A look back at 2012

Because it’s been so long since I web-logged anything personal, and because this was such a memorable year, here’s a little pictorial of 2012 from Jennifer and me.

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Continue reading “A look back at 2012”

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Têtes-paysage


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.

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.