Queen City of the Plains

Nathanial Trotter has never met Oprah Winfrey, but he knows she's nice. So nice, in fact, that he'd like to make her Queen of America. "I believe God gave me the idea," the Aurora inventor explains. "I would listen to Oprah, and there's so many things she's accomplished. She's won dozens of Emmys. She was named the most powerful entertainer in the world -- in the world! These are some big titles. But she's like our big sister, like she's part of the family. They have a queen in England, so why not in America?"

Why not, indeed? Especially since Trotter doesn't want to give America's queen major powers -- "not to start wars or make people knights" or anything like that, he says -- but simply allow her to use her God-given powers to make people feel better, to promote "hope for the hopeless." So last year, he set up a website -- www.oprahforqueen.com -- announcing the "Let's Make Oprah Queen Movement," laying out the star's "queenly qualifications" and offering a snippet of the song that would be played at Oprah's coronation.

"Downtown Denver shall host the coronation ceremony!" the site promises. "This event will have a world-wide audience larger than the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup soccer together. Yes, the most watched event in human history." At the ceremony, Oprah will sit on a gold throne wearing an $8,000 crown (Trotter already has the jeweler lined up; he just needs the cash) and watch performers ranging from Chris Rock to James Earl Jones to Paul McCartney to Michael Jackson to Prince to Judy Turner (Trotter's sister, who sings the coronation song), while Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play one-on-one basketball (the winner faces off against Michael Jordan).




Trotter was born in Chicago, where Oprah tapes her incredibly popular show (both he and his brother Monroe have tried to get into the studio audience, but so far they've been shut out), and moved to the Denver area about ten years ago. His inventions keep him so busy -- he's currently working on a window that produces snow year-round -- that he doesn't always catch The Oprah Winfrey Show, and so missed the May 17 installment that featured Queen Rania of Jordan, "the world's youngest queen." In fact, he didn't even realize that on May 29, Oprah will move from its longtime local home on Channel 7 to CBS4, which wrested the syndication rights.

But Trotter doesn't have to see Oprah to recognize her royal ways. "I think if we get enough people involved, eventually it's going to happen," he says. But those people had better move fast -- a competing effort is pushing Oprah for the Nobel Peace Prize.

All wet: Hurricane season is about to hit, but Washington, D.C., is still flooded with backwash from Hurricane Katrina. This month, the Center for Public Integrity released 928 pages of e-mail messages to and from former FEMA head (and current Coloradan) Michael Brown. The e-mails, which the center received seven months after filing a Freedom of Information request, stretch from just days before Katrina struck to September 8, 2005, and are filled with blacked-out lines and juxtapositions that would be hilarious if they weren't so deadly serious.

At 6:21 a.m. on Monday, August 29, Brown e-mailed FEMA's chief of staff that he was "sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair." Ignored for many hours was a message sent to TV star Brown at 9:36 a.m., warning that a levee had been breached in New Orleans.

Congress has already sampled some of these e-mails, including tidbits regarding Brown's fondness for margaritas, his blue shirt from Nordstrom and his e-mail to a colleague on August 31 -- after New Orleans had flooded -- thanking him for the "update" and asking if there was "anything specific I need to do or tweak?" But this collection also includes the message to Brown that inspired his "tweak" response: "Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know. Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes. The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome..."

After that, horror piles on horror, with the media questioning not just FEMA's response to the disaster, but Brown's credentials -- including his previous job with the Colorado-based International Arabian Horse Association. And that's not the only time Colorado appears in this collection. Page 821 is an e-mail from Fran Santagata, Homeland Security & All Hazards Coordinator and a special assistant to Governor Bill Owens, who asks Brown whether FEMA will be reimbursing hospitals for evacuees' care. After bouncing from bureaucrat to bureaucrat (the messages go on for pages -- do these people not know how to delete?), Brown finally weighs in at 5:44 p.m. September 7: "Folks, let's get this settled."

Five days later, Brown's fate at FEMA was settled. He resigned, and is now back in Colorado running a disaster-consulting company.

Santagata no longer works for the state, although Dan Hopkins, Owens's spokesman, assures us that Colorado's Homeland Security office remains in place.

State of emergency: Reading through the Michael Brown collection, we couldn't help wondering what would have happened if John Ashton, theater empresario and onetime Westword staffer, had gotten his gig at FEMA a few months sooner. For starters, Brown would have done much, much better as a guest on Stephen Colbert's show back in March.

After selling the Avenue Theater, Ashton signed on for temporary duty with FEMA -- a job made official when he received his government-issued gold card -- and at the start of this year was sent to Baton Rouge, where he helped out with communications, particularly concerning evacuees housed on cruise ships until the end of February. Returning to Denver, he managed to get Insignificance up and running at the Mizel Center (the play closed just last week) before receiving orders for a second deployment, this time to Washington, D.C. So he hopped a plane for the nation's capital, where he's working on reformatting press releases, and "shook hands and had a very brief chat with Michael Chertoff."

And never mind that many would like to shake more than the hand of the Homeland Security director. For the continuing Ashton chronicles, check out femadreama@blogspot.com. Or buy a copy of the art-imitating-life Asteroid, the disaster movie filmed in Colorado in the late '90s that starred Michael Biehn as FEMA's director -- and Ashton as "Hospital Patient."


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