Friday, September 23, 2011

The Scoop

I deal with a lot of crap in my job.

And I mean that literally.

There are three different dogs that hang out in our office on any given day. They have drastically different personalities, but they share one thing in common: All three of them have had accidents of the second variety.

The first time it happened was about a month after I started. Bella the bulldog was wandering around, and as I sat at my desk I thought I caught a whiff of something earthy. No, not earthy. Stinky. I dismissed it, chalking it up to a stuffy nose and the smell of the dog herself. A few minutes later I walked into the conference room to make a cup of coffee and missed a scattering of fresh turds by mere millimeters. I muttered a description of the scene before me under my breath, and then turned to go tattle on the crapping canine.

As I began my report to my boss, I realized halfway through that this could backfire. I could very well be on the verge of a Devil-Wears-Prada type scenario. Would my degree from the Harvard of the Midwest now qualify me to clean up bowel movements? I breathed a sigh of relief when my boss gasped and hurried to the conference room to survey and rectify the situation herself.

On Wednesday, Frodo was at the office. He’s a sweet little ball of yellow fur, but he doesn’t have a whole lot going for him between his fuzzy ears. While I worked at my desk he stood behind me and stared at me for a bit. He eventually trotted off, but a few minutes later another attorney jumped when he attempted to cross in front of my desk. He also muttered a description of the scene before him under his breath, and then notified Frodo’s owner of said scene. She shrieked in horror and began berating Frodo, who only looked at her and wagged his tail. “Bad boy!” she cried. “You know better than that! We do NOT poop inside!”

On Thursday, Neko visited. He’s my favorite—a sleek, docile Weimaraner with doe-eyes the color of celery. When his owner left for court, I put his bed and water bowl by my desk, but he refused to lay still. I could hear him pacing the hallway, and I kept calling his name and squeaking his toy goose to entice him back to me. Finally, I stood up to see where he was hiding. And that’s when I saw it.

Them, actually. Three glistening, cylindrical, olive-colored turds. Had they been attached, they would have measured roughly eight inches long. They formed a loose triangle on the carpet, mocking me, daring me to leave them for the next unsuspecting visitor to trod upon.

The sound of nails clicking against hardwood brought me back to reality, and I realized Neko was downstairs by the entryway. Never having had a public accident, he was recognizably ashamed of his delinquent defecation. I made my way down the stairs and stopped short. Sure enough, another gleaming pile was on the doormat. Neko walked toward me with his head bowed. Clearly, he hadn’t been able to hold it or to communicate nature’s call, so he got as close as he could to the great outdoors. Of the three dogs, he’s the only one to show remorse.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I stuck my hand in a plastic garbage bag, gently clasped my hand around each still-steaming unit of chartreuse excrement, and disposed of the mess in an outside garbage can.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I’ve known this week’s topic since last Friday, when I was being jostled by drunks at the Bon Iver concert. Even though I got in a bit of a tiff with said drunks, and even though I stood for six hours straight, and even though all I’d had to eat since lunch was a palmful of almonds, I walked out of the Uptown thinking, That was a good concert.

What makes a good concert? Surely, if you like the artist, you’ll like the concert. In the past twelve months, I’ve gone to ten shows, and I can assure you that my level of enjoyment was pretty varied.
For example:

Sufjan Stevens: October 17, 2010 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri.
The concert was comprised of mostly Sufjan’s new, experimental album—complete with backup dancers wearing tinsel on their heads. I spent most of the show with my head cocked to one side, baffled by what was occurring on the stage before me. One song was twenty-five minutes long. I was being played at, not to. And it was evident that Sufjan was miserable. “Music left me,” he told us.

Josh Ritter: February 18, 2011 at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas.
Josh is one of the greatest story-telling musicians currently recording. His show still is the best I’ve ever been to. He played the full range of his discography, as well as some as-yet-unrecorded tunes, like the side-splitting “Sir Galahad”. He also sang “Thin Blue Flame” unplugged to a dark and silent room, soliloquized on winter ending and skirt season approaching, and led the crowd in a slow dance to “Kathleen”. His ever-present grin made it clear that he was having just as much fun as we were—if not more. “I’m singing for the love of it,” he sings. “Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”

What made these two concerts—both put on by men I really like, and at similar venues—so vastly different? I had this discussion with my right-hand man Clark, who’s been to six of the aforementioned ten shows with me, and my friend Beej who writes music reviews for The Modern Culture Blog. Beej said, “If a concert sounds too much like the album, it’s nothing special seeing them live—but if the experience is enhanced via seeing them perform the music, then the concert is successful.” This was my problem with Sufjan. The only difference was watching him lose his mind, rather than just listening to the aftermath. Compare this to Bon Iver: while they played both old and new music, Vernon changed the way he performed some of the songs. He was able to showcase their musicianship and creativity while still preserving the integrity of the melodies and the familiarity of their distinct sound.

But even more important than the set list is the musician’s attitude. “You can tell when a band or a musician thinks they're doing you a favor by performing,” Clark told me during our conversation. Bon Iver was a confident but unpretentious performance, and this was Josh Ritter’s strongest quality. He was earnestly grateful—sincerely thanking us for coming, rather than using “thank you” as a cue for us to clap. As the review in the Kansas City star said, Josh “arouses a tide of energy and exuberance that sweeps the room. Resistance is difficult, if not futile. It’s like trying not to get wet while white-water rafting.”
To be carried away by the current and completely drenched, rather than standing ankle-deep in the kiddie pool—that’s how you know it was a good show.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years Later

I was in seventh grade, and it was a pretty Tuesday morning at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee. During second period choir, we sang a sweet little song with the words dona nobis pacem. When we finished, our teacher asked, “Does anyone know what this song is about?” Someone ventured, “Peace?”
“That’s right,” Ms. Fuller said. “It’s an important song to sing, especially today.” She looked at us meaningfully and was met with blank stares.
“Why today?” I asked, voicing the class’s confusion.
Ms. Fuller looked briefly surprised, realizing she was the one who would have to break the news to us. “Oh, well, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York this morning.” More blank stares. Not many of us knew what that was.
“Was it an accident?” I asked.
She paused for a second and then replied, “They don’t know.”

Then class was over, and I went to the library for my next class. The TV was on. I saw footage of firefighters walking around in smoke and rubble, but the magnitude of thing was still lost on me.

By lunch word was out that it was probably terrorism, and, still not grasping the severity of the situation, I made the joke, “Yeah, I heard that the terrorists hate country music and are going to bomb Nashville next.” A girl further down the table heard the joke repeated and dissolved into tears, thinking it was the truth.

When Mom picked me up from school, I could tell she had been crying. She had that same strained look as all the teachers at school, the manifestation of trying to process her own emotions while combating the desire to protect her children from such horrific evil.

That night, we attended a prayer service at church. Thousands of people were there, and it was standing room only. We watched the newscast of President Bush giving his speech, and I remember thinking, “This is my Pearl Harbor. This is my JFK. My kids will ask me where I was today.”

After the speech there was a long silence, and then an old man in the back of the sanctuary began singing in a booming baritone, “God bless America, land that I love!” People hesitated, unsure if this was going to take off, but slowly the voices began multiplying and rolling towards the front of the room in a powerful wave of patriotism. For the first time, I felt a surge of American pride in my own heart, but I don’t remember feeling the weight of the injustice, or any initiative to take ownership in my American-ness.

If we’re callously honest, most of us were not affected by the events of September 11th, 2001. Geoff Nunberg notes that, ten years later, even our language harbors almost no vestiges of the day. As a nation, we quickly got over our fervor and resumed apathy, rendering it just another Tuesday. Initially I thought I’d write about 9/11 out of a sense of sentimental obligation, but the more I read and remembered, the sadder I got. I asked my family to e-mail me their personal accounts of that day, and reading them made a hot lump rise in my throat. For most of us, nothing has changed, but for thousands upon thousands of our people, life as they knew it was obliterated.

And so, because of them, and because of the thousands of servicemen and women who have willingly sacrificed their lives in two wars on our behalf, it is vital that we, at the very least, remember. This week, post your account in the comments. After the jump I’ve included the reports from my mom, dad, sister, and grandparents.

Finally, I encourage you to check out the National Day of Service and Remembrance to see how you can get involved.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Houses and Homes

About a year ago, my parents started throwing around the idea of selling our house once Meagan left for college. I didn’t really think they’d do it, but otherwise I didn’t have any kind of reaction to this brainstorming. At the beginning of this summer, we got rid of a ton of stuff, hired in a stager to arbitrarily declare that arranging the furniture this way and that would guarantee a buyer, and put the For Sale sign in the front yard. Other than being annoyed at the inconvenience of the whole ordeal, I still didn’t care. But last week, my parents called to tell me that they had received and offer and signed a contract, and I burst into tears. My poor father, on the other end of the line, was stunned at such a dramatic reaction, and I blubbered an explanation: “I won’t have a home!”
“It’s just a house!” he replied. “I would hope that wherever your mom and I are would be your home.”
“It’s not the same!” I wailed. “I’ll never get to come home! I’ll always just be a guest in my parents’ house!”

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning my mom sent me an email detailing all the reasons they had for selling the house, but even thinking about it for more than ten seconds made my lower lip start to quiver.
I still don’t know why I had such a strong reaction to this news, and it makes even less sense when you consider the fact that yesterday, I moved here:

The older sister of a Jewell friend just bought this house in Mission, Kansas, and the three of us have moved in. It’s the next big step in my becoming an adult. I’m paying rent. I picked out all new bedding. I bought my own toilet paper for the first time in my life. I had to kill a spider the size of my head in the shower this morning. Last week I was talking to Abby on the phone, trying to orchestrate some moving-in details, and when I asked if something was okay to bring, she gently said, “Remember, this is your home, too.” Again, I felt my bottom lip start to quiver, and again, I couldn’t figure out why these irrational emotions were bubbling up.

I’ve lived a more transient life than most. Our first move was shortly after my first birthday, from Kansas City to Phoenix. Sixteen months later we moved to a small town in Arizona called Snowflake, where I attended kindergarten. On the last day of school we moved to a suburb of Chicago, where I spent first through third grade. Right after I turned nine we moved to Franklin, Tennessee, and then eleven days before my fourteenth birthday we moved to Monument, Colorado. There my family has stayed, but I’ve been to Jewell, to Oxford, across Europe, and back. I think I’ve clung to our Monument house because for once, it felt permanent. Like I had just been dating other houses and locations and this was my one-true-love house.

Visiting my parents will now always require a suitcase. Their house will be their house, and my house will be my house, but Abby and my dad were right—both will be my home.