Friday, June 30, 2017

When You're Home

When you can't vacation, staycation.

For the first time since, I don't know, the early '90s, I won't be on vacation for the week of July fourth. I'm not going to lie, it's a little weird.

So in an effort to make the most of being stuck in the city when most of the population bugs out, I'm trying to do things almost as pleasurable as vacation, except I'm still sleeping in my own bed at night.

I'm also not waiting until Saturday to begin doing it.

So after luring a willing walker to join me by the river this morning, I suggested a road trip, although without sharing its destination. We hopped in the car and he obligingly followed my directions, moving toward lower elevations and, as he put it, more sky.

I love that sense you get as you head past cornfields and boat dealers toward sea level and any sense of far ground disappears, leaving trees in the foreground but only the promise of water behind it.

Getting out of the car, he asked incredulously, "How do you know places like this?" Please.

It was an absolutely lovely day to find a table under the canopy at Merroir and spend the afternoon watching boats come and go from the marina, marveling at the changing bands of color on the river and sipping Vino Verde.

If that's not enough to evoke time away from home, I don't know what is.

For my companion, it was an especially interesting sojourn because he's never been much of a seafood eater, having only recently tried mussels for the first time.

Today was the equivalent of a hat trick since we shared crab and vegetable soup (the vegetables tasting like pure summer), smoked cobia salad with pickled cauliflower, butter lettuce and grilled bread and, most impressively, Old Salte oysters.

You know a guy is completely under the spell of the setting (sparkling company?) when he's willing to slurp bivalves for the first time.

We'd barely finished ours when the two couples seated behind us got theirs. They'd already proved themselves worthy as they debated what their first bottle of wine should be when one of the two women announced, "Let's begin with the better bottle since we won't know the difference later."

Eating through their oyster sampler - Rapphannocks, Rochambeaus and Old Saltes - one guy finished the latter and decided, "That's like licking a salt lick!"

Well, you know given my affection for Old Saltes, I had to couch his feelings in more positive terms, so I swung around and explained that, no, it's not salt lick-like, it's like being knocked down by a wave and getting a mouthful of saltwater.

"I never would have come up with those words, but you're right," he said, sounding vaguely amazed. No big deal, sir, I traffic in words.

They then ordered a second dozen, this time all Rappahannocks. Wimps.

Best of all, Merroir wasn't crowded so we felt zero guilt about lingering while we talked about overuse and inappropriate use of quotation marks (If you break a "plate," you will be charged $1.00), our initial sailing experiences (very different) and oyster farming (this was before he saw the oyster chart in the men's room).

Granted, it wasn't sitting on the screened porch overlooking the ocean, but it was no afternoon in the city, either.

We could have lingered hours longer, but one of us had early plans tonight (his were later), so we hit the road before we were ready to give up the gorgeous tableau in front of us. After a crash caused us to have to detour on the way home, we arrived 12 minutes after a friend was to have picked me up at home.

Oops. Luckily, Pru was smart enough to amuse herself until I belatedly made my appearance.

We dished (more accurately, a post-vacation debrief) while I got cleaned up and changed before strolling over to Saison Market for dinner. It's my third time there in five days, not that there's anything wrong with that, but we wound up eating inside because all the outside tables had been claimed on such a lovely day.

Our meal was prelude to seeing Virginia Rep's new production of "In the Heights," a big deal because it's Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning pre-"Hamilton" musical.

And we weren't the only ones stoked for it judging by the buzz in the room and sold out house on a Thursday night.

And with good reason. The talented cast wowed the crowd with stellar singing, dancing and acting that brought this rapidly-gentrifying corner in Washington Heights to life against a set that evoked a NYC streetscape with the blinking George Washington bridge in the background.

Despite the large size of the cast, only the handsome Josh Marin was familiar (as Benny), and seeing so many out-of-town faces only increased the sense that I was seeing a play somewhere other than Richmond.

Because sometimes when you're on vacation, you want to relax by the water. Other times, you just need a bit of culture.

And when you're on staycation, sometimes you get both in the same day.

As Pru commented tonight, "It must be exhausting to be you."

When it is, there's always the low-hanging fruit of a vacation staycation nap to tide a girl over. Maybe tomorrow...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Words: the Intelligent Woman's Aphrodisiac

Appropriately enough, it's the end of an era.

For Christmas 2008, I was given a Moleskin. The simple lined journal came from a Moleskin devotee, but it was my first and I wasn't sure what to use it for.

But then my world fell apart - I'd lost my job in mid-December, wound up in the ICU by late January, and been dumped by mid-February - and that journal became the blueprint for digging my way out of all that mess.

The first page reads "Get" and is a list I made of what needed to be packed up to move from my ex-boyfriend's house: my hanging lamp, cookbooks, a statue of a fairy. The second page is a list of what I needed to buy: tall drinking glasses, blue paint, a power strip, a bath mat.

Next comes my new public utility account number, my new phone number and the contact for Verizon support. Clearly, I was moving forward on setting up a new life elsewhere, albeit unemployed.

What I love as I move through the book are the random notes to myself, things I wanted to remember. Dates don't appear, but I can use context clues to figure out when things were written.

Here's a note to get tickets for Helio Sequence in Charlottesville (turned out to be a fabulous show) and there's one that reads, "Blog daily." Another says simply "Bat for Lashes," a reminder of a new band I'd heard and liked.

I know by seeing my aunt and uncle's address in Maryland written down that it was around September 2011 because I stayed with them before flying to New Orleans from D.C. that month.

As for quotes I copied - "We live in a place where we can create our own delusional reality" and "Our breakup was a failure" - I have no clue what year they might have been scrawled in my book. Those are timeless truths.

It makes me smile to see a line saying, "Curate Listening Room," a thrill I still recall. It's not often a non-musician gets to pick bands for a public show, even when she's been a regular attendee for years.

After a while, the pages start to contain my writing assignments with their word counts and due dates. The further along in the book you go, the longer the list of assignments (and money coming in). My career progress is charted with more deadlines.

I found the best kind of to-do list for a trip to D.C. in December 2013: National Gallery of Art Parisian photos, Phillips Gallery Van Gogh exhibit, National Building Museum "L.A. Constructs the Future," Rose's Luxury dinner.

Pleased to say I accomplished all that and more that weekend.

Notes to self abound: "Dan Auerbach says guys like treble and girls like bass" and "Words: the intelligent woman's aphrodisiac," for starters.

Peppered throughout are reminders to get tickets: Neko Case, Andrew Bird, the National, Harry Shearer, Churches, Dashboard Confessional. Tickets procured, all shows seen and enjoyed.

Everything gets jotted down in this history of the past 8 years: phone numbers of friends (not that I call much), books to investigate (Rita Mae Brown's "Rubyfruit Jungle") and an ongoing to-do list (pool lessons, hang shade, check moon phases for beach).

The final two pages of this record of my life includes a list of assignments with deadlines of June 1 through August 7, dates of two upcoming shows I need to buy tickets for (August and November, both in Charlottesville), a Lucinda Williams song I fell in love with on first listen ("Six Blocks Away"), some random addition and a book title I intend to buy ("Meet Me in the Bathroom").

But when I went to turn the page, I found that I was at the end of the journal. My 8-year journey to get from the mess my life was in February 2009 when I started this book to June 2017 is contained in a book stained with chocolate, pen scrawls and warped pages from water bottles set atop the book.

It's not pretty, it's full of memories and it's definitely worse for the wear, but I imagine I'm the same. A chapter of my life has closed in several ways now.

Here's to whatever my next Moleskin chronicles.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tapping a Vein

Seven days (or more) without live music makes one weak. Or maybe that's just me.

My plan was to correct that tonight with a picnic, a companion and an unseasonably temperate evening. That the music was served up al fresco made it all the better.

With a bottle of wine already stashed in my bag, we began at 8 1/2 to score heroes and chocolate/orange cookies. Waiting for our sandwiches to be made, we perused the DVD collection on the shelf, a motley assortment that ranged from "Castaway" to "Nirvana Unplugged in New York."

The park was only lightly populated when we got there to find "Please Stay off the Grass" signs on every plot of grass, so we made do with a wooden bench with a distinctive sag to its center, as if very heavy people had taken turns positioning themselves at the midpoint until the wood just took on a deep curve. It was kind of like an old mattress with a dip in the center that makes the people in it roll into each other all night long.

You know what I'm talking about.

Eating our Italian heroes while people watching - one adorable couple showed up with the game Scattegories, spread a blanket and immediately began playing to win (she didn't believe french fries was two words and made him Google it to check) with a friendly vengeance.

Our enthusiasm was reserved for the killer sandwiches we were eating. I swear you could put shoe leather on a roll that chewy and satisfying and it would taste good.

The crowd continued to grow while we ate and chatted from our bench perch and included a fair number of dogs, toddlers and tattoos.

We watched in amazement as a couple scored a bench and then decided to spread a blanket on the bricks and sit on the ground instead. I know, I know, it's not a real picnic for some people unless they're sitting cross-legged. Not us.

The park had filled up nicely by the time Majjin Boo was introduced and the quartet- acoustic and electric guitars, bass, male and female vocalists - began seducing the crowd with their pastiche of math rock, emo and experimental ("If they had a drummer, they'd be prog rock," my companion noted) as the sun inched toward sunset.

Despite the au naturel setting, the band was using battery-powered amps, so the music was amplified a bit more than a lot of the shows I've seen in the park. At one point, they mentioned an upcoming show at Gallery 5 and referenced their drummer, who just happened to be walking into the park at that second and waved as he went by.

After a beach week sadly devoid of live music, hearing Majjin Boo's songs with their quirky time signatures, intricate guitar interplay and two voices harmonizing acted like a tonic on my live music-deprived soul. I could sense the musician next to me enjoying the band on a far different level than I was capable of, but everyone looked happy with music playing on a cool June evening.

The woman singer did a solo turn, singing Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days are Over" not as the powerhouse anthem that band does, but as a sweetly wistful song about finding happiness, probably on a night like tonight.

As twilight set in, fireflies appeared and some of the younger children tried catching them in their cupped hands but to no avail. That's one ritual of childhood that cannot be replaced with an app or device. Or if it can be, please don't tell me about it.

All I know from sitting in the park with a fellow music lover as dusk gathered is how badly I'd been craving live music and how much like an emergency IV tonight's show felt in addressing my shortage.

When the woman doing the introductions mentioned that the music series is already five years old, I marveled at the thought since I've been attending practically since the start. Not every week, but consistently over the years. Regularly because it's an easy default on a weeknight and never disappoints.

Um, music in the park? Yes, please.

It's one way of making sure my soul doesn't fall into another music deficit. Didn't some wise woman once write that I'm only as strong as the last show I saw?

Well, if she didn't, she has now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Easing Into the New Normal

Only in hindsight can you look back and see with clarity.

My week at the beach had to work out the way it did in order to get me to the next stage of, what, life? acceptance? love? contentment?

Today was challenging. It was challenging settling back into a routine, challenging addressing deadlines, challenging putting on closed-toe shoes. My brain was not yet ready to color inside the lines. I had to work to stay focused after a week following any tangent that crossed my path and basically following the pleasure principle wherever it led.

P.S. I could so live that way all the time.

But I persevered and things got accomplished, both work and around the house. But if we're going to be honest here, I made it through Monday by the skin of my teeth. Honestly, I can't recall the last time that beach week threw me for such a loop.

Still, I got it together enough to hang out with a friend tonight and even revisit my favorite enclosed garden in Richmond at Sang Jun Thai, which we long-timers still think of as Beauregard's Thai Room. New to me was their outdoor bar (although unoccupied tonight), an odd pastiche of the Flintstones and tacky gold statuary that adds a whole new vibe to the place.

Service was a comedy of errors - they didn't have the wine we ordered, nor the second bottle, then they brought one glass instead of a bottle and then...well, you get the idea - but the food was perfectly okay and that patio is divine on a dry and merely warm summer night like tonight.

I even used the burbling fountain in the pond next to us as as pale substitute for the ocean I'm still missing.

Barely into our conversation, my friend was inquiring about the feet next to mine in a photo I posted on Facebook to kick off vacation. Clearly, the feet were not familiar to him and inquiring minds wanted to know.

Afterward, sitting outside at Saison Market with the usual assortment of crazies ("I love what you said about Jimmy Buffet," a dyed blond stranger told my friend after he openly mocked the Margaritaville man), we drank sparkling Riesling and talked about all the innocuous subjects friends discuss after it's been a couple of weeks and one person has been away on vacation.

I'm just glad it was me who was off lazing on the beach and luxuriating in whatever this next stage is so I could come back as better friend material.

Everything happens for a reason, no?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Speaking the Same Language

The transition can be tricky.

Saturday was a practically perfect last day at the beach. Blue skies, clouds of every type and temperatures that never felt unpleasantly hot would have been sufficient to ensure a good time but when you add in an ocean temperature of 67 degrees, well, it was almost like someone ordered up a fabulous finish to my week.

And while it was a two nap-day (I make no excuses), we managed a nice long walk in the morning and an hour in the ocean at low tide before deciding that what we needed was to move camp (one umbrella, two chairs) to the water's edge and finish out the day there admiring the bands of ocean colors: olive, aquamarine, sea green and dark blue.

In the laid back spirit of the day, we went no further for dinner than the local raw bar where I decimated a half dozen blue crabs while we eavesdropped on the two guys next to us, one of whom seemed bent on establishing his drinking cred.

This is what happens to me, man. With three Long Island ice teas, I'm out and with four, I'm speaking another language.

Hmm, seems like it should be the other way around.

For the first time in the many decades I've been vacationing at the beach, I got up at the crack of dawn (7:05) Sunday so that I could take my walk on the beach before having to check out at 10 a.m. Who knew there would be so many people out walking and fishing at that hour?

It's always sad closing up the cottage and knowing it'll be another year before I'm back in it. Sure, I'll be back at the beach in July, but not in this magical space. It's like a friend noted as we luxuriated in our beach afternoon, "It's hard to accept that all this goes on when we're not here to experience it."

The drive home Sunday was pleasant enough - it should be noted that while I stopped at Granby Farm Market, I did not bother to stop at Gale Force Guns - with my favorite beach radio station entertaining me with bands like the Secret Sisters and their gorgeous harmonies on "He's Fine."

The problem with being ripped from the beach and set down in the city is that nothing can replace the sound of waves 24/7. I'm a city girl and I love my apartment, my neighborhood and my town, but I go through some fierce beach withdrawal when I first get home.

To the rescue was a fellow beach lover (or should I say beach convert?) who showed up with a bottle of Nero d'Avola and a desire for conversation.

We ambled over to Saison Market for dinner - fried chicken, Bibb lettuce salad - where the patio was full and I ran into a couple of favorite beer geeks waiting for their fried chicken dinners (it was Sunday night).

We settled at a high table to admire and dissect the Virginia map on the wall until our meal came, drinking Eden Imperial 11 Rose, easily the funkiest (as in barnyard, like a good stinky cheese) tasting and most tannic cider I've had. That it was served to us by a woman named Eden was icing on the cake.

Although nothing replaces the sounds and sights of the ocean, we made do quite well on my balcony, where a steady breeze ruffled the nearby treetops and the music inspired observations about guitars and guitar collecting from the bearer of the Nero d'Avola, who also claimed to have conjured up the unusually pleasant weather to welcome me home.

If I had to come back to the city, I couldn't have asked for a better reentry evening. Seems that transitions aren't so tough with the right welcoming committee.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Save the Ghost Crabs

Fridays mean different things to different vacationers.

Residents of cottages that turn over on Saturday often see Friday as the last chance to check off a few vacation boxes before heading home tomorrow. That left an under-populated beach for those of us looking to walk and set up reading camp on the beach.

It also meant that going to John's for lunch involved a line of people that stretched from the order window to the painted line on the Beach Road. After standing in line for 10 or so minutes, a woman emerges from the kitchen door on the side to announce, "Sorry, but we're very backed up at the moment and it's going to take about 20 minutes to get your orders."

Immediately, people dropped out of line to head to greener pastures, but it was still a sizable group of people looking to eat at John's today. It's Friday.

Today's gray start to the day attracted more than a handful of fishermen types within spitting distance of the deck. When we saw a guy pull in a good-sized one, we headed over to find out what it was.

By the time we made it across the narrow strip of beach, he'd caught another, smaller fish. When I asked what they were, he said sea mullet. In the bucket were at least 4 or 5 more, a couple still desperately gasping as they died.

When asked what he was going to do with all those fish, he answered, "Take 'em home." We immediately dubbed him Mr. Articulate.

Today was my first beach nap, an unusually late-in-the-week entry for another beach staple that involves falling asleep in a sunny bedroom to the irregular rhythms of the surf while a soundside breeze gusts across my head from the open window inches away. This bedroom is programmed to seduce you into an afternoon nap.

Sitting on the deck tonight admiring breaker patterns and shooting stars, we were nearly blinded by a group with spelunking lights on their heads making their way down the beach in search of ghost crabs.

Because if you hope to see/catch/kill one (we saw the latter Tuesday night) while on vacation, well, tonight's it. It's Friday.

For those sage enough (I would no more rent Saturday to Saturday and have to deal with the crowds and traffic than give up skirts) to vacation Sunday to Sunday, there is no sense of Friday urgency.

While it may seem logical that A + B = C, that doesn't mean tomorrow I'll be afflicted with any Saturday urgency. I have no unchecked boxes, only a desire to enjoy more of the same until I vacate the premises Sunday.

You know, when I take 'em home.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Greetings from Wink's

Wink's is as central to Kitty Hawk's vibe as narrow beaches and one-story houses.

The beach store has been around at least since I was a kid, back in the days when there were no real grocery stores on the Outer Banks so my Mom had to pack (metal) coolers with all the meat we'd need for a two-week stay.

If we asked why we couldn't just get meat from Wink's, she'd look at us with horror and ask, "Green meat?" with a mix of revulsion and disbelief at our naivete.

She wasn't above buying milk, eggs and local tomatoes there and god knows my family bought enough postcards, Fireballs and Tootsie Rolls to do our part, but not a lot more.

As a teenager trying to navigate the junior high school world with no older sister to turn to, I spent my money at Wink's on teen magazines for beauty tips and Nutty Buddys for my soul. I've purchased the Washington Post on a near daily basis at Wink's some years. In emergency situations, I could run to Wink's (a mere 7/10ths of a mile) and score an overpriced and under-sized box of pasta or jar of oil to finish a meal.

But never have I, in a lifetime of dropping by Wink's at least once per visit, purchased palazzo pants at Wink's.

All that changed tonight when a palazzo pant-wearing friend and I stopped by for a postcard. A woman milling about near the back spotted my friend's fabulous pants and raved. Her admiration was natural: she, too, was wearing palazzo pants.

I was likely witnessing the only palazzo pant meet-up happening in North Carolina tonight.

She led my friend over to a nearby rack that held nothing but palazzo pants in every color, stripe and pattern imaginable. With intent written all over her face, she reached into the palazzo profusion and pulled out a pair of black and white patterned palazzo pants and held them up for inspection.

"You've got the height," she told my 6'2" friend like it was news. "These would look fabulous on you!"

It wasn't even sales hype, it was simply fact. She held them up against her long legs. The deliciously wide bells rang from long, fitted pant legs like harvest gold and avocado green were back in style and it was the '70s again.

It wouldn't matter what color top you put with these pants, the result would be striking and complementary.

Over the decades, I've bought sunscreen and bread at Wink's. I've mailed letters and postcards there, hell, when I was a kid you could even have your friends write you in care of Wink's and pick up your mail there.

But never, over the course of this human's life, have I seen palazzo pants purchased at Wink's. We're a long way from green meat, Toto.

I can see the t-shirt now: "My friend went to Wink's and got palazzo pants and all I got was this lousy 1961 postcard."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Having Too Much Fun, If Possible

And the second act of vacation begins.

With more guests and 14 hours and nearly 37 minutes of daylight, today was all about the summer solstice.

Over pancakes and bacon at breakfast, one guest mentioned that he'd woken up at 5 a.m. to find it was completely light outside and felt a bit unnerved. The sun took its own sweet time setting over the sound and dropping out of sight reluctantly, like a hammy vaudeville performer who gets pulled off the stage with a hook. At 9 p.m., we could still distinguish the ocean from the blue velvet sky with no difficulty.

Because of course we were sitting outside admiring that scenery.

I recall this time of year when my five sisters and I were young and our bedtimes fell long before daylight gave out. It seemed so unfair to have to try to go to sleep when you could still see blue sky through the bedroom window.

What sticks in my mind is a time when my bed was positioned beside a window and I remember kneeling in bed, my arms propped on the window sill, staring out into the backyard entertaining visions of a time when I'd be allowed to be outside while summer nights were so light.

A forecast of severe thunderstorms didn't stop me from walking after breakfast, although I had no takers on my invitation to come along. The loss was theirs.

The overcast sky and dire forecast are no doubt the cause of so few people being on the beach today, but anyone who was out enjoying the day would attest to the practically perfect temperature of the air, neither too warm or cool.

A favorite guest has suggested that the ideal temperature scale would not be Celsius or Fahrenheit but a new scale based on body comfort temperature, which would register as 0 on the scale.

He thought it was a brilliant concept but I foresaw issues with deciding what "ideal body comfort temperature" might be to assign that value. I know men who would find 58 degrees eminently comfortable while those of us with two X chromosomes and less muscle and fat would be in teeth-chattering mode.

Besides, no one wants to think about science at the beach. Or at least I don't.

No, I want to focus on finishing my second book of the week - Phyllis Robinson's "Willa: The Life of Willa Cather" - discussing a compelling New Yorker piece on Prog-rock (for the last time, Pink Floyd is not Prog-rock, kids) with a couple of guitarists and devouring a divine lobster and shrimp salad at the bar at Steamers while a jazz guitarist played a few feet away from our stools.

Unlike a traditional second act, mine has had not a single complication and the dramatic interest already arrived in Act One. What remains to be seen is how everything is neatly tied up in the final act.

Fingers crossed that the run is extended.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Delightfully Eccentric

Give me a self-proclaimed beach hater and I will return you an enthusiastic beach appreciator. It's a gift I have.

Granted, part of it is that I operate from a practically perfect beach headquarters, making my indoctrination all the easier. When I invite someone to come live at the ocean for a few days, I'm alerting them to the proximity of the ocean  (beach replenishment begins in Kitty Hawk July 1) which is both impressive and, as they soon learn, all encompassing.

I find the best way to welcome the beach-shy type is with Miraval Rose on the deck where the railing provides a convenient height for resting a motorist's weary legs and the ocean begins its seductive tease. That we also had the most delicious breeze - irresistible to those certain they can't live without air conditioning - only added to the certainty of the outcome.

Having a screened-in porch wrapping two sides of the cottage doesn't hurt the cause, either. The two big chairs made comfortable with throws and cushions provide ocean and sky views that spark cloud games and philosophical discussion set to the sound of crashing surf.

Showing a newbie around the "neighborhood" means a nice long walk along the beach after breakfast each morning, a gambit that acclimates them to the low-key appeal of this shabby and funky stretch of beach where McMansions need not apply.

Doing the heavy lifting for me, a guest's first outdoor shower here is a game-changer. No one who has ever lathered up to the sound of surf with the sky above and dune grasses visible through the slats in the floor can emerge anything but clean and happily mellow.

When I do invite a non-beach lover, I always make sure they're a reader. Besides the myriad obvious delights of beach life, this place is a slice of heaven for those who like to read, whether on the beach under an umbrella or on the porch with our feet up. We both bring back-up reading besides our stacks of books - me, the Washington Post, my guest, the New Yorker - so that we can trade off periodicals and make suggestions what the other should read.

The seduction onslaught is pretty much non-stop.

Naturally, when we do get in the car, it's to go somewhere that continues the charm offensive, whether a vintage seafood stand for locally-caught dolphin and tuna sandwiches that we then eat on the porch picnic table overlooking the ocean or to a porch overlooking a canal for more local seafood, this time shrimp and mahi mahi.

Beach beginners have no clue about the wonders of star-gazing in a place so far from city lights, so I make sure to include deck time at night when the whitecaps become the only part of the ocean visible, their irregular rhythms as mesmerizing as the flames of a fire. On the horizon, we see enormous, well-lighted boats and speculate on their purpose.

In general, I let things unfold organically. There are no schedules at the beach so my guest can set the pace and the priorities. If we want to open up a bottle of Nero d'Avola for lunch, why not? Get up at 4 a.m. to take in the moon's reflection because there was still too much cloud cover at 1 to even see the moon? Sure thing. Spend hours in the porch swing staring at the ocean while sharing personal histories? Let me get another cushion.

By Day 3, my non-believer has been rendered defenseless and unasked is already unashamedly admitting the error of years of anti-beach attitude.

A lethal combination of absolutely perfect weather ("How did you ensure that?" my guest marvels before resignedly attributing it to my "magic skills"), a breeze with as much kick as a roller coaster drop and the non-stop aural appeal of being practically on top of the ocean has made my guest a believer.

My hostessing skills are lauded, but I know perfectly well that anyone can fry bacon and eggs and make coffee and my true talent is putting the right kind of person into this setting and letting nature take its course.

All I really have to do to make a beach lover is share a few of my favorite things, be open to any conversation and smile.

I am so good at those things.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Darts of Pleasure

I was overdue checking off that musical box.

Back in 2004, my boyfriend had given me a copy of Franz Ferdinand's eponymous debut, no doubt because the band's sound mirrored that of all the post-punk bands then getting my admiring attention (see: Interpol, Editors, Bloc Party et al) along with him.

It was love at first listen. So arty, so cheeky, so Scottish.

And while I've since seen all three of those bands (Interpol twice), I'd yet to see the boys from Glasgow live, so when I saw they'd be playing the Jefferson in Charlottesville, tickets were purchased and plans made.

The crowd was still small when we found our place for Atlanta trio Omni in front of the sound booth facing a black and white backdrop of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Clever, if probably too obscure for some in the crowd..

Omni took the stage and it was immediately obvious why they'd been chosen to open for Franz Ferdinand. Their au courant take on post punk - all angular and passionate - clearly took a page from the Glaswegians' book.

My companion noted how surprising it was that so few people were using their phones to photograph the band, but my guess was that they just didn't care enough about Omni and, sure enough, once the headliners came out, so did the devices.

One person filmed practically every song with a stinkin' iPad, for cryin' out loud, blocking multiple people's views.

It was a decidedly under-tattooed crowd, but then I'm looking at it with Richmond eyes and this audience was nowhere near the usual majority tattooed.

By the time Omni finished, the crowd was close to capacity but not sold out and clearly eager for the main event. What was surprising was the youth of the crowd - many people did not qualify for alcohol wristbands - because this is a 13-year old band and how much Franz Ferdinand can you remember if you were in Pampers for the first two albums?

Since I had been plenty old enough to overplay that first album, I was nothing short of thrilled when the band came out and began their show the same way they'd begun that album in 2004: with the song "Jacqueline."

It's always better on holiday
So much better on holiday
That's why we only work 
When we need the money

Following that with "No You Girls" was a masterful move since it had been used in an iPod commercial, thus ensuring that everyone in the room besides me knew it well.

Kiss me where your eye won't meet me
Meet me where your mind won't kiss me
No, you girls never know
How you make a boy feel

I was unprepared for what a master showman lead singer Alex Kapranos was, his belt buckle worn over his hip and his legs in constant motion, scissor kicking, side kicking as high as his shoulder and wielding his guitar like a phallus.

After two songs, he had the room eating out of his hand and decided to toss out compliments. "Hello, Charlottesville! You've got a nice town here. We had a stroll around this afternoon and met lots of nice people. There's good vibes here. We could stay here a while!"

When they played "Darkness of the Matinee," I was reminded of reading  a critic's review of the album back in 2004 which likened the sound of "Matinee" to Roxy Music, a comparison neither my boyfriend nor I heard and was no more apparent tonight.

My companion, however, considers the second verse iconic, so I listened for those words instead.

I time every journey to bump into you accidentally
I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
All the girls I hate, all the words I hate
All the clothes I hate, how I'll never be anything I hate
You smile, mention something that you like
How you'd have a happy life if you did the things you like

The band was incredibly tight and, to all appearances, having a ball and by the time they got to "Do You Want To," Alex was in full rock star mode, posturing, pouting and encouraging the adoring crowd to clap longer after each song.

A couple of guys near the stage had brought Scotland's flag and waved it around to get the band's attention. When one of the guys managed to scramble up on stage, he danced with it over his head until a security guard tried to whisk him away. Alex shook his head no, security vanished and the guy soon dismounted the stage the way he'd come.

We Franz Ferdinand fans are not heathens, sir.

Alex introduced "Walk Away" as "a breakup song about being in love and walking away from it, knowing you're making the biggest mistake of your life," but what struck me was that it had a bit of a Roxy Music vibe to it, something I'd never noticed before.

I cannot turn to see those eyes
As apologies may rise
I must be strong and stay an unbeliever
And love the sound of you walking away, you walking away

Their first big hit, "Take Me Out," got a nice long tease of a lead-in and then the crowd lost it for the song, so the band wisely moved directly into "Ulysses" to keep the momentum going.

During the encore, a fan gave the band a giant red heart that read, "Thank you for playing!" and Alex accepted it and put it center stage, which caused its creator to scream in excitement.

They finished with "This Fire" and Alex wrapped in the Scottish flag, an effect that paid homage to countless rock gods before him and only stoked the crowd's devotion. When the band bowed and left the stage, the room seemed to sigh with satisfaction and release.

Personally, I was just happy to have finally seen these guys do live what they accomplish so cheekily (and so very Scottish-ly) on their records with so much flair and passion. It was one musical box satisfyingly checked.

In the ladies' room afterward, I overheard a young voice ask her friend if she was going to go to the bathroom.

"I'm too much in awe," she said breathily. "I never thought I'd see them live!"

When I walked out and saw her impossibly young face and lack of alcohol wristband, my first thought was, and you've been waiting since when? Kindergarten? Puh-leeze.

No, you girls never know what delayed gratification feels like. It's really sweet.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ogle 'Em If You See 'Em

After yesterday's thunderstorms, today's air felt scrubbed clean.

Mac and I set out for a walk of fairly epic proportions - 6.82 miles, as it turned out - and returned sweaty, smelly and satisfied. How much more can a woman ask of a friend first thing in the morning?

Heading directly to Brown's Island, I had the brilliant idea that we should begin by walking Belle Isle to see what the lower river levels looked like after the recent flood stage levels.

Now that the water has receded, it's clear just how much of the island's edge the swollen water "ate" away during those torrential days and how uncomfortably close the path around the island is to a precarious drop-off now.

Over near the quarry pond, we chatted with a shirtless guy ("Easy on the eyes," was how Mac described him) who works for one of the outdoor companies who host activities on the island. My question to him was when the floating dock was going to be rebuilt on the pond.

Two years ago when the deck came down, a park employee assured me it would be rebuilt during the off season. Two off seasons later, still no dock. The large, square space was ideal for fishing, for watching the climbers on the rock wall opposite and for education, since a sign explained the quarry's original uses.

It seems to me that if the city can't find the funds, surely a Kickstarter by the Friends of the James River Park could raise enough to build a simple floating dock. The guy was a font of information, sharing with us that a canal runs under the island and river water feeds the pond, which actually holds cleaner water than the river despite its constant movement.

He also shared that during their summer activities in the past, they always had the kids jump off the dock into the pond to start their adventure. Apparently the lack of a dock now denies Richmond youth the distinctive pleasure of hurtling into a quarry pond.

We were able to easily get out on rocks near a rushing stream of water and abandon our shoes and socks for a whirlpool foot bath and a fine view of the skyline. After sitting there a minute or so and taking it all in - the sunshine, the cool water, the view of Hollywood cemetery - Mac said softly, "I love my city."

Ditto, girlfriend. What neither of us could comprehend was the young woman sitting nearby, her ears encased in headphones that surely blocked out the life-affirming sound of rushing water.

Crossing back over Brown's Island, we headed directly for the pipeline walkway, where yesterday I'd seen kayakers hot-dogging in the rapids, rolling underwater and back over, and a clutch of young Mennonite-looking women in long dresses and head coverings who asked me to take a picture of their inaugural pipeline adventure.

Today's interaction was with a trio of fishermen - one missing a lot of teeth, but this is the South - who were pulling up a fishing line heavy with 4 or 5 one and two-foot fish, according to them, catfish, bluegills and something else that got swallowed in translation.

Their dilemma was how to get this bounty of fresh-caught fish up the ladder that wraps the pipeline, with one angler asking if we knew where they could get a mini-crane to aid the cause. Corny, yes, but I cut him slack since pride and male hunting and gathering were involved.

Further along the pipeline, we got more eye candy when a young guy in slacks and a button down white shirt stripped to the waist, draped his shirt on a tree branch, pulled out a fishing rod and went from businessman to fisherman right before our eyes.

"Ooh, plaid boxers!" Mac observed, ogling again as we walked by him on our return leg across the pipeline. Plaid, we decided, is a deal-breaker for neither of us.

Everywhere we went, enormous magnolia trees were full of blossoms fresh and fading and Queen Anne's Lace bloomed in profusion, providing a classic Southern summer tableau.

Just not quite as titillating as half-clad guys.

On The Highway to Happiness

Correcting one cultural lapse only reveals additional ones.

I went to the Byrd Theatre for "Sullivan's Travels," a 1941 film, because it's #61 on the American Film Institute's top 100 films of all time, has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and because I'd never seen a Veronica Lake film.

Apparently that's all it takes to lure me out on a thunder-storming Wednesday evening.

What I didn't know was that it was about a director who wants to abandon directing comedies and make a serious film (a la Frank Capra) about the Depression and call it "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Incidentally, that's another film I've never seen.

I can't help but wonder if Coen brothers fans know this tidbit.

Before the movie, though, I situated myself at the bar at Nota Bene for Stobi Rose (Macedonian), the only cauliflower I know of that makes fans out of haters (mostly men) and wood oven pizza (margarita) while rain poured down on Main Street and vintage soul - including rarities like "Up the Ladder to the Roof" - played.

Conversation centered around "A Quiet Passion," the movie about Emily Dickinson I'd recently seen because I finally had access to someone else who'd seen it and needed to discuss it as much as I did.

And speaking of Dickinson, hers was one of the quotes - "My friends are my estate" - on the menu at Eleven Months, the new pop-up in Carytown which plans to revamp concepts once a year.

To keep track of that limited time, there's a digital clock on the wall counting how long they've been open (28 days, 9 hours and change while I was there), but the bartender explained that once they got to 5 1/2 months, the clock would begin counting down to closing day.

Got that?

Presently, the theme is "best friends forever" and the menu is full of quotes about friendship, but as soon as that begins to feel tired, the plan is to replace it with another theme.

The catch is that no iteration can last longer than 11 months, which I have to assume is the average attention span of their intended diners. Don't worry, kids, that's plenty of time to post video to Snapchat before moving on to the next new thing.

Not me. My eccentricities are my estate.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Calling CRS What It Is

I have many concerns today, but one of the most important concerns our Attorney General's terminal case of CRS, as in "can't remember shit."

The sheer number of times that man's answer amounted to, "Not that I recall" or "I don't recall that" was nothing short of jaw-dropping, even for a 70-year old. When he said, "I don't want to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous," he sounded doddering and old, as if keeping up with rapid fire questioning was beyond him.

Remind me, please, how long Hillary sat - cool, calm and collected - answering endless questions and we'll go from there.

How is it okay to have a man in charge of the U.S. Justice Department who a) was named after the president of the Confederacy and the general who bombarded Fort Sumter, thus starting the Civil War and b) who has zero ability to recall, well, anything of importance?

A woman can watch only so much of that testimony on the tiny video of her computer before needing to seek the solace of others as outraged as she is. I took shelter at Camden's because there I knew I'd find the TV on and the vocal critics of questionable AGs in attendance.

As a bonus, I got to hear from the recent Bonnaroo attendee about his sore 20-year old body, the result of four days of twerking non-stop while on mushrooms. Ah, youth.

As I'd anticipated, of all the bands he saw, it was The XX's show that he deemed truly epic. He was particularly scathing about the Red Hot Chili Peppers all but phoning in their performance and dubbed U2 merely "good."

And for this people are willing to live in a field and bathe in a fountain for four days? I think not. And don't get me started on the guy taking a glitter bath - is that like birds taking a dirt bath?

On the latest in a string of ungodly hot days, few things could have been as appealing as a salad special of chilled shrimp and radishes with micro-greens and Meyer lime for piquancy. When the bartender-turned-IT student who sat down nearest me ordered the same, his enthusiasm for the spot-on summer combination matched mine exactly.

Watching the analysis of Sessions' testimony threaded through with election results ensured that the bar sitters (and occasionally, those paying their check nearby) kept up a running commentary about unfolding events. My favorite had to be Pelosi saying that she thinks the narcissist is going to self-impeach, an appealing outcome if ever there was one.

Speaking of narcissists, the subject came up closer to home when a woman mentioned that her father was one and pulled out a photo of him modeling to prove it.

Although bearded and dressed in appropriate lumberjack attire, she assured us he'd never so much as cut off a tree branch. But he's got a great Dad beard and apparently they're in high demand as the beard grooming industry moves into the coveted and expanding bearded Boomer demographic.

My Cava-fueled dinner continued with a perfectly lovely flounder over white beans and greens, a plate I would have licked clean if I'd not already done the same to its shrimp and radish predecessor.

Discussion of today's events inevitably drew in other customers, my favorite being the woman who overheard me questioning the wisdom of an AG with CRS and felt gratified since that had been a major sticking point for her as well.

It was while enjoying a chocolate pate with nut crust ("Let's just call it what it is," implored the bartender-turned-IT student, "Fudge!") that we dove into the subject of the white patriarchy (hello, Republicans repeatedly interrupting Senator Kamala Harris for her audacity to press Sessions on not answering her questions) and how, amazingly, there are still people who deny such a state exists.

Of course, there are still those who fail to acknowledge that the Confederates were committing treason, so I shouldn't be surprised at any sort of deniers, I suppose.

My good fortune was having a terrific meal with a rotating company of similarly-minded voters dropping in and out of a wide-ranging conversation about the state of this administration. With comparisons in mind, someone piped up asking how long Watergate lasted and two of us were quick to recall, "An entire summer."

With no precedent for self-impeachment, looks like we'll have to just wait and see, an excruciating proposition.

Surrounding myself with good food and like-minded liberals makes it somehow easier to bear.

Chocolate pate doesn't hurt, either.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

In the end, all I want is to swear by you.
~ graffiti on pipeline walkway

[heartfelt sigh]

Today's walk along the pipeline walkway involved a guy in a hammock seductively hung from two trees by the river 's edge...tragically occupied on the phone rather than with his proximity to nature.

Crossing over to Brown's Island, I encountered a guy busy mopping his sweaty head every other step, yet with no hat on. After admitting that his dermatologist uses dry ice every six months to freeze off the pre-cancerous growths on his head, he allowed that he'd erred in grabbing his towel and ear buds and leaving his hat sitting on his desk.

Ya think?

Today's heat meant that my walk on the pipeline inevitably led to scrambling out over the rocks, the better to lower my feet into the cool, moving water. It was impossible not to notice the radically different water levels from barely two weeks ago, the recent abundance having already given way to trickles.

A letter from Sister #2 today brought this sentiment: Our lives are so different from what I expected and what Mom and Dad had.

Where do I even begin to respond to the comparison of what they found at 22 and 23 and what I still seek? She's married but seems to be admitting she's not as happy as she perceives our parents to be, but also that they retired in their early 50s.

Part of my afternoon winds up being devoted to explaining in letter form why we can't expect to find such luck in either arena at this late stage of the game to someone merely 13 months younger but far less accepting of our reality.

Fortunately, the disappointment of low river levels and relationship failures was forgotten when I met up with a favorite conversationalist for purely friendly dinner and drinks.

Our outing stayed in the neighborhood, specifically Quirk Hotel's "Dinner for Two" at Maple and Pine. In fact, our server informed us that we were the first to come in for dinner for two, resulting in him scrambling to come up with the appropriate menu and a liter of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The music was spot on: Washed Out, Real Estate and other dreamy-sounding bands, while we munched through grilled eggplant with olive tapenade, feta, pine nuts and lentils as well as a green salad of radishes and green goddess dressing for starters.

We watched countless millennials come through the lobby only to have their IDs checked so they could take the elevator to the rooftop bar. A surprising number wore off-the-shoulder blouses, a fact which we took as a major fashion trend, albeit one that's come and gone countless times.

Discussion revolved around tomorrow's election, a beach getaway and overlapping music shows in the '80s (his with a smoker, not with each other) while we enjoyed fettuccine with pea shoot pesto, country ham, egg and Parmesan and roasted crispy-skinned chicken breast with potatoes and fennel.

Because the conversation was good -  it inevitably is, though we spend too little time engaged in it - we were halfway though carrot cake glazed with cinnamon creme anglaise before even dancing near the interesting topics, namely vacation possibilities, inept help and a ticket to Franz Ferdinand sold away for want of a man to use it.

Keeping to a neighborhood theme, we stopped into Yaki, the newest bar in Jackson Ward and one convenient to us both. The music was leaning toward late era R & B and several of the faces at the bar are usually found at their own bars.

It's while we're drinking Sicilian Rose, specifically Squadra Terre Siciliane Rosato (described on the menu as "bachelorette party in a glass but more reserved) that we politely skirt my preferred topics and instead settle on innocuous conversation to keep things on a purely platonic level. It's enjoyable if a tad safe.

In the meantime, I am fortunate to have a friend who makes me laugh (and occasionally snort) and better accept that my life is completely different than what I'd expected. Unfortunately.

The fault is mine, I would imagine. Here's to correcting that before I die and, like my parents, getting the chance to swear by someone who matters in the end .

Except I will say it and not spray paint it on a railroad support.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

40 - Love

I was born with a forehead that reads, "Tell me anything," anecdote #648.

So there I am standing in the organic chip aisle at Kroger, wondering for the second time in a week why they're out of Red Hot Blues, my favorite spicy blue corn chips. Is it as simple as a supplier shortage, has Kroger disavowed them or have they ceased making them because I am in the minority of those who like their corn chips spicy?

I'm startled out of my reverie by a voice inquiring, "How old are you?"

When I pivot, I see a woman standing in front of the supplements and vitamins, a box in hand. I'm curious why you're asking, I tell the stranger.

This is when the words, "Tell me anything" begin lighting up my forehead and she takes it to heart.

"I'm 57 and I just started dating this man," she begins in a conspiratorial tone. "Now, we haven't consummated anything yet, but he doesn't use, you know, condoms. And I don't believe in abortion. I don't believe in birth control, either."

Two things occur to me. First, surely this woman I've never laid eyes on isn't asking the world's biggest relationship failure for dating advice and second, how many 57-year olds worry about birth control?

She extends her arm so I can see the box in her hand: all natural prenatal vitamin supplements.

"If there's going to be an accident, we're going to have a healthy baby!" she assures me, tossing the supplements into her cart. "Better not take any chances with the baby."

Go for it, I tell her. Take charge of your body, especially if you don't want this man to keep it in his pants.

But mainly, I'm impressed that this woman who doesn't believe in any sort of family planing apparently has no qualms about pre-marital sex. Even better, I admire that she's optimistic enough to think pregnancy is a possibility.

Wishing her the best of luck with him, I continue shopping. When I get to the check-out, there she is in line and graciously waves for me to go ahead of her since I have fewer items.

"Do you play tennis?" she asks and I laugh out loud.

It's the skirt I have on - an athleticwear skirt with shorts built in and a gift at that - that no doubt caused her to guess I had even one athletic bone in my body. No, I can walk long distances but zero hand/eye coordination, I tell her, placing my groceries on the belt.

Turns out she teaches tennis to the 40+ set on clay courts in Northside ("Much easier on our knees") and she suggests I give tennis a try. Her confidence about my tennis potential is matched only by her positive attitude about the results of sleeping with this new man.

We are soul sisters in unfounded optimism. Introductions are made and email addresses exchanged.

I couldn't turn off the sign on my forehead if I wanted to, but the truth is, why would I want to?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Kiss and Tell

Humor is always part of the program at Richmond Triangle Players.

When Mac and I arrived, we found the lobby full of people but the theater not yet open. Curious about this unusual situation, I asked an usher what the cast of "It Shoulda Been You" could be doing back there.

"Maybe someone's got cold feet about getting married," he joked about the play's wedding theme. They both should be, I pointed out, we're talking about marriage.

"Someone had to say it out loud," he quipped, testifying to my point with a grin and raised eyebrows.

We scored a bag of gumdrops from the bar, part of a wedding-themed array - Mexican wedding cookies, mints - tied to the production. The usher who led us to our seats was immediately familiar to me and I realized it was because we'd both taken the VMFA's Docent training a dozen years ago together. She was amazed that I remembered her.

We weren't in our seats long when a couple joined our row, looking for their seat numbers. It only got more confusing when another couple - one I recognized - showed up and it became clear we were running out of chairs in row D.

As they tried to enter the row, I put my leg across to the next row, effectively blocking the people I knew from coming in. Because they hadn't looked at who was already in the row, they had no clue I was playing with them. When she finally looked around and saw me, she laughed, admitting that she was wondering, "Who is this woman blocking my way?"

Just another devoted theater lover, friend.

It was only then that Mac and I looked at our tickets to discover that we'd been seated in row D rather than row B so the fault was all ours (with a smidge going to the usher who'd not had her reading glasses with her).

We vacated row D to the gentle mocking of friends and neighbors, our bag of gumdrops in hand.

To get to our correct seats, we had to mount the stage and once there, we found someone in one of our seats, although her husband was in the far seat at the end of the row. Hmm, don't people usually sit together when they go out?

I asked how long they'd been married that they'd sit on opposite ends of an empty row of seats. Turns out 9 years legal and 5 years before that. When I asked about kids, she admitted to a 6 and 4 year old.

Wow, they were deep in the parenting trenches, I pointed out. "My life is hell," she said, sharing that this was a rare date for them. She asked if we'd mind switching seats so she could sit by him and we happily agreed, politely not pointing out that she was sitting in our seat anyway.

"It Shoulda Been You" was a delight, a well-acted musical about the elaborate wedding machinations required to legally acquire a steady lay. It touched on the futility of relationships where the couple don't make each other laugh (don't get me started) and, like a good Shakespeare comedy, ended with multiple lovers about to get married.

We laughed through it all from our second row seats, occasionally getting a glimpse up an actress' skirt during a spin because of our proximity and low slung vantage point.

It made me laugh enough that if it were a suitor, I'd marry it. If I were the marrying kind, of course.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lookin' for Adventure

It was a day for relaxin' with the womenfolk and then showing a gent around.

Pru, her boho-clad Mom and I had made a date last week to lunch at Merroir for a reprise of our "ladies-who-lunch" extravaganza, meaning all of us had been eagerly looking forward to it.

When the weather forecast showed that it would be a cloudy, breezy and cool afternoon, Pru got nervous. Me? I interpreted those conditions as prime beach weather and looked forward to not having to slather on sunscreen for our al fresco meal.

"You and your silver linings," she always chides me. Yea, aren't they great?

The trip there, as always, delights with that bucolic, small town Northern Neck charm that announces you are heading toward a body of water. It's not just the flat landscape - her Mom, a Rodanthe native, likened it to Currituck and I could see the comparison - but the softness of the air as you get closer to the river.

With an hour's drive, we had plenty of time for chatter about non-assertive men, being gas-lit and how people change because of what life hands them. Pru tried to label us by saying, "We are some hard, jaded, bitter women," but I disagreed.

We are some experienced, cautious, complex women if you ask me.

We were also far from the only people who'd wanted a riverside lunch despite the forecast, although we did choose to eat on the porch rather than out in the open air. Fortunately, the "windows" of the plastic porch enclosure were rolled up on the marina side and the front door facing the river was open, so we had all the smells and occasional errant breezes but without getting chilly.

The food, as always, was second only to the view.

When our server asked if we wanted un-spiced or spicy steamed shrimp, she looked to Pru for an answer. I immediately did my best impression of spicy, which unexpectedly involved jazz hands and a vibrating body that the server found hilarious.

In fact, I may have over-vibrated since there was so much spice on the shrimp and accompanying vegetables (onions, celery, red pepper) that our mouths were soon on fire. Meanwhile I polished off a dozen Old Saltes and probably the best bowl of crab and vegetable soup I've ever slurped.

There were also angels on horseback, a stuffin' muffin and grilled shrimp to round out the meal on the porch. The sky was just as cloudy and the air just as beachy when we reluctantly hit the road for Richmond, making a stop at Norman's produce just long enough to score vegetables and hanging baskets of petunias for Pru's Church Hill manse.

"Are you sure you don't need some vegetables?" she asked. "Don't you ever cook at home?" Have we met?

And, yes, I make oatmeal every morning.

Back at home, I had enough time to answer a few emails before heading out for a walk that would take me to my evening's plans and provide the walk I hadn't had time for because of my lunch plans.

Unexpectedly, I had company.

Barely two blocks from home, a girl walking a bike joined me at a corner and we began talking. In Richmond a year after growing up in Roanoke, she's an anthropology major who knows she wants to work outside. Except she might want to do something else, she admitted guiltily.

As we crossed Broad Street and headed down Grace Street toward her boyfriend's apartment and my plans at Secco, we talked about a woman's range. She said she felt like her interests were so wide and she had no idea how to begin to narrow them down to figure out who she is and what she wants.

I may have made her day when I shared my age and that I'm still narrowing my range and figuring out who I am and what I want. When she admitted that she's often quiet in group conversations, she said it was because she was eager to hear other, more knowledgeable people's thoughts to help her form her own opinion.

I couldn't help but assure her that the older she gets, the more comfortable she'll be with what she thinks and likely lose that hesitation about speaking out. Opinions form themselves as you navigate the pleasures and perils of life.

When we parted, I told her I couldn't have asked for a better companion for my walk and she thanked me for the wisdom.

I was meeting a friend who'd been to Sicily a few years back and swore he hadn't been able to find Sicilian wine in Richmond since returning. Always happy to take on a challenge, I'd suggest meeting at Secco to see what it offered up.

One Sicilian red, but since we were looking for something a bit lighter, we wound up drinking a Basque Rose, mainly because he'd never heard of Basque wine, much less had any. Wait, there's more: he hadn't had a Rose before.

Intervention was essential.

The slightly spritzy Ameztoi Txakolina Rubentis not only brought him into the Rose fold, but did so with zippy notes of mineral and red fruit. It was a gorgeous pairing with smoked arctic char bruschetta and roasted asparagus with a crusted egg, its yolk oozing richness over every bit of green.

We finished the bottle with just enough time to stroll over to the Byrd to see a film that had already aroused the envy of everyone on Secco's staff who had to work tonight: 1969's "Easy Rider."

My friend had not only never seen it start to finish (my one and only viewing had been at Capital Ale House a lifetime ago back in 2010) but it had been one of the first two albums he'd bought with his own money.

In other words, it was inexcusable that he'd never sat through it.

From the footage of Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans (which might as well have been newsreel footage for how fascinating a glimpse into what the parade used to be it was) to the masterful use of existing music rather than a true soundtrack (can you ever have too much Roger McGuinn?), we were both completely sucked in to the late '60s with Captain America and Billy as they encountered hippie communes, free love and a whole lot of bad attitudes about nothing more than long hair.

We took our post-film discussion to the Gypsy Room so as to have the accompanying musical stylings of the Mikiyas Negussie Trio - jazz guitar, upright bass, drums - with more Rose education for him in the form of glasses of La Galope Rose.

We'd barely settled on the couch when my friend commented on the beautiful tone of Negussie's guitar, but soon corrected himself to acknowledge that it was as much about the young trio's talent as the instruments.

And although he'd played the room before as a musician, this was his first time hearing a show there and was inordinately pleased at the room's sound. The low-lit vibe and three sets of music, the final with a sax player sitting in, didn't hurt either.

Cultural lapses corrected? Check. Rose education begun? Check. Great company morning 'till night? Check.

Captain America may have put it best: "I'm hip about time." I like to think I am, too, especially when using it like I did today to store up especially satisfying interludes for those times when things are not so pleasurable.

Just another deposit of good times in the bank of life. Ya dig?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Do You Come Here Often?

I have sunk to a new low: I watched "America's Got Talent" tonight.

Truth is, I didn't go to watch reality TV or even any TV at all, I went for dinner. And I got that in a light, weather-appropriate lemon/thyme/chicken soup - the thyme having grown just outside the restaurant - and a crab melt with dilled Havarti on housemade grilled bread accompanied by Prosecco.

Delicious, all.

But apparently a rumor had been going around the restaurant that Puddles the Clown (whom everyone but me seems to remember as Big Mike from his years in local band the Useless Playboys) would be on the show tonight. Hence the viewing party.

Despite sitting through some of the most inane performances imaginable - a dog who could read a flashcard and bark the number on it;  a man who danced with a blow-up doll; and perhaps most appallingly, an 8 and 9 year old gaudily-clad "couple" (she wearing far too much lipstick in that Jon-Benet Ramsey creepy way) dancing together suggestively - Puddles never came on.

I don't know if you can appreciate what a punch to the gut it is to watch a show such as "AGT" when you haven't watched TV (beyond the presidential debates and election results) in decades, but the show aside, even the commercials are excruciatingly bad.

I was gobsmacked to see that after each segment of the show, we'd be shown a promo for the next section and it would inevitably contain the funniest moment to come. Seeing that scene, albeit out of context, ensured that there would be little to no pleasure in seeing it in context and why would you want to spoil the most amusing bits in advance?

Is this sort of mindlessness how we wound up with a "super-callous-fragile-racist-sexist-not-my-POTUS" in the first place? Who can watch this stuff on a regular basis and not want to poke their eyes out?

Don't answer that. I'm not judging, I'm just incredulous.

In other news, a website called Room 5 has decreed that, "Richmond has emerged as the gay capital of the South," and I couldn't be prouder.

I was one of several bar sitters tonight who had to admit (for me, the second time in a week) that I've never once in three decades in this town been to Godfrey's drag brunch. Oh, I've seen the queens taking a smoke break on Grace Street while the music pumps inside and you can hear the women's hoots and hollers bouncing off the duct work, but I've never been among the hooters.

Our server explained that you always wind up spending too much money and you go in late morning and emerge as the day slides into evening, but that it's all totally worth it. Judging by the lines of eager customers I've seen, I'm inclined to believe her.

Believing that there's any justifiable reason to spend another minute of my life watching TV, however? Not so much.

Good luck in the next round, Puddles, but you'll have to win without me watching.

I've sacrificed all the brain cells I can spare without getting any pleasure in return. Frankly, I have better things to do in the gay capital of the South.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Company Charm

If you're going to hang out with someone who's still getting his feet wet in the Richmond scene, it only makes sense to offer up a wide variety of experiences.

If you're going to start by going to Garnett's for lunch, go late.

Even on a Sunday afternoon, regulars know that the more traditional lunch hours tend to be the busiest, but when you don't plan to arrive until 1:30ish, you can anticipate soon having the dining room to yourself. Completely.

You can also expect the servers to be gracious enough to tailor the soundtrack to the remaining guests' taste (or, perhaps, era? hmm...) and in this case, the result was vintage soul: Al Green, Marvin Gaye and the like. Whether the wine pours got more generous or they just felt that way because of the wide-ranging conversation, I really can't say.

In any case, it was an ideal setting for a discussion  of how some people can sleep to music or read and watch TV and the consensus, at our table at least, was that music and reading are all-encompassing and not meant to be multi-tasked.

If you're going to leave the city for the Lilly Pad Cafe on an afternoon when the Pinewood Boys are playing, you'd best bring your luck.

We came in from the back door because that's the new entrance now that they've fenced off the outside "patio" - and I use that word loosely because it's really more of a concrete slab - and joined the line at the bar waiting for service.

I couldn't have been more surprised when one of the bartenders recognized me and welcomed me back (we have a guitar player in common) or less surprised when the wine we ordered came straight out of a 1.5 liter bottle of Woodbridge Chardonnay.

Meanwhile, even though the chalkboard behind the bar clearly stated, "No buckets after 4!" I know I saw at least half a dozen fluorescent plastic buckets full of canned beer pushed across the bar and scooped up by thirsty/drunk customers headed outside for music.

It wasn't my first Lilly Pad rodeo or even my first time hearing live music there but never have I seen the place so thoroughly packed, with people occupying every square inch and plenty of them standing around for lack of a place to sit.

That's where the luck comes in and I wasn't shy about scouting for unused chairs at otherwise full tables and dragging them to a shady spot near the stage. Voila! The first time visitor I'd brought along now had a front row seat for the Pinewood Boys and a river view, although, like the musician that he is, he commented on the dobro being played before even noticing the water.

Best of all, there was a stellar breeze and that, combined with our shady spot, made for the best possible introduction for a newbie to a particular kind of Richmond summer pleasure.

I heard my name a second time when a food friend and her husband walked by en route to the bar. When she commented on the large crowd, I said I'd never seen it so crazy, which is how I discovered that they live barely a mile away.

"We don't usually come on Sundays for that reason but it was such a nice day!" she explained. The temptation of the Pad must be mighty when it's so convenient.

Not everyone has all their teeth at the Lilly Pad and the percentage of smokers is unusually high even for tobacco-loving Richmond, but this was the first time I ever saw someone come in with a firearm tucked into the waistband of his jeans.

When the band began playing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," my musician companion, a pro, remarked that that usually meant it was the last song and I, a Lilly Pad pro, let him know that we should now be alert to the status of the wooden gliders.

Yes, they were both currently occupied, but I knew chances were good a lot of the crowd would head out once the band stopped playing.

The music hadn't been switched over to classic rock radio for more than a handful of songs when I spotted and we scored one of the gliders and made ourselves at home. From there, we had far better views of the incoming and outgoing boat traffic, including the snack boat, its lighted "open" sign still on even once it tied up at the dock.

We watched people arrive in their boats, climb up on the dock to pull on jeans or shorts and t-shirts over their bathing suits (the sign on the door of the Lilly Pad is quite firm: shirts and shoes required for service) and wander over for a beer or a bucket.

Our decision to sit facing west meant we had spectacular sunset views over the river and only after admiring the dramatic sky for a while had the sense to turn around and see the moon making its way up the still-blue sky. Before the sun even fully set, one of the servers stuck his head out of the door and hollered, "Last call!" but we weren't the only ones who stayed put until our glasses were empty.

If you're going to head back to the city for dinner and you're still trying to ensure a memorable experience, My Noodle's dining rooms provides charm few first-timers can resist and food reliably fresh and delicious.

We got the far tiki booth - the one without the curtain for privacy - near the sound system which poured forth two hours worth of gems ranging from Roxy Music to Nirvana unplugged while we devoured dumplings, inhaled entrees and sipped a Rittenhouse Rye cocktail.

If you're going to sum up a 10 1/2 hour Sunday, consider the delight of the first-timer (seemingly extensive), the multiple soundtracks live and recorded (consistently enjoyable) and the number of weapons brandished (zero).

Bonus points awarded for eating the sandwich named after me. A bon vivant always notices.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric

All the couples wanted my company today.

The newlyweds invited me to join them for the RVA Clay Studio Tour, a drive-yourself opportunity to visit over 20 studios and houses to ogle more than 100 artists' handiwork.

The Beauty, herself a beginning clay artist, promised that we would not be out all day because her husband Beckham had already set parameters: "There are only so many clay pots you can look at in one day."

He can say that to her.

When I got in their car, she admitted that she was still amazed that Beckham had been willing to come along. "I only came because Karen was coming," he joked, but we both benefited from having company every time she got into discussions of glazes and kilns with another potter.

Our first stop was in Bon Air, in a house the owner said was one of many in the neighborhood designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice. "They were kit houses brought in on the railroad," he shared.

At a Forest Hill studio housed in a backyard outbuilding, I inquired about a row of wood circles, only to find they were her husband's collection of tree knots, culled from his work in the tree biz.

"You'd be amazed what people think they are," she whispered, raising her eyebrows. Her pots were eye-catching because of the unusual substances - Miracle Grow to make blue and baking soda to create a cloudy white effect - she'd incorporated into her glazes.

We made two more stops somewhere in the Westover/Stratford Hills area, providing glimpses into neighborhoods I didn't really know between admiring pottery and bantering about the shrubs he'd been making lately.

That is, when he's not making orange-iced rosemary cake or goat cheese cheesecake. Beauty found one of the truly great ones when she met Beckham (and vice versa).

The next stop was to be the Depot, but we slid into Assado (Beckham hadn't been there since it was the dark and claustrophobic Empire and he was amazed at what letting in all that light did to the place - he didn't recognize it until I told him what it had been) first for tacos - barbacoa, patas bravas, spicy ginger grilled shrimp, fried green tomato and bacon and finally, fish tacos - and non-clay conversation before they moved on to see more pots and I walked home.

Much as I enjoyed seeing the handiwork of so many talented artists, I also love being with this couple because they're young and in love and it's soul-nourishing to be around.

When I offered him a bite of my shrimp or fish tacos, he demurred, saying, "No, I want to to be able to kiss her later," a reference to her dislike of anything seafood related. Just as I was marveling at how considerate he was being, he relented and had a bite.

Maybe he planned to brush before going in for a kiss. When we parted company, they had more pottery to see and I had walking to do.

The couple who picked me up tonight, Pru and Beau, are at a slightly different relationship stage than the newlyweds, so they don't gush or look at each other with cow eyes. Plus Pru's Mom was along for the ride and who wants to make sex jokes in front of their parent?

Fortunately, we were going to see a play about love, but our first stop was L'Opossum for a dinner that outdid itself.

To get us started were ham and escargot biscuits, chilled vichysoisse with crabmeat and corn, the vegan orgy on Texas Beach (aka papadoms with five vegetable spreads) and French onion dip gratine taken over the top with currant rye bread.

With Shakespeare looming large ahead of us, dinner discussion revolved around language, at one point about how to pronounce "niche." Beau, ever the technology geek, couldn't stop himself from researching it mid-meal, only to learn that both pronunciations - neesh and nich - are acceptable.

Don't get me started on multiple pronunciations based on popular usage. Really, if enough people mispronounce a word, we're going to say the incorrect pronunciation is also valid? Please.

Most interesting thing learned? That niche can also be a verb, a fact that led to extended niche wordplay which Beau tried to shut down (unsuccessfully) multiple times.

More exceptional eats arrived in the form of melt-in-your-mouth grouper over wild rice and greens, crabcakes with so little filler they fell apart into lumps of crab meat, obscene seared Hudson Valley foie gras and - ta da - lobster mac and cheese described on the menu as in a "ridiculously rich white truffle mornay cream sauce."

Ridiculously may be a fine adverb but it does not begin to cover butter-poached lobster. We did a number on it anyway.

Needless to say, dessert was out of the question, but my sweet tooth was unexpectedly satisfied by a final course of salad with pickled leeks and two dressings, a Green Goddess under the mesclun and a tequila sorbet dressing on top. Perfection.

Tonight's entertainment was Quill Theater's "Love's Labour's Lost" (considered the most Shakespearean of Shakespeare's plays) at Agecroft and, for a change, the weather was so perfect, so breezy and un-humid, that we didn't need the fans we'd brought.

Hell, I'd brought my entire fan collection, all six of them, and never required a one.

The mind shall banquet, though the body pine.

The program had informed us that the play was a master class in the use and abuse of language, and if anyone enjoys language abuse and use, it's this crowd. Because it's less often produced, I hadn't seen it since 2002 at Dogwood Dell.

Love is familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love.

When the play began at 7:30, the half moon perched off to the side lingered over the trees in a soft blue sky and at dusk, frogs began to make their presence known. By the second act, that moon was hanging high over the James, with fireflies and moths looping around the courtyard.

Is she wedded, or no?
To her will, sir.

Just the other day I'd told a girlfriend I was coming to Agecroft for this tonight and proceeded to wax poetic of the sensory pleasures of seeing the actors use the 500-year old building as a set and a prop. "No one's ever explained it to me that ways," she'd marveled. "Now it sounds like something I'd love to do."

Young blood does not obey an old decree.

In one scene tonight, Berowne appears head and shoulders over the top of the stone wall that separates two English cottage gardens (a wall, by the way, that was directly behind our seats) and then slides out of sight. That's the magic of using Agecroft as a prop.

Oh, they have lived long on the alms basket of words.

At one point, the ubiquitous Richmond train whistle moving through the night from somewhere along the river competed with the actors' voices for our attention.

Nip not the gaudy blossoms of your love.

Dan Cimo killed it as Boyet, the companion to the Princess and her ladies, scheming and plotting to ensure that the womenfolk outwit the men, while Alex Johnson played Berowne as ably in diction as in humor. Not for even a nanosecond out of character as Don Armado, Luke Schares used a hilarious accent, killer timing and an affecting performance to make him my focus anytime he was on stage.

Maggie Bavolack's portrayal of the country wench Jaquenettta, all tight skirt and decolletage, was hilarious, one step removed from that girl in "West Side Story" who proclaims, "I and Velma ain't dumb."

Our wooing does not end like an old play.

I certainly wasn't being wooed tonight, but absent that, watching an old play in a courtyard under the stars after a spectacular meal was pretty wonderful.

And for the record, I remain wedded to my will but willing to bend it for the good of the cause. My goal: for the mind and body to banquet.

Goodness knows the stomach already did.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cross the Sea

I don't believe I've ever been so glad to see May end.

That's a pretty remarkable statement coming from someone who's always adored stretching out her birthday and diving into the start of warm weather, but, man, this has been a tough May.

June kicked off with a leisurely lunch on the Chickahominy, talking with the couple I'd gone to visit about everything from what she was reading that I haven't - Joan Didion's "White Album" (the successor to "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," which I have read) - to a house concert with an environmentally conscious vegan potluck.

She had me in stitches talking about the oblivious hipsters who'd brought dried out Trader Joe's jicama, wrapped in plastic and boasting an enormous carbon footprint as their offering. "My beet hummus was the only homemade thing there!" she marveled.

Of course there were Oreos because no vegan potluck is complete without them.

Now that I see how far out they live, I am terribly impressed at how often I run into them at events in the city.

The first Music in the Garden at the Valentine for the season not only delivered good tunes (the always satisfying odd time signatures of Rattlemouth's world beats and an all-acoustic version of reggae band Mighty Joshua, complete with acoustic bass guitar and pump organ, but the soft opening of Garnetts at the Valentine.

It was also a chance for Mac and I to catch up after May had messed with us both, leaving us with the mixed emotions of having weathered a sea of storms.

Good thing we're both optimists.

We ate at a table with an older woman with a pronounced Boston accent despite having left that city to go to college in West Virginia where she met her husband and then settled in Virginia. Fifty years later, her vowels were still instantly recognizable as Beantown's.

Low humidity and a gentle breeze made it a beautiful night for live music in the Valentine's garden under an enormous magnolia tree in full bloom that we guessed had to be pre-Civil War judging by its girth. During the break between bands, we headed inside the museum so she could see "Hearts on our Sleeves," the new fashion exhibit I was happy to see a third time.

That 1970 cocktail dress with ruffled bell sleeves had my name written all over it.

And because there's no reason to go to only one show when you can go to two, I also landed at Flora for the Kia Cavallaro EP release show. Incredibly, it was my first time in Flora's back room for music, a fact that boggled not only my mind but that of one of the long-time managers, too.

"How is that possible?" she wanted to know.

I have to assume I've been remiss on my musical devotion and that's nothing I want to brag about. See: life's been a little rough lately. Begone, May.

Kia's sound had been described as homespun songs that weave together dreams and roots music and her fretless banjo certainly contributed to that rootsiness, while her little girl voice gave the songs an appealing earnest innocence.

But where she was truly in a league of her own was that she wore tap shoes and tapped out some rhythm to accompany herself and ensure that every part of her body was making music. It was nothing short of delightful and in the most unexpected way.

Next up was Kenneka Cook whom, coincidentally, I'd first seen last year at one of the Valentine's Music in the Garden shows as she layered her rich voice over beats.

Ordering wine, I got into conversation with three guys I know to varying degrees. One said he had a long history with smart women, one accused me of making people like me and one chided me for not replying to his "what are you up to?' message the day before.

I wanted to explore the first, I disagreed with the second and I reminded the third that I can't spend the abundant time on social media that he does.

Right now, I'm just trying to sort through the wreckage of May and come out happier in June. I keep reminding myself that all I can do is keep my head down and continue working on becoming a better me. I need to do this because it's overdue.

And as Didion famously wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." I tell myself scores every single day.