Saturday, July 21, 2018

Freedom of Pleasure

Perhaps a night that began with a discussion of a sculpture urinating, moved through smut and ended with memories of being called the naked family, wasn't the night to go stag.

I suppose you could call it an evening wasted with Tom Lehrer, but only because he called one of his live albums that. There was nothing wasted about it.

It began when I met the posse in Church Hill, where we promptly worried Queen B by taking the ridiculously steep 23rd Street hill to get down to Nota Bene. You know, the one that feels like your car is going to roll hood over trunk because it's so vertical?

For thrill seekers like Beau and I, it's a personal favorite as far as hills go. The ladies, not so much.

But dangerous descents were forgotten once the owner found out about my travel plans and began offering recommendations involving food and sculpture, followed by the arrival of a bottle of fruity and berry fresh Tete au Bois Dormant sparkling Rose. It was brought to the table by our lanky server who called us y'all because, as he put it, "You guys doesn't sound right."

Three women and one non-alpha male? Correct, not a guy in the bunch.

A menu of 5 different gin and tonics seduced Beau who ordered one called "Oh, you fancy, huh?" supposedly because it included black pepper, but I'm inclined to think he just wanted to say that to our server, who grinned when he did.

From there we had a food lovers' feast, starting with the creamiest of burrata over sweet little heirloom tomatoes with pine nuts and grilled cucumber vinaigrette that screamed summer. My favorite part of a charcuterie board was the duck and pork country pate, not to mention a superb rhubarb jam that resembled nothing so much as apple butter.

Staying true to Nota Bene's roots, we had two pizzas, a red and a white - sausage, kale and red onion plus potato and fontina with leek cream and olive tapenade - while marveling over the chew and flavor of the crust. So. Incredibly. Good.

Bucatini white bolognese seems to get ordered every single time we go to Nota Bene (not a complaint), but this was my first time ordering their branzino with pepperonata. The combination of the wood-fired fish and long-cooked, deeply flavored peppers, onions and garlic was nothing short of sublime, to the point that moaning after taking a bite became the norm.

People stared, we didn't care.

You don't put away that much savory food and call it quits, though, meaning we capped the meal with with tiramisu (full disclosure: we got two of them) and a bay leaf panna cotta with amaretti cookie crumble and blueberries, one of those desserts that pretends to be light but is only fooling the wishful thinkers.

Start to finish, the meal was memorable, every bite a masterful marriage of flavors, colors and textures, the better to complement the wide-ranging conversations that accompanied the sipping and supping. We left in a blissful food coma, all of us.

Fortunately, nothing more was expected of us than a drive to Swift Creek Mill Theater to see "Tomfoolery," a musical revue devoted to the satirical (and protest) songs of the brilliant and hilarious Tom Lehrer.

I mean, how can you not love a lyricist who writes a song about "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park?"

Or, in the grand tradition of woman singing songs about the man they love - no matter how antisocial, alcoholic, physically repulsive or just plain unsanitary, as he put it - Lehrer writes one from the man's point of view and it's a whole lot funnier.

Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly
I gotta love one woman till I die
To Ed or Dick or Bob
She may be just a slob
But to me, well, she's my girl

Just as funny was "When You Are Old and Gray, a song he dedicated to anyone still in love in the audience.

So say you love me here and now
I'll make the most of that
Say you love and trust me
For I know you'll disgust me
When you're old and getting fat

Listening to "The Masochism Tango," I couldn't help but think what an appropriate song it was for that most unromantic of womankind: Pru. Sure enough, the moment it ended, she looked at me and observed, "You know that's my song, right?"

I did indeed.

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany
That's why I'm in such exquisite agony
My soul is on fire, it's aflame with desire
Which is why I prespire when we tango

"Smut" had the four talented actors holding Playboy and Playgirl magazines while singing about the pleasures of dirty books.

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
The mind of the beholder
When correctly viewed, everything is lewd

I left the theater wondering how I ever thought I'd lived a full life when I'd only ever heard one Tom Lehrer song before tonight. I was an innocent, little fool, that's for sure.

The remainder of my waking hours were spent on Pru's glorious screened porch, where she regaled us with stories about her parents' penchant for clothing-optional living and the friend from childhood who'd said she always thought of Pru's clan as "the naked family." The child can hardly be blamed for that, after all, how many of us have Dads who went streaking during thunderstorms? Or naked Moms who took phone calls in full view of the garbage men?

Around midnight, I got up to leave, only to be told to sit back down, so I did. This is not a group who wants the conversation stopped until everyone agrees it's over. At least I made it home before daybreak.

But I also went to bed a new fan of Tom Lehrer. Anyone who can write, "If a person feels he can't communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it," is my kind of guy.

Y'all know what I mean, I'm sure.

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