Friday, September 30, 2005

the color beige

Some more quick shots of the desecration, er, remodeling of Belk, River Ridge Mall, taken Wednesday:

Here's the mall entrance; stripped, but still somewhat proud.

The "before" shot of the fragrance deparment was dated but nice.

The "after" shot is so bland. All the glamour is replaced by gallons of beige paint. even though every surface is lighter in color than it was, it's inexplicably darker.

I can't resist a shiny surface when I have a camera.

This is what the surface looks like at eye level.

we remodeled. ho-hum
check out what 1981 looked like in retail design

The Night Life of Bees


THERE are 18 precious days until the spelling bee final, and Josh Malamy will not waste a single one. He is boning up on Latin and Greek roots and studying the 794 pages of Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists on Among the obscure words he recently memorized were "chrysochlorous" (a greenish-gold color) and "choumoellier" (an Australian vegetable). He is reluctant to share another for fear of giving his competitors an edge.

If the spelling bee final on Oct. 17 is anything like the twice-monthly bees that have preceded it, the room will be packed. The air will be warm and thick with anticipation, not to mention the smell of beer. After all, Mr. Malamy is 23 and will not be showing off his spelling prowess beneath the blazing lights of an elementary school auditorium. Rather, he will be in a dim, terra-cotta-colored room with touches of brass and wood, at Pete's Candy Store, a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. About 15 people who have won previous bees over the last several months - including a doctor whom Mr. Malamy considers his toughest competitor - will vie for cash, prizes and bragging rights at the Williamsburg Spelling Bee Finals.

Spellings bees, for generations the province of the under-12 set with braces, have acquired a cultural prominence in recent years that is winning them adult attention and the kind of participants who might otherwise be found at downtown art gallery openings or indie rock concerts. The new focus on bees began in 2000 with the publication of Myla Goldberg's widely read novel, "Bee Season." It continued with the release in 2002 of "Spellbound," the Academy Award-nominated documentary, and in April the acclaimed musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" transferred to Broadway. On Oct. 2 there will be a one-night-only "adult performance" with mature material and politically incorrect humor. Perhaps the last time that spelling bees received this much attention was in 1992, when Vice President Dan Quayle added an "e" to "potato" during a bee at Luis Munoz-Rivera Elementary School in Trenton.

Adult-only spelling bees, born of nostalgia and spiked with alcohol, have become increasingly popular social activities for brainy hipsters in their 20's and 30's at bars and community centers from Brooklyn to Spokane, Wash. Gone are the days when the sole opportunity to demonstrate one's spelling aptitude was in school. A new kind of bee has emerged, one where participants tackle baffling words between flirty smiles and sips of Yuengling.

While challenging, the bees are decidedly less anxiety provoking than their school counterparts. Occurring well after sunset, adult bees are more like unscripted cabaret shows than cutthroat competitions. "Spelling bees for kids are kind of cruel," said Jennifer Dziura, 26, a comedian and an M.C. of the bee at Pete's Candy Store, which takes place every other Monday. "We have three strikes and you're out, and moral support applause." At a monthly bee at Freddy's Bar & Backroom in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, people occasionally receive cookies when they are eliminated because of an unusually difficult word.

Some spellers, haunted by mistakes made during childhood bees, participate to settle old scores. Others, former spelling champions, wish to relive their glory days. Yet most people go for the cold drinks and the inevitable laughs derived from watching a person who is tipsy try to spell trichotillomania. (The compulsion to tear or pluck out the hair on one's head and face.)

Karl Steel, 35, a graduate student in English and comparative literature at Columbia from the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, admitted to being a poor speller, yet he readily enters nearly all of the bees at Freddy's. "There's a lot of shared misery," Mr. Steel said. "I've never won, and I'm never going to win. It's taking claim of your inabilities."

His girlfriend, Alison Kinney, 30, has proven to be a better speller. An administrator at the New York University School of Law, she has won the bee at Freddy's more than once. "A lot of recovered high school geek behavior is coming out," she said. "It's appealing because it's a kind of structured way to be with your friends that isn't just sitting around a bar and talking."

Mr. Malamy, who grew up in Brooklyn and who said he returned to New York from Chicago in July after his partner dumped him, began attending bees at Pete's Candy Store this summer. He enjoyed himself so much that he decided to stay in Brooklyn instead of moving to Ithaca as he had planned. "You can drink and spell," he said. "The place is gorgeous. You feel like you're in the middle of a ship out on the ocean."

In April Maria Luisa Gambale, 32, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, won the first Williamsburg Spelling Bee, receiving a museum membership for two, $200 and other goodies.

Yet the fundamental attraction of adult bees has little to do with prizes, participants say. What it really comes down to is nostalgia. It is "kind of like going back to junior high with better clothes and hair," Ms. Dziura said.

Zac Kushner, 28, the coordinator of recreational programming at the Makor/Steinhardt Center on the Upper West Side said: "You remember being in a spelling bee in fourth grade and how crazy it was and how scary it was. To do it as an adult with an open bar, it's a lot of fun."

Josh Reynolds, 31, who created the monthly spelling bee at Freddy's after seeing "Spellbound," remembers being eliminated from a childhood bee for spelling the world "climb" incorrectly. "I spelled it c-l-i-m-e," he said. "It resonates with people. Everyone has a spelling bee story."

But the new bees are labeled adult for a reason. This past summer, at Makor's first adult-only bee, there was an open beer and wine bar, and competitors spelled words from categories like "Things That Are Uncomfortable," which included phrases like "steel wool brassiere" and "poison ivy cravat." At the B-Side bar in Spokane, which had its first adult spelling bee a few months ago, contestants had to spell bar-related words like "Kahlúa." During an ice-breaker round of questions before a Williamsburg Spelling Bee, Tom Guiney of Fort Greene was asked, "If you could have sex with Courtney Love and no one had to know about it, would you?" (He said yes, but has since reconsidered.) "It's definitely for a grown up audience," said Mr. Guiney, 31.

For those in search of romance, the bees are a welcome alternative to happy hours and online dating. Mr. Guiney, a former citywide spelling bee champion in Boston, dated two young women he met at the Williamsburg bee, one of whom is Ms. Dziura. "The whole place is really dark," he said. "It's mood lighting. It's dim and warm, and having just gone through a spelling bee with someone, you have something to talk about. It provides people with an in."

Ms. Dziura said, "He was a winner of the spelling bee, so I took notice." They dated for seven months, but it was not meant to, er, be.

Whether people compete or simply observe, spelling bees are bringing the places new business. "We're always trying to reach different demographics and reintroduce the bar to different people," said Ben Carter, 30, the owner of B-Side, which plans to hold bees every couple of months. "It engages a different part of ourselves which is kind of fun." Mr. Kushner of Makor said that "after the event people lingered and just hung out, and to me that's a successful evening."

At many adult bees, participants may ask for a definition of the word they must spell. Competitors drink, though rarely do so to the point of being out of control. After all, people play to win. For Mr. Malamy, the summer was tinged with heartache after the breakup of his relationship. Attending the spelling bees was, as he put it, an outlet for his passions. "It definitely made me a happier guy this summer," he said. And as the season changed, so did his luck.

On Sept. 19 Mr. Malamy brought his mother and his aunt to a Monday night bee at Pete's Candy Store and won first place. He took home a chit worth $25 at the bar, which he used at a later date to purchase Ginger Sours. (The second-place finisher received a $15 chit; the person who placed third was awarded a panini.)

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Malamy and his ex decided to begin seeing each other again, and next week Mr. Malamy will move back to Chicago. But that will not keep him from the spelling bee final; he has made arrangements to return to New York next month to compete. He is hoping his ex will also come and will watch him triumph. "If not," said Mr. Malamy, who plans to start up a bee in his new hometown, "I know somebody will be cheering for me in Chicago."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tagged by Marrie...

Note from Steve: Thanks to Marrie for tagging me. This was an interesting one. Anyone else who wants to answers this questionaire is free to do so.

1. Do you try to look hot when you go to the grocery store just in case someone recognizes you from your blog?
Hardly anyone at my local grocery store knows what a blog is! But I do try to look my best.

2. Are the photos you post Photoshopped or otherwise altered?

3. Do you like it when creeps or dorks email you?
The dorks are fine. No more creeps!

4. Do you lie in your blog?
I never know who might read this thing, so I don't tell people's names unless it's relevant to what I'm talking about and won't come back to bite me or him/her in the ass.

5. Are you passive-aggressive in your blog?
A little.

6. Do you ever threaten to quit writing so people will tell you not to stop?
No. I love to write, whether people dig it or not.

7. Are you in therapy? If not, should you be? If so, is it helping?
No. Yes. Not applicable.

8. Do you delete mean comments? Do you fake nice ones?
I only delete spam and truly offensive stuff. People have a right to their opinions, even if they're fucked-up.

9.Have you ever rubbed one out while reading a blog? How about after?
No and no. Masturbation is a private matter.

10. If your readers knew you in person, would they like you more or like you less?
I never know. I would hope they'd like me more! :-)

11. Do you have a job?
Not a particurally great one right now. But I'm working on it.

12. If someone offered you a decent salary to blog full-time without restrictions, would you do it?
Hell yes.

13. Which blogger do you want to meet in real life?
All of the ones I know personally.

14. Which bloggers have you made out with? (a)In real life? (b)In fantasy?
None of them.

15. Do you usually act like you have more money or less money than you really have?
Money's not a thing to worry about. Why wory about something you don't have? LOL. I do live somewhat fabulously, but it's not always above my means.

16. Does your family read your blog?
I hope not. LOL

17. How old is your blog?
I'm closing in on a year and a half soon.

18. Do you get more than 1000 page views per day? Do you care?
It's actually closer to 100, but I'm not as concerned about that as I am creating a blog that people will enjoy on its own terms, rather than going for what's popular trying to get hits..

19. Do you have another secret blog in which you write about being depressed, slutty, or a liar?
This is as depressed, slutty and lying as I get. LOL

20. Have you ever given another blogger money for his/her writing?

21. Do you report the money you earn from your blog on your taxes?
What money? steve's blog is fee of charge.

22. Is blogging narcissistic?
I coudn't hear you. I was basking in my own aura. What was the question again? :-)

23. Do you feel guilty when you don't post for a long time?
Um, yeah. that's why I post so much.

24. Do you like John Mayer?
He's cool. I like his column in Esquire.

25. Do you have enemies?
Oh hells yeah. You got some time? It'll take a while to name them.

26. Are you lonely?
Yeah. I am. But i'd rather be by myself more and put up with a bunch of unreasonable shit most times.

27. Why bother? Blogging?
Why not? I didn't think I would get into this as much as I have, but blogging is a good way to release tension and have a "virtual salon" where people can discuss things that interest them mutually under the cloak of quasi-anonymity. There's no way I would have nearly the amount the people I have if I hadn't been online.

september 29 article - something for the ladies...

I’m no expert at women’s fashion, but I think this article came out pretty well.

Muppets Get Their Own Stamps

(CBS/AP) Most frogs settle for lily pads. Kermit the Frog has hopped onto a U.S. postage stamp.

The green leader of the beloved Muppets troupe was on hand Wednesday for a first-day issue ceremony featuring 11 postage stamps honoring the Muppets and their late creator, Jim Henson, at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in suburban North Hollywood.

The 37-cent stamps are being released nationally on Thursday.

"On behalf of the Muppets, it is a great honor to be featured on our own set of stamps," Kermit said at the ceremony, through a human intermediary.

Henson, Kermit, Miss Piggy, the Swedish Chef, and Dr. Bunson Honeydew and his assistant Beaker are among the puppets honored in the Postal Service set.

"I love the design! I was a huge fan of the Muppet Show when I was a kid. I can't wait to use these stamps," said one member of the Virtual Stamp Club.

"These are great! The photo and stamp of Hensen is a great idea," said another.

"The Postal Service showed a great deal of cleverness in designing these stamps, but the best parts may not be on the stamps themselves," says stamp expert Lloyd de Vries. "Take a look at the poignant picture surround the stamps: Jim Henson sitting on the floor, chatting with Kermit. And on the back, there are cute messages from each of the characters."

Kermit and his friends aren't the first puppets to make it onto postage stamps. Charlie McCarthy managed the feat in 1991, along with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.

It's been 50 years since Kermit the Frog's television debut on Henson's 1955 show, "Sam and Friends." Birthday events include a 15-month, 50-stop world tour that begins next month and includes a run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

antique food in the windy city

Chicago - According to The Chicago Sun Times, city officials have completed an investigation into the sale of out-of-date products by local independent grocers. Of 100 stores visited by Consumer Services investigators posing as shoppers, violations were found at 71, leading to 85 citations and 569 individual counts, the paper reported. Eighty percent of the citations were for the sale of expired merchandise.

mr. happy

An excerpt of a conversation I had with my friend Bryan yesterday:

Me: I've been tired for the past several days and my nerves are shot.
Bryan: What happened man?
Me: Sunday, I got stuck in Allen's 4 Runner on a 10 hour overnight round trip to Virginia Beach to unload all of his shit into his apartment, during which time I got no sleep, my legs gave out and he threatened to beat me up at least once or twice.
Bryan: That sucks!
Me: I didn't go to bed until 1 PM Sunday, after being out all day at the game.
Bryan: Geez! That's awful. How'd you get stuck doing that?
Me: My dad has let poor health and overmedication render him unable to pick up much of anything and my mom (who's also not very strong) would rather see Allen and I at each other's throats rather than alone and peaceful.
Bryan: That's not good.
Me: I know. So I get back from what should have been the best day I had in a while to not only my damn brother barging into my room wanting to 'work on our relationship" (read: trying to get free labor so he won't have to set up his own apartment) but also my Mom bugging the hell out of me so she woudn't have to move the mattress.
Bryan: I have a feeling there's more.
Me: Yep. I'm pissed at being so much in pain and tired, Allen and I are both yelling at each other. Mom's solution? "Stand up to him". Ugh. When I do stand up to him, then she wants me to be nice! I'm so sick of everything here!

Bryan: Damn Steve sounds like everyone [at home] is driving you nuts!! What the hell is up with that?
Me: I never know.
Bryan: I am so fed up with that kind of shit too! I feel for you...that blows big bohunkus!!

Me: Sometimes I think why don't I just go ahead and fill out an application for hell and get it over with?

Bryan: Dude, I never heard Why don't I fill out an....... to hell. That is an amazing phrase!! I must have filled it out a few times myself!!!
Me: LOL You too?
Bryan: Does anyone take you seriously or are you just supposed to be Mr. Happy to your family? Does anyone care how you feel?

Me: Not much. I have been given the role of Mr. Happy and I'm not to break character.

In a way, just about everyone here IS driving me nuts. I've told you guys a lot but you don't know the half of it. For the most part, they don't mean to, but it happens and instead of me getting mad, I'm expected to take it like it's no thing.

I don't mean to sound like I'm not grateful for the good times, but sometimes the bad stuff is more glaring. I need to work on that for real. I'm generally an optimist (one would have to be in my situ.) but it's frustrating and I have to learn to deal with it better than I do.

Wis. may ban funeral parlors from malls


MILWAUKEE -- The home to many of the nation's bars, restaurants and hair salons is no place for the dearly departed, says a state lawmaker who wants to ban funeral parlors from the ubiquitous strip mall.

''To put it in a strip mall next to a Hooters or an auto parts store doesn't serve the industry or consumers well,'' said state Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon). ''Consumers have a certain expectation for a funeral home. Most people would be taken aback.''

Montgomery's measure would protect people -- especially those who arrange their funerals in advance -- from fly-by-night funeral parlors that he says could come and go from the malls as quickly as pizza parlors.

''A funeral service is not like selling T-shirts,'' Mark Paget, executive director of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association, said in support of the bill, which would require funeral homes to be in buildings that do not contain more than one other unrelated business.

'All about greed'
But opponents such as Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance in South Burlington, Vt., say the bill would restrict competition in the industry, which he said has seen a declining demand for full funeral services, particularly with cremations being done in about 30 percent of deaths nationally. ''Where are these fly-by-night funeral homes? I don't see any,'' he said.

He did not see anything inherently different between a free-standing funeral home and one in a strip mall.

John Bucci, who recently opened Wisconsin Chapels and Cremation Society in a strip mall in Verona near Madison, said funeral homes such as his can offer services at lower cost than larger free-standing operations with three or four parlors.

He said they can do that by holding services at churches, cemeteries, nursing homes and in families' homes.

''This is all about greed,'' said Bucci, whose business is in a strip mall along with a bar-restaurant, cake shop and auto parts store.

Montgomery said the trend toward making funeral arrangements before a person died made it even more important to make sure the business was still open when the service was needed. Besides strip malls, Paget said, the bill also would ban funeral homes in industrial parks.

Industrial parks
Slocum said the only measure similar to Montgomery's he was aware of was one in the Tennessee Senate this year that would have required funeral homes to be located in stand-alone buildings. He said it was referred back to committee this spring.

Fay Spano, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association based in Brookfield, Wis., said regulation of the business varied greatly from state to state and the organization was not aware of any similar efforts to ban funeral establishments from strip malls.

First Store Re-Opens At Edgewater Mall

Trang Pham-Bui
WLOX-TV, Biloxi, MS

Audrey Snyder and Irma White are back to doing what they love -- browsing.

Audrey Snyder said "We're just getting out and we saw a sign that said "Sears open" and we said we'll go see what they got".

For the sisters, shopping is a chance to take their minds off their hurricane worries. For Julie Ruesch, shopping is a necessity.

Julie Ruesch said "My family's from Bay St. Louis, and they all lost their homes and contents, and everything".

To help people like Ruesch get back on their feet, Sears rushed to clean up the foot of water, mud and debris and opened half of the store.

Sears Executive Ronald Gregory said "We're here for them. That's what we brought in was all merchandise for the public and I think we have what everybody needs".

While appliances were hot sellers, other unusual items, like mattresses, caught some shopper's eyes.

Tami Seidule said "I'm very surprised. I just can't believe it. I just hope to get a good deal".

Mattresses may seem rather unusual here, but how often have you walked into Sears and found food? The store now carries all sorts of groceries, from canned goods and baby formula, to yes, even dog food.

Gregory said "It's a different concept for us as a company going forward, to see if we do ever have damage like this in the future, how do we do this for the public? We decided not to bite the whole thing off at the same time. We just took a piece of it and said let's bring in what they need".

It's a move many shoppers seem to appreciate.

Audrey Snyder said "So why should we let the storm stop us? When you get old, that's the attitude. Every day is a great one".

Erma White said "We're getting back to normal. We're trying to. That's what everybody's doing".

The store is open from 10 AM until 5 PM.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Clouds, Silver Linings and a Mall in the Sky


It began as a concept with, at best, a checkered history: a mall in the city. This one was to look different, with quartz and granite and an irregular shape, and be different, with very expensive restaurants instead of a food court.

A year and a half later, the public pullout of the big-name chef who was to fill one of the few remaining vacancies has some people wondering about the Time Warner Center, the silver-skinned complex at 10 Columbus Circle. It brought together the restaurants, a hotel, a condominium and stores, along with the workings of Time Warner - from offices for its magazines to studios for CNN - and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

For Manhattan, it was something of a gamble. Malls in Manhattan have not had the best track record. Malls, almost by definition, are about cars and huge parking lots. Also, while Manhattan may not have room for big-box stores, the vast majority of its stores are boxes: discrete squares or rectangles, each with its own door facing a street, not an indoor corridor.

The Time Warner Center is a city within the city, a vertical world reached by elevators or escalators. When it opened in February 2004 with a party that attracted everyone from Cindy Crawford to Gov. George E. Pataki, some partygoers wondered how soon crowds would find things beyond the first and second floors, where the stores are. The restaurants are on the third and fourth floors.

Hotel-industry analysts say that the hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, has hit its stride. Retail specialists say that the Whole Foods market, on the lower level, is booming.

Some of the restaurants upstairs received good reviews, and restaurateurs say those restaurants appear to be doing well, an idea confirmed by an effort to make reservations yesterday. All the restaurants except Per Se offered to make reservations available for today or tomorrow, though some very early or very late. Fridays and Saturdays were already booked until late in the evening, but the Japanese restaurant Masa offered a table for two at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The first table available at Per Se - whose tasting menu runs $210, including tip - was for lunch on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, because Per Se will not make a reservation more than two months in advance. Tomorrow is another day. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving will be available then.

The retail space is some of the most expensive in Manhattan - $250 to $300 a square foot, brokers say, about what stores pay on Madison Avenue. And Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner, says that the center is flourishing.

"Williams-Sonoma and Borders are having their highest per-square-foot sales here of anywhere," Mr. Parsons said. "Jazz at Lincoln Center is, I think, the finest performance arts center in the country. All but three or four condos sold out. We are very happy here. It is a huge success."

Spokeswomen for Williams-Sonoma and Borders said that they did not release detailed sales figures on individual stores. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods said it did not, either, although she said that the store in the Time Warner Center "is one of our top performers."

Yet Charlie Trotter, a celebrity chef from Chicago who was planning to establish a New York beachhead, has parted ways with the Time Warner Center. And Jean-Georges Vongerichten's V Steakhouse, which received at best lukewarm reviews, may be on its way out.

Kenneth A. Himmel, the president and chief executive of the retail-development division of the Related Companies, said on Monday that he was looking for a replacement for V Steakhouse. But Mr. Vongerichten's partner, Phil Suarez, said the departure was not definite, adding, "We're doing decent numbers."

Still, Alfred Portale, a chef and co-owner of Gotham Bar and Grill, is one of at least two restaurateurs who have been approached about taking over the third-floor space that Mr. Trotter's restaurant was to have occupied. Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group owns restaurants in the Flatiron district and at the Museum of Modern Art, has also been contacted about the Charlie Trotter space. Like Mr. Portale, he would not discuss any details.

At lunchtime yesterday, Miriam Schumacher of Tenafly, N.J., was sitting in the balcony area outside the restaurants. "This is a place to escape, an oasis in the city," she said. "I come here as often as I can." But while she has a fondness for Whole Foods, she said she spends little time in the other stores.

Manhattan has never fervently embraced the mall concept. While Trump Tower's 22-year-old shopping atrium on Fifth Avenue draws some tourists (thanks to its supporting role in "The Apprentice"), Herald Center, the 10-story mall inside the former Gimbel's department store on Herald Square, has had a troubled history. Originally bankrolled by Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Philippine dictator, it opened in 1985 with tenants that included Ann Taylor, Brookstone and Caswell-Massey. After a mortgage default and an auction, it was reinvented as a discount mall, with stores like Payless Shoes.

Vertical dining, too, remains an exception in Manhattan. Yesterday at Time Warner, the Dean & DeLuca cafe inside the Borders store was full. How many customers the restaurants draw from within the building is an open question.

"To tell you the truth, I rarely go to those restaurants," said Doug Ganley, a CNN producer. "I've had drinks a couple times at Stone Rose and occasionally run down to Whole Foods to grab something. But we have a cafeteria that is pretty nice, and the price is certainly cheaper than those restaurants."

Restaurant-industry specialists talk not about price but location. Mr. Trotter's restaurant was to go on the third floor, while V Steakhouse, Stone Rose and Per Se are on the fourth floor. But restaurateurs say that one would not go there unless one knew to go there. And they say that this was not helped by the way the Time Warner Center turned out - uninviting and unexciting, they maintain.

"The restaurant floors were designed to look just like any of the other retail floors," said Michael Whiteman, an international hotel and restaurant consultant. "It's cold, it's gray, it's dark. There's no sense of anybody eating, drinking or having fun."

song of the day | september 28, 2005

Bounce With Me - Lil Bow Wow/Xscape Listen

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Morgantown officials order removal of furniture from porches

Note from Steve: Thanks to Todd M. for finding this

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Fire officials have ordered the removal of all upholstered furniture, debris and flammable objects from porches in neighborhoods with high student populations in an effort to put a damper on the outdoor furniture blazes that have become a tradition.

The move comes as the city, known as the couch-burning capital of college football, prepares for the West Virginia-Virginia Tech football game on Saturday.

"The reason for the order is based upon statistical fire data gathered following major rival football games or other sporting events," Morgantown Fire Chief Dave Fetty said Monday. "Data says there are particular areas within the city where we can expect to have illegal street fires."

Students celebrating victories by the Mountaineers have a long tradition of setting fires in the streets, often with cheap furniture dragged from their rental homes.

Morgantown led the nation in the number of intentional street fires between 1997 and 2003, with a total of 1,129 set.

The sold-out game will mark the final scheduled meeting between the two teams, which have played each year since 1973.

Virginia Tech, which enters the game ranked third nationally, defeated the Mountaineers, 19-13, in Blacksburg last year. This is the second season for the Hokies in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Virginia Tech is the defending ACC champion.

"Officers plan to go door to door posting written, typed-up orders on each house or putting them in mailboxes," Fetty said. "The notice states all indoor furniture that has been placed outside, along with other debris in specified areas, must be put elsewhere."

Residents have until Friday morning to remove the specified items. Those who refuse to comply with the order will receive a citation, and their furniture will be loaded into dump trucks and hauled away by city workers. Residents will be charged.

Fetty said officers are empowered to cite all occupants of the residence. They will be cited for failure to abate a fire hazard, which is a misdemeanor. Fines can range up to $1,000.

After a series of post-football game fires, WVU imposed a "zero tolerance" policy in 2003. It has disciplined and expelled students for off-campus activities that resulted in charges.

A protest song, reloaded

New York Times News Service

Some songs have all the luck. They lead double, even triple lives, meaning everything to everyone, and meaning it passionately.

Last month, Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends was serving both as a protest song against the war in Iraq and as a patriotic ballad. It was (and still is) one of the most requested music videos on MTV. Now, thanks to the Internet, it is a song about the devastation that followed Katrina.

The song's original music video, made by Samuel Bayer (who also filmed the video of Nirvana's classic Smells Like Teen Spirit), is full of pathos and sap. It shows a young couple in love, then quarrelling and finally separated by war. As the young man fights in Iraq thinking about sunnier days, the young woman sits home waiting and fretting.

Although the band intended the music video as an anti-war protest, Kelefa Sanneh, a pop music critic for The New York Times, pointed out that it also "works pretty well as a support-our-troops statement." One blogger recently posted the Green Day video with the tag Great Recruitment Video. Maybe he was being facetious, maybe not.

Today, it's the same old song with a different meaning. Two weeks ago, Karmagrrrl, a blogger also known as Zadi, paired the Green Day ballad with television news coverage of Katrina and posted it at her Web site, Her video fits the lyrics like a glove.

Karmagrrrl's video begins with a view of green trees out the window of a bus. "Summer has come and passed, the innocent can never last," the song goes. "Wake me up when September ends." On the floor of the bus, you see a pair of red sneakers toeing the headline "HELP US" on a folded copy of The New York Post from Sept. 1. The picture in the newspaper shows a pair of feet in cardboard sandals.

From that point on, Wake Me Up is set to images of Katrina seen on MSNBC, CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show. As the rain rages on MSNBC, the song swells: "Here comes the rain again, falling from the stars." A streetlight falls onto the wet street: "Drenched in my pain again, becoming who we are." Videotape of corpses carried on stretchers goes with this lyric: "As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost." It's almost too perfect.

In the video the song's lyrics seem weirdly prescient, even though parts of the song make no sense at all. "Like my father's come to pass, 20 years has gone so fast." What could that mean? Perhaps that touch of incoherence is the song's key to universality.

And what about the instrumental interludes? They have been filled with excerpts from President Bush's remarks to hurricane victims hundreds of miles away. In what is either a remarkable stroke of luck, or the vlogger's artistry, the president's halting, I'm-in-this-with-you cadence exactly fits the folksy rhythm and earnest feel of the music.

"I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you." It's as if the president were onstage with the band. "Right now the days seem awfully dark to those affected, but I'm confident that with time, you'll get your lives back in order."

Is it possible that Karmagrrrl is empathizing with Bush? Is it possible that this is a romantic video about America in mourning? A few images undo that suggestion. At a certain point in the video, you don't just see families waving for help, infants crying in their mother's arms and children in makeshift carts. You see women shouting obscenities at the camera.

Unlike the original Green Day video, which could be either pro-war or antiwar, this one sends a clear message. Yet what makes the Katrina video work is that it isn't totally obvious from the beginning.

It glides to an end with a long panorama of homeless people sitting on curbs and waiting for help. The song goes, "Wake me up when September ends, Wake me up when September ends, Wake me up when September ends." Rather gratuitously, after the music has stopped, the president's mother, speaking from Houston, gets the last gaffe: "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, and this is working very well for them." And it's a wrap.

By the way, Karmagrrrl is not alone. Around the same time she was joining Green Day's song to images of Katrina, two Houston rappers who collectively call themselves The Legendary K.O., Damien Randle and Micah Nickerson (who lives near the Houston Astrodome), made their own mash-up. They joined Kanye West's hit song Gold Digger with some of the ad-lib remarks that West made during an NBC telethon for hurricane relief, tossed in some more words, called it George Bush Doesn't Like Black People and posted it on the Internet.

It's now a hit on the radio and the Internet, and can be downloaded from various Web sites, including the rappers' own, Already someone on the Internet named Black Lantern has added video. And there's no guessing about the sentiment.

Jacob The Jeweler Freezes Feet

K.B. Tindal

Last week Jacob the Jeweler from NYC’s famous Diamond District announced that he will be launching a sneaker line.

According to BET news Jacob held a star studded party event to announce his good news. Among Jacob’s guests were Mary J Blige, Remy Martin, Keisha Cole, Ashanti, Kwame and others.

Jacob is originally known for his signature pieces of Jewelry as well as his watches. About his newest endeavor Jacob says, “It’s important to make comfortable stylish shoes. I take pride in everything that I do and this is no different.”

Jacob’s new sneakers will range in prices from $400.00 when they are plain to $6,500.00 with diamonds on them.

Tommy Hilfiger Not Urban Enough?

K.B. Tindal

Several years ago Tommy Hilfiger lost a lot of his urban customers from a rumored statement that claimed that Tommy said he didn’t make his clothes for Black people.

Years have past since that rumor circulated and during this past MAGIC Fashion season Tommy scored with his new Fall line.

His supporters included big name urbanites, Jay-Z, and Lil Jon. Paris Hilton was also in attendance. All of his supporters showed up and gave out their props as well as thanks to Tommy for creating a line this year as well as in the past years that they could all identify with and had lots of love for.

About his new fall line Tommy stated, “Were still young and fresh and we still stand for preppy and fresh. It’s what has always worked for us and I don’t see a reason to change that at all.”

Monday, September 26, 2005

VT hopes eco-friendly house will open eyes

Note from Steve: Thanks to Ken for finding this

The public is invited to watch its construction at the Lowe's store in Christiansburg.

By Kevin Miller
The Roanoke Times

In these times of $3-a-gallon gasoline and surging home energy costs, it's only natural to dream about houses powered entirely by the sun's rays with enough juice to run the electric car parked outside.

But could such an eco-friendly house ever be embraced by an American public that demands comfort and modern amenities?

A team of Virginia Tech students thinks so.

And they are inviting the public to judge for themselves.

For the next 312 weeks, the public can watch as the team finishes work on a fully equipped, solar-powered house designed and built by Tech students.

Tech is one of 18 collegiate teams that will compete for international bragging rights next month during the federal government's second-ever "Solar Decathlon" competition in Washington, D.C.

"We're trying to prove to the public that you can have an energy-efficient, off-the-grid house and still live comfortably," said Joe Wheeler, an assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies who serves as a advisor to the team.

The house, which was towed Friday to the parking lot of the Christiansburg Lowe's store, is more than simply a mobile home with a few photovoltaic cells attached to the roof.

Energy-efficient appliances inside are powered by a state-of-the-art solar panel shaped like an aircraft wing to catch both sunlight and rainwater. The water then flows to appliances, such as a toilet that allows the user to adjust the water flow depending on the need.

Translucent walls filled with aerogel -- the lightest solid material in the world and one of the best insulators -- let sunlight in but keep out the hot or frigid outstide temperatures. A glass ceiling allows natural light during the day, while LED lights in the walls allow the homeowner to illuminate the gel-filled walls with millions of color combinations to set the mood at night.

During winter, the house is heated with warm-water pipes that snake beneath rich-colored wood floors, which are made from a fast-growing eucalyptus tree that re-sprouts from the same stump after cutting.

Recycled or recyclable materials are used throughout the house, from the frame to the furniture. And this "smart house" can detect when its owner comes and goes and adjust the temperature accordingly to conserve energy.

The list of features goes on and on.

Two architecture graduate students -- Bryan Atwood and Brett Moss -- submitted the winning design more than two years ago. The two have worked with 10 undergrads and several faculty advisors to tweak and construct the house.

"It just gives you so much more confidence," Atwood said of the building experience.

In architecture school, he said, "You don't get much of a chance to build things. You're designing things."

Robert Schubert, a professor and team advisor, said some other schools use modular-home designs as the basis for their houses. Tech's house was designed from scratch by students.

"We feel our students get a much richer experience getting involved in all aspects," said Schubert, who is also associate dean for research and outreach in the architecture college.

On Sept. 29, crews will reattach wheels to the house's frame -- another unique feature custom-designed by the team -- and haul it to the National Mall.

Once the house is situated between the Smithsonian Castle and the National Museum of Natural History, the steel trusses that helped stiffen the house for the ride will fold down to become the porch.

That's when the real scrutiny begins.

For eight days, Tech's house and those of 17 other teams from North America and Europe will be judged on, among other things, their design, comfort, lighting, applicance functionality, energy efficiency and ability to heat water.

The students also earn points for driving as many miles as possible in an electric car, which must receive all of its power from the house.

The U.S. Department of Energy's last Solar Decathlon, held in 2002, drew more than 100,000 visitors to the "Solar Village" on the National Mall. Officials expect even larger crowds this time.

Tech placed fifth out of 14 teams in the first competition in 2002, after spending too much time stitching together their two-piece house. The University of Virginia had a one-piece house and finished second.

UVa dropped out of this year's contest.

But Tech faces stiff competition from engineering and architecture powerhouses such as the University of Michigan, the University of Colorado and conglomerate teams comprised of several top universities.

Schools from Canada, Puerto Rico and Spain are expected to compete this year.

The winner will be announced Oct. 14.

a saturday in blacksburg

I went to the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech football game on Saturday with my friend Todd M. My friend Angie has offered us tickets for most of the remaining Virginia Tech home games, and this was the first time we got a chance to take up her offer.

I decided to take all of you in Steve-land with us to the game and show you my day and a little of my alma mater.

My friend Todd M., coming to pick me up in his BMW convertible. He loves this car.

The sea of orange shirts tailgating in the parking lot. It was an "Orange Effect" game.

There were 48 chicken wings from PK's Restaurant on this plate when Todd and I started eating lunch. Quite impressive for a couple of fairly thin guys.

ESPN's Game Day was there.

The monumental bridge across the Mall, the main drag onto the Virginia Tech campus.

The Virginia Tech War Memorial. There's a chapel underneath it.

Your friendly neighborhood blogger, Angie and Todd M. getting in some last minute tailgating before the game at Angie's tuck. I had my sunscreen and eyeglass case hooked to my belt.

The new additions to Lane Stadium, still under construction.

The new press and luxury boxes are at the top of the photo.

There were a lot of folks at the game, a near sell-out.

This was decidely the most enthusiastic end of the stadium. I think all of these guys were wearing orange and they definately made the most noise.

The Hokies had Georgia Tech on the run by this point in the game.

The score was 51-7 before Todd and I left to beat the traffic. That turned out to be the final score.

A twilight shot of Burruss Hall, the main administrative building at Virginia Tech, as we depart for home.

Skating to the top

Sport's footwear gains popularity, even among those who have never owned a board

By Shannon McMahon

Maybe it's the tongue. Or the short toe. Or the puffy exterior.

Whatever it is that makes skate shoes cool, their sales are surging. Even as the number of skateboarders in America declines, the sport's footwear is gaining popularity even among kids who've never picked up a board.

Skate shoes outpaced all other athletic shoes in sales last year, according to the NPD Group, a marketing research firm. While demand for running shoes grew by less than 2 percent, sales of skate shoes increased by more than 19 percent over the previous year, an NPD study found.

The difference in those sales figures is that running shoes are typically bought by people who actually run. Skate shoes, on the other hand, are often bought by people who only want to look the part.

"The 14-year-old kid who doesn't ride a skateboard still wants to look like a skateboarder," said Ed Dominick, president of Vox Footwear in Encinitas.

This trend has translated into a boon for the action sports industry in San Diego County and reshaped the way skate shoe companies develop and market their products.

Before skateboarding was considered a sport worth catering to, skateboarders had to seek out shoes that would hold up to the stress. They glommed onto Vans, which in the 1960s introduced so-called vulcanized shoes, in which a rubber sole was cooked onto the body of the shoe.

As the sport grew, shoe manufacturers started to cater to the skaters.

Today, San Diego County, considered by many to be the cradle of skateboarding, has become the skate shoe capital of the world, said John Bernards, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies.

It is home to eight companies – Dekline, DC Shoes, Hawk Shoes, Vox Footwear, Adio Footwear, Fallen Footwear, Osiris Shoes and Duffs International – devoted to developing the next hot skate shoe.

The company that led the charge in the 1980s was Airwalk, a now-defunct firm in Carlsbad that developed an oversized shoe that combined an inflated tongue, thick sole, suede exterior and air pockets that cushioned the foot.

These innovations are not necessary for successful skateboarding, although skateboarders believe they improve board control and protect their feet from flying boards.

Yet they are essential to the sartorial persona of professional skateboarders, complementing their low-slung jeans and fitted shirts. Airwalk used wild colors to enhance the design and promote an underground fashion statement.

In the 1990s, DC Shoes made major advances in shoe design. It added stronger fabrics, multidensity rubber, gel pockets, plastic eyelets that encased exposed shoelaces and soles with a gumlike grip that improved foot-to-board traction. As skate shoes began to resemble tiny life rafts for the feet, DC Shoes began to dominate the action-sports footwear market.

In the mid-1990s, skate shoes went mainstream. Their evolution was influenced as strongly by popular culture as by the demands of skateboarding. In the past five years, the loud, blocky skate shoe has fallen from favor as the hip-hop culture of the 1990s faded. The current style reflects the punk-rock look of the 1970s.

Today's shoes are slimmed-down versions of their former selves. The colors are less outlandish and more suited to everyday wear.

"We had to completely re-trend our style," said Hans Molenkamp of Osiris Shoes. "The change happened literally within a year. We saw the pros doing it first. With kids it has happened within the last two to three years."

Within the past year, fewer boys are participating in the sport.

Skateboarding peaked in popularity in 2003 with almost 13 million skaters, according to Board-Trac, a firm that follows the industry. Today, there are just less than 12 million skaters.

But skate shoe companies have weathered the downturn because the sport has reached its critical mass.

Skateboarding video games have brought in billions of dollars. The X Games are a proven success, and skatepark construction is happening across the country.

"The (skate) shoe market is booming right now," said Cullen Poythress, senior editor of skateboarding at Transworld Business, pointing to the industry's mainstream appeal. "There are more shoe companies now than ever before."

To meet the current demand and capitalize on the niche's potential, traditional sneaker companies such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok have spent millions to make a popular skate shoe.

Skate shoes generate more sales than any other segment in the action sports niche, according to both Board-Trac and the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, which track the category.

Skate shoe sales reached $1.5 billion last year, with 24 million pairs sold, a Board-Trac study found.

In 2004, skate shoe sales accounted for 28 percent of total retail sales in the category, more than sandal and jeans sales combined, according to Board-Trac. "What we're seeing now is more saturation in the market," said Ken Block, president and co-founder of DC Shoes. The Vista company was sold to Quiksilver for $87 million in cash and stock last year. "When we started making skate apparel 15 years ago, this was a small market."

Adidas is debuting three footwear and apparel collections geared to skaters in its fall collection. Reebok signed its first skate athlete, Stevie Williams, in December.

After several failures, Nike gained street credibility with its Nike SB Dunk Low Pro, a retro-style shoe based on footwear popular in the late 1980s.

"When you have huge companies trying to break in, you can see that there's something here," said Dave Ahumada, brand manager for Adio Shoes in Carlsbad. "It speaks to our industry as a whole. Skate shoes are being elevated to the next level and we're all a part of that."

But to maintain sales, companies must maintain credibility with active skateboarders.

The key to credibility is gradual distribution. Most skate and surf shops are family-owned businesses with one location. Brands make their names at this level, but to grow – and weather economic downturns – they must enter larger markets. When Airwalk tried to expand beyond skate shoes, skateboarders shunned the company for dipping too deep into the mainstream. In its early days, Airwalk had a segmentation strategy – core distributors were given more cutting edge, technical shoes than major retailers.

The method worked until Airwalk switched its distribution strategy by giving the same shoes to malls and specialty shops. Small retailers and skaters didn't like seeing the same shoes in JC Penney stores and their local skate shops. Brand loyalty died, and Airwalk – a company that had sales of roughly $175 million in 1996 – went under.

Smaller companies, such as Vox, plan to focus their appeal to their core consumers.

"We're skateboarder specific. We're not trying to sell to any other market," said Dominick, who co-founded Vox this year. If you appeal to the core group of skateboarders, mainstream "people are going to buy the shoes anyway, so we don't have to market to them."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Shaking up the roster

Shoe companies turn to entertainers over athletes.

By Charles Elmore
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Dwyane Wade's multimillion-dollar deal last week made him the highest-paid athlete in Converse history.

The Heat guard is poised to become the most prominent face since Dr. J. at a brand that once ruled 80 percent of its market, stumbled in changing times and now hopes to soar again.

But he's not competing with athletes alone anymore. Check out the shelves at the mall. The fastest-growing segment: shoes endorsed by rap and hip-hop artists, such as G-Unit's 50 Cent. Coming attractions include a Hurricane from a rival rapper, The Game.

As good as Wade is, not everyone is sure big endorsement contracts with athletes are in tune with the times.

"The big shift is away from serious athletic shoes and serious athletes toward lifestyle shoes and artist endorsements," said Clyde Smith, who writes a trade blog called Hip Hop Business News. "So, though I don't make predictions, I expect to see further growth from shoes endorsed by rappers, and I don't expect overwhelming success for Dwyane Wade's shoes."

Sales of "casual" shoes, such as the G-Unit treads that straddle the worlds of sports and fashion, grew 24.5 percent last year, while basketball shoes grew just 0.3 percent, according to industry tracker SGMA International.

Entertainers branching out
The Game, a.k.a. Jayceon Taylor, ran into unfortunate timing with the name of his coming Hurricane shoe, so he will offer donations to relief agencies. But he announced: "I'm moving beyond just being an entertainer and becoming an entrepreneur. As an athlete and a sneaker fan, I'm ready to drop my own completely original design — an essential, multipurpose shoe."

Wade and his business agent, Henry Thomas, recognized how slippery the financial footing has become for athlete-endorsers. Reebok and adidas, which plan to merge in order to challenge market-leader Nike, have been reaching out to entertainers as well as athletes to appeal to younger, urban buyers. Even those sticking primarily with athletes — such as Nike, which bought Converse in 2003 — have become increasingly picky about the deals they make.

"There were points in time throughout these negotiations that neither one of us was necessarily confident a deal could get done," said Thomas, executive vice president of the basketball division at Chicago-based Coordinated Sports Management Group. "I knew the trend. Certainly we've seen some of the shoe companies go to the rap industry to endorse their products."

In the end, Thomas said, "I also knew Dwyane was one of the few guys in the sport that could command that kind of shoe deal."

Ric Wilson, Converse's director of sports marketing, called it "the most significant deal Converse has done." Wade's personality and style "transcend what he does on the basketball court," Wilson said.

Slam-dunk deals grow rare
Financial terms were not announced for Wade's six-year renewal, but sources described it as in the "multimillions," far exceeding his previous three-year, $400,00 contract with Converse.

That would probably place it somewhere below Nike's deals with Kobe Bryant ($40 million), LeBron James' (seven years, $90 million) and Michael Jordan (five years, $47 million). But it puts Wade at the top of the heap for Converse.

"The contract will make him the highest-paid athlete in the history of Converse," Thomas said. "One of the things attractive about the Converse offer was, in addition to the financial aspect, he is going to be the face of this brand."

Indisputably, Wade enters his third season with Miami as a rising star. He averaged 24.1 points, 6.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds last season, in which the Heat finished a game away from the NBA Finals. His signature shoe is set to hit stores Nov. 3, the day of the Heat's home opener against Indiana. The Wade shoe is expected to retail for $90.

Wade drives an Cadillac Escalade and quotes the occasional lyric by The Game in interviews, but he's best known for self-effacing answers when Shaquille O'Neal compliments him. Wade has donated a bunch of shoes to Marquette, his alma mater. That wins him good-guy points. But does it sell shoes?

Since Jordan, slam-dunk shoe endorsements by players have proved rare, said Todd Boyd, the professor of critical studies at Southern California known as "The Hip Hop Professor."

Reviving a classic brand
"Converse hasn't really had a name since Dr. J.," Boyd said. "Wade is a very exciting player. He's young and his career looks to be quite promising. It all depends on how much visibility he gets playing with Shaquille O'Neal.

"In order to really move a shoe, you need to get to the finals on a regular basis, or you need to be a pop culture icon, like Allen Iverson."

Even championships do not guarantee big sales. For all his rings with the Lakers, Shaq has never rivaled Jordan as a shoe salesman. Nike continued paying Bryant after his rape trial and acquittal but held off on a signature shoe.

Into all this wades Dwyane.

"He's a Chicago guy, explosive to the basket. He has a certain style the way he does things," Boyd said. "At this point, though, it's not about being the best basketball player. As great a player as Tim Duncan is, he's not going to sell any shoes. He doesn't have that persona. It's about standing above the crowd. Just being a good guy and clean-cut guy is not going to do it. "

Don't underestimate Wade's crossover move, said Thomas, Wade's business agent.

"He appeals to corporate America because he does have a clean-cut image," Thomas said. "He has no tattoos. At the same time, the way he plays, he does appeal to the hip-hop generation."

Wade's black Heat jersey sold faster than Shaq's at Champs in the Palm Beach Mall, salesmen there said, although sales of his early Converse shoes have been sporadic.

G-Unit shoes, which have helped earn 50 Cent an estimated $20 million, cooled in recent months after an earlier spike at nearby Foot Locker. Perception on the street, according to one salesman: The rapper got a big head.

Game goes beyond the court
Give kids a little credit, said another sales associate, Legrand Marseille. He thinks Wade commands respect because he has earned his contracts with his play in the NBA.

"The only reason people perceive LeBron James is bigger is because he got so much money coming out of high school," Marseille said. "Wade is actually working for his money."

Cross-promoting shoes has never been more complicated. Shoe companies are signing deals with video-game makers to feature shoes in elaborate detail on NBA players and fictional characters created by game players. In some cases, game players can earn the right to wear certain models, and some game makers plan to release game codes to allow the appearance of new shoes as they are released.

Wade landed on the cover of an upcoming video game, EA Sports' NBA Live 06, although the game company's shoe agreement is with Reebok. Shaq will appear on the cover of Take-Two Interactive's NBA 2K6 game, which features a "strategic partnership" with Nike. Wade will wear his (presumably earlier-model) Converse shoes in that virtual world, a spokesman for the game maker said.

Can Wade put new hop in Converse?

"I think Converse is betting on it," Thomas said.

'That 90's Band' Tries Again


A PERSON can run out of fingers trying to count how many years it has been since the world saw - or at least took note of - the Spin Doctors. But think on the name hard enough and that song, their monster hit "Two Princes," from 1993, will probably bore its way out of your memory with the relentlessness of a dental drill:

"If you - want to be my baby, just go ahead now.

"And if you - want to tell me maybe, just go ahead now."

You probably know the rest.

Eric Schenkman, the guitar player for the Spin Doctors, knows what people think of when they think of his band, and if he forgets, usually someone will remind him, like a customs agent who checked his passport recently: "He said, 'Hey - you were in that 90's band,' " Mr. Schenkman said, seeming more amused than annoyed.

That 90's band. Well, yes and no.

The Spin Doctors are back. Or at least they're trying like crazy to come back. Last week the original members of the band - which started playing in the basements of fraternity houses at Columbia and N.Y.U. in the late 1980's, dominated the rootsy downtown club scene and then zoomed to international fame in 1993 with their album "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" - released a new album, their first in 11 years, "Nice Talking to Me," on a small label called Ruff Nation.

But careers undone by a decade or so of bad decisions and bad luck aren't resurrected overnight.

Over a café con leche at a Cuban restaurant on West 14th Street in Manhattan, Chris Barron, the rubbery, cheerful frontman known to those who remember the Spin Doctors as the bearded guy wearing the ski cap with ear flaps in the "Two Princes" video, said a lot went down in that decade. "It's a story of rags to riches to rags," Mr. Barron said. He took a sip of his coffee. "Hopefully to riches."

To the public the Spin Doctors may have seemed overnight sensations. But the band didn't feel that way. For years the group played around New York, at downtown clubs like the Continental Divide, Nightingales and Wetlands, sharing the bill with bands like Blues Traveler and the Surreal McCoys.

Mr. Barron, 37, grew up in Princeton, N.J., and came to New York with just $100 in his pocket after dropping out of Bennington. He said he remembers trudging equipment up the stairs of a five-floor walk-up with Mr. Schenkman in those days, when the band was writing the songs that would eventually become its smash record.

"We just all had the same sense of rhythm, and there was a feeling that it was more than four guys playing," he said. "That always felt like magic."

In 1991 the band signed a deal with Epic Records for $250,000, "an unimaginable sum," Mr. Barron said. The record came out to little notice, and the band hit the road to promote it.

Months into the tour the album still languished, and executives at Epic, convinced the album contained no hits, told the band to come back to New York to work on a second record. But Aaron Comess, 37, the drummer of the Spin Doctors, said the band had faith in its record and decided to keep touring.

After a year and a half on the road, the band got word that a radio station in Vermont was playing "Two Princes" regularly. With cheerful melodies that contrasted with the angst-ridden music of Nirvana and other grunge bands at the time, "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" soon took off. The album went on to sell an astonishing five million copies, reaching triple platinum.

Mr. Barron said he remembered going to an A.T.M. in those days and being puzzled to find that his balance was over $5,000: a bank error, he assumed. A couple of weeks later his balance exceeded $11,000. He called his accountant, who explained that the increase in finances came from royalties for the band's album.

Success cut both ways. The band began to get knocked down by the music media, which found the Spin Doctors, and in particular the song "Two Princes," a little too happy. (VH1 included the tune on its list of the "50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever," tucked between "Sunglasses at Night" and "Cotton Eye Joe.")

"We had so much success we were overexposed," Mr. Barron said. "People were saying: 'I've heard this song forty thousand million times. Not again!' "

The band was getting a little sick of itself as well. Mr. Barron and Mr. Schenkman were arguing, particularly about the band's next record, which Mr. Schenkman thought was half-baked. With the band stressed and exhausted from touring, Mr. Barron said that even small disagreements broke out into big arguments.

"We were four guys who fundamentally loved each other but who didn't know how to resolve simple conflicts," he said.

On Labor Day 1993, while the band was touring to promote its second album, "Turn It Upside Down," Mr. Schenkman walked off stage from a concert in Berkeley, Calif., and left the band. He and Mr. Barron wouldn't speak for seven years.

Asked why he left, Mr. Schenkman, 41, said: "I'm still kind of wondering. I left without knowing exactly why."

The Spin Doctors found a replacement guitarist to complete their tour, but the album never caught on like "Pocket Full of Kryptonite." Still, they opened for the Rolling Stones in the United States and South America. In his mid-20's Mr. Barron had the thrill of hanging out with the Stones between sets in their "tuning room."

"I never saw anyone tuning anything in there but a vodka and orange," he said.

Without Mr. Schenkman, the band lacked its original chemistry. A third Spin Doctors album, released in 1996, tanked. And things would soon get much worse for Mr. Barron.

One morning after a show in 1999, he awoke in his Manhattan apartment and found he could barely speak. "I was used to waking up hoarse, but usually by lunchtime my voice would come back," he said. But days later he could manage only a whisper. Frantic, he sought medical help and learned that one of his vocal chords had become paralyzed and was unable to vibrate properly. He was told he had a 50-50 chance of regaining his voice.

"It was so devastating," Mr. Barron said. "I got really depressed. I was thinking really dark thoughts. " He feared for his career. Though money from "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" allowed the band members to live lavishly for a while, Mr. Barron knew the money wouldn't last.

"I didn't have anything to fall back on," he said. "I was considering mule skinning, flower arranging."

With Mr. Barron all but mute, Universal, then the Spin Doctors' label, dropped the band, a development that barely registered, he said, against his concerns over his voice.

"If your house gets bombed, you don't say 'Oh, we lost the dining room,' " he said. "I felt like everything was being taken away from me, so, you know, why not the record deal?"

Mr. Barron spent the next several months trying to get his voice back. He tried yoga, acupuncture and steroid treatments. Seven months later his voice began to return. Eventually he was able to sing again. A cause for the disorder was never found, though Mr. Barron has his suspicions.

"Was it psychological?" he asked. "I wouldn't rule it out."

"I learned a lot from it," Mr. Barron added. "I was a 22-year-old with a hit record, flying first class, traveling the world. I took it for granted, and having it taken away was a punch in the face. It's given me a tremendous amount of humility."

By the time Mr. Barron recovered, the Spin Doctors - what was left of them anyway - had dispersed. Mark White, the bass player, had moved to Texas. Mr. Comess and Mr. Barron, who now had a daughter, lived in New York, and were the only members of the band in touch with each other. Mr. Schenkman lived outside Toronto.

In 2001 the band was invited to play a reunion gig at a party for Wetlands, which was closing. Mr. Schenkman, who hadn't spoken to Mr. Barron since he walked off stage, was game, as were Mr. White and Mr. Comess. Mr. Barron, was reluctant, but went along, he said, "because I didn't want to be the jerk who said no." The reunion was tense, Mr. Barron said, but two songs into their rehearsal, it was obvious the band still had it.

"It sounds corny," Mr. Barron said. "But the music was calling out, saying, 'Where have you been?' "

The band played occasionally over the next couple of years before deciding to make another album, which they recorded in Los Angeles last fall. "Nice Talking to Me" has ripping funk guitar and upbeat melodies that will sound familiar to the Spin Doctors' fans. With only a small label to support it, the band has fallen back on a familiar path, relying on touring, rather than radio, to build an audience. The band played 10 cities in 10 days this month, no easy task for men approaching middle age.

"We're back to 'back against the wall,' going back to the smaller clubs," Mr. Schenkman said. "We're having to work like we used to in the late 80's."

Mr. Barron said the band was well aware that its original audience has aged, but he said the group hoped that its pop sensibility would bridge the gap between younger and older listeners.

"We're a band everyone can agree to listen to on a car trip," Mr. Barron said. "What should we listen to, Limp Bizkit? 'No way,' said the parents. The Doobie Brothers? 'No way,' said the kids. Spin Doctors? 'O.K.' "

Mr. Barron said that he and his band mates were getting along now, mostly.

"There's still a certain level of dysfunctionality in the band," he said. "It's our chemistry, and you wouldn't want to fix it out of superstition. But we're trying to enjoy this. We've suffered enough."

Saturday, September 24, 2005

game day

It's the morning before the big Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech football game and I can't sleep. I only have a couple hours before my friend Todd M. shows up for us to drive to Blacksburg, and I've been up answering emails. I'm excited about going, but actually more excited about meeting up with friends in Blacksburg.

I'm going to try to take some pictures today and post them to my blog tonight.

Whatever you're doing out in Steve-land this weekend, have a good time. I know I will.

Friday, September 23, 2005

top of the pops (since 1980 anyway)

Note from Steve: Fresh on the heels of yesterday's birthday song post comes this list of songs complied by Blender magazine. I don't think some of these rankings make sense.

Michael Jackson's Thriller has topped a new list of 'greatest songs' released since 1980.

The 1982 pop hit beat Outkast's B.O.B and Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O'mine in the new Blender magazine list.

Despite not appearing in the top 20, Prince has more entries in the 500 greatest Songs poll than any other artist, with seven.

Madonna follows closely behind with six.

The top 10 is:
1. Thriller - Michael Jackson
2. B.O.B - Outkast
3. Sweet Child O'mine - Guns N' Roses
4. One - U2
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
6. Like A Prayer - Madonna
7. Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
8. Sucker Mcs - Run-DMC
9. Baby One More Time - Britney Spears
10. In Da Club - 50 Cent

Marshall Field's, Macy's and the Absentocracy
Posted by: Abhijeet Chavan
Thanks to: Christopher Swope

Can big business maintain local values, even as national and international conglomerates swallow up hometown companies?

"Chicago's anguish comes from the sense of hopelessness that comes with seeing decisions that hurt the city's image being made somewhere else...Big business' civic energy was once dispersed in every community...That energy, however, is increasingly consolidated in faraway corporate boardrooms, subject to the bottom-line concerns of stockholders."

Full Story: The Absentocracy, Ctd.

Names for Storms, Hurricanes Running Out


MIAMI (AP) - Hurricane Alpha? Tropical Storm Epsilon? Before this year is out, TV forecasters and coastal residents may have to break out their Greek dictionaries if the Atlantic hurricane season keeps up its frantic pace.

There are only four names left for tropical storms and hurricanes this year: Stan, Tammy, Vince and Wilma. After that, names switch to the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and so on through Omega, if needed.

That has never happened before in roughly 60 years of regularly named Atlantic storms.

``If we get up into that league, we'll have issues larger than naming these storms,'' said Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. ``The new phrase will be hurricane fatigue. Let's coin that right now.''

So far this season, there have been 17 named storms. Forecasters expect a total of 18 to 21 when the six-month season ends Nov. 30. But with conditions in the atmosphere and Atlantic ripe for storm development, there could be more.

Currently, there are six separate 21-name lists and each of them is used every six years in a rotation. They don't include names that begin with q, u, x, y and z because there aren't enough names starting with those letters.

Only once, since record-keeping began in 1851, have there been 21 tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. That was in 1933 when forecasters didn't regularly name storms.

What's more, a storm name is retired if it causes widespread damage and deaths. So if there is a deadly Hurricane Alpha, what is it replaced with when it's retired?

``It will go to the Swahili alphabet or something else,'' joked Jim Lushine, severe weather expert at the National Weather Service in Miami.

Actually, when old names are retired, new names have to be drafted in to a database maintained specifically for Atlantic Ocean storms, said Mark Oliver, spokesman for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, which maintains the database.

``There's certain specifications which they have to meet,'' Oliver said. ``They have to be fairly easily remembered, they've got to be in alphabetical order.''

Other regions take a different approach. In Asia, storms may be given names of people, but also of flowers or other non-human beings, Oliver said. Japan does not participate in this system, preferring instead to number each storm chronologically starting anew each year.

For several hundred years, damaging hurricanes were named after the saint's day when the storm hit. For example, there was Hurricane Santa Ana which hit Puerto Rico on July 26, 1825. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there are saint's days for about a third to a half of all days.

Then, Australian meteorologist Clement Wragge began giving women's names to tropical storms before the end of the 19th century, according to the National Weather Service.

During World War II, storm naming became more common, especially among Air Force and Navy meteorologists who tracked storms over the Pacific Ocean, the weather service said.

From 1950 to 1952, the United States named storms by a phonetic alphabet, starting with Able, Baker and Charlie. That became confusing because the same names were used each year, so female names were used starting in 1953 in a list created by the National Hurricane Center. The first one was called Tropical Storm Alice.

That was considered biased against women, so men's names were added in 1978 in the Pacific and a year later in the Atlantic, with Hurricane Bob.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wearing PJs in public all the rage

Some schools unhappy with casual trend

(AP) -- "Pajama Day" was once a novelty at school, the chance to be silly and wear attire usually reserved for the privacy of home. But these days many young people -- 11-year-old Haley Small included -- are wearing PJs in public, anytime and just about anywhere.

Haley's favorite look: a T-shirt, flip-flops and pajama bottoms, with designs on them ranging from Snoopy to monkeys, basketballs to smiley faces.

"Part of it is because it's cute; but the majority of it is because it's comfortable," says the sixth-grader, who lives in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and often wears her PJs, "so I can sleep the extra five minutes." Pajama bottoms are better than jeans, she adds, because they're cool but less constricting.

Public pajama-wearing grew out of college students' long-standing habit of rolling out of bed and into class. Now pajamas are a fashion statement, with such retailers as Old Navy, Target and J.C. Penney offering myriad styles for adults, teens and preteens.

The trend isn't popular with everyone, though. School officials from Houston County, Georgia, to Katy, Texas, to Southfield, Michigan, to Bakersfield, California, have banned pajama-wearing at school.

And even some under-30s think it's inappropriate to wear them anywhere but home.

"It isn't a matter of being too casual," says Olga Shmuklyer, a 28-year-old New Yorker who readily acknowledges to being a member of the "flip-flop" generation. She simply thinks pajamas aren't flattering, for anyone. "They look like vagrants," says Shmuklyer, whose own college-age sister wears pajamas in public, much to her "dismay."

Others have noted adults getting in on the act. Preston Kirk says he was taken aback when one of the twentysomething cast members in his community theater group in Marble Falls, Texas, came to rehearsal in pajamas. "It took me an hour to figure it out," Kirk, who's 60, says of the woman's outfit. "But then, I'm 'old school."'

Haley's mom, Ellyn Small, says that the first time her daughter wanted to wear pajamas to school, "I was dead set against it." Then she realized other kids were doing it and didn't mind so much.

"The pajama bottoms and T-shirts cover just as much of her body, if not more than the clothes she would normally wear," Small says. "I'm sure there will be plenty of times down the road for me to put my foot down and tell her she can't do or wear something."

Bob Hallman, another New Yorker whose 15-year-old sports sleepwear in public, says he's also fine with it. "All I ask is that they wear PJs appropriately," he says. "Not too big and too loose, not too small and too tight."

Kristina Philips, a 20-year-old junior at Ashland University in Ohio, says she'll wear pajamas to early classes, informal meetings or when she's feeling too sick to wear regular clothes.

"But once you start wearing slippers with them, people start to make jokes about a pajama party," she says, recalling how one student got teased for doing so her freshman year.

She also believes that K-12 schools are well within their rights to impose pajama bans.

Haley, the 11-year-old in New Jersey, thinks they shouldn't make such a big deal. She says that few people at her school, teachers included, have said anything about her pajamas. She does concede, however, that she may not be given so much slack, one day.

"It would depend on what type of job I had and what day it was," she says. "If I had a press conference or something, I'd wear something nice. But I'm not a very dressed-up person myself. If you found me in a skirt, that would be amazing."

For now, retailers say the demand for pajamas only seems to be growing.

Valerie Bent, who launched the Las Vegas-based Big Feet Pajama Company a month ago, says she's heard from many people who want to wear her company's pajamas for outdoor activities -- fishing, camping and snowboarding, among them. And some young people also have told her they plan to wear the one-piece, footed PJs to school.

"I'm a kid at heart. But I couldn't even imagine wearing these out in public," Bent says, laughing. "But I guess if you're really brave ..."

september 22 article

This likely will be my only column this month, this time on how Roanoke men can interpret fall runway fashions.

Hilfiger is poster child of the demise of designers

By Roy H. Campbell / Special to The Detroit News

While Donna Karan is struggling with the floundering DKNY men's and women's collection, the most spectacular failure in designer fashion is the once high-flying Tommy Hilfiger brand.

After bursting on the scene in the late 1980s with preppy clothes awash in the colors of the U.S. flag, Tommy Hilfiger's company exploded in the '90s through its association with the hip-hop generation and rock and movie stars. His casual and moderately priced lines multiplied and accessories and perfumes followed, and then he entered the high-fashion arena with fashion shows stocked with celebrities on the runway and in the audience.

He even opened dozens of his own stores.

But a stubborn false rumor about Hilfiger's appreciation of a segment of his target audience and changing consumer tastes led to the collection losing its luster around 1999. About two years ago, Hilfiger closed many of his freestanding stores, and some department stores dropped his men's collections and other reduced sales floor space.

Last year, Hilfiger launched his upscale H Collection with an ad campaign starring supermodel Iman and her husband, David Bowie. But huge department store fashion shows around the country failed to draw an audience, and the collection bombed and was pulled from department stores a few months ago. The company, whose income fell to$1.88 billion last year, has seen a 5 percent drop in profits since 2000, and its men's sales are nearly half of what they were last decade. The struggling company plans to auction itself off in August.

Some suburban Detroit residents oppose Wal-Mart for racial reasons

LIVONIA, Mich. (AP) -- Some residents are angry about a planned 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter, making racially-charged comments about the people they say the store would attract to their suburban Detroit community.

The Livonia City Council will review the issue at an Oct. 17 meeting before voting on it Oct. 26, Marge Watson, a planning commission official, said Wednesday. Both meetings are open to the public.

On Tuesday night, the planning commission voted 6-1 to recommend the project to the city council after a six-hour-plus meeting in which more than 500 residents showed up.

The store, along with a Target and about 40 specialty shops and restaurants, would replace most of the now-defunct Wonderland Mall. The 74-acre property has been vacant since 2002.

During public meetings in August, some opponents of the project expressed fears about black people from Detroit coming to Livonia to shop and work, the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News reported.

More than 4,000 people have signed petitions opposing the plan.

Wal-Mart spokesman Roderick Scott said it is the first time the retailer has heard of racial concerns during plans to build a store.

Livonia, which is located about 20 miles west of Detroit, has a population that is less than 1 percent black and as recently as last year was known as the whitest city with a population of more than 100,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

the soundtrack of my life.

Mitch found this website that will tell you the #1 pop hits in the US and UK for practically any date north of 1955. I've been on one of those quiz kicks lately anyway, so this was right up my alley.

Here are the songs that were #1 on the day I was born (August 30, 1975):

US - Get Down Tonight - KC & The Sunshine Band Listen
UK - Can't Give You Anything (But My Love) - The Stylistics Listen

I've never heard of The Stylistics's song, but the KC song is very cool. I'm skaking my non-existant booty as I type this.

The website also claims that my "life's theme song" is the song that was #1 on my 18th birthday. I suppose that these are my life's theme songs:

US - Can't Help Falling In Love - UB40 Listen
UK - Mr Vain - Culture Beat Listen

The thing is, I don't like either of my "theme songs," though I'm sure someone that knows me would swear the UK hit was right on the money! :-)

What Song was #1 on YOUR Birthday?

goodbye bloomingdale's

Get ready to say goodbye to Bloomingdale’s.

Although the headlines on September 20th stated that the ongoing Federated Department Stores / May Company merger would result in the loss of the Marshall Field’s nameplate on May’s Midwestern stores, the news couldn’t be worse for Bloomingdale’s, the one Federated division that survived the massive rebranding of the company’s regional department store chains to Macy’s.

While Marshall Field’s dissolution was widely expected by retail analysts, as is that of the struggling Lord & Taylor division, Bloomingdale’s has always been considered the “sacred cow” of Federated’s divisions. In fact, some of the stores from May’s former operations are expected to reopen as Bloomingdale’s over the next several years.

While Bloomingdale’s fortunes look rosy at the outset, the lifespan of the division as part of Federated are bleak at best.

The reason Bloomingdale’s may die sooner than later goes back to the assertion of Federated CEO Terry Lundgren in his efforts to justify the merger with May Company and the elimination of both Federated and May’s historic regional nameplates.

"To better serve our customers in this highly competitive retailing environment, we must concentrate on our best national brands and reduce costs so we can deliver outstanding value to shoppers," said Lundgren, Federated's chairman, president and chief executive officer in a recent press release. "We believe that continuing to build Macy's and Bloomingdale's aggressively across America will accelerate our comp store sales performance and increase profitability, thereby driving shareholder value."

Is Bloomingdale’s worth saving? Not when you think about it.

In terms of history, Bloomingdale’s is tied most strongly to New York City’s modern era, but holds little historical sway in the other cities in which it operates in the Midwest and on the East and West Coasts. The loss of Bloomingdale’s in metro Los Angeles, Minneapolis or Atlanta would be of little to no impact to the local history or retail market, for example.

Compare the power of the Bloomingdale’s name to that of Marshall Field’s, Hecht’s, Rich’s and The Bon Marché, all of which are names removed or scheduled to be removed from Federated stores . All four of the names above, as well as countless others purged from Federated’s divisional lists, were identifiable icons of their respective communities with strong local and regional consumer attachment. None of these chains were deemed important enough to preserve under their historic names because they were not differentiated from the core Macy’s operation enough to justify the extra costs involved in their operation

Outside of its flirtation with national popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s when it was being led by CEO Marvin Traub, who helped innovate the franchise with spectacular marketing and merchandising, Bloomingdale’s started as and remains a relatively small, somewhat undifferentiated regional department store chain, with limited national appeal.

From a merchandising standpoint, all but a handful of Bloomingdale’s 40 stores are more similar than different than their mass-market sister chain Macy’s. The stores appeal to a niche of customer that is more affluent than the typical Macy’s customer, but less affluent than the typical Nordstrom shopper, that chain being its nearest natural competitor. The limited appeal is a liability as stores like Nordstrom, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue push a higher level of service and more exclusive brands than a typical Bloomingdale’s location.

Expansion potential
In terms of potential expansion, Bloomingdale’s has limited options. One of the things that has held up Bloomingdale’s national reputation is its selectiveness in choosing new store locations. Only communities with excellent upscale demographics and a taste for contemporary fashion have deemed worthy of the chain.

While the preservation of standards is important to the survival of any enterprise, the strict standards exacted by Federated limit Bloomingdale’s growth to roughly the 50 to 60 top market areas in the United States, with a potential build-out of approximately 80 stores.

While a conservative growth strategy to those selected markets would certainly work on paper, the distance between desirable markets would be overwhelming from a transportation and servicing standpoint, as well as the costs involved in constructing stores to fit Bloomingdale’s full-line, upscale image all across the country. With Bloomingdale’s primary market shrinking as the American middle-class decreases, and those that remain shop increasingly at big-box and luxury stores, the costs to construct a nationwide network of stores do not justify the returns.

The alternative would be a more aggressive expansion strategy to smaller markets, which may necessitate smaller, less upscale locations in the top 100 U.S. markets. While upping Bloomingdale’s profile, the addition of cheaper brands and elimination of high-expense departments like furniture pushes the store closer in character to Macy’s and may result in sales cannibalization from both its larger stores and from adjacent Macy’s locations. The loss of credibility on high-fashion merchandise and cheapening of the store experience will hurt more than it will help.

The future
The smartest thing for Federated Department Stores to do is to close out its Bloomingdale’s division and merge it into Macy’s. This scenario creates a retail operation under a single unified name all over the country, with the greatest savings coming from elimination of duplicate facilities and nameplates. Bloomingdale’s strengths in merchandising and design could be integrated into Macy’s, thereby consolidating the company’s best talents in one place.

As retail analyst Howard Davidowitz recently told Minnesota Public Radio, department stores have the highest costs in the retail industry, and Federated knows centralization works for the bottom line.

"If you've got one name, Macy's, you can save a tremendous amount of money in supplies, marketing cost, advertising umbrella, promotions. You enhance your margin because you're buying more. It's just a fantastic way to do things," according to Davidowitz.

While some in retail circles and in New York especially will lament the loss of Bloomingdale’s, the change will be for the better. By eliminating what’s not needed from a store operations standpoint, the store is more efficient, and in the parlance of Federated CEO Lundgren, the move will increase shareholder value and help produce outstanding value for consumers.