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7/1/2004

Happytown > Happytown

Don Howard and US Express

 

Our happy town is infused with a maddening puritanical streak. Here in the land of the mouse, we breathe an unhealthy atmosphere of religiosity and moralism. Orlandoans are, to be blunt, prudes.

Need proof? Look no further than the case of Don Howard. Howard is a septuagenarian Winter Park artist who creates Mayan-influenced wood carvings. Earlier this month, he had an exhibit of his work in the Bank of America located near the intersection of Red Bug Lake Road and State Road 436. All was peachy until a customer – one customer – complained, says Don's wife Joanne Howard.

"He said, 'I am a Christian. That artwork is satanic. It offends me. It is Mayan,'" Joanne recalls.

We're not art majors, but labeling a sculpture of a Mayan face on a blue background "satanic" seems a stretch. If the thing had horns or cloven hooves, maybe, but a mask?

Granted, not everyone who finds Satan hanging on the walls of the local bank realizes that Mayan culture predates Christianity and its notion of heaven and hell, so we'll give this particular Church Man a break. Nonetheless, when an institution caves because one ignoramus finds offense in a piece of art, can the total and complete suppression of artistic expression be far behind?

We called Bank of America manager Misty Clements for a comment. She told us she'd have to refer our questions to the bank's media department. We never heard back.

We nearly fell into the gaping chasm that is the Happytown™ mailbox upon reading the news that our favorite Sentinel side project – US/Express – was getting a format change.

There we were, addicted to the direct-mail drivel, quietly admiring blurry stock photos of Kate Hudson, quietly wondering how they got our address and always minding our own knee-jerk business, when all of the sudden a bright red (and blurry) teaser bar shot out across the masthead promising that "in one week, US/Express will become Sentinel Express. Local news and more local advertising." So, we stomped around Happytown™ HQ breaking file cabinets and liquor bottles until we got the nerve to give the Sentinel a "what gives?" call.

"Uh, I dunno," offered the circulation clerk, blankly. A liaison to a higher-up did call us back, but only to inform us that everybody at the Sentinel was "on vacation."

We don't get vacations, and we actually have to write our stories. Anyway, seems that some of the more innocuous local fare and a few columns are going to be overtaking the latest Olsen twins gossip we came to depend on the US/Express for, making the tabloid/ad rag even less interesting.

Question: How do you ruin a perfectly good shopper?

Answer: Make it a Sentinel product!

We wanted to blow off some steam on a Saturday afternoon, maybe explore some of the innumerable shopping and entertainment options blowing up along the downtown corridor; but, to our surprise, we were sucked into a throng of damp homosexuals!

The annual Pride Parade came in like a lion, with a hair-threatening torrential downpour, which didn't in any way sully the "We're here, we're queer, you're already used to it" sentiment resounding throughout. As usual, Orlando's gay parade was more depressing than liberating, featuring a hodgepodge of pickup trucks and puppies, without a hint of the glam-drag production values you'd find in some cities half our size.

But übergay city commissioner Patty Sheehan was there, sporting a show-stealing leather vest and matching Tina-of-Finland leather cap. And while her eyes told a story of three libations too many, her smile was more than enough to hide them. Turns out the parade was cut in half this year because of some mix-up with the Church Street posse, and things stopped awkwardly at Wall Street, which isn't really a street. The Wall Street folk were already prepared with a stage and blockades, ready to squeeze gay dollars out of gay people. And we'd be remiss if we didn't think it was all a big pink conspiracy, but only because we like big pink conspiracies.

What is the sound of 5,000 librarians clapping? Unsurprisingly, it's not too loud. Approaching Meeting Hall D in the glacial cavern of the Orange County Convention Center, we thought we must (still) be in the wrong wing; surely the sound of Richard Clarke preaching to the choir of the American Library Association at the kickoff of their annual conference would carry into the empty hallway.

But no, there they were, seated politely in tidy rows of chairs, a neat line of overflow attendees sitting on the floor. The former counter-terrorism czar did get them to clap in rally-style rhythm, though, when he quoted the oath all government officials take: "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The "silence, please" motif was consistent with the underreported fact that the ALA is one of the very few organizations that have stood up to the Bush administration's USA PATRIOT Act, challenging the Constitutionality of its usurpation of privacy with regard to citizens' library records. While Internet service providers and phone companies rolled over, the ALA has gone to court to defend our right to check out whatever liberal garbage we like, and Happytown™ admires the hell out of them for it. "In my history of fighting terrorism, I never have heard of any reason to go looking for library records," said Clarke. "We need a well-informed citizenry, and you play a key role in that."

Too bad no one's bothered to inform the general public of it.

Since it's become part of Happytown™'s mission to weigh the success of pro-John Kerry house parties, it makes us, well, happy™ to record a momentary upswing. Efficient electronic communication brought about 65 supporters to a private residence in College Park last Saturday for a meet-up/fund-raiser that contributed approximately $850 to the presumptive Democratic nominee's war chest. The highlight was a conference call with Kerry himself: Speaking via cross-national hookup, the candidate gave a brief stump speech that was typically solemn yet covered an impressive variety of talking points. (A shout-out to the importance of stem-cell research was particularly appreciated.) Answering a handful of questions from callers – softball specials, mostly – allowed Kerry to further motivate the troops, even though no one at our party was able to take part.

Yet in the many minutes we spent waiting for the conference call to go through, we were able to identify a Kerry weakness not even FOX has stumbled upon: The campaign's hold music is the pits. Callers are forced to listen to some lame-ass approximation of a Sousa march – which, as filtered through the tinny speakers of a table full of cell phones pushed to their limit, more closely resembled the theme music to an old Republic Pictures serial. ("Chapter 10: The Mechanical Menace!")

A good number of folks at the party had just seen Fahrenheit 9/11, so we were able to secure substantial support for our suggested replacement tune: "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor."

At Orlando Weekly in general, and Happytown™ in particular, we are mild, gentle, unassuming souls. We work hard, collect our paychecks, put our pants on one leg at a time, spend our Fridays at the bar, our Saturdays at foam parties and our Sundays in church, just like the rest of you. So it isn't often that you will hear us bragging about our accomplishments. It's just not our style.

Consider this the exception.

We're proud to announce that Orlando Weekly flat cleaned house at the ninth annual Association of Alternative Newsweekly Awards in San Antonio June 25, gathering three first-place trophies, one second place and one honorable mention. It was an astonishing display of journalistic prowess that left the judges floored, says Weekly editor Bob Whitby. "Not even the venerable Village Voice could put a glove on our performance," says Whitby.

The Weekly won first place in the religion writing category for staff writer Jeffrey C. Billman's look at Exodus International, a local group that claims success helping gays go straight with a dose of the Good Book. Freelance illustrator Joe Bluhm picked up a first place for his caricature of Donald Rumsfeld that ran on the cover of the Weekly March 13, 2003; and Whitby won a first-place award in the political commentary category for a series of Slug columns.

The second-place award came in the investigative reporting category for a Sept. 25 story Billman wrote about shady business practices at pest-control giant Orkin. Billman's reporting led the state to open a RICO investigation into the company [see page 11 in this issue for an update].

The honorable mention, in the media reporting category, also went to Billman for a series of columns on the Orlando Sentinel sending scabs to Baltimore to help break a strike at sister Tribune Company newspaper The Baltimore Sun.

SEMI-REGULAR FEATURE:
WHO, WHAT, HOW and WHY:
ASK IAN THE I.T. GUY!

Q: Is it true that it ain't over until your brother counts the votes? Meaning, do you think W. will win again?

A. Bush has positioned himself well. Last time he needed his brother to count the votes. But this time he's got a technological solution – electronic voting. The largest company making the black box ballot-tampering dream machines is ES&S; Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was chairman and CEO of the company while it built machines that counted his votes. Wally O'Dell, CEO of Diebold, has raised more than $100,000 for the Bush campaign, and famously promised to deliver Ohio's votes to Bush in November. Vote tampering should be easy enough – the specs I've seen call for an unencrypted Microsoft Access database to store the votes on the terminal, and there are no paper ballots to confirm any audit that may be performed. Just goes to show, you don't need good ideas or popular support to be president these days; just exploit people's ignorance about computers. Same way I got this job.

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