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A Madeleine — #1 in a Series

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Friday afternoon as I waited in the chair for my oral surgeon to arrive for my follow-up, U2 played over the sound system of the dental practice.

In that moment I was transported back nearly 31 years to the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, where I celebrated my 21st birthday with my brother, Dustan, and my friends Andre and Michele. The evening’s main attraction: Bobcat Goldthwait.

Bobcat was in his prime in 1988, at the height of his popularity and the peak of his distinctive and singular comedic prowess. On this night he is characteristically manic, his screeching, howling, wailing voice playing to the back of the house. (We’re at a table somewhere in the middle, on the main floor.) Bobcat is rabid and hilarious, and you can barely catch your breath from laughter before he ricochets off in another direction. Then more laughter, more struggling to breathe, glancing at your friends to confirm that they’re experiencing the same giddy disbelief.

After a wild hourlong set, Bobcat, sweat-soaked and seemingly exhausted, bellows a thank-you to the crowd and exits the stage. The lights dim.

Long, sustained applause, catcalls and whistles from the audience. As an encore some comics will come out and do a little crowd work or have another tight, self-contained 3 to 5 minutes of material to reel off before they say a final goodnight. But you can’t imagine a comic of Bobcat’s vocal intensity and erratic physicality having anything left in the tank after the set we’ve just witnessed. Still, the crowd roars.

A minute passes, maybe more. The crowd won’t relent. Then suddenly a blue spotlight faintly illuminates the mic stand at center stage.

The crowd roars louder.

The familiar strains of a song begin to play over the sound system.

Enter Bobcat, first in silhouette, then bathed in the blue glow. He has removed the shirt that he sweated through during his set, and above the waist he is wearing only a tight black leather vest, his bare arms exposed. His stringy shoulder-length hair is now slicked back into a tight, precise ponytail. The stage lights come up a bit. He begins to sing.

See the stone set in your eyes / See the thorn twist in your side / I’ll wait for you …

The crowd goes insane.

Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait, without you …

He is no longer pudgy, sweaty, frenetic Bobcat, the guy from One Crazy Summer and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. Right there in front of our eyes, he has become Bono — brooding, magnetic, self-assured — performing a dead solid perfect “With or Without You.”

And you give / And you give / And you give yourself away …

And he’s not lip-synching, either. He is fucking nailing it, every note, his voice crying out, hitting every crescendo. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, an absolutely mesmerizing 4 minutes of performance art.

I can’t live / With or without you / With or without you …

And then the music fades out. And he’s gone. And just like that, the house lights come up, and a thousand or so people are left to disperse toward the exits, puzzling over the transcendence of what we just witnessed together.

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Written by Shepcat

June 7, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Kansas City, Life

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Salsa: A Love Story

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Brief backstory: I’m very particular about salsa. I hate chunky salsa. Chunks of tomatoes. Chunks of peppers. No matter how spicy or flavorful it might be, I can’t deal with the mouthfeel. I just can’t.

Enter a small, Kansas City–based, family-owned company that produces a variety of Mexican spice blends, including a salsa mix (in mild, medium or hot) that one adds to a 28-oz. can of tomatoes and blends to one’s desired consistency. In addition to being satisfyingly smooth and spicy, it ends up being a much better value than buying a jar of prepared salsa off the shelf.

I have been addicted to this company’s hot salsa mix for going on a couple of decades now. (Seriously, there are times when I literally have to force myself to stop eating it, lest I morph into Mr. Creosote in the confines of my own home.) When he was still in the grocery business, my dad from time to time would stick packets of the hot salsa mix in a manila envelope and mail me spicy little care packages from his store. Since he retired, I’ve just been ordering directly from the company and have continued to enjoy my favorite salsa while supporting a locally owned hometown business.

This company regularly returns the favor by throwing in a packet or two of their other seasonings — a veggie-dip mix, a guacamole mix, their taco seasoning, what-have-you — as a thank-you for my business, which I’m delighted to throw their way as long as they keep producing this salsa mix.

So recently I was putting together another order — including some packets of their equally excellent chili seasoning — when I noticed that they offer free shipping for orders over $45. They quote a Priority Mail shipping cost of $11.80, so by my thinking: Why pay shipping when that translates roughly to six more packets of this stuff I love and consume?

So I placed a larger-than-usual order, and now I am stocked with enough salsa mix and chili seasoning to last until the zombie apocalypse. But this particular detail of my order stood out to me.

   

It turns out that the fine people who create and distribute this thing I love — this delicious godsend without which I would wander a desolate purgatory of inferior salsa options — suck at math.

And now I wrestle with a dilemma of Chidi Anagonye proportions: Should I say something? Or should I merely adjust my future orders to account for their terrible postal math? On the one hand, it’s not my place to tell them how to run their business. On the other, if they ever went bankrupt because they couldn’t keep up with rising postal costs — particularly the costs of their own mathematical shortcomings — my life would become, well, chunky. And that would be totally unacceptable.

What’s a finicky salsa addict to do?

Written by Shepcat

February 27, 2018 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Kansas City, Life

Gladys Kravitz Fires a Shot Across My Bow

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This afternoon I found a newspaper clipping under my windshield wiper blade. I had seen it there this morning, but I was running late for work and didn’t have time to look at it, and for all I knew it was just some paper trash that had blown up on my car. From The Kansas City Star’s “Watchdog” column, which answers readers’ questions about public issues, its headline read:

Don’t block the sidewalk with your car
The item addressed the concern of a reader who had been cited by the Kansas City police for parking in a prohibited place because his car, though parked in his own driveway, was blocking the sidewalk. The reader asked, “Since when did a private driveway also become part of the sidewalk?”

Having followed up with a Kansas City police captain, who confirmed that such a law is on the books, the Watchdog explained that parking in such a way “poses a problem for pedestrians who must veer dangerously into a street or tromp onto private property to get around a vehicle.”

And then the kicker: “Enforcement of that particular violation is often in response to complaints from residents, [the police captain] said.”

To reinforce his or her point, the clipping fairy had written “Lenexa Law” in black ink above the headline. (The article referred to a Kansas City, Missouri, law; we live in a Kansas suburb.)

A quick online search revealed that, sure enough, Lenexa City Code, section 3-8-B-2, subsection A.1.d states, “No person shall […] park a motor vehicle in a designated bicycle path or sidewalk.”

Full disclosure: It’s true that I park at the end of our driveway so my father, who parks in the garage, can back his car out around mine in the morning or pull back into the garage when he comes home in the evening. I don’t park behind my mother’s side of the garage because a) she drives a bulky minivan, b) she’s not one-tenth the driver my father is, and c) I don’t want her scratching, dinging and/or denting the Jetta.

Furthermore, there’s plenty enough driveway behind my car for the average pedestrian to walk around it without “veering dangerously into the street,” which isn’t exactly Michigan Avenue to begin with.

Here’s my problem: I’ve been parking in that spot in our driveway for two and a half years, and I haven’t received so much as a warning from the Lenexa police. Nor a note from any other neighbor.

And really, I might not have minded had I found an actual note under my wiper blade. Something along the lines of, “I hate to make a big deal out of this, but I’m a visually impaired person who walks with a cane/a mother who regularly walks her children in a stroller/an elderly person with only so-so lateral movement/[insert other practical explanation here], and I would really appreciate it if you could find a way to park your car without blocking the sidewalk. Thank you.”

I’m a reasonable man, a fly who can be caught with honey.

But no, instead this mystery pedestrian has all but told me, “What you’re doing is against the law, and if you don’t cease and desist, I’m going to rat you out to the cops.”

Further online search revealed that the article appeared in the Star’s June 4 edition, which means that the pedestrian in question has held on to this clipping for nearly three weeks while waiting to grow the stones to put it under my wiper blade. (Granted, I was away dog-sitting for 10 days, but I was at home for the week immediately after the article appeared.)

So now I have to comply with a law that is not otherwise enforced by local police, all because I’m being blackmailed by an anonymous pedestrian who doesn’t even have the balls to face me and ask politely.

If I thought for a minute that I might actually get to confront my accuser, I’d have half a mind to dig in and wait for the police to ticket me. In all likelihood, though, I’d get ratted out on some anonymous tip line.

Instead I think I’ll just sit out on the porch a lot this summer and ask everyone who passes if they’re the douchenozzle who threatened to drop dime on me. I figure by the time I’m done, I’ll be able to park wherever the hell I want because the neighbors will all be too afraid to walk in front of our house.

Written by Shepcat

June 24, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Kansas City, Life

Crystal Cathedral / House of Flying Daggers

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For much of this week, rain, sleet and freezing temperatures have made this a city of glass, at once beautiful in an otherworldly way and perilous in an other-people way, notwithstanding the safeguard of salted streets and sidewalks. The days have been pale gray, almost but not quite white, the sky the color of ash but unblemished like smoothed-over fabric. Wednesday was windless and still, eerily, conspicuously quiet.

Driving down any street, one might look off toward a park or a walking path, into the trees with their every limb and twig encased in ice, and, shuttering suburbia from one’s peripheral vision, see there a dreamscape like one might find in a Robert Frost poem or a C.S. Lewis fantasy.

Today, however, the sun has returned and brought with it blue sky and just enough warmth — not even warmth, really; rather, the merest effort of mercury straining just beyond the freezing point — to suggest that the ice, having briefly decorated our December with its diamonds and danger, now best be on its way. Like a polite chorus prompted by the light breezes, the ice in the trees crackles with unanimous assent and bids a reluctant adieu, effecting its departure in a nice, orderly fashion, one drip at a time.

Other ice, however, confronted out in the open by the rude entreaties of the sun, walks out in a huff, releasing its grip on branches, eaves and power lines, shards, slivers and stalactites declaring their discontent in suicidal plunges to the pavement below, to the peril of passersby, shattering in a clatter of complaint, then silent but for the crunch of their meager remains under foot or wheel.

Spring in time will come to sweep nature’s debris away, but in the interim this tenuous diplomacy with our temperamental winter guest will continue.

Written by Shepcat

December 13, 2007 at 11:54 am

Posted in Kansas City, Life

On Paying for the Privilege

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I’m not a cheap guy by any stretch of the imagination. Neither am I a Trumplike caricature of wretched excess, lighting cigars with $100 bills, but on those occasions when I have disposable income, I don’t mind disposing of it extravagantly if the situation calls for it. If I’m in the mood for a great steak, I wouldn’t even blink at paying $33 for the porterhouse at Musso & Frank. Drinks and dinner at Kate Mantilini? It’s a special evening out — let’s run up the tab.

Living in Los Angeles, I became accustomed to paying the price for an evening out. My friends and I tended to be frugal whenever possible, but we also knew it was going to cost us a little bit more to be out on the scene. (One of my main objections about Los Angeles nightlife: you can’t just go to a bar for a quiet drink; everything there has to be a scene.) This was highlighted for me once when I came home to Kansas City one winter and spent an evening out with two friends; I picked up the tab for the three of us, and it was conspicuously cheaper than a similar evening for two people in L.A.

So last year I returned to Kansas City with the sense that I could at least enjoy a comparable lifestyle here without getting gouged in the process. Until Thursday evening, that is.

A friend and I went to the movies in Westport, after which we dropped into a newish establishment to have a drink and dissect the film we had just seen. It’s the sort of uselessly chichi place that doesn’t quite fit in with Westport’s overall mise en scène and in fact seems to be trying a little too hard to channel Los Angeles in its ambience and its air of self-importance.

Our first evidence was an intriguing appetizer we decided to try: dates, stuffed with almonds and garlic, wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled with a port fig glacé. While we were impressed with the combination of flavors, we were clearly paying more for presentation (a staple of the Los Angeles philosophy) than for the appetizer itself: four dates for $4.99. I was reminded of a restaurant scene in L.A. Story, when a nearly empty plate is placed in front of Steve Martin, who quips, “I’m already finished and I don’t remember eating.”

It seemed sort of transparent, but the dates were good enough to enjoy on their own merits, so I shrugged it off. Until our check arrived, at least.

We had ordered two drinks apiece. My friend was drinking Grey Goose martinis, dirty; I was having Maker’s Mark, served neat. (I’m going to have to stop drinking bourbon in restaurants, because I never get a good pour around here. It’s as though bourbon is being rationed for the war effort.) We received an itemized bill, from which we determined we were being (over)charged $8.75 and $7.75 for our drinks, respectively, and while I’m used to paying such prices for drinks, I object the way they went about charging us for them.

The alcohol portion of our check read as follows:

Grey Goose (2@$6.75)
up (2@$2.00)
dirty
dirty
Maker’s Mark (2@$5.75)
neat (2@$2.00)

I could see the logic behind charging my friend for her dirty martinis: there would be a charge for the specific vodka she had requested, but because she had ordered martinis, there was the upcharge for the preparation, the vermouth, the olives and brine. And perhaps I would have been happy with that explanation if I had ordered Manhattans, but I was drinking bourbon neat, which means that they were essentially charging me $5.75 for the Maker’s Mark itself and another $2 for rental of the glass.

The most galling aspect of all this is not so much that I was being overcharged for a weak-ass pour of bourbon — that happens more often than I care to admit; hope, however, springs eternal — but that they were letting me know the extent to which they intended to screw me, adding insult to the injury of their inflated idea of who they are, when, in fact, they’re not even big enough to carry L.A.’s jockstrap. Or, as Rick Blaine dressed down the doomed Ugarte in Casablanca, “I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.”

Written by Shepcat

January 19, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Kansas City, Life

A Memo to A.M. Bartenders

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When my party and I entered the bistro in Brookside Saturday morning for breakfast, it had indeed occurred to me that whoever was behind the bar was most likely not the same person who would be posted there during the dinner shift. Still, if you’re going to be tending bar at all, you should be fully aware that, if a patron is serious enough to order a screwdriver or a bloody mary at 9:30 a.m., he or she damn well expects you to spill some vodka in the glass.

When considering the phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you,” then, a simple rule of thumb to remember is that most dogs shed in clumps, not strands.

Thanking you in advance.

Written by Shepcat

November 25, 2006 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Kansas City, Life

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

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For those of you keeping score at home, today marks my 151st day of unemployment — five months out from under the shadow of The Firm; five months (give or take a week or two) under my parents’ roof.

Other than one or two minor freelance assignments, I haven’t put in a full day’s work since I left Los Angeles, and what once felt like a glorious, well-deserved vacation now feels rather like an exile. Or a hostage standoff.

I am in the midst of a protracted job search during which I have drunk liberally from the keg of rejection and yet continue to belly up to the bar, varying my order accordingly as I go along. Were I tracking my progress according to Kubler-Ross’ six stages of grief, I would be somewhere between anger and bargaining right now, which worries me a little because I can already see from here the compromises I might have to make in order to get this show on the road.

The anger stage has been fun, though. As courtesy and professionalism have failed me (Andrew Carnegie, if you’re reading this: Kiss my ass), I have embarked on a shock-and-awe campaign to separate myself from the herd and to alert prospective employers that I am a force to be reckoned with. For example, I recently responded to the copy desk chief of an online news operation by pointing out that his reply to me contained a typo, just in case he was testing his applicants. And I wrote the following lede in my cover letter to a local publishing company:

To whom it may concern,

I have greatness in me. (Can the rest of you hear me OK in the back of the room? Greatness.) I just want to establish that up front, because most of what follows is standard cover letter stuff, and I’d rather not be lumped in among the middling and mediocre, only to be lost in a pile somewhere on someone’s desk and soon forgotten.

That was May 24, and although I received a reply the following week notifying me that my résumé had been received, I still have not been contacted for an interview. If they ever get around to calling me in, my first question is going to be, “Can you give me one good reason why I should want to work for a company that drags its heels when greatness is offered to it on a silver platter?” (Don’t worry. I intend to say it with a lot of wit and charm.)

As of this writing, I have quite literally pissed away my once-ample savings, having spent the lion’s share of it in coffeehouses, as you might already have guessed. Because I’ve been closely minding my bank balance, I’ve limited my sphere of activity and have, for the most part, eschewed any kind of social life. The upside being that I will not have re-established a strong bond with Kansas City, should Seattle, Chicago or some other thriving metropolis come calling before the locals get wise to me.

Regrets? Sure, I have a few. There are options I wish I had considered, angles I might have played better. But while my optimism isn’t as strong as it once was, neither is my outlook particularly bleak. Not yet, anyway. I still have minutes on the clock, bullets in my clip, and a talent for leaping into chasms when it appears my luck has bottomed out. Right now, I’m just waiting on the man.

Stay tuned.

Written by Shepcat

June 14, 2006 at 11:53 am

Posted in Kansas City, Life, Work