Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Kansas Interlude

“Wyatt Earp, who was on our city police force last summer, is in town again. We hope he will accept a position on the force once more. He had a quiet way of taking the most desperate characters into custody which invariably gave one the impression that the city was able to enforce her mandates and preserve her dignity. It wasn't considered policy to draw a gun on Wyatt, unless you got the drop and meant to burn powder without any preliminary talk.”

- Dodge City Times, July 7, 1877
I've done my best to conform to the sterotypes of Kansas life. You've got a picture of Dorothy and a couple of her friends and you also have a pithy little quote from the Dodge City Times. Now, it's on to better things.

Nancy and I just spent a couple of days in Wichita. The primary reason for going was her birthday; the secondary reason was to get some work done on our car.

I suppose we could have found someplace closer for our interlude, but since one of the two Volvo dealers in Kansas is in Wichita it just made sense to put the two things together.

My guess is that a lot of easterners, particularly New Yorkers, find the idea of driving a hundred miles to get a car serviced or celebrate a birthday beyond understanding. They probably think that life here in “flyover country” is like riding a bicycle with two different sized wheels. That’s alright, the feeling’s mutual. As John Updike once said, “When I write I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.”

I’ve lived in both worlds and I’ve found that Kansas has grown on me. Like Updike, I see New York and the larger world as vague little spots a little east of Emporia. As far as I’m concerned my digs in the Kansas Flint Hills are the center of the universe.

At any rate, we drove a hundred miles to celebrate Nancy’s birthday and to get our car serviced.

We stayed at the Inn at the Park in the College Hill section of Wichita, which is a very pleasant area of the city. There are lots of old trees, oaks, redbuds, maples, and mulberries lining the streets. The homes are primarily Victorian, but there are also a few Dutch colonials and bungalows sandwiched in between these grand old places. There’s even a Frank Lloyd Wright home not far from the inn.

The innkeeper told us that this section of Wichita goes back to the days when cowboys moved herds of cattle from Texas. They’d stop on the “other side” of the Arkansas (pronounced Are-Kansas) River. The bankers and the hoi polloi on the upscale side of the river wouldn’t allow the cowboys to come across unless they checked their guns in with the sheriff. They did, however, manage to broker cattle deals for them, which meant that the cowboys got about enough money from the deals to frequent brothels that sprang up on their side of the river. The bankers, who profited handsomely, got to build the sumptuous homes.

We were fortunate enough to get the Inn’s premier accommodations, a carriage house directly in back of the main building. If I’m not mistaken the innkeeper called it the “Thoroughbred.” For ninety nine bucks a night it was about ten times better than what you would get for four hundred a night in New York City.

On Sunday night we went down the street to the Crown Uptown Dinner Theatre and had a bit of buffet and a front row table to enjoy a group of local artists performing “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” The meal wasn’t the most memorable, but I’ve been humming “Poison Ivy” ever since the meal and the performance were over.

On Monday, based on the innkeeper’s recommendation, we drove to Wichita’s Old Town and spent an hour or so at a store called Dock 410. The man who owns the store, whose name now escapes me, calls it a place for “purveyors of antiques and cool stuff.” It is that, and more. We split up and Nancy went one way and I went the other. By the time the hour was up I’d found a copy of Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica,” printed in 1822, and in Latin no less. I just had to have it. I’ve read Aquinas and figured this would give me a chance to brush up on my Latin, which I haven’t studied for over forty years. It seemed good to me, since I have a hard enough time reading Aquinas in English as it is. Aquinas in Latin couldn’t be much worse than Aquinas in English. And if I fail to understand Thomas, as I almost surely will, I figure I’ll have a dead language as an excuse for my thick headedness.

Nancy bought a small picture titled “The Parson.” It’s the image of a pudgy middle-aged man with a nineteenth century version of a nine iron in his hands. The “parson” probably should have been preaching to his flock, but the lure of the links was obviously too much for him. She also spent a few minutes talking to the owner, whose name still escapes me. He was lamenting the twenty-first century fact that good help is almost impossible to find. I meandered over just about the time he was saying, “I’d rather just do all the work myself than to hire someone. Every time I do hire someone the person has an expectation that I should just give them money and not expect them to work.”
“It sounds like a lot of the young people I meet nowadays,” I chuckled. “They just seem to want to float.”
He and Nancy chuckled back, nodding in agreement.

From Dock 410 we made our way to Hatman Jack’s. We were told that Jack is the hatter of the stars and that he’s provided hats for shows like Dr.Quinn, Medecine Woman. I don’t know whether that’s true, but I do know that there were a helluva’ lot of hats in that place.

Nancy has been telling me that she’s tired of my worn old baseball caps, so I bought a straw hat, age appropriate. I left looking like a sixty-two year old man.

Next there was lunch at a local bookstore. I had a cup of tomato bisque and Nancy had some concoction of peanuts, cucumbers, and cole-slaw. I also got a couple of books while there, “Divided by God” and Thomas Frank’s “One Market Under God.” I guess I bought the first one because I was curious about the title. I’ve only read the first chapter so far and it appears that God, as almost always nowadays, gets blamed by the left for America’s political divisions. I’m taking it all in stride, as I’m sure the Almighty is too. He gets blamed for lots of things. Just look at any insurance policy and you’ll see what I mean. The folks from Allstate to State Farm have been using Him as a crutch for years. How does the policy read in those places where they tell the unsuspecting consumer what they aren’t going to cover? They’re “acts of God,” like lightning, hail, flood, pestilence. I’ve never seen them use words like sunshine, unless of course there’s too much of that, in which case you’ll find at the worst possible moment that you won’t be covered for drought.

I bought Thomas Frank’s book because I’m curious about what he’s going to do to capitalism after the hatchet job he did to Kansas a while back. I can hardly wait to find out how evil the system is and I’m even more curious about what he’s going to do with the royalties from the book’s sales. I’ll read it with great amusement and catalogue his thoughts as grist for my writing mill. I think that’s alright; that’s the way capitalism should work. And, knowing that, I don’t want to complain about a fella’ who can take advantage of his gift of gab. More power to him, I say. Even gadflies have to make a living.

In case you’re wondering about Nancy’s birthday, it was a grand affair. I had pork tenderloin cooked in some sort of cranberry sauce and she had a filet mignon.

We spent the evening talking about our nineteen years together and where we’re going from here. The question of regrets came up. You know, the “would you change some of the things in your past if you could?” question. We both decided we would if we could. For Nancy her real dream was to be either an architect or an interior designer. I think the idea is especially appealing to her now, with many of our friends calling her when they are going to do something with their homes. She’s the first person they call. And, there’s good reason for that. She’s got a wonderful eye for beauty, balance, and simplicity.

As for me, I told her I always wanted to be a war correspondent. I guess in a manner of speaking my dream is coming true. This blog has become my way of reporting on the culture war going on in America right now. It’s not the shooting war I envisioned when I was young, but it’s a war nonetheless.

One of the things that Nancy shared with me was her sense that I write much better when I talk about personal experience and history rather than positing ideas or overtly advancing my conservative philosophy. She said that all of the things I want to say are already embedded in my journey and that people who really read it understand not only my history, but also the ideas that drive me. She also said that I do much better when I allow readers to read between the lines, using my history and observations as a springboard for them to think about their lives in both concrete and abstract terms. Then, she really flattered me by calling me a “storyteller.” I think the way she put it was in saying that I have a unique view of life and that’s what interests people.

To that end, I’ve decided to embark on a literary journey, telling as much of my story in increments as I’m willing to unmask. My hope is that in telling the story people will be drawn to their own stories and their own uniqueness.

It’s a risky business, I think. I wonder how accurate my memory of events is. I wonder how others who shared the same events will see them. History, I think, is far more subjective than we’ve been led to believe.

Nancy bought a book by John Irving at the same time I bought my two. At the very beginning there’s a quote from William Maxwell:

“What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory – meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion – is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they can conform to this end.”

So, our little Kansas interlude is over. Starting tomorrow I’ll be embarking on this literary journey. I hope you’ll join me.


James Fletcher Baxter said...

I sent Mr. Frank a copy of The Human Paradigm, with a notation reading, "Kansas comes closer than California."

I'll let you know if he has any comment - other than the usual boring wordy humanism, collectivism, and narrow elitism devoted to above-average mediocrity. jfb

Bob said...

As a fellow transplant to Kansas and a resident of Wichita, I enjoyed your post and am glad you had a good time here. I really love your Blog. I wish I could write as well as you do.Thanks for the insiration.

Anonymous said...

that was loooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnggggg

Fred said...

Love the old news clip regarding Earp. In case you haven't been there, True West magazine has a web site now with some of their articles on the old west. Also some historical quizzes there that I failed horribly at

Gone Away said...

Wonderful idea - Nancy is correct, I think. I look forward to reading your life story.

But I loved Kansas from the moment I first saw it... ;)

Anonymous said...

“...I told her I always wanted to be a war correspondent. I guess in a manner of speaking my dream is coming true. This blog has become my way of reporting on the culture war going on in America right now. It’s not the shooting war I envisioned when I was young, but it’s a war nonetheless.”

What's going on culturally in America right now is a “war” only to the extent that one person’s vision of the country cannot abide another’s. When one part of the nation wants to curtail free speech or free expression in the name of “morality” (one that is religiously based) or “patriotism” (however ill-defined), I think that goes against the spirit of what the Founders had in mind. Not that I'm all for shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre, but a free society should be open-minded and soberly weigh the concrete costs — not only the theoretical benefits or short-term partisan gains — of any restrictions of expression.

I’m saddened that Phil thinks of American culture in terms of a “war.” That implies that only one cultural viewpoint should prevail — while others must be defeated unconditionally. To call it a “war” leaves no room for negotiation or compromise. And this lays the groundwork for an all-or-nothing attitude.

As the writer Shelby Foote said in the PBS documentary The Civil War, that internecine conflict came about “because we [Americans] failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise; our whole government is founded on it, and it failed.”

Government, it appears, is no longer about compromise. It's now about steamrolling the oposition. It's now about declaring a “mandate” with a 51% majority — while the other 49% can go jump in the lake.

I sometimes wonder if those who talk of American cultural disagreements in terms of war wouldn’t mind seeing some shooting — as long as their side wins, of course.

Rob in L.A.

James Fletcher Baxter said...


"Compromise 1. An adjustment or settlement by mutual concession, usually involving a partial surrender of claims, purposes, or principles." Funk & Wagnalls - Standard College Dictionary

Compromise has no principle of virtue of its own. It is an indefinite and relativistic point between two opposing value systems. The 'gray area' between a definitive 'black and white.' Lacking black or white attachment, it is minus any quality of virtuous degree of value and thus cannot even define its own 'grayness.'

Those who tolerate compromise as a mind-set prior to encounter have no loyalty to criteria or the reasoned courage of convictions necessary to maintain and thereby make quality much less likely to prevail.

All wars come about because of compromise by politicians and government bureaucrats - often in the name of 'peace.' Failure to maintain principle makes societies vulnerable to other unprincipled forces and powers.

Because man cannot invent criteria greater than themselves, anonymous humanists have no standards greater than self. Locked into an ego-centric lifestyle, they see no reason not to compromise anything anytime. Faithless, "Why not?"

Commitment to non-manmade standards equips the human individual and family to anticipate the future accurately and thus inspires Vision and Courage in the faithful.

Now we know why there is no compromise validated as virtue, ethic, or moral in God's Word. Want to live dangerously? Try living in "the middle ground," compromise. Unknown buffoons welcome! selah

"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." Revelation 3:16

"Got Criteria?" See Psalms 119:1-176