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By far, attorney Kenneth S. Kramer was the best-dressed man inside Denver's small-claims court on May 12.
Wearing a finely tailored brown suit with crisp lines and sharp corners, the bespectacled Kramer sat high in his chair and waited patiently. Behind him sat a lanky cowboy in faded blue jeans and a denim jacket. A few seats to the left, a large woman bounced a baby in her lap. Cases on the 8:30 a.m. docket for courtroom No. 2 included a squabble over a rent increase and a dispute between a woman and the dry cleaner that allegedly damaged her blouse. Kramer, an attorney with Berenbaum, Weinshienk & Eason, was there on behalf of his high-profile client, the Best Western Landmark Inn.
The 280-room hotel, at 455 South Colorado Boulevard, is being sued for religious persecution.
On Thursday, April 8, around 2:30 a.m., Mark Tomaino and five friends checked into the Landmark after taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. The five characters flew into town for the biannual Rocky Horror Picture Show convention, being held in Denver for the first time. The two-day event, which drew about 150 costume-clad fans from across the country to enjoy live performances, trivia contests and guest speakers, was billed as "Rocky Rocks the Rockies." (Tomaino dressed as Eddie, the dead soul who appears in the film wheeling a motorcycle out of a freezer.)
The moment he checked into his room, Tomaino says he obeyed a tradition that is a part of Rocky Horror conventions.
Tradition: Check into room, throw Bible out of room.
In this case, Tomaino says he simply "plopped it" out in front of the door.
Minutes after the Bible hit the mat, a hotel security guard knocked on Tomaino's door. When Tomaino answered, he says the guard held up the book and asked, "Did this come from this room?"
"Yes," Tomaino replied.
"You can't remove anything from this room," the guard said.
Quite seriously, Tomaino responded, "I am under no obligation to be proselytized by this cult."
The two stared at one another in silence, Tomaino says, then he tried to shut the door. But the security guard used his foot as a wedge. Tomaino pushed, and the security guard pushed back, squeezing his hand inside the closing door. Tomaino pushed harder until finally, the security guard--still clinging to the best-selling book of all time--rolled backward into the hallway. Tomaino says he quickly locked the door and fell to the floor laughing with his friends.
Tomaino then called the front desk to ask for extra blankets and pillows. He made one additional request: "Don't let that security guard come back to my room!"
From that moment on, Tomaino claims, he and other Rocky Horror conventioneers were marked for harassment by Landmark employees who he claims are "religious zealots." "In every little thing that we asked for, the people who worked there were rude to us," Tomaino complains. "They all seemed so upset that they had to work. They were all nuts. It was like the hotel in The Shining."
Tomaino says the first whiff of religious persecution came when the morning bellboy skipped his room for newspaper delivery. When Tomaino asked why he was the only guest on his floor not to receive the complimentary paper, he was told the hotel had run short. Tomaino fumed in the lobby until the bellboy returned with a cart full of papers. "What a petty little prick," Tomaino huffs.
But a "dynamic tension"--to quote the movie--wasn't reached until the early hours of Friday morning when amped conventioneers took to partying and room-hopping. In one room, a drunken game of naked Twister took place, Tomaino says--and he's got the pictures to prove it. In another, fans in costume performed scenes from the movie. And in Blake Gabbard's and Scott LaBrackque's neighboring rooms, a mellow evening of easy beer-drinking and movie-watching was getting under way when someone thumped on the door.
This time, Tomaino's friend from security brought Denver police officers with him.
"They said they heard a girl scream," Tomaino explains, offering that a female partyer who tripped in the bathroom caused the loud noise.
Both rooms were evacuated, and both Gabbard and LaBrackque were booted from the hotel and temporarily banned from the convention. Tomaino helped his buddies relocate to an Aurora hotel and returned to the Landmark at 3 a.m. Incensed, he marched up to his room, drafted a five-page letter to hotel management outlining his outrage and filed a complaint in small-claims court early that morning. Since he was not evicted, Tomaino listed Gabbard and LaBrackque as the plaintiffs. "If we didn't have the Bible issue," Tomaino says, "we wouldn't have these people [hotel personnel] following us around like hawks."
When convention organizer and longtime Rocky Horror fan Bev Gerrish arrived at the hotel Friday afternoon, she asked general manager Ann Weisenburger to remove the Bibles from all convention rooms, but Gerrish says Weisenburger became incredibly offended.
Gerrish doesn't know how many conventioneers tossed the Good Book, adding that she personally passes on the ritual. "Honestly," Gerrish confides, "maybe it's just because of my age , but I can't see the point of pitching something out of a hotel room. It's just stupid and childish." Gerrish spent the weekend as her self-created character, "Old Spice," a geriatric addition to the Spice Girls. She flaunted the Spice Girls' trademark low-cut Union Jack tube skirt to go with knee-high black leather boots.