Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Always Vice Versa

Gemini: Stay on top of a parent's or a higher-up's request. A fog seems to permeate through your creative and dynamic ideas. You feel good and have less of an expectation of others right now and vice versa.

Mom's only request was whether I was coming to visit this week, stated in the typical I-don't-want-to-be-a-bother maternal manner: "I think we were talking about Friday but don't worry if that doesn't work."


The fog that's been permeating through all of me - not just the creative and dynamic sides - of late is a bad case of early seasonal allergies with a healthy dose of dog hair exposure at Sunday's party.

It was so dire, I washed down Benadryl with the final sips of my champagne last night.

But I did wake up feeling good, so good it must have shown in my walk because it was one of those days when everyone smiled and had something to say to me.

Walking across the street in front of my apartment, I passed a guy who must have recognized me because his first question was how many miles I planned to walk today. He gave me a thumbs up when I said six. "There's nothing old about you, there's nothing young about you. You're just right!" he said, continuing down the street.

As the first person to speak to me today, he delivered the goods.

A woman with short white hair and manicured pink nails standing in front of St. Paul's smiled and pointed a pink finger at my shorts. "Seems kind of optimistic to me," she said about bare legs on a 60 degree day, clearly unaware I was already sweating from climbing to the Capital from the river.

Two men walking toward me on Broad Street, one cis-gendered and the other clad in blue spandex pants and a hot pink turban with a bow in the front, parted like the Red Sea, their arms extended for me to pass through.

"Love the hat, honey!" the turban said. "Work it!" Already am.

Work involved finishing a restaurant review and interviewing a curator before I got to check out the Historical Society's enormous new exhibition, "Toys of the '50s, '60s and '70s."

Using period living rooms to evoke the decades when the toys and games were popular, the sheer number of items included was enough to dredge up long-forgotten memories, while informative signs told you things about them that you'd never have known as a kid.

Probably because your parents wouldn't have wanted you to.

I don't know about you, but I had no idea that Twister had been reviled as a sex game when it came out. Seems that using human bodies as playing pieces was considered taboo in the mid-sixties.

Nor had I been aware that when Mr. Potato Head was originally released in the '50s, you had to supply your own potato for the head, which necessarily follows that imaginative tots could have fashioned a Mr. Onion Head or Mr. Eggplant Head, assuming an Eisenhower-era Mom would have allowed such a thing.

There was crazy stuff like Alka-Seltzer-fueled rockets with fail safes for kids who couldn't resist using extra tablets. A '70s-era environmental test kit with tests strips that clearly read, "Contains lead." A chemistry set with radio-active materials involved. Lawn darts called Jarts which were eventually recalled when one pierced a little girl's skull and killed her.

And don't get me started on Baby Brother Tender Love from the '70s, the first anatomically correct baby doll. On the progressive side, it was available in a Black as well as Caucasian version, although there was no word on whether the anatomy size changed with the skin color.

I'm here to tell you it wasn't all sweetness and light at the toy exhibit, but it was a lot of fun.

Each of the period living rooms had a TV and with a push of a button, toy commercials from that era would play, providing a glimpse of cringe-worthy mid-century advertising targeted at America's gullible youth.

With less of an expectation of others right now, a last-minute invitation to a friend's house for wine and conversation provided just the right way to wile away an unplanned evening since he wasn't admitting to expecting anything of me, either.

Which is not to say, all things considered, that a game of Twister wouldn't have been a whole lot of fun. After all, I read somewhere that it was a day for feeling good.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Dinner Game

Take a Frenchman and a Francophile, shake well and they'll throw a superb party on a Sunday evening.

Pru was hostessing at her manse and Amour Wine Bistro's owner Paul was in charge of food, film and wine, meaning as guests, we were walking into a full-on hospitality onslaught complete with vases of flowers everywhere and moody lighting.

French music was playing through speakers, guests were clustered in the kitchen (as always) and living room (where I landed) and everyone was given a glass of wine practically as as soon as their coat was whisked away by the sockless man with floral cuffs on his shirt.

One of the men, who looked decently dressed but not particularly stylish, said that he'd gone into Ellwood Thompson "in his French party costume," as his wife characterized his togs, and a clerk was immediately suspicious because all he'd seen him in for years was jeans and a t-shirt.

I don't think there was a woman there without a scarf tied jauntily or languidly around her neck. My fuchsia one tied in the back under my hair and draped down my back, making me look like I was ready to hop on the back of someone's Vespa at the snap of a Frenchman's fingers.

Except that it was 39 degrees in Church Hill (but snap away in a warm clime and I'm all yours).

Meanwhile in the warm house, I joined in conversations, re-meeting some people I'd only meet once or twice before and being introduced to newcomers. Turns out one young woman was there without her date because he'd unexpectedly called and broken up with her this afternoon.

Which, as someone pointed out, is a far better way to be dumped than via text.

And while her thoughts may have been elsewhere, here she was part of the party vibe with the rest of us, mixing and mingling like a trooper and looking adorably French while doing it.

The expansive dining room table was groaning under all the food: cheese and charcuterie, onion tarts with bacon, a quinoa dish with haricots vert, carrots, mushrooms and onions that I could eat for days and multiple kinds of quiche including a killer one with Jarlsberg and ham. Baguettes, sliced and whole, were everywhere.

No exaggeration, I ate three plates of food.

With one group, we talked about being lucky enough to have a job you love, a category I put myself in. A woman was saying that she was sure her man would hate his new job - the commute, his dislike of office settings - except he loved it for the cooperative office dynamics and relaxed inter-office vibe.

"It was that really nice, sunny Friday and my boss just told everyone to go home and enjoy the day," he crowed with pleasure.

Luckily, my boss is me.

We talked about how vain some men can be in middle age about wearing glasses and how some women have enough pairs of glasses to qualify as accessories, like scarves or jewelry.

As is inevitable at Richmond parties, restaurants were brought up and someone asked me why everyone holds Edo's Squid and Mama Zu in such high regard. I gave her the back story, but allayed her fears about not being a fan of either. I'm the same kind of outlier.

Paul had shown up wearing a beret with a wig on underneath and after the second bottle of bubbly, a bald guest tried it on for size and then obligingly whipped his head around repeatedly to pose for come-hither pictures.

Dessert was a dark chocolate sea salt pate-like tart drizzled with caramel, followed by a final course of Paul's homemade blackberry sorbet - so dark it was almost black - on top of melon/Pastis, so beautiful a marriage of flavors that several non-cantaloupe lovers admitted to being enraptured by it.

For me, it was not only the fruit-forward flavors but the mouth-coating creamy texture that belied its lack of dairy that won me over.

By the time everyone had licked their dishes clean, you could have stuck a fork in any of us because we were all in a food coma, making it the ideal time to start the raison d'etre for tonight's soiree: a 1998 French comedy called "Le Diner de Cons," aka the dinner game.

Yes, 1998, so portable phones that still had antennas sticking out of them and pre-flat screen monitors that took up half a desk.

The premise was simple: a group of condescending businessmen held a dinner every Wednesday and each brought along the biggest idiot they could find to be ridiculed. Whoever brought the most obnoxious loser won.

A Parisian publisher invites his idiot contender - a tax employee whose wife left him for another tax employee so he recreates architectural wonders in matchsticks to assuage his grief - to his house for a drink pre-dinner, but before he arrives, the publisher throws his back out, rendering him practically immobile.

And then his wife leaves him, in no small part because he participates in such a demeaning event.

Clearly, he's having a terrible, no good, awful day and now he's stuck with an idiot at his house trying to help him sort through his personal problems while he writhes in pain.

Spoiler alert: idiots do idiotic things that only make bad situations worse. Like mistakenly calling the former friend from whom the publisher originally stole his wife or mistaking the wife for the mistress and sending her away or repeating insults about the nymphomaniac mistress to her face.

All done, of course, with the usual French aplomb, unabashed wine drinking and droll put-downs, so not all that far off from the witty tete-a-tetes going on between tonight's party guests, even the brokenhearted one.

That ex of hers missed a helluva good time.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

You Live, You Learn

And we pause from today's hefty dose of testosterone for something completely different.

The evening may have begun with the stench of hops, but before long, estrogen was the overwhelming scent in the room. And it's a big room.

Mac and I arrived as the DJ was inundating the growing crowd with songs from the era: Smashing Pumpkins, Goo Goo Dolls, Bush.

Hardywood was hosting the latest in the Cover to Cover series, cherry picking a '90s gem sure to pull every woman who was in ninth grade or above in 1995: Alanis Morrissette's "Jagged Little Pill," a prominent feminist musical screed of the grunge era.

And let's not forget it was written and sung by a 19 year old. Nineteen!

When I commented on what a seminal album it was, Mac said she knew every word. What I recalled was that the record had boasted a ridiculous number of hits.

Wearing an off-the-shoulder black knit dress, torn black tights and boots, Kelsey kicked things off with "All I Really Want," sounding eerily like Alanis while Matt played the harmonica.

All I need now is intellectual intercourse
A soul to dig the hole much deeper

The thing about the harmonica is that I'd just seen Matt at the Elbys Sunday and mentioned my excitement at this show coming up. "Yea, I gotta learn the harmonica by then. I haven't started trying yet," he'd said, shrugging. "But I have a feeling they stuck it in front of Alanis and she just breathed, so I'll be okay."

The boy had come a long way in 6 days.

You could barely hear Morgan doing "You Oughta Know" because the mostly female crowd sang every syllable at the top of their lungs, fists pumping, especially on the "But you're still alive!" part.

"Does anyone have a bra I could burn?" Morgan asked after finishing the song. Wrong era.

Well, that was cathartic, I said to Mac, who shared that her friend had reminisced that the album had gotten her through her divorce. Her and every woman who got divorced for the next decade, I'd bet.

I spotted my photographer friend making his way toward the stage, the massive lens on his camera giving him easy access to a front row position while his honey happily danced and sang nearby.

There was the angst of "Perfect," a solid reminder of how dark grunge got, followed by Maggie in a plaid flannel shirt doing "Hand in My Pocket" while the crowd not only sang along but did the hand gestures - peace sign, playing piano, hailing a taxi.

I'm broke, but I'm happy
I'm poor, but I'm kind
I'm short but I'm healthy, yeah

With Kelsey singing "Right Through You," guitarist Oliver did double duty, alternately playing the electric guitar around his neck and the acoustic guitar on a stand in front of him, the electric wedged between them.

So it wasn't only major singing talent onstage, the band was superb, too.

Debra came out to sing "Forgiven" to find the mic set about two feet over her short stature, but, as always, used her force of nature voice to command the room.

You know how us Catholic girls can be
We make up for so much time a little too late

The angelic-faced Georgia not only killed "You Learn," but managed a high legged kick (in Chuck Taylors with green shoelaces, no less) during the ai-yi portion of the song.

I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone, yeah
I recommend walking around naked in your living room, yeah

Maggie was back for "Head Over Feet" (would the radio hits never end?) and by now, the crowd was nearly orgasmic with memories of their youth.

You're the best listener that I've ever met
You're my best friend, best friend with benefits
What took me so long?

When it was time for "Mary Jane," Matt said that Debra had told him years ago that if Cover to Cover ever did "Jagged Little Pill," she had dibs on "Mary Jane" because, according to her, it's her car jam. When she finished belting it out, Mac looked at me in awe. "She has an amazing voice."

And speaking of amazing voices, around the time the crowd was beginning to wonder if an Alanis album meant we weren't going to get to hear Matt sing, he appeared to do "Ironic," promising that it was going to get weird.

Matt playing a girl's part is hardly headlines for him and we got a terrific cover of "Ironic," never more heartfelt than when he sang about "meeting the man of my dreams."

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny way of helping you out

When he concluded, he observed that there was something timely about the album to him. Mac said she'd just been thinking the same thing.

"That's the year I was born!" Kelsey piped up while sporting a shit-eating grin and getting grief for her youth before doing "Not the Doctor" and pushing the young women behind us into ecstasies.

I don't want to be the sweeper of the egg shells that you walk upon
And I don't want to be your other half, I believe that 1 and 1 make 2

"I want this album," one announced. "I'm going to Spotify it."

Kelsey and Morgan's harmonies on "Wake Up" were goosebump-inducing, almost as magnificent as their manes of hair.

And, in what seemed like no time, "Jagged Little Pill" was over, except no female in the room was ready to accept that. Matt announced a five-minute intermission to re-hydrate with beer before the show carried on.

Afraid of losing our prime floor space in the second row, Mac and I stayed rooted for the duration and Matt began the second half with an a capella version of "Your House" before Kelsey took the reins with "21 Things I Want in a Lover" and we moved into Alanis' subsequent music.

I'm in no hurry, I could wait forever
I'm in no rush because I like being solo
There are no worries and certainly no pressure in the meantime
I'll live like there's no tomorrow

It only got better with Debra singing "Thank U" while Matt played a small keyboard on a shoulder strap ("What I'm doing is so not impressive," he assured the audience) and one of the trio of blond sisters behind us (none of whom could have been as old as this album) sighed, "I looooove this song."

The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I touched down

When Debra sang, "How 'bout no longer being masochistic," she also said in an aside just afterwards, "Unless that's your thing..."

But what struck me about the song was the difference in the words from the angry female lyrics of "Jagged Little Pill" three years earlier. Clearly our little girl had done some growing in those years.

"It's about to get real meta, y'all," Maggie warned as Georgia told the crowd to take a deep breath in and launched into a slow burn version of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" set to acoustic guitar and sung by a woman who looked like Doris Day and who, for a change, was not throwing snack-sized Ziplock bags of bacon at the crowd as she has been known to do.

She was doing such a fabulous cover of the song that half the room never even recognized what she was singing or the fiercely clever arrangement she was using.

Morgan got up to sing "Hands Clean," saying, "This song has more lyrics than a George R.R. Martin novel," while being accompanied by Matt on bass, playing it for the first time in his life. It was quite a combination.

Ooh, this could get messy
But you don't seem to mind
Ooh, don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime

"You have to really live in 1995 tonight!" Matt exhorted the crowd.

By that point, they'd covered the highlights of Alanis' post-"Jagged Little Pill" period but the crowd still screamed for more, which netted us an encore of four songs we'd already heard - "All I Really Want," "Hand In My Pocket" and "You Learn."

It would have been plenty to send us out into the night except for one song.

To close out the night, Kelsey did "You Oughta Know," sounding every bit as angry as Alanis had circa 1995 and with a crowd hoarse from singing yet still trying and determined to dance in place until the last.

And the stench of estrogen so thick in the air you could have cut it with a knife.

I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone
I certainly do
I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time
Feel free

After living and learning from Alanis, I recommend letting go, walking around your living room naked and living like there's no tomorrow.

And as for the pursuit of a soul to dig the hole of intellectual intercourse deeper, I'd also recommend whittling that list from 21 to something more realistic. I certainly do.

Far greater likelihood of touching down that way.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

No Regrets, Just Questions

It's a whole different perspective that male friends offer.

Granted, I do find hearing the male point of view nothing short of revelatory but since I grew up without brothers, I am still trying to grasp how the male psyche works, even at this late stage.

Let's cut to the chase: it's mystifying. Perplexing. Confounding.

Or maybe a double shot on a sunny morning that required me being up at 8:45 was just more than my Saturday brain could handle.

The first friend occupying my time today needed costuming help for a party - even going so far as to say he took direction well - and heaven knows dressing a male friend is light years easier than dressing a boyfriend.

So easy, in fact, that we had plenty of time left over to discuss his latest dilemma, which pretty much mirrors the entire crux of "When Harry Met Sally," a fact I didn't mention.

Can men and women be friends without sex entering into it? Can sex be an addendum to a friendship without destroying the friendship? Is sex the only difference between friendship and relationship?

Of course, I'm probably the last person anyone should ask about such things since my take on male/female interaction skews decidedly non-traditional. I'm not convinced that cultural norms have to be considered when determining how two people fashion their association, an opinion I did mention.

Having girl parts, my advice to him was the feminine go-to: talk to her about it.

Verbalize what he wants and find out what she wants and, since they're both grown-ass people, see if there isn't room for both to peacefully co-exist.

And most importantly, leave pre-existing presumptions at the door when they do so. Anything goes as long as it suits both people.

Harry might have told Sally that no man can be friends with a woman he finds attractive because he'll always want to have sex with her, but I've experienced exceptions to that rule. Of course, if Harry is correct, they wanted to and just didn't let me know.

In any case, I think that the best friendships and relationships are shaped on a backbone of open communication that allows both participants to be clear about what they want and don't want from each other. Translation: lots of conversation on the subject.

Now whether his male psyche allows him to utilize my advice or not remains to be seen, but I've offered it for the taking.

We went our separate ways so I could walk, getting home only minutes before another male friend was picking me up for lunch. I barely got in his car and said hello when he wanted to ask me about his relationship.

Despite its relative youth (a year), the relationship already involves co-habitation and, as of last week, engagement. And, for the most part, he's crazy in love with her.

Our nine-year friendship provides an interesting complement to their relationship because there are things I know about him that she's still learning. He's the first to admit that he gets a different kind of energy from me (he once told me I was like a drug he needed on a regular basis for mood enhancement). On the other hand, she's experienced things with him I'll never know.

But they're still working out issues of neediness, personal space and unilateral decision making, all of which were on his mind today as we lingered over lunch in front of an open door. Listening to him air his grievances, part of me couldn't help but remind him that most of that was just growing pains for a new relationship.

This, after all, is the friend who justified the breakneck speed of their relationship with something very "When Harry Met Sally"- like: he'd found the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with and he wanted that life to start immediately.

I love the romance of that attitude but I told him I don't understand why he hesitates to share his thoughts when she does something that bothers him. Why internalize when you can start a conversation?

Said no man ever.

Fortunately, I don't have to fully understand men. What I can impart to those who call me friend is this: what two people have together is something nobody has to understand but them.

Sally: So you're saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail them, too.
Sally: What if they don't want to have sex with you?
Harry: Doesn't matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Except there's never an end to the story of men and women trying. Praise be for that.

All Power to the People

I'm no longer accepting the things I cannot change...I'm changing the things I cannot accept.~ Angela Davis

When Afrikana Film Fest put tickets for Angela Davis' Evening with an Icon appearance on sale, I was second in line to get mine. No surprise, it sold out in a hot minute, so they added tickets for a separate viewing room. That sold out even faster.

Doors were scheduled to open at 7 tonight for the main event and when I arrived at the VMFA at 6:20, the line was already through the atrium and almost back to the Best Cafe.

Luckily, I'd brought a book.

Once we finally made it into the auditorium, I snagged a seat in the fifth row to watch the slide show of photographs from past Afrikana events, spotting myself in four different pictures.

I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

As hordes of later arrivals streamed in, it wasn't long before the seat next to me was appropriated by a woman who promptly introduced herself as Sharon from New Jersey.

Turns out she'd come to Richmond for the same reason I had: a move for her husband's job. Like me, when the marriage ended, she stayed in Richmond and he'd moved away. We were instant friends united in our excitement over seeing Angela Davis tonight.

Things kicked off with the VMFA's photography curator showing us 3 recent photo acquisitions by Stephen Shames, two of Angela in the '70s and one of a young boy in an Angela Davis t-shirt around the same time. All are part of the museum's concerted effort to acquire a significant collection of Civil Rights era photography.

Next came the 2013 documentary, "Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners," a brilliant means of bringing everyone at the event up to speed on why this woman is such a key figure in American history.

Only tonight did I learn that she'd been hired as a philosophy professor at UCLA and that her first lecture on the philosophy of Frederick Douglass had attracted 2,000 attendees. That Governor Ronald Reagan wanted her barred from teaching at any California university.

The archival footage - of protests, her lectures, her trial and press conferences - gave a bird's eye view of so much of what was happening to her back then.

All of which, I might add, she did with both a magnificent Afro and mini-skirts and without a bra. Ah, the '70s.

But of course, the real magic happened when her name was announced and she walked out to a standing ovation. The funny part was, she sat down onstage before the woman introducing her could read her bio, so Davis walked back offstage so she could read it, occasionally hovering within view of the adoring crowd until resuming her seat.

And while she still has the Afro, tonight it was pants not a mini-skirt. That said, the woman doesn't look all that different at 73 than she did at 33.

From there, the moderator would toss out topics and Davis would address the question, take tangents, drop pearls of wisdom and ruminate on the past, present and future.

Asked about what young people should be doing today, she said it was awkward telling people what to do. "We didn't ask our elders what to do," she said. "We wanted to find our own way because we were more in touch with what was going on in those days than our elders were."

Now that would be an interesting topic to take up. Is that still the case today?

"Students are always at the forefront of revolutionary activity and we have to encourage that!"

A fair amount of time was given over to the current political clime, with Davis referencing "the day before the Women's March...or Inauguration day, if you care to refer to it that way."

Of Trump she lamented, "This is the future we really dreaded. It's turning the clock back. Make America great again means make America a white supremacy again, that's what it's code for."

She saw Islamic-phobia as being built on centuries of black oppression and said we should be worried about any group 45 is marginalizing.

"We have to resist and prevent Donald Trump's Project from reaching realization because on that depends the future of the country." Can I get an amen?

There was much to hear her opinions on: the crisis in the prison system, global capitalism and its effects on jobs in this country and the role of global feminism, a subject for which she stood to speak. There she mined Hillary's "glass ceiling" metaphor, reminding us that it means a woman is already at the top if she's near shattering it.

"No movement happens without women, " Davis reminded the mostly female crowd, "Women do all the work because they're the organizers." Truth.

She told all the men in the room to stand and applaud the women for the work that we do. Some looked sheepish about it, others enthusiastic.

Saying she was no expert on anything since she'd been fired from her first job at UCLA ("By Ronald Reagan!"), she said, "One of the great things about longevity is you get to ride the shifts in history."

That was a reference to going back to UCLA (who now use posters of her as a selling point for the school) only to hear the university board give their interpretation of the '70s firing which in no way lined up with hers.
At least she can laugh about it now.

For the final question, she was asked about where we go from here.

"Everyone has to embrace something they can passionately engage in and not just right now. How can we create sustainable activism?"

Personally, I was thinking a large swath of American idiots just elected the most motivating force impossible for activism and community engagement, but Angela sees the bigger picture.

"Imagining the future involves doing activist work for a very long time. It requires a commitment to social justice," she said toward the end. "Donald Trump will be just a drop in the bucket."

A woman's place is in the struggle. How lucky I was to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Living for Right Now

We're having a heatwave, despite the calendar still reading February.

I'm not saying that because the mercury hit 74 degrees, but because today was the first day that my lipsticks should have spent the day in the refrigerator like it was June, a fact a girl only discovers once she's getting ready to go out and finds them softer than ideal.

Now that I think about it, they may have warmed up driving back from the Northern Neck - where I'd gone today to visit my parents - with the windows mostly down.

I'd gotten a late start coming back because Mom and I decided to walk down to the dock, past the two weeping willow trees she tells me have just burst into leaf the past two days and wound up sprawled in an Adirondack loveseat discussing life.

And death, as it turns out. An article in today's Washington Post "Heart to Heart: The Conversation You Least Want to Have with your Aging Parents May Be the Most Important" was the starting point, but like so many conversations with my folks, there was a fair amount of laughter, too.

When I mention how hard it would be for Dad if she should die first, she waves off the problem, saying with a smile, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that. He won't last long once I go!"

I'm not sure if she means this because he's never had to fix his own food (at 8, I once found him crawling around the kitchen floor looking for where she kept the cold cereal and had to show him which cabinet) or because he'll wither away from a broken heart.

Telling her I'd just seen "In the Heat of the Night" at the Byrd for the first time last night, we dished about her memories of the award-winning film's impact at the time and about what a handsome man Sidney Poitier had been.

A tangent from there about how I've never seen "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" had her telling me about Spencer Tracy's speech in that film about how, despite his age, he remembers with absolute clarity his feelings for his wife when they first met and fell in love and how true love endures through the years.

"He was really talking about the love of his life, Katherine Hepburn," Mom tells me with absolute certainty, although certainly with the wisdom of her own experience as well. How she recalls this particular scene after not seeing the movie in decades is beyond me, but now I'm determined to see it myself, knowing that Hepburn and Tracy were long-time lovers.

The levity returns later on the walk back to the house. Surveying the two sheds full of Dad's crap and the crumbling grape arbor, she says, "I already told him when he looks down from heaven, none of this mess will be here!"

How often do you get to have an end of life discussion and get film recommendations in the same afternoon, much less riverside with waves lapping at the sand?

Once back in the city with my half-melted lipsticks, I managed to apply them before strolling over to Graffiato to meet a friend pre-theater.

Arriving first, the bartender welcomed me back and re-introduced himself, amazing me since we'd met the first week of January when he'd obligingly served a brown liquor-drinking friend while discussing distillation methods and then completely forgotten to take my drink order. For 15 minutes.

The good news is, being ignored guarantees you'll be remembered on your next visit.

With a nod to my birthplace and an appreciation for housemade ginger beer, I was drinking a variation on the DC Mule out of a copper cup when my friend came rushing in, Christmas present in hand. Once she got a pretty, pink Paloma, it was a race to catch up with each other's lives in 35 minutes so we could make a curtain.

What always happens when we try this is that I'll ask her what's been going on in her life and she'll rush through a few highlights and then insist on hearing my goings-on. Tonight, she was particularly fond of the symmetry of the trip to Cuba story, but saved plenty of enthusiasm for the good stuff and an Italian sausage pizzeta.

We didn't shut up until we headed across the street to the November Theater for Cadence Theatre's production of "Violet," another in the Acts of Faith series.

Although I was already happy being with a long-time friend I don't get to see nearly enough of, I got more fortunate still right off the bat by winning two tickets to Cadence's next production by having my seat number drawn from a bucket.

I'm lucky
I can walk under ladders
Yes, I'm so lucky
That I'm as lucky as me

I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a Cadence production and tonight kept that streak alive with a play that managed to marry high spirited musical numbers channeling gospel and country overtones (and the crack five piece band right onstage with the actors) with a poignant story about a disfigured girl looking for more conventional beauty and a big dose of self acceptance.

That it was set in the deep south in the 1964 during the Civil Rights movement only continued the thread of so many of my outings lately. That I'd gone from watching handsome Sidney Poitier last night to almost-as-handsome Josh Marin tonight was no sacrifice at all

First you choose your road and then you take it.

As an entry in the Acts of Faith Festival, Violet's story about who chooses to love her and whether they do it for who she really is or not provided the real meat of the play and enough to justify a post-theater discussion at Quirk afterward.

The bar at Maple + Pine was full, more than a few tables held diners and staff whisked new guests and luggage to the elevator as we grabbed a bar table and settled in to dissect what we'd seen over Prosecco and chocolate pecan pie.

"Please indulge!" said the server who dropped off the goodies.

In the dessert? In a soundtrack that included Tame Impala and The XX? In the bustling scene as the bar emptied and filled back up again?

All of that and more. Mostly, we indulged in conversation about the challenges of choosing your road and allowing yourself to take the right detour if it presents itself.

Hint: it doesn't always go through Cuba.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Go On, I Dare You

Do I chase the night or does the night chase me?

On a night when I meet a friend at Laura Lee's - a mere 48 hours after the Elbys - staff and a few customers are still talking about their hangovers the day before. Some would say that's the sign of a good party.

While we necessarily spend some time covering the Elbys and aftermath, our primary purpose is a tad more self-involved since we haven't talked in a couple of weeks. Every friendship has its own frequency level and figuring out where that is provides part of the pleasure of making new acquaintances.

With a mix unexpectedly heavy on Fleetwood Mac, we devour mussels and sausage, salads and Syrah as parents with a screaming child try to eat in the dining room and cyclists arrive with lights so bright a bar sitter signals them to make it stop.

It all feels very southside neighborly.

And, for us, friendly. Tales are swapped about out-of-town excursions, costuming assistance is requested and the handsomest beard in the room and I delve deep into why everyone should see "Moonlight," which he watched while in full blown hangover mode.

But the best conversations come later - melody or lyrics, which reigns supreme? - over wine and set to a dash of the Grateful Dead by way of the National to start things off, and then followed by the Decemberists and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

What better soundtrack to consider the elephant in the room and whether it's a Sri Lankan or Borneo variety? Inquiring minds want to know.

There is nothing better than a friend, except a friend who tells you what they're thinking. Way up in the sky, I can see that you want to.

Never underestimate the value of a well-placed lyric.

Let's just say I rarely have any problem sharing what's on my mind and leave it at that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lean In When It Gets Uncomfortable

If Martians were to drop in on Richmond lately, they could be forgiven for thinking of our film scene as diverse.

Never in my life can I recall so many films by and about the black experience. Just in the past couple of months, I've seen "Moonlight," "Fences," and "Hidden Figures" and I added two more over the past 48 hours.

For an overview of the country's racial conversation, Saturday Mac and I went to see Ava DuVernay's "13th," which VCU was screening as part of their Common Book program that has the entire campus reading and discussing the same book, Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption."

Everyone was instructed to take a copy of the book, but Mac and I decided to take just one and share, a good call because she's already halfway though it.

She'd conveniently shown up with a small copy of the Constitution, which we used to clarify what we knew about the 13th amendment.

"Notice anything wrong with that?" she asked. Um, yea. Basically, slavery was abolished for everyone except criminals, making the mass incarceration that followed effectively the new Jim Crow.

Besides horrific and telling statistics - 1 in 3 black men will go to jail, while only 1 in 17 white men will - the documentary made the case for how every President since Nixon has furthered an agenda that involves mass incarceration of blacks. How that happened was laid out for us.

We've got 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners.

If that isn't enough to get your blood boiling, how about this? Before "Birth of a Nation," burning crosses had never been part of the KKK's M.O., but when director D.W. Griffith used it for its striking cinematic value, the KKK adopted it as part of their insanity.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury in the film, the evil black man who eyes the young woman with bad intentions was played by a white man in blackface.

One of the documentary's strength was the well-chosen talking heads from author Bryan Stevenson to Angela Davis to Newt Gingrich to Henry Louis Gates, with one of the most compelling being author Michelle Alexander, who wrote "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness," a reality that began with convict leasing after emancipation.

Laying out the case for how capitalism factors into this (companies like Verizon and Aramark make ridiculous amounts of money by servicing prisons), as does politics (look up ALEC to find out how politicians and corporations are in bed writing legislative bills that perpetuate the prison industrial complex) and, let's be real, racism.

It was impossible not to cry during a segment about a young man who was wrongly accused of a crime and deliberately chose not to take a plea because he wasn't guilty and wanted to make a stand. He spent three years in prison enduring beatings before being released due to lack of evidence.

On camera, he looked sweet and shaken by what he'd endured, all of it unnecessary. But it's when the voice-over says that a couple years later, he committed suicide that tears and sniffles began in the auditorium. Absolutely heartbreaking and not even all that unusual.

Mac and I walked out of there shaken and disturbed, as we should have been, by what we'd seen.  So naturally, tonight we headed to Criterion to see "I Am Not Your Negro," a look at race relations by way of one of the most literate black men of the 20th century on the subject.

Using the first 30 pages of a book playwright, poet, novelist and social critic James Baldwin began and didn't finish before he died, the film uses words from that manuscript read by Samuel L. Jackson to frame a look at race relations using TV and film footage from the Civil Rights era, along with footage of Baldwin on Dick Cavett's TV show and at lectures and debates at various universities.

Listening to him make a case for how the races were portrayed by Hollywood (black men like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte were not allowed to appear sexy so as not to offend white sensibilities), in government films, ads and training films while watching such things was both revelatory and upsetting.

What was striking was how Baldwin's words transcended time and sound just as applicable to today's race conversation as they did then. "The world was never white," he says, reminding me of a cartoon I'd seen on Facebook earlier.

A white man and a Native American are listening as the radio announces that for the first time, non-white baby births have exceeded white baby births in the U.S. "Second time," the Native American says. Boom.

Tonight's film ended with Baldwin making the case that as a nation, we'll never get our act together until we deal with race and inequality, a fact of life that's not going to go away until we have hard talk and changed behavior.

Over Garnett's coconut cake with chocolate frosting, Mac and I agreed that between Baldwin's words and Haitian director Raoul Peck's chosen visuals, it was too much to process in one viewing.

That's undoubtedly a good thing because it provides incentive to experience it again and reconsider the talking points Baldwin so eloquently stated throughout the film.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Truth in a time when we couldn't need it more.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight I'm Going to Dance

I've always found the Elbys a bit...Masturbatorial. The scene is good, but these felt like RVA giving itself a handjob without seeing what's really going on.

I think the phrase you're looking for is circle jerk.

So opined Facebook. After opting out last year, I gave the Elbys another shot last night, also breaking form by going with a date, albeit a couple date who'd spared no expense to outfit themselves in the evening's theme: the speakeasy era.

Overheard in the ladies' room during the soiree: "I can't believe I bought a hundred dollar dress and ended up wearing a $30 one."

Honey, you still got me beat by $30.

The best I could do was reaching to the very back of my closet and pulling out a black beaded dress I'd originally bought in 1997 for the first Library of Virginia Literary Awards and worn only once since. My only real effort, and it was minor, was crafting a stole of sorts from a fringed dress Pru had donated to the cause, tying a beaded choker around my neck and (gasp) putting on my mother's jade earrings.

I met a woman wearing a fabulous floor-length shell pink beaded dress and when I raved about it, she admitted it had been purchased as her wedding dress - "We dated for five straight years and I finally asked him if he was ever going to propose or did I have to?" - and now she's determined to wear it as much as possible.

As beautiful as it looked on her, I could understand why.

Some people's ensembles got the era right but not the day part. It was, after all, an evening affair, meaning that period bathing costumes (there were multiple) seemed a tad out of place. Not so all the fur stoles, headbands, fascinators, boas and of course, flasks.

Sitting in the theater waiting for the awards ceremony to begin, Pru commented that she'd ended up behind the tallest person in the theater. "And the brightest!" she whispered, alluding to the man's flamingo-colored blazer.

I overheard the group behind me discussing the nominees. When one pointed out that Mama J's gets nominated every year but she'd never been to it, her friend agreed, suggesting they make a date.

But it was when one asked, "Is it in Jackson Ward or Church Hill?" that I knew my intervention was required. Turning around in my seat (and no doubt dislocating a bead or two in the process), I brought the trio up to speed, answering their questions on what to order at Mama J's and the best and worst times to go, noticing midway through that the woman to my right was nodding as I spoke.

Have you been, I asked her rhetorically since why else would she be nodding in agreement. "Yes and you're right about all of it."

Nota Bene's owner Victoria took the very first award for Best New Restaurant, sounding honestly caught of guard by the win in a category with some supremely strong contenders: Laura Lee's, Shagbark and Spoonbread.

Chef of the year David Shannon looked magnificent accepting his award in black leather pants and stylish motorcycle jacket, but when he thanked his boyfriend for his patience with restaurant hours, Mr. Flamingo Jacket turned to his Republican-looking friend, rolling his eyes and making a disgusted face.

Knowing their thoughts on a matter which was none of their business only made it all the sweeter when David's restaurant L'Opossum won Restaurant of the Year at the end.

Earlier, while complimenting David's ensemble, I'd commented about how fun it is to see all the restaurant people out on the same night. He likened it to prom, but I couldn't relate since I hadn't gone to mine. Curious about his, he laughed and admitted that since he couldn't go with his boyfriend, they'd each gotten fake dates and gone as a foursome.

I told him how impressed I was that they'd gotten beards for prom and not just any prom, but one themed "Stairway to Heaven."

Now that I've been to Reservoir Distillery for a tasting, I could appreciate why they won Local Food or Beverage Product of the Year for their Rye Whiskey. When Triple Crossing Brewing Company won Brewery of the Year, I whispered to Pru that I'd been there several times and she looked at me like I had two heads.

For jazz, darling, solely for jazz.

Strong women corrected alternative facts. Before the award for Wine Program of the Year was announced, the hosts read from the judges' opinion, praising the winner for its global wine program. When Secco won, owner Julia wasted no time in correcting that statement. "Our wine list is not global, it's European."

Personally, I think the judge should have noticed that in the first place, but that's just me.

For the first time, the room where the party was held downstairs was large enough to accommodate all the attendees, although, as is standard at the Elbys, there were not enough bars set up. At one point, I counted 30+ people in line to get a glass of wine, meaning you may as well get in line again as soon as you get your first glass.

I call that a flawed system.

We made the food rounds, danced a little and as per usual with the Elbys, food and drink runs out in short order and everyone cuts out for an afterparty where the real fun happens. And, this year, the compliments.

Our group had decided on My Noodle for karaoke and as a restaurant owner I've known for 20 years and I headed to the garage side by side, he marveled at how much time had passed since we first met during the grunge era. It was when he said, "You're even more attractive now than when we met!" that I was reminded why it's good to have old friends.

My Noodle was already hopping and a song I didn't recognize was being sung only slightly off key by a couple when we walked in and the bartender squinted his eyes at me, saying, "I know you." In no time, we were handed shots of Plantation Barbados 5 Year Rum, coincidentally by the guy who'd dated the woman in the pink wedding dress for five years before proposing.

The bartender I knew came from behind the bar to enthusiastically belt out Neil Diamond's "America" - I happen to know that Beau knew every word to that song - and I'm guessing by his polished perfromance that it wasn't his first time doing it, either.

When he finished showing off, he crafted cocktails for our group, mine a tequila, vermouth, pineapple and lime combo that appealed to a tequila-loving friend who ordered a repeat.

Other Elbys refugees arrived and before long the place was a wonderfully warm mass of humanity dancing, drinking, talking and flirting. At one point, I felt someone rhythmically bumping up against me and turned to see a woman using my backside to get my attention. It worked.

Our tweeting dictator wannabe would've hated how diverse the crowd was. I know I danced with no fewer than four successful immigrants and who knows what was going on with everybody else?

A guy who asked me to dance waited till we were on the so-called dance floor before assuring me that he and his wife have an open relationship, so he'd love to meet up with me away from the crowds.

I'm not going to lie, the dancing was great, but it was becoming clear that either the restaurant community is sex-starved or the Elbys make people horny.

Hardly surprising when you begin an evening in masturbatorial mode.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Everybody Cut Loose

Saturday nights don't always work out the way you expect them to.

When I'd first gotten tickets for HATTheatre's production of "Bill W. and Dr. Bob," the subject matter made my date decision for me.

Who better to see a play about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous with than the friend who will celebrate nine years of sobriety this summer? When we'd met in 2009, it was one of the first things he'd told me about himself - no doubt because he was barely a year sober at that point - and since then, I'd watched as he'd created a successful and satisfying post-drinking life.

So successful, in fact, that on Valentine's Day this week, he'd proposed to his girlfriend of the past year and tonight they were celebrating her birthday with a party.

Of course I'm incredibly happy for him and their future, but there went my date.

The friend I then invited had to cancel at the last minute because of a bout of vertigo, so I turned to another play lover who was unfortunately suffering with sinus problems. My final offer was received with great interest but no availability: he was having a dinner party tonight.

Clearly the powers that be intended for me to have a dateless Saturday night, a fact I accepted and exploited (chances are, I wouldn't have suggested to any of those companions that we begin at 821 Cafe, but with just me to please...) with pleasure.

Except I hadn't allowed for 821's proximity to the Altria Theater and tonight's Richmond Forum, so I had to throw back my black bean nachos at record speed before making the drive out Patterson to the sold out theater.

Snagging a single seat in the second row, I landed next to a guy (after tripping over his feet) also on his own, so once he apologized for his big feet, I couldn't resist asking what had attracted him to the play.

"My son is two years sober, but he almost died before he got sober, so I thought this would be interesting," he said. "Plus I got cut loose, so I'm always looking for things to do now." Seems that "cut loose" was his polite way of sharing that he was divorced.

Chatting revealed all kinds of information: that we'd arrived in Richmond within a year of each other, although he'd come from "downstate Illinois," so his move had been greater than mine. That he'd come tonight expecting a traditional stage and curtain, only to be informed what a black box theater was.

As the lights went down, he shared that he'd been to Al-Anon meetings himself, an apt segue to how the play began: with each character introducing himself and his situation in the style of AA meetings.

Telling the story of how two alcoholics - one a New York stockbroker and the other an Akron surgeon but both originally from Vermont ("Vermont is a good place to start a business for alcoholics") - who meet and discover that the road to recovery begins by sharing their story with another person who's been through the same liquor-induced hell, the play explores the early days of acceptance for alcohol as an incurable disease and not just weakness.

And while the production included much self-reflection on Bill and Bob's parts, it was also liberally laced with humor.

Are you Episcopalian?
No, I'm alcoholic.

But they're synonyms, right? And don'r get me started on the knowing and insightful words that came out of their wives' mouths before they started Al Anon together.

Loneliness becomes solitude...

At intermission, my seatmate and I picked up our getting-to-know each other conversation, beginning with his job buying furniture in Vietnam and China for importing here. What he likes about travel and what he avoids. He asked for suggestions on other theater companies to check out and returned the favor with book recommendations.

Then we moved on to our thoughts on the first act. He admitted that he'd done so much reading on the subject of alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous that everything he'd seen so far was completely familiar to him.

Broken promises. Blackouts and memory loss. Compromised job skills. Inability to have a successful relationship. But he also mentioned the difficulties of trying to love someone who's been changed by alcohol and waiting for them to come alive again. Of the pain of watching a loved one slowly kill him or herself.

I was finding it fascinating to see how the tenets of AA had evolved as the two drunks, as they referred to each other, had tried to figure out how to best lead other drunks to sobriety. Finding the first one to try it on was the hardest part.

With his innate charm and winning smile, Chris Hester played Bill as a guy who could "talk a dog off a meat wagon" while Ken Moretti's Bob was older, more cynical and completely resigned to a life of lies, hidden binges and drying out. Yin and yang.

Both were heartbreaking in their own way, but also inspirational in their shared desire to show others what had worked for them: talking to someone else who'd been through it and establishing a support network of others who understood the struggle.

"It worked for my son," my new friend whispered as the cast got a standing ovation. "Great meeting you and I promise I'm going to check out some of those theater companies you told me about."

Sometimes you get the ideal date without even doing the inviting.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mistaken for Friends

The powers that be long ago decreed today as National My Way Day.

Seems that today has been designated as the day when the world revolves around how you want to do things. Which is kind of how I live every day, but apparently some people need permission to do so.

Not me. When I was a kid, my Mom told me that every day was Children's Day and I took that to heart, presuming that once I got to adulthood, every day would be Grown-Ups Day and since no one told me differently, I've been going the "My Way Day" route ever since.

For others, hope you enjoyed today.

Because February is Great American Pie Month, my day began by walking to Sugar and Twine with Mac for a brown butter apple hand pie enjoyed at an outside table on an unexpectedly nice morning next to a panting bulldog.

That my backside brushed the head of a guy sitting inside - but awfully close to the door - as we walked out was not my fault, but I apologized anyway. "No worries at all," the stranger said. "I enjoyed it."

Although this week is officially National Secondhand Wardrobe Week, let's be real here, every week of my life is secondhand wardrobe week, although my recommendation would be to rename it National Recycled Wardrobe Week to make it sound groovier.

A black and white geometric knit dress - worn backwards because I like the way the zipper looks in front - was tonight's recycled choice.

In honor of today being National Cabbage Day, I took a favorite eater out - because it's also International Friendship Week - to assist my hired mouth with heaping helpings of lamb, chicken and, yes, cabbage.

In further service of said week, I took that friend to TheatreLAB to see "Grand Concourse," part of the Acts of Faith Festival, and another superb opportunity to see how The Basement space had been transformed this time.

We were wowed by what a phenomenal job set designer David Melton had done nailing every detail of a basement church soup kitchen, from crucifixes and pictures of Jesus to posters of OSHA legalities and health requirements, with all the shelving, pots and pans and stores of food that a real kitchen would require.

That the story of good and evil, love and loss, mental illness and manipulation ended with the lead character realizing that some acts can never be forgiven - nor should they ever be - made it all worthwhile.

As for February's busy calendar, I find it fascinating that while it's International Friendship Week, it's also International Flirting Week. Could it be that simultaneous celebrations are in order?

Discuss. Because that's my way every day.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Put on Your Readers

These things are happening and this is the medium I use.

That about sums up Richmond-born photographer Leroy Henderson's explanation for why he's spent over 40 years taking pictures of the world around him, a philosophy he didn't share with the crowd at the VMFA until almost the end of his talk tonight.

Waiting for the talk to begin, I noticed a woman across the aisle shooting pictures with a disposable camera. Just as my brain was registering how long it had been since I'd last seen one, the two young photographers behind me picked up the thread.

Check it out, she's using a disposable camera.
That's funny, I was looking online for disposable cameras, but they're running like 5 or 10 dollars each. That's crazy!
What's wrong with that? Sounds about right. Where can you get them any cheaper?
Are you kidding? At thrift stores in Pennsylvania, they're going for 2 or 3 dollars.

First they appropriated old Polaroid cameras and now, apparently, they're into disposables. These kids today.

Leroy's first camera had been a Brownie Hawkeye (which I knew of only because my Grandmother had had one), followed by a small bellows camera he'd sit on the piano just so he could admire it. I was amazed to hear that when he went in the army, he was allowed to carry his camera ("I had a very progressive first sergeant") and took pictures of his fellow soldiers cleaning their guns and drilling.

But we didn't see any of those photographs tonight, instead focusing on his work from the 60s, 70s and 80s, all in black and white, before a brief foray into color work from 2016.

It's striking to look at images such as his from the '60s and '70s because the world they captured looks so quaint and old-fashioned.

A black waiter in a white uniform serves a white family in a train's dining car. A young black boy sits in front of a poster of old white guys: Nixon, Humphrey, Rockefeller, McCarthy, Reagan and George Wallace. Multiple images of immaculately-dressed children navigating muddy Resurrection City on the Mall during the Poor People's Campaign in '68.

When a photograph of a young black ballet student standing in front of a bas relief at the Brooklyn Music School came up, Leroy said that photo had been very good to him, meaning he had sold a limited run of it. One of his customers had been Oprah, who had asked for a 10% discount.

Some people got a lot of nerve, that's all I'll say about that.

A 1973 shot of a family strolling through Central Park showed a shirtless Dad, Mom in short shorts ("Some of you all might not know, but those are hot pants," he explained) and two naked children, both with shoes and socks on.

But what had caught his eye and tickled his fancy was that the toddler girl had a purse hanging on her naked shoulder.

Lots of famous faces showed up, too. An older Rosa Parks looking at a poster of Malcolm X  at the Black Political Convention in Indiana in '72. A hip-looking young Jesse Jackson in MLK medallion, bell bottoms and vest. Muhammed Ali with the Jackson 5 ("To Ali's right, that's Michael, back when he was still black"). Angela Davis at a rally in '75 just after she'd been taken off the FBI's Most Wanted List, speaking behind bulletproof screens.

The photographs taken last year in color were jarring, as much because everything else had been black and white as because they'd been shot at anti-Trump rallies during the campaign, making for a vivid reminder of how early the resistance began.

Because there were so many great photographs to see and stories to share with the crowd, the talk ran long, but no one was going anywhere as long as this talented, humorous and insightful man was talking.

The last part of the evening was dedicated to him sharing how touched he was by the VMFA's attention to his body of work.

Earlier, the VMFA's director had said the museum is dedicated to correcting the fact that Leroy has never been given proper credit for his place in the annals of American 20th century photography.

Seems they've not only bought many of his photographs, but are determined to amass the best Civil Rights photo collection in the country. Could our museum be any cooler?

Leroy said he was impressed that so many interested people had come out to hear his talk tonight, but mainly that he'd been lucky enough to do what he loved for so long.

When I interviewed him a few years ago, the renaissance of interest in his work had only recently begun, but even then, his sunny attitude about life oozed gratitude for how life had turned out for a Richmond boy possessing a way with a camera.

Afterward, I wasn't the only one who headed upstairs to the photography gallery to take in the just-opened exhibit, "A Commitment to Community: The Black Photographers Annual Volume 1," which included several of Leroy's pieces but also pretty much laid out the compelling state of black photography circa 1973.

One showed a trio of cops at a protest rally who'd been pushing the crowd - including Leroy- from behind with nightsticks. He whipped around and caught the unpleasant looks on their face, nightsticks pointed, at close range.

A masterful move, but he he also acknowledged that it would be too risky a thing for a black man to do in 2017. But photography is Leroy's medium.

During the 8+ years I've been writing this blog, I can't count the number of times someone has suggested I add photos to it. I'm not sure if they get tired of reading all my verbiage (there's a reason this blog is called what it is) or just prefer illustrated tomes, but it's nothing I'd ever consider.

I'm just going to quote the most talented photographer who ever wanted to take my picture and leave it at that.

These things are happening and this is the medium I use.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

People's Parties

If it hadn't been for getting a grape scratch and sniff Valentine showing purple pterodactyls, I'd never have laid eyes on the 20-year old bottle of Chivas Regal found crusted with dust.

"Where you been?" was scrawled on the back of the card atop the official Valentine message ("Flying by with a Valentine Hi!"), but what caused me to pick up the landline was that it had arrived in the mail uncharacteristically a day late.

Every year since I've known Holmes, he's bought a package of kiddie Valentine cards and mailed them to friends like me and family, where they arrived punctually on Valentine's Day, occasionally the day before. Not this year.

Procrastination delayed Cupid's delivery, I was told, but as long as he was questioning my whereabouts the past two months, I was offering myself up. Tonight. Not that he'd missed me, but why didn't I join him and Beloved for dinner at Peter Chang? Tonight.

It was a rhetorical question that landed us at the bar catching up over three kinds of soup, shrimp dumplings, multiple orders of sesame noodles and bamboo flounder to the accompaniment of a bottle of Rose in just over an hour, allowing ample time to retire to his man cave to listen to vinyl.

Which we did, beginning with Joni Mitchell's 1974 masterpiece "Court and Spark," which everyone was enjoying when Holmes eased back in his bar stool and and asked inscrutably, "You know how I used to listen to this album?"

Without missing a beat, Beloved causally asked, "Stoned on LSD?" which may or may not have been the case, but turned out to be merely a stepping stone to the tale of his successive stereo closets, a saga full of arcane detail no man should recall after 40 years.

Seems that when he and his young bride bought their first house, the closet in the front room had already been modified to house some serious audio geek hi-fi equipment. It was the '70s, after all.

Shelves were hung for components, holes had been drilled for wire and cords and, on either side of the wall above the door were sizable hooks, the better to hold sizable speakers, which were further fortified by two chains to hold each speaker.

Naturally, the speakers were angled toward the couch, not hung exactly straight out. Naturally.

But because the layout was typical Richmond - long and narrow - speaker wire had also been run throughout the house so you could hear what was playing when you were in the bedroom or, even more important, on the rear sun porch.

And that, boys and girls, was how Holmes had listened to "Court and Spark" back in the day.

But, alas, eventually the wife wanted an entire house and not just a duplex, meaning the hep cat hi-fi set-up was left behind. Ah, but at the new digs, he had a basement with the potential to be a true man cave with a bar, shelves for VHS movies and a small room for his extensive comic book collection.

He tried putting the turntable on the Formica bar, but flailing drinkers and good times soon proved that to be a disaster-in-the-making.

But, wait! The stairs to the basement ran above the bar, leaving a wedge of space that someone handy (Holmes hired a carpenter) could easily turn into another stereo construct. The only difference was that his massive speakers now sat on the floor of the rec room, angled in toward the bar, under which were shelves holding hundreds of albums and a ridiculous amount of booze.

"It's kind of sketchy down there," Holmes tells me tonight, gesturing at the below-bar area, explaining that he'd dropped the brush to his Disc-Washer (for what it's worth, I didn't date a single guy in high school or college who didn't own a Disc Washer) down there recently and when he began rummaging around, he'd unearthed the dust-crusted bottle of Chivas Regal.

Best guessing and carbon dating led him to estimate its age at 20 to 25 years old.

Ever thrifty and resourceful, he'd removed the layers of dust and debris, found a silver tin for the bottle to live in and added Chivas into his brown sipping rotation. It's hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Next came one of Beloved's estate sale record finds, Tony Mottola's "Mr. Big" from 1959, a late Eisenhower-era lounge vibe that made it sound like an automatic beatnik party: four guitars, bongos and congas. Wild, man.

The cover art was superb: a black bowler hat with "Mr. Big" in white letters sitting on a red stripe. Graphically, it was distinctive enough that I scanned the album notes to learn the artist's name (Irwin Rosenhouse), but also some history (he was a Merchant Marine), only to be brought up short by the equivalent of a business card.

In addition to painting, Rosenhouse does designing and illustrating on a freelance basis.

Somebody had some serious marketing chops there. So much so I'm thinking of putting something similar on a t-shirt I'll wear on my daily walks: In addition to walking, I do writing and editing on a freelance basis.

Then when someone asks, "Where you been?" I can say out drumming up business. Cue the bongos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Wit is Nothing to Her

There are so many metaphors to be found in the goings-on of a busy Valentine's Day.

It's when your first "Happy Valentine's Day" comes from a stranger on Broad Street but is quickly followed by one from your walking companion who's already heard it from her honey.

Like today's soundtrack, whether my new Prince albums (home), classics like "Torn" and "Love is a Battlefield" (dinner) or the sweeping innuendo of James, which greeted me at the theater.

Got a dark heart for Valentine's Day? Looking to fill that empty space in your life with food? Come, be alone...together!

With the promise of angst-filled love/hate songs like "Don't Speak" and cheap food, it wasn't hard for a dark heart to be seduced by the Lonely Hearts pop-up mixer at Citizen, where I took the sole remaining bar stool directly in front of the kitchen and was immediately handed a bowl of spiced chickpeas.

Butternut tamales with mole and BBQ shrimp with bread for sopping smokey broth followed by flourless chocolate almond cake delivered satisfying sustenance while the kitchen provided the entertainment, succeeding at making me laugh a lot.

Whether touting the uses of tongs ("They just invented them!") or telling his assistant how best to start a pastry cone, the chef kept his suggestions terse. "If you have to force it, you're doing it wrong."

When I said, "That's what she said," my server was at my side in an instant, saying, "I'm glad it was you that said it." You're welcome.

When we touched on the loud, pulsing club vibe of District 5's Sunday brunch scene, the assistant pronounced the place a "UR bro scene," a subset of the collegiate population I disdain as much for the large purses and high-maintenance looking women as for their inability to parallel park.

Tonight's crowd was anything but.

Next to me was a guy who seemed to always be a dish or two ahead of me - but somehow managed to eat through $57 worth of food but barely drank, significant when everything was priced at $4, $5, and $6 - while marveling that I live without a cell phone.

'How can you do that?" he asked. Too general a question. Ask me specifics of how I do things, sir.Yet, he said he loved being overseas and not having a phone for the freedom it afforded him.

Interesting compartmentalization, right?

When I asked for my check, my server looked surprised. "You don't want to stay for the rest of the playlist?"

Kind of, sure, but I have tickets for a Valentine's Day show. Besides, as soon as I got in my car, "Love is for Lovers" came on and you can't do much better than the dbs for a soundtrack today.

James' "Laid" provided the soundtrack as I took a seat at the Comedy Coalition for "It's Complicated," an evening of sketch comedy done in a variety format, kind of like "Laugh In" with different recurring characters and scenes and new bits throughout.

Next to me was a comedic couple from Chicago who moved here two years ago and recently landed in Barton Heights, which they love for its easy access to everything. Behind me, I overheard some young comedic types kvetching. "Man, that goes all the way back to Belushi and Akyroid."

The way he said it, he could have just as easily said Abbott and Costello. Or Fred and Barney.

"Now when I go back and visit Chicago, I go to the Tower and cool shit, which I never did when I lived there. My family always just went to the museums," another voice says. Bummer of a childhood, dude.

"It's Complicated" ran the gamut of relationship issues from distasteful (daughter sings a song at parents' suburban cocktail party to tell them the neighbor's been abusing her) to film geeky (parents square off over the appropriateness of letting children watch "Star Wars" prequels) to topical (a duo tries out for a wedding gig but all their songs turn out to be activist songs - "But policy change brought us together!" the bride laments - so not exactly right for a reception).

A recurring bit involved two old broads, one with an eye patch, the other formerly married to a stuntman, at a bar drinking bloody Marys and ruminating on life. "As a child, I always wanted to be divorced," Eye Patch says. "I always wanted to be a widow. It's why I married a stuntman," the cigarette-smoking other says.

Some humor was overwhelmingly millennial, like a sketch about a guy's meticulous preparations to pop the question, only to have his girlfriend guess immediately and upset everything. When she runs roughshod over his speech about bower birds feathering a nest by calling her mother, he says, "Could you just stop? I've put a lot of work into this presentation."

He didn't want a trophy, just her attention.

In between sketches, there were commercials for "Scwartzman Diamonds, Cupid's Jeweler," focusing on inter-tribal warfare over diamond mining, stealing diamonds from tombs and other blood diamond concerns that always ended with a slow fade to a couple embracing and in love.

A dating game show called "You're Too Thirsty" ("thirsty" being a euphemism for "needy") involved three bachelors taking questions from a bachelorette about important relationship concerns such as how soon he would return a text, while another sketch had a nobleman falling in love with Alexa (and, yes, I know what Alexa is, smartypants) although he couldn't figure out why she didn't return his love.

Or answer his questions when he didn't say her name just right.

The three tenets of marriage - active listening, creativity and teamwork - were taught to a prospective son-in-law by the girl's vaguely psychotic Dad, who tested him with sports trivia, intruder scenarios and viable conspiracy theories.

One of which involved '60s musicians in Laurel Canyon with parents working for military intelligence and how they made music that created secret brain slaves to the Doors' Jim Morrison.

Confidentially, I think the Doors' Jim Morrison may have had enough overt sex slaves to preclude the need for any secret brain slaves, although it makes for a solid contender for a conversational heart: B MY SBS.

But it's Citizen who gets the award for most romantic. Each item of food was listed on the receipt as "Lonely Hearts," so you know they put a lot of work into that presentation.

If you have to force at laugh at that, you're doing Valentine's Day wrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rolling in the Deep Estrogen

What is Galentine's Day? Only the best day of the year! Leave the boyfriends and husbands at home and come and kick it. Ladies celebrating ladies. It's like Lillith Fair, minus the angst. Plus snacks.

Ovaries before brovaries!

Just a guess, but I'm pretty sure they'd have welcomed a girl in even if she had no menfolk to leave at home.

I was constitutionally unable to resist such an invitation - if you are, you're a better woman than I am - and that the call to celebrate came from Laura Lee's only made it a sure thing.

Last year, I celebrated my first Galentine's Day at Studio Two Three with chicken and waffles and a DJ playing vintage soul all night, so the bar was set pretty high for this year, but when I walked in and heard Whitney Houston blaring, I had a feeling things would work out just fine.

I got the last free bar stool in the place - which was packed - up against the wall, but with a superb vantage point of all the mostly female faces, many in traditional red. Naturally I'd worn orange.

Regardless of color, girl power was thick in the air as the speakers blasted George Michael.

The first familiar face was my girl crush (I had her Valentine's Day card at the ready) and the second was the music writer who's secretly a beer geek, with main squeeze and friend in tow. She'd come for the last keg of Veil Brewery's "Hornswoggler" which she'd attempted to taste at the brewery only to arrive moments after it had been finished.

Everywhere you looked, there were smiling women of all ages. There were a few men, some gay, some who'd happened in unsuspectingly with a partner and the outlier was a bearded musician who lives in the 'hood and decided he liked the odds on a night such as this.

Several of us admired his chutzpah, but I took it a step further and did it to his face.

The host, clad in tiara and pink boa, managed the vibe of the bar and dining room like the flawless party-giver he undoubtedly is, adjusting the music louder and the lights dimmer as the night wore on and people got looser.

I wanted the pork shoulder wonton soup but they'd run out of it, so instead I chose a salad with buttermilk dressing and a dish of butternut squash with golden raisins and capers in curry oil, which pretty much did double duty as dinner and dessert.

A friend had been tasked with photography duty and as we surveyed the room and what kinds of pictures he might take, he admitted he wasn't very good at capturing candid shots despite the array of interesting tableaux surrounding us.

Still, he knew he could execute the assignment. "Because if I can't get good shots of drag queens, I may as well go home," he concluded. A lesson no doubt learned in Photog 101.

Moments later, the volume was cranked again and Magnolia Pickett Burnside came out in full drag as Adele, mouthing the words to several hits as she made her way through the dining room. I scurried over to that side to watch the reactions of drag virgins (there'd been no announcement that there'd be drag tonight) which ranged from complete shock to a look of utter joy on one gray-haired woman's face.

Utter. Joy.

When Magnolia got to the dimly-lit bar, she began making her way down the line of stools singing and emoting, causing the photographer to lean in to say, "I can't help feeling like this is magic. This is the center of the female resistance tonight."

It was a reassuring thought during troubling times, the likes of which we'd already discussed. And, yes, very good vibes abounded.

The magic continued when our next performer did "Fat Bottomed Girls," including suggestively rubbing a bald bar patron's head while singing. Needless, perhaps, to say, skirts were lifted.

At one point, a couple started to come in to Laura Lee's, only to be greeted by Magnolia singing to a customer at the end of the bar. Their eyes got wide and terrified as they quickly scuttled into the dining room to escape the gaze of the room.

That became the program for the evening: each would do a song in full costume, then the party would go back to smaller conversations until the next performance which inevitably got the room all riled up again.

But mostly, people of the female persuasion just kept arriving. The happy couples who came in hoping for an early Valentine's Day meal mostly chose not to wait given that the place was full, there were more reservations coming and nobody was in any hurry to finish and leave on a Monday night.

Galentine's Day, for the uninitiated, is a marathon, not a sprint.

Women danced in their seats while they were chewing, while others sang along to every song while the performers only mouthed the words. Carrying on was encouraged.

Catching the host's eye, I made sure I told him what a great party it was. He winked proudly (he already knew it) and thanked me for noticing.

One of my favorite women showed up hungover and in search of a cheeseburger (her fave in the city) and took the stool next to me to talk. "Relationships are the easiest and the hardest thing in the world," she posited before music sidetracked us like it always does, a benefit for me since one of the tangents put a show on my calendar.

Like many of the women in the room, she admitted she had little use for Valentine's Day. Like Lillith Fair, there's just too much angst.

Far better to celebrate Galentine's Day properly...at the center of the female resistance. With snacks.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Available, Complicated, Taken

Aphrodisiac: food, drink or drug that stimulates sexual desire

So says Merriam-Webster, but would I really get any argument if I amended that definition a tad?

Aphrodisiac: food, drink, drug or 82-degree weather in mid-February that stimulates sexual desire

When you get up at 11 and it's already 70, your first order of business is opening every window in the apartment and then picking the music with which to launch such a day.

Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" at top volume does the trick quite nicely.

Walking toward the river, the first person who speaks to me is a guy driving down Marshall Street who calls out, "Hey, Mama," and makes a peace sign out the driver's window in my direction. I return same. Heading downhill through downtown feels like it's Folk Fest weekend because of the sheer number of pedestrians, cyclists and cars all going in the exact same direction.

Brown's Island may as well have had a festival going on for the masses of humanity spread out over it picnicking, strolling, lolling, sunning and, yes, on their cell phones, while the Pipeline walkway and its rocks and beaches were as congested as I'd ever seen them, even in summer.

Back at home, I put Joan Armatrading's "Walk Under Ladders" on the turntable and let "I'm Lucky" - a particularly apt reminder on such a glorious day - blast out my open windows and to the street below.

I have a theory that when the mercury goes up, so should the volume of the music, but more testing is in order.

Although I briefly considered attending another belly dancing technique class, I couldn't stand the thought of being inside with no open windows, so I read on the balcony instead, my pleasure tempered only by the knowledge that the warmth was to be short-lived.

Fortunately, my evening promised aphrodisiacs and a liberal sprinkling of "my people" at a pre-Valentine's wine dinner at Camden's, where the chef thanked the room for giving up Rick Astley at the National for his dinner and compensated with a vintage soul soundtrack.

Newlyweds Beckham and Beauty were already waiting for me (he having foregone a soccer game to be here) at a tucked-away table under an open window, making for the best possible seats on a still-balmy evening. Reminding them that tonight's menu pulled from the "Intercourses Cookbook," meaning all the recipes contained aphrodisiacs, Beckham smiled widely.

"I guess I know what we're doing after dinner," he said to his blushing bride. As well you should, my friend.

Pru and Beau arrived and we were all soon sipping and swooning over Schramsburg Vineyards yeasty "Mirabelle" Brut and nibbling croustades of house-smoked salmon and goat cheese.

When the handsome wine rep came to our table to explain the wine, he struggled to find the best verb to describe the winery's practice of moving the bottles of bubbly ever-so-slightly during fermentation to achieve such creamy mouthfeel.

He began with shake, which sounded too strong, then used agitate, which sounded even more violent and as he searched for a better word, Beckham suggested, "Fondle?"

Given tonight's theme, it got full confirmation from the table and I imagine his Mirabelle spiel will never be the same.

And while Beau had come to the dinner without any intention of buying wine, Pru let slip, "It is only for conversational purposes that I mention how much I like these bubbles," and bubbles were ordered.

The newlyweds were peppered with questions about their second wedding and month-long honeymoon (which included frequent beach outings, petting cheetahs, multiple wineries and enough indulgent time that each read a book a week) in South Africa, where the groom had discovered that South African-made pants were better tailored to his body, which he described as, "Large thighs and junk in the trunk."

But it was while he was trying to explain points of reference that he wisely resorted to drawing a map for clarification.

"Ah, handmade Google," Beau cracked about the ancient and noble art of cartography being executed in real time as we dove into Parmesan oysters accompanied by Virginia Dare Winery's "Two Arrowheads," a fragrant blend of Viognier and Roussanne named after a legend about a white ghost.

I was the first, but far from the only, wine lover to question a California winery called Virginia Dare, but we got the full scoop from the handsome one and I, for one, was satisfied to hear that it had its origins in a Norfolk winery and scuppernong grapes before heading westward ho.

The oysters were also the departure point for an 1871 tract being read that said that coastal men were less salacious due to their seafood diet.

"Coastal living is less stressful," Beckham observed, making me think maybe I should have taken that job at the beach after all.

As it turned out, we were only drinking the Virginia Dare because the wine that was originally chosen for this course, Taken Wine Company's "Available," was unavailable. You read right.

Happily that was not the case with their "Complicated" Chardonnay which showed up next and prompted the comment, "Available is unavailable, but of course complicated shows up. Isn't that always the way?" Pru shared that a wise woman had once told her that all men fell into one of three categories: gay, married or leaving on Tuesday.

I don't know about all that, but I'm here to tell you that "Complicated" was as perfect a pairing with crab quesadillas and peach salsa as could be hoped for.

We heard about Pru's new wine jail - emptying boxes meant 74 of 96 bottle slots were immediately filled - which Beau had assembled this weekend.

Dreary as that job sounded to me, he felt differently. Assembly held no appeal for any of the women at the table, yet when he asked of Beckham, "Do you like putting together Ikea furniture?" his answer was an enthusiastic, "I love it!"

Is it too far of a stretch to see a Venus/Mars metaphor there?

Spirits were high by the time Taken Winery's "Taken," a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, was poured (oh, and all those "takens" in the names? Because all the good wines names were taken by the time this winery needed some) and plates of coffee-rubbed lamb leg with warm artichoke and potato salad arrived.

We heard from the newlyweds how they'd re-created their first date by going to Secco and then on to L'Opossum for dinner, causing Beauty to reminisce about all the cocktails he'd ordered for her ("He quoted NPR on a first date, but he could have been roofie-ing me, for all I knew!").

And they say romance is dead.

The bill for the evening was high and, according to him, although she's the type to share costs, she didn't argue all that hard about paying her share that night. Mainly, she was wildly impressed because, "He hadn't tried to whip a kiss out," which may be one of my all-time favorite new phrases.

Instead he married her less than two years after laying eyes on her. Here's a couple who went straight from available to taken with nary a complicated phase to be found.

A nose of rose petals introduced us to Banfi "Rosa Regale," a sparkling red ("Italian, who else?" someone joked) made with the Brachetto grape in Italy's Piedmont region, that provided a delicately sweet accompaniment to housemade cheese and chocolate pate with pine nut cookies to close out the meal.

But with "my people," the final food course rarely means the end of the evening, and we were soon enjoying additional glasses of "Rosa Regale" with a small dish of conversation hearts (GOT LUV? mine asked) and random loopy conversation.

Their honeymoon had been a month too short. Beau's bittersweet chocolate cake had pleased him but not Pru. Jackass versus jackess.

So what did we learn tonight besides the limits of our waistbands and livers?

Manteo was chief of the Croatan tribe. Coastal men have it going on. And nothing sets the scene for a fine meal with friends like a sunny day.

Meanwhile, it is only for conversational purposes that I mention that not whipping a kiss out on a first date may just be the finest way to court before sparking.

Assuming no one's leaving on Tuesday.

Frogs' Legs, A Noble Aphrodisiac

It's not often someone gives me a cookbook and when it does happen, there's got to be a reason.

So when I received a belated Christmas gift of "Venus in the Kitchen" (first printing 1952, Great Britain) last week, my first reaction centered on how well the giver knew me - after all, it's not going to suddenly make me cook more often - when I realize its real charm is the era, the locale and the language.

Allow me to point out that the introduction is by Graham Greene. Yes, that Graham Greene. Go on, call me the third (wo)man.

Let us - shall we? - go to page 80 for Pie of Bulls' Testicles that begins by instructing the cook to "take four of them and boil them in water and salt before you strip them of their membranes." Then there's layering inside the crust: sliced ham, sliced testicles, mince. Repeat.

But here's the real secret: "Add, before shutting the pie, a glass of wine. Put it in the oven and serve hot."

And let's talk standard measuring devices: Cut your celery into pieces about a finger long.

The reason to try the recipe for goose kidneys? "Made into croquettes cooked lightly in the oven, is admirable for warming cold spirits."

Because, honestly, who among us hasn't been plagued by cold spirits at some point?

Snails a la C.C.C. N.I. advises, "Feed your snails for a fortnight on milk. This is not difficult, you have only to put the snails in an earthen vessel and cover it with a lid. Every morning, just pour a glass of milk on the snails."

The only thing I ever poured on snails was salt and it wasn't pretty or delectable.

The next morning, take your guts, cut some of them into thin slices.

Snails a la C.C.C. N. III comes with the most enticing incentive of all: "An old friend ate this dish in Boldigidinga when he was there and declares that he found himself at least 10 years younger!"

Like fancy moisturizers, except with more hyperbole.

Remove all the outer skin of the breast of mutton and wash it well.

Appealing as Scalloped Crab sounds, it comes with the caveat: "Not very invigorating."

Well, then, why exactly would I bother?

Under "turkey with pickled pork and onion" the recipe notes: Jews of a certain age could profit by this, if it were not for the pork.

Duh. Between stating the obvious and wondering what the hell they're talking about, this sounds both presumptuous and prejudicial. Neither is appealing.

Lest you over-estimate the power of Oysters in Champagne, heed the advice of the recipe: "Not everybody cares to treat oysters in this fashion."

My only question is, why not?

And, given that we're smack in the middle of Valentine's season, how about a recipe for Skink (a reptile aphrodisiac)?

The skink is lauded as a stimulant by many ancients. The difficulty will be to find it. But if someone chances to be in Africa or Arabia, he will be able to do so."

Assuming there's no ban on incoming non-natives, that is.

Of Langouste a l'Americaine, the author advises: "Monselat declares that if the chaste Joseph had been given this dish by Potiphar's wife, she would not have been snubbed on that memorable occasion."

Of course I'm dying to know what occasion that was.

The recipe finishes with, "Arabs still make use of it; the ancient Greeks did likewise, and Pliny the elder has left us a Roman recipe which differs from the one here given."

But it also doesn't tell you any details on that Roman take on skink.

A big eel is necessary, from which you remove the inside. Wash well and skin, leaving the head attached to the skin. Put the skin in vinegar and water, and leave it there until you have done the next operation.

For those curious about that operation, it involves boiling the flesh, de-boning it and pulping the flesh in a mortar. Before you know it, you're serving it hot, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Baked eels does at least come damned with faint praise: Nothing can be better for those who like eels.

And because we live in an era of increasing nationalism, there is, "Americans of a certain age, if they cared more for game than they do, might learn to appreciate the mildly stimulating effects of this puree."

They might if they weren't such idiots.

And don't even consider trying Puree of  Celery given its descriptor, "Rather banal, I venture to think." 

Then we eliminate that recipe from the book entirely, no?

Consumme Viveur includes the enticing statement, "Very stimulating, indeed," while Crayfish Soup is labeled "an approved aphrodisiac."

Appropriately, the book ends with Tonic Wine, which marries wine with juniper berries, Peruvian bark and bitter quassia, which is then mixed with bitter orange syrup.

Drink a Madeira glass of this every day. Warmly recommended by an aged friend.

Warmly accepted by same. But the Venus reference? Hopefully yes, but not perhaps in the kitchen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Resistance is Futile

Where better to discuss 45's latest embarrassment than on the way to Colonial Heights?

If I'm not mistaken, the round table discussion (or should that be rectangular car discussion?) got off the ground because of the awkward bully handshake he's been thrusting at world leaders lately by refusing to let go, but moved on to hanging up on the leader of the easiest-going nation around before we found a way to name it.

The consensus was that these past three weeks have given new meaning to the term "mind-boggling," spurring the backseat to relate it to shaken baby syndrome - boggled adult syndrome. It may not be contagious but it's clearly widespread.

And each of us deals with it in our own way.

I go out with friends and do things I enjoy as a way of banking good memories for the dark days when the regime's control is complete and such things are no longer possible.

It hurts my optimist's heart to write such things, but there it is.

What our quartet hadn't counted on when making plans for tonight was that for some lovers and would-be wooers, tonight was the main event because Valentine's Day falls on a school night, making our four-top stand out in a room full of couples dining at Chez Foushee.

Or maybe they thought we were swingers. We're not.

"I can personally vouch for the Sancerre," the Francophile noted and no one was going to argue with a personal recommendation.

In what has to be one of the most unexpected dishes on a Valentine's Day specials menu, fried chicken livers were right there next to a far more quotidian sauced fillet mignon with crabcake blah, blah, blah.

You can be damn sure the livers came to our table, along with multiple bowls of a sublime parsnip bisque heavily stocked with wild mushrooms, a platter of broiled local oysters under a mounding sauce of parsley, bread crumbs, butter and Pernod and - because it's irresistible and no one was offering to share - multiple brussels sprouts salads laden with candied walnuts, Bleu cheese, pickled red onions and swimming in red wine vinaigrette.

I told the group that chicken livers always took me back to Barbados because I'd over-indulged in them on my first night on the island and now the two are inextricably linked in my memory. Turns out one at our table calls Barbados his favorite Caribbean island, so he opened up the conversation by soliciting my opinion, which pretty much matched his for all the same reasons.

Over dinner, the word geek squad (all of us, really) went down the linguistic rabbit hole trying to figure out why, if vegetables can be cruciferous, do we call raw vegetables crudites? Shouldn't the root word be the same, making them crucites instead?

Legalities cropped up when the doting boyfriend told me that if, god forbid, his intended should vacate this mortal coil, he would be incapable of sorting through her bedroom so it would fall to me to sort through everything in her inner sanctum.

Well, of course I agreed to be executor of her bedroom, even before she sweetened the deal, saying, "You'll have to imagine me telling you from the beyond how cute you look in certain of my outfits so you should take them for yourself. You should bring a suitcase, wait, you can just take mine."

Shoe fetishes and dressing room etiquette were discussed over four supremely decadent desserts and I'm ashamed to say I was in the two-person minority who couldn't finish theirs, although I'm convinced that the sticky toffee puddings weren't nearly as dense as the double chocolate mousse tarts with praline sauce the rest of us had attempted.

Dessert failures always have an excuse, don't we?

We left behind couples still celebrating romance and staring into each other's eyes to trek to Swift Creek Mill Theater to see "Deathtrap" because sometimes murder is the result of love we had tickets.

Director Tom Width began the evening by telling us that when Swift Creek last produced "Deathtrap" in 1989, ambulances had to be called twice (no one died, mercifully) and once the ice bucket onstage was appropriated so a female in the audience could barf into it.

Small wonder they wanted to produce it again.

Except, of course, that we're no longer the sensitive souls we were in the late '80s, having upped our tolerance for dishonesty, hypocrisy and breaking the law significantly since then. The past three weeks alone have helped immeasurably with that.

I immediately recognized the playwright's name, Ira Levin, because of his book "The Stepford Wives," which, like every other feminist-minded woman with a reading list, I'd devoured and reviled for its misogynist themes.

But "Deathtrap," a one set, five character thriller, I wasn't familiar with.

Which turned out to be a lucky break for me because I was completely sucked in by the plot, of which I had no knowledge. Hell, I was so enmeshed in the thriller thread, we were halfway through before I recognized the gay theme.

Even better, it was written in 1978, making it chock full of dated references a millennial might have to go home and Google, like the Merv Griffin Show, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon or fear of obscene phone calls.

Meanwhile characters mentioned Women's Lib, middle aged suburbanites talked about "smoking grass at a party," writers debated manual versus electric typewriters and someone was derisively accused of "preaching" ecology.

Maybe they were preaching it because they worried that one day there'd be ecological imbeciles denying climate change.

Perhaps most tellingly, the biggest issues were changing cultural norms. "I know what gay means! Elizabeth told me!" or "Everybody's opening up about everything these days!" sounded positively archaic to modern ears.

Positively modern to archaic ears, on the other hand, is when you stand up to leave for the loo and are told that while they hate to see you go, they love to watch you walk away. Their fulsome appreciation didn't fool me, I knew it was the Berlin tights.

Everybody opens up about everything these days. I'm just enjoying it now before 45 bans that, too.