Ever since Johann Gutenberg invented the "Best Of" issue back in 1447, publications around the globe have become inured to what's known in the trade as the "Best-of Bitch," wherein spurned business owners call in to kvetch that the entire process is a stupid, favorites-playing travesty. But when Patrick Stoll called the RFT offices last Monday, it was truly one for the books.
Stoll, owner of Ruma's Deli on Hampton and Devonshire, phoned to say that DB's, the Soulard sports bar honored in the Best Use of the Worst Cheese category for its Famous Gerber sandwich, had stolen an award -- nay, a sandwich -- that's rightfully Ruma's.
That very day, Stoll's attorney mailed cease-and-desist notices to DB's and another eatery, Smugala's Pizza in Sunset Hills -- accusing them of trademark infringement and demanding that they immediately stop using the name "Gerber." The moniker belongs exclusively to Ruma's, asserts Stoll, who claims the sandwich was concocted in 1973 and named after a Ruma's customer, Dick Gerber.
For the uninitiated, the Famous Gerber is an open-faced sandwich made with large quantities of ham and Provel cheese and served hot.
Given that Stoll seemingly has a claim to the name, does he own the sandwich?
Not necessarily, according to attorney Grant Kang. Trademark law is a slippery eel, says Kang, who chairs the intellectual property group at Husch & Eppenberger, LLC and is an adjunct professor at the Washington University School of Law. As Kang sees it, the Gerber may be too far out of the proverbial oven for Ruma's to stuff it back in.
"The question is whether Gerber is the 'Domino's' in front of the 'Pizza' or the product itself," Kang elaborates. "Many companies have lost trademarks because their term, over time, has become the generic term for that particular type of product. This restaurant [Ruma's] is saying, 'No, no, no, we know you'd like this to become generic, but we're not gonna let it.'"
Therein lies DB's owner Johnny Daus' argument: that if a St. Louisan were asked to define the term "Gerber," he would respond with "hot, open-faced sandwich loaded with Provel and ham." In other words, Stoll laying claim to the Gerber is akin to someone attempting to own the term "toasted ravioli."
"I've been a St. Louisan all my life and I just thought it was a St. Louis tradition, like a Philly cheese steak," posits Daus, who says he had a Gerber on his menu at Carson's before selling that Soulard watering hole in the late '90s.
"Trademark owners are required under law to police their mark," Kang adds helpfully. "There is a point in time where you have to either act and defend your rights or you lose them."
Whether Ruma's acted quickly enough may be up to the courts to decide. But Stoll is convinced he's got a lock on the legal high ground.
"It's a Ruma's Deli original," he says of the Gerber. "I didn't invest my entire 401(k) in this business to have someone steal my sandwich name."
The Envelope, Please...
When St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce posted a biblical quotation outside her office, she did so with some reluctance, she told Unreal last month.
Well aware of the constitutional division between church and state, Joyce says she couldn't find a better quote than "Justice and only justice you shall pursue...," from Deuteronomy 16:20, to capture the sentiment that prosecutors aren't simply conviction-seeking missiles. She promised to replace the religious message with an equally good nonsectarian one (even if it came from us).
We're happy to report that readers responded to the Jennifer Joyce Quote Contest with a plethora of wisdom from the likes of Winston Churchill, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jimmy Carter and a host of others, several of whom we've never heard of.
In the close-but-no-cigar category, Joey Michaud came up with several dandies, including: "A good man would prefer to be defeated than to defeat injustice by evil means" (Sallust); "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.); and "Conscience is the chamber of justice" (Origen).
Lesley H. Mabrey sent in a couple of her own: "If you're black, we'll throw the book at your back," and "If you're black, you'll get no slack."
We also liked this one from Brian Westley: "It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive" (Earl Warren).
For that matter, Unreal came up with a few of our own: "You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law" (William Gaddis); "Justice will overtake fabricators of lies and false witnesses" (Heraclitus); and "Justice is a whore that won't let herself be stiffed, and collects the wages of shame even from the poor" (Karl Kraus).
But we couldn't top the winning entry from Michael J. Schlueter, who reminds of these wise words from Benjamin Disraeli: "Justice is truth in action."
Schlueter, who's an attorney, says he highlights quotes in newspaper clippings and sundry books for possible use in opening or closing arguments. Asked to pick his prize -- either a year's membership in the American Civil Liberties Union or one paid parking ticket -- he opted for the parking-ticket premium, even though he says his record is clean. "You never know," he tells Unreal. "I might just go park recklessly."
As for us, we'll settle for an invitation from Joyce to the christening of the new plaque.
Remember when the Cardinals said they needed a new stadium to ensure a competitive team? Unreal couldn't help but notice which teams made the postseason this year:
Of the eight clubs left standing in October, only the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves play in ballyards constructed since the great stadium building boom began in the late 1980s. (We're not counting the Florida Marlins, who play in a football stadium.) The trend extends beyond playoff teams. Overall, clubs playing in old stadiums posted a .529 winning percentage, while teams in so-called state-of-the-art facilities managed only a .478 mark.
Still, the Cards continue their quest for a new ballpark with the help of a $45 million subsidy from St. Louis County taxpayers. The deal isn't done, but when it is, ballpark boosters should expect a lawsuit.
Under the latest plan, the county will sell bonds, and then give the proceeds to a yet-to-be-determined public entity in the city that will dole out cash for the new privately owned ballpark. Originally the money was supposed to be a loan that would be repaid after 29 years, when private owners were to give the park to the government. But bond lawyers figured such a plan wouldn't pass muster with the Internal Revenue Service. In the wacky world of the federal tax code, so long as taxpayers eventually got a stadium for their money, the bonds would be taxable, which would make interest rates prohibitively high. Now the money will come with no expectation of repayment.
There's just one potential sticking point. The state constitution and the county charter prohibit using public money for private gain. Fred Lindecke, spokesman for the Coalition Against Public Financing for Stadiums, says his group will take the county to court if the deal goes forward. "It's six of one, half-dozen of another," Lindecke says. "If they make it a gift, we'll sue 'em. If they make it a loan, they're going to have to pay higher interest rates."
Not to worry, stadium backers say, pointing to the publicly owned Edward Jones Dome as an example of a deal that passed constitutional muster after opponents sued on the grounds that using public money for a pro football stadium was unconstitutional.
County counselor Pat Reddington explains that the ballpark deal is legal so long as it has a public purpose as defined by a legislative body. In this case, the public purpose is economic development and promoting tourism, and the legislative bodies are the state general assembly and the county council. "The fact that a private corporation or a private entity could receive incidental benefit doesn't detract from it as long as the primary purpose is the public purpose," Reddington asserts.
If nothing else, Reddington's explanation gives rise to a possible new name for the Cards' new digs: Incidental Benefit Field.
You Don't Know Dick
Our own presidential wannabe has been buying clever domain names to aid in his campaign -- a smart move, considering they're so cheap and provide instant access to the candidate. (It's far easier to track down Congressman Gephardt online than on the House floor, where he tallied up the worst attendance record of the congressional term.)
So far Gephardt has ponied up for www.amiserablefailure.com, based not on a characterization of his campaign momentum thus far but on his assessment of President Bush's term; and www.deanfacts.com, which seeks to correct certain statements made by rival Howard Dean. But why stop there? Gephardt should corner the market on clever domain names, getting his message across one URL at a time. An Unreal scouring of the Web reveals the shocking truth that plenty of domains are ripe for Dick's picking.
To wit: www.ineedeyebrows.com, www.howdydoodyforpresident.com and www.worstattendancerecord.com are, of course, no-brainers. But at $20 per, Gephardt may as well stretch to include the obvious www.wegotdickforpresident.com, www.firsttogonegative.com (when you're one of the earliest candidates to go on the attack, you might as well flaunt it) and www.redhairhelmet.com.
Or the candidate could just buy a single genius site and dump all his Web development into it: www.michaelboltonknowswhitebread.com. Can't go wrong there.
He Knew We'd Ask That
It's an old story: Boy runs off from the Heartland to Hollywood, boy stars in a few gay porn videos, boy sees the light and heads home to spread peace, wisdom and understanding through the psychic arts.
Tristan Rimbaud, a 23-year-old psychic from Louisville, Kentucky, and the star of such hits as To Bi or Not to Bi, will be in St. Louis next week for a series of TV and radio appearances and a lecture at the Forest Park Holiday Inn on October 12. Unfortunately, he won't help Unreal amass a fortune betting on thoroughbreds.
Unreal: Shouldn't you have known before you started making porn movies that it would be bad?
Rimbaud: I was never ashamed of it. It does hurt in the sense that I'm the "porn star psychic." We all have things in our past that we wish we hadn't done. Part of it I do regret, from a career perspective, but not a personal perspective.
So, where are those weapons of mass destruction?
The government's hidden a lot so far about what they've found and haven't found. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are both still alive. Part of this is tied to North Korea. They're developing weapons again, against a 1994 pact with America not to develop nuclear weapons. We're also going to see in the next year and a half to two years that the story's going to come out. It won't be able to be validated for the next couple of years. It's definitely going to filter into the next presidency, and it won't be George Bush.
Who should we pick to win the World Series?
Surprisingly enough, I can't get lottery numbers or sports teams. For God's sake, I wouldn't be talking to you. God doesn't allow me to cheat. If I could do that, I wouldn't be here right now. I'd be in Hawaii. Since I started doing this professionally in 1996, that's the number-one thing I'm asked. I might be able to go to a race and tell people which horse and rider have the best energy, but I've never been able to pick sports.
So you can't help us out at the racetrack?
If I could, I'd be there right now.
Now that the state legislature has nixed mixing liquor with concealed weapons, Unreal wonders what other behaviors might not go well together with pistol-packing. Say, for example:
Pimp Juicing and Concealing: In situations where a simple slap might do the trick, a Pimp Juiced player might pull out a firearm.
Reading Jonathan Franzen and Concealing: Pompous wordsmith's depressing prose too likely to inspire suicides.
QB-ing and Concealing: NFL quarterbacks with concealed weapons? Doesn't that violate the integrity of the game?
Second-string QB Wifing and Concealing: Should wives of backup QBs be allowed to carry for any reason at all?
Being Impossibly Good Looking and Concealing: Easy-on-the-eyes St. Louisans like Unreal know what it's like to be randomly felt up à la Schwarzenegger by admirers of the opposite sex. Is that a .45 in your pants? Ouch!
Resealing and Concealing: A dry crack is a happy crack, but an armed crack-filler is just plain wrong.