The cowboy and the dentist

The Baltimore Sun

When you were under anesthesia in the dentist's chair, don't worry: Dr. Ron Israel wasn't cavorting with a cowboy in tighty-whities. The good dentist only recently went into that line of work.

In the 1980s, after practicing for 24 years in Pikesville and Mount Vernon, Israel had had his fill of fillings and got into video production. Which is why he is now personal videographer to Naked Cowboy, New York City's most famously underdressed street musician.

It wasn't a straight shot from dentistry to honky-tonketry. Israel did a documentary on the sainted Elizabeth Ann Seton, recorded interviews with Holocaust survivors and taped area opera and theater companies before his unlikely career trajectory took an even stranger turn.

Israel was hired to shoot an Albanian music video 2 1/2 years ago in New York. They wanted American icons in the backdrop -- Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and, naturally, the cowboy who strums and sings in Times Square wearing nothing but boots, hat and undies.

"He is called New York's third-largest tourist attraction," after Lady Liberty and the Empire State Building, Israel said.

Over the seven-hour shoot, Israel and the cowboy, whose real name is Robert Burck, got into some "heavy discussions."


Peak performance coach Anthony Robbins and "unlimited power." Israel concluded that there was something after all under that 10-gallon hat.

"It's like, 'Man, you really have a brain. You're not just a bodybuilder and a piece of meat.'"

Now Israel, 70, follows the cowboy wherever he goes, recording appearances in New York, New Orleans, Austin, Texas, and, um, Cincinnati. (The cowboy's dark secret: He hails from Ohio. "His father is a city councilman, of all things," Israel said.)

The videos have attracted a sizable following on YouTube. Cowboy and dentist eventually hope to make it big in reality TV.

Clearing the air

Vincent DeMarco of the Citizens Health Initiative phoned in to Bob and Kendel Ehrlich's radio show on WBAL last week, while state Sen. Andy Harris was on the air criticizing Martin O'Malley's proposed buck-a-pack tobacco tax hike.

"I called in to point out that the governor's proposal would save 50,000 children from tobacco addiction," he said.

Put on hold, DeMarco assumed he was in line to talk. But Ehrlich communications aide Greg Massoni picked up and told him otherwise.

"He told me that I should go on WYPR, not their show," DeMarco said. "This was outrageous, particularly since at the very moment Kendel Ehrlich was on the air denouncing Governor O'Malley and the Democratic General Assembly leadership for stifling public input into the governor's proposals."

Massoni said DeMarco's timing, not his politics, was what killed his call.

"He called in right as we were getting off the air, so give me a break," Massoni said. "The lines are always full."

Massoni did, however, admit to the public-radio crack.

"I did say he belonged on YPR if that's what he wanted to do," Massoni said. "YPR's a good place for him."

Online versions

The state GOP issued a "Tax Hike Alert" that urged citizens to raise hell with their delegates and senators. It included a link to a state Web site where tax protesters could look up their elected officials.

Then the messages started coming in to the GOP, saying the site was down. "Apparently, we overwhelmed the server with angry citizens looking up their legislators online," said the state GOP's executive director, John Flynn.

State archivist Edward Papenfuse confirmed the site was down for several hours Wednesday, but he said the problem was routine maintenance, not high traffic.

"We figured the day after an election would be a good day to refresh the data," he said.

Flynn wasn't buying it.

"What did they have to update? The incumbents won."


On TV this week and on YouTube, a mock Maryland tourism ad brought to you by Citizens United. Cue perky music and scenic video. "Discover Maryland -- vibrant cities, beautiful beaches, quiet back roads, mountain getaways -- and really high taxes," it says. "Maryland's a great place to visit. It'd be nice to afford to keep living here." ... New red bumper sticker inspired by Martin O'Malley: "Welcome to Maryland. What'$ in Your Wallet?" ... There was a guest book out at Gracie Mansion the other night, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Johns Hopkins President William Brody and Hopkins University Press honchos celebrated a new book on New York City wildlife. A spy tells me lots of the notes urged Bloomberg to run for president. ...

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