The Blue Raccoon

Monday, October 29, 2007

Manic Monday

Mr. Kollatz, this is your wake up call...

At about 8 a.m. the phone rings, I'm just out of the shower and Amie hasn't quite pried open her eyes. It's Katie Parry, from the History Press, informing me that I'm scheduled to be a guest on Virginia This Morning to push the slender volume. I said a few choice Anglo Saxon vulgarisms, directed against myself, and followed by Amie's laughter, flew into the closet to find something tweedy and writer-like and yet not too crazy for teevee. Other than me.

I jumped in the Lear Buick and roared off to Channel 6, parked near the Holiday Inn of Scott's Addition and waited for several long moments for traffic to clear and let me off the Broad Street median. I production assistant was in the lobby ready to whisk me into the studio.

They moved me up to the second segment and I was relieved that I'd made it, but disappointed that I'd not done a calendar check Sunday night.

Frankly, the whole thing blurred past me. I was on with Bill Bevins and Julie Bragg. I remembered to bring the book and hold it up. Bill was interested in "The Gangs of Richmond" segment and I explained this was "good old-fashioned brick-throwing hooliganism" not armies of men with axes ready to go at each other. And got in about Benjamin Moore finding the Manchester diamond.

Whew. Thank you Channel 6, Bill and Julie. The billion-eyed audience can judge for themselves how coherent I am, or not, keeping in mind that I'd not yet had any coffee. See the segment here.

"I'm on page 50!"

Later in the day, I was strolling at a brisk pace on North Colonial Ave. when a car came out of an alley and a passenger shouted to me, "True Richmond Stories! I'm on page 50!"

This was one of the fellows to whom I'd sold a book at MoJo's on Friday night. He was enjoying the book and thanked me for having written, "I'm kind of sort of browsing through it, too, to see what else is in it," he explained.
"That's what it's for! Thanks for reading!"

Henrico award

Nobody needed to call and wake me for receiving recognition by the Historic Presrvation Advisory Committee Awards of Merit in a ceremony at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Susan Winiecki, my big-time editor at the magazine, took me out there.

I was one of four recipients -- and the other three actually do stuff.

As unbelievable as it may seem, in the Heritage Village portion of the Virginia State Fair there's not been an African American section until 2004. The all-volunteer African-American Heritage Committee corrected this oversight, by providing information about slavery, emancipation and the the achievements of blacks in history. They dispel myths, that slavery was only a Southern institution and that the Underground Railroad was not, well, a subterranean transit system that refugee blacks hopped on for an express to Ottawa.

Kerry Shackelford, proprietor of Museum Resources Inc., saves endangered antique houses by taking them apart, sometimes storing them, then reassembling them at another location. This allows for structures that might've otherwise gotten crushed into toothpicks to have a renewed existence elsewhere. He studied in the Colonial Williamsburg coopering program, and is one of only two tradesmen to have completed rigorous six-year program.

Hearing him describe the process he undergoes in the reception afterward was inspiring. As Susan said, with him, it's a calling. Thank goodness.

Carol Anne Simopoulos, Educational Specialist, Social Studies/K-5 for Henrico Elementary Schools. She created five years ago the Henrico Historical Awareness Project, which does what all good history should accomplish when taught in school: uses skills in studying and writing about what is local, visible and real to ignite children's interest. She established a county-wide essay writing program that selects three winners from each of the county's districts.

We each got a plaque and kept the easel display place that announced what the honors were for.

Thanks to Vee Davis, who nominated me, and got me on the roster. Thanks to Henrico for the award, the dinner and the event. And thanks to Susan for the lift out there and home!

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I didn't learn of the murder of Susanne L. Thompson until late this afternoon. She died across the street from my office at about 9 a.m. on Saturday. I remember seeing her with her little dog Angie. The man who killed her, Johnny F. Hughes -- according to the newspaper report-- is a paranoid schizophrenic, considered dangerous, and off his meds.

That this event came to pass not a few paces away from my workplace door is the result of a cascading series of errors. Ms. Thompson did nothing wrong. But Mr. Hughes, mentally ill and poor, and with a previous record, was wandering the streets, a muttering crazy man with his fingers curling around a weapon.

He wasn't criminal enough to jail, nor deranged enough to institutionalize. Both solutions are expensive and in some cases harmful. Still, if the system had been constructed well enough to take in Hughes, Ms. Thompson would be alive to walk Angie today.

I pass by these types every single day in my daily preambulations to and from work and everywhere else I'm able to walk. I've never felt threatened, though this afternoon one of these guys, familiar to from my Cary Street wanderings, came toward me, "Heya brother-man," in a way that, frankly, if I'd not heard him speak before I wouldn't have understood. When I didn't respond he bellowed at me, "What's a matter? You deaf and dumb?" Which gave me a chuckle.

But I'm not a petite, middle-aged woman, and this fellow didn't come after me with a pocket knife. The question this begs is: how is that Hughes was wandering the streets and off his medication? There are underlying reasons why this came to pass, and it's the ugly truth that in this country we don't know really know how to deal with the mentally ill--especially in the underprivileged classes-- except to medicate them into oblivion. There's not enough social workers or money to supervise them. When these afflicted individuals fail to follow their course of medication, they are a danger to at least themselves, and in some cases, other innocent people.

This a strange, random tragedy that underscores just how fragile life is and that nothing can be taken for granted, not even a morning walk.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Istanbul or Constantinople?
They Might Be Giants/Bread and Puppet Theater/RVA

No, this isn't Monroe Park, but there was a guy who had a banner flag
and the bus, and its handpainted backdrop, was there, too. This is
via the Bread and Puppt Theater photo gallery.

Far as weekends go, this was about as good as Richmond can make them. Amie and me started on Wedensday with our first visit to the Richmond Toad's Place to see They Might Be Giants. You can read about the experience, and the set list, here.

We were pleased to find Tyler and Moira there, and to learn that the event also marked the anniversary of her nativity. Moira hasn't owned a television in 15 years. I find this admirable and commendable, as we have three that we don't watch that much, and the big debate here on Colonial Avenue every month is whether to cut off the cable.

Toad's Place is the fantasy Flood Zone, as Amie described the sleek and techno space, as opposed to the bare concrete of the nontheless beloved venue which deteriorated then was claimed by the Have A Nice Day Café. They don't allow wearing of hats there, a textured irony, since on New Year's Eve at the Flood Zone, Ignatius the Hatmaker used to sell his wares for Shockoe Bottom prices.

The effort that went into converting a former Lady Byrd hat making factory into a music venue rendered notable results. Toad's opening filled a gap for a moderate-sized venue that Richmond has lacked ever since the Flood Zone shuttered in 1997.

But since I'm old, the flat hard floor got to my knees a bit and I was glad Amie nabbed us a perching place available on the left wall. I guess the high up shelf space contains a trunk for wiring or plumbing, something, but the ledge also provides seat of sorts. One of the staff members whom I know from Around told me that a sound person from the Toad's in Connecticut came down to tinker with the sound system all day, and, well, where it wasn't bad, sometimes I couldn't distinguish the lyrics. But, the two bars served cold Legend brown and that was excellent.

I really want to see Regina Spektor when she comes.

I enjoyed the Giants; John Flansburgh reminded me of a stouter Elvis Costello, and John Linnell a slighter David Byrne. Their smart, quirky songs warmed my nerd rocker heart.

That they could goof around on stage with the Toad's Place mascot endeared them to me.

Thursday I was reminded by ACORN's David Herring about the Virginia Center for Architecture's opening of its exhibit celebrating 50 years of historic preservation in Richmond. Amie dashed down to the splendiferous Branch House, location of the Center and the Virginia's AIA headquarters. There was some reminiscing and speechifying, and Rachel Flynn, the year-and-change director of community developmnt for the city was wonderful, and it was good to see HRF's new dynamo director, Mary Jane Massad Hogue, and its first full-time director, Jack Zehmer. Then I ran down to the Firehouse to attend the Spinning Into Butter premier.

Then, on and exquisite Sunday afternoon, we got to converge upon Monroe Park to see the commedia dell' arte/political satire stylings of the Bread and Puppet Theater. The self-sustaining group could come here through the good offices of Amanda Robinson and Gallery 5.

They are a circus that I'd run away with and join. Well, if I was 25 years younger. Oh, the zest and energy and fun and pointed criticism, done with painted cardboard and decorated gunny sacks and musicians playing accordian, sax, drums, and trumpet. Their "Merry Pranksters"--esque painted school bus served as stage and prop box as the players circled it, dressed one way, then came around, outfitted another way.

The weather was splendid, and the Monroe Park audience diverse, including a number of the the folks who, um, hang out on the benches who were both puzzled and amused by the show.

One of my favorite parts was the parade of "government mules" who were herded across the grass. On their flanks they each carried a word that formed the Jeffersonian sentence, Whenever The Government Becomes Destructive It Is The Right Of The People To Alter Or Abolish It and a wee mule came galloping from behind the bus and pushed along by the herder, bearing a ! for the end.

There was also a wonderful little bit about how third party candidates are excluded from the system in a Debate Of Extremely Pertinent Points. Two grim masked politicos flanked a bespectacled scruffy Third Party representative. A moderator asked about global warming, the money supply and the issue pre-emptive war-making. The Republican, ("Lock and load America!") would crow, "Problem? What problem?" and the Democrat retorted, "This is a verrry serious issue!" and as the Third Party character tried to form several complete, thoughtful sentences the Repubocrats would lean in and shout, "Ta-dahhh!" as though they'd accomplished something. The final question was about reforming corporate support of political candidates and before the Third Party could answer, he was beaten down by the other two.

And that about says it all. I recall watching a Third Party candidate debate on C-SPAN during the 2004 cycle and there they were, Green, Constitutional, Libertarian and even Natural Law and all of them made more cogent and even eloquent statements than anything most of the mainstreamed candidates either fell compelled or are allowed to say.

One of the best parts of the weekend, though, was seeing our good friends John DeShazo and Susannah Anderson, and their toddler son, Toby. John and Susannah were intimately involved during the early years of the Firehouse Theatre Project, with acting and technical aspects, and Susannah played Aphrodite in a collaborative piece titled Venus Rising produced through an exhibition of Amie's at the 1708 Gallery and a play I wrote, (with Amie's assistance) which presented the Venus de Milo coming to life and giving her side of the Greek myth stories. We took this production on a barnstorming tour of the deep South, including New Orleans and the now gone Zeitgeist space. They toured Amie's current Plant Zero show.

We really need to get out to Seattle, where they've lived now for--what?--six years? Whew.

After departing from John and Sooz, Amie needed to go further down Hull Street to her studio to put away some materials and conduct some cleaning up operations. She gave me a big trash bag and asked me to undertake litter removal around the property. I actually enjoy this because a place always looks better after you've removed trash. What never ceases to amaze me is the callous, cavalier and careless regard people seem to have for their surroundings. I filled a big three foot long bag with refuse. And this is just one portion of Hull Street near Pilkington. Magnify this, increase the amount geometrically, world-wide. You can understand why, as Laurie Anderson sang years ago, that the history of the future will be about the tranformation of waste.

C'mon, somebody, invent a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor that we can attach to our cars.

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Is Esquire Reading The Blue Raccoon?

Probably not, though I am given to wonder of late about some interesting New York hits on the Sitemeter a few weeks ago when I posted both about the would-be candidacy of Dennis Kucinich and C-SPAN siren Greda Wodele (pictured above, in her glory).

Both show up in the November issue of Esquire with"The Sexiest Woman Alive" Charlize Theron leaning on a wall in a tank top and peering at you over a raised arm, like any number of men must've imagined her bracing herself against the doorway of their bedrooms. Yeah, I used to read Esquire for the articles. No I just get it for the Scarlett Johansson center fold. Wow. This one almost burned a whole in the 7-11 bag.

There, on page 165 in the "Women We Love" section, is Greda, assayed by Scott Raab, whose lush phrases aren't perhaps as gushing and fantastical as mine. He admonished me -- maybe without knowning-- and betters my description: "She is not hot, she's beautiful. Her hair, thick and mahogany shows no more traces than having been put through more than a brush. Her dark eyes are moist, her smile prim and pink. Each facial plane--her high, wide brow, that long, smooth heart-shaped stretch from cheekbone down to neck-- sings in milky harmony. That face would make old Plato--Plato's dust--rock hard."

That last bit was a bit much, to me, though I thought my, "At least in this messed up world there's one of her," was OK.

Curious, but it is the same Scott Raab who gives Dennis and Elizabeth a big exclamation point thumbs up. (p.183 and following). Dennis isn't that short--5'7" but she's six feet and wears heels. In my August 18 post, I suggested to Kucinich that he go home and set up a kind of permanent campaign fair, with rides. Well, photographer Michael Edwards posed the goofy-in-love couple kissing on a carousel. I didn't know she is the third Mrs. Kucinich. Well, he's not running as a marriage and values candidate, at least not in a hypocritical way.

I'd touch a computer screen for him, if I could, but that opportunity won't be allowed because corporate-funded centerist candidates are going to kick him out of the way. I voted for John Anderson, too. But the man who defeated him, Jimmy Carter, helped put me through college so that I didn't owe anybody a dime. Which is why I don't badmouth Jimmy.

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Is Escondido Burning?

A deer caught in the California forest fires, via the BBC.

Some 574,474 acres and an estimated 2,300 houses burned in the recent wildfires that scorched Southern California and displaced more than half a million people. The flames claimed at least 12 lives and injured 75. But as wreckage is cleared away, those figures could rise.

Earlier this summer, I spent a post or two reacting to news about the fires that ignited about half of Greece. In the little news coverage I could watch about the California catastrophe, I heard some mumbling about climate change and global warming and such, but not a syllable about the Greek version. Although in the U.S., as in Greece, there's reason to believe some of the fires were set for pyromaniacal kicks.

The dreaded Santa Ana winds whipped these things into firestorms. This has happened before, it is sure to happen again, and I'm wondering if this'll affect development patterns in that part of the country.


"The Kandy-Kolored Kid Comes Home"

"People love sermons." Tom Wolfe at the White House, 2004.

On Oct. 20 at the Library of Virginia's 10th Annual Literary Awards, Governor Timothy M. Kaine presented the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award to Richmond native Tom Wolfe, whose distinguished career includes bestselling and award-winning fiction and nonfiction works. Among Wolfe’s best known works are The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe graduated from St. Christopher’s School and Washington and Lee University. Following his Yale doctorate in American studies, he worked as a journalist for the New York Herald-Tribune and as a staff writer for New York magazine.

You can read Valley Haggard's take on the night in a Style Weekly web exclusive here.

Back in late 1978, Wolfe revisited St. Christopher's and his appearance then was recorded in the December 1979 issue of Richmond Lifestyle magazine by Martha Steger. The piece was titled "The Kandy Kolored Kid Comes Home."

At the time he provided some prescient observations about newsgathering and newspapers. He recalled how he graduated in 1956 with his fresh-minted Yale American Studies doctorate too late to get a teaching job for the fall. So he went to work at the Springfield Union.

His ideas about newspapering were fed by what he knew of its Ring Lardner past.

"When I actually got into it," Wolfe explained, "what I found out was that the newspaper business is a dead business...I call it the incredible shrinking news because I firmly believe that less news is actually being covered now than at any time in U.S. history. There's a [newspaper] monopoly in virtually every city, and without competition, there's no need to go beyond 'setting the proper tone' for each story that's covered."

He gave an example of 'setting the proper tone' in what he wrote about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Nov. 22, 1963. Wolfe, writing for the New York Herald Tribune was assigned 'man-on-the-street' interviews. He went to Little Italy, Chinatown and other ethnic neighborhoods.

Wolfe remembers, "What I discovered was that the Tongs thought the Mafia had done it, the Italians thought the Tongs had done it, the Puerto Ricans though the Jews had done it, and so on...I wrote my story and handed it into the rewrite desk. Late that afternoon I was appointed to do the rewrites, but when I started going through the day's stories, mine wasn't there. I figured someone had lost it, so I rewrote it and included it in the stories for the morning paper. When I picked up the paper the next morning, however, my story had again been removed, and all that appeared of the man-on-the-street stories were little old ladies collapsing in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral-- the 'proper tone' for the day in which a President had been assassinated. It was then that I knew I had to get out of newspaper work."

Wolfe continued, "I think the hope for the future of news lies in the weekly newspapers and the magazines because the local newspapers feed the newspapers, and the wire services supply virtually all television news. The reporter with his own beat has almost disappeared."

That was 1978. Today, a proliferation of cable news is busy 'setting the proper tone' as the ownership of those outlets are in fewer hands than ever; making the entire country a one news media town: except for the Internet and the blogosphere. Maybe. Political blogs of both the standard accepted sides are tiresome in their repeated tropes that one or the other party is stupid or even evil. But, are community-oriented bloggers becoming 'the reporter with his own beat?'

Wolfe told Steger that he got into the closed communities of custom-car builders, surfing acid heads and astronauts by admitting that he knew nothing about their worlds and not trying to fake otherwise. He learned this lesson while covering the grandfather of NASCAR, Junior Johnson.

"Since I was going into the moonshine country of North Carolina, I dressed what I thought was the part in a green suit, a black knit tie, brown suede shoes, and a Borsolino hat -- the kind with a half-inch beaver fur on it. It turned out that I was the only person on the scene with a suit or hat on, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Junior came to me after a couple of days and said he had a piece of advice for me, if I wouldn't feel offended. He said that people at Anderson's General Store had asked him 'Who is that strange little green man who keeps following you?' I learned from that that you should never try to fake it."

Later on Wolfe provided his explanation for gossip and/or blogging, whichever the case may be, again bearing in mind this is 1978 --emphasis mine.

"My one contribution to psychology may be my theory of information compulsion, that is, every human being feels a minor gain in status if he can tell another human being something that he didn't know before. Many people have a story to tell, and an introduction is all you need. I try to work this way, one-to-one, rather than arriving on the scene with my notebook."

Wolfe predicted that during the 1980s that "religion will be the thing" due to the Third Great Awakening.

"By the 1984 elections every candidate will be wearing some form of religious garb and making imaginary snow balls [with hand gestures]--like the television preacher. We're going through a stage of reevaluation of our values, and people love sermons--as long as you don't follow through with too much action. People love to be reminded that they're sinners, but they don't want you to take away the sinful things they might be enjoying."

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Writing On The Wall

"Dictation": What we talk about when we talk about art and history

What a heroine of culture looks like: Adele Goodman Clark (1882-1983)
Image from the Library of Virginia.

Last night's collaborative performance at Plant Zero as partners-in-art, between me, Amie, and with special guests two members of the Art Cheerleaders, Kendra Wadsworth and Rebecca Goldberg Oliver (who are both artists themselves), then the afterparty-ing with some folks, including painter Bill Fisher, which ended up at MoJo's was, well, better than anything I contemplated.

The evening's weather didn't bode well. Though we need this rain, and the season's traditional character involves cool mists, Amie was persuaded we'd have no audience at all. I figured, it's Fourth Friday, Artspace is open, Artworks always draws a crowd, and the River City Rollergirls were holding their Halloween party, "Nightmare On Hull Street," in the events space. We'd draw from some of those crowds to be sure.

David Bruce's installation of the megaphone was perfect; we chose to place it at the top of the ramp in the gallery space as the rise provided a stage, I could be seen and heard well from that position. In addition to the pieces on Adele Clark, Nora Houston (both of whom nurtured one Theresa Pollak) and Richmond's artistic ferment in the 1920s and 1930s, and Gus and Lynn Garber and the Fulton School, Amie asked that I also present the story about the Richmond Dairy.

That renowned "Milk Bottle Building" was, during the 1980s, a haven for numerous bands--including Richmond-born GWAR--and artists as diverse as hatmaker Ignatius and sculptor Rig Terrell and philosopher Ken Knisely. Amie looked for a studio there when she came to Richmond.

Henry Miller, Cheerleaders and the Abominable Snowman

While I rehearsed, Amie tacked up pages from the slender volume: the Henry Miller epigram, ("I'd rather die in Richmond..."); Adele and Nora; the Dairy and Fulton. She would write backwards above and below the sheets. She installed a small oval mirror by making attachment to the ramp railings so that later passersby could, if they realized the reflective presence, read her reaction/interpretation of my history text. About quarter of 7 the cheerleaders arrived, poms poms and pigtails and all, ART emblazoned across the chest of their pleated-skirt uniforms and began their warm ups. Amie reminded me not to wear my three-cornered hat until show time. Yes, Madame Director. Good point, too.

Amie set up a table with books and had brought cups for drinking champagne. We had plastic glasses with stems but no way to set them down--so people would have to carry them. Funny.

A string quartet with a real harpsichord began playing in Artspace about 7. A guy in an Abominable Snowman costume rolled through the halls on roller skates and the pages tacked to the wall, caught by the breeze, performed The Wave to express admiration. He was pursued on skates by a Goth Punk Rock Girl, wearing ripped fishnets and not much else.

I took the Cheerleaders through the presentations, now tacked to the wall, and I felt a bit like a quarterback giving plays. I pointed out lines where a reaction, pom pom waggling and cheering might be appropriate. Like when Adele Clark says that she felt there should be more creative and imaginative people in government. Yayyy!!

By show time, we had about 15 or so folk gathered in the gallery, sitting along the wall before the megaphone, and by time we were underway, and the cheerleaders had established the mood, I guess we had upwards of 30 in the audience, and an appreciative bunch it was.

Hard to believe and I was there

Amie gave a short preface to the performance, and introduced the cheerleaders, who came squealing up to the ramp. (She had to rush close the Artspace door so they'd not interrupt the music).

The Cheerleaders punctuated the text and performed interstitials -- I hope to add pictures here, soon, and filmmaker David Williams was on hand to record the whole thing, too, and so we'll have some moving images to see in a while.

I have to say, I wondered how if my 40-something self could visit my 16-year-old self, twisting and turning in bed and thinking no girl will ever like me because I'm such a doofus, and to have Old Nerd Harry tell Young Nerd Harry, "You and your wife will perform a show about her art and life in complement to your history writing. And, there'll be cheerleaders." I wouldn't have believed then, and I almost don't believe that it happened and I was there.

To tell you the truth, I was so busy reading and varying my positions and concentrating on the megaphone and measuring the audience reactions that, in memory, the whole thing is kind of a blur. But our audience got it, and applauded, and seemed to enjoy themselves. They really dug the Cheerleaders.

"Adele and Nora, wherever you are, I'm sure you're enjoying this," I said after I'd finished their section to a burst of cheering. all those artists who came before us...

A number of them stayed after for the champagne toasts. Amie led the first, to all the artists who came before us, and all those who inspire us now, who choose to live and make their work in Richmond. And to the Cheerleaders. And to True Richmond Stories. And to Amie Oliver, this from the audience. To Gus and Lynn Garber! Funny those little cups and no way to put them down.

Once our first bunch had dispersed, we regrouped to set up the table for selling and signing books, of which a number were sold. I enjoyed this, talking to folks who happened upon us, a number of them dressed for Halloween, and watching Abominable skating his circuit.

The afterparty after the afterparty

We adjourned--Cheerleaders, Amie, Bill Fisher and his friend, Anne, and Bob Clarke--to Bill's studio round the corner, then moved the party to Legend Brewery, home church of my favorite brew, where I was able to drink just one of their delicious porters because they were closing (!), then moved onward to MoJo's. On the way, Amie and I both thought that we should present the Cheerleaders with books, and so I did, and while I was signing-- I think Kendra's--a couple at the bar--college students, I'm assuming--asked what it was and I told them and the guy of the two wanted one! So I went out to the Buick where my endeavor to paw through the portable cart Amie used to transport them took long enough time for she and Bill to come as a search party to rescue me. And so I signed the couple's book and while signing that, another fellow comes to me and he, too, having seen the Forest Hill Amusement Park piece, wanted a book, too.

Bill regaled us with stories, and there was much laughing, and taking of pictures and exchanging of e-mail addresses. And we closed the place down. A fine, fine evening.

When I get some images, I'll post them.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Keeping up with the story....

Tonight, at Plant Zero, 7:30 p.m., me reading not one, nor two, but it seems now, three pieces from the above pictured slender volume. There'll be a megaphone and at least two cheerleaders. And a gallery-full of masterful work by Amie Oliver, my partner-in-art. All this, and a three-cornered hat.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Man and A Megaphone: brought to you by the number nine

AmieO art for "Dictation" our collaborative effort
at Plant Zero Art Center's Project Space as part of her ongoing
exhibit. That's the Hollywood Cemetery pyramid, used on
the cover of my book, True Richmond Stories.

Billion-eyed audience, here is my breathless attempt to catch you up on the meanderings and maunderings of Team AOK.

Hell, it's a blog. I can stop and start when I want. It don't have to make no sense, do it?

So the past few days during lunch hours Amie and I have been rehearsing the "Dictation" piece which involves me reading, a three-cornered hat, a megaphone we've had around the house since it was purchased when the (now defunct) Showcase interior imbellishments company moved out of the Pohlig Box Factory Building. I'll read not one but two selections out of TRS, as the kids on the skreet call the slender volume, while Amie...well. You'll just have to come and see us do the thing which we will do. One performance and one performance only!

I have to say, though it has come at a rock'em sock'em week at the magazine, and Amie's been dodging and weaving to avoid a relapse of Seasonal Creeping Crud Disorder (SCCD) that last week flattened her like road kill, it's fun. Today we went to Plant Zero to see about suspending the megaphone so I don't have to hold it and it'll become part of the exhibit.

Ah, white walls and art and artists coming and going and the thrum of Plant Zero's HVAC and the slender deco retro hall lights that make me feel like I'm on a big zeppelin. I enjoy being around studios and all that creative force. Like walking around the VCU campus, too, and oh, the air is redolent of youth and vitality, I want to breathe it in. Same with creative spaces where pockets of energy are palpable. We ran into Heide Trepanier, which is always great, and I presented her with the indeterminate European, Art Basel, who smokes his filterless cigarette between his middle and ring finger.

So it was fun, and sculptor/maker David Bruce was enlisted to install the megaphone. Ah, I thought--fantasized--about how it'd be for Amie and me to have grants and underwriting to go to places and do this, and drink coffee in curious places, and visit cluttered apartments and leave chilly rainy streets for brunches in places only the locals go to. And she would record our adventures with her disc cam, and we'd just be hanging out. Kind of like this, taken back in March, at the Empire Diner in Chelsea.

Seems a quaint notion, I guess, and a bit selfish, too. But you know, I'm not fit for anything else, with my bad back and all.

Number Nine, Number Nine

So Style Weekly's big fat hairy 25h Anniversary issue came out Wednesday. So I'm reading around in it and rolling in the memories when I get to the 24 Arts Legends compiled by Brandon Reynolds, and I'm perusing the list and lo! There I am, at #9, between arts benefactor Frances Lewis and that Quirky broad, Kathy Emerson. Not a bad rocking chair position, you ask me.

Spinning Into Butter

Opens tonight in a production by the Firehouse Theatre Project. It's directed by our own house guy, Morrie Piersol, and features the oh-so-wonderful Katie McCall, Fred Iacovo--with whom I acted many years ago in a repertory comedy troupe called Richmond: Out of Stock, and he had a pre-road rage character named Angry Man; the incredible "rich, deep, authoritative" Melissa Johnston-Price and veteran Robert Albertia, the sagacious and funny Stephen Moore and, both earnest and persuasive, Anthony Santiago and Matt Polson.

I'll be there, but now must dash to go to the thing before the other thing.

Oll be back.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

How I (Sort of) Met Mandy Moore at the Pollaks
and Pretty Girls Taking Pictures of Art

She didn't quite look this, um, luscious, but gosh durn close. I appropriated this
image from The Trouble With Spikol.

In fact, others were more excited by this chance encounter than me, because, with all deference for the wonderful young woman, I, being in the actuarial tables half-way to dead, reside just outside her demographic.

Though I knew of her musicological relationship with a member of Richmond's funkalicious Modern Groove Syndicate, via that group's keyboardist Daniel Clarke, and for certain viewed her on Entourage (which is more Amie's show than mine), I wouldn't have been able to distinguish her in a blind challenge out of the numerous quite attractive and well-dressed women at the 10th Annual Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Which is why I'm not writing for Well, that and other reasons -- like discretion and taste.

My partner-in-art provides an accounting and assessment of the Pollaks on her site, and in an example of Interwebs Logrolling In Our Time, I send you there and here.

So, yes, it was a splendid evening. Though we could use a good long rain, the soaking didn't occur yesterday evening. Preparing for the Pollaks involves the entire office which, for these few autumn days, turns into an events planning company while also trying to get out a magazine. Justin Vaughan, who put together the audio visual part of the program, was up to 3 a.m for press checks at Cadmus and had to be out late in the afternoon at Byrd Press and swooped in to the Singleton Center in time to do a cue-to-cue with me and the pictures.

In truth, I was buzzing about being a door hawk and shepherding people to the check-in. I was amused at getting a curtsy from the fantabulous Pam Reynolds, then V. Lee Aulick, a magazine artist and designer who created the program for the night, came up and with wide eyes asked me in a hoarse whisper, "Is that Mandy Moore?" Lee is quite a less further along her journey along the aforementioned actuarial flow chart and thus more attuned to names and faces of the famous more her age (I mean, I have a thang for Mimi Rogers and Ellen Barkin, both of whom are gifted with the sexiest crooked mouths. But that's just me.)

I shrugged and said something like, "Yuh, prolly, the keyboardist of Modern Groove played in her summer tour."

"Oh, wow!" exclaimed Lee, who has big eyes anyway, and they really got expansive then. I don't know why. She got a picture in the magazine of her right next to a grinning Elliot Yamin. Me, in a room full of cameras, didn't get an image for proof. I mean, geez, the woman is here to have a good time, not to get made much over. I just don't do that. Yet another reason I'm not working for TMZ.

During the reception she gave me hearty compliments and I bowed, and said something dumb like, "Well, I must go be a butterfly," which made her laugh large, and she was a great laugh, and for that reason, I figure she's a swell gal, and I curse myself yet again for my youth's lack of discipline, and not sticking with the piano lessons.

At any rate, I'll get to the Pollaks a wee bit later. I do want to say that the staff almost made me tear up because in the lobby there during the reception they presented me with a special honor Pollak of my own. Wow. 10 years.

The lobby of the Singleton Center has, I think, seldom hosted such a variety of artists gathered for the single purpose of camaraderie. The food was excellent, the spirit effusive, and several people asked if we could do this every Friday, minus the awards.


First, I want to say that after a bustling week of book stuff, art stuff and work stuff, and much going and doing , today was chillaxin' time. I performed an official function during the morning at this newcomer event that my editor Susan asked me to speak for at St. Giles Presbyterian Church. I didn't really know what this all was, including that women were the sole paticipants. Or, seemed to me. I also had a book to tout, which I did, at the very end of the talk. So I guess I did OK, but due to the Pollak kerfluffel, on Friday I just plain forgot to pick up any magazines to show off. I did manage to have a few business cards on me, though. I was given a name tag shaped like a moving box, with my name, and stencil-style warnings of FRAGILE and HANDLE WITH CARE.

Amie, despite battling the creeping head-throat crud all week, and venturing out to see the Pollaks last night, pulled a gallery sitting shift at 1708 today. Good thing. The place was busy with college coeds undertaking class assignments with earnest expressions, short skirts and boots, and mini-cameras. Amie sighed, "Pretty girls taking pictures of art, click click click," and she mimed the action. They even took images of the gallery's marquee. In her time as an undergrad, students actually like took notes and stuff. "It's a different day," she said.

The day was warm with breezes and quite autumnal. After piloting the art partner into her gallery chair, I needed to break a $10 for change to use in the reader-printer at the library, so I went to Lift and got a pumpkin latte and a hot green tea for her, though I forgot the honey.

Dropped off some of Amie's exhibition cards and admired the bountiful and layered billboard at Lift, which resembles a Flock of Seagulls haircut. But a coffee shop without a cluttered billboard isn't really a coffeeshop, or not a healthy one anyway, and I judge a community's activity, too, by those displays. The tactile quality and visual dynamism of a coffeeshop billboard is far more interactive than, say, a MySpace page.

On my way to Lift, I kept hearing what I thought was some kind of announcements going on a megaphone or speaker system, in the distance. Is there a political gathering at Capitol Square? I realized, no, it was recorded commentary coming over a speaker at the ada gallery. From what I heard, there was some kind of horse race being called, but with artists instead of steeds. The experience was one of a perfect Richmond disorientation. Here I am on Broad Street, on Saturday afternoon, with this absurd horse race going on and just me listening.

One aspect I enjoyed of my walk, and noted throughout the day, was the variety of people I'm seeing these days in Richmond's public places and along the sidewalks: different hues, nationalities, couples of differing heritages. I get a little hopeful about the place seeing this. A little. Then I think about the current mishigas in City Hall, and I get tired.

Nike on a bike

So coffee and honeyless tea delivered--I would've gone back for the honey, but the Partner said, nah, don't--I ambled over to the library. Pleasing stroll. Gorgeous light. My pumpkin latte was satisfying but I couldn't take it into the library and so had to sit in front of Michael Morchower's bear and drink. There was a guy on the porch next door sitting there with his white poodle, and we were all taking in the day. This is a shady row of historic buildings that make me happy just being around them.

I sipped my pumpkin latte observing a young woman on a bike sleek and sure and swift streak past like a Nike on two wheels. That's how Lea Marshall of Ground Zero looks. Zoom! I here to proclaim victory! If I were making a film in Richmond, and using some mythological paradigm, that's how I'd cast her. Nike on a bike. Then came some unshaven, sunglassed guys in a VW bug convertible rocking out and singing in unison. A man in shirtsleeves walking slow along the herringbone pattern sidewalk, hands in pockets, in no rush.

Done with the coffee, I proceeded into the library, where I'd a few days earlier--while researching the 1918 flu, left my Waiting For The Bus/Read In Spare Moments book, Morris Ecksteins' Rites of Spring. Which I've mentioned in a post some while ago. In a really good section now, as Ecksteins is explaining the underpinnings of the "Christmas Truce" that occurred at sporadic places along the line in France that first year of the war, but afterwards such open fraternization became unthinkable. Amie and I caught a well-made film, Joyeux Noel, about this on one of our indie film channels, and she'd asked me if this really happened, and I thought that it had, and Ecksteins confirmed that the film compressed several discrete events that occurred at disparate locations -- in some sections lasting through January.

Dance of the Reader-Printer

So I picked up the book at the reference desk and shared with the librarians my mention of their assistance to me in preparing the columns the comprise The Slender Volume. They appreciated the mention, and gave me the name and number of the person who acquires titles for the library. Then, upstairs to ferret out more fluenza. Now, here's a complaint to the city, to which I pay taxes and pledge my fidelity. Harrumph.

There are two reader-printers, and only one working, and it's been months. I love libraries but I am also on a limited time budget. People who undertake research in such places like the equipment that allows them to do such an activity to operate and not require waiting. Yes, the Library of Virginia--a few blocks more distant--has several of these machines, but, I was closer to the gallery and there was a woman there, doing her own research, and I didn't want to interrupt her. I thought for sure there was another machine in the building, but there wasn't. The jaunty capped librarian was a bit anxious, I think, because there were two uniformed officers of the peace giving a talking to a ruddy-faced, burly fellow who probably wasn't there to look up back issues of Psychology Today.

Death and more death

The lady on the machine graciously yielded, to take a break and I picked up with the News Leader in the dreary days of October 1918. Death and more death. Death in Flanders fields from bullets and shells and dysentery, death on West Main Street from the Spanish flu, and a curious funeral at Riverview Cemetery where airplanes dropped roses both on the house prior to the service, and afterward, at the grave site. "First Airplane Funeral," the headline crowed. The guy was a lieutenant in the air corps, and stationed in Michigan, but I couldn't figure out whether he was taken by the flu or something else. I didn't find his obit.

The papers of the autumn 1918 are chocked of unrelieved anxiety and dying. Yet, too, here are the diverting antics of Mutt and Jeff and the Katzenjammer Kids and The Toonerville Trolley. No television, or radio even, then the entire realm of public gathering places were closed for a month -- no movies, plays, lectures -- even the Virginia State Fair, held then near where the Science Museum is, was canceled.

Lauren Kendall's Gellman Room sessions

So then a gentleman came up and he had three rolls of film he needed to look through, but he didn't want to kick me off, and I said, no, no, I need to be here longer than you'll want to be, and so I relinquished my time, and he said he'd be about 35 minutes.

About then, a singer's voice was wafting up from the below the mezzanine, a plaintive full tone, and I realized that Lauren Kendall was in the Gellman Room. I'm not acquainted with her in a personal way, knowing her in that Richmond manner of "around" because I travel in concentric circles, theatre/music/performance, and her circle sort of revolves within those. Anyway, the moment was right, and I sat in the back, and watched her and listened and drifted. Her sonorous keyboards and cello, her voice, somewhat sad, soulful, moody, and I thought of approaching Richmond through mists curling over the James. I wondered who Mr. Gellman was, I suppose much as the guy last Saturday wondered why I didn't know who Mr. Brown of Brown's Island was (Elijah Brown, as it turns out, who purchased the land in 1826. But I digress).

Wind buffeted the trees out the window and I thought of Carlisle Montgomery, playing the room, not well known then, and a sudden storm slashing at the windows and how people, rain splattered and damp, wandered into the room as though her high, strong voice had summoned them there out of the weather. And they were surprised to see her, this stropping red head, playing a fierce sound out of her guitar, like a fight.

Sickness and strikes

But I enjoyed this opportunity to hear Lauren while not in a bar and I didn't have to pay anybody, just let the experience enfold me, there with about 15 or so folks. She had a percussionist there with her, and I can't remember his name just now. I didn't stay to hear her last song, as I had flu to do, but I should've. Her song followed me upstairs, and the fellow at the printer wasn't quite done, so I read a piece in Archaeology Today about the body of a boy found in a church in...France, I think, whose death may yield ways to manufacture better AIDs medicine.

Back at the printer, looking for some mention of the railroad strike that The Great Dabney tells of in his Richmond book, in his two paragraph summation of the flu story. He cites a private manuscript that describes the ghoulish sight of coffins piling up at Main Street Station. The lack of trains kept body transportation from occurring, but also prevented the shipment of firewood to keep people warm, and medicine. I saw one article mentioning how a strike was avoided, but nothing about one that occurred. I saw another-- related maybe-- about lumber piling up on the sides of railways.

An editorialist one day in early October says that this flu isn't a disaster, that if people keep their wits they'll live, but the very next day officials meeting in Petersburg say that "drastic action" was required to prevent the spread of the ailment. There was quite a bit of that; one day, the flu was decreasing, the next worsening, as Richmond became one huge metaphorical patient with a critical and fluctuating condition. The only thing I can do is track down Dabney's source, which is at the Virginia Historical Society, and see if there's any more specifics.


Then it was about 4 p.m, hunger was now an issue, and I needed to see what was up at 1708. A lovely day, just lovely. Row of school buses lined up in front of Theatre IV for their children's matinee; a group of well-dressed people at Popkin Tavern and at least two men in Confederate military uniforms; two Sunday best girls giggling in a car parked on Foushee and a notable and admirable assortment of high heels click clocking on the sidewalk. Young women were in the gallery -- downtown on this quiet Saturday was experiencing a veritable fall blossoming of bare-shouldered pulchritude.

I conferred with the Partner about what to do about eats and walked back to Tarrant's to get the specials on their sidewalk chalkboard. Glanced at the window menus. Amie went for the reuben with horse radish on the side; me, the portabello sandwich. I had mine there with a Yuengling, read Ecksteins and chatted with the amiable host and showed off the Slender Volume. An attractive couple at one point entered, somewhat confused, looking for the place with pool table; nope, Popkin, down the street. A guy who seated at the end of the bar was waiting to meet a friend, whom he glimpsed through the window and using his cell phone, guided the friend into Tarrant's much like an air traffic controller coaching to the tarmac a passenger jet in the hands of a well-intentioned civilian: "No, turn left. No, your other left. I can see you standing right there."

Mr. Able

Heading back to 1708, I spied Amie going into Quirk and I huffed up to catch her. She'd gone in for a minute, but she was further inside and didn't see me. I caught the eye of man there, who let me in, "I'm Amie's husband," which was the woman now realizing there was some reception planned here. Long tables with place settings and people's names written on paper coverings. Looked like it would be fun.

We skeedaddled back to 1708 where the Partner now had to start closing the shop. Joseph Johnson of Corporate & Museum Frame saw us and invited us in; he's exhibiting his large format black and white photographs, really glorious work. He and Amie talked frames and photo techniques. He brought out two grand pictures he'd purchased of weddings, taken probably just under a century ago. Their clarity and precision and the way their border frames matched the tone of the pictures was impressive, and that kind of care taken today is rare.

I enjoy speaking with Joseph, he makes me feel like I'm in a Southern Chelsea, as though the "A" ran from Inwood into Main Street Station. [I'd like to see how a New York Metro overnight car would look...] Amie couldn't tarry. I was quite taken with a dusk-time image of Broad Street with a brilliant cloudhead, glowing a like a promise of redemption, taken from Joseph's third floor...a cap of one of the Milk Bottle building's eponymous features, the ghost signs and street lights coming on, and Mr. Able, the propane heat advertisement figure, who has, if you look at him, um, a rather fiery crotch.

Joseph showed me a big image he'd framed some time ago for a client, a picture familiar to me but I'd not seen it so large, of the Virginia capitol rising out of the Evacuation Fire wreckage. Joseph pointed out the now-gone fan lights, and the bare flag poles.

The women come and go

At 1708, people kept coming. Another gaggle of young women, and they took pictures of art, and themselves; then yet another bunch--of high school girls, with their mothers, and now its past 5 going on 5:30 and she gives them her exhibition cards and explains that at Plant Zero, at this time of day, people will be going in and out of the hall, and her e-mail address is on the back of the card, and she'd answer any questions.

So I'd not intended to spend the entire afternoon downtown, but it just happened, and I was quite happy with the outcome. A fine way to have spent the day, and I wanted for nothing.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Are You A Conspiracy Theorist Or A Magician?

Theresa Pollak, artist, founder of what evolved into the
Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts
and the University of Richmond Department of Art His-
. She's shown here, en plein air, circa 1940.

Greetings billion-eyed audience for a brief report about my Thursday evening.

Last night, the rains held off. With a copy of the astonishing, rich and detailed Sin and the Second City under my arm for lulls and bus riding, I caught the 5:40 p.m to Willow Lawn. I disembarked, tipped my hat to Jamgochian's Markel Building, and walked up the odd-named sidewalk-less Old Richmond Road where I encountered a neighbohrood unfamiliar to me; quite New Frontier era, houses of sturdy brick and some vinyl, but otherwise not a row of little pink houses; an old-growth suburbia enclave.

And a good event occurreed at the Barnes & Noble at Libbie Place. Officious and gracious Kyle took care of my coffee and brownie needs and he guided me to a table adorned by a decorative fan spread of True Richmond Stories between two short towers of them. A bit intimidating it was to see all those pyramids and Kollatzes in one place.

A renewed acquaintance with some old friends, and met strangers, during the course of the evening and signed many, many books. One of the most pleasant and startling encounters of my visit was of meeting Open High School English teacher Elizabeth Archer Layne, who is a direct descendant of Gabriel Archer. He was the writer who
with John Smith and Christopher Newport, and some 20 others, who came up the James River in a shallop to explore just a few days after arriving at Jamestown.

I also met the great-granddaughter of Maggie Lena Walker, the renowned Jackson Ward pioneer; she was the nation's first woman and African-American to run a bank--and one she'd started, and lives on today, in Consolidated Bank & Trust.

Which goes to show that history here is never distant. Sometimes, she'll walk right up and shake your hand.

I was also quite happy to see Vee and Carla Davis -- I worked with Carla a few years ago at Richmond Magazine. Her mom put me into the nomination for a recognition by Henrico County about my history writing.

The most intriguing question asked of me had nothing to do with history.

Two women--holding hands--approached me, amused about something one had said to the other. The taller of the pair asked, "Are you a conspiracy theorist or a magician?" indicating her friend, who grinned and shied away. "She says you're either a conspiracy theorist or a magician."

I laughed, and replied, "Well, I suppose my magic is this book as it attracted you to me, and you both conspired to come over here and speak."

I tried to interest them in the slender volume, but as it was neither conspiracy theory, nor legerdemain, they weren't buying. Sigh.

I was given a bag of B & N swag and they even let me take the big poster of me that rolled up and put into the gift bag so that it looked as though I was carrying a roll of gift wrapping paper. And I have to say, as I passed through the warm night and ambled down to the bus stop shelter at Willow Lawn and sat down under the street lamp and began reading in Sin in the Second City, and the burble of younger folks waiting as I was for transport, I felt downright giddy with my urbanity. I was warmed by hemi-demi-semi-flashback to Berlin, where Amie and I were getting on metro trains at all hours or waiting for the raucous "night bus" that trundled around the city depositing drunk Japanese tourists and us.

So I was conveyed by bus to near Belmont Avenue where I alighted and meandered over to Sheppard Street, and mused upon strapping Carlisle Montgomery, making her excursions from Scotts Addition to Carytown, and when the disbelievers refuse to accept she makes that journey on a regular basis she just doesn't even blink and says, "That's why God gave me long legs and big feet -- to get me places when I need to." And she's got some stems, and pipes, "That's why they grew me this tall," she'll say, "so I can hit the high notes." Sigh.

Then, fresh from my stint being neither a conspiracy theorist or a magician, and in need of refreshment and wanting some amiable fellowship, I steered into the New York Deli. There I was hailed and fed beer and reminisced about the Folk Festival (called Amie on Jason's phone to let her know I'd not been shanghaied.)

Meanwhile, I've been poking around in my Sitemeter and seeing some curious referrals, harking back to my over-fascination with the Duncan-Blake Effect of the summer. Well, during that time, an interested party chose to excerpt all my writings on that event, with the over-all title Seven Kinds of Denial Just to Get Out of Bed, and place the collection on a single site. I hestitate to send you there, because of the 12 titled sections, only seven are operating.

The pieces that are functioning are: Worms & Passions, Duncan-Blake Effect and parts 2, 3 and 4, Conclusion and Blossoms Unabated. They are bobbing about out there. I need, I suppose, to add the others, if I can remember how. This arrangement was a kindness extended to me by a person I've never met, nor spoken with, or even really know at all.

By the way, I possess a copy of Theresa Duncan/Jeremy Blake's The History of Glamour, which when I get a spare half hour, I'll watch and write about, should this be of interest to anyone in the billion-eyed audience. Far as I know, Vanity Fair is hatching a piece about their lives and deaths.

Pollaks tonight, Harry in a double-breasted suit and a good time had by all, I hope, and little rain, though there is great need for the sake of plants and settling dust.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Appearing Tonight For One Performance Only....

So this evening, the True Richmond Stories Autumn and Winter GRTC Tour may come a cropper. Much-needed rain is forecast, and the back lit grey clouds hanging pendulant and expectant are demonstrating the 30 percent chance predicted. So, I've packed my umbrella.

This is potential snag because I intend to take the bus to Willow Lawn and walk to the Barnes and Noble at Libbie Place which isn't that distant. Amie could drive me, but, first, she's under the weather with the Royal Ick, and second, this is the GRTC tour. Getting a lift would be a cheat. So, we'll see.

I don't know what to expect at B & N. Several people have told me they intend on coming and they've had posters up about it; but the store locater website -- I just noticed -- doesn't list me. So, I dunno what that means. I think they send reminders out to people on their e-mail list.

Perhaps I'll see a few of the billion-eyed audience out there tonight. More later.

Tomorrow night is Richmond Magazine's 10th annual Theresa Pollak Prizes for Excellence in the Arts, with yours truly providing the moderator function. That's been keeping me busy, among all the other journo-type stuff. And tracking down descriptions of the 1918 flu in Richmond. Harrowing business, epidemics.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gutenberg's Upper Room & Barnes & Noble To Come

Pratt's Castle, Gamble's Hill in Richmond, Va., ca. 1854-1958.
This is the site of the present NewMarket/Ethyl Corporation

Monday night I regaled a group of history folks about True Richmond Stories in the upper room at Café Gutenberg. This is one of the Richmond's great commercial rooms; wooden and book-lined with mis-matched tables and chairs and views of Main Street, the market and train station. All of Richmond's history is there, or nearby, from 1607 onward, just in the market itself.

I was treated to wine and dined afterward, signed books and talked to a young man about those persistent rumors about Richmond 's "Undreground" that somehow the city has this vast series of sewer tunnels like Jean Valjean got chased through, or Harry Lime in The Third Man. I think these rumors get started because of the series of steam tunnels linking the State Capitol to MCV's campus. These notions are perhaps fueled by wine cellars and coal rooms in Church Hill, the railroad tunnel collapse, the spring beneath the Byrd Theatre, and perhaps enduring memory of Pratt's Castle. That place had a coal storage chamber, wine cellar, and hidden passages and secret rooms. In this plaque-crazy town, there's no mention near the site of what was one of the most photographed (and strangest) building in Richmond.

Thursday I'll be reading at Barnes & Noble, Libbie Place, and that'll be my first presentation in a non-indie store. I'm curious as to how it'll go.

Meantime, I hear how Verizon surrendered the right to privacy to the government because they asked. And you still can't get continuous cell service in Goochland County.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Reading At Café Gutenberg at 7 p.m. tonight &
Who was Mr. Brown?

Yee-haw! This was not at the National Folk Festival on Brown's Island this
past weekend, but the 8th Annual Cinco de Mayo Festival in 2004.

I hope, near enough members of the billion-eyed audience, that you got out to the National Folk Festival this past weekend, which populated Brown's Island and the banks of the lordly River James with 175,000 people of every shape, size, race, creed and hue during the three days of the event.

While there, Fountain Book Shop's Kelly Justice informed me that True Richmond Stories was doing well, due to the amount of visitors in the town coming by her place.

Tonight, I'm reading and signing at Café Gutenberg at 7 p.m.

But while at the Folk Festival, a gentleman asked me, "So who was the Mr. Brown of Brown's Island?"

And at that point I wanted an ACME Products portable hole that Wile E. Coyote used to try and trap the Road Runner, so I could jump into one. I couldn't answer the person -- and so much for Mr. History.

I've since schooled myself on the Brown of Brown's Island.

Gunsmith Elijah Brown (1781-1850), acquired the land in 1826. For a time, it was called Neilson's Island, after a subsequent owner, but the name Brown's Island proved more reasonable to the Richmond tongue. This was the site of a munitions plant which blew up on Friday, February 13, 1863, killing at least 30 young woman workers. Richmond’s Civil War mayor Joseph Mayo said this was where he wanted to put all the lewd women.

Just east of Tredegar Iron Works, at the bend north of the Haxall Canal, was around 1801 where thrived the Haymarket, a terraced recreational park with “serpentine alleys," perhaps shaped boxwoods. The attractions included a thousand person capacity music hall where masquerade balls were considered “dangerous to virtue,” playing fields for quoits, bowling, and shuffleboard, an organ, and an ice cream parlor. There was the “the Riding Machine or Flying Gigs, wherein eight persons can be conveyed at the rate of two to five hundred yards in a minute…its effects are delightful to the riders and peculiarly efficacious to those of weak nervous habits.” And shades of recent headlines, there were cock and bear fights.

John R. Johnson Co. operated the Richmond Steam Forge on the eastern portion, which was once separate, and called Johnson's Island. The 1972 filling of a spillway made the two islands one.

The island became part of the Richmond's James River Park in 1987 after improvements sponsored by the James River Discovery Program.

I need to visit the Library of Virginia to determine how much Elijah Brown spent in buying that hunk of rock and dirt in the James, and anything particular I could learn about who he was as an actual person.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Who nowadays talks of the Armenians?"

REFUGEES AT VAN CROWDING AROUND A PUBLIC OVEN, HOPING TO GET BREAD. These people were torn from their homes almost without warning, and started toward the desert. Thousands of children and women as well as men died on these forced journeys, not only from hunger and exposure, but also from the inhuman cruelty of their guards. -- This illustration appears in Henry Morgenthau's account of his ambassadorship for the United States to Ottoman Turkey, 1913-1916.

I want to interrupt my own back-slapping about my slender volume of twice-told tales to make a point that I've not seen in the sliver of what passes for contemporary news media with which I choose to inflict my senses.

This most recent and quite late attempt in Congress to issue some kind of stern rebuke for the mass killings by Turks of the Armenians in 1915 has cropped up just as snarling and sabre-rattling occurs at the border of Turkey and Iraq. Nowhere, in the assessment of this distraction, has there been mention of Hitler's August 22, 1939 excuse for the destruction of innocent lives, just a week prior to the launch of the attack on Poland. Maybe because the remarks, made during one of his harangues to members of the German military high command and state apparatus at his Berghof residence, has undergone various interpretations.

"Our [Nazi] strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.

I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death's head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

The statement--though not the entire monologue--has received the description of "purported." John Toland, in his massive biography of Hitler, states in his record of the lecture that it wasn't based on a verbatim account but on notes of officers present. The Armenian statement isn't given by Toland.

From my studies even in Richmond and Virginia history, I've learned that when documents or accounts don't agree, or otherwise given accounts that may overlap except for one strange hole that somehow nobody every thought to fill with a description -- later interpreters are either forced to shove the varying accounts into the footnotes or choose one and punt.

Hell, nobody took notes for Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech, yet this didn't prevent a later writer from constructing one that was, perhaps, close enough to what he may have said at St. John's Church here (which wasn't even called St. John's at the time, but the Henrico Parish Church).

Nor have I heard--and this may mean I don't pay enough attention anymore to what the blathering white noise that passes for our news establishment--if anyone has mentioned that the Clinton administration tried in 2000 to pass a memorial of the mass murder of Armenians but the Turks threatened to shut down U.S. bases.

You can read about this shameful event in man's inhumanity to man here and here.

An excerpt:

    "History, of course, is a hard taskmaster, veined with inconvenient facts and
corrupted heroes as well as the massacre of innocents. The Armenian
community in Turkey had its Allied sympathisers when the Ottoman army was
fighting the British and French in the First World War, and Armenians also
fought in the tsarist Russian army against Turkey. But the proof of genocide
is intact. The Young Turk movement - once a liberal organisation which the
Armenians had supported - had taken control of the dying empire and adopted
a "pan-Turkism" which espoused a Turkish-speaking Muslim nation from
Constantinople to Baku.

Within weeks of their victory over the Allies at the Dardanelles in 1915,
they fell upon the Armenians. Churchill was to refer to
the "merciless fury" unleashed upon the Christian minority. The US
ambassador in Constantinople - himself a Jew - wrote heart-wrenching reports
back to Washington of mass slaughter. Near the Turkish village of Mus,
hundreds of men were lined up on bridges and shot into the rivers,

Behind the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland, I was once taken by a camp
guide to a series of small lakes in which the Nazis dumped the ash of the
crematoria. Beneath the water and ice lay the powdered white bones of whole
cities of people. Yet in the north Syrian desert there are still skulls and
bones in caves and in the clay of river banks. This place of martyrdom is
visited once a year by the local Armenian community to commemorate their
holocaust. They even have a holocaust memorial day. Yet I wonder if a single
non-Armenian reader of The Independent knows what the date is?"

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Media Blitzette Hits Richmond: True Richmond Stories
week of Harry talking about himself.

Richmond Magazine colleague Portia, who doesn't live far from me, happened to be waiting to see the Harry Potter film at the Byrd when I sauntered by. During our pleasantries, the above young woman, Patti, dashed up with a copy of True Richmond Stories in hand and asked me to sign her book! This hasn't ever happened to me and I must confess that the surprise was genuine and pleasant. That Portia also had a camera phone (and asked to take Patti's image) just seemed too fortuitous. But much of what's happened with how this book came about has kind of just fallen on me. I don't know what to expect, except that I need to start thinking about the next one -- and a Tesla-Twain play, too.

Tonight my six minutes with award-winning Community Idea Stations broadcaster and host of Virginia Currents, May Lily Lee, aired and will be repeated during the weekend; Saturday at 5:30 p.m and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. But I suspect most people will take advantage of the return to autumn weather and flocking to the National Folk Festival.

The segment followed a piece on the state fair and a fellow putting his chicken asleep; but more appropriate, the major portion was about the Richmond Shakespeare Theater producing the Will Power To Youth show of Romeo and Juliet at the Firehouse Theater.

I moved my head too much, and my annoying subaudible snort even got on my nerves, and other than forgetting a few pieces of crucial information, I thought I did OK.

Continuing my theme of getting interviewed by wonderful women, I spent the better part of an hour at WRIR 97.3 FM in the studio for Liz Humes' Wordy Birds literary convo show. I actually ran into her in the 7-11 parking lot as I was bustling down to the studio from the magazine office and she was leaving from a coffee errand. The show airs tomorrow at noon, and for those members of the billion-eyed audience who are outside the listening range, you can plug into WRIR's online audio stream.

I enjoy conversing with Liz, and she takes care to read the material--not true for all people who are in the business--and she at times sounded far more knowledgeable than me. Good golly. I always feel as tough I look and sound Krusty the Clown during these things; big long shoes, red nose, fright wig hair. After the interview, I was whisked down the long hall to the main studio where the pledge drive broadcast was ongoing. I tried to sound entertaining and plugged WRIR, my book and Amie's exhibit.

Back home, Amie and I continue the domestic undertakings to ready the place for our weekend guests. I'm looking forward to their being here, going to see the Stephen Westfall show at Solvent Space, and seeing how they react to Amie's show at Plant Zero.

As I mentioned above, the strange and unwelcome late summer humidity and heat that had descended on us here has abated and looks to be gone for good. We need rain, but not until after the festival, please, thank you.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Advertisements for Myself, another in a continuing and irregular series
The GRTC True Richmond Stories Book Tour begins!

Portrait of the author and joe, by Chris Smith, location: Cafe Gutenberg

Well, billion-eyed audience, just when the very thought of anymore excitement from these quarters makes you weak in the knees, I'm pleased to announce that the official "True Richmond Stories GRTC Autumn and Winter Book Tour" begins with a reading tomorrow evening at Fountain Books. There amid the cobblestones and Edward Hopper red brick buildings, Kelly Justice carries the torch for good books and fine reading. I refer to this as the GRTC tour because most places I'm reading can be reached by bus. And it just doesn't get much better than that.

I'll be appearing (not in a nimbus of light, nor with thrones of angels singing my arrival) at Fountain Books, 1312 E. Cary St., at 6:30, and I'll read some pieces and sign books and even act all author-like and stuff.

If you can't catch me there, I'm next on October 15 at Cafe Gutenberg at 7 p.m. and a conceptual-type presentation will occur in conjunction with partner-in-art Amie Oliver's exhibit Walk The Walk at Plant Zero Art Center, 0 E. 4th St. in Manchester (South Richmond), where books will also be available. For more of this scintillating info, see

Meanwhile, who stole Autumn?

About a month ago, I was enjoying walking to work in crisp mornings under blue skies and while in my vests and long sleeves. Then, somebody forgot to pay a bill. Where's this coming from? I loathe these nasty gunmetal grey skies and 90 degrees and at the same time, trees dropping leaves as if not in accordance with their aborial clock, but from complete exhaustion.

House chores

Though I know True Richmond Stories fever has seized Richmond to the extent that little real work can be conducted in most offices, including mine, the final installment of the official National Folk Festival opens next weekend. Though the intention is to carry on with the festivals into the future, the folks of the Folk who got it up and going here, will get it up somewhere else.

The Partner and I are amid a massive reclamation project of our domestic life in order to receive out of town guests who've extended to us, on many occasions, gracious hospitality while visiting them and our favorite music event, MerleFest.

People, let me just tell you. Don't let your house chores creep on you. Do a little every day, or every day, or just clean up after yourself, for cryin' out loud. Don't plan big projects in tandem. And don't dig big holes in the back yard only to discover you've not found buried treasure, but a hernia.

And don't toss out your partner's lime before she's done. Did I mention that already?

Marina Project for Intermediate Terminal

So the Governor-Mayor has announced yet another unfunded mandate without a clear administrative corellative and perhap joins the Shockoe baseball diamond and the the City of the Future, among other ambitious rhetoric that is independent of reality. We'll see. Not that a marina isn't a good concept--that Richmond has gone without when every other town and burgh along the forks and tributaries of the James, York and Rapahannock rivers manage to boast of a few is worse than embarrassing, it's plain pathetic.

I hear through people who actually have boats and know something about them that placing a marina there, though, may not be the best location, due to tides and flooding. Closer to Great Shiplock Park (location around 1900 of the Trigg Shipyards, see True Richmond Stories -- because it is not mentioned much anywhere else) is perhaps better, or across the river, where Newton Ancarrow-- an early and staunch river and wildlife advocate and builder of high speed boasts--had his landing (see TRS, too).

So we'll see. Who'll actually run this shindig is another entire question.

One of my biggest laughs this weekend.

From artist Bill Fisher, at a social event, joking about how at a 1708 Gallery opening where a couple who didn't know him by sight, commented in a rather dismissive way about his work while he stood nearby, "Oh, he's just a process artist."

Bill guffawed. "Yeah, that's me, it's like Play-doh, I have a big extruder and I just pump'em out."

By the way, Bill's on exhibit right now in Boston. Which is where that link above takes you.

Mr. Marmalade, bye-bye.

Firehouse Theatre closed Mr. Marmalade on Saturday. I dropped in to the after party--late, as usual, pulling a Mr. Marmalade myself--but managed to see director Rusty Wilson, entire cast, incandescent Laine Satterfield, authoritative Andrew Boothby, sultry Erin Thomas, funny-by-being-onstage-that-jerk-we-all-known Tony Foley, kinetic Larry Cook, and poetic Billy Christopher Maupin -- and not a weak link in the bunch. One of my favorite scenes in the show is when Tony and Erin became Larry's invisible plant friends -- it was absurdist revenge on children's theater. And those actors I'm sure have served their time in vans criss-crossing vast tracts to perform for the yoots. And I got to visit with Joe Inscoe, by gum, and that was quite enjoyable.

I ended up in this very sophisticated wine discusison--to which I listened-- on the back stairs of Tadd Burrell's apartment that gave me a hankering for red wine and chocolate. O! Canada!

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