides being eminently quaffable, "Book Club" was packaged in a can, and not just any can, but one designed to look like a book with title, author and faux binding.

Calling all wine loving readers, namely he and I.

Girl power reigned supreme around the corner at Desparada Winery, where the female winemaker made an immediate fan of me when I learned that every year she creates a different wine and calls it "Suitor."

If it winds up winning her heart, she keeps it on, making it becomes part of her regular output. If it doesn't dazzle, she can't be bothered making it again. The suitor may not be scorned, but he isn't invited back again, either.

Since all her wines feature labels of naked women culled from art history (and scribbled over with line drawings of nude women), the loss is really the suitor's.

Where Treana Winery scored points (besides a sassy East coast pourer with a knowledge of Richmond restaurateurs) was with their "Love and Hope" Rose, not because I am devoted to delicious Roses (although I am) but because written on the cork is a mantra for the ages.

Have hope
Make love
Drink pink

It would be a happier world if everyone just followed those three little steps.

The whole point of going to Niner Winery was to eat lunch (after a liquid morning, a necessity), but my perfect moment arrived after I spotted a woman sitting on a rock and, following her lead, trudged up the hill into the vineyard to take in what I knew had to be a magnificent view from above.

Once there, I asked if I was allowed up there (not really, liability issues and all), and she admitted she'd only gone up to eat her lunch and was returning to work at the winery now. I took that to mean she was willing to look the other way.

With her out of the way, I could get comfortable on one of the massive rocks under a tree and take in mountains all around, admire stone buildings below and have a front row seat for the birds' chatter above me. For good measure, I was also that visitor who rang the massive wind chimes hanging in the tree since there wasn't enough breeze to hear them otherwise.

After all, why would a woman climb a steep vineyard hill and not make such a beautiful noise happen?

Ever hopeful, this one wouldn't.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wahine Wannabe for a Night

As soundtrack moments in my life go, it was right up there.

If I was going to walk into a seriously fabulous tiki bar like Hula's Island Grill in Santa Cruz, I could not have asked for a better song to do it to than "Disco Inferno."

At top volume, mind you, which only increased my complete pleasure in the moment. I may walk into many more tiki bars before my life is over, but I don't know that I'll ever get a better song to do it to.

It was merely foreshadowing for how much I was going to enjoy the next few hours because everything about Hula's made my evening. And I'm not talking about the grass-thatched rooves over some of the booths and banquettes, because both the tiki bars I went to in San Fran last year had those.

No, I'm talking about the fact that a tiki bar in Santa Cruz is not just endless kinds of rum and Volcanoes on the menu, it's a surf-themed tiki bar because everything in Santa Cruz is all about the surf.

There were dozens of photographs, mostly black and white, of surfers caught mid-wave, along with old surfer magazine covers ("Who will be 1964's surfing stars?" one headline blared) and even a promo shot from "Gilligan's Island" of the entire cast - Mary Ann and Ginger in bikinis, natch - standing on a surfboard.

One picture showed the evolution of the board itself from the ridiculously tall longboards of the mid-20th century to today's more human sized boards, a history lesson of the hang ten set.

But where Hula's scored the big points was with the surfing videos played on a screen behind the bar (where two shaggy-haired surfer dudes - one with a touch of gray in his beard - affably did time as barkeeps), providing vintage footage of guys nonchalantly navigating waves that could have killed them.

A guy near me asked the bartender where the footage was shot, which is how I learned it was taken in Maui in the '60s, but what I found most impressive was how they surfed because it  was noticeably different than anything I'd seen. These guys weren't treating surfing like an extreme sport, but more like a zen experience where they tried to become one with the wave.

They had a look, too, because they all wore the shorter bathing suits of the era (not the unflattering and baggy board shorts) and all were lean as jaguars (pre-corn syrup diets made a difference), a fact which was called even more sharply into focus when a 2000s-era video came on and everyone looked like they lived at the gym.

Part of the appeal of the old films was the limited color palette and lack of high definition, like in some shots where all you could see was steel bluish water and white spots of sunlight on the ocean. Everything else was impossible to discern.

So here I am, sitting in Hula's sipping a Mai Tai, watching young Californians surfing while "Disco Inferno" segues into "Freddy's Dead" and my past and present are melding into one exquisite moment.

Or maybe that was the Zombie that followed the Mai Tai, I really can't be certain.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Disarming in Strangeness

According to my oldest and dearest friend, I am making her green with envy.

At least, that's what she wrote me when she heard I was in San Francisco, which she's long claimed as her favorite city. It's not like I was there long or anything.

Okay, long enough to eat seafood soup at Oolong Noodles one night, traipse over to see the Palace of Fine Arts near the Golden Gate bridge the next morning, slurp down a bowl of practically perfect cioppino at (where else?) Cioppino's on the waterfront, browse briefly at City Lights Books, sip a flight of bubblies and Rose at Francis Ford Coppola's triangular-shaped Zeotrope CafĂ© (while my love wrote the sweetest thank you postcard to my parents), eat for the second time in my life at Boulevard (to-die-for green pillows of lobster and wild prawn pea shoot ravioli) and, last but certainly not least, ogle Diego Rivera's WPA murals in the Post Office annex on the Embarcadero by clambering up on concrete vents under the building's windows, which probably looked a bit sketchy to passersby, but was really just the ultimate late night art geek indulgence.

It helps to have the love of my life as my partner in crime for said adventures, endless conversation and charming company.

Today's breakfast was served up in the reliably seedy Tenderloin at a joint (there is no other word for a place unchanged since 1978) called Moulin, the Breakfast Place, run by a sunny and elderly Asian couple as if it were their home (except, perhaps, for the industrial mop bucket and cleaning supplies in the loo) and you were a favorite guest.

When I wrote my friend that today's destination was Santa Cruz, her envy shifted to native Californian know-how.

My old stomping grounds! From there, she recommended a food and architecture walking tour, Natural Bridges State Park (her Mom's favorite), an art and history museum, a couple of wineries and the boardwalk.

If you like sea lions, and really, who doesn't, visit the Santa Cruz wharf. Well, that should be enough of a selection. Have a great time. Santa Cruz is awesome.

Awesome may be an overused word, but it's a fitting one when you're talking about a drive along the California coast that alternates fields of tiny yellow flowers (some form of ranunculus, maybe?) with fearsome cliffs and impressive Pacific surf and enough state parks along the way to walk off a hearty breakfast.

I saw my first fields of Brussels sprouts and artichokes along the way, tucked in between all the pick-your-own organic fruit farms and shuttered fruit and vegetable stands.

My favorite was Pescadero State Beach (as opposed to Pescadero Nature Preserve or Pescadero State Park or even the non-seaside town of Pescadero), which offered up a sandy beach long enough for walking - and barefoot at that - and enough driftwood to keep an old hippie in art projects until death or senility, whichever came first.

My lighthouse obsession was only partially fed at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, which was scenic if a bit short (although built on a good-sized bluff) and boasted the additional charm of the keeper's house being turned into a hostel, but is in such poor condition that it's closed to the public.

As a lighthouse junkie who prefers to walk up every flight of lighthouse steps she encounters, it was a mild bummer, but the good news was that they're fundraising to make the improvements to re-open it, Maybe someday I'll climb to the top of Pigeon Point with my favorite lighthouse climbing companion at my side.

Further south in Davenport was an enclave of eateries, Air BnBs and a tasting room, making it a fine place to lunch overlooking the sparkling afternoon light on the ocean at Arro's Store, where a sign hung under the store's name reading "Tourist Bus Stop."

What that meant was a market selling microbrews, California wine and assorted foodstuffs, along with a postcard selection that I could spend hours describing. Sufficeth to say that my favorite showed the banana slug (why this would be postcard-worthy escapes me), but there were postcards from virtually every small town along today's route from Half Moon Bay to Pigeon Point to Davenport in the amber light of sunset.

Just for the record, some of the less impressive postcards had a 1/4-inch crust of dust on them, but I prefer to think that that's because they were passed over for more scenic views rather than that no one buys postcards at Arro's.

Lunch of mahi mahi tacos and grilled artichoke hearts was served by a scattered yet charming young woman who looked completely overwhelmed with her job (clearly she was new) given the number of tables covered in dirty dishes and broken hot sauce bottles, but maintained a sunny countenance nonetheless.

More than once, she told customers and the cook that she'd only made one mistake today, albeit one that involved multiple customers when she served someone's food to the wrong table and they ate it before the intended realized his food had never arrived.

A stop at the Bonny Doon tasting room was a given because it, too, was located in downtown Davenport, barely two doors down from Arro's and where else can you pose in a cigar-shaped UFO in front of a green screen to commemorate your visit for posterity (no photographs, please)?

What I did like was the verbiage on their Syrah, which was described on the label as "disarming in its strangeness." Come to think of it, I would be perfectly happy with those words being used to describe me.

Because if you like strangeness - and, really, why would a smart, funny man still date me after all these years otherwise? - I'm your girl.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lassoing the Moon

It's hard because Christmas Eve is a day with nearly as many expectations as Christmas itself.

Besides listening to the Border Brass' classic "Tijuana Christmas," which I most definitely did for the first time in decades, I had a non-stop day, although one of these things did not happen to me today:

I watched three episodes of the TV show "Friends"
I saw a marriage proposal unfold
I got chided about not having a cell phone
I opened a gift of jewelry
I walked to Rite-Aid in search of cocktail sauce
I listened to a new album with a lyric about "perversions of the heart" and mulled that over
I stood for the national anthem

In addition to the (totally not) traditional brown sugar and Dijon-coated ribs served with asparagus and fingerling sweet potatoes meal that preceded it, my Eve was occupied with seeing "It's  Wonderful Life" at the Byrd, a particularly notable event given that I'd been out of town and missed it last year.

As if the holiday gods had been looking out for me, though, I'd seen Bob Gulledge playing the mighty Wurlitzer organ for the annual holiday singalong already twice this month, so tonight's singalong - "If you do it right, I won't even be able to hear the organ," the nattily-dressed Bob told us - didn't have its usual novelty value.

Still, there's always something reassuringly familiar and appropriately holiday-like about hearing an organ on Christmas Eve.

Fortunately, the people behind us could carry a tune, even if they sounded like annoying eager beaver choir members singing at the top of their lungs doing it.

But it's not officially Christmas until the black and white bells of "It's a Wonderful Life" begin ringing onscreen to announce the movie that's become an integral part of my yearly celebration.

Who ever gets tired of hearing Jimmy Stewart say, "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!" when looking at a suitcase too small for his imaginary trips? Or watching his loose-limbed, long-legged gait as he tears through Bedford Falls appreciating every small-town nook and cranny in the place he once hoped to escape?

Not me.

All of that I'd counted on when I got to the Byrd, but completely unexpected was a screen reading, "Peggy, Will you marry me? Kevin" followed by a couple in the back hugging ecstatically (my guess is she said yes). The only thing missing was the Ray Conniff Singers doing "Christmas Bride."

So it was Peggy, not me, who opened a gift of jewelry today. May her perversions of the heart line up with Kevin's for eternity and a Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 23, 2016

You Are Not Too Much of Anything for Me

If you tell me I have an interesting life, I will assume you mean it as a compliment.

Which is exactly what I did when a friend said as much to me the other night, but upon further reflection, it occurs to me that he could have simply been using "interesting" as a euphemism for "odd."

I am aware that it takes some adjustment to get used to not only the way I live, but the way I look at life because while most people have accepted the terms and requirements of 21st century life, I opted out on a lot of issues.

Let's not devote so much as a drop of virtual ink to my choice to live without a cell phone, but that could be Exhibit "A" to make my point about my oddness.

When the subject of punctuality arose with a new friend recently, I made sure he knew how I wanted to be notified of his impending tardiness. I don't.

What's that, he asked incredulously? You don't want me to call and notify you that I'll be late?

I do not.

Like in the olden days, I will patiently wait for you, occupying myself with thought, reading or conversation if someone's around. All in all, I'll give you around 30 or 40 minutes, after which if you still haven't appeared, I may move on.

I find few things as annoying as being with someone who is constantly answering texts about their location and touchdown time as we head to the rendezvous. It's like no one can stand to wait for anyone any more without constant updates on their coordinates and estimated arrival time.

People new to my life learning that I feel that way could see it as odd.

Ditto my devotion to correspondence. I was thrilled to open a Christmas gift of stationery this evening, the better to dazzle the two people with whom I regularly exchange letters. In fact, it's so appealing, I may put pen to paper and try to tease out a new correspondent with it.

Interesting or odd, your call.

Now that binge-watching TV shows has become the cultural norm, I'm out of the loop when talk turns to who's seen what and why. It doesn't bother me to be left out of the conversation when it turns to which series are worth the time investment, but it's become obvious that TV watching is enough of a hot topic for it to come up three times in a week with various people.

Any of whom may think I'm odd, interesting or even misguided for my lack of interest in "Westworld" or "Parks and Rec" or whatever it is that keeps them in the television-watching majority.

But just to set the holiday record straight, tonight I could be found with family in front of a fire watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas," followed by "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (both in gloriously-restored overly saturated colors unlike anything from my youth) as if I were watching TV like a regular person.

Tell me where the appeal is in a regular life when I've got complimentary euphemisms being tossed around about mine.

Fact is, I'm perfectly happy with odd. Interesting, isn't it?

Absent the Spanking December Breeze

You know Christmas has me firmly in its grip when I can't even find time for my walk.

Instead, the morning found me upstairs from Chop Suey Books at the Bizarre Market finishing up one of my least favorite chores, shopping, not long after I finished up breakfast.

Impressive as all the locally hand-crafted items were, I was most awed when I saw two wooden Velveeta boxes in the familiar loaf shape. Imagine, there was a time when that totally unnatural cheese food product was sold in small wooden crates as if it were a legitimate foodstuff.

This is cultural history, kids.

By mid-day, Mac and I were strolling over to Chez Foushee for lunch, savoring every second in the 61-degree air. Like Max's, which we'd passed on the way over, Foushee was mobbed because it's that most wonderful time of year: matinee season.

And, sure, it could be that kind of matinee season, too, but for now, we're talking about the theatrical kind, okay?

Between Virginia Rep, where we were headed, and Richmond Ballet's Nutcracker at CenterStage, the ladies who lunch were out in force, and we proudly joined their ranks by eating salads (mine was roasted Brussels sprouts with candied walnuts, bleu cheese, bacon and pickled red onions, hers a Caesar with fried oysters) followed by a shared chocolate mousse tart with caramel sauce for a classic pre-theater luncheon that probably dates back to the Cole Porter days.

Afterward, we strolled a few blocks east to take in the air before making a U-turn and heading to our destination.

The November Theater was packed and the artistic director mentioned that the show had been added at the last minute, so they hadn't been sure how its timing would work with people's holiday schedules. Judging by the full orchestra and faces peering over the balcony, I'd guess rather well.

The draw may have been the play and its roots as a childhood favorite for some. Mac was one of them and when she'd seen the marquee saying that "A Christmas Story, the Musical" was playing, she'd expressed enthusiasm while I had to admit that I'd never even see the 1983 original movie ("Of course you haven't," Pru would observe later, rolling her eyes).

So we came to our afternoon with Ralphie's family from completely different backgrounds, she looking for a familiar touchstone and me hoping to connect the dots on the few cultural references I knew about, namely the BB gun and the leg lamp.

I'd say we both came away satisfied.

The set resembled a little girl's dollhouse with its cutaway views of rooms and the claustrophobic feel of a small suburban home. In "A Major Award," dancers wore lamp-shade-like dresses (complete with tassels) and formed a kick line that appealed to us both.

Then there were the quaint elements of the yarn. When the story reached the point where it was 12 days until Christmas, Ralphie's family set out to get a tree, a laughable and old-fashioned time frame in 2016.

Just last week, a Christmas tree seller had told Mac that it used to be that peak tree-buying time was around December 10th, but that's been pushed back to Black Friday weekend now and most places are cleaned out of firs long before December 9th.

Call me a dinosaur because when I was a kid, plenty of families didn't even go buy their tree until Christmas Eve, which made sense given that the 12 days of Christmas don't officially begin until Christmas, but in our typical bigger-is-better American way, we've shifted the focus to beforehand for a Christmas that begins with the last bite of turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and is history by Boxing Day.


While it wasn't the kind of musical where you leave humming a great song (all were entirely forgettable, in my opinion), there was lots of dazzling dancing thanks to an extensive ensemble doing everything from Moulin Rouge dancing to pioneer square dancing to a chorus of heavenly angels whenever the BB gun was mentioned. Ahhhhhhhhhh.......

The funniest scene to a word nerd, hands down, was when Ralphie imagines his teacher Mrs. Shields coming to his house to inform his parents what a stellar theme paper he's written on "What I Want for Christmas." Actress Susan Sanford's impeccably-delivered speech about the splendor of Ralphie's prose, the beauty of his conjugated verbs, the wonder of his magnificent margins, made me laugh so hard I almost choked.

Less funny was a scene on Christmas Day at Chop Suey Palace Co. (with a sign reading, "Never closed") where the family goes for dinner after the neighbor's dogs eat their turkey and where they're served by a dated caricature of a Chinese man. Awkward, very awkward.

It was particularly interestingly timed because over lunch, Mac had used the idiomatic expression "shanghaied" and it had, for the first time, struck me for the negative connotation that it has. Funny how you can hear something a hundred times before it resonates as the racist remark it really is.

"Christmas Story" concluded with Mac more than satisfied with the musical version, me up to speed on the plot of a classic and that holiday line item off my list. Win/win.

Walking home afterward, we stopped by my neighborhood candy store, Chocolates by Kelly, for some more last-minute shopping and found Kelly and her mate a tad frazzled after the non-stop parade of frenzied customers today.

After tying up our packages, I wished them lots more business right up until the minute they close for the holiday.

"And then we're going to get wasted in a ditch!" she sang out as we headed out the door. More power to you both.

Gathering up an armful of presents, my final stop of the day was Pru's manse on Church Hill for a bit of five-way holiday socializing in the glow of twinkling lights.

Gifts addressed to "K-Bar" and "K-Wow" accompany Beau's fabulous musical gifts (tags identify him as the self-deprecating "Corn Boy" and "V-Corn"), while from the three Church Hill residents I get all manner of grooviness, including a plantable card, a mod little dress, sweater leggings and a sassy lipstick in a color called cherry pie.

"It's such a great color, all you need to do is fall out of bed, put that on and you're set," Pru advises as I go on to unwrap a copy of "Tales of French Love and Passion," a brief collection by Guy de Maupassant on an obvious subject of interest.

When I say something to Beau about being a huge fan of short stories, he looks lost.

"I'm still stuck on the part about you naked with just red lipstick on," he says from his chair in the corner. I blame Pru, but given the conversational odds at tonight's get-together - four women, one man - he could be forgiven for tuning out.

If I don't get a walk tomorrow, I may wind up doing the same. Ralphie may insist that it all comes down to Christmas, but at this late stage, a little cherry pie lipstick never hurts.

Although how it helps could make for some fabulous tales of Christmas love and passion.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Then Came the Morning

On evenings that commence at 45 minutes past the Winter Solstice, the conversation stays intentionally vague.

Oh, they begin with the best laid plans - friends catching up after missing a much anticipated walk - encompassing nothing more than dinner and a good blather, although preceded, as always, by the standard reminder ("Wha, wah, wah, so I can't stay out late...") which I've learned to ignore.

When I throw out destination options - Metzger, Peter Chang, Rappahannock, Dinamo - he's quick to admit he had pizza for lunch, so more inclined to something lighter and more, but not totally, vegetable-focused. I hear, loud and clear.

Peter Chang, and not just for that reason.

On my double couple holiday date last Friday, the five of us bandied about dining possibilities and when I suggested Peter Chang, the male half of one couple copped to having been there already twice that week.

"But I'd go back again!" his better half called from the bathroom. There are so many reasons to love Peter's.

Personally, one of mine is getting to introduce a friend to scallion bubble pancakes, which I did in the slyest possible manner, suggesting we order them to share despite his unfamiliarity with them and then watching the pleasure on his face when they arrive a table away.

"What's that?" he wonders, wide-eyed and pointing. It gives me great satisfaction to tell him that it is exactly what he already ordered.

I could rhapsodize about the exquisite torture of using all available stores of self-restraint to prevent burning your fingers on the freshly baked bread balloons when they show up, but instead I'll say that I'm older and wiser enough just to cool my jets until it's still good and warm, but won't blister my fingers (happened).

After that, all bets are off.

Sure, I can start by ripping off a piece of the puffy pancake and immersing it in its curry dipping sauce, but that isn't nearly as much a party in my mouth as using it to sop up the puddle of soy and chili sauces left on my plate after an earlier round of pork dumplings.

But a chorus of angels sing when I use my scallion pancake as a blanket for dry fried green beans swimming in a sea of fat scallions, peppercorns and chili, all mounded inside, the kind of combination that could make a vegetable-hater see the light.

The guiltiest pleasure is a bamboo pagoda loaded with a stack of log-like cilantro flounder fish rolls which delivered the audible crunch that assure me they're probably not part of a low cholesterol diet. Not as good as the green beans, despite being fried, but plenty tasty.

It's meals as flavor-forward and yet simple as these that underscore why friends chow down here three times a week. The question is, why don't I more often given its proximity?

As a side benefit, apparently people I know hang out there. I'd arrived earlier than my friend tonight and waited patiently at the bar, barely looking up when a guy walked in and glanced at me, or even when he sat down a stool away from me and our eyes met.

Finally, he says, "Karen?"

A soon as I look at him for the third time, I realize who he is - a photographer/server I've known for 5 or 6 years - and say a proper hello. He's incredulous that we'd made eye contact twice and I hadn't recognized him.

And while I hated to state the obvious, I had no choice: he's a middle-aged man with a beard and glasses.

Do you know how many middle-aged men with a beard and glasses we have in this town, nay, in this country? Granted, he's attractive and in shape, so he's not just another shambling middle-aged man with a beard and glasses, but still. No one has time to fully engage with every middle-aged man with a beard and glasses who meets your eyes, am I right?

We compared notes on the state of our lives and came up with the same report: both doing what we love and making it work for us as a life, albeit a simple one. "Congratulations to us!" he toasted just as my friend arrived.

So what better topic to take up with him than that very subject? What's the point of all this if you don't figure out who you are and what you want before any more time is wasted? Not all of us are going to live to be 99 like Zsa Zsa ('though people who know me well seem to be convinced I will), you know.

So while intentional gifts were exchanged and shared music was listened to, the shortest day was mainly notable for being the thoroughly enjoyable latest installment of an ongoing conversation that still persists in coming in and out of range sometimes, like a radio station when you're driving the highway all day.

And who doesn't like a good road trip?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sign o' the Holidaze

Seems like there is always something going on...and no time to slow down. A sign of the times perhaps?

No doubt my friend is correct in his assessment, but since I've managed to carve out my little slice of pressure-free bohemian living for the most part, I can sometimes forget how it is for people with more traditionally structured lives.

Except during December.

Even then, my own life remains mostly manageable (being invited to multiple holiday parties on the same night isn't so much a stressor as a first world choice) until it doesn't. We crossed that line late last week when there ceased to be enough hours in the day or night.

Mind you, I devote nine hours of each night to sleep, but still. My to-do list is growing like Audrey.

I think it began when I had to keep company with a sculptor moonlighting as a pulley-and-rope window repairman for nearly four hours when I had so many other things to do in the outside world.

I'm not saying he wasn't an interesting fellow or that his podcast recommendations aren't worth following up on, but I lost a lot of respect for him when he told me his fiancee doesn't like music.

Doesn't like music? I wanted to ask how you overlook that when you fall in love with a person, but it seemed presumptuous on our first meeting. But since he's convinced I need all my 1876 window frames redone, re-caulked and repainted, I'll get another chance to ask, assuming I can figure out a diplomatic way to address it.

It continued through a challenging weekend involving the disappointment of a much-anticipated walk being postponed, the guilt of being asked to save someone's ass by taking on an eleventh hour assignment I didn't have time to do because of existing deadlines, meanwhile executing all the necessary holiday falderal.

Today had been earmarked for another trip to the Northern Neck to assist Mom and Dad with more holiday prep and while I could have almost caught up on my to-do list by staying here, what kind of first-born daughter would I be if I had?

Besides, I knew they'd make me laugh and they did. Repeatedly.

After making sure the guest rooms were primped for her Wednesday guests (to include my godfather/Uncle Mickey, the only other family member besides me with dimples - a point of pride - and also downright hilarious in his own right), wrapping the rest of the presents for our 26-member family (using some Chipmunks wrapping paper she'd bought from a grandchild back when they did elementary school fundraisers - the youngest is now a sophomore at Temple), I was baking cookies while Mom sat in the breakfast room chatting with me.

In comes Dad, crossword puzzle in hand (he does both the RTD and Post daily, asking for her help only when absolutely necessary), pencil behind his ear, looking mighty pleased with himself.

"Actor in Cat Ballou? Lee Marvin, of course!" he crows. "Don't they know I go back far enough that such things were in my lifetime?"

Boom. My low-key and retiring Mom glances up, smiles and delivers. "Not much isn't."

Laughter: the best holiday medicine there is.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Come Play with Me

Let the record show that it was 67 degrees today and every window in my apartment was open.

Let it also show that despite having known Nate for five years - we met on February 12, 2012 at Globehopper when I first heard the Richmanian Ramblers - it was only today that I first ate his bagels, a mission accomplished by being first in line with Mac at the new Blue Bee Cidery.

Let it show that our walk from Blue Bee to the Byrd was tropical-like, if not downright beachy, and that the theater was surprisingly full for an afternoon matinee at this late stage of the holiday madness (I know a guy who went to three holiday parties today alone) when everyone there probably had something else they should've been doing.

Not Mac - who'd never seen this classic all the way through - nor me, that much was clear. Our misfortune was sitting next to a couple of women who believed that we'd rather hear them belting out the musical numbers than hear the actors doing a far better job.

Let it show that when you have seen a film, say "White Christmas," every year since you were a child, it's not enough to sit back and enjoy (always a relative term when applied to the torn and spring-popping Byrd seats) the familiar plot and dazzling mid-century visuals of VistaVision (reddest reds you've ever seen).

Curiosity seeker that I am, I must see something new.

1. In the final scene, how had I never noticed the tenth anniversary sign on the cake (Happy 10th anniversary 151st Division)? The 10 candles, always, but the sign? Not once.
2. Pre-safety match usage was rampant. Bing strikes a match for his pipe on his shoe, with his fingernail, probably with his teeth in a scene that got left on the cutting room floor. 1954 was pre-safety concerns, clearly.

Let it show that walking back to Scott's Addition marveling at the still-balmy air when sunset was only minutes away, our conversation turned prescient when raindrops suddenly hit us, followed by major northerly wind gusts and an immediate and significant drop in temperature.

Frankly, we never should have brought the subject up.

Let it show that I wouldn't have missed tonight's 10th anniversary celebration of the Silent Music Revival at Gallery 5, or the opportunity to introduce a recent conversational partner to one of my long-time favorite events, despite not being up to dinner out beforehand.

The lost weekend - don't ask.

Let it show that lots of my people were there - the film prof, the filmmaker, the woman at the Byrd I'd told about the event months ago, the Turkish pop songstress - and on time, which is more than I can say for some of the newer fans.

Creator Jameson always says 8 sharp! on the invitation because he means it, kids. Take note for the future (April, in case you weren't paying attention).

He had, of course, picked a terrific holiday present for the crowd with Russian director Ladislas Starevich's 1913 black and white "Night Before Christmas," and nothing like the Clement Moore poem we know.

The herky-jerky antics of the peasant village as well as the editing (and brief bits of early stop-motion animation) couldn't have been better suited to Rattlemouth's odd time signatures and global beats ensuring that their improvised soundtrack nailed the madcap action.

Instead of Moore's sugary take on Christmas Eve, we had a witch whose cottage was known for "entertaining willing visitors" and a hirsute demon with a tongue that presaged that of Gene Simmons, along with dry humping and homo-erotica, men stuffed in bags and a young and solidly-built peasant beauty looking for the man who truly loved her.

She claimed she wanted shoes like the tsarina's, but what she really wanted was a man willing to go to great lengths to get them for her to show his love.

Let the record show that I saw two holiday classic films today, and they both came down to love stories. Because the best things really do happen when you're dancing...or entertaining willing visitors.

Before you can say Merry Christmas, you're a goner. I know it must be true because I saw it on the big screen. Twice in one festive day.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Making a Difference One Step at a Time

What do we do now?

While that question could easily apply to every aspect of life, love and cookie baking, for Thursday night's event at the Main Library - "RVA Together: What Do We Do Now?" - it applied to what the city needs to do now that we've elected a mayor who can hopefully bridge our race, class and appalling administration issues.

Despite the polar vortex, I insisted on walking and Mac (who'd warned me she'd look like Cousin It because of all her layers) and I had no problem scoring seats in the second row as moderator (and Randolph Macon prof) Richard Meagher warned us that the library had a fire drill scheduled, but that we should sit tight if it went off.

Of course, that goes against everything we were taught in elementary school, but it mattered not because they somehow managed to get the library to cancel the drill.

Including moderator Richard, the panel was half black and half white (nice to see for a change and completely appropriate given the evening's purpose) and included activist Sean Smith and human rights activist Lorraine Wright, along with three members of Stoney's transition team, namely everyone's City Council hero Jon Baliles, school board chair Jeff Bourne, and UR prof Thad Williamson.

If only the audience had been that diverse, but, alas, it skewed far too white.

Each panelist got 5 minutes to share their thoughts and Smith got the evening off to a firebrand start with his call to mobilize, a strident appeal without apology. I understood exactly where he was coming from, but I couldn't speak for everyone.

Standing so he could move about, Baliles exhorted us to get involved by stepping out of our comfort zone and volunteering in a public housing neighborhood. "Make a difference one step at a time."

Bourne (who won the best socks award, hands down) told people to get involved to address the systemic problems with our mediocre school system because until children are shown the caring and consistency they're not getting at home, nothing will change.

Williamson explained that poverty and education are basically the same issue and praised the current mayor's Community Wealth Building initiative as a way to address inherent inequalities, albeit slowly.

Like Baliles, Wright stood to deliver her heated message about how we must be truthful about our own role in what's happening with our city, even going so far as to call out school superintendent Bourne for mishandling of an autistic student's expulsion ("Silence is permission"). She was very clear that we need to start holding our elected officials accountable, particularly the mess that is the General Assembly.

All in all, it was a diverse panel of very change-minded people coming at our next course of action with different agendas.

Where things really got interesting was when audience members got up to speak or ask questions and while they were directed to ask about action items for the new administration, many just wanted to express opinions.

One white woman couldn't understand why everyone didn't just focus on how much better Richmond is now than it used to be, a point that drew ire from panelists who pointed out that people who are scraping by to pay rent and put food on the table don't have the time or energy to partake of our city's vibrant food scene, impressive art presence or ridiculously over-hyped brewery growth.

Wright brilliantly brought up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, explaining politely to the woman that many people weren't even aware of that stuff, much less able to participate in it, while Smith made clear that her viewpoint comes from a position of privilege.

Of course, there were crazies, too, like the older black woman who rambled about spanking kids to teach them, the folly of letting TV raise them and questioning why Richmond had legalized pot ("No, ma'am, it didn't," she was told). The panel heard her out, but no commentary was offered because none was required.

A black man brought up how different the school experience was for a student of color than one who was white, a point born out by countless studies and the school-to-prison pipeline.

A young black woman who'd run for City Council in my neighborhood asked each panelist if they thought we are in our own Civil Rights period and, if so, whose civil rights they were concerned about. Most panelists claimed to not understand the question.

Most stirring was a black woman from Highland Park who'd noticed that kids in her neighborhood faced a gap between free lunches at school and a free lunch summer program, so she and some neighbors banded together to offer it, along with a summer day program giving them something to do.

Rather than asking about an action item, she neatly summed up the best answer of all: when you see a need, figure out how you can address it.

By the time we got to the last guy in line, his question had been answered, but he made a good period to the evening by summing up what he'd heard while waiting for his turn.

Everyone on the panel suggested getting involved in a poor neighborhood, doing whatever is needed. Contact schools, community centers and after-school programs, but make a difference in the life of a child if you want to see a better Richmond.

I've long believed that every societal problem can be traced back to poor parenting and until we start teaching teenagers how to parent, we can hardly expect them to instinctively know how to shape a human life because it's not only challenging, it's a 24/7 job and too few parents give it that devotion.

Caring and consistency really do determine how a little person views the world and his or her place in it.

My fervent wish is that our new mayor places laser-like attention on ensuring that every child of every color and economic class is treated like the worthwhile future Richmond resident he/she is from birth. Without a shift in that priority, we are doomed to repeat the cycle and no amount of First Friday artwalks and breweries will matter.

What do we do now? Holding the privileged white people accountable would be a fine start, don't you think?

Friday, December 16, 2016

The World Spins Madly On

How much activity can I fit into one Wednesday in my hometown? Let me count the ways.

By noon, I can be at the quaint Bistrot du Coin on Dupont Circle - having already waved to my former homes on N Street and on 21st Street - sipping Piper Heidsieck and slurping Mussels Marinieres oozing onions, shallots and garlic in a white wine broth delivered by our dimpled server.

"You have them, too!" she cried when I paid her a compliment about them. Takes one to know one, or else why would my companion have missed them entirely?

After lapping up the last of my chocolate mousse, we walk down the sidewalk, past two neatly-dressed, suburban-looking, high-school age guys. When one stops in front of Bethesda Bagel (a lame name for so many reasons) and points at it hopefully, the others dashes his hopes, saying, "Dude, we have bagels all the time!"

They trudge on, presumably in search of new experiences.

By 1:30, I can be at the Phillips Collection to see "People on the Movie: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series," where we are among a too-small group of gallery-goers, as if it weren't a huge deal that the 60 panels (normally divided equally between MoMA and the Phillips) are all together in one place for a change.

Lawrence's paintings are masterful storyboards depicting history. Each panel displays a different aspect of the mass movement of southern blacks to northern industrial jobs and fresh new forms of discrimination.

At home, a wooden wall extended all the way to the bar to divide a juke joint's black and white patrons, while up north, it was a rope strung through the center of the room that accomplished the same.

Early on, hope radiates from all their faces. Panels of blacks leaving the rural south show masses of smiling, hatted figures next to luggage, while later ones show tenement buildings and manual laborers.

So much for the American dream.

Lawrence's show segued seamlessly into Whitfield Lovell's "The Kin Series," in which the artist had drawn beautiful black faces on worn pieces of wood flooring, doors and walls, and then attached some well-worn object - a knife, a silver canteen, chains, a scarred leather satchel - to the piece.

Lovell, I read, sometimes took months to find exactly the right object to affix to the portrait he'd created.

The vividness of the people depicted, along with the thoughtfully-chosen objects would have been more than enough to draw me into the exhibit, but there was an even bigger surprise awaiting me.

"Restoreth" was a large piece (probably a door originally) depicting a dignified older black woman with a shelf of 33 variously sized bottles - Herbex, an Old Granddad whiskey miniature, a beef, iron and wine tonic - attached at the bottom and forming a separation between her and the viewer.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that it was an attempt by the artist to bridge the abyss between the slavery era and the height of booming black entrepreneurship in Jackson Ward. That's right, Jackson Ward, RVA.

I'd traveled two hours to see a brilliant piece of art that was a tribute to the neighborhood I've called home for the past decade. Mind blown.

In another gallery, one wall featured stacks of three dozen or so small portable radios, the kind from the '40s and '50s, many wood, some plastic in colors of aqua, red or white, with old-timey music emanating from behind them. In another room was a 1941 album entitled, "Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues."

Ouch. There's the understatement of the past 150 years.

Before we left, we meandered through the music room with its cherry-picked selection of exquisite Impressionistic and Cubist paintings, the grand piano covered and closed. And since I consider it a requirement while at the Phillips, I made sure to be one of the eight people allowed in the Rothko Room before heading outside.

By 4:30, we were looking for a place to have a drink in Shaw, only to be defeated at every turn.

Each place we considered trying  - Beau Thai (clever, right?), even Dacha Beer Garden - or hopefully stuck our heads into - wine bar La Jambe, cocktail mecca the Passenger- didn't open until 5 or was closed up tight.

Thank you, Chaplin's, for being the kind of place (a Japanese restaurant set in the 1920s silent film era, hence the Chaplin mural on the wall) that opens after lunch hours as soon as the first customer wants a drink.

I have to say that a hip 'hood like Shaw is the last place I thought it might be tough to find day drinking spots, but there you have it.

By 5:40, we were at Convivial to meet our dinner group, taking in the subdued palette and twinkling lights up front as we were led to our banquette in the back, facing a  horizontal mirror gussied up with Christmas bows of all colors, patterns and sizes.

Among the menus placed on the table was a smaller sheet, a "food lexicon," the better to help navigate the menu with explanations of terms such as "tartiflette" and "poutargue."

Let me be the first to admit that I love eating almost as much as learning.

The beauty of being a party of five was how much of the menu we managed to cover over the next few hours, although I did ask our waiter for a "non-eating period" after the first two courses, just so everyone could make a little room.

Unlikely and to die for, escargots in a blanket were gobbled up toute suite, while latkes with celery root and dry cured lamb easily qualified as the best latkes of my life ("At the end, it's like the best tater tot you ever had," a potato enthusiast noted). Brandade croquettes and tartiflette fritters satisfied fried needs.

One of the finest scores of the evening was French-smoked herring with warm potato salad, a dish satisfying on multiple levels.

The cauliflower hater at the table embraced the hated veggie with a cauliflower panna cotta under tabbouleh, almonds, grapefruit and a salad of fresh herbs that had to have been picked earlier in the day given the brightness of their flavors.

The only reason pickled rockfish with green papaya, avocado, passionfruit and watermelon radishes didn't get more oohs and ahs was because of how fabulous everything so far had been and that the more petite among us were already approaching fullness.

Multiple paper envelopes of herby pretzel-like bread may have also played a role.

During the non-eating period I'd requested, gifts of all variety were opened, from musical toilet seats to three figure pepper grinders to smart-ass t-shirts.

But you can only delay main courses for so long and eventually, we had to take up forks again for braised lamb osso bucco, fried chicken coq au vin, grilled daurade with sauteed squid and, for two of us - one of whom who'd never had it - skate wing over octopus and crab bisque, a decadent dish that made him the skate wing lover I already was.

By 8:00, we were looking at a dessert menu, although I was one of only two who showed any interest. He opted for apple bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel, but I went all the way, ordering the celebration cake with chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise.

"That comes with sparklers, unless you don't want them," our very hip-looking server told me, leaning down to give me fair warning. Ah, that would be the "celebration" part.

No, I want them, I told him.

The multi-layered cake came out with a silver tube embedded in it, which he then lighted as we watched the equivalent of  3 or 4 sparklers burning like a firework centerpiece while the people at the next table looked on.

"Should we be singing happy birthday?" they asked. Nope, just celebrating a Wednesday in December, no need to sing anything, thanks.

When our server came to check on our progress, we inquired about the fireworks (somebody compared it to a bottle rocket) and he explained that it did require a "sturdy" cake to make it fire-safe. As far as I could tell, sturdy meant deep (three layers) and with a thick ganache on top to cement it in place.

Since it wasn't possible to top fireworks for dessert (although gifting a gardener with caulk came close), we said our goodnights and scattered to the winds.

By shortly after 9, we were at the State Theater to see the Weepies doing an all acoustic show, only we'd missed the first half hour, a shame given how gorgeous the married couple's music and harmonies are.

For that matter, so is their devotion to each other, which came through in most of their between-song banter.

We walked in to a full house crowd just as husband Steve was sharing his surprise to have discovered that one of their songs had gotten 3.2 million listens on Spotify's end of the year list.

"My theory is that it's one guy," Steve joked. "Or maybe the entire military. I don't think that are even that many people in Sweden."

The strength of the show was that it was just two people, each with an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous voice, sitting onstage telling stories and singing songs because the devoted crowd required nothing more.

Many sang along to every word on songs like "Be My Thrill." Yes, would you, please?

"I wrote this song and then Deb rewrote it," Steve said about a song originally intended as an angry song until his wife turned it into a love song. "It's way better now."

Having come to the show with only a limited amount of Weepies listening to my credit, I could have listened to anything they'd been willing to sing for as long as they were willing.

Far too quickly for late arrivals, the show ended, but the audience insisted on one last song after their final goodbye and onstage hug, so they returned and the room issued a collective sigh when they started on "Painting by Chagall."

And everybody says, "You can't, you can't, you can't, don't try"
Still, everybody says that if they had the chance, they'd fly 
Like we do
Sometimes rain that's needed falls
We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall

What self-respecting woman wouldn't swoon over a man writing her lyrics like that? Some of us are grateful just to hear them.

By 10:30, I'd done everything I needed to do in my hometown in one day.

Dude, I don't get to do that all the time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Free the Luddites

From today's highlight reel:

A walk through the Capitol grounds down to the street art gallery of the old power plant, along the canal walk to Brown's Island, a U-turn to walk the pipeline west to east, followed by east to west (the rapids incredibly high and strong after all the recent rain) and finally over to the T Pot bridge.

Not necessarily because I needed to walk the T Pot for the fifth time in eight days, though I certainly had every intention of doing so, but because I had a date with a drone. Well, me and dozens of others who showed up at the specified time to line the railing, smile and wave like beauty queens as the drone hovered in front of us for what felt like forever given the cloudy sky and cold breezes whipping over the water.

Our group portrait benefited from the enormous flock of birds who took to the sky behind us moments before the red-eyed drone showed up to capture man's aluminum accomplishment set against nature's sepia-toned background.

There was even a dash of the political when a couple of rafters appeared, anchored and unfurled a spray-painted "Free the James" sign directly in front of us. The scuttlebutt was that it involved dams and fish spawning, but it certainly added an au courant air to the group photo.

I'm hoping my distinctive hat will make me easier to pick out once they send us all the photo, which someone claimed was destined for the Times Dispatch archives, but we all know is really destined for Facebook, at least for 95% of the participants.

Don't look at me.

Although it involved no technology, another walk this afternoon was pretty wonderful, too, mainly because of the little beagle I have been given access and leash privileges to. We've been making eyes at each other for months and now we're consummating our relationship in public.

My attentions mean that his artistic mistress doesn't have to hurry home from the studio at inconvenient intervals and I've got a velvet-eared companion every time I feel like stretching my legs in the 'hood.

When we got back this afternoon, I gave him a treat, said adieu and, I swear, he gave me a look that said he knew I'd be back for more.

Damn beagle, of course he's right.

In what surely must be one of the most glacially slow-moving friendships on record, a computer geek professorial type I met 15 or 16 years ago - who'd contacted me last summer about having an actual conversation to solidify our Facebook friend status - finally made that happen by taking up residence across the table from me at My Noodle & Bar.

The way I see it, if I'm friends with you on Facebook, we should be able to carry on a conversation in the real world, especially given the hefty number of people we have in common. Turns out that it was that photo I posted of myself in front of a vintage VW bus that spoke to him, mainly because he still has his and uses it for an annual trek to the Everglades to hang out with old friends.

Volkswagen: helping hippie types make friends since the '60s. Who'd have thought a Luddite and a techie could find common ground at a subterranean pan-Asian joint, even with a Cool Hand Luke mocktail?

The highlight, though, was most definitely when he looked me square in the eye with disbelief and inquired, "Are you a Luddite?"

Sure am. I guarantee you I was the sole person on the T Pot bridge without a cell phone today.

I like to think that, despite being captured by a drone, my soul remains intact. Now, whether I show up in the photo or not remains to be seen.

Ways to be Wicked

There are so many reasons to entertain come the end of the year.

To start with, everyone knows that the best way to get your house cleaned is to invite people over. Despite my house being constantly neat, it was aching for a big dose of clean, which it got.

Not to brag, but I'd put my freshly-laundered curtains and lemon-polished furniture up against the nearest clean house, at least for the next few days.

For that matter, it's ridiculously easy to piggyback during the season of non-stop soirees.

After saying yes to Tracy and Kenny's holiday jam at Steady Sounds - which involved alcohol, sweets and gangs from Danville and New Jersey planning to rumble after their band Positive No played - I saw that several friends I don't see often enough were attending.

How easy would it be to invite a few of them to make the three-block trek to my abode afterward for some holiday revelry a listening party on my new/old turntable?

As it turns out, not very.

One way to look at it is that Positive No had put everyone into such a great mood (Tracy's swinging ponytail and green tunic over red tights dancing around the store as she sang was enough to do so) that my intended guests couldn't help but say yes.

Well, except for the friend who'd just come down with the "RVA flu," which is knocking people out of circulation for upwards of a week with its debilitating symptoms. No, thank you.

Another is to presume that after both of us saying for literally years that we were going to get together, one friend decided to take advantage of a ready-made opportunity, bringing her art geek spouse along to amuse us with a mispronunciation of "'zines," which came out rhyming with "dines," and resulted in much laughter.

Yet another guest was a friend of a friend and new to me, or at least I didn't recognize him as he appeared tonight at Steady Sounds, but once ensconced in a chair in my living room, once he told me his drag name, but of course I knew him from all manner of burlesque performances over the years.

There was the shy one quietly sipping on her J.Mourat "Collection" Rose, occasionally clarifying Turkey's geography for the group or the sound benefits of a venue and then there was the one who was almost embarrassed to admit he'd never been to my house despite our man-made familial connection.

It made me happy to take questions about some of the local art on my walls, regaling them with stories about the who and why when asked. That was usually by the one who works at VMFA, although I had to tease her after she admitted that she only switched her major to art history because of a crush on her art history professor.

Who doesn't have their tawdry secrets?

I plied my guests with alcohol, then played music loud enough for it to be a focus during conversation. After all, it's my party and I'll play how I want to.

Considering my audience, I chose my records carefully, eager to appeal and not bore, but trying to find some soft spots and knowing full well that no other human being would enjoy everything I played as much as I did.

Karen's holiday 2016 playlist started with "The Best of Donny Hathaway," not just for the voice that inspired everyone from Stevie Wonder to Amy Winehouse, but because side two ends with an unknown-to me holiday gem, "This Christmas," and how better to kick off a party?

Then, to reel in my Hopscotch regulars (who questioned why I don't attend and insisted they always have an extra bed), you play Lydia Loveless' "Real" and try to pretend it isn't on daily rotation (it is), but more importantly, follow it with Lone Justice's self-titled 1985 debut album, hoping others will, like me, marvel at how, given the era and their sound, they didn't get bigger than they did.

But in order to bring it around to my real roots, we then dive into "To Be True" by Harold Melvin and the BlueNotes featuring Theodore Pendergrass, for a solid dose of Gamble and Huff-penned Philly soul that I still enjoy every bit as much as I did when I first heard it.

And, let's be real, most women could listen to Teddy (RIP) sing the phone book.

By this time, I can tell that between pulls on his wine glass, the DJ is fully researching every album cover after I start the record, and frequently allowing his inner dance party to express itself by reacting to the bass line and grinning like he'd been the genius to put it on. Ahem.

"Roxy Music: The Atlantic Years 1973-1980" speaks to practically everyone regardless of age or sex (or maybe the beer and wine have just kicked in by now) because every song Bryan Ferry croons is instantly familiar and swoon-worthy.

Completely confident of my audience by then, I put on the Blow Monkeys' "Animal Magic," which causes one guest to '80s dance in his chair while another films the action. Hilarity ensues when the video shows him dancing while the younger guest next to him appears frozen motionless...or at least completely unmoved by the music.

I decide to close out with the Roches' 1979 debut album, mainly because a serious music geek recently said to me that if "Hammond Song" from that record came along today, the band would be huge and he's probably right.

What got my attention was that it was produced by Robert Fripp. Wow, just wow.

But looking at the album cover of the three sisters, all my youngest party guest can do is marvel at the vintage Adidas and Nikes the women are wearing on the cover. I've had that album for decades and never noticed their shoes.

Which brings us to our final point, which is that sometimes you entertain just to have fresh eyes on your life and fresh ears on your stories.

This Christmas, Mr. Hathaway, that's my goal.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dance on Thru to the Other Side

Let the record show that these words actually came out of Pru's mouth today at 7:34 p.m.

Every day is fun.

To be clear, I do think that every day is fun - for one reason or another, no matter how minuscule - but to know Pru is to expect the darkest possible expression of everything, so when I asked her what fun things were on her agenda this week, I was shocked to hear something so unlikely from her.

My fun came in waves, beginning with a walk, but not the pipeline walk I'd wanted because Tuesday's residual rain overflow stopped me in my tracks when I tried to access the pipeline, but a brisk walk nonetheless.

At Studio Two Three's winter print fair this afternoon, I chatted with the enthusiastic printmaker recently tied up with birthing a baby, planning the print fair and tying up the loose ends on expansion, all activities that require an abundance of youthful exuberance and non-stop energy.

Just give me print fairs, another Galentine's Day dance and a go-go night and I'm good. Granted, others may need more from a print collective.

Perhaps most importantly, I snagged a fabulous print (8/25 because 2/25 had a blue smudge I couldn't quite get over) by local Rellie Brewer called "Dance Thru," and picturing two people who could have escaped from "Harold and the Purple Crayon" caught up together.

Embracing? Dancing? Definitely intertwined. As my guitarist friend put it so well today, "Any music that makes me move involuntarily is always the experience I am hoping for."

With most of "my people" otherwise occupied, it was Pru and Beau who met me for a wine dinner at Camden's focused on holiday indulgences that began with Biutiful Brut Cava alongside a crab and shrimp salad with horseradish salsa (the kick on the finish alone was worth the price of admission) that devolved into an overview of sparkling maintenance.

Back in the late '90s, a new woman in my life had decided I was a worthy friend once she learned that I always had a chilled bottle of something sparkling in my fridge. You never know when it'll come in handy, after all.

"We have that in common," Pru said authoritatively. "People always say don't open a bottle for me because you'll have to drink it or you'll have a half-full bottle open. Doesn't apply. Not gonna happen. Who do they think I am?"

Fact is, some people are always at the ready with a bottle of fun.

Layers of flavor showed up in roasted butternut squash soup with goat cheese crema as well as in the mineral-forward Jean-Marc Brocard Kimmeridgien that Pru and I could have sipped all day long without complaint.

Turns out the secret of the soup was chicken and pig stock, leading to an expose of Pru's soup needs. "I've learned to keep her in ham hocks," Beau said drolly about three recent batches of soup that began with hocks and ended in happiness.

It was during the pairing of Laurent Martray Brouilly "Vieilles Vignes" with chicken galantine (the word, incidentally, one vowel off the dance I so enjoyed last February) alongside cranberry chutney and celery salad that conversation turned to people with celery issues.

There were two at the bar, both grown men, yet they handled the dish differently. One saw the hated celery as integral to the dish's appeal despite his lack of fandom and ate every bite, while the other stacked his celery to one side of the plate as if it had cooties.

Instead of focusing on celeriac nonsense, I thought it wiser to move on to debt murders. You know, like if I murder someone for you, then you'll have to murder someone for my friend and eventually, he/she for me. Simple.

Not wanting to upset the apple cart but unable to resist, I pointed out that I had no one I wanted dead, because I had no good reason to wish it so. What are the reasons to sign on for a murder pact anyway, I wondered aloud. Love? Revenge? Money?

My life may be fun, but it's not entangled enough for one of those reasons to inspire me to take a life or contract someone to do so for me.

Seeing a woman in gauchos - easily the most unflattering piece of clothing ever foisted on womankind - we digressed to the understandable appeal for men of cross-dressing (they really don't have the clothing options we do), kilt-wearing (I'm all for it) and why both are still seen as outside the norm.

Best random commentary: "You've been watching a lot of Eddie Izzard, haven't you?" And the problem with that is...?

You wanna talk fun? How about eating house-smoked and cured ham with whipped sweet potatoes and ham gravy while sipping Banshee Pinto Noir and arguing whether Bermuda or the Outer Banks is more worthy of someone's vacation days?

Personally, I could have a lot of fun on either trip, so you make the call and I'll pack my bag.

Whenever I eat ham, I am reminded of my mother's devotion to the "magical beast" capable of providing breakfast, lunch or dinner, not to mention soup to die for, and her lifelong justification for always having one in the fridge.

Like always having a bottle of bubbles around, it only makes good sense. Just in case.

The mustard greens showed up late to the party of roasted lamb lollipops, purple fingerling potatoes and mushroom duxelle (though everyone was too polite to make them feel bad about it) set to the liquid notes of Finca la Mata Tempranillo for a hearty final course.

Meanwhile, Pru regaled us all with reasons to visit her slice of Mexican mountain heaven, reasons that included the largest Democratic ex-pat community, a muscular gem expert with gleaming skin at La Cucaracha and late night shopping expeditions that end with sipping bubbles overlooking the town.

Sounds like we'd have fun, fun, fun till Beau stopped supplying the ham hocks or someone got murdered, whichever came first.

Besides, any adventure that involves me having a good time is always the experience I am hoping for.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Yes This Winter Body

Studies have shown that Late Night Lip Sync is extremely good for relationships.

In February 2015, I invited a friend to join me at the Basement to see my first ever Lip Sync contest and he brought along the brilliant and beautiful young woman he'd been dating for less than a month. Both had a fabulous evening and agreed that they'd never in their lives laughed so hard. Ever.

Those two crazy kids got married last week. Coincidence? I don't think so.

When I got the invitation for tonight's Late Night Lip Sync, I naturally invited them to join me, but with plans to leave for their honeymoon Monday, they weren't sure they'd make it, so I signed on a friend and his main squeeze, only to learn that - wait for it - she'd been part of the very first Lip Sync event at Rare Old Times.

Oh, and by the way, they moved in together last week and they're getting married next summer. Is anyone seeing a pattern yet?

All of which is just prelude because I arrived with the latter couple tonight after a shared meal, got situated in the front row with them and moments later was greeted by the former couple, who'd done just enough packing and preparation for their trip to feel justified in having a raucous night out laughing before they vacate the 804.

Once again, I was surrounded by my people, all of them madly in love and incidentally major fans of Late Night Lip Sync. But then, who wouldn't be?

Certainly not me considering one team was named Team Karen (Caring?) and the other Team Not This Winter Body, both made up of actors hams with familiar faces, boundless energy and extensive props.

That they're all marvelous singers only makes it more improbable since they can't use their voices. It's people like me who can't carry a tune in a bucket who should be lip syncing, but we're not big enough hams.

As usual, there was shit-talking ("Their team is so scared, they ran away"), classic Madonna ("Holiday"), $1 Monopoly bills thrown at the audience, and beer-guzzling to determine who went first.

Another time, who went first was determined by which contestant could find and don full winter attire first (I supplied my gloves to help Team Not This Winter Body come out on top). Yet another time, a Kleenex box of ping pong balls tied to two contestants' backsides were emptied via booty popping.

They're a creative lot, that's for sure.

The friends I'd brought were good sports, not to mention fully invested, with her getting up to tell a groan-worthy Christmas joke (when Santa asks the Mrs. about the weather, she says, "I see rain, dear") during a technical difficulty and him obligingly blowing bubbles once they'd been handed off to him so the team could finish their dancing and fake singing amid a cloud of bubbles.

The cheers were almost deafening when Chelsea did "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," complete with striptease that included yanking a guy in Santa pajamas from the audience to use as her plaything. He turned out to be part of the act, no surprise given his wildly hilarious mannerisms and admirable agility.

During intermission, the newlyweds regaled me with their month-long itinerary for South Africa, which would be enviable enough simply for the fantastic location, but crossed into full-on jealousy territory upon hearing that the first week is solely devoted to massages, yoga and sex.

This, too, can be yours, with enough Late Night Lip Sync, my friends.

During the improv round, teams alternated sending someone to the center for each unexpected holiday song played, but most of them were bested by holiday hits that predated them.

Witness Elvis' "Blue Christmas" that was more pelvic thrusting than lip syncing, a complete blank on Elton John's "Step into Christmas" and an audience member who laid down onstage for "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," although again, there wasn't much attempt at the words, just the action.

Anyone can run over Grandma, it's singing about it that's hard, that's all I'm saying.

Without a doubt, the pinnacle of the evening was when Team Not This Winter Body - clad in awful Christmas sweaters and antenna headbands - did their choreographed finale, which managed to touch down on every possible holiday laugh using scores of props in the process.

Want proof? "All I Want for Christmas" segued seamlessly into "Dick in a Box" (gift-wrapped, natch), before "The Christmas Song" began (wherein a team member squatted over a felt fire for the line, "Chestnuts roasting, yada, yada), only to become "Santa Baby" followed by an updated "Mr. Grinch."

In what may have been my favorite moment of the entire mash-up, it was the two male members who appropriately nailed "Sisters" from "White Christmas" (as only men can do), while Mannheim Steamroller's overwrought "Carol of the Bells" had the entire team dramatically playing imaginary classical instruments before becoming a Rockettes-like kick line for "We Need a Little Christmas."

Good as Team Karen/Caring's boy band tribute was, and it rocked, Team Not This Winter Body took home the imaginary prize.

Meanwhile, Santa only knows how many relationships were born tonight out of so much talent providing so much hilarity. Study results will be out in a year or so.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

She Who Expects

Some things you just know.

When I first saw the invitation to the Nels Cline, Larry Ochs and Gerald Cleaver Trio show at Gallery 5 back on November 10th, I immediately knew two things.

It would sell out and it would be a sausage-fest.

Before I got around to buying a ticket, a friend invited me to go with him, so I didn't have to, which was convenient since 30% of the tickets sold out the first day and 80% were gone a week out.

Once it sold out entirely, people turned shameless and began begging online for a ticket or two to see a guitar legend in such an intimate setting.

My friend showed up to collect me just as I was happening on a pop-up art gallery up the block, an effort by a painting student and a video imaging student to avoid what they called "the big galleries" of the Arts District and show their work. I gave them an "A" for effort and marveled at how they'd transformed a 3' wide space between buildings into a definitive gallery.

Well done, kids.

After a short walk in this unpleasantly and suddenly-frigid weather, we entered the overheated confines of Gallery 5 to find exactly what I'd expected: mostly men and likely a high percentage of guitar players and musicians in general, gathered to hear major talent play experimental music on a Friday night.

With my friend off chatting with other musician friends, I turned to the nearest guy and told him I'd expected an inordinate number of a certain kind of music geek tonight. "And here we are," the stranger confirmed to me, looking only vaguely sheepish.

A favorite film geek arrived and, in his honey-dripping southern accent told me, "I knew you'd be here," which I took as a compliment regardless of how it might have been intended.

Across the room, I spotted a jazz guitarist I've known for years and behind me was the guitar whiz who shreds in the Cover to Cover Band and walking in to my right was the mover and shaker/guitarist who grinned, started sniffing and gave me a raised eyebrow.

Leaning in so I could hear him, he observed jokingly, "It smells like pot in here and the show's just starting. How are we going to explain that if the cops show up?"

What did you expect, we've got a roomful of guitarists here, I pointed out. "Tell me about it. So we've got a lot of boners in here, too," he joked about Nels' guitar idol status. "And we've got a lot of middle-aged white men. They all texted me today about getting tickets, but how many white guys can you fit in a room?"

Looking around, I'd say a fair number, although there was also a decent millennial representation, even though, as one admitted, "I came to him late."

Nothing  like stating the obvious, since Nels was probably 40 when you were in diapers, son.

Mercifully, I actually spotted a girlfriend with her cute husband in the sea of men, although she wasn't shy about admitting that she had zero idea what to expect musically tonight. Rather than dwell on the unknown, we dipped our toes in the estrogen pond in a vain attempt to balance out the testosterone-fueled energy in the room.

Once the music began, it was a different story since between the volume, the ever-shifting dynamics and the sheer spectacle of the musicians onstage playing, talk pretty much ceased.

Even more impressively, only a few cell phones came out to document the event. I saw an awful lot of people young and old almost entirely in the moment and not viewing it through a screen.

Part of that may have been because the set came across sort of like a master class, with all eyes riveted on technique - and not just Nels' because drummer Gerald was mesmerizing with his ultra-efficient economy of motion and Larry's sax/clarinet playing produced sounds I'd never heard from those instruments - as if they were trying to learn by osmosis.

Those of us who have no such talent and are mere fans don't have that kind of pressure on us, so I just watched Nels' hands fly as he stood erect and made circumspect guitar faces, sometimes twirling knobs and using his massive pedal board to coax additional sounds while looping them back for a bigger effect.

I'm not here to use terms like contrapuntal, harmonic concepts or odd meters (because I can't), but I would like to quote the Fredericksburg music lover I was introduced to as we were exiting Gallery 5. Asking for his take on the show, all he could give me was, "That was amazing!"

When I asked what amazing meant and made a request for words, say nouns and adjectives, maybe a verb or adverb if he had 'em, my friend interjected quickly with, "She expects a lot of words."

Not gonna deny it, I do.

But when the nearly monosyllabic one admitted that he needed some time to process what we'd just experienced, I felt much better about my evolving take on it.

Honestly, I'd felt a bit overwhelmed myself. Aware, yes, of the massive talent I was witnessing onstage but also challenged by the experimental nature of its structure and the free-wheeling flights of improvisation that often made endings seemed unexpected or sudden.

At times, it was hard not to be transfixed by the drummer's non-stop limbs as the other two soared around his rhythms.

One guy off to the side eventually closed his eyes and began zoning out to the music, at least until his hands started twitching and then he sat down, closed his eyes and seemed to go even deeper into a trance. Whether being dramatic or losing himself to the vibe, it was hard to say.

For that matter, it's also hard to say much more about the whole evening than that we witnessed some amazing musical chops and a lot of guys probably found release from it.

I've got it, that's what we'll tell the cops.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Follow Me in Merry Measure

At some point, you just give in to the strings of street lights - even stop lights - blinking a bright red and green.

Tonight we took the Christmas train without apology.

That meant a walk by Quirk Hotel to admire its enormous pink tree and the Jefferson Street side's tasteful window decorations - a ceramic dog posed in a sea of cotton "snow" under small white trees - while outside, window boxes of blooming pink roses provided color continuity.

The Quirkster misses no details.

Compare that to the far more traditional red, gold and white color scheme that awaited us at the Jefferson Hotel, which was hosting not one but three private parties, including one that took over the entire downstairs, thus prohibiting sweeping entrances down the grand staircase as we'd hoped for.

Anticipating just this level of over-the-top holiday frenzy was exactly the reason we'd walked rather than driven. Parking at home probably was the closest parking space.

Surveying the massive two-story tree, we decided that it needed additional ornaments (preferably some with more texture and color) to fill in the irregular green spaces appealingly. We were both of the mind that you really can't overdress a tree because if there's room for a bauble, it belongs there.

But nothing could have prepared us for the Christmas craziness at Lemaire where the host warned us that no seats looked to open up any time soon, but we were welcome to hover.

Translation : welcome to cut throat Christmas at a four diamond hotel.

When we joked about how ridiculously busy it was, he told us it was a slow night for December. My condolences, indeed.

Although he was kind enough to take our drink order, what hadn't been mentioned was that we'd also need to hover like vultures near the bar if we had any hope of scoring seats so we could eat with dignity.

After losing out to a pushy couple who swooped in just as we were making our approach, we were offered two stools by a vivacious and buxom blond who knew what a favor she was doing us, so we acted properly grateful (hardly a stretch), although at that point, we were unaware of our proximity to a clutch of shrill young women who continuously screamed and laughed at a pitch usually heard only by canines.

While I wouldn't say the large staff was in the weeds, it was taking every ounce of their time and attention to keep up with the needs of so many customers - many of them in larger groups - in the restaurant at one time.

Because we had a curtain to make and because we are pros who already had drinks in hand, no time was wasted in ordering, the better to move on to important conversations before its arrival.

Like Christmas Eve dinner in some Italian families I once knew, our meal came entirely from the sea.

Rosy pink tuna tartare got crunch from cucumber, richness from avocado puree, salt  from olives, and bold color from seaweed salad, but it was fried pearl onions that surprised and delighted most.

Richer than I needed, the crabcake on English muffin sandwich didn't disappoint, but I'm of the Maryland camp that believes the binder should be minimal and this was a very creamy crabcake.

For a crab purist such as myself, it doesn't come better than a blue crab tartine that layered hunks of backfin with guacamole and micro-greens on grilled and oiled rustic bread with a chew so fabulous it was challenging to cut with a knife and fork, but utterly satisfying once in our mouths, especially after a swipe through the spicy honey drizzled on the plate.

Trying to cover eight days worth of life in between bites that were worth devoting our full attention to wasn't as easy as it sounds, but we did what we had to do to de-brief each other, scrutinize the clientele and lick all three plates clean simultaneously.

All in the name of holiday cheer, you understand. I will say that we felt far less harried than some of the anxious-appearing groups around us who were clearly in the vise-like grip of holiday responsibilities looked.

We were slackers in Christmas comparison, really only out to indulge ourselves.

To that end, we'd donned our gay apparel for Richmond Triangle Players' production of "Scrooge in Rouge," which was just the seasonal ticket for a play that combined the traditional (an offbeat retelling of "A Christmas Carol" as done by an English music hall cast) with the completely irreverent, namely cross-dressing, bad puns and references to oral sex, or any sex, really.

I mean, how do you think Bob Cratchit (or Bob Crabcakes, as he's repeatedly referred to here) wound up with all those snotty-nosed children if not for a healthy drive?

Even Tiny Tim and his tiny crutch were fair game for mocking to great hilarity. It's not often you hear, "Break a leg, Tiny Tim!"

 Oh, yes, and there was a dancing pickle.

Interestingly, the cast was the same as it had been when RTP had premiered the play in 2009, for which I had a reference solely because there's a poster for the original production in the ladies' room. I knew it well because you notice everything over years of waiting in line to relieve yourself.

Hands down, my favorite member of the cast was Steven Boschen who managed to play roles as disparate as a virginal beloved and a tubercular little sister in a series of wigs and costumes that only occasionally made him resemble Boy George, but in the best possible way. Between his stellar singing voice and gracefully feminine man hands, he made me laugh more than anyone else.

And, let's face it, laughing during this frenetic season is undoubtedly the best medicine.

I understand Prozac and Prosecco work well, too. Whatever gets you to falalalala.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

And We're There

While it wouldn't be fittin' not to tie dinner to the evening's entertainment, we proved that anything goes afterward.

Waiting to be scooped up by friends, I admired the remains of my garden, still amazingly colorful in December despite the recent spate of cold weather while noticing that the birdbath was filled to the brim after yesterday's day-long deluge.

I don't want to brag (nor do I deserve to given how long it's been since I gave my handkerchief-sized garden any attention), but interspersed with ferns and Gerbera daisies still surprisingly lush were blooms of all kinds: pink dianthus, fuchsia snapdragons, pink and white geraniums, purple and pink vinca, miniature lavender petunias, one pale pink blossom on the clematis hybrid that looks like a dahlia and hips galore on the pale pink miniature rosebush.

Considering I saw footage of snow falling on the Japanese Garden in Portland today, the colorful array felt like a near-winter gift.

Taking a cue from tonight's film, ours was a southern-themed evening, beginning in the understated brown and taupe interior of Spoonbread Bistro, where the flatware is golden and the vibe is luxe.

Pru and Beau faced me in a booth that sequestered us away from the restaurant's activity, while I grilled our server about the origins of her name, correctly having guessed her parents were inspired by a flame-haired movie star.

The subject of not responding to a person's texts came up (clearly not in reference to moi), with Beau mentioning one sent today to Pru, who'd been too busy to answer. My question was, if a compliment falls on a tart's ears and she fails to acknowledge it, did the text even happen?


The amuse bouche was a blue crab arancini, setting the meal's decadent tone from that first perfect bite.

What followed only got more obscene. As proof, I give you exhibits A) a lobster "Pop Tart" with Hollandaise sauce for icing, B) shrimp scampi with possibly the creamiest Cheddar grits I've ever swallowed, surrounded by chunky tomato "fondue," C) Cesar salad that tasted like the dressing had been made tableside it was so freshly egg-y, and D) scallops over caramel corn pudding with applewood bacon drizzle.

And that's just what I ate, never mind the sea bass Beau inhaled or the foie gras and spoonbread with Smithfield ham that Pru managed to disappear with not a bit of  assistance from us.

As she took the last succulent bite, she looked at us with only mild regret and said, "To be honest, I wanted to share with you two, but I literally could not stop myself from eating it all."

Luckily, Beau and I are not the judgmental types. But when she pronounced having had "an elegant sufficiency" and they both opted for coffee over dessert, I alone was left to order tonight's dessert special, a Gran Marnier chocolate mousse.

Just for the record, both their golden demitasse spoons touched down in my mousse more than once, despite earlier assurances that they had no room for sweets.

Tonight's conversation was particularly notable because it was the first in the two years of our three-way friendship that Beau actually heard it all.

After years of missing out due to ears damaged by heavy machinery when he was in the Navy, and despite being a man (so stubborn for no good reason), he'd gotten corrective devices so he could stop reading lips (only a slight exaggeration), a challenge given that  Pru and I talk a lot (both loudly and sotto voice) and he used to miss 85% of it.

No more. In fact, when I commented early on in the meal that he could finally hear us, he smirked and said, "I've already turned the volume down on you. You two are loud."

What his new hearing aids mean is that now when we ask him something, we needn't repeat ourselves. So it was that when Pru was discussing with him who he should conjure when mulling how to handle a situation, she asked who he admired and he came up immediately with Cary Grant.

"So do or say what Cary Grant would do or say," she explained, a point that somehow led to him admitting that if push came to shove and if he were to swing both ways, he'd have little problem swinging with Cary Grant.

The things you learn once everyone can hear the conversation clearly.

Walking out of Spoonbread feeling full as ticks and fully indulged, Pru turns to me and asks, "Remember the Jefferson?"

It took me a moment to get her drift, namely a long-ago December night as we were leaving Lemaire when she'd "appropriated" a poinsettia or two on our way out.

As I mentioned, I try not to judge but I know I left Spoonbread's poinsettia sitting on the table as we exited, stage right.

This month's classic film at the Byrd was "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a film that is as much about looking at two superior physical specimens - 26-year old Elizabeth Taylor and 33-year old Paul Newman - as it is about a dysfunctional southern family, especially in a Hollywood adaptation that all but scrubbed the homo-erotic elements from Tennessee Williams' script.

I wouldn't have even thought that was possible. Ditto the seemingly innocuous subject of the Sweet Tarts Beau was enjoying devolving into taking vitamins and minerals, which somehow led to the inner workings of Beau's, er, plumbing before, as Pru so eloquently put it, "And we're there."

TMI, that's all I'm going to say. Fortunately, the movie began.

Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?

Praise be that the film at least kept the setting, a stately house with screen doors opening to the veranda from second floor bedrooms cooled by constantly whirring ceiling fans. You could almost feel the humidity plucking on everyone's last nerve.

A drinking man's someone who wants to forget he isn't still young and believing.

Although I've seen "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" produced as a play multiple times, I'd never seen the 1958 movie version (shh, I didn't tell Pru so she wouldn't give me crap about it), so I was pleasantly surprised at the strong performances of everyone involved - scenery was chewed with real skill - although I was ready to smother those annoying child actors every time they came on screen.

Ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity.

After leaving the Byrd, I suggested a nightcap and film discussion but was voted down because Herself was tired, at least for the first block we drove east, but suddenly she reconsidered.

Our southern theme went out the window as easily as cigarette ashes, but now at least she was up for anything.

In no time, we were at the bar at Amour, complimenting the owner's new goatee, drinking and swooning over digestifs of Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum aged in French cognac barrels and taking topics from all four participants.

Sure, some people want to dish about annoying foodies, but others only want to covet swing coats and plan pre-concert parties. To each his own.

We covered a mutual friend's Studio 54-themed party, a planned trip to Antibes next summer, a formerly gawky teen morphing into a handsome young man aboard a yacht (with photos) and Pru's hippie chick Mom recently dying her hair green.

Digressions included Trump's excellent Blanc de Blanc, the grace notes of Willamette Valley wine and tastes of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.

Marveling at the number of years Amour's been open, Pru wanted to say that she'd visited it first, but the owner corrected her and I won that round.

Not that I hadn't already had dessert, but since my partners in crime had not, we over-indulged in chocolate sea salt caramel creme brulee, followed by the wonder of Beaujolais Nouveau sorbet (hints of orange on the front, anise on the finish), just the kind of delight you'd only get at Amour.

In the blink of an eye, three hours were gone and Beau had some wee concerns about his meetings tomorrow, so we thanked our host and departed.

This time, it took less than a block to realize that we'd not uttered a single word of discussion about the film, ostensibly the point of a third stop.

'We're done. There will be no do-overs tonight!" Pru announced firmly as Beau wisely kept the car moving eastward, knowing we'd made the same gaffe another time and then spent another full hour finally having the discussion we'd lost sight of.

The real question is, what would Cary Grant have done? Go home after a mere seven hours together?

Not likely. As I always say, ain't nothin' more powerful than conversations not shared.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Halcyon Pre-Machete Days

The third time was the charm on the T-Pot bridge.

My first two forays out on it had been on overcast days but with today's sunshine beckoning, I figured why not head down there and see just whether my only issue with it - how blinding its metal surface might potentially be - was justified.

Totally. Bright, really, really bright reflections and it's two weeks until Winter Solstice, so we're talking the least effective sun of the year. I actually felt sorry for those without sunglasses or hats to shade their eyes.

Then I spotted him, just ahead of me. Something about the fact that he was carrying a level, a measuring device and a sheaf of important-looking papers purposefully told me this guy meant business. Naturally, I had to ask.

And that's how I wound up meeting the landscape architect for the T-Pot bridge and, in my usual non-shy way, proceeded to engage him in impromptu Q & A session right there on the bridge with the river noisily rushing over the dam beneath us.

Yes, he agreed that the metal walkway was incredibly bright but he also explained that they had to use aluminum because steel would have been so heavy that they'd have needed to build expensive new supports for it.

But he also reminded me that over time dirt, the elements and usage would darken it, resulting in a patina that would be far less reflective.

Okay, I could buy that.

My next question was about the stepped retaining wall at the south end of the bridge. Right now it looks like new concrete and scattered dirt, but I couldn't help but hoping he had more of a living wall in mind.

Yep, Virginia Creeper will be planted and no doubt soon obscure every trace of concrete with its native species hardiness.

When I commented on the south end tree planting I'd seen on previous visits, he assured me there was a lot more to come and, in fact, he figured by the time the ornamental grasses over-winter for a season or two, it'll be a jungle up there.

"People will be telling us to get the machetes out, I guarantee it," he said with a smile. "It's going to be dense."

I was glad to hear it because that area behind Sun Trust Bank has always seemed barren and uninviting to me, kind of like a parking lot path thrown down in the wild.

Once I'd shared what I'd observed about all the foot traffic on my prior visits, he thanked me for my kind words.

After climbing to the overlook, then making the loop while dodging construction vehicles and men planting things, I headed back down the steep brown wooden steps past a liver-colored beagle, only to encounter my new landscape architect friend again, this time measuring along one of the promontories, probably for some sort of guard rail for idiots.

I asked him if I could call him Richmond's version of Frederic Law Olmstead, the man considered the father of American landscape architecture.

"No, no," he said laughing, but clearly pleased at the comparison to the man who designed Central Park and Golden Gate Park. "I mean, you can say that if you want to." I want to, I told him.

"We have the same trajectory, but not the same elevation, how about that?" he said.        

How about it? I've always found that modesty becomes a talented man.