Matthew Keenan

Old school Christmas cards vs. New School. The 411 … (published KCStar Dec 2015)

by on Dec.22, 2015, under Uncategorized

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What happens when your 14 year old dog eats a stick of butter? A column. (published Dec 2015)

by on Dec.22, 2015, under Uncategorized

Kids who still believe in Santa Claus have the best Christmas experience. That seems an appropriate reward for toddlers who think that a bearded old man who likes to hang out alone at shopping malls is cool. Then throw in that he knows when you are sleeping, knows when you’re awake, and then enters your house in the middle of the night by way of your chimney. Any child these days who can suspend that kind of reality deserves a great Christmas. And any man who actually attempted such a thing would be delivering presents at Leavenworth and sharing footlong sandwiches with Jared.

In our home, however, the family member who is having the best Christmas so far is our dog, Bernie. We love Bernie so much I’m almost inclined to get one of those political bumper stickers with her name on it. The man Bernie is from Vermont. The lady Bernie is from Land of Paws in Leawood, but they have one thing in common. They both seek your affection.

To be sure, the return of the out-of-town children is a tail-wagging bonanza. But the true prize for her is the dramatic change in her diet. She goes from staring at huge bags of dried pellets of Old Roy to chomping on succulent leftovers that are the product of a wonderful chef with many years of training feeding the brood. Some tidbits are deliberately shared; other servings are the ‘help yourself’ variety.

But for Bernie, this Christmas is already reaching epic proportions.

That’s because two weeks ago Bernie’s penchant to eat most everything — correction — drop the qualifier “most” — reached next level. Bernie ate something that shocked even us.

Bernie ate an entire stick of butter. And the wax wrapping for good measure.

Lori was the sole witness. “I was making chocolate chip cookies and the butter dropped to the floor. I got distracted when the UPS man rang the doorbell. When I returned, it was gone. So was Bernie. My first reaction was ‘no way Bernie ate the butter.’ But when I tracked her down to a secure location the evidence was clear — she looked like she robbed a bank. Her nose had a shiny veneer. She was licking her lips and appeared extremely content. I raised my voice — ‘Bernie did you eat the butter?’ She looked away. Guilty as charged.”

So, for those keeping track at home, one stick of Land O’Lakes butter is 810 calories, 92 grams of fat and 240 milligrams of cholesterol. All of which was consumed by a 42-pound soft-coated Wheaten terrier who is approaching her 14th birthday. That’s the human equivalent of 84. And it shows. She is hard of hearing, vision-impaired and yet functioning rather well. But if she drove a car it would be like Mr. McGoo.

But wait. There’s more. You see, in addition to these issues, Bernie has had double knee repairs courtesy of the Mission Med Vet. Her primary exercise is yawning and sleeping for hours at a time.

I mean — think about it — imagine if your 84-year-old Aunt Wilma ate a stick of butter in two seconds? What would you do? Dial 911? Call John Knox Village for a spare room? Hide the Miralax?

And like most 84-year-olds, Bernie’s lower GI tract is, well, quite audible and is single-handedly adding enough methane gas that it has melted two ice caps.

So when Lori called me with the news, I did what most people would do. I Googled “what to do if your dog eats a stick of butter.” There were 7.1 million hits. Curious, I Googled “what to do if your 84-year-old aunt ate a stick of butter.” Crickets.

Among the contributions:

▪ “At best, it may cause mild gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea, or vomiting. But a fatty meal such as that can actually cause pancreatitis. This is inflammation of the organ that produces some of the digestive enzymes.”

▪ “Abdominal pain, weakness, lethargy.”

Though it wasn’t directly relevant, I did find this tidbit:

▪ ”My dog ate an entire month of birth-control pills once. Didn’t turn him into a female, though.”

So Lori shooed Bernie out the door. The invisible fence went in overdrive. We monitored her every movement, which was easy since she laid down for hours while we waited for the, well, you know. No dramatic change in anything. Bernie slept a lot, but there was no gastric volcanic disturbance. None. Just lots of tail wagging. And in no time she was back in business, which meant returning to our bedroom for napping sessions.

Here’s hoping your Christmas rivals Bernie’s.

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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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Selfies for the golden age, published 435 South, January, 2015

by on Feb.01, 2015, under 435 South Columns

Selfies for the Golden Age Set

Aging has many benefits, but the proctologist adding to your photo album is not one of them.

My physician was pointing to a color photograph and talking. But I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t. My brain was fixated on what was on the four corners of the 4-by-6 picture. It was a color snapshot of a pinkish tunnel whose surface revealed small bumps like tiny balloons. One nagging thought kept returning to my mind.

“This is my colon?” And a second question: “How did he get a camera up there?”

He kept talking.

“So this is a polyp and it’s nothing to be concerned about, but I would recommend getting follow-ups…”

I interrupted him. “So this was taken during the colonoscopy?”

He nodded and paused. These days there are selfies everywhere, including many places horribly inappropriate, like funerals. Why not your anus?  OK.

He finished up and handed it to me.

“See you in five years,” he said.

I stuck it in my jacket and went about my business. A couple weeks later I was fishing around in the pocket and pulled it out.

In church. During the homily.

Ever had your mind switch from the fishes and the loaves to, well, you know?

I didn’t think so.

I got home, retrieved it and decided it needed a home. But where? In the recycle bin?

Fast forward five years: “Matt, as your colon specialist, if I could just compare your earlier photograph of the colon, I can tell you if you are at risk of cancer. Did you bring it?”


Other options — save it in some file drawer to mingle with CVS coupons? From there it will get tossed in a storage bin. Fifty years from now when I’m gone and they have an estate sale, some yet-unborn grandkid will come across it and mistake it for a screenshot from a computer game: Clans and colons.

“Man, Grandpa was a cool dude. He must have been a gamer!”

Save it in a photo book?

“So here are photos from our baby’s first birthday. And then, turning page, we have – OMG! What is that?”

Put it in a file cabinet with a label that I happily will leave to your imagination?

Scan it and save it on my computer? And when I take the CPU to Best Buy for service, someone from the Geek Squad will entertain the staff about the horrors of colonoscopy prep.

“What a loser this guy must be!”

Turns out, some have found uses for these internal selfies. Colon photos have their own Facebook page with 2,300 likes.

Mine is not one of them.

For sure, “good colon health” has infiltrated our culture — think of endless ads about probiotic yogurts and their role in promoting a healthy “digestive system.”

In this age of oversharing, naturally, Twitter is brimming with tweets about colonoscopies, including photos. I found one with someone comparing their pre- and post-colon shots after the Paleo diet and then boasting how good his healthy colon feels. Other people paraded their pink colons, promising to post photos — or not — if they got followers, favorites or retweets.

And so, with no clear idea of what to do, I took the image to the office and tossed it in my desk drawer.

Fast-forward a couple years when the focus shifted from one part of my body to another. After I had my knee scoped, I was at the post-operative visit with my ortho, Dr. Mark Rasmussen.

The consultation went fine and at the end he paused and said, “Let me show you some photos of your knee. I have a couple of them here.”

My wife crowded over me.

“This is your torn meniscus.”

It looked like thick white sheets squeezed between opaque molding.

“This is normal. Now this is angry tissue,” pointing to another picture.  “This is wear and tear, blah blah yada yada.”

It was white noise. I counted 25 photos.

As we turned to walk out, he extended his hand with the prints.

“These photos are yours to keep.”

Here we go again.

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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.

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The Day I played Santa to 400 children (published 435 South, December, 2011)

by on Dec.09, 2014, under 435 South Columns

Television these days is featuring programming about tough jobs. You have the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Row,” a huge hit. Then came oil workers in “Black Gold.” Tough guys all over the country sit on their couch, holding the remote, eating their chili cheese dogs and declare, “I can do that.” But none of these shows depict what is, in fact, the toughest job on the planet—playing Santa Claus to hundreds of toddlers. I know. Ten years ago I did just that, and I’ve been in therapy ever since.

You see, for years my law firm — Shook Hardy & Bacon — has had a “Santa day” when all our firm’s employees (more than 1,000) are invited to bring their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to come see Santa. For years the role was held by my senior partner John Dods. John, now deceased, was the classic grandfather — a model of composure, patience, civility and professionalism. And since most parents don’t like their daughters sitting on the laps of strangers, this tradition was enormously popular. Here, for once, parents knew Santa was not someone on furlough from Leavenworth.

What happened the day I took over, I cannot forget. When I arrived only 30 minutes early, not yet in costume, the organizers were on the verge of calling police reinforcements. I faced a crowd of anxious soccer moms not unlike those seen in the serving line at any Starbucks during the holiday season.

For the next four hours, each child paraded up and sat on my lap. How often does an adult get to listen and ask questions of 400 toddlers? Answer: never.

This was a pediatric clinical trial no psychologist could ever replicate. Every child had common features. Nine varieties of the common cold and flu, plus another dozen viruses not yet cultured by the world’s finest hospitals. This was a small price to pay to conduct my own pediatric Rorschach test. At the end of the day, I learned that the world contains four kinds of kids.

The first group—the “I want it all” kids. Santa’s authenticity is nowhere on their radar. If an adult is willing to listen, they will gladly spout their wish list. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m betting these kids do not aspire to work in the Peace Corps in Darfur. These kids already have the Nintendo DS and the Xbox. They’ve been to Disneyland, Disneyworld and had first-class treatment courtesy of Carnival Cruises. Their request can often come in an Excel spreadsheet, coupled with an affidavit of good behavior from their kid brother.

Frequent question: “Our house has five chimneys. Which one are you coming down?”

The second group is the toddlers. Typical age, 4 days to 4 years. For them, meeting with Santa is strictly a photo op.

Their brains are wired to mistrust the four horsemen of scary icons—clowns, jugglers, Sluggerrrr and that oversized Chuck Cheese rat. Add bad Santa to their list. Their brain says, Santa may live in the North Pole, but this guy lives in a van down by the river. I’m not buying it.” They start screaming once they get to the front of the line, and it reaches a fever pitch when mom tosses them on my lap.

The next group is the older kids. Typical age, 8 to 12. These are the nonbelievers and are here only because they have a younger sibling. It’s all a fraud, and their goal is to expose the faker for their little brother. The taunts come early and often.

“Hey Santa, can I pull on your beard?” “Where is Rudolph — in the parking garage?” “Do you know obesity puts you at risk for diabetes?” As the day wore on, I started to push back, but some of the best one-liners came to me later that evening after I was sipping on something cold.

“Hey kid, try something new — mouthwash.”

“The earth is full. Go home.” “I’m busy now, can I ignore you some other time?”

“Your braces are picking up radio signals. Plus last week’s pizza.”

The final group is comprised of the “chosen ones”—the sweetest, kindest, most loving children on the planet. Typical age, 4. The image of a halo sets them apart. They are most often girls. Santa is real, and this face-to-face is on par with meeting Snow White, Cinderella and God. Their requests sound like a prayer: “My brother wants a teddy bear, and he is trying to be nice. My parents work really hard, and it would be nice to give them some time off. I only want to make my grandpa get better. He is sick.” These toddlers offer the hope of redemption for an entire generation.

And when it was finally over, I stumbled down the office hallway, far away from the screaming crowd, shed the costume in a pile and started on my own wish list for Christmas—that John Dods would return as Santa the following year.

A substantial request that, I’m happy to report, came to fruition.

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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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What is good about good-bye? (published in August 435 South)

by on Sep.13, 2014, under 435 South Columns

Someone help me here.

Whether used in solemn occasions like when my mother died 12 years ago, or even lighthearted ones in everyday conversation with friends, there can be little good about someone you love leaving.

And when that someone is your only daughter, your last child, and the one whose existence has represented thoughtfulness and kindness juxtaposed against a universe defined much differently by her three older brothers — yes, I am challenged to find something constructive in watching her leave for college.

There is nothing good about this farewell.

There. I said it.

And as long as I’m challenging conventional notions, let me bulldoze another one: Whomever said parents shouldn’t play favorites didn’t have three sons and then a daughter.

Maggie’s world view early on has been defined by a prince on a white horse, met by a beautiful damsel walking among day lilies under a crystal blue sky. Artwork, worth noting, that does not include guns, monsters, tanks or GI Joe in a combat vest.

In grade school, inside the closet of her bedroom, she sketched a fairytale of her wedding to a first grade classmate. So beautiful and imaginative that even today, it remains more treasured than any fixture in that home.

And we haven’t lived there for 12 years.

As for that once darling classmate? All knees and elbows. The Golden Child, on the other hand? That part, for sure, remains storybook.

So spare me the dreadful yammering that Maggie’s send-off contains a silver lining. That she is ready for the real world, the next adventure, blah blah yada yada.

Just. Stop. Now.

I care nothing about Dr. Phil types who claim this is all a reaction to a fear of losing control. That has nothing to do with it. What is it about?

Three things.  1. Me.  2. See #1. 3. See #2.

Maybe it was denial, maybe it was distraction, but her pending farewell really didn’t hit me until this spring. Her final high school dance and then high school graduation — all dress rehearsals for the big show. I navigated those spring events relatively smoothly, thanks to another senior dad — Bill Kerns — who dispensed sound advice for all dads – “show up, shut up, and pay.”


But what’s the plan now? Show me the playbook, the 10-step plan for recalibrating my life. Give me the strategy and I will read it, and then shred it. This is the child whose cowboy boots on the hardwoods break the silence, whose doors fly open to a “hello,” who introduces me to television shows with vampires who keep diaries. She talks, even converses — an art her brothers lost back when Clinton was president. This is the child who, at age 15, wanted to earn her hunter safety certificate to duck hunt with you-know-who. Someone who walked into a crowded room at the Olathe Bass Pro Shop jammed with NRA dudes wearing ACCO Seed ball caps and then set the curve on the gun safety quiz.

Yeah, her.

The kid who buys advance tickets to “The Fault in Our Stars” — about two teens who meet at a cancer support group, fall in love, and, spoiler alert — one of them dies.

“I read the book in four hours,” Maggie told me as she headed out to the premier with five of her friends.

I’ve talked this over with my better half, but the conversations are difficult — especially with Lori curled in the fetal position surrounded by York mint wrappers.

I’ve asked other friends for guidance. “Get a Panera card and then a bird feeder. Visit the Goodfeet store. Get rid of the clock that rings every hour. Start a hobby.”

I have a hobby. You’re reading it. And it’s not working. Not one bit.

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