Our happy town is notoriously nasty to the homeless. From blue boxes to laws against lying down in parks, if there's a way to harass the less fortunate, our city leaders have probably thought of it, and it may already be on the books.
Which is not to say that Orlando does nothing to help the homeless; you may be surprised to learn that the city actually spends $425,000 annually just at the Coalition for the Homeless. It's more a case of out of sight, out of mind.
So what happens when someone wants to help in a public manner? They get hassled. At least that's what the people who started a local chapter of Food Not Bombs in January say is happening to them.
Missy Zandy, Aaron ("no last name") and a group of 10-15 other volunteers feed the homeless in Lake Eola Park Wednesdays at 5 p.m. They collect donated food from local grocery stores and bakeries, cook in someone's apartment and serve on the Rosalind Avenue side of the park. "The right thing to do is to help the needy," says Aaron, a tollbooth worker.
But Zandy, a waitress, says her group was chased out of Heritage Square park by overzealous security guards from the Orange County Regional History Center and cops. She says she was told her group needed a permit to feed the homeless (not true), and that all of downtown is a "no feeding" zone (also not true).
"We've had two cops say what we are doing is OK; we have had others say we are breaking ordinances and they can arrest us," says Aaron.
If all this sounds familiar, it's probably because the Ripple Effect had the same problem when it was feeding homeless at the same park until about two years ago. Tired of being pushed around, the group finally got together with the city to find a spot where they wouldn't be bothered: under the East-West Expressway near Garland Street. "We said we just wanted a city-blessed spot," says Ripple Effect founder Kelly Franklin. "We were tired of this 'you can't be here' crap."
No one from Food Not Bombs has been arrested yet, but Zandy says she and her group have no plans to stop handing out food. "You can feed the pigeons, but you can't feed the homeless?"
Attention, all Central Florida residents: Forty-two years ago, were you a Maniac? If so, Jack Calvert would like to talk to you. A Winter Park-based production assistant who's helping to prepare a screen biography of cult director Herschell "Wizard of Gore" Lewis, Calvert is seeking locals who took part in the 1963 filming of Lewis' Two Thousand Maniacs!, which was shot on location in lovely St. Cloud. When the crew of the Lewis biopic arrives in St. Cloud they'll be there May 22 to 25 it's hoped that a number of former extras and other cast alumni will be available to share their memories of what it was like to take part in the proto-slasher project. The avuncular Lewis (who was a well-received guest at the 2002 Florida Film Festival) will be in attendance for the shoot, along with actor Jerry Eden and producer David Friedman, Lewis' partner in his so-called "blood trilogy."
Calvert says that his office has already tracked down five or six locals who had substantial parts in Lewis' blood-drenched Southern Gothic. Vincent Santo, who played a naughty kid in the film, now teaches performing arts at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont. And participant Gary Bakeman has reportedly parlayed his own on-screen appearance in which he was seen helping to chop off a woman's arm into a 20-year career with the Orange County Sheriff's Department. (Hey, who needs Tasers when you've got this guy on your side?)
Anyone who appeared in Two Thousand Maniacs! and would like to contribute to the documentary is encouraged to call Calvert at (407) 551-0751.
Florida Splendid China is a seriously spooky place these days empty parking lot, weeds growing up through bricks, fading paint and gaps in the Great Wall. There are holes in the ground where buyers have yanked up and hauled off chunks of limestone, the massive, lion-like Foo Dogs have been carted off, and the intricately constructed buildings in the main square are empty and silent. Built in 1993 at a cost of $100 million, the Kissimmee attraction that drew protesters (but never enough paying patrons) is now a Chinese ghost town waiting to be turned into a subdivision.
The park closed in December 2003. Two massive auctions failed to completely clean out the park, so on May 7 there was one last, absolutely final sale (according to auctioneer Randy Kincaid) to rid the park of trash and treasures. Avid fans of cultural diversity (not to mention connoisseurs of weird, spooky places) that we are, Happytown™ was there. We scored one of the last of the waist-high terra cotta warriors, a couple of watercolor paintings, a hand-carved wooden pot and a giant oak thing that looks like a torture device.
Better still, we were able to take a final peek inside a park that gambled on the notion that Central Floridians (and tourists) would pay for a quieter, more introspective brand of entertainment, one that might spark some interest in the world beyond American borders. It didn't work, of course. What a surprise.
WHO SENT THIS BANANA?
Regular Happytown™ contributor Jeffrey C. Billman wants to know who sent him the banana pictured at right. On May 4, Billman received a package in the mail. Upon opening it he discovered a single ripe banana packaged in Styrofoam peanuts, and nothing else. Billman describes the banana as firm, yellow and slightly curved, not differing in character or appearance from other bananas . He did not taste the banana and so cannot confirm that it tasted similar to other bananas he has encountered. The banana cost $3.85 to mail via the United States Postal Service's Priority Mail service. The mailing label was handwritten, and there was no return address. Billman reports feeling vaguely threatened by the mysterious fruit, and would like the sender to stop hiding in the shadows and provide an explanation.
Anyone with information on this banana is encouraged to phone the Happytown™ Tips Line at (407) 377-0400, extension 269. There is no reward offered, but callers can remain anonymous.