Happy In Bag

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Coffee Talk

American Airlines recently served me the worst cup of coffee I’d had all year. I figured the foul brew had been prepared with stagnant water. I was horrified when I reproduced an exact duplicate of the airline’s offering at home a couple days ago. I’ve been buying Kansas City-based The Roasterie coffee beans at Price Chopper out of habit for a couple of years. On impulse, I recently picked up a container of ground coffee instead. What an unpleasant shock! I never considered myself a coffee snob. Until now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Circus Siren

It was the perfect chance to run away with the circus.

The performers and their support crew were inside nearby Kemper Arena. It would have been a simple matter to become a stowaway in a Ringling Brothers train last weekend.

What would I be escaping from? The bleak view of Kansas City from inside the passenger train made a compelling case for hightailing it out of this town. Stagnant water from recent rain pooled with chemicals in noxious puddles. Beyond the railroad tracks lay abandoned brick buildings, interspersed with a handful of windowless steel warehouses. It’s a unpromising landscape.

Alas, I knew that beyond the dismal abyss of the West Bottoms, a green, comfortable world awaited my return. The elephant poop shoveler's job is safe.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Alien Invasion

My acquaintances know that I'm locked in mortal combat with squirrels. These vandals tear shingles off my roof and bomb me with debris. The stakes are high. We battle over their right to live within the walls of my home.

Twitchy and indecisive as they may be, squirrels outsmart me on a daily basis.

For every squirrel I catch, I trap two mice, two opossum and five chipmunks. As I like opossums, I gently released this one back into my yard. I marvel that any animal so homely, slow and dim-witted isn't extinct.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


I'm no crime scene investigator, but the evidence suggests that a homeless man's possessions were deliberately dumped at this site in the West Bottoms. This week's downpours may have washed away blood or other bodily fluids. No unmanned shopping carts were in the vicinity.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lima Time, All the Time

He strikes absurd poses after completing scoreless innings. He berates his catcher. He charges home plate between pitches to argue balls and strikes. He points to the heavens after impressive outs.

Jose Lima is the most entertaining player in Major League Baseball.

While the rest of the baseball world watched Curt Schilling’s unimpressive return as a starting pitcher Thursday night in Kauffman Stadium, I was transfixed by "Lima Time."

My seat above third base allowed me to continue to watch Lima when he wasn't on the field. His electric blonde hair made him easy to track as he congratulated successful baserunners, won a heated debate with Mike Sweeney and lashed into manager Buddy Bell.

After he was pulled from the game after walking Boston's leadoff batter in the sixth inning, he led cheers outside the dugout. The Royals trounced the Red Sox and Lima chalked up the win.

He’s only 34, and he should be able to add to his eleven years in the big leagues. But after baseball, I trust Lima will find a way to stay in the spotlight. I want him to continue to entertain, as a musician, sports commentator, or, ideally, as the star of a reality television series.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Curse of the Graffanino

During the Royals’ excruciating 19-game losing skid, I developed a theory that the Royals were cursed.

Just as the Boston Red Sox were afflicted with the "Curse of the Bambino" for trading Babe Ruth, the Royals had been struck with the "Curse of the Graffanino."

Shortly after the Royals traded utility infielder Tony Graffanino to the Red Sox for minor leaguer Chip Ambres, the Royals went almost a month without winning. Graffanino is no Babe Ruth, but he’s a solid journeyman. Were he still with the Royals, Graffanino would possess the team's highest batting average.

The "Red Sox Nation" seemed to outnumber Royals fans at a wet Kauffman Stadium Wednesday night. As organized cheers for the visiting team are a violation of nature, it was satisfying to see the Royals eke out an extra-inning win. And because Ambres drove in the winning run against the World Series champions, perhaps this curse is, as they say, reversed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Doug Talley Quartet

The cicadas were making an ear-splitting din. It’s no exaggeration to say they were louder than The Doug Talley Quartet at Santa Fe Commons Park in Overland Park on Sunday night.

The saxophonist's band appeared as part of a free summer series designed to entertain geriatrics. The median age of the audience was 65, and no doubt many regulars dreaded an evening of grating jazz instead of the comfortable big band and Sousa material to which they’re accustomed.

They need not have worried. Talley is a jazz educator; his music is tasteful to a fault. The showcase was like a clinic- technically immaculate but lacking in fire. In addition to melodic originals, the group offered renditions of familiar crowd-pleasers like Take the 'A' Train, In a Sentimental Mood and Take Five. The group’s intricate arrangements allowed bassist Tim Brewer, pianist Wayne Hawkins, and drummer Keith Kavanaugh to work as a remarkably efficient unit.

Used as incidental music in film, or encountered unexpectedly in a hotel lobby, Talley’s friendly take on jazz would slay. But no one wanted to die Sunday night in Overland Park, except perhaps for those driven to madness by the incessant drone of insects.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Peace Piece

I didn’t see God Sunday morning, but I heard an echo of His voice.

Mark Lowry, percussionist for the Kansas City Symphony and New Ear, performed three revelatory pieces on marimba at Community Christian Church on the Plaza. With two mallets in each hand, Lowry demonstrated the massive instrument's wide dynamic range.

Lowry took liberties with Bach’s Sonata In G Minor, giving it a manic dissonance. In his reading of Fleet, by Jacob Druckman, Lowry teased a spiritual message out of the difficult avant garde piece. Judah Adashi’s 8 Haiku, was a peaceful meditation reminiscent of the work of jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton.

A higher power exists in all music, of course. It’s just easier to discern in the gorgeous sounds of this woefully underutilized instrument.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Haggis On a Stick

What’s the Swedish word for "muck"? How do you say "too many people" in Greek? Do Native Americans have a phrase for "unbearably muggy"?

Recent rain transformed low-lying grounds at the Ethnic Enrichment Festival at Swope Park into a pungent swamp. Yet the crowd Saturday afternoon was the largest I’ve encountered at the annual event.

Many people are enamored of the festival’s cultural demonstrations. That’s nice, but I go for the food. While I was disappointed that the Cubans and Koreans were absent this year, the outstanding vegetable plate I bought from the Ethiopians almost compensated for their disappearance. Indonesia's rendang, a lightly curried beef, was a bit bland. Sweet breads from Norway made for a tasty dessert.

Sadly, all this eating left me too full to try Scotland’s haggis on a stick.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

I'll Have the Latkes

Have you ever visited those rooms at museums that depict the lifestyle and furnishings of a different era?

Pumpernick’s, an old-fashioned diner at 95th and Mission, merits a museum’s velvet rope and explanatory signage at the door. The text would read, Neighborhood "delis" remained popular in the United States throughout the twentieth century. Note the colorful garb of the elderly "regulars" who used the establishment as a social club. The gradual homogenization of American culture, along with the encroachment of chain restaurants, ended the popularity of such eateries.

I rarely frequent Pumpernick’s, but I prefer it to similar options First Watch and the bland but likable Waid’s. After all, they don’t serve beef tongue, fried matzo and pickled herring.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Billion Buck Idea From Bombay

The pakoras, deep-fried chickpea fritters, at the Taj Mahal in Waldo are delicious. I loaded up on them when a friend bought me lunch there yesterday. The modest buffet is filled with traditional Indian dishes like tandoori chicken, curries, lentils, naan and rice. It’s all good, and I recommend the restaurant. What both Kansas City and every food court in North America really need, however, is a fast food Indian establishment. Operating next to Orange Julius and Panda Express, these joints would dish out Indian food to a grateful public. Give it a cute name, American-ize the taste by just a teaspoon, and it’d be huge.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Well Hung

I always marvel at the sight of spectators going nuts at sporting events in an effort to appear on the stadium’s video screen for a few fleeting seconds. And the people who consent to television news interviews on the worst day of their lives completely mystify me.

But as I watched William Hung warble a remarkable version of Achy Breaky Heart and ineptly croon Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree, I had an epiphany about the state of celebrity in America. The former American Idol participant was in Kansas City Friday as the "Grand Marshall" of the 18th Annual Elvis Parade.

Forget Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. We can all be stars now, all of the time. The charisma-free Hung stands as proof of that. Any one of the geeks dressed as Elvis, every sad-sack devotee of the classic rock radio station sponsoring the event, and all of the office workers in attendance on their lunch break would be more competent than Hung. And that’s the point.

Fame has been democratized. Technologies and platforms including ubiquitous camera phones, Xanga, My Space and reality television have accelerated this welcome revolution.

Of course, I’m no different. I produce this modest blog and I co-host a significantly more popular podcast. There will always be traditional celebrities. But their stars will be diminished by this new form of everyman celebrity.

There’s not just a bit of Elvis in all of us. We’re all William Hung.

Can I have your autograph?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Meet Me At the Wrecking Ball

Like most guys, I get giddy every time I see a wrecking ball in action.

So I was excited to come across a building being demolished near the Midland Theater in downtown Kansas City on Friday.

I didn’t flinch as the wrecking ball first slammed into the seemingly unremarkable building. But as sections crumbled away, I saw that underneath the taupe coating, the building once sported a beautiful concrete and brick exterior, complete with artful limestone flourishes.

The structure put up a fight. Strikes that would have torn through much modern construction dislodged only bits of mortar and brick.

Alas, only its tenants’ memories, this photograph, and a lingering cloud of asbestos remain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

We're Caught In a Trap

My Elvis Presley is not the Elvis on parade- literally and figuratively- last Friday in downtown Kansas City. In today’s popular consciousness, Elvis is an obese buffoon.

The Elvis in my mind recorded at Sun Studio and hung out with Bobby "Blue" Bland. The man who returned from the Army, sold his soul to Tom Parker and died in 1977 bears little resemblance to the Elvis I choose to recognize.

Sure, it’s fun to goof on Elvis. Jelly doughnuts and fat guys bellowing to Burning Love are always good for a laugh. The 18th Annual Elvis Parade is meant to be "wacky." But it’s also disheartening that the legacy of Elvis, like so much in our culture, is reduced to its crassest level. My Elvis is not a punch line.

The sincere Elvis pictured here, along with his fetching Priscilla, failed to draw much favorable response in the performance competition at Barney Allis Plaza. You see, even though he’s aware that he's absurd by definition, he’s not selling irony. He never had a chance.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stuck In Park

One of my fundamental credos states that it’s impossible not to have fun at a Major League Baseball game.

The Royals tested that doctrine Sunday afternoon as they lost their 14th and 15th games in a row in a gloomy doubleheader.

On the positive side, the temperature was ideal. David DeJesus hit an inside-the-park home run, Angel Berroa and Mark Teahan made stellar defensive plays, and Jose Lima pitched like an All-Star. The club gave away a DVD with highlights of the 1985 World Series team, and most importantly to many fans, the Royals’ twelve hits in the first game granted ticket holders free fat pills from Krispy Kreme. Yes, I had fun.

There’s a matter of money, however, that sticks in my craw. It’s not ticket prices; they’re fair. It’s not the cost of beer; the extravagant price helps me resist that temptation. It’s the $9.00 parking fee that really irks me. That’s about $750.00 for the season.

The Royals miss out on some of my chump change accordingly. More than once this summer, I’ve decided against going to a game on impulse, knowing that even though I can buy a $7.00 ticket, a $9.00 cover charge for the parking lot will eat up almost half the $20.00 in my wallet.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Corridors of Power

Just as dogs often resemble their owners, interns and their bosses in the Senate share common traits. This insight made meandering through the Hart Senate Office Building in D.C. last week unexpectedly amusing.

Charles Schumer’s interns seemed eager for a brawl as they snarled at passerby. Dick Lugar’s staff were friendly and relaxed. Grim tension radiated from Barbara Boxer’s office, but I was seeing a broad array of lifestyle choices inside was reassuring.

And sure enough, Sam Brownback’s crew, hosting Kansans’ tour of the Capitol, were awkward nebbishes. The temptation to defect to a tour group from Indiana was difficult to resist.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Goat Milking, Swine Judging and Table Setting

Gardner, an appealing little town that still seems worlds away from encroaching sprawl, is home to the annual Johnson County agricultural fair. The event is all about 4-H. Seeing kids display their livestock, produce and even their insect collections is heartening. I'm slightly disturbed, however, by the concept of a table setting competition.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


My friend and colleague Matt Morgus has started a record label in spite of my sage advice. A CD by Kelpie, the first signing to Birthday Party Records, streets in September. At his request, I wrote a few words about the CD for Matt to use as he wishes. I'm counting on him to pick up my bar tab at the record release party, or if I’m lucky, occasionally let me borrow his car (bumper pictured).
Have you ever seen the children's feature in magazines featuring a half-drawn image? The reader is asked to complete the picture using his or her imagination.

That's the concept behind Lawrence, KS, band Kelpie. Their music is intentionally half-baked.

Kelpie ignores traditional song structure and perversely disregards pop's fundamental formulas. Hey Friends It’s Kelpie lacks choruses and the songs never loop back to repeat the catchy bits.

A few years ago, a massive CD box set of backing tracks and partial mixes from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds recording sessions was issued. That's what much of Hey Friends sounds like. In fact, in the topsy-turvy alternate world of Kelpie it's possible that the boys abducted Brian Wilson, provided him with a sandbox filled with hallucinogens, and recorded the resulting jam session.

It's liquid sunshine filtered through acid-tinged glasses. And while he's not credited on the disc, Sgt. Pepper must have pieced together the ambitious harmonies, delirious lyrics, funhouse piano, and odd drum patterns while blindfolded.

In spite of- or perhaps due to- Kelpie's willful eccentricity, they may soon join the ranks of contemporary psychedelic pop masters like Olivia Tremor Control, Gomez and Of Montreal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Nationals Are On Fire

Washington’s RFK Stadium is a dump.

Best known for its tenure as a football battleground, RFK was abandoned for the Virginia suburbs by the NFL’s Redskins in 1996. This move is equivalent to the remote possibility that the Chiefs would forsake Arrowhead Stadium for Johnson County. But Kansas City's sports complex would need to endure a decade of scorching summers, many punishing winters, and a tornado or two to become as decrepit as RFK.

Few of the 37,000 people attending a August 3 game by the stadium's new tenants, baseball's Washington Nationals, seemed to be alarmed by a nearby cloud of smoke.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My Way Is Southwest Trafficway

It usually takes me several attempts to get the hang of a city’s subway system, and Washington D.C.’s version was no exception. Once mastered, however, it’s marvelously quick and efficient.

Using it to navigate the capital made it clear that light rail could never offer the same efficiency for most residents of the Kansas City area. The line under serious consideration would run from Olathe to downtown along the train tracks adjacent to I-35. It seems that this plan would almost exclusively benefit commuters from Lenexa and Olathe. And restoring the old line from Waldo to downtown- essentially the Max bus route- would be really groovy.

Even so, it’s highly unlikely that I would travel seven miles to I-35 or four miles to Waldo from my Prairie Village home just to avoid the twenty minute drive downtown. And if this tree-hugger can’t be bothered, how many people can?

Monday, August 08, 2005

W.C. Clark

Austin blues survivor W.C. Clark transported a couple hundred fans to the dark gloom of the Saxon Pub in the Texas capital at the Blue Sunday concert series at City Market on Sunday evening.

Clark’s efficient band of bass, drums and sax/harp allowed him to showcase his modest yet highly effective voice and guitar work. Clark perched on a stool, B.B. King-style, throughout the set.

The clear highlight of the performance was a moving rendition of John Hiatt’s Tip of My Tongue. Clark channeled Sam Moore, the Sam of Sam & Dave, on the heartbreaking ballad. Such remarkable readings of interesting material makes it all the more puzzling that he finds it necessary to sing hoary standards, like Latimore’s Let’s Straighten It Out and the Jimmy Reed songbook.

Although it was slightly cooler than previous Sundays, the water sprinkler (pictured) was still a welcome offering.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Washington Mystics

I’ve never fully understood why women’s basketball gets so little respect from fans of traditional men’s sports. The game played in the WNBA is surely similar to the pre-dunk game men played in the ‘50s. It's a team concept based on movement and screens.

The bias against the league, I suspect, is actually a unfortunate bias against the perceived fans of the game.

About 6,000 Washingtonians of all stripes attended a Mystics game at the MCI Center last week, where the home team, led by the incredible Alana Beard, beat the outclassed Charlotte Sting. Interestingly, the crowd was not integrated by type. For the most part, women fans sat in the massive arena’s second tier, basketball junkies sat behind the baskets, and corporate types had the best courtside seats.

But everyone was involved in the raucous event. Outside of professional football, I’ve rarely encountered the raucous mania for a professional sports team demonstrated by Mystics fans.

People interested in Kansas City’s Sprint Arena should know that the MCI Center was constructed at in already thriving neighborhood adjacent to downtown D.C.’s Chinatown. The building has four levels, a swanky membership-only saloon, a movie theater, and best of all, plush cushioned seats. My only complaint is with the disagreeable ushers who strongly discourage opportunistic fans from claiming empty seats.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Washington D.C.

I love life in Kansas City- under one condition. It’s essential that I leave several times a year.

When asked why I'm still here, I inform skeptical friends that I live like a king, while I’d struggle to make ends meet in a city like New York. My life is relatively simple and hassle-free. And there’s enough cultural and economic activity to allow plentiful entertainment and employment options.

Even so, living in Kansas City can be stifling.

I just returned from five days in Washington D.C. Landing at Reagan airport was just like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s world goes from sepia to technicolor. The capital is overflowing with vitality. It offers extraordinarily bountiful riches and an expansive sense of purpose on every block. Urbane, cosmopolitan and global, it’s worlds away from Kansas City.

Still, Washington doesn’t bother to conceal its sense of entitlement. The city abounds in snide, smug people blinded by their mean aspirations. Surprisingly, it's not just the seersucker suit set that's aggressively unpleasant. An unsavory spitefulness pervades the city like a toxic fog. The disenfranchised majority are cold and indifferent, a sad result of the elites' abuse. The ambition necessary to succeed infects its populace with avarice and spite.

Be it ever so drab and provincial, there’s no place like the warm and gentle home of Kansas City. Now about this next trip to Los Angeles...