Thursday, December 16, 2010

the saga of the flying gerbils, part I

I wrote this story for my friend E.'s mother after various discussions of Fox News conspiracies, mutated sci-fi house pets, and the heinousness of Monday mornings somehow culminated in the invention of flying gerbils whose sole purpose was to torment humanity.

The Saga of the Flying Gerbils
Part I : The Discovery

She gave them Mountain Dew.

At least that was Jenny Wilson's defense, and it was the only thing she could think to say when the scientist and the reporter started questioning her the day after her gerbils started flying.

"I didn't know it was bad for them," she insisted.

The reporter, a short, balding man in a striped, v-neck t-shirt that didn't quite cover his plume of gray chest hair, nervously rubbed his hands together as he looked around her living room.

The only pictures on the walls were of her mother, who had died unexpectedly last summer after choking on a walnut, and her gerbils, Pinky and Fluffy. Last Christmas her brother had given her Photoshop for her computer, and this gave Pinky and Fluffy the ability to travel, not only geographically but also through time and space. In one photograph, they frolicked along the rings of Saturn. In another, they darted between the feet of a gunfighter in the wild west.

"So you live alone, then," the reporter said, his gray eyes searching her face the same way they had her room. "And you're how old?"

"I don't understand why that matters," she said. "My gerbils are missing."

"And this is the house you grew up in?"

Jenny didn't answer. Instead she stared at the jagged edges of the shattered pane of glass where Pinky and Fluffy had escaped. She tried to think of ways she might have accidentally broken it, of ways she might have been careless. The truth, that they had literally flown out the window, was still too impossible for her to accept.

"We need to know exactly what you've been giving them," said the scientist, shuffling through the wood chips in the bottom of their cage. "We need to know how much and how often."

"I told you, I gave them Mountain Dew," Jenny said, becoming frustrated.

"Can you think of anything else?" the scientist asked. He pulled a plastic bag out of the deep pocket of his coat and saved a few wood chips. "What did you feed them?"

"What did you feed them," Jenny said mockingly. "I fed them the same things I eat, and you don't see me flying out the window."

"And what do you eat?" he asked.

"Normal stuff," she said. "Two Taco Bell tacos with cheese, sour cream, and tomatos, three times a day. Three square meals, see?"

The reporter scribbled furiously into his notebook.

"I see," said the scientist, who leaned over and whispered something to the reporter, who nodded. "Thank you very much, Miss Wilson. We'll be in touch."

The scientist and the reporter hurried out of Jenny's house, ignoring her pleas: "What about my gerbils? Aren't you people supposed to be finding them?"

The moment they were out the door, the reporter was on the phone to Fox News: "We have a problem on our hands," he said. "Yes, the flying gerbils, that's right. And they could be dangerous.

Monday, December 13, 2010

depressed? zoloft can help...

...but heed this warning: once you start, you can never, ever stop taking it ever again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

day 54: i ate some fud

Carnivores love to dig in to vegetarians' fake "meat." And by "dig in" of course I mean "make horrible fun of." 

And I get it; after all, trading chorizo for a soy-based substitute is kind of like trading cigarettes for nicotine patches or Budweiser for O'Doul's. In other words, what's the fucking point? Why settle for a weak-ass imitation of the original?

the mothefucking reuben sandwich, bitches

But here's the deal: oftentimes, vegetarians aren't against the consumption of meat; they are against the corporate farms that mistreat the animals from whom the meat comes. For example, I really love the taste of pork chops, but I cannot abide allowing hormone-pumped pigs to wallow in their own feces in cramped quarters for the sake of penny-pinching mass production, especially because pigs are likely more intelligent than my cats (sorry Lee and Fifi). 

I also love, love, love a good reuben sandwich. I've enjoyed reubens in my mom's kitchen (with my grandmother's homemade sour kraut), at Browne's Irish Marketplace down the street from my apartment, and most notoriously at Katz Deli in New York City, where the sandwich was literally the size of my head. 

And because I quit eating meat in March, I was excited to discover a vegan version of the reuben at a bar in Seattle when I visited in August. And I must say -- goddamn, it was pretty fucking good. Though I'm sure it didn't hurt that the consumption of the sandwich was preceded by a shot of habanero tequila, but whatever.

Despite the occasional bacon cravings, vegetarianism has worked out quite well for me. Granted, I still eat fish, eggs and cheese, drink milk, and enjoy the crap out of the pasture-raised beef my parents get from their neighbors. I doubt I will ever be able to take the next step and embrace veganism. 

But I understand what would drive one to abandon all animal-based food sources, and when the all-vegan restaurant Fud (pretend there's an umlaut over the "u") opened in KC this summer, I was excited to try it.

Unfortunately I must confess that though it's down the street from my boyfriend's apartment, I still haven't been there. This week, however, I did go to the new Nature's Own Health Market that replaced Wild Oats on 43rd and Main, and in their cooler I randomly discovered delicious-sounding vegan sandwiches constructed by Fud, including -- what else -- my beloved reuben.

I snatched it up, reluctantly paid the $8 that would prohibit these sandwiches from becoming a realistic daily or even weekly lunch option and banish them to "special treat or when you're really hungover" land, and went home to scarf it down.

Almost immediately I became privy to a weird fact: Fud's "corned beef" (ingredients printed prominently on the label) is remarkably similar in texture, appearance and taste to the real deal. It was, surprisingly, fucking delicious. And though I suspect some serious food science was involved with the color, texture and taste, as long as it was ethically and healthfully done, I'm cool with that.

But (and with fake "meat," there's always a "but") it will never compare to the insane orgasmic mouth party of the mound of juicy corned beef I chowed down over a year ago in NYC. But then again, does that really matter? 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

day 53: i woke up at - instead of stayed up until - 5 a.m.

A year ago I seriously thought walking to 7-Eleven for coffee constituted sufficient exercise, so I think I've earned the right to brag: last week I went to spin class at 6 a.m.

When I posted a Facebook update announcing my witching-hour workout, my old drinking buddy Joe Jay responded with the following: "Wow! The only spinning I remember at 6 a.m. was when our heads were still spinning from all those Jager shots the night before!"

Broadway at 5:30 a.m.

And yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

Despite all those old adages touting the virtues of morning - some crap about being healthy and rich, some other crap about worms - I have always found mornings to be offensive in the extreme. In addition to starting petitions to elminate Sundays and to destroy the sun to make mid-August more pleasant, my friend E. and I have also attempted to garner support for starting the day at 11 a.m.

Unfortuantely we have been continually thwarted by a rogue group of maniacs known as "morning people." These mushy-brained psychopaths are easily identifiable by their ability to smile before coffee, their insistence that "the day is half over" at 2 p.m., and the irritating, self-satisfied spring in their step when they've gotten a lot of shit done before noon.

The day I went to spin class I woke up at 5 a.m. groaning and cursing, and I arrived at the gym to discover a packed parking lot. Here they were: morning people. A lot of them. I shuffled inside half-dazed to discover people jogging on treadmills, lifting weights in front of the mirror, and doing crunches. As though this kind of behavior at this hour was normal. My brain flooded with "what the fuck," and I retreated to the bathroom to give myself a pep talk.

Eventually I tiptoed out and selected a stationary bike, and the next hour passed as though I was underwater or in a dream, or maybe a dream taking place underwater. Despite almost puking or passing out at least twice, somehow I managed to survive running, jumping, and skipping from one end of the gym to the other in between frantic bouts of pedaling on my bike. Then I went home, took a shower, passed out, and was late for work.

But, bonus: I ate and ate and ate all afternoon, and I didn't feel the least bit guilty about it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

day 52: i knew you were comin' so i baked a pie

Like yoga, baking is rather zen. While calculating recipes, kneading dough, and mixing crap in bowls in hopes it will come to resemble something edible, it’s possible to tune out all of the bullshit and focus only on the task at hand.

And as with everything (except maybe riding a bike), wine also helps.

Among my many not-so-fine qualities, I tend to learn things the hard way. When common logic determines something to be a really bad idea, odds are I'll go ahead with it anyway. It's how I learned what type of men not to date, that you shouldn't hassle traffic cops, and that I shouldn't go bar-hopping alone on St. Patrick's Day.

It's also how I decided at 10 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving that I absolutely had to bake a pie for the first time ever.

While wandering the aisles of Sunfresh with countless other last-minute shoppers, Jason and I looked up "blackberry sour cream pie" on his i-phone and began hunting down the ingredients. We quickly discovered that buying enough fresh blackberries for two pies would cost upwards of $20 (an unreasonable investment for a culinary experiment that may end up in the trash), so we subbed half the berries with canned tart cherries. We also found an empty shelf where the frozen pre-made pie crusts should be, so our next google search was to find out how to make our own.

Among the cooking supplies I discovered I don't have: a flour sifter, a pizza cutter, a rolling pin (we used a water glass, pictured above right), and an oven that doesn't draw its power directly from the pits of hell. Seriously - it has burned the crap out of 95 percent of the food it has touched. Fortunately casualties to our pies were minor, and though I was an hour late to my parents' Thanksgiving lunch I think they were shocked and somewhat pleasantly surprised to discover I had allegedly edible baked goods in tow.

And everyone who tried it - about nine people total - said it was good. So when it comes to pies, Jason and I are batting 1.000.

And one other thing: Crisco. What the fuck is it, because it is revolting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

the 6 stages of getting a speeding ticket

1. Guilt and regret.
"Oh shit, that cop came out of nowhere. Really, there's a school zone here? I should've been paying more attention. If only I'd gotten up earlier... I shouldn't have drank all that wine last night. Shit, now I'm gonna be late. Do I have my insurance card? Fuck this; seriously, fuck this."

2. Overcompensation.
"The speed limit says 45, so I should probably go 30. I will stop at this stop sign and sit here for at least 20 seconds. Go ahead and try to tell me this stop is anything but full and complete. Oh look, a school zone. It's 10 at night, but I'd better drive through it at idle speed just to be safe."

pink elcamino
pink el camino. someday i will own this car.
 3. Indignation.
"Hey, wait a second. The speed limit says 25, and that guy just blew past me going at least 40. If I drove like that, I'd see flashing lights in my rearview. Where the fuck are the cops now, huh? How come he can get away with driving like a total asshole?"

4. Overconfidence.
"I don't see any cops around... I can probably go at least 5 over the speed limit. I'm sure it's fine. And fuck it, I'm gonna go ahead and make a U-turn here. I'm going the wrong way; what do they expect me to do? Keep driving until it's legal to turn around? Haven't they heard of carbon emissions and global warming?"

5. Panic.
"Oh shit, is that cop following me? Oh shit, he's got his lights on... oh god, here he comes. I guess I should pull over... oh god. Maybe I can tell him I have to pee... I could pee my pants right now. Maybe if I cry... oh god. I can't afford another ticket. I am fucked, so fucked."

6. Depression.
"This lawyer is going to charge me $300 to come to court for 20 minutes to get this shit reduced to a non-moving violation? And then I'm going to have to pay double the amount of the fine? This is fucking criminal. Guess I'm not going on vacation this summer. I hope I have enough left for a box of wine."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

a charming reminder

...of how we're all so fucked.


by The Pogues

The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out
The ones that crawl in are lean and thin
The ones that crawl out are fat and stout
Your eyes fall in and your teeth fall out
Your brains come tumbling down your snout

Be merry my friends
Be merry

And then there's this song I used to sing in elementary school music class. It made me cry and obviously left a deep impression, as I still remember the words more than 20 years later.

Don't ever laugh when the hearse goes by
For you may be the next to die
They'll wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet
They'll put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks

All goes well for about a week
And then your coffin begins to leak
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinocchle on your snout
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose
They eat the jelly between your toes

Then a big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes
Your stomach turns a slimy green
And pus pours out like whipping cream
You spread it on a slice of bread
And that's what you eat when you are dead!


I do apologize for being morbid. I finished reading Madame Bovary last night around 2 a.m., and all of my dreams revolved around dying a painful death after chowing down handfuls of arsenic powder. I swear, I woke up with the taste of ink in my mouth.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

5 reasons it's amazing my brother and i survived our childhood

  1. In our early years, rusty old farm equipment doubled as playground equipment. Our grandmother lived on a farm in Odin, Kansas, which isn't even a blip on the map but is considered a part of Claflin, pop. 705. The farmhouse was built in the mid-19th century, and over the years the yard became the final resting place of combines, tractors, and other various and terrifying wheat-harvesting implements featuring man-sized blades and jagged pieces of metal. There was also a turn-of-the-century car in the process of being swallowed by the back yard with springs poking through the seats like craggy old fingers.
  2. Our games of cops and robbers involved "jewels" that were actually broken pieces of glass we found on the ground near the spot where my grandma burned the trash. As the robber, it was my job to "steal" these bits of glass and run back to my hideout before my brother or cousin caught me. In the event of a search, I would hide the shards o' glass anywhere - tucked in my hat, rolled up in my sock, taped to my big toe. Have you ever tried running with glass in your shoe? It'll fuck you up.
  3. One winter, mired in stifling post-snowstorm boredom, we decided that instead of real sledding, which didn't happen unless my dad pulled us behind his tractor, we would go "sledding" indoors by sliding down the stairs on the beanbag. This was great fun until my brother put his foot through the wooden basement door at the bottom of the stairs. I'm pretty sure the hole is still there.
  4. Sometimes we would decide to play "restaurant," which basically involved dumping random shit from the kitchen cabinets and the fridge into a giant bowl, mixing it together, and then eating it. These cooking experiments involved everything from raw eggs to shredded cheese to bread crumbs. This was also how I discovered the cruel joke that is Baker's Chocolate. It looks and feels like real candy, but it tastes like bitter arse.
  5. Cows. During the two weeks we'd typically spend on my grandma's farm each summer, we would throw dirt clods and skip rocks near the pond in the cow pasture. From a distance or while passing on the highway, cows appear docile and harmless, but that is not always the case. Up close, they're rather large and terrifying, especially when you're ten years old, and especially when they chase you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

hey douchebags: your stupid, trendy hair might be holding you back

In what local douchebags are calling a "dick move," NBC Action News reported last night that trendy hairstyles such as the faux-hawk may create a disadvantage for those seeking employment in a tight job market.

To paraphrase the report, your hair can tell potential employers whether you're an entitled, vain asshole who will drink too much tequila and sleep through his alarm three days a week.

"Whatever, man," says J.N., an Overland Park douchecanoe rocking a bleach blonde faux-hawk and a fitted white t-shirt with the word "sacrifice" emblazoned across the chest. "Silencing the haters is a full-time job."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

halloween haunts

Here are a few of the supposedly haunted locations I hit up this week. I'm probably going to continue hunting for ghosts periodically throughout the year - it's too much fun to save it all for Halloween week, and besides, I didn't end up catching one. Yet.

Jack Gage American Tavern 

I was really fucking excited when a photograph of the stairs in this allegedly haunted bar showed a white, moldy looking orb. With an extensive history as a gay bar, a furrier, a dry cleaner, and a sketchy, smelly Chinese restaurant that I’m convinced was really a front where people were getting whacked upstairs while I was choking down gummy crab Rangoon downstairs, it would make sense that the place be brimming with various specters. 

When it re-opened last year as Jack Gage, who was a boxing promoter in the 1920s, staff reported hearing mysterious footsteps, and speculation began that it was either the ghost of Gage or the many cats Double Dragon cooked up in their Chinese cuisine. It is common knowledge, after all, that when old buildings get remodeled the spirits get pissed the fuck off. Unfortunately, according to the Missouri Paranormal Society, orbs are not usually evidence of otherworldly wanderers but are instead due to dust or moisture in the air. So, you know. Fuck.

Sauer Castle

Located in a quiet Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood, Sauer Castle is an ominous-looking mansion that has been abandoned since the mid-1980s. Built by German immigrant Anton Sauer in 1872, the castle has a long, dark history just begging to be enhanced with ghost stories. 

Four members of the Sauer family died on the property – Sauer’s daughter, Helen; his great granddaughter, who drowned; his son-in-law, who shot himself; and Sauer himself, of tuberculosis. There is also a legend that one of the former owners killed his entire family before throwing himself from the castle’s tower. Visitors have reported seeing a woman, most likely Sauer's wife, Mary, wandering along the upstairs balcony, as well as hearing howling and moaning coming from the house at night.

The first time I visited Sauer Castle was with my friend Danny after dark, and I considered jumping the fence but was deterred by signs warning me to beware of the dog and letting me know there was an armed guard on duty. I decided it was kind of not worth the risk. I went back during the day a couple of days later, and as I was peering through the fence I was startled by a man’s voice.

“Be careful of that fence there,” he said. “There’s grease on it.”

I couldn’t see him anywhere, so I assumed he was on the screened-in porch next door.

“I’m just taking pictures,” I said, to which he responded by letting loose a string of angry, incomprehensible gibberish. Worried he might be the armed guard referenced on the sign, I ran to my car and sped away.

Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum

The Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum in Kansas City, Kansas, has sat proudly atop Strawberry Hill for 123 years. Originally constructed in 1887 as the dream home of John and Margaret Scroggs, the house later became an orphanage for kids whose parents died in the 1918 flu epidemic. The orphanage was run by the nuns of the neighboring St. John’s Parish. 

One of the most prominent poltergeists is known as the “lady in red,” a homeless woman the nuns took in who died during a botched abortion. She appears wearing a bloodied, red 1940s-style dress, and before she disappears she always asks, “Where is the house of the priest?” One woman also encountered an angry male figure on the third floor. His full apparition supposedly chased her all the way down the stairs to the front door. Children’s spirits also linger from the orphanage days.

When Danny and I visited, the house was closed, so we wandered aimlessly into the basement of St. John’s, where they were holding some kind of bowling league. Yes, there’s a bowling alley in the basement of the creepy old church next to the haunted mansion, and it’s awesome. We had a beer at the bar (yes, there's also a bar – that’s a Catholic church for you) and considered swiping a couple of sausages from the snack table before hitting our next destination.

This Kansas City, Kansas, bar isn’t haunted - at least not as far as I can tell - but it is owned by practicing witches – bottles of “witch stuff,” according to the bartender, hang from the wall beside shelves filled with bottles of liquor. Also, these photos of an antique cash register and crazy dog wallpaper are too awesome not to share. The bartender even showed us a sweatshirt they have for sale that has a portion of the dog design embroidered on the chest.

John Wornall House Museum

Each year around Halloween, this Civil War-era homestead turned museum offers candlelight ghost tours, allowing visitors to wander the haunted halls with handheld lanterns while the tour guide shares spooky and sometimes disturbing stories about the home’s history. 

Built by wealthy politician John Wornall for his wife, Eliza, the home was at the center of the Civil War conflict known as the Battle of Westport. During the battle, wounded soldiers were constantly coming in and out of the house, and many of them died there. Doctors performed surgery in what is now the dining room, hacking off wounded men’s limbs and tossing them out the window. The adjoining room is where they stacked the corpses; the tour guide described the ambiance as “quiet and heavy.”

Eliza Wornall apparently loved the place so goddamn much she never left, and she’s now one of the resident ghosts. She supposedly sticks around because she’s angry that after her death John married her hated cousin, Roma, who was her exact opposite – where Eliza was conservative and calm, Roma was a wild and lively party girl. 

Two children also refuse to leave their upstairs bedroom. During one tour the museum director heard knocking coming from within the armoire. She was convinced one of the living children on the tour had snuck inside and was playing a prank, but when she flung open the doors, the armoire was empty. After she shut the doors, the knocking immediately resumed, and that’s when that particular tour ended, as everyone was scared shitless.

Jason and I didn’t encounter any ghosts on our tour – they’ve been known to pull on visitors’ clothes and escort the ladies up the stairs with icy hands – but we did meet a couple of Civil War re-enactors, one of whom told us he has walking pneumonia but still sleeps on the ground in a primitive tent several weekends a year because he’s “just an old fool who don’t know no better.” We also met some ghost hunters from the Missouri Paranormal Society, who apparently allow guests to come along on their excursions. And if you don’t think I’m all over that invitation, you’re dead wrong.

Halloween night
I dressed up as legendarily drunk and toothless Pogues front man Shane MacGowan. And I played the part well – holy Jesus god did I get hammered.

The real deal:


It was kind of fun being the Irish rover for a night, although I don't think my skin, hair, inner organs and desire for gainful employment could take it on a regular basis.

Friday, October 29, 2010

day 51: i went on the first leg of an if not haunted at least very creepy car ride

A towering memorial to the citizens of Rosedale, Kansas, who "answered their country's call and served under arms for the triumph of right over might in the world war," according to the inscription, the Rosedale Memorial Arch is also apparently a romantic hideout. 

When I pulled into the small, secluded parking lot, I found a middle-aged couple making out on the hood of a car, the woman's legs wrapped around the man's waist. After I parked, they quickly parted, and they were gone less than a minute later.

The arch was the first stop on a haunted car ride pioneered by Susan, my amazing former Johnson County Community College Writing Center co-worker. It was easy to see why she picked it: a plaque beneath the arch lists the Rosedale veterans who gave their lives in World War I, the first conflict in which biological warfare became a thing (mustard gas at the Battle of Ypres). 

Standing in front of the arch, which was dedicated in 1924, was more baffling than anything - I have lived in Kansas City for seven years, and I've only ever seen the memorial from a distance from the highway, and I never knew its purpose. Finally encountering it up close felt like a whispered reminder of a forgotten era.

Next the tour took me through Rosedale Park, where my friend E. and I wandered aimlessly on Cinco de Mayo circa 2002 and were pursued by two much-older men who followed us out of the parking lot and down the street, all the while honking and signaling at us to pull over. We had to run a red light to get the fuck away from them.

Unofficially known as "monkey brix," the second scary stop was in the yard of a small Kansas City, Kansas, home. It was practically legendary among those who had been on the tour - "ask Susan about the place with the monkey skulls," they'd say cryptically. And though it had been boarded over due to vandalism (another fine example of a few assholes ruining it for everyone), a couple of stone monkey heads still managed to peek over the top of the wooden fence. From what I could gather, it was a man-sized wall composed entirely of leering monkey heads.

Haunted? Maybe, maybe not. Disturbing and unsettling? Fuck yeah. But I'm still searching for a ghost. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

day 50: i couldn't get into epperson house

While still a student at UMKC, I wandered into a building I did not at the time know was haunted. But no fucking around, this place was creepy – I went in initially because I had to pee, and I found the toilet next to a hissing steam heater similar to the one that was in my cheap apartment at the time.

I can’t say what about the place gave me the jibblies, but it reminded me of the room in my grandmother’s farmhouse next to the attic stairs. My cousins and I called it the "game room," and it was filled with antique home decorations, assorted junk, an air-pump church organ, and a foosball table with the players’ painted faces fading. We would drink sodas and eat chips with our winter coats on, knocking moldy plastic balls back and forth between the conjoined feet of moldy plastic men until our mothers called us to bed. 

Despite being seriously in need of a deep cleaning, there was nothing specific about the room that should have caused me to close my eyes and hold my breath whenever I found myself alone in there. There was just... something about it.

After a few moments in the steam-heated bathroom, most likely en route to some ill-studied Shakespeare course, I ran down the stairs and out the door, convinced I’d accidentally stumbled into some kind of secret club for murderers and satanists, or some other forbidden place. I couldn't wait to go back and explore.

While hunting for ghosts, I’ve determined that I’m not the only one enchanted by Epperson House, the 91-year-old Gothic Tudor mansion at 52nd and Cherry on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The former homestead is acknowledged as one of the most haunted houses in Missouri, having appeared on Unsolved Mysteries and earning a spot on the National Register of Haunted Places.

One of the resident ghosts is former owner Uriah Spray Epperson, who witnesses claim to have seen shambling down the hallways, as well as his "adopted daughter" Harriet, who was ten years older than Uriah's wife, Elizabeth, and whose adoption was never formalized. At the time of Harriet's death, she was overseeing the construction of a massive pipe organ, which was never completed. When UMKC music students used the space in the 1970s, many of them reported seeing Harriet wearing a blue evening gown and singing or crying while clutching a baby to her chest, or hearing organ music coming from the pool area in the basement.


Perhaps the creepiest story came from a security guard in 1979, who was rear-ended in the parking lot at night and whose experiences were reported in the Kansas City Star. He got out to see who had hit him, but there was no one there, car nor person. And though he had heard the sound of shattering glass, there was no damage to his car. It had, however, moved forward about eight inches, as evidenced by the skid marks on the pavement.

Unfortunately, when I arrived Epperson House was locked from all sides, and peering in the windows provided a bland view of ladders, paint cans and random trash, with UMKC's architecture and urban development departments having vacated the building in July. In other words, I’m batting 0 for 2 on my ghost hunting tour, although peeking in the windows like a common creeper did give me chills.

Five days left. I’m still searching for a ghost.

Monday, October 25, 2010

day 49: i began searching for a ghost

I have probably driven by Union Cemetery hundreds of times without knowing it. Hidden behind several trendy condo and apartment buildings between Warwick and McGee streets, the small, wooden sign pointing the way to the entrance is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. So too is the entrance itself, a rusted, wrought-iron gate chained shut with a standard-issue padlock.


And you're goddamn right I would've scaled the fence had Johnny "young professional condo owner" McDouchebag not been drinking a Bud Light and talking loudly into his cell phone on a porch overlooking the gate. I stopped with my fingers wrapped around the top of the fence and my foot lodged on a crossbeam, assuming the residents of these buildings don't take kindly to graveyard explorers and/or robbers. 

Only a few years ago I would've overlooked the threat of a misdemeanor trespassing charge, but I just turned 28, dammit, so now I'm goddamn mature and stuff. I know better than to break and enter in plain sight. I should totally wait until after dark to jump the fence, and probably bring a boy. (Gonna happen later this week.)


As I dig into Kansas City's seedy, ghost-ridden underbelly, Union Cemetery seemed an obvious stop on my tour. Founded in 1857 after a cholera epidemic killed off shitloads of people in Westport and Kansas City, maxing out the capacity of both cemeteries, Union was named for its location between the two towns and was intended to house both their dead. At the time, no one knew the 49-acre plot of land would eventually end up at the center of a bustling downtown district.


The sexton's cottage has caught fire twice in its 153-year history, destroying many records and leaving many weathered wood and limestone grave markers unmarked and undocumented. As I peeked in between the posts of the tall iron gates while rush hour traffic zipped by behind me, I realized this only adds to the cemetery's mysterious appeal, much like a blurred face in a photograph or a letter with sentences erased. After all, everyone wants to be remembered, but no one wants to be discovered marred or unwhole.


My photos of Union aren't as intense as I'd hoped. But what exactly had I hoped? To see a ghostly face peering from behind a tree? A skeletal hand stretching upward out of the earth? A glowing orb floating eerily above a grave? Well, yeah. The Union Cemetery Historical Society does, after all, claim to have electronic voice phenomena recordings of the grounds' otherworldly wanderers (albeit under a section titled "just for fun").


Luckily there are still six days of Halloween week left. And goddammit, I'm searching for a ghost.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

day 48: i caught fall as it fell

Right now, Halloween week, is when the trees in my parents' yard typically catch fire with the colors of fall. I always intend to take photos but through laziness or forgetfulness fail to do so. And I am still both lazy and forgetful, but today I accidentally remembered the camera, so here are some of the badass vibrant trees. 

"The Spring and the Fall" 
By Edna St. Vincent Millay


In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.



In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

day 47: i returned to the scene of the crime

When I was 18, I worked at BD's Mongolian Barbecue, which is neither Mongolian nor barbecue (talk amongst yourselves). It is to date the worst job I've ever had.

In addition to refilling any number of sticky, smelly buffet meats so suburban parents and their gooey-handed children could shovel it in their faces until they felt the $14 all-you-can-eat price tag was stretched as tightly as the patent leather belts holding up their khakis, I also stood behind a round, metal grill and hacked said meat into bite-size, well-done pieces with two wooden sticks. For these miserable tasks I got paid a measly $6 an hour.

So naturally when a serving position opened up, I jumped on it, finally being old enough to legally transport booze the ten feet from bar to table. I anticipated hefty tips, fat paychecks, and after-work cocktails with co-workers, with whom I could commiserate about the 15-year-old busboy who kept trying to make out with me in the walk-in fridge.

Instead I quickly discovered my personality did not mesh with providing top-notch customer service to people who act like entitled asshats. Not only am I shy and easily annoyed, I'm also bad at faking any emotion, be it a perpetually welcoming smile or a desire to keep serving you after your screaming child has spilled two drinks and covered a ten-foot radius of floorspace around his seat with slobbery cheerios. Seriously - fuck that.

There was also the problem of the shift manager, a 30-something brunette who had worked there for nearly a decade (and as far as I know, still does) and who was obviously bitter about how her life had turned out. Every chance she got she was out back sucking on cigarettes, and I don't think I ever saw her smile unless it was some horribly forced ordeal intended only to earn tips.

Admittedly, my first shift as a server did not go well - I confused at least two cocktail orders, forgot about one table entirely, and could not hide my annoyance when cheerios kid started shredding tortillas and leaving them stuck to the table in slobbery strips. Eager to get the hell out of there, I was finishing up my side work filling salt and pepper shakers before going out to my car and screaming. I hoped to escape without saying anything to anyone.

But then the shift bitch approached holding two salt shakers, and a current of dread surged through my body. 

"See this?" she said, holding the shaker I had just finished filling at eye level. "This is not full." Then she lifted the other, which she had presumably filled herself. "See this? This is full." She gestured at all of the tables in my section with a broad, sweeping motion. "Go back and do it again, and this time make sure they're full."

I was so shocked I couldn't do anything but numbly refill each (already full) shaker. Then I went to the bathroom and cried. And I didn't go back to work the next day, nor the day after that.


salt shaker of doom

Monday, October 18, 2010

day 46: i considered the downsides

In light of my recent and very necessary decision to take a brief hiatus from booze, I've recorded some of the reasons drinking sucks.

5 things it sucks to do sober:
  1. Socializing with large groups of people and/or people you don't know very well and/or people you think are cooler than you.
  2. Singing karaoke.
  3. Spending the night anywhere without a bed or a toothbrush.
  4. Dancing.
  5. Cooking dinner, cleaning the cat box or watching football.
get laid glasses
partying at the Red Balloon circa 2006.
those are the "I'ma gonna get laid tonight" glasses.
i found them on the sidewalk.

5 things it sucks to do drunk:
  1. Going through your phone book and dialing up anyone you think might be thrilled to hear from you at 1 a.m. on a Wednesday, which happens to be everyone.
  2. Buying a frozen pizza, covering it in hot sauce and eating the whole thing in bed.
  3. Getting to that "special kind of drunk where you're a better driver because you know you're drunk, you know, the kind of drunk where you probably shouldn't drive, but you do anyways because, I mean come on, you got to get your car home, right?" -Peter Griffin, Family Guy
  4. Encountering the cops under any circumstances.
  5. Doing yoga.
5 things it sucks to do hungover:
  1. Sitting up straight.
  2. Wearing pants.
  3. Taking a shower.
  4. Communicating in any terms more complex than grunts and whimpers.
  5. Eating five tortillas covered with melted cheese and salsa followed by an entire box of rice noodles because there's nothing else in your fridge and your hunger is deep and insatiable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

grateful and 28-ful

My mom, still beautiful in her 60s, is fond of saying that having another birthday is better than the alternative. And in the weeks leading up to my 28th birthday, I would grumble and agree only begrudgingly, shocked that the gradual, stealthy approach of my late twenties has left me clinging white-knuckled to my youth as I struggle to avoid the gaping maw of the big 3-0.

But last Wednesday, the night before my birthday, I went to yoga class, and while mired in the pain of a three-minute forward fold I was reminded of the importance of being grateful. Sure, getting older is stupid and I'd rather be 21 forever (who wouldn't), but on this fucked-up journey I'm also surrounded by a whole lot of luck and a whole lot of awesome.

Why I'm grateful at 28

1. My friends know I can veer a bit toward the "not so much" side of sane, but they seem to like me anyway. I would be lost without their endless kindness, e-mails, lunch dates, travel plans, and numerous trips to Glace (pictured below).


2. My boyfriend is smart, sexy, kind and encouraging. And probably the funniest person I know - he says things that will make me laugh all over again 20 minutes after the fact (he calls it "deep comedy"). In the three years we've been together, he has changed my life for the better in so many ways.

3. My parents and my brother would probably do just about anything for me, as I would for them. I'm extremely lucky to have such a reliable source of love and security.

4. My cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix, literally amaze me daily. (Pictured below: I totally caught them snuggling. Bubba is the big gray tabby; Fifi is the calico.)

fifi and the blk

5. In this shit economy I have a good-enough-for-now job that allows me to write, be creative and afford my own place, which is at times claustrophobically small but where I can experience the joys of eating sandwiches in bed, leaving my Christmas tree up all year, and draining a six-pack of pumpkin beer on the porch on a weeknight.

6. I am in the best goddamn shape of my life. Not even during my days as a whiny aspiring high school sprinter have I been this ass-kickingly buff. By summer I will have a six-pack. (And this time I'm not talking beer.)

7. My godson is one hell of a little dude (and his mom is one of my favorite people as well). I can't wait to watch him grow up and introduce him to the mindfuck of Royals baseball (no, really - it will make him stronger).

8. I am healthy and I have access to clean water and food. So many people can't say the same.

9. Cheese is delicious. I am really stupidly thankful for cheese.

10. I love that my mind can still be blown. Most recently I stood in horrified awe of the bulbous, bulging starfish on the columns beneath a pier in Seattle (pictured below).


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

day 45: i threw away the scale

It sounds insane to admit, but since March I've let a mass-produced electronic gadget from Wal-Mart, a cursed bathroom scale with the deceptive name "Health-o-meter," largely influence my happiness and self-worth.

First thing each morning I'd step on and hold my breath, as though this might somehow cause a smaller number to appear on the counter between my big toes. And each morning was a test: anything below a certain number was acceptable; anything above and I had failed, and my day was off to a shit start.

sunset over Milford Lake

Right now it's probably important to mention that, in a coldly rational sense, I know I'm nowhere near overweight; in fact, I'm in the "healthy" body mass index range for my height and size. My appearance has always been important to me, so I've always watched my weight and have never had much of a problem with it.

But earlier this year I was rejected from every MFA program to which I applied (eight total), and I saw my already tenuous acceptance of myself as a "writer" slip further away from reality. I was appalled by how little control I had over the situation - my admittance was based largely on vague, subjective criteria, i.e., did they "like" my writing, or was I a "good fit" with their program (turns out they didn't, and I wasn't).

More or less, with my life seemingly stagnating while my friends bought houses, got married and produced offspring, I needed to have absolute control over something, and the most obvious option was my weight. I bought the fucking Health-o-meter and allowed it, from its nook by the bathroom sink, to mock me when I ate a bag of salt and vinegar chips for lunch or allowed myself guacamole at Chipotle. I worked out five days a week and weighed myself upwards of five times a day, cursing myself for gains and praising losses, and within a few months I'd dropped nearly ten pounds.

In a phrase, FUCK YEAH.

But this new measure of control carried its own self-imposed misery. Nobody set my weight loss standard; I set it for myself, which made it all the more private and unrelatable. In fact, sharing it with anyone invariably got the same response: "You're already skinny; you have nothing to worry about." But it was about more than just being skinny. It was about getting a grip.

Then last weekend I went camping at Milford State Park in the Flint Hills. Along with waiting out a torrential downpour in a little tent by the lake and biking along rows of trees and prairie grass, I also didn't worry about my weight for the first time in months. I scooped mounds of french onion dip onto potato chips; I scarfed s'mores; I chugged Miller High Life. And on the last day, when I was taking a shower along with about 15 spiders and a small toad (seriously), I caught sight of myself in the mirror - not scrutinizing as usual, just looking - and I realized, hey, I look good.

When I got home, I stared down the dreaded Health-o-meter and stepped on. Moments later I was greeted by the largest number I've seen in some time. But instead of beating myself up, I picked up the cursed gadget and tossed it unceremoniously in the garbage. This morning the trash man picked it up at the curb, and for the first time this year, a week before my 28th birthday, I left my apartment lighter.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

day 44: i ran with the dogs

Lately I've been searching for a cause, something I can wholeheartedly and selflessly support. Okay, so maybe it's not entirely selfless - I am, after all, an admitted narcissist, so in a way I need volunteer work as much as volunteer work needs me. But I do need to support my cause unequivocally; as a Libra, my innate need to weigh every option dictates this.

Because I am fascinated by the critters of this world (and because going to veterinary school would cost literally more than my life is worth, which according to my own calculations is approximately the same as a bottle of mid-quality Shiraz), volunteering at an animal shelter seemed a natural choice.

And as though fated, last week my friend L. sent me an e-mail from a group of volunteers who run with dogs at The Pet Connection, a no-kill shelter in Mission, Kansas. And because a calm dog is more likely to be adopted than a rowdy, holy-shit-it's-people, I'm-gonna-lick-your-face-now dog, the volunteers perform a valuable service by wearing the dogs out.

The only catch: the runs start at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings, a time I normally like to call "comatose." But, I have to remind myself, this isn't about you. Unlike a hungover state, which I have determined is the most self-centered state of existence possible (I need food; I need Advil; I need water; I need an intravenous saline drip), this is all about the dogs.

So I arrived at Mission Pet Connection at 9 a.m. sharp, chugging a nonfat pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks before stepping out to meet Devon, the sweet fella I'd be taking for a walk.

A mild-mannered pup who looked to be somewhere between German shepherd and corgi, Devon was eager to hit the pavement. The volunteer coordinator explained the route, and then we were off. 

Admittedly I hadn't known what to expect - I showed up with my hair down wearing jean shorts and my worn-the-fuck-out eight-year-old Chucks - but I quickly got the rhythm down and discovered that running with a dog is borderline freaking joyous. At stoplights, Devon would jump up, put his paws on my chest and lick my arm while I called him a good buddy and scratched his ears.

After spending 14 years of my life with Eddie, Jack Russell Terrier extraordinaire, I would love to have a little terrier of my own, but my small, yardless Midtown apartment and strange hours would be unfair to such a wonderful creature. Perhaps someday I will be able to afford a little house with a little yard for a little dog. 

But in the meantime, running with the dogs on Saturday mornings is a happy middle ground.

Side note: My other mega-cause is marriage equality, so hopefully I'll find a meaningful way to support that goal as well. Because goddammit, I find its detractors just infuriatingly wrong and stupid, and thusly my Libran nature is satisfied.