Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dan Rather on Joe Biden's Pick

It's easy to see why right-wingers and Trumpists like to bash Dan Rather. He makes way too much sense. Here's what Rather wrote last night about former-Vice President Joe Biden's selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate:
For most of my life, candidates on major party presidential tickets tended to look like, and had similar backgrounds to, Joe Biden. It was so unremarkable that it was hard to imagine anything different. No one looked like or had the background of Kamala Harris, not by a long shot. That may go without saying, but it deserves to be said. Boy does it ever.
Ours is a representative government, but for too long in America our leadership wasn't representative of the people as a whole. Not in gender or race. But here's the thing about representation, once walls of the status quo are broken, the imagination of the electorate changes.

Let's take the Senate. It still is in many ways an "Old Boys Club" and one that has about as much racial diversity as a mid-20th Century country club. But there was a time, not that long ago, when that was essentially all that it was. In recent years, that has changed considerably. And now the idea of a woman senator, from either party, seems a natural state of affairs. We sadly have further to go with Black senators. That is not to say that women still don't face many, many more hurdles than men.

They do. But with each woman elected to office, as with governors, mayors, and state representatives, the idea of a "typical" political leader begins to change. And it's easier for those who follow.

So representation matters, and it's not just politics. In occupations from the military, to first responders, to astronauts, to athletes, to scientists, to all the other places in society that were once almost always the exclusive domain of men, and often white men, the breaking of barriers redefines what society in all its diversity thinks is possible.

There will be challenges for reporters covering this campaign. And there should be. Kamala Harris deserves to be vetted, and she expects this. But as we saw in 2016, what some might call vetting can also be shameful exercises in false equivalence, shaped by centuries of bias and systemic impediments to women and ethnic minorities, no matter the talents they possess.

Pioneers are judged, and judged harshly. They are judged on scales weighted against people that look like them. It's perfectly acceptable for a reporter to explore how Senator Harris may help turn out the vote, or inspire her political opposition. But that has to be framed alongside the injustices of American society.

"Electability" is really a standard for judging the American people and not her. Her record in office can be scrutinized. But wondering whether she is "qualified" is really a far-from-subtle code word for race and gender. How she speaks, looks, the tone of her voice, we can't ignore that these things will enter the political discourse. But they are all subjective qualities that are shaped by what our society and history books have taught us a president or vice president is supposed to look like and sound like. It is time these norms are shattered.

As any scientist will tell you, human beings are by our basic nature, biased creatures. Biases, especially when they are subconscious, help us make sense of a complicated world. What do we fear? What do we understand? What challenges our sense of comfort? But bias leads us astray. Biases close us to new opportunities. But often, if we let ourselves, we can break down these biases. We can see the world through new eyes.

Kamala Harris does that. She is a vote for the America of today. Her story is every bit that of the American dream as the tales we look back at from a century ago with sepia-toned nostalgia. Many of those people were also the children of immigrants, different in language, ethnicity and religion from what privileged America thought the country should be . They were also judged, harshly.

That Senator Harris is a representative for Black America makes this moment all the more poignant. Her path though an historically Black university is a path that echoes the founding injustices of this nation, and the long and winding path to hope.

This campaign is far from over. The choice of a vice presidential candidate rarely moves needles much. But whatever happens American politics represents more of America tonight.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Remembering Glenn Pavone

Ten years ago guitar virtuoso Glenn Pavone died.

Richmonders may remember him from his two noteworthy appearances with Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band at High on the Hog (1983 and 1985), as well as his touring with the Bill Blue Band. Glenn also played briefly with Chuck Wrenn's early-'80s band, the Megatonz.

Those who knew Glenn personally remember him as an usually modest and thoroughly nice guy. The video clip above is a rough transfer to-digital of Billy's Price's band performing at High on the Hog 9 in 1985 from a 16-minute documentary that I directed.

Click here to visit the Glenn Pavone Tribute page on Facebook. 

RIP, Glenn.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

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 a king 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 nine. 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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

You say, 'Half-Rubber'?

Photographer Jack Leigh (1948-2004) was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974 (I managed the place in those days). While he worked at the Biograph as an usher, Leigh taught me to play Half-Rubber, a game he said came from 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.

Probably Jack’s best known photograph was snapped in 1993, when he was commissioned to shoot the photo 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 image was used to promote the movie with the same title.

When I knew him, Jack (pictured right) 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. At one point we had a show of his hanging in the lobby.

Once, when we went out to wander around shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice. He was using slow black and white film. Maybe Verichrome Pan? In the same amount of time, a couple of hours, I went through a couple of rolls of fast Tri-X.

Yes, 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.

Back to Half-Rubber: To kill time one pleasant afternoon, at Jack's prompting I cut a ball in half, cut the sweeping part off of a broomstick and crossed the street with the Half-Rubber instructor and the theater’s assistant manager, Bernie Hall. At the time there were a couple of vacant lots on Grace Street, across from the Biograph. With the alley behind us, it was a good spot to play the new game.

Berine and I soon learned the key to pitching was to throw the half-ball using a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting it with a broomstick or even 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. When the catcher did catch it on the fly, 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, flat-sided ball, was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil it left the broomstick bat like a rocket. Smashing it across the lot, completely over the theater and halfway to Broad Street was a gas!

Click here to read more about Jack Leigh.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Satchel Paige at Parker Field

Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian
Missing Major League Baseball I can’t help but think of what was a temple of baseball in my youth, Parker Field, which was located where the Diamond is now.

Parker Field opened in 1954 to serve as home for a new International League club — the Richmond Virginians. The Baltimore Orioles (formerly the St. Louis Browns) joined the American League that year, leaving an opening in the IL for the Richmond entry.

A couple of years later the V’s became one of the New York Yankees’ Triple A farm clubs. Accordingly, in those days the Bronx Bombers paid Richmond an annual visit in April. Just before the Big Leagues opening day, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and the other great Yankees of that era played an exhibition game in Richmond against V’s.

It was always a standing-room-only affair. I wish I hadn't lost track off the photos I shot of a few of those Yankees stars with my Brownie Hawkeye at one of those games. When it ended I climbed over a low wall, to get out on the field, Then I fired off a few closeup shots before I was shooed away.

Other than the pinstripe-clad hometown V’s my favorite club of the IL in those days was the pre-revolution Havana Sugar Kings. They played with an intensity, bordering on reckless abandon, that made them a lot of fun to watch, especially for the kids.

One of my all-time favorite players I saw perform on that ball field was Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-82). Yes, the legendary Paige, with his windmill windup, high kick and remarkably smooth release still working for him, plied his craft on the mound here in Richmond.

In 1971, Paige (pictured above, circa 1949) was the first of the Negro Leagues’ great stars to be admitted to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, based mostly on his contributions before he helped break the Major League color line in 1948, as a 42-year-old rookie. The statistics from his pre-Big League days are mind-boggling. It's been said he won some 2,000 games and threw maybe as many as 45 no-hitters.

Furthermore, long before the impish poet/boxer Muhammad Ali, there was the equally playful Satchel Paige, with his widely published Six Guidelines to Success:
  • Avoid fried meats that angry up the blood.
  • If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  • Keep the juices flowing by jangling gently as you walk.
  • Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying-on in society - the society ramble ain’t restful.
  • Avoid running at all times.
  • Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.
Long after his days as the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues (and maybe any league), following his precedent-setting stint in the American League, Paige was on the roster of the Miami Marlins (1956-58). Like the V’s the Marlins played in the International League. When I saw him Paige was in his 50s. Not a starter, anymore, he worked out of the bullpen.

In the late-1950s live professional baseball in Richmond was mostly a white guys’ scene. Which meant the boos would start as soon as the crowd noticed Paige’s 6-3, 180-pound frame warming up in the middle of a game. When he’d be called in to pitch, in relief, the noise level would soar. Not all the grown men booed, but many did. That, while their children and grandchildren were split between booing, cheering, or embarrassed and not knowing what to do.

Naturally, some of the kids (like me) liked seeing the grownups getting unraveled, so Paige was all the more cool to them. Sadly, for some white men in Richmond, then caught up by the thinking that buoyed Massive Resistance, any prominent black person was seen as someone to be against. So, they probably would have booed Duke Ellington or A. Philip Randolph, too.

The showman Paige would take forever to walk to the mound from the bullpen. His warm-up pitches would each be big productions, with various slow-motion full windups. Then the thrown ball would whistle toward home plate with a startling velocity, making some of the kids cheer and laugh ... to mix with the boos.

Paige as a Miami Marlin

Paige, from Mobile, Alabama, must have understood what was going on better than most who watched him pitch then. He was a veteran performer, who knew perfectly well there wasn’t much he could do to change the boos; they were coming from folks trapped in the past.

So, Paige played to the cheers, as experience over time had surely taught him to do. Of course, as a 10-year-old I lacked the overview to understand that what I was seeing was an aspect of the changes the South was going through, to do with race.

My guess is few knew the reaction to Paige, largely being split on generational lines then, was a sign of how America’s baseball fans were going to change -- one day Jim Crow attitudes would have no place at baseball temples.

Now, with the benefit of decades of reflection, I understand that Satchel Paige was a visionary. He was seeing the future by following his own advice -- Don’t look back.

– Images from

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Rams Team Statement

Yesterday afternoon (July 14) Brent Bettinger was at the site of Richmond’s famous/notorious Lee Monument (some now call that location “Marcus-David Peters Circle”) to shoot pictures. The next thing he knew, VCU’s basketball team, with some coaches and associated personnel, showed up. He was told they had planned to gather on the graffiti-adorned pedestal of the statue for a photo.

Accordingly, that‘s what they did. Apparently Bettinger, who has a photographer’s eye, knew an opportunity when he saw it. So he snapped off a photo of his own. By the way, he said the members of the VCU group were wearing masks when they showed up. Then, in the heat, they took them off briefly for the shoot.

Not surprisingly Bettinger’s powerful image has been viewed and shared quite a bit in the last 24 hours. I haven’t seen what pictures the VCU team’s photographer shot, yet, but right now Bettinger’s is getting a lot of play.

Photo credit: Brent Bettinger Media.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Accordingly, My Favorite Bars

Was talking on the phone with a pal. It seemed we both needed to confess that 2020’s accumulating sense of despair is taking a toll. Like me, he’s a geezer who’s been struggling with the lack of sleep … the vexations thick in the air we breathe … the no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel bleakness ... the goddamn indignities.

We talked for a good while. Between the aforementioned confessions we shared some familiar laughs from hearing old stories recounted, again. In hard times I suppose that's what longtime friends do for one another. Facilitating momentary escapes to a joyous time has always been a good thing. 

Accordingly, we also laughed at the grim and daunting notion that folks may never again crowd into live music shows, or go to cinemas, or to ball games. At least, not like they used to. After we got off the phone it dawned on me that for the time being the natural conviviality of a happy hour -- something I’ve experienced countless times -- can’t be found in reality.

Instead of answering the beer-thirty call, we must settle for reading magazine pieces like this one. And, of course, watching old movies. Especially those with bar scenes in black and white. 

OK, I freely admit that up until I was about 50, I probably spent way too many hours bellied up to the bar. In my favorite bars, I generally preferred to stand as I drank my bottled beer.  

Now my septuagenarian eyes can see that maybe, in the future, America will be better off with less of its social life centered around saloons. Maybe. But right now I’m thinking about my all-time favorite watering holes. Not favorite places for lunch or dinner. Not popular live music venues that served food and drink. Bars.

After that intro, that’s what this piece is about -- my favorite Richmond bars.  

To be continued…

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

When Donald Cooper got what he deserved

With the temperature now in the 90s maybe it's a good time for a snowball story.

Maybe the best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema that I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off-hours. Some fans of Rebby's music and art might not know it, but she was a decent athlete; she pitched for the Biograph's women's softball team had a pretty good throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to command the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst next-door neighbor in the world, Rebby and I had no need for a plan ... we knew what to do.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's accurate incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then, my righteous throw hit him square in the face ... boom!

Cooper promptly quit defiant his stance and retired for the night.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Sunday, June 21, 2020

About My Grandfather and Poker

In 1916 the fit young volunteers who were members of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas, to watch over the border and chase Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had crossed the border to stage a few raids on American soil ... or, so people said.

To do the job the Richmonders were quickly converted into a cavalry unit. My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen at the age of 23 in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues outfit.

Following that campaign, in 1917 the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills, near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was across the pond to France to finish off the Great War -- the war to end all wars.

Frank Owen grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. Before his active duty he had mostly made his living as a vocalist. The stories I remember him telling from his years as a soldier were all about his singing gigs, playing football and poker, and various other adventures.

Owen is on the right in the photo above. Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he'd seen. At least I never heard such stories. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many in Richmond as an elite corps.

F. W. Owen depended completely on his own view of life. He passed what he could of that self-reliance on to me. My grandson's middle name is Owen. It's a name he should always wear proudly. A long way from home, almost a century ago, his great-great-grandfather certainly did.

The story below is about my grandfather. A previous version of it was published in SLANT in 1990. This version was published in Style Weekly in 2000.

The Cheaters
by F.T. Rea
Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.
In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it's my nature. I can't help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.
The reader might wonder about whether I'm overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.
OK, fair enough, I don't deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon's mischief gone wrong.

A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.
Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities.
Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood's boys. He couldn't stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.
This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.
The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.
As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. "Punch him in the nose," he'd chuckle, "and even if you get whipped he'll never bother you again." In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.
Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.
On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard's rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.
F. W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.
Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, passing cards under the table with bare feet and developing signals. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.
Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.
To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys' favorite story -- the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France -- one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.
Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.
Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.
The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.
As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn't wonder enough about that, then.

My grandfather didn’t play poker with us again. He went on umpiring, and telling his salty stories afterwards over watermelon. We tried playing poker the same way without him, but it didn’t work; the value the chips had magically represented was gone. The boys had outgrown poker without real money on the line.
Although I thought about that afternoon's shame many times before he died nine years later, neither of us ever mentioned it. For my part, when I tried to bring it up, to clear the air, the words always stuck in my throat.
Eventually, I grew to become as intolerant of petty cheating as F.W. Owen was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.

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Friday, June 12, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 7

In spite of alarming news of the incidents at the Lee Monument, involving the confiscation of guns -- but no shooting -- early Friday morning, the grassy circle at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Allen Avenue in the Fan District continued to be a gathering place for photographers, graffiti artists, sign-makers, tourists and you-name-it.

In fact, from what I've seen, personally, the scene is more like a crowded park than the site of protests. Kids pose in front of the base of the monument wearing graduation gowns. Activists hand out free bottles of water. Looking at the garishly decorated pedestal through the lens, the combination of markings and signs on and around it take on the feel of free-spirited abstract expressionist paintings from the 1960s and '70s.

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Epiphany at a Stop Light

My depiction (2007) of Fred Monihan's sculpture of J.E.B. Stuart fading into the mists.

Facing east on Monument Avenue I was waiting for the stoplight to change. It was about 35 years ago. The sights were as familiar as could be. Through the windshield I could see the J.E.B. Stuart monument. To the right was the hospital named for that place on the map -- Stuart Circle. I was born in that hospital and so was my daughter.

Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a fresh thought struck me. It felt like an epiphany.

Background: Not too long before this moment, in 1984, I had run for a seat on Richmond's City Council. The task of campaigning had exposed me to some neighborhoods in my home town that had been mostly unfamiliar to me before I decided to run for office.

Why I took that plunge, with no chance to win, is another story, for another day. But the reason for mentioning it here is how eye-opening that experience was. For one thing, I don't think I had ever spent any time in Gilpin Court before the campaign trail took me there. It was part of the Fifth District, which also included the part of the Fan District that was behind the equestrian statue before me. As Richmonders know, Virginia Commonwealth University's academic campus is sprawled out in the blocks just beyond the statue.

Looking at that glorifying depiction of a man on a horse, resting on a plinth, a question exploded in my head: What would I have thought of that so-called "monument" if I had been born black, instead of white? What if I had grown up in Gilpin Court?

The thought that followed made me laugh. I said to myself: "By the time I was 16, I probably would have blown that damn thing up." Answering my own question had provided me with a momentary walk-in-the-other-man's-shoes.

That prompted me to be amazed that it hadn't already happened. Boom! For the first time, I wondered how it had survived in that public space since the early 1900s. 

Folks who remember the 16-year-old version of me should be laughing now. At least a few of them know there would have been some chance, indeed, that I would have really done it ... had I been a headstrong black teenager, who, like me, got thrown out of school regularly.

Before that flash of empathy, I don't think I had ever tried to imagine myself as a black Richmonder looking at those looming statues of Confederate generals, day after day. Ever since then, I've seen those memorials to the Lost Cause in a different light.

Now, in June of 2020, Monument Avenue is being subjected to a mind-boggling transformation at the hands of young people who have seen to it that the spell those damn Confederate memorials have had on Richmond is kaput.

Art and words by F.T. Rea

-- 30 --

Monday, June 08, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 6

Let it be said: Just a few blocks from VCU, with its much-celebrated art school, Gen. Robert E. Lee lost his last battle ... to graffiti artists in June of 2020.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 5

How fast will the Confederate memorial removal process ordered by Gov. Northam proceed? A telling first clue to answer to that question may be have been revealed by a fresh batch of signs that has been dropped off at the site of the Lee Monument. (See closeup below.)

There could be some good strategic reasons to begin to get ready for the removal job. First, I'm assuming a huge scaffolding needs to be built. Then the Sons of the Lost Cause, or some group, will probably initiate legal action to stop it, soon. If that comes, it could take a few weeks to get past that. So if Northam wants to do the physical work in early July, after the law will actually allow for it, maybe getting started now makes more sense.

Shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday night a  group marched in led by the man in the bow tie.
Now is also the time to begin a constructive conversation about what to do with the empty spaces. My take is that Richmond needs to use this unique opportunity, following the historic peaceful demonstrations on Monument Avenue, to do the right thing in the same public spaces where we, the people, have seen the wrong thing being done for way too long. 

Rather than merely cheering on the process of removal -- and yes, there will be parties! -- Richmond's mayor and councilpersons should launch a project to use those empty spaces wisely. After all, something remarkable has happened in the Fan District in the last week: Truth and atonement won the Battle of Monument Avenue.  

Thus, rather than shrug off the integral role that marching peacefully and messaging -- signs and graffiti -- played in affecting a long overdue change, the City of Richmond should own it. The spell has been broken. 

At long last those Confederate memorials have lost their mojo. The Lee Monument was the first to go up. It was unveiled on May 29, 1890. Now it seems it will be the first to come down. 

That circle the bronze of Lee on horseback loomed over for 130 years should become a shrine to truth and atonement. It should be the centerpiece of an outdoor museum documenting what has happened here this week. Displays ought to further document the history of Richmond's struggle to throw off the cruel grip that "massive resistance" and Jim Crow once held on Richmond. Maybe a small amphitheater should be established in that circle for performances and speechifying. Maybe the four green median that flank the circle could be used, too. 

All that would become a nice tourist attraction and serve the neighborhood well. For a city that was once the second largest slave market in the USA, it would be a noteworthy step toward atonement. 

Rather than try to minimize the role of the demonstrators the city government should call for a celebration of the great victory that Richmond has won. The role of the demonstrators should be praised. Let's face the truth: They acted as modern patriots who dared to make their city a more likely place in which to pursue happiness and justice.  

-- 30 --

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 4

Kennedy George and Ava Holloway celebrating the moment.
Friday, June 5, 2020: The culture developing around the much-photographed base of the Lee Monument has continued to evolve. The metamorphosis of the milieu during the week, from threatening-and-perhaps-dangerous to loosely-organized-and-peaceful, has been remarkable to watch.

Note: I didn't witness firsthand any of the fires and violent battles of last weekend in Richmond. They happened in other parts of town. I'm only reporting what I've seen.  

The 1600 block of Monument Avenue and the green circle around the Lee Monument have become a particularly cool place in the Fan District to party in the beautiful weather. Several small tents were standing at Happy Hour time. Cars rode by and drivers blew their horns. In response, young people who had been drawn to scene cheered.

Music was in the air. In short, the celebration was in full bloom.

Each day this week more graffiti has been added to the pedestals of the J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee monuments. All up and down the long block between those looming statues, the residents in the old townhouses have posted signs in their front windows in support of the marchers.

Like it or not, thousands of demonstrators seeking justice for George Floyd, who died of asphyxiation May 25, 2020 -- with a cop's knee on his neck -- chose this site in Richmond to express their outrage. That, as well as their hopes for a better future. Most of the demonstrators have been young.

Now the four police officers who executed Floyd in Minneapolis are in jail. And, Richmond's most well known/infamous Confederate propaganda in bronze is about to be 86-ed.

They are students at the Central Virginia Dance Academy.
Saturday: Unlike many cities, coast-to-coast, in Richmond the demonstrators who came to the neighborhood each night of the week ending today, something noteworthy has already been accomplished. The call for removing Monument Avenue's five statues of Confederate heroes has been answered. On Thursday, Richmond's mayor and Virginia's governor both announced they will be acting in the days to come to remove the monuments.

Apparently, Gov. Ralph Northam can order the six-story-high Robert E. Lee statue taken down on his own volition. The grassy circle on which it rests, between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Monument Avenue, is an island of property owned the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

The other four Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue are on city property. So Mayor Levar Stoney's ambitious plan to remove the others needs City Council's OK for it to happen. However, word has already begun to spread that the nine-member Council will follow the mayor's lead with unanimous consent.

So it's reasonable to guess that before the summer is over the five Confederate "monuments" on Richmond's Monument Avenue will have been dismantled and moved elsewhere. What will happen to the empty spaces?

Since those spaces were for so long devoted to elevating myths of the Lost Cause it is important for Richmond's future to take care to do the right thing with filling up those publicly-owned spaces. Therefore, I'll be writing about that tomorrow (Sunday). In the meantime, the spontaneous party is still happening.


Note: My photos.    

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 3.

All day long people posed for pictures with the Lee Monument as a backdrop.

8:45 p.m.: This morning I watched Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney and Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, both say plainly they want the bronze generals on Monument Avenue gone. Local television carried their remarks.

"Yes, that statue has been there for a long time," Northam said. "But it was wrong then and it's wrong now. So, we're taking it down."

Outdoors it was another beautiful day. As June 4th wore on lots of visitors came to the neighborhood to bask in the collective sense in the air. In short, that sense was that the multitude of peaceful protestors won yesterday's battle. Friendliness was plentiful.

What will happen after dark remains to be seen. Mayor Stoney and Gov. Northam announced they were moving to rid Monument Avenue of its statues of Confederate heroes on pedestals. Northam can apparently order the Lee Monument removed on own volition. A recently passed Virginia law now allows for it.

On the other hand, Stoney has to convince City Council to see it his way. It won't surprise me if some of them drag their heels. Maybe a faction would like to watch to see how it goes for Northam's bold plan to 86 Gen. Robert E. Lee, sometime after July 1, 2020, when the change in the state law will take effect.

The Lee Monument, six stories tall, was unveiled in 1890, which was 25 years after the Civil War ended. So Lee, depicted as aboard his horse, Traveler, has loomed over the Fan District for 130 years. It was the first of the series of five statues of Confederate heroes to be placed at various intersections along Monument Avenue.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 2

Not all the political messages were painted on the monuments.

Last night, at approximately 7:20 p.m., thousands of demonstrators were assembling on the 1600 block of Monument Avenue. The grassy areas of the median and the circle around the Lee Monument were completely full of people. More people were marching in on the street. the sound of it was hair-raising. The sight of it was stunning.

Chanting as they marched, the participants were not being restrained by any concerns about social distancing. Still, many wore masks.

From my vantage point there was no sign of violence being directed toward anyone, or toward property. But the crowd was so large, I can't say that nothing like that happened, since there were thousands of marchers. In general, they appeared to be young and quite purposeful. At quick glance, it seemed every skin color was well represented.  

Almost magically, by 8:30 p.m. the vast majority of them had moved on. Since I didn't stay to watch what happened next, I'm only guessing the demonstrators proceeded west toward the Davis and Jackson monuments. There were still a few hundred people lingering in the area. They were peaceful and seemed to be leaving.

Day 6: This morning the good weather continued as I examined the peaceful block and photographed some signs left over from last night's demonstration. So, not all the political messages have been applied to the thoroughly abused monuments. Some of my young neighbors have been giving out supplies free from tables set up on the front steps. Water. Fruit. Masks. They have signs on their porches supporting the protests, as do several other neighbors.

No doubt, a culture is forming around these events. Each day the doings seem more organized. And, remember, I only know firsthand about my own neighborhood. So my reports don't speak for what has happened in the rest of the city. 

At 2:50 p.m. today I heard the telltale sounds of a growing crowd. So went back outside to see what the noise meant. A much smaller group than last night's was marching east on the median. All seemed quite peaceful.

When I came back inside I learned from news accounts that the charges in Minneapolis against George Floyd's executioners are about to change: "second degree" for Chauvin, the maniacal cop with his knee on Floyd's neck; "aiding and abetting" for his soulless accomplices.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The Battle of Monument Avenue: Report No. 1

Tuesday, June 2, 2020: As I toured the 1600 block of Monument Avenue with my morning coffee in hand I noticed the signs on front porches and in windows. Mostly, they supported Black Lives Matter and decried police brutality. There were plastic bottles of water on front steps still waiting to be picked up by demonstrators who were defying the curfew last night. I saw parked cars that had been painted with slogans.

As I stopped to shoot photos of the graffiti-laden Confederate memorials (Stuart and Lee), I decided to move in closer, to be better able to read the messages left for our consideration. As I live in the neighborhood, I've seen those same monuments decorated with outlaw art before.

Then it struck me how different the graffiti looks this time. This time many different hands did the painting. And, for what it's worth, the messages were varied, in terms of what they seemed to convey.

The first thing that came to mind, as far as what to compare the look with, is the way the graffiti-covered remnants of the Berlin Wall appeared in photos I remember seeing, once the hated wall had been dismantled, to no longer divide the city. 


Yes, the 1600 block of Monument Avenue has been established as an epicenter of the ongoing series of battles between mostly young demonstrators and various brands of cops. The stark difference between day and night has become routine. We're now living in Day 5.

During the daytime's beautiful weather, along the celebrated wide thoroughfare's grassy areas it's like a happening, out in the public way, during the long-gone hippie era. At night it's a tense conflict over who controls the turf adjacent to Richmond's most famous/most despised Confederate memorials -- Lost Cause monuments that in recent years have become magnets for troubles.

People running between houses and down alleys, with a soundtrack of yelling mixed with hovering helicopters. So far, so good: it seems nobody has been killed or hurt badly. But it's easy to believe that will change if it keeps going every night. There's a lot of frustration in the tear-gas-spiced air.

Monday night (June 1), just minutes after Trump's publicity stunt in which some sort of cops on horseback routed a gathering of peaceful protesters around the White House, in Richmond a few cops lost control and set off tear gas in order to run off a group of peaceful protesters that were gathered in the neighborhood.

The mayor has apologized. The explanation for why the cops did it – a half-hour before the mayor's published curfew for the city! – was that they came to believe some in the crowd were trying to topple the monuments.

To the pull bronze statues off of their pedestals?


-- 30 --