Monday, May 30, 2011

On a horse, a long way from home

Earlier today, I played Frisbee-golf in the shadow of the Carillon, which was dedicated in 1932 as Virginia's first memorial to World War I veterans. Naturally, I thought of my grandfather, who served his country in that war. He was one of the lucky guys, in that he came home.

In 1916 the fit young men who had already volunteered to be members of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas to watch over the border and chase Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had crossed the border to stage a few raids on American soil ... or, so people said. To do the job the Richmonders were quickly converted into a cavalry unit.

My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues outfit.

Following that campaign, in 1917 the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills, near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was across the pond to France to finish off the Great War … the war to end all wars.

Frank Owen grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. Before his active duty he had mostly made his living as a vocalist. The stories I remember him telling from his years as a soldier were all about his singing gigs, playing football and poker … and various adventures.

Owen is on the right in the photo above. Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he'd seen. At least I never heard such stories. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many in Richmond as an elite corps.

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

Frank Owen believed there was a coward at the heart of every bully. Without hesitation, he depended completely on his own view of life. He passed what he could of that self-reliance on to me. The badge below is from the mid-1950s.

My grandson's middle name is Owen. It's a name he should always wear proudly. A long way from home, almost a century ago, his great-great-grandfather certainly did.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

About starving the public education beast

One of the benefits of getting old is that when you hear someone say something oblique that sounds somewhat mean-spirited and foolish, frequently, it’s nothing new. No need to read between the lines, you’ve heard it before.

So, when surly conservatives attack public education, one way or another, I know what’s usually at the heart of it. They had their counterparts here in Virginia when I was growing up. Those counterparts saw nothing wrong with providing inadequate public schools for black children; they saw nothing wrong with preventing those black children from attending public schools built for white children.

When the Massive Resisters repeatedly hurled their “separate but equal” slogan at those who were working to integrate Virginia‘s public schools, the Resisters really weren’t so concerned with guaranteeing the “equal” part. But they were damn serious about demanding the “separate.”

While the public schools were shut down for years in Prince Edward County, to avoid court-ordered integration in the ‘60s, the white children in the county went to private academies. Those private schools popped up like mushrooms when the county chose to shutter its public schools. The black kids stayed at home, or they moved to live with relatives in places that still had public schools, equal or not.

When the enemies of public education of today go after the funding of public education, and they go after the teachers unions, etc., it’s easy for them … easy, because like the Massive Resisters in Prince Edward, their children are in private schools. Living inside the walls of gated communities in the tony suburbs, they don’t want their tax money paying for the education of children living in poor neighborhoods.

Basically, they are too stingy and short-sighted to be willing to pay a nickle for anything that benefits people they don‘t like -- people whose skin color, or religion, or accent is different from their own. They don't concern themselves with how that narrow thinking might play out down the road; as a rule, their ilk never has.

No, there’s nothing new about any of that. You see, one of the most frustrating things about getting old is -- oy vey -- that you’ve heard it all before.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Still Listening for Hellhounds

Here's an excerpt of a new piece I've written about the City of Richmond's longstanding bad attitude toward the entertainment industry:
...Now, in Richmond, to invoke the specter of the 6th Street Marketplace’s utter failure is to speak of folly, of good intentions gone wrong. Public money was used to build and dismantle it.

Since 1985, using public money, Richmond has also built a convention center and a canal walk. It has built the CenterStage complex. If all the money it has cost taxpayers to finance such projects, since 1985, was laid out in a row of one dollar bills, it would stretch halfway to Cloud Nine.

Probably the best thing that has happened in/to Downtown Richmond in the last decade has been the First Fridays Art Walk, which was born and has thrived without the City of Richmond‘s help. In fact, so far, City Hall has done far more to undermine this monthly event, which has art lovers strolling from one gallery to the next, than to help it.

In addition to raining stifling regulations onto the First Friday parade City Hall has passed new statutes to discourage nightlife in Richmond, in general. Now, it seems Richmond’s City Council wants everyone to go home to dance. And, once there you’d better keep the music turned down way low — perhaps headphones would be better.

Meanwhile, as its policies strangle the life out of art galleries, nightclubs and theaters, the City goes on saying it wants to attract tourists and conventioneers to Downtown Richmond. Click here to read "Listening for Hellhounds" in its entirety at the Fan District Hub.

The Brileys

Richmonders experienced an abrupt change in the standards by which news was gathered and presented 27 years ago. Having terrorized the town with a series of grisly murders five years before, on May 31, 1984, brothers Linwood and James Briley led the largest death-row jailbreak in U.S. history.

In all, six condemned men flew the coop by overpowering prison guards, donning the guards’ uniforms and creating a bogus bomb-scare to bamboozle their way out of Virginia’s supposedly escape-proof Mecklenburg Correctional Center.

While their four accomplices were rounded up quickly, the brothers Briley remained at large for 19 days. The FBI captured the duo at a picnic adjacent to the garage where they had found work in Philadelphia. Linwood was subsequently electrocuted in Richmond on Oct. 12, 1984; likewise, James on Apr. 18, 1985.

While the Brileys were on the run and for some time afterward the media coverage, both local and national, was unprecedented. During the manhunt the Brileys-mania led to stories about them being spotted simultaneously in various locations on the East Coast from North Carolina to Canada. When I noticed kids in the Carytown area were pretending to be the Brileys, and playing chasing games accordingly, well, that was just too much.

My sense of it then was the depraved were being transformed into celebrities so newspapers and television stations could sell lots of ads. Once they were on the lam, if it came to making a buck, it didn’t seem to matter anymore what the Brileys had done to be on death row.

“OK,” I said to a Power Corner group in the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe on a mid-June evening, “if the Brileys can be made into heroes to sell tires and sofas on TV, how long will it be before they're on collectable cards, like baseball cards? (or words to that effect).” To illustrate my point I grabbed a couple of those Border logo imprinted cardboard coasters from the bar and drew quick examples on the backs, which got laughs.

Later at home, I sat down at the drawing table and designed the series of cards. To avoid race humor entirely I used a simple drawing style that assigned no race to the characters. The sense of humor was sardonic and droll. I elected to run off a hundred sets of eight cards each, which were put into small ziplock plastic bags, with a piece of bubble gum included for audacity's sake. I figured to sell them for $1.50 a set and see what would happen.

Traveling about the Fan District on my bicycle it took about three days to sell the first press-run out of my olive drab backpack. New cards were designed, more sets were printed, more plastic bags, more bubble gum. A half-dozen locations began selling “The Brileys” on a consignment basis.

Sales were boosted when the local press began doing stories on them. For about a week I was much-interviewed by local reporters. The Washington Post ran a feature on the phenomenon and orders to buy card sets began coming in the mail from Europe.

Reporters called me for easy quotes to fill articles on death penalty issues, as if I was an expert on the subject. That I was opposed to the death penalty seemed to strike them as odd. Moreover, finding myself in a position to goose a story that was lampooning the overkill presentation of the same press corps that was interviewing me was delicious fun. In the midst of a TV news story I announced that T-shirts commemorating the Brileys' 1984 Summer Tour were on the way.

Apart from my efforts, the hated Briley brothers’ chilling crime spree and subsequent escape inspired all sorts of lowbrow jokes and sick songs, and you-name-it, which did indeed fan the flames of racial hate in Virginia.

Naively, I felt no connection to that scene until a stop at the silk screen printer’s plant suddenly cast a new light on the fly-by-night project that summer's effort was. Walking from the offices to the loading dock meant passing through a warehouse full of boxes, stacked to the ceiling. Suddenly, I was surrounded: Four or five young men closed in and cornered me.

Some of them, if not all, had box cutters in their hands; all of them were definitely black. At that moment I felt whiter than Ross Mackenzie. Tension filled the air when their spokesman asked if I was the man behind the cards and T-shirts.

As it was not the first time I’d been subjected to questions about the cards, I quickly asked if any of them had seen the cards, or had only heard about them. As I suspected, they hadn’t seen them.

Luckily, I had a pack in my shirt pocket, which I took out and handed to the group’s leader. As he studied them, one by one, his cohorts looked over his shoulder. I explained what my original motivation had been in creating the cartoons. No one laughed but the spell was soon broken. I let them keep the cards.

Later I was in a drug store, restocking one of my dealers for the cards, when a white lady with blue hair approached me. She worked there and had seen the cards, which she found unfunny. She told me her husband was on the crew that had cleaned up the crime scenes after some of the murders. Then she said if I was going to profit from it, I should be man enough to hear her out.

So, I did. She gave me specific details. It was mostly stuff I had known, or suspected, but the way she told it was brutal.

At this point the success of my absurd art project seemed to be going sour. I got a call from a reporter asking me what I had to say about Linwood Briley having made some disparaging remark about my cards. I got peeved and asked the scribe what the hell anybody ought to care about what such a man has to say.

Like it or not, I had become a part of what I had been mocking in the first place.

Shortly afterward the cards and T-shirts were withdrawn from the market. Unfortunately, without the context of the 1984 news stories being fresh the humor aspect of the cards is somewhat arcane now, because all the images were based on details from those well reported stories.

Three years later I was in the Bamboo Cafe, standing at the bar at Happy Hour, having a beer and talking with friends about sports (probably). A middle-aged man I didn’t know stepped my way to ask furtively if I was the guy who “drew those Briley cards.”

After I said “yes,” and introduced myself, he asked me a few questions about the cards. Then he spoke in a hushed tone, saying something like, “What about those missing cards?”

“Missing cards?” I returned. “Are you asking why I skipped some numbers?

He nodded and reached in his pocket to pull out a full set of The Brileys, still in its original plastic bag.

Wanting to end the conversation quickly -- that he had the cards with him was too strange for me -- I told him the simple truth with no jokes: “OK. First, I wanted to imply there was a vast series out there, without having to create it. Then, I wanted the viewer to maybe imagine for himself what the other cards might be.”

The collector put his cards back in his pocket. He stepped away, plainly disappointed with my easy answer, which gave him no dripping red meat to savor. That night the truth without hype was of little use to my public, such as it was.

-- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea. Click on images to enlarge them.

Splattergate 1998

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

That was "Splattergate," my fifth series of collectible cards on a theme. I haven't done another since. Below the reader will see seven of the nine frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jake Wells: 'Father of Richmond Movie Houses'

There are records of an exhibition of “moving pictures” having been presented at The Academy (the Mozart Academy of Music) at 103-05 N. Eighth Street in 1897. Built in 1886, that venue was generally considered to be Richmond’s most important and stylish theater, until it burned down in 1927.

It is said that in 1906 the Idlewood Amusement Park, which was across the street from the New Reservoir Park (later renamed Byrd Park) held regular screenings of “photo dramas,” open to the public for the price of a ticket.

George W. Rogers (writing for the Richmond News Leader in 1952) credited one showman, Jake Wells (pictured above), as having been the "...father of Richmond movie houses."

Wells was a former-major league baseball player (1882-84). With his best days as a performer behind him, in the late-1890s, Wells -- acting as player/manager of Richmond’s minor league baseball franchise in the Atlantic League -- became a dashing figure in the local nightlife scene. He was one of the most popular men in Richmond.

When Wells suddenly lost that sports gig, his platform, he looked around town for what next to do.

Imagining he had a future in show biz, Wells took the leap to create the Bijou at 7th and Broad Streets in 1899. The instantly popular Bijou offered selected vaudeville acts that fit into Wells’ concept of “family entertainment,” as he called it.

The first venue thrived. A second version of the Bijou was built for Wells in 1903 at 816 East Broad, on the site of the legendary Swan Tavern. Occasionally, a short film was thrown onto a screen ... eventually the films developed a following.

Films continued to play a larger role as time went on. With his brother Otto, Jake expanded into the Norfolk market, opening the Granby. In the early-1920’s the mighty Wells chain included 42 theaters in the Southeast.

Eventually, Wells turned his back on what had made him a powerful man. He cashed in his movie theater interests to concentrate on becoming a real estate development tycoon. In 1927, caught in the grip of a nasty spell of melancholia, Jake Wells drove out to the countryside with a female companion, shot himself in the head -- twice! -- and died.

For more on Wells, the first baseman turned impresario, click here, and here. And, for you baseball fans, here’s a page with his Major League baseball stats.

1994's Circus: A Four-Way Senate Race

In the summer of 1994, with O.J. Simpson on TV round the clock, a four-way race political race developed in Virginia. Three candidates emerged to challenge the incumbent Chuck Robb for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Republican Ollie North was nominated by a convention at the Richmond Coliseum. Former governor Doug Wilder, a Democrat, threw his hat in as an Independent. Marshall Coleman, a Republican former attorney general and failed gubernatorial candidate, ran as an Independent, too.

Naturally, both Wilder and Coleman were seen as spoilers by many observers. The national press was all over the circus-like story of the four heavyweight candidates.

In late August, I issued what was then my fourth set of collectible cards -- “Campaign Inkbites: The ‘94 VA Senate Race.”

After swearing he was in the race 'til the finish, mercurial Wilder suddenly withdrew in October. Wooden Coleman stayed the course, with stubborn Sen. John Warner as his chief backer. North, ever the checkered-shirted dandy, raised and spent over $25 million; what was then a new record for the most ever in a U.S. Senate race ... any state.

In the end the awkward Robb outlasted them all.

Beneath the 1994 newspaper article about that card collection are scans of 12 of the 15 original cards from the set. Without the context of this campaign's news being fresh, some of my attempts at humor may not work so well now, hopefully the caricatures are still fun to look at.

As I produced these cards, it was an interesting challenge to try to write lines for the dialogue balloons that would hold up for a month or two, no matter what the developments.

Right out of the gate, this edition was lucky with publicity -- first an AP story, then a five-minute report by Bob Woodruff appeared on CNN, following the Sept. 6, 1994 Virginian-Pilot piece (by David Poole and Dwayne Yancey) reprinted below.
Odds and ends from the past week of Virginia's U.S. Senate campaign: I'll swap you two Doug Wilders for a Tai Collins. The colorful U.S. Senate race has spawned a set of trading cards featuring the four candidates and a host of supporting characters - including the former Miss Virginia who gave a nude massage to Chuck Robb in a New York hotel.

There’s U.S. Sen. John Warner sounding defensive about his hand-picked candidate, Marshall Coleman: “Why should I strain to name an office he hasn't sought, or an abortion stance he hasn't taken? The point is: Marshall isn't Ollie.”

There’s conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh assessing the race: “The choice in Virginia is simple. You’ve got a stained, lap-dog liberal, a bleached and petulant liberal, a fair-weather conservative, and a genuine, world-class hero.”

There’s political pundit Larry Sabato reporting on the latest poll results: “Fifty-one percent said the race is so embarrassing they plan to leave the state.”

The “Campaign Inkbites” are the brainchild of F.T. Rea, a Richmond artist who a decade ago issued a similar
deck of cards commemorating a massive death-row escape at Mecklenberg Correctional Center [by the notorious Briley brothers and four others]. The set of 15 Senate cards is available at Biff’s bookstore [also at Chickens, the snack bar in the State Capitol] in Richmond for $12 a pack.

The most unflattering likeness in the set is that of Sabato, whose green skin gives him the look of a vampire.

“Ironically, he’s my best customer,” Rea said of Sabato. “He bought 12 packs.”
In all, about 250 sets of cards were sold in about seven weeks. Wisely, Sabato also bought the original artwork for his card.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Milbank on Trump's presidential bid

Regarding Donald Trump's most successful self-promoting hoax, so far, Dana Milbank swings a righteous hammer to hit the nail precisely on its head.
Trump pulled this off because he understood how to exploit our failing political system. Our celebrity culture equates name recognition with good leadership, and our Supreme Court, by forbidding any reasonable restraint on campaign finance, has turned money into political power. Trump had plenty of both.
Click here to read "Donald Trump and the House of Horrors" at the Washington Post.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

As the Tea Party fizzles

What will history say about the Tea Party movement's accomplishments during the last two years? Twenty years from now will they be characterized as what launched a fundamental change in America's electorate, a hard turn to the right? Or, will those accomplishments, such as they were, be seen as the sound and fury of a boomlet?

After all of its anti-big government rhetoric and anti-Obama fuming, is the Tea Party movement of 2011 waxing or waning? At the Atlantic, Joshua Green says "The Tea Party is Losing Steam."
The Tea Party may continue to alter races across the country, and could also shape the Republican presidential field. But it appears to have reached the limit of its influence in Washington. Here, where it counts most, the Tea Party is looking like a spent force.
Click here to read Green's analysis.

If Green is right, and I think he probably is, we can expect to eventually see the most disappointed and determined of those in the Tea Party crowd walk away from the GOP to form a third party. Democrats who remember the effect Ross Perot had on the 1992 presidential election are smiling as they read these words.

Meanwhile, Republicans who remember the effect Ralph Nader had on the 2000 presidential election know a Tea Party ticket in 2012 probably would spell doom for their ticket. Might this be among the reasons the GOP's field of declared candidates is presently so lackluster?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Page Wilson, auctioneer

By all reports Sunday's First Annual Page Wilson Memorial Concert at the Canal Club was a success. Sorry I had to miss it.

So, for those who'd like to see and hear Page Wilson (1954-2011), as he was, this video I shot in 1999 ("Closing the Border: Part Two") shows Page in action as one of the volunteer auctioneers of the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe's wild collection of artifacts. Naturally, it was an event that benefited a cause (a scholarship in Jim Bradford's name). The music of the (Burnt) Taters is also featured.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cross-Eyed Mona

Fiction by F.T. Rea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Beats me,” Rusty laughed.

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

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

“Who was at the Rainbow?” asked Roscoe.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabrina wrinkled her nose and spat in his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, my type, too,” jabbed Rusty.

“I heard that!” Peach laughed.

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

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

“No,” Roscoe laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bopst on the City's dance-hall ordinance

When it comes to nurturing a nightlife scene in town the City of Richmond continues to lurch one step forward and fall two steps back, each time a change is made. This time columnist Chris Bopst is on the money.
In Richmond, Strange Matter, The Camel, Sprout, Cary Street Café, Bogart's, Banditos, The Triple and many other smaller restaurant/bar/venues (including the recently reopened Alley Katz, shut down April 23 for not having a dance-hall permit) are being singled out for running establishments where people may be moved to dance.
Click here to read this week's installment of The Hear & Now at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Bin Laden as Howard Hughes

Most events, even the seemingly momentous events, fall into the soup without moving the pot. They dissolve and may change the flavor ever so slightly. The difference can hardly be noticed. Occasionally, something happens that rocks the kitchen and knocks the old soup pot off of the burner.

Then we clean up the mess and put a new pot on the stove; history’s soup-making process starts all over. Disasters can literally cause such an upheaval. Most cultural earthquakes are metaphorical.

President John F. Kennedy’s assassination shook us to the bone and we clearly weren’t the same afterward. Eleven years later, President Richard Nixon’s resignation had a sweeping effect on the American culture. Almost instantly, it put hippies and their preoccupation with social causes out of style.

Nearly 10 years after 9/11, it’s amazing how much that day's mayhem and heroism changed America. And, my guess is the death of Osama bin Laden is also going to have a far reaching effect, here and abroad.

That doesn’t mean I’m saying bin Laden’s violent death in Pakistan means an end to terrorism, or any particular group of terrorists. What I am saying is that it will give us all pause. We will now reflect on the last 10 years and see those years as a unit, something to itself -- an era.

How and where bin Laden died is going to continue to speak to the future in a special way for some years to come. He didn’t die in a cave, fighting with his comrades by his side. He had been living like crazy old Howard Hughes, holed up in a hotel in Las Vegas.

That’s not a story that should have a positive effect on al Qaeda’s recruiting for a while. Like, who wants to wear a bomber's suicide vest to avenge Howard Hughes' death? This factor may do more to scatter and defang that particular gang of fanatical thugs than could a thousand drone missiles.

To many, bin Laden's evasion of the manhunt was symbolic of American foolishness, in spite of its wealth and power. Dead, with his actual lifestyle on the lam having been displayed for all to see, he will be viewed through a different prism. Now the gray-bearded weird guy looks more like an eccentric rich man who murdered thousands for his own amusement.

Evil's Second Coming

Note: This reaction to 9/11 piece was written by yours truly. It was originally published by STYLE Weekly on May 15, 2002.

Washing in on what poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) might have called a “blood-dimmed tide,” the specter of evil suddenly emerged from the periphery of modern life eight months ago. In the blue skies of the time before 9/11’s sucker punch, the notion of pure evil had an Old World air about it. Absolutes, such as good and evil, had no seat at the table of postmodern thinking.

After 9/11, a generation of Americans suddenly learned a bitter lesson: Evil never went away. It had gone out of style, as a concept, only because times were so easy. Living in a land of plenty, it had gotten to be a pleasant habit to avert our eyes from evil-doings in lands of want.

The last American president to get much mileage out of the word evil was probably Ronald Reagan, with his “evil empire” characterization of the USSR and its sphere of influence. Now, 20 years later, we have a president who sees “an axis of evil” — an alleged phenomenon that puzzles most of the world’s leaders, or so they say.

George W. Bush apparently has little use for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stalwart advice to a nation in need of a boost in confidence — “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Instead, Bush chooses to color-code fear rather than urge his people to rise above it.

The propagandists of the Bush administration have been successful in cultivating the public’s anxiety since September. Whether that’s been done for our own good remains to be seen. Perhaps it has, but this much is clear now — all the official danger alerts about nuclear power plants, bridges and crop-dusters have been effective in keeping most of the natural questioning of the administration’s moves at bay.

To hear Attorney General John Ashcroft tell it, the architects of 9/11 are the personification of the most virulent form of evil ever known. Although much of the evidence that would establish his absolute guilt in connection with 9/11 remains a state secret, Osama bin Laden is said to have shot to the top of the chart. Forget about Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot. They were amateurs.

Then again, evil, like beauty, has always been in the eye of the beholder.

Wasn’t it evil to deliberately dump tons of potent pesticide into the James River during the ’70s to make a greedy buck? Once it was in Virginia’s water, it turned out that kepone wasn’t much different from a bio-terror agent in the same water.

Although it was first reported that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people was likely to have been the work of Middle Eastern terrorists, such wild speculation soon fizzled in the face of the facts.

With the news seeping out of the cloisters about child-molesting priests and the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-ups, whose betrayal was more evil, the molester or the higher-ups who hid and facilitated his crimes?

Whether evil exists in some pure form, off in another dimension, is not my department. What’s known here is that in the real world evil is contagious. Lurking in well-appointed rooms or hiding in caves, evil remains as it ever was — ready to spread.

None of this is to suggest that al Qaida shouldn’t be put out of business. It isn’t to say that knocking the Taliban off was a bad idea. There’s no question here about whether the United States should protect itself from the networks of organized terror that are hell-bent on destroying the modern world.

Still, today’s evil is the same evil our forefathers faced in their wars. Evil hasn’t changed; technology has. With modern weapons in their hands, the fanatics of the world have the potential to wreak havoc like never before.

What has changed is the extent to which the hate festering in the souls of the world’s would-be poobahs and their sociopathic minions can be weaponized. It’s worth noting that the weapons of mass destruction that are scaring us the most were developed during the arms-race days of the Cold War by the game’s principal players.

So another question arises, who is more dangerous to civilization, the guys who spent their treasure to weaponize germs, or the guys who want to steal the stuff and use it on somebody?

Decades ago this was a concern expressed by some in the disarmament movement. Its scary what-if scenarios always included the likelihood that the super powers would eventually lose track of some of their exotic weapons. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious that there was no way any government could keep all that material locked away from the greed and hate of determined free-lancers.

A man with a briefcase-style nuclear device may be no more evil than a man armed with a knife. Either danger could kill you just as dead. Those of us who feel connected to others know which one we should fear the most.

The “rough beast” of dreadful evil “slouching towards” us is traveling on the back of technology of our own making. While we watch out for organized terrorists in the short run, with a handy color code to guide us, it’s time to think more seriously about how to get rid of a lot of very dangerous weapons in the long run.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dead bin Laden photos? No thanks

Photos of dead Osama bin Laden looking like dead Bugsy Siegel? No, thank you. While I have no problem whatsoever with mocking bin Laden, I do not want to see pictures of him dead. It will prove nothing.

Showing such images will hardly quiet the conspiracy theory crazies. No evidence will silent them. Hey, in addition to not wanting to see gory photographs, I’d rather not see bin Laden’s body dragged up and down Pennsylvania Avenue behind an old Chevy station wagon. No head on a pole, either, etc.

Burial at sea was perfect. No disrespect. No shrine. Kaput. I can’t imagine a better way to do away with the remains of such a lowlife.

In the long run, Osama bin Laden was a mean rich kid, who saw killing people as an amusement. His most notable distinction was that he was a mass murderer. He was no better than Charles Manson or Timothy McVeigh. Bin Laden got exactly what was coming to him -- justice. No more. No less.

Don't expect to see me dancing in the street in celebration of bin Laden's death. Not my style. But I'm not scolding those who did. Understandably, it was mostly young people who took to the street upon hearing the news. As kids, they had been brought up steeped in orange alerts. They had been told over and over during the years just after 9/11 that bin Laden was worse than Hitler. More scary and evil than anybody in history.

So, they celebrated. Fine. Me? I cracked open a cold can of PBR.

Here's another angle to the unfolding story of the raid that finished bin Laden off to consider: Smart commentators and officials aren't saying a whole lot about the operation, as the details pour in. Every hour, it seems, there are new revelations that correct details presented in the previous hour.

So for a while we had bin Laden armed and using a woman as a human shield. Now it's said neither of those temporary facts were really true. I won't be surprised if it changes again. Let's all take a breath and allow the evidence and reports to be studied.

Yes, some people demand instant analysis. And, some will try to spin that instant analysis into a quick and dirty political advantage. So what!

Thus, OpEds calling for President Barrack Obama to apologize to CIA torturers are premature, at best. We will hear much more about how bin Laden was found and killed in due time. And, for that matter, who thinks we will hear everything, or ought to hear EVERYTHING about the hows and whys?

Getting pissed off and saying Pakistan had to know bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in a castle/bunker is useless. Which aspects of the chaotic/fractured entity that is Pakistan knew what? The national government? The army? The police? Tribal leaders? Bin Laden's neighbors?

Of course, somebody in Pakistan knew something. Obviously, the right somebodies in Pakistan were looking the other way when those helicopters flew in. So, when we hear that "Pakistan" wasn't let in on the caper, well...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Swordfish of '76

Fan District Softball League Commissioners Terry Rea and Chuck Wrenn (1977)

On the first Saturday of May, every year since 1980, a softball reunion is held. Anyone who ever played on one of the Biograph softball teams from any year has been welcome, plus their families, friends, etc. This year the party will unfold at Bryan Park in Shelter No. 1, from 1 p.m. until about 7 p.m. By the way, 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, earlier in 1980.

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/game has moved around to various locations over the years. Some of the guys at most of the gatherings were teammates of mine in 1976, which was the the first summer of organized softball at the Biograph. We called our team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. In 1979 the softball team was reconfigured and dubbed the Naturals. So the first get-together in 1980 was billed as a Swordfish vs. Naturals game.

In 1976 the Swordfish played a first-year schedule that was not set in advance. As the team hadn't joined the Fan League yet, we challenged established teams to play us for a keg of beer. With a keg of beer on hand for fans and players to drain, those outings were parties, every bit as much as they were athletic contests.

The lucky Swordfish won 15 games of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster made up of employees, old friends and a few film buffs -- including two French guys who'd never seen a baseball game -- we probably won half of those keg games by coming from behind in late innings.

Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced/athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory. That first year, it was uncanny how often those supposedly better teams seemed forever willing to overplay their hands.

Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that virgin Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. In any sport, it was the loosest team with which I’ve ever been associated.

Both of the Swordfish’s losses came in extreme situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. Yes, we won the other one.

The second was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary. Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s).

As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J.W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. During a conversation there he asked me if the Biograph team — I played outfield and served as the coach — would consider taking on the prison’s softball team on a Saturday afternoon. Chuck Wrenn had already told the guy the Rayle team would do it, so I went along with it.

As it turned out the first date he set up was canceled, due to something about a small riot.


A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. We had been told to bring nothing in our pockets.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.


The umpire for the games — Rayle played the prison team first, then the Biograph -- was Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson, a rather high-profile Fan District character, at the time, who played on yet another team. Among other things, Johnson did some professional wrestling, so he was good as hamming up the umpire's role.

The fence in leftfield was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 230 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards, hundreds of other prisoners seated in stands cheered for the home team. Actually, they cheered good plays in the field and collisions on the base paths more than anything else.

During a conversation with a couple of my friends behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach immediately stepped toward me. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era — it was a maroon and gray polyester affair, with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.

Most of us wore cut-off blue jeans and one of the two models of silkscreened Biograph T-shirts that were on sale for three busks at the theater.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, somewhat sternly, as he pointed to a tortured-graphics mural on the prison wall that said, “Home of the Raiders.” It looked a little like a jailhouse tattoo, blown up large.

OK ... it was obvious I’d made a not-in-my-house sort of faux pas.

“While we are on the field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with, ahem, conviction. “We’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“And, all our games ... are home games,” he deadpanned.

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. He patted me on the back and thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.

In a tight, high-scoring affair the Raiders prevailed. Johnson knew how to play to the crowd with his calls, too. Afterward, I was glad we’d met the Raiders.

Now, I remember I was glad to leave, too. Located smack dab in the middle of Richmond that prison was a nightmare in so many ways.

Nobody is sorry it's gone. The next summer, we were invited back for a rematch with the Raiders. The team went in. But I found an excuse not to go. One dose of that place was enough for me.

In terms of winning and losing, the Biograph teams that played on in the Fan District Softball League, until it folded in 1994, never found anything close to the success that first team knew. Still, I'll wager most of the guys from the 1976 team remember more details about their meeting with the Raiders than any of the games we won.

-- 30 --

Monday, May 02, 2011

Obama: 'Justice has been done'

At Saturday night's White House correspondents dinner, when President Barrack Obama lightheartedly said, "It's been quite a week," the well dressed audience laughed.

No doubt, like me, other C-SPAN viewers chuckled, too. We had to assume he was speaking of things we knew about. After all, it had been a week of headline-making announcements: The release of the much-discussed long-form birth certificate; changes at the Defense Department and the CIA.

Unlike his audience, the First Raconteur who jabbed at his political adversaries inside the beltway he knew he had already authorized a surgical strike on a fortress in Pakistan by a team of Navy SEALs.

Then late Sunday night, a resolute Commander-in-Chief Obama went on television to tell the world that the search for 9/11's chief mass murdering culprit, Osama bin Laden, was over: "Justice has been done," said the president.

Following a well aimed bullet to the head it was confirmed that it was indeed Osama bin Laden; his remains were buried at sea.

So, a page has turned. With that, one is free to wring out of the news whatever satisfaction one can. For me, satisfaction isn't the word. A bit of relief is better. Moreover, after nearly ten years of waging the so-called War on Terror -- chiefly in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a more complete sense of relief will only come when there are no American boots on the ground in those places.

To me, bin Laden's death means the eventual end to his rock star status in the neighborhoods of the world that hate the USA. Sure, some will shout that he is a martyr. They will call for retaliation. But what will the young people they want to recruit say back when they hear that bin Laden wasn't living in a cave. He was living in the modern equivalent of a castle with a moat around it.

Not in the rugged country. No. In the tony suburbs.

Bin Laden (1957-2011) was born a wealthy Arab prince. During his travels, to amuse his bored self and horrify the world with his cruelty, he dabbled at politics, religion and war. Now it appears he died as a wealthy Arab prince.

In the long run, that's what bin Laden was -- a mean rich kid, who, at long last, got exactly what was coming to him.


Meanwhile, Obama's "quite a week" quip was an understatement that is now rather mind-boggling. He had just bet all his chips on the riskiest of missions. For Obama to have attended that function and acted like it was just another Saturday night dinner in black tie says plenty about the First Poker Face.

And, how about those Navy SEALs! Rather than an invasion and occupation, a precise strike put an end to one of the most notorious criminals the modern world has seen. Hopefully, with Iraq, we have all seen America's last invasion.

Could this striking news about bin Laden have sent a little message to stubborn Colonel Gaddafi?


Here are some links to worthwhile reads on this topic:

"Getting Osama bin Laden: How the mission went down" -- by Mike Allen for Politico.

“In bin Laden’s death, a smart security lesson” -- Washington Post.

"They got him, Dan" -- by Marc A. Thiessen for the Washington Post.

"The War on Terror is Over" -- by Peter Beinart for The Daily Beast

Come back again, as I will be adding to the list of links.