Monday, September 27, 2004

A Soda For Every Occasion

My folks had a penchant for soft drinks. In the 1960s, when new vices appeared every week, mom looked to score an eight pack of cola in a red and white cardboard carrier from the man in the apron at the A&P. I couldn't read but I recognized the logo. It was Coca-Cola.

My parents gave me Coca-Cola in my baby bottle. I wasn't a big napper. I was too spun out on caffeine. I once grabbed my father's cheeks in the throes of withdrawal and commanded him to "get the baby some coke".

We called all soft drinks 'coke'. Once while riding in the station wagon on a country drive, Mom said, "I'm thirsty, y'all. Stop the car and let's get a coke, big Daddy." Those weren't her exact words, but I like the way it reads so I'll leave it in for dramatic effect.

Mom spent time along the mason dixon line near Caruthersville, Missouri. For her, all soft drinks were 'cokes'. If we pulled over at the next full-service gas station and wanted an Orange Crush, we got an Orange Crush instead. We were under no obligation to drink a Coke. Most places carried Royal Crown Cola anyway. Mama said Elvis liked Royal Crown, y'all. (Now I'm doing it.)

In the those days when you ordered Coke and they carried Pepsi, they brought Pepsi instead. Waitresses who cleared the substitution with you ahead of time were an exception. Nobody cared as long as it wasn't flat.

Grandpa gave us mini Cokes in the eight ounce bottle when we visited his Illinois farm. It always tasted better in the little bottle. Grandpa surprised us with many things, but none so popular as the mini-coke. He once gave me spumoni ice-cream and I thought it was a practical joke with all the nuts and cherry bits. No thanks.

Dad followed mom's lead and called all soft drinks 'coke' unless we talked about Dr. Pepper. Dad liked those big bottles of Dr. Pepper. Drink it at 10, 2, and 4. That's what the label said. It tasted good and helped me learn to tell time. I won't say the same about Schlitz. It did not taste good and if Dad drank too many, he didn't give a cuss about the time. I'm kidding. Dad didn't drink much beer, but I like the way it reads so I'll keep it in.

I drank 7-Up at home on sick days. The sparkling lemon-lime bubbles helped me keep my fluid intake high while I watched "Dark Shadows" and "Truth or Consequences". Our sick-day routine included a trip to Dr. Kimura's office at 80th and Mission road and a stop at Safeway in the Prairie Village shopping center for 7-Up.

Friday night meant Shakey's for pizza. When we moved to the Kansas City from Columbia, Missouri in 1969, they were the preeminent pizza chain in the Midwest. The old-time piano music and Laurel and Hardy films flickering overhead made me thirsty for Root Beer.

Mom went to the beauty salon in the Fairway shops once a week. A row of googie-style bee-hive hair dryers warmed us with hot air blowing perm solution fumes down faces, across shoulders and into laps holding old magazines. The soda machine was a mechanical curiosity and a welcome diversion from the curlers and Dippity-Do. I deposited change, opened the tall, skinny door and yanked a bottle out by the neck, planting my foot on the facade for extra leverage. It sold Fanta orange, Fanta grape, Diet-Rite, Fresca and Tab. Later I ventured to the soda counter at the corner pharmacy. I got a real fountain Coke and lemon candy too.

Bargain-minded parents brought soda coolers to our sporting events. This exposed me to several cheaper soft drink lines like Craigmont, Vess, and Shasta. We clamored for the soda chest as soon as they unlatched it, lest we be saddled with the dregs: a lowly cream soda.

The original Dickinson theatre on Johnson Drive featured an unusual permutation of soft drink sales. The concession stand sold only popcorn and candy. There was a ten cent mechanical fountain dispensary at the far end of the lobby. The soda water and syrup mixed on the fly for a unique taste in every paper cup.

Some people in Kansas City call soft drinks 'pop'. It's a northern Midwest habit and it often comes out of their mouths as 'pap'. This bugs me. I'll stick with coke. But don't be surprised if I'm drinking a Dr. Pepper, especially if it's 10, 2, or 4.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Kealing Remembers Kerouac

University of Kansas alumnus Bob Kealing (journalism, 87) is a reporter working in Orlando, Florida for WESH television. He's the author of the book Kerouac In Florida: Where The Road Ends and is the co-founder of the Jack Kerouac project of Orlando. Bob's work has shed new light on previously little-known segments of Kerouac's life and he graciously agreed to answer some questions.

FJ: What's the most misunderstood aspect of the Kerouac persona?

BK: I think people tend to minimize Kerouac and his work due to his alcoholic decline and early death. But I think that's evolving. Now we know this was pre Betty Ford Clinic. Today we know alcoholics are diseased...and not to be ridiculed.

FJ: You've made an important contribution not only to Kerouac history but to Orlando history. What's been the implications of your work there?

BK: The Kerouac House in December, 2002 was officially recognized as the city of Orlando's first literary landmark. It's also lead to the creation of the Jack Kerouac Project and the establishment of the Kerouac House as a haven for young up and coming writers. It was a dream of Kerouac's to one day have a writing retreat in the woods...this is a sort of fulfillment of that dream.

FJ: What surprises you the most about the Jack Kerouac you've uncovered?

BK: What suprises me most about Kerouac is the vital role central Florida played in Kerouac's adult life...and the lack of historical context people had here prior to 1996.

FJ: At least one source credits a "friend in Kansas City" tipping you off about Kerouac's time in Orlando. Who was it and what did they say?

BK: My friend in Kansas City, John Griffin, a classmate from the Rockhurst High days and a friend today...first told me he thought Kerouac had died here. Instead he most certainly LIVED here.

FJ: What's been the response to your book?

BK: The response has been very good. I've made friends with people like Neal's wife Carolyn Cassady. She sent me a very nice letter about the book. I've also optioned it to a filmmaker.

FJ: What advice do you give young people on discovering history in the suburbs?

BK: DO IT. You'll be surprised at how open people will be. And there's so much out there. Pop culture history is new and waiting to be found!

FJ: Too bad we don't all have a Kerouac landmark in our midst. Of course, Lawrence has the Burroughs legacy. Did you connect with that at all during your under-grad years in Lawrence?

BK: I did spend some time at the Burroughs house about five years ago. I never met him...but it was cool to see his old house and car and typewriters inthe yard.

FJ: What's the most important lesson you learned as a student journalist at K.U.?

BK: As a student journalist I think I learned what a gift curiosity is...and ultimately how far it can take you.

FJ: Since graduating and becoming a working journalist, you've had the opportunity to return to K.U. as a distiguished alumnus. Describe the experience.

BK: The times I returned to KU I've treasured more and more the time I spent there...going to the Final Fours and being part of such a truly special place. We're so lucky to have a school like KU. I really mean that.

FJ: What's your favorite Oliver Hall memory?

BK: Oh all the Oliver Hall memories!! The keg parties...the roof parties...making all the friends whom I could call tomorrow and it would be 1987 all over again.

FJ: Closing thoughts?

BK: I'm also proud to tell you that a tv piece we did on finding lost photos of Kerouac was awarded with two regional Emmy awards in 2003. Roger McGuinn provided an acoustic version of Mr. Tambourine Man in the piece. He now lives in Orlando. How cool is that? One other thing...I'll be glad to give a wholesale rate and sign copies ofmy book for anyone interested. Just drop me a line at kerouacinflorida at

FJ: The house in Orlando is the spot where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. As the narrator Ray Smith might say, Bob Kealing is a regular bodhisattva.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

There goes the weekend

If you google "hot kroger nights" in quotation marks it returns no results.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

My First Name is Fowler

Occasionally a well-meaning friend will ask why there is no Fowler Jones the fourth. I inherited the title of Fowler Jones III. Once you've plunged the family into the pretentious territory that comes with appending one's name with "the third", then moving to the fourth should be no large affair, right?

I'll tell you why there's no Fowler Jones the fourth. This town isn't big enough for three guys named Fowler Jones. Our bank accounts have been mixed and our credit ratings tabulated incorrectly but we came to expect such treatment from monolith institutions that surmised that there couldn't be more than one guy named Fowler Jones. In reality it was the personal items that added up over the years that precluded my family from inflicting this moniker on another generation.

My Dad took great delight in embarrassing girls who called for me when I was a teen when he said, "This is Fowler," in response to their gentle request to speak with me. For him, it was all about the delivery, sort of a mock incredulous exclamation that always made the girl sorry she called. More persistent girls called back with a new strategy. They'd ask for "Young Fowler". That wasn't bad, but sometimes my Mom answered.

"Which Fowler did you want, little Fowler or big Fowler?" Thanks Mom. This factor by itself kept me from living in my parents' basement after college graduation (for more than a year).

There's also no Fowler Jones the fourth because even intelligent people are confused by Fowler the first name. It has a long and storied history as a last name. People loved the last name, but as a first name it caused great consternation and cognitive dissonance. An acquaintance might remember meeting me as Fowler, but invented a first name for me because they assumed Fowler was my last name.

"I thought you were Jim Fowler," a well-meaning friend said, as if they paid me a compliment. They're really saving face. That's okay. When you have a name like Fowler you have to cut people some slack. This extended to the other members of the not-so-common F-family of first/last names. I've answered to Foster and Forrest. During my disc jockey years, a person called me "Father". I'm not a priest, but God bless you anyway.

"Is that a family name?" is a polite way of saying they hope it's a family name otherwise I really got screwed. Another popular question is "Do you have a nickname?" As if nobody named Fowler ever wanted to admit it. I had nicknames over the years: FJ, Birdman, Young Chad Casey. I think they were all given to me out of affection rather than obfuscation.

I like Fowler in spite of the trouble it caused me. It's a nice compliment to the uber-common Jones. I'm good to go as a basketball player, adventurer, or pimp. Its got nice balance with two syllables up front, and a single syllable in back. There may not be a novelty coffee mug with my name on it in the gift shop at Stuckey's, but I'm okay with the one that says "Future President" or "Gangster of Love".

But there will be no Fowler Jones the fourth. This much is settled. I gave my kid a fresh start. His name is Skyler.

Oh sure, there are some girls out there named Skyler and some of them are strippers, but that's another story. One day he'll thank me for his name, and for declining to carry on a family tradition by naming him after me. He won't realize he escaped fate twice. I could have saddled him with my middle name: Crittenden.

You see, Fowler isn't so bad after all.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Q&A with Scott Heim

Scott Heim is an author, poet, screenwriter and K.U. alumnus living in Boston. His first novel, "Mysterious Skin" has been adapted for the screen and opens tomorrow at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Rather than tour Italy with the glitterati, Scott agreed to answer some questions about his K.U. days for this blog.

FJ: Did you attend any of the events during the River City Reunion in September of 1987? What are your memories of that time?

SH: Unfortunately, I didn't go to any of the events, really. I was immersed in school then, starting my junior year and getting pretty involved in a double major of English and Art History, and at the time I wasn't as interested in a lot of the performers and artists and writers who came to Lawrence. It's something I regret now.

FJ: There's a nice snapshot of you with William S. Burroughs and James Grauerholz on your website. Describe your Burroughs visit/experience.

SH: My first book Mysterious Skin had just sold to HarperCollins. My agent worked for an agency that had various dealings with James. I'd met him a couple of times in Lawrence, but had never met William. A friend of mine, Brad, also used to be friends with, and work for, William. So, through a few odd connections, my agent got James an early copy of the novel, and William read it. They contacted me, and the next time I was in Lawrence, James and Brad invited me over to have dinner with all of them.

It was a really great experience. William was charming and polite and lucid and pleasantly cranky. He made me feel very comfortable, and chatted a little about details in the book, which of course thrilled me. After dinner, he took me on a little tour of his backyard, with its goldfish pond. He showed me his cats. I can remember the odd crookedness of his bony body and his clean, starchy clothes and of course his voice. He actually reminded me of my grandfather, who had died twenty years earlier. I was actually sad when he died that I hadn't spent a little more time getting to know him, but I'm grateful for that one evening. It was certainly an experience that very few people can say they've had, I suppose.

FJ: According to the website, Burroughs sometimes referred to Learned Avenue as "Learn Hard" avenue. What's the hardest lesson you learned while living in Lawrence?

SH: That's a tough one... honestly, I can't think of a suitable specific answer. I think, though, that whatever the true answer is, it would probably be a lesson I learned from Carolyn Doty, who was my mentor and writing teacher during almost all of my years at KU. I still think she's the person who made me become a writer, the first person who really believed in me and could point out the good things and the bad things about what I was doing at that time.

FJ: Kellie Wells and I used to work together at KJHK. What are your memories of the mid to late '80s Lawrence music scene?

SH: It seems I was usually into more of what was happening with music in Europe than a lot of the US indie scene in the 80s. I had one of the world's hugest collection of albums, I think, which gradually turned into a collection of cds, but during the 80s, very little of that was domestic. I had a connection to the Lawrence scene in a peripheral way-- I played drums in a couple of bands from '85 through '88 or so, and both of them also featured Marc Tweed, who was in the band the Drowning Incident. Plus, I lived in Hashinger, where a lot of Lawrence musicians lived, too, and hung out. I really loved playing in the bands-- and I think I'm actually a pretty good drummer-- but at some point I had to make the decision whether to pursue my English / teaching / MA / writing career, or take a bigger chance and give more attempts at playing music. Obviously, I chose the former over the latter.

FJ: Various bios for you mention your Kansas origins. Looking back, how has your perception of your Kansas years changed since you left for New York in the early 90s?

SH: I like and respect Lawrence more on all levels. As for the rest of Kansas, I admire its geography and landscape and history in many ways, but its politics, and often the beliefs and ways of a lot of its people, scare and anger me.

FJ: What do you miss most about Lawrence?

SH: Besides Carolyn, I'd have to say my sister and the good friends I made while I was there-- a lot of whom have also gone their various ways. Cheap Free State beer, too. Nights in autumn, when it's not so hot, and you can hear the cicadas and the wind in the trees. That's something you just don't get anywhere else.

FJ: Some of my friends who've moved to New York enjoy a certain esprit de corps with other Kansas ex-pats in the area. Have you found this to be true?

SH: Yeah, a lot of my closest friends in New York were Kansans. They'd been friends of mine back in Lawrence, too, so we all kind of emigrated at different times and wound up keeping together in a lot of ways.

FJ: I've never been to Boston. Where should I go to hear some live music?

SH: Two places in Cambridge are good-- the Middle East, and a place called TT the Bears.

FJ: IMDB says Mysterious Skin is in post production. What's the status of the movie?

SH: Right now, at this date-- the first of September, 2004-- things are happening at a rather furious pace. It debuts tomorrow, actually, at the Venice Film Festival. In two weeks, it plays at the Toronto Film Festival. After that, we'll find out all the necessary information about a distributor, release date, and that sort of stuff. It's a beautiful and challenging film. I'm really, really, really happy with it, and I think it stays marvelously faithful to the goal I wanted for the novel. I'm honored at what the producers, director, actors, and everyone else have achieved.

FJ: Half serious question: You've been writing some text-book text. Care to share a passage that might otherwise not reach the extra curricular set?

SH: Lord... I can't do this because I'm under contract with them for everything I write. Let's just say that I usually write English / language arts / reading comprehension passages, both fiction and nonfiction, for grades 5 through 8. So I can't take many chances with either material or artful language and style. I try to divorce myself from any sense of artfulness; if I treat it as my job, a kind of mathematical detachment, then perhaps I can still have some zest and creativity left for my own work when all the freelance textbook writing is over. That said, it's funny sometimes when I realize I've written some 800-word fiction piece for 6th grade or something and, oddly, it has some kind of parallel plot or imagery that an old story or novel also had.

FJ: What are you working on now?

SH: I've been writing the same novel for the past 7 years. I'm still not done, which is very frustrating, but it's still coming along. It will happen someday. The book is called We Disappear.

Find out more about Scott Heim at his website.