It happened last winter, a silly event hardly anybody in town noticed.
On the night of Feb. 4, a wacky attention hound named River Laker stripped down on stage at 202 Market during a bachelor-bachelorette auction.
He deftly covered his privates with a flower-filled bicycle helmet. The stunt was anything but a “striptease,” even though that’s what the headlines later called it.
The crowd reacted with laughter and nervous titters. Within a few minutes, Laker was yanked off the stage after he’d slipped off his briefs.
The bar manager said he didn’t know it was going to happen. Members of the Square Society, the civic group sponsoring the fundraiser, said they were unaware, too.
But it was vintage River Laker. He’s a city library employee who in his spare time courts publicity the way a starving tiger hunts fresh meat.
I know Laker. He’s a unusual fellow, and he’s been in this column before. Some of his publicity-courting hijinks, such as giving up his car for six months and getting around by bus, bicycle and on foot, have elan and are humorous with a larger purpose.
And some are banal and dumb. This one fell into the latter category. At the time it occurred, it harmed absolutely nobody. Only adults were present.
But it happened during the Nielsen ratings “February sweeps,” and that survey helps determine the ad rates that television channels can charge their clients.
The next thing you know, WSLS-Channel 10 heard about it (probably because River Laker pitched it to them as a story) and cranked their news operation into overdrive.
They beat it harder than a jackhammer on concrete. They had every angle covered. Nudity! City Market bar! Investigation! Possible charges! Friends react! It was on 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. And not just on one day, either. They had it Feb. 7, 8, 9 and Feb. 23 and 28, too.
You might have thought the old pre-1980s days of the city market, when it was rife with peep shows and sleazy prostitutes, might be nigh.
“February sweeps was irrelevant in our decision-making process” for the story, WSLS News Director Melissa Preas told me. “It really had no bearing.”
They weren’t the only news outlet though. The Roanoke Times did a couple of stories, too. And I did some blog posts about it — most of them poked fun at the brouhaha. Such is the news business. Sometimes we hold our noses and chase each other.
The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted an investigation. It resulted in charges against 202 Market but not River Laker, who they probably don’t have authority to charge.
Wednesday afternoon, there is actually a hearing into this matter at the local ABC office.
Now, the ABC had to send out at least one investigator out to look into this incident. Presumably, that investigator had to interview people at the bar that night, watch video of the incident and write some reports.
And then somebody at the agency had to review those reports and decide whether it was worth a trial before an ABC hearing officer. That’s what will happen tomorrow.
In 2010, 386 of 940 ABC investigation statewide ended up in hearings such as the one tomorrow afternoon. And of those, 55 were appealed to the full Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, and 20 of those later wound up in Circuit Court.
In July, I asked the ABC how much time and money it — I mean taxpayers — had invested in this case. Spokeswoman Kathleen Shaw wrote back: “The records you requested are confidential records of investigation and ABC chooses not to disclose or release this information.”
Meanwhile, 202 Market had to get a lawyer involved. They hired John Lichtenstein, perhaps the best in town. He doesn’t come cheap.
All because a wacky guy pulled an eye-rolling stunt in a bar by removing his clothes.
Come on. The only thing dumber is that somebody somewhere decided this was worthy of a state investigation and charges against the restaurant.
202 Market manager Zach Rosenoff declined to comment. So did River Laker, who told me he expected to be in Montreal this week. Almost the only thing he would say for the record was, “I’ve moved on.”
Too bad the ABC hasn’t done that.
Laker also asked: “Could you not call me ‘wacky?’ ”
The answer to that one is no.