Thursday, January 28, 2010

Creatures of the Gym

My fiancée and I typically hit the gym together on Wednesday nights after work. Most of the year, we tend to see a lot of the same people week after week.

Things are a little different at the first of the year. The regulars are there, but as everyone’s New Year’s resolutions kick in, there is a noticeable flood of new faces in January that slowly dwindles until about mid-February.

You can tell who isn’t going to be long for the gym world. There are some who aimlessly walk around, looking sideways at the weight machines but never getting on any of the ones they don’t understand. They’re intimidated by the machines and are too embarrassed to ask anyone how to use them. Men tend to worry they’ll look weak, and women tend to worry they’ll look silly. Either way, the fear of embarrassment prevents them from getting anything out of their visit.

There are others who simply look miserable. They get on the elliptical or treadmill for 5 minutes, put it on way too challenging a level for them, start gasping, and walk away with their head down. Maybe they lie down on a mat, struggle to do 4 situps, and give up because they figure they’re too far gone to ever get in shape. Or maybe they try a yoga class because it seems fun, but they get discouraged because they can’t touch their toes and the other students are standing on their heads.

I feel bad for these two groups, because they really just need a little instruction, reassurance, and encouragement. They need to know how to get the most out of their time, and a reminder that a sedentary person’s fitness level improves very, very quickly. Mostly, they need to know that tangible results aren’t far off.

On the other hand, there are those who I simply wish would leave. There aren’t many at my gym, so they stick out like sore thumbs.


People on their cell phones while they’re on the cardio equipment.

Jackasses who talk to people in the two groups above about how you absolutely need to eat 12 times a day and work out 6 days a week, thereby destroying what little desire they had to be there in the first place.

Oh, and this other guy.

One of the new faces last week caught my attention. He was fairly douchey looking--tribal tattoo on calf, bad fauxhawk (I know that’s redundant)--but not epically so. Oh, except for one detail: he was wearing sunglasses inside to work out.

He moved at glacier’s pace from machine to machine, nonchalantly sitting there between sets and halfassing his workout. Then, something about his mannerisms made it all click in my head.

As my fiancée and I walked around the track, she mentioned the guy. “What’s that about? Did he sit on his glasses and have to wear his sunglasses to see?”

No, these were Fake-leys (yes, he’s that guy) and there is no way they’re prescription.

“Does he just want to avoid eye contact? Maybe he got punched at the bar.”

Well, that’s a distinct possibility, but you're giving him too much credit.

I think there’s a more likely explanation.

He was trying to check out some ass.

The way he would sit too long on one machine, then move for a better view when the girl got on the leg curl machine. You know, the one where she lays on her stomach.

The way he stopped in his tracks, pretending to play with his iPod, while a girl was stretching in the hallway.

He thought he was discreet, but it was blindingly clear to me.

Look, my gym is certainly not a meat market, but by definition there are a lot of fit women in tight clothing. And no one is pretending there’s no mutual checking out going on.

But by putting on the shades, he’s basically putting a pervy spotlight on himself. Sorry, but you’ve gone too far, jackass. I’m onto you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

KC Grill and Kabob

This past Saturday, my fiancée and I were trying to figure out a place to eat. We were at my office (near Oak Park Mall) doing our respective work stuff before leaving on business for the week. We wanted something quick.

Initially, we were going to settle on Chik-Fil-A just due to proximity and speed. Neither of us really wanted it, though. After going through a list of “takes too long” and “I’m not eating that”, we settled on a place we’d eaten for lunch a few months ago – KC Grill and Kabob.

Tucked away off 87th just east of Pflumm, the restaurant is owned by a native of Iran who worked in the food service business for 20+ years before opening his own place.

Once we got there and confirmed they had a dinner buffet, we knew it would end up being a wise decision. We love ethnic places with a buffet because we get to try all the stuff we’re not sure about without committing to a full entrée.

(They have a lunch buffet seven days a week and dinner buffet Friday – Sunday).

The hummus, homemade pita bread, and baba ghanoush was delicious. Several kinds of rice (jasmine, dill, and saffron) went great with the meats, including beef & chicken kabobs and grilled Cornish hen.

We loved just about everything we tried. We weren’t quite as keen on the soups, but we’re not big barley/lentil fans. The rice pudding with almonds and a splash of rose water along with hot Persian tea was a great cap to the meal.

The owner is gracious and more than willing to describe everything for you. He takes a lot of pride in the food he prepares. The decor (random pictures of all things Persian) is fun to take in as well.

Oh, and did I mention it was $10.99 for the dinner buffet?

Check ‘em out if you’re in the area. You won’t be sad you did.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Errands and Oblivion

I ran errands over my lunch hour. Specifically, the following:

-I went to the hardware store to buy a new light switch.

-I got my hair cut.

-I went into a restaurant at high noon, ordered some food, and took it to go.

-I filled my gas tank.

-I went to the ATM.

Now: which of these took the longest?

The haircut, right? NOPE. Went to a new place, and I was in and out (and happy, no less) in less than 10 minutes.

Well, it had to be lunch, right? I mean, straight up noon, no call ahead…

NOPE. It took less than 5 minutes.

It was the ATM. Because the oblivious, selfish jackass two cars ahead of me apparently decided to do his entire 2009 small business accounting from the driver’s seat of his car.

I’m not kidding. The guy deposited AT LEAST a dozen checks, one at a time, correcting his entries. Then, he fed money into the machine bill by bill. Then, he removed his debit card, PUT IN A DIFFERENT ONE, and made a withdrawal…THEN SAT IN HIS CAR FOR 30 seconds writing in his checkbook.

The guy in front of me laid on his horn and started cussing, at which point the jackass looked up as if to notice the line behind him for the first time.

Don’t be that guy. I know it’s a lot to ask in this world of self-absorption, but pay a little attention to your surroundings--at the ATM, in the aisle at Walmart, while you’re running a stop sign right in front of me because you were having such an important conversation. I’m not always as patient as I was today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flaming Lips + More: Friday, April 23rd

Good golly, there's a great show coming April 23rd to Sandstone.

The Flaming Lips are a must-see live, with an over-the-top extravaganza for the senses. They are worth the price of admission alone.

The Dead Weather, if you're not familiar, is another of Jack White's (The White Stripes, Raconteurs) side projects.

Minus the Bear and White Rabbits I know less about, but I like what I've heard.

This is going to be a really, really good show.

Tickets go on sale Saturday at 10am.

Or, if you click here, you can buy them now through a presale for $31.65/ticket (sorry, the $21.65 tickets are already gone). Password is FLAMING.

Will I see you there?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tantrum + Good Weather = Plans for Friday

I think I can speak for all of us: it's a relief to FINALLY see the rivers of melted snow flowing down the street. A look at the forecast reveals high temperatures in the 37º to 50º (!) range over the next week, so those rivers will continue to run.

Speaking of weather, we were kind enough to postpone last week's Tantrum show so you good people didn't have to brave what was billed to be the coldest weather in 20 years. (It fell a bit short of that, but still--we were thinking of you.)

Now, we'll be performing on a much more pleasant evening in Westport. Come check us out!

Our special guest is Michael Byars, host of KCUR's Morning Edition. He will tell true stories based on your suggestions, which will serve as the basis for our improvised scenes.

Friday, January 15th
Westport Coffee House Theater
May contain adult content
Call 913-678-8886 for reservations

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I’ve been a bowler on and off since my teens. I started bowling in youth leagues at 13 or 14. My first job was as a porter and occasional maintenance guy at a bowling alley. My second “real job”* was also as a porter and occasional maintenance guy at a different bowling alley.

*I don’t count the epic FAILure that was one summer as a cutlery salesperson.

I even managed a stint at the pool hall/game room of yet another local bowling alley as a stopgap when I was in college.

One of the perks of working in a bowling alley was…well, free bowling. And I took major advantage of this as a kid. I mean, what else is a broke-assed 16-year-old working part time for minimum wage going to do with his free time? I once bowled 29 games in succession on a Sunday afternoon.

I bowled a league every year until I was about 20, at which time it got a little more difficult. The main issue with league bowling is the commitment: the standard league runs from about September to May.

That’s committing the same night every week for a SCHOOL YEAR (roughly 36 weeks).

It’s tough, and it’s the main reason some bowling alleys are closing and others are forced to reinvent themselves.

I came back to bowl for a few years in my late 20s, and I had a good time with the friends on my team. However, every year I found my enthusiasm waning big time around February with, like, 14 weeks to go.

Like many things in life that are fun yet time-consuming, eventually burnout sets in. I had fallen out of love with bowling. Something I used to do on a weekly basis had become an occasional happening at best. Eventually, it didn’t even register on my mental list of fun ways to spend a couple hours on a weekend afternoon.

But the week of Christmas, before the “snow events”, I got out of work early. When I pulled into the garage, I happened to notice my bowling stuff. I hadn’t used it in over a year and a half.

I thought, “What the hell.”

I got to the bowling alley and put on my shoes. My bowling ball no longer fits quite right, a combination of a little weight loss and a little reduction in finger size caused by…well, not bowling.

But I made it work. My second throw after all that time off followed an arc out toward the gutter, then hooked abruptly right into the pocket. My first strike of the day.

As I got warm, the ball came off my hand with more speed and more spin. It started to feel “right” again. I had the familiar feeling of people’s eyes watching—the kids two lanes over; the employees behind the counter—as strikes lined up consecutively on the overhead monitor.

The first real game I’ve bowled in 18 months was a 237.

It was exhilarating to suddenly be back in that element.

I followed with a 215 and a 256. 708 series? Like riding a bike.

I paid for my games and went home. It took me all of 40 minutes to bowl.

When I got home, I opened the hatch of my car. Before I reached in to pull my bowling stuff out of the back, I paused for a moment.

I looked at the deceptively heavy black bag, and how many memories I have tied to bowling in general.

I thought back to the satisfaction of bowling well just moments before, of giving the scrawny kids two lanes over a bit of a show.

I smiled and put the bag back on the shelf, in a place slightly more conspicuous than where it was before.

Friday, January 8, 2010

National Championship Game Thoughts

1. Texas wins last night with Colt McCoy. Look, the 18-year-old kid who replaced him did the best he could. But his nerves were painfully obvious. Almost every ball he threw was either way too hard (dude, he’s 20 feet away…you might want to take a little off) or right into the turf (squeezing the ball too hard leads to holding it a bit too long which causes the nose of the ball to head right for the ground). I’m not blaming him at all. I can’t imagine being in that situation unexpectedly a mere 8 months after leaving HIGH SCHOOL.

Despite all that, he had a real chance to tie or go ahead with a successful drive in the last two minutes. Hell, merely subtracting the ill-advised shovel pass at the end of the first half makes this a completely different game.

2. Alabama isn’t dominant. (I’m not saying Texas is.) Their quarterback isn’t good. Their running game certainly is, but once a defense keys in on that it can be contained. And Texas’ offense still moved the ball on Alabama’s overrated defense with an 18-year-old freshman misfiring most of the game. There just wasn’t a dominant team in college football this year…and strangely, there were 5 undefeated teams.

3. I changed channels at halftime, figuring the game was over. I checked back late in the 3rd quarter. The game was definitely not over.

4. Alabama punching in another TD with less than a minute was a punk move. They could have just kneeled on the ball and gone home. Stuff like that can end up getting your players hurt.

5. Does anyone seriously think that Boise State and TCU couldn’t hang with either of these teams?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

January Beer Dinner

We had yet another good time at McCoy’s Brewmaster Dinner last night. The two of us were seated at a fun table with another beer-loving couple (we met them at the Schlafly dinner several months ago) and McCoy’s blogger/Facebooker/social-media-guru-in-chief.

We started with Harvest Dance, one of Boulevard’s seasonal Smokestack series beers. It’s a wheat wine, and it went nicely with the roasted butternut squash, pumpkin walnut bread, and Basque cheese.

Next was a duck confit over pastry and a small salad paired Arcadia’s Cereal Killer Barleywine. This beer is now on tap at the Foundry, thanks to the new tap towers they installed. They now have an additional 12 or so beers on tap, so check the board next time you’re in there—you’re likely to stumble across a few brews you haven’t tried.

This course was followed by McCoy’s 10th Anniversary Ale, paired with roasted pork over white cheddar grits. The interesting thing about this beer is that McCoy’s 10th anniversary was over 3 years ago. They brewed a massive IPA that year, and sold it all...except for one keg. That keg hadn’t been moved (let alone tapped!) since then. It has matured to about 13% ABV, and the hop character has melted away. As the brewmaster put it, it’s pretty much barleywine at this point.

(It’s also still on tap if you want to try it, but it likely won’t last long.)

Finally, we had Avery’s Mephistopheles paired with a raspberry beer-a-misu, which is about what you’d imagine. This is one beer I’d never tried, mostly because I was put off by the $10 per 12 oz. price tag (and that's in the liquor store). It was big, dark, delicious, and dangerous. Somewhere over 15% ABV.

And that was the only problem with the event. When you’re drinking such small quantities of highly potent beer, you tend to lose track of where you’re at as far as consumption goes.

The line between “happy” and “holy crap” is a mere half-glass thick, as I experienced shortly after the event.

I had a lovely time talking (progressively more loudly, natch) to friends new and old last night.

I had a less lovely time waking up in the middle of the night with the gurgly stomach, sweaty forehead, and racing pulse of someone who had consumed a bit too much unpasteurized beer on a school night.

It’s a conundrum—should I keep enjoying these monthly events on work nights, knowing that I still outkick my coverage occasionally when it comes to drinking?

The next Red X wine tasting is Thursday, February 11th from 5-7pm. :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Weather By the Numbers

Weather fascinates me. I like storms and such, but I find myself more intrigued by data and statistics — especially when it comes to extremes.

I think it hearkens back to my childhood, which found me spending inordinate numbers of hours reading the backs of baseball cards. For example, did you know George Brett was born May 15, 1953 in Wheeling, WV? I haven’t looked that up since 1st grade, if you were wondering.

But I digress.

This fun little winter spell we’ve been experiencing had me wondering about the context of the snow and cold snap.

(All forthcoming data is based on KCI measurements.)

With forecasters predicting lows this weekend anywhere from -9º to -16º, the possibility is certainly there for a dip to double-digit negative temps.

Did you know…the last time we were in double digits below zero was January 28, 1997—pert near 13 years ago? Yep. We hit -14º that day.

We got quite a dumping of snow in December, including 7” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Did you know…December 2009 was the 3rd snowiest December on record? With 15.1”, last month trailed only December 1961 (16.6”) and December 1918 (16.4”).

This is a bit less related to current weather, but it’s interesting to see the extremes of years past. I know a better indication of the “harshness” of a season would be, say, December of 2002 combined with January and February of 2003, but that’s too much work. I’ll work backward from 2008 (2009 data is incomplete); the numbers are as follows:

2008: High temp = 97º. Number of days it got above 90º = 15. Low temp = -4º. Number of days it got below 0º = 5.
2007: 102º (40); -3º (3).
2006: 104º (58); 4º (0).
2005: 99º (38); -5º (1).
2004: 95º (10); -4º (4).
2003: 106º (48); -9º (3).
2002: 103º (62); -4º (1).
2001: 100º (34); -6º (2).
2000: 106º (47); -9º (7).

A couple more tidbits:

My fiancée moved here from Minnesota in mid-2004. The absurdly mild summer that year was completely deceptive and may have played some small role in keeping her here. Thank you, Mother Nature.

The cold isn’t going to let up for at least several more days, but keep this in mind: every year since 2000, it has hit at least 60º at some point in January. Hell, it’s even hit 70º twice (in 2003 and 2009).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holiday Recap

Anyone else wondering how the hell we got to 2010 so quickly?

Quick holiday recap: the in-laws braved the ice rink that is I-35 in December to make the trek from Minnesota. The thought behind this was to avoid the general nastiness that is MN weather over the holidays.

Yeah. (Though to be fair, it was worse up there.)

My sister- and brother-in-law are considering moving down here soon, in part to avoid the 6 months of winter pain they experience every year in Duluth. We alternated laughing and rolling our eyes that they had to experience the biggest snowfall KC has seen in a decade.

Such is life, I guess.

We got to make Christmas dinner, and we took the opportunity to veer from tradition a bit. We did roasted butternut squash with thyme and a little blue cheese, a wonderful turkey-sausage-based dressing, and this brined pork loin with molasses-mustard glaze, sour mash sauce and apple butter. We happened upon some holiday special on Food Network at a time when we were trying to figure out what we wanted on the menu, and seeing this pork loin being prepared was a happy coincidence. It was phenomenal. There was also a delicious from-scratch apple pie consumed.

For the second year in a row, weather managed to delay delivery of an item we ordered. This time, it was living room furniture. It’s ridiculously cozy, and can be arranged as 4 separate pieces or all together as shown (stock photo; chick, dude, and popcorn not included):

This came in handy; thanks to all the fun weather and some accumulated time off, we watched an inordinate number of movies. We never get to watch movies, so this was a treat. Bonus? We liked all of them.

We went out to see:
Up In the Air (extremely well-done, and hits home as someone who’s spent more time than most in airports)
Duck Soup (part of Tivoli’s Meal and a Movie plan from last post; absurd, pointless, yet strangely funny Marx Brothers action)

We stayed in to see:
Up (part funny, part sad; surprisingly deep and moving. Fabulous.)
Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino is the best at making you feel THAT tense throughout a 20-minute scene in which nothing but dialogue happens. Great film.)
District 9 (inventive story/allegory; vaporizing humans never looked like so much fun.)
The Hangover (good, but didn’t live up to all the hype I’ve heard since it was released)


Time to get back to the gym…and the corresponding resolution crowd for the next 4-6 weeks.