Wednesday, May 14, 2014


When I was young my mother did much of our clothing shopping at a tiny chain store called Richman Gordman. The store was only located in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas and had very few locations. But one of those locations was about a mile away from my parents. And like a Kohl's or a Gordman's (the current iteration of Richman Gordman), the store carried a variety of everything. There was clothes and shoes and housewares. But it was even better than Kohl or Gordman's because, Richman Gordman had Zooland.

We kids loved to go shopping because of four fiberglass animals that were set up in one of the back corners of the store. There was a big blue and red elephant that was a slide, a green hippo that was a tunnel, a yellow kangaroo that had both a balance beam and a climbing area, and an orange camel that was a fort. My favorite was always the elephant. In between his front feet was a set of stairs that spiraled up to his head. And the slide was his trunk. I loved going down the slide but I really loved the red twisting stairs inside. The play area was a dream play area. These four animals seemed huge and magical (at least to my tiny self). I can still remember the feeling of the painted fiberglass of the elephant's trunk. To say that I loved this playland was an understatement.

Of course as I got older, I got embarrassed by the play area and stopped going there to play. And then I got too big to climb on them. I think I was 13 or 14 when the store near us closed, but I'd stopped playing in Zooland a long time before. In my youth I didn't even think of where the animals would be shipped to. I know now that many of them went to private buyers. Just recently I started to get nostalgic for some of the things of my childhood and I went looking for pictures of the animals. But I found even more than that. I found out that Omaha Children's Museum not only managed to find some of them, but have refurbished them as playground equipment in the museum. They have all four animals and a whole new generation of children are playing on them. I think I need to take a road trip. If you're in Omaha and stumble into the Children's Museum to find a woman weeping next to a blue and red elephant, don't be alarmed. It's just me, reliving my childhood.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


This afternoon* I started humming along to Aquarela do Brasil. It's a catchy upbeat song, but I only really hum it when I'm frustrated at work. I blame Terry Gilliam. Well blame's the wrong word. I'm a Terry Gilliam fan but one of his movies ruined me. When I say that Brazil by Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite movies, it should tell you something about me. At least if you've seen the film. I'm actually surprised that I haven't mentioned it here before. It's such an odd film.

Brazil is a dystopian satire starring Jonathan Pryce as a mild mannered businessman in a horrible bureaucracy that becomes obsessed with a woman from his dreams. He's investigating the death of a man at the government's hands after a technical mix-up when he runs into the exact woman. And suddenly he's involved with an air-conditioning terrorist, his dream woman, a sadistic friend who tortures people for a living, his plastic surgery obsessed mother, and a government that will control people however they can. Did I mention it's an odd film?

The movie was made in 1985 so don't go watching it expecting the visuals to be amazing. In fact some of the dream sequences make me cringe a little. But the world that Gilliam creates is what makes the film so incredible for me. The look of the stores and restaurants. The winding corridors of the bureaucracy where Pryce works. The tiny cars and the billboarded roads. It was the first time that I saw real true world-building. Gilliam creates a world that seems far fetched but it also seems real. And he uses that world to paint some interesting pictures of our world.

I've always loved dystopian stories. I think I'm drawn to the darkness of them and the dreams of escape that the story normally tells. The government in this film is not some faceless organization like in many other dystopians. In this one, we see inside since Pryce's character works for the bureaucracy. And that makes it all the more creepy. Michael Palin manages to make torture seem both horrific and all in a days work, something that still stays with me.

I mentioned it was dark right?

This is a thinking man's acid trip of a movie. Brazil is one of those movies you have to watch to understand. It's quirky, disturbing, and very silly. Just what you expect from Gilliam. And it's still one of my favorite movies.

*{by this afternoon I mean a week ago when I started this post}