We get a grassy ass in Heritage Square and sympathy pains for Dave Plotkin

There's been a shocking – shocking! – development in downtown Orlando: The benches have been removed from Heritage Square. That's right, all the benches are gone. You want to sit and sip a smoothie while soaking up the sunshine in downtown's only park space? Pull up a chunk of concrete, bub. You want to lollygag on your lunch break? Take a seat in the grass and prepare to get a dirty ass.

Determined to get to the bottom of this situation, Happytown™ burned up the phone lines to track down the responsible party or parties. It didn't take long until we were speaking to Sara Van Arsdel, director of the Orange County Regional History Center. The first thing we learned is that we're a little late in our outrage: The benches were taken out two days before Hurricane Charley hit town in August. The second thing we learned is that the benches were removed, in part, because people were peeing on them. Eww.

"They had become, you might say, little camping areas for the homeless," Van Arsdel says. "People were urinating on them, causing a lot of concern for us."

Van Arsdel adds that she personally "agonized" over the decision to take the benches out, suggesting that she at least understands the concept and nature of public space. You see, great cities the world over have great public spaces where people can sit and reflect upon their place in the great city and the world. But not Orlando.

For the record, Happytown™ officially acknowledges that allowing people to pee on park benches is not a good thing. But neither is penalizing downtown denizens for our city's notoriously punitive and backwards attitude toward the homeless. End of editorial.

Jan. 24 marked Mayor Buddy Dyer's annual State of the City address. Like most Dyer speeches, this one was long on self-congratulation – balanced budget, no increased property taxes, new downtown construction, etc. – while glossing over more problematic issues, like the FDLE investigation into last year's mayoral election and the dispute over the police contract. But this is politics and selective memories are to be expected.

We learned a few other interesting things, though: The new Cameron Kuhn development that will level the old J.C. Penney's block between Jefferson and Washington streets on Orange Avenue will go up without public subsidies, Dyer promised. And then there's Dyer's renewed commitment to Parramore: "Next year I will stand before you and tell you that the first priority we must have, to build or restore housing in Parramore, has begun. That we have broken ground on new restaurants and retail for Parramore and that we are planning to eventually blend our neighborhoods with new and innovative transportation modes."

Haven't we heard that somewhere before?As the milquetoast gentrifi-cation of downtown threatens to turn even the cobblestones a pearly white, we're happy to report that this month we won't have to sell our CD collections or sexual favors to make rent. But we may sell something, anyway, if only to afford a chance at this: The Downtown Arts District is selling $100 raffle tickets to win a $400,000 two-story condo donated by The Vue at Lake Eola. All of the profits are being matched by the City of Orlando and plugged back into downtown arty things. Yahtzee! It's a win-win! We get fancy-Formica digs and the city gets a go at some more zebra art and murals and theater stuff.

"Fund-raising is one of the most difficult tasks for a nonprofit to successfully accomplish, until now," says DAD chairman Ron Legler in his mass e-mail, like he's just introduced a dream kitchen. Oh wait, he has.

Interested homeless can send their $100 to Florida Theatrical Association, c/o Ron Legler, 201 S. Orange Ave., Suite 101, Orlando, Florida, 32801, Attn: The Vue Fundraiser. Only 10,000 tickets are available, so the odds of winning are way better than that scratch-off we bought at the Jiffy Store. The drawing will take place 1-4 p.m. April 17 at the Lake Eola Amphitheatre. The event seeks to raise a cool $1 million for local charities, so even if you don't win, you win.

Just when you thought there was no rhythmic conversation to be had in Orlando, no public space to express your inner percussive self, man, along come the Orlando Drums. Finally, a place to pound the skins without your neighbor (or your mom) trying to suppress your art.

Load your djembe, your djun-djun, your bodhrán, your congas, your bongos, whatever, into the bus and be at the University of Central Florida, adjacent to the library, Sundays at 7 p.m. There you'll find the like-minded souls you seek in your sonic travels. "It's not a bunch of hippies singing 'Kumbaya,'" says coordinator Emily Ruff. "Although we do have our share of dreddies, we also have folks in polos and khakis."

You don't have to be an expert, though you should know drum-circle etiquette: Respect other drummers and don't bogart the lead.

Sympathy pains have given way to itchy withdrawal symptoms here at the headquarters, as many of us try to contemplate what to do with our lives now that Dave Plotkin's not tickling the low end of our frequency with his 110-hour radio marathon at WPRK-FM (91.5). The event – a resounding success raising $16,402 (or about $149 an hour) to expand the Rollins station's technical horizons – seemed to take on a life of its own, swelling at one point to include a drowsy interview on the Howard Stern show in which Stern taunted our sleepless daredevil that nobody was listening and that it didn't matter. Oh, but it did.

Plotkin morphed into Ferris Bueller in these parts, inciting a bizarre aural voyeurism in folk who had forgotten that their car stereos even picked up radio stations. Highbrow interviews and lowbrow wrestling shared a bed for five straight days, and it all amounted to some of the best radio this town has heard. For a minute, even Mo Rocca appeared. If only it could have lasted forever.

And while it'll be a couple of months before the whole Guinness Book thing is finalized, we'd rather not make it through another week without Plotkin in our clearer channels. Come back, Dave. The amphetamines are on us.

Dominatrix Vendela Zane answers your stupid questions

Q: Why do I need a professional to treat me like a dog when I get that at work all the time?

A: My rigorous human-dog training course teaches obedience as well as passivity. Most males need a finishing course in servitude, even outside a demanding work environment. For example, I help break bad male habits such as jumping on visitors or howling when left alone. Mastering simple commands (sit, heel, stay, lie down) is an essential part of good male rearing, and only leads to a happier owner and a happier male. I'm the behavior polisher.

Does your boss at work dress up in a leather catsuit and 5-inch heels when demanding last week's report? That's important, because men are visual and I'm definitely much nicer to look at while I guide you through your lessons.

Remember, ladies, with proper training and reinforcement, men can make wonderful lifelong companions.

If you're worthy, and that's doubtful, send your stupid questions to [email protected], or visit Vendela online at www.whipgirl.com.

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