Category Archives: Community

Books: A community’s independent shop, and life without Borders


A customer reads in the front section of Books on the Square, an independent book shop in the Wayland Square neighborhood on Providence, R.I. Photo by John Doucette.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Wayland Square neighborhood on this city’s East Side is a great place to be a book hunter. The area has two terrific book shops, the independent bookstore Books on the Square and the rare and used shop Myopic Books.

I visited both while I was home in Rhode Island for the holidays. This post focuses on Books on the Square, and another post on Myopic Books will follow in the next few days,

I got the dime tour over the holidays from Chris Byrnes, a bookseller and leader of three of the shop’s weekly story times. Video follows:

This past summer, two Borders locations in the area closed. In July, Books on the Square manager Jennifer Doucette (no relation) told Publishers Weekly that Borders had not had much effect on business:

Our store is really blessed. We’re in a great neighborhood with lots of families walking around. We’re up, just a little bit, and we just renewed our lease for another five years.

Since the Borders closed, business has been strong. Aside from the book store at Brown University, Byrnes noted:

When it comes to Providence, we’re kind of it for new books.

Bookseller John Duvernoy.

Brooke Huminski, a regular customer at Books on the Square, shops.

The shop is designed for community involvement, and it hosts story times for kids, a variety of reading groups, a discussion of ideas called the Socrates Cafe, and even community meetings. Byrnes said Doucette put the central book racks on wheels, so they can be moved aside for large events. And the shop has a large children’s section, a point of pride. Byrnes said:

We want to create a place where people can relax and not be part of the rat race. They can come and pick up a book or a magazine.

Brooke Huminski, a graduate student studying social work, is a regular. She said:

I love this bookstore. There’s a personal feel to it and a lot of community events.You can find things in it from best sellers to idiosyncratic books.

Customer Bill Dilworth added:

I like supporting local businesses, and this has books you might not see at chain stores.

I asked Dilworth about being in neighborhood with two great bookstores. He replied:

It’s impoverishing. If I go into either of these places just to look, I almost invariably get something I didn’t intend to purchase.

Books on the Square is at 471 Angell St. on Providence’s East Side. Find out more about the shop via its website at this link. A post on Myopic Books is forthcoming.

Customer Bill Dilworth checks out the selection at Books on the Square.

Booksellers Chris Byrnes and Richard Scott.

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A resolution to get local in the New Year


Patriotic bench outside the firehouse in Craddock, a community in Portsmouth, Va., the city in which I live. Photo by John Doucette.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A few years ago, I became interested enough in a candidate for national office to do something rash: I allowed my email address to be joined with a good many email addresses on this guy’s digital Rolodex. Now this politician sends me emails regularly about matters big and small, and asks for money. As I was for many years a reporter, I’m used to such things. I’ve been on the email and fax chains of Republic and Democrat candidates for and holders of federal offices, and have come to think of the email rhetoric of politicians — particularly those hellbent on working in D.C. — as unusually well phrased notes from a series of teenagers I somehow adopted. That these teenagers have handlers and press secretaries to shape our discourse does not particularly change two core messages:

  1. Hey Dad, they say, I did this and that and this, all for you – ain’t you proud?
  2. Yo, I need some money.

Most recently, the politician emailed repeatedly to say he needed as little as $3, and – if I was lucky, of course – he’d even stop by for a family dinner. Actually, I’d have to go to him, presumably in Washington. Kids these days, they want the world to come to them. He didn’t even write the email himself. A mouthpiece offered:

And, don’t forget – if you’re one of the winners, you’ll get to bring a guest along with you.

With apologies to my plus-one, I’m not interested in becoming a winner. For one thing, I don’t eat family dinners in the District. My First Family is in the southern part of a Virginia region called Hampton Roads – in Portsmouth, the city within which I live; in Norfolk, where I work and attend school; in Virginia Beach, where I have family and occasionally go fishing; in Chesapeake, where my wife grew up and where some of my friends have settled; in Suffolk, an under-sung jewel that is the best place to go to get away from the other four cities for a little while. I’ll always pay attention to issues of national importance, and speak with my vote or, perhaps, support of this issue or that, but these places have needs, too.

So I suspect my $3 is not destined to travel far.

With that in mind, I offer for your consideration some New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. I resolve to love my local community more than I have. I want to spend less time dreaming about the other places other people live and embrace the reality of where I live. I want to show the love more than talk about it.
  2. I resolve to continue loving local media despite the inherent flaws of any medium. I will keep my subscription to The Virginian-Pilot because this is the best and most responsible media outlet in Hampton Roads. I’ll try to support local public broadcasting in some way, either with a few bucks or continued attention here. I’ll try to support community newspapers of note, such as The Suffolk News-Herald and The New Journal & Guide, if only by picking them up on the newsstands from time to time. I will continue to read and write about Veer and AltDaily, and I will take them seriously on this blog because their efforts to provide alternative voices deserve real consideration and appreciation.
  3. I resolve to continue supporting local arts as a patron. Some of the best art I’ve seen has been in local galleries or festivals, and on local stages. I want to see more local music, more local plays, put more local artists on my walls and on the pages of this little blog. I’d rather see a failure that reaches than a success that plays it safe. I want to remember that living in a community with a strong arts scene, however uneven some work may be amid the much needed experimentation that leads ultimately to better art, is like love itself a blessing that must be replenished by love in return.
  4. I resolve to keep my charitable giving local. This is at least for the coming year, however tempting it can be to give through large charities based in other states. Additionally, I resolve to give directly to charities and avoid middlemen. If I want to give to a local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, for example, I will give to that charity and not through a fundraising firm that delivers pennies on the dollar. I will not support any charities that have failed to file their paperwork, because if a supposed charity cannot do that basic step they will fail at providing a service or program no matter how well-intentioned they are. I will remember that the local United Way is a good means of giving or finding worthy charities for those who do not know where or how to give directly.
  5. I resolve to consider my community before seeking entertainment elsewhere. One of the most appalling nights in my recent memory was at an unflinchingly secular “holiday” celebration/cash grab at a major amusement park in Virginia, complete with a stage play shamelessly bastardizing the “meaning” of said holiday. Which may be fine for some, but is more proof to me that commerce and faith should keep separate books. For what we spent there, we might have better enjoyed another fine day at the outstanding Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth and handled our Christmas business at home or in church.
  6. I resolve to pay attention to local government. As a (mostly) former journalist, I have a deep discomfort with political giving. But if for some reason I decide to spread some dough around, I will look first to candidates seeking local offices because they make the decisions that directly affect my life. I will try to attend at least one Portsmouth City Council meeting, not to speak or complain, but simply to let my city officials know I care about the work they do on my family’s behalf and that I value the work of the city employees who provide services, educate our children, and protect us from crime, fire and medical crises. Also, I love Light Rail. I’ll ride the Tide when I can.
  7. Most importantly, I resolve to increase my percentage of spending on local businesses, particularly independent businesses and corporations headquartered in our region and our commonwealth. I will continue to support the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, because the Chamber is working for the betterment of the local market. I will continue to seek out the fruits of local farms before buying at the big grocery stores. I will seek out mom and pops and try to blow less money on national chains. One of the best holiday gifts I’ve ever given to my wife came not from Wal-Mart or a national department store, but the gift shop at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum. This may seem a bit silly, but it’s a just peanut-shaped Christmas ornament. We talk about it and our times in Suffolk. We’ve done this every year that I can remember, and I can’t think of anything from a Wal-Mart that has ever generated a conversation. Chain eateries at malls can’t hold a candle to the many fine dining spots throughout the region. (See you soon, No Frill Grill. And Five Points Community Farm Market. And others.) I will remember that local businesses generally keep money in our community through reinvestment and the payrolls that support my friends and neighbors. Likewise, when I travel to other places, I will try to seek out local businesses there and reward the brave independent businesspeople making a go of it in an increasingly cookie-cutter America. I will read more books bought through independent and local booksellers.

My back yard begins in Portsmouth, and expands a bit to a region called Hampton Roads, and then to our beautiful Commonwealth on Virginia, and onward to our nation, and then the world. So, overall:

  1. I will remember that to be a member of a region and a state and a nation starts with being a member of a community. The communities that are represented best by regional bodies and state and national governments are the communities that best represent themselves through strong support for local industry, arts, media, government, etc.
  2. When I forget to do these things, at the very least, I will wallow in an appropriate pool of shame. I’m good at this. Believe me.

For now, the problem is that I’m all good intentions. So I hope I’ll stick to most, if not all of this, and pray my friends and neighbors will help me do so. If it’s a matter of spending $3 here or $3 there, I vote $3 here.

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The year in silly cutlines, such as it was


PORTSMOUTH, Va. — As this blog’s first year comes to a merciful end, I will celebrate in the next couple of posts by recycling content.

I mean, looking back wistfully or some such what have you.

Point being, since the “and humble photography” part of this blog has all but been left behind in massively long interviews, I figured I could at least start out with the photos. Photo cutlines, any way.

So here’s a gallery of silly cutlines. Cutlines should be informative. These were not that.

1. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VIII: Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads (June 4, 2011)

You are a saucy one, Earl Swift, Norfolk, Va., journalist and author of The Big Roads. Even when I crop out your tiny brass-studded leather novelty fez. Photo by John Doucette.

2. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. VII: Vivian Paige of All Politics is Local (May 18, 2011)

Vivian J. Paige, left center, and members of the Virginia Democratic Intramural Coed Soccer Team form a wall to block a free kick by Commonwealth Republicans United. Boy, these guys get happy when it comes to blocking free kicks. Courtesy photo.

3. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XI: Writer and editor Tom Robotham (Aug. 26, 2011)

Writer and editor Tom Robotham did not realize he would be part of a blog post that would unsuccessfully link 1870s British light opera and 1980s American light rap when he agree to be photographed at the Taphouse yesterday in Norfolk, Va. As it turns out, parents just don't understand that I am the captain of the Pinafore. Photo by John Doucette.

4. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XIII: Comedy writer and actor Sean Devereaux of The Pushers (Sept. 7, 2011)

At left is Sean Devereux, producer and co-head writer of the Hampton Roads improv and sketch comedy group The Pushers. In the foreground at right is a custom Ed Carden-shaped Chia pencil holder. Photo by John Doucette.

5. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVI: Hairspray author and scholar Dana Heller (Nov. 8, 2011)

Hi John: Look, when you take out this placeholder text and put in the real cutline in don't forget to make it extra funny. For Pete's sake, Dana Heller is chair of the English Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where you are a student. And she's the author of a book about the John Waters film Hairspray, and Waters totally is coming to ODU on Thursday. Don't phone this one in. Bring the funny. Your pal, John. PS: Courtesy photo.

6. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IX: Wanderlust playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (June 12, 2011)

Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran, playwrights of Wanderlust. You'll just have to pretend this cutline is funny. Try harder. Yeah. There you are. Photo by John Doucette.

7. Belligerent Q&A, Vol. IV: Jeff Maisey of Veer Magazine (April 16, 2011)

Despite any impression given by this image's bright lighting, Veer publisher and editor Jeff Maisey is not a being composed of pure energy and power. Yet. Photo by Kathy Keeney.

8. Ted Danson coming to Norfolk for talk with Mike D’Orso (April 9, 2011)

During a recent reading at Borjo Coffeehouse in Norfolk, Va., author Mike D'Orso points out something in a book he is holding. The microphone pretends to understand, but the microphone has a painful secret — illiteracy. Photo by John-Henry Doucette.

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D’Orso to celebrate Kerouac on Monday at Kerouac Cafe because D’Orso Cafe is just a pretend place I made up for this headline


NORFOLK, Va. — On Monday at Kerouac Cafe, Norfolk author Mike D’Orso will host the reading and conversation “Remembering Jack,” honoring the recent 42nd anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death and celebrating the life and work of the famed Beat writer.

The event is at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 24, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. There’s free street parking and some nearby surface lot parking. Admission is free.

Also Monday, D’Orso and Kerouac owner Phil Odango will be guests on HearSay With Cathy Lewis on WHRV-FM 89.5 to talk about Kerouac and the event. The show starts at noon. This airs in the Hampton Roads market, but you can find podcasts here at this link or listen to a stream.

Kerouac, of course, is known for inspiring generations of young writers to record their confessional travel stories in the first person and adorn them with titles like Disenchanted American Dreams. And there you have it. He did some other stuff, too, but I have a lot of homework this weekend.

Just go on Monday. D’Orso has it covered.

D’Orso, via email, explained that the idea for the event struck this past week when he drove past the cafe and suddenly recalled that the anniversary of Kerouac’s death was only days away. He pulled a U-turn, parked, and entered “one of the truly coolest, funkiest ‘lounges’ I’ve entered in a very long time. Kerouac would be proud to have his name on this place.”

And he pitched an event. They bit. Easy day.

D’Orso, in addition to being a journalist and author of many fine works of non-fiction, wrote his William and Mary graduate school thesis on the influence of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West on Kerouac’s work. He’s spoken on Kerouac and the Beats at a variety of venues, including to VMI cadets who sat in “stone-faced silence.” And according to an email that undoubtedly will be collected in the D’Orso papers:

I’ve written a good number of books, but my proudest coup was getting a 13-page piece on Jack’s high school and college football career published in Sports Illustrated.

Which you should read here at this link. “Saturday’s Hero: A Beat” is a great story, also collected in D’Orso’s excellent Pumping Granite.

As regular readers of this blog know, D’Orso is an old friend of mine and he has been featured here. And Kerouac Cafe is a friend of the blog, too, as the only Hampton Roads exhibition hall that dared to handle the intense heat that radiated like the spiciest winds of the Red Spider Nebula from the 2011 Fortune Writing Contest.

Also, I dig Kerouac. However, on Monday evening I will be in an Old Dominion University class called Thesis Colloquium, during which I again shall rigorously colloquium my thesis while keeping up with my devil-may-care classmate, Dean Moriarty. He’s got charisma, but I sometimes suspect our relationship may be evolving in ways we do not yet realize amid our adventures. Maybe it’s these times we’re living in, man.

Point being, have a cup of joe for me, you crazy kids, and talk about how the only people for you are the mad ones or something something something. Anyway, my Modern Rhetoric homework isn’t doing itself.

But look — if you’re young, if you maybe want to write, and if you’ve recently taken a trip with your restless nonconformist buds in which you experienced really intense stuff and figured out some things about how you want to live this life compared to what your old man had lined up for you, why not try it out in third-person limited?

And do cut out that part about getting your wicked liberating lower back tattoo. Someday, you will restructure a mortgage to get that sucker laser-ed off. Even the mad ones get tired of explaining to their grandkids what “PARTY TIME” means.

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XV: Commentator and opinion writer Brian Kirwin


Sometimes a cutline is just a cutline. Sometimes it sets up a really obscure callback. Put the glasses on, Brian Kirwin! Put 'em on! Courtesy photo.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Beach-based opinion writer Brian Kirwin contributes to Bearing Drift and The Daily Press newspaper. He’s worked extensively as a political consultant. He often comments on public affairs matters through various forms of media. He works in public relations. He serves on the Beach’s Arts and Humanities Commission, too. And the man acts.

So he’s a sextuple threat — at least, he is if you only count things listed in the preceding sentences. There may be more, but that’s okay. As you will see, sometimes in America we make our own math.

By the way, Kirwin is a conservative. Who knows? Maybe that will come up.

Any more of an introduction to this Belligerent Q&A will only delay the pleasure.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

I used to be that kid in the classroom who never got in trouble, but instigated everything. I’d talk to my ‘neighbor’ in class, then as soon as the teacher looked my way, I’d have this studious look on my face and another kid was talking back to me or laughing. Being that the teacher was usually a nun, the kid got his lights knocked out.

Today, I try my very best to be the same instigator I was when I was six. I’ll be on a conference call with several vaunted Republican leaders, and say the one thing that they usually don’t want to admit. I’ll meet with my Democrat friends, who invariably tell me how every time they say they know me, their friends get either sickened or angry.

I also do a fair amount of acting, and my agent usually books roles for me where I, with a fair amount of snark, tick off the whole audience. Life imitates art, ya know.

Q: You suggested that former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine run for the U.S. Senate on the slogan “A Do-nothing Governor for the Do-nothing Senate.” This recommendation seems insincere. Discuss.

Anytime I say something nice about a Democrat, it’s insincere. Democrats have ruined the country. They can’t have a decent talk radio show. Their newspapers are so ineffectual I think birds will start boycotting them soon, which could get messy. Democrats are the party of failure. They assume nothing good can happen in America unless dictated by government. Kaine failed at all his attempts to do stupid things as Governor, and the Senate has accomplished a big fat zero, so they do seem to have a lot in common. I do think the EPA may issue a mandate to Kaine to trim his eyebrows, though. The courts might just uphold that.

Q: Of the various kinds of opinion you write, I most enjoy the “round up” style “Kirwin’s Commentaries,” which give you a chance to riff on everything from the lack of conservative voices on public affairs programming (back when we had such things) to the flawed restaurant math of a half-pound containing 15 shrimp and a pound containing 25. Could you talk about that form and how it’s a different writing process that with longer opinion columns, if so?

Admit it – you love everything I write. It’s OK. My stuff is legendary and fun. Longer opinion columns are a like writing a symphony. You have to have several movements which build along the way to the finale. I write columns that way, usually in sections. Then tie some thematic threads through it and punch it up with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Commentaries are like writing a song. All I need is a catchy hook, like a healthy dose of sarcasm. I look at something – a story, an experience, another column – and zing. The commentaries are a collection of ironic zings – a hat tip to Andy Rooney, if you will.

Q: When you’ve had 15 shrimp, are you really sitting there going, “You know what would hit the spot — maybe, 15 more shrimp?” Wouldn’t 10 cover it?

I think it’s pretty ironic to have a large number of something called a ‘shrimp.’ Besides, I’m a Republican. A Democrat would sit there and decide what a ‘fair share’ of shrimp I should have. How dare I have 15 shrimp when they think 10 should be all I’d really need. There are some homeless people in Chicago who don’t have any shrimp at all, probably because that deep dish pizza is all the rage. Anyway, I don’t need Obama’s socialist dictates about how many shrimp I should eat, or anyone else’s for that matter. This is America. If I want to eat 100 shrimp and go to bed smelling like Old Bay, I dare someone to tell me I shouldn’t. They’d probably accuse me of clinging to my shrimp.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about the apparent deep political polarity in America? Are we turning into the last two sections of The Stand?

Figures you’d look to liberal Stephen King for political theory and analysis. I think there are much better Stephen King books to look to for politics. Like The Shining – The ‘Overlook’ Hotel as a metaphor for the federal government, whose boiler explodes because we hired an incompetent caretaker – Hi, Barack! Or Carrie – the liberal’s fantasy about what religious people are really like and that they’re one bad prom from taking out an entire town. The Stand is pretty much junk, although it’s somewhat amusing seeing liberal fantasies play out. Liberals like stories of massive self-imposed destruction. Like Obamacare.

Q: If it comes down to it, where should we head? Boulder, Colo., or Las Vegas? I mean, that Randall Flagg fellow is awfully charismatic.

You lefties fall for charisma too easily. Instead of being a follower, try being a leader for once. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is forging your own future than trying to find the right idiot to tell you what to do.

Q: You are a contributor to Bearing Drift, which recently announced its merger with Virginia Line Media. When I spoke with Jim Hoeft, he suggested some exciting possibilities for expansion and new ventures. What are some things you would like to see Bearing Drift do that it isn’t already doing? And when you guys inevitably do a sitcom, starring you of course, what’s the premise you’ll pitch?

There already are some good political sitcoms now that they stream the Democratic Virginia Senate online. I actually think sitcoms are pretty lackluster lately. It’s a half hour of dramatic standup. If we could do some throwback sitcoms that actually had some storytelling, in the tradition of All in the Family or Good Times, then we’d have something.

Actually, I think Bearing Drift needs a conservative version of Saturday Night Live. Skit comedy is the way to go. Maybe the liberals will pass the fairness doctrine and NBC would have to program us.

Q: Can I play the weird relative who drops in a lot but isn’t allowed to handle sharp things, use the stove, or control the TV remote?

I always pegged you as the guy who needed to include his middle name to make up for some deep-seeded insecurity. You can have the tv remote anyway, since all these networks are showing pretty useless stuff that don’t have much creativity anyway. I’ll pop in a DVD and watch you hopelessly try to change the channel for a few hours. Remember, relatives aren’t weird. Just in-laws.

Q: What do you think it says that we live in a country in which many people who have just eaten 15 shrimp can pretty much go ahead and eat 15 more shrimp? Or at least 10, depending upon the accuracy of the scales/mathematical acumen employed within a given shrimp-dispensing restaurant?

I fear for a world when the person calculating the bill can’t do simple math. I wish we lived in a country that didn’t bother to count your shrimp in the first place. We regulate way too much. We tell fishermen how much to catch. We tell Detroit what a car should weigh, and now we have cars that get totaled if you lean on them with the wrong kind of boots on. We tell toilet makers how much water a flush should be. We have so many regulations that it takes 18 years to build a four-mile road. One-hundred fifty years ago, it only took six years to build a nationwide railroad. Liberals hyper-regulate everything, and I’m pretty sick of it being so much of a pain in the neck to accomplish anything. My dream is to have a country that couldn’t care less how many shrimp I have.

Q: A concern I have from both my brief time as newspaper columnist and in reading some of the opinion voiced via local media is that compromise and the art of finding common ground do not seem to be valued. When you write for Bearing Drift or The Daily Press, do you feel you are preaching to the choir, meaning appealing primarily to conservatives, or do you hope to reach a wider range of people and influence them? Is that why you agreed to do The Daily Press gig?

Now that you mention it, your newspaper column career was pretty brief. I accepted The Daily Press gig because they asked. I love writing. I love entertaining. I couldn’t care less if I influence anyone, although if people are influenced by me, kudos to them. They’ve shown remarkable intellect. As far as preaching to the choir, every choir has its fair share of sinners. I’d write for The Washington Post if it meant I’d have legions of lefties ticked off at my spotlight on their silliness. If The Daily Press was really smart, they’d syndicate me. But some of their own scribes have dreams of being like me, so I doubt they’ll make the good business decision to do that and instead stay up late at night trying to be like me. And they’ll fail again.

Q: This past summer you criticized a fairly low-key editorial by The Virginian-Pilot noting the amount of energy consumed by the boxes people use to record television programs, even when said boxes are supposedly turned off. How do you get from that to “that’s the trouble with these liberal ninnies” and “I’m tired of these effete snobs telling free people what they should and shouldn’t do” and “I’m going to stick my carbon footprint up their tree-hugging butts”? It seems that you’re criticizing an editorial that ultimately suggests not regulation but moderation.

All The Pilot’s editorials are low-key, low-intellect and have low-readership. Criticizing them is like hunting in a private reserve. Easy! To your point, the first step to regulation is whining about moderation. First liberals tell you what they think you should do. Then when you don’t do it, they move to force you to do it anyway. Newspaper folk never criticize people who use tons of paper resulting in the loss of so many trees, do they? But they whine about electricity that powers their media competition. There are so many inconsistencies in the liberal’s management of everyone else’s lives that I think the clearest response is ‘mind your own freakin’ business.’ If I want to eat a cheeseburger while watching three TVs and surfing my laptop, go curl up in a corner with your tofu, bottled water and a book. I won’t bother you. Don’t bother me.

Q: In August you lauded the The Virginian-Pilot editorial page for being three “right three times in a row.” In retrospect, do you feel you should have put a little more backhand into that compliment?

Actually, I graded them on a curve. They were more ‘not wrong’ than they were ‘right,’ but it was so much better than their usual level of ‘so wrong that it’s silly to even address’ that I felt they needed some positive feedback. I am a uniter, ya know.

Q: A bit more seriously, could you talk a little about your day job and your passion for acting? People don’t usually just take up these activities/vocations or enter the political arena accidentally. There’s meaning to it for them. What is it you like about these forms of communication and self-expression? How do they inform your writing?

I love provoking emotional responses. Watch some old promos from Rowdy Roddy Piper and you’ll learn a great deal about me. I was a wrestling geek as a kid, and it amazed me to no end how a person could infuriate thousands of people so well that they’d buy tickets to see them get the tar beat out of them. Acting provides that in a big way, and so does political talk and writing. The real secret is not to act. Just be an amplified version of your reality. People who fake it won’t succeed. This is the real me at a high volume. That’s why it works.

Q: If Kaine continues to avoid your fine slogan, may I incorporate it into my “replacing U.S. Sen. Jim Webb” fan fiction? Still working out the plot, but it will be like a Gogol short story with anthropomorphic disembodied eyebrows battling a walking football metaphor. Working title — The Fourth & Long Follicle.

Just cite your source. But please publish it before my daughter has grandchildren.

Q: A number of interest groups have taken to asking candidates to sign pledges vowing that they will or won’t do this or that should they be elected to office. Is there any value to this? Though you are not running for anything, will you sign my pledge that affirms good government is a practice that is situational and may involve compromise?

Why don’t you say ‘all campaign promises are lies, and once I’m in office, I’ll do whatever the hell I want, and you’ll like it.’ Same thing as calling everything situational and compromising. Your way, we wouldn’t have any need for campaigns at all. Why bother if whatever they say is subject to change based on the situation? Your path would result in the downfall of the nation. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if politicians just told the truth and voters could actually believe them?

Q: How about the pledge to make the laws of math apply to shrimp per pound?

Just don’t tip idiots. Problem solved.

Q: We’ve covered so much ground here. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Just a few Piper quotes:

  • ‘Don’t throw rocks at a guy whose got a machine gun.’
  • ‘When you were young did your mommy and daddy place the swing too close to the wall?’
  • ‘Just when they think they got all the answers, I change the questions.’

Playing us out is Rowdy Roddy Piper, in two parts.

First: A heart to heart with Andre the Giant:

And now, from John Carpenter’s awesome They Live, the greatest cinematic fight ever (with Keith David!). Was Ralph Waldo Emerson predicting this fight scene when he wrote “there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning” in 1841?

Most assuredly.

Also, most assuredly, this is not safe for work due to rough language and just a wee bit of pummeling:

Put ’em on!

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XIII: Plan B sketch comedy and improv


NORFOLK, Va. — Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent a good bit of time speaking about writing and creating comedy with people who are a lot funnier than me. I have found this process to be both invigorating and humbling — like sex, but with a greater percentage of intentional laughs.

Today a few members of Plan B, a Hampton Roads sketch comedy and improv group, will be represented here in a Belligerent Q&A. I’m not going to lie to you — there is some adult language below, so be warned. Also, whatever they say, I still dig light rail.

Plan B this weekend presents The Big Show, an improv, sketch and multimedia comedy performance. The event is scheduled for 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 1, at Naro Expanded Cinema, 1507 Colley Ave., Norfolk.

You can find information at this Facebook link or call (757) 625-6276. Tickets are $10, or $15 for tickets and a shirt. There is surface lot parking behind the Naro between Spotswood and Shirley avenues and some nearby street parking.

Two Plan B members, Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson, also sat down with me recently for a long craft talk, which will run at a later date I totally will figure out like really soon and stuff. It’s quite the well oiled machine around here, let me tell you.

In addition to an upcoming show, the members of Plan B have names, such as Beatty Barnes, Brendan Hoyle, Nikki Hudgins, Garney Johnson, Kypros, Lauren Rodgers, Keven Schreiber, Jim Seward and Wilson.

I hope you’ll check them out.

And remember to take care of your feet. Also, the lower legs and ankles. What do I mean with the random foot care references? I’m setting up what the funny folk call a “call back.” Do you have to ruin everything, Imaginary Mom?

The following answers, unless otherwise noted, came from Kypros.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

  1. The White Buffalo
  2. The fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse
  3. Big Debbie (Little Debbie’s sister – the one that taught her all the recipes)

Q: What was Plan A? (Please don’t all of you say podiatry.)

Sorry to disappoint … Podiatry.

Q: Presumably, you let Hampton Roads Transit take a pass on the scripts for your light rail videos. What were some of their notes?

Rob here.

Of course we talked to HRT and they had some very insightful and funny notes on that script. In fact they actually wrote all of Jason’s dialogue. That’s why in that sketch my character sounds like a sensible human being and Jason’s sounds like a behind-schedule, over-budget murder machine that will never be allowed in Virginia Beach as long as white people with money have anything to say about it.

Q: For the future comedy writers in the readership, will you please enumerate a few of the catch phrases and setups to avoid?

Jim Seward here.

What are you kidding? Never avoid catchphrases and common setups! Look, the average audience member doesn’t understand intelligent humor. And they don’t know George Carlin from Carrot Top. Be as uncreative as possible so you can relate to as many people as possible. Never try to have an original thought; it’s doomed to fail. People love dick jokes. You can never go wrong with dick jokes. If you’re writing for a black comedian, make sure you talk about how uptight white people are; that always works. If you’re writing for a white comedian, mention how they have good credit, and then make a Hispanic slur and say ‘It doesn’t matter, they can’t hear me, they’re in the kitchen.’ If you’re writing for any other nationality/ethnicity, just have a story about how it was tough for their family to adjust to the United States and then have them talk in a funny accent as they mimic their parents. Gold, I tell you – sure fire gold!  Oh, and puppets. Always have them use puppets. Preferably puppets who can play a musical instrument. Then you can go for minutes and minutes without writing any comedy!

Q: Plan B – there can only be one. How and when will you fight the so-called Plan B Improv of Des Moines, Iowa?

This is Keven.

When? End of the corn harvest season. (Just to be courteous.) How? To the pain. I have a sweet black bandanna I can wear. And a broadsword. And I can speak with either a Scottish or English accent.

Q: Can we do a double bill? I will gladly fight character actor John Doucette, once considered the fastest draw in Hollywood. We’ll see if his reputation holds up, given his 1994 death.

No, we cannot. Although you are a wonderful journalist, I fear that even the cold dead hand of the late great John Doucette may prove to be too swift. (Actually we would love to do the double bill but Legal prevents us from it … we have a non compete clause with the NRA.)

Q: Why aren’t more comedies set at NASA?

Jim Seward here again.

Great question. There should be more comedies set at NASA. You could have the nerdy engineer, the sexy tour guide, the ne’er do well ex-astronaut who hits on all the ladies, the server in the cafeteria who’sa smartass to all the customers. Yep. And then there could be special guests who rotate in and out like the Love Boat – you know, each episode is a different shuttle crew or something. Then when ratings start getting lower, there could be a ‘very special episode’ where the shuttle crew is beloved by everyone and then at the end of the episode they launch and it blows up, and we pan across the faces of all our regular stars as we see the look of shock and horror on each of their faces. Except the smartass waitress. She just exclaims, ‘Eh, they weren’t very good tippers anyway.’ Remember, no tragedy is so bad that you can’t milk it for commercial purposes.

Q: So there’s Plan B and The Pushers and apparently some groups coming out of the classes over at The Muse Writers Center and then other day a guy at the bus station asked me for a topic and gave me two minutes on “directions to the can.” At what point does Hampton Roads reach its improv and sketch comedy saturation point? Should we make a rule – such as saturation is when we have a greater number of improv troupes than we do miles of light rail track?

I know that guy. He kills at The Funny Bone.

Q: When you say this show at the Naro is The Big Show, what are you getting at? How do you think it makes all the other shows feel?

  1. The size of the show.
  2. Skinny and cute.

Q: You comedy style is marked by a give and take between characters in conflict, sometimes portraying a battle between the earnest and the savvy, interlocking sides suddenly joined by circumstance in the congress of verbal and physical structures, mated in a deliriously dirty dance until reversals pile against reversals, recasting perspectives, erupting in a moment of truth, a single comedic beacon illuminating the dim bay of human understanding. What does that mean, what I just typed?

This is Keven.

It means we regularly rock faces off. It also means we should probably take a shower after doing dirty mating dances. Especially me. For obvious reasons.

Q: You are known, in part, for the marketing campaign behind Kypros Ouzo. I often enjoy ouzo in the privacy of a darkened bathroom, drinking it neat until the voices leave me alone with my shame. Do you have any other serving suggestions?

Yes.  Once, on the summit of Everest, after an arduous yet liberating climb.  I enjoyed a refreshing glass of Kypros Ouzo with Vladimir Putin, his mistress, and three of my favorite Sherpas. As we toasted to the success of the Internet, I thought back to my childhood in Cyprus. The look on my face made Vladimir weep.

Q: A bit more seriously – why do this? Why create something when there are so many other ways to spend one’s time? Where do you see the group going down the line?

Be passionate about something.  Always strive to create.  Give and expect nothing in return.

We are going to 7-Eleven to get a Big Bite and a Slurpee. Wanna join us?

Q: I hope you enjoyed that softball because here we go. Hoyle, you’re a maverick astronaut with daddy issues, a secret past as a Spaniard, and a love of the slow bolero. Wilson, you’re Hoyle’s much older copilot, but you haven’t cut a rug since that tragic night your old running buddy, Skinny Pete, bought it in a Wichita dance hall. Rodgers is the NASA administrator whose job is on the line unless this mission goes off. Kypros is the engineer who realizes that there’s only one way to get the Lazy Arabesque Rocket Program off the ground – and it doesn’t involve the traditional kind of exothermic chemical reactions he learned about in aerospace engineering school, but ballet d’action. Beatty Barnes Jr. is the skeptical congressman and Kypros’ former Harvard roommate who invented the Internet, thus inspiring Love Story. Everybody else is a space pirate. Let’s do this:

Rob Wilson will take this one. Yes, I am speaking in the third person. Yes, that IS a little pretentious. Okay here we go…

We open on a shot of Brendan doing the Macarena by himself in a dance studio with moody black and white, film noir style lighting a la  Robert Alton (look him up). He begins to do a Patrick Swayze (God rest his soul), slowly winding his hips as we do an extreme close up of his crotch.

FLASH and we are in a pool hall. Rob ‘mother[appreciating]’ Wilson (that’s me) rides through the double doors on a badass motorcycle and skids to a stop inches away from three hot ladies. They faint. He (I mean me) revives them and they are ‘appreciative’( they want to do it) ( sex I mean) ( at the same time) (somehow involving the motorcycle). They ask him (me) to dance. He breaks down crying (it’s really cool crying though).

FLASH Lauren is in a kitchen making eggs we pull out to reveal the starship Enterprise through her window. It blows up.

FLASH She wakes up. Rob Wilson is in bed beside her (still crying, but it’s sexy crying this time).

FLASH Jason is doing some smart shit (I only really understood like three words in his description).

FLASH Beatty is … Man I’m tired of this shit. I’m gonna go get a drink.

FLASH We all do a Bollywood dance number … even Rob Wilson but he (me) is crying (this time it’s heartfelt and humble ). Oh and the Space Pirates all have to walk the Space Plank. Rob Wilson doesn’t cry (well, okay, there is one tear like the Indian (feather) in that one recycling commercial).

Q: We’ve covered so much ground. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Flip-Flop!!!!!!!

Seward now holds this blog’s record for exclamation point deployment, with Kypros a close second on the strength of his last answer alone. Wilson was voted Miss Parenthetical. Schreiber, for using The Princess Bride as a referent, wins one free resuscitation from Billy Crystal and Carol Kane.

They already are working out their wordplay about how he spells his first name.

Thanks to all.

Again, Plan B is at the Naro Expanded Cinema this weekend.

A video for the road. The music will win you over:

Bonus fun fact: More than 4.1 million people “like” Slurpee’s Facebook page; in comparison, roughly 8,800 people “like” the National Endowment for the Arts. Sleep tight, my babies.

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A delegate and a poem, such as they are


NORFOLK, Va. — A federal judge in Richmond today sentenced former state Del. Phil Hamilton, who recently was convicted of bribery and extortion, to serve 9½ years in prison.

That sentence – meaning my lede, not Hamilton’s – is pretty much a total ripoff of Julian Walker’s opening line in The Virginian-Pilots online report. Homage, baby.

The other sentence – Hamilton’s, not my lede – is my cheap cue as a native Ocean Stater to inform Hamilton that he has a marvelous future at virtually any level of Rhode Island government. After all, my home state’s cookie jar has had more hands caught in it than, oh, let’s just let that thought end.

Walker reports:

The decision concludes this phase of a saga that dates to 2006, when prosecutors said Hamilton began soliciting a paid position through Old Dominion University with a teacher training program for which he helped secured $500,000 in state start-up funds the following year.

Hamilton, 59, was subsequently given a job with a $40,000 annual salary at ODU’s Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership, a title he held for about two years until after the arrangement was exposed by The Virginian-Pilot.

He wasn’t taken into custody after the hearing, but must surrender to federal authorities by Sept. 19 to begin his sentence. His attorney said Hamilton will appeal the verdict.

So. The saga has another phase. Still, the Imaginary Board of Trustees has granted me permission to borrow the key to the Wayback Machine. Quite a fuss went up among the imaginary trustees when I invoked the timeliness clause. So the Wayback Machine is fired up, and we can revisit my terrible “poem” about Hamilton’s slippery dealing with a very fine public university where I just happen to attend grad school. Let’s travel together, way back to … May 2011.

Ahem:

‘Quid Pro Oh No (Revised)’

A delegate tried to secure secured funding

for a state university

with a string attached

and unlike the assembly

that bestows such funds

it wasn’t general at all – no! –

the string was specific,

tied to the assemblyman himself,

job hunting, job getting

in a ‘corrupt arrangement,’

federal prosecutors allege

prosecutors argued in court

with conviction enough

for enough of a conviction,

and so a federal court judge

named Henry E. Hudson,

whose initials are HEH,

was resigned to give the gift

that otherwise grows more elusive

as mortal men give it chase,

‘the toughest decision I’ve made

in my 13 years as a judge,’

this gift, the hardest time itself.

I promise I will have no reason to repost this “poem” for another 9½ years. That is a mere 8.6868 years for my friends who use the metric system. Respect to the math.

Exceptions:

  1. I’ll return to this bit earlier, perhaps, with good behavior.
  2. And what if the promised appeal goes forward, and perchance succeeds? We are nothing if not the sum of our revisions.

Back by popular demand, here is a pointless link to the post you just read.

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Updated: New play by Core Theatre Ensemble debuts tonight at The Venue on 35th


NORFOLK, Va. — Core Theatre Ensemble’s new play YOU VS., billed as an exploration of communication and truths in a time of “constant social interaction,” debuts tonight at The Venue on 35th.

Via email, Core co-founder Edwin Castillo has this to say about the new play:

On our new show YOU VS., it’s the feel-good theatrical event of the summer that blends the best parts of Heidi and the worse parts of The Wild Bunch with a little bit of Song of the South mixed in.

Not really.

It is a bit of a departure from our darker works such as The Poe Project and The Yellow Wallpaper. Conceptually we’ve taken text from several different websites – including Ehow.com, Craigslist, Old Dominion University’s homepage, McDonald’s homepage, etc. – as well as classic TV commercials, personal ads from The Village Voice, and other sources, and created a show that tries to find the meaning of life.  YOU Vs. is about figuring out who we listen to and what we believe in throughout our lives.

And its pretty funny.

I haven’t seen as much theater as I’d like recently, in part due to having young kids, but Core’s adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the best productions I’ve seen around here.

The new play’s run, part of Norfolk Summer Play Fest 2011, is from tonight to Aug. 13. Shows are at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, at The Venue on 35th, 631 35th St., Norfolk, Va. Reservations at (757) 469-0337. Tickets are $12. There’s limited seating. Usually there is plenty of unmetered street parking near The Venue.

For more information on Core, visit their site.

• • • • • • • • • • •

Aug. 5, 9:15 p.m. — I saw the play on opening night, and recommend it.

It’s certainly funny, and it features many of the strengths of The Yellow Wallpaper, which I loved: Core’s focus on disciplined, purposeful, focused movement, and writing that builds toward a series of understandings and payoffs.

Good show, and only a few left to see. At least for now.

Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to talk with Core about this show and their upcoming project in the near future.

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A little music for your Independence Day


Here’s hoping your Independence Day is healthy, happy, and safe.

And that we remember those who are serving us at home and abroad.

And maybe sing a little, too.

Thanks to a few folks who lent their talents to this video.

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Fortune Cookie of the Damned, Vol. III: Day of Judgment


Judgment comes tomorrow. With coffee.

First, the winners of the 2011 Fortune Cookie of the Damned Fortune Writing Contest will be announced tomorrow here at the blog.

Second, the exhibit of entries will be up tomorrow night at Kerouac Cafe, and anyone who is available can gather at 8 p.m. to gaze upon them.

They’ll stay up for a week. Again, the gathering is at 8 p.m. Friday, July 1, at Kerouac Cafe, 617 W. 35th St., Norfolk. Free admission. Coffee, tea, lattes, iced drinks, and possibly some eats will be available for purchase.

Donations, discounts, and/or other considerations for the prizes were made by Prince Books, Naro Expanded Video, Kerouac Cafe, Local Heroes, Mike D’Orso, and Earl Swift. Thanks, you guys.

And thanks to all fortune cookie fortune writers, wherever you are.

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