Archive for October, 2017

Like many people, I’ve been thinking a lot about Stephen Paddock and where and why he might have gone so far astray from the general human track of wanting to live a good life and be a good person.

Today, with the benefit of an insightful sermon at my church, Country Club Christian (tee times available dawn to late afternoon), I closed in on a theory.

The sermon, delivered by guest preacher Dr. Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, was about the importance of physical touch. “We are hungry for human touch…” Dr. Volf said. “Redeeming touch…A touch of mutual delight.”

Dr. Volf’s springboard to that topic was a New Testament story about a woman, a sinner, who, after learning Jesus was having dinner at the nearby home of a Pharisee, went there to seek him out. Luke’s gospel continues…

So, she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When Dr. Volf began talking about the power of touch and the innate human yearning for it, my mind jumped immediately to Paddock.

The most prominent thing we know about Paddock is that he spent hour after hour, day after day, sometimes week after week, sitting silently in front of video poker machines, often winning because of his methodical style and skill level.

A New York Times story said: “The way he played — instinctually, decisively, calculatingly, silently, with little movement beyond his shifting eyes and nimble fingers — meant he could play several hundred hands an hour.”

Although he had plenty of money, he didn’t have much of a life outside the casinos. We know he was unfriendly and uncommunicative with neighbors. Yes, he had a girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who apparently left what had been a solid marriage of about 25 years to take up with the high-rolling Paddock, who had been a customer at a casino where she formerly worked. Danley has told the FBI that in recent months Paddock seemed to be deteriorating both physically and mentally.

…Well, if you don’t like people and your life has revolved for years around machines with blinking lights and electronic playing cards, what else would you expect?

He probably was disposed this way, but my theory is that over time those machines gradually drained and consumed whatever traces of human feeling and innate goodness he ever had. Just sucked it out of him, as steadily as pigs slurp water from a trough.

Again, he had the girlfriend, but I can see how, trapped in the vortex of the blinking machines, he could easily have withdrawn even from her. Very likely, at the start of their relationship they had significant physical contact, perhaps even genuine warmth, but I would be curious to know the last time there was “a touch of mutual delight.”

The fact that he sent her off to the Philippines and sent her, or her family, $100,000 to buy a house certainly indicates a desire to push her away.

Stephen Paddock, in short, had descended into nihilism. Nothing meant anything to him — not family, not money, not his girlfriend, maybe not even the blinking machines. Either that, or the machines’ insidious allure had erased all semblance of emotion and human meaningfulness in him and all he saw when he looked in the mirror was a black void.

Of course, that doesn’t explain how he catapulted to the next step — raining automatic gunfire on thousands of people a week ago today in Las Vegas. All I can think is that, from the recesses of his dimming mind, he decided not only his life was meaningless but so was everybody else’s. And so, in his final, nihilistic gesture, he tapped the only other skill he had kept up with — gun manipulation and usage.

Those people meant nothing to him. They were like those millions of electronic cards that had passed before his eyes on those screens; they were merely images to be manipulated — mowed down, in his demented perspective — to suit his will. His sense of physical touch, of human connection, was long gone.

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Does anybody out there remember Fairyland Park? The former amusement park at 75th and Prospect, which was later bisected by Bruce R. Watkins Drive, a.k.a. U.S. 71?

Many of you do, I’m sure.

But one person who obviously doesn’t remember Fairyland is The Star’s music writer, Tim Finn.

Finn has been at The Star about 30 years, and I would have thought he would have heard about Fairyland somewhere along the line but…

In reporting today that 1970s rock’n’roll star Bob Seger was postponing several shows, including one in Kansas City, because of vertebrae problems, Finn wrote the following:

“Seger previously performed in Kansas City in March 2015, a show at the Sprint Center. His history in Kansas City goes back to the mid-1970s, when he played at Kemper Arena, Municipal Auditorium and a place called Fairyland Park.”

I wish he would have at least Googled Fairyland Park so he wouldn’t have made it sound like it was some place in outer space.

…I arrived in KC in the fall of 1969, when Fairyland was well on the way to extinction. I missed the glory days — the 1950s and 1960s, when, according to Wikipedia, Fairyland “boasted 3 roller coasters, an 8 story ferris wheel (which was bent in half during tornado), a swimming pool (double olympic size — closed in late 50s), bumper cars, a shooting range and even a petting zoo at one time.”

In a 2014 KCUR-FM story, reporter Laura Ziegler recounted the long and mostly successful history of Fairyland. It was developed and opened on 80 acres by the late Salvatore “Sam” Brancato, a Sicilian immigrant and blacksmith who had come to the States in 1896.

“After settling in Kansas City,” Ziegler wrote, “he went into the grocery business, then began buying up real estate. He opened Fairyland Park in 1923. It would be in the family until its closing in 1977.”

It quickly became a popular destination, but it was fading by the late ’60s, in no small part because of civil rights protests regarding its largely “whites-only” policy. In the early ’70s, it turned to rock’n’roll shows to try to come back. Performers, according to Wiki, included REO Speedwagon, Dr. Hook, Blue Oyster Cult and Charlie Daniels. Obviously, Bob Seger performed there, too, although I didn’t know that until reading Finn’s story today.

The nail in Fairyland’s coffin, according to Laura Ziegler’s story, was the 1974 opening of Worlds of Fun. Among other things, WOF staged musical acts every Friday evening during the summer, as I recall. I remember seeing an Osmond-Brothers-type group called The DeFranco Family at Worlds of Fun and being enthralled. (A former roommate still trashes me about that. Truth is, after the ’60s, I lost my musical traction and stumbled around in the desert for several years, including being reeled in by disco.)



Like I said, I missed Fairyland’s heyday. But I do remember being there once. In fact, I have a photo of me and a young lady who were there on a hot Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember what the occasion was — some kind of gathering or party. At the time, I was a young reporter covering my first beat, the Jackson County Courthouse, where I was assigned from 1971 to 1978.

The woman I was with that day was Susan Reeder, who was administrative assistant to then-Jackson County Executive George W. Lehr.  

While Susan and I never dated seriously, we got together occasionally, mostly out of convenience. There was some mutual attraction there, plus some common interests, like drinking and partying, but nothing ever came of the relationship.

I have no idea what happened to Susan…if she married, if she is still in town, if she is still alive. I do remember that day very well, though, mostly because of the photo, which, in my opinion, is a classic.

I believe it was taken by a Star photographer who was there on assignment. I think we just ran into each other and he snapped the photo. The photographer might have been Vic Damon, who liked to take photos of reporters when they were on the job. (In this one, of course, I wasn’t working!)

In any event, check out this photo of a young JimmyC and his young date, on a Sunday afternoon when neither had a care in the world and were joyous to be at a place called Fairyland Park.


Note: Commenter Tim Bross of St. Louis noted the resemblance between Susan and the late actress Jill Clayburgh, who died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2010. Here’s a photo of Jill…



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