UNO hosts free concert w/Icky Blossoms, M34n Str33t, Lincoln Calling continues, blue light memories (in the column)…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 12:51 pm October 9, 2014
Icky Blossoms is the featured performer at tonight's free concert at UNO's Caniglia Stadium.

Icky Blossoms is the featured performer at tonight’s free concert at UNO’s Caniglia Stadium.

by Tim McMahan,

I’ve got to hand it to my ol’ alma mater. They could have gotten anyone to play tonight’s Maverick Mayhem homecoming pep rally / block party at Al Caniglia Field — former home of Maverick Football, now home to Maverick Soccer. They wisely chose Icky Blossoms.

So here’s your chance to not only see the Icky’s for free and (probably) hear some of the new material off their forthcoming sophomore effort on Saddle Creek Records, but to also check out the remodeled stadium and even grab some dinner (according to the invite, local food trucks will be on the scene).

Also on the bill is hip-hop royalty M34n Str33t and DJ Kethro. Like I said, it’s all free and starts at 6 p.m.

I don’t remember the university doing this sort of thing when I went to UNO. Sure, there was a homecoming pep rally somewhere, but cool bands never played. All we ever got was those lame UNO “parties” at the ol’ Warehouse in Council Bluffs, now long burned down…

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Lincoln Calling continues tonight in… Lincoln. Check out the full lineup at (And hey, White Mystery plays at Duffy’s!).

I guess ol’ Pearl Jam is playing in Lincoln tonight. You think ol’ Eddie and the crew will hang around after the show and check out some LC action? Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head…

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In this week’s column, memories of life working at Kmart as yet another local discounter goes down victim of the Walmart-ization of America. You can read it in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here.

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Over the Edge: As the blue light fades

by Tim McMahan

We headed out to Kmart Saturday after I read via The Reader‘s Facebook page that the store was closing.

First thing I noticed after bracing my way through the crowd headed the other direction with armloads of stuffed white poly bags was the gray tape stripe on the floor. It split in two directions, one toward Health & Beauty, the other toward Apparel.

Neon orange signs had been taped on shelves, on end-caps, on stacks of appliances piled on the floor. “Closing sale. 10 to 30 percent off lowest marked price!” It wasn’t much of a discount, but it was only the first week. That number would climb higher — 25 to 50 percent. 75 percent. Until nothing was left but broken toys.

I wasn’t there to pick up deals. I was there to see if I recognized anyone from the old days. Foolish. My co-workers were long gone. I worked at Kmart right out of high school. Back then, this store on 134th and Maple was located off 108th and Maple — 108th Emmett, to be precise.

Unlike today, when any tat-covered, blue-haired teenager with a pissed off look can get a job at almost any store, restaurant or fast-food joint, in the early ’80s, part-time jobs were scarce. I’d applied at all the usual places — Baker’s, Food City, even a telemarketing place on 90th Street. I never got a call back.

The only reason I got that Kmart job was because my dad, who owned a salvage store in Fremont, had done business with Mr. Speckman, the store manager. Even then, it took some convincing, but I got on, hauling manure and watering plants in the Garden Shop after being indoctrinated in the checkouts. When summer ended, I sold appliances and picked up extra hours in the warehouse.

I loved working at Kmart. And though it’s been more than 25 years, I still dream about it and remember some of the arcane numeric systems — the codes. For example, all employees were given a number used for in-store announcements. My number was 32, as in “Thirty-two to the registers please, 32.” Steve was 41. Matt was 51. Rob was 55. Janie was 2. The store manager was 300. Strangely, I don’t remember my old girlfriend’s number. There’s probably a reason for that.

Every product category also had a number. Hardware was Dept. 5. Home improvement was 61. Appliances was 6. School supplies was 25. Housewares, 41. Toys, 4. Glassware, 22. Some nights, instead of counting sheep, I run through these numbers in my head in an effort to nod off.

The work was mundane. Time was divided between the checkouts, stocking shelves, warehouse work or helping customers. If you had something to do, time went by fast. If you didn’t, it crawled. There were no smart phones to fill in the empty spaces. I don’t know how anything gets done at discount stores these days. I know if I’d had a smart phone back then, I never would have gotten anything done.

Eventually they trusted me enough to let me work overnight stocking shelves, where they literally locked you in — to protect both you and them from thieves. One night I was handed a can of lacquer thinner and a putty knife and was told to scrape the old red tape-stripe off the linoleum floor. That red stripe had to be gone by sun-up to make way for the new gray tape.

The first thing I did after they locked me in was carry a boom box from the appliances department to the courtesy counter, where I taped down the handle on the PA microphone (used to announce Blue Light Specials). By pointing the mic at the boom box, I became the store’s resident deejay. It would be the first and last time bands like Guadalcanal Diary, The Reivers and The Replacements would ring throughout a Kmart.

The beauty of any hourly job was knowing your day started when you punched the clock and ended when you punched the clock again. Every Friday after 5 p.m., we all walked to the cash cage in the back of the store and picked up an envelope. That’s right. Kmart paid its hourly employees in cash once a week. I guess they figured we would spend some of our hard-earned money before we left the store, and most of us did.

I worked part-time at Kmart for five years, which helped pay my way through UNO. My last wage was $5.10 an hour. I quit shortly after I got an internship at Union Pacific that led to a freelance job that led to a career. I remember picking up my last envelope and saying goodbye to my comrades, like a parolee leaving prison, knowing some of them were bound to end up lifers.

I left them all behind. I couldn’t tell you where ol’ 41 or 55 or 51 or 2 are today. Some of them, like me, moved onto other jobs and other lives. Some of them are dead. And some of them still work at Kmart somewhere, but not at this store, not today.

Eventually there will be no more Kmarts. Every store will be squeezed out of the market by Wal-mart and Cosco and Sam’s Club. And when the last Kmart closes, we’ll lose a piece of merchandising history that will fade away like the dimming glow of a Blue Light Special and the echoing call in the distance of  “Attention Kmart shoppers…

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.