Tuesday, October 31, 2006

talk of the nation

You can now listen to the Talk of the Nation segment.

I'm told it went quite well. I wouldn't have known because Iwas so nervous I thought I might faint and puke at the same time.

Monday, October 30, 2006


I've created a quick-and-dirty website for my book, in preparation for tomorrow's NPR show.

Blogger friends, would you mind linking to it somewhere on your site or in your archives, to try to get it high up in Google?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

sunday papers

Articles about me and my book appeared today in the Denver Post, Seattle Times and Boulder Daily Camera.

They say any press is good press, but these stories are especially exciting because they all zero in on the main message about race relations that I wanted to get across. The Denver Post story ran on the front of the Sunday style section, above the fold.

This will be a good couple of weeks for me media-wise. On Tuesday, at 3 p.m. Eastern time, I'll be on NPR's Talk of the Nation for a discussion I'm told will last about 40 minutes. The following week I'll be interviewed by NPR's News and Notes, and I'll be on Up To Date with Steve Kraske here in KC on November 7.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

seattle library

One of the highlights of my visit to Seattle was a tour through its new library, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus. Coolest building I've ever been in. Everything about it -- from the quilted ceiling to the Dewey decimal numbers inlayed into the floor -- is spot on cool.

It's the exact opposite of another major building in Seattle, designed by the world's most famous architect. But more on that later...

Meantime, click the image above for a slideshow tour. The place is so beautiful it makes even my point-and-shoot pictures look good.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

safe in seattle

One of the first things I noticed about Seattle was that people actually wait for the green light before walking across the street. Doesn't matter how unbusy the traffic is. They'll wait and wait and wait until it's totally 110 percent legal.

I mentioned this to my buddy Brad, the Seattle transplant, and he said it's not because they're ultra cautious but because the cops actually ticket for jaywalking. Like, they've been on NPR for it. Like, it's news how uptight they are about crossing the damn street.

It was all part of a larger conversation about Seattle and a general reverence for rules one finds there. Brad couldn't quite explain it, but I knew exactly what he meant, based on the little I'd seen. There's something in the air out there that makes people extra conscious of order, of following protocol, no matter how absurd that order and protocol is.

We were making our way into a restaurant as we were having a conversation. It was getting late and we were informed, much to our delight, that happy hour would begin in ten minutes, at 10 p.m.

We were seated and a friendly waiter came by and chatted us up. After a bit of obligatory banter I suggested that we were hungry and we might like to order, or at least get something to drink.

"Not for another ten minutes," our server said, "if you want happy hour prices."

Brad and I looked at each other, eyebrows cocked. What the?

There was no one else in the place. Yet we had to sit there without so much as a glass of water for ten minutes until it officially became happy hour.

Then, when the guy came back, at 10 pm on the button, he asked what we'd like to drink. "Fake beer," we said.

"Oh," he replied, a bit disturbed. "That's not on the happy hour menu. Just drafts."

Brad guffawed.

I asked the guy, "Can we have our ten minutes back?"

Anyway, click on the picture below for a slideshow of the famous Pike Street Market, where they throw fish:

Monday, October 23, 2006

cup o'joel

My buddy Joel from Lawrence, the man responsible for me and Allie having a legitimate wedding, has written a nice article about me.

It's true about Joel and me becoming fast friends, though it didn't start out good.

On his first day of work he showed up with an open-collar shirt.

"Where's your tie?" I barked, as if I were a boss and not a fellow new guy.

And he clutched at his neck, and stammered, as if I were indeed the boss.

It's funny looking back on it, me griping about a lack of neckwear. But I figured if I had to suffer than every other ink stained wretch would have to suffer right along with me.

Soon we were regulars at Johnny's, scarfing up those fantastic bacon cheeseburgers. We've stayed in touch over the years, too. Which led me to his wedding, which was so lovely I had to lean over and suggest to Allie that we have one too.

Kinfolk back home: You can thank Joel for this spectacle we'll be having.

mr. microphone

Testing, testing... Hey! I'm on the radio!!

(Anyone catch the cheesy 1970s TV commercial reference?)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

they love black people

My favorite moment in the debate came when KCPT's Nick Haines asked, simply, what both candidates would do for blacks if elected.

Talent answered first, and he spun out a fairly admirable list of legislation he'd backed or co-sponsored. All pretty much from a conservative perspective, of course, but real efforts nonetheless.

Then McCaskill gets up and says, boldly, that Talent received an F from the NAACP.


Ok, fair enough, I did the same thing for a take-out piece I wrote about Kit Bond a couple years back. But seriously, so what? The NAACP is just another political organization, as much a lapdog to the DNC as Talent is to the Bush administration.

So she proceeds to dress down Talent for being no friend to the black man. Then, as the seconds dwindle, she hastily says, "I been good to black folk."

Not a direct quote, but that's basically all she said. (Oh, and she hires blacks in her office.)

No specific policies. Just a big Democrat, take-em-for-granted grin.

Don't take this as an endorsement of Talent. There can be no denying that things have gotten worse for blacks -- according to just about any statistical barometer you care to use -- over the last 6 years.

But still. What do you really get from the left?

um, debate

So I'm watching the rerun of the recent debate between Senator Talent and Claire McCaskill and who do I see sitting right in the front row but Jane Rinehart, coach of Kansas City Central. She served as time-keeper for the proceedings.

And as I continue to watch, and I hear McCaskill say "um" over and over, I can't help but wish Jane had her little bell in front of her, the one she rings during practice rounds every time one of the kids stammers audibly.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

home sick

I just got back from Seattle and I'm sick as a dog.

It was a good time, though, visiting with my friend Brad. Last night we had the best sushi on the face of the earth. Seriously, it was unreal. Lots of good conversation, too, about everything from the Christian Right to crazy rich people.

I certainly miss the guy. He was my first real friend in KC. But he made the right move. Seattle definitely suits him.

I'll have some pictures later. And some thoughts about architecture, and young high-tech money, and PC street-crossing. But for now I must recline on the couch and moan and drink liquids and watch moveies and moan and moan and hopefully sleep.

Friday, October 20, 2006

seattle story

On Wednesday I read from my book at an event for the Seattle Debate Foundation. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill reading. There was a public debate, a DJ and a couple of hip hop artists. There was a fair amount of press there, and the first story came out today in Seattle PI.

Hope it helps the league survive. They're doing terrific things!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Having finished the 50+ hour audiobook of David McCollough's Truman, I'm now about ten hours into Robert Caro's equally long book about Lyndon Johnson's years in the Senate. McCoullough's book was fantastic, but this one blows it away. What an amazing writer Caro is. He writes with such even-handed authority, spiced here and there with appropriate splashes of admiration and righteous indignation.

I have to say, though, I'm not yet sure what to make of Johnson, and what he means in the larger scheme of things. I mean, the guy was an asshole without equal. He was cruel to his wife, mean to his subordinates and hideously solicitous to his superiors. He would actually force his staffers to stand right beside him and dictate memos while he took a shit. And so, so mean to his wife. Just awful.

And he was, for much of his career, a typical racist Southern Democrat. He joined without hesitation in fillibusters against anti-lynching legislation. Used the N-word freely. Was the prodigee of Richard Russell, the smooth-tongued white supremacist after whom the Senate building is named (more on this later).

Yet, it's he who pushed Civil Rights legislation through.

What to make of this?

maud newton

Over the past couple of weeks I've been having an e-dialogue with John McNally, author of America's Report Card. Now you can read what we had to say at Maud Newton's blog. Kind of an interesting chat. It'll continue into tomorrow.

Monday, October 16, 2006

a compelling argument against moving to new york

Upon our return yesterday...
















Do you have any idea how expensive this much fresh, organic produce would cost in NYC?

KC might be dull, and lorded over by dumbasses. But we got garden space!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

new york pix

Reception area at FSG.

More awards at FSG. Among them is National Book Award, Flannery O'Connor. Tiny room. Lot of incredible literary history.

Me at the Hue-Man Bookstore with Mickey Duzyj, the amazing artist who designed the cover.

The crowd at the Hue-Man.

Me at the Hue-Man.

Joey Reynolds, George Albano and me.

Me, Joe Williams and Joey Reynolds.

Jen and Allie.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Not a good photo. But this place looks really cool on the inside.

open records

The Star reports today that Inquiry looks at KC Council. Of course, the first question that comes to mind after reading it is, "Who is Inquiry?"

I found these passages the most intriguing:
“It’s none of Wayne Cauthen’s business who I called and who I e-mailed,” Skaggs said. “If he’s done this, I’m very disappointed.”

But Hermann said that she “absolutely” was upset to hear that her phone records might have been obtained by the auditor.

Thing is, those are open records. In theory, anyone -- me, you, that begger outside of Barnes & Noble on the Plaza -- has access to them.

In practice, it's a different story. Back when I still had a boss, I tried over and over again to get council members' (and the mayor's) e-mail records. But city officials kept giving me the runaround. They eventually acquiesced, but it would cost thousands and thousands of dollars and take months to complete. And my corporate former owners, who love to crow about their devotion to journalism, who spend boatloads of cash to defend their right to publish fake news stories, wouldn't foot the bill.

Thursday, October 12, 2006



I showed up in Harlem about an hour early for the reading. It was raining out. But I had bought an umbrella. Umbrella's are brilliant. In Kansas City, we just use cars.

The Hue-Man is around the corner from the Apollo.

They had a poster of my book in the window.

And a dozen books up front.

About a dozen people showed up for the reading, which is actually a pretty good crowd, considering the rain and the 6 p.m. start time. I read for a little bit, and then we got into an interesting discussion. Folks asked great questions. A couple of times I apologized for being depressing, when I would go off on how bad the school system is, but audience members said it was important to know these things.

Afterward, we went to a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant in the west 100s. I think it was called Awash.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

joey reynolds

Just as we were about to tape our segment for the Joey Reynolds Show I noticed that Joey's script said I was from St. Louis. So I leaned forward and tried to tell him in time. He waved a hand dismissively and said, "Don't worry about it."

We started taping at a little after ten. The show's producer told us to put on our headphones and suddenly we were listening to the show's theme song, a white doo-wop number that repeats Joey's name over and over and says he's from Buffalo and that he was doing this talk radio thing before anybody. Then Joey started talking. He said there was a beautiful woman banging on his apartment door earlier today, but then he let her out. He said something about Barbara Streisand sleeping with Bill Clinton, and singing songs for George W. Bush, like "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" or "You Don't Bring Me Napalm." Which reminded him of the dictator in North Korea with the bomb, and why do we even care about those people? why don't we just let them bomb themselves? Finally Super Principal George Albano jumped in and mentioned there were other people in the room, me and Joe Williams, and that we'd written books Joey's listeners just might like to read.

So Joey went ahead and introduced me as being from St. Louis, and when I corrected him he told me that he was in KC a couple of years ago for a wedding in Emanuel Cleaver's church and he went shopping on the Plaza where it was $10 for each shoe at Prada, and, by the way, top-40 radio was invented there by a man who brewed beer, and of course there was that great song about going to Kansas City.

The topic of the night was education, and we learned, by and by, that Joey didn't much like school, that he had it rough, truth be told, that it was hard for a fat white kid because at least the blacks had basketball, or they could sing and dance.

But good old George Albano kept us all together, repeatedly bringing the conversation back to the things we were all there to promote -- my book, Joe Williams's book, the amazing job George has done at his school. And at one point I think I actually got Joey to notice that I was a real live human being sitting across from him when I said, "You know, Mark Twain said never let school get in the way of your education."

He smiled at that. He let his smile be his umbrella. And he didn't get a mouthful of rain.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

big city

As Allie and I strode onto the tarmac at Dulles in DC I conjured my best hillbilly accent and asked the man in the uniform, "Is this the way to New York City?!"

We got in all safe and sound and Allie's sister Jen whisked us right away to a vegan soul food joint in the Village called Red Bamboo. We had some fake calimari that beat the real thing.

They headed off for a rock concert while I hopped a cab downtown to be on the Joey Reynolds show. There I met super-principal George Albano -- brother, I would learn, of the wrestler Lou Albano -- and journalist Joe Williams, author of Cheating Our Kids, and, of course, Joey Reynolds.

I was thrilled to discover that Mr. Albano had not only read my book but he brought a copy covered with Post-It notes and highlighter marks all over it. He did more to promote the dang thing than I did!

We all chatted for an hour or so and the conversation meandered a bit and bordered at times on the strange, but it was as fun as hell! I wish I had the wherewithall to give a more in-depth report but I'm dogged out.

On the way home I checked my voice mail and received word from Marcus that the AP story is out.

Patti Smith is playing CBGB on Saturday. Lord, let there be tickets!

odds and ends

I wrote an underappreciated book review for MoorishGirl.

Got five stars from Ok! magazine.

Off to New York today.

Monday, October 09, 2006

joey reynolds

I will be on the Joey Reynolds Show sometime in the wee morning hours of October 11. Should be cool because I'll be on with two other great guests: George Albano and Joe Williams, education reporter for NY Daily News.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

the big read


That's me with super mega bestselling author Eric Jerome Dickey. At Ebony's urging, he bought one of my books and sat through our entire presentation. He also gave me some advice on how to handle all this marketing side of the business. One of the nicest guys I've ever met.


Shark Fu of AngryBlackBitch also showed up. That was so incredibly nice of her. Her writing on her blog is so strong that I had imagined she would be eight feet tall.


And my grandma and Uncle Evan drove in all the way from Indiana. Too short a visit, but I was so thrilled to have them both there.


And, of course, there were the real stars of the show, Coach Jane Rinehart, Marcus Leach and Ebony Rose.


Damn, Eric Jerome Dickey is cool!




I'm too tired to go into details right now. Plus, I've agreed to write a blow-by-blow for About.com.

Here are some more pictures.

my first reading

On Friday night, I signed up for open mic night at Legacy Books & Cafe in St. Louis.

I arrived an hour early. The place had a long bar at one end, and a wall of book shelves on the other. Everyone but me was black. I drove to a more integrated part of town to kill time and practice.

When I returned, there was one other white person there, a woman who played dulcimer in the six-piece band. I paid my five dollars to the lady at the door and she wrote my name down on the list.

She asked me what I was going to read and I said, "My book," showing it off for her. She looked it over, one eyebrow cocked, handed it back to me, and smiled a smile that seemed to say, "You're socially inept, but God bless you anyhow."

I ordered a fake beer and took a seat. One after another local literati stepped up to the microphone and belted out impassioned poems about life on the streets, the revolution, and sex. Lots and lots of sex. One woman with very broad hips delivered a long poem about how deeply she wanted to be made love to ("I want you to reach a new area code").

I flipped through my book, fretting about what part I should read. At first I thought I'd read the part where I had a change of consciousness, but I decided it was too straightforward about race. Then I thought maybe the part where Ebony discovered Paulo Freire, but I thought that might be to egg-headed. Finally I decided to read a part about Antoine:
The bus turned west on the highway, careened through the downtown loop and across the rail yards that separated Kansas and Missouri. Antoine stared hard at the limestone bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, the tufts of trees that broke up the urban sprawl. He and his mother often fantasized about living in a more bucolic place, and these small aberrations of nature that dot Kansas City's landscape sometimes gave him a sense of what such a life might be like. He had only left the Kansas City metro area twice in his 16 years, both times to St. Louis.

Antoine knew his mother saw debate as an opportunity for him to find the freedom she wanted. She described the program to me once, and him often, as a "lotus flower, like something beautiful growing out of the muck." And maybe she was right, Antoine thought as the bus rumbled westward. All along, Rinehart had been promising chances to travel, and here they were, cruising across the state line. Never mind that it was to a state he was born and raised in. He had never seen the border’s wooded hillocks on this particular day, under the sunlight of this unique moment.

In many ways, he was already a traveler. In his mind, he'd taken the first step of a journey by freeing himself from the conformity of his school and neighborhood. His imagination took him places. Half the time he was at school he’d tune out the teachers' lessons to conjure an epic fantasy novel he planned to write. Set on a distant planet named "Mira," or, he told me, "some weird mystical sounding name I haven't set yet." Mira has one sun and two moons, and the trees and grass are a purplish blue, and some plants glow at night. It’s inhabited by various species of people. "You got your weird lizardy alien type people," he explained. "Your cliché alien looking people. And the weird humanoid, closest to what we look like."

The book's main character would be from a species of warriors. These beings start life with pale skin of slightly warm hue and blue eyes. Their lives wouldn't be gauged by years or earthly notions of aging, but rather like that of a video game, where there’s a set quantity of life force that depletes with each injury in battle. With each hit, their skin grows redder, darker. Their eyes shift from blue to auburn then deep black. The darker these beings become, the more respect they enjoy⎯though they’re also visibly closer to death. "By the end they’d be a deep mahogany color," Antoine told me. "When they get down to a certain point, instead of dying, they cease to be. They're gone. They get blacker and blacker, and then disappear."

As midnight approached I became more and more convinced that I was making a huge mistake. Finally, I decided to leave.

But just then, the MC called my name.

I tried to adjust the mic stand and the microphone popped out and drooped by its chord, making an awkward amplified thud. I said I was nervous and a few in the audience shouted, "You alright." So I dove in.

I read quickly, and the band started in with a driving melody. Before I knew it I was done and the audience clapped politely. As I walked back to my seat a few nodded and smiled at me.

Then a man took the stage and read a poem about eating a woman out.

As I left no one said anything to me. I drove home kicking myself for not reading the part about Freire.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Ebony forwarded me this e-mail:

I had no idea you were moved from foster home to foster home as a kid, nor did I realize you had a speech impediment. You are one of the smartest, most intellectual, most well-read students I have EVER taught, and to imagine that those are the obstacles you overcame in the process...it's just fabulous.

I know I'll hear great things from you in the future!

take care,
Dr. Ganote

the worker

So, just what is the president's job? Watch the video and find out.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

sunny day books

Rainy Day Books

I stopped by Rainy Day Books to see if I'd made it to the shelves. Walked in, and BAM! there it was, right up front in a stack.

I got to talking to the nice fellow behind the counter. A regular customer in a bow tie overheard us and announced he's buy two.

As I was signing them he told me that he'd debated in high school, then on scholarship at the University of Missouri. He said he kicked some ass in the Missouri state forensics tournament doing a reading from Black Power. He says the reason why he did so well, probably, is because it was so unusual in the late 1960s to hear a white kid from Jefferson City reading the words of Stokely Carmichael.

My kind of guy!

He gave me a card. Hopefully we'll have coffee some day.

(BTW, from now on I am only shopping at Rainy Day Books. You'll notice that all the links to my book on my blog now direct you to their page. Fist up for independents!)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

heat is on


My thumbs have been burning since 2 this afternoon when I started slicing up the little orange things on that plate in that picture up there. I cut them with plastic bags covering my fingers, but my thumbs are still burning like hell fire.


I kind of went crazy on the salsa making this afternoon. I had about two dozen habaneros from the garden, and I didn't want them to go to waste, so I bought enough tomatoes, sweet peppers, garlic and onions, to make a salsa not too hot to eat. Problem is, with these flaming bastards, that came out to about 50 bucks worth of produce. (And a couple of blistering thumbs.)


But now we're set for winter!

amazon woman

Scroll down on this page until you see the the comic strip.


But I think I've turned a corner. I've only checked a couple of times today, and only with the slightest sense of expectation. Better still, I've felt something click inside. My eagerness (desperation) for this book to be a smashing success is beginning to wind down, and I think I'm about ready to let go and just ride it.

But let me just quick look and see if I'm still above 30,000...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

beautiful day

When you look forward to a certain day or event for a long, long time, that day will invariably be different than expected.

I'm real big on the paradoxes lately.

I know I'm not making sense.

So I'll make like Sheri:
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out

It was a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Beautiful day

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
Don't need it now
Was a beautiful day

Since Sunday, I have listened to nothing but that song, over and over again.

Sums it up. Everything that's been going on, from the bummers to the fantastic, all that I don't have the time or the energy or even the ability to write right now.

Metaphorically, that is.

It is a beautiful day.

Monday, October 02, 2006

e w

In the October 6 issue of Entertainment Weekly:
Miller, a journalist, goes to Kansas City's Central High expecting to find a sobering story about poor minority students who, trapped in an area plagued by random violence and in a school deemed "academically deficient," just don't stand a chance. Instead, he becomes a passionate advocate for the school's thriving debate team and writes an account of its rise to the top of the national circuit. Miller spends too much ink describing every match-fiery arguments citing Foucault and humanism dominate over half the book's nearly 500 pages--but his enthusiasm is infectious and the plot creates the suspense of a good courtroom thriller. EW Grade: B+

Sunday, October 01, 2006

the neighbors

There was a stabbing across the street last night.

Allie woke me up at about three. She said that there was a brawl unfolding outside our window. I had my earplugs in, so I couldn't hear the ruckus.

We both leaned against the screen and listened to the milling crowd. By and by I figured out that someone had been stabbed. I went to bed and Allie stayed up and took notes. She got some very good quotes:

A woman: What? You a gang-banger and shit? (Laughs.)
A man: I was a gangbanger, but it it's not like it was my life or nothin'. They called me "Trigger Man." I shot a guy through his dog once.

A woman: Baby girl got stabbed. Or fucked up.

Another woman: I punched him and my fist just felt nothin' but fat.

A man: He tried to punch me. That's why I threw him up on the car.

(After police have come and gone, a white car drives up. A man gets out with a flashlight.)
Man: I threw my clip out. I popped my clip out because I didn't want to get caught with no bullets.

Another man: If they shoot at my house, I will go kick in their door because that's the kind of guy I am.

A woman: I was drunk.

Another woman: Maria. Tie that shit up and put pressure on his neck.

A man: My cousin got stabbed.

A woman: Black Impala. Black wheels. Black on black.

Another woman: They came rolling down the street. Said something to Andy. I jumped one guy. She jumped another guy.

Yet another woman: Get your gun Chad.

A man: I'll kill you bitch.