MISSING THE BUS

Paul Pagano, a.k.a. "Father Time," loses his most visible prop

Father Time is about to retire. The end must be near.

Paul Pagano, a short man with glasses, shows up in all sorts of places, handing out a business card that says "Father Time Says/GOD BLESS AMERICA/I put the show on the road/WISHING ALL A PROSPEROUS "2000"/May God Bless You With Health & Happiness/DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY!" Nowhere is it made clear on his card just why he's doing this. Talking to him doesn't help much.

"I enjoy meeting people. As soon as they see me, they light up," Pagano says of his years of visits to neighborhood ethnic festivals and Rams and Cardinals games. Pagano could be described as a performance artist, even though there isn't much performance to what he does -- or art, for that matter. But then, neither is there in most performance art. Paul just basically stands there, often holding a posterboard with some saying on it, handing out his cards, sometimes with candy attached. "It's something I love to do," he says. "I'm gifted in this, because, I mean, who else would do it? Let's put it that way." Okeedokee.

Pagano adopted his nickname 16 years ago when he attended a Halloween party for senior citizens in Baden. "I just put a hole in the center of a bedsheet, I had a mask of an old man, and I went to this Halloween party and ever since then it's been rolling right along."

Rolling right along until a few weeks ago. Part of Pagano's shtick was his bus. A shortened version of a school bus, it was covered with many of the sayings from his business card. It had a red and blue stripes and a sound system, through which he sometimes played "seasonable" music during Christmas. Other times he played Kate Smith's "God Bless America." Mostly this happened in parades, but sometimes just when he was driving around.

But the music wasn't what irritated his neighbor. Must have been the looks of the bus, parked in his driveway of his house near Overland, off Lindbergh Boulevard in unincorporated St. Louis County. A complaint was made that the bus was a commercial vehicle -- which, in effect, it was, to the extent that Pagano delivered produce with it to private homes and senior-citizen apartments in Baden, Florissant and Hazelwood.

"Clayton sent an inspector out. I even had to go to court -- it's one of those kooky things. It had me in a tailspin," says Pagano. "After parking there for 10 years and not bothering anybody, they gave me a headache. They forced me out of business." Not that he wasn't planning to retire soon anyway, though for someone who calls himself "Father Time," he's spry. "I'm not old, I'm just 38 times two," the 76-year-oldfather of seven says.

Pagano says he's been in the produce business for 60 years, with the last 25 spent as a "route man." He got the bus in 1985, using it on weekends in parades and festivals, then delivering produce with it during the week. Once the county hassled him about the bus, he donated it to the American Cancer Society, because the bus was "21 years old -- not old enough to put in the Museum of Transportation, and I couldn't sell it because it wouldn't pass inspection."

So the bus is gone; the produce route has stopped. But you can still see Pagano at every Rams home game, in front of Trans World Dome's south entrance, with "Go Rams Go" written on a posterboard he holds as he hands out his business cards. It's the type of sandwich-board sign you see in cartoons with "THE END IS NEAR" written on it. Of course, Pagano's message is nowhere near that dire. He does love a bit of notoriety, and he's quick to point out he was included in the "Race for the Record" video made about Mark McGwire's home-run binge in '98. "You can rent it as cheap as 99 cents," Pagano says. "They gave me the whole screen; I was filmed at Gate 4. I make the announcement "There are people here from all over the United States. It's an exciting day.'" Good thing he was there at Gate 4 to tell us that.

Now that Pagano is retired, he may become more visible. He'll be in this Saturday's Veterans Day Parade, which this year features Cape Girardeau's Rush Limbaugh as the grand marshal. With the bus gone, he says, he'll decorate his car: "I'll probably be last in line." Next month he plans to dress up in red and green and visit nursing homes, playing his tape of "organ and chimes" Christmas music. "I express all occasions," Pagano explains. "I'll still be in circulation. I'll be more in circulation." So Father Time marches heedlessly on.

 
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