Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Mizzou I Knew

It's interesting hearing about Mizzou from people that didn't go there.

For the longest time, my post-college circle of friends was 90% Mizzou grads. We all had the same fuzzy memories of McNallys, Addisons, and Flatbranch, the house parties, the first time the cops came to our house, the second time the cops came to our house, concerts, Henry Rollins, Halloween, New Years, and good beers.

But now that my friend circle has expanded, I get to hear a lot of outside perspectives, mostly around the drop in enrollment at Mizzou and what caused it. Usually it starts with the sport teams not being able to recruit as well.

Depending on who you talk to it's either because of the Black Lives Matter people or the racism that exists all throughout mid-Missouri.I rarely hear people talk about how dismal the basketball team has been for a decade. They rarely talk about how Gary Pinkle apparently was one of the greatest coaches, punching way above his weight class in the SEC and now that he's gone the weaknesses of our football team are highlighted.

I've heard people say that the Black Lives Matter protests drove off students from wanting to deal with un-necessary drama. Fair enough, if protests scare you, you probably should go to your local community college. From what I remember, protests were constant at most the universities my friends went to, especially during the Bush era and war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've heard people say that the racism that has existed in the area for centuries has finally started turning people off, especially athletes who tend to skew African American don't want to deal with the media portrayal of red necks and crooked cops in Missouri.

Honestly, I didn't see much of this while I was at Mizzou, but I also curated an incredibly diverse friend group. Honestly, if this was a card collecting game, I was only missing some sort of trans-gendered hologram card.

We had the Pakistani journalist, the Indian engineer, the gay teacher, the Jewish business major, the foreign exchange students from Britain, France, and Australia, all mixed with people from Hannibal, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Louisville. We were a pretty diverse group and were ride of die.

I didn't get exposed to the darker side of Mizzou.

Both types of people will talk about it as if what they are saying is the total truth.

It's not, there's a lot of missteps done by the Mizzou board of governors. Mis-allocated money, alumni donations ear marked for the business school, rising salaries for the administrators while driving away young and determined professors. They thought they would keep adding students forever and direct result is apartment complexes dotting the downtown skyline like blemishes on skin. But now we have a crap football team, continue to have a crap basketball team, have too much empty housing, prices that have continued to go up, and non-stop construction on what could be a beautiful campus if not for all the bulldozers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Updated Bucket List

In August of 2013, I was musing about the pursuit of happiness and what essentially boils down to my bucket list.

Most of what was holding me back from completing a lot of my bucket list was our dire financial situation at the time. I'm staring at the second (out of ten) student loan being paid off in a week and our car loan dropping below a major milestone.

Sal and I both have jobs that pay us much more than what we had in 2013 and the strain we carried around in our necks has loosened considerably.

It's had me thinking about the "bucket list" again. Things I want to do and pursue.

The original list still stands, with some things actually checked off.

  • Complete: See a top level football match in Europe. Saw Dortmund play in front of 78,000 people in 2015. It was like Harry Potter.
  • Eat steak tartar and drink a bottle of nice French wine in Paris - Sal is learning French now, so hopefully in the next few years. 
  • See the Blues win the Stanley Cup and subsequently kiss the cup.  - So close, yet so far.
  • Complete: Drink a Guinness from the brewery in Dublin. Drank the pint from the top of Guinness overlooking all of Dublin.
  • Learn to snowboard. Well... that whole knee thing has probably made this unobtainable. 
  • Get something published. I swear, I'm still working on this. 
  • Tip someone a ton of money on Christmas Eve. - Hmmm... maybe this year?
  • Tour Napa Valley without a plan. The plan is to do this for our 10th anniversary.
  • Have one of my beer creations commercially sold, even if just for one run. - Not a crazy thing to think.
  • Have a hop filled tour of the Pacific Northwest. - Again, maybe for our 10th anniversary.
  • See a major Canadian team NHL game: Canadiens or Maple Leafs - Sal and I are having a lot of talks about doing this in 2017. 
Not bad right? Completed 2 within 3 years. 

Well, some new things have popped onto the list. 

  • Go to Wrestlemania - With how much professional wrestling has become a part of my and most of my best friend's lives, this will definitely happen within the next couple years. Think of it as going to the largest circus on the planet. 
  • Play a game of PacMan at Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa Iowa, the video game capital of the world. 
  • Skate on a frozen pond
  • See Saturday Night Live ... live and as a side bonus, see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Square
I'll check back in probably in 2 years and see how much progress I've made. Hoping to have 2-3 more of these checked off the list. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Burt or Maybe Bert...

I went on a long run today and as I was rounding the corner where Amsterdam Tavern is, the wind hit me just right and I remembered a character from our past.

Sal and I went exploring when we first moved to the city. This would've been like late 2008. We ate at Three Monkeys and then tried this bar that had just opened down the street.

So we see this dirty looking guy in this dimly lit bar that had a couple soccer scarves hanging on the walls. There's one guy at the bar drinking a beer and following it with whiskey, but soon he leaves.We thought we had found a dive bar we couldn't have imagined being open more than a few months.

Sal and I order. Amsterdam only had about 6-8 taps when they first opened, one of which was Guinness. At the time, it was a bold move to have a nitro stout on your tap. Most places were still heavily focused on Wheat beers and macro beers.

So I order a Guinness because you can't get it anywhere else. The bartender gets excited and starts talking about how there's nothing better than a properly poured Guinness on a cold afternoon. Sure enough, he pours the beer in the glass at a 45 degree angle until it's 3/4ths full, sets it back down, and let's it rest.

While the beers were resting, he handed Sal and I about $3 a piece in quarters and told us to go put some music on the jukebox.

We pick a couple of our favorites. Probably things like The Toadies, Wilco, Against Me!, David Bowie. I can tell the bartender is listening intently to each song, judging our musical taste.

And then he hears the opening riffs to Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly."


He pulls out a couple of tumblers, pours very gracious pours of Powers Whiskey, slides them to us, and says, "Hi, my name is Bert, I punched Billy Idol in his stupid f*cking face in 1986 in a club in New York. He'd split Generation X up by then and had become a sell out piece of shit, and I was a punk... and I was drunk and probably on drugs. So I laid him out and then ran out of the club as fast as I could."

This is one of the first new people... actually... probably was the first new person we met after moving back from St. Louis. He was this like late 30's, sort of 1980's dirty white t-shirt wearing punk rock guy, who was one of the partial owners of the Amsterdam tavern. His name was Bert.

Bert handed us a business card with his cell number on there and regaled us with tales of his insane nomadic life spanning from California to Miami, involving some of the most famous concerts ever, and being held up at gun point.

Now Bert had some insane stories. If he had wrote them down and you just read them, you wouldn't believe the stories, but there was something about the sincerity with which he told them that you sort of believed it.

Bert was one of those guys you wouldn't trust watching your house while you were out of town, but if he were like, "Hey man, follow me down this dark alleyway, I have something to show you." You would go. You were drawn to him and the possibility of adventure.

We spend the next two or so years going to Amsterdam, eventually meeting about 4 of the 6 owners and becoming pretty good friends with them.

One random  late summer day, we went in and Bert said, "Hey Dan, would you want to come over and listen to some records this weekend? I'm off Saturday. Might be the last time we can hang out."

It was an unexpected qualifier on the end of the sentence. As far as we knew the bar was doing really well and Bert was really happy.

I said, "Sure man, that might be a good time, what's going on?"

"I don't really want to talk about it here, but I got into something and I'm moving to Argentina in 10 days."

We were invited to Bert's going away party at the Amsterdam. They set up a turntable in the corner of the bar, hooked it up to the PA system, and locked the door for anyone that wasn't on Bert's list. Bert brought in about 600 of his favorite 45's and asked everyone to bring their favorites.

It was a Tuesday night, Sal and I couldn't stay out too late since we had to work the next day, but for those two hours it was like we were in some sort of weird movie montage where a song played over people clanking glasses together in cheers, hugging Bert, just celebrating this weird guy that was in all of our lives.

I heard from Bert once when he moved to Argentina. He sent me and email saying he made it and that the weather was super nice, and he was going to the beach every day.

I don't know why today he popped in my head. I literally hadn't thought about Bert in six years, but something about the temperature, the time of day, the way the sun hit the Amsterdam sign just reminded me of Bert.

It's weird how someone can be in your life for such a short amount of time, but you have these incredible memories that sometimes you question if they actually came from a book you read.

If you look at Amsterdam now, it's grown five times the size it originally was, has about 400 new scarfs from soccer teams around the world, and if you look closely, there's one picture behind the bar of all the original owners. One of those guys is Bert and that picture is the only evidence of his life in St. Louis.