Writing exercises

DC002 1

When it comes to sheer originality of correspondence, I have to hand it to my daughter, Ruby, who composed this letter the week she turned one year old. The marker was added by her mother, but the message itself is all hers. How she managed to summon those characters on my typewriter, I have no idea, but I’m impressed at the sophistication of the typography, the economy of language, the poetic repetition of the “c” key, the little star toward the end. Normally I would consider posting my child’s work slightly exploitative, but it was written on my machine, after all, and in lieu of a post of my own, I thought this might be more fun to read instead.


A short, silly segway soliloquy

I have a real problem with segways. On the downtown sidewalks outside my office, public safety officers and security personnel are always zipping around on them like a paramilitary force, doing ridiculous figure eights in the park as they rendezvous with each other and talk into their walkie-talkies. The other day one of them almost ran into me as I turned to step into my building. I shot him a look that said, “why don’t you go ride that thing off a bridge?” and I think he got the message even if he didn’t heed it. I can’t blame him for that, though — those things cost more than a used car. Several times in the parking garage I’ve seen a segway plugged into the wall and have had to talk myself out of stealing it. I’d probably get fired over it, but sometimes you have to make a statement. I made a joke about segways on twitter which said the proper spelling of the device is to transpose the “w” and the “g.”  That prompted dozens of response tweets from LGBT groups, most of which said that, although they usually don’t condone that kind of humor, in this case it was totally worth it. I made another joke comparing segways to fat girls, but that did not go over so well. I blame my lack of sensitivity on a bad case of PTSD (post-traumatic segway disorder) brought on by all those close brushes with calamity caused by wreckless segway pilots. Then again, who knows what the future holds. Perhaps in my old age I will form a gang of Hell’s Angels rejects called the Segway Saints, which will tool around picking up litter and robbing ATMs. Maybe I’ll get a segway for Christmas and/or my birthday and will be delighted. But that’s unlikely. In the meantime, I’m hoping the Kansas City Segway corps gets redeployed elsewhere. I can just imagine President Obama or Secretary Kerry’s next speech on Syria announcing that “there won’t be any boots on the ground, but there will be segways.”

Seven o’clock at Pickwick Plaza

bus depot

On Wednesday over lunch I decided to walk east, a direction I almost never go, and for good reason — there’s pretty much nothing there. Once you get past city hall, the federal courthouse, and all the government buildings, you’ve got little else besides a highway, a few old churches, the Greyhound Station, and a bunch of industrial lots and increasingly bedraggled pedestrians. On the eastern edge of downtown, though, at 9th and McGee, is one of the city’s most interesting buildings, the former Pickwick Hotel and Union Bus Depot. The building is in pretty decent shape, except the clock has been stuck at 4:25 for as long as I can remember, reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s descriptions of time coming to a stop, a critical moment for the historical materialist “in which he himself is writing history.” My friend Nathan does a great job of describing Benjamin’s notions of history in his meticulously researched and thematically soundtracked podcast. In fact, it was Nathan who first told me about this unique Kansas City landmark, which I’m sure factored into his own writing and understanding of time, philosophy and the city. All I could think of while watching birds fly in and out of the broken clock face where the 7 used to be, is how surreal and gothic the former Pickwick Hotel looked even at noon on a bright summer weekday. With all plans to renovate it cast aside and no visible designation as a historical monument, the frozen clock tower stands as an intermediary between the commerce and bustle of downtown and the mostly vacant stage set of its eastern hinterlands. Its stately yet suspended-in-time presence manages to effortlessly embody a future that awaits its surroundings, and which awaits us all.