It’s at this point in the daily blog cycle when doubts set in, when the amusing anecdotes come to a halt and are replaced by various misgivings. Difficulties today getting either of the kids to stop crying for their mother following their afternoon nap. Difficulties connecting with old friends who are in town for the holidays but have also been invited to other dinners or outings where the social circles don’t quite intersect or which the restrictions of parenting don’t allow for. How much of this is appropriate fodder for a public-facing blog post? Probably very little. Perhaps it will resurface in some other form.
Last night I went to a new karaoke bar with all five of my siblings plus several friends and significant others. It’s been David’s dream to get all of us together for karaoke, and it almost happened last June in Seattle until my mom saw all the little private rooms and got nervous that it was actually a brothel. Last night there were no such hang-ups. In fact, the private karaoke suite, with its darkness and disco ball lighting, seems uniquely designed to eliminate hang-ups of any kind. You find yourself singing with the same abandon you would at home in the shower or while practicing rock star poses in the mirror. We covered a lot of territory in three hours, with everyone finding at least one track along the way to get completely lost in. When Phoebe got up on the table, perhaps to give herself a better chance of hitting a high note, the waitress quickly told her to get down, not because it was against the rules, but because the tables were from Ikea. I wrecked my voice screaming the chorus to “Hey Jealousy,” and almost broke my brain trying to make sense of the lyrics to “Call Me Al.” But soju heals all wounds, or at least makes everything sound better. As we left, I looked up and saw the place was called “Off Key.” Even someone as delusional as me about his singing talents had to admit this was pretty fitting.
There are days that do not begin well and can only be salvaged by donuts. There are Face Time conversations that time out in the middle of a sentence and digitizes the speaker’s face, making your closest family members temporarily seem like cyborgs. There are muffins made of carrot juice pulp that smell delicious but taste like couch stuffing. There are sequences from past travels that your conscious mind has discarded and which resurface in your dreams in entirely new plot lines. There are days when no one texts and the only calls that come in are debt collectors with the wrong number. There are buoyant hangovers where everything is laughable and easy, and there are existential hangovers where your soul aches and you second guess everything you’ve ever said. There are things you do that you suspect might not be worth the effort, and which very well might not be. But you keep on doing them, because you never know.
Yesterday I held the door open for a lady who had just come in from a smoke break. I made a face after she turned the corner into the elevator lobby, thankful that I no longer feel any urge to smoke, especially at a time of year when it seems to always result in an unending cold, cough and sniffles. But later in the afternoon as I walked to Anton’s along a torn-up Main Street, I got a momentary sensation of excitement as I reached into my jean jacket pocket and felt a soft cardboard box about the size of a deck of cards. A pack of smokes! Wait — no. A package of generic CVS razor blades. Funny how even years after the physical cravings for nicotine subside, the tactile associations still trigger the anticipation of having a cigarette, an act that always made me me feel more at home in the world, especially in an urban environment, where the first thing I often did upon reaching a new city was buy a new pack. I had the same experience a couple of months ago when I thought I saw a pack of Gauloises in my backpack only to find out it was actually a box of raisins. I couldn’t buy Gauloises in Kansas City if I tried. Which, I suppose, is probably for the best.
Tonight we went to Target, where I’ve finally learned to shop without getting too disoriented or anxious. I used to wear sunglasses the whole time, and would only ever shop alone, but now I just wander around looking at junk food and holiday decorations while Jenn and the kids stock up on essentials. After Target we went to Chick fil A, which isn’t super tasty but has an indoor play area. While Jenn and Ruby crawled through the tunnels and slides, I fed Emil little bites of yogurt. Outside you could see people sitting in their cars as they waited in the drive-through. None of them looked especially excited that they were about to eat Chick fil A. In the corner table, a group of eight Japanese exchange students was having a great time. In the booth next to me, a balding man was sitting across from a lady in a pink hoodie. He was telling her that he gets lonely sometimes and could use some companionship, but his church didn’t have a singles group and he wasn’t sure whether to start with eHarmony or Christian Mingle. Maybe I could just download some pictures of myself to each one, he said, which she thought was a good idea. Of course, nobody will ever replace your mother, he said. I think about her every day. In fact, he said, I emailed Facebook earlier and explained what happened and asked them to take down your mother’s page. Reading it is just too morbid, he said, having not yet taken a bite of his chicken salad wrap. He preferred to memorialize her by bringing flowers to her grave each month on the 7th. If he did eventually meet someone new, they would probably move in together. Or maybe they’d sell the house. He would really enjoy having someone to tour Civil War battlefields with. As he went on to explain the importance of individual battles, I thought about checking my phone to see if any verdict had been announced in the shooting of Michael Brown. Instead I waited until we were in the car so I could turn on the radio. Listening to the prosecutor’s statement as we drove home felt disquieting and surreal, like being trapped in b-reel footage of some shitty historical drama. The footage of burning cars, riot cops and pundits was already playing in my head before we got home. But when we did, I turned on the TV anyway.
I wondered today whether poppy seed muffins have become passé. At some point coffee shops stopped selling them, or else I just quit noticing them altogether. I spent some time this week discussing and contemplating the rise in crypto-Christian coffee shop culture as detailed in the Pitch cover story, “City of God: How Christian churches are changing Kansas City’s cultural landscape.” I’ve been an infrequent visitor of boutique coffee shops like Oddly Correct, where single-origin coffee is roasted with extreme care and prepared using a pour-over method, and where defiling your coffee with cream is strictly taboo. The coffee itself is delicious, the music playing is top notch (usually Sharon Jones or Charles Bradley) and the sun streaming in (open daylight hours only) onto the reclaimed wood and metal furnishings creates a peculiar, reverent atmosphere. But it’s not necessarily a place where anyone is going to smile and ask you how your day is going. The last time I went, the girl working the counter flipped around the card-reading iPad without looking up from her phone. Maybe it’s different if you know these people from church. Either way, you’re going to pay about $5 for a single cup of coffee, which is a treat on occasion but hard to do every day. In contrast, take Broadway Cafe just down the road in Westport, where a dad wearing an “American Atheist” t-shirt sits next to a teenage girl reading Hemingway for the first time, and the crusty dudes with dogs and sleeping bags are allowed to hang out for hours without harassment. A cup of coffee at Broadway is $2 and is a blend of several different roasts rather than a sanctified single-origin. I enjoy both places, and I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, but I bet if Jesus were to show up in Kansas City looking for a cup of coffee, he’d probably find Broadway’s lack of pretension and mingling of unwashed souls a more inviting option. Then again, he’d probably just order a water. Or at the very most a spot of tea.
Late last night I talked to my friend Adam on the phone for almost two hours. While trying to figure out how to best exchange mix CDs / playlists, we lamented the arc of iTunes from an amazingly intuitive and convenient media player to an increasingly confusing application where music is an afterthought and the iPod classic no longer exists. Each time I update iTunes I feel like the subject of a Kafka story, with my familiar, conveniently structured world of albums and playlists replaced by a disorienting, impersonal matrix of thumbnails and menu options. I don’t do well with forced obsolescence or (what I perceive to be) updating for updating’s sake. So much so that I’ve developed an almost mystic fascination with the manual typewriter, an invention so simple and solid that many of them are still being sold and used decades after their original owners have died. While researching famous writers and their machines, I learned that Cormac McCarthy wrote all of his novels on the same Olivetti Lettera 32 without ever needing to maintenance it beyond an occasional blast from an air hose. Dr. Seuss wrote on a Smith-Corona Silent. Fernando Pessoa (and several of his alter egos) wrote on something called a Royal 10 with double glass windows, which I found difficult to picture. This morning a man who arrived in a black BMW convertible purchased the broken Princess 300 I’d put up for sale on Craigslist. He paid in cash, which was promptly spent on new clothing, food and ice cream cones. Later in the afternoon, at the antique mall, I saw a hulking black Royal typewriter on an old desk. I didn’t recognize the model until I saw the glass windows on the side. It was the same model used by Pessoa himself. And it still worked.