Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stretch

Originally published by STYLE Weekly in October of 1999

With the turning of the leaves, The Fan District of Richmond, Va., will again be transformed into a living impressionistic cityscape. As they always do, the season’s wistful breezes will facilitate reflection.

All of which leads to the fact that yet another baseball season has come and gone. After 6,783 games, the last game ever has been played at Detroit’s fabled Tiger Stadium. The Giants and the Astros will be playing in new parks next season, as well. The World Series, first played in 1903, will soon be upon us. Although baseball’s claim as the National Pastime may no longer hold up, the colorful lore generated by the magic of events at baseball parks probably outweighs that of all the other sports, put together.

I began going to the Richmond V's (for Virginians) games at Parker Field with my grandfather when I was about seven. I eagerly drank in all I could of the atmosphere, especially the stories told about legendary players and discussions on the strategy of the game.

As I got older I began to go with my friends, most of whom played baseball. We usually took our baseball gloves with us to the game. We’d go early so we could watch the V’s warm up. As often as possible we talked with the players. If one of them remembered your name it was a source of pride.

When we cheered the heroics we witnessed and rose for the seventh inning stretch and stayed until the last out, regardless of the score, it was tantamount to exercising religious rites.

A few seasons before they tore Parker Field down (it was dismantled in 1984 and in its place stands The Diamond), I experienced one last thrill at the old ballpark. This was when my daughter, Katey, was about seven or eight.

The home team by then — as it is now — was The Braves. Katey, her mother, and I were sitting in box seats as guests of neighbors who had gotten comps from a radio station. It was Katey’s first trip to Parker Field.

The spectacle itself was interesting to her for a while. As it was a night game, the bright lights were dazzling. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. Being old enough to go along on such an outing, instead of staying at home with a baby sitter, was a boost to her morale. Nonetheless, by the middle of the game Katey (pictured above at about the age of this story) was getting tired of sitting still and bored with baseball.

During the sixth inning it fell to me to entertain, or at least restrain her, so the others could enjoy the game. I tried telling her more about the object of baseball, hoping that would help her pay some attention to the game.

That didn’t work for very long. She was soon climbing across seats again and this time she knocked a man’s beer into his lap. As the visiting team began their turn at bat, in the top of the seventh, I got an idea and asked Katey if she wanted to see some magic. Of course she did.

Then I got her to promise to be good if I showed her a big magic trick. She agreed to the terms without qualification. Making sure she alone could hear me, I pulled her in close and whispered my instructions.

The gist of it was that she and I, using our combined powers of concentration, were going to make everyone in the ballpark stand up at the same time. Katey was thrilled at the mere prospect of such a feat. I told her to face the ongoing game, close her eyes, and begin thinking about making the crowd stand up.

After the visiting team made their third out, I cupped my hand to her ear and reminded her to think, “stand up, stand up …”

As baseball fans know, when the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning everyone stands up, ostensibly to stretch their legs. It’s a longtime tradition called “the seventh inning stretch.” There’s a mention of the practice in a report about a Cincinnati Red Stockings (baseball’s first professional team) game that took place in 1869.

Tradition aside — when Katey turned around, opened her big blue eyes and saw thousands of people standing up — it was pure magic in her book.

No one in the group gave me away when she told them what we had done. As I remember it, she stayed true to her word and was well-behaved the rest of the game.

It was a few years later that Katey confronted me, having learned how the trick worked. We still laugh about it.

Sports dilettantes today complain that baseball games are too slow and meandering. While I admit baseball has its lulls, nonetheless there are textures and layers of information present at baseball parks that are just too subtle and ephemeral for the lens of a TV camera to capture. To appreciate them you have to be there, and you have to bother to notice.

Sometimes there’s even a hint of magic in the air.

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

– 30 –

Crumb and Mouly in SF video

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Crumb/Mouly gabfest at the Carpenter Theater. It was my first time inside the newly renovated theater. As far as what I thought of the new face on what was the old Loew's, it looked nice but I'll have to go back and see the place when it's not so crowded.

Still, I'm happy to say a substantial audience turned out for the originator of Zap Comix, R. Crumb.

As Crumb is an artist I greatly admire, but don't know, personally, it was gratifying to see that he seemed as I have perceived him to be. His onstage conversation with with his old friend, Françoise Mouly, a New Yorker art director, was quite entertaining.

At least it was to a guy who still has a precious stack of Zap Comix in the top drawer of a sturdy oak file cabinet, only a few feet from his keyboard.

Anyway, to read more of what I thought about the show that night please click here. However, the reason for this post is to call attention to a video I found this morning.

It is a half-hour excerpt of the same basic presentation, with noticeable differences, so it was fun to watch. But this was recorded at their San Francisco show. The show here in Richmond was maybe a little over an hour, with about 20 minutes of questions from the audience and Crumb's answers.

Although I've never met Crumb, I did receive a post card from him in 1980. It was when he was living in Winters, CA. I had written to him six or seven weeks before the arrival of his brief message:
Dear Terry Rea:

Your letter was only just lately forwarded to me.... So, that's why this is so late...

So use Mr. Natural if you still want to use him.... Okay by me...

-- R. Crumb
My letter to him was probably sent to an address in one of his comic books. In it I had asked him for permission to use Mr. Natural as the mascot for the Biograph Naturals, the theater's softball team in the Fan District Softball League. I didn't want to rip off his character without his permission.

While I had wanted to put Mr. Natural's image on our T-shirts, the note from him came too late. Our shirts just said "Biograph Naturals" on the front. So, once Crumb had said we could use his dormant character -- he had stopped drawing The Natch in 1977 -- I made a five-foot-tall foamcore Mr. Natural and we took him out to the game to see what would develop.

At the end of each game we would hold up our Mr. Natural and chant, "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Fred! Fred! Fred!"

What the other softball teams didn't know was that Fred was Mr. Natural's first name. Nor could they fathom why in heaven's name we were doing that ritual ... which was nothing but a goof on any sort of sports chanting.

So, some of them figured we were mocking them. And, of course, when you think you're being mocked ... then there's no end to the clues that you might be right. Naturally, we didn't do much to quash those fears. Fred! Fred! Fred!

Finally, one team, known as the deTreville devils, got their fill of it. They kidnapped Mr. Natural when some of us were too busy catching a post-game buzz and they set fire to him. For proof of this claim, click here to watch a short video I made a year ago, using some visual souvenirs. There's a quick shot of poor Mr. Natural in flames.

Yes, the devils had their fun that night. Some of them told me they even pissed on the smoldering ashes. So what! I made another big foamcore Mr. Natural the next day, and he finished the season without further injury ... Fred!

Even though I didn't use Mr. Natural on the team's T-shirt, I sent one of them out to Fred's creator, anyway. Later, the team adopted Natural Bridge as its mascot. I did do a softball T-shirt with that image on it.


Most controversial 'zine covers

Webdesigner Depot has an interesting post up with 30 American magazine covers it calls "the most controversial of all-time." I'm sure I bought at least five of the magazines when they came out (maybe still have a couple of them) and I remember about half of them.

Click here to look at the covers.
H/T to Bert Holland

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Groh's parting poem

Here's a bizarre twist to the postgame scene that followed the drubbing head coach Al Groh's Virginia Cavaliers absorbed from their arch-rival (Va. Tech 42, UVa 13) today at Scott Stadium. Virginia finished its season, losing six games in a row, to establish a 3-9 record for the season.

With many in Charlottesville saying Groh will soon be fired, he read a poem to his team in the locker room, then apparently walked out without further explanation.
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

Click here to read the entire poem, etc.

Sounds like a frustrated Groh thinks he did his job ... but he was betrayed by bad luck or others not doing their job.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


In 1998, with impeachment in the air and the Clinton administration being hobbled by the investigation of the nature of the president’s relationships with various women -- most notoriously, Monica Lewinsky -- eventually, I felt called upon to lampoon the scandal. So I created a series of caricatures featuring some of the main characters and wrote goofy captions for them.

That was "Splattergate," my fifth series of collectible cards on a theme. Below the reader will see seven of the nine frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it).

However, by the time I got this set on the market -- in my regular shops in Carytown and the Fan -- a lot of people were way tired of hearing about the never-ending investigation. So, for that reason and perhaps others, it didn’t get the amount of publicity my earlier card sets had enjoyed, and it didn’t sell as well either.

Wachapreague Reflection

Wachapreague Reflection
(August 1977)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kaine on rights restoration

Tim Kaine's time as the Commonwealth of Virginia's chief executive is winding down and this morning on his WTOP radio show he had a message for Virginians who have old felony convictions.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who leaves office in January, today encouraged people with nonviolent felony convictions who have paid their debt to society to apply to have their voting rights restored.
Click here to read the entire article by Jim Nolan at the RT-D.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

81 seasons at UR Stadium

At there’s a story up about Richmond beating Wm. & Mary on Saturday (13-10) that I wrote; the piece also looks at some of the colorful history of UR Stadium. For instance:

The advance notices for the two-day rock festival announced it would be a “No Hassles” event, which in the vernacular of the day meant marijuana-smoking would be ignored by the authorities. However, it seems nobody told The City’s policemen on duty at the stadium about ignoring anything, especially marijuana smoking. So, on the event’s first day there were hassles aplenty. When the cops began pulling what they saw as law-breaking pot smokers out of the stands, some of the bare-chested hippies resisted. Other young attendees came to the rescue and a battle started. A full-fledged four-hour riot ensued. Police cars were destroyed and heads were bloodied.

Click here to read the story, “Spiders Outlast Tribe: Ending an era at UR Stadium.”

Black Knights of Health Care Reform

You've got to give it to them, the shameless shills for the health insurance industry are delivering on their end of a deal with the devil. They are going to resist health care reform as long as they have the capacity to do so.

Like some of their forerunners in the age of Massive Resistance knew, they know their side is eventually going to lose. While some see they're on the wrong side of history, they're going to keep on kicking that reform can down the road, as long as they have feet.

In the marketplace of ideas, when the reform resisters' limbs have all finally been chopped off the resisters will still try to fight on, like Monty Python's Black Knight (in the video above).



Every day billions of dollars are being sucked toward the owners of heath insurance companies; dollars that don't really have much to do with protecting America's greatest asset -- its workforce.

Furthermore, until we, as a people, understand that in the long run that's fundamentally why the government has to act now -- to protect society's interests -- we're likely to keep on spinning and spinning and getting nowhere. Nonetheless, if a lot of people get too sick to work that will be a major problem.

With the potential for an epidemic to break all the banks, one day, the government now has a duty to oversee the delivery of timely health care to all of us. That also means once we finally do move around the noisy Black Knights of the reform resistance movement, to establish a single-payer system, we'll all have to get occasional checkups.

Legs to stand on, or no legs, the health care reform resisters are never going to quit.

So, whatever lofty notions of compromise and bipartisan consensus President Barack Obama may have envisioned, when the debate started, has become yesterday's news.

Now it's time for Democrats to do the job without Republicans. It'll a lot easier to walk around Black Knight resisters once Democrats give up on trying to appeal to the good sense of people who know only one thing -- never quit.

Flying disc news: Hoppers trounce Nichs

Hoppers captain Jack Richardson with the Easy Rider Cup in hand

The group of disc golfers (some of us still call the game Frisbee-golf) that I've been a part of since the mid-1970s is known as the GRFGA. We play on unmarked object courses (trees, poles, etc., serve as targets) in Byrd Park and Maymont.

Once a year the group divides into two teams to play a tournament modeled after the Ryder Cup in professional golf. Our tournament is called the Easy Rider Cup; it consists of three nine-hole rounds, both partners and singles, played over two days. One player on a team serves as the captain each time. The two team captains decide which courses to play and assign the individual match-ups.

With baffling consistency, the four previous Easy Rider tournaments were won by the Nichs team (after Jack Nicholson).

On Sunday, November 22, for the first time, the Hoppers (after Dennis Hopper) won: 13 matches won to 11 matches won. It was the singles round, which is always the last to be played, that made the difference. By the way, your reporter and the photographer are Hoppers.

After the tournament some of the disc-throwing golfers went over to Colleen Dee's to consume a feast and watch the Redskins at Cowboys game fizzle. For desert we gobbled up the winners' cake, baked just for the occasion by Andrew Potterfield, who won all three of his matches. Both Colleen and Andrew are Hoppers, too.

-- Photos by Steve Macaulay

Cat People

In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially.
Founded in 1929, RKO stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television’s Desilu Productions.

Twenty-seven years ago, as manager of the Biograph Theatre, I booked a festival of 24 titles to play at the Fan District's twin cinema, all from RKO, which was still operating in a Los Angeles office as the distributor of its original library.

The 12 double features in the RKO Festival were:

“Top Hat” (1935) and “Damsel in Distress” (1936); “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939) and “The Informer” (1935); “King Kong” (1933) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949); “Suspicion” (1941) and “The Live By Night” (1948); “Sylvia Scarlett” (1936) and “Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948); “Murder My Sweet” (1945) and “Macao” (1952); “The Mexican Spitfire” (1939) and “Room Service” (1938); “Journey Into Fear” (1942) and “This Land Is Mine” (1943); “The Thing” (1951) and “Cat People” (1942); “The Boy With Green Hair” (1948) and “Woman on the Beach” (1947); “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Fort Apache” (1948); “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944) and “The Body Snatcher” (1945).

One feature, “Cat People,” which was later remade as a vehicle to present the youthful Nastassja Kinski’s naked form in all of its lithe glory, was a low-budget black-and-white thriller. Unlike the florid remake, the original was a lean and subtle production that left much to the viewer’s imagination.

Still, any film of the monster movie genre, no matter how subtle, can be disturbing to a sensitive viewer.

For some reason the Val Lewton classic,“Cat People,” got under one such viewer’s skin. He was a solitary man who walked around the VCU neighborhood during daylight hours. He stayed in some sort of subsidized group home at night. Night or day, he was always medicated to the hilt.

At the theater we used to let him in free. Then, of course, he would complain about everything. We joked around about him when he wasn’t there, sometimes, but we treated him with respect when he was -- always at matinees.

“Are there really any cat people?” the man would ask, in his forced, cartoon way of speaking, as he scratched his head. “No,” he would be gently assured.

Then, with his hands flexing and twitching, a few minutes later he would ask the same thing again. His eyes would wander. We figured a lot of it was his medication.

He would get the same answer. Then he’d take his free popcorn and go into the dark auditorium to watch the movie for a while. He always walked with an odd, exaggerated shifting of his weight.

When I created the image above of a cat named Zeke in a coat and tie, for a calendar in 1996, I thought of that same man. And, I smiled, thinking he probably still remembered that movie, if he was still alive.

Well, I saw him a few years ago. He was totally gray and must have been well into his 60s. He still walked with his distinctive, swaying gait.

There are no movie theaters in the Fan District now, but there probably are still cat people left. Although some of them might be dangerous, most of them just look at you ... pretending they know something you don’t.

-- 30 --

Monday, November 23, 2009

SLANTblog Video Report No. 1

SLANTblog's Video Report No. 1 looks at two big games on one Saturday in Richmond -- Wm. & Mary vs. Richmond (football) and Oklahoma vs. VCU (basketball). Richmond won 13-10. VCU won 82-69.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Still Crazy

The avalanche of happy birthday wishes I received yesterday via Facebook, and otherwise, calls for an answer. After saying "thanks," my cousin Ray will supply the rest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Psalm 109 as a weapon

Some of my readers aren't old enough to remember when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Well, I am. Here's something most of the TV documentaries don't dwell on -- some people openly expressed their pleasure that Kennedy was dead.

And, before Nov. 22, 1963 there were plenty of people who openly expressed their hatred for President Kennedy; some who saw him as too Catholic, too much of a pinko liberal and too determined to desegregate Southern public schools, said he should be killed.

Well, somebody was listening.

Now some of the crazy rightwingers who like to say President Barack Obama was born on Mars and is a secret Muslim, etc., have taken another step toward the dangerous game of calling for his assassination.

The newest gimmick is to use Psalm 109 in the Old Testament. T-shirts and bumper stickers are being circulated with this message on them: "Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8."

Psalm 109 is very Old Testament. Take a look at verses six through ten and I think you'll get the picture:
:6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
:7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
:8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
:9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
:10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Yes, it's hard not to notice the verse that follows the one cited on the T-shirts. Are the people behind this sicko campaign glad it scares some of us who would rather not see Obama's children fatherless?

Of course they are.

Do they hope some unhinged Bible-thumper will see the words in verse nine as marching orders and try to kill Obama?

What do you think?

If deliberately inciting lunatics to commit murder isn't evil, what is? Are there any Republicans, Christians or otherwise, who will step forward to condemn such tactics?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Would we be safer with an atheist president?

SLANT's spokesdog, Rebus, wonders: All other considerations equal, would it be safer for us to have an atheist president with his finger on the button -- nuclear oblivion! -- than to have a Christian president, who truly believes in an afterlife? Wouldn't an atheist president, who couldn't hedge his bet, care more about the life we are living now on Earth?

GOP talking points

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monday, November 16, 2009

VCU men's basketball

VCU basketball fans can follow the Rams' 2009/10 season at the Fan District Hub.

Click here for a report on VCU's first regular season game, a win over Bethune-Cookman at the Siegel Center.

Click here for CAA Monday Notes.

Head on a Pole Solution

Republicans are having a good time with their anti-tax tea parties. It has even brought out the creative side of some right-wingers, as they have staged various stunts to demonstrate their contempt for certain Democrats and what they see as excessive government spending, in general.

While this staging-stunts strategy may have seemed silly to people who disagree with the sentiments behind this movement, so far, it seems to me they have received so much attention from the media that they have been effective. Republicans mocking their opponents and raising hell in the street like anti-war demonstrators in the 1960s has been something to see ... and think about.

Emboldened by their success, such as it has been, now more creativity is emerging from the flat-earth side of the aisle.
The Danville TEA Party plans a “Fired Up For Freedom” rally Nov. 21, which will end in burning Rep. Tom Perriello, D-5th District, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy, according to a news release from organizer Nigel Coleman.
Click here to read the rest of the story at

Like cross-burning, effigy-burning sends an attention-getting message to a particular person, and then all those who might sympathize with the targeted individual. In the good old days governments used public executions to send clear messages to those who witnessed them. I’ve heard people say a return to that practice might curb crime today.

Well, I agree, but my idea of what might constitute a crime worthy of a public execution is probably different from what the Danville TEA Party would consider as such. In fact, my idea is much more innovative than anything the Republicans have come up with yet. And, it won't cost the taxpayers a cent.

My plan would call for just one public execution a year. It’s purpose would be to end famine, cure diseases, educate the poor and prevent wars. One person would die each year, in order to facilitate solutions for the worst problems facing not only America, but societies all over the world.

Here's how it would work:

First you make a list of all the billionaires in the world; their names would be put on a ballot. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the world. The same ballots would be available online, as would be the virtual ballot boxes.

Each person would get to vote for the bad billionaire they choose once each month, by paper or online. The unfortunate billionaire who gets the most votes, for being the worst billionaire in the world (hat-tip to Keith Olbermann), would be executed on New Year’s Eve at midnight in the city that wins the bid, sort of like how the Olympics rotates.

The method of putting the billionaire to death would be up to the city. Still, however it’s done, the chosen billionaire’s head must not be physically damaged (on the outside), because it will be put on a pole in the same city.

The selected billionaire’s head would stay on that pole for one year, then, out of respect for the dead, it would sent wherever the late billionaire requested before his or her demise.

Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires in the world would take note, no doubt. They would basically have two choices to keep their head from being selected to be the next one to sit on the pole:

1: Give away (no tricks) enough money to good causes (again, no tricks) to get off the list of billionaires. 2: Use some of their money to do good works and curry favor with voters who hang around convenience stores or stay online all day.

So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got $50 billion, you could choose to give away $49.1 billion, or you could take a chance on spending a billion or two on curing cancer, or AIDS. Or, you could spend a few billion on feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast. Maybe you’d pick a particular line of work, say all the musicians in a state or province, and pay their taxes for one year.

Busy billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to promote what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their heads on their respective shoulders. So, this deal would save the inky wretches from extinction, too.

Of course there would be lots of blogs calling for the death of every single billionaire. So, the smart billionaires would have no choice but to hire plenty of other bloggers to plead their cases, in order to avoid being the top voter-getter that year.

So, crime rates would drop. Every kid who wants one would get new puppy. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. And, publishers would have enough money to pay freelance writers a decent fee for their work.

Each year would start out with a visible symbol atop a tall pole, showing us why we should be good to one another. Just one person would have to die to pour some relief on all our pains, especially those embarrassing pains stemming from the consequences of our own bad works.

Now here’s the reward for reading this far, you get to decide for yourself which billionaire would get your vote, this year.

-- 30 --

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's wrong with justice in Manhattan?

Other than the fact that the Bush administration chose not to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the supposed mastermind of 9/11 -- in a courtroom in New York, what is wrong with it?

Yes, I understand that many Republicans automatically backed whatever the previous president did during his time in the White House, but now he's gone. So, at this point, is it just a matter of automatically opposing whatever the Obama administration does? Or,
in this case are there actually good reasons to object to seeking justice in a federal courtroom?
“I am really disgusted by it,” [Rep. Peter] King told POLITICO Friday morning. “To me, it’s truly an insult to the memory of those killed on 9/11.”
Disgusted? Insult?

Do Republicans still believe in justice? Or, has fear and payback politics trumped all other concerns?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jumping the gun, again

Jumping the gun, to turn the Ft. Hood shootings into a political issue, is a shameless game. It's also a dangerous game -- it could get more people killed.

With much of what will eventually be known about the background and crimes of the shooter -- Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, has been charged -- still to be revealed, some folks are already forging the shooting spree into a tool with which to bludgeon President Barack Obama.

Rather than look at the shooter's acts, they are focusing on what words he was saying as he mowed down his victims. Rather than seeing the mayhem as perhaps similar to the madman's massacre that happened on Virginia Tech's campus, on April 16, 2007, they seem to prefer to cast it as more like 9/11.

Maybe they will turn out to be right. Maybe not.

Rather than seeing Hasan as another crazy religious guy who turned violent, they seem to be saying Hasan has the wrong religion. It's like they want to charge him with a "hate crime."

It reminds me of the events of April 19, 1995, when we listened to cable news experts telling us that the still smoldering Oklahoma City bombing was a terrorist act, most likely perpetrated by dark forces based in the Middle East. When the evidence began to go against those early accusations all we got was "oops!"

If it turns out Hasan was working with a network of accomplices then fine, let's unravel the entire conspiracy. If the outcome of the investigation reflects badly on Obama's Defense Department, then let the blame fall where it should. Until then, there's no good reason to assume that the tragedy at Ft. Hood unfolded chiefly because of changes in the way the U.S. Army has been doing its business since Obama took office.

Since it happened on Obama's watch, it's his job to find out as much as he can about what happened and tell the American people the truth about what is uncovered. Which will be an improvement over what came before him.

Moreover, it will be Obama's job to make it more difficult for the next crazy guy/terrorist to do the same thing on an army base ... if he can.

What Obama should not do is use this situation to give the Muslim world the idea that Hasan is going to be dealt with according to his religion, rather than according to what he did. Which is exactly what some of the gun-jumpers seem to want to do -- stick it to Islam, again, as if it is the only religion with blood on its hands.

The Nazis were Christians, but most people don't blame Christianity for their atrocities.

Was Timothy McVeigh's role in murdering 168 people in Oklahoma City a greater or lesser crime because his motive might have been to avenge the deaths of the Branch Davidians at the bizarre Waco Siege in 1993?

Regardless of what they tell us, or what we discover, do we ever really understand why murderous madmen do what they do?

Meanwhile, the very people who have turned a blind eye on the crimes of abortion clinic bombers and cross-burners in the past should probably be more careful about jumping the gun, again, over which god certain unhinged criminals worship.

In conclusion, let's note that al Qaeda is not a leftist organization. America's trouble with Muslim extremists who are bent on destroying our way of life is not coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Generally, religious fanatics are rightwingers, regardless of where they live or what they call their god.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Cheaters

In 1916 the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas to watch over the border and chase Pancho Villa. There they were converted to a cavalry unit. Following that campaign, in 1917, the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was off to France to finish off the Great War, the war to end all wars.

My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues contingent sent first to Brownsville. He grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. As a young man he had mostly made his living as a vocalist.

The stories I remember him telling from his years as a WWI soldier were all about his singing, playing football and having adventures with his pals. And, a few fistfights.

Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he’d seen. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many as an elite corps.

Eventually, he became a draftsman, then an architect. He worked for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (forerunner to CSX), which was then based here in Richmond. He continued to perform as a soloist and in barbershop quartets into his 60s.

The original version of the story below was published in SLANT in 1990. STYLE Weekly published a version of it in 2001. For Armistice Day (now Veterans Day), here it is again, a true story about a wise old WWI vet teaching a wiseass kid a lesson in a way to make it stick.
The Cheaters
Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.
In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it’s my nature. I can’t help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.
The reader might wonder about whether I’m overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.
OK, fair enough, I don’t deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon’s mischief, gone wrong.
A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.
Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities. Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood’s boys. He couldn’t stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.

This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.
The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.
As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. “Punch him in the nose,” he’d chuckle, “and even if you get whipped he’ll never bother you again.” In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.

Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.

On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard’s rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.

F.W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.
Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, developing signals and passing cards under the table with bare feet. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.

Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.
To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys’ favorite story — the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France — one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.
Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure rapidly. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.
Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.
The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.

As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn’t wonder enough about that, then.

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

-- 30 --

Richmond's Anti-Show Biz Ways

When and why did the City of Richmond turn against show business?

In the middle of the 20th century, officialdom in Virginia’s capital city used its powers to make it more difficult to offer entertainment to the public for profit. Laws and taxes were the tools. The unabashed racism that drove much policy 50 years ago was at the heart of why that strategy was set in motion.

Before World War II, Richmond was widely known for the vibrancy of its entertainment scene. The largest concentration of theaters and restaurants was downtown.

In the 1950s, with the Massive Resistance movement dominating Virginia’s politics, a social/political agenda entered the picture. The same guys who worked to prevent desegregation in public education decided that public entertainment should be discouraged, too. The same guys who wanted to keep blacks and whites drinking water from separate fountains, also wanted to see nightlife in Richmond confined mostly to private clubs.

In those days, cocktails -- liquor by the drink -- were only available in segregated, private bottle clubs and off-the-record speakeasies.

The Byrd Machine’s brain-trust did not want black students and white students matriculating together. And, it sure as hell didn’t want them dancing to rock ’n’ roll music together in public spaces. Some readers may not remember how much the bizarre anti-rock ’n’ roll movement of that era was fueled by fears to do with race.

In Virginia it got more difficult to get a license to serve alcohol to the public -- even beer -- and in the same room allow dancing. Operating under the direction of political appointees, the Alcohol Beverage Control agency had an all-powerful police force that could put licensees out of business, anytime.

So, a simple thing like a couple of girls swaying to the sound of a popular tune, as they stood next to a jukebox scanning its menu, could get an otherwise law-abiding restaurant busted for permitting dancing without the proper license.

Even in recent years, ABC agents have been regularly assigned to duties that amounted to undercover police work -- sometimes setting up their licensees to break a rule, then busting them.

When an ABC agent shined a flashlight into a restaurant, to spy on the owner sitting at his bar after he had closed and locked the doors -- at 3 a.m.! -- the agent should have had a compelling reason for such an intrusion. The owner was doing paperwork, alone, with an open beer bottle on the bar.


It's hard to say who was being protected from what, when the restaurant’s ABC license was suspended. This is part of the story of what killed off a rock ‘n’ roll stage 10 years ago.

ABC needs to be replaced with a modern entity that regulates commerce to do with alcohol and leaves police work to the police department.

In the ‘50s Richmond also raised its admissions tax on entertainment tickets sold to the public. It’s now set at seven percent.

However, since this tax comes off the top, the show’s producer/promoter surrenders that seven percent, even when the show fails at the box office. Hungry for revenue, Richmond takes its seven-cents gouge from every dollar spent on a seat for movies, basketball games, live music or travelogues.

Over the years, like the dog that didn’t bark, the touring company shows and pop concerts that have skipped Richmond -- because of its extra tax -- just didn’t happen.

Before they finally went belly-up, few fans who lament the loss of pet venues like the Flood Zone, the Biograph Theatre and the Moondance Saloon ever knew how much the management of those places struggled with the local establishment’s anti-show business red tape. Beyond the clubs and theaters that closed, what about those that never got off the drawing board?

Movieland, the first new movie theater (17 screens) to open within the city limits since the old Biograph in 1972, is presently coughing up seven percent of its box office take. Its competitors in the surrounding counties are paying zero admissions tax.

Of course the tax collectors will tell you Richmond needs that money. But, it seems nobody at City Hall wonders enough about how much money in other taxes would flow into the system from new businesses if that bad tax went away. Richmond’s extra tax on entertainment had plenty to do with that 37-year gap between new cinemas being built in town.

Richmond’s City Council needs to wake up and realize the counterproductive admission tax is yesterday’s wrong policy, warmed over.

Some wags and washed up impresarios think our fair city would have already had a busy theater/nightlife scene downtown 10 or 20 years ago -- sans large public money -- if the ABC board and the city, itself, had just gotten out of the way.

Perhaps now, more by habit than for any nefarious reason, Richmond’s anti-good times attitude -- leftover from another time -- lingers yet in City Hall. It walks the corridors like a zombie.

Richmond needs sensible policies that aren’t stuck in yesterday’s mud of bad attitude. It most certainly does not need publicly-owned theaters.

-- 30 --

Note: The piece above, penned by yours truly, was originally published under the title "The Show Mustn't Go On" by on May 7, 2009.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cross-Eyed Mona

Fiction by F.T. Rea

September 21, 1977
: The Luis Bunuel double feature playing at the Fan City Cinema drew a sparse but appreciative crowd. In the lobby, just before the nine-thirty show got underway, manager Roscoe Swift said to a pair of regular customers who were Bunuel aficionados, “Yeah, I suppose if we’ve got to go broke at least we’re doing it with style.”

At 10:45 p.m. Swift locked the bank deposit from the evening’s take in the ancient safe in his office. As he left the theater the 29-year-old manager set out to wash away the still-clinging vestiges of a hangover that had dogged him all day. Swift’s destination was the stained glass and wood-paneled confines of J.W. Rayle, his favorite watering hole. Once outside, he decided to walk, hoping the fresh air would do him some good.

Monroe Park was quiet. As he walked Roscoe recollected a series of images from events that had unfolded in that park, which bordered the Virginia Commonwealth University academic campus. The montage stopped abruptly at his memory of a Sunday afternoon live-music happening where a young man fell to his death from atop the park’s cast iron fountain.

Upon arriving at the restaurant Roscoe was glad to see Rusty Donovan was the bartender on duty. He and Rusty had been friends since boot camp in 1966. Eleven years later they were teammates on the J.W. Rayle softball team.

Lean and agile Rusty was the best all-around athlete in his high school class. Yet he passed on opportunities to play college basketball because he didn’t crave competition as do many jocks. Nor did he have any desire to launch a serious career. He liked being a bartender, attracting pretty girls and playing shortstop on the bar’s softball team. All three tasks were easy for Rusty. That’s how he liked it.

Rusty’s droopy mustache widened as he glanced up from washing a glass to see Roscoe. “Yo!”

“Heineken please,” Roscoe said, taking a seat at the bar. “Slow night?”

“So far,” Rusty replied, setting the bottle in front of Roscoe, “Maybe it’ll pick up. Peach said she’d stop by. Sal just called, he’s on his way.”

“It was slow at the Fancy, too,” said Roscoe. “I watched most of ‘Los Olvidados,’ it still knocks me out. Bunuel is the champ.”

“Aw, give me the ol‘ ‘Dog,’ every time,” Rusty laughed. “That eyeball-slicing scene, oh man, the effect it ... it’s cosmic.”

“The audience always groans,” Roscoe affirmed. “What year was it that kid died climbing on the fountain in Monroe Park?”

“Beats me,” Rusty shrugged. “You’re the stickler for dates. I’d guess five or six years ago, maybe more. Why?”

“No real reason,” said Roscoe, “I walked here from the Fancy and something reminded me of being there the afternoon it happened. I didn’t see him fall, but I remember Bake said he was rocking back and forth. I think you and Finn were there, too. I sure remember how the fountain looked, all skewed.”

Rusty asked, “Didn’t that happen the day after we went to that post-Kent State war-protest in DeeCee?

“Sounds right,” said Roscoe. “Kent State was 1970, so...”

“Look!” bellowed an unfamiliar male voice behind Roscoe, “I saw you. Don’t lie!”

Rusty cringed. Roscoe turned to look behind him at the squabbling couple, seated about twelve feet away.

The balding, rather soft-looking man, was probably in his mid-30s. Roscoe pegged him as the ne’er-do-well son of a fat cat. Decked out in a big-collared shiny polyester get-up, the guy had an air about him that reeked of bad karma. His opposite at the small round lounge table was a striking beauty. She couldn’t have been much over 21, if that. With her dark hair and gamine, long-limbed look, Roscoe was reminded of Audrey Hepburn, as she appeared in “Sabrina.”

After taking a generous swig of his beer, Roscoe was pleased to see the veteran bartender cranking the volume up on the bar’s stereo, which was playing a reel-to-reel tape: The rather apt song of the moment was the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance.”

Roscoe cracked his knuckles as he once again noticed the irritating joke reproduction of the Mona Lisa on the back wall; this version of Mona was cross-eyed. Once again, he wondered why the silly thing struck others as funny.

A couple of minutes later the song ended and Roscoe glanced at the bickering girl. She was sitting alone, retouching her lipstick. He studied her gypsy-like eyes, her long nose and wide mouth. Her small head rested perfectly on a swan-like neck. She had a dark tan. Wearing a form-fitting powder blue tube top and tiny floral-print shorts she looked like a fancy dessert.

Leaning on her elbow, lovely Sabrina glanced up from her hand mirror at Roscoe. Her vexed expression melted into a sweet smile that took his breath away. When had he seen her before? After a long second, the girl averted her eyes, unsmiled, and nervously lit up a cigarette. Roscoe turned away, so as not to stare.

His thoughts drifted. Over the previous Labor Day weekend Roscoe and his wife of nearly seven years, Julie, decided to separate, temporarily. He wondered if the hard-edged single man’s life he had been leading would bring tobacco back into the picture. It had been almost a year since he had fired up a Kool Filter.

“Do you believe that?” whispered Rusty, nodding toward the two-top, as Sabrina’s sparring partner returned. “Why would she be with him?”

“What a waste,” agreed Roscoe, polishing off the dregs of his first beer of the night. He closed his eyes to see the teal color of Julie’s eyes light up and dissolve into a familiar picture of her in mid-stride, running on the beach the day her met her.

Rusty placed a second frosty green Heineken in front of his friend and said, “On the house, amigo.”

“Just what the doctor ordered,” said Roscoe, “thanks.”

Sal Modiano, the art professor, walked into the room. Sal was a skinny, cocky son of Italian immigrants from New Jersey, he looked like a character straight out of “The Godfather.” Sal was an ordinary athlete, if that. He played second base on the restaurant’s softball team.

Since the split-up with Julie, Roscoe had been staying in Sal’s Grove Avenue carriage house art studio. The amenities were minimal but the roof didn’t leak. Although he had no plan for what to do next, after only two weeks, Roscoe already sensed that he and Julie would not live together again. While they still cared for one another, far too many injuries to their relationship -- which began the summer before they were juniors in high school -- had been ignored over time, left to heal wrong.

As John Lennon’s voice warbled from the speakers, Roscoe softly sang along, “Ah, bowakawa pousse, pousse.”

“Yeah, yeah ... Turn me on dead-man,” Sal chuckled, as he plopped down next to Roscoe at the bar. “Rustman, I’ll have the same as our leftfielder here. And, ‘Scoe, what the hell does that bozo-cow-eye, pussy, pussy line actually mean?”

“Beats me,” Rusty laughed.

Roscoe shrugged, then suggested to Sal they move from the bar to get further away from the obnoxious battle underway behind them. Sal nodded and picked up his beer to follow Roscoe to a table nearer the back of the room.

Having scored an ounce of expensive hothouse marijuana that afternoon, Sal was wearing a telltale illegal smile. “Bet your life, man, I’m having just an excellent night -- happy hour at the Rainbow Inn, followed by some excellent oysters at Gatsby’s...”

“Who was at the Rainbow?” asked Roscoe.

“The usual suspects,” said Sal. “Zach came in. The mouthpiece bought a round for the house to celebrate winning a big case. Later on JD was in the back booth dealing nasty, nasty half-grams for thirty-five bucks. The sample line felt like he had cut it with Ajax. I think JD, the crazy deejay, is stepping all over the product and going to get himself in trouble. Oh, and Julie came in.”

Roscoe resisted, then asked, “Was she with anybody?”

“One of her girlfriends,” Sal replied. “I forget, ah, heavy jugs, thick ankles, bleached blonde hair. What say we take us a little a ride ‘round the block to burn one? I’ve got a fresh batch of sweet primo for you to test. Forget Julie for a while, man. Give it a rest.”


Twenty minutes later, the teammates were finished with their smoke break. Re-entering Rayle’s lounge, Roscoe and Sal were pleasantly surprised to see that Rusty’s sharp-looking new strawberry blonde girlfriend, Peach, was sitting at the bar with another young woman, an equally attractive brunette.

Peach introduced Kit to Roscoe. Sal already knew her, as both girls were art majors who had transferred from Old Dominion University. Both wore the obligatory paint-speckled faded blue jeans and T-shirts that signaled they were art girls.

Peach mentioned that Kit had played volleyball at ODU. Roscoe liked her immediately. He hoped to get to know her better, but when the battling couple resumed their argument, he and Sal fled to their table.

For Roscoe and Sal a discussion followed that digressed effortlessly from the rudderless aspect of current politics into the days of the Grove Avenue Republic, which was a group of anarchy-loving neighbors living on the 1100 block of Grove. That area of the Fan District was the epicenter of a few notable street parties that brought out the worst in the local police force. Roscoe brought up the time the cops actually turned dogs loose to chew up a crowd of hippies.

Sal complained about how the Fan, with its distinctive architecture, was suddenly losing its front porches to a “weird trend” in renovation.

“What’s so wrong about a porch?” demanded Sal, in a voice the whole room could hear. “The Fan is changing, man! No surprise, Bake was right again when he predicted a new breed would move into the Fan to run off the hippies and old folks. Look around, it’s happening!”

“Yep, the times are a-changing,” said Roscoe. “How about having to choose between Disco and Punk Rock?”

“Not in Rayle, not on my shift,” Rusty tossed out from behind the bar. On cue, the next cut on the tape started -- “Poor Little Fool,” by Ricky Nelson.

Sal’s rant morphed into his favorite source of material for yarn-spinning, the colorful life of the late Roland “Bake” Baker.

A bullet to the head finished off Bake in 1975. His body was found in a boarded-up house on Floyd Avenue, a couple of blocks from where Julie and Roscoe lived. It had never been determined what happened, or who else was involved. The weapon that killed him wasn’t found. In the newspaper, according to a police department spokesperson, it was considered to have been, “a drug-related murder.” In the same article, Bake was made out to have been a “known associate of anti-American radicals and underworld figures.”

While Bake had played guitar in a couple of Rock ‘n’ Roll bands and dealt pot on a substantial basis for several years, to cast him as a spy or mobster was preposterous to anyone who knew him at all.

For the benefit of those in the room who were tired of hearing the unhappy couple slug it out, Sal, in full Jersey throat, began telling the “Bake Calling His Shot” story. Roscoe and Rusty had heard it many times.

According to Sal, it all happened at Finn Daley’s pad on Harvie Street. There were six guys there. The happy raconteur named them all to add credibility to the tale.

“They were discussing the clues to the Paul-is-dead controversy, or scam,” said Sal. “Bake was stretched out on his back on the couch. His feet were on the coffee table, next to several beer cans, an ashtray, a bong, and a Coca-Cola bottle. Abruptly, the late Mr. Baker announced, ‘Watch this shot, boys. Swish!’”

Sal took up a matchbook and began acting out the part. “He pulled the last match out and whistled. Then he aimed it, man, squinting one eye. He tossed it at the bottle, and ladies and gents, the match went straight into the Coke bottle like a guided missile. Voila!”

“Voila?” Roscoe interrupted, “Did it swish?”

“‘Voila,’ is what he said,” Sal fired back. “You remember, Rusty, we measured the flight of the match at over seven feet. That’s a one-in-a-hundred, a one-a-thousand shot, man. He called it. Calling the shot man, that’s…”

“How do you know Bake was aiming for the Coke bottle?” Roscoe inquired. “What makes you think you even know what he meant? He could...”

Sal puffed up. “I believe you were still in the brig then, man. I was there and heard him call the shot. I saw the match go in the bottle.”

Roscoe laughed, “Yeah, I know. Oh, for the record, by then I out of the Navy and in school. I was at class that day.”

It both amused and annoyed Roscoe that so many of Bake’s old running mates were continuing to glorify everything he had ever done. Bake climbed the WTVR broadcast tower. Bake hit a flamboyant politician, Howard Carwile, with a water balloon. Got away with it. When the riot broke out in the midst of the Cherry Blossom Festival, he torched one, maybe two of the police cars. Got away with it then, too. Stranger than the exaggerations of Bake’s actual doings were the ghost rumors and soap opera speculations concerning his demise. Roscoe was uncomfortable with the idea of Bake, who had been his closest friend, becoming a minor league James Dean-like cult figure.

“Knowing Bake,” said Roscoe, as Dan Hicks’ “I Scare Myself” began to fill up the room with close harmony. “I just wonder if he had a vision of the match going into the bottle. Or, if he thought he could will it to do so. No doubt, he was capable of either...”

A glass broke on the floor. Sabrina stood up and stomped her foot. Tearful and angry, she raised her voice, “...and don’t ever follow me again!” Her outraged companion grabbed her arm, forcefully. He hissed something unintelligible.

Roscoe closed his eyes and reminded himself that it was none of his business. Sal glanced sideways at the imbroglio and said, “Damn it, man, I wish he wouldn’t rough her up like that.”

“This is awful!” said Roscoe, turning to look through the antique leaded glass windows at the misty night on Pine Street.

“Ease up, buddy,” commanded Rusty from behind the bar, in a tone unusually stern for him.

The angry girl tried to wrench herself loose from the masher’s grip. In a rage he lifted her off the floor and growled, “You lousy coke-whore!”

Sabrina wrinkled her nose and spat in his face.

With his captive suspended overhead by a grip under her armpits, the man charged across the floor. Although Roscoe would rather have watched someone else deal with the crisis -- after all, he wasn’t in charge and he had a hangover -- no one among the others present moved. Significantly, he was the one most directly between the couple and where they seemed to him to be heading. Roscoe saw the scene’s heavy as about to throw the heroine through the windows, so he sprang from his seat.

Knowing a half-hearted gesture was likely to make matters worse, Roscoe slammed his right shoulder into the villain’s thighs with utter sincerity. Sabrina was freed as a result of the collision. Riding the momentum of his surge, Roscoe ripped the man’s legs up to drive him onto the tile floor on his back.

As he scrambled to his feet, Roscoe heard Rusty asking the damsel if she was all right. Disheveled and flustered, she grabbed her pocketbook and ran toward the door. She didn’t look back or say, “thanks.” Roscoe let the urge to speak to her pass, as his Sabrina disappeared forever.

Having caught his breath the lout got up from the floor, apologized profusely and slapped a $20 tip on his $12 check. Nonetheless, Rusty made him stay for a few more minutes in an awkward silence, to give the woman a better head start. Then he sent the guy packing with, “Listen here, don’t let me see you in here again. Get it? Don’t come back.”

Sal observed, “That slimy dude better be happy he’s not on his way to jail, or the hospital.”

Rusty picked up a fifth of Bushmills from the back bar. He placed three shot glasses on the bar. He poured, “Scoe, I’m glad you put that sicko in his place.”

Roscoe said, “I couldn’t just sit and watch him throw her through the glass. I had no choice.”

“Wa-a-ait a minute, man,” Sal said. “What makes you so certain that’s what he was going to do?”

As the Eagles’ “Hotel California” began to play, Rusty put in, “Look, either way, he had it coming. That poseur was way, way out of line. I’ve served him in here before, he’s always had a bad attitude.”

“No! It wasn’t like that, Rusty,” resisted Roscoe. “I wasn’t punishing him. They were two or three steps from ... I could see where it was going. Otherwise, it’s none of my business.”

Kit supported Roscoe, “I’m sure that poor woman is very thankful, even…”

“How can you know? pounced Sal. “Nobody else in the saloon felt obliged to nuke the dandy. Then again, the girl was pretty, hmmm, just your type.”

“Hey, my type, too,” jabbed Rusty.

“I heard that!” Peach laughed.

“Wait a minute,” said Roscoe. “The only reason I interfered was because I could see what he was doing ... the look he had ... I couldn’t allow it.”

“Interfered?” Sal mocked. “If that was interfering, I’d hate to see how hard you’d have hit the sucker if you held a grudge. Like, do you know him from somewhere?”

“No,” Roscoe laughed.

Rusty and Sal began rehashing the details of a two-month-old disputed game with their chief softball rival, the Back Door, a nearby bar. Roscoe searched the room for someone to testify on his behalf. Kit was talking to Peach. Once again he caught sight of the Mona Lisa painting on the back wall. For the first time, it seemed funny -- Mona’s mugging expression said it all.

Roscoe looked through the windows again. Pine Street seemed the same, but his hangover had subsided. With that realization he remembered where he had seen the expression in Sabrina’s eyes before. It was the key scene in “La Jette,” a short French New Wave film, which was made up of still images that dissolved, one over another.

Solving the mystery pleased Roscoe. Setting his empty glass down, he declared, “You guys can say what you want. I made a total commitment to my particular view of reality. Maybe I’m crazy, I couldn’t just watch.”

“Amen,” said Rusty. “I don’t care about any hidden motives. Thanks for putting the brakes on whatever was going to happen next.”

“I tell you what, man,” said Sal. “Bake would have said “amen” over that go-for-broke tackle, too. It was solid as a brick!”

“There you go, saving a worthy damsel-in-distress, that’s good karma,” said Rusty. “Who knows…”

“Nobody knows,” said Roscoe with a sardonic smile. “Nobody. Pour us three more, please, on me. Let’s drink to wherever hangovers go and to the utmost of worthy damsels, Rayle’s own cross-eyed Mona.”

* * *

All rights reserved by the author. Cross-eyed Mona, with its accompanying illustration, are part of a series of stories called Detached. Two remaining stories, set in the '70s, will be inserted, eventually. Links to the six others which have been finished are below:

About life and death

The Commonwealth of Virginia is going to use what is its greatest power tonight. At 9 p.m., inside the walls of Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, John A. Muhammad, 48, will be put to death.
Gov. Tim Kaine denied clemency Tuesday for sniper John Allen Muhammad, clearing the way for him to be executed for the attacks that terrorized the nation's capital region for three weeks in 2002...
...Muhammad was sentenced to death for killing Dean Harold Meyers at a Manassas gas station during a three-week spree that left 10 dead across Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Click here to read the AP story.

If anyone deserves the death penalty Muhammad has it coming to him. No need to rehash his many crimes in this space.

What response from the government is fitting when a citizen takes fiendish delight in murdering random strangers and terrorizing millions? What should you do to a man who transmogrifies an eager protégé, Lee Boyd Malvo, into a soulless sharpshooting assassin?

Well, if he does it in Virginia and gets caught he gets lethal injection. (I'm glad the electric chair across Belvidere St. from Oregon Hill is gone.)

Yet, if he does many of those same things, but directs his wrath at enemies in another country -- under the flag of war -- he might get a medal, or make millions as a private contractor. Hide and kill 'em when they ain't looking? No problem. There would be nothing wrong with training young men to follow his example.

Muhammad chose the wrong enemy for his personal war, the wrong society. He became a self-styled homegrown terrorist. Whatever his true motive was, he was clever but he got caught.

If I had been the judge to decide his punishment I would have stuffed him into solitary confinement for the rest of his life. Yes, permanent confinement and utter banishment seem totally appropriate to me. That's because I just don't believe executing Muhammad provides any genuine satisfaction in the long run.

For the families of the victims, closure is mostly a myth. And, in my heart of hearts I don't believe the state should coldly take a life in revenge, no matter how heinous the crimes. When the state takes a life, to some extent, it's like living under martial law.

The reason I say "revenge" is because that's what it is. Lethal injection is a state-sanctioned murder, supposedly more humane than electrocution. In our system, capital punishment doesn't save money. Nor does it truly deter crime. People who fear the consequences of their acts don't generally commit random murders.

Like war, an execution is another case of the government saying it's OK to kill some people, sometimes. Which, from a moral standpoint, is a tricky business, at best.

On the other hand, I will not weep for John A. Muhammad (formerly Williams). After tonight, he won't kill anybody else.

No, my tears will be saved for the young Americans who have been trained to kill foreigners who appear to be enemies, sometimes in their own countries. Some of those veterans will come home crazy. Some of them will not be able to leave their haunts or killing ways overseas.

Incidentally, Muhammad was a veteran of the first war in Iraq, remembered as Desert Storm. And, when he dies tonight, we all know it's inevitable there will be unlucky veterans of our current wars who will eventually tempt our society to put them to death.

Since I don't believe in an afterlife, either, I sometimes wonder if believing in heaven allows one -- Christian or Muslim -- to more easily accept the idea that killing other people, without it being a matter of self-defense, is OK.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Buzz Montsinger's CD release party

The latest from my friend Buzz Montsinger (pictured above), who is having a CD Release party. Here is a tidbit from his web site:

The Richmond Heart & Soul Revue is a concept that began in the heart and soul of Buzz Montsinger and Bruce Olsen, two longtime friends and musicians from Richmond, Virginia. Together they began the project as a tribute to the genuine soul music of their era and to the good times that were had by all when the bands they played in as teenagers would perform at Richmond dance hall classics like the Wigwam and Tantilla Gardens.

CD Release Party Set!

Tues., Nov. 10, 6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Studio 418 at 418 W. Broad Street

More info on Facebook: click here.

For background, click here.

-- Photo F.T. Rea (2006)

Fancy Melons

Fiction by F. T. Rea

“Com’ere Bustah,” the old coot barked gruffly.

Slouched on a bench of stone and wood, the man wore an oversized pea coat and a dark blue knit cap. Most noticeable were his pale swollen ankles, showing between high-water plaid trousers and scuffed brown brogans.

Roscoe Swift was content to simply ignore the rumpled stranger until the guy made his purpose clear with his next utterance: “Gotta match?”

Out in the bay, Alcatraz was partially visible in the chilly fog. The thick gray sky was speckled with noisy white seagulls.

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

After a couple of greedy pulls on his smoke, the man tossed the matchbook into the bay and said, “Look’ere kid, y'er no prodigy -- nothing special."

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

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

The sea breeze gusted. When Swift rolled over, he woke up startled and confused. His situation was nearly as weird as his mysterious dream had been. He found that he'd been asleep on a stack of inflated rafts on the beach. Suddenly, it was a beautiful morning in Virginia Beach and Roscoe was very thirsty.

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

Then Roscoe realized he was still dreaming.


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

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

After his morning bathroom routine, Roscoe passed the shoulder-level bed. Still asleep, Selena looked too good to be true. Indeed, their six-week-old secret affair -- out of context from all else -- seemed dream-like much of the time to him. Quietly, he grabbed an old J.W. Rayle softball shirt from the dresser and headed toward the kitchen.

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

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

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

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

In the summer between high school and college Selena had learned a lesson about being caught with her pants down, literally. Her outraged boyfriend, a judge’s son, beat her up. When the bruises faded she left her hometown for good.

Sometimes, Roscoe didn’t know whether to believe Selena. Nor was he sure the ponytail really had everybody fooled. Still, with the bangs, it was a great look for her. Just the sight of that ponytail, bobbing and swaying as she walked, had a hypnotic effect on him.

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

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

Roscoe switched on the kitchen radio and opened the refrigerator. Then he remembered that Selena had wolfed down his leftover pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Done,” said Selena. “Watermelon and champagne, together?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With her hair gathered in a ponytail, Selena wore a pair of maroon short shorts and a lightweight gray sweatshirt with Bertand Russell's face on it that she borrowed from Roscoe. He knew she would try to steal it. Smitten with the sight of her, Roscoe could hardly keep his eyes on the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

At 6 p.m., that same day, when Roscoe got home from playing Frisbee-golf, he found a message Selena had left on his new telephone answering machine. Essentially, it said her fiancé had returned from his business trip, without warning, two days early. Roscoe felt a sense of panic, wondering how much the man knew. There must have been some gossip.

Although she said twice that everything was “fine,” the fact she said it at all gave him a bad feeling.

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

And, that was that, except for this postscript on a rainy day about a year after Harper’s Ferry. A day after returning from a week’s stay in San Francisco, visiting his old friend Finn Daley, Roscoe found a brown paper bag on the driver’s seat of his Volvo, which he never locked.

In the grocery store bag was a bottle of Dom Perignon, along with a small watermelon and an unlabeled tape cassette. Roscoe shoved the cassette into the stereo and switched the ignition on. Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” poured out of the speakers.

“Passion,” said he with chuckle nearly as dry as the bottle of bubbly next to him. Roscoe let out what was left of his clutch and turned up the volume.
* * *

All rights reserved by the author. Fancy Melons with its accompanying illustration are part of a series of stories called Detached. Two remaining stories, set in the '70s, will be inserted, eventually. Links to the six others which have been finished are below: