Saturday, June 1, 2019

Expect the Unexpected

Tonight's lesson was downright blunt: you just never know what's going to happen to you.

Well, I knew I was going to dinner, a play and to hear music with an old friend. But he's been living in the 'burbs for a while now, causing him to ask a really dumb question when I suggested the plan for the evening. "Are we going to walk?" he messaged me.


Now, mind you, it's not like he's some rube. This is a man who used to live in J-Ward, a man who's known me for a decade now and with whom I've walked to these places before.

Had he forgotten the J-Ward drill already?

Because he was coming straight from work and the play started earlier than usual, we decided to make Tarrant's Back Door for fish tacos our destination. It was also a sentimental choice because when we'd first met, he'd been bartending at Tarrant's. Right off the bat, he caused a sensation by asking if he could use Apple Pay instead of a card to pay for dinner. Turns out he could, but almost no one on staff knew that, so they all watched intently as he paid the 21st century way.

"Wow, I would have told a customer no, we can't do that," one of the managers admitted. Glad to help train the staff, son.

It was while we were eating our guac-slathered tacos that he shared that his relationship of the past few years was ending and naturally, that became the topic of conversation for the rest of the meal. While he'd long acknowledged that the relationship wasn't perfect (are any?), he hadn't foreseen its conclusion (but then, who does?).

As a long-time friend, I just hated seeing him sad about it.

After we ate, we strolled over to the November Theater for Cadence Theater Company's production of "Gloria," a multi-award winning play and Pulitzer Prize finalist. You know, the usual J-Ward fare.

We're grown-ups. We're supposed to choose our friends.

The utterly engrossing story followed a fictional publishing company and the Generation X editors, Generation Y editorial assistants and the Generation Z intern and receptionist as they try to figure out if they'll ever achieve their career dreams given that the Baby Boomers continue to hold on to all the top positions.

And now these Boomers aren't dying!

Where the play shocked the entire audience was in its depiction of how one disgruntled employee handled her resentment of others in the office. It was clear that none of her coworkers - much less the audience - had any idea what was going to happen to them when they went to work that day. Spoiler alert: intermission involved the stage crew removing lots of fake blood.

In the pre-Internet days, when you sat down at your desk, you had no choice but to work.

At intermission, everyone walked around half-dazed at the unexpectedness of what we'd just seen, sort of a witness-lite reaction to fictionalized trauma. The second half of the story showed how survivors - witnesses and those absent but part of the office - processed what they'd been through. And if they made money in the process, all the better to them.

It was exactly the kind of thought-provoking theater you can always count on Cadence Theatre Company delivering. My friend and I couldn't stop talking about it from the moment the applause began until we walked into Gallery 5, which for tonight, had been turned into a honky-tonk.

That meant sad songs, heartbreak and an unusually high number of cowboy hats in the room. Once it got hot in there, the hat owners began using said headgear to fan themselves.

DJ Mary was playing honky tonk vinyl when we walked in and the first person to throw her arms around me was the reason I was there. Musician Alison Self is back in Richmond for the first time in something like three years and there was no way I was missing seeing her and hearing that voice. Confession: I've been a devoted fan since I first met her back in 2008.

In fact, the evening was a benefit because Alison had been diagnosed with colon cancer back in December and been through a couple rounds of chemo. Talk about not knowing what's going to happen to you.

Meanwhile, my friend was totally digging on DJ Mary playing a cover of "Delta Dawn," a song that took him back to elementary school because his music teacher used to have his class sing it. I have to say, it was a real kick to hear a DJ playing nothing but honky tonk records for a change.

Then Alison took the stage in her fringed shirt, jeans and hat, holding her guitar and introducing her dobro player Mike before saying how nice it was to see all our beautiful faces. "It's like a family reunion!" she laughed before getting down to business. "Go ahead and swipe right on me on Tinder. I'm single!" Pure Alison.

So is her voice, bigger sounding than she looks and pure twang. As the night progressed, she did songs by Kitty Wells like "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," as well as Loretta Lynn's "Kentucky Girl" and originals I'd heard before and loved, like "When I Feel Weak, I Pour a Strong Drink," which she explained was about coping mechanisms.

But being Alison, she used the moments between songs to banter with the crowd of friends and fans, saying, "Y'all are so responsive and sweet, but this is a bar and we're going to get drunk!"

Explaining that she was going to put out a tip jar in case we wanted to contribute to the cause ("my butt hole!"), she sang another of her own, "Go Ahead, Girl," which she'd started because she wanted to use the word "strychnine" in a song. Honky tonk goals, I'm guessing.

Meanwhile, a photographer roamed the room shooting crowd footage for Alison's upcoming video and couples began two-stepping, although it was mostly all girl couples since my people tend to be the ones who want to dance.

"Are you ready for a dirty song?" Alison asked rhetorically, before introducing her classic, "I'll Buy the Plan B If You Buy the Whiskey," which she claimed hadn't been written as a political song but now very much felt that way in today's oppressive legislating. Then there was a Hank, Sr. song and a Buck Owens song and one about growing up outside of Petersburg, and wanting to escape, which she did.

I mean, who wouldn't?

And, yes, she offered to let anyone who wanted to touch her chemo port. I'll be honest, I wasn't one of them. But even with all the singing and joking, she included a PSA for the greater good: "If you have blood in your butt for a year, you should probably have that checked out!"

From there, it was only natural for her to launch into "I Wouldn't Kiss You If I Was Whiskey Drunk," an Alison Self classic if there ever was one and the ultimate statement about attraction.

Granted, we don't always know what's going to happen to us. Seems to me that that's exactly why I need to be out there having a ball every chance I get. Especially with friends who are going through the unexpected.

All I'm saying is, I'll buy the fish tacos if you buy the tequila.

No comments:

Post a Comment