Thursday, November 29, 2018

Black and White

For the third time this week, I was up by 8 a.m.

I'm not thrilled about that, but Lady G was picking me up at 9:12 (her suggestion), which actually turned out to be 9:38, but who's keeping track? A last minute plan hatched to put us in Washington in time for two exhibits and lunch meant we needed to be on the road early-ish.

The things I do for art.

An hour and 45 minutes later (it's best if I don't look at the speedometer when G's driving), we were pulling into a prime parking space in a sunny spot on Constitution Avenue, feeling pretty smug about our luck.

I'd barely uttered the words "I'm so happy to be here" to the world at large before discovering that the parking payment station was malfunctioning, an inconvenience that sapped the next 20 minutes between downloading the parking app and speaking to a customer service representative who asked G everything from her gender to her mother's maiden name.

More than once, she muttered, "I'm not comfortable giving these people all this information."

Had I been there alone, I'd have been out of luck since a phone is apparently a requirement now to park. Don't get me started.

Walking the half block to the museum, we were soon stopped by two lost-looking women who sized us up and asked, "Excuse me, you're from here, aren't you? Where's the Museum of Natural History?" You never saw two natives beam like G and I did from being identified correctly and sent them on their way.

Once inside the National Gallery of Art, our heavy coats left behind at the coat check, we made the requisite first stop, causing G to observe, "Wow, of all the bathrooms I've been to here, I've never been in this one."

Some women never forget their loos.

The primary reason for the trip was to see "Corot: Women," a show neither of us could resist since the artist is known for landscapes, not figure painting. Seems he'd take occasional breaks from lucrative landscape painting gigs to paint models dressed up in prop clothes in his studio, notable because he didn't idealize them.

And why would he? He didn't idealize landscapes.

What was extraordinary about his paintings of women was how he set out to capture the mood of his models more than their garb or as a way of telling a story. Whether introspective, brooding, aloof or sad, the models' full-on gaze back at the artist flouted contemporary expectations of what femininity was.

These women had opinions and feelings and weren't afraid to show them even when they were being captured for posterity. Our kind of women.

"Melancholy," a figure of a woman with her cheek resting in her hand, her left sleeve having fallen off her shoulder, set the tone for the rest of the show. Corot had meticulously captured the woman's face in great detail - everyone in town had to have known who she was - but her body and voluminous white gown were depicted in such loose brushwork that the painting almost looked unfinished.

And here's where I had a teachable moment by reading the signage. Apparently  Albrecht Durer had done an engraving of a woman in the same pose back in the 16th century and ever since, pensive cheek in hand poses were shorthand for melancholy.

This was news to me.

Just as fascinating was how Corot made a point to keep various props and furnishings in his studio, including an easel with a Corot landscape on it. Most of the paintings had interiors showing Corot paintings hanging on the walls behind the figures. Three of the paintings depicted the same woman in his studio, one hand on a Corot landscape, the other holding a mandolin.

It was Corot paints Corot paints Corot, a hall of mirrors effect that undoubtedly fed the artist's ego.

Then there was "Woman in a Yellow Sleeve," notable because the signage explained the painting's provenance: "Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by HM Government from the estate of Lucian Freud and allocated to the National Gallery of London." All I could think was, wow, that must have been a helluva lot of money Sigmund's grandson owed the Queen.

"Lady in Blue" was distinctively different than the exhibition's other paintings because rather than a model in prop costumes, it showed a lovely young woman in an expensive and deeply ruffled blue dress, one plump arm crooked to draw the eye to her face. Because the painting showed her bare-armed without her dress jacket (shocking!), it had an intimate and erotic charge to it.

It also showed the clear influence of Manet in the black-tinged blue gown. Nobody has as much black undertones in their colors as Manet.

Just as good were his nudes, which he'd taken up solely to demonstrate his abilities beyond landscapes, because he depicted real women, the kind who weren't idealized like marble statues with smooth, flawless skin. Who has that kind of skin anyway?

What scandalized 19th century viewers was that these were real, recognizable women who were actually nude while a male artist had observed and painted her.

Why, it was a downright affront to decency and social decorum.

Turning to look at another wall of Corot's figures, G gasped and asked rhetorically, "What is this man doing in here?" She was referring to "St. Sebastian," essentially a male nude with a swaddle of cloth over his twigs and berries. A stranger walked up and exclaimed, "It's a man! What's that about? This is the third time I've seen this show and I never noticed him before!"

Hold the phone. How in the world do you see a compact exhibition - there were only 45 paintings, for crying out loud - of women three times and miss the sole male nude?

Granted, I may have silently judged, but I voiced not a word.

Naturally a confident, successful painter such as Corot wanted to show off his mastery of the male nude, although G and I could make a case for the canvas not belonging at this particular show.

And just in case I ever get asked to pose nude, I've decided I will mimic the reclining nude pose of Corot's "Marietta" for best effect.

By the time we finished soaking in the beauty, our heads were full of images of women captured by the artist in whatever their mood of the day had been. Corot, it seems, gave no instructions to his models, but allowed them to move around and settle in whatever way they chose, even if it was with a dismissive or condescending gaze.

Because sometimes, that's how a girl feels and she can't mask it.

From there, we made our way to see "Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Works," a large (150 strong) show of the first decade of Parks' photography career. Some of the works were familiar to me from seeing the VMFA's "Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott" show back in 2016. The photograph of gang leader Red Jackson doing the "slow drag" with his girlfriend - some people might call it grinding - I recognized immediately.

But there was so much more to learn about Parks at this exhibition.

Like how he'd moved his young family to Chicago to start a career in portrait photography and how he'd worked at the Southside Community Art Center. How his close friendship with Langston Hughes produced images of Hughes smiling, something I'd never seen before.

Easily one of my favorites was "Self Portrait 1941," a stunning image of his face and shoulders next to his large-format camera, the light and shadow on both producing exquisite tones of black and gray. Many of the photographs had been taken in SW Washington, mere blocks from where we stood.  "Negro Woman in Her Bedroom" showed her looking into the kind of round dresser mirror my own grandmother had had, with a large picture of FDR on the wall next to it.

Who didn't believe in FDR back in those days?

Even in his first decade of capturing American life, you could already see Parks' commitment to documenting the inequities of black and white life. "Young Boy Standing in the Doorway" showed a boy on crutches from behind, one of his legs amputated after a streetcar cut the leg off while he was playing in the street. It was Park's commentary about white children having playgrounds to go to while black children had nothing beyond the streets for recreation.

"Drugstore Cowboys, Alberta" showed five young men in dungarees, caps and jackets, staring back at him with looks of cockiness, uncertainty and disdain, in front of a "Drink Coca Cola" sign. All of them look street-wise and ready for their close-ups.

Meanwhile, "Panhandler on 7th Street, NW" was a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Also that we needed to head up Seventh Street ourselves or risk passing out from starvation.

Jaleo was covered in scaffolding, but the signs said they were open during construction and that's all we cared about. Given that owner Jose Andres was just the other day nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, G and I thought it only fitting to pay our respects by eating his food.

That, and the food's always fabulous.

By arriving so late in the afternoon, the lunch rush had quieted down and many tables were unoccupied, making it nice for a change not to have to raise our voices to converse. After so much art, all we wanted to do was sink back into the banquette and give in to the four course lunch menu.

G and I are so easy sometimes.

For me, diving in meant gazpacho with cherry tomatoes that inexplicably tasted like August. How does Jose do it? Next came endive with goat cheese, orange sections and almonds, a collection of bright and light flavors, then garlic slices and shrimp in chile oil, all of which I washed down with Cava Sangria.

G, meanwhile, began with roasted onions with bleu cheese, a practically perfect sweet and salty balance, before moving on to chicken fritters, which essentially tasted like chicken pot pie inside the lightest crunchy shell imaginable. She was drinking red Sangria to accompany her Daniel Patrick Moynihan pork sausage over white beans, a dish she freely admitted choosing because of its nod to the long time Democratic senator.

Although we'd intentionally ordered different dishes for each course so as to have as many things as possible to taste, when it came time for dessert, neither of us was ordering ice cream on a chilly day. Instead, we each devoured a flan with vanilla-flecked whipped cream and oranges, a heavenly finish to a stellar lunch.

All I can say is, it's a good thing Jaleo isn't in Richmond or I'd be having four course lunches every chance I got.

We'd taken so long lingering over lunch that I-395 was already starting to back up by the time we got on it, but since G and I never lack for conversational topics - old loves, new loves, crazy exes and hard-of-hearing friends - we didn't care. Still high on art, we tried to look like three people while in the HOV lanes and marveled at the beauty of the late November sky through her filthy windshield.

We tried cleaning it with Windex on I-95, but that turned out to be a bad idea in moving traffic.

Barely crawling along in the left lane near Stafford, I happened to glance over and saw two young deer standing just barely on the other side of the guard rail in the median, inches from us and thousands of moving cars.

One looked right at me, like one of Corot's models, as if to say, yea, I'm here, so what?

"Well, that was magical," G observed of our wildlife moment as the sun began to set. Parking issues aside, she could have been referring to the entire day.

My plan is to celebrate by sleeping way past 8 a.m. tomorrow. And if not, you can expect to see my cheek resting in my hand, melancholy style.

And, let's face it, no one wants to see me melancholy again. Once was plenty.

Tawdry and Forlorn Hope

A wine dinner is really just a good excuse to talk trash.

Acacia was the setting, Pru (in a faux fur coat) and Beau were my companions and all we were looking to do was enjoy three courses and talk ourselves silly.

Mission accomplished.

The first wine to be poured was Eola Hills Pinot Gris, a wine I first tasted nine years ago at the now-defunct Avalon, and every bit as tasty in its 2016 iteration. Or, as Pru so eloquently put it, "I could drink this wine with every meal," although she doesn't eat a lot of meals - certainly not my 3 squares a day plus snacks - so that's not as big a deal as it sounds.

Pairing it with butternut squash soup with creme fraiche and chives only made the Willamette Valley wine more attractive but as Harry, the wine rep, pointed out, Oregon knows does how to do Pinot Gris. Beau is just as savvy, deciding to order a case of it to accompany Pru's future meals.

I can't run into Harry without asking if he's still taking his daily outdoor shower and nothing could have made me happier than hearing that he is. That said, he has learned to run the water in the kitchen first before going outside to ensure that he doesn't have to wait, shivering, for the water to get hot

Let's just say I admire his devotion to al fresco showering. He cracked us up with a story about adjusting his shower times recently because of next door neighbors having a tree taken down and his not wanting to be seen by workmen high up in a tree overlooking his lathering. Talk about your shrinkage.

We were schooled by Harry that Forlorn Hope Wines had been started by a skateboarder named Matthew in an area near Sacramento. Their Chardonnay was paired with pasta carbonara with housemade black pepper pappardelle, cubes of bacon and Parmesan, a dish Pru declared to be "sooo good," but in reality was nothing like good.

It was downright obscene, the rich sauce clinging to every wide noodle.

While Beau claimed he could have eaten another plate of it, the womenfolk agreed that anyone who did would either be asleep or on the way to clogged arteries, so what would be the point? Still, no one left so much as a cube of bacon or scrap of pappardelle, either.

A discussion of compliments given turned out to be a revelation for Beau, who wasn't clear on the difference in complimenting an un-showered women in a sweatsuit and a woman who had spent two hours getting ready to go out. This led to a dialog about the pleasures of leisurely preparation - bathing, making up, dressing (which inevitably involves trying on multiple ensembles), accessorizing - preferably with an accompanying dressing drink and, at least in my case, good music.

Listening to the pearls of wisdom falling from our lips, Beau had a light bulb moment. "I'm really frightened about how close this is to my routine."

No shame in making an effort to impress, friend.

Of course, he wasn't always this way. It was only once he began seeing Pru, who saw his potential, that he took her advice about his hair and wardrobe. "I am the man you made," he said with not a little pride.

Given the "before" photo he showed me, he'd be the first to admit he was in need of some making.

We parted ways when it came to main courses, with me going for the swordfish medallions over sunchoke risotto with a side of radicchio and bleu cheese over sweet red pepper sauce, accompanied by Fableist Winery Zinfandel from Paso Robles. Kudos to the kitchen for the medallions since swordfish is easy to overcook, but just as impressive was the killer combination of radiccio with bleu cheese, sharp and rich at the same time.

The happy couple preferred the braised Moroccan lamb shank over pumpkin/tomato mash with crispy Brussels sprouts and lamb jus with Field Recordings Winery "Pets," which is their cutesy shorthand for Petite Syrah.

As it turned out, Pru wasn't fond of the Pets, not a problem for me since I've been to Field Recordings Winery and met Boomer, the winery dog, so we traded and everyone was happy.

With enough wine in our systems for everyone to feel merry, Pru began sharing how desperate she was for some time alone, away from everything - Queen B, contractors and endless manse chores. She went so far as to suggest she take a brief holiday by staying at Beau's place, conveniently located two doors down. Getting dramatic (she is, after all, a former thespian), she declared, hand to forehead, "I guess I could always stay at a Motel 6," to which I responded, what, with all the other tawdry occupants?

Not bloody likely.

Although dessert wasn't part of the wine dinner, the dynamic duo never passes up a chance for French press coffee, so I made do with chocolate cremeux while they mainlined caffeine and Pru had another glass of Pinot Gris. "Nobody doesn't like a wide-awake drunk," she opined.

You can't get this group together and not discuss communication at some point, or, more likely, often, because communication is the bedrock of relationships and Pru and I, at least, have strong feelings about sending mixed or unclear messages.

Citing the early days of their relationship, she asked if he even remembered what unclear messages had been in his early texts when he'd been trying to win her. "No," he admitted, "but I have them all saved." Of course he does. Beau is nothing if not a romantic at heart.

Other information gleaned tonight: Pru was traumatized as a teen by having her rabbit fur-lined jean jacket stolen at Skate Park; that what used to be known as "key parties" are now euphemistically called "lasagna parties" (although no one could tell me whether or not any actual lasagna was involved); and that as recently as last month, she'd been attempting to make sugar shards of glass dripping in blood for cupcakes.

You think you know a person...

And while you might expect that that would be the end of the conversation, instead Beau regaled us with stories of his roommate making fake blood with Karo syrup and leaving hand prints and drips from the apartment building entrance to their apartment door.

Some people's college memories are positively magical.

Although we'd originally talked about an afterparty at my place, plans were postponed because everyone has a busy day tomorrow. So instead, we lingered over the remaining wine and coffee, with Pru eager to remind us that no matter where we were, it's a guaranteed good time.

To prove it, she decreed it so. "We are a party! We are a menage!"

A trois, no less. I'm really frightened how people might take that. Wait, no, I'm not.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Come Here, Mister

Life isn't about being drunk, it's about being merry.

At least, that was the distinction made in "Story of a Love Affair," the tenth and final film in the VCU Cinematheque retrospective of Michelangelo Antonioni. And as Professor T. pointed out ahead of the screening, ordinarily you'd have to go to a major city, say NYC or LA, to be treated to a retrospective of the master Italian filmmaker.

We have it so good in Richmond.

But before diving into Antonioni's first feature-length film, we strolled over to Ipanema, arriving so early that they were still serving the lunch menu. Not fussy about what meal we were eating, Mr. Wright and I scored the front-most booth - the one that used to get removed when bands played so they could occupy the space - and settled in until showtime.

Tuscan salads of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, marinated artichoke hearts, cannellini beans and olives were topped with smoked salmon, despite my suspicion that salmon would not typically be part of a Tuscan meal. Given the chilly temperatures, we accompanied the meal with hot tea, mine a mint, his a South African Rooibus.

You know it's cold when I resort to drinking hot beverages since they're not my thing, though I must say it was a fine accompaniment for my slice of blueberry pie.

It was while eating dessert and discussing that tonight was the conclusion of the Antonioni series that I overheard the two guys in the next booth talking about another ending, that of the Italian Film and Food Festival. One guy recalled that it had always been at the Firehouse Theater. The other, a DJ I've known for years, thought he'd attended it at Artspace, but his friend wasn't convinced.

Without a moment's hesitation, I turned toward the other booth, called my friend's name and set out to clarify things. Yes, the Italian Film Fest had been at Artspace as well as the Firehouse, I shared. I know I saw Marco Bellochio's "Fists in the Pocket," there in 2010, along with killer eats from Mamma Zu, Edo's and 8 1/2.

"And Karen weighs in!" the DJ announced,  Just trying to help. I could have told him to look it up on the blog for further details, but refrained.

After crossing the street to the Grace Street Theatre only to find someone in my favorite seat, we made do with alternate seats nearby. Mr. Wright offered to go explain to the interlopers that they were trespassing, but I was feeling magnanimous.

Professor T. began the evening by explaining that we'd be seeing an archival Italian print on 35 mm, a rare treat which came with one small glitch. Archival prints don't get spliced to allow for standard two projector screening, so we should expect to see brief periods of black every 20 minutes. It seemed a small price to pay to see an archival Italian print on 35 mm.

And, as Mr. Wright later pointed out, the brief black breaks wound up feeling like scene changes during a play, perfectly appropriate given the high art we were seeing.

The visiting professor gave his usual 12-13 minute reading of his prepared paper on Anonioni and this particular film, his voice an odd combination of monotone, inappropriately inflected words and a question mark at the end of statements.

I'm not knocking the man's knowledge, just his delivery.

After seeing five of the ten Antonioni films this semester, films full of middle class malaise and post-war bleakness, I couldn't have been more surprised at the director's first foray into film. It was a black and white film noir, loosely based on the novel, "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

Hello dark streets, steamy love scenes and piano and sax score to set the mood. I love me a good film noir.

But then, as a bonus, there were scenes set in an uncrowded 1950 Milan, gorgeous clothing and gowns worn by the lead actress and a dead sexy car (see: 1948 Maserati A6G 1500, which surely must have been the inspiration for speedy cars in cartoons for decades to come).

What was strange was how very American the lead actor, Massimo Girotti, looked, a fact which worked fine in the context of the story but left me wanting for a more appropriately Italian actor, say, Marcello Mastroianni or Giancarlo Giannini.

What good are all those vowels in his name if he looks like John Garfield?

As for the distinction between stages of intoxication, it was when the older husband entered his younger, unhappy wife's bedroom late at night with a bottle of Champagne and two glasses that she asked of him, "Are you drunk?" and he responded, "Not drunk, just merry."

I've always labeled the stage before drunk as "loopy," but there's something charmingly dated about referring to it as "merry." As in, I've had a few glasses of bubbly and I'm feeling kind of merry right now. Not "deck them halls" merry, just merry.

Of course, that's just me weighing in. Again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

At the Orange Bird

Believe me, we didn't set out to attend a school fundraiser.

After a week, Mac and I had plenty to talk about and a need to be entertained, so the plan was dinner and a movie. But when we arrived at Branch and Vine, we found a sandwich board welcoming diners to a fundraising night for Mary Munford Elementary School.

I mean, it's not like we were denied entrance or anything. It simply meant that a percentage of whatever we paid for our meals would end up in the school's coffers. Neither of us had any problem with supporting a good cause, even if we had no dog in this fight, so we stayed, despite tables covered in crayons and coloring pages.

The owner came over to take our order, leading to a discussion of grapes when he listed out his wine by the glass options, ending with Nero. "Nero?" Mac asked and before he could answer, I clarified that he meant Nero d'Avola and suggested she try the Sicilian wine because it's delicious.

Clearly the owner appreciated the help because he went on to lament how when he was coming up - you know, back in his day - the wine choices were Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. "And maybe some white Zinfandel," he concluded sagely.

At moments like that, you just smile and nod. Just bring the wine, please, sir.

As always, their sandwiches hit the spot. Mac had arrived jonesing for Giustino's pizza, but we had insufficient time to score a Southside pie and make it to the Criterion Cinemas in a timely manner, so I'd suggested a carb substitute. Both her Cubano and my turkey/Gruyere/sliced apples/tomato jam sandwich benefited from superior bread (my baguette, her ciabatta) and satisfied her itch.

Mine had the added bonus of Thanksgiving notes given the combo of turkey and sweet jam, which could just have easily been cranberry sauce, while the side we shared of sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts also tasted like it had roots in the holiday.

As we were finishing up our meal, more families showed up to have dinner for the cause, so at least we'd timed our visit to finish before the serious rugrat onslaught began. And if that sounds insensitive, just remember that Mac and I donated to Mary Munford this evening and you didn't.

Tonight's movie, "Green Book," was inspired by the true story of classical black pianist Don Shirley and Italian-American Tony Vallelonga, who was hired to be the driver for his 1962 tour of the South. The Green Book of the title is the handbook that used to be printed up advising black travelers where they could legally stay and eat without fear of reprisal.

It's especially galling to learn that it was still being produced as late as 1966.

Mac and I were both intrigued by the film after seeing previews since A) neither of us had heard of Shirley and B) we both became huge fans of Mahershala Ali after seeing "Moonlight" together. That it took place in an era that was both culturally fascinating and appallingly racist only made it more interesting to us.

Both the lead actors' performances were strong, but as with any period film, I made it my mission to look for continuity details that rang true and false.

Red and blue mailboxes, women wearing gloves and furs at parties, smoking everywhere, insisting that safe drivers use the "10 and 2" position on the steering wheel? All correct for the era.

But referring to Shirley as a black man rather than a Negro (or worse) or using the phrase "being black while traveling?" Sorry, those are both pure 21st century dialog and not a bit true to 1962. And no one, I repeat, no one in the Bronx, had all white lights on their Christmas tree in 1962. Period.

Both of us were surprised that the car driven had power windows, but Mac felt sure that it was only because it was a Cadillac. But my ignorance is rooted in life experience: I didn't have power windows on my car until 1998.

As for scenes at fancy events of tables covered in champagne flutes, well, it rubbed me the wrong way. It was somewhere after the mid-1950s that champagne coupes began giving way to flutes, but flutes didn't reign supreme until the '80s, so it seems unlikely at best that these places in the Deep South would have been ahead of the curve on the best glasses in which to serve Champagne.

The film had plenty of laugh out loud-worthy lines, too, such as when Tony is asked if he's a cop. "Do I look Irish?" he responds belligerently. But the one that tickled my fancy most was, "She has terrible grammar, but she's a nice person."

I know, I know, it's hard to imagine any redeeming qualities in a person with poor grammar, but apparently it can happen.

Driving home discussing what we'd just seen, we realized we'd both reached the same conclusion during the movie. We wanted to learn more about Don Shirley, this musical prodigy who'd played with and written symphonies for major symphony orchestras, but whose name was completely unknown to us. What if I've flipped past a Don Shirley album in the dollar bins at my local record store and missed a golden opportunity?

Maybe it's for the best. I like to think that the dollar saved instead went to help fund a grammar worksheet for some deserving youngster at Mary Munford.

Just doing my part any way I can. Nice people and terrible grammarians know it's all about the kids.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Giving the Peace Sign

The things you have to do at Thanksgiving.

When asked to fill out a foil "leaf" with what I was thankful for and hang it on a small brass tree, I reduced my gratitude to its simplest level: I am grateful for all the people who love me. And I am.

While I've always been thankful for devoted parents, siblings who can finish my childhood stories and friends who choose to spend time with me, this year's list got longer with the addition of Mr. Wright, a partner who not only braved the gauntlet of meeting my family, but talked me down after the madness ended.

Part of how he accomplished this, it should be noted, was by ensuring that the three mornings after Turkey Day all involved waking up on the water. Those who know me know that this is a sure-fire way to get me to my happy place.

Now that I think about it, I didn't get my usual pre-sisters stress zit, either, so maybe his presence in my life is working in myriad ways.

To prepare for the psychological demands of spending the day with family, I'd made a point to do my usual Thanksgiving Eve blowout with Holmes and Beloved.

Beginning at Acacia, where the vibe was low-key and quiet but the crab fritters, grilled mahi mahi and beet/feta salad (the latter so good it won over the beet-hating Holmes) and chocolate cremeux were stellar, and then at Holmes' man-cave, where we listened to countless records - Elvis Costello to the Zombies - our evening was devoted to toasting the ghosts of Thanksgivings past with Graham Beck Brut Rose.

It's a tradition that goes back to 2010 for the three of us and shows no signs of letting up, no matter where any of us wind up having our turkey.

Come Thanksgiving Day, we motored to the house of Sister #6, a true hostess with the mostess and it's not only because her celebrations involve her husband shucking Old Saltes for anyone who will slurp them, although I'll be honest, that is my favorite part of it all. I'd stand there chatting with him, slurping 3 or 4 oysters and then taking 3 shucked beauties up to my Dad before returning to do it all over again. And again.

Because the 30 family members in attendance were seated at four tables over three rooms, my sister had come up with a plan for FFF - that's forced family fun, a phrase I first learned on a bev nap - to shake things up. Someone would get up, plate and glass in hand, and tap someone else on the shoulder, thereby usurping their chair and changing the make-up of that table.

The purpose, she claimed, was for everyone to get a chance to sit at the table with my parents, but I'm not sure she ran that plan by them first. I know that by the time I got to the fourth table, everyone was either in a food coma or tired of talking, which is saying a lot for this group.

All I'm saying is, it can be exhausting to eat and drink for seven hours with family.

But Black Friday dawned in Deale, Maryland, a little town on the Chesapeake Bay that offered up a big marina and, after a drive through its nearly empty waterfront streets, a cozy lunch (because they'd stopped serving breakfast five minutes before we'd arrived) at the South Country Cafe, a place where the cashier calls you "hon" and a stack of housemade pies sat on a ledge near the door.

Carter's Creek provided the wake-up water-views come the weekend, along with the usual pleasures of small-town life in Irvington. A walk to the Local Cafe for a bagel meant seeing lots of visitors to the Tides Inn and Hope and Glory Inn out and about on inn bicycles, a holiday market going on at the Steamboat Museum and, promptly at noon, a steady rain that ensured a snug, indoor afternoon.

Best of all, I'd brought along one of my recent  library book sale finds, a petite blue edition of "The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono" from 1981, a book guaranteed to occupy me for as long as it took for Mr. Wright to gather reference materials for an upcoming course he's teaching.

From the executive editor's foreword to the interviewer's introduction, I was immediately taken with these extensive conversations between John, Yoko and the Playboy writer because Lennon was willing to talk about everything. In fact, that had been the starting point for the book because the magazine interview couldn't include a fraction of what the couple had shared over multiple interviews and it was such good stuff.

That said, after reading for less than two hours, I pulled that chenille blanket over me and took a rainy day nap the likes of which can only be explained as sleeping out the final vestiges of Thanksgiving Day stress.

Post-rain, we headed to the Quays, an upscale Irish pub, meaning the fried fish fillets were mahi mahi and served over rice/quinoa instead of with chips, but also the sort of place where an appetizer of Dublin rolls (corned beef and cabbage in eggroll wrappers) arrived long after our entrees and not that far ahead of some pretty tasty butterscotch bread pudding.

Northern Neck charm or clueless management? You make the call.

From there, we only had to cross the hall to Walkabout Creek, where a DJ was onstage, lights were flashing and the locals were just getting cranked up for some serious Saturday night dancing, first to country, then to pop and hip-hop, and fortunately, with enough classic soul thrown in to get us up there, too.

Everybody dance now.

Today dawned so warm and sunny that all indoor activity was suspended so we could make the most of such late-November splendor. My walk took me across the grounds of the Dog and Oyster Winery and through their back 40, depositing me on the main drag which, as I quickly leaned, meant waving to every Sunday driver that passed.

While Mr. Wright assures me that in my short, pink athletic skirt, no one was going to take me for a local, I am nonetheless working on getting just the right Northern Neck wave mastered.

That and 79 cents will get me a copy of the Rappahannock Record at the gas station.

Down at the dock, the creek was muddy from yesterday's rain and the tide so high that it felt like we were on a boat. While checking the oyster garden float, we found it full of pine needles but no bivalves because apparently a storm had broken the frame and released the bottom.

Mr. Wright was the brilliant one who suggested that maybe a new oyster reef will form with the escapees, perhaps just beside the dock for easy shucking and slurping. If so, it'll give me one more thing to be thankful for next year.

Not that I need anything more given how good I have it these days. Like Reba McEntire said, "I have a lot to be thankful for. I am healthy, happy and I am loved."

Finally, the trifecta. Now if I could just nail how to wave to passing trucks, I wouldn't ask for anything more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

On Not Eating More Than You Can Lift

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
 ~ George Bernard Shaw

I could politely be called an enthusiastic eater.

Partly that's because there's little that doesn't appeal to me and partly because I never succumbed to any sort of guilt about eating. I wake up hungry every single morning of my life, regardless of what I've eaten the night before.

I've been known to ask the driver of the car I'm riding in if we're going to stop for lunch barely 15 minutes after leaving home. If I get asked out at the last minute for lunch or dinner and I've already eaten, I keep quiet about it and go out for a second meal.

And sometimes when I look back at what I've been up to for the past couple of days, it feels like it's been non-stop eating. Oh, sure, I did some writing and bathing in between chowing down sessions, but not much else.

That's not embarrassment talking, that's simple fact.

Sometimes I find myself sitting at Metzger on a Sunday evening, mere hours after returning from brunch at Laura Lee's, inhaling pretzel rolls, lavash and spent grain sourdough with mustard butter and beer cheese, a completely unique squash salad with ribbons of carrots and a dark chocolate torte as if I hadn't eaten all day.

That vintage yet obscure soul music is, as usual, playing on the sound system only encourages us to linger and me to order yet another glass of Gruner Veltliner as the Sunday crowd gradually dwindles to the diehards on bar stools.

Not even a day later, I'll be happily ensconced on a stool at Dinamo, slurping up my cold weather go-to, also known as the pescatarian's delight: fish soup. Tomato based and muscular, the soup is loaded with rockfish, mussels, squid and couscous' Sardinian cousin, fregola, with just enough heat to keep you honest.

And for the record, I'm also using slices of Italian bread to sop up what my spoon is incapable of delivering to my mouth. Enthusiastic eaters leave no morsel behind.

But woman does not live by soup and wine alone, so we also share a salad and white pizza with red onions because the simplicity of a thin crust crowned with onions is about as satisfying as bread and cheese gets. The green salad is essential with pie. And the chocolate espresso torte? That's just my standard ending at Dinamo, even when I opt out of whipped cream and cherries.

There are only three things women need in life: food, water and compliments. ~ Chris Rock

Sorry, Chris, but some of us also need music.

Which means that by Tuesday night, I will lead Mr. Wright to Saison Market for wine and conversation surrounded by members of the Comedy Coalition working on being hilarious and loud. We sip until we're hungry before heading to Tarrant's Back Door for fish tacos, only three of which arrive at our table because the cashier has dropped the fourth one on the floor,

When I point out to him that we could go ahead and start on the three still safe inside their box, he looks at me with amazement since clearly this option has not occurred to him. Meanwhile, we dive into the tacos, each of which contains two enormous pieces of grilled tilapia the length of the tortilla and a fresh-tasting corn and cabbage slaw.

And notice I said grilled since fried fish tacos are not a personal favorite and the Back Door is one of the few places that knows this and gives me what I like. Eventually, the fourth taco shows up and is dispatched quickly.

Our final destination, since woman can not live by food, water and compliments alone (though I have come to revel in the latter becoming a daily part of my life after it being MIA for years) was Black Iris Gallery to see L.A.'s Lonesome Leash play for a small but appreciative crowd.

First of all, there's the setting: an intimate, wood-lined room with great acoustics. Then there's the vibe: dimly-lit, hushed, anticipatory. And the crowd who comes out on a chilly Tuesday night? They're a mix of music lovers, members of the LGBTQ community and those who've been tipped off that an amazing talent will be sharing their gift.

Witness how Mr. Wright's L.A. connection had alerted him to the show after I had already I had already made it my pick for the evening.

The one-man band that is Lonesome Leash (aka Walt) took his place in the corner of the room behind his arsenal: a bass drum, a snare drum and an accordion, with a keyboard to his right. Right off the bat, this is not someone who plays the accordion according to the tenets of Cajun, Alpine or Tejano but instead makes it pulse with an energy that sounds bigger than it should.

Although he began by singing in a hushed voice - delicately, beautifully, laying his life out for dissection - as he played gentle drums and winding accordion, it only took until the end of the first song before he was also playing trumpet. Folded into accordion and drums, the pure sound of the horn took the music into something positively soul-stirring.

With each song, it seemed as if he opened himself up further, skin, bones, heart and mind, inviting the listener to follow along as he mused on life, love and time spent alone driving. Sample lyric: "There is love in everyone I have known..." He switched to keyboards  to play some of the poignant songs from his new album "Delicate Art" before returning to dazzling us as a one-man band.

Each song captured the audience, from the slow burners to the more overtly powerful tunes,  and it was all we could do to clap loudly to show our appreciation for his talent each time he quietly folded his hands to signal the song ending.

When the show concluded, a friend walked over, stood between us and Walt and said, "Thank goodness there are delicate and emotionally fragile musicians willing to open themselves up and share their take on the world." Amen, girlfriend. I couldn't have said it better myself. It was as if a butterfly had landed on my arm and sat there for an hour, allowing me to savor up close the beauty of its wings and movement.

A musical memory of the highest order.

And no amount of eats can replace that feeling. So, sorry, Chris Rock, but it'll take more than food, water and compliments, though you can score a helluva lot of points with them.

You want to show me your sincerity, GB Shaw? Add music to the mix.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Ladies Who Brunch

Except for having to explain what a fern bar was to one of my girlfriends, we chose the ideal spot to reconvene after a year.

As for how three long-time friends who'd met through a shared love of music could let a year go by without breaking bread, well, I blame myself. Between my low period and the whirlwind of meeting my match, I'd not been pushing for get-togethers like I used to.

No surprise, today's overdue brunch happened because of music, too. Earlier this week, I'd heard from Xtina after she'd spotted me at a show and we'd decided a rendezvous was in order. Naturally we folded in Em, which made running into her Friday night even more unlikely.

Surely my moon must be in the seventh house or something.

These two always defer to me about picking where to eat and though I tried to suggest our usual place, 821 Cafe, they were hankering for something new to them. That was simple enough because neither had been to Laura Lee's, a shame given the fabulous food and decidedly female vibe, and it took no time for Em to jump on making a reservation.

Good thing, too, because the place was mobbed by mid-day.

Walking in to find I was the last to arrive, a fact which thrilled Xtina who'd made it one of her life goals to arrive before I did at one of our dates, led to a discussion of punctuality. For most of my life, I can safely say I was always on time, but that changed a decade ago when I stopped holding myself to that standard. It was hugely liberating, a fact I shared, and both friends marveled at my willingness to go easier on myself.

"Women have such a hard time with that," Em noted. "I wish I could relax about it." Give it a decade or so, my dear, and see if you don't soften all kinds of self-imposed rules.

I watched as they ogled the joint and made suitably appreciative comments about the decor: the soft green curved banquettes, the beguiling art that doubled as sound baffles, the glass garage door that let in loads of November sunlight.

Then I explained to the young 'un that bars were once bastions of male dominance, news to her. So I shared that fern bars were created in the happenin' days of the sexual revolution in the '70s as a means to attract young, single women to drink in public, something many had been reluctant to do  - more likely explicitly forbidden to do by their mothers - in seedy, smokey dives full of men.

The ones I remember from the '80s were indeed full of ferns, along with Tiffany lamps, plenty of brass railings and as many women as men, so it never occurred to me that bars hadn't always been crowded by both sexes. Fast forward to the 21st century and Laura Lee's nods to the fern bar Version 2.0, combining the best of what originally set those bars apart with a more contemporary sensibility.

Of course they were enchanted once they knew the history and, as the senior member of this trio, it's my job to inform them.

First on the conversational docket was the development of Xtina's stage presence, a  subject brought up because Em had recently seen Xtina's band perform and had been wowed at how much more comfortable she'd become on stage. I'd noticed myself the last few shows.

"She was dancing and wearing a crop top onstage, Karen!" Em explained, seeking to share her surprise with a like-minded friend. Who was this person inhabiting our friend's body? We reminisced how when we'd first seen her performing in a band, she'd sung and played guitar while keeping her eyes closed and pretending that the audience wasn't there.

Shyness had prevented any sort of audience rapport.

But no more. Her new attitude, she said, was to have a good time and not worry about messing up a line singing or with a goofy dance step. She was far happier for letting go of unrealistic expectations.

When we finally got around to ordering, the orders broke down along party lines. Xtina got her usual huevos rancheros, while Em was a shoe-in for the enormous chocolate chip pancakes. What I really wanted was the fried chicken for two, but since I had no partner-in-yardbird, I made do with avocado  toast with tomato jam, bacon and part of the biscuits we ordered for the table.

Also for the table was a hot toddy with chai spice, which arrived in a black glass that resembled the intricate designs on milk glass. We agreed that it tasted like Christmas - or Thanksgiving at the least - and Xtina especially dug the lemony warmth of it.

And while I don't need to rhapsodize about Laura Lee's biscuits, let's just have a moment for biscuits with enough fat baked into them (Em: "If they're made with lard, I don't want to know about it") that slathering butter on them isn't essential. That said, I did slather cherry jam over every available biscuit surface.

I gave props to Em (and her cute husband) for having DJ'd the Abigail Spanberger victory party - that's right, I'm friends with the brilliant woman who played Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" - and really gotten that party started. That led to her telling us about how often a guy will approach them when they're DJing together, but direct every question, whether about equipment, music choice or just DJing, directly to her husband as if she were invisible.

The struggle is real.

Much of today's extended brunch talk was about Xtina's new dating life now that she's recently out of a two-year relationship. She's torn about going forward with a nice drummer she met and looking forward to meeting up with a handsome NOLA transplant who used to live in Richmond and will be back soon. Meanwhile, we watched as our server made eye contact with her every chance he could and she debated whether or not to leave her phone number on her bill. Should she, shouldn't she, how do you know who's right for you?

It must be exhausting to be young, beautiful and single.

Of course, we couldn't dissect their lives without touching on mine, meaning I got to hear both telling me how much I deserve this new reality of mine, even if it does keep me out of the widespread circulation that used to define my life. I'm still out an awful lot, but often now it's with my biggest fan.

Which sort of makes me the poster child for hanging in there until the right person shows up. You just never know how long it'll take or how worthwhile the wait will be. Patience, not necessarily punctuality.

Try telling that to someone who doesn't know what a fern bar is.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Leave a Light On

There are multiple reasons to attend InLight, but overhearing strangers is surely one of them.

I'm liking Fresh Market these days, how about you?

Yea, Richmond the past two weeks reminds me of Blacksburg...

You don't have to read the sign, just look at it and come on.

It's a million hours past your bedtime, so we have to go.

I've gone on record as saying that I don't think the VMFA is as well suited to InLight as neighborhood locations, but no one listens to me. So here we - that's the thousands of us who traipsed through - were, back at a confined location being herded along paths to see light installations blocked by hordes of people.

Just an observation from the cheap seats.

My favorite piece revealed itself on the way in with Sarah Choo Jing's "Art of the Rehearsal," a massive projection on the side of the museum. My immediate reaction was one of familiarity - the two-story streetscape allowed views inside individual apartments where each tenant danced a different kind of dance to the same music - because I was reminded of "Rear Window" and the views afforded to wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart.

But unlike his bird's eye view of Miss Lonely Hearts, a composer and a murderer, I had a view of a salsa dancer on the roof, a ballerina in the kitchen, a Middle Eastern dancer in the hallway and myriad others going through their individual rehearsals, each framed by their space.

I don't know which I was more into, the choreography or the voyeuristic elements of of the elaborate scene. I do know I found it captivating to watch as the empty windows, balconies and patios became the setting for multiple dances before they retreated to their apartments again out of sight. I don't know about others, but I stood and watched it through many times so I could focus on a different dancer every time.

A man with a thick Spanish accent asked someone if the dancers were real and a passerby responded politely, "I think it's projections coming from these boxes." Knowing nods followed.

And while she wasn't technically part of InLight, Chloe, the 24'-high resin head of a woman, was every bit as striking as the light installations. Viewed against a deepening gray-blue sky, a tree with half its leaves still hanging on providing the backdrop, Chloe caught every bit of available light and glowed like the moon with its whiteness.

I'd have lingered there even longer than I did except that people kept posing groups in front of it for photo ops. Meanwhile, I had to accept that not everyone wanted to actually take in the art when it was so much easier to just snap a picture and move on.

I was bent over, reading a sign about Bob Kaputof's "Oasis in the Night Sky" when a woman asked if she could butt in front of me to take a picture of the sign in front of me. Without so much as looking up, I shook my head no and continued reading.

Sorry, honey, real time life trumps virtual documentation every time, at least for now. Yes, I have my concerns about the future.

Approaching the former Confederate Home for Women (now the Pauley Center), I heard a young guy exclaim, "Look, it's Chiocca's!" in reference to all the neon signs: a hand pointing downstairs, a crescent moon, an "open" sign and another that said "Butter" in yellow lights, among others. The Theremin Collection's "Hidden in Plain Sight" celebrated they neon heyday of the 1920s.

One of the best views I saw was accidental, coming when I reached the top of the hill and looked back toward the many lighted windows of the museum, the Chihuly red reeds and the endless stream of people making their way around the grounds. I'm telling you, Richmond Tourism could use that picaresque image to entice people to visit such a cool city.

Mart Finkelstein's "Echoes in Motion" was like a beacon from the sculpture garden's highest level, except that long before I'd arrived, it had become Selfie Central, so it was impossible to fully see the back-lit series of black, white and colored panels, some still and others undulating organically like microbes reproducing, for all the photo shoots and re-takes ("I look awful, take it again!").

Darkness is a big part of why InLight works, but the slate steps leading down the hill were clogged with people going in both directions, so it was inevitable there'd be traffic jams as the steps receded into the darkness.

I overheard a woman complain that she couldn't see where she was going (though she was also on the incorrect side of the staircase to go up) and then gulp, "Oops!" loudly. She'd landed on one of the stones to the side of the steps and something had toppled in the process. "It's just an orange cone," her companion said reassuringly. "I'll put it back!"

Surely one of the most lovely and unusual installations was Leila Ehteshaim and Carl Patow's "River City Reflections," a reflecting pool filled with small glass jars with lights in them. At the top of the hill, a person would write down their wish for Richmond, seal it in the jar and send it cascading down the water-covered steps to the pool to join the undulating mass of jars floating on the water's surface.

"I think Mayor Stoney should have to pull one of these out of the water and make it come true," a woman in a blue hat announced.

"What if it's for something like making unicorns real?" a stranger challenged her back. "Well, it has to be in his sphere," the first insisted, while several people chimed in, saying the best thing that could happen would be for us to become one city, black and white, rich and poor.

If only.

Because I'd waited to go to InLight until the last couple hours before it closed, the crowds had thinned a tad by the time I made my way back for one final visit to the dancers of "Art of the Rehearsal," where I was every bit as enchanted as the first time.

So the VMFA isn't my first choice for InLight. You don't see that stopping me from attending, do you? I was at the first one eleven years ago and, barring being in another country, I'll be at future events. There will be no photos to prove it, but trust me on this.

Because if I don't go, there won't be a single person there not taking photographs and that's just wrong. Somebody besides Chloe's gotta represent the Luddites, experiencing it all IRL, not virtually later.

At you service, InLight.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hail to the Indigenous People

Knowing me, you might not guess that I'm football savvy, but it's in my DNA.

I was probably five years old when my parents, along with Dad's best friend, purchased season's tickets for the Washington R*dskins at RFK Stadium. Because they had three tickets, my sisters and I would occasionally be given the opportunity to attend a game with Mom and Dad. And I'm here to tell you that no matter what your feelings are about watching a football game on TV, watching it from the tenth row on the 50-yard line behind the Washington bench is a wholly different experience.

Sometimes wet, often cold and always exuberantly noisy and enthusiastic.

So while I never became the obsessive football fan that all five of my sisters did, I attended enough games to appreciate watching them live in a stadium filled with rabid fans, at least once a year anyway. That said, I haven't been to a game since 1999, a fact attributable to several things: my disdain for the new stadium and the madhouse that is getting there, lack of desire to use free time for football and, yes, the refusal of the team to address their racist mascot.

Now let's go back a few years to when the subject of their politically incorrect name first became a hot topic in popular culture. Yes, the R*dskins were part of my childhood and yes, my family had spent thousands of dollars on seats year after year, but it seemed pretty clear to me that the term was offensive. Period.

Yet I remember a lengthy discussion with a local music promoter and major Washington fan about changing the team's name and he was adamantly against it, claiming it was in no way objectionable, especially given its long history as the team's name. We agreed to disagree.

So naturally when I discover that the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival is screening "More Than a Word," a film analyzing the Washington team and their use of the derogatory term, and presented by the filmmaker John Little, I made sure I was there. If nothing else, so I could report back to my parents.

When I claimed a seat, the woman in front of me turned to explain why there was a blanket on the seat next to her: the Byrd's heating system wasn't working, a fact she'd discovered at an earlier screening and addressed by going to her car for a blanket. Soon another woman arrived with a large leaf bag in hand, her solution to being cold.

Both looked at me in pity for having no covering, but at least I had on my usual five layers of clothing, so I hoped I could manage.

"More Than a Name" got my attention almost immediately when a historian referred to Washington team owner Dan Snyder as "the George Wallace of the NFL" for going on record as saying that he would NEVER change the team's name. His racist words appealed to the fans interviewed - including one in a garish headdress, war paint and a burgundy and gold jersey (gee, no cultural appropriation there) - all of whom basically said the name was meant "in fun" or that Native Americans "should be honored" by its use.

Look, I don't want to make sweeping generalizations about Washington fans, but they came across as a short-sighted and uninformed bunch.

The documentary explained how the team had begun life as the Boston Braves in 1932 before changing their moniker to the Boston Redskins a year later. But it was when their owner George Preston Marshall, an open racist, moved the team to Washington and hired Coach Lone Star Dietz  as well as four Native American players that the name was cemented.

And, lest we forget, the Washington team was the very last one in the NFL to desegregate, so they didn't exactly have a great track record with non-whites at any point.

Despite fans claiming that they saw nothing offensive in the term "R*dskins," as far back as 1898, the Merriam-Webster dictionary listed the word as a "contemptuous term for American Indians." Frankly, I prefer the term used by Native Americans: the "R" word, because, like the "N" word, it's a term no white person should ever consider using.

That it is emblazoned on hats, shirts, sweats, blankets, underwear and just about every other thing you can imagine (I regret to recall that my parents had a folding card table with the logo on it) is a national embarrassment.

Some of the best parts of the film came from Native American lawyers and activists who've been fighting this battle in the courts as far back as the '60s. But, as the historian/professor pointed out, this is a sea change that will not only require proper teaching of American history to school children, but also a massive re-education of adults who either think there are no more Native Americans left or that they're the uneducated savages popular culture has told us they are.

As he so eloquently put it, this effort is about disrupting colonial practices, because that's where this whole mess began.

Which only serves as a reminder that events such as the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival (incidentally, the largest Native American film fest on the east coast) are hugely important as a means of teaching people both the correct history and current status of the many tribes from whom we stole land to begin this great democratic experiment.

So in case you're wondering if my Thanksgiving festivities will involve watching the Washington/Dallas match-up, my answer is an emphatic hell no. I may be a native Washingtonian, but I don't have to buy into hometown team loyalty when it involves racism.

Not to mention I have far better things to do post-turkey.

Holy, Holy

I hate to correct someone who came all this way to entertain me, but it wasn't the first time.

What I mean is, when I went to see Wye Oak at Capital Alehouse tonight, it was not the first time I'd seen them in Richmond. That honor dates back to September 2011 at the National on the "Civilian" tour. It's not even the second time, that having taken place on the "Shriek" tour three years later.

Yet here was singer/guitarist/keyboardist Jenn telling a roomful of people that this was their first show in Richmond and they were believing it. Did I need to show her that first blog post detailing  her telling us that she'd decided to opt out of using the National's hot tub for concerns of who had been in it recently?

So when she comes onstage in a buttoned-down mustard-yellow jumpsuit (an ideal background for her black and white patterned guitars) and begins by saying, "Sorry it's taken us so long to get here, but we're finally playing a proper show," I can't help but roll my eyes at my girlfriend.

Good thing somebody's documenting all this for the record. (Note: Andy was wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt with a deliberately torn hole in one sleeve).

I even had a corroborating witness in the friend (and her cute husband) I ran into almost as soon as I arrived. They both looked surprised to see me and his words came out first, "Where have you been for the past...year? I haven't seen you anywhere!"

Fortunately, I've worked the response to that question down to a manageable and only partially gushing answer to update my reality to friends I haven't seen in a while, but I probably still smile too much telling it. I now had a conversational partner in her for the duration because he was there taking photographs of the bands.

And, man, he must have gotten some fantastic ones given that the opening band, Thor and Friends, had three (three!) marimba/vibes/xylophone players, a violinist and, sitting in on sax, Andy the drummer from Wye Oak playing saxophone.

Jenn later referred to Thor as "the bad boy of meditative marimba music," a high compliment alluding to them calling to mind the soundtrack of a dramedy where some scenes take place in a fairy forest. And when all three had their mallets flying on the same or adjacent instruments, it was indeed a sight to behold.

The three women in the band, probably unbeknownst to them, looked like archetypes for various musical decades. One had long curly blond hair with bangs and was wearing a fitted Edwardian-style shirt and high waisted jeans, sort of an early Stevie Nicks look before the scarves overtook her. The '70s.

Next to her was a brunette with a layered haircut and a bold print top over a short, flared black skirt and black tights, pure '80s club kid. Then the violinist nailed the '90s with a black tank and a statement pendant over fitted jeans and low boots. As dressed up as grunge ever got.

Well done, ladies. You have to know your history in order to hold your spot.

As cold as I usually run, I thought the room was hot and felt kind of airless, so it was gratifying to hear from others during the break that they were feeling it, too. so, at least if we passed out, we'd all go down together.

Familiar music friends were easy to spot - the film buff, the park concerts organizer - including the sociology professor who'd recently posted a photo of the great selection of metal CDs at the Clothes Rack, coincidentally my go-to thrift store.

For a place that supplies my wardrobe, the occasional bedspread, a stylish lamp and my striped rubber boots, I'd have never given them credit for being a source for metalheads.

The crowd seemed to be full of first time Wye Oak show-goers - how else to explain no one reminding her that they've been here before - but even so, there was no reason for someone to yell out, "Encore!" after the third song. "Did you say encore?" Jenn asked politely, if a bit incredulously. "It's not over, guys," she says and proceeds to strap on her guitar.

Really, Richmond, get out much?

I'm such a fan of the band's sound, from the loud/soft shifting dynamics to the screaming guitar and wailing keyboards and that includes the raging as well as the songs of peace. That Jenn's voice is one of the most beautiful alternative vocal instruments going is indisputable, especially when experienced in a small venue like this one.

Hearing "Glory," a quintessential bad-ass song complete with killer guitar solo, made me glad we'd ended up near the front, even if the big guy next to kept knocking his elbow into my shoulder. Seriously, do you not know where you stop and strangers begin?

They played songs from "Civilian," their guitar-based album, "Shriek," their keyboard-based album and their new one, "The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs," apparently their "grown-up" album because they compromise and use both. They've also been a band for over 15 years now, so you figure it out.

As the wise sage John Mayer put it, "There's no substitute for time."

It's hard to describe the pleasure of seeing a band that so perfectly embodies a sound I respond to: dense and busy, smart and inquisitive, loud but not too loud. So often, her vocals are the calm or urgent counterpoint to the music's swirling sound and I would close my eyes and get lost in it entirely except I love watching her and Andy (and tonight, a bassist instead of Andy doing double duty on bass and drums) produce so much sound from so few people.

"If you've seen us before, you know we don't do fake encores," Jenn announced before their last song. "So we're going to play our last song and then play one more and then all go home to our cozy beds." The crowded nodded in agreement, like the devoted first-time fans that they were.

You can lay in a cozy bed when you're dead, kids. The future is now.

"Thanks so much for coming out tonight," she said before the encore. "It's so easy to stay at home with all your things and not go out and interact with others and you came out, so thank you." Then they launched into "Logic of Color," a personal favorite, although this version was completely reworked.

Talk to me and I'll talk back
Let's lock eyes here in real time
Your illogical device
My impossible demand

If Jenn was trying to suck up to me by finishing with something I love so I wouldn't spill the beans about this not being their first Richmond show, well, it worked.

Holy cow, is this how fake news gets started and accepted as fact? Could this be the logic of lies?

Tell future generations they can seek out the truth in the sunny, rambling and convoluted stories captured on my blog posts.

And based on that, Wye Oak, it's welcome back. Don't be a stranger.

Friday, November 16, 2018

That's What She Said

He: How do you take it? She: Anyway you give it.

That simple exchange could sum up the entire evening. It was a girls' night out for dinner and a play, but it was the equal opportunity offender of a cabaret that got us most jazzed.

Make no mistake, dinner at Peter Chang in Scott's Addition - somehow, unbelievably, Queen B's first visit there - was every bit as fresh and expertly cooked as it always is (anything eaten with two scallion bubble pancakes is automatically memorable), not to mention netting all three of us compliments on our hair.

On a cold, rainy night, what woman doesn't love hearing that?

When we got to Richmond Triangle Players for "Who's Holiday," a look at the later life of Cindy Lou Who of Whoville, we picked up our tickets and were told to fill out a card with our worst Christmas present ever (although mine wasn't my worst, just lame), which Pru and I dutifully did.

It was like a ransom. We had to bare our souls before we were allowed into the theater.

Set in Cindy Lou Who's dilapidated trailer somewhere in the snowy hills of Mt. Crumpit, the one-woman play utilized the multi-talented Kimberly Jones-Clark as Cindy Lou, explaining through rhyme and song how her life had gone south after meeting the Grinch. I don't want to spoil anything here, but let's just say it was a tale about diversity and how sometimes your parents don't want you to marry someone who looks different than they do, even if he impregnates you.

Prejudice is real, y'all.

Telling that sad tale of woe involved a rap song sung under a spotlight in a darkened room (complete with conclusion reached: a Grinch is always a Grinch) and hearing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" sung in a pitch-perfect Judy Garland voice by Cindy Lou in a green leather bustier and red capri pants.

Fortunately, it also involved Cindy Lou realizing that the years spent in jail for killing the Grinch allowed her to blossom as a person and even, at the very end, reunite with the love child she and the Grinch had produced before his nasty fall off the mountain.

So, at least there was redemption.

And, it's probably safe to say, the holiday season has been officially kicked off since this was clearly a Christmas offering to theater-goers. Can't say I'm happy about such a ridiculously early start to the most annoying of seasons, but sometimes a play is just a play.

After it ended, some in the audience left, but most merely milled about because our programs clearly invited us to stay for a special holiday cabaret featuring Georgia Rogers Farmer and Josh Worsham afterward. And with only a brief, one act play to start, it was still awfully early.

Staff moved around clearing empty wine and cocktail glasses, but when a guy made a move to clear Pru's coffee mug, she looked disappointed to be reminded it was empty of caffeine. He responded by offering to fetch her a fresh cup and she was so surprised and grateful, she uncharacteristically agreed to take it anyway he gave it.

Don't quote me on this, but that may be the first time those words ever left her lips.

Last in line in the ladies' room, I overheard several women discussing how the theater will be building more bathrooms, a very good thing given that two stalls is never enough at intermission. Meanwhile, those of us in line marveled at all the dialog Clark had had to memorize to carry the entire play, an impressive feat. A woman washing her hands polled us all, asking who was staying for the cabaret.

Well, duh.

Pru and I knew what a treat we were in for, having seen Georgia on multiple occasions and being well aware of her double threat status when it comes to comedy and music. Her ensemble tonight was black pants, a black t-shirt printed with a tuxedo front, black Chuck Taylors (low tops) and shoulder-dusting rhinestone earrings for pizzaz.

She was accompanied by Josh Worsham, clad appropriately in a red holiday sweater that read, "Baaa humbug," and asking the crowd, "Are you drunk yet? You're going to wanna be!"

With their tongues planted firmly in cheeks, these two were primed to deliver the ideal holiday music for a heathen.

I'm talking about their song choices, beginning with "Text Me Merry Christmas (a smiley face will do)," a modern day ode to keeping your phone charged when your loved one is off celebrating with their family and you want to reach out.

Georgia cooed "Santa, Baby," walking through the room as she did so, and noting, "Everyone looks scared!" as she approached them. She must not have been able to smell fear on me because she stopped to sing a few lines to my face.

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me

Josh did an extremely clever revision of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" called "The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen," replacing the traditional lyrics with more topical ones about the male and female signs being switched on public bathrooms and the problems that caused once he found himself in the ladies' loo.

The next song was introduced as for "our Jewish friends," resulting in Georgia singing "Shalom" to the tune of Adele's "Hello." With references to latkes ("We need more apple sauce!") and dreidels, their ode to the Chosen People had the audience dying laughing.

After putting on a scarf with a keyboard pattern, Josh announced, "This is a holiday favorite and, to be honest, I'm not sure why." The duo launched into "Baby, It's Cold Outside," with Georgia playing the part of the aggressor, feeding Josh drinks, rubbing her body parts on him and barring the door to punctuate the song's suggestive words. At one point, she lashed him to the couch so he had to spend the night at her place.

"Nothing like a politically incorrect song tonight!" an audience member seated next to Queen B called out about the very improper tune. But Georgia was quick, immediately calling back, "That's why we're here!"

To compensate, Georgia promised us a "sweet one" next, doing "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus," eventually seeing Daddy hugging, fondling and finally undressing Santa before it was all over. What's sweeter than that?

I know, Josh's next song - "Coming Out This Christmas" was even more saccharine, with lines like, "Here's your Christmas present, Mom and Dad. I'm gay!" Meanwhile, Georgia draped a yellow and orange boa around his neck as he sang to drive the point home.

Not every song skewered tradition. There was a singalong to "Rudolph" and a straight version of "The Christmas Song," but all that was just prelude to the big number. When you've got a voice like Georgia's that spans octaves and the comedic timing of a pro, of course your slam bang winner is going to be "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Except that instead of all that crap about turtle doves and marchers marching, Georgia was using the cards we'd filled out with our worst Christmas presents ever written on them. So, we got two "coupons for a free hug" and one pair of "used underwear from my Grandmama," that kind of thing. My personal favorite was the five "diabetic socks and I was only 45," for the way Georgia got all those syllables to work in that one line.

Although she sang through blocks of cement, MAGA hats, Chlamydia, electric curlers and fire extinguishers with no problem, she paused when she sang "half whistle bowtie" because, as Josh informed everyone, "For those who don't know, Georgia makes half whistle bowties."

Are you kidding? Beau is the bowtie king, so we know all about her talent.

But the best submission of all came directly from Pru, so we heard Georgia sing about 12 "home colonoscopy test kits," a line that cracked up the entire audience for its ridiculousness and had Pru calling out, "Thanks, Dad!" Queen B and I already knew about the test kits  because Pru's Dad had gifted not just her but Queen B as well, even going so far as to try to explain how they worked before Pru shut him down.

Once the song ended, Josh called out to the crowd, asking who wanted to claim their entry and Pru raised her hand. Her worst gift offering had gotten the biggest laugh, by far, so why not be recognized for it? When Georgia saw her hand, she squinted at Pru and observed, "I thought sure you were the chlamydia!"

For submitting the finest worst present, Pru was awarded a limited edition ornament of Georgia and Josh, a holiday keeper the likes of which Hallmark only wishes they put it out first.

This most sacrilegious of holiday cabarets closed out with the Barbra Streisand arrangement for "Jingle Bells," chosen because it was what Josh's mother used to play while they decorated the Christmas tree.

My only question is, do you even have to come out to your parents if your Mom is already playing Babs for you? Doesn't she kind of know?

Personally, I've long been a fan of that album for all the unusual arrangements and offbeat timing on it, not to mention the woman's voice, a mainstay in my life since the Bicentennial. Because of that longevity, when we got to the line, "The horse was lean and lank. Misfortune seemed his lot. We got into a drifted bank and then we got upsot," I knew the proper response was, "Upsot?" and was one of a few who called it out.

That's how I take my doses of the holidays: with irreverence, bathroom humor and the occasional comedic bit from the queen of the Chosen People. Only latkes could have made it better.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

It Had Better Be Tonight

I may be a complicated woman, but I have simple needs.

Sometimes, nothing suits me better than dinner and a movie, especially when the restaurant is a personal favorite, the film is from the '60s and the company is hilarious. I'll even do the driving for a change, which right away tells you I wasn't with Mac or Pru, both of whom prefer to be in control the driver's seat.

Since I was collecting Mr. Wright from the East End, it only made sense to drive directly to Nota Bene for dinner, where we were early enough to score the bar stools with the best prospect and refuge and the music wasn't yet drowned out by people talking.

That darkness was already falling was just another reminder of how much I detest this time of year. And don't get me started on tomorrow's rainy cold front.

But at Note Bene, everything was warm and good (wood fired ovens are reliable that way), from the bartender's favorite salad, a Brussels Caesar of shaved Brussels sprouts, oil-cured olives, pickled radish, the fermented fish sauce garum, white anchovies and the always delicious cheese Grana Padano, to a crispy pizza singing with the sweet/salty balance of wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, Parmesan and Fontina.

My only regret was how quickly we demolished both while Mr. Wright patiently explained to me how well I was coming along in celebrating my (according to him) new-found shallowness and open-armed embrace of his suggestion that selfishness should guide what we do in this relationship. He argued that both qualities had long existed in me but I'd tamped them down, while I believe that both are learned behaviors since this whole shebang began.

Since he thinks both qualities are a good thing - or a "good bad thing," as he phrased it - I don't know why I'm resisting getting on board with it. Then again, if you listen to him, I hopped that shallow/selfish train a while back, somewhere after the week in Chicago or around the time of the two weeks at the beach, but most certainly after Dubrovnik and Athens.

Go ahead and ask, who am I?

Well, for one thing, I'm a dessert lover and Note Bene has one of my favorites, a fig crostada made obscene with Pineau des Charentes cream, although it's the figs and rustic glazed crust that speak to me more than the cream. Plain and simple, it's a fancy pants Fig Newton and I mean that in the most complimentary way because who else has such a way with figs?

After lingering so long, we barely made it to the Byrd in time for "The Pink Panther," taking our seats while a Pink Panther cartoon played on the screen, a prelude to manager Todd explaining that the reason "The Pink Panther" film had an animated panther in its credits was because United Artists, then at the height of its creative powers, had just formed an animation department and wanted to show off.

Just as importantly, he pointed out that this was the film where Peter Sellers essentially developed the iconic Inspector Clouseau character and took it to the bank, so we were watching its creation.

Billed as "a madcap frolic of crime and fun," I was enchanted by the movie from the credits - "Clothing by Yves St. Laurent" - right on through the opening scene, which began with, "Once upon a time," as all truly great stories should. Eye candy was everywhere since the movie was set in Rome, Paris and Cortina d'Ampezzo, a ski resort in the Alps, making for a gorgeous travelogue, if nothing else.

But the movie had plenty else, from Sellers' brilliant physical comedy (the scene where everyone's dancing and then stops, except Clouseau, who continue to do the Jerk) and deadpan delivery to a glimpse at 1963 Europe. I may hate cold weather, but I could get used to covering myself with a thick lap blanket for a horse-drawn sleigh ride to my destination in Italy.

Those sleigh bells are nothing if not festive.

For that matter, I'd also love to attend a party like those thrown by the mindless social-climbing doyenne Mrs. Dunning because I've always wanted to go to a party where the dancing involved doing the Twist, the Frug and, yes, the Jerk. I didn't see anyone doing the Pony, but it was  crowded party, so I might have missed it.

Not to mention that every movie should have a scene that starts with a close-up of a woman's behind, followed by her singing and dancing as she moves through the seated party guests, clapping and grooving along.

Fact: we have lost something in party-throwing since the '60s.

YSL's clothes were fabulous, especially the brightly-colored tunic and skinny pants ensembles worn by several female characters. all of whom, by the way, wore massive beehive up-dos. Had the film been in Smell-o-Vision, we'd have been choking on the scent of Aqua Net.

And, man, oh, man, I'd forgotten how drop dead gorgeous Robert Wagner was back then. Almost too pretty boy, but not quite. Even more exquisite was Claudia Cardinale, who was new to me but who possessed such astonishing beauty that just ogling her was enough. I don't know how a straight guy could even follow the story for gawking at her.

But that's not my problem. I've got enough on my plate taking Shallow 101 and Selfishness 101, in addition to my usual non-stop cultural calendar. Tonight, it was all I could do to do dinner and a movie while discussing my progress in the courses.

Mr. Wright likes to say that it takes a lot of thinking and talking to keep up with me. I don't know why. I'm a simple woman.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Worlds Colliding

This is an evening for people who love all forms of music and are most excited to see something unlike anything else out there. If you're a true music fan, you're not going to want to miss it. 
~ RVA Mag "Shows you must see this week."

Tell me something I didn't already know.

I mean, how could you call yourself a music fan and not jump on an intimate show of a string quartet performing selections from Trey Pollard's new album "Antiphones?"

Throw in that hometown-boy-made-good Matthew E. White was opening and it was a benefit for Classical Revolution RVA and you'd have to be a musical fool not to snap up tickets early. And I'm no fool, or at least, no musical fool.

Besides, despite being strangers, Trey and I go way back. I'd seen Foxygen at the National last year, the same Foxygen who'd had Trey do the arrangements for the album, which is why I went (that and local musicians backing them on said arrangements). I was part of the enthusiastic audiences that saw him play as part of Ombak at Balliceaux in 2010 and 2014. That's right, I saw him backing Lydia Ooghe at Live at Ipanema in 2010, a cozy and memorable show. Back in 2011, I'd not only heard jazz sextet Old New Things do Trey's "Americana" at the Camel, but met a middle-aged man who'd recently begun taking guitar lessons from Trey and bragged about it to me, a stranger. Heck, in 2016, he'd been part of the appeal of hearing the Scott Clark Other Other 4-tet in the dim light of the Gypsy Tea Room. For that matter, there was the time I saw him as part of the Matt White hometown show at Strange Matter touring behind Matt's "Big Love" album just when it was breaking huge. And let's not forget the Richmond Symphony Pops performance in 2017 where Trey wrote the arrangements for all the performers - Tim Barry, Bio Ritmo, Clair Morgan - and I was in the nosebleeds for them all.

But if you really want to drill down, I was at the Listening Room in April 2010 when he'd been playing pedal steel instead of his usual guitar and found myself too curious not to go up to him afterward. Music novice that I am, I'd asked him about it and been surprised when he admitted that the instrument was new to him, so it still required every bit of concentration he had.

Who knew anything musical was ever difficult for Trey Pollard?

All of that's just a long way of saying that seeing the RVA Mag piece after I'd gotten tickets for last night's birthday week fundraiser for Classical Revolution RVA was just validation that I'd made the right call.

Not that I need validation, mind you, but it's always a nice bonus.

After dinner at Goatocado - me with a Californian, Mr. Wright with a Mediterranean - you can be sure we arrived moments after the doors opened so I could have my choice of seats (second row, center, behind family members in the front row) for an evening with Spacebomb founder Matt and longtime collaborator Trey.

Spotting the usual suspects - the DJ I'd just seen at "La Dolce Vita," the Bridgepark mastermind, assorted local musicians - I somehow managed to miss a favorite girlfriend who messaged me this morning, saying she'd seen me before the show and then I'd disappeared. How we missed each other, I'm not quite sure.

Next to me was a young couple, sounding new to each other because they were sharing their musical tastes. She explained that her taste was eclectic, although she couldn't abide country and he listened politely as she told him how much more music there was where she came from than here. Still, they agreed, Richmond was getting better and they were hoping they hadn't made a bad choice in coming tonight.

I didn't have the time or inclination for some real talk with them.

Matt came out and sat down at the piano with the uber-talented Alan Parker on guitar, explaining that it had been only last night when he'd asked Alan to accompany him. That's some serious chops right there. He then proceeded to play some of his new hushed and soulful songs, his back to the room because of the piano's placement.

"I was gonna tell a Trey story between every song - I've known Trey half my life - but I decided not to," he joked at the start, a shame for those of us who love a good yarn. His song about the current dictator in the White House was entitled "No Future in Our Frontman" and got a resounding round of applause, as much for the song's urgency as its message.

If not our musicians and artists speaking out against this abomination-in-chief, then who?

Eventually, Matt relented and shared a favorite Trey story, telling us how, as a teenager, his Virginia Beach guitar teacher was always holding up Trey as the local guitar pinnacle, which was meaningless because Matt had no idea who he was. At least he didn't until he realized that the cheesy Norfolk restaurant where he was hosting had a weekly band consisting of old guys playing rock and roll covers with one young guy shredding mightily on guitar.

Matt, meet Trey.

The string quintet - two violins, viola, cello and upright bass - joined Matt for the last couple of songs, with Trey warning the room that they'd not rehearsed together for this. But these were classical musicians and pros, and they nailed his arrangements, adding an incredibly lush note to Matt's music.

They were so good, in fact, that after the final note, Matt turned to them and Trey looking terribly impressed. "Hey, that was pretty good, Trey!" he marveled since he had just heard the arrangements for the first time, too.

Apparently when you've known someone nearly all your musical life, arranging for their songs is no big deal, or at least it isn't for someone as talented as Trey.

After a brief intermission, the string quintet returned to play selections from Trey's "Preludes and Fugues for String Quartet," a series of short pieces that delivered various moods and musical expectations, only to take off in a direction that felt fresher than any string quartet music you can remember hearing.

Trey introduced the musicians, then took up a spot standing off in a corner as they played.

Like an expectant father being asked to witness his baby's delivery, Trey's focus involved listening intently to the quintet while staring down with his eyes covered or up at the ceiling, at least until his young son approached him, arms extended. Trey took in the rest of the performance with his son's head nestled in his Daddy's neck. It was incredibly sweet.

But so was being on the second floor of the Hof with a small crowd of music lovers listening to homegrown Richmond music about to be released to the world. These guys represent Richmond impressively well and anyone who knew about the show and chose not to come had missed out.

Trey and the Classical Revolution musicians got a much-deserved and extended standing ovation and every time they tried to stop bowing and leave, the clapping kicked into a higher gear. Safe to say, everyone there knew they'd witnessed something extraordinary.

Making our way out, I ran smack into the handsomest bass player I know, surprising both of us since it had been a while and I'd missed his annual Halloween extravaganza because I'd been at a black tie gala dancing to "Brick House" instead of at his house.

"As I live and breathe, Karen Newton!" he exclaimed, hugging me while holding his wife's violin off to the side.

Just another part of a stellar evening I wouldn't have wanted to miss. As the DJ and I agreed, there was absolutely nowhere better to be in Richmond this Tuesday night.

P.S. Happy sixth birthday, Classical Revolution. Helluva celebration.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cherry Bombs and Jezebels

For the record I am not particularly, nor have I ever been, a Joan Jett fan.

That said, I didn't hesitate when I saw that the James River Film Society was screening "Bad Reputation," the new documentary (I am, after all, a major documentary dork) about her at the Visual Arts Center, grabbing a couple of tickets the moment I saw it would be showing a few weeks later on a Friday night.

And not that I needed validation, but the next day at lunch with a favorite Gemini, she brought up seeing a photo of Joan Jett online. "Maybe it's the hair, but I immediately thought of you," she told me. "That was your era, right?"

Technically it was, because the Runaways first album came out in 1976, although I didn't know that until I saw the documentary. Sort of like I didn't know that Rolling Stone considers her one of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Nor did I have a clue that her first band, the Runaways, were teenagers and considered a glam band.

Look, I couldn't pay attention to everything being played in the '70s and frankly, disco offered the allure of dancing, so I missed out on a lot of rock 'n roll back then. But I digress.

Since it only made sense to invite someone who'd been a music lover when Joan kicked off her career, Mr. Wright got the other ticket and we set off to up our Joan Jett knowledge. Always eager to park once and party twice, I chose El Pope for dinner, mainly so I could have their "Best in the Fan" pupusas again while Mr. Wright demolished chicken and Chorizo sopapillas.

Honestly, I don't know how this place has hung on in the high-rent Fan for over a year now, but I do know that despite a dining room that never seems to get full, they put out some stellar food and always with a smile. For my three pupusa mix, I chose tilapia, shrimp and bean, mainly because the other times I'd not been asked to choose and had wound up with pork, beans and beef. Delicious all, but it was time for something different.

Besides, Joan Jett's a vegetarian, so it was the least I could do.

Walking into Vis Arts, we ran into MJ, the guy responsible for the James River Film Society all these years. After apologizing for not getting a chance to chat at the Silent Music Revival a few weeks ago, he shared that "Bad Reputation" had played at Movieland for exactly one screening (for 63 people) and that was part of the reason they decided to show it.

I hadn't even gotten wind of that one screening, so I was just glad that fellow movie and film fans were on the ball.

The evening began with trivia and a t-shirt giveaway, but no one seemed to know Joan's real name  - Joan Larkin - so I felt better about being there despite my lack of Joan Jett cred. At the very least, I was alive all the while she was making music, even if I wasn't paying attention.

And now that I've seen the documentary, I'm a little ashamed that I wasn't following her. There's no doubt that the woman is a feminist icon, from her early days with an all girl band through her years spent proving that women can be killer guitarists to all the artists she's helped, mentored or played/sung on their records.

I mean, this is the woman who fronted the two remaining members of Nirvana in their performance when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after Cobain died. I can't imagine how many musicians would have sold their soul to be taking Cobain's place on that stage.

Yet one of the most startling things about the documentary was all the old photographs of Joan, first as a fresh-faced teenager, later as a serious '80s babe with spiky hair, smokey eyes and serious attitude. Asked to describe her trademark shag haircut, she referred to it as "a bastardized bob." I'm telling you, Joan Jett has always been an attractive woman, although I was far less impressed with her current nip and tuck/botox look. I'll never understand wanting to look that fake.

Plastic surgeries aside, watching clips of her performing for the past 40+ years was nothing short of awe-inspiring because of her mad guitar skills and full-on punk attitude. That she chose not to marry or have kids only made her devotion to rock and roll more obvious, never more clearly shown than in a clip when she was on a '70s talk show and asked about those two feminine goals.

Joan was on a mission to rock the world and there was no place for something so mundane as diapers in her life.

Considering the subject, it was a wide-ranging group of people who made up the talking heads in the documentary. What I'm saying is, when's the last time Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox, Miley Cyrus and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day shared the screen (don't even get me started on Debbie Harry in her bug-like sunglasses, obviously intended to hide her eyes).

And that's without even acknowledging how Nikki Haley got in there.

Where the film let me down was on the subject of anything personal because clearly Joan wasn't interested in sharing that part of herself, although given how often she was the onscreen talking head, there was no shortage of Joan commenting about her musical life.

The good news is, I'll never hear a Joan Jett song the same again. I didn't even recall that she'd covered "Crimson and Clover" in 1983, not even bothering to change the pronouns from "her" to "him."

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby, that's how much Joan loved rock and roll. My era or not, I may not have been a fan before, but I sure am now.

Time is Telling

When you haven't spoken to your best friend from college in six months, you're overdue.

The two of us had spent all last week trying to ascertain when the best time to talk would be, no easy proposition since our phone calls usually last about two hours and I had all kinds of things I had to or wanted to accomplish on Saturday.

And getting out of bed early wasn't one of them.

She had a haircut at 10 a.m., but I had a walk to do that was complicated by the marathon going on, lunch plans in service of my hired mouth, errands to run and an afternoon show to catch a favorite band I hadn't seen in a while, so we finally settled on 5:30 p.m.

Good thing we started early, too, or we'd never have been off the phone by 9:00.

The walk was my annual reminder that somehow people are so totally clueless as to be completely unaware of how much of the city is closed down for runners. I know because I saw the same cars sitting in traffic or making repeated loops in their vain attempts to cross Lombardy or Broad (impossible) or figure out a secret shortcut that would set them free.

Get on the highway or go home, kids.

In Carytown running errands, I was delayed by the guy singing to recorded tracks in front of the Virginia Shop. Stepping out of the car to his smiling face and dulcet tones singing the Spinners' "I'll Be Around" was matched only by returning to hear him do Smokey's "The Tracks of My Tears." I could have stood there half the afternoon just to hear him sing so beautifully.

After lunch, I dropped off the car and walked over to Gallery 5 for King of Pops' "Popchella" show, arriving in time to hear the last few songs of the Wimps' set. I'm not going to lie, it was a cold day and the last thing I wanted was a frozen pop, even if King of Pops was giving them away, although more than a few people were sucking on a pop.

Not me, I stood directly next to the radiator to hear the Wimps' lead singer say, "This song is for everyone who's ever had a broken heart. So it's for everyone." True that. Favorite line: "I know I left a lot of holes. Careful, darlin', how you fill 'em." Conclusion? I'll go see the Wimps again for a full set.

The band had a look going on, with suspenders being the common thread. The singer's suspenders were blue, the bass player's patterned and the drummer's pink. Only the keyboard player had the nerve to let his flannel shirt go un-suspendered.

Next up was Spooky Cool, a long-time favorite and in his usual, understated way, lead singer Zac announced, "We're Spooky Cool. We have some songs" and began playing to a half-filled room of attentive fans. The one thing you can count on with Spooky Cool is how beautifully Zac's ethereal voice will blend with the female singer's in harmony, even as the band rocks out.

A few songs in, Zac was heating up and asked the bassist to help him pull his hoodie sleeve off without removing his guitar. "How's that belly sweat stain coming along?" he asked, tugging on a sleeve. "It's getting there," Zac said, pushing his long hair back and pulling his t-shirt out to give said belly some air before launching into "Time Will Tell."

"We're Spooky Cool and we appreciate you being here on a Saturday afternoon and not running," Zac said to close out. Who would run when they could be listening to bands play four blocks from home? And that's not even with a pop in hand.

I got home exactly ten minutes before She Who Hated Me On Sight and Has Loved Me Since College and I were to rendezvous on the phone. My only error was in not fueling up beforehand, resulting in multiple mini-meals being taken during the course of the phone call. She'd never have known if I hadn't started choking on a pretzel mid-story.

I'm not a good telephone person, never have been, but when your best friend lives in god-forsaken Texas (or North Dakota or New Hampshire), you have no choice but to suck it up and be a phone person, at least for a couple hours.

This time, we added a visual element as I sent her photographs throughout the conversation. First, it was one of Mr. Wright and me because she was naturally curious about this person who set my world on its ear. But then she wanted to see snaps of my sisters and parents, whom she hadn't seen in 30 years.

"Wow, Pat looks great!" she gushed about my Mom. "She's hardly changed at all!" That's one comment I'll definitely pass along to Mom, who won't believe it but will nonetheless appreciate the words. Some of my five sisters she couldn't recognize at all, while others she thought were instantly familiar. A photo of me with her and her ex in Dallas from a decade ago was one she barely recalled, although it set her off on a tangent about the color of her hair at the time.

Hey, we are our own worst critics.

And because she's been my best friend since I was 19, we laugh almost non-stop. Half the time, we don't even have to finish our sentence to elicit a response from the other. She still gives me a hard time about things she was giving me a hard time about in the '70s and '80s and I take it because it gives her such pleasure.

What I didn't expect was all the bonus points she, the athlete in this duo, gave me for some of my activities with Mr. Wright. Canoeing, tandem bicycle riding and going to a Cubs game all elicited new respect from her since none seemed like things she thought I'd ever do.

Let's just say we've come a long way since she tried to teach me to play tennis, 'though she loves to crack herself up thinking about what a failure I was at it.

Finally, after three and a half hours talking, she pointed out the time and it only seemed wise to wrap up the conversation, with a plan to talk again before the end of the year so we don't have so much ground to cover.

Next morning, I woke up to a message from her. "I haven't laughed that much in a long time. I cannot tell you enough how truly happy I am that your life is going so beautifully. There is no one in the world who deserves it more."

Pshaw, it's not for me to say I deserve it. But I was careful, darlin', and waited my turn for it to happen. Tennis was hard. Nothing was easier than this.