Happy In Bag

Saturday, December 31, 2005



Minutes after his New Year’s Eve concert at Kansas City’s Folly Theater, I was stunned to see funk saxophonist Maceo Parker join us in the elevator of a downtown hotel.

"Maceo, your concert was great!," I slurred. The rickety old elevator was exceedingly slow, giving me a chance to break into my James Brown routine for the Godfather of Soul’s former bandleader. "Maatheeeeo! Gooood gahhd!," I shouted. "Blow thaaat hooorn!" Maceo smiled patiently, and didn’t administer the beat-down I deserved. It wasn’t until the next day that I knew to be embarrassed beyond comprehension.

The evening began so innocently. It must have been 1989, and the Pitch gave me tickets to Maceo Parker’s concert, along with passes to a pre-concert dinner. My date and I were joined by a very nice couple. We talked about sports, music, and how much we were looking forward to the night’s show. Imagine our surprise when the concert began and the man we dined with turned out to be the great Fred Wesley, trombonist and arranger for Brown, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins!

I might return to bacchanalian New Year’s Eve celebrations one day. If I embarrass myself tonight, it’ll because I lost my food in the fondue pot.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blogger's Holiday

Rather than succumb to my fever-induced urge to write about deeply personal matters, I'm going to take a brief blogger's holiday. I'll be back on New Year's Eve. If I'm still deliriously ill in a couple days, I'm certain to embarrass myself. I'm counting on returning to my old form, writing about hamburgers, jazz and basketball.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Perhaps I'll Die

I've picked up a nasty bug, about which I'll only say that dehydration is becoming a serious concern. Wish me luck, and please remember that I want to be cremated.

Monday, December 26, 2005

I Love It, But He's Not My Neighbor

In many ways, I prefer the willful eccentricity of the "Christmas" house in Prairie Village to the Plaza lights. Alternately eerie and festive, it represents a unique, individual vision. An otherwise normal residence is completely transformed every December into a spectacular display of lights, elves, animals, Santas, and toy soldiers. Many figures continually jerk in an creepy, robotic dance. Santa’s workshop is in the home’s garage. A creche lords over the north section of the yard. I’m just so grateful not to live next door.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Thin and Crispy

I realize it’s a bold admission to make in Kansas City, but I’ve lost my taste for Winstead’s. The relatively recent introduction of Midwestern hamburger chain Culver’s to the area is a good test of the rest of Kansas City’s loyalty to Winstead’s. Both serve the same thin, crispy burgers, along with shakes and malts. As the newcomer, Culver’s is shinier and brighter than the competition, and its staff is remarkably cheerful. Conversely, aside from a couple of old pros at the Plaza location, a sullen teen spirit pervades Winstead’s. There's a price premium at Culver’s, and ceiling fans in the dining room create an unwelcome, mildy disorienting, strobe effect. I guess that’s the penalty for forsaking the home town grease emporium.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kansas City's Saxophonists and Topeka's Poets

The distinction of being Kansas City’s best saxophonist is about as meaningful as being Topeka’s best poet. Almost no one cares anymore.

Even when Kansas City’s jazz scene was thriving 65 years ago, homegrown sax man Charlie Parker had to leave town to find recognition. Consequently, designating Kim Park as this city’s best saxophonist won’t generate much debate. Park demonstrated his incredible command, perfect tone and simmering musical ideas during his performance at a Christmas week service Wednesday night at Community Christian Church.

Unlike Parker, Park is a traditionalist working within established forms. Kansas City’s best-known sax man, Bobby Watson, has explored the fringes of jazz, although he’s become less experimental as he has aged. Watson is wonderful, and as his employers at UMKC would say, he’s a tremendous asset to the community. Yet Watson can’t match Park’s lustrous sound.

Kansas City has at least a dozen other world-class saxophonists- they include Gerald Dunn, Doug Talley, Ahmad Alaadeen, Kerry Strayer, Mark Southerland and Bill Crain. They’ll be the first to tell you that this venerable distinction ranks only slightly ahead of being Topeka’s third-best poet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Next In Line, Please

How I wish I could sit back and enjoy an Orange Julius at a mall’s food court and laugh at the frenzied look in men’s eyes. But I can’t- I’m one of the panicked zombies. I manage to avoid retail emporiums with negative energy and a cattle call mentality all year. But come late December, I find myself sucked into that vortex.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'll Take the Tiddlywink Piece

Few ostensibly fun things are sadder than the ticket redemption centers at children’s arcades. Sure, the pinball machines, go karts and lazer tag at places like Chuck E. Cheese's, Jeepers! and Power Play are a blast. Yet I suspect that the most kids walk away disappointed after redeeming their winnings for little more than a trinket or Tootsie Roll.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Kansas City Castle

I intend to move into the miniature castle atop the apartment building at the west side of 45th and Main. Oh, how I’ll enjoy lounging in my exclusive domain, occasionally looking down upon the insignificant minions doing my bidding. Don’t tell me that the fanciful structure is merely ornamentation to disguise the building’s rooftop vents and ducts. That’s my future home you’re talking about.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Best Albums, Songs and Shows of 2005

Patchchord, Kansas City’s excellent music site, has posted my year-end music best-of lists. Unfortunately, my superhero powers aren’t strong enough to keep Patchchord from revealing my true identity. You can read the same drivel at my MP3 blog, There Stands the Glass, without Patchchord's handscome text editing skills.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Apple, My Eye

Apple is cool. I get it. And sure, Steve Jobs is a genius. Now, please let me an buy an iPod, already.

I’d always enjoyed browsing in the Apple store on the Plaza. Friends had related horror stories about service issues and over-the-top attitude problems, but aside from enduring the occasional smug lecture from members of the Apple cult, I’d never had to deal with it.

It’s not that retail clerks shouldn’t be treated as equals. Among my stints in that role is a long tenure ringing up cigarettes and magazines at Plaza News just fifty yards from where Apple conducts business today.

Apple no doubt encourages its retail employees to adapt a pompous, condescending attitude, probably in the name of "branding" and modern efficiency. But being treated as a potentially unworthy customer by a "Mac Genius" doesn’t work for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Double Dog D.A.R.E.

I’m all for little kids avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol. Who isn’t? Yet a recent D.A.R.E. "graduation" ceremony at a public elementary school this week alarmed me. (The photo pictures law enforcement officials, a politician and school teachers.) The youth’s presentations were filled with exaggerations and misinformation. Isn’t there a significant risk of backlash in five years when the kids discover they’ve been fed half-truths by "the man"? Furthermore, should public schools even allow this sort of law enforcement indoctrination?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

But I Like Ruby Tuesday

As a former north-of-the-river resident, I was pleased by the development of Zona Rosa. I felt that an upscale retail development in the area was long overdue.

I was wrong.

I finally got a chance to spend some leisure time at the relatively new commercial complex off I-29 yesterday. The layout is ideal, the restaurant mix is excellent, and those old Christmas decorations they recovered from downtown Kansas City are spectacular.

I intend to return to Zona Rosa in the next two weeks to enjoy its luster one last time. Unfortunately, I predict that this is the last holiday season in which the development will project a vibrant sheen. It’s clear to me that the site will be radically transformed over the next few years. Oh, there will be plenty of commercial activity at Zona Rosa for decades. But the high-end shops will soon be replaced with less glamorous offerings.

It’s telling that a baseball cap store was the busiest retailer in Zona Rosa on Monday. I predict that the expensive jewelry shop will make way for a dollar store, Ted’s Montana Grill is destined to become a Ruby Tuesday, and that tandoori chicken will soon be replaced by tire spinners.

None of this really bothers me. I’m not an Ambercrombie & Fitch guy, anyway. Investors and area boosters, however, must sense that their ambitious vision of retail luxury is destined to fail.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'd Forgotten About Ralph

I vomited Saturday night.

It’d been years since I had been treated to the body-racking trauma and I’d forgotten its gruesome details. A Tabasco-laced midnight snack, which had been unrefrigerated for a couple hours, got the party started. A slimy sweat, accompanied by fifteen minutes of nausea, immediately set in.

Blood may not have sprung from my ears, but I know for certain that vile fluids shot out of every other orifice. Fortunately, it was over quickly. Perhaps the biggest indignity was clearing the small food particles that had entered my nasal passages during the violent uprising.

Today, only my throat remains sore. I sound like gravel-voiced Michael Garozzo pitching his restaurant. I may not be up for a feast in the place "where chicken speidini began" for another day or two.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I'm Expecting Coal

The tedious debate over appropriate seasonal verbiage doesn’t interest me. For the record, the cards I mail read "Happy Holidays" because a large percentage are sent to non-Christians.

A separate aspect of our December rituals does irritate me, however. I’m mildly offended by people who don’t sign the greeting cards they mail to my address. Why bother, if you’re not going to make an effort at sincerity?

I’ll rate a card from my plumber higher than one from my own sister if the plumber writes "thanks for the money" on his while my own family member couldn’t be bothered.

There are exceptions. One card we’ve already received came without a personalized note. But its printed text explained that a member of the family had just received a heart transplant. Now, there’s a valid excuse for being impersonal.

I’m certainly not going to win any popularity contests. But I treasure the handful of pals who think enough of me to scribble a few words before posting their note.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lights On Steroids

I recall a time when a string of blinking lights tossed on a bush in mid-December was the pride of the neighborhood. I’m not sure what to read into the trend of Christmas lighting displays growing exponentially more elaborate and kitschier each holiday season. Christmas tree ornaments are another matter entirely. Check out this sweet Mark McGwire decoration.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Snow, Snow, Do You Like Snow?

Do you like it in your face? Yes, I like it every place. (Apologies to the children's author.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Women of Avila

Avila College’s women’s basketball team looked bad Saturday against Baker University. Outsized and out-coached, they collapsed in the game’s final minutes. Avila’s dance squad, however, made quite an impression.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Beyond Cool

Regular viewers of Kansas City Royals television broadcasts will immediately recognize this character.

Metro Sports repeatedly aired a feature on his Rain Man-like retention of the complete historical statistics for the Royals during the 2005 season. This redhead doesn’t just know that Mark Quinn played left field for the 1999 Royals- he can tell you how many doubles Quinn hit that year.

I was delighted to see him working on the sidelines at Avila College's basketball games Saturday. It’s rare to discover a wholly unique person willing to embrace his individuality.

And yes, my hero’s shirt is on backwards.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Mystery of Don Chilito's

When I last visited Don Chilito’s Mexican Restaurant, Ronald Reagan was president and I was a teenage hoodrat.

My tastes were less discriminating then, but I recall thinking that Don Chilito’s served the most forgettable Mexican food I’d ever eaten.

After a twenty year absence, I returned for lunch on Thursday to the same establishment at the intersection of Metcalf and Johnson Drive. It’s still bad. The emphasis on bland ground beef, cheese and salsa is no different than the offerings at elementary school cafeterias on their monthly Mexican day. Taco Bell’s kitchen turns out the same counterfeit-Mexican menu at half the price.

But what do I know? Don Chilito’s was packed with happy customers Thursday afternoon. As a sneering teen and as a paunchy man, I clearly don't understand what constitutes a successful restaurant in Kansas City.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

We Are Devo

Is this Kansas dinosaur evidence of intelligent design?