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A pixilated Santa, an inflated TIF handout and related writers



When you think about it, the first science-fiction story you ever hear is the legend of Santa Claus. He's an immortal humanoid of uncertain origin with far-reaching powers of omniscience (he knows if you've been bad or good) and mind control (to you, he's a cherubic puppet with the voice of Mickey Rooney; in the mind's eye of the fella next to you, he's Tim Allen), and he spreads pagan tidings in a month of rigid religious observation. On the human-imagination continuum, that's somewhere between the Norse gods and James T. Kirk, just a few clicks to the left of Philip K. Dick's paranoid psychotics. From guileless, pliant child to manipulative, nostalgic adult, Kris Kringle works in the corner office of the collective consciousness.

Santa's shape-shifting allure finds its outer limits in Gillham Park. The 8-bit version that towers above children at 41st Street and Gillham looks as though he hears the kids' wishes — hears those wishes and can't wait to bend them into night terrors. If he could talk, he would sound like a Speak & Spell, set to repeat "ho ho ho" in that malevolent monotone. If he could smell, he would detect a faint whiff of seasonal affective disorder.

Alan Scherstuhl, in his online photo essay "Kansas City's Dot Matrix Winter Wonderland" (December 8), writes: "A pixilated leviathan of holiday cheer, this block-headed Santa Claus lords over ... children and parents who gather for chilly fun during the day and get the holy hell away at night. Much of the rest of the park has that old-school computer look, too." The effect, Scherstuhl concludes, is a playground that seems to have been designed to recall "the never-released Nintendo 64 game Super Mario's 3-D Depressing Christmas."

And that's before Scherstuhl gets to the statue of the "lumpish, no-handed, cloven-hoofed cowgirl" that looks like "some abstract Henry Moore stolen from the Nelson and repainted by kids."

Save the Taquito

You know who's like Santa Claus, only real? The people on the Kansas City TIF Commission. The miracle-working pixies in charge of tax-increment financing never forget that everyone has a wish list — especially the commission's own advisers.

QuikTrip apparently doesn't need Santa. A brand-new outpost of the spotless chain just turned down a piece of season-appropriate mincemeat pie, leaving a projected $1.6 million of TIF sales, income and property taxes on the table. This QT happens to have gone up on the site of the former Bill Woods Ford dealership — a parcel within the boundaries of a 2005 TIF plan meant to hasten construction of a replacement for Antioch Center. But the Hotzi-breakfast-biscuit-and-Quikaccino business is blue-chip these days, thank you very much, so the tax revenue will instead help make nearby Sherwood Estates more pedestrian-friendly with infrastructure improvements.

The North Kansas City School District, which has to walk uphill in the snow just to get milk money from the TIF Commission, had a couple of questions. As Pitch columnist David Martin reported online last week ("NKC schools question dispersal of taquito tax," December 10), the district's chief financial officer wanted to know how the QT's property taxes would be spent.

At the December 10 TIF Commission board meeting, Paul Harrell, the school district's CFO, said the district was prepared to support the plan, which would take an estimated $529,907 in property-tax revenue away from schools, libraries and other property-tax-reliant entities. First, though, Harrell asked the TIF Commission to consider possible conflicts of interest — the commission had named itself the developer of the QuikTrip parcel. Oh, Paul, you Scrooge. Here, drink this 96-ounce Dr Pepper with green-apple syrup, one of 39 reflux-inducing combinations of sodas and flavors at your neighborhood QT.

Another potential conflict under discussion at the meeting, Martin writes: Jim Rice, the CEO of city-supported nonprofit Northland Neighborhoods, Inc., sits on a committee that advises the TIF Commission about which public improvements the Antioch Center TIF plan should fund. A document his committee prepared indicates that Northland Neighborhoods would be in line to receive some of that money.

His ethics questioned, Rice jumped out of his chair to defend Northland Neighborhoods. "I guarantee the words nonprofit organization have meaning in our case," he said.

Eventually, the TIF Commission passed a measure recommending that the City Council approve the diversion of QuikTrip's taxes. The neighborhoods around Antioch Center will get new sidewalks to lead children to the same old schools. Thanks — hurry back, now.

Do Juniors Dream of Electric Sheep?

There are two kinds of people: those who believe that they have a novel in them and those who say it's actually a screenplay.

For the former, there's National Novel Writing Month, a decade-old challenge in which tens of thousands of typists with Inter­net access attempt to complete 50,000 words of manuscript in 30 days. According to the Web site that charts the results, about 15 percent of 2007's more than 100,000 participants did it.

Last month, 16-year-old Nathan Goldman counted himself a closer. The Shawnee Mission East High School junior submitted an untitled sci-fi novel chronicling an alternate reality. His dystopic vision includes a federal "Office of Stability" that oversees displays of emotion and a society in which musicians are hunted as terrorists for holding underground concerts.

Nathan's mother, Martha Gershun, and his 13-year-old sister, Sarah Goldman, also wrote novels for the contest. Sarah worked the fantasy genre; Gershun, the former executive director of the national literacy organization Reach Out and Read, for her book reconsidered the five Books of Moses as a management tutorial.

Nathan's previous titles include the vampire allegory Reaper, written when he was in ninth grade, and the sci-fi tale Anatomy of an Eyeball, which examines ignorance, wisdom, good, evil and various gray areas.

Pitch staff writer Justin Kendall praised Nathan's latest emo-fi last week ("Two teen scribes and their writing mom make up a novel family," December 11), having read what he called a "captivating" first chapter.

The contest's Web site reminds would-be Hugo Award contenders and National Book Award hounds that several entrants have sold their works, with one novel ending up a best-seller. The late Philip K. Dick (born 80 years ago this week) would have been ... really fucking freaked out.

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