Wednesday, May 31, 2017

For Ace, Wherever You Are

Plans, it seems, are just suggestions and now I reek of a stranger.

Waking up after only seven hours of sleep this morning, I couldn't drift back off. I knew I had exactly three things planned for today, each one progressively more appealing: an interview on the Northern Neck, lobster dinner with my parents at the Inn at Montross and a show with my favorite music lover.

Returning from a walk where I'd investigated the eastern end of Brown's Island (finding it soggy, debris-strewn and still inaccessible to the pipeline walkway), I found a message from Dad: we would meet at the Kilmarnock Inn, not Montross.

This was actually more convenient for me (less driving) so I sign off on the change. The moment I hit the send button, I get an email from my editor asking if I can please cover an event tonight from 6-8.

Well, not if I'm eating dinner on the Northern Neck I can't.

Now I've got to check with Dad and see if we can meet before my interview for lunch instead of dinner. He agrees, but warns me he won't be freshly shaven if we do.

Shaving not required, I tell him.

The drive out is pleasant and only mildly unnerving when I get to the White Stone bridge which is being worked on. This means only one lane is open and a flagman is directing traffic, but it also means stopping at the pinnacle of the bridge for our turn to go and, let me tell you, it's an unsettlingly windy place to stop.

I console myself by looking at the portable toilet perched atop a trailer next to the construction equipment, feeling grateful that while I have to sit in my car at the height of this bridge, at least I don't have to relieve myself on high.

And as along as I was up there, I took a few photos out the window of the shimmering blue Rappahannock surrounding me, my arm hairs glinting in the sun.

The Inn is crowded and the table next to us is discussing impeachment, which would be a good thing except they're discussing Clinton. My parents live deep in conservative territory, so they're often in the minority when it comes to politics.

Dad and I have Crab Louie salads piled high with crabmeat and we all share housemade peach ice cream for dessert while Dad tells me how much relief he's getting from acupuncture and Mom ghoulishly describes watching the needles being inserted.

When I get to where my interview is scheduled, I learn that the interviewee is stuck on the bridge, which is how I wind up in an Adirondack chair on the front porch of a radio station reading the Washington Post waiting for the manager to escape the bridge line.

A woman who'd won a prize on the morning radio show drives up and asks if I work for the station. When I say no, she heads inside to claim her prize. I learn that today is also her birthday and I wish my fellow Gemini a happy one.

Because my subject was a half hour late, I get back to Richmond later than planned and I need to be at this event in half an hour. Fortunately, it's 3 blocks away and I walk quickly.

I have just long enough to glance at my inbox, where I'm surprised to see that a friend from Boston has emailed, but I don't bother opening it now when I have somewhere to be.

Once there, I begin talking to people for my story and all of a sudden a woman approaches, throws her arms around me and hangs on for dear life. I don't know her, but I hug her back so long and hard that she finally mumbles, "You're a really good hugger!" Even so, we hang on to each other even longer.

We move over to a bench to sit down and I get a whiff of her scent on me. It makes me feel very unlike myself since I don't wear perfume, but I unexpectedly enjoy knowing that I smell girly. She tells me I'm beautiful, raves about my dimples and runs her fingers through my hair, saying we should start a band because of our punk hair.

I have no idea what rabbit hole I've gone down.

After the tribute ends, people begin drifting over to Quirk for drinks (a somewhat ironic way to celebrate a man who died of alcoholism) and several ask if I'm coming. Because I have plans in an hour, I really can't, although it would be a beautiful evening to be on the rooftop at Quirk.

Turns out the friend from Boston is in town for the night only and wants to get a drink and chat after not seeing each other in years. I have exactly 58 minutes free before being picked up for music, but I'm game and ask where he is.

Before he responds, I hear from my favorite music lover, who is suffering from too little sleep (join the club, Tiger, I'm operating on a two-hour deficit myself and all because of anticipation about seeing you-know-who) and indigestion, so he's bowing out of music tonight.

As compensation, we spend a pleasurable hour volleying words back and forth as I put away the detritus from today's road trip, take off my going out clothes and settle myself contentedly on the balcony with a bowl of raspberry sherbet.

And, man, do I smell good. Too bad nobody will know.

To Wow, To Stun, To Amaze

Where do you get your validation from?

Citing my minimal Facebook postings and complete absence on Instagram and Twitter as leaving me without a platform with which to know when people think well of me, a good friend posed that question the other day.

Before I could even formulate a clever response, her husband did it for me. "She was old enough when all this nonsense started to already be confident about who she was, so she doesn't need validation."

Okay, I might not have thought of framing it that way, but that's as good an answer as any.

Of course I feel gratified that people read my blog, but when I stop writing it, I know life will go on. Like most people, I appreciate a compliment, although much more so from someone close than a stranger, but I'll take what I can get.

I don't know if it's true of everyone, but I've always been happiest when I felt validated, especially on an emotional level. Maybe it's the Gemini in me, but nothing validates me like conversation with the people I care about most...except laughter with those same people.

And maybe that's it. I've been accused of being able to talk to a brick wall (untrue, by the way), but maybe my tendency to talk to anyone within conversational distance is nothing more than a desire for validation.

If I talk to them, if I can get them engaged and smiling, maybe even chuckling at something I say, I feel like I've accomplished something. It's a real world "like."

Waiting at the bar for Chinese food, I struck up a conversation with a young guy eating dinner after he smiled when I gave the bartender my order. In no time, we knew what each other did, shared opinions on city versus beach living and discussed the ease of recording music in 2017.

As I was paying, he handed me a tiny purple card printed with the words, "I love you," smiling and saying, "In case no one has told you that today." Corny? Maybe. Sweet? Certainly. Then he left.

Because some days, validation comes from the most unlikely places.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Chemistry of Romance

I'm as contrary as the next woman, but I couldn't quite figure out who to root for at first.

When it's a story about a middle-aged couple bored with each other after 30 years of marriage, it's only natural to want to see them each end up with their younger lovers, right? Why keep plodding through a relationship that's grown tepid when you can start fresh with someone new who doesn't know you as well...yet?

Because why wouldn't I cap off a Memorial Day afternoon eating crabs by myself in the back yard with a movie that takes an unabashed look at screwed up grown-up relationships by acknowledging that romance and sexual attraction continue unabated into middle age?

Don't answer that.

Anyway, I had every reason to go because "The Lovers" was directed squarely at adults, an authentic comedy that was played for the familiar notes of reality rather than easy laughs. That it starred a 62-year old Debra Winger as Mary and Broadway actor/playwright Tracy Letts as Michael turned it into the most fascinating kind of character study.

Watching the two of them go from happily unfaithful (Michael tells his girlfriend, "I was just tired of all the bullshit" about why he strays) to re-finding their attraction for each other amounted to a master class in acting, especially watching cold-hearted Mary melt with the attention and PDAs of her real love.

And once that happened, watching how much passed between them without words was as romantic as having poetry read to you (or written about you).

Almost immediately, they're cheating on their paramours with their spouses, an absurdist premise if there ever was one. But it also oozed romance because they're not just lusting after each other, they're firmly back in love with each other, or at least acknowledging that the love never really left, it was just buried under duty, routine and ennui.

Even Michael's girlfriend notices a difference, telling him, "You're so light and cheerful and nice! I love when you're like this!"

Needless to say, he didn't admit what had put the spring back in his step.

One of the sweetest scenes involved Michael sitting down at the piano after decades of avoiding it to play and sing (not particularly well, but that wasn't the point) a Madness song to Mary.

I never thought I'd miss you
Half as much as I do
And I never thought I'd feel this way
The way I feel about you
As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day
I know that it's you I need
To take the blues away
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

How often does a film tackle the nitty gritty of middle-age relationships - why we plan to leave someone we love, what makes us choose to stay and what urges lead us in both directions - and deliver a classic '80s ska song?

Spoiler alert: I rooted for Mary and Michael, not the lovers. It must be was clearly love.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Socially Engaged

When everyone's heading out to Memorial Day barbecues, where else would I go but to a matinee at the Bijou?

It was steamy and the rain had let up for a bit, but I'd have walked through a downpour for a good documentary and "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City" was definitely that.

Based on how many multiple pleasure points it hit - cultural history, architecture, civic activism, feminism, urban life - I concluded that I was just the nerdy demographic for a film about a woman journalist taking on a big league NYC developer to stop him from destroying neighborhoods circa 1950s to '60s.

You go, girl.

Embracing the deeply flawed mid-century goal of urban renewal (aka "Negro removal," the film reminds us), big bad developer Robert Moses has no compunction about extending a road through a park, running a highway through lower Manhattan (a move that would have wiped out entire swaths of SoHo) and replacing tenements with massive housing projects.

Naturally, it took a woman to point out that a city is not made up of shiny new buildings and easy access for cars, but made up of people, people living their lives on the sidewalks and streets of that city. Social engagement nearly 24/7.

And when you take away stoop culture, the neighborhood becomes more unsafe because fewer children on the street mean fewer adults looking out for them. Fewer shops and restaurants interspersed between houses mean fewer people out at night and history has proven that strangers and bad guys show up when few people are around.

Jane also noted that cities are like a social ecosystem that corrects itself when something is out of whack and when you stack people on top of each other, it messes with the ecosystem.

The documentary used lots of wonderful old film footage to show the bustling sidewalk scenes of life in NYC during the 20th century.  In one memorable scene, a woman who lives in Little Italy and is at a protest against the Manhattan Expressway expresses frustration about people being made to move so anonymous hi-rise housing projects can be built.

Her complaint? Without cafes scattered along the streetscape, it won't be safe for women to walk around at night. She says she feels perfectly  safe walking around the neighborhood, even at 2 a.m., because she knows that all the men are in cafes looking out for them when they go out at night.

Besides the flagrant sexism of men sitting in cafes every night while all their womenfolk can do is walk over to a girlfriend's house, that's a pretty fascinating slice of immigrant life at mid century.

Moses tried to shake off Jane and her band of concerned citizens (so you have to kick some people out of their homes, it's all in the name of progress, rah, rah) but organized protest prevailed and today Soho stands and there's no highway through lower Manhattan.

The film even connected the dots on significant female treatises of the period, linking up Jane's landmark book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" with Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," all published between 1961 and 1963.

Even so, Jane was mockingly referred to as a housewife by the press despite years of journalistic experience writing for Architecture Forum and Vogue. Twice as hard, backwards and in high heels, that's a woman's lot.

Walking out of the Bijou at 3:30 on a muggy afternoon, I looked around for some of that teeming social ecosystem that populates city streets, but hardly anyone was out and about. Oh, right, it's Sunday, the bland filling of the Memorial Day sandwich.

Looks like everyone else got invited to a cookout.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Take Me to the River

James, is that you I hear?

When I headed down to the river today, it was with the expectation that the river would be high, brown and fast-moving, just like it was yesterday on the T Pot Bridge when I'd watched enormous tree trunks, branches akimbo, bobbing along like toothpicks.

That was child's play compared to what I found once I got down to the pipeline walkway today.

When you descend the metal ladder to access the pipeline, the water all around tends to be shallow, nearly still and many feet below. It's a popular place for ducks to paddle around and bob for food.

Not today. I was gobsmacked to find that the raging James is already swirling maybe barely 18" below the walkway. Completely under several feet of water were my favorite beach as well as the bikini beach and the fisherman's beach.

It was completely disorienting to have all the signs of land missing with only treetops breaking the surface of the water.

The first set of rapids you usually see when walking west are so far underwater that they're no longer recognizable as rapids. Pshaw, it's just another maelstrom in a fiercely fast river. The second set, a favorite of kayakers whom I've seen careen over it and then intentionally flip themselves 360 degrees, looks downright terrifying in James' new state.

Powerful brown waves crash and circle a vortex of some sort, a huge and unnatural-looking hole in the water where rapids should be.

It was impossible even to get to the end of the walkway without waves hitting the pipeline with such force (and a mere foot below walking level) that my legs and shoes kept getting wet. The river itself was completely over top of the pipeline beyond the walkway, and not just covered in water, but with waves rolling along it.

Herons perched on old bridge supports and tucked themselves into the northern shoreline, one nabbing a fish from the river while a group of us watched. A woman with a telephoto lens captured arresting pictures of the herons going about their business on a day on the river where it was anything but business as usual.

I paused to speak to a couple who'd come down to walk and then have a picnic lunch. Holding up the little cooler that housed their food, the wife said, "I don't know where we're going to picnic now!"

My suggestion was Libby Hill Park for a completely different kind of view of the James in action. Surely that historical glimpse of the famous bend must be breathtaking now from so high up. They loved the idea, saying they'd never have thought of it.

What they'll lose from up there, unfortunately, is my favorite part: the roar of the James and today its volume and dynamism rival that of an ocean, a roar made up of fast-moving water and waves crashing in every direction.

Intellectually, I know such force is the sound of danger, but emotionally, the sound of water translates to a relaxed, almost meditative state for me. I attribute it to my parents first taking me to the beach when I was 14 days old.

I could stand here all day listening to you rage, James. And honestly, I don't mind getting a little wet to do it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pulling Mussels from the Broth

My right hand will never catch up to what the left hand already does ably.

I think there's a metaphor there.

I'm right handed so without giving it any real thought, I suppose I always expected that it would be my right hand that showed signs of wear and tear first. When it was my left that began giving me the occasional twinge, I was really surprised.

Then I began paying attention to what duties I'd assigned to each hand  and it quickly became clear that I expect indentured servant hours from my left hand while my right hand sits on the back of the parade car and waves at the crowds.

With my left hand, I do the heavy lifting, the grunt work, the multi-tasking and all the back-up work so that my right hand can stay relatively unencumbered. I'll come in from the car with a bag of groceries, a container of laundry detergent, a bottle of water and the mail, all in my left hand.

Meanwhile, my right hand holds my keys, and it should be noted that my key ring has only 4 keys on it. The question is, why don't I distribute more equitably?

Honestly, I have no clue, but my guess would be that my over-thinking brain decided on some level decades ago that the right hand must be favored at all costs, namely my left hand. And now that I'm trying to be more equitable about assigning chores to my hands, I am learning how pitifully inept my right hand is at a host of chores my left hand could do bandaged.

So I got to thinking about the bigger picture. Had I done the same thing with other aspects of my life? Do I excel at finding interesting things to do and going out daily at the expense of working harder at my friendships and relationships? Am I still guilty of the same thoughtless actions I was making during the Reagan years?

Hold the phone, how did I not notice sooner?

Reading through the curlicues of youthful handwriting in my college journal was decidedly enlightening and recent conversations with several long-time friends have helped bring into focus some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head.

More than a few times, someone has asked me if I felt obligated to go out so often in order to have something to blog about.

I could always say no with honesty, that I go out because, for the most part, this extrovert sometimes needs to be around people after working alone all day, and because I truly enjoy having experiences, whether the obvious - music, film, food, art, theater, readings - or the obscure - a VW Bug festival, belly dancing class, workers' parade.

One of the downsides of making plans for practically every evening is that it allows little room for the spontaneity of accepting an 11th hour invitation and often those are the best offers. Or perhaps they just feel that way because of the delicious way they drop in your lap.

This May I've rounded a corner and those realizations have been on my mind practically constantly. I'm consciously working on me because I know I could use some improvement and I'm that cockeyed optimist who believes it's time.

You naturally feel good. [Fact] Your need to complete a certain task could require some time. [I didn't expect to change overnight, so this isn't exactly news] You might be enthusiastic about the coming weekend. [Having little planned leaves me free to be enthusiastic about whatever happens] You take a proactive and positive approach with nearly everything you do now. [Because I sincerely want to re-focus]

A bookmark a friend gave to me today quotes Jennette Wells. "One benefit of Summer was that each day we have more light to read by." Now there's a beautiful sentiment.

I'd say that one benefit of Summer is that each day I have more light to slow down and figure out by. My aim is true.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pretty in Pink

He didn't, of course, but he might as well have planned it for me.

If I'd wanted to attend a wine tasting class as part of my birthday celebration, chances are I'd want it to be a pink class.

And as Mac just recently pointed out, that's exactly what Amour Wine Bistro was having tonight: Le Rose Wine Tasting: Rhone Valley and Provence.

Birthday schooling of the highest order. Reservation for two, please.

An attendee tonight could be forgiven for thinking that the class was really just a means for the owner to gather a group of interesting women to hang on his every word, because that's what it seemed to be. Not that a restaurant owner would do such a thing.

Every single attendee was female. And eager to learn. Overheard: "Oh, I love eggplant, but I don't know how to cook it."

Looking to start off with something unlikely, the owner poured a tannic 2007 E. Guigal Rose from the southern Rhone valley to prove that some Roses have wonderful aging potential. "It's 2007 again and we're all young!" he joked. "Who was President then?"

The man who never looked so good as he has in retrospect the past 120 days, that's who.

To set the scene for Domaine Pere Caboche Rose, he painted a picture. "For this wine, you should be sitting on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, with a barbecue grill over here for the fish you caught this morning - or got at the market - and drinking this," he said, conjuring up a great visual. "Then you have it all!"

I don't know, give me the terrace, the sea and the grilled fish and I'd probably be quite happy drinking anything. With the exception of the woman who called out, "Are you gonna come cook the fish for me because I just can't do fish on the grill," we got his point.

He admitted his favorite was Le Petit Rouviere Rose and that's one I've swooned over for years because of its lush peach notes and long finish.

Lest it sound like we were hunkered down sipping pinks, listening intently to terroir lessons and taking abundant notes, it should probably be acknowledged that we had a steady stream of food coming at us all the while.

White bean, beet and arugula salad segued in to salmon and tuna tartar with capers on thick, chewy crostini and then creamy Dijon mustard sauced chicken with rice kept our Rose-addled attention spans focused until chocolate tart covered in fresh strawberry slices arrived.

Meanwhile, Teacher had moved on to the finer points of Domaine Petit Coeur Rose, so we refocused on the wine's refined elegance instead of drooling over the bottle's sexy shape because Mac and I just aren't that shallow.

That bottle would make a great candle-holder, that's all I'm saying.

It was while we were sipping the summery aromas of blossoms in a glass courtesy of Domaine Mas de la Rouviere Rose from Bandol, that the owner dazzled one and all by bringing out the equivalent of four bottles of Rose in one hand.

You could just see some of the women's eyes go glassy at the prospect of an entire box of Chateau Montaud Cote de Provence Rose and it wasn't long before several of them requested a box of her own to take home. Just don't be too quick to judge.

For those dedicated to the art of Rose, that's what we call homework. For those of us celebrating our birthdays in long form, it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Happy Birthday from the Modfather

Birthday/May 23
This year you warm up the waters with a difficult person in your life. You are prone to the unexpected and frequently can be found responding to situations triggered by surprising events. If you are single, take your time getting to know someone who seems like a nearly perfect suitor. If you are attached, communication flourishes between you and your sweetie. Taurus plays a significant role in understanding what you want from certain situations.

Leave it to the Washington Post to kick off my birthday talking about all kinds of relationships. Like I never give them any thought.

Technically, my parents inaugurated my birthday with a cheery phone call at 10:50 that woke me up and got me out of bed. According to Mom, they'd waited till then to call, thinking I'd be back from my walk, so I didn't bother disabusing them of that notion.

While I was making breakfast, the phone rang an unlikely second time and I picked it up to hear an instantly familiar voice, that of my college friend, biggest booster and, for the last few years, my long distance friend since he's now a Key West resident. Few voices could have surprised me more.

Although he reads the blog regularly and often emails to comment or share a related thought (he picks up a lot of nuances most don't because he's known me so long and so well), we too-rarely talk on the phone, which is a damn shame because we love to laugh together, challenging to do over the interwebs.

My birthday walk was satisfyingly beach-like, alternating damp and drizzle, but with mid-60 degree warmth and a capricious breeze to make it feel like the weather gods were stewing on something. Stew away, as long as I can wear shorts, it's a good birthday.

When I got home, I cut myself a birthday bouquet of lavender and blue hydrangeas, deeply fragrant pink heirloom roses and mauve lilies, putting them in a black vase to tone down the girliness pastel explosion a tad.

Dinner involved all my favorite things - bubbles, oysters on the half shell, crab, good bread, dark chocolate - set to a swinging Sinatra soundtrack over five unhurried hours.

The afterparty revolved around my birthday gift from a handsome friend (and his new bride), who'd thoughtfully brought back from their month-long honeymoon in South Africa a bottle of Spice Route Pinotage for me.

It was a beautiful wine, intense and rich, and the ideal sipper for a record listening party that involved more of my birthday gifts (thank you, Pru and Beau) as well as some of my own recent purchases and golden oldies.

From the gift pile came the number one album from 1982, Asia's eponymous debut, sounding so overblown and prog-pop it was hilarious. A gift nearly 20 years ago, The Pretenders' "Get Close" sounded just as funky as it had in '86. Choosing from Friday's purchases of Marvin Gaye's last two albums, "In Our Lifetime" and "Midnight Love," the latter got the nod.

Since conventional wisdom has it that unless you're desirous of certain results, the one thing you should never put on after Marvin Gaye is Roxy Music, it was inevitable that Roxy's "The Atlantic Years 1973-80" followed Marvin, raising all sorts of lyrical questions.

Can you really dance away the heartache? Who's got angel eyes? Is love the drug? Is it worth waiting till the midnight hour? How can Jimmy John's make a sandwich so fast?

More importantly, will I ever have birthday years where I'm not prone to the unexpected? When I'm not frequently being found responding to situations triggered by surprising events?

Today I woke up to an email from my best friend from college, still my biggest fan and, tragically, a Texas resident.

So, did you have a good night? I was going to call but figured you would be out and about. I hope you enjoyed your special day. I thank your Mom and Dad every year on your b-day for their horniness (I know, very tacky). Love you...

I don't know if it can be considered tacky when my birthday card from Mom and Dad referenced the same horniness: "When it comes to making the world a better place, we've done our part. We brought you into it!"

Out of the mouths of the two people whose relationship I admire the most.  Here's to another birthday year of owning who I am and where I came from.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Getting Busy On My Life Soon

When better than a solo birthday eve to reflect back on the early years that got me here?

Full as the card catalog in my brain may be (both family and friends defer to my collective memory rather than storing memories themselves), much of its archives are so densely packed at this point that they aren't easily accessed.

To the rescue: my handwritten journal, discovered in the bottom of a drawer today.

July 27, 1973
There was a picture on the front page of the Washington Post this morning showing the unanimous vote of the Watergate committee to bring Nixon for testimony. Should be interesting if he does appear.

July 28, 1973
Began Shakespeare's "As You Like It" yesterday and finished it today. I didn't know I had it in me. Really enjoyed it. I'd love to read them all soon, but I haven't got the time.

August 2, 1973
Roger wanted to see me badly tonight, or so he said. That was such a nice thing to tell me. Karen, the incurable romantic.

August 31, 1973
My third big day at University of MD. Botany lab doesn't look very encouraging. All that labeling could mean trouble. The pollution lately has been around 165 (100 being unsafe), which is the alert level. It just hangs in the air...The Watergate committee told Nixon he had to hand over his famous tapes.

September 27, 1973
The news is discussing the current gas station strike. They are closing to protest the prices of Phase IV (the illustrious plan of our wonderful leader)... My first hourly exams are coming up and I should be studying.

October 8, 1973
I heard Jane Fonda and Tom Haydn (husband activist) speak Friday. It was pretty interesting.

October 15, 1973
Agnew resigned last Wednesday and pleaded "no contest" to an income tax evasion charge. Nixon nominated Gerald Ford (minority leader) for the vice presidency. Agnew resigned on the agreement that he'd get court leniency and no more charges pressed...What a sad state of affairs this country is in.

April 3, 1974
The bookstore's still my part-time job and so far, I have no summer job. Roger got one at Greenbelt Park but he has to get a haircut first. And get this: he's going to do it!!! For a job! A year and a half's growth cut off! Oh, Pompidou died yesterday. France is all a-twitter wondering who will succeed him.

September 23, 1975
Kelsey and I went down to a club in Georgetown to dance Saturday night. Danced four straight hours...Bob had a party last week and we all had a great time. Got home about 4:45.

December 1, 1975
Bought a car last Friday! Blue VW, '66 that runs well...Jennie and I have taken up jogging  a mile every morning from 7:00 to 7:30. It feels really good and I don't mind the early hours at all.

December 7, 1975
I called Bob H. the other night to finally clear the air. I'm not sure if it did any good, though. He wants to either date but act the same at work or else continue ignoring each other like we are. I'd like to just be friends... Leo got married Friday at the courthouse. I was really surprised when he told us. Maybe he'll settle down a little, who knows? Leo was the one who told me to make up with Bob. He thought I'd probably blow it, though.

January 28, 1976
 I met a new person. Her name is Bonnie and she lives in Bowie but she's from California. We can talk about anything (and usually do!).

April 23, 1976
One month exactly until my birthday! We've had 80 and 90 degree weather all month. It's really weird. I can't ever remember April being like this...Curt and I saw America at the Capital Center last night. We saw a couple of ballets at the Kennedy Center the week before. Bonnie and I saw Carole King down at Constitution Hall back in March. The weekend before my birthday is the Paul McCartney concert and I'm really looking forward to that. Curt and I saw the Boston Symphony at the Kennedy Center a couple of weeks ago...I've been doing 40 sit-ups every night for the past month or so.

July 27, 1976
I registered to vote. The Democrats nominated Carter. It looks like the Peanut King may be our next President after all...Curt and I went to see "All's Well That Ends Well" at the Folger Theater. It was really super. I'd never been there before (nor had he)...Bonnie is teaching me to play tennis.

August 17, 1976
Curt wants to move to California next year. If he goes, so will I. He's worried I'll miss my friends and family but Bonnie says I'll love California. She's trying to convince Gerry to move out there but he doesn't want to.Who knows? Things could happen in the next year to change everyone's plans.

September 3, 1976
It's so unusual for me to make an entry in this book at night - and a Friday night at that...I saw "Same Time Next Year" with Cheryl at the National Theater Wednesday night. It was the funniest play I've ever seen.

April 5, 1977
Bonnie and Gerry may be moving to Boston in June!  I don't know what I'll do if Bonnie moves away. As it is, I can barely go two days without talking to her.  We're going to the Cap Center to see Boston tonight.

May 12, 1977
What do you do when you're bored all of a sudden and everything is routine? I'm not unhappy but I feel like I do the same things in the same way all the time. I wish I could think of some way to make this summer more exciting. It never does any good to get depressed and feel sorry for yourself (especially like now because I'm unsure why I feel this way) but then how can you stop yourself?

July 15, 1977
Sandy and I are in Guadeloupe...Monday breakfast: first croissant (good). Dancing: met Americans, hot!...Tuesday: beach and sunfish (always knew I'd like sailing)...Wednesday lunch: real Creole meal, stuffed conch (delicious!)...Thursday breakfast: boring, same ham and roll...Saturday afternoon: went to secluded nude beach to lay out...Sunday breakfast: I may turn into a piece of ham....

August 23, 1977
I registered for classes today. Schedule:
Art history -The Renaissance in Italy
Art history - Impressionism
...I am outside now and I am also listening to records.  It doesn't even stay light until 9 p.m. now. I guess Summer is fading fast. "Lemme go, lemme go," that 's the song now playing. P.S. I am listening through open windows...This reminds me of someone: "Baby, baby, I can live without you." Remember now? Tear stained lashes laced the pillow. Oh, my god! I'm turning into a romance writer! ...Elvis died last week. Sebastian Cabot died today...A guy walking his dog just asked, "How's your old man doing?" Etiquette 1977- Not how's your "husband doing" or "boyfriend doing," it's "old man doing." My boyfriend is fine.

May 31, 1978
Bonnie is down now visiting (I love it). She got down on my birthday (my 22nd- what an old lady I'm getting to be!)...Curt and I went through a bad period about a month ago, but that's over. He was feeling neglected  so I've made a point to spend more time with him. Mom gave me one of those talks about "losing a real gem" if I didn't shape up, so I've been thinking a lot about that...He's sweet, kind, patient (hard with me), gentle, generous (to a fault), loving and everything I could want except for deep-rooted male chauvinistic qualities which I would have to learn to live with...And would our relationship change if I did say yes to marrying him? Will we each subconsciously begin to role play? I dread such a thought and yet, who is to say?

November 14, 1978
Old Grandma died on November 2.  It was the saddest day I can imagine...I visited her every day except one during the three weeks she was in the hospital...I always teased her that I was her favorite...One day when I walked into her hospital room, her new roommate said, "You must be Karen, her granddaughter, the one she's always bragging about. She's always telling me how ambitious you are - how busy!" I just smiled but if Grandma had only known how much it pleased me that she would boast to a stranger about me- well, that's made me happy for weeks.

January 3, 1979
I can't believe I've been keeping up with this journal for 5 1/2 years - boy, all the things that have happened since 1973!... I'm going to be 23 this year and Curt will be 30! Boy, rocking chairs, here we come! If I don't get busy on my life soon, it'll be too late.

May 23, 2017
My, my, young Karen, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I still read the Washington Post every day. Let's see, the lively arts - Shakespeare, ballet, symphony, theater - continue to seduce me weekly. Even now, guys who can pull off long hair, nights devoted to dancing, endless live music and travel float my boat. I'm also just now noticing a thread of Virgos.

No memory of discussing a move to California; botany lab was as awful as I'd expected and, if I hadn't seen it in my own youthful scrawl, I wouldn't have believed I ever jogged - even for a mile - much less at that hour.

Oh, and learning tennis? I only let her attempt to teach me because I wanted a really cute tennis dress I saw in a newspaper ad (no, really). Didn't get it.

At the start of this year's birthday, I could say the country remains mired in a sad state of affairs but the good news is, I'm not yet in a rocking chair (is that even still a phrase?).

And, for better or for worse, I'm still the same incurable romantic I've always been.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It Shoulda Been You

It's a Saturday night tradition to progressively celebrate my birthday.

The past three years, I've been accompanied by two favorite couples, but this year, I wanted a third dynamic duo added to the mix. The funny part was her comment, "Wow, we finally made the cut! I guess we were just being auditioned up 'till now."

Not true, but their presence was a lovely addition to the party.

Things kicked off at Metzger because Mr. Fine Wine's music never gets old and just after opening is the very best time to enjoy Metzger before it's noisy and overcrowded. I arrived at the bar to find four of my six friends awaiting my arrival with bubbles in front of them in my honor.

I'm not entirely convinced that they wouldn't have been drinking bubbles anyway, but still, it was a lovely greeting. The late arrivals merited ordering another bottle.

With the early evening sun beating down on Metzger's shaded windows, my friends ate through multiple cheese and charcuterie plates, a couple of specials of pork meatballs, Morattico oysters (home to my parents), a salad of English breakfast and watermelon radishes and, most impressively, roasted asparagus over the pinkest of shrimp mousse.

It was here that we learned about the seafood/kiss rule already well-established by the newlyweds. You see, she doesn't care for seafood, so he refrains from eating it until after she's had enough wine not to mind. Such was his rationale for turning down Morattico oysters before he scored an early kiss.

I'd be the first to admit I love to kiss, but I can't see turning down a perfectly delicious oyster, either.

Mowing through food like we didn't still have two more stops to make, I gently reminded my posse not to overly front-load. Not everyone took the gentle reminder well, but part of that is due to the siren song of Metzger.

Our next stop was Nota Bene, where we went from a bright, sunlit space to the dimness of multiple candles and a wood-burning oven. Holmes regaled us with tales from the accounting world, there was talk of men in yoga pants, and, in an extraordinary moment, the entire table voted for Germany over Provence when it came to drinking Rose.

In fact, the Villa Wolf Rose carried us though multiple plates of sugar toads, braised fennel with tomato sauce and breadcrumbs, the grilled cauliflower with fresno peppers that made Holmes a believer, squid ink pasta with scallops and pizzas of at least three varieties.

Anyone watching our feeding frenzy might have been inclined to judge...and justifiably so.

Once we had hit every possible savory note, we moved on to L'Opossum for dessert at the sole dining room that's actually dimmer than Nota Bene. The next step would've been complete darkness.

Instead we indulged in apperitifs and cocktails - the Laura Palmer, the Violet Femme - and every chocolate dessert on the menu, plus apple tartine and creme brulee. When I blew out my candle, it was with a very specific wish.

Gifts beyond the company of good friends were opened and I was the happy recipient of a very groovy beach towel, loads of vinyl and a bottle of South African Pinotage brought from the source that I hope to enjoy with abandon once I find another Pinotage lover beyond the gift-giver.

He's gotta be out there somewhere. That's what birthday wishes are for, right?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Midnight Love and Cheap Cigarettes

And other tales from 36 hours with a Kiwi.

One minute I'm at a wine dinner with "my" people and next thing I know, I'm having breakfast for the second day in a row with someone I didn't know a day and a half ago.

Camden's wine dinner Thursday night featured the bounty of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand courtesy of Supernatural Wines and the invitation carried a clear warning, "These are pricey, high acid wines with as much character as the man who runs the company (the ladies will love him! the men will envy him!)."

It didn't take much to round up four wine-loving sots friends to join me for the wine and wisdom of a stylish and soft spoken Kiwi.

His small production wines made for wonderful pairings from a chef who excels at playing food and wine matchmaker.

The "Supernatural" organic and bio-dynamic Sauvignion Blanc sang with oysters and pear slaw, "Spook Light, a skin-fermented Pinot Gris, made for a killer pairing with housemade Merguez, Kielbasa, Point Reye's Bleu and Manchego and finally, "Green Glow" skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc was swoon-worthy with grilled swordfish over red wheatberry salad with dill butter sauce.

By the time the dinner was finished, I'd learned that our visitor had spent the day being ferried around by wine reps and was hoping to experience Richmond  a tad more fully. Enter yours truly, with offers to show him some of the good stuff in his free time.

Turns out the appeal of a sunny tour guide negates any loose plans he might have been entertaining about getting right to work in the morning. For me, here's my chance to make a visitor love Richmond in record time.

My main challenge is that New Zealanders are unaccustomed to humidity and soon every square inch of his face and arms are covered in beads of sweat. I assure him he'll adjust but the crescent shaped sweat stains on the front of his shirt reappear periodically.

Two topics dominate our walk: architecture and trees. He's agog at the former because so much of New Zealand's is modern and not architect-designed and charmed by the second's lush feel.

We start at Perly's - but not too early because of how late the post-wine dinner salon had gone - because I sense he'll need a sturdy breakfast to overcome last night and stand up to what I have planned.

He immediately orders the Schnorrer, a platter laden with poached eggs, roast beef, his first potato latkes and rye toast, which I suggested he order since we were in a Jewish deli. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say he found the meal life-giving.

From there we walked to a nearby market so he could score cigarettes at which point, sated and with nicotine coursing through his veins, he decided to blow off work entirely. I led him directly to Steady Sounds where we both found some gems in a batch of used records recently arrived while he also picked up the new "Twin Peaks" soundtrack.

It was when I took my records to the counter to pay that I saw the familiar face of the owner as he was busy pricing even more fresh used arrivals. Glancing at my purchases - Janet Jackson, The Persuasions, Marvin Gaye - he inquires, "Karen, need any "Midnight Love?"

If my mind didn't live in the gutter, I might have responded with anything other than "always," but what he meant was Marvin's final studio album from 1982 and, yes, I needed it for $4.

By this point, the visitor had proven his mettle and quite happily accompanied me all over town.

After dropping off our purchases, I led him to the river through the gauntlet of RiverRock preparations, so he could experience the pipeline walkway, to the point that he was even game when I suggested we remove our shoes and wade through the last stretch still underwater.

Don't try this yourselves, kids, I am a pro.

Because other, lesser guides (aka wine reps) had raved about the T Pot Bridge to him, we lapped that, too, but I didn't sense he liked it better than the pipeline. Who would?

By the time I'd walked his Kiwi butt off, he was crying uncle for a seat inside and a glass of wine. I ensured both by landing at Saison Market where we indulged in New Zealand wine, (albeit not his,   which was being stocked on the shelf as we watched), sipping glasses of Cambridge Road Vineyard's orange wine, the appealingly funky Cloud Walker.

And speaking of, the sky suddenly darkened and rain poured down on the hot streets out front for exactly two minutes while we drank, and then it was back to being a sunny day.

We slurped Wicomico oysters and a cheese plate at Camden's while discoursing on literature and indie book stores with the she-woman happy hour chef fan club. Then it was on to music and cocktails at Savory Grain, where Mikrowaves' horn section kept the vibe soulful and lead singer Eddie welcomed all the visitors from other countries in the  audience (I may have mentioned my companion's provenance to him) with a smirk.

Of course there had to be another late night cigarette run, then GWARbar, which was his idea because he'd been taken there Wednesday night at 1:57 a.m. and wanted a fuller experience.

Leave it to me to make sure he had it with Espolon and warm pork rinds.

To the delight of both of us, one of the kitchen guys decided there had been quite enough metal playing at GWARbar for one Saturday evening and proceeded to go pop on us and I mean pop: Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Starship, Toto.

Kiwi even requested a classic -  America's "Horse With No Name" - and was obliged within three songs. Claims he likes the beat, surely a rare compliment for such a mellow '70s band.

Naturally a former denizen of London is a fan of electronica and dance music.

Eating breakfast at the counter of 821 Cafe this morning to thrash music ("Not exactly your normal cafe music, hmm?" he observes drolly), I pointed out that we'd eaten an awful lot of meals together lately for people who'd been complete strangers as recently as Thursday afternoon.

"When are you coming to visit New Zealand?" he asks in between sips of a Bloody Mary made with Texas Beach Bloody mix, a reference I have to explain since I hadn't included Texas Beach on our stroll. Instagram photos naturally ensued.

Like the rye toast yesterday, the biscuit on his plate was completely my idea since he was unfamiliar with them and needed a lesson on southern eating. "It's kind of big, isn't it?" he wonders before I suggest adding butter.

A tour guide's work is never finished.

At least it doesn't end officially until you've walked your guest to get cigarettes yet again ("They're so cheap!" he marvels, always followed by an earnest, "I'm going to quit very soon")) and waited with him for his train to arrive - mind you, over an hour late - enjoying possibly the last conversation you may have with this person.

Neither love nor envy were on the table, but the 11th hour dynamic certainly made for compelling trackside diversion. How unlikely and ultimately enjoyable to spend such focused time with someone you're unlikely to see again.

It was a pleasure, in other words.

Let's just call it a fabulously accented kick-off to my impending birthday. Character reigned supreme.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Small and Sweet

'Tis the season for reclaiming the 'hood.

Finals are over, apartments are being emptied out and Jackson Ward's true population - those here for more than a few semesters -  gets pared back to its devotees: the musically-inclined scientist, the couple who were original pioneers, the slightly OCD porch painter, the perky dog-walking couple.

All of a sudden, parking spaces reveal themselves where parent-bought vehicles recently occupied valuable real estate. For a change, the VCU circulator vans aren't endlessly circulating outside my open windows.

Practically as soon as the latest rains of May let up, visions of strawberry picking began dancing in my head. Setting my recent mental machinations aside, there's a lot to be said for doing something as simple and honest as picking food from a field, even if it's only 8 pounds' worth.

And if not in May, then not at all, at least in these parts.

At the uncivilized hour of 9:07 (notable in and of itself), I was calling a friend - the one with a fiancee and two kids, so plenty of berry lovers, making him a sure bet to say yes - inviting him to join me for a morning of migrant labor-like activity.

I have plenty of friends I would never think of asking to join me for such a thing, but he's not one of them.

Both of us were flattered when the woman who provided our picking baskets complimented us on our wide-brimmed hats, but once in the fields, we saw that it was more about the novelty value of them than anything else.

Easily 98% of the people out there, adults and children, were hat-less despite the clear sky, bright sun and morning heat. What self-respecting fruit picker doesn't wear a little shade?

I don't want to come across as some sort of expert field hand because I'd never picked a strawberry until I moved to Richmond in '86. For whatever reason, I took to the ritual that led me out of the city every May and got me bent over green rows looking for the reddest berries.

Maybe it's a continuity thing. So much has changed about my life in those three decades, but some habits I hang on to. There's never been a summer where I didn't go stay at the beach. I can't remember the last time I drove over a bridge without having at least one window down, even in winter.

I can't help but acknowledge that picking strawberries satisfies something in me, providing a, what, connection to who I was? Remnant of who I thought I'd be? Excuse to do something mindless and yet productive, so unlike how I earn my living?

Too complicated. Eating warm berries out of the field soothes the soul and stains the fingers.

Does a body good every May.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Whence This Perfume Floating Ev'rywhere

If the poetry that is May in Richmond can be conveyed in one breath, it's the headiness of honeysuckle.

Separating the manicured grounds of Ethyl Corp. from the historic sprawl of Tredegar Iron Works or weaving a dense hedge with brambly pink-flowered blackberries along the Manchester canal, the head-filling aroma provides an olfactory soundtrack to a walkabout.

It's on a May day like this one that Mac and I will see at least a dozen great blue herons who've set up sentinel posts along both sides of the river. Those standing on the north side are tucked into shady nooks near the pipeline, while those roosting on the southern shores seem content to perch on rocks and observe nearby fishermen.

Or...? If you were to ask me, I'd guess that they're all on the prowl for mates. It's the lusty month of May, after all.

Even the crabbiest weather wimps are going on record as being enamored of this particular May weather paradigm - sunny, '70s, cooler nights, low humidity - but, truth be told, I'd like a bit more humidity in the air. The air is softer with extra moisture caught up in it and May cries out for softer days and nights before the serious biz of Summer arrives.

May means that outdoor music is ramping up in earnest and a chance subterranean encounter last evening reminded me that there are times when I would want to make my way to a park at sunset.

The enveloping pleasures of listening to the Marcus Tenney Trio - complete with drum kit (!!), trumpet and upright bass - in a tiny park, under slowly deepening skies that draw out blinking fireflies is a well-composed example of what lies just barely beneath the surface of this offbeat charmer of a town I call home.

It's like that time I went to the Byrd Theater because I needed to laugh, only to well up instead when Bob Gulledge began playing "What a Wonderful World" on the mighty Wurlitzer before the movie.

Richmond, you may not be subtle but you're nothing if not relentless.

After my review of a Richmond institution hits the stands today, I heard from a friend and food writer, who opines, "Hi, I loved your Sally Bell's review today. You nailed it - vibe, food, history. Thank you."

I'm not entirely certain what the appreciation being proffered is about, but I have a guess.

A food establishment that's been around for 91 years deserves a little respect, not to mention context. My review had looked at the restaurant's cult of personality and explained it to those unfamiliar with it in a manner that could only have been done by someone who'd been in Richmond for at least 1/3 of the restaurant's life.

Someone newer to Richmond or even just less familiar with mid-Atlantic culinary cultural history, might have tried to compare it to or look for its place among the artisan and quirky food businesses that have sprouted like fungi after a rainy spell in trendy and trending neighborhoods.

Not this long-timer.

I took it back to my own prehistoric memories and a time of gentler social mores. While not exactly standing on the lawn and shaking my fist, my words were a reminder to more recent come-heres of a world where white cardboard boxed lunches were tied with string and included something as civilized as a cheese wafer.

It's living in a town where someone reads your words and bothers to extend appreciation. It's being able to walk for miles over or alongside the water before rejoining the urban world. It's music in a park in the approaching dark. It's tangles of overgrown honeysuckle that smell like what youthful me thought summer romance should.

It's living in Richmond. It's May, the month of "yes, you may."

Best I get on with it, everyone hints and hopes. Doing my best.

Friday, May 12, 2017

On Lonerism

Where is your blog? You know I live for that little bit of Karen everyday. Are you ok? Just making sure you are ok. If you need anything, let me know. I would do anything for you and I hope you know that! Love you.

I can't very well ignore the entreaties of the one person - family aside - who's loved me the longest.

My blog has been on hiatus since last weekend. I have a lot on my mind and I need time to retreat, work through some things that are occupying my brain to the point of waking me up and infiltrating my dreams, and ponder.

No, it never occurred to me that anyone, even you, lived for the little bit - and, let's be honest, usually a lot - of Karen I put out to the world every day.

The chronicling of my thoughts, opinions and activities are meant to be an historical record of 21st century life for some future cultural historian digging deep to see what kinds of things occupied ordinary people or, if it happens to be some sort of women's studies scholar, provide a snapshot that reflects a female of a certain generation, class and education level.

That my posts also provide a link to the people who care about me, though, has become the best reason to keep it up.

Am I okay? Yes and no, just like any other human being. Am I sorting through who I am and why I haven't been more successful in some areas of personal growth and relationships? Yes, definitely. Am I wishing I could just disappear and not ever feel sad again? No, I'm not.

As for your offer of anything, I do need things, but these things I need aren't the kind I can ask for. Coming to terms with what I do need and want and am willing to work for is on my shoulders. I wish I could just say "This will make me happy" and have it handed to me, but life has already shown me that it doesn't work that way.

So instead I think because I'm an over-thinker. Lately, I've given in to brooding and with that, I've taken on the habits of a loner. Atypically for me, that means not going out in the evenings, giving me nothing compelling to put out to the blogosphere.

Gemini, You are likely to feel as if you are in the middle of a difficult situation. The less said, the better. It would be best if you stayed centered, knowing what you want and expect from someone else.

This is me staying centered and saying less, while figuring out what I want and expect from myself. Love you, too.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Where Have You Been?

Celebrating the wedding of friends turns out like nothing that could have been anticipated.

The setting is bucolic, the weather cooperates, but only barely. These two people I have come to honor are in love as only young people can be, eager, open and confident their love will last a lifetime. I'm inclined to think it will.

But the moon shines
as bright as my adoration 
for you tonight,
fleeting or no
They both have their moods,
but like the moon,
even when shadowed from the glorious and warm sun,
my love for you still exists, 
whole and humbling,
Circling just out of sight

I have just enough time to greet the bride and groom, chat with the groom's parents and briefly with the two couples I know before it becomes clear I would be better serving the party as an extra set of hands rather than a frivolous guest.

The moon again,
Waxing, not quite as full as last
leaves long shadows 
across the would-be vineyard
Through the grackle feet
of the budding gums
Scratching at the sky

The hard-working brick oven needs more than one person to feed it personal pizzas, each crafted according to the ingredient list written on the back of a paper plate by a hungry guest.

Believing that I am just the person to assist in the endeavor, I volunteer and am soon busy rolling out dough balls, spreading toppings and chatting with guests who watch our every move. "I like to bake," says one wide-eyed 6-year old. "When did you start baking?"

A lifetime ago.

My bearded friend comes over to take a photo of me working, observing, "In seven years, I've never seen you actually working." I point out the same is true for me about him.

Midnight in the country
All windows and doors open,
Fantastic breeze 
with three layers of clouds
Moving past the moon
at different speeds
Recuperative sleep will dominate
I still think of you 
when I see the moon,
it seems

Five hours later, the crowd of nearly 200 - the number of pizzas we have crafted, baked and served - has thinned considerably and small groups are clustered in various locations: on benches under the canopy, near the still-playing band beside the barn and up on the hill near the bonfire.

I'm more than happy to sit and enjoy the flames, a glass of South African Rose and conversation with friends and strangers.

Again you upset
The quiet and unsaid thing
That makes us a whole

Slowly, the knot of people around the fire begins to drift away after a long day of dancing, partying, playing croquet and other yard games. The extended family will return first thing in the morning for a communal brunch featuring biscuits baked in the oven that held everyone in its thrall today.

Only a fool believes 
you can return
to the scene of the crime 
and not find the same intersection, 
even when 
hurt and disappointment 
have been paved over

Atop a bale of hay, the bride sits on the groom's lap, her arm around his neck, their smiles conveying both adoration and the loopiness born of  a day celebrating the start of their life together. My happiness for them knows no bounds.

Optimism drifts up 
like smoke, 
by regret 
and melancholy

All the things you wish for them are all the things you haven't been fortunate enough to find yourself, a truth driven home by fireplace light. The fervent desire to be part of a sustained whole is unrelenting, even at middle age, yet continues to remain out of reach, circling just out of sight.

Overhead, the moon is bright in the late night sky but offers no solace.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Moonshine Conspiracy

Take warning, girls, don't ever marry a drunkard.

Advice, a pink grapefruit whiskey cocktail and anti-drinking music, what more could a girl ask to start her evening? Okay, someone willing to walk to the Library of Virginia with her to avail herself of all that would be a bonus.

He wasn't that hard to find.

The occasion was "Goodbye, Booze: The Music of Prohibition (with a beer chaser)," an event to celebrate the Library's moonshine and bootlegging exhibit which I'd already seen and really enjoyed. Tonight was icing on the cake foam on the beer.

By the time we moseyed in and took seats, the show had begun. On the left was an old-timey bluegrass trio (banjo, fiddle, guitar) and on the right, a gospel/R & B trio (drums, keys, singer), with curator Greg Kimball acting as moderator sitting in between and offering context.

Wisely, they'd decided to get the anti-liquor songs out of the way first. That marriage warning came between verses of "The Drunkard is No More" and was repeated afterward to ensure all the single ladies got the message. We did.

The banjo player was full of 'shine stories, like a Will Rogers quote that Prohibition was better than no liquor at all and how the only people not making moonshine in Franklin County were the Baptist preachers and they were making barrels. Ba dum bum.

Then there was the one about the guy who died of a heart attack, with a contributing cause of having been intoxicated for 13 weeks. Just ladled it up out of a bucket on the back porch until he was dead. Ouch.

"Better Quit Drinking 'Shine" was like a sermon condensed into a 3 1/2 minute song and singer Jessi delivered "God Don't Like It" to the rafters. The raucous "You Can't Get That Stuff No More" sounded like we were in a juke joint.

What I particularly liked about "I'm Wild About Moonshine" was the lyric, "I'm a little bit spoon-y, just a little bit loony." I'd be curious how spoon-y might manifest itself.

The reception afterward afforded guests the chance to taste the Three Notch'd Prohibition beer (already tasted it last night), but after we saw the exhibit, we made a bee line for the Virginia Distillery table for a cocktail featuring their whisky along with grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters.

As someone who keeps grapefruit juice in her refrigerator, drinks it after walks and has been known to mix it with Rose, of course I loved this combo, but so did my companion. I ran into several people I hadn't seen in years, including one who reminded me she's still envious of my self-directed life philosophy.

You never know what people are going to recall about you.

Looking at our empty cups, my companion observed, "Well, I could drink another of those, but I'd better not," so we went in search of dinner instead in service of my hired mouth.

Omnivores make the best companions for that - don't get me started on the friend who asked to join me once and then turned out to be a seafood-hater - and the meal benefited from a '90s soundtrack that included the likes of the Offspring which tickled my friend, who'd had their first album and was coveting their latest.

At Gallery 5, I admired Barry O'Keefe's "Open Inboxes," four beautifully detailed wooden boxes, each designed to reflect the neighborhood where they'll be placed this summer. I'm doubtlessly partial, but I think the Jackson Ward box - which took its cues from our magnificent cast iron porches - was by far the most handsome (others were Woodland Heights, Oregon Hill, Church Hill) of the lot.

Back at my place, I played DJ at the turntable while my friend set up my new computer (he's determined I achieve speed) and we bantered about relationships, laughed uproariously when he announced his phone would ring in 30 seconds and it did in about 5 and marveled over the brilliance of George Will's writing.

Hours later, we'd wound up discovering all kinds of things. He knew I was a Luddite, but  not that I'd have over 2500 photographs on my computer. Even I didn't know I took so many pictures.

Granted, I was sure he'd sing along to every Neil Diamond song and he didn't disappoint, but was totally impressed he knew the words to so many Thompson Twins tunes. And the Blow Monkeys, well, who doesn't appreciate a good English doo-wop song with a sax solo? The Dazz Band, Paul Carrack, I cast a wide '80s net to encapsulate what he called his formative years.

I think that means after he worked at the hardware/grocery store for a summer and before he discovered Christine and the Queens and laid her at my feet.

It's enough to make a girl get a little spoon-y.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Trim Reckoning

I was just waiting on a friend.

By the time he joined me at Three Notch'd Brewing's Collab House, Bard Unbound was already well into Shakespeare's drinking scenes. Since I was already enjoying the performance, where he was invaluable was with his sampler of four beers, including Falstaff's Folly, a beer brewed in collaboration with the Bard crew.

I tasted through all four, intrigued and open, but did not come out of it any more a beer lover than I went in. Still, it's all about the experience.

Can we still be friends?

Since it had been a month since our last rendezvous - I know, what kind of friends put that much time between laying eyes on each other? - we had plenty to catch up on and a noisy brewery wasn't exactly the ideal place to do it.

Instead, we crossed the river to Laura Lee's, more on principle than anything for me, since a friend had gone on record as saying I never go to the Southside.

Or perhaps I do go and just keep it on the down low.

That would have been tough tonight given the nearly full house (back to back stellar reviews will do that to a place), although we did park ourselves at the far end of the bar away from the crowds.

Personally, I was completely satisfied with a soundtrack of Paul Simon and fresh flowers along the bar.

And the menu! That was a love poem to Spring - the ramps! the asparagus! the softshells! - and we wasted no time in diving into the seasonal pool.

Glasses of Vina Galana Verdejo accompanied roasted tomato soup with whipped burrata and ramp oil, followed by softshell crabs with cauliflower puree, bacon, asparagus and mushrooms in ginger butter and a side of  broccolini with almonds, preserved lemon and shallots in brown butter.

It's not the first time I've led a man to softshells and, with any luck, it won't be the last.

All my friends say.

A favorite Gemini joined us for a bit, showing off a photo of a new-to-her vintage Bianchi, lamenting the porch furniture her mother removed from her porch and insisting she has no memory.

That's why she has me, despite the fact that she's convinced I make up the memories I tell her.

The friend currently working through his larva stage showed off a photo of art, lamented waiting too long to get Shins' tickets and insisted he really needs enough bikes for an ultimate Frisbee team. That would be seven. Seven!

That's why he has me, to keep him in line when he needs it most, which is more often than you'd think.

That's what friends are for.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Authentic Frontier Gibberish

Good thing I'm well-seasoned.

Age had a lot to do with what audience members did and didn't laugh at. See also: what they did or didn't get.

We'd gathered a quintet for the Byrd Theatre's screening of "Blazing Saddles." It was the second time I've ever seen it, the first also having been on the big screen, if that tells you anything.

My main memory? That it had been  a landmark film for being the first to include farting. No, really, that's what stuck.

Funny, a few decades go by and it's a completely different animal than you recalled. Sort of like the difference in reading "Lady Chatterly's Lover" when you're 17 and rereading it at 40. Same book, far different reads, who knew?

Not only was my younger self no fan of Westerns, but I find physical humor tiresome and sometimes disturbing. It was time for a reassessment.

Manager Todd took the time to remind the crowd that the movie had been made in a less politically-correct time, but what he didn't explain was that director Mel Brooks had been making an equal opportunity comedy and that none of it was intentionally malicious.

And yet, from the very 1970s look of the opening scene - you know, the one that's supposedly set in 1874 - everybody looked Old West via the '70s. Guys wore their dusty jeans with Liberty of London print button down shirts like guys really wore then. Cowboys had haircuts like Richard Carpenter and John Davidson.

They said you was hung
And they was right.

Barely into the film, the n-word is said for the first of countless times and the woman to my left muttered, "Oh, this is going to be offensive." No doubt being on her phone had prevented her from hearing Todd's clear warning. "Faggot" references repeatedly got uncomfortable moans from the crowd.

Of course, Harvey Korman was hilarious as the governor's henchman, whether getting visibly excited fondling a statue while talking about land snatching or hitting his head on the window frame every time he looked out of it. His ability to play creepy (in the bathtub with his rubber toys or begging for a feel of Lilly's ample breasts) only gave dimension to his character.

Anyone could pick up on that.

But did the younger people in the theater get the jokes referencing Jesse Owens, Randolph Scott or even Candy-grams?

I know how we can run everybody out of Rock Bridge.
We'll kill the first born male child in every household.
Too Jewish.

Mel Brooks can write that, he's Jewish.

The audience's difficulty with 1974 language was apparent every time a character said the n-word, chinks, red devils, faggots, bull dykes and a host of other words we've long since excised from decent conversation. But hearing such derogatory terms, albeit representing 1874 mores, was impossible for many millennials tonight to even hear without wincing.

I saved my wincing for the uniformly offensive references to rape, except for the one about people stampeding and cattle raping, which was just silly.

I'd better sit up.
Need any help?
Oh...all I can get.

Corniness abounded, from a cheesy pop song to accompany the introduction of the Norman Rockwell-like town of Rock Bridge - a sun-drenched scene complete with children skipping, business owners waving and neighbors chatting - to a man being dragged across the muddy street hollering, "Well, that's the end of that suit."

The king of corny, conveniently seated next to me, ate it up with a spoon and asked for more.

What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?

I'm still no fan of physical humor and really have no interest in seeing a woman or a horse punched, but at least now I can appreciate for their place in the slapstick canon a string of sight gags the likes of which was pure Mel Brooks.

What surprised me was how many of the movie's pithy phrases are just part of the lexicon now. I had no idea that "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" came from this film. Ditto the scene where Gene Wilder uses Cleavon Little to lure two KKK members.

I was one of the people who roared when he said, "Where the white women at?" and the friend next to me did, too, whispering, "It never gets old!"

Baby, please, I am not from Havana!

In the bathroom after the film ended, I overheard a youngish voice saying, "I didn't think it was going to be so hilarious!" No?

Whether because of or despite the passage of time, I most certainly did. But then, some of my companions refer to me as "Susie Silver Linings," so of course I'm always expecting the best.

And what could be better afterward than a post-film discussion that lasts as long as the movie and includes dinner and dessert?

I can't speak for the younger members of the audience, but dazzling urbanites and white women of an age laughed like it was 1974.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Visiting My Books

It's a long way from Prince George's County to the Devil's Workshop.

Not every evening's companion could hold an extended conversation about Greenbelt, Maryland, a New Deal-era co-op community but also the first place I lived outside of my parents' home, not to mention my first exposure to a co-op grocery store.

We began our conversation marathon on this breezy Spring evening at Nota Bene, not just because I'm such a fan, but because visitors love a chef's recommendation and this was one he'd been given. Date Night ("Bring your friends!") was in full swing, but a happy-looking couple were kind enough to give us the international "we'll-slide-over-so-you-can-have two-barstools-together" signal and we were seasoned enough to read it.

Sitting down, the man leaned in and told me, "Three words: fig and pig. It'll change your life." Gently explaining that my world had been rocked, I don't know, six or seven years ago when I'd first had Pizza Tonight's fig and pig pizza, he looked incredulous. "It's our first time!"

Better late than never, sir.

My friend's suggestion to start with pasta and pizza was overruled (I was looking for a tad more balance) and he graciously relented, thus averting a carb nap for dessert. Straight outta the wood-burning oven, braised fennel got points for its charred bits while a special of seafood ragu - octopus, crab, scallops and rigatoni in a tomato and clam sauce - presented itself as rustic but tasted anything but peasant-like.

It was over dinner that the subject of our University of Maryland roots and my art history major came up. "Did you ever take a class from Rearick?" he asked, triggering a flood of classroom vignettes I hadn't even realized my brain still stored.

Professor Rearick lives on in my memory bank for many reasons, not the least of which was his complete passion for all things Italian. He had a habit of walking around the classroom as he lectured - not taught, a distinction we both recalled with clarity - one hand making a near-constant rhythmic movement as he moved about.

But it was mainly his voice that mattered. Stentorious with measured cadences, it would rise and fall for emphasis as he shared his wealth of knowledge with kids like me, in love with art history and eager to absorb this learned man's years of study.

No memory is clearer than the one where a hapless student casually referred to Leonardo as "da Vinci." Rearick looked at the kid like he was an imbecile and asked where he was born. After he squeaked out an answer, Rearick quizzed the kid about whether people called him "of Silver Spring?" Duh. The professor drew himself up and said that the great artist's name was Leonardo and he was to be referred to as Leonardo or Leonardo di ser Piero but never, not ever, as "da Vinci."

That story has lived on in my brain for decades, but until my dining companion brought up the professor's name, it had been stored so deeply in the recesses that I couldn't have pulled it up for anything. And that, dear reader, is the unabashed pleasure of spending time with a person who shares youthful people and places with you, even though we didn't know each other at the time.

Since there was still Gavi in my glass, we closed out the meal with a new dessert -  Sullivan's Pond Farm goat cheese custard with fruity Sicilian olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt - that ate like the equivalent of a cheese plate in a petite mason jar.

But there was more dazzlement to be had. We headed up the hill to the Gypsy Room for music, gingerly stepping around two passed out people being carried out of the Bonobo concert at the National and laid out on the sidewalk. It wasn't pretty.

Downstairs, my music aficionado of friend was immediately seduced by the low light ambiance of the subterranean venue as the Devil's Workshop Big Band set up to play and we sprawled out on one of the couches. I was especially impressed with the trombone player whose music stand was fitted out with a small shelf for his PBR.  That's a musician who'll go far.

The collective took a few minutes for their sound to fully gel, but the result was a satisfying evening of popular music arranged - often by the bass player - for 14 players (drums, bass, guitar, keys and horns), making for some bass-heavy funky grooves.

They played through Kool and the Gang's "Sea of Tranquility," with a segue into D'Angelo's reworking of the song for one of his own, along with Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad, Girl," The Spinners' "People Make the World Go Round" and something called "Houston Express" that wasn't readily found in my friend's mental musical card catalog.

Closing out with an original song, "Mushroom Tattoos" (only in Richmond, right?), that gave everyone a chance to solo and chant the refrain of "mushroom tattoos for everyone," the band put a feather in the cap of our evening.

The best I could do to follow that up was putting some Isley Brothers and Dramatics on the turntable and letting it wash over us with the windows wide open to the night air.

You can always count on a Prince George's County boy knowing his R & B.

Monday, May 1, 2017

United, We Bargain. Divided, We Beg

Life teaches us you can't always be someone's first choice.

S: Going down the list to see who might join me at Rapp Session. If I must, I will go alone, but I must eat more of their luscious crabcakes now. Can you join me?

Me: This moment or when?

S: No time like the present.

Since I was at a stopping point in my writing (waiting for a source to respond) and that bowl of soup I'd had for lunch was a distant memory, why wouldn't I stroll over to Rapp Session on the dot of 4 to see someone I hadn't seen in at least a year?

For that matter, why wouldn't I go eat a dozen discounted Old Saltes during oyster happy hour? Or sip my favorite orgeat lemonade given the 82-degree afternoon heat I'd walked through to get there? Not to mention that a few bites of those crabcakes my friend had been craving proved why we were in an oyster saloon in the first place.

As a Marylander might say, my, my, major backfin.

After catching up and filling up, I mentioned I was on my way to Abner Clay Park for the annual May Day parade and to my surprise, my friend wanted to join me, a sequel of sort to having been at the Science March in D.C. two weeks ago.

I started doing Richmond's May Day parade in 2009, back when I was laid off, on unemployment and trying to figure out the wreckage of my new life.

Then it had felt like a way to show solidarity with all those still fortunate enough to be employed as the Great Recession of 2008 trickled down. Now it felt like another thread in the anti-fascism tapestry decent Americans are trying to weave in reaction to a leader who just yesterday questioned why the Civil War could not be worked out.

Clearly when the Constitution was framed and the requirements for President laid out, the founding fathers couldn't foresee that it would be necessary to stipulate that he/she had a working knowledge of U.S. history. Sad.

Arriving at Abner Clay Park to a larger than usual police presence, a guy with the United National Antiwar Coalition handed me a flier and shared the reason for all the black and whites: a couple of white supremacists had shown up earlier and tried to pick a fight.

It's nothing short of terrifying how quickly the bigots have gotten comfortable with spewing their venom in public since 45 took the reins.

But they were gone now and tonight's pre-parade rally began, as they always do, with free food and short speeches about capitalism, socialism, and fighting white supremacy and the patriarchy while people socialized and chose signs, puppets and placards to carry.

My friend bravely took on a slug costume - paper mache slug head, business suit, cardboard briefcase emblazoned with the name of banks - Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank - who took advantage of consumers for corporate gain.

A parade veteran, my pick was a large "Sanctuary" flag to wave. "Your shirt matches your flag," the harmonium player observed. I told her it wasn't intentional. "Yea, right!" she cracked, grinning.

Unsurprisingly, I ran into loads of friends: my favorite hippie couple, the tailor, the Civil War re-enactor, multiple servers from a favorite wine bar, the dancer, the Party Liberation Front maestro, the activist and, of course, the event's organizer, master puppet-maker Lily, herding cats, assigning parade duties and totally in her element.

She said the plan was to walk down Leigh Street, through the public housing projects and on to City Hall, but the police, who'd be escorting us, nixed that because of a situation involving a shooter on Northside.

Instead, the drum contingent led us down Marshall Street to City Hall, chanting all the way.

No hate
No fascist USA

Whose streets?
Our streets!

Tonight's crowd was far larger than those of past parades (hmm, do you suppose people could be motivated by the daily onslaught of disturbing information coming out of the blowhard-in-chief?), so things got warm walking downtown between tall buildings with zero room for air flow. The good news was every cross street delivered a gusty breeze that whipped banners and cooled us off.

We finished at City Hall, sweaty but resolute, but they wouldn't let us in. Still, our point had been made.

As we walked back down Broad Street, my friend mentioned a dream two nights ago about something very like tonight's parade and wondered now if it had something to do with being in a period of Mercury Retrograde (when coincidences are more common and frustration reigns supreme) since I'd been the one to share the news about the parade when we met up.

I said that on my walk this morning, I'd thought about where I might go eat tonight, considered Rapp Session and decided I wouldn't have time to get there before the parade. Mighty coincidental, both.

As for Mercury Retrograde's other effects, I can only assume that frustration was the motivation behind the carful of girls I just now heard egging the apartment downstairs. No doubt one of the young male occupants living underneath me was the source of frustration.

You can't always be someone's first choice, honey. You'll learn that what matters is who - or what - you're playing second fiddle to.