Albert Pujols, mercenary

I’m a Royals fan living in St. Louis, so my perspective on Albert Pujols has always been that he’s the one who got away. He went to high school and college in Kansas City, but somehow Royals scouts overlooked him. The Cardinals signed him, and he became a once-in-a-generation player. Even if he never plays another game in the majors, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Fans loved him, because, well, who doesn’t like a guy who hits .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in the worst year of his career? He’s always been detached and distant, but St. Louisans will forgive that for wins and numbers. He talked about being a Cardinal for life, but then St. Louis woke up on Thursday morning, drove to work, and found out on the rush-hour radio that he was gone, signed to the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, the Tikki Tikki Tembo Nosa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Pen Pembo of baseball.

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What we do with historic buildings in St. Louis

Why, we do the only logical thing you do with a building that’s 15 years old or older, of course. We tear them down to make way for a strip mall! Or a gas station!

I don’t know what those stupid Europeans are thinking. You can’t have progress when you keep your buildings for hundreds of years.

I’m going to write up a proposal that we redevelop the site of the Gateway Arch. It’s old and rusty, after all. Imagine all of the vacant office space we could put there!

E.R. Johnston, the train dealer, the myth, the legend

Something today made me think of Johnston Electric, a legendary, long-gone train store in St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood that sold Lionel, American Flyer, and HO scale trains.

I was in the old Marty’s Model Railroads store in Affton one afternoon several years ago while Marty was going through a box of trains he had bought earlier in the day. He found some manuals, catalogs, and other paperwork, which he set aside. Then he pulled out an old newspaper page. “I wonder why he saved that?” he asked. He set the paper down, then something caught his eye. “Oh, that’s why,” he said, and pointed at an ad on the page.

An ad for E. R. Johnston from 1948
An ad for E. R. Johnston from 1948

“Johnston’s,” it read at the bottom. “3118 Chippewa Street.”

“I spent many, many hours at that place when I was younger,” Marty said.
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The St. Louis tornadoes of 2010

I don’t normally post stuff like this, as weather posts are usually mundane. Today was a little different. We had tornadoes touch down in the St. Louis area today.

At about noon, we took cover in our basement. By 12:10, it was over. Sometime while the wind was raging and the sirens were going off, a crazy UPS driver dropped off some packages for delivery. The packages stayed put during the scare. Some areas to the north weren’t as lucky. Sunset Hills sustained 150 MPH winds.

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Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

“[Pale Divine singer Michael Schaerer’s] life didn’t turn out the way fans expected, but chances are neither did theirs.” Perhaps nothing sums up Pale Divine, St. Louis’ biggest band in 1991, better than that line from the December 21, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the early 1990s, Michael Schaerer was the frontman for Pale Divine, a local band on the verge of breaking onto the national scene. They played sold-out shows on Laclede’s Landing, they had a record deal with Atlantic Records, and the radio stations even played some of their stuff sometimes. And then they broke up before they could finish a second album. For years, Schearer got solo gigs playing cover tunes, though he’s raised his profile in recent times. His former bandmate, guitarist Richard Fortus, is in Guns ‘n Roses. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

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How I survived a weekend in July in the midwest without air conditioning

The air conditioner went out this week. Based on the local shop’s estimate, we’re probably looking at $3400 to fix it, which is more than the cost of a newer, better unit.

On Friday they bubble-gummed it together to get us through the weekend. It only got us through Friday night.

Here’s how we survived, and actually stayed halfway comfortable.I actually survived worse earlier in life. My high school wasn’t air conditioned, and unless temperatures reached 100 degrees, they didn’t call off school for heat. So on a day when the high was 87 or 89, I would have had to tough it out.

In college, I lived in a building without air conditioning that my uncle once derisively called "that old barn." School started in August, and temperatures often were still in the 90s, or worse, while I was there. Window air conditioners were banned, because the building’s decrepit wiring couldn’t handle more than a couple of units running at once.

So here’s what I did this weekend to keep things cooler, based on what I learned then and what I’ve learned since about saving energy.

First, any time it was cooler outside than inside, we opened the house up as much as possible and blasted fans as hard as possible to get as much cooler air circulating as we could. Besides running the central air conditioner’s blower (just the blower), we ran ceiling fans and portable fans. I wish we’d had more fans, in retrospect.

But once it started warming up, we actually did something controversial. We closed the house back up again, but that’s not all we did. I took a bunch of white foam-core board left over from a long-ago project and put those in any windows facing the sun. The white surface would reflect heat-causing light back out of the house. Then I pulled the shades down and closed them, and drew the curtains. Any place I could see a sunbeam, I would block it using any means possible. When I ran out of foam, I’d use anything else white.

I think my neighbors already think I’m nuts. Now I’m sure a couple of the busybodies down the street are talking about having me committed. It’s funny how little you care what other people think when you’re trying to keep cool.

Besides, I don’t care what they think because it worked. Today the high was 87 degrees, and the hottest it got in the house during the day was 80. Yesterday, without taking these measures, it reached 82 in the house. Two degrees makes a bigger difference than it sounds.

To determine if it was cooler inside or outside, I religiously checked the local newspaper’s web site and A good thermometer would be even better, but I didn’t have one of those. And besides, now I need an air conditioner, so I need to save money.

The temperature is on its way down now, as I write, but some parts of the house are still getting punished by sunlight. We’ve opened the windows on the portions of the house that are receiving shade, and we’ve moved the fans to draw air through those areas. As shade conquered sunlight, we opened more windows. It hasn’t cooled off enough outside to make the temperature in the house come down yet, but getting more air moving made the house feel cooler.

To get relief, during the hottest parts of the day we would get out. Yesterday we went to Costco to stock up on necessities (we lingered in the walk-in produce fridge a lot longer than we needed to). This morning we went to church of course, and then after that we went and ate lunch at the mall food court and walked around the mall for a couple of hours.

Besides that, we also tried to avoid doing things that would cause heat. I kept as many lights off as possible, since light bulbs generate heat (even compact florescents). Unfortunately we had to run a load of laundry through the dryer, but we did that early in the day before things started heating up. When we cooked, we used the microwave. I also turned off anything else I could, since all watts of electricity used have to turn into heat one way or another.

We survived. Actually we did better than survive. I’ll daresay that for most of the day, we were actually comfortable.

I’ll add one other thing, and this is something that came to mind because we’ve been shopping for windows. If you have double-hung windows, you can open them from both the top and the bottom to get a chimney effect. Warmer air escapes through the upper window, drawing cooler air in through the bottom. In the days before air conditioning, this was how people cooled their houses. They fell out of fashion for many years, but now they’re back in fashion because you can open them just from the top, and a child can’t fall out of a window if it’s opened that way.

Today, the chimney effect is just secondary, but it can save you energy in the months when you just barely need A/C. We’ll be getting double-hung windows for that reason.

And as for the air conditioner itself? What we had was a cheap low-end unit, something often used by contractors and people who plan on selling a house quickly. Since we plan on staying in the same house for a good many years, we’re buying a high-end replacement. It will cost a lot more, but doing the math, it should pay for itself in about 10 years. Or, given the way the local electric company has the state government wrapped around its finger, probably a lot sooner.

Plus, the high-end models come with better warranties, which suggests the manufacturers have more confidence in their longevity. Or, it could be that they just have higher profit margins so they can afford to back them with better warranties, but I’d rather pay for higher energy efficiency than for extended warranties.


I guess someday they might call this the Flood of ’08 or something. The St. Louis area has three very temperamental rivers running through it: The Missouri and Mississippi, which everyone’s heard of, plus the Meramec, which is less known, but probably more dangerous.I guess we were due. I remember the Flood of 1993 very well. The last big one before that was 1982. I don’t remember the ’82 flood, but I didn’t live in St. Louis then either.

The 1993 flood’s big damage was further north, although south was also affected. 1982’s damage was largely to the southwest.

Most of the talk right now is in the southwestern part of the St. Louis area: Pacific, Eureka, Valley Park, and Fenton.

Nobody’s talking yet about River Des Peres flooding. That was when I really knew we were in trouble in 1993, because normally the River Des Peres is just a trickle. Some months, it would be possible to jump across it.

Unfortunately there’s a chance of rain a couple of days this upcoming week, possibly as soon as Sunday. We don’t really need that right now.

When I bought a house, I deliberately looked for something on a small hill, a safe distance from any of the rivers. Since we get one devastating flood in St. Louis per decade, I don’t want to have anything to do with a floodplain.

What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Tonight at 7 PM, a Kirkwood area contractor named Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton walked in to a city council meeting. On his way in he shot two police officers, then opened fire and shot five others, including the mayor, his intended target. He fired on the city attorney and missed; the attorney fought back by throwing chairs at Thornton until more police officers ran in and shot Thornton dead.

Five of Thornton’s victims are dead.Kirkwood is the place where Kevin Johnson hunted down, shot and killed police officer William McEntee after the Kirkwood Police were unable to save his half brother in 2005.

A little over a year ago, kidnapping victims Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby were found in a Kirkwood apartment.

Thornton and Johnson lived about three blocks apart, in Kirkwood’s Meacham Park neighborhood.

What’s wrong with Kirkwood?

Well, mostly Meacham Park, which is what was wrong with Kirkwood 20 years ago.

Kirkwood is largely an upper middle-class suburb today, although there are working-class pockets. At one time it was a railroad town, and it shows in some of the neighborhoods. But by and large, it’s the kind of place a doctor, lawyer, or executive wouldn’t be ashamed to call home, and a potential client wouldn’t think any less of a professional who hailed from there.

I know the area well and like it. In high school, I worked in a restaurant in Kirkwood. I worked in Kirkwood off and on from 1998 to 2005. I don’t live there mostly because I can’t afford to.

When I was a teenager, Meacham Park was mostly a nuisance. People from Meacham Park would come into the restaurant and cause trouble, making a mess or stealing things, whether it would be food off the salad bar or stupid stuff like napkins or straws. When a shift supervisor disappeared mysteriously one night and left the safe empty except for a single $5 bill and some singles, he hid out in Meacham Park. Another coworker who lived in Meacham Park found him–alive.

When parts of Meacham Park were leveled to make way for an enormous strip mall, I didn’t shed any tears for it.

How you fix the Meacham Park problem is pretty clear–provide opportunities. Thornton, by the accounts I’m hearing, did some things right. He had a bachelor’s degree and ran a small business. Unfortunately he racked up more than $18,500 worth of fines, which has been cited as a motive in the shootings. Thornton used to show up at city council meetings and cause trouble. I guess he couldn’t come up with a more constructive way to protest the fines.

It would have been better if he just would have gotten the permits he was supposed to get in order to conduct his business legally.

Thornton claimed discrimination, and others have said he would get ticketed for minor violations. I knew plenty of Kirkwood police officers from my time working in the restaurant. This goes back several years of course, but the Kirkwood police weren’t prejudiced against people because of the color of their skin. They were prejudiced against people who caused problems.

Many of my coworkers were African-American, and the only one who had problems with the Kirkwood police was involved in criminal activity, so it was justifiable.

So I believe they may have targeted Thornton, but I believe the motivation was the past violations.

I don’t know many details of what’s happening, but if you’re a praying person, please pray for the city of Kirkwood and the families of the six deceased and two wounded.