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Another Welcome Hour of Sunlight

The biggest news on Sunday was that the clocks sprang forward by an hour, and as far as we’re concerned it was good news. We arrived at church and took our turn giving the communion message with an hour’s less sleep than usual, and then arrived at Kirby’s Beer Store to commune with our more friends after an extra hour of nap time, but other than that it was all good.
For one thing, the clock in our car that we never got around to adjusting last fall is once again telling us the correct time, although we’ll probably spend another week or two getting used to not having to mentally spring it forward it another hour. More importantly, for the next several months there will be an hour’s less darkness in the day. There’s not actually an extra hour of daylight, as God created both the heavens and earth and set our planet rotating around the sun and revolving and tilting on its axis according to His plan, and despite mankind’s advanced science and government and arrogance there’s nothing much we can do about it except to subtract an hour of daylight from the morning and add it to the evening, but we make it a practice to sleep until well past daylight and stay up long past dark at all times of the year, so it’s an extra hour of daylight to us.
One of our secular friends at Kirby’s Beer Store was complaining that he’ll be getting up in the dark for the next several weeks to get to his job on time at the Wichita State University across the street, and we’re sure there are some wheat farmers around here with the same complaint, and we sympathize with their plight, but on Sunday we mostly figured that’s their problem. Next fall the clocks will fall back an hour, and those unfortunate early risers will have their extra hour of sleep before church, and Kirby’s Beer Store will get an extra hour of business, so God’s perfectly synchronous plan for the universe and humankind’s arrogant scientific and governmental meddling with the clocks seems to work out out pretty equably for everyone in the end.
Even more importantly, the clocks springing forward is yet another harbinger of spring. Like the announcement that pitchers and catchers are reporting to major league baseball’s spring training, or the different sorts of birds we notice along the Little Arkansas River, or the incremental minutes of daylight that follow the damned winter solstice, it’s another indication that some combination of God’s perfect plan for the universe and the best of humankind’s intentions will alway deliver another rebirth of life from the dead of winter, and that something of good will follow. We’ll happily trade that for an hour of sleep we’ll eventually recoup one way or another.

— Bud Norman

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The Beat Goes On in the Heartland

Wichita is a surprising city, and even after more than half a century here we have recently been surprised to discover that the local music scene is better than ever and suddenly as good as you’ll find in far bigger cities.
Kirby’s Beer Store held its annual “Meat Fest” on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and you should have been there. The notorious little ghetto dive bar has been holding the event in the dead of winter for the past couple of decades are so, and it always features plenty of free meat grilled on the patio, a non-stop lineup of local bands, and a massive crowd of young and old hipsters, but this year’s edition was the best we can recall. The hot dogs and sausages and burgers and pulled barbecue barbecue were delicious, and the music even more so. We didn’t get to hang around long enough to hear all of the 38 — count ’em, 38 — local acts, but we heard enough to confirm that Wichita at the moment is one of America’s most musical cities.
Aside from the quality and quantity of the output, we were also struck by its diversity. On Thursday we heard an intriguing jazz-rock-hip-hop quarter called the Lewelheads, the next night was a hard-rocking but straight-up country-and-western outfit called Sunshine Trucking, and Saturday’s highlight was a rough-edged punk band with a slightly country woman singing called Herd of the Huntress. Sunday brought an assortment of small group and solo acts, including a sleepy-eyed six-foot-six or so fellow of approximately 280 pounds who bills himself Tired Giant and had some heartbreaking songs about his alcoholic dad, a dreadlocked young white woman named Juliet Celedor, and a hard-to-define trio of bass and cello and guitar called Sombre Sangre. Local hard rock legends Black Flag also performed, as did the popular blues chanteuse Jenny Wood and the venerable jazz guitarist Sterling Gray, and the always excellent guitarist and singer Tom Page did a set, and we’re told we missed a whole lot of other good stuff.
Somehow some of the city’s best missed the lineup, too. The top-notch folk-country-jazz-blues Haymakers couldn’t be there, Folk rocker and standards singer Nikki Moddelmog and her crack brand were unavailable, and although the lovely rock chanteuse Lalanea Chastain was in the audience she never took the stage, and there’s a very hot young trumpet-playing jazzbo named Nathan williams who didn’t appear with either of his two very good outfits. Not to mention all the great show tune singers and gospel shouters in town who didn’t get an invitation.
Not bad for a mid-sized city in the middle of the country, but Wichita does have its advantages. Folks have been playing music all along around here, and the city has produced such notable performers as rockabilly legend Marvin Rainwater and hippie heroes The Serfs and the all-time great punk band The Embarrassment, as well the punk-bluegrass Split Lip Rayfield with its small but fervent internal cult following, and a surprising number of globally acclaimed opera singers. Here in the middle of the country Wichita was a regular stop for all the great jazz bands of Kansas City’s heyday, as well as northern stop for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and all the great western swing outfits, the southern bluesman also played here on a regular basis, and Wichita always welcomed all the hard-rocking bands from the industrial midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. The music departments at Wichita State University and Friends University supply the city with well-trained classical and jazz players, too, and the city’s churches provide plenty more thoroughly educated musicians, not to mention all the autodidacts that Wichita seems to spawn.
Wichita’s big enough to have talented people from each of America’s many rich musical traditions, but it’s small enough that they all wind up meeting one another and playing together and creating some intriguing combinations of styles you won’t find elsewhere. The city is racially diverse, as well, and lately several of its best bands feature talented white and black and Latino and Native American and Asian players, and the teenagers and the twenty-somethings and even the players we fondly remember from our long-ago youth on the Wichita music scene also get together.There’s a variety of venues of various sizes that offer them a place to play, and the city government has even started a free bus service along the stretch of Douglas where you’ll find most of them. Lacey Cruse, another talented singer, was recently elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, and music retains a powerful influence in Wichita.
Throughout America’s rich musical history such cities as New Orleans and Chicago and Memphis and Nashville and New York and Los Angeles have always played an outsized role, and at times such locals as Akron, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and Minneapolis and Oklahoma City have their eras of prominence, but American music lovers shouldn’t overlook Wichita, especially now.
If you’re out of town and can’t make here for a night at Kirby’s or Barleycorns or the Shamrock or the Artichoke or the Cotillion or that new Wave place over in rocking Old Town, we suggest you venture out in your own hometown to see what’s cooking in the local dives. What’s on the radio and television these days is mostly awful, and the best American music has always popped in the most unusual places, so there’s a good chance you’ll find something better.

— Bud Norman

An Early Christmas and a Break From the News

It was still November and warmer than usual on the central plains Wednesday evening, but we nonetheless found ourselves ironing a button-down shirt and some pleated pants and donning a coat and tie to commence the Christmas season, which seems to come earlier every year. The occasion was a Christmas party the beloved folks were hosting at their swanky retirement home over on the newfangled and schmanty-fancy east side, and we must say it mostly provided a pleasant distraction from all the news and the rest of the modern world.
The other guests at the elegantly adorned table were a charming couple who have been married for nearly 70 years, and had been courting since he was in the second grade and she in the first, another delightful pair who had also been childhood sweethearts but only got together in her widowhood after many happy days, another dear woman recently widowed after as 66 years of fruitful marriage, as well as the beloved folks, whose sixtieth year of marriage seems their best yet, even closer and more heartfelt than in those carefree early days in exotic places that they still love to talk about. Our own romantic history isn’t so much worth talking about, especially with all the heartwarming conversation that was going on, so we happily sipped the wine that was served with each delicious course and vicariously soaked in the memories. Everyone at the table also told tales of the rigorous educations and successful careers that had brought them to that swanky retirement home, and the friends and children and hard times and belly laughs they had encountered along the way, as well as some fascinating talk about a couple of golf outings where one had a buddy who died on the green and another hit a hole-in-one. Our own educational and professional careers aren’t so much worth talking about, especially in such company, and we never did get the hang of golf, but it did our heart well to listen in.
Eventually the talk got around to politics, and we weren’t the least bit surprised that everyone else said they voted for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, the thrice-married-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times bankrupt casino-and-strip-club-mogul and former reality star and professional wrestling performer. None of them seemed at all happy about it, but they all noted that their only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose romantic and professional history also isn’t worth talking about, so we couldn’t argue with their reasons nor their hard-earned presence. Our mom revealed that we hadn’t voted for Trump, so we quickly explained that we sure enough also hadn’t voted for Clinton, along with our rote statement that we were against her back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and saying she was the best Secretary of State ever, and in their wizened wisdom they seemed respectful of our choice.
In the America that our fellow Christmas revelers grew up in neither Clinton nor Trump would have ever been even momentarily considered for the presidency, but they’ve all seen some less-than-stellar presidents in their times, and on our way back from the men’s room we overheard another one of the residents talking about her grandson with the weird hair, and even on such a warmer-than-usual evening and such a convivial Christmastime celebration there’s no escaping the conclusion that times have changed. Our fellow revelers had been through many changes, some for the better and some for the worse, and they all seemed hopeful, so we took that with us on the way home.
You can quickly get from our folk’s swanky retirement home on the fancy-schmantzy east side to our old but fashionable neighborhood by taking the bypass and the canal route to 13th Street, but we decided to take the city streets that wind past Kirby’s Beer Store, the notorious bohemian dive bar where we stopped to take in a beer and some convivial conversation with the lovable losers we always find there. A couple of our younger yet seasoned musician friends gave us a complimentary copy of a seven-inch vinyl surf music revival record they’ve recently cut here in the central plains, we had a nice chat with a delightful and still idealistic young fellow we’ve recently met who is studying journalism at the university across the street and is seriously considering a newspaper career, which we can’t recommend but can’t quite bring ourselves to discourage, given our own well-remembered but currently unsatisfactory history in the profession, and all in all it was a nice stop in a day away from the news. Nobody seemed particularly pleased with that moment in history, but they had same fatalistic hope as at the earlier party, so we decided to carry that home as well.
There will be another round of news today, probably, but for now we’ll just try to pass along that same hope of wizened old age and idealistic youth as well as  our early wishes for a Merry Christmas.

— Bud Norman

A Chance of Thunderstorms, Politics, and Other Passing Problems

A chance of thunderstorms is in the forecast for our portion of the Kansas plains today, but despite all that global warming hysteria the weather around here hasn’t been anything like that “Wizard of Oz” kind of scary for the past several early falls, and we’re holding out hope the coming weekend will also be free of any extraordinary political turbulence. Our Thursday afternoon was mostly devoted to sitting around the lobby of one of those free market medical facilities that have lately proliferated on the east side of our humble prairie hometown, anxiously awaiting the results of our beloved Pop’s eyelid surgery, and as anxious at it was at least we weren’t paying any attention to that awful presidential race, so we hold out hope that blessing lasts through the weekend.
Our beloved Pop at long, long last emerged from his surgery in seemingly fine shape, still a bit loopy from the happy pills they’d given him to keep his spirit up and his eyes open during the grueling hours-long procedure but cognizant enough to order a Sprite and ask some pertinent questions about the doctor’s post-op orders, so at that point we were inclined to call it a good day. During that long wait we also had a nice chat with our beloved Mom, despite her own apparent anxieties, although even that heart-to-heart conversation couldn’t avoid the rest of the world. Our beloved Mom is a refined and cultured woman who long ago slapped a proper respect for the English language and other highfalutin ideas about western civilization into our stubborn heads, but she’s also an Okie by birth and upbringing, so of course she led the conversation to the latest football results, which in turn led to a mutually desultory talk about those National Football League players who won’t stand for the national anthem and how the National Collegiate Athletic Association is boycotting North Carolina because it insists on the very same sex-segregated locker room arrangements as the NCAA.
With nothing to distract us but weeks old copies of People Magazine and Sports Illustrated and other waiting room fare full of people we’d never heard of, that inevitably led us to the point when our beloved Mom confessed that both she and our beloved Pop had quite reluctantly decided to vote for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, as much as they loathed him, but only because the only alternative was Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and at that point we were in no mood to dissuade either of them. They wheeled our Pop out of the surgery room a seemingly long while later, and we and our beloved Mom then wheel-chaired him into the comfort of his easy chair on the third floor of a rather swank east-side old folks’ home, and after we were convinced they could take it from there we headed on home.
Conveniently located on the way home was the notorious local dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, so of course we stopped in there along the way. The relatively young bartender with the National Geographic earrings was on the job, which we were glad to see because he’s such a great guy, and the only other customer was a fine fellow of our long acquaintance with a Roy Acuff tattoo on his forearm and who plays a mean rockabilly guitar, and with “Goodfellas” playing on the bar’s television we had a fine talk about our favorite gangster movies. This naturally led to talk of the presidential elections, and after some sincere sympathy from them about our beloved Pop’s plight, and despite our usual disagreements about politics, we all wound up agreeing we wouldn’t vote for any of the major party candidates. Oddly enough, and comfortingly enough, we find ourselves in agreement with all sorts of people on this point lately.
No matter how all that political stuff turns out, we cling to some hope that it won’t be “Wizard of Oz” scary, and that those free market medical joints on the east side will continue to provide due care to such deserving folks as our beloved Pops, and that our beloved and high-cultured Mom will continue to regale us with the latest reviews from her book club and the latest football results, and that our friends in low places will share with us both a beer and a disdain for the rest of it.

— Bud Norman

Staying Out of the Race

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced Tuesday that he will not be running for president, and it took us quite by surprise. It had never occurred to us that Portman might run, after all, and none of the many pundits handicapping the upcoming field seem to have considered the possibility. The announcement served its purpose of reminding America that there is a Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, however, and might even have led some to conclude that Portman is an important person.
Being in desperate need of some some self-aggrandizing publicity ourselves, and lacking anything else to write about on a slow news day, we have decided to follow Portman’s lead and announce that we are also not going to run for president. This will come as a bitter disappointment to the multitudes of Americans who have looked to us for hope in these dark times, and we cannot deny the alarming possibility that it might result in someone even worse winning the office, but we think it is for the best.
Longstanding political tradition requires a non-candidate to say that he has discussed the decision with his wife and children, but we are single and childless so we talked it over with the regulars at Kirby’s Beer Store. They were fine with it. Another longstanding tradition requires a non-candidate to explain his reasons for not running, and lest the public think that we are selfishly shirking our patriotic duty by declining our shot at the office will we oblige.
We would like to say that we are prevented from running by our ongoing sex scandals, but we have embarrassingly little to confess about that lately. Certainly nothing that would raise an eyebrow at a Georgetown cocktail party. Some might question our other numerous vices, our lack of any notable achievements in life, and our general low moral character, but recent history indicates that the general public isn’t so nit-picky about such things. The fault lies not in ourselves, contrary to Shakespeare, but rather in the stars.
There would be difficulty in raising the necessary funds, for one thing. Most of our friends are as destitute as us, and our campaign pledge to let businesses fight it out in the free markets of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism is unlikely to appeal to any of the big-money donors. The Koch brothers might go for it, and one of them lives right here in town, but we don’t want to get cast in any of the crazy conspiracy theories they inspire. Prime-time network ad buys and styrofoam Greek columns don’t come cheap, so the cost of a modern presidential campaign is simply beyond our means for the foreseeable future.
Modern presidential campaigns seem to involve a lot of social media, as well, and we have little aptitude and less enthusiasm for that nonsense. Even such a taciturn statesman as President Calvin Coolidge could not compress his policies into a “tweet,” and we are no Silent Cal. Nor do we care to schmooze with smarmy comedians on the late night comedy shows that are now an obligatory stop on the modern presidential campaign trail, especially in this day and age when we’re unlikely to be sharing the couch with Charo. Hair stylists and fashion consultants and focus groups and the rest of the indignities of the modern presidential campaign are also irksome to us. We rather like the idea of eating hot dogs at state fairs and speaking from the back of railroad cars and engaging in heated but civil debates with our opponents, and we wouldn’t even mind a reasonable amount of baby-kissing so long as the little bastards have been properly cleaned, but we fear our candidacy must await a return to those halcyon days of old-fashioned politics.
Not that the job of president doesn’t tempt us, especially now that its powers have been so vastly expanded. The idea of being able to get on airplane without taking our shoes off is appealing, presidents seem to eat well, it would be nice to have someone take an interest in our college basketball tournament predictions, and although we don’t play golf the rest of the perquisites of the job seem ample compensation for its responsibilities. There’s always a chance one can do some good for the country, as well, but we expect the public might less appreciative of our efforts to stop doing things to them rather than attempting to do things for them.
If a draft movement continues to gain momentum we might be forced to reconsider, but for now we will keep our hat outside the ring. It’s a fine old hat, and we don’t want it soiled.

— Bud Norman