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Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category

Growing up on a farm in Cedar, Kan., near Smith Center, Steve Kirchhoff always envisioned that he’d attend Kansas State University and study veterinary medicine. It was the thing to do, the place to be. Being a farm kid from Smith County near the Kansas-Nebraska border, he rarely entertained the possibility of taking a different path — until a friend invited him to the K-State College of Engineering’s open house weekend and his eyes were opened to a new world.

Where’d he end up?

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It’s a frosty December evening in 1980 in Manhattan, Kan. A roving cohort of Kansas State University chemical engineering students embark on an adventure to deliver holiday cheer by singing Christmas carols on the front porches at their professors’ homes.

Laughter and liveliness ensues as the professors endure the slightly off-key renditions of familiar classics, and then encourage their pupils to keep at their studies and earn their degrees — because their collective future as singers isn’t nearly as bright as the lights that adorn the town during the holidays.

According to two of the singing engineers, Susan and Spencer Tholstrup, it was good advice.

***

Read more of “Engineering excellence at K-State.”

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on convenience.

Last night, I had what might have been the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had.  The combination of a furious Kansas storm and a malfunctioning apartment complex alarm system kept me tossing, turning and praying for just a few hours of silence.  Alas, I’ve had what the advertisers call the “2:30 feeling” for most of the day.  I decided an afternoon pick-me-up would come in the form of a Dr. Pepper from the vending machine.

In a matter of minutes and in an act of laziness, I descended five floors in an elevator, popped a dollar and a quarter (the latter of which came on loan from a stranger at the vending machines) in the buzzing neon behemoth and out came tumbling 20 fluid ounces of cool, crisp contentment.  I took the elevator five floors up, and was on my way to chasing the sugar rush I’d been craving.

Maybe it’s the fatigue, maybe it’s the wacky weekend just hours away, but as I returned to my desk with the beverage in hand, I couldn’t help but think how easily I was able to access a refreshment and achieve rejuvenation.  Didn’t it used to be a big deal to score a bottle of soda?  Wasn’t it a special treat reserved for special occasions?  And didn’t it usually involve walking a few blocks down the street to the local diner, all while absorbing some sunshine and passing friendly locals along the way?

I’d have loved to have done that — but I’m too tired.

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Continuing in the vein of yesterday’s post about songs spinning gloom with a grin, I was taken aback this morning when a happy-go-lucky version of “When the Roses Bloom Again” by Mac Wiseman popped up in my “Louvin Brothers Radio” playlist on Pandora.  Although I know it’s an A.P. Carter tune and it’s been covered by plenty of artists since it was written over a hundred years ago,  I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only heard Wilco’s version, recorded during the Mermaid Avenue sessions with Billy Bragg.

That version — a minor-keyed, dark and mournful arrangement — seems to be the appropriate musical backdrop for the sad tale of a soldier’s departure from his lover and his final moments before dying in battle.  You can imagine my surprise when an upbeat bluegrass arrangement of the song came through the headphones — was this the same song?  How can they sing so happily about something so heart-wrenching?

It’s an absolutely beautiful song.  The lyrics are pure, powerful and poetic.  And it bears such a touching message: that while death is part of the natural order of life, it’s never easy to accept — but having faith that someday we’ll be reunited with our loved ones, in another life or state of being, gives us hope and comfort.  As we yearn to see someone’s face, hear their voice and touch their hand once more, the debilitating grief that weighs heavy on our hearts can slowly be wiped away if we call to mind our memories of a life lived like the song’s characters: faithful, brave and true.

Much like the practice of concealing despondent lyrics with buoyant musical arrangements, we place flowers and other symbols on graves.  Is it because we wish to cover our pain with something colorful, fragrant and radiant?  Or do they stand for something else?  Flowers themselves will bend and fade — but they’ll bloom once more.  So perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe flowers aren’t something we use to shield sorrow.  They’re not to be used as armor, but for affection, adoration and ardor.  They’re the perfect example of the natural order of life.

They remind us that our wounds can become wings.

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[image swiped from the internet]

I was writing a story for an internal staff newsletter this past week about a colleague who maintains an extraordinary hobby, one that I’ve never heard of: restored fire-truck clubs.  Unlike motorcycle rallies or hot rod conventions, his group is one that gets together to show off their 105′ ladders and deafening sirens – and participate in the occasional parade.

While composing the story, I was reminded of an experience that took place in St. Louis a few years ago when I was walking through the streets of Soulard and found myself in the midst of an interminable row of restored Mustangs and Corvettes as well as amped-up antique autos.

It was as disorienting as it was fascinating to see the hordes of people flocking to the street-show, which extended for several blocks and boasted a range of vehicles equally impressive and obnoxious.

While recalling that afternoon, I wrote the following:

Muscle-car mobs are parked up and down city streets
with salivating spectators unfailingly gazing at paint jobs
Stunning and senseless
Girlfriends peer into the chrome to preen their reflections
Admiration is at its deepest under the hood
Smatterings of tire geek-speak spin by every corner
Fuel burns and heat blurs
Incomprehensible chatter about oil and leather buzzes through the choking air
Six-cylinder sickness sets in as the cruisers cough charcoal exhaust
Onlookers gasp for a clean breath
Free from the ferocious, gut-rumbling thunder of engines
Stinging, squinting, weeping and wheezing, it’s an excruciating exhibition
It’s vehicular manslaughter.

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The Arrival.

wv_hills_s

28 August 2009

After two days of traveling 1300 miles in a densely packed car, with energy drinks and a book of CDs as my only companions, I’ve finally arrived in Maryland.  One of my friends chuckled at my road-weary, lame attempt at geographical/celebrity washed out comedian wordplay: “You mean to tell me that I drove all the way to Chevy Chase, MD – and he’s not here!?!?”

[cough]

Mother Nature gave me her best and her worst; the former was on the first day of travel from Kansas City, MO to Columbus, OH, an 11-hour marathon through sunny plains and skies that were almost smiling, as if they were patting me on the back during the seemingly endless journey, saying “it’s ok, you can keep going, only 190 more miles to Indianapolis.”

The latter came today during the second part of my trip: for close to an hour near the end of the day’s drive, the sky went from a grin to a grinch, sending cascading sheets and waves of fat raindrops over us poor occupants of I68 East, reducing visibility to just a few feet in front of the hood.  Luckily, it cleared up for the final battle through D.C. traffic on 495.

However, today’s seven-hour cruise through one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of America was a drive that will remain forever engrained in this author’s memory.  The lush, rolling mountains and hills of West Virginia were stained shades of green that recalled the vivid Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s clear I’m not in Kansas anymore.

[post image taken from Internet.  blog author was too focused on driving to stop and take his own picture of WV.]

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Farewell, Kansas City

open road

As promised, here’s the announcement: punkyjunk is taking a temporary hiatus as its author and his wife make the great leap to Maryland.  I’ve accepted a new position with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, which will afford me a wealth of opportunities to witness a wide range of phenomenal performances in jazz, classical, dance, and theatre – the whole spectrum of performing arts disciplines.

Kansas City, its people, and its music have been good to me for so many years, and I’ve deeply valued my last three years in service of the American Jazz Museum.  I may be leaving the town that launched the careers of Charlie Parker, Jay McShann and so many others, but I’ll always have the sounds of KC coming through my stereo.

It’s time for an adventure.  I’ll be in touch soon.

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