I should have known I was in trouble when he asked for the Jäger.
"He" is Frankie Messina, founder of the Apartment E culture network, manager of the Office Gallery & Art Studios, and bayou-accented godfather of the Orlando arts scene. I've been sadly negligent of late in my observance of downtown's monthly Third Thursday Gallery Hop, so tagging along on Messina's alternative "Art Stalk" seemed like an appropriate re-entry point. When I asked what he wanted in exchange for tolerating my presence, his tongue-in-cheek response was "a bottle of Jägermeister," hence the bottle of anise-flavored evil, better known for prompting barroom brawls than aesthetic enlightenment. But hey, when Messina asks, it's hard to say no.
When I arrived there was an enormous bowl of box-wine sangria (along with an un-ironic offering of Fresca), so my contribution wasn't strictly necessary, though it was warmly received. I needed a drink myself, since the evening already showed some signs of going south. I found myself in the so-called "Art Lounge" (a spare but sittable space formerly occupied by watercolorist John Carollo) with a woman speaking animatedly to her silent couchmate on how World War III will be sparked by radical feminists and hippie swingers. Then gallery curator Idith Levy let me know that their featured art installation had failed to be installed, its creator lost in traffic limbo.
Walking around the space, I realized the secret of the Office's magic isn't what's on the walls, but the people that Messina's magnetism helps attract. Here are a few of the fascinating folks he introduced me to that evening.
Gregg Pollack, the founder of the Orlando Ruby Users Group, a club dedicated to a web programming language way too complex for my Visual Basic brain to comprehend. That officially makes him a supernerd, but one with a soul. He's trying to connect creative people in the techie world, much as Messina does for the art-centric, and his latest efforts are attempting to bridge that divide. The events Ignite Orlando (igniteorlando.com), March 4 at Slingapours, and BarCamp Orlando (barcamporlando.org), April 18 at Wall Street Plaza, are ultra-democratic anti-conferences aimed at bringing together passionate individuals with ideas or innovations they want to share. Topics range from social-networking software to beer brewing; if you've got something to say, sign up.
John Mulder, aka Mulder142, is a "contemporary pop art" painter whose recent acrylics focus on leering circus clowns and pneumatic pinup girls. They are appealingly colorfully and repellent at the same time; as he readily admits, "everybody hates clowns." Also ambiguously attractive is his nomadic lifestyle: He and his wife, Janet, a traveling nurse, move to a "new cool city" every three months, packing their life (and cat) into a Honda Element. Chicago, Miami and San Fran are in their rearview, with L.A. or perhaps Austin ahead. Advice to aspiring emulators: Craigslist is your BFF.
Katie Ball is an independent radio producer who cares as passionately about that medium as anyone I've met. She was a contributor to Becky Morgan's former Arts Connection, hosted a bluegrass show on WPRK-FM at Rollins College and has produced locally for StoryCorps. At Radio Kuralt (www.radiokuralt.com), named for the late master of Americana journalism, you can listen to her latest pieces, which include an interview with drummer Martin Atkins and a profile of an Orange Park family whose home was foreclosed upon that was broadcast on NPR's Marketplace. As Ball told me, the only thing tarnishing the thrill of her first national exposure was that econ icon Kai Ryssdal had been out sick, leaving her intro to the slightly less awesome Tess Vigeland.
The Art Stalk didn't begin lurching until after 8 — blame it on the Jäger. CityArts Factory was the first stop, by virtue of that facility's tendency to have all visitors evicted by the stroke of 9. Inside, 70-something Adrian R. Evans exhibited his self-taught Highwaymen-esque landscapes across the hall from Doug Bloodworth's photorealistic oils of magnified memorabilia. Curt Littlecott of Nu Visions in Photography was snapping stunningly sharp headshots for free, and designer Consuelo Bellini sold custom jewelry surrounded by Vaughn Belak's glowing-eyed goth girls.
As we ambled through downtown, eccentric individuals seemed to be sucked into our wake, like flies to a karmic bug-zapper. First we met Dr. Geek, a "wordologist" with a self-contained sound system; the genial George Clinton look-alike took our first names and spun them into freestyle "poetry without profanity." At Ichiban, we caught abstract artist Sarah "the Wonder Girl" Lopez's first solo installation just as she had finished giving away $100 of reception sushi (damn!), but managed to snag the last of the Café Tu Tu Tango nosh at the Gallery at Avalon Island's opening for Cheri Riechers (featured at Epcot festivals) and Lorraine Lax (whose densely textured canvases I quite liked).
AKA Lounge's exhibit included witty works by G. Lemus: a mixed-media monkey smoking a joint; an homage to Communist revolutionaries priced at $1 million. He joined our gaggle as we ended the evening underneath Orange Avenue in Tanqueray's, a place I'd somehow never entered in more than a decade living here. Sitting with Liz Watkins (whose art work was the highlight of Nude Nite), sipping a Yuengling, listening to Shak Nasti's infectious jazz-funk fusion, for one brief shining Orlando moment I couldn't think of a thing to bitch firstname.lastname@example.org