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Sentinel snubs its own coverage and we toast the death of the Leader

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Here at Happytown™ HQ,we like to refer to wasted newspaper as "fishwrap." And there's something very fishy indeed about the omnipresent "This is my life" ad campaign the Sentinel is using to push its latest and most lackluster Friday-calendar revamp.

In addition to spotlighting featured columnists, the ads supposedly introduce us to a cross-section of demographically diverse Calendar readers. Which is why, on more than one occasion, the Sentinel has devoted some of its rapidly devaluing ad inches to the musings of "Dave," a self-announced "aspiring writer."

"I write short stories, plays, poetry, even tongue twisters," the intrepid lad explains, going on to declare himself "more of a spectator" than a participant in the big game of artistic expression. "I like theatre, but I'm not an actor," he demurs, ending his moony manifesto with the coup de grâce, "One of these days, I'm going to try sharing the stuff that I write."

That's bound to stymie any reader who sees the attached photo and recognizes "Dave" as Dave McConnell, a produced playwright and performer whose Street Seuss and Gossip shows were big hits at the last four Orlando International Fringe Festivals.

"It's funny as hell, man," McConnell says of the bogus ad, which he was encouraged to write as part of a tryout for a Sentinel TV commercial. The directive he got was, "'Write us something that would come from a character like you. Something from your demographic, your little world.' I figured they would use it for ideas to write their own thing. I didn't know they would actually put me in the Sentinel."

An innocent gaffe? No way, says McConnell: He was recruited because a copywriter saw one of his Street Seuss shows and pronounced him a potentially effective mouthpiece.

McConnell says he was paid $350 for his efforts but didn't get the TV gig, which he was told had instead been awarded to "a black guy." Yes, those are the exact terms, he says.

"I guess they're trying to market to diversity and stuff," McConnell relates.

(In the days following the launch of the "Dave" ads, readers also got to meet "Natalie," a supposed party girl, club hopper and gossip. Natalie is Natalie Cordone, an actress whose credits include the Fringe and the recent PlayFest new-play festival put on by the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival.)

We're not suggesting that this blatant snow job rises to the Jayson Blair level of malfeasance. It's ad copy we're talking about, not news. But what's curious about the campaign is that it sees the Sentinel essentially acknowledging that its readership knows next to nothing about the local arts. And if the average subscriber can't pick out some of the Fringe's higher-profile personalities, doesn't that mean that the paper's coverage of such undertakings is ineffective?

Hey, that's only what we've been saying for years. Good to know we're all on the same page.

Like cockroaches and breakfast cereals, Robin "RV" Van Arsdol will outlive us all. (This we can say with some surety: Our homes are filled with the first two.) When we dropped in on the resilient – some might say "notorious" – artist/gallery owner Feb. 18, he was beginning another of his trademark urban-beautification projects, turning a cadre of graffiti artists and other streetwise visualists loose to apply fresh painted images to two Parramore buildings: Van Arsdol's own Church Street Gallery of Contemporary Art and the nearby site of the former Temenos Ensemble Theater.

Seems that the upscaling of the neighborhood isn't proceeding as quickly as the city might have hoped, giving Van Arsdol a window in which to temporarily redecorate the premises yet again. (A similar effort undertaken last year, he admitted, ended up "a little bit of a mess.") How behind schedule are our leaders' gentrification plans? Well, when Van Arsdol moved into this current gallery, he recalled, he was told the building would only exist for another year before being razed. That was four years ago.

"It's got to change from within," Van Arsdol said of the pokily emerging "new Parramore" as invited guest artists shook up spray cans in the afternoon sun. But despite the aura of aerosol-assisted defiance, the party's host was willing to put an expiration date on his and his neighbors' leases: "I don't think that any of us will be here next summer," he predicted.

The al fresco painting party was timed to coincide with an indoor exhibit of graffiti art that will hang at the Church Street Gallery for three weeks; later in the year, it'll begin a touring cycle that'll take it to New York, Tampa and Richmond, Va. The popularity of such exhibits is still growing, Van Arsdol said, reflecting the public's mushrooming appreciation for seeing familiar edifices turned into ersatz canvases.

"Nobody really has to do anything illegal anymore," he noted of graffiti's rise to respectability. Nothing illegal? He had to go and ruin it.

Lose one publication, gain another. That's the way it goes in this wacky media market we like to call "Orlando."

Rumored to be dead: The Orlando Leader, an oddly shaped monthly whose raison d'être seemed to be writing flattering stories about Orlando leaders. Hard-hitting this "tabloid" was not; they listed city commissioner Patty Sheehan as a contributing writer. We picked it up to look at the pics of party people dressed in slinky black dresses and shiny shirts.

"It's merging with some other publication," Sheehan says. "That was the last thing I've heard." No one answered a knock on the Leader's Thornton Park office, and calls and e-mails seeking comment went unreturned.

Definitely alive: Orlando Style, a bimonthly glossy ready to do battle with Orlando and Orlando Leisure magazines for the crustiest of the upper-crust demographic.

Publisher Sven Bode, native to Germany but recently of Naples, considered starting his mag in San Diego, New York and Miami, but chose Orlando because, "It's really a cool city. It is changing a lot." (In a press release, he specifies, "I especially like the 'fun.'" So do "we," Sven.)

He wants readers with household incomes of $150,000 and up. To get them, Orlando Style will dispense with messy political issues and stick to the meat and potatoes of style, beauty, music, food, fashion, celebrities, etc.

"We can all live here in harmony," Bode says of the wacky media market we like to call "Orlando." Tell that to the folks at the Leader.

Speaking of the halcyon days, anybody remember the mid-'90s stumble down Orange Avenue, vinyl pants squeaking in breakbeat rhythm symptomatic of buckets of booze from the Beacham Theater?

Well, we had something of a flashback Feb. 19 while stuck in traffic on Orange Avenue between Amelia and Livingston streets. Did downtown suddenly revitalize like Big Daddy Dyer promised? Did Lou Pearlman's ambition finally congeal into a Church Street clot that could afford rent? Was it a miracle?

No. It was a big fire at Orange Avenue and Pine Street. So big that we felt a little bit guilty, having walked past the Quizno's (mmmm, toasted) not too long before the conflagration, and (likely) having discarded a cigarette on the sidewalk in an attempt at looking Happytown™ cool.

The fire had the unintended effect of making a random Saturday night feel like a time capsule in this wacky place we like to call "Orlando." We'll take what we can get.


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