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Archive for June, 2014

As I read The Star this morning — and also taking into account tidbits I’ve heard in the last couple of days — it struck me that today is a day to highlight some significant endings.

Endings…as in, “That’s all folks.”

Some days are like that aren’t they? Prospects that have been developing and mushrooming suddenly get derailed or lose air; people you don’t expect to die do; a politician, star athlete or other high-profile person sidles off the stage.

Endings come in all manner and form, and sometimes it’s good to note them.

So, a moment of your time, please…

:: Kansas City’s hopes for the 2016 Republican National Convention are over. It’s down to Dallas and Cleveland, which makes a lot more political sense than Denver or Kansas City. Sly James’ doing The Mashed Potatoes with GOP site-selection committee chairwoman Enid Mickelson at the Downtown Airport didn’t get the job done…What should he have done differently? It’s as clear as the nose on your face: Sly should have grabbed Enid close and done a slow dance with her. Wasn’t it plain enough that the woman would have greatly appreciated “just one minute of real love”?

For the record, here’s the Sly-Enid dance that cost us the convention…

sly2

diane

Sawyer

:: In September, ABC’s Diane Sawyer is stepping down as anchor of “World News,” to be succeeded by understudy David Muir…I’ve always liked Sawyer partly because she can report an emotional story without getting emotional but by expressing tremendous empathy. She really cares about her subjects. Another reason I like her is she and I grew up in Louisville, Ky., during the same era. She’s 68, same as I. She went to Seneca High School, a public school, while I went to St. Xavier High, an all-boys, Catholic school. I never heard of her until she became a weather forecaster on WLKY-TV, Channel 32, in Louisville. Now, she is one of Louisville’s two most famous alums, along with Muhammad Ali.

mossman

Mossman

:: The last $1 movie theater in the area, Noland Road Fashion Square in Independence, closed this week. It was losing money; its owners couldn’t afford the conversion to digital projection; and it was a victim of consumer diversification. Brian Mossman, the well-known, independent movie-theater owner in Kansas City, told The Star:

“The newer generation’s movie-going habits are different than that of the older generation. They are not that particular how they view their movies. They can experience them on iPods, on their phones or through Netflix. The movie business is like a big pie, with each slice being a different way to see a movie. Those slices have gotten smaller each year. Something had to give, and unfortunately it was the dollar houses.”  

sara

Deines

:: I’m sure many of you saw the obit of a 30-year-old Lincoln, Neb., woman, Sara Beth Deines, a 2002 Shawnee Mission South graduate. Deines died in a scuba-diving accident last week at Table Rock Lake. Searching Google, I found that Deines got separated from a diving partner Friday while on the lake near Kimberling City. It took searchers two days to find her body. She graduated from Washburn University in Topeka in 2006 and married her college sweetheart, Chris Deines, at the Village Presbyterian Church. For the last few years the couple had lived in Lincoln, where Sara worked for the Department of Health and Human Services, handling Medicaid and long-term care matters…I’m sure that, like me, when you see those photos on the obit pages of smiling young people, brimming with vitality and happiness, it makes you stop and think about endings, especially sudden.

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Collison

:: Finally, Kevin Collison, a mainstay business reporter at The Star, has given his notice and is taking the job of marketing communications manager at the engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell. Kevin has been at The Star since 2001. After arriving at The Star from The Buffalo News, Kevin quickly established himself as an authority in one of the most important facets of Kansas City area life — real estate development and urban revitalization. As Kansas City emerged from its decades-old funk, with new projects popping up everywhere and Downtown getting a thorough makeover, Collison was there to report it — before anybody else…This particular ending has a couple of hopeful dimensions: First, Kevin is leaving on a high note: “It was a ball,” he told me this morning. Second, at age 60, he gets a fresh start with a growing company whose horizon — unlike that of The Star — is uncluttered. We readers will dearly miss you, Kevin. All the best!

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The early 1970s were a pretty lonely time for me. I had arrived from my hometown of Louisville in the fall of 1969 to take a reporting job at The Kansas City Star.

After a few months of apartment dwelling, I moved into a house in the 5800 block of McGee, where four other guys were already living. Our rent was $250 a month — $50 each.

My social life revolved around the newly opened New Stanley Bar in Westport. Dates and girlfriends didn’t come very easily, and for the most part I didn’t date the girls long enough for them to qualify as “girlfriends.” But that, to some extent, was the nature of the 70s.

One thing that soothed me and ushered me through those years was the beautiful, soul-touching music of Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

tapestryI bought the album “Tapestry” shortly after it came out in 1971. Three of the best songs on that great, timeless album were by King and Goffin — she writing the music, he the lyrics. They had been married, divorcing in 1968, but they had continued their musical collaboration.

Tonight, while reading The New York Times online, I got a jolt: Gerry Goffin died earlier today in Los Angeles.

How can that be, I thought? Wasn’t he my age?

Well, no, as a matter of fact he was 75 — eight years older than I. It just seemed like we were contemporaries because we were all thrashing through the 70s together; Carole King and Gerry Goffin were right there with the rest of us who were stumbling around Westport.

Over and over, I played “Tapestry” on a cheap stereo that I bought at Penney’s at the Indian Springs Shopping Center. That’s how long ago that was, when Indian Springs was actually thriving.

I played “Tapestry” on that stereo until, one day or night, a burglar went through the unlocked front window of that house on McGee, waltzed in and stole the stereo.

Boy, was I pissed off! I couldn’t play my records! Plus, I’d been violated!

Of course, I got a new stereo — this time at a record store at The Landing Shopping Center on Troost…Again, that’s how long ago that was, when The Landing was also thriving.

But back to Carole King and Gerry Goffin…

The three “Tapestry” songs they collaborated on were “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (which The Shirelles took to No. 1); “Smackwater Jack,” (“You can’t talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand”); and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” which Aretha Franklin rode into the Top 10.

king-goffin

Gerry Goffin and Carole King at the RCA recording studio in New York around 1959. (Photo from the Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images. Published Thursday, 6/19/14, on The New York Times website.)

Of course, before their marriage broke up, King and Goffin collaborated on several great songs in the 1960s, including “Up on the Roof,” “One Fine Day,” “The Loco-Motion” and “Go Away Little Girl.”

I didn’t realize this until I read The Times’ story, but the singer on “The Loco-Motion” was their babysitter, who performed under the name Little Eva.

That song, released in 1962, also rose to No. 1.

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I still have a turntable — much better quality than the ones I got at Penney’s and The Landing — and I still play some of my old albums on it. I like it partly because of nostalgia and partly because I just like pulling the records out of the jackets, placing them on the turntable and trying to place the needle at the start of the record without scratching the vinyl surface…And then there’s always that mystery of how the record, needle, turntable and electricity combine to bring forth those amazing, wonderful sounds.

“Tapestry” has not been among the dozen or so records that I keep upstairs, adjacent to the turntable. But tonight, after reading about Goffin’s death, I ran down to the basement — as fast as my 68-year-old, surgically repaired knees would allow — and went to the milk-carton carriers where I keep the bulk of my record collection.

And there it was — “Tapestry” — right at the front of one of the three plastic carriers.

…At least I had that thing close at hand, ready to bring it upstairs when needed. And I need it bad now.

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First, thanks to you repeat visitors for continuing to read the dated posts on this blog.

Believe me, you haven’t wasted your time because I will soon be conducting a quiz over the last two months’ of posts. The winner — hold on now — will get free tickets to the truck and tractor pull finals at the Missouri State Fair!

(That’s assuming the winner doesn’t mind 99-degree temperatures and 88 percent relative humidity. That’s almost a given, seeing as how the “pull” finals are Monday, Aug. 11.)

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But on with the shew…And are you lucky! Today, I’ve assembled a dynamite slide show. So, sit down, pop open a cool beverage (can’t go wrong with a Mexican Coke) and fix your eyes on the big screen.

Click, click…Here’s the most casual-looking Kansas City Royal, Alex Gordon, sliding into home plate Monday night and blowing a bubble in mid-slide…Folks, you can’t teach that stuff; Gordo truly is The Natural.

gordo

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Click, click…Here’s Martin Kaymer, the German who won the U.S. Open Golf tournament by eight strokes, after holing a par putt on No. 18 to close out the victory at Pinehurst, NC, on Sunday. (I attended the first two rounds of the tournament, last Thursday and Friday, and got to see Kaymer and many of the other pros up close.)

kamer

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Click, click…Here is, without question, one of the biggest turds who ever came through Kansas City. John Covington won everybody over as the prospective savior of the Kansas City School District, then suddenly and inexplicably left us in the lurch to take a job in Michigan…Is it any surprise that he has now quit the job he jumped to? In a statement, Covington said he was bailing to care for his ailing mother in Alabama and start a consulting business. I can’t wait for the next Covington report, which will probably go something like this: His mother died while he was on a fishing trip and he’s decided to leave the consulting business to build Habitat for Humanity houses.

covington

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Click, click…Here’s another guy who should be in the Kansas City Charlatans Hall of Fame. A court has ruled that yet another Clay Chastain light-rail proposal should go on a Kansas City election ballot…Now, I ask you: How can anyone take seriously anything that this blowhard has to offer for the city he abandoned several years ago. Keep your medicine-man show in Virginia, Clay!

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Click, click…Here are a group of people excitedly awaiting Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s announcement of yet another tax redu….Oh, wait. I stand corrected. It’s soccer fans at the Power & Light District celebrating the U.S. team’s victory World Cup over Ghana Monday night.

us fans

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Click, click…Here’s a General Motors ignition switch…Boy, am I glad I switched to Fords!

ignition

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Click, click…Here’s Stacy Lewis, one of America’s best hopes to win the U.S. Women’s Open. The tournament is this week, and it’s being played at Pinehurst No. 2, the same course where the men competed this past weekend. It’s a first: Back to back men’s and women’s opens at the same course…This photo was taken just after Lewis won last year’s Women’s British Open championship. (P.S. Stacy is one of many top women pros scheduled to compete next week in the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship just down I-49 in Rogers.)

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A few minutes before the start of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes — when Frank Sinatra Jr. was singing “New York, New York” and a high-voltage atmosphere gripped Belmont Park — a TV camera caught Steve Coburn, co-owner of California Chrome, and his wife Carolyn crying in the stands.

It was an extremely touching moment, coming just before California Chrome’s attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed got the job done in 1978.

A few minutes later, however, after his horse had struggled home tied for fourth place, Coburn ruined not only the day but the Triple Crown adventure that his beautiful, speedy horse had taken him on.

As you’re undoubtedly aware by now, Coburn, when interviewed by NBC after the race, lashed out at the owners of the horses who had not run in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and had come to the Belmont with fresh horses. One of those fresh horses, Tonalist, came out a long nose in front of another fresh horse, Commissioner, to win a stirring renewal of the Belmont.

Instead of congratulating Tonalist’s connections, Coburn launched into a rant based on his allegation that the owners and trainers of the fresh horses had somehow sucker punched California Chrome (and Coburn, of course) and that they were “cheaters” and cowards.

As I watched it unfold on TV, I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’ve never seen anything like it in the 40-plus years I have been following thoroughbred racing.

I interrupt this post to tell you that this morning, Monday, Coburn went on “Good Morning America” and finally apologized for his unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Very ashamed of myself,” Coburn said, with Carolyn at his side. “Very ashamed. I need to apologize to a lot of people.” 

Carolyn added: “I’m proud of him for coming up here and doing this. It was something we needed to do. Our story has given so much joy to so many people. I hope that this 30 seconds (of ill-tempered remarks) doesn’t destroy all that.”

…In the minutes after Coburn lashed out, I began to realize that I really shouldn’t be too surprised at what he had said. In the course of five weeks, the 61-year-old Coburn had established himself as a loudmouth and show-off, although, right up to the moment of his sour-grapes comments, he had seemed not only harmless but also engaging.

As we all know, however, those big personalities can sometimes go south in a hurry. And, oh, how quickly the complexion of things can change when one allows the bile in his brain to reach his lips.

mrs coburn

Caroline Coburn appeared shocked at either her husband’s ill-tempered remarks after the Belmont Stakes or at his reaction to her advice to clam up. “I don’t care!” he told her.

Just after the interviewer cut away from Coburn, Carolyn apparently advised him to button his lips. His reaction was to wheel around and say angrily, “Well, I don’t care!”

Now, there, I submit, is a guy who is double stupid.

First, he didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, and then he didn’t have the good sense to listen to his wife’s sound advice.

As I have advanced through life and nearly 30 years of marriage, I have come to appreciate more and more my wife Patty’s counsel in virtually everything I do — from what route to take when driving from Point A to Point B to the importance of listening to other people instead of planning what I’m going to say next.  

It took me a while, but I came to realize that marrying well carries an obligation: Listening to your spouse and taking his or her advice very seriously.

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I have to amend something: Coburn is actually triple stupid. If you’re the forgiving sort, you might say, “Well, he was wrong in what he said, but he was caught up in the heat and disappointment of the moment.”

Granted. But a night of sleep apparently didn’t bring any clarity to Coburn’s judgment, because on Sunday morning he was still firing with both guns on national TV.

…Here’s the deal. The same quality that made Coburn fresh and interesting — “rookie” racehorse owner who speaks his mind — is the same quality that quickly converted him into a heel.

The rookie part of the equation is particularly important; you could go a thousand years without seeing or hearing a veteran thoroughbred owner run off at the mouth like Coburn did.

As California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, said insightfully, referring to Coburn:

“He hasn’t been in the game long and hasn’t had any bad luck.”

Coburn was convinced his and his horse’s magical run was going to continue at least through the finish line at Belmont Park. He couldn’t accept the fact that California Chrome lost because of one or more of the following reasons: he was tired from the first two races; he was poorly ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza; or he was hurting from a hoof injury he suffered at the start of the race.

The really bad part is that, as award-winning racing writer Bill Finley said in an ESPN.com story Sunday, California Chrome will henceforth be carrying on his back not only his jockey but Steve Coburn’s exposed personality.

“California Chrome will still have his fans,” Finley wrote, “but not as many as before. Coburn took care of that.”

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Okay, okay! I yield.

I am not going to be the selfish sourpuss, the turd in the punch bowl or the kid who won’t play nice in the sandbox.

Count me in as a supporter of bringing the Republican National Convention to KC in 2016.

You’ll remember that I wrote a week or so ago about how the Republican convention was going to be a big inconvenience for us residents and that we did not need the “one percenters” taking over our city and leaving the rest of us “behind the ropes.”

But now, instead of crying the blues, I’m singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

One factor in my change of heart was that upon arriving in Kansas City on the Amtrak train from St. Louis last night, the first thing I saw when I walked out of Union Station were the words “KC 2016” electronically projected in massive type on the stone wall of Liberty Memorial’s northern base, across from the station.

It was impressive.

But the biggest factor in my capitulation was reading about — and seeing video of — Mayor Sly James’ boisterous greeting of the Republican Search Committee at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport yesterday.

In case you didn’t see the video, here it is. And below is The Star’s front-page photo of Sly dancing with the GOP site selection chairwoman Enid Mickelson.

sly2It was a little hokey — how could it not be? — but Sly, with his uninhibited, engaging personality, pulled it off perfectly.

It was clear that Enid and other members of the site selection committee were into the moment. They clapped their hands and smiled widely as Sly and Enid danced.

Another inspired touch was the 1970s-era atmosphere that the greeting party contrived, harkening back to the days when Kansas City hosted the 1976 Republican National convention.

Those greeting the search committee included former TWA flight attendants dressed in period uniforms and the Schlagle High School (KCK) marching band. In addition, the TWA Constellation — “the Connie” — that a group of area TWA aficionados restored many years ago, was parked nearby.

I think it would be difficult for any of Kansas City’s three competing cities — Denver, Cleveland and Dallas — to top the welcome that James and the others gave the GOP yesterday.

Another factor in my change of heart was a column that Steve Paul, a member of The Star’s editorial board, wrote on the Op-Ed page last week. I can’t find it now because The Star’s link to the electronic archives seems to be temporarily broken, but the gist of it was that Steve urged Kansas Citians to resist the urge to be small-minded and to always, always, push for whatever will move Kansas City a step ahead.

He said specifically that we should do everything we could to get the GOP convention here.

Thank you, Steve, for laying down that challenge. And now I’m calling on you, blog readers, to accept that challenge, too.

Yes, I’m talking to you, Jennifer, and you, Jason, and you, John Altevogt (do all my readers’ names start with “J”?) to step up forward and do what you can to bring this convention to Kansas City.

We can start by grabbing our umbrellas and going down to Sprint Center this afternoon and trying to buttonhole the search committee members as they come out of Sprint Center after a scheduled tour.

Yes, it’s hokey, but no hokier than dancing on the tarmac!

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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a controversy with as many layers and questions marks as that of the prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who can generously be called a reluctant patriot.

One thing that seems to stand out in this episode, however — as well as in the government’s announcement of new carbon-emission limits — is that President Barack Obama has decided he’s going to spend the last two-plus years of his presidency doing what he believes is right.

He’s apparently not concerned what Republican or Democratic lawmakers think, and he doesn’t seem to be worried about what his actions portend for the November elections, where it’s looking more and more likely that the Republicans will take control of the Senate.

No, he’s just given his ship captains the “full speed ahead” order…and away we go!

As I’ve said, I do like the proposed carbon-emission regulations, which call for carbon pollution from power plants to be reduced by 30 percent from the 2005 levels by the year 2030. That makes all the sense in the world, not only from an environmental but also a public health perspective.

An article in Tuesday’s New York Times paraphrased health experts as saying that the carbon-pollution reduction plan — aimed primarily at coal-fired plants — would prevent up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks in the first year the rules take effect.

The article quoted Dr. George D. Thurston of the New York University School of Medicine as saying that the best course for public health would be for the United States to phase out coal burning as soon as possible.

Yes, the changes would put people out of jobs, particularly in the Rust Belt states, but what is needed are programs to train coal miners and others on the grunt side of the business to develop other skills. Keeping them down in the coal mines when there are much safer and cleaner methods of extracting energy from the earth — fracking for natural gas, for example — makes no sense to me.

(You might wonder how I, a die-hard liberal, came around to the “beauty,” if you will, of fracking. Well, for the last year or so, our 24-year-old son Charlie has been doing computer work for a small, fracking-related business in Tulsa, and he has educated me and Patty about the field. He’s probably leaving the fracking business in the fall, to attend graduate school, but it’s been a good, learning experience for our family.)

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Now, on to the reluctant patriot…

It’s pretty clear that Bergdahl deserted in Afghanistan. And CNN is reporting that six soldiers died looking for him, over a period of at least several months, after he wandered away from his base in June 2009.

The Daily Beast published an essay by Nathan Bradley Bethea, a former member of Bergdahl’s battalion, who contends that eight soldiers — not six — died looking for Bergdahl.

“He has finally returned,” Bethea wrote, referring to Bergdahl, “Those men will never have the opportunity.”

Makes you wince, doesn’t it?

And then there’s Obama’s defiance of a law that requires Congress to be notified at least 30 days before any prisoner exchanges. Obama contends that “unique circumstances” gave him the authority to bypass the law, but he’s just making excuses. The reason he didn’t apprise Congress is that he knew the shit would hit the fan and that it might kill the swap.

What happens from here on out with Bergdahl could get pretty ugly for him and his family, but you can’t help but be happy for his parents right now.

Overall, however, this deal has a bad odor to it, and I think some Democratic House and Senate candidates are going to pay the price in November.

But the commander in chief appears to be unconcerned about political repercussions. It’s full speed ahead with his convictions. For better or worse, he’s tired of being in political paralysis.

So, what’s next?

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If you think The Kansas City Star is in trouble and is a shadow of what it used to be, let me tell you about a much larger city that has much worse problems with its metropolitan dailies.

The once-proud Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister tabloid, the Philadelphia Daily News, have been lurching from one owner to another the last eight years.

The ownership merry-go-round started in 2006, when the McClatchy Co. bought the Philadelphia papers, along with about 30 other Knight Ridder papers, including The Kansas City Star.

However, McClatchy promptly sold the Philadelphia papers and several other Knight Ridder properties it didn’t want.

Since then, The Inquirer and the Daily News have had five ownership changes, and another was in the works, after two warring groups of co-owners competed last week in a court-ordered auction for the right to buy out the other.

Two men named Lewis Katz and H.F “Gerry” Lenfest won with a bid of $88 million for the two papers…That was over and above the $55 million that the ownership group they were part of paid $55 million for the papers in 2012.

After last week’s auction, the future of The Inquirer, the Daily News and the papers’ Philly.com website looked brighter than it had in a long time. Katz, the newsroom favorite, was regarded as someone who wanted to steer the papers toward serious journalism. He had rehired a popular editor, whom one of his ownership partners, George Norcross, had fired.

Plus, Norcross, the leader of the competing ownership group,  had come to be viewed as a proponent of National Enquirer-type journalism.

But then, shockingly, the 72-year-old Katz was killed Saturday night in the crash of a small plane in suburban Boston. Everyone on board — four passengers, two pilots and a cabin attendant — died.

The group was about to head back to Philadelphia after a short trip to the Boston area, but the private Gulfstream IV never got off the ground.

Instead of lifting off, the aircraft plowed along the ground for 2,000 feet beyond the paved surface of the runway, struck an antenna and crashed through a chain-link fence before stopping in a gully. It exploded in flames and essentially disintegrated.

William Marimow, the editor whose hide Katz had saved, said he learned about Katz’ death at 7 a.m. Sunday.

katz

Katz

“Lewis, in my opinion, was really an extraordinary person,” Marimow said. “He loved journalism. He loved the Inquirer, and I think he really relished his ability to rub shoulders with editors and reporters and photographers. You could feel he genuinely liked being in the company of the newsroom…We are really, really going to miss him.”

Katz and made a fortune in the parking lot business and went on to own basketball’s New Jersey Nets and hockey’s New Jersey Devils.

And so The Inquirer — which was owned by the legendary Walter Annenberg for many years and which won seventeen Pulitzer between 1975 and 1980 — has once again been flung onto the shores of uncertainty.

So, Kansas Citians, we can at least be grateful that although McClatchy overpaid badly for the Knight Ridder papers in 2006, ownership of The Star has been stable. In addition, Editor Mike Fannin recently told the members of the Forty Years Ago Column Club that both McClatchy and The Star are now profitable.

The Star might be thin and light, but at least it’s stable, thank God.

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My friend Jason Schneider, a frequent commenter, sent along this photo on Monday, with this comment: “The Star is in trouble.”

He took the photo outside an office building at 45th Street and Belleview Avenue.

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