The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Many apologies to all ten of you who may actually read this for my recent lapse of effort. It’s been a nasty couple of weeks, what with pollen and insistent useless meetings at work. More happily, the home front has been filled with garden preparation, and it’s almost time to change the rugs and drapes over for warm weather, which always sends me into a very Prussian whirl of activity.

I learn from the Sunpapers today that there are several newcomers to my neighborhood. Although I’ve always been fond of the gargantuan, dilapidated houses in St. Paul Street’s 1900 block, I’d really not taken much notice of the fact that they were getting inexorably spruced up and shoved back into style. Now, though, the paper has made an issue of it. While I’m delighted to see the more tatty end of my neighborhood returning to the eye of Fashion, this has produced an unpleasant side effect.

I am going to have to pay social calls on people who are probably not from here, whom I do not know, and who decidedly do not know that courtesy demands that they call upon me first.

I realize that very few people actually bother with the full-blown ritual of social calls anymore, but I look askance at those who don’t observe the more basic proprieties of the custom. Only very old ladies in Baltimore, middle-aged and older ladies in Richmond, and thirty-two Philadelphian cave-dwellers still practice the form in its entirety—except, of course, those associated with the United States military. Perhaps this is the foundation of my longstanding and unhealthy fascination with the Marine Corps—they might not know which end is up, but they damned well know which corner of their cards to turn down.

The basis of the social call is simple. It is a plain courtesy designed to let the callee know that the caller recognizes his existence. Simultaneously, it allows the caller a chance to curry the favor of the one called upon—thus the better for securing dinner invitations and introductions, particularly desirable when one moves to a new city, and most especially desirable when that city is one that peers cautiously at newcomers from behind its fan.

The modern form of social calling is, of course, constrained by the fact that practically everybody, including those with the most illustrious bloodlines, now has to work for a living. That pretty much axes weekday mornings and afternoons; now if one wants to be “At Home” at a specific time, evenings and weekends are the only option. As most people are entertaining or being entertained on Saturday night and will at least make the pretense of being at church on Sunday morning, the available times are cut down again. The "At Home” custom simply isn’t practical anymore; one must call at random.

Naturally, the calling card itself is of paramount importance. Since almost no one has a household staff anymore, one no longer has to present a card to a footman or butler who will in turn deliver it to the master or mistress of the house. It is now sufficient for everyone to have a little tray in the hall to receive cards; when calling, you drop your card in the tray. The card itself is easy enough. A man’s card should be small with his name only; a lady’s is bigger and might include her address and her “At Home” time, in the unlikely event that she observes one. It’s acceptable now to use your business card if you have one (even when I had reason to have one, I didn’t, figuring that anybody who really wanted to do business with me would probably be in my social circle anyway). For those who give a good Goddamn, I’ll list basic etiquette after this rant.

Most moderns claim that they don’t like unannounced calls because they haven’t time to provide entertainment. A great advantage of the calling system is that you do not, as a rule, provide entertainment or even refreshments. On the off chance that you have a pot of tea or a shaker of Manhattans (guess which I prefer), so much the better, but anybody brought up nicely won’t think less of you if you don’t.

The supreme advantage of social calls is that, unless you are calling upon a good friend, the proscribed length of a call is about fifteen minutes. This is precisely long enough for both parties to acknowledge each other and compliment each other’s house/attire/business/children, but not quite long enough to embark on any discussion likely to provoke gunfire.

The evenings of this week will find me with my card case in my breast pocket and unwillingly, but very properly, trudging down St. Paul a few blocks.


1. Ring doorbell.

2. If a servant answers, present your card; he will inform you if the gentleman/lady of the house is receiving. If he or she is, he will present your card and then show you in. If he or she is not, you simply leave your card. Remember that you may be calling at an inopportune time (dinner, sex, childbirth).

3. Since no one has servants anymore the previous scenario is unlikely, but I don’t want you telling people that you weren’t adequately prepared. The head of the house may very well answer; in which case you simply state that you wanted to drop by and pay a call to say hello (dropping your card in the tray that they hopefully have the sense to provide).

4. Make polite—but banal—conversation. You’re here to be polite, not to change the world. Don’t talk too much about other people; you never know who formed alliances at last week’s dinner parties. More significantly, you don’t know who formed unmentionable alliances afterwards at the nightclubs.

5. Claim you must run downtown, and leave. You should expect a return call, or some form of acknowledgement, within the next month. If you don’t, you may officially declare the person “Not Our Kind, Dear”, and you have no obligation to call on him in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2003

In the interest of my own pet Marines I was quite happy, this week, to see that Baghdad had fallen. Mind you, I still don’t support this war. I think it’s an exercise in hypocrisy. If anybody in the Republican administration would have the balls to admit that it’s an Imperialistic war, I wouldn’t mind. I have absolutely nothing against Imperialism; I feel that the United States didn’t do anywhere near enough colonization a century ago, and I’m bitter that Germany’s colonies were ripped away from her. As to England’s inability to retain her colonies—well, I’ll try to refrain from the usual comments on English power.

The problem here is that we’re not admitting it’s a war for oil. Oh, no, it’s a war of liberation. The United States, don’t you know, is ALL about liberating the oppressed. We don’t seem to be liberating oppressed people, though, who are NOT sitting on top of a giant oil well. People in Rwanda and Korea are being oppressed, too, but apparently not THAT badly. They should learn to suck up and deal. Oh, those poor, poor Iraqis, though! Only the Great And Powerful Oz—er, United States—can help them and their poor, oppressed oil fields. And, after thirteen years, it’s quite easy to forget that while Russia raped Lithuania for the three hundredth time in 1990, the gallant United States turned a blind eye because it was busy rescuing the poor oppressed people of Kuwait. Never mind the atrocities committed against the Lithuanian people—Russia is a slightly more daunting opponent than Iraq, and Kuwait has oil. Poor Lithuania has nothing that we want; all the Midus or Vititus that America might want can be made right in St. Alphonsus parish.

And where were we, we brave preservers of democracy and human rights, during the Soviet rape of Budapest, lo these forty years ago? Apparently, gulyas isn’t enough of a promoter for human rights, either.

For those who will accuse me of being unpatriotic, I apologize. When you can tell me how YOU have supported our troops, write me back. I have several very good friends who’ve taken direct fire. I support our troops wholeheartedly.

For those who have decided to hate the French: Remember that I am overwhelmingly pro-German, and therefore I should hate the French, right? Remember, though, while you’re jumping up and down and waving your Stars and Stripes that if the French hadn’t helped us out in 1780, you’d be waving the Union Jack. And you better had be Episcopalian, too; because the English Crown doesn’t think too highly of Catholics like me, or Baptists like you.

I’ve just been playing a computerized and synthesized version of E.T. Paull’s “Battle of Nations”. Paull was a well-known schlock composer of the late 19th century; he wrote “pictorial” pieces like this one and “The Burning of Rome”. And, he got his start in lovely Richmond, always a musical city.

The sheet music cover features flags of all the major powers: the British Empire, France, the German Empire, Russia, the Austrian Empire, Spain, the United States. The implication is that of a battle between all of the world’s giant powers.

Nowhere does the sheet music mention one of the world’s great powers jumping on a third-world country on the phantom suspicion of mustard gas.

Oh, and for those that want to call me weak-willed and an apologist, keep in mind that it was Baltimore that alone spurned the British—our allies in this little misadventure—in 1814. The Virginians, as a rule, caved. I’d do it today—what would you do, out there in Kansas?

Monday, April 07, 2003

I’ve always maintained that Baltimore’s best entertaining is a combination of meticulous planning and seat-of-the-pants spontaneity, and this last Saturday was no exception. A large group of friends gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of our crowd—who, at sixty, has the physical appearance and exuberance of a woman thirty years her junior. (That would make the explanation of her thirty-year old daughter difficult, but so much the better.)

We started the day with a buffet and beer reception at the ancient B&O warehouse next door to the new baseball park. (Yes, I know the park is now twelve years old; it will be “new” until something else replaces it six decades from now.) That was the well-planned part, and it was delightful. Tasty picnic-style food and free flowing beer—does it get much better? Even the game tickets were planned, but the continuing entertainment in the stands wasn’t. We ended up seated somehow in the midst of a bunch of rowdy—but genteel and amusing—Red Sox fans. They’d all scored cheapo plane fares from Boston. Ever true to their team, they wasted no time making fun of some of the Oriole men, but were never malevolent or nasty to the fans. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing between us all. I gave them my own ration of hell for mispronunciation of their host city—I do not live in Bal-tee-moah—and they had a good time joshing us for our last few miserable seasons.

Since the game itself was slow, a lot of us revolved through the seats and the concourse, drinking lots of beer and contributing to the corporate wealth of R.J. Reynolds. We had a great time catching up; there were friends in attendance from the better part of both of the great Chesapeake States and a few from far-off Tennessee and California.

In the ninth inning poor Boston scored its only run of the day, and the skies started to clear. Before we knew it we had a lovely spring day on our hands, and retreated back to my house for a previously-unplanned cocktail hour, followed up by a previously-unplanned dinner party around the corner. Somehow “What will we do about dinner?” became an impromptu gathering for ten, good silver and all.

Afterwards we returned to the plan and joined the rest of the crowd downtown. I normally shy away from the big chain bars that now line the waterfront, but the Hard Rock Café lent just the right note to a milestone birthday. It’s something you don’t do every day, and as such it was just the right place to go.

Not too surprisingly, since we’d started with beer at noon, moved through several phases of wine, whiskey, women and song, by the time we reached the waterfront we were all in fine fettle. I must take this opportunity, in closing, to thank those who talked me out of jumping into the Harbor just to prove I could do it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

I heard somewhere that people tend to stick with the same clothing styles, mostly, that they picked up in college. Since William and Mary hasn't had any notable fashion changes since 1947, my daily uniform is pretty predictable and conservative; with the addition of rolled-up jeans.

My current pseudo-job keeps me on the Hopkins campus daily. Hopkins is also reasonably conservative. There's a certain segment of the campus populace that matches the folk I ran with in Williamsburg; the fraternity and sorority set. The vast majority of students here are grinds, though--their fashion statement is no fashion. They'll worry about that when they're card-carrying astrophysicists. And of course there are the token freaks; those who purposefully garb themselves as nonsensically as possible. (Anyone remember Tornado Head and the Fuzzy Pumper?)

It's those few who actually ARE hip that I hate to see. Not only does their attire make me realize that the polo-shirt and penny loafers look of my own collegiate era is long gone, but...well, the latest styles are patently hideous.

You can call them "flares" all you like, ladies, but the fact remains that they're bell bottoms. And what's going on with the fuzzy tube tops? There are girls wandering around campus in outfits that look like somebody's grandmother's matching toilet tank cover and Kleenex box cover set. And boys in baggy raver-kid pants? Well, at least the men's styles hide what you want hidden; the women's clothes of the moment leave nothing to the imagination. There are some body parts on some people that are better imagined than experienced.

Take it from we who were able to pull off Jams without looking utterly (mostly, but not utterly) idiotic. You're not old enough to remember 1972, when these styles first came around. They looked stupid then and, tarted up for 2003, they look even more stupid now.

I've observed over the past 20 years, or however long I've been noticing what people wear, that certain elements of society tend to lag behind the mainstream by about ten or fifteen years. The people we called "heads" in high school were wearing their hair long and hippie-ish clothes in 1985. The same group, in 1970, was still wearing flannel oxford shirts and crew cuts.

This boils down to one hideous fact: Wal-Mart Darlene will, in ten years, be wearing low-rider bellbottoms and a fuzzy pink tube top.

I spent another day at home today courtesy of the Throw-Up Disease, which seems to have marked me for triple duty this winter. Oh, sure, it’s officially spring and we had some seventy-degree weather last week, but Sunday and Monday were in the ’30s and there was snow. As friend Lisa points out, you might get lovely spring weather but there’s always a chance of an Easter Snow.

Actually, God loves to bait Richmonders. Invariably Easter Morning in Richmond is damp and icky. You get up for church and fear the worst — but by the time the priest says, “Ite, Missa est,” the weather is warm and lovely. You can walk in the Parade without fear of wet or chill; I firmly believe that this is because God himself is a Richmonder and loves a good joke on his neighbors, but wouldn’t really mess around with one of their favorite annual events. I can’t wait for this year’s Easter Parade in Richmond, because I’ve a smart new jacket and I’m dying to show it off.

Now that I’ve taken that little detour, I come back to my original plot, which involved a survey of my book holdings. The Throw-Up disease is relentless and doesn’t allow one to migrate far from the bathroom, but I figured that if I’d be consigned to the house I’d better do something productive. So, I waded through several stacks of books, trying to categorize them and wondering if it would really be worth the effort of instituting a Dewey Decimal system. (It wasn’t.)

I found, particularly, a number of my childhood books. A few volumes of the Bobbsey Twins (insert vomit noise), some ’70s touchy-feely crap, and a lot of things handed down from my parents. A delightful ’30s Mother Goose; some WWII-era pop-up books.

The combination of those pop-up books, which show West Point and our own beloved Annapolis, with the ’70s stuff sent me on a nostalgia trip into my own childhood. I was able to look back upon myself as I read them for the first time, either on Conkling Street or in Burning Tree Road out in the hinterland. I remember thinking that the little paper soldiers looked quite gallant, and I remember that I spent most of my childhood wanting nothing more than to be a soldier when I grew up.

And I thought as well about idyllic childhood scenes in Patterson Park and at the Grand movie, and running after the ice-cream truck.

That was when I was struck with the memory of Bomb Pops.

I loved Bomb Pops. They were rudimentally shaped like torpedoes, and were red, white and blue. They were a big hit, of course, in the 1976 era. I think they cost a whopping quarter; more than the cheapo Popsicles (a nickel apiece) and Dreamsicles (a dime) , but less than suchtreats de luxe as Strawberry Shortcake Pops and the Mint Chocolate Pops that had an actual Hershey bar buried within (35¢ each, if I recall correctly).

But now we’re really at war again. I don’t approve of it, and never will. A lot of people seem to think that by blowing holy hell out of Iraq, we’ll somehow eradicate terrorism in the world. Never mind that Iraq’s connection to global terrorism is tenuous at best. Never mind that this effort will do nothing but make the United States even more demonic in the eyes of most adherents of Islam.

All I could think about today were those damned Bomb Pops and how they seemed so cool and patriotic when I was six years old. Now something with a similar shape could blow the sweet, goofy smile off the face of one of my dearest friends, who when last heard from was not far from Uum Qasr, a city of which I’d never previously heard. I wonder if anybody in Uum Qasr has ever heard of Baltimore? The Oriole stove has been pressed into overdrive turning out “Baked Goods That Travel!” to be sent to various friends “Over There.”

Dear God, let this foolishness end soon. I never thought that I’d want the ’70s back, but now I do. I want the guileless Kool-Aid flavored summer days back. I want to be able to buy a Bomb Pop in Patterson Park without having to think about an empty but flag-draped coffin before the altar at St. Elizabeth’s.