Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Path Taken

Tonight, the poet was bested by nature.

Good thing I'm flexible because my simple plan - Secco, a poetry reading at Chop Suey and "Django" at the French Film Festival - began unraveling at stop #2.

For that matter, I was so busy blowing minds at stop #1 that I may have altered my own trajectory. Ready to get the party started, I chose Raventos i Blanc Brut Nature Rose "de Nix," a crisp sparkler from Spain along with brussels sprouts amped up with cured lemon, black lentils, Aleppo pepper and candied pecans, a dish so generous I couldn't finish the last couple sprouts.

Meanwhile, two women at the bar had just discovered Secco's "Uncork and unwind" happy hour, causing one to slip her phone into the bamboo box to qualify for happy hour deals. The other woman looked at her askance.

"I'm not giving mine up," she insisted. "No, I gotta have my phone out, but I want the discount. Do you think I can still get it?"

When her friend didn't answer, I jumped right in. Nope, I'm pretty sure you've already disqualified yourself by having been on your phone constantly since you sat down, not to mention after your Prosecco arrived and you began sipping, I told this stranger. She looked only barely disappointed.

"That's okay, it's not worth a discount not to have my phone out," she explained. That's when I realized I had the power to rock her world, but I asked permission first (as in, do you want me to blow your mind?) and she granted permission.

I don't have a cell phone, I told her. She looked surprised and then asked, "Oh, you left it in the car?" No, I don't have one. There were four simultaneous gasps. "Ever?" she asked incredulously. Ever. Serious panic was written all over her face. "How do you live? I couldn't live without mine," she said.

More's the pity, honey.

A woman sitting in between the two of us suddenly piped up. "I admire you," she claimed, but I assured her everyone says that and no one means it. "I only have mine for emergencies," she explained, but I was having none of it. And what did you do in emergencies 20 years ago? Problem-solve? Figure it out? Handle it?

Sheepishly, she said all of the above. Case closed.

As I was ordering dessert, a woman sat down next to me and began poring over a document. When my butterscotch pudding with creme fraiche and candied walnuts arrived, her head spun around like she'd seen the promised land. "What's that?" she had to know.

Only one of the best desserts in the city, I assured her. She gazed at it longingly and we struck up a conversation. Although currently a Fan resident, she's just bought a home in Greengate, the latest fake town center development nearly at the Goochland line. Trying to comprehend why anyone would abandon the city for the hinterland, she said quietly, "I need a new start."

Seems her husband has had Alzheimer's for years and lives in a facility and she's ready to live somewhere other than the home they'd shared (which had sold in mere hours). Perfectly understandable.

In fact, she decided that to celebrate her next stage of life, she was going to order a butterscotch pudding because mine looked so fabulous. The bartender leaned over and shared that she thought it was nothing short of amazing. "You think you know butterscotch pudding until you have this one," she told her.

Not that I needed it, it was nice to have corroboration.

Full of pink bubbles, sprouts and pudding, I left for Chop Suey Books, walking into a practically empty store. Something was amiss. The most significant English language poet born since WW II should have attracted more than three people.

"His flight got canceled because of snow," the clerk informed me. "He's reading at the Modlin Center tomorrow night instead." That's one of those good/bad news scenarios for anyone with a date Friday night, but at least now I knew.

Rather than dwelling on the disappointment of not having an Irishman read to me tonight, I punted, a simple matter of walking across the street to kick off my French Film Festival experience 2018 by seeing "Le Chemin." And like any FFF screening, that meant running into the faithful.

The cinephile just back from the Sarajevo Film Festival, who wanted my advice on getting involved with the Bijou. The theater manager who walked up behind me while I was getting popcorn and from behind asked, "Guess who?"

Probably the most unlikely was the woman whose open house I'd gone to in late February. Although it hadn't been mentioned in the party invitation, the occasion was her impending nuptials. When I'd asked her how she'd met him, she'd shared that they'd met on just as she was about to cancel her subscription.

Lamenting my own lack of dating success, she'd told me to give up (as she had) and that's when it would happen. Here we were a month later, and an update was in order. "Our good luck rubbed off on you!" she said, delighted.

Around us, smart FFF attendees were jockeying for the Byrd's new seats, while the couple in front of me pulled out tuna fish sandwiches in baggies and began a twofold mission: eating their dinner without losing their primo seats and stinkin' up the joint with smelly tuna fish.

They finished just as the introductions were being made.

Two trailblazing women, the director and costumer of "Le Chemin," were introduced and gave minimal remarks before the film began. The title means "the path" and referred to a path where a young Parisian woman studying to be a nun walked everyday to treat a Cambodian villager's sore leg, a path that caused her to meet the husband of a woman dying of cancer.

But of course, the film was really about the path of life, how we meet people along the way, how sadness changes us and what we learn about ourselves as we engage with others. How we plan for one thing and something else comes along.

You know, the path that helps you realize when you need a new start or a butterscotch pudding. And sometimes both.


  1. The problem is there are no options. Where is a public phone? Pay phones are gone. Your car breaks down or you are in a jam. How are you going to call?


  2. Au contraire, Tom. Because of a problem no mechanic seemed to be able to fix correctly, my car broke down 5 times over a year and a half, always on road trips. Five! Once near an I-64 exit, I walked up the exit to the guard at a military base and he called a trow truck (his brother-in-law). Another time, a clerk at a convenience store made the call for me and offered me a soda while I waited for it to arrive.

    Look, I know people don't feel safe without a 24/7 lifeline, but to me that's not living. We managed to deal with emergencies before cell phones, so there is a precedent, although I seem to be the last person left willing to live that way.

    I write or print out directions when I go somewhere new and if I get turned around, I pull out a map or stop and ask for directions from strangers or at a gas station. I can't stand the thought of being dependent on a device every time I leave my house.

    P.S. My car problem was finally diagnosed by my neighborhood mechanic who said, "We're going to fix it for good, Karen. We can't have you losing your religion on the side of the road." I didn't tell him I don't have any religion to lose.

  3. Butterscotch! You truly haven't had Butterscotch pudding until you've had it at Secco. Listen to Karen, people. Stop what you're doing. Go. Now.