The news would be easier to keep up with if it would just stay put. The missing banker I keep referring to? He’s a local resident who disappeared from his office in Macomb County a month ago, an office found “in disarray,” one of those cop/journalist words no actual human being ever says. It was a Sunday night, too, so he was alone there, just another CEO banker burning the midnight oil at his flatlining bank. This, the bank’s precarious status, was seen as interesting, as were rumors of a gambling problem (denied by family). The usual barstool detectives weighed in. In my mind, the possibilities boiled down to two obvious ones — he drained the accounts and fled for a country with no extradition treaty, or else flung himself off a bridge.
When his corpse was found by duck hunters a few days ago, floating in the lake not far from his office, the bridge theory gained credence. The autopsy revealed …something. No blunt-force trauma, probably drowning. It’s hard to find evidence on a body that’s been in the water for a month. I know it’s his job, but the medical examiner had my sympathies.
The family said they wanted a second autopsy, their legal right if they were willing to pay, and they were — they have the means. So the body is turned over to the m.e. in Oakland County, and what’s this? Why, it’s a bullet hole in the base of the skull. Back into the water the sheriff’s department goes, and what’s this? Why, it’s a .38-caliber handgun belonging to the deceased, not six feet from where the body was found.
This story has officially outpaced the efforts of a small hyperlocal website to keep up with it, just when it becomes really interesting. This is why we still need newspapers, folks.
I don’t expect it will do much for Oakland-Macomb relations, either. The wound was detected, the sheriff said, using a “sophisticated X-ray machine” that spotted the bullet fragments, a machine the Macomb m.e. did not have. Way to rub it in, richer county. Also, the sheriff is running for county executive, and this is an October surprise he doesn’t need. Finally, it raises the obvious question: Who killed the banker? He or she has had a month head start on the forces of justice. I expect all of this is being discussed in newsroom meetings all over the metro. Well, as I said, we just don’t have the boots.
Fortunately for bloggers, however, today is rich in material. Bob Guccione died, I see. In Plano, Texas. What the hell was he doing down there? Seeking out the sun like a lizard, maybe? Or just looking for cheaper housing:
The dissolution of the Guccione empire took years. A $200 million Penthouse casino in Atlantic City never materialized, and he lost much of his investment. A $17.5 million movie containing hard-core sex scenes and graphic violence, “Caligula,” was shunned by distributors, and Mr. Guccione lost heavily. He once hired 82 scientists to develop a small nuclear reactor as a low-cost energy source, but it came to nothing and cost $17 million.
The government took chunks of his fortune. In 1985, the Internal Revenue Service demanded $45 million in back taxes. In 1992, he had to borrow $80 million for another tax bill. In 1986, after a scathing federal antipornography report, Penthouse was withdrawn from many newsstands and circulation revenues — a major source of income — fell sharply.
The trend accelerated in the 1990s as Internet pornography grew increasingly available. Mr. Guccione responded with more explicit sexual content that drove advertisers and vendors away, limiting many sales to pornographic bookstores.
…Mr. Guccione, who developed throat cancer in 1998, sold artworks, media properties and his Staatsburg estate as revenues dwindled and debts soared. Penthouse posted a $10 million loss in 2001, General Media filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and he resigned as chairman and chief executive of Penthouse International. Creditors foreclosed on the Guccione mansion, and he moved out in 2006.
I saw the skeleton of the Atlantic City casino when I was there to cover the Miss America pageant one year. It was stalled at the ironwork stage, and every beam was branded with the Penthouse key logo. It loomed over and beside and around a tiny, shabby little house, one of those infamous old cusses who simply will not sell at any price.
The story went that construction stalled when a libel judgment Guccione won against Larry Flynt — something like $75 million, the highest ever awarded at the time — was appealed and knocked down to something closer to $1.98. Now there was a story, unfolding in a Columbus courtroom in 1979. The paper still didn’t have its act together, and it was covered by the usual courthouse reporter with no great fanfare. Hunter Thompson could have gotten a book out of it. I remember going over to J.C. Burns’ mom’s apartment (she lived three doors down from my parents) to visit one night, and she was laughing over it so hard she had tears running down her face. Her comedic sense was obviously more developed than the metro editors at the Dispatch, and could see there was something hysterically funny about one pornographer suing another pornographer for damaging his reputation. At one point Guccione took the stand and wept over the offense done to “the woman I love,” Kathy Keeton, his life and business partner, who sat at the plaintiff’s table knitting throughout the trial.
I forget what the insult was. Probably one of Flynt’s aggressively stupid humor pieces, like the one about Jerry Falwell, memorialized in “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” God knows what the jury was thinking, but the story went that the Gooch, flush with the anticipation of all that cash, decided to get in on the Atlantic City gambling boom when it was still young. Alas, it didn’t work out. Lots of stuff didn’t work out. Funny how rich men go crazy — a nuclear reactor? Eighty-two scientists? Imagine getting that job, telling your family: “We’re moving to New York to build a small reactor for a guy who publishes a skin magazine, family! Let’s get packing!”
And then there was “Caligula,” proof Guccione, like all pornographers, also sought the holy grail of respectability — a dirty movie that would keep ’em in their seats after they got what they came for. (Or came what they got for. Whatever.) It didn’t turn out that way, and is generally acknowledged as one of the world’s most expensive all-time stinkers. A few of us saw it one night, in some down-at-the-heels art-movie house in Columbus. There’s a scene where a female character masturbates by pedaling some sort of exercise bicycle that propelled a wheel of feathers that hit her in the happy place. It raised some question in my mind about the technology available in ancient Rome for such a thing, but oh well. I really can’t do better than this archival Time magazine piece on the fiasco, which contains gem after gem after gem:
Where (original screenwriter Gore) Vidal was liberal with sex scenes, Brass has been profligate: there are enough orgies to satisfy even Guccione, and phalluses in all sizes decorate walls, dinner plates and nearly everything else—with naked girls taking up the spaces in between. “To the Romans,” notes (star Malcolm) McDowell, “sex was like driving a car.”
Poor Malcolm McDowell. He later said the movie served as a lesson in the career dangers of doing nudity early in one’s career; you become the guy who can always be counted on to “take his kit off.”
Well, then. There’s so much good bloggage today, all of it from the NYT, which is sort of a carnival of Grim today:
In Indiana, Baron Hill could well be going down for daring to state heresy: Climate change is real:
A rain of boos showered Mr. Hill, including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party.
“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”
Does your kid play football? Check his helmet to see if it’s “certified” by a group consisting of helmet manufacturers. Yes, your kid can get a concussion from the Invisible Hand.
Well, I’m thoroughly propagandized. Off to Wayne State.