Monday, October 10, 2016

Bijou Salon: Jack Berry

Bijou Salon No. 1 Report

In the Chair: Jack Berry, mayoral candidate

Panelists: Lillie Estes, Sasha Waters Freyer, Betty Garrett, Michael Garrett, Enjoli Moon, James Parrish, Billy Rice, Markus Schmidt, Nicki Stein, Charles Williams, Matt Zoller.

Host: Terry Rea 

During a fairly typical Facebook discussion about Richmond's nettlesome baseball stadium issue something interesting occurred. An offer emerged. After some messaging back and forth a sit-down meeting with mayoral candidate Jack Berry took place on Mon., Oct. 3, in the Bijou Film Center's downtown screening room space. So a week ago Berry met with a savvy group of invited citizens (see list above), to answer questions and discuss various local political issues. 
No political beat reporters were invited. No television journalists were invited. No recordings of the confab were allowed. The conversation went on from 7:30 p.m until 9 p.m.

To break the ice, Berry was asked about his high-visibility advocacy for building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Why did he support the Shockoe Stadium concept so vigorously? And, what had he learned from its failure to gather sufficient support?

When it was announced to the public in December of 2013, Berry explained, he thought the plan for Shockoe Bottom put forth by Mayor Dwight Jones was a good proposal. It seems Berry may still think it was the right thing to do, but what has changed in his mind is that he now better understands what the nature of the opposition was ... and remains. 
Thus, Berry admitted to the group sitting around a table that he misjudged what the size of the opposition truly was. It seems that early on he gathered the opposition was mostly a collection of activists, akin to an Occupy/99 percent crowd. Conveniently, Berry thought the majority of Richmonders either supported Jones' plan or were indifferent. He allowed that now he knows better. 
Yes, having faced what proved to have been widespread disapproval, coming from different angles, Berry now seems to accept that it was not smart to have stuck with defending Mayor Jones' plan as long as he did. 
For my part, I must say I was impressed with Berry's ability to answer questions without playing games. While I may have disagreed with him on several issues, I appreciated his forthrightness. Truth be told, I still disagree with him on plenty, but I have new hope that as mayor, he would be prone to listening to people other than the country club set. 
Moreover, Berry seemed fairly relaxed and showed a sense of humor. Not that he made many jokes, but he laughed spontaneously at the laugh-worthy cracks others made.

So, I left the meeting with fresh respect for Jack Berry. He seemed to understand the duties and requirements of the job he is seeking. If he wins, I don't doubt he can handle it. Which would be a big improvement over our current situation at City Hall. Sure, that can probably be said about some number of his opponents, as well. Perhaps one of those opponents will agree to sit in the chair for a Bijou Salon soon.
Nonetheless and fortunately, for the sake of the next Bijou Salon, I remain undecided about which mayoral candidate will get my vote on November 8. A more detailed account of the first Bijou Salon will eventually be published.

30 –

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

'The Lovers and the Despot'

On Fri., Oct. 14 and Sat., Oct. 15, in its screening room at 304 E. Broad St., the Bijou Film Center will present a first-run documentary/thriller that's getting a lot of notice since its release last month -- “The Lovers and the Despot.

Admission: $9. No advance tickets.

Friday show times: 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Saturday show times: 4:15 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.

The Lovers and the Despot” (2016): Color. 98 minutes. Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam.

Note: In 1978 North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il acted upon his frustration with his country's movie industry, or lack thereof. Ever the film buff, Kim kidnapped a renown director and a beloved actress who were South Korean celebrities. The despot declared them to be his personal filmmakers. The pair was forced to make movies, all the while planning their escape.

No, this isn't the plot of an off-the-wall romp – a fantasy just for laughs. It's the documentary about Shin Sang-ok and his wife, Choi Eun-hee that wowed viewers at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

This real-life romantic thriller/escape saga is essential stranger-than-fiction viewing.” – Justin Change, Variety.

Beer, wine and soft drinks will be for sale. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

It paid to Advertise

The distinctive front windows of the Bearded Bros.,
black lights and Dayglo-painted panels (1969).

When the doorway into show business suddenly opened for me I entered gladly. At the time I had a sales job I wanted to quit. What I wanted was to be a professional cartoonist/writer and eventually get to make films. So selling sandwiches and beer in a dive seemed more like a step in that direction than continuing to sell janitorial supplies.

When a friend, Fred Awad, offered me work at the restaurant he was operating my coat-and-tie job was history. Actually, my coming aboard as a bartender/manager was part of a larger plan we had cooked up to convert what was then a typical blue collar neighborhood beer joint/eatery into the Fan Distict's most happening club.

The restaurant belonged to Fred's parents, who wanted to retire. They had turned it over to their sons, Fred and Howard. The brothers promptly changed the name of place at Allison and West Broad St. from Marconi's to the Bearded Brothers.

Growing beards was easy, but the Awad boys couldn’t agree on how to run the business, so the younger brother, Howard, left to pursue the quest of opening a place of his own.

Meanwhile, Fred and I had become convinced the fun-loving baby boomer crowd in the Fan District needed a place to enjoy cold beer, hot food, live music and a psychedelic light show. That, together with the edgy spectacle of go-go girls -- dancing topless. At this time, in 1969, such bare-chested, except for pasties, dancing was going on in Roanoke. But it had yet to make its way to Richmond.

And, speaking of booming babies, at this time my wife, Valerie, was six months pregnant. Fred’s wife, Mary Ann, was seven months along.

It took us a couple of weeks to paint the interior flat black, build the stage and put the light show apparatus together. We also painted the front window panes that faced Broad Street in Dayglo colors illuminated by black lights.

The rock ‘n’ roll bands went over well and brought in a fresh crowd right away. A local group calling itself Natural Wildlife became a regular attraction. Then it came time to hire the go-go dancers. So a help wanted sign went up in the restaurant.

A few young women came in asking about the dancing job. Eventually, we settled on two. One of them had some experience, the other didn’t. But only the dancer new to the exhibitionism trade could be there for the first night, which we advertised in the local newspaper. I did the ad art; it featured a pen-and-ink rendered silhouette of a female dancer and a new Bearded Brothers logo I had designed.

By 8 p.m. the place was packed, wall-to-wall. We were selling beer like never before. The only problem was that our dancer with her brand new costume, which included tasseled pasties to cover her nipples (ABC Board regulation), was scary late. She hadn’t called, either.

With the crowd clamoring for the dancing aspect of the show to get underway, a woman wearing shades waved to get my attention as I opened a bottle of beer. The joint was so noisy I could barely hear her. In a Brooklyn or maybe Queens accent, she asked something like, “Could you use another dancer?”

Trying to hide my glee, I called Fred over right away. He offered her a fast $50 to alternate sets with the other girl as the band played. She told us she had noticed the ad in a discarded newspaper on the counter of the Greyhound bus station’s coffee shop. She was chewing gum. 

That night’s experience gave me new faith in the power of advertising. The Greyhound Girl even had her costume with her in her suitcase. Fred paid her in advance and suggested that since the other dancer was running late, she could go on as soon as she could get ready.

It all went over like gangbusters. Up on stage, with the lights and music, she danced like the pro she actually was — she had been working along the same lines in Baltimore and appeared to be a trained modern dancer. Natural Wildlife was cooking and the beer taps stayed open.

After the dancer’s first set was over, she put on a robe and found me behind the bar. She laughed, “There ain’t no other girl, is there?”

I paused to shrug and returned her smile, “I don’t know where she is.”

“I’ll need another fifty to go back up there,” she said firmly.

She agreed to do two more half-hour sets and the money was put in her hand without hesitation. Hey, she knew she had rescued the night.

Yes, a hundred bucks was a lot of money, then, but there was no use in quibbling. After that night we never saw her again. Other women were hired, pronto. The show went on but we were never as busy as that first night again.

It became my duty to paint the dancers with Dayglo paint. They'd have vines curling around their arms and legs, stars and stripes on their torsos, etc. But after a few weeks of that, it seemed most of the customers didn't care much about the artsy aspects of topless dancing, such as they were. They preferred bare skin. So, the body painting stopped.

Although painting the dancers was a pleasant enough task, hanging out after work was the best perk of the job, which wasn't always paying as much as I needed to make. Frequently friends/musicians stayed around late, jamming, playing pinball games and smoking pot.

The most notable of the musicians who passed through was Bruce Springsteen, whose band Steel Mill occasionally played in Richmond then. He was a skinny, quiet guy who didn’t stand out as much then as he would later.

When my daughter was born in January the Bearded Brothers scene was lively. Then, as the weather warmed up the crowds began to thin out. Other clubs opened up offering live music, some of which were closer to VCU. Gradually, the restaurant began to drift back toward being what it had been before it had been painted black.

Later, in the spring, I had to look for a real job again. Eventually, Fred's mother took the place back over. About a year later Howard Awad opened up Hababas on the 900 block of W. Grace St., where he had a lot of fun making large money (1971-84) serving cold beer and playing canned music on his popular bar’s monster sized stereo.

The topless go-go girl thing morphed into a form of entertainment aimed at an entirely different type of crowd. Truth be told, since the time of the Bearded Brothers I've never had much interest in the places that feature topless dancing.

A few months later I got a sales job at WRNL, a radio station then owned by Richmond Newspapers. Once again I learned it paid to advertise. And, on that job I did my first professional writing, when I began penning commercials and dreaming up promotions for my advertising clients.

Although I saved copies of the aforementioned newspaper ad and the logo I did for Natural Wildlife handbills, I haven't seen either of them for a long time. The only souvenirs from my first awkward stint in show biz are a few black and white photographs, like the shot above of the Bearded Brothers' front windows.

All rights reserved by the author.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Evil's Second Coming

Note: This reaction to 9/11 piece was written by yours truly. It 
was originally published by STYLE Weekly on May 15, 2002.


Evil's Second Coming
by F.T. Rea

Washing in on what poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might have called a “blood-dimmed tide,” the specter of evil suddenly emerged from the periphery of modern life eight months ago. In the blue skies of the time before 9/11’s sucker punch, the notion of pure evil had an Old World air about it. Absolutes, such as good and evil, had no seat at the table of postmodern thinking.

After 9/11, a generation of Americans suddenly learned a bitter lesson: Evil never went away. It had gone out of style, as a concept, only because times were so easy. Living in a land of plenty, it had gotten to be a pleasant habit to avert our eyes from evil-doings in lands of want.

The last American president to get much mileage out of the word evil was probably Ronald Reagan, with his “evil empire” characterization of the USSR and its sphere of influence. Now, 20 years later, we have a president who sees “an axis of evil” — an alleged phenomenon that puzzles most of the world’s leaders, or so they say.

George W. Bush apparently has little use for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stalwart advice to a nation in need of a boost in confidence — “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Instead, Bush chooses to color-code fear rather than urge his people to rise above it.

The propagandists of the Bush administration have been successful in cultivating the public’s anxiety since September. Whether that’s been done for our own good remains to be seen. Perhaps it has, but this much is clear now — all the official danger alerts about nuclear power plants, bridges and crop-dusters have been effective in keeping most of the natural questioning of the administration’s moves at bay.

To hear Attorney General John Ashcroft tell it, the architects of 9/11 are the personification of the most virulent form of evil ever known. Although much of the evidence that would establish his absolute guilt in connection with 9/11 remains a state secret, Osama bin Laden is said to have shot to the top of the chart. Forget about Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. They were amateurs.

Then again, evil, like beauty, has always been in the eye of the beholder.

Wasn’t it evil to deliberately dump tons of potent pesticide into the James River during the ’70s to make a greedy buck? Once it was in Virginia’s water, it turned out that kepone wasn’t much different from a bio-terror agent in the same water.

Although it was first reported that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people was likely to have been the work of Middle Eastern terrorists, such wild speculation soon fizzled in the face of the facts.

With the news seeping out of the cloisters about child-molesting priests and the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-ups, whose betrayal was more evil, the molester or the higher-ups who hid and facilitated his crimes?

Whether evil exists in some pure form, off in another dimension, is not my department. What’s known here is that in the real world evil is contagious. Lurking in well-appointed rooms or hiding in caves, evil remains as it ever was — ready to spread.

None of this is to suggest that al Qaida shouldn’t be put out of business. It isn’t to say that knocking the Taliban off was a bad idea. There’s no question here about whether the United States should protect itself from the networks of organized terror that are hell-bent on destroying the modern world.

Still, today’s evil is the same evil our forefathers faced in their wars. Evil hasn’t changed; technology has. With modern weapons in their hands, the fanatics of the world have the potential to wreak havoc like never before.

What has changed is the extent to which the hate festering in the souls of the world’s would-be poobahs and their sociopathic minions can be weaponized. It’s worth noting that the weapons of mass destruction that are scaring us the most were developed during the arms-race days of the Cold War by the game’s principal players.

So another question arises, who is more dangerous to civilization, the guys who spent their treasure to weaponize germs, or the guys who want to steal the stuff and use it on somebody?

Decades ago this was a concern expressed by some in the disarmament movement. Its scary what-if scenarios always included the likelihood that the super powers would eventually lose track of some of their exotic weapons. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious that there was no way any government could keep all that material locked away from the greed and hate of determined free-lancers.

A man with a briefcase-style nuclear device may be no more evil than a man armed with a knife. Either danger could kill you just as dead. Those of us who feel connected to others know which one we should fear the most.

The “rough beast” of dreadful evil “slouching towards” us is traveling on the back of technology of our own making. While we watch out for organized terrorists in the short run, with a handy color code to guide us, it’s time to think more seriously about how to get rid of a lot of very dangerous weapons in the long run.

-- 30 --

The Head-on-a-Pole Solution for Problems Aplenty

Note: The first version of this piece was written several years ago, well before a certain billionaire -- much-in-the-news -- started running for president. But that hardly makes the following proposal any less attractive. 

If I could show you, in a couple of minutes, exactly how to solve a good many of the most daunting problems we face today -- without costing the taxpayers a cent! -- wouldn't you be interested in hearing about it?

Of course you would. Read on.

My plan calls for just one public execution a year. Its purpose would be to fund cures for diseases, to fund free educations for everyone, to prevent wars, all the while also erasing America's red ink problem. To accomplish all that just one person would be put to death by the federal government each year.

Although I'm ordinarily opposed to capital punishment, there are exceptions to every rule. Here's how it would work: 

First we would make a list of all the American billionaires. Each of their names would be put on a ballot. Each American citizen, 18-or-older, would get to vote -- free of charge -- for the person they see as the absolute worst citizen billionaire in the USA. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the country. The same ballots would be available online, as would virtual ballot boxes. Maybe we should make it 16-or-older.

All year long, we the people would all be eligible to vote once a month -- 12 votes per year. The billionaire who gets the most votes for being the most hated billionaire of the lot would be arrested wherever he or she is hiding by a SWAT team. Upon the last second of December 31st, America's most hated billionaire of that year would be executed by guillotine, somewhat as pictured above.

Naturally, America's cities would bid to stage the execution, like the Olympics. The mammoth Payback Party that would surround the event would mean big budget commercials would run in the live telecasts of the whole shebang -- cha-ching! Most of that money would go directly into the Social Security trust fund, so the monthly payments to retirees could be increased.

The rest of the money generated by the event would go into a special fund to buy a six-pack of beer -- via downloadable coupon -- for everyone who voted for the particular billionaire to be beheaded in at least two months. That six-pack incentive to pick billionaires wisely should help keep the voting more realistic, if not honest.

As the blade falls, at midnight, millions of those cans of beer could be opened simultaneously to buff America's exceptionalism credentials for all to see. It would be bigger than the Super Bowl. 

Afterward, the deserving billionaire's head will be put on top of a tall brass pole -- the Peoples' Payback Pole -- for all to see, where it would stay for one year. Then, for the next new year the new head would go up in a different city.

Out of respect for the head, it would be turned over to the billionaire's family, once its required year on the pole is done. Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires, everywhere, would feel more than a little inspired to solve their own dilemma. Accordingly, they would have a couple of easy-to-understand choices to prevent their own head from being selected to be the next.
  • Turn enough money over to the federal government or legit non-profits, to simply escape the list of eligible billionaires. The money given to the government could go toward building a fast train national railway system.
  • If they choose to remain a billionaire, then they need to use their money to do selected good works to curry favor with voters -- perhaps reaching out especially to those who hang around convenience stores or tend to stay online all day. 
So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got a cool $50 billion. Then you could choose to give away $49.1 billion to get off the hook. Or, you could take a chance on targeting a few billion to curing cancer. Or, you could throw money at feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast. Maybe you’d pick all the musicians in a state and pay their rent for one whole year.

Smart billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to tout what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their own heads attached to their respective shoulders. So, this deal could save our favorite inky wretches from extinction, too.

Accordingly, crime rates would plunge. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. Every kid who wants a new puppy would get one. And, last but not least, publishers would have plenty of money to pay freelance writers and artists decent fees for their work.

To sum up: Each old year would end with the execution of just one richly deserving person. Each new year would start out with a visible symbol atop that People' Payback Pole, showing everyone -- including billionaires, for a change -- why we should all be good to one another. 

-- 30 --

Monday, August 08, 2016

Trump's Way: The Occupation Must End

Note: The Occupation Must End is Episode 2 of Trump's Way. To read Episode 1 go here.

“Yesterday the first of the demonstrators showed up,” President-Elect Trump will say to open the fourth of his Trump's Way live television shows. “It was bound to happen. Look at those signs, 'Obama, Go Away!' and 'The Occupation Must End!'”

Since Pres. Barack Obama will not have answered Trump's call for him to move out of the White House by Nov. 30, Trump will again remind the Obamas they have just 16 days left to end their "occupation" of the White House. Trump's head and shoulders will be seen superimposed over a live shot of demonstrators marching across the Key Bridge on their way toward the White House.

Of course, the demonstrators will be singing "Hit the Road, Barack," after the Ray Charles song with a similar title. The crowd of marchers will be estimated at 2,500-to-3,000 people by the D.C. Police.

Trump will say, “Look at all those people. Good Americans. Not one Muslim or Mexican in the bunch. My people have checked.”

After a deep prolonged sigh, Trump will look directly into the camera and go into his familiar schtick about making America great again. Then he'll look back over his shoulder, like he's seeing what the viewer sees and say, “Looks like 20,000 … people are saying it could be 40,000. All I know is many more, many, many more are on the way. I just hope, I pray it stays peaceful."

The president-elect will address his next statement to a particular audience: "By the way, speaking of getting out of Dodge, you illegal immigrants, you people can all still leave the country peacefully. Do it before I'm running the show. Believe me! Please believe me. You'll be so glad you did. So glad."

Trump will close the show with this thinly veiled insult: “Nice people don't overstay their welcome. Time for the ex-president to go, go back to Chicago, or maybe Kenya.”

Note: In Episode 3 Trump's Way will be carried live by Fox, CBS, ABC and CNN. 

--- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Trump's Way: Post Number 1

Note: This is the first episode of a series.

After Trump wins the election on Nov. 8, 2016, he will feel emboldened like nobody's business. Early on in his victory speech he will announce that Sarah Palin will be his Secretary of State.

"Day One, yes! on Day One! I'm going to send Sweet Sarah to Mexico with an offer," Trump will boast. "Believe me! An offer that whosoever is running that pitiful country can't refuse. Oh! Bet the effing farm on it. Mexico is going to pay for that wall."

During the thunderous applause that follows an obviously inebriated Donald Trump, Jr. will stumble and tumble off of the stage. Junior will hold up his glass to show he didn't spill its entire contents in the fall. More applause. Those assembled in the ballroom will then hear a speech that will bear little resemblance to any previous American president-elect's speech in such a setting.

Three days later Trump's squirming impatience with having to wait until next year -- Jan. 20th -- to move into the White House will boil over. Trump will go on Fox News to make an announcement. After thanking the voters for their trust, he'll tell viewers to mark their calendars, because they're watching the first episode of Trump's Way -- a live television program that he will host every day until he is sworn in.

Then Trump will cut to the chase: “President Obama should just pack his -- whatever -- and by the end of the month the White House should be vacated. Waiting over two pointless months is ridiculous. The voters have spoken. Three weeks is good ... out of politeness. Politeness is good, but political correctness is bad. Very bad.”

To be continued.

--- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Election Year of Living Dangerously

Can Bernie calm down his craziest former supporters?
OK, just who are the Bernie or Busters? Now that the nomination process is over, what's their point?

While some are bound to be moles dedicated to getting Donald Trump elected, most appear to be well-meaning people -- self-styled liberals who just can't stand to lose. It seems that for some of them Bernie Sanders raised their hopes of a revolution so high, now they're standing on a ledge looking down at a leap into the bleakness of Donald Trump's dystopia. 

Well, when they boo Sarah Silverman, they lose me. When they boo Bernie Sanders isn't that beyond the pale? So beyond being liberals, for the most part, who the hell are these people?

From what I can tell, relying on reports and conversations, there are two groups in particular that stand out:

  • The young people new to following politics who have suddenly discovered there are people in political parties who try to game the system to favor the candidate they prefer. Caught in the throes of their righteous indignation, now these Bernie or Busters want to punish the cheaters in the Democratic Party, even if that means facilitating Trump's election.
  • Then there are the geezers, who should know better. Some of them are dwelling on old grudges so much they don't seem to care if it means putting Trump in the White House. Their denial of what that would mean isn't all that different from the baffling denial of evolution and climate change by rightwing religious zealots.

Meanwhile, my guess is Trump's camp, such as it is, will try to manufacture October Surprise-like stunts/revelations every day of the week, from Labor Day until election day. If I'm only half right, like every other day, to think such a strategy couldn't pull the rug out from under the Democrats get-out-the-vote operation is wishful thinking.

Yes, Hillary Clinton should win and win big. It should be a landslide that sweeps in Democrats down-ballot, too. But don't fool yourself. Trump the celebrity could win.

Richard Nixon should never have won in 1968. He was a washed up guy who had lost two elections in a row – 1960 (presidential) and '62 (California gubernatorial). Nobody liked him. He touted a secret plan to end the Vietnam War – can't tell you what it is, or it wouldn't be a secret.

Who would fall for that?

Well, history tells us a lot of people bought it, so Nixon and his team of busy beaver admen and dirty tricksters figured out how to win. Trump is probably the most media-savvy Republican to run for president since Nixon.

Meanwhile, as long as the mainstream media keeps treating Trump's every tweet as breaking news, because it gooses ratings, he could win. It's as simple as that. And, if he does win in November, don't be surprised when every Hillary-hating Bernie or Buster angrily denies having anything to do with putting a thin-skinned sociopath in charge of the executive branch of our government.

 -- Art and words by F.T. Rea

-- 30 --

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Deeply Felt Religion, or Schizophrenia?

While searching for something on SLANTblog I came across this 12-year old grumble, written a couple of weeks before George W. Bush's reelection. As we all contemplate the upcoming election, maybe it's useful to remember when the electorate made a bad decision, in great part because the other guy was too boring. As with the 2000 election, in 2004 too many Democrats didn't feel motivated to support their party's nominee. 

When I did the Bush illustration (posted to the right) for in 2000, I remember wanting to depict his smug lack of curiosity in his expression.
SLANTblog: October 24, 2004:
Now 350 tons of explosives, give-or-take a ka-plooey, have turned up missing in Iraq. The best guess is that the stuff was snatched in the early days of the American operation there, which is at 19 months and counting. Perhaps it's a good thing we didn't find any WMDs, because the local hoodlums would probably have stolen them, too.

Which leads to a cold question that should be considered in the hours leading up to the election: Since he took office, what the hell has George Bush done right?

For a man who campaigned as "a uniter, NOT a divider," as "a compassionate conservative," and to be a president who would not use American troops in arrogant missions of "nation-building," how does today's unvarnished reality jibe with Dubya's 2000 campaign promises?

Uh, oh, there I go again -- I was thinking in a pre-9/11 fashion. According to the Bush post-9/11 gospel, asking awkward questions of the Commander in Chief is frowned upon. Continuing with the flashback theme, in 1998, when Bill Clinton bombed Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan, the same Republicans now blaming poor Slick Willie for 9/11 were branding his effort to strike at al Qaeda as a mere distraction from the then-all-overshadowing Lewinsky scandal investigation.

However, without blaming Bush for 9/11 it is possible to criticize his reactions to it. His administration has used fear like a monkey wrench to grab power so shamelessly that it has shocked the rest of the world. Furthermore, Bush's 2000 campaign promise to govern in such a way as to heal the divisions was pure baloney. So, too, was Bush's alleged compassion; his signature education program has fizzled -- the tax-cut agenda won out.

Bush's so-called "conservatism" is counterfeit, too; let's face it, he's breaking the bank with his spending. And, other than "nation-building" what would you call the on-going operation in Iraq? OK, maybe "failed-nation-building" is more on the money.

George Bush is the most dangerous president of modern times. He's off the chart! Bush's neoconservative advisers see unfettered corporate capitalism as a sort of new-style religion to be spread by their armed missionaries to enlighten the backward masses of the Middle East.

It says here Bush's twisted policies and outright incompetence are making the world, including the USA, more dangerous every day. That while tough-talking Dubya claims God speaks to him directly about what to do in Iraq.

Uh, oh!
What would you call that sort of claim? Deeply felt religion, or schizophrenia?
-- 30 --

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Democrats May Have Found Their Landslide Mojo

Up until the Democrats staged their overnight Sit-In on June-23-24, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the party was anything but united. Maybe the best thing Team Donkey had going for it this election year was the GOP's bizarre primary race. 

And, of course, what the process delivered -- the most mock-worthy presumptive nominee anybody has ever seen. 

Still, even if Donald Trump makes it impossible for 75 percent of the electorate to vote for him, having Hillary Clinton in the White House -- while the do-nothing Republicans continue to hold both houses of Congress! -- wasn't a scenario that seemed to be energizing a lot of Democrats.

Turnout looked like it might be a problem. Now that may have all changed -- the Democratic Party may have just found its landslide mojo.

The occupation of the floor of the House by an ad hoc group of Democrats worked like a charm. I watched several hours of the June 23-24 occupation on C-SPAN. The spirit of what was happening was uplifting for me.

Now that same occupation tactic should be taken to other venues. (Imagine a sudden occupation that fills up Capitol Square, or some other large public property.) This sort of movement focused on the gun issue could bring together the sometimes apathetic/disappointed Democrats better than any tactics being cooked up by the DNC's think tank.

It might also be what this country needs to break the spell. Break the grip the National Rifle Association has had on too many legislators. Massive demonstrations – sit-ins – in cities coast-to-coast would add an element of populism to this year's political races that could bring in new voters in droves. My guess is most of them would be Democrats, or at least independents.

An overwhelming majority of Americans appear to want change, and -- maybe! -- at long-last the NRA's ability to frame the issues is about to melt away like a drenched wicked witch.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre (depicted above) melting into the floor is the image I'll leave you with. It's your reward for reading the whole piece.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Apologies and Victimhood

Political stories about impatient demands for apologies from the deeply offended are an everyday thing. It seems the surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to puff yourself up with blustery indignation and call upon a politician or a pundit to apologize.

Typically, a planted outrage story goes through its predictable cycle, which usually plays out something like this:

Player No. 1: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “War is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the battlefields of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

Player No. 2: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

Player No. 1: That’s your opinion.

Player No. 2: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is true that offense was taken.

Player No. 1: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy.

Player No. 2: What have they got to do with this?
Player No. 1: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind them of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

Player No. 2: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

Player No. 1: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm. I demand a full and unqualified apology, immediately. And your elitist opinions about movies are only making it worse.

Player No. 2: Does saying “war is heck” make it any better?

Player No. 1: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists, is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

Player No. 2: The First Amendment says you can't put blasphemy and treason in the same sentence. How about I phrase it this way?: “War is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

Player No. 1: You’d only be emboldening the enemy.

Player No. 2: To hell with the enemy!

Player No. 1: Better, now we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mondo Softball

Here's a flashback to a 1990 newspaper article that includes some Biograph Theatre history, as well as some softball nostalgia:
Richmond News Leader
Date: 07-05-1990
Byline: Paul Woody

Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League. But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.
"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement.

"I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said. "That drives everyone out of the game except the most fanatic."

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it.

"And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall. It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.
The next show on BLAB-TV was called Mondo City. My first guests on the new program, which combined sports and other pop culture elements, were a couple of guys from GWAR. That's a story for another day.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Birth of the Blockbuster: Or How Margot Kidder Made My Day

The movie business changed during the summer of 1975. A new style of creating, promoting and exhibiting feature films was established when “Jaws” opened in 465 theaters and became a box office smash.

Typically, in those days, major releases opened initially in the most popular movie houses in a handful of large cities. Which meant the advertising buys were all local. The unprecedented marketing strategy for “Jaws” required enormous confidence. Its distributor, Universal, had to spend millions on national advertising and strike enough prints of the film to serve all of the theaters playing the film. 

Before that summer was over “Jaws” had already broken all-time Hollywood box office records.

Washington D.C. was a regional hub for film distribution. Part of the strategy for releasing “Jaws” was that Universal chose not to screen the film for bookers and exhibitors in the usual way.

Ordinarily, a feature about to be released would be shown a couple of times in a small screening room downtown. Run by the National Association of Theater Owners, it seated about 50 people. Bookers for theater chains would see the new films to help them weigh how much money should be bid for the rights to exhibit the picture in a given market. But security on admission wasn't all that tight, so any industry insider, entertainment writer, etc. might have been in the audience on a given day.

At this time I managed the Biograph Theatre on Grace Street in Richmond. My bosses were located in Georgetown and I saw several movies in the DC screening room over the nearly-12 years I worked for the guys who oversaw the Biograph on "M" Street.

The prior-to-premiere screenings of “Jaws” took place a few weeks before it was to open. It was shown to theater owners and their guests in selected cinemas in maybe a dozen cities. As I remember it, the screening were all on the same night.

As a treat my bosses gave me four of their allotment of tickets to the special screening of “Jaws” at the old Ontario in DC. My ex, Valerie, and I were part of a full house; the show itself went over like gangbusters. The audience shrieked at appropriate times and applauded as the movie’s closing credits were lighting up the screen.

Not only was I knocked out by the presentation, I came back to Richmond convinced “Jaws” would be a gold mine. It was the slickest monster movie I’d even seen. The next day, still caught up in that mania, I tried to talk my bosses into borrowing a lot of money to support a bid on “Jaws” that would include a substantial cash advance.

Ordinarily, such a picture would play at the dominant theater chain’s flagship house. That summer I wanted to bet everything we could borrow to out-bid Neighborhood Theatres for the Richmond market. I even convinced a neighborhood branch bank manager to try to help us borrow the dough.

Well, we didn’t get the money, but it was privately satisfying seeing “Jaws” open on June 20, 1975, and go on to set new records for its box office grosses. Its unprecedented success put its director, Steven Spielberg, on the map.

After “Jaws” hustlers aplenty in Hollywood rushed out to try to duplicate the formula its producers and distributors had used. Thus, in 1975, the age of Hollywood-produced summer blockbusters with massive ad campaigns and widespread releases began.

Another thing “Jaws” did was make young men who were sometimes too self-absorbed, like me, feel intimidated by Spielberg’s outrageous success at such a tender age. I can still remember reading that he was younger than me.

Although I had a great job for a 27-year-old movie-lover who liked to work without a lot of supervision, it offered no direct connection to filmmaking. At this time I had one nine-minute film and one 30-second television commercial, both shot in 16mm, to my credit. 1975’s Boy Wonder, Steven Spielberg, made me feel like I was on the wrong track. That might have been the first time I gave much thought to how and when to leave the Biograph.

Fast-forward 34 years to when I watched a BBC-produced documentary, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,” about filmmaking in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Directors and other players from that time were interviewed. Made in 2003, it was thoroughly entertaining. I saw it on Turner Movie Classics in 2009.

Among those who made comments in the documentary were Tony Bill, Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Roger Corman, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, László Kovács, Kris Kristofferson, Arthur Penn and Cybill Shepherd.

Dreyfuss, who was one of the stars of "Jaws," spoke of attending one of those pre-release screenings. He said he got caught up in the experience of seeing it for the first time in a crowded theater, because he totally forgot himself as the actor on the screen.

Actress Margot Kidder (best known for her Lois Lane portrayals in the Superman series of movies) appeared on camera several times. She made a joke out of how Spielberg had begun to fib about his age, once he became famous. She had known him before his sudden notoriety, so she noticed it when he went from being older than her to being younger. Kidder claimed Spielberg was fudging his birth date by a couple of years.

Well, flashing back on my absurd jealousy to do with Spielberg’s rise to stardom, when he was supposedly younger than me, I had to laugh out loud. Then I looked up Spielberg’s age; he’s older than both Margot and me.

So, I searched for more on the age-change and found some old articles about “Jaws” and Spielberg. Yes, it looks like Kidder was right. Back in the ‘70s, perhaps to play up the Boy Wonder aspect of the story, Spielberg’s birth date was being massaged. Somewhere along the line, since then, it looks like it got straightened out.

Laughing at one’s own foolishness is usually a healthy exercise. Yes, and when the laugh had been waiting over three decades to be realized, it was all the sweeter.

After all, nothing has ever been more integral to Hollywood’s special way of doing business -- before or after “Jaws” -- than making up fibs, especially about one’s age.

*   *   *

Monday, May 23, 2016

Of Disenfranchisement and Poppycock

Now comes Paul Goldman with his OpEd piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch to set Gov. Terry McAuliffe straight. But this time I can't figure what Goldman's angle is.
Those supporting automatic restoration of rights for rapists and violent felons seldom if ever mention the victims. Rather, they say once the sentence is fully served, the “debt to society” is paid. This isn’t true.
Wow! Suddenly the longtime Democrat – Never forget! I was Doug Wilder's brain – has become a demagogue who apologizes for Jim Crow Era tactics. Click here to read Goldman's opinion piece, “Demanding justice for violent crime victims isn’t racist.”

Could it simply be that Gov. McAuliffe doesn't take gadfly Goldman's phone calls? So the longtime backroom player of Democratic politics in Virginia has developed a nasty Wilder-like grudge for a fellow Democrat?

Is there any credible evidence that people who've been convicted of felonies tend to vote a particular way that works against the commonweal? As for me, I can't see how it has ever benefited society to create second-class citizens by disenfranchising/shunning them.

So when it comes to denying the right to vote to those who've paid their debt to society a few things should be noted: First, to pretend that the votes of people who've been convicted of violent crimes pollutes the product of elections is poppycock. Secondly, I'm suggesting that Virginians who denied the rights of citizenship to slaves had plenty in common with the Virginians who then, after the Civil War, locked up the freed slaves and put them on chain gangs.

The establishment in the nineteenth century didn't want black slaves or black convicts to have a chance to influence politics. Today some members of the Republican Party's establishment like to scheme ways to do the same for minorities, in general. So denying the vote to convicted felons has always been much more about controlling the outcome of elections than trying to do right by the victims of crimes, violent or otherwise.

To demagogue this issue, by taking up arguments warmed over from Jim Crow days, might be expected from mean-spirited throwbacks. Whether we see such power-hungry hard-asses as racists, or not, the last thing they want is a fair election that will gather the will of the people – all the people. So continuing to disenfranchise those who've served their time dovetails smoothly with the other measures being promoted by rightwingers to prevent certain people from voting.

However, for a lawyer and self-styled political operator who incessantly promotes himself as a friend to fairness in racial matters to now turn a blind eye on the shameful history of how disenfranchisement has been used as a political tool in this commonwealth is curious. For him to pretend his chief concern is for the victims of violent crimes is disingenuous.

Then again, speaking of being disingenuous, I can remember Paul Goldman attacking Mayor Dwight Jones with zeal in 2008, when Goldman was running for mayor against Jones. Of course, that was before Goldman dropped out of the race and endorsed Jones. Since then, Goldman has seen fit to trash Mayor Jones whenever the mood strikes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Sound

This is a scan of the handbill
mentioned in this story.

Ed. Note: A longer version of this story was published in 1987 in SLANT. Then, in 2000, it was cut down to this version, which ran in STYLE Weekly as a Back Page. 


In the spring of 1984, I ran for public office. In case the Rea for City Council campaign doesn’t ring a bell, it was a spontaneous and totally independent undertaking. No doubt, it showed. Predictably, I lost, but I’ve never regretted the snap decision to run, because the education was well worth the price.

In truth, I had been mired in a blue funk for some time prior to my letting a couple of friends, Bill Kitchen and Rocko Yates, talk me into running, as we played a foozball game in Rockitz, Kitchen's nightclub. Although I knew winning such an election was out of my reach, I relished the opportunity to have some fun mocking the system. Besides, at the time, I needed an adventure.

So it began. Walking door to door through Richmond’s 5th District, collecting signatures to qualify to be on the ballot, I talked with hundreds of people. During that process my attitude about the endeavor began to expand. People were patting me on the back and saying they admired my pluck. Of course, what I was not considering was how many people will encourage a fool to do almost anything that breaks the monotony.

By the time I announced my candidacy at a press conference on the steps of the city library, I was thoroughly enjoying my new role. My confidence and enthusiasm were compounding daily.

On a warm April afternoon I was in Gilpin Court stapling handbills, featuring my smiling face, onto utility poles. Prior to the campaign, I had never been in Gilpin Court. I had known it only as “the projects.”

Several small children took to tagging along. Perhaps it was their first view of a semi-manic white guy — working their turf alone — wearing a loosened tie, rolled-up shirtsleeves, and khaki pants.

After their giggling was done, a few of them offered to help out. So, I gave them fliers and they ran off to dish out my propaganda with a spirit only children have.

Later I stopped to watch some older boys playing basketball at the playground. As I was then an unapologetic hoops junkie, it wasn’t long before I felt the urge to join them. I played for about 10 minutes, and amazingly, I held my own.

After hitting four or five jumpers, I banked in a left-handed runner. It was bliss, I was in the zone. But I knew enough to quit fast, before the odds evened out.

Picking up my staple gun and campaign literature, I felt like a Kennedyesque messiah, out in the mean streets with the poor kids. Running for office was a gas; hit a string of jump shots and the world’s bloody grudges and bad luck will simply melt into the hot asphalt.

A half-hour later the glamour of politics had worn thin for my troop of volunteers. Finally, it was down to one boy of about 12 who told me he carried the newspaper on that street. As he passed the fliers out, I continued attaching them to poles.

The two of us went on like that for a good while. As we worked from block to block he had very little to say. It wasn’t that he was sullen; he was purposeful and stoic. As we finished the last section to cover, I asked him a question that had gone over well with children in other parts of town.

“What’s the best thing and the worst thing about your neighborhood?” I said with faux curiosity.

He stopped. He stared right through me. Although I felt uncomfortable about it, I repeated the question.

When he replied, his tone revealed absolutely no emotion. “Ain’t no best thing … the worst thing is the sound.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, already feeling a chill starting between my shoulder blades.

“The sound at night, outside my window. The fights, the gunshots, the screams. I hate it. I try not to listen,” he said, putting his hands over his ears to show me what he meant.

Stunned, I looked away to gather my ricocheting thoughts. Hoping for a clue that would steady me, I asked, “Why are you helping me today?”

He pointed up at one of my handbills on a pole and replied in his monotone. “I never met anybody important before. Maybe if you win, you could change it.”

Words failed me. Yet I was desperate to say anything that might validate his hope. Instead, we both stared silently into the afternoon’s long shadows. Finally, I thanked him for his help. He took extra handbills and rode off on his bike.

As I drove across the bridge over the highway that sequesters his stark neighborhood from through traffic, my eyes burned and my chin quivered like my grandfather’s used to when he watched a sad movie.

Remembering being 12 years old and trying to hide my fear behind a hard-rock expression, I wanted to go back and tell the kid, “Hey, don’t believe in guys passing out handbills. Don’t fall for anybody’s slogans. Watch your back and get out of the ghetto as fast as you can.”

But then I wanted to say, “You’re right! Work hard, be tough, you can change your neighborhood. You can change the world. Never give up!” During the ride home to the Fan District, I swore to myself to do my absolute best to win the election.

A few weeks later, at what was billed as my victory party, I, too, tried to be stoic as the telling election results tumbled in. The incumbent carried six of the district’s seven precincts. I carried one. The total vote wasn’t even close. Although I felt like I’d been in a car wreck, I did my best to act nonchalant.
This shot, taken at Grace Place, shows my reaction to
the news that with half the votes counted I no longer
had any chance to win.
In the course of my travels these days, I sometimes hear Happy Hour wags laughing off Richmond’s routine murder statistics. They scoff when I suggest that maybe there are just too many guns about; I’m told that as long as “we” stay out of “their” neighborhood, there is little to fear.

But remembering that brave Gilpin Court newspaper boy, I know that to him the sound of a drug dealer dying in the street was just as terrifying as the sound of any other human being giving up the ghost.

If he's still alive, that same boy would be older than I was when I met him. The ordeal he endured in his childhood was not unlike what children growing up in any number of the world’s bloody war zones are going through today. Plenty of them must cover their ears at night, too.

For the reader who can’t figure out how this story could eventually come to bear on their own life, then just wait … keep listening.

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