Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Ghostly Spider

The initial symptom was an itchiness that got steadily worse. Then it started swelling. It was my then-girlfriend who first suggested, “Spider bite.” Although I hadn't been aware of being bitten, she was right. It was 11 years ago that a sneaky spider bit me on the temple area next to my right eye.

By the end of the first day there was considerable swelling and redness. Over the next couple of days the swelling increased until my eye was completely closed by it. I felt weak and nauseous, with chills and body aches.

The doctor I saw confirmed the spider bite diagnosis. He guessed it was a brown recluse; he told me he didn’t know all that much about spider bites. Apparently, most doctors don’t. An antibiotic was prescribed to deal with the infection problem that sometimes comes along with any sort of bite.

"Unfortunately," said the doctor, there was nothing he could give me to prevent the venom's tricks from running their course in my body. He said it was just a matter of how my immune system would react to the venom.

Since I took the medicine, some of how I felt for the next week may have had to do with the bite, plus a reaction to the pills. In general, I wasn’t as sick as the worst day of a full blown flu. It was somewhat similar to the flu, but this was much more disorienting.

As the swelling went down, the seven spots that had formed in the middle of it gradually turned from reddish-purple to bluish-black. Naturally, I looked at them every few minutes, to see what would happen next.

To understand my problem better I read about brown recluse bites online. It only scared me more. I came to understand the spots I was seeing on my face, grouped within an area the size of a penny, were necrotic flesh.

It was a sobering thought -- my flesh was dying. After looking at gross photographs of people who had huge tissue losses from brown recluse bites, I swore off my research.

The sick feeling gradually went away. The swelling disappeared. The dark spots, most of them the size of a piece of rice, or smaller, rotted away and dropped off, leaving seven little holes.

Today the scars are mixed in with the crows feet lines extending from the corner of my eye, so mostly they are only noticed by someone who remembers the ordeal and wants to look for them.

Like other healing wounds there was itching problem that was a distraction at times. That went on for months. Yet what was the strangest aspect of it all came later, after I had stopped worrying about the spider bite all the time: Every so often, there was a feathery, fluttering sensation that felt just like an insect -- or a ghostly spider! -- was skittering across my eyelid, or the eyeball itself.

Until I got used to it, each time it happened I flinched, believing, at least for a fraction of a second, it could be a spider on my eye.

It was torture. Maybe a year after the spider bite that last spooky effect of it faded away, too. I suppose the healing was over.

Never worried about spiders much before this experience. Live and let live was my approach. After that fluttering eyelid thing, if I see a spider indoors these days its biting days are over.

Ever since this happened I’ve wondered -- why seven holes? Were there seven separate bites? Or, was it one big bite and seven reactions? The doctor said he didn’t have the answer.

-- 30 --

Road to Afghanistan seems familiar

New York Times columnist Frank Rich has penned an excellent OpEd piece, "Obama at the Precipice," on a new book that touches on the dilemma that Afghanistan is presenting to the new president.
[McGeorge] Bundy left his memoir unfinished at his death in 1996. Goldstein’s book, drawn from Bundy’s ruminations and deep new research, is full of fresh information on how the best and the brightest led America into the fiasco. “Lessons in Disaster” caused only a modest stir when published in November, but The Times Book Review cheered it as “an extraordinary cautionary tale for all Americans.”

The reviewer was, of all people, the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose career began in Vietnam and who would later be charged with the Afghanistan-Pakistan crisis by the new Obama administration. Holbrooke’s verdict on “Lessons in Disaster” was not only correct but more prescient than even he could have imagined. This book’s intimate account of White House decision-making is almost literally being replayed in Washington (with Holbrooke himself as a principal actor) as the new president sets a course for the war in Afghanistan. The time for all Americans to catch up with this extraordinary cautionary tale is now.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Those Richmonders with a long memory may recall reading Rich's articles in the Richmond Mercury, an alternative weekly that lasted three years, 1972-75. Rich, who is Frances Lewis' nephew, wrote for the Mercury for about a year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Quiet Majority

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

-- From “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats


Majority rules. It’s a fundamental precept of democracy. Yet, in real life it doesn’t always play out that way. Sometimes, the majority can be overruled.

For instance, in a spontaneous political discussion around a picnic table in the park, one pushy palooka with a bullhorn voice can shout down any five soft-spoken picnickers, taking turns to speak. Moreover, history tells us that when a savvy and energetic minority wants to run roughshod over the prerogatives of most of the population it can be done. It helps to be organized and ruthless.

We’ve recently seen town hall meetings about health care reform sabotaged in ways kindred in spirit to the picnic table example. Rudeness has seemed to be in the air this month. Most notably, Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama, in the midst of a presidential address before a joint session of congress.

Aren’t some of the same folks who stridently objected to President Obama speaking to their children during the school day now calling the obstreperous Rep. Wilson a hero?

Talk about setting a bad example for kids!

Just how many people really see Wilson’s calculated grandstanding as a heroic gesture is guesswork. We’ll probably see a poll on that soon, but polls on such provocative questions are sure to be gamed to the hilt.

However, regardless of their political affiliations, I’m confident that most everyday people disapproved of what the ill-mannered, celebrity wannabe congressman from South Carolina did to interrupt the president’s address.

Wilson has been getting plenty of help in becoming a celebrity from the two relentlessly partisan, finger-pointing basic cable news networks -- MSNBC and Fox News.

With MSNBC on the left and Fox News on the right, a consumer can take in the same story presented from clashing points of view. How close either network gets to telling the plain truth varies from day to day. With their formats, those networks need the Wilsons of the world more than they seem to need to find the truth.

All the political news programs televised in this age routinely use battling spokespersons, people who are paid to attack their opponents. Too many times those presentations degenerate into shouting contests. It’s hard to believe any of the consumers’ minds are being expanded, or changed, by being subjected to mean-voiced bickering disguised as debate.

Meanwhile, with all the shouting, the quiet majority isn’t silent. But it has little effective say-so because normal speaking voices can’t be heard over the din. We are being subjected to all the noise, so that a small percentage of the population, the fringes, can make thoughtful communication among the vast majority of Americans more difficult.

Regardless of what the shouters say, that's hardly in the spirit of freedom of speech.

In the bigger picture, with the shouting increasing and understanding diminishing is our society’s center going to hold?

-- 30 --

Update: "The problem with cable news" by Michael Gerson

Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering Half-Rubber

Thought about Jack Leigh (1948-2004) today. He was part of the Biograph Theatre’s staff in late-1973/early-1974.

Leigh was earnest and quick-witted. Jack liked to play chess and talk about movies, and of course -- photography. In those days he was already a very good photographer.

Once, when we went out shooting pictures together, he snapped his shutter maybe twice, in the same time it took me to go through two rolls of film. The quiet style Jack would use throughout his career was already evident. He authored six books of photographs, including "Oystering," which featured a foreward by James Dickey.

Jack introduced me to Half-Rubber, a three-man baseball-like game that he said originated in his hometown, Savannah. It was played with a broom handle and half of a red rubber ball.

At the time there were several vacant lots across from the theater, so one afternoon I crossed Grace Street with Jack and assistant manager Bernie Hall to try Half-Rubber.

The key to pitching was to throw the ball with a side-arm delivery, with the flat part down. That made it curve wildly and soar, somewhat like a Frisbee. Hitting or catching it was quite another matter.

The pitcher threw the half-ball in the general direction of the batter. If the batter swung and missed, and he usually did miss, the catcher did his best to catch it, which wasn't easy, either. When the catcher did catch it, providing the batter had swung, he was out. Then the pitcher moved to the catching position, and the catcher became the batter, and so forth.

But the best reason to play -- other than the laughs stemming from how foolish we looked dealing with the crazy ball -- was the kick that came from hitting it. When we connected with that little red devil, it left the bat like a rocket. We could hit it halfway to Broad St. Oh, and hitting the ball on a bounce was OK, too.

We probably played Half-Rubber five or six times. Jack appeared briefly in "Matinee Madcap" (1974) -- he bumps into the protagonist in front of the theater, just before he steals the money and goes in to watch the movie.

The following, about his most famous photograph, is from the Jack Leigh's Gallery’s web site:
In 1993 Leigh was commissioned to create a photograph for the book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. The book became an international best seller and the photograph is Leigh's most famous and widely recognized image.
Click here to visit the gallery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rea never planned to play with a full deck

After seeing this old video from the 1984 City Council campaign, with WTVR's footage of yours truly, I was reminded of this article that appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 15 years ago. I didn't realize it then, but I was just a couple of months from ceasing to publish SLANT. It's a funny article in many ways. The writer was so charming that she got me telling all sorts of stories I might/should have withheld.

Feb. 6, 1994
"Wild card Rea never planned to play with a full deck"
by Sibella Connor

Provided your corset isn’t laced too tightly, you could probably understand that F.T. Rea’s artwork is actually a sort of extended Public Service Announcement. Granted, it’s not your regular P.S.A. -- rarely politically correct or even serious. But then, precious little is regular with this irreverent artist and writer.

In one sentence, Rea’s P.S.A. might go like this: “Don’t believe everything you read.”

Fair enough, it would seem.

But given the reaction his ideas -- appearing most frequently in the alternative periodical The Slant -- have received over the years, it would appear Richmond has more than its fair share of lungs grown accustomed to shallow breathing.

The fact is, not everyone enjoys reading Rea’s rambunctious little paper. His essays, which range from obituaries of the city’s more disaffected souls to discussions of TV violence, have led some people to call him a crackpot. A loony. Some weird guy living in the Fan who should shut up and get a job, for Pete’s sake.

Well, take a deep breath, Richmond, because Rea’s delivering another corset-popper.

“Slant Legends” is a deck of 12 cards with the faces of Richmond’s famous, infamous, and virtually unknown. Landing in several local bookstores last month, the $10 deck of “Legends” has already earned the mixed reaction Rea has come to expect.

“Some people really like them,” he said. “Other people sort of look at them and walk away scratching their heads.”

In addition to the obvious Virginia celebrities such as former Gov. Doug Wilder, Rea has tossed in a few oddball characters, friends he thinks should be celebrities -- a disc jockey, a guitar player and a “wizard.”

Each 2-by-3-inch card is signed by the artist and laminated for long life, although the legends themselves may hope the cards meet an early demise. Rea’s drawings verge on unflattering caricature, while the explanatory notes offer biographic tags nobody’s bragging about.

Joe Morrissey’s hyperkinetic eyebrows bounce above the identifier “Embattled Dude.” Richmond City Councilman Roy West looks nearly demonic, and has been labeled “Councilmanic Windbag.” And lawyer and BLAB-TV owner Michael Morchower has the face of a homely basset hound, with one word as explanation: “Mouthpiece.”

“I just like to tease people,” said Rea, sitting in his tidy Fan apartment.

Most of the “legends” first appeared in Slant, the biweekly broadsheet Rea has single-handedly cranked out since 1985. The Slant serves up Rea’s many splendored takes on the world, from what happened in Richmond last week to what happened years ago in Beirut.

It also offers Rea, 46, a place to show his art. But his Slant portraits usually have more words than what’s on the cards -- more words or more ammo, depending on how you look at it. For instance, Gov. George Allen pops up in the Legends deck with a simple tongue-in-cheeker: “Intellectual/Governor.”

But his grinning portrait in Slant after last November’s election carried the following quote: “...And finally, I want to thank those Democrats who helped so much -- Doug Wilder, Patricia Cornwell, and whoever dressed Mary Sue in that K mart Maggie Thatcher look.”

The jab is vintage Rea. Artist as gadfly.

In between scraping by as a graphic artist and publishing Slant, Rea has heard the disparaging words, Get a job.

“Even my good friends tell me that all the time, ‘Why don’t you get a job?’ Well I had a job for a long time, and to tell you the truth, I apply for jobs I think I’m qualified for all the time, part-time PR and things like that. And I don’t know, they never hire me. I guess I’m just not the corporate type.”

From all appearances though, it’d be hard to peg Rea as counter-culture. He looks like anything but the merry prankster, with his professorial demeanor and his dress code out a 1940s movie. Most often, he can be seen nattily attired in shirt and tie, his brown hair clipped short.

“I’ve never had a radical appearance,” he said. “Even during the hippie years, I never had long hair. Of course, that’s probably the Richmond in me.”

He can never resist another jab.

*

The city provides ample material for Rea, who’s known as Terry. But after awhile it becomes clear his relationship with the city is love-hate. Like so many gadflies, Rea bothers the sacred cow mostly because he cares about it. After all, he’s never left.

“I was raised in an offbeat fashion by my grandparents, my mother and the streets,” he said. During the 1960s, he attended Thomas Jefferson High School, but never saw the final ceremonies.

“I fled rather than graduated,” he said, laughing. “But when I went to school, I went to Thomas Jefferson. I had a very hard time sitting down for more than 10 minutes at a time. Consequently, I was tossed out of school on a regular basis.”

He bounced around Richmond for several years, landing odd jobs, then leaving them. At one point, he sold advertising for a radio station. Then in 1972, Rea found the Biograph Theatre on West Grace Street. It was a match made in heaven. A movie buff of the biggest sort, Rea appeared made [to manage] the [new] arthouse theater.

In his apartment, Hollywood biographies and film lore line his bookshelves -- not to mention the strange convolutions of his brain. Searching to explain certain situations, Rea often uses a scene from a movie -- “You know when John Wayne turns and says ... You know how Aubrey Hepburn looked in ‘Sabrina?’”

Run on a shoestring budget, the Biograph was modeled after a Georgetown theater by the same name. During the day there were Truffaut and Bergman films. And after awhile, there was porno after midnight.

“We did it to make money,” Rea said.

Along with its eclectic cinematic showings, the Biograph grew infamous for its personality, in large part due to Rea’s ring-leadership. In the summer of 1973, a Richmond civil court banned the Biograph from showing the porno movie “The Devil in Miss Jones.” Using the new yardstick sent down by the U.S. Supreme Court, judge and jury decreed the film violated the contemporary community standards of obscenity.

Four months later, the Biograph was celebrating its two-year anniversary. Rea wanted to give the public a present, so he offered free admission to anyone who wanted to see “The Devil and Miss Jones,” with the short feature “Beaver Valley.”

Five thousand people showed up for the several hundred seats in the theater. A radio helicopter circled the air above Grace Street, reporting on the line that stretched around the block. When the lights went down, not everyone in the audience was delighted to discover that “Beaver Valley” was a Disney documentary on river animals. Nor were they dancing in the aisles about the prepositional distinction that separated the banned porno flick and the 1941 black-and-white classic starring Robert Cummings -- a preposition that placed Miss Jones in vastly different proximities to the devil.

“Actually, there were people who thought they were seeing the censored version of the skin flick,” Rea said.

In the lobby, the laughing manager served cake and beer, thoroughly enjoying the joke with those patrons who could take it. Like most of Rea’s pranks, however, politics lurked near the punchline.

“Part of my point was, by whose community standards was this deemed naughty? I mean, five thousand people showed up to see what they thought was a porno flick, so you tell me whose community we’re talking about. Besides I had to come up with schemes like that to make people pay attention to the theater. We had no money for advertising.”

*

About the same time the Biograph was tossing banana peels on the pavement, Rea helped organize the Fan District Softball League. It was, typical of the Fan, a mixture of human types. Professionals, students, offbeat artists. Rea’s team quickly became known for its left-field mentality and underhanded tactics.

It included two guys from Europe who spoke no English and had no idea what softball was. Also on the roster was a life-size cardboard cutout of Mr. Natural, the hitchhiking cartoon character created by R. Crumb. Of course, not everyone appreciated the humor. But -- also, of course -- Rea milked it for all it was worth. He created a newsletter for the league, recording team statistics and standings.

“I made most of it up,” he said.

Softball in part explains why Leo Koury made the “Slant Legends” deck.

Koury remained on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for many years. And for many years, lived in Richmond. The [wanted] poster said Koury was “sought in connection with shooting murders of two individuals and attempted contract murder of three others, and conspiracy to kidnap an individual for substantial ransom payment.”

Koury was never caught, and died several years ago in San Diego, where he lived under an assumed name and worked at a convenience store. In the Legends’ deck, his card reads: “Umpire/Escape Artist.”

“Leo Koury was a softball umpire for our league,” Rea explained. “That’s how I knew him. He was the only one who put up with the Fan District league. He seemed like a very nice man, and actually if you asked a lot of people around here, you would get a full rainbow of perceptions, people who thought he was evil and people who thought he was wonderful. It depends on how you knew him.”

Rea’s softball antics eventually led him to BLAB-TV, the local public access channel. He hosted a sports sendup called “Mondo Softball,” which starred Rea’s athletic alter ego, Mutt DeVille (Rea dressed as a jock).

After Mondo Softball came "Mondo City," another sendup, this one devoted to popular culture. Both shows were almost too weird to be believed. In fact, “Mondo City” got so weird it went down in flames soon after a guest appearance by the rock/theatric group GWAR.

Rea recalled an “unusually provocative phone call from a female” coming in during the show, and a cameraman, who thought his camera wasn’t transmitting, zoomed in for a close-up of a GWAR costume -- the part of the costume bearing a rather sizable, anatomically unambiguous male body part.

Suddenly, somebody hit a switch. The camera came on. And the view of the penis was sent around the city, followed by some graphic discussion of it. Corset strings popped. And Michael Morchower, the station’s owner (and Slant Legend) issued formal apologies repeatedly.

“There were apologies all over the place,” Rea said. “But actually BLAB milked it for all the publicity they could get while protesting that they didn’t like it. It’s my understanding that the tape is a collector’s item among a certain set.”

“Actually,” he continued, “I don’t think that anybody got that upset over that. I’m sure Mike Morchower has seen worse than that. Have you ever seen his show?”

Morchower is the host of a weekly call-in show on legal matters, “Lawlines.”

“Take a look at that show and see if you think I’m being unkind.”

“Mondo City” survived the GWAR fiasco, but Rea’s rowdy heart had fled. The gadfly got swatted too hard.

“I got scared. I stayed away from the edge for a while and the next few shows just weren’t there. So I said, forget it.”

Would he consider doing it again?

“I would consider almost anything.”

As an aside -- perhaps -- Slant recently explained BLAB’s call letters: “Babbling Locals and Blowhards.” Rea did not exempt himself from categorization.

*

In 1984, Rea ran for Richmond City Council. “Predictably, I lost,” he wrote several years later in an issue of Slant. But the essay recounting his run in the 5th District was a winner. It represents the best of Slant, with writing that ranges from pungent to poignant.

He wrote: “Meeting the candidates, who ranged from soup to nuts, was a trip.” And he went on to describe the world of single-person candidacy, with Rea motoring to beleaguered housing projects like Gilpin Court to post fliers announcing his candidacy.

“Prior to my days as a candidate, Gilpin Court had been just another vague, scary place on the map,” he wrote.

Pounding the pavement with his staple gun and sneakers, he was soon joined by a group of neighborhood kids who followed him through Gilpin Court and distributed fliers. After all the other kids had grown bored “with the goofy white guy,” one boy remained with Rea.

“In an effort to be friendly, I tried to engage him in conversation,”

Rea wrote:

“That tactic met with little success. As we were finishing the last section to be covered (with leaflets), I asked him a question that had gone over well with children in other parts of town. ‘What’s the best thing and the worst thing about your neighborhood?’

“He stopped and stared through me. Although I felt uncomfortable about it, I repeated the question after a moment.

“Then he replied. His words hit hard, but he spoke without emotion.

‘Ain’t no best thing.’”

When asked about the candidacy, Rea sighed. “I found out real fast that I’m better off on the outside throwing my mudballs and making my comments than I am in the limelight and under the scrutiny that a political candidate lives with.”

“I think people want their political candidates a little more restrained than I’ve been. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, but that’s the way it is.”

Rain or shine, poor or just dead broke, Rea continues to publish The Slant, cranking out the essays, paying tribute to the people and things he likes and dislikes, then fielding all calls for his head. He’s also branching out with more art work, which will be on display at Coffee & Co in Carytown this month. Somebody will always have something to say about Rea.

“I’ve always gotten wild reactions,” he said.

“Sometimes I can laugh it off. Other times, it’s more difficult. What’s bothered me more than anything is the hate mail and the strange characters who come out of the woodwork and think something I’ve written in The Slant is speaking to them in a special way.

“That’s just one more reason why I use a post office box.”

He distributes The Slant himself, dropping off 3,000 copies at about 90 places from Carytown to Shockoe Bottom. It’s on these distribution runs that Rea sometimes gets some of his best feedback.

“One time in the Fan Market, I was delivering a batch of The Slants and I was setting them down by the checkout,” he said. “A woman reached down and picked up a copy. She was in her late 50s, if I had to guess. Maybe a legal secretary. And she couldn’t have had any idea that the guy delivering those things was the same guy who wrote it.”

“She said to checkout guy, ‘You know why I read this?’ She waited for an answer, stuffing the periodical in her bag. Then she said: ‘Because it makes me feel less crazy.’”

Looking up at her, Rea thought one thing: “Boy, I must be doing my job.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wilder stiff-arms Deeds

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Forever Wilder

Sometime Democrat Doug Wilder, 78, has made his decision: He will not endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial race. Wilder released a 722 word statement today.

The requests, made of me, have been to endorse Mr. Deeds, the Democratic Candidate, for Governor. I refrain from doing so and will leave that choice to the voters. This in no wise is intended to detract from Mr. Deeds in terms of character or commitment to the task of being Governor. I find that he, as well as Mr. McDonnell are fine and honorable men and well suited to that task.

To read Wilder's statement click here to go to Bob Holsworth's blog, Virginia Tomorrow.

In his statement, the former governor of Virginia and mayor of Richmond gave some clues as to why Creigh Deeds couldn't win his endorsement. In doing so Wilder mentioned Deeds three times by name. Bob McDonnell got one such mention. That while Wilder wrote "I" 13 times.

So, for the most part, Wilder used the space to remind his readers of what he sees as pertinent highlights of his own record. He made no mention of the many feuds he has (had) with various Democrats along the way.

However, those readers who have followed Wilder's long career, with payback as its guiding light, understand all too well what his "statement" is all about.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Paige on Bob's World

In her commentary about the gubernatorial race, Tidewater blogger supreme Vivian Paige writes on Bob's World.

Click here to understand better about why the 20-year-old, controversial McDonnell Thesis, written by the candidate when he was a 34-year-old law school student, remains in the news.

Bob McDonnell's campaign has managed to cast him as a moderate, practical conservative. To the credit of his hired-hand propagandists, many voters apparently see him in that light. Read the thesis. Look at his record in public office.

How much does candidate McDonnell's history back up his campaign's convenient posture that he is no longer the willing tool of those on the backward fringe of American political thought?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Journalism jobs evaporating fast!

While some applaud the trend that has the mainstream media taking in much less revenue, and losing their influence, the people losing their jobs can't be entirely happy about it. Maybe you shouldn't be so happy about it, either.

Editor & Publisher supplies some perspective:
Unity's 2009 Layoff Tracker Report shows an average 22% increase from month to month in journalism jobs lost from September 2008 through August 2009. The general economy lost jobs at an average monthly pace of about 8% during that time, according to Unity.
Click here to read the article.

Most of those disappearing jobs are in print journalism. Which leaves some of us who have labored as inky wretches wondering who will cover the complicated stories. In the future, who will do investigative journalism?

Is part of the reason political discourse in America has gotten to be so rude and attack-oriented that the people/voters no longer understand issues below the surface? Isn't that part of why too many people today only know slogans and personalities? How much does this trend stem from the fact that newspapers no longer have the staffs or the space to cover complicated stories in depth?

Blogs can be worthwhile. But, other than to offer opinions, are independent bloggers with no budget to travel or work at it full time really ever going to be able to cover global economic/political news with any competence?

Where is the growing hatred and distrust of the withering mainstream media taking us?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pictures from the Guerilla Art Show

The weather for Guerilla Art Show was spectacular. Seven artists participated. Some money changed hands. It was easy to have a good time.

Click on the image to see it larger.

-- Photos by Steve Macaulay.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sunday: pretty weather and art in the park


The 3rd Annual Guerilla Art Show will happen for three hours in Byrd Park on Sunday, September 13, between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Several paintings and drawings of mine will be on display and for sale. The 8" by 10" drawing above can be yours for $75 (unframed).

Numerous ceramic pieces by Andrew Potterfield will be there, including some soda-fired stoneware. Looking to buy a nice cup or bowl at a very comfortable price? This is your chance. With no retail/gallery markup this is an opportunity to save some money, while supporting local artists. Buying local is cool.

It's going to be a pretty day. Bring out a picnic lunch and look at some art. Looking is free! As this is a guerilla art show, I can't say how many other artists will be a part of the show. Artists are encouraged to bring out their work and display it. You don't need anyone's permission. No fees. (For info ftrea9@yahoo.com)

The show will be located around the Ha'Penny Stage behind the Carillon.

Through the prism of 9/11

A new piece I wrote for the eighth anniversary of 9/11 is up at Richmond.com.
Many Americans have viewed everything that has happened since that day like no other through the prism of 9/11. For those who lost family or friends because 19 terrorists saw innocent people as mere tools that’s easy to understand.

However, since Sept. 11, 2001, surely what has become the most hackneyed phrase in use is "the lessons of 9/11."
Click here to read the entire piece.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

No way, Joe

The newest star in the constellation that is the Republican Party emerged last night during President Barack Obama's speech. Since the president shot a sharp glance toward the congressman who had just yelled, "You lie!" South Carolina's Rep. Joe Wilson has become an overnight celebrity.
"You lie!" Wilson blurted out during President Barack Obama's health care address to a joint session Wednesday night, an outburst that made some supporters shudder even as others believed it could give Wilson a political boost in his conservative hometown.

"He's the only one who has guts in that whole place. He'll get re-elected in a landslide," said John Roper, an insurance agent, as he sat among patrons at a diner near Columbia.

Click here to read the entire AP article.

Move over Sarah Palin. Step aside Joe the Plumber. The new darling of the Perpetually Angry Neo-Fruitcake Wing of the GOP is Joe Wilson, who claims his outburst was spontaneous.

Well, I have my doubts that Wilson is telling the truth. It could easily have been predicted in advance that if a rightwing congressman yelled, "You lie!" at Obama during his speech on live television -- under the Capitol dome! -- that with the help of the media the PAN-FWotGOP would instantly make a hero out that same rude congressman.

Two days ago who knew this Wilson cat? Now he's the story. The nation's news junkies are learning all about his history. Well, I think the guy went there last night to make himself into the lowbrow celebrity he has suddenly become.

Sorry, Joe, I don't believe there's much truth in your saying it ain't so, either. What this former protégé of the flinty Strom Thurmond did was an obvious stunt to draw attention to himself.

This was a career move for Mr. Wilson, who's now in the process of becoming the face of the shameless Town Hall sabotage strategy of the rightwing fringe that seeks to do everything it can to block health care reform.

It's no wonder the Grand Old Party is shriveling like a wicked witch caught in a cloudburst.

*

Update: Want to see how silly it has gotten? Click here to read the comments under a short RT-D article about this incident. Check out how quickly Wilson has been embraced as a champion of truth and justice to those who can't stand Obama.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sore losers afraid of Obama's charm?

President Barack Obama delivered his back-to-school address today. So, with that behind us, the drumbeat from the bitter but determined rightwing fringe to cast what the president would say as a plot to indoctrinate the nation's youth is over. It's worth noting that their "subliminal socialism" strategy may have gotten a lot of publicity leading up to the speech, but it didn't seem to get much traction beyond the propagandists who were selling it and their already established following.

As it turned out, the speech itself wasn't about politics. It was about not getting discouraged and taking responsibility for one's own education, no matter the distractions. The people who wanted Obama to say something controversial had to be disappointed.

After the speech I listened to some of the spin and did get one good laugh before I shut off the television. A Republican spokesman said, in essence, that Obama is so charming and persuasive that many parents who disagree with him on OTHER matters are still afraid their children will start to like the president, if they listen to what he says about their education.

Wow! Talk about sore losers.

--Words and art by F.T. Rea

Saturday, September 05, 2009

3rd Annual Guerilla Art Show news


The handbill (click to enlarge) for the 3rd Annual Guerilla Art Show on Sept. 13. Artists interested in participating are encouraged to do so. No fees. Bring what you need to display your work. If you have questions, get in touch (ftrea9@yahoo.com).

Hey, the last two shows were good to me, because I sold art.

Another contrived brouhaha

At noon on Tues., Sept. 8, President Barack Obama will speak to students at Wakefield High School in Arlington County. The address is intended to motivate students on their first day of school; it will challenge students to take individual responsibility for their success in school.

The speech will be televised on C-SPAN live.

While many parents will be glad for some help in motivating children to do the right thing, apparently some in the metro Richmond area are not. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article about how area school systems are handling complaints from parents who object to their children seeing/hearing the speech documents the situation.
School officials in Powhatan County have opted not to broadcast the speech, said Debbie M. Jones, vice chairwoman of the county's School Board. She referred more specific questions to Superintendent Margaret S. Meara, but attempts to reach her yesterday were unsuccessful.
Judging from the tone of some of the 396 comments (at this writing) under the article, it’s seems we’ve got another contrived brouhaha bubbling. To some who posted comments it was another opportunity to call the president Hitler, or a communist, or both a fascist and a commie at the same time.

Obviously, such people are so unhappy that Obama won they mean to thwart his every move in every way, every time. Moreover, the more miserable they can make anyone who supports Obama feel the better they like it. Going mean to thwart is easy for them.

The most passionate Obama-haters aren't above using their children to score imaginary points in a twisted game that exists only in their sore-losing minds. When reasonable, fair-minded Republicans avert their eyes from dirtball shenanigans such as this they undermine their credibility.

So, now a back-to-school message to students has become an issue. It's silly and it's galling. Nobody is better off for this becoming a bone of contention.

Update: "Reaction to Obama's speech is tragic, sinister and sickening."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bill Bradley still a straight shooter

In Sunday's New York Times former Sen. Bill Bradley, one of my favorite basketball players ever, offered what reads to me like a big part of the solution to the health care stalemate that seems so much in the air today. Here it is a nutshell:
The bipartisan trade-off in a viable health care bill is obvious: Combine universal coverage with malpractice tort reform in health care.
Click here to read Bradley's sensible and reasonable suggestion, "Tax Reform’s Lesson for Health Care Reform."

Maybe Rosebud

Fiction by F. T. Rea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

What the hell does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He told her Welles and Luis Bunuel were two of his biggest heroes. Then he recounted a punchy version of the story of Pal's name-change.

Sally tilted her head and raised a fetching eyebrow, "Do you hope the bite mark will leave a scar?"

* * *

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

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