Happy In Bag

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Boared Silly

The wild boar sits patiently in a quiet Prairie Village shopping center.

He studies the clock tower as shop girls take smoke breaks on nearby benches. Consumers wandering from The Jones Store to Bruce Smith Drugs and music students shuffling in and out of the Toon Shop pay him no mind.

The snouts of the boar’s counterparts in Florence, Italy, and on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza are worn to a golden sheen by tourists. Only a few sticky-fingered toddlers notice the bronze beast of Prairie Village.

His day will come.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ron Rooks

I deliberately avoided Ron Rooks the last time I saw him. Ron was behaving so erratically at a Los Lobos concert last month that I moved to a different section of the venue so he wouldn’t spot me.

That’s how bad things had become. It wasn’t always like that.

I was immediately enamored with Ron’s wit, intelligence, ambition and passion for music when I first met him about twenty years ago. He was off-the-wall and crazy like a fox. I enjoyed few things more than drinking beer with him in the basement of his store, The Music Exchange, back when it was east of Broadway on Westport Road. Although I disagreed with him on virtually every subject, I loved that man.

People shouldn’t allow Ron’s recent troubles to overshadow the way he lived most of his life. His children filled him with pride and he loved to brag about their accomplishments. And Ron knew that he had a wonderful wife. His sporadic efforts as a professional musician made him giddy. He also made quite an impression on elderly Kansas Citians with his hysterical appearances on the Mike Murphy talk radio show.

Ron died earlier this week.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gas Face

I don’t know anything about energy efficiency, but as an amateur treehugger I question the wisdom of decorative gas lamps.

Outdoor lamps like this one burn 24 hours a day on the corners of many J.C. Nichols subdivisions here in central Johnson County. They don’t provide much light; they’re just for looks. It must cost a bundle, to say nothing of the environmental issues, to keep these eternal flames lit.

Solar-powered street and traffic lights and traffic lights are becoming commonplace. Why not convert to these systems? Barring that, perhaps these lamps could be augmented by light-sensitive on-off switches.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Southern Lebanon? The Gulf Coast? Try Mission, Kansas.

This is what the remnants of Mission Mall at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Roe looked like a couple days ago.

The little boy in me desperately wants to jump the fence and play in the wreckage. Forget the planned redevelopment- the city could just charge admission to immature males like me so we can play our infantile games on the site.

Last week I unintentionally copied a subject Emaw covered at Three O'Clock In the Morning a couple weeks earlier. Today, I’m deliberately stealing his material. Sorry, brother- if you don’t like it, I challenge you to an old-fashioned rubble fight.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Shock of Recognition

Have you ever seen the back of your head?

I hadn’t seen mine until last night. As I watched KCPT’s broadcast of this summer’s Jazz In the Woods festival I recalled that I’d positioned myself in front of the stage during the enchanting Erin Bode’s performance.

Sure enough, the film crew’s boom camera captured a guy sitting in my chair. And he was wearing my clothes. But what’s up with his hair? That can’t be me, can it? Oh no! Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Unraveling Will Be Televised

Don't watch this video.

It's sickeningly depressing.

The Kansas City knuckleheads featured here are clearly showing off for the camera, and whether or not their individual claims can be substantiated, they represent our society’s tragic failure to offer all citizens a sense of hope and opportunity.

There have always been goons, and there’s nothing new about flagrant criminal activity. Even so, this footage represents a new pervasive sense of apocalyptic nihilism that’s destroyed countless lives.

Plenty of people are to blame for creating these lost souls. Yet until the situation improves, I suggest that this video be screened at the commencement of every meeting of the school board and the city council.

We have to do better. Until then, I intend to mind my manners when I spot a "12" on a ball cap.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Vandals Took the Handles

What would compel a vandal to crudely deface this Brookside street sign?

Maybe it’s just the work of a juvenile stoner out for a laugh.

But it could be a cry for help from a neighborhood kid. His divorced parents ship him off to boarding school and otherwise ignore him unless it’s time for the bi-annual family portrait. Back home for the summer, he roams Brookside every night with a can of spray paint and a bottle pilfered from his dad’s liquor cabinet.

Or maybe the vandal is just a moron.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Little Wing

Something had been missing from my summer. I’d seen no sign of the hummingbirds that delighted and awed me last year. They’ve finally returned. Odd cicada activity caught my attention yesterday evening. Then I realized that those tiny green flashes weren’t insects- they were my beloved hummingbirds. The birds are very timid (that explains the blurry photo), but I trust they'll soon be comfortable enough to once again whistle in my ear.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gimme the Scissors

It starts with a little red sports car.

After purchasing the vehicle, middle-aged men join fitness clubs with an emphasis on social interaction. They run up debt as they haunt singles bars. They lose their jobs because of their erratic behavior. In the end, the men leave their wives and children for sad little bachelor apartments.

That’s my experience with men in their 40s and 50s who buy these vehicles.

I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions, and in many cases it’s an innocent act of rebellion. But I still can’t help myself from mocking these guys as I spot them tooling around town desperately hoping to recapture their lost teen spirit.

So I was deeply amused when I spotted the unintentional irony of this "spay & neuter" license plate frame on this little convertible. Please- can I do the honors?

(For the record, I did not see the driver of this vehicle. It might be a teenage girl or an elderly woman. In any case, I’m sure he or she possesses none of the traits and mannerisms I detail above.)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Page Rage

An antisocial outcast, I’m not much of a joiner. It’s only my sincere affection for Three O'Clock In the Morning that compels me to participate in his book meme. But I’ll be darned if I’m "tagging’ anyone.

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll changed my life. Only when I read this dark study in self-mutilation did I grasp that every kid has the power to throw his life away. Unfortunately, I took it to heart.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been deeply rewarding every time I’ve read it.

Like a few of my other selections, I realize that suggesting that the Oxford English Dictionary be my companion on a deserted island is unimaginative. So barring that, I’d be satisfied with this Beyonce wall calendar from 2004.

I’ve looked at a few other people’s picks in this project, and I’ve been startled but pleased to see that my favorite novel, John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany appears in several categories. It kills me.

I’m such a sap. But how can you not cry along with a girl as her aspirations for a decent life are shattered in Betty Smith's A Tree Grows In Brooklyn?

I love the work of T.Coraghessan Boyle. But I can’t read him without thinking that had I made different choices it would have been my mug on these book jackets.

Why doesn’t our society allow for heroes? I wish that Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal That Rocked Professional Sports had never been written.

I’ve deliberately delayed reading the final ten pages of Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap. I wrote about the book here.

I couldn't afford Canada. Guatemala would work. Contemplating escape is one of my favorite pastimes. I haven't read Choose Mexico: Live Well On $600 a Month, but books like this arouse me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Livers and Gizzards

The emotional dynamics on display at hospital cafeterias can be overwhelming.

Celebrations of the births of healthy babies aside, it’s unlikely people are there for good news. Meanwhile, the hospital’s staff congregates at the cafeteria for its meals. The contrast between the aggrieved and fearful public and the staff’s jovial workday meals is pointed.

I try to maintain my composure in this grim environment by watching young doctors fussily prepare salads while most orderlies, nurse’s aides and citizens stand in a nearby line for cheeseburgers and onion rings.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

We Repair Them All

Since I spotted this remarkable vehicle earlier this summer, I’ve been using its image as a talisman.

"Car of magic- heal my sick friends and family."

"Car of magic- let there be peace in the Middle East."

"Car of magic- please make it rain."

"Car of magic- get me on the guest list for Gary Numan."

I don’t think it's helped, but it certainly gives God a break from my petty sniveling.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Poisoned Well

The latest feature on my music blog reads more like a Happy In Bag entry, so I’m posting it here. Note that unless you’re involved in drug trafficking, the MP3 is not safe for work.

5th Ward Weebie- Whatever

Triksta: Life and Death and New Orleans Rap holds special appeal for me. Like author Nik Cohn, I have experienced the seductive allure of being a small-time music biz impresario with just enough pull to insure that interesting new talent keeps walking through the door. I have also had the profound pleasure of hosting Katrina refugees from New Orleans in my home.

While Cohn's examination of artists including Soulja Slim and Choppa are fascinating, and his distaste for labels like No Limit is boundless, what makes Triksta extraordinary is the insight it offers into the pre-Katrina life of impoverished black New Orleans. Cohn explicates the community's overwhelming sense of hopelessness and the resulting impotent rage that I recognized in my new family.

The first artist mentioned in Triksta is 5th Ward Weebie. The ugly, merciless world Weebie and his cohorts Three 6 Mafia, Mr. Serv-On and Sleepy Eyes Jones describe on "Whatever" is no longer a celebratory cartoon to me. I now hear it for what it actually is- an apocalyptic vision with actual names and faces attached.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You Swale Me

I’m a skeptic.

The Kansas City area is dotted with sites that ostensibly contain original wagon wheel tracks made by 19th century pioneers. One such marker is just a mile from my house. I wish I could see the ruts. But I can’t. I suspect that they’re not even there. It’s just wishful thinking by history buffs.

This picture is from a similar site in southwestern Kansas. If I’m feeling generous I can spot what might be swales cut by wagons on the Santa Fe Trail. But I also see a cloud that looks just like Walt Bodine. Without the power of suggestive thinking and the imprimatur of a historical society, I don’t think anyone could detect them.

I'm not suggesting that wagons didn’t once roll past this land. It’s just that time, farmers and construction have eroded the evidence.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fear and Whiskey

"I’m the lead singer of a metal band. Here’s a flyer for our show next week. Will you buy me a beer?"

That exchange was typical of the self-promotion, naked ambition and unhinged desperation at The Pitch Music Awards Friday night. Anyone daring to prop up the Uptown Theater's bar was obligated to console or congratulate the nominees, in addition to being bombarded with demands to attend various performers after-party gigs.

And that’s exactly why the annual event is so fun.

While most artists make no secret of their desire to win, their hunger pales in comparison to the fanaticism displayed by the parents of a handful of the bands. One of the nominated metal bands must have had fifty proud but misguided friends and family present. Their boys lost.

Of the evening's performers, I was most impressed with the Bjork-on-a-bender sound of Anvil Chorus and the scratched classics of DJs Sku and Ataxic.

I had such a great time that I didn’t bother to take a picture until I was halfway down the block after the final, dream-shattering award was handed out.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Angel Berroa Vs. Angels of Anaheim

What do you want out of the new, improved Kauffman Stadium- aside from a winning tenant? A recent visit to Angels Stadium in Anaheim gave me a few ideas. My pictures and thoughts are posted at Hit Random.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Those Darn Locusts

It seems that Kansas City’s locust population is louder than in past years. I don’t recall the need to shout to be heard over the insect’s shrill white noise. The decibel level under mature maple trees is deafening. This shaky twelve-second video I shot in my yard last night fails to convey the locust’s unrelenting volume, but it should serve to give outsiders an audio snapshot of life on a muggy August evening in Kansas City.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

There But For...

I don’t give money to homeless people on the street. It doesn’t help anyone.

There’s at least one shelter in Kansas City that offers a bed and a meal to every sober person who can make it to the facility by 6:00 pm. There’s no cost or obligation. Destitute individuals and families seeking an additional assistance can rebuild their lives in reStart’s residence halls.

reStart isn't the Marriott, but it’s surely better than the streets for anyone with a desire to improve their lot. (I'm no expert- what little I know about reStart is based on my community of faith’s contribution to the charity and on a one-hour tour I’ve taken of the facility.)

I suspect that most homeless people already know about beacons like reStart and prefer life in the gutter. This scamp in Santa Monica passes out to the lulling sound of the surf and awakens to generous tourists at his feet. Being down-and-out in Kansas City can't be that nice.

Instead of handing that guy on the corner a dollar, please consider offering him a cab ride down to 9th and Harrison.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Dropping the Ball

Wily Mo Pena’s majestic blast sailed beyond the seats in the left field concession area last night. A neighbor in the section’s bleachers told me that the ball struck a small child in the head as he waited in line.

I wasn’t surprised.

Take a look at this picture I took shortly before last night’s game between the Royals and the Red Sox began. It’s as if the concession staff wasn’t planning on a game Tuesday night. This window wasn’t manned. Ordering a hot dog at a staffed counter meant another two-minute wait. The long lines must have served as target practice for Boston’s dangerous sluggers. "Hey, Big Papi- I bet I can hit one into that mob in left field."

I realize that the Royals are probably delaying stadium improvements until the end of the season. That’s why small portions of the video screen scoreboard have been black for months. That’s why there’s construction-style graffiti on the stadium’s walls. That’s why drainage gutters under the seats are clogged with trash. That’s why I saw a 75-pound boy manage to break his seat right off its base in the sixth inning.

Going to games at "The K" used to be a first-rate experience, even as the team’s play deteriorated. Let's hope next year is a brand new ballgame.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I'll Be Your Wench Tonight

What’s your most regrettable entertainment purchase?

It might be tickets for a Shania Twain concert, an investment in the ill-fated Laserdisc format, a broken glow-light at the circus, or sea monkeys.

I bought tickets to the ultimate ridiculous extravaganza last week. My excuse is that Medieval Times was only a block away from my motel, and I couldn't face another traffic jam on "The 5." I don’t know if I was more irritated by my fellow dupes who bought into the show- souvenirs and all- or by the show’s silly spectacle.

I was disappointed to discover that all the warm, overpriced beer in Orange County couldn’t salvage this disastrous miscalculation. In fairness to the Medieval Times enterprise, here’s full disclosure- I detest Las Vegas, fake British accents and lines.

It’s inevitable that Medieval Times or a similar operation will open at Village West in Wyandotte County. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Different Kind of Pitch

I’m sheltered.

My delicate sensibilities were shocked at the Pitch Music Showcase. And it wasn’t just the infantile porn hip hop of Bacon Shoe that offended me.

While most people at the five showcase locations were there for the Pitch function, a full third of the head count were composed of the typical Thursday night Westport crowd. Among their numbers were a couple dozen smarmy guys.

I kept bumping into them as they prowled for hook ups. These weren't beer-swilling frat boys. Their leering and guffawing antics are as predictable as they are conventional. The weasels I’m referring to clearly spent time a lot of time in the mirror applying hair spray and musk cologne. They had a ruthless, glassy look in their eyes as they scanned the rooms for "the ladies."

Gross. Are there actually women who go for these men? Self-conscious hipster kids aside, the clientele at the live music bars I almost exclusively frequent are resigned to their scruffy appearance. Any sparks of mutual attraction need to overcome slovenliness, empty wallets and unapologetic geekiness.

I used the Pitch’s function to catch three bands I hadn't yet seen. American Catastrophe were the real revelation, although their dark, brooding music sounds silly in the light of day. I laughed out loud at Bacon Shoe in spite of myself. And I wrote about Brothers Green at my music blog.

And no, I'm not headed for Harpo's tonight.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Surfin' Nerd

The athletes at the U.S. Open of Surfing weren’t happy. The swells at Huntington Beach were insufficiently high last week. The waves would only occasionally surpass eight feet.

I already learned the hard way that surfing is too difficult for me and that it really smarts when you fall into those hard boards. So I was messing around on a boogie board in shoulder-deep surf a few hundred yards away from the competition. Every once in a while I’d catch a wave that would propel me to shore. It was great, dumb fun- until one of those rare, giant walls of water hit me.

It almost killed me. Rather than pushing me to shore, the wave flipped me over and pounded my skull into the ocean floor. I lost consciousness for a few seconds. When I came to, I was doing involuntary underwater somersaults like the victim of a Spongebob Squarepants pratfall.

My neck still aches and sand continues to trickle out of every orifice. But I’m alive.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cancer Sticks

The default smoking section at KU Medical Center is directly in front of the hospital’s cancer ward. A few members of this scruffy group of smokers are watching a feeble patient shuffle into the center yesterday morning. Is this delicious irony the ultimate act of defiance, sheer stupidity, or brilliant performance art?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I'm Considering a Move To L.A.

Not really.

It’d be an easy decision if I had unlimited resources. I’d buy a home on the beach just north of Santa Monica. Of course, I’d require both a driver and a helicopter pad. Alas, reality intervenes. Here are my notes from the past week in Los Angeles.

Here’s why I love L.A.:

*Economics. Employment opportunities for my "skills" are plentiful in Los Angeles.

*Vitality. Kansas City is safe but sleepy. Los Angeles is electric with energy.

*Beaches. As if sun and surf weren’t enough, spots like Huntington Beach are teeming with Veela.

*Food. Who needs tablecloths when the world’s best food can be had in every strip mall for well under ten dollars? Burritos, cheeseburgers, curries, wat- I’d be even fatter in L.A.

*People. Los Angeles is like a virtual United Nations utterly indifferent to each other’s differences. It makes you realize how backwards race relations are in Kansas City.

*Weather. Seasons are nice. But I’ll trade both spring and fall just to escape this Midwestern blast furnace.

*Flora. The fact that hibiscus is used as a pedestrian landscaping shrub delights me.

Here’s why I hate L.A.:

*Traffic. Intolerable.

*Housing. How can people afford homes that cost three to six times as much as they do in Kansas City? And rent is two to three times higher than it is here. It’s one thing if you’re a Hollywood mogul; it’s quite another if you’re a bus driver.

*Unsightly. With the exception of the hills and the beaches, the Los Angeles area is just plain ugly.

*Odor. Los Angeles smells like rotting fruit.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

No Doz

I wouldn’t last long under enemy hands. They wouldn’t even need to torture me before I offered all my valuable state secrets. Sleep deprivation is all that’s needed to make me fall apart like the Chiefs’ defense. When awake for more than 24 hours I begin to hallucinate objects in my peripheral vision. I can’t make sense of numbers. Distinguishing between reality and imagination becomes difficult. Somebody get me a pillow.