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

Apr 7, 2004 at 4:00 am
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 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 CJR editor, 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!


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.

Unreal never would have been privy to such fascinating facts had we not exposed ourselves to the "Towering Termite Tour" this past Friday afternoon at the Magic House in Kirkwood. The exhibit, which travels to zoos, science centers and other kid-friendly spots around the nation in a big purple truck, features a two-story-high inflatable termite (the world's largest), as well as a six-foot-tall fur-suited termite masterfully portrayed nationwide by CBC alum and Kirkwood native Todd Dillon.

"Kids have asked, 'Do we get to exit through the anus?'" reports Dillon, whose crew almost lost the inflate-a-mite altogether a few weeks ago when it began to blow away in a Memphis windstorm (it got snagged on a steel fence before it could wreak havoc on a nearby subdivision).

Sweating profusely in his suit, the termite reveals that the day's next stop for him and his handler, Brian Bethel of Manchester, will be John D. McGurk's Irish Pub in Soulard, making Unreal a little nervous about the safety of the bar's vintage mahogany bar. But, as the Guns N' Roses-inspired "Appetite for Destruction" exhibit near the inflate-a-mite's rear showed us, drunken termites are more apt to chew rolls of toilet paper -- which is of no concern to Unreal; we're partial to a bidet.

Stiffed Again

Totally snubbing Unreal, the St. Louis Journalism Review presented its first-ever Excellence in Journalism award last month to a non-journalist, Webster University president Richard Meyers.

All right, so Unreal didn't make the cut. We'll get over it. But Webster subsidizes the Review's upkeep. Don't real journalists call this kind of thing a "conflict of interest"?

"Isn't giving an award to the person who makes your journalism possible kind of like giving an award to yourself?" we ask editor Ed Bishop.

"If you wanted to be cynical, I think you could see it that way," he replies.

No. Not cynical. A sore loser maybe, but not cynical. In fact Unreal is, like, so whatever-it-is-that's-the-opposite-of-cynical that we hereby announce the XXX-Cellence in Journalism award, to be presented annually to the advertiser in this paper's rearmost pages who makes the greatest journalistic contribution to Riverfront Times.

In pursuit of a deserving recipient, we encountered one Reginald Pearson, whom we found hard at work managing the downtown branch of Bargain Books.

Unreal: What standards do you employ when evaluating potential pornographic journalism?

Pearson: Basically, we look for top actors and top production companies. Like Elegant Angel, Evasive Angel and Diabolic.

How do you confirm that the fetish advertised on the outside of the magazine or video you stock is actually the fetish that's inside?

You have to be sure of the company you're dealing with. Certain companies have reputations that they're not going to screw you like that. They'll make sure that what you see on the outside is what you get on the inside.

Do you think high journalistic standards are important in pornography?

Yes. Because it's a multibillion-dollar industry. It's not just sex anymore, man. It's really big business now. They're putting a little time and effort into it these days.

Why aren't there more female pornographic journalists?

It's a male-dominated business, but I'm not sure why.

Do you think Jenna Jameson could have a career in journalism after she's through with porn?

Sure. I don't see why not.

That's awesome! Congratulations, Bargain Books has won the first annual XXX-Cellence in Journalism Award!

Really. Thank you.

First Glitch

The Cardinals' best pitcher on opening day turned out to be George Bush. Strolling confidently to the mound in his red Redbirds jacket before a mostly adoring (despite an undercurrent of boos) throng of 49,149, the president delivered a respectably velocitized stee-rike down the pipe.

But the Oval Office visit facilitated by Bush Ranger Bill DeWitt might not have been a home run for the embattled incumbent, as evidenced by many a tipsy swing voter who had to wait in bottlenecked, two-hour lines to pass through the Secret Service/metal detector gauntlet. Unreal did, however, appreciate the scenic beauty provided by the handsome crew of snipers fearlessly defying gravity, defending Busch Stadium's roof while Matt Morris and the Cardinals' own uncharacteristically sloppy defense presented an 8-6 gift to the perennially cruddy Milwaukee Brewers.

The action on the field was, sad to say, the day's least engaging element. The Cardinals' vaunted infield gave away two runs in the fifth inning. Staff "ace" Morris more than countered his own offensive output -- a two-run double in the fourth -- by surrendering a pair of home runs, each of which was preceded by a walk. As for reliever Ray King, let's just say the Rams needn't look any further than the big, soon-to-be-leveled ballpark down the block for a replacement for Grant Wistrom. At six-one and 242 pounds, King was born to play defensive line. After walking two of the three hitters he faced in a shaky inaugural outing, it remains to be seen whether he has a future on the mound.

Bush may have had his secret police, but Hall of Famers Lou Brock and Stan Musial, introduced to louder cheers than the president, will be sure to attract the attention of the fashion police should they choose to appear again in public the way they did in front of Monday's sellout crowd. Brock has gone from a well-kept, short-shorn (dare we say balding?) hairdo to a coifed cross between early-'90s Chris Rock and '70s-era John Shaft, while the Man could have been mistaken for a Section 109 usher in his hideous red blazer. Cardinal Pride's all well and good, old timer, but take it from Unreal: The Men's Wearhouse Easter Sale ain't something a cat with your coin has to feel obligated to cash in on.