Monday, August 30, 2004

KJHK Lore - The Album Review

I was in Lawrence last Friday and I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I parked my car and walked around the campus, visiting various landmarks, both personal and public.

I stopped in at KJHK and took a look at the vinyl stacks. Some of the albums still have the original reviews. Before most college stations got consistent CD service (lets say pre 1987), we were very much a vinyl shop. Five or six music staffers divided the incoming records for review, and the best albums were added to the studio for air-play. A hand-written review was taped on the front cover with track-by-track recommendations.

This is something of a lost art. With the rise of CDs, the amount of real estate available for such editorial commentary dropped sharply. A typical new release in the 90s got a couple of sentences. I also saw CDs with no commentary at all, just track numbers with star ratings.

These record reviews are an interesting bit of station history. In addition to the musical opinions they offered, they were signed and dated. Not all paper reviews have stood up to years of exposure and refiling, but many endure. The best preserved examples I found were those that were typed and covered in clear packing tape.

Here's a hand-written review with scotch tape that survived. It's from the Replacements "Stink" album, dated July 13, 1982. It's obvious that the reviewer put a great deal of effort into this review. Not only did the author take time to listen and critique the album, but he carefully wrote the review by hand. I like this example also because it features the original "Stink" cover design, a hand-stamped white jacket.

The author of this review (B.W.G.) was Blake W. Gumprecht. Blake Gumprecht graduated from K.U. by the time I started at KJHK in the Spring of 1984, but he remains one of the legendary personalities of the 80s. He worked hard as an under-grad, touting influential bands like The Replacements, and talented but relatively unknown artists like Tommy Keene. I also appreciate what he did after he left the station. He liked The Replacements so much he moved to Minneapolis and went to work for Twin-Tone. There aren't many guys that know more about the Replacements than Blake Gumprecht.

Blake has some serious street credentials too. He was mentioned in Michael Azerrad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life", a history of the 80s underground music scene. Not surprisingly, they quote him in reference to something he wrote about Paul Westerberg.

Blake Gumprecht went back to school after a time and he is now an Assistant Professor in Geography at the University of New Hampshire. But he hasn't forgotten his college days. Specifically, he's done considerable research on the phenomena of the college town, their unique properties, existing as islands of bohemia. While the focus of "Paradise for Misfits" is Athens, Georgia, Blake includes references to Lawrence, specifically KJHK founding father Steve Greenwood.

Hopefully, alternative elements of the KJHK vinyl collection will continue to resonate, not only through the airwaves with the listening audience, but as editorial artifacts, offering bits of literary lore and advice for those staffers who take the time to explore the history at hand.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Remembering Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (EKR) died this week. She was 78. Here is an excellent obit from her website.

Her 1969 book On Death and Dying heralded a hospice revolution in the west. The five stages of dying she outlined (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are now common knowledge.

In 1977, Dr. Kubler-Ross was a guest at our house. As an 12 year-old, I was only vaguely aware of her stature. She was an intriguing personality, if only because her Swiss accent was not one we Kansans heard often around the breakfast nook. I asked my parents what they remembered about her stay. (My dad wanted me to mention that he is a psychologist).

MOM: In the previous year when your father went to Council Grove to the annual conference that Dr. Elmer Green [of the Menninger Foundation faculty] started he asked me if I would like him to bring anyone special home from the meeting. He often brought home one of the other attendees for an overnight before they flew out of town. "If you could bring Elisabeth Kubler-Ross home with you for a visit that would be great!" I had just read her first book on death and dying. When he returned she wasn't with him, but he said she had agreed to visit us at a later date when she came to speak at The University of Kansas Medical Center. The following letter relates to the above planned visit. Your father was going to have her speak at The Psychic Studies Institute when she came.

October 20th, 1976

Dear Fowler,
Thank you for your lovely letter which just arrived today, before my departure for Germany where I am giving my first one-week, in-depth workshop in Europe. I am not sure whether we have time to squeeze-in an hour or so with your group during my visit in the spring. As soon as I know more of the details about the hours of my presentation, I will be able to tell you then how much time I would have available for you. Needless to say, I would love to stay at your home while in Kansas City, since many new things have developed since I have last seen you and I am just bursting to share them with you. Keep up your good work and your good spirits.

MOM: She arrived in the early part of the evening. She carried with her some crackers and honey which she had been snacking on during her travels. She was a small woman, slight in stature. When she arrived in Kansas City she had been traveling for some time and was very weary. Your father had some cassette tape he wanted her to she lay down on our water bed with head phones to listen. When she didn't return to the family room I peaked in the room to see her fast asleep.

I covered her with an afghan and turned out the light. This was a highlight for be able to offer a caring gesture to a woman who was devoting her life to caring about others. The next morning she went to KU to speak at grand rounds. The auditorium was packed. After that, she visited about 20 or more dying children. Much of her work was helping dying children deal with the transition that lay before them. She made no charge for her services that day.

FJ: When did you first meet EKR?

DAD: I had known her for several years before [her KU med center trip]. We first met when psychiatrist Stuart Twemlow, and Jonathan Cohen, a Yale psychologist, and I went to Bob Monroe's in Virginia. Jonathan had invited Elizabeth to Monroe's. I had not met her before that time. I don't recall the year. Probably around 1973-75.
FJ: Did you keep in touch with EKR after that trip? Did you ever see her again?

DAD: Yes, Twemlow and I went to Chicago to visit her. I am not sure how many times I saw her afterward. I picked her up at the airport once when she came here for the annual Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship Conference. That was sometime after [the first visit].

FJ: I couldn't begin to write a summation of this incredible woman's life and work but I'll try to describe my thoughts. From her initial work on death and dying to her continued work with babies born with AIDS, she was a saint, a true angel of mercy. And now, our best mortal ambassador to the other side has crossed over. What kind of reception did she get in the afterlife? This final anecdote from my dad foreshadows...

DAD: In the 1970s, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was attending the Menninger Foundation sponsored Council Grove Conference. She came into one of the presentations and sat down. Several rows behind her sat the Native American shaman, Mad Bear. In a few minutes Mad Bear turned to his friend the author Douglas Boyd and asked, "Who is that woman?" Doug said, "That's Elizabeth Kubler-Ross." Mad Bear said,"Oh." A few seconds passed and he turned to Boyd again and asked, "Who is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?" Doug replied that she was a rather famous psychiatrist who worked in the field of "death and dying". Mad Bear said, "That explains it." It was Doug Boyd's turn and say, "What do you mean?" His shaman friend explained that as Elizabeth came in and sat down she was joined by several spirit-friends so Mad Bear knew she must be important to have so many spirit allies.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Existential Bonanza of Summer Camp

Recently I attended the 2004 Camp Zoe Alumni Weekend at Camp Zoe, Round Spring, Shannon County, Missouri. Camp Zoe operated as a sleep-away co-educational youth camp from 1929 – 1986. I attended Camp Zoe from 1975 to 1980. The primary activities were horseback riding and canoeing. This summer would have been the 75th anniversary of Camp Zoe. The following song was written by Zoe counselors Larry Eberle and Scott Patterson in 1976 at Camp Zoe.

Hey Look Around You

Hey, look around you,
see what you've found.
Think of the good times,
and your friends all around.

Look what has happened,
remember all the fun.
Hope it never leaves you,
Now that everything is done.

Nothing lasts forever,
even though you want it to.
Life is for living, and I'm glad
I lived this part of it with you.

“That’s the perfect summation. The existential essence of Zoe,” said Stuart Hanna as we motored down Shannon County road #250 toward Missouri highway 19. Another chapter in our personal Zoe histories was written with the close of the alumni weekend. When I got back home to Kansas, I did some on-line research on existentialism. I’m not a philosopher or a psychologist but I found an excellent web page that attempted to sum up the highlights of existential theory, sometimes referred to as ontology.

Existential Psychology is a combination of philosophy and psychology. Life is a series of decisions with two basic choices. You can face the fear of the unknown and push the envelope, or play it safe and deal with the regret of opportunity lost. At the core of existential theory is the tendency to be authentic. To be authentic, one must have courage to accept the fear of the unknown and minimize the guilt of regret when you miss an opportunity.

Life is for living - There’s the unwritten contract of Camp Zoe. Come and really live your life. You’ll face your fears and by the time you leave, you’ll be glad you did. And above all, we’ll do it together.

“This was the first place I rode a horse,” said Zoe alumna Samantha Gittelman. That’s not a proposition without risk, especially for a young, city girl. But Sam rode horses like the others, and found out that she loved it.

“Try not to walk behind a horse, but if you must, step close to their hind legs,” a barn counselor once told me. “That way when you get kicked, it won’t hurt as much”. It defied logic at first, but now I can see the existentialism at work. I got closer to an unknown force; I minimized its power, and ultimately my regret.

One of the basic existential principles is that people need others with whom they can relate to and learn from. This is summer camp in a nutshell. You relate to your cabin mates and camp friends, and you learn from those ersatz parents, your counselors.

“You are forced to deal,” said former Zoe camper Mary Otto. You make decisions on your own and realize the consequences. It’s not always easy, but it makes you stronger, and it gives you courage to continue.

Existentialism states that the road to authenticity and individuality starts with living in the moment. There is no regard for past or future and deep relationships are not formed. Some camper experiences do not progress beyond this point. This may explain why the most devoted Zoe alumni are people who returned year after year. While living in the moment is not an undesirable approach to summer camp, one begins to realize the value of returning to the same peer group the following summer. Values emerge that put a premium on maintaining relationships. You vow to write letters and get together during the off-season. This is part of what existentialists call the idealistic phase, a time of uncompromising principles and undying commitments. And yet, like our Camp Zoe song says, Nothing lasts forever. Coming to terms with the inherent paradox of the idealistic phase leads one to real authenticity.

Think of all the good times. This was Zoe compression at work; positive life experiences in a very short span. In two weeks or a month you encountered a dozen new best friends, found romance a time or two, developed new skills, and did things you’d never done before and didn’t know you can do. Furthermore, you did it as a group and received positive reinforcement from your counselors. The iterations were compressed from day to day, week to week, and year to year. The more time you spent at Zoe, the greater the impact. Two weeks may not be enough. It’s probably not a coincidence that I remember 1978 as the biggest summer in my personal Zoe history. That was also the first summer I stayed for a month.

And finally, the last principal of existentialism states that ontological anxiety stems in part from that notion of mortality; our awareness that our own being can end. As a man nearing age 40, I’m starting to sense my mortality like never before. That first colonoscopy isn’t far away! I’m also taking stock. Hey, look around you. See what you’ve found. This line challenges the participant to do that very thing. Taking stock isn’t easy for an eleven year old camper, care-free and living in the moment. But it’s perfect for the nostalgic guy on the cusp of middle-age.

I know I won’t be on my death bed lamenting the fact that I didn’t spend more time at the office. and your friends all around. I choose to relive the good times, not because I’m afraid of the future (death, the unknown). I value the social experience. By communing with others of like mind, our social interactions go beyond the contractual affairs of our day-to-day existence. There’s an intimacy at work that stems from an authentic place in our hearts, forged in an Ozark hollow long ago.

“Zoe is a mythical, magical place,” said former owner Jack Peters at the 2004 final campfire. Its power surpasses the tenure of any deed holder or personality. It goes beyond a single summer or even a decade. In the words of Eberle and Patterson, Hope it never leaves you, now that everything is done.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Frank Burge and John Waters

Historically, showing a John Waters movie at the student union has made KU officials a little nervous. When I say KU officials, I'm not talking about the people at the union who actually show the movie. But there might be a politico or a nervous-nellie in there somewhere between Strong Hall and the union, or Lawrence and Topeka.

It's been a while since the local academic gentry put up a fuss. Take this press release from 2002, John Waters was welcomed to town for an appearance at the new KU bookstore opening. Of course, nobody was screening anything at that event.

Dan Searles, former Student Union Activities (SUA) volunteer, recalls a pacification effort to avoid controversy prior to this 1989 Waters screening:

The John Waters film was Mondo Trasho starring Divine. We showed it in November 1989. It held an X rating then, though the MPAA has not rated it last I checked. The agreement I made with the SUA faculty director was that I get a [KU film] faculty member to introduce the film and speak of it's relevance. Chuck Berg gladly accepted and spoke before both showings.

Chuck Berg to the rescue! But the best story is from the 1960s and the tenure of the legendary KU Union man, Frank Burge. Burge died this year at age 82. In a feature from Oread magazine, Burge's profile alludes to an ingenious strategy he employed to prevent a Waters film from being confiscated by state officials. The article wasn't specific about the episode so I made some polite inquiries and received this response from a KU insider:

A group of legislators came to the university one evening to retrieve the film from the students. Burge reportedly took the film from the projection room and put it in the mail slot of the union's post office. To remove the film from the post office, he told the legislators, would be a federal offense.

No wonder they named the satellite union after him.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Echo Bluff, Sinkin' Creek, Shannon County, Missouri.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Q & A With Ron Schaumburg

Shawnee Mission North alumnus Ron Schaumburg ('70) authored "Growing Up With The Beatles" (GUWTB) in 1976. It's a personal tribute and odyssey. One might say it foreshadowed today's online web log explosion in style and approach. Ron Schaumburg is the Executive Editor of Medical DecisionPoint in Montvale, New Jersey.

FJ: It's been 28 years since GUWTB was published. What's the most enduring legacy of your book?

RS: I'm kinda proud to have my very own Library of Congress number. That means my work is a permanent part of the nation's archive, that I contributed a tiny (very tiny) bit to the country's cultural heritage. Perhaps the best answer is that every once in a while someone gets in touch with me to let me know that the book meant something to them. A few years ago (it happened to be on my birthday) a fellow wrote to say that by reading GUWTB, he discovered that it was actually possible to write about something you love. With that inspiration, he went on to become a sports writer, and is now the head sports correspondent for the Newark Star-Ledger. I can't ask for a more meaningful response than that.There's another odd angle on this. The section I wrote in which I expressed my view that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was not a direct reference to LSD has taken on a life of its own. Someone posted that passage on a web site a few years ago, and just a few weeks ago it was quoted in an article published in a magazine, "The Weekly Standard." [Note: That publication is NOT something I subscribe to, physically or philosophically.] Despite Paul's recent statement that it WAS a drug song, I stand by my belief, largely because a few years ago Julian confirmed that his drawing was John's inspiration (that image is even available on the web).

FJ: How was the book received in '76? Was it a success?

RS: Yes, by objective standards it was. The first edition of 80,000 sold out, and more copies were made. I think by the time it went out of print it hit more than 120,000 in sales. I never got a final accounting; the packager had gone out of business.

FJ: Do you see any similarities between your approach with GUWTB and today's explosion of on-line journalism?

RS: I never thought about it. Online info is usually produced quickly (sometimes sloppily) and is very much "of the moment." A book takes months to produce and is meant to endure, at least for a while. So on balance, I'd say no.

FJ: Upon rereading GUWTB this year, I was struck by all the great Beatles photos you included. That's definitely something that sets your work apart. How hard was it to secure the rights to all the photography, and is that something that makes it difficult to get the book republished?

RS: The book was put together by a book "packager" from New York. She brought me in to write the text and hired a photo researcher and book designer named Mick Rock (great name!) to handle the photo research. (The main selling point of the book was the pictures; the text was basically there to fill up pages!) Mick contacted the photographers and was able to rummage through their files to turn up a lot of the shots. Many were indeed previously unpublished - unused shots from photo sessions, during which hundreds of images may have been captured. Some of the pictures (like the tickets for the Kansas City concert at A's Stadium) were of things in my possession.And yes, the photo issue is what's kept me from pursuing republishing of the book (although my wife has been nagging me about it for years). It'd be impossible (and impossibly expensive) to retrace our steps and secure the rights for a new edition. Maybe a sequel: "Growing Old..."

FJ: GUWTB has a lot of obscure Beatles trivia. For example, I didn't know that the people that cut up the Beatle pillow cases and sold the one inch squares after the Kansas City show sold less than half their inventory. What's your favorite factoid from the book?

RS: Hmm. I haven't exactly read it lately, so I'd have to think. One part I like is the discussion of the "Paul Is Dead" silliness, because I think I collected a lot of information and added some of my own. (And I played a small role in spreading the rumor by sharing my list of clues with the Kansas City DJ, who read back the list the next day on his show.) I also had wanted to include a long list of every bit of dialogue discernible in "Revolution #9" (I listened to that damn thing for about 3 hours straight), but the publisher decided that those words counted as "lyrics" and we weren't allowed to quote lyrics directly in the book (for fear of violating copyright laws).

FJ: Your book is pretty evenly balanced between your adolescence and the Beatles. Was it difficult to keep a balance? What kind of discussions did you have with your editors about that?

RS: The book was sold to the publisher as a personal memoir, so the adolescent stuff was built into the concept from the beginning. I kinda resisted doing TOO much personal stuff, because let's face it, my life wasn't all that interesting. (That was sorta the point.) I was much more interested in sharing what I'd discovered about the Beatles and their music. The publisher was quite generous in letting me pretty much write what I wanted. (In hindsight, I wish they'd been a little tougher on me.) About the only significant change they made - and it's one I came to agree with - was the "tone" of my meeting with Ringo. To be honest, he didn't seem exactly overjoyed at having to deal with another fan. But the publisher wanted this to come across as a happier event, a climax to the book in a way, so the editors suggested how to change just a few words so that I could report the encounter accurately, but still keep it on a positive note.

FJ: How did your friends and family react to the book in 1976? Has that reaction changed in the last 28 years?

RS: They were happy to go along with the plan and were pleased with the book's success. Every once in a while a fan wanting to reach me gets in touch through my siblings, both of whom still live in KC. They happily put them in touch. My mom and dad are both gone, but my dad was a big booster. He even printed up some stationery with the book's cover on it for me to use. My mom was delighted that her son, who'd wanted to be a writer since second grade, actually saw his dream come true.

FJ: You mention Corky Carrell in your acknowledgement section. Were you a Capers Corner customer?

RS: Faithfully. Corky advised me about other records I might enjoy, provided me with some nifty collector's items, and helped me get tickets to Paul's "Wings Over America" tour. He was a great source of info and very supportive. Last I saw of him, he'd opened his own record store in Mission, but that was easily a decade ago.

FJ: My older brother played the Beatles around the house in the late 60s and Simon and Garfunkel too. What other musical acts besides the fab four garnered your attention in those days?

RS: In my naïve (and kinda pigheaded) way, for a while I thought there was nothing else BUT the Beatles. A lot of my friends liked S&G; I thought they were a little pretentious but I grew to like them a lot. I tried to like the Monkees, thinking they were gonna be "the next Beatles," but I grew out of that phase pretty quickly. (I remember I couldn't sell their LPs for a dime at a garage sale, and ended up literally throwing them away, like frisbees.) The first non-Beatles record I bought was "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and Papas.

By about 1968, though, I was snarfing up all kinds of music. One way I broadened my taste was by collecting every record I could find released on the Apple label. I loved James Taylor's Apple LP; the Mary Hopkins stuff, Jackie Lomax, Modern Jazz Quartet, John Taverner, Billy Preston, Doris Troy... even the Hare Krishna stuff George produced! I credit the Beatles for opening my ears and eyes to a wider world of sound and experience.

With the Beatles my main influence, I've always gravitated toward pop stuff - melodic, harmonic, well-structured, imaginative orchestrations - rather than the hard-rock stuff, but I can groove to Led Zep, the Stones, the Who when the mood is right. I've always thought The Band had something special, especially their "brown" album. I've bought everything Elton John has released - for me, his early 70s stuff really helped fill in the gap after the Beatles broke up. Cat Stevens, Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty, CSN&Y. Basically anything you might label "classic rock."

FJ: How influential was WHB radio for you during the 60's?

RS: A lot. It was the first station I listened to faithfully, beginning with a little red-and-white plastic transistor radio with a painfully knobby earpiece. (I was the WHB high school reporter for SM North). But as I recall, KUDL ended up taking over, being more ambitious, playing album cuts and a wider range of other stuff.

FJ: Neosho Lane is within walking distance of downtown Mission, Roeland Park, and Fairway. Where did you spend more time?

RS: Fairway had the Fairway Theater, which played "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" But the shops in Mission were more fun - Hobby Haven, Baskin Robbins, TG&Y...

FJ: Ever eat a cheese frenchie at King's Food Host?

RS: Uh, don't think so, but I remember picking up the phone and ordering many a burger from the place. In Boy Scouts, when we were freezing our asses off in our fog-shrouded tents high atop Mount Phillips at the Philmont Ranch, we fantasized about getting back home so we could stuff our faces with "Kings Double Cheese!!!"

FJ: You're an east coast guy now. Do you still have family in Johnson county? How often do you get back to Kansas City?

RS: Not much. I've lived in Jersey for longer now than I ever lived in KC; my 2 daughters were born and raised here, but I don't think of Jersey as my home. It's just where I live. Whenever I come back to Johnson County, I'm impressed by how easy it is to get around (you guys have NO idea what a traffic jam REALLY is), how easy it is to get access to things (tickets to shows, etc), and how nice and friendly people are. However, living in the east, you get exposed to a much greater variety of people, ideas, and events. The midwest seems a bit isolated and provincial at times - but I think that suits a lot of people just fine. Personally, I thrive on a bit more variety.

FJ: This may or may not be in your book: What's your favorite Beatles album of all time?

RS: I think it's there. One day in college I did a side-by-side earphone comparison of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, and came down on the side of Abbey Road - great songs, amazing playing, astounding vocals, unmatched production. A fabulous farewell.

FJ: What kind of writing are you doing these days?

RS: Nothing you'd want to read. I work for a company that produces medical education programs for doctors. We teach them about new developments in lipid management (cholesterol), psychiatric disorders, arthritis, etc. I've published a dozen or so books on medical topics, mostly as a ghost-writer for physicians. As a sidelight I write short biographies that appear in a radio series (A&E Biography for Radio) in 200 markets around the country. And I'm involved in a years-long project researching the life and times of my great-great-grandfather, who was a gold miner in California and Nevada in the years following the Gold Rush. I'd like to turn his story into a book, but I'm a bit daunted by the prospect. Someday...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Arcata Eye

May I present the sublime prose of the Arcata Eye police blotter:

Saturday, May 29 7:10 p.m. Boys ages 14 and 16 aimed their bare asses at women, called people "nasty names" and committed unspecified effrontery to porta-potties in Redwood Park. The lads were admonished by police, with parental vengeance to follow.

Monday, May 31 2:30 a.m. Some guys thought it would be real funny to hide and then scare their friend on Blakeslee Avenue. They hadn’t anticipated the possibility that he’d get super-pissed at the sudden startlement and kick a door.

3:41 p.m. That’s the last time this person will ever leave his wallet and vest unattended on a restaurant table.

Wednesday, June 2 3:28 p.m. A boom-box moron blasted moron music at passing Plazagoers from an annoyance station at Ninth and F streets. But the moronic majesty of the music was lost on the largely non-moronic populace, some of whom complained.

5:25 p.m. If they weren’t morons, they were aspiring to severe sub-genius status by perching on the outdoor stairway landing of a 10th Street medical facility, sparking up a portable barbecue and then squirting lighter fluid into the flames just for the sheer delight of watching the pretty flames flare higher and higher.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Igor Wore Overalls

I heard the story of Igor and the haunted mansion when I stayed overnight with a friend in Westwood, Kansas in the summer of 1977. I was twelve years old.

“There’s this guy over in KCK and he lives in this haunted house with a belfry and everything,” said my best friend Kurt. I didn’t believe it. Despite the fact that the county line was just down Belinder, Igor’s house was too far away to reach on foot. We decided to visit to the candy counter at Velvet Crème Popcorn Company instead. I got a blow-pop and a fountain coke with real cherry syrup. Sunset lit the tree line behind Kurt's house when we returned. His older sister and her boyfriend sat on the hood of a muscle car.

“Get in, we’re going to Igor’s house,” she said. We piled into the Nova, sped north on Puckett Road, and received instructions from the boyfriend with sideburns. “Don’t walk in his yard. His Dobermans are trained to go for your throat,” he lectured. “And above all, be cool.”

Oh sure, it’s easy to be cool when you have facial hair and a fast car. What about me? I hadn’t even hit puberty yet and I’m in the back seat with a bladder full of cherry soda and a lollipop in my mouth.

“What’s this Igor look like,” I asked. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Did he have fangs? Were capes and a candelabrums somewhere in his wardrobe?

“He’s bald and he wears overalls, but don’t let that fool ya,” said the sister. “One of his relatives was murdered there a long time ago or something and it’s been haunted ever since.”

“This is it,” said Kurt, “Igor’s house.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if we’d stumbled onto the back lot at MGM studios in Culver City, California. I stared out the window at the 19th century German Gothic brick mansion, with tall living room windows, and a belfry above the second floor. The mansion was dark. We got out of the car and walked toward a wrought iron fence with stone lion gargoyles at the end of the driveway.

“Here come the dogs,” someone shouted. We ran back toward the Nova. Two guardians greeted us with toothy snarls and barks. That’s when I spied a man in overalls walking our way. He looked more like a farmer than a vampire. I didn’t think Osk Kosh made a cape.

Igor reached in his pocket for something. Now we’re in for it, I thought. He opened the gate and passed out slips of paper. “The Lord already knows the date when you’re coming home to heaven” it said. “Oh great,” I said. “I hope that isn’t tonight. I bought a pool pass and I only used it twice.”

Igor and his dogs retreated into the darkness. Somehow being served with religious literature took the sheen off the spookiness. “That was cool. We’ll have to come back.” I felt confident as we turned on 11th street. I saw a large complex of buildings surrounded by barbed wire up on the right.

“What’s that place,” I asked.

“That’s the experimental farm,” said the boyfriend. “They’ve got two-headed cows there and chickens that are six feet tall. Maybe we can sneak in.”

Note: Igor's house more popularly known as The Sauer Castle, 935 Shawnee Drive, Kansas City, KS

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Kitchen Genealogy - Molasses Cookies

In 1993, I got the genealogy bug. I ran with it too, spending countless hours in the North branch of the Independence, Missouri library and the National Archives outpost in Kansas City, Missouri. I poured over census records and learned how to interpret soundex file cards. I visited the Mormon LDS visitor center. It was an interesting experience and I uncovered valuable data about my family tree. I've got a lot of extended family out there. It's been very rewarding.
One source of family history I've ignored is the recipe. I don't do much cooking. But I appreciate the fact that these formulas are handed down like prized heirlooms. Without delay, I offer you my great-great-great Grandmother's recipe for molasses cookies (circa 1860):

1 cup molasses
1/2 cup sour milk
1/2 tsp baking soda, dissolved in milk
1 egg
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp soda, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves sifted with flour.
3 cups of flour (you will have to use your judgment about this.
Mix right before baking. Let stand in refrigerator. This makes it possible to use less flour.)
Roll about 1/4 inch thick and bake at 350 degrees. (bake time not specified)

Louisa Glovenia Brooks was born May 14, 1832 in Conn. She married Stephen A. Broadrick, April 9, 1851. Refrigerator reference added later by my great-grandmother Anna Horrocks Youker.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Stevie's Good Gig

This entry has been rewritten and removed pending possible publication.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Tonight on 60 minutes

Shawnee Mission North graduate David Mehnert ('83) appears tonight (8/1) as part of a story on musical savants on 60 Minutes. David is the founder of the Savant Academy, a non-profit organization working with the rapidly growing community of families who have a family member with the condition. A Savant is someone who has an amazing ability that co-exists with some kind of cognitive disability. There are artistic, mathematical, and musical savants, among others. Dustin Hoffman played a savant in Rain Man.

In June, Kodi Lee, a young musical savant whom David teaches, played a concert in Kansas City as part of the Focus Families convention. I attended the show and I found it most interesting. In addition to Kodi's musical talents, the audience consisted of many families with children who might be musical savants. Autism and many other birth defects are on the rise, but as David explains, some disabilities can actually mask miraculous talents. And these talents can be nurtured and developed, if they are noticed early on.

“60 Minutes” filmed 15 months ago, and just missed being able to tell the story about how a new form of blindness, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH), disposes to musical savant abilities in other children. I've now discovered 19 savants with the diagnosis."

After the Kodi Lee concert, as David and I were chatting, a family from Iowa came forward. Their daughter, they said, liked to play the piano. David told me later he thinks she may also be an ONH savant. It's a fascinating phenomena with more questions than answers, but one of the real benefits of Mehnert's academy is helping families who have an ONH kid discover their love for music. In many cases, these disabled kids start making progress in other areas of their lives (with motor skills and speech) after they get a keyboard to play with. Find out how you can help.