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.

Gentlemanly Pursuits

Martin Luther King Day kicked this week off and I thought a run through Loose Park seemed a fitting place to start my journey. This park is responsible for my first double digit run on my way to my first half marathon way back in 2010. Yet with all that time I’ve never taken in the park for what it is, the site of the Battle of Westport, otherwise known as the Gettysburg of the West and considered one of, it not the, biggest Civil War battle west of the Mississippi.

It seemed fitting given the importance of Dr. King’s message and two days away from the inauguration of a President tasked with restoring sanity to a nation on the brink of what he has called an “uncivil war.”

But then weather and stupidity got involved.

I distinctively remember saying to myself, out loud, as I was putting on my new, never been worn running pants, that they seemed awfully thin. Drafty if that’s even a thing with pants. Then I decided that maybe they were just light weight but still warm.

God I’m a fucking moron.

Do you guys know what it’s like to wrap your nasty bits in nothing but tissue paper and let the wind wail on them while howling maniacally?

I wish I could tell you I took the time to let my senses take in the park in a whole new way. To see the battle, hear the cries of dying soldiers, and smell the gun smoke. That I really took the time to taste the history. In truth getting home and giving my balls the chance to come out of witness protection became my all-consuming goal.

Safely tucked back in the warmth of my apartment, it was time to combat the cold. I had never really seen the point in making soup from anything but a can unless all it involved was throwing shit in a crockpot and walking away. Until now. Inspired by my clam chowder redemption and a comment from my friend Sarina, I decided that minestrone soup from scratch with an honest to god grilled cheese sandwich was the perfect meatless dinner for a Midwestern Monday in January.

Starting with vegetable stock then packing it with crushed and diced tomatoes, veggies, beans, and pasta left me feeling hungry every step of the way. What’s that Campbell’s Chunky phrase? Soup that eats like a meal.

My tongue will never look at a can of soup the same way again.

Not even a soup that eats like a meal is complete without a two sliced sidekick. I slathered two pieces of bread with butter, smashed some gouda between them and let George Foreman work the body for five minutes. I am never going back to the way the peasants make grilled cheese with their puny little pans again.

My body hungered for more than food and the weather gods saw fit to provide my first trail run of 2021, in a little slice of woodland hidden right in the heart of the city. Swope is one of my favorite trails, tucked away from the chaos surrounding it, it has always been a convenient way to commune with Mother Nature within the confines of my urban jungle home.

Trail running is a great way to escape civilization even if for just a short time. The whispers of the woods and the feel of Mother Earth beneath my feet are soothing to the soul. It was a sunny late afternoon, and the shadows were getting long as twilight descended on the trail. A perfect end to a hard fought and hard-won day.

A good trail run leaves you the good kind of tired. The kind of tired that keeps you wanting more.

As a red-blooded American male, I am always on the hunt for red meat in all its glorious forms. Green Room is a small joint tucked away in the back of a building, at the bottom of a hill, in a parking lot for a strip mall. I had forgotten all about it until I remembered.

The sign of a good burger is when the juice is dripping down your chin, saturating your beard, and you don’t even care. Dragged through the garden and on the rare side of medium, I took that first bite, and I didn’t stop until I was done licking my fingers clean. All of them.  A handful of emptiness and a belly full of happy.

The perfection continued as I washed that gloriousness down with the best fucking root beer I’ve ever had in my life. It’s made by a kid in Bucyrus, Missouri and tasted like every root beer float from my childhood. The tears of an angel don’t taste this good.

Fueled up on red meat and root beer it was time for my walk through the ages of our ancestors.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a national treasure. Literally. And it is located in my backyard. When the city’s forefathers built the museum in 1933, they built it both to last and to compete.

I’ve been to countless traveling exhibits over the years and was fortunate enough to se the KC Rep’s performance of Sundays in the Park with George hosted there. I even got to stroll through the main event itself with a dear friend before the world changed.

The first thing I noticed as I ascended the marble stairs was a Greek sculpture of a lion protecting and watching over the exhibits. It was originally sculpted to overlook a cemetery and the man who created the piece had in fact never seen an actual lion in his life, instead drawing from his knowledge of other animals, melding them with a description of the beast to create his cemetery sentinel.

There is poetry in what that says about art.

One of the things that struck me as I walked the hallowed halls was how eclectic the art selections were. Everything ranging from Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian artifacts dating back to a time before Christ to modern masterpieces that show inner depths that sometimes seem to leap off a page. And as a good Kansas City Boy I have always been partial to Kansas City’s own Thomas Hart Benton.

Vivid colors and imagery screamed while the nine roman muses whispered their secrets in my ears as the outside world raged on.

After my carnivorous lunch and lengthy stroll, I decided to turn to the sea for dinner. I love easy. I love quick. And the me that went eleven years without a dishwasher loved the idea of One Pan Shrimp Fajitas. Every time I cook shrimp I rediscover that peeling and deveining only takes a fraction of the time I think it will. One of these days I really need to stop rediscovering that and start remembering it. I’d probably eat a fuckload more shrimp.

The most time-consuming part, which took no time at all, was slicing up three different colored peppers and the red onion. To be honest I was skeptical about the need for all that color. I thought that it was more about plating than palate.  

And I was fucking wrong.

That rainbow colored masterpiece was all about flavor and a head fake at healthy after my cheeseburger from paradise. I was so hungry that once the pan was done, I slathered those things up with all the fixings and ate right there at the kitchen counter like a neanderthal.

Being single means you don’t have to be refined.

With my second food baby of the day gestating, it was time to settle in for a tale from across the pond.

I had no idea how much I missed Guy Ritchie doing Guy Ritchie things until I watched The Gentlemen. This was seriously his best effort since Snatch, which was one of the movies that defined college for me. We used to quote along with that movie while playing spades in a smoke-filled room. We wore that DVD out in an age before streaming took over the world.

As with most of his movies this was brilliantly cast with several actors almost unrecognizable compared to their traditional roles. Except Matthew McConaughey, who is always Matthew McConaughey. And Michelle Dockery is even more smoldering than she was in Good Behavior, which I didn’t know was possible.

It’s hard not to love a movie with lines like, “If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”

I have also always envied the Brits for their liberal use of the word cunt. Quite frankly we should do our best to emulate that in America, especially since we kept their language when we won the war.

After the movie it was time to curl up in bed with Chuck.

Every time I think I have a dark, fucked up mind, I just read something by my good friend Chuck Palahniuk and I no longer feel alone in my depravity. The Invention of Sound sucked me in until it’s last death rattle. A sadomasochistic woman who is addicted to pain and kills others in pursuit of a career creating unique screams for Hollywood producers and a grief-stricken father who hires hookers to pretend to be his long lost and (presumably dead) daughter are on twisted collision course in this instant classic that has shades of such wholesome fare as Invisible Monsters and Tell-All.

God I read some fucked up shit.

My third full week of exploring ended with the sculpture garden at the Nelson. A tankard of Mother Earth Coffee kept my warm as I walked the grounds of the building I had explored less than 24 hours before. As I strolled, taking in the signature shuttlecocks and artwork ranging from the abstract to the in your face, I contemplated one of the quotes lining the museum walls, “The soul has a greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist. It is by the ideal that we live.”

The brick path is in fact responsible in part for my getting started running back in 2006. I used to spend hours running and walking lap after lap getting back in shape, taking in the vibrant expansive lawn. This was also back when iPods were bulky and cost prohibitive and eons before smartphones and Spotify would go on to render those obsolete.

Back then I had to soldier through with nothing but a no-skip discman, which only held up its end of the deal if you held it exactly right. Do you have any idea how ridiculous a man looks trying to hold a discman exactly right while running? My whole body shuddered at the memory. Smartphones and Spotify went straight to the top of my gratitude list.

Art has truth. Take refuge in thee.

Exploring Experiences

A few months before the world got gangbanged by the four horsemen, I made a pilgrimage to Chicago to visit my best friend. This glorious trip kicked off with a luxurious dinner at an authentic Chicago steak house and tickets to Hamilton. The adventure went on to include authentic Chicago hot dogs, a tour of the world-renowned Chicago Institute of Art, an evening at a Die Hard Pop Up Bar, a Ghosts and Gangsters tour and a the best crustless pizza I’ve ever tasted. Sprinkled with the kinds of debauchery and comfortable conversations only best friends can get into

During that trip I had lunch with a fraternity brother who had recently moved there and described 2019 as his “year of the yes.” He took every opportunity to try something new. And he came out of 2019 with a slew of new and wonderful experiences and memories.

I came home revitalized, rejuvenated, and with the realization that I had a lot of exploring of my own to do. There are so many wonderful places and events in my city that I have either never experienced, or it’s been years since I’ve taken the opportunity. There are scores of recipes saved but uncooked. And although I am a carnivorous consumer of all things content, there is still a fucking ocean out there waiting to be discovered.

I realized I had settled into comfortable routines and had become content with the familiar.

I resolved myself to change all that in 2020. I was going to become an explorer. Then we packed a decade’s worth of bullshit into a shitstorm of a year, and it all fell to crap. So I am recycling and repurposing my goal into 2021. I’m going to become an explorer, like Magellan or Cortez only without all the killing and pillaging.

The first steps of my journey came in the kitchen.

I love meat. As a growing Midwestern manchild, meat is the foundation of my diet. Veggies are fantastic, meat’s faithful sidekick has a place on my plate. But making a meal with them centerstage? Who would do this to themselves on purpose? That kind of thinking is why Meatless Mondays are one of the ways I am going to expand my culinary horizons. I made it easy on myself for this first week and made Black Bean Enchiladas.

Cooking this almost felt like cheating. Mix up some black beans, corn, chunky salsa, shredded Colby/jack cheese, and enchilada sauce. Stuff that shit into some tortillas. Top with some more cheese, sauce, black olives, and green onions. Toss it in the oven and relax while the cheese melts.  

If vegetarian dishes were are all this tasty, I just may restrain my inner carnivore a little more often.

I’m also going to break out of my slate of go to recipes by trying one new dish a week. My leadoff hitter was an Instant Pot Clam Chowder that had been on my “recipes to try” list since I got my Instant Pot a couple years back. Although there are tons of recipes on that list, there is a particular reason I was as gun shy as an angsty teen trying to get to second base for the first time.

When I was a twentysomething idiot first teaching myself how to cook, clam chowder was one of the first things I tried. It’s one of my favorite soups and it didn’t look overly complicated. I was hosting a dinner party and I wanted to impress my friends. The odds were forever in my favor.

One problem, I didn’t quite have all the cooking terminology down. Specifically, I didn’t know the difference between a clove and a bulb. This recipe called for five cloves of garlic. Do you have any idea how fucking long it takes to mince five bulbs of garlic by hand? How much stupid it takes to not realize how excessive that was? The fucking smell alone should have been enough to set me straight. But I am as bullheaded as the rest of my taurus brethren and I soldiered on. Even through the blurry eyes, runny nose, and carpal tunnel I trudged through to the bitter end.

Then, bless my heart, I tossed it in a pan and cooked until fragrant.

Have you ever wondered what Satan’s asshole tastes like?

We ended up ordering pizza. I was never allowed to cook for them again.

Thankfully, my second attempt went much better, and not just because that was a low bar to clear. Aided by my trusty Instant Pot, it had a made from scratch taste when all I really did outside of a bit of sautéing and chopping was toss a bunch of ingredients into the pot and let the device to the work.

Timing was key in terms of when to release the pressure and not let the dish boil once adding the half and half. Much easier than mincing five fucking bulbs of garlic. Sprinkle in some oyster crackers and it was practically a meal of its own even without the tuna melt I made to go with it. I spent my Saturday night satiated, fat, dumb and happy.

Home cooked food is wonderful and satisfying, but I could hardly call myself an explorer if all my quests took place in the house.

I decided to cap off a productive week with a late lunch at Café Sebastienne which is housed in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art both of which had been off my radar screen for way too long.

It had been so long that I had forgotten that everything was locally sourced and that it was relatively inexpensive and high quality. The bulk of the restaurant sits under an expansive skylight, and the space is so open it almost feels like you are dining outside. But the setting is only as good as the food it accompanies.

Until the moment I saw it on the menu, I had no idea that the deliciousness that is duck pastrami was a thing that existed.  Now I do and I am forever changed. My sandwich was piled high with that heavenly meat, gruyere cheese, dill pickled carrot, and slathered with whole grain mustard aioli on marble rye. I had to stifle the NSFW moans that would have loudly announced my foodgasm to the world.

Afterward, I walked off that sandwich with a stroll through the museum. As Kansas Citians we cultivate and encourage a vibrant arts scene. And there is no shortage of wonderful culture to take in. Before the world shut down, I was an enthusiastic patron of the performing arts and travelling exhibits, but had not paid much attention to our standing attractions. I look forward to changing that over the course of this journey. This was an interesting place for me to start, because to be honest, contemporary art is not my strong suit. I struggle to understand it more than I do other eras and artists.

Two exhibits in particular spoke to me. Dawoud Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black, a series of modern photographs reimagining the last sites along the Underground Railroad at twilight. The photos and setting were striking to take in, especially considering the current state of the world. Combining black and white photography with these settings at dusk drew a crisp conflict embraced by an eerie tranquility. It was profound to view such an era of our history through that lens.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Elias Sime’s Tightrope, in which the artist uses repurposed electronics to create his pieces. The themes of how wasteful and disconnected we have become as a society leapt off the work in ways ranging from subtle to overt. In a culture where social media is the new god and keyboard courage has replaced human interaction it was a surreal exhibit to take in, especially in light of the events currently plaguing our nation.

A walk through the museum was probably not enough to walk off all that food, so at some point my journey had to put me on a running path.

I’ve been inconsistent with my running lately and it definitely shows. Reasons range from laziness (my fault) and what I think might be COVID long hauler symptoms (not my fault). Not to mention wind chill that turns your dicky-do into a dicky-don’t sucks balls. That is not a legitimate excuse, especially for someone who took pride in being an ultramarathoner. I am making it a point to get back at it, even if slow and steady must win the race for a while.

Although trail running is where my heart is, road running is a part of life. One of the best ways to spice up the pavement pounding is to get away from the neighborhood routes and to different parts of the city.

My favorite off the beaten path pavement route is Cliff Drive. As one of only five scenic byways in Missouri, it’s a gorgeous, tranquil, and as the name suggests scenic route in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast. The best part is that it’s closed to all vehicle traffic. It had been awhile, so I decided to take a jaunt down there and let my mind get lost in the cliffs and the curves.

However, it had snowed recently and I forgot that no cars means no plows and the cliffs mean no direct sunlight. This was not one of my brightest moments. This was a “did you eat paint chips as a kid” moment. So, I’m just going to brag about how I traversed the treacherous terrain. Because that sounds way cooler than “I managed to not fall on my ass.”

No weekly journey in my life is complete without my weekly worship at the altar of God Content.

For all my viewing, I am way behind on movies. My screen time gravitates heavily toward television. I loathe movie theaters and renting. Instead, I wait for the movies to find their way into the orbit of one of my eight-seven streaming services. And then I ignore them until they go away and wait for them to come back again.

Not today Satan. Or more accurately, not on Saturday, Satan.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood finally found its way to my screen. I love everything that Quentin Tarantino has ever written, and I stayed up past my bedtime devouring every moment of that movie.

I mean, where else are you going to see Tyler Durden beat the fuck out of Bruce Lee while closing with Leonardo DiCaprio reuniting with Margot Robbie. I submit that this shit only happens in a universe where Sharon Tate doesn’t die.

And of course, my eyeballs had to dance along the pages of a book for my week to feel complete.

My reading list grows faster than I could ever possibly read, such is the albatross worn by bookworms everywhere. There is whole god damn sea of books out there that I am never going to get to. I spent the better part of 2020 being Kindle Unlimited’s bitch when it came to reading. That’s not where a reader needs to live. It’s time to get back to the literary universe as a whole. And I’m kicking that off with a comic book.

The Hellblazer series has been on my list since forever. To a nerd who loves dark urban fantasy like me, the tails of cursed antihero and mystic John Constantine promises to be a wild ride. Throw in the fact the character was created by batshit crazy comic book god Alan Moore and with runs by greats such as Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison this promises to be the dark and dirty kind of fun.

I haven’t done everything yet, but it’s on my list.


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The Insomniac’s Guide to the Galaxy

Insomnia Fight Club

To know me is to know that I’m an insomniac. I don’t want to hear from the sleep preachers. I’m not interested in learning more about the benefits of valerian root or whatever new age shit everyone else has tried. Some of us just don’t sleep well consistently. I’m here to share my experience and how I’ve learned to not let that stop me from getting a good night’s rest if I can’t get a good night’s sleep.

Follow me, I’ll show you the way.

First, let me make something clear. I’m not a scientist or a researcher. I’m a writer and this article is based on my own experience. If you’re looking for something more clinical or data driven, you have strayed way off the reservation. But you should stick around anyway.

Let’s start with the shit you should be doing before bed. This isn’t about telling you to tinkle and brush your teeth. I’m not your mother.

Do not try to force yourself to go to bed at the same time every night. One, life won’t let you. Two, if you go to bed when you aren’t tired, you’ll spend time “trying” to fall asleep. That shit never works. More often than not, it will lead to a restless night and you’ll be worse off for it.

This doesn’t mean your range should be all over the place. For example, I’m normally in sleep or rest mode somewhere between 9:30 – 11 PM. The TV’s off, I’m done reading and laying my head down for a long winter’s nap. But I never try to force it.

If you don’t have blackout curtains, get them. They’re not expensive and totally worth it. These things were serious game changers for me. My windows face east, over my building’s parking lot, and with another streetlight making its presence known. I didn’t realize how much ambient light was sneaking through my blinds until I blocked it out. A huge thanks to my good friend Bryce for the suggestion. I only regret waiting so long.

After you install them, if you rise naturally at the same time each morning, do yourself a favor and make sure you have your alarm set for the next week or so to help wake you up. I had been naturally waking up between 5:45 – 6 AM for a pretty decent interval and the installation of those curtains scrambled that. A couple weeks with the alarm will help your system reset.

Next, make sure you set the temperature where you would sleep best. A lot of people I know keep the thermostat set at the same temp, day and night, day in, day out. Fuck that. My thermostat gets a fucking workout. Whether I’m writing on the couch, cooking and cleaning, or trying to sleep, each of these requires a different temperature.

I prefer it cold, like ice cold. Like running the A/C at night in the winter because I sleep at 58 degrees cold. Mr. Wizard says that’s good. Then again, a friend of mine keeps his at 80 at and sleeps like a baby. So, you do you. Just don’t think that what works during the day automatically works at night.

Also, make sure you have a bottle of water and either a Bluetooth speaker or headphones with you when you go to bed.

Congratulations, the first stage of your prep work is complete. Now it’s time to head to the bedroom and queue the Barry White while we have a conversation about sleepwear.

If you haven’t already, figure out what you sleep most comfortable in. Do you like the freedom of sleeping naked? Great. Want an old timey matching pajama top and bottom? Rock that 60s sitcom shit. Personally, I sleep in just a pair of pajama bottoms. I have no idea why.  Maybe being bare chested makes me feel manly. Maybe the hair on my chest serves as my t-shirt.

Next stop, sexy time. That’s right guys, gals and non-binary pals, your next task is to rub one out. I’m not fucking around. Fire up some Pornhub, relive an intimate dalliance that rocked your world or fantasize about Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunities (or any movie really). But it’s time for you to truly do you. And the health benefits for both men and women when it comes to the manual override (yes that’s a euphemism I just looked up, thanks internet) are well documented so you’ll be ending the day on a healthy note.

While I have you in your happy place, have you every thought about your favorite position?  If you haven’t, do that. I may not be the best sleeper, but I don’t toss and turn at night. Thrashing takes energy, increases blood flow and creates a lot of frustration. All these run counter to both resting and sleeping. The position itself doesn’t matter, as long as you’re comfortable. Plus, by not thrashing around, when I do sleep, I sleep hard. I sleep deep. I milk that REM for all it’s worth.

Personally, I sleep on my back. Yes, it leads to snoring, a subject of much tension between me and the lady loves I’ve had in my life. I keep two pillows under my head and another under each arm. Yes, I turn myself into a fucking pillow fort. I am a man-child. I am not ashamed. Also a sore subject between me and the aforementioned lady loves.

Okay, now that we’re situated and sexually satiated it’s time for the last task before sleepy time. It’s time to bring in the noise. I don’t understand people that can sleep in silence. In fact, those people creep me the fuck out. The stagnation of dead air gives my demons way too much breathing room. I need noise. For some people nature sounds or new age music fills that void. Shit like that just makes me fidgety. Nope, as a man-child I want someone to read me a god damn story.

I prefer biographies, books or podcasts about historical events, true crime or mythology. What I’m looking for is something interesting enough to engage my brain, but not so interesting it distracts me from Mistress Sleep should she bless me with her presence. Once you find a few and know what you’re looking for, free apps like Overdrive and Stitcher provide endless possibilities.

I steer clear of fiction. I’ll force myself to stay awake if I get too engaged in character and story. I run into the same problem with TV or a book if I’m not careful. I’ll “just one more chapter or episode” my way into consuming until dawn if I get too immersed.

Non-fiction also has the benefit of providing steady, even toned narration. You don’t want a lot of violent and energetic highs and lows. You want just a few ticks above monotone. You want a Ben Stein with an actual pulse reading you a story. Because you’ll find a sweet spot on volume where you don’t have to strain to hear it but is soft enough to let you doze off should the spirit move you. Again, easy to find, and you only have to find it once.

All that’s left to do is set the sleep timer and a digital bookmark. Most people set theirs for an hour. I do 90 minutes.

Time for phones down and eyes closed.  Even if sleep doesn’t come, you have all tools in place to lie tranquilly in the dark, which will give you more rest than lying awake. Don’t even fucking think about touching that phone. Seriously, playing mindless games and scrolling through an endless newsfeed of cat memes, false game advertisements and political clickbait isn’t doing you any favors. I should know, I keep breaking my own rule.

There are only two cases where you should be picking up that phone all. One is if you’re still awake when your sleep timer goes off and you need to restart what you were listening to. The other is on nights when Mistress Sleep is too busy in the service of others to bless you with her presence, you should fill that void by rubbing another one out. In which case, Pornhub is your friend. Find one of your favorite clips (don’t lie, you have them) and take yourself back to bang town. Make it a sprint not a marathon. You’re trying to sleep, not prove your stamina to Sasha Grey.

Now turn your book back on and find yourself some sweet dreams.

The Devil Hides Behind the Cross

Devil Cross

Smoke began filling the air as soon as The Cameron Gang exited the bank. Gunshots, splintering wood and shattering glass surrounded them as they dove behind the troughs for cover. The terror filled cries of horses pierced the chaos. The air was acrid, gunpowder gelling with humidity, creating a stench that reminded Johnny of brimstone.

“Guess they knew we were coming,” Ed shouted, snapping Johnny out of his trance.

“They just wanted to give us a proper sendoff,” Johnny shouted back. His cocksure grin grew wider in defiance of a town trying to uphold its law. To protect its money. To protect its own.

He took the saddlebag from his shoulder and tossed it to the shortest member of their group. “Billy, you and Jim get the horses behind the bank while Ed, Bobby and I draw their fire. We’ll meet you back there.”

Billy and Jim scrambled off without a word, crab walking to avoid the bullets. They obeyed his orders without question. Appointing him leader wasn’t something they decided. No one had questioned him going all the way back to the war. No one knew exactly why, or when. One day they were just following him.

Johnny drew a Colt with his left hand to match the one already in his right. The twin six guns were responsible for countless deaths, saving his life with each one. He learned to kill during the war, and lost his humanity. He parted with it willingly. The war brought him out of a lazy stupor that had dominated his life. It didn’t create his instinct to kill, merely nurtured it. Less of a birth mother and more of a wet nurse. It kept him full. But each time at the tit left him wanting more.

His experience as a soldier and an outlaw guided his hands as he fired in the direction with the most guns pointed at him. He managed to kill seven before diving into the protection of the bank, narrowly avoiding another onslaught of bullets.

He lived for these days and one day it would kill him. But today wasn’t that day and he knew it. Without hesitation he shot the banker, the only soul left in the building, as a precaution.

The others had pinned most of the vigilante townsfolk into a stale standoff. Timidity now weighed down the sporadic bullets.

“What now?” Billy said, crouching under one of the shattered windows. The banker’s head wound oozing blood into a puddle surrounding his boots.

“Go out the back. I’ll meet you there, there’s something I have to do first,” Johnny spoke, his mind already off in the distance. His eyes drawn to a building across the street.

As soon as the gang made a break for it, the vigilantes found their courage. The bullets of novice marksmanship serving as the final death rattle in a battle already lost. A battle that was proof that good doesn’t always triumph over evil.

Just as he had predicted, for a moment the amateur lawmen forgot all about him, providing him with the opening he needed. He slithered along the ground outside until he was clear of the bank.

Johnny sauntered into the church, gun smoke wafting off his duster. Sunlight from the open door melded with the smoke and cast his shadow in front of him. He made his way up the pews with an intense casualness ignorant of the chaos outside. He gazed up, contemplating the Christ child splayed out on the cross above him, his cocksure grin once again dancing across his teeth.

He tossed a coin purse onto the pulpit with a devil may care flick of his wrist, his eyes still engaged in a staring contest. His icy gaze turned to the priest crouched in front of the sanctuary’s two shaking parishioners, a man and a woman humbled by their fear.

“God always gets his cut.”

Silence hung heavy in the air as he turned and sauntered back into the gunfight.

Performances on the Plains

Kauffman Center

Last week I had the opportunity to see The Barber of Seville, which was the final show in the 2017-2018 season for the Lyric Opera. I was once again reminded of how vibrant the Kansas City performing arts scene is and how fortunate we are to have access to so much quality. If you aren’t taking in some of these wonderful performances, you are doing yourself a disservice.

About five years ago I started to develop a deeper interest in the performing arts, but I had no idea where to start. So I went to my good friend Greg and asked him to teach me, and we’ve been going to shows together ever since. Over the past several years, I have taken in countless performance, particularly at the KC Rep, Unicorn Theater and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. As with every other form of creative content, I was amazed at how vast and diverse this medium was. I have also gotten to see the amazing level of creative talent we have in this community and the level of talent we are able to bring in.

There is something unique about taking in the performing arts, you are sharing air and space with the actors, which makes you a part of the work itself. No other medium offers that direct of a connection.

This season at KC Rep was one of the best in recent memory, which is saying something considering the have all been great. It kicked off with Between the Lines, which is Broadway bound and has music that can blow the doors right out of the theater and took on the Tony Award winning A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which was based on an award-winning book), a play that examines autism in a unique way, a prospect as difficult as it is rewarding. And in between I had Sex with Strangers, built Fences and a Demon Barber named Sweeney Todd offered me a haircut.

Although I only went to two of the four operas the Lyric offered this year, The Barber of Seville instantly became a favorite. And their 2018-2019 season looks incredible to the point where my friend and I are getting season tickets. This is in part due to their season opener, West Side Story, which will almost certainly sell out. Plus saying that I have “season tickets to the opera” makes me sound much more fancy than I actually am.

And if you are looking for edgy, look no further than the Unicorn, whose tag line is “Bold New Plays.” In recent years I have seen plays about a dystopic future where the Simpsons are worshipped as Gods, to a play challenging the ideas of race and racism in very darkly comedic ways, to modern re-imaginings of classics such as The Seagull. They are also dedicated to making quality theater affordable to everyone by offering special “pay what you can nights” for each show.

These are just the main three venues I frequent, there are countless others around town including the Just Off Broadway theater, Starlight and the annual Shakespeare in the Park Festival which I have seen each of the past 15 years.

If you haven’t yet taken in some of these wonderful performances, then you really haven’t realized why we are called the Paris of the Plains.


Knowledge is a Burden


A question crossed my mind the other week: if I had an opportunity to know everything about everything in the world, would I take it?

Like most people, my first reaction was “Hell fucking yes! Who wouldn’t want that! I’d win every argument! I’d cure cancer! I’d bring about global peace! Or, more likely I’d take over the world!” Then I thought about it. And realized the answer was no, no I absolutely would not.

In an age where we are so overwhelmed with knowledge that it’s impossible to keep up, it would seem at first glance like this would be a good thing. I’m never going to read every book on my list, see every play, movie or show that I want to watch. I’m never going to know as much about history, or get to every museum. Why wouldn’t I want all of that in my head?

Then I thought about the cost. The cost would be the experience. The cost would be the ability to think on my own. The cost would be the ability to feel.

In a way, the cost would be my life.

Sometimes I get so caught up in catching up that I forget that the journey is the important thing. To inherently know everything would be to eliminate experiences like my first opera, or the way it felt to see the world premiere run of Between the Lines and hear what we call “the Mermaid Song” nearly blow the doors off Spencer Theater. Or the first time I read Way of the Peaceful Warrior and felt its truth. The list of valuable experiences like that in my life is truly endless.

Knowing everything takes exploration, curiosity and wonder out of the equation. Which takes away the joy of the journey. In a way that is taking away a piece of knowledge. You learn the facts but miss the lesson about yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I never want to stop learning, or growing, or changing. I want to seek. I want to understand. I want to contemplate.

I’m not satisfied with knowing. I want to engage. I want to embody.

Gobble Gobble


Happy Gobble Gobble Day! This is one of my favorite holidays, and the last line of defense between me and the obnoxious apocalypse that is Christmas. You will learn all about my intense hatred for that holiday at a later date in what I imagine will be an incredibly descriptive manner. But today is about Gobble Gobble Day. Today is about what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for my friends. They are my lifeline, and my lifeblood. To me, they are each family, and I am very grateful to have them in my life.

I am thankful for my health. I am in the process of getting into the ultramarathon condition I was once in, and I have the strong base health to make that a very reachable goal.

I am thankful for my home. I love the location and character of my apartment. I am fortunate to have wonderful neighbors in an eclectic and vibrant neighborhood.

I am thankful for the experiences, good and bad, the challenges and the triumphs, that continue to shape my life. Each of them contains a lesson and a story that helps enrich me as a person.

I am thankful for my renewed passion for my creative pursuits. I had put down the pen for far too long and love beginning to take it seriously again. And for the support I have received from the people I care about as I traverse down this path. As with all things containing the unknown, it is more than a little frightening. Which is also what makes it even more exhilarating.

I wish all of you a wonderful Gobble Gobble day. And hope you have as many things to be thankful for as I do.

Panic at the World Yo


When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This was back in 1995, when no one really knew what the fuck that was. I had already been in therapy at the time, processing some family issues, when I began experiencing what I soon learned where panic attacks.  A dry and clinical list of symptoms cannot describe the sheer terror of an attack. It feels like death itself is about to capture you as prey while you’re paralyzed to stop it. When people try to understand them they try to apply logic where there isn’t any.

At first I was ashamed, I thought the disorder was a sign of weakness. And it was a long time before I learned otherwise. It was even longer before I understood it. I still don’t fully and have learned that’s okay. I certainly don’t let it control me.

My anxiety has ebbed and flowed throughout my life. And I have used the disorder as an opportunity for self-examining of factors that may cause the attacks. I have learned a tremendous amount about self-reflection as a result. But that doesn’t compare at all to what I learned about myself when I opened up about it.

No one I have ever told about my disorder has ever judged me for it (at least no one I care about). It also turns out that it isn’t as uncommon as I thought. Any number of people I know have faced some type of anxiety, depression, or some other affliction that had a stigma about it that they had been ashamed to talk about at some point.

These are people of strength, and character, and perseverance. I have learned from these people and feel more comfortable and confident and at ease as a result of our mutual sharing of stories and experiences.

I’ve learned acceptance, both what it feels like to receive it, and what it feels like to extend it to others. I’ve learned, witnessed and embodied that as a result of many things in my life (and also just generally not being an asshole, or at least not that asshole). But in this arena it’s different.

My sincere hope in life is that I can use my experiences with anxiety to help anyone that is struggling. If someone doesn’t want open up to me, I understand. My hope is that they see that how beneficial my openness has been for my own well being. And that they open up for someone. That they don’t feel guilt and shame or feel they have to go it alone.

Will They Help You Bury a Body?


One thing that I pride myself on is that I have an amazing support network of friends that care deeply about me, as I do them. My biggest hope is that I am as good of a friend to them as they are to me. And I believe that I am. There is a well-known saying: “Friends are the family that you choose.” I have lived my life believing this to be true, and I take friendships seriously.

My family life has never been the greatest. I won’t be going into any details on that here, except to say that over 85% of families are some level of dysfunctional and mine definitely qualifies. But this post isn’t about them. I only mention it because it is part of my motivation for creating the strong and supportive friendships that make my life as wonderful as it is today. I thought about listing them, but quite frankly there are too many.

My friends come from all types of backgrounds, and the thing they all have in common is their uniqueness. And one of the best things that I have learned is how much they get along and enjoy each other’s company when I blend them together. It is truly a thing of beauty to be a part of.

More than that, my friends are people I know will support me in anything, probably including murder (although I have never tested that theory). I have a comfort level with them that I don’t have anywhere else. These are people I can express my hopes, dreams and successes with. These are people who will help me process my failures and overcome my fears. These are people who will help me slay my demons while helping me find the better angels of my nature. And sometimes they help me embrace the demons too.

And that is what makes them more family to me than family.

My friends are as responsible for helping me find myself as I am. I get to learn not only from my experiences, but also from theirs. My friendships are where I feel most at home. Most like a unique and loved and supported individual. Most like a whole person. Like most people I am closer to some more than others, but I can tell you what I love most about each person I have in my life. And seldom will it be just one thing.

A friend will tell you not to kill someone who has wronged you. A good friend will tell you where to get the gun. A great friend will help you bury the body.