Dreams of War, Tacos & Zombies

Since life got away from me last week, y’all get a giant size issue of my adventures for your entertainment. It’s only three thousand words. You can do it.

I’ve never been one for cookbooks. In the age of smartphones and high-speed internet buying a cookbook makes about as much sense as paying for porn. But Thug Kitchen speaks to my soul one glorious F-bomb at a time.

For starters, it hates pretentious food blogs as much as I do and shares my love for the naughty words. All of them. This book doesn’t fuck around and doesn’t overcomplicate shit. Vegetables and beans aren’t just sides anymore. I am going to devour this book one recipe at a time.

Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burritos caught my eye first. All it took was mixing up some chickpeas, chopped broccoli and red pepper, coating it with spices and roasting the fuck out of it. I slathered up some tortillas with sour cream, cheese, and salsa and went to town.

I’m an ugly eater when no one is watching.

Before this book I’d never had a veggie burger in my fucking life. I was Team Meat all the way. Then I was introduced to White Bean and Red Lentil Burgers.

Until the pandemic, I didn’t know what the fuck lentils even were, and now I have these little confetti shaped food things floating all over my house. Boiled some up while mashing some white beans with a poblano pepper, onion and spices, made that shit into patties, baked ‘em, slathered ‘em with garlic aioli, cheese and pickles.

Is it really called having seconds when you don’t bother to stop eating between platefuls?

Next time, and there will be a next time, I’ll do what the book said and use a jalapeño to give it a bit more kick and add some liquid smoke for fun.

That’s two weeks of deliciousness thanks to that book. Maybe I should rethink paying for porn.

Meanwhile, back in the world of meat.

I’m getting better about letting sea meat into my life. The old me saw it as cost prohibitive. It’s not. I saw it as difficult to cook. It ain’t. I also hated using a big oven to cook one small piece of meat. If you are single and reading this, invest in an air fryer and indoor grill post haste. They’ve been inexpensive game changers. Perfect little gadgets when cooking for one.

Sesame Crusted Salmon was a quick as fuck midweek treat. Anything healthy, delicious, and takes less than twenty minutes is aces in my book. All it did was mix some soy sauce and butter, brush it on a fillet, sprinkle some sesame seeds, and throw it in the air fryer for 10 minutes. Nuke up some sticky rice and snow peas and you have a happy tummy.

I wish I had a good explanation as to why I thought Chicken with Orange and Olives sounded like a good idea. I don’t. Jesus that shit was terrible. I even said out loud as I was making the marinade, “This isn’t going to end well.”

The marinade tasted like someone tried to mask the stench of athlete’s foot with citrus flavored body wash. But still I persisted, because as I tell my dog niece Molly when her brothers are acting hyper as fuck “boys are stupid.”

I’ve been focusing on gratitude, and I was grateful I didn’t subject anyone else to this. And for BBQ sauce.

BBQ sauce makes anything edible. Even citrus flavored gym socks.

It is cold as fucking balls in Kansas City right now and is going to be until the End of Days according to current weather predictions. Welcome to the Midwest where Mother Nature is a bipolar schizophrenic with daddy issues. That called for a cup of Comforting Homestyle Chicken and Noodles.

You literally throw some shit (in this case shit being broth, cream of chicken soup, bouillon and chicken breasts) in a pot for six hours, shred the chicken and throw in some frozen egg noodles, wait two more hours. Then try to remember to breathe between bites.

I love simple crock pot recipes and with winter weather the only thing on the menu I see more of those in the future.

But a man is more than his stomach, so I made sure my ears got some love too.

I had an opportunity to put my ears on the first three episodes of a kickass new podcast called The Elmwood Strain, directed and produced by some local talent. I am all-in for the ride. Our protagonist Paige is reluctantly lured back to her hometown after the death of someone from her past where she finds a town dying and everyone hooked on something new and possibly supernatural. This one checks all the boxes for me and I’m excited to see how this little bit of television for the ears continues to unfold week after week.

I was skeptical when I heard that Ernest Cline wrote a sequel to Ready Player One. RPO was the fuck trophy from The Matrix and every 80s pop culture reference going to bang town. And that fuck trophy spawned a beautiful movie adaptation that was well received.

So of course, the author had to write a shameless money grab of a sequel.

I rented the book out of sheer curiosity assuming it would suck. The plot consisted of Wade Watts and friends racing against a clock to get the seven shards of something in order to save the OASIS and all the people currently jacked in. It’s essentially a copy and paste of the plot of the first book with a little bit of expansion and new 80s pop culture references.

And it absolutely worked.

Finding one of the shards involved spending copious amounts of time on a planet devoted to all things Prince. That’s right, an entire planet dedicated to His Royal Badness, The High Priest of Pop, The Prince of Funk, The Purple One.

I want a spin-off book set entirely on that world complete with soundtrack.

Wil Wheaton does a fantastic job with the narration. Almost enough to forgive him for Wesley Crusher on TNG.

In my polytheistic religion of content, Neil Gaiman is one of our gods and may in fact be the All-Father.

I absolutely devoured Sandman a few years back and it’s among my favorite comic series of all time. With comics being a visual medium, I was consumed with curiosity as to how they translated to an audiobook. The answer was to make it an audio drama and knock the casting out of the park. Gaiman as always is the perfect narrator for his own work. James McAvoy was exactly how I imagined Morpheus would sound and Kat Dennings was delightful as Death.

The book goes through the tale of Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, and his quest to rebuild his domain and retrieve items that had been stolen and entities that had escaped. This gets us through the first twenty issues of the comic book covering the first three major arcs which leaves so much of this glorious world still to explore.

Coincidences are cool and it was surreal to hear Dream’s world colliding with that of John Constantine at the exact intersection of where I’m currently at with his journey on my Kindle.

My ears are burning in anticipation of the next journey for Dream and the brothers and sisters of the Endless.

I also had a chance to return to The Bobiverse in Heaven’s River. Yes, you read that right, there is book series called The Bobiverse and it is god damn amazing. To put it simplistically Bob Johansson had his head cryogenically frozen after his death and is resurrected as an AI entity 117 years in the future. Without the constraints of biology and with technological advances allowing for endless and long-range space travel Bob sets off on an adventure to explore and colonize other worlds and build more Bobs along the way.

It was originally planned as a trilogy and to be honest the original ending was perfect. Somewhere in the space between the end of the third book and now Dennis E. Taylor was struck with inspiration and decided to re-open the Bobiverse to tourists. The series was easy to slip back into and is Sci-fi done right.

I hope the author finds himself inspired to return to the universe again, giving us all an opportunity to go back.

The series is narrated by my favorite audiobook dude, Ray Porter. Seriously, Porter could narrate a grocery list and find a way to make it engaging.

In between all the cooking and listening, there was plenty of exploring in the really real world to be had as well. But of course, that would also require fuel from the wild.

Kansas City staple Town Topic called to my stomach from the recesses of my mind. Town Topic has been around since forever, and that’s about how long it had been since I’d been there. I ordered up a double with cheese and had them drag it through the garden. The sounds from my stomach were completely fueled by nostalgia as I headed down to the original dive on Broadway.

To be honest, nostalgia has tasted better. Don’t get me wrong, the burger was fine and hit the spot. But there was no magic. It was nothing like the burger from Green Room that I am still in lust with three weeks after our tryst. The fact that I ate it in my car in the parking lot of the World War I Museum as the wind howled didn’t help the experience.

Good food and good conversation found its way onto my agenda last week in the form of dinner before a show at Mission Taco.

One of the kick ass things about this place is that you order everything a la carte, which compels you to mix and match. I’m not talking about simple decisions between shredded chicken and ground beef. I’m talking about complex options like grilled or fried fish, pork belly or carnitas, chopped steak or braised beef. And fucking duck.

Did you know that tacos came in duck flavor? Because I did not.

I paired my taco menagerie with a Mexican Coke and street corn and scarfed while catching up with a good friend about life, politics and the arts.

With that many options, and the crack they put in that street corn, I’m not done with that place by damn sight.

Putting my soul on some culture certainly didn’t suck.

Walking across the glass bridge overlooking the poppies planted in remembrance of those that gave the last full measure of devotion in the Great War was resonant, and set a somber and beautiful tone for my self-guided tour of the National World War I Museum.

One of the most defining characteristics of World War I was trench warfare, which looks and sounds (and I imagine smells) like a shit way to live. A recreated trench unfolds across the back wall of the museum. Just sticking my head through the windows was claustrophobic enough. Soldiers were there for months or years, enduring everything Mother Nature and man could throw at them. I can’t imagine the hell that these men endured, but the museum found a way to bring that experience to life.

I also learned that submarine warfare was not only a thing in WWI, but that the Germans had a nasty habit of sinking civilian merchant and passenger ships. It’s estimated that by the end of the war a third of all merchant ships had been sunk or destroyed. Among those ships was the Lusitania, 1200 civilians including 128 Americans lost their lives. This became part of the rallying cry responsible for the US eventually finding its moral compass and entering the war.

I also have to say that it made me proud to see that Missouri sent over 128,000 of its native sons to aid in the war effort, which put it in the top 10 of states in terms of responses when called to serve.

In the current world order, performing arts are hard to come by and I’m starving. To help fill that void the Folly Theater has started Live at the Lounge, which is an intimate, as in under a dozen people socially distanced and masked kind of intimate, concert series to showcase local talent. My stomach still full of tacos, I had the opportunity to take in beautiful local artist Calvin Arsenia. I knew his name but not his music, and as an added treat this was my first time listening to a performance that showcased the harp.

I know next to nothing about the harp. And the only thing that I’ve learned is that it’s fucking magical. Arsenia is a gentle, beautiful soul with a soft touch that whispered through his performance. His engaging and comfortable personality radiated throughout the room and listening to him was the most tranquil hour I’d had all week. I will definitely be adding his soothing playlist to my Spotify rotation.

My quest to add more movies to my content diet also continued.

The saving grace of my Sunday night was Zombieland: Double Tap. It was a lighthearted way to end a week and you can sign me up for anything with Woody Harrelson or the always stunning Emma Stone.

Watching the sequel reminded me that the first Zombieland actually helped calm me down and get me to sleep after watching Paranormal Activity for the first time. A couple weeks ago I said that horror never scares me anymore, but this was one of those rare exceptions. That ending left an impression of terror I hadn’t felt since the creepy chick crawled out of the well in The Ring.

Compounding this was the fact that I was housesitting at an old house with the most perfect media room I have ever seen in my life. Dim lighting, thick blackout curtains, surround sound, and a comfortable, cozy couch kept the room so separate from the outside world that you lost all sense of space and time. This was the perfect room for a movie about possession all shot in one house. The movie left me so creeped out that there was no way I was going to bed on that note.

Enter the first Zombieland movie, two hours of fun and just what the doctor ordered to calm my ass down afterward. Until I woke up just before 3AM, the witching hour, in need of a drink of water.

I made my way down the steepest flight of stairs you’d ever seen, the darkness amplifying the unfamiliar sounds.

Including the antique grandfather clock, still in working order. I shuffled by right as it announced the official arrival of the witching hour with three, loud as fuck, chimes.

My screams the only thing piercing their echo.

I twisted my ankle and twitched violently while my heart played percussion to an empty house.

After slowly scaling the stairs, I put Zombieland on for a second time to have something on in the background until I was once again convinced that I was alone in the house.

One of the stops on the nostalgia train was watching Bad Boys for Life. Much like other movies that have and will be mentioned, Bad Boys II was played in the background back in college when I was living at my fraternity house. This had less to do with the quality of the film and more to do with the fact it saturated HBO.

For anyone that has seen the first two, this movie is exactly what you think it is, and how could it be anything else?

Full of contextual one liners, out of control action and chase sequences, and dramatic sweeping cinematic camera shots with adrenaline pumping music, this movie was entertaining and didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. Which is all I was looking for on a cold Saturday afternoon.

With all the food and couch time, I had to get my ass in gear or watch it expand.

Inspired in part by my trip to the WWI museum, I decided to capitalize on the brief 60-degree heat wave we experienced last week to get my first double digit run of 2021 around Liberty Memorial. One loop represents over a mile and a half of greenery and hills and stairs and cement with pretty kick ass views along the way. Although this is a far cry from trail running, it’s a path off the roads and has tons of scenery to take in along with the sounds of the city.

This is going in heavy rotation for my running as soon as running outside again becomes sane for anything except penguins and polar bears.

I did put my eyeballs to more than movies and museums. I had an opportunity to finish reading This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You by semi-local author Adam Gnade. The book is a perfect blend of literature and grit that reminded me a lot of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. You never go wrong in writing when you remind someone of Raymond Carver.

I was sucked in from the very beginning when Gnade wrote in the voice of the protagonist James Jackson Bozic as a child. It’s rare to see an adult write in the voice of a child while making it relatable to an adult reader. Gnade nailed it. I love a good coming of age story with a relatable, extremely human protagonist. This novel hit a spot and quenched a thirst I hadn’t know I had.

The book closes with “It’s alright, we can breathe again, wake up again, stand tall again, love again, make our lives in the image of our dreams again. We might leave our past and the places we came from, but we remember them. We tell their stories as we move forward. Again and again, it goes on. Again and again.”

That sounds like a perfect place to start the next week of my journey.

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