Berger Bit

Unreal bids fond farewell to Jerry Berger, witnesses a presidential Opening Day and a six-foot-tall termite and gives out a very, very special award

April arrives at long last, and like a lone crocus breaking through the soil of a neglected garden, spring's purity blossoms in Unreal's soul. Then, devastating news: Citing a note from his doctor, Jerry Berger is stepping down from his gossipmongering post at the Post. Oh, the woe! The cries of despair emanating from Unreal's cubicle!

It was mere weeks ago that your slothful correspondent (Unreal, that is; not Jerry) shared a screed from an embittered soon-to-be-former server at a local bistro who accused the Bergermeister of myriad crimes against nurture, including smoking in a non-smoking establishment and stiffing her on the tip. Because we'll do just about anything to get people to send us mail, Unreal put out a call for readers to share their own "Berger Bites."

By far the best tale came from the pen of Andy Ayers, owner of Riddle's Penultimate, who described an encounter way back in 1986 when the columnist came to dinner and, upon being presented with the check, told Ayers he'd forgotten his wallet and prevailed upon the restaurateur to send him a bill. Months passed. Berger mentioned Riddle's in his column but never got back to Ayers, who took perverse pleasure in nominating the experience for inclusion in, of all things, the Columbia Journalism Review.

An old Jerry story,  an older Jerry photo
An old Jerry story, an older Jerry photo
Laura Tolley (left) and Mary Levi perform shmellatio on 
Andrew Marsh's "Venus Flytrap."
Fred Lark Brown
Laura Tolley (left) and Mary Levi perform shmellatio on Andrew Marsh's "Venus Flytrap."

An editor called. Ayers' story amounted to "very serious charges which could cost Mr. Berger his job," and he'd need to call Berger for a response. Go ahead, Ayers said. Next thing he knew, Jerry Berger called. After exchanging pleasantries, Berger mentioned offhandedly, "By the way, Andy, I don't owe you any money or anything, do I?"

While Berger put a check in the mail, Ayers called the CJReditor, who told him, "'I'm afraid I won't be writing anything about this for the magazine. Mr. Berger told me that your name sounded vaguely familiar to him, Mr. Ayers, but he doesn't believe he's ever met you and he's quite certain he's never been in your restaurant.'"

Like CJR, Unreal called Berger, and asked ever-so-gingerly about the incident.

"That's just wild," he said. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't remember. Well, yes, I do remember not having my wallet, and getting a bill. I paid it, though. I remember that." The conversation ended pleasantly, with vague promises of drinks or dinner with Unreal (we'll buy!) in the near future.

Hours later, Berger abruptly announces his farewell.

No more Jerry. No more "Berger Bites." Oh, the woe!

Un-Envy-able

Venus Envy director Mallarie Zimmer says it was the discrimination her mother faced trying to make ends meet as an artist that inspired her to found her annual women-only art bash. Now Zimmer's success has led to its own backlash.

The Venus Shmeenus art exhibition, held this Saturday, April 10 -- the same night as Venus Envy -- features female and male artists showing pieces based on the theme of, in co-founder Mary Levi's words, "the genders working together." Levi, a steel fabricator who works at the City Museum, runs the show with Laura Tolley, who works in the museum gift shop and once had a piece rejected by Venus Envy's jury.

But there's no sour grapes, they swear.

"The name is supposed to be funny. The whole thing is to take things less seriously, not to take yourself so seriously," Levi says. "Since Venus Envy doesn't allow male participants in their show, we decided to do a version that was both-sexes-friendly."

Some might say friendly to males, some might say worshipful. Tolley tells Unreal that Venus Shmeenus is based on a Japanese festival called Kanamara Matsuri, or Festival of the Steel Phallus, based in Kawasaki. "It was originally started between 1603 and 1867 as a festival to pray for sexual safety among the Kawasaki prostitutes, but now it's based on good luck and fertility," she says. Shmeenus will kick off with a phallically themed parade, and at least one of the exhibition's artworks is said to, er, embrace the male organ. And yes, weenies and other similarly shaped foodstuffs will be served.

Shmeenus debuted last year just upstairs from the Envy show at the City Museum. This year Levi envisions the two events as complementing one another: "Kind of like the art walks they do down on Washington. It's one night to go see a bunch of stuff."

Of course, while Shmeenus again takes place at the City Museum, this year's Envy is across town at the Southside National Bank Building at Grand Boulevard and Gravois Avenue. Not even a Kawasaki tourist would make that walk.

"I just see them as trying to put on an alternative to what we've been doing for six years," shrugs Zimmer, who says the idea of an all-male show had been rumored in the past. "The only reason people would show up at their event is out of curiosity -- to see the counter-response.

"I'm just glad they didn't call it Penis Envy," she concludes. "That would have been too sarcastic."

Todd the Termite

In Singapore, where judges are apt to order canings for those who stray from the broad visage of Johnny Law, termites are considered edible delicacies. Furthermore, termites, which faintly resemble cantaloupe seeds when viewed through a glass case, never sleep, making them the Paris Hilton of the household pest set.

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