Thursday, November 30, 2017

Business as Usual

A person whose opinion I respect recently told me point blank, "All men suck."

Although I don't entirely believe it, the irony that it was a man telling me this wasn't lost on me. I saw Mac Tuesday night and by the time we got together less than 24 hours later, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and NPR's chief news editor David Sweeney had been added to the male rubble heap of harassers.

And yet, based on just the women I know, the height of that Mt. Trashmore is only going to climb as more and more women are finally emboldened to speak up.

In all the conversations I've had with women about this issue - and I admit, I bring it up with everyone - only one woman has said that she had never once been sexually harassed. What's notable about this is that she's 84 years old. She also happens to be my mother, so I'm not going to doubt her word, but I'm inclined to see her as the exception that proves the rule.

Every other woman with whom I've discussed this topic has stories, most of us lots and lots of stories. Unwanted kisses and touching. Inappropriate comments and gifts. Suggestions of actions generally reserved for partners.

Last night at dinner before we went to Virginia Repertory to see, of all things, "Mary Poppins," Mac and I were lamenting the women who don't side with the women making the accusations. Why are some women saying that decades-old incidents should not be brought up now? And what woman can't understand why a woman working for a powerful man would be afraid to go to her superiors (not that that usually got results) and risk her position?

Men, especially white men, hold all the power and women have long known this.

When I was sixteen, I interviewed for my first real job. I'd been babysitting for years and, in fact, that's when a man had first acted inappropriately to me. Sitting in my parents' friends' basement watching TV, I heard the door open upstairs hours before the couple and their friends had said they'd be home. The husband of the other couple came down the steps, walked over to the couch where I was sitting and laid down on it, placing his head in my lap.

I was equal parts terrified and at a complete loss what to do. He reached up and began stroking my face with his hand and talking, slurring actually, and I felt powerless to do anything. What pre-teen is prepared for something like that? When I didn't respond, he kept on doing it.

The only reason it didn't end worse was because the other three adults came through the upstairs door and he jumped up with the energy of a non-drunk, giving me a warning look as he did. Did I go home and tell my parents? Nope. I felt guilty somehow, so I kept my mouth shut.

Babysitting eventually lost its allure and not just because of that incident. I was ready for the big time: a pay check.

The job was as a Fotomate at a Fotomat booth, those yellow kiosks in strip center parking lots where people got their film developed and photos printed. The uniform was everything you'd expect of a job called Fotomate: a yellow and blue polyester mini-dress.

During the interview, the regional manager asking the questions was pleasant and polite, asking about my school life, family life and other innocuous subjects. When he'd heard enough, he told me I had the job. "We only hire pretty girls," he told me. "Welcome to the Fotomat family."

So the straight A report card wasn't a factor, the recommendations from teachers and people I'd babysat for were meaningless, the ease with which I answered his what-if scenarios had no merit. He liked my looks, perhaps thought I'd look good in the uniform and I was hired for $1.65 an hour.

As I got up to leave, he thanked me for coming and patted me on the ass. "Congratulations!" he said as we parted ways. Did I share that with anyone? Sure didn't.

When I took a job with a radio station in the '90s, it was only the second day of work when a DJ came in, slapped me on the ass and said, "Nice ass!" When he asked if I was wearing a girdle, I reflexively said no and he responded, "Great ass!" The station manager regularly called me in to his office because a) he "needed" a hug or b) he wanted to do a tequila shot and didn't want to do it alone. This is the man who'd hired me, so I said nothing.

The fact is, I've got plenty more stories like those. Don't talk to me about why women didn't come forward when they were touched, groped, propositioned, flashed or whatever.

Up until very recently, we knew better.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

To Neck, To Love, To Propose

My thinking was, if it's warm enough to be on the roof, it's warm enough to be by the bay.

So when a certain pink hotel-owning woman made an executive decision and posted it online - 63 degrees in November? That's enough for us to open Q Rooftop for a drink or two and watch a spectacular fall sunset. Bring a coat and scarf and come on up! - I naturally took note and mentioned it to Mac on our sunny walk along the river this morning.

Only then did it occur to me that weather fine enough for rooftop sipping combined with neither of us having to work today was practically a blueprint pointing us in the direction of Merroir. It didn't hurt that we both love a good road trip, either.

By 2:00, we were en route with her Sirius radio set to the '70s station - because Al Wilson's "Show and Tell" guarantees a good time - and by 3:00, easing down winding Locklie's Road, where the absence of leaves on the trees meant we spotted the brilliant, blue water far sooner than a summer visit allows.

We'd missed the lunch crowd, beat the dinner crowd and had our choice of tables, asking only for one in full sunlight.

The moon was already rising in the sky as we ordered a dozen Old Saltes and settled back to watch a sailboat, masts down, glide into the marina next door. Fate was smiling on us because instead of 12, 15 briny oysters arrived on our platter and we slurped them down like we'd just walked four miles. Oh, wait...

Within minutes, we realized how impeccable our timing was as a foursome joined us outside and a busload of people arrived in the parking lot. The latter (oyster tourists, perhaps?) were apparently on some sort of guided tour where they were led to the dockside building were oyster spat are nurtured to learn about aquaculture, but not to the tables to partake of the fruits of that labor. Tragic, really.

Recognizing us for the starving women we were, our server came back to recite the specials and we gave two the immediate nod: brussels sprouts with cherries and honey, and tuna tacos.

When I mentioned that I was tempted by the fish cakes over mesclun on the menu because they hadn't been on the menu last time I was there, our server tells us that the menu had been changed only yesterday and they'd been added. When I ask what kind of fish, she says rockfish and Mac swoons. We'll take them, too.

When the food arrived, we dove right in, so when she returned not too terribly long after to check on us, asking, "You ladies need any...oh, no, you don't," she was laughing as she looked at two empty plates and two more that were down to the last few bites.

No shame in a healthy appetite.

By that point, the tour bus had pulled around and was casting an enormous shadow on the area where the foursome was sitting enjoying their Stingrays (nice, but not nearly salty enough for some of us) and don't you know that one of the women at the table (the one wearing shorts) marched right over to that bus driver and asked him to pull up enough to give us back our sunlight?

On a day as fine as today, nobody wants their mellow harshed and if buses must be moved, so be it.

It was when I was coming back from the bathroom - still located outside, which Mac and I think is one of Merroir's most honest features - that I was spotted by the long-time chef I'd first met on my initial visit back in June 2012 when I'd interviewed him. I rave about the rockfish cakes, he grins, shrugs and says, "Tis the season."

Next thing I know, he's coming out to the porch to meet me for a quick catch-up session and bear hug. Just as I'm letting go, he squeezes me again and jokes, "It's so great to see you. Wanna go neck?" and cracks me up. When I tell Mac about it, she laughs, too, wondering who says "neck" anymore."

Middle-aged chefs?

The sun is dropping below the tree line when we finally pull away from the water, but we're both happier for having spent the time with a view of the moon rising, birds soaring and boat traffic.

Once back in J-Ward, we did the only sensible thing and strolled over to Quirk Hotel to ride the elevator to the Q rooftop bar. After all, Mac had never been, it had been over a year since I had and, frankly, we had nothing better to do. Sure, we'd missed the sunset, but drinks and views awaited us.

The real pleasure was how uncrowded it was. Because I'd only been during peak season in the past, I was unprepared for how spacious it felt with less than 20 people up there. As we were ordering, a guy paying his check pointed out how he'd expected it to feel colder and it wasn't. It was lovely.

Even so, Mac couldn't resist an Irish coffee, saying yes to the bartender when she offered both Jameson's and Bailey's, while I toasted the night sky with a plastic Christmas-decorated party cup two thirds full of Prosecco. I feel certain that's not a standard pour, not that I told her how to do her job.

Taking our libations in hand, we walked the perimeter of the rooftop so Mac could admire the views east, west and south, from whence the breeze was coming.

As it turned out, it was a new experience for me, too, since I'd never been up there in the dark before. The red and green traffic lights of Broad Street looked particularly seasonal and festive, but the most striking vista was the twin up-lit spires of the Mosque against a fading red horizon.

Once we'd finished sipping our drinks on a bench facing south and toward the river, we meandered back to my house and Mac's car, because of course the night wasn't over with Secretly Y'All starting in less than an hour.

Now I'm going to sound like the old-timer talking about how I've been going to Secretly Y'all for storytelling for years except that now it's so crowded that Mac and I couldn't even find seats despite arriving 35 minutes before it began. Insert shaking fist. As my theater critic friend and I discussed, Secretly Y'All has completely outgrown the space at Flora, unless the goal is to worry the fire marshal and make people shed clothing because it's so warm with body heat.

We plastered ourselves against the back wall with one stool between us for stories around tonight's theme, "This Doesn't End Well." As it turned out, that applied to more than the stories.

There was one about an 18-year old and his friends involving their shared love of trespassing and climbing on top of buildings that ended with a drunk girl duct-taped to a table and a friend in intense groin pain from a fall, but, as Mac pointed out, who doesn't have one of those stories?

Another involved a woman who was trying to say yes to life and wound up encouraging a sociopath (yes, I'll go to the park with you, yes, I'll give you my phone number, yes, I'll answer the door at all hours) who lived in the apartment beneath hers and kept a lizard farm in his old TV. So many red flags.

Then there was the guy who retired two weeks ago and couldn't stop talking. There are only three rules at Secretly Y'All: the story must be true, no notes are allowed and you must keep your story to 7 minutes. A bell rings at 6 minutes to give you a heads up and you wind things up quickly when you hear it. This guy showed up with notes (not used, thank heavens) and then proceeded to tell us about what the social climate was like in 1969, what the effects of Hurricane Camille were on Nelson County and a thousand other rambling details while ignoring the bell ringing every minute for about 12 or 13 minutes. Ouch.

We heard from a woman with a drinking problem assuming you think 12 glasses of wine and 9 gin and tonics in one night is problematic. No? How about after imbibing all that, she's outside a bar trying to make herself barf so she can go back in and drink some more? That one ended with, "Hi, I'm Sarah and I'm an alcoholic." Who knew we were going to an AA meeting?

One story involved a guy in traffic with no A/C flipping off another car and the guy following him and putting a pistol to his head. He got out of it by telling the guy that the finger wasn't for him, it was for the world and then spinning a tale about his wife and best friend's infidelity that had the pistol guy feeling sorry for him. If this sounds like it didn't end badly, please know that he still had no A/C after the guy left.

Finally, there was a guy who told a story of trying to avoid a crashed car on Powhite Parkway and then skidding on ice right into it. When another car skidded and headed for them both, he was hit, run over and his head pinned under the car's axle, getting third degree burns on his shoulders. Miraculously, once at the hospital, he was fine except for the burns. The worst part, he said, was seeing his mother's reactions to his situation.

With a theme like tonight's we were bound to hear some awful stories, but that one ended with the storyteller seriously choked up and trying to convey what he'd learned. "Fall in love with your existence," he directed the overflow crowd in a voice thick with emotion.

He even thanked his girlfriend for sticking by him during his difficult recovery, calling her up on stage to show his appreciation. And wouldn't you just know, after hearing an array of stories - awful, overly revealing, trite, uninteresting - he dropped to one knee and proposed to her right in front of all of us.

The question took longer to sink in for her than it did for the crowd who began cheering and applauding for what we'd just witnessed. Organizer Kathleen took control back by going to the mic and saying, "I don't know if that fits tonight's theme, but congratulations!"

Proof positive that sometimes you've got to ignore the theme and show and tell with your heart.

Meanwhile, I love my existence, but I'd heard all the bad endings I needed for one night. And on that note, Mac and I called it a day.  A very fine day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

With Filter Clogged

A restaurant-owning friend once told me that the best part of his place being closed on Mondays was that Dutch & Co. was open.

I'm inclined to agree and I'm only a lowly freelance writer. But the last few days - because of course I had to work every day of the long holiday weekend - involved some mind-expanding interviews that, while enriching, left me with lots to ponder.

There was the couples counselor who broke down the stages of a relationship, what happens in each one and, more importantly, why they happen and what you can do to address them. I shouldn't be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself and your relationships simply by talking to an expert.

Then there was the historian and author who explained the Virginia roots of today's radical right to demonstrate how the country got itself into the worst political crisis in living memory. She'd done a fascinating research job linking up all the balls that have been in play since the mid-1950s to lead us to this unenviable place we find ourselves in 2017.

And by "lots to ponder," I also mean "in need of bubbles and conversation."

I found both when the Lady G scooped me up and I directed her to Dutch & Co. - a place she'd somehow never been - past all kinds of traffic jams, police cars with lights on and fender benders. Holy cow, did everyone forget how to drive over the long weekend?

If the stretch between Jackson Ward and Church Hill is any indication, they sure did.

The restaurant was an oasis of calm with a sole bar sitter our only competition for the bartender's attention. He had no problem talking Lady G into the cocktail of the evening, an appealing reddish concoction called Your Pal and starring Rye and Campari among other things. Sitting next to my Cava on the bar, the two drinks made a festive holiday tableau.

Because it had been seven weeks since we'd last met up, we were both bursting with trials, tribulations and totally trivial anecdotes, so we just alternated opening our mouths to debrief the other. We both have out-of-town sisters and had seen them, so that's a reliably rich vein to mine. Thanksgiving tales were inevitable, but so was fine-tuning our road trip plans.

It was only because we both paused to catch our breath that the bartender had a moment to inquire after our appetites. Given how much more we had to cover, it seemed easiest just to order everything on the bar menu, two glasses of Cava and get back to it.

What finally shut us up was the arrival of food. We slathered pork fat biscuits - so rich they felt heavy - with butter and applebutter. Panko-crusted fried cauliflower got the spicy Chinese treatment with chile sauce, scallions, cucumbers and basil, causing Lady G to note, "I could eat this all night long."

We wrapped smoked salmon rillette in salmon skin blinis and topped them with chive yogurt. And to satisfy our love of brine and off-season longing for the beach, we slurped Ruby Salt oysters from the Eastern Shore with abandon.

Once we'd achieved an elegant sufficiency, we went back to swapping stories. She won the evening hands down with a crazy story about a psychic sending her a message from her dead husband about his favorite Honda lawnmower requiring attention.

Don't you know Lady G immediately informed her current husband that the mower had needs?

"And this is what I love about him," she shared, laughing hilariously. "He went right out to the garage to check on it." Turns out the mower was in such desperate need of a new air filter that he was amazed it was still running, so he replaced that, changed the oil and sharpened the blades.

When she reported this back to the friend who knows the psychic, she learned that there was an additional message for her from her first love, this one presumably about something other than power tools, but Lady G has yet to reach her to find out.

The bartender had no trouble interesting us in dessert, although we eschewed a menu and just asked for whatever was chocolate. We're simple women, really. That resulted in salt-dusted chocolate semi-freddo showing up, adorned with plum slices that had been stirred with aged balsamic, all of it over a puddle of extra virgin olive oil.

It was a perfectly lovely marriage of sweet and savory and only derailed our back and forth briefly.

Since I'm not in a relationship, all the conversation about dealing with a man came from her. Since I get out far more than she does, I was the one telling her about the plays and cabarets I'd recently seen, although not one but two friends had invited her to join them for "Legally Blond" and she'd declined both offers.

I got that. We're not the legally blond types, if you know what I mean.

And speaking of, I couldn't help but notice the black pom-pom earrings set against a blond up-do on a favorite stylish waitress. Complimenting her on them, she said, "You know I love to thrift," and I did from past conversations (we're like-minded in that respect). Seems she'd bought a black sweater with small pom-poms around the neck and had removed two, glued them to earring backs and voila! Instant DIY earrings.

"They sell pom-poms in all colors, so you could do the same with a lighter color that would show up on a brunette," she suggested. A fine idea if I wore earrings (I don't) or had pierced ears (nope) or was crafty (please!).

Meanwhile, the bartender complimented our style, telling us we'd done it right, leisurely sampling around the menu to give the newbie a sense of the kitchen and the vibe. Safe to say it's not my first rodeo.

By the time the last of the bubbles was finished, the dining room was well over half full, including several restaurant people enjoying their evening off.

"We should come back here next time," Lady G announced, although next time's location won't get decided until next time. "This place is perfect."

Not news to me or my restaurant friend. Hell, her psychic probably already knew that.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What She's Having

Certain sounds are positively unmistakable.

So when I walked out of my apartment this afternoon into the hallway to the sounds of a woman crying, "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, ohohohoh!" from behind the back apartment door, I knew exactly what I was hearing: neighbor sex.

And while we've all heard fake sex in movies, I can't say I've ever heard a woman climax live before. Granted, it sounds just like the simulated variety (see: "When Harry Met Sally"), but it somehow made me feel like an audio voyeur, not that my overhearing it was intentional.

All I needed was bananas and kleenex at the grocery store, for cryin' out loud (intentional, yes).

As I was headed down the steps toward the front door, her shrieks got louder, she reached that final "Ooooooooh!" and I felt obligated to let myself out and lock the door as silently as possible. But why? I'm not the one who was broadcasting my business, I was simply on my way out.

I know some people like a sandwich after having sex, but I'd only heard sex, so what I wanted was a pizza from Galley Market and I couldn't think of a single reason not to drive to southside to get one. I'd been craving another since I'd had my first a month ago.

When I ordered my Bianca pizza -  house Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, garlic, black pepper and olive oil on a crust with the chew of a fine baguette - I told the cashier I felt kind of lame ordering the exact same pizza I'd ordered last time.

"No shame in that," he assured me. "I go back and forth between the Bianca and the Grape & Gorgonzola, so I'm almost as bad."

Waiting at the counter for my pie to bake, I noticed a new piece of red neon announcing "Giustino's Pizza" hanging from the ceiling, an addition since my first visit giving credit to the multi-talented percussionist and pizza-maker who I could see busy in the kitchen through the open doors.

When he spotted me, he came out to say hello and I shared that I'd left Jackson Ward to come to southside for his outstanding crust and pitch perfect toppings. When I told him I've also been telling everyone I know to go eat his pie, he wrapped me in a bear hug, apologizing in advance for getting flour all over me.

What's a little flour between cook and eater?

It was everything I could do to drive that Bianca home before diving in. I thought I might arrive home to hear round two in progress, so I entered tentatively, but all was quiet on the back apartment front.

No shame in that. Sometimes once is enough.

Tiki and Tacky

We'll call it the kick-off to the holiday season.

Walking to the car when my posse came to pick me up, I saw Pru had her window down as she greeted me with one word. "Outfit?" I understood that to mean that she didn't recognize the dress under my unbuttoned coat and wanted a look-see at my latest thrift store find.

She not only approved of the red/gray/black chevron pattern but agreed with me that the $6 dress had my name written all over it. It makes it so much easier to shop when that's the case.

We were the first diners in Flora and our server recognized me immediately. "I've waited on you before, haven't I?" she inquired. Why, yes, I recall your face, too, but how do you remember one customer out of scores? Well done there.

When I requested a complicated yet sassy drink with no limitations on flavor profile, she grinned at my description and said she couldn't wait to pass my order on to the bartender. Pru seconded the order because who wants simple when complex is an option?

What neither of us could have expected was for her to return with a cookie-jar sized ceramic pineapple, complete with leaf-like lid. When she pulled off the top, there were two bendable straws, a pink paper umbrella for adornment and two very happy women to drink it.

The unlikely part of all that is that earlier when Beau had notified me of pick-up time, he'd commented on the grilled shark tacos we were both looking forward to and then on the unseasonable weather.

"I guess I'll wear shorts! 70!" he enthused, to which I'd responded, "Windows wide open! Wish we had a tiki bar to go to!" Ask and ye shall recieve, it seems.

What we didn't get was shark tacos because they're no longer on the menu, although the shrimp ceviche with watermelon, radishes, jalapenos and red onion I had instead was every bit as stellar as the tacos had been.

And that was after we'd had a leisurely first course of tomatillo and habanero salsa (too hot for anyone but Beau), not one but two orders of black bean dip topped with requeson and ancho chile oil (easily the most elevated black bean dip I've ever had), guacamole with queso cotija and ancho (still the best in town) and another salsa of tomatoes and pepitas (delicious but it had stiff competition for our attention).

No exaggeration, we went through three bowls of salty chips just to get all that to our mouths.

With this crew, we usually trade bites of entrees, but it was all any of us could do to finish what was on our own plates after such an indulgent first course. And there was no way on earth Pru and I could finish that punch bowl of a drink, try as we did.

En route to Richmond Triangle Players, we drove Monument Avenue to see what holiday lights were up on the grand houses that line it - even though I'm inclined to think it's a tad early for all that - as a prelude to the two David Sedaris seasonal plays we were about to see.

"Season's Greetings" featured the consistently excellent Jacqueline Jones as Jocelyn, the opinionated matriarch of a suburban family dictating the annual Christmas newsletter for friends and families, circa 1995. Jones is a master at skirting that line between sweet as pie and judgmental as hell, always with a smile on her face.

Where it got Sedaris hilarious were her rantings about having to care for her daughter's crack baby and put up with the 22-year old daughter (in a skirt the size of a beer koozie) her husband had fathered in Vietnam and who had shown up on their door step.

Naturally it ends up with death, incomplete Christmas shopping and complete empathy for Jocelyn.

Even more well-known, "The Santaland Diaries" starred Robert Throckmorton as a Sedaris stand-in for his time spent working as Crumpet the elf in Santaland at Macy's in New York, a job that not only requires wearing green velvet and red and white striped socks, but one that would pluck anyone's last nerve.

Along the way, we got a Billie Holiday impersonation, plenty of sexual innuendo and a sense of the challenges involved in dealing with photo-obsessed parents and demanding children when your job is to be an enthusiastic elf at all times. It's enough to drive a person to write.

Jumpin' jingle bells, it's not even December and it feels like the season of ask and you shall receive is already in full swing.

Yo, Santa, I've got a request or two and I'm not talking about tiki drinks...

Friday, November 24, 2017

Time to Fly

How about the 12:10? I can also do the 9:50 one, but I think it's too early for you.

Definitely too early. Even so, the only problem with meeting a girlfriend for a movie at 12:10 is that it's hard to have an appetite for buttered popcorn less than an hour and a half after finishing breakfast.

Meeting at 11:45 meant that I didn't get my walk in first, but it was worth it to hear about her trip this week to Pittsburgh: multiple record stores, killer Detroit-style pizza and the contemporary art museum known as the Mattress Factory, which she assured me I'd love.

Best of all, she and her cute husband took the jaunt for no reason other than to escape family turkey day.

When we'd run into each other at the Waxahatchee show on Sunday, we got on the subject of how much we both love movies and how eagerly we both were anticipating Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, "Lady Bird." Naturally when I saw it was at Movieland, I notified her so we could make a date, only to find out she was in Steel City. But only till Thursday, so we made a date for Friday.

She was expecting the theaters to be mobbed and I was expecting them to be dead and the reality was something in between. It was a good-sized crowd heavy on women of all ages for a film that began with a Joan Didion quote: "Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento."

I've no doubt Joan would know.

From there, it was a coming-of-age story focusing on the non-stop battles between a strong-willed high school senior and her strong-willed Mom who undoubtedly loves her, but never really shows that she likes her. Just what every teen-aged girl doesn't need.

It's also a love letter to Sacramento, which Lady Bird (her chosen name, not her given name) refers to as "the mid-west of California" and can't wait to escape its cloying confines by applying to east coast colleges. Her senior year involves eating communion wafers with her best friend, losing her virginity and waiting for the opportunity to live through something.

Only a 17-year old wishes for the inevitable.

Walking out, my girlfriend's first words were, "I love you, Karen, but I should have brought my Mom to see this with me. I could relate to all that. It was our story." I took no offense and told her that for me, it had no relevance at all to my relationship with my Mom, who had five younger daughters to focus on by the time I got to my last year of high school.

The film was stellar and will undoubtedly get all kinds of deserved Oscar nods, but its greatest strength in my eyes was how true the characters and story rang, a fact I attribute to a woman screenwriter and director. We never felt like we were seeing these women through a man's gaze and that's far too rare in filmmaking.

Meanwhile, today's lunch was pitch-perfect: a leftover turkey sandwich so good it left me wanting another. Fortunately, I didn't have another because I know from experience that's a slippery slope.

Because I got two last minute assignments on Thanksgiving Eve, I briefly considered staying in tonight, but gave into my baser instincts and went to the VMFA where I could hear the Reginald Cyntie Group onstage in the atrium practically the moment I walked in. A big crowd was seated in front of the Maryland quintet (tenor sax, trombone, bass, keys, drums) as they filled that high-ceilinged space with protest songs, African and Caribbean-influenced songs and original jazz.

I only heard a couple of songs before they went on break, giving me a chance to check out the brand new Eakins oil sketch in the American galleries, although it took asking four people before anyone could tell me its location.

Call me persnickety, but if you're going to notify members of a new acquisition, shouldn't you also be able to direct them to it?

And then, because the museum wasn't all that busy - certainly not as crazy as it is on a typical Friday night - I got a ticket and went downstairs to see "Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China" with a small, well-mannered crowd.

I was completely unprepared for learning that when Ying Zheng had been buried, it was with an army of almost 8,000 life-size clay soldiers, chariots and cavalry horses. This guy got his crew started on his burial entourage almost as soon as he became emperor, for heavens' sake.

It was also fascinating to learn that all this had only been discovered in 1974 and by farmers, accidentally at that. And by "all this," I'm referring to the mere 20% that's been excavated. That's a crazy amount left to uncover.

When I finished gawking at death souveniers, I returned to the atrium for music in time to hear Reginald introducing one of their protest songs, "Blues of the People."

"We have a lot going on that's not good in this country right now," he said. "We've got someone in office who's a bobblehead and that's a problem, so I wrote a song about how anyone can be a deplorable."

Preach it, son.

They followed that with a Fela Kuti-sounding song called, "Piece of Resistance" that inspired a couple to get up and dance. Soon another woman joined them and a man with a walker/seat on wheels made his way to the dance floor, too, leaning on it as he danced and twirled.

Acknowledging the upcoming season, the band went into the jazziest, most improv-filled "O Tannenbaum" you ever heard and all of a sudden, there were a couple dozen people up there shaking their groove things to a Christmas standard complete with far-ranging solos.

He dedicated "Ballad for the Masses" to all the people who sit at home while others attend protests and marches before doing another funked up and almost unrecognizable holiday gem, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

The band closed out with "Daybreak," which he said he'd written as a 20-year old while watching a sunset on the beach. I like to think he meant sunrise, but who's going to correct the man orchestrating the entertainment?

For that matter, daybreak is in the bleary eyes of the beholder. Around here, daybreak is whenever I get up.

And that's never in time to catch a 9:50 movie, I can assure you.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Teachable Turkey Moment

Yet again, pure coincidence took me down a rabbit hole.

Waking up to a colder-than-necessary Thanksgiving Day, I nevertheless headed down to the river for a walk. Like Thanksgiving days past, the city was eerily silent with next to no traffic and few cars parked in Jackson Ward or downtown.

People are gone, baby, gone.

I was within spitting distance of home when I passed my car on a side street and, knowing there was plenty of parking right in front of my apartment, decided to move it. It wasn't like it would have been a far walk to the car, so there was really no compelling reason for me to climb in and re-park.

Except that the moment I started the car, it was filled with the sound of a monologue-type song I didn't know, though the voice and nature of the song caught my ear. Did I know it? If I did, my brain wasn't sure what I was hearing, so I sat and listened to find out who and what it was.

Turns out it was Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," which apparently has been played as a Thanksgiving tradition on radio for decades because the lyrics involve a real life littering incident that happened to him on Thanksgiving 1965.

I'm seeing a pattern. Earlier this week, I'd seen "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and recognized none of it and now here I was hearing a song long associated with Thanksgiving yet new to me, except for the title.

Who am I and how have I missed out on these Thanksgiving Day classics?

Given that I'd heard the song on Thanksgiving and I had absolutely nothing to do until my turkey dinner at 4:00, I proceeded to research the 18-minute masterpiece that is the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree."

Not sure how much time I lost (best guess: a fair amount) to learning that not only had it been based on real events, but that the song's overall purpose was as an anti-Vietnam war protest song. Well, that explained all those lyrics I'd heard about the draft board inanity of refusing to induct him because his littering offense made him of questionable moral fiber to kill Vietnamese and burn villages.

All I can say is, thank you WNRN for upping my cultural literacy by playing a song I should have known about 40 years ago. I like to think I increased my Thanksgiving bona fides today because of it.

Turkey with all the trimmings was taken with my favorite musician at Camden's Orphans' Thanksgiving where the rule is you have to be a party of three or fewer because the chef believes if you have four or more, you should cook your own damn turkey. That said, we were seated next to a five-top and midway through our yams, a four-top sat down on the other side of us.

Clearly, the three person rule is up for interpretation.

But our dinner was pretty wonderful - though I'll always prefer stuffing with hot sausage - and after downing a fine salad of mesclun greens to clear the arteries for that was to come, we got down to the main event: turkey, dark and light, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, stuffing and green bean casserole.

To wash it all down, I enjoyed a glass of Louis Latour "Cuvee Latour," a perfectly balanced white burgundy with an appealing floral nose that provided a refined note for such an all-American meal.

Only when it came to dessert did my dinner companion and I part ways. He was in an apple pie mood while no less than our server anticipated that I'd require chocolate pate. "And I know not to take your plate until you've cleared the last crumb off it," she joked, referencing the one time she reached for it when I had a bite or two left and was merely taking a breather.

The smart ones learn so I don't have to resort to using my fork as a defensive weapon.

We rolled out of there - leftover turkey sandwiches in hand - as the next wave was settling in, although I pity anyone trying to eat a meal that substantial so long after sunset.

Like Arlo sang, I had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. Another thing the two of us have in common is long-winded opinions.

And now I know how much I've got to be thankful for - though perhaps not quite as much as in past years - since unlike Arlo, I've never been arrested for littering.

I may finally be up to Thanksgiving speed.

Mmm, Nice

If the hour we started was uncivilized, surely the hour we ended was.

For weeks now, I'd had plans with Pru and Beau for dinner at Secco followed by a screening of "Double Indemnity" at the Byrd. When I messaged Beau asking what time they'd be picking me up, his response was, "Ridiculously early at 4:45."

I patiently explained that it was Thanksgiving Eve and thus rules of civility don't apply. Plenty of people were starting happy hour mid-afternoon. I invoked the beach, where happy hour starts anytime you like, but he said the beach doesn't count. Also, it should be noted, he was the one who'd made the reservation.

A few hours later, he notified me that Pru was under the weather so it would be just us two. "You down with that?' he wanted to know. As long as you can provide sufficient conversation, I sure am.

We got to Secco just as the sun was setting at the ungodly hour of 4:54 and before they officially opened, but the owner was gracious enough to let us inside the warm building (where the staff was doing last second prep) rather than waiting outside in the suddenly frigid air.

Once seated with our coats checked, Beau realized he'd left his phone in his jacket, making it easy for us to qualify for Secco's unplugged happy hour, although we had nothing to put in the lidded box on our table, which is where customers are supposed put their devices to qualify. It was all window dressing anyway since Beau's smart enough to keep his phone pocketed when he's with me.

To assuage his concerns about the early hour, I suggested we begin with a civilized glass and not rush into ordering like senior citizens at a Golden Corral. Given that it was a holiday eve, I opted for festive with Hillinger Secco Sparkling Pinot Noir Rose, while Beau couldn't resist an offering from the Secret Stash chalkboard, Ostatu Rioja Blanco, with which we both were quite taken.

Normally, that's the point at which he'd pull out his phone and take a picture of the label so he could reference it later for purchasing purposes. With his device unavailable, he had to settle for me writing it down with a pen on paper, to him the equivalent of a chisel and stone tablet.

Glasses in hand, the likes of LCD Soundsystem and Steely Dan playing overhead, we were easing into civilized effortlessly, if I do say so myself.

Now that his job requires frequent travel, he has plenty of out-of-town restaurant stories to share, including one about a former theater being converted into a restaurant. And while the decor and set-up impressed him, the food didn't compare to what he eats in Richmond all the time, forcing him to acknowledge Pru's prior explanation that we're spoiled because Richmond is such an outstanding food town.

Our server, young and fresh-faced, won our affection for allowing us to determine the pace of our evening and eating. When I mentioned his beautiful skin, guessing that he moisturizes daily, he admitted he did. "And I got a facial mask this afternoon," he shared, surprising neither of us. Beau says he'll be happy with how his skin looks when he's his age.

Once we'd finished our wine, we looked the menu over for our next selections, deciding on an old favorite, Chateau de Roquefort Corail Rose, for me and Steininger Gruner Veltliner Reserve for Beau. The nose on his made me wish for a dozen oysters to magically appear in front of me.

That was the cue that we needed to get serious with the menu and as we bantered about what we wanted, I reminded Beau that like Pru's immortal comment about choosing a wine, "Why would we ever leave the Loire?" in my world, the question is, why would we ever leave the starters and small plates?

Indeed, we began ordering, choosing roasted carrots that got the star treatment with smoked beets, fermented honey, the nut and spice mixture known as almond dukkah, housemade rye crackers and the mildest goat cheese we may ever taste. We followed that with a special of rabbit soup that we both loved, as much for a clear broth heavy on shallots as for the abundance of rabbit, not to mention carrots and pea shoots on top.

Because 'tis the season, we went with a roast squash tostada, fried corn tortillas layered with salsa macha, hummus, cabbage and sprinkled in pepitas. Overlooking the fact that it was a main course, we got mushroom potstickers, which announced themselves with a heavenly aroma of black garlic dashi and were accompanied by roasted pumpkin under a flurry of sprouts.

Replete with savory and having discovered a mutual fondness for butterscotch, we moved on to a decadent butterscotch pudding with whipped creme fraiche and candied pecans that was only made better with H & H 5-Year Madiera to sip along side it.

I'm here to tell you that no matter how uncivilized we felt walking in, full civility was restored by the time we took our final sips of Madiera. Good thing, too, because the classic film noir we were off to see at the Byrd was more about brassy dames and malleable men than civilized behavior.

Manager Todd introduced the Billy Wilder-directed film (I'd had no idea), explaining how Raymond Chandler had done the screenplay from James Cain's novel, which probably explains why Fred MacMurray said "baby" at the end of every sentence to Barbara Stanwyck.

Shut up, baby. Good bye, baby. I love you, baby. Every time he said something like that, the millennial couple sitting next to me went into fits of giggles. For that matter, there was plenty of inappropriate laughter at some of the more dramatic moments in the film, as if certain audience members had no familiarity with acting norms circa 1948.

Personally, I loved Fred's easy-going California charm, like when he's offered iced tea when he really wants something stronger ("Unless you got a bottle of beer that's not working"). Holding the glass up to look at it, he muses, "I wonder if a little rum would get this up on its feet?"

Oh, I bet it would.

Turns out Beau enjoyed it, too, and not just because neither of us had seen it before. It was atmospherically shot, surprisingly dense with loads of '40s humor and revealed California before it was the hip state. Besides, it's on AFI's list at #38 of the 100 Best American Films of all time, so we got to check off a box.

As we're walking back to the car, Beau commented what a fun evening it had been with such a  fantastic meal and fascinating movie, as if it were over. Instead, I rang Holmes and Beloved and we landed there shortly after procuring holiday pecans for Pru's yams.

I should've known better than to bring another old soul to choose records with Beloved because she and Beau were soon knee-deep in "Moonglow." That changed when Beau got up to peruse Holmes' stack and asked ever-so-casually, "Oh, do you have any Mungo Jerry?"

Sure, the band name was familiar, even a hit song, but who asks for Mungo Jerry and who has it? Well, a few minutes later, we found out Holmes did when he returned from a back room with an album in hand and put it on. The sound of kazoos filled the man cave.

"Thanks for suggesting this," Holmes said to Beau. "I didn't know I had it." While this should have led to incredulity, it instead led to a conversation about the power of alphabetizing and jokes about the Dewey Decimal system.

Part of the blame for that undoubtedly goes to the Whispering Angels Rose then being poured into Holmes' mother's short champagne coupes as we listened to Bob Thompson's orchestra and chorus on a fabulous 1960 album, "Mmm, Nice!" that provided the ultimate party soundtrack.

Rose may also have been the culprit in discussing Beau's ring tones, one of which is from a Muhammad Ali commercial for D-Con, which Beau mimicked for us until we were laughing (so hard Beloved was in tears) at how spot-on his Ali imitation was, right down to inflections.

Imagine, if you will, the whitest of men, one who moisturizes, wears bow ties and has a fabulous swoop of hair, intoning, "I don't want you to live with roaches!" and sounding, for all the world, like the heavyweight great.

That led to Beau showing off other ringtones, until Holmes tried to compete by pulling a miniature toilet off a shelf and pushing its tiny handle down for a ridiculously loud flush sound. Game over.

And we were up on our feet, like rum-spiked tea. As in, back to a complete lack of civility. Time to go home, Gracie.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

'Neath the Cover of November Skies

Not gonna lie, I like a man with range.

And that Scott Wichmann has range to spare. It's been so long I can't even remember when I first saw him onstage and though I've seen him dozens of times since, he never fails to dazzle, chewing scenery and singing with a voice that belies his height.

He'd dubbed his show tonight at Richmond Triangle Players "Leave Them Wanting Less" and with a three piece combo backing him up (including the always stellar Scott Clark on drums), he pretty much succeeded, although I'm pretty sure the devoted crowd would have stayed as long as he was willing to sing.

My seat was in the second row, off to the side, making for a fine view that included a canoodling couple in front of me and easy proximity to theater friends in the row behind.

Appearing from the back of the theater, Scott bounded to the stage and started right in with Van Morrison's "Moondance," singing, snapping his fingers and reminding us that it was a marvelous night to listen to him, too.

It immediately became clear that all his song choices had personal reasons behind them. His first date with his wife had been to see "Muppets Most Wanted," so he did "I Can Get You What You Want" and then bragged he'd already gotten her the dog and the ice cream cone and he was working on the moon.

No indication whether he intended to lasso or acquire it otherwise.

In 2003, he'd gotten a message from a director saying he had the perfect role for him ("It's probably Hamlet," he cracked), which turned out to be the lead in "Batboy, the Musical." Before singing a song from it, he quipped, "The play ran during Isabel when people didn't have power, but Firehouse was on a good grid so people came for the air conditioning and it sold out!"

I remember that production because my then-boyfriend suggested we go, only to find out it was sold out. As a consolation prize, he took me to see it while we were in London, which was pretty wonderful, albeit absent Scott.

There was a Mel Torme (one of his heroes, along with Sinatra and Bobby Darin) arrangement of a song from "The Nutty Professor" and a sweet tribute to his wife who's been away for a while ("Don't Dream of Anybody But Me") and tonight was sitting in the back.

"I love the feeling of being in the middle of the Great American songbook," he enthused to a roomful of people feeling the same without having to do any of the work.

Then he moved into hilarious mode for a couple songs, beginning with the favorite song of an older friend called "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," complete with skipping and tossing out poisonous bits to the birds as he sang about strychnine and arsenic. In a nod to the fact that he was performing on the set of "The Santaland Diaries," next came a holiday classic he first heard as a 15-year old listening to Dr. Demento on the radio.

Whip me, Santa Claus
Spank me, Santa Claus
Don't worry if my flesh be seared
I should be harshly punished
For being bad all year
Choosing the correction is solely up to you
But I would like a reddened butt
Do what you have to do

Periodically as he sang, he'd face the drummer and raise his coat jacket enough to provide easy access to his backside. The audience roared. For "You've Got a Lot to See" from "Family Guy," he had us laughing so hard some of us missed lyrics.

The PC age has moved the bar
A word like "redneck" is a step too far
The proper term is "country music star"
You've got a lot to see

That's a big part of the Wichmann charm: he doesn't just sing anything, he acts and sings everything. Midway through the American standard "Skylark" when the pianist began a solo, Scott sat down on the floor and gazed at him raptly.

During intermission, I chatted with fellow theater regulars about the trend toward plays without intermissions, musing about the causes for it. Someone posited that it's an attempt to woo younger audiences with shorter attention spans, another complained that it hurt bar sales.

I was introduced to a woman, a devoted beer drinker, who'd just recently started drinking cocktails. Tonight was her first Cosmo ("I'm buzzed," she admitted when asked if she'd liked it) and her plan for next time was to have a Blue Lagoon. You've got to admire a woman with a plan.

Scott came back swinging with "Settle for Me," from a TV series I'd never even heard of (not that that's saying much) and using all his acting ability to sell it.

Settle for me
Darling, just settle for me
I think you'll have to agree
We make quite a pair
I know I'm only second place in this game
But like 2% milk or seitan beef
I almost taste the same

Then he got all serious on us, saying there's so much tumult and bad stuff happening in the world, so it was a good thing that we'd come out to hear some music and be with people. Just as we were buying into his solemnity, he launched into "From Russia With Love," ending by turning in profile and crouching with an imaginary gun. The crowd about lost it.

That song took us on a tangent about the Columbia Record and Tape Club where you'd send them a penny and get 13 records or tapes and then be indebted to them for the rest of your life. After scoring a penny from his Mom, one of young Scott's 13 records had been a selection of James Bond movie themes.

"So while the other kids were out playing football or baseball, I was singing Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" in my backyard. That led me to where I am today," he joked, but probably everyone in the room was grateful for that penny.

As a proud member of the Navy Reserve, he dedicated "I'll Be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" to his retiring commanding officer and everyone in the Greatest Generation who'd won the war at home.

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

"I'm So Lucky To Be Me" went to "all the people who come up to me in the grocery store and say, hey, I saw you in that play or, hey, I thought you were taller! This song is about how you make me feel."

The song he sang for his estranged biological father who died this summer left him in tears, so he moved right into one about driving to Cape Cod, tying it into his Massachusetts childhood. The satirical "Entering Marion" managed to combine a road trip with enough sexual innuendo about townships to be full-on comedy.

Explaining that there were two basic truths - he would never play Alexander Hamilton on Broadway and we would never get tickets to see it, so as a matter of public service, he was going to perform "My Shot" and play all the characters.

Of course he nailed, right down to the distinctive accents and mannerisms of each of the participants and the show ended. At least until the standing ovation dictated that he return for an encore.

Turns out his last role in high school had been against actress Elizabeth Banks, so he took his next song from that. "This song is my personal musical statement," he said and began singing "The Impossible Dream." Goosebumps.

Classic songs, unlikely songs, hysterical songs and moving songs and not one pigeon harmed in the making of this song fest. Who could ask for anything more?

As for wanting less, I don't know that anyone left with a reddened butt, but I didn't check, either.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Scores of Thanks

It's only the start of the week and I'm already sensing a thankful theme.

Walking the pipeline, I smelled a fire before I saw anyone, which is not all that unusual. I've seen guys cooking food over an open fire, I've seen them washing their clothes in the river and hanging them on branches to dry, seen them washing face and hands in the river.

But today topped them all. Looking down from the walkway, I saw a guy with a hand mirror held high in his left hand and a pair of scissors in his right, as he went about trimming his nose hairs on the banks of the James. And these weren't small scissors, so his couldn't have been small nostrils.

He's probably thankful to have what he needs to groom, while I'm thankful I don't have to groom in public.

For dinner, I chose Rapp Session because they've initiated a Monday movie night and what else could they show this week other than "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and the John Hughes gem, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles?"

I settled at a hi-top table so I could have a stool with a back for viewing comfort and the bantering bartender came over to bring me whatever libations and foodstuffs I required. When I mentioned I'd come for the movies, he was thrilled, making me think I was the first.

Waiting for the entertainment to commence, I asked for orgeat lemonade and a dozen Old Saltes to get me going. Before long, the manager went over to ask the bartender if anyone was there for the movies and he apparently pointed to me.

"She was so excited to hear that," he told me on the sly, confirming my suspicion that I was it.

But then he tried to joke it off. "We've got scores of people here for the movie," he claimed, but when I challenged him on "scores," he said, "Well, I'm counting everyone in the bar and somehow 13 becomes a score or two." Like I said, he was quick with the quips.

That said, once "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" got started and I was tucking into smoked bluefish dip and crackers, everyone at the bar and the staff was glued to the screen. What was funny for me was that I had no recollection of the story whatsoever, as if I'd never seen it. It came out in 1973 (Woodstock was in it), so it's possible I hadn't, but it unfolded for me as if it were new.

The bartender was as into it as I was, commenting, "Man, I forgot how good the soundtrack is for this. It's Vince Guaraldi, right?" Not only that, but the best piece, "Linus and Lucy," came directly from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

And how is it I'm just now noticing that Peppermint Patty is destined to grow up to be a gym teacher?

As part of the movie theme, there was a popcorn maker on the front counter and red and white striped plastic popcorn holders ready to be filled and taken to your viewing station. I didn't hesitate to grab one and several of the staff helped themselves, too, because, hey, it's Monday night and it's slow. That's why there's movie night, right?

As for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," which I know I saw in the theater in 1987 when it came out, I doubt I appreciated Steve Martin or John Candy's performances like I can now.

What also made it so much fun was that it was a road trip movie that showed travel in the good old pre-technology days. Your flight is grounded? Get in line for a pay phone.

I'd forgotten how masterful Martin is with graceful physical comedy (like Dick van Dyke), not to mention his ability to register strong emotions with so little actual movement. And Candy's ability to play a genuinely decent guy, albeit a schlub who screws up a lot, with a caterpillar-like mustache and clothes that had to have been dated even in the '80s, was a revelation.

Then there's their knock-out chemistry - you can almost see how delighted they are to be playing off each other - which makes both of them better and more believable in their roles. The scene where they wake up spooning in bed, Candy kissing Martin's earlobe is one for the books as they can't assert their manhood quickly enough with talk about the Bears and how their season is going.

You know, just a sweet, funny John Hughes film about a man trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving any way he can.

Because, let's face it, no one wants to trim their nose hairs anywhere but at home.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sparks Fly/It Never Ends

That's what I needed, a healthy does of estrogen.

It's not like I hadn't seen music this week. Hell, I'd been out for music Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and now again tonight. It was the kind of music I needed.

When I bought two tickets to see Waxahatchee over two months ago, I had no idea who I might invite to join me in seeing the all-female band on tour for their magnificent new record "Out in the Storm," which, everyone agrees is a meditation on a failed relationship.

I believe in pop circles, they call that a breakup album.

Since I'm the last person to hold such subject matter against an album, I've been listening to it a lot since those sunny, warm days of September gave way to the sharp winds and chilly nights of November. Tonight was the pay-off to hear them live.

It was also Mac's birthday, so who better to share my extra ticket with than the birthday girl, who'd already had two birthday dinners, a visit to the VMFA to see the new Terracotta Army exhibit, birthday cake and a disco nap, all before we met up at 6:45?

We were the first arrivals for the show at Capital Ale House, although the Waxahatchee devoted weren't far behind. We met a pregnant couple who'd seen the band last year when they'd played Cap Ale and another couple who'd discovered them only because she'd heard one song on an online radio station and followed through on looking up the artist because, like them, she was from Birmingham, Alabama.

But I also ran into a good friend and her cute husband, longtime fans of the band who'd seen them at Hopscotch, but then they're cool like that and always see new bands before anybody else. Since I'd last seen her, she'd learned that her Mom had named her after a line in a Barry Manilow song and was still a bit traumatized over that.

We all have our crosses to bear.

Turns out that fabulous Cap Ale show a year ago was the first night of Waxahatchee's tour and tonight was the last, and it had been a non-stop year touring for the all-female band in between. The good news for the capacity crowd (in a room with only a couple tables and chairs tonight, so a standing show, not typical of my experiences at Capital Ale House) was how tight and comfortable the band was with the material at this point.

From the opening of "Recite Remorse," which does the quiet-loud-quiet thing a la the Pixies so well, the band was fully committed to showing off what so much time on the road can do and the crowd of devoted fans - because you're not seeing a band like this on a Sunday night if you have only passing acquaintance with them - sang along, bopped in place or at least stared raptly.

They alternated between raucous '90s-sounding guitar heavy songs and simpler piano-based songs, always with Katie's lovely yet strong voice overtaking the music (and her twin sister Allison providing harmony, guitar and keys) to deliver smart and sensitive lyrics chronicling both relationships and lessons learned.

Death grip on some feigned humility
Effort executed beautifully
My pride clenched tight in my shaky hand
Till I let go and buried my head in the sand

It doesn't matter how much music you've heard lately, when what you need to hear is women playing songs about love and life, nothing else will do.

And if that requires reciting some remorse, so be it. We've all been there.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cheers, Big Ears

It's got to be pretty early in the morning before J-Ward rolls up the sidewalks.

The proof was everywhere when I got home at 1:43 on a breezy, 64-degree November night with signs of life buzzing all around. Next door, a woman is knocking at the front door. Double parked is a pizza delivery guy. A guy is walking down my side of the street, while on the other side, close to a dozen people are milling abut in front of house, red party cups in hand, as music plays from the porch.

Fortunately, I keep similar hours with the people on my block.

When I'd left my house at 5:15 to walk to Lucy's, my next door neighbor was sitting on his porch and called to me, "Hey, you look nice. Got a hot date? I bet you have a hot date." It is to laugh, but I nonetheless assured him I was merely meeting friends for dinner and a play and kept walking.

When I'd suggested Lucy's for dinner, I'd been unaware that Beau and Pru's Mom (who's currently sporting the most gorgeous purple hair) hadn't been there before, which is just short of amazing given how often they/we eat out. Luckily, we had plenty of time to introduce them to one of Jackson Ward's finest.

Beau likes to joke that he has protect himself from his all-female company - aka the intellectual dominatrices, a moniker the three of us are fine with - on outings such as this, but for the most part he handles it as well as can be expected for a mere male.

In the hands-on spirit of the conversation that was already flowing, we began with a bottle of Villa Wolf Rose of Pinot Noir and by sharing a righteous fondue of Boursin and Gorgonzola, into which we dipped fried cauliflower, apple slices and fried croutons. When our server came to check on our progress, Beau (who's been known to pun with impunity) told her to take the empty dish away because we were "fon-done."

He redeemed himself by suggesting a second bottle of Rose as we moved into entrees. Pru and I had both chosen the seared flounder over butternut squash puree with collards and housemade bacon in apple cider vinaigrette (some of the finest collards I've had in a while), while Beau went meatless with Non-Spaghetti and Meatballs (fried artichoke, spinach and avocado balls over sauteed spaghetti squash) and the Purple One had fettucine with braised short ribs.

All around us, Lucy's had gotten crazy busy with people hovering waiting for tables, while we were comfortably ensconced in our booth looking at a dessert menu and feeling no pressure to turn over our table to latecomers. We finished up with a flourless chocolate torte, apple crisp and a housemade ice cream sandwich that Beau attempted to eat with a fork until Pru set him straight about ice cream sandwich etiquette.

She and I used to assume that clueless people had been raised by wolves, but in some cases, it seems they merely lived in Ladysmith and thus had no access to basic civility practices.

We followed dinner with CAT Theatre's production of "Ripcord," a play about two nursing home roommates who try to best each other in terrible ways to win a bet and get the bed with the best sunlight and view. If this is old age, kill me now.

The play began with a warning that it contained mild profanity which had apparently already offended some attendees, although my guess would be that anyone offended doesn't see much theater in this town because that barn door was long ago flung open.

Surprisingly, the audience was probably half millennials, not a typical representation at the theater, with the exception of TheatreLAB. It was kind of refreshing to see. In the row in front of us was a guy with a loud, distinctive laugh who seemed to find almost everything funny and let loose at lines that no one else laughed at.

Some lines - "Why can't people be peculiar anymore?" - were funny, while others - "You're turning into an old lady" fell flat as the two women did awful things (tearing up a grandchild's painting, faking suicide, putting a bogus ad in the classifieds) to each other, presumably because they had nothing better to do. I did wonder if the fact that the play was written by a man had anything to do with how difficult it was to like either of the two unpleasant female characters.

Walking out afterwards, the weather was still as breezy and warm as when I'd first walked over to Lucy's, so it only made sense to head back to Pru's screened porch and see what happened. Intellectual dominatrices-led conversation, that's what happened.

When the wind kept turning on the motion sensor lights outside, Beau gave us a mini-science lesson about motion sensors versus heat sensors. Pru, somewhat of a science nerd herself, explained the theory of bio-mimicry and I did my best to understand. We also had a lesson on lake effect snow and Alberta Clippers, neither of which have much practical application in Richmond.

Discussing their shared bent for sciences, Beau asked Pru if she hadn't been good at biology. "I was exceptional," she deadpanned.

When Beau was found to be in error because of assumptions made, Pru threatened to cut him off. "Please don't take my assumption abilities away!" he pleaded.

Because it's all the news lately, we had to discuss all the men behaving badly, taking it further to the gradations of what men have been getting away with for centuries now. We reached a consensus that sticking an unwanted tongue down a woman's throat is not as bad as grabbing a woman by the you-know-what (incidentally, something that had happened to all three of the women on the porch. All. Three.), not that either needs to happen.

This topic went deep and Beau wasn't always able to participate fully since his gender was the one being skewered and he was quick to admit that there was no justification for bad behavior. But we had to acknowledge how times have changed and what was tolerated then is punishable now.

One of the most satisfying conversations began when Beau pointed out that what we'd been doing for the past three hours - sitting around sharing opinions, making a case for your beliefs, sharing experiences and lessons learned, positing ideas - had been exactly what he'd done in college. "But then I stopped doing it," he pondered. "And now I'm doing it again."

Why, I asked, would you ever stop sitting around exchanging ideas with friends? Trying to convince them of your point? Sharing a point of view they may not have considered? I prefer to live a life where that's business as usual.

Because any intellectual dominatrix will tell you the way to be exceptional is to be peculiar like that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pardon My Asking What's New

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. ~ Rilke

Leave it to me to find reassurance in poetry. Moral: When life throws up roadblocks, find a way around them. And, yes, there's a metaphor somewhere in there.

My first message of the day Thursday was from a Frenchman, wishing me happy Beaujolais Nouveau day. My second was from my parents, asking if I was free for lunch Friday since they'd be in town for a car repair. Granted, I already had Beaujolais Nouveau dinner plans Friday evening, but what's one more meal out?

On that subject, my favorite comment ever was the friend who sincerely asked, "Does your apartment even have an oven?" Well, duh, where do you think I dry my gloves after cleaning snow off my car?

After picking the 'rents up at the dealership out on godforsaken West Broad Street, I drove them right back into the city, past scores of chain restaurants, to take them to Garnett's. Not because there's a sandwich named after me there, although there is (the Bon Vivant), but because I knew the combination of well-made sandwiches and killer desserts would be right up their alley.

What hadn't occurred to me was not just how mobbed Garnett's would be at mid-day on Friday, but how noisy. Dad dealt with it by sucking back a South Street Brewery Virginia Lager while Mom complained about the incessant chatter and unpleasant frequency of the table of millennials behind her, wishing for it to cease and desist.

If there's one demographic they don't spend much time around on the Northern Neck, it's millennials.

But they loved their sandwiches - the Colonel and the Dutch Aunt, which probably somehow reflected their personalities - especially the side of housemade pickles. It took all three of us to conquer a massive slice of crumb-topped blueberry peach pie, but we managed just barely.

Meanwhile, I listened as they exchanged their typical differences of opinion. Dad doesn't hear something said and Mom claims it's because he has selective hearing. He swears she talks so softly no one can hear her and eats like a sparrow. She thinks he talks too loudly and he says he's just making his point. If I've heard them say these things to each other once, I've heard them hundreds of times and I only see them once or twice a month.

Which means they've both heard it all thousands of times. Apparently after 62 years of marriage, there's a fair amount of repeated conversation that's just accepted as part of the bargain. On the other hand, he continues to hold doors open for her and she's always noticing when he requires something.

More belongs to marriage than four legs in a bed. ~ Rilke 

After returning them to the dealership, I had only a brief afternoon to work before meeting Holmes and Beloved for dinner and their annual bacchanal starring Beaujolais Nouveau.

When I strolled into his house, they'd already cracked the first bottle of the young wine. On the counter sat additional bottles for future sipping because Holmes believes it should be consumed in copious quantities while you can get it.

After the ritual toast to the harvest (notably France's overall smallest since 1945), we piled in my car to head to Camden's to check out the new all prix fixe, all the time menu. Naturally, our meal was to be accompanied by the star of the evening, in this case, Manior de Carra Beaujolais Nouveau (but only after a pretty funny exchange with the hostess who'd seated us), although I couldn't resist a celebratory glass of Cava to start.

The hardest part of any prix fixe menu is choosing three courses while observing the paramount rule of dining with friends: no one duplicates an item. We lucked out there because there were so many appealing choices to work from.

For starters, we had a sensational salad of watercress, house bacon and pickled cauliflower in champagne vinaigrette, turkey liver mousse to die for (the grilled bread was just a way to get it to our mouths) and a savory bleu cheesecake with honey that made Holmes, who'd never even heard of such a thing, a believer in savory cheesecakes.

Please, I made my first savory cheesecake when Clinton was eating Big Macs in the White House and people joke about my kitchen? Get with the program, man.

I hadn't gotten together with Holmes and Beloved since the first week of August, so there were plenty of updates on both our sides to discuss. Holmes shared stories and Beloved showed photos from their trek to St. Michaels, Maryland, where they'd done some memorable eating and drinking at an Italian trattoria called Limoncello that they highly recommended.

Don't talk to me about Limoncello unless it's in Sorrento, Italy where the best lemons in the world grow and Limoncello was birthed. I've only been once, but I'm ready to go back any time.

Alas, conversation was derailed when our entrees showed up. He-man Holmes had chosen London Broil and was soon crying uncle about how good it was but how large the portion size. My crispy-skinned pecan-smoked chicken thighs got a nice sweetness from apple slaw, but I could also appreciate the well-cooked black beans and rice that shared the plate.

But top prize went to Beloved's melt-in-your-mouth steelhead trout over creamy polenta and peas, a wondrous combination I intend to return for so I can eat the whole thing rather than just have a couple bites.

Meanwhile, Holmes had heard scuttlebutt and was seeking confirmation, details and rationale. A lot can happen in 3+ months, friend. A good portion of our entree conversation was given over to the Leonardo painting that just sold for $450 million, with Holmes insisting that if turns out to be a fake, Christie's should be fined heavily and put out of business.

When it came time for our final course, the choices were easy but finishing was more challenging after gorging ourselves on the first two courses.

There was no way I was getting anything over than the chocolate butter walnut-crusted chocolate torte I've been devoted to (for, what, 16 years now?) and Beloved got the same. Only Holmes opted for lavender creme brulee and scraped the bowl clean as we finished up the last of the Beaujolais Nouveau.

We rolled out of there determined to have a record-listening party despite our overfed state, only to run into a roadblock as we came across the Lee Bridge. There must have been a dozen cops, lights on and flashing, lined up, along with a sign alerting motorists that a traffic checkpoint was just ahead.

It wasn't that my alcohol level was too high at that point, but we were intent on starting the party, so I seamlessly slid over to the Second Street exit and in no time we found ourselves settled into Holmes' wood-paneled man cave for the next four hours. Beginning with Linda Ronstadt's classic 1983 album, "What's New?" so beautifully arranged by Nelson Riddle, we got off on the unlikely subject of crinolines because of the album cover photograph of her in a strapless pink gown.

From there, we zig-zagged through their Plan 9 and estate sale record finds, which, given Beloved's old soul status and musical taste, meant all kinds of gems from the '50s and '60s. At one point, Holmes presented me with an early Christmas present (Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark"), a shame since that is the sole Joni Mitchell record I already own.

Errol Garner's "Paris Impressions" may have been my first album of harpsichord music by a multi-talented jazz pianist. "The Swingin's Mutual!" by Nancy Wilson and the George Shearing Quintet sounded like a happening 1961 party in Manhattan. We gave Earl "Fatha" Hines' "Live at Buffalo" record a shot but Beloved soon gave it a thumbs down, deeming it not right for a swingin' Friday night.

Holmes took us in a new direction with the Giorgio Moroder-produced Bowie song "Cat People," although somehow, I was the only one of the three who knew who Moroder was. Clearly they'd checked out of popular music by the Flashdance period. As is his habit, Holmes slid in some Stephen Stills via the CSNY classic "Deja Vu."

That's the beauty of a listening party where the host not only has multiple formats - record, CD, cassette - but extensive collections of music for them all. Since we take turns choosing, the fun of it is trying to play something that'll surprise, impress or please the other two.

And the music is really just the background for a wide-ranging conversation about what's going on in everybody's life and the world beyond. Tonight that included the tsunami of men finally being challenged on their inappropriate behavior toward those of us with girl parts.

Beloved shared the recent saga of one of Holmes' friends ostensibly going in for a goodbye hug and groping her like he had a right to. "What the hell are you doing?' she'd accused him. It's barely been a month since a male friend I've known for 6 or 7 years took the liberty of placing his hand inappropriately low on the small of my back (aka the top of my butt), to which I rather rudely asked, "Is that your idea of making a move?" and shut him down.

Friendship has its priveleges, but that's not one. I've got no problem with a man's hand being in that place as long as it's the right man, preferably someone who appreciates that undersung curve.

Love is like the measles. The older you get it, the worse the attack. ~ Rilke

Tonight, the swingin' was mutual, the food was superb and the Beaujolais Noveau was drinkable. I don't know that you could ask for more the day after the third Thursday in November.

Well, of course I could, but I'd be discreet enough to ask for it silently. Final feelings and all...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roll Over, Beethoven

Let's be real here: making it to five years is an accomplishment.

If you can also score $10,000 on your fifth anniversary, there's even more reason to celebrate. No, no, I'm not talking about relationships here (though I could) but about the little music organization that could. And did.

After a delightful day in the warmer environs of Norfolk, I got home with barely enough time to shower and make it to the Hof in time to score a ticket for Classical Revolution's Birthday Bash with Beethoven's 5th.

The first people I spotted were Beckham and Beauty, but since I hadn't known I was coming, they hadn't saved me a seat in the front row with them. And by front row, I'm guessing they could have seen the fillings in the cellists' teeth if they'd yawned, they were that close.

I found a seat two rows behind them and chatted them up from there - given our shared affection for South Africa, they were the ideal friends to share the Post write-up about Stellenbosch Vineyards Four Secrets Sparkling Shiraz I was reading - as the crowd wandered in and the room began to fill up with music lovers and the 40 musicians who were about to dazzle us.

Surprisingly, I only spotted a few people I knew: the museum director, the Man About Town, the former neighbor and his main squeeze. While I read the rest of my newspaper (Roy Moore is clearly the serial pedophile from Liarsville), DJ Rattan played his always excellent music choices, nailing Latin gems, obscure foreign pop music and the random Steely Dan song, in that way he does so well.

Once the room was standing room only, Classical Revolution's director Ellen took center stage to talk about the non-profit's original mission to get classical music out of concert halls and into everyday life, where they've succeed at playing in bars and bookstores, cideries and galleries, breweries and theaters, even a pedestrian bridge.

I'm truly sorry I missed that last one. Sounds right up my alley.

She went on to issue thank yous to sponsors, the musicians volunteering their time and talent, supporters and, especially, those who'd showed their love with cash. A local couple had issued a challenge that if CR could raise $5,000 during the week of their anniversary celebration, they'd match the amount.

Today, she said, they'd surpassed their goal, so she turned toward the couple, also in the front row, and joked, "I'm going to take you up on that!" as the man extended what looked like a folded check. Real or not, the crowd went crazy hootin' and hollerin' about the good news.

After reminding the crowd that this was a raw performance - everyone was sight-reading music and there'd been no rehearsal - she introduced conductor Daniel Myssyk. He took up his wand, looked at the orchestra and turned back to us. "The beginning is very tricky, so I need to have this very brief conversation with the orchestra musicians."

Take as long as you need, Daniel. In what seemed like no time, he whirled around and said, "Easy!" and the performance began.

The beginning of Beethoven's Fifth is so instantly recognizable (come on, even cartoon fans know it) that right away, people began reacting.

More than a few closed their eyes, several with their heads back. The Hat followed the music's movement with his entire head. A redheaded woman smiled broadly as she watched. A young girl sat folded on her chair like a pretzel, busy reading a paperback rather than watching the orchestra.

Everyone experiences Beethoven in their own way. I vacillated, sometimes closing my eyes to let it wash over me and other times, focusing on a musician, section or Myssyk, who, by the way, gave good conductor face. No guitarist could have done better at guitar face.

Unlike at a more staid Richmond Symphony concert at CenterStage, this crowd, diverse with Baby Boomers, Millennials and everything in between, wasn't shy about clapping in between movements. The first time, the conductor looked surprised, but he adjusted.

You can't very well play in a bar and not expect some spontaneous reactions. The standing ovation at the end felt as much about the pleasure of hearing the music as a celebration of what Classical Revolution has accomplished in five short years.

Walking out with Beckham and Beauty, we encountered a distraught-looking woman who said in an accusatory tone, "They towed my car!" Without a word, we nodded together in sympathy and kept walking, with Beckham murmuring our thoughts, "The way to prevent that is to park legally."

We'd barely turned the corner when we saw an older couple standing in a business lot and he was testily identifying his missing car to the person on the other end of the line. "It was a Ford FAIRLANE!" No need to shout, sir.

No doubt it was a hell of a buzz kill after that fabulous performance to come out and find your car gone, but like Beckham said, there's ways to prevent that.

Kind of like there's ways to celebrate having made it five years. As a man once told me, "Five years with you will never be enough. I'll need at least 25!"

I say we raise a glass of Sparkling Shiraz to Classical Revolution's next 25 years.

Back to You

The one thing you hate in life is drama, as your core personality is peace-loving. The defining feature of your personality, thus, is sensibility, dignity and wisdom, which you possess in surplus.


The sensible thing to do was get work out of the way first, meaning I met up with Mac (dubbed by a reader as "Mac and Cheese," which I love, especially since Mac detests mac and cheese) in service of my hired mouth.

Once I'd checked that box, we moved on to Ginter Park for House Story, a new combination tour and storytelling event, this time about a beautifully dignified 1912 house with a porch to die for on an acre lot. Running a tad behind, we arrived in the foyer just after the owner began sharing the history of the house with an attentive crowd.

I immediately found a place up against a warm radiator for a saga about the murder that had happened in the yard in 1919 when owner Robert Stolz's son, asleep on the porch on a warm, summer night, heard someone on the property. While it was only a neighbor and friend of his father, the son didn't know that and grabbed a pistol and shot the man three times.

They got him in the house before they realized they needed to get him to a hospital, but the neighbor absolved the boy before he died. Whether 1919 or 2017, readily available guns kill people.

It was a heavy start to the story of a fabulous and huge house - third floor servants' quarters, stand-up attic and basement, brick carriage house - built right on a corner lot on the trolley line. The house had been broken up into a rooming house from the '30s through the '70s, until it was turned into the first Unitarian church of Richmond, sadly with plywood covering the pocket doors and moldings.

A man in the crowd actually recalled going to church there back in the day. The owner said people still knock on the door and ask to walk through because they remember going to services in the house.

After the talk, Mac and I toured the house, agog at how all the moldings, trim and columns had survived in such excellent condition over 105 years ("Good caretakers," the owner insisted).

While looking at old layout maps of Ginter Park when it was a brand new subdivision, a man came up to me smiling and asked, "Did you walk over from Jackson Ward?" like he knew me.

No, I'd driven, but then he jogged my memory about our past conversation on Marshall Street so I'd get his joke. When Mac piped up and said she walked with me, he wan't buying it. "I see her, not you," he insisted. Explaining that back in Mac's unemployment days, she did walk with me far more often, our friend suggested she consider giving up work for walking, but her new car payment demands otherwise.

We parted ways after touring the expansive garden, she back to work and me, because I have wisdom, to Capital Ale House for music. I was surprised when I arrived to see how few people were there for Bedouine, an artist the New York Times said sounded like a future legend, the kind of singer you'll wish you'd seen back in a small venue like the tour she's on now.

I know I'd taken that to heart, especially after hearing the songs produced by Richmond's own Spacebomb, so I was thrilled to snag a table only three back from the stage. In no time, though, the room was at capacity.

The show began with local Andy Jenkins' musical wordplay, accompanied by guitarist par excellence Alan Parker. Favorite lyric: Being with you is like being stoned, I've gotten so good at being alone.

During the break after his set, I was greeted by a musician I hadn't seen in eons and was amazed to hear he'd never been to Capital Ale House for a show, especially given the eclectic nature of their programming. I pointed out that he was overdue and that nothing better was going on in Richmond tonight, so what else would he be doing if he wasn't here?

"Watching Netflix," he deadpanned. "But I can do that later." Hilarious.

Next up was quartet Howard Ivans, led by Ivan Howard, the guy who also gave the world the Rosebuds, a N.C. band I've long admired (and seen several times). Saying tonight is only the second night of this tour, they intended to play us some songs off their new Spacebomb record and then gushed about the talent of the Spacebomb band.

"Those guys really know how to play their instruments," he enthused, before launching into a song called "Denise" about Lisa Bonet and his inability to handle meeting her. The band was a pastiche of sounds with soulful vocals, driving rhythm section and atmospheric guitar that added up to neo-soul-with the occasional alt-country hint.

Favorite lyric: Show me the darkest shadows of yourself.

Things got lively and loud (or perhaps the alcohol was kicking in) during the break, but the second Bedouine walked onstage, acoustic guitar in hand, a hush fell over the room. She carefully set her cup of tea on a music stand placed next to her mic for just that purpose and began seducing the room with her voice and songwriting against a deep blue backdrop.

Just the way she could bend the word "honey" with her warm and emotive vocals was enough to feel your heart twinge. And her lyrics - more like heartfelt poetry - were like a look into her heart and mind. It felt like the world stopped when she began singing "Nice and Quiet."

All of the reasons to keep me at bay
Are the same reasons that I should stay

Despite not feeling up to snuff, she bantered between songs, sometimes with introductions ("This is my love/hate song to California"), other times with disclaimers ("This is not your typical pop song. It's like 1 BPM"). Between songs, she'd serenely sip from her mug of tea.

Announcing she was doing a song so new it hadn't been named yet, she asked for our help in suggesting names. "You have to earn your entertainment tonight." Afterward, when someone suggested "Sunshine, Sometimes," she said that had been her first inclination ("With a pretentious little comma in there") and then someone said "You're Still on my Mind," which had been her second choice (and my first).

About doing "Mind's Eye," she joked, "I've got one record and this is on it. You should buy it." After explaining that the record is only 37 minutes long and her set just a bit longer, she did "You Never Leave Me," a song that had been swapped out at the last moment. "Now that you're all warmed up, maybe someone has a suggestion for a better title?"

You can feel so far, but you never are
You never leave me

On the haunting and self-assured "Solitary Daughter" (a subject I'd know nothing of given my five sisters), she sang, I'm not an island, I am a body of water.

Guitarist Alan Parker returned to play with her for the final two songs, before which she took a sip of tea and said, "One final one for the road."

Several people recognized "Dusty Eyes" as soon as she began it and reacted accordingly. Afterward, she thanked everyone for being "so lovely and attentive" and closed with the enchanting song everyone from NPR to Pitchfork is raving about, "One of These Days."

If it's true that I feel 
More for you than you feel for me
It's stunning, honey, how love has some delays
Cause one of these days our love takes flight
We're gonna get it right
And get it right one of these days.
One of these days, you know I'm gonna set our hearts ablaze
If it's my last living deal

It was stunning. The New York Times had nailed it and I knew I was lucky to be there for such an intimate show.

Confessional tendency aside, I like to think it's not drama if your core personality is peace loving.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Post-Serenade Unctuous Notes

Apparently, there's a presumption that I'm always up for something.

How else to explain three last minute invitations from friends of wildly varying degrees in one evening?

After spending the day at my parents' house, some of it watching the memory lapse-laden testimony of our Attorney General - I kissed them goodbye and headed out the door after his 37th bogus "I don't recall" - I got home to a phone message from an out of town friend and a FB message from an in-town friend.

This is a long shot, but I was thinking of grabbing a bite in your 'hood soon.

Since I had two tickets to an early performance and no date, I welcomed the chance to share music with a musician, inviting X-tina to join me, after which we could have that bite in the 'hood she was desperately seeking.

Driving to the Virginia Holocaust Museum for its 20th Anniversary concert, we discovered that neither of us had ever been to the museum, despite both being interested in doing so and the museum having been open since 2003. Tonight was not the night to do it (the exhibits were closed), so we made plans to make that happen so we can hold our heads up as worthy Richmond culture mavens.

Walking into the Choral Synagogue Auditorium, I would guess we were in the non-Jewish minority, although unlike that time I went to a lecture at the Jewish Community Center, no one approached me to guess, "You're not Jewish, are you?" like they had there.

Seated in the front row were Holocaust survivors while in our section, it was more about older people kvetching until historian Charles Sydnor took to the lectern to welcome us with a moving speech about silence signaling consent and the importance of speaking out against racism and intolerance. Sadly, there were far too many eerie parallels to today.

Next came Tony Morcos, whose great aunt had been a violinist until she was killed in a concentration camp, although she'd handed off her violin - now known by her nickname, Nettie - to a safekeeper before being arrested. That violin was to be played tonight, all these years later, as part of the performance, but first he showed old photographs of his great aunt, often with her violin in hand, and their family during happier times.

I particularly liked one of her with her hot jazz trio, looking very modern and hip.

Performing were the Richmond Symphony's Jocelyn Vorenberg on violin and David Fisk on piano doing works by Jewish composers whose work had been suppressed or banned during the Nazi regime. Surprisingly, for work made during such a dark period, much of it was uplifting, light and beautiful and in the case of "Serenade '42" by Robert Dauber (who died at 20), almost Gershwin-like.

The entire performance was wondrous, watching these two musicians perform against a backdrop of an elaborate, arched, gold, altar-like bema in a high-ceilinged two-story room where the sounds of their instruments seemed to float heavenward as they played music no one had heard live for decades, if ever.

Saying, "You can't end the evening without "Schindler's List," the duo closed out with the heart-wrenching piece and took their final bows.

Even the speeches afterward were moving (Fisk saying, "When words fail, there is music"), with reminders that being Jewish is a cultural identification as much as religious and one with Jewish soul at the heart of its music. X-tina was tearing up and I was feeling privileged to have witnessed such a touching reminder, musical and spoken, of a hideously dark period.

Rather than staying for the reception - because did it really need two non-Jewish, unmarried women? - we made our way back to J-Ward and Saison Market so X-tina could have the burger she'd been craving and I could dive into a bowl of chicken wings with smoked jalapeno and charred pineapple rub. Fernet with ginger was icing on the cake while we commiserated about our love lives and debated the appeal of difficult men.

Not that I have one in my life, unless you look at my wider circle. Although really, in order to rate as a friend, there has to be frequent contact and shared adventures, not to mention hours of conversation. I can't see where I have any male acquaintances who qualify there, so my difficulties will have to come from the most casual of relationships.

You can't end a blog post without a thinly veiled reference. Oh, can't you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Johnny Danger Says Welcome

Sometimes a documentary dork has to settle for a fictional film.

If she's smart, she'll find one that might as well be a documentary (albeit one with Willem Dafoe in it), given the non-actors and alternately charming and wrenching subject matter: "The Florida Project."

I'd seen previews for it at the Criterion a couple of times, but had no intention of going back to see it until review after review began raving about what a masterpiece it was as an observational look at an under-represented demographic in, of all places, Florida.

Granted, my exposure to Florida is limited, with two vacations having taught me the little I know of the alligator (which, for the record, I ate while there) state. What sticks in my mind are little details: the Econo-Kill taxidermy shop, tiki bars and dancing to "Brick House" on New Year's Eve.

Telling, isn't it?

Tonight's film revolved around a trashy, unfit mother, a seedy lavender-colored hotel in the shadow of Disney World and a foul-mouthed 6-year old enjoying the myriad pleasures of childhood - spitting contests, setting things on fire, trying to find the end of a rainbow - despite those handicaps.

Like a documentary, it was often painful to watch. Midway through, I began questioning why I'd chosen a film that raised such difficult and hopeless scenarios.

What about all the teen-aged mothers too immature to properly parent their children? What about the no and low-income women who scrape by doing whatever they have to do to pay rent? What about children who see things daily that they can't possibly process?

And what about all the people who don't have a good-hearted motel manager like Dafoe's character to cut them slack when rent is late and chase potential pedophiles off the playground?

The movie's strength was in how compelling it was to watch - and not just the cinematography, which was absolutely gorgeous -given the way it was shot from the perspective of a kid who doesn't realize how dire her Mom's situation is or how lackluster her living situation might seem to others.

What was interesting to me was how differently the film was affecting me from the woman sitting a seat away. When mother and child go on a spending spree using money from selling stolen goods, the woman cheered them on, laughing at their extravagance, while all I could think about was that there were bound to be repercussions, so why be so foolish as to blow the cash? Rent's due weekly, you idiot.

Then when Social Services shows up to launch an investigation about Mom's parenting skills, the woman beside me began to cry, whereas I'm thinking, hallelujah, finally the child will get to drink something other than soda and not have to scam tourists with Mom anymore.

Which, I suppose, is a roundabout way of saying that "The Florida Project" affected me just as strongly as a documentary about a child in a grim situation would have and that's really saying something.

It's saying that Florida may be a sunny, colorful place for a vacation, but I wouldn't want to be raised there.

Duh. Documentary dorks don't do Disney World.