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.

Blow Up lebt!

Blow Up

Received this SMS from Botschaftler last week:

Bitte beachten Sie auf das folgende Dispatch aus Bonn. Der infamous late-night Lokal und Konsulat unserer Organisation, “Blow Up”, macht künftig dicht, bzw., zieht um in eine gr?ere und bestimmt völlig beschissene Lokation, was deutlich auf das Ende unserer heiligen Tradition, nämlich “Explodieren,” hinweist.

Adam, thanks for the message and hope you drank at least one Kölsch and one Pils each for each of us. With those little .2 pours and a 5 a.m. curtain call, noch eins never hurt anybody.

Photo by Jennifer Wetzel, summer 2011

Apple Market closes, columnist gets a suntan

Yesterday I was excited to see an article in the Kansas City Star about the closing of Westwood’s legendary Apple Market grocery store, which I’ve been going to since it was called United Super back in the early ’80s. City officials have informed us that the store will be closing soon to make way for a new Walmart Neighborhood Market, but no one I’ve talked to seems to know the exact details.

The column, written by Ink photo director Jennifer Hack, had some nice descriptions of the grocery store’s atmosphere, with its wobbly shopping carts and depressed cashiers. The high notes in Mariah Carey’s “Dream Lover” were barely audible over the loud hum of the prehistoric fluorescent lights is just a great line.

But in true Ink style, the article contained absolutely zero reporting, quotes or facts about the store’s closing, instead detouring into an eight-paragraph (!) soliloquy about the courage it takes to wear a bikini in public. That’s unfortunate, because there are a lot of interesting human interest stories at play in the closing of this notably outmoded grocery store.

If Hack had taken the time to ask the cashiers why they look so depressed, she might have learned that some of them are single mothers who have recently learned they won’t be able to transfer to the business taking its place. She might have also mentioned that the new store will be a Walmart, which was reported by the Business Journal back in early May but strangely absent from this piece. What will these cashiers do next?

She could have talked to the store’s long-time owners, who were known for giving discounts to shoppers buying food for their church and school functions. Walmart will undoubtedly be a cleaner and more modern facility, but it’s hard to imagine it having the same handmade signs, off-brands and personal quirks that made Apple Market what it was. Will having a corporate owned store instead of a locally owned business affect the community at all, or will anyone even notice? Would be interesting to hear what Apple Market owner Alan Wiest has to say after running the place for 30 years.

The author could have looked into the history of the place and discovered that in 2003, Apple Market was the site of Westwood’s only murder, when store clerk Ray Ninemire was gunned down one Friday morning by a man reportedly dressed as Abraham Lincoln. Ninemire, who spent hours drawing signs with folksy slogans like “Park it, Margaret, let’s Apple Market!,” was shot after coming to the aid of a female clerk. A large case file sits on the shelves of the Westwood police department, but the killer was never found. Are they still looking for him, or is the case officially closed?

In my opinion, this kind of stuff would have been much more interesting than Ms. Hack’s lengthy confession that she’s traded in her two-piece for a tankini. But this is the Kansas City Star in the age of Ink, when columns read more like Facebook posts than news stories, and any real reporting is apparently discouraged.

Ms. Hack seems like a nice, thoughtful person, and I wish her the best with her new column even if it seems like she’s just trying to be the new Jenee so far. She might like shopping at Apple Market because nobody there knew her name. But to get a real story, there’s still no substitute for actually talking to people.


When is this heat wave gonna end? I’ve been indoors so much I finally decided to put up a blog post. There’s always plenty I could write about here, but I have been making more of an effort to catch up with people individually. The way we share information about our lives has changed so rapidly since I started blogging, and I’ve found it’s best to take a step back to assess what’s worth sharing and what lessons and events are best experienced more quietly.

Big news first: Jennifer and I successfully reproduced, and our daughter Ruby Celeste is 12 weeks old today. Figuring out how to be a parent has been lots of fun so far, and we’ve enjoyed introducing her to friends and family.

In our free time we also launched a literary website called Kawsmouth, which I encourage you to visit. The idea sprang from my longtime wish to create a print journal, but we decided to start by publishing online in order to build up a readership and a body of content. So far we’ve been really impressed with people’s contributions, and we’re already looking forward to the next few monthly additions. If you have any questions just write us at kawsmouth (at) gmail.

Speaking of writing, Robert Josiah Bingaman was kind enough to invite me to take part in “The Frontier,” Charlotte Street Foundation’s 15th anniversary multimedia exhibit at the Paragraph Gallery that just ended yesterday. My contribution was a mimeograph-resembling letter of sorts addressing the creative experience in Kansas City from both an insider and outsider’s perspective. It’s online, but I think it reads better in print, so let me know if you’d like a copy.

The image above is a zoom-in of a mangelexemplar I printed just before the show’s opening night. I almost like this one better than the more legible version, because the double exposure creates a level of obfuscation that I’m slightly more comfortable with.

I’m still working as an assistant editor at Universal Uclick, where I edit comics, text columns and puzzles and serve as a liaison between the creators and client newspapers. The main site we post content to is called GoComics.com, and while it’s free to check out, you can read the site ad-free and get an amazing variety of comics emailed to you each day for just $11.88 a year.

The picture at the very top was taken this week in Westwood, Kansas. We didn’t want to start any fires so we settled for some mammoth smoke cylinders to celebrate our independence, creating a misty, sylvan atmosphere similar to this Revolutionary War scene painted by Wyeth, which we saw this week at the Nelson.

The Wimbledon final has just resumed from a rain delay, so that does it for this installment. I feel super lucky to be living here and am enjoying watching my friends and family get older and start to take on new challenge and responsibilities, from the grandiose to the quotidian. Thanks for staying in touch, and hope to see you soon.



An April moving picture postcard, one year later and not a day too soon

Dear ______ ,

One of the things I like the most about Easter is that it’s a floating holiday, a movable feast following the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Last year we followed the Paschal full moon through the Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh’s main square and one of the most lively, head-spinning places I’ve ever been. The square is home to all kinds of sensory stimulation, as described in the liner notes to this particularly sublime Sublime Frequencies release:

By day it serves as a venue where magicians, fortune tellers, herbalists, acrobats, monkey handlers, snake charmers, dentists, astrologers, numerologists, and sorcerers create intriguing displays of bewitching spectacle. By night, the square transforms into a symphony of mystical brotherhoods and night musicians…

We didn’t have near enough time to properly explore Morocco or join any mystical brotherhoods, but the walk to our Riad in the video above encapsulates the suspended mania and fleeting quiet moments that made up our week there, which preceded travels in Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany before moving back here last May.

This April, I’m joining Jennifer on a different kind of journey. As I may or may not have already told you (we’ve been trying to do so in person as much as possible), we’re expecting our first kid in just two weeks. Jenn has been feeling well and we are both excited.

Friends have asked me how expecting a child has changed my perspective, and the obvious answer is that I haven’t experienced anything yet. But on a small level, I do feel somehow reinvested in the species, as if re-attuned to the values and qualities of childhood, such as curiosity, openness and an appreciation for life.

(Of course, the spring weather plays a part in that as well.)

One of the biggest reasons we feel confident that we’ll be able to do a decent job parenting is the support, warmth and wisdom passed on to us by our family, friends and colleagues. For that we are extremely grateful.

The next two weeks will be interesting. We’ll be sure to keep in touch, and I look forward to seeing or hearing more from you soon.




This painting by Francis Picabia was one of my favorites from a recent visit to the Chicago Art Institute. The Queen of Sheba tracings over the Mediterranean landscape look like the cover of a Poets of Rhythm album, or a lost soul-jazz LP.

I also liked “Farm in Duivendrecht,” this 1916 painting by Piet Mondrian.

The painting’s caption says Mondrian (who went on to paint those modern square-and-lines compositions) was inspired by the flat topography of his native Holland. Which all of us here can relate to. To conclude the trio, here’s an image Jenn shot only seven kilometers from that farm, almost a hundred years later.

Disc golf in Berlin, circa 2010

Late October looking for somewhere to throw disc in Volkspark Rehberge, where I’d heard there was a course but couldn’t find anything. Eventually I found two practice holes about 100m apart from each other. It made a good course in itself if you didn’t mind throwing back and forth. At one point I ventured toward the corner of the park and launched the disc from a mound in which some kind of plaque was planted, a trio of old men on a nearby bench staring as if to say “was zum Teufel macht er da?” Our subsequent walk up the ridge followed a path to a beautiful fountain — a monument to the founders of Volkspark Rehberge.

Beyond that there was a slope that — had it been part of a course — would have surely been considered among the most beautiful fairways in European disc golf. Sadly, there was no pin in sight.

But with a green like that, who needs an actual basket?

Bright and stormy

After hijacking my own blog with some civic discussions and brief peeks into how money controls even the smallest governmental bodies here in America, I wanted to get back to my roots and look at a few photographs Jennifer took on a recent trip to Boston and Providence.

Statue in downtown Boston. In the first one it looks like the lady is crying out in pain at the bird pooping in her eye socket, or maybe even tilting her head back in an orgiastic gasp of pleasure. The next one looks like Statue’s been caught reveling in the streams of bird shit and has gotten all defensive about the intrusion of privacy. But after a moment I realized it’s probably two different statues, because how could a statue lower its head, change its expression and maybe even switch its gender?

Bikers in Boston Common. Yesterday I saw a biker on 43rd in Kansas City near Brainblow Blvd. almost get run off the road by an aggressive lane-switching car. Shit like that makes me want to start a biker vigilante campaign — follow people like that driver home and, I don’t know, talk to them about safe driving + sharing the road. It’s a slow process but I think the more bikers you see on the road the more drivers will learn to live with it and even think about taking part themselves. In the meantime, honk if you’re an asshole.

A nice image from our hurricane party at the Hollenbecks’ in Providence, Rhode Island, the night Irene blew through town in its weakened but still blustery state. Providence was spared damage beyond a lot of downed limbs and power lines, but our power went out at 9 that morning and for a while sitting in bed listening to the gusts of wind looking out the window at the bending trees and swinging power lines there was a brief sense of oh man here it comes. The night before I sat at the computer and listened to this song and earlier that day Brian and his friends in the Fox Point Rounders finished their bluegrass set in a flurry with a rousing rendition of “Goodnight Irene” while people scattered from the farmer’s market to avoid the sudden downpour. We drank a lot of dark ‘n’ stormies over the weekend, which is dark rum and Gosling’s ginger beer garnished with lime. And we lit a lot of candles. As a wise hurricane survivor once said: You never know how many candles you have until a hurricane hits and you start looking in closets and drawers and find out you have a lot candles.

The rest of the photos Jenn took in Boston and Providence are here. Stop back next week for more fresh material here on the modern day lucubrations.

A short walk through Rosedale in 104° heat

An appalling lack of sidewalks in this little city. Nowhere to walk but front yards or the middle of the street. The BBQ joint has a line out the door but isn’t open on Sunday. From the forested corners of the park, a chorus of cheers from the late evening pack of disc golfers. Someone has drilled a hole in one. I’m too faded to drive, which is why I’m on foot. The plywood firecracker shacks have been taken down and put into storage. Elsewhere kids lounge in the heavily vignetted decadence of fake Polaroid sunsets. Here, the workweek is just one long, boring flash mob. The construction crew lowers the cornerstone to the brand new CVS, a nice enough location they probably won’t have to lock the condoms up. A beautiful mural is painted on the wall of a parking lot that no one ever parks in. The word “ROSEDALE” and some animals and plants and people and the Memorial Arch opening up to a rainbow utopia. Beauty, as envisioned and painted by children. Next door the neighbors fight the nightly battle of the basses: rap vs. Latin. When one guy refuses to turn down his subs, the other one turns on his own car alarm and blocks his neighbor’s car in — handling the situation like an adult. On Tuesday night the lightning storm blew out the transformer. It sizzled for a minute until it exploded blue and prettier than anything I saw on Fourth of July. On Fisher there’s a little place for sale on a big lot, but it’s more like you’d be buying a really nice big tree that comes with a crappy house. Mid July and the Mimosa trees are in full bloom, pink silk feathers carpeting the little sloped lawns on Minnie. Vacation Bible School is over and the empty church bus is parked across from McDonalds. The man in a tank top and matted hair staggers by the Jiffy Lube shaking his head vigorously and talking to himself. He doesn’t look crazy as much as preoccupied. The lack of sidewalks doesn’t seem to bother him.

11 impressions of an EF-5 tornado

Once people find out you’re from Kansas, they always want to know if you’ve ever seen a tornado. Thankfully, I never have. But after the May 22 tornado that tore through Joplin, I’ve definitely seen the damage it can do.

After photographing the damage in the days following the tornado, Jennifer put together this slide show depicting the damage the storm did to her hometown. I typed up a few of my own first and second-hand impressions of the aftermath below.

In the six weeks since the tornado, the debris is getting cleared and the city is doing some rezoning before the rebuilding begins in earnest. There are already leaves growing on the twisted remains of the trees, which looks unusual but is nonetheless a small reminder that life goes on.

Thank you to everyone who has dedicated their time, labor and resources to helping the people in Joplin. I know they greatly appreciate it.

* * *

On 1-44, the giant brown sign to George Washington Carver is turned upside-down. Coming up the crest of the hill you see a giant American flag lowered to half-mast, a torn strand of its fabric blowing as if in slow motion.

* * *

Aaron and Pam were at a movie when the announcement sounded to leave the theater and take shelter. They were driving by the high school when the telephone polls and trees around them started falling, which I imagine looking like the approach of The Nothing from the “Neverending Story” or the Smoke Monster from “Lost.” As the storm began to devour the landscape in front of them, Doll threw the car into reverse, weaving around debris and crashed cars until they got out and ran for shelter.

* * *

It doesn’t matter how much you’ve seen on TV or in photos — nothing can prepare you for your first visit to the disaster area. After only a couple of blocks you feel like you’ve entered an impossibly vast and detailed disaster film set. The trees that are left are macabre sculptures, mattress linings and car parts impaled on their bark-stripped upper branches. Where you used to be able to see only a few blocks you can now see several miles. Dan and I drove through in his truck at dusk, just before curfew. Most everyone had gone home, wherever that might be now, but one man stood in the middle of his lot staring off to the south. Dan offered me a beer from the back seat and said why don’t you grab one for me, too. I don’t think anyone is going to mind.

* * *

At night a wall of police cars and armored vehicles blocks off entry to the disaster area. We began to refer to the once perfectly normal patch of neighborhoods as the “demilitarized zone,” or — in the fashion of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker,” just “The Zone.” To get downtown from the south, you have to drive all the way around the zone on either side. Not that you would want to go through the disaster area at night anyway. Too dark, too spooky, too tragic, too soon.

* * *

Aaron and Casey nailed a 40-foot American flag to the front of what remained of the house — a crafty way to discourage looting and be patriotic at the same time. A man walking by with his wife stopped and pulled out his phone. “What are you doing?” the woman asked her husband. “Just taking a picture of some real Americans,” he said.

* * *

The week before the storm I called Cool Guitars on 26th to see if they still had that Regal guitar in stock, a resonator guitar that used to belong to the owner. They said they had several Regals in stock, so I set aside a good chunk of my first paycheck toward purchasing one. After the storm we drove by and saw their sign but no trace of the store itself. I have no idea what happened to all those guitars.

* * *

A sampling of messages painted on houses:

“Down but not out”
“You loot, we shoot”
“It’s not a parade!”
“Stay classy, Joplin”
“Put down your camera, lend a hand”
“F5? FU!”

* * *

Driving down Main Street wondering where Main Street went.

* * *

In a video I’ve seen reposted several times, a group of amateur storm chasers drive parallel to the storm’s path from miles away, marveling at the “monster tornado” moving over the city. I’ve got it all on film, one guy keeps repeating; the camera’s impartial recording a proxy for what he can’t believe he’s seeing with his own eyes. The fascination takes a dark turn when they drive back into town on South Main only to find everything around it destroyed. “This is ridiculous,” one of them says, sounding scared. One thing to watch a funnel dancing from a distance, another to look a tornado in the face.

* * *

Joplin High School is destroyed, but the sign on the corner of the lot has been turned into an inspirational shrine. An “H” and an “E” have been added to either side of the only remaining letters in the city’s name, the “OP.” The “HOPE high school” sign is presided over by life-sized wooden sculptures of eagles — a tribute to the school’s community and mascot.

* * *

Jenn’s family salvaged everything they could from her Grandma’s house by the end of the first week, but the grandkids decided to go out Saturday morning to try and find her wooden statue of the laughing Buddha. Don’t worry, Dan said, it’s one of the first things I grabbed. But even with Buddha saved and cleaned, we still craved a totem of recovery, of salvage-tion. After seeing the decapitated Papasan statue on a shelf, we dug through the debris to try and find his head. Miraculously, Jessica found it after only a few minutes. It’s in good shape except for the missing beard. But that can be glued back on again.

Deconstructing Woodside Village

The other day I got an anonymous flier in our mailbox, addressed to “Westwood Resident.” Inside was an unsigned memo inviting us to a “town hall” meeting being held to inform people about a proposed mixed-use development called Woodside Village.

I’ve heard plenty about this from our neighbors, including my father, who is not a big fan of the idea. My dad and I don’t always agree on matters of public policy, but in this case we’re both highly skeptical about the proposed development. In fact, it was Jennifer and I who first brought up some of the questions to him that Westwood residents are now (or should be) asking themselves.

More about those questions in a moment. First, a bit of background. Woodside Village, according to the flier, is “a proposed multi-use development designed as a walkable and integrated open-air Village organized around the Woodside Health & Tennis Club, 330 luxury residences, a 35,000 square foot shopping center, and an energized public realm where citizens can gather and strengthen community bonds at events such as a weekly farmer’s market.”

For a community of 1,500 people, this is a pretty big deal. If all the units filled up, you’d be increasing the population by around one third. That in itself doesn’t bother me at all — a community needs to grow and develop or else risk getting old and outdated, like the Westwood Apple Market, which looks like a relic of the mid-eighties.

But are 330 luxury apartments and 35,000 feet of commercial space really what this market is calling for? We’ve already been through this in Kansas City, Missouri, where thousands of condominiums were renovated and made available to a buying public that never showed up. Many of these places are now on the market as apartments and still remain vacant. Nearer to Westwood, places like the recently developed luxury spaces at 47 Fisher can’t even manage to attract rental tenants for a handful of units.

As someone currently looking for a place to buy or rent, the word “luxury” is a big turn-off. What’s wrong with “attractive and well-constructed” or even “affordable”? If I were in the market for luxury digs there would already be hundreds of other places to look in areas more exciting than Westwood. Sure, Woodside draws a pretty good crowd to the pool on weekends, but I doubt it’s enough of a buzz to fill up hundreds of luxury apartments. Just my gut reaction there.

The man behind Woodside Village is Blair Tanner, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer who owns the health club. (To get an idea of the flavor and personality of the proposed community, you might visit this recent post by local blogger/personality, Craig Glazer, who gushes that the city is “poised to green light the project.” News to me.)

The mentions of farmer’s markets, heavily landscaped pathways, and LEED certified buildings sounds attractive, but let’s not mistake this for a public urban development — as the flier itself states, “Woodside Village is proposed to coincide with the expansion of Woodside Health & Tennis Club.”

My question is, do we really need Woodside Village to bring us farmer’s markets, community gatherings, green initiatives and “heavy” landscaping? Isn’t framing Woodside Village as a community initiative and not a commercial venture at least a little misleading? I grew up in Westwood and am living there again temporarily, and the neighborhoods seems pretty alive and well to me without needing to artificially create a whole new upscale sub-community owned by someone in L.A.

My biggest question is how much the city will be on the hook for Woodside Villiage when (sorry, if) the proposed luxury units fail to sell. As a taxpayer in KCMO for the past five years, I’m happy to be contributing to city services there and wish we had the kind of police protection and public works that Westwood, KS enjoys. But I’m not at all happy about the taxpayers footing a huge chunk of the bill for the money-sucking Power and Light district, a centerpiece of the heralded downtown renaissance that our civic leaders at the time convinced us would be a lucrative, energized public realm. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to Westwood just because we got lured in by mentions of upscale condos, green building techniques and farmer’s markets.

A more relevant comparison would be the perpetually stalled mixed-use “Gateway” project in nearby Mission, Kansas, currently a wasteland where the mall used to be. Financially, how would TIF-seeking Woodside Village be any different? What’s changed in the economic climate in the last few years that will make hundreds of buyers of luxury residences suddenly materialize in northeast Johnson County? What happens if the project gets stalled or the developer foresees losses and backs out?

By the time these details are discussed at Westwood town call meetings (whether citizen-led or developer-sponsored), I will most likely be living in Missouri again, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight aside from my parents living there (and being a past summer employee of the public works department and recipient of the Westwood Foundation Scholarship in 1999). I care about the community and hope that the residents and council members can see past the buzzwords, potential profits and promises of luxury living in order to give the proposed plan the scrutiny it requires.

Sic Alps in the dark + life after the West Bottoms

Back in the day I used to go to an old warehouse in the West Bottoms to see shows. They didn’t cost much, the bands were good, and you could post up against the wall or on an old couch, set your six pack on the dusty hardwood floor and watch live music without the bright lights and antiseptic nonsmoking get-the-fuck-out-it’s-last-call atmosphere of a commercial bar.

I’m sure over the years I’ll remember those shows even more fondly, building them up in my head until the West Bottoms becomes my own personal Bowery or Manchester, but the moments in which I felt actual connectivity to the city or any kind of scene were relatively rare. Most of the time I just went with a friend or two or even by myself to drink whatever we brought with us and anonymously watch some of the best music you could find. One of those shows was the Sic Alps at the Pistol in January 2008. I found a video of that performance, which the shot above is taken from during a split-second camera flash.

As you can see, the space looks more like being backstage at an old theater than an actual venue. And as you can hear, it got fairly loud. (If you don’t like ambient noise than it’s probably best to skip to about 3:30 mark of the video for the song to kick in, one of my favorites by the group, as it turns out).

The last show I saw in the Bottoms was not at the Pistol or Foundation Room but some other place that didn’t have a name as far as I knew. Jana Hunter’s group “The Lower Dens” played one of the best rock sets I’d seen all year, unfortunately largely ignored by the flocks of kids smoking outside, the girl in a space costume writhing on the floor, and the drug-addled stragglers near the door.

That show, which had been hastily moved from its original location for reasons no one ever explained, felt like the end of something. Maybe the era of great shows every week at underground venues in the Bottoms. Or maybe just the end of my going to them.

Since then I’ve talked to some of the folks who helped put those together, and they seem happy to have moved on with their lives. Not sure where the current DIY or all-ages hotspots are in Kansas City right now, but I’m sure there are plenty of things still taking place downtown, along Troost, or elsewhere in the city. Meanwhile, there’s always places like The Record Bar, where I saw Bill Callahan play a great set last week. And, for those of us stuck at work or no longer feeling up to venturing into the smoke-filled rusty nails on old floorboards pay-what-you-can type places, there’s always YouTube.

“Tu mesma és tua vida”

Don’t try to build in the space you suppose
Is future, Lydia, and don’t promise yourself
Tomorrow. Quit hoping and be who you are
Today. You alone are your life.
Don’t plot your destiny, for you are not future.
Between the cup you empty and the same cup
Refilled, who knows whether your fortune
Won’t interpose the abyss?

Poem by Ricardo Reis (Fernando Pessoa) from the collection “A Little Larger Than The Universe,” which I read in one sitting in a garden that I can’t recall the name of and can no longer find on the map. All I remember is a pond, some trees and a lot of large geese walking by my bench. I took the picture at the Carmo Convent ruins in Lisbon, which was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755 and only partially rebuilt, creating an unusually intact complex of ruins. I’m not sure who Lydia is but I felt like Mr. Reis was speaking to me. I was facing another round of goodbyes and didn’t see any point in pretending there would always be another hang with friends whenever I liked; a wedding or reunion that would magically take place once everyone got caught up or settled in. Wait around too long and you’ll wind up as withered as the Peruvian mummy in the Carmo Convent museum. She’s a beaut, all right, but no one I’d trade places with.

F*** the Wetlands, we need a freeway

The title of this post is taken from a punk song written by my friend Jacob back in 2001. Though he meant it sarcastically (you might even say “sarcaustically”), the message has been party line for folks who have been trying for decades to build the South Lawrence Trafficway.

I was just reading today how the State of Kansas elected to to commit  $550 million to “fix” major traffic bottlenecks, including the aforemenioned route in Douglas County. As the above graphic illustrates, the South Lawrence Trafficway will cut right through the Haskell-Baker Wetlands, an extensive nature conservation area and ancestral burial ground of many of the region’s displaced Native Americans in the early 20th century. Even though the KC Star article eventually addressed the controversy, the headline in the second page read: “News elates Lawrence.”

Seriously? Lawrence is elated that the state is finally giving them the green light to bulldoze through the Wetlands? I guess it all depends on who you talk to.

Personally, I’m thrilled that Governor Sam Brownback was able to trim $689,000 from the budget by abolishing the Kansas Arts Commission right after he took office. I thought it was ridiculous how we supported artists, projects and festivals — many of which were in rural Kansas. I didn’t find it at all disturbing.

Ok, so I’m being sarcaustic again. And I have to acknowledge that part of job creation, maintaining the infrastructure, reducing debt, etc. involves making difficult choices. But it’s frustrating to watch us invest in half a billion dollar traffic projects instead of public transit. And it’s hard to watch my own state kill off its cultural assets for the sake of money.

But today, the victory belongs to the Mid-America Regional Council and the future of automobile transportation in the great state of Kansas. Hoorah! Without the impractical distractions of art and nature, the people of Kansas are elated.

But for how long?

(If you’d like a more friendly and artistic account of the Wetlands and its history, you can read this post from a couple years ago.)