Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Living in the Moment


Note: On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced on television that he had authorized the invasion of Cambodia. This escalation outraged the burgeoning anti-war movement. On May 4 four students were shot to death during a demonstration on the Kent State campus. They were: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheue and William Schroeder. Five days later I drove to Washington, D.C. Two friends rode the 100 miles with me in my 1956 baby blue Cadillac. We wanted to be there to protest the specter of the government waging war on students. Other than that, we had no plan. The photos accompanying this piece were taken with my then-new Ricoh 35mm single lens reflex.   

*

May 9, 1970: As the crowd was being funneled into the grassy ellipse south of the White House, the designated demonstration area, the morning’s temperature had already risen into the mid-90s. The blistering heat added to the growing sense in the air that anything could happen.

The White House grounds and Lafayette Park were surrounded by D.C. Transit System buses, parked snugly end-to-end. Cops in riot gear were stationed inside the bus-wall perimeter every few yards.

 

Estimates ranged widely but most reports characterized the size of the crowd at well over 100,000. In those days crowd-estimators frequently let their politics color their numbers, so there may have been 200,000 there. Home-made signs were everywhere, including a sprinkling of placards that denounced the mostly young war protesters. Before the program of speakers and singers began, the distinctive smell of burning marijuana gave the gathering a rock ‘n’ roll festival feel.

Unlike the other large anti-war demonstrations of that era, which were planned well in advance, this time it all fell together spontaneously. Many of who were there had never before marched in protest or support of war, or anything else. Nonetheless, they had felt moved to drop whatever they were doing, to set out for Washington, D.C. — to live in the moment.

As a convoy of olive drab military vehicles drove into the park area many in the crowd booed. When it turned out the uniformed troops were bringing in bottled water for the thirsty, the booing stopped. Dehydration was a problem that cloudless day.


After the last speaker’s presentation, thousands of citizens marched out of the park area into the streets, to stretch a line of humanity all the way around the wall of buses. The idea in the air was that whether he liked it or not, the commander-in-chief hiding inside the White House, would at least hear the crowd’s anti-war chants.

The demonstration flowed north, then west, from one block to the next. Long lenses peered down from the roofs of those distinctively squat D.C. buildings. Fully-equipped soldiers could be seen in doorways, awaiting further orders. Many of them must have been afraid they might be ordered to fire upon their fellow Americans.

Hippies who had been wading in a fountain to cool off scaled a statue to get a better look. A few minutes later a cheer went up because a determined kid had managed to get on top of a bus to wave a Viet Cong flag triumphantly. When the cops hauled the flag-waver off a commotion ensued. Soon the scent of tear gas spiced the air...


The next day I was back in Richmond for yet another gathering of my generation. Staged in Monroe Park, Cool-Aid Sunday featured live music. Information booths and displays were set up by the Fan Free Clinic, Jewish Family Services, Rubicon (a dry-out clinic for drug-users), the local Voter Registrar’s office and Planned Parenthood.

Although it was not a political rally to protest anything, the crowd assembled in Monroe Park, while much smaller, was rather similar in its overall look to the one the day before in Washington. As I remember it, there were no reports about anyone being seriously injured at Saturday’s tense anti-war demonstration. Then, ironically, Wilmer Curtis Donivan Jr. -- a 17-year-old boy -- was killed on Sunday in the park in Richmond, when a four-tier cast iron fountain he had scaled suddenly toppled.

The photograph of Donivan falling to his death that ran on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the next day, May 11, 1970, is one I’ll never forget.

No doubt, the convergence of strong feelings from the extraordinary week that had preceded Cool-Aid Sunday had worked to set the scene. Shortly before Donivan fell, I remember seeing him on the fountain, seemingly caught up in much the same spirit as the hippies climbing on statues the day before.

Without that week’s unique momentum Donivan may not have felt quite so moved to demonstrate his conquest of that old fountain. Witnesses said he was rocking it back and forth, just before it crumbled.

The way that Sunday afternoon’s be-in ended with tragedy was burned into the memory of hundreds of young people who had gathered outdoors, to celebrate being alive and free to pursue their happiness peacefully.

In those days the USA was becoming ever more bitterly divided over the Vietnam War. Every night on the televised news the death counts were announced -- numbers appeared next to little flags on the screen that represented the armed forces at war. In the spring of 1970 living in the moment had the potential to kill off the young and unlucky, wherever they were.

*

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming ... Four dead in Ohio"

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April 14, 1973: Discover the Fan

Thirty-eight years ago an ad hoc group of 21 merchants in the VCU area cooperated for a one-time-only promotion that went over quite well -- Discover the Fan. Alas, none of the participating businesses are still there and open for business.


Click on Rebus' nose to enlarge the art.

On April 14, 1973 the weather was absolutely spectacular. For that Saturday afternoon the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street, and environs, were packed with an unprecedented amount of foot traffic. There was live music. Hundreds of helium-filled balloons and free prizes donated by the merchants were given away. The street was not closed and the vehicular traffic was slowed to a crawl all day.

Motorists traveling toward the West End were shown something rather unexpected, given the neighborhood's bohemian image. (Grace Street was a busy one-way street heading west in those days.) There were thousands of ordinary-looking people milling about having a good time. Many of them seemed like tourists. Kids with balloons were everywhere. Suddenly that strip known for its hippies and beer halls looked safe as milk.

The handbill above was done by yours truly. With its list of participating businesses it provides a snapshot of the area in what was probably the zenith of the hippie age. Some of the characters who ran those businesses were rather interesting people.

At the time I had been the manager of the Biograph Theatre for a little over a year and the promotion itself was my project. Many people helped put it together, but it couldn't have happened without the help of Dave DeWitt and Chuck Wrenn.

Below is a piece about this event, written by the late Shelley Rolfe:
Shelley Rolfe’s
By the Way
Richmond Times-Dispatch (April, 16, 1973)

It was breakfast time and the high command for Discover the Fan Day had, with proper regard for the inner man, moved its final planning meeting from the Biograph Theater to Lum’s Restaurant. Breakfast tastes ran a gamut. Eggs with beer. Eggs with orange juice. H-hour -- the operations plan had set it for noon -- was less than three hours away. Neither beer nor orange juice was being gulped nervously.

Terry Rea, manager of the Biograph and the extravaganza’s impresario, was reciting a last-minute, mental things-to-do list. There was the vigilante committee, which would gather up the beer and soft drink cans and bottles that invariably infest the fronts of the shops in the 800 and 900 blocks of W. Grace St., focus area of the discovery.

The city police had promised a dragnet to sweep away the winos who also invariably litter the neighborhood. The day had bloomed crisp and sunny, the first dry Saturday since Groundhog Day. “I knew it wouldn’t rain,” Rea said with the brash confidence of the young. “Lots of young businessmen around here,” a beer drinker at another table said. The free enterprise system lives.

REA WAS assigning duties for the committee that would rope off two Virginia Commonwealth University parking lots that would serve as the setting for a fashion show and band concert. The committee to blow up balloons, with the aid of a cylinder of helium [sic]. One thousand balloons in a shrieking variety of colors. “If we only get 500 kids... two to a customer,” Rea said cheerfully.

“I need more people,” said the balloon task force leader.

Twenty-one businesses were involved in the project. Each of them had contributed prizes, and gift certificates had been put into plastic Easter eggs. An egg hunt would be part of the day, and Rea had a message for the committee that would be tucking the eggs away: “Don’t put them in obvious places, but don’t put them were people can get hurt looking for them.”

“We talked about doing this last summer but we never got it together,” Rea said. There had been fresh talk in late February, early March, and it had become airborne. The 21 businesses had anted up $1,500 for advertising, which was handled by Dave DeWitt, proprietor of a new just-out-of-the-Fan, small, idea-oriented agency.

“Demographically, we were aiming for people between 25 and 34,” Rea said. There had been newspaper advertising and spots on youth-oriented radio stations. “We had a surplus late in the week...” Rea said. The decision was made to have a Saturday morning splurge on radio station WRVA. “Hey,” said a late arrival, “I heard Alden Aaroe talking about it.”

“We wanted people to see what we have here,” Rea said. “People who probably close their windows and lock their doors when they drive on Grace Street and want to get through here a quickly as possible.”

Well, yes, there must be those who look upon the 800 and 900 blocks as symbolic of the counterculture, as territory alien to their visions of West End and suburban existence. Last November the precinct serving the 800 and 900 blocks went for George McGovern, by two votes. Not a landslide, but, perhaps, a trend.

NOON WAS approaching. Rea and DeWitt set out on an inspection tour. Parking lot ropes were being put into place. Rock music blared from exotically named shops. The balloon committee was still short on manpower. An agent trotted out of a shop to report, “They’ve got 200 customers ...” And how many would they normally have at this hour of a Saturday” “They wouldn’t be open,” Rea said.

Grace Street was becoming clogged with cars It would become more clogged. Don’t know how many drivers got out of their cars, but, for a while they were a captive audience making at least vicarious discovery.

Also much pedestrian and bicycle on the sidewalks. Merchants talked of espying strangers, of all ages. A white-haired woman held a prize egg in one hand, a balloon in the other. A middle-aged man had rakishly attached a balloon to the bill of his cap.

The fashion show went on to the accompaniment of semijazz music and popping balloons, most of them held by children. Fashions were subdued. A dress evocative of the 1840s. Long skirts. Loudest applause went to a man who paraded across the stage wearing a loud red backpack. Everybody’s urge to escape?

ON GRACE STREET a sword swallower and human pin cushion was on exhibition. No names please. “My mother ...” he said. He wished to be identified only as a member of “Bunkie Brothers Medicine Show.”

Discounted merchandise on sale included 20-yesr-old British Army greatcoats and a book fetchingly titled “Sensuous Massage.” Sales resistance remained firm.

On Harrison Street a sidewalk artist was creating. A wino, who had somehow escaped the dragnet, lurched across the sidewalk art muttering. “Free balloons ...” In a shop a man said, “I want the skimpiest halter you have ... for my wife.”

On an alley paralleling Grace Street, a man holding a hand camera and early on a VCU class assignment was directing actors. One stationed in a huge trash bin. “Waiting for Godot” revisited? The second, carrying a an umbrella in one hand, popcorn in another, approached the bin. A hand darted out for popcorn. “I ran out of film!” screamed the director.

Everything was being done again. The actor in the bin emerged, seized the umbrella and ran. “Chase him,” from the direct. Actor No. 2 did a Keystone Kop-style double take, jumped and ran. A small crowd that had gathered applauded.

LATE IN the day. Traffic still was at a saturation level. Early settlers said the territory hadn’t seen such suggestion since the movie, “Deep Throat.” Rea spoke of objectives smashingly achieved. Euphoric talk from him on another day of discovery in September. City Hall would be petitioned to block off Grace Street.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Radio Re-creation of Baseball Games

Photo of Frank Soden from the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame

The job I left behind to become manager of the Biograph Theatre was in radio. Lee Jackoway, a veteran radio and television ad salesman who was the general manager at WRNL AM/FM, hired me to sell time for the two stations. That opportunity gave me the chance to learn a great deal about advertising; the job lasted a little less than a year (in 1971). At the time I had dreams of starting a magazine and making documentary films. Working in radio/advertising seemed like a step in the right direction.

By learning to write commercials, I also got my first taste of professional writing at WRNL. Learned a bit about production, as well. Some of my efforts at writing and producing commercials were aimed at being funny. I got my permission for that approach from Stan Freberg, a comedian, songwriter, adman I never met.

Jackoway, who could be a tyrant one minute and a standup comedian the next, took me under his wing and gave me a bunch of big accounts. That was partly because he liked me. And it was partly to piss off the senior salesman who Lee wanted to drive off. I also learned some good lessons about promotion in general from media buyers and account executives at local ad agencies.  

Jackoway sometimes liked to hold court, telling the young DJs and salesmen stories of his freewheeling days as a top salesman for Ziv Television. He had been a national sales rep for popular half-hour TV shows, such as "Sea Hunt" and "Home Run Derby." Traveling to markets large and small, Lee sold the rights to the shows to local affiliates. In the trunk of his Thunderbird he carried 16mm reels and a projector with him for presentations. He would go with the local salesman to call on his clients to line up sponsorship. Lee, who was truly a master salesman, died at the age of 78 in 2008.

During my stint at WRNL AM/FM the ownership changed from the Richmond News Leader to Rust Communications. Rust promptly changed the call letters for the FM station to WRXL.  

In 1971 WRNL AM carried lots of local sports -- the R-Braves games, college football, etc. A previous station manager there, broadcasting legend Frank Soden, who died at the age of 91 in 2010, was in and out of the station frequently. Among other things he was still the talent for much of the station‘s sports broadcasting.

Bob Gilmore also did some of that kind of work for WRNL, as well. Before coming to Richmond, Gilmore had been the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds on radio. One of my fondest memories from these days played out on an afternoon that Soden and Gilmore were trading stories about their “re-creation” era. (Here's the link to a story about the legendary Harry Caray and re-creation.)

As a kid, I was fascinated with both radio and baseball. If I wasn't at the Richmond Virginians -- "V’s" for short -- games, I listened to them on the radio. But in the late-1950s, when they were on the road, the voices I had tuned in weren’t coming from press boxes in Rochester or Havana. They were in the WRNL studio, then in downtown Richmond, across Fourth Street from the Richmond Newspapers building.

In those days, for away games, Soden and his broadcast partner Frank Messer would get the bare details of the game in progress by way of Western Union, or sometimes over the telephone. Then, using canned sound effects, they would "re-create" the game as if they were watching it live. It was said this was done to save the money it would have cost to send the announcers on the road with the team.

According to Soden, a lot of time all he knew was that a batter got a single, struck out, or smacked a fly ball that an outfielder caught. Maybe not which outfielder. He might not have known what the pitch count was, etc. So, routinely, he would make it up. Sometimes the sender would leave out a play entirely. Again, that called for the announcer to improvise.

With a few other guys who worked at the station as their audience, Soden and Gilmore told several stories about how they covered for times when no info would come in for 20 minutes, or so, and other such calamities. They’d create a rain delay, an injury on the field, a bug in the umpire's eye, or whatever they needed to keep from breaking the spell and saying what was the truth -- that they had no idea what was going on.

By 1971 "re-creation" was a thing of the past. As I remember it, Gilmore said he was the last guy doing re-creation broadcasts in the major leagues, when he was with the Reds in the late 1950s. It was a rare treat hearing those radio yarns, whether they were true or not.

At the Biograph I used my radio background a great deal over the first couple of years. The success we enjoyed with midnight shows couldn't have happened without the many spots -- some of them supposedly funny -- that ran on WGOE-AM. Today I still listen to the radio regularly -- mostly public broadcasting, which I wish would be funny more often.  

Friday, April 03, 2015

The End of Havoc

Shaka Smart speaking his first words to the local press in 2009

Last night, at about 8:30 p.m. I got a sinking feeling when I read an update that said the 8 p.m. coach-and-team meeting had been postponed. No doubt, I wasn't the only VCU basketball fan to sense that it wasn't a good sign.

Before the evening was over the bad news broke -- Shaka is leaving! Adam Kilgore writes about Coach Smart's decision for the Washington Post in his piece, "Shaka Smart leaves VCU to coach Texas." 

Of course there were hoops fans in Richmond who had expected it. Some of them had also said Smart would leave in previous springs, because coaches generally take offers that mean a raise and a higher profile job. They said so when North Carolina State tried to hire him, and when UCLA tried, and when Marquette tried. Each time they were wrong. This time they were right.

Maybe the departing coach will bare his soul and tell us all the reasons he accepted the Texas offer. Is the job he's accepted in Austin really a better job than UCLA in Westwood?

Maybe. But I expect Smart will play his cards closer to his chest and not get into any of that. If I'm right he will likely say a whole lot of nice things about VCU and Richmond, then he'll mention the new challenge and providing for his family, etc. Maybe he will be so straightforward as to say something like, "It was the right time." 

My sense of it is that timing, one way or another, had plenty to do with his decision to leave. What about blame? Is it anybody's fault Smart decided to move to Austin, Texas?

If it is, if somebody said or did something here in Richmond that made Smart feel differently about working and living in the Fan District, my guess is we won't hear it from him. But that scenario does make some sense -- perhaps something happened recently that put it all in a new light.

That's just a possibility, like others, but if you simply want to blame somebody for running Shaka Smart off, maybe it should be the people who haven't let their lack of knowledge about college basketball stop them from writing mean comments under articles about VCU basketball after every loss. (It still amazes me how pissed off and mean-spirited commenters get online posting their thoughts about sports, politics, etc.)

Examples of that sort of trash-talking are available for your perusal under Paul Woody's "Can't Blame Shaka Smart for Taking Texas Job," written for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Or, if you like, maybe you should blame the people who hate sports so much they squawk about it incessantly. Or, on another angle, you might rather blame those relentless locals who run down VCU every chance they get. That sort of useless blather might get less traction in Austin ... I don't know.

Still, rather than dwelling on any of that, my advice is to accentuate the positive. To hell with blame. Shaka's teams won at least 26 games in each of his six seasons at VCU. While accumulating an overall record of 163-56, there was never a hint of scandal associated with it. It is also worth noting that Shaka and his wife Maya have been noticeably good citizens and role models in their time in Richmond. And, they didn't live in a gated community in Goochland, either, the Smart family made the Fan District its home turf.  

Coach Smart talked about "havoc" in his earliest days at VCU. He brought the concept with him. Is Havoc, Smart's signature style of play on the court -- his "brand" at VCU -- portable? Will he pack it all up and start preaching the gospel of Havoc as soon as he gets to Austin?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because I don't think it really is portable. It could seem like a self-promotional gimmick if he tries to warm it over and sell it again. Havoc worked at VCU, in good part because he wasn't coaching a team made up entirely of blue chip recruits. At Texas he's going to be coaching some wannabe one-and-done guys who want to compile stats to warrant their first-round selection in the NBA draft. Some of them won't be as coachable as four-year players like Briante Weber and Treveon Graham were.

Last prediction: Smart won't talk about Havoc at Texas and the next VCU coach will be savvy enough to say the Rams will play hard, but he won't try to keep that slogan alive. It's  had its time and now those Havoc T-shirts will become collectors' items. Havoc was an era. It was fun while it lasted.

Moreover, Shaka Smart has been the best coach in VCU's history, but nobody should assume the Rams will suddenly drop off of the map. The university at the heart of Richmond has had its successful coaches hired away before.

By the way, if everybody stays the Rams have 10 guys returning and only one of them is a senior. We don't know if the recruits will stick, but they are highly regarded. My hope is that next spring somebody will be trying to hire the Rams head basketball coach away, again.

The best part of this story, at least for for me, is that I didn't wake up today with a hangover. After the bad news last night, I tried to drown my sorrows with Rolling Rocks at the Bamboo CafĂ©. Got away with it clean as a whistle.  

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Strange Case of Gus the Cat

Note: In an effort to be funny, in an off-beat way, I wrote this piece in 2000. The people quoted were told the scenario and given the freedom to write their own lines, in character. It was published by Richmond.com.  

*

Though cynical people like to say, “All cats are gray in the dark,” the difference between this and that counts with me. Thus, if for no other purpose than to satisfy my own curiosity, I set out to find the truth about Gus, the cat that had long presided over lower Carytown from his plush basket in a bookstore display window facing the street.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ohaIkmTZU_0/TYOKL0YuoAI/AAAAAAAAAxw/v5kt5utrTbc/s1600/gusstacywarner.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Note: The photo of Gus was taken by Stacy Warner for Richmond.com. On June 19, 2001 a cat alleged to have been the authentic Gus the Cat was found dead in Carytown Books; he was estimated by the bookstore's spokesperson to have been about 18 years old.