Friday, March 26, 2010

Sheep, Birds, and Brownies

Rams Make St. Louis Miserable

09:45 AM ET 03.26 Forbes may be right on the money as to why St. Louis is one of America's most "miserable" cities. While most of the cities are supported with complementary socioeconomic data, we'd like to call attention to the "reason" our beloved St. Louis is listed as one of America's 20 Most Miserable Cities. The Rams are 6-42 in the last three years.

(“Truth & Rumors”, 3/27/10,

The last time I flew into St. Louis, it was for the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers (ASTHO). Whenever I head into Eastern Missouri, I always have a vague sense of venturing into enemy territory. I recognize that this is a totally irrational belief. The City of St. Louis has never done anything to inconvenience me. It has not sent me random parking tickets, nor has it sent goons to my home. My cousin Tim and his family lived in St. Louis for several years without any obvious damage. (Tim is the cousin who decided…quite rightly…that the best wedding gifts I could receive were Justice League Monopoly and the DVD of “Challenge of the Superfriends, Volume 1.” He’s also the one, when the rabbi at my grandmother’s funeral mixed up the number of her grandchildren and great-grandkids, not only audibly snickered but joined me in assigning all of our cousins into their new categories to figure who got to sit at the adult tableat the next family gathering. The six demoted ones are probably still bitter.)

I think this vague feeling of unrest must have something to do with being a long-time Kansas City boy. I’d heard it said that St. Louis is as far west as you can go and still be in the east, while Kansas City is a far east as you can go and still be in the west, so it could be a deep-seated cultural xenophobia. Or maybe it has something to do with the Gateway Arch, which at one time in my life I characterized as the World’s Largest Croquet Wicket, but which I now, in an older and wiser fashion, see as a giant handle, as if the city erected it in the fond hope that someday a really really really big giant will just pick up the city and move it to someplace else, like Djibouti, where it will fare much better in comparison.

Or maybe it’s a sports thing. I still resent the whining coming from the west bank of the Mississippi when George Brett led the Royals in their righteous quest for the 1985 World Series crown over the cross-state, cross-cultural Cardinals. (I don’t care what anyone saw…Dane Iorg was safe at first…and don’t even try to explain away the 11 run meltdown in Game Seven.) Perhaps it’s not so much the sporting contests as the team names. The monikers of the Kansas City teams…the Royals, Chiefs, and even the late lamented Kansas City Kings…all suggest nobility. And while the former NHL Kansas City Scouts didn’t fit that mold, it at least the name made sense, harkening to one the hallmark spots in Kansas City, a statue in Penn Valley Park overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. And while I’ll grant that Cardinals are probably seen flitting through the springtime Missouri skies, I can’t recall the last time I saw a bighorn sheep trying to knock down the Arch. The St. Louis Blues are essentially named after a clinical depression. And we’re not even going to talk about what the old St. Louis Browns might have been named for.

(In the spirit of fairness, and with a nod to history, I recently finished a fascinating book called “The Gashouse Gang” about the 1934 Cardinals, a team featuring Dizzy Dean and other characters such as Pepper Martin and Joe Medwick, players whose skill on the diamond was coupled with the need to club the opposing fans with a bat and who were removed from games for their own safety. And speaking of Famous Cardinals, I have a very soft spot for a pitcher from The Roaring Twenties. Before my son was born, I randomly flipped pages in a book of baby names, and my finger landed on Grover. Thinking this was fate, I did my best to convince the powers that were that this was a great name. There were lots of famous Grovers in history, and it would be wonderful for our child to follow in their footsteps. There was Grover Cleveland, a notoriously uncorrupt President; Grover Cleveland Alexander, a Hall of Fame pitcher and the hero of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series when the Cardinals defeated the mighty Yankees of Babe Ruth; and of course everyone loves Grover on Sesame Street. Let’s just say this was a battle that I lost. Quickly.)

Maybe it’s the songs. “Meet Me in St. Louis” conjures up better times of long ago, which probably resulted in the more current “St. Louis Blues” (see hockey, above). And it also turns out that in downtown St. Louis you can find the home of the company that makes the antacid Tums, which puts whole new twist in the song “Louie, Louie,” which in turn makes the one comprehensible lyric of “We gotta go. Ya ya ya ya ya,” suddenly make sense. Whereas in Kansas City, we’ve got “crazy little women,” and you stand pretty good shot to “get me one.” Plus, even the Beatles did our tune.

But as I said, there’s no rational basis for these beliefs. Everyone I’ve ever met in St. Louis has been nothing but good and gracious to me. The Italian restaurants are incredible. The National Bowling Museum has a pair of high heel bowling shoes, which makes my bride smile. The City Museum is not a museum, but an incredible fantasy playground for young and old. The folks there even have the good sense to remember that the best steak is properly called a Kansas City Strip rather than the Yankee variety. The zoo is great, the Arch is fascinating, and the Hyatt at Union Station where I was staying is nothing short of spectacular. And unlike my beloved Kansas, St. Louis still has franchises of Jack in the Box, where I’m able to unashamedly indulge my own personal food fetish and gorge myself on deep fried Super Tacos…whose after effects get me thinking once again about the old St. Louis Browns.

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