Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hit Parade

If ever there was a time to finally bury the Confederacy, that time is now.

And if ever All the Saints Theater Company had been looking for a relevant theme for this year's Halloween parade, they'd have been hard pressed to do better than Funeral for the Confederacy.

Let's bury it and move on, shall we?

Besides remembering 2017 as the year parade organizers had no choice but to to address the nightmare that is race relations in this country, I'll also remember it as the year the parade set up on the steps of Cathedral of the Sacred Heart rather than across the street in Monroe Park - fenced off due to renovations and tree murder - like the past 11 years.

No one seemed to know if we actually had permission to stage the parade there, but at least the bishop didn't come out shaking his fist at us and telling us whippersnappers to get off his steps.

As happens every year, it took a while to get everything assigned to willing volunteers, mainly because so many people who showed up were unwilling to carry a sign or puppet. One friend, date in tow, gave me the lame excuse he doesn't like to carry anything ("That's why I use a backpack"), but he was only one of scores of people too lazy? too cool? too busy talking to their friends? to bother carrying one of the 100 pieces that All the Saints had crafted for display in the parade.

But Halloween is not about judging, so I'll just let their lack of effort slide for now.

My choice was a yard-long sign about defeating white supremacy. A woman dressed as a hooker in a fur jacket, daisy dukes and thigh-high red boots graciously agreed to carry one of the mouths that followed the white supremacist pizza in an attempt to gobble it up. But as it took longer and longer for the parade to get set up, she got impatient.

"Look, this is wasting time and time is money for me. I get $100 an hour and we're on my dime now. I should be flat on my back." She was kidding. I think.

Finally, No BS Brass Band kicked into high gear and organizer Lilly of All the Saints started waving her enormous yellow flag to signal that this year's parade was officially on the move under a waxing gibbous moon.

The pizza, mouths and I were just behind the Imperial Presidency group with multiple puppets of President No One and just in front of the Bones of Resistance and the Zombie String Band. Where we were particularly lucky was with the weather, which was neither too warm and sticky (2009), nor too windy (2010), nor raining (2011). It was Goldilocks just right.

Good thing, too, given the abundance of scanty costumes marching through Oregon Hill, like the woman in front of me wearing sheer black tights, lavender satin underwear on top of them, a crop top and silver glitter platforms. I've got no clue what she was supposed to be - a fashion disaster, perhaps? - but there wasn't much between her and a chilly breeze off the river.

Probably the cleverest costume I saw was a guy in a white trash can, the lid perched atop his head to complete his "white trash" disguise. How appropriate given the theme and the neighborhood's roots.

I caught up to my former neighbors to see that she was dressed as a broken doll and he - unwillingly and under duress - was going for an "undead" look with a white face, mussed hair and a heavy overcoat, the latter having been discovered by his wife in the closet of an old house 40 years ago. Surely there's something creepy about that.

One of the women carrying a mouth told me that she lives in California and was here visiting family when they told her about the parade. But it wasn't until she came down tonight that she discovered that there was a political theme to it and she was thrilled.

"That makes it so much more meaningful," she gushed. "I love that I can share my activism by being in a parade. This is just the coolest thing." She turned out to be one of the most animated mouths, too, eagerly trying to obliterate the evil pizza dancing in front of us.

A guy in front of me wore a kilt and carried his baby in a chest carrier and some drunken bystander down by the river spotted the kid and began shrieking in terror. "It's real!" he said, clearly surprised or perhaps just going for effect.

As we made the U-turn by the Oregon Hill overlook, a group of masked, black-clad people joined the parade just in front of me and the pizza gang. Before long, they were chanting, "No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!" and another chant about remembering Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer.

A few people looked put out by their injection of Antifa sentiment into the parade, but I've no doubt that Lilly would have welcomed more political commentary. They weren't being violent or even unpleasant, just chanting their concerns. I had no problem walking with them.

But then, I've been doing this parade since it was me and 60 people in 2008 and last year it was me and 1800. This was the first year I saw a drone flying above the parade with a ghost hanging from its undercarriage.

"No more drones! No more drones!" someone began chanting. "No more ghosts! No more ghosts!" another group called out. Why hadn't they chanted, "No more bubbles! No more bubbles! " when we'd walked through a fog of bubbles being generated earlier?

Well, duh, because who doesn't love bubbles? For that matter, who doesn't love a parade? Especially one committed to moving Richmond beyond the legacy of the *#!*! Confederacy.

For crying out loud, a woman in thigh high red boots was so determined to be part of tonight's funeral, she took time off from work to carry a mouth and march for the cause (Rest in shame, Confederacy).

(Cue American flag blowing in the breeze)
We should all be so willing to give of ourselves. Honey, those were four inch heels.

Daybreak Ain't No Time for Gullibility

Talk about your unlikely double feature after eating a musician's pie...

For those of us who've been eagerly following the dough-making journey of a certain local percussionist for months, the payoff finally arrived last Thursday when he announced to the Facebook world, "It happens tomorrow! Come and kick my ass! Please!"

"It" was the pizza-making operation at the new Galley Market and the photo he posted showed stacks and stacks of pizza boxes, so, sure, I was curious, although southside isn't exactly part of my regular rotation. Then he posted a picture of his Bianca pizza with house Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, garlic, black pepper and olive oil and I couldn't schedule a time to get over there soon enough.

As it happened, tonight I was headed to southside for the final installment of the International Film Series and what could be more perfect than pie to sustain me through two movies?

After ordering from the cashier, I nabbed a stool at the counter to wait for my Bianca to emerge from the oven. To kill time, I picked up the Richmond Times Disgrace laying on the counter only to see some editorial adjustments to a front page article.

A headline that read, "Should Virginia Decriminalize Marijuana in Certain Cases?" had been altered to read, "Should Virginia Decriminalize Marijuana in All Cases?" with the word "YES!" scribbled at the end of the question. No, tell us how you really feel.

I glanced at my horoscope for today - "Gemini, gullibility will be your downfall"- and decided I didn't need to to be told the obvious yet again. Fortunately, my pie arrived and I have to say, Giustino knows how to make a damn good pie: the crust was as satisfyingly chewy as a good baguette and the cheeses were portioned exactly right with just a hint of Gorgonzola on the finish.

Oh, great, now I'm going to have to drive to southside for really excellent pizza.

I only had to drive back to Westover Hills to see the black and white 1955 film, "Death of a Cyclist," which, being mid-century Spanish (and directed/written by Javier Bardem's uncle), managed to roll adultery, a hit and run, a grading scandal at university and a whole lot of metaphors about Franco and the hollowness of war - with a lot of moody Hitchcockian cinematography and a dash or two of film noir tropes - into a completely engrossing realist film about guilt and class.

Of course, in 1955, there was no getting away with misdeeds without punishment, so our adulterers and murderers paid the ultimate price (with a solid dose of Catholicism for good measure) for breaking multiple commandments.

But woman does not live by pizza and realism alone, so I wound up at the Byrd Theatre standing in line outside waiting for the theater to clear and freezing while doing it. Around me, fools in short sleeves shivered visibly.

The first distraction was the organizers of tonight's event coming by to give everyone a raffle ticket for a chance to win a free ticket to see John Waters when he comes to the Byrd to do his Christmas show.

Then there were the inane conversations I had no choice but to overhear. In front of me were two people arguing whether mushrooms counted as a veggie or a fungus, a disagreement they gave up only when she mentioned she was wearing a Dad sweater for warmth.

"It's a nice sweater, so why isn't your Dad still wearing it?" the bearded one inquired of the "Cosby" show-era relic. "Cause it's from the '80s and you don't get to wear it in the '80s and still wear it," she explained matter-of-factly. "So only 20-somethings can wear Dad sweaters now?" he wondered. "Right. He's 65, so he can't wear this," she proclaimed, ending the conversation.

You can only imagine how glad I was that the line began moving to go inside. Soon I was comfortably ensconced in one of the new seats for a black comedy crime film courtesy of Movie Club Richmond's screening of the John Waters classic, "Serial Mom."

Next to me was a young woman who recently moved here from Alabama and had come to see her second John Waters movie, "Crybaby" having been the first. I advised her to go back further in his catalog and see what John Waters' films were like before he rated Hollywood stars and bigger budgets.

When it came time to pull raffle tickets, manager Todd strolled up the aisle to get a patron to pull one out of the popcorn bucket. "I know exactly who I can ask to do it," he said, heading directly to me. It was probably a good thing that I didn't pull my own number.

I hadn't seen "Serial Mom" since it came out in 1994, so while I recalled the basic premise, I'd forgotten just how graphic and dark it was when bodies began stacking up almost from the movie's beginning. I know for sure that the quintet sitting behind me weren't prepared for such a black comedy as they continually commented on what was happening as if they couldn't quite believe their eyes.

My guess is they hadn't even seen "Crybaby."

One thing that occurred to me as the saga unfolded was how dated some of the references were, to the point that many millennials probably didn't get them at all. Richard Speck? Premiere magazine? Jason Priestly? Franklin Mint? Did they even recognize the Barry Manilow song "Daybreak?"

And you should have heard the groans when a character at the video store said how much she liked Bill Cosby's funny films. Way too soon.

But I have to admit I wasn't without knowledge myself. When I first saw the movie, I'd only just barely learned who L7 was, so I got a kick out of seeing them perform as Camel Lips during the raucous club scene.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, unlike the Spanish realism I'd enjoyed earlier, this was a movie with a psychotic central character, much use of the "pussy" word and no retribution for bad behavior whatsoever.

Sort of reminded me of our current administration. Leave it to John Waters to predict the future.

Monday, October 30, 2017

One Show Only

Of course I remember when our relationship began: exactly 7 years, 5 months and 20 days ago.

That would have been May 8, 2010, although if you want to get technical about it, a more accurate beginning might have been April 22. That's when I spent the better part of a day sewing curtains and delivering them to a new wine bar in Carytown: Secco.

That's when our relationship began.

And while my drapes became history once Secco left Carytown for the Fan, it's somehow already been a year since they decamped to Robinson Street. Tonight they were celebrating their FANiversary, an idea inspired by their current chef, Julie Heins, who suggested that the way to celebrate was to "get the band back together."

But only for one night.

Not only did they round up the three chefs who proceeded her, but they cleverly chose wines that corresponded with the year each chef began their tenure. Come on, that's nothing short of brilliant and as a long-time Secco regular, my butt was firmly planted in one of the seats for the celebration.

Because I was solo, I was guided to the "scintillating conversation table," which meant one person I knew (a former Secco server who now teaches Italian at UR) and four I didn't. I liked the odds.

Across from me sat a charming couple - a printmaker and a philosopher - although the latter defined himself as a "recovering academic and my recovery drug of choice is this" and held up the first wine of the evening, a  2010 Recaredo Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva of which I was already growing inordinately fond.

At the far end of the table sat a guy who works at a hot yoga studio in the West End, causing me to make presumptions and inquire if that meant that he had to deal with all kinds of annoying, entitled West End women. He grimaced and acknowledged that yes, he did, and they always had a lot of complaints. Probably high maintenance haircuts, too.

This got our sixth member - an associate at the Virginia Bar who once worked retail in Short Pump - sharing horror stories about those same women and their monumental expectations of non-stop service and servitude while they were shopping.

"West End bitches" is apparently a cliche for a reason.

The first course had been created by Secco's inaugural chef, Tim Bereika (who, it seems, hasn't been cooking professionally for a year now) and was delightful: pan-roasted cauliflower with brown butter over Mejool date puree with pistachio gremolata, hitting contrasting notes of sweet and savory, smooth and crunchy, not to mention a stellar pairing with the Cava.

And just so you know, when we weren't eating and drinking, we were getting to know one another.

Talking about visiting her 84-year old mother in Croatia recently, the printmaker said that despite her age, she was doing quite well. "She'll outlive Keith Richards," she noted dismissively and her husband praised that as an especially good line.

Our next course was the work of Mike Braune and the Italian speaker next to me observed, "This is such a Mike dish," a reference to the pig and pickles. He'd slow roasted pork shoulder, pulled it apart and reformed it into little bricks, which he'd then seared and placed over raclette fondue with apples and almonds.

So Mike.

It was paired with the most unique wine of the night, a 2013 Montbourgeau l'Etoile Blanc, an oxidized wine from Jura that got raves from our table. A serious food wine that the staff had been geeking out over since its arrival. The epitome of a Secco wine.

The subject of Sicily came up when our next wine, the almost fuchsia-colored 2015 Calabretta Terre Siciliane Rosato, was poured, because the couple, who'd been to Italy, wanted to plan a trip to Sicily around her teaching schedule.

My seatmate shared that her Italian husband had never been to Sicily, reminding me of the horror a waiter south of Naples had expressed to me when I'd ordered a Sicilian wine ("But, but, it's Sicilian!" he'd gasped and promptly talked me into an Aglianico instead).

Turns out the reason for all this is campanilisma, a sense of pride in one's region that trumps nationalism for Italians. "In Venice, food from Naples was considered exotic," the printmaker marveled.

That lovely Rose was paired with John Ledbetter's Atlantic corvina over butternut squash with charred tomato and poblanos in guajillo broth with lashings of leek on top, a dish with a subtle heat and the most divine broth, although there was nothing to sop it up with, unless you were willing to ask for a spoon and clean your bowl that way. My seatmate was.

When John came out to talk about his dish, he was decidedly low-key, saying, "Y'all look so nice and I'm in a white t-shirt!" He could've been in a dress for all we cared considering how good the dish was.

Talk inevitably turned to restaurants and the philosopher asked if anyone remembered The Track. I hadn't thought about that place in ages, but I assured him I did, having once had a memorable first date there. "I loved the quiet ambiance," he said. "It was so old school."

Yes, and Richmond abandoned old school years ago.

You can't very well have six intelligent people at a table in 2017 and not get around to politics, much less with wine flowing. The philosopher made a crack about our current state of affairs vis a vis Watergate, observing, "Not that any of you were around then."

Au contraire, I told him, spilling the beans about a high school assignment where I'd rewritten one of the Canterbury Tales to tell the story of Watergate and getting an A on the paper.

He topped that nine ways to Sunday with his own high school story circa 1958 of having to write a paper on the most significant person in the world. He chose Kruschev, given the era and the impact his politics were having on the Cold War, only to be ridiculed in front of the entire class for it. Seems the teacher thought he should have chosen Eisenhower for his moral authority.

She gave him an F-, a grade no one at the table had even heard of.

It got even better when the woman at the end of the table recalled being given a worksheet to draw a flag in elementary school. Every other kid drew an American flag, while she drew a red circle in the middle of a white page: Japan's flag.

"I don't know if I was into minimalism, or what, but I'd seen a book with all these flags and I really liked the Japanese flag," she said. She didn't get a failing grade since it was just a worksheet, but she felt shamed nonetheless.

At Secco, they promise scintillating conversation and that's what you get.

For our last savory course of seared rabbit loin with potato risotto, apple butter and honey-mustard zabaglione prepared by Chef Heins, we were poured 2016 Gorrondona Txakoli Tinto (an inspired pairing) and told a good story.

Seems that when the Secco owners were in Basque country last month, they tried to order some Txakoli Tinto, only to be told that it didn't exist. Except that they knew they had a case of it back in Virginia, so what the hell? Tonight, it was jokingly referred to as "the unicorn wine," and we were told the chef got one bottle for pairing purposes and we were drinking the other 11. Seems fair to me.

Coming back from the restroom, I found a bar sitter in my chair, deep in conversation with my tablemates, and rather than disturb her, I went and sat next to her husband at the bar.

Turns out he'd been responsible for installing the VMFA photography exhibit I'd just seen Friday, but where it got really interesting was when I brought up the rabbit we were about to eat.

He recalled his brother trapping rabbits with rabbit gums when they were growing up and while I'd never heard the term, I knew immediately he meant those boxes the rabbit enters for food and then the door shuts on them and death follows. Also, good eating.

Rabbit gums. So I'd learned two new terms tonight, one English, one Italian. Not only scintillating, but educational.

Returning to my rightful seat to eat, discussion eventually turned to how full everyone was, although as someone pointed out, it's possible for your dinner compartment to be full and your dessert compartment to be empty. Kids have tried for years to convince parents of this.

So, yes, I had plenty of room to polish off the final course of chocolate bombettes over an obscene butterscotch anglaise (ignoring the sound of my arteries hardening as I all but licked the plate) with gingersnap crumbs while sipping the rest of my unicorn wine.

And then the celebrating of Secco's first year in the Fan was all over, at least all but the future drinking.

"Do we need anything?" the philosopher asked the printmaker, holding up the wine order form. Six of each, she told him. "Six?" he asked, sounding slightly incredulous. "The holidays are coming!" she said with a smile. And even if they weren't?

Rx: Secco. Never underestimate the need for the recovery drug of choice.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Liner Notes to My Life

Better to begin with books and music and move on to blood and guts.

Local musician Plunky Branch was doing a reading of his new book at the Black History Museum three blocks from my apartment and, sunshine aside, I couldn't think of a single reason why I wouldn't want to be there.

The self-deprecating Plunky led off by telling the nearly full room, "Thirty minutes ago, I was wishing for two people to show up." And then some.

Apparently when a musician keeps journals for years, by the time he's a septuagenarian (a damn handsome one still in great shape at that), he's got the makings of a pretty good book, which he referred to as "the longest and most elaborate liner notes to my work" and "the book to accompany my music."

That makes perfect sense to a music nerd like me.

As much a performance as a reading, with Plunky playing songs on one of his three saxophones while his son provided additional sounds and old photographs and music videos played on a screen behind him, the afternoon also included him talking and reading excerpts from "Juju Jazz Funk and Oneness."

To this fan of cultural history, the old photos and videos were fascinating because I could almost guess the era by how Plunky and his band were dressed: in dashikis, shirtless, in suits with shirts unbuttoned halfway down his chest, with an Afro, with braids, whatever.

Decades unfolded before our eyes.

In order to clarify the book's title, he explained that it referenced his music: juju refers to everything African, jazz to the art music of the first half of the 20th century, funk to the second half ("funky is sex and sweat") and oneness is the music of the 21st century.

After 50 years of performing, 27 albums and 400 songs, he admitted to being pretty proud of himself as an independent musician, though he did acknowledge how much more receptive European audiences are to black Americans. He blamed it on our shallowness need for the newest thing while Europeans revered long histories and elders who have proven themselves.

Sometimes he alternated playing sax with singing, as he did on "The Meaning of Life is Love," never missing a beat when he segued back to talking about favorite saxes (he gets the best reactions from playing soprano sax, but prefers the tenor sax for small, up-close shows) or favorite venues (the smaller, the better, though he's more nervous playing for 10 people than 10,000).

One of his fondest memories was opening for a free show by Ray Charles downtown. "Everybody was there because it was Ray Charles and free, so why wouldn't they?" Indeed.

Saying his French agent had teased him for always talking when he's in France about how great Richmond is, he also recalled going to segregated Richmond public schools and how he'd been taught not to look at white people.

Sad (and telling) as that statement is, I wasn't the least bit surprised since when I'd moved to Richmond in 1986, I'd been shocked to find that black men wouldn't meet my eyes walking down the street.

He closed out with "Drop: African Rhythm Remix," which he said had been his most popular song, before people lined up to buy his book, which he said he'd be happy to sign. The man oozed such grace and gratitude about his life so far - along with a certainty that the best is yet to come - that he was practically a poster child for following your passion.

So how do I follow such an upbeat afternoon? With comedy and simulated murder, naturally.

Walking over to Comedy Coalition for "Slasher: The Improvised Horror Movie," the last thing I expected after paying my admission was to be handed a plastic poncho to protect me from impending blood splatters, but there it was.

It was going to be that kind of evening, sort of like a GWAR show without the semen, just the blood.

And by poncho, they really meant the equivalent of a yellow trash bag with a hood, making for an audience sheathed in plastic. One of the Coalition troupe stopped to talk to the trio next to me and informed us that we were definitely in the splatter zone.

"Oh, boy, that's why we came!" one shrieked. Silly me, I came to laugh.

"Slasher" turned out to be a hilarious send-up of so many dated movies and '80s songs, I lost track. It opened with "Careless Whisper" at a high school prom with blood being poured on the unpopular girl who then gets murderous, so there was "Carrie."

But five years later, when young Kelly - with a top knot ponytail and sparkly red Scrunchie - goes to live with her Dad (cue "Father Figure") in a double-wide, he explains that there's no dancing in their town because of the prom murders, so then we were in "Footloose" territory.

Once at her new high school, she tries to fit in among a "Breakfast Club" cast of misfits (complete with a guy in pushed up sleeves and pink sunglasses, Walkman in hand), including a closet lesbian who immediately falls for her.

Meanwhile, Kelly and her new BFF worship at the altar of Patrick Swayze and there are dancing lessons involved (to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"), so we may have veered dangerously near "Dirty Dancing," too.

But no matter what cheesy movie was being mocked, the constant thread was our original prom murderer, still in her blood-stained pink lace prom dress, showing up to kill kids for no more reason than making out in the woods or talking to a locker room mirror or taking boxes off a stock room shelf.

"It's just coincidence," Kelly keeps insisting to her sheriff Dad and her new friends. "It's not because we're dancing!" Which, by the way, was also hilarious to watch, a la Elaine on "Seinfeld."

Every time our prom girl got murderous, a masked figure in white stood behind her and squirted copious amounts of fake blood at the intended victim, so before long the walls and floor, not to mention the actors, were slipping and sliding in red, their clothes spotted and stained.

And yet, despite so much to look at, a guy near me sat there looking at his phone through his poncho for long stretches of time. I only wish a squirt of blood had been aimed right at him keep him present in the moment, say, when Huey Lewis and the News' "Power of Love" was being played.

Talk about your wake-up call.

Because the comedy troupe is made up of millennials, despite an '80s focus there were 21st century details, like a guy working on learning the difference between Brandi Carlisle and Belinda Carlisle (though we did get a great rendition of "Heaven on Earth" out of it) and a male student coming out to his sister. Not so much onscreen in the '80s.

And, of course, in the final scene with Dad stabbed ("It's just a flesh wound") and Kelly, still in her very '80s prom dress complete with massive shoulder pads, are driving back to their trailer, who should rise up from the back seat but prom girl, despite Dad having emptied his gun into her face back at the high school.

Lesson learned? Guilty feet have got no rhythm and please leave your ponchos at the door.

Sweet dreams are made of this...

Never Enough in the Moment

Even bad ears can't mistake loud for anything else.

My ears may have only just recovered from Wednesday's rock and roll extravaganza, but I'd barely started across the bridge to Brown's Island this morning when I noticed how much higher the canal was. And I mean higher than yesterday.

Walking across the island, my ears soon alerted me that James was raging. At first, I doubted them because I'd walked the pipeline yesterday and the river had been the same as it's been for months: low and calm.

Man, not today, though.

Dipping down to the edges of the island, I was nothing short of gobsmacked at how high and fast-moving the river was compared to a mere 24 hours ago.

Places where I knew rapids existed were now tumultuous explosions of water that engulfed many of the rock landmarks the kayakers use. The bases of train bridge supports where I often see birds stading were engulfed in swirling water.

The rock outcropping where Mac and I used to dip our feet (before we saw a snake there and abandoned it) was completely inaccessible, with water completely covering the rocks we use to get there. What the hell?

And although I was alone, I sensed that the James' volume would have prohibited conversation if I had had a walking companion, so I tried talking loudly to no one, only to be drowned out entirely. I couldn't hear my own voice.

It was a startling enough change from yesterday for me to come home and do some research.  Yesterday when I'd walked, the James had been at 3.71 feet, while today it had risen to 5.65 feet. I walk the river practically every day and I'd never seen such a dramatic change in one day: two feet more of water! Craziness.

Also, I can't wait to go back tomorrow to see what's up.

Tonight was about noise of a different nature. Weeks ago, I'd bought a ticket for San Fermin at the Broadberry and while the venue isn't my favorite, I'll take my chamber pop where I can get it.

The evening started at Sabai (park once, party twice) which was understandably hopping given it was prime time Friday night and there was a show next door, with the added bonus of a classic R&B soundtrack of songs like "Brickhouse" and "Whip It."

I was a little surprised that the garage doors were rolled up (and the massive screens in place) given that the temperature had already dropped to 59 on its way to 47 tonight. I was prepared, though, wearing two tank tops, a sweater and a jean jacket. And a scarf for good measure.

But I adjusted, leaving my jacket on throughout dinner, while the screens afforded me a view of the Halloween costume street theater parading by as I chowed down on the Pad Se Ew with chicken recommended to me by the server as her favorite.

Walking in, the Broadberry was surprisingly uncrowded, despite openers Gracie and Rachel taking the stage within minutes. Not only did the blond Gracie wear white, but her keyboards, mic stand and cord were white, whereas brunette Rachel played a violin with the usual black accouterments. Their drummer Ricky used an abbreviated drum set and mallets to punctuate their songs, despite his name not being included in the band's.

"Most of our songs are about death," Gracie announced, not  a huge surprise given the songs' haunting sound. "This next one is as close to a love song as we get. It's about a stalker and it's called, "Run." Even more impressive was their choral arrangement of a former high school buddy and now rapper Kreayshawn's "Gucci, Gucci," a masterful reworking of a rap about basic bitches. Positively brilliant.

They shared that it was the last night of an eight-city tour, making those in the room feel like we got everything they had left at this point. Their set ended on one perfect note and each threw their hands up in the air to signal "the end."

"San Fermin is next and there's a lot of them," Gracie warned us. "They're really beautiful people."

During the shortest of breaks, I spoke to two people - a server at Laura Lee's and a clarinetist/saxophonist friend and both said the same thing: why was this show so pitifully under-attended? Well, first, it had gotten zero advertising and, second, a lot of Halloween events were going on tonight.

Still, a shame given that a band the caliber of NPR darlings San Fermin was playing for a paltry $14 tonight.

Lined up onstage were "a Telly, a Strat and a P-bass," according to a nearby fan (well, you don't think I could tell, do you?) and it was tough to imagine where the musicians would all fit around all the gear.

The band's eight members - baritone sax, trumpet, drums, guitar, violin, keyboards, two vocalists who also both played guitar - came out with no fanfare to demonstrate how easily they were able to move around each other despite how tight it was.

Vocalist Allen Tate completely won over the room with his baritone and casual charisma, eschewing the high drama of his female counterpart Charlene Kaye for sincerity and the occasional beating of his heart with his hand as he sang.

There was a definite sense that it was the last night of the tour and that they were all really enjoying themselves as they played songs off their past two records as well as the new "Belong." It was truly a highlight hearing "Emily" sung live in Tate's seductive tones.

Let's forget about it, oh
Leave it all alone tonight
And we're waiting on a moment when it feels right
Don't want to talk about it, oh, no

All the credit for the songs and arrangements goes to Yale graduate and keyboard player Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who was easily the most low-key person onstage, except that he beamed a lot, as if proud of his efforts doing the geek work.

Meanwhile, the entire band looked pleased when audience members sang along on choruses.

Their encore ended with "Jackrabbit," with Kaye changing the line "When you're lost in the woods" to "When you're lost in Richmond," setting off a frenzy of cheers as the voices and instruments reached a glorious finale.

To my bad ears, they weren't nearly as loud as the river had been this morning. But at the end of the day, San Fermin made for a mighty fine bookend to what James had begun.

I any case, it felt right.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Ripe on the Bough

You just don't expect certain things.

Almost as unlikely as a guy rapping on a rock in the James - which I saw today - was having a friend volunteer to see a Eugene O'Neill play - and a near tragedy at that - with me.

Leave it to Pru to be attracted to the literate.

But even a literary type would be a fool to see a brooding play like "Desire Under the Elms" on an empty stomach, although deciding on a restaurant became the challenge of the morning given that it's Restaurant Week and we wanted nothing to do with any of that.

After extensive back and forth, geography determined our choice and we landed at Flora, mere blocks from Firehouse Theatre. She'd made a reservation, which had seemed unnecessary at the time, but proved to be prescient when the restaurant filled up around us during the course of our meal.

Perhaps we aren't the only ones bent on avoiding the amateur crowds.

Because it was happy hour, we had no excuse not to eat half price tacos, choosing three chicken tinga (her fave) and three fried catfish with radish slices, cabbage and chipotle mayo (mine), along with a ramekin of obscene queso fundido with chorizo and a side of the best guacamole in town, thanks to queso cojita and ancho.

If we were going to watch a modern American tragedy, we were going to be well fed Americans first.

We made it as far as three of the five blocks we needed to go before an SUV driven by a moron talking on his phone pulled out from an alley mere feet in front of us. My response was to scream at the top of my lungs, while Pru wisely slammed on the brakes in that way that makes you feel like a cartoon car standing on its front tires.

And don't you know, the idiot never so much as glanced at us as he continued yakking on his phone. I suppose it makes us bad people to hope he dies a lingering, unpleasant death?

Inside the Firehouse, each person was given a tiny bag of gravel ("You'll see why") and told to pass it on because if the recipient brought it back to Firehouse, they'd get a dollar. And while clearly the dollar was not the incentive, talking about the play was.

Brilliant enough that I give them an "A" for creativity.

Further in, I chatted with a theater critic friend about the latest local media misfire, agreeing that the public doesn't want to hear the excuse "human error" or how woefully understaffed print publications are these days.

On a more positive note, he also gave me a heads up about CAT Theater's upcoming production by David Lindsay-Abaire, the very same production that Pru had mentioned as recently as dinner, no doubt an indicator I need to score tickets.

Firehouse's producing artistic director Joel elaborated on the gravel, explaining how difficult it was for them to convince people how great this rarely-produced work by a heavy playwright is, not to mention how ineffectual it was for them, Firehouse, to try to convince people that their lives would be empty without seeing it (a line that got a big laugh and probably increased the number of people who'll pass on their bag o' gravel on to someone).

I hope it works because "Desire Under the Elms" was impressively staged, beautifully lit and managed to pack an incredible number of emotions into an hour and forty minutes.

Much of the appeal came from watching Landon Nagel effortlessly inhabit the character of Eben, the sensitive younger son of an overbearing father on a New England farm that was mostly rock. Sure, he hates Dad and misses his dead mother, but he does his work and only occasionally slips off to see a prostitute in town.

And he might have lived out his life like that if Dad - a blustery Alan Sader again playing the difficult old man role - hadn't brought home a new wife, a schemer who wanted a farm of her own.

But Dad did and next thing you know, we're embroiled in a saga of Greek proportions - adultery, lies, jealousy and, of course, infanticide. Eugene O'Neill, remember?

As the object of Eben's lust and eventually love, the actress who played Abbie didn't fully inhabit the character's emotions to the point that I ever felt her longing, lust or pain - much less the loss of her child - as deeply as should have been conveyed.

Pru was more succinct, summing up her performance as, "Willing, naked and able."

Even so, it was completely engrossing, not to mention utterly satisfying, to watch the words and story of a major playwright like O'Neill play out live. A a devoted theater-goer who'd only seen "Long Day's Journey Into Night," I'd been sadly deficient in O'Neill performances.

Dare I say that my life is no longer empty because I saw it? Well, it's still got a significant hole or two, but it's also infinitely better for having seen tonight's production.

Once I finish mulling it over, you can bet I'll be passing on my gravel to encourage someone else to witness this classic.

"It's a great game - the pursuit of happiness," O'Neill wrote. Not only great, but lifelong.

Personally, I think not pursuing would be the tragedy.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Got a One Track Mind

I can now add motorcycle shop to the list of unlikely places I've seen shows.

The invitation promised a rock and roll extravaganza - not a bad offer for a Wednesday evening - and if there's one thing I've been in need of (although, actually, there are several), it's a good rock and roll show.

So after showering off the dust of a trip to the Northern Neck, I suited up for just that.

The shop's proprietor, also a music fanatic, welcomed me to the showroom (its motorcycles ringing the room to accommodate bands and audience) and I quickly found a half dozen friends to talk to before the Green Hearts took the stage.

Actually it was a floor, if you want to get technical.

Back when I first saw the Green Hearts in January 2011 at Sprout (R.I.P.), they did nothing but covers but give a group of self-proclaimed "old guys" 6 or 7 years, and now they've got a host of original songs to play.

As for the rest, the band is tighter, they're just as great to dance to and singer Paul still plays a mean cowbell. How better to kick off a show than with proven winners?

Between sets, I ran into a friend who goes to an unusually high number of shows, yet I hadn't seen her in a while. Ready to place the blame on me because I've been so busy with non-music stuff the past few months, she absolved me by saying it was her fault.

"I've been acting my age," she said, explaining that the real problem is that so many shows start on time these days and many of them start as early as 8:00. "It's 9 before I've got everything done I need to do and am ready to go out!" she lamented.

And while I feel her pain - and I definitely remember years of tardy starts and shows scheduled for 10:30 or 11 start times that barely ended by 2 a.m. - I kind of like that shows start on time for the most part these days. That was a hard-won victory.

It's only been a little over a year since I last saw Denver's Dressy Bessy, but my memories of their pop punk served me well. Singer Tammy remains a charismatic front woman with expressive eyes and non-stop energy and the band is there for her every step of the way.

She began by entreating us to come closer and fill up the empty space in front of the band. "It's a rock and roll show!" Everyone took two steps forward, sort of like playing "Mother, May I?" Now there's a game I bet the children of today don't play.

Halfway through the band's set, the crowd was finally loose enough to throw inhibitions to the wind and dance/thrash wildly, causing Tammy to say, "You guys must be wasted! All the alcoholics are out tonight!"

Or all of Richmond just dances oddly, take your pick.

I don't want to point fingers, but as I'd already commented to several friends, tonight's crowd amounted to a sausage fest, with my gender squarely in the minority. Since when don't women like rock and roll anyway?

After several "punk shorts" - songs that measured less than 1:57 in length like a good punk song should - Tammy asked the room if anyone would get her a beer and she'd repay them after their set. When someone handed her a PBR, she grimaced and said, "How this beer makes you feel the next day is not cool!" and then took a swig. "But it's so refreshing!"

No one bothered to tell her that PBR stands for People's Beer of Richmond. As it was, she'd seen a t-shirt today with a picture of an RV on it and the letter "A." She was thinking of going back to Carytown tomorrow to buy it. "Unless someone here has it and then I'll trade you something for it."

Presumably, she meant band merchandise, but I'm not here to judge.

During the break, I met a woman who complimented my spiky hair as "punk" and told me that she'd asked her stylist to give her a rock and roll haircut. Next thing I knew, she was running her hand through my hair, remarking on what thick hair we both have.

It takes so little for women to bond.

When I asked about the location of the loo, the owner directed me to the "executive bathroom," which saved me waiting in line but required sliding a massive door aside, but I managed, feeling like I was sneaking around in the back room unattended.

Some of us never lose the attraction to going where we're not usually allowed.

Last up was NYC's the Split Squad, notable for the band members' other projects: the drummer is in Blondie (and, appropriately, wearing a CBGB t-shirt), one of the guitarists is in the Plimsoles and the other, Keith Streng, is in the Fleshtones.

The latter, a tiny man with massive showboating skills, used a chair as a launching pad from which to posture, dance or spring off, when he wasn't laying his guitar on it and sitting atop it or turning his back on it, as if it had done him wrong.

They did a song they said was about a girl from Shockoe Bottom, called "Touch and Go," as in, "She likes to touch, then go." They did a Small Faces cover, a slow soulful one they dedicated to the women, an angry song and a barn-burner called "Palpitation Blues" that got guitarist Keith in frenzy mode, at one point wiggling his butt as he stood dancing in a chair while playing his guitar behind his head.

Some would call that multi-tasking.

Definitely a favorite was their cover of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers' "One Track Mind," which had some guys fist bumping they were so excited to hear it live. They closed with a new song,  "Now Hear This," off the album they were selling tonight, and about brought the house down with it.

With all three bands, there were moments while they were playing when the historic wooden floors beneath our feet were rumbling and moving from the crowd's gyrations. But it was a sturdy 19th century floor and we couldn't have hurt it if we wanted to.

You know, just another real rock and roll show, where nobody acts their age. It's so refreshing.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I'd Rather Have Flowers

It's a cryin' shame when the day begins with trying to explain the sorry state of your country to a couple of Canucks.

Mac and I were headed down Second Street to Belle Isle when we saw that our assistance was needed: a couple standing on the corner holding a map. We crossed at the corner to offer our services, only to meet a charming couple from Vancouver trying to find Tredegar.

Come with us, we told them, with Mac taking the husband and me in charge of the wife. They'd been vacationing in Washington - where they'd visited the Senate and heard Bernie Sanders and Marc Rubio speaking and which they'd thought a beautiful city - and had been told to make a detour to Richmond and here they were.

It didn't take long for her to address the elephant in the non-existent room, namely our narcissist-in-chief, and how in the world had he been elected. "Who voted for him?" she mused. "We haven't talked to a single person who did!"

I reminded her that he hadn't won the popular vote and that what votes he had gotten tended to come from the heartland, not the coasts. "He's reckless," she said, stating the obvious. "We're all afraid of his foreign policy!" Join the club, ma'am.

Trying to change the subject, I asked how, of all Richmond's attractions, they'd decided to visit Tredegar. She said the hotel had told them that it was the center of the slave trade. I explained that that wasn't true. When she asked where we were headed, I said Belle Isle. "They told us Belle Isle was sketchy and to avoid it," she said, confused.

Where are you staying, I wanted to know. The Graduate, it turns out. What the hell is wrong with the staff at the Graduate that they'd be passing out so much misinformation?

When we parted ways, it was with sincere best wishes for a fabulous (and truthful) stay in Richmond for them as we made our way across the pedestrian bridge to sit on rocks and put our our feet in the (bracing, but not cold) river before that becomes impossible.

After last night's rain, today wasn't quite as warm as it's been, but the air felt scrubbed clean and it seemed like a fine evening for a picnic, so I stopped at 8 1/2 for a hero - passing a sign board that read, "Autumn is a second spring with every leaf a flower" and resenting its positive take on impending cold weather - and took it to a bench at Scuffletown Park to enjoy.

There, with my mouth full of one of the best rolls in Richmond, I chatted with a succession of friends who sat down on the bench with me for a visit.

The activist told me about being on a Greenpeace boat (a boat that used to be used for hunting seals) with scores of ruggedly handsome activists. The silent music master told me about his upcoming Halloween show and how he didn't want it to be quite as disturbing as last year's.

And the star of the evening, the puppet master, thanked me for the article I'd done about her upcoming Halloween parade and hugged me for making sense of our long-winded conversation.

By that time, a good-sized crowd had formed and with the ringing of a cowbell, the show began under dusky skies. Not long into it, the event's organizer for the past five years made the seat next to me his own.

The over-sized puppet show was downright magical, full of fascinating creatures like a fire rooster and a chicken god (aka the phoenix), along with animals - an owl, donkey, raccoon - against racist humans, set to the sounds of an accordion and drums, one played by a fox and the other by puppet master Lilly.

There was a coterie of beautifully colored butterflies who danced, the Bones of Resistance, a group elatedly celebrating that the Confederacy is dead and a group of black-clad women leading a line of song as they moved through the crowd and added onlookers to their ranks.

By then, the sun was down and another performance in the park nothing but a memory.

The evening was closed out with a reminder that the final show will be in two weeks and will feature reprise performances by some of this season's musicians. "But you're not allowed to come if you didn't vote that day!" Patrick said, to great applause. "Party at my house afterwards!"

If for no other reason, do it so the tourists will have fewer reasons to pity us.

From there, I took my car home and walked over to the Grace Street Theater for VCU Cinematheque for some nice Danish modern.

The film professor introducing "Teddy Bear" explained that the director intended the 2012 film as comedic in a gallows humor kind of way (a concept he had to explain to the students), although, he pointed out, it's tough to pull off comedy in a story about Thailand's sex tourism industry.

He was also adamant that there's nothing funny about an adult child being bullied by a parent, as if it was a subject he knew well.

Meanwhile, all around me, film students looked at their phones or talked to their friends while he explained Freudian theories. If there's one thing I can always count on at these Cinematheque screenings, it's being reminded that youth is wasted on the young.

Just after the lights went down, a French guy I know unexpectedly dropped into the seat next to me, forcing me to share the arm rest.  His saving grace was that he didn't titter at any scene related to sex like the 19 year olds around us did throughout.

The film's story could only be described as sweet: 38-year old Danish bodybuilder find love, or, more specifically, has no personal life and lives with his domineering mother. When his uncle returns from Thailand with a beautiful Thai bride, our boy decides to try the same, only he has to lie to Mom about where's going because she's so controlling. While he can't get interested in prostitutes, he meets a widow who runs a gym and finally feels something for the first time. Naturally, Mom wants him to forget her.

During the scene where he tells her about the woman he's fallen for, she asks, "When is she leaving?" and her emboldened son says, "She's not. I'm moving out." Immediately, the students began snapping their fingers loudly to show their approval of this massive 308 pound man finally standing up to his tiny, overbearing mother.

Once the post-film discussion began, the Frenchman looked at me and shook his head. "They don't get it," he said and he was right. They were confused about why he didn't want to have sex with prostitutes, why it was important to him to talk to women to make a connection and why he felt any obligation to his aging Mom when she was so controlling.

Sigh. And these are the future filmmakers of tomorrow? Heaven help us.

But first, heaven help us with this shambles of a government. It's so bad that innocent Canucks are worried they're witnessing the end of the democratic experiment.

That's bad.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A World of Liberated Feelings

A sense of reality is a matter of talent. Most people lack that talent and maybe it's just as well.

No, I'd never seen an Ingmar Bergman film, so, yes, I finally corrected that tonight so I can hold my head up in shared film geek conversations.

One of the few things I did know about the Swedish director's films was that they were known for a sense of claustrophobia. So naturally, I saw "Autumn Sonata" in a claustrophobic room at the Westover Hills Library.

There can be no forgiveness.

It was my first time at the International Film Fest the library is sponsoring, but not so the other attendees, all of whom had been there last week for "Tangerines" and been impressed enough to return this week, eager to experience Bergman's late career masterpiece.

It's disgraceful how lazy I've been of life.

The librarian who introduced the film explained that the library hadn't had any Bergman movies to show, so he'd used library funds to purchase some from the one approved source they had. So, if any of us wanted to check out Bergman with our library card, all we needed to do was let him know.

Frankly, if "Autumn Sonata" is any indication, I don't think they're the kind of films you need to watch at home by yourself, if you know what I mean.

You talk of my hatred. Your hatred was no less.

After the film ended with no clear resolution, the woman sitting at the end of my row agreed with me that it was also not the kind of film you'd invite a male friend to join you for - not even a non-alpha male - unless he was a committed film buff, because of the movie's focus on the mother/daughter relationship and all the fraught baggage that goes with that.

You managed to injure me for life, just as you are injured.

Luckily, my relationship with my Mom is a lot more solid than that of the Swedes I was watching. And since the film was made in 1978, they were Swedes wearing a lot of wool (polyester made one appearance in a red maxi dress) while smoking unfiltered cigarettes. And in the kind of place where a person arrives after an extended drive, her back aching, and announces, "Let's go for a nice, long walk." Sturdy, outdoor people.

Sometimes, when I lie awake at night, I wonder whether I've lived at all. Is it the same for everybody? Do some people have a greater talent for living than others, or do some people never live, but just exist?

When the movie ended, there was the sense of a collective exhale after all of us having sat through such painful, personal, up-close scenes of two women sharing everything that was wrong with their lives in desolate Norway.

I did the only logical thing: drove directly to 821 Cafe and downed a plate of black bean nachos while thanking my lucky stars that my lot in life doesn't in any way resemble an Ingmar Bergman movie.

One must learn to live. I practice every day.

Now there's a universal truth. Beats the hell out of existing, not that I needed the mighty Bergman to tell me that.

Green Glass Love

Forget what Morrissey says, every day is not like Sunday, especially a gorgeous 75-degree Sunday.

I wanted to be at the water - ocean, river, bay, any large body would've sufficed - but work prevented that kind of pleasure. So I settled for a summer reprise, albeit indoors, and was grateful for that.

Curious about Little Saint after seeing several friends post about the new restaurant, I made that my first stop. And while I'd have liked to have roosted on the patio, the small children there changed my mind and I landed at the bar instead.

The space looks great, from the large art installation made of dried mosses and plants the owner had made to the most beautiful ladies' room in all of Richmond boasting locally designed wallpaper of yellow cabbage roses covering walls and ceiling.

Behind the bar was a San Francisco transplant who'd landed here after tiring of the struggle to keep up financially there and wanting some place up and coming but already cool. Here you are, kid, welcome to town.

Dinner was a farm lettuce salad of arugula and dandelion greens with a bit of pickled onion, just the ideal savory start before moving on to the subtle sweetness of pickled beet puree over ricotta on Idle Hands sourdough bread. And although I didn't need a dessert after that, I completely appreciate that their desserts are scaled to be about three bites, aka, the perfect size to satisfy but not induce guilt.

Who am I kidding, I have no shame about hoovering dessert any chance I get.

I walked into the Byrd to be teased by the manager (again) about how frequently we see each other (it had been less than 21 hours) and join the audience of theater fans to see the cast of Dogwood Dell perform the songs from this summer's run of "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

Had my summer not been quite so busy, I'd have made it to the Dell amphitheater and seen it myself (accompanied by a picnic basket and bottle o' Rose or bubbles, in all likelihood), but at least I was finally getting a chance to up my cultural IQ (because of course I'd never seen it, play or movie) as part of Artober, which I'm totally digging this year.

Honestly, it was more of an immersion course in "TMM" because after the cast performed all the songs accompanied by live musicians, they were going to show the '60s film version, too. Two birds, one stone and all that.

The story of a Kansas girl who moves to New York City, gets her hair bobbed, wears short skirts and strives to be seen as a "modern," as she puts it, had a subplot about white slavery. I'm here to tell you that it was far more satisfying in the play version than the told-through-the-lens-of-1967-movie one, especially with director George Roy Hill's corny embellishments.

Favorite line: "Poor sounds permanent, broke can be fixed."

Pshaw, tell this modern something she didn't already know. Then give her no deadlines and another brilliantly sunny day to indulge herself.

Fall sounds permanent, but sunny days like today make it tolerable. Almost, anyway.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Don't Dance All Night with Me

Hush, hush, keep it down now, voices carry. All across Church Hill.

When the evening starts at 5 and doesn't end until after 2 a.m., there's plenty of time to range from baby octopus stew to an amplified discussion of male archetypes and take a detour through a ghost story.

Things kicked off at Pru's manse on the hill, where she, the woman who bore her and her swain Beau welcomed me into the fold. It's so frequent that I'm their fourth that people are going to start taking  us for some sort of polyamorous, multi-generational swingers.

I think I'm okay with that at this point.

We landed at Nota Bene shortly before the dinner rush began but only after Beau managed to take the longest possible route to reach a place barely a mile from the manse. I blame all those years living in Ladysmith for his lack of city savvy (witness his horror at once seeing a rat the size of a cat in the Fan).

As if Nota Bene doesn't have enough to offer, they've added one of my very favorite bartenders to their staff, a fact that immediately derailed our wines plans, rerouting them to cocktails. My choice was a Sherry Daisy, a delightful sipper of Amontillado sherry, peach shrub and Rothman and Winter peach liqueur with an orange twist.

Arriving in a long-stemmed coupe glass - as did Beau's gin-based Fall Cocktail - Pru immediately invoked "The Thin Man" as we sipped with all the sophistication of Nick and Nora Charles.

Scanning the specials board for options, the owner sidled up and, without saying, "Psst!" whispered, as if offering black market goods, "Pro tip: get the baby octopus stew."

Since it was already under consideration, along with the radishes with bottarga and two orders of sugar toads with bagna cauda, we took her advice, throwing in an order of braised fennel and housemade bread for sopping for good measure.

And that was just to start.

The baby octopus stew - a long-simmered melange, spicy, tomato-based and chock full of chickpeas and octopus - only got forked up by Beau and I, with Pru explaining that she objected to eating such intelligent creatures.

Far more disturbing, in my opinion, was a reference from one of their favorite Italian TV shows, in which a man had been instructed what to do with a live one: beat it with a stick until it's dead and then cook it all day long. Maybe it's just me, but I don't want to have to beat my dinner into submission.

Although a wiser quartet might have stopped there, sated and happy, we pushed on, ordering torchio pork ragu, a sausage and broccolini pizza, a special of rare hanger steak and another of head-on shrimp. As Beau so succinctly put it, "I've never had anything that isn't stellar here," a fact that contributes to Nota Bene being on my birthday progressive dinner route every year since it opened.

It was an obscene amount of food laid out on our table with enough leftovers to take back to the manse for an entire meal.

But not before we dropped down the dessert rabbit hole with a savory local goat cheese custard for Beau, biscotti and sweetened, whipped ricotta cheese for Pru and a piece of chocolate almond cake dusted in confectioner's sugar and big enough for 3 for yours truly. Only the queen abstained from a  sweet course, no doubt because she's wiser than we are.

By the time we stopped eating, it was time to high tail it to Colonial Heights for a play, assuming we didn't nod off based on the feast we'd just had. The valet, an older man, took off running to fetch Beau's car and when he returned, I complimented him on how spry he was. Huffing and puffing, he smiled and said, "I...(wheeze)...am.. (gasp)...spry!"

Beau tipped him nicely for his effort.

Walking into Swift Creek Mill to see "The Woman in Black," the usher looked at Pru and I and observed, "You two look fabulous!" Taking our seats, I heard a man's voice behind me saying, "Miss Karen, we have to stop meeting like this. People will think we're in love!" and turned to see the manager of the Byrd, Todd and his lovely wife. Since this same crew and I had just seen Todd Wednesday night for "To Catch a Thief," I could see his point.

Besides, if people are going to think I'm in love, I'd prefer it wasn't with a married man. A minor point, but an important one.

Meanwhile, a flirtatious woman from Dinwiddie sitting next to Beau struck up a conversation, curious about the Byrd Theater and how difficult it was to park there and clearly eager to make Beau's acquaintance. Granted, it was probably tough to guess his status given that he'd arrived with three women, but, as Pru pointed out, he was also the youngest man in the room by at least a decade.

It pays not to be old, bald or gray sometimes, assuming you want to be hit on by women from Dinwiddie.

During the play's introduction, we learned that the building has long been haunted. A little girl's ghost has apparently been seen running through the theater and, back when it was a gristmill, a miller boy hung himself in the basement and his ghost hangs about, too.

At intermission, the bartender told Beau that she'd once had a glass thrown at her and no one else was in the room. The Swift Creek crew thinks most of the ghosts are former Central State Hospital patients, no doubt because it makes for a good story.

The play, London's second-longest running, had at some point been turned into a film which all three of my companions had seen, so I was the only one in the dark. Hell, Pru and her Mom had also seen the play performed in Bermuda years ago.

But that's my role in this little group: to always be the last to know.

The three-person play was a play within a play, with the shifting roles of the two main actors being the most compelling aspect of it for me.

As we headed back up 95 behind a guy not only swerving but with no lights on, we discussed the paranormal aspects of the play and Pru brought up the woman from Dinwiddie, asking Beau if she'd said she worked at Central State.

"I didn't actually commit any of what she said to memory," he said, proving what women have long said about men's listening skills.

We landed on Pru's tricked-out screened porch, albeit with a new outdoor heater as a concession to the season, for a post-play porch party from which the Queen excused herself, pleading age and a need for sleep, even as flutes of Simonnet Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc were being poured for the three of us.

Pru's seven hour porch playlist began with "Moon River," moved through the Brass Ring and caused Beau to bring up the subject of sequencing. Both he and I could see the potential pleasure in rearranging the song order to achieve best possible flow, while Pru saw such a task as tedious and time-consuming. I pointed out that some would say that the online Scrabble games she devotedly plays would be far more tedious, leading us to agree to disagree.

We all waste time in our distinctive ways.

Because Beau had forgotten the Nota Bene leftovers in the car, he was sent to fetch them and when he returned, he shared that he could hear every word of our conversation even at a great distance. Seems that in the still of the night, at least in Church Hill, voices carry and some topics should be kept to a lower decibel level.

Conversation was all over the map, with Pru describing a woman as, "Good hair, bad skin, great big tits and low self esteem," a summary that had Beau admitting he'd never noticed her rack. The subject of staving off - "Staving, it's a good word" - arose, as we got into semantics, like we do.

Time after time, we realized how raucous and raunchy our conversation was getting and tried to reel it back in so as not to over-share with the neighborhood. We failed repeatedly.

After Pru posed her main concern ("How are we going to find you a man?" and went on to suggest I use a clipboard and take a fake survey from every man of a certain age I saw in an attempt to identify a possibility), we moved on to an issue near and dear to her heart: why don't I like "bad boys" and how could I stand "good boys"?

The resulting conversation was wide ranging and I soon realized that our definitions of good and bad boys were at the heart of our disagreement on the subject. The way I see it, there's a line in the sand and that line is thoughtfulness. If a man can cross that line, he's not thoughtful, so he's a bad boy. Her definition had more to do with the recklessness of bad boys and the blandness of good boys.

Potato, potahto, we weren't seeing the same distinction. She thought a bad boy could be thoughtless and still appealing. I didn't see it. The funniest part was when Beau tried to convince her he was a bad boy, an effort so earnest I commented on how adorable he was.

"Adorability is not a bad boy quality," Pru announced, effectively shutting down his hopes of being anything other than a good boy with great hair.

So maybe the first question on my fake survey needs to address that. Has anyone ever told you that you're adorable?

No? Next!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Duck and Cover

Tell a man to preach and he'll tell you where the bomb shelters are.

Coming back from the river through Jackson Ward, I overheard one man telling another, "We all got to get out and vote on November seventh," which was more than enough of a statement for me to stop, put my hand over my heart and entreat a perfect stranger to preach.

It's positively life-affirming to know that other people feel as strongly as I do on this subject.

As I engaged with these two men about our problematic leader and the urgency of getting the vote out next month, passersby greeted them and moved on, but I stayed put because the conversation was so engaging. Especially once the gregarious one started sharing neighborhood history with me.

The blue building I pass almost daily that now houses King's Seafood? Apparently a cabinetmaker for 30+ years and the shyer of the two men I was talking to had worked there for 17 of them. Now it just reeks of last week's fish.

The other guy tried to tell me about the Richmond Dairy building, but, pshaw, my grandfather worked there, so that wasn't news. His childhood memories of stealing a glass bottle of milk off the truck, though, that was sweet in a Norman Rockwell kind of way.

"It was summer and my brother and I were thirsty," he recalled. "And that milk was cold!"

What was news was all the bomb shelters in the neighborhood he listed out under nearby buildings and schools, although it made sense given the drills of the Cold War era. He joked about going down in one now and discovering rusty old cans of pork and beans.

His buddy said it was a damn shame nobody knew about them for history's sake. Just when I think I know Jackson Ward, I meet a native who makes my head spin with new information.

As far as earning my keep, I had one deadline to make and two interviews to do today - one about wine, another about music - and just enough time to get ready to go to dinner, which these days means putting on something cute and then covering it up with a jean jacket for once the sun goes down.

I dread the impending time change. Come on, spring, you can't come back soon enough.

Walking into Dinamo, I was immediately greeted by a favorite wine rep, newly shorn and looking pretty handsome despite his claim that his hair was an oily mess (and they say women are vain). After a bit of chit chatting, he told me to give his best to the wife and kids (his idea of humor) and I moved on to the bar, serendipitously sitting down next to an old friend and her new squeeze, who was busy tearing into the chocolate espresso torte of which I'm so fond.

How lovely to go to one of my favorite restaurants and run into so many favorite people.

They'd just finished a fabulous meal including the roasted half chicken with maitake special, the same one our server said John Waters had ordered the last time he was in, a comment that led to a discussion of him coming back in December for a show.

You know, because nothing says Merry Christmas like a transvestite eating feces.

Me, I'm a sucker for my old favorites, though, and before I'd even walked in, I knew I wanted the fish soup - thick with rockfish, mussels, calamari and octopus in a hefty tomato broth laden with fregola  - and a white pizza layered with red onion. I only wish I could have eaten all the pizza but the hearty soup and glass of house white wine ensured that didn't happen.

Sadly, dessert was out of the question because I had a radio show to make and you can't be late when you're talking about live radio.

All the other times I'd see the On the Air Radio Players perform, it had been at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and while it's a lovely facility, it's on the other side of nowhere, whereas tonight's show was at Pine Camp Center, less than four miles from home. Much more my speed.

Billed as "A Night of Suspense," tonight's bill included "Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Death of a Doll," originally aired on October 18, 1948, about a newspaperman falling in love with a corpse (undoubtedly more disturbing 70 years ago) clutching a doll and "Goodbye, Miss Lizzie Borden," first aired on October 4, 1955, about a newspaperwoman investigating Ma and Pa Borden's deaths.

Every time I go to one of these radio shows, I tell myself I'll close my eyes and pretend I'm listening to the radio, but inevitably I'm too curious not to watch how they do all the sound effects onstage.

It's not as simple as you might think. It took four grown women being given hand signals when to stop and start to create the sound of one possessed doll baby. And how do you make the sound of a morgue drawer opening? By dragging a dolly across a piece of metal, of course.

Oh, and in between plays, there was a singing commercial for Tuck Toothpaste, especially relevant during this high tooth decay Halloween candy season.

And since it'll probably be another 70 years before either play gets produced again, I'll go ahead and satisfy any curiosity about how they ended: he doesn't get the girl and the doll stops talking once the devil is dead, and Lizzie's sister, the real murderer, gets away with it.

But back to my latest J-Ward discovery. Would it have been wrong to stock a bomb shelter with wine and cured meats? Asking for a friend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

That's How We Rise

Sometimes all you have to do is wish out loud to make it so.

One minute Mac and I are walking down 5th Street toward the river, when I casually mention that I wish I had a ticket for the Northam rally tonight so I could hear Obama speak mere blocks from my house.

The next moment, she's calling a friend who'd offered her an extra ticket (Mac already had plans) and, just like that, I'm in like Flint. Not to mention in Mac's debt for the foreseeable future the rest of my life.

When I got to the convention center after a six block walk, the line of attendees snaked from the entrance on Fifth Street back along Marshall Street, down Third Street two blocks and back up it again, across the north side of Marshall and continued on the south side of Marshall.

I joined it there when it was barely a quarter of the way down the two block stretch and within 10 or so minutes it began to slowly inch forward. To be clear, I had no issue with having to wait for an hour - although I was gobsmacked at the number of people who brought toddlers - to make my way into the rally, except for the trio behind me.

Standing in front of three entitled University of Richmond students and having to listen to their inane conversation is really more than should be expected of any self-respecting Democrat.

"I don't know why I didn't realize it would be this crowded," one of the guys said, setting himself up to be belittled by the female friend, who mainly wanted to discuss other girls ("She's cute, but she's not a very good dancer"), her sorority parties and why she thought they should have their graduation party in another country.

When she went to call a friend, she said, "Remember when we used to remember our friends' phone numbers?" as if she hadn't been born in 1998. Give me a break, you never knew your friends' phone numbers. Ever.

When one of the guys' power got low on his phone, she assured him he could let her know if he needed any emergency texts to go out and she'd take care of it for him. Emergency texts? In line to see the coolest President in history, what could possibly need texting so urgently?

Once I finally made it inside and escaped from their mindless prattling, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she'd peed in an alley, unsure if there'd be bathrooms in the convention center. Are you serious?

All I can say is, Democrats were not all showing their strongest suits tonight.

I'm not a tall woman, so in order to see, I was constantly standing on tip toe or craning my neck to see over and around someone in front of me, but at least I could see the podium most of the time.

After Northam signs were passed out, the Reverend Mike Jones entreated us to hold hands with the person next to us and the woman beside me grabbed mine for the prayer.

After the pledge, a choir sang the anthem, raising goosebumps for me with some of their harmonies, and causing fists to be raised by others. The mood was electric.

Next came Mayor Stoney, who asked, "Can you believe it was only a year ago that we had a man in the White House who knew how to be President?" A roar went up from the crowd. "And he's in the house tonight!" Louder roar.

Donald McEachin was next, mocking Lieutenant Governor candidate Jill Vogel's intellect (for the trans-vaginal ultrasound unpleasantness) and asking, "Do we want someone from Donald Trump's party to be our next governor?" Hell, no. "The eyes of the country are on Virginia this election!"

True that.

Representative Bobby Scott reminded us that last year we'd done the right thing and voted for Hillary. "I bet Michigan and Pennsylvania wish now they'd done the same thing!" If they don't, they're even bigger idiots than we realized.

Since it was my first political rally, I was new to all the cheering, noise-making and sign waving that follows every well-spoken sentence, but it didn't take long to get into it. Harder to get used to, or at least more unsettling, were the cops moving through the crowd.

The first candidate to take the stage was Lt. Governor nominee Justin Fairfax, who told us that his wife had gone to VCU's dentistry school, causing a woman near me to muse aloud, "Wonder if she's taking new patients?" Not the point, lady.

Mark Herring got lots of applause and cheers promising to be an Attorney General who'd fight for the rights of everyone regardless of skin color, sexual orientation or birthplace, with an emphasis on a woman's right to choose and accessible contraception.

The lesbians to my right cheered as loudly as I did about the latter. On my left was a Muslim couple and two Indian women stood in front of me. The crowd was noticeably diverse, young and old, with a lot of black parents and children. One guy used his crutch to signal his support of what was being said.

I have to say, it felt like a better representation of Richmond than I see in most places.

Governor McAuliffe came out to Springsteen's "Born to Run," reminding us that he'd promised the women of Virginia that he'd be a brick wall to protect our rights and had been. He even bragged about holding the record for the most vetoes by a governor of the commonwealth.

Then it was the governor-elect's turn and Northam's first question to the crowd was, "Are you ready to keep Virginia blue?" He made the point that in 18 days, it was time for Democrats to get back on the offensive and top playing defense.

His biggest cheers came when, in his distinctive Eastern Shore drawl (cain't and ideer), he said, "There is no reason a group of legislators - mostly men - should be telling women what they can do with their bodies!" Amen, Dr. Northam.

The moment he began to talk about the man he was going to introduce, screens were raised over heads and all of a sudden, cameras and tablets obliterated my view of the stage. My only satisfaction was in knowing that whatever photographs were taken would also contain hundreds of phones held high in front of the man.

Near the front, a series of small white signs with hearts drawn on them were raised in anticipation of Obama coming out. When he did, looking decidedly gray, a roar went up that surely was heard down by the river.

It was nothing short of thrilling to hear his distinctive voice and cadences as he talked about Northam being elected president of VMI's honor court. "I was kind of a goof-off in college, but not Ralph," Obama said, praising Northam's honesty and integrity. Goof-off? As if.

He hailed Northam's intellect. "You know you have to be smart to do pediatric neurology. It's not even easy to pronounce," he joked self-deprecatingly.

Saying that in a time when politics seem so nasty and divided, Northam was one of the people who was in this race for the right reasons. "Can we support a candidate who wants to bring people together?" and the crowd barely let him finish his question before screaming, "Yes we can!" and began chanting it spontaneously.

To Obama's credit, he kept trying to turn the focus back to the Democratic ticket, but the crowd just wanted to eat him up with a spoon. We're talking mass adoration. The woman in front of me began dabbing at her eyes as he spoke and after a while, tears of joy just streamed down her face listening to him.

But honestly, you have to admit it's momentous to hear a President speaking in full, coherent sentences again.

When he talked about Northam wanting to end gerrymandering, a woman yelled, "Preach!" and Northam signs were raised high in the air in support.

"I've seen the possibilities of our democratic country, including what we did over 8 years," he said before turning to the subject of mid-term elections. "And don't just vote for him, vote for the whole ticket so you can get a state house that looks like you! Y'all tend to sleep through mid-terms, but the stakes don't allow us to sleep."

Granted, he was preaching to the choir, but it was still a good reminder. Then he set his sights on millennials. "You young people, it's great that you have your hashtags and your memes, but I need you to vote!"

Being in Richmond, naturally he had to tackle the race issue and he did so by explaining that we needed to talk about history in a way that heals, not divides.

And because he's always been able to make us laugh, he invoked his own ancestry, saying that on his mother's side, he was 9 or 10 times removed from Jefferson Davis. "Think about that! I bet he's spinning in his grave!"

He went on to explain that we needed to reconcile the legacy of Virginia son Thomas Jefferson, who could be remembered as a slaveholder and also as the writer of the Declaration of Independence. And then, in a moment I will likely never forget, that segued seamlessly into the Declaration of Independence preamble in Barack Obama's distinctive style.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It was such an indescribably perfect moment that I didn't even try to look at him, I just closed my eyes and listened, holding my breath until he finished. I'd been standing on a cold, concrete floor for close to three hours by then and my feet were getting sore, but it was totally worth it for that magical moment.

"Progress is not always a straight line, but our democracy is at stake," he concluded. "Elections matter. Voting matters. We can't take anything for granted!"

No, we certainly can't. We apparently did last year and now we're living with a madman in the White House.

"Elect Ralph and send a message of what Virginia stands for!" he said before wishing us good night and posing onstage with the candidates while Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" played overhead.

Walking out, I saw several women walking barefoot and carrying their high heels after hours of standing. When I ran into a friend on Second Street, she said she was headed home to ice down her sore knees.

After all-day anticipation followed by complete evening satisfaction, some women might be reaching for a cigarette. Not me.

What I will do - besides vote on November 7 - is never hesitate to wish out loud again. Who knew it worked?

Reckless Thoughts

It was chilly, no doubt about it, but it was a magical evening to sit outside and listen to sad songs.

There aren't many people who could entice me to the bowels of southside - don't ask me where, I was in no man's land from German School Road on - but Jonathan Vassar and the Badlands have that power over me.

Maybe it's because my appreciation for Jonathan dates back to those first Listening Rooms back in the dark ages of 2009, before Richmond was an "it" town. It didn't hurt that our hostess had invited me to her other house shows, albeit when she was living a quarter mile away in Monroe Ward, and I knew she always creates an exceptional environment for artists to play in.

But mainly it's the wonderful memories I have of a 2010 show that Jonathan and the Speckled Bird had done one evening over on Grace Street, when they'd played music to accompany watching scores of chimney swifts swoop and swerve as they settled down for the night. It had also happened in October and been chilly enough that some of us had to huddle under covers to watch and listen.

Tonight was huddle redux. So with chair, blanket and shawl, I joined friends and strangers for an evening of music outdoors under a blue velvet sky with only a few stars punctuating it.

First came seasonally-appropriate red wine and socializing, which took an unexpected turn not long after Jonathan's sweet dog Dolly began alternating eating grass and vomiting.

Our hostess shared that her former tenants had decided to put down cheap wooden flooring (and poorly, too) over the hardwood floors in one bedroom, prompting someone to observe, "He probably murdered someone and wanted to cover up the blood."

Or the sperm, someone else conjectured. Or blood and sperm, posited another. What our hostess needed was luminol to detect bloodstains, we agreed, like what police use at a crime scene.

While it seemed like a hell of a tangent, we weren't though yet. My former Jackson Ward neighbor said that she'd love to do CSI work, that she'd always been attracted to that sort of thing (a fact confirmed by her friend since age 12), but had also considered being a vet were it not for all the math.

Then she casually mentioned she currently has two fox paws packed in salt in her refrigerator. Naturally, this led to a discussion of why (she plans to integrate them into a sculpture) and how she became interested in tanning but it turned out to be more challenging than she expected.

Her first attempt involved a road kill squirrel. "I cut him too far up the butt," she explained nonchalantly and we roared with laughter. Seems she did a better with the fox that yielded the paws currently in cold storage next to the milk.

Tragic as it was that this conversation had to wind down, the band was ready to begin playing, so I fetched my chair and set up camp between two girlfriends, both singers, and both dating back to the Listening Room days. Dolly was just left of my feet.

With Jonathan on guitar and harmonica, Curtis on pedal steel and Nate on upright bass and harmonies, the trio began with "Oklahoma Rose," with the sound of the instruments wafting on the crisp night air. You could practically see the sustained notes of the pedal steel hanging in front of us and winding their way around the audience.

The visuals, too, were lovely, with the band playing against a backdrop of the brick of the house with candles lining the window sills and twinkle lights strung on potted plants, the deck, the instrument cases, just about everywhere.

For that matter, Jonathan and Nate had a string of lights in their chest pockets, sort of like a lighted pocket square for the occasion.

Songs like "You are Gone" were beautiful and sad - Jonathan doesn't write any other kind - and soon people swayed and moved their heads or leaned into each other as they sat on chairs and blankets around the back yard.

A guy near me passed out hand warmers and I slid one into my glove. Yes, gloves. No judging.

Jonathan said that they were playing the same set they'd played last month at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, where he'd been amazed to learn that Bristol's Main Street separates Virginia and Tennessee. Since I'd only learned that fact last month at a moonshine lecture, I could relate.

"If you see a look of pain on my face," he warned us, "It's because my beard got caught in my harmonica holder." Ouch.

Referring to the song, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Us," he joked, "That's as jammy as we get," providing Nate - the bagel-maker extraordinaire who's about to open his own bagel shop - an opening for a bagel joke (he tried).

A song such as "Darken My Door" sounds like it'll be terribly sad, but a lyric like, "Please darken my door, just to be sure that you're nigh" sounds pretty romantic to me. Other times - "When things fall apart, don't let it harden your heart" - he sounded downright hopeful.

We kept it so close to the chest
I always had to second guess

The show had originally been scheduled for last week and been canceled because of a forecast for rain (which never materialized), so Jonathan thanked us for showing up this week despite the chill. "It was too hot last week!" a friend called out, but I disagreed just as vocally. I'd rather be hot.

She who was swaddled next to me concurred. "I could have worn something cuter last week!"

"This feels like fall!" one of the men said, as if that were a good thing.

The band announced that their final song would be "The Truth," after which Jonathan thanked our hostess and said it had been a lot of fun playing these songs and a nearby dog began barking relentlessly, causing Dolly to sit up and stare into the darkness.

I think back to way back when 
All it took was the mention of your name
Change is the only thing that stays the same
It's the only thing

For me, there was no more sublime way to be reminded of that than with music, surrounded by lovers and other strangers outside on an autumn night.

Nevermind the blood stains inside the house.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Conjugating Some Irregular Verbs

As travel posters go, it was succinct: If you love life, you'll love France.

And if I want to see a classic Hitchcock movie for the first time, the Byrd is the place to see it. But the starting point for tonight's outing wasn't a movie, it was a lecture, "The Art of Jewelry through the Ages," which just happened to be at the Byrd Theater and just happened to include a screening of Hitch's "To Catch a Thief."

Since I've only been wearing jewelry for a just over a year, you can bet I wasn't the one who noticed the lecture was happening. But Pru did, rounding up her jewelry-making mother, Beau and I for an evening devoted to personal ornamentation and sparkly things.

Naturally, she planned for the evening to begin with dinner, which is how we landed at Spoonbread Bistro for a butter and bacon-soaked meal not long after they opened their doors. Early enough that the piped-in music didn't even come on until after we were seated.

The happy couple was feeling autumnal and wanted a bottle of Bouchard Pere et Fils Reserve Pinot Noir, but I'm still lamenting summer's recent departure and instead opted for Treveri Sparkling Gewurztraminer. By itself, it was underwhelming but once the amuse bouche of creamy crab and salmon on an edible spoon showed up, it showed its true colors as a lovely food wine.

It had been six months since I'd last eaten there and the menu was identical, so choosing what I wanted took some time. Our meal was obscene, as meals at Spoonbread tend to be, with Beau and I each starting with a special of roasted beets over greens in a blood-orange vinaigrette with a golf ball-sized round of cashewed goat cheese.

My seared scallops over corn pudding with bacon drizzle were as rich as I remembered, while I also managed to score bites of Pru's steak and lobster and Beau's sea bass. As for the jewelry maker's rockfish with butter-poached lobster tail, well, that never made it to my side of the table, not that I needed it.

Dinner conversation revolved around #me, too because Pru had noticed my status and reminded me of a conversation the four of us had a year or so ago when Beau had been surprised to learn that all three of us had been sexually harassed or assaulted.

We discussed men's role in all this and Beau stated for the record that he did not want to speak as a representative for his people. I can't blame him.

After sipping, eating and gabbing so long - Pru insisted I taste the Pinot Noir -  we were suddenly in a hurry to make it to the Byrd in time for the lecture and film, both part of Artober, a month-long celebration of art all over town.

The womenfolk were barely in our (comfortable, wide, new) seats while Beau parked the car when we struck up a conversation with the woman two seats down. Pru explained that we were waiting for a man to buy us sweets and the woman, already munching on Snowcaps, sniffed and said, "Usually I make more money than the men I date, so I buy my own."

Lucky for us, we didn't have to because Beau was so gracious as to supply us with buttered popcorn and Milk Duds to tide us over, not that any of us were the least bit hungry. It's more about a Pavlovian response to being in a movie theater.

Tonight's event was sponsored by Carreras Jewelers and cards were handed to each attendee for 10% off a purchase - as if I ever bought any jewelry new - and Bygones, next door to the Byrd.

A Carreras jeweler took us through a fascinating slide show on the history of jewelry, tracing it from the Neolithic period to Greek and Roman times through the Egyptians and the Renaissance, while stressing why jewelry was so desirable: it was made of precious things, it was decorative and, early on, rare.

I was fascinated to learn that originally, jewelry was worn only at night when the light of candles made it look extremely sparkly. He told us about sentimental jewelry (with human hair woven into it...blech) and mourning jewelry (and, by the way, in the 19th century, women were expected to mourn for 2 years while men got off with 6 months...the gender disparities go back to the big bang, apparently).

He got us up to the 1920s and Art Nouveau before the owner of Bygones took over, sharing the history of costume jewelry in the 20th century, notable because it was then that jewelry began to be thought of as art rather than as a sign of wealth.

Whew, otherwise I still wouldn't be wearing it.

Coco Chanel helped turn the tide on that. And, in a nice segue to the film, she told us that the jewelry shown in "To Catch a Thief" had become available in department stores once the movie came out. Not that any of it would look like it did on Grace Kelly, but an Eisenhower-era woman could hope, couldn't she?

Then it was time for the film and, to our amazement, half the audience left because the lecture was over. Who walks out of a chance to see a free Hitchcock movie set in France on the big screen?

Neanderthals, that's who.

Manager Todd introduced the film, reminding us that Hitch filmed his murder scenes like love scenes and his love scenes like murder scenes. "Story of my life," Pru whispered. The woman cracks me up.

I'd been under the mistaken impression that I'd seen this movie before, but not long in, I realized it was all new to me. From the opening shot of a travel agency window full of wonderful mid-century travel posters (talk about art!) to a woman's cotton bathing suit that zipped up the back, it was an ode to another time.

In fact, all the costumes were fabulous because Edith Head designed them and what doesn't look good on Grace Kelly? Even her roadster was beautiful.

Of course, the best part of the story was the budding romance between the one-time jewelry thief and the gorgeous rich girl with attitude. Well, that and seeing Cary Grant in swimming trunks. Oh, yes, and the banter, that was excellent.

You're here in Europe to buy a husband.
The man I want doesn't have a price.
That eliminates me.

Only after the movie came to its logical 1955 solution - love with the promise of marriage - did I share with my posse that it had been my first time. Hell, after the spate of jewelry robberies when Cary Grant's character had said he'd been a reformed thief for 15 years, I wasn't sure if he was lying or not.

That's how clueless I was.

Not only did I enjoy that kiss last night, I was awed by its efficiency.

If you love life, you'll love edible spoons, nerdy art lectures and classic Hitchcock movies on the big screen. Kisses, efficient or otherwise, are also high on the list.

Story of my life.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Till Death When I Part

I can only hope my obituary does me justice.

After all, I'm out here, actively trying to live the kind of interesting life that will inspire someone to weave a seductive historical spell describing me after I've kicked the bucket. That I may live long enough that my obituary will only show up online because newspapers will be long gone is just a tragedy.

Unlike a lot of people, I don't have any quarrel with Mondays. They're just as likely to be fun days as nose-to-the-grindstone days since I work for myself, but today's started off strangely because the power went out. That may not sound like a big deal, but in 11 years of living in Jackson Ward, I think I've lost power twice. We're spoiled that way here.

Then there was the little matter of the weather. Intellectually, I knew that after last night's rain it would turn cooler - I even closed all but one of my bedroom windows last night - but emotionally, I wasn't ready for a high today of 63 after yesterday's glorious 80 degrees.

That meant swapping out yesterday's shorts and t-shirt for a wool dress, leggings, a jean jacket and a scarf when it came time to head out. Wool, for crying out loud because it's going down to 46 tonight.

Starving after a day that had been busy physically and professionally, I walked over to Asado only to find the bar looking full. Reluctant to waste a table on just me, the bartender pointed out a lone stool wedged unseen between lively happy hour revelers.

Immediately the guy at the end of the bar greeted me, asking how come I hadn't walked past his nearby barber shop lately. I told him my walks usually lead me to the river these days, causing the guy next to me to ask if I was talking to him. Nope.

"Well, you don't have to be snippy about it," he joked, then pivoted. "Do you know what Skunk Works are?" Um, nope.

He went on to explain that it was the code name for some revolutionary aircraft program and he was asking people because he was curious if they knew where their tax dollars were going. Clearly, I didn't, but I also discovered that the only reason he knew was because of a sister in the Air Force.

Just as he was introducing himself as Charles, sirens began wailing and lights flashing just outside the restaurant, so we turned around to see two ambulances had pulled up to deal with an accident that had just happened at Laurel and Broad. Some people flocked to the windows to watch, but I had no desire to see strangers put on stretchers.

Meanwhile, Charles is showing me a photo of an SR 71 Blackbird (which meant nothing to an aircraft imbecile like myself) and explaining that he's an accountant by day and a tutor in math, accounting and economics by night, which is why he's at this bar in the middle of campus.

Although he and his buddy have obviously been enjoying happy hour beverages for a while, he assures me his compromised state will not be an issue when he begins tutoring in 15 minutes. Since he had just explained to me that the reason he has a second job is because he's in that 1% who are allergic to most medications (so he needs to save for the expensive drugs he'll need if he gets sick), I raised my glass to his health, minus the affection for alcohol.

He wasn't even out the door before some of his friends took their seats and began discussing itemizing on their income tax. The bartender looked at me and wondered aloud if I thought that was as boring a topic for a bar as she did (hell, yes) and one of them overheard us and ended the discussion.

The one next to me had on an Edo's Squid t-shirt (he lives right behind it) and frequently walks the Northbank Trail. His buddy was in the process of moving to the city from Mosely (kill me now) and he was worried he'd miss all that Chesterfield County outdoors.

I reminded him that we have a whole riverfront to help with that. Then I shared a couple of my routes with the walker, who thanked me, saying the Northbank had gotten stale after walking it so long.

I'm just here to help.

When my honey sriracha grilled shrimp tacos showed up, the bartender said that they were her favorite, causing the pretty young thing busy doing shots of rail tequila with a beard, to pause, lime wedge in hand, and announce, "They're my favorite, too!"

Now that there was a consensus, I could chow down. By the time I finally said sayonara to my fellow bar sitters and left, I passed three cop cars still blocking Laurel entirely as I made my way to the VCU Student Commons Theater.

The Society of Professional Journalists was showing the award-winning documentary, "Obit," the story of the New York Times obituary-writing department, something other papers don't have. That's right, a documentary about the people making a living writing about death.

Except, as they pointed out so eloquently, the death part of an obit is generally two sentences and the entire rest of the article - whether 500 words or 1,000 words and 15,000 if you're the Pope - about the most interesting parts of the deceased's life.

It's a huge amount of research to track down and talk to those close to the departed (now and in the past) and try to locate as much background information as possible in a single day. Then they've got to write it up in a pithy and compelling way.

In order for The Times to deem someone worthy of an obit, the person has to have made some sort of impact, whether it was Brezhnev or the creator of the Slinky.

The obit game-changer came in 2012 with a piece about the death of John Fairfax, a handsome adventurer who'd crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific in a rowboat. As a Boy Scout, he'd settled a fight with a pistol and as a young man, attempted death by jaguar over a broken love affair. Oh, yea, he'd also been a pirate's apprentice.

His story was too good not to be told in his obit.

As a result, the obit-reading public went crazy, proving that obits could be as riveting and swaggering as their subjects, the better to do justice to a life.

And while I've never written an obit, I could completely relate to the journalists onscreen, particularly the one who typed with two and three fingers (don't judge). But also, the familiar negotiating writers and editors do about word counts and article placement.

Then there were advance obits, ready to go as soon as someone shuffled off the mortal coil. The Times has 1700 advance obits ready to go, which is only a problem when someone dies young and unexpectedly.

Someone talking about the Reagan assassination attempt recalled the panic, because of course they had nothing ready, the man had only been in office four months. About his fellow staffers, one writer said, "I don't care if they voted for him or not, they were praying he lived because we had no advance obit for him."

The kind of thing only a journalist would say.

With any luck, my swaggering obit will reference my beginnings as a love child, my brief relationship with Bobbie Gentry and my time spent at Squid Lips.

They'll just have to use the blog to glean the rest.