Welcome to The Oyster

This is the second week of me chronicling my year of new experiences. You can check out the first week here.

This week’s tale starts once again with Meatless Monday, brought to you by Top Ramen (and a bunch of other shit). My inner frat boy was grunting, growling, and salivating as I pulled the ramen package out the cupboard. He proceeded to go cross-eyed with confusion as I lined the counter with veggies and eggs. His shock complete as he watched adult me prepare to cook in an actual pot, even though the microwave was right fucking there.

This isn’t the first time I’ve dressed up ramen, but I just recently realized that I didn’t have to add meat to make it a meal. It was time to go nuts.

I splurged and made two soft boiled eggs, cooking them up in the same spiced veggie broth I was using for the noodles to save time because veggies make me smart. Then I packed it full of roasted red peppers, snow peas, celery, carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms.

In short, I adulted the fuck out of that ramen.

With all the attention on my stomach, my ears were feeling ignored.

I’ve heard fiction podcasts referred to as “television for your ears” and I have yet to come up with a better descriptor. A blend of old-time radio dramas and modern storytelling can help liven up even the most mundane tasks.

The Oyster is a dystopic podcast best summed up by the line “the shadows were much more comfortable uncharted.”  Across seven episodes the drama tells the story of a president who turned democracy into a dictatorship, a systemically racist event called The Sorting killing 20% of the population so that the remaining 80% could fit underground, where they had to live because global warming fucked everything up and mother nature put us in timeout, and everyone is becoming more addicted to digital realities, ignoring the real world, and becoming mindless sheep.

The first novel I ever studied in a college was Brave New World, and the blockbuster movie The Matrix came out a year later. I can feel the influence of both pulsating throughout this story.

Horror doesn’t scare me like it used to.  But a dystopic future that hits a little too close to present reality?

Take my money and torture me slowly.

Speaking of books, this will come as no surprise, but I’ve always had a thing for bookstores. When I was in high school, my friends and I used to hang out at Barnes & Noble. You read that right, my friends and I used to hang out at a bookstore. For fun. On purpose. The kicker is, there wasn’t a Barnes & Noble in Grandview, we had to drive across the state line.

Fuck we were dorks.

Then when I was a young adult I lived on The Plaza. I’d cruise the aisles of B&N with a cup of coffee, breathing in air saturated with pulp and ink, listening to the whispers of authors long dead and the screams of writers newly born.

The first thing that caught my eye about this locally owned treasure was the name, Wise Blood. A bookstore named after a Flannery O’Conner novel that I studied in creative writing?

You had me at hello.

Ensorcelled by so many written words, my blood pressure instantly dropped by twenty points. Being swaddled by so many pages had me cooing as I perused the eclectic selection of new and used books, quietly debating what to take home as spoils from my journey.

I settled on two homegrown gems. This Is the End of Something but it’s Not the End of You by a local author named Adam Gnade, and an anthology series, Kansas City Noir, neither of which I would have never discovered if I hadn’t popped in.

Famished from my travels, I headed toward Mario’s Deli. It’d been years since I’d had their famous grinder and I could practically taste it as I walked down the block. What I didn’t realize was that Mario’s closed in 2017. I needed a plan B.

Mickey’s Hideaway called to me like a siren, and my stomach hungrily followed her song. Mickey’s was in the old McCoy’s space, a haunt from my misspent youth.

The layout was the same, some bones don’t break, otherwise there wasn’t a flicker of the old place in the joint.

McCoy’s was relatively unremarkable. The fact that it was comfortable and known is what kept it in business for so long. Mickey’s on the other hand had a striking combination of a contemporary feel with a fireplace and exposed brick coupled with wallpaper of black and white photos. The styles should have clashed, except they didn’t.

Until the moment I walked in, I had forgotten that it was Restaurant Week. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to let my inner fat boy take the reins for that week, pocketbook be damned. Then I forget until it’s too late.

The gods of gluttony wanted me to partake just once in 2021.

And they really wanted me to have a Smoked Chicken-Chorizo Fundido appetizer with chihuahua cheese, manzana sofrito & street tortillas. I don’t know what half that shit is. I do know I licked the bowl clean.

Still not satiated, I engulfed a Short Rib Grilled Cheese with white cheddar, fontina, caramelized onions, horseradish aioli, and parmesan fries. I left with a food baby in my womb and it was beautiful.

But on most days, home is where the heart is. And with the heart goes the stomach.

When I got my air fryer, it came with a small cookbook that I only kept for the cooking times cheat sheet. Idle curiosity guided me to a simple recipe for Inside Out Dumplings, which are essentially meatballs with water chestnuts and ginger.

But now I get to say I’ve made dumplings from scratch.

I’ve never seen the point in meatballs. If your not making a burger, what’s the point of molding ground beef (or in this case turkey) into anything? But this is a year for new things, so I decided to try it, if only for the fact that I’d never bought water chestnuts in my life.

Lean ground turkey was the absolute wrong choice when making meatballs. It’s sticky and after molding the first one you are stuck with clumsy meat hands until you’re done. Neanderthals who hit things with clubs have more dexterity than a 41-year-old manchild with meat hands. And these meat wads did not resemble the photo in the book. My meat wads were not photogenic.  

Thank God I’m single and wasn’t cooking for a date.

I paired my meat wads with Black Narcissus, a mini-series that had been staring down on me from Hulu for quite a while. It checked quite a lot of boxes. Historic fiction. Check. Supernatural elements and religious imagery used for dark purposes. Check. On FX which has a kick ass track record when it comes to dark content. Check. Watching that was the longest three hours of my entire fucking life.

It was like watching nuns watch paint dry in a convent. In India.

The highlight of my evening was when I figured out the male lead also played Nick Cage’s brother in Face/Off. But Nick Cage wasn’t there this time. Nick Cage turned this down.

You have to pack a lot of suck into a script for Nick Cage to tell you to keep your money.

Between the meat wads and the mini-series, date night with myself did not go well. In fact, I didn’t even score.

After that I needed to get the fuck out of my house.

Hyde Park is so old that it was originally part of the City of Westport before it merged with Kansas City in 1897. And I found my forever neighborhood when I moved here from South Plaza seven years ago.

Janssen Place, a subdivision where nineteen captains of Kansas City industry gathered to build magnificent homes back at the turn of the twentieth century, is hidden within the folds of my awesome neighborhood. And I have been running among them for years. Until this past Sunday I had never once taken the walking tour, complete with pamphlet.

Taking on a mission of this magnitude in the frozen tundra of the outside world required fuel. My first stop was at newer, more modern Hyde Park staple, Mother Earth Coffee.

I should probably mention that I fucking loathe coffee shops.  They are douche sacks dripping in pretention. As such, the persnickety attitude of my barista was on brand and predictable.  I wanted to tell him that that rosewater scented body spray wasn’t washing away his sins, but he would have held my coffee hostage.

The coffee was good enough for me to buy a bag to keep at my house, so I could support this local business without having to ever set foot in it again.

Fueled by an egg and bacon croissant and with an organic dark roast to keep me warm, I let my stroll through KC’s past begin. The sun had come out and it had turned into a vibrant morning.

On my journey I learned that Janssen Place was developed by Arthur Stilwell, who founded KC Southern Railroad, which is still a giant today. The iconic limestone gateway was designed by architect George Mathews, who studied under Henry Van Brunt, who was enough of a heavy hitter to have a boulevard named after him. I also learned that my favorite house, the house I’m going to buy when I hit it big like Stephen King, is called the Pickering Mansion. This brick and stone structure was built by the VP of the Pickering Lumber Company which at the time was among the largest lumber companies in the world. It also turns out that I’m into Italianate Revival architecture, such a renaissance man am I.

I also learned that the actual Hyde Park was the first golf course in Kansas City, the Kenwood Golf Links. I’ve driven, walked, and ran past it thousands of times and never realized I was driving past the place that introduced the full-bodied frustration that is golf to my native city. I may or may not have mimicked my god-awful golf swing in salute. Passers by may or may not have wondered if I was having a stroke (see what I did there).

I did have one more experience that I wasn’t looking for this week. I got stuck in a fucking elevator. Like the had to call the fire department, get me the fuck out of here, stuck in an elevator.

At first, I didn’t believe it was happening. This shit only happens on TV.

In all honesty, it could have been worse. After all, I remembered to take a piss before heading out, just like my mother taught me. So that was a small mercy. But fuck that elevator went from small to suffocating in the blink of an eye. I will never look at the phrase “the walls are closing in” quite the same way again.

Time works differently in a broken elevator. Just as you are suspended in air, so are you suspended in reality. I was certain that weeks, maybe years, had passed since I first lost contact with the outside world. At a minimum I figured I missed the Chiefs game and Biden’s inauguration.

Turns out it was less than thirty minutes. Our fire department rocks. I made kickoff and my fur niece and nephews nursed me back to health.

Fur baby snugs can solve everything.

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