Monday, April 30, 2018

Let the Countdown Begin

Getting into the beach groove here is as easy - and ultimately comfortable - as putting on an old pair of shoes.

The last to wake up, I ate breakfast on the porch watching the morning sun sparkle over bottle green water, then walked north to check out the Southern Shores beaches. I could count on two hands the number of people on the beach along the way.

A shame because the weather was glorious, a real switch from yesterday's breezy cool.

The day was spent on the beach reading, first the brief "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School," followed by Art Buchwald's 1993 memoir, "Leaving Home." I grew up reading his columns in the Washington Post so I was curious about how a Jewish kid from NYC wound up being a humorist in the nation's capital.

Lots of foster homes, an entrepreneurial spirit and a stint in the Marine Corps was apparently enough to do it. His self-deprecating style makes every anecdote he shares seem both hilarious and vaguely relatable, which is laughable given how he was friends with so many politicians and celebrities while I have nary a famous acquaintance to my name.

The little plane that flies over the beaches pulling a banner for a local company seemed a bit forlorn today, the banner dragging precipitously low, even considering the scarcity of people on the beach to see it.

Go big or go home, buddy. Drag that thing like you mean it or just stay in the hanger.

When I wasn't reading about Art losing his virginity to a hotel maid after his shift ended, I was stretched out on my beach towel napping like I hadn't slept 9 hours last night. The thing is, you don't even have to be tired, it's just the sun and the sound of the surf and next thing I know, I'm waking up with a crick in my neck.

Later, in line at the Food Lion, I wound up behind two guys I immediately pegged as locals.

The first, a surfer dude-looking guy with long blond curls and a very tan face, ended his transaction with the cashier by saying, "Thanks, my dude," and offering up a half-hearted peace sign. The second, shorter haired but just as tan, needed no more than a six pack and a steak, but informed the cashier he was crabby after a long day doing roofing.

My guess is that they come for the questionable glamour of OBX  life, then when life becomes mundane they end up just another clichéd middle-aged man shopping alone at the grocery store.

I might just be over-thinking that, though.

I haven't done a single thing today that I haven't done here scads of times before, yet that's the beauty of it. With the entire house open to the ocean, we're all just letting the sound of the surf reset our souls to full-on relaxation mode.

As for gratitude for my unfolding beach week, I can't even say, "Thanks, my dude" because I  orchestrated the whole thing myself. The best part is when I booked this trip week last Fall, I had absolutely no clue where my life might be by now.

So instead I'll say, thanks, Adjustment Department, for making everything dovetail so beautifully. I finally got this.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

RC Cola and a Pink Moon

Unofficially, Summer has been kicked off.

Friday night's dinner at Flora was winding down when one of the managers overheard me telling Pru and Beau a story involving Jello shooters at the Free Love Nursing Home, spurring her to tell me about the latest thing on their late-night drink menu: Jello shooters. And not your average vodka and fruit variety, but a Pimm's Cup Jello shooter, complete with tiny bits of cucumber on top. A grown-up shooter.

We'll take three, please.

The ample shooters were every bit as refreshing as you'd expect, but given that a Pimm's Cup is Pru's official Summer drink, it seemed only right to toast to my upcoming favorite season as part of the shooting.

Mind you, this was exactly what we womenfolk needed after a lengthy explanation to Beau about why the phrase "the rabbit died" is synonymous with getting pregnant. Pru, incredulous that he'd never made the connection between the two phrases, was gobsmacked when he said it seemed illogical to think that rabbits had ever been sacrificed for the sake of a pregnancy test. What else, she queried, could the phrase have meant?

I've since asked three other men if they understood the phrase's meaning, only to discover they were as unaware as Beau. Mars and Venus, I tell you what.

Pru put it most hilariously by asking Beau, "Oh, you think the doctor's office should have a rabbit hutch out back?" when he mused about the inconvenience of nabbing rabbits for testing.

After seeing Cadence Theatre's production of "Appropriate" about a family so dysfunctional it made all of us feel better, Pru was moved to observe, "Not the play I want to die in." One can only hope to have that choice.

Back at Pru's manse, we met up with Hotdog, an old family friend who'd flown in from Arizona while we were at the play and had been awaiting our arrival. The goal was to add him into our wide-ranging porch conversation - which only concluded shortly before 2 a.m. - while listening to music from 1969, the year he'd graduated high school.

That meant everything from the Beatles to Norman Greenbaum. "I wonder if he'd have had more hits if he'd changed his name?" Pru mused.

That kind of late night meant the morning came quickly, all the more so because I'd promised Hot Dog that he could walk with me after he'd emailed asking if I'd take him on a fun walk. The "fun" part was undoubtedly meant to convey that he wasn't up to another serious walk like the one I'd taken him on during a previous visit when I'd led him all over Manchester and back, to the tune of 6+ miles and a man who needed a nap afterward.

Today's was far more circumspect in length, less because of his request than that I needed to get back to pack my car and head out to the Outer Banks. That's right, it was another chance to set Summer in motion by returning to the little cottage I rent every year.

Hot Dog was good enough to help me load my car up after the walk and then Uber whisked him away and I headed to the ocean, stopping only at Adam's Country Store for an RC Cola (which the owner was kind enough to open for me) and a bag of local peanuts.

I enjoyed both as a I drove, following an older Jeep with faded OBX license plates, a bumper sticker that read, "Local as it gets" and another sticker that said "Tunnel Pass."

When I got to the bridge in Currituck, it turned out to be a throwback crossing because the old span is being renovated, meaning both directions are traveling on the same bridge, which is how I remember getting to the Outer Banks as a kid, but not in recent decades.

Then I got to the cottage, the same one I've been staying at since the early '90s and, yet again, time has marched on. Every year, the real world (the 21st century one) encroaches a little more on my favorite cottage, this year evidenced by a keyless entry (no more going to the realty office to pick up keys) and a new window a/c unit in the living room (bedroom units were put in 4 years ago, much to  my dismay).

Clearly I'm the last person on earth who wants a true old school beach experience sans TV, conditioned air and phone.

Today was cool, but the ocean breeze was stellar - briny and brisk - and the sky so dark blue it almost hurt your eyes to stare at it. The cottage next door is occupied, but most of the ones around here are not, making for an especially low-key start to Summer at the beach with my usual crew.

After a late dinner, everyone headed outside to admire the full moon aka the pink moon that signals the start of a new season, one I've been eagerly awaiting. Some might say that the only thing missing was Pimm's Cup Jello shooters with which to toast such a gorgeous night sky.

Personally, I'm not wishing for a single thing with my best Summer ever beginning. My invisible bumper sticker reads, "Happy as it gets."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Never Being Boring

We went out to laugh and laugh we did.

How can you not laugh at the idea of a Free Love Nursing Home? You know, the kind of place that plays the Pet Shop Boys all the time because the Sixty and Sexy crowd still dig it. Now imagine a cuddle puddle of residents doing Jello shots in a king-size bed, while one taps his vein and bellows, "This IV's empty, Nurse!"


I was supposed to be at a potluck birthday party and concert tonight and then yesterday it was switched to last night, a shame since I already had plans for last night. So with a free night staring me in the face, I asked Mac to join me at Comedy Coalition for a good laugh.

The Man About Town greeted us in the lobby, bowing low and juggling a beer. We talked about how neither of us was at the International Film Festival or the opening of the new Valentine Museum exhibit, yet here we we were on a Friday night, eager to chuckle at the very least and secretly hoping for major belly laughs if we were really lucky.

The Daily Mix, the clever group of improv comedians who'd had us in stitches with their Free Love Home sketch, were merely the warm-up for "Sounds Good To Me," an improvised piece of musical theater that had another, larger group making up and singing songs on the spot, while accompanied by two guitars, a drum box and a shaker.

The audience suggested the location of the sketch - a carnival - and they were off and running.

There were times Mac and I were laughing so hard we were doubled over and couldn't even watch what was unfolding onstage. I love to laugh anyway (on my recent sistertrip, one had commented that I laugh at everything, a slight exaggeration) so tonight was a golden opportunity to let it out after a busy, productive week.

The carnival sketch involved disgruntled clowns, an elephant living in knee-high poop, a greedy carnival owner and his capitalistic fairy godmother, carnival worker protests, imaginary red noses and corn dogs, lots and lots of trampled corn dogs.

Undoubtedly the high point was the Sexy Dance, which hysterically allowed everyone onstage to show off their good and bad dance moves (as Mac so profoundly put it, "We've all got them both") while the woman doing the Sexy Dance undulated in ways that were both reminiscent of the King of Pop and are now seared into my brain for eternity.

And while she was singing and dancing that improvised masterpiece, Mac and I were cracking up so hard we almost couldn't breathe. The kind of laughter where you don't even hear the next funny line because you're still laughing so hard.

But it's no surprise, really. These are the same people who, after the city mounted an Arts District sign on the new bus stop across from them, posted: "It's official. Guess we gotta start making art now."

News flash: they already are. As Robin Williams so succinctly said, "Comedy is acting out optimism."

How could someone like me not love a good evening of comedy? Have we met?

Snazzy, Brassy and Razamatazzy

We started with three dames, one guy and finished up with four dames, one guy. Estrogen flowed.

From a table all the way in the back of Metzger, we sipped Hugl Rose while destroying the Restaurant Week menu course by course. That it was done to a killer soundtrack by Mr. Fine Wine only guaranteed that there was no place I'd rather have been, despite the RW hordes.

Crab croquettes rested on a wave of honeyed skyr (the Icelandic dairy product that's not sure if it's a cheese or yogurt) that had me wanting to lick the plate while Pru announced about her pierogi with peas, quark and mint, "I could eat an entire bowl of these."

My roast chicken alone was out of this world, but the rye berries and pops of pickled celery elevated it to fancy chicken, while Beau's ramp tagliatelle starred black trumpet mushrooms, black garlic, breadcrumbs and a cured egg yolk and could not have been any fresher tasting. Queen B swooned over her enormous wiener schnitzel, while Pru was bested by a massive pork chop with spaetzle and pork jus.

Metzger is not for the faint of appetite, even with so-called RW portions.

Much of the dinner conversation was given over to the impending visit of Burger, a family friend of Pru and Queen B's whom I've already met several times, enough times to eat multiple meals, take him on one of my death walks and go dancing with him (the others having opted out). With his return this time, we discussed ways to amuse him without leaving him so worn out he requires a nap after every activity (aka middle aged man syndrome).

Desserts of mint panna cotta and dark chocolate tortes took us into the dining room's busy hour as the place filled up around us with intentional Restaurant Week patrons. We, on the other hand, had been unaware walking, rolled the dice won handily.

For me, the musical high point of the evening was hearing through the grapevine from one of the owners that as long as Metzger is open, Mr. Fine Wine will be playing. Period. As if I wasn't already a devoted fan of the kitchen, no restaurant in town has a soundtrack that can compare.

It was only once the dessert plates had been cleared that we looked at the time and realized we had more than enough to order another bottle of Rose and linger to the vintage soul music playing. Our server looked askance, as if she'd never heard of people ordering wine after dinner, but brought it anyway.

It's certainly not the first time I've walked out of a restaurant with a corked bottle in my bag and I feel quite certain it won't be the last.

Our evening's preliminary entertainment was "Dames at Sea," a 70s spoof of glitzy Busby Berkley-style musicals like "42nd Street" that Swift Creek Mill Theatre had last staged 26 years ago.

Hmm, let's see, 1992, I was living a wholly different life than today but I'd also never seen "Dames at Sea" and I love a good dancing-focused musical. This one had the all the usual tropes: fading star, wide-eyed kid fresh off the bus from Nowheresville, a couple of  peppy sailors and a chorus girl with a heart of gold.

I can't help but appreciate a musical that begins with an overture and the 8-piece orchestra added much to the musical numbers such as "That Mister Man of Mine," with the Pru-appropriate lyric, "He wants me back but he can't afford me." Few can, my dear, very few.

"When it comes to naval affairs, I've been compared to John Paul Jones," says Mona, the aging diva, who only liked men of experience and rank to steer her rudder. Pru and I concurred on the value of such a stipulation.

The second act was even more fun than the first, set, as it was, on the USS Courageous with a sign near where we were seated that read, "Poop Deck" with an arrow pointing off stage away from actors in lederhosen and dirndl skirts tapping their hearts out.

Let's just say that a good time was had by all.

Naturally, we closed out the evening on Pru's screened porch at the manse, a given because of the temperate weather and how long it had been since we had a good catch-up session. Joining tonight's rap session was a newcomer and former Church Hill resident who's recently moved out past Varina.

It was fascinating watching her take in our whirlwind of a conversation with its constantly changing focus (if you can't keep up, just excuse yourself and go to bed) and emphasis on experiences and opinions.

Next thing I knew, Beau was pulling out an old photo of himself - easily 40 pounds heavier and without the magnificent swoop to his hair that he now dazzles strangers and friends alike with - and talking about how he ended up a svelte, stylish man about town. Spoiler alert: Pru had a hand in it, having somewhat tactfully suggested that he could dress more to his advantage with a few changes.

We stayed far later than probably any of us intended on a school night, so the thunderstorms were just starting to roll in as I left Church Hill and drove home through deserted streets that will soon be even quieter as the students in my neighborhood clear out.

Even better, my conversational affairs are soon to go from idling back to 100 mph with May kicking in. Can. Not. Wait.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tell It To Me Slowly

Give me Constable-like skies and I will rise to the occasion.

I will walk bare-legged to the river to hear it roar.

I will spend the afternoon planting flowers in my garden because, with 20 hours of rain in the last day and a half, the soil is easy to dig and the bare spots are calling for color. It's not misting, but there's definitely moisture all around, and it's somewhere in between warm and cool.  The air feels like no temperature at all.

I will take two hours to add dozens of annuals and perennials to my pocket garden, mostly in spots south of the heirloom pink rose bushes and west of the miniature rose that came with the garden.

I will get overly warm, damp from mist and finish up fully filthy under a moody sky.

I will feel like I'm driving into a storm as we head east to Church Hill for dinner under dramatically-lit sunset clouds.

I will taste Spring with Dutch & Co.'s chilled pea soup with practically a salad on top in the way of chili shrimp, peanuts and pea shoots. I will sample braised beef cheek, while eating salmon rillette and fried chili cauliflower. I will share a stroopwaffle with caramel, all accompanied by La Galope Rose.

I will listen to records with Holmes and Beloved for the first time since before Thanksgiving and I will want to hear the Zombies. From the opening notes of  "Time of the Season," I'm reminded not only of how effortlessly cool sounding it was, but how well it's held up. It's 50 years old, for cryin' out loud.

I will stand in the street when I leave Homes' house to study the still painterly clouds trying to unsuccessfully block the moon in the night sky.

I will remember how Beloved asked me if it was all worth it and I said an unequivocal yes without hesitation.

I will appreciate again of what a beautiful Constable day it was.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Of Heart Shaped Potatoes

What a delightfully rainy day today was.

The most challenging part of my lovely walk was keeping an eye on street puddles because drivers certainly weren't and they had the ability to spray a poor walker on the sidewalk from 20 feet away. Today's weather was ideal writing weather and I banged away for hours, completing more work than I've finished in a week (it's been a busy week, er month, er, couple of months).

Come evening, Mac came to pick me up to drive through rain-crazed traffic for dinner in service of my hired mouth. By that I mean it took 40 minutes to drive what should have taken about 17. After speeding home (I love her, but she's the first to tell you she has a lead foot), we ditched the car and hoofed it to the Grace Street Theater for the final screening of the VCU Cinematheque series.

Whether it was the non-stop showers or that it was the last movie of the year and students are already mentally checking out, the theater had noticeably fewer students tonight and more members of the community (that's code for middle aged adults).

Never fear, though, some students were there, including the girl a couple rows back with wet feet. When her friend commented on them, asking why she hadn't worn waterproof shoes, her response was, "I'm sorry. I'm bougie and I like comfort." Clearly she didn't understand that being bougie meant aspiring to a higher class, not a lower.

The visiting film professor who introduced "The Gleaners and I" told us it was his favorite documentary ("Not to set the bar too low") and, as a certified documentary dork, I considered that high praise. He also made sure we knew he'd voted in the 2014 Sight and Sound poll that had rated "The Gleaners and I" as one of the top 10 documentaries of all time.

Alright, already, show the film. We wouldn't be here if we didn't think it was worth seeing. Even a bougie college girl couldn't miss the fact that he was a major fan of French director Agnes Varda, whom he characterized as having a horror of perfection.

Mine is more of a disdain than a horror.

Appropriately, the film began with a discussion of Jean-Francoise Millet's "The Gleaners," a major painting I know solely from books because it resides at the Musee d'Orsay, the one major Parisian museum I didn't make it to. Mac. on the other hand, had.

The painting was the jumping off point for Varda to take her small digital camera (the film was shot way back in 2000) into actual French potato fields once the machinery had harvested and the local gleaners arrived to scavenge what's left, namely potatoes too big or small for the marketplace.

Then she introduces us to a 2 Michelin star restaurant chef who, taught by his grandparents to glean, picks the herbs he needs for his kitchen from a nearby hill rather than pay an exorbitant markup for them at the market.  Besides, this way he knows the exact provenance of what he serves. A different kind of gleaner.

In Burgundy, we see unharvested grapes lying on the ground because of an edict in the late '90s prohibiting gleaning in Burgundian vineyards for fear their grapes will be used in lesser wines. No gleaning allowed.

For one memorable scene, Varda is shown plucking over-ripe figs off a tree and sucking the fruit out before tossing the rinds into the air. She giggles, saying come of the fruits are so ripe they've gone to alcohol. "I'm going to get tipsy!"

A lawyer in formal robes carrying a red book of penalties explains the rules of gleaning: it must be done only after the harvest and solely between sunrise and sunset. People in bars and cafes share tales of growing up gleaning.

We are shown urban gleaning after markets close (with advice to look for trash cans near bakeries), artists who glean for materials (painters and sculptors), orchard gleaning and those who glean by rummaging through cast-offs left on sidewalks.

Mac and I could relate totally to the residents of an island who waited until after a storm or an especially low tide to collect oysters. The local oyster companies asked only that they stay a certain distance from their poles and only collect a certain amount (whether that was 7 or 11 pounds per person seemed to be up in the air), but no one seemed overly concerned with enforcement.

Even Varda calls herself a gleaner, collecting, as she does, images and information that tell her where she's been (heart shaped potatoes, a clock without hands) as she shot this film.

Walking home, we chatted about the notion of gleaning and whether it happens in this country beyond dumpster-diving and alley gathering. Mac's guess was that if it does, its immigrants, not mainstream America doing it.

Not to set the bar too low, but isn't gleaning just old school terminology for zero waste? And shouldn't we all be on board with that? Personally, I'm broke, not bougie and I'd love to be gleaning oysters, figs and Burgundian grapes if I could.

And as long as I'm there, I may as well shoot for the Musee d'Orsay, too. I'm ready for my close-up, Monsieur Millet.

Monday, April 23, 2018

There is No Linear Answer

"Every decision you've ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes."

It was a last minute decision that landed me at a play about how each decision we choose produces a new outcome.

No telling what might have happened if I'd made a different decision, but it couldn't possibly have been as rewarding or entertaining as seeing a play that begins with a repeated discussion of licking your elbow.

TheatreLAB's Cellar series was previewing "Constellations," an award-winning two-person play about not just meeting someone and falling in love, but all the variations in how that could play out. The beauty of the story was that with each scene in the relationship of a beekeeper and a quantum physicist, we got to see a host of outcomes based on word choice, inflection or attitude.

You better believe I saw the correlation to real life.

Besides it being the fastest hour of science and romance I've ever spent in a theater, I apparently needed to be there to up my science smarts learning about multiverses as opposed to universes. But where it really got under my skin was in thinking how we choose to respond to every single conversation can result in wholly different endings. It's all about choice.

When every scene (meeting at a barbecue, making love the first time, proposing) backs up for a replay, the characters move to an alternate universe where they have another chance to have that conversation again with different results. Tedious as that could sound, it's actually wildly compelling, all the more so for how the two seem to grow closer experiencing each possibility.

Audra Honaker played the physicist with all the nervy, repressed energy of a woman with more to offer than she'd had the opportunity to share, with beekeeper Trevor Craft's easygoing vulnerability providing the ideal complement. And I have to say, in a play where lines are repeated over and over, having two strong actors who can create entire new scenarios from the same words is nothing short of riveting.

At times I felt like I was at a tennis match, my head turning side to side to fully absorb whichever actor was speaking, though the best scenes were those where I could watch the one react to the other's lines because the interplay between them was completely engaging.

Walking out, the woman behind me said to no one in particular, "I love that play!" and I couldn't resist seconding that opinion, even though it was my first time seeing it.

Truth is, I'm sorely tempted to go back again just to watch these two flex their well-toned acting muscles creating serious onstage chemistry. Oh, sure, and to further my understanding of multiverses.

But let's be real, these days I'm also inordinately fond of being reminded of life's infinite possibilities. It is all about choice.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bump and Lick

It may be a new land speed record. Mac and I crammed dinner and a play into two hours and 20 minutes.

We'd chosen My Noodle & Bar for speed and proximity (to the Firehouse Theater), only to have them let us down with the former.

Oh, our steamed dumplings showed up promptly enough, but it took forever for our entrees to arrive and by the time they did, we had about ten minutes to eat what we could, stuff the rest into boxes, pay our tabs and walk briskly around the corner to the theater, where we stashed our leftovers under the seats.

For those who claim that the problem with eating Asian food is that you're hungry an hour later, I can recommend this method of dining because it conveniently provides for a second meal an hour later, just when you're craving it most.

We were at the Firehouse Theatre for Nu Puppis' production of "One in Four," a new work that the group had created and first staged at the Capital Fringe Festival in D.C.  That it involves aliens is no surprise for a group whose mission is to cultivate the kind of culture required for life in space using performances on Earth.

Both Mac and I had been huge fans of Nu Puppis' satirical production of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" a few years back, so we were eager to see what fresh madness they'd come up with this time. Simple answer: more hilarity. "One in Four" concerned four aliens sent to earth to accomplish various tasks and somehow, some way, all ending up sharing an apartment in Portland with a perpetually locked front door.

Naturally, they're each trying to hide the fact that they're aliens and of course they're completely unaware that their new roommates are aliens, too. But, let's face it, who else totes around a bag of raw meat for which they're not sure of the purpose? Or carries around a stand-up cutout of Robin Williams? Or gets nipple rings? Oh, wait, never mind.

Presented under the Firehouse Fringe banner, the four young actors adeptly massaged the audience's funny bone with unexpected lines, physical humor, outrageous interactions and their standard greeting: a bump with the head on the other person's hand and then a full lick up the arm.

There were also inside theater jokes ("Hmm, how do I start this thing? I'm really bad at exposition.") and cheesy TV references (After pouring a bottle of water on a passed out guy's head, "I saw that on Full House! It should have worked." When a second bottle does nothing, "Damn you, Bob Saget!").

One of the group's strengths is the infinitely flexible body of Dixon Cashwell, who seems to be able to fold himself into the smallest possible configuration and bend in ways humans can't.

The aliens made observations on the human condition ("You can't be the only emotionally stunted person on the planet!") and cracked wise with millennial humor about multiple piercings and pink hair ("I just made a bunch of poor, hasty decisions, okay?").

Like naughty children, they used the unlikeliest word for a straight and a gay alien playing charades (She: "I never thought you'd get "vagina!'" He: "I don't normally.") and more winking inside jokes, like after a lovely two-woman rendition of "Danny Boy" ("Such a beautiful song...and in the public domain!").

And with enough exposure to each other trying to act human, there was the standard existentialist musings ("If I were smarter, this would be commentary.") while another character lay face down on the floor for the second time tonight.

The audience ate it up, laughing loud and long at almost every interaction, even when an actor was doing no more than yelling "Fuuuuuuck!" Shoot, I can hear that any time I want by just opening up my windows to the sounds of Jackson Ward.

Mac and I reserved our chortling for the truly funny bits, of which there were plenty, many of them so casually tossed off by the capable young cast that they became even more hilarious.

Since this is Sunday, here's my commentary. A great big "Yaas, queen!" for Nu Puppis, with leftover Thai afterward.

Enjoyed in record time, I might add.

Welcome to the Cottage

Visit often enough and you stop being a guest and start being family. Or so they tell you.

Although I'd gotten up at 6 and briefly admired the sunrise of complementary blues and oranges on the river, I didn't officially get up till after 9 and then it was to find my host still abed and my hostess (and girl crush) contentedly sipping coffee by the river-facing windows.

I sat down near her to start our all-day conversation while she sipped and I ate oatmeal, an exchange that lasted until the man of the house emerged to say, "Karen, we're going to have to have an uncomfortable conversation" as if about to share dire information.  Not even close. You don't have parents on the Northern Neck for over three decades without hearing the "inadequate plumbing" admonitions on a regular basis.

Honestly, I was flattered. Guests don't get the toilet paper lecture, fam does.

Once the love of his life and I set out for a walk - a must for me after not getting one yesterday - nothing was going to deter us, not people speeding by us leaving us to eat their exhaust, not my friend realizing that her shoes were inexplicably rubbing blisters on her heels, not wind gusts that made it feel like March instead of almost May.

Five plus miles later, I'd walked two new roads, lamented a tract of land that had been clear cut since my last visit and heard stories about the families who play musical houses rather than stay in the same one for long.

That said, I'm still getting used to being here off-season. Ordinarily, we'd get back from walking and start packing up to get on one of the boats, but despite having seen a few head out this morning, it was far too chilly for warm weather chicks like us to even consider any boat time.

Deck time, though, was well within our lounging capabilities, especially with libations in hand and seagulls providing an aerial show.

After that, we had no choice but to get cleaned up because company was a-coming and I wouldn't want to look like the seedy member of the clan to new folks. Now that I've been privy to deep, personal conversations between the happy couple on multiple occasions, I have a duty to represent the family well. Or at least as well as I can.

Coming to dinner were a judge and a former teacher who arrived with reinforcements - a bottle of French Rose, beer, a savory chili cheesecake with guacamole and a chocolate caramel torte - to accompany the steaks and kielbasa being grilled, along with pork tenderloin, twice-baked potatoes and the mesclun salad with blueberries, red onions, candied pecans and craisins in raspberry vinaigrette that awaited them.

It was enough food for Cox's army (as my Richmond grandmother used to put it, not that I've ever known who Cox was), so once we all sat down, we were there for the duration as the evening light became dusk and then dark.

Quickly taking center stage was the former teacher, who told us her favorite thing to make for dinner was reservations, complained about the roving coyotes who live in her neighborhood and disparaged the man in charge of the free world, at least until her husband reminded her that she'd voted for him ("I was tired of the way things were and I thought he'd change things," she said weakly).

Truth be told, I believe it was my first meal with anyone who'd voted for the groper-in-chief.

The judge, on the other hand, was droll and mustachioed, but also wise and succinct. Talking about his daughter's current relationship foibles, he said he'd offered only one piece of advice.

"Relationships should make you happy...most of the time," he'd said with all the gravitas you'd expect from a judge. Chiming in was my very happily married hostess, who added, "And it shouldn't be that hard," to a chorus of amens.

None, by the way, louder than mine. As my charming host likes to say about having found his true love, "It was a crooked path that led straight to you."

Now I know it's the one time the path matters less than the destination. Arrived, as Siri would say.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Three Times the Fun

If you plan it, they will pile on. Fortunately, there's muscle memory.

First came the plans to spend the weekend at the best cottage on the Carrotoman River with a favorite couple. Then I got a side job that required a Friday afternoon interview in White Stone. Next thing I knew, the publisher of a magazine I write for needed help proofing and writing captions, sidebars and calendar picks, lunch included. Finally, my Mom asks if I can come by Sunday to help with some spring cleaning chores.

I have visions of us beating rugs with brooms, kerchiefs tied around our heads, while birds sing in the trees, but I have a feeling that's not the reality.

When I headed out this morning, it was with supplies for four different outings and a feeling that April is slipping through my fingers. Eager as I am to get to May (and heaven knows I am), I marvel at how quickly the month is rushing by.

The proofing and last-minute writing gig was a throwback to my years as managing editor of a couple of local papers and though it's been a dozen years since I experienced the monthly production crunch just before printing, it was an easy job to fall back into. Some skill sets are so deeply ingrained that flexing them is effortless.

But unlike those years when I was in charge, it was someone else's job to go get the lunches, incidentally from Car Wash Café, a place I'd long planned to check out. I gave points for how peppery the chicken salad was, as well as for the beet salad, not often seen as a side.

Working in a conference room at a table across from the art director (busy designing last minute ads, natch), it didn't take long for me to realize how used to working alone I am. Time after time, I'd find myself softly mouthing words I'd just written to get a feel for the flow or even burping after an especially loud swig from my water bottle, with no regard for the woman working across the table from me.

Out of practice at playing well with others, you might say. Or excuse me, whichever.

Best of all, when I walked out of there, I had no responsibility to ensure that the files made it to the printer. Running the joint is overrated.

My interview involved a woman who'd bought a large old house for a small price and then furnished it completely for next to nothing with finds from local thrift stores, things like a Waterford crystal vase for $2 or a marble table that sat ten for $50. Some of the furnishings had been bought for such ridiculously low prices that she'd left the price tags on them so people would believe what she paid for them.

According to her, you just don't expect a cut glass bowl etched with "U.S. Senate" to go for $3. I would question why anyone needs a cut glass bowl etched with "U.S. Senate," but no one asked me.

When that interview ended, I was finally on my way to the cottage and some R & R with two of the most enjoyable people I know. I arrived to find the man of the house napping and the lady of the house sipping red wine and eagerly awaiting my arrival, just the greeting every visitor hopes for.

Being a decorator herself, she was eager to hear about both the Northern Neck houses I'd been in lately so I obliged with drawings and long-winded stories while she poured Menage a Trois Rose and joked about buying it in my honor. If nothing else, we knew it would pay us back in quips all night.

To celebrate having taken a half day off, she'd shopped for the makings of an indulgent shrimp, pasta and sundried tomato dish that starred butter, half and half and Parmesan and only required constant stirring for the length of a conversation about women needing to feel appreciated.

We were cooking up a storm, sipping our pink and covering vast swaths of the past four weeks since I'd last been here when all of a sudden, we spotted the man of the house standing behind us silently. When she asked what he was up to, he claimed to be doing nothing more than admiring the view and noting what a fine time we were having.

When we sat down to dinner, my host insisted I take a seat facing the river and then moved from across from me so his head wouldn't block my view. When he got up for a beer, asking if we needed anything, I had three words for him: menage a trois.

It was worth it as much to hear my hostess erupt in laughter as to get more California Rose.

But all of that was just prelude to the main event. Since my last visit, the manly one had sunk multiple ladders in the river in a dubiously safe procedure to erect a platform on a post for a couple of local ospreys, who'd moved to their luxurious new digs within two days of the vacancy sign going up. By the time of my arrival today, it was clear that the lovebirds had not only moved in, but made a few improvements of their own.

Understandably, the maker of their new crib was busting his buttons over his accomplishment as we admired the birds cozying up to each other. Life changed and they adjusted.

Ain't love grand?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hard Working and Good Looking

I've always known I was a sapiosexual.

It's the reason I've never really had a "type" and why I can't just look at a group of men and say, "I'm attracted to that one." But show me your brain with a healthy glimpse of wit and I'm a sucker.

So when Mac and I were making plans for tonight, she chose one event and I chose another, secure in the knowledge that the other would enjoy our choice just as much as we did. And if we hated both, at least there were fish tacos and fried chicken thighs in between.

We met at the Branch Museum for the Design Month opening reception, where the coolest piece was in the front courtyard. Meggie Kelley's "Porch" was just that, a colorful structure with some walls and a floor, flower boxes and room for rocking chairs, just not attached to anything. When I got there, two young boys were chasing each other around it, but later the museum director said she intended to have coffee on it every chance she got.

Meggie said her point in making it was to remind us of the importance of porch culture, sitting and talking to friends, neighbors and passersby, but all I could think was that in a town like Richmond that's flush with porches, don't we already know this?

Too obvious?

Inside, it was Rafie Khoshbin's "Daughters of Shiraz" which almost made Mac and I cry as we read about the Iranian women hung in 1983 for nothing more than practicing their Baha'is faith. The sculptural figures of women and the descriptions of the women was a powerful reminder of how far a strong woman will go to defend her beliefs. The installation was truly moving.

But it was the VCU Graphic Design MFA work that elicited the most hilarious comment of the evening. When I commented to Mac that the work seemed like a hodgepodge of familiar elements, she came back with, "Yea, it looks like they can't commit to any one thing." Boom, there it was.

Let's just say we'd get a kick out of being flies on the wall watching these MFA candidates defend their theses. Good luck with that, kids.

Although the Branch opening had been my pick, I couldn't say it was all I'd hoped it would be, so we headed back to Jackson Ward to ditch the cars and walk to Tarrant's Back Door for a quick dinner before crossing the street to the Broad, a co-working and social space for women.

A month ago, Mac had suggested we get tickets for tonight's panel discussion, cleverly title "Mary/Jane: Women and Weed," and while I'd done as I was told and ordered mine, she'd apparently had a brain fart and forgotten to get hers, a fact of which she was unaware until she looked for her ticket on her phone and couldn't find it.

Luckily, the good women at The Broad let her in anyway.

I have to say, the third floor space was very cool and so obviously woman-decorated and focused, never more apparent than with a sign that read, "I'm the CEO, bitch!"

The room was full of women (and one brave man) all eager to light up a conversation about the changing cannabis landscape and this is when my sapiosexualism kicked in big time.

On the panel were three incredibly smart, informed and funny women, all passionate about the subject. Jenn Michelle Pedini is executive director of Virgiia NORML, Siobhan Dunnavant is a state senator and obstetrician and Rebecca Gwilt was a healthcare lawyer.

Together, they schooled us on the history, health aspects and future of Mary Jane in Virginia.

First info out of the gate was about how commonplace weed was until 1937 and by common, that meant it was in every doctor's bag and on every pharmacy shelf. No big deal. Then came "Reefer Madness" and a public awareness campaign to make pot seem as dangerous as opium.

"Now it's used to disenfranchise brown people," Jenn announced and Mac and I knew we'd found our people.

From there, the panel dove into how few women own cannabis businesses (less than 30% and the rest are, you guessed it, white men), what a financial windfall taxing pot is for schools and infrastructure and how many diseases - glaucoma, Parkinson's, MS, autism, Crohn's, cancer - can be treated with weed.

And here's where I really learned a lot and developed girl crushes on all three panelists for their big brains and quick wit. People don't use medical marijuana to get stoned and forget they're sick, they use it because it causes a biochemical reaction that heals and inhibits the growth of more damaged cells (as with cancer). Using a small amount of pot with a low dosage of an opioid produces the same pain relief as a large dosage without the risk of addiction or overdose.

And perhaps most interesting, the future of weed isn't smoking, it's oils, ingestibles and sprays. Why puff when you can eat a pot gummi bear?

I'm telling you, these women dazzled the audience with medical studies, legislative bills, anti-drug history and so many telling facts that I would have listened to them all night, just to admire their big brains.

During the Q & A, an older woman with glaucoma asked about getting medical Mary Jane and was told that soon she'll be able to get a prescription from her doctor now that Virginia has passed a limited weed bill (31st in the nation to do so and nobody saw it coming).

When she politely asked where she'd then get it filled, a couple people in the crowd called out, "DC!" Her response was, "Where in DC? Can I get a map?" and the room cracked up.

The discussion ended with recommendations about what we could do to further the cause, starting with thanking our legislators for what they've done so far, then telling them to take it further next year. After all, being 31st is still better than being last.

Meanwhile, Mac takes the prize for picking the best part of tonight's outing and exposing me to the wide world of weed, not to mention my newest big-brained girl crushes.

It's simple, really: I'm a sapiosexual, bitch.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Punctuality Violations

To be punctual or not to be punctual, that is the question.

After dinner in service of my hired mouth, Mac and I headed to Northside for House Story, a chance to tour Hollybrook, a Gordon Van-Tine kit house from 1912, and hear from its owners about the stately home.

Because Mac and I like to snoop around strangers' homes.

Despite arriving moments after 6:00 when the event began, there were already lots of cars parked out front. Approaching the deep front porch - complete with living and dining areas on either side - we stopped to be checked in and wound up lingering to admire the magnificent porch. It was if there were two entire additional rooms on the front of that house, albeit with only one wall, a sheer curtain for another and open on the other two sides.

Once ushered inside the house, we made our way from room to room to admire the details of house kit life. The idea that we were inside a home that had originally arrived in Richmond on a box car in 12,000 pieces was hard to wrap our heads around. This was no CLH (a technical term we heard for "crummy little house") but a very stately, obviously highly customized kit house.

Having been built in 1912, it boasted one of my favorite qualities in a home: cross ventilation, thanks to scores of generously-sized windows - including on either side of the front door - that opened. Even bathroom windows were as wide as doors, not like those stingy little windows that became all the rage once air conditioning was standard issue.

This kit house had three floors with an artist's studio on the top floor, accessed by a curved staircase. Even with my limited knowledge of kit houses, I'm pretty sure that wasn't part of the original plan. In fact, there were so many stylish upgrades - a winding staircase, ornate tiled fireplace and wooden detailing - that it was clear that this was more of a launching pad for a kit house than anything ever seen in a catalog.

Here's where our punctuality got questionable. We'd toured the entire house twice, but it still wasn't time for the speakers, so we looked for ways to kill time, eventually settling into the living portion of the front porch to chat. "Yea, next time we don't need to be so punctual," Mac noted.

Her point was valid.

Eventually, the current owners took to the steps to regale us with what they knew about the house, which they'd bought in 1998 while expecting their third child. The real estate agent had been a half hour late, leaving the husband to cool his heels on the porch, but by the time she arrived, he was completely sold on the porch and told her he knew he'd have to buy the house to get it.

The couple apologized for the state of the large yard because, unlike the original owners, they aren't devoted gardeners. "Actually, we're in clear violation of Virginia state policy because we have only one azalea," the wife joked.

Kit house expert Rosemary Thornton spoke next, getting a laugh when she said, "For an architectural historian, I get an awful lot of hate mail." She went on to explain that the kits were dropped off at railroad stations within a mile or two of their destination and the purchasers had 48 hours to move the 12,000 pieces home. Her pronouncement? "This is a very grand kit house."

What she said.

After the talk, we headed out into what was a perfectly gorgeous evening, still sunny and 70 degrees, but Mac had been at work since 7 a.m. and was finished. I thought I was too, at least until I got home and couldn't think of a single reason not to walk over to Black Iris for music courtesy of their Tiny Bar series. The Scott Clark 4-tet was playing and I've been a fan of his for a decade.

Walking into the gallery, I was greeted by Scott and the man behind the Tiny Bar series, who cocked an eyebrow and said, "Karen, it's been a minute. How are you?"

Seems I can't go anywhere these days without my recent absences being noted, but despite that, the three of us fell into conversation about doom jazz (new to me), Scott's upcoming record release and art show (I own one of his paintings) and, most importantly of all, when was tonight's show going to start? Since it's common knowledge, my preference for punctual shows came up, leading to the inevitable point: why punish the punctual and reward the latecomers?

Because that's the way the music world works in Richmond, Karen, that's why.

But an executive decision was reached that the show would go on at 8:15 and I was invited to walk upstairs through the studios and admire my host's woodworking skills by checking out some furniture he'd made to kill some time until then.

Afterward, I headed to the tiny bar and ran into several familiar musician faces. For a change, there were no candles illuminating the tiny bar, but the lights were soon dimmed for the Scott Clark 4-tet's performance, but not before we were reminded of the rules: respect the performers and please, no flash photography.

Playing a combination of original material ("Quiet" featured a magnificent bass part set to hushed drumming) and covers, including the second movement of Sibileus' Second Symphony, which Scott had heard on a classical radio station (only because he couldn't find any baseball on the radio) and decided to arrange for the quartet, the band dazzled the crowd.

I especially liked when the trumpet player went up on his toes when blowing a particularly high note.

When they finished, I chatted with the sax player who'd recently read "The Gig Economy," a subject he and I know well. He was curious if I ever got work as a result of my blog (yep), but I explained that I also get work because of the work I've already done. We agreed no one works a job for life anymore, so it's all about figuring out how many different ways you can earn money.

Then it was back to music with New York City's Signal Problems, a four piece who'd come to play one longer piece called "Love Letter" in an intimate setting. That involved the musicians doing spoken word ("Regrettable," "Please pick up," "Heart," "Say I'm sorry") between and sometimes over the music part of the piece. They even made the room work for them when the trumpeter would move side to side keeping time, causing the century old floor to creak rhythmically under his feet.

At one point, a latecomer pulled out his phone and took a flash photo of the band playing and almost immediately another guy leaned over to him and whispered something. My guess would be, "No flash photography, you idiot!"

And you know what? If he'd been punctual, he'd have known that. Just an observation.

Closet Carpenter Fans Unite

The thing about Beau is that his eyes are always bigger than our stomachs.

Truth be told, we'd planned the evening around our all-consuming desire for Secco's legendary butterscotch pudding and worked back from there because we were both jonesing for it.

A always, the most difficult decision at Secco is what to drink (so many excellent by-the-glass choices), but Beau eventually branched out with a lemony Greek - Bosinakis Moschofilero - while I stayed true to form with Raventos i Blanc "De nit" Brut Rose because every Tuesday night should be so fabulous as to kick off with pale pink bubbles.

It was when we got to the food menu that Beau lost his head and ordered enough food for three, despite the fact that Pru had opted out of our evening's plans. She's also the one who usually reminds him to scale back his ordering, meaning his wants went unchecked tonight.

The lightest of batters made fried squid and rock shrimp over Romesco sauce disappear embarrassingly quickly, while focaccia with onion jam was an indulgent exercise in sweet/savory balance. An entree of grilled asparagus risotto was seriously elevated with pistachio for crunch, preserved lemon for piquancy and Parmesan and a perfectly poached egg for obscene richness.

To put things in perspective about the amount of food that showed up, the only dish we finished completely was the fried squid and shrimp. Pru would have reveled in saying "I told you so," but I said no such thing since such comments are the sole right of a girlfriend, not a friend.

And despite not having finished our meal and going against every dinner rule my mother instilled in us, we ordered butterscotch pudding and not one, but two so neither of us had to share while sipping our Rose course (his Italian, mine French) and mulling the quixotic nature of middle aged relationships and how differently everyone shapes theirs.

During two hours of non-stop conversation, Beau reminded me that the last time we'd been at Secco for dinner in mid-February, he'd expressed amazement that I wasn't attached, even going so far as to wonder how no man had noticed my sterling qualities. He delighted in pointing out what a difference a couple of months makes.

By the time we left Secco at 7:45, just about every seat was taken and the vibe was so lively, you'd be hard-pressed to identify it a a Tuesday evening crowd, a fact that made us both very happy.

Then it was back to my 'hood for TheatreLAB's production of "Moth," where we found seats only to be asked to move because they'd been unofficially reserved. There are worse sacrifices than having to move to the front row for an intimate spot to witness an intense two-person play, much less one starring impressive talent like Kelsey Cordrey and John Mincks.

One of the reasons Pru had given for opting out of joining us was her lack of interest in a play about millennial characters, in this case, anime-obsessed Sebastian and emo Claryssa. Beau and I, on the other hand, felt sure that a play about misfit high school students would resonate no matter the era.

The play was laugh out loud funny in parts - "They're not emos, they're artists!" - and uncomfortably cruel in others, which about sums up high school. The bluster and vulnerability Cordrey and Mincks brought to characters not all that much younger than they are ensured a fast-moving story about the nature of existing outside the cool cliques in those devastating high school years.

Since neither Beau nor I had a cool bone in our high school bodies, we could relate to those years as something to endure rather than some kind of glory days. Hell, I graduated high school a year early to escape that world and its limitations.

And like any good millennial play, it not only had young characters and abundant cell phone usage, but was extremely brief (75 minutes) and without an intermission, clearly the biggest theater trend in decades. On the plus side, that meant we were out on the streets of Jackson Ward by 9:20 and scoring caffeine for Beau at Saison Market shortly thereafter, the better to fuel our tangent-filled conversations ("Wait, what are we talking about?").

During one particularly long-winded, multi-tangential discussion of movies (yes, I walked out of "Alien" and if you know me at all, how can you wonder why?), I invoked Yoda to Beau's amazement. He did the same later when things got so deep he had to stonewall it with, "Evaluate it not," effectively ending that topic.

It was that coffee that provided the necessary jolt to keep Beau interested as I played some of my latest record finds for him - the Brass Ring, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Petula Clark - while he discovered a new term for such music: '60s sunshine pop. We'd already discovered a mutual love of the Carpenters, the epitome of that genre, when "Sing a Song" had played in his car and he'd admitted that he was mocked in high school for his love of their music.

I once heard Chrissie Hynde say that her biggest musical influence was Karen Carpenter and with that kind of benediction from the voice of the Pretenders, I think we can all agree that the Carpenters are retroactively cool, even if we'd never have admitted it in high school.

Of course, I also didn't go to prom, so what do I know about emo angst? Nothing that hasn't been paved over with middle-aged optimism, which, it turns out, was justified all along.

Much luck, I still have.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Setting the Example

The potential was there, but nothing harmful was set off.

Friday, a sunny and warm morning, I was headed to Colonial Beach for one of my annual rites of passage, the sistertrip. My Mom long ago decided that there was no point in having six daughters if they didn't meet up and bond on a scheduled basis, away from other family members and loved ones. Which means that for 16 of the last 19 years, one of the six has planned a long weekend where our loftiest goal is having fun without reducing anyone to tears.

Please note, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Driving past signs for the Explosive Experimental Area near Dahlgren, it occurred to me what an apt metaphor for what I was heading into those signs might be. Our assigned meeting place was Denson's Grocery, a 106-year old grocery store focusing more on the restaurant side than the store side these days.

When I walked in, the host squinted his eyes and asked if I was Karen. When I admitted as much, he gestured and said, "Your friends are at a table outside." Those are no friends, I told him, those are sisters. He chuckled and led me to them.

So began the next 48 hours of non-stop talking, with - sleeping aside - a hefty amount of eating and drinking in between to keep us fueled and loquacious. After lunch, we caravanned to our weekend digs, a compact blue house boasting an impressive deck overlooking Monroe Bay and a pair of nesting swans, with Colonial Beach proper visible across the water.

Best of all, the deck shielded us from others in the neighborhood and the bay allowed our overly loud conversations to drift over to the swans without sharing all our secrets with the neighbors. Naturally we modified the deck to best suit our needs at any given time, adding an umbrella for the table at peak sunny times, rearranging the seating when the sun moved and adding wraps and throws for the evening sessions.

Although there are six of us, only five were along for the trip (one having opted out years ago), which is still a whole lot of middle-aged women putting aside their many differences to kick back and enjoy the people our Mom likes to remind us are our closest blood relatives.

Getting together with these women who have known me longer than any friend is a guarantee of almost constant laughter, repeated anecdotes ("That old chestnut?") and amazement at how completely our childhood memories differ from each other's, despite all six of us having been born in a mere 8 year span.

Sure that I'd be interested, two of the sisters showed up with the Washington Post article about the thousands of people who'd waited by the tracks to see Robert Kennedy's funeral train go by in 1968, but I'd already read every word when the piece had come out. Like me, both sisters remembered not only Mom taking us to see that train go by, but finding a honeysuckle wreath that had fallen off the train and feeling like we'd found something special.

Sisters think to share stuff like that, knowing what's part of the collective memory.

We wouldn't be our Mother's daughters if we didn't devote a good amount of our weekend away to planning and making meals - one sister was ambitious enough to do a lobster risotto that took hours - when we weren't snacking, that is. I marvel at how we all came from the same loins and grew up on the same mediocre Mom cooking, yet now have such wildly varying palates.

One of the recurring activities on these weekends are games, some tied to our family history (fill in the street names of the community where we grew up) and others more general ("Kill, Marry or F*ck," a game which requires a bowl full of names from history and pop culture and an open mind). One sister laid out dozen of photos, two each of the same one, so we could play "Memory" and try to locate the matching pictures.

Sister #4 had found the 1966 game "Mystery Date" and we even played that, although I couldn't help but take issue with a game where potential dates dis women if they aren't wearing the proper ensemble for the date he's selected.

All I can say (and did) is thank heavens we moved beyond that world order.

To anyone listening in on our marathon conversations, it might be tough to keep up. We have an abbreviated language that allows us to express thoughts or memories without uttering entire sentences. The men who've married into the family, claim it gives my sisters and me an unfair advantage when playing on the same team.

Undoubtedly true, but I'm here to tell you that as the big sister, it's small consolation for having grown with five younger girls, all eager to use my lip gloss, borrow my clothes and play my records.

Saturday evening, we got cleaned up and went to the High Tides, notable because of the riverfront Black Pearl Tiki Bar that allowed us to wait for a table outside at a bar populated almost entirely by men (and smokers). I wasn't even halfway through my Blue Battleship cocktail (incidentally, more green than blue) when one of the men came over and asked us the same question we've been asked on almost every sistertrip: "You ladies aren't from around here, are you?"

Believe me, it's always that obvious to the locals. After telling us that we were beautiful, he wished us a good weekend and made his way back to his stool as another sistertrip milestone was notched in our lipstick cases. After a leisurely dinner, it was back to the deck.

By the time the wineglasses were empty and the conversation was finally winding down, it was 2 a.m. and everyone but me was marveling that they were still awake at such an hour.

What was even more magical was that unlike in years past, there hadn't been a single careless insult, hurtful word or thoughtless aside to mar the weekend's pleasant vibe. Despite the potential for explosions, not a single one had been detonated.

It takes a long time to appreciate so many sisters. Finally, after 19 years of sistertripping, I wouldn't kill a single one.

What matters is that I'm the oldest, so I'll always be the boss of them. At least for 48 hours a year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Pegboard and Yarmulkes

Tonight was all about the round and the Jewish.

Modern Richmond was opening the doors on the infamous round building at the corner of Thompson and Floyd and as a former Floyd Avenue denizen for 13 years, I was understandably curious about a place I've been by literally thousands of times.

Apparently so were a lot of other people, since I arrived at 5:34 (doors opened at 5:30) and found the 1954 round building, which had originally been built as medical offices, already getting crowded with fans of modernism.

Walking through that magnificent wooden door led to a semi-circular lobby with the original curved benches on one wall and a water feature facing it. At the moment, there's no water, just a curved blue mat to suggest water, but I heard someone say that Ellwood Thompson, the new owners of the building, are planning to restore the water feature. In front of the benches was a low coffee table that echoed the curves of the benches and wall and had been hand-crafted by the doctor's son.

It all looked like something from a '50s movie.

One guy walked in and immediately got a goofy grin on his face. "This was my doctor!" he shared, meaning he knew what it had looked like before ET had renovated it. I give ET credit, though, because they'd remained mostly faithful to the original design, as evidenced by some of the linoleum flooring and blue pegboard cabinet doors.

But easily the most fascinating part of the interior was the ephemera, all framed and hanging on the circular walls. A December 31, 1954 invoice from Laburnum Construction Corporation showing charges of $50,346.00. A drawing of a proposed addition (fortunately never executed)  that looked like a growth three bubbles attached to the back of the building. Letters from architect to assistant about contract bids. And plenty of black and white photographs of the building and interior back when the surrounding trees were young and skinny.

Making my way through the back patio, I overheard a man ask the bartender in the event he used both his drink tickets (which came with the price of admission), would it be possible for him to buy more? Kind of makes you wonder how much he was enjoying modernism if he needed an alcohol drip, but I don't judge. In fact, when I got ready to leave, I found him chatting with a woman and without explanation, handed him my two drink tickets.

"What's this?" he said, confused but looking pleased. Heard you might need some more drinks, I told him, and I'm not using mine. In return, he gave me the full-on grateful stranger smile and I could leave, knowing I had done my good deed for the day. Or enabled a problem drinker, whichever.

After dropping off the car at home, I walked over to VCU Cabell Library for author Jonathan Sarna's lecture on his book, "Lincoln and the Jews." And if I thought Modern Richmond was crowded, you should've seen the overflow masses for the lecture. Additional chairs had to be brought out.

I found one of the very few single seats available and chatted up my seatmate, who, like me, came to Richmond 30 years ago, except after growing up in Michigan and living in New York City for years. Turns out he's a math professor on the medical campus with an interest in Jewish studies. For that matter, I spotted a handful of men wearing yarmulkes on a Wednesday evening. Two rows in front of me was the VCU religion and philosophy prof who used to live two doors down from me on Floyd Avenue.

It's all so inter-connected, isn't it?

Sarna was as funny as a Borscht Belt comedian and as knowledgeable as one of the most prominent historians of American Judaism (which he is) should be and, as lecturers go, absolutely captivating to listen to.

He began by sharing a story of traveling to Jerusalem as a teen with his family and being gobsmacked at seeing a sign for Abraham Lincoln Street. His father stopped a passerby, asking who this man was, not that he didn't know but he wanted their story. The Israelite patiently explained to Sarna and his dad that Lincoln was a prominent Jew from America who'd made a huge contribution to the United Jewish appeal.

And that was only one of the times that Sarna had the audience laughing in between dropping fascinating historical facts on us.

He said that Lincoln's life span coincided with the rise of Jews on the American scene. That Richmond's Jewish community dates back to the American Revolution. That Abe was the most biblically-literate president in U.S. history and had a wicked wit evidenced in his writings

To prove Abe's affinity for the Jews, he showed us a chart detailing 120 of Abe's friends, acquaintances, appointees and the like who were Jewish. Hell, Sarna showed us an 1862 letter from Lincoln saying, "I believe I have not yet appointed a Hebrew" ("That was the first affirmative action!" he cracked) and then doing just that by making a Jew assistant quartermaster with the rank of captain.

But where Abe truly burned brightest in his efforts to be inclusive was with his appointment of the first Jew as military chaplain of a Jewish-led regiment. Only problem was the army turned the appointment down because the law stated that chaplains had to promote Christianity.

So what does Abe do but work behind the scenes to change the law and like a good politician, buries it in a bigger bill giving Union generals a raise because after all, who's not going to vote for that?

So that's right, non-Christians can serve as military chaplains solely because of a law Lincoln shaped. He also omitted any reference to this being a Christian nation in his Gettysburg Address, instead referring to us as one nation under god (any god), a fact which had Sarna making Wiccan jokes.

Talking about Abe's visit here after Richmond fell, he quipped, "You've heard of that, right?" and got a big laugh, but his point was to tell us that while here, Abe met with an important Jewish Richmonder, telling him that he wasn't going to persecute the south but let them off easy as part of his post-war reconstruction plan.

And when he was shot at Ford's Theater, it was a Jewish doctor who cleaned the wound and declared it fatal. It was then that he effectively rested his case: Abe had changed America with his rhetoric and actions concerning the Jewish population.

When the talk ended, Sarna began the Q & A by saying, "This is everything you always wanted to know about Abraham Lincoln and the Jews but were afraid to ask, so ask good questions," delighting the 50+ crowd who knew the reference.

After nothing but guys were given the microphone, he finally asked, "We've had three men ask questions. Are women allowed to ask?" and some female students finally got their turns.

No one wanted the Q & A to end, but the head librarian pointed out that we could probably do this all night (during which I'd expect to hear, "Thank you very much. I'm here all week, try the veal!") except it was time to move on to the reception.

There weren't nearly as many great jokes at the reception as there'd been during the history lecture, although one quip caught my ear: "Once you go Jew, nothing else will do."

I could just hear Sarna's inevitable response had he been standing there. "You've heard of that, right?"

Not until tonight, but it's never too late to learn. We'll call it Lincoln's legacy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

When Walkers Ruled the Streets

No, smart ass, I haven't moved.

My train didn't come in until almost 5:00, then I had emails to answer because the wifi on the train hadn't been working for three hours, so by the time I got cleaned up and found my way to Vasen Brewing (incidentally my first time at that particular brewery), the first film of the double feature was already playing.

I'd missed the last couple Silent Music Revivals, a fact made clear when I walked into Vasen and SMR organizer Jameson greeted me with a hug and a quick quip while the movie played overhead. "Oh, I thought you moved. It's been a while."

Hardee har-har.

He left out the part about how he and his partner Laney - wearing a maxi-skirt closely related to one I wore in the early '70s - had been touring all winter and not even in Richmond (luckily she pointed it out) but it just goes to prove that some friends are hilarious. The next familiar face was Dave Watkins, who was providing the soundtrack to tonight's second film, and who graciously took up residence next to me at the bar where we had a great view of the film "Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis" depicting all kinds of scenes - transportation, nightlife, children, sports, dancing, you name it - from 1927 Berlin.

Crafting an improvised soundtrack was St. Petersburg's Infinite Third, aka Billy Mays, a one man guitar looping machine in the mode of Dave himself and I have to say his spot-on and sprawling accompaniment provided the emotion for a film that came across liker an artistic documentary without commentary. One with no story but one where everyone wore hats, all little girls pushed doll carriages and it was apparently in vogue to spend a lot of camera time lingering on women's legs.

As a devoted student of cultural history, I found one of the most interesting scenes to be a shot of an intersection with motorcars, horse-drawn carriages and people standing in the intersection having extended conversations while traffic nonchalantly moved around them.

Oh, to have been alive when pedestrians ruled the streets like that.

When it finished, Jameson provided a fitting descriptor, saying that if we liked "peaceful, people-watching films," that this was one of a series on different cities done in the '20s. No kidding, I'm sure I'd enjoy seeing some of the others just for the look at how real people were dressing, acting, living.

Thanking the brewery crowd for their attention, he acknowledged a table celebrating a birthday, but Mays took it a step further, inviting the whole table up to collaborate on a birthday song, albeit not a traditional one. Laney kicked it off by singing a soulful happy birthday phrase into the mic and then passed it on to the others from the table so Mays could create a song by looping whatever birthday sentiment or noise they made in with the rest.

Let's just say I don't think the celebrant will be forgetting this year's birthday song anytime soon.

Next up was Dave Watkins, notable because after all these years seeing him play the acoustic and electric dulcitars, tonight we were being treated to his first performance on his latest handmade musical extravaganza: a synthesizer with enough pedals and gadgets to expand his sonic palette in all kinds of new directions. Brilliantly, of course.

That's not to say he didn't play some dulcitar and run it through it, but he also made music solely on the synthesizer, playing keys and turning knobs to complement what we were seeing onscreen with the 1920 German expressionist film "From Morning to Midnight."

In his pre-film chat, Jameson shared that the film was from the same period as "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," a classic silent film I've seen several times and that was patently obvious. Same flat plane kind of effect, same cardboard-looking sets (doors couldn't have appeared any flimsier), same dramatic lighting.

"From Morning to Midnight," though, did have a story that revolved around a beautiful Italian woman needing money and the poor bank clerk who steals it in hopes she'll want to marry him (spoiler alert: she doesn't) once he delivers.

I was especially impressed with how she pulled a letter of credit out of her enormous fur muff (sable would be my guess), causing me to ponder what else she might have stored there. Never underestimate the power of a muff would have been my early 20th century takeaway.

After ditching his good and honest family, he takes the cash and tries to buy happiness (spoiler alert: it doesn't work) by visiting a house of ill repute and betting big time on cycle races, resulting in the film's raciest dialog.

"I want passion for my money!" he demands, slapping $100,000 prize money (from an "anonymous donor") down. When that doesn't satisfy his jones, he slaps $500,000 down and exclaims, "I want to push passion until it's nude!"

Just when I was thinking how racy that must have been for 1920s Germany, a friend pointed out that gay porn got its start there about the same time. No big deal, in other words.

Dave, meanwhile, had shared with me pre-film that after all this winter spent building this new instrument, he'd only gone as far as turning it on to make sure it worked before tonight's show. No practice, no noodling, no nothing.

Which, as anyone who's ever seen a Dave Watkins show knows, means from the moment the film began, he was weaving an audio spell over the crowd with his virtuosity while effortlessly improvising just the right soundtrack for the action, whether our deceitful hero was battling fake snow that appeared to be being thrown by the handfuls, seeing skulls where women's faces really were or redeeming himself with the Salvation Army.

Between my absences at the Silent Music Revival and the months that had passed since I'd last seen Dave play, one thing was painfully clear. It wasn't just that it had been a while, it had been way too long.

Time to get on board with pushing passion until it's nude. Or at least blushing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Time (Clock of the Heart)

Karma's not just a bitch; sometimes karma is downright kind.

When I boarded the sold-out northbound train yesterday, it was to go see a sad friend who'd been recently, unexpectedly and summarily dismissed after nearly eight years in a relationship. Dumped, as some people like to put it. With a bit of experience in that arena myself, I set out to lend an ear and offer some perspective if it was wanted or needed. To be a friend.

Everyone handles a breakup differently but I knew my friend well enough to know she'd be capable of moving on more quickly than I had (though heaven knows practically anyone would) despite the cloud of sadness I'd heard in her voice in late night phone calls.

When she picked me up at the train station, I suspected that we wouldn't get out of the parking lot before diving into the topic du jour, but what I couldn't have anticipated was her enthusiastic response to my comment about dating to escape her doldrums.

It not only made perfect sense to her, she'd met a really nice guy night before last while out listening to live music by herself. They'd spent four hours watching the band, chatting and enjoying each other's company. Hell, he'd even walked her home.

As she was telling me this, she was marveling at how this seemingly terrific guy had just dropped from the sky and wondering if she'd hear from him again. A few hours later, he called to ask her out that evening and although she had a guest (if you can call me that), she didn't hesitate to accept. All I can tell you is that she was practically glowing when she left here.

And praise be, the second date was even better than the first.

Talking about it after she  got home (like pre-teens at a slumber party minus the zit cream and giggling), she marveled at all the things she already liked about him: how complimentary he was and how gentlemanly, how smart he was and how many shared interests they had and, significantly, how strong their chemistry  was.

How, she wondered, had this delightful man come into her life so unexpectedly and yet at an absolutely ideal time for her? How indeed.

My theory? She'd paid it forward with years in a relationship that didn't give her a lot of the things she'd wanted and needed (whether she allowed herself to acknowledge that or not) but wasn't being offered by her partner. Maybe she's taken the lessons learned from that unsuccessful relationship to ensure that this one unfolds in a way that's better for both of them. Or even that there's a lot more to be said for beginning a relationship at middle age than anyone tells you ahead of time.

But even if it's nothing more than dumb luck, there's a beauty to it happening now.

You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need...and when karma's smiling on you, it can be so much better than anything you could have imagined.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Bad Housekeeping, Great Organization

You just never know who'll be a font of pirate information.

It didn't come out right away (the good stuff never does) despite the conversation being instantaneous from the moment Beau, Pru and Queen B came to pick me up for dinner at Brenner Pass. We arrived at 4:59, only to be instructed to cool our heels momentarily at Chair Lift next door where I heard my name called and joined two favorite women artists who were also killing time until BP opened its doors.

Seems to me that should tell a restaurant that perhaps opening earlier - say 4:00 -would garner some bonus drinking business until food is served at 5, right?

With a half dozen visits to Brenner Pass under my belt and the others not far behind, Beau and I agreed that we'd already eaten through a lot of this menu. The good news was that the chef was starting to add spring items to the menu as of the day before, allowing us to zero in on some new tastes, from an antipasto I ordered (and everyone wound up wanting) to an artichoke and Iberico ham starter that gave Queen B a new appreciation for 'chokes.

Although Beau is not the bubbles hound Pru and I are, he graciously agreed to a bottle of Eugene Carrel Cremant de Savoie Brut to accompany our main course of wild boar shank, two bowls of Bolognese bianco (the dish that had elicited Beau's comment, "I want to crawl inside this bowl" the first time he'd experienced it) and pour moi, trout quenelles with creme fraiche and trout roe. Pru turned up her nose at my egg-shaped creamed fish, but I found them decadently rich and a fitting follow-up to the antipasto.

Pru regaled us with tales of the books she'd scored earlier in the day at the main library's big book sale, a pleasure I'd had to forego in order to make a lecture by food writer Toni Tipton Martin at the Virginia Historical Society on "The Jemima Code: What Do We Learn from African-American Cooks Besides the Recipes for Great Pancakes." And, yes, that's exactly what it sounds like, scholarly research on the subject of the black men and women whose cooking shaped this country.

I can't very well be a lecture nerd and peruse the used book stacks, not to mention doing an interview to earn a living, on a day when I'm being collected at 4:45, now can I?

Sometimes Beau and I share a dessert and sometimes he insists on his own and Friday was one of those days when he wanted his own gianduja dark chocolate tart with salted caramel, probably a wise move since I polished off mine with no need of assistance. Queen B's pink grapefruit sorbetto was perfectly lovely, but not what I needed.

From Scott's Addition, we headed north to Hanover Tavern for "At Wit's End," a one-woman play told from the viewpoint of Erma Bombeck, the housewife humorist who was a household name when I was growing up. I remember her writing for Good Housekeeping, a magazine my Mom got and one that never held a bit of interest for me.

Even then, I had a hunch that such publications were directed at another generation and only later learned it was the same demographic to whom Betty Friedan directed "The Feminine Mystique."

The set for "At Wit's End" was immediately familiar to all four of us, what with its front door with the three small rectangular windows (so mid-century), minimal technology kitchen and a noisy soundtrack of multiple children's voices constantly clamoring.

Brief as the play was and overstuffed with Bombeck zingers ("I never met a woman who'd give up lunch for sex") as it felt, the most revelatory element was learning how involved she'd been in the ERA movement (even touring the country to spread the gospel), back when women were once again (post-suffragette period) trying to become full citizens in the eyes of the Constitution,

Oh, wait, we're still trying to accomplish that in 2018.

And of course Erma had a copy of "The Feminine Mystique" in her kitchen, not that she didn't also mock her own life ("Vacuuming! Oh, it's fun, almost like dancing!"). Catherine Shaffner was just the actress to make Erma both believable and compelling enough to carry the entire play.

Back at Pru's manse afterward, we took up residence on the screened porch at Queen B's suggestion, a nod to what a lovely evening it was. Why not take in some night air before the next day's snow?

That's where the subject of pirates came up and Pru rose like cream to the top of the milk, to regale us with her surprisingly abundant knowledge of pirate lore. Walking the plank? Not so much, more of a scare tactic. The one earring? Payment for their coffin. The eye patch? Helps with adjusting to low light when looting at night. The woman was an endless font of obscure pirate facts.

That's certainly not all we talked about - hello, seismic changes over here for some of us - but it was easily the most informative and unexpected. Kind of like everything about my life lately.

No vacuuming and it's fun! Just like dancing, but even better. Much, much better.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Doll, Not Guy

First it was a boxing fan at my side, then it was tonight's star.

When I took the only available stool at 821 Cafe, I had no clue I'd be sidling up to a girl eating a vegan crabcake sandwich (wtf?) and a guy sipping beer and shooting whiskey while extolling the fighting skills of Joseph Parker and Anthony Joshua and lamenting the pitfalls of bare knuckle boxing.

Somewhere in there, my black bean nachos arrived, except that instead of the half order I'd requested, I was staring at a full platter o' nachos without the faintest hope of finishing them. My server apologized for mis-hearing my order, even offering to box up the alarmingly large amount remaining, but we all know nachos don't reheat.

By the time I was leaving, the boxing fan was deep in discussion with another server about Muay Thai and I knew I needed more from any conversation I was going to eavesdrop on than that

Settling in at the Firehouse Theater, I was directly in front of three women disgusted with the widespread use of "you guys" when directed at a mixed or, even worse, all female audience. "How can they look at me and say "this guy here"?" one woman demanded to know. Truthfully, I feel the same way when "dude" is directed at me.

I stopped paying attention to them when a large man sat down next to me and it turned out he was the guest actor in tonight's two-man show, "An Oak Tree." Aaron Anderson explained that he'd just arrived an hour ago, only to have had some basic information relayed to him and an ear mic taped to the back of his neck.

What followed was a play about a hypnotist, played with dimples by Landon Nagel, with Aaron portraying Andy, the father of a young girl accidentally killed by the hypnotist's car. The hook was that while Landon knew his lines, all of Aaron's were either read from a script Landon handed him or repeated after Landon told him what to say or whispered them into Aaron's ear mic. He even told him when to sit, lay down and stand.

Translation: Aaron had no more idea what was going to happen than we did. He'd been expressly told not to research the play and he hadn't, but you don't get to be associate chair of VCU's department of theater without having considerable acting chops even without rehearsal.

His real life cred was also the source of a major laugh when Aaron's character asks the hypnotist what he was and is told, "You're a teacher."

He particularly excelled in a scene where he was hypnotized and told he was naked and that he'd just had diarrhea all over himself. Needless to say, there was a bit of improv involved as he sought to wipe the mess onto Landon.

In one sense, the play was about dealing with grief, with Aaron's character having convinced himself that his daughter was now an oak tree near where he went to sit and think of her. In another sense, it was about the illusion Landon creates, playing the hypnotist, effectively directing the action onstage and even instructing the audience on how we should react.

So we were being manipulated just like Aaron/Andy was.

At one point, Landon asks of Aaron about the action, "Don't you think it's a bit contrived?" and Aaron responds, "Hard to tell from here." While that got a big laugh, it was also an excellent talking point post-play.

Martial arts and faulty gender pronouns aside, the only thing I like as much as a good talking point is a worthy conversation partner. And then there's Pru's rule: don't bring up a topic unless you can go deep.

I wouldn't think of it. Where's the pleasure in that?

The Dangling Conversation

Robert McNamara was the game-changer.

The evening had begun in the sunshine of the front porch, sipping Aime Roquesante Rose and taking in the last of the afternoon's warmth as cars drove by (windows down and music blaring), students walked by in shorts and tank tops and my date explained why his Tuesday night had been lacking.

Since I was in charge of his Wednesday evening happiness, I could take no responsibility for the night before.

Once glasses were drained and preliminary conversation established, we wandered over to Steady Sounds for an hour of browsing the bins and seeing who commented on what records, the better to decide what needed to be folded into the evening.

He scored the first big find, "Spinners Live" from 1975 and that was the start of our stack, not to mention my first indication that I'd lucked into a fellow Spinners fan (Leo, are you listening?). From there we uncovered Cass Elliott (I'm a long-time fan of her voice), Laura Nyro (one of his), a Luther Vandross album I don't have (because Luther), an Emmy Lou Harris (seen her live, never owned her music) and a few other personal faves.

But it was when I came across Simon and Garfunkel's 1966 award-winner "Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Thyme," their third album, that I really got his attention. My only Simon and Garfunkel record is the Greatest Hits, a record I acquired from my parents once they stopped listening to albums. Time to diversify.

Glancing at the song selection, I saw that the album I was holding in my hand had four of the songs that made it to the greatest hits album including the heart-stoppingly beautiful "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her." On top of that, the record had several songs I'd never even heard of, including the aptly '60s-titled, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)."

Okay, let's just reflect for a moment on that magnificent title, shall we?

I would have been impressed solely with the use of "desultory" in the title, but add in "philippic" ("a bitter denunciation") and it's practically a word nerd's wet dream of a song title. But it was the ensuing in-depth discussion of McNamara that sealed the deal. That and his sunny memories of driving across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge hearing "The 59th Street Bridge Song" blasting from the radio.

And while I had no memories to back it up, I was charmed enough by "Music for Dining" by one of Great Britain's most popular orchestras (at least in 1954) and part of a series of mood music albums by the Melachrino Strings that included "Music for Relaxation" and "Music for Reading." Personally, I don't need or want music to read by, but eating, that's another story.

While we were deep in the bins, a friend spotted me and came over to chat. I'd just seen a picture online of her, her husband and baby celebrating their second anniversary at Dinamo, so I asked about what she'd eaten since we were headed there next.

Afterward, my date concluded that our rehashing of their meal had been so thorough and enthusiastic that he felt like he'd already eaten there. We talk good food, she and I.

Our walk to Dinamo was a reminder of how quickly the temperature was dropping, but the interior was warm and offering up all the smells to entice us, not to mention familiar faces. First off was a server friend who'd inadvertently abandoned her leftovers on the bar and rushed back to reclaim them, only to run into me. "Mmm, leftover white pizza," she said, wiggling the box in my direction. I'd come back for that pizza, too.

While we were digging into smoked whitefish crostini, fish soup and matzoh ball soup, I looked up to see Richmond's master puppeteer Lilly (with her partner) looming over me and looking for a hug. Next thing I know, she and my date are talking about art galleries in L.A. while her partner and I are discussing what an amazing installation Lilly has crafted for the opening of the Institute for Contemporary Art. The funny part is, the last time I saw Lilly was at Dinamo. It's like our guaranteed not-so secret meeting place.

By the time I was finishing off the chocolate torte and the last of my wine, the crowd in the dining room had thinned to us and two other tables, one of which had gotten a serenade of "Happy Birthday" earlier. My date was convinced that it wasn't really the guy's birthday, that he just wanted the attention (and the tiramisu with a candle in it), so on the way out, I stopped to ask how old he was turning.

"Forty nine," he admitted kind of sheepishly.

Pshaw, that's nothing, son. Some of us not only remember Robert McNamara, we have the music to discuss him to.

Life, I love you, all is groovy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Talking About Soft Stuff

Hello, April. Surprise me, sure, but please don't fool me.

Mac's been at the ocean, I'd been at the river and we agreed that we were overdue to convene and debrief. It was as easy as me suggesting a gangster movie and her having the bright idea to begin with Giustino's pizza and our date was planned.

When I went to pick her up, it was obvious we were on the same hopeful weather page, since we both showed up in open shoes and jean jackets as if it were 70 degrees rather than 55. I blame it on water-focused weekends and our eternal optimism.

At Galley Market, we joined a much older couple eating dinner at the counter, or rather, him patiently waiting while she, hunched over her plate as if it could be taken away from her at any moment, slowly and methodically chewed each bite while staring at the counter.

I came this close to finally breaking bad and ordering something other than the Bianca pizza I've had every other time, really, I did, especially after spotting a Popeye pizza special (sauteed mushrooms and spinach), but I was saved from leaving my comfort zone when Mac ordered it first, effectively guaranteeing me a Popeye sample.

What are girlfriends for, after all?

I'll tell you what, they're for justifying a dessert both of us were too full to eat but nonetheless managed to devour. Walking toward the Byrd, Mac wanted to duck into Sugar & Twine to get a muffin for breakfast, which is where we spotted a housemade "Little Debbie" and next thing you know, we're looking at walls covered in American scene painter J. Bohannon's canvases and digging into our tower of chocolate and whipped cream.

The only downside? No room for popcorn once we made it to the Byrd. Instead, Mac showed me some of the men currently trying to win her favor online and we marveled at how some men have no clue which photos they shouldn't post if they're hoping for a favorable response.

A surprising number of people showed up for a Monday night gangster film. For a change, there was no introduction, no mention at all of today being the first day of Gangster Month at the Byrd or any fun facts about Edward G. Robinson's starmaker turn in 1931's "Little Caesar." We were on our own with a movie designated one of those that must be seen before we die.

Let's see, '30s cliches abounded: every man wore a hat, most used cigarette cases, wore spats, cops were all Irishmen and the death penalty was carried out with a hangman's noose. Absolutely no background music. And love? "Nothing! Less than nothing! Soft stuff." Tough guy jargon.

When the film ended in a brief 79 minutes, we both marveled at how almost cartoon-like it had been. Or, more accurately, how practically every crime movie for the past 87 years owes something (and in many cases, almost everything) to "Little Caesar." From drive-by shootings to personifying firearms, this is the movie that set the template that shaped our notion of gangster films.

"You want me? You're going to have to come get me!"

I wanted Mac and all the shared updates possible. You better believe I'll come get her if it means a night full of girltalk, gangsters and the best crust in town.

Best everNo fooling.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Of Swings and Sunflowers

You only need to know one.

Back in 2002 when the New York Times wrote a travel piece about visiting Irvington, the writer joked that most readers wouldn't even know where the Northern Neck is. Back then, Irvington had a modest population of 496 and while that number has since grown to 673, it only takes one to extend an invitation.

Oblivious to the other 672 with no interest in me visiting, I drove down Saturday morning to see if it was still as seductive as that NYT writer had found it back in the days of yore. I still get a little frisson every time I cross the powder blue Norris bridge, what with the never-ending repairs and the necessity of being stopped on the bridge top to allow opposing traffic to pass. It's just not normal to be stopped so high above the water with the wind whipping by.

I'm going to be so bold as to say that my Irvington foray put to shame what the writer had laid out (but then I've got no use for myriad shopping options or the fishing trips she'd included), with only one overlap, but it was a significant one: the Tides Inn.

It was there we had dinner at a table overlooking picaresque Carter's Creek, assisted by a server named Clovis who proudly said he's worked there for 23 years as of June 15 this year. You don't often hear about that kind of long-term commitment to a job anymore, nor often see a salad sampler on the menu - marinated golden beets/goat cheese, balsamic mixed greens and, my fave, roasted shitakes on a bed of seaweed for the grazing win - both of which were worthy of raising glasses of Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut to.

Meanwhile, scallops, grilled rockfish and a chocolate bombe accompanied by Ruby Red port ensured that I left with a favorable impression of the venerable inn, despite its eminence grise vibe.

Instead of the Times' suggestions for fishing and shopping, we did a farm tour with the owner at Dug In Farm (the second career of a former D.C. lobbyist, who was having an open house), fascinating for how how casually she referenced all the mistakes she'd made in trying to farm: buying land with bad soil, raising chickens with a pair of coyotes living nearby, starting an orchard with pricey blueberry bushes.

Yet despite the steep learning curve, it was clear she loved working the land as she proudly showed off a 2018 calendar and pointed to the chores listed on certain days all throughout the growing season. "You don't think or make decisions during growing season, you just do what's listed," she explained of her vegetable and flower operation that focuses on sunflowers.

I'm enough of a nerd to have been satisfied with the tour, not to mention a stroll back to the bee hives, past the abandoned pastel chicken coops and through the high house, a greenhouse-like structure she got from the government that allows her to extend her growing season on both ends. But there was more.

Sitting on the gravel next to the farm market was a Byrd's Seafood food truck selling Windmill Point oysters that had been pulled out of the water at 8 a.m. that day. Scoring a half dozen along with some cherry mignonette , I slurped them down perched on the tailgate of my host's truck, surely as Northern Neck a moment as any had by that NYT reporter.

We spotted the farmer herself, relishing a fried oyster taco and explaining it had been all she was thinking about throughout the tour. A woman after my own heart, always with her mind on the next meal.

Sunday dawned cloudy and warm (and the NYT's suggestion of sailing was out of the question), ideal for a walk through town on a Christian high holiday (yes, I had a hat covering my heathen head), with the bells of the nearby Episcopal church ringing out loud and clear. It brought to mind a woman in Irvington I once interviewed who told me that the Sunday church bells here reminded her of her New England childhood.

In a related story, I couldn't help but notice a "Church View Port-a-Potty" sitting in a gravel lot behind a storefront, surely an indication that this town oozes quaint, even when addressing bodily functions.

Walking through the about-to-open Dog and Oyster Vineyard meant meeting some very sweet vineyard hound dogs (and one beagle) lounging in the vines, hearing vintage soul music blasting from the tasting porch and spotting the firepit sending tendrils of smoke into the spring air. The pourer called out a greeting from the porch.

Virginia Tourism couldn't have staged a more winning or inviting scene.

Lunch was served up on the deck overlooking Carter's Creek, which I came to realize is a prime turning around point for boaters nosing around the creek. And, as is standard Northern Neck protocol, all boaters wave to people on docks and decks like old friends. They're just that friendly.

I got an architectural walking tour, amazed at the variety of styles that made up such a small town. Unlike my parents' hamlet a short drive away, all the houses in Irvington aren't early 20th century meaning there was mid-century modern housing stock I couldn't have anticipated, but could definitely appreciate.

In the name of culture in a town without so much as a theater, I agreed to watch "The Adjustment Bureau," despite an unstated fear I'd signed on for another mindless Hollywood thriller with the ubiquitous Matt Damon (is he being chased in every movie?).

Conclusion: What do I know? Instead, I was completely sucked in by a provocative Phillip K. Dick story dissecting free will, destiny, fate and soul mates.

As post-film discussions go, it doesn't get much meatier or impassioned than that. Add in that glorious blue moon that took over the sky both nights, leaving a moonlit trail on the water and I'd have to say that Irvington put on a full charm offensive for me.

"It's every bit as bucolic as Maryland's Eastern Shore," that New York Times writer raved in 2002.

Maybe. But I'd add that its allure increases considerably when just the right Irvington denizen does the inviting. No adjustments necessary.