Sunday, August 29, 2010

day 41: I ran a 5k through the mud and muck

When I signed up for the Mud and Muck Run, I figured I’d jog my three miles and then trot across a semi-muddy finish line while some lawn sprinklers spat arcs of water over my head. I figured I’d end up relatively clean, perhaps splattered with mud from the knees down.

I did not expect to emerge from a literal three-foot-deep mud pit looking like a fucking swamp monster, and I really did not expect to stand in the sun waiting in line to hose off while the muck on my body slowly hardened to a crust, all the while digging handfuls of wet, shimmering glop out of my cleavage.

But because I spent a significant portion of my childhood ruining pairs of white dress shoes while digging mud pits with my brother and cousins in our grandmother’s back yard (one time we dug a pit nearly a foot deep and even caught some toads to put in it before our parents got wise and shut us down), I wasn’t going to turn down a socially acceptable opportunity to get good and dirty. I mean, where else can you glormp down a sidewalk covered from the neck down in stank-ass sludge and have people greet you with a nod and a smile?

The race itself took place along a pleasant, meandering and scenic course in a park on the Unity Village Campus in Lee's Summit. With steep hills and rocky pathways, parts of the trail were difficult and even strenuous, but to me that meant one thing: I was earning my frolic through the filth, as well as the vegetarian chili I was going to eat afterward (at least I would have if they hadn’t shut down the food operation while I was still in line for one of ONLY THREE hoses, ridiculous considering the hundreds of attendees).

As we neared the three-mile marker, screams that fell somewhere on the spectrum from delighted to horrified signaled the presence of the mud pit around the next turn. And as far as mud pits go, this one was totally the bully who makes fun of your sweater and gives you a swirly before stealing your pencil case and your lunch money: I was shocked to see a grinning little girl doggie-paddling in circles around the pit's edge. Holy shit, I thought, this muck is deep enough to swim in.

“Are you guys sure you wanna do this?” my friend J. asked, clearly second-guessing her commitment to completely ruining a pair of shoes.

“We pretty much have to,” I said.

We quickly discovered that standing up in the pit meant sinking ala my worst childhood quicksand nightmare, so the only way across was to swim. Some people backstroked; I scooted along on my stomach and grabbed at god-knows-what to propel myself forward –- “Was that a shoe?” I heard someone yell as I grabbed at something that wriggled as though alive.

We emerged glimmering in the midday sun, telling ourselves it was like getting a spa treatment… right?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

kansas city vs. seattle

Note: I haven't been very good about updating this blog due to depression, futility, too much pinot grigio, failure, this poem by Charles Bukowski, etc. My goal going forward is four times per week.

I was nearly 25 years old before I realized Kansas City isn't all that bad: I mean, it has restaurants like Eggtc. and You Say Tomato, dive bars like Dave's Stagecoach and Chez Charlie, and plenty of trees and green space, plus a low cost of living. 

But every time I visit a place like Seattle, as I did last week, I'll be reminded that KC is, in fact, a big small town, especially when other travelers I meet say things like, "Yeah, I'm planning to visit pretty much every place but Kansas City, sorry," as though it offends me, and then, "How are Toto and Dorothy?" as though I still think it's funny after hearing it for the five-hundredth time. 

Just for the sake of competition, though, here's my snap-judgment KC vs. Seattle showdown, based solely on various initial impressions:

Round 1: SEAFOOD


Choose from saltwater (the Puget Sound) or freshwater (Lake Union, Lake Washington). You can get everything from dungeness crab to king salmon or tilapia to halibut. My friend I. and I had some oh-my-god smoked salmon nuggets at the Fisherman's Terminal against which I will now compare all food.

Kansas City:

There's a dirty pond around 27th and Broadway where I suspect bums jab at mutant fish with sticks.

Who has the edge: Seattle

Round 2: SAFETY

Kansas City:
Within six months of moving to 39th Street and Wyoming in 2003, I got mugged by some behemoth with a crowbar who stole my purse and my new cell phone. Also, at night I used to sit by the open window in my living room and listen to the bums sing.

The scariest thing that happened was when some toothless crack addict got all up in my face mumbling gibberish while I was on the phone. That is to say, kind of gross, but not scary at all. Also, as two girls walking alone at night, I. and I never once felt uncomfortable on the busy, well-lit streets.

Who has the edge: Seattle


The Olympic Sculpture park occupies a beautiful, grassy hillside overlooking one of Seattle's many glittering bodies of water. But the sculptures themselves were scarce and somewhat unassuming, aside from a shiny aluminum tree for which Charlie Brown would have no love. We did have some fun climbing on wooden replicas of a washer and dryer for photo-ops. 

Kansas City:
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is home to several stunning pieces I still remember vividly though I haven't seen them in over a year, including, of course, the world's largest shuttlecocks, the several haunting rows of emaciated, headless bronze figures (Standing Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, below), and several abstract but oddly hypnotizing Henry Moore creations.

Who has the edge: Kansas City


The home of the Mariners, Safeco Field (in the background below, as seen from the Smith Tower) is downtown within walking distance of the bars and restaurants of lively Pioneer Square. Built in 1999, it's one of only two partially-domed stadiums in the world, providing shelter from the rainy northwestern climate. The pitcher-friendly park features natural grass and is named after a Seattle-based insurance company.

Kansas City:
In the drab, ironed landscape of a Blue Springs parking lot, the Royals' Kauffman Stadium is within a five-minute drive of several sketchy barbecue joints and strip clubs. Built in 1973 and named for late owner Ewing Kauffman, the park is the sixth-oldest in the MLB and the only stadium with fountains in the outfield. 

Who has the edge: draw


Kansas City:
The first time I went to KC's downtown City Market I was 19, and it is to date one of my favorite summer memories. I snatched up several plants that I was unable to keep alive longer than a couple months, and I bought a bunch of fresh vegetables I never cooked and some dried lavender my cat ended up eating. But the experience freed me, somehow, and let me know there was more to the city than seedy gas stations, the creepy cashier at Apple Market with the hand swollen to two times its normal size, and a whole bunch of people who just wanted to drink 40s and smoke cigarettes.

For all my happy City Market memories, it is absolutely dwarfed by the awesome supernova of Seattle's century-old Pike Place Market. With a street musician on each block(some good, some pretty awful) and cute dreadlocked boys (who, I realized somewhat painfully, are now much too young for me) handing out slices of fresh peaches at the many produce stands, the market has a life force all its own. The many colorful flower stands are a treat for anyone coming from the summer wasteland of the Midwest, and the Pike Place Fish Market truly lives up to its fame, with strapping young fishermen-types shouting catch phrases as they toss and wrap your order. There's also the Beecher's Handmade Cheese factory, home to mouth parties such as the world's creamiest mac-n-cheese, which the cashier informed us you can order online (note to self: hide your credit cards next time you drink) and an heirloom tomato and grilled cheese sandwich.

Who has the edge: Seattle

So far, as expected (largely because I'm notoriously self-defeating) Seattle comes out on top. But I suspect if I were to include gelato (Christopher Elbow's Glace) and happy hour prices (Buzzard Beach's 75-cent PBRs) in round two, KC would come back swinging for the fence.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

day 40: i went to a barbecue contest

I haven't eaten meat since March. I'd like to say I've developed a greater appreciation for the subtle nuances of tofu, or that soy-rizo really is as good as its spicy Mexican counterpart, but the reality is this: I sometimes smell bacon when there is no bacon.

I'll be driving down the street with my windows down, or walking to the bathroom at work, or shopping at Target, and from out of nowhere the savory smell of crispy-fried pig strips will seduce me into a fit of drooling. At first I worried I might be having a stroke, but the other possibility seemed more likely: my body needed meat.

So when my friend I. invited my boyfriend and me to a barbecue contest in Louisburg, Kansas, last weekend, I said fuck it; I'm gonna eat all the goddamn meat I can, just for one day.

I went prepared with an empty stomach, but I didn't know what I was getting myself into. After arriving in Louisburg we drove through several quiet blocks of old homes before an ambulance and several fire trucks marked the site of the gathering.  

"Yep, that seems about right," my boyfriend said, "for a bunch of fat people eating meat."

The thing about fat people and meat, though: they know how to do it right. There were probably 25 tables set up, and for $5 they let you in and set you loose. I marched right up to the first table and held out my plate. 

"This is our homemade sausage," a woman said, plunking down a piece of tube meat that left a greasy snail trail as it slid across my plate. "We've won a lot of awards with it."

And the moment the sausage touched my tongue fireworks went off in my brain as I remembered that meat is, in fact, fucking delicious. I jetted from one table to the next, shoveling pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, baked beans and chocolate-covered bacon in my face with reckless abandon. At one point I realized I could definitely outrun everyone there, so if I wanted I could make off with the entire plate of bacon chocolate and nibble it in the bushes like a diabetic squirrel with high blood pressure.

Exhausted and sweating, I did eventually run out of steam, and my meat euphoria lasted another hour or so before it turned into something hateful writhing in my guts. It was, perhaps, bad vegetarian karma coming back to bite me for assuming that vegetarianism has a "pause" button. And perhaps my intestinal punishment was justified, but the smell of phantom bacon is still something I'm too weak to ignore. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

day 39: i watched a meteor shower

Each time I've tried to watch a meteor shower, I've gotten lost and ended up in the kind of neighborhood where I'm pretty goddamn sure I'm gonna catch a stray bullet.

Whether this is due more to some subconscious death wish, a latent need for adventure, or my spinning-compass sense of direction I can't be sure, but last night I unwittingly ended up on Quindaro Boulevard, a formerly thriving neighborhood now infamous for being goddamn dangerous and scary, for what was probably the tenth time. And each time has been at night. And warranted or not, I always panic, pulling an illegal U-turn in the middle of the road and high-tailing back in the other direction.

holy shit, this was so not my experience.

Last night I drove to western Shawnee hoping to escape the city lights and see at least part of the Perseids meteor shower. And, parked in front of a beige suburban house on a dark suburban street with sprinklers hissing a soft spray of water over the manicured lawn, I pointed and ooh-ed and ahh-ed as a lone falling star dripped faintly down the sky.

Then, off in the distance, a suburban dad approached, identifiable by his khaki shorts and baseball cap. Instead of telling him that I, the lone stargazer, was waiting for the first chance to break into his house and empty his fridge of the mid-quality beer (probably Beck's) I knew was in there, I got the hell outta there.

Despite my hopeful trek further down K-7, I couldn't escape the rows of streetlights that streaked below the bridges like landing strips, or the occasional cluster of fast food joints and box stores. I finally gave up and decided to head home.

Don't ask me how I ended up on Quindaro. Along with letting me borrow your shit (hint: if I return it at all, it will be damaged if not irreparably at least to a point rendering it temporarily useless) you should never, ever ask me for directions or follow me anywhere you've never been before, because odds are I will get lost, and if I don't get lost I will take a rambling, indirect route that will cause your fucking brain to explode. In other words, directions are not my strong suit.

Despite my nearly hourlong detour, I did eventually make it home at 1:30 a.m. without any whiz-bang bullets biting me in the thigh, or what have you. And was it worth it? Probably not. But that's life; not everything has to be fraught with meaning. Sometimes shit just happens, you know?

Monday, August 9, 2010

day 38: i saw bob dylan in concert

There was no shortage of frizzy white guy 'fros, skinny jeans, and dark sunglasses at Saturday night's Bob Dylan show at Starlight, rocked mostly by kids young enough to be the iconic folk singer's grandchildren. It says a lot for the enduring relevance of Dylan's songwriting that he's still attracting a new fanbase some four decades after his heyday.

Of course no one goes to Dylan 2010 expecting the hemp, hippies and hype of Dylan 1969. But for those who, like me, grew up listening to him and were seeing him for the first time, I can't help but suspect that the show was somewhat of a letdown. Most if not all of the songs in his nearly two-hour set list deviated so severely from the original versions that they were almost unrecognizable.

I've heard that live experimentation is kind of Dylan's thing, and I respect that; after all, I'd get bored too if I'd been playing the same songs the same way for nearly half a century. For their part the band sounded tight, as did Dylan when he rocked the harmonica in the way only he can. But his trademark voice sounded shot, and in something between a growl and a mumble he spoke more than sang the lyrics. The classic "Just Like a Woman" reached the chorus before I knew what was what.

For the most part the crowd was mellow, with only a few exceptions: near where I sat, a man waved his fingers in front of his face, entranced; a long-haired, drunken behemoth in rainbow tie dye shouted "thank you, Bobby D!" after each song; and another man plopped down on the ground and emptied his pockets when an usher asked to see his ticket. Also, my friend E. ordered an eerily green margarita that tasted like goddamn lighter fluid.

But that's about as crazy as it got. Whenever anyone got down to serious business getting down in the aisles, an usher with a flashlight was quick to shoo them away. One woman we dubbed the "picture Nazi" watched for deviants trying to capture the moment with their cell cameras, much to the dismay of the woman directly in front of me, who had been taking recordings intermittently throughout the show and texting them to seemingly everyone she knew.

Naturally I'm glad I saw Dylan - along with Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, the Pixies, Leonard Cohen, the Pogues, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting, it's an experience I'll probably relate to either my grandchildren or my 15 cats someday. But as has increasingly been the case with big shows I've attended over the last decade, the whole event felt more like a sleek, money-making production than anything of real emotional value or substance. And even in 2010, sincerity is the least I would have expected from Bob Dylan. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

day 37: i plundered a vineyard

Even after putting up with 27 years of its bullshit, sometimes Kansas can still surprise me. For example, I never would have guessed that in Basehor, Kansas (one acceptable pronunciation of which is apparently "base whore"), resides the fruitful Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery, which houses reds, whites, and a man-sized dog named Corky.

(I asked the woman behind the counter what breed he was, but at that point I was kind of drunk on Tailgate Red and could only point at the dog in awe and ask, "What is it?" Unfortunately I don't remember what she said.)

Last weekend Jason and I met some friends at the vineyard for an evening of jazz and wine tasting, but the experience ended up feeling more like the most epic night of summer vacation, like when my friend R. and I used to play on the trampoline for hours while singing Christmas songs and then leave secret gifts for her neighbors, Boo-Radley style.

We sat at tables surrounding the outdoor stage, sipping wine out of plastic cups and watching ominous gray storm clouds roll in. When it started to sprinkle, employees moved chairs and equipment inside while we ran amok between the rows of grapes.

Seeing the green and red bunches hanging from the vine was strangely exhilerating, much like seeing apples being pulverized for cider or gazing up at an avocado tree (seriously one of the highlights of my trip to Hawaii). There was something oddly exotic about holding a glass of delicious booze in my hand while having the source in front of me. I wanted to exclaim, "So that's where it comes from!" Instead I plucked a fat red one off the vine and shoved it in my mouth. It was seedy and sweet.

Sunset turned the still-clear sky to the west pink, while lightening streaked across the dark sky to the east. Off in the distance, the horizon was blurred by intermittent downpours. The band set up in a dimly lit room inside, illuminated only by a lamp below the singer's face. It felt like listening to a ghost story at summer camp.

We danced and and drank and stood in a gazebo in the warm summer rain and didn't worry about our hair. And that sense of abandon, of letting go, is what will make it memorable. Because the only thing that mattered was the crazy light show in the sky and the feeling of Jason's arms around my waist and his beard tickling my neck.