Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Goldman’s Goat

While many in Richmond have been fascinated by VCU’s unexpected success in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, gadfly Paul Goldman has apparently been suffering. You see, the whole town has been talking about the Rams stunning victory over the Jayhawks on Sunday. It seems that in the shadow of all the big sports news, lately, folks have not been paying enough attention to poor Mr. Goldman's opinions.

This week it's all about V! C! U!

So, STYLE Weekly’s publisher decided to go against the grain and let Goldman out of his padded cell. With a cover story about what it called “An improbable, unthinkable weekend," the magazine filled its Back Page with an anti-sports screed that would be a reach any week.

Perhaps STYLE wanted to throw a bone to its readers who hate sports, but there's just no reason to connect Joey Rodriguez and Shaka Smart to any of the problems Goldman mentioned.

It's hardly news that Goldman is still pissed off because the city’s government still hasn’t solved the problems on his list of pet peeves. However, it seems what has really gotten Goldman’s goat this time is that like so many people all over the metro area, Richmond’s elected officials seem to be enjoying VCU’s miracle run in the tournament.
Despite spending millions of dollars on more studies and commissions, the city has no workable plan, in terms of a real-time document officials could produce if subpoenaed into court, for creating jobs and improving education, transportation, housing and health care. But the mayor and City Council say not to worry — Richmond basketball makes us a first-tier city.

We have no economic development plan for Shockoe Bottom, the Boulevard, downtown or any place in the city that would pass muster in any of Richmond’s many successful businesses’ planning offices. But the mayor and City Council say not to worry — Richmond basketball makes us a first-tier city.
Click here to read Goldman’s “Fantasy Camp.”

This piece could easily have run two or three weeks from now and it would have done just as much good, whatever that good might be.

Instead, the magazine’s decision-makers saw fit to air out Goldman‘s laundry list of familiar I-told-you-so grievances this Wednesday, three days before VCU (28-11) will play Butler (27-9). Saturday’s semifinal game (6 p.m on CBS) will be the most important sporting event any team from the City of Richmond has ever been a part of … in any sport.

Well, given the timing of this thing, I'm calling Goldman’s latest demand for attention a deliberate foul. I'm kicking Goldman and his goat out of the game.

Go Rams!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wallowing in national attention: 'Eat Crow, Baby!'

Yes, this weekend Richmond has two teams in San Antonio to play basketball. No, ESPN experts notwithstanding, they aren't in one of the also-ran tournaments; the Rams and Spiders are participants in the NCAA's Southwest Regional. They are dancing.

Want to read about this unprecedented development? Here are some links that will keep you busy:
  • Click here to read "Richmond enjoying unprecedented spotlight thanks to Rams, Spiders" at Sports Illustrated.
  • Click here to read "Rally in Richmond takes jab at Dickie V: 'Eat Crow, Baby!'" at USA Today.
  • Click here to read "Richmond, VCU ponder ways to keep coaches from jumping jobs" at USA Today.
  • Click here to read “NCAA tournament gives VCU and Richmond something in common” by Steve Yanda for the Washington Post.
  • Click here to read "Rams befuddle opponents and experts, alike" at the Fan District Hub.
  • Click here to read "VCU fan’s Sweet 16 week on the road" by Dan Steinberg for the Washington Post.

  • Click here to read "Florida State showing VCU lots of respect" at the Miami Herald.
  • Click here to read "A little (light-hearted) background on VCU" at the San Antonio Express-News.
  • To wind this up, click here to read a sour grapes piece from the Crimson White in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, "NCAA selection committee should judge success, not RPI."

VCU to San Antonio

In case you missed the sendoff for the Rams today on Broad St., the video above is my view of what happened on the afternoon of Mar. 23 on the northern border of the Fan District.

VCU Rams fans gathered in the parking lot next to the Siegel Center to give the red hot basketball team and its traveling party a proper sendoff. The Shaka Smart-coached Rams were on their way to San Antonio to play the Florida St. Seminoles in the NCCA Sweet 16 on Friday night.

No, expert hoops analyst Jay Bilas wasn't seen in the crowd, although there were a few references to Bilas and his sidekick, Dick Vitale, on the signage in the crowd.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lucky Break

1982 Biograph Naturals

Each year the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament is a blessing during the month of March. It helps get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter.

Of course, to be a junkie in full bloom one must still play the game. Since I quit playing basketball in 1994, I suppose I’ve been a junkie in recovery. Yes, I’ll always miss the way a perfectly-released jump shot felt as it left my fingertips. Nothing has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbled over his hubris.

Covering college basketball, as a writer, has helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball always appealed to me, especially, my inclination is to pay particular attention to players who have a special knack for seizing the moment.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, there are brutal truths to be reckoned with. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I’ve not completely forgotten what it felt like to dislocate my right ankle on the afternoon of April 20, 1985; I was undercut finishing a one-on-five fast break lay-up.

Take it from me, dear reader, popping your foot off your leg hurts too much to forget -- think James Cann in “Misery” (1990).

Three years before that injury, my then-34-year-old nose was broken in the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a team in a league called the Central Basketball Alliance. Other teams were sponsored by the Track, Soble’s, Hababa’s, the Jade Elephant, etc. Personnel-wise, it was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters ... and, I do mean characters.

The morning after my nose was bashed in by an opponent’s upwardly thrust elbow, while I was coming down from a failed attempt at snatching a rebound, I went to Stuart Circle Hospital for treatment.

My nose wasn’t just broken, it had been split open at the bridge in three or four directions. The emergency room doc used Super Glue and a butterfly clamp to put it all back together. This was before such glue had been approved for use in this country, so he asked me not to tell anyone what he had done; I hope the statute of limitations has run out.

Then, while I was waiting around in the lobby to sign some papers, my grandmother -- “Villa” Emily Collins Owen -- was wheeled by, stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same shock effect as accidentally seeing one’s parent in such an abrupt context.

We spoke briefly. She said she was feeling a little weak from a cold and had decided to spend the night in the hospital. She lived just a few blocks away. Pretending to ignore my gripping sense of panic, I calmly assured Nana (pronounced Ny-nuh) I’d be back during visiting hours, to see how she was doing.

Six decades before she had trained to be a nurse at that same hospital, which has now been converted into condos.

Later I took my then-12-year-old daughter, Katey, with me to see Nana. The doctor came in her room and told us she’d be fine with a good night’s rest. As Katey and I are both frustrated stand-up comics, we spent a half-hour making our 83-year-old Nana laugh as best she could … feeling a little weak.

Nana died in the middle of that same night.

Katey and I probably wouldn’t have had that last visit with her, had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak. Which means I have to say the palooka who elbowed me in that basketball game did me a favor. Perhaps in more ways than one.

In order to keep playing in the Biograph’s games in that season, I needed to protect my still-tender beak, while it healed. So, I got one of those protective aluminum nose-guards I’d seen players wear. It was a primitive version of the clear plastic masks in use today.

As a kid, I saw NBA great Jerry West wearing such a broken-nose-protector in a Southern Conference tournament, when he was playing his college ball at West Virginia. It impressed the 12-year-old version of me to no end. I marveled at how tough and focused West was.

Wearing what was to me a Jerry West mask, I played the rest of the CBA season -- maybe five more games. Now I believe that period was about the best basketball I ever played. Not wanting another whack to the nose made me a little more careful.

The team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. It has taken the passing of time for me to realize that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West tested his, I had been living out a dream.

It seems some lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror. As far as the future goes, now I must get back to reading about the VCU Rams in the Sweet 16.

-- 30 --

-- Photo by Larry Rohr.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keep on Dancing

Cue the theme for today: "Keep on Dancing," with Larry Raspberry as the principal vocalist, was a 1965 hit single by the Gentrys.

The Spiders and the Rams will be dancing in San Antonio on Friday night. To read my new Richmond.com piece on the amazing run these two local basketball programs have made in the NCAA men's basketball tournament click here.

Click here to read “NCAA tournament gives VCU and Richmond something in common” by Steve Yanda for the Washington Post.

Click here to read "Rams befuddle opponents and experts, alike" at the Fan District Hub.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gus the Bookstore Cat: The Film

Fiction by F.T. Rea

When the previous millennium was winding down Roscoe Swift convinced some friends to write there own lines in a story he had outlined. Then he interviewed each of them, as if he was a reporter covering a mystery story.

The oddball first product of his labor was published in 1999 by a short-lived local magazine, For What It's Worth.

When the editor asked about the point of the piece, Swift quipped, “It’s satire, I'm trying to work like Altman … letting the actors speak in their own voice.”

Roscoe had an ulterior motive, he thought his chance of turning the piece into a film would be better if he could first get a version of it published, so he was willing to take $25 for the story.

After that he shot some black and white 16mm footage in Carytown and recorded his voice for some of the narration parts. Then he spoke with some musician friends about writing original music for the film.

Eventually, it got away from him. Swift lost his inspiration and put the project on the shelf. What follows is the piece that was published in the magazine.


The Case of Gus the Bookstore Cat
By Roscoe Swift
Though cynical people like to say, “All cats are gray in the dark,” the difference between this and that counts with me. Thus, if for no other purpose than to satisfy my own curiosity, I set out to find the truth about Gus, the cat that had long presided over lower Carytown from his display window roost.

The mystery began in the course of a casual conversation about re-makes of old movies. Film buff Ted Salins, a regular among the society of conversationalists who gather at the tables on the sidewalk in front of Coffee & Co., tossed out that the cat living next door in Carytown Books is not the “original” Gus.

Since I’ve known Salins, a writer/filmmaker/house-painter, for a long time, I suspected his charge was a setup for a weak joke. To give him room to operate I asked, “So, this Gus is an impostor?”

“Just like Lassie, several cats have played the role of Gus over the years,” Salins said matter-of-factly.

Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me that Gus, someone else’s cat, had slowly become important to me over the years. In the past I’ve been told that he’s over 15, maybe pushing 20. Who can say what that is in cat years? He still has a few teeth left.

“You see, in ‘91 I had lost my beloved Skinkywinkydinky in a separation,” Salins went on, as if revealing a dark conspiracy. “When I first saw Gus, I took to him because he reminded me of Skinky. That Gus wouldn't let you touch him. But, this Gus…”

“Ted, this is absolutely the most off-the-wall nonsense you’ve come up with yet,” I accused.

“The place has changed hands a few times since then,” Salins smugly offered. “The problem is each owner falls in love with the cat and keeps it. But since Gus has become an institution in Carytown, each set of new owners has to find another cat that looks like Gus. The switch is made at night in order to preserve the secret. I’ve seen it.”

Before I could say “horsefeathers,” another member of the Carytown intelligentsia, who had just walked up, spoke: “Salins, as usual you’re all wet,” said artist Jay Bohannan. “That is not only the same cat, but Gus is, let’s see, yes, he’s nearly 70. That particular cat is probably the oldest cat this side of the island of Lamu.”

I laughed at Bohannan’s crack and excused myself from the table to let them hash it out. The two of them have been arguing good-naturedly since their VCU art school days in the early ‘70s.

Walking toward my car, Ted’s suggestion of a fraud having been perpetrated on the public bothered me. I felt certain that if somebody had actually installed a faux Gus in the bookstore it would have been all over the street the next day. As I tried to imagine people spiriting nearly identical cats in and out of the back door, in the dead of night, the matter wouldn’t rest.

So I turned around and went into Carytown Books. The shop’s manager, Kelly Justice, who has worked there for six years under three editions of ownership, scoffed at Salins’ charge.

“Anyone who knows Ted, knows he’s a nitwit,” said Ms. Justice with a wry smile. “More likely than not, this is an attempt to raise funds for another one of his documentaries.”

When I told her about Bohannan’s equally outrageous suggestion that Gus was almost a septuagenarian, Justice laughed out loud. “Perhaps Jay and Ted are both trying to hitch their wagons to Gus’s star,” she suggested playfully.

Back outside, Salins and Bohannan were both gone. So I walked east on the block to Bygones, the collectable clothing and memorabilia store known for its artful window displays. Since Maynee Cayton, the shop’s proprietor, is an unofficial historian for the neighborhood, I decided to see what she knew about Gus.

Cayton, who has been at that location for 16 years, said she had some pictures of the block from the ’30s and ‘40s, but she didn’t think she had any shots of a bookstore cat. However, she did remember that when she was a child she saw a gray and white cat in the window of what was then the Beacon Bookstore.

“It was in the late ’60s, I think it was 1967,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “And I’d say it was a young cat. Either way, I can’t believe the feline impersonator story, so maybe it was Gus.”

The next day, Bohannan called on the phone to tell me he had something I needed to see right away. He was mysterious about it and wouldn’t explain what he was talking about, except to say that it was proof of his claim about Gus the Cat.

Unable to let it go, I told him I’d stop by his place to see what proof he had.

Bohannan’s apartment, located between Carytown and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, was an escape from the modern world altogether. It’s furnished in a pleasant mix of practical artifacts and curiosities from yesteryear. The heavy black telephone on his desk was almost as old as Jay. Next to the desk was a turn-of-the-century gramophone. Bohannan, himself, dressed like a character who just stepped out of a Depression-era RKO film, reached into a dog-eared manila folder and pulled out a photograph. When I asked him where he had gotten the picture, purportedly from about 1930, he shrugged.

In such a setting, his evidence of Gus’ longevity took on an eerie authenticity. Sitting in one of Bohannan’s ancient oak chairs, surrounded by his own paintings of scenes from Virginia’s past, I thought I could see the cat he claimed was depicted in the storefront’s window. Why, it even looked like Gus.

Jay told me I could keep the photo, it was just a copy. What a scoop!

Later, when I looked at the grainy picture at home, I could hardly even see a cat. The next day, back in Carytown, I spoke with several people who hang out or work in the neighborhood. A few actually thought Bohannan’s bizarre contention could be true. Others agreed with Salins.

One man, who refused to be quoted, said he was sure the original Gus was an orange cat. A woman looked up from her crossword puzzle to note that Bohannan's evidence was at least as good as what she'd seen on the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the whole group of chatty know-it-alls went off on the general topic of conspiracy theories and hoaxes. At the next table a woman in a straw hat started sketching the sidewalk scene.

A few days later, I saw Ted Salins holding court in front of the coffee shop. I told him what Kelly had said about his claim and I showed him Jay’s so-called proof that Gus is ancient.

Ted said mockingly, “The next thing you’re going to tell me is Shakespeare actually wrote all those plays. Look - it’s not the same cat. Live with it. This Gus is a ringer, maybe three years old.”

Turning around, I looked through the storefront’s glass at good old Gus in his usual spot. He looked comfortable with a new electric heater under the blanket in his basket. It dawned on me that there was a time when Gus used to avoid me, as well. Now he seems happy for me to pet him, briefly.

Pulled back into the spell of the mystery, I wondered, had Gus changed or had I? Gus stared back at me and blinked. Like one of his favorite authors, J. D. Salinger, Gus wasn’t talking.

Gus was smiling as only a cat can; a smile that suggests equal parts of wisdom-of-the-ages and dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers. The truth about Gus the Cat was that he had grown accustomed to having a public.
* * *

Photo by Stacy Warner. All rights reserved by the author. Gus the Bookstore Cat: The Film is 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:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Page Wilson dead at 56

Virginia by Page Wilson from Joe Sokohl on Vimeo.

My friend, musician and radio host, Page Wilson has died. He was 56.

Click here to read his obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Click here to read a piece about Wilson written by Harry Kollatz for Richmond Magazine in 2009. For a reaction from Kollatz to the news of Wilson's death click here.

Click here to see Mark Holmberg's Channel 6 story.

The video here was shot by me in 1999 in the old Texas-Wisconsin Border Café. Wilson was acting as one of the auctioneers to raise money from the artifacts on the then-closing restaurant's walls to fund a scholarship in the name of Jim Bradford. A good time was had.


My earliest memories of Page Wilson go back to when he was singing in the basement at Sam Miller's, sometime in the mid-70s.
In those days I managed the Biograph Theatre and occasionally promoted live music events.

At times, over the years, we worked together or had mutual interests. A born promoter, Page was always a good man to have on your side. He remembered his friends and he was a tireless supporter of Richmond's music scene.

Already I've heard from a couple of old pals who said they had asked Page to sing "Amazing Grace" when they cashed in their chips. Now I suppose they, and the rest of us, will be singing it at his sendoff.

My favorite Page Wilson moment: At the Biograph's 30th anniversary party at Poe's Pub (Feb. of 2002), Page performed, as did the Taters and Used Carlotta.

At first I was a little surprised when Page volunteered to lead off the show. But he knew exactly how he wanted to start the party. After eulogizing the long-dead theater (1972-87) for the ears of a crowd that had gathered to remember it fondly, without accompaniment, Page sang a slow version of "This Land is Your Land." His tender rendition of the Woody Guthrie classic was a far cry from most of his suitable-for-a-saloon material. Page made it sound like a sweet hymn at a memorial service.

In recent years it was difficult to watch as Page struggled with bad luck and bad health. He was a proud man and could be stubborn. As he had always been an independent's independent, Page had nothing to fall back on but a little help from his friends.

Now Page's tribulations are over. They will become a footnote to the larger story of his generous, self-styled way of doing everything. Don't bother waiting for the next booming-voiced Page Wilson. There won't be another one coming along any time soon. Page wasn't imitating anyone ... he was one of a kind.


  • Shortly after 6 p.m. on Wed., Mar. 16, a spontaneous gathering at Bellytimber took place. It's a relatively new bar in the same building that housed the Tex-Wisc Border Café ... in another millennium. Lots of familiar faces. Old faces. Good faces. We drank to Page. Stories were told. Then, naturally, we hoisted another one to Page.
  • Click here to read the bio material on Page Wilson and Reckless Abandon at Page's web site.
  • Click here to see Plan 9's Page Wilson Remembered page.
  • Click here to read and hear "WCVE Public Radio Mourns Passing of Page Wilson." Don't miss the comments section.
  • Now I'm told Page was born on Feb. 12, 1954, which would have made him 57 when he died.
  • Click here to read about a May 8th memorial show at the Canal Club, being put together by some of Page's friends. The talent lineup already includes: Janet Martin, Susan Greenbaum, the Taters, Terry Garland and His Small Band, the Reckless Abandon Boys, plus Lil Ronnie and the Grand Dukes.
  • Sat., Mar. 26, at Page's usual time-slot on WCVE (88.9 FM), 8 p.m., a tribute to him will air. Live music by some of Page's friends will be featured.
  • Click here to see/hear a Christian Children's Fund public service announcement (produced by Burford Advertising) that features Page singing "Amazing Grace."

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Mar. 15

Each Tuesday SLANTblog publishes its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature attempts to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. ODU (27-6; No. 20 RPI)
2. Mason (26-6; No. 24 RPI)
3. Richmond (27-7; No. 42 RPI)
4. VCU (23-11; No. 48 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (21-11; No. 61 RPI)

This edition of the Top Five concludes this season's weekly posts. Congratulations to the five Virginia schools that made it to the NCAA tournament's list of invitees. They are Hampton, Mason, ODU, Richmond and VCU. Va. Tech received a bid to the NIT.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers are from CBS Sports.

Rams dance while Hokies sit this one out

Five of Virginia's 14 D-I basketball programs are in the NCAA tournament. They are Hampton, Mason, ODU, Richmond and VCU. Three of them qualified by winning their conference’s tournament. Two received at-large bids. But no ACC members.

Hokies fans wonder how in the world the NCAA selection committee could have left Va. Tech off of the list of 37 at-large invitees to the Big Dance. ESPN's basketball experts remain baffled, even outraged, but not at all flabbergasted. While praising Tech, and others, they've been beating up on VCU like it's the unwashed hobo that wandered into a fancy party at the country club.

For more on all this please click here to read my piece, "Dancing in March is Sweet," at Richmond.com.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flashback: SLANT Forum

This was a pre-blogging era project that was fun while it lasted:

(Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan., 31, 1993)
by Charles Slack

This is the MTV generation, right? Generation X. Raised on "The Brady Bunch." Life reduced to sound bite. Conversation is as old-fashioned as doctors' house calls and the milkman delivering a pint of cream to your door. Everybody knows that nobody talks anymore.

Then what are the 30 or so patrons of The Bidder's Suite on West Grace Street, many in their early 20s, doing here on a Monday night with the music turned down?

As it turns out, they've paid a 99-cent cover charge for the sole purpose of doing what everyone says people just don't do anymore -- having a conversation. Welcome to the Slant Forum, billed as an "Information Party."

At the microphone is F.T. "Terry" Rea, publisher of Slant, one of the city's longest-running alternative publications. Some of the topics are straight out of the headlines -- date rape, gun control, gays in the military. Others take a lighter look at popular culture.

Rea says the idea came to him late at night. He jotted down a few notes. "When the idea hit me, I got very excited. The next day I looked at my notes. I was still excited."

That being his acid test for ideas conceived in the dead of night. He contacted his friends at The Bidder's Suite, a coffee house/restaurant/ bar on West Grace Street. The restaurant was closed on Monday nights. How about opening it up for weekly discussion nights? Rea would charge the 99-cent cover, the restaurant would serve its usual menu of sandwiches, appetizers, coffee and drinks.

"I'm from the `60s generation," says Linda Beales, who owns the restaurant with her son, Jame-Paul Owens. Ms. Beales says she'd like the place to capture the atmosphere of coffeehouses that flourished around the country in the `60s.

The Bidder's Suite already features poetry readings and acoustic guitars. So why not discussions? Rea and The Bidder's Suite vow to hold the discussion nights each Monday as long as interest is sufficient.

A little after 8 p.m., Rea gets the evening under way with a trivia contest and the first of three pre-set discussion topics. If you've followed Slant magazine's iconoclastic take on Richmond life but never met Rea, you expect the 45-year-old to look sort of funky, with long hair, perhaps, a full beard, and a T-shirt with some anti-establishment slogan.

Instead, Rea appears with short hair, button-down shirt and a striped sweater. He looks more like a schoolteacher than a rebel. And that's exactly his function in these discussions. He's like a teacher -- one of those cool ones who lets the kids express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Except it's better than a classroom here, according to patron Paul Hudert, a student at VCU. "You get to voice your opinion. It's more personal."

Hudert's friend, Lisa Clayton, says she prefers the give and take of the discussion over simply absorbing facts from the media. "The media give you one opinion. They tell me the same thing over and over." The first subject Rea has selected for the evening is "anti-classics," meaning those aspects of popular culture that seem prevalent today but are destined for history's dustbin with the likes of the Hula Hoop and Pet Rocks.

The discussion starts promisingly, but soon degenerates into a personal listing by patrons of likes and dislikes. Smoking is on the way out, one patron declares. Anti-smokers are on the way out, says another. When the subject runs out of steam, Rea declares a short recess, then returns with a discussion about what Bill Clinton should do with Saddam Hussein.

What follows is a literate, informed debate with opinion ranging from lay off the Iraqis to finish the job that George Bush started. Gregory Maitland, who has served in the Army and is now a cook at The Bidder's Suite, was working the night the first forum was held in December. He was so intrigued by the discussion that he requested Monday nights off and has returned every week to participate.

Maitland says he comes "not just to state my opinions, but to hear others." He believes, "We're in a new age, from `This is what I think and that's all that matters' to `What's your opinion?' "

Many of the participants are regulars, but new faces have been appearing each week, Rea says.

VCU students Amy McGahan and Hugh Apple dropped in after seeing a Slant ad posted in another restaurant.

Ms. McGahan says, "The thought of people coming together and talking seemed really cool. It's encouraging. You get so tired of watching TV and going to the movies."

Though the crowd leaned toward students in their early 20s, the mix is not limited by age. Gayle Carson, who returned to college after leaving 20 years ago, says, "I'm one of those people who like to voice an opinion.

"Even though we've had some intense discussions, it's never gotten to the point that it's beyond polite conversation."

After this article was published I moved the location to a coffee shop in Carytown and put it on an AM radio station ... live.

Much as I had done with a couple of other broadcasting schemes, I bought an hour from WTVR, then sold 30-second commercials. I produced and hosted the program. The live broadcast was done using a phone line, exactly like AM radio remotes were done in the old days from car dealerships, record shops, etc.

My daughter, Katey, was my on-the-air assistant. She took a microphone out to the audience, who were seated at tables. But she held it for them; Katey knew just when to cut a talker off, by taking back the microphone. Naturally, she occasionally chimed in with her opinions. We had a good time with it.

One of the founders of the Richmond Forum became a regular; he was in his 80s. His name was Mort. He told me what I was doing was exactly what the original Richmond Forum was supposed to be. Mort was cool.

Business-wise, SLANT Forum worked for a few months, but in the end I couldn't sell enough ads. People kept insisting it had to either be a right-wing show, or a left-wing show. Several potential clients told me they had listened to it and actually liked the show. Then they would say something like they didn't think everyday listeners were smart enough to enjoy political commentary that was unpredictable.

So, I pulled the plug and moved on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Walker minting new Democrats

With his take-no-prisoners tactics, Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker (depicted above) is doing more to mint new Democrats all over the country -- most of them young and paying attention -- than any Republican in recent memory. Maybe since Nixon.

Last year the reaction to bailouts and fighting the health care bill energized the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party and conservatives, in general. This year the labor dispute in Wisconsin, which is spreading to other states, is energizing the union movement and liberals, in general.

As recently as November of 2010 it seemed the GOP had the wind at its back and there would be no stopping them in 2011. But overreaching is still bad form. Now the payback is building and it will eventually splatter all over Walker and any Republicans standing too close to him.

What a difference three or four months can make in politics!

Republicans in Virginia think they are shielded from the payback coming Walker's way, because of Virginia's anti-union traditions. I suspect they are underestimating how much impact this union-busting brouhaha is having on people outside of Wisconsin. Gov. Bob McDonnell has already made smug remarks that suggest just that.

You know former-Sen. George Allen, a natural born bully who oozes machismo, is itching to buy into his share of the trouble that's snowballing for cocky Republicans, who believe that flaunting their union-busting strategy is a "winning" thing.

Charlie Sheen thinks he's "winning," too.

Young citizens who don't already have hard opinions about collective bargaining are forming opinions. They see teachers and fire fighters being bashed, not just unions. If they look deeper they may see bullies torturing middle class workers at the behest of the super rich.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

ODU to VCU: 'I Put a Spell on You'

In the CAA tournament's final tilt the resurgent VCU Rams took it on the chin. Rams guard, Ed Nixon, who was elbowed with enthusiasm by ODU's Frank Hassell, might say -- no, it was in the mouth.
Nixon stayed on the floor at least 5 minutes, counting his teeth and trying to gather his wits. Hassell was charged with a personal foul; Rams fans screamed for him to be ejected. After Nixon was helped from the court, VCU’s Joey Rodriguez took the two foul shots for Nixon. Normally the Rams best shooter from the charity stripe (85 percent success), Rodriguez missed them both.

The Monach’s pep band missed an opportunity to play a few bars of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins 1956 hit single, “I Put a Spell on You.”
Click here to read my commentary on the ODU victory over VCU at Richmond.com.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Mar. 8

Each Tuesday SLANTblog publishes its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature attempts to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. ODU (27-6; No. 23 RPI)
2. Mason (26-6; No. 26 RPI)
3. Richmond (24-7; No. 61 RPI)
4. VCU (23-11; No. 48 RPI)
5. Va. Tech (19-10; No. 63 RPI)

Next week's edition of the Top Five will conclude this year's posts of this feature.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Michelle Shocked in Madison

This is a video of Michelle Shocked performing at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, Mar. 5.

ODU's Blame Taylor

Blaine Taylor, pictured right in 2010, is in his 10th season coaching the ODU men's basketball team. His team faces VCU tonight (7 p.m. tip-off, televised by ESPN) at the Richmond Coliseum in the championship game of the CAA tournament.

Pictured left, here's Blaine Taylor in 2009. Anybody notice any difference in his hair?

Over the years Taylor has done much to stoke what was already a heated rivalry between the two universities. When his team loses it's never its fault. More importantly, it's not HIS fault -- Taylor always blames others.

In victory, naturally, he gloats. Any sportswriter who has covered the CAA over the last ten years knows full well what I'm saying here. From my coverage of games in recent years here are just a few examples of Blame Taylor moments:

Fan District Hub (Feb. 9, 2010):
... As Taylor had been mocked relentlessly in the first half of the contest by Chris Crowley, the founder of the Rowdy Rams, it was no wonder the always-loquacious-in-victory coach was anxious to hit the road to Norfolk.

Crowley — known as Pavarotti to his fellow Rowdy Rams — was once again doing his Taylor imitation on the floor in front of the pep band, which is only ten paces from ODU’s bench. Pavarotti, who usually wears a Ram headdress and yellow T-shirt, was in a coat-and-tie get-up, mimicking the mustachioed coach of the Monarchs every move. Yes, it was funny and Taylor had to have been disappointed that Pavarotti wasn’t snowbound, somewhere miles from the VCU campus.

SLANTblog (Mar. 9, 2009):

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

Then, business as usual went on -- Taylor's opening statement was an ungracious whine-fest. This time, instead of pointing an accusing finger at the VCU pep band, or the seating arrangement in the hall, or the state of the economy, he complained about officiating. Taylor wished the refs would try to stop favoring guards over big men.
SLANTblog (Jan. 20, 2007):
...Coach Grant also spoke proudly of his team’s gritty play in the second half of what was truly a tough game. The Monarchs came to play and they did just that. They handled the Rams’ full-court pressure better than any team I’ve seen this season. This was a first class college basketball game between longtime rivals. Both school’s players gave it their all.

Which leads to having to report that I heard only one person say anything to take away from the high-level tone of the action. In the media room, after Grant, Maynor and Walker answered questions and left, ODU head coach Blaine Taylor made his appearance. He should have skipped it.

Taylor promptly went into a solid five-minute whine about the way the referees called the game. He spoke of how his team had “earned” its 12-point second-half lead. Then he asserted: “...the lead was taken away from them, for whatever reasons.”
For a look at my more serious coverage of the 2011 CAA tournament click here.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

CAA Championship coverage


At the Fan District Hub I am providing full coverage of the CAA men's basketball tournament here in Richmond. The championship game will tip-off at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Coliseum. No. 2 seed ODU (26-6) will face No. 4 seed VCU (23-10). Don't wait to get your tickets, this one will sell-out.

Here are the links (most recent story at the top of the list) to the Hub's stories to get up to speed:
  • For my story "Payback: VCU 79, Mason 63" (Game No. 9) -- click here.
  • For my story "Skeen slays Dragons with last-second bucket" (Game 5) -- click here.
  • For a running account of all the tournament's games provided by Rob Washburn, CAA Associate Commissioner, box scores, etc. -- click here.
  • For my story "VCU's Unraveling Rams" (preview) -- click here.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The solution: a billionaire's head on a pole

If I could show you how to cure some of the worst problems we face today and not cost the taxpayers a cent, would you be interested?

My plan would call for just one public execution a year. Its purpose would be to end famine, cure diseases, educate the poor and prevent wars. One person would die each year.

Here's how it would work:

First we would make a list of all the billionaires in the world; their names would then 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 virtual ballot boxes.

Each person over 12 years old in the world would get to vote for the bad billionaire they choose once each month, by paper or online. The one that 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. The event would be carried live on television from 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. Afterward the dead billionaire's head will be put on a tall pole for all to see, where it would stay for one year. Then, out of respect for the dead, the old head would be turned over to the billionaire's heirs. The new head would go up.

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 atop the pole:

1: Give away (no tricks) enough money to escape the list of billionaires.
2: Use a chunk of their money to do good works and curry favor with voters who hang around convenience stores, or those 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, to get off the hook, or you could take a chance on spending a few billion on curing cancer, or AIDS. Or, you could throw some large money at 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 could save our favorite 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.

Accordingly, crime rates would drop. Every kid who wants a new puppy would get one. 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 on top of a that special pole, a martyr of a sort, showing us all why we should be good to one another.

Here’s the wee reward for reading this far -- now you get to decide which billionaire would get your vote this year. Have fun.

What taking the Palin Pledge taught me

As February is over, it's OK for me to mention Sarah Palin. You see, following Dana Milbank's lead, I took the pledge back in January to go all of February without writing about Palin. I went even further, I swore not to mention her name or even acknowledge her existence.

It wasn't always easy. There was this hilarious provocation from Gina Gershon (as pictured above). Do yourself a favor, click on the link and watch Gershon's two-minute video.

But I made it. Not a peep out of me about Palin. And aside from not boring my friends on the Frisbee-golf course with my rants about Palin, what good did it do to ignore her?

Well, I came to realize that it's often liberals who keep Palin at the top of the political news. Until February she could count on the reactions to her lowbrow provocations from liberal commentators and bloggers, etc., to make her seem relevant. Then the bubble popped.

Moreover, Palin is hardly the only one playing that game. Why should liberals promote what a blivet like Rush Limbaugh says about Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign? Why should liberals promote what Glenn Beck says about anything? Most of the time magnifying their reach by venting about how silly and mean they can be is only doing them a favor.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rams or Lambs?

What about the slump the VCU Rams fell into in February? Now it's March. Will that make a difference?

After VCU’s last game, a 72-69 loss to James Madison at the Siegel Center Saturday afternoon, head coach Shaka Smart spoke of his team’s poor defensive effort and its lack of focus. He also expressed how disappointed he was for his four seniors to lose their Senior Day game to finish off the regular season.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Rams lackluster effort against the Dukes is that it appeared the players in Rams colors were already concentrating on the tournament.
Click here to travel to the Fan District Hub to read my pre-CAA tournament piece on the Rams chances this weekend. They play their first game on Saturday at 2 p.m. Click on the CAA logo for more info on the tournament.

Click here to read the news about the CAA's Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, All Conference team, etc. (Yes, of course Hofstra's Charles Jenkins won Player of the Year again.)


Update: Click here for a running account of the tournament results at the Fan District Hub.

About City Stadium

City Stadium opened in 1929. After 80 years of the University of Richmond's home football games being played there, the Spiders don’t use it anymore. It was a busy place with all sorts of events and plenty of high school football at one time. Not so much in recent decades. Now it could be said to be a 16.5-acre white elephant.

Should the City of Richmond, which owns the facility, sell it off to be developed or fix it up? What limits should be put on what a developer can do? Who would be willing to see the City go in debt to fix it up?

Click here to read my article on this matter at Richmond.com.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Supremes: Westboro hate speech is protected

The Supreme Court decided to protect freedom of speech, even when that speech is deliberately disgusting, even hurtful.
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the First Amendment protects fundamentalist church members who mount anti-gay protests outside military funerals, despite the pain they cause grieving families. The court voted 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that threw out a $5 million judgment to the father of a dead Marine who sued church members after they picketed his son's funeral.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. Justice Samuel Alito dissented.

Click here to read the entire AP article.

By the way, this decision also makes Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli look good. Last summer I wrote about this case and predicted this outcome. So, no matter how much I am put off by what the Westboro haters do -- picketing funerals, etc. -- I'm pleased with this decision. And, to have played a small role in the process, makes it all the more fun.

Click here to understand what I mean about Cuccinelli and my "role."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Must-see video: 'The Story of Citizens United v. FEC'

A cartoon of mine from 1982. It makes somewhat the same point as the video mentioned below.

From Truthout:
Washington, DC - The crisis of corporate influence over American democracy is the latest subject of award-winning Internet filmmaker, Annie Leonard, who, on March 1, released "The Story of Citizens United v. FEC," an animated short. Leonard, who directs The Story of Stuff Project, was inspired to make the film by the disastrous 2010 US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC that permitted corporations to spend freely to influence American elections.
The short film is fun and it explains a complicated subject in a way most people will understand, even kids. Click here to read the rest of the article and see the video.

Click here to read my screed, written last year, which deplores the Citizens United decision.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Mar.1

Each Tuesday during the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the fourth consecutive season this feature will attempt to rank what seem at the moment to be the best five teams from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Mason (25-5, 16-2 in CAA; No. 25 RPI)
2. ODU (24-6, 14-4 in CAA; No. 27 RPI)
3. Richmond (22-7, 11-3 in A10; No. 61 RPI)
4. Va. Tech (19-8, 9-5 in ACC; No. 54 RPI)
5. JMU (21-10, 10-8 in CAA; No 73 RPI)

Changes from last week: Mason, ODU and Va. Tech went 2-0. Richmond won its only game, as the top three stayed where they were. Tech moved up one position. JMU won twice to join the group, while VCU lost twice to drop out. By the way, Mason has won 15 straight.

The CAA teams have finished their regular season. Next week's post will be the last edition of the Top Five for this year.

Note: Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records. And, recent results matter more than games played in the early weeks of the season. The RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, are from CBS Sports at the time of posting.