Thursday, August 31, 2017

Harmonies of the I Love My Life Choir

Our cork popped before we even had time to be the squash.

The bottle that couldn't wait could be traced back to Greenleaf's Pool Room, where my date and I landed after quality time on the balcony with glasses of Fazio Aegades Grillo and Todd Rundgren providing the soundtrack.

One of the many pleasures of Todd - besides the obvious: major talent - is the sheer pleasure of the liner notes. It's there we can glean who played the kalimba synthesizer (Brent Bourgeois) versus the spooky synthesizer (Roger Powell) and that Bobby Womack, the Dick Bright Strings and the I Love My Life Choir all contributed to "Nearly Human."

Thus fortified with obscure musical trivia, we set our sights on Greenleaf's Pool Room for dinner. Long a casual favorite of mine, it was my date's first visit and he fell for all the same things I do. What's not to like about low banquettes for lounging and colorful paintings of pool-playing greats by a Mexican artist?

Seeking a bottle to take with us to a show afterward, we decided on Treveri Blanc de Blanc before diving into a simple supper of tomato soup and the bar toast known as Tout de Sweet - goat cheese, herbs and housemade orange marmalade on toasted Billy bread (me) - and an oddly-shaped yet completely delicious Monte Cristo complete with housemade berry jam (him) to accompany it.

When we'd arrived, only one pool table was occupied, but as we chowed down, three other tables were taken over by players, many arriving with their own pool cues in zippered cases. It's great entertainment for the eating masses.

Although we were running out of time, I decided I couldn't do without a warm brownie (actually, two), although I did forgo the optional shot of bourbon on it. A woman's got to know her limits.

After the bartender fashioned a cork for our remaining bubbly, we were off.

Then it was across the river to the groovy Earth Folk Collective for their 3rd annual squash roast gathering and by then darkness was falling (damn you, Autumn!). A fire had already been lit and people were gathered around it when we strolled up the long grass walkway.

Standing near the house chatting, there was a sudden pop from the bag my date held and that makeshift cork took off, never to be seen again. But the pop was a pretty festive way to announce our arrival.

Further in, my date ran into a musician he knew and introduced me. "Are you two married? she asked, making both of us smile at the unlikely question. No, but we have been dating for almost 90 days, if that counts for anything.

After that, there was nothing to do but grab some jelly jars from the kitchen and spread our blanket near the campfire. As it was, Juan Harmon was already playing in the twinkle light-festooned shed that faces the yard and serves as the stage. We'd heard their mellifluous accordion/guitar/drum music just a few weeks ago at Scuffletown Park, but it was lovely to hear it again.

After their set, Fa Bra took the stage to lead anyone interested through some squash-inspired yoga in the fading light. We watched as people stretched to grow like a squash and eventually to become the squash. but we stayed rooted on our blanket sipping bubbles.

D.C.'s Elena y os Fulanos were up next, a treat because Elena's songs were bi-lingual and reflected the immigrant experience. "I love that you can be an immigrant and an American at the same time!" she gushed. She also explained that she'd been on tour for a while and had lost her hair gel, so her 'do wasn't up to par.

From a nearby chair out of the lights sat percussionist extraordinaire Rei Alvarez, effortlessly playing maracas and guiro to Elena's songs. I tell you, that man is a Richmond treasure.

The view from our blanket was about as wonderful as you'd expect, what with a campfire with a rack of squash roasting and lights strung on Laney and Jameson's little blue mobile home, the shed and arbor, all under a sky of cotton batting-like clouds with the moon doing its best to make its presence known.

Fa Bra returned to tease us into squash again with a pose that looked to involve the squash folding over on itself. I didn't do it, but I did imagine myself as a squash.

Last up was a feast of girl voices with Whatever Honey, who told us right off the bat that they hadn't played out in a year. You couldn't tell it by the harmonies they put out. As my musician companion noted, there's just something more complex about female voices singing together than males.

Leaning back, listening to the gorgeous harmonies and guitar playing while the scent of candles filled the air, we could have been teleported back to a commune in the '70s, it was that kind of easygoing vibe.

No mellows could be harshed when voices this angelic are being sung to the night sky. With apologies to Elena, I love that I can be a Blanc de Blanc sipper and an old hippie at the same time.

And not being on tour, all my hair products are present and accounted for.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Happiness Meter

Don't ask college students to recognize happiness and unhappiness.

Or if someone does - say, their film professor - prepare to be wildly entertained by how they interpret both.

Tonight kicked off another semester of VCU Cinematheque with Mike Leigh's "Another Year," a film I'd seen in 2011 when it came out. But my date had never seen it and I can always enjoy rewatching a Jim Broadbent performance.

You can always tell it's early on at the Grace Street Theater because the place is packed. I know from past years that attendance waxes and wanes over the semester depending on what else is going on. Or perhaps college students just can't sustain a whole semester's interest in anything, hard to say.

Before the film began, the visiting professor told the students to watch the film with an eye  for what makes some people happy while others remain unhappy. He even went so far as to tell them to ponder what would make each of them truly happy.

Sorry, prof, but that's far too big a question for a roomful of teenagers.

The film moves through four seasons in the life of a happy older married couple, Tom and Gerri. It was interesting, though, because where my middle-aged date and I saw every sign of happiness between the couple, the students saw smugness and condescension.

The role of unhappiness was played by Mary, a co-worker of Gerri's, a divorced woman who claimed she was happy and yet whined and drank to daily excess. A woman so desperate she would unabashedly hit on the couple's 30-year old son. A woman perpetually having a crises.

In my opinion, a woman not happy with herself so unable to find happiness with anyone else.

As the film cycles through the year, we see the couple enjoying their life together - gardening, reading and talking in bed, making meals for themselves, family and friends - which often includes comments and looks between the two that are meant for no one else.

To my middle-aged eyes, it was easy to see the intimacy and affection of this couple who had been married for 30+ years and how they shared their bond with others.

When the movie ended, I told my date we needed to stay for at least part of the discussion, because past screenings have proven how entertaining and illuminating they can be.

Because once the post-film Q & A began, we were treated to a completely different way of viewing the film's story: through a millennial lens.

In a key scene where the divorcee meets the son's new girlfriend, she is rude and dismissive of the young woman, despite being at dinner in the home of his parents/her friends. Her disdain for the girlfriend and obvious disappointment that the son has a love interest is palpable. As a result, a rift develops between Gerri and Mary.

That rift is acknowledged in the next season, with Gerri suggesting Mary see a therapist and while Gerri is a therapist, she insists Mary see someone else. Ethics and all.

The college students were convinced something had happened in between the seasons that the director hadn't shown. Something unknown had caused the rift and they thought Gerri was callous not to be willing to counsel her friend.

And while I can chalk up them not knowing that a therapist wouldn't treat a friend to being millennial (and not having much life experience), not one of them realized that it was Mary's deplorable behavior at Tom and Gerri's home to their son's new girlfriend that had caused the problem.

Did a guest's obvious lack of civility and basic manners go completely unnoticed by the students in the theater? Sure did. That's why they were convinced something else had happened in the interim.

Even more bizarre was how the professor stressed that happy people were boring and only the unhappy ones were interesting. Including himself in the latter category, he found plenty of support among students who had a completely different read on Mary than we did.

Where we saw dysfunctional, they saw something they could relate to. Where we saw desperate, they saw gutsy. Where we saw depressed, they saw someone who couldn't catch a break.

It was bizarre.

Our differences in perception extended to Tom and Gerri because the students saw their pithy commentary and knowing looks as condescending, whereas we saw them as evidence of the kind of verbal and non-verbal shorthand that couples develop over the years.

It seemed that the students felt that the couple was looking down on people who weren't happy, while we felt like they went out of their way to share their home, hearth and happiness with a string of miserable people.

When one kid tried to bring some religious connotation that wasn't there to a scene, the more senior and knowledgeable of the professors clarified by saying director Mike Leigh took more of a communist than religious approach.

You could almost hear the gasps from some young filmmakers-to-be.

Another guy, in trying to explain his point, suggested that we all know the path to happiness is "marriage, have some kids and provide for them to eat," although his thesis soon ran (understandably) aground. Not a one of those things guarantees happiness, son. For that matter, they're not even required.

One movie, two viewpoints.

Happiness is being able to appreciate a screening where the discussion is almost as illuminating as the film.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Use Your Nouns

Poetry about cleaning toilets was prelude to a marriage being parsed.

All I knew was that it had seemed like forever since I'd last been to a poetry reading, so walking into Chop Suey and seeing the metal folding chairs set up between the tables and shelves of books felt instantly familiar and comfortably reassuring.

We'd arrived early enough for me to pick up "Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011," a book I'd been coveting all summer, before snagging seats in my favorite row, which just happens to front the art book section.

This works out well because I can pull interesting titles and gawk ahead of the reading. Tonight's temptation was a book on Degas (how could I not be drawn to his New Orleans work and a scene of a cotton market with no less than 14 figures in it?) and another on photographer Walker Evans (especially images depicting the south in the '30s), which I couldn't resist sharing with the nerd who'd accompanied me.

Poet Ryan Kent was reading from his new book, "This is Why I am Insane" to a fairly full house of friends, family and random poetry reading-goers like us. He apologized more than once for the "cuss words," and while I'm no angel, I do get tired of "shit" being used as an all purpose noun to encompass anything everything.

Also, it may be me, but I never again need to hear about dick hairs on a toilet in a poem.

That said, his poetry read like songs and he wrote without pretense, using references to what he knew - older women, cars on lawns in Petersburg, drinking - almost always ending his poem at exactly the right place. For a change, a poet who made brevity work.

Some of his phrases were wonderfully evocative, from  "Watching her walk with all the right swing" to a reference to "A stalemate of cars in traffic on 95." Visuals sprung from his words.

He ended with the most recent poem he'd written, which he sarcastically called an upper. I've heard Sylvia Plath did something similar.

Leaving Chop Suey, we decided to walk to dinner, striking out first at the Stables at Belmont and second at Belmont Food Shop, so we decided to forsake Belmont entirely and make our way to Kuba, Kuba.

As you'd expect for any night of the week, Kuba, Kuba was close to capacity but we spotted two empty bar stools and promptly claimed them before anyone else could. Even though it's been eons since I'd been in, I knew without opening the menu what I was getting.

Not having to read gave me time to start eavesdropping on the two men next to us who were trying to decide if Guy #1 should jump ship on his marriage. Guy #2 wanted to know if after they'd gotten married there had been a honeymoon period where everything seemed idyllic and hopeful.


Guy #2 pressed on, curious about why #1 was ready to give up. Many reasons were listed, but #1 summed it up by saying, "She's a great woman but she's not the woman for me."

So he'd made up his mind.

Guy #2 immediately shifts into next stage mode, suggesting what #1 needed tonight was a hook-up and Tinder was just the place to find one.

That gave #1 some bluster. "I could get four girls in ten minutes," he bragged. Down, boy. It's a woman's prerogative to swipe.

They toasted his success with using a device to mend his broken heart by raising their glasses: #1's of Coke and #2's a Sierra Nevada. Now that I think about it, it was a pretty lame toast, probably fitting for a self-proclaimed pretty lame marriage (or, perhaps more accurately, marriage attempt).

Then they celebrated the manly way: by ordering three entrees to share between the two of them. My guess is that #1 is going to move on just fine without the missus. Besides, doesn't everyone get a starter marriage?

Distraction arrived when our waitress showed up with our order and it got within 6" of the counter before she swooped them up again and deposited them in front of the two guys on the other side of us.

"That was just a tease, a look-see," she joked to us as they ate the food.

Our own arrived shortly thereafter and I was pleased to taste that no matter how many years go by in between visits, I can always count on the shrimp and mussels in Tasso ham and garlic broth for plump seafood, tons of ham and killer broth for endless sopping.

It's a dish guaranteed to make me sweat garlic a good way.

When our server brought the check, she did so with a look of contrition on her face. Seems she'd charged the duo next to us for our meal and now she felt obligated to charge us for theirs. Since theirs was cheaper and ours had been delicious, we couldn't complain.

But who's complaining? Poetry, dinner and music on my breezy balcony is enough to make  anyone wax poetic.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Time in a Bottle

With only a week left, I needed to get in one more wearing of my white shorts before Labor Day.

That need paired with temperate weather and a constant breeze told me it was a Lilly Pad kind of day.

Not that any sunny day isn't suitable for hanging out at a cinderblock building (incidentally, one with a mural on the back reading, "Having an affair? with an image of a 40s-era couple) next to a boat landing in Varina.

So mid-afternoon, my date and I pulled in behind one of many mammoth trucks and SUVs parked in the lot with boat hitches attached. Judging by the sheer number of them, the river had to be chockablock with boats and jet skis.

Walking into the Lilly Pad, I ran into a guy I hadn't seen in ages, despite knowing him for  20+ years. Saying that he was the last person I expected to see this far out, I looked to his side to see another face from the past, this one from a decade ago.

Grinning at me after hugging and saying hello, he asked, "Am I the second to last person you expected to see out here?"

After introducing my date, we chatted with them for a while. It was their first time at the Pad and they'd liked it, they'd really liked it. Grinning like fools, they were now headed back to the city to see what they could get in to.

We intended to do the same, only on premises.

That required scoring a bottle of wine in an orange beach bucket from the kite enthusiast I know behind the bar ("Don't believe a word they said!" he tells me as if I don't know this) and staking a claim on a patio table that had a generous umbrella.

I thought I was prepared, having brought a hat just in case (didn't need it), but a woman a few tables away had shown up with her own umbrella and a Chinese fan.

She also turned out to be a major Jim Croce fan, so "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" got her up and dancing (albeit alone) and later, "You Don't Miss Around with Jim" did the same. Strange, I never saw Jim Croce as particularly dancey music until today.

The live music featured Chris Grigg playing guitar and singing a hell of a range of song choices. I mean, how often does a set list range from Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" to George Michael's "Father Figure" with a detour of "All Along the Watchtower?"

Only in Varina, folks.

People-watching at the Lilly Pad is always fabulous. Only here do you see people smoking as casually as if it's 1967. One guy lit up a cigar and blew the smoke directly at the people at the next table. Several people lit one cigarette from their last one.

Next to us, two women discussed back when they got their long hair cut into shags and the trauma that caused them. When one said, "Who wears a shag anyway?" I just smiled at her with my shag haircut.

It's the kind of joint where I'm standing in line for the ladies' room and the guy going into the men's room feels my pain, pointing inside it and saying, "Sorry, it's a one-holer."

Over on the side of the patio sits a bar, but not a service bar, just a beat-up old bar where customers can sit and have a place to put their bucket of Buds or rum and Coke. It's Lilly Pad fancy, though, with a bar-shaped canopy over it.

95% of the men on the patio have on black t-shirts of one kind or another. One says, "I love pig butts" and I'm okay with that. Another has a Confederate flag on it, the words, "We the people" and then a passage from the second amendment and I wasn't okay with that.

Over by the wall, a large table is intently listening to their drunk friend blather over the music. "You might make a left turn on Williamsburg Road, but I'll make you turn around!" he crows.

All afternoon, boats of every stripe come and go from the dock, some tying up to come into the Pad and others just heading out on the river. It was the ideal moving visual to complement the sparkling water and soft breeze.

About 6:30, the yellow A & B snack boat pulls in after another successful day hawking chips and candy to boaters.

Guitarist Grigg didn't disappoint when ending his set, first doing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and then, of all the unlikely choices, "I Will Survive."

I'm telling you, this guy's set pendulum swung wide.

By the time we headed out, the sun was low in the sky and the air was feeling crisp, at least to those of us who prefer summer in our veins. My white shorts felt a tad inadequate come dusk.

Luckily, we didn't have far to go for dinner. Tonight was pizza club at Nota Bene and since we couldn't very well get back to my place without passing the restaurant, it only made sense to stop. That and a favorite wine rep had designed this month's pizza club pie and cocktail.

We'd just claimed stools at the end of the bar when she came over to greet us. The Facebook oracle had told me she'd recently sprained her ankle the last day of her beach vacation, but she was without crutches tonight and hobbling around.

It didn't take long to find out that it was after she'd been experimenting with tonight's pizza club cocktail - gin, Aperol, radler, bitters, lime cordial and basil - that she'd tripped on the steps of the beach house and sprained her ankle.

That's some real dedication to pizza club research right there.

On the owner's recommendation, we began with a salad of roasted local beets, goat cheese, mint, olive oil and lemon so good it had my date recanting his distaste for beets. Holmes had done the same about cauliflower in the same restaurant.

Just as wonderful was a riff on panzanella: a bowl of heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes with basil, pickled red onion, bread and a creamy ball of burrata to take it over the top. Eating all the heirlooms I can right now, I'm all about savoring every last taste of summer before it's gone.

But the main event, the reason for the evening and the creation of the hobbled wine rep was a pizza layered with housemade sausage, rosemary, hot peppers, honey and - be still, my heart - Tallegio.

For the second time in my life, it was left to me to introduce a man of Italian decent to this semi-soft cheese from his motherland. If I were the judgmental type, I'd say some mothers were asleep at the wheel to raise sons with no knowledge of Tallegio.

Everything about the pizza combination worked, from the earthy sausage to the fruity cheese to the heat of the peppers and sweet notes of honey, all on that stellar crust from a wood-burning oven.

And this is why you go to pizza club: it's a tonight-or-never proposition.

The same could be said for white short season. Shags, though, they're timeless.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

If It Sells, It Smells

Vaginacore. That's a thing.

If there was one takeaway from tonight, it was that vaginacore is a musical genre. I'm not even sure how that could surprise me, but it does.

My evening began at My Noodle & Bar, where the door was open to the beautiful night and the music was set to pure '90s: Alannis Morrisette, Soul Asylum, Spin Doctors. You could practically smell the flannel shirts and not in a good way.

I'd barely taken a stool for dinner when I heard my name called. In between the new decor of glass bottles holding herbs and greens along the bar (I like it), I could see Mac on the other side. It was strangely weird since we've never run into each other out before.

Behind me, conversation flew between the occupants of a table of eight.

Doesn't everyone go to Target on Saturdays?
He's got the handwriting of a 32-year old woman!
Got it! I'll send copies to you.

When their food began arriving, no one touched it. It was only once the older looking man said a prolonged grace in a language I didn't recognize that people began to pick up their chopsticks and eat.

Meanwhile, I had a documentary to make at 8:00, so when the bartender asked me if I wanted anything besides water, I declined. Funny, but he laid the drink menu back in front of me anyway.

"In case you change your mind," he says. "That no didn't sound very confident." Cheeky devil.

A group of 4 sat down at the corner of the bar (I pegged them for medical students) and began discussing what to order for dinner. When the bartender answered their question about making a dish as spicy as requested, it threw them into a collective tizzy.

"Now I have to read the whole menu all over again cause I didn't bother reading the hot ones!" one young woman whined as the others nodded. Her friend was too busy looking at her phone when their order was being taken to give hers, but you can believe the once off the phone, she wanted her order taken pronto.

It doesn't work that way, Snowflake.

Because I'd arrived right as the restaurant had filled up, the kitchen was immediately slammed and my broccoli and chicken entree took a while to show up. On the positive side, its tardy arrival gave me an excuse to "gobble like a field hand," as Mammy told Scarlet in "Gone With the Wind," once it did.

Since I was running behind, I was happy to see the organizer of tonight's documentary screening of "Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk" standing outside the Visual Arts Center when I pulled up. Surely if he was out here, the movie hadn't begun inside.

"Thanks for coming, Karen," he said as I walked inside. Just doing my part for punk, I assured him.

Upstairs, I found the expected group of aging punk rockers I always encounter at punk-related events. Plenty of familiar faces, although not many I know by name.

Two I did know were newlyweds, but he and I also share a love of shoegaze and reverb, so we dished on the new Slowdive album when I stopped to say hello.

Narrated by Iggy Pop, who brought both attitude and gravitas to the reading, the film was a pretty in-depth look at the music scene that sprung up across the bay from San Francisco beginning in 1981. Plenty of archival footage fleshed out the many talking heads, who had aged at various rates, if you know what I mean.

Musician after musician explained to the camera that punk music was their thing not just because they loved its energy but also because it f*cked with people. One guy pegged it as so compelling because it was all these young people singing with such despair.

The film went deep into the scene - it was over 2 1/2 hours long - but moved as quickly as a punk song so it never felt laborious. It had to be detailed to get to all the many bands and offshoots of punk.

En route to the bathroom at intermission, I ran into the musician and nerd who shares my passion for history, poetry and all things intellectual. Being a post-punk musician now, he was most stoked about the upcoming part of the film that dealt with 1987 to 1994, the years when he'd discovered this music.

When we got to talking about our summers, he shared that his had been overtaken by his two latest projects: reading all the Southern Gothic novels he could lay his hands on and watching all the Woody Allen movies he'd never seen.

As he explained it, he really hadn't had time to do much else besides those two things.

But when his face really lighted up was when he told me that directly after the film tonight, he was leaving for Corolla and bringing Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" along with his swimsuit and suntan lotion.

Sounds like an epic beach read to me.

It was some time during the part of the film about 1987 - "when punk became safe for little kids and girls" - that I began to hear overblown Yanni-like music playing softly behind me in sharp contrast to the screaming on the screen.

I looked around several times, and every time the movie had a quiet moment (there was, needless to say, a lot of hardcore thrashing to be heard) I became more certain somebody needed to turn something off.

Only once others began glaring at her did she bother to check her purse and turn off the volume on her phone. Some aging punkers are still learning their technology, it seems.

There were so many great punk band names like Kamala and the Karnivores mentioned, but it would be hard to top the Yeastie Girlz because, well, because they named themselves the Yeastie Girlz. They not only had a message, they "played" tampons on stage to songs like "Ovary Action."

I'm telling you kids, it was a more creative time.

And, yes, as you might expect, they fall under the heading of vaginacore. Just doing my part to get the word out.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Endlessly Entertaining

You don't jump right into the Man Cave.

I'm sure you could, although it's the kind of place best approached in stages, preferably after a couple of stops. After imbibing has gotten underway. After multiple discussions have led to music and it becomes clear that only hearing can prove your point. After the restaurant you're in wants to close down.

Also because limited night time light is kindest to a basement under-dusted and overstuffed with old furniture, comic books both vintage and modern, and scads of records and CDs. A place well-stocked with wine and booze.

Better to begin the evening in full daylight, say at Saison market where our center table means everyone can find us drinking a bottle of Laurent Miguel Pere et Fils Rose.

A comedian friend is having a long form discussion of improv jumping off points with a fellow comedian (when she shares her idea, I remind her that using teen-aged journals has already been them). A foodie friend says hello, telling me my dress looks like the colors of rainbow sherbet (a fact I can verify now that I keep rainbow sherbet in my freezer at all times). A favorite server comes over to see how our eclipse-watching trip went (she'd sold us the bottles of Rose that accompanied us to the beach).

Let's just say that if I was trying to have an illicit affair, I wouldn't go to Saison market because the chance of not running into a familiar face is slim to none. And as my Richmond grandmother liked to say, "Slim just left town."

We left there to meet Holmes and Beloved at Lucy's two blocks away. Holmes and I had both suggested Lucy's independently of each other, so we took it as a sign. Besides, who can't appreciate a restaurant that gets its beef from the co-owner's family farm on the Northern Neck?

As both Holmes and Beloved made orgasmic sounds about their specials of filet mignon, I reminded them why they tasted so good: happy cows. Having actually been to the farm and seen how cows spend their days there, I think it's safe to say they're loving life right up until they become a menu special.

But even non-bovine dishes got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from our booth, from burrata and local tomatoes in a pesto pistou (the dish tasted like summer in every bite) to farm fritters of corn, cheddar and scallions (although, to be fair, I rarely meet a fritter I don't love) to an arugula salad dotted with grapes, fennel and Gorgonzola. And for the former non-seafood eater, the local fish of the day special of mahi mahi with corn, tomato and black bean salsa kicked butts and took numbers.

It was while we were devouring desserts - a flourless chocolate torte and a housemade ice cream sandwich - that the topic of music kept coming up, hardly a surprise given that there were two musicians and two former disco devotees at the table.

Let's just say that viola jokes abounded. When I thanked Holmes for having gifted me with one of his four copies of the Brass Ring's "The Disadvantages of You," my current favorite album-to-dress-by, Beloved said they hadn't listened to it yet. Holmes begged to differ.

It seemed like the only way to clear the matter up was to head directly to the Man Cave, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. And we did.

It's the '70s all over again in the Man Cave, which boasts a Formica-covered bar to which we sidled up in four bar stools that may have seen better days.

Under the bar itself is shelving holding part of Holmes' record collection (all of which, by the way, dates to pre-1990) while the rest of the collection resides in a nearby room. But all his favorites are at an easy arm's length reach, on or under the Formica.

Vibes reigned supreme, first with the Brass Ring and then with Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass on the iconic "Whipped Cream and Other Delights," which happened to include the theme from "The Dating Game."

Beyond "A Taste of Honey," the latter spurred a conversation about how almost everyone's Dad had that album and we were all pretty sure it had a lot to do with the shaving cream-covered woman on the album cover.

Too harsh? Okay, maybe Dads were the target demographic for Americanized easy listening brass music back then and the cover played no role. As if.

The later the evening got (and the more Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel Rose consumed), the further afield the music got from our starting point.

Eager to show off his favorite cover of "Woodstock," Holmes played Matthew Southern Comfort doing it to universal approval. And while it's a Joni Mitchell song, no one was making a case for her version. But I also thought that it would be appropriate to play the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young cover since we'd all grown up hearing that as the standard.

When Holmes announced that "Deja Vu," the album with "Woodstock" was elsewhere, Beloved offered to track it down in the next room. When she seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time, he called out asking how she was doing in finding it.

"I found "Green Tambourine!" she called back, sounding pretty excited.

The look on his face was priceless, equal parts impatience (why can't others understand his filing system) and a reluctance to move (but with no choice since only he could save the day).

Shaking his head, he headed into the other room, muttering, "She's in the Byrds! She oughta be looking under Crosby!" And while he set off to assist, we never actually saw the record or got around to listening to it.

Such are the tangents and detours we inevitably take during these marathon listening parties where Beloved occasionally sits in as DJ. These days, with a savvy fourth added to our long-time trio, there's the added benefit of music trivia about pedal steel players and discussions about who played which guitars.

Unable to compete with their obscure knowledge, I nonetheless threw my two cents' worth in by sharing Joni Mitchell's inspiration for "Free Man in Paris" (David Geffen) while listening to "Court and Spark." Hey, it got me a few points.

During the course of the evening's fun, Holmes got two phone calls from friends, making me wonder who in the world calls a friend post 10:00 on a Friday night? For that matter, should cell phones even be allowed to disturb the zen of a place as frozen in time as the Man Cave?

And while we had no use for "The Dating Game," everyone there being quite happily paired up, we were left with one lingering musical question.

If a taste of honey isn't sweeter than wine, does that mean whipped cream and other delights are? Discuss.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Feed Your Head

The math was off.

Three hours (of conversation) plus 20 minutes (intermission) divided by seven weeks (since we last saw each other) does not add up to nearly enough time to go deep with one of my oldest friends.

The nearly two months wasn't entirely my fault, though certainly my frequent gallivanting this summer played a part. Without divulging too much, sorry/not sorry.

But she'd also been busy, having just returned from a trip to New England where she was so eager for fall that she began needlessly wearing sweaters because she could. Even when they made her uncomfortably hot. Even when her friend mocked her.

So with one thing and another, tonight was out first chance to hang.

We began on my balcony, hydrating and watching twin moonflowers unfurl while trying to cover some of our recent trips. We'd both noticed how much the light has changed as September nears. Only I am sad about it.

From there, we moved on to Secco and tonight's cooler, drier weather meant that there were no seats on the patio, although once established at the end of the bar, the outdoors were forgotten anyway. Or maybe that was the German Rose.

We'd hit Secco during their happy hour, which attempts to aid customers in re-connecting with humanity by providing boxes in which to put your cell phone. That's right, if you box your phone, everything you eat and drink costs less, not to mention the thrill of real time conversation.

And while my friend did lock hers up, the owner pointed out that I was already ahead of the game by having no phone to lock up. Whether that should get me an even bigger deal or looks of scorn is up to the individual.

While dishing on family, friends and lovers, we also chowed down. A killer baba ganouch was taken over the top with the addition of sweet tomato relish and cotija, while the warm grilled flatbread more than did its part. I'd eat it again tomorrow.

It was an evening to discover (and correct) that my friend had never had fried squash blossoms, these arriving with crispy fried lemon, green beans and Romesco to seduce her. And what Rose drinker could be less than thrilled with a Spanish octopus and mussel escabeche with the thinnest of cucumber slices, basil and Thai chilis?

Certainly not this one.

We eavesdropped on a woman who claimed to look 28 (not even close), talked about the pleasures of a green Chartreuse party (not since the '90s for me) and questioned how some people define friendship. She asked for a beach replenishment update and I obliged.

And then we hightailed it to the Basement for TheatreLAB and Firehouse Theatre's production of "Alice."

You know, as in Wonderland and through the looking glass. Also as in, so full of youthful singing and acting talent that the effect was dazzling.

We were seated next to an older couple from Montross on the Northern Neck and it didn't take much prodding to get them talking. Big theater fans, both of them, they shared that they often went to Fredericksburg to see plays.

"In September, we're going to see 'Six Brides for Six Brothers," the woman told me excitedly. "It's seven brides and seven brothers," her husband informed her. "You're making up a play!"

When they asked if I was a native Richmonder, we found out that both the husband and I were Washingtonians and born in the same hospital. Small world.

I would have left it there, but then the husband starts quizzing me. What was the name of the bakery on Pennsylvania Avenue near 16th? What radio commercial went like this (and he began singing)?  I explained I had been gone 30 years and clearly didn't have the same memories he did.

The wife tells me she had 5 children, all at the same hospital, but by two different husbands. Then she giggles and said, "And none with him" and points to Mr. D.C.

Oh, they were colorful, alright. Things only went south when the subject of renaming his Arlington alma mater (coincidentally, also that of my companion) came up and we began to see that he couldn't understand why Confederate statues must come down.

But other than that, they were sweet and obviously dedicated theater fans to have driven an hour and 20 minutes for this play, so we had to like them.

They'd picked one worth the drive. The fresh-faced cast was all in, the amount of energy expended impressive and the story charmingly told with all the anticipated lack of logic expected of a tale written while on drugs.

For that matter, they'd also executed a play with as perfect a sound quality as I've heard at a play in Richmond. Granted, the Basement is small, but that's not always been a guarantee of fabulous sound and tonight every syllable and moan came across loud and clear (all the better to appreciate the cast's stellar voices) as they belted out songs (which did occasionally drift into Disney territory).

Can I just say that it is positively life-affirming to sit in a theater and see a play with an all-female cast? Casting women in all the roles - the Caterpillar, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, the Mad Hatter - ensured that every strong voice, every funny line, every dramatic moment was delivered with a healthy dose of estrogen.

Hallelujah and pass the chocolate. It's enough to make a woman giddy with the rarity of it.

And let me just say that Maggie Bavolack (in a blue bobbed haircut, sunglasses and smoking  a hookah) was so over-the-top hilarious as the caterpillar that some people couldn't take their eyes off of her. Charisma and attitude oozed from every blue pore on her body.

But she was only one of a strong ensemble cast who could toss off simple yet well-written lines ("Those muddy stockings, so joie de vivre!") and crack up the audience.

At intermission, a woman in line was all but swooning about the gorgeous harmonies we'd been hearing and although I agreed, I was just as taken with the clever dialog and its delivery. Someone had done a magnificent job of casting.

Of course, we all strive to cast our own lives just as ably. You find a good person like my friend and you offer them the role for life. You fit in a new person around the original cast.  You ensure the estrogen level stays up for sanity's sake.

And that hot pink bandana I had on tonight? So joie de vivre.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Honeysuckle, Bittersweet

Bands or men, frequency doesn't have to equate with boredom.

As many times as I've seen the world music duo Lobo Marino - and that's a fair number over a period spanning 2010 to now - it's always different. They're changing, their music changes and the venue changes.

When I saw they were playing at Tin Pan in a listening room setting tonight, driving to suburban hell Henrico aside, I couldn't think of a single reason not to be there. And you can be sure that when my date considered using his GPS, I offered up my direction services instead.

On arrival, he mentioned that the benefit of using me over A.I. is that my directions include stories. I'd told him I'd brought him via Patterson Avenue because its gently rolling hills feel like something that's been traversed on horses (or in carriages) for centuries.

You don't get that kind of color from Siri.

Approaching the Tin Pan, we saw the evening's stars on a low brick wall, her head in his lap. They were sharing a moment in the post-rain cool evening air, without a care for the fact that they went onstage in 45 minutes.

Jameson and Laney aren't just talented musical partners, they're the equivalent of a couple comedy act of differing personalities who play off each other effortlessly on and off stage. The unicorn head clock made of a slab of lacquered wood that they gave me for my birthday 8 years ago is a fitting metaphor for their sunny can-do attitudes.

My kind of people, in other words.

We chatted them up outside, listening as Laney talked about the pipeline activism with which they're so involved. They'd landed at the Tin Pan in an effort to treat Richmond more like they treat the other cities on tour: by trying a variety of venues to pull different crowds. It made perfect sense.

They joined us at our table inside for more banter while we ordered dinner of hummus with everything bagel sprinkles, pita and veggies and a kale salad with Gorgonzola, nuts and chicken.

After Jameson gave me a hard time about something, he reminded me that our decade of friendship allows that privilege.

"Remember that show at Gallery 5 where you asked Nathaniel and I why two musicians at a show were talking while a band played?" he asked, chuckling. "But we hadn't seen each other in so long! You were right, we should've gone outside to talk."

Smart men learn quickly.

Then they went onstage to knock the socks off the audience, many of whom seemed never to have seen them before.

"If you have any questions during the show, just raise your hand and ask," they told the undoubtedly surprised room. Who doesn't like a transparent band?

They began by explaining about the band's name and how they'd first seen  the large sea lions known as lobo marino while living in South America, where they got away with anything they wanted, including holding up traffic.

Jameson recalled that they used to tell themselves that the animals were extraterrestrials who craned their necks upward in that distinctive way because they were awaiting the arrival of the mothership.

Then they played, which had to have been a revelation for anyone in the room who'd never seen a band that plays banjo, harmonium, drums with feet, mallets and sticks, guitar, bells around the ankles, mouth harp and brass jar (as a poor man's substitute for a similar instrument they couldn't afford).

And that's not even mentioning the litany of animal sounds Jameson brings to the mix.

Besides the sheer pleasure of a true listening room environment, the quieter room meant that the duo pulled out all kinds of early and acoustic material they no longer play out. I heard stuff I hadn't heard in years.

When Jameson said they were going to play the first song they ever wrote together, Laney was quick to correct him. "I didn't write it!" But that wasn't the point and "Animal Hands" is as much a delight to hear the 15th time as the first.

Before a song from the album recorded upstairs at Gallery 5, Jameson gave me a shout-out about having been there for the recording. "Her name is in the liner notes," he shares and I beam.

After he explains that he'd been the band's original lead singer, he said that once Laney found her voice, the job was hers and with good reason.

She challenged him to play a song that showed when he'd found his voice and he pulled out his mouth harp, an instrument he'd learned to play on a pilgrimage in Spain ("After Laney left me to go home") and Portugal.

"Cole, make us sound schwampy," Jameson told the sound guy. "That means reverb." And reverb was just what the mouth harp, foot-drummed song needed.

After Jameson tuned the guitar and she apologized about her playing skills, they did "The Loon," which Laney had written on a boat dock in Maine one summer after the sounds of the birds.

Every song had a story and it was a night for sharing all of that - anecdotes, activism, personal stories - in between the music. Back in 2008, I saw Yo la Tengo on tour and they did the same thing, interspersing chatter with music for a more intimate feel.

You know I love me some good conversation.

Before a song inspired by an eastern greeting, they talked about their time in Yogaville. Laney had been distressed when she discovered that men and women slept in separate dormitories and there was no hand-holding allowed. Her displeasure still simmered.

"Pretty sure all of that was on the sheet they gave us," Jameson noted wryly. "Laney didn't read it."

She ignores him and goes on to explain that they managed to sneak away and have sex at the river anyway while there. 'I can't believe you just told them that," Jameson laughed.

Asking for request, they got one but apologized in advance since they hadn't played it in eons. During an extensive instrumental part, Laney leaned in to the mic and said, "Bonus track" in a fake Siri-like voice.

Thankfully, they ended with "Holy River," a song that takes the audience to the church of the Ganges/James River and soars skyward. It's the ultimate closer.

Before the night was over, they'd invited the entire room to their squash roasting party next week and told the crowd that if they needed another dose of Lobo Marino before then, they're playing at Hardywood this weekend.

"But it'll be less talk, more rock at Hardywood," Laney warned us.

Funny, I was attracted to the fact that the audience wasn't allowed to talk and reveled in the fact that the musicians did as much talking as playing.

As my favorite cop would say, I like it. As my Grandma used to say, only boring people get bored.

Not even close.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hot August Night

You have to be up to seeing certain films.

"Detroit" is one of them and when I offered Mac a choice of outdoor live music or a movie, she jumped at the latter because, as she informed me, the heat index was in the triple digits.

I hadn't bothered checking the weather since getting back from the beach, so I didn't know about all that. What I could testify to was that my afternoon had ended with a heat nap, so I wasn't going to be upset if I missed an outdoor show tonight.

But more importantly, as she pointed out, she also felt able to handle what we knew was going to be a heavy and difficult movie in the manner of "13th." We agreed that you can't go in to such a painful recreation of history if you're already having a bad day.

We ate in service of my hired mouth in a pleasantly air-conditioned restaurant before moving on to the briefest of mid-century modern architectural tours (one building) in the Museum District, landing finally at Movieland.

I'm at a decided disadvantage when it comes to violent movies (even when it's violence based on real events) given that I don't watch TV and, as a rule, avoid movies with violence. I go to talky movies, films that deal with feelings and thoughts, not beatings and shootings.

And there's a reason for that.

What this meant was that I reflexively and repeatedly closed my eyes during the harrowing scenes between cops and blacks. I'm sorry, I just can't watch that kind of inhumanity. It's gut-wrenching to see a police officer butt someone's head with a rifle or slam them into a wall, so the prolonged torture and beating scenes ensured that the audience stayed uncomfortable.

Close to tears, honestly.

When I wasn't wincing at how the incident in the Algiers Hotel unfolded during the 1967 riots in Detroit, I was learning of the Dramatics' role in it all, having been at the Algiers that night and some of the band members among the tortured.

As a long-time fan of the band - their 1971 debut, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get," gets regular spins on my turntable - I'd never heard a word about their role in the police brutality incidents that formed the heart of the film's story.

I've since learned that I need to read "The Algiers Hotel Incident" to know more and I intend to.

Walking out, Mac and I talked about how uncomfortable the film had made us and it wasn't much of a leap to see parallels to some of today's policing methods. If it's terrifying for me to think how little has changed in 50 years, I can't wrap my head around how difficult it must be for those more directly affected.

Lean into the difficult conversations, a wise person once told the two of us at a community conversation about race. It should feel unpleasant because what's been allowed to happen in this country is worse than unpleasant. It's a travesty.

I know it's a luxury to wait till you're up to see a film that brings you down. But see it we must.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Faith and Delivery

I'm the nerd who put together an eclipse kit to take on the road.

Since viewing glasses were impossible to come by, I let the Internets show me the way. Let's face it, they were full of ways to watch the big event without searing your retinas (although you'd never know it by the leader of the free world staring un-shielded at the sun).

I'd crafted a pinhole camera from a box of baking mix. I had Saltines and slotted spoons to use against sheets of white paper.

Let's just say I was ready for my science experiment close-up.

The unpleasant traffic on I-64 sent us scurrying for Route 60 en route to Sandbridge and bigger skies to watch the show. Our alternate route turned out to be a hoot for my date who'd lived and gone to high school in Newport News and enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane.

Past Don and Dean's produce stand, which, I was informed, has been around at various locations since his youth. Past Di Maria's Seafood which had held no appeal for the non-seafood eater he once was. Past Faith & Delivery, an outreach ministry in a strip mall.

We stopped at Bandido's Taco Truck to get fish tacos and chicken burritos for lunch and the place was uncharacteristically quiet. "We were slammed busy until 1:00!" the girl inside told us. So we were ten minutes behind the eclipse crowd, it seemed.

The beach was a happening place, although probably not any more so than any gorgeous day in mid-August. There seemed to be just as many people frolicking in the surf as sitting facing the sun with special glasses on, so clearly not everyone was here to obsess over science.

We set up camp and were savoring our lunch when a woman came running over excitedly, her phone extended, telling us we had to look at something.

Frankly, I wasn't expecting it to be a photo of the eclipse and I really hadn't wanted my first sighting to be on some stranger's phone. Or anyone's phone, for that matter.

Fortunately, camped out directly between us and the Atlantic Ocean were two women with eclipse glasses and all I had to do was walk toward them with a smile to be offered the use of them. My breathless "Holy cow!" got my companion at my side in record time and we ogled the eclipse shamelessly through borrowed glasses.

"Come back when it's at its peak and use them again!" this kindly stranger insisted. Will do.

In the meantime, we pulled out the pinhole camera and began figuring out the angle to hold it to get the sharpest image. When it showed up, it was almost as startling as it had been seeing it through the glasses.

It was enough for the glasses owner to come over smiling and ask to use our equipment. My meager crafting skills were helping make friends of strangers.

Between the pinhole camera and the glasses, we watched the moon move across the sun until it stopped being a show, but we also used the beach itself to assess the changes in light and shadow.

During the eclipse, our unusually sharp shadows on the sand had a distinct halo around them. And the daylight was odd, too, not at all like what it would normally be on a sunny August day at mid-afternoon. Kind of an ghostly bluish light like one of those energy-efficient compact florescent bulbs. Eerie.

We watched as the shadows and light returned to normal before setting out on a walk on sand so hard you could ride a bike on it, which was neither of our memories from our walk along the same stretch last month.

Even better, the ocean was as ideal a temperature as could be hoped for, just cool enough to be inviting and warm enough to stay in indefinitely.

We spent a majority of the day bathing in the ocean - there's really no better way to put it - which involved alternating between lolling in the gently rolling surf and drying out in our chairs under the umbrellas with a strong southerly breeze delivering whiffs of salt-brined air.

Some chair time is absolutely necessary, else where would we have toasted the eclipse with Laurent Miguel Pere et Fils Rose and eaten handfuls of watermelon?

It was a day to rinse and repeat until we were prune-fingered and toed and cooled to our cores.

Only after 97% of the beach had emptied out did we reluctantly pack up the pinhole and retreat to the showers. Staying on once darkness settled had its appeal, but Margie and Ray's Crab Shack wasn't going to stay open all night and we had beach-sized appetites after our day outside.

The crabs I cracked were meaty and good-sized, my date's Corvina was fresh off the boat and if there was a better place to watch the night arrive, we weren't there.

And while we may have been outside the path of totality and there are no pinhole camera pictures to prove it, I can assure you that no hearts were eclipsed over the course of a satisfyingly successful scientific day.

Absent a virgin, only a box of baking mix was sacrificed to the sun and moon gods. It seemed to be enough.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Party with Stargazers in Vase

Please be our guest for cocktails and a summer supper 
6 p.m.

Heavens knows, it wasn't my intention to be that guest.

I mean, sure, I showed up at 6 on the dot because that's when the invitation said, but I honestly didn't think I'd be the very first one at the party. The panicked-looking host flew around doing last minute prep while I launched a theater conversation with the man of the house.

Thank goodness we can always fall back on shrill singing voices, false marketing and playing to stereotypes rather than simply being generically catty.

We were just dissecting "The View Upstairs" which we'd both seen this weekend when we were joined by a madras jacket-wearing theater lover who'd just this minute come from seeing it. As with the other conversations I'd had about the play, it boiled down to age whether you took offense to how '70s gay men and millennials were portrayed.

Both seemed awfully recognizable to me, but then I'm a cis-gendered Baby Boomer woman, so what do I know?

A nice surprise was the wine rep I used to spend time with, whom I hadn't run into in eons. Since I see her so infrequently these days, I had no shame in corralling her for some vigorous catch-up sessions. She wanted to hear if I was seeing anybody and I was curious about all the obscure river beaches she frequents.

Both of us got good information.

I met a well-dressed man who lived in the house he'd grown up in on northside and still loved the neighborhood. Obligingly, I gave him an earful of reasons when he inquired if he should eat at L'Opossum for the first time.

It was hardly surprising that the topic of the evening was tomorrow's eclipse and one guy shared that his entire company had ordered eclipse glasses and were planning to spend the afternoon on the building's roof, the better to experience it.

When I asked if the boss had authorized the purchase, he scoffed. "He doesn't even know there's an eclipse!" That seems impossible, but okay. Hell, the Washington Post had an entire section in today's paper about the history, science and hacks of eclipses.

One of the guys serving looked familiar (also eerily like Matt LeBlanc) and when I asked why, he named off 7 or 8 restaurants where he'd worked, all of which I'd been to. "You're Karen, right?" he asked, although I wouldn't have guessed we'd been on a first name basis.

You never know who you've forgotten.

Our host had obviously been cooking for days, resulting in platters, chafing dishes and trays of food laid out in four locations to encourage circulation and overeating.

I popped a pimento cheese crostini, downed enough shrimp to qualify for a shrimp cocktail and made small talk with a woman who was taking a bullet for a friend who eschewed pork by eating a bacon-wrapped NY strip. The supper itself featured a pasta dish, a mixed vegetable medley and a grilled teriyaki salmon, all more than ably executed and fabulous tasting.

People broke into small groups while we ate supper and my female trio set up shop in the front window to discourse on our ties to the hosts, why we allowed ourselves to fall for the perm craze in the '80s and the joys of city living.

One woman shared that she and her husband had moved to First and Grace Streets in the late '80s, a time when few people were choosing to live in the area. Now that she and her husband are empty nesters, they're thinking of moving back downtown, so why wouldn't I sing the praises of my centrally-located neighborhood?

Sweet tooth types were rewarded with a dessert buffet of pineapple upside down cake, trifle and chocolate pate with fresh strawberries. When my friend asked what was in the chocolate pate after I ate mine, I said all I could taste was chocolate and butter. When the host stopped by our group, she asked him about it and he confirmed it was nothing more than chocolate and butter with crushed hazelnuts on top.

Other than a sprinkle of sea salt, it couldn't have been any more decadent.

When the wine rep was asked her favorite wine, she responded with "bubbles," specifically Cremant de Bourgogne and no one was going to argue with that. What was truly wonderful was that one of the servers showed up not two minutes later with a glass of it for her and, once he saw the interest in my eyes, one for me as well.

We toasted the eclipse and the times in a woman's life when she trades her responsibilities for more personal indulgences because she's earned it.

And, no, we're not just talking chocolate and butter here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Livin' Large

After a dozen or so years, I've got the hang of the Down Home Family Reunion.

Truthfully, it couldn't be simpler. The festival takes place two blocks away and all it requires is carrying a chair and a beverage.

I got there just as the organizer was chiding the crowd about their fixation on the headliner, which she saw as a lack of respect for all the other performers. Okay, fair enough.

Next to me, a woman with a Wells Fargo fan began complaining about the humidity and lack of breeze. "I want to go home and take a shower and sit in the air conditioning," she whined.

Rather than listening to live music? Clearly we have nothing in common, friend.

Instead she hung around for comedian Micah "Bam Bam" White, although she was unimpressed, observing, "He's not very funny, is he?"

Actually, his humor about the difference in how historically black colleges hold a football game versus white colleges was pretty hilarious to me. He did an imitation of a half time show and mocked how black vocalists, unlike white ones, never just sing the words on the page. According to him, they testify, they bend notes, they stretch things out.

Yep, and that's what we like about it.

Next up was Full Power Blues, a D.C. blues band led by a woman named Mama Moon, who welcomed the crowd, saying, "Welcome to full moon music!"

And, just as Bam Bam had noted, she and the band testified, they bent notes, they stretched things out.

After they finished, a lone singer named Shep (who will apparently be performing at the Folk Fest this fall) came out to do "A Change is Gonna Come," making for one of the more moving parts of the evening.

In between sets, a DJ played music that defined the demographic of the crowd: "One Nation Under a Groove," "Super Freaky" and "Higher Ground." I know because I sit squarely in that demographic.

A guy came over and sat down near me, striking up a conversation by asking if I was having a good time. Sure was. While the Elegba Folklore Society's performance group played, sang and danced (its leader proclaiming, "If you can walk, you can dance!"), he went on to explain African drumming to me as each drum beat meaning a different word.

When I said I did know that much, he changed tactics. "Do you smoke weed?' he asked blithely despite the cops a few feet away. I guess since I already knew about African drumming, he just assumed I was cool that way, too.

Or maybe it was that I was still wearing sunglasses after dark. I'd tried taking them off, but the park was lit too brightly and the whole scene looked less tawdry with shades on.

What I'm saying is, no one needs to see a fryer lit up. "Someone left their phone at the funnel cake booth," Bam Bam announced between sets. "If you left your phone, go get it now!"

It wasn't me, so I headed down to the row of Porta-Johns, where I found an entirely different party going on. A row of motorcycles, many strung with LED lights, was holding court near the outdoor bathrooms and Prince was blaring from a boombox.

Clearly they didn't need any stinkin' live music.

As the stage was being prepped for DC go-go/funk band EU (Experience Unlimited for the uninitiated), Bam Bam came out and announced that activist Dick Gregory had "transitioned." I've never understood using euphemisms for death. The man died, so just say died.

A collective groan went up from the crowd.

The members of EU showed up onstage wearing all white and ready to party. Leader Sugar Bear began exhorting the crowd immediately. "Get up, Richmond! Y'all got to get up!" We did.

Weaving in classics such as "Family Affair," "Shake It Like a White Girl" and "It's Your Thing," the 7-piece band showed off their smooth choreography, still strong voices and vintage showmanship. Even better, they looked to be having a ball doing it.

When they got to their set closer and biggest hit, "Da Butt," you better believe we - young and old - were following Sugar Bear's directive to, "Shake what your Mama gave you!"

No regular at the Down Home Family Reunion has to be told that twice.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Both Sides Now

Sometimes I let my enthusiasm get the best of me and I may come across as a bit odd.

With plans for dinner and a play, my date and I had just sat down at the bar at Amuse when I realized that next to us was a Jackson Ward neighbor. She immediately launched into praise for our alleys recently being cleared of all the leftover student debris and trash that had made our usually fine neighborhood look a little rundown at the heels lately.

Just as we were mulling who might've been responsible for the clean-up, I looked up to see Pru and company being led to a table nearby, so I went over to say hello. Everyone was in full-on Friday celebratory mode.

And since the trio was seated at a four-top, we saw no reason why a fifth couldn't be accommodated, so I was voted the one to take it up with the host.

Excitedly explaining to him that I was certain another chair could be added to the table, he asked which table my date and I wanted to glom on to. I pointed and continued to insist that one more chair wouldn't matter and how the table could easily fit five.

Looking at me with incredulity, the host asked, "Do they know you?"

Well, duh. Do I look like the kind of person who insinuates herself into the lives of strangers? Okay, of course I do, I am exactly that person, but in this case, I assured him, yes, I knew these people very well.

All of a sudden, our cozy dinner a deux was a round table dinner party for five (they were on the way to see the YSL exhibit), with views of the shades rolling up, down and up again as the photo-sensitive system tried to adjust for the rapidly-changing stormy skies outside.

A bottle of J. Mourat Rose was delivered and not long after, a second (Beau: Do we need another bottle? Me: Uh, yes Pru: Next time, don't ask, just order) as the conversation was derailed with a discussion of pigeon toes, knock knees and the problems of trying to vamp when you have both.

Not a good look and especially for a femme fatale.

Unable to narrow our preferences, my date and I shared two entrees - an earthy vegetable tajine and a special of exquisitely grilled New England cod with green beans and snap peas - so that we could taste both our food crushes. Beau was kind enough to share tastes of his shakshuka, even while wishing that there were more than two eggs on top of the eggplant and tomato stew.

"Or even just a few more yolks," he pined, not satisfied with the speed at which his arteries were closing. We helped that along with dessert, my choice of the salted chocolate bar being based on our server saying it was the darker of the two chocolate offerings but any fool knows I'd have eaten either one.

The skies opened up and torrent of rain began just as we asked for the check so we could make our curtain. Our server, who'd greeted me by name when we'd arrived, returned with two checks, her assumption being that I was alone as usual and not on a date.

Surprise! Sometimes I can dig up a date, especially these past few months. Now that everyone is firmly accustomed to me being solo all the time, I'm showing up as a couple all over the place. Who saw that coming?

We left our friends still finishing their desserts and dashed through the rain to the car, only to make it to Richmond Triangle Players' theater just as the pre-play announcements were being made.

Just this morning as I was out walking, I'd randomly run into the artistic director of a local theater company and in the course of chatting, told him which play I was seeing tonight. I could tell by his face that he had an opinion so I asked for it.

He thought the play, "The View Upstairs," had been unduly harsh on millennials and that while the acting and directing were strong, the story itself was not. He was also a millennial himself.

Naturally we two Baby Boomers wanted to decide for ourselves.

The premise was decidedly millennial, not a surprise given that the playwright was, too. A young Instagram-famous fashion designer buys an old building in New Orleans for a shop, only to go inside and encounter the occupants of the 1973-era gay club that once occupied the space.

And even if the program hadn't stated it was the early '70s, actor John Mincks' hairstyle, mustache and large-lensed glasses clearly stated the period. Ditto Luke Newsome's fitted, high-waisted jeans and Andrew Etheridge's fit and flare polyester bell bottoms.

The script was incredibly au courant - "Donald Trump is president, so anything is possible!" - even if the actors speaking it had to compete with the rolling thunder and pelting of rain on the theater's roof to be heard over it.

Where the script was brilliant, especially so for having been written by a guy born in 1988, was in its attempts at explaining the present reality to denizens of 1973.

You know, back when you'd judge if someone was cool or not with a few simple questions. Oscar Wilde or Arthur Miller? Sonny or Cher?


It's tough to make dating apps and virtual reality sound appealing - because of course you'd want to see a picture of someone before you met them in real life, the better to decide if they were worth wasting your real life time on - to some of us (okay, me) today, so there's really no way to describe it to people with no frame of reference for our ceaseless connectivity married to a greater sense of unconnected humanity.

The two of us laughed a lot about the contrasts of a time we vaguely recall with the "improved" present, rife with loneliness, isolation and, too often, an absence of social and interaction skills. How must it feel when your self-esteem is based on "likes" from people you may or may not know?

We weren't the ones to ask.

But we were the ones to leave the theater and head directly to my balcony for an in-depth discussion of the play's themes set to alternate periods of hard rain and warm breezes while listening to Joni Mitchell's chronicle of a relationship, her 2000 album "Both Sides Now." Then, going down a rabbit hole about the album's arrangements and that certain kind of early '60s movie soundtracks.

Doing so didn't get us a single like from anyone, except each other.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Helms Alee

Take me to the middle of a river and feed me, and I'm yours for life.

As meals go, having one aboard a sailboat with my favorite river rats made for pretty spectacular eating.

I'd been eyeing the dropped wooden table in front of the helm sine the first time I'd set foot on the boat last summer, but today was the first time we set the boat to auto-cruise, pulled the table up and lunched on the Rappahannock.

In our own modified version of "Groundhog's Day," today's outdoor adventure, like yesterday's, began with a ride in the powerboat to see what we could see and ended up on the sailboat. With a whole lot of talk and laughing in between.

One major difference was that today we finished up our sail trying to outrun a squall. As the sole occupant of the bow when the going got rough, I tried to ignore the choppy water splashing up around me and keep my eyes fixed on the horizon.

Only occasionally did my stomach register a complaint about the rough water, but I didn't falter (much).

But without a doubt, the high point was breaking bread on the water with these two people who act like I'm doing them the favor by coming to visit, when the reality is I'm the lucky one. We've gotten so comfortable with each other that they can now discuss family matters in front of me and pause to listen when I put in my two cents' worth.

Today's voluminous cloud cover was a welcome relief from yesterday's unrelenting sun - with both female members of the crew having the overly brown legs to prove it - while also providing fodder for the cloud game (look, a strapless bra...look, a hen on a nest) when we felt inclined to play.

The captain was in fine comedic form as usual, coming up with the concept of The Church of the Holy Dolphin, wherein people would join in hopes of being reincarnated as a dolphin. To the three of us, it made about as much sense as any other church.

They regaled me with stories of the maritime artist John Barber coming to their house for dinner and took me on a water tour of some of the more notable locals' houses. We discussed the Monkees in depth and when we take a tangent to my long ago phone conversation with singer Bobbie Gentry, my friend demands to know if I'd asked her what Billy Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchee Bridge.

I have to admit I hadn't and she sighs in disappointment.

One of my favorite things about these two is that every sentence out of their mouths is an opening to sing a song. Mention darkness approaching and one begins to sing, "Hello darkness, my old friend..." or comment that the dog isn't as spastic as usual and I hear, "He's grown accustomed to your face..."

It's hilarious and non-stop. It also helps that both can sing. You won't find me inflicting my singing on anyone.

And when the sail was said and done, we took turns in the palatial outdoor shower so that we could go out to dinner without the stink of sailing, sweat and sunscreen on us.

We ate at Relish in Warsaw because so much of their sourcing -vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat - is within a few miles and because the place has a charming colorful vibe.

It was also date night and crowded, a testament to both the locals and the summer people. We briefly considered passing ourselves off as on a date - what, no man ever dated two women? - but decided we were too hungry for that and ordered with abandon.

No matter how good lunch on a sailboat is, it only takes you so far. The good news is, with the right friends, that's pretty far. I think these two know they've got me for life and they're okay with it.

Cue "Hungry Like the Wolf."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wow, Look at the Time

If you found out you only had one year to live, what would you do?

That was one of the 36 questions my girl crush and I spent last evening answering - not that we didn't already know plenty about each other - more as a conversational jumping off point than anything else.

As her husband joked when we told him about all we'd learned about each other, "You two would make a great lesbian couple."

What we all agreed upon by the end of today was that one way we'd spend that final year was exactly how we'd spent today: on the water.

When the captain said he was going to spend the day working out and cutting grass, I wasn't shy about asking him how I was going to get a boat ride if he didn't give it to me? It was enough to get him checking the forecast, only to find that there was no wind predicted, a bummer since we'd hoped to go sailing.

The way I saw it, though, that was of no consequence since he also has a motor boat, so a cooler was packed, bathing suits were donned and the dog began running in circles in excitement second only to mine.

What followed was a glorious two and a half hours cruising the Rappahannock on what turned out to be not just a a beautiful day but a recon mission. Once out there, we realized that the wind had picked up after all.

The two of them claim I bring luck with me, but I'm inclined to think it's more about what happens when we're together. We're magic together.

We'd passed under the Whitestone bridge and were tooling along when I spotted a dolphin jump out of the water, do a somersault in the air and slap his tail on the way back in. That was all the captain needed to hear to turn the boat in their direction, the better to appreciate the show these dolphins were putting on.

We'd seen dolphins in the river near the bay last year, but these were three young pups - no scarring on their bodies or fins - with endless energy and they were in full-on play mode. They didn't just swim nearby, they jumped, tumbled, rolled and entertained us in high fashion.

At one point, they ducked under the boat and came out in front of us, facing us head on and looking directly at my girl crush and I. I mean we locked eyes with these dolphins.

We came back through an especially narrow channel that took us by Parrot Island with its decrepit pier and overgrown green-roofed house and then within sight of Merroir and its colorful umbrellas.

Returning to the cottage only long enough to eat lunch, reapply sunscreen and repack the cooler, we loaded up the car and headed to the marina to take out the sailboat. It had been almost a year since I'd seen the sailboat and she was looking mighty fine, having had her bottom painted since I last saw her.

We headed out, passing a regatta struggling in a particularly un-windy stretch of the Carrotoman River and were greeted with whitecaps on the Rappahannock, an indicator of good winds just waiting to be taken advantage of.

Although technically I'm part of the crew, it's only my fourth time sailing, so my contributions are small and untrained, but I did well enough to be dubbed the "winch wench." Mostly I reveled in the sight, smell and sound of the river around us while they did the heavy lifting.

I did, however, contribute to the innuendo-filled banter that we're inclined to toss around, being great fans of each other and all. Today's recurring theme was "It only takes 15 minutes...and then a lifetime," a phrase we applied to everything from successful relationships to tying off sails.

After a couple of hours of pitch perfect sailing, we decided it was time to head back, but given the wind direction, it was a lovely, leisurely return trip that allowed the female members of the crew to stretch out on the bow of the boat under the jib (not to be confused with the lower part of the butt cheek, which has always been known in my family as the "jibs") and admire the mast and sail against a sky so blue it a good way.

If that's not zen, I don't know what is.

So it took us another couple hours to get back, not a one of us regretted a moment of such an idyllic sail. It's not always about the speed and angle of the boat, although some of us are inordinately fond of both.

Back at the cottage after our four hour sail, it was decided that Mojitos were in order and while the captain took over the outdoor shower, I was sent to the yard to fetch mint. When I asked where I'd find it, her response was, "The toilet."

Because all the best river people grow mint in in old toilet tank, you know.

We sipped our toilet Mojitos and ate dinner while crowing about how perfect our day had been. When talked turned to the Monument Avenue business and our young mayor, I wasn't shy about sharing my thoughts.

"Karen, I love your mind," my host tells me after I get off my soapbox and before he makes me watch a clip of Elvis dancing, part of a tribute to the 40th anniversary of his death today.

It only takes 15 minutes to meet a charming couple...and the rest of your life to enjoy their company fully. No less so if it's your last year.

Lucky me that so much of that time involves bawdy humor, dolphins and wind.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A View to a Talk

There are some people I would drive through hell or high water to reach.

As it turned out, today I got to. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing - I had to maneuver through massive puddles, mudslides and a rivulet of displaced gravel along the last stretch to reach the riverside cottage of my friends - but I knew it would pay off in spades.

And, as I learned upon arrival, I'd been the fortunate one. I'd missed the series of storms that had deposited the aforementioned on the narrow, twisting road, while my hostess, returning from her other land-locked house, had been forced to pull off the road during the worst of it.

Maybe that's the hell part: driving rain, flooded roads and debris.

Still, she'd recovered enough to welcome me onto the back deck with a glass of wine just as the sun began peeking out. It was there we stayed planted for the next few hours as we tried to catch up on a year's worth of life.

Usually, we start our summer visits in July but we'd both had too much going on to make it happen sooner, a fact which only added to the sheer amount of back and forth we both needed to unload. The ever-changing sky and weather were an ideal visual metaphor for the highs and lows we shared with each other.

When her adoring husband showed up while she was in the house, I asked for a hug ("You don't ever have to ask for a hug") and he delivered. "I don't know which we've missed more, your brains or your beauty," he tells me.

Honestly, either answer would flatter me but mostly I appreciate how men like him excel at saying just the right thing, not just to their female friends (thank you), but to their main squeeze on a regular basis (and even in front of other people).

One reason I love visiting these two is to be around a couple so determined to verbalize their feelings for each other regularly.

Another is the sweeping view of the river, the long (and now lighted) pier and the ample deck from which to appreciate the few small boats out on the water today and later, the sky crowded with stars and cloud traces.

And always, I revel in the opportunity to lather myself up in an outdoor shower and sleep on a screened porch for a few nights.

Without sounding too hyperbolic, that's the heavenly part.

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Love, We Shall Hang

In order to be one of my people, you have to be able to talk.

Two of my regulars were missing in action after she face-planted in Carytown at the Watermelon Festival shortly before the wine dinner was to commence. Truth be told, I wouldn't have thought any of my people would bother with the madness at that festival. Nonetheless, they were missed.

You can begin the ascent to my people status, as the newcomer at my table did, by announcing, "I'm a lonely man" and wind up so comfortable with us that you start humble-bragging and show us photos of your mid-century Alan McCullough house on southside. So much glass.

I awarded him points when we discovered that he also shares my hometown and then again when he inquires of the table who's been to Italy, thus providing a chance to share my memories of Florence and the Amalfi Coast and launching a wide-ranging discussion of Italy's provinces.

That he'd been so many times pre-retirement, back when he was a wine rep, only made his stories more colorful.

In order to hang, you need a bank of stories and experiences to share, so that when I talk about the food poisoning that hit me last week, you can come back with a story of a cassoulet you ate in France that did you in.

Being at my table means that tonight's wine rep tells us, "I think you're my favorite table" and later, as she's pouring us glasses of Fazio Nero d'Avola, "Nobody wants a thin wine with pasta."

She failed to elaborate on when a thin wine was warranted and we didn't pursue it.

Pru showed up in a maxi-dress, Beau offered me relationship advice and, as a sidenote to Pru telling us about the time she dated a football player, we somehow got on the subject of AMC cars like Gremlins and Pacers.

It should be noted that I kept it to myself that I once owned an AMC Hornet. A woman can't be expected to give away all her secrets at a Sicilian wine dinner, now can she?

As for the dinner's pairings, top prize went to grilled prawns with lemon aioli accompanied by Fazio Grillo, a creamy summer sipper of the highest order. Nearly as perfect was Fazio Rosato sipped with watermelon, mozzarella and prosciutto, a pairing that managed to wed the wetness of the watermelon with the bone dry finish of the Rosato.

All my people, new and old, appreciated those combinations.

What I hadn't anticipated was the afterparty that unfolded on an outside patio once the wine dinner cast of characters had gone home to watch TV.

A new configuration of my people gathered to dish with abandon in the night air and not on the subject of wine or Sicily because there's so much more worthy of conversation.

Six of us convened around a table, opinions and questions flying, while, unbeknownst to us, a scofflaw scaled the crane on the construction site behind the building and cops sped by to get him down.

When the conversational free-for-all ended at nearly 1:30, we saw that a lone cop still sat in his car guarding the crane. Only later did I hear about all the counter protests going on at the same time across the river in reaction to Charlottesville's mayhem.

Sometimes I get so caught up with my people that the hours fly by in a haze of words and wisdom and I'm grateful for the people around me.

In the immortal words of the Cars, it was just what I needed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hard to Handle

How do you blog  about your innocuous Saturday when white supremacist terrorists are mowing down peaceful protesters an hour away?

The same way a person deals with any of the unpleasantness of life - heartbreak, sickness and death of a loved one, natural disaster - I would guess, so any way you can.

When I left for my walk, I knew several friends were in Charlottesville as part of the resistance to the rally, but other than observations that some brawling had been happening, they seemed to think things were going well.

Walking down Fifth Street, I passed two motorcycle guys in leather vests dragging a cooler up the hill. When I commented that surely the load was lighter coming up than it had been going down, the one with the vest marked "chaplain" offered me (and a family exiting their SUV) bottles of cold water from his cooler (thereby proving that even heathens can benefit from a chaplain's ministrations).

Friday night's rain meant that some of the more elaborate spiderwebs on Brown's Island were dotted with raindrops, looking luminescent and lacy in the partly cloudy light.

I wasn't surprised to see how un-populated the pipeline was with just one guy fairly far ahead of me. What did surprise me was when he stopped, turned and began shooting photos of the pipeline where yours truly just happened to be walking.

For a nanosecond, I thought I was being smart by passing him, but now I'm not so sure.

Under a massive rock stood two men off to the side and submerged far enough that they looked to be naked, with the nearby rapids splashing water on their bodies. Ever the art historian, it looked to me like a study for Frederick Bazille's "Summer Scene."

Climbing out on to the rocks to put my feet in the water, the scent of men's cologne wafted toward me, although I couldn't see another person around. But it persisted and a while later, I saw a quartet of kayakers paddling downstream. One even waved at me.

As I was waving back, I couldn't help but wonder if one of these guys had decided to bathe in cologne before shooting the rapids this morning. Maybe what I'd been smelling had been traveling across river and not island.

Walking home along Broad Street, I overheard a young woman tell another that a state of emergency had been declared and her friend, busy texting, asked, "Why?" in a completely uninterested way. Clearly more had happened in Charlottesville since I'd left.

As I breezed through Jackson Ward, I spotted a family standing on a corner, clearly looking for help, so I offered my services. All the nice Australian tourists wanted was a lunch suggestion and preferably someplace their three young sons would be happy and I delivered three options.

They voiced their gratitude but offered me no "G'day, mate" as I walked on.

Facebook gave me all the unpleasant updates, although when people began posting video of the neo-Nazi driving into the crowd of counter protesters, I had no stomach for watching such a thing. Seeing photographs of people flying in the air as the car hit them was horrific enough for me.

I was most interested in reading the accounts of people I knew who were there, but just as compelling was the online commentary by my friends of color. I don't think there's any doubt that if a black group had organized this rally, the police presence would have been far larger and more proactive.

Sadly. At least none of my friends had been hurt.

I wasn't sorry to turn off my computer and go eat in service of my hired mouth while discussing the day's mayhem with a like-minded sane person. It seems forever ago that dinner dates didn't have to involve a rehash of whatever the latest can-you-believe-it-scenario-of-the-day is.

We decided to drown our sorrows on the patio at Saison where we acted as the clean up crew, finishing off bottles by having the last two glasses of a Jura bubbly before doing the same with a Willamette Valley Rose.

"Well, if we didn't, who would?" my date inquired, tongue firmly in cheek. Isn't that the staff's job?

Next to us was a guy with his adoring dog Jada Boo (who wasn't above snapping at a stranger) and on the other end, a trio of tattooed young women discussing all the things the men they've gone out with don't know.

The night isn't long enough for that subject to be exhausted, ladies.

Because today had been a difficult one in terms of where our country seems to be, it only made sense to spend the last of it laughing, so we rounded the corner from Saison and went to Comedy Coalition's late show.

If long form improv by the most senior members of the comedy troupe can't distract you for a while, you may as well call it a day. But it did and before long we were laughing at all of it and, for one bit where the guys slipped into a pretend language, so were the comedians.So hard they couldn't talk.

The bit was funny but their reactions were funnier.

It was a good thing, too, because I arrived home to read that people had died yesterday because of the rally over white supremacy. That was sobering news to learn.

It's difficult to process everything that happened in Charlottesville, but personally, today changed my mind. Up until now, I still thought that context could allow the statues on Monument Avenue to stand, probably because no art geek wants to lose public sculpture.

Wrong, so, so wrong. Those statues need to be relocated to someplace where only people who choose to view them can do so. They have no place on any street in our city.

If calling a statue-less street Monument Avenue bothers you, then let's replace the losing white men sculptures with some celebrating our non-white past (say, Gabriel Prosser, John Lewis or John Jasper and for heaven's sake, some women) and begin to unite as a city.

Before going to bed, I sat on the balcony and admired my lone moonflower in the near-darkness. It feels impossible to take anything for granted anymore when normal changes so often.

Only resistance remains a constant now.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Field Recordings

A non-native species is easy to spot in the wild.

After dinner in service of my hired mouth, my date suggested a foray to Forest Hills and a place called Cafe Zata to see some friends of his playing in a band called the Free Rangers. And while I'd heard of Zata, I had no clue where exactly it was or even what it was.

For us city dwellers, this sort of outing is what is known as field experimentation.

He warned me that every time he'd been to Zata, there were more people playing on stage than seated in the generous, high-ceilinged room. At least he did until we walked in and he had to eat his words since practically every chair and stool had a butt in it and lines snaked from the service counter and bar.

I was assigned to find perches for us while he set out to procure wine and almost immediately I heard my name called out. It was the landscape architect for whom I'd ghost-written a few articles, but more importantly, she's lately been posting old photos on Facebook of her, her friends and her Mom in vintage bathing suits.

Well, not vintage at the time the pictures were taken, but definitely dated looking now in a charming late '50s, early '60s way that predated the youth revolution and the swingin' '60s. She was thrilled that I'd taken notice of her youthful fashion choices.

I'd scored us stools at the end of the bar with a fine view of the band, who seemed to have a chicken theme - on their sign, on the stage and next to the old suitcase housing their CDs for sale - because, well, Free Rangers, get it?

I met a charming couple, friends of my date, who both teach at UR while he's also a musician. Looking around the room, I observed a lot of Friday night date action going on, albeit mostly middle-aged couples whom I'm willing to guess lived in the neighborhood. A bottle or two of wine graced most tables.

Then it happened. I couldn't have been more surprised (or pleased) when my former Jackson Ward neighbor showed up in the bar line. For years, he and his wife lived four blocks away from me and we ran into each other at shows and events regularly. I'd been to plenty of their pre-First Friday happy hours.

When they'd moved out there, they'd promised that they'd still be in the city often so we'd still see each other just as frequently. That hasn't happened much at all and I miss their upbeat energy and passion for live music.

He seemed as glad to see me as I was to see him and we wasted no time in catching up. I knew that, like my date, they'd been at Red Wing Roots Music festival, but they'd also gone to FloydFest, where our mutual friends Lobo Marino had played this year. He said local band Dharma Bombs had also played to great success, another band we'd seen together.

We were knee-deep in musical conversation when all of a sudden, he got a perplexed look on his face and said, "Wait, what are you doing here?" Apparently he didn't see Cafe Zata as my natural habitat.

Pointing to my date and introducing them, I explained that we'd come to see his friends play. Not surprisingly, he was also friends with several people in the band and from there, the mutual associations poured forth. The two of them had loads of people in common and not necessarily people I knew, either.

Leaving them to man talk, I headed over to the table where his wife was sitting with friends. Putting my hands over her eyes and making her guess who it was, it didn't take long for her to figure it out and squeal in delight. It had been way too long since we'd last seen each other and she was quick to say she missed me as much as I missed seeing them.

"Remember that time you invited me to iHop for pancake day and I said no?" she asked out of the blue. "I regret that now." I couldn't believe she even remembered - that had been almost 2 years ago while she was between jobs - but it was a terrific starting point for planning something for the near future.

"But I don't think I could keep up with you on your walks," she admitted, holding on to both of my hands. Not to worry, I wanted to plan a get-together to eat, drink and be merry, not walk our asses off.

Besides, I've got a couple people who like that from me.

From behind her came the woman who used to host house shows at her Franklin Street apartment (the one that once housed Mrs. Morton's Tea Room in the brownstone where Mrs. M. lived) and where I'd seen the Honey Dewdrops, Sons of Bill and Haze and Dacey in the candlelit intimacy of her living room.

She, too, has shifted home base and is now ensconced on southside, although she went to great pains to share that she feels lost and cut off on this side of the river. I didn't point out the obvious (move then) because everyone has their own reasons for where they roost. But I certainly understood her point.

She was trying to convey that she, too, was a non-native species here, at least in her soul.

The band - two guitars, bass, dobro - provided plenty of middle-aged entertainment, covering songs by Gram Parsons, Allison Krause and Crystal Gale, doing a song that involved yodeling (now there's a rarely seen skill set) and inciting an audience-wide singalong when they did "Teach Your Children," in addition to original material.

Also, it should be noted, a woman had brought her cowbell and used it liberally to add the requisite cowbell when a song screamed out for it.

And because the bass player and rhythm guitarist were married, there was plenty of banter about what a good cook and guitarist she was (cleaning not so much), what a showboater he was (see; yodeling and white Stetson) and a corny joke about him sucking in his stomach for two hours to be around a bevy of bikini-clad women.

It was all in good fun.

By the time we left, the place had cleared out considerably and we joked about why people had needed to leave before 9:30 on a Friday night. But of course the answer is obvious: this must be the typical sleeping pattern for natives of the area and who am I, an interloper, to judge?

For us, there was still plenty of evening left, so we decamped for his front porch swing, where we were promptly joined by the musician from across the street, guitar in hand. He told us Vespa stories, did a bit of strumming and asked for a summary of the show we'd just seen before disappearing into the darkness.

As we sat there in the sticky air, it suddenly became cool and breezy enough that we both got a chill, only to be followed by a blast of hot, humid air that announced rain.

And oceanfront aside, is there really a better place to watch a gentle summer rain roll in than from the recessed depths of a dark front porch within spitting distance of the river?

Depends on your species, naturally, but it worked for this urban bird.