What about me!?
A brief biography of Tony Lagarto, webmaster of jerriblank.com
I was born and raised in Danbury, Connecticut, a quiet little New England city about 60 miles from Manhattan. Danbury was once known as the "Hatting Capital of the World" and I am descended from more mad hatters than I care to think about. (Note: for those of you who speak any of the Latin-based languages, my last name means lizard or alligator, depending on whether you speak Portuguese, Italian, or Spanish.)
Danbury was a great place to grow up, but when I was laid off in 1995 from my nine year stint at Pitney-Bowes (aka, during my time of bitterness, as Spitney-Blowes or Shitney-Bowels) I turned my big old lemon into lemonade by picking up my belongings and moving to Washington, DC.
Since 1996 I've been working as an electronic development product designer for BNA, Inc., a prestigious Washington, DC legal publishing company. Basically, what that means is that I'm doing web design, converting existing print and CD products into their internet-accessible counterparts and creating interfaces for all-new publications. Occasionally, when my schedule permits, I take graduate school classes, some for work and some just for my own personal growth. For example, I took Photoshop classes at George Washington University for work, but took Italian classes at the USDA's Graduate School for fun.
I consider myself to be a knowledgeable cinemaphile and I enjoy movies from almost every genre. I also spend a LOT of time watching television (pathetic, but true) and I'm known among my family and friends as a bit of a videoholic. Other interests include music (especially the happy dance stuff from the 1980s), genealogy, telenovelas en Español, Madonna, pop culture, Australian Football, architecture, the Topps Wacky Packages trading card/stickers from the early '70s, and reading biographies, books of all sorts, and magazines. I also enjoy good food (especially Italian) and world travel (especially to Italy).
I'm also a graphic artist and aspiring amateur photographer. From 1998 through 2001, I was a member of the Triangle Artists Group (TAG) of Washington. I've been meaning to rejoin the group, but never seem to get around to it. Upon joining TAG, I participated in the October 1998 "Vision/Text" exhibit at the SOHO coffee house at 22nd and P Streets.
I also co-curated a couple other non-TAG exhibits with other fellow DC artists. Patrons of Windows (aka the Dupont Italian Kitchen Bar) may remember me from the Halloween 1998 show that Troy Marino and I curated there, entitled "The Mapplewarped Series". This was the official debut of my popular Packaged Personalities: The First Ladies triptych.
From June 15 through July 15, 1999, I once again curated the bar space at Windows. At that time I shared the space with TAG member Zade Ramsey. The series I displayed was called Pygmalion 99 (consisting primarily of photographs of D.C. statuary and sculptures), and my First Ladies had a triumphant and successful return engagement, by popular demand.
Zade and I were both interviewed by Greg Varner, the Arts Editor of the Washington Blade, within a week of hanging our work. The full-page article, along with three color pictures, generated a little controversy after a Blade reader misinterpreted the inspiration of my "Betty Crocked" piece (he thought that I was making fun of alcoholism) and wrote an outraged letter to the editor. The following week, the Blade published my response to this reader in which I pointed out that the piece in question is a parody, part of a triptych that targets the "cult of celebrity" and how our society's fascination with labels turns famous people into recognizable products and brand names. My intention was to satirize the fact that alcoholism is an aspect of Betty Ford's life and is considered to be the most recognizable part of her "package" as a person, so I made it the focal point of my parody. The fame and/or infamy of politicians, movie stars, royalty, criminals, models, musicians, etc. make them as recognizable as McDonald's golden arches or that voluptuous Coca-Cola bottle.
They say a little controversy is good for an artist. I agree, especially if that controversy spawns thought or discussion (not to mention increased sales). The eyes of every beholder may not appreciate what I create, or truly "get" the point of a particular piece. I'm perfectly willing to accept that fact of life and appreciate those beholders who do get it.
In the spring of 1999 I'd seen TV commercials for a new live-action show on Comedy Central (their first non-animated comedy series) about a forty-six year-old woman who decided to give up her misspent life, return to live with her family, and re-enroll in high school. At the same time I was also seeing previews for the Drew Barrymore film, Never Been Kissed, which was also about a grown woman trying to fit in at a high school, but she was just returning to school because she was writing an investigative report.
The concept of the TV series, "Strangers With Candy", grabbed me more than Never Been Kissed, so I made sure I was watching when the comedy premiered on April 7th of that year. I loved the show instantly and tried to do some internet searches the next day to find information about the production's cast and crew, but I couldn't find much information at all, except for a little bit about Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert. When my web searches were still turning up scant information a few weeks after the series premiered I decided to take control of the situation and create a fan site for "Strangers" myself.
I knew that since I lived 300 miles from where they filmed the show, and the fact that I have no experience in the entertainment industry, it was very unlikely that I'd ever be able to participate in the production of the object of my appreciation. So developing the most complete internet resource for all of the other obsessed "Strangers" fans who might be trying fruitless web searches was the only contribution that I could conceivably and practically offer up to the world. Fortunately for me, my work has been recognized not only by fans from around the world (I've gotten emails from England, Japan, Germany, Australia...), but also by the stars/creators/writers, cast, and crew of "Strangers With Candy", who have welcomed me into their circle many times over the years and have kept me updated on their more recent goings on.
Now I find myself more closely associated with "Strangers With Candy" than many people who actually worked on the show's production. That's a satisfying reward for any fan, but especially for the fan of a show that isn't for everybody. Most of us fans never really wanted the show to catch on with a widespread audience. We like knowing that most people won't "get it", so we can keep it to ourselves.
In 2004 I had the privilege to play a Flatpoint High School teacher in a scene for the Strangers With Candy movie. As if that wasn't enough, my scene featured Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker. I've been a fan of theirs since I myself was in high school and they were both playing high school students (she in TV's "Square Pegs", and he in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off), so it was surreal for the three of us to be playing high school teachers at the same school. I attended the movie's debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2005, and brought some friends to the New York premiere in June of 2006. I must be one of the luckiest fans on the internet.