Thursday, March 31, 2011

5:11 p.m. Big News!

Last January, I discovered Fire & Knives, a British-based food quarterly, published and edited by the many-hat-wearing Tim Hayward. F&K explores the history and culture of food and features writers of all kinds with interesting, funny, smart things to say about food.

For more than a year, I filled a digital folder with ideas to send in for consideration.

A year later, I took a cooking class at Jamie Oliver's restaurant with Tim Hayward. We made mushroom risotto, and I gave him a copy of my zine, Not French Cooking, which he happened to like! A few months after that, I pitched and wrote the piece that is now on Page 74 of F&K no. 6. I don't like to do a lot of self-horn-tooting, but I am just a bit over-the-moon.

Speaking of tooting ! — "Fierce Poison" is a bit of a coming-out party for me, as a writer and food-eater:

"My days are consumed by thoughts of food and its power over me. I struggle to reconcile the physical pain and general bathroom grossness in order to enjoy what is delicious. Because I love food. Eating transcends my senses. With the citrus bite of a lime comes an acidic, shooting pain in my stomach; but also the associative smell of garlic and coriander and the fierce memory of discovering happiness in tacos al pastor at the counters of Mexican dives scattered through the rough neighborhoods of Kansas City."

If you have a chance, buy the current issue, or subscribe to Fire & Knives because it is a very fine publication (and certainly not because I'm in it!).

4:57 p.m.

Consumed at a recent lunch: A delicious sandwich!

4:51 p.m. A Short Story

The left armrest of Balcony Row B62 is nowhere to be found. The right armrest, barely affixed, dangles precariously from the seat. There must have been a mistake. Peter checks the scuffed placard against his ticket. There has been no mistake. Begrudgingly, he unfolds his seat cushion, whose springs release a wicked cackle that provokes glances from nearby patrons. Peter sits down, with his coat on.

Over the telephone, the opera house manager promised a good view. But on this evening, the only view to be had is the eczema-ridden spot of scalp, surrounded by an ever-thinning non-mass of violet-white hair, belonging to the ticket-carrying octogeniarian in the same seat, one row up. Her view, as far as Peter can surmise, is unobscured. Her arms rest, comfortably. She is also the tallest old person Peter has ever seen. He tries not to stare.

For one day’s pay, this is what he could afford: purple hair, baldspots and big heads, which jointly block an inconsequential sliver of a toy-sized stage. And she will be here any moment. Balcony Row B63 is hers to fill.

The house lights flick twice. 5 minutes. The audience manically settles and clucks. Its pitchy collective voice competes with the tuning pit orchestra. Still, the only sound louder than Peter’s thumping heart is the tocking second-hand of his grandfather’s wristwatch, on whose eggshell face he now focuses. April 14th.

They met two weeks before, on a blind date their friends encouraged. She had called. She suggested April 1st because it would be funny. Peter didn’t think it was funny. She said she was excited to meet him — she had heard so much — and she gave him the address of a restaurant in her neighborhood. The evening had gone surprisingly well, aside from an unbearable greeting in which Peter — who from childhood has suffered hand placement anxiety — first, did not return his date’s friendly wave upon entering the restaurant, and second unintentionally ignored her outstretched hand when she introduced herself.

Alice, she said. I’m Alice.

Peter had never enjoyed an affinity for sweets. Once a year, he would have a small carrot cake for his birthday. The dessert, though, was mostly to appease his friends. But when he saw Alice — smiling, pink-lipped, pony-tailed and willing to overlook his initial fumblings — Peter could not shake the uncontrollable urge to 1. Devour a strawberry ice cream cone, and 2. Mentally — and privately — collect the world’s longest list of sweet-tooth-related come-ons. She was refreshing, alive, beautiful. In a word: lovely.

Over dinner, he learned that Alice liked Frisbee and the smell of gasoline. She also loved the ballet.

As a fisheries wildlife specialist, Peter had done many things within the spectrum of boring to adventurous. He had, however, never been to the ballet. And at that moment, nothing in life sounded more exciting than going to the ballet with her. Later, with hands-in-pockets, Peter walked Alice home. At her door, he nervously asked if she’d like to go to a performance. She smiled. Yes of course. I know the manager. I’ll books us tickets.

“No,” Peter replied, “Let me. I’d love to.” It was a date. A second date. For a brief instant, just before Alice opened the door, Peter was conscious that he might actually be glowing.

Which is why the current situation is unacceptable. Discreetly, Peter whisks away the beads of sweat that form along his hairline. The curve of his nostril is warm and damp. He catches the faint stench of mildew the never seems to leave the fiber of his jacket. He considers ordering champagne. Quickly, he hops into seat B63 to check the view. It’s not good.

The lights dim. Her seat is empty. Peter wonders if she took one look and left.

But Alice is on her way. She’s almost there. And she is excited. In the middle of the second act, both armrests will fall off her chair. He’ll hold her hand. In the dark, they will steal glances like the teenagers at the multiplex on Friday nights. How strange, she’ll think, that this is the very opposite of perfect, when it is, in fact the most perfect she’s felt in five years.

Like Peter, Alice has done many things within the spectrum of boring to adventurous. But until this evening, she has never run so fast from the subway to make it before the curtain rises. And nothing in life has sounded more exciting than running to the ballet to be with him.

Friday, March 11, 2011

11:25 p.m.

Super cool new disco carpet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2:16 p.m.

Bloody Mary's and delicious snackettes.

It has been a bigger week than I could have ever anticipated. So to celebrate the start to a new — and perhaps less insane one — here's to a happy Sunday.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Lots of people remember lots of things about my grandfather.

He told lots of stories. He told lots of jokes. He told lots of lies, but in a way, those lies were lots of truths. He did so many things that it was hard to keep track. Some people know his punchlines and tall tales. Most know those superbowl rings. Everyone knows his voice.

I’ve gone through most of my life running into and meeting people with stories to tell me about my grandfather. Friends and friends-of-friends and people I’d never ever know would meet him at Arrowhead Stadium. They’d run into him at the farmer’s market. Or they’d see him while he did one of his signature khaki-pantsed, no-sweat, post-heart attack cycle workouts at the gym. He was Bill and Griggs, Bill Grigsby and the Prince of Parkville, Mr. Kansas City and the Mountain Valley Spring Water Guy. Anyone who lives in Kansas City knows what Price Chopper sounds like.

I appreciated the sentiments from others, but I struggled to relate to their stories of chance meetings and memories of this man. I listened attentively, but these recollections were always about Bill Grigsby the broadcaster, the charmer, the media man. Though he could enchant us all with his stories about the business, he was most magical and enigmatic as the Bill Grigsby I knew. Bill Grigsby, my grandfather. My Papa.

How do you remember someone everyone remembers?

From the moment I was born, Bill Grigsby lovingly called me his "stinkpot," and as soon as I formed a decent sense of wit, I called it back at him. I’ve only ever been to one Chiefs game, but I knew he didn’t care that I didn’t care about football, or any sports, really. It was okay, because I knew the other things he liked: ice cream cones, and good cries, and blondes, in no particular order. He ordered chile relleno and adored Pink Martini. He possessed a true gift for pretending to know names. He wrote and sold a country music song called “He’s Got My Queen in His King-Sized Bed.”

He also loved whipped cream.

Not homemade — he couldn’t stand that stuff. Papa liked Redi-Whip, from a can. Real, fresh aerosol. Dollop was not part of his expansive, energetic vocabulary, especially when it came to cherry pie. The man could dump half a can on his slice, and more when celebrations were in order. Strangely, the airy, bubbly squirt became as recognizable as his voice — one so resonant it scared the dogs into the bedroom while beckoning you to listen. Papa unabashedly hosed his coffee with Redi-Whip and from time to time, he might have taken a hit straight from the can. I never considered him to have a fervent sweet tooth, but when any dessert of the pastry-crusted variety was served, you could predict how he’d take it: Whipped cream, with pie on the side.

I never questioned his taste. Although he was notoriously outspoken, my grandfather was not a man to overindulge. He rarely insisted on conventional payment for the work he did. For him, a thank-you was enough. Once in a while, he would open the trunk of his Oldsmobile to reveal a stash of stuff he had received in exchange for his time, his face, and his voice. My brother and I dug through extra-large Gates t-shirts, FBI hats and golf clubs to find our next Grandpa Grigsby treasure. At one point, I had collected more than 300 dollars worth of Jazzy Bucks.

Papa liked to share — success, good fortune and good stories. For someone who painted vivid flashbacks of hiding from the taxman in a closet with his mother during the Great Depression, I figured whipped cream sprayed in excess from an aerosol can was a little like warm gravy to a once-homeless pup: Well deserved.

Papa never dwelled in the past, but he made reminiscing a profession. We all knew about his morning radio show days with Jim Moore — we knew all of the plotlines set in Bucket Bottom Falls and his fantastical slew of made-up characters. We knew a rogue keg of Schlitz was the culprit behind his forever-busted fifth finger. We knew Japanese soldiers in the Second World War shot off his nipple, and we also knew this was a lie.

I knew these stories by heart. I took some of them for granted. I don’t think he’d blame me for doing so. For a while I did well — at the age of six I was his joke-telling protégé. But just as he had a knack for feigning knowledge of names, I began to hone a talent for pretending I hadn’t heard his stories many, many times before. Sometimes I grew impatient. But other times he’d catch us all by surprise with details. New truths, embellishments or falsities were presented with his tellings, making every retelling richer, sharper. I didn’t know what to believe. I learned that it didn’t matter.

I spoke to Papa by phone on the morning of his 89th birthday. It was 11:30 and he had slept-in. Nonnie half-joked about how long she’d been waiting to make his birthday breakfast — soft-boiled eggs — and now he wanted to have a shave.

I pictured him in striped blue pajamas, gangly legs and bare ankles, bracing himself over the bathroom sink that he’d filled with warm water. He patted the thin skin that had once stretched taut across his chin and cheeks but now drooped endearingly to reveal burst blood vessels, weariness and age. He no longer breathed quietly. Each inhale took something out of him. But despite waking up later and later, and an incomprehensible exhaustion he’d never before known, today was going to be a good day. For February, it was already warm and sunny. Everyone would be at Garozzo’s later for dinner. He’d have the veal and a glass of wine. There’d be no cherry pie or Redi-Whip at the Italian restaurant. Tiramisu was on the menu for tonight. He was happy that I’d called, and he wished me — his fellow Aquarian — a happy birthday too.

I wondered if, on this birthday Papa thought about other birthdays before. What did he remember of childhood birthdays? Was there ever a cake? A pie? Probably not. Even then, my grandfather was never a dweller. He was, though, a dreamer, and he always will be — that remarkably skinny kid standing in the middle of a rickety twin bed in Joplin, broadcasting imaginary sports games through imaginary microphones, wondering if he’d ever have the chance to have stories, and if he’d ever have the chance to share them; wondering when life would taste sweet, and if he’d ever have it all.

His voice echoes vibrantly across the line. 4,000 miles away, I hear its signature boom cut through the phone. I can see him through the phone. So clearly. Suddenly, I want him to have all of the tiramisu in the world. I want him to have all of the Redi-Whip I can find. I don’t want to say goodbye, but I hear water splashing. He is readying the shaving cream. He wants to get on with his day. The first day of his 89th year. His last year. One he will not finish.

I remind myself that Bill Grigsby is not a dweller, so I can’t be one either. I tell him I love him. He loves me too. And I hang up with his voice still ringing in my ear.