Saturday, August 29, 2009

Atonement and dignity

Watching the televised funeral mass for Sen. Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy (Feb. 22, 1932 – Aug. 25, 2009) it struck me once again what a good looking family the Kennedy clan has always been and remains.

Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, with each Kennedy death that followed, we’ve seen the family marshal its strength and gather its dignity for an ordeal millions of us watched on television.

Each time we’ve been drawn deeply into the moment’s intensity to share the grief of the Kennedys. We’ve witnessed the endurance of their spirit to carry on. Each time the youngest of his generation was there to lead the way for his family -- especially, all the nieces and nephews.

“The baby of the family who became the patriarch,” said President Barack Obama.

Forty years ago (July 18, 1969), Teddy Kennedy’s car plunged off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island into a tidal pond. Although he swam away, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

What happened in the crucial seconds and minutes after the car went into the drink was never made entirely clear. It is an understatement to say the official explanation of what exactly the last of the Kennedy brothers did in the minutes and hours after he saved himself wasn’t entirely satisfying.

Following the veritable canonization of his two slain brothers, by comparison, Teddy seemed more than ever to be the disappointment of his generation. He had long been seen as the most affable but least intelligent of the Kennedy brothers. After Chappaquiddick millions of Americans saw him as a cad, perhaps even criminally so. To this day, some of them have never forgiven him for being the least gallant Kennedy.

“My father believed in redemption,” said Teddy’s namesake, Edward M. Kennedy, Jr.

Since Chappaquiddick, Sen. Kennedy has lived four decades in the public eye, never knowing when another assassin’s bullet might put out his light. Through tireless public service and by taking care of his family, properly, the man has done what he could to atone for his transgressions.

In the Senate he set an example of how to get things accomplished that is unparalleled in modern times. Gridlock was his enemy, much more than any particular Senator. Consistently, his goal has been to improve the lot of ordinary people who weren’t born with the blessing of power or influence.

In recent years Kennedy worked across the aisle like nobody else in DeeCee. While rightwing commentators have loved to demonize him, many of his conservative colleagues in the Senate spoke well of his ability to compromise and build a consensus.

Still, there are people who will never forgive Teddy Kennedy for being a rich kid who made a mistake and wasn’t punished in the way they saw fit. Too many of his detractors seem to believe they are all the more a good Christian for hating a man who was happy to be called a “liberal.”

So, even today, of all days, it’s been easy to hear/read crude comments about Teddy Kennedy.

Well, this nonbeliever feels sorry for sanctimonious knuckleheads of any political persuasion or religious sect who find it easier to hate than forgive.

Watching that traditional yet passionate celebration of his life, it was abundantly obvious to anyone who truly admires courage, generosity and a strong sense of duty in a person, exactly why Uncle Teddy was such a beloved man.

Rest in peace, Teddy…

Friday, August 28, 2009

Unfiltered thoughts of the mean and uncouth

This week I’ve read more comments from readers at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s web site than I have since the height of the baseball stadium controversy, three or four months ago. That was only the most recent time I’ve sworn off spending much time reading the comments under the newspaper articles and columns.

In the last couple of days I’ve read many of the stunningly mean-spirited reactions to the news of Robin Starr’s dead dog. I’ve also read some of the weird mix of rationalizations and accusations under articles about Michael Vick. And, I’ve read some of the grudge-driven rants under stories about the death of Sen. Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy.

So, once again, I’m fed up with the reading of such slop and drivel. Hopefully, this time I’ll stay away longer.

It seems that newspaper publishers aren’t much different than eager beaver bloggers, when it comes to the practice of courting hits to drive up the numbers, or when it comes to using the inane but provocative comments of readers to fatten their content.

Still, why should we want to expose ourselves to the unfiltered thoughts of mean and uncouth people with which we would never associate? Isn't there some self-loathing in that sort of thing?

However, in spite of how much I might think it’s a waste of time to absorb the petty notions of soulless lowbrows, who only make it worse when they try to be funny, I know there are consumers who love to read the same. Are they now the RT-D’s target audience? Has it come to that?

So, now I’m wondering if interaction between periodicals published online and their readers is really taking us to a better place. It seems to be all the rage, because for the time being the consumers are playing along, but is it really the road to ruin?

As newspapers try to operate with smaller staffs, will letting the readers with the most to say provide trashy, bickering content that would never make it to a letter-to-the-editor printed page help or hurt in the long run?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Forty Years of Anecdotal Data About Pot

When marijuana-smoking became central to the hippie lifestyle in the late-1960s, getting caught with a couple of joints could get you 40 years behind bars. But pot flourished anyway.

While most of those who experimented with smoking weed eventually gave it up, there are plenty of old hippies still smoking it. Some have smoked it for something akin to a daily basis for 40 years, or more.

Thus, whatever will happen to them for subjecting their bodies to such an ordeal has happened. Where are the legions of disease-ridden pot-smokers?

In fact, whatever damage to society that widespread marijuana smoking for decades would cause has happened, too. And, while the penalties for smoking pot aren’t as harsh as they were 40 years ago, possessing, using, or selling it can still land you in the pokey.

It mystifies me why people continue to believe marijuana is a “gateway” to anything more than a sudden longing for a slice of apple pie and a little wedge of extra sharp cheddar on the side, with a nice cup of strong black coffee.

Why is the world does America have so many people in jail for drug-related crimes? Who does it serve? One person in jail for possession of marijuana is too many.

Perhaps the makers of the myriad of expensive mood-control drugs like Prozac know more about why pot stays illegal than I do.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Starr's dead dog

In today's Richmond Times-Dispatch we learned that a 16-year-old deaf and blind dog owned by Robin Starr died a week ago.
A dog belonging to Robin Starr, chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA, died last week after being left alone for about four hours in her car.
Click here to read the entire article.

So far, there are 56 comments under the article. No doubt there will be many more. The comments range from sympathy to scathing condemnation. Some of the condemnation seems to reveal an intense dislike/hate for Starr that existed before this unfortunate incident.

Somehow, even Michael Vick gets tied to the story and that gets tangled up with whether or not Vick ought to be back in the NFL.

All of which strikes me as odd. It's odd to read about the kidney failure death of a 16-year-old mutt. Then again, if it's newsworthy at all, I have to wonder why it took a week for it to come out. I'd like to know what turned a rather private family matter into a talk-of-the-town story, also covered by

Who dropped a dime on Starr?

Of course, the irony that Richmond's most outspoken defender of the dignity of dogs would inadvertently contribute to her own pet dog's demise is striking. So, in a way I can see why the story is generating such interest.

But it's difficult to understand how some of those commenting can think it's proper and necessary to hurl such vitriol at two people who are heartbroken over their tragic mistake and their loss.

More irony? Today is National Dog Day -- click here.

Update: Click here to read a post by the Richmond SPCA.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flashback: Armageddonville, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- This piece appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of SLANT. Words and art by F.T. Rea

Silent Auction for Benny-fit

Graying punk rockers are donating art and rock 'n' roll memorabilia to raise money for the cause. Now there's a silent auction page that anyone can access to see the stuff and bid.
Many people have been donating wonderful items to help raise money for the Bennyfit for Hospice event. Below is a list of the items being auctioned so far. Remember, new ones are being added every day! Look through them. Register. BID! Then come by The Playing Field on September 12 to pay for and pick up any items you win...and to ENJOY THE SHOW!

Click here to visit the auction page.

Click here to learn more about the event on Sept. 12.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Torturing Freedom of Speech

A piece I wrote yesterday about the so-called "debate" over health care reform is up at
What the crazed rightwing tools of the insurance companies have been doing to sabotage any chance of an open national discussion taking place this year -- preserving the status quo -- has been upsetting to some who long for reform, but it’s mostly been sickening to those who don’t enjoy observing raw meanness spewed at high volume.

Which, of course, is the goal for the insurance industry’s propagandists who want to delay reform as long as they can. Meanwhile, they want to punish anyone who stands in their way.
Click here to read "Freedom of Speech Gone Wrong."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Imagine a city known for its entertainment and hospitality

Let it be remembered that the good people who are now part of a new grass roots movement devoted to bettering the City of Richmond met for the first time at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on July 7, 2009.

For about an hour 15 people sat around a table on the second floor of the convention center and discussed Richmond’s admissions tax.

Some of those who were there seemed all too familiar with how the City’s seven percent tax on tickets has been holding Richmond back. Others appeared to suddenly envision the positive effects that removing the decades-old tax would have on Richmond’s cultural landscape and economy.

By the way, no one should confuse this effort with what the anti-tax Tea Party folks have been up to. This local movement is targeted. It’s not a matter of loathing all taxes, or trying to starve the government beast.

This ad hoc committee, with no name for itself at this point, wants to study how best to remove a particular tax that its members see as a vexation to those in the entertainment industry and an obstacle to Richmond’s economic well being.

Currently, a seven percent tax comes off the top of the price of every ticket sold to any event in Richmond. This puts venues within the city limits at a disadvantage when competing with venues in Charlottesville, for instance. C-ville, with its thriving live music scene doesn’t have such a tax.

The July 7 get-together was hosted by the convention center’s manager, Mike Meyers. Doug Conner, 9th District representative on city council, ran the informal meeting. Johnny Cates, the executive director of the Greater Richmond New Car Dealer Association, was the man who first called for the confab to take place.

“The purpose of the meeting was to get a feel for the scope of the issue relating to the hardships that the admissions tax place on our business community,” said Conner.

Tony Pelling is a member of the Byrd Theatre Foundation, the non-profit that owns and operates the 80-year-old movie palace; he was its first president. Pelling said, “The Byrd at present pays some $17,000 a year in admissions tax on its two dollars-a-time tickets. So, to cover that cost, 8,500 extra patrons would have to be attracted each year — a tough call. Over 10 years at today prices some $170,000 could have been available to say replace many of those seats.”

Cates said, “If the City of Richmond wants to keep the Virginia International Auto Show downtown, they will have to become more competitive. The admission tax is a big part of it, as the surrounding counties do not charge it.”

Conner added, “I became involved as a result of the City charging tax on complimentary tickets that [the promoters] gave away at their car show this past spring; Johnny Cates is a friend of mine, as well as a business associate.”

John Bryan, president of the Arts Council (soon to be known as CultureWorks), assured everyone there is already plenty of support for doing away with the admissions tax within the local arts community.

Cates also spoke of Richmond, itself, needing to strive to become widely known for the quality of its genuine hospitality. “The No. 1 objective of the City should be to welcome and bring people gladly to downtown, to restaurants and clubs.”

What the general public usually doesn’t understand is the problem with the tax is not so much a matter of ticket purchasers objecting to paying the tax. No, it’s more a matter of promoters of live entertainment acts on tour, or consumer shows (cars, boats, etc), or film distributors not wanting to do business in Richmond at all.

In recent years, the City has taken in an average of $1.3 million a year from admissions tax collections. At this writing, it’s not known what Richmond spends chasing after its take of every big ticket and cover charge at the smallest of shows.

Pelling said, “Outside promoters, when told the seven percent tax is going to be a first unavoidable charge, many throw up their hands and go elsewhere.”

My old friend Chuck Wrenn was at the table, too. We worked together at the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. when it opened in 1972. That was the time we became aware of the admissions tax. Wrenn told the group about the hobbling effect the tax had on the Moondance Saloon, a legendary restaurant/club he owned in the 1990s. And, he explained how the tax keeps so many large shows from ever coming to Richmond.

Seven percent off the top of a $1 million gross from a Bruce Springsteen live show is $70,000.

After the meeting Chuck and I reminisced a bit and talked about what went on at the meeting. Several times he said, “I can’t believe this is finally happening!”

Well, it’s happening too late to save the Moondance and a long list of venues.

Someday, hopefully sooner than later, Richmond’s government officials will come to grasp that moving beyond outmoded thinking will unshackle this city’s artists, entertainers and impresarios to create more cultural options and economic vigor for one and all. Yes, that means jobs!

That’ll be the day Richmond starts to earn a new reputation as an entertainment-friendly kind of town — as a big-hearted city, known for its boundless hospitality.

Since the first meeting more people have joined the group, which will meet again after Labor Day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rockabilly in Virginia

At STYLE Weekly Brent Baldwin writes about a new CD release that documents Rockabilly in Virginia.

Thanks to a double CD set, released just last week, “Virginia Rocks! The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth” (on British label, JSP Records) — unsung local rockabilly acts such as the Rock-A-Teens are finally getting their due. The collection, part of a larger exhibit from the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College in Southwest Virginia, features the likes of “female Elvis” Janis Martin, Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, Link Wray, Wayne Newton and Norfolk legend Gene Vincent — hero to future rock gods John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison.

“This is a part of Virginia history that rarely gets talked about,” says Don Harrison of local blog Save Richmond fame. Harrison and Charlottesville’s Brent Hosier spent the last several years conducting more than 75 interviews and writing extensive liner notes for the project from research funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Can We Yell 'Theater!' in a Crowded Fire?

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock at hand, it brought to mind a piece I wrote for ten years ago --"Can We Yell 'Theater!' in a Crowded Fire?" It was inspired by events at Woodstock 1999.
Awareness of the camera might just be the thing that kills us all one day.

Perhaps we will get to watch it on live television. I picture a nineteen-year-old malcontent with his finger on the trigger of a misplaced Russian H-bomb. He's drinking sweet red wine over ice and gobbling a cocktail of mood-controlling pills that Dr. Jekyll wouldn't touch.

He'll strut and rant for a bank of news cameras long enough for all the networks to have an on-screen logo and a theme music bump for their wall to wall coverage of his story. Finally, in prime time on the East Coast, he'll pop a cap on the world.
Click here to read the entire piece (remember, it's 10 years old.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Coldest Warrior

August is usually a slow month for news, so we are spoon-fed anniversaries to contemplate: Hiroshima’s 64th, Woodstock’s 40th, and it was 35 years ago, on Sunday, when Richard M. Nixon resigned from the presidency. Since his death 15 years ago we have been asked to reconsider Richard Nixon.

Fair enough, let’s give the man his due: The entire culture shifted gears the day President Nixon threw in the towel. The brilliant strategist, the awkward sleuth, the proud father, and the coldest of warriors had left the building.

August 9, 1974 was a day to hoist one for his enemies, many of whom must have enjoyed his twisting in the wind of Watergate’s storm. It was the saddest of days for his staunch supporters, whose numbers were legion.

Either way, Richard Nixon’s departure from DeeCee left a void that no personality has since filled.

For the first time since his earliest commie-baiting days, in the late-‘40s, Dick Nixon didn’t matter. With Nixon gone being anti-establishment promptly went out of style, too. With the war in Vietnam no longer a front burner issue, "streaking" -- running around outside naked -- replaced the anti-war rally as the most popular gesture of defiance on college campuses.

Soon what remained of the causes and accouterments of the ‘60s was packed into cardboard boxes to be tossed out, or stored in the basement. Watergate revelations killed off the Nixon administration’s chance of instituting national health insurance. Many people have forgotten that his regime was also easily more liberal on racial and environmental matters than any before it. Although he was a hawk, Nixon was moderate on some of the social issues.

His opening to China and efforts toward détente with the Soviets are often cited as evidence of Nixon's ability to maneuver deftly in the realm of foreign affairs. No doubt, that was his main focus. But at the bottom line, Nixon is remembered chiefly as the President who was driven from office. And for good reason.

Nixon’s nefarious strategy for securing power divided this country like nothing since the Civil War. Due to his fear of hippies and left-wing campus movements, Nixon came between fathers and sons. To rally support for his prosecution of the Vietnam War he demagogued and exploited the bitter division between World War II era parents and their Baby Boomer offspring in such a way that many families have never recovered.

However, Nixon’s true legacy is that since his paranoia-driven scandal, the best young people have no longer felt drawn into public service. Since Watergate, for 30-some years now -- taken as a whole -- the citizens who’ve gravitated toward politics for a career have not had the intellect, the sense of purpose, or the strength of character of their predecessors.

Some trace the cycle of endless paybacks across the aisle to that era, as well. We can thank Tricky Dick for all that and more.

So weep not for the sad, crazy Nixon of August, 1974. He did far more harm to America than whatever good he intended. On top of that, he had twenty years to come clean and clear the air. But he didn’t do it. He didn't even come close. In the two decades of his so-called “rehabilitation,” before his death in 1994, Nixon just kept on being Nixon.

Some commentators have suggested that he changed over that period, even mellowed. Don't buy it. The rest of us changed a lot more than he did. While I acknowledge his guile and I tip my hat to his monumental gall, President Nixon was a man who choked on his own bile.

So, spare me the soft-focus view of the Nixon years.

Yes, dear reader, I’m here to remind you that Tricky Dick Nixon's fall from grace should be a lesson to us all -- he got what he deserved.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Monday, August 10, 2009

Favorite rock 'n' roll concert films

When considering music films, for a favorites list, there are so many different kinds of musicals and movies about music that the category begs to be narrowed.

For this list of five favorites, I’m looking only at rock ‘n’ roll movies, and then only those which present the music as concert footage -- they show the musicians, performing as themselves, on stage before a live audience. All are documentaries of a certain stripe, even if they were staged for the purpose of making the film.

So, here are my five favorite rock ‘n’ roll concert movies:

Gimme Shelter” (1970): Directed by Albert Maysles and David Maysles; Performers: The Rolling Stones, also with Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Tina Turner and more
The Last Waltz” (1978): Directed by Martin Scorsese; Performers; The Band and various guest musicians
Monterey Pop” (1968): Directed by D.A. Pennebaker; Performers: Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and Papas, Otis Redding, and more
Stop Making Sense” (1984): Directed by Jonathan Demme; Performers: Talking Heads
The T.A.M.I. Show” (1965): Directed by Steve Binder; Performers: The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Lesley Gore and more

Saturday, August 08, 2009

At Redskins Park

Fans for the scrimmage stood/sat on all four sides of the practice field.

Made my first trip to Redskins Park today. The practice was open to the public, as it was was Fan Appreciation Day and thousands of Washington's most ardent fans turned out to get autographs, grab free souvenirs, watch the team work out, buy other souvenirs, etc.

We saw more Cooley (No. 47) jerseys on the attendees than any other. Lots of Taylors, (No. 21), too.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Unplugged: Waking up the day after

On the Friday morning after Hurricane Isabel blew through town (Sept. 19, 2003), the sky was blue and the air smelled clean. The residents of the Fan District, at the heart of Richmond, Va., woke from an uneasy sleep. Day One of the unplugged life was underway.

Before the worst of the storm passed, about midnight, Isabel tossed huge trees around like a handful of pickup sticks. Power lines snapped. Cars were crushed. Roofs caved in and basements flooded. As the shocking devastation dealt out by the previous night’s onslaught of wind and rain was revealed to the stunned urbanites in the Fan, so too did the reality of widespread electricity deprivation.

Still, faced with all sorts of uncertainty and disconnected from the doings in the rest of the world, many wandering the streets like zombies on that morning faced the immediate problem that there was no hot coffee to be had.

For hundreds of his neighbors, Manny Mendez, owner of Kuba Kuba, took care of the coffee shortage on that surreal morning. Boiling water on the restaurant’s gas stove and pouring it over sacks (improvised coffee filters) in a big colander, Mendez and his staff doled out tasty Cuban coffee to anyone who stopped by.

While opportunists in other parts of town were marking up prices on candles, batteries, ice, generators and anything else for which the supply was short and the demand was great, Kuba Kuba was pouring strong coffee for one and all at no charge — free!

“What are we going to do [under these circumstances], charge people for coffee?” Mendez asked rhetorically with a shrug.When word got around that Kuba Kuba — at Park Avenue and Lombardy Street — had hot coffee, the crowd on the sidewalk outside the small restaurant swelled. Into the afternoon the size of the gathering fluctuated between 20 and 40 people at a time. Many neighbors met for the first time. By the time the coffee-making effort shut down in mid-afternoon, 100 gallons of free coffee had been served in paper cups.

By then several of Manny’s tables were on the sidewalk, with chairs arranged around them. Out came the boxes of dominoes.

The marathon dominoes scene continued for hours under the lights of a borrowed generator. Players sat in for a while, then sat out. Neighbors appeared with what they had in the way of libation. They swapped stories and the laughter from what had become an impromptu party drove off the demons that lurked in the eerie darkness, only 50 yards away.

Dominoes shark Manny Mendez was all of 6 years old when he boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket to a totally uncertain future in the United States. In 1968, for people such as the Mendez family, getting out of Cuba was worth the risk of fleeing into the unknown.

The day little Manny left Cuba, his father was thought to be in Spain, as he had been deported. His mother was crestfallen when told that there were no flights going to Spain on the day her family was offered its chance to flee what Cuba had become. Recently released from 13 months of confinement at an agricultural labor colony, she opted to board the Red Cross-sponsored Freedom Flight for wherever it was going.

On Aug. 2, 1968, that airplane took Judith Mendez and her two children, Manny and his sister, Judy, away from Cuba. It landed in Florida. Upon touching down, Judith Mendez called her relatives, who lived in Richmond, to tell them the good news.

To her surprise she was told her husband, Manuel, was already in Richmond.

After a spell in an apartment building at Harrison Street and Park Avenue, the Mendez family moved to the 3400 block of Cutshaw Avenue, where several other Cuban families had settled. There was one car, a ’56 Chevy owned by his uncle, for the whole group to share.

Manny’s father had been an accountant in Cuba; in Richmond his first job title was “janitor.” As time passed, Manuel Mendez improved his situation and became a leader of the growing Cuban community in Richmond by making regular trips to Washington, D.C., to buy the essentials for Latin cooking and other imported goods unavailable in Richmond.

“Papi, how often did we used to lose power in Cuba?” Manny asked of his father during one of the dominoes games.

In his distinctive accent, with the timing of a polished raconteur, Manny’s father rolled the “r” as he said, “Oh, about two or three times … a night!”

Those gathered laughed, having instantly gained a wider perspective of coping with bad luck. Manny’s mother and the Cuban employees of Kuba Kuba laughed the loudest. Then, too, that may account for why Kuba Kuba routinely carries candles for sale along with other sundries.

The dominoes party broke up about 1:30 a.m. Most of the crowd returned to homes without power — with strange noises in the anxious quiet — no televisions, no Internet, and refrigerators full of risky food. No doubt, some of those dominoes players that unusual night carried away a new appreciation for people who can handle hardship with grace. Some may have even gained a new sense of how it must be in places where millions do without power, in one way or another, most of the time.

-- 30 --

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sept. 12 Benny-fit

The Rockline's Mad Dog and Rockin' Daddy weigh in on the Benny-fit on Sept. 12. Yes, that's the same Saturday night that some folks will be at CenterStage's opening.

So what! We're talking about recreating 1983. And, it's all for a good cause.
  • Dirty Secrets
  • The Diversions
  • The Good/Big Guys
  • Orthotonics
  • Beex
  • White Cross
To visit the Facebook page for the event for more info -- click here.
Video by Barry Gottlieb.

Five favorite cult films

Cult movies is a fun category. It allows for kitsch to be cool. Bad can be good if its offbeat enough, but not too much.

For my cult films list of five the films have to have been around for a while to have cult status, as there's no such thing as an instant cult movie. This list, as have all of them in this series of five faves, is limited to feature-length pictures. So, two short films I love -- "La Jetée" (1962) and “Un Chien Andalou” (1929) -- have to wait for another day’s list.

Any of the five on my list below would have made good Midnight Show material at a repertory cinema ... near a university:

“Brazil” (1985): Directed by Terry Gilliam; Cast: Robert De Niro, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm
“Eraserhead” (1977): Directed by David Lynch; Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph
“Paris, Texas” (1984): Directed by Wim Wenders; Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell, Nastassja Kinski
“Performance” (1970): Directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg; Cast: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg
“Putney Swope” (1969): Directed by Robert Downey Sr.; Cast: Stan Gottlieb, Allen Garfield, Archie Russell

If the reader wonders why “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” isn’t on my list ... well, maybe I just saw it too many times in my theater manager days at the Biograph. In truth, after a couple of years of that goldmine of a Midnight Show, it wasn’t all that popular with the staff. The rice, and the toast, and the hot dogs ... it got old. It played for five straight years!

Deeds, McDonnell and Dog Days Polls

A new piece of mine, "Deeds, McDonnell and Dog Days Polls," is up at Obviously it's about Virginia's gubernatorial race.
However, the trend that’s probably more worrisome to Deeds and his strategists is the lack of momentum that Gov. Tim Kaine is supplying. When Kaine defeated Jerry Kilgore in 2005, he had then-Gov. Mark Warner’s high approval ratings putting wind in his sails. But in his last year as governor Kaine is hardly enjoying the same sort of popularity.

Hard times, or not, Kaine has been less persuasive with the General Assembly than was his predecessor. As the commonwealth’s chief executive, Kaine hasn’t earned the reputation of a problem-solving, can-do guy that Warner did.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Favorite films about war

War movies are another cup of tea, when it comes to making a list. Most of the best war movies, in my book, have at least a hint of anti-war sentiment in them. Some might call it sanity; war isn’t just hell, it’s crazy hell. Still, to me a traditional war movie is about the quest to bravely fight through that crazy hell as part of a larger purpose.

Whereas, an anti-war film is more about the toll of war. Some of the best anti-war flicks don’t have many battle scenes. Thus, two different sets of five faves must be made on the war front. By the way “Dr. Strangelove...” isn’t on my anti-war list because I’m only counting real wars, as opposed to an imaginary war.

Five Favorite Heroic War Films

Breaker Morant” (1980): Directed by Bruce Beresford; Cast: Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown
Das Boot” (1981): Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; Cast: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann
The Deer Hunter” (1978): Directed by Michael Cimino; Cast: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
The Great Escape” (1965): Directed by John Sturges; Cast: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough
Thin Red Line” (1998): Directed by Terrence Malick; Cast: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel

Five Favorite Anti-War Films

Forbidden Games” (1952): Directed by René Clément; Cast: Brigitte Fossey, Georges Poujouly, Amédée
Grand Illusion” (1937): Directed by Jean Renoir; Cast: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay
King of Hearts” (1966): Directed by Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Geneviève Bujold, Pierre Brasseur
Paths of Glory” (1957): Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
Seven Beauties” (1975): Directed by Lina Wertmüller; Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Five Favorite Movies About Making Movies

There have been lots of movies made about making movies. Inside looks, so to speak, at the process of producing feature films and the people who work in the industry. This is a perfect category for film buffs to argue about forever -- the best pictures about what goes on behind the camera.

As with any list of five, tomorrow I might pick differently. For today, here are my five favorite films about what goes on in the world of pretend that is filmmaking:

“8½” (1963): Directed by Federico Fellini; Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée
“Day for Night” (1973): Directed by François Truffaut; Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut
“The Day of the Locust” (1975): John Schlesinger; Cast: Donald Sutherland, Karen Black, William Atherton
“The Player” (1992): Directed by Robert Altman; Cast Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward
“Sunst Boulevard” (1950): Directed by Billy Wilder; Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim

Monday, August 03, 2009

Five Favorite Mystery Movies

This time the category is mystery movies. With my list below, in each case the style on display in the film was as important as any other consideration. So, the lighting, the editing, the atmosphere, all mattered to me as much as the unfolding of the story.

Here are my favorite five mystery movies of all-time, in alphabetical order:

Chinatown” (1974): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston
The Conversation” (1974): Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams
The Maltese Falcon” (1941): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet
The Third Man” (1949): Directed by Carol Reed; Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli
Z” (1969): Directed by Costa-Gavras; Cast: Yves Montand, Irene Pappas, Jean-Louis Trintignant

Five Favorite Films with Crazy Protagonists

For this list of five favorite films, the common denominator is madness.

In each of the five on the list below, the main character is nutty. In each that character’s craziness is what drives the story. To narrow the field, I’ve limited it to movies that are essentially about characters who are steadily getting more detached from the supposedly sane reality around them. Since it's hard to find the sane world in the midst of a war, movies set in war are not included on this list of five, which is presented in alphabetical order.

Five Favorite Films with Crazy Protagonists

"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972): Directed by Werner Herzog; Cast: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Del Negro
"Network" (1976): Directed by Sidney Lumet; Cast: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden
"Repulsion" (1965): Directed By Roman Polanski; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser
"Taxi Driver" (1976): Directed by Martin Scorsese; Cast: Robert DeNiro, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle
"Wise Blood" (1979): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, John Huston

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gerloff show at Cafe’ Diem

Gary Gerloff performing on Monument Avenue (Easter Sunday, 2006). He died at the age of 58 on May 23, 2009.

The following press release was forwarded to us by Jim Wark:

On Sun., Aug. 2, Richmond’s music community will come together to celebrate the life of one of their own. From 1 p.m. ‘til 11 p.m., in true Gerloff fashion, all types of music will be represented in an all-day event, taking place at Cafe’ Diem at 600 N. Sheppard St.

A donation of $15.00 is requested at the door. All proceeds from the event will go to a school fund set up for Gary’s and Mindy’s children.

The list of artists attending is as follows:

1. Just Dessert — 1:00 p.m.

2. Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon — 1:50 p.m.

3. Dominic Carpin & Armistead Wellford — 2:35 p.m.

4. Terry Garland & Bruce Corson — 3:10 p.m.

5. The Revinyls — 3:50 p.m.

6. DJ Willams Projek — 4:25 p.m.

7. Little Ronnie & Grandukes — 5:10 p.m.

8. Gayle McGehee & Nocturnes — 5:50 p.m. (Due to a schedule problem this group is unlikely)

9. Charles Arthur Trio — 6:30 p.m.

10. Billy Ray Hatley & The Show Dogs — 7:05 p.m.

11. The Big Guys — 7:45 p.m.

12. The Taters — 8:25 p.m.

13. The Janet Martin Band — 9:05 p.m.

14. Manny Green & members of the Gary Gerloff band with special guest.

Note: All times are subject to change, plus or minus 15 minutes.

For information contact Rob Lytle @ phone 804-212-8776, or e-mail

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Vick to be feted in Newport News

Of all the stories in the news this week about Michael Vick, in sports sections and elsewhere, this one came to me as the most unexpected:
Some residents of Michael Vick's hometown are preparing a "celebration" for the former NFL quarterback, and Vick is expected to make an appearance at the event, an organizer said Friday. The event is being sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC chapter president in Vick's hometown of Newport News, Andrew Shannon, said Vick is scheduled to speak at the event intended to promote Martin Luther King Jr.'s teachings of nonviolence.
Click here to read the entire article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

No doubt, discussions about which NFL team will sign Vick, or whether he deserves a chance to play again, will continue to buzz at Happy Hours.