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Withering Heights

The Smothers Brothers used to do a funny routine about sibling rivalry. Who did their mother favor — Tommy or Dickie? "Mom always liked you best" was a familiar mantra of these sibling musician/comedians, who started out as a couple of college dudes in the 1960s and nowadays still do 60 or 70 shows a year.

People busted a gut watching grown men arguing about their mother's affections. And it wasn't because it was so farfetched. Everybody knows — all too well — how games of family one-upmanship tend to stretch undiminished from the cradle to the grave.

Don't believe it? Well, here we have the Slushers of Parkland and Orlando, whose simmering family dispute is halfway between a Victorian melodrama and a South Florida soap opera (there are condos and claims of fraud involved).

Gary Slusher, 54, is a musician. He lives in Parkland and makes a living on the keyboards, playing klezmer and tunes from the 1920s. He is one of Toby and Aaron Slusher's two children; he has an older sister, Laurie Rowell. In the 1970s, the Slusher family relocated from Brooklyn to Florida, although by then, the kids were grown.

Gary told Tailpipe that he was always his mother's favorite. By contrast, he says that Toby, who died last year at 82, treated his sister Laurie like "a piece of garbage." And he speculates that his father, Aaron, who died in July at 84, was jealous of his mother's love for him.

"When we were growing up," he says, "he had a nickname for me... He used to call me Jesús, you know, Spanish for Jesus. I never realized at the time: That's terribly sarcastic. But that was his little shot at me."

According to Gary, shortly before Toby died of cancer, she made him the sole beneficiary of two accounts she had at AmTrust bank, which together held just under $50,000. Then, a few days after Toby died, Gary says, his sister withdrew the money from those accounts. Gary says he discovered the drained accounts when he went to an AmTrust branch in Deerfield Beach, hoping to empty the accounts himself. He got upset, he says. He called 911.

Ultimately, AmTrust got most of the money back from his sister, he says, and referred the matter to the courts — where it has been ever since. Meanwhile, he and his sister are not speaking.

Laurie Rowell, who lives near Orlando, declined to comment about her brother's complaints. In court papers, she contends that Gary had tried to swindle his elderly father out of his life's savings by conniving to get his mother to take his father's name off their joint accounts, making Gary their sole beneficiary.

Ridiculous, Gary says. His mother's estate, including a condo in Tamarac, was worth about $250,000, he says — and most of that his sister inherited. He says if it were up to him, the estate would have been divided equally between them.

As it is, he was defrauded by his sister, he says. And he thinks she should face criminal charges.

The 'Pipe can't wait to see how this plays out, though don't expect any quick answers.

In the meantime, Gary and Laurie might try their luck on the comedy circuit. Play a couple of bars of folk music — with bass and guitar — then tell their story. OK, Mom liked Gary best. But how about Dad?

Hairdresser Unchained

Luiz Hernandez, a hairdresser in Deerfield Beach, is a little late to the party. This month, he's decided to go out on a limb and take a stand against the war in Iraq. This month?

Why now, almost five years after the war began and with less than a year of Bush presidency left?

"I just couldn't hold it inside me any longer," says Hernandez, 34. "Being trained as a hairdresser, you are taught to not let anyone know how you feel about politics or religion or anything."

But on Labor Day, he says all that changed. He shed his hairdresser inhibitions. He took a trip to New York with his boyfriend and saw a play called 33 to Nothing.

"It was so beautiful," Hernandez says. "It was about an alcoholic who kept everything in. I realized I had been keeping everything in, and I couldn't do it. I walked out, and something came over me. I said, 'We have to stop this fucking war.' That's when I came up with the idea of making shirts."

What better way to take a stand than by producing a line of clever T-shirts, $20 apiece, demanding that the atrocities end immediately? In a myriad of colors and cuts, the rebel attire demands that we "stop da faux-king war." Hernandez makes them himself and sells them out of his salon and on his MySpace page.

Hernandez, who started taking college classes for the first time this semester, says he's not just out to make a buck on this either — however outdated his outrage might seem. He says he'd like to take in a silent partner for the project, and though he doesn't know exactly where yet, he'd like to put part of the profits toward "violence and war awareness."

FLIFFy Farewell

Well, put away the red carpet, and kiss the movie stars goodbye. After 185 movies and 37 days of frenetic Ping-Ponging from theater to theater, FLIFF is finally over.

Every year, Broward movie buffs sidle up to the Tinseltown glamour machine, hoping to catch a little of the razzle-dazzle. The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival invites some actors to town, wrangles a few world premieres, and, if it's a good year, keeps the party going just loud and festive enough to stay on the cultural radar. Tailpipe, who has paid his dues covering stars on red carpets, hung around the festival to try to catch a whiff of the greasepaint and the sweat.

So Tinseltown is Tinseltown wherever you find it, right?

Not exactly. In the real Hollywood (not the Broward one), they don't make you wear a paper bracelet to get into the party, which is usually in a chic, polished-to-a-ritzy-sheen eatery in Beverly Hills rather than a hotel banquet room. Get up there with A-list, and you're sipping Cristal and rubbing elbows with George Clooney or Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But, hell, drinking a rum and Coke in the ballroom of the Signature Grand — that ain't half-bad, especially when there's a band that can segue seamlessly from "I Will Survive" to "One O'clock Jump" as well as a couple of B-list stars dutifully making their way around the room. The 'Pipe approached movie tough guy Dennis Farina, there to represent the opening-night movie The Grand, a poker comedy, and asked him if doing the festival circuit was a pleasure or a chore.

Farina, looking at Tailpipe as if he might have explosives strapped on under his shirt, muttered, "I haven't found anything in this business that's too much of a chore." Richard Kind, Farina's tall, gawky-looking costar, was a little more forthcoming about how welcoming festival participants had been, though his round of golf at a fancy country club got rained out.

On the last Friday of the festival, Tailpipe caught Gary Sinise on the red carpet (a modest 56 feet of it, now stored safely away at Cinema Paradiso). Sinise, a winningly earnest man and one of the industry's most versatile character actors, answered a lot of naive question patiently. He said that he had been to a lot of festivals where the paparazzi clustered ("Cannes is madness") but that FLIFF was more to his liking. "Very laid-back," Sinise said. "More my speed."

Laid-back, maybe. But by the last weekend, festival organizers had all taken on a slightly glassy-eyed look. Bonnie Skop, who had been chipping in to assist publicity director Jan Mitchell, helpfully pointed out two British actors arriving at an event at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center. "It's the magicians," she said. Actually, they were David Mitchell and Robert Webb, stars of the British movie Magicians.

Who? Skop was momentarily nonplussed. "All I know," she said confidentially, "is that Jan said, 'It's the magicians. They're in the limo.' We're all exhausted."

Forget the Orange Bowl

Wednesday night at Boca Bowl, just off of Town Center Road in Boca Raton, and the collisions between bowling balls and pins sound especially explosive, like a World War II battle in Sensurround.

A skinny guy with an unruly mullet chugs a beer and tightens his laces. The laces are highlighter-yellow. He looks hungrily toward the polished lanes, a gladiator about to step into a cage.

A third-grade girl with braces stumbles toward the alley, eight-pound ball in hand, heaving it, kerplunk, straight into the gutter and watching it roll ignominiously away.

A stern-looking woman in churchgoing attire watches her own ball rumble toward the pins, miraculously smashing them into a collapsed mess. A lifetime of keeping it buttoned up seems to sail momentarily out the window as she breaks into "the sprinkler" dance.

It's been going on like this since 1981, a contest of kinetic weight versus grace, a human drama, a classroom of life lessons. In less than a year, though, it'll all be over. The plans are in. Boca's favorite 65,000-square-foot bowling alley will be gutted and transformed into a shopping plaza. The town needs it — hadn't you noticed?

In May of last year, Woolbright Development Inc., owner of multiple South Florida shopping centers, bought the property, temporarily leasing it back to the original owners. But that lease runs out next May. The company originally planned "a Mizner Park on steroids," as Boca Bowl manager Ronnie Belletieri put it, but later decided on something more modest. They'll call it the Commons at Town Center, and all Tailpipe could find out was that they're putting in $5 million in palm trees. The 'Pipe envisions a shady oasis with grunting camels and visitors nibbling on dates (the fruit, that is).

Three generations of bowling alley patrons and employees are miffed.

"There's a lot of people who grew up here," says a bespectacled woman from Delray who has been coming to Boca Bowl (formerly Don Carter's All-Star Lanes) for 18 years. She's part of the Wednesday-night Highroller League, with 25 teams of five players each.

Starting next year, they'll either have to go south to Pompano or north to Boynton Beach. For some, that means an extra 40 minutes' drive.

At the other end of the alley, riotous groups of teens and 20-somethings are bowling. Not many are aware that the alley is closing.

"I've been coming here since I was 16," says a young woman bowling with coworkers from the Boca Raton Hotel and Resort. "I'm upset. Boca is already too boring."

Belletieri wants to open up a new alley, but it won't be in Boca, and he's not sure how long it will take. "There's no place in Boca you can get five acres," he says.


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