Friday, October 30, 2009

It Paid to Advertise


When the doorway into show business suddenly opened for me I entered gladly. At the time I had a job selling janitorial supplies that I wanted to quit. As I wanted to be a writer and eventually make films, working in a beer joint seemed like a step in that direction.

So, the sales job was cast off when a friend, Fred Awad, offered me work at the restaurant he was operating. My coming aboard as a bartender/manager was part of a larger plan we had cooked up to convert what was then a typical Fan District blue collar neighborhood restaurant/dive into the area’s most happening club.

The restaurant belonged to my friend’s parents, who wanted to retire. They had recently turned it over to their sons, Fred and Howard. The brothers promptly changed the name of place at Allison and West Broad St. from Moroconi's to the Bearded Brothers.

Growing beards was easy, but the Awad boys couldn’t agree on how to run the business, so the younger brother, Howard, left to pursue the quest of opening a place of his own.

Fred and I were convinced the burgeoning baby boomer bar crowd in the Fan District needed a place to enjoy cold beer, hot food, live music, a psychedelic light show and the edgy spectacle of go-go girls dancing topless. At this time, late-1969, topless dancing was going on in other states, even in Roanoke, but it had yet to come to Richmond.

And, speaking of booming babies, Fred’s wife was seven months pregnant; my wife was six months along.

With the help of a few friends it took us a couple of weeks, or so, to paint the interior flat black, build the stage and light show apparatus for the bands and dancers. We also painted the front window panes that faced Broad Street in Dayglo colors and put in black lights.

Believe it or not, although everything we did was as derivative and current as could be in other towns, in Richmond all that stuff played as ahead of the curve. I don’t know about Fred‘s thinking, but my ideas were coming mostly from clubs in Georgetown, movies and magazines.

The rock ‘n’ roll bands went over well and brought in a fresh crowd right away. A local group calling itself Natural Wildlife quickly became a regular attraction. Then it came time to hire the go-go dancers. So we put up a help wanted sign in the restaurant.

A few young women came in asking about the dancing job. Eventually, we settled on two. One of them had some experience, the other didn’t. But only the girl new to the exhibitionism trade could be there for our first night, which we advertised in the local newspaper. I did the ad art; it featured a pen-and-ink rendered silhouette of a female dancer and a Bearded Brothers logo I had designed.

By 8 p.m. the place was packed, wall-to-wall. We were selling beer like never before. Presto! Fred and I had become successful nightlife promoters overnight. The only problem was that our featured dancer with her brand new costume, which included tasseled pasties to cover her nipples (ABC Board regulation?), was scary late. She hadn’t called, either.

With the crowd clamoring for the dancing aspect of the show to get underway, Fred and I tried to think of any women we might be able to talk into filling in.

As I opened a handful of bottled beers, a woman wearing shades waved to get my attention. She was chewing gum. The joint was so noisy I could barely hear her. Setting her suitcase down, in a thick Brooklyn accent, she asked, “Could you use another dancer?”

Trying to hide my glee, I called Fred over. He offered her a fast $50 to alternate sets with the other girl as the band played. She told us she had noticed the ad in a discarded newspaper on the counter of the Greyhound bus station’s coffee shop. That night’s experience gave me new faith in the power of advertising.

The Greyhound Girl even had her costume with her. She got her money in advance. Fred suggested that since the other dancer was running late, she could go on as soon as she could get ready.

Well, it all went over like gangbusters. Up on stage, with the lights and music, she danced like the pro she actually was — she had been working along the same lines in Baltimore and actually appeared to be a trained modern dancer. Natural Wildlife never sounded better. The beer taps stayed open.

After the dancer’s first set was over, she put on a robe and found me behind the bar serving beer. She laughed, “There ain’t no other girl, is there?”

I paused to shrug and returned her smile, “I don’t know where she is.”

“I’ll need a hundred bucks to go back up there,” she said firmly.

The money was put in her hand without hesitation. Hey, she knew she had rescued the night.

Yes, a hundred and fifty was a lot of money, then, but there was no use in quibbling. After that night we never saw her again. Other women were hired, pronto. The show went on but we were never as busy as that first night again.

It became my duty to paint the dancers with Dayglo paint. They'd have vines curling around their arms and legs, stars and stripes on their torsos, etc. But after a few weeks of that, it seemed most of the customers didn't care much about the artsy aspects of topless dancing, such as they were. They preferred bare skin. So, the body painting stopped.

Although painting the dancers was a pleasant enough task, hanging out after work was the best perk of the job, which wasn't always paying as much as I needed to make. Frequently friends/musicians stayed around late, jamming, playing pinball games and smoking pot.

The most notable of the musicians who passed through was Bruce Springsteen, whose band Steel Mill often played in Richmond then. He was a quiet guy who didn’t stand out as much then as he would later.

For a few months the Bearded Brothers scene was quite lively, then it began to dissipate. Other clubs opened up offering live music, some of which were closer to VCU. Gradually, the restaurant began to drift back toward being what it had been before it had been painted black.

In the spring I had to look for a real job again. Fred left, too, and his mother took the place back over. About a year later Howard Awad opened up Hababas on the 900 block of W. Grace St., where he had a lot of fun making large money (1971-84) serving cold beer and playing canned music on his popular bar’s monster sized stereo.

The topless go-go girl thing soon morphed into a form of entertainment aimed at an entirely different type of crowd. Truth be told, I've never had much interest in the places that feature topless dancing since the time of the Bearded Brothers.

A year later I got a job at WRNL, a radio station then owned by Richmond Newspapers. Once again I learned it paid to advertise. The only souvenirs I have from my first stint in show biz are a few black and white photographs not unlike the one of the front windows above.

– Words and photo (1970) by F.T. Rea

The Quarter Trick


In the seventh grade a friend named Buddy showed me how to fling a quarter into the air so it would land heads-up every time. He would toss it 10 or 12 feet high and catch it flat in his right palm, with his left hand slapping down to secure it. Then Buddy would lift his left hand to show the coin to whatever audience there was — heads!

Of course, it could be tails, if that’s what the thrower desired; yes, there was a trick to it. With practice I learned how to do it, too.

As I remember it, first I learned how to do the quarter trick, then the bright idea of teaming up to beat a third guy in playing odd-man-wins emerged. I don’t recall which of us first suggested it.

It worked like this: If I always came up the opposite of Buddy, one of us would always win at tossing quarters. I don’t remember how much I enjoyed working the deception, before it became clear to me it wasn’t really a good thing to be doing.

We did it a few times and soon quit; at least I’m sure I did. This was just one of my lessons about the difference between a prank and cheating that needed learning. Pranks, or stunts, such as Orson Welles' famous “War of the Worlds” radio hoax (1938), fascinated me as a kid.

As a cartoon-drawing kind of boy, I was frequently so lost in my imaginary thoughts that learning lessons the hard way was inevitable. This same trait bought me occasional trouble that flowed from my experimental efforts at being a comedian.

The quarter trick came back into the picture when I started drinking beer in bars in the mid-1960s. In Richmond then, 18-year-olds could drink “three-point-two” beer, which was less-than-full-strength — not so different than drinking a light beer today. The cans or bottles has a green stamp on them.

At some point I bet some guy a beer I could flip ten heads in a row. After that I pulled the stunt so many times I won’t venture a guess at the number. Every now and then it would miss and I had to pay; most of the times it was more of a demonstration than a wager, anyway. Whether in a bar, or at a party, plenty of witnesses scrutinized my hands closely. However, if I missed catching the quarter, for whatever reason, it didn’t count as a throw. The deal was: ten straight throws and catches.

As it was introduced in the context of a bar trick and there was no hidden conspiracy, to me, that meant any slight of hand that might be involved was OK, morality-wise.

From about 1966, I have a vivid memory of watching lights flickering on a soaring quarter in Luigi’s, a popular beer joint on Harrison St. (The building now houses the 534 Club.) With each consecutive successful toss some in the attentive crowd called out the number. A cheer met the tenth heads-up, and I guess I won a beer that probably cost twenty-five cents.

It was all in the technique of tossing the coin. It had to be a quarter, too, I could never make it work with any other coin. Over the years lots of people have asked me how I did it.

The last time I performed the quarter trick was for my two grandchildren, Emily and Sam. I didn’t make them buy me a beer. But I don’t think I showed them how to do it, either. In fact, I don’t remember ever telling anyone much about how I actually did the trick until the other day in Chiocca’s, after a round of Frizbee-golf.

During the ride to Chiocca’s from Byrd Park, I got to thinking about various pranks, then the quarter trick. When I walked into the bar the first guy I spoke with was called Buddy when he was young. So, for no reason better than that I tried my best to explain to him how to execute the quarter trick. And, why it would land just as I wanted it to, when I did it right.

The feel for how to do the toss is very subtle. If the technique is ever so slightly off it turns the toss and catch into a fifty/fifty proposition. Anyway, I told the guy how it worked, or at least how I think it works.

Which is where this little memoir was heading all the way — in truth, I’m not completely sure I know how it works. I just know how it feels when I execute it perfectly. It’s not so different from throwing a putt perfectly in Frisbee-golf — when it feels righteous leaving my hand I know it’s going to hit the target.

Maybe I knew exactly how/why the quarter trick worked back when Buddy showed it to me. Maybe I still knew why it worked that night in Luigi’s. Or, maybe I’ve never known, for sure.

It’s a mystery now.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crumb and Mouly on the Carpenter's stage

Robert Crumb, known to his legions of fans as R. Crumb, spent an hour-and-a-half on the Carpenter Theatre's stage tonight. He was interviewed, or perhaps guided through the presentation, by an old friend -- Françoise Mouly, art editor at The New Yorker. In the 1980s she published (and co-edited with her husband, Art Spiegelman) a series of comic book anthologies, under the masthead of "RAW" (I still have some of them).

Crumb did a pratfall when he came on stage. Then he popped up and laughed. Hey, this guy is 66 years old!

The Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond sponsored the show.

Mouly and Crumb sat in comfortable chairs. There was a laptop on a table between them. Mouly used the computer to put images on a large screen behind them that illustrated what they were talking about. With her French accent, she was utterly charming in her handling of a gentle old friend, who is a notorious curmudgeon.

Half of the presentation was about the old Zap Comix days, etc., the other half was about Crumb's latest project, his take on the first book of the Bible -- "The Book of Genesis, Illustrated by R. Crumb."

For those, like me, who've been familiar with his work for a good while, there were few real surprises. The pleasure was in seeing firsthand that Crumb is the guy we've thought he was all along. He was playful and quick-witted.

To finish the evening Crumb took questions from the audience, which brought out his wiseass side a little more. Overall, he appeared to be enjoying himself, although he seemed most pleased when it was over.

On his way out, the lanky Crumb did another goofy tumble onto the stage, then got up like a man 25 years younger than he is, and waved goodbye.

-- Image from

Update: Here's Harry Kollatz's take on the same show -- click here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Council members who fought the law

In the wake of news about 5th District Councilman Marty Jewell's DUI arrest in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has published a list of other legal entanglements by then-sitting members of Richmond's City Council.

The little walk down memory lane goes back to Raymond Royall's infamous fake suicide in 1978. Click here to read the list.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Holdsworth: Is it Creigh’s fault?

At Virginia Tomorrow Bob Holdsworth writes that with the election still over a week away some Democrats are already jumping ship.
The Washington Post ran a front page Pre-Mortem (wiseacres are calling it a Creigh-Mortem) today in which a high ranking Obama administration official anonymously complained that Deeds should have listened to us, that he didn’t take advice or assistance from the White House and that he rejected the counsel of their DNC Chair and Deed’s Governor, Tim Kaine.
Click here to read "Self-Inflicted Destruction."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Williams: The portal of something transformative

Now that the dust has settled on the cold and motionless proposal to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, the time is right to lend a shoulder to the push to do the right thing in that neighborhood.

Michael Paul Williams does a fine job of presenting what is easily the best plan I've heard for what to do with Shockoe Bottom in his column, "Richmond is appropriate place for slavery museum."
Richmond, which has stopped running and hiding from a fundamental facet of its history, is poised to give birth to a slavery museum that never should have been shopped elsewhere.

The Richmond Slave Trail Commission unveiled plans Monday for a slave heritage site in Shockoe Bottom that would include a slavery museum. It's hard not to examine what has been proposed by the commission, led by Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, and not sense that we're at the portal of something transformative.

Click here to read the column.

At Richmond Magazine Jack Cooksey has a piece up on the Slave Trail:

Richmond was the most active slave market after New Orleans, with some 300,000 African-Americans having 
passed through here. And among cities that exported slaves throughout the South, Richmond was the top market, according to historians,

On the Devil’s Half Acre, African-Americans were held captive, punished and “broken” before being sold off as property.

Archaeological excavation of the site last year uncovered the Lumpkin’s Jail foundation, a cobblestone courtyard where slaves were held and a kitchen, as well as artifacts from the period.

Click here to read the entire article and see drawings of what the proposed museum could look like.

In April of this year I penned an opinion piece on this topic for

We Richmonders need for historians and anthropologists to dig up the truth about the business of selling slaves that went on in Shockoe Bottom. We must get over the threadbare notion that leaving that part of the past buried or glossed over with false history is best. A state-of-the-art museum on the history of the international slave trade is the perfect project for those who want to put a unique tourist attraction in Shockoe Bottom. That's something that would bring people to Richmond from all over the world.

Click here to read the entire piece.

Cerrato: Zorn will stay

This morning Vinny Cerrato, who supposedly speaks for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, said head coach Jim Zorn will not be fired during the season.
"Let me start by making a few things very perfectly clear: Jim Zorn is the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and will be for the rest of this season, and hopefully into the future."
Click here to read the entire article at NFL

If this endorsement of Zorn had come two or three weeks ago, it might have helped. At this point the team's morale appears to be a lost cause.

Meantime, the Richmond Times-Dispatch's lone remaining sports columnist, Paul Woody, has zeroed in on the real problem at Redskins Park.
Cerrato, the executive vice president of football operations, is not the problem. Replacing him with a "real" general manager will not solve anything. The problem is that team owner Dan Snyder runs a hands-on operation, and even after 11 years in the NFL, he still does not have a handle on how to produce a consistent winner.
Click here to read Woody's column.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mr. Natural's Fan League days

Speaking of R. Crumb, from 1979 to 1983 the Biograph Theatre's team in the Fan District Softball League was called the Naturals. Out of deference to the artist, we did obtain written permission from Crumb to use his character Mr. Natural as our team mascot.
-- Photo by Phil Trumbo

When Comix Ruled

Rebus appeared in all three issues of Fan Free Funnies

Click here to read about Fan Free Funnies, a collection of local (Fan District) underground comix from 1973. "When Comix Ruled" is a STYLE Weekly sidebar I wrote for an article about R. Crumb's upcoming appearance at the Carpenter Theatre next week.

In 1973, in spite of the cultural changes that had been in the air for years, mainstream pop was still offering up plenty of safe schmaltz and accessible nostalgia: Billboard’s top single of the year was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.” The Oscar for best picture went to “American Graffiti.” The word “underground,” associated with art, film and music, still had a yet-to-be-fully exploited edge to it.

Perhaps the best known of the Fan Free Funnies cartoonists was Phil Trumbo (VCU 1972). “Ed Slipek, the editor of VCU’s student newspaper, Commonwealth Times, approached me to help create an underground, comix-style supplement,” Trumbo remembers.

Yes, I'll be there on Oct. 27 to hear Crumb say his piece.

Click here to read more about Rebus. Here's another link.

Flying Squirrels, indeed

Well, the contest is over and on April 15, 2010 the new baseball team in Richmond, a franchise in the Eastern League, will play its first game at The Diamond.
Well, who didn’t chuckle, or at least smile, when they found out the new team would be called the Flying Squirrels?

Some were probably expressing relief -- at least they won’t have to put up with watching a puffy Rhino or Hush Puppy mascot dance on top of the dugout. Others had to laugh because it was a stretch trying to remember when a flying squirrel was last seen in Richmond.
On the new local baseball team's nickname, click here to read "Flying Squirrels, indeed" at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Redskins donated $50,000 to McDonnell

Six weeks into the 2009 season the Washington Redskins are a bad team. So many things seem wrong it’s hard to know where to put the bulk of the blame, personnel-wise. But it’s clear that the offense is worse than the defense. And, it's obvious the problems flow from the top down.

Ten years into the Dan Snyder era, he bought the franchise from Jack Kent Cooke’s estate in 1999, and it’s easy to see that Snyder remains the biggest problem the Redskins have. Maybe the biggest problem with The Danny is that he keeps making the same mistakes, but he seems to expect different results, anyway.

My prediction is that Snyder will fire Jim Zorn during the halftime of a game, then will install a new head coach for the second half. Wouldn’t that set some kind of new record? It might even make Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jealous, because Snyder will have one-upped him on the audacity scale.

Meanwhile, only to make matters worse, the Virginia Public Access Project reports that Snyder has donated $50,000 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. He did it in the name of the Washington Redskins.

LIFE (1936-72)

At Google Books you can look through every LIFE magazine published between Nov. 23, 1936 and Dec. 29, 1972. Just looking at the covers in a trip.

Click here to see 36 years of LIFE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

McDonnell's Rev. Wright-like problem

The separation of church and state is a fundamental precept of American democracy that seeks to prevent government at any level from force-feeding religion upon the citizens. So, governments in the USA aren't supposed to promote one religion over another, nor can they require a citizen's adherence to the rules of any religion.

Our government, of the people, is not supposed to require or discourage any faith in a Creator.

But since the concept for codes of conduct all began with ancient religions, and for most of history there wasn't much difference between church and state, washing all the vestiges of religion out of government has been easier said than done. It's a work in progress.

Still, people sometimes get confused about how separation of church and state is supposed to work. It doesn't mean preachers, or any sort of religious figures, shouldn't vote, or take part in the political process.

So, it was entirely proper when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. took a leadership position in the most important political causes of his day. Rev. Pat Robertson still enjoys the same license to pursue the goals in politics he sees as worthwhile.

Likewise, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, of Chicago, has been both a religious and political figure. Some of Wright's political rhetoric got President Barack Obama in trouble during the campaign last year. Obama's deft handling of the crisis Wright's antics had injected into presidential politics was impressive.

First Obama managed to show a reasonable amount of loyalty to a man he had respected, as the minister of his church, for a long time. After Wright made new statements away from his pulpit that threw gasoline on the flames, Obama pushed away from Wright's off-the-wall behavior. Then Obama gave a speech about race and politics that was very well received.

OK. How about former Attorney General Bob McDonnell? Doesn't he have a preacher problem? First associated with Rev. Robertson in his days as a postgraduate at the televangelist's Regent University in Virginia Beach, McDonnell has continued as Robertson's protégé throughout his career in politics. Has McDonnell ever really distanced himself from the most extreme things Robertson has said or done?

Let's face it, Robertson has said a lot a goofy things over the years.

No need to dredge up his ridiculous comments about bad weather and blurred genders, and so forth. A more ambitious researcher could put together a nice long list of absurd Robertsonisms. The point is, when has McDonnell ever stood before cameras and mics and said where he draws the line, regarding some of the stuff Robertson has said to make headlines?

Maybe he did and I missed it?

Moreover, it says here that McDonnell's connection to Robertson is at least as strong as was the one Republicans were so upset about between Obama and Wright. Remember the righteous indignation?

Then Obama put the record straight. Although many Republicans weren't satisfied, the issue was put to rest for most voters. Now, let's see McDonnell do the same thing.

Since we saw last year that the GOP insists candidates say just exactly where they separate church and state, in their own life, they should be happy to hear Mr. McDonnell set the record straight.

Where and when does McDonnell push away from Robertson?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Washington Post: Mr. Deeds

The Washington Post's enthusiastic endorsement of state Sen. Creigh Deeds is rooted in realism.
If the current campaign for governor has clarified anything, it is that state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee, has the good sense and political courage to maintain the forward-looking policies of the past while addressing the looming challenge of fixing the state's dangerously inadequate roads. The Republican candidate, former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell, offers something different: a blizzard of bogus, unworkable, chimerical proposals, repackaged as new ideas, that crumble on contact with reality. They would do little if anything to build a better transportation system.
Click here to read "Mr. Deeds for Governor."

With Deeds' poll numbers still in a stall, it looks like some of Virginia's Democrats are still less than enthusiastic about their gubernatorial candidate. So, they're maybe going to sit this election out. Maybe they have forgotten how depressing it was under former-Gov. Jim Gilmore.

Former-Attorney General Bob McDonnell may not be as much of a rube as Gilmore, but he's given to using the same mindless, teabagger-style rhetoric about taxes -- always taxes! -- to bash honest problem-solvers like Deeds.

If McDonnell wins, as it looks like he will, his Republican administration's likely effort to force-march Virginians back across the bridge to the 20th century, culturally, will not set well with many of those same unenthusiastic fair-weather Democrats. But by then it will be too late to squawk.

McDonnell's history, in words and actions, tells us he has consistently had more faith in yesterday's rules that kept a lot of people in their place(s), than he has had in a future that gives everybody an equal chance to succeed.

Speaking of faith, how much do Virginians really want McDonnell's rather eccentric mentor, Rev. Robertson, all over their government? You remember Roberston -- he was the TV preacher who said God told him he sends tornadoes to certain places to kill homosexuals.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chasing Dignity

This piece ran originally in STYLE Weekly (May 31, 2006):

“…Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were — and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”
– from “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In the summer of 1978, with the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” playing to the delight of a midnight show packed house, a fight broke out in the middle of Grace Street. Insults, rocks and bottles flew back and forth between the two factions of four each: VCU frat boys vs. an Oregon Hill crew. Their battle was unfolding a perilous 25 to 30 yards from the Cinemascopic all-glass front of the Biograph Theatre, a Fan District cinema I then managed.

At the same time a group of my Biograph Swordfish softball teammates was in the lobby playing a pinball machine. As manager, I felt obliged to drive the danger away, so I opened an exit door and yelled that the cops were already on the way, which they were.

The frat boys scampered off. Their opposites simply switched over to bombing me. A tumbling bottle shattered on the sidewalk. Rocks bounced closer as I closed the door. A piece of brick smashed through its bottom panel of glass to strike my right shin.

When we lit out after them, there were at least a half dozen men running in my impromptu posse of employees and pinball players. The hooligans scattered, but my focus was solely on the one who’d plunked me. Hemmed in by three of us in a parking lot, he faked one way, then cut to the other. His traction gave way slightly in the gravel paving, and I tackled him by the legs.

The others got away. With some help from my friends, we marched the captured 19-year-old back toward the theater. During the trek east on Grace, the culprit said something that provoked one in my group to suddenly punch him. That, while the punchee’s arms were being held.

A policeman, who had just arrived, saw it. He sarcastically complimented the puncher for his aggressive “technique” before the street-fighting man was hauled off in the paddy wagon. In contrast, I told the vigilante puncher he had overreached in hitting the kid unnecessarily, especially while he was helpless.

Surprised by my reaction, my softball teammate laughed. So I said something like, “Hey, we’re no better than the fascists we’ve claimed to deplore if we resort to their tactics.” He disagreed, saying essentially this — that his summary punishment would likely be the only price the little thug would ever pay for his crime. Another in the group agreed with him.

It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” The excerpt above is the evocative piece’s last paragraph. During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me.

Yes, we baby boomers were about to see that our sweetest day in the sun, with its righteous causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems, had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound, not unlike others. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux.

A month later I agreed to the court’s proposal to drop the assault charge, provided the brick-thrower was convicted of a misdemeanor for breaking the glass and paid for the damage. A payment schedule was set up. As we spoke several times after that, I came to see the “hooligan” wasn’t really such a bad guy. Payment was made on time. Eventually, he asked for the name of the man who’d punched him. While withholding the name, I agreed with him that the blow had been a cheap shot.

About a year later, a quick thief snatched a handful of dollar bills from a Biograph cashier, then bolted out the front door. The cashier’s frightened look triggered an alarm in your narrator’s sense of duty/propriety. Her face was quite expressive, and I was still young enough to think chasing criminals down the street was normal. Quaint as it may sound now, it seemed then that some collective sense of dignity was at stake.

In short, it took about 10 minutes to discover the thief’s hiding place, then turn him over to the policemen who’d shown up. I received some unexpected help in cornering him. As I ran west on Grace Street behind the 20-year-old grab-and-run artist, another young man — a total stranger — jumped out of his pickup truck to join in the chase.

Later, when the dust settled, I asked the volunteer why he’d stopped. He answered that he knew I was the Biograph’s manager because a buddy of his had once pointed me out. His friend? It was the same Oregon Hill street-fighter I’d tackled a year before.

My assistant thief-chaser also told me his friend assured him I’d dealt fairly with him. Consequently, a favor was owed to me. Before he left, my collaborator said that in his neighborhood the guys stick together. Thus, he’d supported me in my time of need to help pay his friend’s debt. We shook hands.

Over the years what connects those two chase scenes has become increasingly more satisfying. No doubt that’s because so many times over the years, in dealing with bad luck and other ordinary tests of character, I’ve done nothing to write home about — even the wrong thing.

At least in this story, maybe, I got it right.

The point?

Dear reader, in spite of the wall-to-wall cynicism of our current age, there really was a time when cheap shots — delivered mostly because you can get away with them, so why not? — were seen in a bad light. Returning favors was part of what held things together.

Through the mist of “ghostly rumbles” and “asthmatic whispers,” to some graying hippies, that hasn’t changed.

– 30 –

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Polanski dilemma

While acclaimed movie director and convicted-rapist-on-the-lam Roman Polanski is fighting his extradition to the USA from Switzerland, he is also trying to finish his latest film ... while he is in jail.
Harris said Polanski had recently given instructions about the film score and was making other decisions from his cell. "It is a nightmare looming that the director might be in jail at the time (of the film's release) but we will just have to cope with this as the situation develops. I'm sure he would want the film to go ahead, having worked on it for two years."
Click here to read the entire Reuters article.

Of course Polanski wants to think about/work on finishing his film. What else has he got to do?

And, once the director of respected films such as "Knife in the Water," "Repulsion," "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown," "Tess," and "The Pianist," gets hauled back to Los Angeles, it's going to be a media circus to rival O.J.'s trial.

Won't that be fun for the cable news networks?

No, I don't know anything about international law or extradition agreements between Switzerland and America. But one can easily get the sense that Polanski is eventually going to have to face the music in LA for what he did over 30 years ago.

Moreover, it's hard to believe that the end product of this whole process will be anything close to satisfying. No matter what a new judge in LA decides, it's unlikely it will seem much like justice that settles the matter and serves society's interests.

Gladstone's "Justice delayed is justice denied" sticks to this baby like glue.

The culture has changed quite a bit since 1977. Movies such as "Manhattan" or "Pretty Baby" couldn't be made today. Polanski's victim, 45-year-old Samantha Geimer, seems to want no part of punishing him at this point. Yet, there's no way a moral society can countenance the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl.

The Atlantic: Webb a 'brave thinker'

In The Atlantic's feature about what it calls Brave Thinkers, Sen. Jim Webb is cited, along with 24 others. Click here to see the entire list.
Name: Jim Webb
Senator from Virginia
Why he’s brave:
He’s taking on the nation’s neglected prison system.
“I think you can be a law-and-order leader and still understand that the criminal justice system as we understand it today is broken.”
Click here to read Webb's page.

Click here to see a video about Webb at The Atlantic.

-- Hat-tip to Lowell Feld

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This View Is Our View

A proposed development on the northern bank of James River, Echo Harbour, has been in the local news for the last couple of years. At a new OpEd style piece I've written about that controversial project is up.
A campaign to convince City Council to give USP Echo Harbour what it wants has been underway. The developers have pointed at the money Richmond should rake in from new tax revenues. They’ve talked about the jobs their project will create. There’s nothing new about that tactic. True or false, all developers sing that same basic tune when they want special favors from governments.

It’s then up to the government, in this case City Council, to decide what is the greater good.

If the City allowed a hog farm to be established where the GRTC bus barns are now that would create jobs, too. No doubt, the promoters of such a ridiculous notion could blue sky the story of how the hog farm would impact the neighborhood.
Click here to read the entire piece, "This View Is Our View."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Demise of 'American Exceptionalism'?

Longtime political columnist Georgie Anne Geyer hits another bulls-eye!
[Nobel Peace Prizes] have often been given to organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has worked years on end on human rights causes. But it has been almost as often been given to "transformational" or "aspirational" individuals or causes, such as Willy Brandt and his "Ostpolitik" opening to Eastern Communism in 1971, long before the policy ended in the dramatic 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

One also has to note that Nobel Committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, has said over and over that "The question we had to ask is who has done the most in the previous year to enhance peace in the world. And who has done more than Barack Obama?"

So if the question really revolves around the "previous year," then the American president does not seem such a daring choice after all.

Click here to read the entire piece,"Are We Witnessing the Demise of 'American Exceptionalism'?"

Click here to read about Geyer's background, which is impressive. The story goes that Sigourney Weaver's character in "The Year of Living Dangerously" was drawn somewhat from Geyer's experiences.

How about Grayson stumping for Deeds?

Hey, Creigh Deeds, have you been watching this guy? Everybody else has. Want to close the gap between you and Bob McDonnell?

Take a few pages from Rep. Alan Grayson's book. Say something that grabs people. Say something that is heartfelt. And, have a sense of humor. That line about banning bacon is rich!

Please stop of believing you can beat McDonnell by bashing him endlessly with a 20-year-old thesis. It isn't enough!

If you can't think of anything else to use, maybe you should pay Grayson's way up here to campaign for you.

Deeds needs a home run

Going into tonight's televised gubernatorial debate, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell seems to be coasting to an easy victory. Depending on which recent poll you like, McDonnell has got a lead of eight to 11 points over Democratic hopeful Creigh Deeds.

After a stunning win in the June 9th Democratic primary over two Northern Virginia candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran, Deeds has run a lackluster campaign that just hasn't caught on. Which has to make Democrats scratch their heads and wonder if either McAuliffe or Moran would have run a better campaign than Deeds has, so far, in the general election.

It also has to make some on Team Donkey wonder about whether primaries are such a good idea, these days.

And, in spite of the fact I was delighted when Deeds won in June, now I almost wonder why I thought he would be better suited to face McDonnell. About all the Deeds campaign has done to try to persuade voters to support its earnest but bland candidate is to say Deeds did not write the notorious McDonnell law school thesis.

Well, I doubt that's enough to get him elected. If he doesn't seize the moment tonight and make viewers/listeners trust him and like him, it appears it will be time to stick a fork in Mr. Deeds -- he will be done.

Moreover, tonight Deeds must say things that sound fresh. The same ol' same ol' won't get the job done. During tonight's debate (locally on WCVE-23 and WTVR-6) Deeds must make headlines with what he says and how he says it. Yes, barring a complete meltdown by McDonnell it's too late in the game for anything less than a home run.

Note: To submit questions for the candidates to (maybe) answer click here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Who cares about a prize from socialist Swedes and Norwegians?

So, if you don't like the guy who wins the presidency, you assert that he's not legit, because he was born in Africa, or perhaps on Mars.

Therefore, he must be a socialist, so he should not be allowed to speak to students, during the school day.

Are you the same one who rants against socialism, and then yells, "Don't touch my Medicare!" Are you the same one who thinks it should be OK to take a bazooka to a gathering where this president is present? But, I digress.

Then, if that same president tries to help bring the Olympics to the USA, you cheer when Brazil wins the bid. But weren't you the same one that used to chant U! S! A!, every chance you got?

Now, if that same man wins a Nobel Prize, you carp about how he hasn't gotten anything done. You claim the committee made its decision when he'd only been in office -- illegitimately! -- for 15 minutes. So he doesn't deserve the award, which is a bogus prize from foreigners, anyway -- socialist Swedes and Norwegians!

If it might hurt President Barack Obama's approval rating, would you like to see some buildings in America blow up? Did you know a Swedish guy invented dynamite? His name was Nobel.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

High on the Hog clips

The video ( above has some clips from High on the Hog parties in the early-1980s. They are sandwiched between shots of the runaway-train of a last day of the 538 Club (in the spring of 1983), a rock 'n' roll venue. A spray-can art riot is documented.

High on the Hog was thrown down in Libby Hill Park for decades on the second Saturday of October. The last was in 2006.

This is all Super 8 footage I shot in what now seems like another life. The music has been borrowed from a fellow cross-hatching cartoonist who is coming to town later this month.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Polanski and 'Chinatown'

"Chinatown" (1974) is my all-time favorite feature length movie. Now with its director Roman Polanski in the news, it's only natural that his masterpiece be reconsidered.

Peter Shilling Jr. has written an excellent and timely piece about "Chinatown," as viewed through a 35-years-later prism.
Some want [Polanski] in the electric chair. Others want him in the director's chair, back home in Hollywood.
But I'll tell you this: it's all there in Chinatown. This is the great movie about Los Angeles, the greatest reflection of that city and the closest in mood to the novels of L.A.'s great writer, Raymond Chandler. Chinatown is about the menace that burns bright in the Southern California sunshine, about the undertow that pulls bathing beauties to their deaths, and makes every man, woman, and child who soaks up the sun complicit in every crime committed within its borders. It's the city that people ran to in order to escape atrocities--like Auschwitz--only to discover that sometimes Hell is a sunny place with palm trees lining the streets like a firing squad. If you want to go deep into the Polanski's life, watch Chinatown.
Click here to read the rest of the article.

Second Saturday in Hogtober

For many a year, the second Saturday in October meant Libby Hill Park would fill up with another edition of High on the Hog. 2006's High on the Hog 30 was the last of the outdoor music festivals that served as a reunion each year for a generation of Richmonders and ex-Richmonders.

In 2007 I penned a piece for Brick Weekly that looked back on the 30 years of HOTH.
When it suddenly began raining in 1980, rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and clearing the stage—to wait out the downpour—Wrenn broke out his staple gun and large rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. With the help of volunteers an awning was hastily improvised to keep the rain off the stage. A portion of the yard closest to it was also protected, somewhat. Then, with the electric guitars of Don’ Ax Me ... Bitch wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by those dancing in the mud was unforgettable. The full potential of live rock n’ roll music to simultaneously express both lamentation and celebration was realized.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Note: Memphis Rockabilly Band was the last band to appear on the HOTH stage. It was their seventh appearance. The leader of that band, Jeff Spencer, died on Feb. 11, 2009.

-- Words art and video by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Blood Isn’t Just Red

As I read Chris Bopst's column in Brick (which I can't find online) I was reminded of a piece I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch 10 years ago. It is posted below this intro.

In "Music Doesn't Kill" Bopst makes a valid point about "horrorcore" music. The 20-year-old California man arrested in connection to the four slayings in Farmville, Richard McCroskey -- who calls himself Syko Sam -- is said to be a devotee of horrorcore, a music genre that apparently celebrates mayhem and gore.

I have to say apparently, because I don't think I've heard any horrorcore. Bopst says you really can't fix blame on the music. And, I agree that saying the Farmville murders happened because of some songs is a reach.

Who blames the Beatles for Charles Manson's crimes? If the Beatles had never existed Manson would surely have found his inspiration elsewhere.

On the other hand, to say that popular culture doesn't have an influence on people, especially young people, is hardly true, either. When repetition is used the influence is magnified. The piece below was written in the days just after the Columbine High School massacre.

Blood Isn’t Just Red (May 1, 1999)
by F.T. Rea

Television has dominated the American cultural landscape for the past 50 years. A boon to modern life in many ways, television is nonetheless transmitting an endless stream of cruel and bloody images into everyone’s head.

However, if you’re still waiting for absolute proof that a steady diet of video violence can be harmful to the viewer, forget it. We’ll all be dead before such a thing can be proven. This is a common sense call that can and should be made without benefit of dueling experts. Short of blinding denial, any serious person can see that the influence television has on young minds is among the factors playing a role in the crime statistics.

How significant that role has been/is can be debated.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as dedicated to protecting freedom of speech as the next guy. So perish the thought that I’m calling for the government to regulate violence on television. It’s not a matter of preventing a particular scene, or act, from being aired. The problem is that the flow of virtual mayhem is constant.

Eventually splattered blood becomes ambient: just another option for the art director.

My angle here is that in the marketplace of ideas, the repeated image has a decided advantage. The significance of repetition in advertising was taught to me over 25 years ago by a man named Lee Jackoway. He was a master salesman, veteran broadcaster, and my boss at WRNL-AM [in 1971]. And, like many in the advertising business, he enjoyed holding court and telling war stories.

He had found me struggling with the writing of some copy for a radio commercial. At the time he asked me a few questions and let it go. But later, in front of a group of salesmen and disc jockeys, Jackoway explained to his audience what I was doing was wrong. Basically, he said that instead of stretching to write good copy, the real effort should be focused on selling the client more time, so the ad spot would get additional exposure.

Essentially, Jackoway told us to forget about trying to be the next Stan Freeberg. Forget about cute copy and far-flung schemes. What matters is results. If you know the target audience and you have the right vehicle to reach it, then all you have to do is saturate that audience. If you hit that target often enough, the results are money in the bank.

Jackoway told us most of the large money spent on production went to satisfying the ego of the client, or to promoting the ad agency’s creativity. While he might have oversimplified the way ad biz works to make his point, my experience with media has brought me to the same bottom line: When all else fails, saturation works.

Take it from me, dear reader, it doesn’t matter how much you think you’re ignoring the commercials that are beamed your way; more often than not repetition bores the message into your head. Ask the average self-absorbed consumer why he chooses a particular motor oil or breakfast cereal, and chances are he’ll claim the thousands of commercials he paid no heed had nothing to do with his choices.

Meanwhile, good old Lee Jackoway knows that same chump is pouring Pennzoil on his Frosted Flakes because he has been influenced by aggressive advertising all day long, every day.

OK, if repetition works so well in television’s advertising, why would repetition fail to sell whatever messages stem from the rest of its fare? When you consider all the murders, all the rapes, all the malevolence that television dishes out 24 hours a day, it adds up. It has to.

What to do?

I have to believe that if the sponsors of the worst, most pointless violent programs felt the sting of a boycott from time to time, they would react. Check your history; boycotts work.

It’s not as though advertisers are intrinsically evil. No, they are merely trying to reach their target audience as cheaply as possible. The company that produces a commercial has no real interest in pickling your child’s brain with violence; it just wants to reach the kid with a promotional message.

If enough consumers eschew worthless programs and stop buying the products that sponsor them, the advertiser will change its strategy. It really is that simple.

As we all know: A day passes whether anything is accomplished or not. Well, parents, a childhood passes, too, whether anything of value is learned or not.

Maybe television is blocking your child off from a lesson that needs to be learned firsthand -- in the real world where blood isn’t just red, it’s wet.

-- 30 --

Monday, October 05, 2009

Socialism as a red herring

For some time the political news programs televised have routinely been using the battling spokespersons gimmick to give the illusion of being thorough or even-handed. So they present talking heads who are paid and partisan attack dogs. Predictably, those presentations often degenerate into shouting contests about ideology.

It appears the TV bosses remain convinced that the public can’t get enough of the bickering blowhards they’ve been dishing out. Yet, rarely are such presentations edifying.

Isn’t some part of why political discourse at every level in America has gotten to be so rude that too many citizens don’t understand the issues of their time below the surface?

It seems to me the pols, the flacks and the pundits have all been pitching their propaganda at what they see as a shallow-thinking audience. They would have you believe it’s all about slogans and personalities.

Now we see hotheads tossing words like “socialism” around in ways that plainly reveal they don’t even know the meaning of the word.

After all, public education is socialism. Taxes pay the salaries of our policemen and firefighters. The public pays for the medical care of veterans and social security for seniors. We don't drive on private highways, public funds build our roads. Socialism is all around us. Whether we need more of it is a question worth asking, but to pretend it's a matter of socialism, or not, is a red herring. And, the ruse only works on chumps who wear their ignorance like it's a medal of honor.

The irony here is that with the Internet, today’s voters now have access to more raw information than ever. However, it seems the still-young Internet has been better suited to amplifying frivolous distractions than it has been to promoting reason and understanding.

Maybe that will change.

Meanwhile, doesn't it seem those in charge of information dissemination at the highest levels generally like it better when their consumers can't think for themselves?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Richmond Rhubarbs

The new Eastern League baseball team in Richmond needs a nickname. The Richmond Whatevers won't work for long. OK, I'll play.

Given the history of professional baseball over the last few years in Richmond, I've got the perfect name. Let's call the new team the Richmond Rhubarbs.

Brooks on niche talk jocks

With his New York Times OpEd piece, "The Wizard of Beck,"David Brooks uses the hammer like a master carpenter, hitting the nail squarely on the head. Brooks writes about rightwing talk jocks, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, et al.
So what is the theme of our history lesson? It is a story of remarkable volume and utter weakness. It is the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche — even in the Republican Party. It is a story as old as “The Wizard of Oz,” of grand illusions and small men behind the curtain.
Click here to read Brooks' case for understanding the differences between listeners and voters, illusion and reality.

Then you might want to click on this link to read another OpEd from the New York Times -- "Where Did ‘We’ Go?" by Thomas L. Friedman. It's about the dangerous atmosphere that is being created by the most extreme Obama critics, who are playing around with the notion of killing him.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Grace St. Game

Art and copy by F.T. Rea (1983). Click on the art to enlarge it.

Let's be fair with our tolerance of mockery

OK, we've seen President Barack Obama portrayed as Batman's nemesis, the Joker. What's the connection? Why put "socialism" under the digitally manipulated image? Why put a large banner featuring that peculiar image on the outside wall of a business that makes its money offering up wiggling, scantily clad women as entertainment?

Yes, this post is about the brouhaha caused by Velvet's owner Sam Moore, who seems to enjoy notoriety, however it comes.

And, it's about the words of Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, who has weighed in on the controversy. Hey, I know that’s his job, but this time I can’t agree with Mike's take on the banner’s importance.
But anyone ambivalent about the inherently incendiary nature of a burning cross realizes you can celebrate free speech and detest the message. So I'll exercise my First Amendment rights in saying the Shockoe Bottom banner is disturbingly over-the-top.
Click here to read Williams' column, “Obama protest banner is a bad joke.”

Of course the comments section under the Williams column is filling up with the fussing and fuming of those who don‘t like Obama, or Williams, or Moore … or the Joker.

Instead, I want to focus on one point. To those supporters of Obama who are outraged by the image and think it has no legitimate place in the public way, I want to say this: Let's be fair with our tolerance of mockery.

No, I’m not defending the nuts who bring guns to Town Hall meetings. Nor am I defending the rudeness of Obama-bashers who shout down other speakers. What I am saying is that the image on that banner is political commentary every bit as much as a cartoon in the editorial section of a newspaper.

Furthermore, some of the same folks who are now outraged by the Obama as the Joker (the Heath Ledger version, rather than Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero) used to enjoy all sorts of goofy jokes at the expense of President George W. Bush.

Yes, because the image brings to mind the look of minstrel shows, there is a racist element to the wannabe joke when you put that makeup on Obama. But, to be fair, that’s what the same makeup on Ledger looks like, too, because it references the old theatrical blackface look as it would appear in a negative.

The weird part of it is the “socialism” caption under the art. Isn’t that similar to putting a Hitler mustache on Obama? Neither make any sense to me. It mostly says such Obama-bashers don't understand their isms very well.

All of this stuff is meant to piss off Obama’s supporters. So, I’m not going to let it bother me. As long as I can draw a picture of Karl Rove looking any way I like, it’s all in the game.
Dr. StrangeRove gasped, "It would not be difficult, Mein Führer! Nuclear reactors could easily provide, heh... I'm sorry, Mr. President."
Apologies to Stanley Kubrick, et al

Freedom of speech isn’t always pretty.

And, if Sam Moore has become the newest spokesman for the Republican Party, if he has become Richmond's crackpot anti-Democrat, well, that’s OK by me, too.

-- Joker image from The Atlantic. Words and StangeRove image (2006) by F.T. Rea

Thursday, October 01, 2009

GOP against staging the Olympics in Chicago?

President Barack Obama is in Copenhagen pitching Chicago to the International Olympic Committee. Chicago is in the running for hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. The IOC will decide which city wins the prize.
The stakes could hardly be higher when more than 100 IOC members gather at Copenhagen's Bella Convention Center to choose between the rival bids of Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Though the contest has long been regarded by most Olympic experts as the closest ever, with four potential winners in the field, there is no doubt that the Obama factor weighs heavily and has ensured Chicago takes the role of front-runner.
Click here to read the entire article by Reuters.

Two years ago Chicago outlasted Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco to become the sole American entry in the contest. In 1996 Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, which was the most recent time the games were held in the United States.

And, of course, there are those who have found fault with Obama’s attempt to bring the Olympics back to the United States. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele weighed in.
"Where is the focus?" Steele asked. "At a time of war, at a time of recession ... I think this trip is nice but not necessary for the president. The goal should be creating job opportunities not seven years from now, but job opportunities today."
Click here to read the entire article in the Washington Post.

Perhaps Steele thinks all the venues and housing for the Olympics can be thrown up overnight. Seems to me it takes years to build that stuff. So, is he really worried about jobs? Does he really think there's something wrong with the president's one-day trip devoted to helping Chicago win the bid?

Or, is Steele simply trying to foul the air with anything negative he can think of to say about Obama?

Isn't it rather strange for Republicans to be so obsessed with driving the president's approval rating down that they seem to want Madrid, Rio or Tokyo to beat out Chicago?

One gets the feeling that if Obama called for a manned trip to Mars by 2020, Steele would say it’s criminal to ignore Venus. Then Rush Limbaugh would suggest Obama might have been born on Mars, so naturally he’d be prejudice against Venus. Glenn Beck would call for Obama to prove he isn't a Martian by birth.