Wednesday, July 28, 2010

hey royals: maybe baseball just isn't your thing

On Monday I witnessed one of the worst Royals defeats of all time as they were spanked 19-1 by the Twins. Several beers, er, innings in it became funny - the inept outfielders seemed to be bird watching, and the sluggish infielders must have been scarfing nachos and Mountain Dew in the dugout, because they just stood there and lazily watched the balls roll by.

Instead of turning their humiliation into anger to come back and fuel a victory, the very next night they lost 11-2 in equally pathetic fashion, leading me to suspect that baseball just isn't their thing.

The good news: these days, career changes are the norm.

Here are 5 possible careers the Royals should consider instead of baseball:
  1. They should run a hot dog stand.
    Selling everyone's favorite ballpark indulgence on a street corner outside a dive bar should suit the team just fine. Patrons will find it charming when Cy Young winner Zack Greinke wraps up their order, cocks back his arm, and tells them to get ready to catch a 97-MPH fastball, and David DeJesus will be on hand to grin affably and pass out relish and mustard packets. The only thing that might fuck it up: Alex Gordon gets confused and runs a "buck night" promo; Billy Butler and Bruce Chen get hammered and eat all the raw dogs.
  2. They should manufacture luxury bath products.
    Selling an overrated product to a small group of hapless but inexplicably loyal consumers is a business model with which the Royals have become increasingly familiar. They should use this to their advantage to make bath salts, soaps and scrubs with baseball slang-inspired names, such as clean-up hitter, caught looking, bases juiced, scoring position, sweet spot and fielder's choice. The only thing that might fuck it up: Yuniesky Betancourt makes "exfoliating body wash" out of petroleum jelly and gravel.
  3. They should open a costume store.
    That way they can dress up as the New York Yankees or the St. Louis Cardinals and pretend they're relevant and good at baseball. The only thing that might fuck it up: They accidentally dress up as the 2003 Detroit Tigers, whose 43-119 record is an all-time American League worst; Butler and Jose Guillen can't stop arguing over who gets to be Albert Pujols.
  4. They should start their own psychiatric practice.
    Depressed patients will come in to air their grievances and be one-upped with the team's tales of epic failure. Former ace Gil Meche can talk about how a shoulder injury ended his 2010 season with an 0-4 record and a 6.66 ERA; manager Ned Yost can whine about his bullpen giving up so many home runs to the White Sox that he was surprised Chicago had enough fireworks left to celebrate; and Greinke can explain how it feels to wake up in a cold sweat every night after dreaming again of drowning. They might even want to invite Mike Sweeney over to tell about the time he injured his back while tying his shoe and played only 60 games of the 2006 season. Patients will leave feeling considerably better by comparison. The only thing that might fuck it up: If anyone at any point mentions the huge salary he has in no way earned.
  5. They should purchase a Subway, Jimmy Johns, Starbucks or Chipotle franchise.
    That way, when they fuck it up, someone who does it better is only a block away as opposed to in St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota or Colorado.
don't let Bill Murray get you down, boys.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

day 36: i celebrated christmas in july

I am fairly certain Christmas in July is more fun than regular Christmas. Not only can it be celebrated poolside, but all the money you'd normally spend on gifts can be reallocated to buy booze.

Despite Saturday's incessant thunderstorms, Christmas in July at my friend L.'s house was a joyful occasion of tacky holiday vests featuring cats in scarves, snowmen in earmuffs and be-glittered poinsettias and trees, jingle bell necklaces, gold lame scrunchies and spiked fruit punch.
And best of all, you didn't have to worry about getting a little too smashed and cussing out great aunt so-and-so who always gets a little too pushy about when you're going to get married already. In fact, as long as you were sober enough to climb on a pool raft, you were pretty much golden.

box wine holiday
by Charles Bukowski*

she insists mistletoe
is poisonous
before snatching it from the corner 
of the tabletop umbrella
and cramming it in her cheek
like a wad of chewing tobacco.

i watch and drink my wine,
sunset blush from a box
i tore apart
to squeeze out 
the last bit of color.
the sun's set but
sweat still trickles down my chest
and there's a rock in my shoe.

"you'd like that," she says,
spitting the wad of green
atop a cigarette butt in the pool.
"you'd fucking like that,
wouldn't you?"

her teeth are wine-stained
her lips crusted with the red dregs
she sucked down several hours ago 
while sprawled on the concrete
her toes dipping in the water
bouncing across the surface like stones 
as she laughed toward the sky 
and told me she felt 

i yank down the other sprig of mistletoe
and jam it in my mouth.
it is bitter on my tongue.

*not really. i wrote it. i probably enjoy imitating bukowski more than i should.

Friday, July 23, 2010

day 35: i confirmed the myth of the community garden

These days my hometown of Stilwell, Kansas, is more suburb than farmland, but when I was growing up it was still quite rural. 

My parents built their house in the 70s, and on their two-acres of land my dad has always planted a vegetable garden - tomatoes, corn, bell, jalapeno, cayenne and poblano peppers, broccoli, yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce... even the occasional pumpkin when my brother and I abandoned our rotting, frowning jack-o-lanterns in early November and one or more rogue seeds took root the following spring.

When I moved into my own place the summer after I graduated high school, I didn't realize how much I would miss having ready-to-pick cherry tomatoes in my back yard or having fresh broccoli on which to pour a shitload of melted cheddar cheese. Instead I had a concrete rectangle also known as a "patio" facing a dumpster on which someone had spray-painted "fuck you" in neon purple. 

Given my affinity for planting seeds and watching them grow - both literally and metaphorically, mind you - I was super excited when I began hearing that urban community gardens were becoming a thing in KC. Despite all the chatter, though, I never saw one anywhere, much less in my neighborhood. I began to suspect, like the so-called "snow plows" that supposedly clear the streets in the winter, that it was all a myth, too good to be true.

But last Sunday my friend I. and I were walking off our latest Christopher Elbow ice cream adventure (blueberry lemon sorbet with toasted coconut ice cream - yum!) when we totally stumbled upon a community garden on 51st and Main, where each plot is owned and tended by a different group or family.

"Holy shit," I said, "they do exist," and then I pulled out my cell phone and started snapping pictures of some rhubarb, much to I.'s confusion.

And if further rumors are to be believed, a community garden is coming to my boyfriend's West Side neighborhood, which means I just may have time to plant a fall garden. Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

day 34: i watched a movie on the roof

Before I turned 21, my friends and fellow tutors at the Johnson County Community College Writing Center and I used to plan "hooker nights."

Of course this didn't literally involve trawling the streets for "dates;" it more innocently involved squeezing ourselves into fishnet tights, short skirts and push-up bras and spackling our faces with black eyeliner and red lipstick before heading to the Wal-Mart photo booth for a group shot. For dinner we'd see how many bowls of free queso dip we could score at Ponak's before heading out to Stanford and Sons Comedy Club, where we discovered a group of 20-year-old women dressed like cheap-ass whores is an easy target for comedians.

view from the downtown library's rooftop terrace

And before we knew dressing up like skanks for Halloween was a thing, on our second official hooker night we ventured downtown with sleeping bags slung over our shoulders and plastic bags full of soda and candy to watch an outdoor screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I'm not gonna lie - I don't really get the appeal of the movie. Sure, it's fun to sing along and shout the lines, but like most other cults I suppose I was not indoctrinated early enough, because to get my Halloween thrills I would much rather go for an after-dark bike ride through the West Bottoms. Try it sometime; it's nearly impossible to imagine there aren't zombies chasing you.

But one thing the experience did teach me is that watching movies outdoors is fucking fabulous, and if you invite me to such an event my answer will unequivocally be yes.

Enter the Kansas City Public Library's EbertfestKC, for which movies are projected on the wall of the fifth floor rooftop terrace of the downtown Central Branch. Last Friday my boyfriend and I brought sushi, Lemonheads and Twizzlers and gathered on the terrace just after sunset with about 30 other people to watch American Movie, the 1999 documentary of hapless (and some might argue hopeless) Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt.

The movie is funny, sure - Borchardt's best friend and crewmember Mike Schank rocks a wannabe 80s hair metal 'do, another crewmember/friend is sporting a blonde skullet, and Borchardt himself is wearing the sort of glasses last seen on your best friend's dad circa 1987. As they work to complete the film Coven - pronounced as though there were an umlaut above the "o" because "otherwise it sounds like 'oven'"- they spout phrases such as:

"I always used to get pissed off inside because I would wanna party really heavy and no one else would. And then all of a sudden Mark came over... and we were drinkin' vodka and I was so happy that I found someone who would drink vodka with me, you know?"


"Man, I got so drunk last night I was trying to call Morocco. I was trying to get to the Hotel Hilton in Tangier. That's just pathetic, man. Is that what you want to do with your life, suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's just senseless."

But for all of the movie's inherent humor, it is also quietly heartbreaking. When Borchardt is helping his sickly, elderly Uncle Bill, the film's executive producer and mysterious possessor of a small fortune, to bathe before Thanksgiving dinner, he comments on his uncle's "gnarly science class toenail," and you realize for the first time you are laughing with him rather than at him.

Throughout most of the film, in fact, Borchardt is as much spectacle as protagonist. You find yourself rooting for him in an almost selfish way - you want him to complete Coven as much because it's his life's goal as you know it's going to be a particularly bizarre train wreck, and you want to rubber-neck at the smoldering dream-heap all the way down the street.

It's not that Borchardt is presented unsympathetically - the documentarians seem to be striving for objectivity, but seem also simultaneously aware that most audiences - particularly in large, metropolitan areas - will have a preconceived notion of Borchardt as out-of-date and perhaps misguided.

When it comes down to it, though, Borchardt is a dreamer. He sees bigger, better things for himself than cleaning up shit in the bathroom of the local cemetery, and he isn't afraid to voice his dreams, even though we all secretly suspect he will still be living with his mom and getting hammered on cheap beer during Packers games in five years.

But dreamers, misguided though they may be, are also inspiring, and there is ultimately something heartening about Borchardt's relentless pursuit of his own American dream.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

day 33: i caught some KC baseball history

Even though I was too young to remember it, I can still brag that the Royals have been good within my lifetime, though the older I get the less impressive that claim becomes.

But they weren't just good; they were World Series champs with an all-star lineup including hall-of-famer George Brett, eight-time Golden Glove winner Frank White, pitcher-poet Dan Quisenberry, two-time Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen, and speedy outfielder Willie Wilson.

And now I have videographic evidence to back up my claim that KC's perennially cellar-dwelling team used to be a force of bat-swinging, balll-hurling fury. Because over-the-top free giveaways are the only way to ensure attendance, at the game a few weeks ago they handed out DVDs of game 5 of the 1985 World Series, which is now available as a box set in its entirety (hint hint Christmas gift hint).

"So this is basically like Royals porn," my boyfriend said when I put the game on one Sunday morning.

"Yes," I said, excitedly smashing my fork into my strawberry pancakes. "And it's awesome."

From the get-go, the game is pretty much classic: bad haircuts abound, the kind that according to my friend Chris were only acceptable in that era and at any other time would have been the subject of ridicule; third baseman Brett, second baseman White, shortstop Buddy Biancalana, and first baseman Steve Balboni create a nearly impenetrable infield forcefield composed of 72 percent chest hair; and Wilson steals bases as easily as if they were giving them away for free. Basically everyone kind of resembles someone who might try to lure your kid into his van with Tootsie Rolls, as apparently was fashionable for the era, but man can they play some fucking ball.

The most memorable moment comes when Brett chases a foul ball past the left field line and slides airborne into the dugout, missing the catch and being poked in the eye by teammate Lee May. Immediately afterward the announcer says, "I think you've seen all you need to see about George Brett. Forget the numbers and statistics and remember that play." Later post-game interviewer Reggie Jackson says the attempt made him "proud to be a major league baseball player." Damn straight.

Another era during which Kansas City was the center of the baseball world was when the Athletics were still in town in the 60s and batshit crazy, narcissistic, possibly sociopathic owner Charlie Finley ran the show. 

He's the subject of a new book, Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, which chronicles milestones such as the time Finley smuggled A's mascot the Missouri Mule into the White Sox stadium in a large box marked "baseball equipment;" the time he started 59-year-old pitcher Satchel Paige, who went on to throw three shutout innings; the time he had Bert Campenaris play all nine positions in a single game; and finally, the time he moved the A's to Oakland after repeatedly promising to keep them in Kansas City, a decision he later came to regret. Co-author and baseball historian G. Michael Green shared these and other Finley stories at the Kansas City Public Library last Thursday.

For all of his flaws, Finley, like the 1985 Royals, makes me nostalgic for a time when baseball in Kansas City actually meant something. Hopefully, with promising young players like Billy Butler and Cy Young winner (and my future husband) Zack Greinke, they're moving in that direction again. That is, however, something we long-suffering Royals fans say every year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

day 32: i planned for the future

This weekend was one of those times when it feels like something is happening to everyone but me: R., my friend of more than 20 years, got married on Saturday, and my best bud E.'s son was baptized on Sunday. I was honored to be a part of both events as a bridesmaid and a godmother, respectively.

On Monday the blues set in, and I decided to start planning for my own future. And if you don't think it's going to be awesome, you are dead wrong.

I will need the following:

1. Cats.

Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix are going to have up to 15 siblings by the time I'm finished taking in unwanted cats with behavioral problems. Along with being able to summon a fleet of praying manti at will, my other super power is being a cat whisperer.

2. A silver bullet trailer.

This is where we'll live. In. Motherfucking. Style.

3. A national park near which to park the trailer (pictured below: Devil's Tower, Wyoming).

4. A motorcycle.

This is how I will get my kicks.

Admit it... you're jealous.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

day 31: i put my foot behind my head

I have never been one to plan or consider consequences. Instead I sort of shrug and think "we'll see how this turns out" before staying up until 3 a.m. drinking a bottle of wine and drunk-dialing everyone I know, climbing to the upper branches of a tree in the park, or eating leftover Indian food before spin class.

And since I'm about to turn 28, an event about which I am irrationally terrified, I have a feeling this tendency toward extremes is just a part of my nature. Sure, it leads to some pretty fantastic mistakes, but it also leaves me with endless opportunities to surprise myself.

Yesterday I decided to walk the five miles from my apartment to my office. Five miles really isn't that far, though in a place like KC where everyone drives everywhere all the time, people tend to both worry about your safety and assume you're crazy when you tell them you're going to walk from Midtown to Brookside. 

And in my case they might have good reason, because instead of my brand-new $80 hiking shoes I decided to make the trip wearing flip-flops. Sure, they were the fancy Orthaheel kind that are supposed to be good for your feet, but about 2.5 miles in I began to suspect, like the bad guy who turns to dust after picking the wrong Jesus goblet in Indiana Jones, that I had not chosen wisely. But it was too late to turn back, so despite the protests of my toes I sucked it up and finished the trek.

And it was fine. Six months ago before I became an exercise junkie it would not have been fine, but yesterday evening I still felt good enough to go to yoga class at Scott Fitness.

Bernie is the only yoga instructor who has not terrified me. He wants students to push themselves, but he is encouraging instead of threatening, and instead of staying at the front of the room balancing on one hand with his feet in his armpits while telling you you're doing it wrong, he gently helps you correct your mistakes.

After six months of going to his class fairly regularly, I am more comfortable with the rules of yoga, similar to when I learned the rules of baseball and suddenly knew what to do without thinking about it. An inherent knowledge of the rules has allowed me to transcend them, in a way, and experience a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment while seeing how closely I can get my body to resemble a pretzel.

So when, after a series of preparatory poses, Bernie encouraged me to put my foot behind my head, I totally fucking did it. And it was awesome. I didn't know my body could do that; even as a kid, when, as Bernie says, we routinely did crazy-ass yoga poses without even knowing it, I could never get my foot behind my head or do the splits (god knows I tried).

self-illustration of yoga

So in the spirit of eating too many jalapenos, cutting your hair yourself, flipping off every cop and drinking from every geyser, and genrally being extreme in a good way, namaste.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

dreams poor people have: car seeds

Last night my brake lights wouldn't turn off, even after I turned off the engine and pulled the keys out of the ignition. Unable to figure out the source of the problem, my boyfriend helped me pull the fuse so the battery wouldn't run out, but that didn't stop my mind from fixating on the potential repair costs as I dozed off around midnight.

So naturally I dreamt I was walking through Westport when I found a bag of big, round, brown-and-black-spotted seeds lying on the sidewalk. But they weren't just any seeds; they were car seeds. As in, if you plant one, a car will grow. There was a picture of a shiny red Mustang on the bag.

So I took them home, put one in a glass of water and waited. And sure enough, before my eyes the seed swelled like a sponge, and in a few minutes a car appeared. Sure, instead of a Mustang it turned out to be one of those 1940s gangster cars that wouldn't go over 50 MPH on the highway, but when it comes to free car seeds, I will take what I can get.

Monday, July 5, 2010

day 30: i was elbowed by heaven

For lovers of all things sweet and delicious, and especially those of us who occasionally like to throw a party in our mouths, Kansas City chocolatier Christopher Elbow is something of a hero.

With flavors like fleur de sel caramel, tequila lime, strawberry balsamic caramel, and Venezuelan spice, his handmade chocolates are as much works of art as candy, and he has deservedly gained national recognition for being one of America's top chocolatiers. 

So last summer when he unveiled several flavors of ice cream during the Crossroads' First Friday festivities, my excitement reached dangerous levels that have not been achieved since I was a five-year-old. And rightfully so - the naturally-flavored mint ice cream was the most amazing explosion of awesome my mouth has encountered since I had fresh ahi tuna in Maui. It was something like this:

image from Blogzarro

Then this spring came news of Glace, the new Elbow ice cream shop on 51st and Main that will allow continuous, year-round availability of the ice cream that I seriously suspect has "rainbows, harp music, sunshine and laughter" among its secret ingredients.

After an agonizing monthlong wait, I went for the first time last week armed with an arsenal of my favorite gelato-taste-test swear words, and after sampling goat cheese with honey and blueberry cream cheese, I went for the surefire sweet-and-salty combo of fleur de sel caramel with strawberry sour cream. It tasted something like this:

Yes, that's a dinosaur flying a plane. So unless that means nothing to you - in which case I have no room for you in my heart - getcha some Elbow ASAP.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

day 29: i sat in the kauffman stadium outfield

Before I was old enough to understand baseball, I waited for the fountains.

My dad was a pitcher on his high school baseball team in Wright, Kansas. As a lifelong baseball fan, he and my mom moved to the Kansas City area in 1975, six years after the inception of the Kansas City Royals. 

My brother and I were born in the early 80s, just when the Royals were beginning to flex their World Series-bound (and not-yet-steroid-enhanced) muscles. Thrilled to live near one of the best teams in the majors, he would haul my mom, my brother and I to games, even though between the three of us we probably could have barely identified a home run. 

During each inning I would wait impatiently and eat nachos with jalapenos to stay awake, because I knew the real show started after the third out: that's when the row of fountains in the outfield went off like geysers. Sometimes colorful lights tinted them different hues; sometimes they would be silent for what felt like hours, during which I would plot whether to eat a hot dog with mustard or a frosty malt with one of those wooden tongue depressors for a spoon.

Kauffman Stadium fountains, view from the outfield seats

I always wondered why they didn't put seats in the outfield, because I imagined it would be absolutely magical to sit out there beneath the arcs of glowing water getting a cool spray to take the edge off the summer heat.

Then in 2008, Kauffman Stadium underwent extensive renovations, including a two-story scoreboard, a Royals history museum, and seats in the motherfucking outfield. Yes, that's right. 

my future husband Zack Greinke

And last night, at the age of 27, I sat next to the Kauffman Stadium fountains. Granted I was eating a veggie dog instead of a hot dog, and instead of deciding between ice cream and nachos I was talking myself out of spending $12 on a "royal 'rita," but my future husband Zack Greinke was pitching and the air smelled like summer, and the Royals even pulled off a win. Dream come true? I think so.