Thursday, April 8, 2021

Great Moments In Circus History

No, it was not the day the Barnum & Bailey clown errantly shot the dwarf from the circus’ smoky cannon into the crowd.  Nor the time the Russian citizen tried to thwart an elephant escape by grabbing her by the trunk.  Not even the night the girl on the flying trapeze missed her partner’s catch and fell to the net below while part of her costume remained on the swing.  We’re talking Subterranean Circus here, a noble institution which edified and enlightened the city of Gainesville, Florida from 1967 to 1990 for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish til paraphernalia laws did them part.

Before we celebrate the highlights, we should mention the star-studded cast of hundreds which brought the store to life, a happy band of pirates which woke every day with a song in their hearts, the result of psychedelic sugarplums having nightly danced through their heads.  As with any enterprise, of course, there were players and there were players, workers who made the highlight reels, spent years honing their hippiecraft, rose above the retail norms of mere mortals.  Remember the names on the following list of major Circus personnel.  Not only will they come up later in this broadcast but you’ll need them for the final test.

The Subterranean Circus All-Star Team

1. Pamme Brewer.  There might have been no Circus without Pamme.  Bill Killeen’s girlfriend at the time, Pamme posed nude in BK’s Charlatan magazine, testing the limits of the University of Florida’s en loco parentis rule (and that of virtually every college in the land) which allowed the school to act as a parent to the student.  Brewer contested UF’s punishment and a spectacular trial ensued with Pamme’s ACLU lawyer Selig Goldin winning the day.  A second printing of the Charlatan brought in a net profit of $1200 dollars, seed money for the subsequent Circus.

2. Dick North.  Dick lived with Bill, Gerald Jones and Newt Simmons in the famous House on Sixth Street, which had a sign advertising the Church of The Redeemer on the front yard croquet grounds.  When Bill and Pamme began discussing a book & poster store, North suggested selling marijuana pipes, which he would make from lamp parts.  Dick manned the store’s counter for several years before moving across the street to open the Apollonian Alternative, where he concentrated on exceptional brass work and practiced esoteric Eastern religious rituals.

3. Danny Levine.  Salesman extraordinaire and Life of the Party who was hired at the behest of Brewer, who knew him from the Art Department.  Levine had recently arrived from San Francisco, where he spent many months being crazy, leading to some reticence on Bill’s part.  After he sold 50 pairs of bellbottoms on his first day of work, Killeen went out looking for more crazy people.

4. Bob Sturm.  Deliberate in manner, clever in evaluating a person or situation, Sturm presided at the Circus counter for many years, as dependable a store manager as anyone could hope to find.  He drove in at the same time each day in his nifty little Porche and he brought with him each day his cute little .45, which he kept on a shelf to his right, resting on the Bambu papers.  Bob seemed almost sad that nobody ever tried to rob the place.  Later, his brother Rick joined the crew and, of course, brought his pistola.  Desperadoes waitin’ for a train.  Or a stickup.  Love and Peace, y’all.  Or else.

5. Rickie Childs.  What more can you say about Rickie?  He was our token minority employee, not only Black but Gay and a churchgoer to boot.  RC knew everybody in town, was a total devotee to fashion, hung around for eighteen years and even had his own Cola.  He was constantly happy and had a throng of admirers who would buy clothing only from him.  One day, he talked Bill into sponsoring a Black “girl” occasionally named Patricia in the Miss Florida Contest, which was sort of a transvestite Super Bowl.  She won.  “Oh Boy,” grinned Rickie, “Now we can go on to the state competition!”  No, Rickie, we can’t.

6. Michael (Jagger) Hatcherson.  One of The Three Amigos, with Rickie Childs and Debbie Brandt and a card-carrying member of the Winter Park Mafia, Jagger was a mood elevator with a long memory for the shortcomings of others.  Famous for his verbal jousts with Jim (Waterbedman) Hines, not a one of which he ever lost.  Hatcherson, a cutiepie, wore an over-the-top pageboy haircut straight out of either Prince Valiant or Monty Python, but the girls loved him anyway.  Model for the original Happy Face.

7. Harolyn Locklair.  Bill’s second wife, a fashion model from Miami he met in the Circus.  Known to have stopped traffic when she crossed University Avenue in her short shorts.  Harolyn was a major asset in garment-buying trips to New York, where she knew the fashion ropes and crafts-buying trips to Mexico, where she spoke the language.  Married to Bill at the Gainesville Airport park by itinerant minister Danny Levine.  Small world, right?

8. Debbie Brandt.  A rare female Architecture Major who went rogue and got into the fashion business.  Debbie was a mainstay at Silver City, where she kept things light, kept sales up and won a national award for listening to all 76 of Rickie’s romantic tales of woe.  Hired by then-big time Landlubber jeans company right out of school and made their Southeastern sales representative at 22 years of age.  Later ruined much of her image by marrying a guy in a rock band. 

9. Rod (The Biker) Bottiglier.  Rod traveled down to Gainesville from Valdosta every weekend for his bottle of Rush, then decided to save a little money by just moving in.  He owned the world’s cleanest Harley-Davidson and kept it that way by only riding the thing in emergencies.  Bottiglier was a self-professed Martial Arts whiz and our security officer who delighted in disarming shoplifters while simultaneously scaring the bejeezus out of them.  Spoke his own odd language, which contained heretofore unknown nouns.  Best known for bringing to town the lovely and talented Sandy Youngblood, also a Circus crew member.

Washington Square, NYC.  East Coast Hippie Headquarters in the 1960s.

Great Moments In Circus History: Number 1, The Opening

When I started the Charlatan magazine in college, my friends were dubious.  “What do you know about publishing magazines, Bill?  You’re going to lose all your money.”  Right, but isn’t that what they told elementary-school dropout Colonel Sanders when he started to talk about selling chicken?

My pal Mike Garcia hovered over me in Greenwich Village while I selected the original inventory for the Subterranean Circus, fretting over how I could ever sell this growing mass of posters, buttons, incense and other select stock.  “There aren’t very many hippies in Gainesville, Killeen.  You’re going to get stuck with all this stuff.”  I looked back at him and smiled.  “Don't you ever listen to Bob Dylan?” I asked him.  “The times, they are a-changin’.  The hippies are on the way.  Besides, who says I have to sell it all to hippies?  New movements always have outliers”

If the retail mavens were correct and location was everything, we were a few steps off the beaten path, but only a few.  We rented a 30x80-foot warehouse building just off busy University Avenue from the Standard Fertilizer Company for an astounding $75 a month.  The place was set back a car’s length from the street, perfect for parking three or four vehicles in front.  Needless to say, the building needed a little work.

When we had the water turned on, it sprang from several pipes in all directions.  The fusebox was a mare’s nest of jumbled wiring.  Almost none of the many fluorescent lights were viable and the bathroom looked like something from an Edgar Allen Poe story.  We didn’t need to worry about airing the place out, though.  At the very rear was an enormous cooling fan, big enough for an airplane hanger.  Alas, the first time we turned it on, it sucked every loose piece of paper right back into its hungry maw.  But hey, what do you want for $75 a month?

Eventually, we got everything in working order, though the bathroom would never be mistaken for a toilette in The Plaza.  We filled the front room with wall posters, including a batch next to the front window which were respondent to an aptly-placed color wheel.  We loaded the front counter with several brands of cigarette rolling papers.  We were still distributing stock in various parts of the place when people began knocking on the windows, wondering when they could get in.  We felt we were a day or two from being ready for business, but what the hell.  “Come on in,” said Dick North, the smiling greeter.  “But if you want something, you’d better have the right change.  We have no money yet.”  We were open from 3 p.m. to 5 and we made $27.  Next day, we made $54.  A day later, Pamme Brewer was on the front page of the Gainesville Sun with a rose in her teeth.  It was all downhill from there.

Number 2, The Giant Boutique Show

We smoked lots of marijuana and inhaled too much blow,
So it really was a wonder all the stuff that we bought sold.
We were glad we made it out alive, though we’d really hate to go;
We’ll be back next year to procure more gear from The Giant Boo-teek Show.

When we opened the Subterranean Circus, we had to search high and low for appropriate inventory.  After posters, buttons, incense and a few items of clothing, the possibilities were scarce.  Dick North constructed some cheap pipes from lamp parts and we bought a few bongs from the kids coming back from Viet Nam, but you couldn’t just call Vito at the House of Paraphernalia and glom onto some smoking gear.  We located a couple of women in the Manhattan alphabet neighborhoods who were stitching together Cossack and Nehru shirts, but that was a now-and-then thing.  When we found we couldn’t keep those in stock, we hired our own crew of women to make them, supervised by Pamme Brewer and we kept their little Singers humming until the dawning of the awesome National Boutique show at the edgy McAlpin Hotel in Manhattan.  Never has the NYC Police Department missed so many opportunities for massive drug arrests as it did by ignoring the shenanigans at the NBS.

Richard Allen, Bill Killeen & Harvey Budd: "We're not here to make no trouble; we're just here to do the Sub Circus Shuffle!"

Would You Like A Joint With That?

All the peddlers had their special deals when you’d visit at their stands;
Some gave you big show discounts, some gave you contraband.
And others beckoned you inside their private selling rooms
And opened up their secret stash, the better to consume!

It would only be a slight exaggeration to suggest that there was more marijuana in one building during the National Boutique Show than existed on the entire island of Jamaica at any given time.  Doubters should remember that the hotel had 25 floors while Rastaland has only one.  During show week, the bottom 13 floors were given over to exhibit rooms, while many of the exhibitors stayed in rooms above.  The scent of pot permeated the entire hotel and buyers negotiating the corridors on the sales floors often needed fog lights.

Many of the small manufacturers and wholesalers which arose to fill the needs of the exploding head shop population were hippies, themselves, and not necessarily adept at business.  It was perfectly natural for many of them to light up a joint every time a customer came into the room.  Head Imports out of Colorado was a perfect example.  More or less operated by a personable chieftain named George, these people almost insisted on pleasure before business.  Since you were friends after ten minutes of palaver and weed management, George then invited you to Boulder to sit in his hot tub and swim in his river.  If you wanted to buy something after all that, fine, but no big deal.  Surprisingly, Head Imports lasted for years in spite of its soft-sell predilections.  There were plenty of others much like it.  The notion of slick modern businessmen capitalizing on the new hippie lifestyle was somebody’s pipedream and remained so for many years.  The first of the capitalist outlanders to arrive were the big jeans companies which dug for gold on the shores of Loveland.

As with all good things, the reign of the McAlpin eventually came to an end.  After several years, the show managers moved it to the Coliseum and then to the fancy new Javits Center.  The sales booths were then open for all passersby to see and there were no hotel room doors to close and shut the infidels out.  The vendors might as well have been selling sewing machines, things were so alarmingly proper.

The long-time pipe-builders and incense-makers and poster artists continued on, as did their customers, but with less of a bounce in their step, their smiles withered a bit by the faded glory of the once-brilliant hippie expo.  They still gathered at night in restaurants and bars, however, memories alive with tales of dope and derring-do at the old hacienda, and inevitably they raised their glasses in a common toast:

“Here’s to the glorious Hotel McAlpin---brave, courageous and bold.  Long live her fame and long live her glory and long may her story be told!”

That’s all, folks….

Next Week:  More astounding moments in Circus history as the crew heads for Atlanta, opens Silver City and recalls Gainesville's infamous Halloween Balls.  Oh, and there was that once-in-a-lifetime kiss.



Thursday, April 1, 2021

Old Pals

“New friends may be poems but old friends are alphabets.  Don’t forget the alphabets because you will need them to read the poems.”---William Shakespeare

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”---Ralph Waldo Emerson

My old pal Danny Levine, ex-roommate, Subterranean Circus supersalesman and internationally renowned Kawasaki racer will be coming to town for a visit April 15-16.  Danny has been away for awhile.  We haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since the late 1990s and that was just for a day.  Danny’s been out seeing the world and teaching unworthy churls about Art History in lovely Savannah, Georgia.  One day, somebody told him about Facebook and he went nuts, rediscovering his legion of old friends in the Florida fens.  “I’m surprised so many of them are still alive,” said Mr. Levine.  We’re pretty surprised about it ourselves, Danny.

After suffering the daily whines of a homesick roommate as a college freshman, I swore I would never share another living space with a male.  I have been true to that oath except on two occasions, the first of which was a year spent living at Summit House Apartments in Gainesville with Danny.  All in all, he was a pretty good roommate, except for a nasty habit of leaving wine bottles in the sink.  He knew enough to take a night off and find temporary lodging elsewhere when the occasion demanded and he didn’t turn a hair when I cranked the music up to deafening levels.  We might be roommates at Summit House today if the management hadn’t terminated our lease due to complaints from neighbors.  Seems Danny was visited early many mornings by his high-school inamorata Charlotte Yarbrough, who, after appropriate pre-school trysting, he would taxi to school on the back of his noisy motorcycle.  There’s nothing like the sound of a Kawasaki revving up at seven in the morning to rouse hung-over college kids from the bliss of Dreamland.

Among his numerous talents, Danny was an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, which means he sent his cereal boxtop and 75 cents in to some vague charlatan and got his official license.  This meant he was able to actually marry couples who weren’t too fussy about their rabbi, and his list of weddings included that of Bill Killeen and Harolyn Locklair, a lovely maid from the south who was able to last 10 rounds in the ring with her less than perfect husband.  I told him I didn’t hold it against him but I think he’s irked that I smudged his list of successes.

Danny Levine was one of those rare guys like Norm on Cheers, who brightened the room.  Everybody perked up when they saw him coming, a smile on his face, a witticism at the ready, compassion for all.  Nobody really thought of it that way, but his job was obviously to heighten the mood everywhere he went, a weighty task.  Once, during a broken romance, Levine fell off the merriment wagon and nobody liked it.  One fellow had the effrontery to say, “Gee, Danny, we count on you to pick things up around here.  What are we supposed to do when you’re down in the dumps?” 

Danny frowned and slowly walked away, frustrated with the onus visited upon him, sadly in need of his own mood booster.  And so the question: when the difficult times arrive, who will play jester to the clown?  So far, nobody on Family Feud has the answer to that one.

Where have you been, Dan Levine-io , the swampland turns its lonely eyes to you?

Famed Art Historian Daniel Levine dispenses wisdom to unworthy acolyte.

The Irish Cuban

Michael O’Hara Garcia, who owed his unique moniker to a maternal line from the Old Sod, was a bit of a whirlwind.  He came in the door like Cosmo Kramer, presented his business and left in a flurry, as if he had promises to keep and miles to go before he’d sleep.  I met him when he was writing an occasional column for the Florida Alligator and I  was still publishing the Charlatan.  You know the old advertising line, “often imitated, never duplicated?”  Not only was Garcia never duplicated, nobody even attempted to imitate him.  He was (and probably still is) one of a kind, an outlier, a perpetual-motion machine going in several directions at the same time.  Hard to take your eyes off, like a tornado or a tall truck headed for a low bridge.

Garcia started out a fairly straightlaced fellow, the son of a lawyer man, a hot Law School prospect who took an errant turn and suddenly found himself in the dubious company of journalists.  He was fascinated by the foofaraw surrounding the Charlatan during the Pamme Brewer shenanigans and when I told him we were planning to use the profits to open a store, he was all ears.  “I’m going to New York with you,” he told me, and he did.

The summer of 1967 was a revelation, the hippie explosion turning Greenwich Village into Command Central for psychedelia.  Colorful little shops were popping up everywhere, filled with posters, color wheels, incense, obscene buttons, Lennon glasses, Nehru shirts and piles of India print bedspreads.  Leading the parade was The Infinite Poster on Bleecker Street, which was also a major wholesaler.  Michael O’Hara Garcia was flabbergasted at the action in the streets, the ka-ching of the cash registers, the newness of it all.  Still, he watched me quickly spend over a thousand of my 1200 dollars and kept asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?  You’re spending all your money!”

Michael bought a house two doors down from the Circus building on SW 7th Street and watched the store progress.  After a hitch with the Army in Vietnam, he came back and opened his own place in a Georgetown, D.C. basement.  He called it Elysian Fields, after the mythological Greek paradise to which war heroes were sent by the gods after their duties had been fulfilled.  We hauled a starter crop of inventory from the Circus up to Washington and the locals responded.  The underground shop soon outgrew its quarters and moved to a plum spot near the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue.  One of the straightest kids in high school was now the owner of one of the more prominent head shops in the nation’s capital.  Is this a great country or what?

Mike Garcia, however, was not fated to remain in any one place for too long.  A boyhood friend named Steven Stills, now doing passably well in the music world, hired the Irish Cuban to aid him in his musical endeavors, a job which lasted for several years.  Until, one day, Michael put a crimp in the money pipe from the bank to Stills’ grasping relatives and found out to his surprise that blood was still thicker than friendship.  Time for a new calling, which was never a problem for Garcia.

Michael Garcia, foreground, receives golden guitar from old pal Stephen Stills, behind.

Riding The MOG Train

On one trip to NYC, Garcia made the dreadful mistake of many and parked his car directly under a NO PARKING! sign for a quick visit to a newspaper shop.  Anyone who was not in The City in those days cannot imagine how quickly the tow trucks descended on scofflaws and hauled away their vehicles.  It’s no exaggeration to state that making a minimal stop to take a 20-second piss would often leave you walking.  Michael, who saw himself as a man of some prominence, was outraged.  “We’re going to City Hall to see Mayor Lindsey!” he bellowed.  I knew better but decided to go along for the ride.

Now, this was in the days when New York’s city hall had graduated from an easy-access building to a small fort with several lines of defense, the mayor being regularly threatened by one kind of crank or another.  For the most part, John Lindsey was not taking visitors, especially people whose cars had been towed.  But Garcia carried with him a letter from the distinguished Florida senator George Smathers, for whom he had worked many a day.  The letter announced Michael as a man of some consequence, a fellow not to be taken lightly, indeed, a personal friend of the senator.  Even Mayor Lindsey’s staff was reluctant to dispatch such a man with celerity.  We passed through several layers of defense before I was funneled to a stop and Michael was allowed in to see the Deputy Mayor.  He emerged with a smile on his face.

“Did they cancel your fine?” I asked him in disbelief.  “Well, they would have,” he said, “but the Deputy Mayor told me it would take a couple of days and I don’t want to sit around and wait.  Nice guy, though.”  We spent almost an entire day on this Quixotic quest and got nothing more than a lube job from city hall, but Mike was satisfied.  He had penetrated the Maginot Line, his status was recognized and the oppressors had accepted his demands.  “Here, Michael---on your way out take this rose and a Baby Ruth.  And remember us to the senator!”  Politicians---they give you nothing, pat you on the head and you’re thrilled for the experience.  Ya gotta love the grift.

The Man From Pickens

Gerald Jones, a kind and gentle man, came to Gainesville from Pickens, South Carolina, where his family owned what might be the world’s smallest railroad.  The Pickens Railway operated in two separate divisions, the first from Pickens to Easley, a 9.9 mile jaunt and the second a 28.5 mile marathon from Anderson through Belton to Honea Path.

Gerry did not foresee a big career as a railroad magnate so he headed to the University of Florida to take up photography.  In the process, he fell in with varlets from the Charlatan magazine where he wound up selling advertising and taking pictures, including those famous ones of Pamme Brewer, which set little Pickens back on its ear.  “Is that OUR Gerald?  We certainly hope not!”

I shared a funky gingerbread house with Gerald Jones just north of the area which once housed the original Gainesville Mall.  He was a reliable roommate who did his share, remained in relatively good spirits and slept a lot.  Gerry had a darkroom in the bowels of the building and spent an inordinate amount of time there, equally divided between developing photos and sleeping.  Of all the friends and associates I have amassed in this lifetime, I can clearly testify that Gerald Jones is the champion sleeper of the bunch and the competition is not close.

Jones’ predilection towards sleeping only mattered, however, at Charlatan deadline time when I had to have everything ready to take to the printer.  On more than one occasion, despite threats of dire consequences to his wellbeing, Gerry promised but failed to deliver.  I would tromp down to the darkroom at midday and he’d be out like a light.  I couldn’t believe anyone would be so irresponsible and found myself writing paeans to his undependability.  Then one day he came home from the sleep doctor with an announcement.  “I have narcolepsy,” he sulked.  “I can fall asleep at a moment’s notice.  I’m not supposed to drive.”  Good idea, right?  I had never heard of narcolepsy but promptly read all about it.

“There’s no simple cure,” Gerry advised.  The cause is unknown.  A victim is just walking along, passes out and is carried off by the street sweeper.  “No dear, I do not find you exceedingly boring, it’s just a condition I have.”   Imagine yourself sitting in the rest room, next thing you know you’re locked in for the night.  “Don’t invite Gerald Jones to the party, he always face-plants into the cake.”

Despite his odd malady, Gerald had no trouble finding girlfriends.  One of them, June Howard, liked him so much she slept on his porch whenever he had a date over which wasn’t her.  Another young lass named Donna Gillespie regarded him as a cult leader in search of a cult.  In time, his affliction lessened, then seemed to fade way.  So did Gerry, who eventually moved on to Atlanta in search of fame and fortune and a more sophisticated dating pool.

The sad thing about young friends is that they inevitably have a tendency to disappear, vanish into the mountain fog never to be seen again.  I took Gerald Jones to dinner for the requisite last rites the night before he left.  We laughed, we cried, we reminisced.  Finally, we shook hands, embraced and I told him I was sad to see him go.  “It’s okay, Bill” Gerry almost whispered, blinking away a tear.  “We’ll always have Pamme Brewer.” 

The notorious Yarbrough sisters, wanted in 40 states.  Sonia (top), Glenda next, Charlotte, front.  Photo by Claudine Laabs, bless her soul.

That’s all, folks….


Thursday, March 25, 2021


Back when Hippieism reigned, the future was obvious.  We’d all live in a yellow submarine in an octopus’ garden in the shade.  Or in a happy commune on Big Rock Candy Mountain with the birds and the bees and the ganja trees, where they offed the jerk who invented work and we drank from the LSD fountains.  We were young and innocent and we never considered an infallible fact of life: the pendulum always swings back.

This time, it swung with a vengeance and society reverted to the Dark Ages where the rich ate the poor, zombie racists rose from their graves and Nazi warplanes frolicked through the skies playing the Luftwaffe March.  Worst of all, in the far reaches of the Arctic, the warming waters gradually melted an ancient block of ice which contained the Golem, a long-dead mud creature of little intellect but great desire.  The Golem rose up and walked the Earth, petulant and hungry, destroying villages, ravishing maidens and feeding his followers the flesh of the resisters.  But just when all seemed lost, when the cannibals merrily stirred their pots and the no-necks pulled the wings off doves and the mindless din threatened to blot out the Sun, it happened again.  The pendulum creakily swung back.  ‘Twas ever thus.

Back To The Future

So what happens now, where will the Earth be in ten years?  Nobody knows, of course, although Elon Musk may have a cheat sheet.  What others philosophize over, Musk creates with his little Tinkertoy kit.  And now NASA, reinvigorated by Musk’s ardor, is planning a crewed mission to the moon in 2024, and this time the boys want to stick around.  The idea behind this new Artemis mission is to lay the foundation for a permanent human presence on and around the moon, which will then serve as a jumping-off point for the agency’s journey to Mars.  Before we know it, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet may be back in all his radiant splendor.  It’s only logical that Corbett would have risen in the ranks in the last 70 years, so it’s altogether possible we might even hear calls (sorry) from Ground Control to Major Tom.

Sending living beings to Mars has been Elon Musk’s goal from day one and this is the decade he targeted to touch down on the Red Planet.  As SpaceX came to dominate the new space industry, however, Musk’s ambitions rose in tandem to include a full-fledged Mars colony, ambitious to say the least.  But then, in 2019, he showed off the rocket that might make it happen.  Musk is notorious for underestimating the amount of time it takes to accomplish his goals but he always seems to follow through sooner or later.  He is pushing the boundaries of space further and faster than could be imagined just ten years ago.  In four years, humans may be living in a little town on the moon.  The only question seems to be, who gets there next---CVS or Walgreens?

Going Nuclear, Petitely

You don’t know this, but by 2030 the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Burke County, Georgia will have been running for a few years.  The tiny two-unit nuclear installation near Waynesboro is likely to be the decade’s only new large-scale nuclear plant to come online, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. is abandoning nuclear fission.  Just the opposite.  Expect to see these mini-reactors popping up all over the place.

Just a fraction of the size of the typical current reactor, these advanced versions can be mass-produced and easily shipped anywhere in the country, no matter how remote.  The first small reactors, developed by a company called NuScale Power, should start splitting atoms at the Idaho National Laboratories in 2026.  The Department of Energy is working to get even smaller critters known as microreactors churning out electrons at a federal facility by 2027. 

Yeah, we know—you don’t trust nuclear energy.  Chernobyl was an abomination and Three Mile Island scary enough.  The long debate about nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain didn’t help matters.  But you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  The world needs to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and the new generation of nuclear reactors may be the key to making it happen.  The United Nations and many energy experts claim fission energy is the only way to hit our climate goals.  The Flying Pie advocates the installation of a teeny test station at Mar-a-Lago, an otherwise useless backwater in South Florida.  If anything untoward happens there, well…c’est la vie.  We have to make some sacrifices to move science forward.  Bill Nye, the Science Guy, might have said that.

Life In 2030

You are just waking up in the Spring of 2030.  Your internet opens solar-powered e-windows and plays soft music while your smart lighting displays a montage of beachfront sunrises from your recent vacation.  Your shower uses little water or soap.   It recycles grey water and puts excess heat back into your home’s integrated operating system.  While you dress, your Artificial Intelligence assistant shares your schedule for the day and plays Jimmy Buffet songs (alternatives available).

You start your day with caffeine, but it comes from your loT refrigerator which is capable of providing a coffeehouse experience in your home.  A hot breakfast tailored to your specific nutritional needs (based on chemical analysis from your trips to the smart toilet) is waiting for you in the kitchen.

When it’s time to leave, an on-demand transport system has three cars waiting for you, your spouse and your kids.  En route to your destination, you call your R&D team, which is wrapping up a day’s work in Shanghai.  Your life-sized image is projected into the China Intervention Center and your colleagues see you as if you were sitting in the room.

You review the day’s cloud-based data from your Shenzen manufacturing hub, your pilot project in San Diego and your QA team in Melbourne.  The massive datasets were collected in real time from every piece of equipment and have been beautifully summarized by your company’s AI.  All these facilities are closely maintained and operated via a sophisticated predicted analytics program platform.

Pleased with the team’s progress, you end the call in your Manhattan office, settle back in your comfy lounger, hoist a cold one and order your television to find the NFL game.  Alas, however, some things never change.  The Jets have lost again.

Whoomp! There It Is.

Here are some honestogod technology tipping points expected to occur by 2025.  Regrettably, the Vegas casinos have yet to post odds.

1. 10% of the U.S. population will be wearing clothes connected to the internet.

2. The first robotic pharmacist in the country will check in to work.  His or her first customer will ask “Whattaya got for hives?”

3. Production of the first 3D-printed car will begin.  You’ll have to wear special glasses to see it.  And no, the ones you got for Avatar will not work.

4. 5% of all consumer products will be printed in 3D, including the dildoes.

5. 90% of the population will have regular access to the internet, but grandpa still won’t like it.

6. The first transplant of a 3D liver will occur, leading to a hefty surge in brewery stocks.

7. There will be at least one city with population over 50,000 that has no traffic lights.  Local insurance rates will soar.

8. Some corporation will place an AI machine on its corporate board of directors.  Its name will not be Hal.

9. Mike Tyson will stage his third comeback and be knocked out by Malala Yousafzai.

The World In 2030; The Vision Of Mauro Guillen

“Once upon a time, the world was neatly divided into prosperous and backward economies.  Babies were plentiful, workers outnumbered retirees, and people aspiring towards the middle class yearned to own homes and cars.  We grew up learning to play the game, and we expected the rules to be the same as we took our first job, started a family, saw our children grow up, and went into retirement with our finances secure.  That world—and those rules—are over.  By 2030, a new reality will take hold and before you know it:

There will be more grandparents than grandchildren.

The middle class in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will outnumber the U.S. and Europe combined.

The global economy will be driven by the non-Western consumer for the first time in modern history.

There will be more global wealth owned by women than men.

There will be more robots than human workers.

There will be more computers than human brains.

There will be more currencies than countries.

All these trends, currently underway, will converge in the year 2030 and change everything you know about culture, the economy, and the world.”

According to Guillen, "We need to think laterally, adaptively, and creatively to prepare for this new world.  This requires a peripheral and integrative vision that focuses on the dynamic interplay among a range of technological, political, social and demographic forces.  How to prepare for such a monumental shift?  You will need to think of your journey as a marathon.  You will be a marathon runner and invest in yourself every day for the next 10 years.  You will have a long-term perspective and compound yourself, your knowledge, your skills, your perspectives, your networks and your assets during the 2020s.  Think of it this way: you will create your own personal renaissance in the next decade.  Your best artwork, essays, courses, assets, investments, games, systems and the like.  You will create them daily in this intriguing decade that begins right now."

Then again, if you’re in your seventies you might just want to play shuffleboard.

That’s all, folks….


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Apocalypse Now?

Still got your bomb shelter?  Good, because astronomers advise that an asteroid as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge is on its way….the biggest and speediest critter to take aim at your house in years.  This giant space rock---secret identity 231937(2001 FO32)---is somewhere between a half-mile and a mile in diameter, so if it hits, there goes the neighborhood.  Literally.  Still, the smart guys at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory only regard it as “potentially hazardous.”  That’s what Charlie Manson’s second-grade teacher said about him and look how that turned out.

So far, it looks like the asteroid will come within 1.25 million miles of Earth, but nobody’s saying how within.  The Big Day is March 21, so Spring-breakers now have a great theme for their beach extravaganzas.  Oh, by the way, it’s driving through space at 77,000 miles an hour so stay at least 100 feet from the landing site, a little more if you’re near the ocean.  The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies promises they will keep track of the thing and let us know whether we should stay put, rush off to Bolivia or tap Elon Musk on the shoulder and ask if he has any more seats left on the Moonbound Express.  If you’d like to see for yourselves, folks in the southern U.S. can point their telescopes south-southeast between the constellations of Sagittarius and Corona Australis at 4:45 a.m. EST on March 20.  We here at The Flying Pie are not worried one whit because nothing big ever happens in Fairfield.

If we make it through this one, there’s an even more dangerous asteroid (alias 410777 2009 FD) headed this way in 2185.  Scientists give it a 1-in-714 chance of punking us but Vegas odds have it at 1-in-638.  The Caesar’s Palace over/under is 30,000 dead.  All casino windows close in 2170.

Scientists probe Yellowstone's rambunctious Steamboat Geyser

It’s A Blast

When the Steamboat Geyser started acting up in Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin a couple of years ago, volcanologists went scurrying out to Wyoming to assay the issue.  Reckless rumors insisted that a major eruption would devastate the entire Pacific Northwest, including Marty Jourard’s  house in Kirkland, Washington.  Others claimed such a blast would be devastating for most of the United States.

Drawing a circle 500 miles across surrounding Yellowstone, studies suggest the region inside the circle might see more than 4 inches of ash on the ground.  People living in the Pacific Northwest would be choking on the fallout but there would also be short-term destruction of Midwest agriculture.  Rivers and streams would be clogged by grey muck.

“People who live upwind from eruptions need to be concerned about the big ones,” says Larry Mastin, a USGS volcanologist and lead author of a major 2014 ash study.  Big eruptions often spawn giant umbrella clouds that push ash upwind across half a continent, Mastin claims.  The clouds get their name from the broad, flat cloud hovering over the volcano, which resembles an umbrella.  “An umbrella cloud fundamentally changes how ash is distributed,” says Mastin.  Strategically well-located California and Florida, which grow much of the country’s fruits and vegetables, would get only a dusting of ash.

Yellowstone Volcano’s next supereruption is likely to spew vast quantities of gases like sulfur dioxide, which forms a sulfur aerosol that absorbs sunlight and reflects some of it back to space.  The resulting climate cooling could last up to a decade.  The temporary climate shift might alter rainfall patterns and cause widespread crop losses and famine.  Severe frosts could be an issue.  But a Yellowstone megablast would not wipe out life in the United States, let alone the Earth.  Unless, of course, you happen to be Marty. 

Artificial Intelligence

When it comes to doomsday scenarios, runaway asteroids, supervolcanoes and The Plague get all the headlines but mankind could be taken down by a device of its own creation.  Even superheroes like Elon Musk worry about Artificial Intelligence.

“AI could be the biggest existential threat facing humanity,” Musk contends.  “As AI gets much smarter than human beings, the relative intelligence ratio will be similar to that between a person and a cat.  Maybe bigger.  We just don’t know.  It’s hard to imagine how you control something that’s so much faster and smarter than a human being.”  Why so, Elon---cats seem to control thousands of people?

If Artificial Intelligence goes rogue and decides to erase humanity, scientists expect it would do so with very quick action, too quick to allow humans to establish a plan for fighting back.  But it’s also possible that the type of AI that Musk and others are worried about might not even be possible.  Elon agrees that “There may be something in the nature of biological intelligence that we can’t replicate in machines.”  Car companies, for instance, have finally come to the realization that the complexity of human driving will take a very long time for AI to understand and adapt to, something The Flying Pie told you years ago.

It’s also possible that Artificial Intelligence might have no desire to rule humans.  We could be completely irrelevant to its agenda.  Or maybe we’d be okay if we just stayed out of the way, only facing pushback when we cramped AI’s style….sorta like trying to dunk over LeBron James.

With the total botch mankind has made of ruling the Earth, could Artificial Intelligence do any worse?  Naive Americans once thought letting women run their country would lead to a kinder, gentler nation.  Now we’ve got dim bulbs like Marjorie Taylor Greene and gun-totin’ Lauren Boebert rampaging around the Capitol.  Could AI be any worse?  It’s immune to the temptation of Big Money or a nice dacha on the Black Sea, cannot be compromised by sex offerings and is not a bit interested in placing no-neck goobers on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Like the rednecks said when Trump took over, let’s give the new guy a chance.  Okay Artie, it’s all yours for a few years!  Make us proud.

Global Warming

The newest end-of-the-world bogeyman is, of course, Global Warming, and with good reason.  As the Arctic melts and Marriott begins inserting North Pole day spas, the oceans will rise up and inundate numberless islands and coastal areas which now support life.  Populous cities will become uninhabitable, especially in countries which can’t afford the technology to keep the seas at bay.  Hurricanes will increase over warmer waters, forest fires will continue to grow in size and frequency, agriculture will be compromised and air pollution will rise.  On the good side, Gainesville will finally have a beach.

Necessity being the mother of invention (and you thought it was Frank Zappa), humans will inevitably find a way to prevent or delay the worst aspects of Global Warming, but that’s a tricky operation.  Bryan Walsh, author of the book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World, contends that geoengineering has its own pitfalls.  “If you try to reduce the amount of sunlight coming to the Earth, or control temperatures, he contends, “unanticipated things could go wrong….could be interrupted by a war, for instance, resulting in termination shock.  That would be devastating.” 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Walsh feels that Global Warming will occur slowly, over decades.  “Human beings are pretty good at adjusting to things as they unfold,” he says, but a rash response to deteriorating conditions would be unwise.  “Geoengineering accidents could be sudden and chaotic.  When we change things VERY quickly, we can get ourselves in trouble.  Global Warming is unlikely to end us unless we make a critical mistake and it gets really out of control.”

Yet another reason to keep Anti-Science out of positions of power.  Dumb is Dead.  There should be a bumper sticker.

Zombie Apocalypse

If there’s one thing doomsday experts agree on, it’s the growing danger of a zombie uprising.  “Zombies used to be no problem,” avers Woody (Tallahassee) Harrelson, noted hunter of the undead from Zombieland.  “They were slow…pathetic, really.  A four-year-old kid could outrun them.  But thanks to improvements in zombie technology and the institution of special training camps, some of them can move like blue blazes now.  Even worse, Nike recently cut a deal with some of the medalists at the Zombie Olympics and now they’re out hyping Air VaporMax kicks.  Pretty soon, their kids will be running rings around us.” 

If a zombie uprising occurs near you, there are several important things to remember.  Number one---find the high ground.  One of the safest locations you can escape to and hold during a zombie apocalypse is a former prison.  With their extremely high walls and body-shredding barbed wire, these places are ideal for keeping invaders out.  You’ll need a prison with its own water supply and a stockpile of food.  Marauding zombies will take one look and move on to those poor saps hiding out in the laundromat.

Nobody can hole up in a prison forever, of course.  You’ll need supplies and Tonto is no longer available.  Fortunately for you, Hyundai takes their zombie response research very seriously and has outfitted some of their Elantra coupes with a raft of security features, including armored windows, spiked all-terrain tires and a zombie plow with massive spikes to remove and/or impale transgressors.  Zombies will flee in terror when they see it coming.

If you find yourself in close quarters, you’ll want Motoped’s nifty conversion kit which allows you to outfit your mountain bike with a Honda 50-190cc motor.  You be in and out with the groceries before those slow-witted zombies know it.

As everybody knows, zombies cannot swim a lick.  Thus the 4WD Gibbs Quadski is perfect for tackling not only tough terrain but can instantly (okay it takes five seconds) tuck its tires and hit the water.  Thanks to its 175 horsepower engine, you can zip along at speeds up to 45 mph, leaving those zombies cussing on the riverbanks.

Sometimes, of course, it comes down to hand-to-hand skirmishing.  It will pay you big dividends to invest in equipment specially designed for the task at hand, like the highly-regarded Zombie-slayer Axe.  If the razor-sharp axehead doesn’t do the job, the spiked brass knuckles built into the handle surely will.  From a short distance away, your tactical crossbow with ultra-stiff split-limb design gives you exceptional power and durability, plus an adjustable vertical grip for better accuracy.  And if you want to discourage a crowd of zombies trying to break into your apartment building, there is always the highly effective piano-drop, best used from an upper floor.

There are, of course, many other end-of-the-world possibilities, from Alien Invasion to Nuclear Holocaust to Malthusian Crisis, but The Flying Pie can’t be responsible for solving all your problems.  Come on, students, show a little initiative.  Sister Louise Clara told us that.

That’s all, folks….


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Too Much Of A Good Thing

When I stumbled into Austin, Texas in the Summer of 1962, it was the greatest place in the world.  The natural beauty of this eden, it’s rolling hills, serene lakes and vast, welcoming parks straddling the broad Colorado River were just a part of the attraction.  The large University of Texas campus with its signature Spanish Renaissance architecture stretched out over 400 charming acres; the vibrant Mexican section added a mixture of color, sound and festivity not often experienced on this side of the border; the iconic taverns, beer gardens, Tex-Mex joints and music halls were melting pots of curious students, Capitol City politicians, burned-out beatniks and church league softball teams mixing comfortably.  If you arrived at Scholz’s on stilts and singing Mammy, you might not get a second look.  It was Live And let Live to the nth power in Austin, Texas.

A sparkling city like this in an arch-conservative state like the Lone Star draws the best and the brightest.  High-school graduates from reactionary backwaters piled in, grateful to be freed from their small-town intellectual prisons.  Artists of every stripe made the pilgrimage and stayed.  Musicians rambled through, took a second look and settled down.  Small businesses operated by local entrepreneurs sprung up to challenge the traditional shops, many of them with no more collateral than a wing and a prayer.  There was barely a single chain business the length of Guadalupe Street where it fronted the UT campus.  It wasn’t the Age of Aquarius yet, but you could see it coming from the top of the 29-story Texas Tower.

There is overreach, there is bad taste and there is ugly, all of them brought together and tied with a nice bow with The Oasis On Lake Travis outside Austin, Texas.

Y’all Come!

Of course, the problem with places like 1962 Austin, Texas, is that everyone wants to live there.  Well, not everyone.  Gilbert Shelton’s half-brother, Steve, previously a student at tight-assed Texas Agricultural & Mechanical College, was gobsmacked by the unstructured libertine environment and after a few weeks of it went scurrying back to dependably dull College Station.  But most young people bought what Austin was selling…the freedom to engineer your own trip, however crazed it may be.  And when the word got out, it got out big.  The population of 202,000 in 1962 exploded to 2,117,000 by 2021, with no sign of abating.

Alas, the streets aren’t any wider, the parking spaces couldn’t possibly keep up and you’re liable to spend an hour now sitting in your car on the interstate trying to get from one side of town to the other, an experience I enjoyed just two years ago.  A few of the fine old places remain scattered throughout town but you need a helicopter to get to them.  This has not slowed down the Austin migration one bit, as dozens of tech businesses, many fleeing even busier and more expensive California, are buying up land from the capital to San Antone.  New arrivals, unfamiliar with the glories of Old Austin, seem crazy about the place, and it still has tons to offer.  The Old Guard, however, looks out the window to the ever-increasing numbers of gigantic new buildings on the verge of blotting out the sun and sighs.  What do we have now for what we have given up?  A fair question for Austin and for all those places like it which choose concrete over sod, an endless din over serenity and wealth over soul.  Good luck with that.  Just do us one small favor.  Don’t mess with Pflugerville.  

The Gentrification Blues

Gainesville, Florida was, is now and ever shall be much smaller than Austin, Texas.  It’s population in 1960 was a mere 29,701 and is now a reasonable 128,610.  The roads are pretty much the same as they were in the Sixties but it’s still possible to get from here to there in acceptable time.  The city is an oasis of sanity in a morosely red state, same as Austin, and attracts people for many of the same reasons.  There is no immediate danger of the town being overrun by invading hordes, but there is more than one way to spoil the brew and the city is heading in that direction.

Gainesville has always been a mellow place, the pace there slower than that of Austin.  In and around the city, much of Old Florida remains in all its laid-back splendor.  In the late sixties, Gainesville was the runaway capital of Florida as dissatisfied teenagers bolted from their homes by the hundreds, looking for their own version of San Francisco.  The opening of the Subterranean Circus by inexperienced young people and its subsequent success led to a spate of youth-oriented businesses managed by twentyish entrepreneurs stretching the length of University Avenue, from the University of Florida campus to a previously stodgy downtown.  Kids flocked in from everywhere on weekends and not just for the football games.

Gainesville raised a plethora of musicians, fostered an incredible number of places for them to display their wares, became the true non-country music capital of Florida.  Students accustomed to life there often stayed after graduating, willing to take lesser jobs than they might find elsewhere to continue living the dream.  Others left and soon returned, unable to find the town’s equal, pining for the good old days.  People probably feel the same way about Boulder, Madison, Columbus, Athens, Georgia and any number of other places which have found and developed the secret formula.  “We like it here!” was Gainesville’s motto and we certainly did.  But look over there—is that a diamondback twisting through the Garden of Eden?

From the UF campus to the heart of the city, which once featured a single scrawny edifice more than four stories high, horrendous large buildings are popping up like kudzu vines, multiplying like hydrilla on speed.  Entire city blocks are being razed, their colorful and popular shops blasted to Kingdom Come to make room for the pleasures of the Huns.  Football fans went into catatonic fits when the iconic Swamp restaurant fell victim to the invading hordes, but that was just one of many sad losses.  The unique storefronts which once dotted the Avenue have been lost to the ages, to be replaced by forty little pufferbellies all in a row.  And why?  Because money rules, because bigger is better and devil take the hindmost is the philosophy of those we elect to administer our cities.  These people wouldn’t recognize soul if it showed up with a neon-yellow ID tag, are somehow incapable even of discerning they are helping to destroy the same fabric of a town which made it inviting.  “What can we DO?” they wail plaintively.  Ladies and gentlemen, you’re not going to believe it, but they have this new thing called zoning.  Give us a call and we’ll tell you about it.  Don’t wait too long.

I Left My Trash In San Francisco

Anyone who has spent time in the midst of “the homeless” soon realizes a simple fact: there are the legitimately disenfranchised who need and deserve help and there are the tagalongs who like what they call “the life.”  The numbers in the latter category are increasing by leaps and bounds, especially in overly permissive cities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, which have made The Life so enticing that cavalcades of bums pour into town daily.  No shoes?  No Shirt?  No problem, here you go—wear these to dinner tonight at the festive feeding grounds---we’re serving Steak Diane this evening.  You can get there on the free light rail trains.  There’ll be a man to block your hat while you ride.

These two cities and several others are losing tourists in droves, their mayors and other leaders terrified to ruffle the ultraliberal feathers of much of their populace.  Hotel organizations are pleading for help, tourist businesses are screaming bloody murder, regular citizens are locking their doors as the once deferential “homeless” are pissing on their begonias and robbing them on the streets.  The City needs an Iron Fist at the helm, a bat and bullhorn-toting guy like recently deceased New Jersey school principal Joe Louis Clark, a man who kicked ass and took names, a disciplinarian, a stud who spoke truth to people who needed to hear it.  Where is Fiorello LaGuardia and his sledgehammer when we really need him?

Welcome To The Hotel California

When Siobhan and I vacationed in Oregon a couple of years ago, almost everyone we met there was a California expatriate.  The Cali property owners, finding their real estate had zoomed to astronomical financial heights, took the money and ran.  The rest moved because they couldn’t afford to live there anymore.  Quick now---what’s the big problem with a place where only rich people can afford to live?  That’s right, they have no one to cater to them.  No self-respecting tycoon wants to go to the kitchen at San Francisco’s Saison to retrieve his meal.  And what doyenne wants to park her own car at Providence in L.A.?  It’s downright gauche!

Not everyone can pick up and move to Oregon, so what’s a poor boy to do when the rents escalate to the edges of the universe?  Many people with full-time jobs in California cities live in tents.  Years ago, Aspen, Colorado suddenly recognized the city was running out of service personnel, threatening the existence of many of their posh enterprises.  Immediately, they set about to build low-cost apartments and succeeded in keeping their workers.  California has low-cost housing, too, but out there they call it slums.  There is often resistance to constructing these units by residents in the vicinity of a proposed development, afraid their own real estate will decline in value, so it’s not a simple trick to get this done.  But it’s no longer just wishful thinking in The Golden State, it’s a necessity.  The tent cities expand by the day, defacing large sections of their cities, zipping up the crime rates, running off tourists and costing untold millions.  Many California cities have become too much of a good thing, so attractive that everybody wanted to live there.  And now everybody does.

What Can You Do In A Case Like That?  What Can You Do But Spit In Your Hat?

In late January of last year, a group of unhoused mothers in West Oakland organized under the title Moms 4 Housing and occupied one of the many vacant homes in the city.  They were violently evicted by police but gained overwhelming community support and media attention.  Eventually, the property’s absentee landlords, Wedgewood Properties agreed to sell the home to the Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit that buys land to maintain permanent affordable housing for low-income communities.  The struggle of Moms 4 Housing is worth paying attention to, a testament that there are tactics available for communities that wish to take the housing bull by the horns.

Community land trusts are agreements between a non profit and a community that ensure the long-term affordability of housing.  Generally, a nonprofit---which has community members on the board to ensure that it serves the community’s needs---buys land and leases parcels to individuals and families at an affordable price, separating the cost of the land from the cost of housing.  Though residents can build some equity, they cannot sell the homes for large profits, which ensures that the CLT can keep the homes affordable for future residents.  There is a resurgence in community land trusts across the country and their numbers have risen past 200.

Portland, Oregon, which is overrun by legitimately homeless people as well as freeloaders looking for an easy mark, has come up with The East Portland Community Investment Trust to help low-income residents build equity and fight displacement by having community ownership of local property.

EPCIT’s first acquisition was Plaza 122, a commercial property in East Portland’s Mill Park neighborhood.  Through EPCIT, individuals or families who live in the four nearby Zip Codes can invest between $10 and $100 per month to retain ownership shares in the property.

When Plaza 122 was in foreclosure, it had a mere two-thirds occupancy rate.  Two years after its purchase, it reached full occupancy and is now home to a variety of businesses owned by people of color.  As more neighbors invest (EPCIT is set up to accommodate up to 500 investor-owners), they will eventually buy out the original investment from the previous owners.  EPCIT is the only outfit of its kind in the country, but the model is ripe to be duplicated elsewhere.

In Richmond, Virginia, Bon Secours Health System has used its community investment funds to support the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust and incubate its latest initiative, the Richmond Land Bank.  The MWCLT serves as the City of Richmond’s designated land bank by repurposing vacant and tax-delinquent properties for the public interest.

Limited equity housing cooperatives (LEHCs) are democratically owned and managed by a nonprofit cooperative organization.  Like community land trusts, LEHCs limit the equity a member can earn with the home’s resale, preserving the long-term affordability of the housing stock.  One example is the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association established in 1991 in New York City after decades of local organizing.  The objective was to have an anti-displacement  advocacy coalition birthed in response to earlier urban renewal policies.

Removing decades of despicable housing practices brought about by corporate greed and state complicity is not easy and the current tactics range from run-of-the-mill tax-break tinkering to more radical platforms, like the one shouldered by Moms 4 Housing that posit housing as a human right.  The supporters of these strategies are fighting to win and are beginning to take back what has long been reserved for their wealthier neighbors: the right to a home.  Salud!

That’s all, folks….

The Best

Court Lewis has been a Flying Pie reader since its beginning ten short years ago.  In addition to his valet duties at wife Margaret's horse facility near Johnson City, Tennessee, he also operates a weekly radio program and mucks about in local politics, trying to save the neighborhood from the incursion of savage outlanders.  Once, however, he was a lad transfixed by sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Best Day: Court Lewis, Unicoi, Tennessee

The first time I saw Jimi Hendrix live was in early 1967, when few people had ever heard of him.  This was only days after a breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.  Jimi and the gang were opening for, of all people, The Monkees.  Consider the brilliance of that packaging job.  Anyway, my folks were out of town and I had driven with a friend to Miami Beach in his GTO, the obvious intent to pick up girls.  This was not a difficult feat in those days.  The two we found wanted to go to a concert at the Convention Center to see those darling Monkees, a ticket which was above our normal date budget and below our usual aesthetic standards.  Nonetheless, we went with the hopes of later getting lucky, as young lads are wont to do.  Buying tickets an hour before the concert, we got promoters’ seats which had just been released….a front side row right next to the stage.

When Jimi’s band came out, I was transfixed.  They looked like aliens.  I had never seen or heard of anybody looking like this---Big afros, psychedelic threads, platform shoes.  when they started playing Purple Haze, I almost fell off my seat.  I was transported.  The intellectual audience, on the other hand, a sea of teeny-boppers, was less enthusiastic.  They started booing….shouts of “Go home, niggers!” filled the air, even during the breaks when Hendrix could clearly hear them.  Meanwhile, our two girlfriends who had previously thought we were cute catches, were quite taken aback by our enthusiasm for these odd ruffians.

By the time the band had finished their first set, I was worried they’d be so discouraged by the rough treatment they might bail.  Desperate to prevent that from happening, I jumped up and ran to the nearby backstage entrance door and went from room to room looking for them.  That’s right, me in my Gant madras shirt, Bostonian loafers and JFK haircut.  I rushed up to the first one I found---Noel Redding, the bass guitarist---grabbed him by the shoulders and said something like, “You guys were great!  Don’t listen to those kids---they’re just children, they don’t know anything.  Keep playing, you guys are like nobody else and you’re going to be super-famous!”

I think Noel was stoned, though I was no expert on these matters at the time.  After he recovered from the shock of being grabbed and shouted at by this maniac who came out of nowhere, he just mumbled, “Hey, man, it’s cool.”  Then reached down and handed me the Are You Experienced? album from a pile behind his chair.  In that instant I knew these people were on their way and didn’t need me to talk them down off any ledges.  I also knew i wanted to get back home and listen to that album as soon as possible.

The girls were dumbfounded we wanted to skip seeing The Monkees.  “We’re staying,” they said, haughtily.  “We’ll call our parents when it’s over.”  Fine with us, see you around.  We made the three-hour drive back home, woke up my younger brothers and played that album on the big living-room console stereo….not once, but over and over until the sun came up.  It might have been The Best Day Of My Life.

Later, when I went to college in upper New York State, I was the only one there who had that album.  It had just been released in the U.S. that week.  I stuck my stereo speakers out on the dorm windowledge and played it at top volume.  crowds would gather down below to listen.  For a brief but lovely interval, I was semi-famous.  Those weren’t bad days, either.  



Thursday, March 4, 2021

Prelude To Spring

Yeah, we know.  Winter sucks, especially this winter.  In 7-degrees-Fahrenheit Austin, our old pal Harry Andrews had to dig to the back of his closet to find his furry Mao Tse Tung hat with the red star in front.  In Ann Arbor, niece Ashleigh Schaub slipped on invisible ice and wiped out a perfectly good knee.  In Kirkland, Washington, shivering Florida boy Marty Jourard, bereft of expensive fuel, was burning old album covers in his fireplace.  And all across this wintry landscape, nonbelievers in climate change were dancing a merry jig to their spunky national anthem, It’s A Cold World After All.

If one has the bad fortune to live in New England with my sister Kathy, bad news: another blizzard packing a foot of snow is on the way, the third or fourth one in a month.  They’re running out of places to put the stuff.  It’s like somebody out west keeps reloading the snow cannon and firing away, sending one wintry blast after another across the country.  In Texas, which is not used to such abuse, they ran out of electricity and Senator Ted Cruz, who is severely allergic to inconvenience, was forced to flee to Mexico before his spleen exploded.

Don’t worry, though, help is on the way.  Daylight Savings Time is rushing to the rescue in a few days and with it, the promise of Spring.  Before you know it, the sound of bat against ball will echo across the land, wildflowers will pop up in open fields and fashion doyennes will be shopping on Fifth Avenue for clever face masks to wear in the Easter parade.  It’s good to remember it’s always darkest just before the dawn.  Or better yet, to take the time-tested advice of Peggy Lee’s Manana:

The window, she is broken and the snow is coming in.

If someone doesn’t fix it, I’ll be soaking to my skin.

But if we wait a day or two the storm will go away

And we don’t need a window on such a sunny day!

Manana is good enough for me.

We’ve Got The Fever!

“Oh, why should I have Spring Fever, when it isn’t even Spring?”---Oscar Hammerstein

Okay, we’ve done the dance, paid our dues, skipped the ballgames and been stabbed twice by Mr. Pfizer’s magic needle….can Billy go out and play now?  It’s practically Spring, time for the brilliant garden festivals, colorful art fairs decorating the streets, a trip to the beach, a ride on the Ferris Wheel at the county fair.

We promise to be good.  We’ll wear our little masks, lather ourselves in liquid sanitizer and promise not to sneeze on anyone.  We’ll stay out of crowded bars, eschew the rush-hour subway and not hug anyone under 65.  Us old folks don’t have a lot of time left, we can’t afford to give away another year, skip a second vacation, march in place for 12 more months.  It’s a deal-breaker.

We’re lining up at the starting line like those wagoneers at the Oklahoma Land Rush, waiting for the starter’s pistol.  We’re waxing down our boards, polishing up the woodie, charting a course for Surf City and we don’t want to hear any guff.  There’s a time for every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, a time to die.  A time to plant, a time to reap.  A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.  And, consarn it, a time for Road Trips!  Pete Seeger said that and nobody argues with Pete.  Let the frolicking begin!  Vroom vroom! 

Your Calendar Of Events

Lovers of politically incorrect entertainment will be flocking to the Hellzapoppin Circus Freak Show at The Abbey in Orlando on March 13.  The scaly Lizard Man will be there, split tongue, implanted horns and all to swallow swords and frighten the children.  Shorty, the half-man, will be back to walk barehanded on broken shards of glass while on fire, no less.  Meanwhile, the beautiful Miss Willow will one-up Shorty while actually eating fire, regurgitating razor blades and swallowing a lifesaver which she will then pull out of her neck before your very eyes.  You might want to leave grandma at home for this one.  Just a thought.

Alaska has its freezing Iditarod sled dog race in March, but that’s too cold for you.  Instead, try the March 6 Chiditarod in Chicago, which will feel a lot like Alaska but has better hotels.  Instead of dressing up in mukluks and riding a sled, contestants show up in wacky---and often scandalous---attire to pull shopping carts down the street.  Four pullers and one musher navigate a cart filled with vittles donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  At the finish line, everyone peels off for a well-deserved pub crawl.  Inappropriate for children under ten.

The folks in Nederland, Colorado haven’t made up their minds yet about Frozen Dead Guy Days, presently scheduled for March, exact dates to be determined.  The festival celebrates one Bredo Morstol, whose family opted for cryonic treatment upon his death.  Bredo was summarily frozen in California, then moved to Nederland in 1993 and kept in the family’s shed, remaining there until the remnants of the clan were evicted years later.  The corpse remains frozen to this day, tended to by designated caretakers for the past 24 years.  While waiting for Morstol to thaw, event planners celebrate with coffin races, frozen t-shirt contests, ice turkey bowling, brain freeze challenges, a parade of hearses and the ever-popular frozen salmon toss.  If they cancel the thing at the last minute, Rocky Mountain National Park is right next door.  It’s still March in Colorado so bring your own snowplow.

Not To Mention….

….the Waikiki Spam Jam in Hawaii.  For some arcane reason, Hawaiians consume more Spam than any state in the union so it’s only natural to celebrate canned meat.  Might be the only place in the universe to cop a Spam t-shirt.  While we’re talking food, don’t forget the famous Atkins Picklefest in Arkansas.  You’ll love competing in the pickle-juice drinking bout or vying for fame in the Mr. Dill Pickle contest.  They even have a rodeo.  “RIDE that pickle, cowgirl!”

You just knew there had to be one of these.  The World Grits Festival takes place every April in the town of St. George, South Carolina, which claims to gobble up more grits per year than any other place in the world.  Have a few drinks and dive into the grits-rolling contest where you can flounder around in a gooey pool of carbohydrates.

No, we are not making this up—there is actually a Fire Ant Festival in Ashburn, Virginia. Who doesn’t want to be selected Miss Fire Ant or join the the jolly pet parade or gorge at the tantalizing barbecue cook-off?  In honor of the ceremonies, all local fire ants have promised to take the day off, so picnics are encouraged.

Festivals under this last heading are teetering on the brink, so check with your trusty travel agent to make sure they’re still on.  If not, the Hellzapoppin Freak Show is a traveling circus---you’re allowed to go twice.  Maybe you can figure out how Miss Willow extracts that lifesaver.

The Wearing Of The Green

Without question, the most important day in March is St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th.  On that day, Irishmen and supporters everywhere dress up in the color that people were hanged for wearing by the English during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.  Sons of Ireland in the United States lead the Green Charge with festive parades in Boston and New York, the Beantown version having taken place annually since 1737.  The first St. Paddy’s Day parade in Dublin only arrived in 1931.

In 1961, the business manager of Chicago’s Journeymen Plumbers Local, Stephen Bailey, received permission from the city to turn the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day.  A true Irishman, Bailey wanted to make sure the water didn’t wind up a whiter shade of pale so he inserted a massive dose (100 pounds) of vegetable dye into the drink.  The river stayed green for a week.  Today, the boys apply a more modest 25 pounds.

Some of St. Patrick’s relics can still be viewed in Ireland today.  Down Cathedral in the town of Downpatrick in County Down is thought to contain the saint’s remains, with the possible exception of a tooth and jaw.  Allegedly, he lies with Saints Columcille and Brigit.  The tooth and jaw rest comfortably in Dublin at the National Museum, while Patrick’s copy of the four gospels is held at The Royal Irish Academy.

The global corporate relations director of Guinness says 5.5 million pints of his beverage are sold on any given day but the figure rises to an astounding 13 million on St. Patrick’s Day.  IBISWorld reports that the holiday brings in over $250 million in total beer sales worldwide, which probably makes March 18 International Hangover Day.  Curiously, the strict laws on the curtailment of alcohol sales during the 1927-1961 Holy Days in Ireland left but one place in the country a man could get a drink on March 17---The Royal Dublin Dog Show.  The show, of course, was massively attended and often described by imbibers as “a grand occasion except for all the dogs.”

That’s all, folks….

The Best

Each week, The Best Day of someone’s life seems to get longer and longer.  Our old pal Danny Levine has pushed the envelope like no other, but he has a worthy tale deserving of its length.  You should have seen it before the editing.

Best Day: Daniel Levine, Savannah, Georgia 

I’m the Jewish exception, I never really knew my father.  Met him four or five times, but there was never any real relationship.  The first time I saw him was at age 13 and I was much more interested in the car that he drove, a Studebaker coupe, with its lovely Raymond Lowey-designed shape, modified and chopped, the roof removed and cover added behind the front seat to create a two-seater sports car.  Meeting my father was okay but the car was astounding.

I had lived so long without a father that he had become more of an idea than an identity.  My mother’s family never spoke of him.  All anyone ever revealed was that he was in the Army Air Corps during WWII, that he had a brother and that he was a singer.  That was it.  Eventually, I stopped asking about him.

In my early twenties, I had a job at a men’s clothing store in Surfside on the north side of Miami Beach.  One day, a couple of middle-aged guys came in accompanied by a stunning young woman who turned out to be Miss Argentina.  This was at the beginning of the credit card era, when anyone who had one was probably loaded.  When the man with Miss A. put down his Amex card, I noticed he had the same last name as I did.  I looked at the other fellow and said to myself, “That’s me!”

Without any hesitation, I approached him and said, “Hi.  I’m Daniel Levine.”  His considerable jaw dropped so far it might have broken a toe.  We spoke for a bit and he told me was married and had a family.  He came by the shop a few more times, once on a Honda Super 90, which I though was very cool for a middle-aged Jewish guy.  Not Triumph Bonneville cool, but still.  He talked about going out on his boat but it never happened.  Eventually, he vanished from my life again.  I didn’t understand his lack of interest in me but I didn’t dwell on it.  He had a life of his own.

I talked to him one last time after another one of my failed love affairs.  Just called him on the phone.  I felt alone and needed someone to talk to.  We talked for awhile and he mentioned he had Parkinson’s disease and was practically broke, not what I wanted to hear.  I was looking for love and support, not interested in hearing someone else’s travails.  I was hurt and damaged.  I picked up a semi-automatic rifle, put a round in the chamber, placed it in my mouth and put my finger on the trigger.  Close call.  I never spoke to the man again.

My father died at 84.  His obituary in the Miami Herald didn’t mention me but it did speak of a brother, his wife, a son and two daughters.  Interestingly, he had enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago at age 14, so we had Art in common.  Later, he went to Rochester to get an engineering degree before becoming a navigator in the AAC during the war.  I learned from the obit that he had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for getting his crew back safely after their plane was shot down.  After the war, he went back to Rochester to get a Voice degree and either had a chance to sing or sang at the Metropolitan Opera.  Even my best friends don’t know this but I was some sort of singer as a child.  I even sang at a hotel in Miami Beach.  “He gets it from his father,” people would say.  I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

One more thing.  Mr. Levine was also in the racing business.  He was one of the early inshore boat racers, while I, of course, ended up being a world-famous motorcycle racer.  Mere coincidence?  I think not.  There was little of this sort of thing to be found on my mother’s side of the family, good solid conservative members of the bourgeoisie.  I tilted more towards the sire line.

Eventually, there was a memorial service for my Dad in South Florida.   There, I met the rest of the family, including Jeff, my brother, who walked up to me and handed me a box, saying “Say hello to your Father.”  His ashes, of course.  Everybody laughed.  I think it was the moment we all connected.  I got them and they got me.  For the first time in my 60 years on this Earth, I didn’t feel different.  I was like them.  I was accepted immediately.  After a life-long struggle trying to understand all the voids in my life, I felt at peace with myself, my family and my place in the universe.  I was still crazy, sure, but I was crazy like them!  I think you could say it was The Best Day Of My Life.