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) (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!