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Michael Phelps bong photo

Michael Phelps, party animal? That's fine

Just make him drop the goody-two-shoes image

Laura Vozzella

February 6, 2009

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Baltimore boasts two sports phenomena struggling to reconcile upstanding corporate images with trashy party sides: Michael Phelps and the Preakness.

No telling how long that pot-smoking, stripper-groping hedonist had been trapped in the body of a disciplined Olympic role model. But we've seen this personality split before.

The storied horse race is an unlikely mix of antebellum lawn party and Woodstock: Maryland society in hats out of Hello, Dolly! on the corporate village side of the infield, and on the public side, drunken revelers out of Animal House racing across the tops of portable toilets.

Both swimmer and horse race say they want to shed half of their dual identities.

Yesterday, the day The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Van Valkenburg reported that Phelps is considering throwing in the Olympic towel so he can party in peace, Pimlico announced that it had outgrown its BYOB bacchanalia.

No more coolers of beer allowed. Beer will still be for sale, but in this economy, having to shell out $3.50 for every 16 ounces should cut down on drunks.

The boozed-up infield was a "rite of passage for 30 years for the youth of Baltimore, but change is inevitable," said Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

Phelps, for his part, isn't making a similar vow to grow up. Sounds like he's looking for a way to stay young and irresponsible, just out of the spotlight.

But Phelps needn't give up swimming to walk on the wild side. What he has to give up is his fake corporate goodie-two-shoes image.

I don't honestly think it's in Phelps' best interest to smoke pot, drink like crazy and bed lots of Vegas hotties. But if that's how he wants to live, he can do so without dropping his sport. He just needs to drop the Opie Taylor act perpetuated by his aw-shucks interviews and kid-oriented product endorsements.

His bad-boy ways will sell fewer tabloids if they're not at odds with his target market.

He and mom would lose sponsors, of course. Even a high-fructose corn-syrup-pusher like Tony the Tiger has his limits.

But as the Ray Lewis of swimming, Phelps could surely pick up some new sponsors. Cordish, for one, could use a pitchman for that Arundel Mills casino.

Something for the boys
To soften the no-BYOB buzz-kill, Pimlico is adding entertainment meant to make sure the Preakness infield doesn't grow up completely. ZZ Top (the band whose first big single was "Tush," the news release points out). Virtual paintball. And professional beach volleyball. Women's teams only, naturally.

"You probably know the [target] demographic," said sports promoter Lee Corrigan. "Volleyball with good-looking, athletic women - you really can't beat that, can you? And a cold beer at a reasonable price."

Phew! For a minute there, I thought the frat party was over.

An eye for the buttons
Michael Steele dismissed Barack Obama as an empty suit last summer during the Democratic National Convention, but that hardly hurt the future president's career. So Steele tried the label on himself.

Asked at a news conference last week how he'd fix his party's negative image, the newly elected Republican National Committee chairman stepped from behind a podium and joked: "Well, I got a nice suit, and the tie is good."

Among those impressed with that answer: Kwab Asamoah, owner of Kustom Looks Clothier, where Steele gets his snazzy duds - including the pin-striped suit and blue shirt he showed off for the news media that day.

"The only thing we didn't make was the tie," said Asamoah, who is relocating his Landover haberdashery to Silver Spring today.

The man chosen to lead the GOP out of the political wilderness is a clotheshorse whose taste befits someone straddling the line between trailblazer and conservative. Trousers with classic pleats and cuffs, for instance, but cut full - baggy, even - to evoke Harlem Renaissance styling. Classic pinstripes paired with a modern, fitted "athletic cut" suit jacket. And no more than three buttons on that jacket, even though the guy is 6-4.

"When you do four, it's not professional," Asamoah said. "When you're dealing with conservatives, especially GOP, no more than two or three buttons."

Those are our napkins!
So Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore are in a cafe, talking about guys, no doubt, and everyone in the He's Just Not That Into You audience is eating it up - except the Baltimoreans. We're too distracted by the coffee cups and napkins. They bear the familiar oval logo of The Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co.

The movie, which opens today, didn't actually shoot in any of the company's three cafes, which are in Timonium, Annapolis and Frederick - not, as it turns out, Baltimore.

Producers looking for local color took some of its paper products back to Hollywood.

"We provided them with hundreds of cups, hundreds of napkins, a bunch of signage and the like," said David Nevins, a minority investor in the company who saw a preview of the movie at Arundel Mills this week.

If you must know, Nevins just wasn't that into the movie. (Too chick flick-y.) But he thoroughly enjoyed seeing the logo on the big screen. "It's kind of a kick."

Picking the right major
Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolos, who testified this week before a House committee, graduated from Loyola College in 1981. He earned an undergrad degree in - what else? - accounting.


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