An intimate crowd of about 20 gathered Aug. 9 at the Orange County Regional History Center for the handover of the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums.
The book was written at his house in College Park in 1958 on an 11-day Benzedrine bender. Kerouac wrote Bums in the same way he wrote his groundbreaking On the Road: He typed it out on a single scroll of paper, stream-of-consciousness—style.
Viking Publishing sent the scroll back and asked him to transcribe it to a final draft manuscript for publication. That manuscript, under the auspices of the Jack Kerouac Project, has returned to Orlando.
Bob Kealing, co-founder of the Jack Kerouac Project and author of the book Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends, thinks this is an especially important find. "This was the last prolific period of his life."
The manuscript goes on display Sept. 21.
Speaking of priceless stuff, Last week while we were at the Orlando City Clerk's office — snooping around for free things, dodging dirty looks — a little slice of perfection attached itself to our sweaty index finger. A piece of sheet music, a mere 8.5 inches tall by 5 inches wide, with the words "Remember Orlando" emblazoned across its top in capital letters, started us on a journey we wouldn't soon forget. Who knew Orlando had a theme song? Nobody, apparently. But we were determined to get to the bottom of this intriguing mystery.
Turns out that former Orlando commissioner Vicki Vargo employed Richard T. McCree Jr. (chief executive officer of McCree Inc., big-time local builders) as her campaign treasurer earlier this year, and songwriter Bert McCree is Richard's great-uncle. On April 17, Vargo invited Bert to sing "Remember Orlando" for the mayor and his minions at an Orlando City Council meeting.
"It was one of Vargo's bizarre little publicity stunts," grumps commissioner Patty Sheehan.
Oh, but "Remember Orlando" is so much more than that. Part old-timey ode ("No shopping on Sunday, a time for family/Reflection and vision, plan for eternity …"), part come-on ("As we grew much bolder, the Beacham we would go/Rear balcony we would sit and smooch away the show …"), the song is a glimmering monument of entertainment value. We actually have no idea how to sing it, so we put it to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Works perfectly.
We tracked down Bert McCree himself, now 77 (he wrote the song in 1998). "It captures a feeling, but it also captures an era," Bert says of the song. "`Orlando's` just not as nice as it used to be."
(You know, back in the days when "10 cents paid for the show that night ….")
But why Bert?
"Vicki Vargo just asked me to do it, and she might have been interested in it," he says. "It may have been sort of a political situation: You know, ask somebody to do something, they do, and then you get a vote. Nothing wrong with that."
Nothing wrong with smooching at the Beacham, either.
Your copy of "Remember Orlando" awaits you at the city clerk's office, Orlando City Hall, 400 S. Orange Ave.
Now for a little fun — complete with cops — from the District 36 State House race! This one has been fun all year long, from the time Sheri McInvale switched parties way back in January. Now, just a few weeks ahead of the Democratic primary, we have allegations of sign chicanery.
On Aug. 9, Darren Vierday, a volunteer for Scott Randolph's campaign, told police that he found two illegally discarded Randolph signs in Alex Rodriguez-Heuer's trash. Sign stealing happens all the time, so normally it's not news. But this was different.
First off, the Randolph campaign had evidence: pictures and videos of the allegedly stolen signs in Heuer's yard. Better still is the fact that until a month ago, Heuer was actually in this race. He dropped out in early July to work for a third candidate, Eben Self. (The Orlando Sentinel wrote about Heuer's endorsement of Self July 12.)
Interestingly, state campaign records show that on July 12, Self's campaign wrote Heuer a $400 check for "canvassing." Which raises an interesting question: Did Self buy Heuer out of the race?
No, says Self's campaign spokesman, Tim Hutcheson. Heuer has worked as a paid operative on several campaigns, Hutcheson says. He denies any quid pro quo.
Heuer told the investigating officer that he had no idea how those signs got in his trash. No one witnessed an actual theft, so no arrests were made. (Heuer could not be reached for comment by press time.)
In a statement e-mailed to Happytown™, Self accuses Randolph's campaign workers of planting the signs in Heuer's trash, then calling the police. "Eben Self and all his campaign workers have vowed never to touch an opponent's sign, period," Self says.
Pish-tosh, retorts the Randolph campaign. "That is absolutely ridiculous," Randolph's manager, Dave Plotkin, says. "We have better things to do with our time. We are too busy working to pull this kind of thing."
Lordy, campaigns are fun!
There was some stuff going on in the Middle East last week, and some news about planes and breast milk. But the biggest story of the week took place in Winter Park: "A squirrel gone wild."
This absolute gem of an article, penned Aug. 10 by the Sentinel's Christopher Sherman, proves the maxim that there are no small stories, only small reporters. Sherman thumbed his thesaurus ragged coming up with verbiage to adequately describe seven days of chittering horror as Winter Parkians were repeatedly assailed by a sciurus with a taste for human blood. Sherman even managed to find the obligatory malfeasance angle: Where were animal control officials while Winter Park was under siege?
While there's good reason to believe this whole story is a delicious sendup of daily journalism's people-love- animal-stories bromide — it's hard to imagine any reporter not tittering while scratching out a quote about a squirrel "in attack position" — the pompous gasbags on the Sentinel's editorial board were quick to remind us Aug. 11 that this was "no laughing matter." Newsflash, dumb-asses: With apologies to those bitten, this story is The Onion funny.
Of course a story this great deserves a second day, and Sherman came through again Aug. 11 with a piece headlined "Nutty squirrel did not have rabies, experts say." In this breathless take we find said "experts" puzzled to explain such aggressive behavior from these docile rodents. But Sherman offers a clue: "The squirrel attacked people on four consecutive days, persisting despite being smacked with a purse and shoes, pepper-sprayed by police, stomped and flung `emphasis added`."
Hmmm, let's see. What could have possibly pissed this squirrel off so? Perhaps it just hates freedom.
This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Bob Whitby.firstname.lastname@example.org