Panda’s Aloha Surf

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So here we are, 12 years into my Tiki journey, which started with the making of my first music compilation CD, Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour. Fast forward to today and my 31st music disc, Panda’s Aloha Surf. This is my 5th Surf CD but first in 3 years.

I’ve had a lot of Tiki travels in the past 3 years. Anaheim CA for the 50th anniversary of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. Fort Lauderdale FL for the Hukilau in 2014. Wildwood NJ for That Wildwood Tiki Weekend last June.

I’ve met a lot of new friends during that time, including some talented musicians. Nick Pokrivchak of Great White Caps. John Bartley of Five-Eaux. Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge. Gary Evans and Brian Crum of The Intoxicators!. Jimmy Stingray and Barry Apfel of Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays.

To these wonderful players and the other great Surf music bands: this compilation is dedicated to you. It was made by you. Mahalo!

Panda's Aloha Surf CD

Listen to the playlist here:

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Tiki Ohana – Builders

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The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

 

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LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

 

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Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

 

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Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

 

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

 

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.

Tiki Temples

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These are the houses that Tiki built. Part restaurant, part bar, part nightclub; all aloha spirit. This partial list of Tiki temples represents the Meccas for Tiki geeks, like me, to visit as often as possible. If possible. Some of these places are gone now, torn down or closed up in the name of … progress?

A proper Tiki temple is a place you can go (or could have gone) to escape the real world for a little while. Enjoy a strong, rum-based drink with many layers of flavor. Chow on some Pu-Pu, typically Asian fare with some Polynesian flair. Listen to some cool music, like Exotica, Lounge, Hawaiian, or Surf, preferably performed live. If you’re lucky, catch a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe, including the amazing Samoan Fire Knife dance.

Here are some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see for myself, either in-person or through some second-hand tales that inspired me.

 

imageThe Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale FL (1956-present). This is the granddaddy of them all, 58 years old and still going strong. The Mai-Kai is the perfect Tiki temple: great drinks, fine food, wonderful atmosphere, and the most authentic Polynesian entertainment outside of the South Pacific. I’ve been there a handful of times now and can’t wait to go back. You don’t have real Tiki cred until you’ve stamped your passport at The Mai-Kai.

 

imageThe Kahiki, Columbus OH (1961-2000). Full disclosure: I’ve never been to The Kahiki. A few years before I started my Tiki journey, this temple was torn down to make way for a Walgreens store. A fucking Walgreens! However, I do feel a connection to this historic place, as I described in one of the many “worlds colliding” segments of my Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog post last year (24Nov2013). Jeff Chenault just published a new book, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, which chronicles the history of how a cold Midwestern town came to host one of the most elaborate Tiki temples ever built. I look forward to checking it out.

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando FL (1971-present). This is my happy place. My family has vacationed at WDW four times, and we always stay at The Poly. We’re going back for our fifth trip next month! The Polynesian Village Resort takes the Tiki temple to another level: an escape for an extended stay. All of the elements are here, with the addition of authentic Polynesian architecture and amenities. This is a South Pacific paradise conveniently located in Central Florida.

 

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Painkiller, New York NY (2010-13). At the other end of the spectrum, we have this wonderful Tiki bar nestled into an unlikely neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sadly, PKNY closed their doors when they lost their lease last year, but not before I had the chance to visit. I joined my friends Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase of Primitiva in Hi-Fi for a night of merriment with fantastic Tiki drinks, great music, and surprisingly authentic Polynesian decor. Mahalo, Jack and Gina!

 

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Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Anaheim CA (2011-present). Disney strikes again, this time in Disneyland with the opening of their own Tiki bar with a Jungle Cruise twist. I wrote all about my visit to Trader Sam’s last year in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles (02Jan14). This place has become so popular that Disney plans to open another version of it at…wait for it…The Polynesian Village Resort at WDW. Oh, happy day in my happy place! If only it was open in time for my trip next month. Oh, well.

 

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Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago IL (2013-present). Another great new Tiki temple in an urban setting, this gem opened just over a year ago. Owner Paul McGee has already won awards for his upscale Tiki bar Three Dots and A Dash in downtown Chicago, which looks like a speakeasy from the outside. Inside, down a flight of stairs, you’ll find a sprawling restaurant and bar with meticulously crafted Tiki drinks, great food, and lush Polynesian decor. And the waitresses are pretty cute 😉

 

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The Yachtsman, Philadelphia PA (2014-present). Somewhere between PKNY and Three Dots and A Dash lies the latest urban Tiki bar I’ve visited. The Yachtsman just opened last month in the Fishtown section of Philly, and it has the feel of a cool neighborhood bar. Don’t let that description fool you, though; this place is steeped in Tiki culture. The owners are veterans of the Philly restaurant scene, but they take their Tiki drinks very seriously, with fresh, homemade ingredients and expert craftsmanship. The decor is spot-on Tiki, and they plan to start serving food soon. The Yachtsman has all the makings of a proper Tiki temple, and should become a great one in time. I look forward to my next visit!

So these are the Tiki temples I know or have some experience with. There are many other great places I haven’t been to that are just as wonderful: Don The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, The Tiki Ti. I need another trip to California! There are also some brand new places I need to check out, like Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans and Suzanne Long’s Longitude in Oakland. I hope to do that soon, in my continuing Tiki journey. I hope you’ll join me there for a Mai-Tai, some Pu-Pu and a great escape. Mahalo!

Tiki Music: Surf

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Surf music, like jazz, is an eminently American creation. I believe it’s an essential part of Tiki culture, starting in Mid-Century Modern America and flourishing worldwide today. Like Tiki, surf music took a break in popularity starting in the late 1960s, but was revived in the mid 1990s.

Let’s start with the classics. The Beach Boys. Dick Dale and The Del-Tones. The Ventures. Jan & Dean. The Surfaris. The list goes on, but this is pretty representative of the Surf music legends who stormed the beaches of Southern California in the early 1960s. My favorite Surf songs are still Hawaii Five-O and Wipe Out, going back to my preteen days. I’ve always favored the instrumental music of The Ventures to the vocal surf tunes of The Beach Boys, and the instrumental style has better withstood the test of time. Dick Dale has a foot in both camps and is still going strong, but he can do whatever he wants, because, after all, he IS the King of the Surf Guitar!

So, here’s a list of the Surf music artists I’ve been listening to for the past 30 years, with a brief description of their style and where I first heard them.

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The Ventures: The Best of The Ventures (1987). These guys started it all for me in junior high. They actually covered a lot of songs, but they made Hawaii Five-O their own. I just saw The Ventures play last year in Bethlehem PA and they sounded great!

 

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Dick Dale and The Del-Tones: Greatest Hits 1961-76 (1992). The King of the Surf Guitar, and arguably the greatest guitar player on Earth. Dick Dale’s been playing non-stop since 1961, and his popularity was rejuvenated when his classic version of Misirlou was used as the theme song for Pulp Fiction in 1994.

 

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The Ultras: Surf Pop Sludge (1993). I first heard these guys on college radio in Lancaster PA. They were a nice blend of tribute and tongue-in-cheek, doing both vocal and instrumental Surf originals. The Ultras had the King of the Sludge Guitar!

 

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The Halibuts: Life on the Bottom (1996). I found this gem in a small music store in Chicago (my first listening post experience) and haven’t stopped listening to it for almost 20 years. The Halibuts played some of the most melodic instrumental Surf music you’ll ever hear.

 

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Red Elvises: Surfing in Siberia (1997). 4 cats from Russia move to LA and start playing Surf music. You can’t make this shit up! I first saw these guys play at Musikfest in Bethlehem in 1999, where they became a staple for years. Sadly, Red Elvises lost their mojo when their lead guitarist Zhenya left the band only a few years later.

 

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Los Straitjackets: ¡Damas y Caballeros! Los Straitjackets (2001). Another discovery at Musikfest, only these guys’ shtick is that they wear Luche Libre wrestling masks everywhere they go. Hailing from Nashville TN, Los Straitjackets are my favorite Surf band of all time. Classic, straight-ahead instrumental Surf originals with Spanish dialogue between songs. Olé!

 

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Coffin Daggers: Coffin Daggers (2002). Musikfest strikes again, this time with a band from NYC best described as Goth Surf. Coffin Daggers infuse Surf music with a heavy dose of fuzzy keyboards and theremin, creating a spooky, sci-fi sound very different from most other bands. Think Addams Family goes to the beach!

 

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The Intoxicators: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2006). I just saw this band for the first time at The Hukilau 2014 in Fort Lauderdale. The Intoxicators are a high-energy, instrumental Surf band from Tallahassee FL playing clever, original music. Twin guitars, thumping bass and a Shriner fez-wearing drummer make them the perfect Surf band for the Tiki Lounge.

 

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Great White Caps: Sting of Death (2009). Surf music from Bethlehem PA, of all places, and another Musikfest staple. We’re 90 miles from the ocean here, but Great White Caps crafted a unique Surf sound with their blend of original instrumental and vocal tunes. Sadly, these guys just disbanded earlier this year. Aloha GWC.

 

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Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays (2009). Another band I just discovered at The Hukilau, these guys hail from Deerfield Beach FL, just north of Fort Lauderdale. Skinny Jimmy was the most nondescript, pleasant fellow when I talked to him during the event, but with a guitar in-hand onstage at The Mai-Kai, he was an animal! I may have to move to Florida to catch Surf bands like this on a regular basis.

 

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Five Eaux (2014). The newest band I’ve stumbled across hails from St. Louis MO. John Bartley, the creator of Five Eaux, reached out to the Tiki Lounge via Facebook, and we’ve been fast friends ever since. I can’t really classify them as simply Surf, as John also does James Bond themes, Spaghetti Western tunes, and much more. In his own words, Five Eaux is bringing Tiki back, with class. Aloha, Jon Tiki!

I’ve been creating Surf compilations for 10 years, and I’ve done more Surf mixes than any other genre of music. Over the years these mix discs have evolved as I’ve discovered more great Surf bands. I’ve also started incorporating other Tiki music styles into the mix, as I better learn the link between Surf and Tiki. They are inseparable! My friend Jeff Chouinard, a Tiki carver, says it best: Surf Soul Tiki. Mahalo!

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The Hukilau: Epilogue

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Sunday 15Jun14 and Beyond

So Sunday was my fourth and final day at my first-ever Hukilau. Bruce flew out early Sunday morning, so I was on my own for the day until my own flight at 7:50pm. I had a nice big breakfast at the hotel restaurant, then hooked up with my friends Beth Lennon and Cliff Hillis for one last trip over to the Mai-Kai. The last event would be a screening of the final cut of a new Tiki documentary, Plastic Paradise. Before that, we settled in with some drinks in the Molokai Lounge and jammed one more time to the surf stylings of Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays. A Tiki brunch, if you will.

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After watching the movie, we went back to the hotel, where I parted ways with Beth and Cliff for the last time. I had already checked out of my room, so there was nothing left to do but walk around Fort Lauderdale and grab an early dinner before heading back to the airport for my flight home. I didn’t spend much time at the beach on this trip, so it was nice to just chill out, chow on some pizza, and enjoy the ocean before heading home.

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I made it home late Sunday night after an uneventful flight. I was happy to be back with my family, but I’ve really been going through Hukilau withdrawal this week. Work has kept me busy, but I can’t help reminiscing about the good times I had in Fort Lauderdale. I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I first arrived at the Bahia Mar hotel!

imageFortunately, I’ve got a bunch of new Tiki friends on Facebook to help me fill in the gaps. Folks like Gary Evans, the lead guitarist for The Intoxicators! (and The Disasternauts) who I kept running into in the elevator. Jeff Chouinard, a Tiki carver I exchanged stickers with at The Mai-Kai on Saturday night (Surf, Soul, Tiki). Robert Brauchler, the dude in the banana costume onstage with the Disasternauts at the Jetsetter Glo-Glo afterparty Friday night, who took some great pictures from the stage I happened to be in (with his handy-dandy banana cam). Michaël Bridoux, the bandleader of the wonderful Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, whose album I downloaded from their website and have already worn out listening to it all week. These are new friends I’m hoping will help me keep the Tiki spirit alive and well in Bethlehem PA. They’ve already left their mark. Mahalo!

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Stalking SHAG

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I love the work of Josh Agle, the artist better known as SHAG. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not obsessed with him. My chance discovery of SHAG’s art (see my 24Nov13 post, Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?) started me on the path to Tiki, a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I sure have collected a lot of SHAG swag over the years. Most of it I’ve gotten myself, but some of it has been acquired for me by my partners in crime, often times in-person, with requests for personalized signatures on my behalf. Which is why SHAG must think I’m stalking him.

Chicago, July 2006. My second SHAG print, Raft of the Medusa, came from his SHAG After Dark exhibition at the DVA Gallery in Lincoln Park. Now I don’t live in Chicago, but my friend Bruce does, and he agreed to head over to the gallery and pick up this print for me. As it turns out, he went there on the first day of the show, and happened to meet Josh Agle in-person, who was there for the premiere party. Bruce got him to autograph the print for me, which was pretty cool.

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New York City, November 2008. I first met Josh Agle myself at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, where he attended the premiere of his Voyeur exhibition. My wife Jess & I took a day trip to NYC, where we did our usual touristy stuff (Times Square, Rockefeller Center, F.A.O. Schwartz), walked down to the old Empire Diner for dinner, then ended the day at the art gallery for the SHAG party. We got there early, and he got there late, but he was gracious and kind enough to talk with me and pose for a few pictures. He also signed my new print, In Search of Tiki, which I had schlepped all over NYC in its tube in my backpack, hoping to get a SHAG personalized autograph. We were off to a good start, Josh & I.

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Anaheim, September 2009. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. SHAG was commissioned by Disney to create some artwork for the event. They had worked together before on other milestone celebrations, but this was the first time that I was aware of it beforehand and had the opportunity to get some swag in real time. If only I knew somebody in LA! Well, I didn’t, but my friend Gordon has an aunt, Mary Pat Killian, who lives in Whittier and happens to have season passes to Disneyland. Bingo! Gordon asked Aunt Mary if she’d be willing to pick up a few things for me, and she was game. No personalized SHAG autographs, but she did get me some great items, including a set of collectible pins, a tin of postcards, and a cool mini print with themed frame that now hangs in my daughter Natalia’s room. Thanks, Aunt Mary!

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Chicago, February 2010. SHAG came back to Chicago, this time to the Rotofugi Gallery (which had merged with DVA) for his Red Star, Black Eye exhibition. My wallet and I were on hiatus from spending money on SHAG prints (I was up to 4 by now), but even though I wasn’t in the market for anything, I told my buddy Bruce that Josh Agle was coming back to town. Unbeknownst to me, Bruce attended the premiere event, and picked up a little something for me as a surprise birthday gift: a toy Shriner car, also inspired and designed by SHAG. How cool is that?! Of course, Bruce got him to autograph the car for me, but by this time, Josh was on to me and my network.

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Orlando, October 2011. SHAG was called upon by Disney yet again, this time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Now this one was a big deal to me, as my family has fallen in love with WDW and had already vacationed there twice in the 3 years before this event. In fact, we were scheduled to be there again in December of 2011, but I was afraid that might be too late to get any of the good SHAG swag going on sale in October. So, who did I know on the ground in Orlando? Of course: another old friend and former hockey teammate, Michael Hardy! Mike had been living in Orlando for a few years, and when I asked him to run over to the Art of Disney gallery at Downtown Disney to pick up a few things, he was happy to do it. He called me from the gallery to tell me what was available, and we hit the mother lode: shirts, coasters, post cards, pins, and another cool mini print (this one hangs in my other daughter Lexie’s room). It turns out Mike was there on the day Josh Agle was there as well, so he went up to Josh and asked him to sign a few things for his friend, Andy Panda. According to Mike, Josh just shook his head, smiled, and graciously signed away! I was glad to be able to return the favor to Mike a couple of months later, when I treated him to a round of golf at WDW, followed by some Mai-Tais at the Polynesian Resort’s Tamba Lounge. Mahalo, Mike!

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Palm Springs, December 2012. I’ve gotten to know Monet Leann Orystick pretty well, even though I’ve never met her. Monet runs SHAG: The Store in Palm Springs, which is associated with M Modern Gallery, who has hosted several of SHAG’s art exhibitions. I’ve ordered a couple of SHAG shirts from Monet, who does a great job of sending out blast emails and Facebook posts to tempt suckers like me. One day I asked her if Josh Agle visited the store often, and she told me he tries to get there about once a month. I then asked Monet if she’d be willing to deliver a package to him, if I mailed it to the store, and she said she’d be happy to do that for me! I sent Josh a couple of my mix CDs featuring his art on the cover, and a nice letter asking him to consider coming to visit my hometown of Bethlehem. Boy, was I surprised when I got this hand-written note back about a month later!

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New York City, April 2013. Josh Agle returned to the Jonathan Levine Gallery for a 3rd time (I missed the 2nd time) for his Thursday’s Girl exhibition. He had some really cool paintings featuring Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, which unfortunately I didn’t have the $10K to buy! I did come to the premiere party, however, and this time I brought the whole family with me. Thanks to some hellacious NYC traffic and family-friendly stops at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and the Nintendo Store, we were seriously late to the party, and almost didn’t make it before they locked the gallery doors. Fortunately, my friends Beth Lennon (a/k/a Mod Betty) and Cliff Hillis (a/k/a Pop Star) were there to let us in, and Beth had even gotten SHAG to sign one of the event postcards for me in case I didn’t make it. Another stalker joins the team! Well, we did make it, barely, and just like 5 years earlier, SHAG was gracious enough to chat with me and pose for pictures with my whole family. He also thanked me for the CDs I had sent him a few months earlier and asked me when we would come visit him in LA? Funny he should ask!

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Anaheim, June 2013. The 50th anniversary of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room was a huge event in the Tiki world. I had already decided to spend my birthday weekend in LA with Jess, centered around this event as the focal point, and as an added bonus, we met “Aunt” Mary Pat Killian in-person and treated her, her husband Hank, and her nephew (and my friend) Gordon to dinner and drinks at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. So when Josh Agle asked me, a few months earlier in NYC, when we were coming to LA, I just laughed and told him we’d see him again in June! Of course, I already knew that Disney had commissioned SHAG once more to create the signature artwork for this celebration, and I was prepared to finally pick up my SHAG/Disney swag in-person, for the first time. And what a haul! I had pre-ordered most of it, but was still really excited to handle the merchandise: shirts, pins, postcards, mini prints, Tiki mugs, bowls, and even some cool extra stuff we got just for pre-registering for the event! As we met Josh to get some of our stuff signed, he again thanked me for the CDs I had sent him, telling me how much he enjoyed listening to them during his drives out to Palm Springs. I smiled as I handed him another CD I had brought him, just for this occasion! Josh then signed one of my mini prints, with the orange Sharpee I had brought with me for this specific purpose, giving me the coolest personalized SHAG autograph I’m proud to have. I was in Heaven.

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So when will I next see Josh Agle? Who knows? It may be as soon as The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale this June, which Bruce and I plan to attend. SHAG has been to The Hukilau before, so maybe he’ll be there this year? If so, I’ll be happy to buy him a drink, shoot the breeze, and not ask him to sign anything, for a change. Unless, of course, I end up buying some really cool SHAG swag there…