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.

Which celebrity will be put behind the bully pulpit?

Last summer a lot of political observers laughed when Donald Trump announced his candidacy. After all, they said, what chance could a trash-talking reality television host, who's a political novice, have of winning the nomination of the Grand Old Party?

Now that Trump and his followers are doing the laughing, this summer's question reads something like this: Can Trump win the election?

Of course, the answer is: Yes.

Once you're on the ballot as the nominee of one of the two major parties, quite simply, you are one of the two most likely people to win the election. Anything might happen to suddenly cut the legs out from under a candidate. Still, speaking of likelihood, at this point the smart money has to be on Hillary Clinton. Yet, to be fair, that assessment is being made before Trump does his best to turn the upcoming campaign into a contest centered around which of them is the more entertaining celebrity.

That same basic strategy served Trump well enough during the primaries. Cast in the role he was born to play, that of a geezer version of a playground bully, Trump made the cluttered field of Republican hopefuls look like a bunch of befuddled sissies. Millions of Trump's fans became virtual newshounds, in order to catch his every campaign utterance on live television.

It turned out that whatever Trump didn't know about politics could be more than made up for with what he knew about being a television celebrity. Now the laughs are on the losers: Lyin' Ted, Little Marco, Low-Energy Jeb and the rest of the clumsy stiffs Trump rather easily dispatched from the campaign trail.

So, how sure can we be about what will matter most to 2016's voters, once they have endured the withering campaign that is coming? Put another way, which celebrity will America decide it wants to see and hear every damn day, speaking from the White House?

Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Unravel Trump's Support

Here it is May 9th and maybe you're thinking about November 8th. Maybe you're wondering how the teaming mass of Donald Trump supporters can best be scattered before election day. What campaign year strategy would erode what is serving as their common ground?

What could make Trump lose 50 states? 

Well, it won't be happen because liberal Democrats do their level best to brand Trump's supporters as “lowbrows.” It should be noted that projecting know-it-all smugness – whether intended, or not – is an irritating trait that some liberals should work on toning down during this campaign year.

My take is that what bundles Trump's fans and enthusiastic supporters together might be best unraveled by fear. Fear rubbed raw. Two basic reasons why:
  • Too much of what Trump has said on the campaign trail has been alarming. His talk about renegotiating government debt raised a few eyebrows. Having such a loose cannon as a president is already scaring America's friends and enemies, alike, out there in the rest of the real world. Blowing off his dangerous and hate-mongering statements as mere “showmanship” is profoundly unwise.
  • Still, the most important reason fear will work like a charm to un-cluster the Trump flock is that today's conservatives are fraidy cats. Trump knows their angers well and has played to them. But the other side of that populist coin is fear. And, generally speaking, the most chock-full-of-fear people I know are also extreme right-wingers. It's no coincidence.

Make today's wall-loving, gun-toting, paranoid Republicans tremble with fear about what a President Trump might do and they'll drop him like a hot potato. Jokes about how Trump sees the threat of using nuclear weapons as one of his foreign policy tools might get some traction.

But what will probably work best would be to sell the idea that the untold number of legions of America-haters, from all over the world, will feel compelled to come here to torture every one of us, should we be foolish enough to elect Donald Trump to speak for the USA.

A vote for Trump is a vote to get yourself waterboarded.

And, speaking of fear, a bunch of Republican office-holders and wannabes have got good reason to be feeling anxious about a decision they must make. If Trump wins the election, even by the thinnest of margins, they had better have endorsed him, early and often. 

The later the endorsement came the less it will probably be worth. With no endorsement having been tendered, it's hard to imagine Trump will not punish those he sees as having it coming to them. 

If Trump loses the election, and he could lose big, those cowed Republicans who jumped on his bandwagon before the convention are going to look like fools who didn't see the obvious debacle coming. Make the wrong call on this endorsement business and it could easily be a career-killer.  

Watching how the most frightened Republicans twist and turn trying to avoid making the wrong choice should be entertaining in the months to come.   

Friday, May 06, 2016

In 2016 what is a Republican?


Gary Johnson used to be a Republican when he was governor of New Mexico (1995-2003). Now he's a Libertarian. No doubt, for obvious reasons, this year other Republicans will consider following his example. Some will vote for Johnson. Nobody knows how many. 

After all, what is a Republican in 2016? Today some of the anti-liberals who used to be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder under Ronald Reagan's “big tent” aren't singing in harmony. 

So, how many Libertarian-leaning Republicans will support their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump? How many Christian conservatives will support Trump? How many ultra right-wing ideologues and neoconservatives will support Trump? Can the establishment business wing of the party comfortably support Trump?

As the GOP's convention draws nearer (July 18-21), we'll see. Meanwhile, here's a short list of those groups that will gladly support Trump: 
  • Racists of various stripes and those who were birthers, in particular.
  • Xenophobes who hate foreigners and Hispanics, in particular. 
  • Rush Limbaugh fans who hate his designated “feminazis” and Hillary Clinton, in particular.
  • The intolerant fraidy cats who live in fear all Muslims.
Yes, at this point there's a common thread that binds many of Trump's most visible supporters together, but it's not really ideology. It's anger. 

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Living in the Moment


 "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ... Four dead in Ohio"

April 30, 1970: President Richard Nixon announced on television that he had authorized the invasion of Cambodia. This escalation outraged the burgeoning anti-war movement.

May 4, 1970: Four students were shot to death during an anti-war demonstration on the Kent State campus. They were: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheue and William Schroeder.

May 9, 1970: Two friends rode from Richmond to Washington D.C. with me in my 1956 baby blue Cadillac. We wanted to be there to protest the specter of the government waging war on students. Other than that, we had no plan. The photos accompanying this piece were taken with my then-new Ricoh 35mm single lens reflex.

As the crowd was being funneled into the grassy ellipse south of the White House, the designated demonstration area, the morning’s temperature had already risen into the mid-90s. The blistering heat added to the growing sense in the air that anything could happen.

The White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by D.C. Transit System buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards.

 

Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. In those days crowd-estimators frequently let their politics color their numbers, so there may have been 200,000 there. Home-made signs were everywhere, including a sprinkling of placards that denounced the mostly young war protesters. Before the program of speakers and singers began, the distinctive smell of burning marijuana gave the gathering a rock ‘n’ roll festival feel.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations of that era, which were planned well in advance, this time it all fell together spontaneously. Many of those who were there had never before marched in protest or support of war, or anything else. Nonetheless, they had felt moved to drop whatever they were doing, to set out for Washington, D.C. — to live in the moment.

As a convoy of olive drab military vehicles drove into the park area many in the crowd booed. When it turned out the uniformed troops were bringing in bottled water for the thirsty, the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem that cloudless day.


After the last speaker’s presentation, thousands of citizens marched out of the park area into the streets, to stretch a line of humanity all the way around the wall of buses. The idea in the air was that whether he liked it or not, the commander-in-chief hiding inside the White House, would at least hear the crowd’s anti-war chants.

The demonstration flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctively squat D.C. buildings. Fully-equipped soldiers could be seen in doorways, awaiting further orders. Many of them must have been afraid they might be ordered to fire upon their fellow Americans.

Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look. A few minutes later a cheer went up because a determined kid had managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag triumphantly. When the cops hauled the flag-waver off a commotion ensued. Soon the scent of tear gas spiced the air...


The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured live music. Information booths and displays were set up by the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Voter Registrar’s office and Planned Parenthood.

Although it was not a political rally to protest anything, the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was rather similar in its overall look to the one the day before in Washington. As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- a 17-year-old boy -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

The photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the next day, May 11, 1970, is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the convergence of strong feelings from the extraordinary week that had preceded Cool-Aid Sunday had worked to set the scene. Shortly before Donivan fell, I remember seeing him on the fountain, seemingly caught up in much the same spirit as the hippies climbing on statues the day before.

Without that week’s unique momentum Donivan may not have felt quite so moved to demonstrate his conquest of that old fountain. Witnesses said he was rocking it back and forth, just before it crumbled.

The way that Sunday afternoon’s be-in ended with tragedy was burned into the memory of hundreds of young people who had gathered outdoors, to celebrate being alive and free to pursue their happiness peacefully.

In those days the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Every night on the televised news the death counts were announced -- numbers appeared next to little flags on the screen that represented the armed forces at war. In the spring of 1970 living in the moment had the potential to kill off the young and unlucky, wherever they were.

*

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bijou Reaches Membership Goal at Hardywood


The Bijou Film Center's second annual springtime live music show at Hardywood took place on Saturday (April 16). This one was called a Leap of Faith party because it will built around a membership drive. The turnout was impressive. In general, it seemed everything went over well.

During the event, The Bijou reached its goal of signing up 360 of founding members -- "originals" -- in 45 days. Yes, on the last day. Attendees were treated to a pleasant variety of sounds created by three bands: Big Boss Combo, Grass Panther and The Green Hearts. A good time was had ... the leap of faith was a pure success.

For more about The Bijou click here.


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Wilder the Ringmaster

The mayor-elect on election night 2004
As a former-governor of Virginia and former-mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder knows a thing or two about campaigning. At 85, he's still at it. For a couple of hours during the evening of April 6th, in a jam-packed hall on the Virginia Union University campus, Doug presided.

My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.

So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?

Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's faithful sidekick, as the headliner didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several occasions, although he sometimes cloaked his commentary in the form of questions. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.

The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when the attendees laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe a few of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how the circus evolves.

The most interesting moment of the night happened like this: During the Lighting Round candidates were asked a series of six or seven questions, the last of which inquired about whether they were for or against removing any of the statues memorializing Confederate heroes from Monument Avenue. Stonewall Jackson was offered as an example. (This question interested me, in particular, since I've recently written about it.)


Eight candidates said, "no." Two candidates said, Yes," meaning they would approve of removing a monument, or maybe more than one. They were: Lillie Estes and Joe Morrissey.

Alan Schintzius dodged the question by saying the people ought to decide. Or, maybe he was really calling for a referendum. The last one to answer was Chad Ingold, who said, "Bring your own hammer!" It seemed Ingold was more than ready to lend a hand to the work crew to start dismantling statues, tomorrow.

The crowd erupted. Laughter, cheers and boos. Wilder promptly sang, softly, but right dead into the microphone, "If I had a hammer..."

Yes, Wilder was using a line out of a Pete Seeger folk song (as popularized by Peter Paul and Mary). The ringmaster sang on key and he got a laugh from those who caught it. Then the moment passed. I was amazed at how deftly the man could still steer a spontaneous crowd reaction to what another person had said to his own advantage ... for those who noticed.

To sum up I'm assigning a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.

The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.

No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one earned an “F” for totally embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
  • Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
  • Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
  • Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.
Bottom line: The whole shebang went over so well, it's hard to image that Ringmaster Wilder didn't thoroughly enjoy himself.

-- Photo and words by F.T. Rea