Monday, October 31, 2005

Omega Julius Man: Xmas Redux

The grim reaper of retail lives in Johnson County and I’m not talking about the Burlington Coat Factory. This year I decided to purchase all my family Christmas gifts at the dead mall. My shrink declared that I was in the throes of a passive-aggressive episode.

She said, “Keep the receipts in case you get a moment of clarity before the stores close on Christmas Eve.”

“Nonsense,” I said. And besides, who pays a shrink for shopping tips? “I’ll be back on the couch after New Year’s Day. We can dissect the terse wording in the thank you notes I’m sure to receive when I return.”

Visiting the dead mall during the holiday season is the closest we narcissistic suburbanites come to witnessing the aftermath of the apocalypse. Natural disasters and riots aside, exploring an indoor shopping center that has lost its proverbial luggage store is the ultimate exercise in consumer ennui.

Parking was not a problem. I walked in a side door where barefoot kids with smiling eyes sold Chiclets to the new arrivals. The enterprising sales lad assured me these third-world sweetmeats wouldn’t stick to Grandma’s dental work.

I listened for the faint sound of falling water and followed my ears past a padlocked door. "Orange Julius is closed?" I asked, with mock astonishment. "And Mastercuts and Thom McCann too? They're all gone." Sad news indeed, Jim McKay. I wondered what else wasn't here as I circled the penny fountain on the ground floor.

There was no Santa this year. Once during the Nixon administration he parachuted into the mall parking lot on the day after Thanksgiving. Suburban kids waited in the crisp autumn air and looked skyward for a sleigh or a small Cessna. I wondered if his chute would open.

This yuletide ghost town fascinated me despite Saint Nick’s conspicuous absence. I looked through the shuttered entryway of a K.G. Men's wear and saw a few forgotten sock hangers strewn on the carpet. It evoked a feeling similar to the low level of background radiation left over from the big bang. Or maybe I confused this vague notion with the low level of Orange Julius drink powder residue that coursed through my veins after 30 years. In this post-galleria age they became one.

Exploring the dead mall for gift ideas allowed me to live out an Omega Man fantasy. I looked past the long-gone storefronts of B. Dalton bookseller and Lady Footlocker and prowled the inner-most recesses of this skeleton city like Charlton Heston with a shotgun and fuel can in tow. I searched for a glimpse of last year's calendar left hanging above the empty check out counter at the formal wear outlet. It's a moment frozen forever, like the pit-stains in the last tux rental back from the homecoming dance. My kingdom for a burgundy cummerbund. Just Dad’s size, and marked down 50% on the rent-to-own table. Score!

There was no chance meeting with a faux mannequin Rosalind Cash on this shopping foray; only surprise encounters with other mutant mall tenants. They are the last paying customers on the manifest: a rug emporium, a Chinese restaurant with the life-saving street entrance, or Dr. Zerbe's dental care office. A sign in the window touted “every check-up has a happy ending”. It sounded like they were pulling more than teeth in there, but you gotta pay the rent.

Mr. Bulky covered expenses. Confectionery traders filled the scales with chocolate gold coins and there was a run on gummy while I was there. A young girl with a headset bought virtual kilos of gummy bears, worms, and o-rings before she got the word on her flip phone. “Sell, sell!” Many customers held worthless sacks of the rubber confection when the frenzy subsided.

“If you can’t take the heat, get yourself to Topsy’s post haste,” the ebullient candy broker said. “You heard me, popcorn,” and pointed my way. I traded my Chiclets for five pounds of Pez and left.

A carnival calliope serenaded mall walking zombies in orthopedic athletic shoes. In this deadest of dead malls, the organ store played on like the Titanic band. I followed a woman in a purple track suit to the Hickory Farms outlet. The variety pack of cheddar wedges and summer sausage will tickle Mom this Christmas morning.

One name remained on my list; a music lover. Alas Babylon, Record Bar had gone the way of all the other music retailers in this place. Wasn't there a Christian Science reading room in the mezzanine? Who needs an iPod nano when free informational pamphlets make great stocking stuffers. Brother will be so pleased.

I paused to reflect on my successful shopping adventure. A childhood icon fell on hard times and this might be the mall’s last Christmas with all of us kids. Don’t wait too long to gather your returns. If the mall is dead now, it will be an archaeological dig in January. I trudged on in search of the elusive omega julius.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Photo-blogging: The B-17

Inside the nose of a B-17 Flying Fortress, taken last Saturday at the downtown airport in Kansas City, Mo.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Remembering Herk Harvey

I like to think about Carnival of Souls this time of year. Here's a nice bio of director Herk Harvey, from wikipedia.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Aboard the Nine O Nine

I did something I've never done. I walked through a working B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. That's the Nine O Nine pictured above. It was at the downtown airport in Kansas City, Missouri today along with a B-25 Mitchell bomber. My six year-old son and I paid 12 bucks for a chance to see these historic artifacts of World War II.

We walked through the bomb bays on the cat walks, touched the .50 caliber machine guns, and generally marvelled at the machinery, like the ball-turret. It was tiny. I can't imagine anybody being stuck in there for eight to twelve hours.
We stood in line next to a WWII veteran flyer. This particular gentleman flew with the 94th in the war and got shot down on his 24th mission . He eluded capture and made to Switzerland with the help of the underground. He said it was the first time in 50 years he'd been this close to a B-17.

We climbed a metal step ladder into the front compartment under the cockpit. The nose area where the bombadier and the navigator were stationed was on our left. We moved on our hands and knees and toward the top turret. We stood up and looked into the camped cockpit. It was roped off to visitors, but we had an intimate view of the vast amount of dials, switches, and knobs. We checked out the ball-turret, a metallic globe in the floor of the airplane with all kinds of mechanical protuberances. We tiptoed through the bomb bay, and lounged in the spacious radioman's desk area. You could lay down in that compartment. The twin .50 caliber machine guns in the rear were harnessed but they had ammo in place and bombs in the bomb bay. We exited through a door in the rear on the right side. It was an amazing experience.

I snapped some pictures of my son in front of the plane. He wasn't crazy about standing in line in the bitter cold while we waited 20 minutes to get inside the airplane, but I hope someday that he'll cherish the memory, especially when these relics disappear for good.

Read more about the history of the Nine O Nine.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Where do the waffles come from?

Does Belgium really exist? Author Lyle Zapato says, "Land of Sprouts and Chocolate, I Think Not!"

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Just in time for Christmas

What's the deal with the inordinate amount of Ramones anthologies available these days? They must have half a dozen greatest hits compilations. Well hey ho, now The Ramones have a boxed set with songs, videos, AND a comic book. How can I resist?

Friday, October 14, 2005

30 Years of the Sound Alternative has a bevy of articles and essays to commemorate the 30th anniversary of KJHK including nice contributions from Blake Gumprecht and Steve Wilson.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Dancing About Architecture

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Who said that? The answer may be Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, or Martin Mull depending who you ask as this article by Louise Schumacher details. Alan P. Scott also explores the mystery surrounding the quote here.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thirlwell at Carnegie Hall

I stumbled on a Carnegie Hall listing that included a performance series listing for the Kronos Quartet. I wasn't surprised that the Kronos foursome was getting some Carnegie time. Afterall, they've pushed the boundaries of the classical genre for over 25 years. What really surprised me was the inclusion of the world premiere performance (on April 7, 2006) of Mr. J. G. Thirlwell, AKA Jim Foetus, at Carnegie Hall.

Here's what Ira Robbins said about Thirlwell:

Thanks to modern technology, any chump with a studio can now open up the bomb bays and drop sonic megatonnage. That's the easy part. Nailing targets and causing serious devastation, however, is a job for professionals, and no one in modern rock wrecks shit with a sharper balance of artistic control and unmitigated power than J. G. (Jim) Thirlwell, whose unmatched skill in sculpting audio thunder into theatrical monuments of bludgeoning agility is positively Zeus-like. (Thanks Trouser Press)

Get down with Jim (as Clint Ruin) on this KJHK ID (circa 1985).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Del Fuegos Frontman Now a Tot Rocker

Read Jon Niccum's profile of Dan Zanes, from the Lawrence Journal-World. When you're done, hear drummer Woody Giessman doing a straight read on a KJHK legal ID.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

KJHK Lore - The Red Hot Chili Peppers ID

KJHK had quite a collection of artist IDs in the early/mid 80's. There must have been 50 individual tape cartridges in the studio with personalities doing a variation on the script, "Hi, this is so-and-so from the band-you-know and you're listening to KJHK, Lawrence.

If they nailed the call letters and the city without anything in between, we called it a legal ID. A station must identify itself once an hour, within five minutes of the top of the hour with the call letters followed by the city of license, hence KJHK, Lawrence.

If the artist took liberties with the script, and thank goodness many of them did, it was a non-legal ID. No big deal.

What became the big deal was the technology we trusted. The tape cartridge was an industry standard for more than 40 years. Come to think of it, many of the carts at KJHK were probably that old. The cart itself, which resembled an 8-track tape, tended to wear out.

The spring of 1984 was my first semester on the KJHK staff. Late in the school year, a new band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their first album and we played the crap out of that record. It was great. Sometime not long after the release, the Chili Peppers made an appearance in Lawrence. The details of that show escape me, but they left a calling card. They recorded an ID. But it wasn't the regular, run-of-the-mill station identification. Anthony Kiedis devised an original, funky rap on the spot inside Sudler Annex and for my money, it's one of the best we ever recorded. Thanks to Lori Wray and Charles Brown for capturing it after the fact.

In the summer of 1984, they decided to play all the celebrity station IDs on the air one after the other. Better yet, they recorded it as it happened. A few years later many of the tape cartridges wore out. I feared this ID was lost for good. Thanks to Lori (and Charles) I now have a copy and so do you. Enjoy.