Ellicott City's gossip king

Newsletter: Bob Pyle's weekly `Main Street Gossip Rag' is a fun read for some, but it has also ruffled a few feathers.

December 21, 2003|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

All of Ellicott City's Main Street knows about the handwritten newsletter printed on bright yellow paper.

Depending on whom you talk to, The Main Street Gossip Rag is either the musings of a tasteless, mean-spirited man or the irreverent observations of a satirist with an absurd take on the town.

It seems there is no middle ground when it comes to Bob Pyle's one-man newsletter, which usually is printed weekly. The 47-year-old, who has a gutter-cleaning business, has ruffled some feathers on the genteel, quaint street lined with antiques shops, restaurants and art galleries.

Pyle accused a bakery of selling "stale buns," devoted an issue to criticizing the town's business association, and penned scathing reviews of most of the restaurants.

"He has a sense of humor, and I don't think he really cares about the consequences," said Desmond Vogler, who with his wife owns Sarah and Desmond's, the coffee shop and vegetarian restaurant where Pyle gathers gossip, writes Rag stories and eats most of his meals. He gave the restaurant top honors - five stars - in his review.

Sarah and Desmond's also is the only place on Main Street that carries Pyle's paper, which sells for 5 cents.

"It's a local phenomenon, like a local cult thing," Ed Morrow said last week, as he walked down Main Street reading the latest Rag and laughing. Morrow, a friend of Pyle's, was mentioned in the gossip section of the Nov. 9 issue: "Ed was disappointed in Matrix 3. It was worse than Matrix 2, he says."

"Everybody in this town knows everybody else," Morrow said. "Bob writes things that make people laugh, and keeps everybody up to date."

While many see Pyle as harmless, others who have been on the receiving end of his barbs fail to see the humor. He gives plugs to places and people he likes, and takes his poison pen to others.

"It's a harsh paper," said Crystal Ludwig, who works at Fisher's Bakery, a Main Street institution that was skewered in the Rag for its "stale buns."

But fans say the paper is quirky and funny, like Pyle.

"We all know it's for fun, and we look forward to reading it every week," said Rick Schwedes, who works at Cottage Antiques. "Regular customers come in and say, `Oh, let me see the yellow paper today.' "

Pyle, whose real name is Robert B. Gamse - he said Bob Pyle is his pen name - earned a bachelor's degree in business from Towson State University. Previously, he ran a balloon delivery business, and, as Banjo Bob, entertained at children's parties. His first issue of the Rag came out in June with 19 numbered Main Street gossip items. Pyle said he started the paper to drum up business for Sarah and Desmond's and because he was bored.

"I think of two or three main stories, headlines and do it all in one evening," he said. "It takes about five hours to write it, reproduce it and staple it."

The paper's gossip runs the gamut, from mundane to juicy. Items in past issues include: "Toy store owner still hasn't completed his bathroom renovation," "Brock has lost weight" and "Jessica's boyfriend is staying out late."

After the Rag had been out for a few weeks, the buzz started on Main Street.

Pyle expanded the scope of the paper with "sensationalistic" stories, such as "Gangs of Main Street," "Hookers Hit Main Street" and "Flying Saucers Over Main Street." In the Nov. 9 issue, he taped about $100 worth of $1 bills in copies of the paper. When he held a fake election for mayor of Main Street, 67 readers voted, electing a sham mayor with 35 votes.

"You've got to have a little bit of a sense of humor about these things," Morrow said. "But he has alienated a few business owners."

For some, Pyle's work stops being funny when it includes false statements and accusations. Jordan Naftel, owner of Jordan's Steakhouse, is targeted in nearly every issue of the Rag. A vegetarian, Pyle said one reason he started the newsletter was to close down the restaurant that, in his opinion, "serves rich people who eat all night."

The self-described "animal-rights activist" has criticized the food, the decor, the prices and the owner. A Rag column titled "Ask Jordan: Advice on Meat, Manners, and Money" - which featured a leering, foul-mouthed chef - became his most popular section and spawned "Ask Jordan" T-shirts.

When Pyle staged a boycott outside the restaurant, Naftel called police but they had no authority to stop him. The restaurateur said he might pursue legal action against Pyle, but for now he is trying to ignore him.

"It's just not worth the time and effort," Naftel said.

Lately, Pyle said that things have been quiet, and the Rag has avoided controversy. But the stapled yellow paper might soon become a collector's item.

"I'm really running out of steam; in a way it's a thankless job," Pyle said. "I'm going to keep going for a while, until I either get killed or arrested by the FBI and sent to Cuba."

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