I wondered today whether poppy seed muffins have become passé. At some point coffee shops either stopped selling them, or I just quit noticing them altogether. I spent some time this week discussing and contemplating the recent 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. 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 a different experience 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 not sustainable on a daily basis. 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 guys with dogs and crusty backpacks are allowed to hang out for hours without harassment. A cup of coffee at Broadway is $2 and a blend of several different roasts rather than a sanctified single-origin. I enjoy both these places, and I’d hesitate to say one is better than the other, but I think 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.
Today the splint and stitches were removed from my right wrist. My hand looked naked and small to me after the splint’s constant compression, and the arrow the surgeon drew to mark the incision site resembled a faded purple prison tattoo. When I got home, three men from Macy’s were installing the new reading sofa in the kids’ room. It’s the first significant piece of furniture we’ve ever purchased, having inherited or found almost everything else. After work I watched part of a high school football game on television, something I’ve never done before. The game moves quickly without instant replays or TV timeouts, though the athletes are clearly influenced by NFL broadcasts, wide receivers gesturing for penalty flags after every incomplete pass even when there’s no defender in sight. After my alma mater won in double overtime on a gutsy 2-point conversion play, I walked toward the door and announced to Jenn that I was heading out to party in the streets of Prairie Village. I could tell by the way she didn’t look up from her book that she didn’t think I was serious.
Today I watched the vapor trail of an airplane fly across the expanse of my studio windows, cutting a neat line over the Power & Light building and beyond. Seeing poofy white contrails against a bright blue sky always reminds me of Till, who used to take dozens of photos of plane-streaked skies, usually shot while vacationing on Isle of Texel, photos he would print in matte finish and hang in a cluster on the wall or mail out to friends with short messages inked on the back. Earlier in the day a lady driving a stolen white SUV slammed into the side of a red brick building at 18th and Oak while being chased by police, causing it to partially collapse. One witness said she thought the car had been going 80 or 90 mph. I had to be careful not to be hit by cars this morning on 12th Street, since Streetcar construction has obliterated any semblance of crosswalks on Main Street. I saw an illustration on Facebook of people walking on narrow sidewalks and crosswalks with buildings on one side and a cavernous pit everywhere else, with the pit representing the space we’ve ceded to cars. For dinner we took the kids to a restaurant where you order from your table by telephone and receive your food 10 minutes later from a train that loops around on an elevated track. The burgers were bad, but the novelty factor was outstanding. Even Emil leaned back and stared up in baby-like wonder at the train each time it passed. Afterward we ran into an old friend who was wearing tennis shoes and athletic gear. She said she works at a nearby hospital and comes to the shopping center to run. At first I thought she meant she runs inside the mall itself, which sounded exciting, but then I realized she meant in a nearby gym. Near the gym is a hotel with an elevator you can ride up for a great view of the city. We got on but mistakenly picked the side with no view, so we had to switch at the top and look outside on the way down instead, which isn’t quite as fun. As we descended back into the main building, the view outdoors was replaced by our reflections. I saw that I was still wearing my cardboard conductors hat.
This morning the last pumpkins on our block were taken out to the curb for trash pick-up. To save money this year, we chose a variety of small pumpkins with unusual patterns and colors. Carving them was easy enough, but their faces impacted rapidly and looked downright lecherous by Election Day. I decided to scrape my yellow pumpkin super thin to make it a glowing pumpkin lampshade, which would have worked had there been any way for the flame to breathe. Instead it just charred the underside of the lid and snuffed itself out in less than a minute. For the first time in 25 years, my dad chose not to carve his traditional half-smile / half-frown jack-o’-lantern, opting instead for a full frown to express our collective sadness about the Royals losing the World Series. I could tell that this upset my mother, as it did all of us, but no one could deny the sentiment. My favorite was the large pumpkin Ruby decorated at the neighborhood Oktoberfest, smothering it in puff paints, glitter and green and red pipe cleaners tied to the stem. If you could smuggle that thing into Sotheby’s, it would probably fetch bids reaching into the millions. Unfortunately most big city auction houses have security systems designed especially to keep out giant contraband art pumpkins. At least that’s what I’m told by my friends in New York City.
Tonight I smashed the cheap clock in the basement after pounding it with my fist to get the dysfunctional minute hand moving again. Who knew the surface was made of glass? Ruby was on the other side of the room, safely out of harm’s way, but the sound still scared her. “The clock broke!” she cried when her mom came downstairs to investigate. I felt worse about this than I did about the tiny shards of glass embedded in my palm. It’s tempting to try and extrapolate some playful philosophical meaning from this incident about the willfully disrupted continuum of history — or the start of a new blog cycle — but I’m not clever enough to pull it off. All I know is the momentary satisfaction derived from destroying something is almost never worth it.