Monthly Archives: October 2008

Scary stories — Admitting you’ve seen a ghost may be the scariest part of spooky tales

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

It was a dark and scary night.

Dark, because it was winter in Alaska. Scary, because Mayme Ohnemus, of Cooper Landing, and her friends were hearing strange noises outside the Upper Russian Lake cabin they were camping in.

“At one point we were kind of getting spooked. We’d seen a lot of really large bears, and we heard some noises,” she said.

The ladies were enjoying their sojourn to the cabin, which they do nearly every year to play pinochle, eat and enjoy each other’s company.

It was the company of something unknown outside the cabin that they did not enjoy.
“It was pitch black out and we were trying to see what was out there without going outside,” Ohnemus said.

One of the women peered out the window. Ohnemus got up to join her. As she approached the window, her friend screamed.

“I started walking toward the window and someone was looking out the window and she said, ‘Oh man, it’s huge! It’s just huge!’” Ohnemus said.

Fear gripped the occupants of the cabin — until Ohnemus realized she was the “huge” thing approaching the window.

“I had a nightgown on, and I’m fairly large. Anyway, it turns out it was my reflection in the window. The closer I got to the window, the bigger it got,” she said.

“It was scary as heck for us. I kind of hated that I was the big thing coming toward the window.”

Ohnemus was the specter in her own spooky tale. That’s the closest thing to a ghost story the longtime Cooper Landing resident could remember.

In Alaska, hearing things go bump in the night and catching glimpses of something large and hairy in the woods are common occurrences, and often explainable as bears or moose, rather than ghosts or mythical monsters.

In all the years Gary Titus has been tracking history with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, he said he couldn’t think of any reports of monster sightings or unidentified objects, flying or otherwise.

“We’re just not that exciting here in the Kenai,” Titus said.

Or maybe we are, and people just don’t want to talk about it. Investigation of Paranormal in Alaska Web site, http://www.freewebs.com/iopialaska, lists several reports of eerie phenomena on the central peninsula.

There’s a list of 18 reported UFO sightings from Kenai, Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna and Nikiski, the oldest in 1963 and the most recent in 2005. And there’s one reported sighting of Bigfoot, in the 1980s on Skilak Loop Road.

There also are a few reports of paranormal encounters. One states that a woman’s wailing cries were heard at night outside a cabin in Cooper Landing, and a spirit began to appear in the living room.

An unnamed person from Kenai reports on the site that they picked up a woman hitchhiker and watched her completely disappear when she got out of the car. The next night the reporter says they saw a woman standing in their bedroom, who again disappeared.

Another report at a private residence in Kasilof says there were: “Cold spots, the smell of perfume in the master bedroom, (and) a male presence in the furnace room.”

There are no names, dates, addresses or contact information listed with the reports, so there’s no way to tell whether a ghost was to blame, or if the house was perhaps just poorly insulated and someone didn’t want to admit going overboard with the Chanel No. 5.

The most elaborate report comes from Sterling, where experts purportedly recorded paranormal activity in a residence at 10 p.m. Aug. 28, 2004. The owner of the home, an unnamed woman, reported seeing a shadowy figure crawling toward her at night while she was in bed, and heard a man’s voice whisper, “I want you.”

There are recordings that can be played on the site, where a man’s voice is heard saying things like, “One more bouquet” and, “Get you people in time, Tony.”

And there are word-of-mouth stories. There’s supposedly a house in Soldotna with a reputation of having an unwelcome feel, a ghost that’s appeared near the old Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, and unexplained disturbances in a Soldotna store where a man was killed.

Details of the stories are difficult to track down and tough to corroborate. It’s even harder to find people willing to talk about them publicly or in print.

That may be the scariest part about ghost stories these days — fear of what others might think if you say you’ve seen, heard of or believe in ghosts.

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, said ghost stories can be very real to those who experience them.

“I personally believe that there are dimensions that science can’t really explain yet. I’m not saying that they can’t be explained or even need to be explained, but there are elements that people sense — and some sense them more than others — that are difficult to explain,” he said. “They are often put into the category of ghosts. So they’re unnerving, but nevertheless real to the person experiencing it.”

Ghost stories can carry cultural significance.

“Culturally, ghosts embody what we fear, so they become a sort of a personification of that fear, or sometimes just an essence that we fear,” he said. “So to confront the ghost is to confront the fear.”

He gave an example of “Nantina,” an evil essence that represents the fear of losing a child, from the Dena’ina culture of the Kenai Peninsula. Children were warned not to wander far at night when fog came in because it was Nantina’s breath and they might disappear.

“So that’s a way to express those fears by personifying them as Nantina, in this case, or whatever else they may be. So what’s loosely expressed as ghosts or spirits in the north will run the gamut as absolute dreaded fear up through neutral entities, up through the absolute good. It all becomes a way of expressing the values we all have,” Boraas said.

A reluctance to acknowledge a belief in ghosts could be an outgrowth of a culture clash.
“Because they can’t be predicted and understood, people are nervous to talk about them for fear of being criticized or fear of being ridiculed or whatever,” he said.

“It’s hard for one belief system to understand another belief system, so that they become satanic or evil in a different sense because they challenge your own values. Some people would believe that those things shouldn’t even be mentioned, because they become part of that thing that undermines our own belief system.” Boraas said.

Boraas didn’t have any firsthand stories to share, but did have a spirit-related story from the pre-World War II era in Kenai to relate.

Kids then, as they do today, tried to prolong bedtime by telling parents they had to go to the bathroom. Indoor plumbing hadn’t arrived in Kenai at that time, so a nighttime potty break meant visiting the outhouse.

“Parents would tell them, ‘OK, but don’t forget about the Outhouse Spirit,’” Boraas said.
As the story goes, parents would tell kids about an Outhouse Spirit that lived under the seat and was particularly active at night. It would reach up from under the seat and pull victims down into the outhouse.

“That cured them of ever having to go to the bathroom to prolong going to bed at night, and to be sure to do what they needed to do during the early hours of evening,” Boraas said. “When you’re a little kid, you know, you’d think, ‘Whoa. No, I don’t want go to the bathroom anymore.”

Now that is frightening.

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Scary stories — Admitting you’ve seen a ghost may be the scariest part of spooky tales

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

It was a dark and scary night.

Dark, because it was winter in Alaska. Scary, because Mayme Ohnemus, of Cooper Landing, and her friends were hearing strange noises outside the Upper Russian Lake cabin they were camping in.

“At one point we were kind of getting spooked. We’d seen a lot of really large bears, and we heard some noises,” she said.

The ladies were enjoying their sojourn to the cabin, which they do nearly every year to play pinochle, eat and enjoy each other’s company.

It was the company of something unknown outside the cabin that they did not enjoy.
“It was pitch black out and we were trying to see what was out there without going outside,” Ohnemus said.

One of the women peered out the window. Ohnemus got up to join her. As she approached the window, her friend screamed.

“I started walking toward the window and someone was looking out the window and she said, ‘Oh man, it’s huge! It’s just huge!’” Ohnemus said.

Fear gripped the occupants of the cabin — until Ohnemus realized she was the “huge” thing approaching the window.

“I had a nightgown on, and I’m fairly large. Anyway, it turns out it was my reflection in the window. The closer I got to the window, the bigger it got,” she said.

“It was scary as heck for us. I kind of hated that I was the big thing coming toward the window.”

Ohnemus was the specter in her own spooky tale. That’s the closest thing to a ghost story the longtime Cooper Landing resident could remember.

In Alaska, hearing things go bump in the night and catching glimpses of something large and hairy in the woods are common occurrences, and often explainable as bears or moose, rather than ghosts or mythical monsters.

In all the years Gary Titus has been tracking history with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, he said he couldn’t think of any reports of monster sightings or unidentified objects, flying or otherwise.

“We’re just not that exciting here in the Kenai,” Titus said.

Or maybe we are, and people just don’t want to talk about it. Investigation of Paranormal in Alaska Web site, http://www.freewebs.com/iopialaska, lists several reports of eerie phenomena on the central peninsula.

There’s a list of 18 reported UFO sightings from Kenai, Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna and Nikiski, the oldest in 1963 and the most recent in 2005. And there’s one reported sighting of Bigfoot, in the 1980s on Skilak Loop Road.

There also are a few reports of paranormal encounters. One states that a woman’s wailing cries were heard at night outside a cabin in Cooper Landing, and a spirit began to appear in the living room.

An unnamed person from Kenai reports on the site that they picked up a woman hitchhiker and watched her completely disappear when she got out of the car. The next night the reporter says they saw a woman standing in their bedroom, who again disappeared.

Another report at a private residence in Kasilof says there were: “Cold spots, the smell of perfume in the master bedroom, (and) a male presence in the furnace room.”

There are no names, dates, addresses or contact information listed with the reports, so there’s no way to tell whether a ghost was to blame, or if the house was perhaps just poorly insulated and someone didn’t want to admit going overboard with the Chanel No. 5.

The most elaborate report comes from Sterling, where experts purportedly recorded paranormal activity in a residence at 10 p.m. Aug. 28, 2004. The owner of the home, an unnamed woman, reported seeing a shadowy figure crawling toward her at night while she was in bed, and heard a man’s voice whisper, “I want you.”

There are recordings that can be played on the site, where a man’s voice is heard saying things like, “One more bouquet” and, “Get you people in time, Tony.”

And there are word-of-mouth stories. There’s supposedly a house in Soldotna with a reputation of having an unwelcome feel, a ghost that’s appeared near the old Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, and unexplained disturbances in a Soldotna store where a man was killed.

Details of the stories are difficult to track down and tough to corroborate. It’s even harder to find people willing to talk about them publicly or in print.

That may be the scariest part about ghost stories these days — fear of what others might think if you say you’ve seen, heard of or believe in ghosts.

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, said ghost stories can be very real to those who experience them.

“I personally believe that there are dimensions that science can’t really explain yet. I’m not saying that they can’t be explained or even need to be explained, but there are elements that people sense — and some sense them more than others — that are difficult to explain,” he said. “They are often put into the category of ghosts. So they’re unnerving, but nevertheless real to the person experiencing it.”

Ghost stories can carry cultural significance.

“Culturally, ghosts embody what we fear, so they become a sort of a personification of that fear, or sometimes just an essence that we fear,” he said. “So to confront the ghost is to confront the fear.”

He gave an example of “Nantina,” an evil essence that represents the fear of losing a child, from the Dena’ina culture of the Kenai Peninsula. Children were warned not to wander far at night when fog came in because it was Nantina’s breath and they might disappear.

“So that’s a way to express those fears by personifying them as Nantina, in this case, or whatever else they may be. So what’s loosely expressed as ghosts or spirits in the north will run the gamut as absolute dreaded fear up through neutral entities, up through the absolute good. It all becomes a way of expressing the values we all have,” Boraas said.

A reluctance to acknowledge a belief in ghosts could be an outgrowth of a culture clash.
“Because they can’t be predicted and understood, people are nervous to talk about them for fear of being criticized or fear of being ridiculed or whatever,” he said.

“It’s hard for one belief system to understand another belief system, so that they become satanic or evil in a different sense because they challenge your own values. Some people would believe that those things shouldn’t even be mentioned, because they become part of that thing that undermines our own belief system.” Boraas said.

Boraas didn’t have any firsthand stories to share, but did have a spirit-related story from the pre-World War II era in Kenai to relate.

Kids then, as they do today, tried to prolong bedtime by telling parents they had to go to the bathroom. Indoor plumbing hadn’t arrived in Kenai at that time, so a nighttime potty break meant visiting the outhouse.

“Parents would tell them, ‘OK, but don’t forget about the Outhouse Spirit,’” Boraas said.
As the story goes, parents would tell kids about an Outhouse Spirit that lived under the seat and was particularly active at night. It would reach up from under the seat and pull victims down into the outhouse.

“That cured them of ever having to go to the bathroom to prolong going to bed at night, and to be sure to do what they needed to do during the early hours of evening,” Boraas said. “When you’re a little kid, you know, you’d think, ‘Whoa. No, I d
on’t want go to the bathroom anymore.”

Now that is frightening.

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Conventional wisdom — Nikiski students get political



By Naomi Hagelund
For the Redoubt Reporter

Presidential campaigns took a break from talking about economics and the Iraq War to address such weighty topics as wearing hats in school and reopening the snack bar.

Three hundred and two students acting as delegates from all 50 states had a three-hour, hands-on civics lesson in voting at the 2008 Political Mock Convention at Nikiski Middle-High School on Oct. 22.

Students were allowed to debate on 12 different issues, ranging from high school policies to state politics and federal issues. After voting on the resolutions, the student delegates heard campaign speeches from fellow students representing four different presidential candidates, and voted on the next president. John McCain got the most votes.

Bob Bird, government and U.S. history teacher at the high school, as well as candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in the upcoming election, has been staging a mock convention as part of his curriculum since 1984 in order to teach students the ins and outs of the political process.

“The goal is to let students know that just voting is not being a good citizen,” Bird said. “You have to get involved on a local level. To really be a good citizen you have to pick your party, work within it and bring the ideas to the general public. That’s what a convention does.”

The first three resolutions passed, first with students voting for the freedom to wear hats and coats in school, despite an argument from an Indiana delegate who said, “If you have your hat on and you stay warmer, then you’ll just sweat more and we’ll have to smell it.”

A senior lounge was voted in, and then a resolution reopening the snack bar was passed despite arguments that it would contribute to obesity rates and make students fall asleep in class.

The fourth resolution failed, which would have banned sexual relationships in school, including hand holding and any kind of touching. One Colorado student delegate offered his own awkwardness toward public displays of affection as a reason why the resolution should fail, but a girl representing Massachusetts responded, saying, “If schools are going to start deciding student’s morals, what’s next? Religion?”

The students next decided against lowering the smoking age, and then voted to reopen Nikiski beach access to the public. The next resolution would have required all females from 13 to 18 years of age to use birth control, enforced by the state of Alaska. Some students argued for it, saying it would save some girls from the responsibility of raising a child during their teenage years, but others said the girls should be forced to take responsibility for their own actions, and the resolution failed.

Reflecting on the need for jobs in Alaska during harsh economic times, students decided to build the Denali gas pipeline, despite other students’ protests that wildlife would be adversely affected.

Student delegates then voted against a resolution that would require people under 19 to wear a helmet while riding in a car.

Loud boos met the announcement of the next resolution, the legalization of homosexual marriage in the United States, and students voted it down.

Finally, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was allowed, and the No Child Left Behind Act was voted to be removed from Alaska.

Students said the convention was a success.

“It’s good to have and it’s fun,” said Nebraska delegate John Phillips, a senior in Bird’s government class.

Co-secretary Tyler Mabrey, who was responsible for reading resolutions and taking roll call, said she thought the convention went well, and that the juniors and seniors took the convention seriously. But she wasn’t sure about the middle school students, she said.

In the middle of the resolutions debate, three local politicians took the stage and gave the students a bit of advice. New Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey told students how they could change the world.

“Never give up your belief in God, in country, in family, in your school,” Carey said. “As long as you believe in these four things, you can believe in yourself. As long as you believe in yourself, you can truly change the world for the better by changing the way people perceive it and respond to it.”

After greeting the students with “What’s up, dogs?” Mike Chenault, Republican candidate for state House District 34, told students it was their duty and right to vote, and to make sure they research candidates and their positions. Dr. Nels Anderson, Democratic candidate for state Senate District Q, wrapped up the guest speaker segment of the convention.

The state delegates took turns announcing each of their delegates’ votes for president following the two-minute campaign speeches given about the candidates by student representatives. McCain took the election with 209 votes, Barack Obama followed with 44, Republican Ron Paul came in third with 26 and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney took 10. “Other” candidates nominated included Sarah Palin, Bob Bird, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and Optimus Prime.

The convention precedes the upcoming presidential election and was formed as a tool to teach students how the government works.

“It really helps give our kids a chance to express their own opinions and express opinions that they discuss around the dinner table at home,” said David Means, a Nikiski High School teacher. “I think that being involved in the organization of putting the convention together from the ground up under the tutelage of Mr. Bird is an excellent thing that they wouldn’t get anyplace else.”

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Gasping for answers — House Judiciary holds hearings to investigate high fuel costs

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Where fuel comes from, and how much is paid, is a question the Alaska attorney general’s office and the Alaska Legislature’s House Judiciary Committee is asking, to determine if Alaska consumers are getting a fair price.

Ed Sniffen, senior assistant attorney general, said the outcome of this investigation should supply the public with an explanation about why gas and fuel prices did not go down in Alaska when they tumbled in the states.

“We get calls every day from people saying, ‘I’m getting gouged by these gas prices,’” Sniffen said.

But Alaska doesn’t have a law regulating the profits a company can make, following the free market system in American ideology, he said.

“Yet, there was a little window of time starting in early June and lasting until early September when the prices of fuel seemed supra-competitively high, a bubble way above those levels for no specific reason,” Sniffen said. At no time in Alaska history, tracing the price of fuel back, did prices track that way.

“Every place in the nation was going down and Alaska stayed the same for a long time,” he said.

That’s when the attorney general’s office decided to start investigating the matter, conducting hearings with fuel retailers and wholesalers to figure out what is going on. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee convened in Anchorage for a second time to hear from the refineries.

“Certainly, we are seeing some weird things that suggest to me something fishy is going on,” Sniffen said.

The House can ask questions of Alaska’s three main petroleum refineries, Petro Star, Tesoro Alaska and FlintHills, but they can’t require them to answer specific cost and price questions because those are protected by confidentiality in a competitive market setting. But the attorney general’s office can subpoena documents, and in turn offers confidentiality, Sniffen said.

He said the judiciary committee has requested documents from Tesoro and information from Crowley and Delta Western, the two shipping companies in Southeastern Alaska that supply fuel.

Smokey Norton, director of marketing for Petro Marine, a fuel distributor on the peninsula, said there are a number of reasons why consumers didn’t see a price dip when the cost of crude dipped to $72 from a long haul of over $100 a barrel.

Right now wholesalers are still holding on to inventory from July when crude remained high.

“If you buy it at $2 a gallon, even though it goes down to $1 a gallon, consumers won’t see that at the pump until they purchase new fuel at the lower price,” she said.

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Billiards design racks up accolades — Owner brings pool hall to life after 19 years of planning


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

An unassuming strip mall with a pockmarked parking lot in Kenai is home to one of the top-10, best-designed new pool halls in the world.

Any surprise that statement may evoke disappears after opening the tinted-glass doors of Sharps Billiards and seeing the meticulously designed, mahogany- and nickel-themed interior that was three months of remodeling work, four buildings and 19 years in the making.

Sharps was named one of the Top Ten New Rooms in the 2008 Architecture and Design Awards by Billiard’s Digest magazine. It shares the honor with the likes of a multimillion-dollar, 20,000-square-foot hall in Australia. Sharps is 3,500 square feet and cost about $80,000 to renovate.

What it lacks in size or opulence it makes up for in attention to detail, craftsmanship and nearly two decades of dreaming.

Owner Philip Brower said he’s wanted to build a pool hall since he was 15 and lying about his age so he could get into the 16-and-up pool hall in Grand Rapids, Mich., to shoot pool with his grandfather. He spent five years in that hall, learning a game that takes a lifetime to master, and crafting a vision in his head for how he’d want his own billiards room to look someday.

“I decided about 19 years ago I was going to do this, and basically the way people see it today is how I envisioned it,” he said. “I really wanted to help change the general opinion that pool halls are a place of ill repute. People think they’re dark and dingy and smoky, or there’s drug deals going on. I wanted to prove it could be a family environment and kind of spread my love and appreciation for the game.

“You’re not going to see dogs playing pool on the wall. It’s just not going to happen.”

What patrons are going to see is the design Brower envisioned 19 years ago and has refined since then. It all comes down to the tables — six, 19-foot Brunswick mahogany tables with nickel fixtures. That theme is echoed throughout the hall. The pine wainscoting on all the walls and back counter is stained a mahogany color, as is the facing on the structural posts, the counters around the room and the dividing rail in the center of the space splitting one row of tables from the other. The wood ceiling, structural beams and chairs are stained an even redder color.

The only wood in Sharps that doesn’t carry the mahogany theme is the pool cues, which add a structural element on the walls that look more like art than sports equipment.

Accenting the auburn wood are nickel fixtures, including the electrical outlet coverings and lighting, and a splash of gold wall paint.

Brower and Sharps manager, Tim Adams, spent three months renovating the space in between shifts working on the North Slope. Brower and Adams worked at a billiards room in Anchorage in 1994. Adams saw the promise of Brower’s dream to open his own billiards hall someday, and Brower knew that employees work better if they’ve got a vested interest in what they do, so he wanted to bring Adams in as an investor as well as manager. They did the renovation work themselves — removing the paneling and peg-board walls, hanging Sheetrock, building the workstation in the back, swapping out all the lighting fixtures.

But before they could pick up a hammer, they had to find a space. That alone took four tries.

The first space Brower considered was the old Trustworthy Hardware store in the Peninsula Center Mall parking lot in Soldotna. The design in his head looked like it was ready to become reality — the architectural plans were drawn up, building permit obtained, parking spaces counted, pool tables ordered, and Adams was on his way back to Alaska from Bozeman, Mont., when the deal fell through.

“Phil called and said he was building the pool hall. I sold everything, hit the road and the rug got pulled out from under me,” Adams said.

Brower then investigated the old Gottschalks building next to Beemun’s on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna. The owners seemed amenable to Brower’s intentions for the space, but he couldn’t compete with the price Liquidation World was willing to pay.

His third trip back to square one took him to the old Carr’s store in the Kenai Mall. Things looked promising once again, until the remodeling estimate came in at $350,000.

“Every place I tried to go it looked good until the last minute,” Brower said.

Meanwhile, Adams worked at IGA Country Foods for a while, then took a job on the North Slope. During one of Brower’s weeks home from his Slope job, he pulled up to the strip mall that houses Katina’s Restaurant on the Kenai Spur Highway heading north out of town and peered in one of the windows.

“In my head I saw the pool room. I said, ‘That’ll work. That’ll work.’”

Next thing Adams knew, he was getting a call from Brower asking if he wanted to be part of it.

“He was a little more demanding then asking,” Adams said. “He said, I need to go to the bank and sign the loan paperwork. I said, ‘Hey, I thought this was on the back burner again.’”

After 19 years, Brower was tired of simmering.

“You can’t give up on your dreams. People just lie down and die if you give up your dreams,” he said. “I’m just fortunate I’m one of those people who has dreams that are attainable. It’s not like I want to go to the moon.”

Maybe not, but business is taking off. Sharps has been open for five months, its clientele is increasing and Brower said business is right in line with his expectations. He hopes in the future to get more involved in the community by hosting nonprofit tournaments, and has already donated some pool cues to the Boys and Girls Club.

“I knew that this was a pool-playing community, and I knew there was this gaping void of anything nonalcoholic, as well,” he said.

Sharps doesn’t serve alcohol and it’s a no-smoking establishment. Kids under 16 need to have adult supervision. A recent Saturday night saw a middle-aged married couple at one table, a group of teenagers at another and a group of industrial workers at a third.

“It’s a good mix. And it stays clean. People police themselves, pick up their cups. People don’t even write on the bathroom walls — except this one,” Brower said, indicating his 5-year-old daughter, Jaden Hope, who seems to have inherited dad’s penchant for design and likes to express it wherever she can, whether it’s on paper, her clothes or the bathroom wall.

Brower said he went all out with the tables, with $250 pool racks that are accurate to within one-thousandth of an inch, and Sharp’s has the only regulation billiards table around. A pool league recently decided to start meeting there — although Brower said they won’t allocate more than two-thirds of the tables to league play, so other patrons can still shoot pool.

Tables rent for $10 an hour. Hours are 2 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (or however long people stay there playing) Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 2:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“Where else can six people go for a couple hours of entertainment and spend two to three dollars each?” Brower said.

Adam Kosydar is a regular from North Kenai. He comes in about three times a week, and will probably play even more with his winter schedule, he said.

“I don’t like going to bars, so this is a good place to play. I think they did a good job building up the establishment. It’s got a clean environment — no alcohol or drugs. It’s a good place for young kids to hang out,” he said.

Brower said the design award came about after a representative from Brunswick encouraged him to apply for it. He procrastinated at first, then decided he had a shot and paid to overnight a CD of photos just before the deadline.

“When I got the news I was elated, obviously. I hoped, and I kind of felt; no, I knew we were going to win,” Brower said.

He also sent photos to the owner of the pool hall in Michigan he grew up playing in. That hall is now remodeling on Brower’s design theme.

“The pool hall that inspired me to build a pool hall is now inspired to remodel with décor after this pool hall,” Brower said.

“I wanted to make a first-class establishment, and do it right the first time,” he said.

And it only took four tries to get to that first time.

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Billiards design racks up accolades — Owner brings pool hall to life after 19 years of planning


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

An unassuming strip mall with a pockmarked parking lot in Kenai is home to one of the top-10, best-designed new pool halls in the world.

Any surprise that statement may evoke disappears after opening the tinted-glass doors of Sharps Billiards and seeing the meticulously designed, mahogany- and nickel-themed interior that was three months of remodeling work, four buildings and 19 years in the making.

Sharps was named one of the Top Ten New Rooms in the 2008 Architecture and Design Awards by Billiard’s Digest magazine. It shares the honor with the likes of a multimillion-dollar, 20,000-square-foot hall in Australia. Sharps is 3,500 square feet and cost about $80,000 to renovate.

What it lacks in size or opulence it makes up for in attention to detail, craftsmanship and nearly two decades of dreaming.

Owner Philip Brower said he’s wanted to build a pool hall since he was 15 and lying about his age so he could get into the 16-and-up pool hall in Grand Rapids, Mich., to shoot pool with his grandfather. He spent five years in that hall, learning a game that takes a lifetime to master, and crafting a vision in his head for how he’d want his own billiards room to look someday.

“I decided about 19 years ago I was going to do this, and basically the way people see it today is how I envisioned it,” he said. “I really wanted to help change the general opinion that pool halls are a place of ill repute. People think they’re dark and dingy and smoky, or there’s drug deals going on. I wanted to prove it could be a family environment and kind of spread my love and appreciation for the game.

“You’re not going to see dogs playing pool on the wall. It’s just not going to happen.”

What patrons are going to see is the design Brower envisioned 19 years ago and has refined since then. It all comes down to the tables — six, 19-foot Brunswick mahogany tables with nickel fixtures. That theme is echoed throughout the hall. The pine wainscoting on all the walls and back counter is stained a mahogany color, as is the facing on the structural posts, the counters around the room and the dividing rail in the center of the space splitting one row of tables from the other. The wood ceiling, structural beams and chairs are stained an even redder color.

The only wood in Sharps that doesn’t carry the mahogany theme is the pool cues, which add a structural element on the walls that look more like art than sports equipment.

Accenting the auburn wood are nickel fixtures, including the electrical outlet coverings and lighting, and a splash of gold wall paint.

Brower and Sharps manager, Tim Adams, spent three months renovating the space in between shifts working on the North Slope. Brower and Adams worked at a billiards room in Anchorage in 1994. Adams saw the promise of Brower’s dream to open his own billiards hall someday, and Brower knew that employees work better if they’ve got a vested interest in what they do, so he wanted to bring Adams in as an investor as well as manager. They did the renovation work themselves — removing the paneling and peg-board walls, hanging Sheetrock, building the workstation in the back, swapping out all the lighting fixtures.

But before they could pick up a hammer, they had to find a space. That alone took four tries.

The first space Brower considered was the old Trustworthy Hardware store in the Peninsula Center Mall parking lot in Soldotna. The design in his head looked like it was ready to become reality — the architectural plans were drawn up, building permit obtained, parking spaces counted, pool tables ordered, and Adams was on his way back to Alaska from Bozeman, Mont., when the deal fell through.

“Phil called and said he was building the pool hall. I sold everything, hit the road and the rug got pulled out from under me,” Adams said.

Brower then investigated the old Gottschalks building next to Beemun’s on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna. The owners seemed amenable to Brower’s intentions for the space, but he couldn’t compete with the price Liquidation World was willing to pay.

His third trip back to square one took him to the old Carr’s store in the Kenai Mall. Things looked promising once again, until the remodeling estimate came in at $350,000.

“Every place I tried to go it looked good until the last minute,” Brower said.

Meanwhile, Adams worked at IGA Country Foods for a while, then took a job on the North Slope. During one of Brower’s weeks home from his Slope job, he pulled up to the strip mall that houses Katina’s Restaurant on the Kenai Spur Highway heading north out of town and peered in one of the windows.

“In my head I saw the pool room. I said, ‘That’ll work. That’ll work.’”

Next thing Adams knew, he was getting a call from Brower asking if he wanted to be part of it.

“He was a little more demanding then asking,” Adams said. “He said, I need to go to the bank and sign the loan paperwork. I said, ‘Hey, I thought this was on the back burner again.’”

After 19 years, Brower was tired of simmering.

“You can’t give up on your dreams. People just lie down and die if you give up your dreams,” he said. “I’m just fortunate I’m one of those people who has dreams that are attainable. It’s not like I want to go to the moon.”

Maybe not, but business is taking off. Sharps has been open for five months, its clientele is increasing and Brower said business is right in line with his expectations. He hopes in the future to get more involved in the community by hosting nonprofit tournaments, and has already donated some pool cues to the Boys and Girls Club.

“I knew that this was a pool-playing community, and I knew there was this gaping void of anything nonalcoholic, as well,” he said.

Sharps doesn’t serve alcohol and it’s a no-smoking establishment. Kids under 16 need to have adult supervision. A recent Saturday night saw a middle-aged married couple at one table, a group of teenagers at another and a group of industrial workers at a third.

“It’s a good mix. And it stays clean. People police themselves, pick up their cups. People don’t even write on the bathroom walls — except this one,” Brower said, indicating his 5-year-old daughter, Jaden Hope, who seems to have inherited dad’s penchant for design and likes to express it wherever she can, whether it’s on paper, her clothes or the bathroom wall.

Brower said he went all out with the tables, with $250 pool racks that are accurate to within one-thousandth of an inch, and Sharp’s has the only regulation billiards table around. A pool league recently decided to start meeting there — although Brower said they won’t allocate more than two-thirds of the tables to league play, so other patrons can still shoot pool.

Tables rent for $10 an hour. Hours are 2 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (or however long people stay there playing) Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 2:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
“Where else can six people go for a couple hours of entertainment
and spend two to three dollars each?” Brower said.

Adam Kosydar is a regular from North Kenai. He comes in about three times a week, and will probably play even more with his winter schedule, he said.

“I don’t like going to bars, so this is a good place to play. I think they did a good job building up the establishment. It’s got a clean environment — no alcohol or drugs. It’s a good place for young kids to hang out,” he said.

Brower said the design award came about after a representative from Brunswick encouraged him to apply for it. He procrastinated at first, then decided he had a shot and paid to overnight a CD of photos just before the deadline.

“When I got the news I was elated, obviously. I hoped, and I kind of felt; no, I knew we were going to win,” Brower said.

He also sent photos to the owner of the pool hall in Michigan he grew up playing in. That hall is now remodeling on Brower’s design theme.

“The pool hall that inspired me to build a pool hall is now inspired to remodel with décor after this pool hall,” Brower said.

“I wanted to make a first-class establishment, and do it right the first time,” he said.

And it only took four tries to get to that first time.

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Wired: Don’t pull the plug on computer security

Recent University of California-Berkeley data suggests that somewhere between 95 percent and 98 percent of all business records are originally electronic records produced and stored on personal computers and similar devices, and thus vulnerable to prying.

That statistic, along with concerns about hacking, identity theft, our heavy reliance upon the Internet and the daily bombardment of computer viruses, spyware, and other sneaky malicious software, should scare you about the security of your data. If you’re not a little paranoid about this, then perhaps you’re not being sufficiently careful.

The problem with electronic data security is that it’s usually either too little or too much. Striking the right balance between ease of use and Fort-Knox style security is difficult, particularly with wireless networks and broadband Internet connections. Here are some examples that I’ve run across recently.

Setting up a secure wireless network that authorized users can actually access without difficulty is often frustrating and time-consuming, which is one reason that a lot of wireless network users do not implement whatever security their hardware allows. While having lunch in Anchorage one day, I casually commented to an unknown nearby notebook computer user that I didn’t realize the restaurant had installed an Internet hot spot, only to be told that a nearby business’s wireless network was freely accessible to anyone. That’s far too insecure but very common. It’s also one major reason why I will not use a wireless network connection where business or other confidential data might be silently compromised. The other reason is wireless networking is very slow compared to the sort of fast hard-wired Ethernet connections that are now standard equipment.

A few years ago, I spoke about computer security at the American Bar Association’s annual technology conference in Chicago, placing a $20 bill on the podium and challenging audience members to see whether they could connect to my notebook computer. It took some of the audience members less than three minutes to do so, even though there were no nearby Internet “hot spots.” Most people don’t realize that the wireless connections of a Windows XP computer can silently make direct ad hoc connections to other unsecured XP computers, such that a stranger can read your files and write to them without your knowledge.

Indeed, in my own experiments, I’ve seen how a third party computer can even use XP’s network bridging feature to surreptitiously connect from one notebook computer’s wireless card to another wireless-equipped computer, and then use that rogue wireless connection to further connect to a business’ theoretically more secure hard-wired network.

Later that day, while waiting at O’Hare Airport for a flight back to Alaska, I startled a group of traveling Airborne soldiers by simply turning on my notebook computer, watching as it detected and connected to powered-up notebook computers being carried down the concourse. These people, of course, had not implemented even the rudimentary wireless network security available a few years ago.

Personally, I physically turn off all electrical power to my notebook computer’s wireless connection. That’s probably secure enough. By the way, Blue Tooth devices may be even less secure.

Microsoft announced the other day that it was automatically pushing a critical security correction to the tens of millions of Windows XP systems. Generally, when Microsoft automatically installs a security update on the average user’s computer, no questions are asked.

In this case, there should have been. The security release seems to cripple many existing anti-virus programs, which in turn prevent Microsoft’s own e-mail and Internet Explorer programs from even connecting to the Internet. That’s too secure. Thousands of users were affected, myself included.

After a number of phone calls to technical support and a fair bit of experimentation, I found that attempting to simply update security software either failed to solve the problem or became totally impractical because the glitch prevented any contact with the vendor’s Web site in the first place. The only reliable solution I found was to totally uninstall the Internet anti-virus and security program (not very secure there!), go directly to the vendor’s Web site, download the most recent anti-virus program version, and then completely reinstall and reactivate the anti-virus and Internet security software, a time-consuming and irritating exercise, assuming you can even find your old software license key and activation codes.

Not being able to access the Internet is probably the ultimate in network security, but that’s carrying matters rather too far.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

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