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 Richmond.com 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

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6291/212/1600/WarIsHell.0.jpg

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:
REA GIVES BIZARRE EDGE TO BLAB'S 'MONDO SOFTBALL'
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.

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6291/212/1600/Rea84z.0.jpg
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.

 -- 30 --

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Richmond's Mayoral Race Odds

Jon Baliles, Joe Morrissey and Levar Stoney
The following characterizations are being made on the fly. They are my impressions of how the 15 people who are listed at the VPAP website as Richmond's mayoral candidates stand today. So at this time I'm not dealing with rumors about any other candidates that are floating around. And, there's nothing scientific about this at-a-glance look at anyone's chance to win.

For what it's worth, this exercise divides the 15 announced candidates into five tiers:
  • Most likely front-runners: Jon Baliles, Joe Morrissey and Levar Stoney are well known or at least well connected. Their campaigns should enjoy good financing. They will probably have sufficient staffs to help with the legwork.
  • Most likely challengers: Michelle Mosby and Jack Berry are also well known. However, their visibility both helps and hurts them. Whether they will assemble the financial backing and volunteers needed to keep up with those on the first tier is an unknown. 
  • Long shots: Lillie Estes, Chad Ingold and Alan Schintzius are candidates with plenty of ideas. They appear to have small but dogged followings. So, if they do well at events and get good press, maybe one or two of them could move up to being a challenger.
  • Unlikely-to-no-chance: Because voters in most neighborhoods probably don't know much about them and I don't see much of a following for them, I suspect it would take an unforeseen development (a near-miracle) to catapult one of these four into being a challenger: Brad Froman, Bobby Junes, Nate Peterson and Rick Tatnall.
  • Impossible: These three candidates seem to me to have zero chance, mostly because Richmonders already know them all too well: Lawrence Williams, Shirley Harvey and Bruce Tyler. Who knows why they are running?
Next month, after their petitions are checked and a few of the hopefuls become ex-hopefuls, I will publish a revised list that will assess the remaining candidates' chances of success. By then there could be reasons to move some on the list up or down.

-- Photos grabbed from the Internet.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

ThroTTle, 1981-2000

THROTTLE'S DEATH LEAVES VOID IN UNDERGROUND
Jan. 9, 2000, Richmond Times-Dispatch
By: Mark Holmberg

Throttle, the long-lived underground Richmond magazine, finally pulled the plug last week after several years on life support. A sort of who's who of artistic and unusual characters blurted out their creative urges in Throttle's unpredictable pages during the past 19 years.

"Throttle captured a part of Richmond that wasn't apparent to someone who was passing through," said Anne Henderson, one of Throttle's mainstays.

Adherents to Richmond's tired and trite reputation as a fossilized Southern town have long ignored our unusual and often outrageous underground cultural scene, a scene that was revealed and celebrated in Throttle.

For example, some of the nation's most original/bizarre musical acts were birthed here: GWAR, the Ululating Mummies, Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra and, more recently, the Floating Folk Festival and One Ring Zero.

"Throttle's unparalleled enthusiasm for the unusual," as co-founder Peter Blake summed up in the final issue, mirrored an artistic hunger that coursed through the streets and alleys of the Fan, Jackson Ward and Shockoe Bottom during the '80s and, to a lesser degree, the '90s.

The burning question: Is it just Throttle that died, or does its passing signal a dissipation in our underground art and music scene?

Clearly, there was a certain magic about Throttle's heyday. Richmond was alive with local music, free-form "guerrilla" art, mimeographed literary works and community art spaces, all of which fueled creativity and a sense of unity while trampling traditional boundaries.

Many of the ingredients of this creative stew were prepped at Virginia Commonwealth University's schools of art, mass communications and social work. Bands such as Single Bullet Theory and GWAR were hatched there, along with artists Caryl Burtner, Phil Trumbo and Kelly Alder and writers Mariane Matera and Terry Rea - just to mention a few on Throttle's unpaid staff.

Throttle emerged almost directly from VCU in 1981 when Blake and Bill Pahnelas (who later worked at The Times-Dispatch) left the school and its student paper, the Commonwealth Times, still hungry for publishing.

Blake wrote that they were "impatient with the established pace of the Richmond news media [ahem] and thought we would make an effort to accelerate it. With Jack Moore, Dale Brumfield , Mike Fuller and Jerry Lewis, we launched Throttle, the Magazine of Acceleration for the Eighties."

There were a lot of underground 'zines and comics in the area at the time (Boys & Girls Grow Up, for example) offering a voice for hungry, idealistic artists and writers.

"They rarely lasted more than few months," said Rea, who has lived most of his 52 years in Richmond's underground. "The incredible thing about Throttle is how long it lasted."

Throttle was an irreverent mishmash that shot off in dozens of directions, like the scene it represented. Cartoons, politics, prose, parody, music, interviews and general weirdness were its staples.

"It's nothing you can describe in any one sentence," said Burtner, an artist whose work has been featured in Harper's magazine. "It was too many things to too many different people."

She, like many of Throttle's contributors, stumbled into the magazine while searching for an escape from the boundaries she encountered in art school.

"I was just overjoyed, I wanted to do anything to help," said Burtner, who now works in the Virginia Museum's curatorial department.

The names of those with a similar hunger would fill most of this column. Some, such as artist and musician Wes Freed, still are here on the edges of the underground.

Most of the rest have taken jobs in more traditional fields of publishing, art and advertising. The artwork of Alder can be seen in The New York Times. Rea, now a grandfather, writes for Richmond.com. Matera, possessor of one of the area's most deft and cutting pens, recently became the editor of the Mechanicsville Local.

The crowd that kept the scene alive "has reached the age where they've gotten married, had kids and moved on," Matera said.

Co-founder Blake is now a budget analyst for the General Assembly's House Appropriations Committee. He's married with three sons, ages 9, 7 and 3. "Throttle was fertile ground for a lot of interesting and creative ideas," he said. "We've been the venue for a lot of characters. I've enjoyed them all."

No, the underground 'zine scene hasn't died along with Throttle. Matera plans to publish her Richmond Music Journal for at least the rest of this year. There's also Punchline, which covers some of the same ground as Throttle but has yet to establish the same local voice. There has also been the occasional outburst from Poor Richmond's Almanac and assorted punk-rock and alternative-music fanzines.

And yet, something seems to be missing from Richmond's underground.

"So much of what was once underground has been assimilated," Rea said, echoing an observation made by Burtner. "It's much harder today to find an edge."

What was fresh, shocking or taboo during the early days of Throttle can now be seen on television or at art shows, or heard on the radio. Nonconformity has become the norm.

"I'm not sure if that's good or bad," Rea said. "But it makes me uncomfortable."

He's not the only one.

"We're all kind of overwhelmed," Andy Cross said as he and a fellow VCU art student checked out an opening at the 1708 Gallery Friday night.

Cross, 20, has traveled to New York and London, probing for an opening, an edge - a place to develop his voice. Exhibits such as the controversial manure-coated Madonna, in essence, have eliminated the line between the mainstream and the underground, he said. Anything goes, and often it's too grand in size and too expensive to produce for a young artist to consider.

"If you don't know what art is any more," he asked, "why would you care about getting a show?"

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Central Time

Fiction by F. T. Rea

August 16, 1966: Roscoe Swift sat alone in a day car slowly rattling its way into Central Station. The solitary sailor had spent the last hour turning the glossy pages of Playboy and contemplating infinity. As the train lurched he glanced out of the window at Tuesday morning, Chicago style.

Roscoe had sequestered himself from the marathon poker game in another car. The further the train had gotten from Main Street Station in Richmond the more the call for wild cards and split pots had grown. Finally it had driven him from the table. His resolute grandfather had schooled him to avoid such frilly variations on the already-perfect game of poker.

“Gimmicks like that were invented to keep suckers in the game,” was the old man’s admonition.

On the way to boot camp, volunteering to be a sucker seemed like a bad idea. This was hardly the day Roscoe wanted to invite the jinx that might be set loose by disrespecting absolutes.

In the magazine’s lengthy interview section LSD pioneer Timothy Leary ruminated on his chemically enlarged view of the so-called Youth Movement. Professor Leary called the baby boomers, “The wisest and holiest generation that the human race has yet seen.”

The subculture forming around psychedelic drugs in that time was opening new dimensions of risk for 19-year-old daredevils. Roscoe wondered if he would ever do acid. His friend Bake had tripped and lived to tell about it.

There was a fresh dimension to the conflict in Vietnam that month. The Cold War’s hottest spot was being infused with its first batch of draftees; some 65,000 were being sent into the fray. Until this point it had been the Defense Department’s policy to use volunteers only for combat duty.

On the home-front quakes in the culture were also abundant: A 25-year-old former Eagle Scout, Charles Whitman, climbed a tower on the University of Texas campus and shot 46 people, at random, killing 16; comedian/first amendment martyr Lenny Bruce was found dead -- overdosed and fat belly up -- on his bathroom floor; news of songwriter/musician John Lennon’s playful crack about his band -- “We’re more popular than Jesus Christ now” -- inflamed the devoutly humorless; and reigning Heavyweight Champ, Muhammad Ali, bent all sorts of folks out of shape with his widely reported quip -- “I ain't got nothing against them Viet Cong.”

Since leaving Virginia the morning before, Roscoe had traveled -- via the Chesapeake and Ohio line -- through parts of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, on his way to Illinois.

Taking leave from the airbrushed charms of a model billed as Diane Chandler, who was September’s Playmate of the Month, his mind kaleidoscoped to an image of another smiling pretty girl, Julie, his girlfriend.

Then, for a second, Roscoe could feel the sound of Julie's laughter.

As a preamble to Roscoe’s departure for basic training he and Julie had spent the weekend in Virginia Beach, trying their best to savor the bittersweet taste of war-torn romance, black and white movie style. As luck would have it, the stately Cavalier Hotel’s central air conditioning system went on the blink the Friday they arrived.

Since the hotel’s windows couldn't be opened that meant the sea breeze was unavailable for relief from the heat wave. Nonetheless, they stayed on, because the hotel itself, a stylish relic of the Roaring ‘20s, meant something. After two years of catch-as-catch-can back-seat romance, this was where they had chosen to spend their first whole night together.

That evening they stretched out on the bed and sipped chilled champagne. With the hotel-supplied fan blowing on them at full blast, suddenly, a good-sized chunk of the ceiling fell onto a chair across the room.

Roscoe reported the strange problem to the front desk, “I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but perhaps you have a safer room?”

Then Julie suggested a stroll on the beach to cool off. Walking barefoot in the surf, neither of them had much to say. An hour later Julie and Roscoe were back at the hotel. With a little snooping around the pair discovered the door to the Cavalier’s indoor pool was unlocked. As it was well past the posted time for the pool to be open and the lights were off in the chlorine-smelling room, they reasoned the facility was at their disposal for a little skinny-dipping.

Roscoe set the magazine aside and smiled, thinking of the adage about how Richmond girls are always wilder at the Beach.

*

Stepping off the train, Roscoe was two hours from another train ride. This one, aboard a local commuter, would finish the job of transporting him from Richmond’s Fan District -- with its turn-of-the-century townhouses -- to a stark world of colorless buildings and punishing paved grinders: Great Lakes Naval Training Center was his destination.

In the last month Roscoe had listened to plenty of supposedly useful yarns of what to expect at boot camp. Concerning Chicago, he could recite facts about the White Sox, the Cubs and the Bears; he had seen the movie about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the big fire; he thought Bo Diddley was from Chicago. One thing was certain, Seaman Recruit Swift knew he was further from home than he’d ever been.

Outside the train station on the sidewalk, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” -- a novelty tune on the summer's Top 40 chart -- blared appropriately from the radio of a double-parked Pontiac GTO.

After laughing at the ironic coincidence of the music, Roscoe, Zach, Rusty, and Cliff - comrades-at-arms in the same Navy Reserve unit in Richmond for four months of weekly meetings - considered their options for killing the time between trains, and they spoke of the ordeal ahead of them.

“That’s it, man.” Rusty explained. “The Navy figures everybody eats Jell-O, so that’s where they slip you the dose of saltpeter.”

“Get serious, that’s got to be bullshit,” said Zach. “The old salts tell you that to jerk you around.”

“OK, Zach, you can have all my Jell-O,” Rusty offered.

“Not even a breeze; what do y’all make of the Windy City?” asked Cliff. “It’s just as damn hot up here as it was in Richmond.”

A couple of blocks from the station the team of eastern time-zoners, outfitted in their summer whites, stopped on a busy corner to scan the hazy urban landscape. Finding a worthwhile sightseeing adventure was at the top of their agenda.

Answering the call, a rumpled character slowly approached the quartet from across the street. Moving with a purpose, he was a journeyman wino who knew a soft touch when he could focus on it.

In a vaguely European accent the street-wise operator badgered the four out of a cigarette, a light, two more cigarettes for later, then a contribution of spare change. When the foul-smelling panhandler demanded “folding money” Roscoe turned from the scene and walked away. His pals followed his lead. Then the crew broke into a sprint to escape the sound of the greedy beggar’s shouts.

Rusty, the fastest afoot, darted into a subway entrance with the others at his heels. Cliff was laughing so hard he slipped on the steps and almost fell.

As Roscoe descended the stairway into the netherworld beneath the city, he was reminded of H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” and observed, “I guess this must be where the Morlocks of the Midway would live; if there are any.”

Zach smiled. No one laughed.

The squad agreed that since they were already there, and only Rusty had ever seen a subway, a little reconnoitering was in order. Thus they bought tokens, planning only to look around, not to ride. Roscoe, the last to go through the turnstile, wandered off on his own to inspect the mysterious tracks that disappeared into darkness.

Standing close to the platform’s edge, Roscoe wondered how tightly the trains fit into the channel. As he listened to his friends’ soft accents ricocheting off the hard surfaces of the deserted subway stop, he recalled a trip by train in 1955’s summer with his grandfather. Roscoe smiled as he thought of his lifelong fascination with trains. Unlike most of his traveling companions, he was glad the airline strike had forced them to make the journey by rail.

Walking aimlessly along the platform, as he reminisced, Roscoe noticed a distant silhouette furtively approaching the edge. It appeared to him to be a small woman. She was less than a hundred yards down the tracks. He watched her sit down carefully on the platform. She didn't move like a young woman. Seconds later she slid off, disappearing into the dark pit below.

Although Roscoe was intrigued, he felt no sense of alarm. Not yet.

Rosacoe didn’t wonder if it was a common practice for the natives to jump onto the subway tracks. He simply continued to walk toward the scene, slowly taking it in, as if it were a movie. When Zach caught up with him Roscoe pointed to where the enigmatic figure had been.

Roscoe shrugged, “What do you make of it?”

"Let's see where she went," Zach said.

To investigate the two walked closer. Eventually they saw a gray lump on the subway tracks. It hardly looked like a person. Then they heard what was surely the sound of an approaching train coming out of the tunnel’s void.

As Roscoe shouted at the woman to get up, Zach took off in the direction of the sound of the train. The scene took on a high-contrast, film noir look when the tunnel was suddenly lit up by the train’s light.

Running toward the train, the two desperate sailors waved their arms frantically to get someone’s attention. As they sprinted past the woman on the tracks she remained clenched into a tight ball, ready to take the big ride.

The subway's brakes began to screech horrifically, splitting seconds into shards.

The woman didn't move.

Metal strained against metal as the train’s momentum continued to carry it forth.

Roscoe's senses were stretched to new limits. Tiny details, angles of light and bits of sound, became magnified. All seemed caught in a spell of slow motion and exaggerated intensity.

The subway train slid to a full stop about ten feet short of creating a grisly finish.

Roscoe and Zach sprang from the platform and gathered the trembling woman from the tracks. They carefully passed her up to Rusty and Cliff, who stood three feet above. Passengers emptied from the train. Adrenaline surged through Roscoe’s limbs as he climbed back onto the platform. Brushing off his uniform, he strained to listen to the conversation between the train's driver and the strange person who had just been a lump on the subway track.

The gray woman, who appeared to be middle-aged, spewed, "Thank you," over and over again. She explained her presence on the tracks to having, “Slipped.”

Shortly later the subway driver acted as if he believed her useful explanation. Zach pulled him aside to say that we had seen the woman jump, not fall, from the platform. Roscoe began to protest to the buzzing mob’s deaf ears, but he stopped abruptly when he detected a feminine voice describing what sounded like a similar incident. He panned the congregation until he found the speaker. She was about his age.

Filing her fingernails with an emery board -- eyes fixed on her work -- she told how another person, a man, had been killed at that same stop last week: “The lady is entitled to die if she wants to. You know she’ll just do it again.”

As she looked up to inspect her audience, such as it was, Roscoe caught Miss Perfect Fingernails’ eye. He shook his head to say, “No!”

The impatient girl looked away and gestured toward the desperate woman who surely had expected to be conning St. Peter at the Pearly Gates that morning, instead of a subway driver. “Now we’re late for our appointments. For what?”

Roscoe watched the forsaken lady -- snatched from the Grim Reaper’s clutches -- vanish into the ether of the moment’s cheerless confusion. Shortly thereafter the train was gone, too.

“Well, I don’t know about you boys,” said Roscoe. “But I’ve had enough of Chicago sights for today.”

On their way back to daylight Roscoe listened to his longtime friend Zach tell the other two, who were relatively new friends, a story about Bake: To win a bet, Bake, a consummate daredevil, had recently jumped from Richmond’s Huguenot Bridge into the Kanawha Canal.

“Sure sounds like this Bake is a piece of work,” said Cliff. “You said he’s going to RPI this fall. What’s he doing about the draft?”

“This is a guy who believes in spontaneity like it’s sacred,” said Zach. “Roscoe, can you imagine Bake in any branch of military service, draft or no draft?”

“If he can hack being told what to do at art school, I’ll be surprised.” observed Roscoe.

“Hey, man, I’m not so sure any of us belong in the service,” Rusty volunteered.”

“I hear you.” Cliff concurred.

Upon rejoining the others from their Virginia contingent at Central Station, the four sightseers found a legion of additional boot camp-bound sailors from all over the country. For the men assembled, a two-year active-duty hitch in the Navy Reserve was preferable to rolling the dice on what the busy Selective Service system might dish out.

Rusty and Zack eagerly rehashed the morning’s bizarre adventure: “One of them told me there’s been three suicides in Chicago’s subways this summer,” reported Zach. “Could it be the heat?”

“I still had no idea what they were doing when I saw these two fools hopping off the platform, right in front of that train,” Rusty chuckled. “Hey, I couldn’t see squat on the tracks.”

“She’s probably standing on the roof of a skyscraper, right now” Zach theorized. “And, I’m sorry, but I’ll let some other hero break her fall.”

*

Aboard the train from Chicago to Great Lakes Roscoe sat by the window considering the unseen dimensions of his new role -- a GI sworn to stand between what is dear to America and its enemies. Only days before, as he walked on the beach with Julie, he had felt so sure of being prepared for the task.

Yet as he sat there, with miles of unfamiliar scenery streaming by, Roscoe felt waves of trepidation washing over his easy confidence. On top of that, he wished he had gotten a little bit of sleep during the trip.

With their destination only minutes away the four Subway Swashbucklers opted to get in a few hands of stud poker; to accommodate Roscoe, wild cards weren’t suggested.

Sitting on an ace in the hole, with a queen and ten up, Roscoe called Zach’s fifteen-cent-bet. There were no pairs showing and the bettor had just drawn a jack to his queen.

Cliff mentioned that the Treasury Department had announced it would no longer print two-dollar bills. “And, I heard boot camp pay comes in the form of -- what else? -- two-dollar bills.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Zach challenged. “I bet it’s bullshit.”

“Maybe we’re going to get the last of the deuces,” said Rusty. “And, I’ll take any of them you don’t want.”

Roscoe’s mind wasn’t on payday or the poker game. He was daydreaming about Julie smiling on the beach, with her teal-colored eyes glistening and her sun-streaked hair livened by a gust of wind.

Roscoe grappled with his thoughts, trying to pull them together -- memory, urges, and anticipation all marching to the steady beat provided by the tracks. It occurred to him there was something more than mere distance between his seat on that train and what had been his life in Virginia.

“If time has borders, between one age and the next, it might be thicker at the border,” Roscoe announced to no one in particular.

Rusty, the dealer, batted Roscoe’s oblique remark away, “So, are you calling Zach’s bet, or what?”

Expressionless, Roscoe stared at his fourth card, a queen. He pulled out a cigarette. Nodding toward Zach’s hand -- a pair of jacks, showing -- Roscoe flipped his up-cards over, face down. “OK, even if saving the Queen of the Subway from certain death doesn’t count for shit, anymore, there are certain standards that still don’t change. Not for me.”

Rusty shrugged, “Meaning?”

“So, this disposable hero won’t pay a cent for a fifth card to fill an inside straight,” said Roscoe, lighting his cigarette. “First hand, or last, it’s still a sucker’s bet. And, I’ll sit the next hand out.”

“Whatever you say, man,” Rusty laughed. “But we’ve probably got time for just one more hand. Sure you want to quit now?”

Roscoe took a big drag of his filter-tipped Kool. He drank in the moving picture of Illinois that was streaming past his window. The railroad ties were clicking monotonously. He thought about how movies depict motion by running a series of still pictures through a projector. However, with the memory picture of Julie on the beach he’d just conjured up, it wasn’t frozen like a still. Nor was it in full motion. The image moved ever so slightly, capturing what amounted to a single gesture.

After receiving their last cards Cliff and Rusty folded, too. Zach smiled broadly and raked in the pot. Cliff gathered the cards and began to shuffle; preparing to deal the next hand.

“You in, Swift?” inquired the dealer. “The game is seven-card stud. The ante is still a quarter.”

“This time let’s make it 50 cents,” suggested Rusty, sliding two quarters into the center of the makeshift card table.

“Last hand? I’m in,” said Zach.

Roscoe blew a perfect smoke ring, which he studied as it began to float out of shape. He promised himself that no matter what happened to him, he would never forget that smoke ring.

He smiled, “OK. Deal me in.”

* * *

All rights reserved by the author. Central Time with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories called Detached.