Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Too damn busy to blog


My back aches. My knees are sore. I haven’t had a hangover in 10 days. It’s a world gone mad.

What gives?

I’m immersed in rehabbing my mother’s South Hills condo with my buddy Mark. He’s a marvel. He does flooring, masonry, drywall, plumbing, electric. I tell you, he does it all.

Me? I try not to get busted checking Facebook while Mark’s doing all the work. 

The progress is already impressive and I’m confident we’re adding thousands of dollars in value to the eventual sales price. But it’s a lot of hard work, especially for a guy who’s idea of hard work is writing a blog that runs 800 words instead of 700.

And I miss near-daily blogging.

• Josie, 15, is out-earning her father. She’s working the Dippin’ Dots stand at Idlewild. She’s enjoying the job and I’m happy for her, but the situation underscores how I’ve made some really, really bad decisions about my career. 

• I’d like to see the reaction of the conservative media if after last night Hillary dumped Tim Kaine and nominated Michelle Obama for VP.

• It’d be fun for future historians if Hillary became president and became embroiled in a sex scandal with a young male intern. 

• I had the car AC fixed last week. I just couldn’t endure another day of parkway traffic with the windows down. Really, the heat was (barely) tolerable, but the highway noise drove me crazy. I love listening to satellite radio in the car and no AC made that impossible. 

• My favorite Sirius stations are (not in any order) Willie’s Roadhouse, E Street Radio, Tom Petty Radio, Outlaw Country, Elvis, and Bluesville. But I jump around to jazz, Broadway and all the decade stations. But the first thing I check is always Radio Classics. Val, too. We just love those campy old radio shows. I in particular love the Westerns and Dragnet. So entertaining. To us, at least. Our kids threaten to jump out of the moving vehicle the instant they hear it on.

• Unless every reader abandons me all at once, sometime in the next two days this blog will have had its busiest month. It’s conceivable this month will be the first 10,000-view month. I know, it’s hardly Khardashian, but it seems substantial to me. Thanks for reading. Please share with friends whenever you deem it worthy.

• My nominee for stupid Trump tweet of the month goes to the one that argued our enemies must be drooling because neither Clinton nor Kaine “look” like leaders. Our WWII enemies thought the same thing about a fat old drunken Englishman and a hobbled Yankee who was confined to a wheelchair. It makes it seem surprising that Trump picked Mike Pence instead of Dwayne Johnson. 

• Part of the big blog month is due to an unlikely surge in Russian readers. So many throngs of old Soviets have taken to the blog, it almost feels like a prank. But I figure a country that has yet to master the technologies of the flush toilet has better things to do so I take it at face value.

• Equally odd and just as welcome was the news that more than 150 readers from the Indian Ocean island paradise of Mauritius flocked in to read the blog. How this happens when I’ve never in my life typed much less visited Mauritius is baffling. I intend to write about this again in hopes island official invite me and my family to visit March 12 for Mauritius Independence Day to be the parade grand marshall.

• The blog in the last month has enjoyed heavy readership from people in Germany, France, China, Canada, Ireland, Ukraine and Slovenia. Most unusual? A couple people from the tiny landlocked principality of Andorra in France. I have no idea how any of these internationals find the blog. Heck, I’m surprised when people from Altoona find it.

• I haven’t had time to tweet much this month, but this is one of my favorites: “Did your Mom ever write your name on your undershirt tag? She was years ahead of her time. Mom: inventor of the original Collar ID!”

• After a great run of summer presentations to financiers, library patrons, retired teachers and other groups, I’m now facing an empty calendar. It’s confounding. I was in the running for keynoting the Women In Trucking convention in San Antonio in October and just found out the picked someone else. How can that be? This is bound to sound immodest, but wouldn’t I be perfect for WIT?

• To put the blog numbers in perspective, a month where I’ll get more than 9,000 readers still pays less than a day working at the Dippin’ Dots shack.

• Back to work! And I only wish that meant more blogging.


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Monday, July 25, 2016

And so this is Christmas (in July)


I was careless with the candy and the dog ate all the chocolates so this Christmas-in-July will be a little less special than ones from the past.

Well, for everyone but the dog.

I’ve been busy moving Mom so C-in-J feels rushed. You can tell, too, because that’s maybe the first time in holiday history anyone’s felt compelled to abbreviate Christmas-in-July.

But I got some gift cards, some candy, a couple crappy presents and the weird Bob Dylan Christmas album is ready for its traditional blare in about an hour. 

What’s missing?

A Christmas movie. I usually go to the video store and snag a rental of one of the favorites.

Not this year.

I didn’t have time and I couldn’t settle on one that fit.

I didn’t want “It’s a Wonderful Life” because this year it isn’t. To anyone with a passing familiarity with the headlines it seems like an unrelentingly dark and brutal life.

George Bailey feels like jumping off a bridge? Who could blame him?

Every day seems to bring another bloody episode of either terrorism or mass shooting.

Really, the special I’d most like to see is the one that for me has the most resonance in this sad time.

That would be “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” maybe the most misleadingly titled program of all time.

Because the Grinch most certainly did not steal Christmas.

If anything it should be called “How The Grinch Failed to Steal Christmas.”

Maybe that didn’t rhyme.

I ask you to recall the 1966 show now and anytime you feel saddened by grim news.

It is, of course, revered for its nostalgic charm, wit, animation and message about how a Grinchy heart can change over time.

But that’s not at all the most relevant message.

To me, the most important message has nothing to do with the Grinch and everything to do with the Whos.

They wake up Christmas morning to find everything gone, laid to waste. The most special day of the year has been ruined by incarnate evil.

What do the Whos do?

They celebrate. They party. They embrace the day.

They react as if it doesn’t matter that evil has struck.

The message isn’t really that the Grinch changes. It’s that the Whos do not.

I’m heartened that every time after every bloody attack that things return right away to normal.

We still attend parades, concerts and live each day to its fullest. There’s no decrease in zany contests or absurd, joyful behavior.

That’s tells me that, as scared as people are, everyone realizes that none of the threats we’re facing is existential. None of the enemies who seek to destroy our way of life will ever succeed.

We still have the option to enjoy so many splendid days.

Despite our divisions, we’re all on at least this point happy little Whos.

I think people get that.

I say it again: Anytime you hear of anyone dying suddenly, it ought to reinforce the need to always be living suddenly.

To me, the most inaccurate cliche of all-time is “You only live once.”
Bullshit.

In fact, you only die once.

You can live each and every day.

So Merry Christmas in July!

That’s what it’ll be here in the Rodell house.

The kids won’t even care that the dog ate all the chocolates.


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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ways Christmas in July beats Christmas (from '12)

The stockings aren’t hung by the chimney with care and St. Nicolas is no where in sight.

You can stand in our doorway and demand figgy pudding until you’re blue in the face. You can go. You won’t get some.

No Black Friday sales stampedes, no wrapping, no in-laws, no Savior-thanking hoo-ha. 

Merry Christmas in July! It’s the secular essence of the holy day everyone loves for all the wrong reasons.

It’s only 153 days until Christmas. That means it’ll only be about 54 days until our area retailers begin cramming Christmas down our throats. It’ll be sales, displays, carols, and mercenary goodwill before they even put out the Halloween candy.

For me, it’s all gone from “Oh! Holy Night!” To “Oh! Holy Shit!”

Just thinking about Christmas in October through December raises my blood pressure.

And I’m not talking about the sacred parts, which I enjoy. I love when duties ease and there’s time to bask in soulful understanding about why Christmas really matters.

That lasts about 30 minutes. Then it’s back to strategizing party visits like Ike did on D-Day.

That’s what makes Christmas in July such a subversive pleasure.

I started doing it for the girls about five years ago. I thought it could be a sort of surprise poor man’s Christmas, which makes perfect sense because I’m a very poor man.

What’s great is the expectations are absolute zero. In fact, as I type this our daughters, ages 11 and 6, don’t even know it’s Christmas in July.

In about 20 minutes, I’ll begin blasting Bob Dylan’s 2009 oddball Christmas carol collection, “Christmas in the Heart.” I love Dylan, but hearing him sing, “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Must Be Santa” in July is perfectly surreal.

Heck, given his nonsensical interpretations of his own hits, anymore hearing Dylan sing “Blowing in the Wind” is perfectly surreal.

The jarring sounds will cause such a clatter, the girls will storm out of their rooms to rage. Their instinct will be to shout at me for waking them and, even worse, waking them with Bob Dylan.

Then -- hallelujah -- they’ll see the Christmas in July card table, the “Merry Christmas in July” cake surrounded by all the newspaper wrapped presents that include the plastic DVD crate containing the video store rental of the classic “A Christmas Story.” 

It’s Christmas in July!

It’s so unexpected.

Part of that is because I don’t do it every July 25. Not having it every years allows forgetful loved ones to be surprised when it suddenly reappears without any typical holiday hype. That’s the beauty of Christmas in July. You make up the rules as you go along.

For instance, one year I bought for a centerpiece a lovely mistletoe and roses floral arrangement. This year I didn’t want to risk feeling stressed, so I instead used my Pittsburgh Pirate ballcap.

It’s nice, too, for Val because for traditional Christmas she does nearly all the shopping, all the cooking, all the cleaning and all the fretting.

Really, with me doing all the drinking, it’s a wonder it bugs me so much.

So I get her a nice bottle of wine and a card thanking her for all she does.

You know what the best part of Christmas in July is? Telling people you’re shopping for Christmas in July. You get a real charge out of sharing the idea with people.

They seem so charmed.

I think that’s because we could all use a little more year ‘round Christmas, but none of us wants to go through any more Christmas to have it. So it’s nice to take maybe one day a year to have a little Christmas without all the hell and the hassle.

It’s nice, too, because it’s a momentary break from having to think about gun violence, pedophiliac coaches and the national heartbreak of “Twilight” actress Kristin Stewart hooking up with snakey director Rupert Sanders.

It’s a nice respite.


And, you know, for just one day it really ‘tis the season.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Me by the numbers (from '15)


I’ve lived in 13 residences in 5 towns (Pittsburgh/Athens, Ohio/Nashville/Greensburg and Latrobe) over my 52 years.
I was tallying the number of places I’ve lived in the hopes it might lead to a decent post. Then I thought, gee, if I write about the number of places I’ve lived then sticklers are going to want to know the number of cars I’ve owned, the number of songs in my iTunes library and my waist size.
I thought that would be the easy way out so, of course, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Because the easy way isn’t always the right way, but it’s always easy and that’s alright with me.
So here goes . . .
I’ve owned 5 cars, 3 of them Saturns. The current 1 is a 2007 Saturn Vue with 149,898 miles.
I have 8,563 songs on my iTunes library, which is about 8,363 more than anybody reasonably needs, but you never know when you might want to listen to the 1968 hit “One” by the band Three Dog Night.
I still have size 34 pants into which I fit comfortably, but mostly buy size 36, which are often lose enough to require a belt. Obviously, this problem will be solved whenever pant manufacturers realize the benefits of making odd numbered sizes so if anyone asks my waist size I can just say 35.
I’ve been with the same woman 23 years and married to her for 19 of those years. She is ticklish and today is her birthday.
Happy Birthday Val! My gift to you today is omitting your age from this otherwise number-filled post. I love you!
We have 2 daughters, ages, 15 and 9.
In my life I’ve shared my home with 1 cat and 2 dogs and about 200 inconsequential tropical fish. The cat was Buster, who lived from about 1989 through 2004 and died from about 2005 through 2009
That stupid cat just wouldn’t die.
Casey was a male golden retriever who was born in 1992 and died in 2006. He was a good dog.
Snickers is of undetermined origin and was born in 2011. We’ve lived together 4 years and I am still uncertain about whether he is male or a female. He’s nervous 24/7 and sharing the house with him is like like sharing the house with a squirrel that barks.
I have 1 brother and we haven’t spoken in 5 years. It’s over disputes about my care for my 83 year old mother.
She lives in the South Hills condo she shared with my late father — he died at 76 in 2004 — since 1998. Last I checked about 2 months ago, she is No. 6 on a waiting list for a place we hope to move her to in Latrobe.
My wife says I should check more frequently, but checking feels ghoulish to me.
My brother has 2 sons, ages 23 and 21, and I love them both.
I have about 1 million friends. Each is essential.
I have been to 33 states and 8 sovereign nations, but only 3 if you exclude the little inconsequential Caribbean islands too pissant to even sustain a Mickey Ds.
I am 68 inches tall.
I weigh 194 pounds or about 10 pounds less than what I weighed in 1994 when I gained 20 pounds in 1 week eating like Elvis for National Enquirer.
I wrote more than 1,000 features for Enquirer from 1989 through 2004.
I’ve also written more than 400 features for once-prestigious titles including Esquire, Playboy, Cooking Light, People, Maxim, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, etc.
Who cares more about the latter than the former? Maybe 2 people.
Sometime in the next month, I’ll have sold my 2,500th copy of “Use All The Crayons!” Other outlets (Amazon/B&N) have sold more than 1,000.
The bio they use to introduce me at speaking events says I’m the author of 7 books. This is true, but only 2 of them matter.
In fact, one of the 5 that doesn’t matter is a novelty golf book that comes with a bubble pack of 12 adhesive tattoos.
Stephen King has written 54 novels and nearly 200 short stories and not a 1 of them comes with adhesive tattoos.
In 1990, I spent 1 night in a Pittsburgh jail for a crime I DID commit — drunk (sorta) and disorderly (definitely). 
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being no fun and 10 being tons of fun, I’d rank my night behind bars a 9.
I’m friendly with 17 men and women who’ve done things to earn placement in the Guinness Book of World Records.
I tell people I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen live 173 times because it’s just such a fun lie to tell.
Honestly, I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen live 12 times, the same as the Rolling Stones.
I’ve taken 2 hot air balloon rides.
I’ve gone skydiving 2 times.
I am casual friends with 1 Miss America and 1 Playboy Playmate of the Year.
I’ve wrestled 1 alligator.
It took me 2 hours to write this, but during those 2 hours, I stopped to drive Josie 1.4 miles to school.
The chances I’ll write another post like this 1 at any time in the next 12 months?
Zero.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Seven dirty words & Buddy (No. 6) Guy (from '15)


I don’t know why I feel compelled to defend amplified profanity at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival in a forum that is the blog equivalent of the “Peanuts” comic strip.

It’s innocuous, family-friendly and never resorts to profanity.

The key difference being that “Peanuts” earns millions while this blog earns peanuts.

But you’ll have trouble finding any profanity in either venue.

The closest I get to going blue is when I remind people the only time bitch, bitch, bitch turns into something productive is when you’re running a thriving dog-grooming business.

What’s funny is while I rarely type a profanity, I spew it verbally near ‘round the clock.

I try not to say swear words around the kids, but don’t lose sleep whenever I do.

In fact, I often do it with the intention of being funny.

That was the case just last week when one of the Showcase Showdown “Price is Right!” prizes was an all-expense paid trip to Phuket, Thailand.

Now, you sophisticates understand the resort town is pronounced FOO-ket.

I told the girls to pay attention. I said I wouldn’t want them to ever be in the position of having host Drew Carey say, “Do you want to bid or pass?” and have them be misunderstood when they say FUK-it.

I bring all this up because a renown Pittsburgh blues promoter Ron Esser, owner of Moondog’s blues club, took it upon himself to scold blues great Buddy Guy for using swear words from the stage. It was a big local story.

Esser — and he is beloved in the ‘burgh — is a nationally-renown blues curator. I’ve been to his club numerous times and spent a great Fourth of July afternoon drinking with him when he was in a Latrobe bar where I friend of mine used to feature great Pittsburgh blues bands.

He knows the blues. In Pittsburgh, you could say he is the blues.

That’s why the idea of him scolding a blues legend like Buddy Guy has me saying, “What the, er, heck?”
You see the spot I’m in. I want to share the nitty-gritty of some great profanity, but am shackled by feelings of propriety.

I don’t want to run afoul of the FCC-based guidelines so memorably satirized by George Carlin in his “Seven Dirty Words” routine.

The only solution is to provide a sanitized numeric key for the remainder of this post.

Here it is:

No. 1, manure; 2, urine; 3, from the Dutch word for “to penetrate;” 4, rhymes with “punt;” 5, a three-syllable pejorative for any male or female who does something most men find very appealing (hint: its initials are “c.s.”); 6, a person who does this to the maternal woman who gave birth to you, but is not your father; 7, a word that’s fine when farmers use (and squeeze) in relation to barned livestock, but improper when used to describe the same functioning part of a woman.
So on Saturday, Buddy Guy said good-naturedly to a fan who was pestering him about playing a song, “Will you shut the No. 3 up for a minute?”

When the crowd reacted to his use of No. 3, Guy said, “I know some will say, ‘My kid’s never heard that word.’ If they ain’t, then they ain’t got a No. 3ing television.”

This is what No. 2ed Esser off. He said there was no place for that kind of No. 1 at a benefit concert.

What’s funny, and what Esser must know, is Buddy Guy’s nickname is No. 6.

It’s true. He’s Buddy No. 6 Guy.

How do I know?

I heard it from Mick No. 3ing Jagger.

On the “Shine a Light” Stones concert film from a few years back, Guy steals the show with a blistering version of Muddy Waters’s “Champagne and Reefer.”

They play the song and at the end, Mick urges Guy to take a bow and says, “Buddy Guy . . . Buddy No. 6 Guy.”

I first thought Mick was just being a disrespectful No. 5.

Then I heard Guy tell a story about once when he was waiting backstage to meet Mick. The security guy probably had no idea who this great man was and was probably more interested in impressing all the girls with the really nice No. 7s.

But he says something like, “Don’t talk to Sir Mick. Do not make eye contact. He’s preparing for the performance and doesn’t like distractions. Be respectful to Sir Mick.”

So Sir Mick walks by and first thing Buddy says, is “What’s up, No. 6?”

And Jagger hugs him and says, “No. 6! How the No. 3 are you!”

Unlike the No. 5ing security guard, it shows Sir Mick can take a No. 3ing joke.

Guy says the nickname, in fact, goes back decades to when he was the session guitarist at Chess Records in Chicago for Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter and all the greats.

He said: “Back then at Chess Records, everybody was a No. 6. They’d say, “Hey, No. 6, you’re playing too loud!’ I’d say, ‘I thought my name was Buddy.’ But after about six months of that, someone would say, ‘Hey, No. 6!’ and I’d look up just like everyone else. That’s how I became Buddy No. 6 Guy.”

And that’s the straight No. 1 on what happened on the Pittsburgh blues scene this weekend.

I relate all this so if anyone asks about it, you won’t feel like a stupid No. 4.

Nobody likes that.

I mean, WTNo.3?



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