I don’t know about anyone else, but as a former resident of Lawrence, Kansas my social media was BLOWING UP today with news of the demise of Payless Furniture, a fixture of the edge of the town where the Target and the movie theater were. I don’t know anyone who ever actually purchased furniture from them, or even set foot in their store, but they were known for having big signs and flashing lights on their storefront, and taking out local ads during the sort of things I watched in college (professional wrestling, BET ComicView, the then-new Adult Swim programming block) that were dumb and obnoxious in a way that probably would have gone viral had YouTube existed.
The reason people are posting about it is that Payless parked their delivery truck next to the road with a sign declaring that Lawrence is the “COMMIE AND CANDY ASS CAPITOL OF KANSAS”. The copy editor in me wants to point out CAPITOL is the actual building that Congress meets in, while CAPITAL is the city itself. Growing up in the capital of Kansas and going on annual field trips to the Capitol Building really drilled this useless fact into my head. I realize this is the smallest problem with the print on the truck, though the owners of Payless can take solace in the fact that Lawrence did not draw this particular liberal Marxist “urban rat” to Kansas from the East Coast, I actually moved from Lawrence out into Brooklyn.
But I digress! The reason this is going on FBB is because this seems like the perfect time to ask the Internet Hivemind about a Payless Furniture ad seared into my memory from late 2001. There was at least a year when Payless would be having a constant FIRE SALE (the flashing lights, running 24/7, were apparently meant to evoke flames) and to promote this they had ads with the Batman ’66 theme song playing on a loop as they screamed about FIRE SALES and a guy in a bad Batman costume ran across the roof of the store, in a panic over the fire. I don’t know what this was meant to convey, except that vigilantes are no substitute for a strong government regulated fire department?
BUT, in the months directly following the September 11, 2001 attacks, these commercials would abruptly cut from the panicked rooftop Batman to reveal the culprit behind the FIRE: a guy in a wizard robe and an Osama bin Laden mask! Previously ineffectual, the sight of this dirty terrorist compelled Batman to leap from the roof and POW! punch bin Laden right in the kisser, complete with sound effect and graphic.
After running down some of the great deals at Payless Furniture that week, the commercial would cut back to Batman and Osama on the top of the (still burning/lit up) roof, where Batman had put bin Laden into medieval style stocks, hiked up his robes, and prepared to deliver a (lethal?) paddling to the architect of the September 11, 2001 attack. There was a voiceover to the effect of “Sorry Osama, but the Constitution says… YOU’RE A DEAD MAN!”
I have no idea how this was supposed to sell furniture, it was a confusing time in America. But I swear you, reader, this commercial was real and ran for several weeks. I’ve asked many of my former classmates and friends about this commercial, but aside from vaguely recalling the Batman (but not the bin Laden) appearances, no one can confirm this was real. I’ve even gone through a couple dozen VHS tapes I have of old episodes of Smackdown and Sealab 2021 and have come up empty.
So now, on the eve of the end of Payless Furniture, I ask all Lawrencians and former Lawrencians: this really happened, right? This isn’t just some fluttering nightmare induced by one too many Gentleman’s Cocktails and The Team Uncut videos, right?
Also to Lawrencians: how’s everything going? Have the terrible comic shops been replaced by decent ones? Does La Familia still do Infinite Taco night? Why is there a giant photo of Isley on Mass Street? I haven’t been back to Lawrence in forever.