Monday, December 31, 2007

2008: There'll Be Some Changes Made

My walk will be different,
my talk and my name
Nothin’ about me is going to be the same
I’m goin’ to change my way of livin’
If that ain’t enough
Then I’ll change the way that I strut my stuff

-- Overstreet and Higgins

Looking at the soon-to-be-launched presidential primaries season, the news out of Iowa and New Hampshire is that the races are close. And, why not? One has to go back to 1952 to find the last presidential election in which there wasn’t an incumbent president or vice president in the hunt.

Sen. John Warner’s (depicted left) decision to retire at the end of his 30th year in the U.S. Senate (1979-2009) opened the door for change in the Old Dominion, too. Over the Labor Day weekend that followed his announcement, strategies and promises for money bags began falling into place.

It didn’t take long for two likely senatorial candidates to emerge from the two-party system. Former Virginia governor Mark Warner announced he was in the game within a week, he seems to have no competition for the Democratic nod. Then came Richmond’s own Jim Gilmore, another former governor of Virginia, who appears to have shouldered aside any serious challengers to become the GOP’s candidate. My apologies to all less-than-serious candidates who might be offended.

The best song to use in production as a bed under the commentary of news reports, to underline the theme of 2008's politics, has to be, "There'll Be Some Changes Made." The song lyrics above are from that particular old jazz standard by W. Benton Overstreet and Billy Higgins. Versions of it have been recorded by Ethel Waters, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Billie Holliday and scores of others, including my old pal Duck Baker.

Presently, Democrats are having little trouble unifying behind Mark Warner, who left the Governor’s Mansion two years ago with soaring approval ratings. His predecessor, Jim Gilmore, finished his term as governor under more difficult circumstances. Warner still enjoys good numbers in opinion polls, Gilmore's remain less than flattering. Both men flirted with running for president, early in the going, then dropped out if the field. It’s hard to say whether either of them changed their standing with Virginia voters, due to those aborted campaigns.

The Virginia Republican Party has lost two consecutive gubernatorial races. More recently, George Allen -- a supposedly invincible incumbent -- lost his seat in the Senate to newly-minted Democrat Jim Webb, who once worked in Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Arguing over the blame for those losses, especially Allen’s stumble, has put some Republicans at odds with others. Gilmore is an unrepentant tax-cutter who appeals more to conservative Republicans than he does to moderates. Now the tough-talking Gilmore needs to reinvent himself as a charismatic leader and a peacemaker, in order to unify the party; finger-pointing and purity issues have fractured the Virginia GOP along what have become persistent ideological fault lines.

Still, with November a long way off, at this point Jim Gilmore is probably not as much of a long-shot as Jim Webb was at the onset of his campaign. Moreover, in politics the unexpected is always more than just possible.

The most likely result of the caucuses in Iowa (Jan. 3) and the New Hampshire primary (Jan. 8) is that the viability of the weakest of the second-tier candidacies in both parties will evaporate in the bright lights. After those initial contests, tradition has it that most of the heavy campaign contributions will flow toward candidates who finished well.

By the third week of January the field may have been cut in half, only the strong -- money-wise -- could be left standing.

Thirty other states will have already voted their preferences by the time of Virginia’s primary on Feb. 12. Running campaigns in all those states simultaneously takes a lot of dough, so those with the most cash on hand have a huge advantage.

Thus, the primary system favors well-connected, establishment candidates in a way that comes with a dose of irony. Before the ’70s few states saw fit to hold primaries; after all, they cost a lot of money.

Instead, in most states conventions of party regulars were held to determine who among them would be delegates to their party’s national convention. Then the chosen delegates went to that convention where all the votes on the floor were not necessarily predetermined. Those less orchestrated conventions were alive with potential for the unexpected to suddenly explode into the proceedings.

Hip political thinking of the ’70s asserted that primaries were more “inclusive” than the smoke-filled-rooms of the past. It wasn’t long before both parties bought into that brand of wisdom and most states fell in line. In the long run, the result of that supposedly well-intentioned change in the political process has proven to magnify the power of the deep-pocketed kingmakers who can bankroll a staff and buy TV ads.

The next few weeks will be a bumpy ride, as presidential campaigns fall dead in their tracks and ever more money bags drop into place to finance the changes on the way, even if some of those changes end up feeling an awful lot like the same ol’ same ol’.

-- 30 --

-- Art and words (except for music lyrics) by F.T. Rea

Dec. 31: VA Top Five

Each Monday, SLANTblog publishes what seems on that day to be the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth, ranked from one-to-five.

In this Monday's edition of the Top Five the only movement was Virginia and VCU switching places. No new teams entered the list. The Cavs won their only game (UVa. 78, Hartford 70) and VCU didn't play.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (9-3, 1-0 in CAA)
2. Virginia (10-2, 0-0 in ACC)
3. VCU (8-3, 1-0 in CAA)
4. Va. Tech (8-5, 0-1 in ACC)
5. JMU (8-3, 1-0 in CAA)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top 5 in local sports

What were the five most significant local sports stories of 2007?

Well, I took on the assignment of answering that question at Richmond.com.

For a long time it will be remembered that 2007 was the year Major League Baseball endured the rather joyless pursuit of its most cherished record -- the all-time home runs mark -- by outfielder Barry Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player now facing federal charges related to steroids.

Meanwhile, as another sign of the times, Florida State has excluded as many as 36 football players from the squad it is taking to the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31. Apparently, most of them were part of a still unfolding cheating scandal.

While the national media's talking heads have been busy dishing national dirt this past year, in between the scores and highlights, at Richmond.com the focus has naturally been on events closer to home. And, we're happy to say that of our five picks, presented in chronological order, four are stories of a positive nature.

Click here to read the entire piece. But to make it more fun, try to see how many of the five you can guess before you click.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Five Favorite Anti-Hero Films

Following the brutal realities associated with World War II, American movies changed because the audience had changed. After the steady dose of feel-good, even propagandistic movies Hollywood churned out during the war, a new breed of filmmakers sought to portray a grittier, more worldly view in the stories they told.

Thus, altruistic heroes and thoroughly wicked heavies began to seem corny. Absolutes were shoved aside. Shades of gray and anti-heroes were in style during the third quarter of the 20th century. Many of the most popular filmmakers and actors of that period specialized in making anti-hero features.

My five favorite films that feature anti-heroes as protagonists are as follows (in alphabetical order).

“Chinatown” (1974): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

“The Hustler” (1961): Directed by Robert Rossen; Cast: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie

“Lonely Are the Brave” (1962): Directed by David Miller; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau

“On the Waterfront” (1954): Directed by Elia Kazan; Cast: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint

“Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dec 24: VA Top Five

Each Monday, SLANTblog publishes what seems on that day to be the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth, ranked from one-to-five. This week ODU and Hampton dropped out, to be replaced by Va. Tech and James Madison.

Can two of the CAA's teams in the state really be better than Virginia's two ACC teams?

It says here -- right now they are.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (8-3)
2. VCU (8-3)
3. Virginia (9-2)
4. Va. Tech (6-5)
5. JMU (7-2)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Buy local ... give 'em off-the-wall stuff

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The Texas-Wisconsin Cafe, Robert E. Lee, Rush Limbaugh, the Biograph, Doug Wilder, and a shapely derriere. Hmm ... what could they have in common?

The answer in this case is that they are names/words that create pictures. Read on.

Stumped over what to buy that certain someone for a gift? Or, maybe you're wondering what to buy for your own damn self, but can't do the mall?

Perhaps the answer for you is to buy some off-beat local art from a guy who needs the dough.

Click here to visit Rea's Off-the-Wall Art. Looking is free. Maybe you'll see something you'd like to have/give. The prices are set at the starving artist level that makes buying easier. 'Tis the season. Call (804) 359-4864, or email ftrea9@yahoo.com.

And, try visiting Rea's Off-the-Wall Art, again, as more stuff will be added soon.

Peace.

Monday, December 17, 2007

VA Top Five

On Mondays, SLANTblog ranks what seem at the moment to be the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (7-3)
2. VCU (7-3)
3. Virginia (7-2)
4. ODU (6-4)
5. Hampton (5-4)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Freelancer's Inspiration


On a cold January morning, nearly 17 years ago, bright sunlight lit up the thin coating of freezing rain that had painted the city the evening before. In the crisp air a slender middle-aged man, a freelance artist/writer, walked at a careful but purposeful pace on the tricky sidewalk. The ice-clad trees along the street were dazzling, as seen through his trusty Ray-Bans. The woolly winter jacket his girlfriend had given him for Christmas felt good.
Since the freelancer couldn’t concentrate on his reading of the morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, he left half a mug of black coffee and a dozing cat on his desk to walk to the post office. He hoped the overdue check from a magazine publisher was waiting in his post office box.
Anxiously, he opened the box with his key. It was empty. He shrugged. An empty box had its upside, too -- there were no cut-off notices in it. With his last 20 bucks in his pocket, the freelancer hummed a favorite Fats Domino tune, “Ain’t That a Shame,” as he headed home.
By the end of the workday the freelancer's mission was to finish an 800-word OpEd piece, with an accompanying illustration, and drop it all off on an editor’s desk. With the drum beat for war in the air he wanted to focus on the inevitable unintended consequences of any war. Yet, with the clock ticking on his deadline he was still at a loss for an angle.
In early-1991 the nation was mired in an economic recession. The national debt was skyrocketing. War with Iraq was looming, it seemed all but inevitable. Pondering what demons might be spawned by an all-out war in Iraq -- only to be discovered down the road -- he detoured a couple of blocks, to pick up a Washington Post and a fresh cup of coffee.
Approaching the 7-Eleven store the freelancer noticed a lone panhandler standing off to the left of the front doors. The tall man was thin and frail. He wore a lightweight denim jacket with a hooded sweatshirt underneath. Snot was frozen in his mustache. The whites of his heavy-lidded eyes were an unhealthy shade of red.
During a time when a much younger version of the freelancer had run a night-life business, one in which he dealt with the public, he had determined his policy should be to never in any way encourage panhandlers to hang around. The rigid policy -- not even a nickel -- had lingered well after the comfortable job was gone.
On this cold day it wasn’t easy for the freelancer to avert his eye from the poor soul’s trembling outstretched hand. Not hearing the desperate man’s hoarse plea for food money was impossible. When there are always so many lives to be saved in our midst, the freelancer wondered -- why do we have to go to the Middle East to save lives?
Inside the busy store the freelancer poured a large coffee. Fretting profusely, he snapped the cup’s lid in place. It was one of those times when the little freelancer with horns was standing on one of his shoulders, while his opposite -- the one with the halo -- was on the other, both offering counsel.
The freelancer's policy caved in seconds later. Still, he decided to give the panhandler food, rather than hand over cash to perhaps finance a bottle of sweet wine. What the hell? it might change my luck, he thought as he smiled.
Trying to max out the bang-for-the-buck aspect of his gesture, the freelancer settled on a king-sized hot dog, with plenty of free stuff on it -- mustard, chopped onions, relish, jalapeno peppers, chili and some gooey cheese-like product. Not wanting to push it too far, he passed on the ketchup and mayonnaise.
Outside the store, the freelancer found the starving panhandler had vanished. So, the crestfallen philanthropist took the meal-on-a-bun with him as he walked, softly singing a Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth.” With his strides matching the beat, he kept to the sunny street to avoid the slick sidewalk in the shade.
"There’s somethin’ happening here,
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Tellin’ me I gotta beware.
I think it’s time we stop, children, what's that sound,
Everybody look, what's going down."
A line from that song’s last verse -- “paranoia strikes deep” -- suddenly snapped an idea for the OpEd into place, which launched an instant mini-mania. A block closer to home an image for the illustration occurred to him. He picked up his pace and began whistling a jazzy version of “For What It’s Worth.”
Back in his office/studio space, rather than waste money, the freelancer tore into the feast he had prepared for a beggar. The food scared, or perhaps offended the cat, who fled. Between sloppy bites the artist wiped his hands off and sketched furiously to rough out a cartoon of Saddam Hussein as the provocative Tar Baby of the Uncle Remus story, inviting America into a war.
About an hour later the heartburn started. Eventually, it got brutal. The freelancer pressed on. He wrote about the way propaganda always works to sell war -- every war -- as glorious and essential to the everyday people, who risk their lives. That while the wealthy, who rarely take a genuine risk on anything, urge the patriots on and count their profits.
Thinking of the war that thinned his generation out in Vietnam, he wrote: “After the war the veterans were largely ignored, even scorned.”
The freelancer lamented the popular culture having gone wrong, so there was no longer a place for anti-war protest songs. He wrote, “Where are today’s non-conformists? Today's questioners of authority?
The freelancer turned in his work at 4:50 p.m. An hour later his sour and noisy stomach began to calm down during his second happy hour beer, which a friend bought for him. When he recounted the tale of the stuffed frankfurter, the inspiration the Buffalo Springfield song and the belly ache had provided, he made it seem funny to those gathered around the elbow of the marble bar.
The freelancer’s audience of familiar faces laughed and groaned, on cue, when he finished his tale off with, “Oh well, another deadline met means another paycheck. What can I say? Even with the heartburn, I suppose it was all, ahem, for what it’s worth.”
-- 30 --
-- words and art by F.T. Rea

Friday, December 14, 2007

Six Barbies riding on a reindeer

gibsonbarbies2.JPG

The 55-year life of rock 'n' roll songstress Christine Ann Gibson was celebrated/memorialized this afternoon at Hollywood Cemetery. The crowd assembled for the sunlit occasion was exactly what should have been expected -- lots of graying baby boomers, many of them musicians or players in some way in Richmond's Fan District-based live music scene 25-to-30 years ago. It was a splendid turnout.

Richmond's music scene in the late-'70s/early-'80s was quite lively. There were some pretty good bands based here then and several clubs in the Fan District featured live music nearly every night. Within that realm there were lots of punk rock bands that played in those places; BEEX, the band the Chris fronted (for 30 years), was one of the better known groups when punk ruled.

The ceremony was uplifting, there was genuine laughter. Even applause. Kudos to Rev. A.C. Miles for her keen understanding of the specific context in which she was operating. Her deft touch was praiseworthy.

The photo above, of six Barbies riding on a reindeer, was part the display remembering Chris. It recalled the audacious Barbies Garden presentation in her yard that both amused and baffled her neighbors.

-- words and photo by F.T. Rea

*

To go to the BEEX MySpace page to hear some BEEX music and to read posts from friends and fellow musicians click here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

1983: Steroids vs Numb Noses

The Mitchell Report on drug use in Major League Baseball is out. It speaks of the epidemic of steroid use that has plagued baseball, in particular in the last 10 to 15 years. It names some well-known names.

An ESPN report that ran just prior to former U.S. Senator George Mitchell's 45-minute presentation said steroids use in sports became news following the 1988 Olympics. It supported the notion that professional sports executives knew little or nothing before that time.

Well, I don’t remember sports history quite that way. For instance, I remember seeing a friend of mine in the late-’60s who was given steroids at a university in Texas where he played football. When he came back to Richmond after his first season he looked like a cartoon character, he was so beefed up. He quit football after that season.

In August of 1983 I drew the topical cartoon above. It was based on what I saw as a widespread understanding that pro athletes were taking all sorts of drugs, including steroids and cocaine -- thus the mocking logos on the helmets, Steroids vs. Numb Noses.

So, it says here that fat cat owners and greedy executives and cheating pro players have known about the use of drugs, including steroids, for a long time. Moreover, the practice of using drugs to enhance performance goes back much further than the 1990s, the period of time the Mitchell Report seems to identify as the Steroid Era of baseball.

After the smoke clears, the difference from some ballplayers who've used performance-enhancing drugs and others, may turn out to be whether the athlete has protested too much. Not unlike politicians who fall from grace, perhaps the lies to cover up the original transgression can turn out to be the biggest problem.

For those players, or former players, who will now step out and vehemently deny what Mitchell's report says about them, well, how many of them will enjoy the bright light scrutiny of their pasts such provocative denials will invite?

Roger Clemens has already issued a strong denial of what Mitchell put on the table that concerns him. ESPN is in ecstasy! The network's talking heads are busy as I type, taking the named names' side, chattering about how flimsy the published evidence is. But does The Rocket really want to go into court to protect his name?

Does Clemens want to be put under oath, to deny all the allegations in the report? How many of these named-names will really want to sue Commissioner Bud Selig and Mitchell for $100 zillion in damages, and then have to testify in a civil court?

It may be that's part of what the wily Mitchell had in mind by naming names. Maybe Mitchell, the former prosecutor and judge, is calling them out. And, who says Mitchell has shown anybody all the evidence/testimony he has in hand?

So, don't be surprised if most of the blustery denials of today eventually fade into the mists and are never pursued in a court of law, where perjury is an issue.

With this story there's so much denial going on it's damn hard to know who to believe. But there's a big difference in boosting one's spin to ESPN and lying to a judge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rock 'n' roller Chris Gibson (1952-2007)

Rock 'n' roll singer and longtime Fan District resident Chris Gibson, wife of Tom Applegate, died on Dec. 9, 2007. From a Richmond Times-Dispatch article in today's Metro section:

"She was a rock'n' roller all her life," said her husband of 26 years, Thomas William Applegate of Richmond. "When I met her, she was the first woman who could talk about rock'n' roll for hours."

After moving to Richmond to take classes at Virginia Commonwealth University, Mrs. Gibson soon became a vocalist for Beex, one of Richmond's first punk bands that has played shows up and down the East Coast. After 30 years, the band still has a loyal following.

Mrs. Gibson, who planned to record the vocals for an upcoming Beex album celebrating its 30-year anniversary, died Sunday at a Richmond-area hospital from complications of breast cancer. She was 55.

Click here to read the entire piece.

In the ’70s Chris came from her hometown of Newark to Richmond to go to VCU. In 1977 she began fronting a punk rock band called BEEX. The first time I can remember seeing her perform was in the summer of '77. Her band provided the live entertainment for the Fan District Softball League’s picnic at Tony Martin’s farm.

On that lazy afternoon, 30 years ago, Chris was spontaneously funny. The band played an unrestrained style of rock ‘n’ roll. A good time was had by one and all. Ever since, the only way I have ever pictured her is with a smile on her face.

Richmond's music scene in the late-'70s/early-'80s was quite lively. There were some pretty good bands based here then and several clubs in the Fan District featured live music nearly every night. Within that realm there were lots of punk rock bands that played in those places; BEEX was one of the better known groups. In those days, if there was a more authentic punk rocker among the black-leather-clad artists and musicians in this town than Chris Gibson, I certainly don't remember them.

To go to the BEEX MySpace page to read posts from friends and fellow musicians click here.

To look at Mark Holmberg’s report on the late Christine Ann Gibson at the WTVR-6 web site, click here.

*

Update: Ceremony at 1 p.m. on Fri., Dec. 14, at Hollywood Cemetery.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Satire Warning: Tobacco Avenue

Yes, indeed, there's some fun being had at Tobacco Avenue.

But if you don't like unrestrained sarcasm, if you don't like to see local topics tossed around rudely, if you don't like making up the news, sometimes ... don't click here, to take a ride along Tobacco Avenue to read about prostitutes, Skee-Ball, Mayor Wilder, and so forth.

Monday, December 10, 2007

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

Each Monday throughout the rest of the 2007/08 season, SLANTblog will rank what seem at the moment to be the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

During the past week Mason went 1-1; VCU won twice and moved up a notch; Virginia went 1-1 to drop below VCU; ODU won its only game; Va. Tech (5-3) went 2-0 to bump Hampton (4-4), which lost its only game, out of this week's Top Five.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (7-3)
2. VCU (6-3)
3. Virginia (7-2)
4. ODU (5-4)
5. Va. Tech (5-3)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Spiders can't stop Maynor

Eric Maynor (No. 3) drives past Kevin Anderson (No. 14) for a layup

With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Richmond led VCU by six points on the Rams Siegel Center home floor. Then VCU’s flashy junior point guard, Eric Maynor, took over what had been up to that point an ugly, mistake-ridden game at both ends of the floor. He shot three times to score eight points, putting the Rams ahead by one at the intermission.

“We got a little too anxious, “ Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said of his team’s play during that stretch.

Maynor then scored the first six points of the second half. Most in the sellout crowd of 7,530 made their approval abundantly apparent, as the Rams never looked back: VCU 65, Richmond 45.

By the time of the final horn, Maynor had poured in 25 points. He led all scorers. It wasn’t that he played flawlessly, because that wasn’t the case. But when he wanted to, it seemed Maynor could swell up to take control of the floor and the air space over it. Just as the mighty Duke Blue Devils were last March in that NCAA tournament game, last night the one-step-too-slow Spiders were clearly at a loss to do anything about it.

“His [Maynor’s] will to win is contagious on our team,” said VCU head coach Anthony Grant.

Richmond’s freshman point guard, Kevin Anderson, scored 10 points, to pace the Spiders attack. The Spiders shot a miserable 29.4 percent from the field, misfiring on 16 of the 20 shots they attempted in the second half. Credit the Rams swarming defense for that.

After claiming their third victory in seven days, the Rams (6-3) have a week to catch their breath and savor beating the Spiders. VCU’s overall advantage in the cross-town rivalry now stands at 38-24.

Richmond (4-6) will play ODU (5-4) at the Robins Center on Wed., Dec. 12. Next up, VCU will host Longwood (2-9) on Sat., Dec 15, at the Siegel Center.

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Still imagining: 27 years later

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On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, I can’t help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about all sorts of things today. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s talent for changing before our eyes was dazzling.

Alas, peace is still waiting for its chance.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time most people probably didn’t connect the events, but those two appearances were only three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation following the jolts — Bang! Kennedy. Bang! Oswald. — had something to do with why those early Beatles recordings cut through the heavy airwaves with such verve.

Clearly, there has been no explosion in the American pop music scene since — ka-pow! — with anything near the equivalent impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, in 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as if a world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was the working class hero’s sincerity, his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that helped set him apart from his teen idol counterparts, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were merely hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early ‘70s, President Richard Nixon looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, it’s easy to see that even if that particular nut-case (a man I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one; there were bullets out there with John Lennon’s name on them.

Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon the superstar burned too bright for his own good.

And, speaking of assassins, at this time I’m also reminded of an item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article began with this:

“Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.”

The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the early ‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar.

In a nutshell, Gregg and Mike became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever. So they fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

As the reader may know, this sort of endeavor is frequently best undertaken in the wee hours.

In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said at the time, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”

Bravo!

Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected for the kill by his stalking murderer was he had a rare ability to move people. In that sense, Lennon was slain for the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago Jesus H. Christ was taken out of the game for much the same reason: He challenged people to change; to take a chance on a life based on something better than might making right.

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about the former Beatle’s potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that Lennon — in spite of his mischievous streak — was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

“The cops looked at me and McAdam,” said Wetzel recently, to flesh out the 20-year-old tale, “decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

After listening to a John Lennon compilation CD, even today, some of his best post-Beatles cuts seem fresh, they still have the feeling of being experimental. Now, on the 27th anniversary of his death, well into what are truly strange days, indeed …

Peace.
– 30 –

-- Words by F.T.Rea; Lennon illustration by Mike Lormand

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Humes: Keep your holiday shopping local

At RVANews, with "Five Ways to Keep Your Holiday Shopping Local," Pete Humes is feeling the holiday spirit, of course, in his own way.
...Only the genuinely poor and pathologically cynical won’t spend money on gifts this year. The rest of us will bitch and moan and make empty promises to “get creative” and “thrifty,” but we’ll end up mumbling to ourselves as we click deeper into debt filling our shopping carts on Amazon.

(Don’t blink, because I’m about to segue effortlessly from “holiday rant” to “snarky, listy thing.”)

The way I figure it, if we’re going to spend money for the sake of spending money, we can at least make it make a difference. Why not thumb our collective nose at the big companies and turn this holiday into a hometown affair? Spend your money on small Richmond businesses and keep the cash in circulation.
Click here to read Pete’s list, and please pay extra attention to the part where he says to buy art from local artists. (Yes, I have some art for sale.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

VCU too much for W&M

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Before a Siegel Center crowd of 5,240, VCU opened its Colonial Athletic Association schedule by thumping William & Mary: VCU 71, W&M 57.

With tonight’s game sandwiched between a victory over Maryland this past Sunday and a match-up with Richmond on Saturday, there could have been a letdown for VCU. But there wasn't. While Wm. & Mary turned in a good effort, the Tribe was just out-manned. VCU improved its record to 5-3. Wm. & Mary fell to 1-5.

Once again it was the Rams one-two punch of starting guards Eric Maynor and Jamal Shuler that did the most damage. Maynor scored 15 points and dished out nine assists. Shuler scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed five rebounds.

Wm. & Mary’s head coach, Tony Shaver, summed it up succinctly afterwards: “Maynor and Shuler are outstanding players.”

Recently the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Highland Springs product Brandon Rozzell, a freshman guard, would be redshirted this season. But that changed tonight, as VCU head coach Anthony Grant decided to “un-redshirt” Rozzell and used him for six minutes in two stints. Rozzell didn't score but he did get a nice assist on a fast break off of a turnover.

VCU freshman forward Larry Sanders pulled down seven rebounds and blocked four shots in 16 minutes of playing time.

The Rams next game will bring cross-town rival Richmond (4-5) to the Siegel Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Don’t wait until the last minute to get your ticket.

-- words and photo by F.T. Rea

Byrd Theatre's history

Note: According to the Byrd Theatre Foundation's Bertie Selvey, an anonymous donor has stepped up and is prepared to pay for what it will cost to put a new roof on the 1928 movie palace. That's good news for local film buffs, because all of the splendid renovations that have been planned for the Byrd are depending on getting that roof up first. Thus, for its 79th birthday (on Christmas Eve) the Byrd is getting the present it needs the most.

The Byrd Theatre Foundation officially took over operation of the theater on June 1 of this year. I got to know Bertie when I was researching the piece that follows, which I wrote for the April 2004 issue of FiftyPlus.

The Byrd Theatre: 1928 Movie Palace Faces Its Future
by F.T. Rea
The rising water posed a stark threat. Yet, the cliffhanger wasn’t flickering on the Byrd Theatre’s 16-by-36-foot movie screen.
No, the action was down in the depths of the cavernous building at 2908 West Cary Street. There, an underground spring had swollen out of the chamber that routinely contains it and was lapping at the base of a mammoth three-phase blower motor that circulates seasonally conditioned air throughout the building. The pumping system, designed to carry off excess water, wasn’t functioning because the electricity was out.

Hurricane Isabel’s wet fury had unplugged much of Central Virginia and most of Carytown.

Dissolve to a plot-twist a Hollywood producer would cherish: a generator and pump were located at the eleventh hour and the threatening water subsided.

“I can’t imagine what it would have cost to replace that motor,” said Todd Schall-Vess, the Byrd’s general manager, looking back at that time of peril.

The antique movie theater has dodged many such bullets during its 76-year history. Now, the good luck in the Byrd’s future will come by way of a little help from its friends, if it is to continue its remarkable run - which began the night of December 24, 1928.

A registered national landmark since 1979, Richmond’s Byrd Theatre was named after Richmond’s founder, William Byrd. It is one of the last American movie palaces - most of them built in the late 1920s - still in operation as a privately owned cinema. That it remains an independent operation with a single 1,396-seat auditorium makes its longevity all the more noteworthy.

Strikingly, it cost about $900,000 to build the opulent Byrd. Amenities included fountains, frescos, marbled walls, arches adorned with gold leaf, a richly appointed mezzanine, and red, mohair-covered seats. A two-and-a-half ton Czechoslovakian chandelier, suspended over the auditorium by a steel cable, dazzled patrons with thousands of crystals illuminated by hundreds of colored lights.

Four main players established the Byrd Theatre on what was then called Westhampton Avenue. Visionary owners Walter Coulter and Charles Somma set it in motion. They hired Fred Bishop as architect/contractor, as well as the manager, Robert “Bob” Coulter, Walter's brother.

They all had to be optimists. In placing such a plush cinema in a developing area far from the downtown theater district, they took an enormous risk.

The first feature presentation at the Byrd was Waterfront, a light comedy that used the experimental Vitaphone sound system; accompanying 78-rpm records had to be synchronized on the fly. The film starred the vivacious Dorothy Mackaill and elegant leading man Jack Mulhall. The program opened with organist Carl Rond playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In the mid-1930s, a change came about. Neighborhood Theatres, owned primarily by real-estate man Morton G. Thalhimer and managed by Sam Bendheim, Jr., assumed the running of the Byrd. Neighborhood was then in the process of establishing itself as the region’s dominant chain. With Bob Coulter staying on as manger, the Byrd served as the flagship of the Richmond-based chain’s operation until 1970, when it opened the Ridge Twin Cinemas in Henrico County.

A 1952 Richmond News Leader article on the history of Richmond’s movie theaters, written by George Rogers, offered, “Robert Coulter at the Byrd is the dean of managers.”

As late as the 1960s ordinary people still routinely dressed up to go to the movies. An evening’s show at the Byrd would include a newsreel, a cartoon, a comedy or travelogue, and a live set by the ever-popular Eddie Weaver at the Mighty Wurlitzer.

Rising up from a dark pit before the screen, Weaver worked furiously at the pipe organ’s console. By pushing various buttons, keys, and pedals, the maestro could also play a harp, a piano, drums and more - real instruments, some of them visible to the audience, up in the wings.

After a short set of rousing tunes, Weaver would descend back into the pit. Then, from the projection booth, the sweet chattering sound of one of two heavy-geared 35mm movie projectors could be heard pulling a leader through its gate. Presto! The ancient carbon-arc lamp would project a stream of light through the moving celluloid strip, and an image would burst onto the screen.

Today, the Byrd uses that same pair of 1953 Simplex projectors.

Weaver’s regular performances at the Byrd spanned twenty years, from 1961 to 1981. For the last seven years Bob Gulledge has been sitting on what was Weaver’s bench.

As for Coulter, he retired in 1971, at age 76, and died in 1978 - although according to his 2004 counterpart, Schall-Vess, a ghostly presence said to resemble Coulter has been spotted over the years, sitting in what had been his favorite chair on the cantilevered balcony.

In the 1960s and 1970s America’s cities saw unprecedented growth in their suburbs. New multi-screened theaters began popping up like mushrooms in shopping centers. More screens under one roof meant expanded customer options. In the process, single-screen houses without parking lots gradually lost their leverage with movie distributors.

That process undermined urban cinemas everywhere. The list of darkened screens within Richmond’s city limits over the last three decades includes evocative names such as the Biograph, the Booker T, the Brookland, the Capitol, the Colonial, the Edison, the Loew’s, and the Towne.

Into the mid-1970s the Byrd continued to exhibit first-run pictures. With business falling off, the region’s distributors eventually decided it was no longer worthy of commanding exclusive runs of the most sought-after titles. By 1983 Sam Bendheim III, who by then was managing the Neighborhood chain, could no longer justify keeping the Byrd open. As well, Samuel Warren bought the building.

To the rescue came Duane Nelson, an assistant manager in the Byrd’s last days under Neighborhood’s auspices. Unable to bear the thought of the screen going dark, Nelson, who had studied the development of historical properties at VCU, lined up a partner: Jerry Cable, creator of the Tobacco Company, in some ways the most significant restaurant in Shockoe Slip since the late-1970s. Together, in 1984, Nelson and Cable secured a lease and set about revitalizing the West Cary Street anachronism.

For five years they struggled with little success to establish the theater as a repertory house, facing the booking and film-shipping nightmares posed by offering a steady diet of double features for short runs. Recognizing that changes had to be made, the partners eventually parted ways, and the Byrd has been under Nelson’s leadership ever since.

Nelson’s role in shielding the Byrd from the wrecking ball, or from being converted into a flea market or some other less-than-appropriate use, is commendable. Over the last fourteen years his policy has been to offer bargain-priced, second-run features. And this strategy has resulted in a certain measure of stability.

Film-rental fees come out of box-office receipts in the form of a percentage; distributors generally take between forty and seventy percent. Consequently, most movie theaters, including the Byrd, lean heavily on revenue from their concession stands. On the other hand, by showing second-run movies the Byrd is not obliged to charge its customers the steep price of admission that distributors insist upon for first-run releases.

The $1.99 ticket scheme works as long as the crowds are large enough to buy plenty of popcorn. Because of the traffic this formula brings to the area, Nelson’s fellow Carytown retailers are smiling about the Byrd’s customary long lines.

The Nelson formula also includes special events. Live Christmas shows have featured high-kicking chorus lines, and every spring the VCU French Film Festival takes over the Byrd for three days. More than 16,000 tickets were sold for the 2003 series, which the French government formally recognized as the largest French film festival in the United States.

As Nelson sees it, the city itself provides some of the most frustrating obstacles for the Byrd. “We’re competing against [multiplexes in] the counties. Richmond’s theaters pay a twenty-five-percent utilities tax, a six-percent food tax, and a seven-percent admissions tax that they don’t have to pay.”

Nelson has company. Without exception, Richmond’s entertainment-industry veterans decry the seven-percent grab - off-the-top - that the city demands from ticket sales.

Still, the show goes on. And if the Byrd’s survival is to be assured well into the 21st century, it will probably be due to the efforts of people like Bertie Selvey and Tony Pelling.

Selvey was a longtime supporter of TheatreVirginia, the live stage formerly in operation at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1955-2002). And now she is a driving force behind the Byrd Watchers, a group of volunteers that she founded to raise money for preserving the theater.

“I need a cause,” explained Selvey. “The Byrd is an endangered species.”

Why endangered? As Nelson admits, although the Byrd has been taking in sufficient revenue to stay afloat on a day-to-day basis, putting away reserves to restore the building properly - or perhaps withstand the next hurricane - remain out of reach. In recent years the current owners of the property, heirs to the Warren estate, have been quite flexible in their rental demands. But clearly, something needs to be done. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Nelson seems ready to pass the torch.

Rather than wait for a crisis, a group of supporters has devised a plan to secure the Byrd’s future. It calls for the theater to be operated by a not-for-profit foundation, thus putting it in a position to accept broader community support and to take advantage of some attractive tax advantages.

Accordingly, the Byrd Theatre Foundation was established. Its aim is to purchase the property and to assume responsibility for the theater’s management. Pelling, a retired Under Secretary from the UK Civil Service, assumed the role of the Foundation’s president, a volunteer task, in January of this year. Although he and Selvey have had little experience in the art of selling movies to the public, in truth, they join a long list of important players in Richmond’s movie-theater history who had little in the way of credentials before taking the plunge.

In 1928 posh movie palaces opened in cities coast-to-coast. Most have not survived. As it has before, Richmond’s Byrd Theatre has somehow managed to imbue its current stewards and a growing list of civic-minded contributors with enough of that same Roaring ‘20s optimism to keep the light on the screen.

[sidebar]
A Grand Plan for the Byrd

The Byrd Theatre Foundation intends to purchase the Byrd Theatre. The ultimate goal is to restore the theater to its original splendor and to operate it much as it has been in recent years: playing popular fare, mostly as a second-run discount house. The price tag on that dream is $3.5 million.

The Foundation has its 501(C)(3) status, which means that donations are tax deductible. Once the theater is purchased, it will be owned and operated by the Foundation.

Immediate needs include a new roof, refurbished seats, new carpeting, repair of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, and a thorough cleaning. It is also hoped that the 1930s neon marquee will be restored. The estimated cost of these projects is $2.5 million.

[sidebar]
Movie Theater Mania

There are records of an exhibition of “moving pictures” presented at The Academy (originally called the Mozart Academy of Music) at 103-05 N. Eighth Street in 1897. Built in 1886, that venue was generally considered to be Richmond’s most important and stylish theater - until it burned down in 1927. It is said that in 1906 the Idlewood Amusement Park held regular screenings of “photo dramas.”

However, one showman, Jake Wells, has been credited with being “a theatrical proprietor, impresario and father of Richmond movie houses” (according to George W. Rogers, writing in the Richmond News Leader in 1952). Wells was a former-major league baseball player (1882-84), who had served as the manager of the city’s entry in the Atlantic League during the Gay Nineties.

In 1899 Wells opened the Bijou, on the northeast corner of 7th and Broad Streets. Offering family-oriented fare, the venue thrived. Encouraged by his success, Wells began to expand his influence. With his younger brother, Otto, he opened the Granby Theatre in Norfolk in 1901. Eventually they built a chain of forty-two theaters throughout the Southeast. A second version of the Bijou was built for Wells in 1903 at 816 East Broad, on the site of the legendary Swan Tavern.

By the early 1920s the feature-length movie had been established by Hollywood as a cash cow. Theaters were being built that were designed to be cinemas primarily, rather than multipurpose stages. America was caught in a veritable explosion of popular culture. The influence of national magazines was at an unprecedented level and commercial radio was booming. It was the Roaring ‘20s, and more theaters were needed.

The Byrd Theatre and the Loew’s (now the Carpenter Center) both opened in 1928. Most of their counterparts, styled after grand European opera houses, were also built just before the Depression. Coincidentally, at the same time talkies were revolutionizing the movie business.

The next thrilling episode of the Byrd’s story calls for a cast of thousands to stoke the wonder of the theater that puts the “town” in Carytown.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Suffering succotash

President George Bush held a press conference this morning. As yesterday’s bombshell National Intelligence Estimate report stated Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Bush was peppered by questions about what effect the report would have on his policy toward Iran.

The president quickly blew off the notion that his World War III warnings, because of Iran’s supposed refusal to stop making nuclear weapons, were hyperbole. Bush asserted that the NIE report bolstered his resolve and underlined the threat of Iranian WMBs.

“OK, they may have suspended the program, but they did have one and they could start it back up anytime,” the president snickered. “They could then give the know-how to anybody they like. For instance, they could hand over some of that yellowcake to their pal, Osama bin Laden. No telling what he’d do with it, but you know it would involve killing innocent children. Or, they could steal some crop-dusters and drop enriched uranium onto American crops. Can we allow them to poison our butterbeans, our corn?”

It seems the president is fond of succotash.

Again, reporters reminded Bush of the WMDs his administration swore were in Iraq in abundance in 2003, oops! then couldn’t find after the invasion.

The president bristled and shot back: “Maybe those WMD’s were moved to Iran, so Iranian terrorists could blow up a military base or a university in America. What if that happened? Which school should we be willing to lose?”

Bush was asked if he thought his credibility had been damaged by the NIE report’s published findings.

“Only with people who support the mad-bombing terrorists in Iraq and Iran,” Bush chuckled. “What if I say, you’re either on my side or the terrorists’ side? Hey, I think I just did say it.”

Then he winked at somebody and disappeared behind a curtain.

*

Update: Please note the satire warning in the masthead.

The Pee-pee-dickie report?

The recent avalanche of plans to improve Richmond has dumped a lot of words representing proposals onto Richmonders.

With a number of posts, John Sarvay at Buttermilk & Molasses has done a fine job with his coverage and commentary on the Crupi Report, as well as the new Downtown Plan. Don Harrison at Save Richmond has also offered insight into Crupi Report, which was put together by Dr. Jim Crupi, of Plano, Texas.

The former editor at Brick, Pete Humes, weighed in with his tongue-in-cheek recommendations, "Nine More Ideas to Save Downtown Richmond," at RVANews.

As for me, I have to admit I have only scanned the Crupi Report, which was crafted by the same expert consultant who made another study of Richmond 15 years ago. As my eyes glazed over scanning the new report's highlights, which seemed mostly like old news, it brought to mind a scene from a late ‘60s movie, made by Robert Downey (Sr.). Downey was the bad boy director of several “underground” comedies including “Chafed Elbows” and “Putney Swope.”

In the opening scene of “Putney Swope,” the viewer sees a leather-clad man get off a helicopter. He is escorted directly into the boardroom of a big advertising agency. The viewer learns that he is a superstar consultant, who has been brought in to advise the agency on how to market a client’s product which has been in a sales slump -- beer.

In a beautifully droll moment, the consultant tells the roomful of admen that beer is "pee-pee-dickie."

The baffling remark is met with stunned silence.

Then the consultant picks up a suitcase full of money and leaves without further explanation. Of course the admen, hustlers themselves, buy the scam completely and consider the consultant’s expensive words to be the enlightened utterance of a sage. So, they begin to brainstorm themes for a new ad campaign based on the report.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Firsthand stories

At Rea’s Firsthand Stories a special collection of stories I’ve written over the last 20 years has been gathered. Each was written about something I witnessed or was involved with/connected to in a personal way -- thus, firsthand stories.

Most of the time, as a freelance writer, I've been paid to report on and perhaps interpret what other people were doing, about events that had an effect on a lot of people. Occasionally, I've been able to draw from my own specific experience to make a larger point and sell the product to a publisher.

Along those lines, click here to travel to Rea’s Firsthand Stories and peruse what’s offered there.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

SLANTblog VA Top Five

To cope with Mondays throughout the cold weather season we will rank the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (6-2)
2. Virginia (6-1)
3. VCU (4-3)
4. ODU (4-4)
5. Hampton (4-3)

'Skins season fades away

The 17-16 loss the Washington Redskins sustained today to the Buffalo Bills ranks among the bitterest defeats this lifelong ‘Skins fan has witnessed.

Click here for the recap and box score from AP.

Given the distracting turmoil the team has been through this week, with the shocking murder of its star defensive back Sean Taylor, there was no telling how the Redskins would perform. As it turned out, the team wasn’t much different from what it’s been for too much of this season -- it proved to be its own worst enemy with the game on the line. Washington spit out an 11-point second-half lead.

In what was a puzzling development Washington’s head coach, Joe Gibbs, facilitated the deciding points by calling an illegal timeout, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty and made the Bills’ pivotal field goal attempt a chip-shot instead of a long-shot.

No doubt, Gibbs, a bona fide sports saint in DeeCee, made a mistake that will haunt him the rest of his career as a pro football coach. That he could commit such an error is understandable, given the bizarre stress he’s been under this week. But, as a professional, he let his team down.

My gut feeling is that Gibbs’ stellar coaching career is all but over. He will probably finish the season ... or, maybe not. This loss will be hard for him to take.

At 5-7, losers of four in a row, the slumping Redskins will have to become a different team to win any of their remaining four games this season.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Tenth Commandment

by F. T. Rea

According to the Old Testament, Moses heard directly from God about standards of behavior. A portion of the instructions Moses is purported to have heard, The Ten Commandments, is still well known and even in the news frequently.

There were several other rules offered atop Mount Sinai that we hear less about. If you read much of the book of Exodus, it won’t take long for you to see why. Let’s just say that some are rather old world, including the regulation of established practices such as slavery and burnt offerings.

However, the Ten Commandments are to-the-point and very basic stuff: Honor your God and your parents. Be willing to make sacrifices for what matters most to you. Don’t kill, lie, or steal, and don’t cheat on your spouse(s). Of course, even then, it depended on what “cheating” meant. In the final of the ten, Moses claimed God said people should not “covet” their neighbors’ goods.

Well, I find it interesting that after a simple list of shalt-nots, the last rule is against even thinking about a shalt-not. It seems redundant. Covet? Come on Moses, what’s the problem with a little coveting? Why not stick to Nine Commandments?

Hopefully, the reader will permit me the post-modern license to move directly from the Bible to a Hollywood thriller, in order to help Moses with his answer: In “Silence of the Lambs,” the brilliant but evil psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, instructs the movie’s detective heroine, who is in search of a serial killer, that people only covet what they see all the time.

Bulls-eye!

Of course the ravenous doctor was right about what fuels obsessive cravings. If one hasn’t seen it, how can one lust for it? To dwell on wanting something, to the point of no return, one must see it regularly. Coveting is a festering of the mind; it's a craving for that which one cannot, or should not, have. No good can come from it.

Today, because of the modern media, everyone sees how wealthy/powerful people live all the time. One sure thing movies, sitcoms, soaps, and the celebrity news all do -- in addition to telling a story -- is to show us how well off some people are. Then, every few minutes the advertisements tell us where to buy the same pleasures and accouterments the stars in those stories possess.

If you’ve got the dough to buy the stuff, that’s one thing. If you don’t that’s another. That might spawn some coveting.

The lifestyle of a celebrity is constantly sold to consumers as the good life. Wanting that good life is a carrot on the stick that helps drive our consumer culture. Therefore, in some ways, it has been good to all of us. My thesis for today’s rant is that there is a dark side to this strategy.

When powerless/poor people see that same contrived entertainment they want the good life too. However, if they are trapped in their circumstances and have no hope, they don’t believe the good life is available through legitimate channels. So, instead of feeling motivated to work overtime, to earn more money, the powerless are left to covet.

Eventually all that desire for the unobtainable can lead to trouble. I’m convinced that some part of the violence we have seen from teen-agers, lately, stems from their exaggerated sense of powerlessness. In the worst cases, their impatience boils over while waiting for what they imagine to be an adult’s awesome power over life and death.

The good news is that kids grow up. Most of our children won’t shoot up their schools because of frustration with having so little say-so over their schedule. The bad news is that for many of the world’s underdogs their sense of powerlessness is something that isn’t going to dissipate so easily. In the so-called Third World, the longing for First World goods and options is festering as you read this.

Meanwhile, these powerless coveters aren’t thinking about where to shop for knockoffs of what they see flaunted on the tube. Watching the images on television and the Internet -- as everyone in the world now does -- they are coveting, and at the same time, they don’t see a way for them to get over being poor in their lifetime. A hundred years ago, 50 years ago, the world's underclass wasn't wired into the rest of civilization. Now it is.

Now they know how soft life is for the well-off. History isn’t much help here because it tells them that the unwashed masses usually have had to take what they want by force. How much longer we can rely on the gentle patience of the world’s hungriest millions is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, perhaps the other side of “thou shalt not covet” is “thou shalt not flaunt.” If the wisdom of the ages -- the Ten Commandments -- suggests we should discourage destructive cravings in the shadows, perhaps we ought not to promote them so much with our brightest lights.

-- 30 --

Friday, November 30, 2007

RT-D discovers Larry Rohr

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Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, A.J. Hostetler covered a magic show that took place at the Science Museum of Virginia on Wednesday. Members of Richmond’s International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 180 performed tricks that delighted the crowd and demonstrated various scientific principles

....The magicians performed several tricks that seemed to defy gravity. [Lou] Dean made two ropes into one, fellow magician Harry Gallant made apparently unconnected colored pompoms tug at each other, and [Watt} Hyer somehow slowed a slug as it fell seemingly unimpeded through a blue tube.

A cube magically halted halfway down a string held by magician Larry Rohr. Yet when visiting home-schooler Emily Wigglesworth held the string, gravity kicked in and the cube easily slid down.

Click here to read the article. And, once there, to view a nice slideshow of the tricky stuff, click on the link that says “Magic.” There are pictures of some of the magicians, including the above mentioned Larry Rohr. The first picture in that slideshow is the one of Rohr holding a gravity-defying rope that appears on Page 2 of today’s Metro section, accompanying Hostetler’s piece.

The picture of Larry at the top of this post is one I shot of him last month at the National Folk Festival. He loves being in a crowd and it usually doesn’t take much to get him to do a few tricks for children.

Longtime generous friend and stalwart fellow Frisbee-golfer, Larry is a colorful character who I have written about several times in other contexts over the years. Below there are five links to stories and other pictures of Larry “Wolfman” Rohr.

Those interested in contacting Larry Rohr, perhaps to hire him to perform at a party, etc., please call (804) 233-2295.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Maybe Rosebud

Fiction by F. T. Rea

October 11, 1985: Waiting for the veterinarian to call back about his cat, Pal, Roscoe Swift sat at his old wooden desk. His breath was shallow. He stared at a blank sheet of paper as he struggled to listen to a radio report about one of his heroes, cinema luminary and champion prankster Orson Welles, who had just died.

As the tension gripped Swift's neck and radiated into his arms, he sought refuge from his mounting sense of dread in the realm of memories and imagination. Closing his eyes he saw the foreboding scene that sets the mystery in motion in Welles' masterpiece, "Citizen Kane." There was the mansion, Xanadu, and inside it publishing mogul Charles Foster Kane was dying alone in the shadows.

With his pen Roscoe sketched Kane's slumped body, but with the head of a cat. The artist drew a dialog balloon next to the cat's face. In it he put Kane's ambiguous last word: "Rosebud." He had fashioned the cat's look after Zig-Zag, the little stray Roscoe and his ex-wife, Julie, had taken in a few weeks after their marriage in the summer of 1970. A neighbor on his way to class tossed the kitten in Roscoe's Studebaker to save her from a pack of dogs. Later, Roscoe found her hiding under his seat.

Four years after Zig Zag's unexpected arrival, she disappeared. Eventually, Roscoe found her under a bush in a back yard down the street. Her latest paramour, a black tomcat, scampered off as Roscoe approached. Lying on her side, Zig-Zag was stiff and her eyes were glazed over. Maggots were having at her guts. Patting her head and whispering her name, he carried the body home on a unfinished plank he found.

Through the kitchen window Julie saw him coming. She rushed out onto the back porch and began to sob. Without a word Roscoe placed the board on the porch. Then, as Julie crouched and touched poor Zig-Zag, quite unexpectedly, the cat moved. She was alive!

Roscoe ran inside to call a veterinarian. But seconds later, with Julie holding her, Zig-Zag cried out, arched her back, and gave up the ghost for good. Julie seemed comforted by the notion that Zig-Zag hadn't died alone in another yard. Roscoe mentioned her tomcat friend had been nearby when he found her.

The next day Nixon resigned. Three summers later Roscoe and Julie split up. The sound of the radio broke through his time-trance, abruptly, so he switched it off. Then he noticed loud footsteps, overhead, in the apartment above him. His new neighbor, a woman in her mid-30’s, had a heavy-footed walk.

*

Pal had made her first appearance at Roscoe's English basement apartment shortly after his longtime job as manager of the Fan City Cinema evaporated on the last day of 1982. Virginia Commonwealth University bought the old converted church building and dismantled it to build on the lot. He and his sometimes-live-in girlfriend, Tess Dailey, were having breakfast on an unseasonably warm winter morning, when a peculiar noise got their attention. They discovered a determined gray cat squeezing its way through the chicken wire stretched across the outside of the window.

Roscoe didn't want to encourage the animal to stay around, but playful and charming Tess insisted on feeding it something, which turned out to be his leftover pizza. The next day, ignoring Roscoe's wishes not to name the cat Tess started calling it "Rosebud."

Well, it turned out Rosebud was smart and would eat anything Roscoe would eat. Then, only a month later, Tess, the kid-sister of his old friend, Finn, announced she had given her notice on her art gallery job. Beyond that, she had decided to move to New York to pursue her career as a dancer/choreographer.

"I gotta go before I'm too old and scared to do it," Tess explained.

They hadn't had any sort of squabble, but Roscoe, 35, knew the drill well. She'd seen all his moves and heard all his jokes. Smart, pretty girls her age, 23, know when to say, "when."

Later, in the airport parking lot she leaned her back against his Volkswagen bus, as they kissed goodbye. Roscoe held her chin and couldn't resist using his Bogart imitation: "We'll always have Paris, Schweetheart."

Tess laughed, cried and made him promise to reconsider keeping Rosebud. And, that he did, except he renamed the cat "Pal."

Ultimately, Pal proved to be a good companion. Their morning ritual at the kitchen table, as Roscoe slowly drank his coffee, was rarely changed for any reason until she got sick. Pal always insisted on curling up on the parts of the Richmond Times-Dispatch he had finished reading. She would get up each time he needed to put another section on the used pile. Then she would park herself on the newspaper stack again, to doze. Pal was waiting for him to push his cereal bowl toward her, so she could drink the milk at the bottom.

Taking a break from the numbing fog of nostalgia Swift opened the door, to step outside and check his mailbox. It was noticeably colder than it had been earlier in the day. He found only junk mail and his telephone bill. "It'll keep," he muttered, shutting the box.

He decided to take a walk around the block. Swift breathed deeply, the crisp autumn air smelled good. A pair of pleasant, fragile-looking old ladies offered him a religious tract. He politely said, "No, thank you." Red, orange and yellow leaves were blowing about the street as he considered, once again, the role of irony in the grand scheme of things. Fresh thoughts began to fall into place, his stride quickened.

Back inside, the artist and occasional no-budget filmmaker -- who for his income depended mostly on a part-time position as special events coordinator for a charity -- pulled out a few blank sheets of paper. After a flurry of writing he put the pen down and went to the refrigerator. Breaking his new weekday rule -- no beer before 5 p.m. -- he cracked open a green can of Heineken.

Staring into a poster of a Degas ballerina painting, which was over his desk, another bubble of realization popped: Yes, it had been far too long since he had gotten laid. Roscoe sighed/chuckled, as he reached for the paper to read over what he had just written:

It would be easy to continue to see all of life itself as God. For me that's been a comfortable notion for many years. I have thought of it as a soft-edge brand of existentialism that avoids dwelling on doubt and debate. However, at this particular sad moment I find it more interesting, perhaps more useful, to see God in a different light. What about The Creator as the totally unpredictable random factor that causes change?

Thus, I submit – the ironic God. This God is itself another dimension – fifth, sixth, take your pick. Since it has no form or action we are capable of corralling to measure, it remains beyond the grasp of our reason. Perhaps we sense it most when we take risks, when we are in uncharted waters.

In many ways the biggest risk we take is falling in love. The playful, musical laughter of young lovers -- off, in their own dimension -- may be as close to being at one with this mysterious force as human beings are likely to get.

Putting the page down, the author rubbed his eyes. The text before him seemed to have been written by another hand. It excited him. After another swig of beer he grabbed the pen. Again, the words poured out, effortlessly:

The spark that set life in motion on this planet stemmed from the magic of the aforementioned force -- a force that creates anomalies as it wafts its way, hither and yon, and into the cosmic gears of order.

Why?

Who knows? Who knows if it cares about what it does? Who knows what else it can do, if anything? Preachers say they know, then they ask for money. I say nobody even knows what entity created order, in the first place, so it could then be tweaked by this ironic force of change? We just know that nothing stays the same, and payback is a bitch.

What the hell does that mean?

Maybe everything, or nothing. Maybe Rosebud. If there is inevitably a yes, no, and maybe aspect to all earthly propositions, then perhaps God is a kaleidescope of ever-changing maybes.

Change -- a big bang? -- caused mass to emerge from what had been only energy. Then came more change. We move from single cells, to dinosaurs, to mammals, to whatever is next in line; no doubt, something that will thrive on the poisons my species has unleashed on nature.

No matter how comforted people are by their worshiping of order and predictability, the existence of the species is owed to mutations through the ages. Without the random changes which fall like leaves one time, and a ton of bricks the next, the short life we struggle to live wouldn't even exist.

The phone rang. Walking like a zombie, Roscoe picked up the receiver: "Hello."

He listened to the vet's report: Pal's infection was so massive it was a medical wonder she was still alive. She had not responded to the antibiotic, nor had she regained any interest in eating. Fluids had been pumped into her. She was only getting weaker.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," said the careful male voice, "but the quality of, ah, your Pal's life, in whatever time she has left, is only going to continue to deteriorate. Do you want to take her home for the night and see what happens? Or, you might consider putting her down today. It's your decision. Mr. Swift."

"There's no good in prolonging her suffering, " said Roscoe, "if the situation is hopeless. She must be so confused, and..."

"I understand," the vet said. "If you want, we can take care of it in about an hour, including disposal of the remains. But you can still come to see her to say good-bye, or whatever..."

"How do you," Swift cringed, "I mean, will it be lethal injection?"

"Yes," Roscoe heard from the receiver, as his heart sank.

"OK, I’ll be there in a half-hour," said Roscoe. "And, yes I'd like to spend a few minutes with Pal before you put her to sleep. And, well, I’m not so sure about the rest, because I can't... After she's kaput, I'll take her body with me."

"That's fine, I understand," said the man. "And, I'm sorry we couldn't make her well."

"Thanks," said Swift. He hung up. Tears spilled onto his cheeks as he sat at his desk again. He began connecting to other sad times, disappointments, losses, deaths, melancholia. The phone rang, again.

On cruise-control, Roscoe listened to an artificially perky woman he didn't know.

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible to win an all-expenses-paid vacation in HAWAII. That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for two in paradise. How does THAT sound to you Mr. Roscoe?"

"What on earth are you talking about?" protested Roscoe. "Ah, listen, my last name is Swift, not Roscoe."

The anonymous voice began again, "That's SEVEN sunny days and romantic nights for..."

"You shouldn’t have called," Roscoe advised. "This is a ... Look, I'm trying to work. Whatever list I'm on, please just take my name off of it."

"This may be YOUR lucky day! If you qualify and register now, you will be eligible..."

Roscoe shouted, "Believe me, I don't qualify! You've got the wrong guy. Look! I never buy anything, and I don't even give a happy Shinola about Hawaii, much less whatever you're selling!"

Swift hung up and walked back to his desk to cut the radio back on. Mercifully, "Rhapsody in Blue," was playing. Pen in hand, he went to work, again:

Shrill voices and strident blather. Relentless telemarketing and talk-show crackpots. Constant accusations. Constant denials. Aggressive promos and seeping disinformation. When you add them all up, the combination becomes a cacophony that stands like a wall of noise, separating us from whatever quiet truths we might discover, but for it.

The wall of noise is more than a mean-spirited abuse of our sense of hearing. It's a greed-driven abuse of the most cherished of rights – Free Speech. In such a maddening condition one of mankind's basic universal pursuits – peace of mind – is all but out of reach.

*

During the fifteen minutes Roscoe spent alone with Pal, in the quiet pale green room in which she would soon die, he found the courage to push through his lifelong needle-phobia. He simply couldn't abide the idea of Pal having to go out without her only true friend at her side. So, he opted to stay on for the execution.

Roscoe gently stroked Pal's head as the vet, Dan Yost, prepared to shoot poison into the animal's veins. His assistant, Sally, held Pal in position by her striped legs. Swift avoided looking at the syringe, hoping to suppress the queasy, lightheaded sweats the sight of an injection -- anyone's injection -- always brought on. To block out his powerful desire to turn away from the nauseating specter, he focused totally on Pal's face, on her eyes that looked so weary.

"Easy there girl," Roscoe said, scratching behind her ears as she flinched from the prick of the needle. "Easy Pal," he said in a low tone that would ordinarily make her purr up a storm. Pal had never liked anybody fooling around with her feet. She struggled weakly to free herself from Sally's grip.

Panic made Roscoe's heart race as he saw Pal's dignity being compromised. Then she slowly turned her head to the side and sank her teeth into his right thumb. Roscoe didn't react. Seconds later, she was motionless.

When Roscoe's thumb began bleeding Dan was shocked: "I've never seen that happen. Hey, I'm so sorry, man. I didn't think there was any way."

"It's OK," said Roscoe. "She never liked being held down. She protested, even if she was ready to go, and she left me something to remember her by. I'm glad."

Dan was greatly relieved and said so. He cleaned and dressed Roscoe's wound and continued to apologize. Roscoe watched Sally's gentle hands as she carefully wrapped the lifeless cat in a white towel. Dan cautioned him to watch for infection and to go to the doctor if there was swelling.

Remembering he needed to call a friend about borrowing a shovel, Roscoe asked, "May I please use your telephone for a short call?"

"Sure, not a problem," said Dan. "And, watch that thumb."

At sunset, Roscoe and two of his oldest friends, Rusty Donovan and Zach Collins, buried Pal under a large oak tree in Byrd Park. Each of the three took turns digging the grave. The oak was located at a dogleg in the middle of the ninth fairway of their unmarked Frisbee-golf course, where their small group had been playing for ten years.

Roscoe showed off his bandage as he told them about what happened when Pal died. He opened the towel and put the lifeless cat into the fresh hole in the ground. After they covered the grave the men toasted Pal with a ceremonial beer. Rusty, who was still always holding, broke out a joint. Stories about favorite pets were exchanged.

The three agreed to meet there the following afternoon for a round of golf. Starting with that next round's play, they began treating Pal's grave site as hallowed ground. It became routine for the players to meow and hiss, out loud, whenever a drive inadvertently smacked into the "Dead Cat Tree."

On a bright morning almost three weeks after Pal's burial, Roscoe saw Sally sitting alone in a new coffee shop that he'd been meaning to try. She invited him to sit at her table and asked about his injured thumb. He said it was healing fine.

Lingering over coffee, they shared his Washington Post. She pointed out a funny article about a wild celebration of the 47th anniversary of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio prank.

He told her Welles and Luis Bunuel were two of his biggest heroes.

"It seems you admire talented mavericks," she said. "Who are your two favorite comedians?"

"Lenny Bruce and Richard Prior," he answered quickly. Then he recounted a funny version of the story of Pal's name-change.

Sally asked Roscoe if he hoped the bite mark would leave a scar.

He flashed his best smile, "Naturally."

* * *

All rights reserved. "Maybe Rosebud" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories called "Detached." Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below:

"Dogtown Hero"
"Central Time"
"Cross-eyed Mona"
Fancy Melons

Rams report card; VA Top Five

VCU defeated Elon, 79-61, on Saturday night at the Siegel Center. Rams head coach Anthony Grant seemed pleased with his team's effort, coming off of two losses in San Juan last week.
In the first half VCU’s snazzy pair of starting guards, Jamal Shuler and Eric Maynor, went two-for-two on three-point-shots in propelling VCU to a 21-point advantage at the break. In the second stanza, as Rams head coach Anthony Grant shuffled 12 players in and out of action, his team’s lead fluctuated between 25 and 15 points.

Call it a nice working margin.
For commentary on the Elon game and the Rams season (3-2), so far, click here to read an article I penned for Richmond.com.

This week we are launching SLANTblog's Virginia Top Five feature. For the rest of the season each Monday it will rank the five best men's basketball teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. George Mason (5-1)
2. Virginia (5-1)
3. VCU (3-2)
4. ODU (3-3)
5. Va. Tech (2-2)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

VCU coasts; UR advances

Upon returning to their Siegel Center home floor, after a 1-2 trip to Puerto Rico, the VCU Rams made mincemeat of the visitors, the Elon Phoenix: VCU 79, Elon 61.

Before a crowd of 4,489, the Rams veteran guards Jamal Shuler and Eric Maynor both went two-for-two on three-pointers in the first half, as the home team ran away with the game and led by 21 at the break. In the second stanza the Rams’ working margin grew to 25 and was never less than 15.

For the game VCU made good on 59.9 percent of its field goal attempts. When they shoot that well the defensive-minded Rams (3-2) will beat a lot of teams better than the Phoenix (2-3), who play in the Southern Conference and aren’t projected as one of its contenders.

VCU head coach Anthony Grant used 12 players tonight, nine of them were on the floor 10 minutes or more. Shuler was the game’s top scorer with 17 points; he added five rebounds. On top of his 10 points, Maynor got seven assists. Freshman forward Larry Sanders scored nine points, grabbed six boards and blocked four shots.

The Rams return to the road on Thursday to play the Hampton Pirates there at 7 p.m.

And, earlier in the day at UR Stadium, the University of Richmond defeated Eastern Kentucky, 31-14, to advance in the so-called “subdivision” playoffs.
Tim Hightower rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown and Eric Ward threw for one touchdown and ran for another Saturday night, leading Richmond past Eastern Kentucky 31-14 in the first round of the football championship subdivision playoffs.

The Spiders (10-2) will travel to Wofford next Saturday for a quarterfinal game.
Click here to read the AP story about the Spiders win.

Fancy Melons

Fiction by F. T. Rea

“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly. Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, he wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans with twine for shoelaces.

Roscoe Swift was content to ignore the rumpled stranger until he made his purpose clear: “Gotta match?” Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

Roscoe approached the weather-beaten character cautiously and handed him a matchbook. The old salt lit his crooked, hand-rolled cigarette. Then the man coughed, cleared his throat, and spat triumphantly on the heavy support of the nearby tourist telescope. Roscoe watched the oyster slime its way off the heavy base to collect on the pavement.

After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the ungrateful man threw the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, yer no prodigy.

Annoyed, Roscoe looked in the water for the matchbook. It floated up so he could still read the type on the cover. It said Fancy Melons.

“No sir, heh, heh, yer just another thin-skinned boy -- ha! maybe a skinless boy -- trying to bluff his way into heaven,” said the old timer, as his pale blue eyes twinkled in a maze of wrinkles and broken capillaries.

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. Reality at the moment was no less weird than his dream had been. He found that he had been sleeping on a stack of inflated rafts on the sand. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.

Slowly, he began to remember climbing the lifeguard stand on the beach to the top of a pile of rental rafts lashed to it. Strangely, in the moonlight, it had made sense to sleep on an open-air perch, 15 feet up. He shuddered as he thought of the old man in the dream that was already beginning to fade away.

Then he realized he was still dreaming.

*

April 9, 1980: Roscoe Swift woke up already aware of the warm, moist air wafting through the slightly open bedroom window. Contrary to the weather forecast, it was still raining. Selena Cross, asleep on her back, didn’t stir as he deftly climbed over her and down from his loft.

The dream-within-a-dream he had just endured was a familiar haunt. It went all the way back to when he was 16, shortly after he actually did wake up on top of a stack of rafts on the beach. Roscoe shut off the alarm clock, so it wouldn't ring, and he gathered up last night’s clothes -- a black “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” T-shirt, khaki shorts, white socks, and high-top Converse All-Stars -- on his way to the bathroom.

Dressed and finished with the bathroom, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him.

Leggy and graceful, bright-eyed Selena had a feline quality that Roscoe told her was reminiscent of a young Brigitte Bardot, in “And God Created Woman.” While such a comparison was obviously meant to flatter, it also recognized her natural talent for mimicry and disguising her thoughts. To him Selena always seemed to be working from a script.

Roscoe and Selena had a big day planned -- a stolen day, removed from time. As he headed for the kitchen to scavenge up some breakfast, she opened her eyes, unbeknownst to him.

Selena Cross waitressed three nights a week at Soble’s on Floyd Avenue. To protect her image as one who never partied after hours, or strayed from her main squeeze, Selena invented a system to facilitate her “sessions” with Roscoe. On the nights she worked, he would swing by the bar on his way home from work at the Fan City Cinema, where he was the manager. Her fiancé -- a 30-year-old antique dealer, with money to burn -- traveled frequently, usually for a couple or three days, on short notice. If she was free and feeling amorous Selena would wear her honey-colored hair in a ponytail, to signal Roscoe she would be showing up at his place later. That way they could confine their conversation in the restaurant to small talk and leave at different times without huddled discussions.

In spite of the obvious chemistry between the two of them, Selena had convinced herself this subterfuge kept her coworkers and the bar’s regulars from suspecting anything.

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good. Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

Until this particular occasion it had been her custom to leave Roscoe’s carriage house apartment, in the alley behind the 1200 block of Franklin Street, before the first light of day. This time her fiancé was scheduled to be away longer than usual. Thus, this was their first morning together.

Roscoe Swift, 32, was a divorced wannabe filmmaker, who was too existential for his own good. Having had the same job for nine years, he could coast most of the time. Selena was a 23-year-old art history graduate. She led a disciplined, goal-oriented life and was ready to make her mark on a world of unlimited opportunity. Aside from a shared taste for Rockabilly music and a similar appreciation for black humor, they really didn’t have much in common. Generally, Selena didn’t talk about the past and Roscoe didn’t talk about the future.

Roscoe switched on the radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza. He was out of eggs, too.

What he had to work with was: a half-loaf of wheat bread, an almost new stick of butter, jars of mayonnaise, mustard and strawberry jam, a box of fig bars, a tired-looking head of lettuce, a bottle of extra dry domestic champagne, two cans of ginger ale, seven cans of beer and an empty pizza box.

Roscoe took out the champagne and sat it on the counter next to a small watermelon Selena had brought with her from the restaurant. As he carved up the melon, he whistled along with the radio to the classic Everly Brothers’ not-so-thinly-disguised ode to masturbation: “All I Have to Do is Dream.”

Selena, naked but for her thick socks, entered the room without making a sound. Amused that Roscoe hadn’t noticed her, she leaned her butt against the damp windowsill and folded her arms.

“Morning!” said Roscoe. “Hot coffee, buttered toast and cold champagne, with a watermelon spear, served in a pewter goblet. Presto! A perfect rainy day breakfast.”

Selena grinned. “I like rainy days. With no shadows, colors look more thick and juicy…”

“Miss Cross,” said Roscoe, “would you please slide the coffee pot onto the burner. It’s already loaded up.”

“You betcha,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

“Yep,” said Roscoe, watching the gas flame burst into action, “this is an old Southern favorite. They call it a ‘Spring Fling.’ You haven’t heard of it?”

“No, but it’s so appropriate,” she said with a yawn. The gesture fit well with her decadent rich girl act -- sometimes Selena almost seemed to have walked out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald story. Given her blue-collar, small town background, it was a persona he enjoyed watching her affect.

Roscoe popped the cork off the bottle of bubbly and the moment’s perfection promptly fizzled. The bubbly wasn’t!

“Goddamn it!” he growled in a tone she hadn’t heard from him before.

While Selena’s body language had seemed to suggest that something other than breakfast was on her mind, anyway, the suddenly crestfallen Roscoe was focused on the flat champagne.

“I’ll be right back,” Roscoe blurted out, grabbing a hooded sweatshirt. He ran three-and-a-half blocks to a neighborhood wine shop in a steady rain, convinced the owner to open early, and returned with chilly bubbles aplenty.

“When you’re wet, you look fantastic!” Selena said, at first sight of him.

That prompted an impromptu session, with Selena seated on the porcelain kitchen table. Once again, they delighted in their collaborative ability to please one another. If anything, it was still improving. And, that was that.

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as they polished off their perfect breakfast with gusto. During the drive from Richmond to their destination, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, Selena and Roscoe sang along with a taped compilation of cuts by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe.

Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road. “I’ve smiled at you so much I feel like a Cheshire cat on two hits of acid,” Roscoe deadpanned, as he pulled his pale yellow 1973 Volvo wagon into the parking lot of the quaint Hilltop Hotel.

As soon as they got to their room, Selena went to the bathroom. As he waited, Roscoe lit a joint, took a hit, and asked, “Do you still want to go to the horse races in Charles Town? We’ve still got the rest of the day to go sightseeing, or do whatever…”

“Whatever suits me fine,” said Selena, as she opened the door wearing only the Fan City Cinema T-shirt he had given her. That, and a spectacular smile.

“What the hell,” said Selena, who rarely smoked pot, “Up here I’m as out of town as it gets, give me a damn toke of that.”

After her second hit, as she passed the joint back to him, Selena lifted her right foot to rub the instep along the back of her left calf. Roscoe stepped closer, tossing the joint at the bedside table’s ashtray. Her head tilted slightly to one side. The air between them was charged.

She pulled at his belt buckle as they landed on the bed. His hands cascaded along her rib cage to her bare hips.

Then Roscoe heard a loud explosion; he flinched. “Wha, what the hell was that?”

Selena laughed as Roscoe rolled onto his back, seemingly dazed. “What was what?” she cooed.

“That sound; like a gunshot, or a bomb,” he gasped. “That bang! Didn’t you hear it?”

“Passion!” she said, widening her eyes. “Pure, pure passion!”

Roscoe was disoriented. Hadn’t the noise been real? Hadn’t she heard it, too? He sat up. “Come on Selena, you didn’t hear that sound?

She kissed him with such fury that he had to stop talking.

Soon, thoughts of fiancés, ex-wives, everyday concerns in Richmond, horse races in Charles Town, and especially mysterious explosions in hotel rooms were put aside. Later they slept the sleep known only to earnest lovers, who’ve given their all to the moment.

*

The next day, in spite of his efforts, Roscoe was unable to determine if Selena had actually heard the explosion he had. They talked about it during the drive back to Richmond, but she never gave him a straight answer. She enjoyed teasing him -- maybe this, maybe that.

Exaggerating her southern accent, Selena would say, “Pah-shun.” Eventually Selena’s evasiveness began to rub Roscoe the wrong way, so he stopped asking.

They finished off the drive with little to say, accompanied by a Kraftwerk tape, turned up loud. He dropped her off at her Volkswagen bug, parked in a lot near his place. She planned to stop by her apartment and then take care of some errands. Selena’s parting words were: “I’ll call you around dinnertime, about getting together later, if you’re up for a encore session.”

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-Golf, he found a message Selena had left on his answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip. Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.

The end was abrupt: Harper’s Ferry proved to be the finale for Selena and Roscoe. Two months later, Selena’s wedding took place in her husband’s hometown, Alexandria, Virginia. After a honeymoon in Ireland, the newlyweds surprised everyone by deciding to set up residence in Annapolis, Maryland, instead of Richmond.

And, that was that, except for this postscript on a chilly rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. Upon returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, Roscoe found a paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo when he got home. In it was a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with half a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette. He shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers.

“Passion,” said Roscoe with chuckle nearly as dry as the bottle of bubbly next to him. He let out the clutch and turned up the volume.

* * *

All rights reserved. "Fancy Melons" with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories. Several remain in various stages of incompletion. Links to the four others which have been finished are below: