Listened to the second side of Pharoah Sanders / Floating Points “Promises” and drank coffee for three hours while finishing “When We Cease to Understand the World.” It snowed.
Chili dogs at Clayton’s. Chiefs loss to Cinci.
That feeling of knowing you have Covid before tests have shown anything conclusive. The boys tested -, the girls +. Sending regrets to our friends’ wedding in SFO that same weekend.
Watching “When Marnie Was Here” with the kids
Two jokes circulating in the family, the first by Ruby, the other by me.
Q: What can you use but not feel, take but not steal?
Q: What did Toad say to Mary and Joseph?
A: We don’t have mushroom in the Inn
A fascination with the scandal of Novak Djokovic being denied entry to Australia due to vaccination requirements. Years from now I hope they make an opera called “Djokovic in Australia.” It would be no less compelling than “Nixon in China.”
Listening to Huerco S on the empty tennis court at midnight, an electronic musician from Emporia who now lives in Berlin. I don’t think many Kansans know he’s from here, but for a while his Spotify avatar showed a blurry guy wearing a Royals hat.
Realizing the Girl Scout cookie order is due today, all of us calling relatives and freaking out, even the kids pulling out their own sock drawers of cash. Within 15 minutes we have just under $100 in sales.
Thai food and sugar cookies
Playing racket ball at Sylvester Powell and thank goodness I had on protective eye goggles because it felt like the ricocheting blue rubber ball was going to take my head off. The space echo acoustics and court dimensions make it feel like you’re playing on a space station. A fun sport but one I’m far too claustrophobic for.
Listening to Molly Nilsson and writing thank-you cards. The album’s opening lyrics: It’s me versus the black hole at the center of the galaxy / who we are versus who we’d like to be / get ready for the fight of the century.
Charades and cosmo burgers with Lou
“Death and Transfiguration” at the Kauffman Center. I left at halftime and went to get a slice of pizza, then to see The Freedom Affair at the recordBar. Brett was supposed to be working the merch table but was at the bar with a girl he met on the airplane . Back out in the world almost without missing a beat.
Nadal Wins, Chiefs lose
Walking through Loose Park on Sunday night. The day before the snow was extra wet and moldable and a flashmob of snow craftspeople must have decided to make a scale model of Stonehenge, which looks extra authentic now that it’s part melted and abandoned in the middle of a lonely, grassy field.
Back at Loose after work, I saw a mother and child at the dumpster. They had been returning wind-scattered debris to the overflowing bins. I promised them I’d take it from here and spent the next two hours gathering trash, including fishing out newspaper and plastic bags from the pond, most of them headlines of the Chief’s recent failures to advance to a third consecutive Super Bowl, which made it seem like I was a custodian of broken dreams as well as a self-appointed protector of the goldfish.
Breakfast burritos for dinner
I had a cabin rented at Pomona Lake but it was too snowy to drive there. Instead Patrick and I trudged through the snow to the fountain of Pomona, the Roman goddess of the harvest and an Italiante statue presiding over a fountain outside an upscale New American restaurant on the Plaza. We posed for a selfie with her while I sang the name of the Italian sculptor in faux operatic tones, surrounded by winter fountain steam.
Off work early. Eating a gummy and going to Aldi. School skate night at Skate City. Driving to Screenland Armour by myself to see “The Worst Person in the World,” which was not the best movie in the world. But the scene where a thirtysomething parent gets hurt dancing to “1 Thing” at a cabin is relatable content.
Dinner at JJ’s with P&H
Emil turns 8
Ukraine attacked by Russia. Lunch/coffee with Todd.
M came in to work. I went to Cosentino’s and bought a slice of Oreo Cheesecake.
Conroy’s with the boys. Rhea’s birthday. She brought cookies.
Cliff’s retirement party.
My 41st birthday. Pickleball, Jumanji, Ty Segall.
I didn’t sleep on the plane and now Paris feels like a film set, dragging my new rolly bag on cobblestone streets. I eat lots of pastries to wake up and make things seem more real. I always forget how aggressive birds are in Europe.
Angoulême rampart walk with Jenn
At a small pub in Bordeaux, cheering on Real Madrid in their late victory against Paris Saint-Germain with Sam from Flying Eye. It says a lot that these people hate PSG so much they’re cheering on the club once owned by Franco, he explained. The provincial city thumbs its nose at the overfunded capital.
Wine and a brief walking tour of Montmartre with Anne, who I haven’t seen since we both graduated sixth grade. Candlelight piano concert at St. Ephraim, a 16th-century Syrian church. Gymnopédies and other hits. A stroll past the reconstruction of Notre Dame and dinner at Bar du Marché.
Dropping off my tax forms and realizing I have no energy and a strong craving for McDonald’s. Something is off.
Positive covid test, calling and emailing everyone I saw in the office the day before.
Sleeping mostly. And going out on the deck to sit beside the plants which we’ve briefly reintroduced to the outdoors since it’s such a beautiful day. I play guitar and listen to birds, an outdoor trance-like convalescence.
Driving to the lake to distract ourselves from waiting for news from J&A, who went into labor the day before.
Refreshing my phone until the happy news arrived, literally crying with relief.
Baby Giza’s name announced
Call with the loan officer
Baby Maia born. A week of two nieces.
Tennis with Kevin at Loose, laughing about how the come trees are in bloom. Back at home I do a google search for “trees that smell like cum” and the image results match what we saw in the park: Pyrus calleryana, ornamental pears.
Tennis with Ruby. Driveway hoops with Emil. Rock Chalk Championship.
The car rental lady at SFO airport talked me into an upgrade. My work would pay the base rental, and I could cover the rest. An hour later I was driving north on Highway 1 in a bright red mini cooper convertible to Point Reyes national seashore. I hiked 14 miles and had to run to get back to my car before sunset, and since I was wearing boots my toenails bruised purple. Drove the narrow tree-lined road to Occidental. Gourmet pizza at Hazel, drinking a beer in my cozy kitschy motel room and falling asleep before I could shower.
Dana’s author talk at the Charles Schulz Museum. I ran the slideshow from the AV booth. I was introduced to a Ukrainian woman and her two kids who had been forced to leave their husband/father behind. They were fans of the books so I gave them the extras I had brought with me. We talked for a bit though it was a difficult conversation. Lex gave me a tour of the peanuts store and roller rink, which was designed by Schulz’s first wife. As I was waiting for the event to finish and making dinner reservations on my phone, I saw an email from K that her brother had died of a stroke that morning. She and her parents had been with him in the hospital, their last days together were peaceful. She wanted me to know since she knew how close we had been. I absorbed the information and walked around the museum gardens, strolling through a contemplative topiary labyrinth in the shape of Snoopy’s head. After dinner I drove straight to the coast, racing the sunset. At Bodega Bay, the wind was intense, and the last remaining surfer was running to his car just as the light faded. Over on the bay the wind and waves were more gentle, there were a lot of birds, and stones that you could step out onto a ways, into the rising tide.
Coffee and coffee cake with Emil Wilson and his partner in the hills of Occidental. talking books, illustration, choir, collaboration, death. A drive to the Ancient Grove of Redwoods. Then back down the Russian River to the coast, the repetitive snare taps and piano intro of Eno’s “Dead Finks” comes on the car stereo as I drove across the bay, as foggy as advertised.
Dinner with Todd and Wai-Man, who orders sushi for the entire table that arrives in a giant wooden boat.
KC Current game for Ruby’s birthday. A quality contest and a friendly crowd. I love the colors of red and teal, the banners saying trans lives and black lives matter, the chorus of grade school girls that got the whole eastern stands involved in a “let’s go KC” chant by sheer force of will and clapping of hands. It’s a spirited environment, a bit more lighthearted than Sporting KC, the quality of play is world-class and the players don’t fall down as much as the men do. I saw a couple friends and also ran into Miguel, the guy who has been cleaning our office several times a week throughout the pandemic. “No more working there,” he said with a dismissive wave. “Here and Royals.” He seemed stoked about the change. Who can blame him? Imagine cleaning a mostly empty building for two years, keeping it spotless whether or not he saw any signs of life.
A concert by the world’s greatest fiddler. In the Karbank parking lot my dad got into a singing standoff with a bird in the trees above. At first I wasn’t sure what he was doing. He explained that he was just trying to initiate a call-and-response with the nightingale, a bird whose particular song he has long studied and admired. Lou’s a good imitator, too, his whistle clear and melodic, and as we entered the venue I could tell that the successful duet left him more relaxed and ready to enjoy the ticketed event.
Peter and Bridget read poems on the patio at the Replay matinee variety hour. Brendan and Hans played music. Familiar voices and strangely emotional to be back at this college hangout, especially in the daylight. Seeing Hans cover Suzie’s “Kelly Ann,” which he wrote the lyrics to so many years ago, is like seeing Daniel Johnson at a small bar and not knowing who Daniel Johnson is. I got accidentally drunk on one beer and didn’t cry exactly but I left my Ray-Bans on. After the show I played some free pinball, went to the Taco John’s on 6th street and ate my Potato Olés Bravo alone in the park.
Eating BBQ with James and watching a lightning storm from our parents’ front porch
A nice Italian dinner in honor of my grandfather, likely his last meal out ever, toasts that turned into prayers. Jenn and I skipped the opera to attend the auction, held in a massive outdoor tent on the grade school lot. There’s an open bar and we all drink too much. The whole thing is fun but feels exactly like high school except we’re a lot older now and have more money.
Emil has an allergic fever. I watched 4 episodes of Game of Thrones in one afternoon. Dreams of swords plunging through heads.
Drinks with Mike to talk about Peter, our friend who died in April. We all went to grade school together and were close friends at different times. I needed the hang session, the drinks that went along with it. It was so much better to talk about what was rather than what might have been.
The head of Peanuts Worldwide visits the office, and since all the execs are out of town, I’m the one greeting him and running the meeting. In the lobby, a few colleagues are setting up for the intraoffice olympics and testing out which rolling chairs have the best maneuverability for the office chair obstacle course, which involves a race track flanked by cardboard boxes. I apologize for the company’s lack of professional appearance and he says are you kidding me, I wish I was going to be around to take part in these festivities, this looks amazing.
Mother’s Day, riding bikes at Line’s Creek per Jenn’s request, a trail where Emil first learned to ride on two wheels and can now lead for miles at a time. Afterwards we hit up the mini train at the park, probably the last season before they grow out of this attraction. The conductor urges us to scream as we pass through the tunnel. The men are all 70+ and seem to be having a great time, mini railroad conductor being one of the more wholesome and gratifying volunteer occupations for train buffs and retired vets.
Mondays are so bleak. Sitting out back soaking up moonbeams seeing double and drinking beer so hazy you couldn’t find a fish in it.
Kayaking at Pomona, eating a small amount of fungus and staring at the endlessly stratified cloud layers, dozing a bit and then reawakening briefly for earthshaking 4 a.m. thunderstorms.
Night of the second-grade boys campout at Clinton Lake, hot dogs, glow sticks and ghost stories, and while the dads are sinking deeper into their whiskey I tell a mash-up of “The Headless Horsemen” and Goethe’s “Faust” except the protagonist’s name is John Bones, an apocryphal former classmate who meets a schoolyard spirit that offers to grant tetherball dominance to anyone so long as they heed his warning to keep track of the ball, and when John Bones defiantly kicks the thing up on the roof not only does he disappear mysteriously, his face fades from the yearbook photo. Anyone from the class of Westwood View class of ‘91-’92 can vouch that it’s true, but no one wants to go on record, except for me, breaking the sacred silence at this very campout, and as I look around at the kids’ eyes I can see I’ve perhaps outdone myself, they look confused or terrified, so I hand over the storytelling baton to one of the boys, whose fart jokes immediately draw laughter and make the kids forget all about John’s sad fate. But in the weeks to follow, at baseball games and school events, the parents tell me, you know, that whole John Bones story really spooked my kid. I can tell maybe they, too, have given the story some consideration. But a good ghost story teller never reveals his secrets.
Morning after the campout. The foil-wrapped breakfast burritos were still cooking on the campfire when the storm forced us to make a sudden evacuation. Within minutes several trees had snapped. My half-deconstructed tent was flapping like a windsail with me holding desperately onto the base. Another dad got out of his car and ran over to help with a shout of “no camper left behind!” I guess instead of looking at our insufficient radar apps we should have listened to Bennett, the only girl in attendance, when she pointed to the darkening horizon and said, “Daddy, why does the sky look like that?”
The Power and Light district on a Monday is empty, but you can hear a baby crying outside Howl at the Moon piano bar, which seems like a bad sign. Guy Fieri’s joint is empty. Todd and I slide down the railings and dance sarcastically in the empty courtyard. We do windmills and forget how old we are, but at the Homeshake show at recordBar we are the oldest people there, so after a few songs we go to the Up/Down arcade bar instead and at the skeeball lane I spend dozens of tokens someone gave to me before they left Kansas City, never to return.
The Uvalde shooting brings instant emotional exhaustion, we have a hard talk with the kids about what happened and I can see them go into a sort of shock, they didn’t know this kind of thing could happen in the world. It happens all the time, I tell them, though it usually isn’t quite this bad, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop it, but even saying this feels false and hollow, like we’ve already not tried enough, and already failed.
Breakfast at the Croissanterie in Little Rock with L&G, then a stroll along Two Rivers park, a river inlet that used to be a penal colony.
Swamp Tour in Slidell, LA. The tour guide pilots the fan boat into the murky recesses of the Honey Island Swamp, telling bad jokes and feeding marshmallows to several alligators he knows by name. The kids are delighted by the gators and their snack diet of marshmallows, which the fan boat captain uses as a lure. Supposedly the gators think the marshmallows are eggs, but with multiple tours a day, surely they know the difference by now and are only here for the sugar.
Driving to Dauphin Island, greeted by aggressive Trump/God/Gun signholders at the foot of the bridge. Within minutes of checking into the Gulf Breeze motel, we lock ourselves out of the bathroom, a situation the regular maintenance guy can’t fix. We walk to the beach and see there are red flags that mean you can swim but only at grave personal risk. At a souvenir shack I buy a rainbow canvas folding chair, which I’ve decided will be my own personal island for the next few days, both on the beach and outside our motel room, where the bathroom door has since been unlocked.
We tour the old schoolhouse that has been turned into the island’s historical museum and welcome center and talk to a woman who grew up back when the locals didn’t even need fences because everyone knew whose goats were whose. Everything changed when the bridge to the mainland was built in 1950s. It improved shopping options and access to medical care, but also brought waves of tourists, and the small town island feel was never the same.
Pastries at the Lighthouse Bakery and a walking tour of the shell mounds
Arriving in the electric kettle of Memphis, which offers a rejuvenation of the spirit that seemed so fried that morning in Alabama. The Mud Island riverwalk is a scale-model of the Mississippi river with signs about its storied past. All the explosions, Civil War ambushes, floods, earthquakes, plagues. You know, history. Did we really think we could escape it? In the hotel bar after everyone else goes to sleep I order beers and sit in the booth and scribble in my notebook and surreptitiously Shazam a few jams. When the DJ plays the Massive B remix of Makeda’s version of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” I feel like a fish back in water.
Made it back in time for Emil’s baseball game, which was played in a light rain. During the game the rubber track on the pitching machine got slippery and started misfiring the balls at unhittable and even dangerous angles, so pretty soon the dads took over and pitched by hand, a change in the game’s dynamics that heavily favored the opposing team, who won quite handily. We napped and then went to the Hang’s backyard party. Our fam outlasted all the other guests and the kids all ran around the backyard shooting the LED rocket copters I got at the drug store in Pascagoula. By 11 p.m., Patrick and I recovered the orange plastic slingshots and drew up the terms for a duel. I won handily, shooting him in the leg with the copter dart as his volley sailed harmlessly over my head, like the climactic scene from some dumb suburban version of “Hamilton.” Our kids were too busy roasting marshmallows to notice.
Samy’s high school graduation party. My mom bought a cake at CostCo, liking the rainbow design and not realizing that she was buying a Pride Cake. It was a delicious cake and prompted only a few questions.
Disc golf at Rosedale with Jeff and his new dog, Nemo. Jeff’s car battery was dead so we walked back home through the heat to get jumper cables. It was hot and we were tired but Nemo is young and didn’t seem to mind.
Electrical storms both Friday and Saturday night
Demolition begins on the house. A guy shows up early and begins tearing out the boards in the deck by hand, hurling them into the yard. That afternoon the host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup are announced. Kansas City is the first city mentioned in the Midwest region and I cheer along with several thousand soccer fans in the P&L district. It’s emotional, not because of the announcement itself, but because this is the first bit of collective joy I remember our city experiencing since the Super Bowl. When I get home the deck and sunroom are gone.
Saturday evening in JoMo. Hiking the loop at Wildcat Glades, more people swimming in the creek or having sandbar campfire parties than I’ve ever seen. Later the number of lightning bugs in the trees defies comprehension. At first we thought it was an optical illusion but when we walked a bit further into the trees we realized it wasn’t. A quasi-Ozarkian infinity prism.
Father’s Day. Eating donuts at Grand Falls. Watching Hamilton on Disney+
Midsummer. Tom invites us over to swim. He has a pool in one part of the yard and in the next there are chickens, a half pipe, and a zipline. He has been filming skate videos including of skateboarding into the pool. Back at D&T’s house, Teresa pulls out a 1950s era songbook she found, which include a lot of the old songs our grandparents liked, like “Bicycle Built for Two.” We play a few of them and Ruby and I record a duet of “Happy Birthday” for Spencer including the Sunday School version with “God Bless You Always” bonus verse.
Met Matt at Free State to talk Dracula Daily. He is thinking of self-publishing but I told him AMP would likely be interested. I told him I saw the photos of his company’s team-building trip to the Grand Canyon and it looked amazing. He said it was, except for the part about everyone catching a strange norovirus and several people getting airlifted out of the canyon, a situation that has since made the national news.
Ruby’s first professional editing work for me, evaluating manuscripts and coming up with book title ideas, though currently she’s being paid not in money but free books and macaroons, which we purchase at the French Market while Emil is at his piano lesson.
Family pool party at Todd’s, eating pizza and key lime pie on the deck and playing Apples to Apples. I have a theory, not yet fully tested, that the best frozen key lime pies are also the cheapest.
End of the season baseball party at the Brents’ lake house. Kids and a few parents jumping off the diving platform on the floating dock. You can see the no-longer-second-grade boys gaining confidence with every leap. I try to squeeze into a kid-sized kayak and capsize almost instantly.
Pickleball championships at Milburn, eating hot barbecue chicken sliders and schooling the home country club members. My partner Trent’s strategy is to just barely dink it over, not give them anything to hit, but I think it’s more fun to swat it fast and deep. The real secret to success in these events is to lay off the booze and drink only water, though that almost feels like cheating, or at least not in the spirit of things. I don’t care. I can’t afford a regular membership, I haven’t played a competitive match here in three decades, and I only get one crack at it. Winning is everything
Jenn and I got in a fight over a game of Clue after the kids own rules disagreement escalated. I walked through Loose Park by myself at sunset. With D suddenly in the hospital everything felt heavy. I heard a drum circle in the distance and walked toward it, and sat back a ways to watch and drum along on my metal water bottle, comfortable in the near darkness and not caring whether I blend in.
Seeing Aldous Harding in Lawrence, over a year after we bought the tickets. The concert was excellent and her facial expressions alone were worth the price of admission, along with the backup singer’s falsetto harmonies on the song “Leathery Whip,” which for some reason caused me to giggle.
Neighborhood block party that I wanted to leave instantly but forced myself to stay at long enough to have a few conversations and meet some of the people I’ve lived next to for over a decade.
Final visit to D in the hospital. Swimming at SM Park lake beach. Fireworks at the Hollenbecks.
Sushi lunch for Jenn’s b-day. Trying to talk about where else we might go this summer but it already feels too late.
Late night typing nonsense all through the heat lightning
Stand up paddleboards at Shawnee Mission Lake
Novak’s comeback, during his runner-up speech Kyrgios doesn’t even pretend he’ll make it back to the final. Rewatched The Florida Project with Jenn, which feels like a documentary about Willem Dafoe managing a shitty motel in Florida because he still couldn’t get any work after controversially playing Jesus 30 years earlier. Budget Motel as Purgatorio.
While I was at work I got a call from my dad saying that my grandfather was finally at peace. At the hospital lobby my dad greeted me in the lobby with a strong hug. After some time with family and saying goodbyes, I walked over to Tiki Taco and then down to the park where I ate a burrito on the curb of the rec center parking lot. I absently watched a couple of Mexican rec teams play soccer, their families cheering and grilling in the parking lot. When I got home I saw the first images of the James Webb telescope and it felt almost like my scientist grandfather had been broadcasting them back to Earth on his journey through the cosmos, a far more macro view than his usual microspectroscopy. The next day I talked to my brother, who said he’d thought the exact same thing.
Driving to the lake to watch the moonrise. Jenn told the kids that the sewer grate by the spillway goes all the way to China, and since she doesn’t lie nearly as often as I do, they half believed her until they got distracted by a possum that was running through the playscape.
Helping my father write his father’s obituary.
Picked up the kids from pottery camp. We went to Buffalo State Pizza in the Crossroads for lunch and played Pac-man before, during, and after the meal.
Party at the Tuley Farm. 4-wheeler rides, baseball, live music after dark and kids running around with glow sticks. Mike and friends played a downtempo version of “Soundsystem” by Operation Ivy and it was such a perfect throwback to Johnson County, Kansas, in the late 1990s that I very briefly became the ska band quasi member whose only function is to dance.
Salvation Choir on the Nelson lawn. Who knew Kansas City was home to an 18-person Congolese Rhumba Band?
Backyard excavation begins.
Failed miserably cooking spaghetti, turning on the wrong burner and scorching a pot lid, then letting the sauce simmer too long until it splashed everywhere.
Got a flat tire on I-70 while driving to Manhattan for D’s funeral. Put on a spare and made it to the hotel in time for Thai takeout and mini bowling at the adjoining bar, then a walk through campus at sunset past the building where he spent several decades teaching and doing research.
After the service we drove down Clark’s Creek road for the burial and final hymns/words in the valley behind St. Paul’s Lutheran church, the same graveyard where my great-great-grandfather is buried, an iconic gothic W etched into the headstone. Afterwards at the Wetzel schoolhouse we drank warm beers and bottled water in the 100 degree heat and sang “King of the Road” and “Sloop John B.” Everyone was suffering from the heat but we withstood it, barely, and I think the elemental Kansas conditions we sweated through in order to toast my grandfather would have made him proud.
Bought several dozen donuts for my niece Ivy’s 6th birthday party. I constructed a donut man face out of a long john, apple fritter, two cake donuts, several donut holes, some pink plastic sunglasses, and little pennants I fashioned out of toothpicks and neon post-it notes. The kids rejoiced and dug in and I tried not to look in the direction of my more health-conscious sister-in-law, whose likely disapproval would have dampened my joy in being the donut hero.
Intense climate shift driving back from 106 degrees in Joplin to 76 degrees in Kansas City. I stopped by Gates BBQ to pick up food for my dad’s birthday party, waiting in the lobby for so long it became surreal. We ate outside on the back patio, but eventually moved the party indoors and set up a makeshift limbo train around the kitchen island. Sometimes it’s good to limbo with abandon, not at the roller rink or resort hotel turf, but surrounded by friends and family members, in the comfort of your own home.
Basement concrete poured in the foundation via a giant hose that ran over the top of the house and the trees.
Foundation braces removed. Working from home on my laptop, inspired by the actual physical labor happening all around me. Camping at Pomona Lake.
Drove the car a mile and a half to the trailhead with Emil, realized after we parked that we had no keys and the car wouldn’t restart. We walked the whole way back to our tent to get the keys and then a ranger drove me back. How had she known I was in need of a lift? “You were running and you weren’t wearing running clothes.”
At the KC Current game, Emil and I sit in the supporters section because the tickets are the cheapest and you can sit pretty much wherever. Closer to the goal a woman is yelling a fight song through a megaphone “KC till I die! KC till I die!” to the same melody as “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” No one in the crowd is backing her up. It sounds like an awkward warning to anyone who dare consider living, cheering, or playing professional soccer anyplace else.
Advance voting, then driving to One Eyed Willie’s campground and canoe rental near Lebanon, Missouri, now rebranded as Big Bear River Resort though they still sell merch with the original name. We had heard that one-eyed Willie was a dog who sired hundreds of Ozarkian pups, but when my friends and I ask the guy working there about this story he just wants to talk about how Nancy Pelosci’s (sic) trip to Taiwan is gonna get us all killed. At night, after a few campfire drinks, I keep expecting to see Mama Fratelli appear in the wan glow of the outhouse.
The cabins are sturdy but primitive structures built by the Amish, so there isn’t a sink or any way to heat up water for coffee. I spend a half hour getting a kettle to boil over a small brush fire and get the coffee made just before the shuttle departs, a bumpy van ride through the forested hills to our kayak push-off site eight miles down the Niangua. On the water, none of us bother trying to fish except for Jeff. I make a playlist of river-themed songs and when we stop to eat sandwiches on a sandbar blasting Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams,” the people paddling past don’t seem to know what to think. On the drive home we stop in Warsaw at the Yellow Deli, a 24-hour restaurant run by the Twelve Tribes cult, where I eat the best waffles I’ve ever had in my life.
Met the Spaw brothers upstairs at the Up/Down, then down to The Ship to see Drakkar Sauna’s reunion show, realizing that even fifteen years since I last heard it, I still knew all the words to “There Aren’t Enough Tits on a Wolf.”
Farmer’s Market at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. At 4 Hands brewery we play free skeeball while waiting for our food.
Walking by the Lutheran Seminary on Cherokee Street and realizing it’s where my great-grandfather and his father-in-law studied and taught, near where my greatgrandmother grew up. It was a Sunday morning so I walked to the Lutheran church I imagined they must have attended, but it was named something else now and you could hear a gospel rock/soul band performing and people inside shouting, singing, praying. The lives and identities of our neighborhoods continue to change long after we leave them behind.
First day of school at the new Westwood View.
Oliver Tree at the Midland. He announces that every single song will be the last song, essentially treating the entire concert as a 2-hourlong encore. During that time he changed outfits six times and rode around on a massive fake bull and in a miniature go-cart while his bandmate played an eight-foot tall guitar. At one point he pitted the left and right sides of the crowd against each other in a screaming contest, then made us all scream together as loud as we could. I’ve never screamed so loud indoors in my entire life.
Ruby rents a viola
Talking with S about life, self-sabotage, the inability to receive praise, not knowing what to do when the bravado cultivated throughout an entire life finally begins to fail.
Cleaning out D’s house in MHK, filling up a 20-foot dumpster. Looking for hidden caches of silver in the hood of the old Studebaker. On the way back to Kansas City we stopped to hike the Konza Prairie loop and wound up in the park long after sunset.
Walking with Robin through Leedyville, behind the old pottery studio, talking about music, movies, and poetry. He pointed out one of the Black Lives Matter murals he’s been documenting this past year. There are more of them around than I had realized, all throughout the city.
Emil records a song on the keyboard he calls “Robot Factory,” which uses a flat 8-bit tone and an arpeggiator setting he has programmed to play the same note at escalating intensities, and which he transposes to a dozen different key signatures that he cycles through every 35 seconds.
Nearly crying while reading the final chapters of “Bridge to Terabithia” out loud to the family. Thirty years after I first read it, the book still breaks my heart.
The house on 46th street with the bay window art installations has a giant Claus Oldenburg spade in the side yard, a brightly painted red replica with a written tribute to the recently departed sculptor whose shuttlecock sculptures are so emblematic of Kansas City. Across from WW Park I saw a statue with a multicolored patchwork iron dinosaur in the driveway of one of the modern houses. On a late walk it’s good to have such things keep you company.
Framing on the house begins
Buying and studying maps of England with D&T, helping plot out an itinerary of a country I’ve never been to.
Pizza at Buffalo State in the Crossroads. Flyers up about World Cup viewing parties. We play Pac-Man, order beers from the back bar, and sit on the patio beneath the city lights surrounded by people we don’t know. On nights like this KC still feels like home.
Tennis at Woodside with Clay. Brunch at Bridget and Peter’s. Watching Tiafoe with Konnor and Hallie. Pickleball at Roanoke.
Driving back from Waterworks Park at dusk listening to “The Violet Hour,” I circled the firefighter’s memorial fountain to take a picture, the golden lights and soft red glow particularly beautiful and solemn tonight, and only months later do I see the timestamp on the photo and realize why.
Room 39, then a visit to the Negro Leagues museum with Lincoln and David.
Cocktail party at the Boley. I talked with GBT and then Jeanie Schulz, who shared the backstory of the term “Sweet Babboo.” I knew if I started drinking or watching the Chiefs game on TV, my professional socializing would end quickly, so I limited myself to tonic water with a lime and only caught glimpses of the game reflected in the window of the executive suite. At one point it looked like Travis Kelce had been lifted up by a San Diego Charger and thrown three stories below onto 12th Street.
Reuben Awards Banquet. I borrowed my dad’s tux. Lots of funny speeches and tearful shout-outs to the spouses who live with and support such abnormal creatures as cartoonists. Afterwards I drove down to The Ship to see The Freedom Affair, still wearing my tux. “You look like you’re trying to pick up a prostitute,” my friend said, but when I took off the tie it didn’t look so suspect. After the show I sat at the picnic tables out front for a couple hours with Damon, Zack and Lara. We facetimed C&G in Taipei, who were just about to go out for the afternoon. “So it’s Sunday there?” we asked. No, Clint said, it’s Saturday.
Pavement and Jerusalem Cafe with Jenn. The band sounded great but looked their age by the end, and the feedback-heavy encore of “I Need to Sleep” sounded like both a triumph and an apology.
Built to Spill in Lawrence. David snuck up to the closed-off balcony and when I looked back I saw his lone face peeking through the curtains, smiling and taking a picture with his phone. In the photo, which he posted the next day, everyone in the crowd is facing the stage except for me.
Jason’s art opening at Weinberger, kaleidoscopic shapes of Kansas scrub woods stretched on canvas. Front yard beers with Mike and Billy, who decided to buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke them all for old time’s sake, a decision he knew he’d regret.
Hiking in SM Park, helping Emil uncover a lesser-used shortcut to the pond that I convinced him was a secret trail.
Ruby is making a fabric mandala for art class using a hula hoop loom and needs colorful fabric. I pull out several of my old concert t-shirts, which complete the perfect spectrum of cool colors already used in the piece. Some of them, like a bright green “Odelay” tour shirt, have sold on ebay for over a hundred dollars, but this seems like a much better reincarnation.
Worked until late, ate cold spaghetti
Shopping at Target for decorative styrofoam graves to turn our construction-scarred front yard into a haunted Halloween graveyard, since it’s already a big pile of dirt and branches. We add spare plastic skeleton limbs, fence fragments, and spiderwebs, and for the next few weeks dozens of people will slow down to tell us how realistic it all looks.
Firepit hang at Deez
Guest coaching the soccer team. Ruby scores twice. Smithville Lake with the Deans. Late drive to Lawrence to watch William Basinski, who is old and flamboyantly dressed and perhaps drunk, and who after 45 minutes just walks off stage with the music still playing from his laptop.
Arrived in FRA. Hiked through the manicured gardens and pagan statues of Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, then on to Hamburg by train to visit Moritz. Haribo pfledermaüse and a midnight stroll to the Altonauer Balkön.
Hamburger Derby. St. Pauli notches a 3-0 win over HSV. Celebrations and open fires in the streets.
Berlin. Beers on the Admiralbrücke with Wade and Chris and his new dog, Carmela. Dinner at Jolesch and a dozen Negronis at Glasweise. Last few rounds with Wade at Pörx.
Coffee and a visit to Kunsthaus Bethanien, the former 19th-century hospital turned into art studios, offices, and a café. The gallery exhibit features 50 female artists from the DDR and includes incredible typewriter/mail art by Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and a documentary about the b&w photos of Tina Bara. At Kottbusser Tor, I buy a freshly pressed cup of ginger-carrot juice and a piece of baklava shaped like a star destroyer.
Walked, road bikes, and threw frisbees through Tempelhofer Feld with Till, making a wide berth around the open-air sunset rave. Walking by myself all through Kreuzberg at night, celebrating the country’s open container laws by stopping at a Späti every 20 minutes to get a fresh beer, crushing fresh and bitter pilsners in the Wrangelkiez while racking up 42,000 steps in 24 hours, a new personal record and a moment of pure triumph. Finally, statistical proof that I did in fact really live.
Fletcher and I tour the botanical gardens around Popplesdorfer Schloss, my first time in Bonn in over a decade. The palace’s famous Corpse Flower is either gone or dormant, but is represented in the garden’s logo on the entrance. Drinking Kölsch in the square beside the statue of Beethoven, winding down the night with a stop in Zebulon and a walk along the Rhine, still majestic but seemingly lower and far less forceful than I remember.
After a dizzy day at the book fair and dinner with colleagues at a fancy Indian restaurant, a long ride back to my hotel by the airport, a place run by a family from Kyrgyzstan. It’s cheerful and clean, but the row of clocks behind the reception desk set to New York / London / Tokyo time are not fooling anyone. They look more like props in a low-budget newscast than something from an “international business center” and lend the place an unintentionally charming air. My room is in the attic suite and I wake up with the sunrise.
Chugging my water bottle while in the line for customs. I nearly pissed myself at Detroit airport but found the bathrooms just in time.
Boulevard Brewery tour led by JG, my old boss and former president of the syndicate. He cracks jokes and hands out an abundance of free beer tokens and seems much happier here than I ever saw him in his past life as an executive.
My first day back at work downtown, super rainy. A catered gourmet Japanese lunch at Primary Color studios. Sam gives us a tour and teaches us a few phrases including “itadakimasu,” which means, “I humbly accept this meal.”
School choir concert at SM East high school, the first school choir concert for any of these grades since the pandemic. As a result the upper grade choirs are much smaller than usual. The high school choraliers sing an acapella medley that almost makes me cry.
Night soccer game for Ruby. The other team forfeits without notice, so we improvise a siblings and parents vs. kids game that I referee without the benefit of a whistle. At one point there are maybe 30 people playing at the same time. One of the dads goes almost completely horizontal laying out for a header that bounces off the goalposts, drawing cheers and laughter from the sidelines. When he does score a goal later in the game, I call him offsides.
Showing R&E the treasures of the Riverside Red X, the discount grocery and liquor store that also has a large private collection of ancient bells, glass eyeballs, statues, and carousel animals on display. I buy a purple t-shirt for Ruby’s art project and a bottle of the budget Kabinett we served at our wedding.
After carving pumpkins with the kids, my dad invites me to finally take his first-ever brand-new car for a spin. It’s an M model BMW and handles unlike anything I have ever driven. I drive my usual commute a bit faster than usual, then loop west on I-70. When a corvette zooms by at over 100 mph, my dad tells me to floor it and within seconds we’ve left him in the dust. The car is tuned to a classic rock satellite radio station and I hit peak kph to the sounds of Billy Joel singing “I don’t care what you say anymore / this is my life.”
We greet over 300 trick-or-treaters, mostly families who have driven in from other neighborhoods. People seem genuinely perplexed by the front-yard cemetery, especially a pair of moms with wine breath and empty solo cups. I want to give them more wine but am not sure that’s a good idea. Eventually I turn off the porch lights and join the rest of my family at the Tuley’s, who have a theremin set up on the driveway. Late night firepit at Jeff’s, drinking whiskey, chewing nicorette, and plotting to steal a replica of the famous Italian boar sculpture supposedly on display outside a Mission Hills mansion, a plan that fizzles once we realize nobody has a truck or is anywhere near sober enough to drive.
Halloween hangover. Insulation installed.
Kevin Morby concert at Knuckleheads Garage. We see him in the street after the show and his mom reaches into a bag and gives Jenn and I each a Kevin Morby fan bracelet.
School skating party. I’m hungry and can barely resist the impulse to pick at the unfinished pieces of pizza and funnel cake left on other children’s plates. I skate almost the whole time and play pop-a-shot. A lot more parents are skating along than in the past, and after five years at the school my campaign to normalize adult participation in the skating party appears to be working.
I find out that one of the books I edited has an error in the volume number. It’s depressing and though our managing editor assures me these things happen, it feels like the beginning of the end. Perspective is restored a bit while sitting at Jeff’s mom’s funeral, hearing about her life and legacy. Long walk to Loose Park that afternoon finding the last patch of sunlight and lying down in it until the light is gone.
Metadata bender at work, watching election results until midnight even though I swore I wouldn’t.
Breakfast with KK, hearing about his journey by foot from Mexico to Canada. Right now he’s living at home in St. Louis but plans to move to a mountain town to work in a bakery and write.
Floating the Niangua river with Jeff just a few days after his mom’s funeral. I didn’t want him to go alone, so I cancel all my meetings and pack up for the early departure. Once again I fail at fishing, getting my line tangled almost immediately and the hook caught in my swim trunks. I swim a bit instead, finding a few small cliffs to jump off where I saw people doing so last summer. Just past Niangua Falls wedding chapel I find a large bouquet of sunflowers floating near the banks, so I fix them to the prow of the kayak with a bungee cord. A bald eagle has been flying just ahead of us from tree to tree for almost the entire day. We name him Garibaldi.
Ruby gets her hair cut short and is delighted. We celebrate at Fric’n’Frac even though Emil eyes the gum under the table suspiciously and seems wary of eating in a bar. “This doesn’t look like a place where kids are supposed to be,” he says. But the staff is super friendly and the burgers are delicious.
Playing banjo in the kitchen of my empty house, sitting on the counter cross legged yell-singing “Eliza Jane” trying to learn the song in honor of my new niece.
Happy hour with the other editors at Mission Taco. A colleague announces her engagement, then shows us a video on her phone of being proposed to at the Renn Fest. The margaritas are strong and the snow is starting to fall so we only stay for one round. Maybe happy hours are happiest when they only last an hour.
There’s an acoustic guitar that hangs in our office lobby in honor of a colleague who passed away in 2019. Dana and I tune it up and play a bit while we’re waiting for her book signing to start. We sing “City of New Orleans” and “Something in the Way,” and our VP of marketing, always very professional and eager to start the event on time, is so visibly nonplussed by the whole situation that I am dying inside laughing but don’t dare to show it.
Walking through the West Plaza at night, thinking about Peter and how it’s strange that even though we lived so close to each other and walked the same streets we almost never crossed paths. I remembered the saga of his missing cat in 2020, the poetic updates he posted on Nextdoor, how he built a whole community of supporters cheering him on and keeping their eyes open, the triumphant final post about how there are infinite universes with infinite possibilities, but in this universe, at least, he got Hank back.
Walked to Peter’s memorial bench beside the gardens at Old Mission church and listened to the new Weyes Blood song with the refrain “Oh God, turn me into a flower.” Brooke’s surprise 40th birthday party that evening, complete with a New Orleans style marching band parade to her front lawn during which they played the melody to “Eliza Jane.”
Lasagna with the Rourkes at Beaver Bend State Park in Oklahoma, where each family rented a cabin. At 5 a.m. the alarm went off to signal the opening of the spillway, answered a few seconds later by the twin alarm downriver at the power plant, a sequence that repeated three more times for 30 seconds each. I had seen the sign about this at check-in but realized nobody else in our party likely had any idea what was going on. When I asked them the next morning they said they thought maybe the lake was going to flood.
Jenn found a $20 bill in the bottom of the stream and spent it on a Hochatime travel mug. We went through the maze of Hochatown and though I hit all the checkpoints before anyone else it took me another hour to find my way out. Back in the park the Skyline Trail is similarly tortuous but I feel much more at home.
Hiking and drinking coffee in the steam of the Lower Mountain Fork River and walking back to the cabin along the old CCC road. I want to write a postcard that says Ouachita You Were Here.
Plaza lights ceremony. With the streets filled with pedestrians you can catch a glimpse of what this city could be if we could only, in small but strategic ways, say “no” to cars.
Party at Club Snod. Clayton had a model train from the ‘50s set up in the basement and insisted we wear railroad caps while trying it out. In the photos Jenn showed me later we look like two giant kids.
Dinner at Kyle and Emily’s, cooking massive ribeye steaks on the big green egg in the pouring rain.
Peanut wings and Guinness with Red.
USA vs. Iran, watching in the lobby with friends at work and the second half in the P&L. The post-game footage of Antonee Robinson consoling a sobbing opponent is almost too much to bear. In what other sport do men so tenderly touch each other’s faces.
Drive to Manhattan with Elvis, touring the decaying modernist Red House and figuring out if it will need to be torn down or is capable of being restored. He votes for the latter. Disc at Warner Park, sunset on I-70, amaretto sours at the Bourgeois Pig.
At the Mayor’s Christmas tree lighting, Ruby sings Christmas carols with the school choir. Every time I hear “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and the verses about figgy pudding I imagine the kids actually deciding to hold a riot and refusing to leave until they get some. Overturning Christmas trees and shouting at their parents that they’re not messing around, someone better bring them some goddamm figgy pudding and they better bring it NOW.
Belgium defeats the USMNT. Shopping for a gecko at Petco and the employee takes them out of the cage so we can hold them and let them crawl around our hands and arms. An albino leopard gecko and a harlequin crested gecko. They eat very different foods and can both easily lose their tails.
Watching the Brazil-Netherlands match at home until the power goes out with a loud pop. The power company shows up and has it back on within a half hour. A squirrel had been running on the live wire. They knew because they found its electrocuted squirrel corpse.
Jazz on the fifth floor, driving back home at midnight up the foggy ramp of Beardsley road, rising out of the stockyards district where my ancestors worked before they started their own businesses and families, back when they walked from Strawberry Hill to the packing plants and slaughterhouses, swinging the meat cleaver so we wouldn’t have to.
Cleaning my bookshelf at work, turning it from a precarious pile into a neatly trimmed selection. When I don’t know how else to move forward, it’s always best to clean my workspace, make giveaway piles, throw things away.
Ruby has only been playing viola for a few months, but she volunteers to play a solo of “Silent Night” in front of the whole school, mostly flawless until a few unsteady notes toward the end. In that moment, proud isn’t exactly the right word. I often worry about what we are and aren’t passing down to our kids, but in this humble and squeaky act of faith I can hear the spirit sounding through.
Watching the World Cup final with the kids, cheering and marveling at the dramatic ups and downs. When Argentina finally wins you can almost feel the entire planet celebrating, except maybe for France.
Eating curry and making paper snowflakes with Nonnie, who is 87 but quickly reverts to youthful fourth-grade teacher mode when showing the kids how to make the proper fold to get a six-pointed star, though it takes a bit of trial and error for all of us, especially me. After about 45 minutes we have enough snowflakes to fill all the windows in the back room.
Riding in a pink stretch hummer limo to the Nutcracker (not really but we saw one idling in the circle drive on our way in)
Playing disc golf in negative 6 degrees, the snow is too fine a powder to stick to the disc and it sails remarkably well in the cold air.
Perhaps because of its proximity to the warm air vent, Frida has taken to perching on the corner of the bookshelf in the living room, right by the doorway to the kitchen. When I walk by, she extends her paw as if to strike, but I’m able to duck out of the way. Eventually I let my guard down, and when her paw connects with my shoulder it’s less like a malevolent swipe and more like the reassuring pat on the back I didn’t know I needed.
No Christmas eve church for us, just our annual viewing of “Our Neighbors the Yamadas.”
A recent joke the kids claim to have come up with together:
She didn’t know what electricity was. When she found out, it shocked her.
Wandering the faux oceanic depths of the Wonders of Wildlife exhibit, an aquarium/temple of taxidermy founded by the owner of Bass Pro Shop. Lots of fun but a tough place to be hungover. Accidental mind meld with the jellyfish, which the sign says are actually called “jellies.”
Tired and depressed at the Green Hills of Platte. I putzed around the acreage and then drove down to English Landing, where I walked around and wrote songs in my head for my new band, th fckvwls.
Eating ham and black eyed peas, which I only just learned are beans, chocolate pie with no refined sugars, a couple of loose beers, some tea. Did an NYE “Woodland Wardens” drawing with H&P and we all received positive messages/critters. Home by midnight, the fireworks continued into the new year, safely outside the expiration period of this particular written record. In another eight hours I will wake up and forget to listen to “Promises,” as I had once planned to do every New Year’s Day. The pleasures of forgetting, the joys of moving on.
[disclaimer: names and places have not necessarily been changed. if you object to being referenced here, prefer your name to be an initial or vice versa, or feel that you have been misrepresented or unfairly left out, please drop me a line and I will fix]