Matthew Keenan

Kansas City Star columns

Life Lessons Taught to us by our Dogs, KC Star, September 21, 2016

by on Sep.25, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

Anyone who has read Willie Morris’ book “My Dog Skip” or seen the movie of the same name falls into one of two categories: the admitted criers and the liars.

Morris was an only child, and so his best friend was his dog, a fox terrier. Our four-legged friends remind us of our better virtues. Willie’s bestseller, set in the Deep South in the 1940s, illustrated that our pets are color blind. Skip made friends, who became Willie’s friends. That message remains as poignant and relevant today as when the movie was released 16 years ago.

Dogs teach us other things, like unconditional love, and to stop and smell the roses, the tree trunk or fire hydrant. It’s OK. Life can wait.

All these values were on full display two weeks ago at the Leawood City Pool for the Doggie Dunk. If you are a dog owner and have missed this event, make a note for next year. This was the 12th year of the event, and 266 dogs arrived, according to Kim Curran. Imagine a leash-free dog park at Oceans of Fun with a bit of “Best in Show” mixed in.

And in the middle was my BFF, Bernie Keenan. Bernie, who, to use canine vernacular, was whelped in January 2002, meaning she is 14 1/2 . And as any Wheaten owner will attest, Wheatens generally don’t live past 13. In adult years Bernie would be 86. Imagine taking your grandmother to the pool and being surrounded by hundreds of hyperactive kids who just gulped Red Bull. Bernie was looking brilliant with a recent cut and color from Winding River Pet Resort, sporting a green scarf with my niece Mary Hudak serving as her “visiting angel.”

At 5:10 p.m., the pool was already busy.

“Luckily this year we didn’t have any bunny rabbits attempt to make it across the pool deck,” special events coordinator Tony Nichols told me. “We have had pups that get in right at opening and then have to be forced to leave at the end. Two years ago, a Lab swam for two hours straight out in the middle of the main pool. Animal control had to help us with some poles to get him to the side!”

I don’t know if dogs go to heaven, but maybe it comes to them.

It had the feel of the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. You had the Germans (shepherds, dachshunds, schnauzers); the Irish (setters); the Brits (boxers); the Mexicans (Chihuahuas), and even some refugees — the mixed breed rescues. There were other varieties associated less with nations of origin and instead Leawood ZIP codes — I’m talking about the Labradoodles, goldendoodles, cockapoos, Schnoodles, Aussiedoodles, and some breeds that spellcheck can’t recognize.

And everyone was having a blast. Even though Bernie was far too feeble to jump in with the crowd, she was taking it all in. She just stared at all the activity, but when I scratched behind her ears, her tail moved briskly.

This was Saturday Night Fever for the dogs. Think a canine Tinder. A couple of Labradoodles thought they were on the “Bachelorette.” We saw a sniffing train in the baby pool, which is when three dogs flirt in a chain, while standing in ankle-deep water. Another dog, a schnauzer, wore a red shirt that said “Keep calm, I’m a lifeguard.”

Sure, you had a few dogs whose manners were checked at the door. One dog dropped a Baby Ruth in the wading pool. A few obviously needed to be “fixed.” This much was very apparent: Next year, the grass on the west side of the baby pool will be very green.

My niece loves the rescues, and volunteers weekly at Wayside Waifs, so we sought out these breeds for column material.

“The shelter dogs just kind of have a look about them” Mary told me. “They usually have some markings that you don’t see in other dogs. They are just kind of special. You’re never going to find two shelter dogs that look exactly the same.”

Mary led me to an Italian greyhound inpin named Esky, named for you-know-who. He was adopted by Olathe resident Wendy Melland. “We rescued him from Thankful Friends in Neosho, Mo., back in March. We trained him to be a Pets for Life dog.”

Pets for Life is a program where dogs are certified so they can go into nursing homes and hospitals and visit with patients.

“We have a daughter who spent a lot of time in the hospital and she loved the visits from the dogs. They need to be calm, loving, they need to get along with all types of dogs, they need to not startle easily,” Wendy told me.

“They need to be comfortable around beeping machines, equipment and if someone drops food or medicine on the floor, they need to understand a command to ‘leave it.’ 

Wendy’s first rescue – Kenny — came from Great Plains (SPCA) and now serves in this capacity in Lincoln, Neb., where her daughter attends the University of Nebraska studying pre-med. “We found Esky on the internet and we traveled to Neosho, Mo., to get him.”

As Bernie, Mary and I finally left the pool, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone took a lesson from our dogs, the world would be a better place.

When we got to the car, Bernie needed help getting in. As I wrapped my arms around her, her boney frame reminded me that she is at the twilight of her life.

And my thoughts turned to the prose of Willie Morris. When Skip passed, Willie was studying overseas: “He and my mama wrapped him in my baseball jacket. ‘They buried him out under our elm tree,’ they said. That wasn’t totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.”

Reach Matt Keenan at mattkeenan51@gmail.

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When the Irish priests came to Western Kansas: KC Star article, Feb. 1

by on Jul.03, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

The movie “Spotlight” was recently nominated for an Academy Award. I watched it, like I watch most movies these days, alone at the Leawood Theater in Ranch Mart Shopping Center. “Spotlight” is a movie about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning stories about the priest abuse scandal in Boston. It’s both riveting and depressing.

The horrors of the priest abuse scandals have affected communities and families around the globe, leaving lives ruined, faith communities disjointed and taught us lessons we can never forget. But those scandals did something else, too:. They tarnished the reputation and character of countless other honorable priests who have dedicated their lives to the faith communities they have served.

On the heels of that experience, I watched the movie “Brooklyn,” a movie set in the 1950s, about a woman named Eilis from a small town in Ireland. One of the central characters is a Catholic priest who sponsors Eilis and helps her find a soft landing in the states. His name is Father Flood, played by Jim Broadbent, and is a caring and nurturing figure, who, like Eilis, was Irish.

My own family’s story had threads that ran true to “Brooklyn.” My dad’s grandfather Francis emigrated from Ireland in 1867, passed through New York but kept going, eventually settling in central Kansas. Dad’s parents and his 11 siblings sought fellowship with other Irish immigrants in their surrounding farm communities. In 1953, they found fellow Irishmen of the most unlikely sort — Irish priests.

This was the work of one Monsignor John Cody, born near Kilkenny, Ireland, and ordained in Denver in 1923. He settled in Wichita, and then later was assigned to my hometown of Great Bend. Cody was straight from Hollywood central casting: medium build, jet black, curly hair, hazel eyes, an abundance of personality and charm. His pedigree was bolstered by service as an Army chaplain in WWII in the Philippine islands. A decorated soldier, he ultimately retired with the rank of major. And when he returned to Kansas he gained a new, if not equally challenging task: recruiting Irish priests.

His efforts resulted in more than 20 priests coming to the Plains. Four from this group were assigned to parishes in and around our hometown.

Three of these were inextricably bound together as classmates in the seminary: Andrew McGovern, Ultan Murphy and Eugene Kenny, ordained onJune 7, 1953. McGovern was the oldest of nine when he left for Kansas. “The hardest part was leaving family,” he once told a reporter. Kenny’s service followed the path of two of his sisters who became nuns — one of whom served as a missionary in India for 56 years. Murphy was the youngest of seven. Five weeks after his birth, his father died from double pneumonia. His mother never remarried.

Murphy told a reporter years ago that Cody was very persuasive, but also adept at omitting details. For instance, Cody described Kansas this way: “He said that there were two climates, hot and cold. He said nothing about the wind.”

When these three landed in Kansas in October 1953, the Diocese of Dodge City was a mere 2 years old, having been divided from the Wichita diocese. The assignments were determined by selecting cards out of a biretta in the dining room of the Wichita rectory. There were two versions: “Bishop of Wichita” and “Bishop of Dodge City.” There were six newly ordained priests in the room. The three classmates all drew Dodge City. Father Murphy recounted the drive out west: “We got close to Dodge City — there was no such thing as a four-lane highway back then. It was near nightfall and I said to the other two guys in the back seat — Kenny and McGovern, ‘What are we getting into? That broke the silence. We laughed.’ 

In 2001, the year before Father McGovern passed away, my parents took us to Ireland. The agenda included paying a visit to one of Dublin’s finest pubs — The Goblet — owned by McGovern’s brother, James, who showed us the finest in Irish hospitality.

Father Kenny would later officiate my mother’s funeral and then later preside over my dad’s second marriage to another widow, Pat Degner. Father Kenny passed away two years ago at age 84. At his funeral the attendees included my dad and my siblings. It was the least we could do for someone who did so much for everyone else. And when dad celebrated his 86th birthday two months ago, the one clergy present to make the party official was Murphy . Now at the youthful age of 89, he is retired after 35 years serving the faith community of Olmitz, a one-stoplight town north of Great Bend. “Everyone here is polite and they would welcome me into their home and take me out to dinner, and only for that I probably wouldn’t have stayed. I would have gone back to New York,” he told me recently.

There was a fourth Irish priest in the mix — Dermot Tighe, the 10th of 10 siblings. From County Roscommon, he also drew the Dodge City assignment, and after several years in Liebenthal, Dodge City and Jetmore, he landed in Seward, Kansas — the home parish to my dad’s family farm. Later Tighe was assigned to the Dominican convent, which likewise had a geographic nexus to our family — as in, across the street. When Vietnam got hot, there was an urgent need for clergy, and Tighe enlisted as an Army chaplain in 1967. The following year he served in Vietnam on the front lines. He returned to serve another 25 years in the Army and retired as a full colonel.

These were the shepherds of the flock that inspired me in my faith. They were emblematic of the book of James: “Faith without works is dead.” Since those early years, we have intersected with other priests who lack the brogue but still bring their own interesting pasts, and they have helped lead our family to spiritual fulfillment. Sadly, that cannot be universally expressed.

Still, the sacrifices of those four men represent the finest qualities in the human spirit and will always challenge me to be the best person I can be.

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We are empty nesters!!!! Again!!! KC Star, May 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

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Fathers Day comes early … KC Star, May, 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

I know Father’s Day is still a couple weeks away. With my own dad still very spry and fun at age 86, it will be a special day for my brothers, sisters and me.

But I’m pretty sure my Father’s Day came early. It did not come in the form of a handwritten note. Neither was it an expression of appreciation from a long-lost son. It wasn’t planned; it just happened.

This all came down on Saturday, May 14. That was the first Saturday Maggie, our daughter, moved back from KU. “Dad, I need to go to Verizon,” she told me. “My phone is fine but it’s three years old. They’ve come out with a couple models since I got mine.”

This was an unprecedented announcement. A Keenan kid trading in a good phone. A working phone. A phone that has never been found the bottom of a pool, bounced off a sidewalk, misplaced at The Wheel, dropped down the crack of an old suede couch, lost in a cab, immersed in a beer.

This is obviously the daughter’s phone. She was due. “Sure,” I said. “But afterward I need to go to J.C. Penney’s at Corbin Park.”

We headed to the store on 135th Street. Generally speaking, Verizon stores are highly efficient operations. An employee greets you at the door and when it’s your turn, they are adept at problem-solving. I should know. I’ve taken many problems there, including two named Robert and Tommy. And I’ve learned among the waiting customers that there are two distinct demographics — the teens who know about P-Diddy and those who think it’s a urological condition. To the flip-phone crowd, Drake is a duck, not a rapper.

On that Saturday we strolled in at 11 a.m. The store was empty. No customers. Not a one. Just behind the counter were five employees, ready to go into action. Maggie got the first one, a young man in his mid 30s.

“Let me look up your account.” I knew this drill. It takes about five seconds for the tech guy to understand that I’m no regular customer. With six phones, two iPads and enough extra data charges to prompt a Verizon stock split, I tend to get concierge treatment.

I watched him pull up my numbers. His eyebrows arched a bit and he looked up. “Yes. Mr. Keenan. I have it here.”

“I know. My account is big.”

“I’ve seen bigger,” he said. I held the rejoinder to myself: “Who? Bieber?”

In a couple minutes Maggie had a phone. “It’s going to take a while to upload your photos and music. Come back in a couple hours and it will be ready.”

For the next three hours I had my college daughter with no phone. How many parents living outside of Amish country can say that? Our next destination: Penney’s.

Long before Penney’s became a darling, and then a devil, of hedge fund managers, it was the jewel of small towns like mine. In Great Bend, Kan., it was a Saks Fifth Avenue, Dick’s Sporting Goods and pre-Walmart Gibson Discount all rolled into one. It had the first escalator we’d ever seen — and that was so cool. They sold men’s suits, top coats, bedding, fishing lures, Ping-Pong tables. It was across the street from my dad’s law firm, so we would wander over there when bored. I remember one Easter they sold baby chicks, which in a moment of weakness Larry and Mona decided would make an appropriate pet. It did not end well.

So even today Penney’s is my go-to resource for undergarments.

So imagine father and phone-less daughter in the men’s boxers section of Penney’s. And then throw in one more aspect of the day — I talk to people, particularly strangers. My kids think it’s weird, creepy, awkward. And so I’m gabbing up a storm. I read once in The New York Times where researchers concluded that kindness to strangers improves your mood. And my mood was euphoric.

Maggie couldn’t do anything other than stand by and listen. There was no escape to text, tweet, Snapchat, Facebook, plug in headphones and pretend to zone out. She wasn’t going to escape to the ladies fashion section to find Tory Burch shoes. She was mine. We had a deal.

The salesman in the men’s section shared my devotion to conversation. He and I talked about men’s boxers, waist sizes and other random topics. He was helpful, interesting and flattering. Like Dale Carnegie only better. I bought shirts, socks, undies and a pair of jeans.

Mission accomplished. Next stop: Land of Paws.

Like Penney’s, LOP also occupies a special place in Keenan history. It was the first home to Bernie. On this day, however, we didn’t see any Wheatens. Instead they had all kinds of Aki-Poos, Terri-poos, Cockapoo mixes — everything was miniature. Looking for a pitbull-German shepherd mix with a bad rap sheet? This is not your place. But if you want a lap dog that guarantees a billion likes on Facebook — this was pure gold.

Staring into the pens were children on the verge of an emotional breakdown when their parents declared, “Not today.”

They sold dog treats more elaborate than any cupcakes or cookie that I’ve had in my life. I was about to taste the icing myself, before Maggie reminded me that it was, in fact, for dogs. They had a selection of official Royals uniforms for your four-legged pet that would put Rally House to shame. We inspected cat condos with carpet that lacked something from our own carpet at home: pet barf.

There was a furniture section. I noted a handful of stair steppers: not for your toddler learning to crawl, but for your aged animal who can no longer reach your bed. I was amazed at the expansiveness of the store, with even a frozen dinner section for pets with paleo or gluten-free restrictions. Meanwhile, the lively lap dogs occupied the back corner of the store.

Maggie and I laughed. And laughed some more. And in the couple hours that remained where Maggie was phone-less we did a lot of talking. Actually I did the talking.

All in all, a five-star day.

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Coming of age with scouting … KC Star March 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns


Keenan, Bill Niederee, John Holt, circa 1968

Anyone over the age of 45 remembers the network soap opera “Dark Shadows.” In the 1960s, it was carried on ABC and that was one network signal our TV could receive in the middle of nowhere. And my brothers and sisters were hooked on it. Our television diet then was “Batman,” “Perry Mason” and “Dark Shadows.” Barnabas Collins, a vampire, flashed his fangs and was always searching for fresh blood. He was the spookiest thing we had ever seen. And blood became something of a fixation for us.

A couple years later Darren McGavin starred in another vampire show — “The Night Stalker.” Also super creepy and it further ingrained our fascination with blood, life and death.

Our dad unwittingly contributed to this. From time to time over the dinner table mom would say, “The hospital called and asked your dad to come down. They needed his blood.” My brothers and I would exchange glances. “They needed dad’s blood! That is so cool!” Dad, it turns out, is O negative. A universal donor — which is precisely the type craved by vampires. And, I suppose, patients in the ER.

Right about this time, Truman Capote entered the world stage with “In Cold Blood.” It would be only a modest exaggeration to say that the Clutter family killing and Capote’s later work changed everything, but particularly in small-town America. And most certainly small-town Kansas. In fact, convicted killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith stopped in Great Bend en route to Holcomb on that fateful night. And the movie is faithful to this — the A&W scene was filmed just two miles from our house.

And in the middle of this teenage obsession came Scouting. And yes, the blood line continued. For example, this was our first introduction to ticks. It was May 1972, and a young Scout discovered one on his scalp. One of the adult leaders gathered us around. “Boys, this is a tick.” We all grew close to the kid’s head. The critter was bulging. “See, it’s full of blood! Ticks wait on trees for years and years until an unsuspecting Tenderfoot walks by. Then they strike and start sucking your blood.”

Most everyone was terrified. Not me. I knew all about that five-letter word. The leader then fired up a match to burn it out, singeing gobs of hair and likely inflicting second-degree burns in the process. Today any adult attempting such a thing would be in Leavenworth.

There were other things. We learned how apply a tourniquet — sacrificing a limb to save a life. We experimented with rubber bands during religion class. Turning your finger purple while Sister Mary Rose lectured us on the Holy Trinity was essential to becoming an Eagle Scout.

But the pot of gold was the opportunity to acquire a pocketknife. Knives were the stuff of Daniel Boone, The Lone Ranger and adult movies we could never watch. With a pocket knife, a switchblade wasn’t far away. And then you could be a blood brother — cutting your finger and mixing your blood with your friend. This was the coolest of all cools.

But to get a knife you first needed to demonstrate knife safety. This determination rested entirely in the hands of the Senior Patrol Leader, a.k.a. the SPL. When you are 11, the SPL knew everything. He did everything. The SPL was typically a Life Scout, which to a Tenderfoot was like a five-star general. He had a girlfriend, sideburns and absentee parents. Our SPL drank coffee, put mustard on his hotdogs and told outrageous stories. He was a man. In truth, he was maybe 15. But he had a knife, a hatchet and knew how to acquire a switchblade.

Part of the training required learning something called the “blood circle.” This is an exercise involving swinging the knife in a circle around you to ensure no one is close enough to be harmed. In theory when executed, the blade is supposed to be closed. In reality it was always fully extended and accompanied with a loud declaration: “my blood circle!” This was the Shangri-La of Scouting — to be allowed to wave your knife among your peers while using the B word.

You now had power to defend yourself against a grizzly, copperhead, or if necessary, your older brother or sister should they get out of line. You were also instructed to never, ever, cut down any living plant or tree. So of course that’s exactly what we did.

To prove your safety ethic, they awarded you something called a Totin’ Chip badge. You carried it in your pocket. It was the most important thing you ever owned.

As you might have gathered, the kids in our troop would never be confused with a Mensa convention. Like the cast in the movie “Sandlot,” we had buck teeth, bad hair, clunky shoes whose strings were never tied. Everything worn was hand-me-downs from our older brothers except for the Scout uniform. That was yours. It had your badges, your awards and your patrol name. And your scarf, which you hated because it choked and constrained you, especially when carving that green branch into a spear.

We threw the knives in the dirt, against trees, into the air. But if caught doing any of these things, the SPL made you surrender the Totin’ Chip , which meant, like the movie “Branded,” he took your knife. Life had no greater humiliation. To be knifeless was like a gelding.

Shockingly through all this, no one died. But every single Scout got defrocked. Over and over again.

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No school on parade day? What students really learned that day, KC Star October 2015

by on Nov.26, 2015, under Kansas City Star columns

Everyone is still talking about the Royals parade. It seems the only people complaining are those upset that school was canceled. Hordes of school districts gave everyone the day off. One letter to the editor last week expressed it this way: “With all the pressure on teachers and students to perform better, did they really need a day off for no real reason? I don’t think that sends the right message.”

Actually I do think it sends the right message. And here is why: A day at the Royals parade and rally gave every kid in the city a semester’s worth of practical, common sense life lessons. Much more than if they were stuck in geometry class learning about polygons.

So I count at least seven critical life skills imparted to students that day.

First: Your phone is worthless. Manage. For the better part of the day, cell phones had no signal. The towers were overwhelmed, and, as one fan noted with a sign, it was cell service like it was 1985. And for every high school kid, life as they knew it screeched to a halt. Nothing important to them had value. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, texting: all gone.

Thousands of dudes and iPhone lovers struggled to function in a new reality. Somewhere out there was Buffy in fits of frustration trying to cope this way:

▪ “Google what do I do with no signal. GOOGLE PLEASE RESPOND!”

▪ “OMG Siri I have an iPhone S — THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!!!”

▪ “Siri please tell me: who is Drew Butera? I need to know!”

▪ “Siri: where can I stand to find a signal?”

▪ “Google, help me please. I’ve never been so lonely.”

This forced kids to do something new, like:

▪ Learn to walk with their heads up and eyes forward.

▪ Talk to people.

▪ Ask for directions.

▪ Remember actual phone numbers.

▪ Recall intersections where they parked their car.

▪ Stop clutching their phones like a life alert button.

Second. A lesson in the birds and the bees. We were standing at the corner of Pershing and Grand. While waiting for the parade to start we heard a call for a medic that made its way up the parade route where the police were working. Eventually the police arrived and lady near us — a nurse — went to assist. When she returned to her family she told us: “A woman over there is in labor.”

What a teachable moment for so many dudes nearby. With no ambulance and no hope one could ever arrive in less than two days, watching a baby delivered just might be the best form of birth control for the younger set. “OMG Dude! That’s sooo gross. Get me out of here.” But they couldn’t move. No one was moving. It was a mosh pit of 800,000 people. Make that 800,001. I can only assume. It was too chaotic to know for sure what really happened.

Third. Emergency preparedness. News stories reported that emergency personnel had treated 25 people for various medical ailments. But there were hundreds, maybe thousands who had no hope of getting medical professionals. Without phone service dudes were denied the chance to yell, “Anyone know the number to 911?” Instead they had to actually, well, do something. Maybe — just maybe — there was a high school kid out there who would say, “Can I help you?” Dream further that young man then said, “Ma’am you will be OK. I’m an Eagle Scout and know CPR and how to treat heat stroke. I will take care of you. Things will be OK.”

OK. Dream over. That Eagle Scout was helping a lady cross the street in Brookside.

Fourth. Search and rescue. When the championship rally was over they started to recite the names of the kids at the podium who were separated from their parents. One news report said there were eight kids displaced. Policeman to mother: What was he wearing? “Blue.” “Any other distinguishing feature?” “Yes!” “A blue hat!”

Next time, dress up in something no one else would dare wear: a Chiefs jersey.

Fifth. Advance planning. One story reported that many fans didn’t watch the parade from the ground but instead took to elevated vantage points. An expert from the city counted 80,000 people watching the parade this way, noting that some were in trees. From our viewpoint, the best views were in the trees. Kids who didn’t plan ahead looked up admiringly at those perched high above and thought, “That could be me.”

Yes, if you planned ahead, got organized and had a clue. Yes, your spot would be one in a thousand and maybe you would learn that a real tweet is what’s coming from that bird perched above you. But no you screwed around, got to the parade late and now are stuck behind Chris Young’s 7-foot-tall brother. Your photos looked like these. Sorry dude.

Sixth. Stop gulping Red Bull and Full Throttle. This is an important lesson in the word “diuretic” and how the kidneys function. You drink, you have to go. You drink things loaded with caffeine and you REALLY HAVE TO GO. By my count there was one Porta Potty for every 5,000 fans. And no place to sneak away. So you had to act like an adult and wait in line. Guess what — you just missed Hosmer and Moose! Sorry dude.

Seventh: Survival mode. The parade was a glimpse into the future and offered threads of what life would be like in an apocalypse. Think no technology, no water, no food, no shade and drivers dumping cars along the interstate. This was a real life episode in the garbage kids watch, like “The Walking Dead,” “Fear The Walking Dead,” and “The Walking Dead Who Actually Aren’t Dead Because They are Walking.” The parade is starting and you are stuck a mile away. Sorry dude.

Today the world is a better place now that kids received an important tutorial on that day. Here’s to another parade next year. Look for me in the trees.

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Antiquing? Get your storage unit first, KC Star column, Nov 2015

by on Nov.26, 2015, under Kansas City Star columns

Someone once declared that diamonds are a woman’s best friend. That man never drove his wife past an antique store advertising vintage sterling candlesticks and heard her shriek “stop!” The truth is that there is an empty space in every woman’s heart. And sooner or later it will be filled with an English pine armoire.

Women love antiques. That’s not an opinion. I’m talking sterling silver place settings, tea cups, porcelain teapots and anything made in England. I could list more “must haves” antiquities but this column has a word limit. There is a reason why Ebay shows 2.7 million antiques on sale. And that doesn’t count the priceless goods offered on specialty websites like Pinterest,,, and some sites where experts confirm the authenticity of the items sold, like The New York Times recently wrote that these sites are red hot.

Most antiques have three things in common. 1) No matter how valuable they are, someone wants to part with them. Go figure. 2) Antiques are never priced at retail. They are always 20 percent reduced and when purchased with cash, you get another 10 percent off. And if you have a dolly to move it in five minutes, you save another 10 percent. 3) They have immediate utility but first need to be stored in Belton.

Guys, I’m going to give you a tutorial on how to cope with this reality.

First, when your wife says she is going “antiquing,” drop the remote, get off the couch and join her in the car. I’d recommend you bring some reading material. “War and Peace” might keep you occupied long enough. Because when it comes to these kinds of topics with your wife, they fall into two categories. Those you fight and lose. And those you don’t even bother fighting. Hang on. It’s going to be a long day.

Second, when the shop she enters boasts antique furniture, pray the store doesn’t have a grandfather clock. I’ve seen those. I’ve lifted those. Just ask my chiropractor. Every grandfather clock can only tell time correctly twice each day. And once you understand how terrible your day can actually be, you might suddenly support that $75 19th-century Chippendale cat and dog salt and pepper shakers.

Third, don’t confuse antiques with collectibles. The former are priceless and require talent to evaluate, scrutinize and determine their true value. The latter share none of these qualities. That’s why your wife never collected Beanie Babies or Longaberger baskets. Sure, at one time she owned a Pet Rock. That was a long time ago. Don’t mention it. And also avoid discussing your sister in-law’s Cabbage Patch collection in Branson. If you go there, have a good divorce attorney on speed dial.

Fourth, there are other topics you cannot touch, like the third rail in politics. For instance, do not bring up your baseball card collection that disappeared one time when you were fishing with your old college roommate. Likewise, when your wife is closely examining a marble male bust of Mark Twain, do not abruptly say: “Whatever happened to my Sports Illustrated swimsuit collection?” You just ruined the moment. Plus, your wife sold those magazines at a garage sale while you were on that golfing trip last year. The buyer then promptly made a killing reselling them.

Fifth, this is your fault. You wasted money on Chiefs season tickets and fantasy football teams that consume twelve hours every Sunday. Still confused? Remember that large tab you ran up at Buffalo Wild Wings watching soccer teams from Spain? Did you forget about that pay-per-view bill for a boxing match no one watched? Except you. And then you lost your new iPhone on that “business trip” to Las Vegas. So pipe down. Or else your next stop will be Cordell & Cordell.

But the universe of antiquing often includes women who go from collecting antiquities to selling them. Question: “Do you know how to make a million dollars selling antiques?” Answer: “Start with two million.” I’m there.

This means I’ve been spending considerable time at the Mission Road Antique Mall at 83rd and Mission in Prairie Village. This business has some 300 dealers, each with separate shops but there is one in particular that stands out. It’s called Front Porch — ask around and you will find it. This booth has priceless collectibles that are on their way to “Antiques Roadshow.” Maybe you saw the guy on A.R. who had Chinese rhinoceros horn cups suddenly found to be worth $1 million to $1.5 million.

This booth features those. Cups I mean. It has books too. Not just any books. I mean books authored by columnists for the 913 section of The Kansas City Star. But wait, there’s more. There also timeless furnishings, decorative accessories, jewelry, lamps, light fixtures, pottery and seasonal decorations. Do you like silver-plated silverware, vintage Christmas decor and priceless furniture imported from exotic locations? Bingo. And, I know this will shock you, but everything is on sale.

Stop by on a Saturday and you’ll see an army of supportive spouses biding their time, like me. I’ll be reading “War and Peace.”


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The new 435-Roe exchange … this is progress?

by on Dec.11, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Introductory comment … this column, which appeared in the KC Star on December 3rd, generated as many e-mail comments as the last “controversial” article I published, some 10 years ago, when I trashed the Star Wars movie — Attack of the Clones. As with both columns, some readers were entertained, others, well not so much …  


The Kansas Department of Transportation just spent $9 million reconstructing the Interstate 435 and Roe interchange. The work started back in May and required periodic re-routing of traffic off 435 and also disrupted surrounding businesses during the five-month construction.

Three weeks ago the overpass was reopened and life returned to normal.

Well, not exactly.

Last week I drove it for the first time. As I did, one question came to mind: Huh?

Apparently I was mistaken, but I figured new construction should simplify driving, not complicate it. This new overpass, to be generous, is the most complex, convoluted, confounding collection of signs, turns, lights and arrows ever assembled under the heading of “improvement.” The plot to “Interstellar” made more sense. Who designed this? Painfully awkward Rob Lowe?

When I returned to the scene of the crime the next day, I counted at least 12 signs giving drivers instructions on where to turn, start, stop and not turn. There are seven stoplights, each with multiple lights. And worst of all, it requires drivers who, for the entirety of their lives, have been taught to drive on the right side of the lane to now drive on the left side. But before you cross into a lane that screams “this can’t be right,” you stare at a traffic lane filled with cars pointed directly at you. And if it’s at night, there’s enough halogen wattage to burn your cornea. I saw drivers to my left and right bewildered, befuddled and angry due to the difficulty of following the signs, tweeting and texting simultaneously.

I pity anyone who dares to use the crosswalk.

This traffic pattern has a name. It’s called a diverging diamond. To whom do we owe this innovation? Apparently someone in France came up with idea in the 1970s. Shockingly, no one else embraced the idea for 30 years. This from the country that gave us Gerard Depardieu and now has a 75 percent tax rate.

A Time magazine story on this idea appeared in February 2011 and asked a very sensible question: “Why is a design used in Europe for decades only catching on in the U.S. now?” And then added another astute observation: “It’s perplexing in practice, at least at first, and confused drivers can be dangerous ones.” Duh.

It just shows what happens when engineers spend too much time in windowless rooms reading Popular Mechanics.

My wife described it as a motor vehicle version of intarsia, which as any knitter would understand, requires you to — never mind. It’s too complicated.

A couple weeks ago, The Star quoted department officials who claimed the new interchange is meant to facilitate traffic flow, especially during rush hour. The department explained it “improves safety, since left-turn movements do not conflict with opposing through movements.” Really? The website also notes that “the main disadvantage of a DDI (diverging diamond interchange) is that it is still a relatively new interchange type and drivers in the area may not be familiar with navigating them yet.”

Maybe it’s just me, but generally speaking, instructing drivers to now drive on the left side of the road is not simply a navigation issue. It’s a nightmare.

I’m not opposed to new ideas unless it’s another loud car alarm or the Segway. But perhaps the department should have picked an intersection that was not already brimming with dangerous drivers. Let’s see. To begin with there is a large building called “Advanced Health Care” whose website states that it is an alternative to nursing home living. Just across the road from there is a Freddy’s and then a Quiktrip, joined with a Sonic and Winstead’s across the street to east.

This is basically putting a Rubik’s cube at the epicenter of aged drivers, hungry drivers and drivers fixated on finding an empty pumping unit at QT. And God help us if any driver gazes to the west and notices the Godzilla cage that’s going up on Nall Avenue and 435.

The Titanic had better odds.

If you are reading this from your home in Mission Hills and never travel south of 75th Street but are curious and want to get a sense for things, here is my suggestion: Go find a cornfield maze and navigate it at midnight during a snowstorm.

Read more here:
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Breaking news: I’m old, published in KC Star, October 4, 2014

by on Nov.27, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns

Whoever said age is a state of mind wasn’t thinking clearly.

At least that’s what I decided the year I turned 40 and showed up for my annual physical. My internist explained that this was the age when clinical guidelines require him to add new exams to the regimen. I quickly learned two things about the prostate: It’s really, really small and hides when you need to find it. And while the good doctor is looking, conversation topics include weather patterns over the Pacific.

So last month when I had surgery at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, it happened again.

I hurt my knee running and turns out the diagnosis was a meniscus tear, which set into motion a visit to the hospital for the obligatory ‘pre-operative evaluation.’

On an otherwise perfect Monday morning, I found myself mingling with a collection of men and women who sported canes with four prongs like they sell on Fox News during ‘supper hour.’ These prospective patients are members of the greatest generation and they tend to wear mesh baseball hats, with emblems of that say Semper Fi. You survey each one, think about how they made our country stronger, but then your focus is on their aging bodies. My discerning eyes would come to a quick diagnosis — cardiac issues, respiratory, hip, knees.

After waiting 20 minutes I called Lori. “This place is like John Knox Village. I feel pretty young here.”

The magazines had an AARP feel to them.

My name was called and I jumped out of the chair and walked briskly to the nurse. “Good morning!” This was my way of saying, “I’m young. I don’t belong here.”

And shortly thereafter it begins. The interrogation.

“Hi, I just have some questions to go over with you,” she says with a big smile.

“Sure. No problem,” I replied.

“Which leg is it?” I paused and thought for a moment. “The right. Yes. The right.”

She continued: What happened? What’s your pain tolerance? Do you have a history of heart disease, diabetes? What drugs do you take? Do you have allergies? Do you snore when you sleep? Do you consume alcoholic beverages? Do you smoke? The list continued.

“Have you had surgery before?”

“Yes,” I said. I paused to think for a moment and tried to review 55 years in 10 seconds. “I broke my leg in junior high and had some screws placed in there.” She entered a couple keystrokes and moved on.

“We need to get an EKG, so please take off your shirt.” I obliged, and she was inspecting my chest, looking for entry points for probes that would have good connectivity. This was like trying to find a landing strip in the Amazon. Spoiler alert — don’t look for me on a fireman’s calendar. My abs have the firmness of a water bed. The lady knew this drill. She has seen worse. I hope.

Everything was normal. Surgery was full speed ahead.

I got home. Lori was waiting for me. “How did it go?” she asked. “Tell me about it.”

“They asked how many surgeries I’ve had.” I recited the list.

“What about your tonsils? Did you mention that? Did you mention your appendectomy?”

I retreated to the couch, sat down and felt sheepish that I missed some of the most obvious questions on my quiz. The one with the most drama — an appendix attack that hit me one morning five years ago and three hours later I was going into surgery. And my first surgery at age 7. Yet Lori rattled both of them off, probably also remembering the names of my surgeon, nurses and anesthesiologist.

“How could I get forget all my surgeries?” I muttered to myself.

Right then my knee started to throb.

My brain entertained a new thought. I am old.

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Funeral planning left to three dudes? Paging St. Jude! (KC Star, Sept 3rd)

by on Sep.13, 2014, under Kansas City Star columns


At age 12, I earned a rather unusual distinction: I was the most experienced funeral altar boy at St. Patrick’s parish. And with my kid brother Marty as my wingman, we became a pretty reliable one-two tag team for many funerals in the early ’70s. If there were a teen version of funeral crashers, I was Owen Wilson.

Most of the gigs were relatives — Dad had 11 siblings and he was number 9. But if you count all his uncles, aunts and cousins, there were literally hundreds. And many were old and, shockingly, each one had a funeral. Plus a visitation and rosary with lunch featuring baloney sandwiches dripping in mayonnaise.

I knew the readings (Psalms 23:4), the songs (“How Great Thou Art”) and the incense. I knew the cemeteries. Our grade school was sandwiched between the Great Bend Cemetery and the nuns’ cemetery. On Memorial Day, Dad would drag us to another one — his hometown of Seward, a dot on the map south of Great Bend with a Catholic cemetery four miles north of town. After the outdoor Mass, Dad would do the obligatory walk around. “This is your great uncle who was my dad’s brother along with Micky and Joe, and his wife was Rosemary and they …” The names were vaguely familiar to us — Pundsack, Chadd and Keller.

We would dutifully oblige him, pretend to pay heed and the tour would end when I would suggest, “Hey, dad, the Indy 500 just started.”

My parents’ funeral plot has been secured for many years now. Dad acquired it in some arrangement with the parish priest decades ago. So they are in the Catholic segment of the Great Bend Cemetery at the west end, which means they are surrounded by headstones of friends — both living and, well you know. Pre-purchased headstone: engraved, a photo of my parents taken at my wedding beautifully cut into the stone. Modest, meaningful, perfect.

But big cities change things. Cemeteries are not in center of the town. People zoom by them on the way to more important things like hitting Best Buy or Hooters happy hour. The intimacy of small town cemeteries isn’t the same. So yes, I’m worried. Because someday the person in need of a sacrament will be yours truly. And if left to three dudes and a daughter, well, I’m feeling fibrillations.

They don’t know funerals. They never were altar boys. Never did a reading. They never burned incense except in I Tappa Keg, which requires no further elaboration.

My fear is that they will resort to Facebook or Twitter for answers — hashtag #funeralideas, #needfuneralhome, #daddroppeddeadWTH! They will likely live in some faraway city and be consumed with other priorities like capturing a perfect selfie. My funeral will be organized in a rush with key decisions determined by rock paper, scissors. SportsCenter will play in the background.

The organ player will be replaced by an iPod. The soloist? A rapper. “Mr K was good to me — but now he’s RIP.” Readings quickly borrowed from Reddit, Wikipedia or some show available only on Netflix.

So if your response to all this is “do some preplanning,” then you just earned the MOTO award — master of the obvious. But buying a dual plot for the missus and me right now is taking a back seat to more earthly priorities — my Verizon bill, calling Stanley Steemer and some unruly eyebrows.

Mom had a funeral file, which was thoughtfully organized. And yes, I started on my own. Music, readings, some ideas for pallbearers, but presently that envelope is secured in our safety deposit box at Capitol Federal. And that presents its own problem: We keep losing the key.

If you find it, send it my way quickly. I’m getting the sniffles and if a fever follows, well, at my age, you never know.


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