Here are some recent headlines from The Public Spectacle, an Annapolis newspaper:
WOMAN HEARS ELVIS IN SUNLAMP.
431 SLAIN IN NAPTOWN LOVERS' QUARREL.
INFLATABLE WAITRESS RING NAILED.
The fortnightly tabloid, which bills itself as "Annapolis' Serious Newspaper Since 1501," also has revealed why TV heartthrob Erik Estrada eats laboratory mice and how downtown Annapolis rests on "a gigantic lake made entirely of yogurt."
With a press run of 10,000 and a balance sheet nicely in the black, the paper is about to mark its third anniversary. But if the event, on Sunday, is cause for celebration, it's a mystery to a chap named Orsen Gish.
"I hadn't really thought about it," Rosen Gish says.
This is uttered with the same sort of modesty with which Gish, an ex-actor turned ex-ragtime piano player, disavowed a memorable flashing incident involving Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill and a young woman from Georgetown University in December 1978. The woman greeted the speaker in the lobby of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel wearing only kneesocks under her wide-open winter coat. "Best : wishes to the 96th Congress," she cooed. "Oh . . . oh . . . oh, gee, oh, gee," O'Neill replied.
Gish now owns up to paying the woman "between $50 and $65" for the performance, though he's still hazy on details, and also admits to being the Spectacle's founder and editor.
The paper, which Gish writes single-handedly in two-day, sleepless marathons, has claimed the title of "Annapolis' oldest comedy news magazine, except for The Evening Capital, which of course, was founded by God" -- at which the publisher of the city's major daily, Philip Merrill, sniffs, "We've been in business since 1727, so they may have a point."
This summer, the Spectacle topped 60 issues having chronicled, over a brief but bright career, senseless violence (Manilow look-alike beheaded in BARROOM BRAWL), developing crises (ICE CREAM SHORTAGE HITS COUNTY), significant trends (CONVERTING YOUR CAR TO A SWIMMING POOL) and major scandals (MAYOR ACQUITTED IN TOUR BUS HIJACKING.)
The paper also has run horoscope listings like this one for Gemini: "Tell a friend about last night. Drop large things on your head. Run out in front of walkers. Learn to play the accordion under water.Will your body to Goucher. Flood your bathroom with spumoni. Then call home. A rich man will give you a hard time. Don't take it lying down. Buy a carp and teach it to yodel. Sell your socks. Put ballpoint pens in your nose and work for the City."
And just like the big-city dailies, the Spectacle has run those thoughtful ads from Mobil Oil on its editorial page, though the Spectacle's admittedly are fake. In one, headlined "We Know What You Are Thinking," the multinational corporation comes clean with "Frankly, we'd like to see gasoline hit three bucks as gallon" and "bending the minds of consumers [is] kind of a hobby for us."
Mobil spokesman John Flint was silent a long time after listening to the text. "Sure, I think it's funny," he announced finally. "The company, uh, is always pleased to have a little humor.We're big enough, after all, to observe that and laugh." Flint wasn't laughing.
In addition, Orsen Gish's paper may have broken new literary ground with issues guest-edited, so he claims, by authors Margaret Trudeau and Gloria Steinem, phsych-sages R.D. Laing and Werner Erhard -- and Janice Bollinger, whom the Spectacle identified as the owner of Bob's Diner in Silver Spring.
And in a recent issue, Rod McKuen, or someone very much like him, contributed nine poems about garden rakes. (This was in a Spectacle number entirely devoted to "Rakes & Spots," the only words Gish says he could spell with 96-point press-type left over from a Mexican restaruant ad.)
As for the future, Gish admits to harboring grand designs of taking over Art Buchwald's column some day, and suggested as much to the Washington humorist in a letter.Buchwald was not amused.
"He's not gonna get my job," the columnist vowed the other day. "I have friends in Annapolis who will break his legs if he tries."
This does not seem to discourage Orsen Gish, whose career, as he recounts it, has included leading a rock group; building sets, then acting for a traveling theater company in his home state of Indiana; driving a cab, night-managing a chili-dog restaurant and manning a bus in North Carolina; monitoring bulletin boards at Duke University for the school's personnel department, and, in a five-year stretch, playing ragtime piano in clubs from Florida to Maine.
Gish came upon Annapolis during a gig at the Hilton Inn, finding enough business potential there to think about putting down roots. He started small, selling advertising space on sandwich boards at the tourist-infested city dock, but soon developed the Spectacle as an even better medium for ads. "I've always enjoyed the independence of working for myself better than the security of working for someone else," he says.
So Gish and his wife, Jeanne, produce the thing from their rented cottage on the outskirts of Annapolis, the only house on Shiley Road, or probably anywhere in town, with a 1963 Rambler American parked outside. The two, who met at one of Gish's boat parties for advertisers and have an 8-month-old son, Morgan, plus a 5-year-old, Tristan, from Jeanne's previous marriage, and are expecting another baby, share a life style summed up by a line in the Spectacle's staff box: "[This paper] is published by a couple of ex-hippies who inherited some money, settled down, but still couldn't find real jobs."
Actually, the Gishes didn't inherit money, but could pass for ex-hippies in a pinch. Orsen, 32, with his Hawaiian shirts and hiking boots, is a distinctive figure when he walks out among the well-groomed Annapolis sailors. dJeanne, 29, long-haried and unmade-up, wouldn't seem right in an Izod shirt and skirt.
Strewn with toys, books and piles of yellowing Spectacles, their house has a woody, funky feel. A banged-up bicycle, the principal mode of transportation, leans against the porch. A scuffed-up spinet, buried in sheet music, sits in the dining room. And the Gish staple diet is a concoction of milk, yogurt, chunky peanut butter and lumpy banana bits.
Jeanne does graphics and layout; Orsen sells ads (enough to pay the rent and support the family), sets type ("What I'm proudest of is my ability to write final drafts directly into the typesetting machine") and hauls the finished product in his Rambler to town, where merchants distribute it free.
Sometimes such largesse can have its drawbacks, as when the secretary to one Maryland legislator, lampooned in the Spectacle as an inveterate discophile, went around town, so the story goes, threatening a boycott by the advertisers. "Ridiculous," scoffs Democratic State Sen. Vic Crawford, the legislator in question. "If I caught anybody on my staff trying to do that to any newspaper, I'd fire them immediately."
"I'm not really in favor of making fun of someone, but sometimes I just have to laugh," says Chic Levitt, whose Chic & Ruth's Delicastessen, a downtown hangout for Maryland pols, has been a loyal Spectacle advertiser since the beginning. "The young man who's the editor, this Orsen Gish, is such a nice young man."
Gish has created a varied cast of characters in the pages of the Spectacle, among them the muddle-headed Miller McFadden, the flaky Garry Pruitt and the fastidious Deborah Shears, all fictitious columnists who serve as the publisher's alter-egos. Also D. Lothrop Crane, the managing editor; Evelyn Darnell, the production manager; and Spud Avery, the sports editor. He has also created himself, Orson Gish.
Before, he was Thomas Clark Stoner, a very polite sort, the adopted son of the Rev. and Mrs. James L. Stoner, soldiers in Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's army of positive thinkers at the Foundation for Christian Living in Pawling, N.Y. Two adopted younger brothers, Jim and Geoff Stoner, who were voted the Most Identical Twins of 1961 by an organization responsible for such matters in Indianapolis and currently are starting families, working in a bank and selling furniture, respectively, in Austin, Tex.
I've been trying to figure out my brother for a long time," says Geoff Stoner, 26. "He's a very industrious person, a super intelligenece, a brilliant person in school, who always had the ability to speak and express himself through his music. . . I guess he grew up during a tough time."
"I think he's going through a phase," suggests Geoff's twin, Jim. "In high school he went through a phase, and now in his early 30s, he 's probably going through another phase."
T. C. Stoner's mother, Janice, is most comfortable talking about the time her boy won a statewide piano competition in Indiana, or his involvement in the youth group of the Rev. Stoner's chruch in Columbus, Ind., or his stint at seminary after graduating in religion from Bethany College.
"This newspaper, being satire or whatever," Mrs. Stoner says with a nervous laugh, "speaks more to the local population of Annapolis than to someone not very familiar with the area. Tom's a very sensitive individual, very warm-hearted, and I think that's why he went into religion at first. Of course, we've always encouraged him to do whatever he thought he should do."
James L. Stoner, who is deputy executive director of Peale's foundation, has preached in Peale's Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Of T.C. and the Spectacle, he declaims, "I think he's caught hold of something here that serves an important need in Annapolis. I enjoy reading it, even if I don't understand all the humor. But of course I read it from a different perspective: He's my son."
For his own part, T.C. Stoner is quietly adamant that the famous flashing of Tip O'Neill, and other aspects of his life, not on any account be mentioned to his parents: "I'd consider it a favor. I don't know that parents and children should share everyting." As for Orsen Gish, T.C. Stoner says, "I changed my name for the act when I started playing ragtime. It seemed like a good name at the time. Now it's a nice stopgap. It prevents some of those circumstantial things from reflecting on my family. There's no point in that they're subscribers. And you can't put off your subscribers."
T.C.'s wife, Jeanne, says, "The public Orsen Gish is different from the private T.C. Stoner. Orsen Gish is a performer and T.C. Stoner isn't. He doesn't make a lot of jokes. Before I met Orsen Gish, he was sort of a celebrity, though I was never awed by his celebrity status. Now that we're married, I always have to think of who I'm talking to. Mostly everyting is pretty fake in the newspaper, and sometimes I feel pretty fake myself."
In Annapolis, where the Spectacle generally disappears from the streets a few days after it appears, they've never heard of T.C. Stoner. As far as Orsen Gish is concerned, that's probably just as well.