Happy In Bag

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Perfect Day Spoiled

An otherwise perfect afternoon was spoiled by a lousy baseball game. The Royals were weak and unwatchable against masterful pitcher Johan Santana and the middling Twins. And was it my imagination, or did the entire stadium reek of chemical lawn application? The star of the game for many of the fans in my section is pictured.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Force-Fed Fun

Is it really that difficult to hold a birthday party for a kid? You invite friends over to your home or to a local park. You serve hotdogs and cake. If charades, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and cakewalks are too goofy, you go with a pinata, balls and frisbees.

Apparently, that’s too much trouble for many American parents. Or maybe there’s a competitive "arms race" to host the most elaborate event. So parties are often held at establishments like Chuck E. Cheese, Jeepers! and Power Play. Dave & Busters serves the same function for adults. I recently attended a party at a new entry into the arena of artificial hilarity.

Hidden in a Shawnee industrial park, Pump It Up offers inflatable moon walks, boxing rings and obstacle courses. Bored teenage girls monitor the kids and light the candles on the birthday cake. The parents are expected to watch passively.

Regimented and anonymous, this kind of force-fed fun is no fun at all.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Royals Need Nerds

I do a lot of geeky things. Of all my dorky endeavors, the pinnacle of my Poindexterism may be playing fantasy baseball.

Since I don’t dedicate enough time to fielding the best team and I can’t keep up with pitching rotations, I’m not especially good at it. But even the worst fantasy player quickly learns that the 2006 Kansas City Royals are the most hopeless team in baseball.

When fantasy teams were divvied up a few weeks ago, the Royals didn’t have a single player ranked in the top ten at any position. The supposed star of the team, the fragile Mike Sweeney, can swing a bat, but so can most first basemen/designated hitters. Sweeney ranks between #12 and #16 at that spot. The Royals’ next best fantasy player, 38-year-old Reggie Sanders, ranks about #30 among outfielders.

The cumulative player rankings are even worse. Sweeney and Sanders are considered fantasy baseball’s #190-200 best players. Those two veterans aside, shortstop Angel Berroa, center fielder David DeJesus (hurt), closer Mike MacDougal (hurt), and starting pitcher Zach Greinke (out with mental health issues), usually attract mild interest among fantasy’s bargain hunters. No one else even merits consideration. It’s not merely an issue of money. The 2006 Florida Marlins, with a payroll one-third of the Royals', manage to field several desirable fantasy players.

Fantasy baseball may be for nerds, but every one of those nerds knows that the flesh-and-blood Royals record of 4-14 is not a surprise.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bird Brain

When they start in at 4:10 a.m. it sounds like they’re roosting inside my skull. Wild birds begin singing to one another when sunrise is still a rumor. It’s my fault. I feed them and provide them with water. During daylight hours, I love my informal backyard aviary. Lately, I’m too sleepy to care much when the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk makes another feathery kill.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saturday Afternoon At Jardine's

They must have been considered hot tickets forty years ago.

The dames in their sixties and seventies were clustered up front to catch the action at Jardine’s weekly jazz jam session Saturday afternoon. Their highballs of yesteryear had mostly been replaced with iced teas. Aside from these enthusiastic ladies and the musicians who performed for them, the room was almost empty.

It’s a shame, because Luqman Hamza was Saturday’s "special guest." He’s been kicking around Kansas City for over sixty years. He’s now among the world’s best first-generation cabaret artists. His reading of "Skylark" was the most moving I’ve encountered. Hamza is the subject of today’s post at There Stands the Glass.

Bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Tommy Ruskin anchored the session. Two young female vocalists stood out among dozen people who dared to sit in. The pretty singer pictured here delivered a sexy "Besame Mucho." In a few decades, she’ll have earned the right to sit down up front.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Sentinel Sentry

"Get out of the way! You can’t walk there!"

I was strolling in front of the White House last summer when I heard the agitated yelling. I figured the protesters in Lafayette Park were just working their way through their normal chants. The hollering continued.

"We’re filming!" an indignant man told me as he approached. "You’ll have to stay out of the way."

Then I saw a couple of familiar faces. Actors Michael Douglas and Kiefer Sutherland were nearby, trying to find relief from the overbearing sun. They were making The Sentinel, a political thriller out today.

I was annoyed that a haughty film crew was restricting my access to perhaps the world’s best-known symbol of freedom. Yet like the hundreds of other star-struck tourists on Pennsylvania Avenue, I did as I was told.

I guess the hysterical conservative commentators are right. Hollywood really is controlling my actions.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Blood Count

A person close to me has recently been diagnosed with an ailment that may soon end her life. Death doesn't scare me. It's the uncertainty and the suffering that are terrifying.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Midland Mystery

The usher was growing weary of chasing a gaggle of intoxicated teens. She seemed relieved when I began chatting her up during the break at the Merle Haggard/Bob Dylan concert Monday night at the Midland Theatre. She told me that the next night’s concert would be the Midland’s last event.

The grand old building is owned by AMC. Will it survive as a theater in Kansas City's new Power & Light District? Maybe it become an incredibly cool batcave for a young captain of industry. The redevelopment’s official site curiously omits The Midland from its plans. While the cavernous room's acoustics are horrendous, it’s a gorgeous structure. It’d be a shame to lose it.

The young usher approached me a few songs into Dylan’s set. "What’s he doing?" she asked. "Why is he like that?" Those are good questions. I hope she reads my review of the concert at Patchchord.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just Dandy

Dandelions are worthy adversaries. They grow like, uh, weeds, crowd out weaker plants with their predatory tentacles, and reproduce faster than the rabbits here at Watership Down II. I fail my "White Middle Class Suburban Man" brethren by refusing to baptize my lawn with regular chemical baths. Instead, I attempt to manually yank the dandelions up by hand a couple times a week. And I'm losing.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Metal fans rool!

Just when it seems that America has officially made music an entirely disposable commodity, Midwestern aficionados of loud rock prove that it ain’t over just yet.

Parked outside a suburban Kansas City Borders store on Saturday afternoon were cars plastered with heavy rock bumper stickers. Many had out-of-state plates. They were in town to see Rob Zombie perform that night. But first, they caught Zombie’s opening act, Italian goth-metal band Lacuna Coil, play a brief, technically impressive acoustic set at the upscale retailer.

A lengthy autograph session ensued. Borders chose not to play the band’s music after the live set, presumably so as not to offend their usual customers. (Check my notes about this local dilemma at Patchchord. It was perversely amusing to see hundreds of aggressively body-enhanced yet docile fans line up in the silent store.

Metal fans, like their country music counterparts, are renowned for their loyalty and dedication. The music industry should hope that they breed heavily.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Star Spangles Manner

Good news for grease hounds.

Spangles is a Wichita-based fast food chain. The closest outlet to Kansas City had been in Topeka, but a location on 6th Street in Lawrence will open soon. Don’t let the‘50s-theme decor deter you. The burgers are a notch better than Wendy’s offerings. A few seafood items provide a change of pace. And there’s a strong emphasis on malts and shakes.

I've written about my affection for Culver's. As with that upstart restaurant, Spangles employees are well-trained. They may not really care if you enjoy your meal, but they make a good show of pretending that they do.

Let Calvin Trillin's tired nostalgia smite me with a shuttlecock. Spangles is the new Winstead's.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Foul Line Foul

Boy howdy! It's early spring and I’m already in full sweat mode. I’m one of those revolting guys who drips sweat like an NBA player at the foul line in the 4th quarter. Only I reach that condition by just walking down the street. Still, Kansas City feels, smells and sounds like paradise this week, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Ornery Defiance of Kansan M.T. Liggett

The flat plains of western Kansas were just beginning to give way to rolling hills as I sleepily motored east toward Wichita earlier this month.

Then I saw it.

It was just as startling as the jump from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz.

Just inside the fence along the north side of Highway 154 are hundreds of metallic signs and sculptures. Most of the works are profane, vulgar and angry, like the portrait of our governor pictured here. While politicians are the most common targets, other totems lampoon biblical and mythological figures.

What kind of brilliant crank would do such a thing? His name is M.T. Liggett. Details about the Mullinville, Kansas, artist and social critic are at this site. Don’t miss the incredible documentary film available there.

The defiant individualism of Kansans like Liggett are the reason the state, for better or worse, will always be in the national spotlight. (The Hutchinson News reported today that Liggett is "entering the race for the Kansas Board of Education seat now taken by Ken Willard.")

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Not Exactly a Cup of Tang

There’s virtually no crossover between my silly musings in this space and the audience for my little MP3 blog. And that’s the way I usually like it. But since today's post at There Stands the Glass reads like a pathetic diary entry about my childhood, I’ll refer you over there.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wrong Ideas From Right Field

That’s more like it.

A half-full stadium allows for plenty of elbow room. And with the pivotal vote behind us, I could concentrate on my sunburn without distraction. I enjoyed Sunday's game at Kauffman Stadium much more than opening day’s mania.

My seat in the right field bleachers afforded close evaluation of Reggie Sanders and Jermaine Dye. As much as I detest the Royals’ self-defeating practice of aquiring aged hired guns, Sanders is a strong presence in right field. He’s also great with the fans. Of course, he’s no Dye. The former Royal and World Series MVP dominated with his graceful defense and gritty offense.

Oh yeah- the Royals lost.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Old School Pain

I’ll bet a few boys and girls over the age of 30 remember this forgotten playground classic. The childhood bone-breaker had escaped my consciousness until I stumbled into this relic at an abandoned playground in western Kansas last weekend. The idea is to run with the triangular handle until you build up enough momentum to lift yourself off the ground. I vaguely recall how fun it was to kick the kids on either side of you as you swung dizzily around the contraption.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Duck, Duck, Goose

I detest them.

They're loud and they stink. Many of their kind live here year round. Just as they don’t bother to head south for the winter, they seem annoyed when I attempt to navigate around them on park sidewalks.

I'm not referring to transient panhandlers, at least not the human kind.

Canadian geese make me want to track down my old shotgun, especially after discovering that an ideal field for a game of catch is loaded with their large, revolting feces.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We're Not Wichita!

Congratulations, Kansas City- we won’t become Wichita for at least 25 years.

I was in Wichita, Kansas City’s would-be doppelganger, last weekend. It was a drag.

I spent an evening in Old Town, Wichita’s new downtown entertainment district. This is the redevelopment’s hub. Note that this is not an artist's rendering; I snapped this picture at 5pm on a beautiful Saturday. It was a ghost town. And it was easy to see why. Aside from a happening bar adjacent to a gas station, the area’s club, restaurant and shopping options are bleak.

Without careful planning and real-world citizen guidance, I fear that this dreary scene may foreshadow Kansas City’s Power & Light entertainment district. Clearly, Old Town doesn’t offer locals anything they need or can’t get elsewhere.

The corridor’s anchor is the Warren Theatre, a locally owned movie chain reputed to offer one of the finest movie-going experiences in the world. In-seat food and beverage service is enabled by very wide aisles. Pretty cool. The food comes straight from microwaves, but the popcorn is good and adult beverages are available. The Old Town outlet also offers a sports bar with arena seating. It has the biggest television screen I’ve ever seen.

But thanks to yesterday’s vote, I don’t need to escape reality in a darkened cinema. And I don’t need to look to Omaha or Wichita for my entertainment options.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Who Won the Beer Drinking Contest?

Although I’ve attended hundreds of professional baseball games, yesterday was my first experience with opening day. I knew it would be festive; I didn’t realize it was a glorified beer drinking contest.

Chiefs games aside, I’ve never seen so many sloppy drunks during daylight. This photo is of a line for a portable toilet in the parking lot a full hour before the game. (All of these people were perfectly sober and did not participate in the antics detailed below.) Bathroom lines inside the stadium grew so long that some people left Kauffman Stadium early to find relief for their bladders and from $7.00 beers.

The pre-game ceremonies weren’t exclusively about Budweiser. Buck O’Neil received a heartier ovation than any Royals player. Old school fans were treated to introductions of retired players like Bill Pecota, John Mayberry and George Brett. Actor Chris Cooper, the subject of an embarrassingly excessive two-minute introduction on the video screen, threw out the first pitch. Country star Sara Evans competed with a B-2 flyover and Challenger the stunt eagle as she crooned the national anthem.

The anemic Royals offense gave fans additional incentive to drown their disappointment.

There was solid competition in the contest for most inebriated fan. I almost went with the besotted gals who mercilessly taunted two nearby toddlers until their family gave up and left in the fourth inning. The carousers who vomited at they staggered to their cars deserve consideration for their dramatic efforts. But the award goes to a blonde so shellacked that she required a golf cart to get back to her boyfriend’s car. The pie-eyed gal then began throwing dollar bills at the open windows of nearby cars.

Go Royals!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Don't Fence Me In

Fat people like to dine at Golden Corral. I should know. The modest buffet chain serves basic fare like steaks, soft serve ice cream, fried chicken and green beans. Save for the blueberry cobbler, none of it is notable, but all of it hits the spot. Part of the attraction is the democratic sense of the place. Fatties aren’t treated like obscene gluttons. Golden Corral is especially delectable during a road trip, when the mere idea of choking down yet another burger and fries is unacceptable. More plates, please.