Mississippi Blockbuster Blues

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Chris was one of the most interesting people I met during my month in Mississippi. He showed up the day before our fireworks stand opened, asking about work. He helped out at the carnival that set up in town every summer, he said, but they usually stiffed him, paying him only $20 for two full days of hauling stuff around. Sears and I told him we weren’t taking on any extra employees, but that didn’t stop him from coming by and talking with us almost every day. Being in Mississippi and all, it would be tempting to refer to Chris in Faulknerian terms, but a more polite description would be to say he was simpleminded.

Chris wore the same over-sized orange t-shirt every time I saw him, and had a bowl cut with long bangs he would constantly shake out of his face. He could have been 27 or 41 — it was impossible to tell. His mom was a morbidly obese lady who sat in a window booth at the Subway for hours on end, smiling at everyone who passed by. I think she appreciated that we were kind to her son, even playing frisbee with him one windy afternoon in the parking lot of the strip mall where our tent was set up. Chris had never played frisbee before, but he had a pretty good arm, even though the wind gave him trouble. We went from being initially wary to looking forward to his visits, and if they occurred late enough that we already had a good beer buzz going, we’d yell his name in unison as he approached. When we did that he’d just scrunch up his face and look at us like we were crazy.

The one thing we could count on each time we saw Chris was that he would tell us about his “plan.” The “plan” involved emptying out the large cake fireworks we had for sale and using them to blow up a port-a-potty. There were little variations in the logistics each time he told us about it, but every single one resulted in an exploding toilet. Eventually I used my primitive Nokia phone to record our conversation, for posterity’s sake (and, I suppose, as potential criminal evidence should anyone in Wayne County meet an untimely end that brutally hot summer).

When I recorded Chris’s story, however, something unexpected happened. After discussing the details of the toilet-bomb (along with a curious, rather alarming warning to “never smoke”), he launched into an impromptu and surprisingly serious elegy for the nearby Movie Gallery, which the Blockbuster Video corporation was “fixin’ to get.” Naturally, I found it amazing that there were still places in America in mid-2010 where Blockbuster was still opening new stores.

Of course, that was three and a half years ago, and by now even the Waynesboro Blockbuster appears to have closed, as has the one in Westport, Missouri, that I grew up going to (brilliantly photographed above by Robert Josiah).

I haven’t gone back to Waynesboro since 2011, and I don’t know that I ever will. If you do happen to visit, be sure to try both kinds of potato salad at the Huff-N-Puff Smokehouse. And if you need a WiFi hookup or clean bathroom, the Waynesboro McDonalds is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen (the previous McDonalds having burned down several years earlier). But for Chrissakes, whatever you do, don’t go anywhere near them pretty potties.

24 Things I Did Today

Today, at the Kansas City Library, I met a man who tried to sell me a piece of meteorite. At least that’s what he said it was. It was small and black; obsidian-like with fragments of what looked like petrified bubble bath. Do you collect meteorites? I asked him. He said yeah, I’m kind of a stargazer. He said he didn’t know if you could like sell them or not. I don’t know, I said, though I wished I had a few dollars to give him for it just so I could say I bought a meteorite from a soft-spoken dude at the library wearing earbuds and a basketball jersey. Instead I just said “keep stargazing” as he walked away, waved and smiled.

Today I read comic strips and horoscopes.

Today I ran until I was tired.

Today I drove home through the mists of Lee Blvd. listening to the prelude to Tristan and Isolde.

Today I called my wife on her parent’s landline and asked her what the homework assignment was. Her dad answered and it took a minute for her to come to the phone. When we started talking I remembered how less clear landlines are. How you have to really listen.

Today I tried to help a friend decide whether or not he and his family should buy a new home.

Today I emailed a stranger and wound up having coffee with an old friend. We talked ever so briefly about the last days of Schumann in beautiful Bonn-Endenich, which we’d both visited, though in different eras.

Today I ate some food, namely a ham and pepper jack sandwich on french bread with a side of red hot blues. I still have a bag of Haribo Smurfs open, but they gum up my insides.

Today, while marveling at the weight of a friend’s accidentally disembodied Aurelien Collin bobblehead, I remembered one of the most impressive and (perhaps understandably) overlooked moments in the career of the White Puma — being struck by an Omar Bravo bobblehead head thrown by a miscreant in the home stands. The projectile cut a gash above the KC keeper’s eye, but he patched things up and finished out the game, a 3-1 win over the Portland Timbers.

Today I found out someone had been talking shit. For a few moments, I thought about getting angry. This is the kind of thing people get angry over. Confront people about. But what good is it to read Marcus Aurelius paperbacks if you can’t take a few knocks, especially from folks who actually know you, folks who might even be right. Though maybe they only have part of the story, or aren’t entirely sympatico. How many times have you thought you had someone figured out only to realize, you don’t know their story. You don’t know their story at all.

Today, 16 years ago, it was my high school girlfriend’s and my first date. OK Computer had just come out a few months before and we listened to it a lot that winter, driving long distances across the metro to find cool places to drink coffee.

Today I looked at a half-collapsed stack of old notebooks and asked myself how much I really need my old words. Won’t the ones still living rise up unbidden at the needed moment, just as soon as the daydream wears on?

Today I resolved to tell my friend not to be so hard on himself. I’m only one grade older and because of that always think I should be able to give advice. But I can’t, really. All I can truthfully say is I’m confident you’ll figure it out. I’ll help however I can.

Today I got a save-the-date postcard from my brother and his fiancée. Over pizza, my grandfather explained the difference between a fiancé and a fiancée, though I think he might be wrong about pronouncing them differently.

Today I jumped over piles of snow on the curbside while crossing the downtown bus depot hobocluster. The fountain isn’t running but the buses are all more or less on time, which is to say, not really.

Today I can still think of half a dozen emails I need to write, not that I’m super important or anything like that, just always a tiny bit behind the beat when it comes to being in touch with friends, family and colleagues. I try to keep this in mind when waiting for my own unrequited emails to be returned, but the more time passes, the more I begin seeing them as badminton birdies that have flown far out of bounds and are now lapping in the surf at the nearest beach.

Today I need to go to bed because it isn’t today anymore, but my wife and child are away and I want to listen to music and type until I pass out on the couch. I put hot water on for tea half an hour ago and my friend’s soundcoud has long since passed aurally overhead, but I’m still locked to the keyboard.

Today I’m writing to tell you I might not see you for a while, or at least I won’t be making any appearances here anytime soon, and why should I? There are so many lists to look at; so many books to read. I’ve got projects to work on and people to see.

Today I drove down a street that said No Outlet but actually there was one.

Today I plugged in the Christmas Lights a final time.

Today I contemplated staying up all night, then quickly decided against it.

Today I tried hard to find the post-it note I mentally wrote to myself before I last fell asleep. They can’t always be recovered, but sometimes I get them to stick.

Today I wrote a poem by convincing myself I was just writing a list of what happened today. Though whether it’s actually a poem probably depends more on the reader.

Tonight I’m writing to let you know I’ll keep trying as long as you keep reading. It’s foggy out there, but that won’t stop me from signaling.

* * *

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Rather than post one of those confessional essays about why I’m quitting Facebook (which would probably only last a short while), I chopped up my notes and turned them into the poem above. I don’t have any grand points to make about society or modern communication, but I wanted to somehow give voice to the general social media anxiety I’ve been feeling lately.

somnambulance dispatch, vol. two-hundred twenty-two

Last night I slept for almost 11 hours, albeit with frequent interruption. At one point, I’m not sure when, the baby fussed. At 5 in the morning, we woke up to a rattling at the bathroom window. Jenny got up to check it out and saw a cardinal had become trapped in the bamboo. Eventually it flapped its way free, but by that point we were both awake. Jenny told me a new baby name idea. I told her the exact coordinates of my dream at the moment I’d been woken up by the bird. We were all sitting around a table, I think at Harry’s in Westport, and I was beatboxing the 8-bit underworld theme music from Super Mario Bros 3. In my dream I was impressed with my abilities, and I’m pretty sure those around me were, too. But in the non-light of day it all seemed a little ridiculous. We went back to bed for a bit, and before it was light I heard the three owls. They’ve been hanging around our backyards for weeks now. When one hoots, the others follow, and a circular dialogue ensues that’s soothing to lie and listen to. Still only half-awake this morning, I imagined they were the Strigiformation of past, future and present. Wise, but not judgmental. Only attentive, soft, poetic.

MCI > ???


“What does interest me about Kansas City International Airport is its atmosphere — or lack thereof. With some level of renovation almost a certainty, I resolved to explore the airport’s vibe and personality before any big changes took place. The best way to do this, I decided, would be to try something few sane individuals have ever attempted. I wanted to go to the airport — not to catch a flight or pick someone up — but simply to hang out.”

Read all about my adventures at KCI over at Kawsmouth.

Writing exercises

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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

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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


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.



Biking back home

Riding my bike into KCMO the day after I get back, taking stock of the city and how much and how little it has changed. The laundromat on 43rd street has finally closed, most likely remaining in operation right up until the last of its 50 washers and driers finally bit the dust. The tattooed crowd outside the tattoo shop have not died of nicotine poisoning just yet. Blockbuster Video is somehow still in business, and the Westport covered wagon looks as regal and ready-for-takeoff as ever. Streetside has closed down but the red neon lights above the door are still turned on, as if the building is not yet ready to relinquish the life it once contained. Bikers in KC are much less rigid than those in Germany, making lazy figure eights across Westport road before picking a side street to pedal down. Two fat women in floral print dresses waddle out of Rudy’s taqueria, shouting to each other in voices that have only grown more hoarse over the last three or four decades. Crooked sidewalks with grass and weeds growing between them, the smell of freshly mowed lawns and truck exhaust. When visiting friends you don’t have to search for people’s name plates or doorbells on apartment buildings, you just park your bike and walk right up to their front doors. Dropping by unannounced isn’t done very much anymore, but I have an excuse as long as I don’t have a cell phone. There aren’t any bike lanes, but if you cheat on the traffic signals you can break ahead of the traffic and for a few glorious moments glide down the middle of the smooth paved streets until your survival instincts prompt you to front wheelie it up onto the sidewalk.


Napping… without any church bells to mark the hours. Waking up and hitting the wordpress after seven months in Chateau D’If.

Now I’m back in Kansas and it’s time to get back to business. I have not posted here in the last few months for two main reasons. One, I did not have routine Internet access. Two, I was not sure exactly what to post in the first place.

In the past I have written about my life and travels in an amusing and somewhat journalistic fashion. This is what I did, this is something you should listen to, here are some photos and captions. All the time writing what are likely much more interesting or at least experimental things in various notebooks, loose sheets of paper, the walls of my sequestered, high-security compound.

It’s time to come out of the closet.

What I mean is there is no point in posting personal writing if it’s not going to be somewhat personal, no point in squirreling away the only nuts that might be worth hatching. But personal as in what I had for lunch is quite boring, and you can always get that on twitter. Persona as in the various modes and moods we all pass through each day, the in-between states in which actually interesting writing arises.

Of course blogging is all an experiment, and I must admit to being currently under the heavy, heady influence of the likes of Bernard Soares (whose city and dream states I just visited) and Joe Joubert (whose writing and nasal bridge I admire). I plan to vary the length of my posts but remain consistent in the frequency with which I post — daily, at least during the week, and sometimes probably more. The photos of Natalya Bond aka Jennifer Wetzel will still play a big part.

Please post comments, and feel free to be as contentious, uncomplimentary or long-winded as you like. I’m not posting on behalf of my ego, so you don’t need to comment just to tell me something is well-written if you don’t feel like it. On the other hand, I’m posting almost entirely on behalf of my ego, so I plan to be as arty and pretentious as possible when the occasion arises.

In conclusion, it’s good to be back in the Midwest, to be working in newspapers and publishing again, to have a high-speed connection between the inside and the outside worlds. I’ve always compared blogging to peering into and looking out of windows, so I’ll most likely be talking and linking back to you as well.

Love from Westwood, and good to see you again.


Kansas turns 150

My home state celebrated a big birthday today. Kansas is now one-hundred and fifty years young. Even though I suspect it has been around a lot longer than that. Just ask Juan de Oñates, who in the early 1600s referred to the native Kansans Escansaques, “the troublesome people.” Not much changes, I suspect. And also thank Case Seward for this centennial illustration of the opportunities that await you once you make that decision to don a garland of sunflowers.

See you all in Kansas sometime soon. Meanwhile, more vintage KS postcards here.

Back in business

Where you been?

It’s a question I’ve gotten a lot in the past several months. People pulling up my old blog on their browsers only to find stagnant posts quietly filling up with spam comments. Ever since I started working on kcfreepress last year I let my own blog drift until I finally had enough of the web in general and decided to get into the alternate career options of fireworks selling, editing manuscripts and teaching English.

But I’m not going to lie. I miss blogging. Posting. Writing. Whatever you want to call it. Keeping a blog kept me connected to Kansas City and the places I traveled in between. The challenge of coming up with interesting material was always made easier and more fun by having other friends’ posts to link to and comments + art + music to share.

That dialogue is what’s inspired me to open up this site on WordPress. It will serve as a portfolio of sorts but mostly a blog including the usual observations, photos, conversations, inanities, links, things of that sort. Longer essays and published pieces will be viewable in the “writing” tab on the main page, which I’ll link to when something new goes up.

In the meantime, Jennifer and I have moved back to Germany while I do my teacher certification course and some freelance work. Been fun so far, and there’s lots of creative types here in Berlin. Already met one guy near the Admiralbruecke who was up for some harping. You can view our somewhat one-sided duet below. Cheers and thanks for checking out the new site. LW

To Germany

Jenny and I are headed to Berlin, Germany next week.  The move is a step toward something different, not better or worse, though we hope for the best.  I will be taking a class through the month of November to become certified to teach English as a second language abroad through a program called CELTA, which stands for the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults.  Jenny will be continuing her photography through new and similar means as she practiced in Kansas City.  We both view this move as a progression, and a step toward honing our creative impulses into a logical outcome.  Me with my writing and Jenny with her photographs.  Feel free to drop us a line or an email at lucashwetzel(at)gmail.com and jennywetz(at)gmail.com.  We will also have an online number (local to KC) that we can send you via email.  We want to extend a warm thank you to all of our friends in the Kansas City and Lawrence area.  We would not be what we are without your encouragement.


Who among us does not harbor the suspicion that maybe the most beautiful things we’ve seen in our lives have been already (and perhaps were almost instantly) forgotten? The impressions made so delicately they did not create the friction needed to make an imprint. Maybe all of our stories — poems, memories — emerge from a darkness that we at all times (silently, unknowingly) have access to. The act of shining a light requires both inspiration and courage. Uncover what you may, while you are able.