Happy In Bag

Friday, September 30, 2005


The possibility of a new way of life was revealed to me yesterday.

Recent events compelled us to try camping, something we’d never attempted. It was all unicorns and rainbows. Save this photograph, I won’t reveal the site we selected, except to say it’s part of a public system. I now consider the location a secret refuge should I need to suddenly leave town but can’t locate my passport.

The remarkable revelation was witnessing the many people who have gone "off grid." Many are a step above being homeless. Others have tricked out RVs with more amenities than a conventional home. It's a compelling way of life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Live Wire

A well-intentioned person gently suggested that I take advantage of free mental health counseling provided to people traumatized by the Katrina disaster yesterday. She mistook my anger for lunacy, my impatience for madness. What she doesn’t understand, or refuses to acknowledge, is that the institution she represents is the core cause of my perceived instability. I have high expectations of organizations ostensibly dedicated to service and mission. When they fail, and fail miserably, I share my disappointment with them. Is that so crazy?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Suck Your Glasses

Had I directed No Direction Home, the Bob Dylan documentary broadcast on PBS the past two nights, I would have been tempted to loop the footage of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash rehearsing a Hank Williams song for three and a half hours. Seeing the two icons performing my favorite song, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, was almost more than this fanboy could bear.

Nothing against Martin Scorsese, the man who must have padded his resume to beat me out for the job, but slapping together footage focusing on the five years ending in 1966 is a laughably easy task. The great material is limitless.

Since I already knew that Dylan is an unpleasant and ambitious man who doesn’t mask his financial aspirations, I didn’t learn much. A similar study of the last forty years, in which Dylan’s failures play a larger role than his successes, would be much more revelatory. Maybe that’s the movie I’ll be hired to make.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pork Tastes Good

Even for a guy filled with what are politely called "eccentricities," voting to raise one’s taxes surely ranks as exceedingly perverse. Yet that’s what I did this morning in approving an extension on a school funding sales tax ballot. Furthermore, only a portion of the money goes to schools; almost $200,000 from the first round of Prairie Village’s revenue went into a consultant’s pocket.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Sisco and Lima Award

Even though the Kansas City Royals are Major League Baseball’s most miserable franchise, attending their games is still a wondrous experience. Faithful fans develop areas of special interest such as drinking beer, chasing foul balls, heckling players, or taking an inordinate amount of pleasure from the "Kiss Cam."

A small person living under my roof is an autograph hound. While I'll never allow him to camp out in front of the Plaza’s Fairmont Hotel while the Yankees are in town, his hobby is indulged by getting to games early.

So with Sunday’s final home game, I am especially grateful for the ongoing willingness of Royals pitchers Jose Lima and Andrew Sisco, more than any of their largely stingy teammates, to make themselves available to sign for kids.

As for grown men who elbow children aside to get closer to their heroes? You are scary freaks.

Friday, September 23, 2005


It’s been overwhelming, and the full saga will take years to play out. Still, the strangers we took in from New Orleans are now part of our family, and they now have a home of their own in Overland Park. It’s too personal, and too complex an experience, to write about in further detail now. We’d still do it all again. But, Rita willing, I’d prefer a breather before we deepen our engagement in this difficult, draining enterprise.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Rilo Kiley

Drinking beer while responsible adults are commuting to work is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. It makes getting through the rest of the day difficult, so I rarely indulge.

But knocking ‘em back in The Twin City Tavern as the sun came up Wednesday morning was worth the subsequent drowsiness. The smart California band Rilo Kiley performed an acoustic gig as part of a radio station's "Kegs & Eggs" promotion. Unlike The Shout Out Louds, who pouted through a brief performance at the Hurricane several months ago, Rilo Kiley played a spirited thirty-minute set. They led off with their glorious hit Portions For Foxes, and a cover of Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open the Door elicited a rousing singalong. Rilo Kiley is the opening act on Coldplay's current tour; unsuspecting concertgoers will be charmed as Rilo Kiley provides seat-seeking music.

I could barely glimpse the band from the back of the crowded room. But smiling with KU Med nurses, shuttle drivers and other night shift workers was preferable to staring slack-jawed at a band, even one with a vocalist as glamorous as former child actress Jenny Lewis.

My contentedness explains this bleary, beer-soaked photograph of the event.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


When I tell people I work with a company based in the West Bottoms, I'm often met with grudging respect. But that only goes so far. A century of accumulated grime is difficult to wipe away, and it's impossible to leave the building without its silty taste in your mouth. I've negotiated these stairs for two years without slipping, and I know my good luck streak must end soon. Excepting the building's ghosts, I'd trade it all for an antiseptic Lenexa warehouse tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ladies Man

I encountered this pithy gent in Overland Park yesterday. I'm certain he enjoyed this rare moment of solitude between exhausting social engagements.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I slept at the zoo last weekend. On purpose. Our tent was adjacent to a lake in "Africa" that's home to hundreds of Canadian geese. They honked through the night. In an effort to get to sleep, I concentrated on the equally loud drone of insects. I dreamt that the very secret of our existence was being transmitted by this constant hum. But the bugs’ code could only be broken when humans developed the technology to listen to and translate the output of every insect on the planet simultaneously. I woke to find I’d been bitten dozens of times.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I'm Doomed

Is it a bad omen to accidentally kill a dove?

Mourning doves startle easily, and I enjoy hearing their flustered hoots and watching their panicked retreat early each morning when I step out of my home to retrieve the morning papers.

Upon spotting me today, this bird went into motion just like always, but intead of flying to a favorite spot on the roof, it arced into the lawn, twitched a couple times, folded its wings, and died. Its grief-stricken mate sobbed mournfully on a branch above its fallen companion.

What will befall me- a plague of locusts?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tom Leathers

I learned a lot in my four months with Tom Leathers. The longtime Johnson County publisher and entrepreneur, best known for The Squire, died this week.

I worked for Tom one summer about twenty years ago. I did a bit of everything. The top priority, of course, was selling advertising space. As the new kid, I made cold calls and was assigned to accounts that had told Tom that they were through with him forever. I ended up writing a lot of "advertorial" To induce a business to buy an ad I’d promise them a story about the business in the paper.

I was also copy editor. That was a challenge, as Tom’s writing style was, to put it delicately, "conversational." I quickly learned to let Tom be Tom.

While his beat was Johnson County, Tom was at home in gray areas. His "best of" issues were the biggest money makers, as Tom would insist on securing advertising from each winner. And let’s say that the vote counting in reader polls may not have been entirely accurate.

Additionally, Tom was renowned for inventing impossibly absurd categories to maximize revenue. Winners of categories like "Best Reuben Sandwich In Olathe" weren’t uncommon. The topic of circulation numbers was another ongoing debate between Tom and his advertisers. The word "inflation" was tossed around quite a bit. When challenged on these issues, Tom would rant and rave. He was an expert yeller.

But the biggest lesson Tom taught me was that it’s possible to construct your own world out of your personal interests and passions. Tom’s idea of heaven would be a table at Winsteads during a busy dinner hour, pen and paper in hand. I hope he’s there now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Pancho’s may not be Kansas City’s best Mexican restaurant. But the Main Street establishment has very few faults. It has a enormous menu, delicious food, good service, and a great location. And it’s cheap. The monster pictured here is the California burrito. But next time, I’m going for the seafood fajita. There’s all kinds of goodness on that platter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

True Colors

As I wrote on September 8, I’m engaged in a consuming task. I’ve vowed to never make this a political blog, and I’m not about to start now, but the things I’ve witnessed in the past week have me dumbfounded.

I have yet to have anything but a Kafka-esque experience with a government agency. The deliberate callousness and monumental inefficiencies that the Katrina disaster exposed in these national institutions also contaminates their Kansas City branches. I am filled with a vindictive rage toward this system that this photo only hints at.

On the other hand, the kindness and generosity demonstrated by friends, neighbors and complete strangers is overwhelming inspiring.

Monday, September 12, 2005


When I arrive at an airport to catch a flight back home to Kansas City, there’s no need to check a monitor to see what gate I need. I simply walk through the airport and find the gate with the largest congregation of fat people.

I’ve been telling that joke since I was skinny, but I'm rapidly transforming into one of the chubby ones. Because I’ve been so rundown lately, and as my home is filled with junk food, I’m seriously considering letting myself go.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Splendor In the Grass

Love was in the air Thursday afternoon in Prairie Village. So romantic!

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I had to wipe tears from my eyes several times Wednesday.

I cried tears of gratitude for the opportunity my church provided to us. There were tears of grief at the firsthand stories of suffering I heard. I even shed tears of laughter at comic misunderstandings.

During service at Community Christian Church on Sunday my family offered to host evacuees from New Orleans in our home. They arrived yesterday.

The courage of our guests is beyond my comprehension. Kansas City would be fortunate if our new friends chose to remain here. I intend to assist them in finding them an apartment and employment. But for now, there’s much immediate work to be done- government agencies to meet, doctors to see, relatives to locate, and so on.

I also pledge to regulate my personality flaws so as not to add to the horrors they've already experienced.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Flights of Fancy

Hummingbirds appeal to my worst tendencies. People have accused me of being prone to hallucinations and imagined realities. Given hummingbirds’ size, speed, and color schemes, let alone their improbable existence, I’m never quite certain that these flashing darts of color are real.

So when I spotted what seemed to be a hummingbird dejectedly poking at an empty feeder Tuesday morning, I excitedly loaded all the feeders around my home for the first time this year. And sure enough, by evening I was tracking at least two species of these magical creatures.

A Cooper's hawk briefly watched from a maple tree in the front yard. It made odd growling sounds before soaring away. At least, I think that's what happened.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

My Achin' Noggin

Modern art needn’t represent an intellectual exercise in sterility.

The Kemper Museum recently hosted a festive avant garde exhibition titled Past In Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia. The wildly entertaining show left Kansas City in August, but it continues to resonate with me. A raucous collection of sculpture, painting and multi-media from several contemporary artists, the collection forced me to re-think my understanding of Asia, as well as my perception of art itself.

Strange Passages: An Installation by Maria Park, offers none of the stimulation of Past In Reverse. On display at the Kemper through October 9, Park's work is intentionally void of meaning and emotional indicators. I interpret its flat, empty images as a statement on advertising, television and jumbled historical context. I detest it.

On the other hand, I adore the giant Tom Otterness figure outside the museum (pictured). Although absurd, it manages to convey genuine pathos.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Wild Women of Kansas City

I’ve seen The Wild Women of Kansas City perform in bars, at churches and on festival stages, but never before Sunday night have I seen them play in a venue as pretty as the tree-framed park at 147th and Mission in south Leawood.

It's a great concept- four soul, blues and jazz vocalists trade songs, harmonize and joke with one another. It’s like a musical version of television’s The View.

Their performances are always fun and spirited. Lori Tucker has a rich, lustrous voice. Geneva Price brings an Ella-like sophistication to the group. Mille Edwards is a natural performer with a big voice and an even bigger vibrato. But the real star of the show is octogenarian Myra Taylor.

Taylor’s sassy, cantankerous antics are, by necessity, the focus. The photo shows Taylor serenading a man while scrutinizing his physical attributes. While the gimmick may become tiresome to many, it always amuses me. Taylor is a gem.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cash Conceit

Let this be the last so-called housing bubble story you read. Yet the phenomenon is real, and I can’t refrain from musing on its impact.

Houses in my neighborhood are selling for over twice what I paid for our home several years ago. With a vague sense of foreboding infecting the nation, I’ve begun to consider cashing out.

Why not sell everything down? I could set up camp in federal parks, traveling to the next site only when the park rangers insisted we move on. Home schooling is appealing, and I’d migrate as weather dictated. Presuming good health, the largest expenses would be a wireless connection, gas, food and bug spray.

See you in 2010...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Watts Mill

Hormonal teens seeking seclusion, revelers scouting a location to ingest intoxicants, and petty criminals on the prowl for a base camp couldn’t find a more inviting area than the historic site at Watts Mill.

A beautiful stream runs through the Missouri side of 103rd and State Line. Below the strip mall that now houses Jasper’s, lies the crumbling foundation and a grindstone from the old wheat mill once operated by the Watts family.

By day, the site’s past draws the occasional history buff, and the walkway along the creek attracts joggers, bikers and the odd fisherman. Based on the overwhelming amount of tell-tale litter spotted there this week, however, it seems the location serves an entirely different function at night.

It’s perfect for covert purposes. Two massive liquor stores and three fast food restaurants are steps away. And while the subterranean park is surrounded by busy parking lots, conversation there is masked by noise from the street and the stream’s small waterfall.

It’s good to see nature being enjoyed by so many.