Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I've never had the occasion to go to Jack Magoo's Sports Bar and Grill and now it's for damn sure I never will. Two weeks ago, bouncers at the Broad Avenue bistro physically removed a customer from the bar because they believed he was intoxicated and creating a disturbance. The police responded to the scene to find an injured man on the sidewalk bleeding from a wound in the head. When the police became aware of the cane by the  man's side and his inability to speak with them, they suspected that this was more than just a drunk tossed out of a saloon. In fact, the aggrieved customer was Brian Roper, thirty year veteran and retired Captain of the Germantown Police Department, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2007 which left him crippled on his right side and without speech. Roper offered a card to the officers explaining that he suffers from aphasia, a lasting side-effect of stroke caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls speech.  Roper declined to be taken to a hospital, so the officers took him home. That might have been the end of it had not some concerned citizen brought the matter to the attention of WMC-TV Channel 5, who reported the story in their March 25 nightly newscast when reporter Jason Miles interviewed Roper in his midtown apartment. My wife and I cried when we saw the report. You see, Brian Roper is a friend of mine.

I have spent half my life in bars and have known some bad-ass bouncers in that time. But I never saw any of them- not Skip Ousley, Campbell Kinsinger, Mac Thompson, or Rusty Neel- rough up a disabled customer. After an explosion on Facebook and other social media, Jack Magoo's issued a statement on their Facebook page through one of the unidentified co-owners, either Bryan Plunk or Jim Shannon, stating, "A recent report by one individual on social media and subsequent local news reports of alleged aggressive behavior toward a disabled customer greatly disturbs us." The bruises to both Mr. Roper's arms, chest, and head, however, are certainly not "alleged." The dissembling owner continued to say that he was tardy in responding to the matter because he was on sequestered jury duty without telephone accessibility, and his partner did not wish to respond to the news reports until they had time to confer. This is the grown-up equivalent of a doctor's note, exempting a student from Phys Ed. The owner continued, announcing the hiring of an "outside company to conduct interviews of the employees allegedly involved," and said that a statement would have been more forthcoming if not for the collection and examination of video surveillance. "It takes time to review all the video," the explanation read, "but it is being looked at to ensure the truth is brought forth. And we seek the truth." The rest of the online proclamation was enough boilerplate legalese to make Cory B. Trotz throw up. I don't know what the delay is. I got the story in one phone call.

According to police reports, Mr. Roper took a cab to the Three Angels Diner on Broad Avenue the night of March 14 to have dinner and watch the Memphis Tigers' game. According to Roper, he had been served there before without incident. In a happy mood, Roper proceeded to Jack Magoo's to celebrate the Tigers' victory in a boisterous sports bar atmosphere. When he got to the bar, Roper's drink order was misunderstood, as were his fruitless protestations to the bartender. Assumed drunk, Roper was ordered to leave the bar. When Roper angrily responded by trying to communicate through his ever-present notepad, three employees forcibly removed him from the nightspot and threw him to the pavement outside. A follow-up report was made the next day after Roper's friend and "interpreter," local musician Jim Spake, took him to the ER of Methodist North Hospital and re-called the police to give a more accurate account of the incident according to Roper. Officers Reinhardt and Norris took photos of the various scrapes and bruises on Roper's body before he was moved to the Intensive Care Unit due to a small brain bleed. He was released from the hospital Sunday morning.

I'll admit my prejudice in being sympathetic to Brian Roper's side of things. Our friendship dates back to the early 90s when Roper, Jim Spake and I were all volunteer programmers on WEVL-FM90, and members of the same pub quiz team which we named "Chest Pains." Roper's specialties were sports, military history, and great books, but there wasn't a single subject of which Brian did not possess some passing knowledge. He was a great wit and known to have a cocktail or three, although I never witnessed any aberrant behavior on his part. What made his stroke even more saddening was that it deprived Brian of his ability to express himself. I was present in those early days of his recovery and saw his frustration over knowing what he wanted to say, but being incapable of forming the words. Conversations with Brian became a guessing game akin to "you're getting warmer," and were difficult to conduct. To my shame, because it became uncomfortable for me, I allowed our friendship to slide, ceasing regular contact with Brian and moving on. Jim Spake, however, stood by his side through good times and bad, and knows Brian so well that he can anticipate, understand, and "interpret" Brian's speech patterns. Thus, Spake's insistence that an additional police report was necessary. I spoke with Spake before his gig with Lucero in Pawtuckett, Rhode Island, and he was firm in his defense of Roper. We agreed that even if Brian were knocked-out loaded, that would have been no excuse for throwing him in the street, and even the smallest amount of examination would have revealed his disability.

I know that where I work, if I ever put my hands on a customer, I would be gone within the hour. That's because the owners emphasize customer service above all else and this was made clear to me before I was employed. No business, bar or otherwise, allows their employees to physically eject a customer from the premises without the tacit approval of management. I was therefore not surprised that despite Jack Magoo's insistence that the bar "maintains the highest ethical standard," there was no expression of regret or attempt at apology in their online legal brief- only a promise of an internal investigation, then they'll get back to us. This delay has created turmoil among those who care about Roper, and a Facebook discussion of a musicians' boycott has already begun. If I were advising the owners of Jack Magoo's, I would tell them that if you wish to salvage the reputation of your establishment you should immediately issue a public apology, announce that the thugs that abused Roper have been terminated, and promise that nothing like this will ever occur again. Then I would quietly offer some restitution to Roper personally to compensate for his injuries and public embarrassment. So far, it's business as usual, and a glance at Jack Magoo's Facebook page trumpets "60 cent wings and $3.50 Margaritas," to which one commenter replied, "If I come, please don't dump me out of my wheelchair."  Brian Roper deserves better, and if Jack Magoo's doesn't act properly and soon, he just might get it.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Viral Cruises

If you should ever run into me at some social gathering and I mention in passing that I'm planning on going on a cruise, just go ahead and shoot me in the head, for surely the pod people will have taken over my bodily essence. I would no sooner take a cruise than take a colonoscopy without anesthetic, and judging from the images I saw from the recent floating disaster called the Carnival Triumph, the pictures would look about the same. Set adrift in the Gulf of Mexico because of an engine fire, nearly 3000 passengers were stranded for five days without heat or air conditioning, a broken sewage system too disgusting to describe, and a scarcity of food; which reminds me of that old joke about diners complaining that the food was simply poison, and in such small portions. After the "poop cruise" situation was followed hourly by cable news and the wretched tourists finally disembarked, they were heartened to learn that Carnival Cruises was offering full refunds on fares, an extra $500, and a credit for another cruise. The company tweeted that "of course the Triumph bathrobes are complimentary." If I were a passenger, I'd be burning that stack.

I used to think of cruises as something my parents did, when the passengers dressed for dinner and either watched a show or some other entertainment and then passed out. Now cruises are built around food and the all-you-can-eat banquet feasts that are available 24 hours a day. Cruise ships once required some decorum in dress, but the people I saw exiting the Carnival Triumph were the same American slobs you see in Wal-Mart, with oversized T-shirts over baggy shorts and white, athletic socks with some hideous sneaker. I wouldn't want to spend time with 3000 people on dry land, much less trapped in a E Coli incubator on the open seas. And these leisurely cruises are looking more like episodes of Survivor. In 2010 the cruise ship Celebrity Mercury left Charleston, SC with 2600 passengers and returned to port with 400 people stricken by an outbreak of norovirus. All this comes only a year after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 32 and capsizing after the captain jumped ship. Didn't anybody ever watch Gilligan's Island?

My aversion to cruises dates back to the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro when four terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front dumped poor Leon Klinghoffers' body overboard in his wheelchair. You might think that particular cruise ship would be retired out of respect, but the Lauro Line returned it to service until an engine fire caused it to sink off the coast of Somalia in 1994 with 1000 passengers on board. Which brings us to the Carnival Splendor which was attacked by Somali pirates in 2005. I'm certain that those passengers weren't aware that some of the cruise activities included dodging machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades when they purchased their tickets. Yet still, the cruise industry reports a 23 percent increase in business in the past year alone. This despite the numerous incidences of cruise ships becoming floating petri dishes of disease. The Center for Disease Control has said "sickness has run rampant on cruise ships," especially norovirus which has been derisively called the "cruise ship disease." Doesn't anybody just get plain old sea-sick anymore?

The cruise industry fights back by saying that the norovirus is a common illness found in hotels and other public places and is spread like the ordinary cold. Also, since cruise ships participate in the Vessel Sanitation Program, they are required to report the number of cases of gastrointestinal illnesses before the ship arrives at a U.S. port, creating greater attention to ship-borne diseases. On the CDC homepage, however, sixteen cruise ships reported outbreaks of norovirus in 2012 alone, with the Ruby Princess cited twice. But like the industry says, why sweat the intestinal eruptions when there is salmonella, E Coli, and Legionnaire's disease to be concerned about as well. In 1994, 50 passengers aboard a cruise ship contacted Legionnaire's disease from a contaminated whirlpool spa, and the British ship M.S. Black Watch had a Legionnaire's outbreak in 2007, killing one. 100 other passengers have filed suit against the company. Cruising may be fun for some, but I equate it to sitting in a hot tub full of other people's simmering sickness, or an airplane full of coughing babies.

The disease-athon is not relegated to the four-day cruises alone. In 2012, the prestigious Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Emerald Princess were both hit by incidences of norovirus and gastroenteritis. I admit to a passing acquaintance with gastro-intestinal problems myself, and it's adventure enough in my own home. I can't imagine too many things worse than suffering in a cramped loo in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Just last week, the Royal Caribbean "Vision of the Seas" docked in Port Everglades, FL with 108 passengers and three crew members stricken with norovirus and suffering from diarrhea and vomiting. The company reportedly apologized to the sick, sanitized the ship, and headed back to Aruba. Should I ever get another vacation in this life, it will be on terra firma. Let others smell the ocean air or whatever that smell is. Also, I don't do well in crowds, especially crowds of sick people. Besides, if I ever have the desire to watch large groups of people throw up, I can always go down to the casinos.