Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grace St. Punk Era

A couple of months ago, after having some fresh back and forth communication with a few old friends via Facebook, a cartoon light bulb lit up over my head. An idea for a feature magazine article, or perhaps a series of articles, was born.

Actually, it was an old idea, one I’ve got a dog-eared file full of notes and doodles about. What had happened was that a new means of gathering information had suddenly been put in front of me, because a bunch of musicians and artists from the 1970s/80s band and club scene in the Fan District had suddenly joined Facebook, too.

The Idea: To create a lengthy written piece with the working title of “Grace St. Punk Era: 1977-86.”

This undertaking would create a record of the live music/pop art scene that existed in the Fan District between 1977 and 1986; the epicenter of that scene was the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street. Furthermore, it’s my hope that once I put this thing together I’ll be able to come up with a way to produce a film documentary on the same material. But first things, first.

1977 has been selected as the beginning of the period to document for several reasons, but chiefly it was because that’s the year local punk bands suddenly began to draw beer-drinking crowds into clubs in the neighborhood.

Of course, how long the Punk Era lasted can be debated; it was probably not the same length of time in every town. In Richmond, the punk aesthetic morphed gradually into hardcore, so it’s hard to draw a bright line between one and the other.

With that in mind, 1986 has been chosen to round out the era as a decade. In Richmond, what had been a gradual shift away from Grace Street to Shockoe Slip and then Shockoe Bottom, for the happening night life scene, began to snowball in 1986. By 1987 it was clear that the scene had shifted toward Downtown.

Thus, the purpose here is to document the most noteworthy contributions to the music-centric popular culture of that decade in a particular neighborhood -- The Fan District. It will be about the most significant musicians and players of the era. Although there will be more punk bands mentioned than any other style, it’s not my intention to try to establish which were more authentically punk, or more aesthetically righteous.

Furthermore, this telling of the story will not rely much on connecting to pop stars who were/are intergalactic celebrities. There aren’t going to be a lot of I-knew-the-Boss-back-when type stories. Actually, one of the chief points I want to make with this effort is that what happened in Richmond in the late-70s/early-80s was just as cool/as much fun as what was happening anywhere, including San Francisco or New York.

To organize the story there will be a section listing many of the bands and their personnel, with some sort of description of them. There will also be sections on the clubs and the art that was used to promote events.

Some of the bands that have been suggested to me for inclusion are: Alter Natives, Awareness Art Ensemble, The Barriers, Beex, The Bopcats, Boys from Skateland, The Bowties, Burma Jam, The Dads, Death Piggy, Degenerate Blind Boys, Faded Rose, Glad Corps, The Good Guys, The Good Humor Band, The Heretics, Honor Role, House of Freaks, Idio-Savant, The Insinuations, Julie and the Jumpers, L’Amour, The Naughty Bits, The Megatonz, The Millionaires, Mystagogues, New York Dux, Nine Below Zero, Non-Dairy Screamers, The Offenders, The Orthotonics, The Prevaricators, The Rage, Red Cross, Ricky and the White Boys, Shake and the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Small Change, Sunset Lou and the Fabulous Daturas, Surrender Dorothy, Suzy Saxon and the Anglos, Ten Ten, Tom and Marty Band, Toronados and White Cross.

Clubs that have been suggested to me for inclusion are: The Back Door, Benny’s, Casablanca, The Cha Cha Palace, The Clubhouse, The Copa, Domino’s Doghouse, Going Bananas, 538 Club, Hard Times, Jade Elephant, Laurel & Broady, Main St. Grill, New Horizons, The Pass, P.B. Kelly’s, Sam Miller’s, Stonewall’s 1302 and The Warehouse.

Of course, Color Radio and Plan 9 will be in the story. The biggest warehouse parties will recalled, etc. From what I’ve seen on Facebook, there should be no shortage of photographs available.

Please note: In the way this will be put together, I'm simply looking to be a fair reporter, not a critic. I'll let the quotes I use tell the story of who was cool, who was a lounge act, who was ahead of his/her time, who was an idiot, etc. My taste in music will not drive the narrative.

The reason for announcing the startup of this undertaking in this way is to call for help. Please feel free to comment below this post, or email me (ftrea9@gmail.com). And, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Auto empires too 20th century?

Who wants to argue that admen and spin doctors, with their slogans aplenty, didn't have too much say over the consumer-culture, we'll-police-the-world American mindset in the second half of the 20th century?

If there had been an overriding slogan to represent the prevailing thinking of that 50-year period, is there one that could top Bigger is Better?

Growth was god.

"We cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars," said President Barack Obama.

With the politics of the world having been buffeted about for the first half of the 20th century by the toppling of monarchies and the disintegration of colonial empires, the new concept in empire building was ascending. In many ways the biggest winners of World War Two were those who were at the forefront of building the world's largest multinational corporations.

Yet, while extolling the virtues of competition, the most aggressive corporations pursued strategies that sought to eliminate it. The winners of that bloody business routinely killed off their competitors or gobbled them up through merger.

In the 21st century empires of any kind don't seem to work anymore. The strategy of domination by being gargantuan and far-flung has gotten to be too expensive.

And, from society's standpoint, squelching competition isn't healthy, no matter how it's done. Looking back on it, when Virginia didn't allow regional banks we were better off. There were good reasons to keep banks based in their own communities and insulated from other so-called "financial services."

That lesson has come with a price, we're selling pieces of the future to come up with bailout money. We can only hope we aren't selling more shares of our pie-in-the-sky than can ever exist, as did the protagonists of Mel Brooks' "The Producers."

Whether the panic-driven massive bailouts we've seen in the last few months will look smart 20 years from now is something I don't know. Will President Barack Obama's effort to transform the auto industry look smart 20 months from now?

Don't know about that either, but I wonder. In trying to save Detroit, is Obama beating dead horsepower? Is rescuing General Motors going against the tide of history? Because maybe, like other empires, GM is out of date.

Maybe America needs 25 small, car-building companies to spring up. Not companies with ten divisions that build 50 different models. Not big companies building big cars.

They might be companies that will specialize in building one model, maybe two. Their dealerships might be the size of a convenience store. Most of their customers would order their cars, whatever color they like, online.

If "bigger is better" has gotten to be too 20th century, isn't the concept of "too big to allow them to fail" passé, yet?

-- Art by F.T. Rea

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crazy is, as crazy does

Both my art and words have been appearing in print since the early-1970s. I wish I could say it's been lucrative, it's more a matter of me not knowing what else to do. Over the years, most of the people who have bothered to speak to me about something they saw of mine have said nice things. Then, too, I've also had many a lively discussion over coffee or beer with a reader who wanted to change my mind.

Every now and then it gets too weird. Right away, you know they want something from you that you're not going to feel comfortable giving up.

Such was the case when a man called me on a Saturday night in the early 1990s. He told me we had never met, but he’d read an issue of SLANT. He said he had to talk with me, right then, because I was such a good writer...
Naturally, he was calling from a bar.

Well, I was watching a movie with my then-girlfriend, so I didn’t want to have a long conversation. It was late and the more this strange-sounding character talked, the less inclined I felt toward having anything to do with him. He said he had a story he had to tell me, something having to do with corruption in high places that I should write about.

The next thing you know, he started querying me about my religious beliefs ... uh, oh. So, I told him I didn’t want to meet with him that night. Still, I thanked the caller for the compliment and asked him to call back during business hours, if he still wanted to talk. I don’t remember his name, now, but I did when I told the story of his odd phone call to some friends a couple of days later at Happy Hour.

One of them promptly recognized his name.

“You remember him,” he said, “that was the crazy guy they found on the Huguenot Bridge, maybe in February, about a couple of years ago. He was bleeding to death.” According to the story my Saturday night caller had bought into the Bible saying -- something like, if thy right arm offends thee cut it off.

He had gone down to the wooded area north of the bridge. After putting his offending arm into the canal water to numb it down, he had chunked it into a fork in a small tree’s limbs. Then he hacksawed that bad arm off, just below the elbow.

Of course he did!

Everyone at the bar, except me, chuckled. I was busy wondering why such a person from another planet would want to talk to me about anything? What had I written that had set him off? It was hardly the first time I’d been approached by a creepy reader, but this one was setting a new standard.

Blogging opens the door to all sorts of possibilities, as bloggers interact with readers. In recent weeks there have been comments made here under my posts that have made me wonder where to draw certain lines. While I am happy to discuss most reactions to my writings and art, there is a limit to what I will put up with.

At times, I've let some silliness get under my skin.

Here's one thing for sure, more civility in today's way of walking would be a good thing, all around. And, that includes the blogosphere. Crazy is, as crazy does. Can you dig it?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hats-off to Coach Grant


It seems an era has ended. According to wire reports, Anthony Grant has decided to leave VCU. The Rams head coach for the last three seasons (76-25) has apparently accepted the offer Alabama extended to him.

In spite of the sense of disappointment that Rams fans may be feeling as they read this, Grant has been good to VCU, and unless there are defections he is hardly leaving the cupboard bare.

Tonight I watched a former VCU coach, Jeff Capel, guide his Oklahoma team to a win over Syracuse. I won't be surprised to see Grant coaching a team, maybe Alabama, in big games down the road. He's a fantastic coach.

So was/is Capel. If UVa. can sign him somebody up there is crazy not to jump at the chance.

VCU will reload. It's a good job lots of up and coming coaches would love to get. After Capel and Grant, I have a great deal of faith in the talent and confidence VCU president Eugene Trani has in overseeing the process of hiring a basketball coach.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steal this art

Here's a one-word statement that says enough is enough!

Grab and use this banner as you like. Put it on your web site with a link to your favorite post about the subject of where to play baseball in Richmond. Make a bumper sticker out of it.

Flag for your front porch display? Fine. Tattoo? It's all good.

The politicians and promoters have let the where-to-build-a-baseball-stadium issue run back and forth, hither and yon, for too long. Enough of studies of studies! Our elected officials seem to be afraid to be wrong.

It's time for Richmond's citizens/voters to act on their own behalf. Let's put the question on the ballot in November. A referendum.

Let's allow the taxpayers to declare their preference for Baseball on the Blvd., or Baseball in the Bottom. There are other issues that need our attention. While baseball is important, it's not more important than schools, or the decaying infrastructure, or what's economically feasible. Let's be done with this.

Click here to look at the proposed 2005 ordinance calling for a referendum on the Shockoe Bottom project then being weighed by City Council. Now I wonder why somebody made it go away?

Click here to read more background about the referendum on the baseball stadium issue.

-- Art by F.T. Rea

FanGuy unmasked

One of SLANTblog's readers sent us this image. The reader says it's a picture of the blogosphere's own FanGuy, the mysterious, outspoken and prolific spokesperson for baseball in Shockoe Bottom.

A wee sampling of FanGuy's writing style can be found here. His picture looks familiar, but I can't place where I've seen it before.

Of course, our source for the image must remain anonymous, but they have assured us they own no property in Shockoe Bottom, they hate baseball and they aren't affiliated with any restaurants on the Boulevard, or even in Scott's Addition.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Leroy “Satchel” Paige at Parker Field


Satchel Paige as a Cleveland Indian

With another baseball season soon to get underway, and the Richmond Braves a fading memory, I can’t help but think of what was a temple of baseball in my youth — Parker Field, which was located where The Diamond is now.

Parker Field opened in 1954 to serve as home for a new International League club — the Richmond Virginians. As the V’s were one of the New York Yankees’ Triple A farm clubs, in those days the Bronx Bombers paid Richmond an annual visit in April. Just before Major League Baseball’s opening day, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and the other great Yankees of that era played an exhibition game in Richmond against V’s.

It was always a standing-room-only affair.

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

One of my all-time favorite players I saw pitch at Parker Field was Leroy “Satchel” Paige (1906-82). Yes, the legendary Paige, with his windmill windup, high kick and remarkably smooth release still working for him, plied his craft on the mound here in Richmond to the delight, and other reactions, of local baseball fans.

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

Furthermore, long before the impish poet/boxer Muhammad Ali, there was the equally playful Satchel Paige, with his widely published Six Guidelines to Success:

  • Avoid fried meats that angry up the blood.
  • If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
  • Keep the juices flowing by jangling gently as you walk.
  • Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying-on in society - the society ramble ain’t restful.
  • Avoid running at all times.
  • Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.

Long after his days as the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues, following his precedent-setting stint in the American League, Paige was on the roster of the Miami Marlins (1956-58). Like the V’s the Marlins played in the International League. When I saw him, Paige was in his 50s. Not a starter, anymore, he worked out of the bullpen.

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

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

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

Paige as a Miami Marlin

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

So, Paige good-naturedly played to the cheers, as time had taught him to do.

Of course, I hadn’t the slightest idea that what I was seeing was an aspect of the changes the South was going through, to do with race. My guess is few knew the reaction to Paige being split on generational lines then was a sign of how America’s baseball fans were going to change. One day Jim Crow attitudes would have no place at baseball temples.

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

– Images from satchelpage.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stadium referendum proposed

Where should a new Richmond minor league baseball team play its home games?

Well, there might be any number of good places, but the argument among locals seems to have cooked down to two locations -- on the Boulevard, near where The Diamond is now, or in Shockoe Bottom.

Presentations have been made. It seems a new Double A team is on its way here next season. But the argument over where to play ball is far from settled. Studies have been made, but they don't agree, either.

Nobody seems much interested in where the R-Braves regular fans would like to see the new stadium built, which seems to me to be an oversight. But since public money will surely be involved in some way, no matter where the stadium ends up, maybe the most important people in this situation have been overlooked, all along.

Why not ask the voters?

Are the backers for Baseball in The Bottom ready for a referendum? Plainly, I am for keeping baseball on the Boulevard, and I think a referendum's results would overwhelmingly support my position.

If the question is put on the ballot in November, as a non-binding expression of the voters' sentiment, I think Richmond's voters would come out against the Shockoe Bottom development for several good reasons.

What's wrong with asking the voters?


Update: It seems this post's proposal has kicked up some dust. A more thorough explanation of my referendum proposal is here, at the Fan District Hub.

Ask Dick Cheney

After defeating European fascist regimes and the Japanese empire in World War Two, feeling the undertow of the Cold War, left-right labels made sense. There were two distinctly different schools of thought in the 1960s, when it came to how to fend off the threat communist empires posed to the so-called “free world” -- America and its allies, rooted in Western-style corporate capitalism.

One side saw threats in our midst, they sought to muzzle expression. The other side saw freedom of expression as America's strong suit. One side saw Social Security as creeping toward the nanny-state thinking of communists. The other side saw it as marching away from the Great Depression's lessons toward a brighter day for society.

In their conservative heart of hearts, Republicans who liked Barry Goldwater stood for the individual’s rights to do with dignity. Yet, they were comfortable with hobbling programs to help the underclass improve its lot. They tended to support states rights. They embraced military solutions more readily than liberals. These conservatives could co-exist with the pro-big business wing of the Grand Old Party.

In that same time lefties were pro-labor, as they had been for decades. The liberals in the Kennedy mold were also seen as being for civil rights. As the ‘60s wore on, they turned against the war in Vietnam, earlier and more so than right-wingers in either party. In embracing the plight of the working class, those liberals could stay in the same political party with Southern Democrats who were segregationists.

Forty years ago liberals appeared to be more in tune with the trends of popular culture, conservatives stood square and they distrusted anything that seemed to challenge the establishment.

Well, all that was a long time ago. The Cold War’s need to classify everything as friend or foe, Spy vs. Spy, is 20-years in its grave. And, in truth, the left-to-right political spectrum was always an over-simplification. Moreover, once the Berlin wall came down, thinking in such absolutes simply lost its mooring.

For instance, a 1991 radio news story described a political dustup in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard -- the stubborn communists, who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.

No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.

The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” Yet, when considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political -- capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left -- the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.

In the 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative.” Once the hanging chads fell and Bush won, his unprecedented accumulation of debt and his steering of the nation’s economy were hardly conservative. Not in any traditional sense of the word. Nor was Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy the least bit prudent.

So, in retrospect, it turned out “compassionate conservative” was simply Bush-speak (or perhaps Rove-speak) for what used to be called “double-talk.” Its oxymoronic taint lingers to the Republican Party’s disadvantage.

The aftermath of its poor showing in the last election has Team Elephant members searching their memories and imaginations for what their party stands for today. Consequently, some disgruntled Republicans are somewhat at odds with others within their party, as new directions are being considered.

In the meantime, the vacuum of the moment has sucked the most willing and visible windbag, Rush Limbaugh, into the limelight.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Limbaugh is more than willing to serve as the voice for the post-Bush Republican Party as long as anyone will let him. In doing so, Limbaugh will also be happy to frame today’s problems in yesterday’s context, because in such a pretend world his stale opinion still matters.

As President Barack Obama moves to deal with the myriad of crises he faces, at home and abroad, the new enlarged version of Limbaugh likes to cast Obama as a 1960s-style “redistribute-the-wealth/soft-on-defense pinko.”

Why not?

It’s bound to be bloating Rush’s ratings for him to mentioned at the top of the news every day. His angry white man radio persona thrives on it. Solving problems isn’t Rush’s schtick ... ruffling feathers with jokes is.

The political issues of 2009 divide groups along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences in opinion that split generations, classes, regions, lifestyles and you-name-it. The voters don’t need more labeling/name-calling. Instead of finger-pointing propaganda, they want action on today’s problems.

Yes, in uncertain times, perpetuating Cold War labels may still get you a laugh, in some circles. But the change that is sweeping over post-Bush America means those labels don’t cover anybody’s backside, anymore.

Some backsides are just way too fat to cover, anyhow. Just ask Dick Cheney.

-- 30 --

Monday, March 23, 2009

Swordfish of '76

On the first Saturday of May, every year since 1980, a softball reunion is held. Anyone who ever played on one of the Biograph softball teams from any year has been welcome, plus their families, friends, etc.

Chiefly, the annual get-togethers were set in motion by the initiative of the original Biograph team’s third baseman, Ernie Brooks, who had left Richmond to resume graduate studies at Virginia Tech in 1979.

By 1980 the Biograph softball team was called the Naturals. Out of deference to the artist, we did obtain permission from R. Crumb to use Mr. Natural as our team mascot.

Brooks corralled enough former players to challenge what was then the current Biograph team. At this time the Biograph’s softball franchise was one of the cars, maybe the clown car, attached to the runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League.

Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was staged on the afternoon in which the Kentucky Derby would be run. The game was played at Thomas Jefferson HS. Afterward most of us went to the Track Restaurant to join a Derby-watching party already underway.

It’s been Derby Day ever since. The game has moved around to various locations over the years. Several of the guys at the most recent gathering were teammates of mine in 1976, which was the the first summer of organized softball at the Biograph. We called our team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie.

That year the Swordfish played a schedule that was not set in advance. Instead, our practice was to challenge established teams to play us for a keg of beer. With a keg of beer on hand for fans and players to drain, those outings were parties, every bit as much as they were athletic contests.

The lucky Swordfish won 15 games of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster made up of employees, old friends and a few film buffs -- including two French guys who'd never seen a baseball game -- we probably won half of those keg games by coming from behind in late innings.

Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced/athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory. That first year, it was uncanny how often those supposedly better teams seemed forever willing to overplay their hands.

Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that virgin Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. In any sport, it was the loosest team with which I’ve ever been associated.

Both of the Swordfish’s losses came in extreme situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. Yes, we won the other one.

The second was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary. Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s).

As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J.W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. During a conversation there he asked me if the Biograph team — I played outfield and served as the coach — would consider taking on the prison’s softball team on a Saturday afternoon. Chuck Wrenn had already told the guy the Rayle team would do it, so I went along with it.

As it turned out the first date he set up was canceled, due to something about a small riot.


A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. We had been told to bring nothing in our pockets.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.


The umpire for the games — Rayle played the prison team first, then the Biograph -- was Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson, a rather high-profile Fan District character, at the time, who played on yet another team. Among other things, Johnson did some professional wrestling, so he was good as hamming up the umpire's role.

The fence in leftfield was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 230 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards, hundreds of other prisoners seated in stands cheered for the home team. Actually, they cheered good plays in the field and collisions on the base paths more than anything else.

During a conversation with a couple of my friends behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach immediately stepped toward me. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era — it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.

Most of us wore cut-off blue jeans and one of the two models of silkscreened Biograph T-shirts that were on sale for three busks at the theater.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, somewhat sternly, as he pointed to a tortured-graphics mural on the prison wall that said, “Home of the Raiders.” It looked a little like a jailhouse tattoo, blown up large.

OK ... it was obvious I’d made a not-in-my-house sort of faux pas.

“While we are on the field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with, ahem, conviction. “We’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“And, all our games ... are home games,” he deadpanned.

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. He patted me on the back and thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.

In a tight, high-scoring affair the Raiders prevailed. Johnson knew how to play to the crowd with his calls, too. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders.

Now, I remember I was glad to leave, too. Located smack dab in the middle of Richmond that prison was a nightmare in so many ways.

Nobody is sorry it's gone. The next summer, we were invited back for a rematch with the Raiders. The team went in. But I found an excuse not to go. One dose of that place was enough for me.

In terms of winning and losing, the Biograph teams that played on in the Fan District Softball League, until it folded in 1994, never found anything close to the success that first team knew. Still, I'll wager most of the guys from the 1976 team remember more details about their meeting with the Raiders than any of the games we won.

-- 30 --

-- Photo by Phil Trumbo

Monday, March 16, 2009

Last VA Top Five for this season

Each Monday since the new year began, SLANTblog has offered its new Virginia Top Five. This feature has ranked what seemed at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I men's programs in the Commonwealth. With the Big Dance beginning this week this is the final Top Five for this season.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. VCU (24-9, No. 50 RPI)
2. Va. Tech (18-14, No. 60 RPI)
3. Mason (22-10, No. 51 RPI)
4. Radford (21-11, No. 131 RPI)
5. ODU (21-10, No. 103 RPI)

VCU (vs. UCLA) and Radford (vs. North Carolina) qualified for the NCAA tournament. Tech (vs. Duquesne) and Mason (vs. Penn St.) are going to the NIT. ODU (vs. The Citadel) is in the CBI. Three other state schools got invitations to the CBI -- Richmond, JMU and Liberty.

-- RPI numbers from RealTime RPI, as of noon on Monday

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

VCU swells up

Last night VCU played a game (carried by ESPN2) that will open eyes all over the country, at least the parts of the USA that take an interest in March Madness. Just in time for the NCAA's annual hoops orgy, the Rams served notice on bracketologists coast-to-coast -- from here on, bet against VCU at your own peril.
Eric Maynor checks Cam Long in first-half action at the Coliseum. Maynor had no trouble guarding a bigger man, the player many observers would say is the most physically talented of the Patriots.

In winning the CAA tournament, to validate their ticket to the Big Dance, the Rams beat the Patriots of George Mason in every aspect of the game, on every inch of the Richmond Coliseum's basketball court: VCU 71, Mason 50.

No, this wasn't coach John Larranaga's best Patriots squad of recent years. But Larranaga's teams have always played hard and smart, especially in postseason games. On Monday in front of a sell-out (11,200) crowd that hardly mattered -- Mason was simply in over its head.

VCU's all-everything point guard, Eric Maynor scored 25 points and dished for eight assists. His teammate, sophomore center/forward Larry Sanders was good for 18 points, 20 rebounds -- 20 ! -- and seven blocked shots. It's been a few years since NBA scouts were looking at two Rams with the chops to maybe play at the ultimate level of pro basketball.

Any coach who watches the tape of this game will shudder at the thought of facing coach Anthony Grant's Rams, as they looked in crushing Larranaga's Patriots. With a 24-9 record, Grant has VCU peaking and gaining confidence as the high-stepping Rams look forward to the Ides of March, to learn who their opponent will be.
After the game on the floor Maynor mulls over a reporter's question.

Although Maynor is the only senior on Grant's roster, this young Rams team should be fearless from here on. They can run with anybody. Resulting from its tournament play, RealTime RPI has VCU at No. 50 in the RPI and No. 47 on its Power Ratings page (whatever that is).

For more coverage of the CAA tournament click here to visit the Fan District Hub.

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monday, March 09, 2009

Blaine Taylor's mustache!

RICHMOND COLISEUM: After Old Dominion lost its semi-final game to VCU it was business as usual in the CAA's media room. First winning coach Anthony Grant, accompanied by two of his VCU players -- Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders -- spoke to the assembled press.

Generally, coaches make opening statements, then reporters ask questions of the coach and players.

Losing coach, Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor with his best player, forward/center Gerald Lee at his side, followed. Lee had limped to the platform like his ankle was killing him.

Then, business as usual went on -- Taylor's opening statement was an ungracious whine-fest. This time, instead of pointing an accusing finger at the VCU pep band, or the seating arrangement in the hall, or the state of the economy, he complained about officiating. Taylor wished the refs would try to stop favoring guards over big men.

Taylor later revealed that as he had entered the Coliseum, he had endured outrageous taunting. Threats on his trademark mustache had been made by masked yellow and black costumed "thugs wearing horned headdresses that looked like yaks, or maybe goats."

Veteran reporters began filing out of the room. Taylor huffed and puffed out his jowls to postseason proportions. "It's that sicko, the one who was mocking me at the Siegel Center. It's that beefy Pav, ah, Plav-ar-ootti [sic] guy, again. I know he's behind it."

As he batted away a basketball-related question, Taylor shouted, "VCU fans should be investigated!"


Note: It's Mason and VCU in the final game at 7 p.m. Monday (ESPN2). For non-satirical coverage of the CAA's championship tournament at the Fan District Hub click here.

Mar 9: VA Top Five

Every Monday until the Big Dance begins, SLANTblog offers its new Virginia Top Five. This feature ranks what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I men's programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. VCU (23-9, No. 56 RPI)
2. Mason (22-9, No. 46 RPI)
3. Va. Tech (17-13, No. 62 RPI)
4. ODU (21-10, No. 107 RPI)
5. JMU (19-14, No. 135 RPI)

-- RPI numbers from RealTime RPI, as of 1:00 p.m. Monday

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Doubting the Inconvenient Hunch

When one divines the presence of a specific person in connection with some unexplained occurrence, without further evidence, what real trust should one put in such raw instinct?

How much of a hunch is a flash of extraordinary perception? How much is imagination?

In a high contrast crisis, doubting a strong hunch could get somebody killed. But in everyday life’s ambiguous gray scale of propriety, how much can anyone afford to put at risk strictly on intuition? Hey, if you shoot a guy based on your gut feeling that he was about to kill someone else, with no corroborative evidence, you’re going to need a good lawyer.The torturous story of why I left my longtime job as manager of the Biograph Theatre began with a ringing telephone on an Indian Summer late-afternoon in 1981 that I remember all too well. I put the Sunday newspaper aside to pick up the receiver and said, “Hello.”

There was no reply. At that moment there was no reason to think it was more than a wrong number or a malfunction on the line. Yet, after listening to a creepy silence for half a minute and repeating “hello” a few times, I sensed I knew the person at the other end of the line.

As I hung up that mysterious feeling was replaced by a flicker of a thought that named a specific person. Then the notion faded into a queasy sensation that made me go outside for some fresh air. For an instant I thought I knew something there was no plain way for me to know. Moreover, I didn’t want to know it.

My grandmother had told me a thousand times to never go against a hunch. Had I have discussed it with her she would have said a clear message from what she would have called my “inner voice” should always trump all else.

Instead of seeking her counsel I asked only myself: “Why would that person call me, to hang on the line and say nothing?” It made no sense. So, I tried to study the hunch, to examine its basis.

As I walked toward the closest bar, the Village, I was already caught in an undertow that would eventually carry my spirit far away from everything that had mattered to me.

Now I know that my crazy mother’s unusually gifted mother understood something I was yet to learn -- a hunch is a bolt from the blue that cannot be gathered and investigated. It can’t be revisited like a conclusion. A true hunch can only felt once.

Yet, for a number of reasons it was easier for me to view my inconvenient hunch as counterfeit. A few weeks later, by the time the calls had become routine, the whole concept of believing in hunches was on its way to the same place as beliefs in the Tooth Fairy and Heaven. A grown man, a man of reason, needed to rise above all such superstitions.

The caller never spoke. Usually, I hung up right away. Sometimes I’d listen as hard as I could for a while, trying to hear a telltale sound. The reader should note that telephone answering machines, while available then, were not yet cheap. Most people did not have one at this time.


After a haphazard year-and-a-half of one-night stands and such, following the break-up of my ten-year marriage, at this same time I had a new girlfriend. Tana was funny, long-legged, sarcastic, and she could be very distracting. She was a fine art major who waitressed part-time at one of the strip’s busiest saloons, the Jade Elephant. My apartment was just two blocks from there and she stayed over at my place about half the time, so she knew about the calls.

Tana was the only person who knew anything about it for a long time. She was sworn to secrecy. Mostly, I just let Tana distract me.

Quite sensibly, she urged me to contact the authorities, or at least to get an unlisted phone number. Offering no real explanation, I wasn’t comfortable with either option. Playing my cards close to the vest, I simply acted as if it didn’t really bother me. At this point she didn’t know about the hunch. We spent a lot of time riding our bicycles and playing Frisbee-golf.

As I rummage through my memory of this time period now the images are smeared and spooky. I stayed high more than I ever had before. I know I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

A few months later my nose was broken in a basketball game, and by pure coincidence I saw my grandmother on a stretcher at the hospital while I was there. Feeling weak, she had checked herself in. Nana died before dawn: March 5, 1982.

Later that morning, when I went to her apartment to see after her affairs, she had already packed everything up. She left notes on pieces of cardboard taped to furniture about her important papers and what to do with everything. A few days later my daughter and I sprinkled Nana's ashes into a creek in Orange County; it was a place she had played when she was a little girl.

Unmercifully, the stalking telephone calls became more frequent. Wherever I went, home, office, or someone else’s place, the phone would ring. Then there would be that same diabolical silence, no matter who answered.

Anxiety had become my familiar companion, although I didn’t know then to call it by that name. While I surely needed to do something decisive about the telephone problem, the energy just couldn’t be mustered. I just kept kicking that canker down the road with heavier doses of what it took.

If someone had told me I was sinking deeper and deeper into a major depression, well, I would have laughed it off -- I was too cocky to be depressed. In my view, then, depression was an affliction of people who were bored. It never occurred to me that pure confidence was leaking out of my psyche, spilling away forever.

Unfortunately, my narrow view of the problem centered around the mystery of who and why.

Part of the persona I had created and projected in my life as the Biograph’s manager was that everything came easily to me. I liked to hide any hard work or struggle from the public, even the staff at times. While I might have wrestled with the artwork for a Midnight Show handbill for days, I would act as if it had been dashed off in an hour.

Looking back on it now, I’d say that pose was part of a cool image I wanted to project for the theater, itself, too.

Living inside such a pretend world -- within a pretend world -- rather than seeing the debilitating effect the telephone monster was having on me, I saw only clues. My strategy was to outlast the caller, to close in like a hard-boiled movie sleuth without ever letting anyone know it was getting to me. I was sure he’d make a mistake and give himself away.

Since the calls started around the time I began seeing Tana, it seemed plausible it could have to do with her. Maybe an old boyfriend? Also, there was my own ex -- maybe one of her new squeezes? Maybe my rather eccentric brother (who died in 2005)? Beyond those obvious possibilities, I poured over the smallest details of each and every personal relationship.

As a theater manager, my movie detective training told me it had to be someone with a powerful grudge, so I created a list of prime suspects.

Misunderstandings with disgruntled former employees were combed through, rivals from various battles I’d fought over the years were considered. And, there were people I had hurt, out of just being careless. It became my habit to question the motives of those around me at every turn. In sly ways, they were all tested.

As I examined my history, searching through any details that could have set a grudge in motion, a new picture of Terry Rea began to emerge. I found reasons for guilt that had never occurred to me before. When I looked in the mirror, I began to see a different man, a self-centered phony.

It was as if I had discovered a secret, grotesque portrait of what was left of my soul, hanging in the attic, like Oscar Wilde’s character -- Dorian Gray.

Then my old yellow Volvo wagon was rifled. A few personal things were taken but they didn’t touch the stereo. When my office at the theater was burglarized, my glasses and a photograph of me were stolen. Of course, I saw those crimes as connected to the phone calls.

Tired of the ordeal and frustrated with me, Tana had been imploring me to have the calls traced. In late September, I finally agreed to do it. A woman who worked for the telephone company told me I had to keep a precise record of the times of all the calls, and I had to agree to prosecute the guilty party if he was discovered. Although it had been nearly a year, I was still holding the mystery close to me and hadn’t mentioned it to anyone at the theater.

As the telephone company’s pin register gadgetry soon revealed, there was good reason for that.

One way or another, I managed to get information out of the telephone company lady without actually getting onboard with the police part of it. The bottom line was this -- there were two numbers on the list of traced calls that coincided with nearly all the calls on my record. One was a pay phone in Goochland County, the other was the Biograph’s number.

Several of those calls were placed from the theater, well after it had closed. After looking at the record of the work schedule from the previous weeks, one employee had worked the late shift on each night a call came from the building after hours. Not coincidentally, this same man was the only person who lived in Goochland, twenty miles away.

Most importantly, it was the same man revealed by my original hunch -- he was the projectionist at the Biograph. Now I refer to the culprit only as the “jellypig.”

Why jellypig?

Let’s just say he had a porcine, yet gelatinous way about him. I prefer to avoid using his real name because it suits me. People who are familiar with the cast of characters in this tangled story still know his name. That’s enough for me.

Although all the circumstantial evidence pointed at only one man, the thought of wrongfully accusing a person of such a terrible thing was, nonetheless, unbearable to me. Unfortunately, the lockdown pure confidence I needed in my conclusion was no longer in me. So, I continued to stew in my juices.

In November, I decided to a move, to flee my Grace Street apartment for a new pad further downtown, on Franklin Street. At a staff meeting, I revealed aspects of the stalking I had been enduring. I explained that for a while, I would not get a new home telephone. They were also told I had proof of who was actually behind the calls, but I said nothing about any of the calls having been made from the theater. Most importantly, I left them to guess at the villain’s identity.


Truth is, I don’t remember. Perhaps I was hoping to scare the jellypig and make him slink away.


Although the calls at my home ceased to be a problem, a week or so later a weird note was left in my car. Why that became the last straw I don’t know ... but it was.

The following afternoon, when no one else was in the building, I called the jellypig into my office. Sitting at my desk, I looked him in the eye and calmly lowered the boom. It was like living in a black and white B movie. None of it seemed real.

He looked scared and denied it flat. So, I told him about the traced phone calls. That news deflated him; he collapsed into himself. The bulbous jellypig stared blankly at the floor. Then he insisted that someone ... somebody had to be framing him.

I was flabbergasted!

It hadn’t even occurred to me that he would simply lie in the face of such a strong case. To get him out of my sight I told him he had one day to come up with a better story, or the owners of the theater would be told and he’d turned over to the cops. I can’t remember what I said would happen if he came clean. Most likely, I was still hoping he’d just go away.

Maybe I didn’t have a plan.

The problem with just firing the jellypig right on the spot was that replacing him wouldn’t be so easy. Since late-1980, the Biograph had been operating as a non-union house. Because of an ongoing dispute with the local operators union, I was hiring our projectionists directly off the street.

As it happened, our original projectionist developed a problem with the local union over some internal politics. Later, his rivals took over. They fought. He got steamed and walked out. Which prompted the union to tell me to bar him from the booth. Although I was uncomfortable going against the union, politically, I felt standing by the individual I had worked with for eight years was the right thing to do.

The union’s reaction was to pull its men off the job. This eventually led to me hiring the man who became the jellypig to be a back-up projectionist. For reasons I can’t recall, he was then at odds with the union, too, so he was willing to work at the Biograph in spite of the official boycott.

Subsequently, our full-time projectionist -- whose squabble had created the problem -- left to take a job with another theater that had also broken with the union. Which made it look like the whole town might follow our example and go non-union. Naturally, that put me in an even worse light with the union brass, who blamed me personally.

The jellypig seemed qualified to run the booth, so the easiest thing to do was promote him to full-time when the opening came about. Although I ’d never really checked up on him, like I usually did when I hired people, I put him in charge of the two projection booths.

So, if I fired the jellypig -- summarily and on the spot -- the Biograph didn’t have as many options as it should have, owing to the fact there was a very limited pool of qualified projectionists readily available to a non-union house. We had trained an usher to be backup, but he wasn’t ready to run the whole operation.

It seemed I had little choice but to get in touch with the union for a replacement. Since the theater was in a slump, it was a bad time for operating expenses to go up, and I expected the union bosses would go for some payback with a new contract.

The jellypig rushed into my office the next day with the big news -- he had solved the mystery! In a manic flurry, he claimed the person responsible for the calls was an old nemesis of his, an evil genius who was an electronics expert who could fool the phone company’s machinery. It seemed this comic book villain had a long history of playing terrible dirty tricks on the jellypig, going back to their tortured childhood at the orphanage in Pittsburgh.

Oh brother!

Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the jellypig told me the guilty one was doing it all for two reasons: One was simply to heap trouble onto the house of the jellypig, who had a wife and kids, to support. The other was to hurt your narrator, directly ... since the evil genius knew all.

At this point the jellypig coughed up the news he had long been harboring a powerful carnal lust for me. Caught up in his performance, the jellypig began to sob, admitting it was all his fault. That was because he had foolishly shared the vital particulars of his secret craving with the evil one, himself.

OK. I know it makes no sense now, but as I listened to jellypig, along with profound disgust I began to feel something akin to pity. The jellypig assured me that he would do whatever it took to stop the evil genius from bothering me ever again. He begged me, literally on his knees, not to tell his wife or the theater’s owners about any of it.

My mind was reeling and my stomach had turned. As I told him to leave the office and let me think, I should have wondered which one of us was the craziest.


Not surprisingly, the tailspin the Biograph had gone into had become wilder. The theater was loosing money like it hadn’t in several years. As the winter came and went, my spirits sank steadily. It was like being paralyzed so slowly it was almost imperceptible.

During the spring, the two managing partners frequently brought up the subject of selling the Richmond Biograph, which scared me to no end.

In the meantime, the owners told me expenses had to be slashed drastically, meaning I had to let some people go. Who and how many was up to me, but salaries had to come in under a certain figure. I was given a few days to come up with a new plan that had to eliminate at least one of the two guys who had been there the longest.

Shortly thereafter, I was at my desk talking on the phone to a close friend about how I was putting out feelers for another job, because the Biograph was for sale. Without thinking, I gave him my brand new, unlisted home phone number, which had been put in Tana’s name. When I hung up, it struck me the damned jellypig might have heard me, if his ear had been up to the common drywall between the booth and my office.

My home telephone rang several times that night. That very night!

It was pure hell. I didn’t want to fire my friends to cut costs. If I bowed out of the picture it would eliminate the biggest salary burden the theater had. By this time, I had developed a couple of mysterious health problems. I literally lost my voice. Plus, the Biograph’s ability to negotiate with the local union would be less encumbered without me around.

Good reasons for me to run away from 814 West Grace Street seemed everywhere I looked. Which means it was a combination of reasons that overwhelmed me.

With no plan of where I would end up, I suddenly decided to walk away from what I had once seen as the best job in the Fan District. I called the owners to tell them of my decision to leave; they also heard about the jellypig business for the first time.

The boys in DeeCee were shocked and urged me to reconsider, to take a month off. They had hired me to manage the theater before it opened in 1972. We’d been through a lot together. However, I’m sure they were actually quite torn with what to do with their floundering friend.

Clearly, at that time I was not the resourceful problem solver I had been for so many years. Beyond that, we could all see fashion was turning sharply against what had been a darling of the ‘70s popular culture -- repertory cinemas.

The future for the Biograph looked dicey no matter what I did. The owners agreed with me that the jellypig had to go, as soon as possible. I mentioned I had gotten him to promise to get psychiatric help in exchange for me not calling the police.

Without much of an explanation to anyone else, I suddenly announced to whoever cared that I was moving on and looking forward to a life of new adventures. Movie critic Carole Kass wrote a small article for the Richmond Times-Dispatch noting that I had “retired.”

Over lunch at Stella’s on Harrison St., soon after my barely explained departure from the Biograph, I told a former Biograph co-worker that maybe I had it all coming to me. Maybe the jellypig had just been an agent of karma. I speculated that perhaps my hubris and nonchalance had all but invited ruin.

She got so angry she walked out of the restaurant. At the time I couldn’t grasp her reaction.

What I couldn’t explain to anyone, because I didn’t understand it myself, was that I just had no confidence. I didn’t know what to do next at any given moment. My gift of gab, such as it had been, was kaput. I stammered. In the middle of a sentence, I would lose my place, questioning how to end it.

As the summer wore on it turned out the jellypig wasn’t quickly replaced in the Biograph’s booth, which galled me to no end. Apparently the owners were struggling with the union over a new contract.

That’s when I came up with the name “jellypig.” A few weeks after dropping my job like a hot potato I went by the theater to leave off a little drawing for him on the staff message board. It featured a cartoon character I created for the occasion -- the jellypig.

The character was a simple line drawing of a pig-like creature. He was depicted in a scene under a water line, chained to an anchor. He had little x’s for eyes. There were small bubbles coming from his head and drifting toward the water’s surface. The jellypig was almost smiling, he seemed unconcerned with his fate.

The caption read something like, “the jellypig takes a swim,” or “the jellypig’s day at the beach.” That began a short series of similar cartoons, all left off at the Biograph. The others portrayed a suffering jellypig in that same droll tone. I did it to get into his head -- let him be scared, for a change.

Although I was no longer in charge of the theater, it was habit for me to have a say in it’s affairs. Which made for some awkward moments, because the cartoons weren’t funny to anybody but me. It put the new manager, Mike, who had been my assistant manager for five years, in an awkward position.


For about a year I had been deejaying a Thursday afternoon show on a semi-underground radio station called Color Radio. From the studio I spoke on the phone with the jellypig, while he was at work. I don’t recall what precipitated the conversation. He told me he had blown off the notion of professional counseling. I warned him that he was breaking his bargain. He went on to say that he didn’t need any help, but that maybe I did.

The jellypig told me he resented the way I had treated him for a long time, deliberately excluding him from much of the social scene at the theater. He complained bitterly, saying I had always stood in the way of his advancement, but in spite of the way I had tried to poison the owners’ minds against him ... eventually, he would convince them to let him manage the Biograph to save money.

For the first time it hit me -- the jellypig’s entire effort had been a “Gaslight” treatment. All that time I’d been playing Ingrid Bergman to his Charles Boyer.

The anger from what I had allowed to happen welled up in that moment. I told the jellypig that after my radio shift ended, I was coming directly to the theater. If he was still there, I’d break both of his legs with a softball bat. I had a bag of them in the back of my Volvo.

When I got to the theater an hour or so later the jellypig had called in a replacement and vamoosed. I’ll never know what would have happened had he been there; maybe I would have only broken one jelly-leg. He worked a couple more shifts in the booth after that day. Taking no chances, he brought in his children to be there with him, as human shields.

Then, wisely, the jellypig split ... for good.

It took my spontaneous run for a seat on City Council in the spring of 1984 to break that unprecedented spell of melancholia. Although I lost, it stretched me and got me scheming again, which in a round about way led to my publishing ventures since.

Today, a ringing telephone still can still pull me back into that awful time. Blowing off my hunch on that first call bought me more trouble than any other single mistake I’ve ever made.

All these years later, I wonder if I heard something in that first call, maybe so faint a sound I didn’t know I heard it, that gave me a clue. Almost like subliminal suggestion. Perhaps it was the churning sound of the projection equipment. Although I don’t remember hearing it, it’s the best explanation, short of parapsychology, that makes any sense. It could be that after the first call, which was probably a spontaneous act, the jellypig and his evil genius sidekick made it their mode to be careful about masking over any background sounds.

My grandmother’s advice to trust six sense hunches now seems like good medicine. Put another way, it simply meant -- trust your own judgment. Believe in yourself.

The Biograph continued to struggle until it went dark in 1987. Art houses not unlike it had already closed all over the country.

-- 30 --

--Words and art by F.T. Rea

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mar. 2: VA Top Five

Every Monday during the college basketball regular season, SLANTblog offers its new Virginia Top Five. This feature ranks what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I men's programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Va. Tech (17-11, 7-7 in ACC, No. 59 RPI)
2. Mason (20-9, 13-5 in CAA, No. 56 RPI)
3. VCU (21-9, 14-4 in CAA, No. 65 RPI)
4. ODU (20-9, 12-6 in CAA, No. 105 RPI)
5. VMI (18-7, 13-5 in CAA, No. 133 RPI)

-- RPI numbers from RealTime RPI, as of 8:00 p.m. Monday

Recollections in high contrast

March 2, 2009
Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow changes the world around us into resembling high contrast black and white photographs, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. In Richmond, it's a look we don't see every year.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

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

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not have known it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; Rebby had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him, just as my throw hit him square in the forehead ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper quickly retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf there quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew me and others to what was called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the sloped park down to Main Street below. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison MacDonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track slick as glass.

Eventually, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding. Accordingly, we stood around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Chuck Wrenn, who still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death, and I talked on the telephone today about that night. We laughed again because both of us had it on our minds before our conversation. We recalled the sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a shaggy dog down the chute. Duck had us laughing so hard, it's still funny today.

Of course, you had to be there.

Chuck told me that Dennison's oldest son, Staples, was out in the park today. The two of them talked about Staples' father and the inner tube races, etc. The much-missed Dennison was a high-contrast, larger than life figure in his time. He was a big guy with enough enthusiasm for ten men. He could be like a shot of Bushmills on a cold night.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cold War Waltz: It's Over

During a discussion with a longtime political writer some time ago, he made a crack about a veteran politician, a man who was then in some hot water. “He believes in words, not ideas,” said the scribe.

It was a bulls-eye.

The politician we were talking about was a man whose only real cause all along had been the gaining and wielding of power. The persuasive words this man used to strike various poses during his long career were frequently borrowed from sincere causes. Opportunists like him have never been in short supply, whether one stays in the mainstream or strays toward the outer fringes of two-party politics.

If such operators prove popular enough to get elected and turn out to be good managers, if they can make the gears of government work to serve the commonweal, most folks will settle for that. Competency will go a long way toward glossing over insincerity.

However, when an elected executive proves to have been a prevaricator who cashed in on the gullibility of trusting voters, AND a terrible manager of the store who leaves the shelves and cash register empty, well, that’s a recipe for revolt.

President George W. Bush was just such a chief executive.

With each day that dawns more revolting evidence of the Bush administration’s malfeasance and neglect appears. Just how terrible his administration's response was in dealing with the three great tests it faced -- 9/11, Katrina and the Economic Meltdown -- is hard to put into a few words, so I won't try.

If times get worse "revolt" may start sounding like the scary word it has been in other times in history. Hopefully, the economy will turn around before it comes to that.

Still, there are particular people who are happy with how the federal government responded in those three crises. They own the companies that profited from war-related and disaster-related federal contracts, they are the bailed out banking executives, et al, who just cut themselves more bonus checks.

The rest of us are in the process of sucking up the price of twisted policies that made a few wealthy people much wealthier at the expense of making the whole world, gone-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket, a more dangerous place.

Now some of the sorest losers who voted for George W. Bush both times, then held their noses and voted for John McCain, are hoping President Barack Obama will fail. While they still defend Bush's utterly bankrupt policies with warmed-over talking points, they mock Obama’s calming words about hope.

People who danced the Cold War Waltz while Emperor Bush fiddled, pissing away the precious resources he inherited from his predecessors in the White House, are trying to call the tune today. There's gall for you.

The bluster wing of the Republican Party wants us to keep arguing over whether creationism ought to be taught in public schools, as if it could be an alternate science. It wants us to worry about creeping European socialism, instead of working to lower the costs of heath care. It wants...

Well, to quote Roy Orbison, “It’s Over.” People with no jobs who are about to be evicted don't want to hear an encore of the Cold War Waltz. Nor does a family watching the expenses associated with the slow death of one of its members eat up all it has in the way of financial resources.

The word the obstructionists of the GOP need to remember the meaning of is “credibility.”

Like, when you have no credibility, maybe you can still fool about 25 percent of the fools ... all the time. But you can’t win many elections that way. Not any more.

Bottom line: It's way over.

Momentum for more study of slave market in Shockoe Bottom

Writing at Bacon’s Rebellion Peter Galuszka weighs in on the slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom concept that seems to be gaining traction.
[Micheal Paul] Williams says that instead of a major, $330 million ballpark and assorted retail, office and condos in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom, Doug Wilder's failed National Slavery Museum should be built there.

That makes sense. The area was the second largest slave market int he U.S. next to New Orleans. Thousands of black Africans were shipped in in chains and then auctioned off to plantations in spots farther South such as Alabama and Mississippi. Families were broken. Marriages dissolved as overseers stood by with guns and whips.

This sorry chapter in Virginia's and Richmond's history needs to be remembered and commemorated every bit as much as Confederate history is on Monument Avenue, at the museum near VCU's Medical Center and by the stars and bars hanging next to the Virginia Museum of Art.
And, since Galuszka went on to say he thinks baseball seems to still make more sense on The Boulevard than it does in The Bottom, his reasoning drew comments from the busiest voice of the Shockoe Bottom Secret Baseball Society.

It has been the habit of the anonymous SBSBS membership to jump into the comments sections at blogs and online magazines, etc., to attack anyone who says professional baseball should stay in the area The Diamond is now, and to spread disinformation that puts the neighborhood surrounding it in a bad light. And, the SBSBS routinely heaps all manner of praise on the plan to build a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

How many members are in the cloaked SBSBS? Good question, but one can only guess. Click here for more about this topic.

Anyway, it seems the revelations from the Lumpkin’s slave jail dig and other recently discovered photographic evidence of the locations of other such jails is sparking new interest in building a museum to tell the story of what really happened in the business of buying and selling human beings in Richmond, Virginia, before the fall of the Confederacy.

Click here to read "Why Shockoe's a Good Spot for a Slavery Museum," at Bacon's Rebellion.