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Long Story Short: Be of good cheer—and vote!


Illustration by JP Thimot


The Optimism Edition


It’s been a stressful couple of years. Rhetoric in newspapers, radio, TV, and—especially—social media, has been dialed up to red hot. This past week saw a would-be mail bomber, a lunatic arrested for the crime, a synagogue terrorist attack, another lunatic arrested, a local fake-bomb copycat, and a local lunatic arrested. At times, it seems like the world is spinning out of control.


It’s helpful to remember that this isn’t the first time over the past century that the world has seemed poised on the brink of destruction. World War I involved the most powerful and populous countries on multiple continents in the first machine-age war, complete with horrifying chemical weapons. The Great Depression was a worldwide economic disaster. WW II resulted in eighty million war-related deaths. The Korean War was the first in a string of often pointless and always costly US conflicts. The fifties brought civil rights violence. The sixties and seventies saw assassinations, Vietnam War protests, race riots, student marches, and left-wing militant groups. With each social upheaval, there were people who thought America as we know it would not survive.


But it did.


And it will. So today, we focus on positive and upbeat stories in Western New York, starting with...



The right to vote

Tomorrow is election day. All Americans have the right to vote, but only a fraction do. Voter turnout this year, though expected to be at or near a record high for a mid-term election, is still not predicted to break fifty-percent! That’s crazy.


Here’s something to feel good about: voters in Western New York are not subjected to any of the repression tactics employed in other states. Maybe you’ve read about them— sneaky, underhanded gimmicks designed mainly to prevent many voters from casting a ballot. Not here.  


Betty Jean Grant, a voter outreach advocate for the Erie County Board of Elections (BOE), says the Board “goes out of its way to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to register and vote.” There are no repression tactics. Grant keeps voter registration forms in her car year-round in case she meets someone who hasn’t registered.


Voting is easy. You enter your polling place and state your name. They look it up in a book, and you sign in. You receive a voting sheet to study privately as long as you want. Bubble your vote, slide it into a machine, and you’ve fulfilled your civic duty. If you moved since the last election, and didn’t tell the BOE, you can sign an affidavit, and still vote. There’s no excuse. Vote!



Botanical Gardens growing

There were times when the fate of The Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens was uncertain. Hard to believe now, but it came close to being demolished more than once. Well here’s some good news; the 118-year old Olmsted Park attraction is planning a $14 million-dollar expansion.


Plans call for a new 36,000-square-foot building by architect Toshiko Mori, who also designed the much-praised Greatbatch Visitor Pavilion at the Darwin Martin House. The new addition will include a butterfly exhibit, café, gift shop, exhibit space, grow houses, and more. Money for the project still must be raised, but the response from government and funding groups has been positive.



Good guys watching our backs

Lawsuits are generally not cause for celebrations. Except when the state Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission goes after a Buffalo debt collector who uses “deceptive and abusive” tactics. Six firms owned by Robert Heidenreich are being sued for—among other things—having collectors pose as law enforcement personnel and demanding more money than is actually owed.


The lawsuit claims that Heidenreich uses an alias, as well as fake business names. His employees make a variety of false claims, in one instance telling a consumer that someone was coming from the local Florida sheriff’s office to arrest her on an outstanding warrant. Buffalo is one of the nation’s major debt-collection hubs. It’s been estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 people work at roughly 110 local collection agencies. There are honest players in the field, but many are not. Shutting them down is good news for Buffalo.


The Attorney General is on a roll. The office also shut down three Amherst moving companies that were deceiving consumers by posting at least sixty fake online reviews to make them sound like legitimate businesses. The owner of the companies, Goldy Sandhu (who acknowledged all charges), used sound-alike business names: Pan American Relocation Services, AAA Moving Services, and Mayflower Moving Services. Sandhu would take a reserve payment from a customer, then hire a second-rate unlicensed mover to do the work. Sometimes, the companies later demanded more than the quoted price. A court order secured by the Attorney General bars Sandhu and his fake businesses from the household moving industry.



"Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?
Probably not—and government should stop bribing people to stay there."

That was the title of a 2007 article by Edward L. Glaeser, professor of economics at Harvard University, in City Journal magazine. Here’s one quote: “The hallmark of declining cities is having an excess of housing relative to demand. Econ 101 teaches us that any further increases in housing supply will just push prices down more.” Eleven years later (as we reported last week), there’s a housing shortage in the city, and prices are rising dramatically.


The article went on to say, “Buffalo, with Washington’s help, turned its attention to redeveloping its waterfront. All this spending aimed at resurrecting Buffalo as a place…was destined to fail.” Yet, the waterfront is one of the unqualified successes of Buffalo’s recent boom. Speaking of which, the article summed up the situation thusly: “Yet though such policies would improve things, they would not restore the boomtown of the early twentieth century; the economic trends working against such a prospect are simply too great.”


We may not be booming like in the early twentieth century—few cities can match that—but Buffalo has certainly come a long way since the dire predictions of this article. And that’s a big ha-ha-ha-ha.



An underground art film for Lennon fans

Greg Sterlace has made a total of five movies, but unless you were in the first four, there’s no particular reason to see those homemade no-budget videos. If that offends Sterlace, this may be of some consolation: with his fifth film—Catcher in the Rye with Diamonds—the auteur has struck gold. Along with his wife and co-screenwriter Paula Wachowiak, Sterlace explores the relationship between Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon in New York City in 1980, and the book the assailant claimed he was playing out. Produced over a five-year period, and filmed in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Amherst, Akron, and New York City, this is Sterlace’s opus.


Sterlace focuses on the many strange correlations between the novel and Chapman’s story, with an often-surreal narrative, using a montage of vintage clips, music, acted scenes, and photos. Everything in the film is based on true-life aspects of the crime, or related trivia (including Beatle Easter Eggs for hardcore fans).


Impressively edited by Loretta Michaels (who learned the skill for the project), it’s uniformly well-acted, with John F. Kennedy (yes, that’s his real name) a standout as Chapman. And here’s the kicker: Sterlace does not charge to see the film, because all of it was done without copyright consent (particularly problematic with the J.D. Salinger dialogue). One of the film’s rare screenings occurred last Friday at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. There will be another one December 8th (the date Lennon was killed) at 7 p.m. at the Screening Room at the Boulevard Mall.  Free admission for all, with live music from Joni Russ half an hour prior. 


Be forewarned; this is not a Hollywood production, nor is it pretending to be, and judging the film by that standard is unfair. This is a work of video art, comparable to what artists like Michael Smith, Claudia Joskowicz, or Ryan Trecartin do. In an article in The Public, Sterlace says, “It’s about Chapman looking back now [from Wende Correctional facility in Western New York] at how he was feeling when he shot Lennon,” Sterlace says. “It’s a double period piece [1980 and 1951] in color and black and white. It’s a Christmas movie that I hope will be a holiday perennial for years to come.”



Vinyl madness

Some people lament the loss of Record Theater, that once-magnificent music emporium at Main and Lafayette. I often tell my art students that, as a teenager, I would go to record stores just to admire the twelve-inch square album art. But while big-box record stores are no longer viable, there’s a new trend toward small neighborhood venues. Earlier this summer, independent record store, Black Dots, moved to a new larger space at 363 Grant Street, part of a business upswing in that neighborhood. The store sells albums and refurbished audio equipment.  


Three years ago, Phil Machemer opened Revolver Records on Hertel Avenue. It was such a success that last week he opened a second location at 831 Elmwood Avenue. The original store is said to contain 30,000 records, from vintage to new. Elmwood has been without a vinyl record shop (or any music store) since New World Records and Home of the Hits closed. Revolver has the vintage look of the funky small-box record stores of old.


All of this is due to the growth of vinyl sales over the past few years, which, honestly, I don’t understand, beyond the nostalgia of hand-placing the record needle and flipping the disk. Maybe it’s the bigger album sleeves. Recording engineers favor CDs for sound, but the public seems to crave the pops, clicks, and distortion of vinyl. But hey, that’s good news for small independent record stores.



A tradition is born

This might not technically qualify as good news, but it might put a smile on the faces of Bills’ fans (such smiles are rare this season). Dildo tossing seems to be a thing at Bills-Patriots games. Last Monday, no less than three of the phallic devices were thrown onto the playing field. A Florida man was arrested for one such toss, but the other dick-whippers went unpunished. This isn’t the first time Bills’ fans have engaged in rubber-dong-throwing; it happened the previous two years at Bills-Patriot games.


A couple thoughts: could there be a method to this madness? The number of dildos thrown at last week’s game matches the touchdown-passes the Bills managed up to that point this year. Coincidence? Then there’s this: where are these fans hiding the dildos when they enter the stadium? Talk about tight ends.  



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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