The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Greetings, everyone, to The Blue Raccoon....

...where all are welcome; only, please turn off any devices on your person that buzz, whir, whistle or otherwise make sounds like a probe tumbling into the atmosphere of a Saturnian moon. The noise disturbs other patrons.

One may ask...with nine million blogs clogging cyberspace like hulks of dead vessels in the Sargasso Sea, and some 40,000 of them bobbing to the surface almost every day as though portions of cork and flotsam after a mid-ocean wreck, then what could a balding bespectacled goofball in of all places Richmond, Virginia, offer the rest of the world should any members or participants happen meander through these portals?

All depends, I guess.

The Blue Raccoon has several origins. It began as a mis-heard comment by my artist wife Amie as we walked through Carytown one evening. Neither one of us remember what she was actually saying, but I, in my left ear which I'm persuaded is losing its acuity, heard her say something about The Blue Raccoon. This, at the time, had nothing to do with anything.
Then, as part of my birthday present--the big four-four, which, according to the actuarial tables, means I'm more than half-way to dead--she presented me with this blog and titled it thus. Today, in the waning hours of January 3, 2006, I am making my first entry. I'll continue to doctor it and tease and tweak to make this a worthwhile diversion.

What is the Blue Raccoon in my mind, and the one in which I sit now, at the bar, on my laptop, typing away? It is a wonderful hip corner restaurant, sleek and lit to make everyone beautiful. By day, people use the B'loon, or the BR the really hip kids call it, as a place to meet for coffee and have a tasty veggie sandwich. By night, it becomes a rendezvous spot, for drinks, for meeting after work, or the show, or for first date, or a last date.

The Blue Raccoon merges the wide white walls of an art gallery with an enviable loft apartment and a pricey boutique where all the clerks wear black. You may expect to hear the sound of rolling luggage carts and foreign language announcements because the décor seems patterned after a posh first class passenger club in a German or Norwegian international airport lounge circa 1970. The floor to ceiling windows along the street side should reveal glimpses of Copenhagen or Berlin instead of the window company across the street.

Crimson leather low-slung divans and banquettes populate the central portion. The angling metal stair that seems as though removed from an old Volvo factory, its red treads fitted into a smooth metal column and supported by a high, sleek railings, leads to the mezzanine, for the intimate café style seating. Plasma screen monitors over the blonde wood bar display video art although tonight or multiple sharp, slide shows of this month's favored artist. The chrome bar stools with plush red cushions resemble giant martini glasses. Good for girls in short skirts to perch upon and make a show of crossing their legs as their calves are mirrored in the row of smooth supports.

A communal plywood table in the upper corner is surrounded by small stools in a Crayola variety of colors and their curved legs that make the stools seem as though they could scuttle across the room to rescue you.

Welcome. Sit down. I'll buy you a drink then regale you with some stories. A few will be factual, others true only in alternate places. We'll share facts and nonsense, and as time goes on, we'll amass compelling links to the outside world. As I become more accustomed to the format, which I'm joining quite late. My narrative oh-so-hopelessly-19th century approach will probably be obsolete afore long, since photo and video blogging is all the rage among the digirati.

A World of Tears

Joining the blogosphere at this particular moment in Richmond, Virginia's story isn't propitious. Our great city greeted a new year not with optimism but terror and shock.

Yet before I get into this awfulness that has visited our extended family of friends and associates, I wish to draw your attention to the image here.

This comes from rrshow1's Homepage on Webshots, where the archivist has amassed images of antique circus transit wagons. This image was taken around 1972-1973, and is one of 15 of the big red World of Mirth Shows railroad cars. The sign on the door, barely visible here, is inscribed "World of Mirth Shows PRESS and EXECUTIVE Offices." The showcase traveled up and down the East Coast and Canada from 1932 to 1962 with sideshow attractions and rides, ranging from miniature race car driving monkeys to huche kuche shows featuring hip-wiggling women.

Round about 1993, Kathryn was looking for an appropriate visual image and name to describe her concept of a toy store not just for kids. While searching among vintage items she enjoyed she found a poster for the World of Mirth Shows. She was a painting and printmaking major from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts; she knew the real deal when she saw it. So christened, World of Mirth went from a delightful if crowded above-stairs shop to a full-fledged, several thousand square foot store in the middle of a 250 shop retail district called Carytown. The World of Mirth marquee includes a cartoony rocket ship streaking upward into the world of pure imagination.

Along the way, Kathryn met and married Bryan, who in the '80s, with Johnny Hott was the second part of a duo known as House of Freaks, for which Bryan wrote some of the most memorable lyrics, and was the left-handed guitarist. HOF was, as has been said, proto-Southern Gothic rock: dark, poetic and aware of where they came from. The compromising and subservience to product over creativity that the "music industry" demands basically caused House of Freaks to split, and the two musicians sought other projects, like bringing up families and contributing to their community. They both continued to perform music in various groups.
And in January, round about Elvis' birthday, Bryan would appear with a group of musicians, he in a white jumpsuit, at World of Mirth as Fat Elvis. (Except he wasn't really as corpulent as terminal-stage Elvis, which was part of the joke).
Everybody bought novelty items and children's gifts at World of Mirth; this Christmas I purchased the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure for Amie--which caused her less amusement than mine. We have two cats, one older and one a rambunctious kitten, and, well. You just need to be there for some things. I also bought a miniature representation of a classic 1950s Chevrolet pickup truck for my Dad.

I saw Kathryn there, in the thick of it during the season made for World of Mirth. About all we could do was nod.

Bryan and Kathryn's two daughters were Stella and Ruby, lovely and precocious girls. They gave their parents and all those who knew them much joy.

Then, on a splendid New Year's Day 2006, when friends expected to arrive at their corner brick house for a traditional cook out, the early arrivals saw smoke. Firefighters discovered the terrible reality in the basement.

The Harvey family was tortured and murdered.

Much speculation has arisen in blogs and the media; the fact is, nobody outside of the Richmond Police Department's investigative team knows anything. Outside of arrests and conviction, whatever else arises is the result of rumor, speculation and observation at a distance. In the case of national television, the less one knows about a matter, the better qualified either the moderator or the guest is as a commentator. People who've never set foot in Richmond, or listened to any of House of Freaks music, or walked in front of World of Mirth and viewed one's contorted shape in the funhouse mirror placed out front, these are the brilliantines who are shaping opinion in the outside world. When all of a sudden the power of the media is trained upon your community, sniffing about for poignancy and tragedy and blood, you realize just what a sham it all is. This isn't about four lives ended in the most brutal manner, it's about selling bread and cars. The truth is in standing in front of the now darkened World of Mirth with piles of sweet flowers and candles and notes, and prolonged periods of convulsive weeping.

The truth is in standing at with more than 300 people at a candlelight vigil at the Unitarian Church and trying to keep the flame from sputtering in a cold wind, and hugging friends, and crying even more. The truth is standing at that corner in front of the house--now marred and ghastly through no fault of its own--with nearly a thousand people and staring at the offerings of remorse made, and having no more clue as to why this occurred than anybody else.

Huge Klieg lights were ordered by the city for some dumb reason. Then, playing Ray Charles' version of "America The Beautiful" those who knew the Harveys winced and left. "I feel sick," one said. "This is just inappropriate." Yet, what were we to make of it? Here we were, dealing with what is undealable. Walking toward the scene, the painful brightness direct in the eyes, gave the proceeedings a surreal resemblance to the closing minutes of "Close Encounters" when the mothership disgorges hundreds of people who've been taken up into spaceships during past decades. The silhouettes ambled about in the glare.


Post a Comment

<< Home