This weekend I said hello for a while to one of my favorite Colorful Characters, Raynard Nebbitt. Then I said goodbye to another of my favorites, Paul “Father Time” Pagano, at the visitation following his recent death at the age of 93.
Raynard sat with me for part of the three hours I spent signing books Saturday at The Novel Neighbor bookstore in Webster Groves. As many around here know, Raynard’s brought smiles all around for years by standing on the Rock Hill Road Overpass (AKA the Raynard Nebbitt Crossing) and waving at passing cars and trains. Not too long ago, people went crazy about a blog post I did about Raynard. Before things quieted down, the post got 35,000 views in a week. So you can tell plenty of folks consider him friends.
I wasn’t surprised, then, that many greeted him at The Novel Neighbor. After I signed a page on the front of the buyer’s copy, Raynard dutifully placed his signature next to a picture on page 217, where my vignette about him begins. He was faithful to the task, but it seemed he preferred being somewhere else, most likely his spot on the bridge.
The signing with Raynard was lots of fun. The visitation for Paul Pagano on Sunday was less so, but there nonetheless was a sense of celebration at a life well lived. The family reserved all of Collier’s Funeral Home in St. Ann for the all-day event. Relatives, his many friends and people from throughout the community perused pictures and videos of Father Time at festivals, ball games, parades and any other place crowds gathered. Everybody has an axe to grind, I’m told, but the only one Paul had was to make people happy. Continue reading →
I’ve hit paydirt: a video of two of my favorite Colorful Characters together. Specifically Pete Parisi, the memorable anarchist-public access cable newsguy, interviewing Paul “Father Time” Pagano. Following Paul’s death last week, this is an especially good time to hear them together. To watch the video, click here.
It’s easy to find where Bill Christman lives. Strut over to the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood and look for the 8-1/2-foot tall fiberglass white chicken out front. If Christman’s not there, tramp to his sculpture park next door and see how old junk never looked so good. Rest on a park bench where the head of an old Big Boy statue towers over your shoulder. Gaze in awe at “robots” scattered about made out of spare parts, or the twenty-foot-tall man’s head called “The Phony Tough Guy” holding a cigarette in its mouth. Nearby is Joe’s Cafe, a tacky small concert hall Christman runs in the first floor of the two-story-brick store building where he lives with his wife, Mary.
Now motor over to South Jefferson Avenue and Cherokee Street and gaze at Christman’s thirteen-feet-tall statue of an Indian. Add base and headdress, and the creation is twenty-one-feet tall. Drive downtown to the City Museum and wander through Christman’s Museum of Mirth, Mystery, and Mayhem. Before the museum opened in 1997, Christman included an exhibit scrutinizing the mystical properties of the corn dog and a display featuring the world’s largest pair of men’s underpants. The text for the latter exhibit declared that ninety-eight percent of men wore underpants over the head, either as youngsters or as drunken college students.
It’s hardly high art, as a vignette in The Colorful Characters of St. Louis declares. That’s fine with Christman, who knows all the techniques of the artist, but would rather have fun employing them. “In the high art world, humor is considered a contaminant,” said Christman, a low-art type who’s dedicated his life to spreading that contaminant.
Since last week, it’s been clear that a lot of people care for Raynard Nebbitt, the guy who always greets motorists driving under the Rock Hill Road overpass of Interstate 44 with a smile and a wave. Make that the Raynard Nebbitt Overpass, the name the Webster Groves City Council gave the bridge.
Followers of this blog, jimmerkelthewriter.com, may recall that a strange thing happened starting Monday, Oct. 17. Thousands viewed a short blog post I did about a vignette about Raynard in my book The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. The last time I checked, almost 35,000 had seen the entry, called That Guy on the Overpass. It’s a touching example of how my book has pointed lights on people in St. Louis who deserve notice.
The interest in Raynard made me think that some people might want to say hello to Raynard. For those, Raynard will be at a previously-scheduled signing I’ll be doing of Colorful Characters from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct.29 at The Novel Neighbor, 7905 Big Bend Blvd. I’d like it if you’d purchase my book and ask me to sign it, or if you’d buy something else at this delightful little store. But even if you don’t plan to buy anything, come anyway. Raynard would love to see you.
By all means, please pass this on. Who knows? Maybe another 35,000 people will see this post. That would be fitting, considering the many thousand Raynard has greeted over the years.
It’s with real sadness that I pass along the news that Paul Pagano, AKA Father Time, died at 9 a.m. today, Oct. 21, at the age of 93.
For decades, Paul spread cheer wherever people were – outside a ball park, as a parade grand master, at every kind of fair imaginable. That would have been enough to make him my favorite person in my book The Colorful Characters of St. Louis.
Paul started being everybody’s goodwill ambassador as a way out of despair. After his his wife died in 1979, he withdrew from life for two years. Then he decided he’d had enough, dressed in red, white and blue and started giving out smiles whenever he could. He was still doing it at my book’s release party on Oct. 2. It was his second to last public appearance. He loved showing people the book he got at the party. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
For all of 2015, I got close to 4,000 views. That’s a little more than 10 a day. Stats for September showed the kind of improvements you’d expect with a new book: 659 views, or more than 20 a day. Better but not great.
Then came last week, and things went crazy. In four days, I recorded nearly 1,200 views for my post, “RIP George Simon.” It talked about one of the subjects of my just-released book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. George worked at the Soulard Market from when he arrived here from Lebanon in 1947 until not long before his recent death. I figured one of his friends or family put out word about the blog post. Boy, I thought, George had a lot of friends.
Then came yesterday, Monday, Oct. 17, and the same thing happened with another person I wrote about: Raynard Nebbitt. He’s spent decades waving at cars on the Rock Hill Road bridge over Interstate 44. When somebody complained about all the noise from passing cars and trucks blowing their horns, Webster Groves named the overpass after Raynard. As of 3 p.m., my post about Raynard “That Guy on the Overpass,” has garnered nearly 4,000 views. But as of 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, there was just over 33,000. Overwhelming.
In less than two days, more than times as many people viewed a single post on my web site than everyone viewed all of my posts last year. It shows how much people appreciate this guy. I’m glad I played a part in this. I’ll talk about George Simon and Raynard Nebbitt during a presentation on my book at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Buder Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 4401 Hampton Ave. I hope to see you.
For the fourth time, Harry Levins of the Post-Dispatch has filed a thoughtful review of one of my books. “Jim Merkel has established himself as a popular historian of St. Louis, with fun-to-read books about the South Side, the city’s German-Americans and the people behind the Gateway Arch,” he writes in a piece in Sunday’s Post-Dispatch book section, along with stltoday.com. Now, with ‘The Colorful Characters of St. Louis,’ Merkel gives readers brief profiles of 80 of this city’s more interesting people (including himself).”
The generally complimentary article includes a couple of criticisms, which one should expect from a critic. One was that I featured way too few women. It’s a problem I’ve had with all of my books. Until fairly recently, men dominated everything. Women didn’t stand out. People didn’t write much about them. It was hard to find women to write about. But, yes, I could have done better.
The review contains one error: it says I’ll give a program about the book at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Buder Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, 4401 Hampton Ave. It’s on Thursday.