Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Living in the Moment


Note: On 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. On May 4 four students were shot to death during a demonstration on the Kent State campus. They were: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheue and William Schroeder. Five days later I drove to Washington, D.C. Two friends rode the 100 miles 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.   

*

May 9, 1970: 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 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.

*

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

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April 14, 1973: Discover the Fan

Thirty-eight years ago an ad hoc group of 21 merchants in the VCU area cooperated for a one-time-only promotion that went over quite well -- Discover the Fan. Alas, none of the participating businesses are still there and open for business.


Click on Rebus' nose to enlarge the art.

On April 14, 1973 the weather was absolutely spectacular. For that Saturday afternoon the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street, and environs, were packed with an unprecedented amount of foot traffic. There was live music. Hundreds of helium-filled balloons and free prizes donated by the merchants were given away. The street was not closed and the vehicular traffic was slowed to a crawl all day.

Motorists traveling toward the West End were shown something rather unexpected, given the neighborhood's bohemian image. (Grace Street was a busy one-way street heading west in those days.) There were thousands of ordinary-looking people milling about having a good time. Many of them seemed like tourists. Kids with balloons were everywhere. Suddenly that strip known for its hippies and beer halls looked safe as milk.

The handbill above was done by yours truly. With its list of participating businesses it provides a snapshot of the area in what was probably the zenith of the hippie age. Some of the characters who ran those businesses were rather interesting people.

At the time I had been the manager of the Biograph Theatre for a little over a year and the promotion itself was my project. Many people helped put it together, but it couldn't have happened without the help of Dave DeWitt and Chuck Wrenn.

Below is a piece about this event, written by the late Shelley Rolfe:
Shelley Rolfe’s
By the Way
Richmond Times-Dispatch (April, 16, 1973)

It was breakfast time and the high command for Discover the Fan Day had, with proper regard for the inner man, moved its final planning meeting from the Biograph Theater to Lum’s Restaurant. Breakfast tastes ran a gamut. Eggs with beer. Eggs with orange juice. H-hour -- the operations plan had set it for noon -- was less than three hours away. Neither beer nor orange juice was being gulped nervously.

Terry Rea, manager of the Biograph and the extravaganza’s impresario, was reciting a last-minute, mental things-to-do list. There was the vigilante committee, which would gather up the beer and soft drink cans and bottles that invariably infest the fronts of the shops in the 800 and 900 blocks of W. Grace St., focus area of the discovery.

The city police had promised a dragnet to sweep away the winos who also invariably litter the neighborhood. The day had bloomed crisp and sunny, the first dry Saturday since Groundhog Day. “I knew it wouldn’t rain,” Rea said with the brash confidence of the young. “Lots of young businessmen around here,” a beer drinker at another table said. The free enterprise system lives.

REA WAS assigning duties for the committee that would rope off two Virginia Commonwealth University parking lots that would serve as the setting for a fashion show and band concert. The committee to blow up balloons, with the aid of a cylinder of helium [sic]. One thousand balloons in a shrieking variety of colors. “If we only get 500 kids... two to a customer,” Rea said cheerfully.

“I need more people,” said the balloon task force leader.

Twenty-one businesses were involved in the project. Each of them had contributed prizes, and gift certificates had been put into plastic Easter eggs. An egg hunt would be part of the day, and Rea had a message for the committee that would be tucking the eggs away: “Don’t put them in obvious places, but don’t put them were people can get hurt looking for them.”

“We talked about doing this last summer but we never got it together,” Rea said. There had been fresh talk in late February, early March, and it had become airborne. The 21 businesses had anted up $1,500 for advertising, which was handled by Dave DeWitt, proprietor of a new just-out-of-the-Fan, small, idea-oriented agency.

“Demographically, we were aiming for people between 25 and 34,” Rea said. There had been newspaper advertising and spots on youth-oriented radio stations. “We had a surplus late in the week...” Rea said. The decision was made to have a Saturday morning splurge on radio station WRVA. “Hey,” said a late arrival, “I heard Alden Aaroe talking about it.”

“We wanted people to see what we have here,” Rea said. “People who probably close their windows and lock their doors when they drive on Grace Street and want to get through here a quickly as possible.”

Well, yes, there must be those who look upon the 800 and 900 blocks as symbolic of the counterculture, as territory alien to their visions of West End and suburban existence. Last November the precinct serving the 800 and 900 blocks went for George McGovern, by two votes. Not a landslide, but, perhaps, a trend.

NOON WAS approaching. Rea and DeWitt set out on an inspection tour. Parking lot ropes were being put into place. Rock music blared from exotically named shops. The balloon committee was still short on manpower. An agent trotted out of a shop to report, “They’ve got 200 customers ...” And how many would they normally have at this hour of a Saturday” “They wouldn’t be open,” Rea said.

Grace Street was becoming clogged with cars It would become more clogged. Don’t know how many drivers got out of their cars, but, for a while they were a captive audience making at least vicarious discovery.

Also much pedestrian and bicycle on the sidewalks. Merchants talked of espying strangers, of all ages. A white-haired woman held a prize egg in one hand, a balloon in the other. A middle-aged man had rakishly attached a balloon to the bill of his cap.

The fashion show went on to the accompaniment of semijazz music and popping balloons, most of them held by children. Fashions were subdued. A dress evocative of the 1840s. Long skirts. Loudest applause went to a man who paraded across the stage wearing a loud red backpack. Everybody’s urge to escape?

ON GRACE STREET a sword swallower and human pin cushion was on exhibition. No names please. “My mother ...” he said. He wished to be identified only as a member of “Bunkie Brothers Medicine Show.”

Discounted merchandise on sale included 20-yesr-old British Army greatcoats and a book fetchingly titled “Sensuous Massage.” Sales resistance remained firm.

On Harrison Street a sidewalk artist was creating. A wino, who had somehow escaped the dragnet, lurched across the sidewalk art muttering. “Free balloons ...” In a shop a man said, “I want the skimpiest halter you have ... for my wife.”

On an alley paralleling Grace Street, a man holding a hand camera and early on a VCU class assignment was directing actors. One stationed in a huge trash bin. “Waiting for Godot” revisited? The second, carrying a an umbrella in one hand, popcorn in another, approached the bin. A hand darted out for popcorn. “I ran out of film!” screamed the director.

Everything was being done again. The actor in the bin emerged, seized the umbrella and ran. “Chase him,” from the direct. Actor No. 2 did a Keystone Kop-style double take, jumped and ran. A small crowd that had gathered applauded.

LATE IN the day. Traffic still was at a saturation level. Early settlers said the territory hadn’t seen such suggestion since the movie, “Deep Throat.” Rea spoke of objectives smashingly achieved. Euphoric talk from him on another day of discovery in September. City Hall would be petitioned to block off Grace Street.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Radio Re-creation of Baseball Games

Photo of Frank Soden from the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

The job I left behind to become manager of the Biograph Theatre was in radio. Lee Jackoway, a veteran radio and television ad salesman who was the general manager at WRNL AM/FM, hired me to sell time for the two stations. That opportunity gave me the chance to learn a great deal about advertising; the job lasted a little less than a year (in 1971). At the time I had dreams of starting a magazine and making documentary films. Working in radio/advertising seemed like a step in the right direction.

By learning to write commercials, I also got my first taste of professional writing at WRNL. Learned a bit about production, as well. Some of my efforts at writing and producing commercials were aimed at being funny. I got my permission for that approach from Stan Freberg, a comedian, songwriter, adman I never met.

Jackoway, who could be a tyrant one minute and a standup comedian the next, took me under his wing and gave me a bunch of big accounts. That was partly because he liked me. And it was partly to piss off the senior salesman who Lee wanted to drive off. I also learned some good lessons about promotion in general from media buyers and account executives at local ad agencies.  

Jackoway sometimes liked to hold court, telling the young DJs and salesmen stories of his freewheeling days as a top salesman for Ziv Television. He had been a national sales rep for popular half-hour TV shows, such as "Sea Hunt" and "Home Run Derby." Traveling to markets large and small, Lee sold the rights to the shows to local affiliates. In the trunk of his Thunderbird he carried 16mm reels and a projector with him for presentations. He would go with the local salesman to call on his clients to line up sponsorship. Lee, who was truly a master salesman, died at the age of 78 in 2008.

During my stint at WRNL AM/FM the ownership changed from the Richmond News Leader to Rust Communications. Rust promptly changed the call letters for the FM station to WRXL.  

In 1971 WRNL AM carried lots of local sports -- the R-Braves games, college football, etc. A previous station manager there, broadcasting legend Frank Soden, who died at the age of 91 in 2010, was in and out of the station frequently. Among other things he was still the talent for much of the station‘s sports broadcasting.

Bob Gilmore also did some of that kind of work for WRNL, as well. Before coming to Richmond, Gilmore had been the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds on radio. One of my fondest memories from these days played out on an afternoon that Soden and Gilmore were trading stories about their “re-creation” era. (Here's the link to a story about the legendary Harry Caray and re-creation.)

As a kid, I was fascinated with both radio and baseball. If I wasn't at the Richmond Virginians -- "V’s" for short -- games, I listened to them on the radio. But in the late-1950s, when they were on the road, the voices I had tuned in weren’t coming from press boxes in Rochester or Havana. They were in the WRNL studio, then in downtown Richmond, across Fourth Street from the Richmond Newspapers building.

In those days, for away games, Soden and his broadcast partner Frank Messer would get the bare details of the game in progress by way of Western Union, or sometimes over the telephone. Then, using canned sound effects, they would "re-create" the game as if they were watching it live. It was said this was done to save the money it would have cost to send the announcers on the road with the team.

According to Soden, a lot of time all he knew was that a batter got a single, struck out, or smacked a fly ball that an outfielder caught. Maybe not which outfielder. He might not have known what the pitch count was, etc. So, routinely, he would make it up. Sometimes the sender would leave out a play entirely. Again, that called for the announcer to improvise.

With a few other guys who worked at the station as their audience, Soden and Gilmore told several stories about how they covered for times when no info would come in for 20 minutes, or so, and other such calamities. They’d create a rain delay, an injury on the field, a fly in the umpire's eye, or whatever they needed to keep from breaking the spell and saying what was the truth -- that they had no idea what was going on.

By 1971 "re-creation" was a thing of the past. As I remember it, Gilmore said he was the last guy doing re-creation broadcasts in the major leagues, when he was with the Reds in the late 1950s. It was a rare treat hearing those radio yarns, whether they were true or not.

At the Biograph I used my radio background a great deal over the first couple of years. The success we enjoyed with midnight shows couldn't have happened without the many spots -- some of them supposedly funny -- that ran on WGOE-AM. Today I still listen to the radio regularly -- mostly public broadcasting, which I wish would be funny more often.  

Friday, April 03, 2015

The End of Havoc

Shaka Smart speaking his first words to the local press in 2009

Last night, at about 8:30 p.m. I got a sinking feeling when I read an update that said the 8 p.m. coach-and-team meeting had been postponed. No doubt, I wasn't the only VCU basketball fan to sense that it wasn't a good sign.

Before the evening was over the bad news broke -- Shaka is leaving! Adam Kilgore writes about Coach Smart's decision for the Washington Post in his piece, "Shaka Smart leaves VCU to coach Texas." 

Of course there were hoops fans in Richmond who had expected it. Some of them had also said Smart would leave in previous springs, because coaches generally take offers that mean a raise and a higher profile job. They said so when North Carolina State tried to hire him, and when UCLA tried, and when Marquette tried. Each time they were wrong. This time they were right.

Maybe the departing coach will bare his soul and tell us all the reasons he accepted the Texas offer. Is the job he's accepted in Austin really a better job than UCLA in Westwood?

Maybe. But I expect Smart will play his cards closer to his chest and not get into any of that. If I'm right he will likely say a whole lot of nice things about VCU and Richmond, then he'll mention the new challenge and providing for his family, etc. Maybe he will be so straightforward as to say something like, "It was the right time." 

My sense of it is that timing, one way or another, had plenty to do with his decision to leave. What about blame? Is it anybody's fault Smart decided to move to Austin, Texas?

If it is, if somebody said or did something here in Richmond that made Smart feel differently about working and living in the Fan District, my guess is we won't hear it from him. But that scenario does make some sense -- perhaps something happened recently that put it all in a new light.

That's just a possibility, like others, but if you simply want to blame somebody for running Shaka Smart off, maybe it should be the people who haven't let their lack of knowledge about college basketball stop them from writing mean comments under articles about VCU basketball after every loss. (It still amazes me how pissed off and mean-spirited commenters get online posting their thoughts about sports, politics, etc.)

Examples of that sort of trash-talking are available for your perusal under Paul Woody's "Can't Blame Shaka Smart for Taking Texas Job," written for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Or, if you like, maybe you should blame the people who hate sports so much they squawk about it incessantly. Or, on another angle, you might rather blame those relentless locals who run down VCU every chance they get. That sort of useless blather might get less traction in Austin ... I don't know.

Still, rather than dwelling on any of that, my advice is to accentuate the positive. To hell with blame. Shaka's teams won at least 26 games in each of his six seasons at VCU. While accumulating an overall record of 163-56, there was never a hint of scandal associated with it. It is also worth noting that Shaka and his wife Maya have been noticeably good citizens and role models in their time in Richmond. And, they didn't live in a gated community in Goochland, either, the Smart family made the Fan District its home turf.  

Coach Smart talked about "havoc" in his earliest days at VCU. He brought the concept with him. Is Havoc, Smart's signature style of play on the court -- his "brand" at VCU -- portable? Will he pack it all up and start preaching the gospel of Havoc as soon as he gets to Austin?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because I don't think it really is portable. It could seem like a self-promotional gimmick if he tries to warm it over and sell it again. Havoc worked at VCU, in good part because he wasn't coaching a team made up entirely of blue chip recruits. At Texas he's going to be coaching some wannabe one-and-done guys who want to compile stats to warrant their first-round selection in the NBA draft. Some of them won't be as coachable as four-year players like Briante Weber and Treveon Graham were.

Last prediction: Smart won't talk about Havoc at Texas and the next VCU coach will be savvy enough to say the Rams will play hard, but he won't try to keep that slogan alive. It's  had its time and now those Havoc T-shirts will become collectors' items. Havoc was an era. It was fun while it lasted.

Moreover, Shaka Smart has been the best coach in VCU's history, but nobody should assume the Rams will suddenly drop off of the map. The university at the heart of Richmond has had its successful coaches hired away before.

By the way, if everybody stays the Rams have 10 guys returning and only one of them is a senior. We don't know if the recruits will stick, but they are highly regarded. My hope is that next spring somebody will be trying to hire the Rams head basketball coach away, again.

The best part of this story, at least for for me, is that I didn't wake up today with a hangover. After the bad news last night, I tried to drown my sorrows with Rolling Rocks at the Bamboo Café. Got away with it clean as a whistle.  

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Strange Case of Gus the Cat

Note: In an effort to be funny, in an off-beat way, I wrote this piece in 2000. The people quoted were told the scenario and given the freedom to write their own lines, in character. It was published by Richmond.com.  

*

Though cynical people like to say, “All cats are gray in the dark,” the difference between this and that counts with me. Thus, if for no other purpose than to satisfy my own curiosity, I set out to find the truth about Gus, the cat that had long presided over lower Carytown from his plush basket in a bookstore display window facing the street.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ohaIkmTZU_0/TYOKL0YuoAI/AAAAAAAAAxw/v5kt5utrTbc/s1600/gusstacywarner.jpg

The mystery began in the course of a casual conversation about re-makes of old movies. Film aficionado Ted Salins, a regular among the society of conversationalists who gather at the tables on the sidewalk in front of Coffee & Co., tossed out that the cat living next door in Carytown Books is not the “original” Gus.

Since I’ve known Salins, a writer/filmmaker/house-painter, for a long time, I suspected his charge was a setup for a weak joke. To give him room to operate I asked, “So, this Gus is an impostor?”

“Just like Lassie, several cats have played the role of Gus over the years,” Salins said matter-of-factly.

Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that Gus, someone else’s cat, had slowly become important to me over the years. In the past I’ve been told that he’s over 15, maybe pushing 20. Who can say what that is in cat years? He still has a few teeth left.

“You see, in ‘91 I had lost my beloved Skinkywinkydinky in a separation,” Salins went on, as if revealing a dark conspiracy. “When I first saw Gus, I took to him because he reminded me of Skinky. That Gus wouldn't let you touch him. But, this Gus…”

“Ted, this is absolutely the most off-the-wall nonsense you’ve come up with yet,” I accused.

“The place has changed hands a few times since then,” Salins smugly offered. “The problem is each owner falls in love with the cat and keeps it. But since Gus has become an institution in Carytown, each set of new owners has to find another cat that looks like Gus. The switch is made at night in order to preserve the secret. I’ve seen it.”

Before I could say “horsefeathers,” another member of the Carytown intelligentsia, who had just walked up, spoke: “Salins, as usual you’re all wet,” said artist Jay Bohannan. “That is not only the same cat, but Gus is, let’s see, yes, he’s nearly 70. That particular cat is probably the oldest cat this side of the island of Lamu.”

I laughed at Bohannan’s crack and excused myself from the table to let them hash it out. The two of them have been arguing good-naturedly since their VCU art school days in the early ‘70s.

Walking toward my car, Ted’s suggestion of a fraud having been perpetrated on the public bothered me. I felt certain that if somebody had actually installed a faux Gus in the bookstore it would have been all over the street the next day. As I tried to imagine people spiriting nearly identical cats in and out of the back door, in the dead of night, the matter wouldn’t rest.

So I turned around and went into Carytown Books. The shop’s manager, Kelly Justice, who has worked there for six years under three editions of ownership, scoffed at Salins’ charge.

“Anyone who knows Ted, knows he’s a nitwit,” said Ms. Justice with a wry smile. “More likely than not, this is an attempt to raise funds for another one of his documentaries.”

When I told her about Bohannan’s equally outrageous suggestion that Gus was almost a septuagenarian, Justice laughed out loud. “Perhaps Jay and Ted are both trying to hitch their wagons to Gus’ star,” she suggested playfully.

Back outside, Salins and Bohannan were both gone. So I walked east on the block to Bygones, the collectable clothing and memorabilia store known for its artful window displays. Since Maynee Cayton, the shop’s proprietor, is an unofficial historian for the neighborhood, I decided to see what she knew about Gus.

Cayton, who has been at that location for 16 years, said she had some pictures of the block from the ’30s and ‘40s, but she didn’t think she had any shots of a bookstore cat. However, she did remember that when she was a child she saw a gray and white cat in the window of what was then the Beacon Bookstore.

“It was in the late ’60s, I think it was 1967,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “And I’d say it was a young cat. Either way, I can’t believe the feline impersonator story, so maybe it was Gus.”

The next day, Bohannan called on the phone to tell me he had something I needed to see right away. He was mysterious about it and wouldn’t explain what he was talking about, except to say that it was proof of his claim about Gus the Cat.

Unable to let it go, I told him I’d stop by his place to see what proof he had.

Bohannan’s apartment, located between Carytown and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was an escape from the modern world altogether. It’s furnished in a pleasant mix of practical artifacts and curiosities from yesteryear. The heavy black telephone on his desk was almost as old as Jay. Next to the desk was a turn-of-the-century gramophone. Bohannan, himself, dressed like a character who just stepped out of a Depression-era RKO film, reached into a dog-eared manila folder and pulled out a photograph. When I asked him where he had gotten the picture, purportedly from about 1930, he shrugged.

In such a setting, his evidence of Gus’ longevity took on an eerie authenticity. Sitting in one of Bohannan’s ancient oak chairs, surrounded by his own paintings of scenes from Virginia’s past, I thought I could see the cat he claimed was depicted in the storefront’s window. Why, it even looked like Gus.

Jay told me I could keep the photo, it was just a Xerox copy. What a scoop!

Later, when I looked at the grainy picture at home, I could hardly even see a cat. The next day, back in Carytown, I spoke with several people who hang out or work in the neighborhood. A few actually thought Bohannan’s bizarre contention could be true. Others agreed with Salins.

One man, who refused to be quoted with attribution, said he was sure the original Gus was an orange cat. A woman looked up from her crossword puzzle to note that Bohannan's evidence was at least as good as what she'd seen on the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the whole group of chatty know-it-alls went off on the general topic of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. At the next table a woman in a straw hat started sketching the sidewalk scene.

A few days later, I saw Ted Salins holding court in front of the coffee shop. I told him what Kelly had said about his claim and I showed him Jay’s so-called proof that Gus is ancient.

“The next thing you’re going to tell me is Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays," Ted said mockingly. "Look, it’s not the same cat. Live with it. This Gus is a ringer, maybe three years old.”

Turning around, I looked through the storefront’s glass at good old Gus in his usual spot. He looked comfortable with a new electric heater under the blanket in his basket. It dawned on me that there was a time when Gus used to avoid me, as well. Now he seems happy for me to pet him, briefly.

Pulled back into the spell of the mystery, I wondered, had Gus changed or had I? Gus stared back at me and blinked. Like one of his favorite authors, J. D. Salinger, Gus wasn’t talking.

Gus was smiling as only a cat can; a smile that suggests equal parts of wisdom-of-the-ages and dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers. One obvious truth about Gus the Cat was that he had grown quite accustomed to having a public.

*

Note: The photo of Gus was taken by Stacy Warner for Richmond.com. On June 19, 2001 a cat alleged to have been the authentic Gus the Cat was found dead in Carytown Books; he was estimated by the bookstore's spokesperson to have been about 18 years old.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Right Brand of Treason?

On March 2, in his speech in the House of Representatives, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear he doesn't trust Iran's government. Although his remarks along those lines drew applause, some of Netanyahu's supporters in the room surely knew that nobody trusts the regime in Iran all that much, including America's President Barack Obama. 

Although I have no good reason to trust Iran's bosses, either, sometimes the more a person talks about trust the less I trust them. Hey, who trusts Netanyahu? 

And, dear reader, do you trust many American politicians, elected or wannabe -- donkey, elephant or off-brand -- to regularly put considerations for the commonweal over all other interests? My reason for asking is to set up this question: Does trust even matter all that much in 2015?

For a lot of people, it seems to have become much more important to agree with a politician's perceived "brand" than to trust that person to be fair and honest in their dealings. Furthermore, I'm saying that as a baby boomer/geezer, I remember a time when trustworthiness seemed to be more important than appears to be today. At least, I think I do... 

Oh well, eventually, I'll finish this piece about how "branding" in our culture has become more important than trust. But for today, I'll wind up with this two-part question connected to how to deal with Iran:

Did you buy it that the 47 Republican senators who wrote a letter to Iran, trying to scuttle the international negotiations about limiting that country's nuclear program, were motivated by good intentions? Or, put it this way -- because you trust in the persuasiveness of bombs, is a letter that nudges America toward war with Iran just the right brand of treason? 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

West Regional Preview

The NCAA men's basketball tournament is my favorite sports championship. When comparing it to baseball and football, in my view basketball is the best sport for a tournament format. The one-loss-and-go-home rule in college basketball's championships always seems to make a few players do things they probably didn't know they could do ... before they had to invent something to win and advance.  

While the highly-regarded teams usually win the last game of the NCAA's, along the way underdogs inevitably have their moments in the bright lights. Longtime VCU fans still talk about a game-winning shot by Rolando Lamb that beat Jim Calhoun's Northeastern team in the 1984 tournament. 

It's always fun to see a team that's won a lot of games in a supposedly weak conference prove to the fans who expect power conference members to have an advantage that some teams are just good at winning, no matter who they face. Only one squad will finish the whole shebang without a loss. 

The top two seeds of the West Regional, Wisconsin and Arizona, seem quite capable of going all the way, if you think anybody can beat Kentucky. The third seed, Baylor, is certainly good enough to reach the Sweet 16. The fourth seed, North Carolina, has the talent to play with anybody, but there's a softness about the Tar Heels collective team personality this season that I suspect will betray them.

Below I've listed the four teams I think are most likely to win the regional to appear in the Final Four; they are listed in my perception of the order of their likelihood. All four should win their first games. So, with my prejudice for VCU showing, I think the Fearsome Four schools in the West Regional are: 
  • #1 Wisconsin (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 4. Conference: Big 10. Best wins: Oklahoma and Michigan St. at neutral sites. Worst losses: Duke at home and Rutgers on the road.
  • #2 Arizona (31-3). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 5. Conference: Pac-12. Best wins: Gonzaga at home and Utah away. Worst losses: Oregon St. and UNLV both away.
  • #3 Baylor (24-9). Last five games: 3-2. RPI: 10. Conference: Big 12. Iowa St. and W. Va., both on the road. Worst losses: Kansas St on the road and Oklahoma St. at home.
  • #7 VCU (26-9). Last five games: 5-0. RPI: 15. Atlantic 10. Best wins: No. Iowa at home and Dayton at a neutral site. Worst losses: La Salle at home and St. Bonaventure away. 
The most likely Cinderellas to stage upsets in their first games are #12 Wofford (vs. #5 Arkansas) and #13 Harvard (vs. #4 UNC). Should I be right about VCU and wrong about UNC, it sure would be fun to see them play at the Elite Eight level, with the winner Final Four bound.

Monday, March 16, 2015

AP Poll: No. 25 VCU

Upon winning the Atlantic 10 championship by beating the tough Dayton Flyers on Sunday afternoon, by a score of 71-65, the VCU Rams finished their pre-NCAA's schedule with a 26-9 record (16-6 in overall A-10 games).

Nonetheless, I am a little surprised the March 16 AP Poll had the Rams at No. 25. Last week VCU didn't wasn't even listed among the "others receiving votes." For a team not in one of the power conferences that lost three straight games in late-February/early-March it's quite a feat to leapfrog a bunch of good teams that quickly.

Maybe the NCAA's expert seeding committee didn't show the Rams as much respect as some VCU fans might have wanted -- 7th seed in the West -- but it seems the AP Poll's voters noticed what happened in Brooklyn. What the committee couldn't ignore was VCU's eye-popping ranking in the RPI, due in great part to the Rams strong out-of-conference schedule. Today VCU stands at No. 15 in the RPI at CBS Sports.

Thus the Rams are one spot better than Notre Dame, the impressive team that just won the ACC tournament. The first game of the Big Dance for VCU will tipoff at about 4:40 p.m. on Thursday in Portland, Ore. (TNT). The Rams opponents will be one of the blue blood programs of college basketball -- the 10th-seeded Ohio St. Buckeyes (23-10) out of the Big Ten.

VCU has won five consecutive games, after losing the three previous games. Earlier this season the streaky Rams put together a 12-game run of wins. In the last week of the regular season VCU's head coach Shaka Smart was still tinkering with the starting lineup.

Which VCU Rams team will show up on the hardwood floor to face the Buckeyes in Portland? Will it be the confused Rams of March 5th in Charlotte? Or will it be the bold Rams of March 6th through the 8th at the Barclays Center?

Here's a prediction from ESPN's Joe Lunardi. 

Rams Take A-10 Tournament Title

 Post by Barclays Center.

Highlight reel from Brooklyn.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Rams Will Stomp Spiders


After going five and three with a tough schedule in November and early December, during a nine-win run, from Dec. 13 through Jan. 13, the VCU Rams performed steadily like a Top 20 team, a legitimate Final Four possibility. This spell raised expectations.

After three more wins, on Jan. 31 VCU's eye-popping streak of victories ended at the Siegel Center with a loss to the Richmond Spiders. More importantly, the Rams lost their most indispensable player -- senior point guard Briante Weber (pictured above with the ball in his hands), who blew out a knee.

Since the injury that ended Weber's college basketball career, head coach Shaka Smart's team has struggled to find its new balance. Weber's contributions had been at the heart of what Havoc had meant. Beyond his statistics his enthusiasm has been missed. His voice has been missed. His ability to make the opponents paranoid has been missed. In spite of his efforts to coach 'em up, Coach Smart has seen his team struggle with its confidence over the last six weeks. 

Now expectations don't matter any more, but an answer for what was lost on Jan 31st is at hand. Smart's job is to put everything else out of his team's mindset. VCU is still a good team, but it's a good team that hasn't played a particularly good game in several weeks. Well, it says here the Rams are due. They're due for a hot shooting game.

Yes, the Spiders are a good team, too, but not good enough to beat VCU if the young players step up and give their best effort to executing the coach's overplaying system. Not if Melvin, playing so close to his home, is feeling it. Not if the Freight Train is running on schedule. 

The Rams will beat the Spiders: VCU 72, Richmond 63. 

-- Photo from VCU Athletics


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bibi Strangelove?

Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper

From what I can tell the Americans making the most noise in their support of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seem to believe the force of their hero's swaggering personality, if directed at the worst villains in the Middle East, will scatter them to run into holes in the ground, to cower. Poor devils.

Beyond that, there seems to be no plan. At least, no plan short of another war to to bring on another regime change; after all that went so well in Iraq in 2003. Prior to launching that war, let's not forget America's post-WWII history with overthrowing governments in order to install more friendly regimes. Here are a few highlights:
  • Let's start with Iran in 1953, where the USA combined with Great Britain to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, to put a dictator, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, in charge until 1979.
  • America's CIA had its fingerprints all over various regime-change campaigns waged in South America in the 1960s.
  • The real lollapalooza of the '60s was the coup arranged by the USA in South Vietnam in '63. 
  • Of course, during the '80s we threw billions in arms support to the mujahideen militants in Afghanistan. They returned the favor by morphing into al-Qaeda. 
There are lots -- lots! -- of other regrettable foreign policy moves that could be added to this list, but you get the picture they paint, when taken as a whole. Answers for why some people in the world harbor bitter feeling toward America's government, maybe its people, too, can be found in the stories of our government's bloody overreaching, and its very expensive failures.
    
Back to Bibi. He says the Iranians can't be trusted. Then Netanyahu says he wants more than a 10-year deal. Does that mean the same Iranian he doesn't trust will become more trustworthy, if they agree to a longer deal? What the hell does Netanyahu really want? 

It seems obvious he first and foremost he wants to get reelected. Netanyahu has taken a big gamble with this week's blatantly political stunt in DC, to align himself with American Republicans. No doubt, he hopes the gamble will pay off. If Netanyahu gets reelected, my guess is the next he wants is to sucker the USA into backing him up when Israel unilaterally bombs Iran, initiates a war and then tells us we have to go along. This was the same sort of strategy Gen. Jack D. Ripper employed in "Dr. Strangelove..." (1964) by provoking a nuclear first-strike. 

Dig it: No matter what the details of the deal now being negotiated with Iran turn out to be, it's a given Netanyahu is going to say it's a bad deal. The sitting prime minister of Israel seems to have convinced himself that war to institute regime-change in Iran is the only sure way to make Israel safe from Persian plots against Israel's "precious bodily fluids."

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Seeing through Jack Leigh's lens

An excellent photographer, Jack Leigh (1948-2004), was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974. While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play Half-Rubber, a game he said originated in his home town, Savannah. Half-Rubber is a three-man baseball-like game that is played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball.

Jack’s best known picture was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photograph in a Savannah cemetery that would appear on the cover of what became a bestselling book -- “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. Later the same photo was used to promote the movie with the same title. 

When I knew him, Jack was earnest and quick-witted. He liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In his Biograph days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through two rolls of Tri-X. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He eventually authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreword by James Dickey.

So, to kill time one warm afternoon, I cut a ball in half, ruined a broom and crossed the street with Jack and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall, to play what was a new game to me. At the time there were several vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph.

It turned out the key to pitching was to throw the half-ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching the damn thing was quite another matter. Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too. In fact, it was better to do so, from a strategic standpoint.

The pitcher threw the half-sphere in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, the batter was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth. Runs were scored in a similar fashion to other home run derby-like games.

But the best reason to play, other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the bat like a rocket. It felt better than crushing a golf ball. Smashing it over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas.

Click here to read more about Jack Leigh.

Click here to visit Jack’s online gallery at Laney Contemporary Fine Art.

VCU Rams through an RPI perspective


What follows could be described as cabin fever-driven fooling around with the RPI (for basketball junkies only). No. 25 (AP Poll) VCU (20-6, 10-3 in A-10) has enjoyed a strong RPI number for most of this season, due in great part to the Rams strong schedule before entering their Atlantic 10 Conference schedule.

And speaking of the A-10, five teams are currently in the top 68 of the CBS Sports RPI: VCU #13; Dayton #30; UMass #41; Davidson #49; Rhode Island #63.

VCU has played seven teams in the top 68 of the CBS Sports RPI, to notch a 4-3 record against such tough competition. The Rams lost to UVa. #3, Villanova #4 and ODU #54. The Rams defeated No. Iowa #16, Cincinnati #45, Davidson #49 and Rhode Island #63.

With five games left in the regular season schedule, VCU is tied for first place in the A-10. The A-10 current standings are here.

-- My photo

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Biograph's 1982 RKO Festival


In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially. RKO stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television's Desilu Productions.

In July and August of 1982 program the Biograph Theatre's No. 60 played out in Theatre No. 1, the larger of the two auditoriums. It was an unusual program for Richmond's repertory cinema in that all 24 of the features were from one studio, RKO, which still operated as a distributor of its old library.

The 12 double features in this festival were: "Top Hat" (1935) and "Damsel in Distress" (1936); "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939) and "The Informer" (1935); "King Kong" (1933) and "Mighty Joe Young" (1949); "Suspicion" (1941) and "The Live By Night" (1948); "Sylvia Scarlett" (1936) and "Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948); "Murder My Sweet" (1945) and "Macao" (1952); "The Mexican Spitfire" (1939) and "Room Service" (1938); "Journey Into Fear" (1942) and "This Land Is Mine" (1943); "The Thing" (1951) and "Cat People" (1942); "The Boy With Green Hair" (1948) and "Woman on the Beach" (1947); "Citizen Kane" (1941) and "Fort Apache (1948); "The Curse of the Cat People" (1944) and "The Body Snatcher" (1945).

Finding Vivian



Here's a trailer for the Bijou's screening of "Finding Vivian Maier" (2014) at The Byrd. It presents a little gallery of her photographs and the music of Chez Roué. Here are the event's details:

What: Richmond premiere screening of Academy Award nominee
"Finding Vivian Maier" (2014); proceeds to benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation.

When: Sun., Feb. 15, 2015 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Admission:

$7.00 at the box office; Advance tickets for $5.00 available at Bygones
Vintage Clothing, Candela Books + Gallery and Ipanema Café through Feb.
14. Advance tickets available online here.

After-Party: Chez Roué will perform live on stage at the New York Deli at 9 p.m.; no cover charge.

More information:
  • The full press release with all the details is here

  • News of the showing of a portfolio of Vivian Maier's work before the screening is here

  • The Bijou Film Center's Facebook group page is here.

  • The "Finding Vivian Maier" trailer is here.                              

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Would Vivian Think of All This Publicity?

"Finding Vivian Maier" (2014) is one of five Academy Award nominees in the Best Documentary Feature category. For its Richmond premiere it will be screened at the Byrd Theatre on Sun., Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. only. For more background on the film and the fundraising event, to benefit the Bijou Film Center and the Byrd Theatre Foundation, click on the links below.


For Richmond Magazine Harry Kollatz wrote:
Then, you scan some of the prints. You start a blog. You make queries. And what you’ve found is the artistic legacy of one Vivian Maier. She turns out to have been a fantastic street photographer, but something of a hermit, who supported herself as a nanny — an eccentric shutterbug Mary Poppins, though without the cheer and singing and the happy ending. But, there is nonetheless something magical about all those images, how close she was able to get to her subjects and their variety. By now, as some stories do, Vivian has possessed you. You study photography and take it up.
Click here to read The Hat's: "'Finding Vivian Maier' at the Byrd on Sunday."

For STYLE Weekly Brent Baldwin wrote:
She hadn’t paid rental fees on the storage, so her images and audio recordings were auctioned to several buyers. Maloof’s discovery is now the subject of the recent Oscar-nominated documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier,” which will be screened Sunday, Feb. 15, at the Byrd Theatre. The showing is a joint fundraiser for the Byrd and the Bijou Film Center.
Click here to read Baldwin's "Who Was Vivian Maier?" You can also read this piece in the Feb. 11 paper edition of STYLE Weekly.

From the Candela Books + Gallery newsletter for February:
Candela Books + Gallery is pleased to have a portfolio of Vivian Maier’s work on consignment from Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York for a limited time. We will be sharing (from 4:30-6:30) this portfolio of Vivian Maier's work before the movie at a preview reception hosted by The Portrait House directly across the street from the Byrd Theatre. Candela will also share the portfolio by appointment through February 21st.
Click here to read the entire post.

Here's a link to Jerry Williams' timely Tales from the Grips post at The Sifter.

And, here's a link to the Feb. 9 article in The Commonwealth Times. 


-- Selfies by Vivian Maier

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Flashback: 'Armageddonville, Texas'

The satirical piece below appeared in a special Summer 2003 issue of SLANT. It was published three or four months after the invasion of Iraq, which, of course, was justified by the ginned up need to find imaginary weapons of mass destruction. 

Armageddonville, Texas
Words and Art by F.T. Rea
From the cover of SLANT (2003)

Armageddonville, Texas is the story of the proud Blusterbush clan. G. Phineas T. Blusterbush, the patriarch, owned miles and miles of all he surveyed. The scion of a wealthy Connecticut family, young Gee-Phinnie Blusterbush settled in Texas for a reason that was never quite clear.

With his utter determination to succeed, and a carpetbag full of Wall Street bread, Blusterbush eventually became a cattle rancher of mammoth proportions. A tall and flinty man, Gee-Phinnie believed he owned the Armageddon River that flowed across his land. To make his belief a reality, over the years, he steadily bought up any property along the river he could. He had a special way of convincing the small ranchers and sod-busters to sell off their land and leave the area.

Note: This character’s costume is patterned after Phineas T. Bluster, a puppet villain on the Howdy Doody Show television show of the 1950s. He carries a derringer, hidden in his coat pocket.

Gee-Phinnie’s oldest son, G. W. “Dubya” Blusterbush, a ne’er-do-well in his youth, swore off booze and subsequently found religion (or maybe it was the other way around.) Always on the trail of two nasty villains, Dubya was out to prove he was worthy of walking in his father’s boot-prints.

Dubya was convinced that the two villains were allies -- O’ Sammy Benlion and Sa’ad Hellsbells - because it came to him in a dream in which a dead horse rose up and spoke to him in the voice of Jesus.

Note: That's the dream that makes Dubya get off the sauce. Since Dubya had always been afraid of horses, anyway -- he rides around in a blue designer stagecoach to keep from having to mount a horse -- this dream rocks his world. Dubya’s signature outfit is an all-leather affair. For protection Dubya always carries his matched pair of .44 caliber Colts -- blue, of course.

Gee-Phinnie also owned Amageddonville’s sheriff, a defrocked preacher named Johnny Asskleft. Asskleft had to leave his final post as a pastor in great haste. Blusterbush, the elder, was the only man who knew the reason, thus, he had a firm grip on Asskleft.

Note: Asskleft bares a strong resemblance to Paul Lynde, of Hollywood Squares fame. He wears the stock Western Movie sheriff wardrobe.

Gee-Phinnie also secretly owned half of the town’s saloon, The Tumbleweed, operated by his partner, who fronted the business -- the lovely and semi-talented Miss Candi.

Note: The sloe-eyed, sepia-toned Miss Candi is cute as a button, but she has no originality whatsoever -- her wardrobe is a total ripoff of Miss Kitty’s (Gunsmoke). Still, Miss Candi was loyal to Gee-Phinnie to a fault. Whoa, Nellie! Is something going on there?

Dickie Chains was the foreman of the Blusterbush family’s ranch, the “Flying W.” As a teenager Chains was at the Battle of the Alamo. He survived because he proved to be quite an actor - Chains convinced Santa Anna that he was the shy female servant of an officer. He and a handful of others were released to tell the bloody story of what happened

Note: The swaggering Chains dresses as a cowhand and rides a huge red horse. The horse swaggers, too.

Don Rumdummy was part-owner of an expanding railroad company that wanted to put tracks through the town. He had a secret alliance with Gee-Phinnie to acquire the land. Even more secretly, Rumsdummy and Chains were partners in slime -- they sold whiskey and guns to renegade Indians, highwaymen and anyone with the cash to pay.

Note: Rumdummy dresses in the all-black garb of a Pinkerton agent, which he had once been. He carries guns of various sizes, wherever he can.

Collard Kungpowell was the figurehead mayor of Armageddonville. He had no real power and he was eaten up with guilt. He was addicted to laudanum.

Note: Once a soldier, Kungpowell had hung up his guns. He dresses like a banker.

O’ Sammy Benlion, a half-breed, was the adopted son of an Indian chief, who was assassinated by Chains’ henchmen. The kindly old chief had been unwilling to sign the bad treaty the federal government was offering. Before the tribe moved to the reservation O’ Sammy took several young warriors with him. The group became marauding renegades. O’ Sammy and his band of snake-handling, whiskey-drinking followers were determined to wreak havoc. They blew up barns and poisoned water holes, just for fun.

Note: O’ Sammy dresses in a skintight outfit with an “O” on his chest and a cape! He thinks Hellsbells is yesterday’s heavy, riding for a fall.

Sadistic Sa’ad Hellsbells was a mustachioed Mexican bandito chief with a mean-as-dirt gang. They rustled cattle and robbed the stagecoaches that passed through the region with impunity. They shot up the town when they felt like it, too. Sa’ad also had a prize stock of Arabian horses, in his secret mountainous hideout.

Dubya spent most of his waking hours searching, in vain, for those nasty hidden horses.

Note: Hellsbells wears the obligatory bandito outfit -- big sombrero -- “we don’t need no steenking badges!” - and ammunition belts across his chest.

This swashbuckling story, set in Texas -- the land of hot air and bum steers -- will continue.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Biograph Art Gallery Notes


The staff art show that hung during the Biograph's second anniversary party on Feb.11 included various works by several then-current employees and some former staff members, too. Most of those who worked there in the early days were artists of one stripe or another.

The sign above, by yours truly, was made to hang in the space of the lobby’s gallery that usually featured the artists' statements. I also had a couple of pieces in the show. One of them sold and that was fun. Another piece was stolen. That was a bummer and a weird kind of violation.

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists, that was not always the case. In the first three or four years, when the walls of the lobby regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, or so, occasionally art by then-renown artists, usually printmakers, was on display. Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and George Segal. The Trova print displayed was from the Falling Man series (see below).


In the summer of 1978 we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, a VCU-trained artist, who later played in a popular Richmond-based band that got some MTV exposure in the early '80s -- Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a flat field of a single color; the colors varied. The renderings were done in the sparse style one might have seen in a '50s government pamphlet's illustrations. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something.

Maybe Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them. Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me on the telephone to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonald's fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonald's was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonald's signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonald's wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!” Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonald's side.

Well, I called a lawyer friend, Jack Colan, to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up to see what how it would play out.

Never heard from the wannabe McDonald's lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

Phil Trumbo had a few art shows at the Biograph. So at one time, for 50 bucks, I could have bought that infamous painting Phil did, which depicted a scene in which Mickey Mouse's little gloved hands had been chopped off with an ax. It looked like a cell from a cartoon. A dialogue balloon from a speaker outside the frame said something like, "Finally got rid of those goddamned gloves." Missed out on that one, too.

Bottom line: When you see art you like a lot, for whatever reason, buy it if you have the money. Later, you'll be glad you did.