A few minutes after seven on this April Tuesday, a blond, bespectacled Bavarian fish scurries out of a minivan on 19th Street and heads for Cass Avenue, where gaggles of sleepy-eyed students are wandering into Blewett Middle School.
The fish is late for his demonstration.
Yesterday, the fish, an unpaid intern who toils for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), waved a sign saying "Fish are Friends, Not Food!" outside an Indianapolis school. "We got a great reception," the fish reports. Today, Blewett. Tomorrow, Des Moines.
Here the reception is not great. "Are you embarrassed in there?" one boy asks. "You gotta get paid for this!" shouts another. "Who are you?" yells a third.
"I'm a fish!" the fish replies.
Just to pass the time, we ask the fish whether he eats minnows.
How about scallops?
A fish must eat something. "Veggies, fruits, rice. Is it plankton fish eat? No plankton. Fish have complex personalities, you know."
Mike Brazell, a PETA employee who says he did ten years in the U.S. Navy, appears after talking to Blewett teachers inside. "They eat a lot of fish here, because it's a predominantly African-American school, but now they're at least thinking about changing," he says cheerfully. "Usually we're out here doing protests, but this is a lot more fun."
Truth be told, Unreal has had more fun than this. For example, we had more fun back in the car, poring through the Fish Flakes trading cards PETA had promised to distribute to the kids but for some reason has not. Modeled after the Garbage Pail Kids of the 1980s, PETA's set includes profiles of Wicked Wanda, Dumb Dave and our personal favorite, Ill Bill, whose bio reads:
"Fish sticks and tuna salad are made out of germy, rotting fish bodies! Fish have to live in water so dirty that you would never dream of drinking it, but you're swallowing that sewer sludge every time you eat fish! All that germy dirt including poop makes millions of people really sick each year. Bill's stomach hurts and he can't stop throwing up after he ate poop-filled fish. If you eat fish, this could be you!"
Pooping and puking: Now there's a demonstration.
Maybe next year.
Jefferson County filmmaker John Specht's latest flick, Soul Poachers, is your standard soulless low-budget mercenary sci-fi action-thriller.
(In short, right up Unreal's alley.)
Humanoids travel from the year 3076 to present-day America. Seeing an opportunity to exploit our society's dependency on drugs to achieve false highs, the futuristic life forms turn into cold-blooded assassins, harvesting humans for their serotonin and adrenaline and selling the brain chemicals on the black market.
So it was that Specht and crew parked themselves on a street corner in south St. Louis on April 1 to shoot a scripted carjacking for the film, which they hope to sell to the SciFi Channel.
"We were halfway through the scene when four St. Louis cop cruisers came out of nowhere and boxed us in," says Brian Martin, who plays the lead soul poacher, Marcus. "I thought it was an April Fool's joke. The police completely surrounded us."
Informing Specht that nearby residents had mistaken the thespians for real criminals, the officers arrested the director and six cast members and hauled them to police headquarters for disturbing the peace.
The alleged offense is a misdemeanor, which carries with it a maximum penalty of $500 and 90 days in jail.
Neither the city nor the state require permits to film on public property, says Jerry Jones, director of the Missouri Film Commission.
"We tell people that at the very least they should contact the local authorities," says Jones.
Specht says he did call police to notify them he'd be shooting.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Richard Wilkes says the department has no record of such a call.
"Don't you think if someone were filming a carjacking, we'd want to have an officer there looking on?" Wilkes posits. "What would happen if a police officer happened to drive by and mistook this for the real thing, or if a private citizen took action? It could have been catastrophic."
The St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office says no charges will be filed.
"I think this was all a bit of a misunderstanding," notes David Miller, a supervisor with the City Counselor's office.
But to Specht who boasts of directing, producing or starring in eight films with a combined budget of less than $4,000 the police intervention still smells of something sinister.
Several of his movies deal with government conspiracy. And this isn't the first time authorities have questioned his work.
"I got pulled over in Jefferson County right after my film Absolution came out," Specht says. The plot of Absolution involves a government cover-up in which combustibles are inserted into porn tapes and shipped to terrorists overseas. "They had a helicopter and unmarked cars following me. The cop didn't believe I was a legitimate film director till he looked me up on the Internet Movie Database. Finally he let me go."
Specht says he plans to move production of Soul Poachers to Valley Park, which has been more receptive to the filmmaker in the past.
As for St. Louis, Specht says, "I know it's not the center of the movie industry, but they treat the Constitution like some type of 'void where prohibited' rebate. For the true artist, that can be stifling."
Hot Dog Days
Two weeks ago the Z107.7 morning show crew beat out 55 other eBay bidders to win the first hot dog sold in the new Busch Stadium. They paid $270.
In order to prove it was really frank numero uno, the seller, Principia College senior Aaron Goldsmith, included a DVD showing him hustling through the gates before the April 4 minor league exhibition game that christened Busch III. First in line at the concession stand, he purchased two dogs. He ate the other.
"Imagine if you had the first hot dog ever purchased at old Sportsman's Park or the old Busch Stadium!" Goldsmith wrote on his auction page.
Just how long is a dog's shelf life, anyway?
"I shipped it in a cooler with dry ice and a freeze pack, so it should be preserved," Goldsmith imparts. "That said, the bun is very stale. A hot dog goodness knows what they put in that thing. It's like a Twinkie, you could probably eat it five years later, but the bun is probably in pretty poor shape."
Goldsmith says he fell into his 7,600 percent profit the dog cost $3.50 serendipitously. The auction languished until it got a plug following the Cardinals April 10 home opener. Ticketless, Goldsmith was perched outside the stadium with a buddy, a lawn chair and a radio when a KMOV-TV (Channel 4) newscaster stuck a mic in his face.
Goldsmith proceeded to hawk his dog, and a mini-onslaught of publicity followed, highlighted by a Channel 11 (KPLR-TV) crew's expedition to the campus of the Christian Science university.
Since then things have calmed down considerably. Last Thursday, after much goading, Z107.7 morning show personality Fester ate the dog on the air.
Fester could not be reached for comment.