Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Fourth Grade Birthday Party Was in a Pawn Shop

Not many things are as impressionable to a young boy as a birthday party. And while much of our growing up is spent reluctantly learning that everything is not about us, a birthday party offers a reprieve from such lessons as we bask in a glory exclusively reserved for ourselves.

My mother threw me two birthday bashes while I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, we celebrated my birthday every year.  She’d fix me an angel food cake and have some sort of special dinner for me, but during my youth my mother threw me two PAR-TAYS. You know, an epic event that included other kids and where I didn’t have to hear things from adults like “Gregory, we thought you’d get some good out of this tie-tack.”

The first party was held when I was in Kindergarten. After the conclusion of Miss McCafferty’s morning session, my entire class shuffled and skipped across High Grove Road to my family’s little brown ranch house. Note it was my entire class—even the girls. Mom had her own notions of what “no child left behind” might have meant in 1967.  I’m not sure there was very much interaction between the sexes that day and my mother’s experiment in social engineering was quite a flop. But, the girls “showed up” and brought some pretty good presents—perhaps picked out by sports-loving fathers. And as far as I know no one got any cooties.

The Kindergarten party, although co-educational, was special because the confines of our living room and kitchen could not hold it. The size and scope and undoubtedly expected chaos of the event forced my mother  to move the festivities to  our one car garage. This “room” was reserved for really special occasions like grandparents’ 500th wedding anniversaries and the like. When events were held in the garage, the ladders and tools and motor oil would vanish, and only the feint scent of ethyl gas would linger.

Evidently it took my sweet mother four years to recover from that first birthday party, because I didn’t have another one until I turned ten in the fourth grade. By that time she knew I was a lost cause and let me invite whoever I wanted (translation: NO GIRLS) and she took it off-site—to the local pawn shop.

I guess the party wasn’t really at a pawn shop in 1971, unless you subscribe to some sort of goofy Lakehouse sort of time travel. It’s a pawn shop now—Super Pawn—on the west outer road of U.S. 71 Highway in Grandview, Mo. Back in 1971 it was a Burger Chef, and on that Spring day as “my boys” and I filed into the joint, we were greeted by wafting grease and cholesterol that smelled better than even the ethyl gas had in my dad’s garage four years earlier.

Burger Chef was a relatively late arrival onto the fast food landscape in Grandview. The upstart chain wasn’t exactly McDonald’s, but it seemed better than Griff’s, who I think sold like ten burgers for a dollar and had a blue and white striped roof or  Smak's, which boasted Smakky, a cute little seal who gave his "seal of approval" to all food sold there. For the record, I don't think that the Smakky ad campaign was devised on the set of Mad Men.

So Burger Chef enters the Grandview market and gave me another option for accelerating my coronary artery disease. Burger Chef had some great stuff. The Big Shef was a formidable sandwich as I recall, but I think the big draw for my party was a “Fun Meal” which included a Batburger.

The memories are fuzzy of that day, but I can still see the guys lining a wall of booths and tables just opposite the ordering counter. I can still see Randy and Barton and GregM (Gino) and Roger and Clay  and Billy B and all the other guys from Mrs. Bockleman's class squirting ketchup (not catsup) at each other and blowing the paper off their straws with the sort of enthusiasm that suggested they’d never done it before. I can see the fellas sitting on their knees stealing French fries from one another and I can see my precious mother trying to quiet them all enough to take a polaroid that would not survive. 

Today if you visit Super Pawn you can browse guitars and amplifiers and coins and other collectibles, but no remnant of Burger Chef remains. No smells, no sounds, no Big Shefs, no Batbugers.   The building is just real estate; the location just an address. 

Soren Kierkegaard said "Life can only be understood backwards...." Today, I look backwards and I understand well that my mother knew exactly what she was doing, and that two birthday parties, for me, were just right.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dems: Air Quality Affects Voter Preference

Democratic Party leaders met Friday to determine why so many people in the middle of the country voted for Mitt Romney instead of President Obama in last Tuesday's national election. After several hours of map study and discussion, the Dems identified one common denominator: fresh air.

 "We were sitting around looking at these maps trying to figure out what was going on out there in that sea of red in the middle of the country," said Senior Obama Strategist David Axelrod.  "And it finally hit me-an abundance of oxygen must be messing with these peoples brains to not have voted for the President."

 "We recognize that oxygen is an essential element for all Americans, but its bio-availability and its seemingly ubiquitous presence in the outlying regions of our country, you know away from population centers, must be playing more of a role in voter preference than any of us would have imagined," said DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "These people's judgment is definitely being compromised," she said.

Party leaders think identifying the so called "fresh air voter trend"  will give them a leg up on Republicans moving forward. "Since Republicans don't really understand chemistry, we are hoping they will totally miss this trend and keep doing whatever it is they've been doing," said Axelrod. "And, if they do find the link, we're confident they'll think it's "O-1" instead of "O-2."

Axelrod, while confident that he has found something politically noteworthy, was unsure Friday what the Democrats would do about it. "Right now I'm just giddy that we've discovered this phenomenon, so tonight I simply want to savor it," said Axelrod. "Tomorrow we'll begin developing a plan to redistribute carbon monoxide from our cities to those blasted red counties."

The so-called "oxygen gap" is not anything new, as political scientists first identified it in 1965 when the husband and wife tandem of Oliver and Lisa Douglas first debated the merits of "Fresh Air!" vs. "Times Square!" in the CBS sitcom Green Acres.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chiefs, Falcons to Play Six-Man Game

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced early this morning that Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs will be contested under the rules of six-man football. The action was taken after both teams criticized Goodell and other League officials earlier in the week for assigning a six-man officiating crew as replacements for the locked out regular NFL referees.

 “The NFL had indeed assigned the finest six-man officiating crew available from the Texas State High School Activities Association,” said NFL Spokesman Matt McGinnis. “So we’ve been wondering, hey, what’s the fuss about? This was the best crew available since all available refs from the Lingerie Football League were, quite frankly, spoken for by Jerry Jones,” he said.

Kansas City Coach Romeo Crennel became alarmed Tuesday when he was told the six-man crew’s head linesman, Jordan Thibodeaux, admitted he didn’t know which positions constituted the so called “interior line.” Thibodeaux, while watching NFL game film, was reportedly overheard saying “what are those two guys doing next to the center? They need to move away from him and run crisper routes.”

Thibodeaux, during an interview with ESPN The Magazine, confirmed fears shared by Crennel and Falcons’ coach Mike Smith. “The fact is, I don’t know what a right guard is, let alone a left guard,” said Thibodeaux, who usually refs games where only a center and two ends are on the line of scrimmage. “I think I would be awful confused with those extra ten guys running around on that big gridiron up there in K.C.”

Once Thibodeaux’s comments became public, Crennel called Smith with an idea.  “I called Mike and we started kicking around the idea of just changing up our offensive schemes a bit and giving the six-man format a shot,” said the Chiefs’ Crennel. “I thought, what the heck, that’s fewer guys for me to be running in and out of the game and it’s sort of like having a bye week even before the season gets under way," he said.  Added the Falcons’ Smith: “If those refs can’t officiate our brand of football, we thought, hey, let’s just suit up, strap it on and play their brand. I told Rac (Crennel), ‘it’s a win-win for all of us.’”

Six-man football, although played with the normal pigskin and with authentic features like goal posts and turf, contains a host of rules which differ from those found in the NFL game.  All linemen are eligible to receive passes and the game is typically played on an 80 yard field that is just 40 yards wide. This latter requirement prompted the Chiefs to bring George Toma out of retirement to ensure the placement of orange traffic cones on the Arrowhead turf would provide authentic six-man field dimensions.

Although generally amicable, the two clubs hit some rough spots while their respective GMs Scott Pioli (Chiefs) and Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons) agreed on some minor rule variations. The fact that each team’s center would be able to receive passes was a particular point of contention for the Falcons. “It was a no-go for us that (Chiefs center) Rodney Hudson could be a possible receiver on every play,” said Dimitroff. “Son...he got some reps at tight end down at Florida State and the film we broke down showed us that the kid can flat out catch the ball. He might be the first dual threat in both hiking and catching we’ve ever seen. No way were we going to go for that,” he said.

Reportedly an impasse was averted at Pioli’s suggestion that Hudson, although eligible, would not have to be tackled upon catching the ball but would instead be outfitted with a set of red recreational flags like those utilized in flag football games. “We talked about it and decided, yeah, if we don’t have to tackle Hudson, and only have to yank his flags off,  then we can live with him beating us once in a while on a down-out-and-up,” said Falcons’ GM Dimitroff.

Other peculiarities of the six-man game include 15-yard first downs, a 45 point “mercy rule” in the second half, and an odd scoring structure where a field goal is worth four, instead of three points. Each team reportedly believes these other nuances give them the advantage Sunday.

 “We think hands down  Matt Bryant is a better field goal kicker than Ryan Succop,” said the Falcons’ Smith.  “We will probably trot Matt out there pretty often on first and fifteen and just let him tee off,” he said. “Look, I think if Matt makes like eight field goals then that’d be like better than—if my math’s correct...carry the three—five  touchdowns!”

Crennel thinks the mercy rule will work in the Chiefs’ favor Sunday. “Man, we’re going to jump on them early in the game then get up by 45 or 46 early in the third quarter,” said Crennel. “We do that and it’s lights out! Our fans will be back in the parking lot tailgating by 2:15.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 12:05 local time Sunday in Kansas City where the game will be broadcast by Fox and the Texas High School Cable Network.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

McCaskill Dumps Ad Agency For Not Coloring Opponent Akin

Kansas City—In a surprise move today, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced she has fired the advertising agency responsible for the attack ads aimed at her Republican opponent, Representative Todd Akin of St. Louis County.  The firing of the agency, Plus+Plus+Plus, comes on the heels of the firm’s release of a fifth consecutive ad depicting Akin in exclusively black and white photography.

“The good people of Missouri have a right to judge Todd Akin on the entirety of his personhood, including the color of his clothes and skin,” said McCaskill in a prepared statement. “And quite frankly, my recent advertising campaign has deprived the Show Me State’s electorate of that opportunity,” she said.

In the aftermath of  Akin’s  victory in Missouri’s Republican Senatorial primary, McCaskill launched a no-holds-barred assault on Akin’s conservative principles, citing the Congressman as “out of touch with mainstream Missouri,” but most alarmingly depicting him as disgustingly “non colorful.” McCaskill’s ads have only portrayed Akin in black and white images and most of the photos were blurry, contorted, and appeared to portray Akin as picking his nose. In one of the most aggressive of McCaskill’s  television  commercials,  Akin was shown brandishing an axe dripping with blood. In every instance, McCaskill was juxtaposed in colorful designer ball gowns and business suits, typically with a smile on her face.

“I admit that I am scared to death that the voters of Missouri will realize that Todd Akin actually has very beautiful blue eyes,” said McCaskill, peeking through the window of her limousine parked just outside of the Nodaway County Courthouse. “I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering how my chances might turn if the voters saw that really snappy red and blue tie Todd rocked at last year’s Joint Chamber Christmas Party," she said. “But I have decided I must win or lose on the issues, not on the our ability to Photoshop that smirk on Todd’s face—Hah-Hah, but that was a pretty good one, huh?” she said as she slapped her knee repeatedly.

McCaskill’s announcement sent shockwaves through the Democratic National Committee. DNC Chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, when told of McCaskill’s decision, was beside herself. “What was Claire thinking?” said Wasserman Schultz. “Now we must develop a whole set of talking points that are grounded in factual information. We were prepared for almost every eventuality, but we certainly didn’t see this one coming,” she said. “I need to get back to Florida to develop a strategy that will not include Photoshop.”

The Akin campaign seemed equally stunned and was also caught off guard by McCaskill’s announcement. “We are obviously pleased that in Senator McCaskill’s commercials Todd will no longer look like he walked off the set of a 1962 Perry Mason episode,”  said Akin Communications Director Ryan Hite. “You know, even if it was that one really cool episode, I think it was The Case of the Terrified Typist where Hamilton Burger had Perry dead to rights...well, anyways—no one in this Millennium  likes to be portrayed picking his nose in grayscale.”

Akin, boarding a plane at Lambert Field in St. Louis, seemed upbeat when told the news. “Good for Claire,” he said. “I’m glad I packed that navy blue double-breasted sport coat for this trip.” Maybe she can get a couple of shots of me in that,” he said.

Although not confirmed, it was reported that the campaigns intend to get together next week to discuss the viability of a series of debates for later this Autumn in which McCaskill and Akin will wear the exact same outfits and avoid make up of any kind. An unidentified source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said both the Senator and Congressman are excited about the proposed dress code and are optimistic that other details can be finalized just as soon as they determine which, if any, issues need to be discussed at the debates.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vur-SI or Vur-SALES? An International Debate

Today my wife and daughter are touring the famous Palace of Versailles while I try to fix the aerator pump in our septic tank. But that’s okay, at least I’m not cutting the brush that obscures our potty pond, which is the ultimate destination of the “effluent” which is currently not being aerated.

The Palace of Versailles, in case you’ve never watched Madeline, is the historic center of French Government. It was perhaps in its heyday prior to the French Revolution of the late 18th Century.  It was also the site of the signing of the famous Treaty of Versailles, which outlined the terms of the armistice for World War I.

The Palace of Versailles, or more aptly Chateau De Versailles, is located in the once-remote-but-now suburban (Paris) community of Versailles. I state this fact to draw attention to the lack of sense shown by the French in employing the common Osage River Valley dialect of the English language when naming buildings and cities.

You see, as a Missourian, I am very familiar with the correct pronunciation of any town which may be spelled V-E-R-S-A-I-L-L-E-S.  Clearly, it would be Vur-SALES, as in the county seat of Morgan County near the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.

But the pretentious French get this wrong in their own backyard. They pronounce the palace and town as Vur-SI, and in so doing provide we Missourians a grave disservice. But we here in The Show Me State don’t buy into all that mumbo jumbo. We realize calling Vur-SALES, Vur-SI, is like me calling my septic tank PepĂ© Le Pew.

Not that Versailles, Missouri in any way should be compared to a septic tank. It is a very fine community, and an extremely enjoyable gateway to the Lake of the Ozarks. As I recall, the community has a very fine golf course located on Missouri Route 5 north of town. If memory serves I birdied hole number 3 there in 1982. But memory does not often serve.

Versailles used to be home to a Ticonderoga pencil factory. Ticonderoga, if you recall from your 2nd Grade Scooby Doo Schoolbox, made the very functional Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. It also made the Ticonderoga No. 3, which in my view was not at all an improvement on the Ticonderoga No. 2 as it would always break and would not present crisp lettering when writing a note to “your neighbor.” And besides, the No. 3 was never “specced” in the School Supplies Advisory published each August in the newspaper.  So if your mom bought you No. 3s instead of No. 2s you’d probably be in big, big, trouble.

But I digress. The real reason the Ticonderoga factory closed in 2005 was that the Dixon-Ticonderoga plant was purchased by the Italian conglomerate Fila. And, as with any Italian conglomerate, they can’t get passed losing World War II. They keep saying stuff like “The Axis will rise again” and “Long Live Benito” and they go to closing plants they own in any town that appears to have  a French name. The whole plant closure thing was just a bad case of mistaken identity and the good people of Versailles (Missouri) suffered because of it.

But in fairness, we Missourians have not always gotten it right when trying to name things after something legitimately French. A good example would be Lake Pomme de Terre. This is another beautiful lake in Southwest Missouri not far from the nice little bergs of Wheatland and Hermitage. The name absolutely  flows from the lips, whether or not one utilizes his native Osage River Valley dialect or the actual French.

But I’m not sure we did our homework on this one. Pomme de Terre means Apple (Pomme) of the Earth (Terre). So far, so good. But the bad news is the “apple of the earth” is, well, a potato. So the next time you’re fishing or skiing or otherwise recreating on Lake Pomme de Terre you need to realize you’re really just on something called Potato Lake. Somehow I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce down there is going to latch onto that one.

I suppose visiting France is a fine way to pass the time if you have nothing to fix or aerate. And, I’m sure Versailles and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are the European equivalents of the cool stuff to visit here like Silver Dollar City. 

However, I believe one can experience French, near-French, or French Wannabe culture right here in the Show Me State. Beyond Versailles, there are the Missouri towns of Paris and Bonne Terre and Desloge and Bois D’Arc (means Hedgeapple-go figure) and Ste. Genevieve. And if that’s not enough you can float the Robidoux Creek or snag paddlefish (a/k/a “spoonbill”) on the Marais des Cygnes. Who wants to endure the jetlag when all these enchanting places beckon from among our own backyard?

In closing, and in the spirit of Madeline, I’ll just say this: “That's all there is; there isn't any more.”

Vive La Ticonderoga! And Vive Pepe’ Le Pew!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My entry into the 2012 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest was slammed into the jusdges' trash cans with more velocity than a Blake Griffin dunk through an orange NBA rim.

So once again, I'm a LOSER. I should have known. My 22 year old daugher didn't get it. My wife kindly cautioned: "I guess I just don't think it's that funny."

I tried to appeal to the largely female judging panel by talking about my inner "Texas-high-school-cheer-mom" and stuff like that, hoping they'd think I was a woman (I forgot that strategy when I started talking about my wife later on).

Then I hoped that writing about Words With Friends would appeal to the word-geeek side of the judges, but then I guess that backfired too. Oh well, at least the contest gave me an excuse to write and made me jettison a lumbering 500 words from a previous blog post on the same topic.

So that I can end a two month posting drought on this blog, I'll post my contest entry here. The esteemed winners' entries are posted at the following link:

My heartfelt congratulations and strangulations go out to them....
All's Fair in Words With Friends
I’m compulsively obsessed with Words With Friends. It’s the electronic version of Scrabble, and it’s turned me into someone I no longer recognize. The game has caused me to contemplate heretofore unthinkable things—like  cheating or opening a dictionary.

Words With Friends, like another WWF—the World Wrestling Federation, is simply raw, bone-crushing and contorted competition.  It brings out my inner Texas-high-school-cheer-mom, and prevents me from carrying out important daily activities like working, sleeping, or going to the bathroom.

Words With Friends particularly interferes with my work day, which has now been reduced to something akin to a kindergarten recess. Well-meaning people, who are theoretically contributing to our country’s gross domestic product, send me game requests and make moves all the business day long.  And unlike Alec Baldwin’s flight attendant, these requests and moves are difficult to ignore.

Last week while I was on a conference call, I put this guy on speaker phone while I scoured my computer screen for a place to put my “Q.” At a critical juncture on the call the guy asked me a question to which I started to shout “Quasar!”

But this crazy game doesn’t just hamper my work productivity. A dangerous feature of Words With Friends is that there are no pesky time limits in between moves. So after scoring a Triple Letter/Triple Word, I have ample time to go mow the lawn, make nachos, or vacation in Paris. All this anonymity and “down time” is fraught with danger, however, as it allows me to dream sketchy dreams like buying black market vowels from a Colombian vowel-Lord.
My depravity is fully unleashed when I play my wife. She is a wordsmith, par excellence, so I will resort to all manner of deceptive practices in my attempts to beat her. Last week while she was in the shower, I happened to walk by her computer and behold, there before me was the game we were playing against one another.  I seized the opportunity and made an especially skillful move on her behalf.  
Can I help it if her only play—“IT”—is only worth two points?

Me later: “Honey, haven’t we discussed you not logging off and leaving your computer unattended?  And, let’s not miss the point—most people shower well before 3:15 p.m. on weekdays.”

I highly recommend Words With Friends, unless you have burdensome demands on your life such as a job or family. If not, then indulge yourself, but don’t let the intensity of the competition change who you are at your core.

It’s time for me to run. I’ve got a 10 o’clock with a Proper Noun who represents a Consonant Cartel.

About Greg: 
When not brokering commercial real estate in Missouri, Greg Finley scribbles about business, sports, and life in the country at .  He’s been published in  the Wall Street Journal under a headline entitled For Sale: Staples-Anchored Shopping Center in Rolla, Missouri. Perhaps his greatest work of fiction was crafted while serving as the lead author of the 1988 Olathe, Kansas Comprehensive Plan. It was during this project that he was accused of feeding at the public trough. Indeed he was. While in college, Greg once missed a 49 ½ yard field goal wide right by a hair. This event has been responsible for decades of night sweats. He lives in the Kansas City hinterlands with his wife and five children.