Saturday, April 30, 2011

About SLANT Forum

After this article my ad lib concept for conducting live discussions in a coffee shop was adapted to radio in 1993, WTVR-AM, where it soon died.

Alas, the jaded advertisers couldn't believe a topical talk-show could be successful without a blowhard rightwing or leftwing host dominating it. My thinking was that it was better if the host was more a provocateur than a partisan. While it lasted, doing the show was great fun.

(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."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Richmond police riots in 1974


In 1974 being into social causes promptly went out of style for the glib and trendy cats. Going into that year, no one would have guessed the most popular gesture of group defiance on campus -- the protest march -- would morph into spontaneous gatherings to cheer on naked people as they ran by. Yet, in the spring of 1974, streaking on college campuses became a national phenomenon.

Richmond’s police chief announced that his officers would not tolerate streakers -- students or not -- running around in the city’s streets, alleys, etc. But the VCU police department said if it took place on campus, streaking was a university matter and would be dealt with by its personnel.

The relationship between Richmond and VCU was still somewhat awkward in this period. And, leading up to this point, there had been an escalating series of incidents on or near the VCU campus; police dogs had been set loose in crowds and cops had been pelted with debris.

So, the City’s Finest and had some history with what might have been seen as the anti-establishment crowd based in the lower Fan District, leading up what happened on the 800 block of W. Franklin St. on the night of Mar. 19, 1974.

Several groups of streakers had made runs before four streakers rode down Franklin in a convertible at about 10 p.m. The crowd of 150-to-200 cheered as the motorized streakers waved. The mood was festive. I know because I was in that crowd; at the time I worked a block away on Grace St. at the Biograph Theatre.

Seconds later a group of about 50 uniformed policemen stormed in on small motorbikes and in squad cars from every direction to arrest those four streakers in the car. No VCU cops were involved.

After a lull in the action, the Richmond cops inexplicably charged into the crowd. Bystanders were dragged into the middle of the street. One kid was knocked off of his bicycle and slammed repeatedly against the fender and hood of a police car. Others were beaten with clubs or flashlights. It was a shocking. It was a riot -- a police riot.

When the dust settled 17 people had been arrested. Most of them were not streakers. They were taken randomly from among the peaceful, decidedly apolitical crowd that had been watching the adventure from the sidewalk.

While I’ve seen some clashes between policemen and citizens over the years at anti-war demonstrations and a few brawls, up close, what happened that night on Franklin St. was the most out of control behavior I've ever seen firsthand from a large group of uniformed officers of the law.

Of course, I didn’t go to the Cherry Blossom Music Festival, a month later in that year of police riots. That was when the war between Richmond's partying hippies and its police force escalated beyond all previous clashes. From (April 27):
A four-hour battle with police rages after the Cherry Blossom Music Festival in Richmond, Virginia. The concert, held outdoors in Richmond's City Stadium and billed as "a day or two of fun and music," features the Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Stories and several other groups. But the music soon takes a back seat to the rioting that begins after police start busting people for possession; seventy-six people are arrested, and scores are treated for injuries.
This melee put the kibosh on any outdoor rock 'n' roll shows in Richmond, with alcohol available, for several years. Click here to read more about the amazing Cherry Blossom riot from Harry Kollatz at Richmond Magazine.

Back to the streakers on campus angle: Richmond's city manager, Bill Leidinger, promised me there would be an investigation into the conduct of the local police on Franklin St. on Mar. 19 by an outside organization.

In exchange for that promise, I didn't go to the press with some volatile charges being made by a guy who said he had photos of the beatings. Unfortunately, he may have talked about them too much -- he claimed they were stolen from his car, while he was in a store, on his way to deliver the pictures to me. He got so scared he left town.

Leidinger did not make good on his promise. Eventually, Richmond's police department held an in-house investigation of its own dirty doings on Franklin St. It found that it had done nothing wrong. I regretted trusting Leidinger.

-- 30 --

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Marijuana and situational conservatives

As it’s April 20, I have been reminded of a piece I wrote 10 years ago for In the decade that has passed since thousands of Americans have suffered unnecessarily because of antiquated anti-marijuana laws. In a time of cutting spending, how states can afford to have War-on-Drugs laws on the books that aim to stamp out the use of marijuana beats me.
On May 14, 2001, a 31-year-old federal law – the Controlled Substances Act – trumped California's state laws allowing for the supply of medical marijuana. The U.S. Supreme Court found in favor of the federal government and against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.

The news was cheered by characters who had long extolled the virtue of minimizing federal interference in the affairs of the 50 states. But since these rather less-than-compassionate conservatives have consistently seemed happy to defer to Uncle Sam on certain issues – especially on personal and medical matters – perhaps it would it be more appropriate to call these squirrelly states-rights advocates "situational conservatives."

It seems many who are still opposed to medical marijuana only see another battle line in their perpetual cultural warfare against anything they connect to the "permissiveness" of the '60s. Rather than noting the heartbreaking need of a cancer patient, these partisans are only concerned with what message recognizing the legitimacy of medical marijuana could send. They see it as a slippery slope toward legalization.

Of course, the news from the highest court was not applauded in all circles. The unlucky folks who were more likely to be denied access to relief from their chemotherapy-related nausea probably weren't cheering the Supreme Court's so-called wisdom.

More than 20 years ago, I witnessed a scene that comes into my mind every time this topic comes up. The unusual transaction took place in an old friend's carriage house art studio.

As planned, I showed up at about 5:15 p.m. to give my teammate a ride to a softball game scheduled to start at 6 p.m. As it turned out, we had to wait for his brother to stop by to score some pot.

Although he was a regular consumer, my friend was not ordinarily a dealer in such commodities. On top of that, the artist's older brother was a buttoned-down lawyer who had never smoked pot in his life. So, on the face of it, the situation seemed odd.

The artist explained that his brother had asked him to buy the pot for a senior partner at his law firm. The partner wanted it for a client of his who had an advanced form of cancer. Apparently the patient, a retired judge, had been told by his doctor that smoking marijuana might help. The doctor indicated he wasn't in a position to help with actually obtaining the contraband. As the story went, the judge asked his friend and personal attorney for some discreet help with the matter.

Moments later, the blue-suited lawyer arrived. As he accepted the parcel – a brown paper bag containing a plastic bag filled with two ounces of primo weed – the lawyer laughed nervously and said toward me, "I suppose he told you what's going on?"

Indicating I was aware of the circumstances, I asked about something that had just occurred to me: Would this old judge know what to do with the stuff in order to smoke it? Did he know to remove the seeds and stems? Did he have a pipe, or know how to roll a joint?

The lawyer was stumped. But he admitted it was likely the judge would not know how to handle it. He chuckled and said this particular man was about as old-fashioned and straight-laced as they come.

"Good point," said the artist, pulling out a tablet of drawing paper.

Then he started to create a set of written instructions, with simple pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate each step. As the guide was put together – it made us late for the softball game – the three of us polished off half a six pack of cold beer and talked about the bizarre situation.

Finishing his mission of mercy, the artist had a few words for his always-cautious brother. In essence, my friend said – "Here's this old judge, who would have been happy to throw any of us in jail yesterday for possession of this same bag. Now the judge is in a jam. His doctor can't help him. Neither can his preacher. No, in his darkest hour of need, the judge has to turn to the only Good Samaritan available, an unrepentant hippie willing to break the law out of kindness for a stranger in need."

Then my friend threw a pack of rolling papers into the bag, so the novice pot-smoker would have what he needed to get started.

Since the Controlled Substances Act does not allow for an exception for "medical necessity," the Supreme Court basically threw up its hands and said it could find no way to protect California's suppliers of medical marijuana from federal prosecution.

Hey, if the patient says it helps and his doctor says it helps, why isn't that good enough? For humanitarian reasons, the argument of whether to allow for obtaining marijuana for doctor-authorized treatment simply must be separated from strategies for, or against, legalizing marijuana across the board.

Congress needs to sweep away the cobwebs and take a hard look at amending its Controlled Substances Act. Much has been learned about these matters since 1970. Naive as it might sound, I'd still like to believe there's a difference between being conservative and being cruel.
The taxpayers' money still being spent to arrest and imprison unlucky people over marijuana today is an example of pure folly. Isn't it easier every day to have contempt for the ideologues who continue to advocate denying medical marijuana to those in need?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fan District Softball League Hall of Fame

This year the Derby Day party (the 32nd annual reunion) for the Biograph softball team and friends -- which now means almost anybody who played in the Fan District Softball League (1975-94) -- will take place on Saturday, May 7, at Shelter No. 1 in Bryan Park. The exceptions know who they are.

The Fan League established a Hall of Fame in 1986. The first class was elected by the 12-team league’s designated franchise representatives prior to the annual All-Star game/picnic. To be eligible for consideration one had to have retired and been considered as integral to the founding of the league. Ten names were selected as the first class.

The same rule held true in 1987, but by 1988 a few of those who had been inducted into the Hall had unretired and were playing again. So, in 1988 it was opened up to anyone who seemed deserving, who also had at least 10 years of Fan League experience. And, those already in the Hall got to vote from here on.

For 1989 no meeting was held and no one was voted in. In 1990, ‘91 and ‘92 additional names were added. In all, 40 players and two umpires were tapped. With the requirements as they were, the list naturally leans toward those who made significant contributions to the league’s lore in the early years of play.

The names on the FDSL HoF plaque are:

Ricardo Adams, Herbie Atkinson, Howard Awad, Boogie Bailey, Yogi Bair, Jay Barrows, Otto Brauer, Ernie Brooks, Hank Brown, Bobby Cassell, Jack Colan, Willie Collins, Dickie deTreville, Jack deTreville, Henry Ford (depicted on the right), Danny Gammon, Donald Greshham, James Jackson, Dennis Johnson (depicted top left as the batter), Mike Kittle, Leo Koury, Jim Letizia, Junie Loving, Tony Martin, Kenny Meyer, Cliff Mowells, Buddy Noble, Randy Noble, Henry Pollard, Artie Probst, Terry Rea, John Richardson, Jerry Robinson, Larry Rohr (depicted above as the pitcher), Billy Snead, Jim Story, Hook Shepherd, Pudy Stallard, Durwood Usry, Jumpy White, Barry Winn, Chuck Wrenn.

Art by F.T. Rea, the illustrations are from the Sports Fan (1977-81).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cool's Stretch

This piece was originally published by STYLE Weekly in 2002.

The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain, a collaborator held one end of the contraption as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Squinting to sight along the taut line to take proper aim, finally, I let go.

The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder. The released tip smartly struck a target several feet beyond the holder. While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching felt transforming.

Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it was soon determined how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the room were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild -- dubbed The Stretch -- the spitballs that routinely flew around classrooms in 1960 at Albert H. Hill Junior High -- were strictly old news.

The following morning, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had with me an updated version of the previous day’s invention. This one was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch.

Once it was tested on the schoolyard, demonstrating its amazing new range, boys were soon shoving one another aside just to act as holders. Most of the time I did the shooting. Occasionally, one of the guys from my inner circle was permitted to be the shooter. As the wonder whizzed by it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by the holder was a thrill, too. On the asphalt playground behind the yellow brick school building an enthusiastic throng cheered each flight.

The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its operators established to the delight of the audience that cheerleaders on the sideline at a football game could be zapped on their bouncing butts with impunity from more than 25 yards away. After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, again, I significantly lengthened the chain of rubber bands.

But the new version -- about 100 rubber bands long -- proved too heavy for its own good. It was not as accurate or powerful as the previous model. Then came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players weren’t content with taking a single turn with the new Big Stretch. Although there was a line behind them they demanded another go.

Surrounded by seventh-grade devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground and refused. But my fair-weather-friend entourage was useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted. They fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered.

By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so I gathered my dignity and shrugged off the whole affair, as best I could. I choose not to make another version of the Big Stretch. A couple of other kids copied it, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it had gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze ran out of gas at Hill School.

It was over.

At that time the slang meaning of “cool” had an underground cachet which has been stretched out of shape since. We’re told the concept of cool, and the term itself, seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. That may be, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.

Wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker wasn’t cool, who the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, constructivism, and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.

Cool’s zenith had probably been passed by the time I became enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Widespread exposure and cool were more or less incompatible. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class. Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy.

The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool. However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce.

By the ‘70s, the mobs of Hippies attuned to stadium Rock ‘n’ Roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a buzz and gave up.

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go.

Since then people say, “ku-ul,” simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.

The process of becoming cool, then popular, pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the experimental aspect of it was over it got old, like any worn out joke. Then it began to play as just another showoff gimmick, which was something less-than-cool, even to seventh-graders a long time ago.

Cool was illusive by its nature. Fresh could be cool; stale was frequently uncool. More importantly, in that time being a copycat was never cool.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Biograph's 32nd Derby Day reunion party

In the Track on 1980's Derby Day
(photo by Ernie Brooks)

On the first Saturday of May, every year since 1980, a softball reunion is held. Anyone who ever played on one of the Biograph Theatre softball teams from any year has been welcome, plus their families, friends, etc. Guys affiliated with other Fan District Softball League teams routinely come, too. The same goes for people who used to work at the Biograph or hang out there.

This year the party will unfold at Bryan Park in Shelter No. 1, from 1 p.m until the Kentucky Derby is over, sometime after 6 p.m. A few years ago we stopped playing the actual softball game, because so many guys got hurt warming up that we couldn't field two teams.

Chiefly, the annual get-togethers were set in motion by the initiative of the original Biograph team’s third baseman, Ernie Brooks, who had left Richmond to resume graduate studies at Virginia Tech in 1979.

Brooks corralled enough former players to challenge what was then the current Biograph team. At this time the Biograph’s softball franchise was one of the cars, maybe the clown car, attached to the runaway train known as the Fan District Softball League.

Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was staged on the afternoon in which the Kentucky Derby would be run. The game was played at Thomas Jefferson HS. Afterward most of us went to the Track Restaurant to join a Derby-watching party already underway.

It’s been Derby Day ever since. The party has moved around to various locations over the years. Bring food, etc., and your sense of humor.

The Biograph's Facebook page is here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy about what didn’t happen

When there’s a tragedy, to do with kids shooting up their schools or getting killed at a wild party, memories of my own free-wheeling high school days pop up. In the mid-‘60s, in my crowd we were so reckless with drinking, fist-fighting and driving cars, it’s hard to believe more of us didn’t meet the grim reaper in high school.

Still, it was a safer time in some ways, in that hard drugs and lethal weapons were not near the top of the list of risks my age group routinely faced in its teenage years. What street drug consumption was going on around Thomas Jefferson High School when I was there was not on my radar. The first time I was offered marijuana was just after high school in the summer of 1966.

By the time my daughter, Katey, was in high school 20-some years later, the culture had changed. Exotic fire arms and all sorts of drugs had become widely available to anyone with the desire to obtain them. Maybe high school is the time when we all learn to deal with danger, however it presents itself, one way or another.

However, one episode from my daughter’s freshman year in high school clearly stands out as a time when something terrible could have happened … but it didn’t.

Katey went to Open High, here in Richmond, where the students were allowed to take a wide range of classes in locations away from Open’s Jackson Ward location, then at 00 Clay St. As Katey received a good education at Open, the reader shouldn't take it that any put-down of the school is intended in this story.

A few blocks from the school’s downtown headquarters, there was a large dilapidated warehouse-like building that was being rented out by the room as cheap art studio space, and whatever…

At this time, I was still somewhat plugged into the artsy night life scene in town. So when colorful stories from the wild parties in the aforementioned old building began to circulate, they easily found their way to my ear.

In the process I discovered that my daughter had been at some of those parties. When I inquired discreetly about the situation, my attention was soon focused on a group that was congregating in one of the building’s larger rooms. The group called itself a “philosophy club.”

It was headed up by a big-haired character who drove a cab and taught an elective philosophy class at Open High. Actually, the class met regularly in the leader’s bachelor pad in the aforementioned building. From what I could gather, his place had become something of an anytime hangout for a certain group of precocious teenagers.

To learn more I went to see the principal of Open, ostensibly to ask her some questions about me teaching a film-appreciation class there. During the conversation, I inquired casually about the aforementioned philosophy class.

Immediately, she became agitated. She asked me what I knew about that particular building and the philosophy club. At that point I held back what I had heard. Instead, I asked her how much she knew about the club’s leader/teacher.

The disturbing details of what she blurted out next were similar to what I had been told. When I confirmed that I had heard similar rumors she got more upset. She confided that she had already decided that day to pull the plug on the edgy philosophy class.

While that was good news to me, I knew it wouldn’t necessarily stop the kids from hanging out in that crumbling fortress, behind its locked doors. I knew I needed to pay a call on the self-styled pedagogue, but that proved harder than it should have been. No one answered the door.

So, I left off a message that I wanted to write an article about the club’s good work with alienated teenagers. The guy went for it and called me on the telephone. We set up a time for me to visit.

The philosopher-in-chief gave me a tour of the huge, dungeon-like space. It had been years since I been inside that building; it struck me as worse looking than I had imagined. He assured me most of the parents of the full members and novices were quite happy with him, because they believed that with his patter he was connecting in a positive way with their hard-to-reach children. I wondered how many of them had actually been in the building, but I didn't want to tip my hand too soon.

Yes, the youngsters partied sometimes, he admitted with a wee twisted smile. But they were doing so under his enlightened supervision. Plus, the novices were also learning the value of hard work by hauling off tons of the building’s ambient rubble as part of their initiation into the club. He said the Libertarian in him then bartered their labor with the landlord, to pay his rent.

That way he could channel more of the money the members raised, through their various projects, into video equipment and other such philosophical tools. By the time we got back to his desk I had seen plenty and heard enough.

In the guru’s view, it appeared there was nothing intrinsically wrong with a middle-aged man corrupting 15-year-olds in the name of schooling. Beyond that, no matter how alarmed, or not, one might have been about his convenient sense of morality, the building itself was scary as hell.

Sensing the time was right, I interrupted his self-serving presentation. Abruptly, my tone changed. Borrowing from the miles of gangster movie footage I absorbed during my days as manager of the Biograph Theatre, I narrowed my eyes at the startled man the way Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchem might look at a traitor.

Then I explained to him that I wasn’t there to bring him trouble over whatever illegal shenanigans had already gone on in there. What I was there to say was that I did not want MY daughter in THAT building again.

Without raising my voice, I said from that moment on, I would hold him -- "personally" -- accountable. Yes, he must have felt that the threat of bodily harm had been implied. I was counting totally on him being a coward, at heart ... I wasn't disappointed.

Satisfied that the speechless philosopher had gotten the message, I got up and left promptly, before my tough guy impersonation wore too thin.

Later that day, I met with Katey to tell her about my visit to the warehouse. In so many words, I said I had good reason to believe the philosophy club’s professor was a garden-variety child molester -- a sicko who was using access to drugs and the building’s tomb-like privacy to lure children away from all scrutiny.

While Katey objected to a few of my characterizations and interpretations, she couldn’t deny that some of it was accurate. She was absolutely forbidden to go in the place again. Of course, I knew she could do as she pleased, so I hoped for the best.

Subsequently, when the warehouse fakir told his followers that Katey Rea must be kept out, well, some took it to mean she was a squealer. That became a bigger problem when the school’s principal called the cops a few days later to investigate the whole mess.

Because I had been spotted by club members, when I paid my courtesy call on their leader, they jumped to the conclusion that Katey’s father was the whistle-blower; she was blamed for their trouble. It was mostly a bum rap, but it stuck.

It wasn’t much longer before the philosophy club, itself, was 86ed from the warehouse. The cab-driver faded into the mists. In the short run, Katey paid a bitter price for the clumsy moves her father made in his effort to protect her. She endured being ostracized from the supposedly cool kids group for a while. Not easy for a 15-year-old.

Now I know we were all lucky. Some of those kids may have learned a lesson the hard way, but there were no funerals I know of. Katey learned a firsthand lesson about the vagaries of cliques -- never again was she a slave to her fear of an in-crowd’s wrath.

When all this went down, I was improvising, doing what my instincts told me was right. But since it caused Katey some trouble, I worried for a good while that I probably should have handled it differently. Now, looking back over time at this story of what didn’t happen, I've no regrets at all about this incident.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Measuring Trump for a straitjacket

Donald Trump got on another cable television news show. Once again, he was wearing that orange wig-hat thing on his head, but the interviewer didn‘t ask about it. I don’t remember who the interviewer was, but it always strikes me as odd that no one asks Trump questions about what it is, or why he wears it.

Trump was asked why he has chosen to become such a high-visibility Birther. He answered, “I have teams of investigators working in Hawaii and Kenya, as we speak, to determine where Obama was born. That, and who, or what, his parents really were.”

The interviewer said, “Huh?”

“Obama has yet to prove he’s human,” said The Donald, with the practiced smile of a man accustomed to getting his way.

The interviewer pressed on: “Are you suggesting the president could be an animal ... or perhaps an extraterrestrial?”

“Well,” said Trump leaning forward and narrowing his eyes, “either way, or both. After 9/11 it became much more difficult for animals and extraterrestrials to get valid birth certificates."

“Both?" said the interviewer. "Could President Obama be the offspring of an unholy union between an extraterrestrial and an animal?”

“If he is,” said Trump, “that would explain a lot. It could well be a clue as to why nobody remembers ever seeing him on Earth before the summer of 2004, when he appeared from nowhere to address the Democrat convention in Boston.”

“How’s that?” asked the interviewer, egging Trump on.

“I have a team of investigators working in Chicago to find out where the surgery was performed to remove his tail and the third eye in the back of his head,” said Trump with a chuckle.

The chuckle must have startled the fluffy thing on Trump's head, because it quivered. Trump grabbed it to hold it still and chuckled again. That woke me from my dream.

No more cold pizza for me after midnight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

VCU finishes No. 6 in Coaches' Poll

The new ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll is out: VCU stands at No. 6, which is the best the Rams have ever been in any season. Connecticut is No. 1. The next four are Butler, Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio St.

Just below VCU in the poll’s list is Duke at No. 7. UNC is at No. 8. Purdue is No. 17. Florida St. is No. 19. The Richmond Spiders are No. 21.
“I’m extremely proud of this group of guys and what they’ve accomplished over the past month,” [Shaka] Smart said. “They’ve forever changed not only this basketball program, but this university as a whole. It speaks volumes to the type of players that we are privileged enough to have as part of our family.”
Click here to read more about it at the Fan District Hub.

Click here to see the Coaches’ Poll at CBS Sports.

About the James River Film Festival

The 18th James River Film Festival will unfold over the next week at various local venues. To read about the entire James River Film Festival, which runs from April 7 through April 13, with all the titles and show times, please click here.

Yo! Forget about Netflix for a few days and watch some provocative films with a crowd that adores good movies.

Of special note: To kick off the festival a digitally restored 35mm print of "Taxi Driver" (1976) will be screened at the Grace Street Theatre (934 W. Grace St.) on April 7 at 7:30 p.m.

The festival itself has plenty of connections to that storied neighborhood. And, this is not the first time "Taxi Driver" has played on that strip. On Aug. 27, 1976, it opened at the Biograph Theatre (just a block east of where the Grace Street Theatre is now); paired with "Shampoo" (1975) it was half of a pretty nifty double feature. For one ticket from your $12.50 discount ticket book that worked out to about 63 cents per flick.

From the James River Film Society:
One of the greatest collaborations of the 1970s was Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a film that alchemized Paul Schrader’s script, Michael Chapman’s cinematography, Bernard Herrmann’s music and Robert De Niro’s totally credible Travis Bickle together to make an almost perfect movie. New York never looked so good, or so bad – a post-Vietnam note of the time, and as subversive as any of the “noirs” of the forties regarding the American dream. It’s funny how many American films of the seventies still resonate, especially Taxi Driver, which set a new standard of psycho-story with Scorsese’s direction (Mean Streets, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore). Add to that memorable supporting performances from Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, and Cybill Shepherd – a masterpiece! Celebrated on its 35th anniversary with a restored 35mm print; on the big screen as originally released! Introduced by Trent Nicholas, former Scorsese employee and current VCUarts film history professor.
To read my piece at the Fan District Hub about the April 7 screening of "Taxi Driver" click here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Kaine enters Senate race

Richmond knows Tim Kaine. He was this city’s mayor on his way to becoming Virginia’s Governor. In the video above he says moving to Richmond to marry his wife was the "best decision" he ever made.

Since President Barack Obama took office Kaine has served as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Today, with a resume as thick as a brick, Kaine, 53, announced that he will run for Virginia’s seat in the U.S. Senate that Sen. Jim Webb plans to walk away from in January of 2013.

This announcement sets up a likely clash of former governors, as George Allen is the most likely Republican candidate. And, it insures the race will receive a good deal of attention from the national press.

For Richmonders, while Kaine's quick-to-smile face is familiar, the biggest question now looms: Is Shaka Smart a Democrat or a Republican?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Smart stays at VCU

The darling of the NCAA tournament, Shaka Smart, has inked a new pact with VCU, as the university wasted no time in offering a compensation package to Smart that got it done, pronto. The scuttlebutt has his annual salary at $1.2 million a year.

Kudos to VCU's president, Michael Rao.
At the age of 33, Smart is among the 10 youngest head coaches at the Division I level and has guided the Black & Gold to 55 wins over the past two seasons. That is the highest win total over any two-year span in VCU history.
Click here to read the rest of the story at the Fan District Hub.

"Living a Final Four Dream" is piece that looks at VCU's miracle run in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It was penned by yours truly and is up at

When I was running errands on Saturday afternoon, before the game, I was in the Grace and Harrison Streets area. It was teeming with people. Most of them, old or young, were wearing VCU gear. Visually, it was amazing. There were temporary stands selling bootleg VCU T-shirts in the parking lots. I could hear a crowd cheering and chanting on Broad Street, a block away. Even the mumblers and panhandlers in front of the convenience store were outfitted in goldenrod and black T-shirts.

Click here to read the entire piece.