Shadows of the Past

Palimpsest.

I was reading a novel, and the author kept using this word. I remember learning the meaning of palimpsest a long time ago, but I forgot over time because it’s not the sort of word that gets used a lot in casual conversation.

pal·imp·sest | ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest | noun 

• a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. 
• something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

It’s an unfortunate and often frustrating fact of life, but things are always in motion. Entropy is the law of the land. I see it every time I return to places I used to live. I spent a large part of my life living in more or less the same area, and seeing the changes as I drive through certain parts of town makes me a little bit melancholy.

Time ate the 1980s for a snack. An ice cream shop I loved in childhood is long gone. The SupeRX pharmacy where my father worked when I was little eventually became a Rite-Aid. I don’t think many people even remember SupeRX.

I stole this image from a blog about the history of the Kroger-SupeRX drug stores. If you’re really curious, you can read the whole timeline here.

The movie theatre where I saw “Ghostbusters” and “The Goonies” and “Karate Kid Part 2” was razed and reborn as a Ross Dress For Less. The theatre where I saw “Superman 2” and “The Great Muppet Caper” was flattened and left as an ugly portion of strip-mall. The original, really awesome Chuck E Cheese was turned into a Cinema and Drafthouse until that too failed. (Which is good- I still blame them for my mistake of watching “Se7en” while eating pizza. Bad idea.)

The Candyland Arcade, a huge favorite in my high school days, is nothing at all now. The same goes for the comic book store that was a few doors down from the arcade. My father switched from SupeRX to Albertsons, but that store is gone now too, bought up by Publix.

Time went clogging on into the 90s. My mental map of Palm Beach Community College doesn’t contain all the buildings that are there now. It doesn’t even have a third of them. A big ugly fence went up around my old high school- as much to keep the kids in as to keep interlopers out, I imagine.

The Clock Family Restaurant, a big favorite haunt in the early 1990s, is long gone, replaced first by a Denny’s, and then later on by a Tijuana Flats and a Sleep Number mattress store. (There’s still a Clock in Gainesville, but it’s not the one I know.)

The Motorola factory where I earned my paycheck in 1995 has been demolished and rebuilt as fashionable condos and shopping. Dad started working for Winn Dixie Pharmacy, and he managed to retire before most of the Winn Dixie stores vanished from the area.

Four different movie theatres that I worked in have been closed or demolished. One of them is an L.A. Fitness now. The Carefree Theatre, home to so many of the best stories of my early twenties, was first abandoned, then knocked down, and is now an open field awaiting the construction of fashionable little condos. The car dealership next to it has been demolished to make way for, you guessed it, more fashionable little condos.

The places where I went to dance and love and breathe in the music in the late 1990s are almost all gone now. I already talked about the Embassy Music Hall in a previous post; it’s a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery now.

When I moved back to Orlando in 2017, after eighteen years away, the same thing happened. The places I knew in Orlando were gone, or irrevocably changed. The roads were different in places.

With all of this change, it’s no wonder that the word palimpsest resonates with me. With new names overlaid onto old places and the ghosts of all my past lives marching past with every visit, it’s a concept that I’ve been keenly aware of for a very long time.

When I go past a place that was part of my life before, I see every version of it that ever was. My memory is often absolutely terrible, but I remember the past clearly when it comes to this.

Palimpsest. The shadows of the past overlaid onto whatever crap is there now. I just wish it wasn’t such a clunky word. Palimpsest doesn’t really roll off the tongue easily, you know?

Now nostalgia… there’s a word that springs easily to the lips.

What are you nostalgic for?

46/52 (and 25 of 30!)

Two They Might Be Giants Shows, Twenty Years Apart

I went downtown to see They Might Be Giants this week.  The show was at a venue called The Beacham, which is a large and venerable concert space right on Orange Avenue.

TMBG did a rollicking two-set show, where they served as their own opening act.  They made jokes about Clippy the paperclip and Phil Collins, and kept their audience thoroughly entertained while doing a combination of their classic hits and their new stuff.

While I was listening to “Whistling In The Dark,” I was thinking about the last time I saw this band- twenty years ago, at another show in Orlando.  They Might Be Giants played at the Embassy Music Hall in 1998.

When I lived in Orlando twenty years ago, the Embassy Music Hall was part of my regular rotation of clubs to go dancing; they had a Wednesday night (as far as I can recall) with lots of 80s and new wave music. I have loads of great memories of dancing there with friends.

The Embassy was a nondescript looking place, situated on the side of a big shopping plaza off Lee Road.  It was kind of nondescript, even when it was open.  This picture is long after the Embassy closed, but it didn’t look much different than this:

The Embassy had a regular rotation of amazing concerts.  While I was looking up details about the club for this post, I found information about shows by Love and Rockets, KMFDM, Green Day, Primus, The Damned, Collective Soul, The Lemonheads, Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, all from the late 1990s.  I got to see TMBG there in ’98, and I also saw Project Pitchfork and Front 242 there.   The Embassy Music Hall was awesome.

Sometime in 1999, Embassy shut its doors and was re-imagined as a sort of after-hours raver club called Cyberzone.  Cyberzone had problems right away, including multiple drug arrests and the deaths of two people.  I never went during the Cyberzone era, and the club closed in early 2001.

I hadn’t heard much about the place in a really long time, so while I was getting ready to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in two decades, I checked in on the old place with some Google Map action.

It’s a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery now.

Yup, that sounds about right*.

*There’s a song on TMBG’s 1992 album Flood called “Minimum Wage.”  It uses a whip-crack to hilarious effect.   Seems about right.

What happened to your favorite places from years ago?

Things end.

This week, I received a notification that AOL Instant Messenger is ending.    On December 15th of this year, the service that was the biggest part of my social life from the mid-1990s until just a year or two ago will go offline for the last time.

Up until fairly recently, I was always logged into AIM-  if my computer was on, my screen name was active.  At one point, I had collected nearly a dozen screen names-  some were used for work, but most were personal.  AIM was the way that we spoke between departments during my early years at my previous Mr. Company, because nobody had invented Slack yet and “team chats” were a fairly nascent idea.

Lately, the AIM buddy list is a ghost town-  there are only a handful of people who still connect, and most of those have their screen names configured to mobile devices.  I would venture a guess that at least half of them don’t even realize they’re still signed in- it’s that slow there now.

AOL Instant Messenger is just one more thing in the ever-growing bucket of things from my past that are gone now, things that I miss quite a lot.   AIM and Yahoo Messenger, both removed from heavy usage by their parent companies were one giant part of my life for most of the last twenty years.

So too was LiveJournal, at least from 2002 until around 2011.  The communities there were wonderful, and I made fast friends through those interactions.   I’ve been commenting in recent posts about the process of going through my old LiveJournal to move worthwhile content over here to WordPress while simultaneously preparing to close out the original LJ.  This is for two reasons:  The first is that LiveJournal was purchased by a Russian company a few years back and they have since moved their data from US-based servers to hardware that is actually located in Russia.  The second, and far more personal reason to close out LiveJournal is that it’s a ghost town-  most of my closest LJ friends have since deleted their accounts, and there’s only a handful of people from my list who still frequent the platform.  Posting there in 2005 was like being in a well attended warm and friendly party.  Posting there now is like shouting into an empty factory.

Things change, time passes, and many of the things that I love have faded away.

When I moved to Orlando, there were two restaurants downtown that I really enjoyed:  Frank & Steins, which was a delicious hot-dogs and beer joint, and the Red Mug diner, which was a 24 hour diner at first.

First they cut the Red Mug in half-  they said that the right side would be a new Poke concept restaurant.  Then they cut the 24 hour aspect on weekdays, saying that it was summer hours and you could still go there in the middle of the night on Friday and Saturday nights.   Finally, they said never mind all that other stuff we said, and we’re just closing the place up.

Frank & Steins was closed up to renovate and reopen as a “food hall” concept, but all the super delicious food on the original menu is gone, and my tongue weeps in gustatory grief.

I was going to include Smash Burger in this list, because the one in Oakland Park closed, but I was delighted to find this chain is alive and well in Central Florida.  Smash is one of my top-five favorite burgers, although my brother doesn’t like it so much.

So many of my memories are about food, now that I think about it.  My mental map of my adopted German hometown Regensburg is marked almost entirely by where the food is.    And then there’s the Navajo.

The Navajo sandwich was a Cheesecake Factory staple for years-  chicken, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a dash of mayonnaise served on this delicious thick sourdough bread, and I would order it more than any other thing in the restaurant.  When I came back from Germany, the Navajo was nowhere to be found.  Gone from the menu, without a trace.    A Google search shows that I am not the only person who laments its absence from the menu.  Someone even set up a Twitter account as the sandwich looking for work, but even that faded out after 2013.

Damn, now I’m hungry.

What thing do you miss that is gone from your past?