Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sad Story

I recently discovered a friend was going through a separation/divorce. I had no idea this was happening. I don’t see this friend or his wife all that often, but it seems like they JUST GOT married, and I never saw any sign that things were something other than "fine".

It’s a very difficult thing to go through any sort of breakup, and I can only imagine it’s that much more complicated when contracts, property, and lawyers are involved. (Or, God forbid, children.) My heart goes out to both of them because it can’t be easy to have something that started with such high hopes end badly.

Blame will be thrown around, people will take sides, and friends will be reallocated, but these are people who still care about each other (at least in some capacity).

I saw an interview with Dustin Hoffman this past weekend, and he talked about how difficult his divorce was. His point was that you haven’t stopped loving the other person, but you simply can’t live with them any longer.

That's a tough place to be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Hilarity Continues

Did I mention how much I freaking hate them?

Automaton (Doot Doo, Doo-Doo-Doo)

I’ve never enjoyed working out. It’s monotonous, inconvenient, time-consuming, and is a rather boring way to spend one’s time. I understand the benefits—really, I do—but they’ve never been enough to keep me coming back for more than, say, 6 months at a time.

For reasons beyond the scope of this post, my energy level had dwindled pretty significantly over the past couple of years. This led me to join a gym several months ago. At first, I was a bit lax about attending—usually about twice a week while keeping my diet the same. Strangely, I started to gain weight. I had maintained the same poundage for over 3 years, and now that I was moving around my weight was creeping up. I know what you’re thinking—maybe I gained muscle—but the amount isn’t really feasible given the amount of weight gain and what I was doing in the gym.

To nip it in the bud, I decided to go to the gym five straight days and make sure I didn’t eat/drink anything questionable. The next week was almost as strict. This required discipline, mostly on the diet end of things. Beer and food taste good, you may have heard.

I lost about 7 pounds. In two weeks. It wasn’t really all that hard.

This scares me, because now I am left with a classic angel/devil dilemma.

On one hand, I am curious to see just how far I can push my body, given proper work/fuel/discipline. I’ve always been reasonably athletic, but I’ve never really just pushed the holy hell out of myself. What might be the results? Do I owe it to myself?

On the other, why don’t I eat and drink whatever I want, since I can easily drop the weight if it starts to creep up?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Process

I got to see Mr. Jones this weekend. It had been too long.

We did a show for an ISP in Columbia, MO. It was their holiday party. The show was fun, lighting and sound issues aside. Apparently they enjoyed it because they paid our tab for dinner and drinks afterward, so there’s that.

That night also made me think about change.

Five years ago, I would have used this opportunity to leave town for a night, drink too much, and revel in my short-term freedom. I would have stayed out until the bars closed and followed that with a plate of greasiness from the Waffle House right outside the hotel. I would have smoked half a pack of cigarettes. I would have met a woman, spoken with her, and wondered what the hell I was doing with myself.

Why would I have done this? Because I had escaped, if only briefly. Because I could. No questions asked, no repercussions.

I would have kept the night going as long as I could, sleep be damned, because life was chaotic then. I didn’t know when I’d have that sort of fun again.

Friday night, I was gassed by midnight, the victim of years of steady, predictable, satisfying sleep.

I had two beers. I ate half of a small pizza. I did take a woman back to the hotel; of course, it’s the same woman I always share a bed with. I absolutely wanted her to be there.

I can't overemphasize what a wonderful feeling that is. I can't possibly exaggerate how much this has changed me.

I got up before 9, not after 1. I had fun.

Growing up is a good thing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Social Notworking

I’ve officially had a Facebook account for a little over a year. I signed up for the account for the sole purpose of participating in the marketing of an improv troupe, and I’ve come close to cancelling more than once.

Facebook is far more trouble than it’s worth. It’s just another thing I feel obligated to check, and that is even more difficult because I can’t access it from work. In fact, a huge number of people are blocked in that way.

Yes, I have long since turned off nearly all email notifications, because I got sick of all the messages saying someone joined a fan club, or someone sent me a “beer” (a virtual one, of course) or wants me to take a quiz. Here’s a novel idea--how about we go out somewhere and, I don’t know, HAVE A BEER?

I will readily admit it’s an improvement over myspace, if only because idiots can’t willingly construct the most hideous-looking and –sounding page they can imagine.

However, the downsides to Facebook can be tremendous. More and more companies (i.e. prospective employers) go online to see what type of person they’re hiring. I don’t need my lowest moments preserved in digital photographic posterity.

Also, feel free to google “facebook data mining”. Yeah.

If Facebook is your thing, have at it. I could (and soon, probably will) live without it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas at the Club

We had our Christmas gathering at the club last night. I’m trying to recall whether I’ve missed one since I started performing. I don’t think I have, which means last night’s extravaganza was my 11th.

I’ve performed at the club only sporadically over the past few years. I’m there just enough to avoid letting go completely, and though I’ve had thoughts of doing so in the past, I really don’t want to walk away.

Improv will probably never be quite the thrill it once was for me. I think that’s the natural course of things, especially for someone who abhors the ruts that form over the course of one’s existence. I sometimes question whether I even enjoy performing THAT MUCH, or if it’s just about the people with whom I perform.

Man, have I met some fun, smart, talented people through improv.

So what happened at the club? Why isn’t everyone still down there 3 weekends a month? Over time, our crowds diminished, most of us were slighted in some way, we moved to the next step in our lives, and we started to come around less (or quit altogether). I won't go into the missteps along the way.

Last night, there was very little of the “old guard” in attendance. That’s the state of affairs. However, for the first time in many years, there was a huge dose of new blood. Eight new players were in attendance (another five could not make it). Most of them have theater experience. I played with four of them last Friday. They had played 13 shows collectively. Their improv skills are raw, but they had energy and stage presence—which means they have potential.

The nostalgic side of me saw the eight of them sitting there in their little group, making each other laugh, and I thought maybe—just maybe—they can inject some life back into the club.

For the record, I picked the first gift…a Vivaldi “concertos for the flute” CD. Since that was voted “worst gift”, I ended up with the bonus gift—a DVD of George Carlin’s last HBO special. I feel better now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Peterson OUT

In a move that surprised many (including me), Carl Peterson has resigned/been forced out as Chiefs president/GM/CEO/draft botcher/executive condescender/lightning rod.

His tenure spanned 20 years, meaning he was inaugurated about the same time as the first President Bush. Let that sink in.

These 20 years can be neatly divided into two distinct decades. The first included building a successful franchise that captivated a city, with almost-annual playoff appearances that seemed to always end in disappointment. The last ten years were punctuated by decline and desperation, culminating in the embarrassment of the 2008 season.

The draft was always a sore spot for Chiefs fans, even when the team was good. Check this list and I promise you will be in awe of the sheer number of busts this franchise has seen.

He famously made shrewd moves for Marcus Allen and Joe Montana, but also signed Bam "Bong" Morris and Chester McGlockton. He let go of Joe Horn, Donnie Edwards, and (most painfully) future MVP Rich Gannon.

All the while, he considered himself beyond reproach. His level of arrogance was stunning. I'm convinced his attitude--moreso than any on-the-field failures--was the reason so many in Kansas City despised him.

I do not wish any ill will upon Peterson. I do not hate him. He is merely a guest who has lingered at this city's NFL party about 10 years too long.

Sorry, Carl. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beer Report

I got to enjoy some tasty libations this weekend.

Saturday night: We went to the Foundry for food and beer, and saw McCoy’s WestPorter was on tap. This made me happy, and the brew did not disappoint. But as I was sipping on that, I noticed a new name on the board: McCoy’s Ursa Major Imperial Stout. Being a big fan of the style (namely Old Rasputin and Yeti) I was pumped to try it. It was FANTASTIC. Probably the best beer McCoy’s has ever done, IMHO. Beautifully balanced, huge robust flavors, and 10.5% ABV.

Sunday night: We made steak and pierogies, and I decided to sample a couple things that we had in the fridge. First was Brother Thelonious, another beer from North Coast. After this Belgian Abbey-style ale, I am even more convinced that this brewery can do no wrong. The nose was wonderful, and the different flavors just kept coming. Very complex, very tasty. We then pulled O’Dells Isolation Ale out of a mixed pack, which was a pale winter warmer. The hop aroma was huge, but the beer had a nice balanced finish. A solid winter beer. Finally, perhaps enjoying myself a bit too much, I decided to try an Avery Old Jubilation Ale. This was a much darker, almost mahogany-colored beer. There was a larger flavor profile than the Isolation and it had a more syrupy mouth feel. I recommend it highly.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lauren Chapin, RIP

This morning I learned Lauren Chapin, restaurant critic and journalist for the Star, died Wednesday.

I never met her, but I felt like I sort of knew her through her columns. I had actually never seen her face (critic anonymity) until they published a photo in the above link.

Her work was always one of my favorite things to read in the Star. She was a very good journalist who always gave me a good idea what a restaurant was about in terms of atmosphere and food. She was also a gifted critic, most notably in how diplomatically she could discuss something she wasn’t crazy about.

I also had no idea she was married to Tim Finn, the Star’s music critic (whom I also enjoy reading).

I will miss reading her work. Rest in peace, Lauren.

Checkin' Out

We did a little shopping last night. We started at Off Broadway @ the Legends, where she had to exchange the boots I’d bought for her birthday for a ½ size larger pair. We then went to Old Navy because I needed a pair of khakis, and I’d had good luck finding a fit there in the past.

Sidebar: Finding clothes to fit me is hard as I am on the very precipice of the normal size range in EVERYTHING. I’m 6’4” with long arms, long torso, and big legs. Long-sleeved shirts nearly always have to be a “tall”, which generally means shopping in the big and tall section. However, I’m only an XL, whereas most of the big and tall stuff starts at 2XLT. In other words, the shirts that are long enough are usually too baggy.

Pants create a similar problem. In slacks and khakis, I am most commonly a 40x34. Sizes 38x34 and 40x32 are standard in almost every line, but almost NEVER a 40x34. I usually can’t come down to a 38 in slacks and khakis because of my legs ( jeans seem to work fine), but a 32 inseam often hits me short.

I won’t even start on the joys of having a size 15 shoe.

Later, at JCPenney, we had an odd interaction with the cashier. She was telling my girl that she liked the item my girl had decided not to purchase better than the one she did purchase and was extolling the virtues of it, all while sounding a bit like Mushmouth from Fat Albert.

Next stop: Target. The cashier was scanning the fat-free pumpkin pie flavored yogurt when she decided to drop some nutritional knowledge on our asses. I was speechless.

“This is flavored with aspartame, and that’s an artificial sweetener.”

Inner monologue: Um, yeah. We are aware.

“It’s worse than sugar and it’s a lot harder on your digestive system.”

Well, define “worse”. And yes, anything you eat would make your digestive system work harder than simple sugar.

“Sugar doesn’t have any fat in it…it has calories, but not fat, but sugar doesn’t make you fat, and if you work out you’ll burn it off anyway.”

I was tired, so I didn’t have a response immediately. I was a bit more stunned that the lady at Target carrying at least 100 lbs. too many had the nerve to tell us how to eat.

We thought of lots of suitable responses on the way out to the car, but here were the two things that we should have said:

A) Sugar doesn’t contain fat, but NOTHING WILL MAKE YOU FATTER THAN EATING SUGAR (and other simple carbs).

B) No offense intended, but I don’t take nutritional advice from anyone who is your size.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


So the Yankees are going to land C.C. Sabathia after all.

It’s just laughable. The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 (meaning poor Derek Jeter did not play in October for the first time in his vastly overrated career) and this is how they reload.

I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate that the stadium is half full of Yankees fans when they come to town. I hate seeing little kids wearing—get this—a Johnny Damon Yankees shirt. In Kansas City. Seriously.

I hate that our big hope is finding a setup guy when we don’t have a single player on the roster who will threaten our pathetic franchise home run record. If you didn’t know, that mark is still held by Steve “Bye-Bye” Balboni with 36. This is the lowest franchise-record-total of the 30 MLB teams. This occurred in 1985 – the Royals' championship year, but also the last year the Royals made the playoffs. This brings me to my real point.

I hate that the Royals don’t matter. I hate that there are now college graduates who have not been alive for a Royals playoff game. I hate that the Royals’ ineptitude has driven local kids to root for teams like the Yankees. That would have been unthinkable in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I hate that nearly every “small market” team has contended at some point in the last 12 years, when spending disparities really started to get out of hand (no, 2003 doesn’t count for the Royals—it was a total fluke).

I hope Dayton Moore can work some magic, but please forgive my pessimism in the meantime.

A few months ago I was sitting with two friends, and I had an epiphany: I have never in my life been less interested in baseball than I am now. It hurts me to say that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sushi Happy

As the “last leg” in her birthday tour, I surprised her with a sushi preparation class at the KC Culinary Center. The class was well-taught and we both had lots of fun. Sushi is one of those foods which require far more preparation ahead of time than in making the actual food. We got to do just the fun stuff, which included rolling and eating. A lot.

When I eat things like sushi, I always reflect back to my extreme pickiness as a child. How did I come this far? Did my palate actually evolve, did I simply start giving “strange” foods a fair shake, or is it something else?

After so many hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches as a kid, I’m sure my mom just shakes her head when she hears me say I ate eel.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Know Justus, Know Eats

Sunday was her birthday. After she got back from a brunch-type event, we went hippie and hurriedly planted the trees that the Arbor Day Foundation decided should be sent and planted the first week of December. My runny nose thanks you immensely.

As is our custom, it was time for one of our special occasion dinners. These occur on our birthdays, our anniversary, and Valentine’s Day. We try to do something really nice and/or interesting, as we are budding foodies who enjoy the adventure of experiencing new tastes.

This led me to select Justus Drugstore (a restaurant) as the site for our dinner. I had heard great things here and here and here, but this place was in downtown Smithville! I was hopeful that a 70-minute round trip would be worth it.

Oh my, was it ever.

My expectations were pretty high, and they were thoroughly exceeded, surpassed, and altogether annihilated.

We started with some wonderful libations from the skilled bartender. She had the “Elixir of the Day” (yes, they have such a thing) and I had a “Go Figure”. They infuse their own spirits, which leads to things like fig-infused applejack and raspberry-infused vodka. Trust me – they were fantastic.

We were then seated. The décor is nice and modern, with a wide-open view into the kitchen. It was interesting to note that I faced calm, placid downtown Smithville while she faced the organized chaos that is a restaurant’s kitchen.

We had brandade, a mixture of smoked walleye, oil, and potatoes to spread over crostini. Fabulous. Our salads almost induced tears; hers was maytag blue cheese with roasted beets and a black walnut praline and mine had sage goat cheese wrapped in bacon on the side.

Our mains were fabulous – hers was an American Kobe flat iron steak, cooked a perfect medium rare. I had the Pork 2 Ways, which was a pork ribeye and a small cut of shoulder that was smoked, crusted, then fried. It was stunning, and it really should have been called pork 10 ways. Each time you got a little bite of the braised spinach, cabbage, apple sticks, crème with bacon powder (seriously), or sweet corn flan, it lent another dimension to the pork. This was the best pork I’ve ever had, bar none. I refer to both the preparation and the quality of meat that was used.

After we ordered dessert, the very friendly Chef Justus came out of the kitchen and spoke to us. His passion for this place is evident, and he has a lot invested: he and his wife designed and did most of the construction for the restaurant (a slide show plays near the bar showing the construction process). He believes in his food, most of which is supplied by a network of local farmers and grown organically. Everything is prepared from scratch. The quality is top-notch.

His story of how he and his wife entered the food business and how the restaurant came to be is fascinating and worth a trip by itself. Seriously, go up there and ask him or his wife! I won’t spoil it; I’ll just say it involves bike messenger-ing, art school, a flood, and the south of France among other things.

Dessert was wonderful as well – flourless chocolate torte with hazelnut mousse inside. We also did a flight of ice cream. Yeah, you heard me. They had about 12 homemade ice cream flavors that included raspberry ginger, butterscotch tarragon, and cherry balsamic. We tried four; all rocked.

If you have the chance, I implore you to go off the beaten path and visit this gem. I promise it’s worth the drive.

The only constant

Saturday, feeling more introspective than usual, I embarked on a rare drive-around-aimlessly-by-myself day. I decided to head north, which eventually led me to 169 and Barry Road. I suddenly felt compelled to go in and see what has become of Metro North Mall.

Christmas music was playing—good, solid Perry Como and Bing Crosby stuff. No effing bubbly Mariah Carey crap was present. The music was not de rigeur, but it felt appropriate in that setting. Metro North is well past its heyday.

That’s when strange emotions kicked in. I had been in the mall maybe three times in the last decade, and each time the occupancy rate was lower than the visit before. I had read that the mall was basically on life support. This was not quite the case; it is not Indian Springs or even Metcalf South. Nonetheless, large swaths of the mall are boarded up with nothing but a few mall walkers making their way into some corners. Why did this affect me? Why did I feel sad for this place?

My strongest memories of the place date back to when I was a frequent visitor to the mall in high school. I went there less than I went to Oak Park, but it was probably number two on the list of destinations for the collective broke asses of my friends and me.

I remember the place was lively: plenty of young people working, shopping, and loitering. The girls were pretty, yet markedly more approachable than their counterparts to the south. Angie at County Seat (whose name tag said “Cali”) and Trish at Amigos? Much kinder than that broad at the calendar store at Oak Park.

Fifteen years later, even at the peak of December’s shopping, the concourses are decidedly uncrowded, the stores’ clerks underwhelmed. Nearly every shopper is 35 or older other than the kids they have in tow. The life and the buzz left with the young people.

One thought I had involved why certain stores stayed open while others closed. How, for example, is Regis Hairstylists still in operation while Pretzel Time is closed? Merle Norman Cosmetics and not GNC? Macy’s but not Dillard’s or JCPenney? And how in God’s name is Original Pizza still surviving in the bottom corner of the mall with nary a lit storefront in sight?

My theory is that the Regis and Merle Norman franchises owned by locals who aren’t willing to give up. They have invested their time, their souls, and their capital…where else would they go? What would they do? It’s easier for corporate-owned stores to decide which assets are underperforming and systematically close them when it makes sense. Emotions and “buying in” make things tricky.

I walked the entire mall, both levels. It wasn’t busy, but it wasn’t dead either. I guess the simple way to put it is that stores were surviving for now. I fear once the holiday season is over…well, I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.

Need a bellwether?

The fairly new strip mall across the highway is almost obsolete already thanks to even newer developments at Zona Rosa and Tiffany Springs. The lineup is: Target, Circuit City (closing/in bankruptcy), Kohl’s, Linens-N-Things (closed/bankrupt), Michael’s, Babies-R-Us, and Steve and Barry’s (closing/in bankruptcy).

The person who figures out what to do with all this country’s increasingly vacant big box and indoor mall space will be very rich indeed.