Sunday, March 30, 2014

Talking Trash: Comedy Prop As A Litterary Device

Esquire reporter Chris Jones speaks at Plattsburgh State, not suspecting what lurks near his feet. 

© 2004 Luke T. Bush


"It's stained with evil."

Sacrosanct Rule of Journalism (SRJ): Never open with a quote.

Chris Jones wants to be funny.

Man, don’t we all?

Esquire Magazine reporter as stand-up comedian with a podium. Trying to entertain an audience of mainly youngster college students.  Only a few oldsters in the crowd like me and a friend.

Setting: Plattsburgh State College Center, Warren Ballroom B.  Flags from various nations hang from the ceiling perimeter except for the towering wall divider to my left.  The accordion barrier with its warped chrome surface creates smeary reflections, divides the huge conference room into A and B.  Chris must be B list.

He mentions that he feels like a B-lister this evening.  He’s competing with some sort of sporting event happening that night, the Sweet Sixteen.  I don’t follow sports.  All I can envision is a young Molly Ringwald with candles.

SRJ: Never ID yourself as "I," say instead "this reporter."  Better yet, stay invisible, objective.  You don't exist.  Floss daily.

The guest speaker is dealing with some handicaps – besides being an Esquire reporter.  Lassitude hangs on him, no bright-eyed and bushy-tailed radiance.  Dressed college-student-slob chic, a black GUNS N' ROSES T-shirt, looking like he just rolled out of bed after a long night.  His hirsute countenance evinces he skipped shaving that morning.

He’s just driven all the way down from America’s backyard from a place called Port Hope (Home of the Canadian Firefighters Museum!), a trek to get here.  On the way he remembered his wife's birthday.  Guilt.  Maybe fear.

Leaning on the podium, favoring his left side, he mentions he has hurt his shoulder.  (Result of an accident while renovating his old house?)  It could be pain or pain-killers or both dull his edge.

Or possibly his house sits near a cache of radioactive waste they forgot to clean up.  Another health factor. With those big Esquire paychecks did he ever buy a Geiger counter?

But to his credit Chris presses on like the he-man sports heroes he follows and writes about as a columnist for ESPN The Magazine, his other gig.

Or maybe this laidback persona is part of his comedy persona.  Steven Wright minus the metaphysical stonerism.

Chris says he wants to keep it light but keeps slipping into serious topics related to journalism.  He has a difficult crowd because many of the students in the audience heard him earlier in the day speak in journalism class.  How do you keep your material fresh the second time around?

One story probably repeated: He got hired at Esquire by showing up with a box of doughnuts.  Funny.  That routine doesn't work for me during an interrogation at the police station.

Chris mentions he feels old.  He appears to be in his forties.

My friend and I, both in the same age bracket, look at each other, share a comment.  We both eschew Just For Men hair dye (“Find in it the MENS section!”) to conceal our gray/white hair.  And this guy thinks he’s old.  These whiny kids nowadays.

(Fun fact: Chris Jones, Class of '96, Bishop University.  Do the math.)

Despite my senior patience the talk goes on a bit long.  Running out the clock to earn his fee? With camera sitting in lap I start debating whether I should kill some time imaging the liquid abstract shapes on the wall divider right next to me, grossly distorted world flags: LSD impressionism.  But that would be rude, especially sitting near the front where the speaker can easily espy me.

But I re-focus on Chris when during Q&A he asks for questions to lighten his presentation.  Once again: too serious.

As a writer/photographer/ex-janitor I had noticed something.  While shooting Chris (photographically) I had to deal with a distraction to crop out later.  With color imaging always avoid something that draws the eye away from your subject like a brightly-chromatic object. (Sacrosanct Rule of Photography.)

I raise my hand.

Me: "From what I understand details are important in reporting."

Chris: "Oh sure."

Me (pointing): "So could you explain to me the orange litter next to the podium and your reaction to it?"

Chris: "Litter?"  A huh moment.

He looks to the side of the podium, sees the tissue ball on the floor, a crumpled up remainder of a sorority event held earlier.  He picks it up.

I ask if it's a napkin.

"No, it's a decoration," he notes while formulating a witty remark.  "Details are important."

Chris makes comments about DNA traces on the discarded decoration, the evil stain joke.

He adds: "I'm probably going to be arrested for just touching it. I'm too old."

Man, whiny kid.

I asked him if he was going to autograph the litter.

He shoots me a quick laser glance.  OK, getting into the heckling zone, back off.

At least I gave him a prop to work with.  It generates laughter.  Not as messy as Gallagher and the watermelons.

Chris mentions that when he’s writing he has to know how his article will wrap up. Me, I start at the beginning and hope to find the ending.  After all, every article has to have a point.  A Sacrosanct Rule of Journalism never to be transgressed.

But with this piece I’m stuck.  Almost.  Writing is only as hard as you make it.

Time for a standard comedy device.

A sudden blackout.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Street Harassment Victims Speak Out

Musician/singer Taylor LaValley also shared her experience as a target of harassment at the Hollaback! Plattsburgh fundraiser held at Koffee Kat.

(C) 2014  Luke T. Bush


So you're walking down the street and someone yells a slur at you like faggot.  What's the big deal?  It's just name calling.  Street harassment doesn't get out of hand.

Don't tell that to Chris Rigsbee, the target of verbal harassment that escalated into gang assault.  Chris suffered serious injuries from a brutal beating by six men in 2010.

He spoke at the Hollaback! Plattsburgh fundraiser held at the Koffee Kat coffeehouse Saturday evening.  Hollaback! is a national organization dedicated to ending street harassment.  Activist Matt Hall is creating a local group to deal with the problem in Plattsburgh City.

While featuring music and poetry the event also provided an opportunity for harassment targets to publicly share their experiences.

The first speaker, Sarah Mundy, was also one of the performers.  She said she was on the way to the event when some guy shouted something at her from a car.

A short walk from her apartment to the Koffee Kat couldn't be free of street harassment.  Ironically her story proved how it often it occurs in such a nice community like Plattsburgh.

When Sarah asked the audience if anyone had experienced such harassment almost every hand in the crowded room was raised.

One man stepped on the small stage and talked about how he didn't have a car but instead drove a scooter.  Because of his transportation mode guys in trucks yelled homophobic things at him.

More irony.  A city that elected an openly gay mayor and homophobia is still prevalent.

Among the stories shared a woman talked about a man grabbing her butt outside a downtown bar.  The man wanted her to slap him.  She declined.

Another speaker was Kaitlyn Donovan who said harassment is not limited to the street, it can happen anywhere: at work, at home, in school.

She said:

"By letting those people yell at us... it's giving them the message that it's OK to treat your fellow classmates, your co-workers, or your family that way.  So I'm hollering back, saying its not OK."

When Matt Hall was interviewed previously to the fundraiser he stated that such a culture has to change because when harassment is allowed or ignored it can lead to violent acts.

The last speaker was Chris Rigsbee who shared what happened to him one night back in November 2010.  He and his girlfriend at the time were returning home, walking down a Broad Street sidewalk when some men on a porch started a confrontation.  As mentioned in a previous article at this blog Chris was called a faggot apparently because he was wearing a rainbow design on his cap.

Chris said told the men there was no need for that.

He continued his story:

"So, of course, that immediately escalated into three men punching me, sending my [eyeglasses] flying into the grass.  I was immediately blinded.

"The three men turned into six men from the porch.  It was repetitive.  Eventually I was on the ground, they were kicking me, beating me, and eventually it escalated to the point when a young gentleman from this house grabbed the back of my head, pulled on my hair, and repeatedly bashed my head into the sidewalk, making me lose three teeth."

Chris pointed to his mouth.

"These bottom teeth here.  Every morning I have the pleasure of waking up and brushing invisible teeth.  I have fake teeth."

As difficult it was for Chris to recall and share his story he pressed on, the strain evident in his voice.

"I have a great life now, I have a very supportive girlfriend, a wonderful family that supports me.  There will be not one single day that I don't remember the assault, the violence, the inhumanity I went through, the humiliation, the anger that I felt, and the guilt for even fucking wanting to live and be a good person because what the fuck is the point if you can't just walk down the street and just mind your own business?"

Chris mentioned how the judicial system failed to render justice with his case.

As I've reported before, only one of the attackers was charged, not with a felony but with a misdemeanor reduced to a violation, disorderly conduct.  Basically the psychotic thug got off with the equivalent of a parking ticket for repeatedly slamming Chris's head into the sidewalk.

Chris thanked his friends and family for their support during the aftermath of the beating.

He concluded by addressing the event participants and organizers:

"I've been through the wringer, so there's part of me that feels we're preaching to the choir, that is sad, but I love every one of you, and the shining knight that is in my heart wishes us to keep moving forward and make this world a better place so that people don't have to experience such terrible tragedies.  I wish you guys the best of luck.  Thanks."

For more information about Hollaback! Plattsburgh you can email Matt Hall -  - or call (518) 310-0659.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Winter View From My Window

Why I hate a North Country winter – all six months.

One more winter month to go: April.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hollaback!: The Streets Are For Everyone

Activist Matt Hall discusses an upcoming fundraiser for Hollaback! Plattsburgh while displaying the poster promoting the event.

(C) 2014 Luke T. Bush


Street harassment?  Is that really a problem in Plattsburgh?

Yes, it is, replies Matt Hall when he hears that comment.

"I know personally it happens on a regular basis," says Matt.  "There's a lot of people who feel they can't go out downtown, they don't feel safe.  They're sick of being harassed: verbally, physically or sexually."

The harassers can pick from a variety of aspects to target someone: appearance, race, gender, sexual orientation, or class.  In Plattsburgh, Matt notes, it's not just one demographic that suffers most of the harassment.

So why is the community-at-large unaware of the problem?

"I've talked to people," Matt explains, "who feel the harassment is so frequent and so ingrained in the culture that it's not worth reporting."

Occasionally a major incident is covered in the media, he adds, but that doesn't indicate the true scope of the problem.

Responding to the local situation Matt is working with Hollaback!, an organization dedicated to ending street harassment.

According to the Hollaback! website,, the non-profit is "powered by local activists in 71 cities and 24 countries."  Among its goals: start conversations about street harassment, give victims an outlet to share their stories, and develop strategies to deal with the problem.  One strategy has been utilizing mobile technology, cell phones, to document and share incidents.

"By holla’ing back," explains the site, "you are transforming an experience that is lonely and isolating into one that is sharable."

Matt is being trained by Hollaback through web seminars, learning about the organization's strategies and goals, to set up a Plattsburgh group.  He's also working on a local website still under construction.  Once the site is live it will offer a forum for those reporting street harassment.

One major goal is to raise awareness, he says, so that more people can deal with the problem.  Hollaback! empowers victims to speak out, empowers others to help them.

As part of raising awareness Matt has organized a music event/fundraiser at the Koffee Kat, 104 Margaret Street, on Saturday, March 22, at 7 PM.  Performers will be Sarah Munday, Taylor LaValley, and Dandersen, all volunteers.  Volunteerism, explains Matt, is a key feature to Hollaback!'s success.  He plans to form a Plattsburgh Hollaback! team with each volunteer handling a particular duty.

Fundraiser donations will be applied towards with the start-up costs for Hollaback! Plattsburgh such as creating a banner and posters.

For more information about Hollaback! Plattsburgh you can email Matt Hall -  - or call (518) 310-0659.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rounding Up The Unusual Suspects

"Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!"  
(Composite of images from Plattsburgh Housing Authority website. 
Click on image to enlarge.)

(C) 2014  Luke T. Bush


"Round up the usual suspects." - Inspector Renault, Casablanca, 1942 film

November 15, 2013.  City of Plattsburgh (COP) police officers knocked on some doors and hauled in some suspects.  Drug dealers?  Terrorists?

No, just ordinary citizens, voters, and even a mayoral candidate.

Election season.  Republican candidates charged that fraud was being committed with absentee ballots canvassed by the Working Families Party (WFP).  Martin Mannix, Clinton County Democratic Party Chairman, responded in a news conference that the primary intent behind the charges was to intimidate voters in the Plattsburgh area (city and township).

Absentee ballot voters in the Town of Plattsburgh (TOP) were subpoenaed to testify in NYS Supreme Court about the matter as discussed in my previous article, "Allegations Uninvestigated After Judge's Final Decision."

Meanwhile Plattsburgh City police also looked into the matter within the COP domain.  Part of the investigation focused on absentee ballots collected from residents in the low income housing operated by the Plattsburgh Housing Authority (PHA).

The COP police station was busy, various people being interviewed in the cubicles.

Even a mayoral candidate, Mark Tiffer, a Democrat also endorsed by WFP, was brought in for questioning.  He was interviewed about what he knew which was basically nothing.  Fortunately, he wasn't subjected to the interrogation style of the good old days of policing, a bright hot lamp burning into his eyes in a darkened room, sweat-miasma hanging in the air.

Of course the Plattsburgh City police were only following orders that came from the top.  And at the top at this time was Mayor Donald Kasprzak, a Republican, a detail rightly or wrongly emphasized by those opposed to his political POV.

Besides the police investigation the Plattsburgh Housing Authority (PHA) put up notices on doors throughout the low income housing area and also posted the notification on its website.  The notification alerted residents to be on guard from people canvassing absentee ballots, that dire legal consequences could result if the voter didn't properly fill out the form.  One wonders if this warning would have been issued if the Republican Party, not WFP, was gathering absentee votes.

The results of the investigation have not been publicly revealed.  Until such results are shared it's uncertain if anyone was guilty of fraud.

WFP member William Cowan was interrogated at his home by two police detectives.  William wanted to know who initiated the investigation and was told to speak with Lieutenant Rascoe.  William called the PD, left a message for a return call, but there was no response.

One take on the investigation is that the police offers didn't have warrants, ergo, the people interviewed didn't have to comply to the extent they did, being interrogated at the police station.  But a cop at your door can be unsettling, especially when you're caught off guard.  One WFP member knew her rights: she shut the door on the police when they tried to haul her down to the station to be interrogated.

So was the COP investigation into the absentee ballots mainly an act of intimidation?

Mark Tiffer didn't win the mayor's seat.  A third candidate entered the race who took a large number of votes away from him, a three way split that allowed Republican James Calnon to gain the majority.  There's always another election but lingering in the background is the story about Mark being interviewed by the police regarding absentee ballot fraud.  And even though he did nothing wrong, some won't get the full story and negative rumors could spread.

And as for those absentee voters targeted by both the COP and TOP investigations?

WFP members heard a certain comment more than once:

"I'll never vote again."


Sources include an article by William Cowan to be published in the upcoming first edition of the alternative newspaper, UnderCurrents.

While checking out various details I tried contacting a potential source but that person's phone has been disconnected.  From what I heard that individual wants to forget about any involvement with the absentee ballot canvassing.  A situation that could be construed as another example of intimidation.