The Blog Squad

Friday, September 30, 2005

This message paid for by Lunatics for Potts

The wingnuttiest campaign commercial you'll never see this election season is Russ Potts' new spot. The reason you'll never see it on TV is because you'd have to be watching at the exact 30 seconds at 2 in the morning that Potts can probably afford to run it. But take heart! You can see it right now by going to I can't do it justice but I'll just mention that it involves people of all ages, races and shapes (get it, all Virginians?) banging on pots (lowercase P, one T) yelling, "We want Potts!" (At least we assume that they want the kind with the uppercase P and the second T because, you see, they already have the other kind...) There's a slacker slumped over his pot full of mac and cheese, and a suburban mom in her kitchen with her copper pots, and a guy going positively postal with his grill cover, and school teachers and kids ... Well, you get the idea. But really, don't take my word for it -- you've got to see the weirdness for yourself. Go ahead. I'll wait.

(Raindrops are falling on my head, and just like the guy whose feet are too big for his...)

Oh, you're back. See? How bizarre was that? It makes you wonder what else his ad agency would have come up with if he'd had a different punny name like — oh, I don't know — Thorn or Paine or Balbricker?

To his absolute credit, Potts is having the time of his life. OK, so the Potts pots ad is goofy but at least he didn't promise a chicken in every one.

And speaking of chickens, I'll have something to say about one of Potts' opponents next week...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Eric Cantor's star rises as DeLay's falls

Looks like Congressman Eric Cantor's star in the Republican Party continues to rise. The chief deputy Republican whip will handle more duties in the whip office now that Tom DeLay has been indicted on conspiracy charges and has stepped down temporarily from his role as House Majority Leader.

Cantor's political journey has been fascinating to watch. He has gone from what some have said was the reluctant successor to Tom Bliley to being called a "Bush attack dog" in just five years. He was a product of the Ray Allen-Boyd Marcus political machine and when Bliley retired, Cantor (a la Greg Brady playing Johnny Bravo) "fit the suit." There were those who questioned his passion for politics, but if his heart isn’t in it now, he sure knows how to fake it.

I remember interviewing him several times as he was running for Congress for the first time. There were those who whispered that he was a puppet. I didn't know then and I don't know now if there was any validity to that. I do remember that he seemed uncomfortable with the mantle of power. My, how things change.

Since that time, Cantor sure has found his groove. He raises millions of dollars to run essentially unopposed in elections, receives 100 percent ratings on his voting records from conservative groups and falls in line with virtually every position held by President Bush. Do you know anyone who agrees with his boss that often?

I don't know where Eric Cantor's star is headed but I'll keep watching the skies. Will he win his next election bid with 107 percent of the vote? Or will his staunch, unflagging support of President Bush hurt him in a state whose support for the president is wavering? Stay tuned, stargazers ...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On D'Angelo, the Arts Center Public Forum and evil weather machines...

Media outlets got it wrong by reporting that D’Angelo had been critically injured in a car accident in Powhatan last week. Michael Eugene Archer got banged up a little. “D’Angelo” was critically injured when Kanye West and John Legend started making records. ...

An Idaho meteorologist explained his theory on WRVA’s syndicated Glenn Beck Show yesterday that giant weather machines controlled by the U.S. government and others are manipulating devastating storms like Katrina and Rita. This is old news. Viewers of General Hospital in the 1980s need only remember the Ice Princess and the diabolical plot of the Cassadines and their weather machine. Where are Luke and Laura when you need them? ...

Heckuvajob Brownie, the former head of FEMA, deflected blame for the botched response to Hurricane Katrina by saying, “My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.” He went on to say, “My second biggest mistake was sending rescuers in on Arabian horses …”

The bad news for Juan Valdez is that he could only tie a computer-generated lizard for favorite advertising icon among ad execs. The good news is Valdez saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to Geico. ...

Quick preview of tomorrow’s T-D story about its Public Square forum tonight on the Performing Arts Center: “The public has spoken loud and clear. Some citizens strongly support the arts center. Some vehemently oppose it. Some said, “Arts center? I thought there’d be doughnuts …”

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Let's move the White House! (No, the other one ...)

One of my favorite stories about my father-in-law involves the time that my husband and I, fairly new to Richmond at the time, took his parents around town doing some of the more touristy things. Among other things, we went to the Museum of the Confederacy. The letters from Confederate soldiers back home were terribly moving, the battle accounts riveting, the artifacts fascinating. When we came out of the museum I turned and asked my father-in-law what he thought. "It was very interesting," he said. "I'm not sure who won."

Regardless of your perspective on the Civil War, er ... War Between the States er ... War of Northern Aggression, the Museum and White House of the Confederacy offer fascinating insights into that period of our history. But in recent years, Civil War buffs and their lucrative tourist dollars have found it more difficult to get to the White House and museum because it's been systematically swallowed up by the growth of VCU/MCV.

A visitor to the museum in May posted a nice review on but also had this to say: "This is a very out-of-the-way museum, especially hard to find when every sidewalk around the [Capitol] area is closed for renovations."

The museum is suffering financially and now the executive director of the museum is saying enough is enough. It's time to move. He's suggesting a state-owned site behind the Science Museum, but because the White House is a historic landmark, a move has to jump the hurdles of the city's Commission of Architectural Review. The mayor and City Council have yet to weigh in on this. (Lord only knows what Mayor Wilder's reaction will be to this one ...)

To me it seems like a no-brainer. We've got the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar set to open its first exhibits next year and Civil War history dripping from every corner of the region. Every Civil War buff in the country should be coming to this little Mecca and bringing some money for a hotel room along with them. Let's make it a little easier for them to see where Jefferson Davis put his boots, huh?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Revel in the sweet ...

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Bear with me.

We are all riveted by this Taylor Behl story, which gets crazier and curiouser by the day. I will not even attempt to weigh in on the facts, because what we are getting from the news, I'm sure, is bits and pieces of the puzzle. I admit that out of perhaps a shameful morbid curiosity, I have checked out Taylor's page at, the one on which she uses the name "Bitter."


Her mother has described her as a good kid and from everything I've read so far she seems to be a typical, well-adjusted kid. But she may also be a good kid who has gotten in over her head with some shady people and a lifestyle that courts darkness more than light. If you read the list of her favorite music it's like a struggle between the dark and the light: Marilyn Manson and Edith Piaf. Rammstein and the Corrs. Movies: The Crow and When Harry Met Sally.

Bittersweet, is more like it. And my guess would be with an emphasis on the sweet. The kid is loved. The list of messages, short and sweet, begging for her return are made more heartbreaking by the names and pictures of the friends who posted them. They have world-weary sneers and squints peering out from behind greasy bangs and platinum mohawks and they use screennames like bitchface and I Smoke Tampons and Chaos and i'll have the HEARSE follow the ambulance. But they post words like: "My prayers are with you." From someone called my "heart is black as coal," this: tay tay :*(

A guy calling himself "for some the soul is mortal" writes, "ok how about this? you come home, and i'll start sleeping and eating the way i used to. deal? not an hour goes by where i'm not worried sick about you."

These kids are terrified and crazed with worry for their friend. And it all seems so much more poignant because of this image they try to project, way beyond just coolness or detached irony but of black-hole darkness and the notion that death is cool. I could be way off base, but I look at the pictures of these kids and those ridiculous names they give themselves and I see just that — kids trying on identities like ill-fitting suits. We've all done that when we were younger but, still, why go into the depths of darkness?

One of Taylor's friends on the page, a guy named Bobby, wrote her this poem:

"Bitter? Well...
Looking through the window pane,
she caught her skewed reflection,
a face deprived of color,
she screamed with shrill inflection;
... and in the glassy ruin,
that crashed atop her feet,
she subjugated her bitterness
and reveled in the sweet."

May Taylor and her friends have many, many chances to revel in the sweet.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A few thoughts from the happiest place on earth ...

The human beings are fascinating, aren't they? I just got back from a trip to Disney World and I just wanted to share a couple of the oddest sights and soundbites from my trip. Passing through places like airports and theme parks gives you that exposure to masses of humanity you might only get in small doses in your daily life at, say, the DMV. But just for your entertainment here's a little of what I saw and heard:
  • The Mom That Fun Forgot sitting behind me with her two kids from Charlotte to Orlando said this, verbatim, to her son: "As your mother, it's my job to bathe you, feed you and clothe you. Beyond that ... that's it!"
  • In the Charlotte airport a very large man plopped himself in a chair across from us at the gate. He was wearing a 1/2-inch-thick silver chain with a 4-inch silver crucifix and on his feet ... enormous Homer Simpson fluffy slippers.
  • In a demonstration of how documenting your children's every experience can slip into madness, I watched a woman in the Magic Kingdom videotaping her children as they made a souvenir penny at one of those little machines. I can only imagine how tired her arms must have gotten holding that thing up over the doors of the bathroom stalls ...
  • Also at the Magic Kingdom, as a sea of people headed for the exits after the fireworks show, an infuriated woman dropped the F-bomb when she got separated from someone. After shouting his name into the crowd she yelled, "F---ing idiot!" I am happy to report that the many people who heard her were shocked and appalled. Please, people, it's the happiest place on earth. Have a little respect.
  • It was a great vacation but I'm glad to be back in Richmond. What's been going on? Doug fire anybody? Have the Arts Center plans been cut back to just an organ grinder and a puppet show theater? Any Greta Van Sustern sightings at Soak?

  • Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    The nameless rabble of victims

    If you’re not the parent of a child under 42” just skip this one. But if you are, I need a minute of your time to talk about the indoor soft-play areas at Chesterfield Town Center, Short Pump Town Center and Regency Square. These are the latest in indoor play, with giant objects the kids can crawl over, slide down and hurl themselves off of. The objects are made to look like giant soda bottles or ladybugs or frogs. At Short Pump there’s a little house they can crawl into and on top of and slide down. At Chesterfield, the theme is Richmond, and so there is the James River, a canoe, a raft, a bridge, and a giant tree they can crawl underneath through a clever hollow or they can climb up into the tree and slide down either side. The stuff is easily wiped down and soft to the touch. Ingenious.
    What’s the downside?
    There’s something about these play areas that turn the children of Richmond into frothing beasts and their parents into blind and deaf mutes.
    It’s almost the exact opposite of the clingy, cloying atmosphere at the Thomas the Tank Engine tables at the Barnes & Noble stores. And when I say clingy and cloying, I am talking about the parents. With chairs usually arranged in circle around the table, the parents have no choice but to be on their best parenting behavior. It’s like they are putting on a little show for the benefit of the other parents:
    “Connor, use your gentle hands…” to the kid who just bopped another one over the head with Percy.
    “Annabelle, please use your indoor voice…” to the little girl screaming her head off.
    “Lucy, I don’t think you are hearing Mommy’s words,” to the girl who has been told for 15 minutes it’s time to go.
    “Good job sharing, buddy! High five!” to the kid who blankly hands over Skarloey after repeated begging from his father to share.
    This scene is highly annoying but not really troublesome. It’s the Lord of the Flies world of the mall play areas that’s got me in a tizzy. By their nature, these places are too crowded. There are just too many kids jammed into them at any given time and you assume that risk once you step in and take your kids shoes off. Guilty.
    Short Pump’s is the smallest and since it’s located in the Food Court it is always packed. And what’s worse is that many of the parents sit outside the play area at the tables just outside of it and try to make it look like they are paying attention to their kids. I’ve seen kids land face first, get up screaming and no one comes to check on them for whole minutes if it at all. In the Chesterfield play area this weekend, my almost-5-year-old daughter was being stalked by two little girls not much older. At one point, my daughter was climbing in the tree stump and one girl made an attempt at pushing her down until she saw me glaring at her and ran away. Then she and her toady began running full throttle around the play area (it distinctly says “No Running”) while a trail of cohorts followed suit. They circled easily seven or eight times at full speed, right past their mothers, who chat-chat-chatted merrily until the ringleader stubbed her toe and started to whine. “Did you bump your toesies?” her mother asked from across the way. “You shouldn’t run so much, you might bump somebody,” she said in her most blasé sing-songy, take-no-responsibility voice. Meanwhile, my little boy was being terrorized by brothers who wouldn’t let him climb into the tree to slide down.
    It made me think of one of my favorite movies, A Christmas Story, when Ralphie and his friends are accosted by Scut Farkus (“So help me God! Yellow eyes!”) and the narrator offers the truth about childhood: “In our world you were either a bully, a toady or one of the nameless rabble of victims.”
    Now, my kids are neither saints nor shrinking violets but they were shocked — I mean literally jaws dropped, mouths agape, eyes widened — to have other kids yelling at them and pushing them around. And I continue to be shocked — heaven knows why after all this time — to see parents who have no clue how to control their children and thus simply have stopped trying.

    I’m headed with the family to Disney World, so check back next week and I’ll let you know if anyone harassed my kids in line for the Teacups.

    Helloooooo! Anybody out there ... (there ... there ...)?

    If anyone is reading this other than my sisters in Philadelphia can you answer a few burning questions for me?

    Do you really enjoy seeing movies at the Byrd or do you just say that because, you know, it's the Byrd?

    Does anyone know what is going into that big space under construction on Woolridge Road in Midlothian, the Village of Midlothian? (Bonus points if you know who, or what, is buried in that tiny graveyard fenced off near the bridge that goes over the lake.)

    Was Mark Holmberg's column comparing Doug Wilder to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin clever and insightful news analysis or deadline desperation?

    Batman or Superman?

    Marcia or Jan?

    More on the Arts Center ... That's what I call progress!

    Well, folks, the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation may not have totally said "Uncle" yet, but clearly Doug Wilder has their arm bent around their back and today we heard "Uhhhn." Can the "kuhhhl!" be far behind?
    After all this time it looks like we are going to get the Carpenter Center renovation and — depending on the Foundation's ability to raise the money each project at a time — possibly (as my dear surrogate grandmother Mrs. Belcak used to say) bupkus.
    Which leads me to the upside! For years, this town has been building its "If you build it they will come" projects — 6th Street Marketplace, Valentine Riverside, the Canal Walk (yes, making glacierlike advances). We have built these things, then torn them down or closed them down and ended up with nothing or at least very little of the original idea.
    But with today's announcement, we have made progress. We still raise the money, we still spend the money (now here's the good part) but we build nothing. We achieve the same end result but without having to build or knock down anything.
    In a city where the Big Idea often leads to nothing, we have just learned how to cut out the middle man.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Cheers! Here's to the (hiccup!) Performing Arts Center

    The guys at Save Richmond are at it again, salivating over the rotting carcass of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. Things have heated up again in the past several weeks as Save Richmond and Style Weekly scoured the Foundation's bills to see what it was charging the city for as "pre-construction costs." One item caught Save Richmond's attention: a bill for $2,009.83 from Europa, where the Foundation last year hosted an open-bar night with OPUS, the group of young professionals who support the Performing Arts Center. Apparently, anyone who promised to write a letter to a General Assembly member in support of the Performing Arts Center was on the Foundation's tab for the evening. Save Richmond seems to think this is a ridiculous legislative strategy. "We can only imagine how heartfelt some of the letters written later in the evening must have been," Eagle Eyes posted. That might be a little unfair. If heartfelt counts with legislators, and if this letter (that just happened to come into my possession) is at all indicative of the letters written by attendees that night, the Foundation is well on its way to achieving its goals.

    Feb. 11, 2004

    Dear Legislator:

    I am writing to you as a supporter of a strong and vital performing arts scene in Richmond. The commitment of the Richmond performing arts community to world-class presentations of symphonic music, opera, jazz, dance and theater should and must be equaled by the city with full support for the proposed Virginia Performing Arts Center.

    I am so committed to this cause that I am writing to you from a gathering of OPUS, a group of young professional Richmonders united in its support for the Performing Arts Center. But if you will excuse me momentarily, I will put down my pen long enough to raise a glass as we all toast the future of Richmond’s performing arts! Cheers!

    I must say, that cosmopolitan was as stiff and smooth as Baryshnikov in midair.

    How to emphasize the importance, the richness of the performance art experience?

    I will ponder that very thought during the next toast.


    What I’m trying to say I guess is that Richmond needs, desperately needs, the Performing Arts Center. People will flock to it. Young professionals such as myself will feed their love of the arts and do a little shopping. Think about it. There’s the Carpenter Center, the renovated crown jewel among the other, smaller, sparkly stones — the high-tech music hall, the community playhouse, the jazz club and the VAPAF offices. It will be so awesome!


    OK, so I don’t really get jazz music with its be-be-dee-bopbop stuff and how it sounds so out of tune sometime and I would love to go the symphony sometime if I could drag my boyfriend (well, maybe I wouldn’t love to go, but I’d love to like it, you know?) and Sweet Bearded Jesus, I’d sooner close my hand in my George Foreman grill than sit through an entire opera, but still, I totally totally support the Arts Thing!


    I’ll put it another way. I was a student of Miss Monique’s School of Dance from 5th through 8th grades, minus summers, and my experience with the performing arts, and the practicing and the recitals and little shoes that mother complained were so expensive was this: No amount of perfect pirouettes can win a daddy’s love.


    Dude! Watch the elbow!


    Did I say richness?


    I'll bet you're kind of cute. What did you say you do for a living?


    Friday, September 09, 2005

    Come on, Yankee, you know you wanna ...

    Hey there, race fans! It's race weekend in Richmond, with the Busch Series Emerson Radio 250 thundering into town tonight and the Nextel Cup Series Chevy Rock & Roll 400 kicking it into high gear under lights tomorrow night at RIR ...
    I'm sorry, what?
    You're not a race fan? Ooooh, you're from up North. You just don't "get it," right? A bunch guys driving around in a circle ... how is that a sport?
    First of all, it's an oval.
    And second of all, maybe I can put it into sophisticated terms you will understand:
    Aren't we all just going around in circles (or ovals) every day? Get up, shower, get dressed, get the kids off to school, go to work, get a new one ripped, rip someone else a new one, come home, eat whatever, watch whatever, kiss the kids, go to bed, get up, shower, get dressed ...
    The oval of life.
    And doesn't it all go by so fast? The summer went so fast. The kids grow so fast. It's all a blur...
    Hmm, sort of like Tony Stewart's view at 120 mph?
    So racing, therefore, is more than a sport. It's a metaphor.
    Still, for those of us who don't need our sports to be metaphorical, it's just cool. Now, truly, I am no gearhead. I have no idea what a restrictor plate is restricting. I don't even watch but a bit of the races, but I can't deny anymore that there is something so awesome about it. Especially if you have ever been there, which I was once when I wrote a story about NASCAR back in 1999 for Style Weekly. I described the simultaneous ignition of 43 engines as "thunder in the ears, an earthquake in the chest." (It's not plagiarizing if I quote myself, is it?) And you simply have to bow down to that kind of power. And while they are not exactly football players in their tight pants there is something appealing about a boy covered in logos. Yes, ladies, NASCAR is for you too. Remember, the sport runs on two kinds of fuel — gasoline and testosterone, one of which doesn't cost you $3.29 a gallon to enjoy.
    (Funny aside: As I was spell-checking this post, the spell checker suggested that I replace NASCAR with MASCARA.)

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Barbara Bush's view from the ivory tower

    Sorry to break away from Richmond again to address Katrina: The Storm After the Storm, but it's always the tiniest thing that sticks in my craw. (Of course, the big things are good and stuck too — the glacierlike response of authorities, the unthinkable behavior of heartless criminals, the dead bodies floating in the streets ...) but today, it's a little thing. It's Barbara Bush. In case you haven't read wire reports yet, here's what she told a Texas radio station after visiting with refugees at the Astrodome: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. ... Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
    I'll give you a minute to drink it in.
    OK, where to start?
    Barbara Bush is not a stupid woman, so what would make her say something like that? Even believing what she said she must also know, as a former first lady, that there are political implications to every utterance. First ladies, like their husbands, have handlers and speechwriters who keep them "on message." Laura Bush has been used in the aftermath of Katrina to provide the sincere compassion her husband has been criticized for not showing. But Barbara isn't first lady anymore, so she can just let it rip. But wouldn't she know that to cast what has happened as a positive for these people borders on obscene? Or does she just not care how she sounds? No, she is not stupid, but perhaps far worse — clueless. Arrogant to the point that she makes her pronouncements from so high above her ivory tower that she cannot make out the aghast expressions of the people on the ground. On what planet could these refugees be in a better position than they were two weeks ago? Yes, many of them were underprivileged. They lived hand to mouth, they had very little. But most of them also had homes, and families, and photo albums, and that ugly pitcher handed down by a beloved aunt, and mama's recipes all written by hand in the book on the far left of the second shelf and their children's first shoes and the love poem tucked in the back of the drawer ...
    Whatever their lives were like, they were their lives. And no one — not even the president's mother — has the right to proclaim that an unthinkable disaster has left them in a better position. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade! That seems to be the precious, not to mention simplistic, delusion Mrs. Bush is operating under. No doubt many of these people had bushels of lemons even before Katrina. Ending up a refugee in a football stadium in the next state might be some kind of lemonade but even that's not drinkable. It's tainted with e-coli and human waste and floating bodies.
    Mrs. Bush is completely out of touch, if not out of her mind. Shame on her.

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    USA Today Plugs Exhibit at VMFA

    While the powers that be continue to bicker over Richmond's performing arts scene (specifically, its physical presence, i.e. the proposed and currently stalled Performing Arts Center), Richmond's fine arts reputation seems quietly becoming -- dare I say it? -- world-class. One piece of evidence: Friday's USA Today included a full page devoted to the summer's hottest exhibits. In other words, see them while you have the chance. Listed among exhibits at MoMA, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Getty was "Capturing Beauty: American Impressionist and Realist Paintings from the McGlothlin Collection" at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The VMFA mention was top of the fold with an accompanying photo of a John Singer Sargent painting and touted the collection as "one of the largest holdings of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings still in private hands." The exhibit runs through Sept. 25. But just to vent a little personal frustration: If the VMFA is truly to become the world-class museum it has all the potential to be, it needs to be open more than five days a week for six hours. These other museums I mentioned are open six or seven days a week with some extended weeknight hours. VMFA's hours always seem to be shrinking thanks to state budget cuts. Perhaps with the museum's expansion we will see an expansion of hours. But I sure wish the state would pony up some more resources to ensure its rightful place in the upper echelon of art museums.

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    Why I can't stop thinking about Baton Rouge

    Katrina has us all thinking about New Orleans, a great American city obliterated just like that. Yet today my mind keeps drifting to Baton Rouge. Reports say that the state capital, about 70 miles west of New Orleans, with a population of about 400,000, may double in population. Instantly and permanently. Baton Rouge City Councilman Mike Walker said this, and I found myself dazed and suddenly heartbroken for a place I have never laid eyes on: "The Baton Rouge we live in and grew up in is no longer. These people are here to stay, perhaps forever." I guess in that instant I supplanted the word Richmond, wondering what it would be like for external forces beyond anyone's control to just transform —- no, metamorphose —- or maybe even transmogrify? — your home. For your city to change overnight, just like that. But then it begged a larger question, one that maybe you all would care to weigh in on. Would we want that transformation even over a decade, or two? Do we ever want to be double our size?