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12/21/2006

News

CHEAP SHOTS
Our annual tribute to the worst people, places and things in Central Florida

 

Once again we find ourselves at the end of another year, and once again we find ourselves in need of a good purge. Though it may have started out on the right foot – at least we think it did, we were hung over that day – 2006 turned out to be as chockablock with scumbags, scams, corruption, jerks and downright nastiness as any year in recent memory. Which is a good thing, because it gives us something to write about.

It also gives us something to hope for. See, each year we compile this ignominious list as a way to vent, to let out the bad air and breathe in the good. And each year we do so in the hope that the following year we won’t have as much to get angry about. That hasn’t happened yet, but hope springs eternal.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, we present Cheap Shots 2006. Try not to piss us off so much next year, OK?

Thank you, Jesus, for the glorious opportunities to give Mat Staver and the Longwood-based Liberty Counsel a Cheap Shot: for their pinch-faced Christmas “naughty and nice” list and their thinly veiled hatred of gays, public education and anything that doesn’t advance the notion that America should be a theocracy.

One incident last year stands out as truly blessed, however; that of Justin Watt. In late 2005, Watt came across a photo of Exodus International’s infamous “Gay? Unhappy?” billboard on Orange Blossom Trail. He thought the message was ugly and intolerant, so he whipped up a little parody that read “Straight? Unhappy?” and stuck it on his blog. A few months later, Exodus found the parody, went ballistic and called in Staver, their big legal gun. He tried to scare Watt with a bunch of legal-sounding crapola about copyright infringement and fair use. What it really boiled down to was that Exodus didn’t like being made sport of.

But Watt didn’t cave. Instead he contacted the ACLU, which found a lawyer to put a legal smackdown on Staver, schooling him on the First Amendment in the process. Funny thing is, Staver claims on the LC website to be a big advocate of free speech. Apparently that only applies to speech he agrees with.

And speaking of Jesus, a Cheap Shot of Biblical proportions goes to the Holy Land Experience for screwing the God-fearing taxpayers of Orange County out of more than $1 million in back taxes by getting Gov. Jeb Bush to declare the theme park a “ministry” in June, and therefore tax-exempt. It’s a ministry you have to “donate” $30 bucks to at the gate or you don’t get in, but hey, this is Florida. Money talks. In fact, it took $30,000 in lobbying fees from Holy Land elders to convince Jeb and the Legislature of the Holy Land’s righteous mission. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

While we’re at it, let’s bestow the first-ever anti-Cheap Shot (Expensive Shot?) on Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan, who tried like heck to get the Holy Land to pay their fair share. He finally gave up the crusade when the Legislature wrote a law just for the theme park — we’re not on the take, it’s still a theme park to us — but damned if Donegan didn’t give it a good effort. Thanks for sticking up for the taxpayers, Bill!

But we have one nagging question: If the Holy Land is doing the Lord’s work, why is God letting it go broke?

It’s almost a done deal and we didn’t think it would happen, but it did: The Orlando Performing Arts Center is probably going to be built, right across from City Hall. In this time of rage we think one thing should be made very, very clear to all who will no doubt be wondering in several years why we ever wanted to gamble so much money in such an uncertain economy: The public did not decide to build this high-dollar venue. No matter the charts and graphs detailing the community desire, a proposition to build OPAC was never put to a popular vote, and that’s because it would have been shot down. Don’t let your city or county leaders tell you otherwise. A couple of half-assed straw polls were collected at political events, and a smattering of phone calls were made, asking citizens questions like, “Would you like to plant your butt in a cushy seat and watch some fancy entertainment?” But the fact is you never had any input on this at all.

Here’s a solid Cheap Shot to the slick OPAC committee for having the chutzpah to call this a project the people have been clamoring for.

If the Downtown Arts District’s CityArts Factory is to be taken as any kind of indication of just what ramshackle numb-browedness this whole downtown facelift is going to be, then we’d rather take a Cheap Shot of Botox to the temple and sip straight from the Grey Goose bottle at home.

Opened in April with much hullabaloo (“Places like the CityArts Factory represent new educational opportunities where children and adults alike can experience arts and culture, and create lifelong memories of going to events with friends and family,” Mayor Buddy Dyer blathered at the time), the crumbling behemoth (shabby chic?) has grown into a catchall for fashion-free fashion and artless art. Gone are the days of surprise culture emanating from the purple-haired street urchins outside Go Lounge. Now the street urchins serve appetizers to the drunk and wealthy at CityArts Factory. Punk rock bartender, can we have another cheap shot?

A bare-knuckled Cheap Shot to the wide-open posteriors of Anti-Pop Festival headliners She Wants Revenge. The too-old-to-take-themselves-that-seriously 30-somethings pulled into town with borrowed chips on their Ian Curtis shoulders and set about a joyless division of reality and fantasy. Following a scathing piece in this paper Nov. 9 in which Adam 12 (né Bravin) declared, “We really don’t care what anybody says,” the band threatened to pull its own plug if somebody didn’t tear down all the Orlando Weekly banners from the walls of the Club at Firestone. In the interest of taste, we really shouldn’t have obliged. But the banners came down and the band promised that they were going to send a letter of grievance our way, toot sweet. We’re still waiting, twatwaffles.

One bargain-bin sucker punch begets another, so in the interest of fairness, a surprise Cheap Shot goes to Real Radio 104.1 Monster in the Morning (and assailant in the evening) Blackbean, or in civil circles, Carlos Navarro. The flatulent protein source crashed the stage of former station compadre (and now O-Rock competing talking head) Drew Garabo last St. Patrick’s Day at the latter’s station street party. Garabo insists that he did nothing to provoke the Bean; the Bean just got out of hand, landing his clenched hand first on Garabo’s soon-to-be-broken nose, and then on the back of his head when he was on the floor. In November, Navarro pled “no contest” to the charge and landed 200 hours of community service, a $2,000 fine and a court-mandated spot on the wagon.

Now, it isn’t unlike any of the Monsters to publicly sprain their necks licking their own collective scrotums — that’s what they get paid to do — but by most accounts, Navarro was supposed to be the nicest and smartest of the mob. Here’s hoping this Cheap Shot is followed by a nice, sobering bottle of water.

It comes down to that nasal derision that squeaks from the back of her throat, mostly; for that alone, Orlando Sentinel editorial page editor Jane Healy deserves a back-alley Cheap Shot. Healy’s blond television makeover — the one she shares with Scott Harris on Central Florida News 13’s For the Record weekly roundtable, a perpetually unbearable circle jerk — isn’t working. Some say the newsroom cheered when Tim Franklin removed Healy from the managing editor’s position in 2001 (placing her in a cupboard, where she could only unnerve the editorial board), and we can only imagine. Witnessing Healy in an ed board mahogany-table meeting is like being in the presence of a deflating tire. She did win a Pulitzer for her writing back in 1988, but that laurel is a dead twig 18 years later. For the record, Ms. Healy, this is a Cheap Shot.

The city of Orlando and everyone in it — present company excluded, of course — gets a Cheap Shot for being so consistently and persistently mean to the homeless. (You citizens get the nod because you let your public officials get away it.) From our notorious blue-box panhandling zones to laws against where you can and can’t lie down, it seems Orlando officials spend an awful lot of public time figuring out how to keep the less fortunate from cluttering up the place. If only they were half as creative in solving the problem.

The city council may have finally topped itself in 2006, however. In the summer, that esteemed body crafted a law against feeding homeless people in downtown parks. They did a sloppy job of it; Orlando Food Not Bombs has found so many loopholes and arguments that the city may never be able to close them all. Still, the idea that the destitute can’t get a weekly meal in a convenient public place reeks of insensitivity. But the city wasn’t done yet. In November it went on the offensive and sent cops and city workers to bodily remove people camping out under a downtown overpass. If the people weren’t there at the time to cart off their worldly belongings, tough shit; the city threw their stuff in a truck and dumped it all. Nice.

Many an inky tear was shed in this rag regarding the August closing of Will’s on Mills. In fact, at one point, we thought we had gone a little overboard. A rock club is a rock club, right? Turns out, our first instinct was right. It’s only been four months since that sentimental month of last-time-ever shows, and we are positively aching for Will’s Pub. At first, we went about our merry way, convincing ourselves that it wasn’t a big deal and that seeing shows in those other venues was just fine. That lasted about a week. It wasn’t just fine.

When news came about the pending re-opening of the joint on Colonial — now rumored to be February, but it is Will’s we’re talking about — we were once again reminded of our sorrow. While we wait, we’ll momentarily pause from crying in our beer in the 7-Eleven parking lot long enough to gut-punch Will Walker with a Cheap Shot, just to remind him that he’d better hurry up.

We got mad at DMAC in July for closing. Some people thought we got mad at DMAC for not telling us they were closing in a sentence remotely approaching “unequivocal.” Though that bugged our journalistic sensibilities, we were far more pissed at the fact that we lost an art-house cinema in downtown Orlando. All the potential DMAC represented — an oasis of artistic independence in what is fast becoming a vertical suburbia — excited us so much that we were willing to overlook the executive weirdness that ultimately doomed it.

Even though it’s been five months since they furtively closed their doors, we’re still mad at DMAC for closing, so we’re lobbing a Cheap Shot toward the empty building.

We had a gigantic problem with the April 7 opening of the Expedition Everest ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Namely that the coaster was completely un-disappointing. We keep waiting for Disney to embark upon some massively expensive, world-class fuckup, but whether it’s the kid-killing Mission: Space at Epcot or this Himalayan-themed pulse-racer, those “Imagineers” tend to know what they’re doing. So, why a Cheap Shot? The turnstile-straining effect of this spectacular coaster means more minivans full of tourists blocking our way to the entrance … at least until someone dies on it.

On March 26, The New York Times ran a story called “Orlando for Adults.” It featured author Charles Passy taking a walk around Lake Eola, visiting the Orange County History Center, eating at Dexter’s and marveling at the fact that non-animatronic people from Asia live here. He proclaimed, to the surprise of none of the two million residents of metro Orlando, that it’s possible to visit our city and stay “as far away as possible from anything resembling a roller coaster or a themed restaurant.” Great journalism there. (And yes, we certainly are jealous of the fact that he got to stay in the Ritz-Carlton.)

This bit of uninsightful insight would have been bad enough if it weren’t for another story the Times picked up on April 1. This one was an Associated Press piece about the little pigeon-shit problem we had (have?) down at Lake Eola. One week, we’ve got the Grey Lady damning us with faint praise; the next, she’s running the word “poopstorm” in reference to our town. Hey, Sulzberger: We were down with your whole liberal media conspiracy, but now you can take this Cheap Shot and go sit under a pigeon.

So you’re trying to figure out what to do with your night. You flip through the calendar listings — perhaps in this very paper — and are flabbergasted to see that Jim O’Rourke is playing for only $5! Wow! The semi-official fifth member of Sonic Youth; the reclusive musical genius responsible for hipping up Wilco; the man who’s collaborated with everyone from Faust to Derek Bailey, the Jesus Lizard to the Red Krayola, Anthony Braxton to Guided by Voices? Seems like maybe they would charge more and maybe there would be more publicity, but hey, O’Rourke’s not everybody’s cup of tea; it’s not totally implausible.

But when you get there, it’s just a guy and his stuck-on-three-chords guitar who HAPPENS to have the same name as the Chicago avant-garde composer. Sucks, right? Well, this scenario has occurred untold numbers of times. For years, adoring cadres of ChicagO’Rourke fans have been making pilgrimages to downtown Orlando to catch these improbably underpublicized shows. That’s OK if the car came in from, say, UCF, but the stories of crestfallen young avant/indie fans from Jacksonville, Tampa, Gainesville, and the like getting a hard lesson in unguarded optimism go all the way back to $1 concerts at Yab Yum. Witnesses report mirth on the part of open-mic omnipresence OrlandO’Rourke as he orders another beer with the ill-gotten windfall. This Cheap Shot’s on you, suckers.

And the Cheap Shot for biggest baby of the year goes to … envelope please … Juan Lynum!

Back in May, Lynum was stopped while driving mommy’s (Orlando city commissioner Daisy Lynum) car through Parramore at almost 1 a.m. with a burned-out headlight. Let’s see, early morning, burned-out headlight, known drug-trafficking area; yes, there’s only one possible conclusion: racial profiling. The cop was white, Juan is black. What more do you need to know?

After being stopped, Juan, 31 at the time, was on his cell phone to mom faster than you can say “Oedipus Rex,” trying to squirm his way out of a ticket. He called mommy, mommy called her aide (who happens to be a cop), the aide called the cop who made the stop and presto!, the ticket didn’t get written.

But this story of relatives in high places has a sad ending for little Juanie. A supervisor reviewing the stop ordered the ticket to be written. True to form, Juanie bellyached some more, and even demanded an investigation. Guess what? The cop was cleared.

A Cheap (rim) Shot to Darko Milicic, the Orlando Magic’s 7-foot center who can barely dunk. When the Pistons drafted him three years ago, everyone had big expectations for the big man from Serbia. But he’s flopped in the NBA, and isn’t close to earning the $4.1 million the Orlando Magic are paying him this season; he’s averaging a whopping eight points a game.

There’s a reason the Magic didn’t re-sign Darko to a contract extension in October, instead sending him to restricted free agency: They’re not convinced he’s worth all of that cash, either. He hasn’t proven himself, he’s too soft, and if the Magic expect to make it out of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, Darko is going to have to grow some balls or take a hike.

In Florida’s economy, tourists equal good. Imagine the panic that set in when third-quarter reports released in late November showed that the state’s number of visitors during July through September was 20.7 million, down by 2.4 percent for the same quarter last year. Less tourists equals bad. Fear of hurricanes played its part in the ongoing drama, but the pressing factor, say experts at Visit Florida, our official tourism marketing group, is that we’re not spending enough money on advertising. Florida spends about $10.8 million a year on advertising, while Las Vegas is spending upward of $45 million, including flashy TV commercials. In fixing its competitive strategy, Visit Florida earns a Cheap Shot for deciding that more money needs to be pulled from public pockets to dolly up this old sow and sell her at market.

In a blundering round of heavily publicized pass interference, developer Marc Watson managed to turn the seemingly seamless boosterism of Orlando’s downtown redevelopment trifecta into acrimonious soup. His announced intentions to propose an events center adjacent to the Orange County Convention Center — thus negating the need for a new downtown arena for the Orlando Magic — may have expedited the $1.1 billion “We’re doing them all, we’re doing them now, we’re doing them right!” chant-and-sign, but it also pitted county leaders against city leaders and threatened to blow the whole thing out of the blue-dyed water. Fortunately, Watson’s presentation never made it to the table, but for being an unnecessary cog, he deserves a Cheap Shot.

Angry? We’re laughing. Ha ha. See? In September, Men’s Health magazine trotted out a “scientific” survey that revealed that Orlando is the “angriest” city in the country. On what criteria was this call made? The blood pressure of men, our murder rate and some hoodoo about traffic. A well-deserved Cheap Shot award to those man-obsessed liars.

At first we thought the decree was funny. Then we passed into the denial stage. How could this be? We never lose our cars in snow drifts. Then we started to face the facts and found the root of our resentment: How could the anger status of a whole city rest on a sampling of men’s blood pressures? According to CityRating.com, Orlando’s population breaks down into 49.22 percent male and 50.78 percent female. And everyone knows that about half of that male 49 percent is gay.

It’s a good thing that the city of Winter Park has invested in a national public art experiment, agreeing to use Central Park as an outdoor venue for a touring exhibition of oversized sculptures by renowned artists. Art on the Green is the official name for the collection backed by substantial private donations. The downside is that one of the seven sculptures — a gigantic aluminum assemblage titled “The Hot Dog Vendor” — sits on the busy corner of Morse Boulevard and Park Avenue, looking frighteningly out of place. While the six other much more esoteric pieces fit Winter Park sensibilities, this gaudy, bawdy, cartoony contraption is far better suited to Coney Island (or Disney World), and it raised eyebrows and concerns well before its arrival. Still, even in the name of art that’s curated by a highfalutin New Yorker, the sight of a porky hot-dog vendor and two customers — one a buxom blonde wearing boots with chains and another a pinkish-skinned old-pervert type — deserves a Cheap Shot, even as it squarely socks the upturned noses of the Winter Park elite.

Wesley Snipes can still make the news. Just when you thought the 44-year-old actor was washed up, splash, he’s right back in the limelight. But of course, this time it’s for spending the past six years dodging income taxes and thinking nobody would notice. The Jones High School alum might not have received the best education locally, but he brought all of this attention upon himself by asking for a $12 million tax refund from the government. Even Jones High grads know it’s best just to keep your mouth shut. Cheap Shot to you, Wes, for being a dumbass.

We all know not to trust politicians, but it’s still surprising how blatantly U.S. Rep. Ric Keller is reversing a pledge not to seek a fifth term. Forget about ethics, or even keeping a promise. It was just six years ago that he signed a term-limit pledge and gave his word that eight was enough. But only two weeks after beating Democrat Charlie Stuart, Keller announced he’s seeking a fifth term. Here’s hoping this bit of blatant hypocrisy costs Keller his job next time out. And here’s a Cheap Shot just in case.

So it’s official. Radio blabbermouth/sleaze-ball consultant Doug Guetzloe is the lard-assed sun around which this city’s political moon orbits. And for that he roundly deserves, and therefore gets, a Cheap Shot. (And he got one from a judge, too, in the form of a 60-day jail sentence).

Guetzloe was convicted in November of sending out a dirty campaign mailer without a required disclaimer. In itself, that’s small potatoes. Combined with all the other insinuations that have floated around Guetzloe for years — namely, that his opinion is for sale to the highest bidder — this is a wonderful comeuppance. And the thrashing he’s taken from the Orlando Sentinel for taking money from agencies and companies he rails against — the Orlando Magic and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority — has been equally satisfying to watch. Welcome to the scrap heap, Doug.

A double-barreled bitch slap to Allan Keen, the chairman of the Expressway Authority, who, um, “hired” Guetzloe to write a two-page report that said nothing and paid him more than $107,000 — of your toll dollars — to do it. Of course, this had nothing to do with the fact that Guetzloe was assisting Winter Park politicians friendly to a private development deal Keen was partnered in. Nothing at all. So let’s review the possibilities. Either Keen routed public dollars to a political consultant to help him seal a development project, or he thought Guetzloe had enough clout to warrant buying off his opposition to toll increases, or he honestly believed Guetzloe’s amateurish two-page report was a legitimate use of your money. Take your pick: Corrupt, naive or stupid. Any way you slice it, a well-earned Cheap Shot.

We could forgive former state Rep. Sheri McInvale for switching parties when it looked like she was going to lose her Democratic primary earlier this year. We could even forgive her for running attack ads against Scott Randolph (who beat her in the general election like a red-headed stepchild). After all, that’s what desperate incumbents do when the polls look bad. But we can’t forgive gay-bashing — from an ostensibly gay-friendly politician — for pure political gain. McInvale can talk all she wants about allowing the homos to foster children, but when she sent out a mailer that plainly suggested Randolph wants taxpayers to pay for sex-change operations and health benefits for those AIDS-riddled queers, she crossed the line. And then she had the gall to label Randolph immature. A rearview-mirror Cheap Shot to you, McInvale.

Perhaps Vicki Vargo doesn’t deserve a Cheap Shot. Maybe she deserves an award instead. Like, say, The Worst Politician Ever Award™. A few weeks before the former Orlando city commissioner got whupped by Robert Stuart in March, she put up a website, www.recklessrobertstuart.com, accusing Stuart of taking food from the mouths of hungry children. The basis for her claim? Stuart, who runs a nonprofit that helps the homeless, accidentally sent two campaign-related e-mails from his nonprofit’s server. Yeah, he sure screwed those kids, didn’t he?

Oh, please save us, Nancy Grace. We Floridians are too stupid to solve our own crimes, so we need your gravelly-throated, tenacious genius. See, when a little boy goes missing, it’s you who practically issues a fatwa against the kid’s mother, and then runs the interview after she kills herself. It’s you who can’t wait to poke your head in front of the local cameras anytime there’s a whisper of a new development involving Trenton Duckett’s disappearance. And, if Trenton’s one day found, credit will surely be due to you and CNN Headline News, which runs your ball-busting program.

Umm, no. Say Melinda Duckett played a role in her son’s disappearance: All you did by pushing the 21-year-old over the edge was erect a speed bump in the cops’ way. Anything for ratings, huh? A Cheap Shot to you, bottom-feeder.

What were they thinking? Someone over at the Bach Festival Society must be going through a rough patch in a relationship and hitting the self-help books hard. But there’s still no excuse for this year’s choral program titled “Women Are From Venus and Men Are From Mars.” (We should note that by all accounts the concert was great.) This takeoff on the 1951 book that spawned a million couples-counseling spats is the kind of dumbed-down spoon-feeding prevalent in so much cultural programming: as though attendees can’t appreciate “serious” music without being cajoled into it. According to the Bach Festival Society, their annual festival is “one of the longest continuously operating festivals in the United States,” now in its 72nd year. How long have they been this self-consciously silly? A word to the wise — anyone looking forward to hearing Bruckner’s epic sacred choral work “Te Deum” isn’t looking for cutesy.

We may not have former Orlando city councilman Ernest Page to kick around anymore, but we can still get in a parting Cheap Shot before Page passes ignominiously into history.

Page is staring at up to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty in September of bribery and receiving unlawful compensation for an official action. He threatened to kill a development deal unless he was cut in on it, and he was stupid enough to do it via e-mail and voice mail. Page sought recourse in the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels: He played the race card. Trouble is it’s hard to make that case when it’s your voice on the line declaring a development “dead” unless you get your snout in the trough. Nice try, Ernie. You fooled us once, back in the ’80s when you were convicted of grand theft, and later had your rights restored. Shame on you. If you had fooled us twice, shame on us. Glad it didn’t happen.

John Cougar didn’t feel our pain when he recorded his anthem of fetishized nostalgia, “Pink Houses.” A big two-tone Cheap Shot goes out to Washburn Imports, who overturned years of direction-giving tradition when they purchased Flo’s Attic, aka “that big pink building on Orange Avenue,” and gave it a putrid paint job. Formerly a peculiar shade of Pepto that made it a local landmark, the building is now Darth Vader black with a garish orange-red upper story. Now how are we going to give our out-of-town stoner buddies directions to Rock & Roll Heaven? (And can we also question the wisdom of painting an entire building black in Florida? Judging by the heat radiating off the building after the paint job was finished in September, the air-conditioning bills are going to be considerably more painful than any Cheap Shot.)

It’s always easy to take a Cheap Shot at Orange County government, and it feels a little extra-cheap to take a jab at the people who try valiantly to make our heaving sprawl-tropolis a little more bearable. But did we really need to expand the perfect 3.5 miles of the Cady Way Trail? Even more to the point: Did it need to be expanded over Semoran Boulevard en route to … Oviedo? What sort of masochist climbs onto their bike at Fashion Square Mall intending to cycle to Oviedo? (Hell, who climbs into his car intending to drive to Oviedo?)

OK, this one hurts us more than it hurts them, but it has to be said: WPRK, please, please pull your act together. We love you, but y’all are asleep at the wheel over there. What the hell happened to your fund-raising marathon? The first one featured a weeklong sleep-dep stunt that gained you national attention and a cash windfall. The year after that, your thank-you to all your new subscribers was four days of amazing local content: almost 50 bands and live interviews with guests ranging from Taylor Hanson to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to a real-time check-in with an American soldier in Iraq. And this year, we got … trivia? WTF?

Not only was it a weak idea, the execution was so poor it was impossible to listen to. It sounded like no one had the slightest clue of what they were doing, resulting in 96-hour broadcast of, “Uh … what?” And as a lingering symptom, the four days of studio disorganization gave rise to a rash of buddy shows that’s still infecting the airwaves.

Kids, no one wants to hear seven minutes of inside non-jokes and incoherent rambling, especially when half of it is mumbled inaudibly off the mike. We know you’re capable of so much more; you’ve proven it in the past.

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