Friday, August 19, 2016

It paid to Advertise

The distinctive front windows of the Bearded Bros.,
black lights and Dayglo-painted panels (1969).

When the doorway into show business suddenly opened for me I entered gladly. At the time I had a sales job I wanted to quit. What I wanted was to be a professional cartoonist/writer and eventually get to make films. So selling sandwiches and beer in a dive seemed more like a step in that direction than continuing to sell janitorial supplies.

When a friend, Fred Awad, offered me work at the restaurant he was operating my coat-and-tie job was history. Actually, my coming aboard as a bartender/manager was part of a larger plan we had cooked up to convert what was then a typical blue collar neighborhood beer joint/eatery into the Fan Distict's most happening club.

The restaurant belonged to Fred's parents, who wanted to retire. They had turned it over to their sons, Fred and Howard. The brothers promptly changed the name of place at Allison and West Broad St. from Marconi's to the Bearded Brothers.

Growing beards was easy, but the Awad boys couldn’t agree on how to run the business, so the younger brother, Howard, left to pursue the quest of opening a place of his own.

Meanwhile, Fred and I had become convinced the fun-loving baby boomer crowd in the Fan District needed a place to enjoy cold beer, hot food, live music and a psychedelic light show. That, together with the edgy spectacle of go-go girls -- dancing topless. At this time, in 1969, such bare-chested, except for pasties, dancing was going on in Roanoke. But it had yet to make its way to Richmond.

And, speaking of booming babies, at this time my wife, Valerie, was six months pregnant. Fred’s wife, Mary Ann, was seven months along.

It took us a couple of weeks to paint the interior flat black, build the stage and put the light show apparatus together. We also painted the front window panes that faced Broad Street in Dayglo colors illuminated by black lights.

The rock ‘n’ roll bands went over well and brought in a fresh crowd right away. A local group calling itself Natural Wildlife became a regular attraction. Then it came time to hire the go-go dancers. So a help wanted sign went up in the restaurant.

A few young women came in asking about the dancing job. Eventually, we settled on two. One of them had some experience, the other didn’t. But only the dancer new to the exhibitionism trade could be there for the first night, which we advertised in the local newspaper. I did the ad art; it featured a pen-and-ink rendered silhouette of a female dancer and a new Bearded Brothers logo I had designed.

By 8 p.m. the place was packed, wall-to-wall. We were selling beer like never before. The only problem was that our dancer with her brand new costume, which included tasseled pasties to cover her nipples (ABC Board regulation), was scary late. She hadn’t called, either.

With the crowd clamoring for the dancing aspect of the show to get underway, a woman wearing shades waved to get my attention as I opened a bottle of beer. The joint was so noisy I could barely hear her. In a Brooklyn or maybe Queens accent, she asked something like, “Could you use another dancer?”

Trying to hide my glee, I called Fred over right away. He offered her a fast $50 to alternate sets with the other girl as the band played. She told us she had noticed the ad in a discarded newspaper on the counter of the Greyhound bus station’s coffee shop. She was chewing gum. 

That night’s experience gave me new faith in the power of advertising. The Greyhound Girl even had her costume with her in her suitcase. Fred paid her in advance and suggested that since the other dancer was running late, she could go on as soon as she could get ready.

It all went over like gangbusters. Up on stage, with the lights and music, she danced like the pro she actually was — she had been working along the same lines in Baltimore and appeared to be a trained modern dancer. Natural Wildlife was cooking and the beer taps stayed open.

After the dancer’s first set was over, she put on a robe and found me behind the bar. She laughed, “There ain’t no other girl, is there?”

I paused to shrug and returned her smile, “I don’t know where she is.”

“I’ll need another fifty to go back up there,” she said firmly.

She agreed to do two more half-hour sets and the money was put in her hand without hesitation. Hey, she knew she had rescued the night.

Yes, a hundred bucks was a lot of money, then, but there was no use in quibbling. After that night we never saw her again. Other women were hired, pronto. The show went on but we were never as busy as that first night again.

It became my duty to paint the dancers with Dayglo paint. They'd have vines curling around their arms and legs, stars and stripes on their torsos, etc. But after a few weeks of that, it seemed most of the customers didn't care much about the artsy aspects of topless dancing, such as they were. They preferred bare skin. So, the body painting stopped.

Although painting the dancers was a pleasant enough task, hanging out after work was the best perk of the job, which wasn't always paying as much as I needed to make. Frequently friends/musicians stayed around late, jamming, playing pinball games and smoking pot.

The most notable of the musicians who passed through was Bruce Springsteen, whose band Steel Mill occasionally played in Richmond then. He was a skinny, quiet guy who didn’t stand out as much then as he would later.

When my daughter was born in January the Bearded Brothers scene was lively. Then, as the weather warmed up the crowds began to thin out. Other clubs opened up offering live music, some of which were closer to VCU. Gradually, the restaurant began to drift back toward being what it had been before it had been painted black.

Later, in the spring, I had to look for a real job again. Eventually, Fred's mother took the place back over. About a year later Howard Awad opened up Hababas on the 900 block of W. Grace St., where he had a lot of fun making large money (1971-84) serving cold beer and playing canned music on his popular bar’s monster sized stereo.

The topless go-go girl thing morphed into a form of entertainment aimed at an entirely different type of crowd. Truth be told, since the time of the Bearded Brothers I've never had much interest in the places that feature topless dancing.

A few months later I got a sales job at WRNL, a radio station then owned by Richmond Newspapers. Once again I learned it paid to advertise. And, on that job I did my first professional writing, when I began penning commercials and dreaming up promotions for my advertising clients.

Although I saved copies of the aforementioned newspaper ad and the logo I did for Natural Wildlife handbills, I haven't seen either of them for a long time. The only souvenirs from my first awkward stint in show biz are a few black and white photographs, like the shot above of the Bearded Brothers' front windows.

All rights reserved by the author.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

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.


Evil's Second Coming
by F.T. Rea

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 --

The Head-on-a-Pole Solution for Problems Aplenty

Note: The first version of this piece was written several years ago, well before a certain billionaire -- much-in-the-news -- started running for president. But that hardly makes the following proposal any less attractive. 

If I could show you, in a couple of minutes, exactly how to solve a good many of the most daunting problems we face today -- without costing the taxpayers a cent! -- wouldn't you be interested in hearing about it?

Of course you would. Read on.

My plan calls for just one public execution a year. Its purpose would be to fund cures for diseases, to fund free educations for everyone, to prevent wars, all the while also erasing America's red ink problem. To accomplish all that just one person would be put to death by the federal government each year.

Although I'm ordinarily opposed to capital punishment, there are exceptions to every rule. Here's how it would work: 

First we would make a list of all the American billionaires. Each of their names would be put on a ballot. Each American citizen, 18-or-older, would get to vote -- free of charge -- for the person they see as the absolute worst citizen billionaire in the USA. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the country. The same ballots would be available online, as would virtual ballot boxes. Maybe we should make it 16-or-older.

All year long, we the people would all be eligible to vote once a month -- 12 votes per year. The billionaire who gets the most votes for being the most hated billionaire of the lot would be arrested wherever he or she is hiding by a SWAT team. Upon the last second of December 31st, America's most hated billionaire of that year would be executed by guillotine, somewhat as pictured above.

Naturally, America's cities would bid to stage the execution, like the Olympics. The mammoth Payback Party that would surround the event would mean big budget commercials would run in the live telecasts of the whole shebang -- cha-ching! Most of that money would go directly into the Social Security trust fund, so the monthly payments to retirees could be increased.

The rest of the money generated by the event would go into a special fund to buy a six-pack of beer -- via downloadable coupon -- for everyone who voted for the particular billionaire to be beheaded in at least two months. That six-pack incentive to pick billionaires wisely should help keep the voting more realistic, if not honest.

As the blade falls, at midnight, millions of those cans of beer could be opened simultaneously to buff America's exceptionalism credentials for all to see. It would be bigger than the Super Bowl. 

Afterward, the deserving billionaire's head will be put on top of a tall brass pole -- the Peoples' Payback Pole -- for all to see, where it would stay for one year. Then, for the next new year the new head would go up in a different city.

Out of respect for the head, it would be turned over to the billionaire's family, once its required year on the pole is done. Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires, everywhere, would feel more than a little inspired to solve their own dilemma. Accordingly, they would have a couple of easy-to-understand choices to prevent their own head from being selected to be the next.
  • Turn enough money over to the federal government or legit non-profits, to simply escape the list of eligible billionaires. The money given to the government could go toward building a fast train national railway system.
  • If they choose to remain a billionaire, then they need to use their money to do selected good works to curry favor with voters -- perhaps reaching out especially to those who hang around convenience stores or tend to stay online all day. 
So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got a cool $50 billion. Then you could choose to give away $49.1 billion to get off the hook. Or, you could take a chance on targeting a few billion to curing cancer. Or, you could throw money at feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast. Maybe you’d pick all the musicians in a state and pay their rent for one whole year.

Smart billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to tout what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their own heads attached to their respective shoulders. So, this deal could save our favorite inky wretches from extinction, too.

Accordingly, crime rates would plunge. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. Every kid who wants a new puppy would get one. And, last but not least, publishers would have plenty of money to pay freelance writers and artists decent fees for their work.

To sum up: Each old year would end with the execution of just one richly deserving person. Each new year would start out with a visible symbol atop that People' Payback Pole, showing everyone -- including billionaires, for a change -- why we should all be good to one another. 

-- 30 --

Monday, August 08, 2016

Trump's Way: The Occupation Must End

Note: The Occupation Must End is Episode 2 of Trump's Way. To read Episode 1 go here.

“Yesterday the first of the demonstrators showed up,” President-Elect Trump will say to open the fourth of his Trump's Way live television shows. “It was bound to happen. Look at those signs, 'Obama, Go Away!' and 'The Occupation Must End!'”

Since Pres. Barack Obama will not have answered Trump's call for him to move out of the White House by Nov. 30, Trump will again remind the Obamas they have just 16 days left to end their "occupation" of the White House. Trump's head and shoulders will be seen superimposed over a live shot of demonstrators marching across the Key Bridge on their way toward the White House.

Of course, the demonstrators will be singing "Hit the Road, Barack," after the Ray Charles song with a similar title. The crowd of marchers will be estimated at 2,500-to-3,000 people by the D.C. Police.

Trump will say, “Look at all those people. Good Americans. Not one Muslim or Mexican in the bunch. My people have checked.”

After a deep prolonged sigh, Trump will look directly into the camera and go into his familiar schtick about making America great again. Then he'll look back over his shoulder, like he's seeing what the viewer sees and say, “Looks like 20,000 … people are saying it could be 40,000. All I know is many more, many, many more are on the way. I just hope, I pray it stays peaceful."

The president-elect will address his next statement to a particular audience: "By the way, speaking of getting out of Dodge, you illegal immigrants, you people can all still leave the country peacefully. Do it before I'm running the show. Believe me! Please believe me. You'll be so glad you did. So glad."

Trump will close the show with this thinly veiled insult: “Nice people don't overstay their welcome. Time for the ex-president to go, go back to Chicago, or maybe Kenya.”

Note: In Episode 3 Trump's Way will be carried live by Fox, CBS, ABC and CNN. 

--- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Trump's Way: Post Number 1

Note: This is the first episode of a series.

After Trump wins the election on Nov. 8, 2016, he will feel emboldened like nobody's business. Early on in his victory speech he will announce that Sarah Palin will be his Secretary of State.

"Day One, yes! on Day One! I'm going to send Sweet Sarah to Mexico with an offer," Trump will boast. "Believe me! An offer that whosoever is running that pitiful country can't refuse. Oh! Bet the effing farm on it. Mexico is going to pay for that wall."

During the thunderous applause that follows an obviously inebriated Donald Trump, Jr. will stumble and tumble off of the stage. Junior will hold up his glass to show he didn't spill its entire contents in the fall. More applause. Those assembled in the ballroom will then hear a speech that will bear little resemblance to any previous American president-elect's speech in such a setting.

Three days later Trump's squirming impatience with having to wait until next year -- Jan. 20th -- to move into the White House will boil over. Trump will go on Fox News to make an announcement. After thanking the voters for their trust, he'll tell viewers to mark their calendars, because they're watching the first episode of Trump's Way -- a live television program that he will host every day until he is sworn in.

Then Trump will cut to the chase: “President Obama should just pack his -- whatever -- and by the end of the month the White House should be vacated. Waiting over two pointless months is ridiculous. The voters have spoken. Three weeks is good ... out of politeness. Politeness is good, but political correctness is bad. Very bad.”

To be continued.

--- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea