Bush Strikes Out

Our commander in chief takes to the mound, Missouri gets its very own dinosaur, an Old Kid on the Block remembers when he was New, and Unreal learns a little something about love and basketball

When Unreal's hero Jerry Berger broke the news that President George W. Bush is coming to our humble, eleven-electoral-vote battleground state to throw out the first pitch at the Cardinals' April 5 season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, Andy Ayers got mad. Ayers, the swashbuckling owner of Riddle's Penultimate Café and Wine Bar in the Delmar Loop and a self-described "shit disturber," fired off a call-to-arms e-mail to 50 friends, complaining that "our non-sectarian municipal celebration of spring...is being hijacked this year for partisan political purposes."

"To have the president turning this into a political stunt, well, that's just not right. He is usurping our celebration," Ayers fumes between sips of California merlot at his venerable eatery. "He's going to make us all part of his campaign commercial, and that's not right. And we've got to do something about it."

An inveterate Cards fan, Ayers says he has a contact in the Cardinals' front office who told him that as many as 50 bomb-sniffing dogs may greet members of Cardinal Nation who venture out to Busch Stadium for opening-day festivities.

The wily hadrosaur stalks toasted ravioli on the open plains.
Mark Poutenis
The wily hadrosaur stalks toasted ravioli on the open plains.
Jordan Knight is still hangin' fairly tough.
Jordan Knight is still hangin' fairly tough.

Just another sign that spring is here.

Response to his missive has been overwhelming, Ayers reports. He's now pondering devilish ways to smuggle a little anti-Bush sentiment into the ballpark -- perhaps slathered on in the form of body paint, or painted on bed sheets and pillowcases that fold up for easy concealment or on T-shirts that could be distributed to incoming fans.

It wouldn't have surprised Unreal (few things, after all, surprise Unreal) to learn Cards management had made the call to the Bush bullpen -- not because the team's starting rotation is suspect, but because principal owner Bill DeWitt's friendship with Dubya dates back to the days when the latter dabbled in Texas tea (and baseball). During the 2000 campaign, DeWitt raised $100,000 for Bush; he's raised twice that for the current imbroglio.

Turns out it was Bush -- the same man who once told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that baseball is his favorite "cultural experience" -- who pursued the Opening Day invite, according to Cardinals customer-service rep Megan Noel.

"I don't know," says Noel, "it might be a political thing."

You think?

Missouri's Hadrosaur: Deterring Vandals Statewide

Long ago, on the ground where we now sip our lattes and eat our flaky croissants, a humongous vegan creature once roamed. It had a bony head, a duckbill, 1,000 teeth and (probably) twinkly blue eyes. Today, 67 million years later, we honor this creature, Hypsibema Missouriensis, which has crawled from the deep crevices of history to stand one step away from recognition as Official Dinosaur of the State of Missouri.

On March 8 the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill honoring the dinosaur. And while they were at it, they passed a bill designating Andropogon gerardii (or Big Bluestem Grass to you and Unreal) as the state's Official Grass. With the bills awaiting senate approval, Unreal called the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History down in the boot heel, which dinosaur expert and curator Guy Darrough likes to call the Smithsonian of the Ozarks.

Our new dinosaur, Darrough tells Unreal, is a type of hadrosaur. "All the duckbills have the very same body -- almost identical -- but on the tops of their heads they're different," he explains. "They have crests, and all different types of ornamentation, and the shapes of their bills are different. Even though Hypsibema Missouriensis isn't a meat-eating dinosaur, the teeth are very serrated -- much more than other duckbills. Which leads us to believe that the vegetation here in Missouri was probably pretty harsh, pretty heavy-duty."

Did the Official Dinosaur of the State of Missouri ever feed on the Official Grass of the State of Missouri?

Alas, no. There was no grass yet, Darrough says. "It's a funny thing to think about: a world without grass," the curator muses. "It was low vegetation of other types -- bushy, shrubby fern-type things and low-growing vegetation."

Though we fretted that Officially Designating might not be cost-effective -- what with the budget crunch and all -- Darrough was quick to ease Unreal's concerns.

"The amount of tourism that is drawn to states by their dinosaur fossils is enormous," he says. "If you're a state and you have a dinosaur site, you make lots of money off it. I have no idea how many millions of state dinosaur T-shirts will be sold, but I can't think of any reason why anybody would not want the Missouri state dinosaur. It's just a cool thing to know that we have such a cool thing in our state. And think how many kids there are in this state! They can either be breaking windows and getting in trouble, or they can be learning about something. And it takes dinosaurs to catch their imagination."

Old Kid on the Block

Jordan Knight isn't new anymore. By some people's standards, the thirtysomething ex-New Kid on the Block heartthrob is, in fact, old. But not too old to release a remix of all the New Kids' hits and get his croon on live. Knight, who performs tonight (Wednesday) at the Enigma Lounge in Ballwin, took time out recently to discuss his life as an old kid.

Unreal: Hey Jordan, how's your day been?

Jordan Knight: I just woke up.

Rough night?

Yeah.

Who does the rap solo toward the end of the "Hangin' Tough" remix: P. Diddy, Donnie Wahlberg or someone else?

This guy named Ryan Gardner. He's, like, a tall skinny white boy who looks like a surfer dude. He's from Salt Lake City.

It seemed for a while you were trying to distance yourself from the NKOTB legacy. Now it appears y'alls is tryin' to play it up. Why the shift in attitude?

I never really shifted in the attitude. I never tried to not be one of the New Kids on the Block. I just felt like doing the songs over.

How are the other New Kids with the project?

They didn't have nothin' to do with it, really. I did it for fun and figured I might as well release it. They're fine with it.

Is your frequent collaborator, Robin Thicke, thicker than his father, Alan, of Growing Pains fame?

I don't know what you mean.

Modern-day boy bands like *NSYNC have massive followings in the gay community. Did NKOTB experience a similar phenomenon in its heyday, or was that way before gay became the new black?

That's funny! We had a closet gay following. It was in the closet, but it was there.

Do you look at the seamless transition Justin Timberlake has made from boy band heartthrob to pop star/boyfriend of Cameron Diaz and say, "Man, I wish I could have pulled that segue off?"

Uh, I do. Hell yeah.

Did you guys have any sort of rivalry with New Edition back in the day?

Just a little bit. We were always pretty much gentlemen between the both of us.

My ex-girlfriend used to get juiced up for junior-high dances by staring at her Jordan Knight doll in the mirror. Do you still collect royalties from that doll?

Not much. I don't know if you can find one at a Wal-Mart near you.

Love is in the Air

Wanna know a dirty little journalism secret? Unreal fields a lot of phone calls and mail from PR flacks. And when we say "a lot," we mean a lot.

No, wait. That's not the secret. The secret is: We love hearing from those people! Like the flack who was pimping the recently published Chicken Soup for the Bride's Soul: Stories of Love, Laughter and Commitment to Last a Lifetime. When we learned that a local resident had scored a coveted slot with her story "Love Is in the Air," we just had to get the scoop.

Unreal: What's your story about?

31-year-old Ballwin resident Lynette Helms: In November of '99 my boyfriend proposed on the airplane. The pilot came over the intercom and said, "Lynette Baker, John Helms would like to know if you would spend the rest of your life with him." If I were to accept, I was to press the call button. I was sitting next to my boyfriend at the time, and I whispered yes. But I couldn't get to the call button because I had my seat belt on, so he had to push the button for me. Then the flight attendants came over with a bottle of Champagne.

So in a way he got engaged to himself.

Yeah, since he was the one who accepted for me.

Did it flash through your mind to say no?

No!

What did you get for being in the book?

I was paid $300 for the contribution. We also got 50 percent discounts on any of the Chicken Soup books if we want to order them for family and friends.

I used to work at a used bookstore, and you can get those old ones for, like, 50 cents each. We had shelves and shelves of those.

Yeah? I know they're pretty popular. My husband bought me Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Fan's Soul.

Who is the more pro-Chicken Soup candidate, George Bush or John Kerry?

Oh, Jeez. Probably George Bush, because John Kerry was such an activist, he'd probably speak out -- he's not into that mushy-gushy stuff.

How long do you and your husband plan to stay married?

Forever.

Same Time Next Year

En route to her University of Nevada's regional semifinal game against the favored Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Edward Jones Dome last Friday, a mildly inebriated woman with a smile a mile wide paused to take stock of the possibilities afforded a visiting Wolf Pack fan during a weekend in the River City.

"I think I'll go see Ludacris and the St. Lunatics," the rap star-challenged Nevadan was heard plotting from her seat on the crowded eastbound MetroLink train.

Such charmingly naive ruminations were on display all weekend on the Landing and at select east-side burlesque clubs, which played host to as much cutting-edge action as the three thrilling games at the Ed, a tune-up of sorts for next year's big shebang: the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis. (Confidential to the gracious cabbie who drove a moderately impaired Unreal home at 5 a.m. in the wee Saturday hours: We'd like our black messenger bag back, por favor.)

Typically, the concept of basketball played in a cavernous domed stadium is downright icky, but the Ed proved to be a surprising exception to the rule. The palatial edifice has always felt a little too plush for football, a sport that looks most at home in a Lake Erie sleet storm with a ten-below wind chill. Hoops felt about right -- although one could argue that a spectator's butt would be better planted at a local watering hole avec pints of Schlafly and a fatty Reuben, rather than stuffed into a plastic-backed binocular perch at the Ed.

On Sunday, when Georgia Tech's brawny squad emerged victorious in a thrilling overtime victory over Kansas, it was déjà vu all over again for Jayhawks faithful. Unreal can only assume that only after every recruit with a connection to former coach Roy "Big Game Blunder" Williams has matriculated will the curse finally be lifted. A trip to the Final Four in San Antonio this year merely would have added insult to agony, the college basketball equivalent of the Cubs in October.

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