Fry Guys 

Plus: charter control; the opera comes to town; and so does the wrecking ball

In a day when high-tech gizmos get all the ink, it's refreshing to learn that caveman-basic innovation still gets its due every now and then. Surely the gods were smiling when St. Louis-based inventors Kevin Morris and Howard Williams received a gold medal in the food-and-beverage category at the prestigious INPEX international invention competition in Pittsburgh last month.

Their brainchild: a device called Ketch-A-Fry, a typical-looking cardboard french-fry holder that features a built-on sidecar for ketchup and can be easily affixed to an automobile dashboard or door by way of an ingenious hooking mechanism.

Unreal contacted 30-year-old St. Louis Hills resident Williams to gauge his views on all matters French and fried.

Unreal: Do you think your invention will contribute to America's obesity problem?

Williams: No. It's just a solution to a problem that hinders everybody.

Did you once spill a shitload of fries on your lap while driving?

The real motivation was, we eat out quite a bit. Every time we get a supersize order of fries, there's nothing to do with 'em. You put 'em on your seat; you hit the brakes, they fly everywhere. Now you hang it from any knob, front or back seat. It's made out of cardboard. We just put a few folds in it for the hanging mechanism.

Who makes the best french fries?

You gotta like Mickey D's.

What was the stupidest invention at the conference?

A guy took a snow shovel and put wheels on it -- training wheels right off a bicycle. The Electronic Retailing Association invited him to a show out of Vegas to present that product. It's one of those Home Shopping Network products. They'll just buy that stupid shit for $19.95. It'll go on for three months, and then you'll never hear of it again.

What did you think of french fries' being renamed "freedom fries"?

Perfect. It was all right with me -- as long as they use my container.

How tall are you, and how much do you weigh?

Six-two, 150.

How do you counteract the fries physically?

Metabolism -- it's a great genetic trait. Thanks, Mom!

Do you think it's annoying when fat Americans go to France and insist on wearing skintight "Super Bowl Shuffle" Chicago Bears T-shirts, white ankle socks and mesh baseball hats?

Totally. Get a new metabolism and a new look.

D-Day Redux
Darst-Webbe is no more

Last week marked the end of an era at the intersection of Tucker Boulevard and Chouteau Avenue, just south of downtown St. Louis, as Ahrens Excavation toppled the last of the ten buildings that once constituted the Darst-Webbe public-housing complex. Gone now are every last one of the high-rise eyesores that piled low-income residents vertically rather than horizontally and that, along with the much maligned Pruitt-Igoe complex on the city's North Side, stood as a symbol of a failed urban experiment in living.

On June 6 -- D-Day, appropriately enough -- a wrecking ball is busy pulverizing the concrete that had been the Paul Simon Elderly Building, built in 1961, five years after the completion of Darst-Webbe proper. "You start on the ninth floor, and you work your way down with a ball," imparts Ahrens project manager Roger Kent. "Just ball straight down each level. They're pretty much concrete with steel frames, so with a ball they come down pretty easy."

Once demolished, the site will house a new mixed-income residential development, according to the St. Louis Housing Authority. Construction is slated to begin this summer, with the rental units completed by December and the rest finished by 2006. Former Simon residents now live 100 yards north of the old building in a newly constructed three-story complex.

Our Own Private Rigoletto
St. Louis may be in the flyover zone, but we're no strangers to high drama

This week a bevy of opera professionals arrive in St. Louis for the annual OPERA America conference, the nation's largest annual gathering of producers, artists and aficionados. Approximately 600 people are expected to attend from all over the world. We welcome them to our humble oasis and encourage them to explore the city. (There are a few good minigolf courses, and by all means pound a six-pack of Busch while you're here.)

Last year the Opera Theatre of St. Louis debuted Michael Patrick Albano and Cary John Franklin's Loss of Eden, an opera based on the life of Charles Lindbergh. It was great to see St. Louis represented in the finest of arts, but why not, in honor of the conference, build on that success? Certainly Lindbergh's isn't the only St. Louis-related life worthy of adaptation. Here are some more:

Oh, Junky! Longing to erase his upper-middle-class Central West End upbringing, William Burroughs shoots heroin, then his wife, then moves to Lawrence, Kansas, where he sings, sotto voce, to his cats.

I Liked Ike: The first-ever libretto about smoking crack and smacking around Tina Turner. The show-stopper: an imbroglio based on the composition "River Deep, I'm High."

Eagleton Has Landed: A moment in the sun as George McGovern's first pick as running mate at the 1972 presidential convention, then disaster strikes in the form of revelations about ongoing treatment for depression. This opera is tailor-made for a descent-into-hell scene.

Balls in the Gutter: The trials and tribulations of Bowling Hall of Famer Dick Weber as he works to cope with the antics of his rude-boy son Pete.

Extra Mayo: Born in St. Louis, Virginia Mayo goes on to star with (among others) Bob Hope, James Cagney and Danny Kaye. It all comes crashing down when the Sultan of Morocco proclaims her to be "tangible proof of God's existence." Chaos ensues as philosophers flock to her home to poke and pinch her. In a dreamlike sequence, a distraught Friedrich Nietzsche comes back from the dead and tries to kill her.

Whoa, Nelly! Hometown rapper struggles with temptation, desire and gluttony. In the finale ultimo, Nelly's soul is devoured by ho's as antagonist KRS-One bellows with laughter.

Up Chuck: Tax troubles, marijuana busts, bathroom videotapes -- Chuck Berry's life had it all. And what librettist could resist the chance to write a recitativo detailing the joy of peeing on one's lover?

Reform School
Former deputy mayor Mike Jones turns his talents to fixing St. Louis' charter

In his peripatetic public life, Mike Jones has been many things -- alderman, deputy mayor and Anheuser-Busch executive among them. One thing that's remained a constant: He's still black. Jones believes that was one of the reasons -- perhaps the main reason -- he was picked to chair the "conveners group" that will decide which charter-reform measures will go on the ballot in St. Louis in November 2004.

The city is 51 percent African-American. Any proposed change in the charter must be approved by voters.

Ergo, says Jones, "it had to be a black." And it had to be someone with political skills and the confidence of the business community. "The sadness of it is, there weren't three or four folks to pick from," he says. "We need a deeper bench."

Though members of the black community have good reason to be distrustful of the process, they need to be at the table, Jones says. "If you withdraw from the struggle, you increase the chances of a negative outcome. That doesn't mean we're all going to gather around the campfire singing 'Kumbaya' or some shit, but it means in every arena you have to be there."

As far as he's concerned, St. Louis needs a strong-mayor system, regardless of whether that mayor is black or white. But he's aware that the entrenched political interests will resist change. "Usually junkies and alcoholics who haven't recovered like the condition they're in," Jones notes.

He's prepared for the challenge, but he's not looking forward to the struggle: "Would I rather be doing something else? Hell yes."

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