Off Limits

Okay, so he's a not a super-duper star, but he is pretty famous, especially now that he's co-starring in the remake of Ocean's 11 with five legitimate superstars -- and hey, he's from Denver, which usually is enough to rate several gossip-column items when an actor visits his hometown. Still, the daily papers missed the story of Don Cheadle and five members of his family going to the hospital Sunday morning to be treated for furnace-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Cheadle himself was treated and released from Porter Adventist Hospital; as of Tuesday night, just one member of the family was still hospitalized. And while Swedish Medical Center spokeswoman Ramonna Tooley wouldn't confirm the identity of that family member -- at the request of the family -- she did say the patient is a female in fair condition, which means she's conscious and recovering nicely.

Cheadle, who went to East High School and had a major role in the movie Traffic and a bit part in Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, is lucky that he still has things to do in Denver while he's alive, considering that every winter, a few people die from carbon-monoxide poisoning in their homes.

The buck stops here: While Boulder continues to wrestle with the issues surrounding El Dildo Bandito, aka Bob Rowan, who liberated a string of ceramic penises from the Boulder Public Library earlier this month and wound up charged with criminal tampering, Aspen recently experienced its own artful dodger.

Rick Magnuson, a local artist and law-enforcement official (hey, he's from Aspen), had contributed a piece to the Aspen Art Museum's Roaring Fork Open that was titled "I Dare You to Steal This $100" and featured a genuine hundred-dollar bill. "It was a conceptual work of art, about the kind of tension between your desire to want to take the hundred-dollar bill and your conscience telling you not to do it," says museum director Dean Sobel. "It called for almost performance-like action."

Just not the kind he got. The day before Thanksgiving, another amateur art critic took a look at Magnuson's piece, reached for the hundred-dollar bill -- and then replaced it with five twenties. "He actually did it under the watchful eye of a museum staff member," Sobel says. "It was not in the museum's position to close down that kind of process. The staff member knew the artist wanted interaction. He just didn't expect it to be so benign."

But what's benign, like what's beautiful, lies in the eye of the beholder. While Magnuson had dared viewers to steal the money, it had never occurred to Aspen's police Picasso that someone would simply change the piece by making change. "I wanted someone to try and steal it and catch them, and this makes it vague now," Magnuson told a reporter. "It ruined the whole aesthetics for me. I don't think it's a valuable piece of art anymore, because it's been defaced."

But at least it's still there -- unlike "Hanging 'em Out to Dry," the penis piece that Rowan pilfered from the Boulder Public library's Art Triumphs Over Domestic Violence.

Both the Aspen show and the Boulder exhibit -- what was left of it, at least -- closed Sunday. But the reviews keep coming in.

Keen streets: Fort Collins is about as far removed from Boulder or Aspen as Picasso is from Norman Rockwell; in this burg, entire streets have been deemed to be works of art -- although that information probably won't be included in American Classics, a four-part series airing on the History Channel this week.

The programs take a look at symbols of twentieth-century Americana, including TV dinners, superstars, brand names and the concept of Main Street USA. University of Minnesota art history and American studies professor Karal Ann Marling, who is featured in the series, credits Walt Disney with keeping that last concept alive by deciding in the 1950s to re-create a turn-of-the-century-styled Main Street in Disneyland.

"Disneyland let people experience Main Street USA again in isolation as a work of art, a theater piece," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. "You could walk down this street and finally, for the first time, see it for what it represented, the joys of being a pedestrian." Marling went on to say that if it hadn't been for Uncle Walt, many towns would have watched their Main Streets die or disappear.

And if it hadn't been for Fort Collins's actual Main Street -- which stretches from the firehouse to the county courthouse to the bank -- Walt Disney's fantasy might never have been made concrete. That's because Walt relied on the men who designed his movie sets to create his theme park, and one of those men was designer Harper Goff, who grew up in Fort Collins and used his hometown as the model for Disneyland.

And that's no Mickey Mouse story.

Under-covers agent: Next week, Joyce Meskis will be going back to school for the ultimate extra-credit course.

Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstores in Cherry Creek and LoDo, will be sitting in Brighton High School's gymnasium when the Colorado Supreme Court justices convene there to hear oral arguments regarding her fight to keep a customer's book-buying records confidential.

The customer in question may not be the most savory of Tattered Cover's faithful fans; in civil-liberties battles, you rarely find a publicity-ready poster child. Meskis recognized that as a boardmember for the American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression, when right-to-privacy concerns arose over former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's book-buying and -giving habits. "Of course, the police do need to have the ability to solve crimes -- we all want that," Meskis says. "It's the importance of the balance of civil liberties and protections that are critical to our form of government and our society. 'Probable cause' and 'compelling need' sound like just any old words within the vocabulary, but they have important meanings when it comes to the First Amendment."

The Colorado case dates to March 2000, when the North Metro Drug Task Force found two how-to books on building methamphetamine laboratories, along with a Tattered Cover envelope, in the Adams County trailer of a drug suspect. The agents wanted to search store records; Meskis's attorney, Dan Recht, got a restraining order prohibiting them from doing so. Last November, Denver District Judge Stephen Phillips ruled that the store must surrender the information, but also ordered a stay on the warrant being executed while the case was appealed.

All the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and Brighton High, as it turns out. The Tattered Cover case will be one of two argued before students (the other is a criminal case involving the right to refuse to show identification to police) as part of an annual outreach program to metro-area high schools that the court started a decade ago. And while Recht believes that the justices would have chosen to hear the Tattered case no matter what, he also thinks they couldn't have picked a better place to hear it.

"Kids can closely identify with this idea of the government -- or your teacher, or your parents -- knowing what you read," says Recht. "Teenagers want that to be private."

And he also recognizes that since the terrorist attacks, civil liberties and privacy issues have a new resonance. "Although there's nothing in the briefs about September 11, I pretty much feel compelled to raise the issue with the Supreme Court," he says. "We have soldiers fighting halfway across the world to protect our freedoms. In fact, this is the first one."

The frisk risk: Security foibles at Denver International Airport appeared to have improved in the days before the Thanksgiving weekend, or so says Denver City Councilman Ed Thomas, who declared that DIA had returned to being "the most efficient airport in the world" only weeks after he'd roundly bashed it. Even Travelocity, the travel company that's capitalized on recent events by releasing periodic surveys ranking wait times in security lines at airports across the country, had boosted Denver from worst -- in October -- to nearly first on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when wait times averaged only six minutes (a fact that airport public-relations people were quick to point out in the November 21 edition of their daily media briefing). Unfortunately, DIA turned into a turkey again by the end of the holiday weekend, with ninety-minute waits in the security checkpoint lines.

And Denver continues to take a public pummeling. This week, humor writer Dave Barry became the latest celebrity to take a shot at DIA, joining National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu, who last month wrote about becoming friends with his line-mates at the security station, and CBS football announcer Dick Enberg, who disparaged DIA's security screeners during a broadcast.

"Air travel sure is a big old laundry hamper of fun these days. That's what I was thinking as I was removing my clothes in front of hundreds of people at the Denver airport (which is located in Wyoming)," Barry began in Sunday's syndicated column. "For some reason, my traveling party had been singled out by the security people for a near-proctological level of scrutiny. This surprised me, because my party consisted of me, my wife and our 20-month-old daughter."

Barry, who'd come to Denver earlier this month to perform with his band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, went on to explain how he was ordered to the side and forced to remove his belt, shoes and wallet. In the meantime, another guard made Barry's daughter toddle through the metal detector by herself, even separating her from the doll she was carrying. "They finally let us pass," Barry wrote, "but when we got to our gate, they called out our names -- only our names -- and ordered us to hold out our arms to be scanned again, while all the other passengers looked on, no doubt wondering what kind of lowlife terrorists we were to be lugging around a baby."

Oh, well, at least Denver hasn't yet suffered the indignity another city went through last weekend. On Saturday, the entire Seattle airport was shut down for three hours after a National Guardsman noticed that one of the metal detectors was malfunctioning. The problem? It was unplugged.


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