Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

That time I tried to overthrow the local government at a Tiblisi puppet show

Editor’s note: In a newsletter for former Union-Tribune newspaper staffers, a colleague in San Diego recently recalled a review I once wrote that outraged the mayor and her staff. Jack Reber, the editor of the newsletter, asked if I would fill everyone in.

Glad to do it. But, as in my online days with, I take great pleasure in scooping mainstream media. So, you will read it first, here on my own blog. My newspaper friends may get it at midnight tonight. (Sorry, Jack. I can’t help myself.)

Ah, the Russian Arts Festival of 1989. Gather round kids and I’ll tell you as much as is permitted by the several nondisclosure agreements I signed to gain a generous separation bonus from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Obviously, I kid. There was no bonus.

My one assignment during the Festival was the Tiblisi State Puppet Theatre, under the direction of the great and late-Rezo Gabriadze (below with some of his creations). Georgean puppets aren’t like the Muppets, Shari Lewis and Lambchop, or Punch ‘n Judy. They tell real and elaborate stories, often tragic, and even violent or sexually mature.

The Tiblisi performance was staged in the musty but beloved Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre in Balboa Park. It was toward the end of the festival, as I recall.

Like all politicians who fund bread-and-circus events for the masses, Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s name was inextricably linked to every single freaking event to the point of obnoxiousness. If a Russian dancer took a dump it was heralded and approved by the mayor’s office.

Or maybe I’m just being cynical here.

At any rate, the show must go on. …

… But wait. …

… Not before the mayor and her entourage were properly seated in the front two rows.

And so we sat. And sat. And waited and sat. And waited some more.

Antsy kids in the crowd worked their way up to the two empty rows and claimed seats with a superb view of the stage. What kid wouldn’t want the best seats in the house to watch a puppet show? What adults wouldn’t want the kids to have the best seats?

Well, I can think of one.

When the entourage arrived, 90 minutes after the show was to have begun, the mayor sent several suits down front to eject the kids. A rumble of discontent rippled through the crowd.

The small children – most were already well-past their bedtimes – put up very little resistance, though I suspect that years later they became ANTIFA terrorists. The Man can’t spread His elitist hegemony without burning resentment and outrage into the tender hearts of the less-fortunate and under-aged.

One front-row seat today, Portland tomorrow!

Once the path was cleared O’Connor led her pack of pals and hangers-on down the aisle. They all looked well-fed and libated and O’Connor looked like she was still finishing dinner.

She was chewing something. A lamb shank? Her ego? A wad of gum? 

There was a whole lot of mastication going on.

The show was simply amazing. In one night we were exposed to an unimagined level of sophistication and entertainment. And at the same time a tawdry level of inconsiderateness and unsophistication from our own public officials.

I’m not sure what my lead was for the review but somewhere in that mess of words I said something like this: “Maureen O’Connor, the gum-chewing mayor of San Diego, and her entourage arrived very late to the show and ejected small children who were occupying their front-row reserved seats ….”

Much to my surprise, the whole thing arrived in print intact.

(Jack, can I say “The shit hit the fan” here? I mean we’re not Public Radio or anything. Aw, I’m just kidding.)

Next day, the shit hit the fan.

O’Connor’s chief of staff was screaming for blood. Although I couldn’t make out the words exactly. Because of the screaming.

Among Tribune White Shirts and Glassholes there was much consternation and clutching of pearls – or there would have been if there were any women editors at the time. Yes, I did hear that O’Connor’s dear friend and the paper’s publisher, Helen Copley, went into an apoplectic, pearl-clutching rage.

I was called into several conferences, each more elevated and populated than the previous.

The final one was in editor Neil Morgan’s office and included numerous assistant editors, managing editors, and sub-editors, George Dissinger and Bob Witty among them. Eventually, Neil walked in to begin the roast. This was in pre-waterboarding days.

I swear to god, I don’t remember either of my wedding vows, which I hold sacred, but I remember so much of that conversation.

Neil led it off, with an ever-so-sly grin.

“Bob, how do we know for certain that Maureen O’Connor was chewing gum?”

He’d lobbed a softball to me, but a critical one.

“Well, Neil, I admit that I did not check under the mayor’s seat when she left the theater but the way her jaws were going up and down, I just can’t imagine that it was anything else.”

I added that  “nobody sucks on a breath mint like that.” That was the alternate reality being put forth by O’Connor’s chief of staff.

Neil nodded thoughtfully.

“Well, Bob, that is good enough for me. I think we all need to go back and get some real work done. Thank you, gentlemen.”

And that was it. Neat. Clean. To the point. And never addressed again.

I wasn’t even banished to the East County bureau or forced to cover religion and ethics.

There was a “correction” of sorts the next day in which O’Connor’s team got to claim she was only sucking on a breath mint. I honestly don’t recall writing it but that is entirely possible. Especially if the breath mint made the lead.


I don’t think I spoiled the mayor’s coming-out party as a cultural sophisticate. She did far worse to herself with money laundering and allegedly stealing $2 million from her own non-profit charity to pay off gambling debts 

I admit that I was still a bit of a hick, but the presence of VIP sections for politicians and their wealthy benefactors at so many San Diego public events just gnawed at my country-boy egalitarianism.

Today, of course, pay-to-play elitism is the norm – concerts, airports, and theme parks. Hell, anywhere there is a queue, there is a fast track for those who can afford it. It is no longer unAmerican for the rich and powerful to be treated differently from you and me.

Well, I don’t know about you. You may be rich and powerful.

I’m not and I don’t really care if there is an elite line. Just don’t treat the rest of us so shittily.

And for god’s sake, show up on time for a damned puppet show. 


Put more magic in your life!

If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing and passing on the link to friends. It is all free. To subscribe, click on the three-bar thing at the top of this page (in the red circle). Feel free to share this post!


5 thoughts on “That time I tried to overthrow the local government at a Tiblisi puppet show

  1. Deborah Schneebeli says:

    You tell ‘em Bob! I’m right with you.

    I absolutely loved your retort of, “well I didn’t check under the mayor’s seat …..”

    Having more money than the rest of us is just making those people too damn precious.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s