Happy In Bag

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Where's the Fat and Lazy Animal?

Among the proposed improvements to the Kansas City Zoo is "a more convenient entrance." Apparently, walking an extra two hundred yards along a remarkably attractive path from the parking lot to the zoo’s gate is too taxing for our community.

When asked recently about the zoo’s entrance, a couple of kids told me that "it’s one of our favorite things." Anyone who’s seen kids at the zoo knows why- they're compelled to walk on top of the path's concrete border.

I’m all for upgrading our zoo, as long as it’s done with foresight. The fact that the zoo covers an enormous swath of Swope Park shouldn’t be considered a liability. Why not construct fences or moats throughout the open space and give the animals more room to roam?

The photograph is a reminder of the zoo’s unfortunate history. The ape house opened to great fanfare in the ‘70s. Yetit makes human prisons seem plush, and it’s been shuttered. May I suggest that it be transformed into a fast food outlet? That would be sure to pack ‘em in.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hello, Hy-Vee

The time has come to address the burning issue of our day. It’s more vital than my opinion of Hamas, and more pressing than my take on the vote on the tax increase to fund Kansas City’s sports complex.

I’ve switched grocery stores. I’m now a Hy-Vee man.

For the past couple years I’ve roamed the wide aisles of my neighborhood Price Chopper. The guys behind the butcher counter give me new recipe ideas and sports predictions. The cashiers know that I’m not up for small talk. The store manager has learned to quickly trot the other way when he spots me. Everyone’s happy and no one gets hurt.

I also frequent the revamped Price Chopper in Roeland Park. It offers Mexican cookies and chorizo, and I love seeing produce that leaves me scratching my head, such as the prickly green fruit pictured. It's so dangerous that tongs are provided to handle it.

I’ve never cared for my local Hen House. It’s so upscale that it sometimes feels like an Easter parade fashion show. It’s congested, the prices are high and the lines are long. Additionally, a good portion of my household’s budget goes to Whole Foods, but I personally manage to avoid both it and Wild Oats.

Yet for the past few weeks, I’ve forsaken them for Hy-Vee. Even though it’s a bit out of the way, I’m thrilled by its cheap fruits, wide selection, enormous health food area, and best of all, the absence of an Orwellian shopper card.

Friday, January 27, 2006

So-so at Lulu's

It’s unfortunate that the food at Lulu’s on Southwest Boulevard doesn’t match the restaurant’s positive vibe. It’s a friendly, feel-good joint. The wait staff is pleasant, although they don’t know much about the cuisine. But neither does the kitchen. The food was mediocre at best during a busy lunch hour yesterday. It’s as if the food was prepared as an art school experiment in which one essential ingredient was left out of each dish to see if anyone noticed. Few seemed to care.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Artistic Ritalin

I get it. I just don’t like it.

Decelerate, the current main exhibit at The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, is a response to the manic speed of our modern age. Even as I write this, I’m distracted by NPR, blinking instant messages, unviewed email, and a ringing cell phone.

Comprised of works by ten artists, the works in Decelerate are an attempt to slow life down. It’s an interesting premise that doesn’t translate into good art. Most of the pieces in Decelerate are annoying, obvious or unintentionally ugly. Everyone understands that life moves quickly and that we're overwhelmed with stimuli. We don’t need bad art to tell us.

That said, I love the Kemper. Anyone can walk in and inspect the art for six or sixty minutes. And the museum just large enough to ignore Decelerate and enjoy the rotating showing of the Kemper’s stunning permanent collection.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bald Is Beautiful

My impression of our national bird had been less than favorable. The only bald eagles I’d witnessed up close looked bedraggled and mangy. But over the weekend I spotted three bald eagles at the banks of the Kaw River in Lawrence. The majestic creatures soared gracefully, apparently seeking prey. Every time they neared a flock of gulls, panic would erupt among the much smaller birds. This shot is the best I could do with my basic Kodak.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

That's Not Funny

Few things make me happier than a fresh newspaper, a pot of coffee, and enough time in the morning to consume them.

My love affair with newspapers began early. Dick Tracy and Charlie Brown taught me how to read. Like an addictive gateway drug, the funnies led me to the sports section, which expanded to a compulsive need to read the entire package.

Times change, and print media becomes less relevant with each passing day. When I die, the local paper may very well note that I was the last subscriber to its print edition. Even so, I’m perturbed that The Kansas City Star reduced the size of its Sunday comics section from an already miserly six pages to a single sheet of four pages earlier this month. A vast array of comic strips are available online, but reading them electronically just isn’t as fun.

Based on my experience, it seems like a shortsighted business decision. Perhaps it’s a lost cause to hope that today’s kids will follow my entry into newspapers via the comics page. But now, at least in Kansas City, it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What About Gayle Sayers?

Are you interested in the history of the University of Kansas volleyball team? Do you want to know more about the founders of the school’s cheerleading program? The Booth Family Hall of Athletics, which opened over the weekend in Lawrence, is made especially for you. The new sports museum is attached to the east side of Allen Field House. It’ll be an excellent way to kill halftimes or thirty minutes prior to tipoff. All facets of Jayhawk sports are represented. But the vast majority of patrons only care about basketball. The rest also care about football. Yet hoops only comprises about twenty percent of the space. Consequently, a star volleyball player may merit as much comment as standout running back Gayle Sayers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

January Is Weak

While it’s gray, cold and wet this Friday morning, our Kansas City winter has been wonderfully mild. I’ve had spring fever for days- car windows have been down, home windows have been up, and the ability to play catch outdoors in shirt sleeves has been wondrous. Just take a gander at the temperature yesterday. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean that we’ll reach the ridiculously high end of this gauge in August.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

There Is a Free Lunch

If every restaurant was as good as The Free State Brewing Company, home kitchens across America would soon be coated with a thick layer of dust. The Lawrence, KS, institution continues to excel in food, service, value and atmosphere.

National chains like TGI Friday’s aspire to capture the essence of solid independent restaurants like Free State. The goal is even spelled out in the name of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar. Yet it’s an almost impossible task. Free State emphasizes fresh ingredients, knowledgeable staff and fair prices in a fashion that's exclusive to genuine neighborhood establishments.

It’s not that Free State has the area’s best food. It doesn’t look all that impressive, and just in Lawrence there are a dozen trendier places to dine. But year after year, Free State delivers the entire package.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Zen Zoo

Did you know that the Kansas City Zoo is effectively shut down for the winter? I didn’t realize this until I visited it over the holiday weekend. Sure, they’ll take your money and let you in, but only the "Australia" and the "Cat Walk" areas are open. That means you get no chimps, seals or elephants. Instead, you can view the free-range kangaroos, a nice little aviary, grim cat cages and the entertaining freak of nature pictured here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Crystal and Christian Collapse

Between the consecutive Kansas men’s basketball team losses to Kansas State on Saturday and Missouri on Monday, I witnessed Kansas’ women’s team lose to Texas A&M in on Sunday in Lawrence.

And just as Christian Moody failed to win Monday night’s game at the free throw line, Crystal Kemp missed two free throws at a pivotal moment late in her game Sunday. Unlike Moody, Kemp was the best player on the court. She’s a big gal with a legitimate shot at playing professionally.

The Lady Jayhawks are a fascinating assortment of players. In addition to Kemp, there’s sharp-shooting Oklahoman Kaylee Brown, Slavic freshmen Marija Zinic and Ivana Catic and underrated Taylor McIntosh from Wichita. Even when they lose, they’re fun to watch.

Instead of bemoaning the women’s poor ball handling skills or Moody’s inability to knock down a free throw, I’ll assign blame to Kansas’ drought on the brand new scoreboard at Allen Fieldhouse. Like all such modern additions, it shows replays, pans the spectators during timeouts and of course, blares advertising. It distracts fans and players alike, and consequently diminishes the essence of the game.

Monday, January 16, 2006

he mad a famis spech in washentin

One of the most striking features of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is the way it incorporates the structure of the Lorraine Motel into its exibits. The room in which Martin Luther King, Jr., was staying has been preserved exactly like it was moments before he was killed in 1968.

Clothes, suitcases, books and the like are scattered throughout the room. What most shocks children is a full ashtray and open pack of cigarettes. Is it possible that this icon engaged in a vulgar smoking habit?

It’s difficult for today’s youth to grasp that until recently more adults smoked than abstained. But the important lesson is that all humans, including King, can be weak and fallible. Acknowledging these frailties doesn’t diminish heroes like King; rather, it makes their accomplishments even more remarkable.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Testicle Test

I assume that ten-year-old boys are decorating their dad’s vehicles. Otherwise, I can only speculate on what motivates these yahoos to accessorize their trucks. Are they suffering from inadequacy issues? Is it a subconscious Brokeback Mountain thing? Perhaps "male enhancement" products have addled their judgement. Or is it simply their way of saying FTW?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Marry Me, Marrakesh

After only one visit, Marrakesh Café, located in a strip center near the hellish intersection of 119th and Metcalf, is my new favorite restaurant. I’m sure more cosmopolitan cities have scads of similar establishments, but as far as I know, this is Kansas City’s only Mediterranean buffet.

You can get a gyro, salad, and a Pepsi at Marrakesh, but you’d be silly to stop there. The two lamb dishes are inspired, the stuffed grape leaves are wonderful, and the rice with shrimp is first-rate. Bluebird Café aside, the soup is the best I’ve had in Kansas City. And the baklava is insanely good.

There’s a catch. Lunch for two comes to $21.52, without leaving a tip. Tack on four more dollars for dinner. And this from a joint that makes McDonald’s seem plush. It’s worth it, but that hefty tab will limit my visits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Count Me In, Crossroads

I felt it. While investigating various properties in the Crossroads district last week, I finally became excited about recent developments in the area. A fresh vitality was already in place- many hip shops, comfortable cafes and desirable condos have appeared in just the last three months. And when I factored in all the new construction that will be completed by 2008, I began to willingly guzzle the Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Gooey, yellow-green excrement rained like Seussian oobleck.

Approximately six dozen starlings bombed me from their locust tree perches each time I refilled the birdbath in my backyard yesterday. Within five minutes, the bath would be as dry as Carl Peterson’s wit.

I feed birds year-round, and lately I’ve managed to extend the stay of a few relatively rare migratory birds, including a stunning red-headed woodpecker. These rapacious, ugly starlings are spoiling my efforts. Only a odd gaggle of male robins, along with a couple of mean squirrels that I haven’t managed to eradicate yet, dared challenge the starling’s numbers yesterday.

I wonder if Wal-Mart sells silencers for shotguns.

Monday, January 09, 2006

"Where Does Hate Get You?"

I despise Buck O'Neil's bladder.

"I could talk for ten more minutes," O'Neil said near the end of a twenty-minute address, "But I'm 94 years old and I've got to go to the bathroom."

John "Buck" O'Neil is my hero. And I would do almost anything to be in his presence, including suffering through a two-and-a-half hour interfaith worship service at Community Christian Church on Sunday afternoon. (I'd already had two hours of church that morning.)

Tailoring his remarks to the audience at the "2006 Greater Kansas City Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Celebration," O'Neil discussed love, faith, and his personal experiences with segregation. His biggest disappointment, he said, wasn't being barred from playing in Major League Baseball. After all, O'Neil asserts, "I played in the best league at the time." Instead, he still feels the pain of being excluded from the high school in his home town of Sarasota, Florida.

As much of the world already knows, O'Neil is a charismatic speaker exuding an unconditional lust for life. At least a dozen faith leaders addressed the congregation; a few are renowned public speakers. O'Neil's candid, folksy narrative made them look like dilettantes.

While O'Neil is incomparable, the service offered a few additional highlights. A choir spontaneously joined Uzziel Pecina's folkloric group Aztlan in a rousing version of La Bamba. The Christ Temple Youth Choir raised the roof with a fiery take on Lift Him Up. Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski offered a few choice words in his introduction to O'Neil.

I think O'Neil may have been fibbing about the bathroom. I later spotted him working the room with a distinct proclivity for the fairer sex.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Just Drop the Knife, Already

"Rules are for other people," my old man would say, tossing another Coors Light can out the window as he swerved down the highway at eighty miles an hour, a Lucky Strike hanging from his lips.

My dad was filled with dubious advice. And he was a bully, using his large size and taste for confrontation to intimidate waitresses, clerks, co-workers and family.

Although I’ve dismissed most of my dad’s credos, a few have stuck with me, especially the ones that seemed contrary to his tough-guy nature.

"Never argue with a man holding a gun," he warned. "Especially a cop. He’s just as soon shoot you as spit on you, so do exactly what that man says." That’s damn good advice.

Consequently, I have very little sympathy for men killed by police after they fail to cooperate. Of course the police will shoot you when you don’t drop the knife. The outrage generated by recent incidents in Kansas City and New Orleans completely baffles me.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Not So Drab

Gray and dark. That’s Kansas City in January and February, when life becomes cold and colorless. It’s a struggle for me to make it through the drab period after the holidays until March, when the sweet smell of life returns. Sports, especially college basketball, becomes my refuge. So this unseasonably wonderful weather, characterized by pleasant breezes and sunshine, is very welcome. Trees remain leafless, landscapes still seem washed out, and daylight is scarce, but it still feels like we’re cheating precious days from this soul-sapping season.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I'm Shocked!

While there's nothing funny about death by electrocution, this graphic on local utility boxes almost makes the danger seem enticing. If the unhappy skeleton man causes me to laugh involuntarily as if I'm watching Tom & Jerry or the Three Stooges, I can only imagine what must go through the minds of eight-year-old boys when they find this illustration. Good times are only a toolbox away.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Recommend Wearing Bright Orange

I spent a couple days in central Missouri over the holiday weekend. It’s refreshing to study the night sky properly and unwind in a setting where population density of deer far outnumbers humans, even after the hunting season has thinned their ranks. It’s a mixed blessing- we may not have access to mountains or beaches in Kansas City, but we’re surrounded by wide open spaces.

Monday, January 02, 2006

War On Christmas...Trees

I made the annual trek to the local Christmas tree graveyard on New Year’s Day. Even after weeks of torture- dry homes, bright lights, bent branches and the indignity of an angel over their crown- the natural trees are still more attractive than the trees sprayed with green dye. I once tried the living tree route. After being transplanted, the plant died immediately. It’s too bad that the concept doesn’t work- I’d have a orchard of evergreens in my yard.